Five Book Friday!

And many very warm Free-For-All birthday wishes to Francesco Petrarca, commonly referred to as Petrarch, who was born on this day in 1304.  Quite literally the first Renaissance man, Petrarch was a scholar, poet, ambassador, professional tourist, epic correspondent, and intellectual who helped establish the period known as the Renaissance–specifically because he defined the “Dark Ages” as the period before his birth.

Petrarch himself, via Wikipedia

But despite Petrarch’s being upheld throughout time as a leading light of intellectualism, art, and the humanities, but let’s, for a few moments, focus on something a little more…human.  Petrarch loved his cat.  In fact, he loved his cat so much that when it died, he had it embalmed and placed in a glass case in his house in Arqua, Italy.  Below the case, is a marble slab with a poem written in 1635 by the next owner of the house as a joke of sorts, mocking Petrarch’s affinity for his feline friend.  Indeed, there are those who claim the whole thing, from cat to display case, is a kind of hoax meant to entice tourists.  You can still see it today if you visit Petrarch’s house in Arqua, or in the photo below (a note: we’re not sure quite why the cat is hairless.  Perhaps it’s because of the embalming process, or perhaps it’s the result of wear and tear over time.)  You are welcome to decide for yourself.

Petrarch’s Cat, via

And while we’re on the subject, let’s have a talk about other literary matters, shall we?  Especially about the new books that have crept in, like the fog, on little cat’s feet, and are currently waiting on our shelves for your arrival!

The Calculating Stars: Mary Robinette Kowal has an imagination as wide as the cosmos, and in this new novel, she turns her talent to creating an alternate history of spaceflight that will appeal to all fans of Hidden Figures.  On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This is a book that is being celebrated by reviewers and readers alike, including Publisher’s Weekly, who gave it a starred review and noted “Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.”

The Mere Wife: Maria Dahvana Headley’s book is, simply, a re-telling of the ancient epic Beowulf, about a knight who defeats a monster and his mother before being destroyed by a dragon.  However, in Headley’s capable hands, this is also a story about contemporary America, motherhood and identity that is as prescient as it is timeless.  From the perspective of those who live in Herot Hall, the suburb is a paradise. Picket fences divide buildings―high and gabled―and the community is entirely self-sustaining.  But for those who live surreptitiously along Herot Hall’s periphery, the subdivision is a fortress guarded by an intense network of gates, surveillance cameras, and motion-activated lights. For Willa, the wife of Roger Herot (heir of Herot Hall), life moves at a charmingly slow pace. She flits between mommy groups, playdates, cocktail hour, and dinner parties, always with her son, Dylan, in tow. Meanwhile, in a cave in the mountains just beyond the limits of Herot Hall lives Gren, short for Grendel, as well as his mother, Dana, a former soldier who gave birth as if by chance. Dana didn’t want Gren, didn’t plan Gren, and doesn’t know how she got Gren, but when she returned from war, there he was. When Gren, unaware of the borders erected to keep him at bay, ventures into Herot Hall and runs off with Dylan, Dana’s and Willa’s worlds collide.  Booklist is just one of the outlets to give this title a starred review, calling it “[A] stunner: a darkly electric reinterpretation of Beowulf that upends its Old English framework to comment on the nature of heroes and how we ‘other’ those different from ourselves… A strange tale told with sharp poetic imagery and mythic fervor.”

To the Bridge: A True Story of Motherhood and MurderOn May 23, 2009, Amanda Stott-Smith drove to the middle of the Sellwood Bridge in Portland, Oregon, and dropped her two children into the Willamette River. Forty minutes later, rescuers were able to save seven-year-old Trinity, but were unable to save four-year-old Eldon, whose body was recovered from the scene.   Stott-Smith was convicted and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison; but journalist Nancy Rommelmann remained convinced that there was more to the story: What made a mother want to murder her own children?  Embarking on a seven-year quest for the truth, Rommelmann traced the roots of Amanda’s fury and desperation through thousands of pages of records, withheld documents, meetings with lawyers and convicts, and interviews with friends and family who felt shocked, confused, and emotionally swindled by a woman whose entire life was now defined by an unspeakable crime. At the heart of that crime: a tempestuous marriage, a family on the fast track to self-destruction, and a myriad of secrets and lies as dark and turbulent as the Willamette River.  This is a difficult, challenging book that seeks in some way to understand that which seems incomprehensible, and to see through the eyes of one whose actions seem indefensible and unforgivable.  It’s not an easy read by any sense, but Rommelmann’s stunning insight, empathy, and journalistic excellence makes it a compelling and important work.  Robert Kolker, author of Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, wrote a beautiful blurb for this book, explaining that “Nancy Rommelmann takes what many consider the most unforgivable of crimes—a mother set on murdering her own children—and delivers something thoughtful and provocative: a deeply reported, sensitively told, all-too-relevant tragedy of addiction and codependency, toxic masculinity, and capricious justice. You won’t be able to look away—nor should any of us.”

Celestial Bodies: How to Look at Ballet: As much as we all might enjoy the classical music that accompanies ballet, and no matter how fundamental to our humanity dancing might be, the art of ballet itself can often seem inaccessible to those not in “the know”.  In this engaging and accessible book, dance critic Laura Jacobs makes the foreign familiar, providing a lively, poetic, and uniquely accessible introduction to the world of classical dance. Combining history, interviews with dancers, technical definitions, descriptions of performances, and personal stories, Jacobs offers an intimate and passionate guide to watching ballet and understanding the central elements of choreography.  None other than Misty Copeland herself wrote a review of this book for The New York Times Review of Books, saying in part, “Jacobs’s book opens the door, offering a meticulous introduction to the art form and welcoming readers to have a seat and stay a while…. It’s from this insider’s perspective that Jacobs is able to offer an all-encompassing guided tour behind the curtain, then circling back to the auditorium where the balletomane, the occasional fan and the newcomer sit side by side as they interpret the performance according to their individual experiences and beliefs.”

Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray: From the artistic to the natural, physics researcher Sabine Hossenfelder’s newest book seeks to complicate our understanding of nature by accepting and reveling in all its messiness, rather than attempting to hold nature to our transient and shifting standards of ‘beauty’.  The belief in beauty, Hossenfelder argues, has become so dogmatic that it now conflicts with scientific objectivity: observation has been unable to confirm mindboggling theories, like supersymmetry or grand unification, invented by physicists based on aesthetic criteria. Worse, these “too good to not be true” theories are actually untestable and they have left the field in a cul-de-sac. To escape, physicists must rethink their methods. Only by embracing reality as it is can science discover the truth.  This is a book for math and science lovers, but it is also one that laypeople can enjoy, and learn from, as well.  As Popular Science encouraged readers, “Eavesdrop on accessible and frank conversations in Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math, which wrestles with big questions of quantum mechanics and beauty in a fun, fascinating way.”


Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

The 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards!

The 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards winners were announced July 15, 2018 during Readercon 29 at the Quincy Marriott in Quincy MA.,

As we noted last year,  the Shirley Jackson Awards are named after the beloved and revered author of such seminal works as “The Lottery” (among a phenomenal collection of short stories), We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House.  In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards recognize outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.  This year’s nominees represent some of the most intriguing, rule-breaking, genre-defying, intensely engaging reads of the past year (in our opinion, anyway…and that of the judges…).  Thus, you can only guess how terrific the winners’ books are!

So here is a selection from the categories of winners and nominees for the 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards, with links to the titles in our catalogs.  We hope you find some new books to add to your list here, and would love to help you find even more dark fiction to add to your summer reading!

WINNERThe Hole, by Hye-young Pyun


Novella (tie)
WINNER: The Lost Daughter Collective, Lindsey Drager
WINNER: Fever Dream, Samantha Schweblin


Single-Author Collection
WINNERHer Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado


Edited Anthology
WINNERShadows and Tall Trees Volume 7, edited by Michael Kelly (Speak with a Library staff member to access this title)


  • Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales, edited by Ellen Datlow
  • The Djinn Falls in Love, edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin
  • Looming Low Volume 1, edited by Justin Steele & Sam Cowan (Speak with a Library staff member to access this title)
  • Tales From a Talking Board, edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Speak with a Library staff member to access this title)

Peabody Library Summer Staff Selections! (Part 6)

Every year, we at the Free For All ask the Peabody Library staff about the books, films, and music recordings that they would like to recommend to you for your summer reading/viewing/listening pleasure, and every year, we are delighted with the variety, the diversity, and the genuinely excellent recommendations that we receive.  We will be offering suggestions over the course of the summer, beloved patrons, in the hopes of helping you find a new favorite story to savor over the coming summer months.  Feel free to share your favorites with us, as well!  As our public services desk model has changed, you’ll note the headings on our recommendations has changed, as well.  Please feel free to speak with any Library staff member about finding a book to brighten your summer.

From the Public Service Desk: 

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter: Dexter’s Inspector Morse is one of the most famous detectives of the modern era, and this case introduces him in all his curmudgeonly glory.  It was late at night when Sylvia Kaye and another young woman had been seen hitching a ride not long before Sylvia’s bludgeoned body is found outside a pub in Woodstock, near Oxford. Inspector Morse is sure the other hitchhiker can tell him much of what he needs to know. But his confidence is shaken by the cool inscrutability of the girl he’s certain was Sylvia’s companion on that ill-fated September evening. Shrewd as Morse is, he’s also distracted by the complex scenarios that the murder set in motion among Sylvia’s girlfriends and their Oxford playmates. To grasp the painful truth, and act upon it, requires from Morse the last atom of his professional discipline.
From Our Staff:This series is one of my all-time favorites, and I’m really enjoying re-reading them this summer.  Fans of Morse should check out the television adaptations  of his cases, and the show Endeavourwhich imagines Morse at the beginning of his career!

In Her Skin by Kim Savage: This is a twisted, dark tale about identities–those we steal, those we forget, and those for which we are willing to fight, that zips along at a unsettling, break-neck pace.  Fifteen-year-old con artist Jo Chastain takes on her biggest fraud yet―impersonating a missing girl. Life on the streets of Boston these past few years hasn’t been easy, and she hopes to cash in on a little safety, some security. She finds her opportunity with the Lovecrafts, a wealthy family tied to the unsolved disappearance of Vivienne Weir, who vanished when she was nine.   When Jo takes on Vivi’s identity and stages the girl’s miraculous return, the Lovecrafts welcome her with open arms. They give her everything she could want: love, money, and proximity to their intoxicating and unpredictable daughter, Temple. But nothing is as it seems in the Lovecraft household―and some secrets refuse to stay buried. When hidden crimes come to the surface and lines of deception begin to blur, Jo must choose to either hold on to an illusion of safety or escape the danger around her before it’s too late.
From Our Staff: This book is about all the horrible things we are willing to do to survive–but still manages to be hopeful and insightful and even beautiful at times.  I’m not sure I enjoyed reading, but I’m really grateful that I got to hear Kim Savage’s powerful, wholly unique voice, and can’t wait to read more!

From the Upstairs Offices:

Waking by Matthew Sanford: Matt Sanford’s life and body were irrevocably changed at age 13 on a snowy Iowa road when his family’s car skidded off an overpass, killing Matt’s father and sister and left him paralyzed from the chest down. This pivotal event set Matt on a lifelong journey, from his intensive care experiences at the Mayo Clinic to becoming a paralyzed yoga teacher and founder of a nonprofit organization. Forced to explore what it truly means to live in a body, he emerges with an entirely new view of being a “whole” person.  By turns agonizingly personal, philosophical, and heartbreakingly honest, this groundbreaking memoir takes you inside the body, heart, and mind of a boy whose world has been shattered. Follow Sanford’s journey as he rebuilds from the ground up, searching for “healing stories” to help him reconnect his mind and his body.
From Our Staff: Sanford is a paraplegic yoga instructor and “Waking” is his memoir. After reading the book, I was dying to discuss it with people, so I assigned it to the library’s Mindful Reading Book Group. Even though we all agreed that it would be equally appropriate to title the book “Weeping” instead of “Waking,” the group universally loved Sanford’s story. His words deeply changed how I think about yoga, energy, and the mind-body connection, and as a yoga teacher in training, this book will change the way that I teach for the better as well. Inspiring, empowering, and healing. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

The Florida ProjectA deeply moving and poignant look at childhood, this is a film that is refreshingly different, and boasts a number of talented debuts from acting newcomers.  Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, the film follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinai) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget hotel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of compassion. Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief as she and her ragtag playmates fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter. With an impressive 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie is highly recommended, and not only by us!

