Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is a beautiful novel that artfully weaves together the stories of several women into one shared experience. Set in the wake of World War I, it follows the lives of a group of Japanese women who came to California as picture brides, knowing very little of the men to whom they would be married. Told in the first person plural, the narrative begins with the young women as they traveled across the ocean to start their new lives. Marriage, childbirth, earning a living, raising families, and being part of a community, they all learned to navigate life in this strange place. Eventually, what they came to think of as home was taken away as the Second World War called into question their loyalties. At times heartbreaking, and other times wryly funny, this book seems to be more about what actually happened than any purely factual account could contain. It is an album made up of hundreds of snapshots on a loose time line that brings to life a piece of history that is so often forgotten.
The Buddha in the Attic
The Drop by Michael Connelly is a good classic police work mystery. Detective Harry Bosch who works cold cases has been requested by a councilman to investigate the death of his son. Bosh is also working a cold case. We get a lot of insight to police work and what they have to do to make sure that their case is ready for court and the scrutiny of the defense lawyer. In some ways they spend way too much time on telling the protocols the whys and wherefores of proper police procedure. The two mysteries that Bosh has to solve; one is the councilman’s son is found splat on the concrete and had apparently jumped from the seventh floor of a hotel (or was he pushed or tossed) the other is a twenty year old cold case of a 19 year old female who was raped and murdered. I listened to this as an audio book downloaded from KPL’s overdrive, so flipping a page and scooting ahead through the boring detail parts of police work was not an option but I was kind of glad I was forced to listen. It gave me a better feel for how tedious the plodding along and building a case was and how crucial it was or your work is all for naught as a defense lawyer gets the bad guy off on a technicality. If you like true crime, you might like this. Michael Connelly is a well know famous author and has many other books for you to choose from also.
What makes an Andrew Carnegie? What turns a Scottish immigrant boy, son of a poor weaver, into the most successful man of the 1800’s? He would name five people. His father, the “sweetest nature” he had ever known. And his mother, who respected all religions and lived by the Confucian maxim to “perform the duties in this life well, troubling not about another.” And his wife, “peace and good-will attend her footsteps.” And a librarian named Colonel James Anderson, “bless his name as I write,” who opened a library for working boys:
and to him I owe a taste for literature which I would not exchange for all the millions that were ever amassed by man. Life would be quite intolerable without it…the light of knowledge streamed in. Every day’s toil and even the long hours of night service were lightened by the book which I carried about with me and read in the intervals that could be snatched from duty. (Autobiography, 46).
It is no wonder, then, that Carnegie would give $41 million (today that’s several billions) to establish 1,689 libraries:
It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution…For if one boy in each library district…is half as much benefited as I was by having access to Colonel Anderson’s four hundred well-worn volumes, I shall consider they have not been established in vain (47).
The Philosopher Philanthropist
Andrew took a trip around the world and learned that the “Great Power” had smiled on all cultures and peoples:
In China I read Confucius; in India, Buddha and the sacred books of the Hindoos; among the Parsees, in Bombay, I studied Zoroaster…I had a philosophy at last. The words of Christ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,’ had a new meaning for me. Not in the past or in the future, but now and here is Heaven within us. All our duties lie in this world and in the present, and trying impatiently to peer into that which lies beyond is as vain as fruitless (206).
When wealthy men become wise they give their wealth to worthy causes: "I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution…Shakespeare had placed his talismanic touch upon the thought… ‘So distribution should undo excess, And each man have enough’" (255). And “of all my work of a philanthropic character, my pension fund gives me the highest and noblest return” (279).
Clearly he believed in education, as his money talks: all the libraries, a fund for university professors, for the Tuskegee Institute: “and to know Booker Washington is a rare privilege…No truer, more self-sacrificing hero every lived: a man compounded of all the virtues.”
I recommend reading this biography and his autobiography at the same time.
I roasted it! It’s 10x easier than you think. (1) get a hot air popcorn popper. Yep, that’s right: popcorn popper (got mine from Target); (2) get green beans (got mine from local roastery, also check out sweetmarias.com they seem really good); (3) put 1/3 cup in the popcorn popper, wait 5-8 minutes (listen for the “second crack”); (4) cool beans, grind, and enjoy. Done. (Obviously it’s a bit more complicated…visit sweetmarias.com or youtube for how-to videos). The longer you roast coffee (“dark roast”), the less caffeine.
It’s amazing that every single coffee bean that you see was probably individually picked by someone’s hand (machines aren’t smart enough for them yet). Coffee is born on coffee trees by the equator. The beans are actually found inside little red fruit cherry balls. Coffee beans are the seeds inside the fruit, small green hard beans that smell like spicy bread. It’s hard to imagine why someone roasted them in the first place, but very old civilizations certainly had coffee (there are various theories about how they stumbled on it).
Oh yeah, the biggest question of all: taste. My first batch tasted great and had a distinct smell. Not as good as a fresh cup of Starbucks or Waterstreet, but extremely close. I imagine they will get better. If you are looking to satisfy your do-it-yourself impulse, save some money (about 15-25%), and have the freshest coffee you’ve ever had, I recommend giving it a try. If you don’t like it, perhaps because of the smoke it fills your kitchen with, you’ve only wasted 25 bucks.
Home Coffee Roasting
Some little boys want a family dog, some parents don’t want a family dog. Hal Fenton is one of those boys who desperately wants a dog for a birthday present, but his wealthy parents Donald and Albina do not want one. To pacify their son they rent a dog for the weekend; the Easy Pets Dog Agency in London is just the place. Myron and Mavis Carker, owners of the agency, do it for profit, not for the love of dogs. Kayley is the kind teenage caretaker of the dogs. Kayley finds a mongrel, brings it to the agency, and names him Fleck, and pronounces him a rare breed: a “Tottenham” terrier. The Fentons rent Fleck for the weekend. Fleck and Hal are inseparable, that is, until Albina returns Fleck.
