From the Shelf
The Dogs of War
In this issue, we interview Robert Crais, whose new novel, Suspect, is about Maggie, a canine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and LAPD cop Scott James. Maggie lost her handler to an IED in Afghanistan, and Scott lost his partner to gunmen. Both are suffering from PTSD, and are brought together in a K9 unit. The thriller aspect of Suspect is good, but the story of Maggie and Scott is outstanding. Their initial mistrust grows into an unbreakable bond, a journey that will have even the most jaded hearts longing for their own Maggie.
The human-canine bond has been written about ad infinitum; numerous books have focused on the dogs of war--military dogs and rescued dogs. One of the first, and best, is From Baghdad, with Love by Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman (Lyons Press, $14.95), about a puppy, Lava, he rescued and brought home. "I see the fear in his eyes despite the bravado. He's only a puppy, too young to know how to mask it, so I can see how bravery and terror trap him on all sides while testosterone and adrenalin compete... for every ounce of his attention. Recognize it right away." In the midst of the Iraq insanity, Lava's presence at the compound allowed "all humans a temporary exit pass from reality."
Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog (Atria Books, $15) is Mike Dowling's first-person account of his deployment with Rex in the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad, the vigilance against insurgents and the alternate boredom and action of a war zone. Our review said that it reads like a letter home.
And lest we forget felines, there is No Buddy Left Behind: Bringing U.S. Troops' Dogs and Cats Safely Home from the Combat Zone by Terri Crisp (Lyons Press, $14.95), about Operation Baghdad Pups' mission to rescue stray dogs and cats from the brutalities of war. --Marilyn Dahl, reviews editor, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Ian Rankin
A gripping serial murder mystery that leads retired inspector John Rebus to investigate both the case and his own life.
by Becky Aikman
A spirited, insightful memoir about a group of young widows who gather together once a month to cheer each other on and have fun.
by Andrew O'Hagan
A collection of 21 pieces showcases the insightful essays and keen journalism of Andrew O'Hagan.
Review by Subjects:
03/19/2019 - 6:30PMThis monthly, ongoing, Elliott Bay-hosted book group will be discussing Edgar Cantero’s, Meddling Kids: A Novel (Anchor Books) as the March selection. Learn More
03/19/2019 - 7:30PMFew writers can enter their characters so completely or evoke their lives as viscerally as novelist Andre Dubus III. In this Words Work series craft lecture, “On Building Characters,” he will reveal his secrets for building characters in literary fiction and infusing them with all the complexity, nuance, and humanity that readers have come to cherish from his books. After the lecture, Andre Dubus III be interviewed on stage by the award-winning novelist Jennifer Haigh. For tickets and more...
03/19/2019 - 7:00PMEleven years after his debut novel, The End, was a National Book Award finalist, Salvatore Scibona returns with a much-awaited, and justifiably much-heralded new novel, The Volunteer (Penguin Press). “This magnificent and deeply moving novel by Salvatore Scibona, one of our most masterful writers, has at its heart the simple and compelling tale of a small boy abandoned in a foreign airport and a mysterious ‘volunteer’ who all his life, without knowing it, is trying to find him. In stunningly...
03/19/2019 - 7:30PMAcclaimed scholar (Emory University) and author of books that are both critically acclaimed and find a large readership, Frans de Waal is here this evening with Mama's Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves (W.W. Norton). “Frans de Waal is one of the most influential primatologists to ever walk the earth, changing the way we think of human nature by exploring its continuity with other species. He does this again in the wonderful Mama’s Last Hug, an examination of the...
03/20/2019 - 11:30AMOur friends at PJ Library, who do these song & storytimes designed for tots, toddlers, and those looking after them at a number of select bookstores in the area, visit as a regular feature of our Wednesday mornings. These are free and open to all and are usually thirty minutes of good fun, activity, and exploration of language, movement, and rhythm. Please join us in the Children’s Section by the castle!
03/20/2019 - 7:30PMFor years and through a series of extraordinary books, John Lanchester has looked at some of what is front and center in modern, Western urban centers, looked at what is fraught, with class, with power, with appetite - and given it a brilliant fictional rendering. Such books at Capital and The Debt to Pleasure speak to this, as do non-fiction works such a I.O.U. He is here tonight with the timeliest of novels, The Wall (W.W. Norton). “A dystopian distillation of our troubled times and an...
