Category Archives: Hot Topics
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
It’s the start of a new year. A blank slate for new beginnings and refreshing our resolutions and to do lists. That means it is also time for our 3rd annual New Year’s Reading Challenge! (Please make sure your read that in your head with the appropriate cheesy deep toned echo sound effect).
Last year, I tried to theme the options to the month or season they were in. I’m not doing that for 2019. There’s no order, very few rules and will be a challenge the whole family can participate in. There will be three challenge levels; Novice, Reader, and Book Wyrm.
The Novice Level is the simplest level with the easiest qualifications. Read twelve books and twelve periodicals at your reading level. That’s it. Just one book and one magazine or newspaper per month at the level you read comfortably. So if you’re in third grade you don’t have to try to read outside the level your teacher thinks is appropriate, but if you’re 43 let’s leave the Beverly Cleary to the youngsters. The only rule is read the whole book and the whole magazine or newspaper.
The Reader Level is more complicated it’s still 24 books and periodicals but instead of having free reign to read everything you want, this one guides you a bit. With this level you will choose twelve of the options from the list for the Book Wyrms and twelve books or periodicals of your choice. The rules are the same as the novice, read it all the way through, and it has to be at your reading level. The only new regulation here is that you can’t have more than 12 periodicals. If you want to read all books, and no periodicals, that’s fine.
Finally, it is The Book Wyrm Level (devour those books in your literary hoard!). If you’ve made it this far, you probably already planned to read at least two books a month and now you want someone to make it a little difficult. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Below is a list of twenty-four challenges (with two bonus challenges for those of you who want to do a book every two weeks rather than two a month). These are some of my favorite selections from lists from the past, mine and otherwise. All the rules from above apply.
- A book that was published in 2019
- A book that has won a major award[i]
- A banned book
- A book that was given to you as a gift (even if you have to give it to yourself)
- Read a single issue of a comic book
- A book with a song lyric for a title
- A book from an author you’ve never heard of before
- A collection of Short stories from a single author
- A graphic novel that has nothing to do with superheroes or zombies
- A book you were supposed to read in high school or college, but didn’t
- The next book in a series you’ve started
- A collection of poetry
- A Classic of Genre fiction[ii]
- A book with a terrible cover
- A book set in a country that fascinates you
- A book you meant to read last year
- A collection of poetry
- Listen to an audio book
- A book you’ve checked out or bought but never read
- Something from a book club list, either online, on TV or in your community
- A book that was translated from another language
- Something from an author that writes in English but is not American
- A magazine on a subject you’ve always been interested in
- Read a book with somone, or a group of people
Bonus 1: Reading builds a person’s ability to empathize, read a book that tells the story from a point of view you are unfamiliar with.
Bonus 2: Do all of these challenges using making sure that each title you read starts with a different letter in the alphabet. Use this one for any book with that last letter you need.
Read and enjoy and watch this blog for potential opportunities to interact with other people in the challenge.
[i] National Book Award, Man Booker, PEN/Faulkner, Hugo, Nebula, Eisner, Rita, Edgar, Newberry, Caldecott to name a few.
[ii] Mystery, Scisnce Fiction, Romance, Adventure, Western, etc.
by Howard Shirley, Teen Department
“If you’re not shocked by quantum theory, you haven’t understood it.”—Niels Bohr, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics.
“I think I can safely say nobody understands quantum mechanics.”—Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics
The Universe is weird. And the closer you look, the weirder it gets.
How weird you say?
Well according to quantum theory:
- We know stuff cannot appear out of nothing (The Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy), but stuff appears out of nothing all the time, but disappears before there is any time for it to be here, so it doesn’t violate the previous law.
- A pure vacuum, empty of all matter, isn’t actually empty (see the above).
- A thing in one place can be changed, and it instantly changes an identical thing in another place, no matter how far apart they are.
- Things can move from one location to another without going through the space in between.
- Things don’t exist as things in specific places but as the possibility of things in different places at once, until you look at them.
Now, all of that is about things that are very, very tiny (add a lot more “very, veries” to that). Things like electrons and photons and all the things that make up all the matter and energy in our Universe. But it’s also therefore about all the big things too—like stars and planets and black holes and even you and me.
Which means that all that little weirdness has some weird implications for the big things, like:
- We might be living in a massive simulation, like a virtual world in a computer (don’t take the red pill!).
- Nothing might exist unless someone observes it.
- OR, everything might exist in all possible combinations of all possible events, all at the same time, but we only experience (and observe) one progression of these (while, presumably, infinite other “us”-es experience all the other versions).
- We (and everything else) are all just parts of one big energy field that “ripples” back and forth through time.
- We could exist alongside a completely invisible, undetectable world with invisible, undetectable living beings, all made out of “dark matter” and “dark energy.”
