Did You Know? (Pencil Edition)

That the average lead pencil can draw a line 35 miles long?

I found this on page 22 of Random Illustrated Facts by Mike Lowery.

Stationery Fever: from Paper Clips to Pencils and Everything in Between by John Z. Komurki is a well-researched and thorough book about all of our beloved office supplies. I adored the pictures of orderly rows of glass jars of pencils. I doubt there is anyone who doesn’t have a pen or pencil type they prefer or perhaps loves their stapler as much as Milton Waddams from the movie Office Space does!

I’m not sure how far colored or charcoal pencils write, but they are used to create beautiful artwork. The Encyclopedia of Coloured Pencil Techniques by Judy Martin and 101 Textures in Graphite and Charcoal by Steven Pearce are just a few of the many art books we have here at the library.

Who knew that sharpening those pencils could be such an endeavor? How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees explains – in exact detail – what a precise undertaking this can be. From the width of the collar to the length of the point right down to the tip, personal preference determines whether you use a pocket knife, a blade cutter or a hand crank or electric model to sharpen your pencil. His book is a little tongue in cheek, but great fun to read. As the illustrations show, be sure to wear safety goggles while using special pencil sharpening techniques!

Pencils today are almost always made from graphite and clay, not lead. Graphite is a gray crystalline allotropic form of carbon which occurs as a mineral in some rocks and can be made from coke. It is used as a solid lubricant, in pencils, and as a moderator in nuclear reactors. The Elements by Tom Jackson breaks the periodic table down and tells how carbon (graphite) is an element and therefore cannot be broken down any further into simpler substances.

Pencils can be extraordinary. The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun is such an inspiring story! Adam took a 100 day trip to 50 countries. He decided to ask one child per country what they wanted more than anything in the world. In India a boy wanted a pencil. He’d never been to school and had seen other children writing with them. This began his calling and he has now helped start more than 200 schools all over the world.

So what are you waiting for? Get out your pencil and start writing or drawing. Just make sure you have it perfectly sharpened!

Rumor Has It

What the heck must it be like to be so confident in yourself that you could see someone you like, march right up to them, and say: “You. I’m taking you home to my bed right now.” Not only to have the confidence to say that, but also the confidence to know that the person is going to nod yes, take your hand, and let you lead them to a place where you can be alone. Mind you, I’ve just downed more than half a box of cold medicine, a feat that would impress Keith Richard, so I’m also wondering how men can have sex with a lamp on or the curtains open, letting all that new moon shine down on, well, all that moon.

In Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen, Jack is a promiscuous high school student and I mean promiscuous in the best way possible: he likes himself and he likes sex. He likes it a lot. And for that, he’s become fodder for the high school gossip mill. The girls bathroom is right next to the boys and once a week Jack enjoys a solitary cigarette while listening to the latest news about himself through the thin walls of the bathroom. Evidently, any male he makes eye contact with becomes a conquest. It’s been said he was part of a forgy (an orgy of 3 or more people). Many of the rumors about him are wrong except that he does like sex. He’s just not about doing it for popularity.

One day he opens his locker and a note slips out. It seems he has a secret admirer. He can’t tell if it’s sweet or creepy. His best friend Ben, a romantic who is still waiting on his fist kiss, thinks it’s sweet while Jenna, with her razor sharp tongue, thinks it’s a little stalkery.

Jenna got kicked off the school’s newspaper for articles like which teacher was pulled over for a DUI, so now she does online news. She wants Jack to answer sex, relationship, and life questions for her blog. He’s reluctant to put himself out there, giving advice he’s afraid might mess someone’s life up. But he starts reading submitted questions and gets hooked. His answers to questions would make Doctor Ruth turn bright red and fall off her sex therapist chair.

Jack begins to get more notes slipped into his locker. They’ve gone from sweet to restraining order worthy. The notes begin to threaten his friends and his mother. Jack’s always been close with his mom but lately he feels like they haven’t been connecting. He doesn’t know who his father is. His mom chose a sperm donor. One of the notes threatens her job. He does his best to keep the notes from her.

He confides in his beloved art teacher. (Why is there always that one teacher you know will be in your corner and fight for you? And why can’t that happen when you become an adult and get a boss?) She takes Jack and the notes to the principal. The principal basically says that Jack brings it on himself, wearing a little make up to make his looks stand out. Just when Jack is going to give up and give in to his stalker, he finds out who it is. And it’s not anyone who’d ever be on the suspect list.

