Snowpocalypse Reading List

Snowpocalypse. Oh thank goodness, the first two weeks of February are finally behind us. Yes, it actually happened. No, I didn’t enjoy it.* I mean, who would enjoy record-breaking snowfall in an area of the country not used to having snow accumulation at all, let alone several snowfalls piling up over such a short time?

*This is a lie. I completely enjoyed it to the very depths of my Midwestern soul! I didn’t enjoy having to call off work for the first two days since I couldn’t get out of my driveway, however. I mean, what self-respecting snow driver from Southern Illinois would I be if my pride didn’t hurt quite a bit admitting defeat like that?

The silver lining was the unexpected reading time that suddenly stretched out before me. Even though I had a ton of novels I picked up from a recent library conference, my mind was drawn to a few nonfiction books I had checked out from the library. These books became my Snowpocalypse reading list.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
When I woke up that first Monday morning to see the snow, I started freaking out about the Anna’s hummingbirds who hang out in my yard. Thank goodness I had spring on my mind the previous week and had checked out this comprehensive book about hummingbirds. What began as a curiosity to discover whether I could attract multiple species to my yard became a quest to keep my Anna’s alive. Page 335 declares this species status to be of least concern, but I knew locally our birds were in trouble. I practically memorized the section on feeding and trooped out back to wipe the snow off the one hanging feeder, also throwing seed down on clear patches for the seed-loving birds. Then I set to work making fresh nectar, filling two feeders, and rotating them out every few hours so the nectar wouldn’t freeze. One of my regular hummers buzzed me the first few times I did this, either out of appreciation or anger I couldn’t tell. But I did feel a little like Snow White the way the birds kept popping up in my yard so I choose to believe it was total appreciation.

Instant Pot Fast & Easy written by Urvashi Pitre with photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani
There’s nothing quite like cold, dreary days to make me want something hot and filling to eat. Don’t worry–I’m not a French toaster. That’s something we Midwesterners call folks who stock up on milk, eggs, and bread anytime a snowflake appears in the forecast. But I did find myself with extra time and an extra empty belly from all the work I was doing in the yard for the birds. Enter food blogger and cookbook author Urvashi Pitre, whose blending of different cuisines was just what I needed. My favorite recipe I made was the deceptively simply titled Garlic Chicken. The mustard-based marinade and extra garlic in this recipe made my mouth water and my house smell amazing. This book is perfect for those times you can’t decide what type of food you’re craving. There is such a variety of recipes I’m sure you can find something for everyone.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy
Me: Why do you want this job?
Interviewee: I love reading and I would love to read all day like you do.
…crickets…
This was an actual conversation I had with someone I was interviewing for a job working the checkout desk at a small but very busy library. The myth of the aloof reader perpetuates library work, but the reality is that all day every day we library workers are moving from one task to the next, mostly interacting directly with real people. Customers, coworkers, and bosses alike–no one truly works alone. Good communication skills are the best tools to have in your tool belt, both at work and in your personal life. But the one thing most books about communication skip over are the emotions that each of us is walking around with all the time and how those can vary widely from person to person, hour to hour. That’s why when books like No Hard Feelings hit my radar I drop everything to read it cover-to-cover. With accessible language and helpful–and often humorous–illustrations, the authors break down the best ways to deal with both your emotions and those that surround you. Spoiler: you can’t make emotions go away or pretend they don’t exist, so don’t try. I was able to immediately try out some of the techniques at home, when the cabin fever hit my husband and me and our emotions were getting real. See? It’s not just another business book. The information can be applied to your whole life.

I was lucky to have entered the Snowpocalypse with a full slate of reading material whose information could immediately be used in activities to help keep animals alive and keep boredom at bay. Here are some of the ways I used what I learned. And while I can still hear the stacks of unread novels crying out to me, I know I did the right thing in reading nonfiction while trapped inside my house.

Did You Know? (Wright Brother’s Edition)

A Boeing 747 wingspan is longer than the first flight by the Wright Brothers?

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brother’s first flight was 120 feet and lasted 12 seconds. Their next flight later that afternoon was 825 ft. Who Were the Wright Brothers by James Buckley Jr. tells about the brothers growing up, and their journey to become airborne.

Super Structures of the World: Boeing 747 by the Gale Group gives us all the statistics about 747s. The wingspan is 211 feet. When full of fuel the wingspan extends to 213 feet and the plane can weigh up to 875,000 pounds. Their other book Super Structures of the World: The World’s Largest Buildings shows us the inside of the Everett Washington Boeing plant where the 747s and other planes are built. You could fit all of Disneyland (and have 14 acres left over!) or 75 football fields in this massive building!

