Summer Reading (Or Beach Reading)

Summer. It’s a magical time of year in which we get to make ample use of the “Coastal” part of Coastal Carolina. Of course, for me it means, “Oh goodness I need to stay out of the sun because I will burn in about 10 minutes.” But for those whose skin is more resilient, it means there is the opportunity to relax on the beach and grab a good book to enjoy the sun. And for those of us whose skin happens to be as fair as Snow White, we can still read, but we might prefer to do it in the safety of the shade.

If you’re itching for some good books to read, we have some great suggestions for you from library staff and some of our wonderful English faculty. And if you’ve got a book you’ve been enjoying, let us know in the comments!

I personally have just finished reading the book S, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Conceived by director JJ Abrams, this is a unique work — a book within a book. S presents itself as a 1948 novel called Ship of Theseus, written by an acclaimed author named V.M. Straka. But the novel itself is only a piece of the larger story, which is told through notes in the margins. Two college students are passing the book back and forth, looking at clues and codes hidden in the book for clues to the actual identity of the mysterious author, the message being passed to him by his translator, and the secret society he was a part of. All the while, the two students are also coming to terms with themselves and their direction in life. Both a mystery and a romance, S is one of the most unique books I’ve read. The mystery of V.M. Straka is incredibly compelling, and it’s easy to understand and empathize with the college students. Inserts in the book, pieces meant to be exchanged back and forth by the two students such as letters, newspaper clippings, and postcards, make the book feel even more “alive.”  It can be difficult at first to grapple with the book because it is unfolding in a nonlinear fashion (one page might have margin notes written at three different times by the students), but I definitely recommend checking this one out.

If you’ve been following the HBO series, summer is also a great time to dive into Game of Thrones. We have the complete series available both in print and audiobook, so jump right in. It’s quite an undertaking to get through them, but the competition for the Iron Throne of Westeros and impending apocalyptic clash will draw you in. Just watch out for that Red Wedding. And if you have read the books already, you might want to check out The Hedge Knight graphic novels. Serving as a prequel to the series, Hedge Knight chronicles a squire 100 years before the events of the main series in his efforts to become a full knight.

If you want all of the fantasy of Game of Thrones without the drama and general overwhelming sadness, one of my favorites is a novel by Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe titled Brave Story. This book tells the story of 10 year old Wataru whose father is leaving Wataru’s mother for another woman. This sends Wataru’s mother into a spiral of depression. At the same time, Wataru comes across a portal to magical world, where he is told that he if he completes a quest he will have a wish granted. Wanting nothing more than to bring his family back together, Wataru embarks on his journey. This is a slow-paced fantasy novel, but it uses its time to build the characters. Wataru in particular is especially well-written as he comes to grasp with his family’s struggles and the reality of wishing away your problems. And as all of this unfolds, he has an epic quest with a great cast of supporting characters. If you like classic fantasy RPGs, Brave Story has a lot to offer.

Sally, the library’s fearless leader (and reader), has a recommendation of her own. Here’s what she has to say about Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being:

I am always looking for a good book that creates an affectionate bond between character and reader. I found it in Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, A Tale for the Time Being. The protagonist, a sixteen year-old Japanese girl named, Nao (pronounced “now”), has decided there is only one escape from her aching loneliness, unhappy family life, and classmates’ relentless bullying. Before she ends it all, Nao decides to document the life of her great grandmother, a 104 year-old Buddhist nun (Ozeki happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest!). The diary ends up being Nao’s only solace and will touch lives in ways she can barely imagine.

Across the Pacific in British Columbia, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island and struggling with writer’s block. While walking on the beach Ruth discovers a collection of items washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and pulled forward into her own future.

