Friday, June 26, 2015

How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons by Bob Mankoff

I seldom pick up The New Yorker now, but there was a time when once a week I would take the latest copy from the library's magazine room to our lunch room to read the cartoons during lunch. I would also glance at the "Talk of the Town" and the book reviews and scan the table of contents, occasionally coming back to the issue if I wanted to read the short stories, but the cartoons were the draw. I recollected this past with pleasure as I read How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons by Bob Mankoff.

"How about never - is never good for you?" is the memorable part of the caption of Bob Mankoff's most famous cartoon. It has been enshrined in The Yale Book of Quotations and, according to Mankoff, been ripped off by comedians and the makers of T-shirts. He is collecting royalties on sales of the cartoon from the Cartoon Bank, which he founded, so he has profited. He tells stories about several of his cartoons in his multifaceted book.

How About Never - Is Never Good for You? may be called a memoir, but large sections of it deal with topics other than Mankoff. He recounts the history of cartooning and the story of The New Yorker magazine, and he profiles many of his fellow cartoonists. He also gives readers hints on how to win the weekly caption contest at The New Yorker.

Anyone contemplating cartooning as a career will find Mankoff's behind-the-scenes stories very instructive. The rest of us can appreciate the artistry and laugh at the many cartoons included. It is worth several hours of pleasure reading and may lead some readers back to The New Yorker.

Mankoff, Bob. How About Never - Is Never Good for You?; My Life in Cartoons. Henry Holt and Company, 2014. 285p. ISBN 9780805095906.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Real Story Sale with Free Reader's Advisory Training

The Annual Conference of the American Library Association opens today in San Francisco with pre-conference sessions and a scattering of group meetings. On Friday, after the Opening General Session, the exhibit halls will open.

If you are there and you stop at ABC-CLIO's booth (which always seems much bigger than a booth to me), take a look at the Real Story series of nonfiction reference books (including mine). If you purchase any of them, Sarah Statz Cords offers you free, individualized reader's advisory training via email. Here is how she states it on her blog Citizen Reader:

"I'll offer you a free session of RA training (your choice: general readers' advisory or nonfiction-specific) over email. We can discuss ways to widen your RA services, put together compelling nonfiction booklists, find great title awareness websites, anything!"

Sarah provides the details on her post Conferences, reference books, RA training, oh my! She makes the same offer on online sales through June.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall

Carol Wall and her husband Dick never enhanced their yard. There were not any flowers, the grass was patchy, and the shrubs and trees looked weary, in need of pruning and rejuvenation. The couple was too busy to deal with yard issues beyond mowing, and Carol was opposed to flowers. Carol was sure their yard was an eye-sore to their neighbors, who had beautiful yards. Neighbor Sarah Driscoll was even a Master Gardener. Why did Sarah have a new man working in her yard?

This new man became an object of interest to Carol, a teacher who had taught English as a foreign language. She saw also him bagging groceries at the local supermarket and helping people load their plants at the parking lot of the local garden center. Unlike most hourly low-skill workers, he seemed to attract the attention and high regard from the customers. He spoke in an oddly charming way. Was he an immigrant?

In Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart, the author tells about her friendship with Giles Owita and his wife Bienta who immigrated from Kenya with their two sons to attend colleges in the United States. While gardening is a continuing theme in their recounted conversations, it is not really the focus of this book. Instead, self-discovery, overcoming self-imposed limits, and leading a full life prevail. There is also a mystery for the author to solve.

Ironically, most libraries have Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening in their gardening sections. Bonnie, who is also a librarian, told me that she thinks there is not really any better place in Dewey for this hard-to-categorize book. Being about non-famous people, it would be lost in biography. It could be placed with friendship books, but who ever goes to the library for a friendship book? Maybe we need shelves just labelled "Good Reading." It should be there. Check it out.

Wall, Carol. Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart. Amy Einhorn Books, 2014.  294p. ISBN 9780399157981.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar

I enjoyed its reviews in newspapers and podcasts, and Bonnie and other readers whose opinions I trust recommended this book. I remember the story from 2010 as amazing and compelling. The probability that I would enjoy Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar was high. The only reason that I have taken so long in starting is my to-read list is long. (I started to say over-populated, but you can not have too many books in your reading queue.)

Luckily for me, Bonnie borrowed the 11 disc audiobook of Deep Down Dark so I could listen while driving, cooking, and gardening. Henry Leyva is a great reader. I like how he moved easily from English to Spanish and back in this book, pacing well, and distinguishing different voices effectively. Of course, with 33 men in the collapsed Chilean mine and numerous important figures on the surface above, the task for the writer and the narrator to make each of them singularly memorable is impossible. Still I felt the voices were right as I heard them.

