Review: Kenneth Ring – Waiting to Die

Waiting to Die:
A Near-Death Researcher’s (Mostly Humorous) Reflections on His Own Endgame
Kenneth Ring

“During his many years researching the near-death experience (NDE), Dr. Kenneth Ring was concerned with answering the question, “What is it like to die?” In this book of fifteen sparkling and delightfully witty essays, his question becomes more personal, “What is it like waiting to die?” More specifically, what is it like for an octogenarian who has spent half his life studying and writing about NDEs to face his own mortality? ”

I was offered this book to review, and I was attracted to it because the author writes and researches near-death experiences (NDEs). Cool! I thought to myself. I’ll get some interesting insights from this book of essays. The earlier essays were entertaining and informative, and I enjoyed reading them. As I went through them however I enjoyed them less. Perhaps I just don’t relate well to an aging man with prostate problems?

I’ve never feared death, so NDEs don’t freak me out. I think for someone who might be facing death presumably sooner than I would appreciate it! Growing old is a process, and I suppose dying of natural causes is also. The thing that resonated with me the most was that Kenneth reflects on being one of his last friends standing! Old age kills off your friends and family.

Something else the book raised for me was the research into near death lucidity, where people with dementia or similar mental losses suddenly revert to their old selves when dying. A fascinating concept that I would like to read more about for sure. I’m interested to read more of Kenneth’s professional work, even if ultimately this collection was not for me.

I’ve never been one for reading books of essays, any more than I like short stories. I like to have something really meaty to sink my teeth into. So that might have been one of the problems with this book. I think that different people are going to get different things, and not all of them are going to enjoy or appreciate all the essays. I’m on vacation right now, so I’m going to be releasing it into the wild. I hope that someone else enjoys it more!

Review: Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle – Elena Vanishing

Elena Vanishing
Elena Dunkle & Clare Dunkle

Elena doesn’t have anorexia or an eating disorder or anxiety. She just carefully controls what she eats to make sure that she maintains the right number. When she doesn’t know what that number is, she can’t think straight – and she certainly can’t trust a psychologist to help her think straight either.

This is the true story of Elena’s recovery from anorexia as well as some of the causes and compulsions that underlie her disorder. What I found striking about this novel was that Elena is a caring person by nature, and yet she can’t care for herself. The root of the problem doesn’t become apparent until later in the book. We think that perhaps her sister has something to do with it, but ultimately that isn’t it. While I would have liked to know more about her sister, I also respect the family’s privacy.

Wow, the guts it must have taken for Elena to write this book with her mother. This is a memoir – so don’t expect it to be an easy read. What it is, is a raw and painful read that pulled at me and made me feel physically ill with Elena at the same time. I felt everything with her intimately. I’d like to read the memoir of Clare Dunkle now so that I can see the other side and perhaps get a bigger picture. It feels a little wrong of me to be so invested in personal aspects of their lives, but at the same time I’m so grateful to them for letting the reader in.

From the beginning of the book it was painful for me to read. If you have or have had an eating disorder or OCD you should think very carefully about reading this book as it has the potential to be really triggering. It’s not the rosy picture of recovery from an eating disorder that many fiction novels have – this is both deeply horrifying and reassuring at the same time. I’m not sure how to explain that exactly, but I guess it’s that the person themselves must be ready to change and that the science behind eating disorder treatment is constantly changing.

It’s horrifying to me that some people who need help won’t receive it because their insurance won’t pay. That someone with a life-threatening condition can just be kicked out if they can afford treatment. Would a hospital just toss someone out if they needed a heart bypass to survive, but they couldn’t pay? It seems like they wouldn’t – but anything that is perceived to be a personal problem or self-created problem like an eating disorder or mental illness doesn’t come under the same category of care. It’s not good enough, even if I don’t have a solution.

Review: Kristen Hadeed – Permission to Screw Up (S)

Permission to Screw Up
Kristen Hadeed

“This is the story of how Kristen Hadeed built Student Maid, a cleaning company where people are happy, loyal, productive, and empowered, even while they’re mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. It’s the story of how she went from being an almost comically inept leader to a sought-after CEO who teaches others how to lead.”

My wife listened to this book as an audiobook on long car rides, and I listened to some of it with her. This book was narrated to great effect by the author. This was amazing because although there was the standard business techniques that you get in any book, they were told as part of an enthralling story. It was told in such a way that the reader felt like they were there with Kristen, and wanted to know what would happen next. There were no bits where I was bored!

I felt like it was a longer than normal talking book that I would listen to, but it didn’t feel that long. [Rose notes that it clocks in at 5.5 hours(as opposed to Get to the Point, which was only two hours)]. I don’t normally like reading things twice, but there were some parts that I HAVE read again, such as the techniques of how to FBI (it’s a feedback technique).

