Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Reviews

As a teacher, sometimes I don't think I can really turn it off. The world is my classroom. I am both teacher and student in all aspects of my life (sometimes to a fault). But one thing most teachers do love to do is read. I am reading a lot of interesting things lately so I will post my reviews of these books from time to time. They are written with the most recent books that I read listed first.

IMPORTANT: Please note that some of the books reviewed reflect a range of theories around healing, cancer, and food. There are cases in which I do not agree with the views expressed by the authors. Occasionally, I will voice my own differing view point in a book review and take less of an objective stance. Other times, if I feel the author is violating a human right, I will voice that as well. However, despite the controversial nature of the authors' views, I do believe that there is something that can be learned from what they are saying despite my own beliefs. So I have chosen to highlight what I have learned from each of these books. Some of these books were very fun and others difficult to read however, I do like the challenges.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay
I just finished an uplifting conversation with Louise Hay today. Well actually, no. But I did finish reading You Can Heal Your Life and it felt like listening to Louise giving her best advice. Dominated by affirmations, Hay opens this book as she would one of her sessions. She recommends that one reads this book all the way through and then go back a second time to complete the series of exercises. Where Myss emphasizes locating the disease and possible causes, Hay is more direct. She believes that people are responsible for their dis-eases and they can be overcome through personal change. Like Myss, Hay links body parts and ailments with particular causes. She suggests the thyroid ailments are related to humiliation and lack of self-expression. Cancer is related to deep resentments that stem from childhood and eat away at the body. Hmmmm… this brings up a whole host of other questions. What about cancer in children? Do they cause their own disease? Well, Hay tries to answer it in her way. Again, this is her theory. The part which spoke most to me were the affirmations and the empowerment I gained from reading this book. Things don’t just happen. There is a purpose to everything including disease. I found links with my own spiritual beliefs as I saw connections with Christ’s teachings. We all have the power to affect change in the world and it all starts within.

The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck
I decided to read TThe Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck once I heard a glowing report from a woman who is a cancer survivor. She loved this book and spoke so highly of it. I had heard of it in the nineties when I believe that it was a bestseller. So given all of these recommendations, I eagerly borrowed it from the library and read it. I was extremely disappointed with this book. It started off well. Dr. Peck is a psychiatrist and discusses main themes exhibited in a person’s life— discipline, love, growth and religion, and grace. He draws from his experience in mental health by linking certain behaviours and disorders of his patients with early childhood experiences especially in their parental upbringing. Dr. Peck is part of the school of psychoanalysis but does not quite go into all of the particulars as analyst Sigmund Freud. However, I am intrigued by all of the case examples and how he relates his own personal experiences all linked to the nature of how initial love is demonstrated by a parent to a child. So everything is going fine… so imagine my shock when on page 156 when Peck asks his patients to imagine that they are slaveowners! Slaveowners! With slaves! If you don’t believe me, I’ll quote it. “I frequently tell my patients that their feelings are their slaves and that the art of self-discipline is like the art of slave-owning.” Can you believe that? This book was not published in 1978 not 1778. (Didn’t ROOTS come out on television in 1977?) Then Peck goes on to say: “Here the owner treats his feelings (slaves) with respect, nurturing them with good food, shelter and medical care, listening and responding to their voices, encouraging the, inquiring as to their health, yet also organizing them, limiting them, deciding clearly between them, redirecting them and teaching them, all the while leaving no doubt to who is the boss. This is the path of healthy self-discipline.” Are you kidding? This text is so patronizing, racist, and totally insensitive to any person who comes from a marginalized group. It is totally insensitive to Blacks and other groups that were in bondage during the American slavetrade. I hope that he is still not practicing psychiatry without some serious anti-racist and sensitivity training. Plus, I hope that this is just an old copy of an edition that is no longer in print and the publisher has not re-issued the book without a thorough re-edit. Deplorable! I cannot bother to finish this book.

Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Carolyn Myss, Ph.D
Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss, Ph. D. was actually on the recommended reading list of Skinny Bitch but don’t let that turn you away. The two authors are smart women who recommended Myss’ great read. An alternate title for this book could have been “Chakras 101”— I have heard about them, knew what they were, or at least I thought I did. Now I have a better idea. It took me a very long time to read this book (about a month and 8 days to be exact.) On the tip of self-healing, Myss talks about her ability to discern disease based on physical scanning a person. She has a gift and she wants to not only tell you how she can detect disease in someone, but she wants to teach you how to find disease and heal yourself. She explains that when she meets someone, she can often detect the disease and the emotional issues associated with it. Sound spooky? Well, Myss is part of the school of researchers, healers, health professionals, and psychologists who see the psychological links with disease. This is still quite a controversial idea especially when talking about pediatric cancer. However, I am fascinated with this field. I think there is a lot to learn as I heal physically from cancer, there is definitely a significant mental and emotional component. Dr. Myss integrates the seven chakras with Catholicism’s seven sacraments and the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). She proposes that if we begin to make changes within our lives and selves in regards to the emotional issues related to a particular disease or cancer of a body part, then healing may occur. For example, Myss associates the thyroid with the fifth chakra— the will and the sacrament is Confession. This has to do with having faith, giving up one’s fear, and surrendering to God’s will. She suggests that the greatest act of will in which we can invest our spirits is to choose to live according to certain rules including making no judgments and having no expectations. She associates the thyroid with a number of emotional issues. Although I am still have some skepticism and lack clarity in understanding the links of the three systems, I did some connections with emotional issues that I am experiencing and thyroid cancer. I don’t think Myss is saying one brings on one’s own disease but I did see some links between the issues listed and things I have been experiencing in my own life. I take it as use the disease and this book to help shine light on areas of my life that I can improve. Anatomy of the Spirit is not a quick read; it is a slow 290 pages. I began very sleepily reading it during my Radioactive Isolation, in Newfoundland, and then again back home. But I kept on chugging through as the book intrigued me with the case studies and examples that Myss uses. The book left me feeling empowered with new ideas. Definitely recommended if you are willing to challenge your notions of the origins of disease.

Veganist by Kathy Freston
This may sound harsh but if Barbie (I mean the doll) wrote a book about veganism, this might be it. At first, I thought of the Malibu Stacey doll from the Simpsons who when you pull the string, it says, "Don't ask me. I'm just a girl."

Compared to the other books that I have been reading, it clearly comes across that Kathy Freston is neither doctor, research scientist, nor investigative journalist. She often wrote things along the lines of, "I'm no expert on this so I'm going to ask someone who is..." She includes interviews with researchers and experts in the field, as well as individual accounts of people who have benefited from veganism. I felt like I was reading through stuff I already learned about in the other books and found myself looking for the "meat" in Veganist (no pun intended). I thought, this is what sold millions of copies? What Kathy Freston does accomplish is a how-to guide of veganism, a manifesto. According to the author, veganist is a vegan who understands the implications of his or her food choices. This is accomplished in 10 promises. She won me over with the second half of the book in which she addresses the environmental benefits, feeding the global poor, animal stewardship, social influence, and especially, Promise 9 spirituality. Here, she illustrates how veganism follows the wisdom of the Great Spiritual Traditions. I learned about the evidence of animal rights and vegetarianism in my own faith and others as well. Veganist is concise and an easy-to-read 235 pages. She is humble in her approach and talks about her own struggles with "leaning" into veganism. Aside from a few spelling errors here and there (I cannot shut off my writer/teacher mind), I recommend this book to anyone considering a vegan lifestyle.

EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer
To eat meat or not to eat meat, that is the question. And the question gets a lengthy, complex, and fair answer. "If nothing matters, there's nothing to save." I found myself disturbed, distraught, and challenged at times by this series of essays which Foer dedicates to his infant son that leave very few stones unturned. This book illustrates the ethical dilemmas amongst omnivore and vegetarian/vegan-choices historically, traditionally, and ethically. With graphic word art, quotations, and numerous transcriptions of farm factory workers, ethical farmers, animal rights activists, and vegans who build slaughterhouses or run ranches, at times I was not sure where the balance would shift. Yet Foer, a committed vegetarian, makes it quite clear which team he is rooting for. Yet he does so with respect and dignity of his interview subjects no matter where their ideals lie. But it is quite clear that factory farms are the bad guys. According to Foer, the"artificial cost" of increasingly affordable meats is becoming more clear but wants to leave a responsible answer for his son. And the power of the almighty fork in turning the tide of justice. EATING ANIMALS brings mindfulness to the tastebuds and conscience.

FAST FOOD NATION: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
Remember watching filmclips from the 1950s about what they thought the future would be like? There was this idealism, speed, efficiency, and cleanliness in the perceived era of modernity. This was the era in which the fast food industry was built. Fast forward fifty years. Environmental wastes from factory farming and packaging, high rates of obesity and heart disease, and the growing wealth and power resulting from the consolidation of corporations.

