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“Never Home Alone: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live”

By Rob Dunn
Basic Books
$28.00 / $36.50 Canada; 325 pages

Ahhhhh, a quiet night at home.

You’ve been promising yourselves that for a long time. A nice dinner. Maybe a movie, or soft music and conversation. It’s gonna be perfect: just you, your beloved and, as in the new book “Never Home Alone” by Rob Dunn, a few billion bacteria, a hundred insects, a parasite or two, and maybe a fungi.

Back when you were a child, chances are that you spent a lot of time outdoors getting dirty, sweaty, and germy. Today’s kids, says Dunn, spend an average of 93 percent of their week inside, in what’s often a place that’s as germ-free as possible. Dunn and his colleagues learned, however, that our homes are actually teeming with life we rarely notice, critters we can’t see, and creatures we share without even trying. We live amidst abundant biodiversity, and it’s “beneficial to us, necessary even.”

Bacteria, for example, get an overall bad rap. Of all the millions of bacteria known, “Just fifty” or so are dangerous to humans; we absolutely need the rest to exist. Without the bacteria in your gut, you’d be in a world of hurt. Without it in your food, some dishes wouldn’t taste as good. Says Dunn, we need bacteria so much that the kindest thing you could ever do to your kids is to let them get filthy dirty, or to take a page from the Amish and buy your kids a cow.

Bacteria are everywhere, including space stations, shower heads, and that glass of water you just drank. Your house is loaded with fungi that are slowly eating it - so many kinds of fungi that some aren’t even named yet. The average home holds “at least a hundred species of arthropods,” and cockroaches don’t make you nearly as sick as will the people you come in contact with.

So. It’s pretty unsettling to think of those germs in your home, your food, and your bed, isn’t it? Argh, what can you do to eliminate the creepy-crawlies that are in, on, and around you?

“The answer,” says Dunn,” is that you shouldn’t.”

More from The Bookworm:

If you could somehow infuse the curiosity of a six-year-old with PhD-level intelligence, imagine what wondrous things you could learn. Or why not make it easier on yourself, and just read “Never Home Alone.”

Yes, that delightful, open-minded gee-whiz is exactly what makes this book so enjoyable. Surprisingly, it’s doubly so for a germophobe, an arachnophobe, or anyone who can’t stand the idea of intruders. Author Rob Dunn has a way of brushing fears aside so he can tell you about something that’s too cool to miss, or a fact that makes you say, “Wow!” You’ll kind of forget that fear for a moment, you’ll be almost impressed, and more likely to relax more, clean less.

Science-minded readers will love this book. It’s filled with things you’ll want to know for the health of it. Really, for anyone who’s alive, “Never Home Alone” is a book to share with a few million of your newest best friends.

“Remembrance”

By Mary Monroe
Kensington
$20.00 / $21.95 Canada; 193 pages

For weeks, you’ve been scouring the stores. You have a lot to give.

Most of it is wrapped up colorfully, beribboned and bowed. Some gifts are in bags with shiny trim, while others are tucked away in closets. You have a lot to give this holiday season, but in the new novel, “Remembrance” by Mary Monroe, when you give of yourself, you also get.

Beatrice Powell couldn’t understand what was wrong with people.

When she married Eric all those years ago, he told her that she could do whatever she wanted, as long as it made her happy – and so she found an excuse to throw dozens of annual parties. The biggest one was her Christmas-birthday celebration and everyone always had a good time. This year, though, all her usual guests made other plans that weekend.

This year, Bea had extra to celebrate.

It was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day she almost died of a hit-and-run accident, a date that she could never forget. She was still a teenager then; only the CPR skills of a handsome but anonymous man had saved her.

Each anniversary, that day weighed on Bea’s mind and she gave of herself in gratitude for her life. Because Eric’s business was successful, she didn’t have to work for money; instead, she worked at Sister Cecile’s soup kitchen, and helped feed the homeless. It was a job that fulfilled her soul, and she tried to lift up the people she served with smiles and little kindnesses.

But while she put on a cheery face at the shelter, this party-not-party bothered her. Her three grown children couldn’t attend, her parents were going on a cruise, even her so-called best friends were declining.

Was her Mama right, that there were too many parties?  Did her oldest friend have a point, that Bea was too self-focused?  Was she bored with her marriage, and was it time to separate from her husband?  Could an angel in disguise soothe her mind?

The holidays can bring the kind of chaos, good and bad, that occupies your brain. It’s easy to forget to bring your gratitude. “Remembrance” has that covered.

For an adult who likes quick, painless novels at a time when reading might feel like a luxury, author Mary Monroe offers a book that’s easy to grab and finish. “Remembrance” is as uncomplicated as they come, which is nice when your mind is on other things: it’s perfect for starting and stopping as time warrants. It’s filled with just enough drama to keep you reading and a good amount of characters that are basically pretty simple, but the story is not boring. Readers should also know that the plot is on the unsophisticated side, and predictable, but not entirely so.

In short, this short little book is an excellent choice if your book group wants to squeeze in a before-the-holidays pick. It’s perfect for tucking in your handbag, and those wait-times you’ll have. Because, of course, you need that now, “Remembrance” is worth giving a try.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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