Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.
This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.
While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”
Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.
After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.
Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.
Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.
Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.
Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.
This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.
This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.
And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
I'm really enjoying Laurel Synder's chapter book Any Which Wall, which also happens to be the June 27 selection in KPL's Bookworms book group at Children's Room. Bookworms is for kids in grades 1-3 (or there-abouts) with their adults. You can pick up a copy of Any Which Wall at the Children's Room desk. I like this book because it's about magic. It also features Henry and Emma and Roy and Susan -interesting characters who are children of various ages. It's well written and it's pulled me right in. I'm curious what you think about the book, about "common magic", and where you would go if you had a magic wall that could take you to any place and any time.
Bookworms is a free program and a great way to enjoy Summer Reading with other readers!
Any Which Wall
I couldn’t help pick this book up after seeing its clever title in the New KPL Books stream in the KPL catalog, and after reading through it I can say that I am glad I did. The story of craft beer brewing in the United States is as funky as some of the places that helped it grow and pushed it forward during the past 30 or so years. The book takes you from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., which was basically the only small batch “local” brewery that existed in the mid-1970s, to today’s craft brew industry where we have literally thousands of craft breweries scattered across the country and introduces you to a seemingly endless stream of interesting and passionate people and their unlikely stories along the way. The book is thoroughly researched and comprehensive with interviews with all of the important players and tons of history thrown in to give the stories context. It’s a rich and full-bodied tale sure to interest any beer fan out there. And for the record, Kalamazoo may have come up short in its bid to be named Beer City, USA, but we do figure pretty early on in the story of the craft beer revolution with the Kalamazoo Brewing Company appearing right there on page 119! Number of times anything associated with Grand Rapids appears in the index = 0. Hmmm
The Audacity of Hops
Starting with their first letters — or ¬earlier, with the decision to correspond at all — friendship is the book’s overarching subject, and the various topics that come and go are before all else attempts at finding that common ground upon which friendship can flourish. --From the New York Times Book Review (Martin Riker)
Two of my favorite contemporary novelists have published a book of fascinating correspondence between the two that covers a wide range of subjects including the financial meltdown of 2008, sports, friendship, film, love, death and of course, their own work and those books and authors they adore. Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, two of contemporary literature’s most respected and acclaimed writers began their friendship in 2008. The subsequent result gave birth to a letter writing project collected in Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011. Letters range in length from a few pages to several sentences so one could easily bring this book along with them to the beach. Reading these letters (most of them composed on paper and sent through the mail) is like being a fly on the wall of a darkly lit bar, listening in on two incredibly charming and insightful artists feed off of one another’s brilliant minds.
Here and now: letters
Teddy wears a dress shirt, tie, and suit every day; he has two and alternates them. He’s also pretty sure he’s engaged to Mia and shows his love by sometimes connecting their wheelchairs by a bungee cord because he has a power chair and Mia doesn’t. Teddy and Mia are two of the teen residents of the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, a state nursing facility now run by a for-profit corporation.
In Good Kings Bad Kings, a novel by Susan Nussbaum, the voices of Teddy, Mia, and other residents and staff of the ILLC use their own words to tell the heartbreaking story of youth in residential care. I dare you to not care.
Good Kings Bad Kings
“Chile’, don’t worry bout other people, ‘cause they probably just jealous.”
“Yo chile is yo first priority, cause cherin don’t ask to be born.”
“If somebody don’t want to be bothed wit you, just leave em lone.”
If you see the wisdom in these quotes as I do, then you will absolutely LOVE the book What Mama Said, which is a collection of quotations from 78 year old Albion woman Willie Jewel Peterson, compiled with love by her daughter, Gladys Seedorf of Battle Creek. The book also provides a fascinating and inspiring biography of Willie, who grew up one of 14 children working on her family’s farm in Greenville, Alabama, and due to farm obligations, was not able to go to school past 6th grade. She raised a family while working hard her whole life and upon retirement at age 65, she completed her G.E.D. This book is chock full of self-help advice that Willie gave her daughter over the years, written in the same vernacular that Willie spoke to keep it authentic…common-sense, hilarious, and absolutely spot-on. I hope this book hits it big!
Here is a great article about the book, its author, and subject, from Chuck Carlson of the Battle Creek Enquirer.
What mama said
When I heard Dan Savage, the renowned sex & relationship advice columnist/podcaster and co-founder of the It Gets Better project, had a new book on the way, I was very excited; I failed to realize that it would result in so much loss of sleep. Having enjoyed his previous books on marriage and adoption and the pursuit of happiness, I was eager to read American Savage : insights, slights, and fights on faith, sex, love, and politics as well. A collection of 17 essays on everything from end-of-life decisions to healthcare to sex education, I intended to savor it slowly. However, Dan’s writing is so enjoyable (though be aware that some of the issues he writes about may be hazardous to your blood pressure, and there is the occasional use of profanity), that I devoured it quickly, to the detriment of my intended bedtime, and it is now on its way to the next reader.
