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This Week’s Book Talks 1/30-2/3

3 Feb

I intended to bookend the week with nonfiction.

Monday I talked about this classic:

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I saved this one for today, but the weather prevented me from book talking it. Yes, we have another day off due to freezing rain. The streets are covered in ice. I guess I will start next week with We’ve Got a Job.

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In between, I talked up these three gems:51hhnx3g3jl-_sx334_bo1204203200_

I will read anything Stuart Gibbs writes!

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Every breath

19 Jan

I read several books during the snow week we just had, and have written in the past about my Grandmother’s experience in a tuberculosis sanatorium.  Two books I read during my unexpected vacation got me thinking about her again.

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The first, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill,  by Megan Shepherd, was not what i was expecting. I thought it was going to be a war story. It is set during the Second World War, and might even be considered an allegory for it. But the real story focuses on the experiences of a young girl in an isolated hospital (which I suspect was a tuberculosis sanatorium) in the English countryside.

Publisher’s Summary:There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospitalthe mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.

One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?

The second made me weep. If you haven’t read When Breath Becomes Air  by Paul Kalanithi, you must. If you never read nonfiction, you must read this beautiful reflection by a man, a doctor, as he comes to the end of his life.

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Publisher’s Summary: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

Books to save your life

25 Jul

My dad died a year ago today.

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I got a little weepy at my niece’s high school graduation when I read in the program that she had won an award from the local Masonic Lodge. My dad was a lifelong Mason and he would have been so proud to see her get that award. I like to think he was looking down on her that day.

 As a book lover, I turned to literature for some help. Shortly after his passing, I read H is for Hawk  by Helen Macdonald. Last Christmas, my twin sister gave me They left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s memoir about coping with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

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Publisher’s Summary: After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.

But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything
 is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

I can think of many friends and colleagues, all middle-aged,  who might benefit from reading this book, who also have aging parents.

Earlier this year I read an excellent New Yorker article entitled “Can reading Make You Happier?” which was all about bibliotherapy. It turns out my local public library actually had the book mentioned in the article,  The Novel Cure  by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.

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In my pursuit of this topic, I also came across this gem:

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There are many other similar books out there. I hope that you can find some solace, support and hope in whatever books you choose to read.

Alan Turing Decoded

9 Jun

As he did in his graphic biography Feynman

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Jim Ottaviani explores the life and work of another scientist in his newest work.

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The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded explores Turing’s youth, education and war experiences that lead him to

Publisher’s Summary: English mathematician and scientist Alan Turing (1912–1954) is credited with many of the foundational principles of contemporary computer science. The Imitation Game presents a historically accurate graphic novel biography of Turing’s life, including his groundbreaking work on the fundamentals of cryptography and artificial intelligence. His code breaking efforts led to the cracking of the German Enigma during World War II, work that saved countless lives and accelerated the Allied defeat of the Nazis. While Turing’s achievements remain relevant decades after his death, the story of his life in post-war Europe continues to fascinate audiences today.

Award-winning duo Jim Ottaviani (the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Feynman and Primates) and artist Leland Purvis (an Eisner and Ignatz Award nominee and occasional reviewer for the Comics Journal) present a factually detailed account of Turing’s life and groundbreaking research—as an unconventional genius who was arrested, tried, convicted, and punished for being openly gay, and whose innovative work still fuels the computing and communication systems that define our modern world. Computer science buffs, comics fans, and history aficionados will be captivated by this riveting and tragic story of one of the 20th century’s most unsung heroes.

The real focus of the book is Turing’s mind and how it was consumed with his theoretical ideas. It is written as interviews with Turing and various important people in his life. Each sheds light on different aspects of his life. Because I’d seen the movie,  starring Benjamin Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, I was able to easily follow the story, but I wonder if it would be as easy a path to follow if I hadn’t.

 

Keeping cool

5 Jun

We are having a heat wave. It was almost 100°F yesterday and will be so again today. What better way to pass the time, locked in the only room with air conditioning, than by reading about the Arctic.

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The title tells you what the book, by Peggy Caravantes, is all about: Marooned in the Arctic:The True Story of Ada Blackjack, the Female Robinson Crusoe.

