From the Shelf
Hibernation and Contemplation
"In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us." --Mary Oliver
As fall turns to winter, I find myself seeking the warmth of these fires: love and questioning. While the plants and animals prepare for a season of hibernation, I prepare for a season of contemplation. My reading list reflects that: Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver, along with her collected works of poetry; When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams; The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman.
On the surface, these are very different books. Mary Oliver writes extensively, in both her prose and her poetry, about the natural world and our place within it. Terry Tempest Williams's memoir, When Women Were Birds, is a reflection on Williams's mother and the 54 blank journals she left behind when she died, one for every year of her too-short life. Neil Gaiman seems the oddest-man out here; he's most well-known for his fantasy writings, but his nonfiction essays delve into the role of stories in shaping our lives.
It's that "shaping our lives" part that threads through each of these disparate collections, I think, especially as it relates to love and questioning. These are not how-to guides, but rather invitations to pause: to sit and to think, to love and to question. As the days turn colder and shorter, I plan to do just that, taking in what they say about life and the shaping of it. Then, when spring unfolds on the other side of winter, I will go forth into the world and do just that. Or maybe I'll just sit and read a while longer--only time will tell. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by John Hodgman
A thoughtful and often hilarious collection of personal essays by the actor, author and humorist.
by Oliver Jeffers
What began as notes about life for his infant son is now a whimsically illustrated picture book by author, illustrator and new father Oliver Jeffers.
by Liska Jacobs
A first novel of exquisitely told debauchery, Catalina is the story of a young Los Angeles woman adrift and desperately grasping for an anchor.
Review by Subjects:
Word of the Year
Dictionary.com's 2017 word of the year is complicit, which "has sprung up in conversations this year about those who speak out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stay silent."
"The art of Terry Pratchett's Discworld--in pictures." The Guardian featured images produced by the late author's "artist of choice" Paul Kidby during their decades-long collaboration.
To celebrate Louisa May Alcott's birthday this week, Mental Floss shared "10 little facts" about the author.
Buzzfeed revealed "33 sentences you'll only understand if you're in a book club."
Lit Hub explored "how 11 writers organize their personal libraries."
Bookshelf featured the Comfy Cargo Chair, which consists "simply of hollow spaces whose open structure requires filling with personal things such as books."
Rediscover: The Man Who Invented Christmas
The movie adaptation of The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford has been wreathed in rave reviews. The film, which opened November 22, stars Dan Stevens as a young Charles Dickens in the process of writing A Christmas Carol. Two years after publishing Oliver Twist, a string of unsuccessful works brings Dickens to the verge of financial ruin. He roams London for the inspiration that will allow him to deliver a manuscript in time for Christmas. As Dickens develops his story, he interacts with his characters, especially Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer), and seeks advice from his Irish servant, Tara. Meanwhile, Dickens's father, John (Jonathan Pryce), tests his son's patience with financial carelessness and impropriety. As the Christmas deadline sleighs closer, Dickens's struggle to determine the fate of Scrooge intersects with his own troubled childhood.
Les Standiford is the director of Florida International University's creative writing program and author of multiple works of narrative nonfiction as well as the John Deal Miami crime fiction series. The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits (2008) was brought to the big screen thanks in part to Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and co-owner of Mazur/Kaplan Company, which specializes in adapting literary works for film and TV. On September 19, Broadway published a movie tie-in edition of The Man Who Invented Christmas ($17, 9781524762469) that includes A Christmas Carol. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Jessica Yu: Watching a Ugandan Garden Grow
Jessica Yu is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker known for her documentary and scripted work. As a director, she has also worked on such television shows as American Crime, Grey's Anatomy, 13 Reasons Why and The West Wing. She is a graduate of Yale University, and has written for numerous outlets, including the Los Angeles Times Magazine and Pacific News Service. Yu lives in Southern California with her husband, the writer and teacher Mark Salzman, and their two daughters, Ava and Esme. Her first book, Garden of the Lost and Abandoned (reviewed below), tells the story of a remarkable Ugandan woman who fights to reconnect children with their lost families.
You met Gladys Kalibbala while working on your documentary Misconception. What brought Gladys to your attention?
