Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Do you ever listen to “StoryCorps” on NPR? Here it Kalamazoo, it airs on Friday mornings and I’m frequently within listening range as I’m getting ready for work. I’ve read several of the books that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, has put together from transcripts of some of the recordings.
This new one, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is a treasure. The very short, very personal stories are all good reminders of how we are connected to each other and how those connections bind us together in so many interesting ways.
Ties That Bind Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps
I recently read accounts of two long solo walks. One was fictional; one was a memoir. One takes place in England; the other transpires on the west coast of the USA. Still, both books drew me right in, and I found intriguing similarities in the stories.
Harold, the unassuming hero of Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, leaves the house one day to post a letter to a dying friend. Suddenly, his feet take off and before he knows it, he’s headed across England to see her in person, convinced that his journey will keep Queenie alive. Cheryl Strayed was still reeling from the death of her mother and the end of a marriage, when she set off hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, weighted down by much more than her far-too-heavy backpack.
Harold and Cheryl are both compelled to continue, day after harrowing day, despite torturous run-ins with ill-suited footwear and other gear. Strayed starts off Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail with a punch. We learn that she has just lost one of her hiking boots down the side of the mountain. They never fit well, anyway, and what good is one boot without the other? Her reaction, then, is to heave the other out into the abyss, and we are left wondering how on earth she made it safely home, without hiking gear for her feet. (Read the book to find out!)
Strayed and Joyce each give excellent descriptions of nature discovered, and human connections created, along the way. The people they meet enrich their experiences; however, ultimately both the heroine and the hero find the strength to complete their journeys solo, facing down inner demons in the process.
Wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail
Are you interested in modern art, but don’t know quite what to make of it? Do you just keep your mouth shut, because you don’t want to come across as stupid? Do you wish you had taken the time to take the Art Appreciation class in college instead of rushing through, taking only classes that fulfilled degree requirements?
Well, What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz can help you out a bit in all three of these cases. Gompertz was the director of London’s Tate Gallery and is now the BBC Arts Editor. He introduces you to dozens of artists and art movements from Impressionism up to the present, showing how each fed off those that came before and often were rebellions against the ideas of the earlier artists. My favorite part was a fun story about Robert Rauschenberg asking Willem de Kooning for a drawing so he could erase it. It’s interesting how many of the names that we use to categorize different movements were taken from derogatory reviews of their work.
The book includes some color plates of art work in the middle as well as some black and white images sprinkled throughout the text, but you will find yourself searching the internet for many of the works of art that are discussed, but not depicted. You will want to see what he is talking about and you might find yourself making your own explorations online.
This is a really easy to read and fun introduction to modern art.
What Are You Looking At?
John Berryman is the kind of poet that has always interested me. He was an emotionally tormented soul for most of his life and whose complicated verse radiated both a deep intelligence and humane tenderness, sometimes within a single line. His most famous work, the epic Dream Songs series, is considered by many critics to be among the best written, if not some of the most highly influential poetry of the post-war period. Berryman’s work is difficult to describe but he’s often lumped in with the Confessional Poets (see: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton). One moment, Berryman’s voice is raw and revealing, the next, lyrically abstract but heartbreakingly profound. For those looking into his work, I recommend the Dream Songs, a masterful work that like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Pound's Cantos or Olson's Maximus Poems, possesses both variety and thematic continuity.
John Berryman: Collected Poems
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
Cassia Reyes lives in a peaceful, carefully planned Society where citizens are sorted into occupations and matched with their mates by government officials who use statistical modeling and drugs to ensure the perfect lives for their people. Cassia has no real needs- food, shelter, schooling, and even death are tightly controlled: a planned 80-year lifespan limitation may seem a little cold, but everything is done by the Officials for the good of the people. When Cassia is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, everything appears to be going exactly according to the Society's plans, but when the face of Ky (an "Aberration", prohibited from the same rights as normal citizens) briefly appears on Cassia's screen in error, the perfection of the Society begins to unravel.
While there may be an unavoidable comparison to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who has to choose between the love of two boys, oppressive government and society), the similarities are only surface-level. Matched is thoughtful, less action-oriented, and has more in common with A Brave New World, 1984 or The Giver. The story continues in two sequels, and the scope of the conflict between the Society's ideals and the desire of humans to make their own choices widens.
Want to know more? Meet author Ally Condie on Thursday, November 7th, 6:30 PM at Central library!
I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.
