Over the past several months, PPL has held a range of discussion groups on the best-selling and oft-borrowed Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande. Made possible by a generous grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation, our program engaged nearly 500 individuals – from independent seniors and family members, to assisted living residents and staff, to medical professionals
Our goals for the program were to help participants have wider understanding of the end-of-life experience for most Americans in this era, to have a way to develop and articulate their own perspective on the question of quality of life vs. quantity of time remaining, and to feel empowered to have thoughtful, necessary discussions on end-of-life issues with their families and caregivers.
We have received tremendous feedback from host facilities and from participants alike. PPL takes very seriously our vision of helping citizens be more literate, informed, and engaged, and we are gratified by participants’ appreciation for the our help in framing these critical conversations.
Maggie Richards Editor at Henry Holt, has provided us with the outline and discussion guide that Dr. Gawande uses himself when he speaks with groups about the book. This guide will be included in the upcoming October release of the paperback but is not in any of the current editions; we are delighted that Dr. Gawande’s publisher has entrusted it to us. You can download the guide here.
Additional discussion group guidelines – developed by our facilitators and with various audiences in mind – will be made available on our website shortly. We hope other libraries, individual book groups, and organizations that wish to initiate these critical conversations will find them useful.
If your book group would like to explore this topic, please be in touch with us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 207-871-1700 ext. 717 for details on how to borrow multiple copies of Being Mortal and use our supplied discussion guides to begin conversations.
Welcome back to Capes Optional, dear eyeballers of the blogosphere, where we, for one library, welcome our new robotic overlords. It’s Maker Fair time again at PPL, and tomorrow our halls and meeting rooms will be filled with exhibits and demonstrations of all genres and interests: book coloring, lock picking, coffee brewing, duct tape crafting, candle making, and absolutely everything in between. It’s a perfect day to spelunk into the bottomless depths of creativity or to discover a new hobby.
In keeping with the Maker spirit, I have found an arms-full of books that you can find on our shelves based around robotics and the sciences, and I think you’ll find something of interest no matter who you might be. Allons-y!
Chobits can be found in our Teen section, and is a popular manga and anime from Japan of the “ecchi” style, meaning playfully sexual without being explicit or adult-only. In Chobits, there exist what are called “persocoms,” computers that can do everything your smartphone can except look like people and walk around with you while they do it. The story is about Hideki, a young man who can’t hold a job, can’t get into school, and certainly can’t afford a persocom, who stumbles upon one of the robots in a trash heap. The beautiful persocom is named Chi, and as Hideki finds out, is more than just a regular computer-girl.
Rust: Visitor in the Field
by Royden Lepp
Rust: Visitor in the Field, as well as other books in the Rust series, is set on a small farm that could fit onto any Central- to Northern-Maine hillside…until Jet Jones flies through the barn, a jetpack on his back and being chased by a 30-foot-tall robot killing-machine that the country had used to fight a war with decades earlier. From there, the action and intrigue never stop. Lepp’s illustrations are, aptly, all the color of rust, but are wide and expressive, telling the story of a farmer, his family, and the robotic war that won’t ease its grip on humanity, with marvelous success. Rust can be found in the children’s section at PPL.
The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 1: Science. Bad.
written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Pitarra
Are you as much a fan of alternate histories as I am? Then The Manhattan Projects will be right up your alley. Set in an alternate World War II, the graphic novel series follows Joseph Oppenheimer, evil twin of real-life American scientist Robert Oppenheimer, conducting secret military science experiments under the titular “Manhattan Projects.” Any follower of history will recognize the project as that which developed the atomic bomb, but would probably not be familiar with FDR being artificial intelligence, Japan having teleporting robot soldiers, Doctor Einstein being an alcoholic sadist, and aliens being eaten by the Army to gain knowledge of space travel. Sound interesting? Pick up The Manhattan Projects.
