Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unusual cookbooks

I'll be honest - picking out cookbooks for the library can be difficult. Until you've cracked open the book and tried to make the recipe, you don't know if it's any good: is it easy to follow? does it require hard-to-get ingredients? does it take 3 days to make? is it edible? And since there are really only so many ways to roast a turkey or grill a steak (sorry, Bobby Flay), I tend to lean towards getting cookbooks with very particular themes - a certain ingredient, a certain ethnicity, a certain cooking technique. Two of our newest cookbooks reflect this purchasing bias of mine.
Nuts: more than 75 delicious & healthy recipes by Avner Laskin presents many tasty ways to incorporate those yummy, high-protein little gems into your meals. Goat Cheese and Nut Spread, Couscous and Walnut Salad, Peanut Bread, Almond Shrimp Soup, Chocolate Macadamia Brownies and Marzipan Rounds are some of the delicious recipes in this book (which leans a little heavily on sweets and baked goods, but I don't have a problem with that). Don't the words 'crunchy, nutty goodness' just make your mouth water?
The New Polish Cuisine by Chef Michael J. Baruch introduces hearty Eastern-European cooking to those of us who didn't grow up in the Midwest (Baruch is a sixth-generation Pole from Chicago). Featuring a lot of soups, stews and starchy dishes, this is the perfect cookbook for the cold wet fall that will soon descend upon us (if it isn't here already). Dumplings, sausages, noodles and cheese might not be the healthiest of fare but these dishes will stick to your ribs and I bet they smell wonderful.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Goodies for gardeners

For those of you eternal optimists who think there might be some summer weather still looming on the horizon, of for anyone forward-thinking enough to be planning for next summer, we have a few new items of interest.
Balcony & Container Plants from A to Z, a Compass Guide put out by Barron's, is a little pocket guide with 200 color photos that would be handy to bring along with you when you go out to purchase plants for your garden. The guide focuses on those plants which would work best in the little spaces we find to squeeze in some color on our decks, porches and windowsills. The listings separate out balcony plants from container plants, the distinction being a bit shadowy in my opinion (it seems to be based somewhat on the size of the plant, but I dunno....). The entries do tell you the eventual plant size, bloom times, water and light needs, whether it works well as a hanging plant, and if any part of it is poisonous. A helpful guide to take along when you go to the nursery, but I would hesitate to use it to plan your container garden. Try one of our other wonderful books about container gardening for your design needs.
Gardener Jerry Baker has a very popular show on PBS called Year 'Round Gardening, and we have added some of his most helpful shows to our DVD collection:
  • Lawns
    Trees, Shrubs & Evergreens
    Garden Magic I and II

Jerry presents loads of helpful tips to make your garden look better and grow healthier. He also shows viewers how to cook up some great garden tonics using common household items - these recipes can be printed off your computer, as well. True gardeners love to share their little tricks and ideas, and this is a great series for gardeners.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Here's to your health

The health-care section of our DVDs has gotten a little infusion of new blood this week, as we put a wide range of popular health topics on the shelves.
CrazySexy Cancer is the accompanying film to the book of the same name (which appeared in one of the library's Ad-Lib columns in October). Actress and photographer Kris Carr was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer at the young age of 31. In the face of this diagnosis, she set off on a journey of healing, trying out different alternative medicine cures and embracing a whole-health approach to life. She shares her tips (yoga, meditation, nutrition), but most importantly she shares her head-on approach to dealing with cancer.
We also have 4 DVDs in a series of Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions: Back Pain, Arthritis, Diabetes and Menopause. These films present a nice blend of traditional and alternative medicine, along with lifestyle and nutritional advice. Each disc begins with a 30-minute explanation of the medical condition presented by a Mayo Clinic specialist, as well as an overview of treatment options. Dr. Donald Hensrud, Chair of Preventative Medicine at the Mayo Clinic then takes the viewer to the grocery store and shows you how to eat healthy. Each film then ends with a gentle 40-minute yoga session that is specifically designed for your condition. The movements are easy for beginners, and will help ease stress and relieve symptoms. These DVDs are accompanied by a 52-page booklet with lots of helpful advice about reducing stress, which often aggravates medical issues. These films are a great resource for anyone who is looking for a holistic approach to staying healthy.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Culture 101

