by Maeve on December 6th, 2011
I love to select books for the new nonfiction display shelves for so many reasons. The books are new, the cover art on many of the books is remarkable and the books are about every subject imaginable, truly. I found a book tonight that just cried out to be picked up and opened. Nest is a visually stunning work. Beals uses birds and nests from three collections – the California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkely and the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology. Beals places the eggs in or near the nest and photographs them. Each photograph is set against a stark black background making the photographs all the more stunning.
Each photograph in Nest is accompanied by a page of informative text and a detailed ornithological illustration. The book is spectacular. It will make you look at the nests in you see in trees and the eggs that sometimes fall to the ground in spring with different eyes. I did a search of for more on Beals work and found an even larger collection in Flickr. If you enjoyed her work in Nest you will want to see these photographs too.
by Maeve on October 15th, 2011
Dr. Jeff Wells, a veterinarian in rural Colorado, has written a follow-up to his All My Patients Have Tales. What is it about stories about animals that make books on the topic so popular? Do they give us a way to increase our interactions with animals beyond the one or two pets we can have at home if we are lucky enough to share our lives with companion animals? I don’t know the answer, but I find myself borrowing many books from the 636 (animal husbandry) section of the library.
All My Patients Kick and Bite while not set in North Yorkshire has much in common with the stories recounted in the James Herriot books. Wells operates a small and large animal practice and makes visits to his patients at their ranches or farms and answers emergency calls at all hours at his clinic. He patients range form llamas to bulls to lambs many with unique personalities. The human companions to the animals Dr. Wells helps are sometime even more interesting and challenging than the ailing animals. If you enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small you might want to give All My Patients Kick and Bite.
by Maeve on September 11th, 2011
Is Alexander McCall Smith the only writer of crime fiction set in Africa? No, there are more and many of them show a much more grimmer view of sub-Saharan Africa. In the August 29, 2011 “Publishers Weekly” Leslie Picker offers more for the reader than Precious Ramotswe, the main detective at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Michael Stanley, (writers Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) has just published the third title in the David “Kubu” Bengu series. The series is set in contemporary Botswana and the most recent title, Death of Mantis, interweaves the prejudice against the Bushmen into the murder mystery. Ghanaian author, Kwei Quartey, sets his two book series in Accra. His third book, Men of the Rig, will be out next year.
Crime fiction from South Africa predominates as the publishing industry there is the most robust in Africa. The October Killings by Wessel Ebersohn, is set in late 2oth century South Africa. The protagonist is lawyer Abby Bukula, the grown daughter of parents killed during an anti-apartheid protest. This is the first book in a projected series. Malla Nunn, has two books featuring Emmanuel Cooper, a detective working the 1950s apartheid South Africa. Deon Meyer, who writes in Afrikaans, won the 2010 Martin Beck Award for the best crime novel in translation for Devil’s Peak, another mystery set in South Africa. Picker even throws in Zoo City, a science fiction/fantasy crime novel by Lauren Beukes. Beukes’ book also takes place in South Africa.
If McCall Smith is the only crime writer from Africa you have read expand your horizons. Or if you have tired of Scandinavia, try a title from much farther south.
by Maeve on August 15th, 2011
Lost in Shangri-la : a true story of survival, adventure, and the most incredible rescue mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff is a fantastic story of survival in the jungles of Dutch New Guinea during World War II. This is the second work of nonfiction I read this summer that was so compelling the I didn’t want to put it down. (The first was In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson.) While the story takes in 1945 with the war still waging in the Pacific it isn’t about a battle. Instead it is the tale of a sight-seeing trip to an uncharted location gone wildly awry. The flight, carrying 24 passengers, hit a mountain, and only 3 survived. John McCollum, Kenneth Decker, and a beautiful blonde petite Woman’s Air Corps member named Margaret Hastings were injured – Decker and Hastings were severely burned and although McCollum had no great physical injuries, his twin brother was killed in the crash. Lost in Shangri-La is the griping story of three survivors, the native people and the rescue mission. And it is also recounts the first contact of Westerners with a previously untouched band of people.
Zuckoff uses declassified U.S. Army documents, personal photos and mementos, a survivor’s diary, a rescuer’s journal, and original film footage in telling the story of how the trio was rescued. He tracks down survivors and also visits the Baliem Valley to interview the as many of the original group as he could find. Lost in Shangri-La is well worth reading, not only as a story of survival in extremely harsh conditions but also what happens when two cultures collide.
by Maeve on July 7th, 2011
Are you looking for a great book? A work of nonfiction that reads like a novel? Well, here it is. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, (TILOHL). I checked out TILOHL last year and returned it without ever opening it. Guess I must have been busy because had I started it I would not have been able to put it down. I devoured TILOHC in two days. Skloot, an award-winning science writer, has crafted the story of Henrietta Lacks, or more precisely, HeLa, the “immortal” cells taken from Mrs. Lacks without her knowledge, and the Lacks family.
Skloot spent ten years writing TILOHL and deftly weaves the tale – cell lines and their study, the discoveries made possible from HeLa and medical ethics into her story of the heirs of Henrietta Lacks. Lacks was a black woman, born in Clover, Virginia, in Lacks Town, land that was left to her ancestors by the former slave owners who had fathered them. She married her first cousin, moved to Baltimore and bore five children. She died from cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. Skloot, a well-educated white woman has to build trust with the Lacks, a family suspicious of those who come asking questions of their mother.