Descender, Vol 1: Tin Stars
written by Jeff Lemire, illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
Jeff Lemire, writer of DC Comics’ critically acclaimed Animal Man and Marvel’s Old Man Logan, brings us Descender, a creator-owned comic about a young android trying to find where he fits in a big universe. TIM-21, or TIM for short, is a robot created to “entertain, protect, and assist in the education” of his human friend Andy. But TIM wakes up after ten years to find Andy missing and robots outlawed throughout the solar system; robotic, planet-sized monstrosities called Harvesters attacked the galaxy and destroyed entire civilizations, and a fearful population banned any mechanical intelligence as a result. But TIM isn’t a monster…is he? Descenders was just picked up by Sony Pictures to become a blockbuster movie, and you can read all about TIM and his robot dog Bandit right at the library before anyone else.
WWR, World War Robot
written by Ashley Wood and TP Louise, illustrated by Ashley Wood
It’s difficult for me to tell you the plot of World War Robot…because that plot is entirely up to you. World War Robot is a series of journal entries, letters, transcripts, and diaries of a fictional Great War that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s, accompanied by beautifully rendered paintings by Ashley Wood. In the timeline of WWR, a group of fanatically-religious humans took over Earth, and those seeking refuge from the violent cult fled the planet to colonize Mars. Earth retaliated, and the Terrans and Martians, as they are called, go to war with robots at their sides. The story is beautifully left with gaps in the narration and told only through “primary documents” of the time, and the paintings are breathtaking. A look back at a tragic time in one version of our past, and one not impossible to see in our future.
These are just the beginning! For superheroes that tie-in to our Maker theme, be sure to go look up DC’s Cyborg and Firestorm, and, of course, Marvel’s Iron Man.
Science and robotics are all the rage in 2016, with new advancements in artificial intelligence and the newest iGadget always front-page news, and what better way to immerse yourself in the spirit of creation than to go to the Maker Fair on April 23rd? I’ll be there, and I hope that you will too. Until next month, chums, may your screens of death never be blue and may your Roomba not try to take over the world.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.
What inspires your curiosity at the library? Maybe you’d check out The Oldest Living Things in the World, explore The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, uncover Hidden Treasures, study the Daily Rituals of famous artists, learn what gets Lost in Translation, eat Voracious-ly, find Home, or see why Knowledge is Beautiful?
At heart, libraries are happy to cater most constantly to the curious: those who want to explore the world through fact or fiction, brush up on old knowledge, or learn new things.
In honor of the Wake Up Alice! Exhibit, our staff is highlighting a few gorgeous, unusual, interesting books in our collection that satisfy our curiosity- and, we hope, may spark yours.
The Marvels, by Brian Selznick
Uncle Albert sighed. “You either see it or you don’t.”
Two seemingly unassociated stories (the first in 400 pages of pencil drawings and the second in text) slowly and curiously wrap themselves together. The illustrated story of generations of the Marvels, a family of London thespians, segues into the modern story of Joseph, a runaway from boarding school, and his uncle, Albert Nightingale. Joseph seeks clues about his family legacy and the story in text begins to pick up traces of the past – and all ends with a short illustrated section. This is a story of family and what defines family and home. The book has stunning art and beautiful writing.
The Marvels is the final volume in Selznick’s trilogy which includes The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.
Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll (no relation!)
This weird, wonderful graphic novel for older children and teens is a true delight. (And it’s a 2015 Maine Student Book Award nominee). The best scary stories make an art of building suspense. In Through the Woods, the impact of suspense built both textually and graphically packs a real wallop. I devoured these 5 tales in one sitting, and there were moments when Emily Carroll’s images made me gasp aloud. “Are you okay???” was asked from two rooms away in my house. Some tales are classical, some are modern; all are drenched in shadows, saturated with bleeding colors, and scrawled with text that crawls and scratches its way across the page. Spine tingling and creepy… in a very good way.
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski
How much more curious does it get than a book with footnotes containing footnotes within? House of Leaves is an adventure simply to read all on its own. Fonts change with narrators, entire pages may have one one word, or one line of words, or an entirely upside-down paragraph, and the word “house” is always printed in blue — always. Is the book horror? Or is it a love story? It’s hard to say…perhaps a little of both. But regardless, it is an extremely curious – and curiouser – book.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami
Although every Murakami I read promises to be my favorite, this is a real contender in my ranks. Featuring librarians whose collection consists of only skulls, shadows that get detached from their human, dream reading, mysterious underground caves, and a condition that imparts pure silence. A true wonderland of a book. One (of many) favorite lines: “Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”
Speak Easy, by Catherynne M. Valente
“Make me real ’cause you’re only real if somebody’s talking about you, and fiction’s the best kind of gossip there is.”
