Recommended summer reading 

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10 great summer reads chosen just for by NUVO editors and writers, all with either local writers or local subjects.

Nature's Storyteller: The Life of Gene-Stratton Porter

by Barbara Olenyik Morrow

Indiana Historical Society Press: $17.95

A half-century before ecology went mainstream, Gene Stratton-Porter decried indifferent destruction of the natural world. Nearly a century before Al Gore made global warming a cause celebe, the Wabash County native warned her readers that denuding the land would cause worrisome changes in the climate.

If her work is understood as the product of a bygone era, if she is canonized as a local literary legend and then relegated to a special spot on the bookshelves reserved for Indiana authors, we risk misunderstanding the true scope of Stratton-Porter's legacy.

Certainly the people responsible for conserving and sharing the historic sites maintained in her honor recognize that Stratton-Porter called us to action.

Now with her book, Nature's Storyteller: The Life of Gene-Stratton Porter (Indiana Historical Society Press: Indianapolis, 2010), Auburn, Ind.-based writer Barbara Olenyik Morrow offers a chance for the rest of us to hone our appreciation for one of the state's most popular writers.

Written as the seventh installment to the Indiana Historical Society's youth biography series, Morrow's 181-page book reads like a story not a weighty dissertation, though its supplementary materials offer a detailed roadmap for further research. Constructed with stitched binding and a pleasing cover featuring a simple portrait of Stratton-Porter crowned by a bird and surrounded by butterflies, the book contains a feast of historical photographs, offering the readers of all ages not just a deeper understanding of the subject, but also of the time and place she occupied. The challenges, for instance, of turn-of-the-century photography...

Years before cameras were portable, Stratton-Porter pioneered the field of nature photography. Morrow describes field trips burdened with "two or three dozen [glass plates] and often a wagonload of equipment, including four cameras adapted for different types of outdoor work."

These trips were inspired by her visceral passion for nature, not the eccentric whims of wealth. Before her great commercial success, Morrow notes that Stratton-Porter sold family jewelry to feed her photography obsession, allowing images that captured the sentiment of her words to illustrate her work as opposed to the stuffed taxidermy suggestions she rejected from her publisher.

Fabulous commercial success followed her early forays into the field.

In the 50-year period ending in 1945, just 55 books registered U.S. sales of a million or more copies. Stratton-Porter wrote five of them, "outdistancing," Morrow notes, even such literary heroes as Twain and Kipling. At the height of her popularity, Stratton-Porter possessed an estimated audience of 50 million with earnings of around $2 million.

These statistics underscore, but do not fully illuminate, the spectacular personality responsible for the work. As an independent woman, who, while living -- it seems from Morrow's account -- almost entirely apart from her husband remained committed to the ideals of family, and as a woman of faith unconfined to manmade temples and unconcerned with critics, Stratton-Porter lived her life on her own terms. Morrow's book helps readers far removed from that life discover the many different ways Stratton-Porter's life and work remains relevant today.

The biographer includes an excerpt from a letter her subject sent in 1923 to Indiana Gov. Warren T. McCray detailing the natural bounty springing from her Wildflower Woods property on the shores of Sylvan Lake in Noble County.

"The collection is peculiar to Indiana, a unique thing, the like of which is not in existence in any state of the Union," she wrote.

The same, readers of Morrow's book will appreciate, can be said of Gene Stratton-Porter.

-- Rebecca Townsend

Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do about It

By Paul R. Epstein, M.D., and Dan Ferber

University of California Press, $29.95

We're excited about this book, not the least because its co-author is Dan Ferber, an Indianapolis-based freelancer we've been fortunate to have write for us a couple of times. In this book, he collaborates with Paul R. Epstein, MD, a health and disease expert at Harvard Medical School. The two take us on a chilling tour to explore how climate change impacts human health, from cholera in Mozambique to dengue fever in Honduras to asthma in Chicago. The book argues that these diseases created and exacerbated by climate change are inseparable from our other global-scale problems (fuel shortages, rising food costs, etc.) and that sustainable solutions are the only path. Keep an eye on NUVO; in the fall, Ferber will be speaking about this book.

-- Jim Poyser

A Guide to the Knobstone Trail

By Nathan D. Strange

Indiana University Press, $19.95

Wander Indiana, albeit with an attractive and useful guide book. Situated in Southern Indiana, the Knobstone Trail is widely considered one of the most beautiful hiking paths in the country. Its 58-mile long trajectory maneuvers through 40,000 acres of forest, and this book, containing 60 photographs and 19 maps, is a travel tour of this footpath, authored by naturalist Nathan D. Strange. Part travelogue, part history, part love letter to nature, Strange's book offers local lore of trees, wildflowers and animals, but also GPS information and elevation data. And all in a book you can easily fit in your pack or satchel.

