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Staff Picks: Books

The Fire This Time

As a white person, watching the events unfold at Charlottesville this past weekend has been a bit surreal—and, of course, deeply disturbing. It’s hard to believe that in 2017 white nationalism is so prominent, but I think it’s hard for me to understand because I don’t experience oppression based on my skin color the way people of color do. As a white person, I’m often wondering what I can do to help change things and make it so white supremacy has no place in our country. As a librarian, I know that knowledge is power and that we have plenty of knowledge behind our doors. I can suggest a few books for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of racism in the U.S.: The Fire Next Time and The Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race. The Fire Next Time is a beautiful, poetically written essay by James Baldwin, published in 1963 as the civil rights movement was gaining traction in the U.S. I read it when I was 20, in a Black American Literature class at WMU, and was deeply moved by Baldwin’s experiences as a black man and his passionate call for racial justice 100 years after the end of slavery.

Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race is a collection of essays and poetry by black writers published in 2016 and edited by Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for her novel Savage the Bones. It’s response to Baldwin’s essay and a continued rallying call for racial justice over 50 years after his essay was originally published. Comparing and contrasting these two books is a great way for white people to deepen their understanding of racism and its hold in the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about racism or other topics related to social justice, I suggest searching “KPL Social Justice collection” in our catalog. The library has begun gathering works on a variety of topics, such as racism, feminism, ableism, and more in an effort to support social justice in the Kalamazoo community. You can learn more about our social justice commitment here.

 


Echo

When more than one patron and all the youth librarians you know, say you should listen to a particular audiobook, you must listen.  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is an incredible book but it might be the best audiobook I've ever listened to. It's so good that I want to keep driving around instead of parking my car and getting to work. It's a story within a story about a young boy named Frederik, living in the heart of the Black Forest, during the early Hitler years. His father, an accomplished cellist, is deemed a Jewish sympathizer and is arrested and taken from Frederik. He's left to figure out how to navigate this most dangerous new world without him. But did I mention, Frederik does carry with him a magical harmonica. And that's just Part 1. Part 2 opens in Pennsylvania! This incredible story is suspenseful and superbly performed, with multiple voices and musical pieces throughout. It's historical fiction and fantasy combined into one amazing story. Available from KPL in print, Ebook, and audiobook as Compact Disc or through our downloadable service, Hoopla.


Potted

If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your patio or trying to perk up your houseplants, Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Plants is a great place to start. Potted offers a variety of fun d.i.y projects to build cool and creative pots for all sorts of plants, whether in outdoors spaces or inside on a windowsill. The instructions are detailed and include a number of pictures, making these d.i.y’s a no-brainer.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

I’m deeply in love with the book We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. She writes with a candor that can be uncomfortable at times, but with a purpose: self-reflection that compels the reader to see their own humanity. This book is about what it is to be a person, because being a person is horrible a lot of the time, occasionally all right, and usually ridiculously funny. Irby is so incredibly funny that I spit out my coffee multiple times while reading this book because I couldn’t control my laughter. Read this book.


You'll Have a Yabba Dabba Doo Time

I just read a graphic novel from Hoopla that contained some of the best social commentary in the past few years. Surprisingly it was from the recent DC Comics re-imagination of the cartoon classic, The Flintstones.

Mark Russell has crafted an irreverent story that not only updates the Hanna-Barbera cartoon (how do you update a story set in the past?), but also tackles some pretty serious social issues like war, politics, consumerism, the institute of marriage, and religion. Fred is less Ralph Kramden and more sensitive, modern Stone Age father. Wilma is trying to find her place in this newly formed civilization by painting Modern art. Pebbles is a moody, yet wise teenager fighting against the system. Barney, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm are still around helping the Flintstones navigate civilization and provide the loving friendship we remember from the TV show.

Steve Pugh’s art is an excellent hybrid of the cartoon style we are used to seeing and the 21st Century stylings in current comic books. You can spend hours trying to find all the hidden jokes in each panel. I was never a huge fan of The Flintstones, but I still very much enjoyed Russell and Pugh’s witty and intelligent take on everyone’s favorite prehistoric family unit.


