Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

There are many stories about the resilience of Christmas. From Rudolph’s shiny nose making it possible for presents to be delivered to Scrooge providing a goose dinner and presents hoping to improve his Christmas Yet to Come. But none of them is as weird and wonderful as the book I am about to share with you.

On the back of an enormous turtle swimming through space sits the Discworld, a flat disc of a planet full of wizards, barbarians, assassins, and technology run by imps. It is a place where the odd and magical is commonplace, but tonight something is definitely wrong.

Death – scythe-wielding, cloak-wearing Death – is out on Hogswatch Night, the yuletide celebration of the longest night of the year, but there is no Hogfather to be seen. The jolly old man with the sleigh pulled by hogs should be going rooftop to rooftop delivering presents. Where is he?

With no other options, Death dons a red coat and a false beard and starts delivering presents himself.

During his travels he visits the home where his granddaughter – Susan – serves as the nanny for two small children. Death refuses to explain what he is doing. He knows that Susan’s curiosity will force her to find out what happened to the real Hogfather.

As Death’s granddaughter, Susan is one of the few adults able to see creatures that children believe in. Her charges frequently call Susan in to deal with monsters living under their bed. She deals with them quite roughly using her weapon of choice, the fireplace poker.

Susan does take matters into her own hands, first traveling to the Hogfather’s palace in the very hub of the Discworld. From there she goes to visit the wizards of Unseen University who have been having troubles of their own.

Since Hogwatch began every time the wizards reference an imaginary creature – such as a monster living in the laundry room who eats socks – that creature appears. Susan deduces that this is due to a buildup of belief. Belief that should be manifesting the Hogfather.

Hoping to find out more, Susan visits a friend of hers who works as a tooth fairy. What she discovers is that her friend has been kidnapped by the same people who are attempting to destroy the Hogfather.

She follows their trail to the Tooth Fairy’s realm, a world completely powered by the belief of children. There Susan attempts to rescue her friend and save the Hogfather – and Hogswatch Night for children around the Disc.

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather was published in 1996; it is the twentieth novel set in the Discworld. The series has a total of forty-one books. It is a comic fantasy series, which does not take itself too seriously. Pratchett pokes fun at literary and fantasy tropes while — at the same time — reveling in them.

In Hogfather, Pratchett alludes to the story of the little match girl. A child trying to sell matches door-to-door who is destined to die this Hogswatch because no stranger is willing to take pity on her. But not while Death is the Hogfather. He puts a stop to that traditional narrative by restoring some of the sand in her hourglass.

Sir Terry Pratchett is an institution in England, but he may be somewhat unknown here in the United States. His brand of absurdity and humor is an absolute delight, and I encourage you to give HOGFATHER a try this holiday season.

Review written by: Alyssa Berry, Technical Services Librarian

Find in catalog

The Woman Who Built a Bridge by C.K. Crigger; Shutter by Ramona Emerson

Deciding to try something new to me, I picked a couple of novels that are not my usual style. One is a western from the new large print books (FYI – it is new to large print but it actually first published in 2018). I don’t know much about this genre but the title caught my eye, The Woman Who Built a Bridge.

The author, C.K. Crigger, has penned a novel with two strong protagonists, January Shutt and Shay Billings. Shay is a friendly guy and has made a success of his small ranch.

January on the other hand is reclusive. She has returned to her family’s land after the death of her father. The pair abandoned the land 13 years ago when her grandfather attacked her. She does everything she can to shield her scars from prying eyes. The only structure left on the land is the old barn but January’s father was a master builder and now she is too. She’s fashioned a cleverly disguised home for herself and her dog inside the barn and makes a living selling butter and eggs.

Besides her home, January also rebuilt the old Kindred Crossing Bridge. For the local ranchers it makes their trips to town much shorter. But the bridge has drawn unwanted attention from Marvin Hammel.

Hammel, the richest man around, is planning something big. He has been damming the river so those that live downstream have to sell to him or risk losing everything. He’s made an offer for Shay’s place but Shay, along with others on the river, refuse to sell. He also wants the bridge but plans to just take it and January’s homestead.

Things escalate as first, a son of one of those who refused to sell is murdered then January finds Shay’s riderless horse covered in blood. He’s been shot in the back but January is able to get him to her place and get the doctor.

With Shay in hiding and recuperating, January finds herself defending both homesteads. She is smart and brave but the men she is up against keep coming. If she and Shay are to survive, they need to figure out what Hammel is planning and stop him.

