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That's how the students at Washington DC's Ballou Sr High School and their librarian Melissa Jackson feel about the recent Guys Lit Wire Holiday Book Fair. Via the Powells Books wish list, 59 books were bought and shipped to Ballou where they have been very gratefully received.
I love seeing something like this happen - it's really what the holiday season is all about. Thanks so much to everyone who helped make these kids happy and to all of you out there who believe in the power of books to change lives. :)
This is one of those books filled with so much fascinating yet disgusting information that you can’t help but read parts out loud to other people so they can be grossed out right along with you.
Or maybe that’s just me.Because I started reading this book at work one day and just had to read some sections aloud to my co-workers. Like when Rebecca L. Johnson explains how a certain fungus grows inside the corpse of a type of carpenter ant, until “a long, skinny stalk erupts through the dead ant’s head.” Or the description of a wasp laying an egg on a cockroach, then the egg becoming a larva that slowly eats the roach’s internal organs while the roach is still alive. (And then I absolutely had to show my co-workers the accompanying pictures, as well. I mean, just look at page 24.)
Maybe you think zombies aren’t real, but zombification of sorts actually exists in nature. In Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature’s Undead, Johnson explains how parasites like hairworms and the jewel wasp, among others, reproduce by infecting their host and making them act in weird, practically zombie-like ways. Vacant stares and stilted movements? Check. Unresponsive to pain, injury, even loss of body parts? Check.
Johnson (whose Journey Into the Deep I reviewed several years ago) focuses on just a few parasites in this short but, uh, engrossing book. Her writing is vivid, the design and photo selection effectively complements the text, and a lot of information is packed into this short book. Besides describing how the parasite infects its host and reproduces, Johnson also briefly discusses the scientific observations and experiments that informed our knowledge of the parasites. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. Whether you’re interested in science or just want to read a good gross-out book, or both, I highly recommend Zombie Makers.
Middle Grade nonfiction
Published in 2012
I’ve neglected to cross-post my last few reviews for Guys Lit Wire (Bomb by Sheinkin and Sumo by Pham, if you’re interested), but Spillover. Oh my god, this book was awesome and I loved it. If I’d read it when it came out last year, it would have easily topped my list of favorite books of 2012. But since I didn’t actually have a chance to read it until this past March, I’ll have to settle for putting it on my 2013 list.
Pick an infectious disease.
Influenza. Ebola. Bubonic plague. SARS. AIDS. I could go on.
Whatever disease you chose, there’s a good chance the pathogen that causes it originated in an animal and then jumped to humans. “This form of interspecies leap is common, not rare; about 60 percent of all human infectious diseases currently known either cross routinely or have recently crossed between other animals and us,” writes David Quammen. Such pathogens are known as zoonoses, and the moment when a pathogen jumps from one species to another is called spillover.
In Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, Quammen investigates a handful of zoonoses and how they spilled over, traveling all over the world and going into the field to speak to doctors, scientists, and survivors. He joins a biologist in Gabon who is conducting a biological survey of Central African forests, visits the “wet markets” of Guangdong, China, and helps trap monkeys and bats in Bangladesh. Along the way, he talks to men who were in the village of Mayibout 2 when Ebola struck in 1996, the doctors in Singapore who treated patients suffering from what was later identified as SARS but at first seemed merely a severe case of pneumonia, scientists who identified previously unknown diseases and tracked them to their original hosts, and many others.
Which would make for compelling reading on its own. Yet what really pushes this past compelling to outstanding is Quammen’s prose, sometimes wry (as when he notes “If you’ve followed all that, at a quick reading, you have a future in biology” after a paragraph-long description of the life stages of the Anopheles mosquito, and later “Mathematics to me is like a language I don’t speak though I admire its literature in translation.”), always sharply observant and erudite.
But for all the in-depth sections explaining scientific, medical, or epidemiological terminology, this is not a dry, detached scientific discourse. In a way, Spillover is about the human experience of infectious zoonotic disease–both those who are stricken and those who investigate it. And I could not put this book down. It’s timely and relevant, endlessly fascinating, and eloquently written.
Spillover happens to be one of three shortlisted titles for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, along with Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan and The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death by Jill Lepore. The winner will be announced at the ALA annual conference on June 30.
Book source: personal (purchased) copy.
* If, like me, you are into books about pandemics, David Dobbs put together a reading list at Slate. I haven’t yet read everything he recommends (must work on that!), but I also want to plug one article he didn’t mention, “Death at the Corners” by Denise Grady from Discover magazine. It’s not about a pandemic, but it is about a zoonotic disease outbreak, and probably THE article sparked my reading interest in infectious diseases.
I think in this case, pictures are worth a thousand words, right? We have sold just over 100 books off the Powells wish list for Ballou Library and it is truly wonderful to see these titles unpacked with so much excitement. This is why we do the book fair - because we know how much the books are wanted and will be enjoyed.
In all honesty though, sometimes I feel as if I am nagging the entire internet with posts and tweets trying to cajole folks to spread the word and help us sellout. I wish it was easier; heck, I wish it was unnecessary. I wish that I didn't get emails from people disappointed that we were staying with the same school as years previous, that we had not found someplace "needier". I wish I did not have to explain why Ballou still needs our help and I wish I didn't get frustrated and even a little angry at how a school library in our nation's capitol that has not money for new books deserves lots of novels and science fiction and romance (even with vampires) and all of those other types of books that don't sound serious enough to some folks but are desperately wanted by teenagers everywhere.