In today's busy world, who has time to develop into a true Renaissance Man? Much like watching our cholesterol and ingesting antioxidants, we know that there are books we are supposed to read and movies we are supposed to watch. If only there was a way to pick and choose - a way to select the most interesting 'classics' to squeeze into our schedules.
Well, by golly, there is! The Rough Guide to Classic Novels: from Don Quixote to American Pastoral by Simon Mason and The Rough Guide to Film: an A-Z of directors and their movies by Richard Armstrong et al. will help you find the best books and films to liven up your dinner-table talk.
Mason presents 229 novels from 36 countries spanning four centuries of literary endeavor, and he has selected them with an eye towards their enjoyability. He groups them according to their broad theme (rites of passage, families, satire, etc.) and then alphabetically by author. Following a brief plot synopsis and literary critique, he then includes helpful items such as Recommended translation, Where to go next, and Screen adaptation. This is a really helpful book for anyone who is looking for an entertaining Great Novel, and for anyone who is trying to badger their kids into reading some college-prep materials (good luck!)
The film guide is truly an encyclopedia, which makes for difficult reading cover-to-cover. However, it begins and ends with two helpful lists that balances out the dry encyclopedic form. The first section is composed of lists based on theme and geography; under each heading the reader will find 5 Great Directors, 5 Essential Classics, and 5 Lesser-Known Gems (each with the appropriate page number for cross-reference). Africa, Cinematography, Epics, Period Drama, and War are some of the available categories to guide the film watcher. The end of the book contains an alphabetical list of films reviewed within the guide - you can find the directors, and watch more of their movies. So the next time you're hankering for a good French film, or a film with a great score, let this book be your Rough Guide.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Viking Maid

Well, you've seen the posters all over town (and I mean all over town) and you've read the article in the newspaper, and now it's finally here: The Viking Maid is now part of the library's DVD collection.
A documentary that looks at the current state of the Alaskan fishing industry, and the concerns of commercial fishermen about the influx of farmed salmon on the market, this film is a home-grown project. Directed, produced and narrated by Kayhi alumni Chris and Tim Currall, Viking Maid follows the daily life of a commercial seining vessel (the film's namesake) as it plys the waters of Southeast Alaska. Fishing captain Russell Cockrum, crewman Jared Cockrum, and local scientists Gary Freitag and Phil Doherty are part of the film, as well as the familiar scenery of Southeast.
This film isn't exactly unbiased reporting (and the website for the film isn't exactly objective, either), but it will receive a favorable reception from Alaskan viewers - and fishermen in general - and it's always interesting to have a snapshot of Alaskan life. If you enjoy this film, you may want to check out some of the other films we have here at the library that look at the history of fishing in Alaska.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We're all 8 years old at heart

Two of our latest books will appeal to the little kid inside you, and that gut reaction you get when you learn something cool.

The Way Toys Work: the science behind the Magic 8 Ball, Etch A Sketch, Boomerang, and more is by Ed and Woody Sobey, and it is a triumph of reverse engineering (if you'd like to know more about reverse engineering, and safe ways in which to do it, the Sobeys have kindly included a section at the beginning of the book). Basically, this book takes all the toys that you, your parents and your kids have loved and literally deconstructs them. You get to see the inner workings of potato guns, Rubik's Cubes and Nintendos; you learn the basic principles behind the workings of Slinkys, Yo-Yos and Wiffle Balls; and they show you how to make your own Silly Putty, Play-Doh and Nerf guns. If you know a bright kid who likes to experiment, or if you are a guy under the age of 80, this book is a must for you to read.

