Tag Archives: 000s

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!

Dewey Decimal Challenge: Book 4 – Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings by Craig Brown (The 000s)

1 Feb

Like so many people, I love to peek behind the curtain into the lives of the world famous. I think that there are several reasons why people love celebrity culture: 1) it gives us something to talk about–celebrity gossip is lighthearted without any dangerous landmines to navigate; 2) watching or reading about the luxurious lives of the rich and famous can help us to mentally escape from our own, perhaps less-charmed, circumstances; and 3) witnessing instances of regular human behavior from celebrities gives us hope that perhaps one day we will be cavorting with the up-and-coming stars of our day.  While I am nowhere near someone like my sister-in law’s level of celebrity expert (she attends Hanson meet-and-greets to this day and once fiercely whispered to me that Sofia Vergara – who? – and her son had just entered the Rhode Island mansion that we were touring), I do enjoy reading the latest superstar scoop on sites like Jezebel during my train ride home each evening.

Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings by Craig Brown (082 BRO)


For this week’s pick, we are in the 080s, the land of general collections. You might seek out the 080s if you are in the mood for short passages that don’t require the same commitment as an in-depth study of a particular subject.  Our book this week is Craig Brown’s Hello Goodbye Hello: A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings, which details the encounters between peers that take place in the celebrity social circle. These meetings often reveal the subjects’ vulnerabilities and eccentricities. The format of the book is unique in that it illustrates the idea of six degrees of separation.  For instance, Brown describes the first meeting between Laurence Olivier and J.D. Salinger in one passage, and, in the next, describes J.D. Salinger’s first encounter with Ernest Hemingway, and so on.  It is very interesting to study the differences between one person’s separate encounters with two different people. As many of us know from personal experience, people react differently depending on with whom they are interacting, and this certainly shines through on these pages. In addition, many of these encounters, on the surface, seem pleasant enough, but this is frequently a façade in the celebrity world in order to keep up appearances. For example, upon meeting Nikita Khrushchev, Marilyn Monroe professes to be delighted but is in fact repulsed by Khruschchev who she brutally describes as “fat and ugly” with “warts on his face.” This temperamental quality seems to be standard in individuals who have made it big.

There were many celebrities mentioned in the pages of Hello Goodbye Hello whom I had never heard of prior to reading. There were also celebrities whose names I did recognize but whom I know very little about. I particularly enjoyed reading the passages on Elvis Presley’s strained meeting with the star-struck Beatles as well as his odd request from President Richard M. Nixon. Despite being a regular user of drugs, Presley requested a meeting with the then President in order to talk about obtaining a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs special agent badge. He claimed to be worried about the country’s youth and said that he hoped to restore respect for his country’s flag, which he thought was threatened by anti-American sentiment. Nixon accepted his request, seeing Presley as a high-profile ally in his quest to increase his popularity with the young people of America. Presley’s wife later claims that he only wanted the badge in order to safely transport his drugs without fear of being arrested!

Another passage that will stay with me long after I put this book down focuses on Frank Sinatra and his brutality. Prior to reading Hello Goodbye Hello, I knew nothing about Sinatra’s violent nature, but it is on full display in Brown’s passage regarding Dominick Dunne. And while it may be an unpopular opinion in Hoboken, Sinatra’s birthplace, I believe that a beautiful voice does not excuse an individual from civility. His ego takes him far beyond the realm of other celebrities mentioned in this book to a dark and dangerous place that is, honestly, a bit unsettling.

With that being said, I recommend this book if you enjoy reading about famous writers, artists, actors, musicians, politicians, etc. When you mix together a sense of entitlement, a little insecurity, and a lot of eccentricity, you get a ticking time bomb, which can lead to very entertaining first encounters.

-Written by Sharlene Edwards, Senior Children’s Librarian

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

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