And none of the above is just another over-the-top Hollywood movie. It’s serious science, all stemming from the basics of quantum theory. And, yes, quantum theory isn’t just wild speculation, but one of the most robustly established concepts in modern science, going back to 1900, proven again and again by experimentation and practical application (you’re looking at one of those applications right now as you use an electronic device to read this blog; if quantum theory were wrong, your electronic device wouldn’t work).
Quantum theory is based on the concept that energy, like matter, is divisible and isolatable into definable, self-contained bits, or quanta. Think of it as a long band of light, seen from a distance. The light looks like one continuous bar. But as you get closer, you can see that the bar is instead made of individual lights separated by gaps. We will call these lights “photons.” Each light in our analogy represents a single “packet” or “quanta” of energy, which cannot be any smaller, but is very much separated from each of the other photons, like particles. That may not be confusing, but what is confusing is that these photons behave both as if they each are individual particles and as if they each are also a continuous wave of energy, like our distant band of light. And if you observe them in one way, they will appear to be particles and not waves, and if you observe them in another way, they will appear to be waves and not particles. They are neither, and they are both, at the same time. And it is from this bit of weirdness that all the other weirdness of the quantum world arises.
It’s heady stuff, but it’s also a lot of fun. If you’re intrigued, come in and search for some of our titles on quantum physics. And don’t worry—they’re written for the layman to understand. So you don’t have to be either Niels Bohr or Richard Feynman to appreciate all that weirdness (but you probably will still be shocked).
*Howard Shirley is the Teen Library Assistant. And no, he doesn’t claim to understand quantum theory, but still enjoys being shocked by it.*
- Rocket Science for the Rest of Us by Ben Gilliland (YA 520 GIL)
- Quantifying Matter by Joseph A. Angelo, Jr. (YA 530 ANG)
- The New Encyclopedia of Science: 1 Matter and Energy by John O.E. Clark (YA 503 NEW vol.1)
By Rebecca Tischler, Reference Librarian
We all love It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, but were you aware that the first Jack O’Lanterns were carved out of turnips?
Did you know that the horrifying mask worn by Michael Myers in the Halloween movie was actually a William Shatner Star Trek mask?
Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts Halloween spending this year—including candy, costumes, and decorations—will hit $7.4 billion. Candy will account for more than $2 billion of that amount and a quarter of all candy bought in the U.S. is for Halloween.
But what are the origins of this creepy holiday? Here’s what we do know about the history of Halloween: it wasn’t created by the Candy Companies, although they’ve certainly profited, nor was it created by the toilet paper companies (though I do wonder how much money they make with all the teepeeing).
The history of Halloween is a rather vague and confusing tale, mainly because no one can seem to agree on how Halloween evolved from a harvest pagan New Year celebration, to the candy gorging and anything goes costumes of today. One thing that everyone seems to agree on, even though there has never been a proven connection, is that modern Halloween begins with the Celtic festival of Samhain (although, they don’t know much about that either).
Scholars are pretty sure that Samhain was an annual celebration of the end of the harvest months to honor the Celtic deities (as well little green leprechauns and tricky fairies). It was also a time to gather resources and slaughter livestock (or maybe they were sacrifices – who knows) in preparation for the upcoming winter months. Some say it was the Celtic New Year. It was also believed that this was the day that the veil between the dead and living was thinnest, and the dead could cross over. They would celebrate this day with bonfires, food laid out for the dead, and costumes to blend with the spirits. Strangely enough, they’re not sure whether these actions were to honor and welcome the dead or to ward off the visiting spirits. Either way, the dead were a big part of the pagan festival.
The second part of Halloween’s history that seems to be agreed on is the attempted Christianization of a pagan celebration. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III assigned the Christian feast, All Saints Day, to November 1, as a day was to honor all Christian saints and martyrs. It is generally believed that this edict was meant to cause All Saints Day to replace Samhain. However, instead of killing off the pagan traditions, these two celebrations combined to create All-Hallows Eve. The holiday was no longer about the Celtic deities, or about the Christian Saints. The previously celebrated supernatural creatures were now thought to be evil and the main focus of the holiday was about the wandering dead.
The third fact that seems to be agreed upon is that trick-or-treating came from another two practices that eventually combined. The first is “mumming”, a medieval practice where people would disguise themselves and go door-to-door asking for food in exchange for “tricks” (basically they were putting on shows and clowning around). The second is the practice of leaving out food and offerings for the dead in order to gain favor with them, which is believed to be part of the original Samhain tradition. So basically, we give kids candy in exchange for entertainment, and to satisfy the little goblins that knock on our door.
By Sharon Reily, Reference Department
Most of us don’t realize how much food we waste each year. It’s awfully easy to toss leftovers and less-than-perfect produce into the trash. Wasted food numbers are staggering. It’s estimated that in the U.S., 72 billion pounds of still-usable food (worth $218 billion) goes to waste each year and that approximately 25 to 40 percent of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed. Much of this food that is still safe and edible could be used to feed hungry families or be composted. But according to the EPA, approximately 94 percent of it ends up in landfills, where it takes up a lot of space and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Let’s take a look at a few simple things we can all do to help reduce food waste, and then focus on one of the best methods of utilizing uneaten food – composting.
