Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
I first heard of Randy Christensen, MD, when Diane Rehm interviewed him on her show, discussing Ask Me Why I Hurt. “Dr. Randy” is medical director of Crews’n Healthmobile, a mobile medical clinic providing health care for homeless youth in Phoenix, AZ. In this book, Christensen tells the true stories of many of the young people he’s treated on the healthmobile, changing names and identifying characteristics, of course, to protect the privacy of his patients.
We learn early on where the book gets its title, when “Mary” appears outside the van, wearing a beaded bracelet, with the words “ask me why I hurt” spelled out in block letters. Mary nervously avoided the doctor’s direct questions, so it took a while for Dr. Randy to build enough rapport with her to trust he could ask the question, without her running away. When Mary did finally answer him, after several stops to the mobile, he learned she’d been seriously sexually abused by her father. Mary’s and the other teenagers’ stories told in this book are both heartbreaking and heartwarming, as many of them do ultimately find reason to hope and ways to heal.
I take exception to the subtitle: “the Kids Nobody Wants and the Doctor who Heals Them.” To say this book is about the kids nobody wants isn’t the whole truth. Many of the young people seeking health care at Crews’n have experienced serious neglect and/or abuse, often at the hands of family members, that is true. Yet, Mary finds sanctuary and a second chance with her aunt; ultimately, we learn that she goes on to finish her education and complete a master’s degree. Donald—a boy whose father beat him so severely he sustained permanent brain damage--gains a loving family and caring community when Pastor and Mrs. Richardson take him in. Then there are all the workers from HomeBase, a shelter for teens, and UMOM, a shelter for homeless families, who help teens prepare for adult life, via GED and life skills education.
To my mind, the book isn’t really about Randy Christensen. Granted, he shared autobiographical details that help the reader understand the stresses of trying to balance family life with the particular challenges of his chosen career. And yes, as I read the story, I came to care about him, as well as the kids that visit the van. The book is written in first-person narrative, but the main reason for the book is that these young people matter, their stories matter, and Christensen felt they needed to be heard. Christensen shows us that there are a lot of young people suffering, there's a desperate need for more services and protection for them, and yet there are many people who care and are helping teens-at-risk make positive changes in their lives.
Ask Me Why I Hurt
During this busy holiday season, parents and other adults are scrambling about in search of the perfect gift for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Well, look no further!
Consider a gift that will entertain and educate kids of all ages and bring your family closer together. Give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of reading! Reading with a child/children and encouraging them to read independently are two of the most significant things an adult can do to influence a youngster’s life.
Of course, good books make wonderful gifts. Kids naturally enjoy the magic that a book brings as they go over the story and illustrations, (many times, often more than once), practice their reading skills and perhaps learn something new in the process. Magazine subscriptions also make great recurring reading presents.
But maybe the best option for a reading themed gift is to bring a child to the Kalamazoo Public Library sometime during their holiday break. If you time it right, you can attend one of many programs planned for children. Then you can sign up the little guys for their own library cards, which come complete with plastic carrying cases and lanyards. And even though it is free of charge, the amount of pride and joy you’ll see in the little ones’ faces when first presented with it, will form a pleasurable, lasting memory for all gift givers.
Once armed with the card, the child has the entire library’s collection at his or her disposal. They can choose their own books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Of course, librarians are always on hand to aid your young ones in the selection process, helping to match the child with books covering their particular interests, and on their reading level as well. Best of all, this process can be repeated again and again. Just return the items and pick out new ones as many times as you like. Truly the best gift of all. And one that will keep on giving for a lifetime!
Did you ever wonder if you were a psychopath? I hope you answered, “no,” to that question. If you have, please do not comment on my blog entry and I do not work at the Kalamazoo Public Library.
But seriously, all types of folks should enjoy Jon Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test: a Journey Through the Madness Industry. As Ronson tries to untangle the history of the label of psychopath by exploring several different cases, he starts to wonder if the traits of a psychopath are actually advantages in business or the political arena. He also questions his own sanity at several different points, especially after he reads through the mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-IV).
I listened to this book during my commute to work and along with the interesting subject matter, I loved listening to Ronson’s British accent and his, at times, over-excited delivery. I definitely recommend the audiobook.
The Psychopath Test
If you are looking for a funny, poignant, delightfully read audio book, The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith, is just the thing.
The dog in question is a Pimlico terrier, with the rather elegant name of Freddie de la Haye. Freddie and his owner, William, a middle aged wine merchant, live in alively London neighborhood apartment building called Corduroy Mansions, with a varied, quirky assortment of residents.
To his complete surprise, William is approached by British intelligence agency M16 who want to recruit Freddie for a spy mission. It involves placing a tiny recording device in Freddie’s collar, and putting the dog in the middle of a Russian spy ring to monitor conversations.
The mystery involving Freddie is intertwined with stories of Corduroy Mansions residents’ lives, loves and foibles and the reader, Simon Prebble, brings just the right touch to the tale and the characters.
