Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 19, 2013
From My Shelf
That Book Everybody Will Be Reading this Summer
It's funny how the bookish mind works. When I first learned that we'd be featuring an interview with William Friedkin in this issue, I thought immediately of The Exorcist, The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A. I also recalled The Night They Raided Minsky's, in which he directed my late father-in-law, Joseph Wiseman.
Then, because I'm a book person, I remembered a terrifying summer more than four decades ago when everybody was reading William Peter Blatty's novel. The Exorcist was my first official "beach read," and I was in very good company that summer; thousands of people, including more than a few self-proclaimed "nonreaders" I knew, were under its terrible/wonderful spell.
Soon dozens of "summer reading lists" will appear everywhere we look, online and off, but back then word-of-mouth was the key to momentum. "Everybody's reading it!" I used to hear those words a lot before I entered the book business. Every summer there was THE BOOK wherever you turned (a horror novel plot in itself, perhaps). I'm sure you recall your own first "everybody's reading it" title. Maybe it was Love Story or Jaws or Jonathan Livingston Seagull or The Godfather or Jurassic Park or Beach Music or The Bridges of Madison County or The Da Vinci Code.
After a couple of decades in the book trade, I confess I'm a little jaded. Working for years as a bookseller, and then an editor, has robbed me of my summer reading innocence. I learned to search for books almost nobody was reading yet. A worthy quest, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but something has probably been lost as well as gained in the transition. Remembering a moment in time when everybody was reading The Exorcist, I can't help wondering what everybody will read this summer. --Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness
Poets' Favorite Poetry; Best Internet Words Given to English
Variations on a theme of National Poetry Month: "Your favorite poets' favorite books of poetry" were apparently discovered by Flavorwire, which also shared the "absolute worst poems by celebrities." And then there's, believe it or not, a Tumblr devoted to (somewhat NSFW) "Poets Without Clothes."
QuikLit showcased "25 rare photos of famous authors."
LOL: "The 10 best words the Internet has given English" were featured in the Guardian.
Children's puppeteer Polly Dunbar chose her "top 10 books that would make great puppet shows."
From the "I want one!" department comes architect Moon Hoon's "Library Slide," which he designed recently for a house in South Korea.
For writers trying to go completely organic, Design Milk featured Marlies Romberg's "Wooden Computer Workstation, which "fuses wood-crafted furniture design, with an integrated desktop computer, abruptly questioning ideas of the 'traditional.' "
The Writer's Life
William Friedkin: The Film Director Connects with His Past
Born in Chicago in 1935, William Friedkin admits in The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir (see our review below) that as a young boy growing up he had no moral compass. ("I may have sugar-coated it in the memoir.") But a mother's love for her child turned him around and he went on to become a celebrated movie director. Two of his films are among the most influential and successful movies ever made: The French Connection, which won him an Oscar for Best Director (the film won Best Picture), and The Exorcist. Forty years after its release, the latter is still the highest grossing horror film of all time--he prefers to see it as a film about the "mystery of faith."
Shelf Awareness interviewed Friedkin by telephone from his office in Los Angeles.
Here you are in your late 70s, and you've finally written a memoir about your career and your films. What took you so long?
An agent, Richard Pine, called me and asked if I'd be interested in writing my autobiography. I said no. He said, why not? I said because I wouldn't be interested in reading it. He told me he had five publishers interested. So now I was interested. I flew to New York and talked to them. Jonathan Burnham of HarperCollins told me to write about my feelings, write about things that were important to me. And that was the key; it opened the door for me. It meant writing with extreme candor, so I interviewed a number of people I worked with who are still around and I got their sense of the work we had done together. They often conflicted with my own memories, like Kurosawa's Rashomon. These helped me sort out my own memories. I wrote the book in longhand over three years in Moleskine books. I sent the pages to my editor and we got it done.
What was it like working with Sonny and Cher on your first film, Good Times?
I cared about them. We were contemporaries. I wasn't a fan of their music (I like classical and jazz), but I got to see how Sonny worked and I was extremely impressed. I liked and respected him enormously. At that time Cher was mainly a hanger-on, not really sure of what she wanted to do. A child of the Sunset Strip. Sonny took her and molded her. It's very much a Pygmalion story. We had the same sense of humor, which is one of the best ways to get to know somebody.
Would you recount the story about how you almost missed the Oscar ceremony in which you were up for Best Director for The French Connection?
