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Friday Reads: The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah

I’m not sure why I haven’t read Kristin Hannah’s books until recently, but once discovered, I am completely hooked. So far, I’ve read four of her books, loved all of them, but especially The Great Alone. It kept my interest so completely that I stayed up late reading, and when I couldn’t read it, I was listening to the audio version. It’s that good.

Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.

For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: He will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. 

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in 18 hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: They are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves. 

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska – a place of incomparable beauty and danger. 

The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night audiobook about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature. (Audible)

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Friday Reads: Can I Give You a Squish? by Emily Neilson

Our two (and a half) year old recently discovered the delightful melodies of “Baby Shark” as performed by the Australian group Bounce Patrol, in multiple versions and complete with choreography, of course. Along with the adorable new dance moves, she’s been much more interested in anything with “fishies,” including books.

Can I Give You a Squish by Emily Neilson is an incredibly cute book about a little merboy and his fish friends. Kai is an enthusiastic hugger who loves to give squishes to his mama and to all of his underwater friends. After meeting a new little puffer fish though, he realizes not everyone likes hugs as much as he thought. With help from an octopus, a dolphin, and a crab, they all learn new ways of showing affection (and asking first), like fin bumps and tentacle shakes. The friends are all very encouraging and supportive of the scared puffer fish, and it’s a great way to start teaching young kids about boundaries and consent.

The illustrations in this book are lovely and it’s just a sweet story.

(She’s also really enjoying the Narwhal and Jelly books by Ben Clanton, if you need another good fishy book.)

With this squish book, I’ve been looking for some other picture books to start teaching or talking about consent/personal space:

  • C is for Consent by Eleanor Morrison and Faye Orlove
  • Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller
  • Will Ladybug Hug? by Hilary Leung
  • Hands Off, Harry! by Rosemary Wells

Neilson, E. (2020) Can I Give You a Squish?

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Friday Reads: The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert

The Perfume Thief: A Novel by [Timothy Schaffert]

I’m reading the new WWII novel, I’m reading the new perfume novel, I’m reading the new WWII perfume novel, and it’s delightful and I don’t want it to end.

I’ve been looking forward to reading The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert, and it’s finally here! The publisher describes the book as “A Gentleman in Moscow meets Moulin Rouge.” I’m ready to follow Clementine, a raconteur in tailored suits, who’s spent her seventy plus years living life her way—while happening to break all of society’s rules. Now she’s facing a big change in her life—the Nazis are threatening to destroy Paris, including the vibrant underground scene she loves. It turns out she has some very exceptional skills, honed over decades of her refined and indecent life, that can help hand defeat to the Nazis. She just has to thread the needle carefully, with the finest silk, of course.

I imagine a few agents in Hollywood are getting calls about playing the part of Clem in the movie that must happen. I can see Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep fighting over the part, but I can see Jamie Lee Curtis owning it. Of course Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton, although they are a bit young for the part—isn’t that refreshing? Casting suggestions are welcome in the comments, of course. (Not just for Clem, but also for Zoe St. Angel, and also the villain, Oskar Voss.)

Did I mention Clem is from Nebraska? Did I mention Schaffert painstakingly researched Paris life, down to the weather reports on every day in the book? Did I mention it’s a page-turner? Excuse me while I get back to enjoying The Perfume Thief.

(We did write about The Perfume Thief here as well–yes, we’re fans! And yes, our Book Club Kit is available for Nebraska libraries to check out, and details are at that link.)

Schaffert, T. (2021). The Perfume Thief.

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Friday Reads: Reading with Mary

My dear friend Mary, who lives two floors above me, suffered a television outage last winter. This was catastrophic since her TV is always on, serving as companion, entertainer, and white noise. Out of desperation, Mary–who in recent years earnestly believed she’d lost the concentration needed to read an entire book—picked up the copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer that I’d given her. She read it cover to cover; it reminded her of her home in North Carolina, and she loved it! More importantly, she felt triumphant, proving to herself that she COULD still read books!

I wanted to keep her reading momentum going so when Nigella Lawson, a favorite food writer of ours, released a new book called Cook, Eat, and Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories, I ordered two copies. We kept a running commentary as we consumed the pages. An entire chapter on anchovies? Are they REALLY the bacon of the sea? Saving and cooking with banana peels was a zero waste solution? Not something either of us will try. But her essay on food as a guilty pleasure?  That was worth rereading together.

