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13 Things That Don’t Make Sense

I read this book during a week that I was blogging for BoingBoing. As a result, the book is full of little scraps of paper where I put a note to look more stuff up about whatever topics online. I enjoyed reading this book, enjoyed Brooks' tone and felt like he did a lot of the extra work that took interesting science problems and conundrums and made them into a book that was a fascinating read, in many times inteviewing people who had been at the heart of a science controversy several decades ago. I have the same criticism that other people had -- the book suffers [to my mind] from the inclusion of homeopathy which [again, to me] falls more into the “woo woo” scale of non-sensemaking then say “why is the universe continuing to expand?” sorts of questions.


[review pending]


This book took me years to finish. I enjoyed it, but kept getting dragged away and rarely found a reason to go back. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing about the book but just an observation. It’s about the year I was born, it’s chock full of facts, but the organizing principle is, I guess, sort of a timeline and sort of by incident [so the 1968 Olympics, the Republican Convention, that sort of thing] so it feels like it jumps around a lot. As individual essays, each chapter is excellent, having Kurlansky’s usual mix of well-researched facts and curious details that keep you adding little “look this up” post-its. Enoyed it, but it was hard to read and complete.

3500: An Autistic Boy’s Ten-Year Romance with Snow White

I know Ron from MetaFilter and had followed his stories about his autistic son Ben and how much he seemed to “come alive” when he was at Walt Disney World. This book chronicles Ben’s 3500 rides on the Snow White ride at WDW before the ride was eventually shut down in a redesign. Ron talks about his relationship with his son’s mom, their divorce, their determination to continue to co-parent and their eventual move to Florida (not together, but at the same time) so that their son Ben could spend more time at the theme part. It sounds weird and the way Ron writes it it’s the most normal thing in the world. I liked getting to know their family and especially Ben a barely-verbal boy as he grows from a baby to a legal adult. A very worthwhile read.

79 Short Essays on Design

I was definitely not the target demo for this. Seventy-nine essays, each in their own font, about the inside baseball of the design world. Occasionally I could pick up something that was really interesting, but a lot of the rest of the time I just felt mired in design drama. Unfinished.

84 Charing Cross Road

Loved this, a short quick read. The subject: some back and forth letters between screenwriter Helene Hanff and the many employees friends and associates of the London booksellers 84 Charing Cross Road. Much more fun and delightful than I thought it would be.

Against Technoableism

If you’re familiar with the social model of disability you will probably like this and also probably learn more about it. Shew is an amputee with brain fog from chemo and she talks openly and honestly about her own situation and what she knows about other situations (including neurodiversity, why Autism Speaks sucks &c.) by being in disability activism communities. It’s a short and interesting book that I wish had been longer.

Aha! Gotcha: Paradoxes to Puzzle and Delight

I started this book years ago and then left it out in the rain and then it was in the freezer for a year or so. It’s SO GREAT. If you like math puzzles but can get bogged down with too much detail or too many arcane diagrams, this is for you. Lots of short anecdotes illustrating a math puzzle or a conundrum. Just enough backstory to make it interesting--and for you to look up if it turns out it’s your thing--and then on the next thing. Entertaining cartoons and the always readable Gardner explaining it all. Worth tracking down, a really great book.

Al Jaffee’s Mad Life

This book was written before MAD’s demise. It mostly tells the story, illustrated by Jaffee, of Jaffee’s bizarre childhood. He was born in the US and then stolen back to where his family was from in Lithuania by his mother. She had some sort of mental illness and he and his brothers grew up being severely neglected. He came back to the US as a teen and always had an odd time being adjusted. This book is a lot more about him than it is about MAD, though people interested in the inside baseball of MAD will find stuff to occupy them in the last few chapters.

Aliens in the Backyard: Plant and Animal Imports into America

Enjoyed this book about what sort of things in the US we may think are native but are actually from somewhere else. This book goes into how we know which species of plants and animals are native, what the disputes are and what some of the notable failures of introducing species from outside including the stories that you know about like starlings and kudzu. Well-researched enough to be academicky but not dry and tough to read. Ignore the cover and pick this up and read it.

All Of Us Or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area

I received this book to review for the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association. My review is in an issue of their newsletter and you can read it here.

All That Remains: A Life in Death

One of those great books about forensic biology, this one by a woman who works teaching anatomy-via-cadaver in Scotland and also is part of a forensic exhumation team. A lot of different and interesting parts to it including exhuming mass graves in Kosovo, trying to ID random remains in Scotland and just talking about life and death within her own family. Not everyone’s thing but I really liked it.

All the Living and the Dead

A look into “death workers,” the people involved in the business of death, from embalmers, to grave diggers to crime scene cleaners. Campbell is the daughter of Eddie Campbell who wrote a gruesome graphic novel about Jack the Ripper and grew up with that sort of approach to death kind of in the air. Not a lot of new information if you’re already a Caitlin Doughty fan, but a good mostly-UK perspective on it all.

All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep

Henry does a great job talking about his frustration with and anger about American racism (and White nonsense) and his creative and strategic responses to them, and the friends he lost along the way. This book covers his gradual self-awakening about someone who not only cared deeply about racial justice but wanted to (and did) DO SOMETHING about it. The more he got involved, the more he shed White friends. Eye-opening for me as someone who means well, tries to do well, but could easily fall into a “white friend” category and needs to be more careful and thoughtful.

Almost American Girl

This is a tough memoir about a young woman with a very difficult mom who gets uprooted (told she’s going on vacation and then just... doesn’t get to go home?) from her life in Korea to live in Alabama with her mom’s new husband who she’s never met. Her mom has her reasons--even though her behavior in this country would amount to child abuse--but there’s still a lot of sobbing and misery. While it’s well done and eventually works out okay, it wasn’t a story I needed to read. There’s a lot of trauma, for the first 80% of the book and if that is not your thing, it is very much this book’s thing.

Aloha Rodeo

This book is also by David Wolman. I was given a copy by Julian Smith who thought I might like it. And it’s really good! It’s basically a one-time event (a rodeo in Wyoming which features “cowboys” or paniolo from Hawai’i) that is fleshed out into a whole book.Often I have no patience for that sort of framing and you see it a lot in New Yorker writers and etc. For whatever reason--liking Hawai’i,enjoying the old-time trivia, or just it’s a good story--it wasn’t a problem here. The authors deal with some of the more problematic issues like the overthrow of the Hawai’ian monarchy and a lot of the casual racism in the mainland US with a decent amount of tact and awareness. Not the same as this book being written by actual Hawai’ians but a step towards that at least.

Amazing Rare Things

[review pending]

Ambient Findability

[review pending]

American Eden

A long history about a botanist, naturalist and doctor in early New York. The guy himself was kind of interesting, had many famous friends (eventually married rich!), but this book had an excessive attention to detail that made it overlong and dry reading. It’s one of those painstakingly researched stories where even though you might have a historical record that the guy bought this and that plant at this or that plant sale, it doesn’t ALL have to be in there. Ultimately, this guy had a failed garden, did change the face of medicine and botanical medicinals somewhat, and married rich so now people have heard of him. Book was too long but glad I learned about him.

American On Purpose

Wrapping up my Kindle splurge with this book, another great comedian telling a “how I got to where I am now” story. Enjoyable. Ferguson is likeable and his life has been interesting. He’s been married a few times, had a serious drinking problem that he overcame and moved to America on purpose from his native Scotland because he just fell in love with it during a visit when he was a teenager. He tells his story with wit and charm and anyone who wants more of the stories you may have heard form the Late Late Show should read this.

Among the Thugs

This was a spooky little airplane read. Bill Buford is a journalism who becomes curious about what goes into football violence and follows teams of football hooligans -- or as he continually refers to them, “supporters -- to some matches and describes the violence he witnesses there. There’s an element of voyeurism, tagging along with him, similar to My War Gone By. Buford is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the extreme and senseless violence that he witnesses at these matches. The book is more a set of described matches than it is a real cohesive narrative on the larger topics. Buford goes to matches, follows hooligans on package tours and attends a National Front birthday party. The whole time he’s sort of trying to integrate himself with the instigators of these events and is only partially successful.

This book is at its best when describing the things that happens and how they start and progress from simple organized cheering and assembly into the flashpoint violence where suddenly there is destruction and apalling behavior. I found Buford sort of an unreliable narrator, simultaneously trying to be a journalist with some level of detachment and also claiming to be horrified at seeing what was happening with the people who he was hanging out with. There was a sense in which I felt he was saying "well what can you do, this was going to happen anyhow” and then disavowing responsibility for the events because he was there reporting on them, while at the same time commenting on the media spectacle created. Worth reading, btu I’d really like an updated “where are we now, regarding hooligan violence?” book, preferably written by someone else.

The Anarchist in the Library

Since it’s November I think I can safely put this book on the 2004 top ten list. I read it on the plane on the way to a workshop on The Information Commons which was somewhat less interesting than this book. Siva is only sort of flirting when he talks about anarchism since his conclusion basically says “we don’t want anarchy, but we need something better than this” He’s a scholar but one who uses the tools he discusses. That, combined with a very readable style and a good sense of humor make this book a must read.

He goes deep into the models for sharing information and explains how our previous pathways to free and open sources of information are being shut down by people who want to be able to charge us for it. Not only that, they have been re-framing the debate, so that wanting to access this information in an easy and user-friendly way gets us branded as criminals ["anarchists"] by the powers that be. They basically make the argument that they’re keeping us safe by adding all these levels of copy protection and legislation when in reality they’re just protecting their own private proerty model and revenue stream that comes from that model.This is, of course, a horribly brief synopsis of a complex and wonderful book. If you’d like more from Siva, feel free to read the FAQ about this book, or just start reading his blog.

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets

I did not read this book earlier b/c I was afraid it was a “dead mom” book because there is a mom’s suicide attempt on page one. The mom, however, lives. This is a story about growing up in a family with a mother with a serious maybe untreated mental health issue (and a brother with one which is alluded to more than it’s explained until very late in the book) where people don’t talk about the important things. It has a spookiness to it that I did not enjoy and I was left with more questions about the author’s life than answers.

And Their Children After Them

This was a hard book to read. Coming on the heels of reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, any shred of hope you had for the dignity of the people portrayed in the book, for them overcoming their situations of desparate poverty and lack of education, is dashed when you read about the next generations. Some people did quite well, a few. Most are sort of middling in the in-between areas, not quite desparate but definitely not someplace where they feel happy and settled. And some people -- most specifically one of the older daughters of one of the tenant farmers, who he took as his wife, confirming decades of bad stereotypes (or possibly starting them) -- are still miserable and wretched, having been passed by, both by advances in technology like plumbing and cost of basic goods, but also by advances in society where there is at least some of a social safety net in place for people who are destitute.

This book is a return to Alabama to see what happened to the 128 descendants of the three tenant families that were portrayed by James Agee and Walker Evans in 1936. We get to learn what they thought of the portrayal of themselves, how being written up in a book affected the lives of their grandparents, parents and themselves. We also get a less dashing view of Agee and Evans, who slickly call themselves spies and instigators in the list of characters in the original book but were really in some ways no more than subculture tourists. Evans spent no more than one or two nigths with the families and seemed to have a distaste for them mostly, while Agee romanticized them in the way writers do where he held them up as noble members of their class, but promptly forgot about them once he left Alabama (though to be fair he was embroiled in his own terrible life at the time).

The most poignant part of the story, though to be sure, there are many poignant parts, is the opening scene of the book where one of the women who was beloved and doted on by Agee when she was a little girl, commits suicide after a long hard life at the age of 54. One could see after reading just this introduction, that new writers nosing around the place might not stir up happy thoughts. It is helpful for people who were interested in the earlier book, to get follow-up on how the people did, what happened to them and how they fared and their childre and children’s children. Ironically Agee himself was the first to die, due to his own set of hard-luck lifestyles and circumstances. For anyone who read and appreciated Let Us Now Praise Famous Men this Pulitzer Prize winning book is necessary follow-up reading.

And Then There’s This

I had started this book at some earlier time and finally picked it backup again. It was fun to read something about viral culture but less fun to read it as a memoir of the guy who maybe invented the flash mob. Because, he talks about virality but in some ways injects his own attempts at making things viral into many of the chapters. And I’m sure he’s fine but I didn’t want to read about his experiments (many of which failed) I wanted to read more about the things that happened, not just him talking to his friend and BuzzFeed founder Jonah Perretti. Read like a long New Yorker article but not one I would necessarily finish.

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre World of Food: Brains, Bugs, and Blood Sausage

Zimmern loves food and travel and he likes to go off the beaten path. This book is a collection of essays about his far-off and weird travel experiences and the food that he ate in various places. From catching bats and roasting them over an open fire to eating the still-beating heart of a frog, to going on a puffin hunt in a remote location in Iceland, Zimmern enthusiastically recounts not just the tastes but the culture and the stories of the people he meets. He makes a distinction between being a tourist and being a traveler, writing about hoe he prefers to share foods with the people who live in the locations he goes to. This isn’t always the easiest way to eat--and some of the foods he eats are downright gross, even to him--but it’s the most interesting. The whole book is also peppered with little bits of trivia about the places he goes, the words he is using and the history of some of the things he experiences.

Animals Strike Curious Poses

Found this book on the new shelf at my library despite the fact that it had come out earlier in the year. I had thought it was a book of nature essays and... it sort of is but it’s more than that. Starting from the loose theme of “animals", Passarello has put together an interesting collection of essays, poetry and thought experiments using animals-that-you’ve-heard of as a jumping off point. She talks about seeing the "unicorn” at the circus or her reading Berger’s book about how we interact with animals or, my very favorite, a retelling of the dirty joke the Aristocrats using only words from Koko’s 1000 word vocabulary. Not all the pieces land but they’re all interesting and engaging.

Archimedes' Revenge: The Joys and Perils of Mathematics

Another fun poppy book about math. Enjoyed it though my eyes started to glaze over towards the end of it when he devotes a lot of time to social choice theory and voting behavior. While I understood the examples, I had a hard time reading about voting options in any sort of narrative way. Otherwise this collection is surprisingly chatty and occasionally amusing for a collection of short essays about various math topics. I learned that 153 may be my favorite number and I learned about friendly and amicable numbers and a lot of other stuff that I may not use in my real life. I’ve read a lot of these sorts of books and this is one of my favorites.

Art and Fear

[review pending]

The Art Detective

My appreciation for this book as a whole was totally overrun byt the fact that one of the chapters takes place in my neighborhood about 20 years ago. Turns out there was an art collector, more of an art hoarder really, who had a disused church that was totally jam packed with old [and in some cases valuable] early American portraits. When the author was just starting out in his illustrious career, he made a trip to Vermont to check out this guy’s stash. This chapter made me all twitchy and jittery “Hey that happened HERE!” "Hey I want to know more about THAT"

I did manage to sit down and actually read the rest of the book, but it was a little tough to do. This book is totally enjoyable. Mould has a good writing style, an ear for a good story, and apparently an eye for seeing a diamond in the rough. This book talks about discovery. Paintings found in an old church, a picture bought on eBay for a song and restored to become a work of art that command a great price, the detective work, generally, that goes into figuring out whether a painting that looks like it might be by someone famous actually IS by that person. It’s a great set of stories complemented with photos that help you see what Mould is seeing.

The Art Thief

I have a few categories of books which I love and “Someone tells me more about art theft” is one of them. Finkel also wrote a really good book about the North Pond Hermit which was interesting while also not being tawdry or sensational. This book is about an audacious European art thief who lived in an attic at his mom’s place surrounded by dozens of valuable artworks that he brazenly stole over the course of years. It’s really convoluted and I enjoyed the “how I got these details” recounting at the end almost as much as I liked the book. A lot of good research leads to this tale well-told.

Assassination Vacation

I avoided reading Sarah Vowell forever mainly because I don’t really like/appreciate the humor of the general This American Life/Hodgman crowd that I felt she ran with.But this book, about touring all the places that were part of the first three presidential assassinations in the US, was a delight. She is funny, not too hipsterishly disaffected and has real joy (or non-joy) at all these little tidbits of what made America America back in the day. I liked it, was surprised I liked it, will try to find other books she’s written and maybe get over myself.

Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

A great, if sobering, look at how the tools that are supposed to help us live better are actually helping big companies and governments keep track of us in ways that don’t always help. Eubanks outlines how tools that are intended to link people with social services can also become surveillance devices and that once you’re in you’re never really out again which creates a culture of the spied-upon and the spyers. Deeply unsettling especially because with all the research she’s put into this, you know she’s right.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell

I was happily surprised to see this at my local library. I’ve enjoyed seeing Kamau’s work but to me he just sort of showed up one day and was all there, a professional comedy guy. This book talks a lot about how he got to where he is and the things he learned along the way. It’s neat because while the Kamau of today is really socially aware and responsible, he wasn’t always this way. Listening to him navigating some of the difficult aspects of learning how to be an intersectional and aware cultural commentator was really fascinating to me.

The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends

We used to read Brunvand’s books like The Choking Doberman and similar ones when I was growing up. One of my mother’s claims to temporary fame was getting a report published in one of Brunvand’s many volumes. These books of urban legends (though to be fair, they are rural legends as well) are chock full of stories you may have heard or heard of along with some folk etymology, as much as Brunvald can determine, of where they might have come from. Very few of them are based on fact, but there are usually great stories behind the lot of them. This book is not just stories but Brunvand’s explications of the myths and legends and themes that surround them. A great read.

Bad Science

An excellent book explaining not just why bad science is bad but HOW bad science is bad. Goldacre has a column in the Guardian in which he talks about people doing science badly. This book is a nice summary of some bad scientific claims and movements [from the antivax stuff to homeopathy] in which he comes back to the same point over and over “Look at the SCIENCE” and explains, somewhat repetitively, but again with humor, what good science would look like and the errors and missteps and out and out fraud that many people do in the name of making money and hoodwinking people. Highly suggested.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

This book should have been a lot better. Hammer is a journalist who, I think, stumbled on the story of the librarians and their quest to save all these books that had been lovingly collected in Mali and environs. He writes about it but also writes about the serious civil unrest happening around that time. Which, I sort of get, the climate is part of what you have to know about to understand what the threat was to the books. But really? This was two books sort of smooshed together and I only wanted to read one of them. The stories about the kidnappings and which warlord said what to whom did not interest me and were not actually critical to the librarian story. And ultimately, there’s mostly one librarian and I wanted to hear more about the books and what happened next. By the end of this book, the books aren’t even back. A good but ultimately disappointing book.

Bar Harbor Police Beat

Sassaman has combed the pages of his local paper for a decade and assembled a great curated collection of small town police activities and a reflection of the small town itself. Anyone who lives in a small town will recognize the combination of community management and occasional crime-solving that make up the job of a rural police department. Sassaman has picked out the good stuff and arranged and organized it to highlight patterns and trends that he then comments on. A fun collection, especially for people who have been to Bar Harbor or any other small vacation town.

The Barnum Museum

I like Millhauser because his writing rewards close reading. His stories are detailed and meticulous in some ways and the more work you put into them, the deeper they seem to go. This book is a collection of short stories ranging from the seemingly prosaic [a family playing a board game] to the weird and fantastical [a girl falling down a rabbit hole and what she finds there]. I think of all the stories there was maybe one or two that didn’t totally click with me and the rest were wonderful journeys to places I didn’t normally go. Every time I read a Millhauser collection, I am worried that I have reached the end of his writings and I felt this again this time. I hope there is more.


This is a great book about the history of beavers in North America and what the US might have looked like before humans eradicated nearly all the beaver population before they came (a little bit) back. The author looks at modern-day trappers, beaver enthusiasts, folks who study rivers, and a quirky assortment of academics. It’s readable, strongest when it’s giving you cool beaver facts and fascinating beaver history, and weakest when the author talks about her Connecticut neighborhood and the more “wild” parts of it.


I am only sorry that this book didn’t cover the time after the primaries and subsequent election. This is a very well done look at the history of the Democratic Party in the postwar era, the increasing bend towards centrism or outright conservativism, and the appeal of Bernie Sanders amidst all of that. I learned a lot about Sanders' background and a lot about the machinations of various factions within the Democrats to do various things. Enjoyable and also creepy.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2018

It bugs me sort of unreasonably that these are published in October. Because the year is not over! I have been reading these since the beginning and what’s been odd is seeing the changing themes as different editors take over, More cancer one year and more global warming the next. Some issues are full of bloggish style posts and some are a lot more epic longform stuff that goes on seemingly forever. This year’s seemed to be a pretty good mix of stuff and even though it took me a long time to get through this, I liked nearly every article in it which is often not the case.

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2020

A really interesting and eclectic set of essays, possibly none of which were on the pandemic? I read this series from time to time and often there is a lot of gloom and doom writing about climate or about diseases or some such. No big deal, I get it, but this collection is more varied than most. Not too samey, not too grim. I learned some things and enjoyed reading it.

Best American Science and Nature Writing 2021

As you might imagine, this collection by Ed Yong is terrific, encompassing the urgency of COVID and global warming, among other science and nature-y things. It felt like the authors were mostly female writers, with a thread of hopefulness not typical of these books. I did get the vibe that many of the essays were from the Atlantic which was the only real “sameyness” about the collection. Compared to last year’s collection which was notable in the absence of COVID coverage, this was a nice return to the types of collections I am used to finding in this series.

The Best We Could Do

Thi Bui wanted to tell her story in a visual way so she learned to create graphic novels. This is her first and it’s captivating. Starting from the birth of her own baby and her mother’s somewhat paradoxical reactions to it, she goes back and explores the background of both her parents as they struggled in Vietnam under the shifting and oftentimes brutal regimes that were there. Bui herself is a “boat person” who was born in Vietnam and came to America when she was very small. This book is especially poignant against the backdrop of the current immigration crisis and our President’s complete mishandling and barbaric response to it.


“WHo gives a book on medical mistakes to a cancer patient?” my Mom said and gifted this book to me. I really enjoyed it. It’s not just about mistakes but looks somewhat into the business of medicine, the choices hospitals and doctors and big organizations make, and why they make them and maybe, even how they could be made better. Gawande looks at doctors who kill (via the death penalty) and the eradication of polio (via crazy giant vaccination projects) and why some cystic fibrosis treatments are far and away working while others aren’t. It’s all fascinating and Gawande does a good job separating out his personal opinions and observations from the stories he is trying to tell

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

Wanted to love this book but struggled with it. Norris is a likeable interesting person who had held a coveted job of copy editor at the New Yorker, a place that actually cares about such things, for a good long time. And she’s learned stuff about herself, the business and language. However this book couldn’t really figure out which of those thigns it was about. Some chapters were fun autobiographical sketches, some talked about office culture and some were borderline polemics about language. Which were not great. The rest was fine. Norris has a transgender sibling and I winced listening to her mangle pronouns talking about her sibling and then defend usage that is nowhere near current or compassionate practice. At the same time she’d go on a tear about things like “Between you and I” (incorrect, but often used. So, mixed feelings. I’m sure I’d like Norris if I met her but this book wasn’t enough of one thing to get me in its corner.

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?

Really enjoyed this legalistic exploration into the way various entities deal with sex/gender distinctions along with a look at maybe how they SHOULD be dealing with it. Fogg Davis is a lawyer who is also transgender and he outlines a lot of situations in which people having to indicate their gender (on forms, in person, for reasons) was more of the issue than whatever supposed reason they needed to identify their gender in the first place Fogg Davis makes a compelling case for significantly fewer gender-based restrictions/indicators as people move through society and has interesting and sensible legal reasons for doing so. I liked reading this book and learning more about things I may not think about often enough.


Library cartoons. As librarians, we’re sent a link or a clipping any time someone sees a cartoon that is vaguely about a library or a librarian. Too often, these suffer from a lack of understanding about the profession and so they fall into the same old gags and gaffes that librarians have seen a thousand times before. Handman is different, he actually is a librarian and a good cartoonist besides. With a spcial flair for drawing Rube Goldberd like apparatus, he makes astute observations and wry inside jokes and even throws in an obscure cataloging reference or two. A delight from start to finish, even for the most jaded librarians.

The Big Burn

I loved Egan’s book about the Dust Bowl and I loved this lone only a little less because it seemed a little more like one of those giant New Yorker pieces that got fleshed out into a book. The central story is the fire but also how the US got to that point (a giant swath of timber, overseen by very few poorly funded people). And there’s a LOT of how they got to that point, maybe too much I enjoyed learning about Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot and how they set up national forests but I spent a lot of time wondering how it was going to connect to the larger story. And maybe selfishly I was hoping for more pictures? In any case, this story was still great but a little longer with a little less fire story to it than I was hoping for.

The Big Year

A book lent to me by a firend who is a fellow casual birder. I really enjoyed this story of three competitive type birdwatchers and their quest to see the most different types of birds within the confines of US territory. This includes multiple pelagic trips out to see birds that never come to land, and a necessary trip to Attu, waaaay out on the end of the Aleutian Islands where you hope for birds to be blown over from Asia. The writing in this book is sharp and lively without being too jokey or bird-nerdy. The author assembled the narrative form the journals and hundreds of interviews of the three main characters but has also complemented them with his own research into bird trivia which added greatly to my enjoyment of this book. Whether you’re really into birds or just wonder what all the fuss is about, you’re likely to enjoy this book.

Bird in a Cage

This is a poignant and well-told story about the life of the author’s grandmother and, by extension, the life of the entire family around her. Roher tells this story in a series of vignettes that jump around between her elderly incapacitated grandmother and the family caring for her, and flashbacks that cover the grandmother’s entire life. Many of them center around the family island where they would get together in the summertimes and it’s a nice consistent way of threading the larger story together.

BirdTalk: Conversations with Birds

I’ve listened to the birds in the same place Powers lives, but I’ve never thought to talk to them before. This book is a fun ramble through many different poetic and contemplative perspectives of birdsongs and communication generally. Powers has a way with words and the connections he makes will often make you see and hear things in a new light. I enjoyed his sharing of particularly apt poems or little historical snippets along with his (sometimes apologized for) jokey turns of phrase and other allusions. The book itself is lovely to behold, feels good in your hands and is tastefully designed with lovely illustrations by Powers' wife. A great gift for anyone who has read all the “standard” bird books and who could use encouragement to not just watch and listen but to speak back and dialogue.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency

Grabbed it because of the cover and I’d wanted to read more by Eddie Campbell since reading From Hell. This was a short turn-of-the-last-century story about crime and forgery. Well told and illustrated.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

Not really sure what the problem was but I absolutely couldn’t stand this book and couldn’t get more than a few chapters into it.

Blind Rage: Letters to Helen Keller

Mixed feelings about this book. I would like to read more by the author. This was a collection of letters the author had written, or had imagined writing, to Helen Keller. The original conceit was that it’s been tough to grow up in the US as a visually or auditorially disabled person and NOT feel that you are somehow under the shadow of wunderkind Helen Keller, always smiling, always sharp and never complaining. I liked that idea. However, the book winds up also getting us way into the weeds about Keller’s life which also included a lot of really annoying explication of just how controlling and difficult Sullivan was which was not my cup of tea. This book was the strongest when Kleege was talking about her own life vis a vis Keller or telling us little stuff that the average person might not know about Keller. But it was a lot of time spent with unpleasant people (Sullivan) and a lot of historical re-creationism which didn’t always sit well with me.


Gladwell’s last book which grew out of a New Yorker article read like an overlong New Yorker article. This one does now. The loose premise is that many people make decisions much more quickly than they feel that they do, and that they rely on much less information to make them. Gladwell argues that, counter to our preceptions about quick decision-making, these decisions can often be fairly sound and useful ones. He guides us through a few examples of this process in action and discusses the idea of “thin slicing” whereby smaller and smaller amounts of information are being accessed (quick glimpses of people, small snatches of sounds) and yet the decisions people make ("do I know that song?" "does this person like the other person?") are often just as valid, sometimes more valid, as if they had more time to think it over.

Gladwell discusses the upside as well as the downside of this phenomena, discussing how people’s preconceptions of things like race may effect their snap judgments in ways they aren’t even aware of. He uses as an example the Implicit Association Test which tests people’s reaction times when they have to group positive and negative words with images of white or black people. Gladwell, who is half-Jamaican himself, was suprised to note that even he had a tendency to group negative words with images of black people, not consciously, but subconsciously. This book has the interestingness and research of Gladwell’s other writing along with the length and breadth of other books describing how we know what we know.

Book Lust To Go

I enjoy Nancy Pearl’s Reader’s Advisory books, considering them very readable on their own. However I LOVE travel books and needed some inspiration. This book, loosely organized by country and region, is a wide-ranging look at what you might want to read, both contemporary and older books, fiction and non. There is, of course, a bit of a Western slant to these suggestions, but Pearl does a pretty good job at trying to round out a certain kind of “White people go places” books, with books written by people who live in the regions she’s covering. I made my own sub-list of travel books to read from this book.

The Book of Five Rings

I think I was looking for something a little more metaphorical but this book which outlines the principles of being a good swordfighter--written by Musashi in the 1650s--has a lot of good stuff to know in addition to, you know, learning to kill people with your sword. It’s also a lovely book and this re-issuing of it by Shambhala with translator notes by Wilson is an all-around interesting experience which is not just about learning swordfighting but also about learning how to take a scroll from the 1650s and turn it into a book in the 21st century.

The Book of Lists: The 90s Edition

I’m sort of embarassed that I never knew this book had come out until it was quite out of date. I have all the origianl Books of Lists and People’s Almanacs and reread them every now and then. I stopped at the Book of Predictions which wasn’t very good and then I assumed the meme had just ...died. It hadn’t, hooray! This book is not quite as great as the previous ones and is a bit too referential -- many lists end with “for more on xyz topic, consult the book of lists 1” which gets cloying after a while -- but the lists are there, they’re great and interesting and quirky as ever. I only found this book because it was on the discard shelf of the local library. I wish I knew why it wasn’t more popular. Also, it is sort of weird to publish a “nineties edition” of anything in 1993? I thought so.

The Book of the Year 2018

I will forever be that nerd complaining about books that are about the year but are published during the year. What about stuff in December! This was a fun and engaging trivia book organized alphabetically which was maybe just a little too cheeky (a lot of see also references that were kind of jokes but also kind of exhausting) but otherwise a great manifestation of one of my favorite podcasts.

