Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman 
submitted by Caren

David Eagleman, who is scheduled to speak at the Main location of the Louisville Free Public Library on July 19th , is quite an interesting man. As an undergrad at Rice University, he studied British and American literature and thought of becoming a writer. After his sophomore year, he took a sabbatical from his education and volunteered in the Israeli army. Afterwards, he spent a semester at Oxford studying political science and literature, and then moved to Los Angeles to work as a screen writer and standup comedian. Eventually, he earned a PhD in neuroscience and now directs a lab at Baylor College of Medicine.

I have been thinking about Incognito for days after having finished it. There are so many fascinating ideas to ponder. He begins by saying that your consciousness makes up only a tiny part of your brain. Most of your brain functions on autopilot and you are unaware of what is going on in there. How you function, who you are really, is dependent on many factors entirely outside of your control. He notes that psychologists think of the brain as having dual controls: reason and emotion. The ancient Greeks also held this opinion, saying that you are a charioteer, trying to stay centered, in a vehicle pulled by the white horse of reason and the black horse of passion. Eagleman posits that there are probably many more than two systems of control. He says the brain is a “team of rivals”.

Eagleman’s fascination with the brain began early. When he was eight years old, he fell from the roof of a house being built in his neighborhood. He still remembers that time seemed to slow down as he fell, to the point that he even remembers the thought coming to him as he fell, that this is how Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole. He has since spent a lot of time studying the brain’s perception of time. He says that, when your life is threatened, your amygdala becomes very active, recording every detail, which makes time seem to slow down. The more detail the brain records, the longer the moment seems to last. This is also an explanation for the way in which time seems to speed up to the aged, while time seems to move slowly to a child. An older person has so much experience with the world, he no longer needs to note and record the number of details about life that a child does. All of this is to say that time, along with many other of our perceptions, is largely a construct of our own minds.

Read this book and marvel at the intricate interplay of cells, hormones, chemicals, and impulses that make up you. And one last note: while you’re at it, pick up David Eagleman’s highly acclaimed piece of fiction, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, which consists of a series of thought experiments about different possibilities that could await us at the end of this life.

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Hard Magic by Laura Anne Gilman 
submitted by Anthony

Warning, Hard Magic is the first in a series of “Paranormal Scene Investigations.” Also, the series is set in Gilman’s Retrievers universe. When I picked up the book, I was not paying attention and now I am hooked on yet another series, maybe two!

The protagonist, Bonita Torres, is straight out of college, unsuccessfully seeking jobs – something which is humorously portrayed in the opening chapter of the book. Bonita is also a Talent (a magic user) and because of this receives a mysterious recruitment offer. Intrigued, she goes to the interview and finds that it is for a position with a newly formed organization called Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations (PUPI).

Bonita and her team are guinea pigs, creating from the ground up a new field of criminal investigation – magical forensics – as they work to solve their very first case involving well-connected, high-profile suicides that aren’t what they seem to be. All of Bonita’s fellow puppies (a play on PUPI) have unique talents and bring different strengths to the investigation. Gilman deftly creates a sense of camaraderie and competition that feels authentic for a team that is well-blended yet unseasoned. The training sequences explain unfamiliar activities, forestalling any dampening of dramatic tension during action sequences.

As well, the team is challenged but does not have to fight off some crazy crisis - as is often the case with urban fantasy - which furthers the reader’s suspension of disbelief. There is nothing that will make one ask, “What the heck?” while getting to know the world in which the characters live. This is especially great for readers who have not previously read any of the Retrievers stories.

Those who like a lot of romance mixed in with the paranormal may be a little put off. Gilman does introduce at least two potential romantic interests for her main character, Bonita Torres, but keeps relationship material to a simmering minimum. There is no Happily Ever After (HEA) to be found in this novel. This is a positive for what Gilman seems to want to do, explore the founding of a magical CSI-type unit. With no HEA in sight, focus stays on the police procedural elements of the story.

Gilman’s characterization is well-rounded and the action moves along quickly enough that I never got bored by the fact that this is yet another occult detective story. I would recommend it to readers who like the Walker Papers by C.E. Murphy or the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

The second book in the series, Pack of Lies, has been released. Both titles can be found at the library and you can reserve a copy by clicking here.

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Stories of Crass 
submitted by Justin

I thought it time to revisit one of the most important bands of my youth, and possibly my adulthood, Crass. Though most of their albums have hit the 30-year mark, they still hold more relevance and urgency to me than most of the bands that they influenced. The ongoing reissue of their catalog, dubbed “The Crassical Collection," has coincided with a recent tour and biography by vocalist Steve Ignorant. After getting his book, The Rest is Propaganda, as an import, I was reminded that they were the first band to “live the life” and embody the DIY ethic to the extent that they did.

Although The Rest is Propaganda was the most enjoyable of all of the Crass-related books I've read, drummer Penny Rimbaud’s book, Shibboleth: My Revolting Life, offers another look inside of the band from a founding member. Rimbaud professes a love for books written by England’s own Beat Generation – “The Angry Young Men.” Unfortunately, he seems to fancy himself one of them. His book overflowed with over-the-top metaphor that would be more fitting in fiction. There were several points in the book where, without explanation, Rimbaud comes in and out of fiction and nonfiction as if it was his own consciousness. In addition to the abstract writing, the book was much more focused on Rimbaud’s early life as a hippy, and the death of an influential friend. This is his biography, however, and not the band’s. I think the contrast between Rimbaud and Ignorant’s biographies and writing styles really illustrates the qualities that each person brought to the band, which is the essence of what made it so special.

More recently written by journalist George Berger, The Story of Crass tries its hand at documenting the band as a whole. Berger comes across more as a music critic than a documentarian, and peppers the account with his own value judgments and flippant comments. At times he seems more eager to belittle the band than to tell its story. The reader can still glean enough from the facts that are presented, however, to piece together how much the band changed punk from a style and a “file-under” category to an ethos. It’s nice to have the information presented, and to get a good feel for the band. But the author’s bizarre writing style and many grammatical errors make this confusing and weak for anyone but the long-time fan.

CD's by Crass are available for check-out at LFPL. Just click the links below to reserve a copy:
Stations of the Crass
The Feeding of the 5000

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Briar King by Greg Keyes 
submitted by Luke

Great and terrible changes are coming to the lands. Beasts thought only to be legends have been seen, bringing death and ruin, and some say that the Briar King has awakened. The Briar King by Greg Keyes is the opening book in a four part epic fantasy saga, The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, which follows in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin, and others.

It is the year 2,223 in the age of Everon, and it has been two millennia since humanity threw off its bondage to the Skasloi lords. Young Anne Dare, the princess of Crotheny is just starting to be aware of life outside of her childish fancies, while grizzled Aspar White, the King’s Holter is obsessed by the changes he observes in the King’s Forest. Young squire Neil MeqVren comes to the capital of Eslen hoping to earn his spurs and become a knight, only to find himself in the center of a maelstrom of political and religious intrigue and violence. Finally, there is Brother Stephen, traveling alone through the King’s Forest to his new abbey home only to begin to discover that the great evil that can fester in the heart of humanity is far closer than he ever dreamed of. All of these people are tied together to the future of this world, as is the Briar King, and all will be challenged beyond what they know in order to save all that is dear to them.

The Briar King is a well crafted, character driven tale that handles the questions of humanity versus nature, personal desires versus the greater necessity, and of course good versus evil.

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Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee 
submitted by Tom

This book can be summed up with one word: Love. I read this book about 20 years ago when I really had no understanding of the Beat Generation. So I missed the amount of love and respect that Kerouac's friends had for him and continued to have for him after his death. This book is more than it claims to be; it is an oral history of most of the Beat Generation with Jack as its center. From all the big wigs of Beat literary fame to the forgotten names of Kerouac's childhood friends and minor characters in his books, everything is covered.

In between each individual's comments is background filler added by Gifford and Lee. I think that they did a wonderful job of adding segue ways between comments. This allows a reader, who is new to the Beats, to understand the comments better. Some of the comments are very frank. This frankness makes the book a treasure. We get a view of the real Kerouac, who was many things to many people.

He was a sinner and a saint and it is all in here. In 1959, when On The Road was belatedly published, Kerouac became famous overnight. It was a fame that led many people to want a piece of him one way or another, and it led to his self-destruction and death at 47. He became a totally different person in the process. He became a drunk, who could be belligerent to all around him. But through it all, he loved his friends and they loved him.

He died in 1969 with little literary respect and still had not obtained it when Jack's Book was published in 1978. This book gives Kerouac the respect that he deserves as both a man and a writer, and for him the two were the same.

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