Monday, November 27, 2006

Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World - Pico Iyer

The Basics: Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World, Pico Iyer, 1993, 190 pages, paperback

How I found it: Randomly browsing the travel section of my favourite Vancouver used bookstore, Bibliophile.

What's it about?: This a series of essays about countries that Iyer feels are "falling off the map". He has various reasons for classifying each of these countries, and generally I agree with him. The countries, or "lonely places", covered here are: North Korea, Argentina, Cuba, Iceland, Bhutan, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Australia. Each of the essays are an indepth look at what it means to spend time in that country, each people's outlook on the world, and a bit about the author's time there. In general though, Iyer uses great imagery to transport you there, understand how the people think, etc. These are less travel stories and more literary snapshots of countries.

Did I like it?: I quite like short prose, and essays like this since I think the format lends itself really well to bed time reading. I really liked Iyer's style of writing - I felt as if he had transported me to the place he was describing. Also, he really made me want to find out more about some of the countries and he made me want to visit Iceland even more than I already wanted to. My only complaint is that I didn't get the justification for labelling a place as "lonely place" in some instances.

Will you like?: This is some very well-written travel literature. It's not typical travel literature since it doesn't follow a journey and is not linear or plot-driven though, so unless you are okay with that, you might not like the book. However, if you ever have wondered about what life is like in North Korea, why Paraguay is so crazy or why people in Iceland are so uninhibited, this would be a good read.

But don't take my word for it: Mostly good reader reviews from, a review from a blog called FOJAZZ, Iyer's wikipedia entry,

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer

The Basics: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer, 2003, 372 pages, hardcover

How I found it: I have read two of Krakauer's other books (Into the Wild and Into Thin Air) both of which were quite interesting and well-written. When I saw a recommendation for this one on a book review thread for Into Thin Air, I got it from the local library.

What's it about: This book is about Mormons. It is mostly about how a break-away sect of fundamentalist Mormons got crazy-violent in the early 80s, but it is also about the history of Mormonism and fundamentalist Mormonism and the role of polygamy in the Mormon church. For those of you from BC always seeing the town of Bountiful on the news, there is a section on that too.

Did I like it?: I really liked this book. I know next to nothing about Mormonism (which is similar to my knowledge on any other Christian sect), so it was fascinating to find out what the religion is about and how much truth there is to those polygamy rumours. The examination of the violent aspects of the faith, including the Lafferty murders and the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping was well done too. The book was written like a long magazine article, or a series of magazine articles (which I guess is what Krakauer specializes in, so no big surprise there). I was really surprised that I couldn't put this book down.

Will you like it?: If you've heard about fundamentalist Mormons on the news you should read this book. It explains the background to all those polygamous and violent incidents in a fascinating way. For a non-fiction book, this was a great read.

But don't take my word for it: Mostly positive reviews from readers, the New York Times review, one from the Christian Science Monitor, and one from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

The Basics: How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936, 276 pages, paperback.

How I found it: I bought some cereal because it advertised on the box that you could get a free book. From the selection they had available, this was my choice. I figured that I needed this sort of information since I am going to work in the field of law. Or something...

What's it about?: This is a self help book about how to deal with other people. It is separated into sections with names like: "Six Ways to Make People Like You", "How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking" and "Be a Leader: How to Change People without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment". At the end of each chapter is the "principle" you are meant to take out of it. These are things like: "Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly" and "Talk in terms of the other person's interests". Really, they are all common sense things that you should do. The whole book can be summed up by saying: be considerate of other people. Each section is full of examples of how to use each principle.

Did I like it?: I really didn't enjoy this book. A disclaimer though: I hate reading self-help books. I always feel like there is more wrong with me after I am finished reading the book than I did before I started. Self-help books are like cosmetics commercials: they tell you what is wrong with you so that you will buy their products to fix it. As a result, I found reading this book to be tedious and I skimmed large portions of it. I think I found it so tedious because its use of examples makes it so repetitive. I am not an idiot. I don't need ten examples of one type of behaviour to understand the point being made. I also wasn't a big fan of the constant use of examples from men I am supposed to be impressed by, such as numerous old time US presidents.

