Author Archive for Tom Jordan



The Stranger in the Woods

by Tom Jordan on May 12th, 2017

The stranger in the woods: the extraordinary story of the last true hermit is about a man named Christopher Knight who chose to live alone for twenty-seven years in the woods of Maine. His camp was isolated enough to go unnoticed but near enough to other cabins that he could steal what he needed to survive.sitw

There are so many fascinating parts to this story, but I don’t want to share too much because discovering the how and why of Knight’s life is largely what makes it worth reading. One thing: he claimed never to have built a fire. So surviving the winters wasn’t easy.

The book’s author, Michael Finkel, is such a compelling storyteller that he could write on almost any subject and I would read it. I read his True story: murder, memoir, mea culpa ten years or so ago. It’s about Finkel himself, a man accused of murdering his wife and children, and the two men’s relationship. I finished the book in the middle of the night after a couple hours of reading. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror and staring at myself trying to get the horror out of my head…but you should read it!  ICPL no longer has a copy, so you’ll have to make an interlibrary loan request here.

Early in my reading of this book, I imagined Knight as a handsome idealist (like Emile Hirsch playing Christopher McCandless in Into the wild) following the road less traveled by. His project was awesome and noble and he was living true to himself. I’m not as introverted as Knight, so a month or two would do it for me, I thought. As I read on, I became more conflicted. What license does the inclination toward extreme introversion give a person? I’m not referring to his theft of nearby cabins, though that’s a worthy question. The burglarized cabins’ owners, by the way, ranged from being very sympathetic to Knight to feeling terrorized by him.

At what point does a natural inclination become pathological, and when is it appropriate for others to treat it that way? If Knight had secluded himself in an apartment in a city and had burglarized neighbors, would we see it differently?  Of course we would.  Though extreme solitude is suspect, it seems less so or not at all when it is directed at nature.

And what about his family? Knight had no contact with anyone and he never sought any. His parents and brothers had no idea where he was or if he was even alive. As a parent, I think of my own children and how difficult this would be. Your path is to live a life of solitude, you say? I will miss you, but it’s your life. You disappear and we never hear from you again? Well, that’s cruel. And yet, Knight’s family, like himself, is at the far end of the spectrum. They are inclined to be left alone.

We see a bit of Knight’s life in the book after his solitude is ended. He doesn’t die, but there is a death of a sort. I can’t imagine merely surviving and being in nature and that being enough. Then again, I can usually tolerate being around other people.

The Big Five

by Tom Jordan on May 10th, 2017

You’ve heard of Deepak Chopra, I’m sure.  Being healthy, wealthy, and spiritual – he covers it all.  You could spend the next year of your life reading and listening to his work at ICPL.

Deepak’s brother, Sanjiv Chopra, is pretty special too.  Sanjiv is a professor at Harvard Medical School, and, like his brother, he’s authored many works.  Here are the two together in 1973.  Sanjiv is on the right.deepak-and-sanjiv

His latest is The big 5: five simple things you can do to live a longer, healthier life. I find it easy to overlook books like these. They’re everywhere you look, and what does any one have to offer that ten or a hundred others do not? Read the rest of this entry »

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

by Tom Jordan on February 17th, 2017

One of my family’s Sunday evening rituals is watching a movie after supper.  Finding one we’re all likely to enjoy is a challenge.  The Princess Bride, The Karate Kid, and The Jungle Book are recent winners, so now my children know Mr. Miyogi and Miracle Max – that’s a real feel-good for a parent who grew up in the eighties. miracle-max

This past Sunday, we settled on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  It quickly became apparent that I was the only one enjoying it.  While I was laughing out loud, my eleven-year old became increasingly annoyed and started groaning and sighing and saying things like “Why is he talking like that!? Ughhghhh.” The younger two kids seemed mildly amused and said they liked it, but I think they were enjoying their older sister’s annoyance more.  My wife endured stoically…we stopped about half way through to start the bedtime routine.  Read the rest of this entry »

Iowa City Downtown Gift Cards

by Tom Jordan on December 21st, 2016

Still shopping for that special someone? Nothing says “I love you, and have a wonderful holiday!” quite like an Iowa City Downtown Gift Card. Purchase them here.

Don’t we get enough advertising this time of year without the Library blogging about it? Good point. Sorry.