Discovery! Unearthing the new treasures of archaeology, edited by Brian M. Fagan, is a great overview of archaeology today. We all know, deep down, that the field is not as exciting or dangerous as Indiana Jones movies - but there's still something inherently cool about unearthing ancient civilizations and the bits and pieces they left behind. Covering over 50 recent discoveries, each section in this book presents beautiful photos, descriptions of the site, and some of the theories that have been shaped around these artifacts. Best of all, many of the entries were written by the actual scientists who led the projects. From Civil War submarines off the coast of the southern U.S. to the origin of humans in Africa, the story of mankind's cultural development can be traced through these archaeological finds. This is not only a fascinating read, but you don't have to be entombed with snakes ("Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?").

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Books for artists

We have a few new books on the shelves that would be great resources for any with an artistic bent or an inclination towards crafting.
Print, Pattern & Colour, by Ruth Issett, covers a variety of techniques for making beautiful patterned papers and fabric: monoprinting, roller printing, screen printing, stencils, dyes, and rubbed effects. Issett also explains what types of equipment, paints and dyes are needed for these processes. She includes an entire chapter of design ideas and hints for combining techniques to produce truly unique effects. This is a great book for quilters, paper artists, and Wearable Art fanatics.
Mixed Emulsions: altered art techniques for photographic imagery is by photographer (and former child actress) Angela Cartwright. She shows readers how they can move digital photography into the realm of art with the use of traditional artistic techniques and media. Layering, imprinting, stamping, painting, embossing on a variety of substrates can transform your images into works of art. A valuable tool for both photographers and artists.
Create Jewelry Crystals: dazzling designs to make and wear is by the editors of Beadwork Magazine: Marlene Blessing and Jamie Hogsett. Although most of the designs call for the use of easily-obtainable manufactured crystals, some of the necklaces and bracelets in this book use gorgeous natural rock crystals. The designs range from Victorian romantic to modernist, and the handy color chart at the beginning of the book will be very helpful if the reader decides to alter the color palette of the designs.
Beading With Charms: beautiful jewelry, simple techniques is by Katherine Duncan Aimone, and provides a greater variety of styles than you would think, as well as a range of difficulty levels in the techniques. The beginner designs simply call for the addition of charms and beads to an existing bracelet (readers get used to working with jump rings, crimp beads and wire), while other designs call for soldering, lacquering, weaving and wire bending. Necklaces, bracelets, pins and earrings are all included here and the instructions are easy to follow. My favorite idea is the charm bracelet made of old costume-jewelry earrings (I think I recognized an old pair of my grandmother's here).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peace, baby

One of the most recognizable and ubiquitous symbols from the latter half of the 20th century is the peace symbol. I would imagine that most people don't know the history and the true meaning of this iconic design, however (I certainly didn't). In our new book Peace: the biography of a symbol, authors Ken Kolsbun and Michael S. Sweeney trace the genesis, spread and continued popularity of this simple design. Born during the protests against nuclear proliferation in the 1950's, the creator - a textile artist from Twickenham, England - actually used the semaphore positions for 'N' and 'D' (Nuclear Disarmament) as the framework for the design.
The book begins with an historical overview of events that led to the creation of the design, an account of its debut, and a little bio of the artist who actually created the peace symbol. The book then goes on to look at the use of the symbol during the succeeding decades. Featuring color photos, bright graphics and a liberal use of varying fonts, this book seems to be geared towards the post-Boomer generations: people who are familiar with the symbol but have no idea of its history (people like me, actually). This is not an in-depth historical textbook, but a fun read - perhaps a trip down memory lane. It is, however, filled with very interesting information and would appeal to a wide range of readers.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Freedom to read