The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)

Gave up on this. Listening to a slightly jokey-joke NPR commentator talk about things like swinger’s parties and gigantic feasts was really not for me If you align yourself more with Sagal’s way of looking at the world, you might really enjoy this. I did not.

The Bookseller of Kabul

The librarian has been pushign this book into my hands for months and I’ve been resisting. This is a really serious reading week so I relented. I’m sorry I waited so long. This is a story -- a non-fiction account but written in a literary style -- of what it’s like to be a middle class family in post-War Afghanistan, specifically Kabul. And you know what it’s like? It’s sucks. It’s lousy. It’s pretty easy to be sort of value-relative about all this and discuss the ideas that you can’t really compare cultures. However, the woman who wrote this book, who lived with the bookseller’s family for some time, doesn’t say “this is good” or “this is bad” she just describes.

She describes how women are basically the property of their fathers and then, once they’re married off, the property of their husbands who they have barely met before their wedding night. She describes the culture of illiteracy, how many people can’t read and this means that they are less likely to be able to critically approach the ideas foisted on them from the religious fundamentalists like the Taliban. She describes how even the middle class families live in dirt houses with no furniture and often no electricity or running water in a city that has been largely destroyed through a combination of Taliban repression combined with the destruction wrought by American forces post-9/11. She talks abotu how Afghanistan was not always such a beaten down country and explains a little bit about the political upheavals that signalled a return to extremely traditional cultural practices that were unusual even for Afghanistan.

It’s a hard book to read. The women are simply wretched in many cases, beaten down by lifetimes of doing other people’s laundry, cooking and domestic work and husbands who take multiple wives. The outlook for everyone is bleak. It’s so hard to raise enough money to change your status that even the future looks grim. Even given this, Seierstad manages to find some high points, some stories of almost-romance, or strong-willled women, or something that worked, for once. However these are the exceptions in the overarching culture that has been destroyed by poverty and fundamentalism and what has been essentially a total infrastructure collapse.

Bootleggers, Lobstermen & Lumberjacks: Fifty Of The Grittiest Moments In The History Of Hardscrabble New England

Both really loved and did not love this book. The stories, most of which I had never heard before, are great. Lots of strange stuff going on in New England, many of which sound familiar even though they may have happened hundreds of years ago. The way of conveying them was sort of strange. Mayo obviously did his research but then he wrote fictionalized accounts of the event (including made up dialogue between the characters and a lot of “what were they thinking” sort of things) which sometimes read really strangely. The book has a great bibliography and a lot of places to go for further reading. The beginning and end ("Indian attacks" and "rum running") were the least interesting parts of the book, the parts in the middle are the best.

Born Both: An Intersex Life

There is a lot going on in this book. Viloria didn’t really discover or understand that s/he was intersex until s/he was in he/r twenties. And spent a lot of time making up for lost time. Viloria is also Hispanic, grew up in a difficult household and had a brother who is gay who was shunned by Viloria’s father. Viloria spends a lot of time taking the reader along with he/r as s/he goes through the various discoveries of he/r own sexuality, dating life, gender presentation and path to becoming an intersex activist. As someone who is interested in the topic of genderfluidity but has mostly read about people who have been transgender, this is a different, sometimes entirely lateral approach to some of the same issues about how to move within a society that is not expecting you the way you are. I really enjoyed it.

Born Standing Up

By the time I knew about Steve Martin, he was already famous and doing SNL. This biography covers his lie from when he was born to basically when he became stupid-famous and talks a lot about how he chose to do the stuff he did. It’s a neat look into someone who is often pretty private about a lot of his life and is a great behind the scenes look at what sort of work it takes to become not only a comedian but a sort of unique one with a very narrowband audience appeal. Martin come across like a really nice guy and is gracious about all the people he mentions even though he definitely had a bit of a rocky upbringing. A bunch of old photos really make this a book worth reading.

Born to Kvetch

A look at the history and culture of the complaints of Yiddish with chapters covering important topics like sex and death and why the slang terms for male and female genitalia aren’t semantically equivalent. This was a fun and educating read and a lot more in-depth than I was expecting.

The Brain that Changes Itself

Enjoyed this book about how the brain can, contrary to previously held belief, recondition itself to new circumstances including things like recovering from strokes (even at advanced ages) and various kinds of disabilities. Each chapter is a different example of different ways the brain can adapt and learn and Doidge spends a lot of time discussing what we previously thought was true about brain science and what we are now learning is true. Very chatty and readable while still giving you a lot of places to go if you want to dig in to any one subtopic.

Bringing Down the House : The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions

This is an odd story which is told like some sort of hollywood movie, yet it involves real people committing some very real crimes. The author has a connection with one of the people involved in part of the story and the rest of the story is told through this possibly disgruntled person’s eyes. It’s all about a ring of smart MIT students who used a system to play blackjack with teams and break the bank, or at least always win, at Vegas casinos. The whole time they were on this team, they were “run” by some shady underworld figures that no one really knew very well. Towards the end they start getting figured out and things get desperate, some people decide to stick it out in the risker business of evading tighter and tighter scrutiny and some got out. This book describes it all in detail. The system, the steps they took to avoid getting caught, the steps the casinos took to shut them down. It’s an interesting wacky caper story with the “criminal masterminds” just being some average suburban kids with a good head for math. Good reading, drops off a bit towards the end and definitely an early book by an author whose better writing is probably ahead of him.

Bull’s Eye

A discard from the local tech center library. A slightly-dated but truly interesting look into the medicine goings-on as people tried to figure out wtf was this weird new-seeming disease in CT. Good to read about another disease for a change. A few kinda long chapters about individual men (and it’s nearly all men) who are finding out different things. Dragged in places but overall pretty interesting.

The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup

Loved this. Orleans writes very well about people so normal that they become fascinating. Her character sketches are at one sort of commonplace -- here is the guy who runs the fan store, here is a ten year old boy and what he does, here is a lady who sells buttons -- and totally captivating. Part of this is her low drama but also very intense way of describing her subject. Everyone becomes three-dimensional under Orleans' eye and she seems to know both what makes the characters interesting to themselves as well as what a random reader might want to know. Each chapter is better than the next. It’s worth trying to track down this book.

Button Pusher

A graphic novel about being diagnosed with ADHD before it was really a thing. Page went through a lot of “What is WRONG with that kid?” interactions with the medical establishment before getting a good diagnosis that was helpful. And he’s got a home life that is sort of messy with a dad with a tempeer problem who may be part of the problem as much as he also needs some help. A combination memoir and good factual information about lots of aspects of ADHD. Engaging and interesting.

A Calculating People: The Spread of Numeracy in Early America

I really enjoyed this historical walk through the history of people being in to numbers. Since I’ve been a kid, math was just a thing you were supposed to know and it was taken for granted that in fact you needed to know math in order to be a fully fledged person. It would come up in everything and it was essential in order to have a job, run a household or understand things. This was not always the case. Cohen goes back through Colonial times to talk about why we started counting things and what the weird messy in-between times were like when some people were numerically literate and some were not.

Of particular interest to me were the attempts at various censuses--ostensibly taken for taxation purposes but actually used for things such as making a case for slavery, of all things. The long sad case of the terrible mess that was the 1840’s census is a much better story than you would really think it should be. All the chapters are like that, starting with some sort of dry topic like “When did math start to be taught in schools?” you wind up with a bunch of fun anecdotes and definitive research that not only answers the questions but makes them even more fascinating in hindsight. A really enjoyable book.

The Calculus Diaries

This book helps you understand calculus. Rather it probably helps you understand why you don’t already know calculus. Ouellette has an approachable likeable tone and uses a lot of interesting contemporary examples to help you understand things like derivatives and integrals and why you might care to even know this stuff. She delves into a lot of interesting math history and really works hard to make examples that are real-world and relevant, using such locations as Disneyland, a surfing beach in Hawaii and Las Vegas.

That said, I still don’t know calculus and I think it’s not her fault. The book, while upbeat and “you can do it” in tone is also sort of a popular approach to the work and so is sometimes jokey when maybe it should be more explanatory. Ouellette’s husband is a physicist and she admits herself that she was not the most eager of math students herself. So there’s a camraderie aspect that didn’t resonate with me [probably because I am a grouch] and every time they went to a new fancy location to illustrate some principle or another, I’d jadedly think “Oh I guess that vacation is a tax writeoff then.” Most people who are not grouches will enjoy this book.

The Calculus Story

Every so often I feel I should try to get my head around calculus & some nice man offers me a book they say is “Not like all the other books.” And I read, once again, about a pissing match between Newton and Leibniz with a roller coaster on the cover. Basically there is a jump that happens between understanding the concepts (which I do) and understanding how to plug them into formulae (which I don’t understand) and I always wind up lost in the second half of these roller coaster books.

California Dreamin': Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas

A great graphic novel about Cass Elliot’s life and times before The Mamas & the Papas really made it big. I had their albums growing up but never really knew too much about the band and this was really interesting. Elliot does not always come across as likeable but then again you understand what she’s about and how the Mamas and the Papas ticked more or less.

Calm and Sense: A Woman’s Guide to Living Anxiety-free

Not my usual, but read it for review purposes & was surprised how sensible it was. Many good techniques for managing anxiety. Very non-prescriptive (not telling you what to do, not anti-meds). A useful guide to a lot of anti-anxiety actions you can take and a useful outlook that encourages you to keep trying other options if what you’ve been trying isn’t working. The author herself manages anxiety (and has had a lot of health problems that she discusses candidly) and definitely comes across as a trustworthy source for this information.


I always like but don’t always love Sedaris. I love that he talks about the ups and downs and actual weird stuff he does on a day to day basis (feeding your lipoma to a snapping turtle? Loved that story!) I have a harder time when he brings his family into it and I worry/think about the story behind the story. His sister is famous in her own right, I wonder what she thinks. Another sister committed suicide after a long period of mental illness and his last reference to her in this book is about closing a door in her face. His father may not live until the next book. It’s all super interesting, a complicated mix of thigns that are funny right next to things that are not that funny but it makes it all the more real.

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America

For whatever reason Box Brown writes books I almost love and then don’t. I’m not sure if it’s his drawing style which is good but sort of stilted, or his “ripped from headlines” approach where you get the feeling he’s maybe just illustrating news articles he read. In any case, this is a good story to be told and it outweighs the downsides basically talking about the exact specific ways weed was made illegal in the US and in the world. I learned some things. I got annoyed. I was hoping for a broader approach but was happy with the one I got. A great book to have in your library.

Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry

An interesting look at the larger business concerns that surround the legalization of marijuana including some historical and cultural context, but mostly talking to the people who grow and sell marijuana for a job and what that sort of thing is like. I’m not sure if this book is more or less objective or if it just has a slant that I agree with, but I enjoyed this look at California’s struggled to legalize marijuana and what that’s meant in terms of trickle down effects with other industries. Readable and interesting.


This was a book written in 2004 about the sociological changes that cell phones were bringing to the world. The cover shows a candybar-style phone but stylized to look like a swiss army knife reflecting a very particular point in time when cell phones could kiiinda do pictures/video but not much else, but other stuff was right on the horizon. The author skips footnotes in favor of parentheticals which makes for a weird reading experience because there are a lot of asides often pointing to other things he’s written. A neat time capsule of when cell phones were a very specific thing.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade

Mixed feelings about this book which I enjoyed but wasn’t totally sure where it was coming from. It reads like a set of disparate essays sort of grasping for a way to all be put together into someone’s dissertation. I recognized myself in the era she describes, as someone who frequented arcades before the crash (in fact I just got back from Funspot last week) but otherwise found some of her discussion a little too academic. This book was strongest when it was referring to things I had a connection to (the iconic Life photo of the gamers, the Gamer Gate stuff of modern day, books I’d read) and less when it’s just sort of waxing poetic about ideas of masculinity that don’t really seem rooted in theory as much as idle musings. Enjoyed but was not enthusiastic about.

The Colony

I started this book a few years ago and just picked up where I left off because I gave it away as a prize in a contest and realized I hadn’t gotten all the way through it. This book is terrific, a model of what all good non-fiction books on somewhat difficult topics should be like. The story of Hawaii’s transition from an island nation of its own to a US state is just the backdrop for this long and meticulously well-researched and well-annotated history of the Leper Colony on the island of Molokai. It would be really easy to stuff it with gory photos and stories and OMG LEPERS sorts of writing and probably create a book that sold just as well if not better, but Tayman has really gone for an approach where as much as possible he tells the stories using the words of the people caught up in the exiling, the incarceration, the activism and the machinations. The history of the leper colony is a long roller coaster of good news and bad news, sometimes occurring at the same time or for the same reasons. All this book made me want to do was learn and read more about the people and the places Tayman talks about.

Come On Down!: Behind the Big Doors at "The Price Is Right"

Published in 2007 and remaindered quickly, it seems. This is a fun light look at the game show The Price is Right by Emmy-award winning co-producer Stan Blits. It’s got nice design, it talks a lot about the show. This is not a gossipy tell-all sort of thing. Blits genuinely seems to love the show and the people he works with, so this is more along the lines of a PR venture than anything else. However if you grew up watching TPIR and want to know more about it, I can’t think of a better book for that.

The Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams, and Saul Steinberg

This book took me forever to read! And I enjoyed it but it’s a slightly dry and academic look of the lives of the four cartoonists whose names are in the title. I grew up often reading the New Yorker cartoons and I enjoyed getting a slightly wonk-y look at what made some of the more well known cartoonists tick, where they came from, what their personal lives were like, etc. It was super dry, however, and did not have as many cartoons in it as I might have wanted. Learned stuff, enjoyed it, had a hard time getting through it.

Communes and the Green Vision

I really really like books about alternative lifestyles and yet I could not do a thing with this.


Barry writes fun romps. This is a weird dystopian office environment where things aren’t always as they seem. Barry’s newer stuff is better, it’s cool seeing him improve as a writer, but I liked the interplay between all the odd characters, many of whom were only humanized by their interactions with other people.


If you like Cory Doctorow’s writing and general angle, you will love this book. I finished reading it as I was on a series of airplanes travelling to give my own talks to librarians about licensing, open source, technology and whatnot, and this was good food for thought. This book is only sort of a “book” which is part of the point Doctorow is trying to make. I got an actual print copy of it from his publisher [one of those “hey do you want to read this?” "yes I want to read it" exchanges] but I could have just as easily downloaded it from the web, legally and easily. In fact, thanks to the open licensing on the book’s “content” (again, this is the point) I can download a Braille version and RTF version, or even an audio version of a lot of the chapters. These aren’t created by Doctorow or his publisher, they’re created by fans. When we talk about user-generated content, and we do a lot, I don’t so much mean “you do work for us for free and in return we re-sell your freely given work for our own profit” what I mean is things like this.

Now, this sort of in your face free culture stuff really only works if you’re not living hand to mouth and if people like what you say enough to want to follow you around and remix your content. However, it does work. It doesn’t implode because authors don’t get paid -- a point that Doctorow makes frequently through this series of essays -- and it doesn’t fall apart because there’s no quality control of the sort that (allegedly) only top down business can give us. As librarians, we’re some of the original free cultists. Paying attention to what is going on in the world of copyright and the world of content licensing should be the most important part of our jobs moving forward as we watch more and more content become digital, redistributable, and literally uncontrollable. This collection of essays has advice, advocacy and a lot of useful metaphors all tied together with Doctorow’s oddly cheery dystopian predictions combined with a great grasp of both the language and the issues.

In a talk I gave to a bunch of Kansas librarians I used Cory’s cite of William Gibson’s quotation “The future is already here it’s just not very evenly distributed” to start talking about digital divide issues. We’re still loaning, and loving, print books while many people are getting digital books beamed directly to their portable devices with or without librarian assistance. Understanding the system is the minimum possible work we need to do to grok our role in the system. When I was done giving my talk someone asked me “What’s the name of that book again?” and I was able to just hand them the one from my backpack “Here, you can keep it.” and I was able to both give it away and keep it at the same time. That’s the future.

The Contradictions

I am starting to feel like my public library specifically stocks these “memoir-style stories by young awkward queer women trying to work out some shit” books (more power to them!) and I pick them up thinking they are different sorts of stories and they’re not my jam. This was a well-illustrated story about Sophie’s time in Paris where she befriends and goes on a multi-country crusty-punk style road trip with someone who seems super annoying. But at least one review I read said it was not a memoir so I don’t even know what to think. There’s just a lot of ennui in these books which is good for illustrating but sometimes tough for reading.

Corvus: A Life with Birds

This was a great morning book which I would read while watching my own outside birds on the feeders. Woolfson lives in Scotland and not only keeps doves but also has a few inside birds which are not birds you would consider inside birds. Notably she has kept a magpie she calls Spike and a rook she calls Chicken. This book is about how it is to live with birds with some side derails into things like feathers and nesting and all the things that birds do. Woolfson is a charming writer without being overly sentimental and I found that her writing just clicked with me and I enjoyed getting to read along as she learned things about her avian companions.

Cosplay, A History

I was really looking forward to this one since Andrew is a local pal. It is a very good, well-illustrated history--Liptak includes many of his own photos--of how cosplay was started and evolved. And for a field that can sometimes suffer from a lack of diversity, Andrew really does the work to find people from all walks of of the cosplay world and the book is better for it. A lot of interviews with subjects and some real deep looks at some aspects of the craft, from someone who is not just a writer but a cosplayer as well. I really appreciated this window into a world I don’t know that much about but have always admired from afar.

Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome

People seem to have a fascination lately with reading books by or about people with Autism. Temple Grandin is a well known author and the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was also very popular. There’s even a television show that features someone with presumed Asperger’s who is played for humorous effect. That said, there are very few books written by people with permanent and yet not debilitating or degenerative disabilities. This is one of those rare books. It’s written in interview style where the two authors Jason Kingsley and Mitchell Levitz have conversations with their parents and other family members which are then transcribed and grouped loosely into chapters. The book spans the authors' late teenage years and sees both of them through their high school graduations and planning for the future.

Both men are the product of very caring close families and both were born when very little was known about Down Syndrome. Mitchell’s mother was told he would likely never sit up or speak; her obstetrician suggested the boy be immediately institutionalized. The families grew to know each other through local channels and helped their sons grow into aware and able young men. Most of this book takes place in their own words and involves them talking about subjects like how they get along with other kids, how they interact with their families, what their hopes and dreams are for the future. I was a little sad to not be able to find more information about Mitchell and Jason online to see where their future took them after this book -- which has been reprinted in the last few years -- because I was curious to see what happened after the book ended which I think is a sign of a captivating read.

Cows in the Maze

I think I got off of the “popular math” books with this one.Nothing wrong with it, in fact I sort of liked it, but I just read a chunk of it and then never picked it up again and eventually it had to go back to the library.

Cracker Ingenuity

This was a Possum Living type book with a more humorous slant loosely about how to do more with less in a particularly Southern/Redneck style. Hard to tell from just reading it how much of this advice is tongue-in-cheek and/or ironic and how much of it is worth paying attention to, but the book’s design and layout are interesting and keep you thumbing through it and I learned some things I hadn’t known before.

Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius

I enjoyed this book. Colin is a friend and I found a copy of this just because I found the topic intriguing. I was not disappointed. Using meticulous research he looks into the theft of some well-known skulls and traces them all through time. I had no idea! A fun, if ghoulish, idea for a book and more fun to read than you’d think it would be.

The Cure for Everything

Enjoyed this. Caulfield is a heath researcher in Canada who I had previously not known that much about but I guess he’s hot shit in his field. This book attempts to look at the science behind many of the health claims we deal with in the modern world and not in that “Here are the facts that support the fad that I am currently publicizing” way but in looking at the analysis and meta-analysis to help answer questions like “Wat is the best way to lose weight?” and “Is there any proof that naturopathy works?” and “What’s the best way to exercise?” Along the way Caulfield uses himself as a guinea pig, getting his genetics tested and going on a healthy diet and talks to many other professionals in the field to get at what is really going on and why we might not be getting the best information from the media we consume. I enjoyed it. Caulfield is engaging as a writer and the stuff he says mostly makes sense. People interested in health who are sick of the usual New York Times analysis of current food and exercise trends and reporting will find this a breath of fresh air.

Curious Behavior Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond

This book was fun. It looked like it might be. The author is a scientist who also enjoys a lot of “What if” sort of questions about a lot of human behaviors. This book is a combination of things he read about and researched, things he looked into personally and anecdata that he knows about things. He has a good sense of humor and his curiosity about, for example, what is really happening when we yawn or sneeze, made for very good reading. I was concerned this might be a dry academic text and it was not.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert

This was a great book about someone I’d always wanted to know more about. I grew up reading Ripley’s books but Ripley himself had been dead since long before I was born. This is a meticulously well-researched biography of a man that even his biographer didn’t seem to like much even as he accomplished becoming a household name and the best paid cartoonist in the world. I also learned about Norbert Pearlroth, Ripley’s researcher who had a full time+ job going to the downtown NYPL every single day to find material and never got any credit. I enjoyed this book but was a little bummed that larger-than-life Ripley was just in a lot of ways a normal weirdo.

Dad is Fat

Enjoyed this despite the fact that it is a parenting book and even one that relies on some of the old tired “My wife raises five kids, six if you count me” gender tropes. Gaffigan is really funny. His delivery is great and unlike many comedians you don’t get the feeling that his humor is a thin veneer over a really serious hatred of himself and others. He and his wife have five kids all ages eight and under who they live with in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. He talks about this and a lot of the other amusing aspects of being a dad-of-five-kids (bonus: no one ever invites you to come visit!) as well as maintaining a tour schedule and all the other things that he does. I like it because it’s clear that he adores his wife--you don’t see a ton of nasty cracks at her expense--and all of his children who are given their own personalities and stories so it’s not one of those “I can’t tell you guys apart” situations. I laughed out loud at parts of this book and I think people who are looking for a humor-in-parenting book will really enjoy this.

Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour"

This was one of those “Oh hey when winter rolls around I will really hunker down and finish this book” situations. But then winter never came and the book was overdue and I had to return it though I am excited to maybe try again next winter.

Dare to Sketch: A Guide to Drawing on the Go

This is a book about sketching that also has a lot of sketches in it. I appreciated a lot of tips by Scheinberger on how to do this sort of thing right, or well, or the way you want. I am not a sketcher but it’s always been one of those topics where I think I MIGHT and this book makes it seem more likely that I could.

Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

Read an ARC of this eagerly-awaited book, it’s so so good. Think you know stuff about books bound in human skin? Think again. This book gives you some good facts and a compassionate look at what can seem like a ghoulish practice. Plus Megan’s a librarian! She tries to look into this practice to see if what we think is true (this was a practice mostly done by creeps and ghouls) is true (no). A few deeper looks at extant book where the provenance is well known and some speculation about cases in which less is known.

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919

This book was great. Well-researched and outlines with a marvelous arc that you could only think you could get from fiction, Puelo has done an amazing job reconstructing what it was like in 1916-1925 Boston in order to explain the events leading up to the molasses flood which is a thing a lot of locals make jokes about but few really understand. I particularly enjoyed the extra outlining of the political climate of the time describing anarchist activity that was going on in the area and also describing how the tank owners tried to pin the blame on political rabble rousers instead of their own cost cutting measures.

The Day the Earth Caved In

I’d heard about the Centralia mine fire pretty much forever but never knew much more about it than its local oddity status. Quigley who is a descendent of local miners, spells out what was really happening, why this took so long to work out, and who the major players were as this slow motion disaster occurred/ Really well-research but a little confusing to follow in terms of timelines. The story she tells seems to be more about the people she had access to (and things she could research) and less about an overall mile-high view of the events. This makes things a lot more personal but sometimes you lose track of a character or two and it can be confusing. Great read, very eye-opening about the ways in which structural inequality can screw over people who don’t know their rights or who aren’t supported by the officials they elected.

The Dayhiker’s Handbook

I was expecting something different from this book. Despite what its title says this is not really a dayhiker’s guide. The two authors are an adventurer/hiker and an editor for Outside magazine. There is no evidence in this book that they worked together on this book at all. They each write entirely separate sections, do not refer to the other’s sections, and write about entirely different things. John Long is the adventurer and under the guise of writing about different hiking environments, he gets to regale us with tales of his adventures, few of which are dayhikes. He writes with the heavy-adjectival style that is typical for people for whom writing is not a first profession. His prose is readable and his stories are good but they give very little advice on dayhiking and most of them are cuationary tales of what NOT to do. While I appreciate a good warning, I found the preponderance of them tiring and his writing style not at all compelling.

Michael Hodgson is the other writer and writes mainly in the sidebars giving advice in gear, recipes for trail eating and good lists of things to do for preparedness and enjoyment of hiking. His advice is more down to earth and yet you still get lots of information about what sort of sleeping bag to buy for cold weather camping and what sort of backpack to buy for weeklong jungle hikes. It may be that Californians approach the idea of a dayhike much differently than New Englanders, but I found this book so completely out in left field compared to what I was expecting, that I continued to read ahead because I couldn’t believe that it advertised itself as a dayhiking book and was telling me about ice climbing expeditions. As a book of adventure stories and GORP recipes, it’s more than adequate, but I’m still looking for a good dayhiker’s guide.

The Dead Beat

This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read lately. I have to apologize to Johnson because she sent this to me graciously a long time ago and it’s been on my “to read” pile for an embarrassingly long time. It was worth the wait. Johnson’s look into obituaries and the culture that has grown up around writing and reading them is a wonderful well-researched look at a subculture that most of us probably know very little about. Her compassionate look at the touchy subject of death and dying and people who immerse themselves in it for a living is interesting and funny without being too funny. Johnson has just the right amount of stories about other people and self-reflection [she is a freelance obituary writer herself] to make this book captivating and compelling. The addition of an appendix of URLs and a photo section really takes it beyond what you’d expect in the standard “New York writer talks about weird things other people don’t know have a cult following” vein. As someone who enjoys those types of books but is frequently left wanting more details, less New Yorker anxiety and more depth, this book completely delivers. Can’t wait to read her next one, also on my nightstand.

Deaf Utopia

One of the few younger-person memoirs that I’ve enjoyed lately. DiMarco is a 5th generation Deaf American and this is about his life to date including participating on America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars, exploring his sexual orientation (and how and when to come out about it) and some of the choices he’s had to make especially when asked to put his Deaf identity on the back burner. A great read, especially for people who may not know a lot about Deaf culture.

Dear Girls

This is a book nominally written by Wong as advice to her young daughters. But mostly it’s a pretty good memoir of what Wong’s life was like til now. Funny but not TOO funny, and has a lot of backgrounder information about her marriage, her pre-marriage life, her family and making her way as a stand-up. If you’ve liked her other stuff you’ll both know what to expect and also probably like this.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline

Got this off of the new shelf at the public library. I’d read some of it before as magazine articles. I appreciated how Parkin didn’t just go the normal boring “Video games are dangerous!” route and instead looked into the subtleties of the arguments about them. At times I found his explanations to be a bit too facile “Yeah woman are treated as playthings, but the men are sort of jerks too!” seemed overly simple and this book was missing a larger cultural critique but as it stands I did enjoy it.

Deep Economy

[review pending]

Deep Survival

This book also has a website. It’s really sort of three books in one 1. a memoir of a boy whose father fell out of the sky and survived and the boy’s lifelong fascination with that event 2) a rumination on the nature of survival with a lot of quotations from people you have heard of 3) true real life survivor tales, many of which you probably haven’t heard of, including some as recent as people in the WTC. I enjoyed two out of three of these books. I found some of the philosophical digressions a little bit prcious and they were usually jammed in-between the beginning and end of a story about someone’s against-the-odds survival when I was wondering whether they would live or die.

Gonzales' writing is also a little on the florid side which I found was also distracting from the sort of raw factual fascinatingness of the stories themselves. Not in a bad way exactly but just if I had been the guy’s editor I might have suggested a shorter book with a little less dictionary quotation and a little less Thoreau. In any case, it’s a gripping read and made me want to go get on the Google and figure out the longer stories of some of the people whose survival stories he recounts.

Delusions of Gender

Loved this book about the science behind a lot of the “neurosexism” people saying that men and women are different because their BRAINS are different. Fine has written a meta analysis that is cogent and enjoyable to read. She’s a delight and the book is full of good data, but for some reason I put it down about six months ago and it took me a while to pick it back up again. There’s a samey-ness to it which is not a bad thing but depending where you are in your life it may or may not be as useful to you.

Demystifying Disability

Emily is a great writer and a great Twitter follow who’s written a friendly and useful book about helping the non-disabled understand good, constructive ways to interact with disabled folks and what it really means to be a good ally. Well-designed with friendly illustrations and a positive attitude that you just have to make an effort, not always do each thing exactly perfect. Emily is very good at explaining how sometimes different disabled people can want different things out of interactions and talks about how to negotiate those interactions.

Desert Sojourn: A Woman’s Forty Days and Nights Alone

Super mixed feelings about this book. Short form: woman goes through a divorce, is in a new relationship, is not happy, decides to go out into the desert to “find herself” and get a bit of a grip (Like Budddha and Jesus) she says. In reality, despite having grown up camping, she is poorly-prepared, deals with horrible weather and actually winds up spending only about a week or two alone at a stretch because the local-ish ranger comes to check on her (and brings her a warm jacket and a little stove for her tent). Oh and it turns out her family has a history of mental illness. This book which takes the form of daily-ish journal entries sounds more like a cautionary tale for people contemplating similar things and less of a soul-searching “What is life all about?” sort of pontification. I found myself just being ongoingly frustrated with the narrator (didn’t bring warm boots but brought nail polish "by accident"? How does that happen?) which overrode my ability to just sit back and think about the wilderness and quiet contemplation.

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes

An excellent collection of essays that I’d somehow managed to miss entirely the first times they appeared in various places, mostly the New Yorker. The essays range from a real-life locked room murder mystery (by a Sherlock historian) to a look inside the communities that work deep under NYC digging tunnels for new water systems. Very readable and always leave you wanting to read more about the topics and/or tell people about them in detail.


