book review: flavor

Bob Holmes’ Flavor is a popular science book about the sense we use that’s one of the hardest to put into words. Holmes has interviewed scientists working on taste, smell, neuropsychology, genetics, soil composition, molecular gastronomy (and more) to really get into what we mean when we talk about how things taste, because it’s far more complicated than those old four-taste tongue diagrams you might remember.

One of the big takeaways from the book is that the difference between professional tasters (like wine-experts) and amateurs is more about the attention they pay and the vocabulary they have practiced with than anything specific in their tongues. It’s written in a light humorous fashion and though I would have liked a bit more in-depth explanation on a few points (how do we know a nerve is transmitting at maximum intensity?) this definitely provided enough facts to make me a bit of an insufferable dining companion.

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book review: ultralight bike touring and bikepacking

My girlfriend and I are thinking about bike-touring more. Since we’re librarians that tends to mean research. One of the books that has thus found its way to our coffee table is Justin Lichter and Justin Kline’s guidebook Ultralight Bike Touring and Bikepacking.

The idea of going on a bike trip with pretty minimal stuff is very very appealing to me. I don’t like schlepping non-book stuff around and I like going places. So I’ve been reading a lot of blogposts about this kind of stuff, and not a lot was completely new. The bike models they talked about and the wheel-sizes and the companies making the bike equipment were all things I was familiar with. One of the people from Rivendell bikes was in here, which I appreciated since they make machines I dearly covet (my present to myself when I hit 40 will probably be a ridiculously pretty bike like a Hunqapillar).

One thing that made this book better than the blogposts was that it felt a little less manipulated for ad-dollar page-views. I mean, the writers talked about specific products probably about the same amount that a bike-blogger does but it feels different in pages somehow. And the fact that they have contributors talking about foraging for food on the side of your trail and taking less stuff makes me get my hackles up a bit less when they’re praising certain ultralight tarps (’cause tents are heavy luxuries).

There’s a lot in this book that could be ridiculous to follow along with too closely. It’d be easy to work too hard at being some sort of perfect ultralight gram-counter, and yeah it’s promoting a certain kind of consumerism that’s trying to be something more than it is. But in general, I liked this book, especially in the practical aspects of what to pack in your frame bag and what to sling behind your seat. And they say Tajikistan would be a good place to ride it.

book review: life as we knew it

[photo credit: Giant Moon by Timmy Toucan]
Life As We Knew It is a book by Susan Beth Pfeffer about survival through massive disaster.

Miranda and her family live in kind of rural Pennsylvania and she keeps a diary. She used to figure-skate and her dad lives in Massachusetts with his new wife. Then an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it way closer to earth. I do not know how possible that is no matter how dense that asteroid was, but don’t worry too much about it, because the take-off point is about what a giant disaster this is for the globe. The moon isn’t crashing into the Earth or anything, but the changes to tides cause tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanoes. There are ash-clouds and it might be the end of the world.

Miranda and her family are better off than some people. Her mom goes into survivalist mode right away and they stockpile food. They have a wood stove and land to get firewood from. They look after their elderly neighbour but other than that it’s a strict “family first” policy. This all happens in the spring, and things just keep on happening through the (almost) year the diary covers.

The big thing is Miranda dealing with how abnormal this makes her life. She vacillates between self-pity and being really strong in a way that feels realistic to how a person outside a story does. I think that’s something that the diary form for a book like this does really well. In Carbon Diaries 2015 the author used the same diary format to really get at what day-to-day life would be like if everything would be different (though the Carbon Diaries was less apocalyptic than Life As We Knew It).

Apart from the cause of the disasters in this book I feel like it’s a really good realistic look at what life immediately post-disaster would be like. There aren’t any zombies (The Walking Dead) or radioactive wastes (Z for Zachariah), just terrible weather and not enough food. I appreciated that it takes place outside an urban centre, so things like looting and violence are more ominous and less omnipresent.

Very good science fiction for YAs who like realistic fiction.