Teaser Tuesdays: The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

John Vaillant, nonfiction author, makes his fiction debut with a shockingly beautiful and painful novel called The Jaguar’s Children.

jaguar

At the border town of Altar in the Mexican state of Sonora, a taking-off point for many immigrants who buy the services of coyotes to cross into Arizona…

There are stalls there with things to buy, but there is nothing for the house or the milpa, nothing nice to eat or to wear. Besides expensive water, it is mostly clothes and almost all of them are black or gray – T-shirts, jackets, balaclavas and gloves, even the bags – so you can be invisible in the desert, in the dark, because that is what a migrante needs to be to make it in el Norte.

Stay tuned for a Maximum Shelf to come. I am excited to share this one.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers by Sean Lewis

Anecdotes and observations of American craft brewing that will make readers thirsty.

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Sean Lewis was working as a sportswriter in 2010 when he got his first writing assignment from Beer Advocate–a profile of the infant Blue Hills Brewery in Canton, Mass. He worked there as an unpaid intern, learning the brewing ropes, and admired what he calls “the Tao of the brewmaster.” Many brewery tours and interviews later, in We Make Beer, he relates the “spirit and artistry” of craft brewers from coast to coast, from garages and barns to the largest brewhouses in the nation.

Lewis visits with major players (Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada, Stone), younger, smaller efforts (Nebraska, Jackalope), brewpubs and production breweries, and explores various approaches to the concept of growth. For example, Sheepscot Valley Brewing Company has chosen to stay local to Whitefield, Maine, and the community has repaid that effort, while West Coasters Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas have recently opened East Coast locations to serve their expanding markets. In language that will make readers thirst for a well-crafted pint, and with graceful transitions between topics, Lewis undertakes what is clearly a labor of love–much like the businesses he writes about. His celebration of the women and men of craft brewing is both accessible to the novice (see his one-page appendix on the brewing process, and explanation of the pronunciation of “wort”) and thoroughly rewarding for the beer aficionado. A comment about a collaboration between three breweries is equally applicable to the larger concept of Lewis’s book: “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.”


This review originally ran in the September 26, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 8 pints, naturally.

book beginnings on Friday: The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

room

The opening lines of The Room read:

The first time I walked into the room I turned back almost at once. I was actually trying to find the toilet but got the wrong door. A musty smell hit me when I opened the door, but I don’t remember thinking much about it. I hadn’t actually noticed there was anything at all along this corridor leading to the lifts, apart from the toilets. Oh, I thought. A room.

I opened the door, then shut it. No more than that.

And I think I’ll leave it at that for you. Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects by Scott Richard Shaw

An impassioned view of insect evolution and the awesome implications of bugs for all life on earth.

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Scott Richard Shaw has been collecting bugs since he was four. Now a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, he shares his passion for these creatures and their cosmological significance in Planet of the Bugs.

The scope of this work is immense. Shaw begins with the Cambrian period, more than half a billion years ago, by examining the sea-dwelling arthropods that first developed body armor and mobility, and then follows them through prehistory and into the modern day. He argues for the predominance of insects, as they are Earth’s most diverse and adaptive animals and thus the best survivors over time. The dinosaurs were impressive, and we like to emphasize the importance of our own human species in earth’s history–he criticizes this human-centrism throughout–but Shaw makes an excellent case that insects “literally rule the planet.”

Planet of the Bugs is packed with intriguing trivia. Parasitic flies feed in turn on the blood of vampire bats; caddisflies are “nature’s most adept architect,” building portable, protective cases for themselves using the natural materials around them; the griffinflies of the Carboniferous period (which looked something like huge versions of the modern dragonfly) had wingspans of two to three feet; female sawflies and wasps choose the sex of their offspring.

Shaw boggles the reader with his enthusiasm and expertise, and reveals a playful side. Among his many encyclopedic turns, he waxes philosophical and indulges in metaphor and even humor, resulting in a surprisingly accessible and entertaining read. A love of bugs is not required.


This review originally ran in the September 23, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 old wings.

My Grandfather’s Gallery by Anne Sinclair

Investigations by an art dealer’s granddaughter into paintings stolen in World War II France.

grandfather

Paul Rosenberg was a successful art dealer in Paris in the 1930s, a friend to and advocate for Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse. A Jewish man, he fled his home in Vichy France in 1940, fearing for his family, his livelihood and his collection of modern masterpieces. From his new home and gallery in New York City, he campaigned for the rest of his life to recover the many valuable paintings and sculptures he lost during the war, looted by Nazis and French collaborators.

Journalist Anne Sinclair didn’t pay much attention to her maternal grandfather’s life and work as an art dealer until he was long dead. In examining old papers, however, she discovered a story that moved her and that represents the experience of many French artists and art professionals, whose collections were stolen and never returned. In My Grandfather’s Gallery, Sinclair writes that she “wanted to create an homage to my grandfather, a series of impressionist strokes to evoke a man who was a stranger to me yesterday, yet who today seems quite familiar.”

Many unidentified paintings continue to lie in museum basements throughout France even now, “awaiting the return of those who will not come back.” Sinclair, like her grandfather, acknowledges that lost lives trump lost art; but the spoliation of priceless paintings constitutes an important piece of her family history, as recorded in this deeply felt memoir. Despite an occasionally awkward translation to English, My Grandfather’s Gallery is a powerful history made personal.


This review originally ran in the September 19, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 5 letters.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Brewer’s Tale by William Bostwick

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

brewers tale

“A history of the world according to beer”! Who’s surprised that I needed to read this?

There is no great shortage of written words regarding beer’s important place in history: that it is part of what brought European settlers to New England; that it helped us preserve grain & feed ourselves, and take in liquid when water was unsafe to drink; that it drove us to establish settled civilizations (& agriculture). But just as I learn something new from every brewery tour I take, even into the dozens, I haven’t yet reached the point of satiation on beer-in-history. Here’s something I hadn’t quite considered in these terms before:

…if beer’s essence can be distilled to one idea, it’s this: beer is made. Our first recorded recipes were for beer because beer was the first thing we made that required a recipe, our first engineered food. Wine, for example, just happens – a grape’s sugars will ferment on their own, without a human touch; even elephants and butterflies seek out rotting fruit. But grain needs a modern hand to coax out its sugars and ferment them into alcohol.

And these lines come from the introduction! (Libraries show up on page 2.) You have my attention…

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

on picking up another book by Marilyn Johnson

overdueThree people simultaneously bought me Marilyn Johnson’s previous book, This Book Is Overdue!, as I graduated from library school. (Possibly they are reading this now – sorry! I don’t even remember who they were.) I didn’t make it even halfway through. Was it uninspiring, or was it I who was uninspired? worn out from study? It’s a fine question about the intersection of book, reader, time and place; a good reading experience requires a happy meeting of all four. Maybe I would love the book now.

livesI’m rather encouraged to try again. The first pages of Johnson’s latest work, Lives in Ruins, reference librarians immediately – and beer too, twice in three pages; a funny story about the apocalypse is credited to a graduate student, and during an economic depression, “Dublin was running, as far as I could tell, on what spilled out of the pockets of Brits during their bachelor parties.” Johnson is self-deprecating and irreverent, and also serious and passionate about her subject (in this case, archaeologists). What’s not to love?

May have to try This Book Is Overdue! again. Perhaps three well-meaning graduation present givers were right after all.

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