What If? and How To by Randall Munroe

One of the best things that’s come out of 2021 for me so far is finding a new favorite nonfiction author: Randall Munroe. Although I’m an amateur at best in the field of science, I never get tired of learning fascinating scientific facts and explanations, and I’m always a sucker for a dry sense of humor. For me, Randall Munroe reads like Andy Weir’s The Martian – my all-time favorite book. Here are two of Munroe’s books, both recent and not-so-recent, that sum up his style AND are great reads.

What If? by Randall Munroe is a big, ambitious book, packed with humor, science, and fascinating imagined scenarios. You may know Randall Munroe from Thing Explainer – see Brenda’s great post about it here. In brief, Munroe is the creator of a webcomic and website devoted to answering people’s wildest questions with real scientific consideration. In What If? he gathers the biggest collection of these questions and their answers in one place – including relevant cartoons and a collection of the most weird and worrying questions he’s received through the website. From the publisher: “His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, and often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”

 

How To is his latest publication, from 2019. In it, he gives impractical, complicated, scientific instructions for how to deal with real-world problems, including everything from landing a plane, digging a hole, predicting the weather, and disposing of the book once you’re done with it (although in this last case, we’re going to have to insist you dispose of it by returning it in the drop box). As always, the text is accompanied by his simple and amusing cartoons and a good dose of dry humor. From the publisher: “By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible and helps us better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.”

As Brenda mentioned in her post about Thing Explainer, books by this author are a great read if you’re a fan of science, like a humorous style, or have a deep curiosity about the world and how things work. If you’re looking for an author to expand your mind, indulge your inner geek/daredevil, and make you laugh, I recommend you try a book by Randall Munroe.

Great Podcasts: Fake News (in a good way!)

I’m back with another set of podcasts to highlight! Today’s two are a unique type: structured like a news or interview show, but set in fictional places, sharing fictional news. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, providing a welcome respite from real news and interview shows, which for me are almost universally exhausting. Again, as a disclaimer, I’m nowhere near caught up with either of these podcasts, so I can’t vouch for their entire content. As always, share your tips and recommendations in the comments! These podcasts are also available through Spotify, their websites, and other podcasting platforms like iTunes.

Welcome to Night Vale

This is a quite famous podcast in some circles, so you may well have already heard of it. If you’re not familiar, it’s structured as a local radio news program broadcast in the fictional (hopefully) town of Night Vale. The show reports strange happenings including strange creatures, ominous surveillance, and bizarre happenings with deadpan delivery, because in Night Vale, the odd and terrifying is also the everyday and normal. This makes for quite a bit of dry, tongue-in-cheek humor which may not be for everyone, but can be delightful.

Hello From the Magic Tavern

I discovered this podcast by accident a few years ago, and the main reason I stopped listening to it on any kind of consistent basis was because it always made me laugh out loud in the public places where I listened to it. This podcast’s structure is fairly typical for the medium: a host interviews a series of guests, hearing their stories and getting their take on current events. However, it’s set in the magical land of Foon, where the host ended up after falling through a portal behind Burger King. The improv comedy is often inappropriate but it’s always hilarious.

Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle

“Bright, colorful, and whimsical—yet charmingly familiar—Stranger Planet is out-of-this-world fun.”

One of my major habits as a reader is balance – I always need to balance out the heavy with the light, the sweet with the salty. It’s how I stay sane, ESPECIALLY when the sweet, light books are like Strange Planet and Stranger Planet by Nathan W. Pyle. There’s nothing like a book of comics as a palate cleanser, and there’s nothing like Pyle’s comics, period.

Stranger Planet is the second book of Pyle’s comics (originally shared on social media) and a worthy successor to the first. In both cases, it’s a pared-down world of bright pinks, blues, greens, and purples, where genderless aliens navigate a strangely familiar world of “cohesion” (marriage), “mild poison” (alcohol), “offspring” (kids), “elastic breath traps” (balloons), and much more.

These comics are charming for me because I love the quirky, gentle humor of examining everyday activities through a fresh perspective. I’m also a huge sucker for wordplay, which doesn’t hurt. Basically, if you’re looking for a quick break or to rediscover a sense of wonder about the world, I definitely recommend you check out Stranger Planet by Nathan Pyle.