What I did not expect was the amount of the story that takes place after the miners were discovered to still be alive and after they were rescued. The one part of the story I would have like to be more detailed is the actual day of rescue. I am glad Tobar recounts about his interviews and tells how the miners have fared since the ordeal.

I would happily read Deep Down Dark again if it is chosen for our book group. If you wonder about conditions in mines and want a dramatic tale with suspense, even when you know the outcome, You may also like this disaster rescue story.

Tobar, Hector. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. 309p. ISBN 9780374280604. 

Audiobook: Macmillan Audio, 2014. 11 compact discs. ISBN 9781427244505.


Friday, June 19, 2015

A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching

With the title A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching, there is hardly any need to write a review. The title explains how the book is practical, and the cover hints at how beautifully colorful. Judging books by their covers can lead to disappointment, but not with this book. I renewed it to keep looking at its thematic two-page illustrated articles and its projects. I might use several ideas to enhance our yard's bird-appeal.

The topics in A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds are wide ranging. Readers may learn about bird anatomy, physics, and behaviors, as well as how to attract them by offering feeders, fountains, and nesting boxes. Gardeners find recommendations for landscaping, while hobbyists find templates for wood-working projects. There is also an essential guide to birds who frequent yards.

Though the publisher is British, this edition seems to be aimed at the American market. The range maps show North America. A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds is a great selection for public or personal libraries. I am now returning it to let others enjoy it.

A Practical Illustrated Guide to Attracting and Feeding Backyard Birds: the Complete Book of Bird Feeders, Bird Tables, Bird Baths, Nest Boxes, and Garden Bird-Watching. Southwater, 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781780192802.



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain

I think the first biography that I ever read was John Audubon, Boy Naturalist by Miriam Evangeline Mason, a 1962 publication in the Childhood of Famous Americans series. I think I read it in a single evening. So I was thrilled when Bonnie brought home This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain, a 112 page illustrated biography for tween and teen readers. Ironically, I could not read it in a single evening because I can not stay awake long enough now.

If I could have started in the morning and ignored all my obligations, I would have had a wonderful time reading without stop about the Frenchman born in Haiti who became the most famous of American ornithologists and wildlife artists. His life is a quintessential American hero story. He came to Pennsylvania as a teen, fell in love with the country, and left a lasting legacy. That he struggled financially and at times was discouraged makes the story even better. I enjoyed This Strange Wilderness a little at a time over a couple of days.

Plain's book is more modern and honest than Mason's, which was written when our culture supported faultless accounts of our ancestors. Plain acknowledges what now seems unthinkable - Audubon shot many birds for the sake of studying and drawing them. In the early 19th century, future extinction of abundant wildlife seemed impossible. Audubon saw skies filled with passenger pigeons and the plains covered with bison. He witnessed the beginnings of the slaughter of these species and even warned others that it was unsustainable, but he did not alter his own habits. Readers may wish they had time machines to see what Audubon saw.

Naturally, This Strange Wilderness is filled with Audubon's own paintings of birds and mammals of North America. It is a good choice for aspiring naturalist as well as mature readers reviewing the world they think they know.

Plain, Nancy. This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon. University of Nebraska Press, 2015. 112p. ISBN 9780803248847.


Monday, June 15, 2015

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

At a time when memoirs are fashionable, Sonia Sotomayor has published an autobiography. My Beloved World is not her full life story, ending the book with becoming a federal judge in 1992 after being recommended by Democratic New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and nominated by Republican President George H. W. Bush. Her wide-ranging book tells of her childhood, education, and early career as a lawyer. Besides being a how-I-got-to-this point-book, it is a testament to the years of her youth - which were the youthful years of the Baby Boom Generation.

The major outside force in Sotomayor's early life was the Civil Rights Movement. Her personal challenges were diabetes and the death of her Puerto Rican father when she was only nine. She took charge of her daily insulin shots, helped her mother run the home, and graduated as valedictorian at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School and at Cardinal Spellman High School. She received a scholarship to Princeton thanks to affirmative action, for which she is grateful. She is not ashamed of needing help and taking it. She points out that she was academically qualified and won many honors because she applied herself.

Sotomayor's book is a lesson about effort being rewarded. She tells several stories of starting new phases of her life without having role models to prepare her for the cultural challenges. The key she says is to be honest about your needs and ask questions and for help when necessary.

Being of Sotomayor's age, I enjoyed My Beloved World thoroughly and hope she will write another to recount her years as a judge.

Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World. Vintage Books, 2014. 398p. ISBN 9780345804839.