Nigella’s book made me think of Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life: A Cookbook, and I bought it for Mary and I listened to my copy a second time. This lead to conversations about Ruth’s other books, many of which Mary owned. Just as she’d somehow missed My Kitchen Year, I’d missed For You Mom, Finally, so Mary happily lent me her copy.

I turned to Mary’s own book stacks for my next recommendation, handing her an unread copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. As a faithful letter writer and a lover of stationary, I had a feeling she would enjoy this epistolary book. She did and was ready for more.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mary-2.jpg
Mary in her eclipse sunglasses, August 2017.
Photo credit: Julee Hatton

After I finished reading Andre Leon Talley: The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir, I thought it would be a good fit for Mary knowing she had been a Women’s Wear Daily and Vogue subscriber. An added bonus was Andre’s North Carolina nativity. After reading the first chapter she told me she was purposely taking it slow to make it last. Mary took a reading break to watch Wimbledon but once she was finished with Andre, I handed her I.M.: A Memoir by Isaac Mizrahi because I could tell she was still in the mood for fashion designers and had a penchant for biographies.

We next tackled, The Barbizon: The Hotel That Set Women Free by Paulina Bren, recommended by a coworker. This safe haven for modern, working women was the home to many celebrities including Sylvia Plath, an author Mary had previously researched. We both finished and thought the book was interesting and worthwhile but the finest takeaway was our discussion afterwards.  I was able to ask Mary questions no one had ever asked her before, and she answered them. It was an intimate communion and an evening I will never forget.

Floundering over what to offer Mary next, I ended up loaning her my copy of The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, continuing with the theme of female solidarity. Mary initially greeted this selection with reticence because she grew up in a house with hired help. However, because I’d earned her trust with my previous recommendations, she acquiesced and agreed to try it. She was hooked from the first page! When she finished it a week later, she returned it with high praise and a heartfelt thank you note I will treasure forever.

Having spotted two Rosamunde Pilcher paperbacks in Mary’s collection, I gave her a copy of the The Shell Seekers, confident she would appreciate Penelope, the bohemian protagonist, and the English locations. She finished in a week, sad for it to be over and sharing that she usually skips over description but she read every word in this book. She then expressed concern that she was now spending too much time reading, but she also wanted more Pilcher books!

Most recently–and just in time for the U.S. Open Tennis tournament–I presented her with the new Billie Jean King autobiography, All In. The next day she told me she stayed up way too late the night before, using the index to cherry pick stories, and that she really needed to get more sleep! My copy of All In is on hold at the library, and I’m eager to read it so we can discuss this amazing icon of tennis and gender equality.

I have never experienced this kind of simpatico with another reader. Whatever aligned for us to enjoy so many of the same books at the same time has been a luxury. Our discussions have been a respite from the pandemic and the news, but the biggest gift is learning more about each other and deepening our friendship. It has been such a pleasure to plot Mary’s reading through these last several months, and I must say I’m so grateful Mary’s television stopped working!

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Friday Reads: “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

If you could save the lives of eight people by sacrificing the life of one, would you do it? Is it possible to break free of a path your life has been set on since before you were even born? If you create something, do you own it? What if the thing you created is a human? These are all questions a reader will find themselves grappling with in “Never Let Me Go,” the sixth novel by British and Japanese author, Kazuo Ishiguro.

An idyllic childhood spent at a boarding school in the English countryside, what could be better? Kathy spends her adulthood traveling around England working as a Carer, looking after hospice patients. After ’caring’ for two of her old classmates and reminiscing about how they grew up, all Kathy can think about is her childhood. As Kathy’s memories unfold so does the mystery and strangeness that is this “Brave New World” she lives in. With each new memory, we begin to understand just how different Kathy’s life has been, and we come to understand that what at first seems idyllic is far from it.

In “Never Let Me Go” the topics of childhood innocence, science and ethics, and free will are all explored in this thoughtful novel. Readers who like a slow burn and subtle, yet thought-provoking plot twists will enjoy this book.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. Vintage, 2006.

