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Books (143 posts)
That's right. For here is a little present for anyone who ever stuck a comic book inside a science textbook and now regrets missing the lesson: astrobiology graphic novels, brought to you by NASA. Issue #2 of Astrobiology has just been released (you can download the PDF or get the mobile app), and its focus is the history of our exploration of Mars.
It looks pretty, is full of slick illustrations, and contains a lot of good information, so that even I can now say things in casual conversations that will make me seem smart, such as, "Well, you know it was the images returned from NASA’s Mariner 4 mission in 1965 that finally put to rest speculations about the famous 'irrigation canals' on Mars so popular in the 1800s," and, "Of course, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, launching in late 2011 will bring us closer to determining if there was ever life on Mars," at which point I can perhaps sing a bit of David Bowie's "Life on Mars." Or maybe not that last part. I don't know, I'm feeling awfully inspired.
Download the graphic novel here, and keep checking the Astrobiology blog for Issue #3.
More scientific fun:
Want to be an astronaut?
Meet 3 science rock stars.
Brilliant teens' science fair projects.
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, the book to give to every journal-writing friend:
Beyond Words: 200 Years of Illustrated Diaries
by Susan Snyder
What it is: A collection of art-decorated journal excerpts written by everyone from anonymous American explorers of the western wilderness to famed citizens like the naturalist John Muir and the writer Mark Twain.
Why it's not just dry history: People tend to be honest, revealing and even funny when they're talking to themselves and drawing for themselves—without thinking of who may read or see their work. Consider Issac Baker who describes his voyages in 1849 as a sailor (complete with colorful cartoons of him spitting up seawater and carousing with the captain) or William Voigt the depression-era magician who wrote a guide to his own tricks, complete with step-by-step drawings. Our favorite: the dazzling, free-spirited Jean Margaret Hill who hitchhiked around Europe in the early 1970s, exploring drugs and free love, sketching the strangers and fellow travelers she met along the way, and asking some surprisingly challenging questions like "Does my loneliness glow five hundred meters? Is it a strange magnet for so many vague individuals? Is this the only warmth I have?"
How it will inspire you: You don't have to be an artist to illustrate your own life. Use Miss Minnie Perrelet as an example, who relied on photographs as her journal (with long detailed written entries about trips to Death Valley in the 1920s) or David Ross Bower who drew maps of the California parks he explored as hiker in 1930s. Watercolor, sketch, doodle, collage, or glue on "bits of plant fluff, grass stalks or a lock of mountain goat hair" like the young ornithologist Florence Merriam Bailey at the turn of the last century.
Gorgeous gift books for art lovers
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Monday is too stressful. Wednesday is already hump day. But Tuesday is "you" day: a day when you have the energy to do—or plan—something fresh and unexpected that might just turn your whole week around.
Try out the newest, strangest foodie trend. How to make a meat cupcake (and eat it too!)
Get ready for Thanksgiving by doing something you might forget. How to get your car ready for the long drive to Grandma's house.
There's—finally—a nip in the air, and scarfs at department stores now cost $100. How to knit a chunky, fashionable scarf that requires no skill, pattern or even talent.
A little known fact: Black Friday is also known as Buy Nothing Today. How to resolve conflicts between someone who is desperate to shop at dawn and someone who isn't—or just restore the peace after other kinds of extended family discord.
The holidays are now officially underway. How to get realistic about how overboard you're going to go when it comes to festive treats with a little quiz: can you tell which slice of pumpkin pie is 100 calories?
