Tag Archives: self help books

Book Reviews

Through my Master Gardener work at Litzinger Road Ecology Center, a project of Missouri Botanical Garden, I’m a member of a book club for volunteers. Since we have not been doing volunteer work or educational enrichment in person lately, our book club helps to keep us in touch with each other through online meetings and keeps our minds expanding.

I haven’t had much time lately to read anything except textbooks and write anything except papers since I am in graduate school, though so far I’ve been able to fit in book club readings and discussions. For the next two and half months or so I’m going to be working on some independent study which should result in a little more time to read and write about more varied topics. One of my favorite things to write is book reviews! The first three books I’m going to review here are recent readings from our book club, and the last one is an old book that I read a long time ago and used for my most recent paper, resulting in a refreshed perspective on it and renewed appreciation.

Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn
Never Home Alone by Rob Dunn

“Never Home Alone” by Rob Dunn
There are many organisms that we live with but don’t think much about. In some cases, they are small to begin with, and are secretive or live in parts of our homes that we don’t regularly access. Others are too tiny to be seen without scientific equipment. The study of these types of organisms is a much younger field of science compared to that of the larger organisms that humans have been able to easily access for millenia. This book explains how human curiosity started to unlock some of this secret world that goes on around us, and even in and on us. You’ll also learn about exciting recent discoveries and areas that are unexplored and ripe for new studies. If you know someone who is interested in science this book might help turn them on to a field that is both relatively new and potentially very important to the human condition.

We live in a time when we are encouraged to have unwavering faith in a technocracy and questioning anything scientists or members of the technocracy say is treated by mainstream culture as heresy. In addition to being fascinating subject matter in it’s own right, this book is a good reminder to lay people such as myself that scientists are not superhuman, they don’t know everything and no one is above being questioned. Here is a quote I like from page 214: “Scientists aren’t supposed to discount hypotheses that they find boring and unfortunate, but they do…” I think we should all be cautious if someone tells us everything that can be known about something is already known. We can all think of many instances in history where that has been asserted, incorrectly. I believe curiosity should be encouraged whenever possible and this book certainly appeals to that part of human nature!

The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso
The Incredible Journey of Plants by Stefano Mancuso

“The Incredible Journey of Plants”
by Stefano Mancuso
Similar to our first book club selection above, “The Incredible Journey of Plants” is a science book written so that a lay audience can access the information without having to read academic papers. It’s shorter in length than “Never Home Alone” and the watercolor illustrations are artistic and fanciful rather than strictly informational. Although the illustrations are lovely, in my opinion they would have benefitted from more variety in concepts since they are very prominent in the overall presentation.

If you enjoy plants, learning more about how amazing their survival, propagation and adaptation capabilities are from this book is likely to increase your fascination. The author provides some global perspective to the importance of plants to humans and the interplay between plants and world history. Although it contains scientific information, this is a book that you would probably use most often to access your capability for inspiration and wonder rather than as a horticultural reference book.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
Things in Jars by Jess Kidd
“Things in Jars” by Jess Kidd
“Things in Jars” is detective fiction that is set in the Victorian era. That might sound like a conventional premise, but this author adds in supernatural and fantasy elements with a poetic approach to the language creating results that are very bizarre, in a good way. This is not a “cozy” mystery with genteel characters and situations. There is considerable gore and dark abuse reflecting the hardships of the Victorian era that went along with the whimsy, mannered culture and scientific progress of the time that we often see portrayed in fiction. The “Things In Jars” of the title are sought after by scientists, collectors, curiosity exhibitors, mercenaries and detectives who all have conflicting purposes in mind for the specimens in question.

Although I have read a great deal of detective fiction, fantasy is not one of my favorite genres so at first I had a hard time getting interested in the story which has as characters ghosts and mythical creatures along with examples of Victorian era denizens that are more grounded in reality even if they are flamboyantly exaggerated. There are a lot of flashbacks and a lot of characters with similarities to each other, so I found the story to be occasionally confusing. I can think of two or three categories of players that could have been streamlined to make the story easier to follow. Despite that, if this author wanted to use the lead characters and situations to make a detective series out of this novel, I would be interested in reading more. It took considerable mental effort on my part to get into this world, but once there I was in no hurry to get back out. For example I could spend a lot more time with an eccentric scientist in a laboratory at the top of a converted windmill with a pet raven – lets go back there please! That’s one of my favorite aspects of a detective series, you don’t have to get used to a whole new world each time you read an installment.

