Nonfiction

Approaching the End of Life: a Practical and Spiritual Guide

ISBN: 
9781442238244

In our death-phobic culture, most of us need all the help we can get planning for our own and our loved ones’ deaths.  This excellent guide, rich with examples, and a good smattering of humor gives just that—an overview of how to prepare for both the practical and spiritual aspects of dying.

Donna Schaper, who is also a minister, opens the book with “The Best Funeral Ever.” She shares funerals and memorials from actual people she knew and helped.

She describes the deceased and makes clear that their wishes should be followed. She closes this chapter with a eulogy she wrote for a feisty friend, Anita, who told the police she would keep driving, no matter what they said, and insisted that no one sing hymns at her service.

In a later chapter on bad funerals, she relates that mistakes happen. For one of the services she conducted, instead of the music the bereaved requested, she carelessly played a classical work left in the CD player. The widow never noticed the switch, and said later, that the music made her feel better during the funeral.

Rain: a natural and cultural history

ISBN: 
9780804137096

My family and I lived for five years in the North American rainforest of Southeast Alaska.  In those days, it rained over three hundred days a year. To this day my children prefer a rainy day to one filled with sun. That’s one reason why this book called out to me.

It’s a compendium of archaeological, historical, and scientific facts about our most common precipitation. Also, included in it are a series of mini-biographies of people who are renowned for some connection to rain.

One of these includes Princess Anne of Denmark who tried vainly several time to sail to Scotland to marry her fiancé, King James VI.  Violent storms blew her back to the Nordic regions twice. This was in August, 1589 during the time known as The Little Ice Age. King James VI eventually enlisted his navy to take him north to marry her.

Between the World and Me

ISBN: 
9780812993547

In a radio broadcast this year, President Obama said this about racism in America. “We are not cured… Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.” That’s the premise of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new nonfiction book, a moving personal letter to his son.

Coates begins by sharing his own difficult childhood on the streets of Baltimore where his only goal was to survive.  He describes learning another language “of head nods and handshakes.” He learned “a list of prohibited blocks” and even learned the “smell and feel of fighting weather.”

Growing up in a bad neighborhood taught him one vital thing: he had to protect and shield his body.

The Ten Best of Everything National Parks

ISBN: 
9781426207341

As the days shorten, and autum winds blow, it's time to dream about and plan your next national park vacation. We are lucky to live in a country with so many outstanding natural places to visit: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Acadia, Yellowstone, Zion...the list goes on and on.

If you can't decide which national park to visit next, this guide will give you lots of ideas. Whatever your interests--photography, horseback riding, climbing summits, mountain biking, fly-fishing, petroglyph-viewing, you'll find lots of great recommendations.

Say you're a history afionado, how about the ten best parks to follow our presidential footprints?  Try Gettysburg, Mount Rushmore (of course), Theodore Roosevelt N.P., the Jefferson Monument, etc.  Each list has at least a half page entry on why it's included.

One of my favorite entries came from the seasonal category section: Dark Skies. Can you guess which parks offer the best star-viewing? Big Bend makes the top of the list

All the Wild that Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West

ISBN: 
9780393089998

This is a hard book to categorize. Is it a dual biography? A history of a region? An environmental paean to a place? A literary memoir of the West? A road book to both grand and despoiled places?

It’s all of the above and more. Gessner began the book as a tribute to two western writers who have inspired him: Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Gessner went to grad school in Colorado and fell in love with the southwest. Abbey and Stegner became his heroes and teachers, although not literally—he learned through their writing.

He compares the more revolutionary-seeming Abbey who broke laws (trashed earth-moving machines to stop development and threatened to blow up dams) with the more straight-laced Stegner.

Hissing Cousins

ISBN: 
9780385536011

This double biography of two famous first cousins, both belonging to the famous Roosevelt clan, brings the early 20th century to life in both Washington DC and New York and gives us a fascinating peak into two strong women’s lives, both of whom married or were born into politics.

Eleanor Roosevelt and her first cousin Alice were born just eight months apart. Alice came from the Republican Oyster Bay branch of the family and Eleanor from the Democratic Hyde Park (NYC) branch. Not only did they differ in political and social outlooks, but they even pronounced their last name differently. Alice’s family said Rose—evelt. And Eleanor’s pronounced the same name as Ruse-evelt.

