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A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read A Book About War, Task 4

12 Apr

I am now one sixth of the way through the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge! In the first post I wrote about trying and failing to stick to previous years’ Read Harder Challenges, and hope I can maintain this momentum! (Read more about the books I’ve read so far for the challenge here.)

For Task 4 I decided to read a book about war. The book I chose is called Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes by Maria Goodavage. I purchased the book a few years ago after seeing the author interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The cover played a role in my decision to purchase the book as well. Isn’t the dog wearing goggles (proper name: “doggles”) the cutest?!

Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes, by Maria Goodavage

soldier-dogs

The most fascinating thing I learned from this book is that dogs are seen by the Department of Defense as equipment–their exact designation is military working dogs, or MWDs. The dogs are given names, which include a special code with a letter and numbers to denote the year their training started that is tattooed inside their ears. If you are a pet owner, I am sure you see your dog as a part of your family and not an object. I have never owned a dog, but my fourteen year old dog-niece Molly is very important to me.

I also learned that dogs have a long history of serving alongside soldiers in war, going back to the Revolutionary War. During World War II people were volunteering their pet dogs to serve. The preserved body of a dog that served in World War I named Captain Stubby is part of the collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

MWDs now have a higher profile as a Belgian Malinois named Cairo is rumored to have played in role in the SEAL Team 6 mission in Pakistan to take down Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, and many families are eager to adopt these hero dogs after they retire from military service.

Goodavage wrote about her own dog, Jake, as she interacted with the soldier dogs (and their human handlers) during her research process. She imagined how Jake would perform in the various tests the dogs are subjected to in training, such as determining their temperament in stressful situations, their responses to loud noises such as explosives and gunfire, and how well they respond to commands when working off-leash.

I thought about how Molly would respond in these situations. As Molly is spooked by vacuum cleaners and loud trucks and occasionally her three human sisters, I don’t see her performing well in combat situations. Molly’s main interests in life are resting in the sunshine, eating cheeseburgers, and having her belly rubbed.

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This is Molly posing with Santa Claus, as part of an adorable fundraiser held each year by the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City.

This book was pretty good overall, but I found the sections about dog training and dog breeding sort of boring. I don’t have a personal interest in these topics, but those that have experience training a dog and/or the science of animal husbandry may get more out of those chapters.

What I was most interested in was reading about the dogs. My favorite soldier dog in the book was a Jack Russell named Lars J274, an unlikely bomb sniffing dog. Large, imposing dogs like Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds are preferred for bomb sniffing, but due to a mix-up Lars was trained in this field. His small size and large personality make him a great fit for sniffing for bombs in submarines, which is his main job. This book has two full color photo inserts so readers can see Lars in action, as well as many of the dogs featured in the book. You can see some of these photos, including Lars, in The Daily Show clip, too.

Soldier Dogs is a book about war, so there are definitely heavy parts. I mostly cried while reading the fourth part of the book, titled “Dogs and Their Soldiers”, which detailed the intense bonds between the dogs and their handlers formed in battle. (To be honest, recalling this part of the book to write this post is bringing tears to my eyes.) One dog stood watch all night while his handler slept in a ditch while on patrol in Afghanistan. When one handler was killed, his dog was listed in his obituary as a family member. Sadly, some dogs featured in the book died in combat or of illness.

Another interesting fact is that these dogs are not eligible for official Purple Hearts, which is a policy I think should change given how much training the dogs undergo before going to war, not to mention their experiences in combat that can leave them permanently injured and, in some cases, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). See this article from the American Kennel Club to learn more about this topic. The United States War Dogs Association works to raise awareness and acknowledge military dogs.

If you are either a dog lover or interested in military history (or both!) I would recommend this book. Do be prepared for the tough sections, though.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

A Librarian Takes on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Read A Superhero Comic with a Female Lead, Task 3

5 Apr

Last week I promised a post about my next completed task in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, and here it is!

Click here to read more about my Read Harder adventures. Learn more about Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge at this link. (Look for a post about Task 4 in this space soon.)

Ms. Marvel: No Normal, written by G. Willow Wilson and art by Adrian Alphona

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I chose to read “a superhero comic with a female lead” because my copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal that I purchased shortly after it was published in 2014 recently turned up. I moved last year and many of my books were donated to Symposia Bookstore on Washington Street, gifted to others, or recycled (the latter was a painful but necessary choice in some cases) but Ms. Marvel made the cut of books I kept. The time was finally right to read it.

While I love graphic novels, I haven’t read many traditional comics from either the Marvel or DC Comics universes. As a kid I had comics about the late 1980s/early 1990s boy band New Kids On the Block (which can be purchased online!), but I don’t think comics purists would consider those legitimate comic books.

With Ms. Marvel I was intrigued by the concept of the heroine being a Muslim-American teenage girl living in Jersey City named Kamala Khan. Lack of diversity is a problem in books, but more effort is being made by publishers to remedy this. Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel is a step in the right direction. Check out the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign for more information on book diversity.

When we meet Kamala, she is a regular teenage girl whose religion prohibits her from eating pork, so she sniffs bacon egg and cheese sandwiches at her local deli while her friends roll their eyes at her. This is the first example of Kamala’s struggle with being part of two distinct but different cultures.

(Tangent: Where is the best bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken? I vote for Black Rail Coffee!)

Back to the topic at hand: The action starts one fateful night when Kamala sneaks out of her house to attend a party at the waterfront, where classmates she wants to be accepted by will be present. She is embarrassed by those classmates and her friend Bruno at the party and flees as a mysterious fog covers Jersey City. Kamala blacks out in the street, interacts with Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Captain America (some of whom speak Urdu), and then awakens with superpowers.

She uses these powers to save the life of a classmate who is often unkind to her, but runs into trouble at home when her strict parents discover that she snuck out. The rest of the volume is the push and pull between Kamala trying to be a good daughter and friend while learning to harness her new powers and assuming her identity as Ms. Marvel.

I enjoyed the stories, and Kamala’s struggles feel authentic. The art was compelling and I liked the little details, such as the “Coma Chameleon” eye mask and “Nuclear Clean” for sale at the deli. I would purchase both, if those were real products.

My one gripe, as a Jersey City resident, was that the setting doesn’t feel like the real Jersey City. Sure, there were references to Grove Street, as well as a diss about the Greenville neighborhood, but the party at the “waterfront” reminds me more of Liberty State Park. Perhaps the intention wasn’t to topographically depict Jersey City and I am overthinking things. (I do that sometimes, I blame my English degree for training my brain to do that.)

Ms. Marvel was a fun read, and I look forward to reading the next volumes, which are available to borrow from BCCLS libraries. As for my found copy of Ms. Marvel: No Normal, I will pass it on to my comics-loving niece to enjoy.

What are your favorite superhero comics with a female lead? Don’t forget to shout-out your favorite bacon egg and cheese in Hoboken.

-Written by Kerry Weinstein

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