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In the Stacks: Nonfiction for adults

Posted: April 17, 2014 - 12:03am

New nonfiction books for adult readers include books on woodworking (“Woodworking from the Scrap Pile,” by Derek Jones), ideas for helping young children with autism (“Essential First Steps for Parents of Children with Autism,” by Lara Demolino and Sandra Harris), and a globe-hopping book about railroads and their history and mystique (“Train,” by Tom Zoellner) in addition to the titles below.

“Handmade for the Garden,” by Susan Guagliumi.

Are you looking for ways to spice up your yard and garden this year? Now’s the time to start thinking about it — if you need some ideas to get inspire you, take a look here. Full-color photos show the finished products while line drawings make it easy to follow the directions. There are useful things to make, like dibbles for spacing seeds, trellises and supports, and ideas for a variety of plant markers. And there are decorative ideas for spicing things up: Guagliumi gives instructions for working with hypertufa and cement and decorating with mosaics to make amazing custom planters to fit your style and space. And she even shows how to reuse old hoses to make pots (some self-watering) and welcome mats.

“The Gardener of Versailles,” by Alain Baraton.

Baraton became a well-known figure in France after a storm devastated nearly all of the 2100 acres of historical gardens in his care, and he uses this event as a launching point for his life’s story. He writes about the agony of seeing so much damage done, the well-wishing public who donated generously for the restoration, and the mourning of the gardens’ regulars, denied entry to their refuge and sanctuary for months as the gardens were reconstructed. Baraton writes beautifully whether he’s describing the gardens or the people within them. His own early life story is quietly told: as a young man without any great talent or ambition, he was shunted off to horticultural school to be miserable for three years before becoming a ticket-taker at the gates of Versailles, where the fire for gardening was ignited. For the past 27 years, Versailles has been his home, and since 1982 he has been its chief gardener. The one thing lacking in this lively book are photos.

“Smart Cities,” by Anthony M. Townsend.

Technology has been instrumental in creating human societies from our very beginnings, and is rapidly becoming more complex, helpful, and pervasive. Townsend looks back at the broad sweep of history and the changes the telegraph, television, and telephone have made in the ways communities could be structured, and then projects forward. His proposals for the future aren’t one-size-fits-all, nor are they strictly top-down. He expects that technology will organically spread through cities, and gives examples of citizen-scientists, (who have installed sewer sensors to alert residents of overflow conditions) and city planners (who have created infrastructures that allow single-card access for everything from bike rentals to wireless access). Townsend’s hope in writing this intriguing book is to encourage everyone from individuals to civic leaders to businesses to work together to create integrated cities that work for everyone.

“Servants,” by Lucy Lethbridge.

“Downton Abbey”’s many avid viewers may find this chatty exploration of the relationships between servants and their masters an interesting expansion to the show. Focusing on Britain from the 1800s to today, Lethbridge points out that in the early years, everyone except the very poorest had at least one servant, even if it was only a young girl hired to watch the baby, and having a servant wasn’t just a means to get work done, but also a status symbol. But the very richest lived in a manner nearly unimaginable to us today: as many as 200 servants were required to maintain a house party of fifty guests in one lavish household. Some estates formed what amounted to mobile serfdoms, affording some upward mobility and a sort of social network. But no matter whether a servant was hired into a harsh or friendly household, the work was unstintingly hard, and even maids were expected to be strong enough to haul buckets of hot bath water up stairs and yet subsist on meager rations. After World War I, British society changed and the large webs of servants shrank. Lively and informative, this is not a narrative, but more of a kaleidoscope of tidbits and facts.

“Similes Dictionary,” by Elyse Sommer.

In the words of Turgenev, a joyous feeling shot up, like the grass in spring, when I first laid eyes on this delightful book. For a word-lover, there are few things more engrossing than a thesaurus, but I’ve found one: this is like a thesaurus on steroids, complete with an index of authors so it can double as a book of quotations. Collected with writers and word lovers in mind, puzzle enthusiasts and public speakers may also find it useful for adding zest to their words. Arranged alphabetically by themes, you can browse for just the right words to describe things.

•••

The Teen Manga Club is meeting at the Zach Gordon Youth Center at 5 p.m. Friday, April 18.

The Mendenhall Valley Library will be closed on Sunday, April 20, for Easter. All other public libraries will be open.

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

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