Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Never, Ever, Ever Buy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting is iconic.  It is the title of a movie.  It was the book Hugh Grant was reading in “Nine Months.” It is the book everyone rushes out to buy the minute the test is positive.  And it is absolutely the last book I would recommend buying a first-time parent.  Speaking as someone who read it during my first pregnancy, it terrified the crap out of me.

When you find out you are pregnant, it is a big, scary deal, even with a planned pregnancy.  You are growing a person.  Everyone you know (and many you don’t) will suddenly recall horror stories about pregnancy and labour, and are compelled to share them with you in gory detail.  In case you aren’t nervous enough, What to Expect will bring week by week hypochondria to the experience, telling you not only how big the baby is and how your body has changed, but also what horrible crisis can occur to you and your fetus this week!  Preeclampsia! Placenta previa! Oligohydramnios!

Some doctor’s offices (including my own OB-GYN at the time) not only don’t suggest it as recommended reading, but in fact discourage expectant mothers from reading it. The authors are not medical doctors, and there is a lot in there that is questionable, including many iffy holistic treatments.  Also, as a Canadian, this book is aimed at the US market, and our health care system and options are different enough that it makes a big difference.

Here are my recommendations for pregnancy books here in Canada, based on my own reading and experiences – please feel free to comment with your own recommendations:

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Canada’s Pregnancy Care Book.  This book was fantastic.  A solid, reassuring book put out by the amazing pregnancy clinic at Mount Sinal Hospital that covers a wide range of topics and has lots of practical information.  They don’t assume that you have a ton of money, and there are great tips for healthy eating and fitness during pregnancy that you can use even with a tight budget.  They cover complications, but you are more likely to feel reassured by the information than alarmed.  Good for both reading through from cover to cover, and for keeping on hand as a resource.  This is my number one recommendation for first-time parents.

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Canadian Medical Association’s Complete Book of Mother & Baby Care. If you know absolutely nothing about pregnancy or babies, this is the book for you (and me).  I was the first of my friends to have a child, and I had literally changed one diaper in my life before my daughter was born.  This book has step-by-step instructions and photos for all the things that people just assume you know.  How to express breast milk.  How to properly clean and change a baby. How a diaper shirt works.  How to give a baby a bath (imagine trying to wash oiled jello that is actively trying to escape).  This book is why my children are still alive.

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The Mother of All Baby Books. This is a great book as a reference – it has really handy charts and a great list of resources and services.  If I could get just those things, it would be perfect.  The other parts I found more annoying, because the author is very pushy about some topics. It made for good practice in taking the advice I found helpful and ignoring the rest.

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Beyond the Gates of Gomorrah

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Beyond the Gates of Gomorrah is the true story of a psychiatrist who is beginning a new job in the forensic unit of a mental health hospital in California (which he refers to as Gomorrah).  Every day he walks among rapists and murderers, all there because the justice system deemed them not responsible for their actions due to mental illness.  Despite being terrified to go to work, being the target of threats of and witnessing violent attacks he is able to see the humanity in his patients and even misses one of them when gone.

Dr. Seager also deals with several current issues, most notably proposed gun law changes after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. To target those who have been treated for some kind of mental illness would do nothing to reduce mass shootings, he says.  Those who commit this type of crime are a specific, small subset of those afflicted with a mental illness: paranoid, but organized (are able to hold down a job, handle money, etc.).This type of person will refuse treatment and would be less likely to be picked up by a background check.  The assumption that the mentally ill are, as a whole, dangerous is false; they are more likely to be victims of crime, rather than the perpetrators.
I was drawn to this book because I did a co-op at a similar facility in Toronto when I was in school.  I could  relate to the duality of feeling that even knowing you are speaking with someone who has committed a terrible crime, in that moment you can still get past what they have done and relate to him.  Although some of the things he describes can come off as surreal (for example the staff vs. patients baseball game), it made me remember things like pick up soccer games in the courtyard during recreation periods.
In the book, Dr. Seager continually tries to figure out why he stays despite his fear. I remember the feeling of helping to care for people in the margins of society, of giving compassion to people who probably haven’t seen much compassion in their lives and I think I know why he stayed. The time I spent at my “Gomorrah” was an experience that really changed my mind about mental illness, crime and the law – and if this book is read with an open mind I think it too can make a difference.
Melissa

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Iron Curtain offers a peek at the past – and insights for today.

