And a very joyous la fête du 14-juillet to you, beloved patrons!
July 14th is indeed the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, when, in 1789, some 950 inhabitants of Paris, who were opposed to Louis XVI and his conservative regime, gathered around the Bastille prison in the hopes of securing the cannon, gunpowder, and other weaponry being housed there. Three of the crowd were sent into the prison to negotiate with the 32 guards who were posted inside, but after hours has passed, the crowd grew impatient, and began marching into the inner courtyard. Panicked, the soldiers began shouting at the crowd to disperse, but in the confusion, their calls were mistaken as a welcome to enter. Gunfire started (I couldn’t find an accurate assessment of who first opened fire), and the crowd quickly turned into a mob, while the handful of guards were reinforced with guards and cannon. Fearing a massive loss of life, the Governor de Launay capitulated around 5:30pm, and the now-mob swept in to liberate the fortress. Fearing reprisals at the hands of government, the citizens of Paris began building barricades in the streets and arming themselves, officially marking the battle lines of the French Revolution.
The holiday, however, began in 1790, when a feast was held to celebrate peace and the unity of the French nation. Another feast was held in 1878 to commemorate and celebrate the French nation–a celebration that was commemorated in the painting by Monet above–and was such a rousing success that the day was enshrined as a national holiday in 1880. So you don’t have to wish anyone a “Happy Bastille Day”, or anything like that. But you can come in and check out some of the wonderful new books that have pirouetted onto our shelves this week!
Why?: What Makes Us Curious: An astrophysicist himself, Mario Livio is fascinated by the mechanisms that make human curiosity–why we are more distracted by only hearing one side of a conversation, why we care about places and people and things we cannot see before us. Why we invent thins. In order to attempt to answer these questions, Livio interviewed scientists, examined the lives of two of history’s most curious geniuses, Leonardo da Vinci and Richard Feynman, and talked to people with boundless curiosity: a superstar rock guitarist who is also an astrophysicist; an astronaut with degrees in computer science, biology, literature, and medicine. And in this enormously readable book, he concludes that there is no definitive scientific consensus about why we humans are so curious, or about the mechanisms in our brain that are responsible for curiosity–but doesn’t that just make you more curious in the end? Livio’s work has earned praise from Nobel winners, scientists, and readers alike, with Kirkus Reviews calling this fascinating book “A lively, expert, and definitely not dumbed-down account of why we’re curious.”
The Reason You’re Alive: From the author who brought you the Silver Linings Playbook comes another fascinating tale that transforms a personal journey into some much, much bigger. After sixty-eight-year-old Vietnam Vet David Granger crashes his BMW, medical tests reveal a brain tumor that he readily attributes to his wartime Agent Orange exposure. He wakes up from surgery repeating a name no one in his civilian life has ever heard–that of a Native American soldier whom he was once ordered to discipline, and whom David is now determined to track down and make amends. As David confronts his past to salvage his present, a poignant portrait emerges: that of an opinionated and good-hearted American patriot fighting to stay true to his red, white, and blue heart, even as the country he loves rapidly changes in ways he doesn’t always like or understand. Through the controversial, wrenching, and wildly honest David Granger, Matthew Quick offers a no-nonsense but ultimately hopeful view of America’s polarized psyche that Publisher’s Weekly calls “Dark, funny, and surprisingly tender.”
Gork, the Teenage Dragon: With a title like this, how could you not resist a peek into Gabe Hudson’s debut novel? Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave. In the course of his interactions with his fellow dragons, from the nerds to the jocks, from Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist to Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords, Gork begins to realize that his biggest weakness–that big heart of his–may just be the secret power he needed all along. This is a delightful, silly, honest, and uplifting coming-of-age tale that will capture the hearts of readers of any age, and that Publisher’s Weekly hailed as “Cleverly plotted and executed. . . . Gork’s amusing growing-up story unfolds in vignettes of encounters with various kooky fellow dragons. Throughout, Hudson makes…brilliant reflections on humans’ often reptilian behavior.”
Hannibal: If everything you know about Hannibal begins and ends with elephants, you are definitely not alone. But thanks to Patrick Hunt’s insightful new biography, you can realize what an incredible tactician and leader Hannibal really was, and just what an impact he had during his life, even though he was by no means undefeated…or, indeed, successful. Nevertheless, to this day Hannibal is still regarded as a military genius. Napoleon, George Patton, and Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. are only some of the generals who studied and admired him. His strategy and tactics are still taught in military academies. He is one of the figures of the ancient world whose life and exploits never fail to impress. Historian Patrick N. Hunt has led archeological expeditions in the Alps and elsewhere to study Hannibal’s achievements. Now he brings Hannibal’s incredible story to life in this riveting and dramatic book. Though this is a book that will definitely appeal to military history buffs, Library Journal points out that “The military history is thorough and balanced. . . . Drawing on both ancient and modern scholarship, this book is accessible for the nonspecialist; military history buffs will enjoy.”
Live from Cairo: Another debut here, this one from Ian Bassingthwaighte, whose own work in refugee legal aid informs much of this story about an American attorney, a methodical Egyptian translator, and a disillusioned Iraqi-American resettlement officer trying to protect a refugee, Dalia, who finds herself trapped in Cairo during the turbulent aftermath of the January 25, 2011 revolution. As these individuals come together, united to save Dalia, laws are broken, friendships and marriages are tested, and lives are risked—all in an effort to protect one person from the dangerous sweep of an unjust world. Though very much a book of–and for–the times, Bassingthwaighte’s work is also a story about the human need to seek connections and hope in the darkest of moments, and the joys that can be found, even in the midst of tragedy and fear. Kirkus gave this book one of its many starred reviews, saying “There are far too many great things about this book to list in this small space: the tension and energy of the plot…the richness and subtlety of detail in the writing…profoundly humanizing the global refugee crisis. Bassingthwaighte’s virtuoso debut deserves the widest attention.”
Until next week, beloved patrons, Happy Reading!