This Month’s Books (January 2015)

Zen Pencils

Ernest Shackleton – South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914 – 1917 (1919)South

On the eve of the first World War, as Europe steeled for conflict and, incidentally, Gandhi departed for India after 20 years in South Africa, Sir Ernest Shackleton made final preparations for a 28-man expedition to Antarctica. His ship, HMS Endurance, left England in early August, and four months later, captain and crew sailed from the southern point of South America, headed at last for the desolate continent that was their destination. Within days, they hit pack ice, slowed to a crawl, and soon, with literally nowhere to go, hitched to an iceberg for the next 10 months. The trials that then followed strain credulity and have occupied several good books by different authors, but no account beats Shackleton’s own. Horrible to imagine and impossible to ignore, South’s shocking accounting of individual leadership and collective strength yields a priceless reminder, both of how bad things can get and just how much humans can accomplish.

Verdict: 4/5

Vet Tech TalesPhoenix Sullivan – Vet Tech Tales: The Early Years (2011)

Armed with the belief that simply loving animals would be enough to see her through high school, college, and eventually into veterinary medicine, Phoenix is in for some rude surprises as she navigates her way toward a career working with animals in “The Early Years,” the first instalment of her VET TECH TALES series.

From the dying finch found miraculously “resurrected” in a pet store to the diabetic poodle that gives its elderly owner a purpose in life to an embarrassing incident with a coyote, these engaging true tales reinforce how the animals we meet teach us the greatest lessons about what it means to be human.

A charming coming-of-age story for anyone who’s ever had a dream or a pet.

Verdict: 2/5

Gavin Aung Than – Zen Pencils (2014)Zen Pencils

Zen Pencils is an exciting and unique new comic form that takes inspirational and famous quotations and adapts them into graphic stories. From icons like Confucius, Marie Curie, and Henry David Thoreau, to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, to contemporary notables like Ira Glass, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Neil Gaiman—their words are turned into sometimes heartwarming, sometimes sobering stories by cartoonist Gavin Aung Than. Be inspired, motivated, educated, and laugh as you read famous words as never before!

Verdict: 5/5 

The Know-It-AllThe Know-It-All (2004)

Part memoir and part education (or lack thereof), The Know-It-Allchronicles NPR contributor A.J. Jacobs’s hilarious, enlightening, and seemingly impossible quest to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

33,000 PAGES
44 MILLION WORDS
10 BILLION YEARS OF HISTORY
1 OBSESSED MAN

To fill the ever-widening gaps in his Ivy League education, A.J. Jacobs sets for himself the daunting task of reading all thirty-two volumes of theEncyclopaedia Britannica. His wife, Julie, tells him it’s a waste of time, his friends believe he is losing his mind, and his father, a brilliant attorney who had once attempted the same feat and quit somewhere around Borneo, is encouraging but unconvinced.

With self-deprecating wit and a disarming frankness, The Know-It-Allrecounts the unexpected and comically disruptive effects Operation Encyclopedia has on every part of Jacobs’s life — from his newly minted marriage to his complicated relationship with his father and the rest of his charmingly eccentric New York family to his day job as an editor atEsquire. Jacobs’s project tests the outer limits of his stamina and forces him to explore the real meaning of intelligence as he endeavors to join Mensa, win a spot on Jeopardy!, and absorb 33,000 pages of learning. On his journey he stumbles upon some of the strangest, funniest, and most profound facts about every topic under the sun, all while battling fatigue, ridicule, and the paralyzing fear that attends his first real-life responsibility — the impending birth of his first child.

The Know-It-All is an ingenious, mightily entertaining memoir of one man’s intellect, neuroses, and obsessions, and a struggle between the all-consuming quest for factual knowledge and the undeniable gift of hard-won wisdom.

Verdict: 4/5

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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