scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
I really resonated with (and enjoyed) Debbie Tung's first book of cartoons, Quiet Girl in a Noisy World (see my review here), which explores the introvert experience, and depicts a love of solitude. This theme is still present here, but gets a bit more specific in Book Love, a collection of comics perfect for those of us who thrive on books and reading in general.
If reading is one of your favorite uses of "down time," and something you enjoy on a regular basis, indoors or outdoors, whether in public or private, you'll enjoy these comics too. Some explore different places and ways to read, certain problems and difficulties that readers can face, but the most common theme I noticed is the way that books can have the power to change your life -- sometimes in grand, memorable ways, and other times in small, incremental ways. Books help you understand things from others' points of view, teach you about people and places at other points in time and geography, and also have the power to touch you emotionally in different ways.
Of course, if you're a book lover these are things you are already quite aware of, but these comics offer a friendly celebration of this shared experience, and may even help rekindle that "excited" feeling you get when you've just read something you absolutely loved. I related especially to the comics that poked fun at the fact that even with an overflowing "to read" list, some of us just keep right on buying and acquiring books. No guilt here!
(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)
Scrounged From: NetGalley
Author/Illustrator: Debbie Tung
Content Advisory: None
While the text in Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women is probably comparable to a magazine article or blog post in length (and therefore is a very quick read), the illustrations fill out the information and help to humanize this topic.
We get to hear from a few different autistic women about some of the challenges and differences that they face in life. There is also some information about the differences in the ways that autistic men and autistic women present their symptoms, which can lead to women being underdiagnosed.
Despite its short length, I found it fairly informative and a good resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the gender differences in autistic people, and the lived experiences of autistic women.
(Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.)
Scrounged From: NetGalley
Author: Sarah Bargiela
Illustrator: Sophie Standing
Content Advisory: The topic of dating and sex is discussed in a non-explicit way.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End was such a much-needed look at how the medical system treats death. I had wondered whether it would be depressing to read, and there were certainly sad moments and stories, but it was also hopeful and uplifting, and I found myself losing track of time while reading it sometimes. Even when statistics and information are provided, the narrative moves smoothly enough into stories and commentary to not get bogged down.
Gawande traces some of the history of the way humans have treated end-of-life care, emphasizing the advent of the nursing home, as well as "assisted living" and other attempts to bridge the gap between the hospital and the home. He also includes the stories of the (non-elderly) terminally ill as he explores the questions of what people who are dying really need -- and how we even get to the point where we are able to recognize "dying" for what it is, when we try to stave off death at any cost. He says:
“The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine’s focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet—and this is the painful paradox—we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days.”
He contrasts the traditional attitude of medicine, which is to solve problems and offer as much information and possibilities as it can, with the type of care (hospice) that looks to instead focus on the here and now rather than sacrificing the "now" for slim and unlikely future gains for the elderly and terminally ill -- but as he illustrates, it can be very difficult to draw that line.
There were so many eye-opening things to think about here. This is a book that will probably resonate with many people -- even those of us who are not elderly or terminally ill have loved ones who are or will be, and it's worth thinking about what is most important during that journey, and developing a little bit of preparation for difficult conversations that will inevitably happen.
Scrounged From: A local used book sale.
Author: Atul Gawande
Content Advisory: Naturally, in a book that discusses death, there are many descriptions of people who are aging and dying, as well as some descriptions of their ailments and medical procedures. As I said, some of these are very sad, but the tone of the book overall is uplifting. Other than that, I remember a few minor swear words, but nothing else that I'd consider objectionable. Gawande does briefly mention "assisted death" toward the end, but that's not what the book is about. While he doesn't appear to be opposed to the idea, he also critiques it, and emphasizes that this attitude leaves us in danger of not valuing "assisted living" enough.
I'm not usually a graphic novel fan, but I've found that they can be an engaging means of entering into a story, or discovering something new. And since faith has always been a part of my life, I was intrigued to learn about a graphic novel that takes on the relationship between science and faith, called, appropriately, Science and Faith.
I've seen firsthand the antagonism that can arise when science and faith are discussed together, especially from people holding very different viewpoints on one subject or the other (and I have to include myself in this observation!). I don't get the impression that this book is out to specifically change anyone's mind about their particular view (and probably many people will not agree with every view put forward here), but it does have the potential to make us think, as well as simply to give us an appreciation of some of the scientists and theologians (and some who were both) who have helped shape this conversation over the last several hundred years.
