Librarian's Pick

Here's what our librarians are reading lately.

Librarian’s Pick: Project Hail Mary – Andy Weir

Hail Mary by Andy Weir “No author is better than Andy Weir at taking a concept that could be boring on paper (molecular biology) and turning it into a hilarious, thrilling, engrossing piece of accessible hard sci-fi. Thankfully, Project Hail Mary is another intense space puzzle for science nerds and mainstream thrill-seekers alike. Ryland Grace wakes up on a small spaceship with amnesia, unsure of why he’s there, what he’s meant to do or even what his name is. He begins to recall a mission sparked by alien life near the sun, a mission that may have had existential importance for the human race. Ryland must survive long enough to find a way to save the world using only his mind and the resources aboard the spaceship. Weir’s inquisitive and hilarious, optimistic yet deadpan voice carries this book from the very first page. Ryland is the perfect vessel for a cosmic mystery that plays out with the same joyous attention to detail—and poignant philosophical questions about the nature of self-discovery and human ingenuity—found in Weir’s beloved debut, The Martian. It’s just so gosh-darn hopeful; one can’t help but smile the whole way through.”

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Librarian’s Pick: In Her Tracks – Robert Dugoni

“Returning from an extended leave, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself reassigned to the Seattle PD’s cold case unit. As the mother of an infant daughter, Tracy is immediately drawn to her first file: the abduction of a five-year-old girl. Then, Tracy is brought into an active investigation of a young woman who disappeared while jogging. Now, to find two missing persons, Tracy will have to follow more than the clues. She must also follow her instincts—to whatever dark and dangerous places they may lead.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Of Women And Salt – Gabriela Garcia

“In present-day Miami, Jeanette is battling addiction. Daughter of Carmen, a Cuban immigrant, she is determined to learn more about her family history from her reticent mother and makes the snap decision to take in the daughter of a neighbor detained by ICE. Carmen, still wrestling with the trauma of displacement, must process her difficult relationship with her own mother while trying to raise a wayward Jeanette. Steadfast in her quest for understanding, Jeanette travels to Cuba to see her grandmother and reckon with secrets from the past destined to erupt.

From 19th-century cigar factories to present-day detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico, Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt is a kaleidoscopic portrait of betrayals—personal and political, self-inflicted and those done by others—that have shaped the lives of these extraordinary women. A haunting meditation on the choices of mothers, the legacy of the memories they carry, and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their stories despite those who wish to silence them, this is more than a diaspora story; it is a story of America’s most tangled, honest, human roots.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Code Breaker – Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker “When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.

Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?

After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.”

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Librarian’s Pick: The Marathon Don’t Stop – Rob Kenner

The Marathon Don't Stop “In the ten years since he first met Nipsey Hussle in the offices of Vibe, journalist Rob Kenner followed Hussle’s career, paying close attention to the music and business movement he was building in Los Angeles. Ten years later, they spoke again. To Kenner, it became clear that Hussle had been underestimated his entire life—not just for his artistry but also for his intellect and intentions.

For Nipsey Hussle, “The Marathon” was more than a mixtape title or the name of a clothing store; it was a way of life, a metaphor for the relentless pursuit of excellence and the willpower required to overcome adversity day after day. Hussle was determined to win the race to success on his own terms, and he wanted to see his whole community in the winner’s circle with him.

Combining on-the-ground reporting and candid interviews with Hussle’s friends, family, and peers, The Marathon Don’t Stop traces the life and work of an extraordinary artist, placing him in historical context and unpacking his complex legacy. For the first time ever, members of his inner circle will speak about the man they knew and his determination to maintain integrity amidst the treacherous extremes of street life and the rap game.

