The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Did I enjoy this book?  Not really.
Am I glad I read it?  Absolutely.
Here’s why.

Always an adventure with 


As 2015 is quickly coming to a close, I’ve been thinking about a compelling  question posed by The Readers last September:

“What characters would you like to catch up with?”

This was such a fun question to ponder as I revisited the books I’ve read over the last few years. There are so many characters I’d like to catch up with but if I had to choose just one, it would be Dellarobia Turnbow in Barbara Kingsolver’s  Flight Behavior.


Dellarobia, a young wife and mother feeling trapped and restless in her life, witnesses what she believes to be a miracle; an entire mountainside covered with the fluttering, flame-colored wings of monarch butterflies. The event draws national attention and exposes this small farm town in Tennessee to different ideas about life, education, and science. In the end, Dellarobia plans to leave the farm with her children to pursue a college degree.

Where is the smart, ambitious Dellarobia and her children today?  How have their worlds changed?  I would love to hear her story.


Now it’s your turn.

What characters would you like to catch up with?


Always an adventure with

Thanks x Two

A beautiful story reminding us how much we miss when we’re too single-minded to listen.


On a recent evening commute, a woman boarded the bus and rushed towards me. Rather than sit, she seemed to fall into the empty seat beside mine, a mound of heavy coat, thick scarf, and several bags. She wedged a bag between her feet and dug through her purse producing a pen and ragged notepad. Flipping frantically through its frayed pages, she peered at me over glasses perched on the tip of her nose.

“I have to make a list of things I’m thankful for.” she said with irritation.

I didn’t ask why, but glanced at her notepad. She was grateful for some important things, with “health” and “job” written so far on her list. She saw me looking.

“I need ideas. What are you thankful for?” She sounded aggravated.

I thought back to when my daughter was small. I told the woman how my daughter’s eyes lit up when we…

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An Evening with Anthony Doerr


This is a captivating presentation given by Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, to the John Adams Institute, Amsterdam.  A jewel of a speech in and of itself, the question and answer period with the audience contains profound depth and insight.

Sadly, the slides do not include those from Mr. Doerr’s presentation. Nevertheless, this is a definite must-listen!

A Masterpiece. Tremendous. Wow. Overwhelming.

“Just a few characterizations by readers of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. And the literary critics were also unanimous: Anthony Doerr has an immense talent for storytelling.
The story follows a blind precocious French girl and a scientifically minded German boy whose paths intertwine during the German occupation of France. At its core this is the story of two young, innocent children who are forced into the ugliness of war, both of them victims in some way, neither of them innocent for long. Told from their alternating points of view, building the foundation of the story brick by brick and adding layer upon layer, the writing is captivating and stays with you long after closing the book.  A “hauntingly beautiful new book,” according to New York Times’ Janet Maslin.

Join us for an evening with one of America’s best storytellers.”


Discover more about “All the Light We Cannot See” in our Book Guide.

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All Aboard The HMS Beagle

CDarwin signaturehmsbeagle2


When we think of Darwin’s voyage, we think of the Galapagos Islands. But there is much more to this story…

“I hate every wave of the ocean,” the seasick Charles Darwin wrote to his family during his five-year voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. It was this world-wide journey, however, that launched the scientist’s career.


Voyage of the Beagle Story Map


This fabulous Esri story map by Matt Artz takes you on an interactive tour of Charles Darwin’s circumnavigation of the globe, 1831-1836.
Having read many of Darwin’s works, Catherine, one of our members, offers great insight to the tour and Darwin’s books:

The caption of the first photo introducing this map reads “…an English naturalist & geologist left on a voyage…which eventually resulted in his book describing his revolutionary new theory of natural selection.”

The book referred to in the quote is the Origin of Species published in 1859. However, Darwin wrote several books. The book on which the story map is based is not the Origin of Species, but The Voyage of the Beagle, published in 1839 shortly after the 1831-1836 voyage described by the story map.

The Voyage of the Beagle is basically Darwin’s journal from the voyage cleaned up a bit and published as a book. It is a much more fun book to read than the Origin of Species. The Voyage of the Beagle reads more like an adventure story, although remember that adventure stories back then were still somewhat dry (think “Moby Dick” which is also from that time period).

