Tag Archives: Science!

Five Book Friday!

And very happy Free for All birthday wishes to Anna Marguerite McCann, art historian, and the first American woman to work in underground archaeology!

Via Wikipedia

McCann was born on May 11, 1933, in Mamaroneck, New York.  In 1954, she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history with a minor in Classical Greek.  She was awarded a Fulbright  Scholarship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for a year, before beginning her studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.  She began diving with Jacques Cousteau early in the 1960’s off the coast of Marseille, France, where they explored ancient Roman shipwrecks.  Underwater projects like this were new at the time, and, like so many other fields, largely populated by, and controlled by, men.  Nevertheless, McCann’s acumen, insight, and enthusiasm helped her carve out a career for herself, but also made her an excellent teacher.  She lectured in colleges across the country, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and even contributed to a children’s book in order to inspire a new generation of archaeologists and divers!  Her book, which was an expansion of her Master’s Thesis, entitled The Portraits of Septimius Severus, A.D. 193–211, is still considered the best and most authoritative text in the field.  McCann married her childhood friend Robert Dorsett in 1973.  She passed away on February 12, 2017.   Today, we celebrate her curiosity, adventurous spirit, and lifelong devotion to education and learning!

And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at some of the new books that have sauntered onto our shelves this week!

The Lost Pilots: The Spectacular Rise and Scandalous Fall of Aviation’s Golden CoupleIn June 1927, an Australian woman named Jessie Miller fled a loveless marriage and journeyed to London, where she fell in love with the city’s energy and the decadence of the interwar elites.  There, she met William Lancaster, who had served with the Royal Air Force during the First World War, and was determined to make his name as famous as Charles Lindbergh, who had just crossed the Atlantic.   Lancaster wanted to fly three times as far – from London to Melbourne – and in Jessie Miller he knew he had found the perfect co-pilot.  By the time they landed in Melbourne, the daring aviators were a global sensation – and, despite still being married to other people, deeply in love. Keeping their affair a secret, they toured the world in style until the 1929 stock market crash bankrupted them both.  To make ends meet Jessie agreed to write a memoir, and selected a man named Haden Clarke as her ghostwriter.  As Corey Mead shows in this fast-paced, detailed book, Clarke’s arrival changed everything for Miller and Lancaster, leading to a crime that was as infamous as they were renown.  This story takes us around the world–and through the skies–all the way to 1962, with the wreckage of a plane in the Sahara Desert, in a wonderfully engaging work of narrative non-fiction that Kirkus Reviews calls “A brisk, entertaining history of daring and passion.”

The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life: A collection of essays, addresses, and writings from beloved writer Richard Russo is a treat not only for his fans, but for bibliophiles in general.  From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain’s value, this collection shows Russo in all his thoughtful, emotional, and humorous glory.  These essays are personal, as well as literary, exploring his journey with a friend undergoing gender reassignment surgery, as well as how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, allowing us to appreciate a respected author in a new light–and perhaps helping readers find a new storyteller to follow!  Booklist agrees, noting in its review: “For aspiring writers, Russo’s musings on the art and craft of the novel are a trove of knowledge and guidance. For adoring readers, they are a window into the imagination and inspiration for Russo’s beloved novels, screenplays, and short stories. . . . Few authors seem as approachable in print and, one suspects, in person as acclaimed novelist Russo.”

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers: Those of you who loved Alex Grecian’s historical mysteries will know he is a writer with a terrific sense of place and a keen observer of emotion–and both these talents come to the forefront in his newest contemporary thriller.  Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who sneaked into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950’s and has at last been identified.  But Goodman has some influential friends who are more than willing to stick their necks out to protect him–and the work that he has continued to this very day.   Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her district–until she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.   This is an unsettling, unrelenting book that has drawn comparisons to both John Grisham and Stephen King.  Booklist gave it a starred review, calling it “A breathtaking thriller with plenty of action and some very clever twists . . . the grimly satisfying conclusion makes it worth it for both characters and readers. Fans of David Baldacci and John Grisham will enjoy the unpredictability and unrelenting suspense.”

Asymmetry: Lisa Halliday’s debut novel has left readers and critics alike spellbound and fascinated with her ability to weave storylines together into a single narrative that is prescient, engaged, and timeless.  Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, the book explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice.  From the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazerduring the early years of the Iraq Wa to the first-person narrative of Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow, these seemingly disparate stories  interact and overlap in ways that are hard to see coming and impossible to forget.  There are heaps of praises coming in for Halliday’s novel, including from The New York Times Review of Books, which called it  “Masterly…As you uncover the points of congruence, so too do you uncover Halliday’s beautiful argument about the pleasure and obligations of fiction…It feels as if the issues she has raised — both explicitly and with the book’s canny structure — have sown seeds that fiction will harvest for years to come.”