H is for Hawk

I almost became a falconer once. The ad promised you hands-on training for catching raptors, and you would be working with ones needing care, so it seemed like the perfect volunteer gig.  However, our time in California was drawing to a close, so I never got to experience the drama and force of a raptor landing on my gloved hand. But, wow, did I love this book.

This memoir artfully intertwines three stories: Helen’s experience training her first goshawk, her grieving for her father, and author T. H. White’s mixed results raising falcons and hawks. All these stories are told powerfully, and the subject is so interesting that I found the book riveting.  

Training the small fierce goshawk Mable (the author chose the name as something opposite of what you’d expect) for a few hours every day away took Helen from her disabling grief over her father’s sudden death on the street taking pictures for his job. At one point, Macdonald describes his last photograph--at street level, a line of blurs and a patch of sky as her father fell and died from a heart attack.

Around the World in 50 Days: my adventure to every country on Earth

ISBN: 
9781250051981

I’m not one for doing the whole of anything: the Appalachian Trail, canoeing the Amazon, skiing across Antarctica, but yes I can see the attraction of visiting every country in the world. The problem is that it is a moving target. Governments change, countries come and go, and unless you are super rich “doing” the world in a timely fashion is not possible.

Yet the inventive, gutsy, rule-breaking Podell finally managed to complete them all though it did take a half century. He began his foreign travels with a quick trip to Canada when he was 24. And yes, he considered this international travel light.

He just completed a degree in international studies. A few years later, as editor of an adventure magazine, he decided he was tired of sending people off on exotic jaunts and staying home, so he set off with a friend to complete the longest land journey ever attempted with his good friend Steve. They got sponsors to pay for the trip and hired a photographer.

Between You & Me: confessions of a comma queen

ISBN: 
9780393240184

Are you a grammar aficionado? Do you love learning the ins and outs of different jobs? Do you like reaffirming that your grammar and punctuation is spot-on, or why and how it has strayed from the path of correctness?  If so, Mary Norris’s Between You & Me is exactly right for you. 

Norris describes her life before and during her thirty year tenure at The New Yorker as a copy writer with the detailed knowledge to make sure that the correct word, usage and punctuation is always employed. To accomplish that, her best tool (other than her comprehensive knowledge of grammar) was her noteworthy stash of No. 1 pencils. What an odyssey it was to keep a supply of the best proofreading pencil in the world. And those in a perfect working state.  Solution: a passionate epistolary correspondence with one manufacturer of the yellow-painted rods.

With humor and great descriptive ability Norris describes her first jobs, as a foot checker at a public swimming pool (checking for Athletes foot before swimmers entered the pool), and milkman—make that milkwoman--a job those under fifty may not even know existed. Later, she went to graduate school in literature, and  moved to New York where she took a few lowly desk jobs before she scored an interview at America’s most prestigious literary magazine, The New Yorker.

Tales from Gombe

ISBN: 
9781770854680

If you’re fascinated by some of our closest animal relatives, the chimpanzee, this delightful collection of photographs will delight and inspire you.

Gombe National Park in Tanzania is where Richard Leakey and Jane Goodall first studied these fascinating primates over fifty years ago. 

The married photographer pair, Shah and Rogers, made many trips over a period of ten plus years to the park. What makes this book special is to see how individual chimps changed over the years, from babyhood to young adult, to young adult to mature, from mature to old.

The photos show the chimps doing daily activities, hunting, food-gathering eating, grooming, nursing and taking care of their young, even displaying as powerful males and females do to show who is boss and on top of the hierarchy.

What I liked most were the family portraits, a line of chimps in a row, siblings and one or both parents.

For many years, scientists have named all the chimps in one family with names beginning with the same consonants for instance: Frodo, Freud, Fanni, Flossi, Faustino, etc. Representing the G family are Galahad, Gaia, Gizmo, and Google, among others.

It’s amazing how distinct the chimp’s faces are, just as distinct as those of humans.  Also, how intelligent and expressive their eyes are.  The book’s text describes the struggle for power in each community and how certain chimps are loners, while others go off and join other communities.

It also describes how they help each other, how siblings look after their younger family members, how even adults stay close to their parents.

Several photos document tool use by chimps, including the famous termite-foraging with long grasses that Dr. Goodall first discovered in November, 1960 that amazed scientists around the world.

This is a very beautiful book that will also fill you in on some of the latest chimp research in Gombe.  For more on Goodall’s fascinating work and life, try Jane Goodall: a Twentieth Century Life by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

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