Just look at that girl with Redshirts - pretty darn happy, don't you think?
The spring book fair formerly ended yesterday but I'm going to leave the list open for just a little while longer. I can't help but think that seeing these pictures might prompt a few folks to buy a book or two or let some folks know about the book fair who might have missed the initial Guys Lit Wire post. I do hope everyone will share these pictures far and wide though - it's pretty cool to see how excited teenagers can be about the gift of books, isn't it? They make me feel hopeful in a thousand different ways; hopeful and pretty damn happy.
As longtime readers know, this time of year over at Guys Lit Wire we get hard at work to help librarian Melissa Jackson at Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC fill her school's shelves. From our previous efforts, starting in 2011, we have helped Ballou move from a library that had less than one book for each of its 1,185 students to a ratio now of FIVE books per student. While this is all kinds of wonderful and something we are quite proud to be part of, the American Library Association advocates eleven books for each student. Ballou is still operating at a serious literary deficit and so we are staying with them until they are busting that minimum standard and knee deep in all the reading these students could ever want or need.
The most exciting news for Ballou is that a new structure is in the works for the school and should be completed by January 2015. As the existing building dates to the late 1950s and is in disrepair, to say the project is overdue would be a vast understatement. But while the new Ballou is going to be a great and wonderful thing, it is not the answer to all its students' problems. The bright and shiny 2015 Library and Media Center will be 5,800 square feet of awesomeness but there is no money in the budget - nothing from the DC public school system - to actually provide books for its shelves.
Wrap your head around that fact for a moment, please. The library space will be grand, the library contents...not so much.
The main problem for Ballou's library, the thing Melissa Jackson is constantly working on, is getting new books. Her students want what all teen readers want - popular and newly released titles that speak to them. Specifically, the Ballou teens are asking for science fiction, romance, fantasy, graphic novels, historical fiction, thrillers and realistic fiction.
Sound like basically every other teen you know?
So while there are plenty of congratulations all around to DC for building the new school, the walls and windows will do nothing to actually get books into the hands of these kids who happen to be smack in the middle of one of the most challenging environments in the country. On the city's most recent standardized tests, only 22 percent of Ballou 10th-graders were proficient in math, and just 18 percent were proficient in reading. To improve their lives, we need to make books an easily accessible part of their school experience and, just as important, we need to make sure these are books that will get them excited about reading.
So, you know the drill - a wish list has been created at Powells books that has been vetted by both Melissa and her student literary leaders. We continue to partner with Powells because they do a killer job of getting the books out fast, they offer lots of sale titles (be sure and watch for those) and their "Standard" used copies a pretty much like new. Plus, we are supporting a bricks and mortar store in the fine city of Portland, Oregon which is nice way connecting both sides of the country in one outstanding literary effort.
Yeah, we love Powells.
Our 2013 Wish List for Ballou, (here's the link if you want to embed it in a post: http://bit.ly/GLWBookFair), has a lot of manga, urban fiction, poetry, paranormal titles and a boatload of big sellers. (Margo Lanagan, Ellen Hopkins, Sherman Alexie, Cassandra Clare, Paolo Bacigalupi and Walter Dean Myers are all front and center.) As a fan of nonfiction I'm delighted to see books like Courage Has No Color, The Elements, How to Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing the Myths of Science Denial and The Pregnancy Project on the list and there is also a healthy collection of adult crossover titles like Here, Bullet, (Brian Turner) The Grey Album (Kevin Young) and The Intuitionist (by Colson Whitehead). There is also a lot of urban fiction, as requested by the students, and since Melissa is working with a reading population that varies in literacy levels from 5th grade to college prep, we have liberally mined the resources of the ALA Quick Picks list to discover books with older teen appeal but manageable reading levels.
You can check out the list, make your selections for the school and please know while we prefer new it is perfectly fine to purchase used copies of a book (more bang for your buck). But check and make sure the book is in "standard" used condition and not "student owned" (you will have to click on the title and leave the wish list to check this). The "student owned" copies are very cheap for a reason - they are written in and thus not a good choice for this effort.
Once you have made your selections head to "checkout" and you will be prompted to inform Powells if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as "purchased" on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. (If you have already done this in the past the info will be saved to your Powells account.) Here is where the books are going to:
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
It's very important that you get Melissa's name and title in there - she is not the only Jackson (or Melissa) at the school and we want to make sure the books get to the library.
After that you pay for the books and you're done! Please head back over here when you get a chance and leave a comment letting us know who you are, where you're from and what you bought. Also be sure to follow @BallouLibrary on twitter where Melissa will be updating on books as they arrive and student reactions. You can also let her know what you have ordered via twitter - I'm sure she will be delighted to let the kids know what's coming their way.
As always, the crew at GLW and especially me personally, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping us in this effort. The book fair is one of the best examples of what we all believe in - getting as many books as possible into the hands of kids who need them. Books matter so much - actual physical books that can be checked out and shared and read dozens of times over by kids for whom owning an e-reader is a distant dream. The Book Fair for Ballou is all about letting kids in a tough spot know that someone out here, someone they will never meet, wants them to read great books and is willing to put forward some of their own hard-earned dollars to make that happen. This level of caring is a powerful thing folks, and it can change the world in significant ways.