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Friday Reads: Great Plains Indians by David J. Wishart

David Wishart covers a vast span of over thirteen thousand years in his book, Great Plains Indians. Many know bits and pieces of this astonishing story. Professor Wishart dispels a number of myths and provides important detail and perspective in his coverage of Indian life on the Great Plains.

Wishart describes in his Great Plains Indians historical account the elements of geography, climate, perseverance, innovation, culture, and adaptation. The book is organized in four broad chapters: coverage of thirteen thousand years of Plains history, life circumstances of Plains Indians around the early nineteenth century, the period Lewis and Clark explored the Plains region, and the period that began and continued with regional control by the United States.

Significant are the impacts of disease (notably smallpox), food sources, climate, horses, guns, alcohol, and beginning contacts and conflict with people moving into the Great Plains region.

Wishart provides extensive coverage of the nineteenth-century and continuing to the present geographic and cultural dispossession of the Great Plains Indians. Within a hundred year span, the Plains Indians land base was reduced from an area extending from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico to a territory inclusive of a small number of reservations in Oklahoma and other Plains areas.

A slim book, Great Plains Indians is written in a clear, concise style. Professor Wishart’s Great Plains expertise, and notably that of Great Plains Indians, provides the reader with a rich and informative historical presentation.

Great Plains Indians is among books in the University of Nebraska Center for Great Plains Studies “Discover the Great Plains” series (Richard Edwards, Series Editor).

David Wishart is a professor of geography at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The author of many books, Wishart is the editor of Encyclopedia of the Great Plains (2004).

Wishart, David J. Great Plains Indians. University of Nebraska Press, 2016.

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Friday Reads: Post Office

Charles Bukowski was a lowbrow writer. On the one hand, some can certainly relate to his pessimistic and unpretentious philosophies of life, while others surely look upon him with disdain. The thing is, he probably would not have cared either way. Perhaps he would have even relished in the thought that someone looked upon him with disdain, as this was often the case in his writing career. Frequently, he read his poetry in various settings (frequently college campuses), had too much to drink, and then arguments with those attending often ensued or the reading quickly devolved into chaos. A long time alcoholic, who for years lived on skid row in L.A., Post Office recounts his years with the agency, first as a substitute mail carrier, then after a gap in service, a full-time postal employee. Overall, Bukowski worked for the Postal Service for 14 years. The main character in Post Office, based on Bukowski himself, is Henry Chinaski, who appears in many of Bukowski’s novels. Think of Chinaski as synonymous with Bukowski. Post Office details the personal life of Chinaski, packed with heavy drinking and subsequent hangovers, gambling, and an overview of what working for the Post Office was like in the 50’s and 60’s in L.A. I imagine some parts are the same today, others much different. Bukowski has a way of telling a story in a direct and uncensored manner that is not only appealing but also refreshing for the lowbrow reader. This particular story has a second anti-hero, namely Chinaski’s postal supervisor, Johnstone. The interaction between Chinaski and Johnstone, aka “The Stone” provide comic relief in a sadistic sort of way. Here’s a taste of what to expect:

“The post office, or any world of work, is only one institutionalized system of control that is designed to beat people, to condition them into accepting that humiliation and failure is the norm. Those who do not rebel against this lose any ability to think for themselves. The workers are robbed of power whilst the bosses have only a small amount of it and can only use it arbitrarily, which is to say, pointlessly.”

–Charles Bukowski, Post Office

Bukowski, Charles. Post Office. Black Sparrow Press. 1971.

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Friday Reads: “Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused” by Melissa Maerz

I enjoy celebrity biographies and behind-the-scenes stories, and those two things come together quite groovily in Melissa Maerz’s oral history of the 1993 cult-classic Dazed and Confused.

Maerz interviews everyone involved with the movie, from Richard Linklater, to the costume designer, casting director, the casts and their families, even Linklater’s high school classmates, many of whom were inspirations for the characters (however unflattering they may find that fact). I learned all sorts of fun facts about the movie and it’s cast, as did my family and friends, because I would constantly share what I was reading as I went along (sorry guys!). I couldn’t help it – this movie was on constant VCR rotation when I was in high school and I can still quote whole scenes without fail. This book was a fun trip down memory lane.