Several local organizations are on a mission to “rescue” unused food to feed hungry families and divert it from landfills by methods such as composting. Second Harvest Food Bank and the Nashville Food Waste Initiative work with businesses, food service companies, farmers, and individuals to gather food before it goes to waste, distribute it to groups serving the hungry, and keep it out of landfills. Sustainable America suggests ways to become involved in food rescue. Their websites (listed at the end of this article) offer a wealth of information about how we can help in these efforts.
On a smaller scale, there are lots of ways we can reduce food waste in our own homes, and most of them rely on plain old common sense:
- Plan weekly shopping lists carefully to avoid buying too much food. Think of all the money we can save if we buy only as much food as we can use.
- Consider how many meals we’ll eat at home in a week versus the times we’ll eat out.
- Think about how many meals can be made with each food item and shop accordingly. Don’t buy in bulk unless all the food can be used before it spoils.
- Learn how to store different fruits and vegetables properly to keep them fresh longer and preserve or freeze what can’t be used immediately.
- Shop in the fridge first! Use what’s already there before buying more.
- Learn the difference between “sell by,” “use by” and “best by” dates.
- Get creative using safe edible food parts not usually eaten, such as vegetable scraps, in casseroles, stir-fries, and soups.
Some inedible food will remain even with careful planning, but much of it can still be diverted from landfills. One great way is to compost. Most of us can create a compost pile in our own backyards or at least collect waste material to be taken to a composting facility, such as Compost Nashville.
Benefits of Composting
Compost is simply decomposed organic material and composting is the natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment called humus. The EPA lists several key benefits to composting:
- Enriches soil, helps retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases and pests.
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
- Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
- Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.
There are many different ways to make a compost pile. WCPL and its branches have several books on composting and there are many detailed composting instructions available online. Watch the WCPL website (wcpltn.org) for information about a program on composting coming in August 2019.
Here are a few composting basics.
- Select a location with good drainage that is easily accessible from your kitchen.
- Choose a partially sunny or shady spot. Too much sun will dry out the pile and total shade may keep it too wet.
- Your compost unit can be as simple as an actual “pile” of materials in your yard, or you can build or purchase more complex composting devices such as various bins and tumblers. You can also compost indoors with worms, using special stacked worm bins. Eww!
Compost is made up of three main ingredients:
- Brown materials, which provide carbon: dead leaves, branches, twigs, bits of cardboard, shredded newspaper, torn-up paper towel and toilet paper rolls, and small bits of cardboard
- Green materials, which provide nitrogen: grass clippings and other yard debris, fresh uncooked vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds
- Water, which provides the moisture required to help break down the materials
Some materials should NOT be added to a compost pile. Avoid:
- Coal or charcoal ash
- Dairy products
- Diseased plants
- Fats, grease, or oils
- Fish or other animal bones
- Pet fecal waste or used cat litter
- Invasive weeds or plants that could root or germinate in the compost
- Any yard debris that has been treated with chemical pesticides
Establishing a Compost Pile
- Begin your pile with equal amounts of browns and greens added in 4-inch layers. You could also just toss them in haphazardly, but the decomposition process will take much longer.
- Water the pile. Keep it moist but do not let it get soggy.
- After the initial setup, add greens and browns as they become available. Cover fruit and vegetable waste with several inches of compost materials.
- Yard debris will decompose more quickly if it is broken into small pieces.
- Stir the pile occasionally with a shovel or pitchfork.
The compost process can take anywhere from three months to two years. Compost is ready when it looks like very dark soil and has a sweet, earthy smell. To test it, put a small amount in a plastic bag. Sniff before sealing. Reopen the bag after a few days. The sample should smell the same as it did before. If it smells worse, your compost needs more time in the pile.
Compost is an amazing amendment to your garden soil and can be applied in several ways. Think of it as food for dirt. Spread it over your lawn to nourish the grass, or mix it into garden soil.
- Give your vegetable garden plenty of compost in the fall. Spread several inches of compost on top of the existing bed, then till it into the soil in the springtime.
- Put a handful of compost in each hole when you’re planting.
- Once plants begin to grow quickly, you can add a half-inch layer of compost around the base of the plants. Provide “heavy feeder” plants such as tomatoes, corn, and squash with 1/2 inch of compost monthly.
- In the spring, loosen the top few inches of annual and perennial beds and mix in a 1-inch layer of compost.
- In the fall, apply a 1-inch layer of compost as a mulch to protect plant roots from freezing and conserve moisture.
- Potted plants and window boxes:
- Nutrients in potting soil may be depleted as plants grow. To replenish them, add an inch of compost to potted plants and window boxes twice a year.
- You can make your own potting soil using two parts screened compost to one part sand or perlite.
- Brew a compost “tea” by steeping compost in water and use it as a foliar spray or a soil drench.