That Kind of MotherRumaan Alam won a number of devoted fans with his first novel Rich and Pretty, and this newest book features the same gentle humor, compassion, and wit that earned such accolades.  This story focuses on Rebecca Stone, a white woman who has just given birth to her first child.  Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help, a Black woman named Priscilla Johnson, and begs her to come home with them as her son’s nanny.  In their time together, Priscilla teaches Rebecca not only about being a mother, but about navigating a world rich in privilege, prejudice.  When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.  Filled with timely observations and rich with sympathy, this is a novel that is both heartbreaking and redemptive.  Vogue gave it a glowing review, noting how Alam “expertly and intrepidly blends topics of the zeitgeist, including race, privilege, and motherhood, without sacrificing elegant prose and signature wit.”

 

Until next week, beloved patrons–Happy Reading!

Well, that was fun!

We sincerely hope everyone had a chance to enjoy yesterday’s eclipse.  While the event itself was rare enough in and of itself, it was also pretty remarkable to have an event that unambiguously brought everyone in this country together…and gave them a reason to look up and to marvel.  I was lucky enough to spend the height of the eclipse in a parking lot with a group of strangers who were all sharing their eclipse glasses, talking about the fact that the world was a weird kind of hazy orange-ish color, and, best of all, that we were grateful for each other’s presence at that moment in time.

If you weren’t able to watch the eclipse, then allow me to share with you some of the sensational images that NASA captured of the event:

Here’s the shadow of the Moon as seen from space:

From https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/the-eclipse-2017-umbra-viewed-from-space-2

This composite image shows the progression of a partial solar eclipse over Ross Lake, in Northern Cascades National Park, Washington on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017:

A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

And here’s the show itself:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-prepares-for-aug-21-total-solar-eclipse-with-live-coverage-safety-information

And, if you, like me, took some very well-intentioned, but generally unimpressive photos of the eclipse, then you can commiserate with these photos that The Guardian collected of people’s “Underwhelming Photos of the Eclipse”.

From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2017/aug/21/bad-solar-eclipse-photos-gallery

On the day that we were reminded how small we are in the cosmos, and how great are the forces balanced around us, it’s kind of nice to know that even if our attempts didn’t amount to much, that we all collectively strove to capture some wonder and some beauty together yesterday.

So thanks to the Sun for a great show, for bringing us together, and for reminding us of our place in the Grand Scheme of Things.  And if you’re interested, we’ll be back in this position again in 2024!  But just so you know, eclipse glasses have a short shelf life, so don’t save them for next time!  If you’re looking to get rid of those eclipse glasses, here’s what to do:

  1. Take the protective lenses (the black filmy stuff) off, then put them in the recycling bin
  2. Keep an eye on the Astronomers Without Borders website–they are looking to redistribute those glasses, and yours could do some real good!  We’ll let you know when their plan is announced.

And in the meantime, in case you aren’t ready to put your eclipse-o-mania away just yet, here is a selection of books that you can check out to keep you going (maybe not until 2024, but we’ll certainly keep trying!):

Every Soul a Star: This story, about three people among thousands who gather at Moon Shadow, an isolated campground in right in the path of totality to witness a solar eclipse.  Each of these three young people, Ally, Bree, and Jack, are dealing with their own burdens, from the experience of being overweight to social awkwardness, from the insecurity that comes with popularity to the fear of growing up and moving on–but during the eclipse, they will begin to forge friendships that will slowly change their lives.  Wendy Mass does a brilliant job shifting narrative voices in this book, alternating between Ally’s, Bree’s, and Jack’s experiences to form a powerful story about the strength human bonds, even in the face of massive, cosmic changes.  Like I said, my favorite part of the eclipse was hanging out with strangers who suddenly became friends, and this book revels in that feeling from the very first chapter.

Shooting the Sun: Anyone who tried to take a picture of the sun, balancing your eclipse glasses precariously over the lens, only to get a weird, grainy blur of red and black, will be glad to hear that people have been trying to capture eclipses on film for centuries.  Max Byrd takes this premise to create a fascinating, twisty, historically detailed story of cosmic wonders and human treachery. Charles Babbage, a British genius (and famous eccentric) has sponsored an expedition into the American wilderness in order to photograph an eclipse that Babbage’s Difference Engine has predicted.  On the expedition are four men and one remarkable woman, Mary Somerville, who is determined to prove Babbage’s predictions true.  But no computer can predict the vagaries of the human heart, or the darkness of the human mind, and Mary will soon find that the eclipse poses a much smaller risk to her than the other people in this expedition…This is a terrific blend of history, science, and intrigue, that is sure to appeal to history buffs…as well as any of you intrepid eclipse-chasers who books tickets to the path of totality to witness the full eclipse for yourself!

