Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of the most amazing planes in history gets yet another huge tribute. It’s comprehensive, but also has spots of boredom.
Right away there’s some photos of prototypes that led to the Blackbird, as well as shots of Area 51. Those were cool. Another good entry was the page of tail photos; my fave is the shark.
But it takes a huge fan to get through this; even I needed to take some breaks and refocus. There’s only so many angles of a plane that can be shot, so after a while it feels repetitive. Not putting this book down in any way, since it’s really comprehensive, merely stating it should be taken in small doses.
Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s
As you would expect with this title, there’s a LOT of black and white photos of men—and two women—with instruments, along with some biographic material on each. They’re mostly grainy and dark, and if this was strictly a photography book it wouldn’t be very impressive. As history, however, it works better.
My most enjoyable chapter was on jazz violins. Also the drummers. But it takes someone who is a lot more of a jazz fan than I to appreciate this to its fullest.
Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
I’m sure people assumed this would be some kinda holistic manual when they saw the title. It’s so much more. What we have instead is the story of a young lady, Erinne Paisley, in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s from one of my favorite cities, Victoria.)
She’ll probably blush and deny it if she reads this, but even though the circumstances were different, I’m putting her in the same rarified air as her idol Malala, who is in my top ten of the most amazing and inspirational people in the world. There’s a mention of another on my list, Queen Rania; it’s almost like she was writing this book specifically to get me to love it.
There’s pop quizzes which really aren’t, rather call to actions. More importantly, there’s plenty of advice on how you can make a difference through social media.
In what’s already a thin book there’s a lot of photos, but I think in this case it benefits from being to the point rather than including any padding.
In the end, a phone is just a tool, no different than a pencil, a car, or even a gun. Whether it’s good or bad completely depends on how it’s used. What I like the most about this book is its relentless optimism. Sure, doing what she did and what she suggests is much harder than it sounds, but like the old saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win.
A Little History of Archaeology
If I have a favorite archaeology writer, it’s gotta be Brian Fagan, longtime prof at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Pretty sure I’ve read all of his books, and that’s saying a lot.
In this entry, Fagan is even more subtlety humorous than usual. I love his note that Layard is the only archaeologist to find two palaces in the same day. Even though I’ve been studying archaeology for nearly 40 years, there’s some names in here I’ve never come across. Others I vaguely remember, or saw the name but didn’t follow up. He’s given me a lot of stuff to research (aka more things to do when I should be working).
I’ve read a lot of books like these—some by Dr. Fagan as well—introductions to archaeological sites all over the world, written for the general public. This does that too, but it goes further in depth, especially with the personalities. I like it.
For Cluck’s Sake!
Probably not everything you ever wanted to know about chickens, but close.
It starts with a funny intro where the author gives her chicken résumé, as it were. The first photo shows an angry-looking hen, staring at the camera like it’s spoiling for a fight; actually pretty scary. The second photo shows two chickens next to each other, and the pattern in their feathers is quite mesmerizing. The third photo is of a bird with feathers on its legs; it just looks. . . wrong. But you get the gist.
A pea comb is mentioned, but not explained.
Amid all the facts there are quotes that are not about the feathered fowl, but the main noun has been changed to chicken, which more often than not fails. Thankfully the fun facts are indeed fun.
Chicks come out born ready, so to speak.
The egg did come first.
Chickens are smarter than four-year-old humans when thinking long-term.
There’s a literal pecking order; doesn’t say if this is where the phrase originated, but it figures to be.
Plenty of fun or funny stuff, but some uninteresting ones as well.
Fingerprints and Phantoms
Subtitled: True Tales of Law Enforcement Encounters with the Paranormal and the Strange
Told in a folksy downhome style, this is a collection of stories purported to be encounters with ghosts and such, although many lack any. Much of the first chapter has nothing more than “feelings” backing up the title. I’d hoped it would get better in that respect, but in the first third or so the most we get is a haunted hotel elevator.
The best chapter was the one about the shape-shifting dogs of South El Lay. It also seems to be the only unexplained phenomenon that didn’t happen in Utah.
One story involving a Halloween-laden murder might have been creepy due to the surroundings, but also had no paranormal trappings to it. So why is it in here? Similarly there’s a story about a woman who died for no apparent reason—at the time; autopsy findings are not mentioned—on a sidewalk after a shopping trip that cost the most famous three-digit number around. That superstition is the most ghostly thing in the story. It feels like cheating; it annoys me.
It isn’t till the end that the author mentions this is more of a book on folklore than actual paranormal. I will agree that his intention was not to prove ghosts exist, but after reading the title and subtitle, it seems disingenuous.
Greek Gods and Heroes: Meet 40 Mythical Immortals
A primer on the most famous Greek myths, though there’s bound to be a few annoyed at not being included. Purportedly a children’s book, but the vocabulary and literary content seems at youngest for teenagers, so I’m not including it in a children’s book blog.
The icons look 8-bit, perhaps on purpose, and they’re used in the table of contents, rather than names, which is awesome. Pandora is the closest to human, but even she looks weird, probably because she has practically no nose. Aphrodite is of course blonde, as is Apollo, who looks like a vain surfer dude.
The first is Gaia, showing the page format: a brief description, several other info boxes, a large graphic representation, and so on.
Always happy when I can learn some things too. For example, Themis, who isn’t as well known, was Zeus’ second wife, before Hera (good luck remembering the first!). She was the Fates’ mommy as well as the Goddess of Justice; she was the Delphi oracle before Apollo took it over.
Hera sure got the worst role of any goddess.
“Artemis rarely kills wild animals.” Oh, that’s nice. “She prefers to attack those women who disagree with her or who insult her mother.” And so much for nice. . .
I did not know Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus.
But again, I simply can’t call this a children’s book, as it goes too far into explanations that should have been much simpler for kids. This is probably better for teens, and a lot of adults will like it.
After all this, Orpheus is still my fave.
A purported children’s book about the greatest stars in rock and roll history. . . supposedly. More on that coming up.
Right away there’s Elvis, who’s described as having “devilish swiveling hips.” Can’t wait for a kid to ask Mom what that means.
More than anything, I have to question the inclusion of some of these, especially with Rush not chosen. At least I’ve heard of most of them, but Blur? This book definitely skews British and Euro. Daft Punk? Well, the author is French. . . I think that after he ran out of icons, he chose his favorites. It’s just that some of these are so ridiculous it brings the whole book down.
Like the similar entry on Greek gods, this one just doesn’t feel like the children’s book it claims to be.
A monthly column called The Writer’s Toolbox gets collected and transformed into the Literary Handyman. Actually, the title’s kinda clever, if you stop to think about it.
There’s a moment that made me love this book: the author’s talking about how writing is a solitary endeavor, “just you and your computer. . . or typewriter. . . or clay tablet. . .” Nice.
There’s advice that’s for the most part common sense, though I’m sure most beginning writers don’t think of this stuff. (Warning: on the cover it says “for beginners,” so don’t expect anything in depth if you’ve got some years under your. . . fingers.) The important parts for me were the droplets of humor sprinkled throughout, transforming what might otherwise had been a dry read into something more memorable. It is important to remember that these were originally in a once a week or month format; it’s a lot different reading them all at once.