It was especially fun to look at the cast and how far they’ve come since 1993 – this was Matthew McConaughey’s first movie, and his bit part grew and grew until he became the breakout star. Mila Jovovich, who was the biggest name of the cast at the time, saw her part shrink considerably as she got caught up in an on-set romance and neglected her role; her boyfriend Shawn Andrews effectively got himself blackballed from Hollywood for a time due to his attitude and behavior during filming. Texas native Renee Zillweger wanted to be in the movie badly enough that she took a non-speaking, uncredited roll as “Girl in Blue Truck”.

If you’re in need of a slow ride down memory lane while school’s out for the summer, this book will help you rock and roll all night long. Just don’t forget your reading glasses, because if this was your favorite movie in high school, you’re now old like me.

Maerz, Melissa. Alright, alright, alright: the oral history of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Harper, 2020.

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Friday Reads: Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors by Benjamin Wallace

What does a librarian do after the apocalypse? He becomes a post-apocalyptic nomadic warrior, of course!

Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors, by Benjamin Wallace, is the first book in a series, the Duck & Cover Adventures. There are 5 novels in the series, plus an anthology of short stories.

You would think that, seven years after nuclear bombs and chemical weapons destroyed civilization, there would be plenty of work for such a person. Chaos reigns, food and medicine is scarce, mutants and cannibals are around every corner! And don’t forget the Super Smart Bears. Right? That’s what we’ve all been told an apocalypse would bring.

But, no, not this apocalypse. Things are actually going…OK. Most people have gathered together into safely walled communities, growing plenty of food, governing themselves with few issues. The Librarian believes that they need his help anyway, and travels from town to town with his female mastiff, Chewy, offering to save them from whatever they might need saving from. He tries to convince the town of New Hope, Texas that they need to hire him. But, he’s told they’re doing just fine and don’t require the Librarian’s services, literally throwing him out the front gate.

The Librarian isn’t the only post-apocalyptic nomadic warrior around, though. His rival, Logan, has also come to New Hope. And he tells the town that there actually is a roving band of killers out there, and they may be on the way to New Hope next.

Will the Librarian or Logan be the savior of New Hope? Is there really a silver lining in an apocalypse? And how smart are Super Smart Bears anyway?

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read that doesn’t take the apocalypse too seriously, this book is for you.

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Friday Reads: Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

A memoir in five parts. There is a reason Gary Paulsen is so popular: his writing – both his stories and his words.  The author’s method of storytelling creates a smooth transition that enables the reader to evolve from observer to active participant.

Many librarians have read or heard Paulsen say that the library saved his life.  Here, along with other tales of his childhood and young adulthood, the reader learns much more about the story behind his statement.  Part Four, titled “Thirteen,” contains this story.  It begins,

“Because it was safe there.

In the library. Only three places safe. The library, moving through the alleys at night after hard dark and, best of all, the woods.”

Part One starts the book with his mother putting him (at five years old) on a train, alone, in Chicago, for a total trip of about 800 miles to his relatives’ farm in Minnesota.  We join Paulsen as he encounters security with his aunt and uncle, then the opposite as his life changes on another person’s whim, with no consideration for his preferences or choices.  Throughout his life, he found security, safety, and peace in the woods, on his own. This book is for anyone who has loved any of Gary Paulsen’s books, from middle school age through high school and adulthood.  Readers of his other memoir, Guts, will find different stories of his life here.

Paulsen, Gary. Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood. (New York) Farrar Straus Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, LLC, 2021.

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Friday Reads: Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón

“I want to try to be terrific.
Even for an hour.”

During the Impossible age of everyone (23)

Ada Limón is an American poet who, along with Richard Siken, Natalie Diaz, and Mary Oliver, is one of my favorite poets. Her poem, “The Leash” – which is not included in this collection – is a poem I reach for like the hand of a trusted friend, after stumbling on the road. I know that it will be there to pull me back onto my feet.

Bright Dead Things, published in 2015, was a National Book Award finalist. It is Limón’s fourth collection of poetry. I could stare at its cover all day.

Poetry is a heavy, fluid beast to review and recommend. You cannot trap it, pin it down. Every poem is a kaleidoscope, shifted in image from the time of my witnessing to the moment that I hand it to you. How can I show you a poem and have you see the same poem?

And yet, Limón’s collection in Bright Dead Things is about the universal, the human, the everyday: nature, grief. The body, the entropy of the body, life, and the passage of time.

