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In the stacks: New nonfiction for adults

Posted: February 9, 2012 - 12:04am

New nonfiction for adults includes a photographic study of the warrior tribes of Ethiopia (“The Last African Warriors”), a treatise on the very first king of England (“Aethelstan”), and Christopher Hitchens’ last book of essays (“Arguably”).

“Original Skin,” by Maryrose Cuskelly. Our skin divides us from the outside world and also provides a way for the outside world to interact with us. It’s the largest organ of our bodies, and some cultures encourage it to be hidden while others put it on show. We decorate it both permanently and temporarily, find myriad ways to delight and distress it, and integrate it into our idioms. Cuskelly writes about the rituals of Japanese baths, what tattoos say to wearer and viewer, the deep wounds that abusive touch leaves in our psyches, and the scars left in the skin by burns. Fascinating, almost intimate at times, this celebrates human skin with humor and curiousity.

“Sealab,” by Ben Hellwarth. When we think of alien worlds, we think of outer space. But once upon a time, the dream was to build a self-sustaining community on the alien world of the sea floor. The first underwater habitat, called Sealab, was launched by the US Navy in the early 60s, and aquanauts vied for the opportunity to test the structure and their own limitations. What would it be like to be isolated for weeks, months, or years underwater? Could a self-sustaining community exist miles under the sea’s surface? Underfunded, and ultimately abandoned in the excitement of the space race, Sealab still contributed much to our understanding of the underwater world.

“Context,” by Cory Doctorow. Running through this collection of previously published essays on technology is a thread of economics. Why has it become cost-effective to fail in the online world? How do the masses of information available to consumers affect our decision-making? On a personal level, he asks: what happens to all my data if I die before I reveal my passphrase(s) to my next-of-kin? As a parent, he muses aloud about raising his daughter to appreciate technology without becoming subsumed by it, wonders about digital copyright, and shakes his head over getting caught in a phish-net. Thought-provoking and clear, Doctorow will have readers reconsidering their passwords in no time.

The Tarball Chronicles, by David Gessner. At first, when Gessner decides to write about the Gulf oil spill, he has only the barest idea what approach he would take. But a chance remark from a waiter causes his thoughts to coalesce: how much of our world are we willing to sacrifice to continue to live the way we do? The oil spill didn’t just affect the fish, the fishermen, or even merely the communities the fishermen live in, it affected everyone who eats seafood, or uses oil-based resources. As he travels from area to affected area, Gessner’s interest broadens from BP and the oil spill to the ecosystem of the Gulf and the communities that are part of it, spiraling out from the natural world’s oiled birds to the eroded landscape as it crumbles out from under the small towns and their ways of life.

“The Bear,” by Michel Pastoureau. The lion was not always king of the world: until the rise of Christianity in Europe, it was the bear which backed royal dynasties (and in some legends, even founded them), who fought as an invincible warrior and lent strength to his followers. Pastoureau explores the long history of connection between bears and humans, from a Neanderthal burial site where a man’s body lies side-by-side with a brown bear, to cave paintings and remains that seem to indicate the presence of a bear cult in prehistoric times. He traces the origins of the word “bear” through time and geography and muses over the qualities emphasized by each. And he examines why the Church (beginning with Charlemagne, who authorized massacres of bears at least 3 times during his reign) felt it so necessary to topple the bear from his pedestal. This is wordy, but compelling reading.

•••

Sunday, Feb. 12, is the last day to come in and create some Readable Art; the library will provide supplies, just bring your imagination from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the Downtown Library.

And, if you’re a kid in need of a movie on Sunday, you’re in luck! Come to the Douglas Library at 3 p.m. for monthly Family Movie Afternoon – snacks provided.

If you’ve been following the monthly series designed to acquaint you with CBJ’s departments and what they do – it’s the library’s turn! Come to the Downtown Library Wednesday Feb. 15, from 6-8 p.m. for the Citizen’s Academy: 10 things you can do at the library to learn more about what we have to offer.

For information about upcoming programs, or to place a hold on any material, please visit www.juneau.org/library or call 586-5249.

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