Back then the ceremony was at the Music Center in downtown L.A., and traffic was always heavy. Six of us in evening dress left in my business manager's Rolls Royce. It broke down. We pushed the car into a nearby service station. The car was dead. No cabs, of course. There was a guy in a funky little Ford, and I asked him if he could give us a lift to the Music Center. "I'll make it worth your while. I have a film nominated for best picture tonight, The French Connection, and I'm the director." He said, "okay, but you'll need to call my wife tonight, win or lose." I promised. I called her around midnight with the news that we had won. Our guardian angel saved the day. Frank Capra handed me the Oscar for Best Director that evening and whispered quietly: "Terrific, you deserved it."
You say that the chase scene is the "purest form of cinema." In what way?
The chase scene can't be done in any other medium. But through the use of montage in cinema you can. No dialogue needed. It's "pure cinema"--simplicity and clarity. You need surprises along the way. Highly visual, plus the soundtracks layered in afterwards can help enhance the audience's appreciation.
Next comes The Exorcist. You're on a creative roll. What was happening to you as a director that made you so successful at this time?
The French Connection led to The Exorcist, which was an extraordinary piece of material. There had been nothing like it prior, something about the literal power of the Christian faith. It made me think about other things in history that can only be explained by demonic possession, like the rise of National Socialism and Hitler. You can only explore this as a case of mass hysteria or demonic possession. A whole generation followed him into hell. So the material was exceptional, and by then I had learned much about my craft. I had confidence in my casts and my decisions.
Then came Sorcerer, a remake of the French classic Wages of Sin. You're pretty hard on yourself describing its failure.
I had thought that was my best film. In many ways, I still do. It's on the eve of a resurrection as we talk; it will be re-released by a major studio. I put some of my best work into it. It was a tough picture to make, illness and injury. It crashed and burned, way out of time with the zeitgeist--Star Wars.
In the memoir you "confess" you actually spent some of the counterfeit $20 bills you printed in To Live and Die in L.A.--"the money was that good." Do you think the Secret Service will be knocking on your anytime soon?
Not much. Back then I'd put a bill in my wallet with my money. I didn't want to deceive anyone. But as a test, the money was great. I confess this to show how good it was. Most of it was only printed on one side. I got a mouthful from the U.S. Attorney General of California. One of our special effects people took some of the one-sided bills home as a souvenir, and his son passed them around to friends. The Secret Service was down there in 10 minutes, and then they called me. They were very angry.
Can you talk a little bit about your enjoyment editing a film?
It's the most creative aspect of filmmaking. I think it's probably similar to composing music, where you hear some melodies and then start playing them. Everything you shoot on the set is just raw material for the editing room. I edit with a completely open mind about how I'm going to put the film together, move things around. No pressure. Editing should really be called composing.
Everyone has a top 10 list. From your memoir we learn you really admire Citizen Kane. What are some others?
It's very eclectic. All About Eve. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Paths of Glory. Singing in the Rain. An American in Paris. Gigi. Blowup. There's a film made in the '70s that I think is even more relevant today--The Parallax View. Made by a director who passed away too early, Alan Pakula. I believe it's a masterpiece of the period. 8 1/2. Night of the Hunter. Antonioni's trilogy: L'Avventura, La Notte, L'eclisse. The films of the '50s and '60s are very important to me. Recently I discovered the silent films of Buster Keaton. They're masterpieces. I don't know how they did them. Brilliantly executed and life-threatening.
What's next? Any new projects out there you're excited about?
I'm looking at a number of things, including three operas to possibly direct and several film projects, but right now I'm looking forward to the book tour, meeting new people. I'll do a benefit reading in Chicago at the downtown library to which I owe so much, probably about $15,000 in book fines. I'm pleased I was able to get through the writing process. It never occurred to me that I could do it. It's been a surprise and delight. And I hope there will be a new Friedkin film--that's all in God's hands. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
All That Is
by James Salter
James Salter's sixth novel, All That Is, begins with a gorgeous set piece about American sailors approaching Okinawa during World War II. The prose is classic Salter--lithe, concrete, varied in rhythm, fluidly descriptive ("All night in darkness the water sped past") and brusquely declarative ("Twenty days later, nearly all of them had perished"). Background context is rare and bursts of dialogue reveal the anxious hearts of men ("'Don't try to involve me in your lechery,' Brownell said"). The ensuing chapters of All That Is relate a more linear, character-focused account of Philip Bowman's life after the war as a book editor and a lover of women.