Finna by Nino Cipri

Not to be melodramatic, but Finna by Nino Cipri is the book I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It reads in many ways like an American version of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – one of my all-time favorite books. The deceptively thin volume is the story of Ava and Jules, a young couple that just broke up a week ago and now has to find a way to continue working together at a Scandinavian big box furniture store. As if the horrors and indignities of working retail AND a breakup  weren’t enough, they then discover a wormhole to a parallel universe has opened inside the store — and a customer has wandered through it. It falls to Ava and Jules, as the employees with the least seniority, to go through the wormhole and try to bring the customer home. While trying to survive a perilous multiverse, they must also walk the perilous path from breakup back to friendship.

I fell in love with this book almost instantly, and there’s many reasons why. For one thing, it’s a slim and unintimidating 137 pages, and the writing style and brief chapters make it a quick and addictive read. The humor is dry and wry, realistic about the cruelties and frustrations of both working retail and navigating relationships. Both characters are honest about their own good and bad qualities and while the hurt and defensiveness is real, they don’t flinch away from taking a long, hard look at what went wrong in themselves and in their relationship. Moreover, meaningful as the relationship between the characters is, the book doesn’t get bogged down in it, balancing out the heartfelt discussions with lots of frankly wacky adventures in parallel universes both beautiful and sinister. Finally, this book is one of a very rare type: a novel, with a genderqueer protagonist, that doesn’t focus exclusively on that individual’s gender. In fact, Jules’ gender identity and the social difficulties that come with it are treated as established and routine, mundane everyday details compared to the rest of the plot. As a genderqueer person myself, it is so refreshing to read novels where gender-diverse people exist, live their lives, and do things other than obsess about their gender identity.

If you love slice-of-life sci fi, Welcome to Night Vale, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or are craving some light-hearted LGBTQ representation, I 100% recommend you check out this book.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Let’s be honest: this post is more of a love letter to Fredrik Backman than it is about just his newest title. But to be fair, Anxious People is a good example of what makes Backman such an amazing writer.

In Anxious People, a desperate bank robber flees from the police into the first available door in the first available building: an apartment showing where seven people and a realtor have gathered to examine the property. The hostage drama only lasts a few hours, but afterwards, the bank robber is nowhere to be found and nothing will ever quite be the same.

My experience reading Backman has taught me to expect three things from a book by him: lots of unexpected humor about the absurdity of everyday life, deeply empathetic descriptions of each and every character’s personality and circumstances, and tears of heartbreak for senseless tragedies. The first is what draws you into a Backman book in the first place; the sense that you’re at a very gentle comedy club. The second is what keeps you reading: a sudden and deep attachment to the characters which makes you anxious for their wellbeing. To be honest, it took me a few books to catch onto the last one, so be warned: you will probably cry reading Backman. But don’t worry, it’s worth it. In some ways, Backman’s books are acts of catharsis: by experiencing the highs and lows of these ordinary people’s lives, you see the truth of what living is like for all of us (including beauty, pain, frustration, and tedium), and hopefully come to terms with it.

In my opinion, this book displays the classic Backman strategies and emotional impacts, and it’s definitely going to linger with me for a while. The examination of poverty and class are really thorny issues, and he also raises the question of responsibility; how heavy a responsibility it is to be a parent, and how much responsibility we bear for the effect our words and actions have on others. It is also, of course, a very funny book: the pair of policemen investigating the event are father and son, and that partnership goes about as well as you’d expect — and as it turns out, each of the hostages has their own opinion on how the bank robber ought to be doing things. Basically, personalities and foibles clash and sarcasm ensues, to delightful humorous effect. Moreover, for me, this book was very heartfelt, but full of hope — something we all need more of right now.

If you need a good laugh, a good cry, or to feel like humanity as a whole means well (even when they’re idiots) please do try reading this book. And if you’re new to Backman, I cannot recommend him enough: try Beartown, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, or Britt-Marie Was Here (as well as Man Called Ove, of course) for the ultimate mashup of tearjerker and comedy.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella was one of my favorite authors in high school. I stopped reading her when I went away to college, but recently started reading her books again when I discovered her newest book, I Owe You One.

I Owe You One tells the story of Fixie Farr. For as long as she can remember, Fixie has felt the urgent need to put things right. If a friend needs help, if a shelf is stained, if a picture is crooked, Fixie has to fix it. She starts to fidget, bouncing and moving around until things are back to normal.

This trait is something that her friends and family members often take advantage of, but Fixie has trouble acknowledging this. Ever since her father died, Fixie started to take his motto: ‘Family First’ even more to heart. If any family member asks for help, she is always willing to help for anything.

