The Magic of Mindfulness and Meditation

This post comes to us from our Head of Adult Services, Bill:

“Slow down, you move too fast You got to make the morning last Just kicking down the cobblestones Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy” ~ from The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) by Paul Simon (1966)

Our world in 2020 indeed moves too fast for many of us! This can have negative effects on our mental and physical well-being. What can we do to counteract these negative effects? Maybe try a little mindfulness…

Mindfulness is a form of meditation and its magic comes in the form of improved concentration and happiness, and physiological improvements that often include lower heart and blood pressure rates. It can also reduce stress and chronic pain as well as improve sleep.

A few years ago, Forbes Magazine published and article detailing  6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness And Meditation:

  1. Mindfulness reduces anxiety
  2. Mindfulness meditation reduces implicit age and race bias
  3. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) may prevent and treat depression
  4. Mindfulness meditation helps increase body satisfaction
  5. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition
  6. Mindfulness meditation helps the brain reduce distractions

Though the practices of mindfulness and meditation have been around for centuries, the science behind it has only recently become more understood. Health practitioners, and even the  business world, have begun taking the concept of mindfulness quite seriously as more and more evidence comes to light on how the practice can actually change the “wiring” of our brains.

Want to learn more about the practice of mindfulness and what it can do for you? This month Cheshire Library is presenting a 3-part Mindfulness Series:

Check out these books for even more information:

Mindfulness and Meditation : Your Questions Answered by Blaise Aguirre

Aware : The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D

Bliss More : How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying by Light Watkins

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris and Jeff Warren, with Carlye Adler

 

The Amazing Short Stories of Ted Chiang

Our sci-fi guy, Harold, has an author recommendation for you:

If I could only recommend one science fiction author to read this year, it would be Ted Chiang. Though Chiang has written only 14 of short stories and one novella, his works have been critically acclaimed. His short story collections are Exhalation and Stories of Your Life.

Chiang has been the recipent  of four Nebula awards, four Hugo awards, and won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (for his short story, “Babylon”).  His short story, “Story of Your Life,” was the basis of the film Arrival (2016). Exhalation was a Goodreads Choice Award in 2019. The New York Times named Exhalation one of the 10 Best Books of 2019. That’s a lot of awards that are, in my opinion, well deserved!

Chiang’s works are hard to describe since they are not conventional science fiction, per se. It’s a subtle distinction, but they are more fiction based on science than science fiction. President Obama, via Facebook, said that they are “a collection of short stories that will make you think, grapple with big questions, and feel more human. The best kind of science fiction.”

These are precisely articulated, well-crafted and thought-provoking stories. There are no rocket ships or cosmic battles. Instead, they expand upon and extend science, and technology that exists today. Two of my favorites from Exhalation are “Babylon”, a re-work of the Tower of Babel story, and “Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”,  about a merchant in ancient Persia who can travel through time to correct past mistakes.

Exhalation  and Stories of Your Life are available at the Cheshire Public Library as printed books.  Exhalation is also available as an ebook, and Stories of Your Life is also available as a downloadable audiobook. They are well worth reading. The film, Arrival, based on Chang’s “Story of Your Life”, is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Three Outstanding Women of Science Fiction

Our sci-fi-guy, Harold Kramer, has some authors to recommend:

Ursula K. Le Guin

The world of science fiction and fantasy lost two of its best writers in recent years: Ursula K. Le Guin and Vonda McIntyre. Ursula K. Le Guin, who I consider one of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers of the 20th century, died in 2018. She published over twenty-two novels, children’s books, and volumes of poetry and essays. Her works received many awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and National Book Award.

Her novels centered around two main themes: gender and political systems. Her 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness is about the effect of gender on culture and society,  It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel.  An example of novel based on political themes is The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, also a winner of both a Hugo and a Nebula Award.  It is about two planets orbiting next to each other – that have almost no contact between them and that have totally different economic and political systems – and the scientist who tries to unite the two worlds. I recently re-read The Dispossessed and it is still relevant today, particularly in our current political environment.

The Dispossessed is the first of six books in Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle. These novels are loosely connected by a people called the Hainish, who colonized earth and other planets hundreds of thousands of years ago. The Left Hand of Darkness is a Hainish novel along with Rocannon’s World and Planet of Exile.

Le Guin also wrote The Books of Earthsea, a series that is decidedly more fantasy than science fiction. It full of magical events and it is the story of a young wizard – a sort of precursor to Harry Potter. The first book in the series, A Wizard of Earthsea, is still a great read. The Earthsea collection of novels and short stories won the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor, the Nebula Award, and many other honors.

Vonda McIntyre

Vonda McIntyre passed away in 2019. She was a prolific writer of science fiction novels, novelizations, screenplays and short stories and she was an acclaimed teacher of writing.  

She was well known for her Star Trek novels that include The Entropy Effect and Enterprise: The First Adventure. She also wrote the novelizations of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Most readers agree that Dreamsnake is McIntyre’s greatest novel and it is based on her earlier novelette, Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand. It is about Snake, a female healer who possesses miraculous powers and a magical Dreamsnake.

