Sunday, March 23, 2014


During my self-imposed media black-out over spring break, I powered down my iPhone, MacBookPro, iPad and didn't watch any television.

I just read.

Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman is this year's All Iowa Reads selection. It was dark and evocative mystery, with a touch of the supernatural. One of the central characters is a troubled high school student and I think this book would reverberate with a select number of our high school readers. I hope I can find a local discussion group so that I can explore some of the questions I had about the plot.

A Questionable Shape is by an alumni of  University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, Bennett Sims and I read about it originally in the U of I Alumni magazine. It is a meditation, in novel form, of what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead or undead. The main character, a philosophy student, spends his days helping his literature major friend search for his father, who is one of the thousands of citizens who have been bitten and become zombified after the first wave of infections in Baton Rouge. The book is full of footnotes, literary references, philosophical discussions and interior monologues. Not your typical zombie book.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson is a story of war, pain, love and forgiveness. After serving multiple assignments in the middle east, Hayley's father is damaged and confused and Hayley has lived in transient circumstances while he has tried to find his way back from his personal abyss. The book opens with her first experience in a public school (she's been home schooled up until then). 

A quick lesson.
There are two kinds of people in this world:
1. zombies
2. freaks

So Hayley experiences her own brand of zombies.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield follows the pilot and space traveler throughout his career, with a plethora of stories about training, flying, and then living in space. It could be read as a management self-help book, as he emphasizes the critical importance of cooperation and working as a team.

... you will almost certainly be viewed in one of three ways. As a minus one: actively harmful, someone who creates problems. Or as a zero: your impact is neutral and doesn't tip the balance one way or the other. Or you'll be seen as a plus one: someone who actively adds value. Everyone wants to be a plus one, of course. But proclaiming your plus-oneness at the outset almost guarantees you'll be perceived as a minus one, regardless of the skills you bring to the table or how you actually perform. This might seem self-evident, but it can't be, because so many people do it.

Watch this video Chris made while on the International Space Station and you will want to read his book.

The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson compliments the book we are reading this year for our Anatomy and  Physiology Community Reads discussion, Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, with the commonality being the killer bacterial disease, cholera. Johnson writes a gripping, detailed story about the first use of epidemiological techniques to identify the source of a killer outbreak, this one in 1853 London. The last quarter of the book examines several ways that the existence of civilization could be challenged, besides disease. Watch his TED talk and you'll be looking for a copy to read yourself.

I had heard about Hilary Mantel on the New York Times Book Review podcast, but didn't know anything about the subject matter of Bring Up the Bodies.  I don't read much historical fiction. But this story of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour had me captivated. I probably should have read Wolf Hall first, but I have time to do that before her last book in the trilogy comes out. I'll definitely be looking for it.

Now, I'm a few chapters into Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.

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