Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
How does creativity work? Moreover, how do we harness creativity, both individually and as a group? These are the questions explored in the book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide.
The book is divided into two parts, “Alone” and “Together,” where Alone uses current brain research to discuss individual creativity, and Together explores history to uncover the roots of societal and group creativity. In Alone, Lehrer distinguishes two types of individual creativity. The first is what I call the “Aha!” creativity. These Eureka moments occur most often when one is not overly-focused, letting one’s mind drift and broaden enough to make subtle connections between seemingly-unrelated points of knowledge. In contrast, the second type of individual creativity is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” That is, in order to materialize one’s new ideas and Eureka moments, one must maintain enough focus and persistence to carry the concept to completion. While these two creative processes, non-focused and hyper-focused, may inhibit one another, they are complementary ways for an individual's creative ideas to be realized.
In part two, Together, Lehrer discusses how creative outputs of societies and organizations often depend on how they are structured, both physically and socially. For example, the dynamics of cities with high population densities almost force their inhabitants to interact with a diverse range of people and ideas, enabling various forms of thought and action to synergize in new ways. On a smaller scale, companies have gone so far as to design their campus architecture in ways that maximize casual communication and idea sharing among disparate departments. There is even historical evidence to show that groups seeking competitive advantage by hiding their innovations from one another (with non-disclosure agreements, etc.) actually hamper the group's own creative potential in the long run. These are fascinating conclusions for both groups and individuals about how diverse experiences and cooperation are often invaluable for creativity.
In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about "how creativity works." The main concepts I’ve gleaned from Imagine are: on a personal level, a state of non-focus (almost akin to boredom) allows one to see the big picture and let those “Aha!” moments arise. On the other hand, many incredible works of art, literature, and science have been created by persistent focus and sustained concentration. On a social level, exposure to new ways of doing and thinking—often through unintended or casual collaboration—is the best way to create novel concepts among groups. Imagine helped me understand the creative process and gave me some new ideas of my own.
I note that, in "reading" the audiobook version of Imagine, this is the first audiobook I’ve heard that was narrated by the author themself. Thereby, I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re interested in the audio version of this book, I think that the author does a pretty good job of narrating the stories, conversations, and research throughout.
Publication Issues: Self-Plagiarizing and Quote Fabrication
Imagine—or rather, its author’s reputation—has been marred in the media by the author’s oversight on two critical publishing issues. The first is that Lehrer “self-plagiarized” by virtually cut-and-pasting portions of his magazine articles into the book without citations. Second – and most infamous – is his fabrication of a quote by folk rock legend Bob Dylan. It seems that, in centering the first few chapters of the book on Bob Dylan’s creative process, Lehrer basically conjured up a short but non-existent quote by the artist, perhaps to bring the narrative together. Not a good move.
Jonah Lehrer, as a fairly young but brilliant journalist and author, received ample notoriety and job opportunities prior to finishing Imagine. Did Lehrer simply stretch himself too thin as an impressive new writer? Whatever the case, I strongly think that (omitting the Dylan quote) Imagine is an excellent book that I would strongly recommend to readers interested in the creative mind, the artistic process, and the ways that groups can innovate.
Imagine : how creativity works
This fall is an exciting time for fiction readers. A handful of greatly loved, established writers are releasing new books this season. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith released her fourth novel, NW. Louise Erdrich's fourteenth novel, The Round House, will be published at the beginning of next month. Early November will see the publication of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, and Dear Life, a new collection of stories by Alice Munro. And later this week, J.K. Rowling's much anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves. Place your holds today!
Life of Pi is an award winning novel by Canadian author, Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, the 16 year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. Pi is a spiritual seeker at an early age. He is a Hindu but falls in love with the stories of other religions and tells his parents that he wants to also be a Christian and Muslim. His family emigrates from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship along with their zoo animals. When the ship sinks, Pi ends up alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
The book describes the experience of how Pi survives 227 days adrift in the ocean with his unlikely companions. When he is finally rescued, Pi tells his extraordinary story to representatives of the Japanese shipping company searching for the cause of the sinking. They express deep disbelief, so he offers them a second, more believable story that parallels the first one. The company reps, and the reader, can choose to believe either one. The book depicts how all people use stories to give meaning to their experiences and process reality around them – some based on faith and religion.
Life of Pi is a readable book with a thought provoking ending and would make a great selection for a book club discussion.
Life of Pi
An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.
Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.
I walk regularly - almost on a daily basis and especially so in non-winter months. In addition to the exercise it provides, I love the simplicity of the activity. Walking is a natural form of stress releasing fun. So it’s no surprise that what attracted me to read this book titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was it’s simple premise: One woman’s extraordinary solo hiking journey of 1,100 miles from Mojave, California to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.
It’s a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, the acclaimed author of the very well received novel Torch. The book starts off with the 22 year-old Cheryl caring for her 45 year-old vegetarian, non-smoking mother who nonetheless is suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and ends up dying just a little over a month after that initial diagnosis is made. This event throws Cheryl into a frenzy of confusion and doubt where she makes a number of life changing decisions, some much worse than others. She divorces her husband whom she confesses she still loves, has several affairs and dabbles with heroin. Changing her last name to “Strayed” as a reflection upon the state of shambles that her life had become, she decides to find herself. This moment of self-enlightenment comes four and half years after her mother’s death. Looking for some drastic challenge to undertake, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail even though she knows little about long distance hiking.
She chronicles her journey with Monster, an overstuffed backpack weighing in excess of forty pounds, on her back, and an ill-fitting pair of new hiking boots that leave her feet blistered, sore, bruised, and with several of her toenails severed off.
