New nonfiction includes 'Mortal Syntax'

Posted: Friday, October 03, 2008

Here's a taste of some of the new nonfiction at the Juneau Public Libraries.

"One to Nine," by Andrew Hodges. Math-minded readers eager to let their minds relax and free-associate a bit may be the biggest audience for this intriguing and playful book about the numbers from one to nine, with a brief digression into zero. Hodges dances with quantum mechanics with two and three, reels through squares and roots with four, and plays with computers when the number eight comes up. Grab a pencil, some paper, and maybe a calculator, too - there are think-alongs in each chapter and a section of tantalizing puzzles.

"The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments," by George Johnson. How do you distill centuries of science experiments down into one small, fascinating volume? Johnson discards theorists such as Archimedes, Thales and Pythagoras out of hand: Their genius lay not in "controlled interrogation of nature," but in extrapolation. Instead, he looks for those persistent souls whose curiosity compelled them to poke, prod and, occasionally, electrify their subjects until their questions were answered. In this way, Lavoisier's experiments with air and its constituents, Pavlov and his dogs, and Milliken's electrons all appear here. All quibbling about who else could have been included aside, this is a somewhat simplified, but still accurate and thoughtful, introduction to some of the scientists whose careful experiments have been fundamental to building our understanding of the universe.

"A Pocketful of History," by Jom Noles. Go find a Georgia quarter and compare it to a map of the state: See anything wrong? Yep, the quarter is missing a whole county. Some of Wisconsin's quarters (with a flaw resembling an extra leaf) are worth much more than face value. And Californians submitted over 8,000 designs for their quarter - no wonder the John Muir coin is still controversial. With short chapters arranged in order of release date, this book gives a little history about each state, the reasons behind the choice of design, and interesting tidbits of information.

"Falcon Fever," by Tim Gallagher. By the time he was a teenager, Gallagher's early love for animals had narrowed its focus to raising, training and flying raptors. His first bird, a kestrel he named Rowdy, was sabotaged by his father, but Gallagher was hooked and, through friends, relished the opportunity to train a variety of hawks, merlins, and falcons. Around the same time, he discovered Frederick II, the 13th century Holy Roman Emperor, and more importantly, avid falconer (under pressure to surrender to the Mongols, he replied that he would surrender only if he could become Khan Batu's falconer). Gallagher devoured Frederick's book on falconry, and his life story, and the year he turned 55 (the age Frederick was when he died), Gallagher went on a pilgrimage of sorts, dedicating himself to falconry and retracing Frederick's steps through Italy.

"Mortal Syntax," by June Casagrande. Casagrande follows up her first book ("Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies") with this slim, delightful volume of 101 incorrect points of grammar. A comic at heart, Casagrande interweaves observations about the Rose Bowl parade with the difference between "pretext" and "pretense," and points out that, no matter how many "Simpsons" reruns you watch, you're never watching them continuously. Short, funny chapters with memorable examples will help readers keep a variety of irritating, incorrect, and awkward phrases out of their repertoires.

"Keep it Real," edited by Lee Gutkind. Much of the nonfiction published today is "creative non-fiction" - that is, the writer has injected him or herself into the events and is writing from a definite point of view. Here's a guide to help such writers keep themselves focused on the facts even as they are crafting a narrative. With chapters on sources, composite characters, libel and much more, this will keep astute writers out of trouble while they immerse themselves in their stories.


There will be a Spanish-language storytime for kids with guest storyteller Maria Offer at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Mendenhall Valley library.

Preschool Family Night will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 7, at the downtown library. This month's theme is safety, and the evening will feature a light supper, movie, storytime with guest reader officer Hatch from the Juneau Police Department and fingerprint art.

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