Buy a book, send a tweet, post on your blog or at facebook. Spread the word for Ballou and never doubt how much your help is appreciated. And now, enjoy a few recent pictures from the Ballou Library facebook page showing just how much this library is appreciated! Toriko! Vol 2 is on the list! (And we would be happy to add many more in the series... :)
Chess Club getting serious in the library
Annual African American "Read In"
Women's History Month celebration
2,208 people were on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage
of these, 891 were crew members and 1,317 were passengers
yet she carried just 20 lifeboats that could have held a total of 1,178 people
she sank, after hitting an iceberg, on April 15, 1912
only 712 people survived
But numbers can only tell us so much. They don’t convey the excitement surrounding the largest and most luxurious ocean liner ever built at the time, the confusion and fear on board when disaster struck, the bravery of many crew members and passengers, or the heartbreak of realizing a loved one did not survive.
As the subtitle of Deborah Hopkinson’s Titanic: Voices from the Disaster implies, this is a human history of the Titanic. After describing the building of the ship and giving readers a sense of its massive scale, Hopkinson introduces some of the crew and passengers (from several countries, and different social backgrounds) who were on board. Their memories add depth and intimacy to events, engaging Titanic buffs as well as readers less familiar with the disaster. Hopkinson does an excellent job weaving multiple voices together—first describing, well,“normal” life on the Titanic for passengers and crew, then the chaos after the iceberg was spotted—with contextual information regarding different aspects of the Titanic (both in terms of what was known or custom at the time, and based on what we know now) into an organically flowing narrative.
Numerous images (photos, reproductions of telegrams, and more) spread throughout the book provide additional atmosphere; it’s one thing to read about some of the amenities on board, but seeing photographs of the gymnasium and a life preserver made of cork give the details even more impact.
The back matter is another thing to rave about here. Seriously, it is awesome, especially if you love back matter as much as I do. It’s comprehensive (comprising about a quarter of the book!), including a glossary, timeline, selected bibliography, source notes, additional biographical information about some of the passengers, and an excerpt from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry Report.
Book details: middle grade nonfiction, published 2012 by Scholastic, ISBN 9780545116749
Deo is playing soccer with his friends when the soldiers arrive in Gutu. “You voted wrongly at the election,” the commander tells the villagers. “You were not thinking straight. That is why the president sent me.”
The first villager to be beaten is Deo’s grandfather. The second villager to be beaten is Deo’s mentally disabled older brother, Innocent. Soldiers drag Innocent out of the village; other soldiers beat the rest of the villagers. Deo manages to escape and find Innocent, but soon he realizes that they have no choice but to flee Zimbabwe. All Deo and Innocent have with them are Innocent’s Bix-box, in which Innocent stores his most important possessions, and Deo’s homemade soccer ball, stuffed with bill after bill of near worthless Zimbabwean currency.
Running to South Africa will not be easy.
And once in South Africa, how will they manage to survive? Innocent is childlike, sometimes prone to fits, and poor South Africans all over the country are seething with resentment against refugees like Deo and Innocent.
Now Is the Time for Running (originally published in South Africa under the title The Billion Dollar Soccer Ball) is a work of fiction, but is based on the experiences of three refugees from Zimbabwe whom Michael Williams met in South Africa. It’s vividly told in Deo’s first-person present tense narration, at first with filled with urgency as Deo and Innocent try to reach South Africa. As the story goes on, Deo’s voice changes–still recognizably his, still gripping, but impacted by what happens to him after that day in Gutu.
At less than 230 pages, Now Is the Time for Running is quite short, but the brevity does not decrease its power. On the contrary, I think this makes the story even more immediate, as Williams thrusts the reader directly into Deo’s life, explaining little more than what is needed to understand Deo’s situation.
An Author’s Note at the end of the book helpfully gives more insight into the origins of the story as well as the climate of xenophobia in South Africa. However, I do wish a map of Zimbabwe and South Africa were included in the book, as well as a note about Zimbabwe.
For readers who want to learn more about Zimbabwe, I highly recommend reading Peter Godwin’s The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe. Godwin, an author and journalist who was born and raised in Zimbabwe, returned there in 2008 soon after the presidential election. Mugabe, the country’s longtime dictator, lost the election but refused to give up power. The Fear is a personal account of Zimbabwe–of Godwin’s and his sister’s return to the places they once lived, but most of all, the appalling, disturbing, inspiring, and courageous experiences of people who remain. It’s not an easy book to read, since among those Godwin gives voice to are Zimbabweans who were arrested and tortured. Yet Godwin’s writing is passionate and vital, and so is The Fear.
Are you a typography geek, able to identify fonts used in books, menus, and corporate logos? Or is Comic Sans the only font you recognize? Regardless of where you fall, Simon Garfield’s Just My Type is a fascinating look at fonts.
Just My Type is not a font identification guide or a chronological history of fonts. I’m not actually sure how Garfield organized the book’s chapters; after discussing how desktop computing revolutionized our relationship with type, he dives into the history of the aforementioned Comic Sans and the animosity many people feel towards it. Garfield also finds the time to discuss legibility vs. readability, the ampersand (did you know that while “long treated as a single character or glyph, the ampersand is actually two letters combined – the e and the t of the Latin ‘et’”? I had no idea!), DIY typography, and more, while also jumping around through time to discuss the creation and influence of significant fonts, like Helvetica and Baskerville, among others.
