Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Are Geniuses Made or Born?

Was Einstein one-of-a-kind? Was he original, special, unique—so unique that nobody else could have possibly come up with the theory of relativity? There will never be another Einstein. Or, was he made, a product of the time, a small part in a larger collaborative scientific environment—at the right place at the right time? There are many Einstein’s.

Of course the answer is probably in the middle, and we sometimes forget that there are many other geniuses in history and alive today. (Good Will Hunting is a great movie on the subject). Einstein does get a “special” place, “relatively” speaking; we give him more “space” and more “time” than any other genius (puns intended)—perhaps deservingly so. Look up genius in the dictionary, you see Einstein’s silly little wise grin.

The author of this book thinks that, on the whole, genius is a product of a particular culture and that major scientific advances could have been made by many different people at any given time. Nobody is that special. Science is collaborative. Einstein disagrees: “Einstein believed that ‘great men’ shaped history and that advances in the arts, in the humanities, and in science were due to the contributions of outstanding individuals who labored in the solitude of the creative process” (27). Isaac Newton particularly comes to mind here. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, a contemporary of Einstein, stressed the collective nature of science a little more.

To become an Einstein, I believe many stars must align. First, geniuses really do exist, they are different; they have an Intel Quad-Core processor, we have an abacus. My mom said life’s not fair and she’s right. Second, education and upbringing. If the flower isn’t watered, if the fire isn’t kindled, if the…you get it. Einstein was well read and widely read. “I am really more of a philosopher than a physicists,” he once said. The fact that he read Kant’s ideas on space and time has a lot to do with how he developed his own ideas. Third, a thriving culture of learning is required, especially for science types. Also, it’s very important to remember that you don’t have to be a “genius” be do great things (indeed, Einstein considered ‘moral geniuses’ like Jesus and Gandhi).

What do you think?

book

Einstein and oppenheimer
9780674028289
MattS

What's Your Favorite Animal?

What's Your Favorite Animal? looks like a new Eric Carle book. And it is. But it's also by Nick Bruel, Lucy Cousins, Susan Jeffers, Steven Kellogg, Tom Lichtenheld, Peter McCarty, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Lane Smith, Erin SteadRosemary Wells, and Mo Willems. Whew! Each of these Childrens' Lit luminaries expounds in words and pictures on their favorite animal. Many of these two-page spreads will make you laugh out loud. This is a fantastic choice for any fans of these Picture Book power-hitters. I like to read What's Your Favorite Animal? aloud. It's a great way to instigate a discussion about why we like the things we like.

Book

What's Your Favorite Animal?
9780805096415
BillC

Move Over Guinness: The Animals Are Coming

Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records by Mark Carwardine is a fascinating and addictive book about truly amazing animal records. It is quite comprehensive, utilizing the traditional animal classification system of groups, orders, families and species for organizational purposes.

The main goal is to “celebrate the wonders of the natural world and particularly its diversity.” For example, the box jellyfish found off the coast of Australia carries enough venom in it to kill sixty adult humans. At least seventy people have died from its stings, more so than from shark and crocodile attacks combined in that part of the country. In fact, some succumbed in as little as four minutes from the time they came in contact with the jellyfish’s tentacles.

The book also points out that quite a few of these record breaking animals are endangered and close to extinction, such as the white, black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses. These rhinos hold a number of records including thickest skin on a mammal.

This volume will captivate kids with fantastic photographs and keep them reading and learning astonishing facts which are presented in a fast and fun way. A great gift for your young nature lover or a good reference volume just to have in your own book collection.

Book

Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
9781770852693
TeresaM-R

Another Look Back at the 1960s

There are many recent books about various aspects of the 1960s – 50 years ago. I’m drawn to these books as the time when I grew up but was not old enough to fully understand and appreciate the significance of many events.

I grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the NY World’s Fair in the summers of 1964 and 65. I remember many of the major exhibits. Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America tells the back story of the politics of the fair told against the times: the Kennedy assassination, the US and the Soviet Union, Malcolm X and racial issues, color TV, the Ford Mustang, Disney World, the Beatles.

This is a history of the mid 1960s with the World’s Fair as a reflection of the times. It is fascinating reading if you attended the fair or not.

Book

Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America
9780762780358
AnnR

The Mad Potter

The arresting photo on the cover of this book caught my eye and I was quickly drawn into the quirky world of George Ohs, who called himself The Mad Potter.

