Skincare: Science and Art

For me, the world of skincare has always been confusing, not least because my sensitive skin reacts to products unpredictably. Unfortunately, none of these titles really make skincare less a less baffling arena, but they do give some fascinating scientific or professional perspectives on just what to try in order to have healthy, clear, happy skin.

First, for a radical scientific take, try Clean: the new science of skin by James Hamblin. Hamblin takes a deep dive into the microbes that affect our skin’s health and proposes some serious overhauls to the skincare industry and practice, including showering less to avoid over-washing skin. He reportedly didn’t shower for the entire duration of writing the book.

An Atlas of Natural Beauty by Victoire de Taillac falls more on the beauty side of skincare, with a detailed encyclopedia-type description of how a wide variety of botanicals and plants can be minimally processed into effective beauty and skincare aids. A fascinating and aesthetically appealing version of the topic.

The Clear Skin Diet by Nina and Randa Nelson is part-memoir, part health manual, drawn from the twin authors’ experiences fighting their acne growing up. After trying all the medical and chemical interventions, the sisters Nelson found success by making radical changes to their diet. Apparently they were inspired by cultures and communities around the world who have no acne.

Goop Clean Beauty is more of an instruction manual from the lifestyle website / newsletter created by Gwyneth Paltrow. It highlights the ways that beauty starts with health, beginning with clean eating and moving into makeup and skincare recommendations.

The Age Fix by Anthony Youn is the work of a plastic surgeon who’s spent years compiling advice from his colleagues in plastic surgery as well as cosmetologists, dermatologists, dieticians, and more, all to give the reader a one-stop shop for advice on keeping skin looking young. Like the Nelson sisters, he encourages people to think about their diet in order to affect the look and feel of their skin; he also reveals that expensive creams and surgeries are not necessarily the most effective solutions. A refreshing take, coming from someone in his profession, if you ask me.

Younger by Harold Lancer is, similarly, the advice of a Beverly Hills dermatologist attempting to cut through all the confusing and contradictory advice. Apparently he also recommends products at various price points to support different budgets, none of which are as complicated or expensive as you might think. His main focus is on stimulating the skin’s own natural healing power in order to maintain or restore youthful, healthy skin.

If you want to dive into the world of skincare and get some different perspectives, try any combination of these titles to get started – and then double-check with your doctor.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Full disclosure: The Martian is my favorite book, maybe ever, so I’m coming into this review with a fair bit of bias. That said, in my opinion Project Hail Mary is a worthy follow-up to The Martian, with the same kind of humor, heart, high stakes, and rock-solid science.

Here’s the gist (without spoilers): Dr. Ryland Grace wakes up alone and confused in a spaceship (the eponymous Hail Mary) VERY far from Earth. He’s lost his memory, and his two crewmates died in suspended animation. It’s up to him to figure out exactly who he is, how he got there, what the ship’s mission is, and how he can complete it on his own. And he’d better hurry, because all of life on Earth is at stake.

If that sounds intense, it is – but Grace also makes jokes and laughs as much as he can, while not shying away from the huge responsibility, sacrifice, and loss he’s facing. I really thought this book was effective for several reasons: first, the science. As in The Martian, this book’s science reads to me like plausible and real explanations and solutions. It felt like a book that Weir had a lot of fun writing, with a ton of research to back him up. Second, the character of Ryland Grace was very well done; his emotions, backstory, and feelings of being overwhelmed, repeatedly, make him a relatable narrator that you root for to succeed, while his humor and determination keep the action moving forward at an addictive pace. Third, the narrative structure worked really well. If you’ve ever seen the DC TV show Arrow, you might recognize the strategic use of flashbacks to reveal key information at just the right time. Weir moves carefully and explicitly between Grace’s struggle in the present and all the events in the past that culminated in his being on the ship. It all works together brilliantly to create a story you’ll laugh your way through and won’t want to put down, right up to the very unexpected final pages.

Highly recommended for those who loved The Martian, Cast Away, and other lone-survivor stories of sci-fi or adventure, this is a book which will tug at your heartstrings and stretch your imagination to dazzling new heights.

Great Podcasts: Ologies by Alie Ward

I feel I need to share this podcast I recently became mildly obsessed with: Ologies with Alie Ward. The gist is, Alie Ward is fascinated by how many “ologies” (or, branches of scientific study) exist in the world: volcanology, primatology, paleontology, gemology, and minerology, to name just a few. To dig more into these mysterious worlds, she decided to interview scientists from these disciplines to get a human perspective. In each episode, she interviews an “ologist” about what their field of study entails, their favorite and least favorite parts of the job, their field’s role in popular culture, along with some delightfully random questions submitted by listeners.

It’s an appropriate recommendation for a library because it’s similar to my favorite non-fiction titles: science made accessible to a general audience, with a good dose of warmth and humor mixed in. The vast range of disciplines covered in the episodes means there’s something for everyone here, from explosive volcanoes, to chimpanzee social dynamics, to the healing possibilities of crystals, this podcast has it all. Also, Alie Ward is an excellent host because she’s honest about her own lack of expertise while brimming with enthusiasm and curiosity.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming, informative, and funny podcast, check out Ologies with Alie Ward, on her website, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts.