The film allowed me to explore, among other issues relating to population, how thousands of kids in Uganda end up stranded through want, misfortune or neglect. I came across this newspaper column, "Lost and Abandoned," that served to reconnect such children to family. The writer, Gladys Kalibbala, was the liaison between the kids, their relatives, the public, the police and other institutions.
Meeting her, it quickly became clear to me that Gladys was the story. She wasn't sitting at her desk, sipping tea. She was out there, boots on the ground, for these kids: tracing their villages, tracking down relatives, trying to find them a roof, a school, a meal, a doctor--whatever need was most pressing.
Misconception dealt with three individuals, so when you heard Gladys's story, what made you decide to write hers?
I was drawn to her buoyancy. This woman was doing so much of this on her own. She didn't have money, she didn't have transportation, she didn't have the backing of an NGO. But here she was, taking on the children of strangers--hundreds of them over the years. And most astonishing of all, she was cheerful! The problems she was trying to fix were grim and complex and endless, but she clearly found joy in the effort.
In 20 years of making documentaries, I'd never finished one feeling compelled to write a book. But after filming a few days with Gladys, I couldn't walk away. I needed to know: What was the inner mechanism that kept her going?
Did your filmmaking background affect the book-writing process?
I think I was helped by my background in film. In making documentaries, there are enormous challenges to the ideal of being "unobtrusive." In writing Garden, I savored the relative freedom of traveling without a crew, a schedule and loads of equipment, and that freedom enabled me to be a better observer. A deeper kind of focus is possible when you don't have to control anything.
In film, the goal is to show more than tell, so my approach to storytelling leans toward the visual. I wanted to combine Gladys's intimate perspective with a sense of these vivid environments that are so familiar to her. I was also struck by how Gladys's observations informed her approach to a child's case. Did the child have shoes? Was her face clean? Where did she sleep? Where did she cast her eyes when answering a question? Those kinds of visual details shaped the course of each story.
Gladys Kalibbala has helped many people. How did you determine which of them to feature?
I was lucky to have a wealth of stories to choose from. I would go to Uganda to follow up on Gladys's current cases, only to return with new ones. I'd start thinking like Gladys: "How do I take this one on? What about that one? What will happen to him?"
I did follow quite a few cases that I didn't put to paper. Several of them would make strong stories, but some lacked a measure of clarity or closure that I did not have the luxury of pursuing. With others, too many of the formative events took place when I was not around.
That said, there are some ongoing stories I would still like to write. One involves a girl who was mysteriously kidnapped--it's still unclear exactly what took place before she found her way back to her family. Another involves a young motorcycle taxi driver who was horribly injured in an accident. Gladys has followed his case for years, securing medical help and training in a new profession for him. It's easier to get help for a child than an adult, but Gladys assists grownups as well, a challenge that leads to different kinds of drama.
You traveled to Uganda regularly over the course of four years. What's your most memorable experience from your time there?
The most memorable moments are reflected in the book, I hope, but there was one personal experience I will never forget. Gladys was traveling to the remote village of a young mother whose daughter had complicated medical problems. A gathering of neighbors greeted our arrival, and when I stepped out of the vehicle a tiny girl took one look at me and started crying. I gave her what I hoped was a friendly smile, but she screamed and ran away. When the grownups coaxed her out of hiding, she pointed at me, whimpering something. Everyone burst out laughing. The girl thought I was an "animal without fur" that was coming to eat her! And here I was, grinning at her with all my teeth, poor thing. She had never seen someone who looked like me. After a while, she tentatively accepted my presence. She and some of the other children made a game of jumping around me, chanting "Animal! Animal!"
It is a very educational experience, to be seen as "other." Everyone should have it.
Garden of the Lost and Abandoned conjures a beautiful array of children--many colors, sizes, shapes and types--how would you describe Gladys as a part of that garden?
The parallel of Gladys's struggle to protect her garden with her struggle to help her children was unexpected but wholly fitting. Gladys is tenacious and protective--an anchoring presence. Without getting too botanically specific, I would consider her a tree. I can just hear her asking, "Eh! What kind of tree do you think Gladys is?"
If people are inspired to help Gladys Kalibbala and her children, how can they do so?