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, just in time for Thanksgiving, the subtle, insightful novel:
Love And Shame And Love
by Peter Orner
The multi-generational novel is an American classic (think: Jeffery Eugenides's Middlesex or Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections), and yet, Peter Orner's 439-page ode to one Jewish family in Chicago makes the idea his own. The central story follows the life of dreamy, disconnected Alex Popper, most crucially during his post college affair with practical minded Kit. Along the way, however, we move back in time, exploring the loves and lives of his parents and grandparents, as well as political and social climates of every decade from World War II to present day (the cameo of Walter Mondale eating mini-pizza's in Popper's childhood living room is worth the read alone). Each couple emblemizes the topical relationship of their day—the grandparents who didn't love each other but stayed together, the parents who split in the 1970s, and the young divorce-scarred Popper who doesn't marry but lives with Kit—but with such quirky specificity, their pain is your pain. It's the details, in fact, where Orner seduces—that quiet parade of absolutely wacky and wonderful stuff that's so odd, it must be real even if it's fiction. Poor young, plump Popper is forced to take recorder (not violin) lessons and visit a therapist who stuffs him with potato chips every time he tries to talk about his problems. He waxes poetic about the disinfectant polices at the local pool and Mr. Carl who hands out towels in the high school locker room, shouting out updates about Luke and Laura on General Hospital. At times, the minutiae of the grandparents and parents—old love letters, gangster stories—can make the book drag, but hang in there. Love and Shame and Love is a slow burn with a firecracker at the end—the best kind of firecracker, where you, not the characters, gasp in realization about what we really inherit from the past.
Which Twilight's star has a passion for reading
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Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* For the Parks and Recreation fan who is also observing Movember, Nick Offerman, who plays Ron Swanson, has hand crafted these limited-edition mustache combs in his woodshop. (Nick Offerman Woodshop)
* Aspiring Hollywood celebrities can learn something from this essay on Paul Newman and how he proved there was "a second path to enduring stardom, one characterized by decency, fidelity, and philanthropy." (The Hairpin)
* "Practically everything I know about writing, then, I learned from music. It may sound paradoxical to say so, but if I had not been so obsessed with music, I might not have become a novelist."—IQ84 author Haruki Murakami. (NYTimes)
Good thing it's the inaugural Picture Book Month for a few more weeks yet. Started by a group of authors, storytellers, and illustrators, Picture Book Month works to remind us of the value of actual, paper picture books, and how key they are in children's lives. Every day the site features a different children's book writer or illustrator, talking about why these books are so important. Some highlights:
Jane Yolen, author of more than 300 picture books: "I have always believed that literature begins in the cradle— the poems we say to the babies, the stories we tell them—prepare them to become part of the great human storytelling community."
Librarian and folklorist Margaret Read MacDonald: "This sense of owning a book—of having a book belong to them—sets the path to a love of books and learning."
Illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulemba: "People need three things to survive—food, shelter, and wonder."
The official Picture Book Month site has lots of ideas for ways to celebrate (even if you don't have a kid to read to), as well as information on the benefits of picture books. Personally, this is shaping up to be my favorite thing to celebrate this month. Let's see, I don't have to cook or clean or buy anything. All I have to do is pick a favorite picture book —I think we'll start with Oh What a Busy Day, or wait no, Knuffle Bunny, or wait no, Henry In Love—snuggle up next to my daughter, and read.
More about books:
Picture books for grownups
A book for strong girls
Make reading fun for kids
I adore Marcel—and the squeaky sweet voice Slate loans him in the video and in the audio of the app—but it's the way you're given a chance to experience his pleasures alongside him that makes the app so special. He takes comfort from his breadroom and finds friendship in Alan, the piece of lint he ties to a string; best of all, his life is a constant adventure. Whether it's his regular visits to the "aquarium" (fishbowl) or yearly trek up the sandal, he's an expert at discovering joy. So yes, maybe imagining a partial shell with shoes on scampering around my apartment is a little strange, but as Marcel would say, "compared to what?"
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Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale tomorrow, the memoir...
by Diane Keaton
Why the book is more than a celeb fest: Keaton tells a two-part story, that of her life and that of her mother's as they struggled to find themselves artistically and personally—using first person diary entries and letters.
Why the book is a celeb fest: Keaton describes her relationships with Woody Allen, Warren Beatty and Al Pacino, but in way that's honest and honorable—and painful at times (especially, say, if you've ever tried to make somebody marry you who didn't want to). The love letters from Woody, where he calls her "Worm" and "Lamp-head" are bewitchingly original with lines like "Last nite I had a tender dream about me & my mother...I wept in the dream & ate my laundry."
The idea she poses: That our lives aren't just our own. They're made up of the people we connect with—lovers, family, or even grandfathers who walked out the door.
The moment that shows this actress can write: "When I was nine, Dad taught me how to open a pomegranate...Inside was a chestful of garnets—my birthstone. I bit into the pomegranate. Fifty red gems came crashing into my mouth all at once. It was like biting into both heaven and earth.
Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale tomorrow, the short story collection....
Tales of the New World
by Sabina Murray
This collection of ten unsettling, lavish stories has a potent link—each one brings to fictional life to the true story of a historic explorer. Murray, a previous PEN/Faulkner winner, ranges wide on this theme, profiling famous and expected adventurers like Magellan and Balboa (a trip back for the reader to 4th grade history class) as well as the completely unknown, such as Captain Coffin, a soft-hearted, turn-of-the-last century whaler who roams the Atlantic or Jim Jones, the cult leader from the 1970s who led his flock into the jungles of Guyana. No matter what the period, the historical details here are fascinating: quince jam will save you from scurvy on the high seas; trained hunting dogs make excellent, soulless soldiers.
It's a brutal frontier world Murray investigates, one she questions in all its dark detail (what are the motives of these people who roam the earth blindly? what kind of cruelty or generosity did they inflict?). Often these investigations come at the very end, allowing you to cruise along though the story, binging on exotic foreign jungles, wondering at times where this adventure is going, when, boom, you're slapped with an idea that makes you gasp. Just as Magellan and his best friend are about to be killed by a so-called heathen, for example, they laugh, seeing "no reason to be morbid in this morbid situation. Soon it will all be over and there will still be love." Some the tales are more riveting that others, say Balboa and On Sakhalin. But the masterpiece is Fish, which could have been a book on its own.The story honors an English spinster named Mary, who not only sees and speaks with fairies, but explores the globe on her own in the late 1800s, collecting scientific specimens. She may not have been celebrated in the annals of history, but her journey to independence and competence in wilds of Africa —coming from a grim, London universe that so regularly informed her that she possessed neither quality—is the kind of discovery that will stick with you for life.
Memoir: An honest look back on motherhood.
33 must-read books for fall
Every week, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. On sale tomorrow, the memoir...
by Joan Didion
Blue Nights does what memoirs can do best: illuminate a crucial portion—and not the entirety—of a human life. In this case, prose master Joan Didion focuses on her relationship with her daughter, Quintana Roo, who she adopted in the late 1960s. Quintana grew up in the rarefied world of Malibu and movie-making. Despite the advantages—the closets full of Liberty lawn dresses, the bassinet from Saks—she struggled with the discovery of her biological parents, grappling with mental issues known collectively as "borderline personality," and using alcohol as a way to cope. Her struggle to recover from brain surgery was covered in Didion's previous book The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir that examined the extraordinary and excruciating loss that Didion suffered when her husband died and Quintana was hospitalized for many months. Blue Nights picks up a few years later after Quintana too has died. The lens of the story is less jaw-dropping in terms of fast-moving, tidal-wave events—and that is its power.
By concentrating on her daughter's life instead of her death, Didion examines her role as her a parent: what she caught, what she missed, what she caught and misinterpreted. She is relentlessly truthful, admitting for example that at Quintana's christening, "I actually believe that somewhere between frying the chicken to serve on Sara Mankiewicz's Minton dinner plates and buying the Porthault parasol to shade the beautiful baby girl...I had covered the main 'motherhood' points." As Quintana grows up, developing some charming if disturbing eccentricities, say, diagnosing herself with cancer when she really has chicken pox or calling an mental hospital to see if she can check in, Didion is not afraid to ask, "Did we demand that she be an adult? Did we ask her to assume responsibility before she had any way of doing so?" It is a courageous thing to look at how you have behaved as a mother, to question this in retrospect. What comes through, however—not despite of, but because of Didion's brutal self-examination—is the intense and singular love she had for her daughter. Yes, this is a book about aging and about loss. Mostly, though, it about what one parent and child shared—and what all parents and children share, the intimacy of what bring you closer and what splits you apart. "I know that I can no longer reach her. I know that should I try to reach her... should I lull her to sleep against my shoulder, should I sing her the song about Daddy gone to get the rabbit skin to wrap his baby bunny in—she will fade from my touch," say Didion. "Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her."
Fall fresh reads.
Mysteries to honor this Halloween
Correction: When this piece was first published we incorrectly stated that The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles Didion’s experience after Quinana's death. The Year of Magical Thinking includes Quintana’s illness, and Blue Nights begins after Quintana's death.