For books with a similar vibe, try What If by Randall Munroe, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty, or the works of Mary Roach including Grunt, Stiff, and Spook.

What If? and How To by Randall Munroe

One of the best things that’s come out of 2021 for me so far is finding a new favorite nonfiction author: Randall Munroe. Although I’m an amateur at best in the field of science, I never get tired of learning fascinating scientific facts and explanations, and I’m always a sucker for a dry sense of humor. For me, Randall Munroe reads like Andy Weir’s The Martian – my all-time favorite book. Here are two of Munroe’s books, both recent and not-so-recent, that sum up his style AND are great reads.

What If? by Randall Munroe is a big, ambitious book, packed with humor, science, and fascinating imagined scenarios. You may know Randall Munroe from Thing Explainer – see Brenda’s great post about it here. In brief, Munroe is the creator of a webcomic and website devoted to answering people’s wildest questions with real scientific consideration. In What If? he gathers the biggest collection of these questions and their answers in one place – including relevant cartoons and a collection of the most weird and worrying questions he’s received through the website. From the publisher: “His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, and often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”

 

How To is his latest publication, from 2019. In it, he gives impractical, complicated, scientific instructions for how to deal with real-world problems, including everything from landing a plane, digging a hole, predicting the weather, and disposing of the book once you’re done with it (although in this last case, we’re going to have to insist you dispose of it by returning it in the drop box). As always, the text is accompanied by his simple and amusing cartoons and a good dose of dry humor. From the publisher: “By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible and helps us better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.”

As Brenda mentioned in her post about Thing Explainer, books by this author are a great read if you’re a fan of science, like a humorous style, or have a deep curiosity about the world and how things work. If you’re looking for an author to expand your mind, indulge your inner geek/daredevil, and make you laugh, I recommend you try a book by Randall Munroe.

Bill Nye The Science Guy Appreciation Post

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know I’m developing a real love for non-fiction books about cool science. Recently, I combined that love with a taste of nostalgia by reading an informative and often funny book by one of my childhood icons, Bill Nye (The Science Guy). Bill Nye became iconic in the 90s with his TV show about science for kids, and he remains a beloved source of science and inspiration to many today. This post is not only to recommend you read one of his enthusiastic, fascinating, and inspiring books, but to highlight how much Bill Nye you can get from your local library (or at least the Rivershare library system as a whole).

For Adults: 

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There are three books for adults that Nye has published in the last few years. To catch some of his general enthusiasm, check out Everything All At Once, an energizing look at how to identify your passions, strengthen your critical thinking, and solve ‘unsolvable’ problems. Embrace your inner nerd! If one of your passions turns out to be scientific causes, try one of his other two books: Undeniable and Unstoppable, about evolution and climate change, respectively. In these books, it’s obvious how much Bill Nye cares about kids and wants them to love science, create a better world, and have a fantastic time. And, he gets his message across with humor, which I always appreciate.

If those aren’t for you, you may appreciate his sense of wonder; he wrote the preface for both Earth + Space and The Planets, collections of breathtaking photographs from NASA’s archives.

For Kids (or Kids-At-Heart)

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Of course, this is where Bill Nye shines as a passionate educator and enthusiastic science nerd: he’s created a number of nonfiction titles including Bill Nye’s great big world of science, Bill Nye the science guy’s big blue ocean, Bill Nye the science guy’s big blast of science, AND a fiction series called Jack and the Geniuses.

Even better, you even can check out DVDs of some vintage Bill Nye the Science Guy content including Bill Nye the science guy. Electrical current, Bill Nye the science guy. Dinosaurs, Do-it-yourself science, and much, much more.

In any case, whether it’s a walk down memory lane or a call to action, I really do recommend you look at some Bill Nye for a wholesome dose of lifelong learning, can-do spirit, and hope for the future. 

Online Reading Challenge – Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Challengers!

How was your month of Science reading? Did you find something interesting to read?

I hope you have better luck than I did – this month was a no-go for me. Everything I picked up was too “science-y” for me and yes, I know that was the whole point of this month’s challenge! I don’t think it was necessarily the fault of the books or that they had too much science in them, I think it’s a case of just not finding anything appealing. I think most readers go through reading slumps, when you can’t find the right book. Sometimes other things in your life take priority and you don’t have much time to read. Or, you just finished something fantastic and you’re spoiled.

Fortunately, I didn’t give up on reading altogether. I kept reading books, they just weren’t “science-y”! I will, however, admit to having watched a lot of Big Bang Theory re-runs – does that count?

As I always say, there are no Library Police. I may have missed this month, but I’m going to pick up again starting tomorrow with the next challenge!

OK, now it’s your turn – what did you read for September?

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello Challenge Readers!

How is your month of Science reading going? I have to admit, I’m lagging a bit behind. The book I chose (Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler) hasn’t completely grabbed my interest but it’s early yet and I’m going to keep reading. Some books just take time.

If you’re struggling to check off Science in this year’s Challenge, why not try a movie instead? Here are some good ones.

Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly. Cracking the code the Germans used in World War II was vital to the success of Allies. Even after one of their Enigma machines was captured, untangling the complex code, which changed every day, was next to impossible, until the genius of Alan Turing finds the solution. Based on historical fact, this film is equal parts tense and heartbreaking.

Hidden Figures starring Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson brings us the true story of the African-American women who were vital to the success of NASA and the space race. Struggling against prejudice – both because they were women and because they were African-American – they persevered with courage and stubbornness as well as having brilliant minds.

The Martian with Matt Damon. And exploratory team on Mars leaves Mark behind, believing he was killed in the sudden storm that has forced them to leave. Mark is very much alive and relatively well except, he’s alone on Mars with limited supplies and little hope for rescue. How he copes, using intelligence and ingenuity and sheer pluck makes for a tense and fascinating movie.

The Big Bang Theory television series. I have to admit, I started watching this series quite late in it’s run, but once I did I was hooked and it was easy to catch up with reruns on cable and DVDs from the library. Yes, it’s pretty silly and really, who in their right mind would ever want to live with Sheldon, but it also celebrates intelligence and education and the sciences. The characters all grow and mature over the course of the series (something that doesn’t always happen on tv) and they’re always good for a laugh. Bazinga!

Online Reading Challenge – September

Hey Reading Friends! It’s September! Time for a new topic in the Online Reading Challenge! This month our topic is: Science!

OK, maybe right off the bat the idea of reading about Science is not particularly appealing. But hang in there! There are some fascinating titles – fiction and non-fiction – that just might change your mind. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier is a novel based on fact about an ordinary, working class girl, and a spinster gentlewoman that make one of the great scientific discoveries of the 19th century when they uncover fossils along the coast of Lyme Regis, England. Chevalier weaves the story of the friendship between the woman and the many restrictions women of the early 1800s faced with actual history into a fascinating novel.

More exploration of women in the sciences can be found in The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict (about Albert Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right) and Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini, a novel about Ada Lovelace a brilliant mathematician that many consider the inventor of the earliest computer. If you like mysteries, check out the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters about an intrepid lady archaeologist and her Egyptologist husband as they explore pyramids and solve murders in Victorian-era Egypt. For science fiction lovers, you can’t beat The Martian by Andy Weir about an astronaut mistakenly left behind on Mars during an exploratory mission.

Even fiction-only readers will find something fascinating among the non-fiction books. Take a look at Longitude by Dana Sobel about the search for how to calculate longitude (crucial for sailing ships) and how it was discovered. David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers will take you to that windswept North Carolina beach at Kitty Hawk and the breakthroughs that led to flight. Go inside the early days of NASA and the making of the space program with The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (now being made into a mini-series)

I am planning on reading Light from Other Stars by Erica Swyler, set in the near future about astronauts, the altering of time and family. Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? Also, the cover of the book is really pretty! I’ll let you know how it goes!

What about you? What will you be reading this month?

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

vinegar girlVinegar Girl by Anne Tyler is a modern retelling of the classic Shakespeare play, The Taming of the Shrew. Initially I picked this book to listen to through OverDrive for two reasons: the cover looked interesting and it was available for checkout. I’m glad I checked this out. This was very quick to listen to, the characters are all excellently developed, and the narrator hooked me in.

In this retelling, Kate Battista lives with her father, Dr. Louis Battista, and her younger teenage sister, Bunny. Kate works as a nursery school assistant, takes care of the family house, and has watched her younger sister ever since their mother’s early death. Dr. Battista, a research scientist studying autoimmune disorders, is eccentric to sat the least. His compulsiveness shines through in his work and the way he wants Kate to run the house. Everyone’s laundry is done on a different day of the week, Bunny has to follow her father’s behavior rules 100%, and meal prep is down to a specific science. Kate follows her father’s computer-generated grocery list and makes the family’s “meat mash” at the beginning of the week, a less-than-appetizing-sounding food concoction that contains all necessary nutrients that they then eat for the rest of the week.

Dr. Battista has gone through a number of different lab assistants, the current one, Pyotr Shcherbakov, being his favorite. Pyotr is apparently a star scientist from Russia that Dr. Battista, who is equally famous in Russia, was lucky to get. Unfortunately for everyone, Pyotr’s three-year work visa is about to expire, meaning he will be deported back to Russia unless he marries an American girl. Dr. Battista has the perfect girl in mind for Pyotr: his oldest daughter, Kate, who has never turned down any of his crazy schemes before. This retelling of Shakespeare’s classic veers from the powerful emotions in the original, but is a delightful and positive retelling that leaves readers wondering what will happen between Kate, Pyotr, and her father? Will his research be successful? Will Kate and Pyotr get married? Will the meat mash ever change? Tyler’s quirkiness adds a new level to this classic Shakespeare, something that will have readers clamoring for more.


This book is also available in the following formats:

There are many other clever adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, some of them you may not realize. Check out this list of my favorite adaptations (and call the library for more suggestions!).
mclintockkiss me kate10 things i hate about you

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thing Explainer : Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe

thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.