In “State Bird,” Limón writes about her move to Kentucky from New York in a way that is so personal that tears sprang to my eyes, because it was exactly how I felt about remaining in Nebraska, despite my original, younger plans to leave for some distant, fresher place. “Confession: I did not want / to live here, / among the goldenrod, / wild onions, / or the dropseed” (58). Peace is made with it; on her part, and on mine. “Sometimes,” Limón writes in a later poem, “Oh Please, Let It Be Lightning” (174), “you have to / look around at the life you’ve made and / sort of nod at it, / like someone moving their / head up and down / to a tune they like.” There’s a repetition, to use a grief analogy — this collection is, I think, at its heart, about grief — of coming through the stages to acceptance and back again, like the way the wind changes direction.

There’s a line that struck me, from “Miracle Fish”: “I swear I will play on this blessed earth until I die” (64). Her use of the word play is fantastic, poignant. Not work, not grin and bear it, not survive: I will play. Especially since this collection is saturated (as life is) with grief. With lost family, lost homes, lost friends – lost, sharp as I read this in the ongoing roils of a pandemic, time. Limón takes that grief and rather than shear it from life (as we are wont to do, or want to do) — she says, this is a part of life. This is how it happens. This is a part of what make us alive. Death, loss — it is not an antithesis, it is a harmony.

Overall, the image of the bright dead things has remained with me. I won’t spoil that poem’s title here, so that you can discover what they are for yourself. Maybe you can carry them with you as well, you, ebullient and reckless, you, living just because you can.

Limón Ada. Bright Dead Things. E-Book, Milkweed Editions, 2015.

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Friday Reads, Dead in Dublin, by Catie Murphy

Dead in Dublin

I rarely have the good fortune to pick up the first in a series, but this time I picked up a fun read, a cozy mystery called Dead in Dublin, by Catie Murphy. Not only is the writer excellent, but she also lets one have a very good view of Dublin, and Irish culture. The writer keeps the reader working to catch up with the mystery, too.

Megan Malone is an American retired combat medic, veteran of 20 years in the U.S. Army. She drives limos and town cars for a living for the Leprechaun Limo Service in Dublin, Ireland, and has for three years. She enjoys hearing her passenger’s stories as well as driving them through Ireland. She’s picking up a famous American food blogger & her husband, when the blogger drops dead in front of the Molly Malone statue near the restaurant they were having dinner. Her husband, a doctor, begins CPR, and Megan arrives from the nearby car to help. The restaurant owner is a friend of Megan’s, Fionnuala (Finn) Canan, is frantic about the fate of the blogger, and worried about her restaurant’s reputation, as is her partner, Martin Rafferty, who also runs an adjoining club upstairs, since both will be closed over the weekend. Megan is the chef, and Martin is the moneyman—finding loans and silent partners. Megan keeps meeting red headed handsome detective garda (what the police are called in Ireland), Paul Bourke, as she asks questions. He in turn, is both annoyed, and intrigued by the “Yank.” Fortunately, for Finn, the blogger didn’t have food poisoning. She was poisoned.

The story is filled with information about the city—street signs are on the buildings, making them hard to see, even to the natives. Housing is in short supply, and very old, historical, even. Doughnuts are still not like our doughnuts—they look pretty, but taste like bread with frosting. With the historical and cultural information, is a lot of computer and cell phone texting, calling, and Voning (Video phoning, a term one of Megan’s friends wants to make a “thing”.) As well as modern cultural run ins—one bit of gossip has the blogger having an affair with a young woman. At another point in the story, Megan is speaking to a slender, young adult, with long hair, and dressed in baggy clothing, gender undetermined. Altogether a very modern story, set in a very old city, among people with their own way of doing things!

Spoiler alert. Catie Murphy is also C. E. Murphy, writer of “award-winning fantasy and Scifi books”, quote from the back blurb about the author. She’s one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t realized who the writer was until I started writing this Friday Reads, and found the blurb!

2nd title in the Series, Death on the Green, is out.

