Let’s Go to Antarctica

life on the iceOf the many surprises I discovered while chuckling my way through this year’s Everett Reads selection, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, the one that stood out the most was the fact that Antarctica is now considered a tourist destination. As Bee repeatedly points out to Bernadette, this isn’t travel to the frigid South Pole that we are talking about, but a visit to the Antarctic Archipelago that reaches out to the tip of South America. Still I’ve always thought of travel to Antarctica as being limited to brave, perhaps foolhardy, explorers, penguins and the occasional shape shifting creature from another planet. Clearly I needed to do a little library research.

ridingthehulahulaWhile there aren’t any Frommer‘s or Fodor’s guides to the frozen continent as of yet, which makes sense since hotels with any star rating are nonexistent, Antarctic cruises are mentioned in a number of travel guides. These tend to be the ones that extol the virtues of ‘extreme or adventure’ tourism.  A cruise to the Antarctic Archipelago merits an entry in the rather ominously titled Unforgettable Journeys to Take Before You Die as well as 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The less morbidly titled Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean: A Guide to Fifty Extraordinary Adventures for the Seasoned Traveler details a trip to Antarctica that would actually get you on the continent itself, after a very bumpy ride in a cargo plane. Whichever option you choose, be sure to bring a healthy bank account and lots of Dramamine.

slicing the silenceIf you have dreams of an extended stay, however, you are beyond the realm of tour guides. You might be able to get a hint or two, however, from some of the autobiographies of the modern-day scientists and adventurers who have managed to gain access. Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica details the author’s trip with the Australian Antarctic Division to deliver a new team of winterers to Casey station. The author of Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone got a commission from National Geographic to visit many of the bases in Antarctica and report back. His account is an intriguing look at the living conditions and the motivations of people who are drawn to the white continent. For an account of pure adventure and survival in the harshest of conditions, definitely check out No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica which describes the journey of Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen as they became the first women to cross the continent on foot.

antarcticwildlifeIf like most of the world population you don’t have the money or connections to get to Antarctica, you can still view the landscape and wildlife vicariously. An excellent tool for doing this is Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitors Guide. Flip through the pages and imagine you are having trouble distinguishing the Leopard Seal from the Weddell Seal and the Gentoo Penguin from the Adelie Penguin. It certainly won’t be as cold a trip and icebergs should not be a problem. A final set of resources for armchair travel to Antarctica are the many webcams that have been set up at the various research bases that dot the continent. McMurdo Station, the South Pole Station and several from the Australian Antarctic Division are good ways to get your voyeuristic travel thrills. Just don’t expect to see much during the many months of darkness during the southern winter.

Ten Books that Impacted my Life

Lately there’s been a post bouncing around Facebook asking people to list 10 favorite books. As an avid reader I gladly offered up a list, with the caveat that if I made the list another day it might consist of entirely different entries.

And now it’s another day, I’ve another list, and it is mostly different. So, more or less in the order I read them, here are 10 books that have impacted my life.

Mixed up filesFrom the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
I discovered this book in fourth grade and was immediately enchanted. A brother and sister run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My imagination was carried away as I pictured the kids exploring the museum after closing time.

Time out of jointTime Out of Joint by Philip K. Dick
It is 1959 and the world’s crossword puzzle champion lives an idyllic life. Until one day when he reaches for a light switch that is not there and begins to question all aspects of reality. This book has continued to disturb me for decades, but it also led to a love of the writing of PKD.

HogfatherHogfather by Terry Pratchett
Post-modernism, which I think of as taking something familiar and putting it in a new, unfamiliar context, is something that has long enamored me. Pratchett is a master of taking commonplace fairy tales and folk characters and throwing them into completely sideways situations. Hogfather examines some of those characters (such as the Tooth Fairy) and ponders from whence they came.

Red Mars
Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson
I read science fiction almost exclusively for 15 years before Red Mars was written, and even with all of the great books I consumed during that time I never suspected that writing like this could exist. Granted, this is not one of my favorite books and I frequently set it down from boredom whilst reading it, but the sheer immensity of this exhaustive history of a civilization from the future is simply astounding.

