Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 5, 2014


Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

From My Shelf

Liveright Publishing Corporation: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Thunder Bay Press: The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in Lego by Nathan Sawaya

The 'Great Reads' Genre

Which came first--the novel or its genre? Bookstores generally have sections labeled mystery, science fiction, romance and fiction. Any number of theories and controversies exist regarding what gets shelved where. I was a bookseller and had many such "discussions."

My favorite genre, however, is "great reads." You find them in every category. This summer I devoured a galley of David Bajo's Mercy 6, released this week in paperback by Unbridled Books. Early reviews and publicity experimented with labels (medical thriller, literary thriller, literary medical thriller, suspense fiction, medical fiction, speculative medical thriller), as if uncertain how to categorize it. I considered that a promising sign.
    
In the novel, emergency room physician Dr. Anna Mendenhall faces a crisis--four people have died simultaneously in different parts of the hospital. Is it a contagion? She doesn't think so, but institutional reaction is sudden and shocking. The facility is sealed, information restricted and government troops assemble outside. Then more deaths occur.

Bajo's story and characters are intriguing, his writing sharply observant ("She liked vague. That's where science often lurked." Or: "Her mentor had taught her to examine and divide her emotions, especially the surface ones. It was important to learn this in the ER..."). Dr. Mendenhall is intense and professional and smart ("I hate metaphor," she said. "Metaphors kill. Life is actual. Death is metaphor."). And she is very good at her job.

Mercy 6 is a great read, the only label it needs. Booksellers sometimes "double-shelve" certain books or authors for maximum exposure--Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music (sci-fi and fiction) or the works of Robert Harris and Alan Furst (mystery and fiction). Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C., used a "Trust Fall" promotion earlier this year to attract sci-fi-shy readers to Andy Weir's The Martian, and it worked.

None of this is about "transcending genre," a phrase that makes me cringe. It's about finding readers. So look for David Bajo's Mercy 6 in the great reads section. --Robert Gray, contributing editor


Indiana University Press: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan


Book Candy

Edible Cookbook; Your Children's Book Character

Designer Daily featured The Real Cookbook, "the first and only cookbook that you can actually read, cook and eat.... A German based design company has created this innovative cookbook which is made up of 100% fresh pasta, classic lasagna filled with ingredients that can finally be cooked."

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"We might be all grown up, but the characters from our favorite children's books will stay with us forever," the New York Public Library observed to introduce its test: "What children's book character are you?"

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"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train," wrote Oscar Wilde, one the "famous writers on the creative benefits of keeping a diary" showcased by Brain Pickings.

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Shortlist magazine found "20 things you (probably) didn't know about Cormac McCarthy."

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Gill Lewis, author of Sky Hawk and Scarlet Ibis, chose her "top 10 birds in books" for the Guardian, "plus, take a sneak peek inside the gorgeous treehouse where she writes!"

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Flavorwire recommended "50 essential cult novels."


Johns Hopkins University Press: Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum by Kathryn Hughes


Great Reads

To Be Lost in the Stars

My husband and I just moved to downtown Seattle, and while we can see fabulous sunsets and the moon setting, we have lost the stars. No surprise to Paul Bogard, author of The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light (now in paperback from Back Bay Books), who notes that that three-quarters of Americans' eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness.

I asked him what that means for our health. "It's a big deal for our health--physical, psychological, and even spiritual," he replied. "Think of it this way--life on earth evolved with bright days and dark nights, and we need both for optimal health. We have not had any time to evolve to be used to all this artificial light at night. Scientists are just beginning to understand how light at night affects us physically--disrupting our sleep and contributing to sleep disorders; confusing our circadian rhythms; and impeding the production of the hormone melatonin. As a result, the World Health Organization now considers working the night shift a possible carcinogen. And just think of the psychological and spiritual cost of losing what has been since the beginning of time one of the most common human experiences: walking out the door and coming face to face with the universe. That's a lot of what I do in The End of Night--just get myself out into the night under an amazing sky with various characters and talk about how important it is."

Paul Bogard

Many groups have been lobbying communities to cut down on light to protect birds and turtle migration to the sea; some places, like the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, make such an effort not only to protect habitat, but to protect ecotourism. Bogard says that attempts are being made all over the world to reduce light pollution. "The International Dark-Sky Association has been working for more than 20 years on this, and their 'dark-sky' designations are a way for communities to get recognition for the work they've done to protect their dark skies. The U.S. National Park Service now has a 'night sky team' that measures the level of darkness in all the park areas, and the NPS considers darkness one of the resources it is sworn to protect. And now cities are realizing that they can save money by turning down or even turning off some of their streetlights at night. So a lot of good things are happening, and people can get involved pretty quickly wherever they live, because light pollution is everywhere. It's a problem that is readily in our grasp to control."

One city that making a concerted effort to calibrate nighttime light is Paris. Is that to make the city even lovelier, or are there additional reasons?

A long exposure shows birds and bats hunting moths and insects amid the Luxor Casino's beam in Las Vegas.  (photo: Tracy Byrnes)

"It's done for both beauty and energy conservation," Bogards explained. "Paris is unique because the city is very consciously trying to create a nighttime atmosphere that people have come to expect, that of a beautiful, romantic 'city of light.' But they have realized that in order to do that, they can't just have bright lights blasting everywhere--a beautiful nocturnal atmosphere comes from using light (and darkness) thoughtfully and responsibly. The new lighting plan for the city calls for all the beautiful lighting that tourists have come to expect, but it also calls for energy costs be cut by 30%. So they are challenging themselves. I wish more cities, especially in the U.S., would follow their lead and realize that 'well lit' doesn't just mean super bright, but rather carefully and subtly lit. The night is a beautiful time and place in our lives, something to be savored and enjoyed. That's what I try to show in the book when I'm wandering the streets with the guy who's in charge of lighting Paris. It was a great experience!" --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright


Book Review

Fiction

Arctic Summer

by Damon Galgut


South African novelist Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor) has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and his new biographical novel about Edward Morgan Forster is a quantum leap beyond his usual superb writing. Painstakingly researched and impeccably drawn, it's the moving account of a shy 37-year-old British virgin called Morgan, author of four popular novels but still emotionally shackled to his mother, as he's transformed--with a bit of help from a young Indian student, an Egyptian cab driver and a hilarious little Maharajah--into the literary giant who will write A Passage to India.

For lovers of English literature, Galgut's novel is a feast of references to Forster's masterpiece. Morgan forges a deep bond with a young Indian student, which sets the stage for the cross-cultural friendship between Fielding and Aziz at the heart of A Passage to India. Morgan visits the Barabar Caves, which he will transform into his novel's terrifying and mysterious center. Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence are among the dozens of historical characters who appear in the book, nudging the insecure Morgan to produce his greatest work.

Throughout his life, Morgan is portrayed as a man always in the middle, torn between English ways and Indian, between patriots and conscientious objectors, between public respectability and closeted homosexuality. If E.M. Forster could have written an honest novel about his own frustrated life, he might have written Arctic Summer. Galgut has done the next best thing: he's created a wise, sensitive, sometimes hilarious novel in the Forster tradition of subtle observations and cultural clash. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A biographical novel about E.M. Forster at age 37, a shy, insecure, gay virgin, who went on to create the masterpiece A Passage to India.

Europa Editions, $17, paperback, 9781609452346

Da Capo Lifelong Books: Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero


Mystery & Thriller

The White Van

by Patrick Hoffman


With the rat-a-tat-tat declarative sentences of a modern Dashiell Hammett, debut novelist Patrick Hoffman jumps into the crowded pool of hard-core noir and makes a big splash. The White Van makes street-by-street turns through San Francisco's alleys and seedy neighborhoods. Hoffman, a private investigator for nine years, knows the Bay Area's crooks, weirdos and police ("a sea of pink skin and broken capillaries").

Emily is a wasted hustler cruising the streets of the Tenderloin district in search of drugs or a john to bankroll them. Elias is a bent, alcoholic cop about to lose his house in foreclosure. A shady broker in Chinese bootleg cigarettes, Benya fails to make good on a loan from the Russian mafia and finds himself indentured to the city's local pakhan, Sophia. She cooks up a scheme in which Benya will pick up a young druggie woman, ply her with meds ("crack and oxycodone to lure her... scopolamine, Estazolam, and amobarbital to break her will"), and then lead her into a bank branch to steal an interbank-transfer satchel with almost a million in cash. But Emily shakes her buzz long enough to hop on a bus with the money instead of the Russians' white getaway van. Elias catches the dispatch call and goes rogue, trying to find Emily and the money to solve his own problems. Hunted by both sides of the law, Emily turns to her only friend, Jules, a stripper who arrives "like an R&B singer in rehab... a pink warm up suit... big hair and bright nails."

