Friday, December 30, 2011

Not just about a tiger

John Vaillant’s book The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival is a fascinating read. The underlying story is about a man-killing Amur tiger (also known as a Siberian tiger) in far eastern Russia.

Local authorities set out to find the tiger – an incredibly dangerous hunt through dense woods, tracking a fierce predator that can see and hear them long before they detect it.

Vaillant obviously spent a lot of time researching the incident. He also researched the geography of the area, the history of the place and the people, the ecology of the boreal forest, and the attempts of Russians to save the Amur tiger from extinction. He presents a remarkable portrait of this remote region.

One of the aspects of The Tiger that I enjoyed the most was Vaillant’s references to other sources dealing with the region and Amur tigers. The book’s bibliography has provided me with dozens of titles for future reads.

When the author mentioned Akira Kurosawa’s 1975 film Dersu Uzala, I immediately checked out the DVD from our library and watched it. The film deals with the Russian explorer Vladimir Arsenyev, who spent years in the early twentieth century exploring the area where The Tiger takes place. Most of Dersu Uzala was filmed in the Siberian boreal forest, and it gave me an accurate sense of the Amur tiger’s habitat.

If you only want to read gory details of tigers eating people, this book will probably be disappointing. But if you are interested in learning about the political, social and conservation issues in a very remote and largely unknown part of the world, I highly recommend this book.

--Posted by Kay

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Annual Magazine Giveaway

The first Thursday of the new year is coming soon and that means we will make outdated magazines available for anyone who wants to come pick them up. Thursday, January 5, the McEntee Room will be filled, at least to start the day, with the old magazines that we are discarding to make room for the new. This is a first come, first served event and folks are asked to bring their own bags to carry home their loot.

What can you do with old magazines? I found some of the items on this list from the website useful:

• Old magazines make fantastic boot trees. Roll up two thick issues and stuff them in your tall boots to help keep the leather from slouching.

• Cut out a favorite photo story and frame the pages. Hang the pictures in a series on your wall for inexpensive art.

• Use photos of beauty products to customize your makeup organizers. Pick up some inexpensive storage boxes (these ones from IKEA would work well) and attach pictures of lipsticks, eye shadows and powders to keep track of your cosmetics.

• Explore your kids' or your artistic side by using magazine pages for decoupage and collage projects. Simply cut out images, glue them on an object such as a pencil box, canvas, or trash bin, and seal with varnish for a one-of-a-kind decorative piece.

• Tear out interesting images, words or articles and create an “inspiration” bulletin board for your office or work space.

• Use the pages as stylish and eco-friendly wrapping paper.

• Shred the pages to use as protective filler for packages or moving boxes.

• Make your own, customized mailing envelopes. Use a utility knife to cut out a page, fold in half horizontally (leave a flap at the top) and glue the edges shut. Place a letter inside then fold the top flap over and seal.

Happy re-purposing!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Darkside by Belinda Bauer

You’ve seen this monster before, but you won’t recognize it until it’s right on top of you. That’s the beauty of Darkside, Belinda Bauer’s new English village mystery, which is most definitely NOT a cozy read.

Jonas Holly is the local bobby, the embodiment of community policing in his rural area. He walks the streets of several villages each day to keep the peace, checking on shut-ins, giving rowdy partiers a talking-to, and fielding complaints about the neighbor’s dog. Once, he’d meant to be something more, but when his wife Lucy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he knew he had to choose a less ambitious path, one that would let him care for her.

Now the uneasy balance he’s kept, walking his beat and helping his wife fight the progression of her MS, has been disturbed. In an area that’s suffered very few major crimes in the past 20 years, a paralyzed woman is murdered in her bed, and Jonas is suddenly at the center of an investigation.

Bauer’s characters are exceptionally clear and sympathetic, and her writing style sparse with occasional, usually dark, lyricism. This book is related to her previous book, Blacklands, by setting and with a few overlapping characters. Blacklands won the Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger Award in 2010, although I gave it only three out of five stars in my Goodreads account. (Shows what I know!)  Darkside, on the other hand, gets my much coveted five star rating.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Fuzzy Nation: a book based on . . . a book?

Jon Scalzi’s book, Fuzzy Nation, is based on H. Beam Piper’s 1962 novel, Little Fuzzy, which was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1963. Scalzi calls it a reboot, which he talks about on his blog Whatever. (Careful—his blog is addictively amusing. It’s hard to read just one post.) He’s modernized the story a bit, tuning it to our 21st century sensibilities. Fellow science fiction author Paul di Filippo has an interesting discussion of the differences between the original and the reboot here.

