The Omnivorous Reader - September, 2017

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The Omnivorous Reader

September 29 · Issue #2 · View online

Recommendations, reviews, and assorted digital flotsam and jetsam


Hi, all.
Here’s what I’ve been reading or watching this month. 
Why You’re Getting This: This reading list is going out to old and new friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If you’re receiving this, I thought you might appreciate it. 
Feel free to unsubscribe–obligatory reading is the worst. 
If you know a fellow reader who might enjoy it, please pass it along.

First Things First...
Do yourself a favor and put your local library to work:
First, install the Chrome Library Extension–once it’s set up, a single click takes you from Amazon to the “Request Title” page of your library’s website.
Next, take two minutes to figure out how to make Interlibrary Loan requests on your library website: A few more clicks and you’ll be able to search and request books from the entire city or state. About 1/3 of the books I come across, necessitate an interlibrary loan request. My local library is pretty good, but a statewide search nearly always finds me what I’m looking for. 
The Library Extension ensures budget isn’t a factor in reading the books you want to read; an Interlibrary Loan ensures you’re not limited by a local catalog. 
Fiction:
The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman was a wonderful surprise: Short story anthologies are usually pretty hit or miss; fantasy or sci-fi anthologies more so. This one was terrific. Vlad the vampire attends a parent teacher conference. A succubus swipes right on Tinder. A bee hive considers communism. Very fun stuff. 
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders was not a book I thought I’d finish, much less enjoy. There was something about the plot that seemed like a satire of standard fantasy tropes: He’s a technologist, she’s a magician, somehow they fall in love despite the onset of a war between science and magic. But it won the Nebula, so I gave it a shot.
Every inch of the novel ended up being deeply satisfying almost despite my initial hesitation. I enjoyed it despite the fact that I expected to hate it. How’s that for a recommendation?
Nonfiction
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald sounds like a Sue Grafton mystery about a malicious falconer. I’ve never read a Sue Grafton novel, although a quick Amazon search informs me that her “H” was for Homicide.
H is for Hawk is (mostly) a memoir, though, dealing simultaneously with the training of a goshawk, the death of Macdonald’s father, and the biographical details of T.H. White. Memoir isn’t a genre that I naturally gravitate towards, but this was the type of book that you read extremely slowly, savoring the beautiful prose and the seemingly disparate narrative threads that knit together in gorgeous and unexpected ways.  
The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads by Daniel Willingham had none of the compelling prose of H is for Hawk. I didn’t read the whole thing and couldn’t interest my wife in it either despite the fact that the topic is firmly in both of our respective wheelhouses. Still, the chapters on “Reading Identity” and “Reading After the Digital Revolution” were enormously valuable for both educators and parents.
Reading identity is largely socially constructed, WIllingham’s research shows, and it plays a significant role in a child’s motivation to choose reading as a viable way to spend his or her time. Also, screens aren’t really changing our brains–but they may be changing our threshold for boredom. If you’re in education or have a young child, it’s worth skimming Willingham to see whether there’s something actionable to take away from it. 
Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx by Stefan Kefer was a insightful look at the insanity that was the Marx Brothers. It was particularly interesting how informed their entire schtick was by their early success in vaudeville, and how little their personal lives differed from their stage personas. One producer made the mistake of making the Marx Brothers wait in his office while he dealt with another client, only to return to find them all naked, crouching around a fire in his fireplace, roasting potatoes on sticks. Hundreds of small anecdotes like these made Groucho so fascinating and enjoyable. 
Newsletters
Many of the articles I read online come from a few good email newsletters that inspired me to create this one. Here are a few I look forward to seeing in my inbox:
The Journal by Kevin Rose (founder of Digg) includes a bunch of cool gear, app, videos, and images. It’s a monthly newsletter, but you can tell he spends a bunch of time curating it. 
Recomendo by Kevin Kelly (Senior Maverick at Wired) features six recommendations of cool things. It’s the newsletter version of his website Cool Tools
The Exponential View by Azeem Azhar was actually a recommendation from Recomendo. It has a specific focus on AI, Biotech, and other technological trends. I view this one sort of like the New Yorker–I’m never going to read all of it, but I never regret it when I take the time to check something out.
Other Clicks and Views...
It's like YouTube but on campus: The university lecture is going online only — Quartz
Watch, skip, or binge: The A.V. Club’s 2017 fall TV preview
"The Black Hole" presented by DUST - YouTube
I hope you’re all doing well and that you can find (or make) the time to read whichever of these books catches your interest. And if you know of a good book that you’d recommend, please pass it along.
Take care,
Chris Cunningham
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