This is an entertaining read. The good guys are interesting characters, the bad guys easy to dislike, the action is almost nonstop, and the details of January’s disfigurement are revealed throughout the story.

Shutter by Ramona Emerson

My other ‘outside my usual reads’ is a supernatural thriller by Ramona Emerson. Emerson is a Diné writer and her first novel, Shutter, takes place in part on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer for the Albuquerque police department. For Rita it’s a calling and she’s very good at what she does. For her grandmother it’s a fear because she know about Rita’s special gift. Rita can see and hear the spirits of the dead.

Rita was born with her gift (or curse) but has learned to hide it from most people. Her grandma and Mr. Bitsilly, her grandma’s friend and a healer, have prayed and sung over her many times but the spirits remain. Over time Rita has learned to control to some extent the constant presences and to mute the voices. Then she gets called to a horrific scene on Highway I-40.

Erma Singleton has jumped/fallen/been pushed over the overpass then hit by multiple vehicles. What remains of her is scattered down the highway. The images Rita views through the 1015 photos she takes is enough to haunt anyone but for Rita it’s worse.

Erma’s spirit has come and is loud and angry. She doesn’t know what happened but knows she didn’t jump and demands Rita finds the truth and gets justice. Erma won’t be silenced and brings other spirits to haunt Rita day and night.

With things spiraling out of control, to save her sanity and her job, Rita has to give in to Erma’s demands. But as she begins to dig she uncovers connections to other murder scenes she has photographed. Rita also finds Erma’s connection to a Mexican drug cartel.

Rita is in a race to uncover the truth but can she find the right answers before one of her colleagues is photographing her murder?

This novel is not just a crime thriller, it is also the story of Rita’s life. In alternating chapters, the hunt for Erma’s killer and Rita’s life on and off the Reservation from birth to young adulthood are told in alternating chapters.

Books with the supernatural are not usually my cup of tea but Emerson is a compelling writer and Rita, trying to balance two worlds, is an interesting character especially as a child. Once I reconciled murder mystery with talking spirits, this one was hard to put down.

Reviews by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian

Find in Catalog

Find in Catalog

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

Greetings and welcome to my first book review! While I’ve never written a book review I’ve read many, and likewise read many books. So maybe I’m a natural, right? (It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that, I can feel your encouragement from here.) So here goes: Once There Were Wolves is a book. It’s a good book. I think you should read this book, if you want. If not that’s okay too, I’ll likely never know. So…thank you for your time. 

Only joking, don’t go! Here are truly some things to know about Once There Were Wolves:

What happens to a climate without wolves? What happens when the wolves return? Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy explores these questions through a fictionalized solution to Scotland’s very real lack of wolves; the last wolf in Scotland was killed in 1680, and there are no wild wolves remaining. Enter main character Inti Flynn and her fourteen gray wolves. Inti is equal parts loyal and loner, sharing a deep connection and striking similarity to her wolves. A biologist, Inti is leading a team tasked with reintroducing wolves to the Scotland Highlands in hopes of revitalizing the environment. Without wolves Scotland Highlands’ deer population lingers in areas long enough to reduce the growth of tree shoots, and thus forests. Rewilding these fourteen wolves will help move the deer and subsequently allow regrowth of natural forests. Inti seems perfect for this endeavor as she is passionate about both the wolves and the environment their presence aims to fortify. 

However, the wolves and caring for nature aren’t Inti’s only motivations for moving to Scotland: Inti’s twin sister Aggie is coming too. Inti hopes moving Aggie away from their previous home of Alaska will be good for her twin, who is mentally and physically dependent upon Inti. Through a series of flashbacks between present day, Inti’s childhood, and young adulthood prior to moving to Scotland it’s clear Aggie wasn’t always this way. The balance between past and present throughout the novel reveals the reasoning behind Aggie’s dependency and how it intertwines with Inti’s motivations in Scotland.

Raised by her mother in Australia and her father in British Columbia, Inti was taught to fear human nature by her detective mother and to live among nature by her off-the-grid father. This upbringing is a foundation for Inti’s self-isolating nature, as is Inti’s diagnoses of mirror-touch synesthesia, a rare condition in which those diagnosed feel similar tactile sensations as others. For Inti this happens anytime she sees someone feel something, for example receiving a high-five. Inti is also able to feel things her wolves feel, like salivation when she presents them with food. Inti’s mirror-touch synesthesia is a contributing factor to her relationship with and protectiveness of her wolves, and her distrust of humans.