If you are an avid reader with sight difficulties, it can be incredibly frustrating to hear a review about a great new book that is not yet available in large print or audio format. Although we provide thousands of titles in formats accessible for those with low vision, there are many books, magazines and newspapers that are just not available. We have a new solution to this that will open up the library collection to anyone with sight difficulties: the MonoMouse.
The MonoMouse is an electronic magnifier that is light, quick to install, easy to use and very portable. Slightly larger than a standard computer mouse, you simply plug one end into an electrical outlet, the other into the VCR jack on your television, press the button and voila! It will magnify any print onto your TV screen; you simply slide the mouse across the page. You can use this to read books, magazines, newspapers - even your mail! Our device magnifies type 13x, so that it is larger than the standard Large Print format. It's designed to be ergonomic and lightweight, so even if you suffer from arthritis it will be easy to use. The instructions are even in a large print font!
This is a 3-month trial program for us, and we would like to have as many people try out the MonoMouse as possible, so we are limiting the checkout period to one week to enable a faster turnover. We encourage anyone with low vision to come in and try out one of these devices and let us know what you think. The next time you come into the library, instead of heading for the Large Print shelves, you can delve into the New Book section, the Magazine shelves, or anywhere in the library that your interest takes you. Imagine the possibilities....

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chick Lit

Despite the chill weather, summer is not over yet; there is still plenty of time to get in some light summer reading, and we have two new books that fit the bill.
How to be Single is a globetrotting novel about the state of being a singleton. Author Liz Tuccillo has her heroine Julie start off with a sorry girls'-night-out and end with a celebration of friendship. In between, she questions the happiness and lifestyles of single women everywhere as she and her girlfriends travel around the world meeting other single women and testing out the dating scene in Rio, Sydney, Paris, Bali, Beijing, Mumbai and Rome. It's a little like Sex and the City racking up frequent-flyer miles.
The Beach House is by chick lit favorite Jane Green (Jemimia J., Mr. Maybe, Bookends) and is set on the resort island of Nantucket. Nan is an eccentric 65-year-old widow who is having trouble fitting in with the island's burgeoning population of über-rich. She decides to rent out rooms in her beautiful Sconset beach house, and gradually creates a weird little family to keep her occupied. Even her son comes to spend the summer, and Nan's life perks up. But then a new arrival throws everyone into a confusion, threatening the special relationships that have developed over the summer at the Beach House.
(As a personal aside, my 92 year old great-aunt is the last of our family left on Nantucket. Ask her how she feels about her island being turned into a summer playground for the rich.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gentlemen, start your engines

Living up here under the shadow of the Arctic Circle, some of America's cultural phenomenons seem a little remote. Take NASCAR, for instance. I have in-laws in the Carolinas, and my husband grew up an hour's drive from Watkins Glen, so even though I know nothing about stock car racing, I do know that it is huge. We have two new books on the shelf that examine the history and the physics of this popular sport.
One Helluva Ride: how NASCAR swept the nation, by Liz Clarke, looks at the 60-year history of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing organization. A sportswriter who has covered the NASCAR beat for 17 years, Clarke has interviewed the greats of the sport: Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Junior Johnson. She discusses the growth of the organization, the stars who drew new fans - especially women - to the stands, and the marketing methods used to boost the sport's popularity. Beauty queens, much-touted rivalries between drivers, and tie-ins with Hollywood and Madison Ave have done much to contribute to making NASCAR what it is today.
If you're more interested in the cars themselves than the business side of NASCAR, try The Physics of NASCAR: how to make steel + gas + rubber = speed by Diandra Leslie-Pelecky. I've actually talked to someone who has been a technical advisor to the General Motors team, and it was amazing how many different ways there are to tweak a car - legally and illegally - to make it go faster, handle better, and drive longer. Even though the author is a physics professor at the University of Texas -Dallas, you don't have to be a physics expert to enjoy this book and understand the complexities behind auto racing. Nicely written explanations with plenty of diagrams, this book also contains interviews with people involved in stock car racing and anecdotes about the sport. If you really want to understand what's going on at the track, you should read this book.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How not to travel