Pulling Your Own Strings by Dr. Wayne Dyer
Pulling Your Own Strings by Dr. Wayne Dyer

“Pulling Your Own Strings” by Dr. Wayne Dyer
This book was first published in 1978. I first read this book in the late 1980s, when I was in college (the first time). It turned out to be one of the most influential books I have ever read. At many points in all of our lives, individuals and institutions are going to try to get you to disregard your own inclinations in behavior and thought so that your actions will benefit them, rather than yourself.

In my most recent research paper for the class Media Organization Regulations, I explained some of the sources of my theory that abuse is so mainstream in our society that we often don’t recognize when it’s happening. I got out my old copy of “Pulling Your Own Strings” to use in the paper because I remembered there were examples of the kinds of tactics I wanted to write about in the book, both personal and societal, and I wanted to make the patterns easy to recognize and understand. My jaw actually fell open re-reading parts of this book because the ideas contained within it are just as important now as in the 1970s, if not even more so. It seems from my point of view that individualism and thinking for oneself are less popular in our culture than they have ever been and we are shamed if we claim our right to question what we are told and why. This book reminds me that when people, institutions and society treat you that way it’s because they want something from you and it’s not likely to be what is in your best interests. I have read this book so many times the cover fell off some time ago, but it’s been a long while since the last reading – way too long. It’s going to go back to a spot where I can refer to it frequently. The dominant culture is working hard to separate all of us from our sources of strength to conform to their vision of how we should live – this book affirms the rights of all human beings to mentally reclaim our own agency and helps us practice building the courage we’ll need to do it.

Book Review: “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”

why_does_he_do_thatThis was a really painful book for me to read and this is going to be a really painful review to write.

I once had an employer who fit the emotionally abusive criteria in this book. When he first hired me, he treated me very well. He praised my abilities often. He gave me credit for increased business. He sent me to training and paid for it. He gave me the second best office in the building after his. I thought I had the best boss ever – so much better than all the ones I’d had before. I worked really hard for this boss, and it was my pleasure. It’s nice to have my hard work acknowledged and appreciated!

After a few very happy years, I started noticing that he seemed to be undermining my projects and encouraging other employees to keep information from me that would help me do my job. It didn’t seem to matter if clients were being harmed in the process. No boss would do that, would he? I was just being paranoid, wasn’t I? He started discouraging me from learning new things. He started telling me I didn’t have the ability to learn what I wanted to learn. Then one day he insulted me in front of other employees, then tried to talk me into quitting. When I wouldn’t agree to quit without finding a new job first, he fired me. Then he asked if we could still be friends!

This behavior was unlike any I’d ever experienced before, and I found it baffling. I didn’t enjoy the process, but I got over it pretty quickly because I found a better paying job with an even better boss within 18 hours. I’d noticed this boss lying to other people in the past – I just need to be more skeptical about people who lie, right? If I ever meet someone like this again I’ll be able to recognize it, won’t I?

During the summer before last, I started dating a guy. I was really impressed by how he treated me. He opened doors for me. He made baked goods for me. He showed me lots of affection. He seemed interested in what I said and when I did nice things for him he expressed appreciation. It was wonderful to finally be in a relationship where I was treated well – so much better than all the others. I met his friends and family. Nobody warned me to watch out. For months he talked often of our future life together. We discussed where we’d like to have a wedding, what kind of reception, where we’d live, whether to get a trailer so we could haul two kayaks. I’d never caught him in a lie about his background or work or anything like that. I’d never seen him lie to anyone else – I thought he was an honest guy. When he said he loved me I believed him. I trusted him completely.