The Marathon Don’t Stop is a journalistic account of Nipsey Hussle’s life and times, making sense of the forces that shaped a singular figure in hip hop culture.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Black Boy Out Of Time – Hari Ziyad

“One of nineteen children in a blended family, Hari Ziyad was raised by a Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mother and a Muslim father. Through reframing their own coming-of-age story, Ziyad takes readers on a powerful journey of growing up queer and Black in Cleveland, Ohio, and of navigating the equally complex path toward finding their true self in New York City. Exploring childhood, gender, race, and the trust that is built, broken, and repaired through generations, Ziyad investigates what it means to live beyond the limited narratives Black children are given and challenges the irreconcilable binaries that restrict them.

Heartwarming and heart-wrenching, radical and reflective, Hari Ziyad’s vital memoir is for the outcast, the unheard, the unborn, and the dead. It offers us a new way to think about survival and the necessary disruption of social norms. It looks back in tenderness as well as justified rage, forces us to address where we are now, and, born out of hope, illuminates the possibilities for the future.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Limitless – Mallory Weggemann

limitless_3d shot“On January 21, 2008, a routine medical procedure left Mallory Weggemann paralyzed from her waist down. Less than two years later, Mallory had broken eight world records, and by the 2012 Paralympic Games, she held fifteen world records and thirty-four American records. Two years later a devastating fall severely damaged her left arm, yet Mallory refused to give up. After two reconstructive surgeries and extended rehab, she won two golds and a silver at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. And perhaps most significantly, she found confidence, independence, and persevering love as she walked down the aisle on her wedding day.

Mallory’s extraordinary resilience and uncompromising commitment to excellence are rooted in her resolve, perseverance, and sheer grit. In this remarkable new book, Mallory shares the lessons she learned by pushing past every obstacle, expectation, and limitation that stood in her way, including the need to:

  • redefine limitations;
  • remember that healing is not chronological;
  • be willing to fail;
  • and embrace your comeback.

Mallory’s story reminds us that whatever circumstances we face, we have the capacity to face down whatever challenges, labels, or difficulties confront us–and to do so on our own terms.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Come Fly The World – Julia Cooke

Medium “In 1967, Coffee, Tea, or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses captured the world’s imagination with tales of amorous adventures. Decades later, Donald Blain revealed that as a publicist for American Airlines, he actually wrote the book and its sequels, and two female flight attendants were hired to pose as the authors for book tours. Although the stunt sounds like something from “Mad Men,” readers fell for it hook, line and sinker, casting an indelible reputation on the profession.

“The industry saw no reason not to capitalize on male fantasy,” writes Julia Cooke in the fascinating Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Women of Pan Am. Cooke has created a sweeping account of not only the airline industry and its cultural history but also women’s evolution in the workforce. She blends an overview of the job with the personal stories of several (real!) flight attendants, dispelling ludicrous myths and showing how Pan Am presented adventurous, curious women with a way to see the world at a time when their opportunities were limited.

Stewardess positions were so coveted in the 1960s that in 1968, over 266,000 women applied for 12,000 spots in the American airline industry. Many of these young women, such as biology major Lynne Totten from upstate New York, saw the job as an exciting chance to try something new. Years later, when a male passenger spotted Totten reading an issue of Scientific American, he suggested that Vogue might be a better choice. She quickly set him straight, but Totten was hardly an anomaly. As Cooke points out, “throughout the 1960s, 10 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had attended graduate school at a time when only 8 percent of American women had graduated from college.”

Despite the unparalleled opportunities offered by Pan Am, these stewardesses had to pave their own way, fighting against weight and height limits, age ceilings, marriage bans, racism and other glass ceilings that prevented them from being offered management positions.

An entertaining and informative narrator, Cooke has a big story to tell and excels at painting her panorama in broad strokes. At times, however, readers may find themselves wishing for a few more anecdotes, as well as more direct quotations from the women she profiles. Nonetheless, many of her accounts are memorable, especially those involving Pan Am’s flights to Vietnam, which Cooke covers extensively and in which young American men reading Archie comics were dropped off, many to never return.

Come Fly the World is an eye-opening account of female flight attendants’ successes and struggles in the not-so-distant past.”