When I'm lucky enough to be traveling somewhere, and I crack open one of the library's many guidebooks, I rarely spare much thought for the person who wrote it. If pressed, I would guess that they are friendly, middle-aged writers with fanny packs and comfortable shoes diligently taking notes about hotels, restaurants and museums. But apparently they're half-drunk, half-stoned, over-sexed Gen-Xers who party their way through the country and then just make stuff up. At least, that's how guidebook writer Thomas Kohnstamm approaches his job according to our new book Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? A swashbuckling tale of high adventures, questionable ethics & professional hedonism. Don't get me wrong - I like the book, and the pathetic loser narrative makes it read like a Nick Hornby novel - but don't think you're going to come away from this with any deep appreciation of how to be a travel writer. The backdrop may be South America (Kohnstamm has actually collaborated on a number of Lonely Planet guides for various South American regions), but most of the action takes place in bars, strip clubs, decrepit hostels and seedy restaurants. Think of this book as a comedic piece, rather than a travel diary. It flows nicely, is amusingly written, and is full of good information about what not to do in a foreign country (one important lesson: don't assume that the Brazilian police are worried about Miranda rights). But I'm pretty sure I don't want to travel with this guy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to Win a Local Election

One of the greatest resources here at the public library is our collection of how-to guides. We cover pretty much everything: curing game meat, repairing leaky faucets, hemming pants, painting walls, and potty-training your toddler. We can now add to the list a book on how to get elected. Written by Judge Lawrence Grey, who retired from the Ohio Court of Appeals, How to Win a Local Election: a complete step-by-step guide is a great tool for anyone who is interested in becoming part of the City Council, Borough Assembly, School Board - even the State Legislature! Grey gives you advice and information about how to get on the ballot, how to organize campaign volunteers, how to finance your campaign, and how to use polls, surveys and direct mailings to get in touch with local voters. Included with this book is a CD of sample forms and worksheets, as well as a directory of state elections officials and codes. He also gives very helpful advice about how to design campaign literature, how to organize a fundraising event, good manners for candidates, and how to write a press release. If you have skills and energy that you are willing to contribute for the greater good of the community, and you just need a little help with the technical details of running for elected office, then this is an essential guide for your campaign. Good Luck at the polls!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Up Till Now

At the risk of having angry emails descend upon my head, I am going to tackle a very sensitive subject: Star Trek.
I love watching the original Star Trek shows (but not enough to wear the T-shirt, learn Klingon, or go to a convention), and the reason that I like them is that they are so cheesy they're fun. And one of the big cheese factors is William Shatner's performance as Captain James T. Kirk, who was always willing to discard his shirt, grab the girl, and ham it up.
Shatner's new autobiography, Up Till Now, is like that performance: a little over the top, but with such a sense of fun that it is totally endearing. Shatner doesn't devote himself entirely to Star Trek, since his acting career began about ten years earlier and has lived on since then in such popular television series as T.J. Hooker and Boston Legal. He has also appeared in his share of less-than-popular shows (does anyone remember Barbary Coast? Nope, me neither). He talks about his work as a director, star of commercials, Broadway actor and singer (selections from his 1969 album The Transformed Man are always popular fodder for The Annoying Music Show). He also talks about his relationships with other actors, which weren't always smooth.
The book is written in a rambling, informal style that attempts to make the reader feel as though you were just sitting down for a friendly chat with Shatner, and he constantly slides in plugs for his website and his souvenir products that are for sale. But it's still a fun book, and you have to give him credit for being honest about his hustle for a buck. Besides, it's somewhat refreshing to read an actor who doesn't take himself too seriously (and he shouldn't, really). This book is to literary biography what Star Trek was to dramatic television. And you can interpret that description any way you'd like.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Risqué films

Let me begin by pointing out that risqué is in the eye of the beholder (sometimes quite literally), and that when watching these 'racy' films, it pays to keep in mind the times in which they were made. As Cole Porter said, "In olden days a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking, but now, God knows, anything goes".
Before the censorship board started imposing strict moral rules on Hollywood films, there was some pretty heady stuff up on the silver screen. In the Forbidden Hollywood Collection: vol. 2 you can watch 5 different provocative films:
  • The Divorcee (1930) in which Norma Shearer tries to out-tryst her adulterous husband.

  • A Free Soul (1931) in which an alcoholic lawyer (Lionel Barrymore) watches his daughter (Norma Shearer again) dump her aristocratic boyfriend (Leslie Howard) for hardbitten gangster Clark Gable.