This book is a summary of all the scientific studies that have been done on the placebo effect, neurofeedback (thinking about your disease can help cure it), hypnosis, ESP, near-death experiences and much more. The author is a neuroscientist and the book reads like an exciting textbook on abnormal psychology. Here’s just a taste of the amazingly bizarre studies:
- people walked into the hospital with canes, were given a fake surgery, and played basketball afterwards.
- Tragically, a person was accidentally told they had a tumor and they died several days later. Turns out they did not have a tumor at all and should not have died.
- In a major depression meta-analyses, 75% of all positive results were because of placebo effect.
- A study of London taxi drivers found "compelling evidence that the brains of adults can, indeed, be physically changed by knowledge" (68). The dahlia lama once said “in a real sense the brain we develop reflects the life we lead” and Francis Bacon said “knowledge is power.” So go to your local library and expand your brain with knowledge. :)
- Indian researchers tested a Yogi’s claim that he can stop his heart and survive. They sealed him in an underground pit for 8 days. He stopped his heart for the middle five days and came out alive. The same Yogi, in a study at the Menninger Foundation in Kansas, stuck a long, unwashed sail-maker’s needle through his bicep with no pain, bleeding, or infection.
- In a study of women with breast cancer “the best single predictor of recurrence of cancer or death was the mental attitude of each woman” (100).
- “at age fifteen, John could barely move without causing painful fissures in his ‘black armour plating’”. He had a horrible skin condition known as “fish skin disease,” which made him an outcast. After trying everything, he tried hypnosis. It worked. “The improvement was startling: it ranged from 50 percent on his legs and feet to 95 percent on the right arm…One year after…John had become a normal, happy young man” (110).
- In one Harvard study, psilocybin (the ingredient in magic mushrooms) was shown to occasion mystical experiences. In a later study “two-thirds of the participants who received psilocybin rated it as either the best experience of their lives or within the top five…[they described] larger state of consciousness…unity of all things…two months after the study, 79 percent of them reported moderately or greatly enhanced well-being or satisfaction” (203).
But there’s more. The author is not only a neuroscientist, but a spiritualist, perhaps an experimental drug user like Timothy Leary, an eastern religion meditation-type, a “cosmic consciousness”-quantum-reality-new-age-type. He has come to believe that we have a mind that is separate from the body, that the fundamental nature of the universe is mind-or-consciousness, and that our brains act as a filter on reality, a “reduction” that gets in the way of experiencing the “unity of all things.” Not that any of this is bad. I think any metaphysical interpretation of reality is valid so long as it doesn’t promote hatred or violence. After all, nobody really knows what’s beyond our perception of the world.
My only problem with this book is the author’s word “prove.” That’s a strong word, perhaps too strong for an immaterial, metaphysical entity such as Mind. And he doesn’t do the best job doing it. He says: look at all the cool stuff the mind can do! The skeptic replies: look at all the cool things the brain can do! That’s it; the argument stops there. Two different interpretations of the same studies, the same reality. With metaphysics that's just the way it is.
In other words, the conclusion of the book—“that our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions can greatly influence what is happening in our brains and bodies” stands on solid ground. Even a materialist scientist would agree, provided that by “thoughts” we simply mean another part of the brain (one part of the brain, thought x, influences another part of the brain, hormone y). But this book wants to go further and say: therefore, there is a Mind separate from the brain. Sure, there might be. It’s all a matter of interpretation, as Life of Piteaches.
How do you interpret these studies?
While reading two books, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Two Whole Cakes, I came across references to a movement called “Health at Every Size (HAES).” Unfamiliar with the phrase, I did a little research and found a book called Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon. In her book, Bacon discusses obesity and dieting and concludes that humans have evolved to store fat well, but not to lose it. She uses scientific studies (she herself is a scientist) to back up her argument that diets don’t work and that a number on scale does not determine a person’s health or wellbeing. Bacon urges people not to look at food (any food) as good or bad, but to listen to their bodies and eat food that makes them feel their best—energized and strong. She also encourages readers to incorporate more activity into their daily lives, but to focus on activity that is enjoyable and not a chore.
This is not a diet book; in fact it’s the opposite: Bacon advises people to pay attention the way their bodies feel in relation to food and movement to improve health, not to lose weight. I really, really liked this book; it was incredibly refreshing to read a book talking about health that urges you to listen to your body, to trust it to tell you what you need—I’d rather trust myself with my health than a diet industry that makes a huge profit selling people one particular body ideal.
health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight
Writing about the U.S. presidents has been a popular thing to do throughout most of the history of the country, but especially recently, whether individually or collectively. Here's a rather large volume that has two parts: 1) The Making of the President, 1787, and 2) Presidential Profiles. I found the profile section to be particularly enjoyable. For each president, author Davis gives biographical milestones, quotations, fast facts, a lively summary of the administration, online resources for further information, and a final analysis and grade. This latter item provides the capstone to each chapter. While I don't agree with all of the ratings, I was interested to note the rationale for each. Some are obvious and expected -- Washington and Lincoln get an A+. Three in a row get an F -- Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. But there are some surprises among the rest. This is a nice work of history presented with an entertaining flair.
Don't know much about the American presidents : everything you need to know about the most powerful office on Earth and the men who have occupied it