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Staff Picks: Books

A Happy Diversion

One afternoon as I was browsing through the wonderful offerings in our first floor new non-fiction section, I was surprised to find what looked like a children's book among the rest. But, after picking it up I could see the logic of why it was where it was. This book has reproductions of almost 1000 of the comic strips featuring character Nancy Ritz, who was introduced in 1925 into an already existing comic strip, which, when at its strongest, ran in 880 newspapers. Although probably intended for nostalgic adult audiences, this book is a light-hearted publication for anyone. It is a delight.

Do Not Sell At Any Price

As any collector of ephemeral objects knows, there comes a point when what started out as mere passing interest becomes a crippling, overwhelming obsession. While I've collected music on LPs, 45s, cassettes and CDs for over 30 years, and I know the feeling that comes with tracking down that ultra-rare copy of some long-forgotten record by some obscure band whose name has been lost to the mists of time, after reading Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78 RPM Records by Amanda Petrusich I'm thinking my collecting issues have nothing on the hyper-competitive, desperate individuals who collect 78 RPM records from the beginning of the recorded music era. While anybody can walk into a used record store and find an LP or CD from a relatively obscure artist, the challenges of the 78 collector are exponentially greater: Many of the rarest 78s were pressed in extremely limited quantities to begin with, and most of the master recordings were destroyed or recycled, leaving only the brittle, delicate, and increasingly rare (and expensive)78 discs themselves as the only evidence of much of recorded music from the turn of the 20th century. Petrusich starts her descent into collecting madness innocently enough when she interviews a 78 collector for a Spin magazine on the resurgence of vinyl records, and quickly discovers just how far removed from typical collecting the 78 market is. After listening to some rare recordings, she's bitten by the 78 bug. What follows is part history lesson and part travelogue, as Petrusich visits flea markets, barns, libraries, and record stores; interviews other obsessed and wary collectors; and even learns to scuba dive in order to search for exceedingly rare 78's rumored to have been thrown into the Milwaukee River when the manufacturing plant closed down. Along the way, what emerges is an amazing and often moving true story about the perils and pitfalls of collecting, a fascinating look at some of the most obscure and beautiful music ever recorded and the obsessive attempts to preserve those few remaining copies by any means necessary. Do Not Sell at Any Price is an astonishing look at one of the near-forgotten parts of American cultural history and worth your own obsessive examination.

Yes Please

Others may have blogged about this book when it was first published last year, so I might well be late to the party, so to speak. However, it is a perfect example of the right book at the right time.

I had just finished reading two serious World War II novels and two sobering nonfiction books; I needed something light. I’m generally not a fan of celebrity memoirs, but Yes Please by Amy Poehler was a welcome contrast to those serious fiction and nonfiction books.

Poehler’s writing style is similar to Nora Ephron’s. She is funny, witty, and provides a good mix of personal and SNL back stories. This is part memoir, part real life advice, part just fun.

From Orphan to Dancer!

This is truly a feel-good story. It all started when Michaela was living at an orphanage in Sierra Leone with her best friend Mia. Of course, life was not easy on the orphanage, especially for Michaela. She missed her parents and she had a condition called “vitiligo”, which she got teased for. One day the wind blew a dream in to her. It was a picture of a ballerina. What Michaela liked most about the picture was how happy and beautiful the dancer looked in her pink tutu. To be happy like the dancer was something she wanted for herself and it became a dream that she held unto. The orphan children had to escape Sierra Leone. It was a long and dangerous walk to West Africa. But, Papa Andrew led the children to a better place and he found families for some of them. Mia and Michaela were adopted by Elaine DePrince. Elaine made sure that Michaela would have the lessons and life that she needed to make her Ballerina Dreams come true.

This book was written by Michaela and Elaine DePrince. I admire them so much. Michaela for a beauty inside and out that allowed her to pursue her dream and Elaine for continuing to go to West Africa to adopt girls. This makes me wonder what other dreams has she made come true. What amazing people!

Recent literary award announcements

The literary awards season is now in full swing, with the recent announcements of the Man Booker Prize shortlist, the National Book Awards longlist, and the longlist for the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Non-fiction.

The Man Booker Prize is awarded for the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom. The 2015 shortlist:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

The winner will be announced on October 13.

The National Book Awards honor the best American writing in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature.

