I know the title sounds like an oxymoron, but if astronomy excites you, don't let living in the heart of town make you give up exploring the night skies.
I myself have seen countless meteors and conjunctions, a changing panoply of shining planets, and many constellations right from town. There was also the night of the bright red aurora borealis that I first mistook for a major fire when I was biking home from work. To say nothing of lunar eclipses and "super" full moons.
Written by the vice-president of Britain's Society of Popular Astronomy, this handy guide is very applicable in the states. What I like best about it is, Scagell's can-do philosophy, not only can you feel awe when looking at planetary bodies, but he invites the reader to do actual astronomical research and to participate as a citizen-scientist.
And don't think you need to spend massive amounts of money for the highest tech equipment. He recommends a good pair of binoculars for sky-viewing and reports that they even have many advantages over telescopes. He does recommend telescopes too--aperture and field of view should be the deciding factors.
He also advises the city astronomer on things and props he can use to cut or eliminate light pollution, such simple things as simple as a black cape to wear over you and your telescope to cut out glare.
In eight well-researched chapters, Scagell pours his passion for the least earthbound of sciences. Chapter 4 covers the targets of star search. All the usual ones: sun, moon, the near and far planets, the constellations but also other astronomical phenomena such as zodiacal light, noctilucent clouds, artificial satellites, double stars, clusters, nebulae, and deep sky objects.
Although not necessarily geared for the beginner, all terms are so well explained that the guide can work for both the 25-year amateur astronomer and the neophyte. A four page table at the end lists many deep sky objects that can be seen even from cities.
So, on these dark, clear nights, grab your black cape, your binoculars or telescope, and delve into this fascinating science that connects us to other mysterious worlds.
Two young women characters guide the reader back to 19th century South Carolina where the institution of slavery affected everyone’s life and relationships. Hetty (nicknamed Handful) is a skinny wisp of a girl with amber eyes and wild braids in her hair.
At the age of ten, the Missus gives her to her middle child, Sarah, who has just moved up from the nursery. In this society it’s normal to have your own slave, and one who can mend and sew is highly valued.
At an elegant birthday party attended by the privileged young of Charleston society, Sarah refuses this lady’s maid/slave. Sarah does not believe in the institution although her family’s life centers around its abuse and brutality. The Missus walks everywhere with a cane, but the slaves know its real use—to hit them on the head should they bring this lady displeasure. Read more about The Invention of Wings
This collection of mostly mini-essays is a great find for anyone interested in either writing or theatre. Ruhl, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her play “In the Next Room,” displays her skills at language, views of playwriting, and her both playful and utterly serious response to the stage.
Several titles display her marvelous sense of humor: “Bad Plays and Original Sin,” “On Nakedness and Sight Lines,” and “Watching My Mother Die on Stage.” (Her mother is an actress.) Others are more philosophical: “God as Audience: A Non-syllogism,” “Is There an Ethics of Comedy, and Is It Bad When Comedies Make People Laugh?” “On Knowing,” and “On Lice.” Whoops, the last one isn’t philosophical, but very practical.
It's a cliche, but people often say that if you excel at math, you'll have little talent for language and vice versa. Transplanted Londoner and Parisian resident, Daniel Tammet proves the falsehood of this statement.
In 25 essays that examine life from a mathematical perspective, Tammet enthralls and enlightens the reader on many things especially the beauty of mathematics. Einstein's son Hans Albert said that his father's character was more like an artist than that of a scientist because his highest praise for a theory "was not that it was correct nor that it was exact but that it was beautiful."
Tammet begins this collection with an essay describing his family and numbers theory. In fact, he attributes his first interest in math due to the fact that his neighbors' great interest in his family occurred because there were nine children. And as he explains it, there were 512 possible ways to spot him or his siblings around town in various combinations. Read more about Thinking in Numbers: on Life, Love, Meaning and Math
It’s not often that a World War II film comes my way that stirs my soul. It’s even rarer that what stirs my soul is not the personal story of an individual or a small group of people standing up for what is right against the Nazi’s or an escape from a German internment camp despite impossible odds. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good war film, but most war films have the same basic features, Read more about Monuments Men
This intriguing 1940s novel opens with a mother announcing that someone has died and they better hustle over to the house and "see what might be in it for us." The house belongs to Eva's dad and his recently deceased wife.
A week later Eva's Mom deposits her on the doorstep with a suitcase then disappears from her life. Upstairs is Eva's half-sister, Iris. Until this day, neither sister knew the other existed.
Iris, four years older and in high school, enters and wins many talent contests (elocution, dramatic readings, poetry, patriotic essays, and dance) in their small Ohio town and bergs like it within fifty miles. However, she must hide her earnings from her father, Edgar, a college professor of elocution, who has no qualms about stealing from his children.
Before long, Iris graduates from school and heads out to Hollywood. Because their dad basically abandons Eva to her own care, she soon drops out of school to join her older sister in Hollywood. They move into a rooming house and Iris shares her adventures with Eva as she holes up in their room until school is out each day.
Iris scores a few speaking roles in movies, but soon becomes involved in a gay sex scandal and gets blacklisted in Hollywood. The older more famous actress marries immediately and her career zooms on.
Soon Edgar reappears and along with a helpful make-up artist, Francisco, they decide to drive across country to find possible jobs in New York. Edgar thinks he can pass as a butler and with some training, Iris, can be a governess. As they drive through the west, Iris memories facts from The Little Blue Books, and the party grills her on Shakespeare. Luckily, father and daughter land jobs with an Italian nouveau riche family, the Torellis.
Eva grows up to become a fortune teller. As Iris advised Eva, "It's the great thing about the war.... Anyone can be anyone." Iris adopts a son (somewhat illegally--they actually steal him from the orphanage) and falls in love with the Torellis' cook, Reenie, whom she convinces to leave her husband and move in with them.
To this crazy disfunctional family, Bloom brings her insight as a former psychotherapist. The 40s time period is captured well and a series of letters from a dear family friend, who was thrown out of the country for being Jewish describe some of the hardships of Europe including the Dresden bombings.
In no sense is this a light, hopeful book, yet it is very well-written and captures the complex relationships and dynamics of a modern American family in the midst of a rapidly changing world.
For a book about another family surviving WW II on the other side of the pond, try Amanda Hodginkson's 22 Britannia Road.