Goodreads Summary:In 1921, four men ventured into the Arctic for a top-secret expedition: an attempt to claim uninhabited Wrangel Island in northern Siberia for Great Britain. With the men was a young Inuit woman named Ada Blackjack, who had signed on as cook and seamstress to earn money to care for her sick son. Conditions soon turned dire for the team when they were unable to kill enough game to survive. Three of the men tried to cross the frozen Chukchi Sea for help but were never seen again, leaving Ada with one remaining team member who soon died of scurvy. Determined to be reunited with her son, Ada learned to survive alone in the icy world by trapping foxes, catching seals, and avoiding polar bears. After she was finally rescued in August 1923, after two years total on the island, Ada became a celebrity, with newspapers calling her a real “female Robinson Crusoe.” The first young adult book about Blackjack’s remarkable story, Marooned in the Arctic includes sidebars on relevant topics of interest to teens, including the use cats on ships, the phenomenon known as Arctic hysteria, and aspects of Inuit culture and beliefs. With excerpts from diaries, letters, and telegrams; historic photos; a map; source notes; and a bibliography, this is an indispensable resource for any young adventure lover, classroom, or library.

Fortunately for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, we won’t have wait as long as Ada for relief. We will be back to normal May temperatures by Wednesday.

Small but vital reporters

23 May

In the late 80’s and early 90’s I loved listening to a CBC radio programme called Double Exposure. Satirizing contemporary Canadian politics, the show starred Linda Cullen and Bob Robertson, and focused primarily on the stars’ voice impersonations of Canadian political and cultural figures. One of my favorite segments has Cullen personifying “Victoria Penner, small but vital reporter”.

For a while, I’d considered journalism as a career, but hadn’t wanted to end up doing human interest stories on a small town paper and laughed as Cullen confirmed my decision to go into teaching instead. Of course, I wanted to be a famous foreign correspondent or at the very least, a substantial figure in Canadian political journalism. I didn’t think I had the killer instinct it would take to get ahead in, what was still, a male dominated career. Writing would be my avocation, but not my career.

With these memories swirling in my memory, I happily found myself reading two books about female journalists that would make a fabulous fiction, non-fiction pairing.

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Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter, by the amazingly named Beth Fantaskey, is set in 1920’s Chicago. Isabel is a small but intrepid newsie, who longs to be a reporter.

Goodreads Summary:It’s 1920s Chicago—the guns-and-gangster era of Al Capone—and it’s unusual for a girl to be selling the Tribune on the street corner. But ten-year-old Isabel Feeney is unusual . . . unusually obsessed with being a news reporter. She can’t believe her luck when she stumbles not only into a real-live murder scene, but also into her hero, the famous journalist Maude Collier. The story of how the smart, curious, loyal Isabel fights to defend the honor of her accused friend and latches on to the murder case like a dog on a pant leg makes for a winning, thoroughly entertaining middle grade mystery.

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Before the era of Isabel’s adventure, Nellie Bly was setting the standard for stunt journalism, when even fewer women worked in the news industry. Deborah Noyes’ Ten Days a Madwoman,  takes us to the start of Bly’s career and the first stunt that made her a household name.

Publisher’s Summary: Young Nellie Bly had ambitious goals, especially for a woman at the end of the nineteenth century, when the few female journalists were relegated to writing columns about cleaning or fashion. But fresh off a train from Pittsburgh, Nellie knew she was destined for more and pulled a major journalistic stunt that skyrocketed her to fame: feigning insanity, being committed to the notorious asylum on Blackwell’s Island, and writing a shocking exposé of the clinic’s horrific treatment of its patients.

Nellie Bly became a household name as the world followed her enthralling career in “stunt” journalism that raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.

Celebrating

1 May

My stomach was knot most of Friday mooring as I awaited the announcement of the ALSC elections. I was one of ten people on the ballot for the 2018 Robert F Sibert Informational Book Award, but only five of us would be elected. When the e-mail arrived, I took a deep breath before opening it.

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Dear Adrienne,

Congratulations upon your election to the 2018 (Robert F.) Sibert Award Selection Committee!

A copy of the election results will be posted at the end of business today. Your term of appointment will begin with the adjournment of the ALA 2016 Annual Conference in Orlando, FL and ends with the adjournment of the 2018 Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA. You will be receiving a letter from the ALSC office with your official paperwork.  Again, congratulations!

Thank you,

Courtney

I squealed quietly (I was at work, after all) and went next door to tell my teaching partner my good news.

For now, I just get to bask in the celebratory glow that is enveloping me. My term doesn’t officially begin until July 1st. My job will be to read as many informational (non-fiction) books with a 2017 publication date. It means I will have to go to conferences in Atlanta in January 2017, Chicago in June 2017, Denver in February 2018 and New Orleans  in June 2018.

 

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