From the West Branch:

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore: A novel focused on a middle-class African-American best friends trio who deal with life changes as they go through a turbulent year of middle age together. The book is relationship- and personal journey-focused, and perfect for those looking to slip into the shoes of another human being.  This diner in Plainview, Indiana is home away from home for Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean.  Dubbed “The Supremes” by high school pals in the tumultuous 1960s, they’ve weathered life’s storms for over four decades and counseled one another through marriage and children, happiness and the blues.  Now, however, they’re about to face their most challenging year yet. Proud, talented Clarice is struggling to keep up appearances as she deals with her husband’s humiliating infidelities; beautiful Barbara Jean is rocked by the tragic reverberations of a youthful love affair; and fearless Odette is about to embark on the most terrifying battle of her life. With wit, style and sublime talent, Edward Kelsey Moore brings together three devoted allies in a warmhearted novel that celebrates female friendship and second chances.

Shark (And Relatives) Week @ the Library: Part I

Today, we are pleased and proud to feature Ashur’s stellar blog post in honor of Shark Week!  We hope you enjoy!

In honor of the Discovery’s Shark Week and National Geographic’s SharkFest, this series of blog posts is dedicated to the flat sharks of oceans: skates, rays, guitarfish, chimaera. It’s not that we don’t love sharks, it’s just that their flatter siblings deserve more attention than they usually get.

A chain catshark Credit: Andy Murch

Regardless of how you feel about Shark Week, it’s become somewhat of an annual popular cultural institution in the United States since its advent in the late 1980s.

Well, what about them? First off, let’s start with what is and isn’t a shark. The Shark Trust gives us an excellent visual taxonomy of sharks and their relatives – please note that is does not include dolphins, which are often assumed to be related to sharks. I may post about dolphins in the future, but suffice to say that they’re marine mammals, not even fish, which sharks are most certainly fish.

A zebra shark, which is both a fish and a shark, gets a belly rub in New Caledonia. Credit: Aquarium des Lagons and their YT channel.

In particular, scroll down along the chart (Kingdom -> Phylum -> Class) until you get to ORDER, which is who we’ll be talking about today.

In particular, this multi-part entry will cover members of Rajiformes (rays & skates) and Pristiophoriformes (sawfish), close kin of sharks. Throughout this entry I’ll be using the term “batoid”, taken from the superorder term Batoidea  which encompasses rays, skates, mantas, torpedo fish and sawfish, among others.

Acquired via:   Still not a shark, still not a fish. The puffer fish is a fish, though.
1) What’s a batoid?  For that matter, what’s an elasmobranch?
batoid is a ray (e.g. manta ray) or a skate.  Batoids are members of superorder Batoidea, which is under subclass ElasmobranchiiElasmobranchii in turn is one of two subclasses under class Chondrichthyes, which contains cartilaginous fish, as opposed to bony fish (for the record, most fish are bony).  The other member of this class is Holocephali, the chimaera, aka the rabbitfish, ghost shark, ratfish, etc.  While chimaera are awesome, even fewer people care about them/know they exist than batoids and they merit their own entry in the future.  
A chimaera. Told you they were cute.
Elasmobranchii contains the sharks and the batoids, thus making an elasmobranch any member of subclass Elasmobranchii.  Yes, this will be on the test.
2) So…what exactly are skates and rays, then?
To be stately it crudely, they’re flat-bodied sharks.  TIME FOR VISUAL AIDS!
Smooth skate © Andy Murch
A cownose ray, my most beloved of batoids!  Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
As for the $1,000,000 question, “What’s the difference between skates and rays?”, let’s break it down bulleted list style:
-Rays bear live young.  Live birth by a manta in captivity (Japan in 2007) revealed that young manta rays come out rolled up like batoid burritos, with their wings folded. Unfortunately, this one appeared to fall victim to an abusive father after five days.

Hello little skatelet! An egg case full of skate.
-Skates lay eggs.  These eggs (egg cases, really) are awesome and are colloquially known as mermaid’s purses.  If you live near a coastline you may have been lucky enough to have found one on a beach.  Some species of shark (such as dogfish) also produce this type of egg case.  Here is a handy egg case ID chart for UK readers wondering what they’ve found on the beach.
-Rays have thin, whiplike tails; the tails of skates tend to be fleshier.  
-Rays tend to be much larger than skates.  You don’t see stuff like manta rays or the stingrays that get hauled out of the Mekong River in the skate family.
Photo credit: Zeb Hogan
-Skates don’t have the infamous tail barbs that some species of ray use for defense.  Instead, skates rely on thorns on the surface of their bodies.  Check out the image of the “smooth” skate again.  I can personally vouch that petting cownose rays is fun but I would not like to try it with a skate.

-Additionally, there are differences in dentition:  rays do the “crushing” plate form of dentition, skates have horrid little teeth.

As is so often the case, the ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research has written up a nicer, cleaner and infinitely more professional explanation than I just provided. I will also take this opportunity just to promote their site in general, given I end up on quite regularly:, my poppets!

3) Just skates and rays?  So what’s a sawfish? 

…okay, I wasn’t being completely honest with you.  In addition to skates and rays, by far the most numerous members of the group, there are sawfish and guitarfish. There are further subdivisions of guitarfish into “guitarfish” and “wedgefish” but a) these terms don’t seem to be used consistently and b) I don’t care to delve into it, given colloquial fish names are tricky business on a good day. Suffice to say that both guitarfish and wedgefish are funky batoids that look like permutations on the theme of “shark-ray”. 

Sawfish are probably the most well-known due to their fabulous rostrums, aka “saws”:

  • The spikes on the rostrum are not teeth but denticles. Denticles are a type of modified tooth, which while close to teeth, are not teeth. Bear in mind that the famous skin of sharks and sawfish are also covered in dermal denticles.  If a sawfish loses a denticle, it does not grow back.  However, that doesn’t make them not-pokey.
  • The rostrum houses electroreceptors which allow the sawfish to detect the movement and even heartbeats of buried prey.
  • In turn, rostrums (rostra?) are good tools for digging up said buried prey.  Think of them as nature’s electroreceptive denticle-lined shovels.  In a pinch, the sawfish can use them for slashing, too!
  • Like many large elasmobranchs, sawfish are endangered.

Unfortunately, like so many creatures with interesting organs, humans have been hacking them off and selling them as elixirs, charms, markers of prestige, curios, medicine, etc. forever.  In my quest for information on sawfish, I found an image of a sawfish that had had its rostrum cut off, been released and the wound had healed, effectively leaving the sawfish to live without one of its sensory organs.  I’m pretty sure you can fill in the blanks on the implications of that.  Additionally, their large oil-filled livers, bile, fins and skin are of commercial interest.