03/20/2019 - 7:00PM“Sissy” was Jacob Tobia’s first gender identity, the “first word the world ever gave me.” A gender nonconforming writer, producer and performer based in Los Angeles, and a member of both the Forbes “30 Under 30” and the OUT 100, Jacob Tobia is here a new memoir, Sissy: a Coming-of-Gender Story (Putnam). “Tobia, who uses "they" and "their" as pronouns, is a gifted storyteller. Their fascinating story begins with life as a feminine little boy, whose best friends were girls, to graduation summa...
03/20/2019 - 7:00PMTwo brilliantly imaginative poets read together here this evening. GennaRose Nethercott’s The Lumberjack Dove was selected by Louise Glück for the 2017 National Poetry Series, She is also a lyricist. Sierra Nelson is a poet, performer, and installation artist, the author of I Take Back the Sponge Cake (Rose Metal Press) and the forthcoming The Lachrymose Report (Poetry Northwest Editions). Presented by HUGO HOUSE. Free admission. For more information, please see www.hugohouse.org.
03/21/2019 - 7:00PMTwo noteworthy fiction debuts get read from here tonight, Oregon writer Kate Hope Day with If, Then (Random House), and Whitney Scharer, a graduate of the University of Washington MFA program, with The Age of Light (Little, Brown). “If, Then is a mind-bending reflection on the nature of free choice and time. What if, just for a moment, we could see the other paths we might have taken? If we collided with alternate versions of ourselves, would we, could we, change our own destinies? Kate Hope...
03/21/2019 - 7:00PMOver thirty years ago, in the wake of his National Book Award-winning Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez signed to write another ‘large’ book. The years since have seen striking collections of stories and knowing books of essays, among other literary endeavors. But until now, not this long awaited book. Horizon (Knopf), written with utmost grace and attentiveness, is that book. However many journeys it’s been, how many lives lived (within a life), this one says so much. “Revelatory. . ....
03/22/2019 - 7:00PMTwo excellent poets discuss the part correspondence plays in their work and lives, along with (we imagine) reading poems here this evening. Catherine Barnett is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Human Hours (Graywolf Press), a ‘Best of Poetry 2018’ selection of the New York Times. Matthew Zapruder is the author of four collections of poetry, Sun Bear (Copper Canyon Press) being the most recent. He also has a prose book out, Why Poetry (Ecco). Presented by HUGO HOUSE....
03/22/2019 - 7:00PMOne night after Barry Lopez and his book of travels, landscape, and life lived, another evening of similar bearing, albeit with a more particular focus on the western U.S. Debra Gwartney makes this welcome Elliott Bay return to read from her prize-winning new book, I Am a Stranger Here Myself (University of New Mexico Press). Recipient of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, this beautifully written book looks hard and deep at the lives of settler women in the U.S. west, using Narcissa...
Presidents Quiz; Books Ready for TV; Authors' Letters to Their Children
Now that the inauguration is over, test your political savvy with the Guardian's American presidents in literature quiz.
Entertainment Weekly suggested "7 books that would make great TV shows."
A selection of "adorable letters from famous authors to their children" were gathered by Flavorwire.
Can you guess the children's author who fled from the office when anyone visited? Listverse featured "10 curious facts about your favorite childhood authors."
"Like a cut through a log with an axe," Damien Gernay's Lumberjack Bookcase is "blunt, direct and functionally effective," Dornob wrote.
Ikea's Expedit bookcase is ubiquitous for a reason. Apartment Therapy offered the best uses for the "world's most popular bookcase."
The Writer's Life
The Purity of a Dog's Heart
|photo: © Exley Foto Inc.|
Suspect (just out from Putnam) is Robert Crais's 19th novel, one of the few that doesn't star Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. It is the story of LAPD officer Scott James and his new partner, Maggie, a military-trained K9 German Shepherd with PTSD after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scott also suffers from PTSD, after his partner was gunned down and he was almost killed.
Tell us about Suspect. This is a book about a police dog, right?
You know, I write crime stories. I'm a crime thriller guy. It's what I love to read, and it's what I write and my audience knows me for that. And so when I decided to write about the whole human and dog relationship, I kind of knew how that would sound, like "Crais is writing a dog book!" And what's gonna pop into most peoples' minds, I think, is like one of those things like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin where it's like really a human wearing a black-and-tan jacket. Maggie is having conversations with the audience and starts thinking like a short person, you know? "Maggie, get the keys!" and Maggie runs and gets the keys so Scott can start the car, and she's like telepathic and a super genius cartoon. I didn't want to do that.