Thank you for asking that question. I'm setting up a funding site for Gladys's garden project, which is being established as a self-sustaining source of support for her work with her kids. You can link to the page through JessicaYu.net.
What humbled me while shadowing Gladys was witnessing the benefit of hands-on involvement, even on the smallest scale. In the U.S., we talk of "compassion fatigue." We get discouraged when problems seem huge and unsolvable. But the ripple effect from even modest interventions can be immeasurable, especially as those acts accumulate over time. From Gladys, I've learned to value the daily kindness as much as the grand gesture. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
by Liska Jacobs
Catalina's narrator, Elsa, is fresh off a summary termination from her job at the Museum of Modern Art for an ill-advised affair with her married boss. She retreats home to California, to a Santa Monica boutique hotel, where she nurses her wounds with day drinking, drugs and an attempt to reconnect with old friends. Miffed that her boss threw her under the bus when MoMA caught wind of the affair, Elsa brazenly flirts with the hotel staff in a drug-fueled haze. She embarks for a weekend debauch on Catalina Island with her friends and their wealthy, handsome, 40-something pal with a yacht and a bar of single-malt scotch. Then her life goes south.
Liska Jacobs's first novel resonates like the work of Eve Babitz, the L.A. artist and writer whose 1977 Slow Days, Fast Company defined that city's hedonistic worship of sex, money and booze. A Los Angeles native, Jacobs has Southern California in her blood. Catalina is rife with local details. The hotel's facial creams, for example, are organic: "shea butter and lavender and sweet almond oil. The ingredients written first in French and then in English." With a pharmacopeia of uppers and downers, sunshine and skin, Elsa's Catalina weekend becomes the last gasp of desperation of a young woman at loose ends in her life.
As her characters tumble over the cliffs they have built for themselves, Jacobs doesn't let up. Catalina is a novel of the dark side of the City of Angels told with spirited and intense prose. It takes Babitz a notch up--a contemporary spin of fast days, fast company. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A first novel of exquisitely told debauchery, Catalina is the story of a young Los Angeles woman adrift and desperately grasping for an anchor.
by Christine Angot , trans. by Tess Lewis
French author Christine Angot's controversial 1999 autobiographical novel Incest, now translated into English by Tess Lewis, confronts brutal questions of forbidden sexuality with raw force and invasive prose.
In the wake of a recent, tumultuous break-up, single mother Christine recalls the months leading up to this moment, as she fell into her first homosexual love affair. With increasing urgency and hysteria, she recalls the neuroses and anxieties associated the relationship. As the narrative builds toward their final days together, Christine must finally dive into the traumatic secrets of her adolescence, exploring the eroticism, humiliation and devastation of her incestuous relationship with her father.
Written in emotional, stream-of-consciousness prose, Incest can often feel agitated and erratic, perfectly capturing the shattered inner world of its narrator, who is suggested throughout to be the author herself. As she blurs the lines between reality and fiction, Angot insists upon unsettling her reader, in terms of her meta approach, her taboo material and her polemic style. Together, these elements deliver a devastating exploration into the self-loathing and the disturbing paradoxes of human desire. While her work may trouble readers with its brutal physicality and trembling honesty, the power of these reactions speak most directly to its successes. In refusing to shy away from controversial content, Incest challenges, disgusts and confounds, making it a moving and memorable contribution to contemporary literature. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Angot's work of auto-fiction confronts the brutality and pervasiveness of desire and will appeal to those both fascinated and terrified by explorations into the darkness of human nature.
Mystery & Thriller
The Shadow District
by Arnaldur Indridason , trans. by Victoria Cribb
During World War II, a young Icelandic woman named Rósamunda was found strangled outside the National Theater in Reykjavík. Because of "The Situation" (so called because of the vast numbers of Icelandic women dating the American servicemen stationed there), it was suspected that perhaps a soldier had been involved, so Thorson from the military police and Flóvent from CID team up to investigate Rósamunda's death.
Sixty years later, Stéfan Thórdarson, a nonagenarian, is found dead in his bed. At first it's assumed to be natural causes, because of his age, but then it's discovered he was smothered. And in his room is a stack of newspaper clippings about Rósamunda.
