Learn something new from the library's nonfiction

Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010

New nonfiction for adults includes a new addition to the unfortunately named but excellent Dummies series, "Computers for Seniors," as well as a teach-yourself bass guitar book (with an accompanying CD), and a new and very grim biography of J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan.

"Nurture Shock," by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

Compiling the latest research on child development into a coherent, practical and fascinating book seems a Herculean task, but Bronson and Merryman handle it with aplomb. Each chapter highlights studies that undercut mainstream thinking about an aspect of child-rearing. You may be surprised to learn that children learn early how to divide "us" from "them" and use the most visible markers available to do so: thus, raising a child in a racially diverse community but never discussing race directly results in kids who don't know how to talk about the divisions they perceive around them (but do act on them). Common thought about sibling rivalry takes a hit, too: while we used to think that children learned how to treat one another from their brothers and sisters, the reality seems to be that they learn instead from their friends and then bring what they've learned home with them. Chapters on teen rebellion, sleep patterns, and the power of praise offer more surprises and calls to action that parents and teachers won't want to miss (though Bronson admits that changing the ways he praises his own kids has been very difficult, though rewarding).

"Put it in Writing!" by Deborah Hutchison and Lynn Toler.

Written to help you avoid tension at family gatherings when your nephew doesn't mention paying back the money you loaned him last year, or the silent accusation of a friend when you return a borrowed car with a new scratch, this is a how-to book for creating agreements between family and friends. Learn how to ask for help and how to respond to requests, and how to handle the paperwork that will make both sides' intentions and obligations clear. The most common situations are covered in individual chapters, some of which are: money loans, roommates, caring for aging parents, adult children returning home, and shared parenting agreements. Solid information from reliable sources.

"Oishinbo," written by Tetsu Kariya, art by Akira Hanasaki.

This combination manga, cookbook, and primer of Japanese culture succeeds on all fronts. The premise is very Japanese: a newspaper decides to celebrate its 100th year of publication by creating the ultimate Japanese menu, and tension comes as father and son journalists who don't always see eye-to-eye are pitted against each other. Thanks to his father's gourmet tastes, Yamaoka understands that meticulous preparation leads to outstanding results, and leads his project coworkers to unimagined pinnacles of taste and refinement. Fish is shaved thin enough to see through, grains of rice are sorted by size for efficient cooking, and sea water is dried to make the perfect salt for the perfect fish. Oishinbo means Japanese cuisine, and readers will come away from this graphic novel with a fairly good understanding of what goes into a Japanese meal and what a difference scrupulous attention to detail can produce.

"When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish," by Martin Gardner.

This collection of columns, book reviews, and essays in which he takes to task political figures and paranormal researchers, examines "The Wizard of Oz" and Santa Claus, and presents us with new meditations on mathematics. Gardner, who wrote a column for Scientific American on mathematics for 25 years, is a clear and logical thinker who isn't afraid to express his own opinions. He ponders God's hand in the evolutionary process and the existence of one-poem poets (Langdon Smith's "Evolution" is the example), and leads readers to play with the Fibonacci sequence.

"Early Days in the Range of Light," by Daniel Arnold.

Arnold started climbing in his teens, with the conventional ropes and pitons, but gradually abandoned them to embrace a style closer to that of his climbing heroes of a century before. Here he invites readers along to the Sierra Nevada range as he retraces the footsteps of 15 climbers from the past, including John Muir, William Brewer, and Clarence King. Blending his own experiences with older journal entries and expedition reports, he writes satisfyingly of finding foot- and finger-holds in seemingly sheer cliffs and of stretching mind, body, and endurance to their limits for the rewards of view and history. His pack is light, his back is clad in wool, and he often leaves his sleeping bag and tent behind to "tilt the playing field back in the mountains' favor." My one regret about Arnold's approach is that it didn't often leave room for a camera (the few photos are black-and-white); otherwise, this is a remarkable book that will make readers yearn for the hills.

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

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