For several months he had also been suggesting there might be something wrong with me, like ADD or Asperger’s. I thought he was trying to help me be healthier but I realized later he didn’t want me healthy – his goal was to gradually break down my self confidence. Several times he expressed doubt about my ability to manage money even though I have no debt and he has quite a bit (an example of a manipulation called “Projecting”). He put down my appearance. He told me my web site gave him a virus when it didn’t have one. I did notice he seemed gradually less interested in my activities and interests but he still feigned enough to satisfy me. One night this past summer he talked about where to go on a honeymoon and the very next day, he told me he’d been thinking about breaking up with me for months. Why? Because he was angry that I had a garden and rented an art studio, plus I didn’t make enough money to suit him. He tried to talk me into breaking up with him but when I suggested I go into counseling to try to fix what was wrong with me instead, and made an appointment, he cruelly dragged out the process for several days then dumped me, in order to cause maximum pain and humiliation. He said I was the best girlfriend he’d ever had, he had to dump me because of a “gut feeling”, he loved me and still wanted to be friends later! (Of course I realize now he meant none of that, it’s just an extra bit of cruelty typically added on to confuse the abused person and delay their recovery.)

Well, here I was taken in by the same kind of emotionally abusive person again, going through the exact same stages again, only this time it was much more hurtful because I had really loved him and was changing my plans for my life to include him in it permanently. I thought I was safe with him but he wanted to hurt me for having interests and accomplishments. What is wrong with me that I am vulnerable to this kind of abuse? How can I avoid getting sucked in again?

I read this book hoping to get answers, and I learned a lot. There are certain subtle warning signs that I will pay more attention to next time, although I’m not sure how early one can detect abuse if the person is really good at hiding it. My ex-boyfriend is a very good actor and he had apparently read up on what signs to try to hide – he seemed to cover his tracks ahead of time on so many of the characteristics I should have been looking for. According to the author they do try to hide these things until they are sure you really love them and will really be hurt by them. There are guidelines to tell whether an abuser is a good candidate for change and how to tell if they are changing. I realize I’m lucky I got dumped because the vast majority do not change. Some of them dump you as a punishment for not agreeing with them on everything. How do you know if you’ve been abused? This book will help you figure that out. Lying to someone for months is abuse, for example. There are chapters in the book that address when the relationship goes further than ours did – what to when you’re financially dependent, if there are kids, if you fear it’s not safe to get out, if it escalates to physical violence. It was helpful to read about some of the things I’ve been spared. My emotionally abusive boss had been taken into custody for physically assaulting his wife, I found out later from public records, so the pattern described in the book sure does fit. It’s reassuring to read that my abusers wanted me to think there is something wrong with me so I’d be easier to control but they may have attacked me precisely because there is a lot RIGHT with me and it feeds their ego to hurt me because I am so accomplished. Their incomprehensible behavior now makes sense – making you feel great in the beginning is a tactic called “Love Bombing”. It was painful to realize that the man I had been in love with was not a real person but a persona calculated to best manipulate me – this is called “Mirroring”. Trying to confuse you with lies or make you doubt yourself by suggesting something is wrong with you is called “Gaslighting”. Learn about lots more tactics in here.

This book was hard for me to read and digest, but there are things in here that everyone needs to know. I felt better just reading the reviews so I knew this would be a good book for me to read. Abuse isn’t just a problem that makes women suffer – my male co-worker was a victim of a brutal crime last week. What is the difference between violent crime and abuse? Both involve someone thinking that they are entitled to cause others’ suffering to meet their own selfish needs. Read this to arm yourself against abuse.

Here are some of my older book reviews.

Edit: In 2020, I wrote more about the abuse later in an online artist statement which is still being worked on and written. It turned out to be a lot longer than I planned! Here is a link to the most relevant page to this article. If you want to read more, click the arrow images at the top to scroll forward or backward. Link: http://www.limegreennews.com/roots/m.html

For those recovering from emotional abuse, these links have helped me – they might help you too.

http://liveboldandbloom.com/11/relationships/signs-of-emotional-abuse – recognizing the signs takes awhile sometimes – it can creep up on you slowly and it can happen to anyone

https://www.psychopathfree.com/articles/10-simple-things-you-can-do-to-support-a-survivor-of-emotional-abuse.335/ – send this link to your friends and family

http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/index.html – emotion regulation

https://www.psychopathfree.com/articles/stages-of-grief-from-a-psychopathic-relationship.138/ – understanding the stages of grief might help you avoid beating yourself up for taking too long to get over it

Book Review: Birdies, Bogeys, & Bipolar Disorder

Birdies, Bogeys, & Bipolar Disorder by Michael Wellington
Birdies, Bogeys, & Bipolar Disorder by Michael Wellington

I have a loved one who suffers from Bipolar disorder. A friend of mine who also has the disorder lent me this book so I could get a better understanding of what the illness is like and how to best be a help to someone who has this illness. My loved one will not talk to me much about his treatment, what it’s like when he’s in the different stages of the disorder, what it’s like to be hospitalized and what are the warning signs of symptoms escalating and how to help the sufferer put the brakes on. This book gave me a much better understanding of what he is going through. There is a limited amount of what you can do for a person with this illness because unfortunately much of the hard work has to be done by the patient. This book will however give you some guidance about whether you’re doing the right thing, what to encourage the person to do and how to recognize behavior that precedes different stages of the illness.

