Astronomy Day

universe2

Have you ever wanted to look through a telescope? Then come and help us celebrate Astronomy Day! We will be hosting the Everett Astronomy Club on Saturday May 10, 2014 in the Main Library Children’s Activity Room. The Everett Astronomy Club will have telescopes set up that you can look through, as well as video and computer displays and amateur astronomers to answer your questions.

At the event, you can learn about light pollution, observing techniques, stars, galaxies, planets and meteorites. Weather permitting, they are going to try to set up a telescope outside for solar observing. We have lots of books about astronomy if you are interested in learning more either before or after the program!

astronomy books

The group will also have their telescopes set up at Harborview Park on Friday May 9th and Saturday May 10th from 6:00 PM until midnight (weather permitting) and you can gaze at the stars there as well.

 

Did You Know? (Rabies Edition)

You almost certainly can’t get rabies from a squirrel?

squirrelsanswerguideSquirrels can get rabies but there has never been a documented case of squirrel to human transmission.

I found this information on page 130 in the book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide. I also never realized that prairie dogs are squirrels or that there are so many varieties of squirrels. You can see many of the varieties pictured in this book, or take a look at Squirrels of the West by Tamara Hartson. For younger kids, Squirrels: Welcome to the World of Animals by Diane Swanson will give them an inside the nest view of the daily lives of these cute little critters!

Rodents such as squirrels, rats, mice and prairie dogs have a genetic abnormality that  generally keeps them from getting rabies. In addition, squirrels usually aren’t around the other types of animals that carry rabies so their risk of exposure is very low.

genesanddnaAs scientists learn more and more about genetics and disease, they are understanding more about the role certain specific genes play in our health and familial hereditary. There are now many diseases that they can detect in your DNA. Genes & DNA by Richard Walker is a children’s book that is very well written and explains the basics of DNA, RNA, the double helix, and genes. It also gives examples that easily explain twins, disease, cloning and more.

rabidIt seems odd to think of a disease as deadly as rabies as being fascinating, but Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (which gives the history of rabies and the attempts by different societies to treat and prevent this catastrophic illness through the ages) was very enlightening. The factual accounts make it that much more interesting.

There are several famous fictional stories of rabies as well. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neile Hurston and Old Yeller by Fred Gipson will touch your heartstrings, while Cujo by Stephen King is suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of your seat!

vaccineFortunately rabies is very preventable now because of the vaccines that our pets can be given, and the advanced treatments that someone can be given if suspected of being infected. Vaccine: the Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver by Arthur Allen is informative; it talks about the creation and uses of different vaccines throughout history, while telling us about the controversies and politics of immunizations at the same time .

 

The Quest

With the holiday season already far in the rear-view mirror, and the joys of summer still months off, I’m deep into winter escapist reading. This season I seem to be drawn to books about people on quests. Whether it’s for healing or wild edibles, each writer I’ve engaged with has taken me along on a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are three titles that will set your mind wandering:

The Mushroom Hunters cover imageThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream  (Langdon Cook)This title is a great fit for foodies, hikers, lovers of the Pacific Northwest, and those who appreciate investigative journalism that takes you deep inside the story. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path, literally and sometimes legally, with Cook and his group of wild food foraging contacts. This is a good book to pick up if you’re the type of consumer who is interested in where your food comes from and why it costs what it does. I found it remarkable that items that you can find at any upscale market reach the selling table as a result of so many moving (and potentially unreliable) parts.

Fairyland cover imageFairyland: A Memoir of My Father  (Alysia Abbott). In some cases, quests can be taken without traveling at all. In Fairyland, author Alysia Abbott journeys back into her unorthodox childhood using her father’s prodigious journal archive. Abbott’s path twists and turns through the complexities of being raised by an openly gay single father at a time when the nation was only first awakening to the gay rights movement. Along the way the author pulls no punches describing her father as loving though aloof and herself as too self-involved to be able to see that he needed her as much as she needed him. Despite these and other hurdles, this small family managed to create a home in improbable places. While readers are often left with a sense of regret for opportunities lost, the overall tone of the memoir is one of grace and acceptance.

