Like most people, I am not lucky enough to live right next to work. Far from it, I generally take 25 minutes to get to work and 25 minutes to get back home. That’s 50 minutes a day, 4 hours 10 minutes a week. 16 hours 40 minutes a month. Around 197 hours a year. 2561 hours over my tenure at UDPL…. (Not that I’m counting or anything.) That’s a lot of time for my brain to do nothing and, as my husband will tell you from bitter experience, I do nothing very poorly indeed.
In other things, I’m sure I’ve mentioned my “wall of shame” before. This would be the front wall of my house which is covered in shelves of books that I haven’t read yet. Most of the wall of shame is full of non-fiction books. While I really want to read non-fiction, in practice I actually read 5 pages, put it down and pick up something fictional. When you do that again and again you get quite a backlog.
Then, about two months ago, I had a personal epiphany. Why don’t I try listening to non-fiction audio books? Guess what? I really, really like listening to them. And Hoopla Digital has so many!
So, here’s some of the ones I’ve listened to while chipping away at the wall of shame. All available on Hoopla Digital right now. No waiting lists.
The electrifying fall of Rainbow City : spectacle and assassination at the 1901 World’s Fair / Margaret Creighton.
This is the story of the Pan American 1901 World’s Fair held in Buffalo. The average person may know it as the place where President McKinley was shot, but there were other, extremely interesting stories about the Fair, including the first person (a woman!) to survive riding over the Niagara falls in a barrel, an elephant named Jumbo II and a little person, named Alice Cenda, or Chiquita, who was forced to perform for the public while held in virtual slavery. The book as a whole is an interesting take on the 1901 world. Creighton doesn’t white-wash it, either, as she recounts some breathtakingly racist, misogynistic & cruel behavior at the Fair.
I found this book particularly interesting because, if I remember correctly, my aunt told me that I’m somehow related to Annie Edson Taylor, the first Niagara barrel rider. Taylor, who went over the falls at at the age of 63 (!) was a wonderful woman and I only can hope I age as well. However, I do have to admit that I laughed out loud at this quote: “Yet she was a woman of sturdy proportions. One paper estimated her height and weight to be five feet four and 160 pounds and went so far to declare her ‘quite stout.'” Yeah, sounds like my family all right!
If you think that every place in the world has been visited by humans and explored, this book will speedily dissuade you of that belief. Written by Douglas Preston, this is the tale of a LIDAR expedition and then a “ground-truthing” expedition to the extremely dangerous Mosquitia region in Honduras to explore a previously completely undiscovered abandoned city. The book opens with Preston, along with other team members, getting a preliminary briefing from Woody, their expedition logistics chief, about the dangers they would face including irritable vipers, disease, drug cartels and poisonous insects.
The physical book has about three pages of this, but in audio I swear the description lasts about 20 minutes of jaw-clenching, disturbingly precise details. Imagine me driving with my head cocked and a rictus grimace of horror on my face. I swear I even checked the car for spiders at a red light. However, I was hooked after that and really enjoyed listening to this book, so much so that I’ve been recommending to everyone I meet since. A true-life archaeology adventure. Highly recommended.
The man who loved China : the fantastic story of the eccentric scientist who unlocked the mysteries of the middle kingdom / Simon Winchester.
I started this one after finishing our fabulous six-week Crash Course in Chinese History by Dr. C. Pierce Salguero. This is a biographical work detailing the life of Joseph Needham, a Cambridge scientist who set out to discover the answer to “Why did the West develop most technologies before China?” (Spoiler alert: They didn’t.) In 1937, Needham, who was married already, had an affair with a visiting Chinese scholar Lu Gwei-djen, and started a love affair with China culminating in a post in China during WW II.
The best thing about this book is Needham himself. He was a confirmed Character and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about his, let’s be honest, absolutely reckless and idiotic travels through China during a global war. This one was a lot of fun to listen to if only to yell, “You’re doing what??!?” during your morning commute.
The ghost map : the story of London’s most terrifying epidemic–and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world / Steven Johnson.
Victorian London of 1845 was not, by any stretch of the imagination, clean, but one of its worst problem in terms of public health was the “miasma theory”. In short, this theory said that all disease came from bad air and if people were coming down with deadly diseases, there was no point in checking out, say, the water they drank for the culprit. Fortunately for future generations, Dr. John Snow was cut from a different cloth and this book details how he proved that water, not air caused cholera.
I will admit that this book has been on my “book bucket list” for a very long time and it, sort of, proved up to the challenge? I will say that the quality of the book varied tremendously, swinging between really interesting and awesome work and restatements of the same fact over and over and over…. Still, definitely worth listening to.
So, there’s my top Librarian tip for you this week. If you can’t deal with stories in one format, try them in another! You’ll never know what you can achieve in 50 minutes a day.