Tag Archives: Randomness

A Spineless Study, Part 1

Today, we are thrilled beyond measure to welcome Ashur, one of our wonderfully talented staff members, to the Free for All, to share with us the first in a series of posts devoted to all the wonder and joy to be discovered in the study of our spineless fellow creatures.  We hope you enjoy, and can’t wait to learn more soon!

97% of all animal* species on Earth are invertebrates, meaning that they lack a spine. Despite these overwhelming numbers, when we think of animals, we typically think of vertebrates. Within this classification, we often think particularly those known as “charismatic megafauna” (which are overwhelmingly mammals): big cats, whales, bears, elephants; the poster children of popular endangered species conservation efforts that show up on postal stamps. Animals that you can expect to see at the zoo and that you go to the zoo specifically to see.

While the term “invertebrate” covers a huge number of species both extant and extinct (ammonites! The Burgess Shale!), today I want to give special attention to marine invertebrates. Don’t worry, the others will have their time in the sun sooner or later – consider this a series of posts.

I’ll start off by saying that I can’t do this vast family justice, here’s a broad and wholly incomplete list of some of the more well-represented marine invertebrates:

Look into the 200 mirrored blue eyes of the scallop!
© David Moynahan
http://webhome.phy.duke.edu/~hsg/162/images/scallop-eye.html
    • Bivalves: clams, scallops, oysters and others, many who are tragically delicious.
    • Sea Snails (both with and without shells)
Clione limacina, a sea butterfly, which is a subgroup of pelagic sea snails
Photo © Jeffrey Gallant 2018; Aquatic Biodiversity Monitoring Network
  • Sea Urchins: Sand dollars are a type of very flat sea urchin. If you meet a living sand dollar in the wild, please gently return it to the water.
  • Sea Stars: Still known popularly as starfish, the term “sea star” is preferred because they’re not fish.
A cushion sea star (Culcita novaeguineae) invites you to relax. © @fishx6 2005 https://www.whatsthatfish.com/fish/cushion-sea-star/777
  • Jellies
  • Corals: Not a plant, but colonies of reef-building polyps
  • Sea cucumbers: Are they as tasty as the vegetable cucumber? I personally don’t know, but the recipes are out there if you’re interested in trying it (or are already a devotee) but they swim better than the average cuke. Here’s one in action:

The charismatic marine invertebrates are largely represented by the octopus, (though certain other cephalopods also attract public attention at times), which has enjoyed wide representation in recent and current non-fiction releases, as well as in the news.

So what books do we have for the reader interested in invertebrates?

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone, by Juli BerwaldWhile cephalopods are the most popular marine invertebrates, jellies may be a close second for their grace, beauty, bioluminescence and untouchability. In popular-science-writing-meets- memoir text, Juli Berwald guides readers through the current science of jellyfish. Elegant in design, the contents are structured like a jelly’s life cycle.

Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life, by Susan Middleton : While Middleton’s book shares a title with Juli Berwald’s, they’re quite different; this Spineless is a striking gallery of 250+ underwater images (sprinkled with short essays and asides) taken of all manner of marine invertebrates. A good place to learn appreciation of the breadth of this group if you haven’t been appreciating them appropriately yet.

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy MontgomeryIn her widely-lauded book, popular naturalist Sy Montgomery has practiced true immersion journalism, the kind where you stick your hand in the water. From (our) New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, she has befriended octopuses with strikingly different personalities—gentle Athena, assertive Octavia, curious Kali, and joyful Karma. Each creature shows her cleverness in myriad ways: escaping enclosures like an orangutan; jetting water to bounce balls; and endlessly tricking companions with multiple “sleights of hand” to get food.

Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods, by Danna Staaf: Remember what I said about cephalopods being marine invertebrate superstars? An epic half billion years of evolution brought one extraordinary group of animals from mud-grubbing snails to monstrous monarchs of the sea—and, eventually, to the calamari on your dinner plate. This book actually covers one of my favorite topics: extinct invertebrates! If this is your jam, run, don’t walk. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Clams: The Mysteries and Magic of our Favorite Shellfish, by Anthony D. Fredericks How often do you think about the lives of clams, or other shellfish for that matter? Possibly often, depending on whether you have an invasive shellfish species affecting your local ecosystem. This book was designed to fill that knowledge gap and perhaps develop within you a greater appreciation of the clam. If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists are Unraveling the Mysteries of our Favorite Crustacean, by Trevor Corson: So many secret lives! If you like your invertebrates to have more than one foot, why not peer into the life of the lobster, crustacean symbol of coastal New England (sorry cod, you have a spine)? 

