Posts Tagged ‘nonfiction’


Books About Fathers

by Heidi Lauritzen on February 21st, 2018

I have just finished two special books about fathers and highly recommend both. I took them home because of the titles: “An Odyssey” (I was a Classics major), and “The Wine Lover’s Daughter” (I do enjoy a glass of wine). While I learned much about Odysseus, and about Clifton Fadiman and wine, mostly I was touched by the relationships between the adult children and their fathers who are the subjects of these memoirs.

Author Daniel Mendelsohn is a classicist who teaches literature at Bard College. “An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic” is about the semester his 81-year-old research scientist father joins his seminar on Homer’s Odyssey.  The elder Mendelsohn provides commentary in class that often is in stark contrast to that of the young undergraduates–and frequently in opposition to his son’s professorial ideas as well.  After the seminar, the father and son decide to join an educational Mediterranean cruise that traces Odysseus’s homeward journey. The book blends the telling of these two experiences as it takes us through the Odyssey, and is rich in emotion and humor. Their adventure will remind sons and daughters that there likely are many facets of their parents’ lives that are unknown to them, until the circumstances are right to hear the stories. You need not have read the tale of Odysseus to enjoy this book, although if you have studied the Odyssey you will probably come away with some fresh insights about it.

In the book’s introductory chapter, Mendelsohn says “it is a story, after all, about strange and complicated families…about a husband who travels far and a wife who stays behind…about a son who for a long time is unrecognized by and unrecognizable to his father, until late, very late, when they join together for a great adventure…a story, in its final moments, about a man in the middle of his life, who at the end of this story falls down and weeps because he has confronted the spectacle of his father’s old age, the specter of his inevitable passing…”  He is speaking of Odysseus, and his son and father, but we also will learn that it is about something much closer to home.

Anne Fadiman is the wine lover’s daughter, and this is a book about her relationship with her father Clifton Fadiman. Although she is the well-known author of Ex Libris and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, her father perhaps was even more famous in his time: an editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, book critic for The New Yorker, a Book of the Month Club judge for forty years, and emcee of the NBC radio quiz show Information Please. And from an early age, he also educated himself about wine and began creating a wine cellar that ultimately reflected his extensive knowledge and savvy acquisitions. He co-authored two editions of The Joys of Wine.

Clifton Fadiman came to all of this through relentless hard work, and a quest for self improvement that would raise him above his humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York and life with his parents, recent immigrants. He studied how to speak without an accent, how to dress, how to eat, and what to drink. Despite his successes, he never felt entirely comfortable that he had achieved the level of society that he wished for.

The love he showed his children is evident however:  he nurtures the talents in his children, and generously teaches them about wine.  Anne Fadiman’s burden is that she doesn’t really enjoy wine, although she desperately wants to in order to please her father. A fun thread of the book describes her efforts to determine scientifically why she doesn’t like wine. And while there is an element of competition with him in her early writing career, it seems primarily self-imposed and she always credits him with influencing her to be a reader and writer.

And what can be better than books and wine? Fadiman writes “My father had long associated books and wine: they both sparked conversation, they were both a lifetime project, they were both pleasurable to shelve, they were the only things he collected. The Joys of Wine called wine cellars ‘wine libraries’.”

Like Mendelsohn’s book, this also is about an adult child coming to terms with an aging father, learning that father’s full story, and sharing much love and warmth along the way.

 

A Murder of Crows

by Beth Fisher on February 11th, 2018
A Murder of Crows Cover Image

One thing I like most about Facebook is how one comment can lead to a great discussion.  A few days ago a friend commented that she loved seeing “wheeling flocks of birds in the sky.”  Someone then mentioned seeing a murmuration of Starlings on a recent drive from Muscatine to Iowa City. Another friend then asked if a murmuration refers only to Starlings (it does) and what a group of Pigeons would be called?  (Pigeons can be a flight, a flock or a kit.)

British artist, illustrator and author Matt Sewell’s newest book A Charm of Goldfinches And Other Wild Gatherings is a wonderfully illustrated guide to many of the group names humans give to members of the animal kingdom.