I recently finished the book Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe 1944-1956, by Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer winning author of Gulag.
It discusses how at the end of WWII, the Soviet Union was able to (more or less) turn several disparate countries into an ideologically and politically homogenous  region.  She also focuses on what day to day life was like for those living in the Eastern Bloc countries.
Applebaum suggests that unification was achieved through four main channels: 1. the creation of local secret police forces who would selectively target political enemies and take control of ministries of the interior (the ministry that determines land redistribution); 2. Take control of the era’s mass media, particularly radio; 3. Ban most independent organizations (e.g. women’s leagues, church groups and trade unions) and control youth organizations; 4. Displace people from the areas where they had lived for generations, making them disoriented and more easy to control.
In addition, there is an interesting discussion on how the Western Allies sat down with the Soviet Union and carved up post war Europe between them, with a devastating economic effect on Eastern Europeans; once among the most affluent countries in the world these nations now were forced to pay reparations to the west, while at the same time watching their resources exported to Russia.
The book is comprised of almost entirely original research, both of interviews and declassified government archives.  As a result, it is a very heavy read and it took me some time to finish, but was well worth it.  I picked up this book because I was working on my family history and was interested in more insight of this period of time in Hungary; but there is as much information on Poland, Germany or most of the other affected nations. This book is also particularly interesting considering current border disputes between Russia and former Soviet territories Ukraine/Crimea, Moldova (Transnistra) and Estonia, and increased NATO presence along Russian borders with Poland, Romania and the Balkans.
Melissa

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Into The Abyss

I literally just finished reading Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben and sat right down to write the review, which would come as no surprise to many of my colleagues who are no doubt sick of hearing about it.
It is the true story of a small plane crash in 1984 in northern Alberta, written by the daughter of one of the survivors.
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to characters that start out to be stereotypes (the politician, the Mountie, the prisoner and the pilot), however Shaben does an exceptional job fleshing out each man and the relationship they developed between them.  The first half of the book describes the lead up to the disaster up until the four survivors are rescued.  After that the author focuses on how each man changes his life as a result of his experience; like how the pilot eventually overcame his crippling guilt, or how the once career driven Mountie gave up everything in his years-long search for connection and meaning.
This book also had a very Canadian sensitivity for me.  The author talked about the push for small airlines to connect remote northern communities to the rest of the country and the bush pilots that flew these dangerous routes; the rise of a premier who changed the relationship between the federal and provincial governments where oil and gas resources are concerned; beautiful descriptions of environments across western Canada — and come on, there was a Mountie!
Well written and a great story.  I loved it.
Melissa

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Thank You For Your Service

To mark Remembrance Day in Canada I have been reading Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel.  Although it is based on the author’s observations of a U.S. battalion that served in Iraq, these touching experiences could easily be those of Canadians serving in any conflict.  This edition included a foreword by General Romeo Dallaire and an introduction by Carol Off (a CBC journalist who wrote a great book about Canadian combat in the Medac Pocket during the Balkan Civil War), which really underlies the relevance for Canadian readers.
It begins with the heartbreaking story of Adam Schumann, who was diagnosed with PTSD and discharged from the army. After falling asleep while holding his daughter, he dropped the newborn.  While any parent would feel guilty, the overwhelming guilt that PTSD sufferers feel caused him to grab a shotgun and jump in his truck, with the intention of taking his own life.
This book contains many such stories.  It also, however, focuses on how their families suffer;  previously loving husbands come home and beat their wives, women who leave their husbands because they are afraid of what they’ll do.
This was a stark, eye-opening book, which I will think about whenever I hear news stories about funding cuts to Veteran’s Affairs and the military mindset that PTSD  is an excuse for cowardly men.  An emotional, well written book that I will recommend to many customers.
Melissa

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