Monday, March 31, 2014

Redshirts by John Scalzi SF SCALZI

If you know much about the original series of Star Trek, you know that being a crew member, who was not a member of the main cast, on an away team mission was a very dangerous thing. Usually, it meant that the crew member was not going to make it back to the ship alive. Most of these crew members were wearing "red shirts." Scalzi builds on this concept with the new crew members of Universal Union's flagship, The Intrepid. Ensign Andrew Dahl is excited to begin working in the Xenibiology lab, and he quickly makes friends with the other new ensigns assigned at the same time that he is: Finn, Hester, Hanson, and Duvall. On his first day, though, Dahl starts noticing some very odd things about the Intrepid, such as the miracle "box" that "almost" has all of the answers to really tough problems, the way that all of his fellow crew members seem to disappear when either Captain Abernathy or Chief Science Office Q'eeng enter an area, and finally, the alarmingly large number of crew members that have been lost on away team missions. While digging deeper into these mysterious happenings, Dahl comes across another crew member, Jenkins, who has been hiding from the rest of the crew for years and monitors everything on board. Jenkins has a wild theory that sounds utterly insane, but it might just be exactly what is going on. In order to save their lives, the Ensigns will have to pull together on a crazy mission to stop those forces pulling them to almost certain doom. There are also three "codas" at the end of the story, which wrap up the lose ends left in the story.

I worried, when I started listening to the book, that my level of nerdness (and Star Trek knowledge) might not be be enough to understand all of the little jokes and allusions that Scalzi makes in Redshirts. I soon realized that I am indeed nerdy enough to enjoy them. I really enjoyed all of the main characters in the story, and I found myself really invested in their finding a way to stop the all of the death going on around them. I also found myself laughing out loud many time during the course of the story. I also would not worry much, if you are not a huge Star Trek fan. The story is still an enjoyable one and very funny.

I will warn you, though, that there is strong language all throughout the book, but I found this story very clever and hysterical. I also think the reader, Wil Wheaton (who you may know as Wesley Crusher from Star Trek The Next Generation) does a great job of bringing the story (and all of the sarcasm and wit) to life.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 NAACP Awards for Literature

Author Kadir Nelson from the 2007 Image Awards.
Nelson won a 2014 Image Award for his book
Nelson Mandela.

The NAACP celebrated the achievements of people of color in the arts last month at its 45th Annual Image Awards last. With a focus on works that particularly promote social justice, the organization recognizes standouts in the realm of films, TV, music and writing.

Below are the Image Award literature winners that we've got here at the library and the categories in which they won:

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery
By Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
973.714 WILLIS
Debut Author
Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home
By Sheri Booker
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
By Jeanne Theoharis
The Vegucation of Robin: How Real Food Saved My Life
By Robin Quivers
613.2622 QUIVERS
Nelson Mandela
By Kadir Nelson
Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers
By Tanya Lee Stone
J 940.5403 STONE (also on audiobook, J AD 940.5403 STONE)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Flights of Passage: reflections of a World War II aviator by Samuel Hynes

This book, first published 26 years ago, successfully evokes the picture of what it was like for a young man aged 19 to enter the service, learn how to fly, and be shipped to the Pacific, to participate in the final days of World War II. Hynes spent 2 years and 8 months away from his home, going in as a scared teenager and exiting as a flier, a married man and one who had experienced combat. 

Hynes became an academic and is now retired from Princeton, where he was the Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature. (We have four of his books on literary criticism, in addition to this memoir.)  Hynes wrote “Flights of Passage” forty years after the war, but pretty well succeeds with his aim to write it from the sensibility of the 19 year old, not from the professor’s viewpoint.  It might be because of this, but it is not a “deep” story.  We can identify and root for the young man who wants to succeed, not fail, and who also wants to fit in. When we hear of deaths and tragedies, however, they are duly noted and passed over…sometimes Hynes remarks on how the Japanese kamikaze attacks struck he and the others as being alien to themselves – and how strange it was to inhabit islands where the original inhabitants has all been transported elsewhere, so the Americans could dig in and fight. 

What stays with you is the instincts of the young, particularly the young men, and how they settle into whatever huts or barracks are offered, take on the routine that is set out for them, and still manage to keep their individuality, their pranks, their anger and their simple high spirits.  You realize that the age old tradition of the comic song was alive and well in those days, and belting out irreverent and (sometimes) obscene lyrics was a common pastime.  Details like describing the songs, and how they were sung, help to recreate that age, before TV, when simple kids really were simple, and even the smart alecks not that much more sophisticated.