Clearly, composting can be a win-win endeavor. It allows you to cut down on the amount of unused food that otherwise would end up in a landfill. It creates a great, nutritious supplement for your garden. Why not plan to begin a compost pile as your next garden project?
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING: Read the rest of this entry
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Rollo (not the candy) was a leader of a band of Vikings who invaded northern France and settled there in 918 A.D. He was called Rollo the Walker, because he was said to have been too big to ride a horse (either too tall or too fat—it isn’t clear in the sagas). The area he settled, or took over, became the land of the Northmen which over time became the duchy of Normandy. Rollo is significant because he was the three times grandfather of William of Normandy who is known throughout history as William the Conqueror (aka, William the Bastard).
William’s father died when he was eight, and he instantly became the heir. But he had to fight for his birthright since he was considered by most everyone as a bastard. Luckily for William, he was very good at fighting and he won his place as the Duke of Normandy. The English king, Edward the Confessor, had promised William the throne of England upon his death. Perhaps he forgot this fact (or just ignored it) because he also promised the throne to Harold Godwinson (Harold the Saxon) as well. Thus a contest for the throne of England was set. Harold was proclaimed king, and William decided to defend his right to the throne.
By a twist of fate, a Norwegian king, Harald Hardrada (the Ruthless) also decided to take England by force. He wasn’t promised the throne, though; his connection came from Harold Godwinson’s troublesome brother, Tostig (gasp! No nickname?). He brought 300 ships and 11,000 Vikings to take the English throne. They attacked at the north of England and managed to take the city of York. Harold knew that William was going to attack as well but that would be at a different part of England, so what was Harold to do? He decided to defend England against Harald Hardrada and his Vikings even knowing that William was close to sailing to attack from a different coast. It turned out that William was delayed in his conquest of England because he was waiting for good winds to take him across the English Channel. If the winds had turned good earlier, who know what would have happened (now that would be a good alternate history idea).
Harold was successful in defeating the Viking forces at Stamford Bridge, but at great cost. And since the Vikings had attacked England at the north end of the country, the English under Harold Godwinson had to force-march ten miles a day for three weeks to get to the south of England and meet William. They were mostly walking—most of the soldiers didn’t have horses, and given the distance, they made good time. But they were exhausted when they got there, and they had to fight the next day. No day of rest for them. William and his Norman forces won the day; Harold was killed with an arrow through the eye; and history was made. This was effectively the end of the English kings, and the beginning of Norman/French rule. William continued to fight to consolidate his rule of England. He fought other battles in 1068 against Harold Godwinson’s heirs and in 1069 the Danes attacked York, aided by revolting (what they did, not how they looked) English nobles. He scorched the earth so badly after he won it was said that there was famine in the area for nine years.
And why was William conquering England so important?
- The Normans brought French language to England. The rulers and the courts spoke French, and it was the official language of England for centuries. In time it trickled down through the whole country and became closer to the language we know today. The reason we can read Chaucer and other Middle English works is that they are not in Anglo-Saxon.
- Many believe that the Normans won because they used stirrups when they rode to battle. Stirrups hadn’t made it to the island of Britain yet and the Normans were using armored cavalry, 3000 strong! When throwing spears and slashing from horseback, it is far easier to stay in the saddle with stirrups!
- William ordered that a national census be done in 1086; the first census was called the Domesday Book. He wanted to see what he had conquered. It is still extant and can be looked at in the National Archives. It is also available online and as a book.
- Some sources believe that the legend of Robin Hood was actually born during the time of the Norman invasion under William, not under his 4th great grandson John.
- The Norman Invasion brought castles to England. France invented the castle as a way to protect property and dominate the land, and the Normans built many stout and menacing castles in England to control England. Many are still standing today.
- Chivalry came to Great Britain with the Normans. Imagine life without the romance of knights and their ladies; King Arthur would not have been such a great influence without this way of acting and living.
- William banned the English slave trade. He even sometimes freed slaves. Some historians believe that 15% to 20% of the population was enslaved before the Invasion. True, they brought in the feudal system with serfs, who were treated sometimes like slaves. But they couldn’t be sold, except when the land was sold or traded hands.
- William erected an abbey at the spot where Harold died, in remembrance and in penance. Ruins of the abbey are still there, as is a town called Battle. Normans erected other churches, cathedrals as well as castles.
- The Battle of Hastings was recreated on a 230 feet long (and 20 inches wide) tapestry by the women of Bayeux, France (either nuns and/or women in William’s family). It is the longest tapestry in existence. It is known as the Bayeux Tapestry and is quite famous for the battle scenes, which are quite graphic. If it was created by nuns, they knew battle…
- Normans brought surnames to England as well. Anglo-Saxons, similar to the Vikings, had a descriptive surname, like Luke the Fat or Marcus the butcher.
