3 Mini Book Reviews, Or What This Book Editor Did on Her Vacation

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2014-09-11

Ahh, summer: a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the sunshine (even though here in Toronto, our summer has been…not as hot as we usually prefer). A time when how you relax is up to you—some escape to the cottage every weekend they can, others plan a trip down to an island paradise, taking advantage of the travel off-season. Some people like to check out a new city, close to home or a bit farther away.

Taking a vacation to unwind and de-stress is more important than you might think. Not only are vacations proven to increase productivity, performance, and dedication, studies have also shown that using up your vacation days has real effects on your health, both mental and physical. You enjoy the benefits of sleeping better and improved reaction times, plus your risk of heart attack drops significantly.

Cottaging in Muskoka


Well, no one has to tell me twice! Leaving my work behind, I took off for a week to my boyfriend’s cottage in Muskoka. Editing is kind of a cool job in that you can do it from pretty much anywhere, and some editors take advantage of this by taking “working vacations,” but not me. For me, it’s the real deal or not at all. But, if I wasn’t editing, what was I doing?


Since I work with words all day, it can be assumed that I like to read, and I do. However, I find that when I’m working, I read fewer and fewer books. After getting so involved with books at work, sometimes I just want something a little lighter on my down time. So I read magazines (a lot of magazines). But, when I’m on vacation, that all changes. There’s nothing I like better than getting into a great book, especially when I can do it guilt-free, knowing that I don’t have anything else I “should” be doing. This year, I dove into these reads:



The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Berlin Johnson


This book took me through London’s most deadly cholera epidemic, the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak, and how it shaped our understanding of cities, disease, and science today. Did you know that prior to the advent of epidemiology (the study of how disease spreads and how it can be controlled), many believed that “miasma theory” was to blame for illnesses such as cholera? Miasma theory is basically the idea that miasma, aka noxious smelling air filled with particles from decomposing materials, was the cause of illnesses. It was believed then that infections weren’t passed between individuals (as we now know today, thanks to germ theory) but that people often got sick in one area because they all breathed in the same “bad air.” It seems crazy now, but it was the height of scientific theory in the nineteenth century.



Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner


I am a huge fan of the Freakonomics books, not just because they take a super-complicated subject, such as economics, and open it up to the masses, but also because they do so in really weird and captivating ways.  In the first book alone, you read about cheating sumo wrestlers, socioeconomic patterns of naming children, and how information control relates to both the KKK and real estate agents. Some may argue that these books aren’t really about economics and are instead more aligned with sociology or criminology, but to me, they’re just really interesting reads. In this book, you can read about how to see everyday problems in a new way, aka “thinking like a freak.”



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


This book is one of my favourites, my idea of what the benchmark is in the world of science writing. It details the life of Henrietta Lacks, the woman from whom the first “immortal” cells were taken. Immortal cells are cells that can continue to grow and divide indefinitely. They do not reach a division limit, as other cells do. This book tracks the politics of race and class in medical science and research, but it also has a decidedly human element: it tells Henrietta’s story, and also the story of her children. It’s one of my favourite books, of any genre.



And Then There Was Scrabble


Well, there you have it: one editor’s summer reading list. But you may be thinking that I couldn’t possibly

have just read for my entire vacation. You would be correct—I took time out to swim, and sunbathe, and cook, and do all those other fun vacation-y things, but I also did something else.


I played a lot of Scrabble.


Maybe an editor can’t ever truly escape playing with words after all.