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Alphabet Books: Not Just for Toddlers

posted by: October 28, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Rad American Women A-Z by Kate SchatzCover art for A to Z Great Modern Artists by Andy TuohyWriter Kate Schatz and artist Miriam Klein Stahl pair up to make their wonderfully colorful and informative book Rad American Women A-Z. Each woman gets a two-page spread with a graphic illustrated portrait and a few easy-to-read paragraphs. There are a myriad of different women including actresses, artists, scientists and activists. In addition to showing a variety of careers, Schatz and Stahl feature women with different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ages, gender identifications and disabilities. Notable features include Kate Bornstein, a transgender writer and performance artist, “who reminds us to bravely claim our true identity,” and Temple Grandin, an autistic animal science professor, “who shows us the power of a brilliant mind.” Although the text is written at a fifth-grade level, the women featured can be shared with any age group, from kindergartners to adults.


A to Z Great Modern Artists, drawn by Andy Tuohy and with text by Christopher Masters, is the kind of aesthetically pleasing book to have on your coffee table for when you want to get absorbed into something interesting but don’t quite feel like engaging yourself in a novel or magazine. Each featured artist has a portrait drawn by Andy Tuohy that replicates the style of that artist—Piet Mondrian’s portrait is drawn in the signature geometric style of his artwork, while Andy Warhol’s portrait is done in his famous pop-art style. In addition to Tuohy’s creative portraits, each letter of the alphabet feels like its own exhibit and includes notable works of art from the featured artists. You’ll want to move through the book slowly, like you would when walking through an art museum, in order to fully appreciate all of the nuances of Tuohy’s creative design.



posted by: October 27, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for 1944 by Jay WinikJay Winik chronicles the final push toward a WWII victory in 1944: FDR and Year That Changed History. By 1944, the Allies expected to win the war. There were no illusions: They knew the terrible cost it would entail. Franklin Delano Roosevelt maintained a coalition of contentious rivals who, in ordinary times, would have been natural enemies. Roosevelt faced some of the biggest challenges in our history: a struggling economy that threatened our democracy, an isolationist sentiment that shunned foreign involvement and the insatiable greed of fascism as it gobbled up country after country. All the while, the presidency took its toll on his health. FDR was clearly dying.


The book also discusses the atrocities being committed to Jews. The dread of Jewish families as the full meaning of their plight is understood is heartbreaking. The detailed account of the escape of two Jewish men from Auschwitz is taut and gripping.


Winik skips back and forth through the era, documenting events in 1944 and then backtracking to FDR’s political rise. Winik indicts FDR and his administration for failing to take direct action against the Nazis’ diabolical “Final Solution.” Historians have long debated whether Roosevelt could have done more militarily to disrupt or alleviate the Holocaust. His choice to concentrate on winning the war will remain controversial.


Jay Winik is a respected historian and his writing well executed. He is the author of New York Times bestselling April 1865 and The Great Upheaval. World War II enthusiasts will enjoy the backseat view of a beleaguered president as he maneuvers through the minefields of war and politics.


Big Magic

posted by: October 22, 2015 - 7:00am

Big Magic coverIf you’re an artist of any kind, if you aspire to live a life driven by curiosity, if you believe that inspiration and creativity are literal magic, then you will find a kindred spirit in Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.


Gilbert is best known for her 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love about her life-changing travels to Italy, India and Indonesia. But Gilbert advises that it’s not necessary to pack up and travel the world for the sake of your art—you can and should make room for creativity and magic in your everyday life, and Big Magic provides the roadmap. She also warns against putting unnecessary pressure on your creativity or burdening it by asking it to financially support you. This advice could feel inauthentic coming from a writer who does support herself with her art, but Gilbert is so earnest in her beliefs, it’s impossible to begrudge her success.


Instead of advocating fearlessness, Gilbert says that we should allow plenty of room for our fear, but realize that it should not control our creative lives. She also dismisses the popular stereotype of the tormented artist. Instead, she suggests that your work should be a positive collaboration between you and your creativity. Gilbert theorizes that ideas are incorporeal entities longing to be brought into existence and that if we aren’t receptive to them, they will knock at the next artist’s door. She relates an anecdote about a novel she failed to write, only to discover years later that a very similar idea had magically found Ann Patchett.


After writing Big Magic, Gilbert didn’t feel like she was finished with the subject of creativity and began a podcast called Magic Lessons where she and guests, including Patchett and Cheryl Strayed counsel writers and artists who are having issues in their creative lives.


Beautifully written and full of fresh ideas on the nature of creativity, Big Magic is sure to become recommended reading along with classics like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.


The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

posted by: October 21, 2015 - 7:00am

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage coverAutomatons! Higher mathematics! World domination! The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua contains everything inquiring minds could ask for. A history of the nascent development of computing, it contains a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in their creation of the Analytical Machine (now known as a computer). Not limited to just explanations of the mechanical and theoretic processes, Padua also delves into contextualizing the machine’s creation with profiles of the people, culture and time period that had an influence on its formation. Any dryness you might expect of such subject matter is diverted by speculation of what Sherlockian adventures could have happened if the groundbreaking machine actually managed to be produced in the Victorian era of its imagining.


