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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The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan

omnivores-dilemma-pollanHumans have evolved to eat a wide variety of food. From roots and grains to fruits and vegetables to meat and nuts, it seems like no other animal on Earth can eat like we can, especially since we learned how to cook. This adaptable eating ability allowed our ancestors to survive whenever regular food supplies ran low. But that was then, and now our omnivore nature turns a simple question like “What should we have for dinner?” into a serious conundrum. Beyond health, taste, and convenience, there are also ethical and environmental effects to consider, as many modern food production practices can be cruel to animals and unsustainable for farmable land. Further, most fruits, vegetables, and meat have become available year-round thanks to advances in production, refrigeration, and transportation—a fact that only complicates the omnivore’s dilemma and takes an additional toll on the environment.

Author Michael Pollan dissects all the different ways we eat by putting food into categories based on how it’s made: industrial, organic, or hunter-gatherer. He then goes to great lengths to track the food in these categories from production to plate. In the industrial category, he visits standard agricultural and animal farms, focusing the production of corn and how it infiltrates virtually every processed food on the market in surprising ways. In the organic category, he looks at a few different types of organic farming, from the barely-not-industrial to a family-owned farm that takes “working with the land” to the next level. In the hunter-gatherer category, Pollan recruits an acquaintance to show him how to hunt, kill, skin, and prepare his own dinner.

I came away from this book with a much better understanding of today’s very long food chain and the problems that come with it. Thankfully, it was not all doom and gloom. Conquering the omnivore’s dilemma all boils down to striking a balance between convenience and sustainability. Just as it’s unreasonable to ask everyone to hunt and grow their own food, it’s equally unreasonable to ask less than 1% of the U.S. population to produce all our food. Somewhere between these two extremes lies the answer. According to Pollan, if you curb your appetite, eat with the seasons, and commit to finding and paying a little extra for local, sustainably grown food, you’ll never again dread the question, “What’s for dinner?” And that’s food for thought.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

on-writing-kingI have an unpopular opinion to share: I don’t like Stephen King’s writing. I like movies based on his work, but I cannot finish one of his stories without gagging. I love scary stories, so I don’t know what it was that turned me away. But surprise: while I was hesitant to put King’s memoir on my book club’s reading list, but I am very glad I did. Previously, I thought of King as an over-hyped hack. After I was done reading On Writing, I realized I could not have been more wrong.

In the first section of the book, King details his early life, growing up, meeting his wife, and starting his writing career. The second section details his writing process. The final section tells the story of his infamous car accident. I had none of my previous issues with On Writing as I did with his fiction. I found my self not only finishing this memoir, but enjoying it. His life story was endearing, and revealed himself to be much more laid back than his popularity would suggest. His description of his writing method showed me that he was every bit a creator as any of my favorite authors.

This memoir is part practical advice to new writers and part intimate portrait of Stephen King. I would highly recommend it if you are an aspiring writer, or if you enjoy King’s work. If, like me, you do not enjoy King’s work, I STRONGLY URGE you to read it. On Writing gave me a new perspective on Stephen King and any other writer that I previously “poo-pooed”. I still can’t finish King’s novels, but I now have more respect for him as a writer, and an artist.

Check the PPLC Catalog for On Writing.


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O.J.: Made in America (2016)

oj made in americaSo I’m an NPR junkie. A few weeks ago I was listening to Code Switch and heard them discussing the new documentary OJ: Made in America. They made it sound so compelling that I immediately checked it out from the library, and I was not disappointed.

Ezra Edelman, the director, manages to create a culturally relevant and interesting new perspective on this well-known, high profile case.

I was only five when O.J. Simpson was being tried for the murders of Nicole Brown-Simpson and Ron Goldman and therefore missed all the politics and controversy that surrounded the case. While all the case details were new to me, I was struck by how little U.S. race relations have changed in the past twenty years. With all the recent coverage of the violence that is occurring in streets across America, this documentary could not be more timely. The documentary itself is almost eight hours long but I found it difficult to look away or really do anything productive until it was over. Made in America has in-person interviews with some of O.J.’s old friends, police officers involved with the case, members of the jury, and some of the attorneys who argued the case. It was shocking to hear some of their testimony and the how this case forever changed their lives. 

Edelman does a stellar job biographing Simpson’s rise to fame and his fall from grace. Whether you believe he was innocent or guilty this documentary offers some serious insight. I recommend this title to those interested in true crime, popular culture, race relations, and history. Almost everyone knows the story but you should definitely watch for the details and cultural relevance.

Check the PPLC Catalog for O.J.: Made in America.


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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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Game of Crowns, by Christopher Andersen

In the summer of 2016, we asked our patrons to send us book reviews as part of our adult summer reading raffle. We’ve chose the cream of the crop to feature here on our blog.

This review is by Wendy Risk.

game of crowns andersonMost girls, at some point in childhood, want to grow up to be a princess. The gowns, the palaces, and the prince all promise romance. But the scandals of the house of Windsor provide a more authentic glimpse into modern royal life.

According to Christopher Andersen, the British royal family is the world’s longest running soap opera. Andersen has written the bestselling William and Kate and seventeen other New York Times bestsellers. He’s frequently interviewed on U.S. talk shows.

In Game of Crowns, the author details Queen Elizabeth, her daughter-in-law Camilla, and her granddaughter-in-law Kate’s similarities and differences. The author sets the tone of this gossipy book by calling Camilla the Black Queen and Kate the White Queen.

The author describes royal residences and daily routines. He poses questions, including will the Queen abdicate, letting her son become King Charles III and Camilla become his queen? The majority of Brits hope not. If Charles is passed over, his face will never grace coins, paper currency, or stamps.

For most of the book, the author lets us in on the scandals. He enjoys comparing Kat, whom he calls the most stylish woman on the planet, with Camilla, who underwent a sever makeover including Botox to make her a more presentable future queen.

Royal watchers on both sides of the Atlantic will enjoy the trivia. For example, did you know that a royal piper lays the bagpipes every morning outside their window after the Queen and Price Phillip finish their breakfast? Are you curious to know that Rogers and Hammerstein song he often plays? It’s from Oklahoma, a musical Elizabeth and Phillip saw while dating. The song? “People will say we’re in love.”

And how about Prince Charges, a man of many mistresses, some for decades and simultaneously. What nickname did he ask his paramours to call him? King Arthur.

The book is fun, scandalous, and a quick read. Wondering if it’s for you? Take this quick quiz. The answer to each question is either Elizabeth, Camilla, or Kate:

  1. Which woman drives, according to her cousin, “like a bat out of hell”?
  2. Which woman was nicknames “the Rottweiler” by Lade Diana?
  3. Which woman said, “Strange but I never felt intimated in his presences, never. If felt from the beginning that we were two peas in a pod?”
  4. Which woman’s husband spends $100,000 annually on his wardrobe?
  5. Which woman said: “Let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom.”?
  6. Which woman’s marriage reportedly cost $4 million?
  7. Which woman was photographed rather topless in Provence?
  8. Which woman will be the first commoner queen and college educated queen?

If you took the quiz, you would probably enjoy this book.  The answers are: Queen Elizabeth 1 and 5. Camilla 2, 3, and 4. And Kate 6, 7, and 8.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Game of Crowns.


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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.