 If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!  a theme from In praise of old Haiku, with many more poems and fine elaboration, by Robin D. Gill: While this list is largely comprised of educational non-fiction, I would be remiss if I did not alert you to this splendid volume of over 900 translated haiku, all about sea cucumbers. I generally do most of my reading from books taken from the library; this is one I plan to own.  If you’re interested in checking out this book, please speak to a staff member in reference.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this brief foray into the exciting science and lives of marine invertebrates. More to come in the future!

*=the term “animal” includes insects

 

 

Welcoming the Spring

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad – when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel…It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.”

(Bram Stoker, Dracula’s Guest)

It’s an auspicious time, beloved patrons, especially for those who delight in dark stories, things that go bump (or worse) in the night, and those who believe in the power of the unseen.  Let’s take a look at some of the feasts and holidays being celebrated over the course of this week, and some of the reading you can do to learn more!

Walpurgisnacht

Image result for walpurgaOn the night before the first of May, people in European countries including the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Estonia observe Walpurgisnacht, which is the eve before the Feast of Saint Walpurga (pictured at left), an 8th century British abbess who traveled to what is now Germany as a missionary.  Walgpurga was renowned for her medical abilities, and her abbey in Germany was considered “a center of culture” where people came to learn as well as to seek aid and spiritual guidance.  Following her death in 777, and subsequent  canonization, people prayed to Saint Walpurga to repel the effects of witchcraft on their bodies and their possessions.  On May 1, 870, her relics were relocated to Eichstätt, a town in the Bavarian area of Germany, and local stories note that miraculous cures were reported as her remains traveled along the route.  Over time, the evening before Walpurga’s feast day on May 1 was seen as the night when all the evil in the world had free reign–a time that ended with Walpurga’s Day.

That is why, when Jonathan Harker travels through Hungary to Romania in the opening chapters of Dracula, he sees bonfires burning, and is told to fear the things he may encounter in the darkness during his journey.  For more information on Dracula, and Bram Stoker’s study of the paranormal, the occult, and the superstitions that made up his classic novel–and plenty of other fascinating historical facts, too, check out Jim Steinmeyer’s Who Was Dracula?:  Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood.

Beltane
Image result for BELTANE
Via North Edinburgh News, Credit: Jon Kendrew

In Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man, the feast of Beltane (traditionally observed on or around May 1) marked the beginning of summer and was when cattle were driven out to the summer pastures. Rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and people, and to encourage growth.  Bonfires were lit to protect both the cattle and people from predators–both the animal and the supernatural kind.  Traditionally, all household fires would be extinguished, before being re-lit with sparks and flames from a Beltane fire, so that the house would also be protected, as well. There were also any number of rituals performed to keep the the aos sí, or the fairy folk, happy; from leaving out bowls of milk for them to sip on, to offering sacrifices and presents at fairy forts (areas that were believed to be inhabited by the aos sí, identified by natural oddities like a circle of rocks, trees, or a hill).

Angela Bourke’s The Burning of Bridget Cleary, a Free-For-All favorite, is a sensational historical account of the superstitions and folklore of nineteenth century Ireland.  It also tales the story of Bridget Cleary, the last women to be burned to death on the supposition that she was possessed by fairies.  The case is a fascinating one, that highlights the shifting ways of life in Ireland that was unsettling the population and individual families, as well.  For those looking for fiction, Hannah Kent’s The Good People offers a similar insightful look into the power of superstition and stories on Irish women.  This novel is based on a true account of the death of a child in Ireland in the 1820’s–again, fairy possession was believed to be the cause of the child’s affliction.  Kent’s story is an unsettling, troublingly honest look at life in a rural community, the pain of loss, and the damage of distrust that blends real historical detail with modern day empathy to make for an unforgettable story.

