For over fifty years, Paul Theroux has set the gold standard for travel writing. Now in his seventies, he remains as curious and fearless as ever, as evidenced in his new book, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey. The book is an extraordinary chronicle of a hugely ambitious trip Theroux undertook, where he drove the entire length of the US-Mexican border, and then deeper into Oaxaca and Chiapas. Along the way, Theroux spends time with Zapotec mill workers, attends a Zapatista party meeting, and teaches a creative writing class in Mexico City. Through it all, Theroux lends his formidable powers of observation to these areas of Mexico rarely visited by its northern neighbors.
Brendan Dowling Author Archive
When wildlife expert Julie Zickefoose received a photo of a dehydrated blue jay, she had no idea the profound effect the bird, who Zickefoose named Jemima, would quickly have on her life. What followed was a herculean effort on the part of Zickefoose and her family, where they nursed Jemima back to health, released it back into the wild, and then strategized how to give Jemima medical attention when the bird came down with a dangerous disease. Zickefoose’s memoir about this human-avian relationship, Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, serves as both love letter to this resilient blue jay as well as a fascinating long term analysis of a species that rarely permits itself to be studied. Zickefoose, who might be familiar to readers from her frequent appearances on National Public Radio, is the author of numerous books, including Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest and The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. Of her latest book, Booklist stated, “Zickefoose has produced another hard-to-put-down winner” while Library Journal hailed it as “a heartwarming account for all interested in natural history, especially birds, animal behavior, and wildlife rehabilitation.”
In Return to the Reich, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Lichtblau tells the incredible story of Freddy Mayer, a Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager only to venture into Nazi-occupied Austria years later as an OSS agent. Mayer’s mission was to go undercover as a Nazi officer in Innsbrook, Austria, where he was able to gather intelligence that proved invaluable to the Allies in the waning days of World War II. Mayer’s exploits read like scenes from an Ian Fleming novel—from secretly skiing down an ice-covered mountain in the middle of the night to brazenly posing as a Nazi officer in an officer’s club—made all the more thrilling because it actually happened.
When Adrienne Brodeur was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her up from a sound sleep to confide that she had just kissed Ben, the best friend of Adrienne’s stepfather. That small moment would ultimately send shockwaves through the lives of both families, as Malabar and Ben embarked on a secret relationship and enlisted Adrienne’s assistance in hiding it from their spouses. In Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, Brodeur reflects on her complicated relationship with her mother with unflinching pose and bracing wit. What results is a compassionate examination of knotty family ties and an incisive portrayal of how one woman was able to end her family’s cycle of deception.
In Mamta Chaudhry’s stunning Haunting Paris, Sylvie, a musician mourning the recent death of her beloved Julien, listlessly prepares for Paris’ bicentennial as she opens her home to vacationing American academics. Yet Sylvie is hurled out of her routine when she chances upon a mysterious letter in Julien’s desk. This discovery sparks a thrilling investigation, as Sylvie plunges into Julien’s family’s heretofore unknown experiences during World War II. While Sylvie races through the streets of Paris, the ghost of Julien watches on, providing a panoramic view of the city’s tumultuous history and revealing the painful moments from his past he could not share during their life together.
In Jami Attenberg’s dynamic family saga All This Could Be Yours, amoral businessman Victor Tuchman lies dying in a hospital bed in New Orleans, leaving his family to reckon with how his monstrous behavior has shaped their lives. While his wife Barbra restlessly paces the halls of the hospital, alert to her Fitbit’s mounting stepcount, […]
Paul Tough on College Admissions, Social Mobility, and the Common Sense Solutions to Current Inequities in Higher Education
Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us builds on the extraordinary journalism of his earlier work, How Children Succeed, and dissects the current state of higher education. Tough dives into the the various components of the college world, introducing the reader to high-priced SAT tutors, admissions directors striving to achieve the perfect balance with incoming freshman classes, and College Board officials facing uncomfortable truths about who the SAT actually benefits. Yet the heart of the book belongs to the students Tough profiles, intelligent and resilient teenagers who courageously navigate the ever-changing college landscape. By combining rigorous research with compelling personal narratives, Tough crafts a work that is not only a status report on the changing world of higher education, but also a revelatory look at how social mobility works in America.