So while there were times I wished for more organizational clarity, I also found it stimulating to not know where Garfield would head next. Would it be a discussion of typographic errors in movies, where fonts were used in movies set prior to the font’s creation? Pirated fonts and the lack of intellectual property rights where fonts are concerned? The fonts used in the 2008 presidential campaigns?
Just My Type was originally published in Great Britain last year and it retains its Britishness in the American edition. Garfield proves a lively and opinionated guide to the world of fonts, so if you’re at all interested in fonts and typography, this is very much worth a look.
On Wednesday I announced at Guys Lit Wire that we ware sponsoring a holiday book fair at Powells Books to support the Ballou Sr High School library over the next ten days. After helping to lift the school from a terrible situation early this year where they had less than one book per student to the current number of four books per student (still woefully less than the ALA standard of eleven books for each student), we decided that rather than move onto another school GLW would instead stay with Ballou. The reason is simple - we can make a real different for Ballou with our ongoing involvement. We can change the library, we can change the school, we can change the lives of the students. There are many things that every child in this country should have a right to just because they are born here (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness), and if a decent school library isn't one of them then we have truly entered the dark ages.
Access to library books should be something every school kid has and everyone of you whose life was changed by their school library knows exactly what I am talking about.
Ballou High School should not be depending on an internet book drive to stock their library. We know this, we all know this, and yet here we are. This is just the way things are right now - schools do not have money and schools in low income neighborhoods have a lot less than most of us can imagine. So if Melissa Jackson is going to get books for her library then she needs help, specifically she needs a little bit of help from a lot of people she has never met. If all of us do our part - if we all spend what we can in the midst of our holiday shopping then we can do some powerful stuff for this school. Most of us never know if we have made someone's life better but with one book purchase we can know - we can really know.
If you don't have cash to spare this year then please blog about the book fair, post it to facebook, send out a tweet. Let as many other folks know as you can. Bit by bit, book by book, we are building a library in Ballou. It's the worthiest of causes and I hope you will join us as once more, we do all that we can do.
So, it's Cyber Monday and like a zillion other companies online Powells Books has got a deal for you. In their case it is free shipping (type in FREEMONDAY during checkout) on any order of any size which is pretty nice if, for example, you wanted to buy a book for $6.98 or $7.98 or even $9.99 and send it to the very fine students at Ballou High School in Washington DC who are desperate for a library that will suit their needs and fire up their souls and make their world a better place. Not that you can't use that free shipping for yourself too but if you wanted to help out the Guys Lit Wire Holiday Book Fair for Ballou then Melissa Jackson, the school's librarian, would certainly appreciate it.
And I would to. :-)
(There are so many great books on the list and we are so thrilled to pieces with the titles that have already been bought and it is all going so well that I can't help but hope for a sellout. Of course I always hope for a sellout when we roll into the second week but this time I especially do. It's an early Christmas thing.)
I'm trying not to tug on heartstrings, because that is so Lifetime movie of the week (as opposed to After School Special of the week which is so yesterday). It's just so hard to change the world or even think the world will ever change in anything but the most depressing way possible, that people buying books for a high school library makes me happy. Ballou started the year with less than one book per student and now have four. FOUR! They need thousands and thousands of more books (to get to the ALA standard of eleven per student) but they are on their way and isn't that amazing? It's the closest thing I will get to magic, seeing those books fly off the wish list and I have to tell you it is an addictive thing.
More book news and reading news to report soonest but today I'm just thinking Book Fair. Be sure to let us know at GLW if you buy something - we love to see where folks live and what books they wanted to send.
I swear, a longer post is imminent. (I was on a deadline crunch of epic proportions and just feel fried at the moment.)
Please do take a quick look over at Guys Lit Wire where I share a list of titles from the Ballou Holiday Book Fair list that are on sale (crazy sale, like many books less than $10 and a couple even under $5). These books might not be enjoying these prices again in the spring when we return to Ballou so if you were thinking about shopping for the school and could grab one now, before we shut down, we would appreciate it.
And I might be back shortly with a link to something cool, if it goes up anyway. I'll be back soon to let ya know, promise.
I’m sure most, if not all, of us have done something with good intentions, only to see things turn out…not how we expected.
Supporters of prohibition hoped that outlawing “the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor” would “forever end drunkenness, reduce crime, and make life better for American families.” (p. 3)
That’s not what happened after the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect. Ordinary people willfully broke the law, smuggling alcohol into the United States or brewing it themselves. Policemen and politicians accepted bribes while gangsters fought for bigger shares of the suddenly-illegal alcohol distribution trade.
In Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition, Karen Blumenthal delves into the history of Prohibition, its causes, and its effects. This makes the book’s title somewhat misleading, since the scope of Blumenthal’s narrative is broader than just bootlegging and gangs. So don’t be surprised when the book begins with an account of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, but doesn’t return to the incident for another eight chapters.
