Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I was browsing the first floor rotunda at the Central Library and discovered a cool display of science themed books. The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans caught my eye. Extinct humans? I'd never really thought about it that way, but later species of hominids we know about from fossil records were other branches on the tree of human evolution. From the earliest hominids to Homo sapiens, each of the chapters in this large format illustrated book profiles one human species. I enjoyed the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter that take the reader into the world of these species finding food, making art, finding food, making stuff, finding food, and so on. It's fascinating to consider how some of these species coexisted in time until one, the last human, outcompeted them all.
This fascinating book is based on an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. If this topic interests you, you might also enjoy the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins site.
The Last Human
Recently, I’ve come across some fascinating non-fiction books for kids. I’ve just finished Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone.
Full of wonderful photos, this book tells the story of the men who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers became America’s first black paratroopers and author Tanya Lee Stone uses their story to explore the role of African Americans in the military. This is a great addition to the literature of World War II.
Tanya Lee Stone also wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, another book that sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history.
Courage Has No Color
I’m not a typical reader of memoirs but something about the description of Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding drew me in. The first thing readers will notice is Lynn Darling’s wonderful voice and the tone of the prose— frank, witty and poetically profound. Next, you’ll find out that the book is about the second act of a woman’s adult life, both the joys and obstacles to finding pleasure and wisdom in her pre-Golden Years. With her college age daughter having flown the coop and her husband having died a decade earlier, 50-something Darling decides to take flight from familiar comforts in an attempt to locate her “essential self” by living off the grid in rural Vermont. Favorably compared to other books with similar themes of personal exploration (Eat, Pray, Love, Wild and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to name but a few), Darling plummets deep into both the real and the metaphoric woods of her being, seeking out answers to life’s household, ontological questions.
Out of the woods: a memoir of wayfinding
Yes, I studied actuarial science before getting my library science degree, which statement probably prompts most of you to think, “I didn’t even know those two sciences existed.” But I bring this up, because I am currently enjoying reading/listening to three books on three completely different subjects, but where numbers and statistics play a big part:
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by David Sally
Lewis’ book The Big Short is a well- known bestseller that explains the financial meltdown of 2008. It is fascinating and infuriating and may leave you swearing like a Wall Street bond trader (bond trader is worthy of replacing sailor in that cliché).
In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant tells the story of the Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1938 and has followed almost three hundred men of which the survivors are in their 90s now. The study was started as an attempt to, “transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.” The conclusions are interesting as well as the different factors they study over time that they think might lead to optimum health and the changes in the definition of optimum health.
Sally’s book The Numbers Game is to soccer what Moneyball (written by Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short) is to baseball. As he crunches the numbers, he comes up with conclusions like launching corner kicks into the box hoping to score a goal is less valuable than just retaining possession with a short safe pass and that the team that takes the most shots on goal actually loses slightly more than half of the time.
Isn’t it great that libraries have books to please all sorts of tastes?
The Numbers Game
J.D. Salinger is famous for two primary reasons (there are plenty of secondary reasons as well). First, he authored one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books written over the past 70 years (The Catcher in the Rye) and secondly, because he vanished from the public eye at the height of his fame, leaving several generations of devoted acolytes and the media to restlessly ponder the reasons behind his retreat into extreme privacy. Shane Salerno and David Shields have co-authored the gossipy, oral history called Salinger (a book based upon a documentary film) with the goal of cobbling together an assortment of viewpoints from those who knew him best. Ex-girlfriends, army buddies, fellow writers, family members, and various muses line up to break their collective silence to share their intimate memories and insights. It's a fascinating look at one of America's most significant writers and provides some new perspectives on both his creative output and his complicated private life.
Here I go again. The library's non-cook is writing about a cookbook. But, the historical aspect of this book is what attracted me to it. There are 100 recipes here, one for each year from 1901-2000, included by 100 different chefs. To give the readers of this blog a flavor (pun intended) of what's in this book, I'll list a few of the recipes: 1909 - Baked Alaska; 1910 - The Comet Coupe (in honor of Halley's Comet that year); 1932 - "The Sun Also Rises" Punch; 1945 - Original Brain Tapioca Ambrosia (not the brain one thinks with, but because of the invention of the ENIAC computer); 1952 - Geraldine's Maryland Crab Soup; 1976 - Firecracker Fourth of July Beef Ribs (to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial); 1979 - Meatball and Potato Pizza. Some of the 100 sound delicious; others I would never consider touching. But I think that's how it would be for anyone looking at any recipe book, not just me. Clever and fun idea - yes. Good photos - yes. Bon appetit - maybe.
The way we ate : 100 chefs celebrate a century at the American table
Books focusing on one year are not uncommon, but there seems to be a rash of them lately, almost like a new emphasis in publishing.
Earlier this year, I read One Summer: America, 1927 – Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone…. what a summer, what an interesting time in our history.
I recently read and blogged about Ready for a Brand New Beat with a focus on the summer of 1964.
Now I’m reading The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.
As I browsed our new nonfiction shelves yesterday I noticed Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893; Constellation of Genius: 1922; and Japan 1941.
Just an observation for what it is worth on a cold, snowy day…
One Summer: America, 1927
Ever wonder what life is like for the average metal musician? If Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is to be believed, it involves massive substance abuse, anonymous and degrading sex, and tons of questionable behavior- and that's the good parts. Combing through hundreds of interviews with musicians, roadies, managers, groupies and journalists, Louder Than Hell paints a simultaneously fascinating and horrifying portrait of one of the most-loved and most-hated music genres- heavy metal. While this book definitely isn't for everyone- the amount of booze and bloodshed can be stomach-turning at times- the sheer amount of music history on display is impressive. Authors Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman spent 25 years interviewing everyone from Alice Cooper and Lemmy Kilmister, Dave Mustaine and Chino Moreno, Trent Reznor and Nivek Ogre- and if any of those names mean anything to you, and if you like your music loud, heavy and excessive, then you're probably the right audience for Louder Than Hell.
Louder Than Hell
If you grew up to the music of the ’60s or grew up in Detroit or both, you are likely to relate to Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.
The question asked is… can a song change a nation? In 1964 “Dancing in the Street” was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA by Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves arranged her own vocals and the song was released with the expectation it would be an upbeat dance song.
Ultimately it became a sort of anthem for the summer of 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, Vietnam War, free speech movement, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The song took on a new meaning for many and was eventually recorded by more than 30 artists or groups.
A good dance song or an activist anthem for the changing times…. either way, this is an interesting look at the mid-1960s.
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
Have you ever browsed the non-fiction shelves for good books for your preschooler? You should! There are more and more wonderful books about real things that are perfect for very young kids. One of my favorites is Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop. The words are just right for a very young child and the photographs are superb.
This is a book I go to over and over, whether it’s for storytime or sharing at home or to recommend to another parent. The next time you’re at the library, ask us to show you some of our favorite non-fiction books.
Red-Eyed Tree Frog