In need of a holiday read? Look no further than the detailed recommendations comprising the latest round of Staff Picks in the Fall 2013 issue of Off the Shelf. Staff reviews are reprinted below.
THE GATEWAY ARCH: A BIOGRAPHY (Tracy Campbell, Yale, 2013)
Not being from St. Louis or knowing local lore and facts about the Gateway Arch, I am happy to have discovered historian Tracy Campbell’s book The Gateway Arch: A Biography, which traces the development of the Arch from its first inkling in 1920 as a city monument to a current analysis of the St. Louis riverfront. Campbell's book reveals how the National Park Service and federal government came to partially fund the Jefferson Memorial and how St. Louis leaders conspired to drive out local people to clear the land for the park during the Depression era. There is a rich profile of the Arch's architect, Eero Saarinen, including text from his love letters to his fiancé and his struggle to emerge from his father's shadow. Indeed, both father and son submitted separate architecture entries in the St. Louis Competition in 1947, and when the finalists were announced, a congratulatory telegram was mistakenly sent to his father.
Campbell's footnotes are just as fascinating to read as the book, and the volume includes gems from Washington University's own University Archives. All the facts, stories, and trivia can only enhance the next time you play host to out-of-town visitors and accompany them on their trip up the Arch. At 630 feet, you can share how even Walt Disney himself considered building a new Disneyland near the Arch or that plans for the Memorial Park once considered an airplane landing strip for potential tourists.
Reviewed by Daria Carson-Dussán (Romance Languages & Literatures and Latin American Studies Librarian)
FEYNMAN (Jim Ottaviani with art by Leland Myrick and coloring by Hilary Sycamore, First Second, 2011)
I’ve been reading several graphic "novels" lately—it might be more accurate to say nonfiction, science-oriented comics. So far, Feynman is the best of the bunch. It’s a fast read but amazingly full of substance. Carefully selected parts of Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman’s personal and public life, his physics, and his work in science education are presented, sometimes thematically and sometimes chronologically. The detailed description of his New Zealand lectures on quantum electrodynamics actually makes parts of this elusive subject seem quite clear and real, like the rainbow glinting off a CD-ROM.
One of Feynman's ideas which is emphasized is that a theorem is not finished or understandable until you can explain it succinctly and simply. This graphic novel genre lends itself to expressing complex ideas with far fewer words than most nonfiction works. Reading Feynman has inspired me to add more books by and about Richard Feynman to my reading list and to begin to take graphic novels more seriously. They are clearly not just comic books for kids!
Reviewed by Ruth Lewis (Scholarly Communications Coordinator and Science Librarian)
LETTERS TO A YOUNG SCIENTIST (Edward O. Wilson, Liveright, 2013)
In Edward O. Wilson's memoir-like Letters to a Young Scientist, the author entreats potential scientists to follow their passion. Emphasizing this passion over prescription, Wilson argues that mathematics should not slow anyone down in the increasingly collaborative STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) landscape. He leads us through many discoveries: summer camp snake captures as a boy, prehistoric ant fossils as an established scientist, and promising young graduate students even in his emeritus years. The book speaks to the romance of science, both visceral and dreamy, leaving a sense of deeper meaning and purpose through exploration of this place we inhabit.
Reviewed by Jennifer Moore (GIS Outreach and Anthropology Librarian)
MARY WICKES: I KNOW I’VE SEEN THAT FACE BEFORE (Steve Taravella, University Press of Mississippi, 2013)
Have you watched The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941), White Christmas (1954), Postcards from the Edge (1990), or Sister Act (1992)? If so, then you have seen the actress Mary Wickes. You may not recognize her name because her career was as a supporting character actress and comedienne, but you would probably recognize her face. For his recent biography of Wickes—cleverly titled Mary Wickes: I Know I’ve Seen That Face Before—author Steve Taravella researched in five libraries and archives (including Washington University Archives) and conducted numerous interviews. What resulted is a wonderful account of Wickes' life and long acting career.
Taravella begins the book with Wickes' parents, her growing up in St. Louis, and her years as a Washington University student, which helps us understand Wickes' never-ending affection for St. Louis. We get to know Wickes as Taravella follows her acting career on stage, in film, and on television and brings to life her many roles, predominantly nurses, nuns, and housekeepers. Along the way he explores her interactions with other actors and actresses, directors, producers, and others. For further enjoyment, there are 24 pages of family and career photographs and a comprehensive list of Wickes' roles and performances.
Reviewed by Sonya Rooney (University Archivist)
THE DINNER (Herman Koch [translated by Sam Garrett], Hogarth, 2013)
Disquiet lurks beneath a veneer of normalcy in this fascinating yet repellant psychological character study by Dutch author Herman Koch. Set over a single meal and separated by courses, the digestif's arrival may have you reaching for your own. The Dinner's setup is simple: two couples, dining at a modish restaurant, deliberate a course of action following their teenage children's rather severe mischief. From the perspective of an increasingly untrustworthy narrator, Koch combines the disparate ingredients of a fetid vagrant, a pulverized principal, and an officious maître d' in a deliciously disturbing medley that grows more unnerving by the dish. At such a table, no assumptions are safe. Garrett's is a felicitous translation, with tone and voice conforming to the material. If you read the book, begin on the weekend—this literary repast is too delightful to put down.
Reviewed by Micah Zeller (Copyright & Digital Access Librarian)
For reading recommendations from WU Libraries staff members throughout the year, visit http://libguides.wustl.edu/recommendedreading.