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Friday Reads: World War Z by Max Brooks

Yes, Max Brooks is Mel Brooks’ son. No, World War Z is not anything like Spaceballs or Young Frankenstein. Just get that out of your head right now. No comparison. None.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War brings the zombie apocalypse to life through the shared stories of military personnel, medical professionals, filmmakers, rescue workers, submarine operators, political figures, and other key players of the Zombie War. The book has been out since 2006, but the zombies are more real today then ever before. I learned more about global politics and human relations from this Oral History than I did in a semester’s worth of World Politics in college. The zombies were an added bonus to my global education.

The audiobook version of World War Z is narrated by a full cast of characters who personalize each story as their own. I listened to the chapter narrated by Allen Alda twice because he has seen war! I may have also re-watched a couple episodes of M.A.S.H. in between. Alda was acting in M.A.S.H. The zombies are here today. There’s a difference.

Each chapter takes you to a new part of the world. Travel to Japan, China, Korea, Denver, the open ocean, and more. See the world from every perspective and hear from the people on the front lines of the zombie war. These people made sure the world kept spinning, even as loved ones turned into flesh-eating zombies, decimating the global population. It’s a messy job, but somebody’s got to do it.

The global travels begin with patient zero in China, through the initial spread and panic, and on to the perseverance of the human population. I won’t spell out the ties to the current pandemic, but it’s not a great leap to link the two together. I’m sure there will be high school and college papers written on the topic for years to come.

Read World War Z to escape the current pandemic and learn about the real world from different perspectives. If you’ve read the book before, give it a listen. Close your eyes and embrace the chaos. Consider it a practice run.

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. Print.

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Friday Reads: The Anthropocene Reviewed Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, by John Green

If you have never heard of John Green where have you been, living under a rock? Just kidding, but seriously this man is prolific writer of young adult fiction, creator of video content with his brother Hank, and is a great philanthropist. His books always seem to land on the New York Times bestsellers lists, winning numerous awards, and a number of them have been adapted for the screen. The video ventures he does with his brother Hank, specifically “Crash Course”, have won the highest acclaim of teachers who use their YouTube content in class. I could go on and on, so to learn more about John start with his website at

“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is a departure from his other works as it is not strictly geared towards young adults and, probably more importantly, it is his first work of nonfiction. John has taken his wonderfully cozy prose writing style to share his thoughts our modern age, specifically the current geological age – the Anthropocene, by rating the seemingly most mundane things on a five star scale. Everything from diet Dr. Pepper, to sunsets, to Super Mario Brothers gets a chapter. He uses the Anthropocene as a lens to focus the reviews as it the first age in which humans have played a huge roll in how the world is shaped.

I loved everything about this book! The writing style makes me feel like I’m back on my grandma’s lap listening to her read me a story, but the content makes you think and look at the world differently. John’s choice of items to review, his silly little footnotes1, and how each chapter is a story unto itself is just perfect.

Covid-19 and quarantine have probably affected every single person on the planet. The “Anthropocene Reviewed” is the first book that I have read where the author is aware of this and shares its effect on themselves, to remind us that we are not alone in what is shaping our world right now.

I give “The Anthropocene Reviewed” by John Green four and three quarters stars.


1 The footnotes are probably the best thing about this book! Do not miss his footnote on the copyright page that reviews… well, the copyright page! I give John’s use of footnotes one million stars out of five.

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Friday Reads: We Are Watching Eliza Bright, by A.E. Osworth

            We Are Watching Eliza Bright is, for all intents and purposes, a dark read. It deals in plot devices as disturbing as any Stephen King novel, with an update for the Reddit age. We witness Eliza take a real issue of workplace sexual harassment to management, where she is given a lukewarm response and told that the incident will not result in the firing of either offender. Nor, it seems, will it herald a shift in the culture at Fancy Dog Games, where a supposed commitment to transparency and productive conversation dissolves in front of Eliza’s eyes. It does not matter how capable, headstrong, or courageous she is—and she is all three—the culture of male violence she faces almost leads to her undoing, though not without bringing down some of the novel’s other key players, some of whom were integral to the initial campaign against her.

