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September 4, 2007 > Recreational reading (Part II)

Recreational reading (Part II)

The following are recommendations for recreational reading. These selections were contributed by a number of different staff members, and there's something on this list for a variety of tastes. This week includes a list of non-fiction favorites. Hope you find one you like.


Gilbert, Daniel. Stumbling on Happiness (2006)
Harvard professor Gilbert has not written a self-help book about how to be happy. Instead, he has written a funny, insightful book on how our brains trick us into thinking that we can figure out what is going to make us happy, and make wrong choices nearly every time. Examples are drawn from real life, situations that readers will find familiar. For those who wish it, there are loads of citations to case studies. His playful tone and basket of example after example makes the experience of traveling from "oh I never do that" to "I guess everybody does, even me" an enjoyable ride, while learning a great deal about how the human mind works.

Leonard, Michael. Ride of our Lives: Roadside Lessons of an American Family (2006)
Mike Leonard is a lucky man. It's not everyone who gets parents like Jack and Marge. At eighty-seven, Jack is a pathological optimist with an inexhaustible gift of gab. Marge, Jack's bride of sixty years, though cut from the same rough bolt of Irish immigrant cloth, is his polar opposite - pessimistic and proud of it. What was their son, Mike, thinking when he took a sabbatical from his job with NBC News so he could pile these two world-class originals along with three of his grown kids and a daughter-in-law into a pair of rented RVs and hit the road for a month?

Mike was thinking that he wanted to give his parents the ultimate family reunion. And so, one February morning, three generations of Leonards set out on their journey under the dazzling Arizona sky. Thirty minutes later, one of the humongous recreational vehicles has an unplanned meeting with a concrete island at a convenience store. Thus begins the adventure of a lifetime - and an absolute gem of a book. In the course of their humorous, often poignant cross-country tour, from the desert Southwest to the New England coastline, the Leonards reminisce about their loves, their losses, and their rich and heartwarming (and sometimes heartbreaking) lives, while encountering a veritable Greek chorus of roadside characters along the way. The home stretch finds the clan racing back to Chicago, hoping to catch the arrival of the next generation, Jack and Marge's first great-grandchild. Through it all, Mike pieces together a century of family lore and lunacy - and discovers surprising sides to his parents that allow him to see them in a whole new light.

Preston, Richard. Wild Trees: a story of passion and daring. (2007)
What would it be like to climb a 350 foot redwood tree? Richard Preston takes you along with some obsessed people as they explore the remaining old growth redwood forests of Northern California. Steve Sillett is a young botany student when he first climbs into a redwood giant. He basically free climbs a 300 foot tree, and at the top, discovers a hidden world. Scientists had thought the canopy of the redwood forest was lifeless, but Sillett and his colleagues would come to know the canopy ecosystem...salamanders that live in the tree tops, huckleberry bushes at the top, lichens and soil. The other explorer is a guy who's afraid of heights, who never goes into the big trees, but is obsessed with finding the tallest of the tall trees. He spends years bushwhacking thru the dense undergrowth, learning how to measure the trees, always looking for the ultimate giant. You learn about the once great temperate rain forests which are now reduced to pockets of trees in North America, Scotland and Australia. Fascinating and well-written, Wild Trees makes you think about humanity's impact on this planet and how little we may actually know about the natural world around us.

Trillin, Calvin. About Alice. (2006)
Many people wrote to Calvin Trillin to say they felt they knew his wife, Alice, from his other works. But Trillin said they really didn't, and wrote this book in response. Alice was a striking woman who dealt with lung cancer at one point in her life: it went into remission, but she died from a weakened heart later due to the radiation treatment. She married Trillin - not necessarily the best-looking guy in the room - because he was "the smartest guy in the room." Their love for each other prompted one woman to wonder out loud in a condolence letter about her own lover, "But will he love me like Calvin loved Alice?"

Woods, Randall B. LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006)
Randall Woods draws on White House records, declassified documents, and personal interviews to produce a highly readable exploration of the thirty-sixth president's personal and political lives. In Johnson's political life, which induced some to perceive him as a malodorous wheeler-dealer, Woods detects a remarkable consistency, an inwardly liberal LBJ whose outwardly moderate politics were an expression of his mastery of political calculus. Then there's the volatile LBJ, prone to self-pity, aggressiveness, and insensitivity. Woods illustrates this aspect of LBJ's personality most effectively through his relationship with Lady Bird, to whom he accorded respect, trust, and repetitive infidelity. A fascinating account of the Texas of Johnson's youth, his relationship with his mother and with other women.

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