- And finally, for the gross factor: William died in his French capital, Rouen. He confessed his sins and distributed his treasure to the poor and to some of the churches in his realms. It is believed that William was injured by a fall or perhaps from the pommel of his saddle (he was very heavy later in life). In any case, it was an internal injury and swelled badly. The priests had a hard time getting him into his stone sarcophagus, which was a little too short and not big enough for him, and had to push hard. His wounds, having festered, burst from the corpse; it was a very quick burial after that… (ewwww…)
- Still, all kings (and queens) in England after William were descended through him. Some believe over 25% of the English population can trace their genealogy back through him. And may Americans can also count him as an ancestor. Justin Timberlake and Barack Obama are very distant cousins, both having lines back to William!
Further Reading: Read the rest of this entry
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
A brother and sister in the county recently decided to get their first library cards at WCPL. Let’s call them Jack and Jill for short. It is not known why they waited so long to get a card, but it turns out that Jill needs a rare and costly book that the library has on the shelf. Using the library for free (that’s right, free) saves Jill from having to buy the book with the equivalent of half her weekly grocery budget.
Soon Jack comes by the library to pick up Jill’s rare book as well the five movies his sister has reserved online from home. Since this is his first time in the library, Jack takes his own tour to see what’s here. He sees a huge collection of childrens’ books, and notices the Launchpads which could occupy his niece for hours. He browses shelves and shelves of entertainment DVDs, locating several older movies that are hard to find. Nearby is the large area holding an extensive fiction collection and Large Print books.
Jack thinks to himself, “Surely, there is more to the library than this,” and he is right. He sees the stairs and heads up to the second floor. Jack uses his card to access the public computers which offer the range of Microsoft Office software as well as photo editing and more. He discovers that there are nonfiction and documentary type DVDs on the second floor and locates two which ignite his interest.
Meanwhile, Jill is thinking about their family dinner party and texts Jack requesting two cookbooks, Rachel Ray’s Look + Cook, and The Best of America’s Test Kitchen Little did Jack know, but the Library has over 50 shelves of cookbooks upstairs, including one entire 27 foot long wall. He finds both books available, with the recipes Jack and Jill both love cooking.
Before leaving, Jack sees the Reference Desk and asks them a question regarding data for his business. Jack makes guitar pedals and wants to be sure he is speaking to every music place within 50 miles. He asks if there is a database that could help him. Jack gets back on the library computer and the librarian takes him through several databases available for library users. Most helpful is Reference USA, which lets him mine and correlate the very information he is seeking.
Jill texts again to remind Jack to schedule time for the winter family trip to Switzerland. This prompts Jack to think how he needs to learn more about his digital camera, while also brushing up on his French and German. To save time, he asks the librarians at the Reference Desk for help. They show him how to take advantage of the several eBook connections through the library, especially READS and R. B. Digital. With his new card, Jack is able to download on his ipad, David Pogue’s Digital Photography: The Missing Manual. The librarian also shows Jack the photography E-magazines available to check out free through the READS and Zinio electronic libraries. Jack downloads immediately Digital Photography from Zinio.
Jack tells the librarian, that if he ever worried the library would go out of business, he doesn’t now. “Are you as up-to-date on language learning? I need to refresh my French and German.” The Reference Desk librarian shows him the library learning site called Transparent Languages, and gets him into the German and French programs using Jack’s library card as the login.
On his way out, with books, DVDs, and electronic downloads in hand, Jack texts Jill, “There’s a lot here at the library. More than I realized. You say you like the newly designed card; I know you’ll like even more, using it. You’ve got to come check this out!”
By Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
Can you believe we’re living in The Future? For decades, the year 2000 seemed impossibly far away. Folks imagined that, by now, we’d have robot teachers and colonies on Mars, and the end of all disease. Companies would add the number “2000” after model numbers to connote cutting-edge technology from the bright, distant horizon. Marty McFly’s 2015 was a land of flying cars, expanding pizza, and self-tying shoes. (And fax machines. Fax machines were everywhere.)
Some of those visions for the future were spot on; others now seem charmingly out-of-date; and we’re still waiting for many of the rest to be invented. But isn’t it fantastic how often we hear about inventions that were inspired by Science Fiction? If “[science] is magic that works,” as Kurt Vonnegut says in Cat’s Cradle, then Science Fiction is the root of much of that magic. Imagination becomes ideas, which in turn become experiments. Experiments lead to discoveries, then inventions, and ultimately to the commonplace wonders we take for granted: such as the submarine (Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), the cell phone (the direct descendent of the “communicator” from the original Star Trek series), and even nuclear power (H.G. Wells’ The World Set Free). 
Wait. A fiction writer born in the 1800s gave the world the idea for nuclear power? It’s true! Decades after its publication, a scientist named Leo Szilard “read [The World Set Free] and was immediately inspired to create what Wells had dreamed up” – for better or for worse.  And when a teenaged Robert H. Goddard read Wells’ The War of the Worlds, it set him on a path of “research [that] culminated with the Apollo program, and man’s landing on the moon.”  So there’s an undeniable link between the Science Fiction genre and humanity’s incredible achievements. Keep that in mind the next time your friends give you a hard time for being a sci-fi geek!