May Day
Image result for may day maypole
Via The Independent UK

In much of the northern hemisphere, May 1 is known as May Day, a traditional spring holiday when winter is officially banished and the promise of a long growing season is welcomed.  Originally a pagan holiday to celebrate the change of seasons, May Day became a secular celebration that was observed by dancing around a May pole.  Nevertheless, plenty of rituals still exist around this day that harken back to the superstitions and supernatural powers of old.  May Day was associated with fears of butter stealing. Cows were safe-guarded by attaching flowers around their heads;  sometimes red ribbons or bits of rowan were tied to their tails. This was believed to offer them protection from the malign glance of those with the evil eye. The churn was especially vulnerable at this time so often similar items or iron objects were placed underneath it.  Similarly, crowns of flowers were woven for children to keep them safe, and flowers were laid on doorsteps to keep the evil eye from falling on one’s house.

The Arrival of Missives

A wonderful book that captures the promise and mystery of May Day is Aliya Whiteley’sThe Arrival of Missives (available through the Boston Public Library). In the aftermath of the Great War, Shirley Fearn dreams of challenging the conventions of rural England, where life is as predictable as the changing of the seasons.  As the village prepares for the annual May Day celebrations, where a new queen will be crowned and the future will be reborn again, Shirley encounters Mr. Tiller, a scarred war veteran, whose arrival in her life will change her world as profoundly as spring changes the world around her.  This dreamy, surprising little story is a perfect read for a lazy spring afternoon.

 

So, happy spring, dear readers, no matter how you chose to celebrate it!

The Girl Who Is Sick and Tired of All These Girls…

Alright, beloved readers.   It’s time we had a talk about all these books with ‘girl’ in the title.

A number of people wiser, sager, and probably more rational than I have weighed in on this topic already, so let’s take a look through them first.  Perhaps the most statistically interesting factoid about “girls” in books came from Emily St. John Mandel, best-selling author of the National Book Award finalist Station Eleven. 

St. John Mandel and her research assistant used Goodreads to track titles with “girl” in it, and gather data from those results. They whittled down the 2,000 most popular books with “girl” in the title, eliminating children’s and young adult books, eventually getting a list of 810 books.  You can read the full break-down of her data in an article published at fivethirthyeight.com, but the two points that most media sites picked up on was that the “girl” in question was rarely “girl” aged.  68% of the time, she was usually a grown-up woman.  Secondly, “girl” books written by women had a better chance of surviving the book than “girl” books written by men:

via fivethirtyeight.com

First and foremost, can we talk for a moment about how there were more than 810 books with “girl” in the title for St. John Mandel to use?  That is a colossal number–and it seems to be rising.  Though this graph is a little dated at this point, you can still see how many novels are have “girls” in their title and in their plots:

Via fivethirtyeight.com

There are reasons for this: first, publishing is a precarious, unpredictable, and downright weird business.  If publishers can find a trend that works, they will milk it for every tiny drop they possibly can.  So when “girl” books like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train did so colossally well (and their movie adaptations, by and large, succeeded, too), there was a huge push to get more and more books that would attract readers looking for a new fix.  There are a lot of thematic parallels in these books–unreliable narrators, women in peril, noirish themes, conspiracies, small town/home town settings, etc–and publishers are banking on the fact that you will finish one “girl” book and head right for the next.  That’s why they all look so similar, too!  In a piece for The GuardianEva Wiseman described them as “embossed covers in shades of storm”.  And as each “girl” book succeeds, the need for more grows.

But there’s way more to it than just linguistics and marketing.  There’s that 68% of “girls” being grown-up women, and everyone still calling her/them “girls”.

Eva Wiseman sees the trend as subversive, because “the girl is a “girl” not because she’s weak, but because she is on the verge of changing into something else. She’s not simply a victim, or a wife.”  Robin Wasserman also argues there is potential in the word:  “To be called “just a girl” may be diminishment, but to call yourself “still a girl,” can be empowerment, laying claim to the unencumbered liberties of youth. As Gloria Steinem likes to remind us, women lose power as they age. The persistence of girlhood can be a battle cry.”  Emily Roese argues that “When ‘girl’ is not taken to mean naïve or innocent, but instead flexible and susceptible to change, the term can be a highly empowering label that neither whittles the protagonist down to a shell of a woman stripped of motherhood, nor demotes her to a naive youth. Within this terminology, woman’s wisdom and awareness is retained, while girl’s ingenuity and creativity can resurface.”