Provenance aside, Fuzzy Nation turns out to be quite a fun scifi read. If you enjoyed Dream Park, which I recommended a couple months ago, you’ll probably like Fuzzy Nation too. The main character, Jack Holloway, is a disbarred lawyer/prospector drawn along the lines of Han Solo from Star Wars—a selfish smartass with a personal code of honor and a deeply buried heart of gold. Holloway’s smarter than Solo, however, and quicker with the wit. He loves animals, as evidenced by his relationship with his dog Carl, who blows stuff up. When Holloway and Carl discover a new animal on the planet they’re prospecting, Holloway quickly welcomes it into his home—only to start wondering if it might be more than just an animal.

The little guy vs. Evil Corporation, compassion vs. greed, and man vs. himself most of all—this is not so much a book about humans meeting aliens as it is a book about humanity trying to control its own worst impulses. Sound heavy? It’s not—it’s action-packed with fist-fights, skimmer crashes, zararaptor attacks, sabotage, and banter. Good fun all around.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Beggarman, thief

I'm excited about the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy movie.

If you haven't already read the 1974 novel by John Le Carre this movie's based upon, let me tell you: it's fantastic.

Brilliant operative George Smiley was sacked in a scandal that took down most of MI6's old guard. The new leadership has reorganized the bureaucracy and updated all the procedures. Smiley is on the outside.

That makes him the only trustworthy person to find the mole who’s been spying from within the most trusted ranks of British Intelligence. He has the bitter duty of investigating his friends and former comrades, to find out which of them is a traitor.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is all about betrayal: betrayal of one's country, friends, marriage, self. Le Carre never tells you what conclusions to draw; he lays out the evidence as Smiley discovers or remembers it, and lets you figure out for yourself what's going on.

I'm not one of those people who thinks the book is always better than the movie based upon it. But I knew that I wanted to reread that book before seeing the movie, and I enjoyed it as much this year as I did when I first picked it up decades ago. If you haven't read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy since 1974 - or if you haven't ever read it - I recommend it highly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Top Ten Things You Can Do on our Website—besides read our blog!

If you’re reading this, you must have located our website—welcome! For future reference, you can get to our site in different ways—typing “” will do it, or going to the City of Newport website and clicking on “Library” in the departments menu, or typing

So now that you’re here, what can you do on our homepage besides finding book reviews and more on Salmagundi?

1. Jump to the library catalog! You can go to the catalog directly at, but you can also get there from the library home page. And once in the catalog, you can renew items and manage holds by signing into your account. Simply enter your library card barcode where it says User ID in the upper right hand corner of the page. Then enter your PIN number, which consists of the last four digits of your telephone number. Click on “My Account” to work with your holds and renewals, browse our New Titles, or search the catalog.

2. Check out our Facebook page. If you “Like” us, you can receive Newport Library updates on your Facebook page!

3. Learn a language! Really. Rocket Languages offers computer tutorials in eleven different languages, including Korean, Hindi, Spanish, and English. Simply click on the Rocket Languages link and create a new account with your library card number and email address. You can work through as many lessons as you like, and your work will be saved for next time you return to your account. The lessons include grammar, vocabulary, and audio so you can perfect your accent and pronunciation!

4. Find book recommendations. Novelist is a database that collates information on thousands of fiction books for kids and adults. You can look for readalikes (for example, if you like Janet Evanovich, you might also like Kristan Higgins or Sarah Strohmeyer), browse by genre, or put in specific requirements (example: historical fiction about Ireland.)

5. Download audiobooks and eBooks from Library2Go! Library2Go offers free downloads for many devices. Click on the Library2Go button and then “First Time User” to get started. Once you’re in, check out the Library2Go FAQ’s or the MyHELP! option for further instructions.

6. Search the Web. Tired of “Googling” everything? Click on "Search the Web" for a list of search engines and directories. Maybe there’s a better way to find what you need.

7. Library Calendar. Not sure what time Storytime is on Tuesdays? Forget the name of the book for the next Reading Circle? See the link to "Library Calendar" on the short list of link on the right side of the page? Check there!

8. LNet. Working on a paper at home, and just can’t find the information you need? You can try clicking on LNet for research help. LNet is staffed by librarians all over the state—they can’t renew your library books for you, but they may be able to find you a great online algebra tutorial or an authoritative web resource on the Crimean War. If you have questions about your library account rather than a reference question, it’s best to call the library directly at 541 265 2153.

9. Library Photos. See our collection of photos on Flickr—this can be especially fun if you’ve attended a library event! The link is in the short list on the right side of the page, under the LNet icon.

10. Last but MOST! The Databases link, (just above the Novelist icon), brings you to a veritable GOLDMINE of resources, all of which you can access from home with your Newport Library card. There are literally too many fine databases here to list them all, but I’ll touch on a few. Learning Express offers a collection of courses, practice tests, and eBooks for students of all ages and many professions—everything from PSAT and GRE practice to resume design to studying for the Postal Worker exam. Consumer Reports offers information, ratings and advice on Cars, Appliances, Electronics, Home & Garden, and even Health. Heritage Quest is for genealogical research, and includes Census records from 1790 to 1930. Reference USA is a directory of 14 million US businesses, WorldCat allows you to see the collections of more than 10,000 libraries worldwide, and Gale databases contain many full-text resources such as reference books, academic journals, and health, history, and business information, among others! Phew! We can and do hold entire classes on how to use some of these databases—if you’re interested, give us a call at 541 265 2153 in late December to learn about our upcoming offerings.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Katey and Evie are young, good-looking, independent, and broke. They spend New Year's Eve, 1937, at a jazz bar in Greenwich Village, seeing how far they can stretch three dollars. When a wealthy and obviously naive young man comes in, naturally Katey and Evie pick him up.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles follows our narrator, Katey, on her winding path through New York City in the year 1938. Katey is a secretary, a second-generation immigrant who lives in a cold water walkup with her books and her father's easy-chair. But she's smart and ambitious, and she has her eye on more. Over an extravagant dinner at a French restaurant, Katey muses,

If my father had made a million dollars, he wouldn't have eaten at La Belle Époque. To him, restaurants were the ultimate expression of ungodly waste. A fur coat could at least be worn in winter to fend off the cold, and a silver spoon could be melted down and sold ... Asparagus? My father would sooner have carried a twenty-dollar bill to his grave than spent it on some glamorous weed coated in cheese. But for me, dinner at a fine restaurant was the ultimate luxury. So removed from daily life was the whole experience that when all was rotten to the core, a fine dinner could revive the spirits. If and when I had twenty dollars left to my name, I was going to invest it right here in an elegant hour that couldn't be hocked.

Rules of Civility moves as briskly as Katey does, from good pals to temporary boyfriends to ever more interesting jobs. It dwells lingeringly on conversations, observations, and meaningful details - what shoes Katey chose, what she ate, the color of a character's necktie. I was riveted, admittedly because Katey's life is so glamorously metropolitan. If you can resist vicariously following along with Katey as she samples jazz and martinis in Harlem, champagne and oysters at the 21 Club, Italian coffee with shaved chocolate in the East Village, and burgers and bourbon at the Ritz -- well, you're made of sterner stuff than I.

As the months of 1938 go by, what will happen to Katie next? A dinner party at the Beresford? Shopping and a new hairdo at Bendel's? Will she find love, or friendship, or a better job? Or will it all be stenography, phonies, and hangovers?

Rules of Civility is a cocktail, with a big splash of prewar Manhattan romanticism mixed in with the gin and vermouth. I drank it right up, and held out my glass for more. - Posted by Jennifer

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Killer’s Essence by Dave Zeltserman

Stan Green is a New York City cop, a hard-boiled workaholic whose wife left him and took his two kids out of state, whose partner just got hit by a car, whose firefighter brother lost half of a lung and 2/3 of his squad during 9-11. In short, his life sucks, and working in homicide doesn’t exactly add rainbows, lollipops, and kittens. The newest case seems worse than usual—a vicious killing that reeks of savage joy, the work of a real psycho. Stan is determined to find the creep, knowing someone who likes killing that much will do it again, and again, but every lead hits a dead end.

When a security camera reveals that someone witnessed the murder, Stan tracks the witness down, only to find that this lead too is jinxed. Zachary Lynch has brain damage; to him, the population is salted with monsters. He can’t process human faces, but instead sees hallucinations that are often frightening and bizarre. However, the hallucinations are stable; each person appears the same each time he sees them. Stan must figure out how to use Zachary to find the killer before the body count goes up.

A Killer's Essence is a noir police procedural with just a touch of scifi/supernatural, and it works pretty well, aside from some choppy bits and an ongoing preoccupation the Yankees and the Red Sox. (Probably an added bonus if you’re a baseball fan.) It’s a quick, quirky, fresh read, noir yet with a hopeful ending, and to me, the best part is, this Zeltserman guy has 5 previous books in our library system. How great to discover an author that I had somehow overlooked, with a vein of books to mine!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Nya is a young Nuer girl who spends most of her day fetching and carrying water to her home from a muddy pond. She lives in the Sudan, where for five months of the year the pond that her family relies upon dries up. Three days away is a lake that is also dry; but with a lot of digging and waiting Nya can collect enough muddy water to take to her family.

Salva Dut is a boy whose story takes place twenty-three years before the story of Nya, during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Salva is separated from his parents during an attack by government forces. He flees from his school to begin a long trek across the Sudan, to refugee camps in Ethiopia and later Kenya. Salva endures the privations and dangers of refugee life, and must also avoid people of the Nuer tribe, for Salva is a Dinka, and the Dinka and the Nuer have been enemies for centuries.

Linda Sue Park's novel A Long Walk to Water is based on the lives of two real Sudanese people. The book switches viewpoints between the two stories, which eventually intersect in an unexpected way. Although the book is written for junior level readers, I found it exciting enough to keep my interest.

Salva Dut is one of the famous Lost Boys of Sudan; you can learn more about his fascinating and heartbreaking story here. A Long Walk to Water opens a window into a world few of us know.

Monday, December 5, 2011

In Search of the Rose Notes by Emily Arsenault

Rose disappeared in 1990: sixteen years old, a small town babysitter with big dreams whose teenaged preoccupations were fascinating to her two eleven-year-old charges, Charlotte and Nora. They were also fascinated with all things supernatural as embodied in the Time/Life Mysteries of the Unknown series, and when Rose went away, they tried everything they could think of to find out where she’d gone—runes, hypnosis, the audio-taping of empty rooms to listen for ghosts. But nothing ever came of it, or of the police investigation, and Rose’s disappearance has remained a mystery, until now.

Now, Charlotte is a high school teacher in that same small town, and Nora is a potter and community college teacher who lives in a distant city with her husband. When Rose’s body is discovered after all these years, Nora is drawn back to visit—drawn back into long abandoned relationships and memories of what really happened back then. What drove Nora first into silence, then into a suicide attempt, and then far from home?

Emily Arsenault’s In Search of the Rose Notes is narrated by Nora, whose point of view shifts back and forth from adulthood to childhood. I really enjoyed Nora’s voice, which expresses her emotional development from a shy child to a messed-up frozen adolescent to a stronger adult ready to turn over the rocks of the past, all with subtlety. As for what happened to Rose . . . I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll have to read it yourself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

When the monster under the bed or in the woods turns out to be real—when the people who told you it was only a dream turn out to be wrong—when you see children float or bonelessly stretch or possibly commune with insects—then you know you’re at Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

In this new book by Ransom Riggs, sixteen year old Jacob has just lost his beloved, crazy, story-telling grandfather to what everyone says was a wild dog attack. But Jacob was the only witness, and that’s not what Jacob saw. Despite the best efforts of his shrink, he knows what he knows, and he knows he needs to find out more.

With his inept and vacillating father, Jacob visits the remote island where his grandfather was sent as a child for safety during World War II. He discovers a world of peculiarity, a world where he doesn’t have to stamp down his belief in the magical or his taste for the bizarre. But it’s a fragile world that very much needs Jacob to be a hero, and being a hero is never easy.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is illustrated with atmospheric and extraordinary vintage photos which help develop a certain grimly fantastical aesthetic reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s work. If you enjoy that sort of thing, (and really, who wouldn’t?) you may also find another of our upcoming acquisitions rather thrilling-- a book of photography called Strange Vintage Fictions: the world of Haggis Vitae by Julie Miller.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Mark Spitz (not his real name) is a sweeper: an armed and armored warrior tasked with a building-by-building hunt, clearing zombie stragglers from the part of Manhattan called Zone One.

The rest of Manhattan, like the rest of the world, is overrun with the undead. The global zombie apocalypse has come, and only a tiny percentage of humanity remains. Like Mark Spitz, the survivors are traumatized wrecks; they have lived not because they are the best and brightest, but because they are the most ruthless, the most stubborn, the most able to walk away from everything they once loved. Mark Spitz was a slacker in a meaningless job before the end of the world; now he is a lean and hardened killer, ready at any moment to grab his pack and move, and only troubled a little by hallucinations.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead is a zombie apocalypse novel; but its real subject is the struggle of the shattered remainder of humanity to rebuild society after the apocalypse. Whitehead views this prospect with a cynical eye. He notes that the new provisional government has given itself a theme song, entitled "Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme from Reconstruction)".

The effort to resuscitate Manhattan may be a bright beacon of humanity's struggle to create a new future; or it may just be a publicity stunt, designed to distract those who remain from their imminent destruction.

Colson Whitehead is the author of one of my very favorite novels ever, The Intuitionist. (See my review here.) Zone One is not quite that good; it tends to proceed in a scramble of interlayered flashbacks. The reader sometimes has to stop and sort out when and where she is, which drains away the book’s forward momentum.

But there are a lot of novels about zombies out there, and this is one of the best. Whitehead is terrific writer, and for darkly funny grimness, there's no one better.

I recommend a two-book binge: for a detailed, harrowing account the unfolding apocalypse itself, start with World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks; and for the shambling aftermath, Whitehead's Zone One.

And then, you can probably in all fairness say that you have done the zombie thing, and move on to the next hot trend.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Storyteller

What kind of man can drive women to murder? Meet Darling Jim, a stranger who rolls into Castletownbere, County Cork on his red, 1950 Vincent Comet motorcycle. Jim, whose amber, wolf-like eyes, languorous gait, and hypnotic voice cast a spell over men and women alike. He comes to life in a pair of diaries, written by Fiona and Róisín Walsh, sisters who were imprisoned and slowly poisoned by their Aunt Moira.

Fiona’s diary is found by Niall, a young postal worker who sketches comics when his boss isn’t around. One quiet evening he is drawn to the dead-letter bin, where he opens a package that will change his life forever.

Fiona Walsh and her two sisters, Róisín and Aoife, were orphaned when a fire claimed their parents’ lives. They were raised by their Aunt Moira, and they continue to meet her once a week for dinner.

When Fiona first meets Jim on his motorcycle she knows he is trouble, but she is attracted to him. She sees him later that evening in a pub, when he announces to all that he has been “bid, in the ageless storytelling tradition of the seanchaí, to favor you all with a tale of love, of danger, and of sorrow.” He enraptures his audience with a story of an ancient castle, two brothers, murder, lust, and wolves.

Fiona begins to suspect that Jim is responsible for several recent murders of young women, but cannot convince anyone else, so thoroughly has he charmed the locals. He courts her Aunt Moira, who is totally besotted and transformed by love, and the Walsh sisters endure him for their aunt’s sake. After Jim brutally rapes Aoife, the three sisters plot their revenge.

When he finishes the diary Niall is so shaken, he heads west to learn what happened to Jim. The diary revealed that a third person had been imprisoned in Moira’s home but escaped. Was it Aoife? Did she survive?

Niall’s journey to the truth is full of risks, and not a few coincidences. He acquires Róisín’s diary which reveals more of the story, and he stumbles upon a secret that echoes Jim’s tales. I found the book satisfying and gripping, in a gothic, Grimm Brothers kind of way.

Darling Jim, by Christian Moerk, can be reserved here. It is also available as an audiobook from Library2Go.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cool website of the day

A couple weeks ago, newspapers reported that an asteroid the size of an aircraft carrier was passing nearby. If you're like me, you heard that news and wondered what it would be like if that hit the earth.

Well, you don't have to wonder. Scientists at Purdue University have created Impact Earth, a meteor-strike simulator that's a lot of fun to play with.

You control the parameters: how big is the meteor, and what is it made of? Does it strike head-on, or at an angle? How fast is it going when it hits, and what sort of surface does it land on? And, crucially, how far away are you when it hits?

Then you click "calculate impact," and learn what sort of damage your pet meteor has done.

For instance, I just dialed up a school bus-sized chunk of ice and had it strike, head-on and very fast, into deep ocean about five miles away.

I learned that my meteor would break up into large chunks when it entered the atmosphere - some of these would probably fall to earth. A tsunami of less than ten centimeters would be generated, but the loud noise and blast of air would be clearly audible.

Hmm. If you're like me, you'll be less than satisfied with this result, so you might decide to up the ante a little. Let's make that meteor a little bigger - about 30 miles in diameter - and let's say that it's made of iron, not ice. There we go!

If this meteor hits, "The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass." That's good! But "your position was inside the transient crater and ejected upon impact." Oh. That's bad.

If you enjoy physics, disaster scenarios, or cool websites, I urge you to check out Impact Earth. For more fun, click "famous craters" at the top of the page to see what some of the great meteor strikes of history would be like, should they happen today.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Billy Boyle by James R. Benn

William Boyle's career with the Boston PD is on track - sort of. His father helped him get a crib sheet for the detective test; and his uncle sits on the promotions board. Coming from a family of slightly-crooked cops made Billy's rise to detective inevitable, regardless of his ability to investigate crimes. Then Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Billy is off to war.

The Boyles aren't about to let Billy become cannon fodder, of course. They pull some strings, and Billy lands a nice safe job on the staff of his Aunt Mamie's husband, who works in the war department.

And that's how Billy Boyle came to be the detective on the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, at the headquarters of the U.S. Army European Theater of Operations in London.

Eisenhower is planning an invasion of Norway, and worrying about a possible spy. When an important member of the Norwegian government-in-exile is murdered, the pressure is on Billy to find the killer - and find out if there's an espionage connection. No family connections can help Billy with this one.

"I'd probably screw up this investigation and never find the murderer, much less the spy. I was feeling pretty bad. Maybe I should come clean and get it over with. Admit what I did, what my family did, was wrong. Face the music. Easier said than done, if you want my opinion ... Maybe I was being too hasty. Why agonize over it? So what if the murderer got away? It had happened before and would happen again. Uncle Ike might not be too happy if I didn't take care of this little problem, but he'd be a lot madder if he found out the truth about me. "

Billy Boyle is a fun mystery, set in the thick of World War II. It's not a perfect crime novel - I think it's James Benn's first book, and that sometimes shows. A more experienced author would have helped me keep the cast of Norwegian suspects straight, for instance.

But I enjoyed Boyle as flawed, floundering detective, who somehow finds a little character as well as a killer. The next book,
The First Wave, takes Billy to Vichy-held Algeria; I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Got brains?

We all have a brain, right? And most of us have gone through the process of growing up. Which is why Aamodt & Wang’s fun and accessibly written book, Welcome to your child’s brain: how the mind grows from conception to college is fascinating reading for everyone, not just parents. Understanding brain development can give us greater insight into human behavior. And for those of us not in the habit of reading medical journals, how often do we come across up-to-date, comprehensible information on the brain?

Aamodt and Wang are both experts in the field of neuroscience, and include a detailed bibliography and an index in the book, which gives me reasonable confidence in their authority: always a good thing when reading about medical issues. Their tone is light but grounded in common sense.

Each of the seven parts of the book focuses on a different aspect of brain development, with practical tips and myth-debunking featured under each topic. Sample chapter headings include:

o Beyond nature vs. nurture
o It’s a girl! Gender differences
o The best gift you can give: self-control
o Learning to solve problems
o Hang in there, baby: stress and resilience

Some of my favorite trivia gleaned from the book: Did you know chimpanzees in the wild display empathy toward injured birds, trying to fix broken wings? And listening to classical music absolutely does not make children smarter? Oh, yes, and contrary to popular belief, birth order has no strong impact on a child’s personality-- guess that stubborn streak was always meant to be!

For more friendly and accessible info about the brain, try Welcome to your brain: why you lose your car keys but never forget how to drive and other puzzles by the same authors.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Puzzles, Tricks, and Illusions by Lost in Time

Lost in Time presents “Puzzles, Tricks, and Illusions” at the Newport Public Library on Sunday, November 20, at 2:00 p.m.  Corlu Collier, Jane Boyden, and Eileen Flory are the musicians of Lost in Time, a consort drawn from members of the Oregon Coast Recorder Society.  They performed “Puzzles, Tricks, and Illusions” in June of 2011 as part of the Atrium concert series in Eugene.

“Puzzles, Tricks, and Illusions” showcases ingenious and playful ways that composers from medieval times to the present have structured music, including hocketing (the sharing of notes in a melody between two instruments); a roundlike piece that is played forward and then backward; a piece written in the shape of a heart; a piece played right side up and upside down simultaneously; barking dogs, hissing snakes, and cooing doves; and intriguing contemporary pieces using percussion and unusual rhythms.  Throughout the performance, the musicians will comment on the pieces, their composers, and their musical context.

Corlu Collier is an accomplished player and teacher. She has performed with various ensembles, including the Amici Musicae, the Baroque Players, and the Berkeley Consort. She currently directs the Oregon Coast Recorder Society. At any time, when asked about her activities, she will reply “Music, music, and music.” She also publishes contemporary and new arrangements for recorder under the imprint “Lost in Time Press.”

Jane Boyden has played chamber music most of her life, primarily as a pianist. She was one of the three founding members of the Oregon Coast Recorder Society and continues to acquire more recorders against her better judgment. Jane and Frank Boyden founded Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.

Eileen Flory has played stringed instruments since the fourth grade and almost majored in music. Instead, she went into languages, anthropology, and museum .

For information on the Oregon Coast Recorder Society and for a calendar of OCRS and Lost in Time performances, visit  For more information about events at the Newport Public Library, call (541) 265-2153, go to the library’s website,, or the library’s Facebook page at

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Imagine a future - it isn't hard to do - in which the oceans are rising, there's no oil, and biotechnology has mutated out of control. Genetically modified diseases and pests have swept the globe, and the world is transformed by famine and violence.

Calories are the basis for the new economy. Machines are designed to be powered by springs, and it takes calories to wind those springs. Since food is just as precarious a resource as oil ever was, agricultural companies, with patents on the genetic codes of crops, enforce their calorie monopolies with armies.

Anderson Lake is a covert agent for one such company. He is embedded in the Kingdom of Thailand, which is surrounded by walls: sea walls to keep out the rising tides, and trade barriers to keep out foreign products that might be tainted. A military force called the white shirts brutally suppresses any sign of disease or infestation. But some Thais are interested in foreign trade, and some white shirts take bribes. Thailand is on the brink of change, and Anderson is on hand to take advantage.

The Windup Girl grapples with big ideas, but one character succeeds in bringing it down to earth with her very human plight - and ironically, she is not human. She is Emiko, a Windup, genetically manufactured to be the beautiful companion to a wealthy Japanese businessman. But she has been abandoned in Thailand, where alien genehacked beings are not only illegal but regarded with revulsion. She survives nightly humiliation and abuse in a Thai brothel, dreaming of freedom.

The Windup Girl swept the 2009 Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Memorial awards for best science fiction novel. It won the Locus Award for best first novel. Time Magazine called it one of the 10 best books of 2009.

I struggled with it at first – it’s not an easy book to get into – but soon found that I was hooked. The Windup Girl full of ideas about the future of genetic engineering, and peopled with flawed, interesting characters. It is a grim book, fierce, complicated, and worth the effort.

Friday, November 4, 2011

...For mother will be there

Alexandra Fuller's parents loved Africa. In her memoir, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, she describes her strange and difficult childhood as the daughter of white British farmers in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Fuller's father fought in Rhodesia's long civil war, struggling to keep the country "white-run." They called the opposing fighters, the Africans who wanted to control their country, "terrorists."

"In 1974," she writes, "the Rhodesian civil war was eight years old. In a matter of months, terrorist forces based in Mozambique under the new and guerrilla-friendly Frelimo government would be flooding over the border to Rhodesia to conduct nightly raids, plant land mines, and, they said, chop off the lips and ears and eyelids of little white children."

In 1974, Fuller turned five. I, too, turned five in 1974; we are the same age. While I was growing up in a small American town, Fuller was worrying about having her eyelids cut off. A dental hygienist came to my school to teach us how to brush our teeth properly; Fuller's school was visited by a soldier, who taught them how to avoid land mines. Her mother took an Uzi with her on her daily farming chores; Fuller knew how to strip, clean, load, and fire one by the time she was seven.

The most striking figure in Fuller's memoir has to be her mother, a vivacious and strong-willed woman with a truly devastating drinking problem, who refused to coddle her children and instead exposed them to danger and neglect.

Fuller portrays her parents with love. She also reveals, with unflinching honesty, their unthinking belief that whites should control Africa, that Africans are by nature unfit to do so. As a child, Fuller innocently accepted the racial superiority she was taught; as an adult, her memoir is infused with the knowledge that her parents were, at best, profoundly misguided.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight tells the story of Africa's violent struggle, as seen through the eyes of a child who knows no other world. It's fascinating. Fuller's follow-up, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, was just published in September.