Archive for the 'What I’m Reading' category

Gifting Adventure, Steampunk Geek Girl Style

Dec 11 2015 Published by under etc, What I'm Reading

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Looking for a great gift for a tween/teen girl? Or even someone a bit older (hey, I'm over 50)? Look no further.

I just finished Gail Carringer's Finishing School series. As noted in the first book:

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time.

Set in a steampunk version of Victorian England, the stories focus on Sophronia, a 14-year-old girl who would rather take things apart than flirt with boys. She gets sent to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (always pronounced quali-tay), a school set in interconnected dirigibles so it floats above the moors. It rapidly becomes apparent that this is more than an etiquette academy. Soon Sophronia has learned how to use a well-timed faint to her advantage. She excels at fighting with a fan tipped with steel blades.

This being a steampunk world, homes and school have tracks laid for mechanical servants to roll about and do their jobs. These same servants in the school can help enforce curfews as well. In addition, the world is inhabited by immortals, including werewolves and vampires. The latter live in hives, with mortal human drones who provide a food source for the vampires. Werewolves also tend to run in packs and cannot float, so a werewolf cannot board the school. Becoming an immortal is not as straightforward as in the usual literature; transition to either species is difficult and often not survived.

In addition to the mechanical slaves, there have to be human servants. For the school, the giant steam engines run through the efforts of sooties, black youth who shovel coal and fix the riggings. One of these young men, Soap, becomes acquainted with Sophronia as she galavants about the blimp against all the rules. Can you see the forbidden love interest from here?

Conflict occurs and drives adventures through 4 books. The Picklemen want to rid the world of immortals by taking control of the mechanicals that serve society. Of course, Sophronia and her entourage save England from an ugly fate. Her colleagues include immortals, a girl who lives as a boy, and a mechanical steam dog.

These books provide a lively romp through an alternate history. I just love imagining all these proper young ladies learning the feminine arts while doing very untraditional things. I also greatly appreciate that Sophronia chooses a nontraditional lifestyle in the end, rather than the politically influential marriage that most of the spy-maids enter. I won't spoil the ending, but it is worth every moment.

These four books seem to close the saga. I really wish they didn't and we could go on with Sophronia's adult adventures.

I also believe that this series could be the next big YA movie franchise. Are you listening, Hollywood?

 

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What I Am Reading: Timely Edition

Aug 25 2015 Published by under What I'm Reading

Work-life "balance" has become a big issue in the circles of professional women. Can we have meaningful careers and families? Never mind that men do this all the time; society still expects us to run the household and nurture the children, even when we make six-figures. In various career circles, a couple of strategies have been suggested, including "Lean In" (build a career that lets you have the resources to do stuff) and lean out (making part-time work a safer career option).

IKnowHowLaura Vanderkam now presents her work with women making it work. She obtained extensive weekly time tracking sheets from 143 women earning at least $100,000 per year with young children in the home, showing their lives for 1,001 days. She included single mothers as well as those with partners. Some were self-employed while others were in hierarchical companies. What she found will surprise most readers:

  • Most of these women worked less and slept more than they thought
  • Family time approximated or exceeded that reported by more traditional mothers
  • Creative approaches to family time made this possible
  • Housework suffered most, either by accepting "good enough" or outsourcing as much as possible

By looking at a week's worth of tracking data, these women were juggling all the pieces of a complete life while averaging more than 7 hours a sleep each night. They were achieving in their careers and their families were not suffering.

The only criticism I can make is that this work definitely favors the "Lean In" school of life, although she includes women who took the other approach as well. Myself, I am a "Lean In" kind of gal.

I recommend that everyone read this book when they feel overwhelmed by their lives. I especially recommend it for male partners who expect their "women" to take care of the household. If you sign up at Laura Vanderkam's website, you can get her tracking tool and examine your own week. You may realize your life is not as gloomy as you think.

 

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On Further Consideration: What I May Be Reading

Jul 17 2015 Published by under What I'm Reading

GoSetWatchmanThis week Harper Lee's novel, Go Set A Watchman, hit the shelves of booksellers. The internet gave a collective gasp when early reviews revealed that Atticus Finch has racist views in this sequel, set in the 1950s. I know, because I gave one of those digital huffs. I could not believe that Atticus would be this way! I had no desire to read this book.

With further thought, I am reconsidering.

