Posts from the ‘Adult Nonfiction’ Category

The Last Great Walk

Last Great WalkTitle: The Last Great Walk: The True Story of a 1909 Walk From New York to San Francisco, and Why It Matters Today
Author: Wayne Curtis
ISBN: 9781609613723
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Rodale Inc., c2014.

I first came across a mention of Edward Payson Weston about twenty years ago. […] I happened upon a brief wire service story about a man’s cross-country journey on foot in 1909. I skimmed enough to get the gist — a seventy-year-old man was walking about forty miles a day for a hundred days en route from New York to San Francisco. Good for him, I thought, and then I scrolled ahead in search of the page I needed.
A few minutes later, I had another thought: Wait . . . what? Forty miles a day? A hundred days in a row? At seventy years old? (Introduction, xii)

Wayne Curtis probably describes his book best when he writes his introduction:

Part of my goal in this book is to explore, revive, and expand on the message that Weston was intent on publicizing — advocacy for the long walk, once common and now rare. As such, this book is only in part about a single man and his obsession, and just as much about mobility, about how we choose to get around and how that impacts the health of our bodies and our minds. Above all, it’s about what we lost when humans, starting roughly a century ago, opted to stop using their legs to get from here to there and instead chose to regularly climb into a metal box harnessed to a series of small explosions. Some of what happened in the intervening century you might easily guess, but much of it you might not. Walking is more complexly knitted into our bodies and minds than you might think. How we move can determine our relationship to the land and people around us and even, to some degree, how we understand ourselves.
Not walking, I believe, is one of the most radical things we’ve ever decided to do. Here’s why. (Introduction, xviii)

To say that Curtis has an agenda is an understatement. We seem glimpses of Weston’s walk framed by free-ranging commentary involving the evolution of humans (both physical and mental), urban planning, technology, pedestrian patterns, and societal statistics such as number of hours spent watching television and walkability ratings for neighborhoods. But people who pick up this book are more than likely looking for just this sort of justification for walking and slowing down, assuming an almost existentialist philosophy towards the task. Just as people who dislike witchcraft aren’t going to read Harry Potter, people who dislike walking aren’t going to read this book.

However, it’s also the sort of book that may provoke thoughtful discourse between like-minded individuals, compiling fodder for future conversations. For instance, I’ve had a long personal belief about how long I’m willing to drive to get to a destination. Turns out this may be influenced by prehistoric habits. Curtis presents research by Cesare Marchetti that proposes humans have been willing to spend about an hour in unsheltered transit before retreating from the threat of being exposed to possible threats like enemies and the elements, and that constant has maintained itself, simply expanding as we are able to travel faster and farther in the same amount of time. The 2009 US Census Bureau data supports this philosophy, reporting the mean one-way commute is about 25 minutes (so an hour both ways). A Gallup poll confirms this by reporting the average American spends 190 hours a year (about 30 minutes a day) commuting. Although, Curtis also quotes an unnamed study that hours in delayed in traffic has increased from seven hours annually in 1982 to twenty-six hours in 2001. (131-133, 53)

The book is filled with those type of statistics that you’ll kick yourself for never fully remembering, but always remember the impact that they allude to. A few more to whet your curiosity:

  • Melvin Webber “noted that one’s perception of what constitutes a mile varies depending on the speed of travel. So it turns out it’s not just the actual exertion of walking a mile that dissuades many from taking to foot, but that they have also developed the belief that a given trip is far longer than it actually is.” (drivers thought distances were twice as much as what they actually were, whereas walkers and bikers were much more accurate) (109)
  • “In 1969, about half of all schoolkids still walked to school; 41 percent of all students lived within a mile of their school, and 89 percent of these students walked. […] Today, only 13 percent of America’s children walk to school.” (54)
  • “According to a 2009 Nielsen survey, the average American watches about 151 hours of television a month, or about 5 hours every day.” (52) “after the age of twenty-five, every hour of watching television reduced life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.” (54-55)
  • “While different studies arrive at moderately different conclusions via various routes, the recent research of dozens of scientists more often than not converges at a single intersection. And that consistently suggests that if you exercise, your brain will be fitter than if you don’t.” (97)
  • The same can also be said towards physical health, as skimming over study results yields benefits by reducing the risk of coronary disease, stroke, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, gallstones prevention, immune dysfunction, adult-onset asthma, arthritis, and osteoporosis, and cancer. (68-69)

