Short Stories: Tiny Windows into Other Worlds

During this pandemic, I’ve heard from so many people – normally avid readers of long novels – that they are having trouble focusing on full-length books. I, too, have found myself in the same boat. Thank goodness for short stories!  Sometimes I forget about these gems, but quite a few book groups (including two that I belong to) have been re-discovering these little powerhouses. As Neil Gaiman says, “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” 

Short stories are also a great way to introduce yourself to unfamiliar authors or genres. For example, I’ve been intrigued by the growing number of Chinese science fiction authors whose works are being translated into English, but I didn’t know where to start. Then I saw the book Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation and had to check it out. The stories cover quite a gamut of moods and topics, ranging from a melancholic tale about artificial intelligence set in the near future to a time travel story set in an alternate 10th century China. Each story is prefaced by a brief description of the author’s life and work, and further context is provided by several essays about Chinese science fiction past and present. 

Continue reading “Short Stories: Tiny Windows into Other Worlds”

#BookBingoNW2019: Science

Looking for something to fill in your Book Bingo “Science” square?  Something that will stretch your brain? How about a fascinating page-turner that somehow makes complex topics easy to grasp? Here are some titles that bear no resemblance to a dusty chemistry textbook:

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford
The first complete sequencing of the human genome in 2003 (as part of The Human Genome Project) opened the floodgates to voluminous scientific data which are changing our understanding of the human species. Rutherford, a British geneticist and science writer, explains how recent genetic research upends much of what we thought we knew about evolution, migration, race and more. He writes in an engaging and at times humorous style. According to the New York Times Book Review, this book is “Nothing less than a tour de force–a heady amalgam of science, history, a little bit of anthropology and plenty of nuanced, captivating storytelling.” Continue reading “#BookBingoNW2019: Science”

#BookBingoNW2018: History — and historical fiction

Still trying to fill that “history” square on your Book Bingo card?  If you are like me, you learn a lot of your history from historical fiction. So the historical details and events that provide such a rich background for these novels had better be accurate!

Following are some of my favorite titles that incorporate meticulously researched history into their compelling stories:

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
This novel features a grim plot (a young woman faces a series of calamities following her father’s death), but I was won over by the fascinating setting of 17th century Persia, and its flourishing community of carpet-weavers. Continue reading “#BookBingoNW2018: History — and historical fiction”

#BookBingoNW2018: History

Looking for something to fill in that “history” box on your Summer Book Bingo card?  Fortunately, the days of dry history tomes are, well, history.  There are currently lots of great authors who are writing fascinating nonfiction history books that have the page-turning quality of a good story.

Book cover for Ivory VikingsHere are some of my favorites:

Nancy Marie Brown – Brown has written several intriguing books about medieval Viking history, with an emphasis on the overlooked stories of women.

Vine Deloria Jr. ­– Deloria was a noted Native American historian whose writing and activism helped the American Indian Movement gain momentum in the 1960s and 1970s.  His book Indians of the Pacific Northwest, originally published in 1977 and recently reissued, is still considered a definitive account of Native history in the Northwest.  Continue reading “#BookBingoNW2018: History”

Historic Expeditions

I love reading travel accounts from bygone eras, when so much of the world was still unknown and could be accessed only by foot, horse or boat. Here are some fascinating accounts of historic journeys:

The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester
Click to view The Fourth Part of the World in the SPL catalogThe Waldseemüller world map of 1507 is the 1st that shows the New World as a distinct entity called America, named after Columbus’s contemporary, Amerigo Vespucci, who sailed to South America.  Although this book centers around that spectacular map (of which the only remaining copy is on display at the Library of Congress – go see it if you are ever in D.C.!), it is far more wide-ranging, touching on some of the many expeditions preceding Columbus’s era, from ancient times up to Marco Polo’s famous and disputable journeys. Continue reading “Historic Expeditions”