Teaching Empathy

Henshon, Suzanne E. Teaching Empathy: Strategies for building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Students. Texas: Prufrock Press, 2019.

Reason read: As apart of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.

The thought I kept returning to over and over again while reading Henshon’s book, Teaching Empathy, is everything she says seems like it should be common sense. I’ve come to the conclusion she gives deceptively simple advice in a very short book (less than 150 pages). Yes, we should be aware of the differences in our society. We should be taking that awareness and creating action that makes a strong and lasting impact. We know this and yet instead, we live in a society which places blame on outsiders. We are given permission to hate any and everyone we cannot understand. Our current administration encourages us to act intolerant and is completely dismissive of our ignorance. Henshon’s book is deceptively simple because in our heart of hearts we know we should be practicing empathy as well as teaching it to our children. Her book is timely, but is it too late?

Here’s what I wish I could have seen in Henshon’s book. I get hung up on how interchangeable some words can be. It seems as though people use sympathy and empathy to mean the same thing. Kindness and thoughtfulness. Concern and caring. All of these things are signs of emotional intelligence but have different meanings attached to them. What they mean to Henshon on a personal and intellectual level would have been next level.

Author fact: Henshon has written numerous books.

Open Water

Rosen, Mikael. Open Water: the History and Technique of Swimming. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2019.

Reason read: part of the Early review program for LibraryThing.

Open Water is everything and anything you need to know about the sport of swimming; or dare I say the art of swimming; the obsession of swimming? Rosen’s book is practically an encyclopedia of swimming facts as well as biography of famous swimmers and a how-to for improving your own technique in the water. It’s a well laid out, beautiful to look at book complete with maps, photographs and more. Fascinating.

As an aside, I have heard many, many stories about how my maternal grandmother used to be a beautiful swimmer. Just recently my aunt reminisced about watching her mother cut through the water with such powerful grace it brought tears to her eyes. I would have liked to have seen that. My maternal died of cancer long before I was born when my own mother was thirteen.

Confessional: Until recently I hoarded my early review books knowing I couldn’t sell them or really donate them anywhere. I tried giving some away but that wasn’t really successful either, so in my basement they languish (still). Open Water will be my first and only gift to Natalie Merchant. She is an avid swimmer and I feel she might, just might, find it interesting. What else am I going to do with it?
Postscript to the confessional: I gave the book to her tour manager. I will probably never know if she liked it.

Gardening Under Lights

Halleck, Leslie F. Gardening Under Lights: the Complete Guide for Indoor Growers. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 2018.

Reason read: this book was sent as an Early Review for the LibraryThing program.

Right away, the first thing to notice about Gardening Under Lights is how gorgeous is the physical book. The colors, fonts and photographs are beautiful. The second thing to notice is Halleck’s humor and easy going language. The information is a mix of Let Me Break This Down For You and technical and expert information. The first chapter, Why Plants Need Light, offers a simple explanation for the premise of the entire book. From there, the information is thorough and detailed. Every aspect of growing plants is covered, from growing conditions to containers; from diseases to how deep to dig; from selecting the right lighting bulbs to sowing, watering, culling, cutting, rooting, transplanting, harvesting, and propagating. My favorite section was in the middle about edible plants like herbs (I struggle with cilantro bolting)  and vegetables, but the section on diseases was a close second.

As an aside, I plan to loan this book to a friend and I have a suspicion I won’t get it back!

Code of the Extraordinary Mind

Lakhiani, Vishen. The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: Ten Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life & Succeed on Your Own Terms. New York: Rodale, 2016.

Reason read: I learned about it from a running magazine, so you know I just had to read it.

From just the introduction Code of the Extraordinary Mind is intriguing. Lakhiani shares that he was born “…with a mind that loved learning how to hack life…” (p xvi). His book gives the reader permission to dare to question perception as well as reality. This may be considered a self-help book but I also consider it part memoir. Lakhiani shares a bit of himself through the book. He is not shy about unveiling past personal failures or triumphs. I found his methods of parenting enlightening, and even though I don’t have children I want others to apply his techniques! Is that rude of me to say? Seriously, when he asks his child what do you love about yourself or what are you grateful for, my heart melted.

Quotes that grabbed me: “It’s time to uninstall what isn’t working” (p 32) and “Our definition of what is normal is nothing more than what is programmed into us” (p 56). I would add to this last quote by saying I believe our definition of normal is also defined by commonality. If everyone had three heads the idea of just one would be foreign. You believe what you know.