Notes from a small islandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Travelers’ Tales India, a book sadly no longer in the EPL collection, introduced me to the magic of travel writing. Notes from a Small Island introduced me to the concept of “some books should not be read in public or I will be labeled a lunatic while laughing maniacally, ending my days in a happy room with soft walls.” Bryson is a master of imparting information while being hysterically funny.
Wodehouse
Anything ever written by P. G. Wodehouse
Screwball comedies offer a literary format which I find quite intriguing. P. G. Wodehouse builds on this framework with the most original use of language I’ve encountered. Even while enjoying the stories, I learned what dialogue could be like in my own writings, and for this I am grateful. Wodehouse is perhaps the most important writing influence on my humble existence.

Eyre affairThe Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Perhaps the cleverest concept I’ve ever run across: In a slightly alternate reality characters in books are sentient, can move between books, and are part of a thriving industry that creates entertainment for those who read. Thursday Next, an actual living person, is able to enter books and influence the activity therein.  Mischief is afoot in Jane Eyre, and Thursday is called to rescue the novel before it’s too late. Fforde’s universe shows me the incredible level of creativity that can be achieved by a writer.

to say nothingTo Say Nothing of the Dog, or, How we Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis
Time travel, comedy, Victorian England, suspense – a perfect mix! One of the funniest books I’ve read mixed with a superior treatment of time travel (my hidden guilty pleasure) and appearances by historical as well as fictional characters (the men from Three Men in a Boat) all create a kaleidoscopic chaos of pure adventure and entertainment.

Madison houseMadison House by Peter Donahue
Photos of Seattle’s Denny Regrade are shocking, looking like scenes from a war-torn distant planet. This historical novel looks at how the regrade affected people living on Seattle’s hills, the corruption that shaped the decision-making process, and the bucolic geography of Seattle at a time when people were scarce. This tale has forever changed the image of Lake Union and the University district that I carry in my mind.

Doomsday bookDoomsday Book by Connie Willis
Glory was the first war movie I ever saw where I felt like I understood how the soldiers felt during battle. Doomsday Book, another Connie Willis time travel story, has a protagonist who accidentally goes to plague times. She ends up in a small village, feverish and incoherent, and is nursed back to health by a local family. Because of the error in the time travel process, she is unable to communicate with her peers and is unsure if she will be able to return to her present. So she becomes a member of the small community and watches people die at a rapid pace. And for the first time I had an inkling of what it would be like to be surrounded by bubonic plague with little hope for salvation.

There you have it, 10 books that have all stuck with me in various ways over the years.

Perhaps you would like to share your list?

Grilled Salmon and DEET

Lisa with apple in front of mountains

Demonstrating advanced trail food preparation

When my husband and I moved here from Chicago, I thought that I was finally coming into my element. Mountains, ocean – all the things the Midwest couldn’t provide. We had mastered what the flatland could offer us in regards to camping, so we were ready to up our game. For those of you lucky enough to have been born and raised in this lovely region, you know that my attitude was like thinking I was ready to play in the MLB because I batted cleanup in t-ball. Thankfully my husband was more experienced in these matters, and managed to keep up safe, dry, happy, and entertained in the wild. He’s since joined the Mountaineers and has been scrambling on the tops of mountains, while I have contented myself with scrambling eggs at camp and taking photos of mountains from the relative safety of familiar flat land.

Needless to say, I have some learning to do. I think I’m finally over the hump of thinking I’m always on the verge of being eaten by bears. Seeing a bear retreat in horror from my loud approach last weekend helped me realize that they don’t want to deal with me either. Now I’m going through the enjoyable process of checking out the library’s resources on all things outdoors. I know this isn’t a shock, but there is a lot here to get through.

Scout's Backpacking Cookbook

Not surprisingly, my first foray into outdoor ed. was the cooking section. It looks like I may be able to salvage that ill-conceived food dehydrator purchase from the kitchen gadget bone-yard after all. There are a ton of books in this area, so I quickly eliminated anything to do with RV or car camping (we’ve got that down). My favorite was The Scout’s Backpacking Cookbook, by Tim and Christine Conners. This book was packed with useful information about equipment, cooking techniques, meal planning, safety, ‘Leave No Trace’ cooking and camping, and recipes. There were also wonderful appendices that provided measurement advice, additional reading, and helpful websites.

Other picks:

The Trailside Cookbook by Don Philpott

Camp Cooking in the Wild by Mark Scriver

Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington CascadesWith the food taken care of, choosing a destination was my next priority. When we camp, we choose our destination based on a few different things. Weather is the most obvious determining factor; last weekend we went over the mountains to find the sun. On other trips we’ve selected sites because they were off pleasant drives, or offered a selection of excellent hikes. The Mountaineers Books has a fantastic series of Day Hiking titles that cover different regions of Washington and Oregon. My favorite book that I found about exploring Washignton was the Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Washington Cascades, by Allan May. May created a guide to geography, history (human and natural), and recreation in the Washington Cascades, all wrapped into a very enjoyable read.

