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A Non-Fiction Variety Pack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief by Nora McInerny

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A by Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees written and illustrated by Don Brown

Reading, like summer, can be random.  Days away from school and work open the door to the unexpected, allow the senses to notice what is hidden by everyday experience.  Surprises appear on the library shelves–new titles or those that have been circulating and were missed earlier.

I’ve stumbled upon some surprises this summer, both fruitful and not.  One was pleasant, an amazing story which lived up to its buzz. One, much to my disappointment, did not.  One snuck up on me, and one made me cry.

The Universe Explained: A Cosmic Q & A literally threw itself at my feet while walking past it in the lobby.  It’s 281 pages of awesomeness, asking and answering questions you’ve had about the cosmos and then some.  Questions are divided into chapters covering the seen (celestial bodies, space exploration, technology) and the unseen (alien life, black holes, the universe’s edge).  Each question is succinctly answered on its own page and accompanied by a full-color illustration. A helpful glossary in the back defines unfamiliar terms. Authors Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest have created an accessible book with plenty of eye-catching appeal.  Use it to answer your own questions or give it to a young person (upper elementary and older) with an appetite for reading or science or both. This would be a great title to explore as a family, sparking curiosity and discussion.

I’ve long enjoyed Ruth Reichl’s food writing; her heady descriptions of the culinary life have inspired and delighted me immensely.  I was excited to finally read her latest, Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, covering her stint as Gourmet’s editor-in-chief and the magazine’s last days before being closed by Conde Nast.  I imagined a behind-the-scenes look at the Gourmet kitchens accompanied by lush descriptions of dishes created there, and that’s the outcome…sort of.  The book is long on magazine publishing and short on food. Reichl’s normally unhurried pace and rich description take a back seat to what sometimes feels like a breathless recitation of industry names and events by an avowed outsider trying to find her place in that world.  This is more a case of managed expectations on my part than an indictment of her writing quality. Save Me the Plums does exactly what it claims–explores Reichl’s journey into the world of luxury publishing, keeping her wit and outlook intact.  To explore what gems she has to offer, start with Reichl’s earlier memoirs or her amusing journey as the New York Times restaurant critic then come back to the rest of the story.

Don Brown has a talent for telling difficult stories using spare, strong words and pictures.  His non-fiction graphic novels have garnered acclaim and made award lists; more importantly, they engage readers and open them to experiences near and far.  Brown’s text and art are like a good movie soundtrack which doesn’t call attention to itself but lets the story take the spotlight. The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees is no exception.  It combines thorough research with first-hand accounts to track the plight of people fleeing war and death.  The art–pen and ink with digital paint–conveys struggle and desperation in watercolor greys and sepia tones.  The few bright spots are oranges and reds of explosions. Seemingly simplistic, the illustrations and spare text pack are moving.  Brown includes background information, research notes, and a bibliography at the end. Give this to teens and adults with an interest in current events or history or start a conversation with a teen who may have only heard of this in passing.  Also, try Brown’s other acclaimed graphic novels for teens exploring the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Katrina.

Reading Nora McInerny’s book The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival from the Front Lines of Grief knocked me for a loop.  I haven’t cried that hard over a book since Where the Red Fern Grows in the 5th grade.  This is a 91-page grief memoir packing a gigantic, emotional gut punch.  It’s also a life preserver for the bereaved and a handy tool for those who aren’t at the moment.  (Because, as the author points out, “Here is one important thing we all have in common: literally everyone we know and love will die.”)  McInerny experienced a miscarriage plus the deaths of her father and husband within 7 weeks of each other. Afterward, she and another woman founded the titular club; along the way, she’s gathered observations, advice, and encouragement into a valuable resource for all of us.  McInerny’s forthright, concise style is packed with humor and sass. She offers support, space, and survival tips to those who are grieving and concrete advice to those who want to help but don’t know how. If you are grieving or know someone who is, try this book–it has so much to offer.