Our fellow travelers on this journey are two real-life professors: Alfio Briguglia and Giuseppe Savagnone, who have been friends for more than seventy years. After they co-wrote a book about science and faith in Italy, Tommaso Todesca wanted to adapt it into a graphic novel -- and here it is. Alfio and Giuseppe encounter many of the greatest minds in history (most long since deceased), and their journey takes them all over Florence and London as they converse with these renowned historical figures.
Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and others make an appearance here, as well as both Richard Dawkins and Saint Thomas Aquinas in the last section, which covers the concept of God. Don't worry -- this is no Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Despite the fantastical premise, the questions and quandaries discussed and mused upon here are sincere, earnest, and will probably leave the reader with much to ponder, regardless of their exact viewpoint going in.
I appreciate that the individual characters depicted here do not always agree with each other -- Dawkins especially stands in quite obvious opposition to the religious viewpoints expressed by most others in the book, and yet his "outsider's perspective" is important to prevent this exploration from becoming too inwardly focused. While the two characters don't actually meet here (each says his piece separately) this is probably the next best thing to actually watching a (sadly impossible) debate between Richard Dawkins and Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Even though I'm Protestant, I could still appreciate the Catholic perspective here, because I do think it helps tie in the history of these great thinkers (most of whom were also Catholic) to the present day, and the questions pondered here are really for all Christians to consider, no matter where we may stand on other issues.
Aside from the discussion, the artwork here is really lovely -- nothing cheap or cartoony about it -- the landscapes draw you in, and it's easy to feel that you really are just strolling down the road in Florence or London, conversing with a long-dead ghost. I'm sure anyone who's interested in history has fantasized about getting to meet their favorite historical figures, and the more I read here, the more I saw how well the graphic novel format really does work for this -- it helps give each character their own presence and personality (I found Galileo particularly amusing), even in the short time that some of them are featured.
One of the parts that resonated with me personally was the beginning discussion in section 2, which focuses on the terms we use -- it counters the idea that faith is by definition devoid of reason, and quotes Pope John Paul II as saying, "...faith and reason cannot be split! They are like the two wings with which the human spirit rises up towards the contemplation of truth." The ending was also pretty neat, and a bit surreal. I really should read Dante sometime.
All in all, I found this book both enjoyable and intriguing, and I'd recommend it to any science/faith geek, and probably those interested in philosophy in general. While the book doesn't go into great depth or detail on any of these historical figures (there really isn't room), it's a nice introduction to many topics and controversies in the science/faith discussion, and clearly comes down with the view that yes, science and faith can and do coexist quite well.
Scrounged From: A gift
Authors: Giuseppe Savagnone, Alfio Briguglia, this edition adapted by Tommaso Todesca
Illustrator: Alexandra Festovets
Content Advisory: In the fourth section, "the problem of evil" is occasionally illustrated by some images of demons/devils which may be disturbing to some children.
I would probably never have heard of Randall Munroe if Professor Puzzler were not such a fan of the xkcd comic strip. Munroe is a former NASA scientist, and apparently after writing the strip for a while he began serving as a "Dear Abby for mad scientists," as he puts it. So What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is a collection of some of the most interesting (as well as bizarre) questions he has received, and his scientific answers to them, complete with his trademark stick-figure comics here and there to throw in some snappy comments.
I enjoyed reading it, despite not being really all that mathematically inclined. There are a few questions that got a bit over my head, but the majority of it should be fairly accessible to those who paid attention in high school science classes. His dry sense of humor really adds to the explanations, and many of the questions are so over-the-top that it's fun to see how he lays out his answers.
One example of the ridiculous questions is: "How quickly would the oceans drain if a circular portal 10 meters in radius leading into space were created at the bottom of Challenger Deep, the deepest spot in the ocean? How would the Earth change as the water was being drained?"
Which leads to not only an answer, but a full illustration of an altered map of the world on the inside of the book's dust jacket, complete with new names for the resulting new land masses and bodies of water. Another question/answer involves the logistics of building a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean made entirely out of Legos.
Even if you're usually an ebook or audiobook person, this is one case where you really can't beat the real thing.
Scrounged From: Amazon
Author: Randall Munroe
Content Advisory: Some questions involve things like explosions and death, but it's all treated very hypothetically and impersonally. At least one question deals with blood, which might make some readers queasy.