Note: Sometimes published info about campgrounds, trails, and roads can be outdated. To be certain that you can actually get to where you’d like to go, call ahead to the ranger station in the area you’re planning to visit to make sure that everything is open.

The Backpacker's ManualLast, and certainly not least, I looked into info on safety and preparation. This is perhaps the largest section of outdoor materials we have because there is much to be said on the topic. For a beginner’s overview to all things backpacking, The Smart Guide to Hiking and Backpacking is a good place to start. More advanced advice on trip planning, cooking equipment, and more can be found in The Backpacker’s Field Manual, by Rick Curtis. I found some really helpful illustrations and ‘how to’s’ in Basic Illustrated Wilderness First Aid, but I strongly recommend attending some courses on the topic if you are serious about venturing into remote areas. If not, be sure to trek with someone who has.

Other titles that I found helpful tips in:

Hiking with Dogs by Linda B. Mullally

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland

Making Camp: A Complete Guide for Hikers, Mountain Bikers, Paddlers & Skiers by Steve Howe, et al.

So there you have it – my newbie backpacker reading list. Come in and browse the shelves; there’s a lot more here for those who are more advanced than I am. As for me? I have a date with the food dehydrator – who doesn’t want to try powdered cheese?

Lisa

Timothy Egan and Nancy Pearl at the Library!

EganPearl

I hope you know that you’re invited to a free public literary event with Timothy Egan and Nancy Pearl on Saturday, April 6th at 7 PM at the Everett Performing Arts Center. This should be a great evening for lovers of both history and literature. Timothy Egan will read from his latest book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, and then will be interviewed by legendary librarian Nancy Pearl, who is herself the author of Book Lust and its sequels and is a regular NPR commentator on books. There will be books and also wine available for purchase.  Sounds perfect!

Timothy Egan writes for the New York Times and we are lucky to have him in our backyard and yes, I do consider Seattle to be Everett’s backyard. In addition to his journalism, he has written a slew of non-fiction books which are mostly set in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a quick rundown.

indexLet’s go chronologically through Egan’s books and start with The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest.  Atop Mount Rainier, Egan checked the map to see which glacier would best feed his grandfather’s ashes down into streams where the man loved to fish. A minor glacier called Winthrop looked best, and that’s where the ashes went. Egan’s research led to the writings of Theodore Winthrop who spent three months exploring Oregon and Washington in 1853. Egan retraced Winthrop’s route and we get fascinating comparisons between what the two men saw roughly 150 years apart. It is a great travel history of the Pacific Northwest and I highly recommend it as fascinating reading.

index

Breaking Blue is the true-crime story of a Sheriff who worked through 54 years of police cover-ups and solved the oldest open murder case in the country. It is the chilling story of the abuses of the Spokane police department during the Great Depression. Egan unravels the story in engrossing detail, illuminating a host of horrible acts committed by the cops in that city, including robbery, murder and extorting sex from Dust Bowl refugees.

index

Wild Seattle: A Celebration of the Natural Areas In and Around the City is a celebration of the wild lands, parks, preserves, and wildlife of the greater Seattle area and features more than 130 superb color images by renowned nature photographers. Egan wrote the engaging text for this beautiful coffee table book.

indexLasso the Wind is a look at the eleven states “on the sunset side of the 100th meridian” that Egan regards as the true West. Fishing rod and notebook in hand, he travels by car and foot, horseback and raft, through a region struggling to find its future direction under both the weight of the “Old West” and the commercial threats of the present. He covers the story of what he calls the New West in essays that choose a localized story. The stories are often about a controversy or a change that is happening in the area. Skip around and read an essay or two as time allows and you’ll be rewarded with funny and incisive writing.

indexMy first introduction to Egan’s writing came when I read the popular The Worst Hard Time which chronicles the hardships of those who endured the horrible dust storms of the Great Plains during the depression. Egan follows a half-dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region as they went from sod huts to new framed houses to huddling in basements with the windows sealed by damp sheets in a futile effort to keep the dust out. Read this book to understand the devestation that these massive dust storms had on the high plains.

index

We actually listened to The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt & the Fire That Saved America while we were driving to Idaho, the site of the largest forest fire in America. It is an outstanding, highly readable history of the Great Fire of 1910 that burned 3.2 million acres in and around the Bitterroot National Forest in Idaho and Montana. Egan moves deftly between the immediacy of the fire and the experiences of people caught up in it, and the powerful business and political interests whose actions both contributed to, and were affected by, the disaster. In the end this book serves as a history not only of the biggest U.S. fire of the 20th century, but also as an examination of the national politics of the first dozen years of the century, and of the origins of the U.S. Forest Service.

