Nonfiction for the new year

Posted: Friday, January 05, 2007

Here's a little new nonfiction to ring in the new year.

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"A Pickpocket's Tale," by Timothy Gilfoyle. As a career criminal and excellent pickpocket whose many stays in prison never turned him to an honest life, George Appo was a tabloid celebrity in New York in the 1800s. Almost from the beginning, his life was rough: by the time he was 3, his mother was dead and his father was in prison for murder. Taken in by another family, he became a newsboy and an expert pickpocket, and spent his first year in prison at the age of 14. And yet, he was loyal and honorable, preferred wit and guile to violence, was generous with what money he had and literate enough to write his autobiography. But this book isn't just about Appo, it brings readers into the underworld of New York City during the Gilded Age, where most things were negotiable and it could be hard to tell who was in power.

"Kamikaze Diaries," by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney. By collecting and translating journals and correspondence from many of the young Japanese university students who were drafted into suicide missions during World War II, Ohnuki-Tierney destroys the Western stereotype of the kamikaze pilot. The majority of the students were the cream of the crop, intellectually speaking, and their eloquent writings show their classical education. Far from the caricature of the blindly patriotic pilot that most Westerners imagine kamikaze to be, the young men's attitudes vary from the defiant to the resigned. Readers will gain a whole new perspective on Japanese culture.

"Strange and Dangerous Dreams," by Geoff Powter. The author groups his collection of adventurers into "the burdened, the bent, and the lost," and goes on to back up his assertions with the aid of previously unpublished information about Meriwether Lewis, John Franklin, Jean Batten, and others. Adventuring requires enormous self-discipline and drive, and the ten men and one woman profiled here all had those qualities and more. But their adventures in mountaineering, cross-country traverses, journeys to find the Northwest Passage, or trying to best one's own transatlantic solo flight time, all had an unhealthy edge to them that Powter, a psychologist and climber himself, characterizes as crossing the line into madness.

"The Science of Parenting," by Margot Sunderland. Not the dry tome the title suggests: instead, this book offers up a useful blending of child-rearing advice and the scientific evidence behind it. How we raise our children can vary depending on our personalities and theirs, but there are constants that enable children's brains to develop optimally. With chapters on causes and effects of prolonged crying, developing sleep routines, recognizing when bad behavior means overload instead of willful acting out, and helping children develop social intelligence and the capacity for love, this is a loving and thoughtful approach to parent-child relationships. The many photos (with informative captions) and sidebars make this unintimidating and the extensive index makes it easy to find your important issues.

"Butterflies of the World," photographs by Gilles Martin, text by Myriam Baran. As readers of this column know, I'm a big fan of nature books that help me see things that don't normally hold still long enough for close examination, and this book is extraordinary. It covers moths as well as butterflies, with amazing full-color photos of their life cycles: close-ups of hatching caterpillars, a view through a chrysalis of a developing butterfly, and much more. Chapters deal with the basics, such as defenses, eating habits, and mating, and there is an entire section on human-lepidoptera interactions, including silk, food, and pollution.

If you are between the ages of 12-18 and are interested in having a say in what the Public Libraries buy and do for your age group, come to our first Teen Advisory Board meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the downtown library. The monthly Gaming Night will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 12 at the downtown library. Call Amelia at 586-5303 or go to our Web site for more information about either event.

As always, placing a hold on our material is easy: Call the Juneau Public Library at 586-5249, or, if you have Internet access, your library card and a PIN, you may place your own holds by going to our Web site,, and looking at our catalog or at the In the Stacks column on our site. The columns are linked to the catalog: simply click on the title you want, and you will be ready to place a hold.

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