Anyone in a leadership role, not just owning your own business (also middle manager, team leader etc) should read this book. There are business books out there that contradict themselves but this book tell you that even if others say that this is the ‘best way’, if it doesn’t suit your team, don’t push something that isn’t working.

The book by itself was 4 stars, but with the reading it’s 5 stars. The author helped. It sounded as if it wasn’t a book, it was a story. I’m not sure if the author had put in side notes that weren’t in the text, but it sounded like it. It felt like even when she ‘renamed’ characters, it was real in the story.

Some of the techniques that she uses and decided as really good should be highlighted more – like shit sandwiches, but FBI is better than that. They were explained equally, but more emphasis should be put on the FBI. The FBI method stands for: feelings, behavior, impact. It starts with saying how you feel, and then your feedback-ee can’t argue that and get off topic. What is the impact on the relationship, company, team, client etc? Feedback shouldn’t be an ordeal and a sit down session. Everyone in a team should be able to give FBI.

The take home message from this book is that team company culture is important and how to give feedback using the FBI method. Always keep trying different things, and if that isn’t working for you in those circumstances, try something else.

Review: Morgen Witzel – The Ethical Leader (S)

The Ethical Leader
Morgen Witzel

“Ethical behaviour by businesses, or their staff, is often seen as the corporate and social responsibility icing on an organizational cake – something that is nice to do but never really essential. But by turning this view around – and making ethical behaviour a primary focus – Witzel shows how businesses can create and maintain long-term competitive advantage.”

In the first line the author warns the reader – “Oh, no. Not another book about ethics” – in a laughing way that this won’t be one of those books. But it kinda is just another book about ethics. It was very slow to start off with, and there was a point near the start where I wanted to abandon it, but then I pushed through and got to a better part later on.I read it when I knew I would be distracted because I could easily pick it up and drop it again – it didn’t require too much brain power.

A strong point of this book were the inclusion of some really nice case studies that are boxed clearly from the rest of the text. For some of the case studies, the author asks ‘What would you do?’ and then tells you at the end of the chapter what actually happened. Any time there is a fact, it uses a reference. Its worth could be as a reference book because it has A LOT of references that you can refer to (haha). It has both footnotes by chapter and a Bibliography. If you like an idea, it’s easy to go and find out more about it.

The real ethics framework is only the last chapter (Chapter 10), where he gives how to make an ethical decision – how to ask yourself if it is an ethical decision you are making. But in the end, different people have different ways and levels of ethics to adhere to. It’s great to read about, and it’s nice that you should do the right thing, but even with the framework there will never be a black and white question. You can ask the questions, but not reach an answer – it’s just your opinion.

I’d like more items to action out of it, such as how to implement this in your workplace. What can I do to improve my business? How do you look after your shareholders vs employees vs customers? There were no takeaways of what I can do to create value or build employee relationships. Ultimately I just didn’t enjoy it and got nothing useful out of it. It IS just another ethics book – it’s average.

Bloomsbury | 12th February 2019 | AU$35.00 | paperback

Review: Michelle Balge – A Way Out

A Way Out
Michelle Balge

“Michelle is able to share her experiences [with depression and social anxiety] in a way that allows others to go along for the ride with her: the highs, the lows, and the amusingly unexpected. It artfully conveys Michelle’s journey through mental illness and toward mental health. Beyond the haunting honesty, A Way Out delivers heart, humour, and hope.”

This book will leave you feeling breathless and raw. The author’s honesty is breathtaking and painful, and will make inroads on your heart. What Michelle has written will resonate with other people who have been or are depressed, and hopefully make people feel less alone. Her descriptions of how she felt when deeply depressed may feel familiar, equally so the pages on her social anxiety.

Sometimes the writing style was irritating. I would have preferred for all of it to be in past tense, and not have giveaways of what the future held. It’s a little difficult to explain what I mean by this, but if you pick it up you’l quickly realize what I mean, The words themselves though and the portrait they paint is unarguably both bleak and hopeful at the same time.

What I really like about this book is that Michelle shares the WHOLE story, not just the things that work. It’s a realistic (I’d hope so, since it’s non-fiction) look at what it really feels like to be depressed and anxious, and to try different methods to combat it. The author even lists some strategies that helped her – which include medication! So many novels I read about depression/anxiety suggest that people that need medication to treat these conditions are pathetic/lesser beings compared to those who can manage with ‘just’ lifestyle changes. Remember that every person is an individual.

I don’t think I would reread this non-fiction at this stage in my life, but others might. If you have even a passing interest in understanding mental illness or have a similar mental illness that you would like to understand someone else’s perspective on, great this book. I would compare this to Two Years of Wonder in terms of author honesty and accessibility.