When Logan subtitles this book “the ecstatic skin of the earth” he means it in more of a reverential way. He’s an arborist and nature writer who wrote this gentle collection of essays reflecting on what we know about the soil we stand on, farm in, and walk through. Some of it contains lessons in history, some is more straightforward soil science, all of it is interesting to read and will make you look more at the world around you when you’re outdoors.

Dirtbag Massachusetts

This book was a deeply relatable set of essays about growing up a certain kind of poor boy in rural MA and the complex class issues surrounding that. As someone whose parents also left the MA cities for the MA rural life and kind of lost it, I read it with interest. The book coheres a bit unevenly in that it jumps back and forth in time a little because of the nature of some of these essays. Fitzgerald was raised by parents with problems in that “raised by wolves” way some people talk about. At the same time he’s currently a white man in America doing well. He’s mostly aware of this essential odd juxtaposition, and occasionally isn’t. He probably has (or had) a drinking problem. He had a poor body image and now he’s doing okay. He’s made up with his family. I probably dated a LOT of guys like him in high school and so it was weird to read something like this, but also very very useful.

Disaster: Illustrated 200 Years of American Misfortune

I’m not sure if “fun” is the right word but this is a great collection of disaster stories, many which were contemporary, that come from newspaper accounts at the time. While many of these records have been superceded, it’s still fascinating to learn about some old-tyme disasters and what caused them and what was going on in the world at the time.

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space

I got an ARC of this and it took me far too long to get around to read it. It was so good! Leduc, who lives with cerebral palsy, takes a critical look at the stories that fairy tales tell us about disability and how it fits, or doesn’t, into the larger world. Mixing old & new interpretations--including a lot of well-deserved side-eye at Disney--with her own life’s stories as a disabled woman creates a powerful narrative. I had somehow been concerned that this was going to be too academic for me but instead it was a more personal view of the notion of “happily ever after” stories and how they can erase the narratives of people who don’t necessarily have the same “happily” goalposts as the rest.

The Dog Dialed 911

I always go into reading books like this amazed at the things that I can obtain through the freedom of information act. The schadenfreude that I get from seeing the weird underside of a lot of people’s private lives in a distant second. I enjoyed reading this, I don’tt know if it was always funny but it was pretty much always interesting.

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

Known about this book since forever but hadn’t picked it up. Glad I finally did. It’s a very evocative look at the history of a place, a slightly wild place in the middle of a very fusty New England locale. East gets enchanted with it via some artwork and then digs deeper. I recognized a lot of Massachusetts in her portrayals but I think it was useful that she’s actually not FROM there because it’s good to see that sort of thing from the outside. At its core this is a story about a murder, but there’s a lot more than that. It made me want to go walk in the woods which is about as good as I can say for a book.

Down Cut Shin Creek

This is a great short book for kids detailing the WPA program thatpaid for librarians to ride pack horses into the rural areas of Kentucky to promote literacy and reading. It’s a great book full of interesting pictures and anecdotes.

Dragon Hoops

Gene Yang at a pivotal point in his life/career decides to write a book about a basketball story, despite not ever liking sports very much. He works as a math teacher and is looking for a story. And he finds one, and also kind of makes one. As a fellow non-basketball-enthusiast, I really enjoyed getting the story told to me in this way. A masterful book.

The Drowned and the Saved

[review pending]

Dwarf: A Memoir

DiDonato is a former little person who underwent bone-lengthening surgery to become someone who is just short. This is mostly a story about that, though it covers a lot of other parts of her life mainly in fits and starts. This book is ghost written (or something) by a woman from People magazine and that might give you an idea of the tone this book is going to take. I was interested in DiDonato’s story but a little less stoked about the way it wound up being told. There was a lot of drama, her parents were weird (some of it was explained, a lot was not) and it all culminates in a perfect wedding which felt like it traded off one set of stereotypes (about little people) for another (all people want is to have a perfect wedding and it will bring everyone together). DiDonato had a fairly middle class upbringing in Central Mass so there were a lot of familiar places in her story which kept me engaged and I know the bone surgery part of this is the most controversial within little person communities. I think I would have wanted to hear more about that instead of just a lot of “overcoming adversity” types of vignettes. No big deal, I’m sure DiDonato is a great person, this just wasn’t really the story I wanted to read.

Elephants on acid: and other bizarre experiments

enjoying this well cited well categorized book of lots of different bizarre things people did in the name of science. This isn’t quite like the igNobels where it’s supposed to be pointing out just dumb waste of money things and it’s definitely not the Darwin awards because it’s not just full of people getting injured. The author finds a lot of very strange stuff and even if you’re someone in this strange stuff like me a lot of this will probably be new to you. Great bibliography in the back, well written, lots of fun to read.

Empire of Deception

We all know about Ponzi. Fewer know about Leo Koretz, who maintained a decades-long Ponzi-like scheme from Chicago, selling shares in a non-existent real estate and oil venture supposedly in Panama. He swindled his family, he swindled his friends. He died in prison. I enjoyed this book, the author clearly did a lot of research. It suffers a bit from extensive quoting so it feels like every third sentence is in the voice of a different newspaper. Some of the details feel extraneous-but-true like what people were eating at a certain dinner or who was in attendance at various functions. Jobb does a good job at contextualizing what was happening within the other news at the time, so you hear a bit about Al Capone, Chicago mayors and the Leopold and Loeb trial.

Empires of Light

A book on a shelf for a long time which I finally picked up. A look at three men (Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse) who were a big deal in early electricity in the US and the larger orbit of other men around them. Not as interesting as I had hoped. A lot of long quotes from other source material, diversions into side stories that did a lot of “scene setting” which I was not as interested in, and it did not add a lot to what I already knew about all three men profiled.

Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

Loved this. A little book full of interesting anecdotes about a lot of stuff I knew almost nothing about, or things I thought I knew something about (tassels?) but didn’t really. Each entry is a few pages or less and I defy anyone to not find something interesting about each and every entry, even the ones that look like they might not be very interesting at all (strong?). Best of all, there’s a rich bibliography at the end of it so if a particular entry strikes your fancy you can go read about it to your heart’s content. It’s tough to write a good book about niche-y little subjects like this without everything sounding precious or twee and Jenkins does a wonderful job with it.


Scott Kelly was a fuck-up as a kid and then read The Right Stuff and decided to be an astronaut and finally decided to apply himself. For Kelly, who mostly appreciated risk and challenges, normal stuff seemed too boring, so he chose a different path. This is different from other astronuat books because it focuses a lot on the day to day lives of the astronauts... how often they change their socks, how often they have to repair the toilet, how often they feel sick and how come, the differences between the US and Russian space program. I enjoyed it. it bops around from topic to topic a lot but at least it’s not a bunch of “Rah rah America!” stuff (the book is nearly devoid of politics) and not a lot of amazing photos of space though there are one or two.

Engineersmanship, A Philosophy of Design

[review pending]

Every Stamp Tells a Story

This book is a well-illustrated slightly dry book about the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum written by the former Curator of Philately of the museum. It presumes an interest in the subject matter so that looking at the photos and reading about the plans to build the museum, and choices they made to create and enhance the collection will be of interest. It worked for me and I greatly enjoyed this book.

Everything Is an Emergency

A real-life story told by a working cartoonist about what it’s like to grow up with and be continually trying to manage obsessive compulsive disorder. I enjoyed how he talked a lot about the various ways in which his obsessions manifested themselves while also being clear that understanding what was happening didn’t make it stop happening. I also liked that there was no “one weird trick” to managing things, just a combination of things over time that helped. Exceptionally well done, well-illustrated, and interesting.

The Explainer

The Explainer Another one of those “tell us how it works” books, though this one is from the folks at Slate and a little less hipster and a little more informative than the one from the mentalfloss folks. Answering questions sent in from readers like “Could Bill Clinton be elected Vice President?” and “Can the President change the oath of office?” and “Why do Supreme Court justices recuse themselves” it’s got a lot of tidbits presented authoritatively enough to be good reading while at the same time somewhat entertaining. And, since the questions are usually linked in some way to something that the Slate team has written about, there’s usually some degree of relevance to whatever’s being talked about. It’s not all politics, it’s sometimes really interesting, and the information is usually cited.

Exploring Stone Walls: A Field Guide To Stone Walls

This book is supposed to be a bit of a field guide to Northeastern stone walls. It sort of reaches that goal, but it’s stronger as a rumination of the nature of stone and the interplay between man and nature in New England over the past 400 years. As a field guide, it’s lacking clear photographs of described wall and rock types, and the classification scheme that he has created is great but shoved into an appendix. It may be that I don’t have enough training, but some of his descriptions were not evocative enough for me to get a clear idea of what he was describing, though it was clear that he knows this topic inside and out. My favorite parts were his descriptions of what you could learn by a community or builder by loking at their walls; the anthropological aspect of his work and his enthusiams for the subject shine through on every page. There is an appendix listing some of his favorite walls in New England as well as some that he finds notable for one reason or another.

The Extinction Club

Picked it up on a bargain rack thinking “This looks interesting, why haven’t I read it?” and then realized through reading it: because it is terrible. The author is so into his own head and his own story (about his wife who is having a baby, about the narrative devices he creates out of whole cloth, about his own musings about what he thinks is funny or interesting about this story) that he basically fails to tell you most of the story. This might be okay if you liked the guy and the way his mind worked. I didn’t.

Extreme Encounters

A likeable but sort of weird book about what it feels like to encounter near death experienecs, and sometimes die. It’s hard to explain. The author took a lot of scenarios [bear attack, shark bite] and write this book up as small chapters, in the second person, as if the event were happening to you. I found this to be a weird choice, personally, and it made the book a lot less awesome than I thought it would be. Sometimes the person ["you"] dies and sometimes not. Often the chapter ends with some sort of lulzy joke which I thought was a little stupid and not really in fitting with the “Hey I just died here!” setting. There’s a lot of good information and a decent bibliography otherwise, but I was left feeling like I wish someone else had written the same book.

Factory Summers

A graphic novel about the three summers Delisle spent working in a paper mill in Quebec while he figured out what to do with his life. I’ve liked his other graphic novels and this one may be my favorite just because there are a lot of weird backdrops and a lot going on in each panel. The book oddly goes briefly into his relationship with his father and doesn’t mention his mother (who he lives with) at all. In fact I’m not sure if there is a single line spoken by a woman in this book. Not a major deal, just something I noticed after the fact.

The Family That Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery

I really like medical mysteries and stories of medical deduction and this one was great. The general topic is the history of how we learned about prion diseases but it goes over a lot of different stories including a family in Italy who seems to have a bizarre hereditary disease and tribespeople in New Guinea who were thought to be cannibals and have gotten a mysterious disease from that practice. And then the author has his own disease that he briefly mentions in the course of talking about this disease which humanizes the whole thing. I really enjoyed this book, even with its creepy cover.

Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America

I got this book for free from the press after I’d done some galley reviewing for them. Took me a long time both to get to it to read, and also to read it. It’s a great book but a lot more academicky than I was expecting. I think I was expecting a lot more of a pop history of genealogy. Stuff like “looking things up on websites” which is a lot of how I do family research, was just the last few pages of the last chapter. What this book does talk about, however, is why genealogy became such a big deal in the United States and who was doing it. The author, who is French, spends a lot of time looking at what drove people to look up family information, what motivated them. In some cases this was straightforward goals like membership in societies or getting access to estates or pedigrees. In other cases it was more making sure the people in your background were the “right” sort of people. The author spends some time talking about the historical racism of the United States and how that played a part in a lot of this.

Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood

Did not know much about hummingbird rehab before this. Loved this book. The author is an avid hummingbird fan and talks about the day to day life of her job and interweaves it with imagined hummingbird relationships.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

I feel like I’m the last person in my loose circles to read Solnit. I love her writing. I like the poignancy and the almost-instant nostalgia she can evoke. These essays are various ruminations on things lost--people, ideas, places, animals--and some of them land well and some of them land a little less well. I think the deeply personal ones, told in Solnit’s specific narrative vagueness, get the point across but maybe not in the way she intended. I found myself sort of muttering in disagreement with some of her topics, but nodding in agreement with some of her other ones.

Field Notes on Science & Nature

A great and beautifully illustrated book on naturalists and their field notes, talking about the how and the why. Canfield has assembled a wide variety if people, most of whom do their note taking in paper format and they discuss what they do and why they think it’s important for them for science and for future generations.

Fiery Crosses In The Green Mountains: The Story Of The Ku Klux Klan In Vermont

This is an account of Ku Klux Klan activity in Vermont primarily during the Klan’s heyday in the mid 1920’s. It’s mainly put together from Newspaper accounts of Klan activity and also includes some creepy photographs. This book does a good job at outlining just how normalized the Klan was in some areas (Rutland in particular) during this time but how, despite some small pockets of Klan activity, the Klan didn’t really get as much of a foothold in Vermont as they did in New Hampshire or Maine. It’s also worth knowing that unlike White Supremacists who operate in New England nowadays, the Klan was xenophobic towards Catholic people as well as Jewish people and people of color (at the time primarily black people). This book’s cover has a creepy Klansman in front of a burning cross and so is a pretty difficult read in public.

Figuring it Out

This book is a collection of essays about math. They are shorter than many of the other essays I’ve read and slightly more interesting though less deterministic [often the reader is left with things to think about rather than drawn to one conclusion]. This book was originally published in Portugal and reprinted in the US. I’m not sure what happened between there and here, but all the graphics in the book are jaggedy and weird, as if they were blown up from really small images. Not a huge deal, but fiarly distracting [and in some cases problematic] in an otherwise really nice looking book.

Firecrackers: Female Photographers Now

An excellent look at some of the interesting things female photographers have been doing recently. This book tries to have an international focus but seems to mainly be around women in the UK orbit for the most part. Really interesting photographic projects, some more traditional some a lot more experimental. The cover photo, which I found a little off-putting even if interesting, is not representative of what you’ll find inside.

Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris

I found out about this book while I was watching a documentary about smells. This is a book about one man’s hunt for ambergris and the things he learns along the way. Entertaining, lots of fun pictures, lots of quirky history and more information than I had previously known about the spendy, smelly stuff. As someone who grew up not too far from old time whaling places, and whose father loved Moby Dick, I think I may have known more about ambergris to begin with since when I mentioned this book to people many people didn’t know what it was about. Just the right length, a really good read.


I went and visited my town’s waste water treatment facility the same week I was reading this book. It’s a book that looks into the various things you can do with human waste. How we treat it, how it can treat us, various different ways you can try to live more sustainably with the things we excrete (mostly poop). This book is chatty, upbeat, and interesting without being too pie in the sky about what we need to be doing. Nelson is a very capable science writer with a doctorate in microbiology and a decent sense of humor which is a must for a book like this.

Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization

A really fun popular history of plumbing and bathrooms by a guy who tried to learn some of it from first principles and sounds endearingly annoying as a spouse. He tries a few experiments in his own house, goes on a few interesting field trips, and maintains a positive attitude throughout. Better than you’d think it would be.

Flying Couch

Started this book at night but realized 1. it’s non-fiction (meaning it’s for daytime reading) 2. it’s about the Holocaust, in part. A story of three generations of women all somehow coping with the legacy of the concentration camps and what “family” means. A lot of stories gradually getting told. Wasn’t wild about the illustration style, but was going to put it down entirely and the story drew me back in.

The Food of a Younger Land

I was given a reader’s copy of this book by the publisher before its actual release date, fyi. That said, I loved this book and I’m not even a foodie. Kurlansky is someone who I know via his history books about the Basques and European Jewry. Apparently he’s also been a food writer for quite some time. He also makes decent woodcuts which this book is illustrated with. This book is a collection of food writing that was created for an ambitious WPA project called America Eats that was assembled, mostly, and never published. Kurlansky’s book both talks a lot about the project and also reproduces the essays, poems, stories and recipes from the files that have been languishing in the Library of Congress archives. Just the dscussion of poring through these files at LoC was enough to make my heart race. There is meta-discussion about the America Eats project and the WPA writers projects in general as well as some discussion about the individual regional food writing projects.

The fascinating part about reading these pieces is how much the world if food and eating has changed in the sixty-plus years since most of it was written. Regional differences in food and eating habits and food celebrations have been vanishing, supplanted by predictability and standardization. There is good news and bad news to what has changed, of course, but this book highlights the richness of regional food cultures in an almost poignant way. The fact that the book opened up with Vermont cuisine -- some of which is still around today like sugar-on-snow celebrations -- was probably the clincher for assuring I would read this book avidly from start to finish.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

A short, interesting to read book by Michael Pollan who wanted to sum up what he’d learned about food and nutrition and make it into bite-sized bits of information. So here, on one rule per page or so, are the things he’s learned. These aren’t just “aw shucks” bits of folk wisdom, this is stuff that has science and real background behind it, but is delivered in ways you can easily understand and abide by. Pollan is not an enemy of birthday cake, he just wants us to make generally smarter choices with our eating to be healthier and live disease-free longer.

Four Wings and a Prayer

[review pending]


Levitt is supposedly an economical genius. I know that because I read the article in the New York Times magazine about him. This book is written by the same guy. Or, rather, it’s co-written by that guy and Levitt himself. It’s like a longer version of the newspaper article. It has a lot of inteersting economics examples giving you real numbers behind some of the things we take for granted about the way money works. Think drug dealers make a lot of money? Think again. Levitt has access to some of the numbers and shows how drug dealers, except for the highest eschelon, aren’t pulling in too much money and by and large live with their families. Then again the hope that you’ll make it big as a drug dealer seems slightly more realistic than the hope that you’ll eventually be president, so the slog is worth it.

My only exposure to Levitt and his ideas has been via this writer who is obviously fond of him. This book can seem a bit haigiographic at times. I’m sure the guy is really smart. I’m sure his ideas are novel and interesting, the way he looks at social problems through a lens of pure money. On the other hand, they don’t seem that out there. Once you realize that there was a drop in the crime rate when abortions became legalized -- or rather when the generation of children whose mothers had access to abortions grew up -- the question for me is “Then what?” If it’s true, can’t you use that bit of information to affect social change? Maybe? Levitt is also the only economist I’ve read who says that Head Start programs don’t really work. He calibratesHead Start attendance with childrens' future test scores. This really goes against conventional wisdom about Head Start (mainly of the “Head Start works!” variety) and I’d like to hear more about it. In short, the book brings up a lot of good ideas and good research by Levitt, but the answers he discovers aren’t as useful in the pure science-y air of economics as they would be being put to good use outside of academia. After reading this book, I’d like to know more.

Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate Between Neighbo(u)ring States

Such a great exploration at how two places can be right next to each other geographically, but worlds apart. I picked it up for the NH/VT chapter, but enjoyed DR/Haiti, Algeria/Tunisia and Scotland/Ireland. There’s a personal story interwoven about how Soderstrom left the US to move to Canada and observed the differences. She’s been to many if not all of the countries she talks about. Good info, well-explained.

Freshman Year

I grabbed this despite knowing I do not really enjoy the memoirs of awkward young women. This was on me. This is a well done rendition of an awkward young woman talking about her freshman year of college, a year in which nothing momentous really happens (by her own admission, in the afterword) and she talks about how it felt to her. If that is a thing you think you’d enjoy reading about, then you might like this. I thought it was going to be a somewhat different sort of book.

From Here to Eternity

I made my library get me this from ILL. I loved Doughty’s older book and I follow her on Twitter and other places so I was stoked that not only had she come out with a new book but it was popular! Good news for people who feel that “death topics” for lack of a better work, should get more time in the sun. This book was particularly timely because 1. I had just seen Coco and 2. My mom died last year and even though things went as well as they could, it’s always good to hear from other people about stuff worth avoiding and say “Yay we avoided that” Doughty does have strong feelings about the death industry and she’s not shy about expressing them. She is also funny and not in a weird sarcastic way (Mary Roach comes to mind) but in a hip “You get the joke, right?” sort of way. I enjoyed getting to travel along with her as she examined how other cultures deal with death.

Frozen in Time

The quest to figure out what happened to the doomed Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage where they were never heard from again (spoiler: lead poisoning! cannibalism!). Written by scientists and not professional writers and it shows, but still a pretty interesting look at what can go wrong when you’re far from home in an inhospitable place.

Frozen in Time

A story about a plane that crashed in Greenland during WWII, all the planes that went to search for the survivors (many of which also crashed) and a modern day search for those downed planes, now under dozens of feet of ice. The book goes back and forth between the crashes and detailing who the men were--many of whom were sort of generic-seeming soldiers of the time period--and then the quest to raise money for the search in modern days. I was a little stressed out getting to know some of the soldiers and unsure if they would live or not. The author becomes overly involved in the modern-day search and invests a bunch of money in an expedition that seems kind of doomed. Did not go where I wanted it to--ultimately they had a lead but nothing concrete and the book ended oddly with them saying “We’ll probably find it next year” but a pretty interesting story.

Full-Time RVing: A Complete Guide to Life on the Open Road

It’s sort of hard to imagine the usefulness of books like this back in the pre-internet times it was written. I saw when looking it up that there is an updated version and I am curious what it would be like. This guide, which really did give me a great idea of what it would be like to live in an RV, was super meticulous about things that just don’t need to be so detailed now (where to buy thing, notably). I liked the energy of the authors, though some of their priorities did not seem to be mine. At the point at which they were suggesting exactly what ruled graph paper to buy for making lists, I did tune out on some of it. Enjoyable but I’d pick up the new version if I were you.

Fun With Terrarium Gardening

The Howe Library’s loss is my gain. This book about the “trendy” hobby of terrarium gardening is a great how-to though with regrettably murky black and white photos for the most part. If you’re interested in this sort of gardening, you can track down a copy of this book pretty mch anywhere and get a really thorough list of how to do this sort of thing right. A good read with a ton of resources.

Funny in Farsi

This is a short easy read about Dumas’s life growing up partly in Iran and partly in the US. A lot of it has to do with her perceptions of her family and the weird things American’s do. I enjoyed it though it was a little difficult to track since it’s told in a series of vignettes, not entirely chronological.

Future Imperfect

Connie Willis is a master at genre mixing, She can write science fiction as something else entirely. This collection of three stories has a sci-fi humor/romance piece, a sci-fi period piece of a sort and a sci-fi comedy. Each is a novella in its own right but combined the collection shows Willis' flair for voice and setting and her ability to move seamlessly among many different sorts of them.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets

[review pending]

The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

Enjoyed this book. The Gardner Heist happened in recent memory for me and I’ve been reading books about art theft generally. That said, this is another one of those “magazine writer gets obsessed with story, in jects himself into the middle of it, writes personal story about topic” sorts of books. Boser is a great writer and I learned a lot about the heist, but the second part of the book is a lot more about his attempts to find the missing paintings himself and a lot less about what actually happened. Spoiler: he does not find them. A fine book, but not exactly what I was expecting.

Gender Euphoria

A really engaging book of essays by trans, non-binary, and intersex writers of various backgrounds talking about the times they felt RIGHT in their bodies and happy about who they were and/or where they were in their lives. A lot of different stories. There is definitely some trauma among the good news stories but it’s not the overarching dynamic. Joyful and a good read.

Gender Queer

I was the first person to check this out of my library somehow. I’d only seen the “racy” parts when reading internet stories by haters. This book is, OF COURSE, much more complex and thoughtful. It’s a great look at what it means to be questioning gender and sexuality even when growing up in a totally supportive household. And the illustrations, done by eir sibling Phoebe are likewise top notch. I’m sorry I put off reading this book for so long and am happy to recommend it to anyone.

A General Theory of Love

This book attempts to explore what we know about love and combine it with what we know about science to see if we can gain some knowlede about the entire process. It does an okay job, but there were definitely some aprts where I felt that I was being fed selective science in order to further the authors' claims about how the world workd nd how the mind and body connected to it. It was a fun schience-lite read but I would have appreciaetd either more rigor or slightly less. As it was, when I got to the part at the end where they start talking about what is wrong with modern medicine, I found myself agreeing with their general opinions, but disliking their tone so much I wanted to take devil’s advocate positions on them. Book has a nice cover and might be a better read for someone either more or less inclined towards the authors' conclusions. As it was, I felt stuck somewhat in the middle.

Girl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle

I finished my last book of 2014 right after midnight and this is what was on my Kindle. It was okay. I like Rachel Dratch and her brand of humor. She’s also about my age and grew up right up the road from me in Lexington MA and also went to school in New England. However I think I was hoping this book would be ... funnier or otherwise a bit more enlightening? Dratch talks about her life and especially what’s been happening post-SNL where she’s offered a bunch of lousy roles that are all some variant on obese lesbians. She’s at her funniest when talking about this. However it seems like the sort of story that’s going to go somewhere and instead Dratch gets accidentally pregnant and now I guess she is a mom? She’s super thoughtful about her own situation and I like reading about people’s non-traditional parenting choices. At the same time, this particular story grabbed me in some places and didn’t really pique my interest in others. A middling start to 2014 reading.

Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo

This is, as you might expect, a totally depressing book about how terrible people in positions of power were (and likely still are in many respects) when attempting to interact with “native” folks of any stripe. This particular story concerns Peary’s expeditions to northern Greenland where he frequently stopped on his quest for the North Pole. On one occasion he brought some of the “Polar Eskimos” as they were then called, back to NYC with him. Several died and one, Minik, was a young boy and was one of the survivors. The NY Museum of Natural History treated him and his fellow Greenlanders shamefully, keeping Minik’s father’s body in their archives (even going so far as to stage a fake funeral for him to assuage the boy) along with other personal possessions belonging to him. This situation was not rectified until the last few decades. Appalling.

Harper has done a great deal of research tracking down what became of Minik and others whose lives Peary touched in the latter part of the 20th century and created a narrative that is Minik-centered, not the terrible explorer-centered tales of false bravado and accomplishments at the expense of other people. Very interesting read.

Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York

Originally written by longtime New Yorker Chast who moved out of NY to raise her kids and then realized her daughter didn’t know what a block was! This is partly informative, partly humorous and full of great things that will make you think about (and remember, if that is your thing) the wacky, giant mess that is New York City.

Going up the Country

As someone who has lived in Vermont since the 90s and was early-on drawn to the combination of counterculture and what we tend to call “Traditional Vermonters” I really liked this well-researched book by Daley which talks to a lot of the people who were early hippies moving to Vermont. She talks a lot about why they came, why they stayed (or didn’t) and how they got along with the people who were already here.Their influx changed the face of the state, in many cases for the better. This isn’t totally just nostalgia, there are a lot of ups and downs, but it does try to get at a lot of different stories, women’s stories in particular,without spending too much time on any one commune or town. Amusingly, I went to college with at LEAST two of the children who are mentioned in this book.

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

I got a copy of this book as an advanced reader’s copy from a friend who runs a bookstore. I enjoyed it so much I wrote a fan letter to the author. Here’s the text of the email, by way of a book review.

Hey there -- just a brief fan letter to say that I just finished reading an ARC of Good Faith Collaboration and enjoyed it a lot. I run an online community called MetaFilter [well, I’m one of three people who mostly runs the site] and we’re constantly in the reinventing the wheel phase of doing a lot of our work. I am also a Wikipedian, though not a very active one, and it’s interesting to see the similarities between the communities as far as things that work, things that don’t and how things go wrong.

I usually dislike reading what people write about online communities because I think they tend to focus on details like amusing usernames or bumps in the road and ignore the overarching things like “Isn’t it a miracle that this sort of thing mostly works?” I found that you did a great job both explaining that hey it’s not perfect but at the same time showing some of the ways it works well. At the same time you weren’t a slavering dork about the “zomg human potential” transhumanism wankery that I find is often a big problem with people who are maybe a bit too into the online communities at the expense of the rest of their lives.

In any case, I read it start to finish including the footnotes and I hope many other people do too. I hope working with the smarties at the Berkman Center is as much fun as it looks like it will be.

Good Talk

The librarian at the library handed this to be so I could read it before it was even on the shelves. A great, complex story of an East Indian woman dealing w/ encroaching Tr*mpism, her racist in-laws (who don’t think they’re racist), her White (but Jewish!) husband, and their young son and the questions he asks while growing up in NYC. Beautifully illustrated with drawings cut out and collaged over a number of different backgrounds. I had not read Jacob’s novel which I think is what many people know her for. Was so happy to read this.

Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush

A pretty decent look at sex work in Alaska during and after the gold rush. Done in a sort of person-per-chapter format, with a lot of newspaper and other research going in to filling out some not otherwise well documented stories of these women in early Alaskan history. There are some photos as well so these are well-illustrated stories about many different women (and a few men) who contributed to the culture in important ways. This is as much a story about Alaska as it is about sex work. People who are up on present sensibilities about how we talk about sex work may find the language somewhat outdated and.or offensive.

The Granite State’s Boston Post Canes

The Boston Post, a newspaper in Massachusetts, sent engraved canes to towns in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island in 1909 with a request to give them to the town’s oldest man. This book tracks the ones sent to New Hampshire and gives info who the canes were given to in 1909. Also, if known it discusses who currently owns the cane or if it’s still given out. This is clearly a bit of a homemade book, but it’s made with love and you learn a lot about what old timers were like in New Hampshire at the turn of the last century.

The Granta Book of Travel

This book probably took me the better part of a year or maybe even two to finish completely. It was not just a book about travel -- with some amazing long essays by a lot of writers you’ve heard of -- but it was my travel book, tosse dinto my backpack when I went places and did things. As such it was a great companion on a random bus ride or plane trip but was also often left behind when I’d be someplace more interesting than even a terrific travel book.

This book contains a number of very dissimilar essays about travel that are all lumped under the loose heading of -- essays written by people who were not at home. There are a few people searching for deposed dictators, Bill Bryson talking about being in and leaving the US, and a very poignant story by Christopher Hitchens who discusses entering Romania and going to Timisoara the day after the Ceasecus were assassinated which was personally quite interesting to me.

The Great Starvation Experiment: Ancel Keys and the Men Who Starved for Science

A great book about a thing I’d mostly known about through a few iconic Life Magazine photos. Tucker tells the story about the starvation experiment--a one year program participated in by conscientious objectors during WWII--and along the way manages to impart a lot of information about science experimentation, CO status, and the general zeitgeist of the United States during wartime. It’s a really interesting well-told story, heavily footnoted at the end but not otherwise bogged down in the sort of teeny details that might get in the way of the narrative.