In a modified epistolary format that includes diary entries, letters, e-mails, text messages, and an abstract of a disappearing journal article, Ozeki creates a gentle and flowing mystery of intrigue. Where did the lunchbox come from? How did it wash up in Canada? Are Nao and the other diary subjects still alive or did they die in the 2011 Japanese tsunami? Alternating chapters contrast Nao’s diary entries (my favorite!) with Ruth’s reactions and commentary a decade later. Yet, in a delicious outbreak of magic realism, it seems Ruth may actually have some power to change Nao’s fate.

A Tale for the Time Being is tender, sad, sweet, funny, and full of compassion and hope one would expect from a Buddhist priest. I only wish I could have read this touching novel in one sitting, because each time I put the book down it felt as if I was leaving Nao behind. I’m glad I chose to be “her kind of time being”. I hope you will, too!

Mary Gail Howland, our evening librarian, has her own recommendations from local authors:

Summertime makes me long for the beautiful, cool mountains of North Carolina. To find these two fiction books set in the mountains by native born authors was really a treat!

Nightwoods: Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain and 13 Moons, has written a suspenseful, at times terrifying story of Luce, a damaged loner who takes in her murdered sister’s mute, young twins in a small NC mountain community in the early 1960’s. Soon, the murderer comes looking for the children, the only witnesses to the crime. The writing in this mystery/love story is excellent, spare, and beautiful. You will care about these characters. I couldn’t put it down.

A Land More Kind than Home: This first critically acclaimed novel by Wiley Cash captures the isolated atmosphere of the mountains and the headstrong determination of its people. Cash writes about young Jess who spends his time looking out for his disabled older brother. The boys are caught spying on their mothers new evil, manipulative preaching at the church, and tragic events are set in motion that will change the lives of all in the community. This is a great read and I hope to see more from this author.

We also have some great recommendations from one of our excellent English faculty members, Melanie Bruce. Here’s what she has to say about three books: In the Land of Second Chances, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon

George Shaffner’s novel, In the Land of Second Chances, is told in the voice of Wilma Porter, owner of the Come Again Bed and Breakfast. Wilma kept me chuckling at her machinations even while she shows a heart as big as the Nebraska landscape of her hometown, Ebb. Shaffner dives right into the Big Questions of life, and shows no fear or hesitation as elements of the plot revolve around logic, philosophy, and the mathematical odds of life after death. There’s the seemingly hopeless case of a terminally ill eleven-year old girl, a rural town on the brink of oblivion, and a blabby traveling salesman who claims he is selling games of chance. Despite these sad, sometimes silly, and seemingly disconnected threads, Shaffner manages to build a compelling, uplifting story that is brimming with irreverent humor. Turns out the town is not-so-secretly run by a large group of women, the Quilting Circle, who pull the strings in ways the men of the town seldom suspect. If you are looking for a novel that is funny, moving, and out-of-the ordinary, resident ghosts included, then give In the Land of Second Chances a read.

In my ongoing goal of always being 5-10 years behind the times, I recently read the runaway bestselling novel of 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It’s an epistolary novel, but don’t be frightened. That just means that the story is told through fascinating letters from the various characters. Guernsey, one of Britain’s Channel Islands, is a mere 20 miles from the French coast of Normandy, and not many people know that the residents suffered greatly under German occupation from 1940-1945. In addition to the troops, the Nazis imported hundreds of slave laborers from conquered countries to build fortifications. The letters revolve around writer Juliet Ashton, who when casting about for the subject of her next book, becomes fascinated with the story of the Guernsey Islanders’ inventive fortitude during Nazi persecution. Juliet, a Londoner, moves to quiet Guernsey to pen the biography of one heroic woman, Elizabeth, who dared to try to save one of the Nazis’ slave laborers from starvation. The Guernsey Literary Society was founded as an impromptu scheme to conduct meetings that would elude Nazi scrutiny, but along the way turns unlikely islanders into devoted readers. Books give the islanders camaraderie, diversion, and hope. But what happened to Elizabeth, the young, beautiful, and headstrong artist? Read this remarkable novel to find out! P.S. A movie is “in development!”