On her trek, she has to regularly deal with the rattlesnakes that she spots, as well as cougars and other wildlife. If that weren’t enough, not all the people she meets on or near the trail are friendly. A few are downright fearsome and want more from her than a little conversation or a friendly smile.
I found this book to be very honest, in fact brutally so. But this is tempered by Strayed’s very easygoing and likeable writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her soul searching adventure. It is definitely an emotional trip, and one that is not easily forgotten.
And I also look forward to reading Torch.
But first, it’s almost time for my walk! Just around the neighborhood mind you.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)
A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.
Dead End in Norvelt
If you enjoy listening to Australian accents and if you like stories written with an ingenious idea, then listen to I Am the Messenger, written by Markus Zusak and read by Marc Aden Gray.
The summary, as listed in the KPL catalog, reads: “After capturing a bank robber, nineteen-year old cabdriver Ed Kennedy begins receiving mysterious messages that direct him to addresses where people need help, and he begins getting over his lifelong feeling of worthlessness.” Ed Kennedy’s ordinariness and common desires keep this story fresh. Ed lives in a self-described shack with his stinky old dog named “the Doorman.” Who is sending these playing cards with cryptic messages written on them anyway? Messages that demand Ed to seek justice by entering the lives of various townsfolk, ie: an abused wife, a lonely old woman with dementia, an athletic teenage girl who runs barefoot, a priest with dwindling attendance at his run-down neighborhood church, a poor mother of three children, two battling brothers, Ed’s own condemning mother, and lastly, his three best friends with hidden agendas: Ritchie, Marv, and Audrey.
This intriguing, thought-provoking story is certain to satisfy both teen and adult readers.
I Am the Messenger
Changes in the way in which downloadable e-books are bought, distributed, and accessed are coming fast and furious. How will this impact your e-book reading experience at KPL? The most recent change to the way in which you access our e-book collection impacts users who own Kindle devices or Kindle apps. The following alert concerns Penguin Publishers. Starting February 10, Penguin will no longer offer additional copies of e-books and downloadable Audiobooks for library purchase. Additionally, Penguin e-books loaned for reading on Kindle devices will need to be downloaded to a computer then transferred to the device over USB. For library patrons, this means Penguin e-books will no longer be available for over-the-air delivery to Kindle devices or to Kindle apps.
It is even more important now to note who the publisher of your book is when attempting to download and transfer e-books to your computer, e-reader or mobile device. We will continue to bring attention to these kinds of industry changes when they impact library use. Stay tuned.
Moonwalking with Einstein [electronic resource] : the art and science of remembering everything
In preparation for a day when I would be spending a lot of time in the car, I took a short visit to the audiobook collection at Central Library. For me, commutes or road trips become much more enjoyable when I have a good book to listen to. I gathered up a few titles, including a favorite I have listened to a number of time, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and headed to the self check-out. At the last second, one more title caught my eye titled The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures by Philip Mould. I quickly snatched up the title knowing it was right up my alley and could likely keep me intently listening for hours.
The author, Philip Mould, is an art dealer from London. He has gained popularity through his dealings over the years and has been an appraiser on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow. He spends much of his time researching and examining paintings that are up for auction all over the world judging their worth by considering their subject, attribution, state of preservation, popularity, and provenance. His book tells stories from during his career when lost paintings have been identified and forgeries uncovered. Through art historical research in libraries and archives, and scientific innovations, art connoisseurs are able to learn more about how a work of art originally looked and functioned than ever before. Mould, his colleagues, and his many friends in the art world painstakingly follow leads and try to trace back a painting's history to determine its' origins.
The six chapters each tell different stories of discoveries - identifications of "sleepers" (works by great masters who have somehow been forgotten or misidentified as belonging to a lesser artist), exposing forgeries of great works, and uncovering the greatness of a masterpiece by removing extensive overpainting or darkened varnish. A great storyteller, Mould is able to keep your attention easily. The audiobook is very enjoyable, however, I might recommend the book because it includes before and after restoration pictures of the paintings mentioned in the book. The pictures of the Rembrandt Self-Portrait depict an especially delightful transformation (note: if you like Rembrandt, you don't want to miss the current exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts)!
If you are interested in art history mysteries, you may also enjoy the video titled The Da Vinci Detective about Maurizio Seracini, the director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture, and Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego. Seracini has done extensive research on Da Vinci's Adoration of the Magi and has been instrumental in leading the search for the possibly lost fresco, The Battle of Anghiari. Though this search has been halted for a few years, it seems as though research has once again commenced using somewhat more invasive, but also more telling, procedures. (Hopefully soon, this search for Da Vinci's lost fresco will be forever solved!) I hope you'll enjoy these stories about the quest for lost art!
The Art Detective: fakes, frauds, and finds and the search for lost treasures
Gary D. Schmidt does a superb job of character development and reality writing in his Young Adult novel titled: Okay for Now. It’s the late 1960s and Doug Swieteck, the main character, is 14 years old and has just moved to a new town in New York. Doug is the darling who frequently mends his family and community… a gigantic feat for a teen who is abused by his bum father, is mutually loved by his mother, is scorned by his jealous older brother, and is the lifesaver of his oldest brother who returns broken after serving in VietNam.
Doug’s best friend is Lil Spicer; her dad owns the grocery store where Doug gets a delivery job thereby befriending more townsfolk. Doug delights in his weekly redemptive visits to the library where he studies Audubon prints and learns to draw. Doug’s disabilities are painfully uncovered by an astute teacher, while yet another teacher creates nightmares.
You might ask, Why read this book? Doug is fun. Doug is cool. Doug triumphs. By the way, Gary D. Schmidt lives near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is an English professor at Calvin College and has written other great must-reads!
Okay for Now