Books in the Park

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


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The Girl With All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey

girl-with-all-the-gifts-careyThere’s a small problem with zombie novels: besides the zombies, you just have people with problems. That can get stale quickly, especially when graphic novels like The Walking Dead and books like The Passage have covered just about every problem that people in a zombie-infested world can have. The zombies themselves, as metaphors for our inevitable deaths and barely repressed predatory natures, make great extras in horror stories, but don’t necessarily make a great plot—unless a good writer can breathe some life into them. As paradoxical as it sounds, zombies with life in them is what makes The Girl With All the Gifts worth a read.

Melanie is 10 years old and lives in a prison cell. Every day wary armed guards strap her down a wheelchair and then wheel her into a classroom for lessons with the other students. There they learn geography, history, literature, advanced math, and all about the holdout of Beacon, where the last of humanity lives walled away from the “hungries” that prey on them. School is the one bright spot in Melanie’s bleak existence, especially when Miss Justineau teaches. But now Melanie’s classmates are disappearing one by one, taken away by the guards at the command of callous Dr. Caldwell. As Melanie wonders how long it will be before she’s taken, the guards talk in hushed voices about a perimeter breach.

Zombie fans will find a lot to like here, but so will anyone who wants a more nuanced science fiction story about the nature of humanity and the folly of thinking we’re the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection. Plus, the original, imaginative details concerning the zombie infection were fully absorbing.

There is a movie based on the book starring Glenn Close as Dr. Caldwell. The screenplay was written by the author. Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl With All the Gifts.


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Black Hole, by Marcia Bartusiak

Black Hole BartusiakThere aren’t many concepts in the rarefied world of theoretical physics that capture the public’s attention in the way that the black hole does. Headlines in the press routinely announce the discovery of massive new black holes or observations indicating their presence. In science fiction media, the black hole has become an almost cliché plot device.  The term ‘Black Hole’ has even become a part of our daily parlance as a way to describe something as a void or which consumes relentlessly. With such familiarity, it’s hard to imagine a world where the existence of these gravitational anomalies is at all controversial, but as recently as the 1950s and 60s their existence was hotly debated.  With Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved, science author Marcia Bartusiak details this history and unravels the long, sometimes bumpy road to acceptance for this most fascinating idea in physics.

Many science writers suffer from a tendency to bore, dumb down excessively, or simply misrepresent the concepts that they’re trying to explain to their audience. With a master’s degree in physics and several decades of experience as a professor of science writing at MIT, Bartusiak easily avoids these pitfalls. With a skilled hand, Bartusiak establishes context by introducing basic concepts in physics that date back to Newton without confusing readers. When the content of the book shifts to the 20th century, it’s truly fascinating to see how resistant the scientific community was to the idea of these exotic singularities. Even Einstein, who predicted the existence of the black holes in his work on gravitation, dismissed them and remained convinced that they were merely an error born from some miscalculation on his part.

There aren’t many titles that so fully and expertly capture the lifecycle of a scientific concept. With an entertaining narrative, high attention to detail, and explanations of physics concepts that are both enlightening and easy to understand, Black Hole is a standout work of science literature.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Black Hole.


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The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke, by Barbara Riddle

girl pretending to read rilke riddleThe year is 1963, and Bronwen is a promising summer intern under the care of Felix, the ultimate absent-minded chemistry professor. Bronwen is excited to spend her summer days in the lab and her summer nights with her dreamy grad student boyfriend, Eric. However, the more Bronwen thinks about it, the less dreamy she finds Eric. In fact, she hates how he belittles her, and her work. After all, her experiments are yielding very promising results—right?

Her strained and distant relationship with both of her parents offers little comfort, and she has no friends in the city to speak of, so Bronwen chooses to throw herself into her work as her one form of solace. The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke is a slow paced, slice-of-life novel about a young woman trying to decide what exactly she wants out of life and the people around her in the middle of a changing world.

This novel is very much like a summer afternoon: it consists primarily of Bronwen’s own thoughts and philosophies as she is working in the lab, out on a date, or alone in a room full of people. She is a very relatable protagonist, doubting herself one moment but then rallying self-confidence to get through the day. The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke would be ideal read for a quiet introspective evening.

Connect with the author on this book’s Facebook Page.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke.


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Zero, by Charles Seife

zero seife coverZero and infinity, can you have one without the other? Is there a cause and effect relationship between the two?