As one might imagine, Inti’s task of rewilding her wolves is met with adversity from locals, particularly farmers. Inti is not faced with an easy task; in addition to rewilding the wolves she is juggling angry farmers who fear the affect the wolves presence will have on their livestock, her sisters concerning condition, her own self-doubt, her struggles with mirror-touch synesthesia, and her budding feelings for the local sheriff. As if that isn’t enough a farmer is found dead (can’t a girl catch a break). In denial that her wolves could be responsible, Inti starts down a path to clear their name by uncovering the true killer, discovering things she never knew about herself along the way. What results is a rollercoaster conclusion to an already tense story.

There is a lot going on in this book, so staying interested was not a problem for me. At times there was too much going on for my taste, but I think that is somewhat the point: life can be chaotic, just as nature can be. McConaghy’s parallel between human nature and animal nature is wonderfully (if not pointedly) done throughout the novel. I found Inti to be an interesting character, both captivating and frustrating in her steadfastness of taking on everything by herself. Most of the time Inti relates more to her wolves than the humans surrounding her, and the simultaneous danger and beauty in the relationship between nature and humans is both poignant and humbling to read.

This is not McConaghy’s first novel focused upon human impact on the natural environment. McConaghy has also penned Migrations, which likewise follows a female protagonist in a journey of self-discovery through nature. If strong female leads and the importance of the natural world around us are of interest to you McConaghy is an author to explore. 

Note: If you are considering reading Once There Were Wolves I suggest reviewing the content warnings before embarking on your journey with Inti and her wolves.

Find in Catalog

Review written by: Sarah Turner-Hill, Adult Programming Coordinator

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

As Alice Stern approaches her fortieth birthday she feels unsatisfied with her life and is at a point where she is not sure why or how it happened. Her father, who she is immensely close with, is in the hospital with an unknown illness; her work keeps her busy, but the job does not utilize her education or training and makes her feel embarrassed; her relationship is at the point of moving to the next step, her boyfriend is preparing to propose, but she realizes their relationship is not destined for anything long term; and she adores her best friend, Sam, but rarely sees her because Sam lives an hour away and is a busy working mother of three.

On the night of her birthday, Alice meets Sam for dinner, but due to a family emergency Sam departs mid-way through the meal, leaving Alice solo for the evening. She ends up visiting a bar, and thanks to the generosity of the bartender, drinks too much. To finish the night she ends up in her old neighborhood, and due to her level of intoxication, passes out in a storage building on her father’s property.  When she awakes the following morning she is in her childhood bed and things are not quite right.  She quickly realizes that she is sixteen and today is her birthday. 

What a shock her sixteen year old self is to her upon her waking. She wonders how her younger self could not have noticed how flawless her skin was and how glowing and alive she felt. And most importantly, when was her dad ever that young and healthy?  

Soon she is having to make important, possibly life-altering decisions, without any guidance or help.  At the top of the list is what to do during the day. Should she live it as she did originally or mix it up?  Should she simply enjoy the time she has with her healthy and vibrant father or try to alter the events of the day and her birthday party, so she, and possibly her father, can have a different future? 

While the beginning of the book takes a bit of setup, and might feel slow to some readers, my advice is to stick with it. This ended up being one of my favorite books of the year. New York Times bestselling author Emma Straub has created something special. Straub effortlessly uses her skills with the pen to weave the element of time travel into what I originally thought would be a run-of-time-mill contemporary fiction book. It is clever and compelling. Fans of Rebecca Serle’s IN FIVE YEARS and ONE ITALIAN SUMMER or Jodi Picoult’s WISH YOU WERE HERE should definitely give this one a try!  

Find the book in the catalog.

Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director

Cool Math: 50 Fantastic Facts for Kids of All Ages by Tracie Young and Katie Hewett

Let’s face it, for some of us, “math” can be a four-letter word. Math anxiety is all too real for folks in and out of school alike. (For example, some frequent results for a recent Google search for the term “math anxiety” were “Why is math making me cry?” and “What is math trauma?”)  I don’t know all the reasons why math generates anxiety, but I can tell you that it does for a whole lot of us and that a lot of us are looking for help in that realm.  Math study guides–especially those covering algebra–are one of the most sought-after subjects in the teen non-fiction collection.  Anything that explains a complicated subject clearly (What–numbers and letters together in an equation?!) or that can help the concept to click is huge.

