X by Sue Grafton
(Marin Wood Books/Putnam, 2015, 403 pages)
X by Sue Grafton is the 24th book in the alphabet series that Grafton started writing in 1982. In X, private investigator, Kinsey Millhone, juggles three investigations. First, Kinsey is working through the files of her deceased fellow private investigator, Pete Wolinsky. He left a coded list of 6 female names. They are all related, but how? Second, Kinsey is hired to find a newly released convict. And third, Kinsey investigates the suspicious actions of her elderly neighbors who aren’t the upstanding citizens that they try to project.
Usually the titles of Grafton’s alphabet books are more than just a letter. For example, the first book was A is for Alibi. I’m not sure what the X stands for unless it is for two of the characters whose last name is Xanakis. I wonder if Grafton will have longer titles for novels, Y and Z. As I mentioned in an earlier review, I have heard that the last title will be Z is for Zero.
I enjoy the Kinsey Millhone novels. Some novels more than others. This novel was set in 1989. All of the novels have been set in the 1980s. It will be interesting to see if the novels move to the 1990’s before the series ends.
Religious Diversity and Early Modern English Texts: Catholic, Judaic, Feminist, and Secular Dimensions
edited by Arthur F. Marotti and Chanita Goodblatt
(Wayne State University Press, 2013, 376 pages)
This collection of essays brings together North American and Israeli literary scholars to look at the diverse religious streams that run through early modern English literature. Though the volume deals predominantly with the major Protestant literary figures of the era – Shakespeare, Milton, Herbert, etc. – the influences of Judaism, minority Catholic culture, and proto-feminist figures are explored in depth. This book is very helpful in the way that is draws out the crucial role that minority cultures played in shaping a literary culture that could otherwise appear to be uniformly Protestant.
Returning to Reality: Christian Platonism for Our Times by Paul Tyson
(Lutterworth Press, 2015, 218 pages)
You could categorize this book as philosophical theology, theological metaphysics, or some other combination of the disciplines. Whatever you call it, it deals with the way philosophy and theology relate to one another. Specifically, Tyson argues that the philosophical viewpoint of modernity (largely based on scientific assumptions) does not offer a sufficient explanation of the world in which we live. He argues instead that the ancient tradition of Platonism, especially as it has been appropriated by the Christian tradition, provides a more effective explanation of reality as a whole. The book is a bit more technical than necessary at points, but Tyson argues his case well. A longer review of this book will also appear in the publication Theological Book Review.
American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
(Wayne State University Press, 2010, 170 pages)
I can’t even tell you how long I’ve had this book on my to-read list but I finally got around to reading it and I’m so glad I did. American Salvage is a fabulous collection of short stories. The majority of the stories take place in Michigan (which is where I was raised). While the location of these stories appealed to me, it was the language and the storytelling ability of Campbell that drew me in. I really couldn’t get enough. At the end of each story I sat back and reflected a bit before moving on to the next one. I can’t wait to read more of her work!
If you’re looking to pick up a short story collection, or really just want to find something good to read, I would definitely recommend this title (which was also a National Book Award Finalist). I was going to offer a list of some of my favorite stories from the collection, but realized I’d just end up writing down the table of contents. If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed American Salvage 😉
Information Now: A Graphic Guide to Student Research
by Matt Upson, C. Michael Hall and Kevin Cannon
(University of Chicago Press, 2015, 115 pages)
This graphic novel takes a different approach to making information literacy approachable. As a librarian, it seems like as soon as you say the words “information literacy” students immediately start to tune out. You have to admit, it doesn’t sound exciting. But being information literate is SO important. Not just in the academic world, but in life.
I read this book in preparation for a research class I’ll be teaching. I wanted to see if there might be some more engaging ways to convey aspects of information literacy to students. I definitely picked up some examples for how I could phrase things that might be a little more straight-forward, but overall I came away from the book feeling confident that I was pretty spot on with how I typically teach the concepts.
That being said, I think this would be a great text to offer to incoming college freshmen who are looking to understand and acquire information literacy skills. The graphic novel format and the conversational language make it accessible. Plus, each chapter ends with questions that have the reader apply what they’ve just learned in a way that builds as the book goes on.
I Was a Child: A Memoir by Bruce Eric Kaplan
(Blue Rider Press, 2015, 208 pages)
I recently listened to a conversation with Bruce Eric Kaplan on a comedy podcast. I really enjoyed his dry sense of humor and his thoughtful, deliberate reflections on his childhood, parenting, and art. Kaplan is a TV writer who has worked on a diverse set of shows, including Seinfeld, Six Feet Under, and the current HBO series Girls. More relevant to the memoir he has written, however, are his cartoons, which are frequently featured in The New Yorker.
Kaplan’s memoir consists of brief stories and memories from his childhood. He begins this way: “I was a child, but I wasn’t very good at it. I’m not sure why. I think a lot of us are born waiting to be adults. I know I was. I just sat there, waiting. This is that story.”