Wild cover imageWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed). Part of my own personal quest this January is to finish this book; I’m currently in the middle of it. Like Alysia Abbott, Cheryl Strayed had an unusual upbringing. After her abusive father exited the picture, her mother barely scraped by raising her small family. When she eventually remarried, the family moved to the wilds of northern Minnesota where they built their own tar-paper cabin and lived off the land. Though this lifestyle may sound difficult, the family was happy. Strayed goes on to marry shortly after high school and seems to have things on track until her mother suddenly dies of lung cancer. Unable to cope with her loss, Strayed spirals out of control and moves out on her own. In order to regain focus after her divorce, she picks up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to set off on her own. One part travelogue for the curious traveler, and one part memoir for those working through their own loss, this book has a lot to offer to the questing reader.

Command and Control

commandandcontrolIs it possible to be nostalgic about the threat of global thermonuclear war? I found myself asking that rather odd question recently as I read Command and Control by Eric Schlosser. From the cover art to the alphabet soup of cold war acronyms (NORAD, SIOP, SAC, and who could forget MAD) I found Schlosser’s tome triggering memories that were an odd mix of fondness coupled with dread: classmates and adults freaking out over the TV movie The Day After, Sting’s concern about the Russians fondness for their children, basking in the electronic glow of irradiated cities while playing Missile Command at the video arcade.

As I kept reading, however, my feelings of nostalgia soon gave way to an amazement at how little I knew about the most destructive weapons ever created and the protocols, or lack thereof, in place to ensure that they only go off when they are supposed to. While Command and Control definitely contains a lot of fascinating Cold War history and strategy, its main focus is on how the U.S. government has attempted to safely maintain the many nuclear weapons on our soil and throughout the world since their creation in 1945. When you consider that just one ‘accident’ could wipe out a city, it gives you pause. Let’s just say that the facts are not conducive to worry-free days and restful sleep.

To increase the tension, Schlosser intertwines his general history of the safety of nuclear weapons with the story of a specific incident: the ominous sounding ‘Damascus Accident.’  On September 18th, 1980, during a routine maintenance check of a Titan II missile silo in rural Arkansas, a seemingly mundane thing happened: a socket from a socket wrench came loose. Unfortunately this socket careened off the missile and created a hole that began spewing out rocket fuel. The thought of the unfortunate maintenance worker who dropped the socket says it all: ‘Oh man, this is not good.’ The author then provides a minute by minute tension-filled account of events that is layered throughout the book. It is a clever writing device that not only keeps you reading, but puts a human face to the policy makers’ use of terms such as ‘acceptable risk.’

100sunsAnother hallmark of this work is the author’s balanced approach to the topic. It would have been easy, given the subject matter, to depict many of the historical characters as two-dimensional heroes or villains. Instead the author presents fully fleshed out individuals with complex motivations. Good examples of this are the many scientists and administrators who developed the atomic bomb during World War II.  As a scientific achievement, the creation of the atom bomb was truly amazing and Schlosser doesn’t shy away from that fact. You begin to see the project through the scientists’ eyes as they puzzle and experiment to bring a seemingly impossible thing, the splitting of the atom, to life. Conversely, you also share their horror when they realize the sheer destructive power of their achievement and what it means for the world.

Ultimately, this book is an exploration of a series of questions that should be easy to answer: What is the strategic purpose of possessing nuclear weapons? Are the ones we posses safe? Where are they located? Who actually controls them and what are their targets? Before reading this fascinating work, I would have assumed it was my ignorance and default generational apathy that led me to be clueless. Now I find it hard to disagree with the conclusion of the author that:

Secrecy is essential to the command and control of nuclear weapons. Their technology is the opposite of open-source software. The latest warhead designs can’t be freely shared on the Internet, improved through anonymous collaboration, and productively used without legal constraints. In the years since Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, the design specifications of American nuclear weapons have been “born secret.” They are not classified by government officials; they’re classified as soon as they exist. And intense secrecy has long surrounded the proposed uses and deployments of nuclear weapons. It is intended to keep valuable information away from America’s enemies. But an absence of public scrutiny has often made nuclear weapons more dangerous and more likely to cause a disaster.

