To the Last Breath is a memoir by Georgetown physics professor Francis Slakey that recounts his exploits of climbing the highest peak on each continent and surfing every ocean. On the surface this is an adventure tale, and Slakey does a great job of recounting some of his experiences. You can feel the tension as he is climbing Mount Everest in a blizzard and encounters several climbers whose lives hang in the balance. In Morocco, while being driven over treacherous mountain passes by a crazy driver, Hassan, (who insists that he is the best driver in Morocco) his car nearly plunges off of a cliff. In Indonesia, after climbing Pucak Jaya in the jungles of New Guinea, he is ambushed at gunpoint while driving through a large gold mine, but the soldiers eventually let him through. He discovers he has dodged a bullet, when he finds out that a few hundred yards from this very spot a group of American school teachers was ambushed with several of them killed and wounded. This memoir, however, is more than just an adventure tale. Slakey’s exploits are told with the purpose of showing how these experiences changed his life. At a fairly young age he determined he would never buy a house, get married, or have children. He then became a rather cold, guarded individual with few if any close, personal relationships or ties to anything. By the end of the memoir, he has experienced many extreme adventures, but even more remarkable are the changes within himself and his outlook on life.
Looking for affordable summer fun with benefits to last a lifetime? Go outside and connect with nature! Exploring nature offers you healthy exercise and fresh air, and can strengthen your spiritual, intellectual, and family life. Getting started as an amateur naturalist is easy with help from Manhattan Public Library.
Start with inspiration from The Practical Naturalist, an easy-to-browse beginner’s guide with stunning illustrations from publisher Dorling Kindersley, or The Nature Handbook: A Guide to Observing the Great Outdoors from Oxford University Press. If you’re making this a family project, plan your summer activities using The National Wildlife Federation Book of Family Nature Activities: 50 Simple Projects and Activities in the Natural World by Page Chichester. Another great nature study guide and activity planner is The Bumper Book of Nature: A User’s Guide to the Great Outdoors by Stephen Moss, a year-round guide that includes seasonal nature activities that appeal to all the senses, identification tips for everything from birdsong to lichens, and simple encouragements like, “Lie in the tall grass and look at the sky.”
While you’re looking at the sky, take time to study the clouds as they change and move and then learn what they tell us about the weather. Find guidance and inspiration in The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, a delightful cloud identification guide and a surprise best-seller in Britain that offers plenty of helpful illustrations and surprising humor. Another good read for cloudgazers is The Book of Clouds by John A. Day, which includes spectacular photographs, a cloud chart and weather forecasting information, and the author’s inspiring list of Ten Reasons to Look Up. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Weather by David Ludlum can help you interpret what you see.
Closer down to earth, learn to recognize trees and appreciate their beauty and strength with The Urban Tree Book: An Uncommon Field Guide for City and Town by Arthur Plotnik or the masterful Sibley Guide to Trees by David Allen Sibley. For gorgeous and inspiring nature photography, treat yourself to Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Use your new-found knowledge on a self-guided tree walk in Manhattan City Park or on the KSU campus. Guides for both the City Park Tree Walk and the Campus Tree Walk can be found online by going to www.riley.ksu.edu, then entering City Park Tree Walk or Campus Tree Walk in the search box.
Study the creatures that creep, crawl, run, and fly with a wide selection of guidebooks at the library. Go pond-watching with Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles in Kansas by Joseph T. Collins. Identify mammals by their tracks and learn about their behavior from Mammal Tracks and Sign by Mark Elbroch or Behavior of North American Mammals by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Rinehart. Learn more about birds in What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young, then go birding with the Guide to Kansas Birds and Birding Hot Spots by Bob Gress.
When you’re ready to go further afield and into the Flint Hills, check out the Field Guide to the North American Prairie by Stephen R. Jones or Kansas Geology: An Introduction to Landscapes, Rocks, Minerals, and Fossils to help you understand the ecology and terrain. Then head out to Konza Prairie or beyond and take along Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas by Michael Haddock or Kansas Prairie Wildflowers by K-State’s own Clenton Owensby to help you identify plants and grasses.