But did you know that you can use the Iowa City Downtown Gift Card here at the Library? You can pay overdue fines, true, but you can also buy things like bags. Look at these bags! Ask at the Help Desk to get your hands on one of these babies. And don’t forget your Iowa City Downtown Gift Card.bags

Words on the Move

by Tom Jordan on November 30th, 2016

One of my favorite radio programs/podcasts is On Point with John Ashbrook.  A few weeks ago, Ashbrook had John McWhorter on his show to talk about his latest book, Words on the move: why English won’t – and can’t – sit still (like, literally).  McWhorter is a linguist and an English professor and he’s a delight to listen to.  He has his own podcast too.  The gist of McWhorter’s book is that English, and all languages, change over time and that, all things considered, it’s better that way.  Language is best viewed like a story, he argues, and we want a story to go new places.  Dictionaries are merely snapshots in time of those stories. words-on-the-move

As you may guess from the title, McWhorter makes a case for the frequent use and varied meanings of like and for using literally to mean figuratively.  He’s pretty convincing with these, I suppose, but I’ll be curious to see if those two words are still so prominent in ten or twenty years. Read the rest of this entry »

The Northwest Passage

by Tom Jordan on September 8th, 2016

On August 16, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity departed from Anchorage on a voyage through the Northwest Passage.  The ship is along the west coast of Greenland this week, making stops in Sisimiut and Nuuk, and it will end up in New York City next week.  Here’s the route: NW passage cruise map

The first trip by sea through the Northwest Passage was Roald Amundsen’s 1903-1906 expedition.  Though ships are using this route more in recent years (30 did in 2012), the Crystal Serenity is the first large-scale luxury cruise liner to make the transit.  Ticket prices ranged from $22,000 to $120,000, and the ship is accompanied by the icebreaking R.R.S Ernest Shackleton. Read the rest of this entry »

Iowa Land Records

by Tom Jordan on June 24th, 2016

Iowa Land Records is a website where you can search for and view Iowa real estate documents.  It’s put together by the Iowa County Recorders Association.

In order to use the site you’ll need to register with a username and password.  After logging in, select the Land Record Search link.  The next page requires you to select the counties you’d like to search; it looks like this: Read the rest of this entry »

Go

by Tom Jordan on March 16th, 2016

Chinese checkers is a game I like to play with my kids.  It’s simple, the rules are easy, and there’s no luck involved.  Alas, the divots on our playing board are too shallow, and a bumped board means marbles rolling where they shouldn’t.  While searching for a better board to buy online, I often see Go boards too.  Those look neat, I think, I’ll have to learn more about this game.  Go photo2

Have you heard of Go?  It’s been in the news lately.  Google created an artificial intelligence program over the past few years that recently defeated a Korean Go master.  It was a big deal.  The story is here.  Creating an AI program to compete above the amateur level has been a project for decades.  The rules are simple, but the possibilities for the game are almost infinitely complex.

The board is a 19×19 square grid and the pieces are black and white stones.  The object is to hold the most territory.  Like Chess and Chinese checkers, there is no luck involved in Go.

The other night, I made an account on the first Go site that came up after a search and played a few games.  I was so bad that I felt sorry for my opponents.  I had a friendly chat with one of them who offered some nice encouragement – thanks, kurr5.    Go photo1

ICPL has books on Go at 794.4.  We have a manga series that features the game at 741.5952 Hotta Hikaru too.

Food on my mind

by Tom Jordan on December 5th, 2015

I tend to read articles and books about particular subjects in phases.  I’ll read a couple of books on parenting, a few biographies of athletes, maybe some philosophy or some histories.  Maybe most of us do this.  Exercise and food are two subject areas I often circle back to.  The idea is that some of it might sink in and actually affect the way I eat and move.  Experience tells me that my natural position is sitting down with my feet propped up while eating a bowl of ice cream. Eating on the wild side

One book that made a big impression on me was Eating on the wild side by Jo Robinson.  It’s all about vegetables and fruits – their origins, nutritional value, and how to get the most out of eating them.  Robinson, an investigative journalist, writes about how the plants we eat have been cultivated over time to be the way they are now.  In general, we’ve selected them to be less fibrous and more sugary.  They’re also less nutritious.

Even if you aren’t interested in changing the way you eat, there’s plenty to make it a worthy read.  From Chapter 2: “The Menominee Nation of the Great Lakes region laid claim to an extensive field of wild garlic, or ramps, that was located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan.  The area was so rife with ramps that their odor perfumed the air for miles.  The Menominee called their prized field Shikako, or ‘skunk place.’  The name lives on today in its anglicized form, Chicago.” food

Jim Gaffigan approaches food and eating from a different angle.  In Food: a love story, he writes less about things like vegetables and nutrition and more about things like cheese and gravy.  He covers restaurants and culinary specialties in various regions of the country.  Gaffigan, a comedian, describes himself as an “eatie” rather than a foodie.  If you want to read about food and feel okay about yourself and your diet regardless of what you’re eating, then give this one a try.

Library Streaming Video

by Tom Jordan on September 25th, 2015

The Library often has events I’d love to attend, but other life things (having children) make it a stretch. Steven Pinker was here last Tuesday, for example, and there was lots of excitement. A young couple asked me earlier that day if they would get seats by getting here an hour before he started speaking. I said I thought they would.

If you have cable through Mediacom, then you can watch events like this on Channel 20, The Library Channel.

V1

What’s neat is that a lot of ICPL’s videorecordings are available to watch any time at http://video.icpl.org/. As with the catalog, you are able to browse by subject or search by keyword. If there is a recording that you know the Library has but you’re not seeing on the site, then you can request it be added by writing us here: webmaster@icpl.org.