Cool Math: 50 Fantastic Facts for Kids of All Ages by Tracie Young and Katie Hewett arrived in the teen non-fiction collection this summer and sat with algebra study guides towering over it until, one day, it made its way to a back-to-school display. That’s when I spent some extra time with the small, handy title. It’s a perfect size to pop in a backpack and presents a low-stakes approach to math through 50 appealing mini-lessons.

Right from the cover, Cool Math puts out a casual, engaging vibe to counteract anxiety or stereotypical assumptions of stuffiness about the topic. The book begins with a “Great Moments in Math” section introducing fun facts of math history and a quote from American mathematician, Stan Gudder, “The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.”  (A point met with skepticism by plenty of us math anxious folks.)

Yet the book delivers on this premise. Each fact is offered clearly and concisely over a two-page spread. Backgrounds resemble graph paper, chalkboard, etc., and additional material appears in eye-catching, highlighted shapes. The pleasant, orderly layout adds to the laid-back approach. Each spread provides a student-friendly explanation of the topic, walks the reader through the process of approaching the solution, shows how to arrive at the answer, and adds interesting trivia. The spreads start with a title tailored to the concept presented (sometimes clever, sometimes veering into dad-joke territory). Concept illustrations are made to look like notebook doodles which adds to the book’s liveliness without schmearing it in a layer of cheesiness.

The 50 facts offer a range of information despite the book’s size. Concepts covered include binomials, triangles, multiplication, probability, estimation, fractions, averages, calculations (recipe conversions, temperature conversions, tips)–plenty of practical knowledge with real-world applications. Cool Math’s content is great–realistic, applicable, and not overshadowed by the book’s design. The layout reflects the relaxed, encouraging vibe of the book without trying too hard. There’s no outdated photography or completely cringe-worthy text which is all too present in non-fiction written for teens. Give Cool Math to upper elementary and secondary students. It’s full of helpful bits for middle school and high school students in search of understanding of very specific concepts yet appealing to upper elementary and lower middle school students with an interest in math and could even prove a pleasant surprise to those without.  (Where was this when I was about to start algebra?!) 

Give Cool Math a try.  It’s engaging, interesting, appealing, and portable–even fun in places.  It’s math that won’t make you cry.  You can find this title and algebra study guides and so much more at the Joplin Public Library where there’s something for everyone!

A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin

In Judy I. Lin’s debut novel, A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON, certain people — those who have been blessed with Shennong’s gifts — are able to use the ingredients and rituals of tea brewing to weave spells.

Some can use their power to see the future, others can brew teas that affect the mind, and some can heal. Practitioners of these arts are called shennong-tu, and masters are called shennong-shi.

Ning, a teenage shennong-tu, has been invited to the imperial palace to participate in a competition hosted by the emperor’s daughter. The competition will determine who will become the court shennong-shi, and win a favor from the princess.

She and the other trainees face a series of challenges to prove their skills. Winning will require a strong magical gift and a deep knowledge of tea. It will also require the strength of character to withstand the machinations of the court.

Ning is desperate to win a favor from the princess. Her sister, Shu, is gravely ill – poisoned by tea distributed to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Many people throughout the empire died as a result of the poisoned tea. Shu’s ongoing illness does not react to any antidote that Ning or her family have access to; the only way to save Shu is with the princess’s help.

As the competition progresses, Ning begins to form friendships with other people from the palace. In particular with Kang, the son of the banished prince – the current emperor’s brother. Kang has returned from exile to petition his uncle and cousin to right the wrongs that their people are suffering.

Ning and Kang form a bond before she knows who he is, before she knows the dangers of associating with him. Their connection does not go unnoticed by the princess. She tasks Ning with finding out Kang’s true motivations for returning to the capital.

As the princess well knows, there are those who are working against her. Not only out in the empire, but within the palace walls.

Now embroiled in a world completely alien to her own, Ning must navigate her loyalties to the princess, to her family, and to Kang – who she is now inextricably connected to after they shared a cup of tea.

The magic of Shennong requires a sacrifice of the user. When Ning is exerting her powers to look into someone’s mind, they can see into hers. If she uses her powers to heal someone, she has to experience their pain to do it. And the more magic she uses on a person, the more deeply they are bonded.