Very much in the Alice tradition, Speak Easy is a beautifully lyrical novella set in a Jazz Age hotel that teaches us about the dangers and delights of getting lost in a mysterious underworld.
Eileen M’s Pick
Human Croquet, by Kate Atkinson
Here is a curiouser book by a curiouser and curiouser author. I have been binging on Kate Atkinson since an accidental encounter with Life After Life in August. I keep meaning to take a break from her intense, wry, bent stories, but I always fall back into her. What if I meet my end before I read it all?…must keep reading Kate Atkinson. Human Croquet flexes time with humor and insight. It never let me go, even after I turned the last page. The powerful thrall of Atkinson’s incredible plotting and addictive style has wrapped me up and made me look more closely by seeing more broadly.
A line that grabbed me: “The marmalade’s the colour of amber and melted lions.” Wow.
Two fabulous, curious books on artist Andy Goldsworthy: The Andy Goldsworthy Project by Molly Donovan and Tina Fisk, and Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy.
Maybe I just love stone?
These two titles give a full range of the artist’s work with landscape art–which inspires me because it seems to work with nature and doesn’t try to dominate it. His art also strangely reminds me of ruins of stone that one finds in Native American sites like Chaco Canyon, or in Celtic sites in the British Isles.
Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic, by Elizabeth Little
Are you someone who collects unusual phrases like rare butterflies, delights in the drama of etymological disputes, or perks up at the sound of words like “declension” and “participle”? If so, what a thrill it would be to discover Biting the Wax Tadpole in our nonfiction stacks! An accessible, witty, and charmingly illustrated compendium of linguistic quirks and curiosities from around the world, this book is full of word play of which Lewis Carroll himself would surely have approved. Recommended for amateur armchair linguists and generally curious readers alike.
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, by Tomi Ungerer
I want to live among the elements, where I can feel the lick of fog on my cheeks and smell ferns baking in the sun and listen to the unmannered grunts of all kinds of untamed beasts; I also want to be able to order an americano within a five-minute walk from my front door. I guess my need for coffee (and a job) won out, because here I am in Portland. But when I feel the need to be OUT THERE, I pick up a copy of children’s book author/ erotica artist/ political rabble-rouser Tomi Ungerer’s Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, which is a heavily illustrated memoir of his move to a remote Nova Scotian peninsula, where he and his wife bought an old farm house accessible only at low tide. Like his children’s books, this one does not shy away from the darkly comic nature of being a human — whether it involves learning the hard way how to butcher a hog or negotiating relationships with (distant) neighbors and their sheep. His illustrations and reflections satisfy my curiosity about a life I might have lived, while piquing further curiosities: Why, for instance, does he never paint his wife’s face?
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough
Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton
“When my husband was dying, I said, ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.”
I love true stories, and (I’m not afraid to say it) humans, too, in all their wild complexities. There’s a joy in discovering the small and large truths of others, of paying attention to people who aren’t me and to stories that aren’t mine. If I’m too shy to approach strangers in Maine and pepper them with questions, I’m thankful that my world is hugely expanded and my brain happily enlarged anyhow by books and film and the news and radio and any kind of thoughtful story-sharing project. Photographer Brandon Stanton is the best sort of thoughtful story-sharer. He’s been taking portraits of people on the streets of New York (and around the world) since 2010. Photos and small snippets of hundreds of wide and various lives and voices are gathered here in this 2015 collection. Candid, surprising, saddening, and joyful, Humans of New York: Stories enriches my understanding of the extraordinary human heart.
Thanks for reading! If you’re still curious, click these links for book lists of recommended reads for Adults, Kids & Families, Teens, and for more information on book groups at the Main Library, Peaks, and Riverton.