In the introduction, Sewell states that many of the phrases he has included in his book are hundreds of years old or older,  many found in The Book of Saint Albans (The Boke of Seynt Albans.) Printed originally in 1486, versions of The Book of Saint Albans were reprinted many times, under many names, over the next 400 years.  The original was reproduced as The Boke of St Albans, with an introduction by William Blades, in 1881.

A Charm of Goldfinches contains more than 50 animal groups, each with Sewell’s beautiful watercolor illustrations and a half-page discussion of how the names came to be.  Sewell lives in Great Britain, so a few of the species listed, such as Lapwings, are not found in North America.

There are some groups that most people are familiar with – a pod of dolphins, a pride of lions, or a murder of crows.  Here are few to test your knowledge:

 

A shiver of ________.

A _______ of crocodiles.

A parliament of ______.

A ________ of foxes.

A cloud of ________.

 

To find the answers you’ll have to check out the book!

 

Shot through the [symbol of courtly love and religious devotion] heart…

by Candice Smith on February 6th, 2018
Shot through the [symbol of courtly love and religious devotion] heart… Cover Image

and you’re to blame. Yes, you.

Valentine’s Day is coming up, when we remember and give thanks for two early Christians in Rome, both named Valentine, both martyred for their beliefs. You don’t do that? Maybe you write saccharine poetry to the object of your unrequited love? No? Perhaps you buy a card and some candy, make reservations somewhere fancy or make a nice meal, and use the day to test the waters or reaffirm your love. And all of it–the cards, the candy, the poems, the napkins and candles, the ill-advised matching tattoos–is covered in little red hearts. Why?

It seems obvious, right? The heart is the physical seat of our emotions. It’s the tell-tale organ that gives lie to our calm composure, regardless of whether our heart is bursting with the excitement of love, or breaking under corrected expectations. The heart soars, it plummets, it races along, and it aches, all in time with our lives of love. The heart, as symbol of that love, is the OG emoji. How OG? Read the rest of this entry »

Mock Caldecott Review: Grand Canyon

by Casey Maynard on January 5th, 2018

Image result for grand canyon jason chin

This week we are taking a look at Jason Chin’s Grand CanyonIf you are unfamiliar with Chin’s nonfiction works, I encourage you to give Gravity, Redwoods, Coral Reefsand Island a look as well.

Grand Canyon is a fabulous story about a father and daughter exploring this natural wonder and serves as a young reader’s reference guide to the canyon’s geology and ecology past and present. Readers of all ages will find something to enjoy from the narrative and the immersive artwork to the heavily researched back matter. Chin’s book design soars using every piece of the pages to further illuminate life in and the history of the canyon. His use of marginal imagery is particularly lovely. Also be sure to note the wonderful fossil cutouts that set up page turns to the distant past and the fantastic gatefold vista at the end.

Check this one out and let us know if it’s your favorite by voting in ICPL’s Mock Caldecott Awards by January 31st.

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Party Like ‘Tis 999

by Heidi Lauritzen on January 5th, 2018

There’s a great display on the second floor, next to the Information Desk.  Maeve has gathered books and DVDs on the Middle Ages from our nonfiction collection, and placed them under a showcase of objects reflecting medieval times.

The “Middle Ages” and the “Medieval Period” often are used interchangeably, and cover roughly the 5th to 15th centuries.  Among other things in the showcase, look for the silver coronet, a dagger, and a pewter spoon.

Walk down almost any aisle in the nonfiction collection, and you can find something of medieval interest:  religion, fashion, art, literature, travel, history, and biography are all represented in the display.  Some of the materials that caught my eye are: The Medieval World:  An Illustrated Atlas, full of colorful illustrations and arranged chronologically; Medieval Dress & Fashion by Margaret Scott and published by the British Library; Life in the Medieval Cloister by Julie Kerr; the DVD Medieval Siege (“catapult yourself into the chaos of medieval battle”); and The Bayeux Tapestry: the Complete Tapestry in Color

All the materials on the display kiosk are available for checkout.  Time travel back a millennium or so, and find out how to party like ’tis 999.