Arnaldur Indridason (Jar City, Strange Shores) has brought his understated style to The Shadow District, the first in a new series. Intrigued by the story of Stéfan Thórdarson's death, and with the permission of his former colleagues, retired police officer Konrad begins poking about into Stéfan's life--and the inexplicably ineffective original investigation into Rósamunda's murder.
With fascinating detail about Iceland's rapid shift from a rural, largely agricultural nation into a modern financial power during World War II, The Shadow District is sure to appeal to history buffs. It is also an austere yet surprisingly empathetic mystery. Indridason skillfully weaves the separate queries of Flovent and Thórson in the 1940s and Konrad in the present day, giving life to Rósamunda and her contemporaries, and creating a tension that will keep the reader guessing. Fans of Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø will love Arnaldur Indridason. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: In this understated thriller, a death in the present day leads Icelandic investigators to reopen a puzzling case from World War II.
The Glamorous Dead
by Suzanne Gates
Most of the action in Suzanne Gates's debut mystery, The Glamorous Dead, takes place in 1940, on a Hollywood movie set while Preston Sturges films his classic screwball comedy, The Lady Eve. Between takes and after hours, the film's leading lady, Barbara Stanwyck, plays amateur sleuth to solve the murder of one of the film's extras.
While the premise sounds like it will be a lightweight comedic mystery--along the lines of Stuart M. Kaminsky's Toby Peters series or George Baxt's novels featuring real celebrities solving fictional murders--Gates's mystery is deadly serious. The Glamorous Dead will remind genre lovers of Dorothy B. Hughes's darker noir crime fiction, especially the fever dream atmosphere and unreliable narrator in her 1947 classic, In a Lonely Place.
When her beautiful roommate disappears on Halloween and is later found buried in a shallow grave, film extra Penny Harp becomes the LAPD's top murder suspect. It doesn't help matters that Penny (the narrator) has a lot of secrets and seems to alienate everyone around her, with the exception of the film's star. Why is Stanwyck suddenly best buddies with this background performer? Was Stanwyck's husband, dashing actor Robert Taylor, having an affair with the murdered girl?
The Glamorous Dead alternates between chapters of the two women trying to solve the murder with flashback chapters that begin to explain why neither woman is being completely honest with the other. This moody and retro noir mystery pulls readers along with carefully revealed twists, complex characters and unnerving apprehension. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: In this dark and moody retro murder mystery, actress Barbara Stanwyck turns amateur detective when a beautiful film extra is murdered.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Rift Frequency
by Amy S. Foster
Thrust through the Rift into Earth's multiverse, Citadel Ryn (a genetically modified teen soldier) is searching for her boyfriend, Ezra, and the valuable computer he is carrying. Hopscotching from one version of Earth to another, Ryn is accompanied by Levi, a fellow soldier though not a friend. The pair must depend on each other for survival--meaning they need to trust one another, if they hope to catch up to Ezra before someone else does. But when Blood Lust (which turns romantic feelings into a killer instinct) arises in Levi, Ryn has even more problems to deal with than alien species who wish them harm.
In the second volume of the Rift Uprising trilogy, Amy Foster has created multiple Earths where the environment and inhabitants vary between hostility and friendliness. She uses these alternate planets to explore what life might have been like if certain events in history had unfolded differently, creating challenges for Ryn and Levi that enable them to use their superpowers and high-tech devices to continue forward into the next Rift. The multiverse is an interesting backdrop for this triangular love/angst-ridden teenage sci-fi thriller. After many Rifts, the tempo increases in the last third where much-awaited answers are provided. Since very little background is included and this book takes off where book one stopped, readers must have read The Rift Uprising to understand the details of what is happening and why. Book two definitely sets the stage for a third, explosive final book in this well-written sci-fi trilogy. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: In the middle volume of the Rift Uprising trilogy, Ryn and Levi search the multiverse for Ezra and the answers he has on a stolen computer.
Biography & Memoir
A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf
by Emma Claire Sweeney , Emily Midorikawa
After a year of friendship, Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney divulged their individual secrets: each had ambitions to be a writer. Instead of the competition and sniping that is a stereotype of female friendships, they encouraged and supported each other. Why then, they wondered, do we have so few stories of literary women's relationships?