The tension between decorum and libido is a frequent novelistic subject for Salter; the scenes of ex-pat concupiscence and sexual gratification in his third novel, A Sport and a Pastime, are as literary as they are dirty. In Light Years, a more mature work, Salter uses dialogue, gesture and observations of nature to portray the effect of time on a marriage. Although All That Is covers similar territory, it is unlike these two great novels in that it is written in the past tense from a cooler perspective. Its retrospective progress through decades of Bowman's minor professional interactions and major romantic infatuations occasionally feels overly episodic, yet Salter's masterful prose remains irrefutably engaged with the existential perception of life. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover: An elegantly written novel recounts a book editor's life from his World War II naval service through his amorous adventures in New York and London.
by Ali Liebegott
Ali Liebegott's Cha-Ching! is the story of a lovable screwup, her dog and her quest to "to go to a party and have a conversation that involved anything besides details from true-crime shows" by her 30th birthday.
It's 1994: Theo, like many striving 20-somethings before and after her, has decided that moving to New York will transform her into the person she wants to be. She drives out of San Francisco with no plan, a rescued pit bull named Cary Grant and a hangover--her last, she swears. Theo has few advantages: she's broke, she's gay and she's androgynous enough to joke with her transgender friend about being an exotic creature called a "sirma'amsir." She's also a chain-smoking alcoholic with a gambling problem who's spent her life working terrible jobs and avoiding confrontation. But she's got a big heart and good intentions and knows that she'll survive anything as long as she can get a library card, a haircut and a new pair of shoes.
Liebegott, who won both a Lambda and the Ferro-Grumley Award for her 2007 novel The IHOP Papers, writes with easy-going, straightforward style and without a whiff of pretension. Theo and her ragtag friends are all very flawed but ultimately good people for whom one can't help but root.
Set in depressing casinos and grimy apartments, Cha-Ching! is a surprisingly optimistic, sweetly funny tale--and Theo is a heroine you might have more in common with than you think. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice
Discover: A big-hearted, funny story about a queer girl in mid-1990s Brooklyn trying to make her own luck.
Mystery & Thriller
By the Balls: The Complete Collection
by Jim Pascoe , Tom Fassbender , illus. by Paul Pope
This collection celebrates the 15th anniversary of Jim Pascoe and Tom Fassbender's underground cult noir novel about a bowling alley, By the Balls (1998), as well as the birth of their crime fiction publishing house, UglyTown. Here are two novels and five stories featuring Testacy City, Nevada's Ben Drake, described as a cigar-smoking, Kant-reading, bourbon-drinking, Galaxie 500-driving detective. With their tongues well placed in their pulpy cheeks, these stories could be read as fairly faithful homages to the classic mystery noirs of the 1930s (and '40s, and '50s) as well as wickedly playful satires.
"We wrote in the spirit of the old pulps... often drunk and pounding the keys," Pascoe and Fassbender say by way of introduction. "Write something fun. And fast.... We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing." But they worked it out. All their first-person stories have the clip, pace and punch of classic Hammer, Spade, and Marlowe narratives. "I could detect the lust in the air," Drake says when he calls on the bowling alley's owner's widow. "Suzi Biggs was nothing like a mourning widow. She was more like a morning window and I could see right through her."
Atmospheric black and white illustrations by Paul Pope feel right out of the pages of Black Mask. In "Kind Words," past UglyTown authors and artists ruminate on what it was like during the press's and Drake's heyday. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: A definitive package of noir throwbacks that will tickle your fancy if you're a fan of Hammet, Spillane and Chandler.
Food & Wine
New York à la Cart: Recipes & Stories from the Big Apple's Best Food Trucks
by Siobhan Wallace , Alexandra Penfold
New York City is a food lover's paradise, but sometimes the tastiest treats come to those willing to chow down while standing up. As editors of the bargain-eats website Midtown Lunch and the brains behind the N.Y.C. food blog Blondie and Brownie, Alexandra Penfold and Siobhan Wallace are regularly called upon to drop some knowledge about the city's mobile munchies. In New York à la Cart, their first book, the two enthusiasts provide profiles of the Big Apple's 50 favorite vendors, as well as more than 80 recipes, full-color photos, interviews, even a walking tour, all of which serve to immerse the reader in the hustle, bustle and morsels that make Gotham so great.
