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!

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.

Failure is an Option

Promises, promises. They are easy to make, especially around the New Year, but much harder to keep. Maybe you have pledged to get a better attitude, lose some weight, or work on your relationship with a significant other. A couple of weeks into 2016, however, things might not be looking so good. Now you could beat yourself up about not meeting your goal, but maybe it is time to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective.

Here’s a radical idea: maybe failure isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, failure might be the best way to succeed, the kick-start you need to find true love, the cornerstone of scientific progress and the best thing about competitive sports. Don’t take my word for it though, check out these books from your local library and see for yourself.

Failure, the Key to Success

Alright, let’s face it, you have failed at something. As the experts say, admitting the problem is half the solution. Also, take a look at these three books to gain some perspective and move forward.

F1

Very Good Lives: the Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling
Failure is not a term you would normally associate with the creator of Harry Potter, but it has been a key component of Rowling’s life and success. Learn all about it in this commencement speech she gave at Harvard University.

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better by Pema Chödrön
Another commencement speech, this time given at Naropa University, that stresses the importance of failure as the way to becoming a complete and fulfilled human being. In addition to being a prolific author, Chödrön is also a Buddhist nun and resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia.

Black Box Thinking: Why Some People Never Learn from their Mistakes–but Some Do by Matthew Syed
For Syed, failure is inevitable for everyone at some point. The problem comes when mistakes aren’t acknowledged and people refuse to examine their failure and learn from it. Much like the black box of a commercial aircraft, the data needs to be analyzed to find out what went wrong when a failure occurs.

Burning Love

Things don’t always work out. Happily ever after can be a long time coming. While you wait, take a look at these books to help you cope with a failed relationship.

F2

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright.
While a relationship crashing and burning is never a pretty sight, Wright points out that there is always a historical example of something far worse. Each chapter title pairs a specific romantic blunder with an appropriate historical example such as “If you have just sent your ex a very intense emotional email, Read about Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron.”

Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Ever After by Katherine Woodward Thomas
If you want to take the high road when it comes to a breakup, this is the book for you. Promising to show you how to ‘break up in a whole new way’, Thomas advises both parties to avoid bitterness and anger and focus on what was positive in the former relationship.

Dump ’em: How to Break up with Anyone from your Best Friend to your Hairdresser by Jodyne Speyer
Sometimes you have to be the one to end things. Not an easy task, but this book has got you covered. Chock full of personal stories, useful scripts and interviews with experts, Speyer’s book will show you how to break up with almost anyone.

Blinded with Science

The discipline that brought you successes such as medicine, technology and a way of building knowledge about the universe is fueled by a surprising concept: failure. Take a look at these books to find out why.

F3

Failure: Why Science Is So Successful by Stuart Firestein
The image of an infallible truth-dispensing scientist in a white lab coat is an illusion, argues Firestein. Instead science is a process of trial and error that produces many failures. These failures are crucial in producing an ultimate success.

Brilliant Blunders: from Darwin to Einstein–Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists that Changed our Understanding of Life and the Universe by Mario Livio
It is not only the humble that make mistakes, many of the scientific greats did as well. Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein all made significant blunders on their way to genius status. Clearly there is hope for all of us.

Discarded Science: Ideas that Seemed Good at the Time by John Grant
This book is a true rogue’s gallery of failed ideas and bogus theories that were once deemed plausible. From the flat earth theory to phrenology, every dubious theory that was once thought of as ‘scientific’ is examined and explored.

The Agony of Defeat

I’ve never been much of a sports fan, but I have always had a soft spot for teams, and the fans who support them, that almost never seem to win. Call it the nobility of continual failure. Here are three examples.

F4

Shipwrecked: a Peoples’ History of the Seattle Mariners by Jon Wells
Since the team rarely finishes a season above .500, Mariners fans are a long-suffering, but in my view, admirable bunch. Learn all about their trials and travails in this colorful history of the team. The author has been covering the Mariners for over 15 years and has his own theories of why the team can never seem to win.

We Believe [DVD]
The Chicago Cubs are arguably the original sports team that never seems to catch a break. This DVD, narrated by Gary Sinise no less, documents the few ups and many downs of the team and its fans. You know there will be a clip of Harry Caray, preferably after having a few beers after the seventh inning stretch, singing ‘take me out to the ball game’.

Green Bay Packers: Trials, Triumphs, and Tradition by William Povletich.
I know the Packers currently are far from being failures, but when I lived in Title Town (the late 70s and 80s) they, quite frankly, sucked most of the time. It was hard not to have a grudging admiration for the fans who stuck with them through all those fallow years. Interestingly, the team starting doing really well once I left. Coincidence? I think not.

So clearly, as all of these materials demonstrate, you have no reason to feel bad about any recent failures that might have come your way. As always, the EPL has got your back.

Weird Washington

Of the many things you can say about the great State of Washington, one of the best is the fact that it is downright weird.  While some may think being called weird is a put down, something to be avoided or hidden away, it is really a great compliment.  The opposite of weird, boring old normal, is the last thing a state wants to be.  The normal states are the ones you drive through on your way to something interesting.

So what is weird about Washington?  After reading either Weird Washington by Jeff Davis or Weird & Wacky Washington Places by Bree Coven Brown you will be asking yourself, “What isn’t?”.  Both books try to categorize the unknown and give plenty of detail on such local oddities as the Fremont Troll, the mysterious disappearance of D.B. Cooper, and of course Sasquatch.

If you have trouble suspending your disbelief and want to treat your inner skeptic, check out Annals of Gullibility. Stephen Greenspan provides a rational and scientific explanation of why we are drawn to the unexplained. You could even find out who wore the ape-like costume in the infamous film, made in Washington of course, that made the legend of Bigfoot so popular by reading The Making of Bigfoot by Greg Long.   

While I usually side with the rational, I can’t help but find the occasional oddity that I would like to be true. Such is the case when it comes to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus detailed in Weird Washington.  Sure you won’t find an entry for the creature in the many books we have on marine life in the Pacific Northwest, but it is strangely comforting to think it could be out there somewhere…

Richard