Stopping at a coffee shop on her way home, a handsome stranger asks her to watch his laptop so he can step out to take a call. Fixie agrees and actually ends up saving the laptop from destruction. As a result, the grateful owner Sebastian writes an IOU on a coffee sleeve, attaches his business card to it, and tells Fixie that he owes her and to let him know how he can help her. Fixie does not believe that this was genuine and laughs off his offer. She would never accept an IOU from a complete stranger.

When she arrives back home, her childhood crush Ryan shows up unexpectedly. Ryan is having a hard time getting a job, believing that he deserves much more than a mediocre job since he used to work in Hollywood. Learning that Seb owes Fixie a favor, they decide to ask Seb to give Ryan a job.

Seb and Fixie begin to have a relationship as IOUs flow back and forth between the two. These range from small insignificant and life-changing ones. Throughout all of these interactions, Fixie finds herself wanting to leave her current ‘family first’ focused life to find a life that makes herself happier. As tensions come to a head and her mother’s return home from a long vacation looms closer, Fixie realizes that she must make a change if she wants her family to start taking her seriously.

I enjoyed listening to this book. Watching Fixie grow throughout this book and seeing her character develop had me rooting that she would get the life that she wanted. Give this a read and let me know what you think.


This book is also available in the following formats:

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell

Making friends as an adult is difficult. Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talk about the delicate balance between friends and enemies, as well as the different lengths that people are willing to do to in order to make friends in their newest book, That’s What Frenemies Are For. Hidden motives abound for all in this novel that grabs you by your private school, Manhattan socialite education and refuses to let go.

That’s What Frenemies Are For by Sophie Littlefield and Lauren Gershell talks about how easily influence and cache in different groups can change as readers follow the life of a Manhattan socialite who finds the next biggest craze in the form of a peppy spin instructor and an underperforming fitness studio. Her decision to rehabilitate the studio and the instructor in order to impress her friends and get back her social cache proves to turn into more than she can handle.

Julia Summers has it all: two children who love her, an adoring husband with a successful job, an apartment in the city, and a house in the Hamptons. Having finally made it to the top of her friend group, Julia influences almost everything the group does. Nothing happens without her approval or without her knowing about it. As a result, Julia is stunned when she finds others in her friend group suddenly vying for her position of power and cutting her out of decisions. When everyone starts to head to the Hamptons for the summer, Julia’s family is stuck in the city when catastrophe hits their Hamptons’ house.

Stuck in the city for the summer, Julia is desperate to reinvent herself before her friends come back. Looking for the newest fad, Julia finds Flame. Flame is the biggest new elite fitness craze that has the possibility to be even better if they just changed a few things. While going to Flame, Julia takes classes from Tatum, a giggly, energetic instructor who Julia decides to transform in the guise of improving Flame’s profit margin and helping to get the word out about the business.

Julia takes on the task to overhaul Flame and Tatum, but in a sneaky way that she hopes isn’t completely obvious to everyone around her. Things slowly start to spiral out of Julia’s control when she discovers that Tatum isn’t as docile as she initially thought. Julia’s comeback doesn’t go as expected and Tatum starts to take over everything herself.

With Julia’s relationships with her friends in turmoil, Julia turns to her family for comfort. Much to her surprise, her husband’s business goes belly up in a most unexpected way. Left with almost no support system and friends who have completely turned their backs on her, Julia has to rethink everything that she had previously held so dear. What does she really want out of life? What is most important to her? Is her perfect life worth it?

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem

The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem is a perfect light and get-your-mind-distracted read to help you get ready for summer and for wedding season(or to just take a break from life). Even though summer is over, I still found this book to be a delightfully fresh debut from a new author.

The Marriage Clock is Raheem’s discussion of traditional vs. modern marriage customs in Indian families told as one woman’s struggle to keep everyone in her life happy. 26-year-old Leila Abid has always imagined getting married. Her parents want her to get married too and the fact that Leila isn’t married yet is something that they find very concerning. You see, as an East Indian/East Euro-Asian woman, Leila’s parents believe that marriage is half of their religious duty. Arranged marriages happen all the time, but growing up in America, Leila has slightly more give in terms of how early she was married.

At her 26th birthday party, Leila’s parents sit her down and tell her that she has three months to find a husband before they will arrange a marriage for her. Shocked and not happy with this news, Leila agrees as long as her mother backs off from the set-ups. Leila goes on blind dates, online dates, speed dates, ambush dates, and other dates in those three months, but sadly no great love comes to sweep her off her feet.