At the end of the long summer day, stargaze under the dark night sky. The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide and Summer Stargazing: A Practical Guide for Recreational Astronomers, both by Terence Dickinson, can guide you to celestial wonders. Kids can discover more from Night Sky and Planets, both from Scholastic Books and available in the library’s Children’s Room. To learn the mythology behind the constellations, check out A Walk through the Heavens: A Guide to Stars and Constellations and Their Legends by Milton D. Heifetz. For more stargazing fun, go to Stellarium.org and have your own planetarium show on your home computer. Type in coordinates to watch the night sky and see stars, planets, and satellites move as the night and day progress. On June 30 at 2:00 p.m., join us at Manhattan Public Library for a fun program, Dream Big: Follow the Stars with cool games, stories, and activities for parents and kids K-6th grade. Have a wonderful summer, Manhattan.
Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is a fascinating character and the central focus of the 12 book mystery series by C.J. Box, beginning with Open Season. A man who loves his job and family, Pickett fights everything from bureaucracy to environmental terrorists in the series, all the while he remaining true to himself and his sense of justice. Pickett is a happily married man, in love with his wife and daughters, and works hard to protect his family and the land and animals that he loves and respects. These are stories of an honorable man trying to do the right thing in every circumstance, and not always getting it right–a very likeable, human and flawed character. Game Wardens are unique in that nearly every encounter in their capacity as law enforcement officers is one that involves another person that is armed, often in an isolated area, making it a dangerous profession, and Pickett finds himself in many dangerous situations throughout the series. This is a series that should be read in order–the character interactions continue through the series as Pickett’s family changes and grows and the local community changes as well. Box has won several awards for his mystery writing and lives in Wyoming, making the locations in this series realistic and believable. This is a series to read start to finish–check on Novelist to find the order of the titles. You will find Joe Pickett a memorable character and this an outstanding mystery series!
Nick and Amy are the perfect New York couple who lose their jobs and are forced to return to Nick’s home town in Missouri to take care of his again parents. On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears from their home, leaving behind signs of a struggle. Nick has no alibi and as time goes on and clues are uncovered, he becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance. Chapters alternate between Nick and Amy’s telling of their life together and of the scenario after her vanishing from their home. Flynn has created a chilling tale of marital discord with a complex plot and many twists and turns–the story will keep you guessing until the end. Gone Girl is a powerful story of psychological warfare with an amazing portrayal of flawed and fascinating characters–a dark, clever thriller that is impossible to predict and hard to put down–a perfect mystery!
In four days, someone is going to kill me…At 8pm on January 21st, twenty-eight-year-old Charlie Grant believes she is going to be murdered and she want’s Boston’s top homicide detective, D.D. Warren, to handle her death investigation. Her death will be up close and personal, no evidence of forced entry, no sign of a struggle. Charlie tells a chilling story: Her two childhood best friend were murdered on January 21st, two years apart. Now only Charlie remains to count down her final hours. Gardner’s latest edition to the D.D. Warren Series, Catch Me is a scare-your-socks-off thriller, packed with enigmatic characters (some good, some crazily evil) and superb storytelling.
The Hungry Ocean was published in 1999 and became a New York Times bestseller. Recently I found it while looking for something totally different to read and I was not disappointed. This riveting tale of a woman swordboat captain is the reason I love reading non-fiction. Linda Greenlaw leads such a different life from me and any of my landlubber friends that I can’t imagine she lives on the same planet. What an amazing story of a gutsy lady from Maine who spends her life on the ocean.
