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The Book Blog

profile-icon Michael Ramey

Prose and figurative language can feel too flowery and self-indulgent, but, if done right, they can make the writing memorable. This is how I felt after reading Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, which chronicles America’s entry into the space race with Project Mercury. Wolfe, who spearheaded the New Journalism movement of the 1960s, is ever the provocateur with his use of subjectivism and narrative techniques to describe what it meant to compete against the Soviet Union in the race to get a man into space.

Unapologetic and jingoistic, Wolfe’s The Right Stuff celebrates the men who risked their lives to get to space. Written in 1979, the book focuses on the test pilots and the Mercury Seven astronauts selected for NASA’s Project Mercury – Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton – and likens them to warriors about to engage in combat while exhibiting heroism, grit, and courage; qualities Wolfe calls the “right stuff.”

Many aspiring astronauts were former Air Force pilots and test pilots who lived on a knife’s edge around danger like Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier with the Bell X-1 rocket plane in 1947. These aviators wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible – even if they sacrificed their lives to do so. Many test pilots and early astronauts died young due to training accidents and equipment malfunctions. To be considered among the best of the best, the pilot needed to have the “right stuff,” which Wolfe defines as a combination of having guts, moxie, or courage in the face of extreme danger. This also included reckless machismo. As Wolfe succinctly put it “believers in the right stuff would rather crash and burn” than request help or admit they made a mistake (24). Those who did not have the “right stuff” either died or were excluded from the group that had “it.”

Wolfe’s writing style takes on a rapturous and frantic tone throughout the work. He is not concerned about writing formally or objectively; he frequently uses run-on sentences to convey his enthusiasm throughout the book. This informality lets him convey his sense of awe about the Mercury Seven and those with the “right stuff” with winding sentences and verbose excitement.

The Right Stuff was adapted into a movie in 1983 and has been recently remade as a television show on Disney Plus, but the exuberant feel and feverish tone of the book is lost in translation. If you like adventure stories with a flair for the dramatic and with a sharp writing style, Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff is a must read.

Cover ArtThe Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
ISBN: 0553381350
Publication Date: 2001-10-30
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profile-icon Dr. Brittnee Fisher

If you have chatted with me about books, you probably know that I recommend Neil Gaiman about one hundred percent of the time. I hate to say that I have a “favorite author,” but if I had to make the commitment, I’d most likely go with Neil. When I’m recommending Neil’s books to other readers, I often describe his works with words like intelligent, whimsical, magical, mystical, gripping…just to name a few. Gaiman is one of the few authors whose books feel more like an experience than a read, and I often have difficulty pulling away from them. He’s also one of the few authors with books that I will read repeatedly.

Neil hasn’t limited his works strictly to traditional novels. He is also well known for his comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction works, and short fiction. You might be familiar with Gaiman’s work through other media, as several of his books have been adapted to film or television series. His book Coraline was made into a stop motion movie that is wildly popular and is known for having a bit of a cult following. Another book by Gaiman, Stardust, was made into a film starring Claire Danes. This movie is so dreamy and is one of my personal favorites! Gaiman’s book American Gods has three seasons available for those who prefer a series.

If you love audiobooks or are looking for potential audiobooks to try, I recommend Neil's books. Neil generally narrates his own books, sometimes with other voice actors or professional narrators, and really tells the story. Since he’s intimately familiar with his own imaginative works, he knows precisely where to inflect, emphasize, and dramatize. He also has a dreamy British accent that I personally adore.

I know one author can’t fill the needs of every reader, but I implore you to at least give Neil a shot. He is an author that I discovered through the help of a friend that has stuck with me for years. I find comfort in Gaiman’s work because he allows me to escape our harsh reality to enjoy a little magic. If you decide to try him out, the St. Johns River State College Library has many of his works for you to enjoy! I'm listing just a few to get you started. Let me know what you think!


Cover ArtThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; Dave McKean (Illustrator); Margaret Atwood (Foreword by)
Call Number: St. Augustine Circulation PR6057 .A319 G73 2008
ISBN: 9780060530921
Publication Date: 2008-09-30
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profile-icon Michael Ramey

When going through school, math and science were not my strongest subjects. I thought that I would never use either discipline, that they constituted busy work. As I have gotten older, I find myself drawn to both subjects through my interest in astronomy.

Ever since I looked at Jupiter and Saturn with a telescope, I have been fascinated by space and our place in it. I began devouring books on astronomy which were mostly introductory texts and general interest books about the stars and planets.

