As local Covid rates drop and vaccination numbers rise, some of you are embarking on long-anticipated journeys. Whether day-tripping down to the shore or jet-setting to a distant locale, the act of travel brings a sense of relief to many who are longing to break out of their quarantine bubbles and go – somewhere, anywhere!
For others of you the time for travel hasn’t yet arrived. Finances, health, or other constraints may limit your current trip planning to a run to the grocery store or a drive across town to check on a friend. Tropical oases may beckon, but for now you just need to let that call go to voicemail.
Wanderlust – a desire to travel or roam – is something we all feel, these post(?)-pandemic days more keenly than ever. Whether you are an actual or an armchair traveler this summer, let usbroaden your horizons with a terrific eResource. National Geographic has partnered with Gale to deliver a virtual steamer trunk full of high-quality digital content that brings the world to your door. Your library card is your all-access pass to theNational Geographic Virtual Library (search under Magazines & Newspapers), an extensive database that includes the National Geographic Magazine digital archive from 1888 to the present (new issues are added after a minimum 45-day embargo period), National Geographic: People, Animals, and the World, and National Geographic Kids.
Since its launch in October 1888, National Geographic Magazine has been regarded for its in-depth reporting, innovative storytelling, and splendid photography. Complete digital issues of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, and National Geographic History are available for browsing, with audio options and search functions available. Citation tools are built in, making this database a great resource for historical, social, and scientific research.
National Geographic: People, Animals, and the World connects you with even more content, including full-text books on travel, science & technology, history, the environment, animals, photography, and peoples & cultures. Also included are cross-searchable videos, full-color maps, charts, graphs, and a wealth of National Geographic’s iconic photographs and digital images.
There is plenty to engage young students with National Geographic Kids. This database includes the complete archive of National Geographic Kids Magazine from 2009 to the present, as well as books, videos, and images galore. With an intuitive, visual interface, National Geographic Kids offers age-appropriate content that supports Common Core standards. Subject indexing and easy search features empower young explorers to embark on exciting learning adventures.
Expired passport? No problem. We can help with that, too, at the East Columbia Branch. Or, use your HCLS library card to book a virtual trip this summer via the National Geographic Virtual Library.
Holly is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She enjoys knitting and appreciates an audiobook with a good narrator.
“Searching for a missing person, after that first week, is a believer’s game” (219).
The Cold Vanish: Seeking the Missing in North America’s Wildlands is a gem of a book, written by Jon Billman, a fiction and journalism professor at Northern Michigan University. He also writes for Outside magazine, where I found the article that was the germ of the idea for The Cold Vanish. Billman tells the stories of a myriad of the disappeared, people who seemingly stepped off a trail at Mesa Verde or Yellowstone or Olympic and were never seen again. He intertwines their (shorter) stories with the book-length account of Randy Gray, father of Jacob Gray, a young man who parked his bike on the side of the road in Olympic and vanished into the woods of northern Washington. Although the disappearance is Jacob’s, the story really belongs to Randy, as we see the lengths he goes to in order to keep hope alive and continue the search for his son. Randy is a character – a Christian hippie surfer and building contractor, full of boundless energy and humor, enthusiastic, and generous. He is also willing to explore (if not exactly embrace with open arms) any theory that might locate Jacob and give him and his family some closure. My favorite anecdote about Randy: “Randy Gray cannot tell a lie, and so declares the two avocados rolling around somewhere in the back of the Arctic Fox when the customs agent asks if we have any produce. The agent pretends she doesn’t hear him, hands our passports back, and welcomes us to Canada” (274).
One of the stories really struck a chord with me. I’ve been to Mesa Verde, and walked the trail Billman mentions from the interpretive center to Spruce Tree House – “more of a sidewalk – it’s wheelchair accessible for less than a quarter mile, where visitors can view the [Anasazi cliff] dwellings from the shade of the overhanging cliff” (119-120). Yet 51-year-old Mitchell Dale Stehling disappeared while walking that trail and was not found until last year (his remains were located after the book was published, in August 2020). No other park visitor has stayed missing from Mesa Verde since the park was founded, and the area encompasses just over 50,000 acres. How could someone disappear off of a trail adjacent to the park’s gift shop?