-- Jim Poyser

Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway

By Matt Dellinger

Scribner; $26

Even those familiar with the controversy surrounding the proposed extension of Interstate 69 down from Indianapolis south to the Mexican Border are liable to learn something new in this smartly written book. The Indy-born author, Matt Dellinger, combines travelogue, journalism, and historical overview to portray the two opposing forces on either side of the I-69 debate. The author rightly spends much of his time with Thomas Tokarski and his wife Sandra. This makes sense because the Tokarski's property, twenty minutes southwest of Bloomington, IN., would be cut through by the proposed New Terrain section of I-69 running from Bloomington to Evansville. (The Tokarskis have also been instrumental in forming organized opposition to the New Terrain section of the proposed interstate). But Dellinger spends a nearly equal amount of time with one of the principal proponents of the new terrain I-69 route: David Graham. Graham is the wealthy, well-connected scion of a prominent Southwestern Indiana family that never benefitted from the advent of the interstate highway system as it was originally conceived. As the book makes clear, Graham's family would benefit directly from the implementation of the new terrain I-69 (on which construction has already begun). Although this is a damning indictment, which hints at a larger problem with our democratic process as a whole, Dellinger delivers it with sympathy for all involved parties, with journalistic objectivity, and with a certain stylistic flair.

-- Dan Grossman

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Middle Man: A Broker's Tale

By John Guy

Published by John W. Guy in association with IBJ Book Publishing, $14.99

From the desk of John Guy, the president of a financial planning and investment advisory firm, comes a story about a broker or "middle man" named Jack Chap who flirts with the fine line between sanity and lack thereof. After the recent loss of his wife and increasing stress from work, Jack commits murder in his office.

The book starts by introducing the characters in the setting of Jack's trial. From there, Jack recounts a first-person story that invites readers into the mind of a murderer. This thought-provoking thriller deals with the scary reality that a man capable of committing murder may not be so different from the readers themselves.

--Emily Thompson

Music Made Me

by Raymond Leppard

Leppard Libraries LLC; $35.96

Its Foreword is by His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales and future king of the U.K (if he manages to outlive his mother, Queen Elizabeth II). It's all about England and environs, its arts and politics during Raymond Leppard's lengthy, marked appearance on its stage. But more than that, it's about the people, famous and obscure, who touched and were touched by the ISO's present conductor laureate, who, following the death of his dear friend, the Queen "Mum" at 101 in 2002, became a naturalized American citizen. For anyone who's followed classical music in the 20th century, Music Made Me is a fascinating read. For local readers, I would have preferred a longer, more detailed discussion of Leppard's Indianapolis years, now 24 and ongoing, a significant chunk of his 83-year life. He appended five pages at the book's end for that synoptic narrative.

-- Tom Aldridge

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Spiritual Snake Oil; Fads & Fallacies in Pop Culture

By Chris Edwards

See Sharp Press; $11.95

Edwards, an Indianapolis resident, just published this book in July, and it's a whale of a read for those interested in stripping away the magical thinking of our contemporary world. With incisive -- sometimes brutal -- wit, Edwards pulls the veil away from such beloved cultural figures as Deepak Chopra, Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and Michael Chrichton. He dismantles The Celestine Prophecy and tells the secret behind The Secret: that the book "is just the old Christian prosperity gospel reworked to take the most of the Christianity and references to God out so that the final project appeals to greater number of people." Edwards will have you prying open your mind, as you trying to stitch your side back together from laughing.

-- Jim Poyser

Stacks: A History of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

By S.L. Berry

Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation, $25

The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library is considered one of the nation's finest public libraries. From its 1873 origin as an adjunct to a local high school, The IMPCL has been focused on service to the community. Stacks details a history of the IMPCL -- a history that is intimately tied with that of Indianapolis itself. From its humble beginnings to the now snazzy and elegant addition to the city's architecture, the library has maintained an essential relationship with the community for well over a century. Written by S. L. Berry, who also authored a history of the Indianapolis Art Center.

--Jim Poyser

Traveling with Frank and Katrina

By Frank Basile

IBJ Book Publishing; $10

Traveling with Frank and Katrina is a memoir of gutsy traversing the globe in pursuit of out-of-the-ordinary adventures. The payoff for the reader is a snapshot of places most of us don't venture to and a lexicon of lessons learned from Basile's extraordinary style of ferreting out locations, getting there, being there and learning beyond the tour books. Some are cautionary tales from someone who casually throws caution to the winds. Most are pithy in and out rendezvous full of wonderment and delight, particularly of UNESCO designated "World Heritage Sites." Starting with "Traveling on the Edge," Basile navigates us through political upheavals and natural disasters that fail to deter him and his wife Katrina from bucking the odds safely to return home to Indianapolis. The following chapters inspire us to search out own long-lost relatives, follow in the footsteps of history makers, including presidential libraries, get to know our National Parks and discover what's right here at home.� After visiting 174 countries on all seven continents there's still more to come, and in Basile's mantra, "That's another story." Await a sequel. But don't wait to take off on your own. Basile's resounding message is "travel never gets old or boring...the thrill of adventure and discovery intensifies with each visit to a place we have never been.".

-Rita Kohn


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