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Thanks For The Feedback - Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen

Read because of a good review in the Times Higher Education. The book makes a number of points about the different ways in which we ask for feedback and want to hear it, and how miscommunicating which of three types of feedback we want or intend to give can cause horrid friction. They also pick up common reasons that we block out feedback and offer ways to look at it that don't step on our triggers (e.g. how to try and get past 'well, if X said it, it can't possibly be right because so-and-so is a dolt'). A lot of this felt very sensible and intuitive to me, not least the mismatch between the kind of feedback you want versus the kind of feedback you get - I spend a lot of my time getting affirmation ("you're doing great!") where I actually want coaching (tell me how to improve or what I could be doing better), although it's less of a problem now than it was when I was a teenager. A clear and pretty interesting read that handles the topic in an interesting and sensible way - and one that I might well suggest to anyone who is going to be managing people.

Lady Audley's Secret - Mary Elizabeth Braddon

A fantastic bit of nineteenth century melodramatic fiction, quite well-written, and with a really interesting take on What Women Are Like from a female author. I enjoyed this immensely, not least because the chief villainess is really brilliantly portrayed and very, very well-realised. There's not one ounce of probability in the story, of course, not least in the incredibly improbable happy ending, but who cares? It's a story of the rotters getting their comeuppance, of characters having the best and the worst drawn out of them, and the issue of hereditary insanity and what one does with it. Great stuff if you like this period, and I could go on about the whole representation of gender issues, but I don't think I have the time...

Raising Boys - Steve Biddulph

Gender essentialist nonsense that only really starts to make sense when you realise this is coming out of an Australian context, which thus explains the emphasis on the importance of boys being attracted to heroism and being able to survive in the bush. Some stuff in there which is reasonable (like allow boys to have emotions), but also some dreadful stuff in terms of stereotypes of relationships with mothers, fetishism of primitive cultures (where they do proper manly initiation rituals!), and so on. All a bit Men's Movement-y, but quite interesting as a piece of anthropology.

Choose The Perfect Baby Name - Victoria Wilson

Again, useless, with dodgy etymology. Not recommended.

Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers

The one where Lord Peter has to defend his brother against a charge of murder, which gets especially interesting because Gerald is a peer of the realm and thus gets tried in the House of Lords. A lovely mix of logistics, politics and procedure, and honour codes of various sorts that get tied in interesting knots. Gerald gets off, of course, and there are some jolly fortunate coincidences that allow Lord Peter to piece things together, but they feel - oh, I don't know. They feel fortuitous, not as if the author is delivering a thing that the reader could not have possibly known to solve the puzzle, if that makes sense. Which makes you not mind the improbability and instead enjoy the characterisation, which is as enjoyable as ever.

Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse - Rick Riordan

This one takes the myth of Atlas, who holds up the world, and uses that as the structural lynch-pin around which to construct the story. We also get the introduction of Artemis and her band of maidens as a competitor to Camp Half-Blood, whilst also raising issues about Sexuality and Maturity and Growing Up since the girls in Artemis' gang never age. Questions of identity continue to be very important - the great monster which is meant to bring the world to an end turns out to look nothing like what it is expected to, which is rather clever. Plus we end up with some children of Hades to add to the 'who is going to destroy Olympus?' question, mainly through Riordan pulling in elements from the previous books - he does this quite a bit, and quite well, so I rather enjoy that part of the writing. On to the next one...

First-time Mum - Hollie Smith

Clear and sensible book for first timers, so much so that I've got my own copy - very reassuring and calming, although as I am discovering, pretty rotten for the first month or two (but there seems to be no particularly good book for the first month or two).

Whose Body? - Dorothy L. Sayers

The first of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, in which the character is established, in particular the PTSD element haunting Lord Peter following his experience in the first world war. In this tale, Lord Peter must work out the identity of a mysterious corpse that has appeared in a suburban bathroom, and work out what has happened to a rich Jewish financier who has disappeared without a trace. Now, there are problems here with the representation of Jewish characters - I think Sayers manages to keep the anti-semitism in the mouths of her characters rather than the narrative voice, but it's still rather uncomfortable at times. That said, the actual story and the resolution thereof is jolly clever, and the narration reveals a rather more vulnerable side of Lord Peter than you always get in the later books - but then, at this stage the wounds of the war are still meant to be comparatively fresh, so there we are.

Unnatural Death - Dorothy L. Sayers

I know, I'm on a Wimsey binge, but I don't mind in the slightest. This one relies on the old favourite of the undetectable method of death, also favoured by Agatha Christie in Death on the Nile (and it must surely be only a matter of time until I move to Christie, must it not?) as well as a case of deliberately mistaken identity and the introduction of the marvellous Miss Climpson. There are problematic things here too, not least in the representation of race - again, the racism seems to be in the mouths of specific characters rather than in the narrative as a whole, but it's still not ideal. However, it is remarkably daring as far as referring to a lesbian sort of relationship is concerned for the period, although I do wonder how much that makes it rather sensational for something published at this time - was this part of the repertoire of pulp fiction? Still, it's a gripping yarn, which is what matters.

Bright Baby - Richard C. Woolfson

Another one that I have bought a copy of, because it has some sensible and straightforward things to do with babies up to fifteen months in order to stimulate development. It is quite helpful simply in pointing out that just talking to babies at this stage is quite sufficient stimulation - sounds obvious, but frankly I need reminding...
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