Nothing causes a twentysomething university graduate without a career more anxiety than the question, “What are you up to these days?” Iain Reid, a twentysomething university graduate without a career, would prefer the conversation “turn to something less discomfiting, like the weather, religion, or war.” But when he lands a promising part-time job for CBC Radio in Ottawa, he leaves Toronto, where he’s lived for nearly 10 years, and moves home to Lilac Hill, his parents’ hobby farm in eastern Ontario.
The year that follows provides the narrative for Reid’s first book, a laugh-out-loud comic memoir with a cast of characters including a mom who suspects she may be allergic to her cellphone, an English professor dad who loves shredding redundant documents, and a fleet of cats, dogs, ducks, sheep and one guinea fowl named Lucius. What saves the story from being a typical fish-out-of-water tale is Reid’s heartfelt look at the foibles of being a family. From his first night back home, when his parents interrupt him in the washroom to demonstrate the intricacies of flushing the toilet, to the day he teaches his mom what a cursor is, Reid finds humour and warmth in unexpected places.
When his CBC gig turns from occasional to never, he comes to grips with the fact that he’s nearly 30 and living a semi-retired lifestyle, with his folks. But Reid isn’t trying to teach anybody how to eat, pray or love: he simply observes himself, his family and all their laughable idiosyncrasies, tender moments and shared meals (you’ll crave a cup of coffee and some farm-fresh fried eggs when you’re finished) over the course of a year at enchanting Lilac Hill.
With parents as understanding and supportive as Reid’s, it’s a wonder he left at all.
- Jessica allen
Ancient Romans thought the best way to avoid a cold was to kiss the hairy muzzle of a mouse. By the late 1800s, Americans preferred a water and borax solution to “irrigate” the nose. Neither worked, of course. While researchers have come up with vaccines for polio and the H1N1 flu, the common cold has defied all efforts to curb its power.
Science writer Jennifer Ackerman delves deep into the messy, expensive business of the common rhinovirus, even getting deliberately infected as part of a research project. Certainly the statistics are nothing to sniff at: humans get up to 200 colds in a lifetime—the equivalent of five years of hacking, snuffling and having a sore throat, including a year in bed—which costs the U.S. economy alone an estimated US$60 billion annually.
In addition to detailing exactly how the virus works, Ackerman delights in busting the many myths, and confirming a few truths, that have been around for millenia. For example, those superciliously healthy colleagues in the office who “never get colds” have just as many cold antibodies as those flattened by the illness. They just don’t have the nasty symptoms. And, while anti-bacterial wipes are useless against a virus, chicken soup does appear to ease symptoms.
The best parts of the book are the anecdotes, such as the most public cold in history. An hour after Apollo 7 lifted off from Cape Canaveral in 1968, commander Wally Schirra started feeling that classic first symptom, a scratch in his throat. While sneezing and coughing is miserable enough on Earth, it was hellish in the close confines of a zero-gravity command module, with seemingly the entire world watching. Then there is the case of the expensive used tissue. In 2008 actress Scarlett Johanssen, suffering from a cold on The Tonight Show, decided to put her pain to a good cause: she auctioned off the tissue used on the show for charity. It made a staggering US$5,300.
- Patricia Treble