And now we come to Egan’s most recent book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis. This biography of the famous photographer starts in Seattle and follows him through his obsessive quest to document all of the tribes of North America that were still intact. Curtis’ 20 volume The North American Indian was published between 1907 and 1930. We are all familiar with Curtis’ famous photographs. This book chronicles all of the sacrifices that Curtis made for his obsession. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave up his marriage, family and successful career in Seattle to pursue his great project. At once an incredible adventure and a fascinating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’ photographs, following him throughout Indian country from desert to rainforest as he struggled to document the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes.

index

Even with the backing of Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan, it took tremendous effort (six years alone to convince the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony). The undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. He would die penniless and unknown in Hollywood just a few years after publishing the last of his twenty volumes. But the charming rogue with the grade-school education had fulfilled his promise—his great adventure succeeded in creating one of America’s most stunning cultural achievements. I downloaded this book from the library and listened to it while painting our basement over the course of a rainy week-end. I always think of Curtis when passing through the basement. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to hang a few (reproduced) Curtis photos there?

I hope to see you April 6th when the Everett Public Library brings this accomplished author to town!

Leslie

Fail Magnificently

Here we are, firmly wedged into the month of January. The magical glow of New Year’s Eve and memories of our ambitious resolutions have already started to fade. While some just might make this the year that they actually stick to their three-times-a-week gym pledges, others may be looking for a way to gracefully bow out of their publicly-announced best intentions. Thankfully, the Everett Public Library is here not only to support us in our triumphs, but also to help us get through our moments of weakness. So, if you want to kill your resolutions softly by making the best of your surrender, I have a list of books for you.

Here are my recommendations for failing magnificently at some of the more common New Year’s resolutions.

The Butchers Guide to Well-Raised Meat

Eat Healthier and Lose Weight

This is the granddaddy of them all. Who hasn’t sworn, after a long night of New Year’s Eve snacking, that it was time to get the potbelly situation under control? Perhaps you’ve spent the last couple weeks faithfully logging calories and exercise on your new My Fitness Pal app, but today you find yourself caring less than usual. Before you hop in the car after work, blow by the YMCA, and hit the drive through, consider picking up one of the following books to help you break your resolution with a bit more class.

The Pastry Chef’s Apprentice, by Mitch Stamm, provides a really accessible introduction to creating delicious pastries in your home kitchen. Stamm includes a lot of what I like to call ‘action shots’ of what dishes should look like during crucial stages of each recipe. If you’re as lousy of a baker as I am, you know how valuable it is to actually see what the recipe means when it tells you to mix the dough to a certain consistency.

If you prefer savory over sweet, Warren R. Anderson’s Mastering the Craft of Making Sausage may be up your alley. The first half of this book is a richly-illustrated discussion of different methods of making and smoking sausages; the second is a collection of great recipes to try your hand at.

Other sweet and savory honorable mentions to consider:
Chocolate, from Practical Cookery
The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat, by Joshua and Jessica Applestone

Who knows? Perhaps making your own guilty pleasures from scratch might burn some calories in the process and ensure that you’re using healthier ingredients.

The Home Winemaker's CompanionDrink Less

This one generally goes the way of weight loss pledges, so in order to help you fail in the same spirit, I suggest the alternative of taking up home brewing, wine making,or distilling. You may find that in the end you’ll opt for quality over quantity because you’ll come to prefer the fruits of your own labor to a couple of Sessions. For the beer drinkers, I recommend checking out The Complete Joy of Home Brewing and The Brewers Apprentice. If wine is more your thing, you can try The Home Winemaker’s Companion. For those of you who secretly harbor dreams of bootlegging and rum-running, you can try your hand at hooch with Making Pure Corn Whiskey. Please remember to brew, stomp, and moonshine responsibly.