Blumenthal instead explains why Prohibition became law by first discussing the history of alcohol production and consumption in America (did you know that Americans drank more alcohol, per person, in the early 19th century than at any other time in the country’s history?), the temperance movement (which initially advocated only drinking in moderation), and the lobbying and political machinations that led to the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment. Only then does she go into detail about the smuggling, gangs, (lack of) law enforcement, and so on. Blumenthal covers a lot of ground, considering the relatively short length of the book. Bluementhal’s writing is accessible, and the narrative organized mostly in chronological order, which helps all the names and information straight. Most of all, Blumenthal excels at providing context, such as the influence on World War I on the prohibition campaign, giving readers a deeper understanding of the topic. Along the way, Blumenthal also reveals the origins of the words teetotalers and speakeasies, that Al Capone’s brother once worked as a federal agent, how some children and teenagers broke the law themselves while Prohibition was in effect, and much more.
The book’s design is simple but effective, featuring numerous black and white photographs and illustrations. I do wish a timeline was included with the backmatter, which is otherwise extensive and includes a glossary, bibliography and source notes, and an index.
My review of Baby's in Black, a forthcoming graphic novel about Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles. (Astrid is perhaps best known for giving the band their original signature haircuts, and for some early photographs she took of the band. Stuart is famous for being the band's original bass player.)
And to those of you still reading my blog, which I have been woefully neglecting of late, a very heartfelt thank you.
Readers of Guys Lit Wire, the group review blog I moderate, will likely remember our efforts last year to build up the library at Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC. Melissa Jackson, the school librarian, posted a video of the library that showed the extreme dearth of titles in her stacks. In early 2011 they had less than one book for each student, which is particularly alarming when you consider the American Library Association is 11:1. Through our efforts and those of many others the situation at Ballou has improved and there are now two books for each student. While that is certainly a good thing, it is far far (FAR) from where the Ballou Library should be. So, Guys Lit Wire is back this spring with a new wish list at Powells Books and a new call to help Ballou.
Head on over to GLW to read the full post, and find out exactly how you can buy a book (or more) to help this DC school. There are a few extra hoops to jump through going through Powells, but as you guys know, I'm a big fan of independent bookstores and all of us support what Powells does for the city of Portland. It only takes an extra minute to order from them and is well worth the effort.
On the list this year you will find a lot of manga and urban fiction, some great nonfiction and several adult crossover titles. There is historical fiction and paranormal romance and all the big books of the past few months plus a lot of graphic novels and some wonderful poetry. Every book on this list has been vetted by Melissa and is a title that the school wants and/or needs. This is a big part of what makes the GLW Book Fair so unique - we aren't sending Ballou books we want to get rid of but purchasing for them books they want to have.
The point, after all is not to clean out our closets.
The fair will run two weeks or less if we sell out early. There are over 500 books on the list, with a few titles (the less expensive manga) requesting more than one copy. (They will get a lot of use!) There are plenty of sale titles, lots for less than $10 and most for less than $20. If you can't buy a book we ask that you do please help us spread the word as far as wide as you are able. This is a senior high school in our nation's capitol and we are a critical source of their books. This is not a vanity project folks, not something to make us feel good. This is about stocking the shelves in a way that would not happen otherwise and it's also, as Melissa has told me more than once, a way to show these kids that they matter. You want to change the world today? Buy a book for Ballou and do something that will make a lot of kids and one happy librarian believe in miracles.
I love this project, and I love everything about all of you who make it so successful. Thanks so much for helping us do a very good thing. :)
A woman finds herself in a park, her body aching, with no memory of who she is or what she was doing. She survived some kind of attack–the ring of motionless bodies surrounding her is an obvious clue–and finds a letter in her jacket pocket which begins
The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is a result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body’s past. After all, I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary.
Killer opening, right? And, for the most part, what follows lives up to the promising start. Which is saying something, since the book is nearly 500 pages long.
The letter writer, Myfanwy Thomas, warns the woman reading the letter that she is in terrible danger. The original Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) considerately gives her the choice of starting a new life, with a new identity, or continuing to live Myfanwy’s life to find out what happened her. New Myfanwy is no idiot. She’ll take the new life, thank you very much. Why would she want the old Myfanwy’s life, when strange people wearing latex gloves want to harm her? Only, before she can follow Myfanwy’s instructions, she is attacked. She has no idea how the people after Myfanwy have found her so quickly, but it changes her mind about which route to take. She will remain Myfanwy Thomas. And in a few days, she will go to work as if nothing happened to her and try to figure out which of her colleagues betrayed her.
If she can find the time to investigate, that is. Myfanwy is a Rook of the Checquy Group, which exists to protect England from supernatural dangers. Okay, Myfanwy’s an administrator, a paper pusher, but she’s very good at her job and she knows it. Well, the new Myfanwy knows that the old Myfanwy was good at her job, but trying to hide the fact that she remembers nothing about her old life while reviewing the budget for the removal of plague-infected bodies, observing the interrogation of a man apprehended by the Checquy, and dealing with a sentient fungus, among other things, is not easy.
The reader learns about the Checquy and original Myfanwy’s life along with the new Myfanwy, through letters and the contents of a giant purple binder the original Myfanwy wrote before her memories were taken from her. These sections are informative without feeling infodump-y. Plus, they’re filled with mentions of past supernatural threats (or assets, in some instances) Myfanwy had to deal with that, many of which were refreshingly imaginative and frequently hilarious.