Another nice touch throughout the book is Hyne’s description of flying.  Beautiful imagery captures the lyricism of flight as well as the danger - from wind and clouds, from fog and dark night.  Hynes explains the technical aspects of flying enough to give the reader an approximate understanding of maneuvers, without overwhelming us.  You can see, from his description of the training, why everyone can’t be a flier.  Not everyone can learn to fly in darkness, over land and sea, and roll a plane upside down and come out of it, which Hynes said at first felt like sheer suicide. 

This is a good memoir, not just for finding out what life was like for fliers in the Pacific, but to glimpse the war from their viewpoint - more as a necessary evil, something that got them in the air and gave them something to fly for.  

Click here to see the book in our catalog.

Friday, February 28, 2014

World War I: The Great War

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War I. World War I officially began on July 28, 1914, after Austria-Hungary began its invasion of Serbia, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the month before. Germany, Austria's ally, soon invaded neutral Belgium on the march to begin attacking France, causing Great Britain to declare war on Germany. Many countries had created military and political alliances with other countries throughout Europe, and now these countries were forced to side along those alliances. Great Britain fought with France, Belgium, and Russia, while Germany was aligned with Austria-Hungary. The United States tried to remain neutral throughout the war, but many factors, including a German submarine's sinking of the Lusitania and the Laconia, brought the United States into the war on April 6, 1917. No one could predict the devastation that the war would cause, as there had never been a war fought with machine guns, tanks, and mustard gas. It is estimated that the war cost $332 billion and over 16 million lives.

The following list are 10 fiction books and series about World War I. Hopefully, these books can help you get a feel for what life was like for both those who fought in the war, those who worked to save their lives, and those who supported them back home.

The Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road) by Pat Barker    

Soldiers from World War I are suffering from what they called "shell-shock," what we now call "PTSD," or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They are brought to the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh for treatment and treated by Dr. William Rivers. Dr. Rivers believes that he can help these soldiers, but he also wonders whether he should, as they will be sent back to the front to fight once he does. Barker looks at the effects of war, and its consequences on the minds of those who are fighting in it from the view of a man who worked with these soldiers and believed that his "regeneration" experiments would work.

The Cartographer of No Man's Land  by P. S. Duffy    

When Angus McGrath's brother-in-law, Ebbin, goes missing, Angus is determined to go and find out what
happened to him. So he enlists in the army (they are from Nova Scotia), with the promise that he will receive a safe cartographer's job in London, and he decides he will look in to what happened to Ebbin the rest of the time. However, Angus finds himself on the front lines in France, instead. While Angus is at war, his son, Simon Peter, is trying to figure out what to think about the war and how it affects everyone around him.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway    

Ernest Hemingway volunteered for the ambulance service for the Red Cross in Italy during World War I, and this book is one that he wrote that is semi-autobiographical. Like Hemingway, his character, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, volunteered to work in the ambulance service in Italy. It is in Henry's experiences that you can see the war not just from the fighting side, but from the side of the volunteers, as they faced similar situations to those men fighting in the war. There is also a love story between Henry and Catherine, a nurse.

The World War One Series (No Graves As Yet, Shoulder the Sky, Angels in the Gloom, At Some Disputed Barricade, We Shall Not Sleep) by Anne Perry

The series begins with the events that started World War I going in the background and three murders having to do with the British secret service at the forefront. Matthew Reavley is a member of the British secret service, and with his brother, Joseph, he tries to find out who killed their parents and one of Joseph's students. They also look into how these deaths intersect with the unrest leading up to the beginning of the war. As the series progresses, Matthew works behind the scenes in England, looking for the suspicious "Peacemaker," who seems to be undermining the support for the war, while Joseph works in the trenches as a chaplain (solving murders as he goes along). Their sister, Judith, is an ambulance driver, who assists Joseph in his crime solving (and even solves some of her own).

The Wings of Morning by Murray Pura

Jude Whetstone and Lyyndaya Kurtz are both from converted Amish families, and they have developed feelings for one another. Jude's obsession with the new airplane gets in their way, when Lyyndaya's parents object to him flying (even though the Amish had not forbidden the use of the airplane at the time). When the
United States enters the war in 1917, Jude is exempt from military service due to his religious convictions. However, he is manipulated into enlisting in the war to fly planes (to save the other Amish men imprisoned with him based on their convictions), and then he is shunned by the community for his enlistment. Lynndaya worries about him, as she is tending to patients sick with the Spanish Influenza, and she hopes that his shunning will end. This is a completely different look at the war, from the viewpoint of a group of people who completely oppose war.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque            

Paul BaĆ¼mer is just 19 years old when he and his fellow classmates enlist in the German army at the beginning  of World War I, but no one expects the carnage and suffering that will take place in the trenches.  As the war drags on, many of these young soldiers wonder whether they can survive the conflict, and if they do they, whether they will ever be the same again. All Quiet on the Western Front is a look at the war from the "other" side (the German) of the conflict. Even though they were the opposing side in the war, many can see a similarity in the ways the German soldiers viewed the war and the devastation that came with it.   

The Innocents by Caroline Seebohm

Identical twin sisters, Dorothea and Iris Crosby, grow up in a more priviledged lifestyle in New York City's Park Avenue. Both girls are very sheltered from the difficult things that are going on around them. That changes with the devastation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and the news of a war beginning in Europe. Dorothea and Iris decide to volunteer with the American Red Cross in France, and they soon arrive on the front lines to tend to the wounded. As the carnage goes on around them. they become even closer to each other, and they both wonder if they will ever be so "innocent" again.

To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War by Jeff Shaara

Jeff Shaara writes about the United States' part in the conflict of World War I from the perspectives of acutal historical figures that fought in it. General John "Black Jack" Pershing leads the American forces in France, dealing with this new method of warfare in the trenches. Shaara also looks at the beginning of aircraft fighting in the war, between American pilot, Raoul Lufbery, and the famous "Red Baron," Manfred von Richtofen. He also looks at the Marines part in the war with the perspective of Private Roscoe Temple.

My Enemy, My Love by Robert Tyler Stevens

Before the war began and they became enemies, James William Fraser and Sophie von Korvacs fell in love. James was teaching art at a school for foreign children, while Sophie was from a titled family. An accident between a car and his carriage lead to their meeting. The death of the Archduke is a shock for the von Korvacs, but they do not understand the bigger consequences of his death. James worries what kind of life he can give Sophie. However, with the beginning of the war, James is now an enemy of Austria and goes off to fight for the Allies. Sophie, Baroness von Korvacs watches her world fall apart around her in Vienna, and she believes that she might never forgive James for what his country did to hers, even as she loves him still.

Bess Crawford Series (A Duty to the Dead, An Impartial Witness, A Bitter Truth, An Unmarked Grave, and A Question of Honor) by Charles Todd

Following in her soldier father's footsteps, Bess Crawford volunteers to aid in the war effort as a nurse. As she faces the devastation going on around her, Bess stumbles upon other kinds of crimes that she helps solve, although most of the crimes happen (or happened) on British soil.

To learn more about World War I, look in the Non-Fiction under 940.3 for titles such as:

The First World War: A Concise Global History by Jon Glover
940.3 GLOVER


The Great War: A Photographic Narrative  by Mark Holborn
940.30222 HOLBORN

To find more World War I fiction, check out the bibliography by the catalog computers or online here


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mr g by Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman brings together his unique expertise as both a novelist and theoretical physicist in crafting a fable of the Creation in the thought-provoking Mr g (FIC LIGHTMAN). The story makes for a fascinating look at what happens when right-brain and left-brain musings collide and coalesce.

Although the narrator of Lightman's story is never actually named, it's reasonable to guess he is the eponymous Mr g. And, given Mr g's abilities, it's a logical conclusion that Mr g is actually God. Mr g lives in the Void, where "Practically everything slept in an infinite torpor of potentiality," with his querulous Aunt Penelope and long-suffering Uncle Deva.

One day, Mr g wakes from a nap and decides to create the universe. He starts with the first necessary element: time.
"I had to chosen to replace nothingness with something. Something is not nothing. Something could be anything. My imagination reeled. From now on, there would be a future, a present, and a past. A past of nothingness, and then a future of something."
From this point on, we're taken on a wonderful ride as Mr g contemplates, examines and assesses his next steps and their impact. He soon creates space, followed by (curiously) music, and then quantum physics.

It's at this point that he meets a traveling stranger whom he can't account for: Belhor and his grinning beasts, Baphomet the Larger and Baphomet the Smaller. They are anomalies outside of Mr g's sphere. As Mr g continues crafting the cosmos, he is continually visited by the mysterious Belhor, who challenges Mr g to think critically about the nature of his creation. Even as Mr g begins refining his worlds with rules meant to add order and logic and populating that space with matter, Belhor poses difficult questions of faith, free will, and relatively.

These existential exchanges are some of the best parts of the book. Mr g comes across as young, thoughtful and optimistic. His discussions with Belhor make him realize the enormity of his responsibility: He has set in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to the evolution of sentient organisms and human life. But what is the nature of life? Of consciousness?