I don’t think any of these wise interpretations are necessarily wrong.  But I think there is something more to it.  But these “girls”, and this is important, are acting independently.  Whether it’s in vanishing, or in solving a mystery, or through lying, or through truth-telling.  These “girls” are, to whatever extent is possible, controlling their own narrative.

In literature, typically, when “girls” grow up, they are supposed to become “wives”, or “mothers”, or fill a position that is inherently relationship-oriented, but “nurse”….Which also explains the rash of books out there called “The [Insert Profession]’s Daughter“, or “The [Insert Profession]’s Wife“, with the assumption being that the [Professional] discussed in a man.  Men are defined by their professions; women are defined by their relationships to men.  But these “girls” are not “wives” or “mothers”, whose existence is dependent on their relationship to another.  They are independent entities, demanding to be the center of the story that is being told.

That we are highlighting the actions and roles of women in these stories is also pretty significant.  But to keep calling them “girls” traps these characters in a kind of fairytale world where young ladies went where they weren’t supposed to go.  The fact that these The “girls” in these titles are very often portrayed as vulnerable, breakable, and, possibly, insane, reinforces that.  Or else it uses “girls” in the same way we say “girls’ night” or call things “girly”.  It trivializes the power and agency these characters have in their stories.

I realize that “girl” is quicker to say and potentially easier to remember than “woman”.   And I also realize that there are times where “girls” are more appropriate to the story than “woman”–I’m thinking specifically of Emma Cline’s The Girls…But we shouldn’t be afraid of “women”, in books, or in real life…in both fiction and reality, women do lots of things all the time, all by themselves. But by insisting on referring to these characters as “girls”, we’re downplaying a really fascinating literary trend, as well as the characters who made that trend possible.

Fun With Your Library Catalog…

Our Library Catalog is a terrific resource for those of you looking for titles of books, movies, audiobooks, music, or other items you can check out from our Library and others in our system.  But did you know how much more you can discover through our catalog?

Evergreen, which is the system that supports our catalog, has a number of really interesting and helpful search features that can help you pinpoint the materials best suited to your needs, and we love taking the opportunity to highlight some of those.  But Evergreen is also fun for those who are just looking for something totally new and different, as well.  The “Subject” searches can sometimes be really illuminating–and sometimes a little strange.

In searches, “Subject” represents the Library of Congress Subject Headings–they are various terms and categories assigned to all books in order to help patrons find other books with similar subject material ( you can learn more about them here!).  You can find these subjects on the left-hand side of the screen any time you perform a search, like this one here that I ran on “Louisa May Alcott”:

Note: Click on these images to see larger, better quality versions!

You can also see the subject of a specific work at the bottom of that item’s page.  For example, here is are the subject headings for Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air:

These Subjects can be enormously helpful when you’re looking for another book like one you just finished, or you need to conduct research into a specific topic.  They are also really handy for playing “Fun With Your Library Catalog”.  In this game (which is, admittedly, a little nerdy), you try to find some very random, unexpected, but nevertheless, interesting Subject Headings in our catalog.

It’s a fun game, let me tell you, but it’s also quite time consuming, because I usually end up requesting the books I find, and then reading them, and then going off to find more…..Ok, so maybe “Fun With the Library Catalog” is a lifestyle, and less of a game.  But I can guarantee you, it’s one of the best ways to get to know the materials and the Libraries in our system, and also an inexpensive way to acquire a whole head-full of knowledge!

So here are a few of my favorite finds from “Fun With The Library Catalog”–feel free to let us know about your most random/entertaining/enlightening Library finds, or use these as your jumping off point for your own explorations!