This, and the distinct voices and personalities of the two Myfanwys, make Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook a clever and entertaining and very fun read. Yeah, some of the chess-related aspect of the Checquy’s structure felt a bit underdeveloped (why, exactly, organize it around chess?), and, once the plot really gets going, some Myfanwy’s letter intrude on t
Last Monday we unveiled the Powells wish list for the Guys Lit Wire book fair with great excitement. This was our fourth year of running a book fair for a struggling library in the US and we have always done astonishingly well. Between past efforts for incarcerated juveniles in LA County and schools on the Navajo and White River Apache reservations, plus last year at Ballou SR High School in Washington DC, supporters have purchased more than 2,100 books off our wish lists and had them sent to the respective schools. Last year at Ballou we busted all records with 800+ in the spring book fair and another 150+ in a smaller holiday fair in November.
You can understand how hopeful we were last week to do this wonderful project all over again.
As I explained in my post at Guys Lit Wire, we elected to stay with Ballou because this school is literally building a library from the ground up. Last year they had less than one book for each of their 1,200 students - only 63 in the fiction section. Through our efforts and others, they had two books for each student this spring. (The American Library Association standard is ELEVEN books for student in school libraries.) Ballou was suffering from donor fatigue however - most of their support has disappeared but their need remains the same. The library is an incredibly vital part of the school (chess club, manga club, poetry club and on and on meet there), and we want to help them make it the crown jewel it deserves to be.
We are all book lovers after all - how could we walk away when the job was not done?
So we put 525 books the list with the advisement of Ballou librarian Melissa Jackson and we started the book fair with great optimism. Our outreach this year was without parallel; I am not exaggerating when I say that hundreds of thousands of people heard about the book fair via blog mentions, facebook updates and countless tweets. I was frankly stunned by how much help we received in spreading the word. Folks started buying books immediately and it looked like we were set for yet another sellout.
And then everything just slowed down.
As of today we have sold 117 books off the wish list. We are in the middle of the second week and seeing number similar to the second day for the past book fairs. I have honestly no idea why this has happened. Some people have suggested we held the fair too close to tax day, but that has never been an issue in the past. Some have suggested the Powells wish list, which requires you to manually type in the school's address, is too complicated. As we have always gone through Powells and strongly support independent bookstores, we just don't see how to change that and hope it is not an issue this time.
Some have suggested that the economy is a factor but as we are economically in better shape now than at any point during the previous book fairs, that is a hard one to accept. Additionally, many of the books on the list are less than $10, even with shipping, so the cost of helping is really quite small. Some have gone so far to suggest library fatigue and honestly, that one is just too painful to imagine.
One former donor told me she did not contribute this time because she preferred we choose another library and not give more than once to Ballou. While I certainly respect her choice to not help us, this one really hurt. We want to stay with Ballou partly because so many others have walked away and left the work unfinished. We thought we were doing the best thing possible for the school and students by not quitting now and yet I can not help but think that if I had another school with a fresh compelling story it might have gotten more support. But honestly, who knows.
This is all, quite frankly, enormously frustrating.
Vladimir Markov is dead, killed in gruesome fashion. The killer is obvious: a Siberian tiger. What little remains of Markov’s body is torn and tattered. When Yuri Trush arrives at Markov’s cabin, he records the scene with a video camera.
The camera doesn’t waver as it pans across the pink and trampled snow, taking in the hind foot of a dog, a single glove, and then a bloodstained jacket cuff before halting at a patch of bare ground about a hundred yards into the forest….
The temperature is thirty below zero and yet, here, the snow has been completely melted away. In the middle of this dark circle, presented like some kind of sacrificial offering, is a hand without an arm and a head without a face. Nearby is a long white bone, a femur probably, that has been gnawed to a boneless white. (p. 14-15)
Trush lead the Bikin unit of Inspection Tiger, an agency charged with investigating forest crimes, specifically those involving tigers. Inspection Tiger was created to protect Russian wildlife—Primorye territory, bordered by China and North Korea, is a Boreal Jungle, as John Vaillant terms it, “unique on earth, and it nurtures the greatest biodiversity of any place in Russia” (p. 25). It’s home to the most valuable timber in the Far East, and the animals that make their home in the taiga are just as valuable. For most people living there, the animals provide essential sustenance. Poaching, though illegal, is common because of the widespread poverty. However, a few poachers target not wild boars or badgers, but the most fearsome creature in the taiga. A tiger carcass will fetch $30,000 on the black market, a stunning amount of money, especially when you consider that most people in Primorye may not make $1,000 in one year. Inspection Tiger tries to stop poaching, but in this case, the tiger is dangerous, attacking and eating humans. It must be stopped.
At its heart, The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival is not just the study of a tiger. Vaillant uses the circumstances of Markov’s death and the hunt for the tiger that killed him as the framework for an absorbing exploration of the confluence of history (both natural and Russian), geography, and ecology in Primorye, and of the relationship between humans and tigers living there, focusing on one particularly shocking and fascinating incident. Some readers may consider Vaillant’s scope too broad, with digressions into human evolution and predators in other parts of the world that slow the momentum of the narrative; I found them fascinating.
Perhaps the most haunting, disturbing part about Markov’s death is the calculation with which the tiger deliberately stalked Markov and, later, its second victim. The tiger, it seems, held a grudge against Markov and the results were brutally obvious.