It goes without saying that this is cruel and somewhat akin to shark finning, another practice that fills me with joy and mirth.

Child with a pile of sawfish rostrums in Key West.  Not sure where the rest of the sawfish are.
Moving on to guitarfish, they’re likely more famous than they probably have any right to be, thanks to the program Ace of Cakes.  Specifically, the crew was asked to make a cake for the third birthday of Sweet Pea, a shark ray (aka a bowmouth guitarfish aka a mud skate [?!]) who resides at the Newport Aquarium in Kentuckyin the shape of Sweet Pea herself.  Here is the original:
That’s a lie, this is Scooter, Sweet Pea’s tankmate.
…and here’s Sweet Pea’s birthday cake!
For the curious, I believe the specific Ace of Cakes episode featuring Sweet Pea is called “Swimming With the Sharks”.  I vaguely remember it because I was very excited about batoids on the television.

Cakes aside, I’m not sure how much I can say about shark rays given there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of information out there about them.  I have learned that like everything else in the universe they get stuck in nets and make fisherfolk mad, they’re pretty much impossible to mistake for any other creature and the “bowmouthed” part of their name is derived from the silhouette of their head resembling a longbow.

As for “shark ray”, well, they kind of look like someone smashed and shark and ray together and they’re the result.  No idea about “mud skate” though; it’s oddly non-descriptive, given their unique appearance.

How about non-bowmouth guitarfish?

Guitarfish that lack the “bowmouth” adjective look similar to their bowmouthed relatives, but with pointier heads and a greater diversity of body shapes:

It is much harder to find good pictures of not dead/mutilated  guitarfish online than you’d think. BE NICE TO GUITARFISH
Speaking of guitarfish, the Tennessee Aquarium Blog has a couple of nice entries with lovely images showing Gibson, a giant guitarfish who lived at the aquarium for a bit when floods hit Nashville (where Gibson typically resides, the subject of many of a TripAdvisor Review) in May of 2010.  Entries on how one goes about moving a giant guitarfish and what one feeds such creatures follow.

There’s even an online story for children about a guitarfish named Gilbert, although it’s a slightly less biologically accurate representation (in all fairness, the author acknowledges this).  You should probably read it, you’ll thank me later.

However, the real awesomeness of guitarfish is what they look like underneath:


Atlantic guitarfish: dorsal and ventral views of head © George Burgess
While it’s tempting to call the lower image the guitarfish’s “face”, that’s incorrect; its eyes are on the top (dorsal) side of its body while the holes located behind the eyes are the spiracles.

WHAT’S A SPIRACLE?  I’m so glad you asked that question!  Aside from the simple answer (“Ray head holes!”), lets have an illustration from our friend the Blue-Spotted Ray:

Bluespotted ribbontail ray (Taeniura lymma) near Leyte, Philippines Photo:  Nicolai Johannesen
To be simple about it, spiracles are holes on the surfaces of some animals that are used for respiration.  They’re probably most well-known in an oceanic context from the example of batoids, but they have ample representation on land as well.  For example, many caterpillars, some types of spiders, scorpions, and others have spiracles.  LET’S HAVE A VISUAL AID
© Tufts School of Arts and Sciences
See those holes sportily dotting the side of our very hungry caterpillar?  Those are their spiracles, which they can open and close at will.  Spiracles do occur in other animals, but for purposes of our discussion we’ll focus on their presence in elasmobranchs (if you care you can look it up).  Yes, elasmobranchs, not just batoids: sharks (though not all sharks, mind you) have spiracles too.
Grey carpet shark; the spiracle is located below the eye. © David Harasti
But anyway, back to the point at hand, which was ray “faces”.  So what’re all the holes on the under (ventral) sides of their weird heads?  The mouth is pretty self-evident, it’s where they stick their food.  What ISN’T self-evident is their dentition, which is one of the big differences between skates and rays.  Rays certainly have teeth (a wide variety, in fact), but they’re fused together into “crushing plates”.  This can be somewhat difficult to mentally visualize so here’s an example of a spotted eagle ray jaw: © Cathleen Bester
This particular set of jaws is used for crushing shelled mollusks into lunch. As I said before though, there’s diversity of ray teeth so here’s an illustration of dentition from perhaps the most familiar and unfairly maligned of batoids, the stingray.  This example has the benefit of showing how the jaw actually fits into the fish’s head as well.
Dentition of yellow stingray, A. Opened mouth of female, B. Front upper teeth (above line) and rear upper teeth (below line) of female, C. Side view of upper tooth of female, D. Upper teeth of mature male, E. Side view of one tooth of same (Fishes of the Western North Atlantic, 1948)

As is so often the case though, we have an exception to the rule of ray teeth: the Shamu of the batoid world, the manta ray.  Yes, I know I’ve managed to go this entire entry without even mentioning their awesome remora-crusted forms, except when they’re beating their tortillaform offspring to death in captivity in displays of paternal care.  Mantas are filter feeders, preferring zooplankton to whelks, but they actually possess vestigial peg-shaped teeth on their lower jaw.  Poky vestigial teeth that look like this:

Manta ray teeth! Photographer: Mark McGrouther © Australian Museum
These teeth are not used for eating, but unsurprisingly, for mating.  Mantas get frisky, which is concerning when both members of congress can weigh up to 5,000 lb/2,268 kg.  Regardless, there is your manta ray dentition.  So what about skates?  Unlike rays, skates have their nice and pointy teeth arrayed prettily on their funky jaws in non-crushing plate fashion:
The big question is, will skates bite you with their pointy little teeth?  I searched the Internet in vain because the word “skate” is an unfortunate homograph in English. Additionally, there’s apparently some phenomenon related to hockey called “skate bite” that definitely does not involve batoid skates (although there is one that involves octopus).
…I was still talking about guitarfish faces, wasn’t I?  I suppose the important part isn’t so much knowing what every part of a batoid “face” is (though I encourage it!), but the fact of the matter is that picking up on resemblance of the ventral side of batoids (particularly skates) to a vaguely human idea of a grimacing face is not new.
A few hucksters back in the day (back in the day = at least as far back as the 1500s) decided to capitalize on this and gave us the Jenny Haniver: a the body of a dried skate or ray (which preserved the “face”) which was then cut and shaped to give to give it a vaguely anthropoid figure.  Some were purported to be the corpses of mermaids, some of devils (the pectoral fins of batoids came in handy for infernal capes), alien creatures, etc.
Ms. Haniver in all her glory!  This thing is incredibly cute (if you’re into mutilated batoids).
Internet rumor purports that the celebrated bishop fish, one of my personal heroes and sources of inspiration in life, may have been a Jenny Haniver, but I find this difficult to swallow, given it would be very difficult for a Jenny Haniver to a) appeal to Catholic bishops and b) make the sign of the cross before swimming off into the Baltic Sea. We’re going to ignore the fact that all of these things seem awfully impractical for any type of fish to do and just enjoy the illustration below:
Gesner, Conrad. (1587). Historiae animalium.
NOTE: If you haven’t checked out Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium you should probably run, not walk, there now.  It was published in 1587, which pretty much guarantees that is amazing and an utter delight.  This text has the distinction of featuring the angriest porcupines and beavers I have ever seen in my life.
We’ll stop right here before exploring individual groups of batoids in greater depth. In the coming weeks, I will post obligatory sections on three subjects that I kept running across as I’ve done research for this post: stingrays, manta rays and electric rays.