Green Mountain Boys of Summer

Really enjoyed this comprehensive and well-researched book about people who were born in Vermont and played (even a little) in Major League baseball. There are a wealth pf photos and interviews, many not published before, that flesh out the history of baseball in Vermont as well as some of the history of Vermont itself. Many of the early players came from immigrant families and it was interesting to read how they got to where they were and/or the challenges they faced playing baseball. A well-done book with a few familiar faces.

Growing Up Amish

Enjoyed this coming of age tale of a young man growing to adulthood and having a sort of love/hate relationship with both his family and the community that exists within an Amish community. Ira Wagler is the son of a well-known Amish journalist and found hmself increasingly disenchanted with what he saw as his future. Not content just to head off for a few years of Rumspringa, Wagler leaves and returns and leaves again, narrating what his life is like all the while. He’s a bit of a mess through parts of it and it can be tough to read him giving the church and his loved one hope that you as the reader are pretty sure is false hope, but the narration is lively and even though it sort of ends abruptly [spoiler: he finds Jesus for real and for true and this enables him to finally leave for good] it is a quick and captivating read.

Guitar Zero

Gary Marcus and I went to college together and I reconnected with him at a friend’s memorial service. He was buzzing about this book he’d written and I was just learning to play ukulele and it was kismet. I really enjoyed this look into the science of what music is about brain-wise and why it holds a special place in our brains

Haben, the Deafblind woman who conquered Harvard Law

A story about this woman’s life told through a lot of anecdotes. I liked hearing about what she went through, I was surprised at some of the things she knew and did not know (such as disability accommodations and her legal rights) and wanted to hear more about her day to day life being at Harvard and being in a relationship (she seems to be in but it’s actually unclear). I very much enjoyed her perspective especially since she is also a woman from Ethiopia (and culturally Eritrean) which put a bunch more spins on this story. Worth a read, was looking for more of a “warts and all” story but her voice is not like that.

The Hard Work of Simple Living

“The only genuinely subversive thing you can do is have more fun than other people. So get to it!” -Bill McKibben

I enjoyed this little mostly blank book but thought it was going to be something else. I thought it was going to be meditations on simple living with some neat Koren illustrations. Instead it was a lot of reprinted New Yorker cartoons [and maybe some that were new, I’m not sure] with pullquotes form a lot of the books that Chelsea Green publishes. This was sort of neat since Chelsea Green is in my own backyard, but also a little not neat because there was just a lot of reprinted stuff which fit together nicely but made the whole book seem more like a marketing exercise and less of an awesome item in and of itself. Maybe my larger issue is that I’m not in love with Helen and Scott Nearing’s whole thing exactly and some of their quotations just sort of bugged me. In any case though it’s a book with a lot of blank space, and if it were yours and not borrowed from the library (as mine was) you could use it to write some of your own words.

Harvard Square

One of the reviews I read for this book called it “sexually charged” and that was not my feeling at all. There is a lot of boy-girl relating and one of the guys is a bit of a boorish lothario but... eh? I grew up spending time in Harvard Square as a kid and then a 20-something so my opinions on this book may be sort of off from the mainstream people who are readers of Aciman. I liked the lead character but sort of hated his friend, the loudmouth guy at Cafe Algiers who was always harassing women. Of course that is not the perspective of this very male book so I felt like I was reading it from a very other perspective. Well-written, nostalgic, odd.

The He-Man Effect

A graphic novel about the commercialization of childrens' toys and some of the major players who tried to encourage it or tried to stop or mitigate it. I’ve been on the fence about a lot of Brown’s books who I guess is going more by “Brian” now. I love his illustrations but the storytelling always feels flat. This one is my fave of his so far. Even so, the “your” in the title implies that we’re all the same age and had the same experiences. As someone a little older than the target demo here, that didn’t resonate with me and some of this stuff felt like it was happening to younger kids.

The Heart is a Little to the Left

Gosh this book was wonderful. I kept it on my nightstand well past the overdue date because I kept swearing to myself that I would re-read it and ultimately haven’t. On the other hand, I haven’t returned the book either...

Coffin has a way with words and in this small collection of sermons he manages to put togehter a lot of good words about justice, poverty, our societal obligations to one another and why there’s no decent biblical reason for anyone to be predjudiced against gay people. It’s a really life-affirming set of essays, all of them both humorous and weighty, accessible and yet learned. For anyone who is looking for inspirational reading that’s a little deeper than the standard love yourself" platitudes, this book is a good starter tome on getting to love each other. Read it.


I’m sure that Bill Buford is a delightful man, but this book struck me as another in the series of “Bill hangs out with people who are vaguely sociopathic and makes what they do seem almost noble” stories. If you’re a foodie, you’ll really love the explanations of what goes on in a three star restaurant kitchen, and you might enjoy the tantrums and general bad behavior from the fancypants chefs. I enjoy Buford’s writing a great deal but he always seems to hang out with assholes who I get tired of reading about.

Here’s Looking at Euclid

I read these sorts of hobby math books for fun. This was one of my favorite so far. Unlike other books about math that seem to get hung up on stuff like “Let’s talk about VOTING for 50 pages ...” this one is broken down into short chapters about people and things that are slightly more current and slightly more interesting. I found myself going to Wikipedia or other sources to read more about some of the topics that Bellos only touched on. I rarely found my eyes glazing over when his discussion became too abstruse and I think I really understand a few things that I wasn’t clear on before [what slide rules were for, the different sorts of infinities and the history of lottery and gambling gaming situations]. I feel like Bellos' enthusiasm for the subject is infectious and he was able to get complicated subjects across well without seeming too cutesy or jokey. He also went and did first person interviews with some of the famous mathematicians that he mentions and these provide a really humanizing look at some fairly esoteric subjects. If you can read one popular math treatise this year, make it this one.

Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me

A 12 year old book which I picked up because I saw Mandel lending Andy Kindler his hologram machine. Mandel has OCD and talks at length about his germaphobia, his ADHD, his idea of funny pranks (which are often not funny to others, which he sees but also kind of can’t help himself) and the arc of his life from being born until about 2008. I was surprised he had a co-writer because even though this book was interesting it wasn’t very well-written. I find Mandel a bit exhausting when I see him and this shed light into why that is. It also ended on a health scare note and even though I knew how to wound up because Mandel is well known, it was a strange place to end a book.

Hetty Green The Witch of Wall Street

I’d known about Hetty Green all my life but got re-inspired to learn about her when I drove by the Hetty Green motel. I had not known she lived for a while in Bellows Falls and in fact when she died Vermont was the only state that saw any estate taxes from her despite the fact that she lived mostly in New Jersey and New York. Green was clearly mentally ill but also a really shrewd businesswoman. The two issues get mushed together because... everyone and everything was a bit nuttier then. Green was a huge mortgage-holder and this book (which is based a lot on court documents and newspaper articles) talks a lot about how she was a private money lender for hundreds of churches (often getting 6 or 7 % interest on these loans) and other business people. Really interesting book though written in the 30s so the language is a little flowery and at times hard to follow. Green comes across as unlikeable which is not that much of a surprise, but I learned to dislike her in new ways which was not what I was expecting.

Hidden History of Vermont

I love how even though I have been living here and collecting trivia here for over twenty years, there is still a lot to learn about this state. Bushnell is a journalist who has put together some interesting essays focusing on weird little aspects of the state. Did you know Vermont has a state terrestrial fossil AND a state aquatic fossil? I did not! The book is split into sections, some of which I knew more about (Vermont’s spiritualist history) and some I knew less about. An enchanting quick read for anyone who loves Vermontiana.

Hidden in Plain View: A secret story of quilts and the underground railroad

I was expecting this to be a much different book. I was expecting to it have a lot of research and interesting historical stuff. Instead I got a lot of stories--which were in and of themselves pretty good--and a lot of anecdata which made me feel weird about the general thesis the authors had: that quilts and their patterns were an integral part of underground railroad communication. I remain unconvinced.

The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom

Fascinating but also a little dry and academicky. The authors clearly did a lot of research but I got a little bored when they would just start listing stuff that they knew instead of making it into more of a narrative. Also was wondering how 2009 compared to now.

Hidden Systems

A book that looks at the infrastructure that we have for electricity, water and internet, who builds it, who benefits, who gets kind of screwed over. It’s really easy to follow and engaging. The illustrations make sense without being overly complicated. Well done, easy to understand, and informative.

The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere.

Graphic novel about being a Black teen learning more about punk and who your people are in a rural racist town. When your mom is a well-meaning but self-centered White woman who doesn’t get you and your dad is a Black womanizing bodybuilder who lives a continent away it’s a tough road. Spooner talks about how he grew up during this period in his life and what friendships and school were like and how he dealt with everyday racists while also being part of a punk band.

High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing

This is a great book for someone who could use a little help understanding that institutionalized racism is a real thing. This book looks at one housing project and how it was managed, and mismanaged, and how that unfolded over one long time in Chicago while families were born, lived & died in Cabrini-Green. Well-written, mostly from the voices of people who lived there. A lot of complicated stories.

Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction

I am really trying to work on my understanding of multicultural issues and picked this up at the local library. No one had checked out the book since 2007. I enjoyed it. It’s tough for me to keep track of a lot of the names, and easier for me to get a handle on the chapters which deal with things I already have a bit of a backgrounder with--yoga, women’s rights, untouchables. The book is filled with information and while I enjoyed reading it, its near constant use of sidebar material made it hard to follow the threads of chapters. I’m going to read another one in the series, on Judaism, and see if I have the same issues.

Hippo Eats Dwarf

This arrived in my mailbox as a gift one day. I had really enjoyed the author’s book Museum of Hoaxes so it was a fair bet I’d enjoy this one too. And I did, sort of. This book tracks, instead of cultural hoaxes in the pre-Internet days, 'net hoaxes. As someone who spends a lot of time online, this book seemed to be the work of someone who spends less time online. No big issue that, but while I was impressed with the research that went into his last book, this one seemed to be mostly the result of a lot of Google searching and a few telephone calls. Actual “hoaxes” if you can call them that, are interspersed with gags, gaffes and just weird stuff on the web. The combination of the lax selection policy plus a book design that offers us pull-quotes in brown and green and sometimes a combination of the two meant that this was definitely my less-favorite of Boese’s two books. It was nowhere near as entertaining, not as well-researched and seeemd to favor the sensational story over one with real online-hoax cred. I was less surprised reading this book and the hassle involved in reading its edgy layout wasn’t as worth it in the end.

The Hobo Handbook: A Field Guide to Living by Your Own Rules

Got this form a friend who knows how much I like to travel. This is a neat little guide to how you can maybe drop out of the rat race. It’s got a scary quiz in the first few pages where you answer a few questions about your personality and your comfort level with various things and then Mack gives you advice on whether you’d be good at being a hobo [for me: no]. Which is fine, I guess, assuming hobo means riding the rails. And at some level this book is good at giving you various hobo options that aren’t just freight hopping but it seems to suffer from a lack of focus. The prime example sidebars of the “Did you know X was a hobo?” are all about drifters and freight hoppers and most of the book caters towards people riding the rails with some not-too-veiled snootiness towards people still stuck in “the rat race”

And yet, at the same time, I don’t get the feeling that Mack has actually done any of this. While I’m sure he’s traveled at times and stayed in hostels or with friends and maybe met other travelers, there is no first person commentary about any of the things he suggests [making stew from squirrels, avoiding the bulls in train yards] and so instead of a guide to doing this sort of thing for real, we get more of a well-researched “this is what I have learned form other people” approach without really even citing those people. All in all while I liked reading this book, I learned very little from it except that Mack is probably a good researcher and reads the same websites that I do. The graphic design which includes pages designed to look thumbed over and messy (and the occasional black on grey text) doesn’t really add much and in fact makes the book sometimes difficult to read. All in all an okay book for someone who knows nothing about hobo culture, I’d skip it otherwise.

Holy Days: The World of the Hasidic Family

A look inside a family who belongs to a Lubvaicher Hasidic sect. It’s somewhat outdated (Schneerson was still alive at the time which was a really different environment to how it is now) but gives a personal look at some of the important holidays and events and how this family experiences them. The book feels a bit like a series of long New Yorker articles in that each chapter is a sort of self-contained description of an event or issue.

Holy Sh*t!: The World’s Weirdest Comic Books

Fun collection of totally weird and crazy comics. Some of these are “OMG what were they thinking?!” and some are just weird comics, but either way this is an entertaining and well-researched look at several decades of comics publishing internationally.

Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth

McKibben sometimes comes under fire for being a little toodoom and gloom in his books. This was true in the nineties and is true today. He’s got a lot to be gloomy about with climate change running amok and the same people still not handling things. I don’t blame him. This book--written in '95 and then republished with a new afterword that I have not read in 2007--attempts to shine a light on some good things happening in the world of development, in the world still having hope for becoming better and not worse. McKibben takes us to Curcubita and Kerala, two places with significantly lower GDPs than the US who still manage to have decent and innovative public services, high rates of literacy and other general good things. McKibben talks about why those places seem to mostly work and then shares a few things that are mostly working in the US. It’s a good book, good enough that I think I should track down the newer copy and see what else he has to say.

Houdini: The Handcuff King

A great glimpse into one small episode from Houdini’s life which tries to sum up a lot of the complex aspects of the man’s life. Really enjoyable and not just because there are a lot of shots of him hanging out in his underwear.

How About Never - Is Never Good for You?

Mankoff was a cartoonist or the guy in charge of cartoons at the New Yorker for 20 years and founded their amazing Cartoon Bank where you can look up any cartoon. this book, published a few years before he left The New Yorker, is his story, both biographical and also a look behind the scenes of a magazine a lot of us have read but may not know too much about. The book is full of cartoons, Makoff’s specific sense of humor, and a lot of interesting stories, especially about other cartoonists. I really enjoyed it.

How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs

Loved this. Grabbed it for the Kindle. Pollack has been one of my favorite character actors since forever and he did a great interview with Marc Maron that I just got around to listening to. This book is basically a “How I got to be where I am” starting with Pollack lip synching to Bill Cosby records and ending up with a fellow poker player turning him on to Twitter and him getting an internet-based chat show. Fun read, lots of name dropping, Pollack’s charm and self-deprecating humor and breadth of experience are interesting to poke around in.

How Infrastructure Works

Deb doesn’t just understand infrastructure--how it works, how it got built, what it needs, why it’s important--but she has VISION. This not only a book about what we have, it’s a book about where, if we care about a more just world for everyone, we can go. She positions herself as both an engineering professor but also a woman of color, living in a world where many people don’t have her level of privilege and access. It’s a surprisingly hopeful take. Read it.

How Not To Be Wrong

I love smart and interesting books about math and this is one of the best ones. Jordan talks about a lot of interesting issues in the math community and does so with a lot more humor then I’m used to in books like this. He’s got a great way of explaining things and not only makes you learn things about math but you get excited to know more.

How the other half lives

This was a hard book to get through. The combination of the abject poverty and terrible circumstances that befell immigrants to New York in the turn of the last century combined with Riis’s weird brand of racism (maybe it was more appropriate at the time, it’s terribly not appropriate now) made a lot of this slow going. Riis was a social reformer and his story which is recounted in the long intro by David Leviatin, puts a lot of his work into a social context. This is helpful for reading the rest of it. My previous exposure to Riis was mostly just seeing his photos and hearing “He helped make things better.” Getting at the nuance of how some of this social change happened was an interesting back story, as well as hearing about the institutionalized racism and sexism that was prevalent even then (Riis recounts how Black tenement dwellers will pay more money for the same apartment as other lodgers). Glad I read this, especially in today’s uncertain times, but it was and remains a difficult read.

How to Be a Muslim: An American Story

I struggled a lot with this book which is about one man’s struggling with his own idea of faith and how it overlapped with his physical and mental illnesses and his own desired for what he wanted in his personal life. I’m not sure if it’s just that the author is Muslim and male and younger than me, or if it’s that this book just wasn’t that well written. There were huge chunks in the middle of it which were just recounting parts of the Quran or the life of Mohammed and while this may have been meaningful to the author, it was less understandable from a reader’s perspective. In general this book outlines the author’s journey and then end wraps up maybe a bit too neatly. I wanted more details in some places and fewer details in others. Glad I read it but just barely.

How to Hike the AT

Got this book from a friend and while I wasn’t expecting it to be A Walk in the Woods (Bryson) I did expect a little more in the way of personal anecdata along with all the packing lists, post office lists, flora and fauna lists, potential injury lists and planning lists. Upshot: it might be useful (though outdated) for someone making a real AT hike plan, but for me, who was just curious, it was a little too dry.

How to Keep House While Drowning

A friend suggested this since I’ve had a tough year or so. This author’s challenges are not my challenges--she has kids, and ADHD--but it’s good for people with anything that could be considered a challenge. It’s a pretty short and supportive self-help style book that has good strategies for just what it says on the cover. How to take care of yourself without shaming yourself that maybe you’re not taking care of your house the way you’d like to. I found it useful and it helped me take some concrete steps to remove some blockers to getting my house the way I wanted it.

How To Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.

Picked this off the new shelf at my library because it looked interesting. Have already told three people to read it. Serious essays with a throughline of humor that talk about being Black in Mississippi, in academia, in the world. Reverent and irreverent, this is a book of essays that was initially published when Laymon was newer in his career. He’s added to it since and it’s just a very evocative and well-crafted bunch of essays.

The Hungry Scientist Handbook

This book is part cookbook, part wacky scientist project book. Not good if you’re looking for a book that is all of either one. It’s a fun look at nifty things you can do in or near the kitchen, some tasty, some geeky and some a delicious combination of both. The book starts out tantalizingly with edible underwear and winds up with a 26 page instruction manual for making drink coasters that light up in certain ways. I definitely looked at a few recipes and thought “I can do that” and looked at a few others and thought “that would be dangerous/impossible” Overall, it’s a good mix and would make a nice gift for the scientist who has everything (including a sense of humor).

Hyperbole and a Half

I’ve been a big fan of Allie Brosh’s work, it was fun to revisit, in the run-up to having her new book come out. The graphic novel is full of well-illustrated funny stories about dogs, grappling w/ depression, self-doubt, being a weird kid. It ended on a dark note, w/ her talking about how shitty she actually is (in her own words, not in mine) which left me feeling sort of odd. Like it was clear that she had worked a lot of stuff out--hooray--but also that she was still working on some stuff and maybe didn’t realize that she had more work to do, possibly.

I Could Hardly Keep from Laughing

This is an illustrated collection of Vermont humor which I picked up because it’s illustrated by a local guy who I help with computer stuff. He’s quite good. It’s got a lot of the droll humor that I think people associate with old school Vermonters. There’s a little bit of “You’re not a REAL Vermonter unless....” posturing which was not quite my taste coming from a bunch of guys who went to Harvard, but I’m a flatlander so what do I know? As someone who has “only” lived in Vermont for 25 years a lot of this rings true and was a fun read. Great pictures, some funny stories

I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics

This book was a belated gift from my boyfriend who knows I love stand-up comedy. This is a great collection of crazy stories from the road, from a wide assortment of people you’ve probably heard of. Some of the stories are jokes in and of themselves and some of them are just weird and unusual things that happened to people, or that they did of their own volition. A well-curated collection of stories, well worth the time of anyone interested in the real world of stand-up comedy.

I Was Their American Dream

An excellent graphic novel about being an American kid of immigrant parents from 2 very different cultures--Egyptian and Filipino--and forging your own way while still remaining close to your family. Gharib does a really good job at showing you not telling you how her family’s cultures interrelated as well as talking about herself in a way that is poignant and funny at the same time.

I work in a public library

A collection of fun anecdotes ripped straight from Tumblr that was more entertaining and less problematic than I thought it would be.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself

This is Bill Bryson’s tale of how he came to live in the UK and met his wife, told as reflections during a walk through a lot of the English and Scottish countryside. My UK geography is terrible, so I may not have this all down correctly, but Bryson goes to a lot of nifty little towns and writes about what he finds there, occasioanlly interpersing these details with stories about his first trip to England when he was a young man. It’s a fun collection of trips with a little travelogue tossed in for good measure. Not as out and out hilarious as some of his other books, but still a great read and made me want to take a trip to England.

I’m not crazy, I just lost my glasses.

I vaguely remember reading a copy of this book, I thought when I was in high school but it came out the year I graduated so it may have been in college. This is a series of photos of people living with chronic mental illness. Shavelson interviewed them at length and then worked with the subjects to compress the interviews into short essays and then take a photo with the subject’s input. The result is a very poignant look at the wide range of ways people with serious mental illnesses experience the world. Some of this subjects are doing well and others not so well, but Shavelson imbues them all with a very human dignity, a sort of “This could be any one of us” that makes the storylines compelling.

The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded

For whatever reason I just really did not like this book. The illustration is great but the plot was sort of meted out by multiple voices simultaneously, spent way too long on very specific and arcane bits of math, and overall didn’t give us a really good feeling about Turing relative to what I’ve already read about him. Was expecting better.


A graphic novel about how taking improv classes helped the author lot with social anxiety, though the title says “conquered” this isn’t that. Graudins is super clear she doesn’t think improv is the end-all be-all (and not always unproblematic) but outlines usefully what was good for her about it and talks about a lot of specific improv techniques that are well-illustrated.

In Short

A long book of super-short essays, all under five pages. I put this book down for a long time and just picked it up again and really enjoyed it (possibly b/c of my new shorter attention span). Some authors you’ve heard of--Sherman Alexie, Barry Lopez, Michael Ondaatje--some you probably haven’t. Good biographical blurbs in the back and a truly terrible index.

In the Land of Invented Languages

A great fun and funny look at the history of some of the bigger-name invented languages, what makes them work and not work and who were some of the personalities behind them. Okrent is a linguist, so she actually gets involved with some of these languages, tries to pass a Klingon proficiency tests, attends an Esperanto conference. She has a good sense of humor about a lot of this but also bring s a lot of good background knowledge to the topic, so her takes are well worth reading.

Inside The Kingdom: My Life In Saudi Arabia

Got this at a library booksale and it was simultaneously an interesting frog-boiling story of a woman from Switzerland who wound up living as a veiled woman in Saudi Arabia and a wife to a very wealthy man who happened to be one of Osama Bin Ladin’s 20-someodd brothers. It’s more her story of what the world is like in Saudi Arabia for women and very little political stuff except as those two things overlap. It’s a weird book to read because she is simultaneously incredibly privileged but also incredibly oppressed. She eventually leaves and she talks about what was involved in that as well. Very interesting read.

Internet Fraud Casebook

Was hoping to be able to finish this but it just wasn’t happening and then I’d already renewed it once and it was overdue. So, this is a neat casebook that talks about the many different ways the internet can be used to defraud people. And it’s fascinating because there are all these different scams. However the writing is really uneven and some of the chapters are ones where you feel like you’ve learned something and others are hard to even figure out what is happening. Ultimately I just couldn’t get excited to keep reading it.

An introduction to 'Whaler out of New Bedford', a film based on the Purrington-Russell panorama of a whaling voyage round the world, 1841-1845.

As I track down more and more stuff concerning this amazing panorama, I got Jim to get this for me from Harvard Libraries and read the whole thing (it is a short pamphlet) in one sitting. It has some cute details and Morison’s attention to details enough so it’s worth trying to find it if you’re into this sort of panorama stuff.

The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art

This was an inteersting book about art theft in Ireland. It was a little all over the place, but mostly covered two high profile robberies that took place at a famous house called Russborough which was robbed twice over a few decades. The author talks about how the thefts occurred and then backtracks and explains how the police figured out various things and how the criminals were caught. Along the way we get a decent history of the Irish police force and some lessons in art history. While I might have preferred a more straightforward narrative approach [i.e. just sort of linear and sequential] I did feel that I learned a lot of things that were otherwise sort of tangential to this story that I would not have learned otherwise.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

I don’t know much about Kaling. I’ve always sort of randomly liked her but mostly only knew her from The Office. So I was looking forward to getting to know more about her. And this book of essays is sometimes funny and sometimes annoying but it’s one of those books that has the feeling of a “let me tell you my secrets” thing but at the end of it, I still didn’t know why she has a different last name from her parents. I mean I think I know and I could check Wikipedia, but I am not sure. In any case, fun book, funny read.

Isaac’s Storm

[review pending]

It Didn’t Start With You

This is a self-help book about the idea of “inherited family trauma” which both made sense but also seemed a bit like woo as I read through this book. The idea is sort of like you could have a grandfather who drowned before you were born and somehow you are hydrophobic. Which makes sense a little--i.e. the people in your family would have some knowledge of that trauma which they could pass down even if they didn’t talk about it--but sometimes there was the implication that there were genetic ways this could affect people and I was not on board with that.That said, a lot of the concepts and framing and ideas were useful even if I was skeptical of some of the quick solutions some of these discoveries of family trauma seemed to bring on.

The Italian Secretary

[review pending]

James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes

Got this as a gift because I’m a fan of Taskmaster and Acaster’s standup series that was on Netflix. If you liked him in either of those, you’ll enjoy these stories (all true!) about various Acaster mishaps, as originally told on Josh Widdicombe’s podcast. With drawings that he did himself.

Jell-O A Biography

This book was a gift and one I don’t think I would have picked up for myself but I enjoyed reading it, even if it was basically a marketing manual for Jell-O (they are super fussy about the spelling). It’s less of a biography and more of a cultural history of the product. Heavily illustrated. And dated. There’s a whole bit on Bill Cosby in there which was wincey to read. I’ve never been much of a jello person (and refuse to spell it in a way that is difficult to type) but I did like learning about the company and the weird ways the product split and un-split over the years. The author did a good job at making this more than a corporate hagiography.

Judaism: A Very Short Introduction

I liked this one a bit better than the Hinduism one because I felt I had more hooks to hang concepts on to. Also, and I might be wrong about this, the book seemed to be written by the practitioner of the religion. I enjoy these short intros to topics that I’ve always wondered “Do I know the basics about this?”

Judgment Ridge

I remember when these murders happened. I was living alone on the side of the road in rural Vermont about 20 miles away from Chelsea Vermont which turned out to be where the murderers lived. The muders seemed totally random and it was a weird time to be living in Vermont, a place where you normally don’t lock the door. Since that time, I’ve lived in the same community, in a different location, and have gotten to know other people whose lives were in some way affected by this chain of events. Now we’re reading this book for our book club.

There are other books about the murders but this is the only one that I’ve read. The authors are Boston Globe reporters who seem to have set up a very deliberate story arc that, while effective, does sort of take a lot of the events out of order and, in my opinion, seems to be overly descriptive in the interest of getting an entire book’s worth of story out of a small but powerful event. I found myself skimming some of the more descriptive scenes because I felt that the authors really needed to try to put you in the place of, say, the high school graduation in a rural New England town and if you live this sort of thing every day it can seem sort of precious and redundant. I enjoyed the read, but I’d like to find another book about a similar topic so that I could see how other people frame and portray the same set of events. The authors very clearly had one narrative that their facts adhered to, I’d be interested in other ones.

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

This book is more fun than you expect it to be. It’s a semi-autibiography written by Linus and David Diamond who seems to have done a lot of the legwork to keep the book going. It’s a fun book that gets inside the head of a true techie geek and explains how single-minded determination to solve tech problems led to him spending long amounts of time inside, living with his mom, tying up the phone line and creating Linux.

Despite the title, it’s not a “blah blah open source is the only way” title. Linus of course is a fan of open source, but this book isn’t his soapbox for OS, this is a book about him. He talks briefly about the differences between Stallman’s GPL and the open source model Linux was released under, but doesn’t get too into the various pissing matches, or open source politics much at all. He tries to set the record straight about his own personality -- he was always out to be well-known for Linux, he just wasn’t expecting a band of geeks to propel him there -- and what he’s been doing since RedHat’s IPO. The book was written in 2001 and there have been a lot of changes in his life since then that aren’t mentioned, but as a readable and inteersting introduction to a tech.legend, this book is worth the read.

Kingbird Highway

This book was a natural follow-up to The Big Year which I read a few months ago and which is coming out this weekend as a major motion picture. It talks about Kaufman’s attempt to make and win a big year in 1973, doing it almost entirely by couchsurfing and hitchhiking. Along the way he talks about many of the famous birders he gets to meet, talks about the formation of the ABA and does a lot of ruminating about the nature of bird “collecting” and life on the road generally. I really enjoyed this book even though I was sort of thinking I might not, might find Kaufman indulgent or too hippie to empathize with. I was totally wrong. This book is a delight and should be read by anyone who has read or seen Big Year.

Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

The fascinating thing that I did not know about this book before I started reading it was that Poulsen, the author and now senior editor of Wired, is a former black-hat hacker who did some prison time. This explains, I think, some of the parts of this book that I liked the best: the really thorough and knowledgeable explanations of the hacks, the lengthy discussions he seems to have had with everyone involved in order to get a good story and the general understanding of how things like IRC and BBSes and other stuff like that worked. As a reader who knows how this stuff works who is often reading books written by people who don’t know, I was really excited to get to read a book written for people like me. Poulsen is a thorough researcher and turned the whole story of Max Vision (Butler) into a linear tale of one guy and the decisions that he makes that turn him into one of the most powerful guys in the online credit card data trading markets. Along the way you learn about these markets, the other players in them and some stuff about Silicon Valley back before the first bubble burst.

The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay

A great collection of photos spanning 1897-1899 and the Klondike gold rush. They are at times interrupted by Berton’s somewhat overwrought re-telling of the story of what was going on as people left California to head north, up through Chilkoot pass and over to Dawson Alaska. I enjoyed the photos and it was nice to know what was going on, but Berton’s narration seemed way over the top and seemed to mostly be telling generalized stories without much explication of what was going on in the specific photographs. Nice as a collection of stories and photos, not as great as any sort of historical overview of what was going on at the time.


Michael Twitty is Black, Jewish, gay and fat (his own self-description) and a scholar of the foodways of his people. This book is an exploration of just who those people are, where the intersections are, and how those various cultures have informed one another. There are also recipes which are recognizable both as kosher and coming out of various Black traditions. I enjoyed this book a lot even though it took me a while to get into the rhythm of it since I was expecting a food exploration from the get-go and it’s a lot more than that.

Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded

This book was exactly one plane ride to San Francisco long and perfect for that event. I find Winchester a little difficult to read, he’s free with the adjectives even when they don’t forward his story terrible, and he’s a little snooty sounding. This works out better with a book like this one than it did with The Professor and the Madman. Winchester also does some really serious research and his books are at their strongest when he’s revealing things that he knows, and less interesting when he’s either talking about himself or waxing poetic about a small part of the story when you’re waiting for him to get to the explosion already! I wrote down a ton of little notes of things to go look up when I was done reading and back to noodling around on the Internet and this book was great for things like that.

Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination

This is a slender book that is sort of about the death camps in Poland and sort of about how one who has been there, as the author was, thinks back on their time there. Kulka is a historian who is thinking, in this book, about his own history. It’s not the usual camp memoir talking about the unbelievable horrors people endured (though there is a small amount of that if it’s worth knowing about this book) but more about how he remembered what happened. What he learned about afterwards and how he managed his own feelings about these remembrances.

The Last of the Bush Pilots

The Niceville public library had a section where they were giving away paperback books. These were not books in the booksale, these were free. I took two and when I found they were both about the same again, about MY age, I realized that they were probably weeding books that didn’t circulate that were more than 40 years old. This book was great. It tells stories from the bush pilot years, when Alaska was still much more of a frontier and before there were commercial airline flights to much of the country.

The stories the author, himself a bush pilot, tells are even more poignant when you realize that the world he describes [including knowing people who were in Alaska when Will Rogers' plane crashed there] is even more distant now than when the book was written. I enjoyed a lot of his stories of early explorations, Alaska wildlife and natural scenes, and narratives about how some of the small native villages became bigger towns and cities. This is not a great book to read while you’re on an airplane however since many of the early bush pilots' lives we cut short by plane crashes.

Legends of Caltech

This book is the first in a series of locally published volumes outlining first hand accounts of Caltech pranking. If all you’ve heard about is the Rose Bowl prank, you might enjoy reading a bit more about the day to day pranking going on at Caltech including the sweepstakes caper and the procedure known as room stacking where upperclassmen leave their rooms for Ditch Day and underclassmen try to break into them. This book covers the 1920’s through the 1980’s and is a good looking volume with a lot of personal accounts and photographs.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

I had read some of Sedaris’s earlier books and not enjoyed them as much as this one. This is a collection of mostly first person real life essays with a few made up ones tossed in for good measure 9which I found a bit confusing). They mostly talk about Sedaris and his life, some about his difficult childhood, a lot about his various quirks and anxieties and what it’s like being an American living in France (or England) and I enjoyed reading through this collection more than I thought I would.

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

Let’s Talk About It. A great book about how to talk about some of the tough questions surrounding sexual health and related topics for young people. Moen and Nolan are well known as the Oh Joy Sex Toy people and if you like their work there, you’ll love it here as well. Just helpful solid advice delivered in a matter of fact manner but not dry, dull, or academic. A really diverse group of characters, so hopefully everyone can see themselves somewhere in it.

The Librarian at Play

More library humor from the early part of the last century. This one is a collection of essays, some inspired, some that seem more dated. My favorite essay deserves some discussion... It comes in the form of a letter found in a bottle. The writer is an essayist who recently had won a contest where he listed his 100 favorite books that he’d like to bring to a desert island. Well, he chooses all sorts of scholarly and erudite stuff. His prize is a cruise with these 100 books as his companions. Predictably, the boat sinks and he is marooned with nothing but the works of Plato and Homer while her wails about wanting to read something about knot-tying. His journal entries include such gems as “Aenid eaten by a goat” etc.

This book, in addition to the one I read previously, highlight that while the library profession has been steadily evolving, the role of the library in modern society, has stayed more or less the same. Annoying patrons are still weird in the same way; librarians are still stereotyped as overeducated and undersocialized. This book is a gem and worth tracking down at your local library archives.

A Librarian is to Read

Found this hidden on a shelf with the other books about libraries. Vogel used to be a Seattle Public librarian and her collection of short essays about libraries, library school and the job of being a librarian, will ring true to anyone who reads.

Vogel covers such topics as “sex in the library” and “god in the library” with humor and a certain level of respect for even the craziest of patrons. It is clear that she loves her job, despite griping about low pay and low status. I am sorry I didn’t get a chance to check out a book or two when she was working at SPL.

Library Jokes and Jottings

I have a ahrd time laughing at comtemporary attempts at humor. It may be that I find the authors trying to hard, or maybe they are assuming a frame of reference that I don’t share. However, once I convinced the librarian to please let me take home this reference book just this once, I sat in the backyard and laughed.

The funniest part, sadly, is that librarianship has changed so little in the last hundred years or so. We still have religious zealot patrons, and the guys who sit there all day long reading the newspapers. People still expect all sorts of entitlements because they are the taxpayers that keep the library open and children are still a constant threat and simultaneous delight. This books did not have the word “masturbator” in it, like a current library humor book might, but many of the situations were the same. Some of the jottings also included many humorous pieces that were in some ways quaint because they were not ribald or racy; plays on words with book titles, the amusement of dirty children not washing their hands, the plaitive yowlings of the patron who owes overdue fines. Find it through interlibrary loan if you possibly can.

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

A great book by an Australian author about some of the great stories in the history of the world’s libraries, some I knew and some I did not know. I’ve read a LOT of these kinds of books, libraries are easy to love. But they can get a little samey in many respects because a lot of them have a lot of the same stories. This one had some new stories (as well as some old ones) and I learned some things and enjoyed reading it the whole way through. The author is a notable rare/old book collector so his interests point in that particular direction.

Life Inside a Shell

I admit, I bought this book because I had some credit at Harvard University Press and this had a great cover. Plus, I like turtles. What I did not know is how interesting turtles are from a physiological perspective. They can go without air for months. Months! They also have a funny way of breathing because they don’t have a conventional ribcage. And they make use of nutrients stored in their shells during the long hibernating period that they have. And their hearts work in a weird way and they have metabolism that’s all over the map from one speed to 10000x that speed (in contrast, the human metabolism ranges from about one speed to 4x that speed). Jackson looks into many of this interesting facts and describes the research that allowed him to discover or support these assertions. It’s a short well-written book for people who enjoy biological sciences.

Life List, Field Notes of a Maine Birdwatcher

I got this book as a freebie because I was reviewing it for IPNE. I am so happy I did! This was an absolutely gorgeous book of bird photography from the Maine coastline. Just enough written details, lots of great well-taken photographs. It’s split into seasonal sections with small date and weather notes for each of the sightings.

Life, Inc.

I read a pre-pub copy of this and I want to read it again. Rushkoff manages to explain a whole bunch of things about modern-day capitalism without resorting to too much “to the barricades!” talk and with lots of footnotes and additional explanations so that those who are really interested -- and I could myself among those -- can get more information about specific things. As someone who is personally uneasy with the way wealth seems to get generated and held on to in the US, particularly in light of all the recent recession-fueled misery, it’s nice to feel like at least the mechanisms are explicable, of unforgiveable, and that’s what Rushkoff does here.

I haven’t enjoyed a book about how things are falling apart since I read One Market Under God by Thomas Frank in 2003 where he talked about the not-nefarious-but-not-innocent forces that led middle class Americans to invest in a market that almost certainly did not have their best interests at heart. Rushkoff does his best to end on an up note, but all the while he’s explaining what is wrong with the system which does manage to read as a primer on how to NOT live. Good reading.

Lost Bar Harbor

A poignant look at the “cottages” of Bar Harob that represented a particular place and time in the evolution of this popular vacation spot. Lots of lovely pictures of interesting looking homes along with the eventual “what happened” denoument.

Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist

Sort of a random pickup from me while I’ve been trying to expand my book-reading horizons this year. Kalder is a white guy but he is a white guy from Scotland who is living in Moscow and decides to go to the weird ends of the Russian empire, looking at a lot of former Soviet places that are now sort of muddling along as sort-of independent. He talks about the history of the people who used to live there, goes in search of what’s interesting and/or cool and spends a lot of time bored and hungry. On some trips he goes with friends and on some he goes alone. While he’s not the most reliable narrator in all cases, the things he decides to discuss and talk about have a level of universal appeal. Many of these places are now places that I want to go, even though I suspect that just the intervening decade will have changed them tremendously.

The Lost Gutenberg

This book wasn’t lost! Other than that, this was an interesting history of one of the 49 (48?) Gutenberg Bibles still in existence. Davis traces the history from the 1800s until today and digs up a lot of interesting information, especially about its last personal owner who was a wealthy woman who bequeathed it to a Catholic Seminary who eventually sold it (probably not in keeping with her wishes). Overall a nice sort of pop history of one of these books.

Lost in Shangri-La

An interesting story of a plane crash in New Guinea, the interactions between the crashees and the indigenous people, and their eventual rescue. While the author tries to mitigate some of the historical documents' racist and sexist language, there’s only so much he can do. A few characters who are well-documented historically get more attention than the Filipino doctors who did some serious hard work. Enjoyable but also flawed.

Lost in the Jungle

I read this book because someone suggested it for something but I couldn’t remember what. And so I was a little surprised that for a book called Lost in the Jungle it basically took nearly 30% of the book for them to actually GET LOST. I found this book a weird read because it’s essentially the story of people who went into the wilderness totally unprepared and... nearly died. Which I did not find that surprising. Ghinsberg is a good writer and I enjoyed his evocative descriptions of a lot of this story, but it’s a little odd to read it as a tale of personal obstacles overcome when one of the other members of his party actually DID die (or probably died) and that gets sort of downplayed. So, mixed feelings, overall a lively read.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece

Random book from a library book sale and it was SO GOOD. This was all about figuring out which of many extant copies of an old painting may have been by the master Caravaggio. Lots of neat research and some great stories of the work behind the work. Harr turns it all into a fun to read story that has had more developments since this book was published.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia

My partner’s best friend is from Siberia, as was my first boyfriend. How did I find this book? I am not certain. It’s a great companion to The Owls of the Eastern Ice. Looking for hard to find things in out of the way places, a search for some pianos with a story leads to the author learning a lot more about Siberian history. She has friends in Mongolia who are looking for a piano with a history and so she goes looking and digging. Doesn’t find as many pianos as she expects, possibly, but does turn up a lot of stories from out of the way places that many have not been to, or only hear the lore from.

Lurking: How a Person Became a User

I got an advanced readers copy of this book from Joanne and was happy to get it. I was also briefly interviewed for part of it. This is a story about how the old web, where we were just learning how to interact with one another, became the new web where everyone was trying to “sell our eyeballs” to people and just how much that changed the experience of interacting there. Joanne spent a lot of time online and talks about what she found there, both in the early web being a person interacting on Echo or Friendster, and today where she uses Twitter a little and basically ignores Facebook. It’s really nice to read an account of the early web which isn’t just about “The men who built it” There is some of that in this book but it’s useful. What’s more useful is how Joanne talks about the people she interacted with there, the friendships she made, the “there” that was there as a result of the way people had genuine interactions with one another, in a place that many people didn’t even see as real. She has a great way of evoking sense memories for things many of us have only experienced through typing and reading. And for someone who spent a lot of time in some of those same places (and also in other ones) there’s a very real feeling about that which is nice to read about, it feels like a very genuine reflection of how it felt to be there.

The Man Who Couldn’t Stop

Got this off of the new table at the library. It’s a really good look at what it’s like to live with OCD by David Adam who is an experienced journalist. The book talks about his own struggles with the condition (he is constantly hypervigilant about HIV infection) as well as the history of the condition in popular and medical history at the same time. Really readable. I learned a lot.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

Really mixed feelings about this one. The story itself is interesting. It’s actually about TWO men who love books, one is a rare book dealer and one is a rare book theif. The story concerns the times where their lives cross. The author has personal conversations with both of them, often, over many years. The dealer is more likeable (to me) than the thief, but the author seems sort of entranced with both of them. This is where the story sort of falls apart, to me. She’s so interested in getting the scoop from the thief that she gets into the classic reporter’s dilemma, knowing the guy is continuing to steal books and sort of shrugging in a “what can you do?” way

Personally I felt that she didn’t do more about the thief’s thievery because she knew she didn’t have a story if he went to jail and stayed there. The guy stole hundreds of credit card numbers that he used to purchase rare books from dealers sight unseen and then would have an accomplice go pick them up or sometimes go get the books himself. He left a trail of credit card fraud and ill will among rare book dealers (I was hoping for more about libraries, but there’s not much of that in this book). It was sort of neat to understand how he did this, but very frustrating to get to the end of the book and realize he was still doing it and seemed like he’d continue to do it. Maybe my frustration got in the way of me appreciating this book more. There is a lot of interesting side discussion with rare book dealers and the police, and a little about the books themselves. Upshot: the author injects herself into this story too much for my personal tastes and since I didn’t ultimately find her insights that interesting, I didn’t like the book as much as I might have.

The Man with No Endorphins

This was a book I rescued from my mom’s house as I was getting rid of boxes and boxes of books. I thought it was going to be a medical curiosities book, one of my faves, but it turned out to be a “humorous” science column which was okay not great and also from the late 80s so a little dated. You sort of marvel at the things this guy could get paid to travel to and write about but his insights weren’t that novel to me and he just wasn’t as funny as he thought he was. Funny cover though!

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks

I’m not quite Jennings-level fascinated with maps and geography stuff, but I enjoyed his level of passion for them and the humorous way he talked about it. I found myself nodding along when he talked about the Confluence Project, the highest points in all the states, or took us behind the scenes at the Geography Bee. Super fun for anyone who has read an atlas for fun.

The Mapmakers

It is hard for me to imagine a time when I did not know what the outlines of the states looked like, or the outlines of any states, in other countries. I have always been familiar with what the surface of the moon looks like, both through my own observations as well as pictures in books that have been available to me since I was young. It’s hard, then, to imagine a time when the way the world looked was not known, when in fact there was still uncharted territory, where maps ended.

Wilford has created a wonderful though somewhat dense history of mapmaking. Along with it, he has also created a history of knowledge, or a history of “what we know and what we need to know.” He starts off with the earliest maps -- the TO format where the earth was represented as a circle split by two large rivers into three sections -- and continues until he is describing the satellite mapping of the surface of Mars. Along the way he explains and illustrates not only what is going on, but what is driving these people forward. He discusses projections [with great illustrations] and longitude and minute technological advancements that drove more and more people to try to determine what was “out there.” Since the book is so well researched, and Wilford obviously delights in his topic, it can be a bit slow going; I think I have been reading this book on and off for the better part of six weeks. However, once you reach the end where surveying is done with handheld GPS units and the last rivers and icebergs on the face of the planet have been put in their proper places, you definitely have not only a sense of accomplishment but a feeling of being well-versed in an entire body of knowledge, which is a good feeling to have.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me

Loved this book which outlines a few years during which Ellen Forney got diagnosed with bipolar and tried to work her shit out. It’s an honest and real look at both the highs of mania but also the real lows of depression and how she worked with professionals, family and friends to try to get a grip on managing her bipolar.

March: Book One

The first in a series of three graphic novels about the civil rights movements particularly the events happening in the mid to late sixties, interspersed with the inauguration of Barack Obama. Lewis was really at the forefront of a lot of important events and this is a more personal look at the ones he was participating in which provide context from a specifically black perspective on what was going on behind the scenes.

March: Book Three

The third book in this series.

March: Book Two

The second book in this series

Maximum Security Book Club

What an odd little book this was. I picked it up at ALA as an ARC so there were a few little weirdnesses that came from it being not quite done. I enjoyed it. The author is a literature professor who spends several years leading a book club in a maximum security prison outside of (I think) Baltimore. She breaks the book down into chapters that are each one book she decides to cover with the men. Some of the books go over well, some go over poorly. In a lot of cases Brottman thinks one thing is going to happen and a completely other thing happens. She seems to have a sort of naive understanding of prison life before she starts this program so watching the little collection of “aha” moments can be a little head scratching to people who have more of a social consciousness. All in all I liked this but did not love it.

The Meaning of Everything

For anyone who has read The Professor and the Madman and thought “that was a little nice reading, but I would like to know a ton more about this whole project” this is the book for you. Winchester can be a little precious in his vocabulary choices in that “I’m writing about a DICTIONARY” way but this recouting of the eighty year projects that resulted in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary is without peer. The stories range from in-depth looks at the personalities who ran the project to little examinations of the thousands of volunteers who sent in scraps of paper with etymologies on them.

And oh the scaps of paper! Just housing them was a project in and of itself, a system that access to computers and digital storage will render forever unecessary. Despite the fact that this project wrapped up the 1930s, the first fascicles came out in the 1890’s and the entire project has this quaint Victorian tinge to all of it, from the old boy network of the men involved to the dearth of ladies anywhere in this story. If you’re a fan of turn of the century engineering type projects, this should go on your “to read” list.

Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

This book took me weeks to finish! I read two other books while I was slogging through this one. The story of this book is fascinating, I just could not help wishing that either 1) someone else could have told it or 2) the book had gone though a more rigorous editing process. The general story is about Jewish immigrants and how through sheer pluck and determination they started the entire comics book genre, including Superman and a whole lot of other famous ones you have heard of. The book starts and ends with the creators of Superman, how they started out as two dopey kids with a dream and ended up nearly destitute and penniless... almost. The main narrative is great, however it’s constantly interrupted by the narratives of other players in the comics industry. So, you’re going along reading about Batman when all of the sudden it’s ten years earlier and you’re reading about someone else. It may just be me, but I had a very hard time keeping track of all the players since they all seemed to get introduced with equal weight and seriousness.

That said, I learned a lot from this book. I learned that the guy who invented Wonder Woman had two wives (at the same time!). I learned more than I ever thought I’d know about the Comics Code, where it came from and where it went, and I learned a lot about how and why Jews came to dominate the industry of what we now know as comic books. Fascinating stuff, but as I said, I wish the story had been told better because I think I would have loved it even more.

Messy Roots

I have a particular weird feeling about graphic memoirs written by young women (I have this “You haven’t even lived yet!” internal feeling) but this is a me problem, not a book problem. This is one of the better ones of the bunch, a woman who moves to the US at a young age, maybe doesn’t know she’s queer yet, controlling family, confusing school life. Like a lot of these graphic memoirs, there’s a lot of drawn out struggle with a “Wellp all good now” vibe towards the end. Well drawn, well-told.

Milton’s Teeth and Ovid’s Umbrella: Curiouser and Curiouser Adventures in History

A fun trivia book with some well-cites short articles on why things we’ve sort of always known about (weddings, farming, folklore) are the way they are. Good for close reading as well as just idle paging through, Olmert takes us through some of the details behind a lot of older-than-we-think cultural traditions.

The Mind’s Eye

Another inteersting book by Sacks. If you’ve read him before you sort of know his thing and you either like it or you don’t. This book explores the neurobiological aspects of vision and, as usual, explores historical, modern-day and Sacks' own personal experiences with the quirky nature of the intersection of our eyes and our brains.

Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

I read the 1983 version of this and so it has absolutely no helpful information about the internet. Which is fine since that’s the one place I seem to know what I am doing. I like the idea that very good manners is basically about putting OTHER People at ease but I don’t always know how to do that (since I am often awkward) so I enjoy getting to read about tried and true ways to get along with people. Miss Manners is frequently quite amusing on these topics and this book was gigantic and I read it slowly over several months. I hear there is an updated version.

Mississippi Solo: A River Quest

Harris talks about his trip canoeing from the head of the Mississippi all the way to New Orleans. It’s a great memoir, many river stories and a lot of contemplation about what it means to be a black man doing outdoorsy stuff while heading southwards. And Harris isn’t coming at this from an aggressive anti-racist viewpoint, just his own viewpoint. He’s had a decent amount of privilege, but has also experienced racism, in his life and on this trip, and mulls over some of that but also just spends a lot of time learning about the world he’s inhabiting.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything

I must admit, I maybe liked this book better before I learned that Foer got a 1.2 million dollar advance for it. In any case, this book is a fun romp through Foer’s year of learning about memory and about his attempts (and successes) to compete successfully in memory competitions. The basic thesis is that you don’t need to be smart to be good at remembering things and to some people being able to remember things makes you look smart. And Foer does a really good job of explaining this through words and actions, showing the difference between people with autism and people who are just really focused, taking the reader along with him as he learns to do what he does (I still have a large jar of garlic in my memory palace). I enjoyed it.

Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues

I really enjoyed this colelction of essays and other contributions to the long-running Morbid Curiosity magazine. From encourters with the supernatural, to fascinations with bloodplay to euthanizing a friend dying from AIDS these stories all share... something that is either something familiar or something offputitng depending on your take on the whole wide weird world of stuff. I especially enjoyed the “value add” of extra tidbits, tips and trivia about the article subjects that Lauren added at the end of most of the selections. People who enjoy weird stuff will enjoy this, I’m glad I read it.

More Damned Lies and Statistics

More of the same. The author, who is good with math, looks at people who use statistics who are not so good at amth. Along the way he explains why some things that we thought were true about the world are not true and why some things we thought were not true, are. If you liked the first book, this one is almost as good though seems a little scanter on interesting original topics and instead looks at the math behind some standard stats we’ve heard but never really known the backstory on.

More Random Walks in Science

Fun! This book is full of fun science and engineering jokes some of which I found hilarious and many of which were over my head entirely. It’s a collection of articles, essays, poetry and illustrations of a scientific nature most of which seem designed to amuse or share some sort of professional in-joke. I understood some of it and was totally lost with others. However, one of the great things about it is the cross-disciplinaryness of the whole thing. So, you get poems about the second law of thermodynamics or drawings about how to use a small dog to teach physics.


Got this book as a gift over holidaystime. It’s a nice short book about mosses and liverworts which has a lot of beautiful photos and a lot of weirdly dull explanations of how mosses reproduce. Like, it’s a really short book and yet there’s a lot of super-detailed explication of how different types of mosses reproduce. I could see this being a smaller part of a larger book, but it seemed odd. That said, it was lovely to look at, and a quick read and now I know the word “calyptra” so that’s sort of neat.

The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg

I picked up this book because I heard a bit of trivia about it on a podcast. Did you know that eggs grow inside a bird the opposite way, in many species, from the way they come out? Truth! And no one is quite sure why, but they rotate right before they are laid. I learned that any many other fascinating things in this book which is written by a bird biologist, Birkhead, who just happens to also have a good sense of humor. Took a long time to read since it’s not all the time you’re looking for a good nature book about how eggshells get made, but when that is what you are looking for, no other thing will do.

The Murder Room

This was a really well put together book about the three principal figures of the Vidocq Society, a group of people with an interest in crime-solving and forensics who get together at fancy events and try to solve cold cases. They had come to my attention when one of the top members, Frank Bender a known artist and criminalist who was great at recreating faces from skulls, passed away and had a glowing obit in the New York Times. Someone suggested this book and I really enjoyed it. It goes into specific cases and how different people from different backgrounds [more standard detective, forensic psychologist and profiler, Bender the artist] approach things and how they work better often when they are together. It’s a great book for people who enjoy true crime stories but find a lot of true crime novels a bit too over the top sensationalist. This has a lot more of the seemingly boring cop work behind the scenes and makes a much more interesting read.

Murder, Manslaughter, and Mayhem on the SouthCoast

Count not resist this on the shelf at my local library. It’s a collection of news reports of people who were killed, who they were killed by, and what eventually happened. Interesting but sort of spotty. Depressing how much stuff is basic domestic violence or people drinking too much. I’ll probably pick up the second volume.

Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft

[review pending]

Mutants : On Genetic Variety and the Human Body

One of the very few books I’ve purchased this year at close to [used] store prices. I was initially attracted to it both because my friend had read it, or at least heard of it, and because of the legless man on the cover. I’ve always been interested in freaks and grew up in a family where this sort of interest wasn’t aggressively discouraged. My parents would make up bedtime stories for meabout “the girl with no mouth” or other infirmities.

This book is not just another freak book -- though it does have a good set of pictures of genetic anomalies I had never sen before -- rather it is based on this premise: by looking at nature’s “mistakes” what can be learned about natures plans? The author looks at examples such as conjoined twins, looking at what varieties of conjoining do happen and which do NOT and then goes into the science behind this sort of creation, asking and answering “what goes on with the developing fetus that results in conjoined twins?” He goes through the same steps with albinos, armless and legless folks and a host of others. The book is short enough so that it doesn’t devolve into lengthy and dull scientific treatises, but long enough so that it’s not just a “look at the freaks” book.

My Brother, My Sister

I suspect I don’t like memoirs. This book about Haskell’s sibling’s decision to undergo transgender surgery later in life had me gritting my teeth a lot of the way through it. Some of this was probably because I’ve come up discussing trans* issues online and I’m aware of a lot of the etiquette surrounding those discussions. How you refer to people’s sex and gender, the things you do and don’t talk about, the lazy traps you can fall into that are hurtful for trans* people and their allies. Haskell does most of these things: midgenders people, does the “but what about your PENIS” things, insists on the primacy of her own views and feelings (it is a memoir, this is not necessarily a bad thing) and just makes her sister’s difficult late in life transformation all about her.

That said, this book got a lot of positive reviews and it may be serving a purpose for people who are coming to trans* issues from a differing perspective. Privileged people who never really gave it much thought before and are suddenly confronted. Thinky people who wants to look at transgender issues through the lens of Greek Myths. Chatty people who can’t imagine having a big event happen in their family and being asked not to talk about it as if that were such a huge inconvenience. People newer to trans* issues may enjoy these parts and not mind the other parts. I found many of Haskell’s views difficult to take and found myself rooting even more for her sister than I might otherwise.

My Family and Other Animals

Someone suggested this book as a good book for people who like animals and naturalist writing. Durrell was a noted naturalist and conservationist and this book outlines his teen years when his family was living together on Corfu in Greece in the late thirties. It’s a story about Durrelll and his family but also about the animals and bugs and birds that he encounters and how he learns to think somewhat scientifically about them while at the same time driving his family nuts

My Kind of Place: Travel Stories from a Woman Who’s Been Everywhere

This book was great fun. Orleans is the type of person who finds all sorts of random things to talk about and makes it the most fascinating thing you’ve never heard of. She injects herself enough into her essays to make them seem real but not so much that it’s all filtered through her own sensibilities and you wind up annoyed. Every essay makes you feel that it’s about someone or something you’d like to know more about, from the Sunshine Grocery in NYC to the fertility monastery (?) in Bhutan to climbing Mount Fuji. It’s good writing that happens to be about travel. Most of it appeared previously in the New Yorker so if you know her writing there, you may have already seen a lot of it.

My Life As A Goddess

Branum is in my trivia league. I missed Bros when it came through my town, but decided to ILL this to see if I’d like it. It’s a fun story about growing up big and gay (and gay sounding) in a rural California area and figuring out what you want to do with your life. Branum talks a lot about his family, his career trajectory and what was expected of him versus what he delivered. Funny but not a joke-a-minute.

My Life Had Stood A Loaded Gun

A very-local story about a youngish aimless man who winds up teaching GED classes in the jail in Woodstock Vermont. It reads a lot like some of those graphic novel memoirs I’ve picked up, early writings by someone who later finds more of their style, life and voice. Padnos winds up getting his book (some of which is just transcribed jail diaries written during the time he was teaching, some is more narrative) published. A large-scale crime occurs in the area, he ruminates on it, and on the young men who committed it. This book was very trope-y about jail and crime and that sort of thing, and I wouldn’t have finished it at all except for the local angle. When I went to read reviews of it, I found that Padnos has since changed his name and gone on to be a journalist of some stature, so I’ll chalk this up to being an awkward first effort.

My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t know as much as I thought about why hemophiliacs were likely to have contracted HIV. I learned that and a lot more from this entertaining but informative book by Shawn Decker. Decker (who also blogs at mypetvirus.com) has written a memoir about what it was like growing up as a kid with HIV back when most of what we knew about HIV and AIDS came from Ryan White and Bennetton ads. He’s got an engaging style, a no-bullshit manner and pulls no punches with himself or anyone else in telling his story.

My Stroke of Insight

This book about Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke and subsequent full recovery is fascinating. I’m pretty usre my mom handed it to me, we have a tendency to swap “brain problem” books and I’m sure this was one of them. The story is pretty interesting, Taylor woke up one morning to a pounding headache and found she was having a massive brain stroke. She was [and is?] a neuroanatomist and so once she started on the road to recovery, took special note of her surroundings and what worked and what didn’t work to get her on the road back to wellness. Taylor has a brother with schizophrenia, who is mentioned early in the book as one of the reasons Taylor got into neuroscience in the first place. Most of the book chronicles her path to recovery after the stroke and what she’s learned as a result of having half her brain shut down and have to be rebuilt.

The later half of the book has a lot more of these sorts of insights, about how Taylor learned to let go of her ego and quiet her brain chatter and etc. I liked reading these parts but it wasn’t really what drew me to the book in the first place. I was really interested in Taylor’s story -- the role of her own mother in her recovery can’t be overstated -- and the more introspective chapters I found not quite as interesting.

Naked Pictures of Famous People

Jon Stewart is really funny, but not always a way that is amusing to me personally. This book is a collection of essays and since I didn’t know what it was when I first picked it up -- besides seeing his face all over the front cover -- I was a bit put off by one of the first essays that was some first person discussion of something where the narrator clearly wasn’t Jon Stewart. Some of the things in this book are fairly funny and some of them are not. He is funnier in person, but I did read this book through to the end, so it wasn’t all that bad.

Newton’s Madness

This was another score from my mom’s house and a better read than the other older light-science book. It’s a bunch of shortish essays on various neurology conundrums, some from the present day & some more historical (and some fanciful - like one on Sherlock Holmes). I love this type of medical mystery and Klawans does a good job recounting patient stories with empathy and curiosity even when his patients are difficult or terminal.