Let the adventure begin! Hal and his pal kidnap the dogs at the agency and begin a journey to his grandparents home near the coast of England, all the while being pursued for the tremendous reward offered by Hal’s parents. The delightful story of Fleck, Otto, the St. Bernard, Li-Chee, the Pekinese, Francine, the poodle, Honey, the rough-haired collie, and even Queen Tilly, the Mexican hairless, is both harrowing and heart-warming. Do they make it to their destination? Read it and find out!
This is the last book written by Eva Ibbotson who passed away in October 2010 at the age of 85.
One Dog and His Boy
Bagels may not often described with the above adjectives, but Sharon Kahn’s Fax me a bagel definitely fits the bill. The first in her Ruby, the rabbi’s wife series, it is a quick and enjoyable read, with quirky characters and old technology (published in 1998 – can that really be fifteen years ago already – facsimile technology and the necessary accoutrements of a business have come a long way). If you enjoy this title, you’ll be pleased to know that we have the rest of the series, which are six in total. Just beware: you may finish reading with a craving for bagels, though you may be as lucky as I was – and coincidentally be offered one. Just in case it wasn’t a coincidence, my next read may be about winning the lottery!
Fax me a bagel
My kids attended a fine arts magnet school in Chicago. The great thing about this elementary school was that everyone danced. Dance was as big a part of the school day as gym. Most kids seemed to enjoy it. Mine certainly did, so when we moved to Michigan it didn't come as a surprise to me when my youngest asked if he could continue dance lessons. It started off good, especially with him being the only boy in the group. He got all kinds of attention from the girls and the instructors. When he walked into class everyone stopped what they were doing and said "Hi, Tommy". My problem was he was growing fast so he kept outgrowing his shoes. I got him through a couple of years by using his older brother's and sister's slippers and tap shoes. Then he outgrew those. It was time to face facts. Although, Tommy was still having a good time in dance and was learning a lot about movement, he wasn't that interested in the actual dance part of it. So, I did what most American moms would do. I bought him a basketball. Then he was a cool kid with a basketball.
Well, the teen book Panic by Sharon Draper is about a real dancer, Justin. Just like Tommy, Justin likes the female attention that comes from being a guy in a dance group. But, he also got a lot of not-so-good male attention for being 16 and liking toe shoes. The major difference between Justin and Tommy was that Justin could dance. He had real talent. Dance was his life. And even though the guys called him a fag he went "boom, boom, pop" with the Black Eyed Peas and that made it all worth it.
But the book Panic is not just about dancing. It's chucked full of teen life, including the scary parts. Sharon Draper has never hesitated to talk about the real life scary stuff, such as, bullying, bad relationships, abuse and abduction, trust and what it means to be a real friend. It's a tough read and although it's very realistic I'm glad it's fiction.
Imagine the young George Washington, early in the political career, placing a keg of beer or rum next to the polling place. Now imagine him winning. Now imagine this happening all the time. Who needs to buy an election when you have beer, right? And we wonder why people don’t vote anymore. Just kidding.
Yes, this was real, this happened. In fact, James Madison stuck his nose up at the practice. He was going to win his election without booze, darn it. Well, James Madison lost. The fact of the matter was that alcohol had a much more prominent place in early American life, not just politics. The entire day, as this book details from cock-a-doodle-do to shut-eye, was filled with excuses to drink. There were official, city-wide dedicated breaks for guzzling, reminiscent of Muslim daily prayer rituals. Alcohol was God’s blessing. It was giving to babies and kids and sick people for a variety of ailments. Water wasn’t trusted, or known about, or sanitary half the time. Times were hard.
But “spirits” were hard too. Soon rum was demon rum, causing broken homes, useless husbands who beat their wives and children. Alcohol was causing too much harm. Soon the people who championed moderate drinking, like Benjamin Franklin, were fighting with more extreme people—temperance and prohibitionists. Get rid of the temptation was their motto. My favorite image of the prohibition movement, largely started by women who were sick and tired of not only a drunk husband, but no freedom to do anything about it—my favorite moment is when they decided they would kneel in front of saloons and pray and sing away the demon rum. And as I’m reading I think to myself: “No! Don’t do it; bad idea; this won’t work!” Well, guess what? It did work. For a short while at least.
This book is mostly about the movement to ban alcohol, which I didn’t expect at first. But it’s still good, interesting, and well written. For a similar book see Drink: a Cultural History of Alcohol
The Spirits of America
If you have ever appreciated the incongruity of a little house amisdst high-rise city buildings you will enjoy Mrs. Noodlekugel by Daniel Pinkwater. When two siblings, Maxine and Nick, move into a new apartment, Maxine discovers a cute little house set in the backyard of the their tall apartment building. Meet Mrs. Noodlekugel, her piano playing cat Mr. Fuzzface, and four farsighted mice.
Mrs. Noodlekugel is a short chapter book that’s perfect for early elementary students who are ready to move on from early readers to chapter books. Loaded with Daniel Pinkwater whimsy, this is a book that adults will also enjoy.
Flowers in the Sky by Lynn Joseph is a classic coming of age story set in Samana, Dominican Republic, and the promising land of New York. Fifteen year old Nina Perez must find the meaning and truth of life, love and self-image. Through her magical gift of gardening, she discovers that it is possible for flowers to grow anywhere; in the tropics, in the grit of New York City, in the sky, or even inside a heart.
Lynn Joseph’s writing style is real, at times lyrical and always engaging. This book definitely goes on the must read list for summer and beach reading. Enjoy!
Flowers in the Sky