Review: Ted Neill – Two Years of Wonder

Two Years of Wonder
Ted Neill

Neill recounts his years of volunteering with HIV/AIDS afflicted children, the suffering they endured, and the resilience these brave children showed despite unimaginable pain and loss. Moreover, he shares that although seeing the suffering first hand led to a major depressive episode and hospitalization, he ultimately found hope and healing.

Where should I begin? While this is billed as a memoir that Neill has written documenting his journey to recovery from being ready to kill himself to finding a path forwards, this is far more than that. I actually found that quite a minor part of the book – instead I was equally entranced and horrified by the stories of the African orphans living in Rainbow who live with being HIV+. Ted’s time there included the introduction of antiretrovirals (ART) and the lengthening of the children’s lives – so that they could live into adulthood. That of course is a very positive outcome, but not available for all children because it is so expensive and there are so many affected by this insidious disease.

I fully admit that I got confused in some parts of the different children’s stories. The way Ted characterised Oliver in his red beanie for example made him stick in my mind, but other children got mixed up, particularly as they often seemed to be included in the text in a random order. It is highly possible I missed the significance of the order since I was dipping into and out of this book.

What I would have liked was an index of the different languages spoken in Africa and their associated /Tribes/. Also, because I’m quite literal in the way that I read words, it took me a while to work out that the children spoke of HIV in a phonetic manner. So I could have also done with a glossary of those words.

This is strictly non-fiction, so I don’t need to rate it. But I feel like this book was really well thought-out by an author who was really aware of what he was writing and how he was writing in. Kudos to you, Ted (I hope you don’t mind me using your first name, but I really feel like I’ve gotten to know you). Thank you for sharing your story, and the stories of the children you worked with.

Review: Clara Williams Roldan & Louise Williams – Quitting Plastic

Quitting Plastic
Clara Williams Roldan & Louise Williams

Quitting Plastic is a quick guide to quitting plastic! Plastic has insidiously invaded modern society due to its convenience and perceived cleanliness. But the throwaway nature of plastic is killing the environment and isn’t sustainable. This is a great book to introduce people to the concept of reducing plastic waste.

First off, there are lots of interesting (and horrifying) facts about the true amount of plastic in the world. Then there are practical and accessible ways to approach quitting plastic. Something I found particularly good was that each tip comes with easy, medium, hard, and ‘it’s personal’ symbols. Just a few little steps can make a huge difference. As per the starfish parable – it makes a difference to that one (original story, story in common use). If one less plastic straw makes it into the body of a turtle, that’s a big deal to that turtle!

For a person like me who has already done a lot (I hope) to reduce my plastic impact (and I honestly feel sick when I see the amount of plastic trash around) this might serve as a guilty reminder that we could be doing more. For example, I should be washing the foil seals of dip containers and putting them in a can to be recycled.

At the time of me publishing this review many councils in Victoria have decided to stop taking recycling – so in fact it’s all going to the tip. So now is a good time to think about the Zero Waste initiative and the five Rs – refuse, reduce, reuse (+repair), recycle and rot. I actually rot quite a lot of paper waste because I have !6! compost bins, but I still have a very full recycle bin.

My co-blogger Kyria has already requested that she be next in line to read and review this book. Her journey to reduce plastic is beginning – and I know she and her family will get lots of helpful tips. Just realising how easy it is to do some of the options is the first step. Pick this book up for yourself, read it, take notes and pass it on to someone else who you know is ready to reduce plastic.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Aldo Agostinelli & Silvio Mauzza – People are Media

People are Media
Aldo Agostinelli & Silvio Mauzza

Digital technology has been disruptive even in this field. Nowadays, everybody can communicate with whomever they want, wherever they wish, for free and instantly… We are talking about a huge human capital which needs to be regulated, but also a potentially limitless market where to make business by interpreting big data and using the most refined and efficient storytelling techniques. ”

I hoped that this book would discuss how to exploit people as media. Instead it reads as a list of facts with no actual argument. My wife got half way through this book before she gave up and needed to rant to me about it. She did read the second half (no other books on offer at the time) which had more details and practicality in terms of what will happen next eg. ‘getting lots of likes’ is the way that things are heading.

One of the later chapters discusses the ‘Big Data’ of ads – you can give feedback that you already purchased it so that it can predict what you might like to buy. Google not only knows where you are going, it now knows where you park. This data can be used better, and at the moment isn’t good at cross-selling. He writes as if this is a bad thing at two two extremes: ‘everyone wants freedom & chaos’ and compares it to Singapore where ‘a lot of rules and tracking leads to fines when people do the wrong thing, but can also be used to improve traffic’. I don’t believe that the culture in Australia and the US  would let the latter happen to us, because we like our freedom, and campaign hard to keep it.