Here’s a video from Sharklab-Malta chronicling the rescue, rehabilitation and release of an angular rough shark that was found left in a bucket. For a more in-depth description of the rescue, Oceanographic Magazine has a write-up.

In the meantime, have a few shark and batoid-centric reading recommendations! This will be heavier on the “shark” end of things, as batoids do not appear have to experienced their own publishing renaissance quite yet.
I’d also take a moment to recognize the Elasmodiver’s (referenced earlier in this entry) reading list – if you’re looking at getting deep into writings about sharks (especially from the angle of a scientist or a. His entire website is excellent and very informative, so I recommend a visit.

Many animals elicit the same mythical terror and awe as sharks, and yet we know little about these elusive, highly engineered creatures. John A. Musick and Beverly McMillan bring us along on a thrilling adventure as they chase sharks from Bear Gulch, Montana, to a whale shark-feeding station in Okinawa, by way of Alaska, the Bimini islands, and the most sophisticated shark-research labs in the world. En route we discover that sharks navigate using electromagnetic signals, have a bloodhound’s sense of smell, are both cold- and warm-blooded, and possess biochemical weapons, which, used properly, might indeed help fend off malignant tumors and microbes.

Musick, who has spent over thirty years as a defender of the much-maligned shark, here excavates the mysterious lives of sharks from the dark recesses of the oceans–and raising the alarm about how fishing and industry are reducing their numbers and affecting their behavior. This captivating and educational scientific exploration challenges us to rethink our relationship with sharks, leaving us with the question: Are humans the prey, or the predator?

Sharks of New England, by Alessandro de Maddalena.
Lots of elasmobranch books are regional – as such, I thought it appropriate to include information on our local shark population. Readers who think sharks are a predominantly tropical species will be in for quite a surprise when they learn that the cold waters of New England are home to 33 different species. The aim of this book is to provide both accurate scientific information on sharks and to profile those species that inhabit the waters of New England.

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, by Jennifer S. Holland
This book merits a mention because of a story included about the relationship between a diver and a manta ray, but feel free to enjoy all the rest as well! Unlikely Friendships documents one heartwarming tale after another of animals who, with nothing else in common, bond in the most unexpected ways. A cat and a bird. A mare and a fawn. An elephant and a sheep. A snake and a hamster. The well-documented stories of Koko the gorilla and All Ball the kitten; and the hippo Owen and the tortoise Mzee. And almost inexplicable stories of predators befriending prey—an Indian leopard slips into a village every night to sleep with a calf.
Ms. Holland narrates the details and arc of each story, and also offers insights into why—how the young leopard, probably motherless, sought maternal comfort with the calf, and how a baby oryx inspired the same mothering instinct in the lionness.

The Encyclopedia of Sharks, by Steve and Jane Parker.

The Encyclopedia of Sharks is a richly illustrated and fact-filled reference on all the world’s species of sharks. The author debunks the fearful myths and fierce legends, providing straightforward facts and the latest research on sharks. More than 200 striking photographs show sharks in their natural habitats. Detailed drawings illustrate the anatomical features unique to sharks, such as their fearsome but short-lived teeth.

The book includes authoritative and updated information on:

  • Evolution and design of the shark
  • Classifications and orders
  • Understanding the shark
  • The life of the shark — how it feeds, breeds and migrates
  • Shark “supersense” — how it survives in the aquatic environment
  • The need for protection and conservation — how sharks are now endangered by over fishing and “finning.”

Also included is a 50-page comprehensive, all-color section featuring and explaining the world’s most important breeds.

Through its lively text, spectacular photography, and charts, maps and illustrations, The Encyclopedia of Sharks will encourage an understanding of these complex creatures.

See you next entry, dear readers!

Five Book Friday!

And numerous congratulations to Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, which was named the winner of the Golden Man Booker Prize!

As we mentioned here previously, The Golden Man Booker Prize put all 51 previous Booker Prize winners into competition with each other, “to discover which of them has stood the test of time, remaining relevant to readers today.”  Each of the five judges was assigned a decade, and was in charge of selecting the book which was representative of the strongest book from that decade.  After a public vote, Michael Ondaatje 1992 novel was announced as the winner on July 8.

Kamila Shamsie, who chose The English Patient, said of the novel:

“The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate – one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth. That movement is mirrored in the way your thoughts, while reading it, move between  large themes – war, loyalty, love – to  tiny shifts in the relationships between characters. It’s intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page. Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders as it moves between Cairo, Italy, India, England, Canada – and between deserts and villas and bomb craters. And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one does.”

We here at the Free For All send Michael Ondaatje our very heartiest congratulations–and what better way to celebrate than with more books!  Here are juts a few of the titles that made the journey onto our shelves this week and are eager to make your acquaintance!

Ayiti: We are delighted to have this reprint of Roxane Gay’s first collection of short stories here at the Library.  With her signature style, searing insight and unforgettably strong prose, Gay’s stories explore the Haitian diaspora experience: A married couple seeking boat passage to America prepares to leave their homeland. A mother takes a foreign soldier into her home as a boarder, and into her bed. And a woman conceives a daughter on the bank of a river while fleeing a horrific massacre, a daughter who later moves to America for a new life but is perpetually haunted by the mysterious scent of blood. Wise, fanciful, and daring, Ayiti is the book that put Roxane Gay on the map and now, with two previously uncollected stories, confirms her singular vision.  Kirkus Reviews wrote a lovely review for this reprint, noting “This book set the tone that still characterizes much of Gay’s writing: clean, unaffected, allowing the (often furious) emotions to rise naturally out of calm, declarative sentences. That gives her briefest stories a punch even when they come in at two pages or fewer, sketching out the challenges of assimilation in terms of accents, meals, or ‘What You Need to Know About a Haitian Woman.’ . . . This debut amply contains the righteous energy that drives all her work.”