Book source: public library
Published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2010
You probably know that King Tut is dead. But do you know how he died? Or how he was prepared for mummification, or what Howard Carter did to poor Tut’s mummy?
Tutankhamun is the first of nineteen “awfully famous” people whose death is discussed in Georgia Bragg’s How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, with illustrations by Kevin O’Malley. As you might guess, this is a book about death. And not just any old deaths, but gross, disgusting, and miserable deaths. On the few occasions in which the death itself wasn’t actually too gruesome, relatively speaking, what happened to a person’s remains after death, well… As the introduction to the book warns, “If you don’t have the guts for gore, do not read this book.”
Bragg’s irreverent, sometimes snarky tone (e.g., subtitle of the Marie Curie chapter: “You Glow, Girl”) makes How They Croaked a casual, quick read. Beginning with King Tut, Bragg covers her subjects in chronological order. Each brief chapter is kicked off with a caricature by O’Malley. After explaining why the subject was famous, Bragg then focuses on describing the death in gleeful detail. Several illustrations are interspersed throughout the chapter, which concludes with collections of facts pertaining to the subject or the time period.
Take the musician and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example. After describing Mozart as former child prodigy who “grew into a gawky teen with a huge head. He still cried easily and always loved a good fart joke, but his cute, moneymaking prodigy years were definitely over. His father was not amused.” (p. 68) Bragg then goes on to explain how doctors attempted to treat Mozart’s ailments with leeches and “concoctions of warmed turpentine, wax, powdered Spanish fly, and mustard.” And, for anyone curious about leeches, at the end of the chapter, you can learn the steps for successful leeching and recommended leech dosages for adults.
Then there’s James A. Garfield. While the chapter’s subtitle, “James Who?” reflects his general obscurity, it’s fair to say that I will no longer forget exactly who he was. I don’t know what party he belonged to or whether he actually accomplished anything substantial as president, but I do know that I found the chapter devoted to him the most disgusting.
Other subjects of How They Croaked include Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Napoleon, and Charles Darwin. There’s not much diversity—the historical personages are most European and mostly male—which was about the only thing I was disappointed by.
As part of describing some pretty horrible deaths, Bragg also integrates information about how the lack of medical knowledge and technology affected a few of the deaths. (See: Garfield, James A.). Not to mention, it’s not always how a person dies, but what happens to their body after death that can disturb.
Readers can browse How They Croaked or read it in one sitting. Chapters do not need to be read in order and it makes for good recreational reading. While I’d recommend it more for entertainment than research purposes, it does include a comprehensive bibliography as part of the backmatter.
You can read the Beethoven chapter and listen to a short interview with Bragg at the NPR website.
As many of you know, I put up a monthly post over at Guys Lit Wire, a blog dedicated to writing about books that are of interest to teen male readers. Not that they aren't also interesting to teen female readers and/or some adults, but . . . well, you get the idea.
For the third year in a row, Guys Lit Wire is running a book fair. Last year, blog readers were responsible for sending hundreds of books to two schools located on Native American reservations out West. This year, our book drive is to benefit Ballou High School in Washington, D.C., which is in dire need of books on almost every topic. In a school of over 1200 students, there were only about 1150 library books earlier this year. That's less than one per student, whereas the ALA recommends a ratio of 11 books to 1 student. Like Colleen Mondor, who wrote the post I've linked to below, I have more books in my house than this school has for its entire student body. And folks, that ain't right.
There is a list of requests and more information about how to order books from Powell's for the book fair or to send requested titles at this GLW post. I hope that you'll participate if you're able!
I'm asking that everyone blog, tweet, fb and/or email tomorrow about the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair to help Ballou High School. I'm trying to sustain momentum (from yesterday's lesson) and get more books bought off this massive list. If you do tweet about it, please use the #booksforballou hashtag so we can get something trending. Regardless of how you get the word out, please link to the GLW post which has all the pertinent info and the list.
If you need reminding of why this project matters so much, take a look at the video from the Ballou library as made by librarian Melissa Jackson. This is what sold me on the project and I'm sure it will capture your attention as well. It's put up or shut up time folks, and we have absolutely got to do something to change this.
As always, thanks so much for all that you do.......
Melissa Jackson, Ballou Sr High School librarian in Washington DC with one day's delivery of books from the Guys Lit Wire book fair. See the GLW site for the latest post and a list of books still available for under $10 (!).
So this is it - I'm pulling down the wish list tonight (Quick link: http://bit.ly/GLWBookFair) and the book fair will be over. There are still well over 100 books left to purchase so if you have been waiting until the bitter end to get some books to Ballou, now is the time! (I have been waiting so you're not alone.) Lots of great titles remain such as:
THE BIG SEA by Langston Hughes (we want 2 copies of this one as it is only available in tpb) for $7.98
LEARN TO PLAY GO $18.25
BEGINNING CHESS $17.99 (let's get these kids learning some awesome strategy games!)
ONE MILLION THINGS: Space, Animal Life & Planet Earth - all under $15 (SALE!) and all excellent choices for reluctant teen readers. (Lots of graphics, great info, not intimidating or insulting.)
EONA by Alison Goodman ($19.99 - the first book is on the way; love to see the 2nd go too!)
GREAT EXPECTATIONS in beautiful HC edition for $20 and in illustrated pb for SALE $6.95 (both, please!)
THE SOULS OF BLACK FOLK by W.E.B. DuBOIS for only $7.95 in HC
And, well, I could keep going and going and going. All the books are fantastic, all will be much appreciated and I'd love to see any and all of them go from Powells to Ballou. So please dig deep, do what you can and help us in this final day. We have accomplished so much in the last two weeks; I'd love to go out as strongly as we began.
Thanks guys, from the bottom of my heart, for all you have done already.
Mailing address to complete your order at Powells:
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
Oceans cover about 70% of the earth’s surface, yet only about 5% of the ocean has been seen by humans. In fact, we actually know less about the ocean than we do about some parts of our solar system.
In 2000, Census of Marine Life launched. Over the course of ten years, 2,700 scientists from around the world participated in 540 different expeditions that surveyed many different areas of the ocean. The goal of the Census was to “assess the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life.” Although the exploration phase of the Census is complete, it will take many more years to sort through and study everything that was collected.
Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson introduces readers to the Census and some of the creatures the Census discovered. The book is divided into sections based on the area of the ocean being studied, beginning with shallowest regions surveyed to the deepest.
Johnson joined scientists on a range of expeditions and effectively conveys the experience of, for example, sampling the ocean’s shallow edges or sorting through mud gathered from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, picking out the animals. She describes each oceanic environment and some of the methods scientists used to survey the area by writing in the second person, putting readers in the scientists’ shoes, as in this paragraph after a submersible carrying scientists descended to the ocean’s deep slopes:
Farther down the continental slope, bubbles start fizzing past the porthole. For one terrifying moment, you’re sure the submersible is leaking air. The scientist calmly explains that you’ve arrived at a cold seep, a place where gases are bubbling up from the seabed. The gases are methane and hydrogen sulfide. If you could smell the water outside the submersible, it would stink like rotten eggs. (p. 24)
As engaging as Johnson’s writing, however, the book’s real draw are the numerous photographs of remarkable creatures on every page. There’s the brightly colored squat lobster (p. 11); the barreleye fish (Macropinna microstoma, p. 18), which has a transparent head (I need to repeat this—it has a transparent head!); the hairy-legged yeti crab (Kiwa hirsuta, p. 50; and a sea cucumber (Enypniastes eximia, p. 55) that sheds it skin when attacked, to name just a few.
There are some nice design touches, as well. Sidebars, which I usually dislike, are used effectively here, in large part because of the page layout. Paragraphs are never split on to two pages, but contained in their entirety on a single page. Also, each of the sections for the eight different oceanic environments Johnson observes begins with an inset depicting both the depth of the ocean and where, geographically, the expedition took place.
Backmatter includes a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, index, and a “Learn More” section that includes books, websites, and DVDs. Journey into the Deep is a great resource for middle schoolers, but readers of all ages will be drawn to photographs.
Including the new creatures discovered as part of the Census, only about 250,000 marine species have been identified. Since there could be more than 10 million ocean species we haven’t found yet, there’s still a lot more exploration to be done.
Nearly five years ago, on August 25, 2006, as a result of a vote at the meeting of the International Astronomical Union, Pluto lost its status as a planet.
Sure, people had recognized the oddity of Pluto since its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh, but while “it looked and behaved like no other planet known, there was not other way to classify it, so it became accepted as the ninth planet.” So how did we get to the point at which Pluto’s planetary status was questioned?
In 1999, Mike Brown was a young astronomer with a hunch that, despite accepted astronomical wisdom, there was another planet beyond Pluto. He and fellow astronomer made a friendly bet about whether or not a new planet would be found by the end of 2004, with the loser paying up in the form of five bottles of champagne. The only potential snag Brown thought of at the time was, how exactly do you define what a planet is?
Beginning with this bet, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming details how Brown went on to discover several new, um, planets. At least, they were considered planets when their discovery was first announced, despite Brown’s belief that they, and Pluto, were not actually planets. It didn’t matter that one of them was slightly bigger than Pluto; he was adamant that it wasn’t a planet and neither was Pluto. Despite Brown’s strong feelings on the matter, the choice of terminology wasn’t up to him. Instead, it was up to the members of the International Astronomical Union to define what planet means, and whether or not Pluto, and thus also Brown’s discoveries, were in fact planets.
Part astronomical history, part astronomy lesson, part memoir of Brown’s family life during the decade, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is a surprisingly entertaining and humorous read.* (Although the book does not include a bibliography or further reading section, much to my dismay.) Brown writes in an accessible, conversational style that makes his passion for astronomy obvious. His expertise in his field is clear, but he shares his knowledge simply and lucidly for a lay audience. The book was published for an adult audience and some teens will not be as interested in the details of Brown’s family life, but may find inspiration in how his childhood interest in planets led to a career as an (depending on your point of view, planet-killing or planet-redefining) astronomer. I found a couple of moments in the chronology a bit confusing, but overall, How I Killed Pluto… is a stimulating look at our solar system and how Brown deliberately undertook his search for new planets.
Book source: public library.
* It also garnered my favorite author blurb of the year thus far, courtesy of Neil deGrasse Tyson on the back cover, which begins: “Finally I have someone to whom I can forward the hate mail I get from schoolchildren. After all these years, the real destroyer of Pluto has confessed.”