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 Andrea on June 28th, 2011
Is the news about math and science scores getting you down? Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch and What it Takes to Win shows the flip side, innovative and intelligent students who will knock your socks off. Judy Dutton brings us the stories of teens whose science fair projects qualified for national science fairs including the highly competitive (and profitable) Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Their levels of curiosity, determination and intelligence are inspiring.
A wide range of science is represented by their projects as well: nuclear fusion, horse therapy, colony collapse disorder, water pollution, graphene and solar energy. Dutton highlights teens with interesting life stories as well as impressive science projects. Their paths to science success and access to lab equipment and education were by no means all alike. Some came to science inquiry at a very young age. Ryan Patterson was rewiring his parents’ home at age five. On the other hand, Eliza McNitt chose a science lab class because it didn’t conflict with her drama class. Kayla Cornale was motivated to help her autistic cousin learn to speak. The most compelling story for me was Garrett Yazzie, a Navajo boy, for whom necessity was the true mother of invention. With the choice of freezing in the winter or watching his sister become severely ill when they used coal to heat their trailer, Yazzie pieced together a highly-efffective solar heater using an old car radiator.
The role of mentors in the lives of the students is fascinating as well. Thanks to strong mentorship, Taylor Wilson’s life is like The Radioactive Boy Scout with a happy ending. Supportive teachers were important especially at the juvenile correctional facility where Lloyd Jones and Ollie Rodriguez worked on their projects. Kelydra Welcker’s interest in science was sparked by her parents, but they balked when her inquiries into water pollution brought her up against the main family and community employer, Dow Chemical.
The book’s real strength lies in the interaction of the human stories with the science. The writing was so accessible it read like fiction despite the complex projects the teens undertook. If you enjoy documentaries like Spellbound and Resolved, you’ll enjoy Science Fair Season even if you usually steer clear of scientific subjects. A perfect companion to Science Fair Season is The Boy who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. At fourteen, Kamkwamba pieced together a windmill to provide electricity and then irrigation for his family during the drought that crippled Malawi in 2001.
The local science fair that feeds into the IISEF is the Eastern Iowa Science and Engineering Fair. The next one will be March 17, 2012 and includes a public viewing time.
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 Kara on March 5th, 2011
I am addicted to my Droid phone. It may sound hokey, but it has really changed my life. Droid phones are based on the Google Android operating system. There is an Android Marketplace where applications (apps) may be downloaded. These apps include programs for serious use as well as fun.
With my Droid I read books from the Library, keep up with the news, listen to books from the Library, send/receive eMail & Text messages, keep up with my calendar, organize contacts, navigate in the dark with the flashlight, monitor Facebook & Twitter, keep travel plans organized, decide what to wear based on the weather forecast, navigate to new places, learn about places I want to travel to, and wake up with the alarm clock. I used to be able to monitor where my family members were (or at least where their phones were) but they figured out how to block that … oh well. Bottom line, my Droid is a great tool that easily transitioned into my daily life.
A lot of what I learned about my Droid I picked up through experimentation, watching others, or handing the phone to my kids for assistance (duh, Mom!). I’m a Digital Immigrant – I didn’t grow up with computers and most of my computer knowledge comes through personal and on-the-job training. Digital Immigrants approach technology very differently from Digital Natives. Digital Natives don’t remember and can’t comprehend a life without computers and devices.
I don’t usually read non-fiction books but I’m so enamored with my Droid I decided to give this book a try … and I loved it! I learned about navigating within the Droid, organizing, shortcuts, tools, apps, and keeping it running smoothly. Engadget is predicting an Android invasion in March with the release of many new Android tablets. I’m ready … so if any of my family members are reading this, please remember that my birthday is just around the corner (I can always dream anyway …)
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.
by Candice on November 12th, 2010
The wave : in pursuit of the rogues, freaks, and giants of the ocean, by Susan Casey, is so much more interesting than one might think, based on the title. If you read her previous book, The Devil’s Teeth, about great white sharks and the people who research them, you know how she can take a seemingly obscure topic and make it come alive. She does the same here, whether she’s talking to the numbers-people from Lloyd’s of London (who still insure boats and cargo on the high seas), meteorologists and storm predictors, physicists who study waves of all kinds, or people who salvage tankers that are about to go down. They’re all saying the same thing: the environment is changing, seas are changing, storms are getting worse and waves are getting bigger–even catastrophic–on a more regular basis.
