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."

Read Great Things: Memoir Admiration

(In which one of your librarians highlights the different categories of the Read Great Things Challenge 2019. Want to know more about the Read Great Things 2019 Challenge? Check out our library blog post about it. All are welcome to participate!)

I like memoirs. A lot. I know this isn’t everyone’s favorite genre, but on the other hand, some people really only like to read memoirs. (You do you, reader.)

If you also like memoirs or just need to fill that “book by or about someone that you admire” box on the #RGT2019 Challenge and want to go the memoir-route, here are a few suggestions for you that are also available through the Durham Tech Libraries. 

Read Great Things 2019: Personal Goals!

For many, January is a time to mindfully start new habits, either just as a new year reset (hello, dry-anuary participants and all of you doing Whole 30 for your very last day today!) or as the start of a new, hopefully enduring habit.

The library surveyed Durham Tech faculty and staff and asked them to anonymously share their goals for 2019. 

Durham Tech Faculty & Staff New Year, New Goals 2019 pie chart-- 35% of those surveyed are interested in Individual Goal Achievement, including learning a specific skill or accomplishing a specific objective. 7% of those surveyed are interested in improving their time management. 10% of those surveyed are interested in self-improvement-related goals. 21% of those surveyed are interested in improving their own self-care. 17% are interested in improving their finances or financial literacy, and 10% have health and wellness-related goals, mostly related to exercising more and eating more healthily.
Results of the faculty and staff 2019 goals survey.

Have similar goals? Why not use the Read Great Things Challenge to help you reach those goals by reading a book to expand your knowledge, and also check off at least one box on your checklist? Just a few on-hand suggestions from your local Durham Tech library locations– 

While there’s a lot of debate about how effective “new year, new you” mentality can be in terms of long-term goal achievement, there’s no debate that goal-setting is valuable. From ACA 122 to our own college councils and committees, goal setting is where it’s at. 


Want to know more about the Read Great Things 2019 Challenge? Check out our blog post about it. 

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.”

Continue Reading →

Read Great Things in 2019: Challenge Yourself!

A new year, a new set of Read Great Things categories. Are you ready to participate?

Durham Tech Library Read Great Things Challenge 2019

What is the Read Great Things Challenge?

The Read Great Things Challenge is a personal reading challenge sponsored by the Durham Tech Library throughout 2019 that encourages folks to diversify and/or increase their reading goals by completing books that fit into at least 10 of the following 12 categories:

  • A book that will help you with one of your personal goals
  • A book by or about someone you admire
  • A social science book [nonfiction books about society and the relationships among individuals within a society, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, history, public health, and communication books, among others]
  • A book published in the decade you were born
  • An epistolary book or a book that contains epistolary parts [a book written using diary, journal, newspaper, or letter entries]
  • A book you’ve been putting off but—you swear!–you really do want to read
  • A reimagining of a classic tale or work of literature
  • A book about or that features college or higher education
  • A book about an immigrant or immigration
  • A book about technology
  • A book by a North Carolina author or that takes place in North Carolina
  • A book suggested by a Durham Tech librarian either in-person or on the Durham Tech Library Blog

We’ll be highlighting a different category on this blog each month. Your can always ask a librarian for recommendations if you can’t think of a book to read for a certain category (which conveniently fills that final awesome category).

How do I participate in the Read Great Things Challenge?

It’s pretty simple –just start reading! You don’t have to sign up and you can start at any point in the year and read the books in any order you like. You will need to choose books that fit into at least 10 of the 12 categories by the end of Fall Semester (December 2019) to complete the challenge.

What kind of book counts as a “great thing”?

All books count–hardcover, paperback, ebooks, audiobooks, graphic novels, comic books, library books, books you own, books you’ve borrowed… If it fits into one (or two) of the categories and you’ve read it/want to read it in 2019, that counts. We’re not here to judge or assign reading levels.

Can I count a book for multiple categories?

One book can count for up to two categories, so if you read strategically, you can complete the challenge by only reading 5 books in total.

How do I win the challenge? (What do I win?)

To win and complete the challenge, you should finish books throughout 2019 that fit into at least 10 of the 12 listed categories. In mid-December at the end of the Fall Semester, we’ll have bookish prizes available for those who bring their completed book list to the library or fill out the completion form.

You’ll also get a personal sense of satisfaction and bragging rights. (And who doesn’t love those?)

Do the books have to be from the Durham Tech Library?

Nope, but we’re glad to point you in the direction of one already in our collection. We have some great books just waiting to make it on your list.

More questions? Email library [at] durhamtech [dot] edu or Orange County Campus Librarian Meredith Lewis at lewisma [at] durhamtech [dot] edu.

View, download, or print a copy of the checklist and challenge guidelines: Read Great Things 2019 Challenge Checklist [pdf]