The world that Judy I. Lin has created is shaped by a deep mythology that simmers under the surface of her novel. She has carefully considered the layout of her world and the ways that geography, politics, and religion have shaped different regions. Ning feels like the proverbial fish out of water when she comes from the fringes of her small town into the heart of the country.

A MAGIC STEEPED IN POISON is a character-driven fantasy novel within a beautifully rendered world. Lin’s turns of phrase are poetic and deeply evocative. Her descriptions of food – and tea, of course – will send you straight to the kitchen.

Find in catalog

Everything in its Place by Pauline David-Sax and Berry Song by Michaela Goade

A young girl discovers the connecting power of books in Pauline David-Sax’s Everything in its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging. Nicky is an introvert who feels most comfortable in the presence of books. She spends her lunch hour shelving books and visiting with the kind librarian.

When Ms. Gillam announces that she’ll be gone at a conference for the week, Nicky’s heart sinks at the idea of spending her recess on the playground. Throughout the week, through conversations with diners at her mom’s cafe and on the playground, she realizes that books can be a way to connect with others and build community.

My librarian heart warmed at the lyricism David-Sax devotes to the Dewey Decimal System. Yes, the 800s (poetry) are a delightful section to visit! But it’s not just the organization of information that sets my heart aflutter. It’s the delicately descriptive way Nicky observes the playground, the patrons at her mother’s cafe, and the camaraderie amongst the very cool all-female biker crew that visits.

Illustrator Charnelle Pinkney Barlow melds hand drawn illustrations with cut paper scraps (including old library borrowing and catalog cards) to emphasize the power of books to make a person feel less alone. Hand-drawn flowers appear at the bottom of the pages as the books go along, offering gentle visual cues of Nicky’s blooming. With its myriad opportunities for conversation and extension activities, Everything In its Place would be a great classroom or one-on-one read aloud.

In my second pick, a young Tlingit girl goes berry picking with her grandmother near the sea, learning about and thanking the earth in the process. In her newest picture book Berry Song, Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade brings the Alaskan landscape to life through a conversation with a young girl and her grandmother. The unnamed protagonist describes the berry picking process and takes care to name and show each berry. Theis evident on her face as she names the berries in song. These names (“Salmonberry, cloudberry, blueberry, nagoonberry” and others) act as the bridge and her grandmother’s gentle reminders of gratitude are the chorus.

Goade’s illustrations are lushly painted with greens, reds, and blues. The water is vibrant, with white highlights bringing the water to life. The green of the trees and leaves blends into the animals and people, driving home the message that, as the narrator says, “the land is a part of us.” Berry Song is a book to read again and again.

The book ends with an author’s note about life in Sitka, Alaska, as well as Tlingit values and the importance of berry picking. Goade gives gentle advice about connecting with the land by thanking it for what it gives us and by learning the name of the plants and animals that grow where we live.

I love books that boost confidence and make you feel less alone. Books that empower kids and remind them of their unique characteristics have become more common in recent years. Kids should be listened to as they discover themselves and validated as they learn to deal with big emotions, and I think both of these books do so in different ways. Berry Song acknowledges the important role a child can play as a steward of the earth and a member of a family. Everything in its Place reminds kids that they don’t have to handle big feelings on their own and they can find solace in a book or a like-minded friend. The Children’s Department has many picture books focusing on self-esteem and actionable ways to care for our planet. We also have many picture books by Native authors, like Michaela Goade, that highlight the past and present of Indigenous people in the Americas.

Find Everything in its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging in our catalog.

Find Berry Song in our catalog. 

Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids by Scott Hershovitz

At the risk of alienating some readers right from the jump, I’ll go ahead and say that having children in your life is a blast, especially during the toddler years. My son and daughter are well past this age, but I revered being a part of their daily soaking up the world anew. All children are naturally curious of course. And all parents are exquisitely charged with introducing the world to them. It often feels just as much to our benefit as it is to theirs. For we too see the world anew and try to hold back any reflexive jadedness.
Scott Hershovitz, author of “Nasty, Brutish, and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids,” more than runs with his children’s curiosity: He’s teaching them how to think. Granted, when I first stumbled upon this book, I was dubious, thinking it would be too cute by half. You know, one of those “look at me as I try to learn/teach something with/to my kids and end up making a royal mess of it, all in an attempt to be humorous” books. But then I read the introduction. Hershovitz is a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan and clearly divulges his intent. “This book is inspired by kids, but it’s not for them. In fact, kids are my Trojan horse. I’m not after young minds. I’m after yours.” After reading that, I was all in.
Hershovitz maintains that all kids are philosophers not only because they ask “why” a whole heck of a lot but also from their need to know what’s in your mind. When your young daughter, for instance, asks what the color red looks like to you, she’s unknowingly carrying forward seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke’s shifted color spectrum question. She’s trying to make sense of what she sees by asking how you see it. It’s a deep question because she’s not only trying to understand her own consciousness but yours as well. As we get older, Hershovitz says we tend to stop asking such questions because we stopped seeing them as viable questions to ask. Given the difficulty—perhaps even the ineffability—of conveying what we experience, it’s understandable that we stop asking. Yet doing so trucks a price: often not understanding each other.
As a philosophy professor, Hershovitz is well poised to lead his young sons in practicing philosophy. He’s constantly asking them questions so that they have to think and reason through, well, just about everything. (A few times I thought, “Maybe ease up a little, yeah?”) But, as he said, the conversations he has with his kids are the set up for the broader topics. Thankfully, the exchanges are often humorous. (If you do pick up the book, you’ll behold a fair amount of cursing. Not only does Hershovitz admit that he curses freely, he makes the case for it. To wit: studies showing better group cohesion when cursing is allowed; also, people are better able to withstand physical pain when in the act of cursing. He has a whole chapter on language.)
In the chapter on “rights,” Hershovitz introduces a rather famous contemporary philosophical puzzle: the Trolley Problem. It goes like this. A runaway trolley car is careening down the track and will certainly kill five oblivious rail workers farther down. But you happen to be standing by the switch that can divert the car down another track. Unfortunately, there’s one worker on that track who will be killed if you, the Bystander at the Switch, redirect the trolley. What do you do? Allow five to die, or save five by actively killing one? Pose the question to whomever. I asked my teen-aged kids and found out that my 14-year-old already knew of the puzzle. So it didn’t take long for “what ifs” to fly. What if you knew the one solitary worker had a terminal illness? Would knowing this change your decision? What if one of the workers was a beloved relative (or a sworn enemy)? The broader question here is what rights do all of these workers have as they relate to your actions? “When you have a right, someone else has an obligation,” says Hershovitz. However, as we know, defining rights and obligations can be a tenuous endeavor. Yet they can’t be ignored. It’s why we debate such things as bioethics and the rules of war.
One day, one of Hershovitz’s sons confided that he was called a floofer doofer by a preschool classmate. (No one knows what a floofer doofer is. What is known, ostensibly, is that you don’t want to be called one.) While the details are sketchy, Hershovitz’s son retaliated in some fashion as he received a mild scolding from his teacher. Hershovitz did not scold his son nor lecture him about avoiding the temptation to retaliate. He has little use for the old saw “two wrongs don’t make a right.” To him, not only can the second wrong “set things right,” it probably shouldn’t even be called a wrong at all. The second wrong could, in fact, be called justice. It’s why we have a legal system, notes Hershovitz, who is also a law professor at Michigan. (He clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) He makes the case that, broadly speaking, “litigation is the best substitute for revenge.” And it can do double duty: rule against the wrongdoer and send a message to others that said wrongdoing will not be tolerated.
If this sounds basic and obvious, recall that Hershovitz is asking us to revisit concepts upon which we’ve set as our foundation, providing just enough conceptual history to add continuity. For instance, we learn of Aristotle’s thoughts on justice and Immanuel Kant’s theory on rights. This helps with understanding our institutions along with our more prosaic daily interactions. The questions start as basic, sure, but the answers are certainly not always obvious. Or, an answer may at first seem obvious to you but not to me. It’s not that I don’t understand your answer. I just have a few questions for how you arrived at the answer. And then we’re off.
As the book progresses, other traditional philosophical ideas are briefly explored, such as knowledge and truth. In the wrong hands, this thorough fare could be an arid one. But Hershovitz knows his audience and keeps it relatable. He describes, for example, how René Descartes’ theory of justified true belief once ruled the day among philosophers and for quite some time. You know something because you are justified in believing it true. But then, in 1963, a little known philosopher by the name of Edmund Gettier published a brief paper that upended this theory. Here’s my mashed-up version of his counterexample. You own a copy of “Infinite Jest” by the (great) David Foster Wallace. You’ve picked it up and read from it many times. You can even visualize where it sits on your bookshelf. Therefore, you are justified in believing that a copy of “Infinite Jest” is in your house. Indeed, there is a copy in your house. But here’s what you don’t know. Your spouse loaned out your copy to someone a few weeks ago. This someone then lost it. But then someone else just so happened to buy you a copy for your birthday (thinking you didn’t own it already) and mailed it to you. It’s sitting, wrapped, on your dining room table. Gettier would argue that you just got lucky there’s a copy in your house. But you actually didn’t know there was a copy in your house.
If the title of Hershovitz’s book sounds familiar, it comes from seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who believed that with the absence of government, humans are back in the state of nature, where life is “solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.” And regarding government, Hershovitz makes the case that it’s not perceived oppressive governmental entities one needs to worry about (in the U.S. anyway). To him, legally speaking, it’s your employer. And there’s much else he covers, such as Cartesian dualism (back to Descartes again) and the subsequent “the ghost in the machine” derision that eventually followed.
Speaking of dualism, there’s a bit of that in Hershovitz’s approach. On the one hand, he absolutely steps back so that his sons (and others) think through an idea without undue persuasion. Yet, on the other hand, there are times when he seems to positively relish ending a debate by bringing down his tremendous intellect.
Whether you regularly engage with children or not, Hershovitz’s book is a reminder that the study of philosophy is frequently an exploration of how much we don’t know. And that’s okay. Often, through the process of learning what we don’t know, we actually learn quite a lot.