Fly SoloSpend More Quality Time with the Kids

Dads of the world, my apologies, because it looks like the fun books for breaking this resolution are more geared towards the ladies. A quick stroll through our travel books turned up these gems:

Fly Solo: the 50 Best Places on Earth for a Girl to Travel Alone, by Teresa Rodriguez Williamson
Best Girlfriends Getaways Worldwide, by Marybeth Bond
Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, by Lea Lane

Get Rid of that Old Junk in the Garage

But isn’t one man’s trash another man’s treasure? Are you really going to let that other man steal your carefully horded booty? Absolutely not! American Junk and This Old House Salvage-Style Projects may give you the inspiration you need to turn mom’s odd obsession with fancy antique doorknobs into a lucrative business making pretty coat racks.

Driveways, Paths and Patios

Keep the Lawn and Garden Tidy

Technically my recommendations here won’t break this resolution, but they will help you fulfill it a way that you might not have intended. It may be that you love a serene outdoor environment but the closest you’ve ever come to having a green thumb was the result of a misguided attempt to paint the Silvertips logo on your garage door. If that’s the case, you can design your outdoor space to look tidy while being relatively maintenance-free by exploring other options. Walks, Walls & Patio Floors and Driveways, Paths and Patios will tell you all you need to know about designing an attractive, zero-gardening landscape. If you can’t bear the thought of having a yard that isn’t lovely and green, consider going au naturel with the help of Beautiful No-Mow Yards, by Evelyn J. Hadden. This approach will require you to put in a fair amount of gardening effort at the beginning, but after a while you should have easy sailing.

Swear Less

If you find that your cuss jar is rapidly filling once again, it might be time to let go and embrace the fact that you have a potty mouth and you find swearing amusing. To help you along the way to self-acceptance, I recommend a couple foul-mouthed titles that are designed to make you laugh. The F**king Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel tells the sometimes true, sometimes fanciful, and completely inappropriate story of the 2011 mayoral election in Chicago. If they ever made an audio book out of this title, you wouldn’t want to listen to it with the kids around. Speaking of audio books – my other recommendation, Go the F**k to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortes, was just narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (the video is on YouTube – I recommend listening with earphones). I’m also happy to report that we carry ¡Duérmete, carajo!the Spanish-language adaptation of this recent best seller.

Machida Karate-Do

Manage Stress Better

Or just take up a contact sport to help let out your frustrations in a healthy way. I have never been very good at managing the different areas of life that cause me stress, so instead once or twice a week I go play ice hockey. Problem solved. So, if you need to get out some pent-up aggression, but you don’t have the budget to pick up an expensive team sport, consider some alternatives. May I suggest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Taekwondo, or Mixed Martial Arts?

Step Away from the Internet

If you’re reading this post, you’ve already failed at this resolution. That’s all right, you can still learn to spend your time online doing something more productive. We have many great books on creating and marketing an online business, using social media to make money, and using the internet to help you find a better job. Here are just a handful of titles that can get you started:

Social Networking for Career Success, by Miriam Salpeter
Likeable Social Media, by Dave Kerpen
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crowdsourcing, by Aliza Sherman
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Social Media Marketing, by Jennifer Abernathy

For those of you who are still sticking to you goals I salute you! Let me take this opportunity to remind you that the library also has books to assist you in leaving the rest of us in your dust. For my fellow magnificent failures out there, happy 2013, and have fun making lemonade out of your lemons.

Lisa

EBooks at the Everett Public Library

EBooks are a relatively new thing in the history of written stuff. Sure, there were clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, and hand-copied books for eons back in the mists of time, but even mass-produced printed books have been around for nearly 600 years. EBooks are scarcely a zygote.

In spite of this newbie status, the amount of titles available in this infant electronic format is increasing dramatically as the number of e-readers and tablets proliferate. And this trend will continue until the next technology comes along.

I am no Luddite, and in fact have worked on the slightly techy side of computers, but I did not see myself as a potential eBook reader. I like books, holding them, turning pages. Conversely, I don’t particularly enjoy staring at computer screens. But as free eBooks became available in libraries, I was lured by the siren call of near-infinite storage in something the size of a slim paperback. No more vacations with backpacks full of books! No more wondering if the pantry should be filled with food or overflowing stacks of books!

