The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

guest post by Laura

I will never look at trees in the same way again.

Most among us look out at a forest and see greenery. Some people may be able identify a tree species or two but most of us don’t give much thought to the beings that far outnumber humans on Earth. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben explores the intricacies of trees in a humorous and lively narrative.

It is only a surprise that trees have social structures and can care for other trees because of the way we are taught to think (or not think) about them. It makes sense. They’re living organisms like other living creatures that have evolved to survive over millennia. Why wouldn’t they be complex organisms with the capacity to interact with one another in both communal sharing and competition?

He explores how mycorrhizal fungi play important roles in soil biology and chemistry. Plants and fungi created a symbiotic relationship long ago and the details of their nutrient exchanges are cool enough alone. He also talks about the fungal strands acting like fiber optic cables to form a network not quite like James Cameron’s Avatar but amazing nonetheless.

Thanks to Wohlleben, when I see single trees of a species alone in a park or surrounded by concrete, I think “street kids” and when I look at the giant oaks in my neighborhood, I think, “It’s a family! I wonder which one’s the mother?” and “How old are they really?” I noticed the leaves of a neighborhood tree turned color in the fall on the side not exposed to a streetlight but not the other. This had escaped my notice before.

Wohlleben goes too far in anthropomorphizing trees at times. He didn’t need to do this since his subject matter and the way he relates is are compelling enough. Yes, he turned the seemingly dry subject of woody plants into a lush account of the complex inner lives of trees and along the way, we learn why this subject is important to all of us and our future.

The 2018 Online Reading Challenge is Almost Here!

Welcome to the Online Reading Challenge, 2018 edition!

2018’s theme is Travel Through Time! No TARDIS* or crazy science needed, just good old-fashioned books and movies! We’ll explore a different time period each month, but with the conveniences of modern living like indoor plumbing and pizza. Win-win!

Like previous years, the Online Reading Challenge is very low-pressure with an emphasis on discovering books and authors you may not have tried yet. You can participate every month, or only the months that interest you. Remember – there are no Library Police that will come knocking on your door if you fail to finish a book each month! Read for fun, for discovery, to learn something new, to experience times that no longer exist.

What you read for each time period is entirely up to you. You can read a book or ebook, listen to an audio book or watch a movie. It can be fiction or non-fiction, old or new. Find something that sparks your interest and enjoy! To help get you started I’ll be posting suggestions on the blog, once at the beginning of the month with the introduction of that month’s time period and sometime mid-month with more suggestions. We’ll also have displays at each building with appropriate books and movies. And, as always, we invite you to share what you’ve read – everyone loves recommendations!

Bookmarks are available at each library location with the list of the time periods we’re going to explore each month. There’s even room on the bookmark to keep track of what you read! Keep watching the blog for lots more extras!

Here’s the line-up for 2018:

January – Tudor/Renaissance

February – 1950s and 1960s

March – The Future

April – 1800s

May – Ancient

June – Childhood

July – Westward Expansion

August – Edwardian

September – Great Depression

October – Medieval

November – Alternate Histories

December – Present Day

Looks intriguing doesn’t it? It’s going to be a great year of reading!

*TARDIS is Doctor Who’s “time and relative dimension in space” time travel machine which is in the form of an old-fashioned British Police Box. Fun!

Now Arriving from: New York City

Hello Readers!

How did your reading go this month? Did you find something exciting and interesting to read that was set in New York City?

I did pretty well this month. I read The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and really enjoyed it. It’s got a little bit of everything – deep friendships, the social status of women, bebop jazz clubs of the 1950s, prejudice, mystery and a murder. All set against the backdrop of the city that never sleeps.

In 1952 Darby McLaughlin arrives in New York City from her hometown in Ohio to take classes at the Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School and moves into the Barbizon Hotel for Women (which really did exist). Nicknamed “the dollhouse”, it housed aspiring models, secretarial students, and editors all working to gain success – or catch a wealthy husband. Darby is shy and frightened and intimidated by the rush and clamor of the big city. One of the maids takes pity on her and they become friends. However, the maid – Esme – is Puerto Rican and is considered unsuitable for Darby to associate with. Despite this their friendship flourishes and Esme soon introduces Darby to the glittering world of jazz clubs and New York City at night. But when a tragedy strikes, both their lives and those around them are altered forever.