Born in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1871, George Ohs was a largely self-taught potter, making items like no one had ever seen before. It wasn’t until long after his death that the art world came to appreciate what he called his “mud babies.”

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius tells his fascinating story and is illustrated with intriguing historic photographs.

Book

The Mad Potter
9781596438101
Susan

Grasshopper Jungle

Once in a while a book comes along and completely destroys everything you thought you knew about everything. Andrew Smith's latest book for older teens, Grasshopper Jungle, is exactly that book. Set in desolate small-town Iowa, Grasshopper Jungle is sixteen-year-old Austin's first-hand account of both the end of the world and also his teenage sexual confusion, although not exactly in that order. Where in most teenage giant monster stories the giant monsters function as a metaphor for teen angst, in Grasshopper Jungle these tropes are completely reversed to amazing effect. As Freud might say, sometimes a giant maneating mutant insect is just a giant maneating mutant insect. Grasshopper Jungle is totally dark, funny, crass, creepy, weird and awesome. It's definitely not for those with aversions to copious amounts of sex, violence, swearing, or GIANT MANEATING UNSTOPPABLE BUGS but aside from all that, Grasshopper Jungle is seriously amazing writing. My favorite book of the year so far, and one that's going to be really hard to top.

Book

Grasshopper Jungle
9780525426035
Stewart F.

~~~~~~~~~~Wave~~~~~~~~~~

The book Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is the London survivor's account of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that struck the day after Christmas while her family was vacationing in her native Sri Lanka in 2004. Sonali lost her husband, both precious young sons, both parents, and good friend in an instant as they were swept away, trying to escape the monstrous wave that suddenly engulfed their coastal hotel on an otherwise calm, sunny morning. Sonali, swept inland and back out again by the wave, eventually clung to a branch and survived. The book starts off with these horrifying events, then plunges into the agony and despair that is the new reality for Sonali. Numbing alcohol, wanting to die, guilt, blame, anger. As she tells the story of years leading up to the devastation, she memorializes the love of of her life, Steve, and his mouth-watering cooking, 8 year-old Vik who played cricket, 5 year-old Malli who put on shows with puppets and costumes, and long holidays with her parents Aachchi and Seeya at Sonali's childhood home in Colombo. This book is a sad, sad book...but it is also a beautiful love story.

Book

Wave
9780307962690
KristenL

Requiescat in pace

Sometimes I have this craving – I have to find a book. You may see me wandering from aisle to aisle here in the library, eyes fixed on the shelves, looking for that volume that will somehow take hold of me and say “Here I am – the book you’ve been looking for your whole life.” I’m seized by these feelings often: I remember one week at university, I had just finished finals and papers for the semester, and I needed a book. Not just any book. A book that would suck me in and change me. A book that would overwhelm me and leave me in a deep breathing, inchoate sort of awe. One of the first of these books to take me over and leave me a new person was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was very saddened to hear about this author’s death on April 17; so, in honor of his work, and to mourn the fact that there will be no more stories from his pen, here are some reflections on some of my favorite things he has written, which in many ways have spoiled me as a reader for anything less challenging or delightful.

I first encountered Marquez when I purchased his collection of novellas and short stories called Leaf Storm at a bargain bookstore in upstate New York. The story from this volume that grabbed me was “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” It was such a simple story, and the people in the village seemed real because the narrative made them so commonplace, so rooted to their unremarkable, hardworking and physically hemmed-in existence. The narrative made me feel sympathy for them, and then eventually to find myself among their number. The arrival of this corpse – not so very surprising; for a people who catch their living in the sea, drowning is all too common, really – changes this village and the villagers. The size of this man. As the villagers go through the familiar rituals associated with preparing the body for the funeral, they discover his differences. He is enormous. He is not from their village, or another one nearby. He is like nobody and nothing they have seen before. In the face of the mystery of this man, they have to make up some kind of life for him, a way to understand him. They create an identity for him: they give him a name, Esteban, and a history of sorts. The work to lay him to rest in his death becomes an imaginative creation of a life that somehow matches the greatness his dead body suggests to the villagers. When they hold the funeral, he is mourned as one of their own, and they have fallen in love with him. They are now his. This was a love story like one I had never read before, and I was sucked in. I was in love with Esteban, too, and shivered in the bittersweet pleasure of the story as it was told, and the sense of loss it created. 

