Wednesday, August 28, 2013

truth is stranger than fiction

On most people’s bookshelves at home there’s a title or two they’ve been meaning to read or on a to-be-read list like so many of us keep going in our heads, on a social book sharing site like GoodReads or Shelfari, or even on good old-fashioned paper.  September’s meeting will be your chance to select that never-before-read potential favorite!  We’ll be meeting on Tuesday, September 24th at 6:30pm to discuss “Books You Wish You’d Read!”  From classics to bestsellers to children’s books, you pick it.  We’ll discuss it. 

Other than our next GRG meeting, September is chockablockfull of fun stuff to do

Each Wednesday night in September is Wild West Wednesday!  Join us in the meeting room each Wednesday at 6:30pm for classic western film.  For film titles and/or program information, contact Matt at 204-445-1141 or

Our next Cities for Life event is on Thursday, September 12th at 6:30pm.  Dr. Douglas Moellering will be back with us to talk about making room in your life for physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.

On Thursday, September 19th at 6:30pm, Western Supermarkets head wine steward Scott Atkinson will be back with Caroline Pryor to share some of the wine shop staffs’ favorite wines.  This event is limited to ages 21+ only and registration at 205-445-1121 is required.  Call and reserve your spot today!

One of the premiere wine tasting events of the year falls on Friday, September 27th from 6-9pm at the Birmingham Zoo, Western Supermarkets Fall Food & Wine Festival!  Proceeds from the Festival benefit the Library.  There’ll be over 600 wines open for tasting with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer your questions and the Jeff State Culinary School will be on site preparing some of the best food you’ll ever eat.  Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 at the door, and $40 each for groups of 10 or more.  Purchase your tickets at the Emmet O’Neal Library, at Western Supermarkets, or purchase them online.