SUBJECT: Potatoes>Social Aspects

Because social potatoes are the best kind of potatoes!  Under this subject heading, you’ll find Dr. Redcliffe Salaman’s The History of Social Influence of the Potatothe result of a lifetime of research into the history of this starchy treasure, and historian Larry Zuckerman’s The Potato: How the Humble Spud Saved the Western World.  The truth is, the potato, subterranean and dirty though it may be, has had a long and exciting history, and influencing culture and sustaining human beings in a way that I promise will surprise you!

SUBJECT: Food Habits>United States

Reading about the potato got me thinking about more cultures of food, which led me to this subject heading, which deals with what Americans eat, but also why they eat it, and how that food shapes American culture.  Within this subject heading, you’ll find The Taste of America, a book that travels the country to find the best foods in America, from spicy cheese to the juiciest oysters (talk about a fantastic form of wanderlust!).  You’ll also find Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop : Rethinking African American Foodways from Slavery to Obama, a book that looks at how Black people in America have used food as a kind of subversion and resistance–a fascinating series of well-researched articles that will help you rethink the power of food in our identity and culture.

“SUBJECT: Antarctica>Fiction”

This is actually a useful subject search for those who want to explore fiction from other places.  Simply enter the place you’re looking for in the space where I put “Antarctica”.  But if you, like me, are looking to get as far away as possible on your literary adventures, then use this subject search to find books like Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol, a chilling (har, har) tale about a young weather who finds no trace of the man whom he has been sent to the Antarctic to replace–just a deranged castaway who has witnessed a horror he refuses to name.  Or perhaps you’d enjoy Bill Evan’s Dry Ice, a techno-thriller about agribusiness, machines that can control the weather, and the woman sent to Antarctica to ensure the world’s safety.

Happy Reading, beloved patrons–and have fun!

On Forgeries and Fakeries…

Last Friday, a major exhibition of the works of Amedeo Modigliani at the Doge’s Palace in Genoa announced that it would be closing early, after authorities confirmed that most of the paintings in the exhibit–21 out of 30, to be precise–were fakes.  

Via hyperallergic.com

As reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph, Carlo Pepi, a 79-year-old art critic, raised the alarm after seeing advertisements for the exhibit featuring a 1918 portrait titled “Marie, Daughter of the People.”

“My goodness, when I saw the poster of Marie and then looked through the catalogue and saw the others, I thought, poor Modigliani, to attribute to him these ugly abominations,” Pepi told The Telegraph.

Via telegraph.co.uk

I am fascinated bytale  art crimes.  I know that’s a weird thing to admit, but I do.  Maybe it’s the bizarre combination of ruthlessness and beauty that go into so many of these crimes.  Maybe it’s the dirty history behind images that we tend to take for granted–for example, Edvard Munch’s The Scream has been stolen twice, in outlandish circumstances…and recovered in operations just as over-the-top.  To be honest, I’m thoroughly enamored with the idea that you could get a job hunting these forgeries down, too.   Tales of the FBI’s Art Thefts department

It seems like the stuff of fiction–and yet the repercussions of art crime are international and unforgettable.  If you’ve ever been to the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum, and looked at the empty frames that still hang on the wall in memory of the (still missing) paintings that were cut out of them, you know what a palpable loss those pieces still have (see image to left, via the New York Post).  For those who have lost, or found, pieces stolen by Nazi authorities or during the Stalinist purgers, the enormity of the crime committed cannot be contained in a frame.  Art speaks to us in a way that words and deeds cannot, and to rob someone of that is to rob them of their humanity.  It also robs humanity of some truly staggering works of genius as well–the number of pieces that now have dubious provenance (the official history of a painting that traces its whereabouts throughout its life) is enormous, and is ever-growing.

However, if you’re even in Vienna, check out the Fälschermuseum to learn how much fun fakeries can be.  This museum is dedicated to the history of fake art, forgeries, and art fraud, and, though small, provides a fascinating education on the hows and whys of fakes, as well as some of the incredible stories behind some of the world’s best fakes, and most oddly satisfying stories–like Tom Keating, who wrote notes on his canvas before painting over them so that when the painting was x-rayed, his forgery would be discovered.

Even better, if you don’t feel like leaving your armchair/couch/beach chair/office, then check out these fantastic books on art forgeries, fakeries, and the wild stories behind them in these books!

