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In 2006, Ken Ilgunas graduated from the University of Buffalo owing a shocking $32,000.00 for student loans he took out to finance his education, and found he had very limited prospects for paying it back. Ashamed at finding himself so deep in debt, he resolves to pay the debt back as quickly as possible, and in order to do so, takes a summer job cleaning motel rooms in Coldfoot, Alaska, a tiny truck stop on the Dalton Highway. The pay is lousy, but room and board is included with the job, so by living as cheaply as possible, Ilgunas is able to put all the money he makes towards paying down his debt. Thus, he embarks on a mission, somewhat informed by Henry David Thoreau's Walden, to live as simply (and frugally) as he can, which leads to a bout of 'van-dwelling' while a graduate student at Duke University.
Ilgunas is frequently somewhat clueless, occasionally crass, and distinctly prone to navel-gazing, but that is unsurprising, considering that the events of the book take place when he is in his early 20s. However, the thoughtfulness, humor and relevance of the book's topic outweigh the few weaknesses. It made me laugh out loud, but also made me consider the sky-rocketing cost of education and living in this country, the amount of debt Americans incur, and how we could change the way we live.
Recommended by Catherine
This book should really be subtitled “All of those things that I should have learned in high school but didn’t, which (in retrospect) is all my fault and not my teachers'.” This book lays out the basics of science – scientific thinking, probability, measurement – and then uses them to cover the major scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy. Angier manages to explain the deeply theoretical and practical with equal ease and shows how science impacts our lives every day and how important it is. She is also adept at showing the ways that all of these disciplines, taught separately in the classroom, interact and affect each other. Every time I sat down to read this book I felt smarter, because I finally understood what was going on in things I’ve been taking for granted my entire life.
That being said, Angier's writing style is not for everyone. Her use of metaphors, similes, and stories to explain different phenomenon means the prose sometimes tips from the merely flowery to the completely overwhelming. To paraphrase another reviewer, Angier never met a metaphor that she didn’t saddle up and ride like the wind, often to exhaustion. While the writing is mostly enjoyable and sometimes distracting, her ability to explain science is first-rate.
Recommended by Andi
Devil in the Grove is a true story of the deep South when racism was endemic in the society. Thurgood Marshall was the lawyer for the NAACP when four black men were accused of kidnapping and raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida. Norma and Willie Padgett were young, newly married and trouble from the start. One night their paths cross with two black men, leading to the kidnap and rape charges. Although their innocence was really never in doubt, the culture and law in South Florida made guilt or innocence irrelevant. Watching history unfold, with the inclusion of the NAACP, the Ku Klux Klan, the law in Groveland (Sheriff Willis McCall), Thurgood Marshall and the FBI is compelling. Gilbert King won the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction for this book and it is easy to see why.
Thurgood Marshall was working on Brown V. Board of Education, a case which would change the face of education in America and bring him to the U. S. Supreme Court. Justice Marshall was the 96th Supreme Court Justice and the first African/American to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
This novel illustrates how close America came to losing one of its most important legal figures and gives a truthful view of the fight for equality which is still ongoing. How far we have come, how far we still have to go for racial and cultural equality in America. A must-read for anyone interested in history, justice and the impact of social mores on our society.
Recommended by Suzi
Lisa Scottoline is probably best known for her legal thrillers, which center on the lawyers of the Philadelphia firm Rosato & Associates, but in recent years she has branched out and written several thrillers that focus on families, most frequently mothers and their children. Of those novels, Don't Go, whose main character is this time a father, is far and away the best. It is the story of Army Reserve surgeon Dr. Mike Scanlon, deployed in Afghanistan, whose wife Chloe dies in a tragic household accident, leaving their new baby Emily without a mother. Mike is torn between his need to care for now-motherless Emily, and the life-saving work he does with his Forward Surgical Team colleagues in Afghanistan.
This intense story has love, loss, grief, betrayal of trust, war, murder, legal wrangling and crime, twists and red herrings galore, and the action never lets up. I couldn't put it down.
Recommended by Catherine
A few years ago, the British Museum partnered with the BBC in a project that would tell the history of the world by examining objects from the British Museum's collection, and using each object as a jumping-off point for a weekly radio segment discussing important moments or developments in human history. Each segment was narrated by the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, and featured historians, authors, and other experts who would weigh in on each object and its place in history.
Those radio segments have been collected in this audiobook. Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of audiobooks because my mind tends to wander, but each segment in this book is a manageable length, and it was possible to listen to as many or as few segments as I wanted without losing the thread of the story. By the end, I had traveled across two million years, and learned a great deal about the history of people across the entire globe.
If you're interested in seeing the objects described, check out the companion book, also called A History of the World in 100 Objects, available through our catalog from the Anchorage Public Library.
Recommended by Catherine
|Esther M. Sternberg|
This excellent non-fiction book on the science of the brain examines how our bodies are affected by our surroundings, specifically, how our bodies' ability to heal is affected by our environment. Starting with the belief held by the ancients that some environments have healing properties, contemporary scientific research has begun to inform the design of hospitals and urban areas in an effort to reduce stress and promote healing
Sternberg, a doctor and National Institute of Health researcher, explains scientific concepts in a way that is easy to understand. This book is fascinating.
Recommended by Beth
Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, laid up in the hospital with a leg injury, has nothing to do each day except gaze at the portrait of King Richard III hung on his wall for decoration. Richard III, the last of the Plantagenet kings (white roses from the War of the Roses) has lived on in history as a villainous and conniving usurper, notorious for the disappearance and probable murder of his nephews. Grant decides to investigate the murder of the Princes in the Tower, sending nurses, friends, and colleagues to do historical research for a 500 year old case.
So, full disclosure, I was incredibly dubious about the premise of this book, because how interesting can it be to listen to characters talk about conducting historical research about a man who died in the 1400s? Well, as it turns out, it is so very, very interesting. Tey’s characters are well written but what really shines is a look at how history ‘written by the victor’ can have large-scale impacts over time. I learned so much about this period of time that occasionally I found it hard to remember that I was reading fiction, not nonfiction. Also, Tey made me care so much about the characters and the history that the first thing I did after finishing the book was to start conducting research of my own. This book was written in 1951 and occasionally shows its age (such as: the Inspector is laid up in the hospital for a couple of weeks over a broken leg). Nonetheless, it is a wonderful read.
Recommended by Andi
“Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter in this riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness – and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.”
This is the tagline you’ll see over and over when you look this book up and it’s a great description. Alaska’s uneasy relationship with “the Feds” is a real and true thing, especially in some of the more remote areas, and this book caught all the fire of the Alaskan struggle with its questioning-authority attitude.
In 2002, when the Pilgrim family, a curious group that included a husband and wife and their 14 children, showed up in remote McCarthy, Alaska, and homesteaded in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, their pioneer spirit, independent nature, religious piety, and throwback ideals were embraced by the frontier community. Then, their bulldozers and disregard for neighbors begins to reflect the dark shadows that eventually encompass the Pilgrim family.
This book is well-written, well-researched and an excellent read. I remember following this story in the papers, and this book rounded out the story in a perfectly satisfying manner.
Recommended by LouAnn
This truly delightful sequential art story (a fancy way of saying comic book) tells what happens when Etienne Davodeau, a graphic novelist, and Richard Leroy, a vintner, each agree to learn about the other's craft. The result is a lovely way of looking at people's specialities, and the book concludes with a great list of the books read and wines drunk over the course of the partnership.
Recommended by mj.
I gave up reading Stephen King when he decided to write in the horror genre. Give a me a good ghost story anytime, but creepy is just, well... creepy. So with a trembling heart I approached Joyland. And what a wonderful surprise! This is Stephen at his non-horror best, a ghost story and a coming-of-age story. No-one can catch the tone of American vernacular the way King can; I LOVE his writing.
Joyland is the story of Devin Jones, a twenty-something college student in the throes of a first love. His girlfriend takes a summer job away from him, leaving him adrift; so Devin decides to work at Joyland, an old-time amusement park. It's the summer of 1973 and King transports us there.
Devin's life will never be the same, from his involvement with a dying child to the mystery of the ghost in the haunted ride, this is the summer that will change him forever.
Nostalgic, warm and involving - more a novella than a huge novel, this book reads like a memory of warm sun, star filled nights, and the excitement of being young.
Recommended by Suzi