Nonfiction

Photographing a Vanishing America

ISBN: 
9780618969029

If you've ever seen any of Edward Curtis's photos of Native Americans, you cannot forget them. Not only did Curtis capture members of various tribes with respect but their individuality and humanity stares at you from the page. He also recorded many spiritual ceremonies and active shots that give us some insight into what daily life was like for these people.

This excellent biography tells the story of the famous photographer's life, how he came from utter poverty in Wisconsin, then provided for his entire family as a young teen-ager, to a hardscrabble existence fishing and crabbing near Seattle. But in his late teens, he buys something for himself - a rare occurrence. He purchases a lens for his dad's old camera. 

Soon he manages to round up $150 - a large sum for a young man supporting an entire family in those days--and buys into a photography business in downtown Seattle. In a mere two years, he becomes the most famous photographer in the Northwest, in high demand to immortalize society and business leaders. But though the work makes him rich and feted by society, it's the Native American culture that draws him. He realizes that the country has finished expanding, that the westward migration has ended, and that the native tribes will have less and less space to call their own. Curtis understood that their way of life-- the clothing, the hunting, and especially the spiritual ceremonies--will mostly cease to exist. Read more »

The Oxford English Dictionary

Meaning of EverythingThe Oxford English Dictionary is the premier dictionary of the English language.  It is famous for its easy-to-understand definitions and word etymology, which strives to record the earliest known usage.  The seemingly simple verbs set, make and put vie with each other for the longest entries - over 60,000 words each to describe all of the uses and senses!

The current editor of the OED, as it is commonly known, is set to retire later this year.  John Simpson was briefly interviewed on Morning Edition on NPR yesterday.  What makes his position newsworthy is that he is only the seventh editor of the dictionary since the project's beginning in 1879 and has been working in this high profile position of the world's most famous dictionary for more than 35 years.   

In addition to some specialized copies of the Oxford dictionaries for foreign languages and picture dictionaries, MCPL owns a compact version of the Oxford English Dictionary.  The print is so tiny, you need a zoom text reading machine (which MCPL also owns!) to really read any parts of this mammoth book. Read more »

Our Changing Planet

ISBN: 
9780199933877

It's Earth Day. Senator Gaylord Nelson was the driving force behind the first one which occurred in 1970 as a day of education about environmental issues. As I scanned the new releases in the environmental section, this book caught my eye. It was a sobering read but one that was very thought-provoking. World-renowned legal scholar, Andrew Guzman, wrote Overheated. In it, he examines the political and sociological changes from climate change that the author reports have already started to occur.  Not just flooding and mega-storms, but also droughts, food scarcity, refugees forced from their land, lack of water for agriculture, etc. In his preface, the author states that "climate change will affect nearly everyone on this planet."

The chapter topics reveal his major concerns: one on flooding shows how some island nations will disappear, and  that at least one very populated one - Bangladesh - will suffer massive flooding that will lead to migrations of millions of refugees. The chapter entitled "A Thirsty World" depicts how the melting of glaciers will affect the water supply of many people on earth, not only in India, Pakistan, Argentina, and Chile, but also in our American West. He predicts that this will impact both our food supply and the prices of commodities.

In "Climate Wars: A Shower of Sparks" he hypothesizes how the conflict in Darfur in the 1990s may have been the first war sparked by climate change. Guzman also says that more wars will be caused by a scarcity of resources. He is very concerned about the Middle East, already one of the most arid areas in the world. Read more »

2013 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Orphan Master's SonThe Pulitzer Prize is an annual awards given to excellence in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition and are administered by Columbia University in New York City.  The 2013 awards were announced yesterday.  For books, the following awards were given.

Fiction - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Ambitious and inventive, this novel is set in an orphanage in North Korea.  Protagonist Pak Jun Do is forced to become a fighting tunnel expert and a kidnapper before he takes his fate into his own hands. Johnson is able to tell the tale of touching humanity set within the backdrop of a brutal regime. Read more »

Roger Ebert: Film Critic and Writer

Life ItselfRoger Ebert, film critic extraordinaire and Pulitzer Prize winner, died last week after a battle with cancer.  Immediately following his death, there were lots of quotes circulating online from Ebert which reminded me what a great writer he was.  In writing about movies, Ebert was able often able to put his finger on the pulse of real life human behavior and articulate the human condition - both the happy and the sad.  I forgot how funny he was, and his reviews are a joy to read even if you disagree on the rating.