Racism does not have an on/off switch; it resides on more of a dimmer, with a variety of levels in between the extremes. I know* a lot of people who would agree that Tom Robinson got treated unfairly in To Kill a Mockingbird. They would agree that people of African descent should not be abused by others just because of the color of their skin. They also would not want "those people" living next door to them. They would express dismay when a professional sports team fielded an all-black starting line-up. They are racists, but not as extreme as the white jury of Mockingbird.

As I considered the bits included in reviews about "the new Atticus," I realized that he never professed to be a civil rights pioneer in Mockingbird. Readers really have no idea how he feels about African Americans, other than recognizing that Tom Robinson cannot have raped Mayella Ewell. Providing Tom's constitutionally-guaranteed defense does not mean that Atticus wants black people living next door or attending school or voting.

I will likely download and read Watchman in the near future. With current discussions of race, the "new Atticus" may provide more important lessons than our more heroic version.


 

*I may be related to some of these people.

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What I Am Reading: #GDIGFA Edition

Jun 26 2015 Published by under What I'm Reading

One of the plenary sessions at this meeting demonstrated the utility of Whole Brain(R) thinking.

Now, I assumed that I tried to use my whole brain most of the time, so I got the book, The Whole Brain Business Book, and read it en route to Puerto Rico. This model overlaps with a lot of other approaches to how we humans perceive the world, but it can provide a useful new frame for the problem.

DetailedBrain

 

Four aspects of human pattern preference occupy each quadrant of the diagram. The upper left thrives on logic and facts. The bottom left craves order and process. The lower right focuses on the human-emotional facet of things. The upper right is creative and big-picture. Many, if not most, people have a dominant quadrant. This doesn’t mean that we cannot appreciate the other perspectives; they just come less easily to us.

Many people have more than one quadrant that is relatively strong. The two upper quadrants are often found in inventors, scientists, and other creative yet data-driven types. The bottom half of the diagram, with its order and emotion, often finds professions like nursing supervisors. Those who favor the left side rely on facts, logic,and order, while those on the right tend to be idealistic.

As I read this book, I thought about the pharma booths I saw at recent clinical meetings. Ad agencies certainly know how to pull all of these perspectives into the show. Each booth featured big images, most often people living good lives with their disease (because of this drug, naturally). If not a patient image, some other emotionally charged picture appeared; fish out of water seem to be favored by pulmonary products. A tag line also dominates the big stuff, often with a message appealing to those D (upper right) quadrant folks: “Imagine a world without disease X.” Less prominent, but still big enough to catch the eye, are diagrams and graphs showing study results about the drug to start pulling in the left side of the diagram; after all, you have to get them close enough to take the reprints and package inserts that have the details they need to change their practice!

Like all models, this one cannot solve every problem of interpersonal communications. It explains a lot, if you let it. And Ann Herrmann-Nehdi put on a rollicking work-shop this morning where we all learned a lot.

 

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What I'm Reading: Herding Cats Edition

Mar 18 2015 Published by under What I'm Reading

Even an experienced speaker like Guy Kawasaki says, “Moderating a panel is deceptively hard--harder, in fact, than keynoting."

What makes a good moderator panel? We all know bad ones, or at least bad performances. Now Denise Graveline, an internationally renown public speaking expert who blogs at The Eloquent Woman, fills the gap in panel moderation. Her ebook, The Eloquent Woman’s Guide to Moderating Panels, provides a brief 51 page collection of thoughts and checklists to make moderation successful.

PanelsPanel moderation is too often an afterthought; she encourages planners to engage moderators with speakers early in the planning process. That way ground rules can be set, and the moderator(s) can reinforce his or her plans to enforce the rules. One section of the guide gives the reader 9 reasons to turn down an offer to moderate. For example, women often get asked to moderate groups of male speakers to provide an appearance of diversity. Just say no if that seems to be the case.

The usual roles of moderators are addressed, like better panelist introductions and calling on questions from the floor. One delightful section presents smart ways to interrupt speakers, primarily so you can shut them up and stay on time, for the win.

In about ten days I will join my colleagues in Boston for Experimental Biology 2015. I’m sure I will remember many of these points during symposia at that meeting and others farther in the future. I highly recommend this quick read for anyone involved in meeting presentations.