NFL Unplugged

This book was really hit or miss. It had been recommended to me as a gritty behind the scenes look at what is really going on for all the non-star quarterback people playing pro ball today. And sometimes it was that, looking into things like spring training and what the trainers are up to helping injured players play, and just about injuries generally. But sometimes it was also a play-by-play of notable games (for some reason) and sometimes it was a historical digression into this or that. I do not know that much about football. I know how the game works and recognize some of the players, so I found some of the play-by-play stuff not just inscrutable but totally annoying since I couldn’t follow it and didn’t understand why it was in the book in the first place. So, generally enjoyed this but it was definitely a book that I skimmed parts of.

No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs

I got an ARC of this from the publisher. It opened on a scenario I wasn’t sure I could empathize with, a mom with two kids trying to find a public bathroom. Not that I didn’t sympathize, but it didn’t grab me. But the rest of the book got better. Lowe is a woman who is interested in public accommodations and how we get them and why we don’t and the actual complex nature of putting bathrooms in public, for the public. As someone who is pretty heavy into libraries, I have been interested in this topic and was a little bummed Lowe didn’t talk more about libraries (she barely touches on them) but this is more about literally “out in public” and looking at issues involved in public toilet provisions and why it’s more difficult than you would think. Lowe is an advocate, speaks with other advocates and has a great style and amusing voice throughout. Everyone should enjoy this book.

No Way Home, a Memoir of Life on the Run

A great and weird story, told in chapters that bounce around in the timeline, about a girl who has a father who is, we learn later, a drug smuggler. The family is on the run, at first together and then later apart. It’s told as a weird memoir and we learn early on that people turn out okay (they’re all still alive though the dad does go to jail for a time). Wetherall does a great job at really painting a picture of what it’s like to move around, to feel rootless, to get really attached to some things and totally not attached to others. To be really poor but also kinda rich in other ways. She does a great job of setting up the story and I’m glad I read this.

No You Can’t Touch My Hair

Books that are biographical by humorists are sometimes not as funny as books by non-comedians who are humor writers. I really enjoyed Robinson’s book but I felt like sometimes she was going for stuff which would work in stand-up but which didn’t work as well in writing. That said this book is great I enjoyed her informal style, a lot of the pieces she did about black hair icons and letters to her young niece were really standouts. Listening to someone talk about race from a personal perspective from within an industry you only know from the outside is really interesting.

Noodling for Flatheads

Great cover and a great topic. Bilger was raised in the South and then left. Then he goes back and talk to people who engage in a lot of “local customs” such as grabbing catfish out of the water with your bare hands and playing marbled with largeish rocks. He talks to the people involved, is generally decent and respectful to them, even though sometimes they have way-out ideas. Along the way you the reader learn about moonshining, catfishing, cock fighting and whether you can raise frogs in bulk. This book is from 2002 and I’d really love to read an update since some of these traditions seemed on the verge of dying out at the time but I’m pretty sure I saw guys catfishing in this way on the tv.

Norse Mythology

Definitely a theme this year. This book was a retelling of some of the Norse myths using more contemporary language and concepts but the same old characters. Think Thor, as told by Neil Gaiman. Because really, if you’ve seen the movies it can be difficult to not thing of Hiddleston and Hemsworth as you read these tales. I enjoyed this. I like Gaiman’s writing but not always his plot choices so this was a perfect mix.

Not Funny Ha-Ha: A handbook for something hard

I didn’t know what this book was when I picked it up. It’s a very well done book basically about “So you’ve decided to get an abortion, what does that mean exactly” and guides the reader through the two different major types of abortions, surgical and medical. Lots of good information and Hayes is really clear that people shouldn’t rely on it for medical advice but since we know people often go to book (or their friends) before they’ll check with a doctor, it’s very good that books like this exist. My only real concern with this book is that both the women look really really upset the entire time. Not that abortion isn’t serious but it definitely makes it look like they’re feeling one specific way.

Not Just Anywhere: The Story of WHALE and the Rescue of New Bedford’s Waterfront Historic District

Picked this up when I was home with a cold and it was laying around. This book is a (deserved) self-congratulatory look back at some of the important preservation that has been done in New Bedford by a group called WHALE (Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE) since the late sixties. Getting together at about the same time as some major highways were planned to go through, this group did a ton of work to help the New Bedford urban renewal project NOT just be a bunch of bulldozers that ran roughshod over the interesting whaling and textile history of New Bedford. The book has a lot of photos and outlines key players in the project from the sixties through the nineties.

Notes from No Man’s Land

This was a great collection of essays on race and culture by Eula Biss a young female not-white author who has a knack for research and telling a good story without seeming hidebound about her beliefs or the lens through which she views the world. I was particularly interested not just with the essays that she wrote but by the notes on the essays in the end where she explains how an essay that was going to be about telephone poles wound up being about the history of lynching in the US. I felt like I understood her process and appreciated her “we don’t have all the answers” approach to differing racial issues and inequalities. She manages to both discuss issues personally but also contextualize them in a larger cultural context. I really liked this book.

Numb to This

It’s not this book, it’s me, I have some sort of built-in “This didn’t work for me” vibe about graphic novel memoirs by young women and I’m not sure why. This was a gorgeously illustrated (and not at all graphic) look at the human aftermath of a school shooting from the perspective of someone nearby but not right in it. She has a lot of normal reactions which she is worried are not normal. Part of the issue is that her normal reactions are... a lot of apathy and ennui (among other emotions) and it’s just hard to make those into a captivating story.

The Odd Woman and the City

This was a particular kind of memoir--about growing up and now being an older woman who is single but hasn’t always been--of NYC, delivered as a series of vignettes, some pretty interesting and some less-so. Very nostalgia-heavy with some name dropping of people I didn’t really know. Was nice to feel like I was inhabiting a different place for a while.

Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion

My stupid software doesn’t allow me to add multiple authors, but this book is as much by Stern’s lifelong partner Leona Rostenberg. In a way it’s a dual autobiography of these two women who grew up in New York City in the early part of the last century and became scholars and writers and rare book dealers and all of them together at the same time. I enjoyed this story of friendship and seeing the formative things that happened in the lives of these women when they were young that helped chart their path decades later. Anyone with an interest in rare book dealing or early New York history or just women doing non-traditional things will enjoy this well-told tale of, for example, how Stern discovered Louisa May Alcott’s pen names and how Rosternberg got started running a rare book dealership out of a spare room in her parents' place in the Bronx. Two interesting women doing interesting things.

On Juneteenth

I knew the bare facts about this holiday but it was an entirely other thing to hear about Gordon-Reed’s experiences growing up as a black girl in Texas in a family that had been there for generations. She talks about wanting to know more about her family’s experience during the time when Texas was a weird world unto itself. Great essays about her life as a child but also where she is now as an adult.

On Whitcomb Hill

This was a gift from a writer friend about the 1840s farmhouse he purchased with his wife and thoughts about fixing it up, and the rural landscape, the people who had built the house and farmed the land. A lot going on it it and it’s hard for me to say what I might have thought about it if I didn’t know the writer but since I DID know the writer, I enjoyed getting to go along with him on this journey.

One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw

This was basically a long New Yorker essay but in every good way. Rybczynski did a lot of fun research and he shares it with us including a lot of nice drawings and some great anecdotes about the world of fasteners (no one knows who invented the buttonhole! There is only one Roman nut left in the world!)/ Fun, worth reading, well illustrated.

One Man’s Wilderness

[review pending]

One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal

I did not always agree with this book but I very much liked reading it. Dreger discusses the idea of “What is normal?” by looking at the history of conjoined twins with an eye to how society determines what is normal and how these determinations, rightly or wrongly, affect how people’s bodies can become medicalized when there may not be anything wrong with them. Dreger looks at this topic via sort of a continuum, examining not only the stories of many conjoined twins, but also other things that have historically been thought of as “deformities” including cleft palates and people born with intersex characteristics. She strongly supports the idea that people should get to choose whether they want to “fix” whatever non-traditional configuration their bodies are in but also looks at the difficult question of people who want to make these decisions for children. I found that my own opinions on the subject were challenged in a thoughtful way that made me explore them more deeply. Dreger’s own opinions are fairly strongly presented in a way that was sometimes a little off-putting but overall this book was a terrific read and fills a badly needed niche in examining a thing that many of us consider a medical issue from a more sociological perspective.

One Square Inch of Silence

Didn’t like this book. Didn’t finish it. I found that contrary to the other nature book I was reading at the time -- One Man’s Wilderness -- Hempton seemed to want the outdoors to be a specific way: quiet. While I appreciate and understand this goal, it seemed like he was perpetually fussy about any and all noises and at the same time drove a rattley VW bus around. I found his distractions at all the noises distracting to me as a reader and by the end of a few chapters was less interested in his campaign about noise and more interested in going outside myself. Neat idea, but didn’t like the book.

Opium Fiend

Enjoyed this. Got it from a friend who knows the author so I read it before I’d read much about it. I enjoy reading about drugs and expat stories are often interesting and this book was a good combination of the two. This is Martin’s own story basically about how he became an opium addict, went through detox and .... maybe still smokes a little now and then, hard to say. The book is more about his fascination with being a collector of things, in this case both opium paraphernalia and lore, and how that frenzy toward collecting drove the rest of his decision-making.

It’s tough to tell by reading just this one account if Martin’s claims about himself are true. He’s very insistent that he is one of the most knowledgeable people on the history of opium and particularly the tools of opium smoking in the entire world and maybe that’s true. He has a high opinion of himself and his observations which makes this book an interesting read but also makes me want to read more about the topic generally to get other opinions. As he slides into opium dependence, he writes well about what it’s like to not really notice that you are getting trapped by a thing until you’re already too far gone. There is also a lot of space in the middle of the book where, describing his opium smoking with other people, he reaches a level of detail that is probably fascinating if you are high, and less so if you are not. This is a familiar thing to people who are recreational drug users. The sheer amount of factual detail (plus a great bibliography) makes this book really worth a looksee. For someone who talks so much about himself, Martin does not have much of a presence online besides what can be found via his Opium Museum website.

The Other Side of the Coin

A book about the woman who dresses the queen. More interesting than you’d think, but also a look into the odd fawning environment surrounding the aristocracy. You get to see a lot of great photos of rarely seen outfits and a few behind-the-scenes shot, but it’s also super clear how tightly the Queen’s image is controlled. This is highlighted the most where, in the photo credits at the end, you learn that the cover photo is itself a composite of two other images, and that image itself never actually happened. Kelly herself is a bit of a mystery, eternally grateful for her job, but with the rest of her life pretty unknown.

Our Singular Strengths: Meditations for Librarians

Michael Gorman gets libraries. In some ways, he seems wistful that he has advanced to a management position and no longer gets to deal with patrons on the front lines so much. This thoughtful book of koans celebrating libraries and librarianship can make even the most crusty librarian feel honorable about their profession and give them food for thought. Gorman offers topics -- intellectual freedom, learning to be a librarian, the war of AACR2 -- and writes short paragraphs on them and ends each section with a final thought: I will accept no substitute for the unique value of books and reading, I will beautify my library to honor its guests, I will do what I can to make my library a compassionate place. He delights in Ranganathan and even goes so far as to offer his own New Laws of Librarianship. While I don’t always agree with Gorman, I respect the effort he made for the profession.

Our smallest towns Big Falls, Blue Eye, Bonanza, & beyond

This is a book with a simple plan: to find the smallest towns in each of the 50 states and take a photo of as many residents as can be gathered together at one time. It’s a great project and turns into an interesting book. It has an intro by Garrison Keillor as well as a few small statements from one of the people in town. Sometimes these stories are sad, or funny, but mostly they are poignant because the bulk of these towns are slowly fading away. There are a few exceptions, places mostly populated by rich people (the town in New York declined to even be photographed) but in general the stories of how these tiny towns came to exist or are slowly ceasing to exist make fascinating reading alongside Kitchen’s great photography.

The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime

Riveting! This guy works for the Atlantic and the quality of his writing is just terrific. He wrote an article on shipbreakers, the men who beach out of commission ships on Indian beaches and then take them apart using welding rigs and block and tackle systems. This book has several chapters on different similar topics of lawlessness and oceangoing vessels, from ferry wrecks to flags of convenience to the face of modern-day piratry. He explains how the moddern shipping system evolved as a lucrative business for rich people who didn’t ask too many questions about the regulations and standards of their industry as long as the money kept rolling in. This book has a lot of research including inspection of the minutia involved in trying to assign blame and legal responsibility in the case of an Estonian ferry disaster that claimed the lives of 853 people.

Outlaws, Mobsters and Murderers

Sort of a goofy remaindered book that had a lot of crime stories in sensational detail with photos. Most of them I knew about, a few were new. The mobster stuff in particular was sort of shruggo but I liked getting to leaf through this in the mornings over coffee.

Over the Next Hill: An Ethnography of RVing Seniors in North America

This book was recommended to me by someone on MetaFilter as a good book to read for people considering living in their vehicles. It’s a really great ethnographic study of people who live in their motorvehicles or who are otherwise part of the lifestyle of RVing. This ranges from people who live in 100K motorhomes to the people in pickup trucks with poptop trailers who go out bookdocking or sepnd the winters at The Slabs. I didn’t know much about the larger culture of RVers and this book has a good combination of a lot of interesting history while also having a lot of personal interviews and anecdotes by people who are actually living this way. The authors are Canadian so there’s more of a general North American look at this lifestyle [special considerations given to Canadian health care concerns for example] but I didn’t feel that this detracted at all from the useful information available to anyone living like this. Of particular interest was the descriptions of the various membership clubs available to RVers from Escapees to the Good Sam Club. The writing in this book is readabe and interesting though it’s obviously more of an academic work than just a reference tool. If you can find a copy, pick it up.

Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl

A terrific account of a naturalist working on wildlife conservation with these giant owls in a rugged part of far eastern Russia. Slaght tells a fascinating travel story, full of the complex balancing act with human and wildlife needs and wants. There’s a lot of chilly cabins, near misses, bizarre owl trivia and a few good photos.

Paper Machines

Got this book as a trade for doing some book reviewing for MIT Press which explains how I came to be reading what was basically someone’s PhD thesis on the history of card indexes (not quite card catalogs though they do show up). The author is from Vienna and it was fascinating to see an outsider’s view of Dewey, to see how some of his manias looked from outside the profession and outside the country. I learned a lot of stuff in this book, dense though it was, and grew to appreciate the author’s sense of humor, there is a lot of quirky and interesting wordplay in this book just in terms of what is a book, what is an index, what is a card, that sort of thing. I don’t read much academicky stuff lately and books like these make me think I should get back into it.

Pass the Butterworms

So happy to getting back to reading books I enjoy. This was a fun collection of essays by Tim Cahill going to weird remote parts of the country and writing about them. While the book does suffer from some datedness (talking about cannibalism is something I think most people just don’t do anymore) I enjoyed his enthusiasm for his topics and his way of making even the most horrible trips really enjoyable to read about.

Passing Strange : True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors

I really enjoyed this book about weird occurrences that have been happening in New England since there was a New England. Citro is always an enjoyable storyteller and he does his research (and thanks the library in the credits at the end) so there is always more to learn if you want to keep learning about any of these topics. It took me a while to really get going with this book since there’s a suspension of disbelief that has to happen, reading about all these odd occurrences, but once I got into the swing of these tales, I enjoyed them all and wanted more.

Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All of Us

Was expecting this book to be different but I wound up liking it a lot anyhow. Bering takes us on a historical tour of sexual deviancy. I was expecting more of a contemporary tour maybe and some talk about furries and those people who like to be smooshed and etc, but I liked what the book was. Bering uses a lot of different studies to talk not just about what people like, but how we KNOW what we like and what implications do these likes/loves/lusts have for society in general. Bering is gay and so he talks about himself a lot in an offhand way. He’s able to be open-minded and funny but not TOO funny when discussing things like pedophilia and people who are turned on by rubber boots. There’s a lot of footnoting (maybe too much?) and a good chunk of resources at the back of it. Good book, will look up other stuff by Bering.

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

This is a story about the second pirate ship ever definitively found in the world. Kurson takes us along with the search by two well known divers and wreck surveyors outlining how they (spoilers!) found the wreck of the Golden Fleece. This book is sometimes too long with extraneous detail like pages of “How fire a cannon” and sometimes too short with throwaway lines like “After this there was a business dispute and two of the men sued each other...” but the bulk of it is solidly interesting discussion of how you find a ship on the bottom of the ocean and the changing face of treasure hunting in today’s world.

A Place for Everything

I was sent this book by the publisher I believe. This was a great look at the history of alphabetical order. Not how the letters of the alphabet came to be ordered that way but more like how people started using the alphabet for ordering. A lot of fascinating stuff to learn here. At the same time, in some cases a little TOO meticulous with the research and if you’re not someone really into historical books, this may be more info than you need. Come for the facts stay for the Dewey-trashing footnote!

Plain and Simple: A Journey to the Amish

I started out really disliking this book and they way I felt the author sort of fetishized the simple living of the Amish and at the same time, once she fulfilled a dream of living with them, was super weird and judgey about their lifestyles, their “unhealthy” eating and etc. The author grew up, to my mind, over the course of this book but still seemed to be trying to quell something restless in herself by seeking external validation and guidance. I enjoyed going along on her trip with her.

Planet Funny

I wanted to read this book so badly I ILLed it and was happy I did. Why is everything so FUNNY nowadays? Jennings looks into this and the history of humor in a way that is amusing but not really “look at me” wacky. The wrap-up talks a little bit about why it needs to be this way and it was written late enough in the #MeToo movement that there are a lot of references to things like gender balance and people complaining about having to be too politically correct. I loved it all the way through and will have to pick up more of Jennings' other books.

Playing the Whore

A thoughtful collection of essays about some of the philosophies about sex work, more in how it exists in the larger society (and so, then, how we deal with cops, crime, labor, money) and less the day to day work of sex work. Gira Grant has created a great book about six work that isn’t particularly sexy or titillating. It comes from a pretty firm “This is what I think” perspective which I found useful and refreshing. It’s a short book and left me wanting to know more about what it was talking about which is always a good thing.

Please Don’t Sit on My Bed In Your Outside Clothes

I really enjoyed No You Can’t Touch My Hair and this is another great book by Robinson. Funny and unapologetic, I really enjoyed how much she OWNS her life and is willing to talk about the good and the bad parts of it. She’s got a white boyfriend, they used to travel a lot and didn’t spend too much time together then the pandemic hit and they were ALWAYS in each others' space. There’s humor, there’s snark, there’s a bit of name-dropping. A really good romp of a book.

Please God, Find Me a Husband

Grabbed this out of the Widener basement. It’s a great mix of wonderful accessible cartooning along with a storyline I understood but could not entirely empathize with. The author is in her 30s and single and really really wants to get marries. She is also quite religious. She approaches that issue and tries to figure out what to do about it. The book is very religious but not preachy if that makes sense and I really enjoyed how much the author let us in on her inner monologue of this journey. Also it does NOT wrap up with her finding a husband which I appreciated.

The poet and the murderer

A really interesting book grabbed from a booksale shelf because it looked quirky. This book starts off telling the tale of an Amherst MA librarian’s quest to buy an unpublished Emily Dickinson poem. Along the way he discovers that the poem is a forgery and not just a forgery but a creation of one of this century’s greatest forgers, Mark Hoffman, the man responsible for creating hundreds if not thousands of documents creating a false history of the Mormon church, a man now in jail for murder. Worrall does a really good job of telling the story without being too precious or twee. There is a lot of good research and interviews with key players. While I think Worrall does seem to have a bit of a distaste for the Mormon church and personal sense of “This is how it went down” that I think colors the story more than it might be with a “just the facts ma’am” approach (concerning Hoffman, Dickinson, people’s feelings about the whole situation after the fact), it remains mostly very readable and a real page turned.

Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and With (Almost) No Money

Mixed feelings about this one. It’s a reissue of a 1980’s classic in which Dolly Freed, homeschooled girl living outside of Philadelphia, talks about how she and her dad live more or less off the wage-slave grid, raising their own animals for food and growing most of their own vegetables. There’s something really captivating about it in its own way - living without a job! the good life! -- and at the same time it just seems a little weird. There is an entire chapter (later recanted by the author in this reissue) about how to “convince” people of things, mostly by going to their house late at night and scaring them. There is also an awful lot of space dedicated to how to distill your own liquor. Which, hey, to each their own and maybe I’m just a fussy prude, but with the added afterword by the author about how her father eventually drank himself pretty much to death, the book seemed framed in a fairly different way.

There is a lot of lip service given to how you just need to want to do something and you can do it when they discuss going without health insurance and how Dolly eventually got a job at NASA, but her adult self is a lot more mellow and forgiving about things. People who are interested in this particular book and Dolly Freed in particular should check out some of the meta-information that’s available about this book including this documentary short and this longer article.

The Postal Age The Emergence of Modern Communications in Nineteenth-Century America

Why is this book so good? Hankin looks at the history of how we send and receive mail with an eye towards looking at whether certain postal regulations seem to have had effects on how we communicated and even how society works. He makes a case that lowering postal rates in the 1840s dramatically changed the way we interacted and the varying way newspapers were priced affected how we got our news. He has done a ton of research and you can look into the epistolary lives of people who lived over 150 years ago. Along the way he has illustrations and a lot of amusing reports of the way society worked or failed to work and how that was interwoven with the history of the postal system in the US.

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont

VT has always patted itself on the back about its constitution that outlawed slavery but the constitution had some big loopholes, such as children still being able to be enslaved and people who came to Vermont still keeping their slaves, etc. Whitfield, a professor at UVM, scoured up the primary source documents that showed people exploiting these constitutional loopholes. Considering that there were maybe only 75-100 people of color in VT at the time,he did an amazing job ferreting the details out and comments on the documents that he was able to find. A short but important book about Vermont’s early history.

The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between American and British English

Reports that American English are ruining English English have been greatly exaggerated. This fun and informative look at the differences between the two languages (and the hows and the whys behind how they came to be thought of as so very different) is the subject of this book by American-born UK-living linguist Lynne Murphy. She does the research and looks into the claims and concludes that, hey, both languages are good and bad in different ways but it’s certainly not true that American changes to the English language are in any way the only negative influence on how people speak today.

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering

[review pending]

Put A Stamp On It

This was a fun collection of postal-adjacent stories about stamps told by a stamp collector who had been in the biz for decades. It was assembled posthumously by his son and while it’s a little rough around the edges, it’s still pretty interesting if you’re interested in stamps.

Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook

This is nominally a book about Jerome Cardano but also winds up being a bit about quantum physics because Brooks is a physicist in addition to be an author. I really enjoyed another book he wrote, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense. This book is a little more of a meander. It was great to learn about Cardano but Brooks is also in this book! Which was for a reason but it made the book a little weird, and not entirely non-fiction which is always a tough sell for me. Nonetheless I enjoyed it and learned things but might have liked it more without that conceit.

A Quick and Easy Guide to Asexuality.

A short YA graphic novel illustrated by Will Hernandez to help teens (or whoever) learn the basics about asexuality including that there are some things that vary from person to person (do ace folks feel part of the queer community? Some yes and some no). A short book that packs a lot into it and represents a lot of opinions. Worth reading.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian

Librarians will be driven crazy by this book’s cover because the cover shows someone standing on one of those noisy library stepstools, but it’s tilted which is, as we all know, impossible. This book, which I got as a proof copy from Scott, was a fun read. Scott is a public librarian in Orange County California and he tells some of his stories here. The book relates him being a library page, going to library school, moving to a new branch, watching his old branch be destroyed and, most of all, interacting with crazy people.

I emailed Scott and told him he probably needed a few synonyms for “crazy” because he used it so much. The crazy people in his stories are both patrons and staff and in fact I found his portrayals of the weird tics of library staffers to be even more true-to-life seeming than the patron stories which sometimes seemed embellished for effect. This book is amusing but it’s not just the library world played for laughs. Scott includes a lot of (too many) footnotes with interesting asides and even includes little research dossiers on particlar topics that will inteerst the librarian reader. You can go pre-order the book now from all the usual places and I suggest that you do.

Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator

This was a great graphic novel about a first-time New York state legislator, Julia Salazar, doing a lot of coalition building and organizing, trying to pass a number of important rental housing reforms. A lot of “how the sausage gets made” information about how bills get passed in NY state and some other specific stuff about this legislator. I enjoyed the story though within the exposition there was a little bit of tell-don’t-show--i.e. characters doing a lot of explaining through repetitive talk bubbles--which seemed odd for a graphic novel.

Raising Demons

[review pending]


This book seemed like it would not be poppy, but in the end it was poppy. There was a lot of good information in it, but I had the sense that Sullivan’s reach was exceeding his grasp. The premise is straightforward: author spends time in a NYC alleyway to study rats. And then, in that good trusty NPR format, he waxes poetic about things like Thoreau, the history of New York and the idea of scavengers generally. I enjoyed the book but I found that the diversions seemed to be trying to hard and the vocabulary was a bit too rich for what was essentially a fun, not particularly revealing experiment (rats live in alleys, eat garbage, act like rats). I think I would have liked this book better if it was longer, and had more rat information and less pontificating by the author. A lot of the conclusions he was drawing “many of us have never seen a rat up close before” didn’tring at all true to country bumpkin old me who has had to trap them in her own house. Light reading for yuppies.

Reading the Forested Landscape

I am not great at tree identification. I mentioned this to a friend. She suggested this book which is so much more than just tree id-ing, it’s more like “Can you tell what went on in this forest before you got here?” puzzles which come with a lot of explanations about forest ecology. You see a picture of a part of a forest and then that chapter is about what you can learn from the picture. You learn about things like blowdowns and pest invasions, fire damage and beaver signs. I’m not sure my tree ID will be any better but I feel like I know the forest better.

Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975

A look at the rise and fall of underground comics during the late 60s thru early 70s. Well-illustrated. Not sure if this is narrrowbanded to cishet men intentionally or if that’s just who wound up in it (so many penises!), but I missed diverse voices. There are a lot of great illustrations but even though this book is large format, many of them are still reproduced too small to read well.

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

A great creepy book about the global issues surrounding buying and selling human body parts from eggs to hair to blood to kidneys to children. Carney looks at different sketchy situation and often manages to get people talking on the record about the quasi-legal businesses that they are engaging in. Carney talks about the various kinds of legislation that have been enacted and how most of them haven’t been effective or, worse, drive the undesireable behavior underground. I learned a lot about the different markets for ... human stuff and would like to read more of Carney’s writing.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

A great fun book about growing up foodie. I enjoyed Lucy’s tales of her childhood and travels and her formative food experiences. Some neat recipes, some neat stories, all wonderfully illustrated in a fun slim volume that gave me an enjoyable evening’s read.

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea

This was a super harrowing book about just how lousy it is to live in North Korea, by one man who finally escaped, but was not able to get his family out. It is grim, grim, grim, but told in a narrative fashion so you get a real idea of what the day to day life is like for both urban and rural North Koreans.

The Road From Coorain

A fascinating story about growing up in the bush which is made more interesting by the fact that you know how the story ends (Ker-Conway winds up in the US and becomes a very successful and respected educator) without knowing how she gets there. She writes very evocatively about her driven father, her neurotic mother and the choices she made and did not make that led to her eventually going to the US. I enjoyed this book more than I thought I would.

The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure

It’s a little tough to read anything that has bad news in it since in These Weird Times I sort of can’t handle bad news. That said I enjoy the way Petroski can be sort of straightforward about talking about things like the US’s crumbling infrastructure (roads and bridges mainly) and have some ideas of what we can do about it. I learned a lot of good road and highway history and trivia from this book which is a little more readable than some of his straight engineering titles.

Robbing the Bees

One of the many delightful books about honey that I’ve read over the past decade or so. This is more of a hobbyist approach -- a woman who has started beekeeping spends a year on and off with a serious professional beekeeper. It has the tone of The Orchid Thief. Well-off woman from up north comes down to Florida and finds everything remarkable including every odd little habit of the older man she’s hanging out with. Bishop does manage to tell us something about herself, the trials she went through in her early beekeeping days, which are actually quite interesting.

Her description of the noble beekeeper borders on the hagiographic sometimes and she’s clearly put her education to good use with her rich and full and sometimes tiresome use of adjectives. Most of them I began to gloss over after a while, but as she was describing her beekeeper friend cooking up some freshly caught fish as a piscine delight (or something similar) I just started to go “Ugh!” The rest of the book is really worth it if you like bees at all. A lot of good history and some fun images and stories. Maybe a little too much idle pontificating. This book is at its best when it’s telling you facts, somewhat less when it’s telling you stories.

The Rock Says...

Enjoyed this goofy tour through the first part of The Rock’s career, before he had really become a wrestler/actor/celebrity and when he was just mostly a wrestler. I had not known he was a third generation wrestler and I loved hearing stories about how he got to where he was, his time playing pro and not-so-pro football and about the backstory behind a lot of bigtime wrestling. Some of the latter part of this book is written as if it’s from The Rock (i.e. the character’s) viewpoint and I found that a little less interesting but over all this was more fun than I thought it would be.

Ruined by Design: How Designers Destroyed the World, and What We Can Do to Fix It

This book is fierce. It starts off explaining what is wrong with the way a lot of the web, particularly the social web, is designed nowadays and winds up arguing for more regulation (or professional standards) for the design industry. I always enjoy people who are good at taking apart just WHY something is bad, especially if they do it with love and/or caring which indicates that they’re not just cranky oldsters. Monteiro has been a voice in the online community of designers since... ever? And he’s mad. Which is not new, but him channeling that anger into explaining to newer designers exactly how their moral compass should operate is a new angle from my perspective. Shove this into the hands of any UX person you know. It’s so good.

Rumrunners and Revenuers: Prohibition in Vermont

Loved this short book of facts and information and first person interviews about the brief period of Prohibition and how it affected Vermonters, particularly those who lived along the Canadian border. Wheeler has put together a terrific collection of stories and photos that outline the many different ways people in Vermont responded to the illegalization of liquor. He talks with rumrunners, revenuers (the people responsible for helping enforce the law) and other people involved in various ways in the liquor business in various odd ways. A fun read, and very informative especially in the discussions with people who lived through it and have great stories to tell.

Run: Book One

Another graphic novel about the life of John Lewis, taking place after the events in March. This is Book 1. I assume there will be more based on the title but since Lewis died I am less clear on that and it was not mentioned in the afterword. This book talks about the South after the Voting Rights Act passed (and how little changed) and Lewis’s ouster from SNCC which changed his life dramatically.