Broken into neighborhood, rather than cuisine or meal type, this volume reads more like a travel guide than a cookbook, though there's plenty that will inspire an adventurous home chef. Each recipe is tagged with a difficulty rating (Easy, Medium, Challenging), and those that are vegetarian or gluten-free are also marked. Whether you want a way to jazz up breakfast (Steak and Egg Tacos from the Eggstravaganza Cart) or to try a beloved dish from a Vendy Award winner (falafel from Astoria's King of Falafel & Shawarma cart), it's all here. For New Yorkers, this book will entice even the most neighborhood-loyal eater to hop the train or take a walk to try something new. And for the rest of us, we can at least do a little armchair traveling augmented by the actual (pleasant) aromas of the country's busiest (and most delicious) metropolis. --Heather Young, sales manager, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The city that never sleeps is also the city that eats on the go; these recipes from local food truck vendors reveal the merit in mobile meals.
Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes
by Shauna Niequist
"I'm a bread person," Shauna Niequist confesses in the introduction to her memoir-cum-recipe collection, Bread & Wine: "Flaky, buttery croissants; chewy pita; tortillas, warm and fragrant, blistered by heat." A few lines later, she adds, "And I am a wine person--the blood-red and liquid gold, the clink and glamour of tall-stemmed glasses, and the musty, rich, almost mushroom-y smell."
Niequist (Bittersweet; Cold Tangerines) writes with warmth and honesty about her complicated relationship with food, from diets to allergies to the difficulty of eating well when traveling for work. She insists, over and over, that real life happens around the table: in the planning and chopping, the slicing and pouring and finally in the act of sitting down with family and friends, offering not only meals to nourish their bodies but community to nourish their souls. Amid the daily chaos of marriage, children and work, Niequist urges readers to open their messy homes and their crowded lives and make time to linger around the table.
Each brief chapter highlights a distinct theme or memory, often accompanied by a recipe for mango chicken curry or watermelon feta salad or Niequist's mother's blueberry crisp. Every recipe is linked to people, and often associated with a place, be it Paris or a friend's kitchen table. This intertwining of food and remembrance emphasizes the collection's main point: what we eat, and where, and with whom, is important.
Packed with vivid descriptions and mouthwatering recipes, Bread & Wine provides deep nourishment for the body and the soul. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A memoir with recipes that provides deep nourishment for the body and the soul.
Biography & Memoir
Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side
by Rayya Elias
Rayya Elias was born in Syria in 1960 but fled with her family to Detroit at age seven. Too young to appreciate her family's culture fully, she doesn't fit into her new environment, either, and suffers a rocky youth in Detroit before escaping to New York City with her newfound passions: rock 'n' roll, hairstyling and drugs. The Lower East Side in the early 1980s was a sparkling playground for a young woman trying to find herself, and Elias becomes sought after both as a hairdresser and as a new wave musician.
It will take her years to identify as a lesbian, but the affairs with women that began back in Detroit blossom into full passion (and dysfunction) in New York--and, for a short time, in a shared London apartment with a married woman and her husband. Her drug abuse also blossoms into an addiction to cocaine and heroin, a problem that will take countless stints in rehab and detox facilities--and jail--to conquer. By the end of her story, Elias is clean, back in New York and pursuing healthy musical creativity.
Far from being just another story of addition and redemption, Harley Loco (a nickname the author earned in jail) is unusual in its rawness and feeling. Elias perfectly evokes New York City in the 1980s and '90s, complete with sour odors and pain. Her personality--hard-edged and unrepentant, yet tender and vulnerable--is thoroughly bared and, in the end, irresistibly likable. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A visceral exploration of sex and drugs in 1980s New York City.
The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir
by William Friedkin
A Chicago lad, William Friedkin got a job in television out of high school, and worked his way up to director. After he saw Citizen Kane, he realized he wanted to direct films. In 1967, he got his first shot: Sonny and Cher's Good Times. Three more films followed before his breakthrough picture, The French Connection--which won him a directing Oscar (as well as Best Picture). The famous chase scene, he says, was "all in my mind’s eye" before he shot a single frame.
Friedkin was author William Peter Blatty's choice to direct The Exorcist. He explains in fascinating detail how they filmed the terrifying exorcism scenes. Then hubris moved in. Given carte blanche to remake the classic The Wages of Fear, he spent $1 million to build a bridge over a raging South American river for a key scene--and the river dried up. They took the bridge apart and rebuilt it over another river; that dried up, too. Friedkin chides himself for being callous and self-involved, and his subsequent films became more obsessive, darker, less audience-friendly.
He made 1985's To Live and Die in L.A., with an even more amazing chase scene than The French Connection. As for his most recent film, 2011's Killer Joe, he believes it will be a long time "before anyone makes another film as provocative and controversial."
Filled with insights into the art of film and its practitioners and honest assessments of his work--and the work of others in the film industry--this is terrific stuff. After reading it, you'll be eager to see all the Friedkin movies you've missed. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: Sit down with William Friedkin's thoroughly enjoyable, honest and engaging memoir, and he'll tell you about his life making films his way.
Essays & Criticism
My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
by Christian Wiman
Christian Wiman, an award-winning poet (Every Riven Thing), displays considerable craft in each well-honed sentence of My Bright Abyss, a poetic, sometimes visionary collection of linked essays examining his religious faith following a cancer diagnosis. While the collection's subtitle invokes "belief," this is not the easy, non-questioning faith of the Hallmark Channel or the strident buffoonery of a televangelist. These essays are surgical gems of gimlet-eyed clarity that never find easy palliatives but do find celestial affirmation at great cost and great pain.
When God does speak to Wiman, it's in small, barely noticeable ways, as in the compassionate gestures of others and in his own considerable discipline with the written word. Poetry is a matter of great concern in these pages, and Wiman is brilliant at angling his way into the small places and murky crevices where a craft artfully composed becomes a form of prayer. He also operates as a storyteller, capturing heartbreaking everyday epiphanies that reflect the places where grace is most evident and luminously alive. And, despite the subject, Wiman is wonderfully inclusive to fellow travelers who have felt no pull or need for God--in fact, he admits, these types are his own natural constituency, the ones he feels most comfortable with.
My Bright Abyss is a wonderful book, full of heart, grace, generosity of spirit and no small beauty. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: A wonderful, grace-filled and meditative memoir, written by a master poet.
Children's & Young Adult
by Michaela MacColl
Michaela MacColl (Prisoners in the Palace) fashions a suspenseful, often humorous historical novel in which a 15-year-old Emily Dickinson plays detective when a stranger to town winds up facedown in her family's pond.
When a young gentleman approaches Emily in the meadow, she asks him who he is, and he tells her he's "nobody important." When he asks her what she's doing, she risks answering him honestly: "Hoping a bee would land on my nose." He daubs some honey on her nose, from a piece of honeycomb, to help her achieve her goal ("I have a relation who keeps bees," he explains). She calls him Mr. Nobody, he calls her Miss Nobody, and the author creates instant chemistry between them. Their exchange derives from Emily Dickinson's poem--"I'm Nobody! Who are you?/ Are you--Nobody--Too?"--which also serves as the opening chapter's heading.
When Mr. Nobody turns up dead, Emily is determined to figure out how he died and who he was. Befitting a poet, Emily pays attention to details, and she uncovers one clue after another. MacColl depicts an era when intelligence is not valued as highly in a woman as it is in a man, yet Emily wins over Dr. Gridley and Reverend Colton with her clear reasoning. The author smoothly integrates other historical details.
MacColl demonstrates how accessible Dickinson's poetry was, and why she has earned a place as one of America's most beloved poets. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: An inventive novel starring a 15-year-old Emily Dickinson who solves a murder mystery in her small town.
by Erin Bowman
Fans of James Dashner's Maze Runner series will thoroughly enjoy Erin Bowman's dystopian tale.
The boys in the village of Claysoot vanish on their 18th birthday and are never seen again. The mysterious "Heist" forces all the boys to grow up quickly; they become men at 15 and become eligible for "slatings," where they periodically sleep with different girls to reproduce so they won't die out. Whenever a boy escapes over the Wall surrounding the village, he comes back "a charcoaled mess, burned and lifeless." But after Gray Weathersby loses his brother to the Heist, he, along with the girl to whom he's been slated, finds a way over the Wall--in order to avoid the same fate in the coming year and to solve the mystery of his origins.
Readers will root for Gray's pursuit of the truth as they did with Jonas in The Giver because escaping into the unknown is better than surrendering to the fate you do know. The Heist generates a level of anxiety akin to the reaping in The Hunger Games, and Bowman takes readers beyond the Wall to a jarring domed city populated with an abundance of men, young and old, and new dangers to face.
This engrossing debut novel moves at breakneck speed with puzzles to keep readers guessing and an ending that will leave them wanting more. --Adam Silvera, Paper Lantern Lit intern and former bookseller
Discover: A village where boys vanish on their 18th birthday and an epic trek to survive.
by Emily Gravett
The little dragon hero could be a boy or girl, and the guardian who shares a bedtime book could be male or female, making this an ideal book to share for aunts, uncles and grandparents, too.
As the adult reads to the wide-eyed dragon child, who clutches a blanket, youngsters see behind them the pages the dragon pair reads. The story-within-a-story, illustrated in full color, stars Cedric the dragon, who is "a bright angry red." Never in his life "(Not once)" has Cedric been to bed. Cedric breathes fire as he carries away a princess from a castle tower to turn into a pie. The adult and child dragon reading the Cedric story appear in a limited palette of green and red in a black outline, so youngsters can easily distinguish the child hero from the characters in the bedtime book. At the close of Cedric's story, the child dragon asks, "Again?" and children watch as the child hero and Cedric begin to swap emotions.
Each time the adult reads the story, the "AGAIN!" uttered by the child is more emphatic. The action within the storybook about Cedric changes as the adult attempts to put the young dragon to sleep, and the child's refrain grows in size and emphasis, "AGAIN! AGAIN!" The now bright-red child dragon (literally) burns a hole in the back of the book readers hold in their hands. Children will delight in the topsy turvy role-playing Emily Gravett (Wolf Won't Bite!) once again exhibits in her playful metafiction. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A little dragon who will get the last laugh from youngsters when the hero enters a favorite bedtime book.
Parenting & Family
Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle
by Nicholas Day
Nicolas Day's edgy Baby Meets World is the anti‑child-rearing book--a brilliantly researched, fascinating volume that just happens to focus on the subject of babies. It's pretty wild, which is ironic given the potentially bland nature of a subject whose main preoccupations are pooping and sucking. But Day considered these little critters and, lucky for us, determined there was a book to be written.
Day is a master of playing with context: when he assesses the economy of wet-nursing in 18th-century France, he compares it to the milk donation banks of today. He references Good Housekeeping articles written nearly 60 years ago that insisted thumb-suckers would become excessive masturbators as a springboard to a discussion of the reviled pacifier and how perhaps it's not the route to all evil (or dental problems). He writes about mothers from different countries witnessing each other's parenting styles, each convinced the other mothers are doing it wrong. One heartbreaking section references child-rearing manuals from the mid-20th century that ordered parents to kiss and touch their children as little as possible.
Day acknowledges that, 50 years from now, some of the things he does as a parent might seem suspect, too, even ridiculous. And yet, he argues, despite the overeager parents of today and the seemingly clueless ones of the past, most babies survive anyhow. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: An excellently researched, interesting guide to the history of babies that parents will dig--as will people who never intend to procreate.
Reference & Writing
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
by Caspar Henderson
In The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson explores a world of real animals stranger than any imaginary beast--animals we have barely imagined because our knowledge of them is "too cramped and fragmentary to accommodate them." Like the medieval bestiaries on which it is modeled, Henderson's work attempts to understand and celebrate the beauty and diversity not only of beings but also of being itself.
The "21st-century bestiary" is divided into 27 essays, ranging in subject from the axolotl (a kind of salamander) to the zebra fish. The seemingly narrow focus of each essay is misleading. Whether discussing the importance of the human foot or the abundance of real-life unicorns, Henderson considers his subjects in wide-ranging terms. He weaves together zoology, evolution, mythology, cosmology, philosophy, history and ecology with a light touch, quoting poets as often as paleontologists. This is a book of big ideas and carefully chosen details. Philosophical ideas and scientific terms are defined with equal precision in a style that alternates between lyrical and witty. The physical book is as beautiful as the language in which it is written; like its medieval counterparts, its wide margins are home to illuminating marginalia.
Humans are the explicit subject of a single essay, but humankind--our relationship to other animals and our affect on the global ecosystem--is a theme running that runs throughout the book. Henderson challenges us to consider what we value, what we fail to value and how we might change. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: A meditation on humankind through the lens of a modern-day bestiary.