The White Van is a story without heroes, but Jules is close as we get. Like Emily, she's a lifelong hustler. When her friend's back is to the wall, she at least shows up to help--even if a million in cash motivates her more than friendship. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A first-rate debut crime novel set in the streets of Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802123046

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Midnight Queen

by Sylvia Izzo Hunter


Gray Marshall has spent his entire life scrambling to get by in the Kingdom of Britain. With no family or money, he depends on his natural talent for magick and the kindness of his teachers to stay at Merlin College in Oxford, although not all of his teachers like him. His academic advisor, Professor Callender, is invested only in gaining power for himself and has no interest in Gray's learning or success. After Professor Callender sends Gray on an errand that results in the death of another student, Gray is blamed and suspended from school. Before Gray can defend himself or tell anyone that he was operating under orders, the professor whisks the boy away to his own home for the summer.

Confined to the house, Gray meets the professor's daughter, Sophie, who convinces him to instruct her in magick--an art not taught to women. In the course of these lessons, the two young magicians discover Professor Callender's plays for power are not confined to academia and have far broader implications, both magickal and political. Gray isn't safe, but his life isn't the only one that hangs in the balance if they fail to get away from the professor.

What begins as a fantastical story of loss and betrayal becomes one of intrigue, politics and espionage. Debut novelist Sylvia Izzo Hunter renders both the setting and characters in vivid detail. The structured system of magick gives the fictional world weight, and Hunter manipulates the seemingly disparate plot elements to create tension that culminates in a satisfying conclusion. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: A promising fantasy series that is both a mystery and a story of political intrigue.

Ace, $15, paperback, 9780425272459

Food & Wine

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey

by Samuel Fromartz


When longtime home baker Samuel Fromartz began a quest for the ultimate baguette, he planned to go to Paris, but he had no idea how far his quest would eventually take him.

Finding himself short of freelance work, Fromartz (Organic, Inc.) pitched a story to a travel magazine: he'd work at a Parisian boulangerie. The magazine bit, and at Boulangerie Delmontel, Fromartz observed a team of master bakers, learning the secrets of their crackling, crusty baguettes. Upon returning home, Fromartz entered a competition sponsored by the Washington City Paper; his loaves won "Best Baguette in D.C." and garnered a catering request from celebrity chef Alice Waters. But his quest for the ideal loaf--or loaves--was just beginning.

Fromartz next headed to California, where he met artisanal bakers and refined his sourdough starter and technique. From there, he traveled to the Midwest--America's breadbasket--to visit family flour mills and learn about the history and production of different types of wheat. Eventually, chasing the memory of the rye bread he ate as a child in New York, Fromartz flew to Berlin to learn the secrets of baking rye. His journey ended where it began: in his kitchen, experimenting with different blends of flours, yeast and starters to create varied and flavorful loaves.

Part food science, part cultural history, part memoir, Fromartz's book blends a variety of ingredients (the history of wheat production, the science of yeast fermentation, half a dozen bread recipes) into a delicious, informative dish that will have readers reaching for their aprons. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: One home baker's meticulous pursuit of the perfect baguette, sourdough and rye bread (with recipes).

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670025619

Biography & Memoir

Man Alive: A True Story of Violence, Forgiveness and Becoming a Man

by Thomas Page McBee


Beginning in 1985, as a young child, Thomas Page McBee began to be abused by his father. In April 2010, at 29, he and his love, Parker, were robbed at gunpoint by a man wearing a black hoodie. Theirs was one in a series of muggings in Oakland, Calif., whose victims were always a man and a woman. Other men wound up shot, so did McBee's voice strike his assailant "as reedy: womanly" (as it struck him) and save his life? These two pivotal encounters with male violence become the loci of the lean, sinewy memoir Man Alive.