Will you like it?: If you are totally incompetent and self-conscious about your behaviour in the business world, you might like this book. Otherwise I suggest that you just use common sense and the golden rule to govern how you treat other people and you'll be fine. I also think this book would be great as a pamphlet: each of the principles set out with one example. The whole book in under 10 pages. It would be great and not nearly as tedious.

But don't take my word for it: A bunch of glowing reviews from, and a summary of the principles from the book so you never have to read it. Other than that I can only find other glowing reviews from online bookstores and various business types touting the book as a miracle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sugarmilk Falls - Ilona Van Mil

The Basics: Sugarmilk Falls, Ilona Van Mil, 2005, 321 pages, paperback, winner of the Crime Writers Association's Debut Dagger Award (for Crime novels by previously unpublished authors). Apparently she is also a law prof at the University of Essex in the UK.

How I found it: My mom had it and lent it to me when I was visiting her. I'm not sure if she had it for her book club or not, but either way, she really enjoyed it.

What's it about?: A small francophone town in northern Ontario is shaken out of their usual routine by the murder of the local school teacher. The townsfolk, including the priest, a trapper, the local car dealer, and the resident aboriginal family form part of a great cast of characters. It's a "whodunit" type of mystery novel, but Van Mil writes rather well and makes it feel a little more like literature. Van Mil also manages to incorporate aboriginal and religious issues in a great way.

Did I like it?: It's been ages since I read any mystery or crime books. I usually dismiss them as pulpy, but this one was so well-written for the genre that I really enjoyed it. There is so much more going on here besides the murder. The only thing that I disliked is that Van Mil switches from narrating about one set of characters to another quite quickly at times and it can be difficult for a reader to get their bearings.

Would you like it?: For a first novel, this one is quite good. And for a crime book, it is quite well written and doesn't feel very formulaic. The twists aren't that foreseeable and they do end up making sense. All in all, a good read.

But don't take my word for it: A review from Shotsmag (a UK eZine for crime fiction), a review from the UK's The Independent, and one from Sarah Weinman's blog (she's a crime writer, among other things).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hiking the Dream: A Family's Four Month Trek Along the Trans-Canada Trail - Kathy Didkowsky

The Basics: Hiking the Dream: A Family's Four-Month Trek Along the Trans-Canada Trail, Kathy Didkowsky, 2002, 292 pages

How I found it: While in Vancouver, I only had time to browse through the trekking and travel section of my favourite used bookstore, Bibliophile. This is one of three titles I picked up.

What's it aboout?: Kathy Didkowsky is a mother and part of the Nova Scotia Trans-Canada Trail Council. She takes her three kids on a hike across Canada to celebrate the Trans-Canada Trail as a project she calls Hike 2000. There is no fundraising or particular awareness goal and they aren't connected to any organization. Despite what is often written about this journey, they didn't hike all the way across Canada - they hike 20km a day, for 10 days in each province for a total of 2000 kms. As well, they rarely travel on the Trans-Canada Trail because it really doesn't exist yet - it is still in the planning and development stages. The book is written diary style and includes entries from Kathy, her kids, various friends and relatives that they hiked with and the many former railroaders they met while hiking old rail beds that have been turned into trails.

Did I like it?: I really expected to like this book since the idea of walking on trails across Canada seems pretty fun. Boy, I was quite disappointed. Didkowsky is a phys-ed teacher, not a writer and it shows. The journal-style entries from her and others aren't that interesting to read. The book seems to be almost a vanity published book, although I know it isn't. It is more a scrapbook of these peoples journey than a travelogue. I also didn't like the way the hike was organized. The 200km in each province is a bit of a cop-out in my eyes. As well, having no awareness goal or fundraising objective seemed a bit odd since as far as I know this is the first attempt of anyone trying to walk across Canada not on roads. Oh, but wait, they walk on roads quite a bit when they need to make up a few extra kms. That's another thing that bothered me. And for someone who apparently works part-time as a wilderness guide, Didkowsky didn't seem to have done much planning or obtaining of maps of the areas they walked in. I'm sure this was an incredible journey for the family and friends that did it, but as a book, it's really not that compelling and I struggled to finish it.

Will you like it?: Likely not. It is more about the personal lives of the people on the hike than the hike itself. If you are interested in railroads, you might like it however.

But don't take my word for it: Reader reviews from were quite positive, a blurb from Trails Canada, and the website for Spirit Adventures, Didkowsky's guiding company were all I could find.