A Trio of Space Non-Fiction Titles

The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA, text by Nirmala Nataraj

The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration: From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future by Roger D. Launius

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew

 

Temperatures have been chilly and, by the time you see these words in print, winter weather may have made its mark on the Four States.  What better time to think ahead to summer reading! I’ve spent the recent grey days anticipating sunshine and combing through titles for next year’s summer reading program.

Space is the theme for 2019’s summer reading fun, and the library is preparing to share “A Universe of Stories” with everyone.  It’s a rich topic: mechanical space exploration continues with the recent InSight lander on Mars plus next July will mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.  Publishers have noticed, and many interesting books featuring space and astronomy are out there. Take a look at these featured titles for engaging non-fiction with adult and teen appeal.

If you like space exploration but aren’t ready to commit to astronaut life, try The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration: From the Ancient World to the Extraterrestrial Future by Roger D. Launius.  Don’t let the long title deter you from the interesting content.  Chock full of illuminating text and a variety of illustrations, this selection provides a broad look at mechanical and human space endeavors.  The book follows chronological order with the first chapter an overview of astronomy and rocketry from ancient Egypt to World War II–a tall order for a single chapter.  The rest of the nearly 400-page tome brings space flight from the 1940s to the present encompassing lunar expeditions (the Apollo program), orbital systems (Space Shuttle, International Space Station), and observational voyages in and beyond our solar system (Voyager, Pioneer, Cassini).  The book ends with chapters featuring current efforts (Mars, space tourism) and speculating about future possibilities (lunar colonization, interstellar exploration). It’s a lot of ground to cover, but it’s done broadly and serviceably. This title is packed with fantastic illustrations–photographs, diagrams, charts, posters–plenty of engaging eye candy.  There are sidebars on various topics scattered throughout along with sections highlighting outer space in pop culture. Offer this book to teens with a passion for space exploration, aeronautics, or innovation history and to adults with broader interests. Approach this book over multiple, short visits for maximum enjoyment; don’t take on the entire universe all at once.

Picture books can be tons of fun for all ages.  The Planets: Photographs from the Archives of NASA is a fantastic example for the 12-and-older crowd.  With text by Nirmala Nataraj and a preface by Bill Nye (the Science Guy), the content pairs perfectly with the rich photographs.  Concise, informative captions pack facts with just the right amount of detail plus an observational tone, resulting in readable paragraphs that leave you eager for more without feeling overwhelmed.  It’s easy to linger over the amazing photography, enjoying the book in small portions and coming back to it again and again. There is definitely something new to see each time. Or, equally rewarding, indulge in all 251 pages at one sitting.  The book is versatile enough to handle either approach. Arranged in solar system order with a chapter for each planet, The Planets includes Pluto in the chapter “Other Bodies of the Solar System” along with the sun, various moons, a comet, and an asteroid.  However, NASA’s stunning photography is the real star here. Whether color or black-and-white, the images range from intriguing (“Martian Dust Devil”, page 107) to spectacular (“Venus Transit”, page 34) to achingly beautiful (solar images, pages 208-9).  The spread “A Backlit View of Saturn” (pages 150-51) alone is worth picking up the book.

Even if you love NASA photography, there’s something to be said for personally viewing the night sky.  The Practical Astronomer (2nd edition) by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew is a handy tool for doing just that.  Published by Dorling Kindersley, this book offers the usual DK goodness–clear illustrations, clean layout, bite-sized informative text, helpful sidebars–albeit in a compact package compared to their children’s titles.  The photographs, diagrams, drawings, and artworks shine without overpowering the factual content. Topics include an introduction to celestial bodies, star charts for both hemispheres year round, tips for viewing and recording the heavens, plus valuable reference tables of star stats to aid viewing.  My favorite section is “Pathfinders” which introduces constellations from around the globe; each two-page spread shows how to find the sequence in the sky, the location of major stars or objects within it, and the story behind its name. This title begs to be used rather than merely read; it’s a fantastic resource for casual stargazers, budding astronomers, family entertainment, Scout badges, or homeschool coursework.

Whether you’re an enthusiast or a dabbler when it comes to outer space, there are plenty of good books on the subject.  You can find these and many more at the Joplin Public Library–stop by and try one today!