Michael Brooks has written a book about science that can be enjoyed by those who like science and by those who don’t like science. Or, at least, people who may think they don’t like science. This isn’t textbook, but you will find yourself learning quite a bit. Brooks’ storytelling is superb. Each chapter effortlessly flows into the next one. There are twists and turns and characters as intriguing as any you might find in a novel.

“13 Things That Don’t Make Sense” is about the mysteries of the universe, everything from deep space to the microscopic. The scientists featured in the book have been humbled and inspired by these mysteries. Reading this book also made me feel that way. I highly reccommend this book to anyone.


Title: 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense
Sub-Title: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
Author: Michael Brooks
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-66423-3
Publisher’s Website: www.penguinrandomhouse.ca
Author’s Website: michaelbrooks.org


The basic idea of the Secret Miracle is that 54 writers were asked questions about how they wrote. The questions and answers were grouped into 7 chapters:
1. Reading and Influences
2. Getting Started
3. Structure and Plot
4. Character and Scene
5. Writing
6. Revision
7. The End

The follwing are some of the questions:
What do you look for in a novel?
Has being a novelist changed the way you read novels?  Has it changed the way that you appreciate or interact with art generally?
What was the trigger for your last novel?
Do you do any research before you begin writing? If so, do you find it helpful, or does it constrain your imagination?
How much do you know about the plot of a novel before you begin?
How polished do you try to make the prose in a first draft?
What is most distracting for you?  How do you deal with it?
Do you write in sequence?
How do you get to know your characters?
When/how do you show a draft to your trusted readers?
What makes for a successful conclusion to a novel?

While it is obvious that this book is meant to be read by writers, it is also interesting as a general look into the creative process.  The range of answers and the reasons behind them are fascinating.  The question and answer format makes it a book that can picked up and put down at the reader’s convenience.  (I like these kind of books when I am busy, but still need to satisfy my need to read.)

Title: The Secret Miracle
Sub-Title: The Novelist’s Handbook
Editor: Daniel Alarcon
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Copyright: 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8714-7

I’ve always had an intuitive grasp of how hypertext works. Even as a young boy, I always enjoyed reading something new based on a note or reference in something else I had read. The encyclopedia was great for that kind of thing.

Last week, I was in the public library when my eye was caught by Stan Lee’s “How To Write Comics”. Although it wasn’t something I ultimately checked out (I already had eight books checked out before entering the library), I did leaf through it. There on page 39, I came across a sidebar that had a list of recommended reading written by Margaret Atwood. In her list, was the book, “Mortification”.

This week, when I had whittled my collection of library books down to six, I thought I could handle another book. I’m glad I took it out. I’m going to be giving a talk in a couple weeks, so it is nice to know that if it doesn’t go well, I’m in good company. For me, it definitely isn’t shadenfreude that makes the book interesting. Instead, it is the reminder that even successful authors have had their share of embarrassing moments.

There are 70 authors who answered Robin Robertson’s call for stories of their public shame. The chapters are relatively short, so it is a good book to pick up when you have a few moments here and there throughout your day.

To give you a feel for the stories, and to explain why I think the book can be looked at as “comforting”, I’ll give a shortened version of one of the three stories submitted by Ms. Atwood. Her first novel, “The Edible Woman” had just come out and her publisher arranged for her first book signing. It was held in one of Canada’s biggest and oldest department stores. So far, it sounds good, except they set the table in the Men’s Sock and Underwear Department. In her own words: “They [the men shopping for boxers] looked at me, then at the title of my novel. Subdued panic broke out. There was the sound of a muffled stampede as dozens of galoshes and toe rubbers shuffled rapidly in the other direction. I sold two copies”

Here is an author who would go on to be very successful but on that day must have felt quite awkward. The fact that she only sold two copies might also seem to be a little insignificant, but considering the circumstances, I think she did great.

Title: Mortification
Sub-Title: Writers’ Stories of their Public Shame
Editor: Robin Robertson
Publisher: Fourth Estate (Harper Collins)
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 0-00-717137-4
Website: http://www.harpercollins.com/

Dustyn Roberts wrote a very useful book for anyone who is trying to build something that moves. Her target audience is “inventors, hobbyists and artists”. Since I am a mechanical engineer, just like the author, I’m not the kind of person she wrote the book for. But, I am a good person to review her book since the book is (essentially) mechanical engineering for the non-mechanical engineer.

The book starts with an overview of mechanisms and follows it with a chapter on materials and a chapter on fastening and joining parts. This is a good way to start, since it is followed by chapters on force, friction, torque, energy, power and work. (The book could have also begun with those chapters, but the exact order isn’t as important as the need to have these topics covered early.)

The second half of the books gets into the areas everyone associates with mechanisms: motors (including controllers), gears, bearings, couplers, etc. Throughout the book, and the focus of the last chapter, are some small projects that will help the reader get a better grasp of the concepts and devices presented.

If you are looking to improve your working knowledge of mechanisms, “Making Things Move” by Dustyn Roberts is a great place to start.

Title: Making Things Move: DIY Mechanisms for Inventors, Hobbyists, and Artists
Author: Dustyn Roberts
ISBN: 978-0-07-174167-5
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Year: 2011
Website: http://www.makingthingsmove.com/

Years ago, I read about a simple formula to get people to act on a problem. In your speech or essay, start off by stating the problem, move on to explaining the solution and finish off with an appeal to action. “The Element” by Ken Robinson (with Lou Aronica) accomplishes these three steps very effectively.

Robinson is an educator whose chief concern is the shortcomings of the education system. Although we may think that “education” only affects young people, everyone has been through some sort of education and much of who we are, and definitely what we do, is the result of our education. Robinson argues that too much creativity and individuality is lost precisely because of how we have been educated.

“The Element” gives plenty of examples of how educators have failed to see the potential of their students. Elvis Presley, for example, was denied admittance to his high school glee club because of his singing. These kinds of stories make us laugh, but ultimately they should make us cry. Elvis Presley managed to find his “element”, but many others never got a chance. Luckily, the book also tells the stories of people who did get someone who recognized what they were capable of doing.

Stories of success involving famous people can be inspirational, but they can also be depressing. “The Element” solves this problem by also showing ordinary people doing really well at things they are passionate about. I was especially intrigued by the stories of the “Pro-Ams”. Pro-Ams (short for profesional-amateurs) are people who do their hobbies at a professional level.

Robinson and Aronica have put together a book that is hard to put down and, at the same time, makes you want to put it down and go out and do something. “The Element” is a good book for educators, students, parents and anyone who is looking to get more out of life.


Title: The Element (How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything)

Author(s): Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica

Publisher: Viking

Year: 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-024047-8

Website: http://elementbook.com/