The Wish List
I have just finished reading A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen, a true account of the author’s remarkable relationship with his best friend, the feline Bob. At the time of their first meeting, Bowen is a struggling street musician, who has to carry the additional burden of trying to shake off a heroin addiction problem. Day to day survival on the streets of London was his only preoccupation.
One gloomy March evening, James notices a ginger cat curled up on a doormat outside a ground floor flat. Having always had a soft spot for cats, and seeing the same cat on several subsequent occasions, James decides to give him a little loving attention; something which the poor puss seems to crave. Upon closer inspection, the cat appears to be a real beauty with memorable, piercing green eyes. But its obvious that just like James, he too has been somewhat down on his luck of late. His coat is in poor condition, thin with bald patches in places. And one of his back legs, which the cat holds in an awkward manner, is clearly in need of medical attention.
James tries to find the cat’s owner, but no one wishes to claim or take responsibility for him. So James makes up his mind to transport him back to his own threadbare flat. He offers the tom some milk and a bit of tuna mashed up with biscuits which is enthusiastically wolfed down in no time. After the meal, the cat settles in a comfortable spot near the radiator moving only when James goes to bed, whereupon he wraps himself up into a ball by James’ feet. James is pleased with his new company; something he hasn’t had a lot of recently. And the cat seems to enjoy what must be very fine accommodations compared to what he had experienced in recent times, and with the added bonus of a gentle soul and kindred spirit for a flat mate.
At first, James attempts to heal the animal’s abscessed leg with a home remedy. This does not work, and he ends up taking the cat to see a local vet. After paying twenty two pounds for the visit out of the total thirty he has to his name, he decides to name the cat Bob, after a favorite character in the Twin Peaks series called “Killer Bob”. Although James enjoys Bob’s company, he doesn’t want to form a close bond with the feline, because he plans to return him back to the streets after he is healed and neutered.
Following the neutering operation, James tries to implement his original plan to set the tom free, but Bob would have none of that. He becomes James’ shadow, following James wherever he goes, often by sitting on his shoulder and looking out the window of a double-decker bus as they travel around London.
James was a guitar playing busker in Covent Garden. Ordinarily, no one would exchange a look with James, much less try to engage him in conversation. He was just another grubby London panhandler that most people don’t see; a person to be avoided and even shunned. But with Bob by James’ side or on his shoulder, people would stop and broad smiles would break out on their faces. Seeing James in the company of the cat softened him in the eyes of the public. Coins and pounds were dropped into his guitar case, sometimes even before he began playing his guitar. Bob was indeed a charmer and that first day busking with the feline was the most lucrative of James’ career up to that point. With time, people started to bring Bob tidbits of food, homemade knitted sweaters, and even asking to purchase Bob who was definitely not for sale. The cat gave the man back his dignity and identity as well as a chance to get back on life’s right track. In James’ eyes, Bob was truly priceless.
James has now lived with Bob for several years, and they are still going strong. James believes in karma – that what goes around, comes around. And he believes that Bob came into his life at an exact, crucially important moment. Bob became the best mate who guided James towards a different, more productive way of living. He states in the last two lines of the book, “Everybody needs a break, everybody deserves that second chance. Bob and I had taken ours...”
Anyone who loves cats or animals will be drawn to this feel good book, about the power of love between a man and an animal. Bob is one remarkable cat who did save James’ life. This read will put a smile on your face and maybe produce a few tears of joy as well.
Long live Bob, James and the human/animal spirit!
Follow Street Cat Bob on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.
A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life
How is climate change affecting wildlife? That's the question A Warmer World considers. Of course there are many more questions around climate change that could be at the top of human civilization's priority list. How will climate change affect low-lying coastal communities? How will climate change affect the availability of fresh water? How will climate change affect the availability of food for humans? Since climate change will affect children to a greater extent than it will affect people who are adults now, it makes sense for parents and caregivers to educate our children about what's happening and why. Children and animals have this in common: they didn't create this problem but will need to adapt to it.
A Warmer World
Today while maintaining the shelves to the high standard of orderliness to which you have become accustomed, I found this book: Killer librarian by Mary Lou Kirwin, and I immediately wanted to read it. However, duty called (sadly, my duties do not include dropping everything to read every fun book I run across while at work) and I am adding yet another title to the list. This happens a lot, and the list is long. I plan to check this out some day when I want a quick and easy read, as it looks to be the sort of cozy mystery to curl up with on a lazy afternoon, and finish by bedtime with no fear of nightmares.