Wicked and the Wallflower: Historical romance legend Sarah MacLean is back with the debut of a new series (The Bareknuckle Bastards) that has been getting absolute rave reviews from critics and readers–longtime readers and newcomers alike!  When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a husband, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees to his suspicious terms–on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.  Bastard son of a duke and king of London’s dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.  But there’s nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she’d rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil’s carefully laid plans are in chaos and he must choose between everything he’s ever wanted . . . and the only thing he’s ever desired.  This is a delightful romance that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff, but in doing that, creates a re-affirming, deeply meaningful story–the New York Times Review of Books agrees, noting that “The Bareknuckle Bastards…promises her darkest take yet. But even when MacLean goes dark… the sparkling wit and essential goodness of her characters shine through.”

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures: Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. But even though our fascination with whales, from the fictional Moby Dick to the humpbacks off Massachusetts’ coasts, there is still so much to learn about these wonderful creatures.  In this wide-ranging and fascinating book, Nick Pyenson, whose research has given us some powerful insight into the lives of whales, explores the world in search of a deeper understanding of the whales.  From the Smithsonian’s unparalleled fossil collections, to frigid Antarctic waters, and to the arid desert in Chile, where scientists race against time to document the largest fossil whale site ever found. Full of rich storytelling and scientific discovery, Spying on Whales spans the ancient past to an uncertain future–all to better understand the most enigmatic creatures on Earth.  Booklist gave this infectiously engrossing book a starred review, calling it “A hard-to-put-down quest to understand whales and their place on Earth.”

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest BrainsFrom the sea, then to the human brain…We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathise and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced – or disappeared overnight?  Helen Thomson has spent years travelling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders.  In this marvelous book, she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From the man who thinks he’s a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that’s not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.  There are also some fascinating lessons here about how our brains function, what precisely they do, and how you can consciously change the way you think (should you so desire).  Even in looking at the bizarre, Thomson’s work reminds us of how fundamentally human her subjects and their perceptions of the world are, recalling the work of the great Oliver Sacks.  Library Journal, which gave this book a starred review, agreed, saying, “Thomson has a gift for making the complex and strange understandable and relatable. Oliver Sacks is noted as an inspiration and, indeed, this book will appeal to his many fans.” 

The Robots of Gotham:  Todd McAulty’s debut is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that will most likely reinforce your even fear about smart devices and the pernicious power of technology.  After long years of war, the United States has sued for peace, yielding to a brutal coalition of nations ruled by fascist machines. Canadian businessman Barry Simcoe arrives in occupied Chicago days before his hotel is attacked by a rogue war machine. In the aftermath, he meets a dedicated Russian medic with the occupying army, and 19 Black Winter, a badly damaged robot. Together they stumble on a machine conspiracy to unleash a horrific plague—and learn that the fabled American resistance is not as extinct as everyone believes. Simcoe races against time to prevent the extermination of all life on the continent, and uncover a secret that America’s machine conquerors are desperate to keep hidden.  Both a techno-thriller and a medical thriller, this is a book that will have wide appeal for anyone looking to take a glimpse into a darker version of our future.  Publisher’s Weekly agrees, having given this book a starred review and noting, “This massive and impressive novel is set in an America that outlawed the development of artificial intelligence and quickly lost a short and bitter war against robot-led fascist countries… McAulty maintains breathless momentum throughout. Readers will hope for more tales of this sinister future and eagerly pick up on hints that Barry and his companions may continue their exploits”.


Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

The Beautiful Science of Clouds

Today, we are delighted to welcome Ashur back to the blog to share with us some fascinating information on the clouds above us (and some invertebrates, too!) Credit: Kevin Cho.

For readers in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, summer has arrived. This is doubly-true for New England, where we’ve been experiencing our first sustained period of “summer” weather, despite the season’s various arbitrary start dates (the summer solstice, Memorial Day in the US, the “start” date of the Atlantic hurricane season, etc). For some, it means a break from school; for others, vacation. Others yet, farmers markets and fresh in-season produce. Of course, for some of us it’s just a change of clothing.

For me, it marks noctilucent cloud-watching season, which generally spans May-August in the Northern Hemisphere and November-February in the Southern Hemisphere. Noctilucent clouds (NLCs, also known as PMCs, polar mesospheric clouds) are generally visible only at high latitudes (~45° N/S). Here in Peabody, we’re at  42.5279° N; a little too far south for most, but they’ve been seen as far south as Colorado and Utah in recent years; this week, they were seen in Seattle, which sits at 47.6062° N.  

Layers of the atmosphere: troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere and thermosphere. Credit: Randy Russell, UCAR

Unlike most clouds, NLCs form high above the earth in the mesophere; in contrast, with certain unusual exceptions (which we’ll talk about in a bit), all cloud activity (and what we consider weather, in general) takes place in the lowest layer, the troposphere. NLCs’ altitude causes them to be underlit by the sun after it’s sunk below the horizon, producing their night-shiningness.

When we’re talking about clouds, we’re generally referring to the clouds found in the simplified chart below: © 2012 UCAR

For a more descriptive guide to cloud types, the University of Illinois has a handy and succinct guide, which features many excellent photos.

Returning what I alluded to earlier, there are two other types of extra-tropospheric clouds, though one’s a bit of a cheat: 1) tops of cumulonimbus clouds (in some cases) and 2) nacreous clouds, also known as polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs).

A well-developed cumulonimbus capillatus Image credit: Simon Eugster

Depending on where you live and the season, the cauliflower-topped-with-an-anvil shape of cumulonimbus may be a frequent sight. The cause for the flattening (and at times with wispy cirrus tendrils at the top, a variety of cloud called cumulonimbus capillatus) is the cloud’s top running into the tropopause, the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere. Nevertheless, they can poke a bit above the tropopause into the stratosphere, though conditions there prevent them from extending higher. If you’re curious, here’s a bit more detail on the various characteristics of our planet’s atmospheric layers.   

