Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Time Traveler’s Wife

Friday, April 13th, 2018 | Books

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel by Audrey Niffenegger, and a rare gift of one at that.

Like most great novels, it is a love story. In this case between Clare Abshire, a normal and well-to-do girl, and Henry DeTamble, a man who suffers from chrono-impairmen, which causes him to time travel randomly and unpredictably, living him to fight for his life in a variety of situations.

It sounds like science fiction, and technically it is. But it’s not for science fiction fans, so if sci-fi isn’t your thing, don’t let that put you off. It’s a love story through-and-through with interesting philosophy thrown in to boot.

I can’t honestly say I was gripped the whole way through. At first, the ideas are novel, which keeps it interesting. But, the middle of the novel dragged for me. I had to put in some willpower to keep reading.

The effort was well rewarded, though. The ending is powerful, moving and bittersweet. I don’t really do crying, but if anything came close, this was about it. If you enjoy fiction, this is well worth a read.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Sunday, March 25th, 2018 | Books

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a book by J. K. Rowling. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated Eddie Redmayne.

I had seen the film, which also stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt, but I wasn’t really sure how the original book would translate into an audiobook as it seemed like a picture book about monsters, something that wouldn’t lend itself well to being without said pictures.

But that wasn’t the case. In large part, because of the production values used. Each entry was accompanied by music and sound effects that added atmosphere. That, combined with my existing knowledge, provided a rich description.

It did make the entire thing quite short: around 2 hours. Which was fine; I like short books.

Triathlon: Winning at 70.3

Saturday, March 24th, 2018 | Books

Triathlon: Winning at 70.3: How to Dominate the Middle Distance is a book by Dan Golding.

Golding is the same guy that wrote Triathlon For Beginners, which I wrote about in December. I think that Winning at 70.3 is probably even better.

Although it is focused on middle distance triathlon (also known as 70.3 or half-ironman), I think this is worthwhile reading for anyone doing Olympic distance because it will put you in good habits. Sure, you can get away with less core strength training at Olympic. But do you want to get away with it, or do you want to stay injury free and put in place patterns that would allow you to move up if you ever wanted to? I would suggest the latter.

It’s not a beginners book, so if you’re not familiar with the basics of triathlon or the terminology, you might struggle. It’s not inaccessible, but it doesn’t break things down to anywhere near the same level as Golding’s other book.

For me, one of the most useful parts of the book was the specific exercises and tests to do. For example, how to measure your sweat rate so you know how much water to drink during a race. Others bit were a bit confusing. Golding talks about heart rate zones, for example, saying they are the “common” ones. But they don’t seem to map onto Garmin’s, or the 7 zones a lot of cyclists talk about, so it’s not clear how to incorporate them into training.

It’s also full of helpful tips, such as saving time by strategically weeing towards the end of your swim and thus avoiding the chance that you’ll have to go again.

All in all, an excellent guide to triathlon.

The Language Instinct

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 | Books

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is a book by Steven Pinker.

I have raved about Steven Pinker before. How the Mind Works is a fascinating read and The Blank Slate has changed my worldview more than almost any other book. Along with two or three others, it is probably the more important book I have ever read.

Sadly, I could not get on with the The Language Instinct in the same was as Pinker’s other books. It was too technical for me, even as someone currently studying childhood language development (the book is about language more broadly, but can’t help but stray into development).

I found Pinker’s other books highly accessible, but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get into this one. Ultimately, I had to give up.

I have no doubt that the many positive reviews about this book are accurate. If you understand the material, or just stick with it, perhaps you get a lot out of it. It just wasn’t the case for me.

Exercise Physiology

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | Books

Exercise Physiology is a textbook by William D. McArdle, Frank L. Katch and Victor L. Katch. I read the eighth edition, which was also an international edition.

I wasn’t a big fan of the book. It’s dense: while there are lots of sections and graphics, it felt like a lot of heavy text and I struggled to focus on taking so much in. A lot of it got very technical, which may or may not be a good thing depending on what your current knowledge of the subject is.

As a minor point, they re-use the same full-page photos for the chapter title pages, which is disappointing.

It’s a comprehensive textbook, but a bit too heavy for me. Literally: it’s 2.9kg.

Physiology of Sport and Exercise

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 | Books

Physiology of Sport and Exercise is a textbook by W. Larry Kenney, Jack H. Wilmore and David L. Costill. I read the fifth edition.

I got on well with this book. I was able to read in detail the sections I was interested in and skip straight to the “in review” summaries of the sections I wasn’t. There are case studies which help add a bit of colour to the otherwise dry science.

It starts with a description of what happens to the body when you exercise, before moving to talk about the theory behind training. It has sections for environmental factors and individual differences such as age and sex.

There is a lengthy discussion of nutrition and doping, too. Though, unfortunately, I haven’t found any safe and easy ways to dope. I don’t fancy withdrawing a load of blood and re-injecting it six weeks later, so it looks like I’ll just have to keep puffing away on the old salbutamol.

Keep on Running

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018 | Books

Keep on Running: Science of Training and Performance is a book by Eric Newsholme, Anthony Leech and Glenda Duester.

It’s a popular title for books: a search on Good Reads turned up over a dozen books with the same title. This one is to do with what it says on the tin. That is, it is about how to run faster and longer.

The key takeaway message is that you are slowed down by your weakest system. So, you have a great vo2 max, but if your lactate threshold is terrible, you’re not going to be setting any records. Similarly, you can have all the slow twitch fibres in the world, but you need a decent running economy to run a marathon fast.

This means working on all of the bodies systems. It’s not enough to just do the same thing over and over again. You need variety in your training routine to work on each part of the body.

