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Dewey Decimal Challenge: Book 5: Irons in the Fire by John McPhee (The 000s)

8 Feb

For our fifth and last book in the 000s, I selected another title from the 080 general collections classification–specifically 081 general collections American. Irons in the Fire is a collection of essays, previously published in The New Yorker, by American writer John McPhee, the man who is referred to as the pioneer of creative nonfiction. The seven essays in this collection span a wide-range of topics from cattle rustling to assistive technology for the blind to tire recycling to forensic geology to Plymouth Rock.

Irons in the Fire by John McPhee (081 MCP)


This has been my favorite pick of the Dewey Decimal Challenge thus far. McPhee’s writing style has been referred to as gentler, more literary journalism. There were several moments when I had to remind myself that I was even reading nonfiction! McPhee brings the characters in his writing alive with detail. While passages in the title essay on cattle rustling made me cringe, especially when McPhee explains the violent process of branding the cattle, I was completely absorbed while learning about this modern-day problem in Nevada leftover from the American Old West’s cowboy culture. I laughed out loud at the end of “Release”, a short essay about Robert Russell, a blind professor, and his unintentionally humorous talking computer. In “The Gravel Page”, McPhee takes us into the fascinating world of forensic geology, which was in its infancy during World War II. A team from the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit became the key to unlocking the origin of a mysterious balloon offensive led by the Japanese. The Japanese used balloons propelled across the Pacific Ocean on a jet stream to bomb the United States. Out of the approximately 9,000 that are said to have been launched from the beaches of Japan, about 1,000 of these paper balloons carrying explosive devices reached North America. Only one balloon can be said to have fulfilled its mission, killing a local pastor’s pregnant wife and five children in Bly, Oregon in 1945. Incredibly enough, the U.S. Geological Survey military geology unit was able to trace the sand from one of the balloon’s ballast bags to a beach east of Tokyo! Also in “The Gravel Page”, we learn that forensic geology was used to track down the murderer of Adolph Coors III, grandson of Adolph Coors and heir to the Coors beer empire, as well as to determine the original burial location of D.E.A. agent Enrique Camarena, who was murdered while on assignment in Mexico by corrupt police officers working for an infamous drug lord. Since McPhee is a New Jerseyan, many of his essays do reference our state including his essay “In Virgin Forest”, which focuses on Hutcheson Memorial Forest in Franklin Township, New Jersey, a 500-acre nature preserve known for its untouched old growth forest. Rutgers University is permitted to study the woods and is tasked with protecting the periphery. But RU is not allowed to intervene if the woods come under attack by, say, a disease that kills native trees. Its research is purely observational.

While I admit that I may have grown a bit tired of reading about rocks by the time I came to the last essay, “Travels of the Rock”, I would highly recommend this collection of essays not only for their content but also for McPhee’s unique writing style. It is important to note that these essays were published in the 1990s, which means that technological advances may have rendered them irrelevant regarding current trends. Still worth the read though!

-Written by Sharlene Edwards, Senior Children’s Librarian

Click here to read past posts about Sharlene’s Dewey Decimal Challenge!

Nourishing the Body and Mind with an Examination of African American Chefs and Cuisine!

3 Feb

For this year’s Black History Month, I wanted to serve up some not only tasty but also enlightening reads that explore and celebrate African American Cooks and Cuisine.

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin


Although African Americans have added many great dishes, techniques, and ingredients to the food culture of America, often their contributions have not been fully recognized and appreciated.  Tipton-Martin moves beyond soul food staples and looks back at a variety of cookbooks by African American starting in the time of slavery and moving into the 21st century including examples of illustrations from the books themselves.  This shows a fascinating progression of not only food, but the changing ethos of this country.  The book won a James Beard Foundation Book Award, 2016; Art of Eating Prize, 2015; and a BCALA Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation, 2016.  If you find this book fascinating you might also want to check out Psyche A. Williams-Forson’s scholarly Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power, which explores and goes beyond the stereotypical association of chicken with African Americans to look at issues of race, gender, and class and examines the way African American and also women’s cooking has often been marginalized by the larger American Culture.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley


Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie is Robbin Gourley’s, author of the cookbook Cakewalk, first picture book.  Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie tells the fictionalized story of Edna Lewis during her childhood as she helps to garden, pick, and prepare fresh produce with her family.  Lewis was the granddaughter of emancipated slaves and her focus on fresh simple ingredients was a forerunner to the current local fresh food movement today.  I’m planning to check this one out to read with my son who should enjoy the bright vibrant watercolor illustrations, and being a budding chef I’m sure will want to pick out one of the five kid friendly recipes included to help make.  For adults wanting to recreate some of Lewis’s delicious recipes you can check out The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great Southern Cooks by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis with Mary Goodbody, and The Taste of Country Cooking available from BCCLS libraries.  In 2014, Lewis was one of five chefs to be honored on United States Forever Stamps; “forever” to me is the perfect way to describe her lasting legacy.

Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem by Marcus Samuelsson

Marcus Samuelsson is a James Beard Award Winning chef and author of several autobiographies and cookbooks.  In 2009, Samuelsson had the honor of being invited to be the guest chef for the first state dinner of Barack Obama’s presidency (and Obama and his guests had the honor of eating Samuelsson’s delicious food).  Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and was adopted along with his sister by a Swedish family.  He spent time cooking in France before coming to America.  This diverse history informs his life and food.  At Red Rooster he sought to synthesize the many stories of Harlem, where his restaurant is based, including those of the many generations of African Americans who have lived there along with other immigrant communities, which creates a compelling fusion cuisine.  If you are curious to learn more about Samuelsson check out from HPL his biography Yes, Chef, which was also adapted for teens into Make it Messy: My Perfectly Imperfect Life.  Or for Samuelsson’s recipes borrow his cookbooks Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, The New American Table, and Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine.

BCCLS libraries have a variety of modern African-American cookbooks to borrow including Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine by Bryant Terry, The New African-American Kitchen by Angela Shelf Medearis, and Low-Fat Soul by Jonell Nash.  Your little chef and budding historian can enjoy Addy’s Cookbook: A Peek at Dining in the Past with Meals You can Cook Today written by Rebecca Sample Bernstein, which features authentic recipes inspired by the popular fictional American Girl character Addy, who in the book series escaped slavery along with her mother.

-Written by Aimee Harris, Head of Reference

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