Eyes to See: Ok, so this book isn’t about eclipses, I admit it–it’s a supernatural, urban thriller.  But in this series’ debut, our hero, Jeremiah Hunt, sacrifices his normal sight, not quite by staring at an eclipse, but in order to see the world of ghosts and dark powers in order to find malevolent power that stole his daughter, and a series about a man who describes his world through his other sense, whose sense of loss (both of his family and his eyesight) is unforgettable.  Nassise does a brilliant job with the noir tone in this book, but by sending the hero on a quest for his daughter (rather than some sort of femme fatale), he gives this whole quest a totally different, urgent, and believable feel.  This is a book about the nightmares that lurk just beyond what the rest of us are able to see–but it’s also about someone who has looked at what he was forbidden to…so if you spent way too much time yesterday trying not to look up at the eclipse, or telling other people not to look up at the eclipse, this title might be for you.

The Wellcome Book Prize Longlist!

For those of you beloved patrons who live to read to learn, let me tell you about the Wellcome Book Prize.

Let me start by telling you a little bit about the Wellcome Collection.  Located right across the street from Euston Station in London, the Wellcome Collection is dedicated to uniting the fields of science, medicine, and the arts, declaring itself “The free destination for the incurably curious”.  The institute was originally funded by Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome (pictured at right), a fascinating entrepreneur, born in Wisconsin in 1853, whose first business was peddling invisible ink (it was lemon juice).  He later went into pharmaceuticals, where he revolutionized medicine by developing medicine in tablet form, though he called them ‘Tabloids’.  Upon his death, Wellcome vested the entire share capital of his company in individual trustees, who were charged with spending the income to further human and animal health, and even left specifics in his will as to the building in which the collections were to be housed.  Today, the Wellcome Trust, which funds all this gloriousness, is now one of the world’s largest private biomedical charities.

Yay for Science! (From the Wellcome Collection)

I cannot recommend exploring the Wellcome Collection online to you enough.  Because of their dedication to education and engagement, a surprisingly vast amount of their exhibits have online components, and a good deal of their archives and library are digitized, making it possible to access their treasure trove of educational riches from the comfort of your living room (or local Library!).  Their exhibits range from the emotional and contemporary, such as videos and talks on military medicine, to the sublimely bizarre, like this gallery on curatives and quack medicine.  Throughout their work is a very firm dedication not only to education, but to sparking a love of learning in their visitors, and that work pays huge dividends.

I personally adore the Wellcome because of it’s 1) incredible library, which has allowed me to write my dissertation, it’s 2) stupendous archive, which is also helping me with The Dissertation, and 3) Their ridiculously welcoming, air-conditioned building (I don’t know if Sir Wellcome thought of central air, but if he did, I tip my proverbial hat to him).  There is a section of their library with chaise lounges and beanbags, for pity’s sake.  And the security guards encourage you to wander around and learn all you can–and don’t mind that you have a cold and look like you got hit by a truck. That, my friends, is an institution dedicated to learning.

And, as part of their outreach efforts, and in the hope of encouraging more quality and creative writing in the sciences, the Wellcome Trust also funds one of the largest book prizes around, providing 30,000 GBP (right now, about $37,500) to it chosen author.  As described on the Wellcome Book Prize site, all the books that are nominated have “a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness.”  While this dedication to science is wonderful, the Wellcome Prize also recognizes art, standing by its core principles by recognizing that such books “can cover many genres of writing – including crime, romance, popular science, sci-fi and history.”  Thus, their list includes both non-fiction and fiction, in order to celebrate those works that “add new meaning to what it means to be human.”

The 2016 Wellcome Book Prize design (courtesy of Notcot)

So here, without further ado, is the Wellcome Book Prize Longlist.  We hope you’ll find something to whet your reading appetite either here, or in the list of past winners.  The shortlist will be announced at the London Book Fair on March 14th, and the winner will be revealed at a ceremony at the Wellcome Collection on April 24th.  Because the Wellcome Prize’s descriptions of these books are so terrific, clicking on the book title or author will take you to the Wellcome page….there is a link to the Noble Listing for the books beside each entry.  As usual with overseas prizes, some of these books haven’t come to our shores as yet, but we’ll keep you updated when they do!

How to Survive a Plague by David France non-fiction  (NOBLE)
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari non-fiction (NOBLE)
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi non-fiction (NOBLE)
Mend the Living by Maylis de Kerangal trans. Jessica Moore fiction Currently unavailable in the US
The Golden Age by Joan London fiction (NOBLE)
Cure by Jo Marchant non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss fiction Currently Unavailable in the US
The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee non-fiction (NOBLE)
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry fiction US release date to be set soon
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford  non-fiction US Release: September, 2017
Miss Jane by Brad Watson fiction (NOBLE)
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong non-fiction (NOBLE)

Happy reading!