The story of 1952 alternates with 2016 and Rose, a journalist who has just moved into the Barbizon (now mostly condos) with her boyfriend. She runs into the mysterious Miss McLaughlin one day and discovers that she is one of the few remaining tenants at the Barbizon from the 1950s. Miss McLaughlin wears a veil that hides her face and refuses to talk, but Rose’s curiosity it piqued and she begins researching the hotel and tragedy that no one speaks about. What she discovers uncovers decades of pain and cover-ups and misunderstandings.

The contrast between the two time periods is very interesting. Women’s rights and freedoms have expanded hugely, yet there are still attitudes and prejudices holding them back. Sometimes that’s an outside force and sometimes it’s what you believe about yourself. Rose compares her own recent difficulties – a hateful job, her Father’s dementia, the break-up with her boyfriend – with Darby’s and finds many uncomfortable parallels. How she handles this and learns to believe in herself and how she exposes the frequently hard choices women had to make in the fifties as well as the slow unveiling of the mystery makes for excellent reading.

I was a little disappointed in the ending – a couple too many coincidences and too many neatly tied up ends – but it was a lot of fun to read. I really liked the peek into living as a single girl in 1952 (not all innocence and Leave it to Beaver!) and the validation of the old women still living at the Barbizon in 2016. New York City played a big part in this book, with it’s unique and brash atmosphere. It’s not hard to imagine a wide-eye, Midwestern-raised Darby being initially overwhelmed and later charmed by everything the city had to offer.

What did you read this month? And how did you like it?

That’s the end of the 2017 Online Reading Challenge but don’t despair! The 2018 Online Reading Challenge begins in just a few days! Be sure to check back on January 3 for lots more information and book suggestions for the first month’s reading assignment! Or click here for a sneak peek!

Favorite Books of 2017

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that most of us here at the library are big fans of reading. We get to see a lot of books (although, no, we aren’t allowed to read them on work time!) – sometimes it’s hard to pick one favorite! Here are some favorites that we read in 2017.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond. Painstakingly researched, beautifully written, and incredibly timely.  You should read it and discuss it at Stranger than Fiction book club on January 4th! (Amanda A)

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. In a ruined future, a scavenger finds and adopts a strange creature she names Borne. Surreal to the point of feverish, fantastically weird, and heart-breaking, VanderMeer creates an eerily familiar yet fantastic world to set this exploration of what makes a person a person. Also, a giant flying bear! (Allison)

Hamilton’s Battalion by Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner and Alyssa Cole . All three of these Revolutionary War novellas follow great characters who aren’t sure where they will fit into the new country they are fighting for, but they keep fighting anyhow.  These stories are thoughtful, funny and romantic. (Holly S)

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. My grandma was a radium girl at the Radium Dial plant in Ottawa, Illinois. I found this book to be fascinating because my grandma never really talked about her time as a radium girl, except to say that her clothes would glow in the dark at night when she was at home. I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave me an insight into what my grandma and her friends went through during this time. (Steph A)

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor is a unique character that lacks normal social skills but she is endearing to the reader and you want her to fine happiness. (Rachel)

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. As exciting as any thriller with mystery, romance and heartbreak, this fascinating novel brings light to half-forgotten heroes – the women who spied for the Allies during World War I. (Ann)

Now it’s your turn – what were your favorite books that you read this year?

 

 

French Country Cooking by Mimi Thorisson

I have been following Mimi Thorisson’s blog for over two years now, and although it is changing and she is moving on to a website with future endeavors alongside her husband, I’m always excited to go back to it and find recipes and inspiration for travel. That said, her latest cookbook, French Country Cooking, published in 2016 and new to our shelves at Davenport Public Library this past autumn, are just as inspiring and wonderful to read. The exquisite photos taken by Oddur Thorisson, Mimi’s husband, inspire one to daydream to the shores and lands of another place……to France, the Médoc region with world class wines and local markets provisioning its patrons with fresh produce, seafood and meats of the current season.

One will enjoy the mostly easy to follow recipes…I say mostly, in that some of the ingredients might be hard to come by in the states unless you’re in a big city or on the east or west coasts or you can always order hard to find items online.

The recipe we tried, pg. 194, Pork Shoulder Grilled over Grapevine Branches turned out wonderfully. We have a small grill which worked just fine versus Mimi’s open fireplace grill. The recipe is straight forward and easy to follow. If you don’t have grapevine branches, try some type of fruit tree dried wood to add to the fire such as  dried apple, apricot, or pear dried tree branches to add flavor to the smoke from the fire.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lb Pork Shoulder cut into 4 slices; Fine Sea Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper; 1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter; 2 Garlic Cloves.

