“Gluten-free girl – How I found the food that loves me back… & how you can too” by Shauna James Ahern

Recommended to me by: Shauna James Ahern’s blog

Ahern describes a childhood filled with packaged and processed foods, and increasing problems with digestion and energy. She forges a new relationship with food as an adult, and finally realizes that she has celiac disease. Whenever she eats wheat or any other food containing gluten, her digestive system attacks itself, causing a multitude of symptoms, including severe lack of energy and digestive distress.

The richly detailed prose glows with her enthusiasm for food and for life. The only downside of the book is that it repeats background material, more like a collection of essays than a single narrative.

I appreciated learning that celiac disease can be present even if the symptoms are not yet at crisis level. I also appreciated the descriptions of gluten-free grains. The warnings about where gluten can hide motivated me to take more care in my kitchen, including replacing my wooden spoons.

I bought this book in hopes of finding a recipe for flourless cake. It has a lot of great gluten-free recipes, but not that one, alas. I ended up using this chocolate decadence recipe instead (with high-quality chocolate) to great acclaim. I do plan to try some of her recipes.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Not Even My Name – From a Death March in Turkey to a New Home in America, a Young Girl’s True Story of Genocide and Survival” by Thea Halo

Recommended to me by: Joe Graziosi in a East European Folklife Center (EEFC) mailing list post Re: Books on Pontos/Pontian People?

Thea Halo and her mother Sano Themia Halo present a gorgeously detailed first-person account of the countryside, daily life, and people living in a tiny village in the Pontic mountains of Turkey south of the Black Sea in the early 20th century. Equally vividly, they describes the end of that way of life as ten-year-old Themia, her family, and everyone else around them are forced away from their homes on a months-long, heartbreaking death march.

I found myself skipping over the occasional departures from a personal account into paragraphs of historical numbers and dates, and Joe Graziosi notes that these history lessons are “biased and often incorrect“.

I learned about the Pontic people and their peaceful village life. I learned about the little-known genocide of Pontic Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians in Turkey after World War I. I learned that the Assyrians are a living people, not just a shape on a map in Ancient World History class.

I learned about one girl’s survival, and her decision to act in kindness rather than meanness throughout her life. When she had finally come to relative safety after her horrific journey, I recognized a trauma response in her daily bouts of shivering. I’m glad she finally reached a place where she could receive caring and warmth.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Learned Optimism – How to Change Your Mind and Your Life” by Martin Seligman

Recommended to me by: Molly Gordon’s Biznik article When the Going Gets Tough, Think Smarter

In a book that combines psychological research and self-help suggestions, Seligman correlates optimism with health and happiness, and pessimism with learned helplessness and depression.

Explanatory styles for positive and negative events are analyzed for being permanent, pervasive, and personal.

Optimists tend to think negative events are temporary, restricted in scope, and externally caused, while positive events are permanent, global in scope, and internally caused. Pessimists tend to think the reverse. Seligman does note that pessimists’ explanations are more accurate, on average.

He recommends ABCDE cognitive therapy to correct explanatory styles. For every Adverse event, notice pessimistic Beliefs, observe Consequences, Distract from or Dispute the beliefs, and observe the Energization that occurs. Techniques for disputing beliefs include evidence, alternatives, implications, and usefulness.

While the ideas are useful, and the scientific research he describes was ground-breaking, the glib, salesman style of the book left me wondering what caveats, limitations, and assumptions were glossed over.

Noticing and questioning beliefs is a powerful technique which has been recommended by many people, framed in many ways. I prefer less confrontational ways of interacting with my own thoughts. The most useful part of this book for me is the new language for analyzing explanatory styles.

While Seligman emphasizes optimism vs. pessimism, I think the big news is his early research on learned helplessness. Once overcome, learned helplessness does not return. For survivors of any kind of abuse of power, this can be the key to recovery.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Traumatic Stress – The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society” edited by Bessel van der Kolk, Alexander McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth

This is a collection of research papers by van der Kolk, McFarlane, Weisaeth, and others, chronicling the effects and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The first section, Background Issues and History, covers some of the reasons for society’s repeated repudiation of PTSD as a valid diagnosis, and chronic lack of research into effective treatments. I am glad to see these researchers’ firm belief in the validity of traumatic reactions.

Other sections are Acute Reactions; Adaptations to Trauma; Memory: Mechanisms and Processes; Developmental, Societal, and Cultural Issues; and Treatment. The papers are clearly written, but dense, and I read them a few at a time. This is a great reference book for anyone working with traumatized people.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman

This story of young Bod Owens growing up in a graveyard sparkles with inviting details and action on every page, drawing me into reading it while I was supposed to be doing other things. I enjoyed the gradual revelations about his caretakers, and the sturdy, matter-of-fact ethics that Bod learns from them.

Like any good fairy tale, this book’s underlying themes are about how to be a good person, how to recognize those who are not, and what to do about them when you encounter them.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Stay with me” by Garret Freymann-Weyr

Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

Narrated by oddly mature sixteen year old Leila (“Lee-la”) Abranel, this coming-of-age novel shows her both grappling with her much older sister’s suicide, and embarking on her second romantic relationship. The story is absorbing, but harrowing events and difficult emotions are described so quietly that the characters seem flat and distant.

My favorite theme is Leila’s mother encouraging her to trust her self and her instincts. In turn, Leila says, “My body is the one thing in life I completely trust.” I wish I had learned that as a teenager!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Transparent – Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers” by Cris Beam

Cris Beam moved to LA with her partner and, almost accidentally, started teaching at a “small, scrappy high school for gay and transgender teenagers.” Many of the kids live on the street, supporting themselves through prostitution. This first-person account portrays their individual quirks, triumphs, and tragedies in casual, engaging detail.

“Living the T” is street-talk for both living as a Transgendered person, and living the Truth. This book shares Truth generously, by the armload. What it’s like to know you’re transgendered from toddlerhood; to be thrown out of your parents’ house as a young teen; to learn from your “drag mother” the tips and tricks of looking like a woman; to pass flawlessly but both long for and fear intimate relationships. Cris Beam includes her own experiences and feelings as she mentors, protects, and finally adopts Christina, a troubled transgender teenager.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“It’s My Life Now: Starting Over After an Abusive Relationship or Domestic Violence” by Meg Kennedy Dugan & Roger R. Hock

A how-to manual on starting over after leaving an abusive relationship.

This is a well-organized, well-written book for the survivor of an abusive relationship. Common myths, such as, “Anyone who could love an abusive partner must have a serious psychological problem,” are addressed and corrected in each chapter

Topics covered in the book include:

  • Types of abuse, including sexual abuse within a relationship
  • Assessing and ensuring safety after leaving
  • Grief for the loss of the relationship
  • Practical aspects of making a living after leaving

While the authors follow the usual convention of assuming a female survivor and male perpetrator through most of the book, I was glad to see a chapter about gay, lesbian, and transgender relationships and male survivors.

The book is written to “you” the survivor, which led to a feeling of overwhelm and intrusion for me as I read. While the book is written with sensitivity and sympathy, the style also conveys an underlying assumption that the authors understand the experience of being abused better than the reader. This undermines what I see as the most important task of an abuse survivor – regaining trust in one’s internal experience.

This book is a useful resource for anyone working with or supporting survivors of domestic violence and abuse.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Selling the Invisible – A Field Guide to Modern Marketing” by Harry Beckwith

Recommended to me by: Jessie Upp, Biznik comment

Harry Beckwith, head of a marketing firm for 23 years, explains how marketing a service differs from marketing a product, and why it matters.

This book was published in 1997, so some of its claims to modernity ring hollow in 2008, but it still has a lot to offer. The ideas are clearly laid out in short chapters beginning with catchy taglines and ending with boldface commands.

Some of the ideas were new to me, and others brought clarity to vague intuitions about marketing.

  • While product companies compete with other product companies, service companies compete with their own customers, who could do the job themselves or choose not to hire anyone at all. Competitive/negative marketing is counterproductive.
  • Improve the service, first, last, and always.
  • Integrity is key.
  • A service is intangible, and, often, so is the value received. A lot of service marketing is about customer reassurance.
  • Position is how the market sees you, positioning is how you want them to see you.
  • When setting pricing, take not only hours of labor, but also years of training and experience into account.
  • Talk about benefit to the client, not features of the service. I’ve seen this one a lot, but it made more sense in context.

Definitely worth reading in my ongoing quest to understand marketing and apply it in a way that works for me.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Three little words” by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

22 year old Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s articulate, harrowing memoir of her childhood in the Florida foster care system.

I read it in one sitting, pausing to cry in a few places. The three little words aren’t what you think. She has a journalist’s eye for detail and a poet’s eye for intensity, conveying a child’s confusion without confusing the reader.

I learned about the Florida foster care system, about the power of caseworkers and and the mercy of Guardians ad litem, about both loving and abusive foster parents, and about one child’s path of survival through it all. Through Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s story, I connected with my own childhood longing for rescue and warmth, although I grew up in an “intact” family.

Available at Powell’s Books.