For a book covering an actual walk, I was more intrigued by the above mentioned statistics and studies and the historical, psychological, and physical evolution brought about by walking than I was about Weston’s vague (and more than likely biases) reports regarding weather, landscape, reception, and conditions in general. I was somewhat surprised that there were no images. No maps of Weston’s route, which is described with varying degrees of precision and details, no pictures of Weston, and no charts to support the multitude of statistics presented in the pages. For all of that (minus the charts), you’ll have to visit the website. Upon arrival, you receive an interactive Google Map with individual points plotted based on newspaper articles. Sources are broken down by chapter on the website. While I understand he was making the book more approachable for the general public, I wish footnotes and a full source notes had been included in the printed copy, so as to better guide further research into various quoted statistics. There seems to be an influx in interest in walking and voluntary isolation (Wild, Into the Wild, Castaway, to name a few) and this book supplements all those introspective self-reflections with science. It’s a worthwhile, thought-provoking read for meandering minds and bodies.

Friday Feature Scribbling Women Blog Tour

I’m part of my first blog tour!

The publisher, Tundra Books, is running a huge giveaway contest during the blog tour!
The prize: A collection of Marthe Jocelyn books – for the very young to young adults!
All you have to do is follow the blog tour and leave a comment on any of the participating blogs, but it must be on their “Scribbling Women” blog tour posts. So go visit their posts!
Details: Here’s the best part, you can leave a comment on ALL of the blogs and that will count as 31 entries! Spamming doesn’t count, so one thoughtful comment per blog please.
Dates: Contest starts on Monday, March 28, 2011 and closes on Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 11:49pm EST. One winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday, April 11, 2011 to receive the prize.

Title: Scribbling Women: True Tales From Astonishing Lives
Author: Marthe Jocelyn
ISBN: 9780887769528
Pages: 198 pages
Publisher/Date: Tundra Books, c2011

“A quick search in the library and on the Internet told me there were not dozens, but thousands of women who had recorded their lives–joyful, challenging, illuminating, wearisome, and passionate–on countless pages, throughout history and around the world. […]
Most of ‘my’ women would be surprised to find themselves inside a book. They might not be surprised, however, to know that the title began as a sneer, made by a famous male writer named Nathaniel Hawthorne in a letter to his publisher in 1855, where he complained about what he considered the irritating fad of ‘scribbling women.’
Everyone has trials and sorrows, and moments of boredom or immense delight. But these scribbling women wrote it down, passed it along, told us they were here, and took the time to illuminate their worlds.” (x)

Marthe Jocelyn features eleven relatively unknown women — with one notable exception — who recorded their lives in journals, newspapers, and letters. Through these slivers of every day occurrences, readers are privy to the experiences that in many cases are only recorded in the pages these women wrote. If these pages hadn’t survived, then no one would know about the Chinese court over one thousand years ago, the life on a whaling vessel in the early 1800s, or the failed expedition to the Arctic in the 1920s where the only survivor was a Eskimo woman.

It’s hard to pinpoint what is the most impressive about the lives of these women; the fact that all these are true stories and these women really did the things they claimed, or that accounts of their lives still exist. Jocelyn is right when, in her introduction, she questions whether these types of accounts will continue in the digital age, where so little is printed. The only woman with what I consider a recognizable name was Nellie Bly, who some readers might already know of from her undercover reports that resulted in better standards of care for the mentally insane. But upon reading, I realized that I’d also heard of Harriet Ann Jacobs, a run-away slave of who hid herself for years before finally being able to reunite with her children and Doris Garimara who wrote Rabbit-Proof Fence about her Aboriginal mother’s experience in keeping her heritage alive amongst the white colonists.