Linda Greenlaw is captain of the Hannah Boden, a sister ship of the Andrea Gail, a boat that was lost in the horrible storm of 1991 and portrayed in the movie The Perfect Storm. Captain Greenlaw is in command of five men who spend month-long trips fishing over 1000 miles off the northeast coast in the Grand Banks. She has to fight weather, mechanical failures, close quarters with very little time for personal hygiene, disagreements, illness, and all the decisions of where to fish in order to bring home a full boatload that will pay their expenses. The story of her personal experiences in how to run a complex operation is fascinating.
I’ve been listening to Regina Spektor for four or five years now and love her quirky, whimsical lyrics and her lovely piano work. Her new album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, is another wonderful addition to her oeuvre. Some of the songs on this album are a bit more mellow and serious than those included on her previous albums, but her signature oddity and ability to look at things from an unexpected perspective still appear in spades. I particularly enjoyed “All the Rowboats” in which the rowboats in museum paintings are trying to row away. “Violins in glass coffins” and “Masterpieces serving maximum sentences” fill museums and galleries. Her frustration with politicians (one I think we all share, no matter which side of the aisle) can be heard in “Ballad of a Politician.”
None of the songs on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats are “throw away” songs, in each song Spektor’s beautiful voice and piano playing and interesting use of percussion and changes in tempo hold interest and bring the album together as a whole.
One of my memories from childhood is sitting entranced, hearing Ray Charles play piano on television. His voice still affects me the same way. In Genius Loves Company, his last album recorded before his death in 2004, he teams up with some all-time great voices, including Norah Jones, James Taylor, Natalie Cole, Elton John, and even Willie Nelson, making them sound better than ever. I found that this album did not make good background music. I found myself shushing my family so that I could catch every note. So sit back, relax, and savor the legendary tones of Ray Charles and company.
We know very little about what trees do for the environment and the impact they have on the natural world. As trees disappear, we learn what they did from their absence, a poor way to manage our environment. The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet is nominally about David Milarch, founder of The Champion Tree Project. The project is an effort to save what are known as the Champion Trees, the most impressive specimens of each species of tree found on the planet. Milarch’s story really just pulls together all the amazing information we do know about trees and what they do in the world. Robbins explains such things as how trees are great at cooling the area around them as water evaporates through their leaves. They are also awesome filtration systems for waterways and have the potential to save thousands if not millions of dollars when strategically planted to filter fertilizer and toxins from rivers, streams and ponds rather than treating water with modern conventional technology.
Many of the largest, most successful trees in the world have been harvested for lumber, paper production, etc. and the Champion Tree Project is an effort to clone the most successful trees left in the world to make sure their genes continue to live on. We still aren’t sure what role genetics plays in the success of trees, but this project ensures that when the technology is there to sequence tree genes, these trees will still be around to test. Some of the species the project has cloned include sequoias, redwoods, black walnut, willows and others that have well-documented environmental benefits. The project has never had as much funding as it needs, but Milarch and others who believe we need to reforest the earth in order to help mitigate climate change and keep the environment healthy for future generations are dedicated and continue to do what they can to spread Champion Tree genetics.
Nora Roberts has another winning romance with the second title in her Inn Boonsboro trilogy. (The first in the series is The Next Always.) The Last Boyfriend continues the previous story, with the Montgomery clan renovating the old Inn. The entire community has a stake in the outcome of the success of the Inn. Owen Montgomery is the organizer of the family–running the construction company and keeping the renovation on schedule and under budget. Avery is the owner of the local pizza shop and has been friends with the Montgomery family since childhood. Her first boyfriend was Owen, and they have remained friends ever since. Owen patronizes the restaurant often during the inn construction and finds himself more and more drawn to Avery. Avery is cautious and hesitant to build a romantic relationship with Owen, for fear or ruining their friendship. Past losses make Avery afraid to commit her whole heart, and when a person from her past reappears, she wonders if she can ever fully devote herself to Owen. Filled with likeable and engaging characters, humor and love and with a friendly ghost added to the plot, The Last Boyfriend is a delightful addition to this series–Book three in the series (The Perfect Hope) will tell the story of Hope and Ryder and is due to be published in November 2012.
Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe. This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi. The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm. Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.
Are you tired of all of the hype surrounding exercise? It seems like we are constantly bombarded with information regarding the best ways to exercise and how much time we really need to spend working out. Finally, a book that the average person can understand that explores actual research behind current trends in exercise. The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds is great for everyone from couch potatoes to athletes. For instance, it answers many questions that runners have. Is it necessary to purchase those high dollar running shoes to avoid injuries or are those new “barefoot” running shoes the way to go? And, if I do go for a run or work out, are sports drinks the best way to stay hydrated and recover? If I am entering a race should I carbo load for optimal performance? For everyone from the occasional to the regular exerciser, a number of questions are answered as well. For example, just how much time do you need to spend exercising per week to start reaping health benefits? Do I really need to do all that stretching before and after I exercise to avoid injuries? Is weight training valuable or should most of my time be spent on cardio? If I’m exercising why don’t I ever lose any weight? For those who are not currently motivated to work out, this book is for you also. It discusses many of the benefits of exercise not only for your body but also for your brain!
Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight
Acts Pets by Dr. Nick Trout is much more than a veteranarians account of his daily life. It is a story of relationships, of hope, and of hurting. The senior Mr. Trout had Nick pictured in a “James Herriot” type practice, so when Nick decides to go to America and practice, his father is disappointed. Another disappointment came when Dr. Trout married a woman with cats and they didn’t add any dogs to their family home. Dr. Trout tells how the pets in his life help him understand, enjoy, and get through hard decisions. When his daughter became very ill, it took a pet to help him through her illness. Of course his memoirs include animal antics that are hilarious and heart warming as well as sad. You’ll enjoy this book if you like animals, but even if you aren’t an animal lover it’s a great story for everyone.
Jessie, a thiry-something New York City girl, editor for a splashy women’s magazine, describes herself not as “happy,” but caustically content with her life–work, parties, and drinking and has a long-time relationship with a guy who at best is a jerk. Assigned to go to Montana to do an article on rodeo, she meets Jake, a twenty-five-year-old bull rider. Jake votes Republican, listens to Garth Brooks, owns guns and is a Christian. Jessie is blindsided by a genuinely lovable, optimistic, old-fashioned gentleman. After a short long-distance courtship, she impulsively ditches Manhattan, and finds herself living in backwoods Virginia, canning, sewing, and raising chickens. After a time, she asks, “is it worth it?” The answer comes among war, Bible clubs and moonshine. Rurally Screwed is a hilarious true-life love story, reminiscent of Macdonald’s The Egg and I. Take a peek at Jessie’s website, www.rurallyscrewed.com with pictures and funny comments on life in the country.
I love the way Anne Tyler looks at life and the humor in her books. She can write about serious topics with such tenderness and compassion. The Beginner’s Goodbye looks at the topic of grief through the eyes of Aaron, a middle-aged man, whose wife dies unexpectedly when a tree falls on their home. Aaron tries to return to a normal life and adjust to being single but he finds such difficulties with relationships. Interactions with friends are now so different. He is uncomfortable with his closest friends and neighbors as they extend their sympathy and help. He moves in with his sister who lives in their parent’s home and totally ignores repairs on his home. Finally when the ceiling falls in and he can’t get in the front door he calls a contractor, Gil Bryan. This man, with his own problems, shows compassion for the grief that Aaron is going through and begins a relationship with both Aaron and his sister, Nandina.
The first sentence of the book begins, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” Throughout the story his former wife Dorothy appears and speaks to Aaron as he finds his way through life without her. As Aaron remembers the quirky, problematic relationship he and Dorothy shared, Dorothy reappears to help him work out the regret. This isn’t a depressing book at all, although I found very poignant instances Aaron finally ends this chapter of his life and is able to say the final goodbye reminding all of us to tackle the unfinished business of love.