The Cloudspotter’s Guide
The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds
by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
We start off our first series with a book especially designed to put your head in the clouds! When you need a break from the rigors of university life, turn your eyes heaven-ward and discover a whole new world. This book provides an engaging look at the science of clouds, put forth in layman’s terms, and is just perfect for the amateur meteorologist. It is also full of humor and fascinating anecdotes, and includes a section of color photographs and a quiz for those who are ready to test out their cloud knowledge.
CALL NUMBER: QC921 .P78 2007 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Golden Compass
Volume One of the His Dark Materials Trilogy
by Philip Pullman
This book made our list because of one of its characters, Iorek, a fantastic polar bear who is plenty wild and wooly (despite his official “Armoured Bear” rank). Perhaps you are turned off by talking animals, or a trilogy that smacks of fantasy, or by the fact that it was recently made into a (plot-poor but effects-rich) movie, but don’t let any of this daunt you. While this is considered a “children’s book,” it is not for the faint of heart, and you will find its metaphorical struggle between religion and science to be very mature indeed. The characters are well-developed and resist categorization on either the “good” or “bad” sides. The breathtaking adventures had by the young heroine Lyra make it hard to put down.
This book has been banned or boycotted by various churches and schools systems both in the US and in Canada, so if for no other reason, read this book in support of intellectual freedom!
CALL NUMBER : PR6066.U44 N67 1995 (Click to see library catalog record)
Alaska by James A. Michener
This absorbing collection of mini-novels tells a tale of the history and peoples of Alaska, starting with the moving of tectonic plates millions of years ago. One chapter chronicles the lives of a family of wooly mammoths and their first encounters with mankind, other chapters deal with the Russian appearance on Alaska’s coasts; all stories are told in an engaging narrative style and a vivid descriptive language. Michener did much of his research for this book at the Sheldon Jackson College Library in Sitka, AK, which happens to be a port of call for many Alaskan cruises. This book is a must for anyone who has ever dreamed of visiting Alaska.
CALL NUMBER: PS3525.I19 A79 1988 (Click to see library catalog record)
Three Bags Full: a sheep detective story by Leonie Swann
Oddly whimsical–in a good way–is probably the best way to describe this story about a flock of Scottish Highlands sheep who set out to succeed where the townsfolk have failed in solving the murder of their shepherd. Each sheep has its own personality and its own way to contribute to the case; the variety of characters within the flock almost makes you forget they are sheep! This mystery has its comical moments, and a few philosophical ones as well.
CALL NUMBER: PT2721.W36 G5413 2006 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: an adventure with sixteen sheep, three dogs, two donkeys, and me
by Jon Katz
Here is a book you will either enjoy or hate depending upon your experiences with dogs and country living. Katz is a rookie when it comes to rural living; nevertheless he buys a farm and stocks it with sheep, and with his three border collies moves to upstate New York. Delineated are amusing tales of his adventures with dog training, lost sheep, harsh winters, and his observations that dogs are a reflection of their owners.
CALL NUMBER: SF426.2 .K3824 2005 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Road from Coorain and True North: a memoir
by Jil Ker Conway
Jil Ker Conway, former president (and first woman president) of Smith College and now a professor at MIT, recounts her life on her family’s sheep farm in the Australian Outback. A well written and inspiring tale of hard work, drought and sorrow, the struggle for an education, and what it meant to be a woman in the 1950s. True North is a sequel to The Road from Coorain and deals with Conway’s life here in the United States and Canada. Well worth the read.
CALL NUMBER for The Road from Coorain: HQ1397 .C66 1989 (Click to see library catalog record)
CALL NUMBER FOR True North: LD7152.7.C66 C66 1994 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
In my book -my book about books- Michael Chabon can do no wrong. Not that I am biased. His 2000 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a joyous romp across continents and decades. While The Yiddish Policemen’s Union mainly situates itself in a small sliver of Alaska, albeit a parallel universe in which Jews migrated to Sitka rather than to Israel, it refers back to pre-World War II Europe and to current day middle eastern religious warfare.
Central character Meyer Landsman is a rumpled, down-on-his-luck detective with a murder on his hands that occurred in the fleabag hotel he has called home ever since he and his wife -also a law enforcement officer- broke up a few years back. The situation would be a bit more routine if 1) the “reversion” (when Sitka can legally kick all its Jews out) were not scheduled to occur in 6 weeks and 2) the corpse in question were not the son of a very powerful local rabbi, a chess genius junkie and rumored Messiah. These facts, we learn in the first 10 pages or so. The next 400 introduce the reader to a truly bizarre cast of characters that will have you laughing out loud when you’re not running for your Yiddish dictionary.
Chabon, never at a loss for words, is in inestimable form. His evocation of people and events, simply using the printed words, is a talent that doesn’t come around often. It’s the kind of book that you can flip through and find a paragraph to marvel over on almost every page. Here he describes Landsman’s first meeting with the rabbi:
“Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running. A little kid lumped him together, a mob of kids, blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man. They clumped the dough of his arms and legs to the dough of his body, then jammed his head down on top. A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe’s frock coat and trousers. It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe’s massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up, if he sits down, is doesn’t make any difference in what you see.”
I will spare you the description of Shpilman taking a shvitz; but it’s on page 341 of the hardback edition if you must take a look. I recommend this book, part murder mystery, part love story, part fantasy, part family history to anyone. Enjoy and let me know how you liked the trip!
CALL NUMBER: PS3553.H15 Y54 200 (Click for library catalog record)
Submissions for Series One submitted by Miriam Allman, Laurie Sabol, and Abigail Cross
Welcome to WHAT SOPHIA RECOMMENDS from among the (little-known) Leisure Literature found in Tisch Library!
Sophia is, of course, our lovely bronze mascot, who sits on a bench across from the New Books Shelf, always with a book on her lap. She serves to remind us that even in these busy days, as people rush through the lobby to the computers, the cafe, the book stacks, or the classrooms, it is important (and enjoyable) to read for fun, outside of the research and news and websites and television shows that fill our brains every day.
Before each academic break, we will post some leisure reading recommendations, sometimes based around a theme, sometimes by a guest compiler. We hope you find time to relax with a book when you travel from campus…and maybe also in those rare spare moments you might have on occasion while you’re on campus!