In these trying times, who doesn’t need a good cozy to read every now and again? What’s a cozy? A mystery novel genre that keeps the annoying mayhem, murder, and misdeeds off-stage for the most part. No dripping gore or spatter patterns in these escapist gems. But lots of scenery, local charm, tea drinking, yummy full-fat dining, and gossipy characters make a reader feel right at home, firmly settled in a soft easy chair and not on the edge of her seat. Alexander McCall Smith has one of the most successful cozy series going with his Botswana-based No. 1 Ladies’ Detective agency sleuth, Mma Precious Ramotswe. The latest installment in the series, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, from 2013, has the tried and true recipe for a cozy tale. Precious and her associate detective endeavor to solve mildly puzzling cases of a young man who may or may not be the heir to a large farm and a smear campaign directed at the owner of a new skincare salon. While a bit calm even for the cozy genre, in Minor Adjustment McCall Smith manages to keep his ladies awake with a houseguests who are literally poisonous snakes, a meddling aunty you’ll love to hate, and enough healthy, red bush tea to wash all your worries away. Fans of the No. 1 Ladies series, like me, can’t get enough of the (mostly) good people of Botswana.

Of course we have plenty of other excellent books, but those are some Coastal-certified selections that we hope you might enjoy. And if you have a book you’ve been enjoying recently, let us know in the comments!


Your Feedback Matters!

The LRC staff would like to thank all participants who completed the Library User Survey in May. The overall responses and additional comments are immensely helpful to the LRC staff.  Thanks to your feedback, we now know what needs to be improved in the months ahead.

There were many comments about inappropriate noise level and cell phone usage in the LRC. Come fall semester you will see signs identifying areas for “Quiet” (no conversation), “Moderate” (limited noise and quiet study group study) and “Collaborative” (group interactive study) noise levels. The LRC staff will also be making a concerted effort to circulate on both floors to monitor cell phone usage, group socialization, and recreational use of the computers. We hope these efforts will help to create a quieter library and one more conducive to study. By the way, we also recognize that the library staff needs to monitor our own noise levels and we promise to work on that!

We plan to conduct a library user survey each spring so you will have the opportunity to tell us the areas where we are doing a good job and the areas that need improvement. In the meantime, please remember we welcome your suggestions and comments on the LRC webpage or in the suggestion box located by the printers. Thank you again for participating in the 2014 Library User Survey!

We look forward to next month’s blog entry and your comments. Happy summer!


Stress Relief in the LRC

Exams, papers, and presentations…oh my!

Do you need some relief from the stress of exams and final papers? The library will be offering FREE coffee, cold drinks, snacks, and chair massages (thanks to the massage therapy department!) on Thursday, May 8th, Friday, May 9th and Monday, May 12th from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. 

Students can sign up for a massage appointment starting Monday, May 5th at the circulation desk. Sign up early so you don’t miss out and GOOD LUCK on exams!


A Lesson in Maps

According to people much more well-versed in physics than I, time travel to the past is impossible. (And if you’d like to know more about why that is, we have a great selection of books on the theory of relativity.)

I know what you’re thinking. He’s going to say that the library can take us back in time with our books on history. And yes, we do have some spectacular books which I encourage you to browse. Just head upstairs and browse in the D section for European and Asian history, and E and F for American history. But I will avoid going into great detail on our history collection (though I will highlight The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects as one of our awesome new books in the subject). Instead, I wanted to talk about a different way we can “travel through time,” and that’s by looking at maps.

You may have noticed that there’s been some changes in the LRC lately. Books are moving. Desks are moving. Dust is certainly moving, and hopefully not getting too deep into your lungs. Recently, as part of our ongoing project to shift items around in the library, we decided to move our back collection of National Geographic magazine upstairs. While doing so, we happened to find several maps in one of the volumes. These maps provide some interesting insight into just how the world has changed over the last 40 years.