 

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What I Am Reading: Recent Airport Edition

Nov 20 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

I spent a bunch of time in airports recently (thanks, winter), and I read several books. Instead of trying to review each one separately, I will just list them with a short synopsis of my thoughts. 

The Prince Lestat (Ann Rice)

 Ann Rice abandoned her muse, the bad-boy Lestat, and wrote about other things for several years. I am delighted that the non-sparkly vampires have come back to explore their existence. I have been waiting for her to do a history of the Talamasca since Taltos, the conclusion of the Mayfair Witch Chronicles. Waiting, waiting, waiting…and finally rewarded! If you haven’t read any other books in the vampire series, I would not start here. If you read the first 3, you can jump right into this one!

The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Jill Lepore)

Don’t let the size of this book scare you away; almost half of the text contains notes and other references. This meticulously researched history documents the life and times of William Moulton Marston, a frustrated academic who invented an early lie detector, lived with two women, and belonged to the Harvard Men for Women’s Suffrage. This read provides a fascinating history of the women’s movement in the US, as well as the rationale behind a beloved fictional character (yes, the bracelets, lasso, and invisible plane all have a reason). I was sort of sorry when this one ended; frankly, the story of the Amazons is as believable as that of the Marston clan!

The Secret Place (Tana French)

This is French’s fifth book to solve a death with a member of the Dublin murder squad. If you haven’t read her earlier works, you could start with this one without feeling lost; however, her character-driven novels are delightful, so you will want to read them all anyway. You may as well buy them all and go in order. In this one, an officer working cold cases gets a chance to work a murder. The action takes place in a swanky girls’ school over the course of a day. While I agree with the critics that this is the weakest novel yet from this author, I still found it a wonderful read and recommend it highly.

Obitchuary (Stephanie Hayes)

This came to me as an Amazon featured book that I got for almost nothing. This chick-lit features a young reporter who gains a degree of fame writing in-depth obituaries for selected people. Getting a date for her cousin’s wedding results in murder, mayhem, and the mob, along with finding true love. Good book to have in an airport if you want to forget you are delayed in O’Hare. It has no redeeming social value.

Killing Ruby Rose (Jessie Humphries)

Another Amazon feature and the first book in a series. Ruby Rose is 17, a brilliant high school senior in southern California, and grieving after the death of her ex-marine, SWAT team father. She starts tailing sex offenders who got off on technicalities, planning to get them convicted. She ends up being manipulated to kill them instead. Her family history gets very complicated along the way, and her own life comes under threat. She handles it all with poise; the major criticism with the story is that NO TEENAGER IS THIS TOGETHER, I DON’T CARE HOW SMART SHE IS!!! It’s a fun enough read that I bought the second book (came out last week), but you really have to be able to suspend your disbelief for these reads.

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What I Am Reading: OCP

Oct 21 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

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Stop what you are doing. Right now. We all should read this book, The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution. Jonathan Eig tells us the story of the intersecting lives of Margaret Sanger, Katharine McCormick, Goody Pincus, and John Rock. Their individual motivations differed, but ultimately their efforts combined to bring about the oral contraceptive pill (OCP), Enovid.

Sanger wanted to make sex as free and pleasurable for women as for men; McCormick wanted women to have more opportunities without being a slave to their uterus. Goody Pincus wanted to be recognized as a great scientist; Rock wanted women to be able to space pregnancies. All were influenced by the health effects of uncontrolled fertility on women, particularly those who were poor.

Their discoveries collided with changing social attitudes around 1960, leading to a revolution in women's rights and attitudes toward sex. The book details the perfect storm that led to the current state of women and sex. When they first began testing the OCP, contraception was illegal in a majority of the United States. They worked around that little problem by testing an initial indication for menstrual disorders! Many previously infertile women in Rock's practice also became pregnant after a few months of regulation with Enovid, so even though it inhibited fertility, it had a possible infertility indication!

Perhaps most importantly, this work reminds us how important the OCP and control of fertility are for women. Women with fewer pregnancies experienced better health. In the years after the OCP became available, women's wages began to catch up to men's; a woman employee was not merely killing time till the stork came! Women also began entering higher education in greater numbers, including professional schools. Women continued their decades-long quest for real equality.

We have other contraceptive options today, but the OCP remains the gold standard. Read this book; you will learn something, and the stories are quite entertaining!