Provenance: Speaking of Modigliani forgeries….John Myatt is perhaps one of the 20th century’s most famous (and most prolific) art forgers, and his talents for visual mimicry are shocking (check out his website here!).  In 1986, trying desperately to stay financially afloat, Myatt advertised his talents in the hopes of painting a few copies for money.  Instead, he was contacted by con artist John Drewe, who embroiled Myatt in one of the biggest, most wide-ranging art frauds in history.  In the end, a Modigliani forgery played an enormous part in bringing Drewe’s scheme down, and though Myatt spent time in prison for his role in the con, his paintings are now some of the most highly-sought in Britain.  Laney Salisbury tells his and Drewe’s story with insight, wit, and a perfect sense of timing.  Though we as readers never lose sight of the gravity of the crimes being committed, the book still reads a lot like a crime caper, and provides an enormously entertaining education on the art world.

The Forger’s Spell: In 1945, Han Van Meegeren, a Dutch artist, was arrested and charged with collaborating with the enemy, for having allegedly sold a Vermeer painting to Nazi officer Hermann Goering.  Van Meegeren’s defense was a shocking one–the painting, he claimed, was not a Vermeer.  It was a Van Meegeren.  Moreover, he had traded the false Vermeer for 200 original Dutch paintings seized by Goering in the beginning of the war.  Van Meegeren was actually called upon to paint another forgery before the court before his story was believed, and Van Meegeren’s charge was reduced to forgery, for which he spent about a year in confinement.  In this engaging work, Edward Dolnick not only relates the story of the forgeries, but placed Van Meegeren’s work in the context of the Second World War, emphasizing what a dangerous game he was playing–and the real effects his actions had on the art world.  It’s an enlightening and tense story that will appeal to military historians as well as art lovers.  You can see Van Meegeren’s forgeries for yourself here .  If you like Dolnick’s writing, be sure to check out The Rescue Artistabout the theft and recovery of Munch’s The Scream, too!

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa: On August 21, 1911, Leonardo da Vinci’s most celebrated painting vanished from the Louvre. The prime suspects were as shocking as the crime: Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire, young provocateurs of a new art. The sensational disappearing act captured the world’s imagination. Crowds stood in line to view the empty space on the museum wall. Thousands more waited, as concerned as if Mona Lisa were a missing person, for news of the lost painting.   Though she was recovered in Florence in 1913, R.A. Scotti emphasizes that still in the case still linger: Who really lifted Mona Lisa…and why?  This story is part mystery, part history (the case was one of the first to use modern forensic science and profiling), and part love story to Paris, the Louvre, and the art it holds, this is a really engaging look into the history of what has become the most famous painting in western culture.

Five Book Friday!

Happy Friday, Readers!  Today’s Random Fact of the Day comes to you courtesy of the delightfully quirky Melville House Press, whose website and twitter feed are among the most irreverant, informative, and, sometimes, bizarre in the publishing world.

A few days ago, the Melville House Press’ website addressed a growing trend in books that I have noticed when setting up displays, and several of our patrons have noticed as they select from our new books: why are they all so mind-warpingly yellow?

My eyes!
My eyes!

 

A number of these lemony-hued books have made it into our posts in the past, from Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist to Marlon James’ Booker Prize winning A Brief History of Seven Killings.  And even more are scheduled to come out soon.  So what is the deal?

yellowgrid-150x300
Courtesy of Melville House Press

Well, it turns out that some 45% of book buying is done via online retailers like That One Named After A South American Rainforest.  And on the pages of those sites, books appear against a white background.  As the Melville House Press notes, “As a result, a lot of the books there — those whose covers are plain white, or too simple, or too detailed — look pallid and boring. In the fight for our precious attention, in a venue where only limited engagement is possible, these books lose out.  In an attempt to solve this problem, publishers have been clothing more and ever more of their books in retina-cracking yellow.”  They also quote Wall Street Journal journalist Lucy Feldman, who wrote, in an article on the art of the visual, “Yellow jumps off online pages and it can support both dark and bright type and graphics. Also, it carries no gender association and can signify anything from sunshine and optimism to a danger warning, making it a strong choice for a variety of genres and topics.”