Initially, I feared that the library would carry only best-seller eBooks rather than titles suited to my quirky tastes. However, after thoroughly exploring the catalog, I can state unequivocally that this is not the case.  Everett Public Library currently has over 3,000 electronic books including fiction in all genres, kid’s books, young-adult, and non-fiction ranging from history to cooking to biographies.  Here are a few of the titles I founds while browsing for eBooks in the EPL catalogue.

 Lady cyclist
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
Historical fiction
Available as an eBook, book, large-print book, and audiodisc
In 1923, two sisters, one devout and the other not-so-much, journey to be missionaries on the ancient Silk Road.

Hedys folly
Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes
Biography, history
Available as an eBook, book, and audiodisc
Yes Virginia, Hedy Lamarr was an inventor who created the technology that became the basis for cell phones, Wi-Fi and other devices commonplace to modern life. This book tells of her adventures with inventing partner George Antheil, an avant-garde composer known to use airplanes and other machinery in his compositions. High on my to-read list.

The dead gentleman 
The Dead Gentleman by Matthew Cody
Juvenile fiction
Available only as an eBook
A hole through time, zombies, steampunk, a bad guy called the Dead Gentleman, and two kids from different eras attempting to save the world.

 Hawaii
Fodor’s 2012 Hawai’i
Travel guide
Available only as an eBook
 
billy the kid

Billy the Kid and the Vampyres of Vegas: A Lost Story from the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
YA Fiction, short story
Available only as an eBook
Billy the Kid, who is an immortal, and Scathach the Shadow join forces to defeat vampyres who control Las Vegas.

 Mirage
Mirage by Matt Ruff
Fiction
Available as an eBook and a book
Matt Ruff is one of my favorite authors, but I’d be the first to say that he’s not for everyone. His books tend toward the surreal, being full of twists and unlikely situations. Mirage takes the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers and turns it on its head, with Christian fundamentalist terrorists attacking the benevolent Muslim states.

Happy Healthy Monsters 
Happy Healthy Monsters:  Good Night, Tucked In Tight by Naomi Kleinberg
Children’s picture book
Available only as an eBook
Grover and Elmo teach toddlers and their parents the importance of ample sleep.

City of Ember
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Juvenile fiction
Available as an eBook, book, AudioEBook, audiodisc, playaway and DVD

The last refuge for humanity, the city of Ember, seems to be in peril. Lina and her friend Doon try to decipher an ancient message to save the city.

George F  
George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis
Biography, politics
Available as an eBook, book, and AudioEBook
A look at the work of this key figure who battled to help America survive the Cold War.

Richard Scarry
Richard Scarry’s Bedtime Stories by Richard Scarry
Children’s picture book
Available as an eBook and a book

Stay tuned for an informative post on how to check this great stuff out from the library. And don’t forget about our hands on eBook instruction session coming up on Saturday, January 12th.

Ron

Unfinished Books and Other Natterings

Reasons why one might not finish a book:

  • It’s poorly written
  • Title includes words “shades of”
  • Not in the mood for it
  • Voices in my head keep arguing over subtext
  • Story is not interesting
  • Nocturnal proclivities leave little time for legal endeavors

Lately as I find my reading habits changing, i.e. I read a palette of books simultaneously rather than a single title at a time, I find myself not finishing more books than ever. I used to abide by an unwritten code that once a book was started it would be finished, no matter how horrid it be. Now I subscribe to the pasta-cooking-method of book choice: Throw a bunch against the wall and see what sticks.

So today I will present some books that I started but did not finish, as well as the reason(s) behind this lack of follow-through. Since my goal in general is to get people excited about reading, not to write scathing reviews that lead to paper-related nightmares (or electron-related for the more tech-savvy), I approach this task more as an exercise in why we stop reading certain books, not as a critique of the titles discussed. And, if you the reader have enjoyed one of these stories, I encourage you to prove me wrong and to publicly humiliate me.

It won’t be the first time.

 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart  
This is a book that I actually enjoyed quite a bit, the only strike against it being its depressive atmosphere. The main character is a bit of a loser, has trouble with relationships, and the America he lives in is scary in a just-a-small-sideways-step-from-our-current-country way. I have to be in just the right mood for gloomy, and at the time I was reading this book I was not. Someday I do plan on finishing this title and I would recommend it to others.

