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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Got Wanderlust? We Have Books to Help

When I was younger, I was certain I’d have a life full of exotic, adventurous travel. These days, however, I’m lucky to get my family together for a quick trip to the beach. So, now I get my thrills from reading about someone else’s exotic adventures. Memoirs of daring lives, stories of dangerous expeditions and travel to far-flung places all satisfy my second-hand thirst. If your vacation plans are limited this summer, I recommend grabbing a comfy chair and a cool drink before setting off on an epic armchair adventure of your own. 

If your tastes lean towards the historic, try one of these fascinating accounts of exploration. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette by Hampton Sides takes you on a doomed expedition to reach the North Pole. Naval officer George Washington De Long, armed with a faulty understanding of Arctic geography, believed warm, western ocean currents would quickly carry his ship through a thin ring of ice circling the North Pole. The crew’s incredible fight for survival amid the vast polar ice is both riveting and heartbreaking.

Fever, near-starvation, hostile Indian tribes and man-eating animals are standard for most Amazonian adventures. The River of Doubt by Candace Miller adds a daring U.S. president, touching father-son relationship and murder. In 1913, after losing his third presidential election, Theodore Roosevelt, his 24-year old son Kermit and the Brazilian explorer Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon set out to chart one of the Amazon River’s deadliest tributaries.

Two lovely memoirs detail the exploits of early aviators Beryl Markham and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. In West with the Night, Markham evocatively describes her childhood on an isolated Kenyan farm and the eccentric expatriate life of East Africa. Her colorful anecdotes cover her experiences as a racehorse trainer, bush pilot and the first female to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic.

It’s no surprise that the author of The Little Prince would produce a memoir both deeply philosophical and poetic. Wind, Sand, and Stars spans the globe from Africa to South America, including an enthralling account of survival following a crash in the Saharan Desert. His poignant observations on the human condition give depth to his accounts of his experiences flying in the 1920s and 1930s with the mail carrier Aéropostale.

These final two books may appeal to those who yearn to understand the modern world’s more remote areas. Colin Thubron travels by train, bus, car, donkey and camel to explore one of the world’s most historic trade routes in Shadow of the Silk Road. Thubron supplements his vibrant observations of the people and places he encountered during his 7,000-mile journey from China to Turkey with rich historical insights.

David Greene, currently host of NPR’s Morning Edition, takes a slightly less grueling but equally colorful glimpse into rural Russia in Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia. Greene and his Russian translator attempt to interpret the momentous changes Russia is experiencing over the course of the 6,000-mile trip from Moscow to Vladivostok.

-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Popular Biographies Reach All Ages

You’re never too old – or too young – for a great story. The best biographies and memoirs inspire people of all ages. Fortunately, Fairfax County Public Library carries juvenile and teen versions of some of the most popular adult biographies and memoirs from recent years.

I am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, is the young reader’s version of I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, by Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. Kids and teens will discover Malala’s early experiences with advocacy that lead her to become the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. For a picture book biography, see Malala, a Brave Girl from Pakistan; Iqbal, a Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter.


Unbroken: An Olympian’s Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand is the juvenile version of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. Louis Zamperini’s unlikely journey from scamp to Olympian runner to pilot, prisoner and war hero is fortified with an extensive collection of photographs in this version. The text is still sophisticated but less graphic in detail than the original.


Discovering Wes Moore is the young adult adaption of The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates. Both versions of the memoir by Wes Moore tell the compelling story of a young man who managed to pull his life back from the brink of derailment to one of uncommon achievement. From a position of success, he discovers his doppelganger, a man with the same name and a similar beginning in life, whose fate took the opposite turn. What made their lives turn out so differently?

Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron is a story that seemed destined to move people of all ages. The original book tells of a kitten tossed into a library book drop one freezing Iowa night. Dewey, as he was named, gave back to his community by bringing cheer and comfort to those around him- including Myron, the librarian who found him, as she coped with a life-threatening illness. Dewey the Library Cat: A True Story and Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library are juvenile chapter and picture book versions by Myron and Bret Witter.

--Suzanne Summers LaPierre, Kings Park Library

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

10 Books for a Happier You

Americans' plans for self improvement have been around since Benjamin Franklin first crafted his "Project for Attaining Moral Perfection." Here are 10 books to help you find a happier you - if you need a boost at work, in parenting or just getting dressed in the morning.

Fairfax County Public Library customers showed an enormous amount of interest in this surprise New York Times bestseller. Want to see big changes in your life? Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up says the key is not to organize all your material possessions but to rid yourself of most of them. If an item doesn't bring you joy, toss it.

Many of us struggle with how to have it all while achieving a semblance of work-life balance– succeeding at work while also raising children and being involved in their lives. These three books offer insights into that balance. The work that distilled the business side of the conversation is the now classic Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (which reads as bittersweet in light of her husband’s recent death.) The parenting side of this balance is well informed by  All Joy, No Fun, Jennifer Senior’s take on the juxtaposition many feel about parenting, both the highs (“joy!”) and lows (“no fun!"). Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time describes her attempts to get out from under her overwhelming, rushed, never completed to-do lists and find more time for leisure and play.

Looking to understand or change a bad habit? Or maybe just find more happiness in your daily routine and improve your everyday life? Then Gretchen Rubin’s newest guide to finding your happy, Better Than Before, may be helpful. Charles Duhigg’s very popular The Power of Habit was on many critics Top Ten lists last year.
The final quartet holds the keys to self-improvement inside and out. Improve your moral character (David Brooks, The Road to Character), harness the power of inquisitiveness to create a bigger life (Charles Fishman, A Curious Mind), calm that insatiable drive for self-improvement (Dan Harris, 10% Happier) and look better when you step out the door (Alison Freer, How to Get Dressed.)

 I dare say Benjamin Franklin would approve.

-Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library