Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

DNA Home Kits, Walmart drugs, and good bye Doctors

I heard a story on Michigan Radio yesterday that was about the future of medicine, and it reminded me of this book. The future of health care, as imagined by this author, is basically this: people take DNA tests at home to figure out what’s wrong with them. Meanwhile, the government deregulates the pharmaceutical industry (political argument), which allows them to create a drug for every specific thing that’s wrong with people (molecular medicine). Then, armed with my detailed knowledge about what’s wrong with me, I go to Walmart and buy the exact drug that I need. And, lucky for me, there’s a generic version (economic argument)—cheap! And, the author thinks, this solves the problem of expanding health care costs—we cut out the very expensive middle-man—doctors and hospitals (which he calls “helpless care”). That’s the nutshell (oversimplified) version.

Recently I talked to a person who actually makes drugs for a large pharmaceutical corporation. I asked him “do you think drug companies are too regulated?” His answer was complex. First, he partly disagreed with this book—he said they are not too regulated. Instead of getting rid of the FDA, he said they need more people on staff; expand it. He also mentioned that the FDA needs to “get into the 21st Century,” which agrees precisely with this book. They are using outdated science (read the book for details) which slows down drug production.


the cure in the code

A Long Way Home

When Saroo was five years old, he became separated from his older brother and lost on a train in India that took him about a thousand miles from his small village. With a limited vocabulary making it difficult to properly communicate who he was and where he was from, and unable to trust most people he encountered, he spent several weeks surviving on the streets of Calcutta alone, until he eventually landed in an orphanage and was adopted by a family in Australia. Twenty-five years later, studying satellite images on Google Earth, he was able to locate his village. Saroo Brierley’s biography A Long Way Home begins with Saroo returning to his small village for the first time since he was lost as a small child, finding his tiny former home, and asking current neighbors if anyone knows his mother, brothers, or sister. Then a man says, "Come with me. I'm going to take you to your mother."

I don't know yet exactly how his story ends, as I am only halfway through the book. I am almost to the photo spread in the center of the book and I must admit I have peeked ahead. I am completely engrossed in this book and can't wait to finish it. It is just an astounding story.


A long way home

The Word Exchange

Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words cause permanent damage. And that certainly holds true in Alena Graedon’s inventive debut novel The Word Exchange. The book is equal parts page-turning dystopian thriller and cautionary tale about the cultural costs of our society’s mass-reliance on technology, with some questions about the nature of love thrown in for good measure. The Word Exchange imagines a near future in which our mass-addiction to devices and the associated intellectual sloth creates the opportunity for malevolent corporations to corner the market on language itself, usurping the authority of dictionaries and monetizing access to word meaning. But when the plan spirals out of control and a fast moving digital virus that manifests itself physically in humans causing word flu, because it causes a peculiar form of aphasia in its victims, it is left to the stories unlikely heroine Anana Johnson, daughter of the chief editor of the North American Dictionary of English Language, the genius lexicographer Doug Samuel Johnson, to try and piece the plot together and save the world from descending into a babbling incoherent mess. This is a great read and I can't wait for more from Graedon.


The Word Exchange


I’m certain that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s engrossing novel Americanah will top my personal list of the best books of 2014.  Americanah follows the lives of two Nigerian students as they make their way in the world; Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love as teenagers and make a plan to spend their lives together, but circumstances lead them to places and situations they wouldn’t have imagined.  Ifemelu heads to the U.S. to study and finds herself confronted by a culture of racism and classism, while Obinze struggles to survive as an undocumented worker in London.  They are very well-crafted characters—this is one of those rare books where the characters seem utterly genuine and real. The novel offers a profound discussion of race, immigration, and homeland without being heavy-handed; it is a must read for fans of literary fiction.



Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children(1)

A co-worker read and recommended the Teen title “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs, and his  description sounded intriguing.  What sets the story apart and adds to the book’s mystique are old photographs that are interspersed with the text.

Sixteen year old Jacob has had to endure the sudden death of his grandfather, which occurred   under decidedly odd circumstances. Jacob ventures to a remote island in Wales with his father, to try and unravel the mystery. Miss Peregrine’s orphanage does indeed contain a host of children with peculiar talents.    Time travel, strange and rather horrific beings, and a strong sense of place make this fantasy hard to put down.