Fiction 2015 longlist:
A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball
Refund: Stories by Karen E. Bender
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Mislaid by Nell Zink

Non-fiction 2015 longlist:
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Mourning Lincoln by Martha Hodes
Hold Still by Sally Mann
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii by Susanna Moore
Love and Other Ways of Dying: Essays by Michael Paterniti
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith
Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir by Michael White

Poetry 2015 longlist:
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
Scattered at Sea by Amy Gerstler
A Stranger's Mirror by Marilyn Hacker
How to Be Drawn by Terrance Hayes
The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield
Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis
Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
Elegy for a Broken Machine by Patrick Phillips
Heaven by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Mistaking Each Other for Ghosts by Lawrence Raab

Young People’s Literature 2015 longlist:
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz, with Kekla Magoon
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

The finalists will be announced on October 14, and the winners will be announced on November 18.

The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction recognize the best fiction and nonfiction books for adult readers published in the United States during the previous year.

Fiction 2016 longlist:
The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo
The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg
Outline by Rachel Cusk
The Green Road by Anne Enright
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson
Marvel and a Wonder by Joe Meno
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Honeydew by Edith Pearlman
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
Prudence by David Treuer
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Non-fiction 2016 longlist:
American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity by Christian G. Appy
Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman
Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security by Sarah Chayes
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power by Steve Fraser
Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green
Showdown: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court Nomination That Changed America by Wil Haygood
Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi by Hayden Herrera
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh
How the World Moves: The Odyssey of an American Indian Family by Peter Nabokov
Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal by Jay Parini
On the Move by Oliver Sacks
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
M Train by Patti Smith
To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg
Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World's Superpowers by Simon Winchester
Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

The shortlist will be announced on October 19, and the winners will be announced on January 10.

We are fortunate to have two of these authors visiting Kalamazoo in the coming months, as well as one visiting Ann Arbor.

Bonnie Jo Campbell will visit Central Library on October 15.

Ta-Nehisi Coates will be the keynote speaker for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s Community Meeting on November 3.

Marlon James will give a reading at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor on November 2.


Probably the first Ph.D. dissertation produced in graphic novel form, Unflattening examines the relationship between words and images and the way that Western society tends to devalue images at the expense of words. Author Nick Sousanis cleverly uses comics as a medium for discussing why comics themselves are a revolutionary philosophical concept and a serious challenge to the "flat" way of thinking. Using beautiful, sometimes disorienting artwork and thoughtful language, Unflattening is a fascinating and challenging work of art and science.

The Wright Brothers

Once again, Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough has written a very readable history, this time telling the behind-the-scenes story of Wilbur and Orville Wright in his new book, The Wright Brothers.

Most of us know the basic story of the brothers….they owned and operated a bicycle shop by day and taught themselves the theory of flight by night. Their trials and errors, the close family relationships, their time in France which propelled them to international fame, and their patent battles in the US courts are less well known and make for compelling reading.

It is interesting to realize how far aviation has come in just about 100 years…from Kitty Hawk to the moon. As with other books from McCullough, this one also shares the story of the individuals behind important times in our history.


Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer

 Fannie Lou Hamer has been called “the spirit of the Civil Rights movement” and this oversize book uses her perspective to tell the story of a lifetime of freedom-fighting.  Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer uses poems, songs, and collage illustrations that were inspired by Hamer’s work for civil rights throughout her remarkable life. 


Around the World in 50 Years

This 2015 book is subtitled My Adventure to Every Country on Earth. In it, author Arthur Podell describes his trip around the world and details occurrences both good and bad. We read about the foods he ate, his brushes with the law, how he survived civil wars, riots, unfriendly animals, and insects. Mr. Podell set a record not only for going to every country but also for taking the longest automobile trip. In view of the rough going during parts of the journey, I was amused by the dedication paragraph at the beginning of this book which says, "To my beloved mother and father, may they rest in peace, and may they forgive me for having assured them that this journey was 'nothing to worry about.'"

The art of personality

The example of Andy Warhol is often cited as proof that personality and persona can be just as important as the quality of the work itself when it comes to conceptual art and the vacillations of the “art market”. Warhol himself was quoted as saying “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art.” This concept of the artists themselves being intertwined and integral to the art they produce is at the core of Sarah Thornton’s (Seven Days in the Art World) book 33 Artists in 3 Acts. The book is composed of short chapters that each focus on individual living artists. Many of the artists, or perhaps their work, like Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, and Damien Hirst will be familiar to even those totally unfamiliar with the modern art world, but all of the featured artist offer unique perspective on what it means to be an artist and offer readers a glimpse into a fascinating world. Some of my favorite sections revolve around the Simmons Dunham family, both parents are artists who have been a part of the New York art scene for decades, but over the course of the years that the interviews in this book take place their daughter Lena Dunham goes from recent college graduate to inking a deal with HBO to create the show Girls and then on to cultural icon status well surpassing the public fame and recognition of both her parents combined by the end of the book. The family dynamics were interesting enough with two artist parents! Thornton, who has written about contemporary art for years in the Economist, is trained as a sociologist and this dimension of her background lends an intriguing tone to this really entertaining read.