The accounts of the disappeared have many explanations, some plausible, some completely off-the-charts crazy. I love a book like this that takes a journalistic viewpoint and presents the theories without passing comment; a book about conspiracy theories *not* written by a conspiracy theorist. In that respect, The Cold Vanish resembles another of my favorites in this genre, Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Robert Michael Pyle. In that book, acclaimed naturalist Pyle explains why the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest would be conducive to the existence of the Sasquatch – should such a creature exist. Like Pyle’s book, Billman’s presentation is open-minded and even-handed, and he makes valid observations and connections about why someone like Randy Gray might entertain the wild ideas of psychics and Bigfoot hunters. “Randy is the ultimate optimist. He’s wildly curious. The seeker from the Who song. ‘What else do I got?’ he says. ‘What else can I do?'”(217). Billman makes the reader understand Randy’s quiet desperation for any tenuous thread to follow.
He also explores other stories and disappearances: people who choose to go missing, the hunt for the Utah survivalist “Mountain Man” Knapp (who evaded authorities for seven years by breaking into remote cabins and stealing food and guns), and the serial killers in the Great Basin and in the Yosemite area who sought victims in remote wilderness areas. One of the best anecdotes is about Alan Duffy, a bloodhound trainer and handler who teaches his dogs, Mindy Amber and R.C., to search for the missing with a single verbal cue – either “Gizmo!” for cadavers, or “Find!” for a living person.
The book will leave you full of wonder at the majesty and hidden depths in what might seem like a benign, unspoiled setting, but which really harbors dangers that amateurs and enthusiasts ignore to their peril. You will also ponder the number of missing persons cases still unsolved: where are the (still) disappeared in our national parks and wild places, and will they ever be found?
The Cold Vanish is also available from HCLS as an eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive.
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, birds, books, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.
Finding ways to increase our well-being during the pandemic has taken on greater significance than ever. Spending time outdoors, one of the few pastimes still available to us, may actually have greater benefits than we realize, according to The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. Author Florence Wiliams, a contributing editor to Outside magazine and transplant to Washington, DC from Boulder, CO, felt depressed, irritable, and unable to focus after the move. Realizing that she missed the mountains and easy access to nature, Williams began asking, “…how much nature do we need to fix ourselves?” and, “What is it about nature that people seem to need?” Williams embarked on a two-year research project to learn the answers from scientists around the world.
Williams buoys up the factual and data-heavy text with sprinkles of humor evident in chapters titled, “How Many Neuro-Specialists Does It Take to Find the Stinking Milk Vetch?” and, “Squat Down and Touch the Plant.” She subjected herself to wearing an EEG device strapped around her head while viewing the San Juan River, went on a kayaking trip with veterans suffering from PTSD, and visited countries including Japan, South Korea, Scotland, and Finland to understand what we can learn from other nations.
Many countries make access to and immersion in nature a national priority. In Japan, the practice of forest-bathing, or shinrin yoku, has been found to have quantifiable effects on health. The practice involves slowing down in order to open up to the sights, scents, textures, sounds, and even tastes of nature. Williams’ initiation into forest-bathing started with a warm cup of “mountain-grown, wasabi-root and bark flavored tea.” Later in the day she inhaled the scent of sugi pines, stretched out on a mossy boulder, and listened to the quacking of ducks. Afterwards, not surprisingly, her blood pressure measured several points lower.
Subsequent chapters fully explore the individual senses of smell, hearing, and sight. The hinoki cypress forests found in South Korea are full of beneficial phytoncides, a chemical released by plants. Beyond just smelling good, phytoncides boost the immune system, reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol, and improve concentration. The Korean Forest Agency offers guided trips through the forests to help cancer patients, children with allergies, and prenatal women, among others.
Similarly, just listening to a trickling stream can have a positive impact on our brain. Even as we tune them out, industrial sounds affect us negatively — traffic, planes, electric saws, and leaf blowers can all raise stress levels and deter alpha waves, while the opposite holds true of the sounds of nature. Enjoying beautiful scenery also activates “happy molecules.” Visual artist and physicist, Richard Taylor, studies fractal patterns found in nature such as in clouds, coastlines, and plant leaves. Exposure to fractal patterns activates brain regions that regulate emotions and reduces stress up to 60 percent by increasing alpha waves.
The Finns have found that a mere five hours a month spent in nature improves physical and emotional health. Recommendations for time outdoors can be compared to the food pyramid: short walks during the week, a weekend away once a month, and every year or two aspiring to spend a few weeks in a natural setting. Beyond benefits on an individual level, the increasing scientific evidence of how nature improves health can shape public policy decisions, such as how educators approach school recess, city planners provide urban green space, and architects design hospitals.