McBee unfolds his transition into manhood by paying smart, lyrical attention to the blurring emotions surrounding his determination to embody a masculinity recognizable to both himself and society. Man Alive deemphasizes many of the medical details of being transgender in favor of considering the social and personal implications of gender expression, especially when the gender in question has been associated with so much hurt.

In many ways, this book occurs at the eye of McBee's storm, a crossroads, a major pivot point in his life. He exercises a profound level of compassion to reconcile his past with his present on behalf of his future. Through conversations with his girlfriend, his mother, siblings, father and extended family, one thing grows abundantly clear: Thomas Page McBee is a man of astonishingly strong character, full of empathy and dynamism. Man Alive isn't a simple memoir; it is a culmination of, as much as it is a springboard into, a manhood that proves to be in the greatest sense alive. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A trans man's momentous experiences with gender, family, violence and compassion.

City Lights Books, $15.95, paperback, 9780872866249

Current Events & Issues

City of Lies: Love, Sex, Death, and the Search for Truth in Tehran

by Ramita Navai


Perhaps no country besides North Korea is as opaque to Americans as Iran. With our widespread embarrassing confusion about its history and religion, many would rather not even think about Iran. In City of Lies, British-Iranian journalist and former Tehran correspondent for Britain's Times Ramita Navai lifts the traditional Iranian chador to expose the diversity and chaos of Iran's capital. It is a city of smells ("mothballs, dried herbs, earth and petrol... ambergris and musk"), mourners ("we embrace sorrow like no one else, wailing on demand"), eroticism ("it is impossible to escape sex in Tehran") and, most of all, lies ("morals don't come into it: lying in Tehran is about survival").

After growing up in London, Navai returned to her homeland in 2004 to profile eight modern Tehranis plucked from points along the city's diverse main thoroughfare. Vali Asr Street connects the wealthy estates and high-end shops of Tehran's north with the poverty, drugs and rampant prostitution of its south. Navai's subjects are religious fanatics, prostitutes, drug dealers, political prisoners, transgender radicals and skinny-jeaned, Chuck-Taylored teens. Filled with verbatim dialogue, police violence, religious extremism, street hustling and a pulsing undercurrent of sexuality, City of Lies uncovers the story of modern Tehran with all the drama of a good novel. It's neither a pretty picture nor a strictly Iranian one, but rather a window into the tensions and challenges of urban life under authoritarian political leadership and intolerant religious hierarchy--wherever it may be. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A British-Iranian journalist's fearless story of modern Iran told through the lives of eight socio-politically diverse Tehranis.

PublicAffairs, $26.99, hardcover, 9781610395199

Social Science

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)

by Christian Rudder


Christian Rudder's role as Virgil through the digital world has been 10 years in the making. He is a co-founder of OkCupid, the online dating site, and chief analyst of its vast repository of data. As more and more information was collected from the site's millions of users, trends and patterns began to emerge. He realized that this deep, varied dataset of person-to-person interaction could be used to examine taboos such as race. "I could go and look at what actually happens when, say, 100,000 white men and 100,000 black women interact in private. The data was sitting right there on our servers," he says. Unlike survey responses, in which respondents can edit their answers or even outright lie, the unvarnished truth lay at his fingertips.

Here, Rudder combines existing work with his own original research, analyzing information from OkCupid, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr and other websites. He reveals his findings in a series of vignettes organized into three main categories: the data of people connecting, the data of division and the data of the individual. Rudder is even-handed in exemplifying both the good and the bad taking place on the Internet, "a vibrant, brutal, loving, forgiving, deceitful, sensual, angry place" that reflects its users. Finally, though, technology is offering an "unprecedented sociological opportunity" and helping to transform our understanding of race, politics, sex, beauty, humor, anger and other subjects previously challenging to quantify.

A book based on statistics could easily be dry and boring, but not with Rudder at the helm. If numbers are the narrative, he is the consummate storyteller--smart, witty and a perceptive interpreter. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt, contributing writer, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Christian Rudder delved deep into the "statistical slag pits" and emerged with a bold, thought-provoking book that addresses what Big Data tells us about human nature.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 9780385347372

Psychology & Self-Help

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

by Benedict Carey


Good study habits seem like common sense: we should dedicate a single quiet space to uninterrupted periods of intense concentration. Decades of psychology studies, however, reveal these seemingly intuitive truths about the learning process to be far from optimal. In How We Learn, New York Times science writer Benedict Carey explores these potentially groundbreaking but underreported studies, explaining how new understandings of the human brain can be directly applied to education with minimal additional effort.