Pleasant dreams.

Did You Know? (Migration Edition)

That Anna’s hummingbirds don’t migrate?

hummingbirdsacelebration

I found this information on page 12 of the book Hummingbirds: A Celebration of Nature’s Most Dazzling Creatures by Ben Sonder, where he writes about them being permanent residents of the Pacific Coast and southern Arizona. The Costa’s hummingbird of southern California and Arizona stay year round in their habitats as well. This book has a couple of great pictures of baby hummingbirds in the nest as well. I didn’t realize that they have such little beaks when they hatch, and are almost full size at about 3 weeks!

howtoattracthummingbirdsSo, since they are here year round, you are going to want to leave your hummingbird feeders out during the winter time. I have two sets that I can swap out as they freeze. The best recipe for homemade syrup is 1 cup sugar to 4 cups water. You don’t want to add more sugar than that as it makes them thirsty, and could possibly lead to liver damage. How to Attract Hummingbirds and Butterflies by John V. Dennis tells all about designing and maintaining a butterfly/hummingbird garden, with an extensive list of beneficial plants to use, as well as a gallery of hummingbirds and butterflies for easy recognition.

animalmigrationMany birds travel thousands of miles during their migrations. Boy, would my wings be tired! They tend to remember and stop at the same places year after year to feed and rest. Some birds travel hundreds of miles over water during their migrations, which they must do non-stop as there is nowhere for them to rest along the way. Atlas of Bird Migration edited by Jonathan Elphick and Animal Migration: Remarkable Journeys in the Wild by Ben Hoare show the migration routes and distances of many species of birds and other animals.

thejourneyMany mammals migrate too, but none so far as the gray whale. They travel 6,000 miles from the Arctic sea, before they become ice filled, to the warmer waters of California and Mexico where they give birth. They generally won’t eat much for 8 months, until they return to the Arctic. Cynthia Rylant’s The Journey: Stories of Migration is a very informative children’s book with nice artwork explaining the why’s and where’s of the migration of whales, butterflies, caribou, locusts, terns and silver eels.

destinationamericaWhen people “migrate” from colder areas to warmer areas during the winter we call them  snow birds, but when they come from one country to another, we call it immigration instead of migration. Destination America by Chuck Wills talks about people from all corners of the globe, and tells us why they immigrated to the United States, how they did it, and what they did once they were in America. I found this book fascinating and enjoyed looking at all the old photographs in it.

Did You Know? (Bear Edition)

When bears hibernate, they can awaken quickly and are able to react efficiently when they do? 

GrizzlybearsI found this information on page 49 in the book Grizzly Bears by Jack Ballard. A hibernating bear’s metabolic rate drops significantly. The heart rate lowers from its normal 45 beats a minute to about 15 beats a minute, while breathing goes from 7 breaths a minute to one breath every 45 seconds. A bear will also not eat, drink, defecate or urinate during the hibernation period.

At Grouse Mountain in Canada, there is a wildlife refuge where they study two bears they rescued: Grinder and Coola. The bears wake up and move around about 20 minutes or so almost every day during hibernation according to the rangers. You can go to their website to see pictures and a blog of the bears and other animals there.

Before hibernating, they eat as much as they can to build up a thick fat supply. The bears eat berries and salmon among other things. This is crucial to the female’s ability to become pregnant with the stored “blastocyst”, as it will not implant and bearsayearinthelifedevelop if there isn’t enough body fat. The mother bears give birth during the hibernation period. The babies are the smallest in relation to their mother’s size. On average, newborn black bear cubs weigh 10.5 ounces. If a newborn human were that small in comparison, it would weigh between 3.6 and 6 ounces! It won’t be until the bear’s 2nd summer before they are big enough to go off on their own. Read more in the book Bears: A Year in the Life by Matthias Breiter. You will see many outstanding photos of black, grizzly and polar bears.

inbearcountryThere are 8 kinds of bears in the world, and Bears by Charles Fergus is very informative about them and tells some of the similarities and differences between the species.

