Friday, 29 January 2010

Am I the Only Sane One Working Here? by Albert J Bernstein, PhD

Always wondered that
New work year is here, and it’s time to deal with those work issues. Al Bernstein, psychologist and conflict resolution specialist, gives his ‘101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity’.
Solutions? There are solutions?
Turn straight to Albie B’s ‘Worst Case Scenarios’ chapter - losing jobs, losing work, losing income, facing the dole - Bernstein’s advice is so useful.
Like what?
Simple advice in the first place: don’t get stuck in one stage of dealing with things, take rumours with a grain of salt, know you’re in charge of your own feelings.
Sounds like flabby self-helpism to me
Some of it is. Some not. In ‘Companies that Offer Human Sacrifice’ he talks about how to survive the ‘dangerous ritual’ of random sackings and ‘appease the angry gods’.
Funny! And how?
He says these Aztec-style companies value workers for loyalty, not competence (not a good sign for the company). If you’re in a firm like this, he says, keep your network and CV up to date - and if you lose the job, ‘make finding a job your new job’.
It all sounds so sensible
Bernstein also has good advice on alcohol, work affairs (‘Flirting with Doom’), temper tantrums, office parties. All those things that make working life the joy it is.
All for the workers?
Most of it, in fact, is for managers, including how to criticise (four praises for every criticism), how to be promoted (be a positive-thinking conformist), how to get slackers to work.
You can do that?
So he promises - and Bernstein is writing with the expertise of a professional. Really a pretty useful book.
What else has he done?
Emotional Vampires: How to Deal with People who Drain you Dry; Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with all those Impossible People at Work; Neanderthals at Work - you get my drift.

Buy Am I The Only Sane One Working Here? on

Monday, 18 January 2010

Luna sits

Not a review this time - I was going to post this on my LiveJournal blog, which is more personal, but LiveJournal doesn't seem to allow the use of home videos.
I love training animals, though 'training' is the wrong word - it suggests a stern, ordering process:
"Sit, sir. I say, Sit."
Clicker training is different.
Since I read Don't Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor's book about using positive reinforcement to train, I've learned a new and getter way.
Training is a question of treats and fun, and a bonding of love between humans and pets.
Here's a video of me training my cat Luna.
Luna came to me as a terrified little animal. Her real owner had migrated back to America, and Luna was suddenly homeless. She spent most of her first six months under my bed.
By the time she died - I think a car got her, but it might have been a simple heart attack - some months ago, Luna was outgoing enough to come downstairs and touch noses with my dog and play chasing games with her. Luna's 1,000-yard stare had become the smiling face of a happy cat.
This is the second session of training to 'sit'. After this one, she'd always sit on command - though 'command' is the wrong word to use for a cat, of course. She'd sit if I said 'Sit', and gaze up at me with a joking look, as if we shared the same in-joke.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

I See Rude People by Amy Alkon

McGraw Hill
Don’t we all
See rude people? All the time. But Amy Alkon, ‘The Advice Goddess’ of Good Morning America, The Today Show, MTV, etc, sees them like the kid in The Sixth Sense says “I see dead people”.
They haunt her?
Seemingly. One story is about her battle with Bank of America after a toothless fat African-American claimed to be skinny redhead Amy. Seven withdrawals later - one in Texas (Amy’s in California) she was down $12,000.
Now that’s rude
The bank failed to help her find the fraudsters, she writes, then the letters from credit card companies thanking her for her ‘application’ started. A privacy researcher told her she could be legally responsible for crimes committed using her fake ID!
Madness! What did she do?
She got her boyfriend Gregg - researcher for detective novelist Elmore Leonard - on the job. He and others easily withdrew money using inadequate ID and blurry signatures.
Couldn’t happen in Ireland, right?
Amy also rails against people who share their lives in mobile phone calls on buses and in cafes and shops. “Just because you have a self doesn’t mean you have to express it,” she tells them.
And online boors?
Amy helpfully describes step-by-step how she tracked down people using their work computers to abuse her online, and rang them at work.
Amy actually succeeded in getting money out of them - she put herself on the ‘Do not call’ register, and when telemarketers called her, she traced them, and charged them for her time.
My hero
She’s a decent skin - she saw a citizen bargaining street artist Gary Musselman down to a tenner and blogged about it, illustrating the story with his work. A day later he had sold $1,500 worth, and had free legal service and his own blog.
Worth a buy?
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grind your teeth with rage. V worth it.

Author's website

Buy I See Rude People on

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Gates by John Connolly

Hodder & Stoughton

I forgot to buy the nephew a pressie!