However interesting these stories are, they are all just a little weak in my opinion, probably because of the lack of background information available on quite a few of these women. In some instances, these written records are the only thing remaining that these women actually existed. Additional information is nearly impossible to come by. Jocelyn does a good job in connecting the stories together, and weaving the women’s original words into her narration. But I really didn’t feel the fascination that Mary Kingsley must have felt when she spent a night with cannibals, possibly because of this contextual narration. I guess you can’t have the urgency when reflecting on past events, but I thought I would find the stories more gripping and that wasn’t the case.

The title originally gave me the impression of Louisa May Alcott’s character Jo in Little Women, scribbling away in her alcove with that jaunty little hat of hers. And that’s obviously the wrong impression, because the women in these books did everything but lock themselves in an attic. They saw the world in every way possible, and their stories live on through their writings.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book free from the publisher.

Black Belt Librarians

Title: Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarians Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace
Author: Warren Davis Graham, Jr.
ISBN: 1599480271
Pages: 57 pages
Publisher/Date: Pure Heart Press, c2006.

*Horrible cover photo, I know, but I couldn’t find anything bigger or clearer.

“The whole idea, and my fervent wish in producing this text, is to empower you to be able to respond to a situation rather than simply react. Animals react, people should respond. However, since we humans are creatures of emotion and not logic, we often do something and then think about it rather than the opposite. I’m going to show you a way to put a plan of action in place, then you can take the first step in controlling your environment.
You are a professional librarian. You go the extra mile for the patrons and want them to get the information they are seeking. In turn, you only ask that they treat you in a civil manner and not abuse you. I think that is quite fair enough.” (xii-xiii)

Warren Graham is also known as the Black Belt Librarian, a little erroneously in my opinion because as far as I can tell he’s never possessed an MLIS or worked as a librarian. He is however a security expert, and worked as such in a library setting for over twenty years. Is quite obvious that he knows what he’s talking about, and his book and presentations come highly recommended by everyone I’ve questioned, although it seems like everyone booked a presentation by him at the same time.

Graham has a no-nonsense, straightforward writing style. Rather than fill this wonderfully brief book — it’s so short you can read it on your lunch hour — with platitudes like quite a few management books, Graham provides real-world examples of what you can do, starting tomorrow, to improve your interactions with patrons and make your library safer.

For instance, chapter three is a staggering five pages and encourages librarians to be aware of their own attitude, approach, and analysis before working with the public. Essentially, check your own attitude at the door, use the best approach towards a patron that will “de-escalate the situation instead of making it worse”, and “ask, both of yourself and your staff, what tactics worked and which ones failed. What could you have done differently to affect the outcome?” (21)

He also describes four emotional states that patrons might exhibit; anxiety, belligerence, out of control, and calm. Graham states that “I could try and impress you with fancier terms or a longer list, but there is no need, it’s not my style and I am here to help you in the real world.” That’s how his entire book is, and in this chapter specifically he gives some real world examples of phrases and actions you can use immediately.

I know at my library, we’ve really put an effort recently into implementing his ideas in chapter four about saying “No”, because we’ve had some backlash with that word from patrons. One saying in particular that really seems to defuse the situation is his suggestion to preface corrections with “I know you didn’t know, but . . .” or “I know there isn’t a (or you didn’t see the) sign, but . . .”, and people seem to be responding to that. And he’s right when he tells readers to “Be prepared to be accused of some type of prejudice.” (26) It just comes with the territory and job description.

Another chapter that is probably invaluable for libraries is chapter six, titled “Ten Day-to-Day Staples of Security”. I think these are a must have inclusion in any library policy. While some of them will probably be met with some initial grumbling (for instance: “Staff areas should be locked at all times”) it would improve safety for everyone who works there. Personally, my initial reaction was to sigh softly in frustration at the thought of unlocking and re-locking the staff doors every time I race back there for something. Plus, it would substantially increase the number of keys that need to be handed out and kept track of, but I can understand and appreciate his reasoning from a security standpoint.

