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Liz

Being a Beast

posted by: August 17, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Being a BeastWhile biological research is continually making new discoveries into how much we know about animals, there is one aspect in which scientists scrupulously avoid speculation: animals’ minds. In Being a Beast, Charles Foster attempts to rectify this disparity by immersing himself in the “neuro-alchemy” of wild creatures. Not only does he study the latest veterinary neurological research, he tries to live like them too. In a tradition of ersatz, immersive experimentation also seen in the works of Bill Bryson and A.J. Jacobs, he models his behavior to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer and a swift.

 

Foster’s experiences are variously uncomfortable, degrading, bizarre and sublime. While his scientific method would not hold up under much scrutiny, the objective of his writing is more ontological. Foster attempts to position himself counterpoint to humanity’s historical position as a “conqueror” of nature. He uses nature to escape — sloughing off modernity in an attempt to define and describe wildness and autonomy. His research is doomed to failure, and he begins the book by acknowledging that the challenges he sets for himself are impossible, but there is insight to be found in his quixotic experiment. Foster’s doctorate in medical law and ethics, plus his qualifications as a veterinarian, help to back his credibility even when his experiences and arguments verge on the esoteric.

 

Liz

Liz

 
 

Bedtime Stories for the Shore

posted by: August 8, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The StormCover art for MayaWhether you’ve just been down the ocean or you’re anticipating your next trip, here are three seaside bedtime stories to share with your kids — especially if they’re fans of Ponyo.

 

The protagonist of The Storm can’t wait to go to the beach tomorrow with his parents! But one of Japan’s infamous monsoons threatens to douse their plans. Can his family weather the storm through the night or will their plans be rained out? Akiko Miyakoshi’s masterful charcoal illustrations depict this story of anticipation and overcoming fear with the same finesse as fellow illustrators Chris Van Allsburg and Daniel Miyares.

 

Maya by Mahak Jain is having trouble sleeping as well. Troubled by the dark when the power goes out, her mother comforts her with the story of the first banyan tree. Through this story and her dreamy imaginings, Maya learns how to transform her fears and overcome the sadness plaguing her from a recent loss. Elly MacKay’s ethereal cut-paper diorama illustrations, reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed, set the perfect tone in their depiction of Maya’s dream world.

 

Finally, be lulled to sleep by Anne Hunter’s onomatopoetic depiction of animals’ lullabies in Cricket Song. As the sun sets across the ocean, two worlds comingle as the diurnal creatures settle into their beds and nocturnal creatures start to wake. This understated story captures a sense of the earth’s orbit, starting in a forest in the Pacific Northwest and ending on an island in the South Seas. The interchange of the animals across the world makes for a tranquil procession as the two children in the book (and your own) drift off into slumberland.

Liz

Liz

 
 

The End of FUN

posted by: July 6, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The End of FUNAaron O'Faolain has a lot of problems right now. He just got expelled and his parents are divorced and inattentive, which is how he managed to scam them all by dropping out of his new school and going to live on the streets of San Francisco. Only that didn't work as well as he was expecting. This is The End of FUN by Sean McGinty.

 

To make some quick cash, Aaron signs up to test out the latest product from FUN®! — Tickle, Tickle, Boom!, an anticipated virtual reality platform that integrates social media, gaming and online marketing. After spending a month doing nothing but playing, he owes $10,000 and a virus in the software is giving him tiny seizures. To get out of his contract he has to pay back the money he owes and collect enough YAY!s to meet his user agreement. Luckily for him, his grandfather just died and left him as the sole beneficiary —  if he can solve the treasure hunt his grandfather stipulated in his will. Debut author McGinty breathes new life into the cyperpunk genre with this sardonic spin on Young Adult archetypes, setting his narrative in the midst of multiple concurrent global catastrophes, rather than in a post-apocalyptic world. Aaron begrudgingly (and sometimes unwittingly) embarks on a multi-tiered quest that has him searching for material wealth, spiritual fulfillment and rectified relationships, although not actually saving the world. Fans of Holes, Ready Player One and The Westing Game will appreciate this nuanced and realistic story that is completely fun.