Casey goes around the world to track these waves down, or to view evidence of their destructive power, landing in England, Tahiti, Alaska, South Africa, Mexico, California, and Hawaii. She ends up spending a great deal of time with several big-wave surfers (most notably Laird Hamilton). They experience the waves in a way that few other people do, for good and bad, and by choice. Their stories will either make you want to learn to surf, or convince you that it’s about the last thing you ever need to do.
Ultimately, though, the story here belongs to the sea and the waves. They seem to have a life of their own, behaving in ways that are sometimes predictable, other times completely off the charts, sometimes nurturing, other times destroying. Casey’s book is an engaging reminder of that.
by Maeve on November 5th, 2010
Are you looking for a more comprehensive and scientific approach to hoarding than the one given by the cable television shows Hoarding: Buried Alive or Hoarders ? If so, “Stuff : compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things” is the book for you. Frost and Steketee, psychology professors, begin the book with the story of the Collyer brothers. After the reclusive pair died in 1947 their New York brownstone, sanitation workers found more than 130 tons of garbage in their home. The two became the cause celebre of hoarders.
While none of the hoarders chronicled in “Stuff” reach the level of the Collyers they all have compelling stories. In fact, most of them are not nearly as extreme as we might think. They are often very bright and aware of what they are doing, but are powerless to stop. “Stuff” is a fascinating look into the hoarding phenomenon. We all probably know someone who might just be a hoarder. Reading “Stuff” may give you a better understanding why some people collect and some people hoard.
by Maeve on November 3rd, 2009
This book is a cat story, well actually the story of three cats, and their human companion. I must confess I read more dog stories, but there are also lovely stories of cats and their humans, including this. The title of this work Homer’s Odyssey: a fearless feline tale or how I learned about love and life with a blind wonder cat does a pretty darn good job of summing up the book. Gwen Cooper, the author, tells us of the adoption of her cat Homer, made blind by an eye infection as a very young kitten. Cooper recounts how her life changes because of Homer. The book begins in Miami and ends in New York City. It is the story of Cooper’s growth from a young college graduate to a successful author.
One of the most moving parts of Homer’s story is Cooper sharing the events of 9/11. She lived a block from her office and her office in the Financial District was a mere four blocks from the Twin Towers. She tells her harrowing story of seeing the collapse of the towers and her trip across the Brooklyn Bridge with the thousands of others fleeing Manhattan and then her life for the next hours and days. Her cats were trapped in the building that she could not access. Even now, days after reading that section of the book, I still get shivers; it is so frightening and compelling. Her stories of her encounters with rescue workers, the posters of all the missing people, the smells and the grey dust that covered the entire financial district are so vivid that I can see them in my mind’s eye. Rest assured, after many days she was finally able to reach her cats and safely move them.
The remainder of the book is about her becoming a true New Yorker and her circle of friends, including a very special friend Lawrence Lerman, a dog lover and not a fan of cats. He eventually becomes her husband and lover of not only Gwen Cooper, but Homer, Scarlett and Vashti. Each chapter of Homer’s Odyssey opens with an epigraph from the Odyssey and a photo of Homer or one of the other cats. If you love cats, I guarantee you will love Homer’s Odyssey. And let me know if you need any advice on a good dog book or two. I can even do dog mysteries.
by Andrea on June 8th, 2009
Nature photographer and educator Frank Serafini has put together a fun book for exploring the desert landscape. Close up photos are accompanied by questions encouraging children to figure out what they are looking at. Plausible suggestions are offered, but are often far from the truth. For example, corn silk and a lion’s mane are suggested possibilities for what is actually a small portion of a sandstone wave. The more detailed information that accompanies each full photograph makes it a good book for both the very young who will concentrate on the photographs and older budding naturalists. Unfortunately, Serafini does not provide information about which desert each photograph was taken. Looking Closing Along the Shore and Looking Closely Through the Forest are other fun and educational books by Serafini for observing and learning about different landscapes. Check out these great books and then grab a camera to experiment with different ways of looking at your surroundings.
by Maeve on June 3rd, 2009
Richard Conniff, a winner of the National Magazine Award and writer for Smithsonian, National Geographic and other magazines has collected many of his best travel and nature writing essays in Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals. He takes the reader from Botswana to the Amazon to Madagascar to the top of his head as he chronicles his adventures in the wild. Yes, he does swim with piranhas and no, they do not eat him, in fact all piranhas are not alike and most do not attack as we have been lead to believe.
His subjects range from the two-legged to the eight-legged. Some of the best stories are those of insects and the men and women who study them and what happens to Conniff when he enters a study or gets involved over his head. Conniff is an engaging writer, often putting himself into situations of great jeopardy, yet always ending in a humorous fashion, at least to the reader. If you are looking for armchair adventure, here”s a book for you.