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What I Am Reading: Dystopian Future

Aug 21 2014 Published by under Uncategorized, What I'm Reading

CircleRemember reading 1984 in high school? Big Brother is watching you so you must conform to society's standards! The Circle tells the story of the genesis of an internet-age totalitarian society much like the one Orwell created.

I doubt that this one will make the jump to "literature that should be taught, but I might be wrong.

What is The Circle? Imagine that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, and every other major internet service were mashed up into one giant corporation. This company controls an online identity system that keeps people from participating anonymously or pseudonymously online. This led to complete internet civility (of course!). It also allowed more secure payment systems, even leading some to suggest that all cash be eliminated for Circle-based payments. Employees at the company propose new uses of The Circle to make life more pleasant and secure all the time. The one thing no one seems to do at The Circle is code or actually do computer stuff. Hmmmm.

The story focuses on Mae Holland, a new employee at The Circle. Through a friend who is in The Circle's inner circle, she secures an entry-level customer experience job that allows her to escape a mind-numbing position at a local utility company. The Circle resides on a California campus with all the bells and whistles we expect from an internet company: game rooms, free cafeterias, gardens, sports fields, the works. In addition, their seems to be multiple social events for employees every evening, some of which are mandatory. The campus also boasts beautiful dorms where employees can stay and give up life outside The Circle all together.

May starts out treating her employment like a job. As time goes on, she discovers that she is expected to participate in The Circle's ongoing social media (internal and external) as well as "extracurricular" activities or she will be viewed as "antisocial" and "not part of The Circle." May succeeds, and rises in her department, eventually resulting in 6 or 7 separate screens on her desk for various components of her work. Eventually, events occur that prod May to become "transparent." This means wearing a live web cam at all times so her life while awake becomes an open book. Nothing can be deleted from her video feed (even when she catches her parents having sex).

The leaders are intent on "Closing the Circle" which should make May ask some very critical questions. However, despite the obvious impending loss of freedom (and the reader screaming at her on the page), May seems disinclined to see anything but the rosy picture her supervisors paint. Even when someone brazenly spells it out for her, she fails to see the danger of the situation.

The use of tiles at the company echos parts of 1984. Instead of "Big Brother is Watching," we have "Secrets are Lies" and "Privacy is Theft."

We often look at totalitarian states and wonder how the regular people let this obviously bad government happen. This book tries to explain that, and does a reasonable job. I wish there had been a few more examples of resistance, other than an ex-boyfriend who I found generally unappealing. If anyone else has read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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What I Am Reading: Blast From My Past

Aug 11 2014 Published by under What I'm Reading

First, Some Background

I come from a family of non-athletes. In high school, my interest in sports mostly involved cute boys playing them. I had to learn about basketball in gym class, but watching my tiny high school football team taught me little about the game.

I then left for Kansas City. As part of the University of Missouri system, my boyfriend, an actual athlete, took me to football games at Mizzou. I began to appreciate the strategy of the game. The Chiefs were pretty bad in the early 1980s, so tickets could be bought at reasonable prices. I loved sitting in that bowl at Arrowhead as part of the crowd in red and gold, even if victory often fell out of reach.

In 1984, that same boyfriend (now my spouse) moved to Chicago to start his residency. The Bears were coming of age that year, especially dominating with their 46 defense. I moved to the Windy City in the summer of 1985, ready to cheer on a new team.

MonstersThe Book

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football occupied two evenings of my vacation. I could not put this book down, although I do not know if someone without the type of background above would love it as much. The author, Rich Cohen, grew up in Chicago and during his senior year in high school managed to get SuperBowl XX tickets and make his way to New Orleans for this big game. He captures the mood of the city at that time perfectly, and provides great background for those of us (like President Obama) who were new to the way of "Da Bears."

Yes, there is a component of memoir to this text, but also of history. I knew Papa Bear Halas, thanks to his obituaries, had been instrumental in founding the National Football League, but I never realized how much the game owed him. He was the first coach to use the "eye in the sky." One game an assistant took a message to his wife in the stands. He came back to the sidelines in awe of what that view afforded him. What looked like guys grinding it out in the mud took on patterns and logic when seen on high. The next year Halas stationed an assistant at press box level and installed a phone from there to the sideline.

Even after he "retired" from coaching, he often hung around the facilities. One day in the locker room, some players recall him beginning to lecture them on varying strategies depending on where the ball was being played. He divided the field into blue, white, and - wait for it - red zones, the first time anyone can recall the term "red zone" being used.

