Friday, March 27, 2020



I hadn’t heard of Zak George before borrowing this book from the library. (I’m now given to understand he’s a popular YouTube star, with his videos focusing on dog training.) I’m reading several books on raising and training dogs, as I plan to adopt my own soon. While I’m an experienced trainer myself, I treat dog ownership as a sacred responsibility and am doing all the brushing up I can.

Though I may not have heard of him, I love George’s training approach, and thus loved his book, too. He and I are of the same mind regarding dog training, specifically that we emphasize positive training. While methods have been steadily moving towards that direction, years back when I was actually working as a dog trainer my positive approach was very “against the stream.” The idea behind positive training is that a dog is a companion, so you want to build a strong bond of trust and understanding, with which you can teach your expectations. By contrast, there’s dominance theory, which is increasingly—thankfully, in my opinion—falling out of fashion. As George discusses, dominance theory is based on misinformation about wolf pack behavior and the misguided notion that dogs, domesticated millennia ago, are the same as wild wolves. Dominance theory pushes concepts like alpha and submission, and focuses more on punishment and control, which—most reputable trainers will tell you—actually only creates more behavioral issues.

I particularly love that George encourages speaking to your dog in full sentences. They understand more than most owners realize. And, no, encouraging these conversations isn’t an insistence that dogs entirely follow every word of your meaning, but they do recognize trends. George even suggests saying, “I’m going to show you something new today,” every time you introduce a new command or trick. Sure, the dog won’t have a clue what that means the first time you say it, but they are smart enough to notice the pattern that whenever you say that, you then teach them something new right after. Anyone whose dog runs for cover at the word “vet,” no matter how the word’s buried in a sentence, knows how much connection dogs can make between certain words and certain situations.

I also nodded along in ardent appreciation at George’s insistence that there are no “bad” breeds. Aggressive dogs are aggressive because of their training—or in many cases, lack thereof. Some breeds have reputations as aggressive…which then means people who want aggressive dogs are more likely to adopt them…and then train them to be aggressive…which reinforces the perception that certain breeds are more aggressive.

While George’s book is much slimmer than most of the other dog guides I’ve read, frankly I thought his was packed with the most useful information. He demonstrates that you don’t need to be long-winded to teach dog training and he condenses clear instructions for teaching specific common commands and behaviors within a few paragraphs or less each.

I agree so strongly with George’s advice; I found this a refreshing and validating read, especially given how many dominance theory books have been around for decades. Let the dog training revolution continue!

Friday, March 20, 2020



After her bestselling DAUGHTER OF SMOKE & BONE trilogy, Taylor returns with another unique and haunting tale. Orphaned librarian Lazlo has been obsessed with the mythical and mysterious city of Weep for as long as he can remember. Then a hero known as the Godslayer walks into their library seeking help on behalf of the, apparently, very real city of Weep.

Taylor has a knack for luscious writing and addictively intricate and complex plots. My above summary of the premise hardly does justice to the layers of absorbing characters and conflicts. Toss in a rivalry with a vain alchemist, a forbidden romance, a high-stakes “riddle,” and an intriguing magic system. As for the writing, take the following phrase for example of Taylor’s distinct style: “his voice low and though it had been left out in the weather.” She writes unique metaphors I have never heard, would not have imagined myself, and yet easily understand.

I honestly loved this book, but I don’t think I’ll read on this series. Without specific spoilers, the ending skewed away from my tastes. The whole book feels like the opening scene of a greater story, and the dramatic cliffhanger ending lost rather than peaked my interest. Taylor used to be one of my favorite authors, but she’s increasingly moving away from what I love about her work—the whimsy, writing, and humor—and towards what I least like—grimness and drama. I’m of the mind that dark content is about balance: what it adds to the story must be worth the level of horror/trauma/tragedy. For me, this book felt like it gleefully marinated in overdone darkness. However, if you love drama so juicy it’s like water wrung from a cloth, including complicated character dynamics, haunting magic, and plenty of tragedy, this book is absolutely for you.

Friday, March 13, 2020



After gaining so much from reading THE ARTIST’S WAY, I’ve been interested not only in further books about writing but specifically those geared around creative self-therapy. I also have a very amateur interest in psychology, in particular the Myers Briggs personality assessment (although it should be mentioned that the accuracy and benefits of the test are debated among professionals). As with THE ARTIST’S WAY, I think anything involving speculation and generalizations (like personality tests) must be taken with a grain of salt. That said, you can always gain significant insight through self-reflection.

CREATIVE YOU is the perfect intersection of these interests, discussing how Myers Briggs personality types relate specifically to creativity. While I did find all the content interesting, it did seem more speculative than I like. There’s some intriguing insight here and plenty worthy of further discussion with others, but a lot of generalization. Personally, I think the book really could have benefitted from some case studies. I mean more layman case studies. The book utilizes historical figures as examples, but I also felt confused and frustrated that they refer back to the same handful of figures again and again; I suspect they picked one or two individuals for each personality type.

I always test as INFJ, but I strongly agree with the argument that your letters matter less than your percentages. Part of why Myers Briggs can feel less accurate to some people than others is if they are more midline. If you are 90% something, you will likely identify strongly with the description of that type. But if you’re 51%, you were so close to being the other type and could easily test the other way on a retake. I test very high on Introverted and Judging, but more midrange on Intuitive and Feeling. I always get the final result of INFJ, and I relate strongly with descriptions of that type, but I’ve also found it worthwhile to peruse my “near miss” types.

