Book Review: The Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World's Most Coveted Fish

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish by Emily Voigt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This absorbing oddity of nonfiction starts out as an inquiry into the absurd and even dangerous obsession with a single species and ends up broadening into an exploration of the human view toward categorizing and assigning value to all kinds of species. It is an odd and thrilling amalgam of real-life adventure with an eccentric cast of modern explorers and the retraced steps of some of biology’s defining pioneers of taxonomy. The lengths that Voight undertook to get her story are a testament to the dark power of the quest for near-unobtainable rarity. It is a strange, colorful, and oftentimes quietly sad portrait of the human need to “own” the world around us.

The truth is, the pleasure of finding new species is too great; it is morally dangerous; for it brings with it the temptation to look on the thing found as your own possession all but your own creation… as if all the angels in heaven had not been admiring it, long before you were born or thought of.

-Charles Kingsley, 1855



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Book Review: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


For the serious large-scope fiction writer, this guide is a treasure. Lusciously designed, packed with different perspectives, humorous and hyper-serious at turns, it’s a fabulous textbook to turn to when muddling through the task of bringing the fantastical to life through writing. Jeff VanderMeer really lays everything he’s got on the table–generous to a fault with comprehensive inclusion of information on his process and philosophy as a writer.



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Book Review: Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Art Matters

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Charming little volume of Gaiman’s oft-quoted advice on the creative life, all here in a book short enough that you can read it and get back to making art all in the same hour.



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Book Review: North Writers by John Henricksson, editor

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection

North Writers I: A Strong Woods Collection by John Henricksson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A lovely collection of short essay/memoir writings from a highly specific part of the American (and Canadian) landscape. A variety of voices and experiences are present here. Some of the pieces feel dated for the modern reader while others remain poignant and fresh. If you have love for the north woods, you’ll find something to enjoy at some point in this book. I would recommend reading it in small bites at a time. The volume is split between nature-focused writings and more human encounters–my preference was for the former.



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Book Review: Shipwrecks of Lake Superior, edited by James Marshall

Shipwrecks of Lake Superior

Shipwrecks of Lake Superior by James R. Marshall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I found this charming book in a used bookstore in Door County, Wisconsin. Compiled in the 1980’s, this volume is a collection of articles that methodically explores the known history of shipwrecks in Lake Superior–a topic that I’m currently researching. For the purpose of information, it’s an awesome find. The writing quality does widely vary from article to article. Some are filled with poetic prose, others unbearably dry. All of them are written by maritime history enthusiasts and divers, not necessarily writers… However, I found that created amusing results. For instance, the clearly heated opinions over theories regarding the reasons a ship might or might not have sunk come through with barely veiled salt. It’s great.
*
Like most of the non-fiction books I read, I wouldn’t recommend it other than for a very specific audience. Want all the facts on Lake Superior wrecks right at your fingertips, down to the names and lengths and crews of every single ship, but with no real regard for writing quality or organization? Look no further!



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Book Review: People of the Sturgeon by Kathleen Schmitt Kline

People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin's Love Affair with an Ancient Fish

People of the Sturgeon: Wisconsin’s Love Affair with an Ancient Fish by Kathleen Schmitt Kline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a lovely, info-packed volume for the rare reader who is deeply interested in the fishing and conservation history of lake sturgeon in Wisconsin. Luckily, I am one of those readers! The volume has lots of great pictures and many entertaining and educational anecdotes. This special fish has deeply impacted (and continues to impact) the culture of those who coexist with it, hunt it, and protect it. If you love sturgeon and learning about the history of fishery conservation, you will also love this book.

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Book Review: From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good DeathFrom Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Caitlin Doughty is one of America’s great death ambassadors–and I mean that in the most admiring sense. Her non-fiction title From Here to Eternity utilizes the knowledge and sensitivity that she’s gained from her own career as a mortician and funeral home owner as well as an immersive study of different cultural funerary practices. Many are extremely shocking for the typical American reader; as Doughty asserts throughout the book, our own view of death can be evasive, clinical, and even commercialized. The journey through these pages presents an alternative, highlighting many different funeral rituals, while being both light-hearted and deadly serious (ha!) about the importance of how we process death and view our body’s role in our transition into the next world. Disclaimer: If you are easily grossed out, or you have very set beliefs about what is religiously appropriate surrounding the dead, you may wish to skip this one. If not, READ IT!

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Book Review: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State KillerI’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michelle McNamara’s posthumously published true crime account takes us deep into the noxious labyrinth of one man’s unthinkable evildoings, and her own insatiable desire to hold him accountable for them. McNamara presents the sickening details about the Golden State Killer’s chilling reign of terror over central California in the 1970s and 1980s, but does so without being exploitative of the victims–rather, her tone prioritizes telling the truth: These things happened, and this man is responsible. Beyond the chilling facts of the GSK’s crimes, though, the truly fascinating part of this narrative is Michelle’s own unflagging, compulsive drive to use technology, wade through long-dormant paper trails, and unite citizen and police investigators to bring him into the light. Her dedication to solving this case was remarkable, and though she died before she could see him fall, she played a key role in helping unite and inform the people who did. Rest in peace, Michelle–They got him.

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Book Review: The Old-Fashioned by Robert Simonson

The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World's First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and LoreThe Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, with Recipes and Lore by Robert Simonson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a neat little book about the history of the old-fashioned, which–as you’ll find if you read it–is far more contentious than one might assume! Small vignettes about notorious bartenders, responses to Prohibition, and the various reputations surrounding various versions of the drink reflect Simonson’s copious research as well as his knack for retelling it. My favorite aspect of the book, being a lifelong Wisconsinite myself, was the appearance of our state in the story of this shapeshifting cocktail. (Spoiler: Wisconsin is one of few places in which the preferred recipe of the old-fashioned has remained unchanged and popular through time… since the early 1900s!) There are also over 40 recipes for variations on the old-fashioned at the end of the book. The photographs throughout the book may be the actual star of this book, though–they are deliciously atmospheric and quite lovely.

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Book Review: Radium Girls by Kate Moore

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining WomenThe Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kate Moore’s monumental dedication in researching the lives of the radium dial painters makes this incredible book what it is. She writes their stories with sensitivity and fidelity, imbued always with the deep admiration that compelled her to take on the project of writing Radium Girls. Detailing the obscene negligence of the radium companies of the 1920s and the carnage that followed in its wake, this book is a battle cry from the past that’s long overdue. I was transfixed and educated in the process of reading–Moore leaves no small detail unturned. The dial painting women are resurrected in these pages, and the reader learns about their everyday moments and concerns as much as about the unbelievable physical torments that they underwent. “Lip, dip, paint” becomes a chilling refrain as Moore shines a harsh light on a moment in history that birthed many of the workers’ protections that our country now provides. This is a stunning piece of non-fiction that pays a loving tribute to its subjects, making them completely impossible to forget.

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