We’ll start off this week with a factoid that will probably surprise none of you, but which will be handy to have when someone makes noise about all the books you have in your house. Item: Research data from more than 160,000 adults in more than 30 countries reveals that having a sizeable home library imparts skills equivalent to university graduates who didn’t read, reports the Guardian this week.
Uh, wait. Let’s parse that a little closer. Looking at test scores across literary, numeracy, and information communication technology, kids who haven’t gone on to higher education tested at equivalent levels to those who have gone to uni, but who weren’t exposed to books as youngsters. So, uh, hang on. Oh, wait. Books are good for you! And there’s data to back it up!
That’s what we were looking for. Never mind the details. More books! Smarter kids! For the win!
Anyway, there’s your excuse for buying more books this week. “It’s for the kids!” And here are this week’s rough darlings for you.
First, we have Mark O’Shea’s Big Book of I Don’t Think So. O’Shea is a herpetologist, which is someone who knows the difference between a stick and a snake. In fact, O’Shea is so good at telling the difference that he’s put together a comprehensive guide of over six hundred species of snakes. That’s right. Everything from Scolecophidia (the blind ones) to Henophidia (the old ones) to Caenophidia (the new ones).
We don’t understand how taxonomy works, really. But apparently, it’s more than Big Snakes, Snakes You Don’t See Coming, and Hissing Snakes That Were Really Just Minding Their Own Business Until You Came Thundering Along. Which is just nightmare fuel, really, but thankfully, O’Shea has put together a guidebook to help us figure out which slithering beastie we’ve just encountered.
On a more calming note, we also have Darroch and Michael Putnam’s Flower Color Guide. Since it’s a Phaidon title, you know it’s going to be well designed, and yep, it’s nothing more than page after page after page of pictures of flowers, arranged in series so that you can totally map out your garden.
Oh, but there’s more than that, of course. There’s also all the science talk about each flower, as well as a handy guide for maximizing your spread in a flower display. Right? You didn’t even know such a guide existed, and now you’re wondering how you managed to live this long without one.
And speaking of fancy art talk, B. A. Shapiro is back this week with The Collector’s Apprentice, a story of art fraud, theft, scandal, and murder. Shapiro has an excellent track record with filling her books with all manner of art talk while not losing the thread of the adventure, and The Collector’s Apprentice whisks us away to Paris in the ‘20s where Postimpressionism is all the rage, and revenge is all the, uh, other rage.
Oh, and Nicholas Sparks has a new novel out this week. Naturally, fate and mysterious circumstances will play a big part in bringing together . . . let’s see . . . what have we got this time? [Rattles the jar of character types] Uh, yes, we have an American trauma nurse with a boyfriend who keeps trying to fix the impossible. We’ll put that one over here. [Rattle the jar again] And we also have a safari guide from Zimbabwe who is about to discover devastating secrets about his family. They meet on . . . [spins globe] . . . a beach in North Carolina and . . .
Did you know that 11 of Nicholas Sparks’s books have been made into movies? It’s probably safe to say Every Breath hits all the marks it is supposed to. Which probably puts it somewhere between the Flower Color Guide above and, say, the ingredient list on a package of hot dogs as far as surprises go.
And speaking of reaching for the whiskey bottle, did we forget to mention Hacking Whiskey: Smoking, Blending, Fat Washing, and Other Whiskey Experiments? We did? Shame on us. Though, to be fair, we were busy trying to figure out how to fat wash our whiskey, which is apparently not sitting around in a dirty t-shirt and drinking from the bottle. Thank goodness.
Anyway, in an effort to elevate the conversation, how about Christopher Andrew’s The Secret World, a 960-page history of intelligence from Yale University Press. No, not that intelligence. The secret spy stuff espionage sort of intelligence. That’s right, so many pages on the myriad of ways we’ve been spying on each other for thousands of years. Ah, subterfuge and misdirection: some of humanity’s most awkward inventions. “What? No, I didn’t drink the last Yoo-Hoo. I wasn’t anywhere near the refrigerator last night. I wasn’t even in the country. And besides, who left those snakes on the counter?”
See? Works every time.
Meanwhile, since we’re talking about books and shelves and why there is never enough room in your house for more of both, Susan Orlean is back with The Library Book, an investigative report on the 1986 Los Angeles Library fire, which—yep, no spoilers here—burned for more than seven hours, reached temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees, and devoured more than a million books. Naturally, since this is a Susan Orlean book, we get more than just the story of that fire and of those books. Last time, she turned us all on to orchids, and this time, she’s just reaffirming that we are all total book nerds.
What? No, that’s just—it’s just dust, okay! We’re not getting all weepy about those lost books. Whatever.
Anyway, how about some fairy tale horror set in Colonial New England? In Laird Hunt's In the House in the Dark of the Woods, we have the story of a woman named Goody, who goes out one day to pick berries. Naturally, she stays out after dark and gets lost. But she gets found by a lovely person named Captain Jack, who escorts her to the house of a woman named Eliza, who seems polite and kind too. But then there are noises in the night, and “Eliza” may be a skinsuit worn by a wolf, and Captain Jack’s airship may be made out of human bones, and . . . oh, what? That’s not spooky enough for you? Fine. It’s right over there on the table, waiting for you. Don’t call us in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.
And finally, we’ll end with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You. Lin-Manuel has a habit of starting and ending each day with a motivational and uplifting pair of tweets. This book, delightfully illustrated by Jonny Sun collects the best of those tweets into a volume that will fit on your nightstand. It’s a book, not a device! Rejoice!