Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

“Is there enough energy to move the entire current human population off-planet?”

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe is an insightful and intelligent book that takes the question “What if?” to an entirely different level. The questions range from “If two immortal people lived on opposite sides of an uninhabited Earthlike Planet, how long would it take them to find each other?”, to “What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly switched off?” Munroe is a physicist whose has a background working in robotics for NASA. Now he writes a web comic called XKCD, which is chock-full of science, math, and language humor.

Munroe takes these incongruous questions about which people occasionally wonder, (but rarely try to answer for themselves), and works in the difficult math and science in order to find the answer, no matter how bizarre. He also manages to sneak in scientific wittiness, (mainly via the comics, and footnotes), while still thoroughly and effectively answering each question. Extra sections add to the dynamics of this book, such as “Weird and worrying questions from the ‘What if?’ inbox”, where Munroe posts the most disturbing questions he receives, and a short-answer section for questions that can quickly be explained.  

This book is appropriate for laymen readers, and though not everyone will be familiar with each equation Munroe throws into his explanations, the main ideas will come across to readers from all walks of life. Find What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions at the library. 

Becca, Answers

Square Foot Gardening with Kids by Mel Bartholomew

photograph of little boy harvesting tomatoes from container garden."There is nothing quite like the look on a child's face when she picks the very first tomato she's ever grown. It's plump and red, and sure to be juicy, and it's all hers."

Mel Bartholomew adapted his classic Square Foot Gardening series for kids. You might recognize his name from the PBS series or one of his other books, he's a legend in the modern farming movement. In SFG with Kids, Mel taps into the well-known truth that kids love dirt. He lays out the entire process of planning, designing, building and decorating the containers. Then he suggests what kinds of things you should grow in the garden and how to actually grow them. The book is loaded with teachable moments in science, math, and self-sufficiency.

Bartholomew is riding the wave of the DIY urban farm movement (he had a lot to do with its creation). I like instructional books to have color photos so I know I'm on the right path and this books is full of them. SFG is broken up into easily digestable chunks that should help get your family into the garden. I plan on building some next spring and I'm going to use this book to do it.

Find Square Foot Gardening with Kids in the library.

-Dan, Answers

The Rathbones by Janice Clark

Rathbones by Janice ClarkThe allure of a story steeped in mystery is the delight in the handling of the reveal. The Rathbones by Janice Clark promises the epic unraveling of ancestral secrets, as perceived through the young protagonist, Mercy Rathbone. It was this promise of enchanting family history that drew me to the tale of the Rathbones, however the reality of the story's unfolding leaves much to be desired. 

The tale of the Rathbone history is presented as a classic account of adventure on the high seas, looking back to the 1800s and the height of whaling ships and familial dynasties. Mercy is introduced as a vibrant young woman with a conflicted relationship with her mother and her strange relatives, all inhabitants of the renowned Rathbone house and legacy. As the story progresses, Mercy oscillates between a dynamic participant and a victim of this legacy, alternately resigned to and resistant against the (seemingly preordained) fate of her family. 

The Rathbones seeks to revel in the historic nostalgia for days of lore, where one's livelihood was a thrumming force of essence grander than the individuals who practiced such professions - though punctuated by gleaming examples of the epitome of whalemen like Moses Rathbone, Mercy's ancestor. At best, Moses (explored in detail as a separate character plot line) comes across as an eccentric forefather. At worst, his approach to women as breeders for sons to carry on the family calling and complete disregard for individuality and personality leaves something to be desired as an empathic character.

Likability aside, the characters in The Rathbones lack a consistency of behavior and believability that makes it hard to stomach the forays into magical-ability-imbued-by-genetics that The Rathbones relies upon. While Mercy's matter-of-fact acceptance of her familial legacy and all of its incestuous ramifications lends a sort of bittersweet empathy to her tale, the hopeful, pat conclusion to her life path is underwhelming. The main characters in Mercy's life are realistically flawed and complex, but the fatalistic component to the tragedy of her beliefs and realities are ultimately unsatisfying in the development of a good story.

(review based on the audiobook version of the book)

Find The Rathbones at the Library.

Molly, Answers

Finding Vivian Maier

“Of course, she would have hated every minute of it [being discovered]. She would never have let this happen”

Nanny. Hoarder. Prolific street photographer.  All of these labels can be used to describe the late Vivian Maier, a formerly unknown artist who is the subject of a fascinating new documentary film by John Maloof, a Chicago-based real estate agent and amateur photographer who discovered her extensive collection, which has since been exhibited here in Chicago, as well as in New York, Los Angeles, London and France.

In Finding Vivian Maier, we learn how Maloof first came across the collection while at a local auction house searching for photographs to use for a local history book he was planning to write. Knowing almost nothing about the contents or where they came from, he decided to buy the largest box for $380. In total, it contained approximately 100,000 negatives, 700 rolls of undeveloped film, as well as eight and sixteen millimeter movies.

Overwhelmed by the positive reactions and comments he received after digitizing and uploading 100 select photographs to his blog, Maloof was compelled to find out more about the collection and in particular, this “V. Maier” listed on several receipts and other documents found in the boxes. He soon discovers that “V. Maier” is Vivian Maier, a local nanny who, unbeknownst to almost everyone she knew, was a talented amateur photographer. But why would anyone so talented not share that with the the people she knew, worked for and lived with?

