Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers by James Gulliver Hancock

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Originally published in: 2014

What’s it about: A visual biographical encyclopedia of innovative individuals throughout history.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued when I stumbled across it while browsing an ebook and downloadable audiobook collection curated to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.

My favorite things: Hancock believes that the objects and people that individuals surround themselves with can be very revealing. He enhances the understanding of notable historical figures by focusing on these aspects of their lives, rather than simply on their achievements. Hancock’s cartoonish drawings are an engaging jumble of small images that help to paint a picture of each subject’s life.

Who it’s great for:  Readers intrigued by the daily lives of famous artists and thinkers. Fans of graphic biographies.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

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This post contains affiliate links.

Originally published in: 2014

What it’s about: Kolbert talks about how we (humans) may be orchestrating the sixth major mass extinction on Earth and the possible consequences.

What made me pick it up: I tried to read The Ends of the World and while it was good, I didn’t finish it. When I found this book available on audio I remembered it being similar in theme and highly recommended by Jon Stewart a few years ago so picked it up.

My favorite things: I learned so much about past extinction events (the ones before the dinosaurs) as well as the diverse evolutionary backgrounds of humans (I might be 4% Neanderthal). It does a great job of exploring how other extinctions occurred and why our current situation appears to be the same, if happening at a faster clip. It’s horrifying to think that more species than we are aware of are presently dying out without our knowledge, but honestly not all that surprising. Tl;dr – this isn’t good for humans either so let’s get it together.

Who it’s great for: Readers interested in the history of Earth. People concerned for the future of our planet and our species. Animal and plant lovers. Science nerds.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book from your local library or from Amazon.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea by Melissa Fleming


Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A Syrian refugee and her many tales of suffering and escape.

What made me pick it up?: It was on one list or another about refugees.

My favorite things: This book is stunning. I cannot believe how much struggle this woman has gone through. The author tells the story of Doaa and her family and their experiences masterfully. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. If you or someone you know doesn’t fully understand the crisis in Syria it will be indelibly etched in your brain after reading this. It will make you feel powerless and driven to enact change all at once.

Who it’s great for: This has horrifically violent scenes so it’s better suited for mature teens or adults. Anyone interested in learning more about the refugee crisis or the long war in Syria.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


Reality is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Physics. Historical developments, current view, and future speculations.

What made me pick it up: I’m a bit of a physics reading bender right now. I had read and enjoyed Rovelli’s previous book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, so when I saw this was coming out I placed a hold.

My favorite things: This book has a great audio reader, which makes it all the more accessible. I enjoy this author’s books because I come away actually knowing and understanding more about physics. Both the history of the science and discoveries in it but also current concepts and research. It can be a little mind bending but the way concepts are explained makes sense and it makes it more acceptable that time doesn’t exist.

Who it’s great for: Citizen scientists. Anyone who wants interesting facts to share at dinner parties. The generally curious.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get Seven Brief Lessons On Physics and Reality Is Not What It Seems on Amazon (affiliate links) or at your local library.


 

Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Never Caught tells the story of Ona Judge’s time as a woman enslaved by George Washington, her escape from the President’s home, and the rest of her life as a fugitive.

What made me pick it up: I first read about Ona Judge in the YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalist In the Shadow of Liberty by Kenneth Davis. When I saw an entire book dedicated to her I knew I needed to know more.

My favorite things: This is a compelling read that is never dry. Dunbar seamlessly weaves Judge’s own account with other recorded details from history to create a well contextualized and more comprehensive report. Dunbar repeatedly reminds her readers that no matter how “good” or “kind” slaveholders were or tried to be toward the people they enslaved, those that they considered property would choose freedom of any kind every time they could.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults interested in learning more about the reality of slavery and the lives of the fugitives who escaped during the early days of the United States. Readers who struggle to engage with nonfiction and history will appreciate Dunbar’s style of narrative nonfiction.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Storm in a Teacup by Helen Czerski

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: This book tackles the ‘physics of everyday life’ by using small-scale examples (like why teacups slosh) to illustrate large-scale themes.

What made me pick it up: I had read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and was waiting for the next book by that author when I saw this, so I placed a hold.

My favorite things: First off, this audio reader is excellent. Who knew a cheery British accent would make learning physics fun? She explains concepts in very easy to understand ways and relates them to common occurrences like getting a static electric shock so you understand the principles. She also drops a lot of fun experiments into the text anecdotally that you might want to try. (The raisin one is quite fun and you might already have the supplies).

Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in physics or science or learning more about our world. Teachers or librarians or parents looking for some fun STEM program/project ideas.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find Storm in a Teacup or Seven Brief Lessons on Physics at Amazon (affiliate links) or your local library.


 

Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Lohman identifies eight flavors that she believes are integral to and representative of American cuisine and explains the history behind each.

What made me pick it up: I was browsing new books just before lunch and something about food sounded appealing.

My favorite things: I found it interesting to read the reasons behind each flavor’s inclusion. Lohman does a good job of providing historical context for each and discussing the impact of immigration on cuisine. She also visits a variety of production facilities and it’s kind of cool to get a peek into how the different flavors are cultivated. Plus, there are recipes included for each flavor if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Who it’s great for: Fans and readers of culinary history. Cooks and food lovers interested in the story behind the flavors they enjoy.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

YALSA Nonfiction Award Finalists

Toward the end of every year, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) releases a shortlist of titles for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. The winner is announced at the ALA Youth Media Awards in January. This year’s winner was John Lewis’ March:Book Three. Here’s a quick rundown of the other titles that made the list of finalists.

What made me pick them up: Each year I try to read all of the finalists before the winner is announced, but this year I’m running a little behind.

Hillary Rodham Clinton:  A Woman Living History by Karen Blumenthal

What it’s about: This book follows Hillary Clinton’s life and political career through the beginning of her 2016 Presidential campaign.

My favorite things: I appreciated that the author didn’t shy away from the controversies that have popped up throughout her life and career. Blumenthal effectively explains many of the difficulties and criticisms Clinton has faced throughout her career and how she has worked to overcome them.

Who it’s great for: Teens and adults who want to know more about Clinton’s life and career leading up to her history making campagin as the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party.

Abby’s rating:  four-shells

In the Shadow of Liberty:  The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives by Kenneth C. Davis

What it’s about: Davis presents the lives of five enslaved people and the four presidents who counted them as property.

My favorite things: There’s a very powerful section at the beginning where Davis names several beloved founding fathers and their contributions to the nation, and then lists how many enslaved people they owned. He does an incredible job throughout the book of highlighting the complexities of slavery in early American history and pointing out the inconsistencies in the words and actions of the men who designed the nation.

Who it’s good for:  Teens interested in concrete examples of the contradictions between the rhetoric of liberty and the reality of slavery during the early days of the United States.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

Samurai Rising:  The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune  by Pamela S. Turner.  

What it’s about: This traces the early years of samurai rule in Japan by following the life of Minamoto Yoshitsune.

My favorite things: This is a really fun, and often funny, look into the history of samurai rule in Japan. Turner blends storytelling and historical accounts for an exciting peek into the life of a Japanese legend: Minamoto Yoshitsune, the “ultimate samurai”.

Who it’s good for: Teens interested in learning about Japanese history and samurai culture. Reluctant nonfiction readers who need an action packed story to maintain interest.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

This Land is Our Land:  A History of American Immigration  by Linda Barrett Osborne

What it’s about: A concise history of immigration into the United States.

My favorite things: Osborne looks at more than immigration statistics. She considers the lived experience of immigrating to the United States by examining the restrictions and hostile attitudes that have targeted various immigrant groups throughout the nation’s history.

Who it’s good for: Teens and adults who want to understand the history of immigration policies and why it is such a divisive issue.

Abby’s rating: four-shells

What Erica Has on Hold

To Download

And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer by Fredrik Backman because I love everything he writes.
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor because John Green recommended its sequel on Twitter.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney because it is well reviewed.
Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. I don’t even remember why, but the cover is engaging.
The Nowhere Man by Greg Hurwitz which was recommended on Twitter.
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison because Junot Diaz said it was required reading.
Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life by Helen Czerski because I enjoyed Seven Brief Lessons on Physics but on audio because it turns out it’s long and this might be the only way I get through it.
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver because it’s lovely and I didn’t finish it before my first check out expired.
You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson because I’m on a racism reading tear.

In Print

Am I Alone Here: Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live by Peter Orner because reading.
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe because I enjoyed The End of Your Life Book Club immensely.
Go Figure: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know from The Economist because I enjoy economics-explains-the-world books like Freakonomics.
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur because it’s short.
Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth because I enjoyed a similar book about China.
Teacup by Rebecca Young because it was on a list of books for children about refugees.