General Reader

Non-professional reader, general reader: two terms I came across recently in books that I read that described the book’s audience.

I think they are talking about me.

I found the “non-professional reader” term in the acknowledgements for The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, about the three decades of war between Athens and Sparta (with a cameo appearance by the Persian Empire), 431-404 BC.

The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War

The “general reader” term came from Your Brain on Cubs, Inside the Heads of Players and Fans, a compilation of scientific essays edited by Dan Gordon of the Dana Foundation. From the front inside book jacket: “The contributors to Your Brain on Cubs introduce us to the role of the brain, not just in these emotions, but in many aspects of watching and playing sports.” “Emotions” referring to “a come-from-behind win and the equally powerful crush of a disappointing loss.”


Your Brain on Cubs

Your Brain on Cubs

After thinking about it, I came up with my own definition of “non-professional reader” and “general reader”: A reader who is not a specialist in the field of a book’s subject.

Okay, now I know they are talking about me. I’m not a historian or a scientist, but I seek out books in those (and other) fields.

What was most fascinating to me about the Peloponnesian war is that the leaders of Athens and Sparta, Pericles and King Archidamus II, respectively, did not want to engage in war, yet it happened anyway. After three decades of war [spoiler alert], Athens surrenders. Sparta’s reigning regime is relatively short-lived, however, as a few years after that, Philip II of Macedon comes along and conquers both of them (and a whole lot more) and his son, Alexander the Great continues the empire’s expansion. So much for the Greek independent states.

And while it took about 30 years for Sparta to conquer Athens, the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series title since 1908. I had great hopes for them in the 2008 season (the Cubs, not Athens or Sparta), thinking they could win on their 100-year anniversary. Didn’t happen, but I haven’t given up.

The first essay in Your Brain on Cubs is The Depths of Loyalty, Exploring the Brain of the Die-hard Fan by Jordan Grafman, Ph.D. I’ve never met Dr. Grafman, yet there I am in his essay. Another essay, Baseball and Handedness by Kenneth M. Heilman talks about left-handedness, right-handedness, along with left-eye and right-eye dominance. What does it all mean? Turns out, it means a lot in how and when a batter sees the pitched ball and its trajectory towards home plate.

The Forest Unseen book cover

The Forest Unseen

Fascinating, just fascinating. So to all the historians, scientists, and other specialists out there: Keep writing for me! I’m reading as fast as I can and I’ll get to your specialty soon!

Now that I think about it some more, I just love being a non-professional, general reader. My next book in the general reader category: The Forest Unseen, A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell. Looking forward to it!

End of an Era

Yesterday the space shuttle Endeavour flew to California to be retired; the end of an era. It flew over Austin, Texas around 7:45 a.m. I was fortunate enough to be outside waiting for it. It was quite impressive.

You reached the stars
Taking our dreams with you.
Your last landing is bittersweet.
In our memory, you will live forever.

I waved good-bye.

Space shuttle Endeavour flying past the Texas Capitol dome

Gone, but not forgotten.

Summer Camp 2012

It seems a little early to be thinking about summer camp, but I already received the Xplorations Summer Science Adventures 2012 schedule from the Houston Museum of Natural Science. That means they have been thinking about it for quite some time. Every year when I receive their summer camp schedule I wish I was a kid again so I could go to these camps.

The 6-7 age group has some fascinating classes. The Da Vince Science class is “a week of gizmos, gadgets, and ingenious inventions! Discover Leonardo and all of his amazing contraptions. Learn to write in “mirror writing” and explore how Leonardo would have lived in his Renaissance world. Experiment with simple machines and build some of your own inventions.” I’d love to go to this one!

Mummies and Mysteries is another class that is calling my name. The museum has their very own mummy, Ankh-hap. Who wouldn’t want to get a close-up look at the work of Egyptian masters from thousands of years ago?

They have their own version of Survivor for the 8-9 year olds. You don’t watch it, you do it! “Learn to navigate by the stars, tell time with the sun, and find out what kinds of bugs make good snacks. Participate in Friday’s survivor competition. Camp includes optional bug tasting activity.” Not sure if that would be yummy or yuck! Only one way to find out!

Full Tilt Physics shows up in the 10-12 age group classes. They get to “explore the science of speed from acceleration and air resistance to collisions and crashes. Design and build hovercrafts, cars, planes and other vehicles then modify them to maximize their velocity. The race is on!

That’s how science should be taught: by interaction, by participation, by hands-on experience. If there are any open slots when registration ends, I wonder if the museum would let me register my inner child. I promise to behave.

Ten Eventful Years, Volume 1

Ten Eventful Years is the name of a series of books covering 1937-1946. I found them while re-arranging two bookshelves of dog-related books. I thought all the books on those shelves were about dogs, but I was wrong. Here were two volumes of Ten Eventful Years: A to Cona, Conc to Ley. The table of contents lists four volumes: Volume 1: Abbreviations to Conant (836 pages); Volume 2 Concentration Camps to Ley (862 pages); Volume 3 Liberalism to Scrap (862 pages); and Volume 4, Sculpture to Zoology (800 pages).

We are missing Volumes 3 and 4. That doesn’t matter, though, because hubby and I don’t know where Volumes 1 and 2 came from. Neither of us claims to own them and the dogs are denying everything. I found no inscriptions, no notes in the margins and no grocery list or autographed Jackie Robinson baseball card as forgotten bookmarks.

Before I donate them, I will take a look to see what the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Walter Yust, and his employees considered remarkable about those years.

I opened Volume 1 to page 50 and found an entry for Air Conditioning. Turns out that air conditioning came into use somewhere around 1912, mostly for industrial applications. Theatres started using “comfort air conditioning” around 1925. “Comfort air conditioning … was extensively applied in a variety of other applications during the decade 1937-46. Commercial establishments using air conditioning extensively included department stores, five-and-ten-cent stores, small stores, restaurants, amusement places having eating facilities, multiroom buildings, theatres, passenger cars, busses, passenger ships and aeroplanes. Residential applications also started during this period.

All I can say is Thank You! to the 1937-1946 decade for implementing air conditioning to the general public.

Moving on. Page 412 has a black and white photograph of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge at Puget Sound (Washington state) being ripped apart by a windstorm on November 7, 1940, four months after it was built. At the time, it was the world’s third longest single suspension bridge. Well, there went $6,400,000.

One more entry, then, towards the end of Volume 1. Page 615 has a photo of a man in a yarn factory. The caption is “Experimental yarn made of chicken feathers, a project of the U.S. Rubber Co.” The umbrella category is Chemurgy, which I’m guessing is a cross between chemistry and metallurgy. “[Chemurgy] is a concept which teaches that by extending the understanding and utilization of agricultural materials the base of mankind’s wealth can be greatly broadened.” The Chicken Feathers section explains that there was a problem of preventing the chicken feathers, which were gathered up wet, from deteriorating from the wetness before they could be used. At the end of 1946, “commercial exploitation awaited further improvements in the process.”

Oh. Excuse me while I go check the labels of my knitting yarn skeins. I don’t think I was wearing my glasses when I bought them. And I thought I only had to read food labels.