As I was reflecting on the message for this column, I was reminded of a recent anniversary celebration at a branch library in San Antonio that clearly illustrated how public libraries impact so many lives on a daily basis. To celebrate such a milestone—fifty years—members of the community were invited to join the program that kicked off the celebration. I know the experience in San Antonio reflects what other public libraries throughout the country are doing to advance civic engagement; but it served as a good segue to this column.
Once viewed as a bleeding-edge technology, virtual reality (VR) has seen explosive growth. A three-billion-dollar industry in 2017, virtual reality is currently forecast to surpass $50 billion in market value by 2023, driven by commercial VR headsets.1 Despite the increasing availability of VR technology, the cost can still present a barrier to access for many library patrons. Additionally, as with all emerging technologies, there can be a hesitancy to try something new. With this in mind, how can libraries work to introduce VR technology to our communities?
Sno-Isle Libraries (SIL) debuted Issues That Matter forums in 2010
as a series of community discussions and debates. These forums convene
residents from communities across the entire two-county library
service area (Snohomish County and Island County, WA) to engage in
important community conversations on relevant, high-profile topics.
Through these events, the library extends its neutral stance to enable
civil, open discussion on controversial topics with the guidance of
several panelists and a program moderator. Sessions are recorded
and streamed live on Facebook. The forums connect citizens in the
communities we serve with local experts, stakeholders, and community
Since its inception in summer 2016, the Civic Lab has offered information and thought-provoking activities to support dialogue and engagement on issues that affect our community. At its heart, the Civic Lab—a team of library staff members from a variety of departments, working in a variety of positions—is about connecting community members of all ages with the information and resources they need to first understand issues that they care about and that are impacting the community, and then, with that foundation of understanding based on reputable information, make up their own minds about how they feel about an issue, and whether and how they want to act as a result.
The Hillsboro (OR) Public Library (HPL) has spent the past five years rebranding itself as a community center, a welcoming place for all. As inspired by HPL’s new mission statement (For Everyone, Para Todos), the staff have embraced and implemented a service model in which the library is a place where the entire community gathers, connects, and explores. As part of this new service model, we strive to create relationships with, and within, our community, as well as to provide an environment where our patrons may have significant interactions and experiences with HPL staff and with each other. And what better way to have a significant experience in one’s life than to take the new citizen’s oath of allegiance at the public library!
“You Don’t Know How Unique Your Own Mother is Until You’re Out in the World” — Bridgett M. Davis on Her Heartwarming Memoir
In The World According to Frannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, Bridgett M. Davis traces the extraordinary life of her mother, a glamorous businesswoman who ran a thriving Numbers enterprise in Detroit for over thirty years. Frannie Davis arrived in Detroit in 1958 as a young mother with little prospects to support a growing family. She quickly transformed a $100 loan from her brother into a prosperous Numbers venture, serving as a de facto banker, bookie, and counselor for her neighborhood. With luminous prose, Davis delves into her mother’s life, providing an insider’s look at the Numbers world and a sweeping look at Detroit’s evolving landscape in the sixties and seventies.
Maureen Stanton probes her dark teenage years with compassion and insight in her new memoir, Body Leaping Backwards: Memoir of A Delinquent Girlhood. Stanton grew up in a boisterous family in 1970s Walpole, Massachusetts, a working-class community where the local prison loomed large in each citizen’s life. Yet when her parents divorce, Maureen and her family find themselves reeling not only from the seismic shifts in their personal lives, but from the political and cultural changes in the country as well. Maureen’s mother, a devout woman who puts herself through college as a single mother, soon finds herself resorting to shoplifting in order to put food on the table. Maureen, meanwhile, experiments with angel dust and dabbles in delinquency, skipping school and breaking into nearby homes. Stanton combines rigorous historical research with acute perception, crafting a memoir that takes a clear-eyed look at adolescence.
Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue spins an irresistible premise— what if the son of the U.S. President fell in love with the Prince of Wales— into one of the summer’s most pleasurable reads. Alex Claremont-Davis breezes through life as the son of the United States’ first female President, but he’s brought up short by a contentious relationship with the straight-laced Prince Henry. After a disastrous run-in involving a Royal wedding cake, both men must pose as friends in order to rehabilitate their images. This false friendship soon uncovers very real feelings, and the two men unexpectedly find themselves falling in love. What follows is equal parts swoony romance and adept political comedy that has delighted critics and readers alike.