Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer

Southern Reach Trilogy

First Impressions
I love a good dystopian story, and that’s what drew me to the Southern Reach (Annihilation; Authority; Acceptance) trilogy initially. The writing is unlike any I’ve read before. Extremely descriptive, but intentionally void of any solid information – I found myself drawn in to a story that made no sense but that had wormed its way into my head and couldn’t be purged.

Drive-by Summary
Confusion, chaos, and collapse abound in this series about the exploration of “Area X”. No one knows exactly what’s happened within the boundaries of Area X, a lush tropical jungle filled with strange (imaginary?) flora and fauna. And though numerous expeditions have been sent across the border year after year to observe and record, very little information returns with the survivors who make it back out. It’s a strange tale of some sort of unidentified weirdness. Alien invasion; chemical leak and subsequent mutation; mass hallucination? It’s a dream/nightmare world of hallucinatory images and ideas, place history and geography, human behavior, creeping horror, superstition, religion and linguistics. Has everyone in this story gone insane?

My Favorite Character
The biologist. The way she relates to the natural world more easily than the human one resonates with me. She’s simultaneously a very curious person and a very guarded one. Intelligent, observant, and yet lonely and disconnected. Does this give her an advantage in Area X?

Words to Live By
“But there is a limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental. You still see the shadow of the whole rearing up behind you, and you become lost in your thoughts in part from the panic of realizing the size of that imagined leviathan.”

Recommended For
Anyone who can’t wait to fall asleep at night to dream and to wander the weird alleyways of the mind. Interested in human behavior, science, conspiracy theory, and religion as seen through a psychedelic lens? This book is for you!

Final Say
I can easily see the fantastic imagery of this series reinterpreted as a graphic novel. Reading it, I found myself under a strange spell, compelled to continue with the journey while growing exceedingly frustrated by the bizarre lack of information. What does it all mean? I don’t know, but the fact that I couldn’t put it down is a tribute to Jeff Vandermeer’s writing style and perhaps a little of my own relentless curiosity. In the end, I’m left wondering if a few spores from Area X might taint the pages of these books, as I’ve never found myself so strangely drawn to a story that provides so few answers about anything or anyone in it. It shifts, slides and slips away and leaves you finally with more questions than answers. If you make it through to the other side, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the adventure!

You can find all three books in the Southern Reach Trilogy at the Bellingham Public Library.


Maps and Meaning

Isn’t it funny how maps can provide so much meaning to all the random data that drifts around in our heads and on the internet?

Recently both the Washington Post and a cool blog, Twisted Sifter, both put out 40 maps that will change the way that you understand the world.  These maps are both visually stunning and a bit emotionally shocking.  For example:

Map of highest paid employees by state

Map created by

The map certainly makes a statement and gives context to facts–which is AWESOME in this librarian’s opinion.

If all these maps have got you hooked (and you want to know more about maps and their meanings), take a look at these books that are available at the Bellingham Public Library:

Personal Geographies: Explorations in Mixed-Media Mapmaking
By Jill Berry
You don’t have to be a world traveler or a professional cartographer to embark on a grand journey of self-discovery through map-making. Personal Geographies gives you the tools and techniques you’ll need to create artful maps of yourself, your experiences and your personal journey.

On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks
By Simon Garfield
Imagine a world without maps.  How would we travel?  Could we own land?  What would men and women argue about in cars? Follow the history of maps from the early explorer  maps and the awe-inspiring medieval Mappa Mundi to Google Maps and the satellite renderings on our smartphones, Garfield explores the unique way that maps relate and realign our history and reflect the best and worst of what makes us human.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
By Ken Jennings
Ken Jennings takes readers on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth.

The Art of the Map: An Illustrated History of Map Elements and Embellishments
By Dennis Reinhartz
This lavishly illustrated history of the golden age of cartography, from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, explores not only the embellishments on maps but also what they reveal about the world in which they were created. Here there be monsters real and imagined; ships actual and archetypical; newly discovered flora such as corn and tobacco; fauna ranging from buffalo to unicorns; godlike beings and fantasy-like depictions of native peoples.

Cartographies of Time
By Daniel Rosenberg, and Anthony Grafton
Cartographies of Time features a wide variety of timelines that in their own unique ways, curving, crossing, branching, defy conventional thinking about the form. A fifty-four-foot-long timeline from 1753 is mounted on a scroll and encased in a protective box. Another timeline uses the different parts of the human body to show the genealogies of Jesus Christ and the rulers of Saxony. Ladders created by missionaries in eighteenth-century Oregon illustrate Bible stories in a vertical format to convert Native Americans. Presented in a lavishly illustrated edition, Cartographies of Time is a revelation to anyone interested in the role visual forms have played in our evolving conception of history.

NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books

National Public Radio is great for a variety of reasons: Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me!, StoryCorps, author interviews, free album previews, and Science Friday. They are also excellent at compiling best-of reading lists.  I frequently browse their lists for new reads and reviews on old favorites — especially when I am putting together reading suggestion lists.

Recently, with the help of their listeners, they compiled a “Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books” list.  It was filled with familiar faces and, happily, a lot of newer titles that I haven’t had time to read yet like Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind.  Needless to say, I will be using this list  a LOT when I recommend sci-fi/fantasy books to library patrons.

Check out the list here.  You can also see score yourself to see how many titles you’ve read.  I got a 46/100 which just tells me I have much more reading to do!


