Every day that I work at Peter White Public Library I enjoy moments of double take, when a book jacket or title catches my eye and makes me look twice. I chose the following from the new non-fiction shelves because the titles inspired my imagination.
"To the Moon and Timbuktu" by Nina Sovich is a travel book chronicling the experiences of a thirty-something married woman as she treks through the heart of Africa. On her travels, Sovich encounters rough-and tumble Chinese sailors, a Venezuelan doctor working himself to death in Chinguetti, indifferent French pensioners RVing along the coast, and a close-knit circle of Nigerian women who adopt her into their fold, showing her the promise of Africa's future.
"The Faraway Nearby is a travel book of the mind. Author Rebecca Solnit writes creative nonfiction in the spirit of Montaigne whose essais (or essays, as we know them) were "attempts" to explore new territory through writing and mental sojourn. Solnit explores the ways we understand our lives through stories and how we are connected by empathy, by narrative, by imagination. In the course of unpacking some of her own stories - of her mother and her decline from memory loss, of a trip to Iceland, of an illness - Solnit revisits fairytales and entertains other stories: about arctic explorers, Che Guevara among the leper colonies, and Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein, about warmth and coldness, pain and kindness, decay and transformation, making art and making self.
"Hyperbole and a Half" by blogger and cartoonist Allie Brosh explores what she calls "unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened." Though the content is meant to make readers laugh, the book itself is heavy; it's full of glossy, intensely colored pages. And some of the content is weighty too; two of Broshe's essays, "Adventures in Depression," and "Depression Part Two," have been hailed as some of the most insightful meditations on the disease ever written.
"Bug Music" reads the spine. When I flipped the book over to see the cover, I read the subtitle: "How insects gave us rhythm and noise," which partially answers the question of what this book could possibly be about but also made me think more broadly than I had before about music. Author and Jazz musician David Rothenberg is a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "Bug Music" is the first book to consider the radical notion that we humans got our idea of rhythm, synchronization, and dance from the world of insect sounds that surrounded our species over the millions of years over which we evolved.
In "Falling Upwards, Richard Holmes, author of the best-selling "The Age of Wonder," follows the pioneer generation of balloon aeronauts, the daring and enigmatic men and women who risked their lives to take to the air (or fall into the sky). A fusion of history, art, science, biography, and the metaphysics of flights, "Falling Upwards" explores the interplay between technology and imagination.
The author of "The Cross in the Closet," Timothy Kurek, was raised within the confines of a strict, conservative Christian denomination in the Bible Belt and taught the gospel of separation from a young age. But it wasn't long before Timothy's path and the outside world converged when a friend came out as a lesbian, and revealed she had been excommunicated by her family. Overcome with questions and doubts about his religious upbringing, Timothy decided the only way to empathize and understand her pain was to walk in the shoes of very people he had been taught to shun. He decided to come out as a gay man to everyone in his life, and to see for himself how the label of gay would impact his life.
As intriguing as the title is, there's no mystery to "Knit Your Own Dog," by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne. It really is a book full of patterns for knitting different breeds of dogs. The book owned by the Peter White Public Library is "The Second Litter" and has patterns for 25 breeds not covered in the first book, which is available to Peter White patrons through interlibrary loan.
"Furious Cool" is the well-placed oxymoronic title of David and Joe Henry's biography of Richard Pryor. Both a brilliant comedian and a very astute judge of what he could get away with, Pryor was always pushing the envelope, combining anger and pathos, outrage and humor, into an art form, laying the groundwork for the generations of comedians who followed. The Henry brothers provide an in-depth appreciation of his talent and an insightful examination of the world he lived in and the influences that shaped both his persona and his art.
"Rocks Off" works like onomatopoeia for me, evoking bad-boy rock and roll. What better title for a history of the Rolling Stones? In "Rocks Off," author Bill Janovitz reveals the forces at work behind the band's music by deconstructing their most representative tunes from their incredible fifty years of record making. Written by a Stones fanatic, this is a song-by-song chronicle that maps the landmarks of the band's career while expanding on their recording and personal history.
By Ellen Moore