Another cool thing about the sci-fi genre is that it often combines elements of many other genres, as well. There’s sci-fi horror, sci-fi thriller, sci-fi mystery, sci-fi romance… You get it. So, without further ado, I’m going to leave you with a great list of Science Fiction authors (many of them you’ll find on our genre bookmarks in the library), titles of some of their works, and sometimes the additional genres that come into play. (For example, when you see “humor,” think of it as “sci-fi + humor,” and so on.)
- Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (humor)
- A. American – Survivalist series (pulpy but fun)
- Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky
- Hiromu Arakawa – Fullmetal Alchemist (manga)
- Catherine Asaro – Quantum Rose
- Isaac Asimov – Foundation series; Galactic Empire series; Robot series
- Gertrude Barrows Bennett – Citadel of Fear (under pseudonym “Francis Stevens”)
- Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination (cyberpunk); The Demolished Man
- Leigh Brackett – The Long Tomorrow
- Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles; The Veldt (short story)
- Octavia E. Butler – Xenogenesis series
- Pat Cadigan – Synners (cyberpunk)
- Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game series (YA)
- Margaret Cavendish – The Blazing World (published in 1666!)
- Becky Chambers – A Closed and Common Orbit
- C. L. Cherryh – Downbelow Station
- Arthur C. Clarke – 2001: A Space Odyssey (there are four books in the series); Childhood’s End
- Ernest Cline – Ready Player One; Armada
- Peter Clines – 14 (mystery, horror, paranormal); The Fold (thriller)
- Michael Crichton – Sphere (psychological thriller); Jurassic Park; Prey
- Philip K. Dick – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; Ubik; A Scanner Darkly (police procedural)
- William Gibson – Neuromancer (cyberpunk); The Difference Engine (written with Bruce Sterling) (steampunk); Virtual Light (dark humor, detective)
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman – Herland
- Joe Haldeman – The Forever War series; The Accidental Time Machine
- Frank Herbert – Dune saga
- Hugh Howey – Silo series (post-apocalyptic)
- Kameron Hurley – The Stars Are Legion
- Aldous Huxley – Brave New World; Ape and Essence
- P. D. James – Children of Men
- Nancy Kress – Beggars in Spain
- Larissa Lai – Salt Fish Girl
- Ursula K. Le Guin – Hainish Cycle; The Eye of the Heron; The Left Hand of Darkness
- Madeleine L’Engle – Kairos cycle (beginning with A Wrinkle in Time) (children’s, “science fantasy”)
- Cixin Liu – Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy (hard science fiction)
- Katherine MacLean – Pictures Don’t Lie (stories)
- Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven
- George R. R. Martin – Tuf Voyaging; the Wildcards universe
- Robert Masello – The Einstein Prophecy (historical fiction, mystery, thriller)
- Julian May – Pliocene Exile series (high fantasy)
- Anne McCaffrey – The Ship Who Sang
- Seanan McGuire – Parasitology Trilogy series (sociological, under pseudonym “Mira Grant”)
- Maureen F. McHugh – China Mountain Zhang
- Judith Merril – The Tomorrow People
- Elizabeth Moon – The Speed of Dark
- Larry Niven – Tales of Known Space series; Ringworld and the Fleet of Worlds series
- Alice Norton – The Time Traders (under pseudonym “Andre Norton”)
- Christopher Nuttall – The Oncoming Storm (military, space opera); The Royal Sorceress (steampunk, alternate history)
- Nnedi Okorafor – Who Fears Death
- Malka Older – Infomocracy
- George Orwell – 1984 (speculative, “social science fiction”)
- Frederik Pohl – The Coming of the Quantum Cats; the Heechee saga (space opera)
- Kim Stanley Robinson – Mars trilogy (literary)
- Joanna Russ – The Female Man (experimental and not what you think)
- Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow
- Carl Sagan – Contact
John Scalzi – Redshirts; Old Man’s War series
- Alice Bradley Sheldon – Her Smoke Rose up Forever (stories, under pseudonym “James Tiptree, Jr.”)
- Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
- Dan Simmons – Ilium series (fantasy); Hyperion Cantos series (fantasy)
- Neal Stephenson – Cryptonomicon (historical fiction); Snow Crash (cyberpunk)
- Karin Tidbek – Amatka
- Jules Verne – Journey to the Center of the Earth (adventure)
- Thea von Harbou – Metropolis
- Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle; Slaughterhouse Five; The Sirens of Titan (all conceptual/unconventional)
- Sabrina Vourvoulias – Ink
- David Weber – Honor Harrington series (military); The Apocalypse Troll
- Andy Weir – The Martian; Artemis
- H. G. Wells – The Time Machine; The Island of Doctor Moreau; The Invisible Man; The War of the Worlds
- Martha Wells – The Murderbot Diaries series (described as a fun read!)
- Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog (historical fiction, rom-com, humor, time travel)
That’s enough to get you started, right? Remember, if we don’t have a book at the Williamson County Public Library, we’ll try to locate it with Inter-Library Loan. Enjoy – and be inspired!
I sourced most of the woman authors and their works from this excellent list: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/50-sci-fi-must-reads-by-women
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Good morning class, and welcome to Superhero 101. With the massive surge of movies, books, and television about and starring spandex clad gladiators from the last century we cannot help but look back to the origins of the archetypal superhero. Most modern comic book enthusiasts think of comics and their associated heroes as falling into the eras of The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Modern ages, with the superhero archetype we all think of (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America) beginning in the Golden age. While I agree with the ages and their application in the history of comics, I believe the heroes go back so much farther. I would go even as far as to say that our older heroes are still as popular now as they were in their nascent era. So let us begin learning how the heroes of humanity’s past are the heroes of today’s children.
Okay, that’s what it would say at the top of the syllabus if there was a university crazy enough to give me carte blanche to design a course of my choosing. I’m not sure what department would end up with a course like that; history, literature, and anthropology all have good claims on the subject matter. (I’d probably choose anthropology.) I started to think about this back in 2005, when another set of books came out claiming to be the next Harry Potter. It was something to do with Mount Olympus in New York and some unfortunately named kid. Percy Jackson brought Greek mythology back to the American consciousness with a vengeance. I remarked to a coworker in the children’s department that it was like someone had mixed Dauliere’s mythology with comic books, and then I realized there was nothing to mix, that the original sequential pictures were drawn on the side of black-figure pottery. The more I thought about it, the further back I could push that genesis moment in drawn super heroes, back past Homer, beyond Gilgamesh, back to the paintings in Chauvet and Lascaux and the Löwenmensch. Those giant figures on cave walls and anthropomorphized animals showed a belief in a being better than an average human, a super man.
The real origin we can trace the ideas back is to the stories that have come down to us along with artistic renderings. Gilgamesh is probably the earliest recorded super hero. He was stronger and braver and more cunning than an average person. This was because he was two thirds god (yeah, I can’t make the math on that work either), but he wasn’t a god himself. Even the Old Testament refers to a race of giants like Goliath, that were the children of fallen angels and human women, but they were not very heroic. Yet still that was the de facto origin story for most of the Stone Age and Classical Age heroes, some combination of divine ancestors mixed with human to make for an invulnerable hero (Achilles), a super strong one (Heracles), or some mix of characteristics (Theseus, Perseus, Etc. ). There are even examples of plain guys with nothing but their physical prowess and sharp wits like Batman, oh, sorry , I mean Odysseus. The superhero of today would fit fine in ancient Greece and Rome if he just swapped his tights and alien parents for a toga or chiton and a more deified lineage.
The medieval world and its dominating monotheistic religions brought an end to all this human/deity philandering. Heroes now were men and women who were blessed by God like Robin Hood, Pwyll of Dyfed, and King Arthur or sorcerers of sketchy origin like Merlin. Real life heroes began to be magnified to supernatural proportions. Joan of Arc, El Cid, Roland, Boadicea, and Charlemagne all have fantastic elements woven into their stories. Off in the cold north of Europe the Vikings still had the demigod heroes of the early sagas, but even these saw a Christianization as people adopted the religion but didn’t want to give up their old fireside stories. Hero tales are not the sole property of the west in the middle ages. Sinbad the mariner was sailing the Arabian Sea while the brothers of the peach orchard, Guan Yu, Liu Pei, and Zhang Fei, were fighting to unite China.
Since the Medieval era, we have been going through our past for inspiration. There have been resurgences in interest over and over in the classical mythos as well as the Arthurian legends. Scholars debate the historicity of Troy and Camelot. Writers like Tennyson and Keats borrowed the themes for new works. It wasn’t until early last century that we began something new. Superman, Captain Marvel, Captain America and Wonder Woman each debuted and added new heroes to our mythology. This coincided with a rise in science fiction stories in the popular publishing world. Now we have science fiction retellings of the Odyssey, movies of Sinbad, video Games of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and graphic novels that tell the 4000 year old story of Gilgamesh and Troy. Children today are learning the same lessons as the kids of millennia past from the same characters. We have made our own heroes but we have built them on a timeless framework that goes back to the beginning of humanity and we have brought along a best of collection of the heroes of the past.
Sources and Suggested Reading:
- The History of Art by H. W. Janson (709 JAN)
- Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman (J 741.5 NOB)
- D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire (J 292 DAU)
- The Epic of Gilgamesh by Kent H. Dixon (892.1 DIX)
- The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (201.3 CAM)
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guangzhong (895.13 LUO)
- The Song of Roland by Anonymous (YA 841.1 CHA)
by Chelsea Bennett, Reference Department
What Am I Going to Read Now?? We’ve all been there. After spending days – weeks –months! – devouring plotlines, falling in love with characters, forming a map of their world inside our heads, we all must reach The End. Closing a book after reading its last line can be bittersweet, to say the least. When you’ve exhausted your favorite author’s bibliography, pored through every volume of a series, or simply finished a Darn Good Book, you may find yourself in a Book Hangover.