So there is your factoid of the day, dear readers, and here are some new books (only some of which are yellow), that have made it on to our shelves this week!

81036_fivebooks_lg

 

3708591The City of Mirrors: Yellow book alert!  Justin Cronin’s enormous, post-apocalyptic trilogy has been hailed from its first appearance as a vampire series for adults, and, quite possibly, as a modern classic of American literature.  Now the trilogy is drawing to a close with this final installment.  The Twelve have been destroyed, and the survivors of  their century-long reign of terror are beginning to emerge.  But within the ruins lurks Zero, the father of the Twelve, dreaming of destroying Amy, who is being held up as humanity’s greatest and only hope for the future, biding time until their final confrontation.  For readers who have been waiting for this trilogy to spin out before beginning, the wait is finally over, and, as Library Journal notes in their starred review, “Readers who have been patiently awaiting the conclusion to Cronin’s sweeping postapocalyptic trilogy are richly rewarded with this epic, heart-wrenching novel. . . . Not only does this title bring the series to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion, but it also exhibits Cronin’s moving exploration of love as both a destructive force and an elemental need, elevating this work among its dystopian peers.”

3736123Iris and RubyThis reprint of Rosie Thomas’ 2006 novel deals with family bonds and the stories we tell each other, that is bound to appeal to the armchair traveler.  When her impulsive teenage granddaughter Ruby comes crashing into 82-year-old Iris’ life, Iris is forced to confront not only her family’s difficult relationships, but also her own memories, which Ruby is eager to hear.  Together, Iris and Ruby explore Iris’ memories of Cairo during World War Two, and the love affair that defined her life.  It is this story that will shape Iris’ life, and have profound consequences for the women of her family, as well.  There is love and tragedy aplenty in this tale, but also plenty of danger, adventure, and intrigue, as well, giving The Times cause to rave, “Thomas can write with ravishing sensuality.”

3756407New England Bound: Traditional history of the American colonies teaches that the Triangle Trade, which brought slaves to North American, helped the south prosper as a plantation economy.  But Wendy Warren’s new, thoroughly researched work, reconceptualizes that history, showign how the northern colonies also grew rich on the ships that were coming and going from their harbors, bearing hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans in their holds.  She also adds to the growing body of knowledge about how other peoples, including Native Americans and West Indies peoples were enslaved by the Atlantic Slave Trade, as well, showing just how pernicious and all-consuming this practice truly was, and how deep into American culture its roots spread.  Review for Warrens’ work have been glowing, including this one from noted historian Linda Colley, who called it “A beautifully written, humane and finely researched work that makes clear how closely intermingled varieties of slavery and New England colonization were from the very start. With great skill, Warren does full justice to the ideas of the individuals involved, as well as to the political and economic imperatives that drove some, and that trapped and gravely damaged others.”

3708615Smoke:  Dan Vyleta’s gaslamp fantasy has been getting a great deal fo attention lately, and, while the cover isn’t yellow, has been catching quite a number of eyes at the Library.  Set in an alternative London of a century ago, Vyleta has created a world where those who are wicked or sinful are marked by smoke pouring from their bodies–that is, that’s how it is supposed to work.  But in an elite boarding school, three students begin to realize that there are those who can lie without causing smoke to envelope them…and the implications of that discovery could cost them their lives.  Part thriller, part magical realism, part social commentary, and part Dickensian romp, this book seems to have a little something for everyone, and has Publisher’s Weekly raving that it is “A fiercely inventive novel . . . Vyleta’s bold concept and compelling blend of history and fantasy offer a provocative reflection on the nature of evil, power, believe, and love. Dickensian in its imaginative scope and atmosphere.”

3738473Shrill: Lindy West is an essayist, a humorist, a feminist…in addition to being many other things, and this book of essays brings all her considerable talents to bear as she tackles what it means to be human, to be a woman, to be large, to be loud, in a society that seldom values any of these qualities separately, let alone together.  This is a book that is at once laugh-out-loud-in-an-inappropriate-manner funny, and also a deeply searching analysis of how we see, and how we treat, those around us who don’t conform to the odd and unliveable rules that society has set for us.  This book has been a hit with critics and readers alike, with Booklist cheering it as “Uproariously funny…Despite its serious subject, West’s ribald jokes, hilarious tirades, and raucous confessions keep her memoir skipping merrily along as she jumps from painful confession to powerful epiphany. Sure to be a boon for anyone who has struggled with body image, Shrill is a triumphant, exacting, absorbing memoir that will lay new groundwork for the way we talk about the taboo of being too large.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–happy reading!

