Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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Out of My Later Years, by Albert Einstein

out-of-my-later-years-einsteinThe contents of this book are a compilation of Albert Einstein’s articles, addresses, assorted papers, and letters published posthumously and edited by the Einstein estate. These accessible essays provide a glimpse into the inner workings of Einstein’s famous mind. Topics covered include: the self, moral decay, morals and emotions, and the goal of human existence.

A portrait of trials, tribulations, and understanding, Out of My Later Years conveys the insight of the modern world’s most celebrated intellectual on a range of societal topics, many of which remain relevant today.

Before or after you watch National Geographic’s Genius, this collection will help further illustrate that this man knew much, not just about the physics of the universe, but also about the inner workings of the universe’s most minor denizens.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Out of My Later Years.

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Ăn: to Eat, by Helene An and Jacqueline An

an eatThis lovely Vietnamese-French fusion cookbook is also a family history of sorts, with 100 recipes that range from medium difficulty to hard. Rest assured that these meals are worth making, however; Helene An is an award-winning chef who lives in California and caters the most exclusive Hollywood events. Her main restaurant, Crustacean, is a high-end dining destination in Beverly Hills.

Jacqueline An sets out to chronicle her family’s history and her mother’s recipes, the two of which are so entwined that they’re almost the same thing. You’ll read about Helene and her husband’s harrowing escape from Saigon and their tentative first steps into the American restaurant business. It’s amazing to think that this world-renowned Vietnamese-fusion chef started out with a tiny Italian deli and slowly revitalized it by adding healthier food options. The new food coupled with Helene’s famous hospitality and masterful French cooking techniques quickly gained popularity, and a family business was born.

The book also contains an intriguing history of Vietnam and goes in-depth into the country’s culinary traditions. This alone made the book a worthwhile read for me. There’s a section on selecting and using certain kitchen tools like woks and rice cookers, as well as a section on basic techniques and the favors, uses, and health benefits of select herbs and spices.

I found the recipes to be a bit out of my microwave dinner skill set, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to try my hand at them some day. I did find at least one recipe to which the instructions were a bit unclear, but most of them seemed straight-forward enough. I especially liked the section on libations.

I don’t think I would buy this book, but it’s still a wonderful read and a great source for inspiration if you’re interested in fusion cooking.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Ăn: to Eat.

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The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman

view cheap seat gaimanNeil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of his non-fiction writings. There are book introductions, speeches, reviews of books and movies, and the odd writings that come up in an author’s experience of a writing life. Sometimes it seems that reviews of essay collections say the essays are “hit or miss”, then talk about the hits. Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats has no misses. All the essays are hits. (Side note, I’m using the word “essay” throughout the text to generally describe all the writings, due to the immense variety.)

I say all the essays are hits because, while it’s true that the reader will be more or less interested in some of the topics, all of them build such a broad yet nuanced picture of a thoughtful, prolific writer’s life that I insist you read all of them. His essay on watching a reunion show of The Dresden Dolls, for example, begins with his honest acknowledgment and disappointment that he hadn’t seen them in their heyday, and gives an insider’s view of the band’s collapse (his wife, Amanda Palmer, is half of The Dresden Dolls.) This precious insight adds depth and makes the final scene much more meaningful.

His commencement speech, “Make good art”, is both an honest, humble biographical sketch and an exhortation to fight through life’s challenges with creativity and confidence. He explores his life as an artist, and the false assumptions he made early in his career, and the things he wish he knew as a beginning artist.

One of my favorite sections is the biographical sketches he does of his favorite people. His sketches of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett are wonderful, heartfelt appreciations of their writings, their personalities, and the meaning they added to his life.

Neil Gaiman’s insightful observation and commentary is enhanced by his skillful writing throughout these essays. His storytelling, even when it’s not fiction, shines through the text in such a humble, human, and appreciative voice that each essay in and of itself is a polished gem of a tale. Neil is one of our favorite writers, and we are looking very much forward to seeing his novel American Gods on TV. We’ve reviewed Gaiman’s works before, and can’t wait until we can again.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The View from the Cheap Seats.

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The Book of Virtues edited by William J. Bennett

bovI had this book in my house when I was little. I’m not sure where it came from; my mother must have received it as a gift. All I know is that when I opened the cover one rainy afternoon, I was hooked. Suddenly I was spending hours upon hours reading through this huge (by nine-year-old standards) book story by story. In fact, I credit this book with kindling my lifelong reading obsession. But it’s a small wonder, since the editor of this book is William J. “Bill” Bennett: former Secretary of Education.

This collection of morality tales are arranged by category: Self-Discipline, Compassion, Responsibility, Friendship (my favorite section), Work, Courage, Perseverance, Honesty, Loyalty, and Faith. Many of the stories will be familiar to adults, but the retelling and editing of them is superb, giving these old stories a timeless feel.

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Aftermath, by Joel Meyerowitz

am joel mThere are hundreds of books about 9/11, but this one stands out. The author, Joel Meyerowitz, is an award-winning photographer that captured not only the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, but also the intensive rescue missions and cleanup efforts.

Interspersed between the pages and pages of breathtaking color photography are poignant essays by Meyerowitz that describe his ground-zero experience in his own words. At first he was denied access to the area, but he slowly gained the trust and admiration of those involved in the cleanup and was soon allowed to photograph the relief effort. Now the photography included in Aftermath is a permanent collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

Thankfully, however, you don’t need to travel to New York to see this awe-inspiring collection when you check it out in book form.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Aftermath.

Our 9/11 memorial in 2015:

9-11-15 display 9-11-15 display 2

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Voracious by Cara Nicoletti

voracious nicolettiI can’t imagine a better title for this book. On Cara Nicoletti’s blog, Yummy Books, the butcher and former pastry chef writes: “There is nothing as engrossing as the eating of a truly great meal and nothing that nourishes my spirit quite like the reading of a good book.” Voracious proves that good food and good books have more in common than you might think.

In Voracious, you’ll find a smorgasbord of recipes inspired by Nicoletti’s favorite books, from the innocent brown butter chocolate chip cookies inspired by If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to the fiendish fava bean and chicken liver mousse inspired by The Silence of the Lambs. The recipes are creative and undoubtedly delicious, but it’s the literary commentary that makes Voracious a great read instead of just a cookbook. Nicoletti makes the chapters personal by poignantly describing how her chosen books not only inspired recipes but also how they impacted her life. I can’t remember ever reading a cookbook cover to cover like this, which makes Voracious something special.

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Letters from an American Farmer, by J. Hector St. John

letters from an american farmerHector St. John de Crevecoeur, an emigrant French aristocrat-turned-farmer, provides an “everyday life” account about the emerging United States.

The year was 1765 in Orange County, New York. After having acquired his citizenship, de Crevecoeur became a landowner. His property generated both a food staple and a “literary staple.” In a series of observant and erudite letters, he interprets the development of American society.

Letters from an American Farmer paints a vivid portrait of the young country, not only detailing the hardships of frontier living but the perilous unrest that existed between fanatical patriots, back-country loyalists and plantation culture in the south.

“For many [Europeans], his essays offered the first major impressions of the American landscapes, the people, the institutions, and the problems that stood in the way of making one nation out of the diverse former colonies.”

For a glimpse into “everyday life” from 18th century America and general colonial history, Letters from an American Farmer provides candid insight.

As a work in the Public Domain, Letters from an American Farmer is available as a free download from

Check the PPLC Catalog for a physical copy of Letters from an American Farmer.