Satchel Paige, Striking Out Jim Crow

Big fan of Sturm and this is a good graphic novel, but it’s mostly NOT about Paige but rather racism in the Jim Crow South. Worthwhile topic! But not what I was expecting. I was really looking for more of a baseball book and this was definitely not it. I had questions about the appropriateness of the AAVE dialog that were not really answered by me reading more about the book.

Saturday Night Live FAQ

Liked this book but it’s worth mentioning that it’s part of a series called the FAQ series and doesn’t contain an actual FAQ to the series per se. That said it has a lot of interesting facts and draws on a lot of primary source material to tell you probably more about the show than you knew already. Weirdly, for such a well-researched book, the book has a lot of TYPOS in it. I’m not sure why this bugs me so much but in a real compendium-type publication like this, you’d expect better. Definitely worth a read for people who are interested in the early days of SNL, or the list of people who have said “fuck” on the air.

Save It For Later

Powell is the illustrator who made March, about John Lewis’s personal activism arc. This is a series of graphic essays about Powell’s own inspection of what being a parent, and a white person, means during a time when the American flag, police and even elected officials can be... wrong. He discusses his own feelings and how he and his spouse decide to talk to their daughters about political events of 2016 til about 2021. Very poignant and well-told, and not unhopeful.

The Scalpel and the Soul

Really enjoyed this book since I like reading about medicine but it was sort of all over the place. The doctor is a guy who went to medical school, went off to the war, came back to be a surgeon and then retired from active surgery to help doctors make fewer medical mistakes. If you read a lot of medical books you’ll recognize some fo the traditional marks of arrogance which are explained and somewhat apologized for but still seem somewhat jarring out of context [referring to child burn patients as “it” instead of by their gender, a seeming lack of empathy for patient deaths, a bit of self-absorption] and this is balanced somewhat by the author’s reflection and contemplation of the more spiritual side of medicine. Now, I temd to bristle when I feel that someone is requiring me to accept woo-woo approaches to things that science can explain but the doc in this case is talking about things that science deosn’t explain, or doesn’t explain well. There’s not a lot of “let’s looks into what could have been happening, scientifically...” here but a lot of connected stories that the author reflects on. I enjoyed the book with some reservations.

A Schoolteacher in Old Alaska: The Story of Hannah Breece

What a fascinating book. This book was well off the beaten path of what I usually pick up and I don’t even remember how I got it. It’s a story told by the grandchildren (or other relations, I don’t think she had kids) of the woman portrayed about how she went north to Alaska to help with the education efforts there. Alaska in her day was a near total wilderness and the US Government was involved in trying to Christianize and Americanize the native people living there. Accordingly they send schoolteachers to this not-yet-state territory to set up establishments and generally keep an eye on things. Hannah Breece was a spirited woman, up to the challenge, whose story is told through letters and research done after the fact by Jane Jacobs who followed some of her paths through Alaska years later. It’s illustrated with several great old photographs including a few taken by Breece herself.

Science’s Most Wanted

This book is sort of a science Book of Lists, lite. I’ll say right off that I don’t know that much about science, so there was a lot of good information in these pithy lists of poisonous plants, noted feuds and invasive animals. However, if read from start to finish, this book gives you the same names over and over again. It’s clear that the standard reference works that created this reference work were heavier in, say European scientists and stronger in chem and bio then, say, technology. The book skews pretty heavily in that direction which is only a shame because I suspect that the real world if science, which includes western and non-western people and dates that fall outside the 1600’s-now realm. The authors have done a great job making sure that women are equally represented, I’d just lilke to see that same careful selection applied to non-European science.

Science: Ruining Everything Since 1543

Another collection of stuff I’d only known about from the web. Weinersmith is a very prolific comics guy and I’d seen a lot of his stuff online. This is a collection of the science-only stuff he’s done. Enjoyable! Some of it makes more sense if you know him and where he comes from, I was a little confused because I actually didn’t know what SMBC (Saturday morning breakfast cereal) stood for. And as far as “comics turned into books” the repro is really good but some of the other design elements (page numbers, whatever) could have been more part of the design. I’m sure some of that stuff is costly though and this book is not just funny and a great gift for any scientist but it’s also super AFFORDABLE which is excellent.

Scientific Conversations

A neat but weird collection of interviews with scientific people. Some of these are people you have heard of and many are not. It’s mostly dudes. I was interested to learn Dreifus’s techniques which she talks about in the beginning, and also interested to read her often brief follow-ups with her subjects. The book still holds up 16 years later though as more of a “wow, we thought that then” and less as an idea of what is true in science right now. I would love to read an updated version of this with the subjects who were still available.

Scratching the Surface

Don’t remember where I got this from but one day I was out of things to read and the cover looked interesting. And this book is great! Greenwald travels to a lot of places, in this case primarily Southeast Asia. The stories of him looking for the sort of story behind the story are always interesting as are his little intros to each of these previously published pieces talking about who he wrote it for and why. Nearly every article had me going to Wikipedia to learn more about the topic he was discussing.


Sometimes I just want folksy just-so Vermonter stories. This one had a sekrit love letter essay to my town’s music hall tucked in the middle. Rusty does an old-timey Vermonter voice in a way that helps you sympathize with perspectives you might disagree with.

A Season on the Wind

A great book about birds to read when you’re outside on the porch looking at birds. I liked this book even though it didn’t cohere quite as much as his other book. It’s about migration but also about the love of bird watching and what bird advocacy looks like (there’s a subthread of activism against wind farms that are threatening a spring migration path). Kaufman just seems like a guy who loves birds and loves life and while there was a little too much bird description in this book for me (minor gripe but I skimmed some sections) his love of the whole bird thing is infectious.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength

This is a different tour through Bechdel’s life than some of her recent titles, it talks about her preoccupation with fitness through her whole life (before it was really a thing) and reflects on what that might have been, or is, about. She goes to a lot of discursive places some of which were more interesting than the others but to me what was so interesting is that I really didn’t know she was sporty at all. And as someone who had an upringing that was like hers in some ways and very unlike hers in other ways, I am always curious to read more meoir-style stuff from her.

Sensory: Life on the Spectrum

This is a collection of comics about being autistic. Like any collection, it’s a bit uneven--segments range from advice for allistic folks, to journeys of self-discovery, to metaphors about the autistic experience--but also engaging and informative. I’m someone who has always had some “spectrum-ish” traits and it was interesting for me to see a lot of different autistic people’s perspectives on some of those traits. This book was originally published out of a Kickstarter campaign and then found a major publisher. I learned stuff from reading it and you probably will too.

Sex Magazines in the Library Collection

This book describes itself as a monographic supplement to the Serials Librarian magazne, but it looked like a book to me. I’ve been intrigued by some of the titles I’ve been seeing lately about librarians and sex, my favorite being “For Sex, See the Librarian” [about censorship, I believe]. This book is a collection of fairly scholarly papers dealing with how libraries deal with sex periodicals. The papers are easy to read survey types with no information that will knock anyone out, but some humorous parts. Most of the focus is on magazines such as Playboy, Penthouse and Oui, but some of the writers explore more hardcore literature

The book wraps up with a long listing of sexually useful [as opposed to either LC or DDC’s sexually backward] subject headings. Sandy Berman is always a delight and I think I would even enjoy reading his shopping lists. This article is no exception titled “If There Were a Sex Index” he does an index -- with his own subject headings, natch -- of twelve sex magazines, ranging from the scholarly to the hardcore. The nomenclature becomes extra funny because, of course, all the headings are written in all caps, making all the smutty words seem like they are being shouted at you: GAY SOCIALISTS, SEX ON ROLLER COASTERS, SUCKING OFF See FELLATIO. You can see how amusing this is.

The Shaker Image

There’s something about the Shakers that inspires almost an insta-nostalgia for me, some sort of road not taken. I grew up near Harvard MA, the site of one of the Shaker communities and remember learning about them when I was little. I’m not much into organized religion but I love their furniture and believe, sort of like they did, that there is attainable perfection in design. This book is full of photos of Shaker communities with stories about the people in them. The Shakers used to pretty much keeps themselves entirely separate from “the World” and at some point they decided to shift this approach somewhat. These photos are in some sense promotional materials and in some other sense sort of a glimpse into a world most of us know very little about. The research that has gone into this volume, from Pearson and his two co-authors, is impressive.

The Single Girl’s Manifesta: Living in a Stupendously Superior Single State of Mind

This will likely be the last book I read about how to be awesomely single. Since I’m newly single, I was sort of curious if the world of “single and loving it” had changed significantly since the last time I’d checked in. The answer is mostly not. The author of this book is a previously-married single gal in her mid-forties. She has a lot of energy and seems to be one of those people who the adjective vivacious fits to a T. She’s been single since her marriage broke up and enjoys it, a lot. She has plenty of advice which is a combination of “You go girl” tips to stay in the game as well as ways to be comfortable with yourself out of the construct of being a couple. She includes lots of anecdotes about other middle-aged singles and keeps a steady upbeat attitude throughout. You really can’t help but like her.

However, there were a few things that I didn’t like about the book. First off, the book is pink, shockingly pink. While I’ll be the first to admit that the girly girl approach to topics like this (lots of chocolate and shopping suggestions on how to ease the worried mind) isn’t my first take, this book was so pink it was hard to read. The chatty tone is great, but there are stretches where you actually want to settle in and read. However, the main text is so consistently split up by sidebars, tips, helpful hints and other ancillary content that it’s hard to start reading and stay reading. After all, the book is a handbook, not a novel. Lastly, Stewart is clearly a fun interesting woman with a stable fulfilling well-paying career. She also reveals in the book that she has a regular lover who is available to her pretty much whenever she picks up the phone. I’m sure many women in her situation would also have no qualms about being single, which sometimes makes her advice less than helpful. This is a great inspirational book for the fun-loving urban single woman who is not concerned about her own looks, status or future, others might not get as much out of it.

The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America

I really liked how this book was a combination of facts, anecdotes and general groupings of narratives to talk about the ways black women as a group are treated and mistreated in American society. I read it with interest and learned some things.

Sitting Pretty

Rebekah Taussig has put together a great book about growing up as someone using a wheelchair & how she experiences the world, going from her super-supportive family to a not-very-supportive world it’s a great explication of the social model of disability

The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases

This book should have been awesome. It’s got everything I like. Weird unsolved crimes, online communities, researching obscure topics. And yet it was a weird herky-jerky read where I had a hard time keeping track of what was being discussed or where in the narrative I was. And I’m not sure why it was that way. Halber is clearly a good writer and really into her topics, but this book was a weird mess that was all over the place. You’d get almost no information on one random case and suddenly you were learning about another one, then the first one would wrap up, then you were in Las Vegas. I suspect there may have been a few chapters that were magazine length essays that had to be mushed together info a longer book and it didn’t have a final edit for continuity. Anyhow: interesting topic, poor execution. Left me wanting to read a better book on an identical topic.

Slightly Chipped: Footnotes in Booklore

Sort of a goofy book by two rare book lovers and collectors with a bunch of anecdotes about the book scene that are fun. It’s a little precious and it’s written in the first person plural which is super weird but I could get over it. I learned some fun trivia and anecdotes and got a little wistful since this is clearly talking about a booksale era that is much changed since people started going online both for purchasing as well as selling and pricing books.

Small Things Considered

The short thesis of this book is that there is no perfect design because everyone expects different things out of a product, whether it’s ease of use, cpst of building or ease of mass-producing. Petroski explains this for 300 pages or so with anecdotes ranging from his own reflections in his water glass to the history of the paper bag. Unlike other books of his which are often heavy research without as much reflection, this book almost swings too far the other way and has a lot of his ruminations on the design of everyday things. While this is interesting, sometimes it veers into what seems to be petty personal issues with design which are less interesting to me personally than, say, the actual history of the cup holder.

So it goes back and forth, sometimes tending towards deep explanations of everyday things and sometimes just personal observations. I didn’t feel this book was one of his strongest unless you really want to get to know Petroski the man, but it’s still full of weird little facts that you really wouldn’t find otherwise.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Got this book from the library. In the back there is a little review form that other people can leave mini-reviews on. This one rated the book 2 out of 5 (for “limited audience") and then added "But interesting” I am this book’s limited audience. Doughty is a woman who grew up in Hawai’i and always had a fascination with death. Not just death itself but the way society deals with it. She decided when she got older that she would try to get a job in the “death industry” and starts working for a creamtory in Oakland and then eventually towards the end of the book goes to mortuary school. This book talks about all of that and does not pull any punches. However at the same time, she doesn’t make light of everything and it doesn’t have the jokey-jokey feel of Mary Roach’s Stiff which I really disliked. Caitlin is thoughtful and reflective about her choices and the choices of others even when she’s dealing with people who are difficult or who she disagrees with. I was very happy to get to read along with her journey here and it’s well stated.

So You Want to Talk About Race

I found this book so helpful! I am one of those white women with a black friend or three who is trying to do the right thing but doesn’t always want to bother everyone with a zillion questions. This book answers some of those questions in a way that is friendly yet also firm (so not like “Oh it’s totally okay that you didn’t know this!” but a little “But it’s good that you know this stuff now") I’ve tried to do basic stuff like not be racist, but it’s more difficult to know if you are doing the right thing when you are, for example, trying to be anti-racist and this book is broken down into chapters basically talking about how to do things--help your friends deal with microaggressions, deal with street harassment, deal with being good listeners--better. Oluo is a blogger turned book author who writes in a way that is engaging and familiar without being like "Hey I am your best friend” I’ve passed this book along to a lot of people.

Solo: Life With An Electric Car

Dartmouth professor Noel Perrin got an electric car intending to drive cross-country in it, in 1991. This was as a result of a student chiding him somewhat for being an environmentalist who still drove a car to work that relied on fossil fuels. This is that story. It’s amusing, fact-filled and a great peek into what we thought electric cars were going to do for us back in the 90s and just how hard it was to learn about them, maintain them, or even find ways to buy them.

Perrin isn’t an environmental purist, though he does have a few tics that get annoying after a while of reading (he refers to suburban mall environments as eczema as if this is clever, he also maintains two households and does not live with his wife which is another carbon footprint aspect that goes unaddressed) and ultimately he does not drive his electric car across the country for reasons he explains at length. I enjoyed this book as well as his previous books about his rural life.

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction

Randomly picked this up at a library booksale. It’s fascinating to read this long and thorough analysis of both the birth of ecology and also the growing concerns about extinctions written for an age where if you didn’t go to Madagascar to see Tenerecs, you might not ever get to see them. Quammen travels to may remote locations in order to get a peek at niche populations of various animals and along the way gives you a primer on how we know what we know about evolution, biology, extinction and finally island biogeography or how animals evolve and/or go extinct in tightly bounded populations which can be islands or it can be isolated stands of rainforest if you happen to be an animal that gets around by going from tree to tree.

This was a hard book to keep going with. I must have started it six weeks ago. It has a lot of interesting (to me) expositions of different animal situations and Quammen going to inspect local populations and then less interesting (to me) discussions of the general field of evolutionary biology and various infighting and a lot of personality stuff that I was less interested in. Also I would get distracted looking up these animals on the internet to see what had happened to them in the last 15 years. Now that I’m done reading it, I may try to see if there is a companion site so I can see what happened to all of those animals. This is one of the best books I have read this decade. Quammen is an amazing writer and researcher as well as having a wry sense of humor that occasionally (but not too often) finds its way into the pages.

Spag: An American Business Legend

This book was a gift from my SO who also grew up going to Spag’s as a kid. This book is written by Spag’s sister. I expected a puff piece hagiography with this book . But it was good! I shopped in this store as a kid, and as a teen, and I loved being there again. The one super weird aspect of this book was that they talked and talked about how much Spag loved his family, his mother, his wife, etc, but barely mentioned his three daughters who wound up inheriting the store. I’d really love to hear their take on this story.

Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet

This book from Bruton is great, meticulously researched and lovingly recounted it talks about not just where spam came from, but what it actually IS and how people have, over the entire time the internet has been around/alive, tried to deal with it. Brunton did a lot of work gathering disparate sources and looking at more than just the big headline stories. He also clearly enjoys this topic and knowing a lot about it. That comes through in the writing. This book is actually fun to read as a story and not just as a way to learn facts about how things work. It’s delightful and I’m very happy to have picked it up.

The Speckled Monster

This book has been on my “to read” shelf for the better part of the last five years. I finally got around to reading it. I liked it. Loved parts, hated others. This book is the story of how we finally figured out that giving people small amounts of smallpox will ensure they don’t get the terrible forms of smallpox. It traces the discovery of innoculation through Turkey, London and Boston and looks at the people who promoted it while smallpox raged through the land. The author has done a ton of research for this book. Possibly too much.

While the book has a lot of great information that comes from primary sources, the author lets us know in the beginning that she has invented conversations where they assist the story, and there’s an attention to details [especially royal lineage and the names of pubs and meeting places in Boston] that really don’t add to the main storyline at all. If you like this sort of thing, you will enjoy this book. I felt that it detracted from the general plotline and made the book a little overlong.


This is a very good but also hard to read story about Walden’s younger years as a competitive figure and synchronized skater, while also experiencing being a lesbian in Texas with a not-particularly-supportive family. She gets comfort from unlikely places. Walden has said that she wanted this book to be more about a feeling than a specific history if this time in her life. I felt a lot of it was familiar (weird uncaring parents, peers who could be truly awful) in ways that weren’t always confortable but which felt really true and honest.

Spix’s Macaw

[review pending]

Spying on Whales

A great book by a Smithsonian whale scientist stringing together a lot of sciencey anecdotes outlining how we know what we know about different kinds of whales, and how that’s changed over time. Some truly fascinating stuff with a cool bonus of some really interesting linocut illustrations which work well in service of this well-written book. A warning for whale-lovers: not all of the chapters involve conservation and respect for US-style whale protection. While the author definitely discusses these issues, there are also some graphic chapters about whaling and whale processing in the countries where that sort of thing is still legal.

The Squash: History, Folklore, Ancient Recipes

A classic book that mixes squash folklore with modern and old (and sometimes ancient) recipes for cooking with squash. A very European book so it includes wine pairings along with many of the meals but it’s a little hit or miss with some of the recipes having lovely photos and some just having generic squash pictures. I even found one recipe where they had forgotten to include the squash as an ingredient! Measurements are European and not that tough to translate but many baked goods rely on “crushed macaroons” for example. Very enjoyable to read as well as just to thumb through.

Stamping Our History: The Story of the United States Portrayed on Its Postage Stamps

Sort of a neat coffee table book looking at the history of the United States through looking at some beat old postage stamps. As with a lot of history stuff, this does skew towards “The history of white people in America” which maybe can’t be helped. I did really enjoy some of the interesting anecdotes and the incredibly beautiful photos of the stamps discussed.

Stargazer: The Life and Times of the Telescope

This book had been on my shelf for a long time, picked up at a library booksale somewhere in Michigan. It’s basically a history of telescope technology as told by a telescope nerd. Well-illustrated. A bit on the dry side but no more than I was expecting. And he really tries to acknowledge the history of women, usually as doting sisters to astronomers who didnt get enough credit at the time, and I appreciated that. I learned things about the night sky and I enjoyed learning about old astronomer drama.

Stealing Lincoln’s Body

Craughwell is definitely an amazing researcher. This book takes what is essentially a fairly short set of anecdotes and fills it in with enough detail that it becomes a full length book. How you feel about this depends on how much you enjoy reading lists of details. The outline of the story is fascinating. A few counterfeiters, grumpy about one of theirs being carted off to jail, devises a crazy plan to steal Lincoln’s body and hold it for ransom. The plot fails. A group is formed to protect the dead president’s body moving forward.

The book includes a lot of great details about why counterfeiting was such a big deal and about the reactions of the Lincoln family, but it also includes sometimes excruciating detail about the various events. How much money each of the counterfeiters had made during their various arrests, the location of different buildings and the travels of all of the involved people, where they were at what time. It’s cool that this information can be known, again Craughwell was a great researchers, but I question whether all of this needed to be in the book. I was 70 pages into this 200 page book before I even figured out what counterfeiting had to do with the theft of the President’s body. So, a good book for people really involved and interested in this topic. Maybe a little overlong for everyone else.

The Stranger in the Woods The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

This was a book I received an ARC of from Netgalley. I read a lot about this story when it was in the papers. In fact I read every story I could find. The “North Pond Hermit” as Christopher Knight was known, was a solitary man who was living alone in the woods for decades. He had a little camp set up that was totally invisible to the outside world and he sustained himself by stealing from nearby seasonal cabins in northern Maine. Big news when he was finally found, captured and brought to justice. But what happened next?

Finkel tells the story and does a good job giving you details of Knight’s life both in the woods and out of the woods, without pretending like he had more access to Knight than he really did. They exchanged some letters and had a few face to face visits, but Knight was an extremely private person and did not really encourage or seem to enjoy these visits. Finkel winds up in the awkward journalistic situation of trying to create a relationship with a person who doesn’t want one. I appreciated that Finkel didn’t embellish, didn’t make it seem like they were friends, and didn’t try to tie this all up with a bow at the end. Along the way there are a lot of good anecdotes about hermits but not enough to make you tired out by all the not-the-main-story stories.

Struck by Genius

Continuing in the “people with weird head issues” theme, this is a book about Jason Padgett who received a terrible beating and became a different person. Specifically, a different person who was really good at math and drawing mathematical concepts. i had a hard time with this book only because I’ve known people with mental illnesses (not brought on by head trauma) that mirrored a lot of the claims that Padgett is making. I can see why he is considered a savant and it really does seem true that some of his claims about his increased math skills are true. it also seems that some of them are ... possibly delusional and I wasn’t relieved of this skepticism by reading the book. I’m happy that Padgett’s life has turned around a lot after the first horrible years as a virtual hermit after his injury. At the same time it was difficult to read about his other untreated issues such as his OCD and chronic pain troubles. A good book but difficult to read.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

This book was fine. Blogger turned “entrepreneur” who seemed like he’d read Tim Ferris' Four Hour Work Week wound up writing a book that had enough going for it that it became a best seller. Go dude! It’s a fine book, not that eye-opening to people who have been down the self-help path before, but he’s got a really friendly manner and a very casual attitude that will resonate well with some people.

Sugar in the Raw

Part of my “make an effort” prgram this year. This collection of essays by young (11-20-ish) black girls in America was a good read. Lots of different perspectives, some that I could get my head around and some that I couldn’t. I tried to silence my inner “Huh?” voice and just listen to what these girls had to say, about being girls growing into women, about America versus other countries, about whether they had white friends, how they got along in school, etc. Eye-opening and well-curated by Carroll, this book is well worth a read, especially if you think it’s maybe not for you.


Mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand I really like the anti-conventional wisdom sorts of looks at stuff I don’t know much about, with people telling me how to get data and how to interpret it. On the other hand, unlike the first book, this book is smug. The authors are too assured, too disdainful of their subjects and people’s alternate theories. They seem to believe that because there is a model that suggests or supports their interpretation of events, that it is corrct, that there is no other model. I found this book a little too jokey and a better jumping off point for REALLY learning about these topics from some other source that didn’t seem quite so invested in one particular outcome. As usual, these guys are smart and interesting and the book is well-written. Unlike last time, they sort of seem to know it this time and view themselves and the book as product in a way that seemed, to me, as a little too self-aware and the book suffered for it.

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Body and Mind at the Limits of Human Endurance

A book by a doctor who has gone to some extreme places doing medicine (mostly for Americans who venture places they maybe shouldn’t go) talking about how your body does, or does not, deal with extreme conditions. These conditions include on top of Everest, in space, up the Amazon, in a desert, lost at sea, you get the idea. He usually tries to mix firsthand impressions, his own and others', with a medical description of just what is going on inside your body. I enjoyed it. It’s not for everyone. There are some pretty grievous injuries and bad things happen to people and some of them die. But if you’re curious to look into how this stuff works, he’s got a good explanation.

Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England

This is an exceptional book that I was enjoying so much I brought it on vacation with me and had to mail it back to the library! A great peek into the history and restoration of Vermont’s (and Northern New England’s) painted theater curtains looking at who made them and why and how many of them got restores. So great, so loving, wonderful photography and a lot of nice side stories. This was a joy to read.

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

I love sugar but this book was a bit of a slog. It was interesting to look at the history of sugar and plantations and slavery and the increasing demand for sugar. It was a lot less interesting to read long pull quotes from ancient texts supporting the general thesis as well as recitations of various references that backed up the assertions of the author. For a book written in the 1980s it dealt with the issue of enslaved people and what their lives were like with more sensitivity than I expected.

Swimming to Antarctica

This is mostly not a book about swimming to Antarctica though that story is the culminating one in this book. This is mostly about Lynne Cox, a notable distance and cold water swimmer, describing what motivates her and some of her better-known swims. I had wanted to read this book ever since reading the article she wrote for the New Yorker, but I sort of wish I had stopped there. Being a good swimmer doesn’t necessarily make you a good writer. While I found most of these stories interesting, Cox has an almost Asperger’s-like way of telling these stories, always telling you what her core body temperature was and what she ate and drank before each swim and repeating these detals almost verbatim each time. The author she reminds me the most of is Temple Grandin. Also, depite having a team of doctors on her team with her, she talks a lot about her own folk remedy ideas like how maple syrup is good to drink before a swim because maple trees “use sap as energy” and I found this a little odd after a while.

I was sort of hoping I might learn more about Lynne the person and how she balanced living a real life along with all this high-intensity training and exercising but it seems like the answer is: she doesn’t. She has a small website without much personal information, she apparently lives at home or near her parents. She went on a corporate speaking tour where she commands fees in the five figures range. She doesh’t have a significant other of note. She has a dog. So, as a swimming book, for people who want to know what it’s like to do cold water swimming in open water, this book is great. If you want to get at the personalities or the science behind some of this -- besides the pretty basic “how to avoid hypthermia” -- you’ll have to go elsewhere.

Swimming with the Piranhas at Feeding Time

Totally enjoyed this collection of stories about the natural world (animals bugs and birds) but longtime nature writer Richard Coniff. While I would have appreciated a bibliography at the end--ever the librarian--these fun romps to various parts of the globe to learn things and do weird things and report back was a totally enjoyable read that I picked up on one of those hotel bookshelves when I had already finished my traveling book. Was very happy I picked it up. Learned important things about hummingbirds and piranhas and ants and leopards.

Take the Cannoli

Why haven’t I read more Sarah Vowell before now? Just means I have to make up for lost time. This book of essays was more readable & personal-feeling than Wordy Shipmates, so I liked it a bit more. She talks about her relationship with her gun nut dad and her twin sister, among other stories. RIP David Rakoff it was sweet to see you in here.

A Tale of Seven Elements

Wanted to like this book nut ultimately it was too chemistry-ish for me and seemed like it could have used some more editing (one story in the preface was repeated almost verbatim later in the book and it was not a short story). The stories themselves are interesting, learning how the periodic table has changed over time and arguments about naming and etc, but the author is a real chemistry nerd and I didn’t find his writing approachable enough to be able to keep moving through it.

The Talk

Bell grew up with a White mom who was always getting mad at people who were racist to her son, storming in to the school to yell at people, for example. His folks were divorced and Bell also had a Black dad who didn’t really talk to him about racism. He experienced a lot of shitty treatment from classmates, cops, and authority figures and discusses how he grew up learning to stick up for himself but also trying to determine what the “right” way was to deal with racism and awful people, how that affected his professional and personal life, and how he talked to his own kids.


A short book that grew out of a Humans of New York story about an older Black woman who used to be a very popular burlesque dancer (among other things) in New York City in the 1970s and talks extremely frankly about (some of) her experiences in that world. It has some neat illustrations, but they didn’t all match--some were illustrations of places in the book, some were actual photos of the people in the book--and the book had an oddly large font that made it seem less of a real book than it might have been otherwise. My friends who follow HONY on Instagram were already aware of this story which was serialized there and starting from that point might have made this narrative make sense. For a book that started out as a sort of “tell all” there were a few reveals at the end of things that didn’t make it into the book that were surprising to hear were left out.

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech

SO MUCH NODDING. Sara has taken a topic that is near and dear to my heart and turned it into a well-researched explanation of why diversity matters, how algos are sexist and why anyone should care about any of this. She’s funny, personable and each chapter is a well crafted precis on a single topic looking closer at things like “the pipeline” or how an artificial intelligence could possibly be sexist. So good.

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America

So poignant, this book about why we look at oral health as a separate thing from medical health and how that division (and where it may have come from) has seriously impacted America’s poor. Otto does a great job weaving a narrative out of something that is fairly difficult to read about, lots of people with very bad teeth and winds up both castigating the people who work against good oral health while at the same time trying to give optimistic suggestions for how we can get out of this mess. So much more interesting than I thought it was going to be.

Tell Me Where It Hurts

Is it weird to have a predilection for veteriniarian non-fiction? This is one of those “Hi, I’m a vet, let me tell you about my day” books and as those books go, it’s pretty good. The author works at a veterinary hospital in the Boston area and tells the tale of one long day at work. This is a little strange because, as he admits, he basically makes up a day by smooshing a bunch of stories into one 24 hour period. My guess is that his usual days on the job may be a little more prosaic. This day is full of complicated medical diagnoses, surgery judgment calls and a lot of interactions with animals (mainly dogs but there are a few cays and one turtle) and their owners. Trout is British which may explain a bit of his wisecracking style which I found a little off-putting but not too terrible. The book is filled with anecdotes about the veterinary profession which were just about as interesting as the animal stories themselves.

The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

I really like reading about people with non-traditional approaches to exercise. Inman was a fat kid and lives in some sort of crazy fear of becoming a huge blerching mess again. Running a lot lets him eat what he wants ( a truly terrible assortment of food if he is to be believed) and this is how he wants it. He has advice which may or may not work for you and a lot of funny anecdotes and images to go along with them. If you have a complicated relationship with exercise, you will like this.

