How to Spot Fake News Despite Your Filter Bubble

Hit Makers is a beautifully written Gladwellian exposition of how people and cultural products gain popularity. In Hit Makers, Derek Thompson did what he set out to do: “tell a complex story a simple way.”[1] 

Though Hit Makers is a book about the science of popularity, Thompson devotes a good chunk of it to the ways politicians and companies use rhetoric, musicality, and story to sway the masses and gain popularity.  After all, rhetoric is deeply enmeshed in the science of popularity and is part of what makes the story of how hits are made so complex.

Hit Makers also got me thinking about the current political climate and the ways we have made ourselves susceptible to the allure of rhetoric. So how do we pop our filter bubbles and figure out when rhetoric is being used in dubious ways? Let’s find out.

'The Shallows' and Four Ways to Counteract “What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”

Thanks to our brains’ neuroplasticity, our brains dump the information we consume online.[1] Our long-term memory, according to Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, directly affects our intelligence. And it’s suffering. Why should our brains store information if we can just google it? 

And It’s not just our long-term memories that are at risk either. A 2015 Microsoft Canada consumer insight report says that the average attention span decreased from twelve seconds in 2000 to nine seconds in 2015.[2] The report compares the average human attention span in 2015 to that of a goldfish!

In the report, Microsoft assures its audience, advertisers, that “it’s not as bad as you think” but later states, “Long-term focus erodes with increased digital consumption, social media usage, and tech savviness.”[3] Regardless, the internet is a fact of life in 2018. Most of us have to use the internet for work. Our kids use the internet at school. And for better or worse, the internet is here to stay. So how do we live with technology without sacrificing our brains? In The Shallows, Carr offers a few suggestions.

La Befana and 'Beyond the Wicked Willow: Chronicles of a Teenage Witchslayer': A Book Review

Beyond the Wicked Willow: Chronicles of a Teenage Witchslayer by M.J. Rocissono is a YA book about a rag-tag band of misfits. It reminds me of the 1985 movie, The Goonies, particularly regarding the goofy nicknames and fat shaming. Instead of finding a treasure map, however, the kids in Beyond the Wicked Willow are transported to medieval Italy, where they need to save a young gypsy from a wicked witch. 

Frankie doesn’t know he’s the descendent of a witchslayer, but when he enters Mala’s fortunate teller tent at a local carnival, she senses it and sends him and his friends back to medieval Italy to save her sister. Mala’s sister, Tsura, is being held captive by Il Strega Diavolo, who has been sucking Tsura’s life force in an ill-conceived effort to stay young and strong. The group of kids meets up with Ambroggio, a strong, mystical man with an eye patch. They journey through Italy battling mythical creatures and Mithraic pirates in hopes of saving Tsura from the evil Strega.

Thematic Profundity in ‘Precept’ by Matthew de Lacey Davidson

I fear that people think that a three-star book is a bad book. If you read my review of Precept you know that I gave it three stars, and it’s not a bad book. A three-star book is a decent book, as good as most other books out there. It has pluses and minuses, but it’s still a worthwhile book. And although I didn’t give Precept four or five stars, it did get a star for thematic profundity, which is what most books lack. So, to illustrate Precept’s profundity, I’m sharing three of my favorite quotes from Precept.

‘Precept’: A Short Book About Frederick Douglass’s Visit to Ireland

Precept by Matthew de Lacey Davidson is about Frederick Douglass’s 1845 visit to Ireland where he went on a two-year lecture tour to avoid recapture and a torrent of death threats.[1][2] Though a thin volume, Precept deals with two big issues: slavery in the United States and the Great Famine. So, how did Douglass find himself in Ireland? And what does that have to do with the Great Famine in Ireland? 

'Destroying Their God' by Wallace Jeffs: A Book Review

Warren Jeffs is the current and infamous leader of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). He is also the half-brother of Wallace Jeffs, the author of Destroying Their God. FLDS is an offshoot of Mormonism, though the Mormon Church does not recognize it. Polygamist Mormons formed FLDS after the Mormon Church renounced polygamy in 1890.[1]

Warren Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence for child sexual assault. He married and raped young girls, forced his wives to have sex with each other, and built a creepy ranch to keep his followers from having any contact with the outside world. Destroying Their God is a fascinating glimpse into the insular FLDS community and how Warren Jeffs used fear, exploitation, and isolation to consolidate power and commit loathsome crimes in the name of God.