That Darn Good Book can never – should never – be replaced in your heart. But you don’t have to suffer hopelessly through a Book Hangover. Assuage your pain by picking up another book. And not just any book: though millions of books are published each year, there are ways to increase your odds of finding love again. Friends, relatives, librarians, and critics can all be a great source of recommendations. And for the internet-connected book fiend, there’s another option: Readers’ Advisory Websites.
Despite the somewhat ominous phrasing (calling to mind the sternness of a Parental Advisory, or the anxiety of a Weather Advisory), a Readers’ Advisory Website (denoted here as “RAW”) can be a useful, entertaining tool. Essentially, a reader inputs preferences, and the RAW outputs suggestions. Those are the ones we’ll look at today. Review sites also fall under the umbrella of RAWs, so I’ll list some of those, too.
I had never used a Readers’ Advisory Website before researching them for this article, so I’m presenting them to you from a new user’s point of view. Here are my four picks.
Some RAWs are smarter than others. You don’t need a machine to tell you that you “might also enjoy” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you liked Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. That’s accurate, but thoroughly unenlightening.
Best Results: Whichbook (https://www.whichbook.net/)
Perhaps the cleverest site I discovered is Whichbook. Its various search methods are fun to use and give spot-on results. Start by customizing your search with up to four criteria, adjustable on a sliding scale. (See screenshot.) You can also search by Character, Plot, and Setting; or get results by going to an author’s name, choosing a title, and clicking “Find similar books.”
The Whichbook team eschews bestseller lists in order to bring you curated selections you may not find elsewhere. All of their recommendations for me felt personally considered. I felt seen, known, loved – by a website!
Caveat: This site is based in the UK. I didn’t find some of the authors in our local library, but that’s what Inter-Library Loan requests are for.
Thorough Analysis: Allreaders (http://allreaders.com/)
Allreaders provides detailed reviews and a “specific, searchable breakdown of the plot, setting, character types, and style.” I enjoyed reading breakdowns of books I know. And I liked the layout of book recommendations “with storylines, themes & endings” similar to the book I searched for.
Allreaders’ Detailed Power Search (DPS) isn’t very pretty, but it gives so many options, some of them quite amusing. (Be sure you’re in the right genre first – here’s the link for Literature, and there are others.) I threw a lot of criteria into a search, requesting convoluted Plots & Themes, a unique Main Character, an elaborate Setting, and even a distinct Writing Style. DPS returned a long list of suggestions – some more intriguing than others. No suggestion matched every one of my crazy demands, of course. But if I were desperately seeking something new to read, I’d have fun browsing the results.
Easy Search: What Should I Read Next? (https://whatshouldireadnext.com)
If the minutiae of the first two search engines put you off, What Should I Read Next? may be the RAW for you. Simply type in an author or book you love. Results are tagged with keywords, so you can decide whether to follow up on the suggestions. You can click the keywords to find more books with the same tag. (One suggestion I got was tagged with “attempted assassination,” “cats,” and “time travel.” Now that’s a must-read!)
Fun Interface: Literature-Map (https://www.literature-map.com/)
Calling itself “The Tourist Map of Literature,” Literature-Map offers a unique visual approach. Enter your favorite writer’s name, and you’re rewarded with a clickable constellation of authors. “The closer two writers are,” claims Literature-Map, “the more likely someone will like both of them.” Searching for Jane Austen brought up a great variety of names to explore. I was impressed that David Sedaris, Harper Lee, and C. S. Lewis were among them, in addition to predictable results (Dickens, the Brontë sisters). Also included were Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon, so there’s truly a path for every taste.
Review Websites and Social Networks
Taking the time to browse review sites, you might stumble upon a fantastic book that otherwise lies outside of your field of vision. Here are some to check out.
- The Book Report Network (https://tbrnetwork.com/) comprises “six editorial websites … organized … by demographic and … interest.” Adults, young adults, teens, and kids all have their own specialized sites; reading groups and graphic novel fans are also provided for.
- Overbooked: The Next Chapter (http://overbooked.com/next-chapter/) looks at new releases, both eclectic and mainstream, to “encourage omnivorous reading.”
- With YourNextRead (http://www.yournextread.com/us/), you can “discover and share” by searching for recommendations, browsing user lists, and customizing your own book map. (Registration required for some features.)
- GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/) is a large social network of readers. Browse and create reviews and shelves (custom lists), add friends from Facebook, follow users with similar tastes, and even interact with authors who use the site. (Registration required for some features.)
That’s all from me. May your horizons broaden and your tastes refine. Have fun exploring! And check out the links below for even more RAWs not listed here.
Article Sources, and More RAW Suggestions