Books of all kinds in graphic format are becoming more and more popular. The works in this format are not all Japanese Manga and superheroes, though. The non-fiction shelves are scattered with different forms of serious non-fiction graphic works. I thought I’d share a few of these I’ve recently discovered Read the rest of this entry »
Faced with seven hours of driving in one day, I headed for our collection of nonfiction books on disc and selected a title that has been on my pending list for a while: Not My Father’s Son, by Alan Cumming. The print book and the audio version were both published in late 2014, to positive reviews. I enjoyed it very much, although parts of his story are difficult to listen to (or read, I’m sure).
Cumming weaves together two main story lines in the book. Read the rest of this entry »
Ouch, ouch, ouch! That hurts, that really really hurts! Do you want to know why stings and bites hurt and why some insect stings are worse than others? Then look no further than “The Sting of the Wild”. Schmidt, the “the King of the Sting” and”the Connoisseur of Pain”, is an entomologist at Southwestern Biological Institute and is affiliated with the Department of Entomology at the University of Arizona and he has written a bitingly good book about insects that inflict pain. I am attractive to flying insects; mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies – all those annoying little creatures of the air, so I was very interested in why me and not others. Mosquitoes are attracted to certain blood types more than others, those with Type O being bitten the most frequently. If you want to know what other factors make a mosquito pick you or ignore you, you’ll have to read the book.
His research area of expertise is insect venom and he is the creator of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index. The Schmidt sting pain index is a 5-point pain scale, numbered from 0 to 4. An insect that can’t penetrate human skin ranks 0. The most painful stings rank 4 on the index. I guess five must be death, which is possible with a sting. Schmidt includes his pain scale as an appendix and it’s fascinating and funny, truly funny. He gives the name, the range, the description and the pain level of each stinging insect. There is only one level 4 in North America – the tarantula hawk, but there are many lower pain level insects. But don’t think it is a tiny tingle if the level is lower, it’s not. His descriptions read like entries in the “Wine Enthusiast” – Western yellow jacket – Pain Level 2 – Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue. Honey wasp – Pain Level 2 – Spice, blistering. A cotton swab dipped in habanero sauce has been pushed up your nose.
And get this, he based his pain index on experimentation with himself as the subject. I have been stung by a paper wasp before and it is excrutiatingly painful. I cannot imagine inflicting all of that agony on myself, but I am glad he was curious and strong enough to do it. He was interviewed recently on Science Friday and he is in funny in person as he is in writing.
Grilling season is well under way and we are having perfect weather here in Iowa City. Not too hot, not too cold, lovely evenings and mornings for walking the dog, taking a jog, or hunting for frogs in the creek.
With this blissful weather upon us, I’ve been on the lookout for digital magazine articles on grilling and outdoor cooking. Here are a few I’d like to share with you today: Read the rest of this entry »
I first heard about this missing persons case from the podcast Missing Maura Murray, created and hosted by Lance Reenstierna and Tim Pilleri. On the evening of February 9, 2004, Maura had a minor car accident on a winding road in New Hampshire; a person who lived nearby came out to offer assistance, but Maura said that she’d called AAA and didn’t need help. When the police showed up a few minutes after being called, they found Maura’s car and many of her belongings, but she was not there. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
In True Crime Addict, author James Renner recounts how he became involved, seven years later, in trying to find out what happened to Maura. Read the rest of this entry »
I hated Cloverfield. Hated. It. The 2008 film followed a group of 20-somethings in New York the evening of an attack by a Godzilla-like monster. All of the characters were terrible, annoying, self-absorbed people. By the end of it, I was rooting for the monster. I really wanted them all to be eaten. Spoilers: They get eaten. So, when 10 Cloverfield Lane, a sort-of sequel, was announced, I wasn’t interested at all. But, my curiosity got the best of me, and I watched the first trailer. I was very intrigued by what I saw. Besides, it didn’t appear to have anything to do with its namesake. I watched the movie this weekend, and I am very happy that I didn’t dismiss it out of hand.
Cloverfield was a found footage monster movie, while 10 Cloverfield Lane is a traditionally shot, claustrophobic thriller. It stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle–a woman who wakes up after a car accident to find herself in a bomb shelter. She’s shocked when she realizes that her leg is shackled to a pipe, and there’s an IV in her arm. Howard–played by John Goodman–informs her that he saved her after the accident and brought her to his bunker. He claims that there has been some sort of chemical attack and that it’s not safe to leave. Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a man who helped Howard build the shelter, is the other occupant. All three actors do an amazing job, and the movie plays with the audience about whether Howard is telling the truth or is maybe just plain crazy. I would’ve preferred if they hadn’t connected this to Cloverfield at all, because I think the ending would’ve been a bigger shock. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes tight, tense movies.