Not only because I'm just not into that kind of thing, but because it was important to me to portray her as a dog, as accurately as our current understanding of dog behavior can inform us. My research was voluminous about how dogs think, what they feel, why they feel those things, how they process the world around them, what motivates dogs to do what they do.
So, in the novel, people adopt this military dog, Maggie, but then they can't keep her anymore, so they donate her to the LAPD's K9 platoon. The chief K9 dog trainer, Dominic Leland, hears about Maggie's record, and says, okay, I'll take a look at her. When he checks her out, he says this dog's not fit for service, she has PTSD. When Scott enters the scene, they're getting ready to ship her back. But Scott relates to her because when he learns about her, she's going through things very close to what he's going through. And if there is no hope for Maggie, maybe Scott feels then there's no hope for him. So he has to save her to save himself. When he asks Leland to "give me some time with this dog, give me some time to prove that she can still do it," he's really talking about himself.
The book then becomes Maggie and Scott healing each other. And that's the real strength and the backbone of it. That's what motivated me to write it. And the fact that there happens to be a pretty good crime story in it, you know, that's all to the good, too. But it's really about a man's love affair with a dog and the dog's devotion to the man, and where they end up.
So, for the book, what kind of research did you do, and how did you even approach that sort of character? Where do you pick up research on dog cognition?
I haven't had a dog in 15 years, and that's part of the story behind this book. I've always been a dog guy. I've had dogs since I was a boy. I picked this guy when his eyes were still closed, when he was three days old and still in the litter. Six weeks later, I brought him home and he was my boy from day one.
I had 12 years with him and then he passed away and I was never able to get another dog. I just couldn't replace him. It felt deeply disloyal, and I was fine with it, but I thought, "Okay, you know what? He was loyal to me, I'm loyal to him, he was gone, I don't need another dog, so let's get on with life." So I had cats.
A few years ago, though, I began to think about that. From time to time, I think, "Ah jeez, it's time to get another dog." And immediately all these emotions come up and I can't be that disloyal to my dog. I guess because it's my nature, I wanted to see why. I started to read about the human/canine bond and how far back it goes. About the history of dogs and being domesticated--dogs and people and the synergy between us. That really opened up the doors to learning about dogs, and I began to research everything I could about the bond and about dogs themselves, like how dogs process the world, how they think.
One of the things I learned is that all the behaviors that dogs show with people stems back to when dogs were wild. The dog will hold itself differently when it approaches another dog--they have a behavioral ritual that's in their DNA. That part of their behavior is hardwired; they do the same thing with us. It's in the dog's genetic makeup to seek that kind of dynamic out. That kind of social interaction with human beings is important. And all of that research led me--how could it not?--to military dogs.
In a military environment, where you have patrol dogs or explosives detection dogs, the actual human/canine relationship becomes far more intense and concentrated than it ever could be in a domestic situation. When handlers and their dogs go downrange in a combat theater, the nature of the job isolates the handler and the dog. They end up living together 24/7, apart from everybody else. That bond becomes super, super intense. And there are documented cases again and again where a handler will go down. The dog will literally drop on the handler's body and won't even let our guys approach. As I began to read those stories, I just saw it as such a purity of the heart of a dog. And it darn near broke my heart. That's at the core of this bond between dogs and people.
And that's what I wanted to write about. The purity in Maggie's heart. And by extension, all dogs' hearts. It's why we love dogs, I think, and why dogs love us. It's at the core of our relationship with dogs. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer & editor
The Aviator's Wife
by Melanie Benjamin
Anne Morrow was a shy, bookish ambassador's daughter until Charles Lindbergh, fresh off the triumph of his famed solo flight to Paris, chose her for his wife. Melanie Benjamin (Alice I Have Been) traces the arc of their long, difficult marriage through nearly five decades in the rich, heartbreaking novel The Aviator's Wife.
Speaking from Anne's perspective, Benjamin explores the complications and contradictions of the man known worldwide as "Lucky Lindy." Adored as a hero and respected for his pioneering aviation work, he could also be cruel, demanding and distant. Although Anne always marveled that Charles chose her to be his partner and "crew," she struggled not only with living in her husband's shadow, but against his personal demons.
In roughly chronological order, with occasional flashforwards to 1974 (near the end of Charles' life), the novel presents a complex mosaic of the Lindbergh marriage: the perfect communion of early flights when Anne served as Charles' navigator, the horror of their firstborn son's kidnapping and death, the political and personal fallout in the 1930s from Charles' anti-Semitic views. As Charles continues to fly around the world, leaving Anne to raise their five surviving children, she gradually reclaims her identity as a mother, a writer and, finally, a woman capable of love.
At once sweeping and intimate, this is a riveting portrait of a woman both shaped by and separate from her relationship with her extraordinary husband. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A riveting fictional portrait of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, both shaped by and separate from her complicated marriage to Charles Lindbergh.
A History of the Present Illness
by Louise Aronson
Louise Aronson has a medical degree from Harvard and an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. As you might expect, her writing is greatly influenced by her work as a physician and her observation of the suffering of patients and their loved ones. She deftly molds this knowledge and experience into A History of the Present Illness, a masterful collection of short stories. Though her work brings to mind other physician-writers such as Abraham Verghese, Vincent Lam and Chris Adrian, Aronson's voice is all her own. Her creative take on the social consequences of a life in medicine, whether from the perspective of a doctor or a patient, is highly original, and she is remarkably adept at variations in narrative and story style.
In the collection's first story, "Snapshots from an Institution," a series of numbered paragraphs provide distinct descriptions, as if caught on film, of the last days of an elderly Chinese patient and her devoted husband in an American nursing home. "Blurred Boundary Disorder," written in the form of a letter, acutely depicts the thought processes of a psychiatrist who may herself be crazy. Other stories, in more traditional formats, feature an assortment of characters: a young Cambodian immigrant with a bed-wetting problem, a Latina physician dealing both with the death of her father and a runaway teen daughter, a doctor jailed for alleged murder. Regardless of style or format, however, Aronson's stories, and the characters within them, will not be quickly forgotten. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore
Discover: A highly original and accomplished collection of stories from a masterful voice within today's cadre of talented physician-writers.
Habits of the House
by Fay Weldon
The Earl of Dilberne, always the gambler, has lost a fortune (mostly his wife's) in a gold mine in Africa. The Earl and his wife must now look to their children to bail out the family by making advantageous marriages. Daughter Rosina is not a good prospect; she is an outspoken feminist, not given to social compromise or pleasantries. Perhaps Viscount Arthur, if he can stop seeing his mistress, Flora, long enough to get serious about a proper wife. Some of the drain on family resources has been Flora's upkeep, which Arthur is now forced to share--along with her favors--with another man. Arthur doesn't know that Flora's first "protector" was his own father.
Enter Melinda O'Brien, daughter of a Chicago meatpacking millionaire, who because of scandal is not marriageable at home. A title would be nice for her family; her money would help Arthur and his family. On such foundations are many marriages built, then and now.
Weldon's "world of lies" has a glitch here and there, but all will be well in the end. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: The beginning of a trilogy about Edwardian England, upstairs, downstairs, in the streets of London and in the country, ably portrayed by Fay Weldon.
Mystery & Thriller
Standing in Another Man's Grave
by Ian Rankin
Ian Rankin returns to his famed detective John Rebus with Standing in Another Man's Grave, a stunning tribute to his late friend, singer and songwriter Jackie Leven. Not only is the novel dedicated to Leven's memory, the title derives from Rebus's mishearing of the lyrics of one of his songs.
Five years into retirement, Rebus, working as a civilian on cold cases for the Serious Crimes Review Unit, is considering reapplying to CID. When a young woman goes missing, Rita Hazlitt shows up at the SCRU office with a serial kidnapping theory. Hazlitt's daughter disappeared along the same highway on New Year's Eve 1999; at least two other young women have vanished since then. But no one has been willing to take her seriously--until Rebus. He agrees to take a look at the cases, oblivious of the mayhem he's about to step into. Despite forces working against him from every direction, Rebus uncovers startling facts, making him more determined than ever to solve the case.
Standing in Another Man's Grave introduces Rebus to another Rankin character--Malcolm Fox from The Complaints--while also stirring up former adversaries and colleagues. Rankin's poetic language, subtle humor and artful approach to weaving music into the prose combine with his rich characters and suspenseful plot to create a reading experience stimulating to all the senses. Whether a newcomer to Rankin's world or a devoted fan, Standing in Another Man's Grave is sure to exceed expectations. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: A gripping serial murder mystery that leads retired inspector John Rebus to investigate both the case and his own life.
Biography & Memoir
Saturday Night Widows
by Becky Aikman
When Becky Aikman's husband dies and leaves her a widow in her 40s, she joins a grief support group to help her through her loss. But as the youngest participant in what seems like a wallowing contest, Becky concludes that what she needs is to shed her gloom and cheer up. When she voices this goal and is met with skepticism, then asked to leave the group, Aikman (writer and editor for BusinessWeek and Newsday) sets out to start her own widows' support group devoid of tissue boxes, folding chairs and mental health checklists. After putting word out, she and five other recent widows, ranging in age from 39 to 57, agree to meet once a month on a Saturday night to do something "fun," sharing in cocktail parties, cooking and fitness classes, visits to spas and museums, lingerie shopping and, ultimately, a trip to Morocco.
Saturday Night Widows is an unflinchingly honest, spirited memoir that details the revelations and escapades of these women, collectively and individually, over the course of one year. As each widow begins to put the pieces of her life back together, personal stories that bring tears and laughter, healing and hope emerge in the safe solidarity of the group. In the end, Aikman and her friends triumph over loss by supporting each other as they each chart a new course, determined to live abundant, healthy, happy lives despite the pain of grief. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A spirited, insightful memoir about a group of young widows who gather together once a month to cheer each other on and have fun.
May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing My Mind
by Cyndi Lee
Anybody who's read Cyndi Lee's Yoga Body, Buddha Mind or sampled her essays in Yoga Journal or Shambhala Sun knows she is a humane and instructive writer. The acclaimed yoga instructor's memoir, May I Be Happy, has an earthy sensibility that sets it apart from her earlier work.
Lee--the founder of New York City's OM Yoga Center--writes about her early love of dance, her burgeoning passion and mastery of yoga, her encounters with Buddhism and the convergence of those teachings with her inclusive but disciplined world view. She also deals open-heartedly with her often painful struggles with body image, addressing both her own emotional and psychological wounds and offering useful insights into society's soul-killing pigeonholing of female beauty within narrow (read: skinny) confines. Lee also wonderfully incorporates stories of her friendships with famous women like Cyndi Lauper (Lee was a choreographer for her early videos) and Jamie Lee Curtis. The engaging dialogue between Lee and Curtis on the subject of aging, beauty and the changing body is a particularly fascinating distillation of the book's main points.
Though May I Be Happy's message embraces female empowerment, its underlying wisdom about the body as a vehicle for self-improvement and instrument for spiritual growth should appeal to readers of either gender. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: A wise and vulnerable memoir about freeing ourselves of outdated images of the body from a skilled writer and spiritual teacher.
Business & Economics
After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead
by Alan S. Blinder
When first the housing market and then the bond market imploded in the late 2000s, the repercussions damaged not only Wall Street but the entire United States economy--as well as economies abroad. In After the Music Stopped, Princeton economics professor and Wall Street Journal columnist Alan S. Blinder explores the causes of the financial crises, along with the steps the federal government took to address the meltdown and the further work needed to prevent financial history from repeating itself with another catastrophic depression.
After the Music Stopped displays Blinder's thorough knowledge of his subject as well as of his audience. Readers with scant background in economics will have little trouble understanding Blinder's explanations of the causes of the financial crises or how the steps that have already been taken and the further steps he recommends apply to the situation. Blinder never hesitates to lay blame where it is due on both sides of the political divide, but neither is he stingy with praise--and he focuses on the complicated issues involved that are clearer in hindsight. After the Music Stopped is not only a comprehensible overview of the financial crisis but an enjoyable one as well. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A thorough and clear-eyed exploration of the 2008 financial crisis and the options for avoiding another.
Essays & Criticism
The Atlantic Ocean: Reports from Britain and America
by Andrew O'Hagan
Among the most striking features of Andrew O'Hagan's The Atlantic Ocean is the breadth of its subject matter. From incisive essays on writers such as James Baldwin, E.M. Forster and William Styron to accounts of the decline of British farming, an appreciation of the Beatles and a reminiscence of Marilyn Monroe, these 21 sterling pieces marry the concerns of an impressive intellect to an insatiable curiosity, creating a body of work that justifiably invites comparison to the nonfiction of George Orwell or, among O'Hagan's contemporaries, writers like Christopher Hitchens or Geoff Dyer.