Those interested in starting with the basics, check out his Movie Yearbooks - complete with movie reviews, essays, tributes, journal entries, and new additions to his popular Movie Glossary.  If you are looking for critiques that might lead you to viewing of really good movies, try The Great Movie series. However, some of Ebert's best writing was in critiquing bad movies.  If you aren't looking for movie suggestions, but just some hilarious examples of his writing check out Your Movie SucksRead more »

The Violinist's Thumb

ISBN: 
9780316182317

OK, I selected this book based solely on its title, but boy did I luck out. What an incredibly gifted writer Sam Kean is.  In The Violinist's Thumb: and Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code, he translates dense scientific concepts into lucid, beautiful prose.

He also knows how to tell stories. The first chapter contrasts the biographies of two of DNA's discoverers, Mendel and the less well-known, Johannes Friedrich Miescher, who because he studied fish slime had to work in very cold conditions so that his material would not deteriorate before he could examine it. And who knew that Mendel joined a monastery so he could secure a university education? His passion for raising peas taught us so much about human inheritance.

This book tackles and at least partially answers many of life's great questions including: Why did it take eons for life to become complex? What is our most ancient DNA? Why do humans have no more DNA than so many smaller, less complex creatures?  Why did we almost become extinct?  Why did we break away from monkeys? Is the impulse for art conveyed by our DNA? Why are identical twins not identical? Read more »

Your Voice in My Head

Your Voice in My Head"Can I tell you what it's like to live inside Millais' painting of Ophelia"? asks Emma Forrest in her memoir, Your Voice in My Head.  Forrest is already a published author and journalist when in her early 20s moves from London to New York.  Her professional rise as a writer coincides with her extreme struggles with self-cutting, an eating disorder, mania, a suicide attempt, and depression. 

Forrest credits a lot of her survival to psychiatrist, Dr. R.  So when Dr. R dies suddenly, and then a famous Hollywood actor dumps her via text message shortly after, Forrest is left alone to pick up the pieces of her heartbreak and loss. 

This isn't the type of memoir I usually read, but I'm glad I did.  Forrest walks well the line of artistic genius and insanity.  You care for her, even when the choices she makes are hard to understand.  Rounding out the sympathetic characters are Dr. R, and Forrest's own parents who deal the best they can from London.  Read more »

Travels in Siberia

Travels in SiberiaThis is exactly what I am looking for in a travel book. Frazier does an excellent job in combining extensive historical research and personal travel details and interweaves them into an immensely enjoyable book. Ignore the fact that Travels in Siberia is about 600 pages long, and travels to someplace you may never get to or wish to visit.

Frazier spent several years and several trips to various parts of Siberia, and this remains the main focus of this book.  The engaging factor is that none of these are just trips, and he allows for the Russian Far East to become part of his life, his passion.  Supplementing the daily details of the trips, including what they ate, where they camped, what they wore, and how they suffered the army of mosquitoes, is a rich history of Siberia and the overall international implications that stem from that vast region.  Read more »

Animals in Winter: Preschool Science and Math

ISBN: 
9781429622004

 

As any parent knows, young children are curious about the world. At the library, we explore a range of topics during Preschool Science and Math. When the weather turns cold, I turn to one of my favorite themes for preschool science: Animals in Winter. Here are some of the activities we did in December!

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Best Books of 2012

Bringing up the BodiesI love making lists, reading lists and cross referencing lists.  I especially love December when many journals publish their year-end best-of lists.  The New York Times has a top ten list, as does Publisher's Weekly and Amazon's Editors chose 20 books that they considered the best for 2012.  The only book to make it to all three lists?  Bringing up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  This is the follow up novel to Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell and Henry the VII. Both books won the Man Booker Prize and a third book is in the works. 

Other than Mantel's struck-it-gold novel, there isn't a whole lot of other crossover.  Publisher's Weekly and the New York Times both list Building Stories by Chris Ware.  This graphic novel is really an unusual collection of printed material, collected in a large box, which shares the stories of the residents of one building.  Tackling a wide range of themes, the New York Times calls it "simultaneously playful and profound".  Read more »

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