Charlotte’s Best Books for March 2020

Here are the best books for March 2020.

Enjoy a fascinating exploration of the human brain you’ll actually understand, a page-turning, literary mystery that explores the ripple effect of childhood denied, love withheld and trust trampled, and a gut-wrenching debut novel that asks tough questions about our look-the-other-way culture in the age of #MeToo.

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How the Brain Works

Did you know:

  • The average human attention span is eight seconds.
  • All human embryos start life with female brains.
  • Musician’s brain waves sync when they play together.

No? Neither did I before I spent an afternoon with How the Brain Works: The Facts Visually Explained (DK Publishing, 2020) a can’t-put-down guide to what’s going on upstairs and why.

The first chapter sets out the basics using smart graphics, fun facts and simple descriptions to explain the brain’s anatomy. For example: smoothing out all the wrinkles in your brain’s outer layer would cover an area of about 2,300 square cm. Yikes!

Next, How the Brain Works moves on to function, showing how the brain regulates your heartbeat and breathing, and how it deciphers sensors your body sends to allow you to experience sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches. How ‘bout this: newborn babies can see only black, white and red. Crazy, right?

The following chapters explore memory and learning, consciousness and personality, and emotions and communication. Did you know we may be less likely to recall information we can easily find online? This is called the Goggle effect. Seriously.

A guide to brain disorders from the impact of tumours and strokes, to autism and schizophrenia, explains complicated science in layperson’s terms using easy-to-understand charts, illustrations and call out boxes.                                                                

The Brain of the Future chapter talks about sci-fi stuff that is actually, or could be actually, on the way. An AI takeover, for example, is hypothetically possible. A lot depends on friendly computers preventing self-evolving ones from advancing beyond humans. 

Or the Global Brain, a system that could allow our brains to interface with the Cloud. Question is, who gets to use the technology first. Those who need it? Those who can best develop it? Or those who can pay for it. What’s your guess?

How The Brain Works by DK Publishing.
How The Brain Works by DK Publishing.

Science of Running

OK, you know that regular running is good for you, right? The science says running makes you stronger and healthier, and helps prevent obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cancer. But running wrong can be bad for you, too.

So, whether you’re a marathoner or just thinking about making running a part of your fitness routine, Science of Running (DK Publishing, 2020) will get you where you’re going, injury free.

Author Chris Napier, Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the University of British Columbia, has a PhD in running biomechanics and injury prevention.

But he’s not just an academic; he runs the talk. He’s an accomplished marathon runner, competing at the national level as a successful middle-distance runner and earning medals at Canadian Track and Field Championships.

So, when he says applying the science of running to your training will up your game, I pay attention.

Science of Running opens with a conversation about the anatomy of running, exploring the muscular and energy systems that enable you to run with pretty spectacular images that invite you to get up close and personal with the body’s inner workings, plus how to control movement and the impact of external factors like weather and terrain.

Then, Napier moves on to how to help prevent injuries and speed recovery if they do happen, including what can go wrong where – runner’s knee, shin splints, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar heel pain – common causes, treatment, when to return to training, identifying and adjusting your gait, and comparing your running form with helpful illustrations of the right way to run.

And add strength training, Napier advises, with a whole chapter showing you exercises to add to your routine with how-to illustrations that turn you into your own personal trainer. 

The final chapter shows you how to create a structured, goal-oriented training plan to improve your performance, reduce the risk of injury and make running even more enjoyable – because it should be, right?

Add Napier’s Training Programs for 5km beginners to full out marathoners, and all you need is a good pair of runners. Now get going.

The Science of Running by DK Publishing
The Science of Running by DK Publishing

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Purchase Our Favourite Reading Accessories at Chapters Indigo

Get cozy with a new book while wearing these comfy reading socks and reading robe.

These scented candles and Ultrasonic diffusers will help you relax at home.

The Kobo eReader makes reading much more enjoyable and easier on the eyes. There are also great eReader accessories available, like the Kobo Sleepcover.

If you’re looking for something for the little ones in your life, we recommend checking out these great kids books, baby products and educational toys that will help develop your child’s love for reading.

How a Woman Becomes a Lake

It’s New Year’s Day in Whale Bay, a small fishing town. No-account Leo takes his two sons to the lake to set their New Year’s Resolutions boats on the ice.

“Put a penny in the bottom to weigh it down,” their father says and passes each of his sons a coin. “Helps the wishes come true.” When they’re finished, Leo promises, he’ll teach the boys to shoot.

On the same frigid morning, Vera takes her dog out for a walk along the lake’s shore, leaving her hung over husband snoring away last night’s celebration.

Vera calls the police station from a pay phone in the parking lot by the lake. She has found a little boy, cold and seemingly lost. He’s been separated from his father, Vera says, then cries “Hey” or “Wait” – and the line goes dead.

Leo brings his boys back to Evelina, their mom, way late – the couple are separated and not amicably. Leo is unpredictable and often violent, especially with Jesse, the older boy and Evelina was ready to call the police.

Vera doesn’t come home. And can’t be found.