Full of love, doubt, and confusion, Jack of all Hearts is about not apologizing for who you are or playing into the cliche of how everyone thinks certain people should act.

Excuse me, the other half of the NyQuil box is calling and Keith Richards is mumbling about how amazed he is someone can survive that ( except nobody can understand him so someone finds a translator.) Be yourself, have as much sex as you can, be safe, protect your heart but if it gets broken, let it be broken for awhile before you find the super glue in the junk drawer.

Morning Routines

I’m pretty much the last person to notice a trend and definitely the last one to hang on to a trend once it’s started. The last woman to wear those cat eye glasses of the 1950’s – that’d be me. The final one to be into the huge shoulder-padded clothing of the 80’s – me again. And, there’s no doubt that I’ll be the last one in leggings after they’ve fizzled out with the rest of the world.

But now I am really in on something from the beginning and it is quite simply this:  thinking about how we spend our first hours after waking up.

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this subject, because the Wall Street Journal just had a feature article on how people have carved out time for themselves just after they wake up. Further proving my point, Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander just came out with a book called My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.

Spall and Xander  have interviewed over 60 prominent people and asked them things like:

Do you use an alarm to wake up? Most don’t and many get up naturally or with a pets assisting at about 5:30 or 6.

What are your most important tasks? Many intentionally keep technology, specifically cell phones, at bay.

While coffee and meditation figures prominently, each person interviewed has carved their own unique way of keeping the world away until they’re ready. The interviews include people with young children, retired generals, tech start-up entrepreneurs, artists and writers. They share what happens to their routines when traveling, and how they feel when unable to follow their established routines.

There are even a few people from the Northwest in the book – novelist Ruth Ozeki, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Bob Moore from Bob’s Red Mill. I loved being privy to these individuals’ morning routines and I think you will too. The two authors summarize throughout the book, addressing the idea of flexibility in morning routines and the importance of changing what’s not working.

This book made me think about my morning routine and how I can change it when I’m no longer working. I may wake the cat up, instead of the other way around, just for starters. I think about people all over who are relishing those early morning hours, as I do. For me, this was just the right book at the right time.

Spot-Lit for January 2019

January is looking like a stellar month for fiction readers. It is rare for a book to win a coveted starred review from each of the four big trade book review sources (Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), but this month we see three such titles: An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty.

Additionally, readers here in the northwest might want to pick up Lake City by Thomas Kohnstamm, about a backsliding young man set in the less-than-glamorous north Seattle suburb of that name in 2001, or Lyndsay Faye’s racially-charged Prohibition-era thriller, The Paragon Hotel (3 starred reviews), set in Portland.

All around, great stuff from established, new, and emerging authors. Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction

The World According to Fannie Davis

I have always heard the phrase ‘running numbers.’ I’ve seen it in movies and mentioned in books, but I realized after reading The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridget Davis that I had NO IDEA what it really meant!

Of course I kind of assumed it was to do with gambling, but never gave it another thought past that. Bridgett opened my eyes to a whole lifestyle that I had never even suspected existed. I was amazed at the intricacies of the numbers game, people’s superstitions choosing their numbers, and how the whole system worked.

Bridget’s mother, Fannie Davis, was a remarkable woman: she ran her ‘business,’ took care of her home, and felt that her family extended to the entire neighborhood. From the time Bridgett was very young, she knew that her family would be in trouble if people found out what Mama did. While there were raids on other numbers places, theirs never suffered the same fate.

Legal lottery in Illinois was created because the government saw how much numbers runners were making and they wanted a piece of the action. At first Fannie was afraid it would hurt her business, but it seemed there were enough people who didn’t trust the government. So many, in fact, that it didn’t slow her business down much.

I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. It really was an insight into another way of life.

The Benefits of a Classical Education

History is all in the telling. I’ve always enjoyed a good work of history, especially ancient history, but can understand if others are a bit hesitant. If a history book is an unending list of dates, a dry rendition of ‘what happened,’ or just an academic author trying to prove a point it can be annoying and, worse yet, deadly dull even if you enjoy the topic. The best way to guard against selecting historical duds, I’ve found, is to discover an exciting and intriguing history writer.

Mary Beard is one such author. A bit of an institution in the UK, Mary Beard brings a fresh perspective on classical history with everything she writes. She does this by bringing forward the stories of those groups often forgotten in history, classical or otherwise, and by showing history to be an ever-changing debate amongst those doing the telling. Being skeptical and critical of consensus when it comes to the stories we are told is her default position it seems.