Unless you abandon the sufferer (and I’m not recommending that!), this disease is going to affect your whole family. You will need patience, empathy and education. I recommend Mr. Wellington’s book for friends and family members because it will help you in all those areas. You’ll feel less alone learning how people in the author’s life reacted to his situation. Bipolar patients should also read it to get some insight into their own symptoms and get guidance and encouragement in their own treatment. You will be inspired by this memoir of a true sportsman with real heart for the game and for life who has persisted against great odds to achieve and to help others.

You don’t have to be a big sports fan or a golf fan to enjoy this book – I finished it in two sittings because it was so gripping. The writing is top quality – I was excitedly turning pages waiting to learn the outcome about each tournament and each round of battling the illness. Although I like outdoor activities and fitness I don’t follow sports much nor do I know a lot about golf. I’ve never played though I do have a lot of family members who love it, so I did know that birdies are good, bogeys are bad, you use different clubs for different things and you are supposed to keep the ball out of the water and trees – but not much more! If you play golf or follow pro golf you’ll probably enjoy the book even more than I did. If you know someone with bipolar who is also a golf or sports fan, this book may get through to them better than any other book they might read because they will be able to relate to the author. After reading my friend’s copy I bought two more copies to give to family members.

Like the author, I’m a native of St. Louis, Missouri and geographical references in the book did help draw me in. Although I’m not the type to hang around in country clubs or golf courses I do recognize the names of a lot of places where the action takes place and I at least have a vague idea of where they are. Mr. Wellington is involved in charitable activities in the St. Louis area and elsewhere through the nonprofit organization Birdies4Bipolar. As someone who also does some work for a nonprofit that helps people with mental illness, I appreciate his efforts and those of others in that organization. Mental health consumers and their families need a lot of support!

Here are some of my older book reviews.

Book Review: “Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land) – Overcoming Betrayal and Dealing With Revenge” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Last year I was in the beginning stages of a relationship and my then boyfriend saw this book on my shelf. He expressed concern over why I had this particular book in my library – I explained that I had been a subscriber to Dr. Laura’s web site for a couple of years and each year her people send subscribers a free book or DVD. Now I have an idea why he was concerned about this book – he apparently knew he’d eventually be betraying me and feared when that happened I’d want to read this title and get back at him.

Well, he needn’t have worried about this book’s effect on his own well-being. Much of the book is dedicated to persuading people NOT to take revenge on those who have harmed them. Not because it’s not satisfying sometimes, not because the betrayers don’t deserve it, but because it usually does more harm to you than it does to them. This book also helps you realize the sad truth that some people don’t demonstrate any empathy for you because they don’t know what it’s like to have feelings. They can only imitate what other people feel and they can’t really be harmed by anything you do because they don’t care. They are very good at acting and fooling people because they’ve been doing it their whole lives. Even worse, they may get enjoyment from knowing how much they’ve upset you, so don’t be tempted to give them further entertainment by demonstrating your pain to them. I’ve often wished I didn’t have feelings, I’m sure life is easier if you can’t be hurt, but I guess God gave me feelings for a reason.

There is also a lot of reinforcement to help you avoid being taken in by the same person repeatedly and about appreciating the things you do have in your life that are good. That’s not very satisfying when you’re freshly betrayed and experiencing high emotions, but in the long run I believe you will be happier if you take this advice. It might also make you feel better to read anecdotes about people who have been hurt even worse than you have been, as hard as that might to imagine when you’re upset.

This book could possibly help you out even you don’t read it. Just put it in a prominent place in your home. If it makes anyone nervous, maybe that’s a sign you need to have your guard up around this person.

Here are some of my older book reviews.