The story he goes on to tell through words and drawings depicts the eccentricities of his parents, the dynamics of his neighborhood, and above all, the TV shows and movies that he loved as a kid. Memories, such as seeing his dad’s comb-over flap in the wind, fighting with his brothers for the good living room chair, and daily TV schedules are delivered with very little embellishment. They are recounted starkly, simply offering a reminder of how strange the world can seem to a child.
Kaplan’s book really captures something humorous about the limited perspective of childhood. As he told stories about his parents, I found myself constantly thinking about how odd my own behavior must look to my kids. Kaplan’s sparse drawings are hilarious, and they perfectly compliment his unadorned prose. I’m definitely planning to check out some of his collections of cartoons.
Vincent by Barbara Stok; translated by Laura Watkinson
(SelfMadeHero, 2014, 141 pages)
This graphic novel covers the final and most productive few years in the life of Vincent van Gogh. It depicts van Gogh in the countryside of Arles in southern France, frantically producing landscapes and trying to start an artist’s commune with Paul Gauguin. Unable to sell his work, van Gogh is supported financially and emotionally by his brother during this period, and Stok gives us a window into this patron/artist relationship through the letters they exchanged.
Stok’s artwork is simply rendered, and the colors are vibrant. She effectively portrays van Gogh’s frenetic energy as his creativity explodes and his mental health deteriorates. The dialogue communicates the essential points of van Gogh’s biography and artistic vision without becoming overly expository. I really enjoyed this quick read, and the final panels are particularly beautiful and moving.
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
(Graywolf Press, 2014, 169 pages)
I feel like I could keep rereading this small book and take something different away from it each time. It packs that kind of punch. Citizen is broken down into 7 parts and each focuses on a different aspect of how the black experience is lived in this world where the death and/or invisibility of black people continues despite growing voices of outrage. The 7 parts of the book are filled with poems, short essays, and art in various forms.
Some sections hit harder for me than others. The night I finished reading this book I teared up in the process. Rankine does an amazing job making the reader reflect on what she has written on the page. There were some parts of Citizen that I honestly had a hard time deconstructing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth putting in the time to do so. There were actually a number of times I put the book down to look something up and get the history of what Rankine was referring to in the text.
Citizen was nominated for a National Book Award and was the recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry. I’d certainly recommend it, especially if you’ve been wondering what all the buzz was about.
Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex by Michael Hiltzik
(Simon & Schuster, 2015, 512 pages)
When I saw this new book sitting on the display shelf, I had to check it out. I’d read a couple of books on the Manhattan Project and atomic bombs, and Ernest Lawrence’s name kept popping up. I only knew that he was a key scientist involved in the Manhattan Project and he won a Nobel Prize for inventing the cyclotron.
This book covers Lawrence’s professional career, not so much about his personal life. I enjoyed learning more about his contributions to nuclear physics, his leadership in establishing “Big Science,” and the birth of the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. It’s a treat to read about other extraordinary scientists whom Lawrence worked with on the Manhattan Project. Among them was Arthur Compton, a Nobel laureate, who served as Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis for eight years.
Chapter 13 covers the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee which I know some about. It’s fun to read about it from the views of Lawrence and his 100+ PhD physicists from Berkeley. Here’s a fun story: In a week long competition, the high school diploma workers outdid the PhD physicists in adjusting the knobs and optimizing production. The workers were trained to follow the instructions; whereas the scientists questioned and investigated the minor fluctuation of their meters (271).
Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron not only revolutionized nuclear physics, it also paved the way for medical research and diagnostics. The cyclotron is a machine that accelerates particles. For example it can produce F 18, a radioisotope, which is used in PET scans. The first commercial medical cyclotron was installed in 1941 at Washington University in St. Louis.
I found this book to be well researched, fast-paced and engaging. If you are interested in World War II or nuclear physics, give this book a try.
Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat by Barry Estabrook
(W. W. Norton & Company, 2015, 336 pages)
Normally when it comes to books that address things like animal treatment and factory farming I tend to steer clear because I don’t like feeling depressed about the nature of our food system. But Estabrook’s Pig Tales seemed to offer the promise of ending on a brighter note rather than being all doom and gloom. The book focuses on how pigs are typically raised for slaughter and how it is detrimental to the animals, the environment, and society as a whole. But he goes forward from here and offers examples of farmers that are doing things humanely, healthily, and successfully.
This was a really good read. While it’s definitely depressing at times, it does offer ways to encourage the general public to speak with their wallets. Take the time to seek out sustainable meat options – yes, it might be more expensive but you’re paying for quality and humanely raised meat. I won’t get on a soapbox, but I did come away from this book more aware of what I could do and what could be done more broadly to enable the animals raised for us to eat to have a better quality of life before giving it up.