ICPL Staff Top Picks for 2017: Best of the Best

by Meredith Hines-Dochterman on December 31st, 2017

It’s here: the Iowa City Public Library’s Top Picks for 2017!

Staff members nominated nearly 100 books released in 2017 as their favorite reads of the year. Those that made this list were nominated by more than one person, which truly makes them the Best of the Best.

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
  • Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (published in Britain in 2016; released in the U.S. in May of 2017)
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
  • La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey
  • Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
  • Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre
  • Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches by John Hodgman
  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  • Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Volume 1 by Emil Ferris
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Our Best Book Overall for 2017 is The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.

This debut novel was nominated by more staff members than any other book this year, which makes sense given all the other Best of 2017 lists it has appeared on this month. If you haven’t read it, be sire to check out a copy before the movie is released!

Best of the Best 2017: Non-Fiction

by Amanda on December 29th, 2017

ICPL BEST NON-FICTION BOOKS OF 2017

 

Our favorite non-fiction books this year are very eclectic! Whether you’re interested in American politics, understanding your mind better, feminism, or world history, we’ve got you covered. A lot of these books deal with overcoming extreme adversity, and would make great winter reads!

  • Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen
  • Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg
  • Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat
  • We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  • Women and the Land by Barbara Hall
  • Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker
  • Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 by Helen Rappaport
  • The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin

Let us now give thanks, and eat.

by Candice Smith on November 10th, 2017

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Jennie A. Brownscombe (1914), Pilgrim Hall Museum

I love finding out what is behind our holidays and traditions–why do we put a tree in the house? why the painted eggs? why did he put ashes on my forehead?–but Thanksgiving is one of those that I hadn’t given much thought to. According to Bruce Forbes and his excellent America’s Favorite Holidays, the holiday we celebrate today is pretty straightforward and connected to events that happened in our country’s past, although not in the way I had imagined.

We can thank the Puritans for getting us started with the holiday. Much of the reason they wanted to leave England was to have their religion the way they wanted it, and one of the things they wanted was fewer holidays. The Church used to be pretty big on them, with lots of days to recognize saints, have feasts, practice penitence–well over 100 days per year for a long time, including Sundays–and all of this time off meant less work, less pay, more goofing off. Puritans felt that Sundays should be used for worship and other religious acts, and aside from that there should only be a few days a year for either giving thanks and feasting (when good things happened) or for fasting and penitence (when not-so-good things happened). These days were most often proclaimed by religious authorities, and started to be somewhat common, although only when warranted. However, as the population of the colonies grew, the desire for the traditional harvest festival did as well, and even the Puritans were swayed by that. Read the rest of this entry »

Murderous reads for the season

by Candice Smith on October 4th, 2017
Murderous reads for the season Cover Image

When I was a child, I used to love watching scary movies with my dad. He had this great La-Z-Boy chair that the two of us could fit in, and on weekends we would rent a movie or two (VHS, mind you), make popcorn, and terrify ourselves silly. Well, I was terrified (hence, two people in one chair), but I don’t think he was. We watched all the biggies from the day: Halloween, Carrie, The Shining, Friday the 13th, Alien (I made him take me to that in the theatre, I was like 6, what was he thinking?), The Omen, The Exoricst, The Amityville Horror…the list goes on. I loved it, letting myself be scared just as much as I wanted to, but being safe and able to cover my eyes whenever I needed to. As I got older, I didn’t really enjoy being scared as much (real world too scary, maybe?), and I stopped watching horror movies for the most part. I still enjoy a good mystery and have a certain predilection for murder stories, so in honor of the upcoming Halloween season (who doesn’t like a bit of scare for Halloween?), I’ve rounded up some new books about murder. They are all nonfiction, which makes them all the more scary. Read the rest of this entry »

Iowa Fall Foliage

by Melody Dworak on September 15th, 2017
Iowa Fall Foliage Cover Image

If you are wondering why the leaves are changing colors early this year–yes, indeed: it’s because of drought.* According to the U.S. drought monitor, all of Johnson County is colored “abnormally dry” on its Iowa map. This means you’ll have to grab your favorite flora identification books ASAP if you want to go on some lovely, tree and shrub-identifying fall hikes. Read the rest of this entry »