I finished this book today (April 15, 2011). All 383 pages. Okay, okay. About 100 of those pages were research notes, bibliography, and index. However the book is a compelling research document which fills out a few details from the independent feature film (FAST FOOD NATION) that I watched a number of weeks ago.
GOT ME: The compelling personal stories of the workers in this meat processing/factory farming industry. The horrendous injuries and deaths, gross human rights injustices, unsanitary and abusive working conditions, and unfortunate disregard for lives and well-being of its workers. The workers in this industry are mostly uneducated and illegal immigrants and American poor who are untrained and ununionized earning 30% of what workers did in the 1960s. The ways in which the fastfood industry have set the standards for franchizing and globalization which have been adopted by other industries. The death of the family farm and the growing powerlessness of ranchers. What really goes into the meat and fries. How Ray Kroc (who turned McDonald's from a small southern California fastfood chain into a multibillion dollar conglomerate) used the Disney corporation as his model (especially the part about advertising and appealing to children). The seemingly incestuous relationships between the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), meat industry executives, fast food industry, and government in determining the safety of these workplaces and the products. Putting profits over people. Pathogens and epidemics. Active infiltration and disruption of union organizing. Corruption, disruption, and consumption. Huge environmental impact and wastes generated.
LOST ME: Good to have lots of statistics to back up the facts but then it became a bit much. The last couple of chapters were the most dry at these. The legal issues between the meat industry executives and individual ranchers and farms, regulations, etc. etc. etc.
Overall, I think Schlosser achieved his goal to inform the public about a largely hidden problem and empowered the audience with some solutions. At some points the book seems gloomy (especially since the part of the expansion of these fast food chains into countries, exporting the unhealthy diets and 'fast food' methods of industrialization) and I found myself saying "evil, evil" at points while reading, Schlosser ends on a positive note to remind consumers that they have the ultimate power (and money) to effect change.

SKINNY BITCH by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
Remember that (most likely blonde) girl in school? She was slim and beautiful and popular. She had the nicest clothes, all the boys wanted to date her, and she had a following of pretty fashionistas who followed her around like a queen bee. She flashed her hair which brushed in your face and she did not notice or apologize. You simultaneously despised her yet secretly wanted to be a like her. She never seemed to have to work too hard at anything because it was all delivered to her willingly. (Even the teachers fell under her influence.) And when she did take notice of you one day, it was usually to say some sort of scathing or dismissive remark. Okay. Maybe it did not happen exactly like that in high school (more like grades 7 and 8) or maybe I'm reliving through some scene of MEANGIRLS.

But you know what I mean? Okay, now imagine that same girl twenty years later and she is now giving you advice about how to eat and look like her EXCEPT she has read a few books on holistic nutrition, she has joined PETA, and is dating a guy from GREENPEACE. Now she is telling you how to join her clique and become like her. That is what this book is like. But I love it (except for the title which the authors claim they used for shock value). The facts are sound and well researched. I learned that there is a link between Prosilac, a commercialized form of bovine growth hormone used to increase cow's milk production, and thyroid cancer. And I found myself laughing out loud many times saying things like, "I can't believe they wrote this." (e.g. It's no wonder you eat shit and garbage. Coffee is for pussies. Soda is 'liquid Satan.' 'Yeah, you heard us-- fruit. Eat it.' And a chapter called the 'The Dead, Rotting, Decomposing, Flesh Diet'.) This book kicks your ass into veganism without letting up. If you are looking for a lighter read than FASTFOOD NATION but still want the facts, have a sardonic (scornful or cynically mocking) sense of humour and want to be told the truth more bluntly and directly then my Jamaican mother, you'll love this book.