The story map provides some interesting quotes from Darwin, but I have included a few of my favorites below that I think are some of the more entertaining anecdotes from his journey:


Stop 21
Valdivia, Chile February 1835

Stop #21:

“This day has been memorable in the annals of Valdivia, for the most severe earthquake experienced by the oldest inhabitant. I happened to be on shore…There was no difficulty in standing upright, but the motion made me almost giddy; it was something like the movement of a vessel in a little cross-ripple, or still more like that felt by a person skating over thin ice, which bends under the weight of his body.”


Concepcion March 1835


Stop #22:

“At night I experienced an attack (for it deserves no less a name) of the Benchuca (a species of Reduvius) the great black bug of the Pampas. It is most disgusting to feel soft wingless insects, about an inch long, crawling over one’s body.

Benchuca, the Kissing Bug (Panstrongylus geniculatus)

Before sucking they are quite thin, but afterwards they become round and bloated with blood, and in this state are easily crushed. They are also found in the northern parts of Chile and in Peru. One which I caught at Iquique, was very empty. When placed on the table, and though surrounded by people, if a finger was presented, the bold insect would immediately draw its sucker, make a charge, and if allowed, draw blood. No pain was caused by the wound. It was curious to watch its body during the act of sucking, as it changed in less than ten minutes, from being as flat as a wafer to a globular form. This one feast, for which the benchuca was indebted to one of the officers, kept it fat during four whole months; but, after the first fortnight, the insect was quite ready to have another suck.”


Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands September 1835

Stop 25:

Referring to the endemic marine iguana: “I threw one several times as far as I would, into a deep pool left by the retiring

tide; but it invariably returned in a direct line to the spot where I stood….I several times caught this same lizard, by driving it down to a point, and though possessed of such perfect powers of diving and swimming, nothing would induce it to enter the water…Perhaps this singular piece of apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the circumstance that this reptile has no enemy whatever on shore…”


Take a moment to experience the story map for yourself and if you haven’t already read the book, be warned – the map will whet your appetite for indulging in Charles Darwin’s magnificent travelogue, The Voyage of the Beagle. 



Always an adventure with



2020: The Ten Dollar Bill Will Boast a New Face


Ten Dollar Druthers: 5 Female Scientists Who Should Join Hamilton

July 6, 2015 | Biographile
Right to left: Rachel Carson, Alexander Hamilton Currency Portrait, & Annie Easely

Beginning with the 2020 print run, the ten dollar bill will boast a new face — the first woman on paper currency since Martha Washington and Pocahontas graced nineteenth-century notes. Alongside the bust of Alexander Hamilton — creative ways to keep him around are in the works — will go a still-unchosen woman who will be named later this year, once U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has listened to the people in deference to the American love of public opinion.

“Our thinking is to select a woman who has played a major role in our history who represents the theme of democracy,” Lew offers as guidance, along with reminding us that no living person may be considered. We at Biographile would like to suggest a category within a category. As Galileo’s Middle Finger author Alice Dreger suggested to us earlier this year, science is tied to democracy, so we propose these scientists as shining examples of thought, liberty, and commerce.

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)
A literary-minded marine biologist and nature-writer with an eye for the most complex, overlooked corners of the country, Carson had a knack for the kind of quiet, far-reaching internologue and adventure-seeking that makes up some of the US’s finest writing — with coverage from sea to shining sea. Passages like this from her first book in 1941, Under the Sea Wind:A Naturalist’s Picture of Ocean Life: “Leaping and racing, foaming and swirling, the incoming flood brought release to the myriads of small fishes that had been imprisoned on the pond. Now in thousands they poured out of the pond and out of the marshes. They raced in mad confusion to meet the clean, cold water,” set her apart as an environmental conservation leader. In 1962, two years before her death, her Silent Spring spawned a populist movement and the subsequent creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom — “Never silent herself in the face of destructive trends, Rachel Carson fed a spring of awareness across America and beyond,” he cried — a second posthumous national honor would be just the thing.