  1. Prepare medium-hot fire in a grill. Add dried grapevine branches, if desired to increase the smoky flavor.
  2. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Grill the pork until browned, golden, and cooked through, about 7 minutes on each side.
  3. Just before serving, spread the butter over the pork and scatter the sliced garlic on top.

Try one of the main courses over the holidays or for fun for New Years! The desserts are always a fun way to start if you have never tried French cuisine.  I’m looking forward to trying Mimi’s Pomegranate meringues recipe for the new year.

Bon appétit! Happy eating!

Mercy For Animals: One Man’s Quest To Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals

Nathan Runkle, author of Mercy for Animals: One Man’s Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals is just one of those people whose passion is apparent from the moment he opens his mouth. Like his speaking voice, Runkle’s writing style is remarkably elegant and concise. I was shocked that he struggled with reading and writing as a young student because he is a remarkably articulate speaker and writer.

Like the farm and dairy investigation transcripts contained in its pages, this book is not for the faint-of-heart. In creating transparency within the culture of American food production practices, Runkle and his team pull the curtain back, so to speak, to reveal the brutality inherent in factory farming operations. In short, this book is about how Runkle founded Mercy for Animals, a non-profit organization devoted to raising awareness about the lives of sentient farm animals and the system of which they are a part. At the core of this book lies the fundamental belief that the lives of all beings deserve respect and dignity.

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of bullying or oppression will sympathize with the plight of Mercy for Animals. The sickness, disgust, and perhaps solidarity you will feel when you go behind the scenes at a factory farm will empower you to make changes in your lifestyle and better yet, how you relate to and think about animals. In short, this book spotlights Runkle, his twenty-year career, and the other investigators who obtained jobs in hatcheries and slaughterhouses across the United States and abroad in order to spotlight what goes on behind closed doors. Their work created the pressure necessary in order to affect change even at the level of national policy. The exploitation and commodication of animals and workers in a billion-dollar industry forms the bedrock of modern animal agriculture as it’s impossible to pack 60,00-100,000 chickens into a warehouse without grave consequences. Opposition to this industry was established alongside the industry itself, and you can bet Runkle smartly contextualizes his book alongside Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle published in 1908, among others.

As Runkle learned, investigators document every minute of footage with objective language rather than evocative language. For example, when the book discusses what “thumping” means in the pig-farming industry, investigators refrained from using “emotional” language. Instead, undercover investigators might describe “thumping” as a “standard practice” entailing slamming “defective” piglets into the concrete to kill them rather than saying “workers grabbed helpless piglets by their legs and swung them violently into the concrete to crush their skulls” (which is exactly what happens). In other words, investigators are not permitted to purposefully appeal to the emotions of readers and must instead focus on relaying facts and behaviors. But as Runkle knew, there really is no nice, flowery way of making a lifetime of suffering sound like standard operating procedures (even though euphemism and secrecy lies at the heart of the animal agriculture industry). As many consumers know, myself included, the majority of meat and dairy foods we consume are produced not by “humane” family farms peppered with “happy cows” grazing in green pastures but rather from massive mechanized farming operations deliberately located in remote areas out of sight…and out of mind. I’d say slaughtering 12,000 pigs per day constitutes massive AND industrial –the opposite of humane family farms. Although that seemingly innocuous cellophane-wrapped animal product in the grocery store reveals only the end product of factory farming, the animals on our plates endured a lifetime of suffering. Floors caked with excrement, dust, blood, and decaying animal bodies is commonplace–not some grotesque bit of propaganda created by bleeding-heart, tree-hugging hippies to get you to care about animals. The respect we extend to our beloved family companion animals is virtually non-existent in the lives of farm animals. After a delve into the animal liberation literature, try singing “Old MacDonald” in the year 2018 and hearing it as more nursery rhyme then pantomime.