For some interesting stories about bears, you should read In Bear Country by Jake MacDonald. He saw his first bear in a zoo as a young boy, and saw his first wild bear a few years later on a fishing trip. That trip sparked his lifelong curiosity about bears and motivated him to study bears and write this collection of stories.

theodorerooseveltThe “teddy bear” got its name when President Theodore Roosevelt, who was an avid big game hunter, refused to shoot a small bear. Stuffed bears were just making their way to toy stores when this incident happened and the name stuck. Of course, you can’t bring up teddy bears without reading the book, and singing the song, Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Jimmy Kennedy!

And finally, if you want to be like a bear and fish for salmon, Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon II by Les Johnson & Bruce Ferguson will give you tips and pointers…. Just watch out for bears while you are out there!

Did You Know? (Tree Edition)

trees&forestsThat “fog-drip” can account for ten or more inches of precipitation a year and up to 35% of a forest’s annual water supply in the northwest. I found this fact on page 67 in the book Trees & Forests of America by Tim Palmer. A tree’s needles absorb the moisture-laden air, which liquefies on the surfaces of the needles, accumulates and eventually drips to the ground, nourishing the tree.

treesofnorthamericaThere are many books on tree identification. You can get them specific to the West Coast, the Olympics, the Pacific Northwest, or we even have one for Trees of Seattle. I personally like the National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America. It has color pictures and descriptions of tree “parts” to make identification easy.

When a tree dies, it is really a new beginning. Insects, birds and small animals take up residence and moss and lichens grow on their new “home”. Sometimes dead trees are hollow or have roots exposed leaving room for larger animals. Dead Log Alive by Jo S Kittinger has informative facts and shows great pictures of all kinds of activity around and on a dead snag.

deadlogaliveThe Western Hemlock is the Washington State tree. Didn’t know we had a state tree? All states do! The book State Trees: Including the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico by Sue R Brandt tells you about all of them and includes pictures of these majestic beauties.

There are many, many poems and stories written about trees: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Christmas Trees and Birches by Robert Frost, A Tree is  Nice by Janice May Udry, mysideofthemountainThe Family Tree by David McPhail, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. One of my favorites is My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, where Sam Gribley lives off the land in a hollow tree after learning everything he needs to know to survive at the library!

While you are thinking about trees, don’t forget about your “family tree”! There is a genealogy database at the library called Ancestry Library Edition that you can use at the library, or check out the book Secrets of Tracing your Ancestors by W. Daniel Quillen to get you started.

Stargazer

Origins CoverSomewhere along the line I forgot about outer space. Like many kids who grew up in an urban area, experiencing the beauty of the night’s sky meant driving into the city, passing under an oddly-orange firmament where ‘stars’ usually turned out to be planes, to go to the planetarium. There, among the laser effects and synth-heavy space funk, I became enthralled with the idea of traveling to distant planets (our visits probably also laid the groundwork for my high school rave years). Being raised watching Doctor Who sealed the deal. This lasted until I was about 10, when I realized that my fear of heights, going fast, and flying would pretty much ruin any aspirations I had of reaching for the stars. Once the dream became impossible, it seemed acceptable to forget I ever had it.

Thankfully for the rest of the world space exploration carried on, and amazing things were accomplished. We have robots sending us beautiful images (and data) from Mars, while private corporations are currently discussing sending people (and reality shows) to that same red planet. We have interstellar probes, launched before I was even born, that are about to pass out of the solar system.  At this moment, astronauts from three different countries are living and working in the massive International Space Station that is hurtling around the planet miles above our heads.