Zara’s Tales: Perilous Escapades in Equatorial Africa by Peter Beard
From adventurer, explorer, photographer, writer, pied piper Peter Beard—eleven irresistible tales, told to his daughter in his tented encampment at Hog Ranch, Kenya, about life, about living, about Africa.
He writes of the East African hills he came to know so well over four decades, where time slows to infinity in a great bottomless, bottle green underwater world . . . about Nairobi in the 1950s, still a quaint, eccentric pioneer town, full of characters of all stripes and tribes, where rhinoceros roamed the streets and local residents went to the movies in pajamas.
He writes of the camp he built twelve miles outside of Nairobi so that he would never be off safari, a forty-acre patch of bush called Hog Ranch (abutting Karen Blixen’s plantation), named for the families of warthogs who wandered into camp, a camp populated with waterbuck, suni, dik-diks, leopard, giraffe, and occasionally lion and buffalo.
In “Big Pig at Hog Ranch,” Beard tells the story of Thaka (translation from the Kikuyu: “handsome stud”), Hog Ranch’s number-one, fearsome, 300-pound warthog, who came into camp and dropped to the ground happy for a vigorous tummy rub, and who one night, “lying in his favorite position, munching on corn and barbeque chicken,” was encroached upon by a bristly haired, wild-looking boar hog. All three hundred pounds of Thaka exploded straight at the hairy intruder, the two brutish, bony heads crashing together thundering through the camp and Peter witnessed the unleashed power—the bullish strength—of the wild pig . . .
In “Roping Rhino,” Beard tells of his first job in Africa, rounding up and relocating rhinos for the Kenya Game Department with his cohort and neighbor, a weather-beaten native of Old Kenya who thrived on danger and refused to bathe—and of the enormous silver-backed rhino bull that became their Moby Dick . . .
He writes of his quest to photograph overpopulated and habitat-destroying elephants for Life magazine on the eve of Kenya’s independence . . . of his close encounter with the legendary man-eating lions of “Starvo” (descendants of the famed beasts rumored to be immune to bullets, who in the late nineteenth century halted the construction of the Mombasa railroad, devouring railroad workers and snatching sleeping passengers from their Pullman berths in the dead of night to make a meal of them), who charged the author, “coming in slow motion, like a bullet train erupting out of a tunnel, soundless, like an ancient force.”
He tells of his round-the-clock adventure tracking and studying crocodiles with a game warden–biologist at Lake Rudolf, a tale that begins with one crewmember being grabbed from behind by a ten-foot crocodile and another doing battle with an almost prehistoric monster fish—a 200-pound Great Nile perch! . . . and he writes of the final wildlife encounter that ended his safari days, an incident that proved Karen Blixen’s motto: “Be bold, be bold . . . be not too bold.”
Zara’s Tales confirms to our constant surprise and delight that “nothing out of the ordinary happens. It’s just Africa, after all.”
Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel
More than a quarter of a million Americans crossed the continental United States between 1840 and 1870, going west in one of the greatest migrations of modern times. The frontiersmen have become an integral part of our history and folklore, but the Westering experiences of American women are equally central to an accurate picture of what life was like on the frontier.
Through the diaries, letters, and reminiscences of women who participated in this migration, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey gives us primary source material on the lives of these women, who kept campfires burning with buffalo chips and dried weeds, gave birth to and cared for children along primitive and dangerous roads, drove teams of oxen, picked berries, milked cows, and cooked meals in the middle of a wilderness that was a far cry from the homes they had left back east. Still (and often under the disapproving eyes of their husbands) they found time to write brave letters home or to jot a few weary lines at night into the diaries that continue to enthrall us.
Trail of Feathers: Searching for Philip True by Robert Rivard
In December 1998, San Antonio Express-News reporter Philip True vanished during a solo backcountry trek in western Mexico, home of the reclusive Huichol Indians and the Chapalagana, the Twisted Serpent Canyon, a 150-mile long gash that twists and plunges through the heart of the Sierra Madre. Five days later his editor, Robert Rivard, was part of a small search party that, nearly miraculously, tracked a trail of feathers that had leaked from True's sleeping bag to find his body.
Trail of Feathers is the story of the search for True and of the quest to bring his killers to justice. It is also the story of another perplexing mystery: Why had True taken such a dangerous trip, into such a raw, uncivilized wilderness, alone and without sufficient safety preparations, in the first place? After an unhappy and unsettled youth, True was at the age of fifty finally settling down to a career and a wife he loved. His first child was about to be born. What was he running from, or to?
Rivard's search for answers to these questions leads him deep into the Sierra Madre Occidental, one of Mexico's last true wildernesses, and deep into the secrets of Philip True's past. It also leads him into his own past, and an acknowledgment of the ways in which his life and True's mirrored each other. Suspenseful, atmospheric, and moving, Trail of Feathers is more than a true crime tale; it's a classic tragedy about how the past reverberates destructively into the present — for individuals, for cultures, for nations.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
The Man Who Rode the Thunder: The True Story of the Most Incredible 40 Minutes in History and the Man Who Lived Them by William H. Rankin (NOT IN THE LIBRARY SYSTEM)
Lieutenant Colonel William H. Rankin (1920–2009) was a Marine pilot and veteran of both World War II and Korea when a Cold War accident literally catapulted him to fame. On July 26, 1959, the engine of his F-8U Crusader, a carrier-based jet fighter, suddenly stalled and the fire warning light on his instrument panel began flashing. Rankin triggered his ejection seat, which shot him through his plane’s cockpit canopy. He was flying at an altitude exceeding 45,000 feet, without a pressure suit—and he exited the plane at the top of a gigantic thunderstorm cloud mass. His harrowing experience riding the thunder down has few parallels; if it were fiction, it would be hard to believe.
Alcatraz Island Prison and The Men Who Live There by Warden James A. Johnston (NOT IN THE LIBRARY SYSTEM)
Alcatraz is possibly the most famous prison that has ever existed.  In this book, prison warden Johnston offers a fascinating history of this island in San Francisco bay, with interviews and biographies of some of the notorious people who called it home.
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
The stunning, never before told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon
In 1927, Henry Ford, the richest man in the world, bought a tract of land twice the size of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon. His intention was to grow rubber, but the project rapidly evolved into a more ambitious bid to export America itself, along with its golf courses, ice-cream shops, bandstands, indoor plumbing, and Model Ts rolling down broad streets.
Fordlandia, as the settlement was called, quickly became the site of an epic clash. On one side was the car magnate, lean, austere, the man who reduced industrial production to its simplest motions; on the other, the Amazon, lush, extravagant, the most complex ecological system on the planet. Ford’s early success in imposing time clocks and square dances on the jungle soon collapsed, as indigenous workers, rejecting his midwestern Puritanism, turned the place into a ribald tropical boomtown. Fordlandia’s eventual demise as a rubber plantation foreshadowed the practices that today are laying waste to the rain forest.
More than a parable of one man’s arrogant attempt to force his will on the natural world, Fordlandia depicts a desperate quest to salvage the bygone America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch. As Greg Grandin shows in this gripping and mordantly observed history, Ford’s great delusion was not that the Amazon could be tamed but that the forces of capitalism, once released, might yet be contained.
Fordlandia is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
GENERAL DISCUSSION: The PBS American Experience documentary series has a program about Henry Ford.  Check it out from the library (click here to check the catalog) or watch it online here.

