Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Download a Little Bit of History

An important academic voice for more than three decades, Manning Marable’s scholarly career was defined by an eclectic and astute collection of books that explored the relationship between racial politics, capitalism, and African American history. His final book prior to his death in April of this year was a controversial biography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention). This National Book Award nominated title can be downloaded to your e-reader device or tablet.


Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Kill Alex Cross (I keep rooting for the Villain)

 "Kill Alex Cross" by James Patterson. There are times I'd like to kill Alex Cross or at least let him get beat up like he did in a previous book. For those of you who do not know Alex Cross, he is a Detective working in Washington DC and is a recurring character in James Patterson books. For those of you who do know him, do you find him as arrogant and full of himself as I do? In this book the President's children go missing. Even though there are literally thousands of intelligent agents from all sorts of agencies; Secret Service, FBI etc, Alex Cross thinks if only he could see the evidence he could solve this. Unfortunately he is James Patterson's protagonist so of course he solves the crimes and is the hero. That said, I did find this book to be a page turner and stayed up too late nights reading just one more chapter. In addition to the president's children missing there is also a terrorist group doing bad things. I'm not sure how I feel about books that detail how a terrorist group could poison the water, or sabotage the subway etc, on one hand it makes us more aware but on the other hand it hands over to a terrorist group a plan of attack. Course a lot of mysteries show you how to commit the perfect crime. The other thing that bugs me about Alex Cross is how he thinks he is the best dad in the world when really his nana is raising those children. He just shows up from time to time like a divorced dad with visitation rights. Keeping in mind this is a fictional character I give kudos to James Patterson, he elucidated a response out of me and made Alex Cross Real. His name is on many books in collaboration with another writer. Personally I think those books are written by those writers and James Patterson just had editorial rights. I like the Alex Cross novels best and I anxiously await his next Alex Cross Book.



Kill Alex Cross

Are You a Psychopath?

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
Steve S

Memoirs of a Goldfish

Ever wonder what a day in the life of a goldfish is like?  Well, wonder no longer.  Michgan author Devin Scillian's brilliant book, Memoirs of a Goldfish (excellently illustrated by Tim Bowers), takes you through not only a day but several days for an adorable little goldfish.  He gets curious, grumpy, lonely, excited, and nervous among many other things.  He finds friends, love, and probably himself.   I like him and so will you!  (P.S.  Tell all your friends about him, too, since this book is the Michigan Reads! title for 2011!)


Memoirs of a Goldfish

Minding Frankie

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.


Minding Frankie

What would you do for family?

Lisa Gardner had me guessing, backtracking and rethinking. She did it, she didn’t do it or how could she do it! In Love You More a female state trooper must fight the battle of her life for her survival and the survival of the most important person in the world to her. This is a passionate suspense that touches on the lives of many and the relationships that intertwine with them. Great story! I was hooked from the beginning and could not put it down!

This title comes in many formats. I'm sure you can find the right one for you.


Love you more

One Hundred Names for Love

I love language. One of my favorite quotes is from poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye who said: 
It is really hard to be lonely very long in a world of words. Even if you don't have friends somewhere, you still have language, and it will find you and wrap its little syllables around you and suddenly there will be a story to live in.
Whether I’m writing or speaking, I have always enjoyed the process of choosing just the right word for the right situation. I can’t imagine not having that ability. This is why I have been looking forward to reading Diane Ackerman’s new memoir, which chronicles her experience of seeing her husband, author Paul West, suffer a stroke and immediately lose his own ability to use language. As Ackerman poignantly describes the impact of this loss: "Words had been his pastime, solace, and obsession for so many decades. How on earth would he now pass the time? More like let time pass over him. Surely his days now held more hours than before, idle hours alone and with no words as windup toys." (p. 87) For this particular couple, a shared love of words and wordplay is what had brought them together in the first place, having played a continuous and ubiquitous role in their marriage. The devastation of losing that connection, and ultimately regaining it, is the basis for Ackerman’s story.

As I expected, my emotions have been stirred and my sensibilities challenged, as I read this touching love story and try to imagine an existence without the ability to say exactly what’s on my mind, and to say it with just the right words.

One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing


Karen S

Coming in July...

When I read an entire book in a day--not a common occurrence for me--I know it must have something special. Such is the case with Once Upon a River, the next offering by Kalamazoo's own National Book Award nominee, Bonnie Jo Campbell. And for this, I credit Campbell's mastery of language; her sound, down-to-earth characterizations; and a setting I could actually feel in my bones. This is the story of sixteen-year-old Margo Crane’s struggle to find the mother who abandoned her, while carving out her own existence along the fictitious Stark River in southwest Michigan following her father's untimely death. And yet, life on the river is not the challenge one might expect it to be; in fact, that is where Margo feels most at home. Rather it is in the relationships--and self-discovery--that happen along the journey that we come to know Margo best. While published for an adult audience, teen readers will identify as well.

As you anticipate the release of this title (July 2011), you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on some of Campbell's previous work. I know I will. 


Once Upon a River

Karen S

Beyond biography

I admit that before reading Douglas Coupland’s unique and, in my opinion, brilliant new biography Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! I really did know very little about McLuhan aside from the few well-known McLuhan-isms that seem to make up most people’s knowledge of McLuhan; his famous declaration that the medium is the message turning out to be just as prescient and unclear in its intent as Andy Warhol’s prediction that in the future we would all be famous for 15 minutes. But since we now live in the world that McLuhan so clearly predicted nearly half a century ago (as did Warhol for that matter – youtube anyone?), I found it fascinating to read about the man himself and to find him so complex and full of contradictions and, filtered as he is through multiple layers of pop culture, nothing like what I thought he was like. A quick internet search gives us easy access to the chronological facts of McLuhan’s life, a quick glance at the Wikipedia page devoted to him will give you the highlights, but this biography provides something much more, something human and modern and interesting in and of itself, even if you care nothing about Marshal McLuhan. This slim volume is structured nothing like a conventional biography, it bounces all over the place in short little dissociated blurbs of text, but the choice of this approach in Coupland’s accomplished hands is perfect and renders the book and the subject much more interesting than a straight telling of the facts would have. The way that the format of this book added to deeper understanding of the subject reminds me of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and the way that book added to my understanding of the build up to WWII in such an interesting and meaningful way.


Marshal McLuhan: You Know Nothing of my Work!

Expanded Best Seller List

I always skim the lists of bestsellers in the Sunday New York Times Book Review when the library copy comes my way. The lists have traditionally included hardcover fiction and nonfiction, and paperbacks in various formats and genres.

Not surprisingly, there are now two news lists: E-Book Best Sellers and Combined Print and E-Book Best Sellers. There is also a comparison of the fiction bestsellers – where the same title falls on the print list vs. the e-book list.

There is quite a bit of overlap. The titles high on the print lists are also high on the e-book list. Obviously readers want a particular title and the format is increasingly unimportant.

Is the format important / unimportant to you? I admit I still prefer print.


The New York Times Best Sellers
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