We have hung these maps upstairs, so go take a look at them. In particular the ones we’ve pulled out relate to Europe and Asia. The continent has undergone some pretty dramatic changes following World War II and the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The maps show states that no longer exist like East and West Germany, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania when it was spelled Rumania. We also have a map of Asia from 1971. This map depicts Vietnam as two separate countries: North and South Vietnam, while there is only one Korea depicted. It also uses the older anglicized versions for some city names in China: Peking instead of Beijing, Nanking instead of Nanjing.

Maps are interesting beasts. You may not realize it, but they can make political statements. Take the 1969 map of Europe from National Geographic for example. It notes that Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are not recognized as Soviet territories by the United States, despite the USSR’s claim to them. So this map is already making political statements about sovereignty. These are all issues mapmakers must consider. When there are disputed boundaries to a territory, what do you show on a map? Do you use the name Burma or Myanmar? Maps produced in Arab countries will often omit Israel and only list Palestine. Russia may soon be producing maps which extend its own borders into Ukraine’s Crimea region, whereas maps produced in the US may keep it as part of Ukraine. Even many current national boundaries, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, are relics of the empires of Europe from the early twentieth century. (One of our instructors at Coastal often likes to share a story about how his grandfather has a French passport because he was born in what, “at that time,” was part of France.)

They can also affect how we view the world. Maps face the challenge of taking a 3D object and trying to project it onto a 2D space. Consider the Mercator projection, which you might be familiar with. It distorts and enlarges the planet’s poles while shrinking the equator area, thus making Greenland appear larger than Africa. The Mollweide projection, in contrast, more accurately represents the sizes of the continents. Even the orientation of maps matter. Think about it: the “top” and “bottom” are in fact pretty arbitrary because there is no real up or down in outer space. Our typical image of the world places a lot of prominence on Europe and North America just by virtue of them being at the top. By contrast, you can find maps that turn the world “upside down” which can give you a whole new perspective of how the world looks.

Interested in learning more? Check out some of the library’s books on maps and mapping. A History of the World in Twelve Maps discusses the evolution of our understanding of the earth over time, from early mappa mundi (early world maps which often include Biblical locations as well as real-world locations) to modern day maps. The Mapmakers is another book focusing on the history of cartography, particularly the individuals who pioneered it. We also have several atlases, including the beautiful Oxford Atlas of the World and several area-specific atlases. These are located in the G sections of the library, both in reference downstairs and the general collection upstairs, so take a look. And also look at our great National Geographic maps that we posted upstairs as well. Looking at maps is a lot like traveling back in time. A lot has changed in the last 40 years. Who knows what might change in the years to come?


Spotlight: New Books in Science

At the library, we’re constantly getting excellent new books (and you can always check our latest books here), but I want to use this post to highlight in particular some of the cool new books we’re getting that discuss topics in science.

Are you a fan of electric eels, electricity, or just scientific discovery in general? If so, I recommend Spark from the Deep: How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery. Author William J. Turkel provides a history of how our scientific research on electric fish such as torpedoes and electric eels helped us to understand and harness electricity, and how that research is continuing to contribute to our knowledge even today.

Do you love dinosaurs? Of course you do. Everyone loves dinosaurs. So before the new Jurassic Park film comes out next year, refresh your dinosaur knowledge and learn about the latest research and discoveries with The Complete Dinosaur. This comprehensive volume provides not just information on the various types of dinosaurs, but also details how we’ve learned so much and how they’re studied. The paleontologists who contributed to the book provide a wealth of knowledge, and also acknowledge the considerable debates ongoing in the field. And for those of you who haven’t kept up with dinosaur discoveries since Jurassic Park or The Land Before Time, it is always interesting to see how our understanding of popular dinosaurs has changed in the wake of new evidence. Feathered velociraptors are a sight to behold.