The author provides a lucid history of the number zero, illustrating its many embodiments as a symbol, a tool, and a concept. To utilize zero, to ignore zero, or even to refuse zero is the challenge set before many civilizations. “The Babylonians invented it, the Greeks banned it, the Hindus worshiped it, and the Christian Church used it to fend off heretics.” When the concept of zero finally arrived, it changed everything. Sefie argues that the power of zero lies in its contradiction as something and nothing combined, and civilizations throughout the ages have struggled with it, alternatively seeking to ban it and embrace it. “The clash led to holy wars and persecutions, philosophical disputes, and profound scientific discoveries.”

In addition to offering fascinating historical perspectives, Seife’s prose provides readers who struggled through math and science a clear window for seeing both the powerful techniques of calculus and the conundrums of modern physics.

One must read Seife’s recount of events to truly appreciate the power of zero.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Zero.


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You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

you are not so smart coverIt appears that I am not as smart as I thought I was.  And guess what?  You are not as smart as you think you are, either.  Hence the title of David McRaney’s book: You Are Not So Smart.  In his very interesting work, McRaney details 48 ways in which we fool ourselves every day.  That is OK, though.  We need these coping mechanisms to make it through life. McRaney explains: “[We are all] filled with beliefs that look good on paper but fall apart in practice. When those beliefs fall apart, you tend not to notice. You have a deep desire to be right all of the time and a deeper desire to see yourself in a positive light both morally and behaviorally. You can stretch your mind pretty far to achieve these goals.”

One of my favorite examples is “Confirmation Bias.”  Most of us like to think that we are objective in our opinions and beliefs, but the truth is that we pay attention to facts that line up with what we already believe while we ignore truths that contradict our beliefs.  Here is one simple way this works: you read an article about the new Chevrolet Camaro and suddenly you see them everywhere, when you had not before.  Does this mean that more people have purchased them in the last few weeks?  No, it just means that they are on your mind so you now notice them.  Your bias (from reading the article) is confirmed (now you notice them).

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Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

quiet-final-jacketThe phrase “the power of introverts” seems like an oxymoron.  Yet, that is what Susan Cain proves in her book, Quiet.  She is an introvert herself and gives the following reason why she wrote the book: “Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts, and many introverts believe that there is something wrong with them and that they should try to ‘pass’ as extroverts. The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and, ultimately, happiness.”  Being an introvert as well, I know this to be true.

The book is filled both scientific evidence and personal anecdotes. One example is the move to the “open office” space and its effect on the productivity and well-being of introverts.  The days of individual offices and even cubicles are going the way of the dinosaur.  The new trend is to have everyone work together in an open area with no walls or dividers so as to maximize the group dynamic.  That is all well and good for the two-thirds of the people who are extroverts, but introverts do their best work alone; they are worn out by dealing with people and energized by privacy. So one-third of the workforce has their productivity, job satisfaction, and ultimately, their well-being decreased because of a one-size-fits-all bias towards how people should work.

Cain makes the science interesting and her real-life illustrations drive the point home and put a human face on the topic.  Introverts will want to read this so they can better understand who they are and how they function best.  And extroverts should read this book because it will help them understand the people around them who are different.  Decision makers should read this book so they can begin to make positive changes to allow the introverts to become all they can be.  Try a little Quiet – society will be the better for it.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Quiet.


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Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

stuff mattersEasily read from cover to cover, this is a fascinating book about the materials that make up our everyday synthetic world. The author, Mark Miodownik, is a professor of materials and society at the University of College, London and really knows his stuff–literally!

From concrete to chocolate to celluloid, Miodownik thoroughly explains each of his chosen materials down to its molecular structure. This sounds like it could get boring, but the author deftly staves off tedium by interspersing the science with historical context and personal anecdotes. In fact, I was hooked by the very first sentence of the introduction: “As I stood on a train bleeding from what would later be classified as a thirteen-centimeter stab wound, I wondered what to do.”

When was the last time you read a science book that started like that? Miodownik has a way with prose that makes this nonfiction book not just readable but also entertaining.

Of course, the real pleasure of reading this book is the knowledge I gained. I learned that concrete doesn’t dry, stainless steel was discovered by accident, and celluloid was invented because ivory billiard balls were too expensive.

It’s a wonderful world we live in, and Miodownik’s book makes that abundantly clear.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Stuff Matters.