  • Three on a Match (1932), which stars a platinum-blonde Bette Davis, features adultry, drug abuse, and neglected children. Whee!

  • Female (1933) is about a factory owner who feels her male employees are always on the clock - even in her boudoir.

  • Night Nurse (1931) stars Barbara Stanwyck, Clark Gable and newbie actor Humphrey Bogart in a chilling plot to starve rich children to death in order to get their money.

The Rules of the Game is a classic film by French director Jean Renoir. Released in 1939, it skewers French society by showing its selfishness and loose moral fabric in relation to love. Set at a hunting party in a remote chateau, characters wander in and out of each others' arms.

Pulp Fiction (1994) caused a stir on its release for its graphic violence and drug use (violence? In a Quentin Tarentino film?). This R-rated film contains some darkly funny performances and some great dialogue. Worth watching for Samuel L. Jackson alone.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Dash of Romance

We have some new romance novels on the shelf that span a range of genres, from fantasy to thriller to historical (if you ever want a really interesting read, thumb through a copy of Romance Sells, a quarterly publication put out by the Romance Writers of America. Basically a catalog of newly published books, it is amazing how many subgenres there are in the romance field).

He's an ex-ballplayer who's confused by his adolescent daughter. She's childless and nearing forty, and married to a man who has been in a coma for 12 years. The Paper Marriage, by Susan Kay Law, looks at what happens when there is a conflict between love and loyalty.

When two successful people are trying to cope with upheaval in their life - Hannah has an aging mother and a pregnant daughter, Luke's wife dumped him for his best friend and business partner - they both go back to their hometown of Seaview Key to lick their wounds. When they rekindle their old relationship, things turn interesting in Seaview Inn, by bestselling author Sherryl Woods.

During the reign of Napoleon, British agent Robert Grey is sent to France to capture the beautiful French spy known as the Fox Cub. Annique Villiers - the Fox Cub - knows how to survive, even when she is being double-crossed by her own countrymen. But how to fight her growing attraction to this rugged Englishman, as they both flee the French authorities? Find out in The Spymaster's Lady, by Joanna Watkins Bourne.

In the mysterious atmosphere of New Orleans, uptight banker Mac MacNaught is investigating a series of bank robberies. He has enlisted the aid of gorgeous assistant bank manager Nessa Dahl - without letting her know that she is his prime suspect. The simmering tension between them gets even hotter once she finds out his true identity, and his real purpose in Thigh High, by Christina Dodd.

In an alternative-reality romance, author C.E. Murphy takes readers to Elizabethan-era England in The Queen's Bastard. A heady dose of court intrigue, spiced up with otherworldly powers, allows this novel to span the gap between romance and fantasy novel.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A New One from Straley

I really like the Cecil Younger mysteries penned by Sitka author John Straley. I've lived in Southeast Alaska for 20 years, and while I have never consciously tried to articulate what it's like to live here, as soon as I read my first Straley novel I knew that he had nailed it. I would like to think my life isn't quite as bleak as Younger's, but I've known plenty of characters in Ketchikan who are barely keeping their chins above water. But it's been a few years since Straley has published a novel, and so I'm very happy to announce that we have a brand new creation of his on our shelves: The Big Both Ways. It's a departure from the Cecil Younger series. While much of it takes place along the Inside Passage, the time is 1935 and Alaska is still just a territory. It's got a wonderful period feel, and it makes the most of the lawlessness and rough living that was standard not just for Alaska but also for Seattle, a working-class industrial port. A dead body in a car trunk, Union thugs, a chase through the wilderness (a slow chase via rowing dory), logging camps, and Creek Street whorehouses fill the pages of this novel with a great picture of pre-statehood Alaska. The characters are wonderful and the whole thing just drips with atmosphere. Like all of Straley's novels, the pleasure of this book isn't in the ending, it's in the journey you take to get there.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