Leila has great expectations for love. She has always imagined a Bollywood romance with seven pages of what she’s expecting from her future husband. One of her biggest requests: she wants real love before she’s married. This deviates from the norm as with most traditional Indian arranged marriages, love does not happen until after marriage. Leila knows she doesn’t want that.

As her three month deadline looms closer, Leila finds herself wondering what her parents have in store for her. The longer she searches for a husband, the more Leila realizes that an arranged marriage is not for her. But if she doesn’t go through with one, how will her parents ever forgive her? Leila must find a solution that will keep her parents happy and will let her find a man to fall in love with.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Some days (or weeks or months), all I want to read are romance novels. I’m deep in the midst of several romance reads right now. These books serve as a major deviation from my usual reads of twisty crime thrillers and are a necessary light read for me when I just need a break.

I noticed the cutesy cover of Helena Hunting’s latest romance novel peeking out from the new shelves a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough to start it.  I devoured this book in less than 3 days. Such a fun light read with charming characters! Meet Cute by Helena Hunting tells the story of a couple’s long road to a happily-ever-after with a pinch of Hollywood magic when a famous hunky heartthrob bumps into his ultimate fangirl again after years apart.

Kailyn Flowers knows exactly what she wants and exactly what she needs to do to get it. Described by friends and family as very controlled, rational, and calm under any circumstances, Kailyn has one glaring exception that leaves her breathless: Daxton Hughes. Daxton is the former teen actor that she had a complete and total crush on when she was younger. In law school, Kailyn believes herself to be in control until she literally runs into Daxton and the two are left sprawled on the ground. Kailyn reverts back to her fangirl self and may have mortified herself by professing (loudly) her undying love for Daxton. After that situation ended, Kailyn thought she’d never see him again, but oddly enough their meet cute leads to a friendship and a sort of friendly rivalry that helps them both survive law school. Their friendship takes a huge hit at the end of school however when Daxton betrays Kailyn in a way for which she will never forgive him.

Flash forward years and Kailyn has an established job at a reputable law firm that gives her joy. One day, a new client comes into the office and she is floored. Daxton Hughes has walked back into her life and he desperately needs her help. Dax is now guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister and is very overwhelmed. Kailyn finds herself drawn into his messy life. Once meeting Dax’s younger sister, Kailyn knows she would do anything to make sure this struggling girl and her older brother find a positive way to manage their new normal.

Dax and Kailyn meet frequently to discuss work matters. While these meetings are initially chilly, they quickly turn friendly. Once Dax’s sister starts meddling, these friendly and benign meetings turn into flirty charming dinner dates that leave the both of them yearning for more. Kailyn is hesitant to go further because despite the chemistry palpable in the air, how can she let Daxton back into her life when he has hurt her in the past? Their complicated past and even more complicated present may be enough to keep the two apart.


This book is also available in the following format:

New Community Experience Pass Now Available

You may already be familiar with the Community Experience Passes that are available at the Davenport Library. These passes give you free access to great local attractions such as the Putnum Museum, the Figge Art Museum and the German American Heritage Center. They are quite popular and we strive to add more experiences to our collection whenever possible. Today we are pleased to announce the addition of our newest Community Experience Pass – the Skip the Line I-74 Bridge Pass!

As you know, crossing the Mighty Mississippi River via the I-74 Bridge can be, shall we say, a bit frustrating these days. Traffic back-up, long lines, major detours – it all adds up to a great deal of waiting and perhaps a bit of colorful language. Yet for many, this is a vital pathway that must be tackled frequently, even daily. That’s where the Skip the Line I-74 Bridge Pass comes in! By-pass all the struggle of getting across the river and arrive at your destination happy and relaxed! It’s a Quad-Citians dream come true!

And they couldn’t be easier to use! Simply present your pass at the Grant Street exit if you are Illinois-bound or, if you’re heading to Iowa, at the 7th Avenue exit. A disgruntled construction worker will approach your car. Show him or her your pass and then use the code “there are no oranges in the canoe”. The seemingly unhappy worker will smile sunnily and reply “the albatross flies at midnight” and wave you toward the secret passage. That’s it! Easy peasy! Of course, if the construction worker seems confused and does not smile, you’ve run into someone that isn’t in on the secret. It’d be best if you abandoned your car and flee.

Community Experiences Passes are restricted to Davenport Library card holders only. They check out for one week and have unlimited use during that time. Passes can also be reserved, but not for a specific day or week. Overdue charges are steep – $30 per day! So enjoy your worry-free travel week, then return the pass promptly!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April Fool! (sadly)