In a collection so consistently strong it's difficult to choose highlights, two of the best and lengthiest works of journalism appear side by side. In "After Hurricane Katrina," O'Hagan accompanies two North Carolina men--one young and white, the other black and middle-aged--on what turns out to be a mostly futile trip to a New Orleans that "had become the thing that geological memory knew it to be--a voluminous swamp, a lake of reeds and tangled boughs, except that television sets and teddy bears and living people had got in the way." Then "Brothers" twins the deaths of two remarkably dissimilar soldiers--Guardsman Anthony Wakefield, a British infantryman, and Lieutenant Colonel John Spahr, a celebrated United States fighter pilot--both killed in Iraq on May 2, 2005, exactly two years after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations there.
Most of the pieces in The Atlantic Ocean first appeared in British publications, and thus it's likely Andrew O'Hagan isn't widely known to American readers. Perhaps these fine examples of his abundant talent will change that. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: A collection of 21 pieces showcases the insightful essays and keen journalism of Andrew O'Hagan.
Psychology & Self-Help
True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart
by Tara Brach
True Refuge excels thanks to Tara Brach's mixture of touching autobiographical sketches and accounts of her clinical psychology experiences. Her pragmatic approach to insight meditation and Buddhism should be thought-provoking and spirit-calming no matter where one rests on the spiritual journey.
Individuals acquainted with the Buddhist dharma teachings may recognize the term "taking refuge." Brach's reverent yet flexible view of the ancient wisdom, approached through psychological insight, makes for an innovative work of sustenance and lasting use. She is not afraid to throw in teachings and aphorisms from other traditions, and this gives True Refuge a welcome air of the ecumenical. While Brach's obvious knowledge of Buddhist teachings and her capacity to present this knowledge in a pithy and psychologically penetrating way is unusual, her main new contribution is the R.A.I.N. system: Recognize what is happening; Allow life to be just as it is; Investigate inner experience with kindness; and practice Not-identification. She illustrates these four main points with plenty of examples, arriving at an approach to life that is both wonderfully free of extraneous baggage and brave in its insistence at looking at life without preconceived notions.
In a world dominated by compulsive appetites and dogmatic adherence to particular modes of thought, Brach's refreshing Buddhist-inspired approach is a wise and compassionate revelation that should appeal to those in need of soul replenishment. --Donald Powell, freelance writer
Discover: A wonderful mix of memoir, psychology and Buddhist teaching that leads toward a true awakening of the heart.
This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful and Elegant Theories of How the World Works
by John Brockman
In 2012, John Brockman of Edge.org asked more than 200 scientists, social scientists, thinkers and novelists, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" Their responses are collected in This Explains Everything, starting with Susan Blackmore's belief that natural selection offers the most elegant explanation of how the world works, exemplified by the oft misunderstood tautology "Things that survive survive." According to Steven Pinker, natural selection and social Darwinism explains how the familial gene pool shapes human conflict. For Keith Devlin, it's the creation of human language and grammar that serves to encode and communicate complex ideas.
Others find simplicity as the key to the world's inner workings: "Simplicity leads to depth," says Nobel laureate physicist Frank Wilczek. "The shortest programs all contain nothing gratuitous. Every bit will play a role." Others cite one elegant explanation as the stepping stone for better explanations, with one door, according to Alan Alda, nudging open another 100 doors. David Pizarro admires Jared Diamond's explanation of how human societies work, but Diamond himself points to Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley's theory of the biological generation of electricity as the ultimate authority on worldly matters. Not so journalist Nicholas G. Carr, who offers up the Peter Principle's "everybody is a dolt" rationale as the deepest insight into human character (and the easiest explanation for why mediocrity predominates).
This thoroughly thought-provoking, cross-disciplinary approach to how the world works will have readers pondering the meanings of their own existence and that of the world around them. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: John Brockman's scintillating, cross-disciplinary anthology asks leading thinkers to offer their favorite explanations on how the world works.
Children's & Young Adult
The Fire Horse Girl
by Kay Honeyman
First novelist Kay Honeyman creates a strong heroine, Jade Moon, for this coming-of-age tale set in Jinjiu village in 1923 Guangzhou, China.
Jade Moon's mother died giving birth to her nearly 17 years ago, and life is not easy for a girl in an all-male household in China. But Jade Moon often speaks without thinking, and takes on every battle. In Chinese astrology, girls born in the year of the Fire Horse are "especially dangerous" and bring tragedy to their families. Everyone in Jinjiu blames Jade Moon for any misfortune that befalls them. A stranger comes to town with a connection to her father's brother, whom Jade Moon never knew existed. The stranger's name is Sterling Promise, and he comes bearing a ticket that will get Jade Moon, her father and Sterling Promise himself passage to America.
Honeyman fills the narrative with period details sure to fascinate readers: the creation of "paper sons," fictitious family members invented by Chinese immigrants after the San Francisco earthquake to gain passage for others wishing to come to the U.S.; the fireworks trade in Hong Kong, made possible through child labor; and the second-class status of girls and women. Jade Moon's only hope in China is to marry a man who can provide for her. In America, she hopes she'll get a chance to be whom she's meant to be. But as fellow passenger Mrs. Ying tells Jade Moon, "It is not easy to be a woman anywhere." An engrossing historical novel with a captivating heroine. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A heroine strong enough to make her way from 1920s China to San Francisco's Chinatown and stand her ground.
The Tell-Tale Start: The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe, #1
by Gordon McAlpine , illust. by Sam Zuppardi
After identical twins Edgar and Allan Poe (great-great-great-great grand nephews of the Edgar Allan Poe) are expelled under suspicion of cheating on a standardized test, their Aunt Judith agrees to homeschool them, with comical results.
The twins' principal does not understand that Edgar and Allan, "whose knowledge was always identical, however far apart they were," would never cheat on a test. The fact that they got the same three answers wrong in precisely the same way served as proof. Why couldn't Mr. Mann see that? Instead, he calls them in to expel them, and allows an odd fellow called Mr. Archer time alone with the boys, who clips a lock of each boy's hair and exits as the twins' guardians arrive. What could he be up to? The plot thickens when their black cat, Roderick Usher, goes missing.
Gordon McAlpine (Joy in Mudville), making his children's book debut, intersperses chapters in which Edgar Allan Poe (despite admonishment from boss William Shakespeare) attempts to leave helpful clues for his namesake twins, a few of which go awry. Edgar and Allan, being clever boys who "believed that oddities and seeming coincidences were actually the world's way of communicating secret messages," nonetheless pick up on them. Sam Zuppardi's drawings of the clues, cameo portraits and posters augment the story as well as readers' interests. Some of the literary allusions will be more amusing to adults than to young readers, but children will certainly get the references to Oz, and cheer on the twins as they decode the clues to track down their beloved cat. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A chapter book brimming with literary allusions, pranks and comic twists starring identical twins named for the author of "The Tell-Tale Heart."
The Bully Book
by Eric Kahn Gale
Debut author Eric Kahn Gale creates a powerful treatise on one of today's hottest topics: bullying.
Eric Haskins used to be a normal kid, with a normal group of friends and a normal life. But something changed between fifth and sixth grade. Now, his former friends are calling him "Grunt" and bullying him. This is not stereotypical, steal-your-lunch-money bullying. This is the real thing. First, a few boys refuse to acknowledge Eric's existence. Next, they jostle him as he's peeing, ruining his clothes. Through these small acts of exclusion, his tormentors transform him into an object loathed by his entire class. He is no longer Eric; he is the Grunt. Desperate to change his lot, Eric tracks down a book he has heard of, an instruction manual that purports to give its readers the power to arrange the social hierarchy.
Despite some first-time writer missteps (Eric's voice is too grown-up for a sixth grader; one plot point, involving a page ripped from The Book, is an artificial device to create suspense), The Bully Book ultimately succeeds as a story that grants legitimacy to the extreme fear, anger and despair that victims of bullying feel. The existence of a bullying instruction manual, and the methodical, deliberate manner in which Eric's tormentors employ it, may ring false. But ultimately, these points of incredulity allow the reader to access a deeper truth: to the bullied, the sense of organized attack is real. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education
Discover: A story that grants legitimacy to the extreme fear, anger and despair felt by the bullied.