We learn a lot more about Iron Mike Ditka (other members of the family had simplified the Polish surname to Disco, if you can imagine that) and Buddy Ryan. The latter, of course, brought us that amazing defense that never quit. At the time, I knew these men did not like each other; I never realized how much they disliked each other until reading the book. The details also seal my everlasting admiration of Samurai Mike Singletary, a guy tough enough and smart enough to run that defense.

McMahon salutes authority

McMahon salutes authority

Cohen does not shy away from the aftermath of the game, either. He discusses the difficulties with injuries many of the players continue to have, including Dave Duerson's suicide in 2011 while suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Jim McMahon's ongoing issues with mental function. As he finished his interview with the forgetful but still punky QB, he asked the money question: Was it worth it? McMahon said, "I'd do it all again in a heartbeat."

Postlude

I still remember that Sunday morning. I took call overnight in a now gone Chicago hospital that Saturday, caring for sick infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). I was anxious to get home because we had friends coming over for the game. All that stood between me and departure were handoff rounds. As we entered the NICU, we were delighted by every infant having a piece of tape (paper or adhesive, as tolerated) with "Rozelle" or a player's name or just "Bears" written across it in marker. Just remembering it brings a smile to my face and makes me want to dance the SuperBowl Shuffle.

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What I Am Reading: Free Market Edition

Jul 28 2014 Published by under MedicoLegal Concerns, What I'm Reading

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Sigrid Fry-Revere is a lawyer and a medical ethicist. She has played an advisory role to organ donation organizations in the US. Her latest work explores the kidney "exchanges" in Iran where a very different approach to organ donation has produced a surplus of living kidney donors.

The approach in most of the world has been to use deceased donors for transplantation as much as possible. Kidneys provide a unique opportunity for living donation, since most people have two and can live nicely with only a single organ. Our system requires these kidneys be donated from purely altruistic motives, usually because of relationships between the parties involved: husband - wife, parent - child, or other relations. When relatives or other close parties cannot donate, a donation "circle" can be set up. In this, one party cannot donate to their loved one, but they are a match for someone else whose relatives cannot donate. In the simplest setting, the donor exchange is paired; however, chains of up to 19 donors and recipients have now been orchestrated to give dialysis patients a better life.  While many donor expenses are covered by medical insurance, donating may have unseen expenses, including weeks out of work and the potential for complications of anesthesia and surgery.

Despite harvesting deceased organs, matching services for donor chains, and availability of dialysis, 20 to 25 people in the US die every day awaiting a kidney.

Iran has taken a different tactic to alleviate kidney shortages, namely paying organ donors. The powers that be in the US have assumed that this system is coercive and unfair. Dr. Fry-Revere decides that a program this successful is worth learning about. She spends several months on the road in Iran with an expatriate nephrologist, Dr. Bahar Bastani, a former colleague of mine at Saint Louis University. They bravely recorded video and audio interviews with doctors, nurses, donors, and recipients throughout Iran, generating the first account of this system by Western experts. The resulting book is The Kidney Sellers: A Journey of Discovery in Iran.

In Iran, the national government provides a cash payment for a kidney. Additional compensation varies by region. Most regional centers provide health coverage for a period of time for donors. The donor can then negotiate with the seller through the regional bureau for additional cash; if the recipient has no means to pay, the center can often tap donations for the funds needed.

Procedures vary from region to region. In the best situations, donors are carefully screened to make sure that their financial issues cannot be solved through other routes.  Potential donors interviewed in the book often had a debt to retire or needed capital to start a business; marriage often necessitated a cash infusion. Donors often expressed mixed emotions about the procedure. Many got their money, fixed their financial issues, and moved on with no regrets, but some felt guilt or shame that they had to sell an organ to make their lives better.

Recipients sometimes formed bonds with their paid donors, but for the most part this was a market transaction that ended when it ended. Many stated that they preferred a paid donation to an altruistic one from a relative; the latter would have left them indebted for life, while paying cash let them feel the debt was paid. They could then move on with better health and less guilt.

The book can be a bit repetitive at times, but it paints a wonderful picture of a society and system we know very little of. As I watch my own patients on dialysis, waiting months for a deceased donor kidney, I wonder if the Iranians just might have a good idea. I recommend reading this work for a thought-provoking take on our organ donation system.

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