Book Bingo Update Plus Some Bookstore Tourism

I wrote about Book Bingo over at In Another Place related to gamifying reading.

I filled out my card and have been using it to drive my reading. It’s fun to explore different genres including fantasy (The Graveyard Book), science fiction (Ender’s Game) and alternative history (The Man in the High Castle). I took advantage of the analog AND digital library to find a couple books (The Graveyard Book and The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian) and retired one that’s been around for awhile (Spartina).

I did take time off the bingo card to read The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry, my first Overdrive checkout. The app connects to my Amazon account to get to my Kindle and lets me choose the length of the check out time. It’s interesting that not all of the books in the Cotton Malone series are available electronically. But the next one is already on the shelf at my local branch so I’ll head down there this week.

KramerbooksA conference in Washington, DC, got me to a new bookstore. Kramerbooks is in Dupont Circle and packs a lot of books in two pretty small rooms. Walk through the store to a bar and a lovely cafe. I might be willing to move to the city if I could live around the corner from a spot like this. I came away with a nice pile of interesting reads including Education: A Very Short Introduction by Gary Thomas, part of Oxford’s series of short introductions to lots of topics. I’m proud of myself that I only walked away with one. I’ve mostly stopped by fiction in analog since I read them so quickly. Instead, I added a few others to the library including A History of the World in Twelve Maps and On Dupont Circle, which tells the story of the Roosevelts and their progressive friends who shaped the beginning of the 20th century.

It’s harder to find time to read this time of year: the garden is calling. There’s weeding and culling and moving and mulching, and I like to do a couple hours a day, in smaller chunks of 45 minutes or so. After five years of working on these garden beds, adding perennials and shaping edges, they are coming together nicely, and I’m looking forward to seeing them move through the seasons. The biggest challenge now is dealing with some of the large chunks of daylilies and irises we have in various places. I have spots for them but the digging and hauling have deterred me so far.

 

When You Want the Book

Sometimes you just want the “real” book and this is one of those times. Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk is a children’s book that explores the large number of phrases and expressions we inherited from the Bard. Writer Jane Sutcliffe explains the phrases while illustrator John Shelley creates wonderfully detailed visions of London in the 16th century. I could buy the Kindle version and have it right now, but there’s something about this book that makes me want the book itself to hold and explore.

But, then it occurs to me that the Kindle version would allow me to better explore as I can expand the illustrations and move around them. I’ve been reading the Lumberjanes comic books using the Kindle app and it’s fun to be able to dive into the illustrations.

So…maybe I’ll just buy both!

 

The Importance of Keeping Good Records

NB: This post originally appeared on my professional blog, In Another Place. 

I just finished David McCullough’s story of the Wright Brothers and their contributions to the history of flight. It is a biography of sorts, telling the story of the family but focusing on the years when the brothers were developing and demonstrating the plane. Maybe that is less by design and more because by 1910, McCullough notes that they had really “accomplished all they had set out to do.” (p. 253). Wilbur Wright died young, just a few years after the momentous events of the early 1900s. Orville outlived the rest of the family but spent much of his time in bitter disputes over patents and legacy and had a falling out with his sister who had done so much to support the brothers. A sad ending, really.

The legacy seems to be the most important part and continues to be controversial as there is another claimant to the “first to fly” mantle: Gustave Whitehead. His claim had been largely debunked throughout history–McCullough dismisses it in a few sentences–until Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft published an editorial claiming photographic evidence.  I was not prepared for what I found doing some quick Google searches. This is a big fight amongst the aviation community and several states. Gustave has his own website and prominent supporters.

Meanwhile, aviation historian Carroll F. Gray tends to the anti-Whitehead website devoted to questioning all things Whitehead. In a lesson for all inventors, keeping good records is essential. Gray argues that a major reason to support the Wrights’ claim over Whitehead is that there is just more documentation:

Lost in much of the discussion and debate over who was first to fly is the simple fact that the evidence for Gustave Whitehead is extremely thin to non-existent, while the work of the Wrights is evidenced by volumes of notebooks, numerous diaries, piles of photographs and reams of letters. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that those who believe that Whitehead actually flew sustain themselves on “a hope and a prayer” — faith in that supposed fact — because the absolute proof of that claim is nowhere to be found.

Finally, there’s a humorous political aspect to all this. Based on that one editorial in the aviation magazine, Connecticut legislators decided to declare Connecticut the birth place of aviation and put all their support behind Whitehead. North Carolina and Ohio, states that have often fought over the brothers, now joined forces with both states passing their own resolutions against Connecticut’s claim.

I think this might make an interesting conversation in a history class or makerspace about keeping historical records and how innovation happens. No one can seem to determine if the brothers knew about Whitehead who, even if he didn’t fly, did some inventing and tinkering around planes and the idea of a flying car.

 

Tinkering and Making With the Wright Brothers

NB: This review was originally posted at my professional blog, In Another Place.

Historian David McCullough has discovered the “secret sauce” of writing history for non-historians. He presents history first and foremost as a story of people, often ordinary, who go on to do extraordinary things or live through extraordinary events.

The Wright Brothers is no exception: we learn a bit their childhoods, just enough to let us understand their close knit family and community in Dayton, Ohio. But pretty quickly we are in the workshop and on the beach watching as they create their flying machine.

For schools diving into makerspaces, the story of the Wright brothers is an important one: In a time of amazing innovation, “aerial navigation” was the last untapped frontier with many people, both laymen and leaders, simply believing that man was not meant to fly. Yet, two bicycle makers from Ohio had a vision that played out into a lifelong passion. They understood that there would be failure so did not let it deter them but moved ahead step by step. I like to imagine them wandering the shore line of the Outer Banks where I have spent many summers watching the gulls and gannets but not, as I might, just to admire them, but to consider what lessons they could learn from the birds.

There is a clear lesson for all of us who wish to encourage the habits of thought that lead to the kind of creative and critical thinking exhibited by the Wright Brothers. McCullough writes:

Years later, a friend told Orville that he and his brother would always stand as an example of how far Americans with no special advantages could advance in the world. “But it isn’t true,” Orville responded emphatically, “to say we had no special advantages…the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity” (p. 18).

This grainy video of the record setting flight in 1909 is available from the National Archives and is in the public domain. The plane itself is on display at the National Air and Space Museum and you can learn more about the early flights at their website.

Friday Finds on Saturday

I am working on a keynote for a group of librarians. The theme of the conference is “Librarians on the Edge” and the focus is how librarians are shaping the future.

I’ve been really enjoying BiblioTECH by John Palfrey. The book is a manifesto for libraries with a multitude of examples of innovative online and face to face libraries. Palfrey has also recommended a variety of books and I am trying to check them out of the library. I put a hold on Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles and got the message this morning that it was in.

I spent some time browsing the shelves as well and came away with some gems:

Sense and Sensiblity, Joanna Trollope’s contribution to The Austen Project

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

The Sandman Overture Deluxe Edition by Neil Gaiman

I’m not sure I’ll have time to read them all in the next two weeks but I can always renew them.

 

Leaderships Lesson from Rebel Yell

NB: Cross posted from In Another Place, my professional blog

I have been fascinated with the Civil War since first seeing Ken Burns’ epic documentary. Moving to Virginia fueled that fascination, and I have visited many of the battlefields.

One of the most intriguing characters that came out of a war full of intriguing characters was Stonewall Jackson, an odd stiff man who seemed to only come into his own when in the midst of the war. Beyond the battlefield, he was  unsuccessful in many ways. He often let his strong ethics get in the way of his relationships. His tenure in both the military and VMI was fraught with somewhat silly arguments with others. It was only when he found his place in the war that he began to shine as a strategist, warrior and, ultimately, a leader. After his death, even those in the north admired him for his tenacity and religious fervor. Abraham Lincoln, on reading a northern editorial about Jackson, wrote, “I sought my state-room, to weep there. Is it wrong, is it treason, to mourn for a good and great, though clearly mistaken man?” (p. 558).  And, Henry Ward Beecher, ardent abolitionist and editor of The Independent, called Jackson, “Quiet, modest, brave, noble, honorable, and pure. He fought neither for reputation now, not for future personal advancement.” (p. 559).

S.C. Gwynne‘s recent biography of Jackson, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, dissects the man, getting beyond the legend to reveal a loving husband and father and a loyal friend to those who get past the prickly exterior.

But Gwynne also highlights some essential leadership lessons that can be taken from Jackson’s life. One of those is the power of belief to drive men to do more or less than they might otherwise do. He speculates on why groups of soldiers might advance or retreat, writing:

Belief counted for a lot–in one’s general, in the caption in front of you brandishing his gleaming sword, in the bravery of one’s fellow soldiers, in the idea of winning itself…Though it is impossible to measure the effect of Jackson’s growing reputation as a winner on his men, it was undoubtedly strong (p. 321).

Often being a leader means having to influence people to do things they wouldn’t do naturally. When visiting the now peaceful battlefields, I find it unfathomable that soldiers on both sides, having witnessed the carnage of previous fights, were willing to continue to march into these battles. Yet, several times in Rebel Yell, Gwynne comments that the men of the Stonewall Brigade seemed, despite the deprivations and horror, happy as they followed the man who made them victorious against all odds. There is a lesson here for all of us who lead: build confidence by creating opportunities for success.

Friday Finds At A Favorite Bookstore

I had to make a trip to Richmond today so I made sure I arrived early enough to visit one of my favorite Indie bookstores: Fountain Bookstore. It’s small and cozy with an interesting selection of books and other booky merchandise. I never leave without something in my hands and today, despite my resolutions, was no exception.

Having just finished Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (I’ll blog about that book later), I’m in a Civil War mode so was excited to pick up Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman.

I’m reading Armada and decided it was time to finally read Ender’s Game. She had a paperback copy.

And two books about our criminal justice system: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stephenson and Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs From Jail, which features writing by prison inmates collected by their writing teacher David Coogan.

Looking forward to reading all of them!

 

Slow Reading Plus Loving My Library

Finished The Accidental Tourist and liked it more than A Spool of Blue Thread: maybe a stronger plot with clearer connections between the characters.

Anne Tyler tells human stories with characters that verge ever so slightly on the stereotype. The Leary siblings in The Accidental Tourist seem almost too quirky, tied as they are to the past and their own routines and needs. It makes personal relationships difficult and marriage almost impossible unless the spouse understands those needs and can make accommodations in the name of love. Macon Leary has gotten out, it seems, until an almost unspeakable tragedy leads to the end of his marriage and his return to the arms of his sister and brothers. It takes Edward, his dog, to help him reconnect to an unlikely “fixer” who helps him really see the world outside the cocoon he has built.

Now I’m working through Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne. A think book but Gwynne knows how to tell a story. He fits in the details and yet balances them with human interest. Even the battle descriptions, usually a turn off for me, are well written. I’m reading it for the nonfiction “challenge” on Library Thing but decided it’s more important to me to read slowly than finish it by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, kudos to my library: when I was in a couple weeks ago, the librarian turned me on to their digital magazines. WOW! I’ve printed a few recipes from Bon Apetit, read a feature about Joy Mangano in Good Housekeeping, and enjoyed browsing the other available subscriptions. It’s a wonderful service, easily accessible from my laptop or iPad.

We got about 10 inches of snow and ice during the big storm. Enough to keep me tucked inside: made beef stew and the most amazing Liege Waffles from King Arthur Flour. They were delicious made in my plain old waffle maker and I’m looking forward to toasting them for breakfast this week.

Mid-January Reading Review

I have completed five very different books so far this year, including one audio book:

Here are my impressions:

Library of Souls

Library of Souls is the third book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. Ransom Riggs weaves a fascinating tale of a world beyond our world where human beings with “peculiar” characteristics live in time loops. Jacob Portman discovers these peculiars, their mentors and his own peculiarity in the first book of the series, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. There are evil forces at work and the children fight them in the second and third books. The books are illustrated with antique photographs that Riggs has borrowed or collected. Story and photos intertwine in interesting ways and I found myself wondering about the writing process. Did Riggs look for the next photo or write the next section and then look for a photo that added interest?

I was a little taken aback by the violence: evil is really evil here, chasing the peculiars to drain their souls, and there are scenes of torture. The good guys use one of the bad guys in a similar way and Jacob sees the fear in the creature’s eyes. It lives but only just and Jacob understands that even this horrible beast who would eat him if it got the chance has a bit of its own spark of life and humanity. This is a young adult novel and I think this particular point would be an important one to explore if you are reading the books with young people.

Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety is a story of friendship and marriage. Four people, two couples, who connect across their lifetimes as they find their passions, even as they encounter their own limitations. Larry Morgan, who with Sally makes up one couple, narrates the story, focusing his attention on a few seminal events that define the relationships among the four and often help illuminate the marriage of Sid and Charity, their larger than life friends who pull Larry and Sally into their orbit when they meet in Madison in the years before WW II. I found the narrative quietly compelling. The drama has a cerebral quality as Larry examines the relationships and his own trajectory as a writer. We see how money and family affect the group as well as their aspirations for their respective spouses. Stegner is a master of setting and allows it to play a large, sometimes active role, in the story.

Bitter Seeds

I found Bitter Seeds in my Audible feed so downloaded it for a recent road trip. I’m honestly not sure when I bought it or what attracted me to it. I am familiar with the theory of alternate history but haven’t read much and don’t think I realized that was the genre. It was not what I was expecting at all: a dark fantasy set during World War II. I found it fascinating even if it was sometimes a bit too violent for my tastes. There was also a psychologically disturbing edge to the narrative: children raised in a purely evil environment, taught to fear failure, trained only to kill.

I’m not sure I’ll read the next two books in the series or not. It reminds me a bit of Steig Larsson’s books: an evil, cynical world that repels and yet attracts as the author weaves a compelling story amongst the evil. This isn’t gratuitous violence but a narrative of good and evil where neither side really wins. I listened to all three of Larsson’s books and was fascinated by them.

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread is a story of a house and the four generations of the Whitshank famly who live there. It’s a house born of obsession with perfection that houses a sour marriage at the start and then later a large typical family with love and petty jealousies and memories. Each character brings a bit of a surprise and we can find something to like in each one so ultimately this is a story of redemption. It was an enjoyable if not riveting read and as I headed to the last page, I felt like I wanted more answers. But, it occurred to me that the answers simply weren’t there: the characters didn’t know then and so we couldn’t either.

Venetian Betrayal

I discovered Steve Berry last year when I found The Charlemagne Pursuit on my shelf. In the tradition of The DaVinci Code, Berry writes historical thrillers that play on ancient conspiracies brought into the modern world. Venetian Betrayal did not disappoint although I’m starting to grow weary of some recurring devices including supposedly dead people who turn up alive just when you need them. And this book seemed even more violent with the evil dictator seeming to just shoot everyone who angered her and finding other creative ways to kill those who oppose her. The bodies really piled up. Despite its length, I read it in a day, skimming through some of the sometimes complicated history related to the conspiracies.

On a personal note, I checked this out of the library: these kinds of quick reads don’t need to be on my shelf OR my Kindle!

 

 

Library Resolution Revisited

I did a quick search on library on this website and discovered two January entries (2011 and 2012) that resolved to use the public library more. Clearly, it was not a resolution last year since, when I logged in the other day to reserve a book, I discovered that my card had expired in 2014.

But, I’m back at it again this year: as I’ve gotten more involved in the reading groups sponsored by LibraryThing, I am discovering lots of books that aren’t on the shelf. Some may have free versions through Amazon but, mostly, I would have to pay for the digital versions. These are generally books that I won’t reread so the library seems like quite an economy. My library has a savings calculator that gives an estimate of the cost of the services you use. I think it’s a monthly calculation (I was a little confused by the number to be entered so counted each book as a “service” that I used). Including two books, a magazine (the librarian showed me the online magazine access they offered) and one interlibrary loan, my cost was $76.00. I may be able to cancel at least one magazine subscription.

Last year, I made reading my ROOTS (my own tomes) a priority and managed to read 45 books I already owned, 10 more than the goal I set at the beginning of the year. It doesn’t look like LibraryThing has a group for setting a library book goal but it doesn’t mean I can’t set my own. I’m going to start with 30 as a goal.  I checked out three today, two Anne Tylers for a book challenge and the next Steve Berry Cotton Malone mystery. I know I’ll continue borrowing Berry from the library. The books are good but I really don’t need digital copies.

Here’s the ticker: