By Jake Sexton | La Mesa Reads
School is fully underway for kids and college students. But maybe those of us who are no longer in school should make some efforts to learn as well. Let’s read some books to school ourselves.
Let’s start our English requirement with a book about the history of a famous author. “The Making of Jane Austen” by Devoney Looser is about the popularization of the writer after her death. In the book’s introduction, Looser notes that the path from talented writer to posthumous fame was not inevitable, nor was it a straight line. Influential family members, publishers, illustrators, politicians, actors, directors, biographers, all contributed through their praise, comment or disdain, to shape her persona and works into a global phenomenon over the past 200 years.
Moving on to the world of art, we have “Hamilton: The Revolution” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. While every schoolchild receives a vague introduction to Alexander Hamilton, we often get little sense of him except that he was one of many who looked stately in a powdered wig. Why it took a hip-hop musical based on the Founding Father to bring his tale to life, I’m not sure, but the play stormed the nation like few other theater productions. For those who loved the play, this book is an expanded version of its libretto, with a detailed account of how the play was conceived, took shape, and threw its captivating tea into America’s harbor. Metaphorically. Somehow.
For science, let’s delve into the “mad” variety. The field of scientific discovery is not solely about stoics in lab coats making notes on clipboards; it is filled with tales of obsession, politics, war, betrayal and joy. “The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements” is author Sam Kean’s attempt to make science more exciting and relatable by attaching surprising and shocking anecdotes about the human discoveries of each chemical element.
For biology (and a little sex ed), Mary Roach’s “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” explores the exciting/embarrassing/complicated study of “it.” The book examines the anatomy, psychology, and chemistry of sex, as well as the pitfalls and awkwardness that accompany focusing on this topic for one’s scientific studies. Roach is known for science reporting that is very readable and fun, and this book is no exception.
And for computer science, we’ll find a little knowledge you can use. Author Kevin Mitnick is an expert on computer security because he has been a hacker since his teen years. Young Mitnick was infiltrating computer networks while most Americans were trying to master the technology of the digital watch. He was so misunderstood and notorious that after serving a prison sentence for computer fraud, he was banned from using any technology more advanced than a landline phone.
Now that he can use computers again, Mitnick has started a computer security company, and has written a new book called “The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data.” You can get the prodigy’s two cents on protecting yourself from all manner of identity theft and digital surveillance, a perpetual concern in our too-modern times.
The La Mesa Library’s Second Saturday Concert Series has returned, with new local musicians performing for free every second Saturday at 1 p.m. Our Oct. 14 show is guitarist and hard-to-describe-in-one-sentence songsmith Gregory Martin Campbell.
—Jake Sexton is librarian at the La Mesa branch of the San Diego County Library. Call the library at 619-469-2151; visit in person at 8074 Allison Ave.; or get information online at sdcl.org.