That said, I didn’t like this book’s “quick” type assessments. Though I always test the same with any version of the test that asks me specific questions about myself, the book instead lists adjectives and has you decide which column you identify with more. Based on those columns, I would choose Sensing even though I always test as Intuitive and I would select Thinking even though I usually test as Feeling. Interestingly, though, those are indeed the two categories where I test more midrange. This discrepancy does, however, highlight the accuracy debates about the Myers Briggs test. This book’s adjectives assessment clearly doesn’t guarantee the same results as the actual test.

The biggest debate about personality typing, though, revolves around “boxing” people. I enjoy categorizing myself for the purposes of self-understanding and -improvement. When I explore my personality type, I also look at “near miss” categories as well and I always consider whether I truly relate to the descriptions or not. Unfortunately, a lot of people will take their type results from personality tests and incorporate it strongly into their self-identity: “I’m not good at that. My type description says so. I won’t do it.” Ideally, personality tests are a self-reflection tool, not an excuse. And your personality can change. (Though I’ve always tested as Introverted, I laugh to see how much I keep sliding along that spectrum over the years from lower to higher percentage Introverted.) It’s harmful to think of your type results as 100% accurate and fixed. You can be who you want to be; it just might take some work.

CREATIVE YOU indulges in a lot of speculation and generalizations, but it’s a great jumping off point for self-reflection about your personality and how it relates to your creative habits. I suspect it’s the type of book that’s more fun to read as a group, perhaps for a book group, where you can discuss all the various specifics with which each individual related or disagreed. My predominant takeaway is that, while reading about personality type is fun and interesting, your personality is not fixed. Take what you can from reading neat, boxed personality descriptions like these, but be careful categorizing or limiting yourself.

Friday, March 6, 2020



Cohen is not deaf nor hard-of-hearing, but she does have a very unique connection to the Deaf community. Cohen’s father’s parents, her paternal grandparents, were both deaf. Having grown up immersed in Deaf culture himself, Cohen’s father went on to teach at and eventually become the superintendent of New York’s Lafayette School for the Deaf. Cohen herself grew up within this school, surrounded by more deaf people than hearing people. Now, as an adult, she reflects on the complex and wonderful community she had the privilege to experience. TRAIN GO SORRY is part memoir since Cohen interweaves her own experience, but also part biography since she follows her father as well as two specific students. Furthermore, it’s part social commentary given how the content naturally addresses the specific hurdles deaf people encounter in a hearing-centric world. Labels aside, TRAIN GO SORRY is a wonderfully written book.

TRAIN GO SORRY goes beyond typical memoir by following several people: Cohen herself, her father, and two students—Sofia and James. Cohen shares her own experiences living within a vibrant Deaf community as a hearing person, including the time she shoved pebbles in her ears as imaginary hearing aids to be more like the childhood peers who seemed so enviably bonded by their Deafness. Of course, the teacher’s stern and alarmed reaction surprised and confused young Cohen. Seen through a child’s guileless oversimplification, that anecdote is an excellent introduction to the emotional complexity of Deaf experience.

Cohen herself grew up immersed in, fascinated by, and drawn to Deaf culture. She describes some interesting cultural differences, such as the long goodbyes common among the Deaf. Cohen speculates that for those often accustomed to being shut out, it’s hard to part from the ones who make you feel included and understood. Her own experiences studying to become an interpreter and dating a Deaf man provide fascinating insight from a hearing person’s perspective. For example, Cohen describes how when people realized her boyfriend was deaf, they would refocus their attention on her and expect her to do the communicating. She doesn’t want to ignore someone talking to her, but neither does she want to speak for her boyfriend and hinder his ability to communicate directly.  

Cohen’s father, Oscar, experiences a similar internal struggle of feeling at once inside and outside of a unique culture. His deaf parents instilled in him a love for the vibrant Deaf community as well as an awareness of all the room for improvement regarding Deaf experience. He takes his obligation to his students very seriously and is hyper-aware of the drawbacks of a privileged (in this case hearing) person representing a marginalized community (in this case his deaf and hard-of-hearing students). He emphasizes communication, cultivating varied perspectives and maintaining a constant dialogue about the school’s evolution. Cohen does an excellent job expressing the complexity of her father’s work. His position sounds like a constant battle among parents, teachers, and bureaucrats. Most everyone is well-meaning, but the viewpoints vary and clash, leaving Oscar to mediate and make difficult decisions. Sometimes life is about balance and compromise, but in terms of social issues it’s often about picking a side.

In addition to Cohen and her father, the book also follows two students, Sofia and James. Sofia is a Russian immigrant who has to learn an entirely new sign language now. Additionally, her parents discourage signing at home and feel threatened by her ties to the close-knit Deaf community.

James grows up in ghetto poverty until the school provides him lodging in the school dormitory. With a brother in jail and many childhood friends taking part in illegal activities, James later realizes that being Deaf provided him with an alternate culture and perhaps saved him from a similar incarcerated future.

I’ve read several other reviews of this book that criticize it as disjointed for jumping focus between Cohen, her father, Sofia, and James. I entirely disagree about that structure being a flaw. While it’s certainly a dramatic shift with each transition, the varied perspectives all tie together into a beautiful portrayal of the layered, individual complexities of Deaf culture and experience.

Only after I finished this book did I realize why I recognized Cohen’s name. Back in 2015, I reviewed her nonfiction book I DON’T KNOW about the power and importance of admitting ignorance. Looking into her work further, she’s an extremely eclectic author, but these two books have convinced me that she has a unique and insightful take on the world. I’ll definitely read more by her and am especially intrigued to try read her fiction publications.