'In The Shadow of 10,000 Hills’ Review and History

In her introduction to In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills, Michelle Halket admits that she was never one to follow the news. But the news about Rwanda in 1994 consumed her. She writes, “A few years later, I was working at a large firm and met a woman from Rwanda. My face dropped and she said to me in surprise, ‘You know?’ I told her that of course I do, doesn’t everyone? She looked immensely sad, lowered her face and said, ‘No, they don’t.’ I’ve carried her face and words with me since then: the world didn’t know (or care) about Rwanda.”

This sentiment is Picking Books’ raison d'être, fostering the urge to learn about the people who have both bolstered society and sought to destroy it. So, because my biggest concern in 1994 was how I was finally going to stop biting my nails and not what was happening halfway around the world, In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt opened my eyes to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

‘Your Creative Career’ by Anna Sabino: A Book Review

In my review of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, I cited a 2014 Freelancers Union study that found that 53 million Americans, or 34% of the U.S. workforce, are independent workers. [1] A report by Mckinsey Global Institute puts that number at 68 million Americans in 2016. [2] In an Entrepreneur article, Martin Konrad says that half of the U.S. workforce will be independent workers by 2020. [3] It’s obvious that the gig economy isn’t just growing. It’s making history. It’s also leaving a lot of freelancers wondering about benefits, taxes, and how to manage volatile income. Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino is about how to be a successful, full-time gig worker. Sabino’s book won’t help you find health insurance or do your taxes, but she does provide some insight on how to let your creativity flourish while managing a business.

'Alias Grace' by Margaret Atwood: Summary, Analysis, and Canadian History!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood based on the real-life 1843 murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks and James McDermott were convicted of the crime. McDermott was hanged, and Marks had her sentence commuted and ended up in the Kingston Penitentiary. No one knows for sure whether or to what degree Grace Marks was involved in the murders.  Alias Grace gives readers a chance to decide for themselves whether this “celebrated murderess” was guilty or not.

5 Reasons Why I Love Audiobooks

I love audiobooks. I always have one "regular" book and one audiobook going at the same time. It's not cheating, I swear! It's seizing an opportunity. I have a little kid at home along with a blog, a freelance business, and a part-time “day job.” Sitting and reading books for hours during the day is not a luxury I have. It’s not that I don’t have the time per se. It’s that I have other things to do that keep me from sitting down with a book, which brings me to the reasons why I love audiobooks.

If You Love Television Dramas, You'll Delight in ‘Full Circle’ by Regina Timothy

From the prologue, which takes us inside the collapsing World Trade Center on 9/11, to the end, Full Circle lays bare many of the political and social issues the United States has been grappling with since before the 9/11 attacks. Despite its seriousness, Full Circle reads like a television drama. The cast includes Samia, an Iraqi refugee; Melissa, a faltering fashion mogul; and Susan, Samia's hapless friend who also happens to be Melissa's assistant.

Samia, Melisa, and Susan all have leading roles as well as their own plotlines, but Full Circle pays the closet attention to Samia. Samia fled Iraq to save both her life and the life of her unborn son. When Full Circle begins, her son is ivy-league bound but struggles with bullying at school.

A Story of Romance and Espionage in World War II

Searching for Gertrude by D.E. Haggerty follows two characters, Rudolf and Rosalyn in their attempt to find Rudolf’s lost love, Gertrude. Gertrude’s family leaves Germany in 1933 after Germany appoints Adolf Hitler as chancellor. According to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, it didn’t take long for the Third Reich to strip German citizens of their human rights and open its first concentration camps.[1]

Gertrude’s family was Jewish. Rudolf was not. Consequently, Gertrude’s father chooses to move his family to Turkey, favoring his family’s safety over his daughter’s love for Rudolf. Rudolf is devastated. He assuages his hurt and anger by openly opposing the Nazis, but his father points out: “’I didn’t say you should stop opposing [the Nazis]. I said you can’t continue with your current activities. Activities, may I remind you, which have gotten you noticed at college.’” Rudolf’s father asks, “’Have you ever considered you can do more damage from within than from without?’”