If The Complete Dinosaur isn’t enough for your paleontology appetite, we also have a gorgeous book titled The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep TimeThis book focuses on the area of Wyoming known as the Green River Formation, where the environment has been uniquely suited to the capture of an incredible number of fossils. While some attention is given to the history and geography of the area, the bulk of the book is devoted to chapters focusing on fossils of different types of species (bacteria, mollusks, fish, reptiles, plants, etc.). High quality images showcase the variety of fossil specimens that have been uncovered.

Or if dinosaurs aren’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to learn more about parasites. People, Parasites, and Plowshares: Learning from Our Bodies Most Terrifying Invaders. This book focuses on the interactions between parasites and humans, and how studying both the beneficial and harmful parasites that affect us is helping fuel research in medicine. Learning about toxoplasmosis gondii might terrify hypochondriacs, but for those who are interested in these unique creatures, I definitely recommend this book.

For something a little closer to home, we’ve got Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science is Rewriting their StoryRecent research into neanderthals, an evolutionary cousin to modern humans, has dramatically transformed our understanding. Although they are popularly depicted as being dimwitted, we now have seen that they have elements of culture and society: Burying the dead, caring for the sick, creating paints, and even speaking. If you’d like to learn more about neanderthals, this is the place to start.

If instead you are interested in looking at the bigger picture, we’ve got you covered there too. Understanding the Universe: From Quarks to the Cosmos looks at the large-scale universe all the way down to the world of quarks and leptons. Science is still searching for the Grand Unifying Theory to link the very large to the very small, but this book provides an excellent look how we understand the universe and the physics behind it. And if you want to delve more into physics, we also have Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell to detail our current understanding of the theory of relativity. Although I will say that, at 866 pages, it may no longer qualify as being “in a nutshell.”

Finally, we also have Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist. This biography sheds some light on one of the pioneers in the field of rocket science who helped to launch America’s first satellite but whose contributions have since been largely ignored.

That’s not the end of it either. Mary Gail, our excellent evening librarian, has put together a wonderful display to highlight our other new science books. You can find that right by the staircase on the first floor of the library. And of course you can always go browse the rest of our science books in our general collection. Just go to the Q section upstairs and get lost in the wide world of molecules, minerals, and mantis shrimps.


Learning about Ukraine

There’s been a lot of news recently about conflict in Ukraine. But what exactly is going on? Who’s fighting, and what’s at stake here? Wikipedia has an expansive article on Ukraine, but we want something more authoritative that we know was written by someone who studies Ukraine extensively. Fortunately, the library has plenty of resources to help you learn about Ukraine, and Russia’s interest in the country.

An excellent place to start is the CIA World Factbook. If you are ever doing any kind of research on a country, the Factbook is an excellent resource to consult. This resource, compiled by the CIA, provides an overview of every country in the world. Although this is restricted mostly to hard facts (population, climate, literacy rates), and doesn’t provide a detailed overview of history and culture, we can use this as a good starting point.

So just where is Ukraine located? It’s a country located in eastern Europe with its southern border on the coast of the Black Sea. Bordering countries include Belarus to the north, Poland to the west, and Russia to the east.

ukraine

What else can the World Factbook tell us about Ukraine? It has a temperate climate, although there are variations within the country. Its total population is about 44.5 million, with 77% of those being ethnically Ukrainian, and 13% being Russian, with several other groups making up the rest. Major exports include metals and oil, and their major exporting partner is Russia.

So now we know a bit more about Ukraine’s geography, politics, and economy. But what if we want some more information? Again, we want to avoid Wikipedia and find information written by a Ukraine scholar. So next let’s go to Credo.

Credo is one of our library databases, and its specialty is collecting encyclopedias and dictionaries and making them available electronically. We can research Ukraine through Credo to get some excellent information. In addition to some of the overview information we read through the World Factbook, Credo’s entries also give us some much more detailed information about its history and culture, particularly its time as part of the USSR and current events up through 2013. It will also link out to some major news sources so you can read about the unfolding conflict in the region.