Many readers may recognize the author McCall Smith from the Ladies’ #1 Detective Agency series and other books. The first title in the series about Freddie and his human friends, Corduroy Mansions, is also available at Kalamazoo Public Library.
The Dog Who Came in From the Cold
I just recently traveled to the east coast for my husband’s big birthday celebration. Our entire time on the road was spent listening to the audiobook titled Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. What a great experience it was for the both of us, plus it made a fourteen hour trip just fly by.
The story is about a girl named Aminata who was abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina. Through her eyes, a terrifying part of history comes to vivid life. The narrator’s voice is so captivating that you can’t stop listening until the story ends and then you want more. The language is so poetic at times about a subject so cruel. Here is a quote from the book that I love “If the sky was so perfect why is the earth all wrong?” The story covers six decades of her life and her three crossings of the Atlantic.
My husband, a history buff, enjoyed the audiobook so much that he’s now going to the library and checking out his own audiobooks. He just finished Abraham Lincoln by George McGovern and is currently listening to Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Being a reciprocal borrower, he was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of resources Kalamazoo Public Library has to offer its patrons.
Someone Knows My Name
I wonder how many times I’ve read this book aloud. Hundreds, at least. I remember the book from my childhood and I’ve since shared it with children at home and at the library.
How is it that a book published in 1941, with illustrations in only one color, is so loved by kids? Those one-color illustrations in Make Way for Ducklings are certainly a big part of the attraction... the ducks are realistic, the perspectives and angles are varied, and there’s a strong feeling of movement and action. But the story is nearly perfect, as well. Words are practical yet poetic, the conversations between Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are wry; Mrs. Mallard, especially, has a bit of attitude that allows for no nonsense from anyone or anything.
If it’s been a while since you’ve spent some time with Robert McCloskey’s ducklings, visit the Children’s Room for a reminder of the power of a picture book.
Make Way for Ducklings
It has been a long time since I’ve read any Hemingway. The Paris Wife, although fiction, is a look at his early years and the jazz age literary scene in Paris in the 1920’s.
The book is written in the voice of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife. They met in Chicago, were married after a whirlwind courtship, and headed to Paris—part of the “lost generation” that included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others.
Although Hemingway wrote “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her,” their marriage was doomed in the hard drinking, fast living, huge egos of the time as Hemingway struggled to find his writing voice and eventually published The Sun Also Rises, dedicated to Hadley.
My book group will discuss The Paris Wife later this month. I’m guessing we all will have thoroughly enjoyed it and we’ll have some interesting conversation about the times, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and the others. Did the books of that generation stand the test of time? Are they still read and appreciated? There will be much to talk about!
The Paris Wife
Minding Frankie is one of Maeve Binchy’s best novels yet! Baby girl Frankie is born to mother Stella, who is dying of cancer. Stella names Noel--an alcoholic struggling with work and life, who has had no recent contact with Stella—as the father. Noel is forced to step up to the plate and do right by this infant. As a result, his life is transformed, as well as the lives of many family members and neighbors.
As happens also in Jan Karon novels, the lives of Maeve Binchy's characters intertwine with each other in unexpected ways. We get to know and care about who they are, how they are growing and how their lives touch each other. In recent Binchy novels, I’ve felt a strong thread of cynicism that has frankly put me off. The classic Binchy irony appeared again in this novel, but she left the cynicism out, allowing the humor and richness of the busy world we inhabit to shine through.
I would rank this one right up there with Evening Class.
I was looking for a “good listen” book on CD for an upcoming car trip, and selected The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. It was a lucky choice. Mummies, mystery, and lots of action make for a riveting story.
When a mummy is discovered in the basement of a Boston museum, it’s dubbed “Madam X” in the ensuing media attention. Everyone assumes it’s an ancient mummy- until a very modern bullet is discovered in the body when the wrappings are removed.
It’s up to homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles to unravel the tangled tale, and to figure out why additional recently mummified bodies are appearing.
Information about Egyptology in the story is a plus, in this seventh in the series by Gerritsen that began with The Surgeon. TNT also has a TV series called, not unsurprisingly, “Rizzoli and Isles.”
David McCullough is in the news for his new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. By coincidence, I just read one of his early books, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968.
I grew up in Pennsylvania and although I had heard of the Johnstown flood, I knew nothing about it. I’m a fan of McCullough’s and when I realized one of his earliest works was about the flood, I knew it would be a readable account of this tragedy.
The flood occurred on Memorial Day, 1889, when a huge storm caused the dam and lake at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to give way and rush fifteen miles down the mountain destroying everything in its path, including much of Johnstown. Over 2200 people perished.
The Club was a mountain resort with large “cottages” of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest – Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, among others. When they bought the property the dam was neglected and “repairs” were made. Although there were many lawsuits, none were won and the club assumed no responsibility.
Of course floods are in the news currently. Now, unlike 122 years ago, there is some advance warning and preparation time, and a realization of the devastation that can occur.
This is yet another very readable, historical narrative from McCullough. Even though I knew the outcome of course, there is feeling of terror as the water approaches and the town is swept away.
The Johnstown Flood