Midorikawa and Sweeney scoured surviving documents to find such records of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf, and collected them in A Secret Sisterhood. These relationships have been ignored by history; the book features never-before-seen details of the private lives of beloved authors. Often, their writer friends became their most astute critics.
Jane Austen found a kindred spirit in playwright Anne Sharp, her niece's governess, ignoring the social stigma of befriending her family's employee. Charlotte Brontë may have stayed a schoolteacher if not for Mary Taylor's encouragement, and Taylor's political opinions became an influence on her work. Though George Eliot and Harriet Beecher Stowe communicated in letters from different sides of the Atlantic, no one else could relate to the pressures of fame both endured. Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield shared a gossipy rivalry, though they were each other's intellectual equal in a relationship that bordered on romantic.
A Secret Sisterhood serves as a feminist biography of its subjects, and gives insight into the writing of their most enduring works. These women shared their personal and professional lives with each other, and the connections are deep and human. Here is new perspective on women we thought we knew, and on female friendship overall. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and publicist
Discover: Two women uncover the important history of creative friendships between beloved female authors and their fellow writers.
by Anna Faris
It's difficult to avoid feeling bittersweet after reading actress Anna Faris's Unqualified, since it's mostly a Valentine to her recently estranged husband, actor Chris Pratt. The glowing foreword from him, her effusive thanks to him and "wish we had more words for love" in the final acknowledgments, and all the mentions in between of how great a husband he is (there's a whole section devoted to this, in which she advises "you can just skip this chapter if it makes you hate me or want to puke")--it makes one wonder: How much of the rosy picture was true or sugarcoated?
Aside from that, Faris is an amiable storyteller. The book, based on her podcast, is intended to give relationship advice, so that others can avoid the mistakes she's made and discover their own strength and independence. The actress is known for playing women who are spacy or stoned, but she's sharper than her characters, having graduated from the University of Washington with an English degree. She recognizes that as a white person and as a Hollywood star, she has advantages, but she is determined to remain humble (perhaps too determined, since she repeatedly insists she's not qualified to give any advice). The main takeaway is that she has a genuine desire to provide best friend-type encouragement and spread positivity. It's sad that her dreams of growing old with Pratt won't materialize, but Faris's positive attitude--and fans rooting for her--will likely help her find fulfilment wherever she ends up. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Actress Anna Faris gives advice about love and relationships.
Garden of the Lost and Abandoned: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Woman and the Children She Saves
by Jessica Yu
In Garden of the Lost and Abandoned, documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu tells the inspiring story of a vivacious, selfless, determined woman who's found genuine happiness helping those others have forgotten. Widowed, unemployed and middle-aged, Gladys Kalibbala entered a journalism program for college-bound students. When the other participants headed off to universities, Gladys used the new skills and her own inquisitive personality to convince Uganda's largest newspaper, New Vision, to give her a shot as a reporter. Gladys's penchant for human-interest stories led to a weekly column covering lost children and forever changed her life.
The objective of her "Lost and Abandoned" articles is to reunite children with their families. As Yu describes her, Gladys is "a foot soldier: out in the field, boots on the ground." She details the incredible lengths to which Gladys goes to find relatives. When that doesn't happen, or for cases with special circumstances, Gladys becomes even more personally involved, finding resources for food, clothes, shelter, medical attention and education. She takes a passionate interest in the success of her young subjects. They become her children, and she, their mother.
Gladys knows that "a person's story might head in a dark direction, but that did not mean it was destined to end in tragedy." Hers is one of hope and love; Yu narrates it with admiration, compassion and humor. Her descriptions of the central players and the African setting shine with the reverence of one who recognizes the beauty and strength wildflowers possess as they bloom amid the weeds. Garden of the Lost and Abandoned is a gorgeously uplifting antidote to the ugly proliferation of greed, apathy and hate. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A Ugandan journalist takes on a new role in middle age: "mother" to hundreds of orphaned children.
Children's & Young Adult
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth
by Oliver Jeffers
Author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers (The Day the Crayons Quit; A Child of Books) distills the basics of life, the universe and everything else into child-sized bites in an adorable reminder that "[y]ou're never alone on Earth."