Moon CoverWhen you take the time to remember outer space, you realize how far we’ve come in understanding it, and how far we’re about to go in continuing that research. There are scores of great books written about space and space exploration, so I felt it would be appropriate to make a reading list for anyone who wanted to be an armchair astronaut with me.

One of the best parts about being in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re never too far from wilderness, and the amazing star-gazing it affords you.The Monthly Sky Guide by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion is an easy to use, very portable book that you can take along on camping trips to help you learn about all the beautiful activity going on above you.

As mentioned in a couple of our Facebook posts, Neil deGrasse Tyson is someone you should know if you don’t already. Tyson is as influential and likable a celebrity for astrophysics as Bill Nye is for science education, or Michael Pollan is for botany. For two very enjoyable and accessible reads about the history of the universe, and where mankind’s place is in it, I’d recommend Origins and Space Chronicles.

Pale Blue Dot coverTo look into the past, present, and future of humans in space, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan is a classic. This book is full of beautiful illustrations and thought-provoking chapters that read like sci-fi.

If you’re like me, and you want a little bit of anthropology mixed in with your space (I know, weird), look no further than Moon: a Brief History by Bernard Brunner. This book takes a look at the mythology and symbolism that has developed around the Moon, and combines it with what we know scientifically about our closest neighbor in space.

Pluto CoverFinally, for mourning fans of debased Pluto, there’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. Written by the astronomer who made the discovery that inadvertently dethroned Pluto as a planet, this book gives the reader a humorous and enlightening explanation of one of the stranger recent events in astronomy.

I hope this list has inspired you, as Jack Horkheimer always urged me as a kid, to “keep looking up!”

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

gulpWho would want to read a book about the alimentary canal?

Wait, the author is Mary Roach?

Who wouldn’t want to read it?

After all, eating is one of my favorite activities, and I don’t think I’m the only one. As they say on Arrested Development:

Michael: What do I always say is the most important thing?
George Michael: Breakfast?

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal takes the reader on a journey that follows our food from intake to outgo. Mary Roach just gets better with each book she writes. She’s got a dry sense of humor, but one that would make a 12-year-old boy lose milk up his nose (think body noise jokes if you’re unsure). She is also a tireless researcher. I wish I could ask people the off-the–wall kinds of questions she asks her interviewees.

We start our journey with the food we eat and how we experience it, which is much studied by scientists. Surprisingly, a lot of that experiencing is done through the sense of smell rather than taste. Roach, however, brings the common sense opinion to the table that we don’t actually choose our food based on nutrition but tend to base that selection on other emotions instead.

The author takes a few side trips to see how gastric research was done before sophisticated testing and instruments were available. She starts off with the curious case of Alexis St. Martin who accidentally had part of his side shot away. This left him with an opening to his stomach which never properly healed. His doctor, William Beaumont, was able to view the workings of his stomach through this hole, and insert various food items (eww-dinner and a movie) directly into the stomach to watch the working of the gastric acid.

I’ve never given much thought to saliva, but this book had me fascinated by it. Did you know there are 2 kinds of saliva? It is kind of gross, but these chapters really made me laugh as they described various experiments to measure and classify spit. How fun would it be to visit a spit lab?

The book goes on to describe the rest of the bodily processes that digest our food and convert it to nutrients and eventually waste. I know it seems like I’m gushing, but it was fascinating and often hilarious reading. Bodies are complex. Bodies are also funny and awesome.

One of the doctors interviewed by Roach points out that we should be thankful that our guts have evolved the way they have. The gorilla, a fellow ape, has a digestive system that must ferment the vegetation he eats, and thus is less sophisticated than our own. “He’s processing leaves all day. Just sitting and chewing and cooking inside. There’s no room for great thoughts.” And be thankful you’re not a zombie, because their digestive systems are set up to digest only one thing: brains.

While the topic might seem a bit off-putting at first, after reading Gulp you will find yourself agreeing with the author when she asks:

How is it that we find Christina Aguilera more interesting than the inside of our own bodies?

Kathy

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa