Quirky Books for Quirkier Librarians | ALA 2013

Josh Hanagarne, The World’s Strongest Librarian
In The World’s Strongest Librarian (Gotham: Penguin Group USA. 2013. ISBN 9781592407873. $26), his forthright, affecting, and sometimes surprisingly funny new memoir, Josh Hanagarne discloses a passion for books so great that he claims to see the rest of life as a mere break between bouts of reading. He’s a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library who at 6’7″ can reach the highest stacks, an Alice in his own Wonderland consumed with asking questions, a modestly observant Mormon with a newfound interest in evolution, and a dedicated weight lifter who launched his blog, World’s Strongest Librarian, to keep track of his progress. He also has Tourette Syndrome, but don’t expect him to rail against his fate. While his book shows us how bruising Tourette’s can be, it’s really an account of his (perfectly normal) stumbling through coming of age and wry moments of adulthood, with the entire book serving as a wondrous evocation of the value of the mind. One thing it’s not is self-help, a genre he deplores. As he told me, “I hope you never hear me say I am inspirational.” But I can say it, and I do.

Stephen P. Kiernan, The Curiosity
A few pages into Stephen P. Kiernan’s The Curiosity (Morrow. 2013. ISBN 9780062221063. $25.99), I understood why Stephen Kiernan has won 40 awards, including the distinguished George Polk Award, over a two-decades-plus career in journalism that also includes publication of the books Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism. He writes so clearly and so entertainingly about a sometimes daunting subject, science. The action opens with a team of scientists sailing through chilly waters in a bid to find a candidate berg full of hard-ice that might contain a fast-frozen creature of modest size they could endeavor to revive—after all, they’ve done it with krill. Instead, they uncover a man frozen deep in a floating chunk of the Arctic, and Erastus Carthage, the wealthy megalomaniac running the project, orders resuscitation efforts. Soon, a surprised Judge Jeremiah Rice is recalling falling overboard in 1906. With Erastus eager to play God and exploiting the situation to the hilt, team member Dr. Kate Philo fatefully steps in to remind him that Jeremiah is not a specimen but a human being. So, the wonders of science, its attendant dangers, media obsession, human relationships, and important questions in contemporary ethics, all combined in one absorbing read.

John Scalzi, The Human Division
“It’s not magic, it’s physics,” explains one character in the opening pages of John Scalzi’s The Human Division (Tor. 2013. ISBN 9780765333513. $26), talking about a light-years skip in space. But actually, sf lovers, this is magic. Having had the good fortune of introducing award-winning and New York Times best-selling author Scalzi at two previous library events, I’ve come to appreciate his way with action, language, and character. His newest work, just published in book form as the fifth in the blockbuster Old Man’s War series, originally appeared as a 13-episode, three-month digital serial starting in 2012. As our author says in the introduction, the challenge was to write 13 separate episodes that would also cohere as a novel. Not to worry: each episode is fresh yet successfully linked, carrying us through diplomatic and military maneuverings as Earth finally recognizes and resists its betrayal by the Colonial Union and the Colonial Union reacts. It’s an achingly real, morally complex universe that might have you agreeing with Joe Hill’s assessment that Mr. Scalzi is “the most entertaining, accessible writer working in SF today.”

Abby Stokes, Is This Thing On?
Whenever my husband and I wrestle with a new electronic purchase, we always bemoan the inability of the techie people who write the instructions to use clear, easy-to-understand language. This inability does not pertain to Abby Stokes, who responded to her mother’s question “Peach, what is a website?” by teaching her how to use a computer and has since gone on to bring the joys of computing to more than 135,000 people, many of them seniors reluctant to brave the keys. Is This Thing On? A Computer Handbook for Later-Bloomers, Technophobes, and the Kicking & Screaming (Workman. 2013. ISBN 9780761168829. $16.95), first appeared in 2008 and is now back in a fresh new edition that also covers Facebook, the iPad, ereaders, Skype, tweeting, and more, again in truly user-friendly language. I know that there are gaps in my e-knowledge, even though I use a computer every day, and I always thought I should take a six-week sabbatical to educate myself thoroughly. Here’s the bad news: now I don’t need the sabbatical because instead I have the book.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.