Blogs: Adults

When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, one report I heard described the landing using a ‘Mars Local’ time zone. 
 
Red Mars coverMan is not on Mars, but we’ve sent time in front of us.
 

The implications of people colonizing Mars were delved into wonderfully by Kim Stanley Robinson. In Red Mars, he told the story of one hundred people, most Russian or American (this was published 1993, the last gasp of that binary world), who travel to Mars. 

One has been there before but in all other ways they are The First. They are scientists, and to me the reader they feel like scientists — curious, exacting, fiercely intelligent.
 
These one hundred scientists disagree passionately about the purpose of going to Mars. Are they there to explore it as itself, without imposing their needs or even their humanity on it? To make Mars habitable? To seize the opportunity to live in an entirely new way? To exploit the mineral resources? 
 
These factions are deeply divided, and the philosophy behind each is persuasive. Do we have to change everything we touch? 
 
Do we stay Earthlings, no matter where we go? 

 

It was my second term in Conceptual Physics when I learned that I was not cut out for the career in science I had dreamed about while watching Star Wars over and over again. Subsequently, supportive friends and teachers taught me this “it’s not the end of the world” mantra: “D is for diploma.”

Things turned out fine. I remained a decent student and survived my remaining science courses. I focused on other subjects that I still excelled in and ended up with a great job that I love after plenty of other failures and just enough success; however, there are still times I dream of discovering the secrets of black holes or the ocean floor.

The Panda's Thumb book jacketArcheological digs and guest spots on NOVA sometimes enter my rich imagination and, just as I used to live out my fantasies of rock superstardom through air guitar in middle school, I find an outlet for scientific delusions of grandeur on the library shelves with those amazing scientists that can speak my language and hold my hand through the equations and lab lingo. One of the best-selling and most entertaining science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould, and his award-winning series of essays entitled The Panda’s Thumb taught me everything I actually understand about the theory of evolution (well not everything, as you’ll see below). Gould’s short entries make it easier for us in the scientific laity to fight the urge to nap in the middle of a chapter.

For those of you with a longer attention span who are interested in evolution, I recommend David Quammen’s beautiful verbosity. His writings on The Black Hole War book jacketDarwin and Wallace more or less equal the remainder of my evolutionary knowledge. Even though it was physics that destroyed my chances of being an award-winning scientist, it is still one of my favorite subjects. The Black Hole War (eBook ) by Leonard Susskind is my favorite narrative on the subject. It combines great diagrams for all the mathy (all right, this isn’t a real word) points, fun anecdotes about some of the world’s foremost scientists, and a long arduous battle between Susskind (with a couple colleagues) and Stephen Hawking and the entire scientific world concerning what happens when information passes through the horizon of a black hole. Spoiler Alert: Susskind won and opened new avenues for String Theory, Holograms, and oh so many fun physics wormholes.

Cataclysms on the Columbia book jacketCataclysms on the Columbia brings us back home to the ancient history of Cascadia, as well as to the recent past. Bretz, an intrepid geologist, also fought with the scientific community over his discovery. He realized that it must have taken one or many (upwards of 90) cataclysmic floods to form the geological markers from Western Montana through Eastern Washington, down through the Columbia River Gorge, all the way into the Willamette Valley. Of course, everyone at the time accused him of Catastrophism, which was viewed by many as a religious perspective, not legitimate science. Bretz’s strength of character and the vivid descriptions of what the floods must have been like are respectively inspirational and terrifying.

This is only a small sample of the highly readable Science-Fact available at MCL. So if you too are a member of the numerically-challenged laity, please respond below with your favorite science book and I will add it to the Page-turning Science reading list being created as we speak!


Ross, a librarian at Central Library, is reading Ship of Theseus. He is enjoying the way that it invites you to read
in a multi-directional way. 

cover image of Rose

We Live in WaterI loved Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, but I hesitated before checking out We Live in Water, his new collection of short stories. Short stories can seem like a trial--you have to go through that process of getting involved again and again--but I found that with these stories, I slipped in quickly and easily every time.

The characters  in We Live in Water are getting by in Portland or Seattle, or most often, in Walter’s hometown, Spokane, and none of them are doing very well. They’ve either fallen already or they’re headed for a fall. The title story was clearly by the same author as Ruins, with multiple narrators and a complicated structure, shifting back and forth between the '50s and the '90s. It told of a man who disappeared long ago and his grown son's efforts to find out what happened to him. It read like a film noir story, I thought, imagining Robert Mitchum as the lost father.

My favorite story in the collection was “Virgo,” narrated by the now unemployed features editor of a small local newspaper. When he and his girlfriend are together, their morning ritual involves going right to her favorite page in the newspaper, the page where you find the horoscopes and the crosswords. He notices that on the days when her horoscopes are good, she has a better day, and is more generous with her, ahem, amorous attentions. After they break up and she has a new boyfriend, he begins changing the horoscopes, giving her endless one-star days and entries like “one star: hope your new boyfriend doesn’t mind your bad breath”. He changes the crossword clue that reads, "Jamaican spice"--answer: “jerk”--to her new boyfriend’s name. I thought this was hilarious, and a great idea for a story.

If you're in the mood for a good short story, consider investigating some of the books in this list.

 

I love all things BBC! Comedies, dramas, detective shows, spy series, period stuff. I've checked out a ton of shows from the library (it's great that we have all the current seasons of MI-5 and Doc Martin) but sometimes there are shows that we just can't get for whatever reason. One of my all time favorite shows is Blackpool (not to be confused with the horrible U.S. remake called Viva Laughlin with Hugh Jackman) and here's why it's the best show ever:

  • It's British.
  • The stars are David Tennant and David Morrissey. They are beautiful men and as a bonus they can act.
  • There's a murder to solve.
  • It's a musical.