LOVE, MEDICINE & MIRACLES: Lessons Learned About Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.
"Have you heard of exceptional patients?" asked Linda, a 27-year old young breast cancer patient asked me. "No," I replied. Exceptional patient? What was this? An extra chance to earn bonus marks? The keener honour student in me was interested. How do I become an exceptional patient? Read "Love, Medicine, and Miracles", suggested. Although this book is a little old school (published first in 1986 based on research since the 1970s), Siegel was one of the first doctors' to write about the link between mind and body. Today, it's common knowledge that our thoughts can have a huge impact on our healing. He gets into the psychology of cancer. He claims that the patients who survive the longest were the ones who freely expressed their emotions and vented on their doctors. They were not "easy" patients and demanded a lot from their doctors, asked for second opinions, and insisted on the best care. They are the squeaky wheels. As my naturopath told me, "Get angry. The angry ones live." I was angry (about a lot of things) and anxious and frustrated about a lot of things but I will have do another post about that. He even talks about the "cancer personality" and the controversial reasons why some people get cancer exploring four basic questions: Do you want to live to be a hundred? What happened to you in the year or two before your illness? What does the illness mean to you? Why did you need this illness? (I'm still working through these questions.) But the hope, the empowerment comes in the chapter Becoming Exceptional. Through creativity, self-respect, assertiveness, independence, emotional support, transcending fear, and hate, as well as relaxation, prayer, meditation, and visualization, we all can become exceptional patients.

ANTICANCER: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD
A cure for cancer? This is not but read the caption above the title: All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer. This is not to suggest that we cause our own cancer. Instead, suppose we could influence our cancers, inhibit their growth, and reduce their spread? If I were to sum this book up in one word: Hope. I would like to thank my University of Waterloo pal, Leslie for telling me about this book. This book helped me to feel even more empowered in the course of my illness. Servan-Schreiber is a researcher/cancer survivor and as he is searching for the answers to what makes one resilient to cancer, he is looking for answers in his recurrence of a brain cancer. This book is research-based but very personal since it is very much his story. He ventures to take some responsibility for the events and habits which led to his relapse of cancer. I love the chapter on the Anticancer Foods and the Anticancer Mind which suggests that through eating anti-oxidant rich, low glycemic, and alkaline foods and doing activities like meditation and prayer, we can create an internal environment hostile to cancer cells. I feel like I could read this book again just to get some anticancer inspiration.

'I can't believe it's not meat!' could be the working title of this book. Too bad many of the dishes are of Bajan-origin. (What? I'm quite open about my Jamaican bias.) Nevertheless, Barbados-born author Taymer Mason impresses the tastebuds with traditional dishes such as jug-jug, doubles, macaroni pie and roti. From the mouthwatering, never-could-get-enough "Vegan 'Beef' Patties and the gastronomical wizardry of the Jerk Pizza with Sweet Potato Crust, Mason's dishes challenge a novice but they never disappoint and actually helped me feel like a Vegan Culinary Queen. Averaging at least 20 ingredients per entree (there are 54 different ingredients in the Jerk Pizza for example if you include the ingredients in the Jerk Sausage), these meals take time to prepare so turn on the roots reggae, cancel all your appointments, and roll up your sleeves. You'll impress your guests with the tantalizing combination of flavours that are present in Caribbean cuisine. (My fiance was impressed not only with the pizza and patties but Taymer Mason too.) So if you're afraid that vegan versions of your Caribbean dishes could be bland, no problem! CARIBBEAN VEGAN lets you have your rum cake and eat it too.

Taymer Mason, author of CARIBBEAN VEGAN

THE KIND DIET by Alicia Silverstone
Break out the granola and dust off your guitar, as we sit on the grass and feel the sunshine. In comparison to SKINNY BITCH, this invitation to veganism is a teddy bear's picnic. In THE KIND DIET, you too can see the "unicorns and rainbows" and enter the hazy sunny glow of Woodstock without LSD or marijuana. This book is three in one: cookbook, vegan nutrition guide, and enviro/ethical guide for daily living. Alicia Silverstone (and her research team) won me over to try veganism with an easy going approach unlike SKINNY BITCH in a conversational manner unlike the journalistic FAST FOOD NATION. More like a nuzzle in the ear by a holstein cow named Bessie. In THE KIND DIET, there are three levels of vegan: flirting (a meal here, a day there vegan), vegan (where I'm at), and superhero (macrobiotic hardcore vegan). With honesty, personal tales, and grainy photographs, THE KIND DIET is simple and had me trying new foods like kabocha squash, shoyu and tamari sauces, and umeboshi. The foods are light, easy, quick to prepare, and very California with a Japanese flare. Big ups to the rustic pasta, pecan-crusted seitan, veggie tempura, peanut butter cups, and pumpkin bread (with carob and macadamia nuts... mmmmm). According to Silverstone, you can take or leave veganism but at least give it a try because you'll probably like it. Note: The bean croquettes/fritters which Alicia Silverstone thought were the brilliant invention of her friend are actually widely eaten in West Africa (often called akara, yum yum!) and are a cousin to Middle Eastern falafels.

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