Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
It took me almost a whole year to read through Andrew Solomon’s deeply moving book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. One reason is because it is so long (over 700 pages) and the other is because it was a little bit popular among Kalamazoo residents so I would have it for three weeks and then return it to fill a hold and get it back several weeks later. I don’t think this was a bad way to experience this book. It is so dense and at times emotionally draining, it was good to move slowly and take some time off.
Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families coping with children with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities; and with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender. The summary in our catalog describes the book as, “elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance--all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.”
Do not be put off by the size of the book. If you just can’t get yourself to take on a project that big, the chapters stand mostly alone so you could pick and choose what you wanted to read. Also, just reading the introduction is highly satisfying, as you encounter more compelling and fascinating ideas than most whole books.
In the chapter on transgender children, Solomon mentions a documentary titled Prodigal Sons that was made by one of the subjects of that chapter. I was delighted to see that the library owned a copy and I highly recommend it.
Far From the Tree
Think back….way back when you were a kid in the library or at home reading a book. It was your ah-hah moment…. when reading a book struck you as something to remember for the rest of your life. Well, at the library, we as the staff were challenged to think about our stories. So, I went home and asked my daughters what were theirs.
My 24 year old said for her it was when I would visit her school library twice a year to read. I always read The Gunniwolf. The Gunniwolf retoldby Wilhelmina Harper is a “don’t go in the jungle” story. It’s a little scary as the little girl after seeing flowers on the edge of the jungle goes further and further in and then meets up with the wolf. She had been so excited by the beautiful flowers that she was singing a song when the wolf rose up. The wolf demanded that she sing the song for him and he would fall asleep. While he was asleep she would try to make her escape….”PIT-pat, PIT-pat, PIT-pat” and the wolf would wake up and chase her “hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA”…..The little girl eventually escapes.
Glenna said that all the kids loved it. It made her feel like a superhero for the day. I am so glad to be part of her ah-hah moment…..
Bob Graham’s books always catch my eye... his stories are often about the ordinary things that happen in families with young kids and the illustrations have all kinds of interesting things to look at.
In The Silver Button one thing happens: Jodie draws a duck and then her baby brother takes his first step. But what else is happening? Subsequent pages show other parts of the neighborhood and then we realize that myriad things are happening and all at the same time!
This book is a little unusual, but very satisfying.
The Silver Button
At a library conference this summer, I heard Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, rave about a soon-to-be released book, The Goldfinch, by her good friend, Donna Tartt. I added it to my reading list.
I just finished this lengthy novel. At almost 800 pages it does take a substantial investment of time and I agree with some reviewers that some sections dragged, but overall I liked it.
The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills narrator Theo Decker’s mother and leads to his unlikely possession of the Dutch masterpiece “The Goldfinch.” His life and fate revolves around the painting as the novel covers the next 14 years.
At times the story seemed just too coincidental but I was totally caught up in it and had to read to the end.
If you take on this book, I’d be interested in what you thought of it. I’d give it four out of five stars.
I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.
I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.
After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.
As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.
Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination
When I recently came across a book that was the subject of an earlier blog post by Sue, I noticed it has a new sticker on it: PEN/Bellwether Prize Winner for Socially Engaged Fiction. This led me to look up more about this award and its background. Here’s what I learned:
The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. The PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2014.
Past winners include:
2000 – Donna Gershten for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth [now on order for KPL]
2002 – Gayle Brandeis for The Book of Dead Birds
2004 – Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape
2006 – Hillary Jordan for Mudbound
2008 – Heidi W. Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
2010 – Naomi Benaron for Running the Rift
2012 – Susan Nussbaum for Good Kings Bad
PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I love to cook (and eat). A few years ago when I was living in New Hampshire, where all my extended family lives, I prepared a huge Thanksgiving dinner for them and made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin pies, which required baking, scraping, and pureeing two whole sugar pumpkins. I relied on several books and resources for recipes and cooking techniques, and I recommend them highly.