Helen Simonson’s new novel is a great summer read, and not just because it has “summer” in the title. The Summer Before the War takes a number of interesting turns with enough suspense to keep you reading when you really should be doing something else. There are many likeable characters–and a few not-so–and the historical detail, never heavy-handed, illuminates the impact of social class, the looming Great War, and the limited role in society for a young woman.
This is the story of Beatrice Nash, who has been hired to teach Latin to the village children of Rye, England. She is in her early 20s and grieving the loss of her beloved father who broadened her mind through education and travel. Teaching is her route to financial independence and the ability to write; probable spinsterhood is embraced as a fair trade-off for a life of her choosing, of reading and writing.
World War I changes everything and everyone, beginning with the village’s acceptance of Belgian refugees and the calls to young men to serve their country. But even patriotism and military service are subject to societal pressures and questionable ethics, and no family completely escapes heartbreak and loss.
Which characters become Beatrice’s friends and allies, and who emerges to thwart her plans moves the story at a brisk pace. And as the characters develop there are satisfying transformations from nemesis to friend, and disappointments as those she admires show their true colors. One of the things I liked best is that no character is perfect; each fails at some point to live up to their own standards and beliefs, or to love generously when it is difficult to do so.
I hated to finish the book, because I had grown quite attached to Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, and others in the story. (I felt the same way about some of the characters in Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.) The Summer Before the War was a wonderful first entry on my summer reading program log, and I hope it makes it onto yours.
I love histories and stories and I enjoy learning about the famous. Biographies, autobiographies and memoirs have been long been written by and about the noteworthy. These books make up a large portion of the library’s nonfiction collection, but recently there has been an increase in memoirs of the not so famous, and that growth is mirrored in the library holdings. It’s their stories, stories of the people who we might know in our everyday lives, which have become a part of the literary world.
“When Breath Become Air” by Paul Kalanithi is the story of a brilliant neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 36. Kalanithi’s life was on a trajectory for great success. His cancer caused him, with his wife, to evaluate his life and the path he had chosen and refocus on what they could accomplish with the short time he had left. “When Breath Becomes Air” is a deeply moving work. Read the rest of this entry »
Looking for a quick addition to your summer reading list? I loved this little book by Valeria Luiselli set in Mexico City because it is quite funny and bursting with originality. If you find yourself gravitating to heavy, serious books and want a pick-me-up or a palette cleanser, this will do the trick. Also, if you like quirky books as a general rule, check this one out! I fell in love with the aesthetics – there are beautiful full page bookplates dividing the different ‘books’ or chapters within the book. Also of note is that Valeria Luiselli wrote this book in collaboration with employees from Mexico City’s Jumex juice factory. During the book, auctioneer Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez tells us about his travels and his beloved tooth collection of the “notorious infamous” (he later admits that the Marilyn Monroe ones are fakes.) There are literary quotes and fortune-cookie fortunes sprinkled throughout like a breadcrumb trail. This book is fun and adventurous, giving one the sense of being on a bizarre yet intriguing mission. I also loved how the final ‘book’ or chapter is a timeline of Gustavo Highway’s adventures in context of other important happenings in Mexican history. There are also photographs to further provide a sense of place. The writing’s mood can be contemplative, irreverent, hilarious, or confounding. I can’t wait to read more by this author!
I’m just a week into the 2016 Summer Reading Program, but I am happy (actually, quite pleased with myself!) to say that I’ve got four activities in the works. Doing so many at once might not be the norm, but I’m confident I’ll finish all of them soon. Here’s what I’m reading:
- Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton. The story spans several days in Wausau, Wisconsin, where some of the town’s deceased residents come back to life. It has a dark, somewhat gothic feel to it, and it’s beautifully illustrated. This book meets activity ‘V,’ read a graphic novel or comic book
- The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America’s First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth. Recounts a series of ghastly murders in Austin, Texas, during the 1880s. Lots of great detail, about the history of Austin, the people there, and of course, the murders. Similar to Devil in the White City. This book meets activity ‘X,’ read a book from the New Nonfiction shelves.
- Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Bone Gap is a dull, small, midwestern town with some very mysterious places, if you know where and how to look. Finn and Sean are two brothers living on their own there, Finn a 17-year-old somewhat awkward kid with a couple good friends, Sean is his older brother who tries to hold down the home. When their friend Roza disappears one day, all of their worlds are turned upside-down in a multitude of ways. There’s an element of magical realism that gives a bit of a fantasy feel, but it’s a pretty serious YA book, with some violence and mature themes. This meets activity ‘T,’ read a young adult book.
- True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner. I first heard of Maura Murray from the Missing Maura Murray podcast: a student at UMass who has a car accident on a dark road, tells someone she doesn’t need help because AAA is on the way, and within minutes is gone, never to be seen again. James Renner comes upon the story while looking for something to focus on after losing his job at a newspaper, and gets sucked into the mysteries that surround the case. This book meets activity ‘Z,’ read a book only during your lunch hour.
Where are you in your summer reading?? If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time…stop by the Library and get ready to read!