Space Books That Are Out of This World

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Launch yourself into outer space with one of these books about the past and future of space travel and cosmology, available from the JMRL catalog:

How to Live in Space by Colin Stuart – An amusing and informative illustrated guide to life beyond our own planet that covers everything from training for and living in space to the future of space travel and tourism.

Beyond Earth by Charles Wohlforth & Amanda R. Hendrix – A leading planetary scientist and an award-winning science writer present a chronicle of the developments and initiatives that have transformed the idea of space colonization into an achievable goal, sharing arguments in favor of targeting Saturn’s moon, Titan.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson – Offers witty, digestible explanations of topics in cosmology, from the Big Bang and black holes to quantum mechanics and the search for life in the universe.

The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott – Presents a semi-autobiographical discussion of astronomy and astronomers, the history of cosmology, and the latest theories about the structure of the universe.

The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard – A theoretical physicist who has worked closely with Stephen Hawking uses direct and simple language to demonstrate the theories behind the functioning of the universe, including what happens when a star dies and the basics of the quantum world.

Dark Matter & the Dinosaurs by Lisa Randall – A renowned particle physicist draws on original research into dark matter to illuminate the surprising connections between deep space and life on Earth.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach – Describes the weirdness of space travel, answers questions about the long-term effects of living in zero gravity on the human body, and explains how space simulations on Earth can provide a preview to life in space.

“Sooner or later, though, no matter where in the world we live, we must join the diaspora, venturing beyond our biological family to find our logical one, the one that actually makes sense for us.”

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The LGBTQ Book club met on January 29 to discuss Logical Family , Armistead Maupin’s memoir contrasting his conservative upbringing in South Carolina  (working at Jesse Helm’s television station, meeting Nixon as a Vietnam veteran) to his life in San Francisco (writing a long-running serial in the Chronicle, hobnobbing with stars). Indeed, the title is a play on words, between one’s biological family and the people you gather around you as your logical family.

Two thirds of us had read Maupin’s Tales of the City series are were excited to glimpse behind the curtain. The memoir is an appealing, easy read. On the one hand, Maupin honestly reveals the difficulties he had with his strict, conservative father, whose love he craved, and he is not afraid to drop the names of celebrities in his life. We were surprised to learn he was the last sailor out of Cambodia and he defends his choice to out Rock Hudson. However, we wondered if Maupin is a reliable narrator because we were left with questions like, how did he actually meet these famous people and who are the actual members in his logical family? In the end, the book, a surface look at Maupin’s life with a good throughline, was a nice visit with an old friend.

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“I had Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi, the four of us sharing the weight of growing up Girl in Brooklyn, as though it was a bag of stones we passed among ourselves saying, Here. Help me carry this.”

27213163Books on Tap read Another Brooklyn  by Jacqueline Woodson at  Champion Brewery on February 7. Woodson, the current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and previous Young People’s Poet Laureate and National Book Award winner, is best known for her works for children and teens, often in verse. This novel is only one of two that she has written for adults. It follows August as she moves from Tennessee to Brooklyn with her father and brother, making friends with three girls and navigating black girlhood and New York in the 1970s. It too is written in verse, which struck one reader as genius to fit this complex story in in a concise, moving package. The format allows Woodson to be indirect, especially when addressing suicide, childhood sexual abuse and religion. Those of us who listened to the audiobook didn’t notice the format as much as those who read the print edition. One reader wondered if the dialog was italicized to emphasize that it was only reported to us through August’s memory.

We first discussed the title: what are these other Brooklyns? August and her brother are confined to their apartment when they first move in, and can only observed life on the street below. During the novel, she reflects on the Brooklyn she remembers and the one that her brother still lives in. There’s also the Brooklyns that become home to immigrants from all over the world.

Woodson herself grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and August’s father introduces Nation of Islam to the family. August appreciates the order that the women of the Nation bring to the apartment but it is her brother who embraces the tenets and uses it to organize his life. August, in reaction to her mother’s suicide and the silence around it, becomes an anthropologist who studies death practices around the world. Despite their differences, the siblings remain realistically respectful as adults.

August’s mother’s death is itself a ghost in the novel. As a child she tells herself and her brother that their mother will return any moment. Her father tells her she knows what is in the urn in the house but never declares it is her mother’s ashes. As a teenager, she loses her voice. We disagreed if this was a literal lack of voice but either way, she begins to see a therapist. This is around the same time that her friend Gigi commits suicide, about which August feels guilt for not being a closer friend. We agreed that these events inspired August to study anthropology.

The book is specifically about black girlhood, but can be used as a lens to look at girlhood universally. The four girls describe their friendship as a forcefield against harassment and danger. Together, they say things to men and boys that we could never say as individuals. They protect and soothe each other and share joyous experiences. Despite her mother’s warning against female friendship, it is the thing that made August’s Brooklyn what it was. Gigi’s suicide, Sylvia’s teen pregnancy and Angela’s mother’s murder break the quartet apart. Years later as an adult August sees Sylvia on the subway but chooses to get off before they can speak. We were divided on the lasting strength of childhood friendships in our own lives, but it’s clear that these relationships were formative (and not often seen in fiction).

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Read Alikes:
Kwame Alexander
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
How to Love a Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Mislaid by Nell Zink
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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