Find in Catalog

The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick

When she has time around her three cleaning jobs and family, Olivia (Liv) Green is an avid reader. Her favorite character is Georgia Rory. She has read and reread all nineteen books in the series by Essie Starling and thinks she knows the character inside out. But, if given the chance, is that well enough to finish Georgia’s story? In The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick, Liv is about to find out.

In the Green household money is tight. One son is in college and the other will go in the fall. Also her husband Jake’s family owned book-binding business is struggling. To help finances Liv had to add a third cleaning job. It was with none other than her favorite author, Essie Starling.

Essie is a recluse and not exactly warm or friendly. She refuses to communicate with her agent and editor unless it is by email or text and her personal assistants don’t last long. However she and Liv have formed a sort of friendship. That bond is tested when Essie discovers Liv reading the unfinished draft of book twenty in the series.

Instead of being berated or fired Liv is asked to give her honest opinion of not only the draft but also of the latest Georgia Rory novel. That opinion, Essie has lost her passion for her character, results in a surprise offer. Essie wants to enlist Liv’s help in reviving the character.

Eager to learn details about what this new arrangement will mean, Liv rushes to Essie’s apartment on her normal cleaning day. However the apartment is empty and Liv is asked to meet Essie’s solicitor, Anthony Pentecost, at a coffee shop.

Pentecost has startling news. Essie has died and the solicitor is to pass on her last request to Liv. “Dear Olivia, if Anthony is speaking to you now, the worst has most likely happened. If you need to take a little time out from this job and your others, you will be paid. If I die, keep my passing a secret for six months. During this period, I want you to complete my latest novel.”

It is six months at double the salary and with a tidy sum for expenses. But is this something Liv can do? She aspired to be a writer when young but didn’t have the opportunity to go to university. Deciding the lack of a degree can be overcome she is inspired to try. There are thirty-two very rough lackluster chapters, eight chapters yet to be written (every Georgia Rory novel is forty chapters in length) and less than six months to meet the November 1st deadline.

As she begins the rewrite of the draft, Liv finds herself struggling with the direction Georgia should go and who will be her final love interest. Liv needs to channel Essie but writing in the apartment and wearing Essie’s clothes are not enough. Discovering more about Essie is the only way Liv can go forward with writing.

Revealing the author’s past proves difficult. It also adds strain to her marriage. Liv and Jake have grown apart and becoming empty nesters is showing the cracks in their relationship. Now she can’t tell him about Essie’s death, that she is finishing the novel, or about her quest to uncover Essie’s past.

Will discovering Essie’s secrets help or hinder the finish of the novel? One thing is certain, Liv is finding a new path forward. Can her marriage survive the changes that are coming?

If you are like me and love series fiction, would you want to step into Liv’s shoes and decide how your favorite series ends? The library has this title in both regular and large print. Suggested read-alikes are Sara Adam’s The Reading List and Beach Read by Emily Henry.