David McCullough wrote The Wright Brothers. It includes excerpts from their personal diaries and tells us how instrumental their sister Katharine was in helping them. In 1878, their father, Bishop Milton Wright brought home a toy from France invented by Alphonse Pénaud for the boys that was little more than 2 propellers on a stick with a rubber band. They called it the bat and it forever changed history; inspiring the boys to dream of flight.

In 1889 Orville opened a printing shop, and when it closed they opened a bicycle shop in 1893. Within a few years, they had moved to a larger location and put in a machine shop and started making their own bicycles. They then moved on to gliders while still running the bicycle store with their sister Katharine and working on their plans for a plane.

In 1969 US Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon in the Apollo 11. To honor the pioneers of flight, they carried small pieces of the Wright brothers’ airplanes with them in the space capsule. The Wright Flyer, the original plane the Wright brothers flew is on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. As well as hundreds of the Apollo 11 artifacts.

Anyway, this should give you something to think about the next time you fly! It all started with rubber bands and propellers!

Everett Reads Sy Montgomery

Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side at the library? I’m super-excited to share that we’re bringing acclaimed naturalist and author Sy Montgomery to town in February. Yes, really! I am totally chair-dancing while I type this. Sy will be our featured speaker for Everett Reads!, the library’s annual community reading program. This year the program is dedicated to an exploration of all things animal and I am so here for it.

Sy Montgomery has been chased by a silverback gorilla, embraced by a Giant Pacific Octopus, and undressed by an orangutan. Can you even? Learn about Montgomery’s amazing animal adventures and explore the connection between humans and animals throughout the month of February.

Sy Montgomery will offer two free events for the public. The first event, on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., will take place at the Everett Performing Arts Center at 2710 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Books will be for sale and available for signing following the lecture during a free reception hosted by the Friends of Everett Public Library.

Side note. Our Friends are really rad and deserve their own shout-out. They make a lot of magic happen for us all year round but they really shine whenever Everett Reads! rolls around. Thanks, Friends, for all you do! If you want to get involved with the Friends of the Library you can find more information here.

Okay, back to our programming lineup. Children and their families are invited to a special presentation with Sy on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 11 a.m. at the Cope-Gillette Theater at 2730 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Children’s books will be available for sale and signing following the talk.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to these programs on February 9 & 10, we will be presenting a range of animal-themed programs all month. On the library’s website you can check out the entire programming lineup–which includes book discussions, an art class for adults, and kids’ programs that’ll feature over 2,000 insect specimens. There’s really something here for everyone.

And speaking of something for everyone, we’ve stocked up on books by Sy Montgomery so you can take your pick–or read them all! Sy’s books are a great way to explore the connections between humans and animals and how we can live together better. Click a book cover to read more on each title and place a hold.

    

  

So what are you waiting for? Grab a book or five and make plans to share your reading adventure with friends and neighbors at some of February’s Everett Reads! events. And don’t forget to make plans to meet Sy in person. I’ll see you there!

The Final Countdown

Are you ready for the final tradition of the holiday season? As I’m sure you are aware, groups large and small will gather tonight to count down the final moments of 2018. At the end of the countdown what do you get exactly though? Another new year sure, but we’ve all seen our share of those. This year, why not keep the countdown but break with tradition and mark the time to something super cool and meaningful.

What might that be you ask? Well tonight the scrappy New Horizons probe, last seen passing Pluto, will be making a close flyby of a mysterious object 4 billion miles from the sun. Virtually nothing is known about this object, which has been given the kick ass name Ultima Thule, so everything New Horizons records and sends back will be brand spanking new science. In addition, this will be the most distant planetary flyby that has yet to be attempted.

In a happy coincidence, New Horizons will be closest to Ultima Thule at 12:33 AM Eastern time (9:33 PM for us on the west coast) to coincide with the new year. You can countdown and follow all the action at the New Horizons website. While you are there, investigate all of the great accomplishments New Horizons has already achieved, including spectacular images of icy Pluto. If you prefer your information in book form, of course we have you covered here at the library with Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto by Alan Stern.

So create a tradition of your own and count down to New Horizon’s flyby of Ultima Thule. As a bonus, you can forget trying to remember the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne.

Electric History

I’ve always been a big fan of science, but to be honest I don’t always get it. Perhaps it comes from being a humanities major, or simply the limits of this Homo sapiens brain capacity, but after a certain threshold I have serious trouble comprehending certain concepts. Newtonian physics seems to be my limit: Force equals mass time acceleration? Got it. Once you start talking quantum mechanics things start to go off the rails: An object can be in two places at the same time? Sorry, my mind just exploded. In Star Trek terms, I suffer from Khan’s weakness for two-dimensional thinking and share Captain Janeway’s dislike of time travel.

One of the scientific ideas that I can actually comprehend and enjoy is electricity. While it might seem basic and thoroughly rational today, when electricity was first discovered it had a whiff of the magical about it. Eccentric inventors harnessing an unseen force that traveled through wires generating light, power and a potentially lethal charge was hard to resist. To judge by the number of books still being written about the discovery and harnessing of electricity, the interest continues to this day. Here are a few titles that you might also find enlightening as well as entertaining:

Making the Monster: the Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup

Can an electrical current actually reanimate a corpse? Well, no, but a defibrillator sure comes in handy when someone is having a heart attack. While the science reflected in Mary Shelley’s classic work may not stand up to modern scrutiny, the core concepts are surprisingly sound. It is clear that Shelley had an excellent knowledge of the scientific ideas percolating in 1818 relating to electricity and physiology. In this work, Harkup gives the reader an intriguing and entertaining overview of the often gruesome and peculiar scientific endeavors that Shelley drew on for her famous novel. Just in time for its 200-year anniversary.

Simply Electrifying: the Technology that Transformed the World by Craig Roach

Providing a well-written overview, Roach tells the story of the discovery, harnessing and regulation of electricity in its 200 plus year history. It is a story that involves many different aspects including science, technology, history, recreation and business but is all brought together here. The author primarily takes the ‘great person’ view introducing the reader to luminaries such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla emphasizing their impact on how electricity was discovered and distributed. It is a story that is surprisingly fraught with controversy and competition and full of unsung heroes and bitter rivalry.

Tesla: Inventor of the Modern by Richard Munson

When it comes to scientific geniuses that many considered wronged by posterity, Nikola Tesla is one of the greats. We have many books about him, but Munson’s is the most recent and an excellent addition to the collection. An inventor of all things electrical including motors, radios, and phones, one of Tesla’s incredible discoveries was AC electrical current. AC current was far superior at delivering electricity to people over long distances, especially compared to the DC current promoted by Thomas Edison. Despite this, and in combination with a poor business sense, Tesla ended up penniless during his later years. This book gives Tesla his proper due and provides insight into his genius and life.

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes

If you want all the gory details, and they do get gory, about the brutal competition to capitalize on the invention of electricity and control its distribution to the masses, Jonnes’ book is the one for you. In the last decades of the 19th century, Edison, Tesla and George Westinghouse all tried to forge their own business empires by cornering the market on the production and distribution of electricity. The author argues that all three started out with good intentions, wanting to harness electricity for the betterment of humanity, but greed eventually won out. The invention and use of the electric chair as a way to ‘demonstrate’ the danger or advantage of AC current being a prime example of this slide to the bottom.

Edison vs. Tesla: the Battle over their Last Invention by Joel Martin and William Birnes

Leave the scientific realm and enter the spiritual plane by reading this work about the purported battle to create the ‘spirit phone.’ (Librarian pro tip: when a scientific sounding book is in the 133 Dewey range something mystical is afoot) As you might guess from the name, the spirit phone was designed to allow you to talk with the dearly departed. The authors do their due diligence to prove that both men actually worked on such a device by researching the later journals of both men and demonstrating the thin line between spiritualism and science in some circles at the time. They also make some educated guesses as to how the device might have worked and which spirits it was meant to contact.

Loving the Alien (or Not)

Spring has sprung. The earth renews itself and the grand cycle of life continues. And, oh yeah, the damn weeds are taking over the yard again. While definitely not rational (nature always wins after all) I’ve always thought there was a certain doomed nobility in taking up arms, in the form of spades and shovels, against the weedy invaders in my yard.

But does my relationship with weeds and other ‘undesirables’ need to be adversarial? Recent books about our relationship with nature have opened up a debate about the whole concept of defining species as desirable or undesirable, native or invasive. Maybe the problem isn’t in the yard, but in my head. Here are three newer titles that explore the line between good and bad in the animal and plant kingdoms.

Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction by Chris Thomas

This provocative work states that the widely accepted idea of human activities causing the destruction of the environment and the loss of species is actually looking at the situation incorrectly. Humans are altering the environment for sure, but, Thomas argues, this new environment actually benefits certain adaptable species. The end result?  More new species will be created than destroyed. The key to his argument lies in examining the animals and plants that are labeled invasive. For the author, these species are simply the ones that successfully exploit the new environment and survive. For Thomas, nature is ultimately more resilient and adaptable than we think.

The Aliens Among Us: How Invasive Species are Transforming the Planet—and Ourselves by Leslie Anthony

Anthony has little sympathy for those who refuse to see invasive species as a threat or who downplay their impact on the environment. Instead, he advocates for a vigorous defense of the native and an eradication of the invasive. To prove his point he goes on the frontline with the scientists and environmentalists battling undesirable species (such as Scotch Broom, Lampreys and Pythons) and celebrates their hard work and dedication to the cause. He also goes into an enlightening history of specific species and how they ended up in the wrong places: the Norway Rat owes its presence in 90 percent of the world to trade by sea for example. This book is an entertaining call to arms.