Thank you and OK

Could not finish this book. Tried for a long time. Its a story about a guy who basically is having a hard time sorting out his life and winds up, through a series of sort of vague non-intention, in Japan at a monastery. Which ... ok. I guess I couldn’t really identify with him and identified a lot more with all the people around him who were put out by his vaguing around. Maybe a good book for someone else, not so much for me,

There is No Right Way to Meditate

This is a short and sweet graphic novel that talks about various ways people can meditate or even think about meditation. I’ve had a regular (albeit short) practice for the past eight years or so and this book’s advice and positive suggestions rang true to my experience. Good for someone who is thinking about starting a practice but also maybe concerned they will do it wrong.

They Called Us Enemy

George Takei (rhymes with OK) tells the story of the years he spent in an internment camp as a child. Well told, beautifully illustrated, tied in nicely with current govt. malfeasance. Tough read, good read. It doesn’t have so much graphic detail that it’s not appropriate for kids, but at the same time it’s interesting how it totally elides over Takei’s gay advocacy work even as it does casually mention his husband. A curious book, a story well told.

The Thing Itself

[review pending]

Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday

Pictures and a little more detail from the blog of the same name. Fun and interesting and I learned a few things including the word knolling. A little surprised that only one of the featured artists was female (really?) but enjoyed a little peek into a blog that I’d already liked.

Thinking in Numbers

This is a collection of essays by Daniel Tammet, a mathematician and savant discussing things that are only tangentially mathematically related: the way he predicts his mother’s behavior, the things he talks about when he meets other mathematicians, what it’s like to recite pi to 25000+ places. Tammet does a good job bridging the gap between how his mind works and what he thinks other people who are not at that level of mathematical thinking would want to read about and does, to my mind, a very good job.

Thinking In Pictures: The Making Of The Movie Matewan

John Sayles wrote this book before Temple Grandin wrote hers. It’s a book about how he made the movie Matewan, complete with the entire text of the movie in the back. It’s great. Sayles is interesting to listen to because he has a lot of integrity and he’s really trying to explain how this stuff works, not just promote himself or his movie or some ideal of film making that he aspires to. I enjoyed this movie when I saw it and it was neat to get to go back and hear about how it all came together, particularly the casting decisions and the compromises they had to make in the interests of money or time or both.

The Third Person

This is a HUGE (900+ page) graphic novel about the author’s experience getting therapy in anticipation of gender affirming treatment. During the course of therapy she found she had dissociative identity disorder and so her therapist postponed treatment while they worked that out. Her main therapist comes off pretty bad in this retelling (some pretty unethical stuff sometimes it’s not entirely clear what’s happening) and while things work out okay in the end, it’s tough sledding as a read, though well told.

Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss

This book was almost unreadable. I stuck with it because I liked getting at the SNL anecdotes but it was a rambly non-chronological memoir piece that was mostly about drugs and women. Davis has an interesting backstory but is a terrible writer. This book appeared to not have even been edited. I’m not sure I would recommend it for anyone but the most fervent of SNL (or Grateful Dead) fans.

This Country

A poignant graphic novel about a young couple’s move to a tiny house in Central Idaho. They run a local movie house. They garden a lot. They learn about birds and trees and nature. They meet their neighbors. Then they decide to have a baby and have a soul search about how while they are *visiting* this culture, their child will grow up with it being *their* culture. And they leave. As someone who was that kid, and whose parents didn’t leave, I read it with fascination.

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare

Loved this! Sidibe has a sense of humor and has had a really interesting life before and during her celebrityhood. And she gets into it, from her parents odd relationship to her phone sex work right up until she got cast in Precious. I enjoyed her sense of humor and her positive take on what sounds like a lot of difficult stuff.

This Will Be My Undoing

A really compelling series of essays by Morgan Jerkins a writer who grew up with some privilege and without some privilege. I really enjoyed listening to her navigate the pretty complicated overlapping intersections of her life, her family’s life and all the things she goes through to get from where she was as a young black girl to being an adult black female author. I’ve been reading a lot of essay collections and memoirs by black women this year and this one was maybe the most thought provoking just because I found myself both strongly agreeing and also disagreeing with some of the positions taken by Jerkins and that always sent me back to think “Gee why am I having such a strong reaction to this?” and those were worthwhile thoughts to have.

Time Management for System Administrators

[review pending]

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

A lot of fun trivia in this book about time, a lot of which I hadn’t found in other places and was fun to look up and learn more about. Not a total coherence into one big narrative though I think that wasn’t really the point. Enjoyed this and loved learning about the ten hour clock art project, the 24 hour movie titled The Clock, and how they make Swiss watches.

To Engineer is Human

A really slow book from Petroski. While I was hoping for a lot of in-depth looks at engineering failures, this book was way more full of metaphors for engineering processes -- many relying on cute stories about Petroski’s own family -- than looks at specifics. The stories he does relate, about the design and building of the Crystal Palace and the Kansas City Hyatt walk way collapse, are worthwhile but the rest of the book doesn’t hold together as interestingly as those chapters.

To Forgive Design

Another great book about bridge collapses! No, I am serious. If you like Petroski’s slightly rambling style, this is a great book about engineering, engineering education, bridge collapses and other engineering failures and how a profession “learns” over time how to do more good stuff and less bad stuff. A lot of great stories and a little overlong but generally quite good reading.

Toilets of the World

This was a fun little picture book with images of toilets from all over the world. While I might have liked to know a little more about the selection process (did the authors go to some of these? any of these?) and I am a little curious about some of the assertions they made about non-Western cultures, I did like seeing all the different ways people relieve themselves.

Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World

As someone who has some of the hallmarks of sensory defensiveness but not to a “it makes my life a living hell” degree, I found this book interesting to read but ultimately not super helpful. The first part of the book details what life is like for many sensory defensive folks, people with a number of different types of defensiveness. The author herself is defensive in some ways and so she is able to describe these people’s lives with empathy and understanding.

The second part, which I was looking forward to, talks more about remedies and what people can do, and here it sort of lost me. While there was a lot of advice that seemed really on the mark, some of it seemed, for lack of a better word, woo. And that made me question a lot of other things the author had said. Maybe it’s really true that light therapy has been found to be useful for specific sorts of sensory defensiveness, or cranio-sacral work, but the skeptic in me had a hard time really getting past the “I thought this stuff was pseudoscience” feeling. That said, I’m also lucky to not really be in a place where conventional medicine is not working for me and I can’t quite put myself in that place. The book does have a long list of citations at the end of it that I didn’t really delve in to. Interesting but ultimately not-for-me book.

Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness

A first-person account of going from partially-sighted to completely blind and the author’s gradual adaptations. Hull mixes in his own personal observations, thoughts, and dreams with his experiences as a person of faith and how those intermingled. I was less interested in his accounting of his dreams and a lot more interested in his talking about his experience of interacting with his family, particularly since he had one child before he began to lose his sight and one after he was mostly blind. The nuance involved between “Can see a little bit” and “Can see nothing at all” is really a lot and I appreciated how detailed Hull’s story is.

Trees: National Champions

Bosworth’s book is not just a nice coffee table picture book of lovely trees, though it is sort of that. It’s more that she looks at what it means to see and appreciate a big tree. One of the prologues talks about the difference between looking at a big tree and seeing a legacy and looking at a big tree and seeing a revenue stream. Her photos are not just tree porn, they are much more about looking at these selected best-in-class icons and seeing how they work within their landscapes. The book could almost just be a photo book about America because so many of her pictures just look like ... pictures of our country with a tree in them. She also talks a bit about why measuring trees, why caring about our big trees still matters. I’d be very curious to go back and see how some of these trees from 2005 are doing today,


I like but do not love Junger. I think he is a great writer but he seems a little more... SRS BZNS than I am. So this book which talks about some heavy things, seemed like it would be in his wheelhouse. It’s one of those “essays turned into a short book” things about why we’re isolated, sort of. About how things like PTSD and depression are, seemingly, factors of industrial society and when people come together with a sense of purpose and community, people feel better. He discusses this in terms of soldiers coming back from a war zone (where they had purpose) to a country where they are people seen as victims and/or people with mental health challenges. He talks about how in colonial times White people would often run off with Native Americans and not the other way around. A lot of it seemed WAY too facile for me, but it got me interested enough in the ideas to want to at least learn more about them even if I wasn’t quite sure I believed what he was specifically saying.

The True History of the Elephant Man

Was surprised how good this was. I’ve been interested in Very Special People and freaks for quite some time. There’s often a paucity of information just being repeated over and over again and it was neat to read something that went back to the original source material [the book has several appendices in addition to the main book] to basically get as much information as we could not just about Joseph Merrick but about the people who wrote about him and met him at the time so that more could be learned.

Trunk Music

I’ve been reading these in stupid order instead of the order they were written in, so this book shows the main protagoinist meeting the woman that I know he later has a tempestuous relationship with. This book was less compelling than the newer ones. I think Connelly has really improved his writing plot-wise over the past decade or so.

Two Cheers for Anarchism

A book I found in a little free library. I did not need to be convinced about some of the positive “ways of seeing” when you look at things through an anarchistic lens (mutual aid, direct action, skepticism of hierarchy) but it’s fun to hear someone from Yale saying it. This book is a series of informal chapters using examples as a jumping off point. It’s more about the negative qualities of the state than the positive qualities of anarchism, and I certainly didn’t need to be convinced, but I’ll take it.

Two Lives

I met Reeve Lindbergh briefly when I was at a library event in a town near her and was taken by how she managed to be charming in the face of what I’m sure must have been yet another public appearance in a life totally chock full of them. This memoir is about that, leading her relatively calm and simple life in Vermont but also being the person more or less in charge of her parents' legacy and all that entails. I enjoyed reading along with her stories of day to day life that was a lot like mine and also the parts of her life that were not at all like mine.

Uncanny Valley: A memoir

A poignant look at being a woman in tech in the Bay Area pretty darned recently. The parts of this book which were the hardest for me were the parts that were SO TRUE (Wiener worked at one of the same companies that I did, while I was working there during a brief and deeply unpleasant time). She has a great voice and came to the Bay Area from the East Coast and so isn’t really a West Coast native who just vagues her way into things.

Uncommon Structures, Unconventional Builders

[review pending]

The Underground House Book

This book was written in a time when oil was getting mroe expensive and people believed that lifestyle changes such as underground living were the only way they were going to be able to surivive. With this in mind Stu Campbell starts researching what it takes to build an underground house. This book is part research, part boosterism and part hippie fantasy [complete with photos of cozy underground bunkers]. The last chapter of a book has Campbell excitedly preparing to build the underground house of his dreams in collaboration with noted designer Don Metz.

I was curious whether Campbell really did live out his dream and was both happy and sad to see that he and his wife lived in a “radically earth-bermed house” in Stowe for almost thirty years until his death in 2008. Nice work.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey

This is the type of non-fiction I love to read. Very nature-bound, not so venerable as to be a little precious. Good stories, learning things I haven’t learned before and taking me places I haven’t been. I read this after getting Lost Words from a friend for my 50th and wanting to know more about Macfarlane who I know vaguely on Twitter. The book goes a lot of places that are hard to get to either because of geography (caves on the sea coast of Norway) or politics (the place they’re building to deposit Nuclear waste deeply underground). Macfarlane seems to show the proper reverence for these places and the people who inhabit the world around them. It was a joy to get to go to these places with him and I’ll definitely go check out his other works.

The Undertaking

This is one of those lesser-known books about people who work in mortuary/funeral services. This one is by a guy who worked in the family funeral services growing up and now runs his own business in rural Michigan. He is also a poet, so it’s a little more ornately written than others. I sent the guy an email about a typo on his website (and to say I liked the book) and got a charming email back from him. You’d probably like this if you like the genre generally.

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

A collection of short essays from Thomas Lynch a Catholic poet and small-town undertaker who talks about his job and other related topics. I didn’t always agree with his perspective but it was always interesting to read.

USA Stars and Lights

I got a review copy of this from the publisher. It’s got great lighthouses-against-stars photography, laid out a little clunkily but whatever. Even greater are all the “How I got that shot” stories at the end which involve a lot of travel, permissions, boats, external lighting, Macgyvering, and just a little trespassing. Zapatka is a cameraman for CNN who lives in Rhode Island and some of these are local to him and others involved extensive travel. He clearly has great respect for and interest in his subject and I loved reading about all his journeys to get these shots

Useful, Usable, Desirable: Applying User Experience Design to Your Library

This book is really optimized to be a reference work for libraries wanting to do a UX overhaul. Schmidt and his co-author Amanda Etches do a great dissection of the many different ways a library interacts with users and then how to improve all of these ways. It can be a little overwhelming if you are a small library that can maybe only do a few things, but the tone is friendly and the examples are quite good. I’m happy I picked up this book and I plan to give it to a favorite library.

The Vermont Monster Guide

This was a gift from some friends, totally unexpected and I read it all almost immediately. One of the things that is great about Vermont generally is how the whole state can seem like a small town. Reading about all these real and possibly apocryphal monster reports and sightings in towns I’ve heard of and/or been to was super fun. I like Citro’s work generally and this combination of his research and humor combined with some great illustrations by talented illustrator Stephen Bissette made it a really fun read.

Vermont Wild: Adventures of Vermont Fish and Game Wardens

This was a fun anecdotal look at the jobs that Vermont’s game wardens do in our lovely state. Has a self-published look with some goofy illustrations but that all adds to the homespun charm of a lot of amusing but believable stories of the people who work for Vermont’s Fish and Game department.

The Victorian Internet

This has been on my “to read” list basically since it came out. It’s a pop culture account of what the world was like when telegraphy hit, and hit big, drawing obvious parallels with humanity’s feelings and interactions with the internet. It’s full of good trivia, nice stories and a lot of maybe overly heavy metaphor about how a lot of the cultural trappings of this new technology were dealt with the same way as we’re dealing with the internet. There were a few topics I wanted to know a lot more about but overall this was a fun read from start to finish.

The View From The Studio Door

[review pending]

Vintage Vermont Villainies

Loved this collection of old-tymey (and not so old tymey) tales of mystery and murder and Vermont justice going back several centuries. Bellamy has done a great job researching some old and not so well known Vermont crime stories that played out in the press in a bygone Vermont. This was a Vermont with a death penalty, and a Vermont with no state police. A Vermont even more rural than it is now and with crime fighters of widely varying capabilities. Each chapter in a separate story and there’s a long list of sources in the back. Bellamy is a former librarian who has mostly written similar books about his former home of Cleveland before he relocated to the Green Mountain state. Totally worth picking up, this book was really enjoyable.

Wanderers, A History of Women Walking

A thoughtful housewarming gift and a good read. The author does case studies of many woman in the UK who do a lot of walking, through the ages. It’s a bit too reliant on quoting every single word from others' writing but I enjoyed the author’s reflections on her own walking, as well as her assiduous research.

We Are As Gods: Back to the Land in the 1970s on the Quest for a New America

Such a great book about back to the landers who wound up in Vermont and what was their deal anyhow. Told by one of the children of the original back-to-landers, this well-researched and well-told story follows a group of people as they leave their comfortable lives for a decidedly less comfortable life (but much more free, or was it?) in rural Vermont where they made all their own food, built or rehabbed all their own houses and tried to build a new world. Daloz makes the compelling argument that freedom for some was not freedom for all (men would work til dinnertime while women would work til bedtime, as one basic example) and even though many of their experiments ultimately failed (the original communes are mostly not still working today) a lot of the values of the original folks are still imbued in Vermont and the rest of the country in very important ways. Institutions in Vermont such as food co-ops, organic food choices, and the community college system came out of the hard work of some of the original Summer of Love expats. This is a story beautifully told, a great read for anyone interested in hippies, the sixties, Vermont’s DIY culture or general permaculture ideals.

Weird Hikes

Enjoyed this book which I found on the new shelf of the public library. Bernstein is an author of many hiking manuals and this book is a collection of odd stuff that’s happened to him while hiking. These can range from the supernatural [saw a lady at a cabin in the woods who others claim had died decades earlier] to the mundane [broken leg] to the inspirational or amusing. Bernstein is an interesting guy with a knack for telling a story but I got hung up on the factualness of some of the stories and didn’t always find this as enjoyable as I might have, and there’s one fictionalized account of a young bullied boy dying while hiking which I found unsettling. Still it’s a neat look at a topic that doesn’t always inspire essay collections and a quick and fun read.

Welcome to St. Hell

This graphic novel discusses the author’s journey for both himself and the people around him as he works through his feelings and takes the steps to get gender affirming care as a young adult in the UK. Everyone winds up being supportive, but it took a while for some. Those folks are shown in before/after ways where you know they will come around so it makes it a little more okay to see them being non-supportive (or mainly just confused) earlier on. Some of the steps will be familiar (thoughts of “maybe I’m just a butch lesbian?” for example) and some are uniquely his. Really well drawn and well-told.

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist

Grabbed this book off of a free ARC table at VLA and I’m glad I did. I don’t know Ramsey’s work. It was really interesting to not just learn more about YouTuber culture but to hear someone who is a lot deeper into internet culture than I am talk about things that are important including mistakes they made along the way. Ramsey is very funny and has an easy manner in talking about difficult topics so her advice doesn’t read as preachy at all. I hope everyone reads this book.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

I enjoyed this book. I like XKCD a lot and partly because Munroe is so danged smart about everything. He’s managed to put that all together in this fun compendium of weird questions people have asked him, split into ones he really tries to answer and a few he just illustrates for the heck of it. Mostly fun, sometimes I feel it’s handwavey. Always enjoyable and great illustrations and humor you’ve come to expect from XKCD.

What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World

This book started out feeling a little woo because of the author’s description of his Native American friend and a few other things but I was won over. I enjoyed learning about the things you can learn from birds if you can take the time to sit and watch and listen over time.

Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?

A terrific and fun book that takes the nostalgia thing we all feel for the toys and gadgets of our childhood and makes a smart and entertaining book out of it. These sorts of books are popular, so it’s easy to phone it in when writing them and you’ll still have a hit, but these writers really dug for background information and amusing anecdotes that makes you excited to turn to the next page. Great gift, great book, highly recommended.

Whatever Happened to the Metric System?

It’s rare that a book makes me want to go look up and read so many other books (not by the same author) but htis is that book. Marciano knows so many neat things about not just the US conversion (or lack) into metric measures but also historical measurement standardizers that may or may not have worked. He looks at the people, he looks at the policy and he looks at the geniuses as well as the kooks. Took me a long time to get through because it doesn’t always move forward speedily but mostly because I keep writing down other things I want to learn about: Metric Martyrs, Standard (and Detroit) time, a lot of other random things. Very good and very worth reading.

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge

This was a departure from my usual reading because I have a pretty firm “No Holocaust memoirs” guideline. That said, this is a different sort of holocaust, the invasion/takeover of Cambodia by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent Cambodian genocide. It’s a thoroughly chilling and unpleasant book as far as the subject matter, but it’s well-told by Him and she has a remarkable memory for the things that happened during what must of been the worst part of her entire life. I learned a lot about the political climate inside of Cambodia in and around this time and even though this was a really tough read, I’m glad I read this book.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Sedaris is a writer I’m glad I didn’t try and discard earlier in my life because I think I can find him and his “secretly I am kind of a bad person” humor a lot more relate=able at my age than I would have earlier. This is another collection of his, the best essay is probably the laste one which is all about him trying to quit smoking and learn Japanese. But there is another one which is about his relationship with a terrible neighbor which also just hit me in all the feels. Not all humor, exactly, but you can manage to see the bright sides of some of these interactions. Less family stuff, more husband stuff, a medium amount of France, a small amount of body horror. Enjoyable.

Who Knew? Things you didn’t know about things you know well.

I’ve been trying to get better at trivia so I pick up these books when I see them. This was a little hardcover tucked away at my dad’s house. All the trivia factoids are about brand names which I guess makes sense but made it seem a little bit like a viral ad. And, in my nerdy nitpickery, I found myself wondering how much of the stuff was still true. For example, Alan Smithee is no longer the name used by producers who want to disown their relationship with a film, though it’s a great story. And I wonder if it’s still true that Cinderealla has been made into a movie more than any other story, or how you would tell? Anyhow, it was a fun quick read but I gave it the librarian raised eyebrow.

The Whole Five Feet

This book took me months to finish. I got a copy of it from the author and then, later, another copy from his publisher. Not sure what that was about. I wrote Chris an email to tell him that I’d finished his book, seemed like the decent thing to do, and since I’m terribly lazy about getting reviews up, I’ll paste some of it here. If you’re a bookish sort, you’d like this book....

“Hey I finally finished this!

...It was slow going at times because even though your story is... sort of narrative there are a lot of big ideas that are tied up in it and it’s not an airplane read -- both owing to it being hardbound but also because it’s worth attention.I’ve been going through my own family health stuff this year [not me personally] and the story of Mimi and her role in the family and the time you spent both with her and reminiscing about her and thinking about her were a particularly poingnant part of it for me.

I’d be lying if I said I read every excerpt or if I can even remember some of the earlier chapters [I started reading it about when you sent it to me] but my favorite parts were the parts where your personal life was sort of mirrored in what you were reading. Some of the Darwin stuff and the explorer guy before him who was in California [tempting to look it all up just to feel like I have some memory left :)]. I also liked the storied of your family’s place up north since I live in rural Vermont and that idea of a family homestead is one that is sort of foreign to me.

Also the subtext of class that goes all through it -- this is just my personal sociopolitical lens -- the arts and letters aspect, the Harvard aspect the club you could stay in in the UK because of some reciprocal arrangement with whatever club you and/or your family are associated with in New York, I liked how that sort of bounced off the original ideas ofhaving books that were for everyone... and how it seems in a lot of ways maybe that isn’t how they turned out...”

Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability

Longmore was a disability activist and chronicler of the history of disability in the US. His central thesis--that the most disabling thing about having a disability is actually the social conditions surrounding disability in the US and not the actual physical/mental issues--is carried through this collection of essays. This all leads up to the final essay in which he outlines quite clearly how the disabled are legally punished for being productive members of society (via reductions to their SSI income if they make money via royalties or fellowships) and how difficult it has been to make any headway in changing these laws.

My favorite chapter in this book was about disability activism in WPA era where a group formed called The League of the Physically Handicapped and tried to get the same access to jobs programs for disabled people that able-bodied folks had. It’s a great narrative of an unknown (to me) aspect of US history that has had a lasting affect on anti-discrimination policies in the US in the time since.Longmore also discusses other topics dear to accessiblity/usability/disability activists which is the portrayal of disabled people in movies and the role of disability activists and disabled people generally in the Right to Die movement.

Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That: And Other Reflections on Being Human

Bering is a little jokey jokey (which I remember from Perv) but he’s also a smart scientist type who likes to talk about evolutionary biology and reasons why things might be the way they are. In this book he tackles things like the shape of the penis, the details of female ejaculation, what evolutionary purpose gay people might have and a host of other things. It’s a good book, it’s well researched and it’s funny. Also I read it on my Kindle so I didn’t have to worry about weird looks from people on the bus or subway.

Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart

[review pending]

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs

This book was really fun. I somehow missed that it was specifically for children when I requested it, but it’s enjoyable for all ages. Caitlin Doughty is a known quantity in the “people who write about death” space and I’d really enjoyed her two previous books. This one is even more delightful since she gets to be a little bit more humorous, plus the book has terrific illustrations which accentuated what she was talking about. Kids questions (from actual kids, she notes) range from “Can I get my hamster buried with me?” to “Why was grandma wrapped in plastic wrap under her shirt?” While the topics are tricky, Doughty is knowledgeable but also kind. Her jokes are never at the expense of people mourning a loved one or making fun of people’s beliefs or practices. This is a great educational and fun book and I’m happy I got a chance to see it early.


This book was an Iditarod version of Bryson’s Walk in the Woods: guy who is in really over his head decided to do a really complicated thing and write about his process. I felt bad for his wife, though I’m not sure if I should have (maybe projecting?). Nice to read a winter book in the dead of summer, good to get to know the dogs and read stories about the remote wilderness of Alaska. Paulsen is a bit of a cipher--not only in this book, but in life in general if Wikipedia is to be believed--and this book ends weirdly and abruptly, though my understanding is that his story doesn’t.

Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s

A look at women and WKKK activity in Indiana in the 20s. Including interviews with elderly women looking back at their KKK involvement (many with “those were the days” sentiments). Creepy and very well-researched look at how the hate machine works, or worked. The author goes into some detail explaining just why information on some of these groups is hard to find, and just how, in many ways, the groups were simultaneously money-making machines as well as racist hate groups.

The Wordy Shipmates

Growing up in New England you get kind of exhausted reading about the Pilgrims, Plymouth Rock, Sturbridge Village and all the Colonial times stuff. This is a new (to me) take on what the heck these people were about. Vowell’s partial Native ancestry gives her a different take than the usual narratives and she’s done a lot, an awful lot, of primary source material research. Sometimes this can bog the book down a little because quoting at length from people writing about religion in 1600s Massachusetts and Rhode is land is deadly dull, but it picks up a lot when she interweaves it with stories about her own family and upbringing.

Working Stiff

I haven’t read a good medical examiner book in a while. This one was great. You think it’s going to be all about 911 (Melinek was a medical examiner in NYC when it happened) but it’s a more wide ranging book about what it’s like to be a doctor wife and mother and deal with some of the worst and grossest medical cases (and family members of some of those cases). Melinek talks about her own feelings concerning her father’s suicide when she was little and only at the end does she give a blow by blow of the first few days working for the ME’s office after 911. This book was a refreshing change from Mary Roach’s somewhat jokey approach to corpses and dead people.

The World Without Us

[review pending]

The World’s Strongest Librarian

This book is a quick read about Josh, a Mormon with Tourettes. Over time he learns strength training and after a long period of being worried that he’s unemployable, finds a good space for himself at the Salt Lake City Public Library. I liked but did not totally love this book because I felt the author took a lot of potshots at the library early on as a way of “setting the scene” and even though he talks a lot more and a lot more well about the library later, it was a weird foot to start off on. Hanagarne sounds like a nice guy with poorly-managed Tourettes and it was tough to tell from his narrative how much he’d tried and how much his story was a bit of a “we didn’t go to doctors much in my family” situation. Like many early-memoirs, it will be interesting to see where Hanagarne goes from here.

The Worst Hard Time

This book was a little dramatic. On the other hand the topic is also pretty dramatic. Everyone has their choices as to whose “fault” the dust bowl storms of the 30s were. Egan places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the homesteaders and the fluctuation in wheat prices that made the only chance of profit-making depdent on tearing up more land. It’s a great tale, told through the eyes of people who had lived through it as young people and through the documents of others who wrote about it at the time. There are a few photos but mostly the story is told through a variety of different people -- German immigrants, young married couples, drifter/farmers trying to make a new start -- describing the open land of the praries and what brought them there and what made them stay.

The Wreck of the William Brown

If you grow up with a sailor dad you may have read more than your average share of shipwreck books. This is about a ship that hit an iceberg & sank without enough lifeboats. Some passengers went down with the ship. Others got into the lifeboats only to be tossed overboard to die. This book spells out the whole situation, from who was on the boat, to what happened when it sank, to the murder of some of the lifeboat passengers, to the weird set of decisions about how to seek legal justice for those murders. And then, finally, some of the ramifications of what was decided. Interesting to note that there was a time before an honorable captain was supposed to go down with the ship.

WWW: Wonder

Turns out this book which I grabbed off of the new shelf in my local library was book three of a trilogy which explains some things. Loosely put, it’s about an AI that gets loose and starts to use its immense superpowers to help the world while other people try to stop it. It’s good, and very nerdy and techy which I always enjoy. In fact, I have a tendency to be like “Bah this author clearly doesn’t understand technology like I do...” but in this case even though I might still have said that once or twice, I was wrong. Sawyer is a supergenius as far as tech stuff goes and even though this book is written towards a YA audience, its super well-researched and generally, while still fantastical, based on real-world and real life things that could be or are happening. Now I’m trying to figure out if I’ll start over at the beginning or not, since I know how it all ends.

The Year Without Summer: 1918

I probably should have read the reviews before I picked up this book. I love weird weather and knock-on effects of meteorological happenings. Unfortunately, this book was not that. It was a somewhat interesting but tediously-told story about all the effects of one volcanic eruption that ruined harvests and affected weather worldwide. Drawn to a large degree from primary source material, the book focuses on a few major historical event and then quotes liberally from primary source documents. There’s very little about the actual explosion or the effects of it on the local region. Instead, in true “News is where the reporters are” fashion, we hear a lot about Lord Byron, what’s going on in France, why so many people from Maine moved to the Midwest, and the death of Jane Austen! So many weather and crop reports! Really hard to keep reading it and while there is a bit of a decent epilogue, this is one of those books that could have been a New Yorker article.

Yes, My Accent is Real

A fun collection of short essays a lot like Mindy Kaling’s. This is a lot less of some sort of memoir and a lot more like a collection of anecdotes from people who want to know more about where Nayyar came from and how he wound up marrying Miss India and getting on the Big Bang Theory.Light, easy to read, fun.

You Are Not a Gadget

I read this book under deadline. I did a short interview with Jaron Lanier that is set to appear in Library Jounrnal. I had an uncorrected proof of the book and I enjoyed reading it and wildly writing in the margins. You can read my interview online here.

You Know, Sex

My library has this book & it’s just so good. It’s very inclusive of all genders (never uses the words male/female except when it’s specifically discussing gender identity) and choices about body autonomy and sexual preferences. There are large sections on safety, consent, porn, pregnancy and peer pressure. The book comes with great illustrations by Fiona Smyth in a variety of colors (none of which seem like what we’re used to as “skin tones” which is a smart choice for this book). The slogan is “There is no right or wrong way to have a body” and it’s a great healthy message.

You’ve Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All

A great companion to the Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. It’s about how everyone’s gamifying everything, mostly poorly, in the service of capitalism. Creating artificial tediums which they then “solve” w/ game mechanics. No one is better to write about this than Adrian Hon who has run his own successful gaming company, worked in tech and researched some of the neuroscience. Get it.

The Youngest Science

[review pending]

Your Money: The Missing Manual

A great easy to read book full of explanations and links and examples about how to get yourself out of debt and start saving money. I am pretty well-versed in this sort of thing and I felt like I learned a bunch of stuff.