Monday, September 6, 2010

Bonobos, Elephants, and Wicked Plants

Some people await that newest Janet Evanovich mystery, others limit their reading to strictly non-fiction. As for me, my reading selections seem to change like the wind. Since I work with people who "book" for a living, it's probably not surprising that I hear about a wide range of titles, subjects, and authors.

Thanks to a long weekend due to the Labor Day holiday and an extra furlough day thanks to the city's budget, I had the pleasure of several extra hours of reading. In preparation for Sara Gruen's upcoming visit, I devoured the memoir, Bonobo Handshake, by Vanessa Woods--a lovely telling of her romance with a chimp researcher as they traveled to the Congo to study bonobos. Bonobos, like chimps, share most of our human DNA but are quite different socially from chimps. It's fascinating (and inspiring) to read of the peaceful interactions in the bonobo colony. We humans could certainly learn lessons--and we should!

Sara Gruen's book, Water for Elephants, is another amazing story with great insight to the animal world. Be sure to read the afterword about all the research she did on circus animals. I especially loved the story about the elephant who had learned how to remove her stake from the ground, drink the large vat of circus lemonade, and then replace the stake leaving the circus workers to wonder who was stealing all the lemonade!

My daughter recently recommended a rather eccentric book, Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities. It's bright green cover and intriguing etchings is your first hint that this not your typical botanical read! I have always been intrigued by medicinal plants and this book takes it a step further than that. It could be an invaluable source for anyone writing a murder mystery!

This morning I finished reading a memoir by Michelle Norris, a name you may recognize from her reporting on NPR. It's called The Grace of Silence . I had the pleasure of meeting Michelle in NYC last May at Book Expo where she shared that she really didn't set out to write a memoir, but rather a report on race relations since Obama's election. However, as she worked on the story, she discovered that there were several things in her own family's history that deserved further investigation. Always the excellent journalist, the book is a fascinating story of how she uses her skills to learn more about the people who raised her.