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In the Stacks: New nonfiction

Posted: November 21, 2013 - 1:00am

New nonfiction at the public libraries includes a book by the good people of Lonely Planet that highlights skills you can learn on vacation (“Cooks, Clowns, and Cowboys”), a how-to book by Lee Mothes that will teach you to build a backyard clubhouse (“Keep Out!”), and the fascinating article-turned-book which was the basis for James Agee’s 1939 classic “Now Let Us Praise Famous Men” (“Cotton Tenants”).

“One Day in December,” by Nancy Stout.

Celia Sánchez’s name is virtually unknown in the United States, but she was as involved as Che Guevara and the Castro brothers in the revolution that created modern Cuba. With the help of family and friends (and sanctioned by Fidel Castro), Stout has created an intimate portrait of an intelligent and driven woman. Fiercely independent and almost genetically predisposed against injustice, Sanchez was involved in the 26th of July Movement (organizing the landing of the yacht Granma among other things), and went on to fight in the mountains. After the Revolution, she was instrumental in creating the Revolution’s official archives as well as in developing literacy and recreational programs for all, and devising the campaign that made Cohiba cigars must-have items around the world. She and Castro remained friends until her death in 1980, and though much has been published in Cuba, this is nearly the only English-language text.

“Letterscapes,” by Anna Saccani.

Humans are wired to see patterns in the world around us: troll faces in treetrunks, cats in shadowy couch corners, and letters and numbers in unexpected places. But in this book, the letters and numbers are really there: here, readers will find examples of typography as art piece, decoration, announcement, memorial, and more. There is a gateway in the shapes of the letter M, a giant Braille installation of a blind poet’s poem, the façade of the New York Times building, and a poem wired into the structure of an antennae that invites viewers to lie down on the grass to decipher it. Accompanying each photo series is information about its reason for being, means of construction, and commentary, often by the creator. Included maps will help prospective viewers find installations for face-to-face viewing.

“Pen & Ink Witchcraft,” by Colin G. Calloway.

Calloway, eminent Native American History scholar, has written about the long history of formal treaties between the various North American Indian tribes and the incoming European traders and colonizers. Protocols for trading between the many Native tribes were well-established, and to an extent, the newcomers fit themselves into that system. But they also had their own ideas about how to conduct agreements, and over time, the nature, ritual, and content of the exchange changed. By the time the United States Government was established, the Natives were still working to hold their own in each treaty, but the balance of power had shifted. Through an examination of the drama and politics behind the major treaties drawn up between 1768-1865, Calloway gives readers an inside view of the changes.

“Frankenstein’s Cat,” by Emily Anthes.

Cloned sheep, goats who give medicinal milk, a dolphin with a prosthetic tail, and other animals that would never have arisen (or survived) without human intervention are the highlights in this delightful book. Anthes writes for the lay reader, balancing “gee whiz” facts (candy-colored glo-fish! Remote controlled cockroaches!) with the science it took to create these wonders. There is very little discussion of the moral and ethical issues this kind of experimentation raises, which would seem to have been obligatory these days, also, less talk than I would have expected about the potential uses for the research being done, nevertheless, this is a good introduction to the increasing influence we have over the animal world.

“Yokohama Yankee,” by Leslie Helm.

Though his family has lived in Japan ever since the Japanese opened the country up to foreign traders in 1854, he grew up in Japan and is, in fact, part-Japanese, Helm has never felt Japanese, nor been accepted as such. In this book, he examines his family’s roots in one of the most racially homogenous countries in the world. Helm delves into his great-grandfather’s founding of the Helm Brothers Company and follows the stories of the first generation of the gaijin Helm family through to his father’s and now his own life. Touching on cultural attitudes towards racism, adoption, acceptance, identity, and loyalty, this is a masterful and engrossing biography of a family.

•••

Because of Thanksgiving, this month’s TEDx talk on Altruism will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Downtown Library.

All public libraries will be closed on Thursday, Nov. 28th, for Thanksgiving, and on Friday, Nov. 29th. Regular hours resume on Saturday, Nov. 30.

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

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