Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered

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I do solemnly swear that I currently have an addiction to anything and everything that is related to the Broadway Musical, Hamilton. So, when I got a chance to read more about my favorite character, the Marquis de Lafayette, I jumped at the chance. At age nineteen, Lafayette volunteered to fight under George Washington and became one of the stars of the Revolution. He has long been celebrated by Americans as a hero and leader of Liberty for his roles in the American Revolution and the French Revolution. In his home country of France, he's not nearly the historical celebrity as he is in America, so learning more about his whole life made this read definitely worth it. 

Using substantial research and background information, The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio gives a great overview of his work life as well as his complicated home life as well. During the Revolution, he had a very father-son relationship with Washington who grew to trust him in leading major battles of the Revolution, including the Battle of Yorktown which brought the war to it's end. If you too love all things Hamilton, you'll enjoy learning more about this complex person who helped turn the world upside down at a very young age. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

All the President's Men

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It being the 45th anniversary of the break in at the Watergate complex which began the downfall of the Presidency of Richard Nixon, the scandal has been in the news a lot lately. All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein tells the breaking news story from the point of view of the two journalists most responsible for bringing the tale to light. While other journalists had let the story of the break-in slip to non-existence, Woodward and Bernstein continued to research and interview and dig until all the facts had come forward to the public. It was riveting journalism for the time and has set the standard for what the best journalism should like like in the present. 

How much do you know about Watergate and the Post's responsibility for bringing forward all the details of the break-in and subsequent cover-up? Nixon had a love hate relationship with the media. He much preferred to speak directly to his constituents, so he could control the content of the message, and often tried to denounce the Post's coverage as made up bunk. (The fake news of the day.) Most other news outlets had been largely ignoring the Watergate affair, so Nixon put pressure on the Post to quit their coverage including making a private statement that there was never to be another Washington Post journalist in the White House. The book takes us through timelines of events and the facts and missteps along the way which ultimately lead to other news sources beginning to take notice, Nixon resigning, and about 40 people indicted or jailed for the crime and obstructing justice. 

If you're taking part in the Reading Marathon, this book can fit into several categories: true crime, made into a wonderfully riveting movie which stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and depending on which version you read, the cover has some red on it. I do give you a warning - once I read this book, I wanted to learn more and more and more about Watergate and the twisted tales involved in it. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I Yam a Donkey

It's a picture book, it's on VBPL Recommends, it's recommended by a librarian, and it has characters that aren't human. (I mean you can't go wrong with a donkey and a potato, can you?) How many more Reading Marathon categories can you ask for? Add in that it is truly hilarious and I Yam a Donkey by Cece Bell has just about everything you could ask for.

It's hard to do puns that little kids can get, but even the youngest of grade schoolers will be laughing out loud at this funny tale. Is the potato a donkey or yam he a potato? Bad grammar leads the way in providing some clever tricks to not only provide a laugh but to also teach children the best way to say things. Even if you're not a kid, you'll like this one, so check it out today.

Don't forget, when you read a picture book to your child, you both get to count it for credit in the Summer Reading Program AND you get to count it as one of your books in the reading marathon. Just pick one of the many categories that you want to count it as. Happy Reading!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Let's start by asking if you're still working on finishing the Reading Marathon. If so, you're going to love this book, because it can fit into several categories: award winner, set in a foreign country, and there's even some characters who aren't human. And now, of course, it will be on VBPL Recommends and recommended by a librarian.

Adam Gidwitz is known for having reinvented the Grimm tales and now he's tapped into his inner-Chaucer with the medieval adventure story The Inquisitor's Tale Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. Set in France in 1242, it is centered on three very different children who are thrown together by chance - or maybe divine providence. Jeanne is a peasant girl who experiences visions of the future and is accompanied by a greyhound who may or may not be the resurrected embodiment of Saint Gwenforte. William is an oblate - a monk-in-training - left at the Abbey as an infant by his crusading father.  His mother is presumed to be North African Muslim woman, and her genetic and religious legacy make William stand out; he is not only brown but also unnaturally tall and strong. Jacob is a small Jewish boy with natural healing skills who escapes when his village is burned by Christian adolescents as a lark.  All three meet on the road to the same city - Jeanne taken to stand trial, William reporting to a new abbey, and Jacob seeking refuge with relatives.  Their story is told by a variety of witnesses gathered in an inn and the tension builds as you begin to suspect that the person asking for the tales is not what they seem to be.

Gidwitz has certainly done his research and a number of real people appear in the story. Even the kids are all loosely based on actual people. This solid footing, combined with Hatem Aly's illuminated manuscript pictures, create a rollicking adventure story with a core of magic and hope. Don't forget that all your reading marathon books also count for the Summer Reading program, so don't forget to sign up for both. Keep stretching those reading muscles to get that marathon done before the end of the year.

Friday, July 14, 2017

No One Told Me Not To Do This by Jay Ryan

No One Told Me Not To Do This is a collection of screen-printed posters.  Most of the artwork was created to promote concerts but you don’t need to know any of the bands to appreciate the visuals.  The prints were made by Jay Ryan (along with collaborators) and he provides small descriptions of when, why, and how each piece came to be.  Think of the little placards that accompany paintings in a museum but clever and occasionally self-deprecating.  I’m no poster expert (my taste in visual art tends toward the “I know what I like” variety) so I contacted Jay Ryan and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

How do you decide what makes it into the book and what doesn't?

It's hard to pick which prints to include in a book, since I get to make so many prints, but there are some which just make me happy or proud beyond the normal satisfaction of finishing a poster. As with all sorts of activities, some of these projects are just that little bit more successful (funny, beautiful, well-printed, clever, etc). I know that not everyone agrees with all of my choices for which prints were included.

What's the process for transferring sometimes large screenprints into the pages of a book?

The finished prints are usually 18 by 24 inches, though some are larger, and a few are smaller. I hire my friend Nathan Keay to take photos of the printed pieces on his copystand set-up. Nathan is a great professional photographer who shoots for the Museum of Contemporary Art and is quite good at shooting all sorts of artwork.

Have you ever considered illustrating something like a picture book for kids?

I certainly hope to illustrate children's books. My wife, Diana Sudyka, illustrates young adult novels. I've got an expansive idea which has been rolling around in my head for about seven years, which I'm trying to carve into a tangible narrative.

Is there a particular print that you think is a good example of your style?

The first print which come to mind as a good example of my style is "No More Disagreements Today", which I think we made in 2015. There are two mammals (maybe cats, maybe wombats) riding on bicycles, and they each are carrying a large taco. They look quite pleased. The image is visually dirty, has some movement, has a touch of absurdity, and includes both animals and bicycles. It's all there.

If you like this book, you might also enjoy 1000 Music Graphics, a collection of album covers, posters, and various music ephemera, available from the Virginia Beach Public Library.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson knows a lot about space (somehow I doubt that line is making it onto his next book jacket).  He knows so much about space and has so much personality that he is actually famous.  He’s a famous astrophysicist.  I’m pretty sure I don’t have to go into how rare that is.  Luckily for us, even though he’s probably quite busy with his work at the Hayden Planetarium and his various media appearances, he found time to put together a book for the astrophysics novice.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is a collection of short essays about various space-related topics.  The subjects range from gravity to light and even to the philosophical (Tyson’s ideas about the “cosmic perspective”).  Most of the essays were originally written for and appeared in scientific magazines and journals, so there isn’t as much hand-holding as there often is with a primer.  However, there is still plenty to learn even if you still confuse astronomy and astrology.  The short chapters are packed with information including historical anecdotes about scientific discoveries both obscure and illustrious.

What’s even more enjoyable is that amidst all of the hard science and history and mind-bending concepts, Tyson’s humor and panache are present on every page.  The key to engrossing non-fiction is finding an author with both the knowledge and enthusiasm to get information across to the reader.  Neil deGrasse Tyson can check off both of those boxes.  He also has the skill to harness his ideas and his excitement in a way that helps his audience understand and enjoy a topic as immense as the universe.

If you like this book, you might like Welcome to the Universe, a more in-depth explanation of space, by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

In 1986, Christopher Knight parked his car on an unpaved road.  He put the keys in the visor and walked into the woods.  He wasn’t heard from again for 27 years.

The Stranger in the Woods:  The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit is Knight’s story.  It details how he spent almost three decades living alone in the woods.  He didn’t sleep indoors for a single night.  He spoke one word aloud the entire time; he said “Hi” to a hiker who saw him on a trail.  He was a three minute walk from a popular lake ringed by seasonal and year-round cabins but the forest was so thick around his campsite that nobody was ever able to find it…until he lead police there.  The police had been investigating the “North Pond Hermit” for about as long as Knight had been in the woods.  The investigations centered on hundreds of break-ins spanning dozens of years.

Michael Finkel is a journalist and lover of the outdoors.  He has gone on numerous solo hiking and camping adventures in his life.  So, the story of a man living in solitude in the forest for longer than any other person on record caught his attention.  He contacted Knight in prison and, much to his surprise, Knight responded.  He ended up meeting with Knight several times to put together this story.  He also spoke with some of Knight’s family (who hadn’t heard from him for the entire time he was gone) and the families who owned the cabins around the lake.  Finkel amassed a lot of information about how Knight lived by himself for so long even through deadly winters in central Maine.  However, the question Finkel was most searching for was why.  Why would a quiet, intelligent man in his early 20s suddenly walk away from his life and the world to live in isolation against the elements?  And what does that tell us about society these days?

If you like this book, you might also like The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, a true story about the dark side of isolation at sea.  It was reviewed here.