We used to be so focused on keeping our data and information private. People used to be secretive and not even mention when they were going on holiday so that people wouldn’t rob the house! But now, we even let Facebook know when we are out to lunch. Technology already knows where I am all the time (with a phone in my pocket), now I’d just like to be more useful – so the only way forward is to improve the technology. The authors don’t feel this way at all – whoever has that data like Facebook and Google can monopolise and use it to control the world.

The authors are clearly Italian because they mention it a million times, but it’s not really relevant. With this in mind, perhaps it is typical that I comment on it not being written well with many long sentences a lot of commas. A lot of the paragraphs are a single sentence with no links or reasons for why particular things are mentioned, leading to it reading in a fragmented manner. Additionally, statements are randomly bolded – things that he seems to think are important – but they are just facts, not the point.

When you look at past inventions such as trains/planes it was new for the time and considered a huge innovation. The media selfie era is no different to what has already happened in the past. Because it is new to you in your lifetime doesn’t mean that it’s a unique occurrence! The statement of ‘When I was young…’ is something that can be applied to many things. When I was young, my grandparents told me that there were never books about cooking because everyone knew how to, and it was just passed on. Then in my time, and my parents time, cook books were popular. Now, it’s all on the internet. It’s a natural progression of things in my opinion.

The conclusion wasn’t a conclusion. It was just what you could have understood from looking at the front (there’s no blurb). The authors ask their rhetorical questions in the conclusion, but don’t actually answer how technology can be harnessed in a positive manner. The point of the book is that we should learn to harness the technology and use it to improve the world, but we have no hope of doing this until… ever. Apparently there is no hope of doing that.

This book wasn’t for me or my wife. I’m not sure who would enjoy it or find it useful – perhaps in its native language it is more relevant and well written. Don’t rush out to buy it, have a browse in the bookstore first.

Review: Caleb Wilde – Confessions of a Funeral Director

Confessions of a Funeral Director
Caleb Wilde

“We are a people who deeply fear death. While humans are biologically wired to evade death for as long as possible, we have become too adept at hiding from it, vilifying it, and—when it can be avoided no longer—letting the professionals take over.”

What I thought I was going to get out of this book was a series of interesting, respectful stories about funerals Wilde had directed. Instead I encountered a memoir that aimed to dispel a negative ‘death narrative’ and restore a knowledge of death as inevitable, but not bad. While there are some stories, this book is more about how Wilde has changed his attitude towards God and religion since being a child afraid of hell through to being an adult who sometimes suffers from compassion fatigue.

I picked this up on a whim from the library, looking for something lighthearted to read (think Confessions of a Shopaholic etc). I read it over two days, and didn’t feel very strongly about it one way or another. I wouldn’t recommend it even though it wasn’t bad per se.

Review: Meg Jay – Supernormal

Supernormal
Meg Jay

“…nearly 75% of us experience adversity by the age of 20. But these experiences are often kept secret, as are our courageous battles to overcome them. Drawing on nearly two decades of work with clients and students, Jay tells the tale of ordinary people made extraordinary by these all-too-common experiences.”

Meg Jay has really delved into this topic with insight and sensitivity. Some of the chapters really resonated with me, even as I struggled with the concept of the horrible human circumstances that some people grow up with (eg. sexual/physical/mental abuse, neglect or alcoholism). The statistics on how many brilliant people come from adversity were really eye opening.

Jay debunks the myth of normality and summarises the research that indeed suggests that a normal childhood is rare, and in fact having an adverse childhood can make people stronger and more resilient. Jay lists a set of words that ‘Supernormals’ might identify with, and not all of them are positive. Many Supernormals report feeling inadequate or like they are wearing a permanent mask or running a constant charade.Yet, there is hope for them to come to recognise that they ARE good enough and that they aren’t fakes.

What was the most important thing that I took away from this book? That the key to survival and to thrive is to be resilient. To just keep going. But also, to recognize that to be strong is sometimes to ask for help, whether that be from close family or friends who can actively and openly listen to you, or a kind and understanding therapist who is invested in your life. The final thing is that forming relationships is an essential part to being human, and those that most need them are often the most afraid to form them.

Remember that I had just read Shapeshifters, a similarly written non-fiction novel about changes in the human body. Supernormal was better written in my opinion, because the research and the human stories were intertwined and really complimented one another. I found this book to be superior! It was fascinating and horrifying in equal measures, and I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of it and using it as a conversation starter.

Allen & Unwin | 21st February 2018 | AU$32.99 | paperback