Stranger in a Strange landWatchmenSomething Wicked This Way Comes

Game of thrones

Science for Non-Scientists

Want to know more about science, but were afraid to ask?  Never fear,  we have a reading list for you! All of the following books are fun, intelligent reads that will get you thinking about the world around you in new ways. 

Time Travel and Warp Drives book coverTime Travel and Warp Drives: A Scientific Guide to Shortcuts through Time and Space
By Allen Everett
Lays out what humans really know about time and space and how to bend it to our will, and explains just how close we are to some of the ideas of science fiction novels.

Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind and Proof that will Change the Way We Live our Lives
By Mario Beauregard
Filled with extraordinary stories of the mind’s abilities, a prominent neuroscientist captures a major shift in our understanding of the age-old mind/body debate, proves that humans are more than complex biological machines.

Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization
By Adrian Bejan
Reveals how recurring patterns in nature are accounted for by a single governing principle of physics, explaining how all designs in the world from biological life to inanimate systems evolve in a sequence of ever-improving designs that facilitate flow.

Boltzmann’s Tomb: Travels in Search of Science
By Bill Green
Green describes his evolution as a scientist as he travels throughout the world to visit sites where important scientific discoveries were made.

The Compass of Pleasure: How our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning and Gambling Feel so Good
By David Linden
The neurobiology of pleasure, exploring how pleasures can become addictions, and how the pursuit of pleasure has become a central drive of the human mind.

The Disappearing Spoon book coverThe Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodical Table of the Elements
By Sam Kean
Intriguing tales about every element of the periodic table, sharing their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, evil, love, the arts, and the lives of the colorful scientists who discovered them.
Also available in Audiobook and eBook

Big Data: a revolution that will transform how we live, work and think
By Viktor Mayer-Schonberger
Big data is our new found ability to crunch vast amounts of information, analyze it instantly and draw profound and surprising conclusions from it. Mayer-Schonberger  discusses how it will change our lives and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
By Michael Pollan
Pollan discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements–fire, water, air, and earth–to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture.

The Life of Super-Earths: How the Hunt for Alien Worlds and Artificial Cells will Revolutionize Life on Our Planet
By Dimitar Sasselov
An astronomy professor at Harvard University discusses the possibilities of finding other worlds that sustain alien life forms, citing recent breakthroughs in biology and exoplanetary astronomy, including the recent discovery of arsenic-based bacteria in a California lake.

Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are
By Sebastian Seung
A mind-bending adventure story of neuroscience. Seung believes that our identity lies not in our genes, but in the connections between our brain cells, our particular wiring. Mapping these connections is  a monumental effort, but if successful will uncover the basis of personality, identity, intelligence, memory, and perhaps disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Packing for Mars book coverPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
By Mary Roach
Describes the weirdness of space travel, answers questions about the long-term effects of living in zero gravity on the human body, and explains how space simulations on Earth can provide a preview to life in space.
Also available in Audiobook and eAudiobook

Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics
By Leonard Susskind
This is a book for anyone who has ever regretted not taking physics in college, or who simply wants to know how to think like a physicist. In this unconventional introduction, physicist Leonard Susskind and hacker-scientist George Hrabovsky offer a first course in physics and associated math for the ardent amateur.

Don’t forget! We have lots of reading suggestions in our online catalog under Staff Picks.

Summer Reading Reviews, Week 1

During the summer, Bellingham Public Library encourages people of all ages to participate in our Summer Reading programs.  It is fun, free, and a great way to connect with the library.

The following two reviews were received from participants in our adult program.  We will be featuring different patron reviews throughout the summer so be sure to check back often!

The Evolution of Calpurnia TateThe Evolution of Calpurnia Tate cover
By Jacqueline Kelly
For quite some time I have been hearing that the book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, is a wonderful read and in this last week I took the time to see for myself. As it turns out, I enjoyed the book a lot more than I expected to! The main character is Calpurnia, a little girl living in the south during a time when African Americans were bought as slaves, the automobile was just being invented, and women were expected to stay home and tend to the chores and the children. As Calpurnia spends more and more time with her grandfather (a scientist) she learns that there is a lot more to life than what meets the eye and we as the reader follow Calpurnia through her many struggles to reach her goals, despite the boundaries that society sets against her.

Tesla CoverTesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
By W. Bernard Carlson
The long-awaited (16 years) biography is praised as “definitive,” “indispensable” and “balanced,” and it is all that and a bag of chips.  I volunteer at the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention downtown in the City of Subdued Excitement where I rub shoulders with patrons and principles who would fit right in at a dinner at Delmonico’s with Mr.Tesla. To know them is to love them and I’m sure that was true of dear old Nikola.  Visionary and illusionist, Tesla was never at a loss for words and ideas.  The author distills Tesla’s genius for invention by tracing the development of his imagination and thought world from childhood to full-blown mad-scientist.  Very little is mentioned about his idiosyncrasies and phobias, which is refreshing, and much is made of his inventive process and pursuits, and the contributions he made to modern technology, which have largely gone unsung.  This book gives credit where credit is due, and calls for a rewriting of our history books to do the same.  Thomas Edison sponsored the first human judicial punishment by electrocution in order to discredit Tesla’s AC power; Tesla had a pigeon hospital in his hotel room.  Who would you like to sit across the table from at dinner?