Annie Easley (1933 – 2011)
While no women astronaut has yet landed on a dollar bill, names like Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Laurel B. Clark, and Kalpana Chawla (the latter three tragically eligible for the honor because of space disasters) are strong currency in popular American lore. Enter their earthly counterpart: Annie Easley, who made their intragalactic journeys possible. Easley stepped into NACA (NASA’s precursor) straight from high school, becoming a human calculator for the logarithms, exponentials, and square roots works that were then performed by hand with the aid of computers capable only of basic arithmetic. During her thirty-four years at both agencies, she was a rocket scientist, a mathematician, and a computer scientist who helped develop the Centaur Rocket software, the tech base for space shuttle launches, military and weather satellites, and the Cassini probe’s 1997 flight to Saturn. Throw in her research that was later used to create hybrid-car batteries, and we have a celestial mix of hard-working American can-do, freedom of intellectual development, and the types of images (think rockets, ringed planets, chic NASA workwear) that are the right icons for a mid-twenty-first-century nation.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821 – 1910)
Before there was physician-suffragette Mary Putnam Jacobi, there was her mentor, the irascible, unstoppable Elizabeth Blackwell, who was one of the first women to earn a medical degree in the United States. Blackwell’s medically minded predecessors were not left out from lack of trying: she undertook private anatomy classes while being turned away from medical school after medical school in Philadelphia and fielding advice from contemporary physicians to study abroad or pretend to be a man. After being accepted to New York’s Geneva Medical School as a practical joke, she then used the degree she ultimately earned to make her way into hospitals in Paris and London, becoming a professor of gynecology, and then opening her own practice in New York — the still-successful New York Downtown Hospital. Not content with deed alone, she wrote a memoir, too, the helpful, novelistic Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women. “Do no harm” and “Know thyself” would make fine mottos on either side of this long-overdue redone ten-note.

Bernice Ackerman (1925 – 1995)
In a nation of weather-obsessives enthralled with fast-moving storm-system graphs, the latest weather-pocalypse, and of course, prediction of a system notoriously difficult to predict, Bernice Ackerman, the States’s first woman weather forecaster and Argonne National Laboratory’s first woman meteorologist would serve as an ongoing reminder of national perseverance. From her meteo-training in WAVES, once the U.S. Navy’s women’s arm, to weather observer and flight briefer during World War II, to forty years as a research scientist and teacher of all things meteorological, her legacy gathered force at the U.S. Weather Bureau and university weather-think tanks like the Cloud Physics Laboratory. While there, she wrote papers on weather balloons, turbulence, and fluid mechanics in rural and in urban areas, the stuff of high tech-know-how and source of wondering inspiration for today’s weather-focused citizen scientists.

Alicia and John Nash (1933 – 2015; 1928 – 2015)
The sum of the smarts between this twice-married duo is bested only by the kind of love, devotion, and determination that can overcome a disease like schizophrenia and win an Economic Sciences Nobel prize in the meantime. Alicia’s work in physics earned her an MIT degree in 1995 as one of sixteen women among hundreds of men, an achievement that was overshadowed by her husband and their son’s need for mental health care. Undeterred, she attended to them while becoming a mental-health advocate, delivering keynote speeches around the country and winning the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Luminary Award in 2005. They died together in a car crash this May, the final part of our argument for the first couple to make a U.S. paper currency official.


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Andrea has shared more of her beautiful, insightful thoughts with us in this post about Atticus Finch. The current selection for our reading group is Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, so I found this post to be especially meaningful and just had to share it.

Butterfly Mind

left to right: Scout, Atticus, Jem from To Kill A Mockingbird WWAD?

“When Jem an’ I fuss Atticus doesn’t ever just listen to Jem’s side of it, he hears mine, too.” – Scout, from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird

My most recent reading of To Kill a Mockingbird was my first reading as a parent – at least as a parent with children old enough to talk – and Atticus Finch is my new hero.

Atticus, father to Jem and Scout, the children from whose perspective To Kill a Mockingbird is told, is one of the fairest men I’ve come across in literature.  He has always been a hero: for defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman in 1940s Alabama; for his calm in facing a mob of his own friends and neighbors; for his reluctance to claim the title “One-Shot Finch” dispite his marksmanship skills, and for subsequently laying down his weapon because “he…

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 Today I discovered this podcast and what a treat!

Book Based Banter at its Best

Listening to their episodes makes me feel as though I’m eavesdropping on a great conversation between the guys sitting at a nearby table in the bookstore coffee shop. It’s informative and fully entertaining. Grab a fresh cup of Joe, pull up a chair, and listen in. You’ll love it.

The Readers can be found on their website, Facebook, iTunes, and Podbean.