Black Wave: A Family’s Adventure at Sea and the Disaster That Saved Them by John and Jean Silverwood
An exhilarating true-life adventure of one family’s extraordinary sea voyage of self-discovery and survival, tragedy and triumph
Successful businessman John Silverwood and his wife, Jean, both experienced sailors, decided the time was right to give their four children a taste of thrilling life on the high seas. And indeed their journey aboard the fifty-five-foot catamaran Emerald Jane would have many extraordinary and profound moments, whether it was the peaceful late-night watches John enjoyed under the stunning celestial sky or the elation shared by the whole family at the sight of blissful pods of dolphin and migrating tortoises. John and Jean had hoped to use the trip as a teaching opportunity, with the Emerald Jane as a floating classroom in which to instruct their children in important lessons–not only about the natural world but about the beauty of human life when stripped down to its essence, far from the trappings of civilization.
Yet rather than flourishing amid the new freedoms and responsibilities thrust upon them, the children were sometimes confused, frightened, and resentful. The two oldest, fourteen-year-old Ben and twelve-year-old Amelia, missed their friends and the comfortable life left behind in San Diego, while the two youngest, Jack, seven, and Camille, three, picked up on the stressful currents running above and below the surface–for throughout the journey, the Silverwood family found its bonds tested as never before.
John and Jean, whose marriage had weathered its share of storms, would wonder again if they had taken on too much as the physical, emotional, and financial strains of caring for the expensive catamaran and their children brought old resentments to the surface.
John’s dream trip that began on Long Island Sound ended almost two years later as a nightmare in treacherous waters off a remote atoll in French Polynesia, where, in an explosion of awesome violence, the terrifying brunt of the ocean’s anger fell upon the Emerald Jane.
Gradually, in the crucible of the sea, a stronger, more closely knit unit was forged. The Silverwoods became a crew. Then they became a family again. But just as it seemed to them that they had mastered every challenge, their world was shattered in a split-second of unimaginable horror. Now their real challenge began, forcing them to fight for their very lives.
Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
Seven Years in Tibet  relates the author's account of the seven years he spent living in the remote and then little-known country of Tibet after escaping from a British internment camp in India in 1943. The chief value of the book is in its privileged glimpses into the Tibetan way of life -- customs and rituals, morals and manners, politics, religion, festivals and costumes. It is a rare and fascinating record of a now almost extinct culture. Harrer's description of Lhasa is particularly vivid, and he is generous in his praise of those Tibetans; it is fair to say that Harrer portrays quite accurately the Tibetan national character, at least as it once was, prior to the Chinese invasion in 1952. The book concludes with Harrer return to Europe and the fate of Tibet still very uncertain. Harrer's final statement reads: "My heartfelt wish is that this book may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world."
GENERAL DISCUSSION: We got into a discussion of road trips and their place in literature as well as real life.  Here is a great article about a great American road trip from Paul Theroux writing for Smithsonian magazine in September of 2009. 
What has been YOUR greatest adventure, reading or otherwise?

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