I'm not much of a meat eater and don't cook meat very often, but that Thanksgiving I prepared what my uncles say was the best turkey they've ever eaten. I owe all the credit to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Roast Turkey method, which involves soaking the turkey in a brine for a minimum of eight hours. I got the pumpkin pie recipe, which I must say was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Additionally, I referred to Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie for tips on mixing and rolling pie pastry. I also used Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for her multigrain rolls, which were tasty and much easier to make than I anticipated. If you're looking for vegetable sides, Recipes From the Root Cellar is a great book with tons of recipes for sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips-- all the great winter vegetables currently in season. The Maple-Balsamic Root Vegetables are a favorite. For past vegetarian Thanksgiving meals I've made a lentil loaf as the main dish, but that rarely goes over well with omnivores. I suggest Deb Perelman's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is so flavorful and satisfying, that I can't imagine even a meat lover not asking for seconds. The one dish that remains completely elusive for me is stuffing; I cannot find a recipe I like. I'll happily take your recommendations!
We have a bit more than two weeks to plan Thanksgiving meals. KPL has a wonderful cookbook collection, so you should have no trouble finding some great recipes to try. What will be on your menu this year?
Recipes From the Root Cellar
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown caught my eye a few weeks ago. This humorous and thought provoking picture book starts out by focusing on Mr. Tiger’s very uptight lifestyle; prim, proper, and oh, so boring! Being unhappy with the phony baloney circumstances of his town (where all the animal inhabitants walk upright and wear dreary, monochromatic, Victorian era clothing), makes him want to turn over a new leaf. He first decides to loosen up a bit by getting down on all fours. Right off the bat, this makes him feel like a brand new, more natural tiger. To celebrate this newly found life’s joy and to let off some pent up steam, he roars his loudest roar ever!
All his animal friends are shocked by this behavior. Mr. Tiger’s new ways are totally unacceptable and against all the proper protocols of their little society. But the animal citizens of this somber and stodgy town haven’t seen anything yet, as Mr. Tiger discards his fussy top hat, his drab suit and his oh, so sensible shoes. Au naturel, he runs into the wilderness to bond with the truly natural world that surrounds him, with his orange, white and black streaked fur on fast, furious and fabulous display.
However there is one drawback to this self imposed exile to freedom; he misses his friends and even the city he escaped from. After a while he returns to see that a lot has changed for the better there; more tolerance and freedom for all. By taking that first risky step himself and leading by example, Mr. Tiger made a positive impression on his friends and they in turn made positive changes in their own lives as well. In short, everyone was much happier being themselves. And that was indeed a very good --- no, a very great thing!
The message of the necessity to be true to oneself, and that by adopting this adage other good things will follow, could not be more clearly expressed than in this simply written, yet visually sophisticated volume.
It’s a Roaring good time!
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
There is an easy rhythm to Mem Fox’s new book titled: Good Night, Sleep Tight, that makes it really funderful for Reading Aloud. Fox has woven several familiar mother goose rhymes into a story about a babysitter named Skinny Doug who has the job of putting Bonnie and Ben to sleep. Skinny Doug tells a rhyme, and the response is: “We love it! We love it!” said Bonnie and Ben. “How does it go? Will you say it again?” and the reply is: “Some other time,” said Skinny Doug. “But I’ll tell you another I heard from my mother:” When I read this book at story time, the parents automatically chimed in and recited from memory the familiar rhymes, including: It’s raining! It’s pouring! The old man is snoring!
Judy Horacek’s expressive illustrations blend beautifully with the text and the happy time spent with Skinny Doug and the adoring Bonnie and Ben.
Mem Fox, an Australian, is a huge proponent of reading aloud to children. I encourage you to check-out her many other picture books and instructional books at Kalamazoo Public Library. Visit Mem’s website for a multitude of read aloud suggestions, ideas and techniques: www.memfox.net. Happy Read-Aloud!
Good Night, Sleep Tight
If you’re like me and you have a passing interest in applying a bit of yoga to your daily routine but haven’t found the time yet to take a course from a professional trainer, let me recommend the following book, Easy Yoga: any age, any place, any time by Jude Reignier. There is very little text to read through which is nice for those of us who simply want to learn about certain stretching poses. In fact, the book is primarily composed of helpful images that relay which part of the body the pose is designed to assist. I would still like to take a course from an expert but until then, this book is a handy guide for the inquiring beginner.
Easy Yoga: any age, any place, any time