The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan I have always been fascinated with both the natural and man-made histories of the Great Lakes. (I have lived relatively close to Lake Erie most of my life). Dan Egan's exhaustive study focuses on the effects of invasive species in the Great Lakes, and his scientific writing is geared toward a nonscientific audience, so to speak, so that all readers who are concerned about the future of this great natural resource will understand the complexities of the Great Lakes ecosystems.
In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi One summer day in 2014, Susan Faludi receives an email from her estranged father announcing that he had a sex reassignment surgery in Thailand. Faludi’s memoir is an intriguing read that explores both the past and the bonds that tie us to family. But it’s also a quest that investigates the ideas of identity and sexuality in today’s ever-changing world.
True Vine: Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of Jim Crow South by Beth Macy Beth Macy's exploration of two Albino African-American brothers who disappeared into the realm of the "Freak Show World" during the early 1900's is a fascinating read. Yes, the author meanders a bit from the focus of her book, but following her recorded research is well worth the effort in this wonderful work of journalism.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore The Radium Girls by Kate Moore has been compared to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and for good reason, as both books explore the injustices of the medical world, while presenting a few human story about those affected by these injustices. I have read many books about the Radium Girls, the dial painters of the 1920s and 1930s, who were taught to Lip, Dip, and Paint (Yes, putting radium in their mouths on a day-to-day basis) in order to get a neater brush stroke for the watch dials. Yet, Moore, unlike many of the scientific studies I have read, presents the stories of these women, and their suffering, with a strong narrative voice. As a reader, I found myself in these girls' lives as they painted their watch dials, as they showed off the glowing radium on their skin (they had been told that the radium was not dangerous), and finally, as their health slowly deteriorated, starting with loose teeth and bleeding gums and sore joints, as they died a slow and painful death (there is one horrific scene in the book where a dentist goes to examine one of the woman's mouths, and her jaw breaks loose in his hands). I sometimes, found myself turning away, but I always came back. So far, The Radium Girls is the best book I have read this year!
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston The rumors of a lost city in Honduras started long ago. Native people spoke of a beautiful city of wealth tucked deep in the jungles, lost to outsiders, but an important part of legend and history to the indigenous residents of Honduras. Yet, because of the dangers of both man (drug trafficking) and environment (jungles), the city remained just that: a haunting legend. Douglas Preston's The Lost City of the Monkey God explores both the legend and concrete history of "Casa Blanca" or White City. Cataloging previous explorations before he joins a team of explorers in 2012, Preston reviews myth and fact of this legend. For those of you looking for a pure adventure story, you may get lost in all his research and history. Still, his chapters dedicated to the actual expedition are exhilarating as he and his team face many dangers. Yes, I couldn't help but think of Raiders of the Lost Ark when I read this book, but that's okay, because Preston's fantastic work of journalism convinces us that there is still mystery left in this world.
Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family, and the Mystery of Our Hidden Genes by Emily Urquhart Diversity, and what really defines diversity, has been on my mind lately. Emily Urquhart’s memoir, Beyond the Pale, takes a look at diversity and differences in ways I have not really considered. Urquhart wrote her book about albinism after her own daughter was diagnosed with this condition. She is a folklorist, so her book is more than just a memoir – it is an exploration of albinism through a more academic lens. It’s an interesting and powerful read.