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Staff Picks: Books

NEVER HOME ALONE

As I was reading a review of this book the subtitle caught my attention: From Microbes to Millipedes, Camel Crickets, and Honeybees, the Natural History of Where We Live.  The subject being discussed struck me as being quite horrible, yet I felt a compulsion to take a look and see what the repulsiveness was all about. The book's front flap says that author Rob Dunn, a professor in the Department of Applied Ecology at North Carolina State, 'reveals that our domestic domain, far from peaceful, is wild beyond imagination' and that 'every house is a wilderness -- brimming with thousands of species of insects, bacteria, fungi, and plants that live literally under our noses.' But, he also contends that 'the healthier we try to make our homes, the more likely we are to put our own health at risk.' This book would be a totally depressing endeavor were it not for Dunn's breezy style of writing. All who are interested in knowing who their possible housemates are should take a look at this book.


How to Disappear

At a time when the pressure to be outwardly “public” with the granular details of our lives and our minute to minute thoughts, and where the corporate network of image-making has become a reality filter that mediates our very existence, many people are expressing a desire to break from social networking sites and their powerfully seductive and artificial influence. Akiko Busch’s new book How to Disappear: notes on invisibility in a time of transparency is an interesting work of essay, memoir and cultural criticism that meditates upon the individual and cultural pressure to constantly reify our lives through social networking sites, corporations and our jobs. At the heart of the work, is an examination of the self and whether or not, reducing our level of visibility and self-promotion can work to enrich our life experiences and deepen our relationship to others and the natural world.


Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow

Here's a recommendation for a new and very readable book in the Kalamazoo Public Library children's section. Read Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow. Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is a much lauded scholar for his vast contribution to the understanding of history and American culture. You may know him from the PBS genealogy program Finding Your Roots. Gates wrote the book with Tonya Bolden, the award-winning author of many excellent books for young people. 

The development of racist laws in the Jim Crow era along with murderous violence and property taking perpetrated as instruments of white supremacy are highest on the list of the worst kind of human behavior. As grim as aspects of this history certainly are, this book is ultimately uplifting, with stories of perseverance in the face of oppression. The final illustration in the book is a lovely group picture of a class of preschoolers in Topeka, Kansas, captioned "Faces of the Future 1899". 

About Dark Sky Rising, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and National Book Award winning author Jacqueline Woodson writes, "Brilliant and more necessary now than ever before. This is a book that should be on every bedside table and in every classroom in America. It’s a history that belongs to all of us. In Gates’s and Bolden’s hands, it is a deeply comprehensive, beautifully illustrated, and moving narrative of survival.” 


It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work

In this book that describes the ideal workplace, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson say that it's time to stop celebrating 'Crazy' and start celebrating 'Calm.' In doing so, they seek to cross out '80-hour weeks, packed schedules, super busy, endless meetings, overflowing inbox, unrealistic deadlines, can't sleep, Sunday-afternoon emails, no time to think, stuck at the office, all-nighters, chats blowing up.' There are some valid points in this book; others I can't accept. But, for anyone who wants to study the art of management, this book provides a smorgasbord of ideas about organizational culture.


My Sister the Serial Killer

According to the dust jacket on My Sister the Serial Killer, Korede's sister has "a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends." The term "inconvenient" indicates that author Oyinkan Braithwaite will treat this grim situation with unexpected complexity.

Despite the fact that her sister, Ayoola, is also flighty, selfish, and manipulative, practical and dependable Korede comes to her aid whenever necessary. Short powerful chapters gradually and suspensefully reveal what is behind the sisters' unusual relationship. At times My Sister the Serial Killer is simultaneously humorous and chilling, especially at the moment the sisters' lives intersect at the hospital where Korede works.


The History Book : Big Ideas Simply Explained

I happen to like books from DK Publishing, a firm that produces quality items on quality paper. They specialize in books that have a pictorial, visual emphasis. From the library's teen section is this one-volume digest of world history arranged in two-page chapters. This is a good book even for those who have studied history extensively, since herein, under one cover, are photos and information not often seen elsewhere. It's unlikely that anyone would read this book straight through although one could; it lends itself to selective browsing in chapters of interest to the reader.


Miles Morales: Spiderman

Confession: I have Peter Parker fatigue. He’s had seven movies in the past two decades, more if you count the Avengers, and the story’s always the same: spider bite, ditch the glasses, fight a goblin. To be honest, I’m over it.

So last year, when I saw MilesMorales: Spiderman hit the shelves, and written by all-star YA novelist Jason Reynolds no less, I was intrigued. The familiar hero was getting a much need update.  But after watching the dazzling movie that introduces the new Black and Puerto-Rican web slinger to the big screen, I knew that I needed to read this novel immediately.

 I was delighted to find out more about Morales’ world—the strained and complicated relationship between his dad and his uncle, and to see what a solid friendship he has with his roommate Ganke. But then as the story continues to unfold it becomes clear that this Spiderman isn’t just duking it out with a giant lizard man or whatever. That’s too easy. The first Black Spiderman in the MCU takes on one of the most powerful enemies facing the Black community today: institutional racism. This novel pulls no punches and examines important issues while sacrificing none of the excitement and action-packed antics that we’ve come to expect out of our Spiderman stories.

Your twelve year old might say they hate reading, but have they read about Miles Morales? 


Built : The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures

Roma Agrawal, at only 35 years of age, is an experienced structural engineer who has been involved in building some very large projects, such as London's 'The Shard,' western Europe's tallest tower. She is also a promoter of technical and engineering careers to young people, particularly women. In this book, she describes in easy-to-understand terms many aspects of the work that has gone into some of the world's buildings and structures, both ancient and modern. Among these are the pyramids, the Northumbria University Footbridge, the John Hancock Center in Chicago, Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City, and Brooklyn Bridge. As Henry Petroski of Duke University says, this is 'a book about real engineering written by a real engineer who can really write.'


Year-End Review

As 2018 winds down, its a customary tradition for staff to compile a list of those books, movies and albums that have inspired us, made us laugh, made us cry, stoked our imagination, and provoked us to think deeply about the relationship between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy and art and life. Here are a few of my favorites.

 

Winter, Karl Ove Knausgaard
Becoming, Michelle Obama
WKW: the Cinema of Wong Kar Wai, John Powers
Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir, John Banville
Meaty, Samantha Irby
My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh
These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore
The Largesse of the Sea Maidens, Denis Johnson

 


End of Year Scramble

It never fails.

Every year at this time, I find myself scrambling to read, before the end of the year, at least one or two more books; titles that are appearing and re-appearing on many “best of [insert year]” lists. Of course, it’s a self-imposed deadline; I can certainly read these books whenever I please. But in just a matter of weeks, we’ll be on our way to starting a new “best of” list, so I use this opportunity to add a couple more contenders to my personal “best books of the year” list.

That Kind of Mother follows the life of Rebecca Stone—white, poet, dreamer, wife, and mother—through her first twelve or so years of motherhood. A sequence of events involving the woman of color Rebecca hired to be her older child’s nanny at a time when, as a new mother, Rebecca was unsure and afraid, leads her and her husband to adopt a black son too. The result: an in-depth examination of what it means to be a mother and to be a family, and of how Rebecca makes sense of that experience at different times in her life. 

If you like character-driven plots, with complicated, strained, and tender relationships all rolled into one story, I urge you to pick this one up. And yes, I consider it one of my favorites of the year.