And if that’s not enough, we also have a few books on the country. They don’t cover some of the most recent events, but they should get you caught up to speed on the history and culture of the country. Try out Anna Shevchenko’s Ukraine, Sharon Wolchik’s Ukraine: The Search for a National Identity, or Volodymyr Bassis’ Ukraine. The Rise and Fall of Communism might help you learn about the history of the USSR and Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe. The three volume Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture is also an excellent place to learn more about the larger Eastern European region and its history and society.

Or if you’re feeling hungry, why not try Culinaria Russia: Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan to become acquainted with the region’s food?

And now you should be well equipped to discuss Ukraine. Dazzle your peers by discussing its history and background, and back up your points with some accurate, reliable information from these resources. And remember the library next time you’re looking for reliable information about current events.

As a final note, you might be wondering, is it “Ukraine” or “the Ukraine?” Writing for the magazine Mental Floss, journalist (and etymologist) Matt Soniak recommends just “Ukraine.”


Graphic Novel Collection

By popular demand, the Coastal LRC has begun a collection of graphic novels. This collection includes not only the most popular superheroes and stories, but also a variety of different works that use art to help tell a story in a way that could not be told with words alone.

A great place to start would be with Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which is a comic about comics. In addition to describing some of the history behind graphic novels, McCloud takes the reader through an engrossing and often humorous trip into the world of comics and how artists use everything on the page, from words to colors to symbolism to even the spacing between panels, to help convey a story. Whether you’re unfamiliar with comics or have read hundreds and want to know more about how artists produce the works they do, this volume absolutely can’t be missed.

Graphic novels can tell all kinds of stories. In American Born ChineseGene Yang intertwines three stories about a young American-born Chinese child trying to fit in at school, a racial caricature of the Chinese always harassing his “normal” cousin, and the famous Chinese legend of the Monkey King to discuss racial stereotypes, multiculturalism, identity, and fitting in. This book is an excellent read for anyone who has ever felt isolated from others for any reason.

In Maus, Art Spiegelman conveys a story of the Holocaust in which Jews are depicted as mice while Nazis are portrayed as cats. Spiegelman’s innovative graphic novels convey a complex story not just about the nightmarish ordeal of the Holocaust, but Spiegelman’s own troubled relationship with his father.

When Guy DeLisle had to make an extended stay in North Korea due to his work, he documented his experiences. His graphic novel, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea takes readers on a tour of the country and how the citizens in the capital live.  Along with his North Korean sojourn, DeLisle created travelogues based on many of his other travels abroad, including Shenzen: A Travelogue from ChinaBurma Chroniclesand Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. These books are highly recommended for anyone interested in exploring diverse cultures.

If you’re interested in more traditional graphic novels, we have those too. Superman: Red Son explores a world where Superman was raised in the Soviet Union while All-Star Superman celebrates Superman’s rich, 75 year legacy. We also have a great collection of Batman stories, including The Long Halloween in which Batman tracks down a killer who murders one victim a month on a holiday. Year One chronicles Batman’s first year of crimefighting, while The Dark Knight Returns depicts a Batman who comes out of retirement to protect Gotham once again. And of course we’ve got some great Marvel tales, including the famous Days of Future Past from X-Men (soon to be adapted into a movie) and an acclaimed Spider-man run.

If manga is more your speed, we’ve got you covered there too. From the journey of two brothers to correct their sins in Fullmetal Alchemist to the struggle for humanity’s survival in the wake of a dying planet in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind to the charming story of one girl’s extraordinary encounter with powerful magic in Cardcaptor Sakura to the grand adventure for a legendary treasure in One Piece, there’s a sampling of some of the best and most loved series.

This is just a taste of the our graphic novel collection. DC, Marvel; American, Japanese; heartwarming, heart-pounding; historical, contemporary; action-packed, thought-provoking; there’s something here for everyone. Take a stroll through our collection and I guarantee you’ll find something you enjoy.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.