 

Liz

Liz

 
 

Lucky Penny

posted by: July 5, 2016 - 7:00am

Lucky PennyPenny has the worst luck. She lost her job and her apartment on the same day and now her best friend Helen is moving to Long Island. But she'll be okay! She is resourceful and obtusely optimistic. Plus, Helen got her a job interview at her family's laundromat, which is where Penny bides her time, fighting off the neighborhood delinquents and trying to figure out how to move forward under the watchful glower of her new petty dictator of a boss. To stay clean, she scams showers from the cute nerd working at the gym next door. Despite the fact that their dates are disastrous and their interests are wildly divergent, Penny develops a real infatuation for Walter. But can their relationship survive Penny's contretemps? What about the villains waiting in the shadows, plotting Penny's downfall?

 

Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota is a book that revels in the absurdity of everyday life and in absurdly dramatic climaxes. Fans of Scott Pilgrim and 500 Days of Summer will find this a romantic-comedy of errors that is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being trivial. Originally serialized as a webcomic, you can find Easter eggs detailing the hilarious romance novels adorning Penny's shelves, Penny's bad advice blog, as well as more comics by Ota and Hirsh (a couple in real life) at their website Johnny Wander.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Theorizing with Science Fiction

posted by: June 9, 2016 - 7:00am

Forest of MemoryThe Private EyeSpeculating about the possibilities and ethics of new technologies has long been the domain of science fiction. As we stand on the cusp of virtual realities and cloud computing, two new books revisit these contemplations with fresh voices and compelling tales.

 

Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal is Katya Gould’s vernacular recounting of a mysterious abduction that left her cut off from other people and, more direly, from Internet access for one week. An antiques dealer with a recently acquired typewriter, she was on her way to a client meeting when a chance encounter in a forest disrupts her plans, and the plans of her mysterious abductor. Through Katya’s recounting, Kowal contemplates the pros and cons that come with our gradual externalization of memory through technology. Her future society envisions a culture that values wabi-sabi (a Japanese aesthetic that values the imperfections that come with objects being handmade and well-used) above all else and prizes the authenticity of experiences when its members are unwilling (or unable) to seek them out for themselves. With the thrilling elements of Gillian Flynn and an engaging tone reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, this novella doesn’t lack in substance despite being a mere 85 pages long.

 

Sometime in the early 21st century, “the Cloud” burst and everyone’s online secrets rained down upon them, ruining relationships and destroying lives. So the Internet was abolished. The police force merged with the press corps, new inventions like dreamcoats and flatex were created so that anyone can look like anything (for the right price) and people’s identities are carefully guarded secrets. It is in this version of the year 2075 that Brian K. Vaughan (of Saga fame) and Marcos Martin stage The Private Eye, a classic noir mystery told first as a webcomic and now in print. A vigilante PI begins a double-blind background check when his client is killed and he is framed as the prime suspect. To prove his innocence, he begins to dig deeper with the assistance of his sassy sidekicks and uncovers a megalomaniac’s sinister plans. Reminiscent of Blade Runner, this graphic novel doesn’t just pose the obvious questions about identity but also critiques how much the Internet has actually helped the modern age.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Spring Cookbooks for Different Skill Levels

posted by: June 1, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Love and Lemons CookbookCover art for The Field to Table CookbookNow that it has finally warmed up, it’s time to get outdoors for a cookout or picnic and take advantage of the farmers markets! Here are some new cookbooks, on different levels of complexity, to inspire you and get you started.

 

Casual and home cooks will find serviceable recipes in The Love & Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio. In this bright and engaging book, Donofrio takes a practical approach to food, contextualizing her meals by what is in season and readily available in the pantry. She is quick to provide advice for those nights when you don’t feel like laboring over a stove after work and includes suggestions for reenergizing leftovers. All of her recipes are vegetarian, and it is easy to pair them with a cut of meat or, in the opposite direction, adapt them to become vegan or gluten-free. If you have signed up for a CSA share this season, Love & Lemons can get you started figuring out what to do with the less common vegetables that might crop up in your share — like kohlrabi and parsnips. Many more recipes are also available on Donofrio’s award-winning blog.