Fear no more, my child, your fairy godmother is here, and the present you need (*pouff*) is The Gates, by John Connolly, a magical tale that will scare the hell out of the poor child.
Don’t want that, do I?
Ah, but it does it in a cosy, reassuring, Englishy kind of way, and on the road to redemption the little one will learn lots of physics.
Do tell
You know the way many boys and girls love abstruse facts? This is riddled with physics stuff, told in exactly the right confiding whisper.
And is there a story?
Indeed there is. The Large Hadron Collider and Satan have got together, in the unlikeliest pairing since 50 Cent said he wanted to take Susan Boyle clubbing.
Or one of the Evil One’s other trade names. Unfortunately, as the residents of 666 Crowley Avenue dance in a pentacle at the same time as the Hadron Collider is doing its thing, there is a watcher.
Our dashing hero?
Exactly. Young Samuel Johnston and his trusty dachshund Boswell are peering through the window, having received a cold refusal while trick-or-treating.
How young?
Eleven; young enough to have a babysitter, the unspeakable Stephanie. Lots of evil in this story. Including the ex-residents of Number 666, who have been gobbled up and replaced by decaying versions of themselves.
Eee - don’t want to give the nephew nightmares
If he’s a delicate, nervy child, steer clear. If he’s the usual gruesome-loving little boy, go for it. Adult thriller author John Connolly struck the Dahl note in this kids’ book.
How does it end?
That would be telling. I can reveal that Johnson is a misunderstood hero in the tradition of Camus, and that a secondary demon, Nurd, is sulkily ready to thwart the plots of the Great Malevolence (alias Satan).
Worth buying?
I’d give you 666 to 66 that the nephew will love it.

Writer's site

An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah

Faber and Faber
Out of Africa?
Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah won the Guardian First Book award with these stunning short stories.
A troubled land
In one story, the narrator’s aunt boasts that her daughter sent her a present of Z$250 billion - equivalent to £200 with Zimbabwe’s raging inflation.
And the words?
Lovely spare stuff, simple sentences piled on each other, making stories that take your heart out.
What kind of stories?
In the same story, a family is waiting for ‘something nice from London’ - the body of their son. And if he doesn’t turn up soon they’re going to go broke, because a host of hungry relatives are staying and feasting until they can bury him.
Like a lot of stories by the young, these are in no way cheery. But they’re brilliant. In one, the widow of a hero of the revolution attends his funeral - they’re burying a sack of earth, for political reasons.
The Party insists he be buried in the equivalent of the Republican Plot in Glasnevin; the family that he be buried in his home place. All very Soldiers of Destiny.
I feel almost at home
In another story, ‘Harare’s finest blackmailers’ - traffic cops - extract ‘fines’ from hapless motorists. In another, a man dances himself to death.
Eee! Too sad!
Oddly, not. The stories are so fascinating, the characters so entrancing, that their dark subjects don’t infect you. Even while you’re watching a successful young couple scammed by a would-be illegal emigrant, you’re laughing.
And the writer?
Lawyer with degrees from Graz, Cambridge and Zimbabwe Universities, works in Geneva for a body that gives developing companies legal aid on international trade law. Currently working on her first novel, The Book of Memory.
A buy, you say?
An antidote to our own sorry-for-ourselfness. And a fine work from a new voice. A buy.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Total Oblivion by Alan DeNiro

Ballantine Books
Scythian warriors in Minnesota? Really?
Unreally. As America gets weirder, genres are collapsing into each other. Westerns set in space, zombie private eyes, vampire porn.
But Scythians?
In this teen novel, 16-year-old Macy has the life so familiar to our own children from TV: the mall, the branding, the whole culture. Then the world changes, and her family are refugees.
Happens a lot
But not usually to Americans. Ancient Scythian and Thracian warriors ride in, giant wasps sting people who turn to paper and die, bizarre plagues sweep the land. Fast-food joints are the only restaurants left open.
Dystopian stuff
Nearly as dystopian as what we’re living through. All speckled with brilliant stories. Example: a coal miner finds a diamond. Inside is Satan’s head. Satan says “Bring me to the surface and you can have one thing.” The man agrees, and he’s never heard of again.
It sounds a bit - uncentred?
That it is. A lot of the time DeNiro is having fun telling tall tales and riffing on the tropes of American culture. But it’s fun.
Tropes? Eh?
Cultural metaphors. Like Macy’s family take a riverboat for St Louis, a la Huck Finn. Her dad has a job waiting for him in the astronomy department. (He then turn his hand to astrology - handy in the new dispensation.)
And family life?
Macy’s brother Ciaran turns into a tangler who fixes deals between all the factions; her sister gets sold into slavery; Macy and her mother catch the plague. Life, you know.
Healthy children’s reading?
Not if you’re concerned about drug use and foul language. But for older teenagers and those who can distinguish fiction from reality, it’s a rattling yarn.
The author?
DeNiro’s first hit was with a strange little book of stories, Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and he runs the Goblin Mercantile Exchange blog. One to watch.
Author's site