Padua’s zeal for her subject is infectious and her research has yielded amusing vignettes of the characters who were involved in the creation of computation, including cameos by George Eliot, Lewis Carroll and Queen Victoria. Despite her frequent demurrals to expertise, she concisely breaks down the complex engineering of her subject (with diagrams!) so that it is understandable for those of us who aren’t engineers, mathematicians or wizards. Be warned: It is text heavy for a graphic novel, primarily because the number and density of footnotes rivals those of the late Terry Pratchett. Like The Great Pratchett, however, the footnotes contain amusing digressions whose levity make them worth the effort. 





posted by: October 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Mate by Tucker MaxIn his latest book Mate: Become the Man Women Want, Tucker Max teams with professor of evolutionary science Geoffrey Miller to answer one of the biggest questions men have in dating: What do women want? Max is most well-known for his best-seller I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell where he recounts many of his dating mishaps in humorously crass anecdotes. In this more serious book, Max and Miller deviate away from the typical social and cultural approaches men take in trying to understand what women want — ideas that women want “family men,” or men who are strong or men who look or act a certain way. Aren’t there many different types of men, and don’t women have many different preferences?


Instead, Max and Miller use evolutionary psychology, hunter-gatherer anthropology, behavioral genetics and other quantifiable methods to study what has attracted women to men since prehistoric times. They take this research and break it down into five principles which can then be followed through five steps, almost like a scientific reference manual on how to date. Max and Miller emphasize the power of female choice when it comes to mating. Rather than figuring out how to approach or seduce a woman into liking them, men are better off understanding a woman’s perspective and then becoming the best man they can be so that women will choose them.


Although written by two men, Max and Miller’s claims about what women want and how women choose men are surprisingly accurate. The combination of Max’s candid commentary and Miller’s logical scientific observation make this book a truly entertaining read, whether you are a man looking for advice or a woman who is curious to see how men approach dating.


The Other Serious

posted by: October 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Other Serious by Christy WampolePrinceton professor and essayist Christy Wampole weeps for the millennial generation. In her collection The Other Serious, she discusses America’s cultural reliance on irony to get through work and school days, muses on the rapid rise and fall of hipsterdom as a fashion trend and state of mind, laments the lack of conversation between young and old people in America and pities the overly serious states in which many people conduct their lives. Her essays are a beautifully written series of polite reality checks arranged to highlight how deeply American youth is entrenched in consumer culture.


In “The Great American Irony Binge,” Wampole diagnoses today’s espresso-sipping, Apple-worshipping, tight-jeaned and handlebar-mustached facetious youth with chronic boredom and hopelessness, positing that a lack of any clear life direction and the Sisyphean nature of the U.S. college experience has caused them to chisel broken facades and congregate to strengthen the radiance of their collective “It’s cool, man, everything’s cool” attitude. In “Toward a Sterile Future,” she wonders whether our perpetual quest to streamline every aspect of human life with consumer technology puts us at risk to become complacent. She imagines a future in which there is no such thing as an artisan and people are one more cloud-based service away from becoming the machines on which they rely for daily function. She segues this into an assertion that human interactions feel weird because people are usually enshrouded in the snuggie of online anonymity when conversing. Face-to-face interactions are becoming rarer and rarer, to the point where they are beginning to feel surreal. In “On Awkwardness,” Wampole suggests that simply embracing the weirdness and remembering that we are all individuals with different values and experiences could lead towards a new social enlightenment.


Wampole offers gentle criticism while never disparaging any group or individual, and does so with a style that embraces the beauty of simplicity. Splashes of effervescence and relevant cultural references make her essays incredibly engaging, and her arguments foster creative evaluation in the best way possible. Perhaps the best way to summarize The Other Serious is with this quote from the titular essay: "I want to understand what has forced half the population into an unbearably heavy seriousness and the other half into an unbearably light, confettilike eruption of irony."







The 2015 Fall Literary Awards Update

posted by: October 14, 2015 - 12:00pm



Cover of A Brief History of Seven Killings



Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.” 









The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th. 



Cover of RefundCover of The Turner House Cover of Fates and Furies Cover of Fortune Smiles  Cover of A Little Life



Cover of Between the World and Me  Cover of Hold Still Cover of If the Oceans Were Ink Cover of Ordinary Light  Cover of The Soul of an Octopus



Cover of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude Cover of How to Be Drawn  Cover of Voyage of Sable Venus Cover of Bright Dead Things  Cover of Elegy for a Broken Machine


Young People's Literature 

Cover of The Thing About Jellyfish  Cover of Bone Gap Cover of Most Dangerous Cover of Challenger Deep Cover of Nimona








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