Addressing an infant, Jeffers's narrator begins in inky blue-black space, quickly narrowing his focus to a shadowy Earth with a crayon-scribble polar ice cap. He explains our planet in terms of land, sea and sky, "[t]hough that can get pretty complicated." The real lessons begin on a spread filled with diverse people, including a tennis player wearing a hijab, a female astronaut, two brides holding hands and a parent and child in whimsical matching diving bells. Jeffers explains that though we all may be different, we are all still people. The following pages contain gentle nudges to treat all life with kindness, make the most of a finite lifespan and care for our planet, closing on an assurance that a supportive family will answer any future questions.
Conceived as a series of notes for his infant son, Jeffers's primer is infused with his wry humor, such as earnestly encouraging care for the human body "as most bits don't grow back." A broad palette starring deep blue and violet lends depth and restfulness to a seamless blend of media including paint, crayon and digital. Straightforward and disarming, Here We Are will provide parents and other grownups with plenty of jumping off points for helping children get the knack of how to live here. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: What began as notes about life for his infant son is now a whimsically illustrated picture book by author, illustrator and new father Oliver Jeffers.
The Doldrums and the Helmsley Curse
by Nicholas Gannon
Two months after their botched attempt to find and rescue his grandparents who, it is rumored, were abandoned on an iceberg in Antarctica, Archer B. Helmsley and his friends Adélaïde and Oliver begin to hear new rumors:
Rachel and Ralph Helmsley are alive and well and returning home to Rosewood.
The Helmsleys orchestrated their own disappearance.
The Helmsleys have lost their minds and are out to destroy the Society, an explorers' organization, to which they belong.
The Helmsleys have cursed the city with Antarctic-like weather.
Having not seen his grandparents since he was an infant, Archer is dazzled by them when they finally show up: "His grandparents were practically fictional characters to him. He'd read their journals. He knew their tales. They'd crashed planes in the desert and been lost in jungles. But now, here they were, two giants, stepping off the page and into the Helmsley House kitchen." Things go downhill quickly for the elder Helmsleys, though, when the Society votes to ostracize them. Archer and his friends, who only recently bonded in that ill-fated Antarctica expedition (see The Doldrums, Book One), find themselves delving deep into the mysteries surrounding his grandparents and the Society in hopes of salvaging the Helmsley family name.
In this wildly whimsical stand-alone sequel to The Doldrums, Nicholas Gannon once again thrills and chills his readers with the adventures of characters who could have stepped out of A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Withering-by-the-Sea. Gannon's stunning colored-pencil drawings and black-and-white spot illustrations turn an exciting book into a complete package, perfect for readers who like their adventures mysterious and their mysteries adventurous. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In a stand-alone sequel to Nicholas Gannon's The Doldrums, Archer and his friends continue their adventures, this time deep into the mysterious Society of explorers and naturalists.
This Chicken Is a T-Rex!: The Great Big Book of Animal Evolution
by Christina M. Banfi , Cristina Peraboni , Rita Mabel Schiavo , illust. by Román García Mora
While the text of This Chicken Is a T-Rex! is thorough, it is the intricately detailed illustrations by Román García Mora that will keep children returning to its double-page spreads.
Each spread focuses on the evolution of a specific type of animal ("The Origin of Birds") or an animal feature ("A brief history of the very useful trunk!"). For each topic, there is a block of comprehensive text and several paintings of the different evolutionary stages of related animals, captioned with more information. Accompanying stencil-like images of children, adults and occasional modern animals show scale in a very accessible manner.
On many spreads, there are additional explanatory diagrams, usually sketches of skulls and bone formations. For example, the first spread introduces the T-Rex's relationship to the modern-day chicken, linking dinosaurs and birds: "What is the proof? It seems to be a protein found in the fossils of the bones... [that is] found today in birds and not found in reptiles." The T-Rex is pictured in all its glory, a green outline of a girl under its large mouth and small chickens pecking along the ground. There is an occasional awkward sentence in this translation from the Italian, but the prehistoric animals that stride across its pages will attract everyone's attention. Ancestors of today's dragonflies, elephants, whales, wombats and armadillos will provide endless hours of scientific wonderment for the curious reader. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Amazing illustrations of prehistoric animals appear alongside humans and modern animals to show evolution in action.