Of course, vary your training system is nothing new or surprising. But the book breaks down the details in a clear and easy-to-follow manner.

Sport Psychology

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 | Books

With a rather long full title of Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, Sport Psychology (Olympic Handbook Of Sports Medicine), this textbook provides an introduction to the major issue in sport psychology.

It’s a really well put together book. It covers each area in short and to-the-point chapters. The whole thing is just over 100 pages and gives you a brief but comprehensive introduction to the areas.

What it’s missing are the details on some of the interventions. It talks about confidence, mental preparation and focus. And explains what these areas are. But then it goes on to say “imagery is useful for this” without going into any detail about what exactly imagery is.

Overall, though, this is a great introduction to the subject.

Our Korean Kitchen

Sunday, December 31st, 2017 | Books, Food

Our Korean Kitchen is a cookbook by Jordan Bourke and Rejina Pyo.

It sounds exciting, but honestly, it’s not. I just can’t make much from this book. Everything is too difficult.

There is always a question of authenticity vs practicality. Some people may have preferences either way. Mine is probably towards the latter. I want to make stuff from a cookbook. If that means dumping it down for British people, I’m for that.

The recipes I did manage were total winners. The bulgogi is delicious. Elina loves the warming chicken and potato stew. But I’m not sure where to go after that. Have you tried making your own kimchi? It’s not straightforward.

I thought I had really put the effort in after I spent an hour in the international supermarket chasing down gochugaru paste, kimchi sauce, muli and half a dozen other ingredients. But it wasn’t enough.

If you are someone with a lot of determination, you can probably get a lot out of this book. But if, like me, you are time limited and not entirely sure how to use doen-jang soybean paste, you might struggle with this book.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017 | Books

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism is a book by Sarah J. Egan, Tracey D. Wade, Roz Shafran, and Martin M. Antony.

It’s written for therapists but is also useful for academics. And, as it turns out, for some introspection, too.

What exactly is perfectionism? There is no universal definition of clinical perfectionism but typically involves in a process of people setting unachievable standards for themselves and then feeling bad when they miss them. Treating it can have transdiagnostic benefits for a person’s mental health.

A key part is an over-reliance of self-feedback. It’s not enough that other people tell you that you are doing a good job: you need to meet your own high standards, not theirs.

How do you assess it? There is no single way, though a few inventories are emerging. And by “a few”, I mean loads:

  • Almost Perfect Scale-Revised (APS-R)
  • Behaviour Domains Questionaire (BDQ)
  • Burns Perfectionism Scale (BPS)
  • Clinical Perfectionism Questionaire (CPQ)
  • Consequences of Perfectionism Scale (COPS)
  • Frost et al. Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (FMPS)
  • Hewitt and Flett Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (HMPS)
  • Neurotic Perfectionism Qustionaire (NPQ)
  • Perfectionism Inventory (PI)
  • Perfectionistic Self-Presentation Scale (PSPS)
  • Positive and Negative Perfectionim Scale (PANPS)

The model

The standard model for perfectionism is that you set a standard and try to achieve it. These standards are typically inflexible, over-general (one mistake wipes off the entire report as failure) and filled with double-standards (it is okay for someone else to do that, but not me).

The height of the standard leads to avoidance.

You either then hit the standard, in which case you tell yourself it was too easy.

Or you miss the standard and beat yourself up.

The treatment

The book lays out a full treatment plan based on cognitive behaviourism. However, one thing I will point out for a quick win: merely monitoring your symptoms seems to improve things.

Ethlers and colleagues (2003) had people with PTSD perform daily monitoring of their symptoms. After three weeks, 12% had improved sufficiently to no longer meet the clinical level of PTSD.

Similarly, there is evidence that self-monitoring contributes to improvements in anxiety and depression (Coull & Morris, 2011).

Self-criticism

Perfectionists often see a value in self-criticism because they believe that if they accepted lower standards, they would be lazy and unproductive.

So, rather than eliminating self-criticism, we want to replace it with constructive feedback.

The authors suggest we think of it as the choice between two basketball coaches: do you want one who just calls you “stupid” and “a failure” when you make a mistake? Or do you want one that is encouraging, offers suggestions for improvements and guides you to the next level in performance? That is the difference between a self-critical inner voice and a compassionate but productive one.

This is important because of the Yerkes-Dodson Law. This states that there is an optimal level of arousal. Too little, and you will be lazy. Too much, though, and your performance starts to deteriorate as well. Moderation is the order of the day: gentle pressure produces optimal performance, not viciously beating yourself up.

Procrastination

One of the biggest problems for perfectionists is that they are often not productive because of procrastination. They put off tasks for a number of reasons:

  • The task is large, and therefore the time commitment to completing it perfectly is equally large
  • You feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to do it perfectly
  • Giving yourself too little time is an easy get-out: it’s okay for it to be imperfect because it is not a true reflection of your performance

So, they do nothing. Nothing pleasurable, either. There can be no enjoyable tasks because they “haven’t earned it”. So, the time simply goes to waste.

The motivation trap

A common reason for putting tasks off is “waiting for the motivation” to get it done. But the authors claim that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of causation.

We assume that motivation inspires action. But, in reality, action inspires motivation (Shafan et al 2010). If you want to feel motivated about a task, force yourself to start it and them motivation will follow.

This fits with my blog post on what comes first: thoughts or feelings? It is our behaviour that drives our feelings, not the other way around.

Summary

This is a really interesting read for anyone interested in perfectionism. It is aimed at clinicians, which means you don’t get all of the friendly hand-holding of popular science, and everything comes from a certain angle. However, it is written in a very engaging way, so doesn’t suffer from the stuffiness of academic texts.