Marjorie Celona’s How a Woman Becomes a Lake is a literary mystery – often a contradiction in terms – that captures you on two levels. Tautly written, it slowly and compellingly solves Vera’s disappearance. At the same time, it explores the impact of childhood denied, love withheld and trust trampled.

How A Woman Becomes A Lake by Marjorie Celona
How A Woman Becomes A Lake by Marjorie Celona

The Henna Artist

It’s 1940s India. Ajar is a small rural village in the state of Pradesh. Seventeen-year-old Lakshmi Shastri makes an unheard-of decision: she will run away from her family, her village and an arranged and abusive marriage, and make her own way in the world, on her own terms.

Lakshmi arrives in the pink city of Jaipur and becomes the go-to henna artist – she learned the art from high end call girls – to the city’s wealthy, upper class women.

Perhaps more importantly, she becomes their confidante, mediating petty squabbles, solving personal problems and offering sage advice. She also discreetly sells herbal contractive and pregnancy-termination potions to the men with mistresses – most of her clientele’s husbands.

Lakshmi is partner-less and content, if not happy. Malik, an eight-year-old (although he’s not sure of his age) homeless kid, is her trusty assistant, carrying her bags and supplies and hailing tongas. She’s building a house and planning to bring her parents to live with her. She’s toying with adding marriage broker to her business portfolio.

So, life is good. And then it’s not.

Hari Shastri, Lakshmi’s estranged husband, shows up at her door with Radha, the 13-year-old sister she never knew she had. Hari wants money, of course, and Radha wants family – the girls’ parents have recently died to Lakshmi’s horror – and freedom.

Things go south. Parvati, one of Lakshmi’s most influential clients, discovers that Lakshmi has had a one-night stand with Samir, her long-time mentor and Parvati’s husband. She takes revenge, damaging the reputation Lakshmi has spent years building and ensuring that most of her clients bail. 

Her contractor is going to sue her for money owed and she’ll lose her house. And as if all that weren’t bad enough, Radha gets pregnant by Ravi, playboy son of Samir and Parvati. 

Lakshmi’s world explodes but, in the aftermath, she discovers the woman she was meant to be. And that self-determination and love are not mutually exclusive. 

Alka Joshi’s The Henna Artist is a lively read, an engaging Netflix mini-series in print, complete with a glossary of Indian terms, a Coles Notes on the caste system, the history of henna, Radha’s acclaimed henna recipe, and a recipe for Malik’s mouth-watering meat balls and the Palace’s Royal Rabri dessert.

The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

My Dark Vanessa

In 2000, Vanessa Wye is a lonely 15-yar-old scholarship student at tony Browick boarding school in Maine.

The year before she had a friend, her roommate, but Jenny got a boyfriend and the girls just weren’t as tight as they had been. And then there was a big self-righteous blow up and the two stopped talking. Vanessa tells herself she’s OK with her aloneness but she’s not really. 

Her English teacher, 42-year-old Jacob Strane, singles her out for special treatment. Tells her she’s beautiful – her red hair is a maple leaf in fall. She’s crazy smart. She’s an uber talented writer. 

He lends her his favourite books including Nabokov’s Lolita. Then, he touches her knee. And the sexual relation begins.

Jacob loves her, Vanessa thinks. And the power she wields to bring him to his knees – literally – is addictive.

“When we’re together,” he says, “it feels as though the dark things inside of me rise to the surface and brush against the dark things inside you.”

When they’re discovered, Jacob convinces Vanessa that the only way to keep him out of jail is to take complete responsibility and everything will be OK. She does. And gets turfed.

2017. #MeToo. Vanessa and Jacob have stayed in touch over the years. Sometimes phone sex. Sometimes in person – he was her “older boyfriend” in university. But now there’s a crisis.

Taylor Birch, another Browick student, has publicly accused Jacob of sexual assault. The school is investigating. More girls come forward. And Taylor reaches out to ask Vanessa to share her experience.

Vanessa won’t “because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else’s mouth the word turns ugly and absolute . . . It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it,” Vanessa tells herself.

As social media takes over the story and the accusations mount, Vanessa finally talks to her psychiatrist about Jacob and what happened. And in some ways, still happens. 

Who was the initiator? Ruby asks. Vanessa acknowledges, in her inside voice. Him.

But her outside voice? “I can’t lose the thing I have held on to for so long,” she says. “I just really need it to be a love story. You now? I really, really need it to be that.”

My Dark Vanessa, Russell’s debut, is as much a study of the aftermath of abuse as it is of the abuse itself.  

It asks some tough questions. Vanessa says she asked for sex – does that make her complicit? Seventeen years later, she is still protecting Jacob – but is she really protecting herself? And how does abuse come to mean different things to different people – perpetrators, victims and the rest of us?

Russell doesn’t offer answers. But she does indict our enabling, look-the-other way culture and the impossible burden we expect young women to carry. Not an easy read – but a must read.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Written by Charlotte Empey. Illustrations produced on iPad Pro with Apple Pencil by Mark Scheibmayr.

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