Sharing Awesome Discoveries 

Never Miss an Opportunity to See Something Beautiful

 “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  
–  John Muir

Yesterday my friends took me on an leisurely adventure – bicycling 40 miles round-trip from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Stunningly beautiful scenery, crisp cool air, camaraderie, physical activity, and the sight of a black bear running across the path in front of us (of which, I was so entranced I couldn’t even take a photo). The entire experience was exhilarating! Granted, I am not an avid cyclist and the last 5 miles nearly did me in. But my friends stayed with me to the end.

I awakened this morning feeling rejuvenated and happy. Our adventure has reminded me how important it is to take advantage of this wonderful slice of earth that we live in and to experience it with all our senses. Thank you, Jon and Cat, for your friendship and another wonderful, wonderful day!

Always an Adventure with the

The Amazing Power of Little Free Libraries

A wonderful post by Julia Tomiak.  And such a great idea!
Have you ever seen one of these?
It’s a Little Free Library, a symbol of ordinary people doing simple acts of service to accomplish extraordinary things.
Free Little Libraries promote reading, literacy, and engagement. Don’t you want one in your community? Learn more about them today.
Source: The Amazing Power of Little Free Libraries


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The Fascinating World of Maps

I love maps. They are an extension of my love for books, which often contain maps — how much better can it get?!


My favorite online map resource is theDavid Rumsey Historical Map Collection

This extensive collection spans many categories and mediums over time. I can completely lose myself for hours as I browse and explore them. Here are just a couple of my many favorites:


 A Comparative Picture of the Principal Waterfalls in the World

 A Comparative Picture of the Principal Waterfalls in the World


Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers, and the Heights of the Principal Mountains of the World

 Comparative Lengths of the Principal Rivers, and the Heights of the Principal Mountains of the World


I recently ran across this one, which I had not noticed before.

 Atlas for the Blind 1837


Printed without a single drop of ink and published for blind children before Braille had become widely used in the United States, this atlas is beautiful in its simplicity and intent. Its story is captivating.  


David Rumsey
David Rumsey amid items of his map, atlas and globe collection

I can’t possibly end this post without mentioning that in 2009 the gracious David Rumsey granted me a private tour of this collection. Oh, to be in the same room with these exquisite pieces of art and history and to gaze upon them first hand. It was definitely an experience for me that will be difficult to top!




Discover David Rumsey’s Map Collection for yourself and let me know which ones you like best. I bet you won’t be able to choose just one!


Always an adventure with the

Friday Book Chats: What Makes a Book YA and Some YA Books Worth Reading

Such Small Hands

I recently had a conversation with my husband about what criteria must be satisfied for a book to be classified as Young Adult. While there are obvious answers to this question like, “The protagonist is an adolescent,” this isn’t by itself an accurate answer. There are plenty of books that are not classified as YA literature that feature a child protagonist or even a child narrator. (Off the top of my head Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and To Kill a Mockingbird all come to mind).

What makes a book like The Book Thief a YA book while All the Light We Cannot See is a Pulitzer Prize winning adult novel? Both books have child protagonists. Both books are about WWII. Both books have a stylized, literary feel. And yet, they are considered different genres.

I brought this question up with a few…

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What Are Your Summer Reading Plans?

How about Book Bingo!

BOTNS Book BingoGet your BOTNS Summer Bingo card      and start reading!

The game runs from Memorial Day weekend thru Labor Day (May 25- Sept 7).  The rules are pretty much up to you (five-in-a-row, four corners, how to use the Free Space, etc.).  Read more here  or listen to the podcast  about how to play.  


How about a Podcast?

Books on the Nightstand

At BOTNS, Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman, provide awesome weekly podcasts and blog posts about our favorite things – books!!!  “At Books on the Nightstand, we strive to bring you great book recommendations, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the world of books, bookstores and publishing.”  

Check out the June 16 episode

500 Pages Plus

and start filling in that bingo card!

an activity highly recommended by


I am compulsively fascinated with books.

I love everything about them. I love the worn pages and covers, the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink. I’m fascinated not only by the stories they contain but by the stories of how they came to be. Books touch our lives and become part of who we are. They have been treasured throughout history. So when I ran across this interesting post on Read It Forward about 5 rare, unique, and unusual books, I just had to share it with you.

RareBooks“A very small book, a very creepy book, and everything in between.

We rounded up some of the most extreme books in the world. So go ahead and explore the weird, wild and wonderful world of the printed word”… [Read the full post].

Hey, Book-Lovers, tell us what you’re reading!