My only pet peeve. I am not a fan of repetitiveness and I found Lakhiani mentioning MindValley (his company) too often. It began to sound like a sales pitch after awhile, especially when he promised “more information” on that site.

Author fact: Not only does Lakhiani have his own website, he actually has three. Look ’em up.

Book trivia: Lakhiani includes “napkin” drawings. Kinda cool.



Charles Rawlings-Way and Natalie Karneef. Toronto: City Guide. Melbourne: Lonely Planet, 2007.

This travel guide of Toronto is mostly black and white; a no nonsense kind of guide. It doesn’t need to show off with lots of glossy photos and trivial details. Only eight pages are dedicated to artistic shots around town and, in fact, is the only section that isn’t all that informative. The contents of the guide are well organized into various activities. If you are in town on business and only have time for finding restaurants, page 91 is where you want to start. I appreciated the little blue boxes with extra tidbits of information. In the History section (p 38) you will find a box that talks about the ghosts that haunt the Elgin Theatre and Old City Hall. Sign me up! The only drawback to this guide is the map section. Instead of a fold-out map showing the entire city, the maps are page by page like an atlas. There is overlap between downtown north and downtown south so that you can make the necessary connections but it would have been easier to have the map all on one page. But, to be fair, with everyone having gps on their smartphones, I doubt a printed map really matters anymore.

Reason read: Natalie Merchant performing in Toronto in May 2015.

Book trivia: I really enjoyed the inclusion of the subway map. Very cool.


Off the Tourist Trail

Off the Tourist Trail: 1, 000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives. New York: Dorsling Kindersley, 2009.

What a gorgeous, gorgeous book! The photography alone makes this book amazing. From the moment it arrived on my doorstep I couldn’t wait to start turning pages and ogle all the great pictures. The concept of Off the Tourist Trail is brilliant. A team of experts searched cheaper alternatives to the well-known, sometimes more expensive travel destinations around the world. The chapters are broken up by interest: historical, beaches, sports, and cultural to name a few. Every destination has a paragraph dedicated to practical information such as how to get there, places to stay and budget. The “Need to Know” paragraphs are filled with location, maximum height and average daytime temperatures. Probably the most interesting spin to all the information is the “Forget” section. Each comparison adds a build-up and letdown component for the better known destination. For example, in the “Architectural Marvels” chapter the ever-popular New York City is compared with with the lesser-traveled Chicago. New York’s letdown (architecturally) is the fact that its architecture is spread out over several miles and at times, difficult to view.  

An added bonus is the forward by Bill Bryson. I love the way he writes. The only drawback to Off the Tourist Trail is that it isn’t portable. Oversized and heavy, this is a book you can’t take in your carry-on. Do your research at home and save room in your bags for souvenirs.

When the Time Comes

Span, Paula. When the Time Comes: Families with Aging Parents Share Their Struggles and Solutions. Springboard Press, 2009.

When this book first came in the mail my mother was visiting. She has just celebrated her 60th birthday. Savvy, independent, strong in body and mind I didn’t really think this book applied to her. Needless to say I was surprised when she thought I requested this particular book to review on purpose, because of her. It became an awkward moment because when I scanned the selections for the month I can’t say I specifically chose the book because of her. It is more accurate to say I didn’t pass over the choice because of her. Does that make sense?

At any rate, I found Span’s book When the Time Comes incredibly useful in some respects and (predictably) not so helpful in others. I enjoyed all of the stories about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of caring for elderly parents. It put aging into perspective. Not all parents will age the same way, physically or mentally. Not all parents will welcome the solutions their children have to offer. Not all solutions will work for all types of aging. The variables are endless but Span does a wonderful job trying to tell a different story for each scenario. It was wonderful to have examples to remind the reader, “you are not alone.” I found myself comparing the stories on the page with situations I know in real life and nodding in agreement all the while. On the negative side, the title of this book is misleading. It implies this is a book about aging, and this is not a book for someone who has parents years, possibly decades, away from needing elderly care. By the time my mother deems it necessary to have outside help some of the resources Span lists in her book might not be available to me. Websites disappear, organizations change. While this is definitely a book to prepare children for the aging of their parents, it is not recommended for planning too far in advance. However, should my mother have a stroke or serious accident I could pick up When the Time Comes and start using it immediately.