The final thing that Graham provides libraries is a simple security log. I like his log idea so much better than a computer database, which requires some training and knowledge and training in order to consult and edit. Using a computerized Excel or other spreadsheet, it would make it easy to sort and search by date, name, department, or other information. It’s stressed in the book to maintain records of your security logs, and I couldn’t agree more.

Everyone I’ve talked to has encouraged me to see Warren Graham’s presentation. In lieu of this opportunity, I encourage librarians to read his book. He keeps his vignettes to a minimum, which is also refreshing because you don’t have to weed through the stories to get the facts. His no-nonsense style tells you what you need to know and how to use it, without over analysis of the psychology of patrons or their reasons or motives. Because, in reality, do we really care why they’re acting the way they are, so long as they leave the library before they cause any serious damage?

The Booktalker’s Bible

Title: The Booktalker’s Bible: How to Talk About the Books You Love to Any Audience
Author: Chapple Langemack
ISBN: 1563089440
Pages: 199 pages
Publisher/Date: Libraries Unlimited, c2003.

I’ll give you that I’m biased in a big way, but I think a better question is why not booktalk? If you are trying to generate enthusiasm for books and reading, then booktalking is a grand way to do it. Booktalking creates a personal connection with any audience, and it needs no specialized equipment. You can adapt and change a booktalk at a moment’s notice; the only cost is your time and preparation–nearly anyone can do it. What’s not to like? (1)

Chapple Langemack seems very knowledgable about the subject, and she presents her tips in a personable and chatty tone, setting readers at ease with the prospects of book talking. She covers everything from drafting a booktalk to the physical and psychological aspects of presenting. The lengthy apendixes in the back list resources for more information, along with a complete collection of the books she mentioned and used as examples. Whole lists could be culled from the bullet points that she makes throughout the various chapters. For instance, in the chapter “Booktalking to Children and Teens,” she suggests librarians:

  • Know your audience inside and out.
  • Expect the unexpected. (and be prepared for it)
  • Tips on choosing fiction, nonfiction, prizewinners (even the ones you don’t like), classics, poetry and graphic novels. (and if all else fails, gross them out). These tips come complete with bibliographies in most cases.
  • Tips on using props, costumes, games, music, and recordings.

She then has a seperate chapter specifically designed for school visits. A great suggestion is to get to know your school media specialist, even if it’s just stopping in for a few minutes ever month.

Adult librarians will also find a multitude of information, for booktalking to adults at service organizations and senior citizen homes, among other situations. What all librarians can utilize is the six golden rules of booktalking:

  1. Read the book. “The whole point of booktalking is to share the enthusiasm you feel for a book with others. You can’t have enthusiasm for a book you haven’t read.” (27)
  2. Like the books you booktalk. “If your audience didn’t want your personal recommendations, they could stay home and read the New York Times Book Review.” (28)
  3. Know your audience. “Know about your audience in the general terms of the needs of its particular age or developmental group. Know your audience in the specifics of age, gender, interests, and background.” (29)
  4. Booktalk. “I don’t want you to review the book or reprise the book or rehash the book. [. . .] Booktalking is not telling the whole plot of the book, neither is it tendering a review of the book.” (29)
  5. Don’t Tell the Ending! “Don’t put your audience in the position of having to stick their fingers in their ears and hum. [. . .] Just know that severe karmic penalties are involved if you break this rule.” (30)
  6. Leave a list. “Put the titles and the authors and a brief sentence identifying the book. […] Also include your name, library or agency, and contact information.” (30)

Even though I’m sure there are more books, and more recent books out there, (some of her sources are from the 1990s since the book was written seven years ago), consider taking a look at this one.

This post is in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Join Cindy and Lynn over at Bookends for their round-up of all the participants for Nonfiction Mondays.

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