TILOHL is intriguing on so many levels; as a race history, a balanced debate on medical ethics and a biographical study of poor black Southern family. It is a story that continues to reverberate today. Who owns an individuals cells and when does scientific discovery trump individual rights? I heartily recommend The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
by Maeve on May 3rd, 2011
Ah, the joys of nonfiction. In stocking our Power Walls, the area at the beginning of the stacks where we display and promote books with beautiful covers, (and interesting text), my eye was drawn to Aran Knitting by Alice Starmore. This book is a revised and expanded edition of the 1997 classic. I love Aran sweaters and and while I don’t knit myself, (well I do, but poorly), my mother used to be an avid knitter and I appreciate the skill and creativity that goes into making a knitted garment. The revised edition of Aran Knitting is an expert guide encompassing the history of not only Aran knitting but the Aran Isles. There are fantastic photographs of the West coast of Ireland and an excellent historical background of the land and the history of the various Aran knits and sweaters.
The heart of the book is a complete workshop in technique and designwith 60 charted patterns for the original 14 designs, many reknit in contemporary yarns. And as an extra bonus the models wearing each of the knit designs in posed in a picturesque location in the isles. And since I am not a knitter that is the part I liked the best. If you are a knitter you will want to challenge yourself to knit one of the classic Aran designs or one of the new Celtic designs. And if you are interested in the Aran Isles you will not want to miss this book.
by Maeve on April 25th, 2011
The author, Martin Kihn had me at Bad Dog. How many times have I thought and maybe once or twice even said the very same thing? Bad Dog : A Love Story is just that, a love story.
Kihn and his wife his wife Gloria get a dog, a very big and energetic dog, Hola, a Bernese Mountain Dog. Hola is more than they can handle, probably more than anyone with few dog training skills can handle. She is strong willed and smart, very smart. Her willfulness leads her to problems with Gloria. Those problems compounded with Kihn’s growing issues with alcohol lead Gloria to leave. Kihn is in a downward spiral with not much left but his job with a tough boss who offers him some excellent dog advice and his support group at AA. Kihn seeks out help for his drinking and for his dog. Along the way we travel with him from one trainer to another and learn the various strengths and weakness of each technique and of Bernese Mountain Dogs. Kihn’s journey with Hola is a rewarding one and the arduous climb is worth it. Hola and Kihn achieve the CGC, the Canine Good Citizen rating but discover so much more.
If you like dog stories, you will enjoy this. I give it four barks out of four.
by Maeve on March 30th, 2011
Ever by My Side : A Memoir in Eight Pets by Dr. Nick Trout, is the third book by the Angell Animal Medical Center staff surgeon. The Iowa City Public Library was fortunate enough to have Nick read here as part of his 2010 book tour for Love is the Best Medicine. That book was delightful and focused on the animals he had as patients at Angell Medical in Boston. His current book, Ever by My Side, is an autobiography told through his pets. He grew up in a working- class British suburb and his first pet is Patch, a large German shepherd. He and his father, Duncan, developed a strong bond with Patch. This bond ultimately lead him to explore the idea of becoming a veterinarian.
The book follows Nick through his studies at Oxford and then to the United States where he falls in love with veterinary surgery and the United States. He makes the decision to stay stateside and it is very hard for his father. In fact, his parents had moved to the Yorkshire Dales, James Herriot-land with hopes that Nick would join them there. His father desperately wanted Nick to become a large and small animal vet, like Herriot. But it wasn’t to be. Nick starts his professional career in the desert southwest but eventually moves back to the Boston area. Along the way we learn about the cat and dogs in his adult life as well as the dogs in his parents lives. Like all pets, they do not live forever and the poignant stories he tells of relationships with the animals and his family is touching and often amusing. His family grows to include a daughter with cystic fibrosis and her quest for a yellow Labrador is one of most special parts of the book.
If you love stories about animals and humans, you will not be disappointed by Ever by My Side. The only thing better than reading it would be to have the author here again to read for us.
by Maeve on March 7th, 2011
I love the movies or when I am feeling sophisticated “films”. All of it – the history of film, the costumes, the awards and the magic behind them. I heard a review for Designs on Film on Morning Edition and knew I had to borrow this book. Long before FX and CGI human hands were entirely responsible for special effects. Think of that – all those movies we saw as kids were created without the benefit of computers. Designs on Film take the reader through the movies decade by decade. But first you learn the difference between an art director, a production designer and a set decorator. The photographs in this volume are glorious, just as you would expect. And the designer credits at the end are wonderful. Watching each of the films cited would be as if you were taking a survey course on American cinema. This is a must read for everyone who wants to know more about how movies are made.
As a side note, you may want to be careful if you decide to recreate the magic at home. After reading about how the horse of many colors got its color in the Wizard of Oz I decided to see if I could turn my nearly white Labrador retriever pink. It worked, Nellie was the talk of the neighborhood for quite some time.
by Maeve on December 21st, 2010
Deep Nature is a beautiful book. The Scraths, Robert and Linda, have captured Iowa at its smallest and most exquisite. The book opens with an moving essay by ecologist John Pearson and then follows with seventy-five amazing photographs – photographs that seem so real you find yourself, or at least I did, reaching out and touching the page.
The photographs are of plants, animals and insects you may have never seen or seen and not realized they were there. There are photos of orchids and frogs, spiders and grasshoppers and butterflies. I have been lucky enough to attend a book lecture and signing by the Scarths at Prairie Lights. They shared with a rapt audience their method and showed photographs that weren’t included in the book.
Deep Nature is a magical book. It is a University of Iowa Press title and is just one of the many fine books the press has published in the last year. It is book to own and cherish and would make the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates Iowa, nature or photography.