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches
by John Hodgman
John Hodgman, an actor who became known for his role as the "PC" in Apple's popular "Get a Mac" commercials in the mid-2000s, is also the author of three oddball almanacs filled with jokey trivia. With Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, however, he delivers a whip-smart and often deeply touching collection of personal essays that cover a range of topics, including family life, celebrityhood and, as the title suggests, the art of vacationing.
Hodgman's departure from goofy list-making stems, in part, from the realization he's mortal: "I was sitting in... a used-book store... where I had written a lot of my first two books, and I was now trying to start another. But I was having trouble because I had just realized that I was not going to live forever." That realization becomes a theme that snakes through each essay, giving rise to both hilarious anecdotes (such as overcoming a fear to swim in a local creek) and affecting insights into his psyche (like his need to hang on to his parents' old house to feel close to his late mother).
He writes about his famous friends and two vacation homes, but instead of wholly celebrating his wealth and advantages, he explores its reach, often questioning in earnest how much of his success is owed to being from a well-to-do family and being a straight, white man.
Funny, poignant and clever, Vacationland is the work of a writer who knows that a key to being funny is being honest. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A thoughtful and often hilarious collection of personal essays by the actor, author and humorist.
Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews
by Jonathan Cott, editor
Bob Dylan--both the pop-culture myth and flesh-and-blood man--emerges as never before in this definitive collection of interviews with the Nobel Laureate.
Edited by Rolling Stone's Jonathan Cott, Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews covers nearly 50 years of Dylan in dialogue with various journalists and publications. At the start, there is a 1962 interview with radio station WBAI in New York, and at the end a Rolling Stone interview in 2009. In between are memorable encounters with Kurt Loder, Sam Shepard, Jonathan Lethem, Nora Ephron and Cott himself. The materials range from transcripts of conversations to full-on feature stories.
Dylan proves to be consistently fascinating and mercurial. The interviews cover some well-known ground (Dylan's controversial conversion from folk to electric rock music), some myth busting (he emphatically denies taking his name from poet Dylan Thomas) and lesser-known territory (his experience with born-again Christianity and Judaism). Cumulatively, the interviews strip away some of the trappings of fame and reveal a gifted, multidimensional artist who is also painfully human in the way he grapples with identity and beliefs. It's hard not to see the seeds of his acclaimed 1997 album Time Out of Mind early on. "You must be vulnerable to be sensitive to reality," Dylan tells Cott in a 1978 interview. It's in the same interview that Dylan says the highest purpose of art is to inspire: "What else can you do for anyone but inspire them?" --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: This wisely curated collection of interviews with Bob Dylan shows the vulnerable side of the legendary songwriter.
Art & Photography
The Secret Lives of Color
by Kassia St. Clair
Which color was named after a battle near Milan? It was a shade of pinkish-purple, and one of the 75 hues explored in Kassia St. Clair's exuberant, encyclopedic The Secret Lives of Color, which details the strange and entertaining narratives of colors.
St. Clair, a columnist for Elle Decoration, opens with a crash course on color vision, reviewing the basics of the visible light spectrum, rods, cones, color blindness and the variability of color interpretation. Next, she offers background on artists' pigments, cultural contexts of colors, their politics and the effects of language on perception. But the bulk of The Secret Lives of Color lies in its brief yet delightful histories behind the hues St. Clair has curated. Just as delightfully, the book's pages themselves burst with color, tangible tints alongside tales.
St. Clair organizes her work in terms of color family, beginning with white and moving into shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, purple, blue, green, brown and black. She culls heavily, but not exclusively, from European history, delving into art, fashion and politics. She explores the notion of gendered colors and their effects, noting "the pink tax," the shift in military uniforms marked by the adoption of khaki, and the anthropological curiosity that was "mummy brown," made from ground-up human bodies (naturally). There's also the somewhat recent 1980s' acid yellow and stories of rusty red hematite dating to the Paleolithic era in almost every continent.
And as for the color named after the battle near Milan? Magenta. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This kaleidoscopic collection compiles the captivating and surprising stories behind many of the colors right in front of our eyes.