Where Do Camels Belong: the Story and Science of Invasive Species by Ken Thompson

Thompson argues that the real problem when it comes to invasive vs. native species lies in definitions. As the title suggests, he uses the camel as a prime example. We think of camels as native to the Middle East but in fact they evolved and lived in North America for millions of years, retain their greatest biological diversity in South America, and are currently only ‘wild’ in Australia. So where are they native exactly? He makes a convincing argument using other species as well. In the end he advocates for getting beyond the stark and illogical definitions of native and invasive and simply judging species by their impact on the environment as it currently exists.

So what is a conscientious gardener to do: take up arms against all that is invasive or let nature take its course? We all have to make our own choices, but as for me I choose to play favorites. The native Kinnikinnick is a great ground cover, but once it start encroaching on my beloved, and definitely introduced, Monkey Puzzle Tree the shears are coming out.

Skin Deep

When it comes to animals, everyone loves cute. If you need proof just visit your local zoo. People will be lining up and jostling each other to see the bears, lions, elephants and monkeys but you will have no trouble getting into the reptile house. This phenomenon is reflected in the book world as well. The majority of titles seem to be dedicated to animals we can relate to and that many see as cute or lovable. But there are exceptions. A dedicated few choose to write about, and often champion, the animals that we find odd, frightening and sometimes disturbing. While I would hesitate to call it a trend, I have noticed a number of new books that seek to appreciate the animals many find unlovable. Read on for a few recent examples.

Vulture: the Private Life of an Unloved Bird by Katie Fallon

Often seen in films circling a dead or dying victim and, let’s be honest, not being the most photogenic of birds, vultures are definitely in need of some good PR. Luckily, author Katie Fallon is up to the task. She creates a sense of empathy by following a typical North American turkey vulture throughout the year. Along the way the reader learns of the crucial role turkey vultures play in cleansing the landscape of carrion and the dangerous pathogens such as anthrax, rabies and botulism that carcasses can harbor. You will also come to appreciate the vultures’ keen sense of smell and its ability to soar on six-foot wings for extended periods of time. While few will ever consider the vulture cute, this work will make you appreciate them and reconsider their negative stereotype.

The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister

Getting readers to appreciate a creature that many swat without a moment’s hesitation is a tall order but Erica McAlister manages to do just that. While there is plenty here to make you a tad nauseous, with a whole chapter dedicated to ‘the coprophages,’ you will also learn of the important role flies play in pollination and as a food source. Most importantly, the author realizes that many see those who study flies, a dipterist for those in the know, as rather odd and the flies themselves as, well, pretty disgusting. She counters this with a healthy sense of humor and curious fly related facts: Flies were the first creatures sent into space and are still being studied on the International Space station; vinegar flies enjoy alcohol and when imbibing they become more amorous and less able to choose an appropriate mate; there is such a thing as the The Society for the Study of Flies. In the end, you can’t help but be interested.

Squid Empire: the Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods by Danna Staaf

Perhaps it is the tentacles or maybe the large, sometimes saucer size eyes that put people off, but squid, and cephalopods in general, don’t get a lot of love from humans. But as the bold title of this work implies, squid don’t need your love. You see, they have been around a long time and I mean a long time: before the mammals, before the dinosaurs, and even before the fishes. Sure there are fewer of them around today, but they had a glorious 400 million year run as the ruling class on the planet. Danna Staaf charts their rise, dominance, fall and comeback in this fascinating work with humor and narrative skill. The key to their survival turns out to be an amazing ability to adapt. Starting out in shells, the cephalopods went on to develop tentacles, beaks, ink, and a masterful camouflage ability all to keep one step ahead of the competition. Long live the Empire!

Spineless: the Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald

While beautiful when seen floating behind plexiglas in a tank, getting close to a jellyfish in the wild can be a harrowing experience, especially while swimming. In this mixture of scientific inquiry, travelogue, and memoir Juli Berwald examines the prolific and ancient jellyfish and tries to allay some of those fears while describing its role in the ecosystem today. While this book is definitely packed with fascinating jellyfish facts, they are made of 95% water and have barbs that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity, it is also about the jellyfish as a bellwether of a changing planet. Their incredible success, with huge ‘blooms’ of billions of jellyfish causing damage to fisheries and infrastructure, says much about the acidification of the oceans and a warming climate. Finally, this book is also a tale of the author’s rediscovery of her love of science, and jellyfish in particular, after raising a family.