            There are few things on earth as chilling as the loss of your personal safety and security. This central theme dominates the narrative in We Are Watching Eliza Bright, as the protagonist finds herself in unique danger due to her gender and prestigious role at a successful, fictitious video game development studio in New York City. The work is written almost entirely in the third person from the perspective of a group of anonymous, unreliable, and increasingly violent misogynists, who critique Eliza’s every move as she moves through the world, offering to the reader misguided and offensive commentary about her status as a woman in the gaming industry. We are to believe, if you trust the narrators’ voice at all, that women don’t belong in the male world of video games—or, for that matter, any public or private space where women and marginalized people get to make their own choices and have agency in any meaningful way. This includes the real world—which is referred to in actual gaming circles and the book as Meatspace—as well as the internet, which we come to understand represents as extension and only an extension of who we are in real life, with none of the grittier or more evil parts of our psyches left out.

            On the defensive, we are met with another group of narrators toward the middle of the work who give Eliza a home at their security and unity-minded feminist art collective in the city. These individuals try to represent and uphold the best of what cobbles together a community, including guaranteeing each person physical safety, the space and comfort they need to process trauma, ritualistic tradition and healing, and undying compassion in times of both joy and profound stress. It is a refreshing break from the anonymous cabal of mean and, frankly, ridiculous Reddit and 4chan narrators, whose occasional moments of humanity and empathy hint at glorious change on a wider scale.

            I would recommend this book to anyone in need of a change of pace or to anyone looking for an indictment on internet culture, the work of feminism in 2021, and what it means to be and feel secure in our bodies and identities, though with a heavy dose of caution as this work includes graphic physical, emotional, and sexual violence.

Osworth, A. E. (2021). We Are Watching Eliza Bright. Grand Central Publishing.

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Friday Reads: Crying in H Mart: A Memoir, by Michelle Zauner

Michelle Zauner was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Eugene, Oregon, by her American father and Korean mother. She is already well known as an indie pop singer/songwriter, who performs and records under the name Japanese Breakfast. (Her third studio album is scheduled for release later this month, and she will be in Omaha on July 31 at the Maha Music Festival.) Her debut book, Crying in H Mart, is an expansion of an essay of the same name that she published in the New Yorker in 2018.

If I had to sum up Crying in H Mart in a single sentence, I’d say it’s a memoir by a daughter about a fraught relationship with her late mother. But that’s reductive. It’s also an exercise in grieving, a culinary celebration, and an exploration of what it’s like to straddle two cultures, not feeling like you completely belong in either one. There’s also a love story slipped in.

H Mart, Zauner tells us on the opening page of her book, is a U.S. supermarket chain that specializes in Asian food, “where parachute kids go to get the exact brand of instant noodles that reminds them of home.” It’s also frequently a trigger for Zauner’s grief over the loss of her mother, who died in 2014, at the age of 56, after a brief, brutal battle with cancer. This death is the animating event of the memoir, but Zauner’s narrative stretches backward and forward in time. She recounts both the prickly relationship she had with her mother growing up and the love of Korean food they shared. She also addresses the alienation she feels from her Korean self after losing her mother: “Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left in my life to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?” she asks herself at one point, while shopping at H Mart.

Zauner’s writing is often visceral, which leads to a powerful reading experience: Her descriptions of food—how it tastes, what it feels like to share it, the yearning to be able to prepare it—are transporting; however, her descriptions of the hands-on care she provided to her mother in her final days, as her body deteriorated, are raw and gut wrenching. The latter may be too much for someone who has recently gone through something similar, but it’s a testament to Zauner’s talent that she is able to bring all types of experiences to vivid life.

Zauner, Michelle. Crying in H Mart: A Memoir. New York: Random House Audio, 2021.

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Friday Reads: The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I love reading historical novels, especially ones that are based in fact and teach me about a subject I previously knew little about. The Signature of All Things is just such a book. Elizabeth Gilbert’s descriptions of the botanical world, and how plants were discovered, acquired, and improved, are truly masterful.

Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family, led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. (

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Friday Reads: Cookbooks

It’s time for more cookbooks!

I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to share, so I thought I would include a few favorites from my last cookbook haul:

Perfectly Golden: Inspired Recipes from Goldenrod Pastries, the Nebraska Bakery that Specializes in Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Vegan Treats by Angela Garbacz

Goldenrod Pastries, located in Lincoln, is an amazing bakery with the best baked goods of all kinds. As much as I would love to just visit every day, having the cookbook now helps fill the gaps.

Gluten-free and vegan baking can be intimidating, but the recipes are clear and easy enough, even for beginning bakers. The photos are all bright and cheerful, and there are plenty of notes to help explain different parts of the recipes, like flours.

I started with the cinnamon rolls which turned out perfectly and may very well replace my usual recipe!

Aran: Recipes and Stories from a Bakery in the Heart of Scotland by Flora Shedden

One of the best parts of reading cookbooks, especially this last year, is looking at amazing pictures and reading stories of far-off places, and turning your kitchen into something like a small Scottish bakery. Flora Shedden’s (from the Great British Bake Off) book has become a favorite. Aran (meaning bread) is full of recipes arranged by the time of day in the bakery, starting with making bread before dawn, including a section for getting your sourdough starters just right. The recipes are simple and encouraging, with plenty of instructions for North American conversions. Some recipes, like croissants, are multi-day projects but well worth the extra time and effort (with lots of butter).

And now for something completely different!

Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance: 77 Simple, Nutritious, Whole-Food Recipes for Every Athlete by Angie Asche

This is already my new favorite everyday cookbook. The recipes are super simple and delicious, focusing on helping you reach your full athletic potential whether you’re just trying to get healthy, you’re a recreational runner, or a more serious athlete. The first section includes great information for athletes (or parents of athletes) on basic nutrition concepts and timing your meals around game time to give you the best boost, as well as several weekly meal plans (including a vegan/plant-based plan) and how to make the perfect smoothie. These recipes are quick and easy, perfect for weekly meals. The baked banana oatmeal has been great for breakfast meal prep through the week. The lentil tacos, almond flour cookies, and ginger-citrus smoothie are also new staples.

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Friday Reads: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon is about the investigation of a crime, but as it tells that story, we learn about the different worlds of all the involved parties. Careful and enthusiastic research helps Grann tell us an interwoven story, and we want to keep reading because the story is so compelling.

I don’t want to give too much away, but if you are interested in American history, this book is full of history you didn’t learn in school, and it is fascinating and shocking. I listened to the audiobook, and there were three different narrators for the three different sections. This was an effective choice, and each narrator was an engaging reader, and a good match, for their section.

The first section lays the groundwork for the story, about the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, when they were the richest population on earth (per capita) in the early 1900s. The second section is about the different investigations of a series of murders, and how diligent those investigations were, or were not. (This section also includes a lot of information about the structure of the FBI and the influence of J. Edgar Hoover on changes in the FBI.) The third section pulls back the camera even further, to observe more about the context and meaning of the crimes being investigated, and to illustrate the personal cost to families in the Osage Nation.

When I say “pulls back the camera,” that brings up another point of interest. I missed the original buzz about this book when it came out in 2017, and I checked it out recently, after hearing that Martin Scorsese was involved in a film adaptation. You might want to read it before you see the movie, or even just to get the references you will see online. Like this joke from Twitter this week.

Grann, David, Ann M. Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, 2017. Sound recording.

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Friday Reads: Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes by Ira Rosen

Who hasn’t heard of 60 Minutes, the iconic show that begins with the sound effect pronouncing Sunday night more effectively than any other time-keeping device ever could?  Ira Rosen, a longtime producer, pulls back the curtain on his years working with the famed newscasters. If you don’t want to know the dirt on these storied men, and it was all men at the beginning, this may not be the book for you. But I think you’ll want to know.

This iconic news program debuted in 1968, created by Don Hewitt and Bill Leonard. The now familiar magazine style newscast pioneered many techniques of investigative journalism including hidden cameras and “gotcha journalism”, the now infamous ambush visits to a home or office of an investigative subject.

Ira Rosen survived 25 years working behind the scenes of 60 minutes and was first assigned to Mike Wallace who said to Rosen “I know what I can do for you. What can you do for me?”  I shouldn’t have been surprised by the description of the smoke-filled, misogynist work place Rosen described. Oversized egos lead to thieving stories and unforgivable, sometimes inhumane behavior. With story after story, what is clear is that Mike Wallace was a horrible man with tremendous journalistic skills.

Certain parts of this book will make you cheer for journalism the way All the President’s Men and Spotlight did in cinema. That news can be a force for good and actually make a difference is something I often forget. The heart of a good journalist is not about tabloid questions but actually making a difference. In his years in the news business, Rosen and his colleagues did just that.

Rosen, Ira. Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes, New York: St. Martin’s Press 2021,

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