Mr g must decide what role he will play in the lives his worlds have spawned — never suspecting that in the end, they will effect him just as much as he does them.

This is a story that melds together elements of religion, philosophy, math, science and ethics in an easily understood matter. God, in Lightman's tale, seems like a person just like you or me (except with infinite power) faced with the daunting prospect of creating something from nothing. But not just anything:

Life. Civilization. Meaning.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Flivver King by Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair is a name I remembered from college as the author of “The Jungle”, a book written in 1906 that exposed the terrible conditions of the Chicago meat packing industry.  He died in 1968 at the age of 90, and left a legacy of over 90 books and some very incisive writing on our political and economic history.

One such example is “The Flivver King”, a fictional biography of Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company and an early leading industrialist.  Fictional, because Upton writes about Ford and also a fictional person who works for Ford from the beginning of Ford’s career.  This is a device of parallel lives which Sinclair often uses in his writing, to provide a contrast between the opportunities both men have and the choices that they make. 

Sinclair gives a vivid picture of what life was like in America at the end of the century, when different inventors were hard at work inventing a “horseless carriage”, the early name for automobile.  Before Social Security, the working class of people depended on the company that employed them – if they got sick or were injured, it was up to the company to decide if they got help or not. 

We see Henry Ford climbing up the ladder of success, by his perseverance, his engineering ability, and his sharpness in knowing what the public wants.  We see Abner Shutt, his employee, working hard in Ford’s factory and feeling proud that he has a job there.  When hard times hit, as in the Depression, Abner is laid off and along with thousands of others, tries to find some other job, no matter what the paycheck.

Sinclair illustrates the invisible division between rich and poor.  Shutt has initiative, but while it is rewarded early in his career, it doesn’t keep him from getting laid off.  Sinclair shows us how Ford’s accumulation of wealth gradually separates him from others, from having bodyguards and professional spies, to being surrounded by people interested in his money, not himself.  Some critics find Sinclair’s characters are not well rounded. Yet the reader can identify with their wants and their needs, and that is really all the writer wants you to do.

Sinclair paints the conflict between the labor advocates and big business as pretty grim, and by all accounts it was. It’s worth reading “The Flivver King”, just for a lesson in how to succeed in business (make it your number one priority), as well as an account of what you should try to avoid when you get to the top. 

The book is here in our catalog.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Top 25 Books That Changed History: According to a New York Public Librarian

Miriam Tuliao from the Library Services Center of the New York Public Library has compiled a list of 25 books that she believes have changed the course of history. Some of these books on the list are givens: 1984, King James Bible, On the Origin of the Species, Silent Spring..., but some of them were ones that I hadn't even thought of. Check some of these out, and tell me if you agree with her. As always, Happy Reading!

1. 1984 by George Orwell

2. Aesop's Fables
J 398.2 WARD   Unwitting Wisdom: An Anthology of Aesop's Fables

3. The Analects of Confucius by Confucius
299.512 CONFUCIU   The Wisdom of Confucius

4. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
355.02 SUNZI

5. King James Bible

6. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Alexander
Brown           970.5 BROWN

7. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles
335.422 MARX

8. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
949.2 FRANK

9. A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson
We don't have this specific book, but dictionaries are located in 423.

10. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
305.420973 FRIEDAN

11. Hiroshima by John Hersey
940.5425 HERSEY

12. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among Tenements of New York  by Jacob A. Riis
301.441 RIIS

13. I Ching: The Book of Change
299.51282 I    I Ching: The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change: The First Complete Translation with Concordance 

14. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet A. Jacobs

15. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

16. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass

17. On Liberty: Bold-faced Thoughts on Free Will, Free Speech, and the Importance of Individuality by John Stuart Mill 
192 MILL   The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill: Ethical, Political, and Religious
323.34 MILL   On Liberty and the Subjection of Women 

18. Origin of the Species: By Means of Natural Selection of the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin   
576.82 DARWIN (along with The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex) 

19. The Qu'ran

20. Republic by Plato
321.07 PLATO 

21. The Rights of Man: For the Benefit of All Mankind by Thomas Paine
320.51 PAINE  Collected Writings

22. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir
305.401 BEAUVOIR

23. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

24. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
299.51482 LAOZI  Tao Te Ching: A New Translation & Commentary = Da de Jing

25. The Torah: The Five Books of Moses

Read the article here, or read more about Miriam Tuliao's choices on the library's blog here