On Wanderlust…

“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
(Isabelle Eberhardt)

RV-isabelle

It’s February.

It may be the shortest month of the year, but, for many, it seems like the longest.  As I write this, I am looking out a bleak, gray, drizzling sky that honestly hasn’t seemed to have changed in about fourteen years.  And if the conversations I’ve had with any number of you charming, winter-weary people, is that we could all use a long vacation, to a place full of sunshine, and adventure…and maybe a miniature golf course or two…

So, in honor of our collective wanderlust, we at the Free For All are celebrating the birthday of Isabelle Eberhardt, a Swiss explorer and writer, born on this day in 1877.

Isabelle_EberhardtEberhardt’s parents, Alexandre and Nathalie, both abandoned previous marriages and families to be together–they met because Alexandre was hired to tutor Nathalie’s children–and set up a life in Geneva, where Isabelle grew up.  In such a non-conformist family, it was no surprised that young Isabelle grew up exceptionally well-educated, and when she expressed a desire to dress in boy’s, and later, men’s clothing, because they allowed a greater physical and social freedom.  She began writing and publishing fascinating, avant-garde fiction under the name of Nicolas Podolinsky when she was eighteen, and, when her father was sent to North Africa with the French Foreign Legion, she begged him to keep a detailed diary of everything he saw there, so that she could write about his adventures, as well.

Isabelle and her mother visited North Africa two years later, and, much to the approbation of their fellow French colonists, refused to live within the French settlement, instead renting a house from an Arab family.  Isabelle also adopted native male dress because women were unable to travel unveiled and unchaperoned under Islamic tradition.

Slimane Ehnni
Slimane Ehnni

Both of Isabelle’s parents died within the next two years, and, having declared herself free of any human attachment, Isabelle decided to live the life of a vagrant, and, after a brief stay in Paris, moved to Algeria (then a French colony).  There, she fell in love with a soldier named Slimane Ehnni, with whom she would live for the rest of her life.  Her less than conventional choices completely ostracized her from the French colonists in Algeria (and she blamed a near-fatal attack on a French attempt to assassinate her) but Isabelle was openly welcomed by the Algerian natives, was accepted into the Sufi order known as the Qadiriyya without question, where she found protection, and was given and Arabic name, as well.

Isabelle Eberhardt was killed in 1904 when a flash flood swept away the mud hut in which she was living.  Her husband, Slimane Ehnni, survived, and buried her in Aïn Sefra, Algeria, and ensured that her tombstone carried both her French and Arabic names.

A number of manuscripts were found following Isabelle’s death, and, with help from a French journalist in the area, they began to be published around 1906.  She was decidedly anti-imperialist, arguing for the freedom of native peoples, and several historians credit her as the first voice of decolonization in French Algeria.  The Library has a number of her works in translation, so you can get to know Isabelle, too.

800px-IsEberhardt
Isabelle Eberhardt, around 1900

So, in honor of the remarkable Isabelle Eberhardt, let’s embrace our wanderlust today, and start reading of all the places we can’t manage to get to see firsthand.  Perhaps it won’t make the sun shine any brighter, but it might make the days brighter, for all that.

To get to know Isabelle Eberhardt better, check out:


3370041Writings from the Sand: Collected Works of Isabelle Eberhardt & The Oblivion Seekers and Other Writings
, both of which are Isabelle’s own words, describing French Algeria, her wanderings around North Africa, and her own observations of life there.  The editor’s introduction and notes throughout put these essays into context, and provide marvelous insight into the world that Isabelle inhabited, offering you the chance to take a visit through both time and space along with her.

Annette Kobak has also written a biography of Isabelle, for those who wish to get to know her a bit better, and for those  who prefer fiction, try William Bayer’s Visions of Isabelle for a fictional account of this remarkable woman.