The wealth of evidence in The Nature Fix supports what many of us already know, that nature is good for us. Yet taking a deep dive into understanding the scientific research helped me override the temptation to stay on the couch and choose instead to find time in my day, even if just a little, to enjoy the rich and renewing effects of nature.
Every March, we celebrate Women’s History Month in the United States. March 8 has been honored as International Women’s Day since 1911, with nations around the world celebrating the movement toward women’s rights. This annual celebration gives us the opportunity to honor women past and present who have paved the way for continued progress for all. This includes trailblazers in politics, arts, sports, science, and more. Look back at those who have come before and be inspired to soar to new heights with these reads for all ages about amazing women.
Little ones will love the delightful pictures and rhyming verse in this true American shero story. Diagnosed with autism as a girl, Temple Grandin embraced her unique way of thinking to help her invent revolutionary new ways to take better care of farm animals. A special note from Temple Grandin to readers is also included, along with a timeline and fun facts.
Join your little one in reading this picture book inspired by the real-life story of Dr. Mae Jemison. Mae starts off with a dream to see the earth and later becomes the first African American woman in space. Burrington’s illustrations bring this story to life and will inspire your little one to reach for the stars!
In this beautifully illustrated tribute to girl power, readers are introduced to 24 women who blazed trails in their respective fields. The author highlights all the wonderful things you can do “like a girl” and invites her audience to think about the ways they can change the world. More details about each subject are included in the back of the book.
Coraline, a curious and adventurous young girl, moves into a new flat with her parents. While exploring her new home, she discovers a door to another world where she finds another mother and another father who want her to stay and be their daughter forever. At first, Coraline thinks this world is better than her own, but she soon realizes things are not as they seem in this other world and something terrible lurks behind its perfect facade.
Forget about a princess needing a knight (or anyone else) to save her. These collections of folk tales from a wide range of countries showcase smart, strong, brave women. Learn about heroes who overcame harsh conditions, rescued their people, and fought for what was right as you explore cultures from around the world. The first title is an updated version of the second, with two additional stories.
At 13 years old, Aĭsholpan Nurgaĭvyn became the first woman – and youngest person – to ever win Mongolia’s famous Golden Eagle Festival. In her inspiring memoir that will resonate especially with tweens and young teens, Aĭsholpan takes pride in sharing about her legendary Kazakh heritage, while also challenging traditional gender customs to train and compete with her beloved eagles. To learn more about Aĭsholpan’s amazing experiences, you can also check out the award-winning subtitled Kazakh-language documentary of her story – available on DVD.
The word feminism makes some uncomfortable, and many people define it in different ways. This book introduces readers to pioneers of feminism in the United States along with modern leaders who continue to fight to empower women in every arena. Explore what feminism is and what it means to you as you read the range of ideas and perspectives presented in Feminism: Reinventing the F-Word.
Cecile Richards grew up in Texas, where her parents, one of whom was the first woman governor of the state, taught her the importance of working for change, including making trouble. This young reader’s edition of her biography shares the lessons Richards learned along the way and highlights the people who have supported her in her journey. Read Make Trouble to feel inspired to push for progress and empowered to fight for what is important to you.
Last year celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. The fight to reach that goal encompassed decades of passionate work, including marches, protests, and even lawbreaking, on the part of many women working together. Votes for Women! provides a glimpse into the lives and experiences of many suffragists, including the uglier moments in the battle for women’s right to vote.
In a witty, conversational, and occasionally sarcastic tone, Hannah Jewell explores the extraordinary lives of 100 women throughout history from all over the world. Sorted into chapters like Wonderful Ancient Weirdos, Women Who Wrote Dangerous Things, and Women Who Punched Nazis, the stories of these women range from triumphant to tragic, but never fail to inspire, and Jewell’s humor and enthusiasm for her subjects never fails to entertain.
That’s What She Said offers a brief introduction to over thirty influential women from various areas of life – some well-known and some women with whom readers may not be familiar. Author and artist Kimothy Joy’s beautiful watercolor illustrations add to the enjoyment of this informational book. This is a great place to start for an overview of women’s history, or to find women or subjects that inspire deeper investigation.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Left Hand of Darkness is a book about political intrigue and a forced epic journey across an icy planet (probably the fodder for a good miniseries). The book has the drama and action of an arduous journey as well as a personal journey of the protagonist to appreciate those different from him through the relationship he builds. The protagonist, an envoy from another planet, struggles to understand a gender-neutral people using the social constructs of his own culture.
If you want to explore more exhibits and offerings in honor of Women’s History Month, take a look at the Library of Congress’s Women’s History Month page.
The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.
Winter is a great time to curl up with a cozy read. Cold and sometimes dreary weather begs for a blanket, a hot drink, and a fire. This month, the Elkridge branch staff members have collected a list of titles to encourage you to Stay Cozy! Keep an eye on the HCLS Facebook page to see titles for all ages highlighted throughout January, and make sure to track titles for the Winter Reading Challenge. Here are just a few of those titles.
Cozy up with canines and a large bowl of snark in The History of the World in Fifty Dogs by Mackenzi Lee, a compilation of Milkbone-sized, illustrated essays about interesting bits of human history accompanied by dogs. Dogs have won Pets in World Mythology Best in Show for millennia. While Cerberus, Anubis, and Fenrir take first place in name recognition, you can find other good dog deity stories such as Gourd Tray, a bug-turned-dog-turned-prince. I especially liked the guide dog to the underworld, Wepwawet, whose name I now consider the greatest dog name aside from Entropy. Sit, stay, and play an around-the-world game of Fetch the Friendship of doggo and hooman.
Now imagine a different sort of mutt–a sport with lineage derived from rugby, capture the flag, and Krav Maga. With magic. On dragons. Lana Torres eats, sleeps, and breathes Blazewrath. It connects her to her Papi and the golden age prior to her parents’ divorce when they lived together amid Puerto Rico’s Cayey mountains. Now, for the first time, her beloved homeland has the requisite number of dragons to play the game. Amid internal and external debates about identity and merit, pro-dragon terrorists attack. When the Dragon Knights threaten the World Cup, Lana fears it to be a Hydra. Runners do not run from the fight; they run toward it. With worldbuilding adventure at its finest, with a diverse cast of authentic LGBTQ+, POC, and disabled characters, this book enthralls.
One of the most engaging books I have read all year involves a ghost Springer Spaniel named Kirby and an unnamed ghost trilobite, because our Lipan Apache heroine enjoys paleontology. Elatsoe, Ellie for short, has the enviable ability to resurrect spirits. Magic, in all its multicultural glory, gore, and grace, exists, and Ellie can summon the spirits of dead animals, just like her Six-Great-Grandmother.
The story opens with the death of her older cousin, with whom she had been close. On the way to his afterlife, his spirit pops in to see Ellie. He tells her he was murdered, who murdered him, and tasks her with seeking justice for him while protecting his widow and newborn baby. Elatsoe gets help from her parents, friends, and the stories of her ancestors, which are an ever-present, essential aspect of her life. There’s a cyclical feel to the storytelling, as if the past, present, and future are one.
Dear Santa, aside from a ghost wooly mammoth, can I please have a billionaire bequeath me his entire fortune? No? Then I will follow Avery Grambs’s quest to understand why billionaire Tobias Hawthorne, a complete stranger, cut every blood relative out of his will to name Avery his heir. Sure, she’s appreciative, but also confused and curious. Raised by a single mother who treated every action and event as a game, be it chores, poverty, or cancer, Avery’s affinity for puzzles and games sends her down dangerous rabbit holes. With the help of three vastly different, handsome brothers, she unlocks truths about each member of the family. Everyone has a story, often entertaining, always suspect.
Dogs + snow = instant cozy. Fourteen-year-old Victoria Secord is angry. A local musher offered her dibs on his high-quality sled dogs. As an aspiring racer, Vicky recognizes the chance of a lifetime, but her mom has to work and apparently does not trust her daughter to drive her dog team across town alone. Vicky sneaks away with her team. Vicky is snow savvy with survival skills to rival Bear Grylls, thanks to her dad. Of course, Chris has none of these skills. Who is Chris? He’s the guy Vicky finds sprawled in the snow bleeding beside a smashed snowmobile. Actually, most household appliances possess more non-urban survival skills than Chris. Go ahead, start your worry. After Vicky administers first aid, she offers him a ride. They get lost. More fun, there’s a rising snowstorm, and by morning everything is hidden under an endless expanse of white, camouflaging all landmark vegetation. Have you started worrying yet?
Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is the Danish word for the contentment that comes from embracing life’s simplest pleasures. Warm, inviting homes, quality time with family and close friends, and an appreciation for all things natural and handmade are just some of its components. Meik Wiking, author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, recommends recipes, tips for interior design, and activities to enjoy from the comfort and safety of home, and describes how an approach of feeling gratitude for the everyday has helped make the Danes some of the happiest people in the world.
Based on the beloved podcast, Nothing Much Happens proves that we never outgrow the calming magic of a cozy bedtime story. This collection of short, sensory-delighting stories will lull even the busiest mind into a restful state. In describing everyday moments of joy and beauty, these stories conjure a deep and soothing sense that all is well. The included meditation practices, recipes, and relaxation techniques nurture the body and train the mind in the habit of wellbeing that begins with a good night’s sleep.
Knitting is a trendy hobby, and what’s cuter than a dog in a sweater? Cable-knit, ribbed, chunky, turtleneck – you name it. You’ll love the fifteen knitting projects, ranked from “one paw” for a straightforward pattern to “three paws” for more complicated projects, as well as stunning photographs of adorable canine models. Whether or not you have a furry companion to keep warm this winter, you’ll enjoy looking through these fun designs.
The Elkridge Branch + DIY Education Center opened the doors of its new building in March 2018. All our staff wish that we could see you in person, but we are happy to help you discover new reads while we are apart.
“Above all, he was flabbergasted by their constant prating about liberty while continuing the enslavement of tens of thousands” Gerald Horne (writing about Samuel Johnson’s feelings about the colonists)
Horne argues that the strongest driver of the revolutionary war was the African slave trade. He further claims that the American Revolution was not, in fact, a progressive victory for the good guys, but rather a regressive counter-revolution to the constant revolutions of the rapidly growing number of enslaved Africans on the continent and in the Caribbean. Through a mountain of primary source material, Horne documents the macro- and micro-events in the mainland colonies, Jamaica, and Barbados in the years leading up to 1776.
In my opinion, Horne’s only flaw is his love of outrageously long and convoluted sentences. Horne is clearly of the Miltonian school of prose and sometimes seems to be attempting unmatched feats of sentence length:
Perhaps, rather than seeing these men as having novel conceptions of allegiance to London or even as ungrateful hypocrites, it might be better to see them as ‘premature’ U.S. patriots; that is, economic logic was impelling them like a swift river current toward secession; while London was seeking to restrain their business dealings driven by the luscious bounty of African enslavement, Paris and Madrid had burst the dam and were more than willing to encourage settlers’ shady bargains, and, thus, these mainland men chose not to fight this trend but embrace it, along with the pretty profits it delivered (160).
Nestled within that labyrinthine sentence is the heart of the book: colonists were driven to war with England by the economic logic of slavery. The book is well-researched, well-argued, and compelling. In many cases, Horne uses the colonists’ own words to illustrate how the immense wealth they could accumulate from the enslavement of Africans drove them to madness. Horne writes, “Africans, in short, were a major antagonist, but mainlanders were reluctant to curb the seemingly ceaseless flow of Africans who were arriving, which was raising searching questions in London about their judgment, if not their sanity” (154). In my opinion, this book provides crucial historical context and should be required reading.
I fall very easily for stories about humans and their pets, especially when it’s a coming-of-age story. (Think Sterling North’s Rascal or Fred Gipson’s Old Yeller, both of which author Rick Bass loved as a child, and both of which I still own in my childhood copies). Colter: The True Story of the Best Dog I Ever Had isn’t a coming-of-age story, as it was written when the author was in his forties, but it’s still a perceptive and moving look at how a beloved animal can open one’s eyes, create a change in perspective, and forever alter a life. Bass loved and loves every dog he has ever had – that’s clear from his touching narrative about the stray hounds he rescued, Homer and Ann, as well as his amusing recounting of how he couldn’t choose between two pointers in a subsequent litter of Colter’s full siblings (spoiler: he ends up taking both of them home).
Why is Colter “the best” of these? It’s ambiguous – Bass clearly believes that they have a mysterious but immutable bond – but it’s largely based on Colter’s growth from runt of the litter to magnificent, mature sporting dog, and the incomparable feeling Bass has when they are working in tandem to achieve their mutual goal and desire to hunt, the destiny for which he has trained Colter. I’m not a hunter, but his descriptions of what both he and Colter (presumably) felt during training and hunting are breathtaking:
“I think that in those moments, those perfect moments, when we are crossing great fields like that, an observer looking down from a mile or two above – a bird’s-eye view – would not believe that we were earthbound. I feel certain that that observer would see the two animals, man and dog, moving steadily across that prairie – one casting and weaving, the other continuing straight ahead – and would believe that they were two birds traveling in some graceful drift to some point, some location, known surely to their hearts” (95).
A beautiful ode to rural life in Montana, to the changing seasons of a dog’s life, to companionship and love and loss. If you’re a fan of Bass’s work, or just of nature writing in general, I highly recommend this book – it’s a keeper – as well as his look at the first wolf pack to attempt to settle outside of the boundaries of the national parks in Montana after reintroduction, The Ninemile Wolves. Although both are excellent, I rate this one just a little more highly because of the intense personal journey it shares with the reader. For fiction readers, Bass is also the author of several collections of short stories available at HCLS, including In the Loyal Mountains and For a Little While: New and Selected Stories, as well as an essay collection that celebrates some of his mentors, The Traveling Feast: On the Road and At the Table with My Heroes.
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch. She loves gardening, reading, and all kinds of music.
I recall the first time I read something in the New Yorker by Zadie Smith nearly a decade ago. It was a nonfiction story about Joni Mitchell entitled “Some Notes on Attunement: A Voyage Around Joni Mitchell.” It was a nonfiction personal reflection about how she, a woman of color, had no interest in the music of a white folk singer, who on the surface would have nothing at all in common with her despite her friends’ incredulous responses concerning her cluelessness.
Smith describes how she realized her youthful stubbornness and closed-minded self as the culprit. The essay was about her own change and growth and the change of Joni Mitchell as an artist (she is pretty great by the way). Probably much like all people that love books, artists, writers, and the like, I felt a connection to Zadie Smith. I liked her style, her attitude, and her contemplative nature. And I can certainly relate to the glib rejection of things I didn’t think were for me. I subsequently realized we’re the same age, although other than that, we are very different on the surface I may not have guessed her writing was the sort of thing I’d love, but I do.
At any rate, her new essay collection, Intimations, is a book of very short essays written just prior to and during the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. The essays include the commonplace and ordinary events of everyday life, set into a broader, more abstract context. Obviously, I have a bias in this matter, but her essays and style are perfect for this moment. Smith’s ability to relate everyday individual experiences into a much more abstract concept is nonpareil. I found the essays particularly poignant now that I miss, and have ample time to ruminate about, the quotidian things of my pre-socially distant life.
There is an essay about our desire, or our need, to fill up time with things to do. One entitled “Suffering Like Mel Gibson,” (I’m a sucker for a strange title) that is hardly at all about the actor. Instead, it’s a piece about suffering and privilege, and how we ought to consider these separately, and not discount the feelings of others. Smith even describes the moment when she recognized her own class privilege. She has a series of very short character sketches about the people in her neighborhood and their respective reactions to the looming pandemic in America. “Peonies” is a very entertaining piece about flowers, control, aging, being a woman, and the coronavirus. The penultimate essay, “Postscript: Contempt as a Virus,” is arguably the best: it begins with a description of the global pandemic, her experience in England (where she has gone after leaving New York), and “herd immunity,” then gets into the murder of George Floyd and racism as a virus we all spread and suffer. It’s a masterfully done and moving piece. All the essays are excellent, but this one alone is worth picking up the book.
Since that first essay, I’ve read almost all of her essays. However, I must admit that I liked, but did not love, her most famous fictional work, White Teeth. No matter; for me, she excels in the essay genre. I’d highly recommend Grand Union and Feel Free (which includes a great story about a library), as well.
Smith’s ability to display so much humility and not only admit, but describe in detail, her foibles and ignorance is something I really respect. Perhaps this is the very opposite of the cultural atmosphere in the United States.
It is also much more than a breakup memoir. It is a pretty killer Künstlerroman* (Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter is a good comparison); a brilliant memoir of place(s) (like Joan Didion’s “White Album” essay), and a behind the music for music nerds (I don’t have a good comp, but I need to keep the parallelism going). Kim Gordon was the eponymous “girl in a band” with Sonic Youth, a band that made loud noisy rock records. She was married to her bandmate, Thurston Moore, for 29 years until she learned of him having an affair. Neither the couple nor the band survived the affair. My review isn’t necessarily for the Sonic Youth fans out there, because they’ve probably already read this and devoured the middle section where Gordon highlights her favorite tracks and gives them biographical context; my review is for the people who need another reason to read a memoir about a girl in a band.
Gordon writes beautifully about the places she’s lived. From her childhood in L.A. to her adulthood in New York to her motherhood in Massachusetts, Gordon excels at remembering tiny details and writing gorgeous descriptions of the distinct phases of her life. L.A. is a maze to be escaped and returned to; New York is chaotic and fertile like an overgrown garden; and Massachusetts is suffocating, domestic, and tense.
Gordon’s L.A. is a Janus-faced landscape of “rustic hillsides filled with twisted oak trees, scruffy and steep, with lighter-than-light California sunshine filtering through the tangles,” and flat neighborhoods of “freshly mowed green lawns camouflaging dry desert-scape…everything orderly but with its own kind of unease.” The places Gordon writes about become characters through her tapestry of vivid vignettes. For me, she does her best writing about places. If you still aren’t convinced, the vintage photographs Gordon uses for each chapter, like the one of her standing with her arms around Iggy Pop and Nick Cave, are reason enough to read this book.
When I think of Sonic Youth, I don’t necessarily think of the awesome sheets of sound they made as a band. I think of the husky and wild vocals of Gordon. Her delivery is one of a kind. She drones. She growls. She talks. She screams. She sings. As an author, she might not possess the same kind of singular voice, but she knows how to tell a story and set a scene. At the risk of sounding adolescent, she is also very cool. Speaking of cool, Gordon references William Gibson’s thriller Pattern Recognition – she named a song after it. His cool-hunting protagonist Cayce Pollard is totally cut from the same cloth as Kim Gordon. Listen to any of the tracks off Gordon’s solo album, No Home Record, and tell me she isn’t very cool.
I won’t review the details of her relationship with Thurston Moore, but I think she does a marvelous job writing about the arc of their relationship. The passages describing them falling in love are lovely. The passages describing Thurston’s increasingly erratic behavior in Massachusetts are heartbreaking.
Kim Gordon, band aside, has led a fascinating life. My wife recommended this book to me and now I’m recommending it to you. Take a trip back in time to when CDs were the only way to listen to music and request Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation while you’re at it!
*artist’s book about growing into maturity
Ben Hamilton works at Project Literacy, Howard County Library’s adult basic education initiative, based at HCLS Central Branch. He loves reading, writing, walking, and talking (all the basics).
By Cherise T.
Do you miss browsing our library shelves? Settling into a cozy chair to explore a stack of books and deciding which to check out and take home? Filling your bag with books by new authors, DVDs for that sitcom your daughter thought you’d love, CDs by a band you’ve been hearing on the radio? If so, Howard County Library System’s Bundle Bags will bring you joy, information, and entertainment. Especially with the colder weather setting in, a bag of library materials prepared just for you will brighten the day. Think about snuggling under a blanket with a new book, immersing in a compelling period drama, laughing at a romantic comedy or dancing to energizing music. Whether you want to challenge yourself and learn to knit in time for holiday gift giving or bake a great pie using recipes from a gorgeous cookbook, there’s a Bundle Bag for you.
Save time assisting your student with a homework assignment by requesting a Bundle Bag. Just imagine, a bag filled with books about trucks, colors, and shapes. Or maybe your child is ready to add chapter books to his reading journey. Our library staff is skilled in selecting children’s and teen books ranging from educational to inspirational, from sports to fantasy to classics. The next time a family member complains of running out of things to read or watch, be reassured that help is on the way.
Destress throughout your daily activities with some holiday music. We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Always wanted to try a romance novel? We’ve got a Bundle Bag for that. Relax into an audiobook about your favorite movie star or escape with a thrilling mystery. Explore true crime accounts. Check out a British television series. With a bag filled with materials, you may just find your next favorite book or movie.
Easily complete the form for a Bundle Bag on our website. There are five age categories ranging from infant to adult. Request books or CDs/DVDs, or both. For each category requested, a library research staff member selects six items. Choose up to five categories for a total of 30 items. After selecting the bundle contents, complete the form by entering a pickup date and time as early as the second library business day and up to two weeks from the date of form submission. Bags may be picked up at any of our six branches. With one trip to the library for contactless pickup, bring home everything from board books for your grandson to Oscar-winning films for you.
Cherise Tasker is an Adult Instructor and Research Specialist at the Central Branch. When not immersed in literary fiction, Cherise can be found singing along to musical theater soundtracks.