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August 22, 2004 Edition

Art of the Basket, by Bryan Sentence

This visual feast provides an overview of basketry through cultures and ages. Divided into a variety of categories, each page features images of basketry from areas as diverse as Vietnam, Ghana, and Alaska. Everything, whether woven purely for beauty’s sake (the Pomo feathered baskets from California) or shaped for a particular purpose (Russian folded birch baskets meant for gathering birch sap), is beautifully photographed with clearly visible detail. Inspiration for any basket-weavers out there!

Ghost Ship, by Brian Hicks

The eerie story of the Mary Celeste is brought to life here in amazing detail. From the ships’ construction in Nova Scotia in 1861, to the strange disappearance of its crew in 1872, everything is here. Hicks, a master of suspense, is at his best in the chapter on the discovery of the aimlessly floating empty ship, and he presents the multitude of legends that have grown up around the crew’s fate concisely. In the end, his own theory on the fate of the crew is offered up as clearly and as chillingly as if it were fact, but, of course, we’ll never know the truth.

Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders

Descriptions of every room in the average upper-middle-class home of Victorian British families are interwoven with explanations of the rooms’ purposes and evolution. With quotations from noted household experts (Mrs. Beeton and Mrs. Panton), excerpts from writers of the time (Dickens, Gaskell, and Beatrix Potter), and journal entries from servants, masters, and mistresses, this brims with interesting tidbits woven into a fascinating whole. Everything is here: nurseries (and attitudes towards children), kitchens (how they were run and what foods came out of them), bedrooms (including furniture and childbirth), and more. Hearken back to a time when children were kept out of the way, reading in bed was strictly forbidden, draperies had their own draperies, and house servants slept on the kitchen floor.

A-Frame, by Chad Randl

An homage to the A-frame style of building, this has diagrams, photos, and vintage advertising graphics to entice readers. Whether built as occasional-use cabins, bomb shelters, storage sheds, or permanent residences, A-frames have a long and illustrious history, with ancient remains found in China, Europe, and some South Pacific Islands. But it wasn’t until after WWII that they reached their ascendancy in the United States as economical second homes. Comes complete with plans for a do-it-yourself A-frame!

Making Time, by Jane Lancaster

Most people are familiar with “Cheaper by the Dozen,” in which efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth uses his family to demonstrate his ideas of how things should be done. Now, here is a biography of Lillian, Frank’s wife, who was a noted engineer in her own right, but who preferred to stay out of the limelight. Her schedule was busier than her husband’s, for, at the same time that she was raising their 12 children, she worked full-time and acted as Frank’s sounding-board and secretary. An ambitious and driven woman, she has stayed in her husband’s shadow - until now, that is!

Consuming Kids, by Susan Linn

Without sounding shrill or didactic, Linn, a child development expert and psychologist, raises the alarm about the advertising industry and the ways it encourages children to become better consumers. Ad companies, which have coined the phrases like “closet kid” (to refer to a child who wants to be like a teenager with friends, but then goes home and plays with toys) and strategies like “prenatal marketing,” don’t come off well here. Linn looks at how the focus on the “bottom line” encourages companies to make decisions that are detrimental, if not completely antithetical, to normal, healthy, childhoods and happy families. Shivery confirmation for the more suspicious among us; eye-opening reading for the unsuspecting.

Lab 257, by Michael Christopher Carroll

Visible from the shores of New York, Plum Island is left unidentified or is marked U.S. Government - Restricted on maps. One of the nation’s most secretive government labs, it has specialized in biological germ research since WWII, and continues today. But it has been plagued with safety issues, and some suspect that the outbreaks of Lyme disease and West Nile virus that erupted in the past few years were directly linked to research on the island. Carroll raises some interesting questions in this thought-provoking first book

Angels and Monsters, by Richard Somerset-Ward

Colorful histories of colorful people, this combines biographies of the great sopranos (both male and female) and their teachers from the 1600s through the 1900s with the history of opera and the emergence of the modern voice. Somerset-Ward combines legend and fact to evoke the rarified world that opera created around itself.

Don’t Play in the Sun, by Marita Golden

As a child, Golden is stung by her mother’s admonition to stay out of the sun so her skin won’t get any darker. It is the moment that defines her parents’ opposing views of color: her mother is always concerned that Golden isn’t light enough, and her father, who is very dark, tells her bedtime stories of African queens and kings with a palpable sense of pride. In this book, she invites readers into her life as she explores the ways she’s been affected by her color, and the ways her life has changed as she has traveled and become more self-aware. Beautifully written and food for thought for all of us.

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