The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time by Jeff Deck  
I had high hopes for this title. The premise, one that I’m finding in an increasing number of books, is that a young man graduates from college, realizes that he has no employable skills, and so decides to have an adventure and write a book about it. His quest: traversing the United States looking for typos in signs, menus, etc., and confronting those responsible in an attempt to correct the typos. Having a soft spot for humorous travel books, I thought this would be right in my reading wheelhouse. Unfortunately, I found that the premise wore thin quickly, the author often avoided confrontation (thereby losing opportunities for humor), and thus the book failed for me.

And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer  
As I write this I realize that I treat the sanctity of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker trilogy as some treat the veracity of the Bible: One simply doesn’t mess with it. To take this ridiculous analogy farther (or further), God would not ask, for example, an atheist (let’s call him Ned) to write The Book of Ned, Newest Book in the Bible! Now I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Colfer; I’ve never read any of his other works. But to attempt an addition to Adams’ series, one must have an enormous wit, one that at least rivals that of Adams. Here Colfer falls flat with humor that seems quite forced and not so clever. Having said that, this book probably stood no chance with me as I view it as an effrontery to all that is good and moral (don’t mess with my canon!).

So  overall we’re left with a good book that I read at the wrong time, a disappointing book that didn’t live up to its expectations, and an abomination that should not have seen the light of day (again, apologies to Mr. Colfer; this is just my psychotic prattling). If you enjoyed any of these titles, defend them! Convince other readers that these tomes are worth their precious time.

As a final point of moralizing and sermonizing, this is one of the beauties of libraries: one can check out books for no cost, books that one would never dream of purchasing, and see if redeeming qualities exist within their pages. Or, on the other side of the coin, find some good talking points to scathingly rip apart the latest Paris Hilton of literature.

And please, whatever you do, keep reading, stretch yourself, seek out books you might not like. Then write about them in your own blog.

Ron

State by State

State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America  is an anthology of 50 essays on 50 states by 50 writers, plus an interview with Washington D.C.’s Edward P. Jones. It’s a great choice for armchair travelers who want to meander casually from place to place.

One caveat: it’s inevitable that a book with so many contributors is bound to be a bit uneven. But discovering those essays that really speak to you makes State by State all the more satisfying.

For me, the essays that work best are those written by people who love, live, or have lived in the state they’re writing about. I found it much more satisfying to read about Joshua Ferris’s childhood vacations to Florida, say, than David Rakoff’s poorly researched weekend excursion to Utah. That style of travel journalism just can’t compare with the warm, proud, complex and conflicted reflections by the writers writing about home. But that’s just me. You’re sure to discover essays you love or hate too.

If you decide to read the entire book, I recommend not reading it cover to cover. The alphabetical journey from Alabama to Wyoming isn’t all that magical.

The editors might have thought of a more creative way to organize the essays, perhaps by admission to the Union (Delaware to Hawaii), by toothlessness rate (West Virginia to Hawaii) or roller coasters per capita (New Hampshire to Wyoming). Please note: the statistical tables in the back of the book are completely awesome.

I abandoned the alphabetical approach after getting bored in Arizona. Here’s how I ended up reading it. I highly recommend this more haphazard approach:

First, read about the states where you grew up and where you currently live. I found Carrie Brownstein’s Washington delightful. You may disagree.

Next, check out the authors you know and love, who may or may not be writing about states you know and love. This approach took me to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Rhode Island and Ann Patchett’s Tennessee early in my reading.

Try some authors who you don’t necessarily know or love but whose work you’re curious to sample. This led me to Ha Jin’s Georgia among others.

Still not finished? Try some states where you perhaps traveled briefly for a family vacation, drove through on your way to somewhere else, or have a great aunt whom you have never met. You may discover some real gems. Thanks, Alexander Payne, for making Nebraska seem hip (maybe), and Louise Erdrich, for making North Dakota seem kinda cool.

Mindy

I’ve Seen London, I’ve Seen France … or … Travel Tales that Aren’t

An effective travel read transports me to exotic locales, compels me to tread the road untrodden, and inspires me to learn about unfamiliar purlieus. Travel writing can tell the tale of an author’s journeys, take place in a single spot, or contain imaginary adventures cast in real settings. Wonderful books such as Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster lay out an itinerary that I long to follow. Others, such as Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson weave a fascinating blend of history and contemporaneous living while telling of exotic, alluring and seemingly unreachable destinations.

Come now and travel with me.  And don’t forget your towel.