Octavia Butler

My final recommendation is Kindred by Octavia Butler. Kindred has been acknowledged as the first widely known novel by a black, woman science fiction writer. It is a time travel story about Dana, a black woman, who in 1976 is abruptly transported back and forth, from her home in California to antebellum Maryland, where she encounters her ancestors and becomes enslaved. At its core, Kindred is about white supremacy, slavery, and, ultimately, survival. Butler is also the author of Lilith’s Brood, a collection of three works: DawnAdulthood Rites, and Imago. These dystopian novels were previously published in one volume called Xenogenesis. The New York Times said thatThe complete series is about an alien species that could save humanity after nuclear apocalypse—or destroy it”—from “one of science fiction’s finest writers.

Teens & Community Service: Being Part of Something Bigger than Yourself

Today’s post is by our Teen Librarian, Kelley:

Teenage community service is more than something that adults insist will look good on a high school resume. It is often a requirement for graduating high school and it’s a great way for students to build their skill sets. More importantly, volunteer opportunities for teens and high school students can be a life-changing experience, one that allows teens to expand their horizons and foster meaningful relationships. Community service can point to new interests, new friends, and if you’re really lucky, maybe even a lifelong career. And yeah, okay, it’ll also look great on college applications!But where to start? Volunteering implies responsibility, and might seem intimidating. How can you be sure you’re finding opportunities that are right for you? There are always easy entry points, like the service clubs at high schools or helping out at a local library, but beyond that, the options can get overwhelming. So where should you look? There are many local and national volunteer agencies and non-profit organizations that accept teens under 18 who are interested in everything from working with animals to crafting for charities, and we’ve put together a volunteering resource for the teens of Cheshire, which is located on the teen page of our website.

Curious about still more community service ideas? Many other kinds of community groups are looking for volunteers, and some may not have occurred to you. Most of us know that hospitals, libraries, and churches use volunteers for a great deal of their work, but here are some volunteer opportunities that may not have crossed your mind:

  • Day Care Centers, Neighborhood Watch, Public Schools and Colleges
  • Community Theaters, Fraternal Organizations and Civic Clubs
  • Arts Councils, Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels
  • Literacy Groups, Museums, Art Galleries, and Monument Sites
  • Community Choirs, Bands and Orchestras, Music Therapy Programs
  • Neighborhood Parks, Youth Organizations, Sports Teams and After-school Programs
  • Historical Restorations, Battlefields and National Parks

Good luck! We know you’ll soon be on the path to community service superstardom!

Science Fiction and the Red Planet

Today’s post is by our sci-fi-guy, Harold Kramer.

Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor, has always fascinated science fiction writers here on planet earth.  Science fiction about Mars began with Jules Verne and his 1865 novel From Earth to the Moon.  This novel, like many others by Verne, was accurate in concept, although technology in his day made many of his ideas impossible to execute.

During the first half of the 20th century, science fiction writers were obsessed with Martians. Belligerent Martians invaded earth in H. G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds. Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds even caused a nationwide panic.  Written in 1950, The Martian Chronicles, a collection of strange and haunting short stories by Ray Bradbury were about an expedition to the red planet. Another early Mars novel was A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs who was a master of fast-moving adventure stories, whether in the jungle with Tarzan or on the moon with the Princess.  I have recently re-read some of these early science fiction novels and, while definitely not scientifically accurate, they still are good reads.

Beginning in the 1970s, the first NASA and Russian probes and rovers obtained real scientific data about Mars. Once sci fi writers realized that there were no little green men on Mars, science fiction tackled more realistic Martian topics and focused on the challenges of human colonization on the red planet.  A major sci fi theme was terraforming Mars to make it into a self-sustaining environment that was fit for life that developed on earth. Another major theme was what type of society and governmental structure might exist in a Mars colony.

One of the first works that explored these ideas was The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This series consists of three books:  Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. Red Mars won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1993.  Blue Mars won the 1997 Hugo Award. The trilogy begins with Red Mars when the first colonists arrive on Mars and simply try to survive. Green Mars and Blue Mars and continue the story one hundred years in the future when Mars has been terraformed into a green and politically independent world. My favorite of the three is the first book, Red Mars.

Ben Bova has written four related novels about Mars: Mars, Return to Mars, Mars Inc. and Mars Life. The planet Mars is the fourth  stop on his Grand Tour – a series of related novels that take place in the 21st Century and that focus on exploration and colonization of every planet in our solar system.  I enjoy reading Ben Bova’s books because of his clear writing, scientific imagination, and expansive ideas.

The Martian by Andy Weir, written in 2011, is my favorite book about Mars.  I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it.   It won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Science Fiction in 2014 and the Audie Award in 2015 for best science fiction audio book. The Martian is a modern-day Robinson Crusoe story about an American astronaut who is presumed dead but who is actually alive and stranded on Mars. What makes it so interesting is that the technology is highly credible, and the writing is taut. It was made into a movie in 2015 that was directed by Ridley Scott and starred Matt Damon.

​Many other great science fiction novelists have written about Mars.  These include Greg Bear’s Moving Mars and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars. Also notable are Larry Niven’s Rainbow Mars and Robert Heinlein’s classic, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Although this is a science-fiction blog post, I would like to mention a non-fiction book about Mars and planetary exploration and colonization. It is called The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and our Destiny Beyond Earth, by physicist Michio Kaku.  This scientifically based work is an extraordinary projection of the future of humanity as it moves from earth to the stars.