Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
"Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." - Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela related resources at KPL:
Margaret Atwood brings the trilogy, which she began with the brilliant Oryx and Crake, to a satisfying conclusion with her latest novel, MaddAddam. The story continues on from the events in the second book The Year of the Flood, but also relates back to Oryx and Crake giving readers a more complete picture of the story arc without tying everything up too neatly that it becomes uninteresting. If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, I encourage you to do so, and once you do, I then defy you to not read the other two books. The post-apocalyptic near-future satirical world that Atwood conjures in these books is vividly drawn and fascinating to explore, but its true power comes from the scenarios we can project from the realities of our current world that turn the trilogy from science fiction to plausible prediction.
Author and essayist Chuck Klosterman examines pop culture like nobody else. He seems to revel in each just-right cultural references and to thrill in the depth of his arguments about the shallowest areas of our culture. In his latest collection of essays, I Wear the Black Hat: Grapling with Villians (Real and Imagined), Klosterman takes on the concept of villainy and in quintessential Klosterman style he gleefully examines the role that bad guys play in our culture. To the uninitiated, Klosterman’s rants can get tedious at times and to many readers going on for pages about the gangster rap group N.W.A.’s use of the imagery of the Oakland Raiders professional football team and how both organizations cultivated the image of themselves as bad guys to great success, might seem a bit much. But sticking with Klosterman is well worth it, he is funny and smart and you get the sense that he would probably be writing all this down regardless if anyone actually reads it or not and that kind of commitment to ideas is always worth checking out. As I’ve been reading the essays in I Wear the Black Hat on and off for the past week, I’ve also been reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the greatest sports conspiracy ever, by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell. Nobody illustrates the hero to villain archetype better than Armstrong, O.J. Simpson might be close, and his very public swapping of white hat (or yellow wristband) for black is fully illustrated in Wheelmen. While reading all the sordid details of Armstrongs cheating, I couldn’t help but think of Klosterman’s assessment that a villain is the person who “knows the most, but cares the least” and apply it Armstrong.
I wear the black hat
The long awaited sophomore effort from author Marisha Pessl, Night Film, has received nearly as much hype as her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, received. For me, a lot of publishing industry hype is not always a good thing and can often lead to a total letdown when I actually get around to reading the book. But with Night Film, I’m happy to report, that the hype on this shadowing, page-turning thriller is justified. Like Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the story centers on a father-daughter relationship, but the relationship in Night Film is much much darker, focusing on the details surrounding the suicide of the enigmatic daughter of reclusive and mysterious film maker Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s psychologically dark films have gained a feverish level of notoriety and have sparked the formation of a secretive society of fans who plan underground screenings of his films and hotly debate the film makers shadowy private and family life, and even his very existence. Night Flim is narrated by burned out journalist Scott McGrath, who’s grizzled attitude and ethically challenged investigation lends the book a noir-ish feel. The author does include some unconventional literary stunts to tell the story. Screen shots from webpages, news articles, and other media are sprinkled throughout the book. This my annoy some readers, yet, surprisingly they worked for me and I felt they added something to the richness of the story and were not so frequent as to distract from the flow of the narrative.
Ever get annoyed by any of those TED talks that seem to gloss over the complexities of a problem and present a technological solution that seems too good to be true in its simplicity? Ever feel grumpy when technology pundits seem to assume that there are socially-networked, big data solutions to all of the world’s problems? Well, let me introduce you toEvgeny Morozov, one of the most challenging, snarky, and clearly brilliant people examining technology and its impact on our world today. Morozov’s latest title, To Save Everything Click Here, argues against the ubiquitous “solutionism” and “Internet-centric” thinking that seeks slick and efficient technology based solutions to nearly all of mankind’s problems and fails to recognize, or even consider, the value that messiness and inefficiency can often bring to certain systems (American politics being a good example, where conflict, compromise, and messiness are built right into the process). This is not what I would call a “light read” by any stretch, and the shear ferocity of Morozov’s argument can become tedious and annoying along the way, but his appraisal of our modern world and the way that it is developing are well worth it. For more brilliant contrarian views on our networked society see Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.
To Save Everything Click Here
The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest racegives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.
Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race
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
For most of my adult life my cooking repertoire has been severely hindered by both a lack of experience, and thus confidence, and by limiting myself to just a few very basic skills (think - boiling water, pushing down the toaster mechanism, or programming the microwave). But then just a couple years back, likely through a combination of my awareness of the seemingly endless supply of tantalizing cookbooks that KPL acquires for the collection and a growing interest in cooking that developed through the popularity of cooking shows on television and how easy they make things seem, I started to really read those cookbooks and began looking for things that I could actually attempt. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that a good recipe makes all the difference. I can’t say that everything that I create would challenge Bobby Flay, but when it works it feels like nothing short of alchemy to me to be able to pull together a great meal from simple, healthy ingredients and with my limited culinary skillset. My favorite recipes and best results have come from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’ve had success with other cookbooks as well. The latest recipes that I’ve tried came from Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes by Ming Tsai. I’ve made Chicken & tri-bell pepper chow mein (pg. 34), Wonton shrimp & noodle soup (pg. 156), and Asian sloppy joes with hoisin sauce (pg. 71) and they were all just as advertised – quick, healthy, and really good!
Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes
Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one Dorito? Or why that can of Coca-Cola seems to call out to you from behind the refrigerator door? Read, Pullitzer Prize winning author, Michael Moss’s latest book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and you will wonder no more. The short answer, science. Plus millions of dollars in advertising and loads and loads of salt, sugar, and fat tossed in just to make sure we can't get enough. Moss takes readers inside the story of the rise of the processed food industry into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today and how big food’s insatiable craving for profit has left an obesity epidemic and generations with poor eating habits in its wake. Salt Sugar Fat is certainly a cautionary tale, and will have every reader questioning their own consumer behavior and eating habits. But Moss’s tone isn't overly preachy and takes a pragmatic view of the food industries focus on providing the much in demand convenience of processed food with the need for individuals to be aware of and responsible for what they put into their bodies. Highly recommended.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Readers of a certain age may have an image of the artist David Byrne in that big kabuki inspired suit he was wearing around the time the 1983 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense came out. Byrne was the lead singer of that popular "new wave" band. If that is the case, and you have not kept tabs on the artist, I urge you to update that image of Byrne and to explore the multifaceted work that he has produced since those big suit wearing days. And checking out Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, is a perfect way to do just that. How Music Works is a fascinating analysis of the power of music and musical performance. From the music neophyte to jaded indie rockers, every music fan will find something to peak their interest in this difficult to define book. Equal parts music theory, social science, and memoir How Music Works is as entertaining as it is informative. Byrne’s brainy but casual writing style here is similar to his voice in his last book, the also great, Bicycle Diaries and it works very well with the content. This is a must read for music fans and fans of Byrne (old and new!) alike.
How Music Works
The engaging and darkly humorousCare of Wooden Floors, a debut novel by UK journalist Will Wiles, tells the tale of a nameless house-sitter who is given the opportunity to get away from his rather drab life in London and visit a nameless eastern European city to watch over the sleek and ultra-modern apartment of an old college friend and finally concentrate without distraction on the creative writing that he tells himself he has in him. Oscar, the friend, a renowned minimalist composer and beyond serious neat freak, leaves nothing in his life to chance. As the narrator discovers a series of obsessively specific notes concerning the care of the flat, and particularly the unique wood floors, it becomes clear that there is more to the house-sitting, and more to the relationship with Oskar, than was assumed. As the story unfolds, and then absurdly unravels, a sense of schadenfreude sets in and readers will revel in the “it can’t get any worse” twists and turns as the simple house-sitting assignment morphs into a downright Kafkaesque existential struggle.
Care of Wooden Floors
Like slowing down to watch as you drive by a highway accident or being sucked into an extended viewing of “fail” videos during your lunch break, reading Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator won’t make you feel good about the world, but once you start reading it is very hard to turn away. The book scandalizes the new media culture by illustrating how the incessant need for fresh new content to feed millions of blogs, the mindless chasing of “pageviews” that is drives bloggers to publish first and verify (or not) later, and an utter lack of anything resembling journalistic integrity allows Holiday, and presumably many others like him, to easily manipulate the media for fun and profit. The first half of the book is basically a how-to guide for new media manipulation as Holiday recounts the ethically corrupt behavior that helped him push Fratire author Tucker Max to the top of bestseller lists and create an almost perpetual buzz around the company American Apparel that has translated into millions of dollars in profit. Most of the exploits that Holiday writes of are completely verifiable, he names names and gives dates, and he does give lip service to having regrets about his actions. But it is hard to feel anything but contempt for Holiday as he uses the second half of the book to indict the world of fast news and our meme-a-minute craving culture, yet continues to exploit and work in the very culture he condemns. Going so far as to push his book into the media spotlight using the very techniques that he "confesses" to in the book. It's a very confusing world we live in. But questioning Mr. Holiday’s motives is very silly when he tells you he is lying in the title, yet I did find this book utterly fascinating and would recommend it to anyone interested in media and the influence of popular culture on the new journalism.
Trust Me, I'm Lying