10 July 2015

2015 Reading List, April - June

Charles Nordhoff & James Norman Hall, Mutiny on the Bounty. NY: Pocket Books, 1943.

This incredible tale of sea-faring adventure in the South Pacific is drawn from court-martial records in the British Admiralty. It is the true story of an ill-fated voyage under a harsh commander, leading to two distinct, highly-improbable, returns to England: both the marooned captain, and the crew members forced to remain with the mutineers. The stuff of pure melodrama, it is the first of a three-part history, and a perfect next book after R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Treasure Island.

Evelyn Waugh, Handful of Dust / Decline and Fall. NY: Dell, 1959.

This is a pair of novels from between the wars by one of England’s best-regarded writers of the time. They are said to skewer the upper classes, apparently by showing the mundane drudgery and innane thinking of its members.

I find it unreadable. I have tried, twice. Now it goes to the Little Free Library.

D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover. NY: Signet, 1962.

“Ours is essentially a tragic age”: So begins another tale of British ennui between the wars, in which a pampered young woman discovers that life requires more than just breathing.

Unfortunately, ours is much more a comic age, and Lawrence’s thoughtful meditations on an obviously outdated morality now drag, rather than excite. Nothing in this book is now of controversy. It was a very important work, both for its ideas and the language in which they were expressed, but it has served its purpose and can now, largely, be ignored.

Stacy Wakefield, Sunshine Crust Baking Factory. NY: Akashic, 2014.

SCBF is a conventional young adult love story: girl meets two boys, thinks she likes the wrong one until the right one moves away, gets him back, happily whatever after. Sidney, the girl, is less conventional: she moved to New York instead of going to college, answers phones in a sex shop, and lives in the titular abandoned bakery. She, and the other outsiders in this well-polished picture of living beyond the law, are what make it worth reading and of interest to both junior- and high-school age boys and girls.

Amy Affelt, The Accidental Data Scientist. Medford, NJ: Information Today, 2015.

Another installment in the “Accidental Librarian” series of quick-start guides, this volume explores the scary-sounding world of “Big Data”. Data collection, analysis, and preservation are critical skills in the current economy. Affelt discusses how this state came about, tools of the trade, the purpose (and examples) of such work, and how librarians can position themselves to demonstrate value in this developing field--without the technical talk that makes turning information into answers so intimidating for beginners.

Chris Van Allsburg, et. al., The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. Boston: Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 2011.

Magical. That is how we must describe The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a collection of stories based on fourteen whimsical images from Van Allsburg. Each picture, in the pointillistic realism he has perfected in classics like Jumanji and The Polar Express, provides a scenario and spring board for interpretation by some of our most celebrated authors for readers young and old. The tales, according to the introduction from Lemony Snicket, are the pieces of a book Burdick proposed but never delivered to his publisher. This metafiction creates a cozy, coherent universe for the strangeness that follows, allowing it to always feel both wonderfully odd and completely safe. And the stories, while perfectly appropriate for bedtime reading, will linger.

Charles Sheffield & Carol Rosin, Space Careers. NY: Quill, 1984.

“A strong, weapons-free, creative space program” is the naively optimistic memory of a dream during Morning in America, but this guide to a carer in space, from 1984, is still practical advice: get a Ph.D. in a hard science while maintaining an Olympic exercise regime and learning to fly, or get a job in a support field.

And since, as the authors feared, real progress in the US space program stalled soon after this was published, almost everything -- except agency addresses, of course -- the authors said thirty years ago is still true. We hope, however, that a new printing could safely omit the chapter on women working in these fields.

David Nemec, The Great Encyclopedia of 19th Century Major League Baseball. NY:     Donald I Fine, 1997. [SEE FULL REVIEW HERE]