Throughout the course of the film, we follow along as Maloof tries to find answers to the many questions surrounding Vivian Maier’s life: where was she originally from? Did she have any family? What were her motivations? What intentions (if any) did she have for the collection? The interviews we see in the film involving friends, former employers as well as some of the children she once cared for (now grown), help reveal bits and pieces of her life, talent and complex personality. A fascinating film that would appeal to anyone interested in photography and local interest stories, I highly recommend Finding Vivian Maier.

Elias, Answers

Why the Public Library Beats Amazon

Kindle eReaderThe Wall Street Journal explains how your local public library offers FREE access to more best-seller eBooks than pay-subscription services such as Amazon, Oyster and Scribd. Though you still have to deal with due dates, hold lists and occasionally clumsy software, libraries have one killer feature that the others don't: eBooks you actually want to read.

Take advantage of Eisenhower Library's eBook collection here using Media on Demand. If you have questions about accessing eBooks through Media on Demand, visit the Answers Desk at Eisenhower Library or give us a call at (708) 867-2299.

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

“I didn’t know what was Good or Wicked anymore. All I knew was what was right.”  

Dorothy Must Die is a dark fantasy written by Danielle Paige, derived from the classic story, The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. This story focuses on Amy Gumm, a country Kansas girl who is swept away in a tornado and brought to the mythical Land of Oz.

That may sound familiar to the original story, except Oz is different; a lot different. Dorothy may have gone home at the end of the original series, but she has come back in a big way. In the time elapsed between the original story and now, Dorothy has gone from sweet farm girl, to tyrannical magic hoarding “princess”, ruling over all of Oz with an iron fist. Now Amy has been dropped into the middle of it all, and everyone outside of the kingdom expects her to save the day.

Nothing is as it seems anymore. What once was good is now wicked, and what once was wicked is now good. Amy joins a group called the Order, who is secretly organizing a rebellion against the kingdom. The rebellion has one main mission:  to kill Dorothy Gale. Because Amy arrived from “the other place” like Dorothy, she is believed to be the only one capable of killing the powerful princess. Amy is not so sure of this, since she has never even successfully won a fight. But from observing the state of Oz, and seeing what violent and gruesome acts Dorothy and her henchmen (the tin woodsman, the lion, and the scarecrow) are capable of committing, she realizes that she has no other choice but to try.

This book starts out a bit slow and cliché, where the outcast teen is dropped into a different world and has greatness thrust upon her, followed by the mentor training, the coming of age, the awkward yet sweet romances, and the heartbreak. It is also a growing trend among YA novels to take an old classic and twist it around into something new. Some of the characters were flat and predictable, and only appeared to be written in order to take up space in the book.

However, my interest picked up once Amy’s training was over, and she began to work undercover, disguised as a handmaid in Oz’s kingdom in order to get closer to Dorothy. I felt the anxieties and fears Amy felt, and read in mesmerized horror at the way fear and manipulation were used to keep the servants in check. In fact, I flew through the final 200 pages in one day.

While the second half made up for the first half, one of my biggest disappointments with this book is how it ended. Without spoiling anything, I will say that I expected the big reveal, where all of our questions would be answered, and where Dorothy would face her miserable and deserving death. However, it didn’t end. It left an enormous cliffhanger for us to dangle from until the sequel’s release in 2015. The series plans to become a trilogy, along with two novellas.

Find Dorothy Must Die in the library.

-Becca, Answers

Stories Matter ...

"Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity."

We often hear one story, or one narrative, and apply it to an entire group of people. The narrative we are told about the Middle East is that everyone there is either a terrorist or a victim or terrorism. Everyone in Africa is destitute and has HIV. The entire city of Chicago is a dangerous place. Chimamanda Adichie pleads with us to read more stories, don't make assumptions based on one story, seek out other stories. That is the beauty of literature. You can learn without being told. You can decide what stories you want to hear. And you can find those stories at Eisenhower.

Watch this TED Talk from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and check out her books at the library.

Chipotle Cup Stories

Chipotle is going to start featuring short (very short) stories and essays by authors like Toni Morrison, Jonathan Safran Foer and Malcolm Gladwell on their cups. The idea came to Foer when he realized how boring it was to eat a burrito by yourself. In an inspired moment he thought of a fantastic way to bring stories to a wide range of people that might not otherwise have access to or interest in these authors.

Read the full story here.

Kids are Weird by Jeffrey Brown

"Since you're here I'm going to wash my hands for real". This is just one of dozens of those sometimes shockingly truthful things that kids say to their parents, family and total strangers that Jeffrey Brown includes in his latest book. 

Jeffrey Brown is best known for Darth Vader and Son and Vader's Little PrincessKids are Weird is about all the strange things that kids do and say often loudly and always in public places.

I don't know if people without kids would find this funny or not. I have kids and I laughed at some parts. It took me about 20 minutes to get through the whole thing so it's not a major committment. I read some parts out loud to my wife and she told me to stop. There were definitely funny panels but no "gut-busters". If you're going to read anything by him start with Vader's Little Princess.

I checked out a digital copy because I was out of the house and wanted something to read. Find it through Media on Demand.

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