Find In Catalog

Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman

Full disclosure: I chose to review this book because author Sara Dykman is visiting the library. Better yet, you’re invited! Join us at the library on Tuesday, September 27th for Dykman’s presentation about her new book, Bicycling with Butterflies, which, plainly stated, recounts “[her] 10,201-mile journey following the monarch migration.”

Seriously, she rode 10,000+ miles on a bicycle from Mexico to Canada and back to travel with the beautiful, threatened monarchs. Further interesting is that she’s headed back to Mexico, though on motorcycle this time, stopping here in Joplin (among other places) along the way, to again follow the monarch butterflies to Canada and back.

Sara Dykman works in amphibian research, is an outdoor educator, and, as a handful of her trips illustrate, an adventurer. She’s walked from Mexico to Canada, canoed the Missouri River from source to sea, and cycled over 80,000 miles across North and South America. She founded beyondabook.org, “an adventure-linked education project that connects real-time adventures to classrooms [that creates] opportunities for real-life learning [that] inspires students to push their limits and explore the planet.” Through her adventures and projects, Dykman hopes “to empower young and old to dream big.”

Dykman begins by sharing how her idea of cycling the monarch migration came about. Like most ideas, it started as a seed that sprouted into something much larger and full of life. A simple desire to visit the butterflies at their overwintering grounds (in Mexico) morphed into a full-fledged plan to accompany them on their migration, via bicycle. But she didn’t just hop on a bike and go. She spent a year planning, researching, and otherwise preparing for the adventure. As she wrote in the first pages of her book, “Eventually, there was nothing left to do but start.” And start she did.

Like the monarchs, Dykman’s journey began and ended in El Rosario, Mexico. She arrived there in January 2017, though she (and the butterflies) did not head north until March. A wonderful map illustrates the basics of their route. March, April, and May took them up north through Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. June carried them farther north, then eastward across Michigan and Canada, reentering the United States on the east coast in July. Late July through August took them westward then south, crossing New York, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, then down into Kentucky. September swept them westward across Illinois and Missouri, then started them on their homestretch south. October and November took them farther south, through Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico, back to their starting point in El Rosario.

Dykman’s upcoming visit will not be her first stop in Joplin. She stopped here, as did some of the monarch butterflies, in October 2017, on her way back south to the starting point. She pedaled into Joplin under cover of night and stayed over at local master naturalist Val Frankoski’s house. Like Dykman, Val cares deeply for the monarchs and has worked tirelessly, alongside others in our community, to plant milkweed and otherwise provide a habitat for and raise awareness about the monarchs and their migration, as well as their importance. This work, along with Dykman’s visit, culminated in a mayoral pledge, which declared April through October 2017 as the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge Days in Joplin (http://joplinmo.org/1001/Mayors-Monarch-Pledge).

While here, Dykman presented to 1,000 enthusiastic school children, as she describes in her book: “Val saw me hopeful, telling kids about the joy of monarchs, adventure, and science, and how everyone can be a part of the solution.” After Joplin, Dykman pedaled off to nearby Neosho, Missouri, before heading farther south. She wrote that she “left Joplin just as [she] had arrived, in the cover of night.”

Now, about the book’s arrangement and layout (which is one of my favorite things to include in reviews, as I think it’s important, particularly in nonfiction). As one might expect, this book is organized chronologically, recounting Dykman’s journey starting in January 2017 through November of that same year. Each chapter begins with the number of days it is during the migration, as well as the dates and the miles covered. For example: Days 142-153 / July 31-August 11, Miles 5518-6005. For this particular stretch, that’s about 40 miles a day, which, to my surprise, takes cyclists about 4 hours to complete (according to Google, that is). Still, that’s a lot of mileage, especially day after day after day.

Bicycling with Butterflies is as much a 10,000+ mile memoir as it is an account of the monarchs’ migration. In addition to recounting the actions and observations of, as well as her interactions with, the butterflies, Dykman describes her exchanges with those she meets along the way, some more positive and inspiring than others. I like that she doesn’t hold back, that she doesn’t weed out the less-than positive aspects of the narrative. Moreover, I appreciate her social commentary.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in adventure stories, the environment (specifically, saving it), the monarch butterflies, and memoir. A word on Dykman’s writing: excellent. She has a keen eye for drawing parallels between us and the world in which we live. If you’re not able to join us for her upcoming author visit, then I encourage you to check out her book–literally!

As always, happy reading.

Find in catalog.