Some of these new methods appear counterintuitive: Carey suggests we should ditch our dedicated study spaces and schedules, instead varying the times and circumstances during which we review material. The research backs up the notion that spacing study time out over longer intervals (days or weeks ahead of a test) leads to better retention than cramming; taking breaks, including for a full night's sleep, facilitates subconscious learning processes, which surface via the type of "eureka" moments that overcome roadblocks in large academic or creative projects.

The insights of How We Learn apply to far more than just academic situations. Anyone looking to learn a musical instrument would benefit from understanding what frequency and type of practice is most effective. Even readers with little practical use for Carey's information will likely find much of it fascinating, such as how intuition can be a teachable skill, or that giving practice exams at the very beginning of a semester improves grades. How We Learn is a valuable, entertaining tool for educators, students and parents. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Decades of psychology research distilled into practical approaches to better learning.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9780812993882

Children's & Young Adult

Brown Girl Dreaming

by Jacqueline Woodson


In Jacqueline Woodson's (Locomotion; Feathers) inspired memoir, told entirely in verse, the author brings readers into her family's most intimate moments. She begins with her birth in Columbus, Ohio, in 1963 and continues through the North and the South in the 1960s and 1970s.

After her parents' separation, Jacqueline, along with her older sister and brother, move to her mother's girlhood home in Greenville, S.C., a place filled with wonder, faith, family and laughter. They miss their mother while she looks for a new home for them in New York City, but Jacqueline and her siblings find abundant love and comfort with their grandparents. Their mother returns with news of a new home in Brooklyn. Woodson delicately weaves into her family's stories her own path to becoming a writer, alongside historical events that simmer alternately in the background and foreground: the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War and the Black Panthers. "This is the way brown people have to fight," her grandfather tells her during the Greenville sit-ins, "You can't just put your fist up. You have to insist/ on something/ gently. Walk toward a thing/ slowly./ But be ready to die,/ my grandfather says,/ for what is right."

Woodson offers readers an accessible, first-hand look at African American childhood during decades of tremendous turmoil and change. The author records her careful observations through the eyes of a child who's trying to make sense of the things she's witnessing. Brown Girl Dreaming transports readers from Columbus to Greenville to Brooklyn, to experience childhood-defining moments. --Kyla Paterno, trade book buyer and blogger, Garfield Book Company at PLU

Discover: Jacqueline Woodson's poetic memoir describes growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in the North and the South, and how these turbulent times shaped a young woman and a budding writer.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 10-up, 9780399252518

Who's Next Door?

by Mayuko Kishira, illus. by Jun Takabatake


In this charming story, two next-door neighbors find a way to form a friendship, despite their dramatically different schedules.

"Deep in the woods, there are two houses," Japanese author Mayuko Kishira begins. "Chicken lives in the house with the red roof. No one lives in the house with the blue roof." Japanese artist Jun Takabatake paints the homes as mirror images, with the blue door of the blue-roofed house on the right; Chicken's red door is on the left. He shows Chicken's daily routine, with rectangular panels joined together like a quilt: waking at sunrise, eating breakfast, taking a nap, etc.: "By sundown, Chicken is sound asleep." One morning, Chicken finds discovers that a neighbor has moved in (a chair sits outside and laundry hangs on the line). Day after day, Chicken keeps watch for his neighbor, "But no one comes out" (though the laundry on the clothesline of the blue-roofed house changes). Then Chicken gets an idea: he'll leave a letter on his neighbor's door. Readers see who opens the door before Chicken does: "Owl is overjoyed to find the letter." Owl has been keeping watch each night for his neighbor. He leaves a reply and finally they meet.

The two neighbors remain true to their natural rhythms, yet find a way to stay in close touch. It's a gentle reminder to children that there are many ways to keep a friendship, and makes an ideal conversation-starter with children who are moving, or even assigned to a different classroom from their friends. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Chicken and Owl find a way to form a friendship, despite their dramatically different schedules.

Owlkids, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781771470711

Dash

by Kirby Larson


Newbery Honor author Kirby Larson (Hattie Big Sky) follows up Duke, also centering on a child-dog bond and set during World War II, with a story of a girl sent to the U.S. internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

Mitsi is a typical fifth grader--until the attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, she is a target of harassment and racism. However, her dearest friend, her beloved dog, Dash, remains loyal: "He was a soft, furry blanket of love, keeping her warm and safe. Usually, he helped her forget her problems." Soon Mitsi's family is forcibly moved to Camp Harmony, where all is far from harmonious. Mitsi cannot take Dash and is heartbroken, but brightens when her neighbor Mrs. Bowker offers to care for Dash. While Mitsi struggles with the living conditions and a strained relationship with her family, she is strengthened by cheerful letters she receives "from Dash." They are her lifeline to her lost friend. Mitsi learns through adversity that "There were some things that could not be helped.... But she did have a choice about what she made of it."

Larson addresses the issue of the Japanese internment with age-appropriate facts and without being too graphic. She imparts an important history lesson--inspired by a true story--and softens its harder edges with Dash's charismatic and comforting presence. The book will appeal to history buffs as well as fans of Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Mitsi, sent to a Japanese internment camp without her beloved dog, gains perspective on the importance of family and friends.

Scholastic Press, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 8-12, 9780545416351

Education

The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession

by Dana Goldstein


Public-school teachers are widely regarded as a valuable influence on children's lives. But in the U.S., they are subject to a frustrating set of challenges: low pay, limited ability to organize, negative media attention and byzantine curriculum requirements often tied to standardized testing. In her first book, education journalist Dana Goldstein illuminates the present state of American education by reviewing its tumultuous history.

Goldstein traces the origins of teaching in the U.S. from the 19th-century trend of genteel female "missionary" teachers to the rise of "normal schools" that trained educators. She weaves together stories of teachers' unions, suffragettes and civil-rights workers to explain the complex relationship between educators and organized labor. Along the way, Goldstein highlights the historical roots of not-so-recent innovations such as merit pay, complicated teacher evaluations (often based on student performance) and nontraditional paths to becoming an educator such as Teach for America.

Goldstein poses a series of timely questions: How can the education system hope to combat poverty and racism without help? How can administrators effectively evaluate teachers without drowning in paperwork or dismissing problems in the classroom? Are charter schools a solution to the problems facing neighborhood schools? And how can the system empower teachers to use their knowledge and gifts to help students?

Well-researched, highly readable and full of dynamic, colorful characters, The Teacher Wars is both a useful primer on education in the U.S. and a starting point for lively debate on the issues facing education today. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A thoughtful and thought-provoking account of the turbulent history and unsettled present state of American public education.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385536950

Poetry

Bone Map

by Sara Eliza Johnson


Romantic notions of the natural world fold under the churning surf of Sara Eliza Johnson's debut book of poetry, Bone Map. Here the ecological is physical, stark and often violent, but never less magnificent for it. Johnson's poems draw from a mindful amazement over plant, animal, sky, water and humanity. "Listen--I am," she writes in "Elegy Surrounded by Water," "trying to send you/ a human sound,/ which is bones." Her spare, versatile diction gives these slender poems the intractable grip of a sudden riptide. Each one vivisects its subject to better appreciate its force of beauty, its startling nature, with novel grace and curiosity.

In "Märchen" (German for "folktale"), Johnson writes of a wolf carcass, its neck lacerated, "the wound a cupful of rippling/ black milk, where maggots curl star-white," translating this dead animal into the night sky as if partaking in the astrological legacy of naming constellations to guide lost travelers. Later, in "Primordial Sea," she describes how "Night flowers open/ like white gills to breathe." These lines couple into possibility within a series of three poems called "Pathfinder," where she delineates the evolution of embodiment and the relationships between bodies. Is it mere plant life or the night itself that flowers with white gills? The pieces can be arranged in numerous ways, leaving Bone Map a vibrant cosmos to be charted again and again. Winner of the 2013 National Poetry Series, judged by Martha Collins (White Papers), this collection is poetry to behold, as though it were itself a force of nature. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Discover: These award-winning poems capture the versatile and extraordinary wonder of the living world.

Milkweed Editions, $16, paperback, 9781571314697

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