Meaty

I’m late in discovering the hilarious and uncomfortably honest writer Samantha Irby. I happened to hear her speak with fellow funny feminist writer, Lindy West, at Bookbug recently, and immediately picked up her 2013 debut Meaty. I loved it and only regret that I hadn’t read it sooner. Meaty is a collection of essays about Irby’s life, touching on topics such as sex, fatness, blackness, poverty, and of course, tacos. I devoured this funny and sometimes-crass book quickly and wanted more. Luckily, Irby has a new book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, coming out at the end of May.


Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout!

Available as an eBook and a print format book, Let's Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn it Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood, is a beautifully illustrated new collection that is chock full of great songs, proverbs, rhymes, and stories. I’m excited about this new title because it provides lots of great activities for caregivers to talk, read, sing, write, and play with their young children while providing a personalized historical perspective. Brian Pinkney’s swirling illustrations represent the constant movement that makes up the lives of children. Patricia McKissack, often with her husband Frederick L. McKissack, has authored many books including biographies, picture books, novels for older readers, and fascinating history. This wonderful new collection, with something for readers or read-tos of all ages, is a very welcome addition!


Passing

It’s Black History Month! A time to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, but also a great time to examine some of the social issues and complexities of race in America. For all of the insistence upon inherent difference between races, it is actually just a social construct based on appearance with a few cultural differences thrown in for good measure. Or as Maya Angelou put it in her poem Human Family, “we are more alike, my friends/ than we are unalike.”

In the 1920’s when Black Americans were treated poorly and granted way less opportunities for success, many fair-skinned Black Americans decided to cut ties with their family and friends to  try and live out the American Dream the best way they knew how—by pretending to be White. Americans were all too aware of this, and as a result, there were many films and novels focused on the subject of passing.

My absolute favorite novel from this time period is Passing by Nella Larsen. Published in 1929, during the Harlem Renaissance, the story follows two women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, childhood friends who meet later as adults. Irene is married, and living in Harlem right in the hub of the Black social circle, while Clare, a wealthy socialite who married a racist White man, is passing for White.

Passing explores themes of deception, jealousy, loyalty and betrayal. It’s a tale of fashionable frenemies, scandalous parties, and a crazy twist ending I’d love to talk to you about if you get a chance to read it. I love it to pieces and hope you will too.


Faithful

I’m an Alice Hoffman fan. I’ve read just about everything she has written, some I like more than others. Faithful is one of my favorites of hers.

This is a story of tragedy and sorrow. Shelby and Helene are best friends in high school until an accident changes both of their lives.

Grief, guilt, recovery, friendship – it is all here but I didn’t find it as depressing as it sounds from this description. I agree with the reviewer who wrote…. “there is unique magic that Hoffman casts in all of her novels; seriously, this is a novel for anyone who has faith.”

This is a beautiful novel about surviving, forgiving ourselves, and connecting with others.


Miss Jane

From Miss Jane by Brad Watson:

“She was born into that time and place, in the farmland cut from the pine and broadleaf woods of east-central Mississippi, 1915, when there was no possibility of doing anything to alleviate her condition, no medical procedure to correct it. It was something to be accepted, grim-faced, as they accepted crop failure, debt, poverty, the frequent deaths of infants and small children from fevers and other maladies.”

The novel Miss Jane is a beautifully-written character study of a girl born alone in every way—an odd duck in a family worn down by hardship, alienated from society due to the unique nature of her disability and in no small part to simple geography. She is alone save for the paternal kindness of a country doctor. But there is something about Jane Chisolm, something deep inside, that allows her to connect with nature and build a meaningful life in solitary. I can’t say enough about this book; Brad Watson writes with empathy for his heroine, an empathy that extends out to all of us experiencing the human condition. Using beautiful descriptions of nature to foster tone and atmosphere in the novel, Watson creates a striking sensory experience that propels Miss Jane to the forefront of great contemporary fiction.