So clearly, I like her stuff. But will you? Long works of history can be intimidating so why not try something shorter to start. Mary Beard has an excellent blog if you want to start electronically sampling her work. If a book is more your style might I suggest the very short, almost a pamphlet really, Women & Power: A Manifesto. Based on a series of lectures, this book is crammed full of intriguing concepts about the way classical ideas about women in power continue to affect our current culture, including the last presidential election. Try this excellent book and you will never look at Medusa (not a good thing to do to start with) the same way again.

Now that you have gotten your feet wet, it’s time to delve into a longer work. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is one of Beard’s best. Don’t be put off by the long time frame, almost 1000 years of history, since this is not a chronicle of what happened when. Instead, Beard illuminates the ideas and controversies that the Romans argued over and debated as they went from small city-state to far-flung empire. Many of these ideas have great resonance with issues we face today. The icing on the cake is how she clues you into the way historians actually put together the facts and lets you make your own decisions about what might have really happened and its significance.

There are many great books to highlight in Mary Beard’s collection, but let me just suggest two more that are exceptional:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confronting the Classics: Traditions, Adventures and Innovations is an outstanding collection of essays on a diverse and intriguing number of topics related to the ancient world. She brings her signature wit and depth of knowledge to each essay and is always entertaining. Plus how can you resist essay titles such as ‘Alexander: How Great?’, ‘Who Wanted Remus Dead?’, ‘Bit-Part Emperors’, and ‘Married to the Empire’?

The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found is an attempt, with no claims of certain knowledge despite what some other historians and archaeologists might state, to figure out how the residents of Pompeii lived before Vesuvius buried the town in ash. It was a city full of bright colors, noxious smells and sculpted phalluses, placed for luck that clearly ran out, everywhere.  Who better than Mary Beard to guide you through this fascinating, yet disturbing, place?

So there you have a few suggestions to get you started. Choose one that appeals and be confident in the knowledge that you will be in the hands of a master storyteller.

Here’s to the Scientists and Monkeys

Every once in a while, I read a book that must have been made for me. I don’t mean one that just aligns with my interests. I mean there’s an underground lab somewhere filled with white coated technicians experimenting with plot formula and monkeys with typewriters tapping away, all working on the singular mission to create books perfectly tailored for my taste.

That’s the only explanation I can think of for Amy Rose Capetta’s The Brilliant Death. Released in October. I only found this book last week. As I’ve read it, I’ve been increasingly impressed by the work of this cabal of scientists and monkeys that call themselves “Amy Rose Capetta” and increasingly annoyed that it took me two months and a decent amount of dumb luck to stumble upon it.

9109wewh-qlThe Brilliant Death is set in a kingdom filled with murder, intrigue, and stories of magic wielding strega. Teodora di Sangro has grown up with ample firsthand experience of violence and viscous plots. Her father is the head of one of five families that rule the kingdom. Like the mafia, these families rule through an intricate web of extortion, intimidation, and retribution that keep the people fed, clothed, and thoroughly subjugated.

Teo also carries a secret. The stregas of childhood legend are more than bedtime stories. They are real, and Teo is one of them – possibly the only one. She has always kept her magic secret, but has used it to help her family. When an enemy, rival, or other problematic person threatens them, she is quick to secretly transform them into pretty trinkets that now line her bedroom’s shelves.

Then one day, Teo’s entire world is shaken. First, her father is poisoned and falls into a coma. The new capo, who rules the five families, claims credit for the assassination attempt and summons a family representative to the capital. Teo believes she is the best choice among her father’s children to assume this task – after all, she has been secretly defending her family for years. However, Toe is also a daughter in a world where her gender effectively disqualifies her from leadership.

Yet on the same day her father falls, Teo meets Cielo. Cielo is beguiling, witty, and possibly quite dangerous. Like Teo, Cielo is a strega. And a gender fluid strega at that! Cielo’s appearance, combined with their ability to completely transform their appearance, give Teo hope that she too can transform, allowing her to travel to the capital and confront the capo. With the help of Teo’s brilliant younger brother Luca, she and Cielo set off for the capital in an uneasy alliance, one that will need to be unbreakable to survive the deceit, cruelty, and corruption that await them.

The Brilliant Death is full of mythical magic, fantastical world-building, and political intrigue in a kingdom stuffed with dastardly criminals and dashing rogues. It also prominently features queer romance, a thoughtful approach to identity, and complicated presentations of family, loyalty, and betrayal.  I’m not saying it’s a perfect book, but for me it comes pretty darn close!