After a while, I wanted to read more in-depth content about space, so I gave Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time a try. My family had a copy tucked away in a bookshelf, but I had never been confident enough to try the physicist’s book on the origins of the universe. Until now.

Originally written in 1988, Hawking’s A Brief History of Time explores our perception of the universe, the concept of space and time, the mathematical possibility of black holes (which has since been proven), and the theoretical possibility of time travel with wormholes. At around 200 pages, the book is a quick, succinct read with an accessible writing style.

The book’s crowning achievement is how Hawking breaks down complex physical and scientific concepts and explains them in a way that anyone can understand. He explains complicated theoretical physics by providing clear analogies and vivid descriptions laden with humor and insight. As a reader, I never felt as if he was talking down to me; in fact, his inclusive style is a big reason why the book is a bestseller and one of my favorite books.

Reading A Brief History of Time has given me a deeper appreciation for math and science through astronomy. It has also inspired me to become a better teacher. While I may not be breaking down theoretical physics, I have become better at breaking down complicated concepts into manageable chunks that students can understand and learn. Being able to digest complex content into a readable format is a skill I am always trying to hone.

Cover ArtA Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
ISBN: 9780553109535
Publication Date: 1998-09-01
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profile-icon Dr. Brittnee Fisher

I’ll start this post with the disclaimer that I love audiobooks. Listening to audiobooks is one of my biggest hobbies. You can often find me consuming a great story while driving, cleaning my house, or lounging in the pool. Recently, it was brought to my attention that to some, audiobooks aren’t considered “real books,” and consumers of audiobooks aren’t actual readers. I’ll say what needs to be said about that stance- it’s book snobbery. Now let me explain why!

First and foremost, audiobooks are essential for many readers from an accessibility standpoint. While some automatically associate audiobooks as a resource for blind readers, audiobooks are a solution for many, including readers suffering from migraines and readers with cognitive functioning challenges. Have you noticed that many textbooks are now only available in a digital format? This is an attempt by publishers to increase the accessibility of their texts. The digital format helps with the accessibility needs of many types of readers, including those that use a screen reader for audio content. So, the next time you overhear a misinformed person making harsh judgments about audiobooks, you can enlighten them about the importance of making books accessible to all readers.  

Another essential function of audiobooks is that they can be a tool to engage reluctant readers. You don’t have to take my word on this since numerous studies and reports are available worldwide on the subject. The facts are that audiobooks engage readers and contribute to the enjoyment of reading for many. For example, I have never been a fan of reading graphic novels or comic books. I recently tried an audio version of a popular comic book series, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. The audio version of this graphic series was produced by none other than DC Comics, and the quality of this production is nothing short of AMAZING! I can honestly say that I have been enthralled with this audiobook. The best part is that I’m now interested in comic books. I have already asked for the Omnibus collections for my birthday. There are multiple volumes that are costly, so I’ll probably be spreading this request out among many holidays, so my husband doesn’t have a heart attack! Even though I am a huge fan of Gaiman’s work, I probably wouldn’t have spent any time with Sandman if it weren’t for the audio version. I am now very thankful that I have experienced this incredible collection of stories. 

If my first two points haven’t convinced you to fall in love with audiobooks, then let me tie up my case with my final point- audiobooks tell us great stories. The amount of care and work that go into audiobooks is astounding, and audiobooks are big business. If you are at all familiar with prominent audio vendors such as Amazon’s Audible, you know that they are bringing in big-name narrators like Tim CurryJames McAvoy, and Claire Danes, just to name a few. Like the Sandman audiobook I mentioned earlier, many well-produced audiobooks also incorporate sound effects to engage listeners. I have also listened to excellent renditions of A Christmas Carol and The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon, just to name a few. The production value of some of these titles is comparable to a well-developed television series. The best part for me is enjoying these stories while being active and outside.

I hope that I have convinced you that audiobooks are an excellent resource for all readers and a great way to enjoy stories of all kinds. I’m a bit of an audiobook diva, so I pay for the convenience of Audible. Don’t fret- there are many great free options available from your local public library. The Putnam County Library System uses Overdrive. St. Johns County uses both Overdrive and Hoopla, and the Clay County Library has an extensive audiobook collection. Some public libraries may still have audiobooks on compact discs (CD). Maintaining a CD collection is expensive, so many libraries are moving to a strictly digital format.

If you are thinking about exploring audio, please reach out. I’d love to recommend some of my favorites! Take time to listen to a story. I don’t think you’ll regret it!



Cover ArtThe Sandman Omnibus Vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman
Call Number: Palatka Popular Fiction PN6728.S26 G39 2013
ISBN: 9781401241889
Publication Date: 2013-09-03

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