This post isn’t the equivalent of a virtual finger-wagging, either. It has taken me decades to finally come to terms with–to accept–that the lifestyle choices I made every day absolutely matter. If you’re not particularly “sold” on animal rights, you might then take note that Runkle’s book also illuminates how the poor and people of color are particularly vulnerable fodder for the meat, dairy, and egg industries. While Runkle is more immediately concerned with the plight of farm animals and the suffering they endure at human hands, the suffering is not theirs alone as workers labor in harrowing conditions enduring illness and injury alongside the animals. I cannot help but speculate that the implications of killing and processing suffering animals in order to make a living are devastating–physically, emotionally, spiritually. But as gruesome as the reality of farming operations is, Runkle remains optimistic and steadfast in his mission to help people reconnect to the compassion they already have in their hearts for animals.

Runkle’s optimism is key as the work of Mercy for Animals isn’t for nothing: this organization and others like it are disrupting market forces and supply & demand chains that mask injustice and exploitation. Overall, this book was very well-written and executed. A powerful, animal ethics movement is gaining momentum, changing the way we relate to animals, to our environment, and each other. From a local standpoint,  I’m also excited that “plant-based” and vegan lifestyles have arrived and are celebrated more every day here in the Quad Cities, as evidenced by the Quad Cities own first Veg Fest, to be held August 11th, 2018 at Schwiebert Park on the Rock Island riverfront.

 

 

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.

Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you.  Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.

Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.

First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.


This book is also available in the following format:

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View

Cover of the book: Star Wars From a Certain Point of View
Cover of the book: Star Wars From a Certain Point of View

 

Star Wars: A New Hope  is turning 40 this year, so while it’s exciting to look forward to the latest movie, coming out, it’s also fun to revisit the one that started it all. One book that’s made that especially fun is Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. It’s glorified fanfiction, but it’s by some great authors, some who have already written extensively in the Star Wars universe, others who are better known for work in several genres. The results span genres from short stories, to incident reports, to epic poems, and are often funny and occasionally devastating.

The stories start at the beginning of A New Hope, and follow various cover rebels, Jedi, storm troopers, cantina band members, and family members – fleshing out characters that are often little more than a line of dialogue in the movie.

I was initially excited about this book because it features some of my favorite authors. Nnedi Okorafor has been promoting her story, “The Baptist,” about the backstory of the trash compactor monster. Okorafor takes her character seriously, and it works, following the creature as she’s captured on her home planet and taken to the Death Star, where she’s forced to examine her life and  and how she examine her life and her role in the universe.

Other stories look at the ridiculous aspects of living in the Star Wars universe. Mallory Ortberg’s “An Incident Report” follows how difficult it is when your coworker forces his religion down your throat. In general, I liked the Empire points of view best, probably because they often focused on office politics and being frustrated at work , such as “The Sith of Datawork” by Ken Liu looks at the paperwork required to cover up a missing shuttle, or “Born in a Storm” by Daniel José Older,  about a stormtrooper who knows he’d make an amazing dewback rider.

Some other stories I especially liked were “Not for Nothing” by Mur Lafferty, a chapter from a tell all rock in roll memoir of one of the cantina band members, and Kieron Gillen’s “The Trigger” even if it is probably cheating (it features Dr Aphra, an black market archaeologist he created for the Darth Vader comics, but she’s one of my favorites, even if she’s not from the movie, so I’m glad he snuck her in.)

The book is arranged chronologically through Star Wars: A New Hope,  so while I initially skipped around to see what Meg Cabot aproached a Star Wars story, or what Wil Wheaton might be like as a writer, I also enjoyed going back to the beginning and seeing how people imagined the backstories scene by scene. The stories don’t build on each other, so if you are familiar with the movie, you can read as many or as few as you like in any order, and they still work.

It’s fun to imagine all the stories behind Episode IV and to see glimpses of Luke, Leia and Han as side characters in someone else’s grand drama. If you are planning on rewatching the film, I would definitely recommend checking this book out first.

The Library has print copies of Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, as well as the audiobook available on CD with several readers.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

We all remember the “March of Progress” poster from grade school science class, used to illustrate the  straight-line evolution of Homo sapiens from our ancient ancestors. From Australopithecus  to Homo habilius and then to the assumed apex of human evolution – us. But what if evolution wasn’t a straight line? What if suddenly, somehow, it doubled-back on itself, returning our species to our most ancient origins?

