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!

Brains from the Deep

Everyone seems to have a favorite nominee for ‘smartest animal.’ Many prefer the much-lauded chimpanzee or dolphin, but crows, elephants, parrots, pigs, dogs, cats, rats and many other species all have their supporters. Recently, there have been studies that champion a somewhat less relatable animal: the octopus. Unlike some of the other nominees, the octopus is truly an alien-looking creature that lives for only a few years. How then can it be intelligent? Luckily for those wanting to understand, a few great new books have come out that answer that question and raise even more interesting ones about the nature of intelligence, consciousness and the limits of human understanding.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

soulofoctopusSy Montgomery really loves octopuses. Specifically she develops an admiration and affection for Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma, the four individual cephalopods she interacts with at the New England Aquarium. She also expands her quest beyond the aquarium and goes out into the wild to encounter more octopuses in their natural habitat. She becomes convinced of their intelligence: An intelligence that goes beyond the scientifically measurable, such as puzzle solving and the like, to also include feelings of playfulness, friendship, happiness and tenderness on their part. While Montgomery’s utter devotion can produce a risk of ascribing human traits to her subjects a little too easily, it is hard to deny that there seems to be some sort of consciousness in the octopus mind after reading this book.

Other Minds: the Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

othermindsWhile no less a devotee of the octopus, Godfrey-Smith takes the long view when examining the intelligence of this fascinating creature. As a philosopher of science, he is well placed to delve into the evolutionary history of cephalopods and the octopus in particular. While mammals and birds are closely related on the tree of life, the cephalopods deviated very early on in our evolutionary history, so much so that they are almost a separate evolutionary ‘experiment’ in intelligence. The author isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions: What kind of intelligence do octopuses possess? Is it alien from our own? Can we understand it? While doing this, Godfrey-Smith is no armchair philosopher, however. The book is also full of real world examples of his dives and encounters with these intelligent creatures that drive home his arguments.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? By F.B.M. de Waal

smartenoughDe Waal’s goal, in this well written and engaging book, is nothing short of toppling humankind from its lofty, and self-appointed perch at the top of the intelligence and cognition scale. In fact, he argues we shouldn’t think of intelligence as a scale at all, but rather as a bush with cognition taking different forms in each branch, none necessarily higher than the other but always unique. It is an intriguing argument, which he backs up with many observations of the animal world that he has gleaned in his role as an animal behaviorist at Emory University. He is quick to point out the cases of wishful thinking and pure chance (Paul the octopus did not actually know anything about soccer despite his correct predictions during the 2010 World Cup alas) but he does provide convincing examples of animal intelligence using scientific and rational methods.

So is the mysterious and alien looking octopus conscious and intelligent? Based on these excellent books and in the words of the Magic 8-Ball: As I see it, yes.

A Mixed Bag of Picture Books

With the bleak weather of January behind us, I thought I’d share some new books for children. The first two cover difficult and sensitive, but necessary, subjects especially for children.

The Scar is the story of a child waking up to the news that his mother has died. It wasn’t an unexpected death but nevertheless has a profound effect on the child who decides that the windows of the house must be kept closed in order to keep the mother’s essence within. The father, coping with his own grief, is not much help. When the child falls and scrapes his knee, he is sure he hears his mother’s voice. He tells himself that as long as he has the scab and can make it bleed, he’ll hear her voice and be a little less sad.

Fortunately, the maternal grandmother arrives on the scene and teaches the father some of the mother’s habits, such as how to drizzle honey on toast. When the grandmother complains about the heat in the house and starts to open the windows, the child explodes with alarm and confronts her. She explains that his mother isn’t in the surrounding air but in the child’s heart.

Dog Breath is a tribute to a deceased dog who just might have been the worst dog ever. He escaped whenever the door opened a crack and when he returned he would smell like rotten cheese and need a bath. He also stole food, once a whole turkey, as well as anything else that he could pull off the kitchen table. Yes, he was probably the worst dog in the universe, but he’ll be remembered with affection and love.

Scrawny Cat is the tale of a lost cat who knows his name is not “Get out of here” even though that’s what he hears most of the time. He finds refuge in a dinghy just as a storm rolls in. As he huddles under the dinghy seat the rope tying the dinghy to the dock snaps and the boat rolls away from shore. After the storm, the dinghy washes up on a sandy beach. A woman comes down to see what the storm has washed in. Will she also tell the scrawny cat to “Get out of here?”

In The Flyaway Blanket, Jake is helping his Momma hang up his special blanket on the laundry line. He doesn’t want to let go of his “extra soft from so much love” blanket, but his Momma tells him it will be dry in no time, so they sit and wait in the sun. But then a wind comes up and snatches Jake’s blanket which flies high into the sky. Will it ever return?

Dad gives Douglas a brand new woolly hat in Don’t Worry, Douglas! and tells him to take care of it. Douglas’s hat, however, gets caught in a branch and unravels. What is Douglas to do? Other animals try to help him but the best advice comes from Rabbit, who suggests Douglas tell his dad just what happened.

In Pirates & Princesses, Ivy and Fletch have been best friends since they were babies. They do everything together, but when they both start kindergarten things change. All the boys play together as pirates and all the girls play together as princesses, but these games aren’t as much fun without your best friend. How will Ivy and Fletch reclaim their friendship?

Solomon Crocodile does not play well with others. He is considered a pest by all the animals in the swamp. Will he ever find someone to play with?
Finally, two new concept books: Small Medium Large deals with the concept of size from itty-bitty to colossal, while Into the Outdoors covers the prepositional world as a happy family spends time in the great outdoors.

These are just a few of the hundreds of new titles to be found in our library’s collection. Contact your friendly and helpful Youth Services Librarian for more new titles.

Suzanne

Gone to the Dogs

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.  –Groucho Marx *

book coverA popular stereotype about librarians is that we’re all cat people. Books like Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat that Touched the World do little to disabuse people of this notion.

I’ve got nothing against cats, but I’m a dog person. I even like reading about dogs. Luckily, there are many wonderful dog-centric books, both fiction and non-fiction at the library. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

book coverThe Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst is an odd and oddly captivating story. When Paul’s wife falls from a tree and dies, the only witness is their Rhodesian Ridgeback Lorelei. In his grief, Paul tries to teach Lorelei to speak so he can learn whether her death was an accident or suicide.

book coverThe Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewsi follows the plot of Hamlet, but in Wisconsin and with a mute protagonist and his family’s special (fictional) breed of Sawtelle dogs. You don’t have to be a dog lover or a Shakespeare lover to be drawn into this thrilling family saga.

book coverIn Travels with Charley: in Search of America novelist John Steinbeck chronicles his 1960 cross country road trip with his beloved French poodle, Charley, and his truck, Rocinante. I fell in love with old Charley and with Steinbeck’s eloquent account of his journey across the changing American landscape.

book coverIn Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment, an elderly couple puts their Manhattan apartment on the market the same weekend that their beloved daschund Dorothy undergoes emergency surgery all while living in a city that is paralyzed by fear of a possible terrorist attack. There are many lovely, quiet moments amidst the drama.

book coverI picked up Temple Grandin’s Animals Make Us Human for the dogs. But Grandin’s unique perspective as an autistic researcher and her insights into the emotional and psychological lives of animals were so fascinating, I stayed for the cats, horses, and other animals she explores in this book.

Have you read any doggone good books lately?

Mindy

* This quote, and many more, can be found here.