And then, I can’t remember exactly when or why, I found myself reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Talk about shivering in bittersweet pleasure. The thought of sitting down and opening the book even now means I must have the leisure of time. I want balmy weather, so I can open my window to feel the breeze move around me. I want light refreshments. I must be prepared for company. The characters who stride across these pages are driven: the desire for children, for revolution, for freedom, for gold, for each other; the unending hunger surges through their blood and family and tugs you along with them. They are never fully satisfied. Sometimes it comes close, but that just sharpens the coming up short. This family and this village are small and insular, but they are the whole world. Everything is shocking, yet you shake your head and enlarge your heart to take it all in, because you love these people, and you know them, because you have come to recognize the patterns repeating themselves over and over again in the house and the family. Somehow, the unspoken desires, the unknowns, the unfinished and unsatisfied elements from your life find a place here in Macondo, too, and you can sigh over them while you marvel at the events of the hundred years. 

And then there is his short story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” that I read and discussed with literature students for a couple of years. It gave time to discuss the genre Marquez is best known for, magic realism, as well as other rhetorical devices like antithesis, allegory, and allusion. It’s a charming fairy tale, from one perspective, seemingly best suited for children with the appearance of angels and disobedient daughters turned into spiders. But it’s also a story about the hard work and disappointments that characterize so much of adult life, and that blind adults to the magic and inexplicable all around them. 

The library has three pages in the catalogue of books written by Marquez, some in the original Spanish; most of them are English translations. Try One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera, both in the fiction section. Maybe you will be like me and fall in love with the people engendered in Marquez’s brain. Maybe you will be fascinated by the real history and political tragedy that gets woven into every narrative. Maybe you will long for the sultry and soporific Caribbean landscapes that somehow spread across your own mind as you enter his world. Read something, then come talk about it with me.

Book

One Hundred Years of Solitude
9780060919658
KarenN

Pearl Cleage lays it all out there!

When I started reading this book I got really excited. I thought that I had a lot in common with Pearl Cleage. The similarities stopped quickly and although the timing of our first children was close there was little to compare after that. Like me she quit working but she was still very connected. How could she not be when she wrote speeches for the city of Atlanta’s first black mayor and fraternized with some very important people? She was married to Michael Lomax, who became the president of The United Negro Fund. In Things I should have told my daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs, Pearl gives her readers a very candid look into her life back in the 70s and 80s. Some of her bear-it-all details were tough for me to imagine because where I had become Pollyannaish she was making major life changes and her world was broadening while mine was narrowing. I don’t envy her and her world, I just marvel at it. She had 2 affairs with married men and still ended up happy!

Pearl says it was all worth it, even the messy parts.

Book

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs
9781451664690
JudiR

You Are Probably Too Busy to Read This Book

In today's world, when work and home life seem to intertwine and many of us are tethered to technology that keeps us constantly available, time is our most precious commodity.  In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has theTime, Brigid Schulte takes a look at the U.S.'s perpetual time crunch and what makes us all in such a hurry.  Schulte offers extensive research regarding time, work, and play in the U.S. and the results are fascinating: it turns out time is gendered in our society.  Schulte argues that the myth of the "ideal worker" (an employee who puts in hours upon hours of face time in at work and will drop everything at a moment's notice for their employer) is detrimental to the health and happiness of individuals and does nothing at all to support families.  Women, particularly mothers, assumed to be the care givers in families, are the ones who suffer the most; they make less money, are less likely to rise to management levels within companies, and feel relentless pressure to be the perfect parent.  Schulte offers lots of data to back up her argument, and she suggests changes (including paid maternity/paternity leave, paid vacation, flexible work hours, more egalitarian household duties, etc.) that she thinks would offer better support to families and in turn generate happy, healthy, and productive workers.

I found this book extremely interesting to read despite a topic that, handled differently, could have easily been boring; it made me look at structures in our society that are taken for granted and realize that, yes, we can have more time, better gender equality, and still be a productive society.  I do wish more attention was paid to how low income families and people of color are impacted by "the overwhelm" as the author describes it-although Schulte occasionally addresses both income and race, there's plenty more that could have been discussed along those lines.  Despite that flaw, I came away from this book with the feeling that the topic of time--both work and leisure--is incredibly important to discuss and that a cultural shift in how we think about time could have a huge, positive impact on our society. 

Book

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
9780374228446

 

CaitlinH
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