It is in this speculative world that Louise Erdrich’s latest novel Future Home of the Living God is set. Taking place in an unspecified time in the near future, the novel is presented as the journal of 26 year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, written to her unborn child. Cedar, the adopted daughter of liberal Minnesota parents, finding herself pregnant, is compelled to seek out her Ojibwe birth parents, ostensibly to discover any genetic problems that might affect her baby, and in a larger sense, to find her own identity. This familiar journey of personal discovery is set against a tumultuous time in which the future of the earth is gravely in doubt as evolution appears to be running backward. Plants and animals are born “wrong,” throwbacks to their genetic ancestors. Human babies and their mothers are dying at an alarming rate, and those infants that do survive are abnormal, with characteristics more similar to our genetic ancestors. The planet is heating up, with harsh Minnesota winters a fond, distant memory, and political chaos is rampant. Soon, pregnant women are encouraged, then forced, into “unborn protective centers” – prisons, really – and a “womb draft” is instated. As Cedar’s pregnancy progresses, she confesses to her baby that she isn’t sure if he (and she is sure it is a he) will have the ability to read the journal that she is writing, if he survives at all. Cedar soon becomes a fugitive, then a prisoner, then fugitive again, seeking sanctuary with her birth family with the help of her adoptive parents.

If this all sounds strikingly familiar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, you would be correct. In her author’s notes, Erdrich writes that she began the novel in 2002, then set it aside,  picking it up again after the most recent election. Future Home of the Living God is Erdrich’s first speculative fiction book, but still closely shares the Native American culture she has explored in her past works. The premise of backwards evolution and how it might bring the end of civilization is compelling – it’s what interested me in the book in the first place – and it reads like a thriller (I read it all in one sitting). But at a slim 267 pages, it reads almost too fast, with not nearly enough time spent exploring the circumstances of the world it is set in, the stories of Cedar’s families, or her baby’s father. Since the story is told in the form of a journal, which does lend an intimacy to the narrative, many things go unsaid, or dropped entirely. Even the mystery of Cedar’s birth and adoption – the revelation of which is emotionally catastrophic for her – is quickly dropped to move onto the next crisis. At a few points, I thought that the plot was going in one direction, and then, disappointingly, found it dropped. Perhaps my expectations were overly influenced by my usual science fiction preferences. Some the misdirections reminded me of the short story “Before” by Carolyn Dunn (contained in the excellent collection After edited by Ellen Datlow) an end-of-the-world tale of a plague that leaves only those with Native American ancestors alive. But, that is not the case here.

Which isn’t to say the novel isn’t an exciting and interesting read. There are thoughtful explorations of faith (Cedar is a recent convert to Catholicism), the origin and evolution of our species, how and why we became human, and the consequences of ignoring and abusing our environment and each other, all alongside Cedar’s journey into motherhood and her birth family. The ending might come abruptly, but it is well worth the journey.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

You either love or hate John Green. There’s just no other way around it. I’m firmly in the ‘love John Green’ camp and as a result, I had been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest book, Turtles All the Way Down. He spent a good chunk of time writing this book and when press started to talk about it, I knew I would relate to the character.

Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on in her life. The father of one of her childhood friends has disappeared. That would generate fuss in the community anyway, but add in the fact that the disappeared parent is a fugitive from the law and the craziness begins to snowball. Russell Pickett is a fugitive billionaire and has completely disappeared leaving the community and, more importantly, his two orphaned sons wondering where he is. When a $100,000 reward is offered, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide to try to figure out what happened to him. Aza used to be friends with Russell Pickett’s son, Davis, something that Daisy decides is a good omen. Aza is left to try to bridge the gap between herself and Davis.

Aza finds herself doing a lot of trying in life now. Her father died when she was younger, leaving Aza and her mom to try to cope without him. Aza is trying to be so many different things that she feels like she has lost sight of who her real self is. She is trying to be a good friend, a good student, a good daughter, but her mind never lets her be. Aza is contantly caught in a spiral of her own thoughts that gets tighter and tighter the more she tries to ignore it. Until she acknowledges these thoughts, Aza’s mind and body control her. She can’t escape. The distraction that the disappearance of Russell Pickett provides gives Aza a new escape and reintroduces herself to his son, Davis. Aza, Davis, and Daisy form a complicated friend group and Aza spends a great deal of time worrying over herself.

Turtles All the Way Down is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a teenager trying to make it through life. Aza is constantly battling the voices in her head and the spiral that threatens to overwhelm her. She knows that what she is told to do in her mind is usually wrong, but unless she listens, Aza knows she will be unable to function. This book looks deeply into mental health, resilience, the power of all types of friendship, and how love tries to reach us all. Give it a read and let me know what you think.


This book is also available in the following formats: