What We’re Reading: Hillbilly Elegy

Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Author: J.D. Vance

cover of book Hillbilly Elegy

Genre: memoir

Why did you choose to read this book?

I am a member of a two-person book club and the other member suggested this book.

What did you like about it?

It was a quick read. J.D. Vance details his upbringing in the Rust Belt as the descendant of Appalachian migrants to Ohio. He details the culture and communities of Scots-Irish people in West Virginia and Middletown, Ohio.

Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: The Feather Thief

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson

This book was read by Meredith Lewis, the [mostly] Orange County Campus Librarian, and is available for checkout at the Orange County Campus Library.

Title: The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century 
Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson

Genre: Social Science, True Crime [against a museum and the historical record], History [of animal specimen collection and feather fashion], Ethics

#ReadGreatThings2019 Category: A social science book; A book by a person you admire; A book that features college or higher education

Check out our blog post on the Read Great Things 2019 Challenge


Why did you choose this book? 

I read a lot of book lists and this one popped up sometime last year. Plot-wise, I like museums and true crime, and a museum heist was immediately something interesting to me. I don’t fly fish, but you don’t need to in order to enjoy this book.

Really, The Feather Thief is kind of about a lot of things– recovering after personal and professional disappointment, Victorian fly fishing lures, the role of museums and museum specimens in the historical record and preservation, the ecologically destructive power of fashion, and what can happen to an insular community when something illegal impacts them.  At its core, it’s about a young man who, realizing he has an opportunity to make some money in a niche community that he is a member of, breaks into a natural history museum, steals a lot of rare bird carcasses, and then sells the feathers. He gets caught (not really a spoiler). A portion of the fly fishing community reacts (or refuses to acknowledge their participation). People justify the bad behavior as not so bad and ignore the parts that don’t impact them directly. Reflection ensues. 

Did it remind you of any other book or a movie? 

It reminded me a little of Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (available through the OCC Library) and there’s this movie on Amazon Prime I watched a while ago about a man who forges (copies?) famous paintings and then donates them to art museums called Art & Craft. Both of them examine how people justify or try to hide behaviors that are bad or ethically just not right, but in different ways. I guess that’s a topic that interests me. Who knew? 

Who would you recommend this book to? 

Anyone ready to be surprised by an engaging nonfiction book that may not perfectly align with their own interests. Anyone looking to fill their social science checkbox in the Read Great Things 2019 Challenge. People who like true crime, but want to avoid the murdery ones. 

Also, people who like to tie their own fly fishing lures. This book talks your talk, unless you’re sensitive about buying authentic feathers for Victorian-era lures– then you may feel exceptionally called out.  

What We’re Reading: The Influencing Machine

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media. Written by Brooke Gladstone and illustrated by Josh Neufeld

This book was read by Meredith Lewis, the [mostly] Orange County Campus Librarian, and is available for checkout at the Main Campus Library.

Title: The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
Author: Brooke Gladstone and illustrated by Josh Neufeld

Genre: Social Science, Graphic Novel, Historical Overview

#ReadGreatThings2019 Category: A social science book; A book about technology; A book that will help you with one of your personal goals [if increasing your media literacy is one of your goals]

Check out our blog post on the Read Great Things 2019 Challenge


Why did you choose to read this book?W

Meredith: Well, Courtney recommended it to me. Since this book is about the history of the press/media and how it gets made and influenced in our modern world, I was especially interested from an information literacy standpoint. I mean, knowing how our news gets made matters, right? [Spoiler: The argument made in this book is yes.]

What did you like about it? 

Meredith: In general, I’m interested in learning about the history and contexts of things and this book really goes into (in a pleasant visual format) how media and government have this push-pull (repeat) relationship. I really like how Brooke Gladstone (an NPR journalist) investigates things that go into our modern media marketplace like money, bias, and information overload. She also calls out problematic practices in journalism. 

What feeling did the book leave you with?

Meredith: It left me feeling optimistic, actually! I genuinely believe that the world is full of the capacity for positive change and being informed and aware of the biases and structures around us matters and can help contribute towards making those positive changes.  

Image from page xxii of Brooke Gladstone's The Influencing Machine (illustrated by Josh Neufeld): Back in 1922, Walter Lippman wrote..."Let him cast a stone who never passed on as the real inside trugh what he had heard someone say who knew no more than he did. For the real environment is altogether too big, too complex, and too fleeting for direct acquaintance. And although we have to act in that environment, we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model before we can manage with it." But now, with most of the media's resources at our fingertips, we can seek beyond mediated interpretations of events. We can choose how much to simplify our worldview. When coverage is contradictory or confusing, we can read the original documents, or track down a dubious claim to its source... ...or seek sensible views outside out comfort zone. It's risky. John Dewey once said, "Anyone who has begun to think places some portion of the world in jeopardy." But, as Spider-Man once said (quoting his Uncle Ben), "With great power comes great responsibility."

What We’re Reading: The Nix

Title: The Nix

Author: Nathan Hill

Genre: literary fiction

Read Great Things (2019) categories: A book about or that features college or higher education

Why did you choose to read this book?

book cover: The Nix

I believe it is important to support independent bookstores. Last summer, when I was traveling to western Kentucky, my family and I stayed in Crossville, Tennessee, and found The Book Cellar. After browsing their shelves for the better part of an hour, I selected The Nix. They had a hardcover edition in great condition for around $3. The review excerpts on the dust jacket include one by an author I like (John Irving) and another citing two other authors I like: “as good as the best of Michael Chabon or Jonathan Frantzen.”

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What We’re Reading: Leaving the Sea: Stories

book cover: Leaving the Sea

Title: Leaving the Sea: Stories

Author: Ben Marcus

Genre: short stories / experimental fiction

Read Great Things Challenge 2018 category: a book you chose for the cover; a book with a supernatural creature, occurrence, or event (maybe)

Why did you choose to read this book?

I was drawn in by the cover art at first. The reviews on the back of the dust jacket also made the stories sound interesting to me. One of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon, has a blurb on the back of the book praising Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet (which I haven’t read).

This “themed” collection is of short stories that feature young-to-middle-aged men in crisis. Otherwise, the stories are not related. A divorcé struggles to keep his job and resolve joint custody issues with his ex-wife; a struggling professor teaches a creative writing class aboard a cruise ship; a young man with a mysterious illness seeks treatment in Germany and examines his relationships with his girlfriend, father and a stranger he meets in a hostel; a man worries about his family during a routine evacuation drill in his community; et cetera.

Many of the stories take place in alternate realities: a world in which one can choose to be a baby for one’s whole life, for example.

What did you like about it?

I did not like reading this book. I was motivated to finish it solely to write a thoughtful review.

I found a lot of the book to be interesting, but in many of the stories I felt like Marcus was playing with language for the sole purpose of doing so. Ranging into pure experimental fiction, this book was often either beyond my understanding or it felt like I was being manipulated into feeling stupid for not understanding what is going on, only because the author omitted details I felt would have improved my access to the book.

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

Another collection of experimental fiction is David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion. The freedom with which Marcus uses language and imagery reminds me a little bit of e.e. cummings’s poetry as well.

What feeling did the book leave you with?

In spite of my frustrations with the most experimental stories, this book is memorable and left me wishing I could write fiction with such imagination and confidence in bending language to my will.

Who would you recommend the book to?

Fans and writers of experimental fiction will appreciate this book. Someone who needs a creative spark and doesn’t mind reading some dystopian fiction might find use in this book.

What would you pair this book with?

Even though I don’t keep one myself, a reading or writing journal would be a valuable companion.

What We’re Reading: She’s Come Undone

Title: She’s Come Undone

Author: Wally Lamb

Genre: fiction

Why did you choose to read this book?

She’s Come Undone has been on my to-read list and I saw it on the library’s display of books for Mental Health Awareness Month (May).

What did you like about it?

I thought it was well-written and a compelling portrait of a fictional character, Dolores Price. The novel is told from her perspective and follows her through her 30s. Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: Righteous

Title: Righteousbook cover: Righteous by Joe Ide

Author: Joe Ide

Genre: mystery

Why did you choose to read this book?

I enjoyed reading the first book in this series, IQ.

What did you like about it?

Like IQ, this is a fast-paced detective story featuring Isaiah Quintabe (“IQ”), a self-made private investigator in Los Angeles. IQ uses a combination of reasoning, cunning, surveillance and lock-picking skills and Krav Maga in his pursuit of justice. Several characters return from Ide’s debut novel in this sequel. Continue Reading →

What We’re Reading: Woolly

woolly the true story of the quest to revive one of history's most iconic extinct creatures by ben mezrich book cover

Available at the OCC Library on new books shelf (QE 882 .P8 M49 2017)

This book was read by Meredith Lewis, the Orange County Campus librarian.

Genre: Narrative Scientific Nonfiction [the author is telling a true story, but re-creates some of the dialogue and events as though he were there]

#ReadGreatThings2018 Categor(ies): A popular science book

Find out more about the Read Great Things Challenge here.

What is this book about? 

This book is about genetic engineering and its potential, ideas on how to help stop the greenhouse gases trapped in the Siberian permafrost, and MAMMOTHS. Though this book tells the story of the convergence of the Pleistocene Park in Siberia and Harvard University’s Woolly Mammoth Revival Project, it brings up some really interesting questions about science, specifically the field of genetics: Just because we can [maybe, probably?] do something, should we do it, and how do we weigh the consequences. As the author says after a particularly interesting misunderstanding between the scientists and the press, “[G]enetics [i]s a powerful tool, but also an ethical minefield” (157).

 

Why did you choose to read this book?

Well, woolly mammoths are cool. I started another book about mammoths last year and never finished it* and then this book came along and here we are. 

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

The obvious connection is Jurassic Park, either the book  or one of the movies (available in the Durham Tech Library), right? The book mentions it and I even learned that the reason that it isn’t possible to extract dinosaur DNA from something like amber is that over time DNA degrades and no longer actually exists in that thing that is preserved in the amber.

Side note: Woolly actually has been optioned for a movie. So that’s probably happening next year or so. Prepare yourself.

What would you pair this book with?

A healthy sense of skepticism, all accompanied with a sense of fascination with the world of science and its potential.

*An opportunity for another check box for me on the #ReadGreatThings2018 Challenge: A book you previously started and never finished

What We’re Reading: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem book coverTitle: The Three-Body Problem

Author: Cixin Liu

Genre: science fiction

Why did you choose to read this book?

I am participating in Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge. Having read The Three-Body Problem allows me to check off the category “A book of genre fiction in translation.” Also, the book has been on display on the Special Collections area of the main campus library and I’ve walked by it many times. The cover jumped out at me; this qualifies it for the library’s Read Great Things Challenge, category: A book you chose for the cover.

What did you like about it?

It is difficult to describe this book without giving anything away. Continue Reading →