Rudolf heeds his father’s advice and studies Oriental history and culture, which gets him a job with the German consulate in Turkey where he hopes he can finally find his Gertrude. In his quest for Gertrude, Rudolf enlists the help of Rosalyn, an altruistic Jewish-American nanny, and Malcolm, a British spy.

Time-Saving Cleaning Tricks Inspired by ‘Get Your Sh*t Together’

Cleaning sucks. I'd rather be reading. But I want to live in a clean home. I do not want to spend a lot of time cleaning it. Ergo, I've developed a few cleaning tricks, hacks, cheats or whatever you want to call them, so I have more time to read. I’m not proposing that you live some sort of hyper-scheduled life where you rush through your day and reading is just another task on your to-do list. That being said, if I can borrow time from a monotonous task like cleaning so I can spend a little more time doing something I love, I’m going to and you should too. 

I got my first inclining that cleaning is a huge, hopeless time sink when I listened to Get Your Sh*T Together by Sarah Knight. Knight says “There are some folks out there who claim it’s possible to tidy once and remain tidy once and remain tidy for life. But I have to say, I call bullsh*t.” According to Knight, the only way to keep your house clean is to clean it regularly. And it is, but you don’t have to clean the whole house perfectly every time you clean. And if you can live with a little mess, have I got some cleaning tips for you. And let’s be honest, living with “a little mess” is probably better than the way you’re living now. (No offense, I’ve just been alive for the past three decades. I know how busy you are.) Barring “get a cleaning service,” here are my time-saving tricks for cleaning your home.

'White Houses' by Amy Bloom: A Book Review

Eleanor Roosevelt had a lesbian affair, who knew? Apparently, it’s not so common, common knowledge. In White Houses, Amy Bloom tells a fictional story about the real-life romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. White Houses fascinated me, but not it the way you might guess.

White Houses, though it chronicles a love affair between a famous, married woman and a reporter, isn’t ask scandalous as you’d think. This wasn’t some tawdry affair. More important, White Houses is as much about Lorena Hickok’s childhood as it is about the affair. And Hickok’s childhood was tragic.

The Ultimate List of Book Recommendations

Who’s got “read more books” as a new year’s resolution? Did you set a goal on Goodreads? Are you excited to get started? The trouble is, now you have to decide what books to read. You’ve got a whole year though. You can decide as you go. But goals man, they’re easier to achieve with a plan. So, to help you make your plan, I’ve put together a list of lists. The following is a list of 6 of book recommendation lists that combine to form a comprehensive, master book recommendation list.

'Carnegie's Maid' Review and Discussion Questions

Pam Jenoff’s quote on the front of Carnegie’s Maid says it all: “Downton Abbey fans should flock to this charming tale.” I’m a Downton Abby fan, and I loved this book. Like pretty much every book here on Picking Books, Carnegie’s Maid contains a wealth of accurate historical information. And within its pages you get a good sense of who Andrew Carnegie was and a loose outline of his rise to prominence.  Benedict also touches on the struggles Irish people continued to face after the famine in 1840 and the difficulties immigrants faced both on their way to America and once they got here. What I love most about Carnegie’s Maid, however, is how Benedict delves into Pittsburgh’s rich cultural history.

Breakfast Burrito Unrecipe

A recipe on a book review blog? Yes! You won’t see these often, but we readers always need more time to read! The best way I’ve found to squeeze in a few extra moments with a book is to make breakfast quickly. By making breakfast in a cook-once-eat-for-a-week fashion, I have more time in the morning and my mornings are less stressful.

I’m calling this an unrecipe not because it is an infertile recipe that's useless to society but because it’s not really a recipe at all. It's more of a guide. I also couldn't resist the opportunity to reference The Handmaid's Tale, however contrived my reference may be. 

I make 14 burritos at a time: a week’s worth of burritos for my husband and me. Don't forget that you can use any vegetables, cheese, or meat you want.

'The Nightingale' Book Review

“What’s wrong?” my husband asked after my sobbing woke him. After wiping away my snotty tears, I answered, “This book,” referring to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. As I lay there crying in the middle of the night, I wondered why I do this to myself. I read to escape, not to feel! I also started to think that Hannah’s story was too perceptive. Hannah must have based The Nightingale on something real. So, let’s talk about Hannah’s inspiration for The Nightingale.