Paul Bibeau’s Sundays with Vlad : from Pennsylvania to Transylvania, one man’s quest to live in the world of the undead   (which, come on, is worth checking out just for the title) is really not a travel book per se, but is a look at vampire culture in the modern world (did you know that there’s a demand for fang dentures?).  As Bibeau examines what the well-dressed urban vampire is wearing, he also explores the history of Vlad the Impaler and looks at modern attempts to build a Romanian tourist industry. Now, if you’re anything like me, you might not give a great deal of thought to Romania. For example, my knowledge of the country culminates in this one fact: Romania has ugly postage stamps. Bibeau, however, will make you wonder why you’ve never been there. And on your trip you could visit DraculaLand (if it ever gets built) along with its proposed disco, fake Gothic castle, amusement park, laboratories, torture rooms, vampire den, and (of course) the Institute of Vampirology.

Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt is another travel book that isn’t. In this hard-to-summarize fictional tale, chapters from a newly-discovered gospel are interspersed with the story of a modern-day hunt for this same elusive gospel. Heading the search are an alcoholic Jesuit, a naïve graduate student, a rabbinical scholar, and a large cast of villains. The travel portion of the book comes as the characters move through 17 countries including England, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Israel, and a variety of African locations. The author’s extensive research and attention to detail bring these alluring destinations to life.

If you’d rather see exotic places than read about them, try one of Michael Palin’s fabulous adventures. Whether he’s trying to make it Around the World in 80 days or going from Pole to Pole, Palin’s charming narrative and gentle personality are certain to satisfy and entertain.

Where would you like to take your next journey?

Ron

The Pale King Goes to D.C.

Choosing what to read for vacation travel is always a challenge. Mostly, I find myself feeling guilty if the reading material has nothing to do with the place I’m visiting. I mean, you can read anywhere – why have your nose in just any book when you’re off exploring someplace new? But you want something that will engage you while you wait around in airports, and for the seemingly endless hours of being sandwiched into your coach class seat on long flights.

These thoughts had me considering A Week at the Airport, which Richard reviewed recently, but the title alone is enough to give me the willies. Then I was remembering Ben Lerner’s astonishing, fractured poetry collection Mean Free Path, and his incorporation of ready-made phrases that will be familiar to anyone who has securely fastened a seatbelt upon command or otherwise spent time confined in “the cabin.” And I don’t think I’ll be able to catch a flight anytime soon without thinking of a character from The Imperfectionists who copes with air travel by slipping into what she calls her “travel coma.”

But I needed something different for my first trip to Washington, D.C. The Pulitzer-winning biography of George Washington by Ron Chernow came to mind, but then I began to wonder if something by Hunter S. Thompson might be a better fit for the D.C. political climate (or even Alice in Wonderland). I still had a week before traveling, so I let the question drop until an email announced one of my previous hold requests had come in: The Pale King – David Foster Wallace’s new novel about the lives of IRS form processors. A book about employees who suffer such extreme ennui that they receive training in boredom survival. What reading could be better aligned with the angst of air travel and a tax season trip to D.C.?

The book seemed an even more auspicious choice when, in the first few pages, I found myself deep in Leopold Bloom country, following the carefully detailed, cut-jump thoughts of an aspiring tax examiner who is on a flight to take his CPA exam. Among pre-test anxiety, queasiness at the claw-like hands of his elderly seatmate, and curiosity at the lack of facial expression on the illustrations in the seatback safety card, is this observation about clouds:

Above and below were a different story, but there was always something disappointing about clouds when you were inside them; they ceased to be clouds at all. It just got really foggy.

And then there’s this, as the plane begins its descent over an interstate highway:

…light traffic crawling with a futile pointless pathos you could never sense on the ground. What if it felt as slow to actually drive as it looked from this perspective? It would be like trying to run underwater. The whole ball game was perspective, filtering, the choice of perception’s objects. Sylvanshine tried to envision the small plane as seen from the ground, a cruciform shape against the old-bathwater color of cloud cover, its lights blinking complexly in the rain.

Five hundred pages of this may or may not be the answer for the irritations of traveling by air to D.C. But what better place to patiently delve into a painstaking wordsmith’s unflinching account of boredom and taxes – and to contemplate, too, a little, that one other certainty in life?

Wallace is best known for Infinite Jest, his influential, kaleidoscopic 1996 doorstop which acquired something of a cult following. The DFW mystique was further heightened when he took his own life in 2008. The Pale King is the big book he was working on when he killed himself, and it has now been published as an unfinished novel. It’s likely to be considered one of the big books of the year.

Scott