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Librarian’s Pick: You Don’t Belong Here – Elizabeth Becker

Medium “Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker turns her insightful gaze on three women who covered the Vietnam War in You Don’t Belong Here. Becker, who has firsthand experience of Southeast Asia and the challenges facing women in the field of journalism, begins her book with a personal anecdote. In 1973, while she was on her way to Cambodia to become a war correspondent at the age of 25, Becker met Kate Webb, a New Zealand-born Australian journalist who had survived capture by the North Vietnamese. Webb posed one question to the young reporter: Why had she crossed the ocean to cover a war?

Becker’s examination of three journalists’ careers—Webb, Frances FitzGerald from America and Catherine Leroy of France—powers this absorbing narrative about the challenges of covering the Vietnam War. As Becker explores the significance of these women’s legacies, she notes that “it took us decades to understand what we had accomplished as women on the front line of war.”

A few women (such as World War II reporter Martha Gellhorn, who stowed away on a hospital ship on D-Day) had done their best to report on wars in the past, but the United States military didn’t make it easy for women seeking to be war correspondents. Up until the war in Vietnam, women were forbidden on the battlefield. Even after that changed, news organizations still sent male journalists as a matter of course, with the result that most of the women covering the Vietnam War had to pay their own way and fight to stay.

Many of these barriers were eventually broken, thanks in part to the extraordinary women Becker profiles so adroitly here, combining their personal histories with the major events of the conflict. Leroy, a French photojournalist who died in 2006, was an experienced parachutist who used her skills to cover a parachute jump into combat and whose searing images appeared in Life magazine. Webb was one of the few journalists on the Navy command ship when the order to evacuate came, and she was able to file a report on April 30, 1975, the very day the war ended. FitzGerald later wrote a book about her experience on the ground, Fire in the Lake, which looked at the history of Vietnam and its people and won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

As to the question Webb posed to the author, perhaps it was best answered by Leroy, who once said, “I wanted to be there, to see it happen.” You Don’t Belong Here is a significant contribution to the history of both the Vietnam War and women in journalism.”

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Librarian’s Pick: Confident Women – Tori Telfer

Medium““Con men” is a familiar term for slick, slippery dudes who are out to relieve their victims of money—often taking honor, dignity and a prosperous future along with it. Now meet Tori Telfer’s Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion. These ladies lured people with their reassuring self-confidence and then, post-swindle, left their victims’ own confidence forever shattered. Tricked. Deceived. Cast aside with picked pockets and broken hearts. It’s awful stuff, but with Telfer at the wheel, reading these tales of plunder—littered with diamonds, fancy cars, mansions, booze and furs—is a fun, spicy romp.

Take Cassie Chadwick, a 19th-century counterfeiter and fortuneteller who proves “that the most ordinary woman could become someone truly memorable if they just bluffed hard enough.” Among other things, she claimed to be Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter (unbeknownst to him), swindling bankers out of a fortune before finally getting caught. Though she died in prison, perhaps she could rest in peace knowing that female scammers had become known as “Cassies.”

Then there’s Tania Head. A member of what Telfer calls “the tragediennes,” Head claimed to be a survivor of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. She described her ordeal in such excruciating detail that she became a hero, a “World Trade Center superstar” and the “undisputed queen of the survivors.” But was she even there that day?

Anastasia Romanovs abounded in the 20th century, each claiming to be the youngest child of Nicholas II, Russia’s last czar. Among them were Franziska and Eugenia, whose accents didn’t sound quite right but who were believed and supported anyway—until “DNA, that great equalizer, eventually came for both.”

As Telfer stuffs the stories of these grifters, drifters, spiritualists and fabulists in mesmerizing detail, she more than succeeds in giving them their due. But, she warns, make no mistake about the damage they left in their wake. Confident Women is also a dark cautionary tale about the fragile nature of trust and why we choose to believe.”

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