There is a 2014 sequel as well, titled “Hollow City”, which continues the adventures and which I certainly intend to read.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children 




The Husband’s Secret

If you found a letter from your spouse or partner, not to be opened until after their death and they were still very much alive, would you open it now?  OK, so you opened it and discovered a big, not-good secret, what would you do?

This is a page-turner, light summer read, but one that generates spirted discussion.


The Husband’s Secret

American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States. 

 Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.


Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide

Did you read today?

Do your kids go to school at MLK Westwood?  If so, I am confident that they are reading this summer!  This sign made me smile when I saw it:


We are having fun with kids at the library this summer; kids are playing the reading games and earning prizes, they are attending the wide variety of programs that are underway, and we seeing a lot of families spending time at the library.  Have we seen you here?  Kids need to be reading and writing and thinking all summer long and KPL is the perfect place to help with that.  Make sure they have plenty of books and make sure that they see YOU reading, too.  Be a good role model for the kids around you and READ!


On the Road Again - Cat in Tow

Lightweight but satisfying, Lending a Paw: A Bookmobile Cat Mystery is the first in a projected series of mystery titles by author Laurie Cass, who resides with her husband and two cats in a small community near Lake Michigan.

What appealed to me right away about this book is that the title contained three of my favorite things: Bookmobiles, mysteries and of course a cat. As readers of my previous posts might have guessed, I’m absolutely crazy fond of any literature that is feline related.

What most of you probably didn’t know is that a while back, (I won’t say exactly how many years ago), I had the great fortune of working on the KPL Bookmobile. This book brought back some great memories - our Bookmobile’s devoted staff, the travels to various stops in our community, and most of all the highly appreciative and personable patrons who frequented those stops.

Another desirable coincidence is that the story takes place in Michigan, in the little, tourist town of Chilson.

The mystery centers around likeable, conscientious and free-spirited Minnie Hamilton. She is deliriously happy about landing a job in her favorite town in the country as the assistant director and head of the bookmobile department; which in translation means that she is both the librarian and the driver.

The bookmobile itself is a persistent thorn in the side of her boss Stephen, who wishes that the vehicle simply didn’t exist. However, it was a recent purchase made possible by a generous donor, one Stan Larabee, and cannot easily be disposed of for quite some time.

Around this time, she also finds a cat. Or is it the other way around? She hopes and assumes the attractive feline already has a home, but Minnie can’t find its owner, so she ends up adopting the animal and naming him Eddie. As it turns out, Eddie plays an integral part in the beginning and at the end of this mystery. He becomes a stowaway on the bookmobile’s maiden voyage and ends up charming all the new patrons, both young and old.

While out on the bookmobile’s rounds one day, the cat escapes its confines, acts a little crazed as if searching for something and subsequently finds a dead man with a bullet hole in his chest. That man turns out to be none other than Stan Larabee, the bookmobile’s magnanimous patron; a man not always loved or respected by his family or the community.

After some of her friends and family are questioned and thought to be possible suspects in connection to the murder, Minnie makes a solemn promise to help find the killer. There are many possible suspects in the case, but one by one Minnie exonerates most of them, and then of course solves the mystery, all with the invaluable assistance of Eddie.

A fast read that has some pleasant comedic undertones thanks to Minnie and Eddie’s very special relationship. Cat lovers will no doubt look forward to the next installment in the series.

I certainly am!


Lending a Paw

Coded Racism

When you hear the phrase "welfare queen," what do you think of? Although technically speaking the phrase itself - welfare queen - isn't racist, I think we all know it actually is. Indeed, it was meant to be, by the politician who carefully created the myth. This book is about the history of such language. Specifically, it's about how politicians use this language to gain votes by creating fear, by focusing demographically, by dividing smaller groups from bigger ones. As for the three main targets, we are talking about African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.

Although the author mostly blames Republicans and Fox News for racial politics, he does blame the Democratic Party too (he is not too kind to Clinton, for example, and he criticises Obama's strategy when it comes to race). Turns out the insatiable thirst for votes is bipartisan. But the major theme throughout the book is how the Republican Party specifically and intentionally became the white man's party in the late 1960's, beginning with the so called "Southern Strategy," which was summarized rather brutally by Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites."

This is a complex book on racism and politics in America.


dog whistle politics
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