Nacreous clouds over Norway. © Eric Fokke

Above is a nacreous cloud, also known as a polar stratospheric cloud (PSC; guess what layer of the atmosphere they form in). While visually stunning, nacreous clouds are not benign: they have a role in the destruction of Earth’s protective (for us!) ozone layer, which is also located in the stratosphere. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty physics, Harvard has you covered. For a more lay-friendly approach, NASA says:

These high altitude clouds form only at very low temperatures help destroy ozone in two ways: They provide a surface which converts benign forms of chlorine into reactive, ozone-destroying forms, and they remove nitrogen compounds that moderate the destructive impact of chlorine. In recent years, the atmosphere above the Arctic has been colder than usual, and polar stratospheric clouds have lasted into the spring. As a result, ozone levels have been decreasing.

PSC is a more accurate term than “nacreous” (meaning to resemble nacre, which is also known as mother-of-pearl), as not all PSCs have this appearance.

A nacreous abalone shell Credit: Pupa Gilbert (

Because I am contractually obligated to talk about invertebrates at some point in a given blog post, let’s talk about mother-of-pearl/nacre. Cornell University has the goods on the precise material process that is used to create nacre; a more accessible description can be found here.

Like pearls themselves, nacre can be found in a variety of different mollusks, not just pearl oysters. Nacre itself is what coats the outside of a pearl (if it’s from a pearl oyster or pearl mussel) and gives the pearl its characteristic appearance. As shown as above, abalone produce spectacular mother of pearl. Credit: George Grall, National Aquarium

Cephalopods also produce mother of pearl: the inside of some chambered nautilus shells are iridescent, and there is the iridescent mineral ammolite, which can found on some fossils of the long/sadly-extinct ammonite.     

Ammolite on an ammonite fossil.

Returning back to NCLs and PSCs, it’s worth noting that NLCs are recently observed and identified atmospheric phenomena: there is no record of their observation prior to 1885 and there have been suggestions linking their appearance to the catastrophic eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. While nothing has been conclusively proven (at least according to my research efforts), there has also been discussion of NLCs being linked to climate change and the effects of the Industrial Revolution.  

Here’s what a noctilucent cloud looks like from the International Space Station. NASA/ISS/Don Pettit

Finally, since we’ve been discussing these colorful night-shining and pearlescent clouds, I should take the time to mention an optical phenomenon that can occur with “ordinary” tropospheric clouds: iridescence. Depending on the angle of sun/moonlight and how water droplets or ice crystals are aligned in a cloud, diffraction can cause a colorful iridescent effect to be seen.

You don’t have to be above the troposphere to be colorful and striking! Iridescence seen in mid-altitude clouds. Credit: C Messier

For more images of NLCs, PSCs, aurora and other spectacular images of the sky (and beyond, in some cases), may I recommend Atmospheric Optics and Polar Image?


Do you personally want to also take stunning images of things high in the sky? Rayann Elzein has a tutorial on his site.

Finally, if you too want to keep up with interesting atmospheric phenomena that may or may not be near you, pay attention to You’ll find information about aurora, satellite and space station flybys, noctilucent clouds, solar flares, sunspot activity, eclipses, meteor showers (the Perseids are coming in August!), weird clouds due to missile or rocket launches and more.

If you’re interested in learning further about clouds, how to predict the weather based on cloud conditions (WARNING: Orographic lifting ruins everything) or about others’ adventures as they explore and pursue clouds, read on for book recommendations!

The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History and Culture of Clouds, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, Founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society: The author says: The Cloudspotter’s Guide was our first book. Written by Society founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, it was turned down by 28 publishers but then went on to be an international bestseller and is now in 20 translations. It is predominantly black and white throughout, with a short colour section in the middle.  The Cloudspotter’s Guide explains in an entertaining way that is accessible to everyone how and why clouds form, but it also explores our curious relationship with clouds, showing how this has been expressed over the centuries in literature, art and film. After all, these “patron goddesses of idle fellows”, as the Greek playwright Aristophanes described clouds, have been the ever-present, subtle backdrop to the whole of human existence. If you’re interested in learning more about or perhaps joining the ranks of the Cloud Appreciation Society, here’s where to find them.

The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, by Gavin Pretor-Pinney  he Cloud Collector’s Handbook fits into the pocket, allowing cloudspotters to identify cloud formations anytime and anywhere. All the common cloud types are represented, as are many of the rare ones, each fully described and illustrated with a range of photographs. Not only is The Cloud Collector’s Handbook an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to be able to identify and understand every cloud that floats by, it also caters for the competitive cloudspotter. Points are awarded for each cloud type identified – the rarer the cloud, the greater points – and there’s space to fill in where and when it was sighted. Beautifully designed, in colour throughout, and full of the humour that made The Cloudspotter’s Guide so engaging, the Handbook is the essential reference for anyone with their head in the clouds. This handbook is now printed on coated paper so that the images are clearer and more vibrant.

An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather: A Northeastern Primer on Prediction, by Toby Carlson, Paul Knight, and Celia Wyckoff: Today, most people look down when they want to check the weather, peeking at cell phones or popping open a browser, instead of looking up at one of the most accessible weather predictors of all–the sky. Knowing what the atmosphere has in store without relying on technology can be a gratifying experience, and now with An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather , it is also one that is easy to learn. This informative and accessible guide walks readers through the basics of making weather predictions through understanding cloud types and sky formations. It explains, in nontechnical terms, the science behind the weather, connecting fundamental meteorological concepts with the processes that shape weather patterns. Readers will learn how to develop their powers of observation and hone their ability to make quick forecasts without complicated tools. Whether you’re an amateur weather enthusiast or a beginning meteorology student, An Observer’s Guide to Clouds and Weather will help anyone who prefers looking up to looking it up. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak with a librarian.

A Sideways Look at Clouds, by Maria Mudd Ruth Author Maria Mudd Ruth fell in love with clouds the same way she stumbles into most passions: madly and unexpectedly. A Sideways Look at Clouds is the story of her quite accidental infatuation with and education about the clouds above.  When she moved to the soggy Northwest a decade ago, Maria assumed that locals would know everything there was to know about clouds, in the same way they talk about salmon, tides, and the Seahawks. Yet in her first two years of living in Olympia, Washington, she never heard anyone talk about clouds-only the rain. Puzzled by this lack of cloud savvy, she decided to create a 10-question online survey and sent it to everyone she knew. Her sample size of 67 people included men and women, new friends in Olympia, family on the East Coast, outdoorsy and indoorsy types, professional scientists, and liberal arts majors like herself. The results showed that while people knew a little bit about clouds, most were like her-they had a hard time identifying clouds or remembering their names. As adults, they had lost their curiosity and sense of wonder about clouds and were, essentially, not in the habit of looking up. A Sideways Look at Clouds acknowledges the challenges of understanding clouds and so uses a very steep and bumpy learning curve – the author’s – as its plot line. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak with a librarian.

The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies, by Richard Hamblyn: The Invention of Clouds is the true story of Luke Howard, the amateur English meteorologist who in 1802 gave the clouds their names — cumulus, cirrus, stratus. He immediately gained international fame, becoming a cult figure among artists and painters — Goethe, Constable, and Coleridge revered him — and legitimizing the science of meteorology. Part history of science, part cultural excavation, this is not only the biography of a man, but of a moment: the cultural birth of the modern scientific era.

The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book: A Unique Way to Predict the Weather Accurately and Easily by Reading the Clouds, by Louis D. Rubin Sr. and Jim Duncan: The Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book offers a foolproof three-step system for predicting the weather. With amazing accuracy, this simple system can account for swiftly changing local weather developments more effectively than weather maps or official area forecasts, which are issued well in advance of weather conditions. Includes more than 120 photographs.

The Book of Clouds, by John A. Day: See the sky as you never have before. Using a series of his awe-inspiring images, photographer and scientist John Day–who has a Ph.D. in cloud physics and is known round the world as “The Cloudman”–introduces us to earth’s great skyscape. His spectacular portfolio of pictures captures a variety of cloud forms and shapes, ranging from cottony-soft cumulus clouds to frightening, whirling funnels, as well as a number of optical effects seen in the heavens above. Rainbows, halos, coronas, flashes: all these and more elements in nature’s magic show appear on the page, including the incredible “Parhelia” or sun pillar, shafts of bright light that stretch from the ground right up into the sky. A magnificent cloud chart; an explanation of how clouds form; hints on forecasting, observing, and photographing clouds; and his “Ten Reasons to Look Up” show us how to use our “inner eye” to really see the familiar fleeting forms that seem to float effortlessly above.

Summer Fun at the Library!

Via LoveThisPic

The Library is many things, beloved patrons: it is a place of learning, a place of study, a place for meeting old friends and making new ones, a place with resources aplenty and programs galore.

It is also a place with air conditioning.

And sometimes, that last point is reason enough to come and spend some time at the Library, especially considering some of the scorching days we have had recently.  You never need an excuse to come to the Library, but if you are looking for ways to fill your time while getting your fill of cool air, might we recommend some of our upcoming programs, classes, and events for you to enjoy?  We are always working to develop helpful, informative, and engaging programming for our patrons and community members, so please keep your eye on our calendars…and please let us know if there are any programs you would like to see offered at the Library!  We are, after all, here for you and for your needs…including your need just to cool off for a little while…

So, without further ado, here are some of the programs on offer in July and August for your enjoyment.  You can register for these programs on our website, or by calling the Main Library or Branches at the following numbers:
Main Library: (978) 531-0100
South Branch: (978) 531-3380
West Branch: (978) 535-3354

At the Main Library:

Winesburg, Ohio Discussion Series: Beginning Monday, July 16, 7:30 – 8:30pm

Professor Theo Theoharis will teach this four-part discussion series on Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.  First published in 1919, this novel is widely regarded as a classic of American literature, and one of the first and best works in the ‘modernist’ mode.  A collection of short stories centered around the figure of George Willard, a newspaper reporter in a small Ohio town before the First World War, the book is part novel and part group portrait, depicting the private and public experiences of longing, disappointment, hope, religious conviction, joy in nature, joy in art, and the pains and rapture of romantic love.  Anderson’s ideas and tone, combining unsentimental assessment of flaws with compassionate probing of how scope for thought and feeling is found and lost in life, have made the book a classic that has remained in print continually since 1919 and influenced writers as diverse as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.  This series will continue on July 30, August 13, and August 27.

The Addiction of Loving an Addict: Monday, August 6, 7:00 – 8:00pm

Please join Jenny Ravikumar for a workshop/discussion around healing your heart, body and soul from the addiction of loving an addict. During our time together, we will be learning about the addiction of loving an addict. What it means to be co-dependent, how shame and forgiveness play into family disease and what you can do to begin your own recovery. We will connect on how we can explore the use of yoga, al-anon principles, essential oils and breath work to heal. You deserve self-care. Addiction may not be your choice, but it is your journey. How you move forward is your choice. Let’s release shame, invite forgiveness and explore loving kindness. We will end with a guided meditation, breath work and an essential oil assist.  Jenny Ravikumar, e-RYT 500 hour teacher, reiki master, healer and writer. She will share her powerful story of how she began (and is still to this day) healing her own heart while staying strong in loving her son and creating a new family lifestyle for them both.

At the South Branch: 

Gray Seals and Great White Sharks of Cape Cod Presentation with Bob Michelson, July 26, 7:00 – 8:00pm

Join Bob Michelson of Photography of Michelson, Inc. for a special 1 hour presentation on Gray seals and Great white sharks of Cape Cod! Follow seal researchers as they capture and sample newborn Gray seal pups on the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness Area south of Chatham. Witness the first documentation of this species mating in the United States, and learn about the seals’ complete life history while in New England. Great white sharks have been returning in ever increasing numbers to hunt their favorite snack – Gray seals. Exclusive underwater photographs provided courtesy of the MA Division of Marine Fisheries and the Great White Shark Consortium show this apex predator in Cape Cod waters.  Bob Michelson is a published underwater photographer/videographer who has been diving for 38 years.  His work has appeared in numerous books and magazines such as National Geographic, Natural History, Highlights for Children, Field & Stream, TROUT, The Conservationist, and NH Wildlife Journal, and on various broadcast networks such as Discovery Science, ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS.

At the West Branch:

Heritage Films presents The Homestead Act History: Wednesday, July 25, 1:00pm – 2:00pm

Come join us for film presentation by local historian and film maker Dan Tremblay of Heritage Films! This particular film will focus on the history of the Homestead Act. The Homestead Act is a wonderful 30 minute film made in the mid-west area about the western movement of immigrants when they found out that 160 acre plots of land could be gotten in 1862 as long as they maintained and lived on it. There were perils of course but the film has many great period photos of the Westward expansion.

Until next month, beloved patrons–we look forward to seeing you soon!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass