Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Can You Get Hooked on Lip Balm?" by Perry Romanowski and The Beauty Brains

Every library/book store needs to have at least one book about going to the store to buy cosmetics. We have a few books of this nature, including older copies of the one about not going to the cosmetics counter without it. We also have books about how to apply makeup for just about every skin type, how to style/cut your own hair, and making your own beauty natural beauty products. So when I saw this title while reading reviews of possible titles to add to our library collection, I decided to pick it up. It had two things going for it at the time: length (only 194 pages including appendices and index) and price (under $20).

Last weekend I decided I would check it out and bring it home to have a better chance to look through it, hoping I could recommend it to our patrons. I try to do this as often as I can, but as one employee serving many, there's no way I can read each and every book that comes into my branch. There are a lot of patrons who think I do read them all, but those are also the patrons who are under the impression that I get to sit and read all day at my job, too. I try not to be too hard on them... Anyway, this little gem is just a completely fascinating look at all the stuff we use in our everyday lives to "beautify" ourselves. Heck, not even that - it talks about plain soap, for Pete's sake! I really only meant to thoroughly skim this book (I know, that's gotta be an oxymoron if there ever was one) but ended up reading it cover to cover.

So what's so great about the this book? The science. The "beauty brains" are never identified, but they obviously know their stuff. The author blurb on the back of the book states that it "is a group of chemists who have more than forty combined years of experience developing and testing beauty products" - and it shows. The nice thing is that they break down the science into plain English that all of us can understand. Think of this as Bill Nye for your bathroom, if you will. The book is divided into four basic sections: Hair, Skin, Makeup, and The Beauty Industry. Questions from real readers of their blog,, begin each subsection, and they do a brilliant but easy response to each and every question.

For example, did you know that there are only FOUR types of shampoo? Yep, I was amazed, too. I mean, walk into any store selling shampoo, and you know what I mean. There are many more than four choices, even taking into consideration the different brands! But the authors break it down for us mere mortals; all shampoos can be classified into one of four categories: deep cleaning, conditioning, baby, and anti-dandruff. Period. Yes, there can be a slew of different ingredients, and obviously a great range of prices, but all the stuff you've ever slathered onto your head to clean it? It falls into one of those four. Even better, did you know that baby shampoo is not a good choice for adult hair, even if you're looking for a "gentle" shampoo? Turns out the reason it's considered "baby" shampoo is that it doesn't contain as many surfactants (the things that actually clean your hair); great for those oh-so-tender baby eyes, but not so great for getting your adult hair clean. Who knew?

I love how the authors also debunk the "more expensive means it works better/has better ingredients" myth. In fact, there are some store products that are far superior to those found in a salon, and they break down why - you got it - scientifically. I also admired that they don't tell you not to spend your money on the more expensive products; they say it over and over again, that you should buy what you love and what you feel works for you - IF you have the money. But they do state that spending more money doesn't make all the claims of a product true.

They do a great job explaining how the industry works, too. Claims on products are vague on purpose (and yes, they ARE vague - take the time to really read them and you'll realize they never claim to get rid of wrinkles or make your skin younger, only to make it appear that way); companies have been taken to court over false advertising claims in the past. Sadly, they also explain that most products are limited in how much they might be able to do because they are cosmetics - not drugs. If a product really can physically change your skin, such as Retin-A, it's a drug, and that means you need a doctor's prescription for it. Again, it's all about regulation. Finally, they also debunk some of the "organic/natural" products out there. There is no regulation of any kind regarding who can label their cosmetics as "organic" or "natural", so be careful what you buy. And for those who feel those types of products would be better than the "man-made" chemical-laden types, the Beauty Brains are quick to point out that some of those "harsh" chemicals are there to prevent the growth of bacteria and such, which can lead to really "harsh" results! Better living through chemistry indeed!

I would highly recommend this read to anyone who uses any sort of product in their daily routine. Need more convincing? The subtitle of the book is "Top cosmetic scientists answer your questions about the lotions, potions and other beauty products you use every day". Yep, that would be me - I use shampoo, conditioner, and body/face lotion every day! And I learned a lot from this book, for which I thank the Beauty Brains. Knowledge is power!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"The Book of Awesome" by Neil Pasricha

Sometimes it's easy to forget the things that make us smile. With a 24/7 news cycle reporting that the polar ice caps are melting, hurricanes are swirling in the seas, wars are heating up around the world, and the job market is in a deep freeze, it's tempting to feel that the world is falling apart. But awesome things are all around us - sometimes we just need someone to point them out. The Book of Awesome reminds us that the best things in life are free (yes, your grandma was right). With laugh-out-loud observations from award-winning comedy writer Neil Pasricha, The Book of Awesome is filled with smile-inducing moments on every page that make you feel like a kid looking at the world for the first time. Red it and you'll remember all the things there are to feel good about. The Book of Awesome reminds us of all the little things that we often overlook but that make us smile. With touching, warm, and funny observations, each entry ends with the big booming feeling you'll get when you read through them: AWESOME!

This book fell in my lap when I was doing Saturday duty at our main library branch. Yep, my day was not awesome; I had been "asked" to help fill in at said "big" library due to six open vacancies and a county-wide hiring freeze. And of course, my boss didn't give me a lot of heads-up about this change; I was working after finding out less than 2 weeks beforehand. So, yeah, I wasn't my usual chipper self, and I wasn't really feeling my job that day. While checking in books in the back room, I came across this little gem, and I felt compelled to stop and experience all the "awesome" things in life.

Not to sound too cliche, but this book really is awesome! Pasricha began this as an Internet blog project back in 2008. I suspect he, too, was having "one of those days", and rather than sit around and revel in the mope, he did something constructive and turned his attitude around. I've become a follower of the blog, too, after reading this book, and yes, it's still just as fun to read about the awesome things every morning.

So what types of awesome things are in the book? Things like "popping bubble wrap", which is listed on the dust jacket, and yes, just happens to be one of my all-time favorite things to do. There's nothing to cheer up a down day like popping a bunch of tiny air-filled bubbles of goodness, especially if there are other people around to be annoyed by it (just my personal opinion....). Other things make the list like "wearing underwear just out of the dryer", and "hitting a bunch of green lights in a row". I would totally agree with most of the entries here - they are AWESOME moments!

The other thing I enjoyed about this book was that it got me thinking about what I, personally, consider to be "awesome". I've come up with a few, and I'll share one here with you. I think it's awesome to be walking outside, either around a neighborhood or near a laundromat, and smell that sweet, clean smell of dryer air being vented to the outside. There's nothing like that smell, and it just envelopes me in a small cloud of heat and warm memories. AWESOME!

Definitely pick up this book if you need some motivation in today's not-so-awesome world. It's a bit like saying "stop and smell the roses", but Pasricha gives you real-world things to enjoy. And look for his sequel, "The Book of (even more) Awesome" hitting stores April 28, 2011. AWESOME!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane

In my attempts to read more "literature" that I somehow missed in college, I have been sticking to a list I found a few years ago. I have a very simple method: I've been reading the books in order of number of pages. So, shortest works to the longest tombs. "The Red Badge" is fairly short, clocking in at just under 200 pages or so. The copy I picked up from work was even shorter than that - ours was an illustrated edition, so drop probably a good 20 pages or so due to pictures.

It still took me almost 6 weeks to get through the darn thing.

In essence, it's a simple story. Henry Fleming, the "youth" from a northern state, decides to join the Union army despite his mother's objections. He's full of patriotic pride.... until he realizes that waiting for the war to get his brigade is just plain boring. There are several scenes of tired, bored, somewhat unorganized Union soldiers waiting for to see action. They often wonder if they're being marched from location to location simply to have something to do.

Then the Confederate army shows up and there's a big fight. And Henry's patriotism is sorely lacking; when the fight looks bad, he and several others turn tail and run. When he meets up with his platoon again, he's been whacked in the head with a rifle, giving him a rather nasty head wound. However, he spins a tale of being shot in the head; he doesn't want to admit to his cowardice. One soldier questions him on the story but eventually lets it go, and Henry finds a friend of his among the men, and all is well again.

There's another big battle scene, one where Henry really does have quite a bit of patriotic pride, refusing to give up this time even though he and his friend have overheard an officer saying that their troop is basically being sent in as cannon fodder. And they are, losing several men in the fight, but eventually they do emerge victorious, living to fight another day.

I won't say this is a bad book; even though I wasn't enjoying it, I could appreciate that Crane did an excellent job with the mechanics of the language and such. What I will say is that I just do not find "war" stories appealing on pretty much any level. I think the only one I ever read and liked was "All Quiet on the Western Front" - which is told from a very different viewpoint. I had to force myself to finish this small book; I kept falling asleep every time I picked it up. But finish it I did, and I can now mark it off my list.