A couple of good reads

Books are beginning to pile up on my desk, so this week I’ve chosen to address two.

For my money, New York Archives is one of the most underappreciated magazines around. Inaugurated in 2001, each quarterly issue offers well-written perspectives on aspects of our state’s history. Famous people and events get covered; so do lesser known and quirkier ones. With the recent publication of “The Best of New York Archives (Excelsior Editions,” State University of New York Press), new readers can get a strong sense of what has been offered in its pages.

This thick volume is meant for repeated browsing, not a first-to-last-page effort. First I looked for stories on the Adirondack North Country region. Though I was hoping for a larger sampling, I nonetheless found a piece on Richard Rogers, the colonial soldier whose Rangers were a forerunner of today’s special forces. There’s a story about Hispanic individuals who came to Saranac Lake for tuberculosis treatment; it’s written by Historic Saranac Lake Executive Director Amy Catania.

In other pieces referable to the North Country, I read about repeated attempts to breach the levees of the ForestportFeeder Canal, a tributary of the Black River Museum. And there’s Marietta Holley, a Jefferson County woman who wrote 21 books, including the best-selling “Samantha at Saratoga.”

There’s also a piece about John Milholland of Lewis, often overshadowed by stories of his high-spirited suffragette daughter Inez. His business success was based on pneumatic tubes. At one point, a 27-mile network of these gadgets moved mail beneath New York City. A supporter of women’s suffrage like his daughter, he also was a co-founder of the NAACP.

Women’s suffrage is represented, as are issues related to slavery. Coney Island gets a section, as do “floating baths” used by New York City once upon a time to meet what the New York Times called “the pressing needs of the great unwashed.” There are the famous — Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, and the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. And the not-so-well-known, like the Fox sisters, spiritualists who lived in western New York, and General John Wool, who fought at the Battle of Plattsburgh and was still active in the military into the Civil War.

I wish that information on the contributing writers had been provided, and naturally I would have enjoyed more attention to the Adirondacks. However, these are minor quibbles. Anyone with even the least interest in Empire State history will find sections in the book to enjoy. Stories are relatively short, and they become a bit addictive. Most who open this volume will find themselves reading much more broadly than they had planned.

Another recent offering is a short children’s book entitled “The Adventures of Alana J. Hummingbird,” by George Bryjak (Myopic Moose Press, Bloomingdale). This tells the tale of a ruby-throated hummingbird and her family making their way on an annual seasonal migration from Costa Rica to the Adirondacks.

It’s a spirited story, filled with life lessons for Alana — and for the young homosapiens who will enjoy reading the book. The adventures all end positively, with the main character surviving a swooping herring gull, a well-meaning bird lover who captures and bands her, and the teasing of cousin Hector. Along the way, I learned a bit of natural history, including the concept of a bird going into torpor.

This would be an excellent book to read aloud with young children, perhaps using it as a lead-in for some backyard bird watching. Kids will also enjoy the line drawings by illustrator Crystal Lockhart. My only caveat would be the potential value of a map, so that young readers could gain a sense of where places like Costa Rica and Key West lie relative to the Adirondacks.

The book is available in print and electronic editions from Amazon.com.

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