by Maeve on July 31st, 2012
Do you have summer travel plans? No? Then let reading be your escape. Travel writing is a wonderful way to take a trip vicariously, especially a trip to a destination that you wouldn’t necessarily choose or to ones that no longer exist. My picks are a mixture of new and classic travel stories.
Start with “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. This new bestseller takes readers on Strayed’s 1,100-mile trek on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). It is a trip Strayed is ill-prepared to take. She is almost always alone. Her shoes are too small. Her pack is too big – so big in fact that she names it Monster. As she hikes she sheds items from her overstuffed backpack and the grief and pain she has carried for years. While “Wild” is the story of Strayed hiking the PCT, it is so much more; it is the journey of Strayed’s redemption.
A much older but classic travel title is John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: in search of America.” Originally published in 1962, “Travels with Charley” recounts Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile journey with his standard Poodle, Charley. They cross the United States in Rocinante, (the name of Don Quixote’s horse), his three-quarter-ton truck, outfitted with a cabin. Steinbeck’s goal was to reconnect with America. “Travels” was well received by the public, but not so by all the critics. Put me firmly in the public camp. I like Charley and I enjoyed Steinbeck’s reflections.
Pick up any travel book by Des Moines native Bill Bryson and you will not be disappointed. A favorite is “A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” It is a humorous account of one man’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT). After returning to America following a long sojourn in England, Bryson decided to “rediscover” his home country by walking the 2,100-mile trail. He is joined by a childhood friend and the two of them set out on their trek. They too are ill-prepared and have packed far more than needed. But unlike the PCT the AT offers more stops and more opportunities for interactions with other hikers and the local folk. Bryson will provide a summer’s worth of enjoyment and exploration.
“Best American Travel Writing” is an annual publication and takes readers across the globe with some of the best writing from magazines and blogs. The short pieces can be serious or humorous and are often eye-opening. If one of the stories strikes your fancy the library may have a book or two by the author. Other travel anthologies include “The Best Women’s Travel Writing: true stories from around the world” or “Best of Lonely Planet Travel Writing.”
Your journey to another location need not involve a plane or train or passport, just a trip to your library. Come explore the shelves and transport yourself.
by Maeve on June 13th, 2012
I can’t stop recommending “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. “It is truly one of those books you can’t put down, at least I couldn’t. It is the summer of 1995 and Strayed sets off at the age of 26 to hike the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). She has little experience hiking and none on such an arduous trail. She reads books and buys gear. But she over-equips herself so much so that she names her giant overstuffed backpack “Monster”. And just like her pack her life is too full – full of pain and grief to point of it all crashing down. Her mother died when she was 22 and a senior in college. Her father left the family years before. She no longer has much contact with her brother and sister and her marriage is falling apart. She cheats on, then leaves, her beloved husband, shoots heroin, has an abortion and adopts a new last name. “I looked [strayed] up in the dictionary and knew it was mine: to wander from the proper path, to be lost . . . to move about aimlessly in search of something.”
During the harrowing three-month journey that ensues, she starts to make sense of what she has lost. She traverses over 1,100 miles starting in the Mojave Desert. She is almost always alone. Her shoes are too small and she loses six toenails before she finishes. The weight of the pack causes palm-sized calluses to develop on her hips. As she hikes she sheds items from her overstuffed backpack and the grief and pain she has carried for years. By the time she reaches the Bridge of Gods on the border of Oregon and Washington she is lighter and stronger. While “Wild” is the story of Strayed hiking the PCT it so much more. It is the journey of Strayed’s redemption.
by Maeve on March 1st, 2012
420 Characters began its life as a collection of Facebook updates back in the day when they were limited to just 420 characters. Lou Beach is an acclaimed artist and illustrator and 420 includes several fantastical collages. One of my favorite stories is from page 8.
Mouse and I lie on our stomachs on the warm and weathered planks. The little bridge spans the stream two feat below and the sun lays its hands on our backs. We drop pebbles into the creek and startle the water striders, add to the trove of shining rocks and stones. Preteen bombadiers, we laugh at splashes. Twenty feet away, in another world, our parents and their friends sit on blankets, eat sandwiches and drink beer.
The stories are fanciful, clever and short.
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.