We Got Game

As yet another cold, wet day descends upon us this summer, we offer a new way to get out of the house and do something fun without getting soaked (literally or financially). We now have a selection of board games for use here at the public library. Bring a friend or family member down, check out a game and relax in our quiet back corner. There's a beautiful view of the waterfall and we're toasty warm and dry. Our board game options consist of chess, checkers, Scrabble (it's a library - you have to have Scrabble in a library), and mancala. Mancala is a strategy game (much like chess) that originated in Africa, but similar games are popular in Asia. Our set comes with a simple set of rules, but there are many ways to use the board. So please feel free to come down in settle in for the afternoon. You never know when you might find another devotee of checkers or mancala willing to while away a couple of hours in strategy.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Think, Therefore I Am

Everybody loves physiology factoids, especially when they help to explain something about yourself that had previously seemed mysterious. Why so I yawn? Why do I shiver when I'm cold? Why do I remember my 8th-grade locker combination, but forget to pick up milk at the store? Our new book Welcome to Your Brain: why you lose your car keys but never forget how to drive and other puzzles of everyday life is just chock full of fascinating little bits of information concerning your brain - which is arguably the most important part of your anatomy. Sandra Aamodt, the editor of Nature Neuroscience, and Sam Wang, a professor of neuroscience at Princeton, team up to introduce readers to the huge complexity that is the human brain. They examine moods, memory, stroke, learning, biological clocks, aging, senses, sleep and addiction. Less of a compendium of facts than an overview of popular science topics, this book is very readable and full of 'ah-ha' moments. In fact, I challenge anyone to read this book cover to cover without sharing at least one piece of information they gleaned from the chapters. This book should present plenty of "Hey, did you know..." opportunities for anyone who is interested in how their mind (and everyone else's mind) operates. Great for science buffs, psychology and sociology interests, and even people trying to figure out how to deal with their adolescent kids.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fairy tales for grown-ups

Everybody loves a good fairy tale, but as you get older you may feel silly reading "Cinderella" or "Hansel and Gretel". Thank goodness for the Ancient Greeks; their mythology stories are the perfect fairy tales for adults. There's plenty of double-crossing, emotional outbursts, sex, violence and jealousy, and you get the added benefit of learning about classical civilization while you read these soap-opera stories. In our new book Zeus: a journey through Greece in the footsteps of a god, author Tom Stone manages to blend these wonderful mythological tales with a travelogue of Greece. Since the stories that comprise Greek mythology are so numerous, with so many characters, Stone focuses his book on the tales involving Zeus, the most powerful of the gods. He also does a wonderful job of presenting the stories in a somewhat chronological order (time being a fuzzy thing when talking about mythological events), beginning with Zeus's early years and his struggles against his own father Kronos. Stone also weaves in the various ups and downs of Greece, conflicts with her Aegean neighbors, changes in Grecian society and the growing influence of monotheistic religions. A timeline, a map and a ton of endnotes helps round out this really engaging look at Ancient Greece. It's a wonderful read for anyone who likes Edith Hamilton (mythology), Simon Schama (history) or Peter Mayle (amusing anecdotes of interactions with colorful locals).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here Be Pirates!

There is something so romantic and dashing about pirates (unless it's your boat that they are taking over), and poets and writers have been fascinated by them for centuries. Our new book The Gigantic Book of Pirate Stories, edited and introduced by Steve Brennan, collects some of the more memorable writings about pirate encounters. One of the nicest things about this work is that it includes many firsthand narratives of sailors who entered into battle with pirates, as well as some overviews of pirate history. There are also numerous accounts of famous pirate captains, including the female pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Read. While the first half of the book leans towards factual account, the second half is all about the creative muse. From Lord Byron's incredibly long poem "Corsair", to excerpts from Shakespeare's plays, to buccaneer songs and epitaphs, this huge collection ranges across time and geography to give the reader a thorough dose of all things piratical. Mark Twain, Daniel Defoe, J.M. Barrie, Joseph Conrad, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott all appear in the pages, and each chapter begins with a wonderful old black-and-white illustration of tall ships, bearded rogues and melees. Fun stuff!