 

And what a musical! The characters basically burst into karaoke at propitious times. Which I think is the reason it's unavailable in U.S. dvd format - the issue of musical rights must be hindering the release here.

So your choices are: watch the entire season 1 of Blackpool on YouTube (don't bother with the second season; it doesn't compare to the first one) or check out some of my other favorite British shows at MCL.

Man has always dreamed of flight . . . okay, maybe that’s a cliché, but perhaps it’s because flying is now cramped coach seating, $3 bottled water, and endless TSA lines. It’s easy to forget romance that was once associated with travel by air. Airplanes were symbols of modernity and often a source of wonder and deep emotional connections. While there are plenty of memoirs by pilots about the adventure of flying, there are also those that go beyond the technology and excitement and speak of flying as an emotional, transcendent experience. Perhaps best known for this kind of writing is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but I want to highlight some other equally enticing choices.

The Spirit of St. Louis book jacketCharles Lindberg’s The Spirit of St. Louis and his wife’s North to the Orient both describe flights of exploration. The first is about Charles’ solo flight from New York to Paris and allows the reader to experience the solitude of flying across the Atlantic. He reflects on life and the nature of flight. He writes, “There are periods when it seems I’m flying through all space, through all eternity” as he battles sleep, space, and time. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wrote her own account of flying with Charles in North to the Orient. She provides her own personal insight into the wonder of flying, but because she isn’t the pilot, she solely focused on the sensation of flying rather than the practice of piloting. The feeling of altitude, rushing wind, and speed is strikingly real.


A Bell P-39 Airacobra Whereas the Lindberghs captured the awe of flight, Edwards Park speaks of the relationship between man and machine in Nanette. Parks was a WWII fighter pilot and Nanette was his first fighter, a P-39 Airacobra. He writes, “the Airacobra was lazy and slovenly and given to vicious fits of temper. It was a sexy machine, and rotten. Nanette was like that, and I was a little queer for her.” Much more profane than the other books here (Park was a fighter pilot after all), he nevertheless makes very clear the personal connection one could have with an airplane. To him, Nanette had a soul, a personality, and an agenda that did not always match his own, and for that he loved her.North to the Orient book jacket

Anne Morrow Lindberg captured something of what draws me to these books in North to the Orient. “It is not in the flying alone, nor in the places alone, nor alone in time; but in a peculiar blending of all three, which resulted in a quality of magic—a quality that belongs to fairy tales.” Flying akin to magic, hmmm. . . I would have liked to experience that.

Listening to my genius nephew plan an outing with his friends (all Northwest born & bred):
Them: “Yeah a hike, let’s not waste such great weather!”  (60 degrees, partly cloudy?!)
Me: a desert child- freezing and feeling like a fish out of water. Then I remembered that according to science, a fish out of water was the first step on the evolutionary bridge to humanity. Hm-m-mn.  So welcome to my fish out of water favorites.

Fresh Off the Boat book jacketEddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat, is by the proprietor of Baohaus-the hot East Village hangout where, as stated on the book cover, “foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food”. Jay Caspian Kang wraps it up nicely: “(He takes) the archetypes of the immigrant experience-food, family, and capitalism-and infuse(s) them with a new energy…” If you want a howl-out–loud memoir from a Chinese-speaking, hip-hop loving kid who grew up in Florida and landed in NYC, this is it.

And now for your viewing and listening pleasure: Joyful Noise starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. Randy, failed NYC hipster, has no place to run but Pacashau, Georgia. Hiding out with his country-music loving grandma exposes him to A Joyful Noise-a win or go home gospel singing competition that is not long on brotherly love. As one MCL commenter noted, the storyline can be seen as predictable. OR, one might remember that first beings told stories around the campfire to entertain and pass on knowledge. Knowledge, my chirrens, needs to be replicable or it ain’t science. What’s it all about in the end except for the music? The Queen and Miz Dolly do deliver, along with a cast of talented others (shoutout to Andy Karl [Caleb]-scene stealer)!

So remember all you fish out of water: you’re needed for the evolution of the race because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin, “We had better learn to hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.”

There are lots of good reasons to listen to audiobooks: They can get us through tasks that don’t require much brain power (exercise or folding laundry), they can allow us to read when our hands and eyes are busy (commuting), or they can provide new literary options for those whose comprehension might be beyond their reading skills (second language learners or younger readers).

Dreamers of the Day CD coverThese are all very well and good, but they really don’t have much to do with a story itself. One of the things I enjoy most about audiobooks is the opportunity to get inside someone else’s head. You could argue that this is the role of literature to begin with (unless you only like reading about people exactly like you!), but audiobooks offer a unique perspective: When I listen to a narrator read the story of a person who’s not like me, their authentic voice cuts through the white baby-boomer female that colors everything I read and allows me to really get that person. It could be an African American Iraq War vet trying to makThe Last Werewolf CD covere it as a P.I, a 14-year boy with impulse issues, an Ohio spinster on the fringes of post-World War I Middle East history, a werewolf with a serious case of ennui, or two people stuck in a very bad marriage.

For a good listen that might step beyond your experiences, try The Cut by George Pelecanos, narrated by Dion Graham; Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, narrated by Nick Podehl; Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell, narrated by Ann Marie Lee; The Last Werewolf by Ian Duncan, narrated by Robin Sachs, or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, narrated by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne.

What worlds unlike yours have you explored with the aid of a fine narrator?

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

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