 

Photo of blackberry empanadas

For gourmands looking for a challenge, there is The Field to Table Cookbook by Susan L Ebert, a manifesto that is the culmination of her previous work editing Rodale’s Organic Life (formerly Organic Gardening) and Texas Parks & Wildlife magazines. Ebert has shaped her life around a philosophy that puts the sustainability of her resources as the foremost consideration. She hunts, fishes, forages and farms for as much of her food as she can within the season and has closely researched where her food grows, including population statistics of the wildlife she shoots, chemical analyses of soil composition in her garden and snapshots on the history of American agricultural practices. It may take all day or longer to cook the meals precisely as Ebert does, but, through her writing, she demonstrates how sourcing your own food is not drudgery but an adventure. As much Jack London as Alice Waters, descriptions of tracking her quarry are laced with reminisces of stargazing and sunrises, meditations on the afternoons she spent as a child picking fruit and fishing trips spent with her own children. Those readers who might be squeamish or critical of Ebert’s hunting and fishing will be swayed by her reasoning and find a sympathetic pen from a woman not above crying for a goose she will later eat. It is worth noting that because Ebert’s lifestyle is so closely entwined with the environment and culture of her Texas home some of her meals, like Feral Hog Chile Verde, will be difficult to make here in Baltimore without relying on imports. Nevertheless, there is enough overlap between the Texas and Maryland climates to try out or adapt plenty of the recipes — homages to Chesapeake Bay seafood pop up surprisingly often!

Liz

Liz

 
 

New Baltimore Poetry

posted by: April 30, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Black SeedsCover art for It Shouldn't Have Been BeautifulCover art for Poetic Meter and FormApril is National Poetry Month! Check out the work of these local poets.

 

Black Seeds is the work of poet and activist Tariq Toure, who takes a personal approach as he reflects on the circumstances of the Freddie Grey protests and the discord that followed. You may recognize some of the poems, which were previously published in the Baltimore City Paper. Toure is keenly aware of the societal rifts that caused the incident and seeks to bridge these striations with his writing. The intensity of his call to action is honed with intimate details drawn from Toure’s everyday life, occasionally diverting into simple reveries akin to William Carlos Williams’ work, which drives home how much personal impact such events hold. The poems are interspersed with photos of Toure’s community that are so candid they seem like they belong in a family photo album.

 

It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful is the latest chapbook from Lia Purpura, a writer in residence at the University of Maryland. Purpura’s poems are intimate reflections on the poignancy of nature and how new technologies have only increased the sensation of ephemerality in life. There is a very scientific approach taken to describing her subjects, honing in on the microscopic details of her impressions like a lepidopterist examining their collection. She revels in introspection, transforming the quotidian details into transcendental experiences.

 

If you are a prose lover apprehensive of taking on the wilds of poetry, Poetic Meter and Form by Octavia Wynne is a helpful crash course in the medium. Wynne explains the fundamental elements of poetry in two pages and then breaks down how these elements are manipulated with different poetic devices and styles. It is easy to skip to a particular section if you’re looking for information on a specific device or to look up a definition in the glossary. The text is peppered with numerous examples of the terms described, including many works from one of the greatest of poets of all time, Dr. Seuss.

Liz

Liz

 
 

Poetry for Kids

posted by: April 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Jazz DayCover art for When Green Becomes TomatoesCover art for Daniel Finds a PoemApril is National Poetry month! Here are some suggestions for the young poets in your life.

 

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph is an ambitious project by Roxane Orgill, who decided to commemorate an event in jazz history and wound up telling the story through poems by accident. In 1958, Art Kane orchestrated this historic photograph for Esquire magazine, which documented some of the legendary jazz musicians living in New York at the time. Using poetic forms allows Orgill to shift perspectives, so that she can tell the different thoughts and experiences of the photographic subjects — from Thelonious Monk to the kids on the street —  and even fit in a few stories of those noticeably absent from the photograph. Francis Vallejo’s accompanying mixed-media drawings beautifully illustrate the imagery described in the poems. It is obvious that Jazz Day is an ode from a true devotee of the music, but it is also an engaging entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre who might like to explore more.

 

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons is a collection of poems by Julie Fogliano that starts with the spring equinox, March 20th, and documents different days through the rest of the year. Filled with sensual imagery, the poems capture brief personal, meditative moments that signify the changing of seasons and belie a close connection with nature. While reading, it is easy to conjure up the smell of lilacs, the taste of strawberries and the sound of the ocean. Acclaimed artist Julie Morstad’s accompanying illustrations are a perfect fit for depicting these lighthearted and intimate moments.

 

Younger readers who are still figuring out how poetry works will appreciate the picture book Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer. Follow Daniel as he consults the birds, bugs, squirrels and other animals, asking them “What is poetry?” Readers will see how he incorporates their responses in a grand finale, when he unveils his poem at Poetry in the Park on Sunday. The book’s pages are vibrantly illustrated with cut paper drawings and paintings that rival those of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert.

Liz

Liz

 
 

The Man Who Spoke Snakish

posted by: April 6, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Man Who Spoke SnakishThe Man Who Spoke Snakish is a bildungsroman legend coming out of the often overlooked Baltic country of Estonia. It is set during an awkward and mysterious period of time in Medieval Europe — late in the age of Vikings but early in the times of Christian colonization. Author Andrus Kivirähk describes the conflicts of peace — when people are forced to navigate societies in which different languages, beliefs and ways of living intermingle and cross-pollinate. The book's narrator, Leemet, is a member of a society that has learned the tongue of serpents, and with this, gained the power to communicate and control other animal species. But that society's way of life is threatened from within as its people change their ways. Their assimilation to an agrarian lifestyle means that they are renouncing the ways of their forest home and forgetting the ancient language. Will Leemet be able to pass his knowledge of Snakish down to the next generation?

 

While it does resemble Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear in some respects, The Man Who Spoke Snakish is not a story with any qualms about historical accuracy. It stands out for its wry use of anachronistic language and the ease with which it can be imagined by modern readers. In fact, many of the characters seem like stereotypes from a modern neighborhood — the hippies living on the edge of town, modish young people obsessed with the latest fads and ultraconservative religious fanatics. While the appellation “barbarian” hovers throughout the text, it never alights to describe a particular culture or character. Instead, there is an unrelenting, Darwinian conviction that change is inevitable, unrelenting and often times totally irrational. In the end, is Leemet more of a Grendel or a Beowulf?

Liz

Liz

 
 

Here Come the Dogs

posted by: March 23, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Here Come the DogsSoloman and Jimmy are half-brothers and have been friends with Aleks since childhood. Having grown up imprisoned by a land made of asphalt and cement, the three men struggle and support one another in a vanguard against the inertia of suburban life. Each one is on a quest: Soloman seeks a purpose after his basketball career is destroyed by an injury, Jimmy tries to find someone to love and Aleks strives to give his family as much as he can. They are guided by music, “b-boy” (hip-hop) idols and graffiti. Here Come the Dogs is the first novel by Omar Musa, an award-winning Australian poet and rapper.

 

Musa has filled his book with mischievous wordsmithing, alternating between narrative poetry and lyrical prose. Heavily immersed in the Australian hip-hop scene, Musa references musicians on almost every page but readers do not need to be familiar with Australian rap to be moved by the passion with which Musa describes it. The stories within will appeal to anyone who enjoys dramatic fiction contextualized with larger themes, including fans of The Wire and Breaking Bad.

 

One focus in Musa's writing is the diverse makeup of Australian neighborhoods. He has written characters that are both within and outside of their society. Aleks, Jimmy and Soloman all have the ability to cross cultural borders, but each faces unique struggles that prevent them from ever feeling wholly integrated in their communities. While Australia's recipe for a melting pot varies from that of the U.S., the struggles of a post-colonial society are far from alien, and the undercurrent of race riots flowing throughout the novel is particularly significant here in the Baltimore area.

 

Liz

Liz

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