Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Margaret Atwood brings the trilogy, which she began with the brilliant Oryx and Crake, to a satisfying conclusion with her latest novel, MaddAddam. The story continues on from the events in the second book The Year of the Flood, but also relates back to Oryx and Crake giving readers a more complete picture of the story arc without tying everything up too neatly that it becomes uninteresting. If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, I encourage you to do so, and once you do, I then defy you to not read the other two books. The post-apocalyptic near-future satirical world that Atwood conjures in these books is vividly drawn and fascinating to explore, but its true power comes from the scenarios we can project from the realities of our current world that turn the trilogy from science fiction to plausible prediction.
Teresa’s blog about A Streetcat named Bob got me yearning for stories about pets who help others heal. She did such a good job advertising Bob, that I couldn’t check it out quickly – too many holds! If you are eagerly awaiting your place in the cue for Bob, consider these titles in the meanwhile:
Homer’s Odyssey – A truly inspiring 3-lb. blind cat by the name of – you guessed it-- Homer, compelled his owner, Gwen Cooper, to develop a new career, in order to properly support her felines. He survived six moves with her and saved her from an intruder in her NYC apt. Homer has spunk, character, pizazz. I’d love to meet him! The chapters about living through 9-1-1 and its aftermath, one block away from the twin towers, were especially harrowing and moving. Somehow, Cooper’s account brought home to me the true terror pet owners experienced during the ordeal in a way I’d never envisioned before.
A Dog Named Boo - Coincidentally, author Lisa Edwards experienced 9-1-1 in New York with her pets, too. Edwards is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who turned her sensitivity about her own abuse into wisdom when training her special-needs dog, Boo. She faced life challenges--like the early death of her beloved brother from Lou Gehrig’s disease-- and passed tests to become a professional dog trainer and behavioral consultant, in spite of her learning disability, figuring if Chuck could train to become a CPA after his diagnosis, she could manage difficult tests to obtain her career. Boo had a rare physical condition, which made training slow and arduous, but which gave him a unique patience and compassion for working as a therapy dog. His progress inspired Edwards to excel, despite physical limitations.
Edwards’ description of the healing encounters of therapy dogs with family members of deceased 9-1-1 victims and the emergency rescue workers are very moving.
Tired of reading about dogs and cats? Look instead for:
Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Uncovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence – and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process, by Irene M. Pepperberg
Wesley the Owl: the Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl, by Stacey O’Brien. (Another co-worker, Rebecca, turned me on to this book. I blogged about it forever ago, and I still think it’s a remarkable story.)
A Dog Named Boo
If you've been looking at the KPL Staff Best of 2013 lists, you've no doubt found something new that you hadn't seen before. For me, this years' big surprise was volume 1 of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree, released in book form just last week- just in time to make it on my end-of-year list! Collected from nearly two years' worth of serialized strips on the weird tech/culture blog Boing Boing, Hip Hop Family Tree takes it way, way back to the formative years of hip hop. Starting with DJ Kool Herc spinning records at a local rec center in the South Bronx in the mid-70s and ending with the mainstream hip hop explosion of 1981, Hip Hop Family Tree covers a ton of ground in only a few years. Visually it's a treat as well, done in a yellowish, pulp comics look that wouldn't feel out of place next to a newsstand copy of X-Men in Times Square in 1979. Raw yet painstakingly researched, Hip Hop Family Tree is an essential read for hip hop fans. Ch-ch-check it out!
Hip Hop Family Tree
the time of year when all of the "Best of" lists for music, movies, and books come out! I usually scour a bunch of my favorite websites to find book recommendations and make a list of all the great stuff I missed. Then I put it all on hold at KPL and wait for that glorious moment when there's a stack waiting for me on the library's hold shelf!
I like the lists from Publisher's Weekly, NPR, the New York Times (and children's) that come out around this year. But the list I most look forward to each year is KPL's Best of 2013. Our staff have a range of interests and each year the "Best Of" list has wonderful choices on it! Each title is conveniently linked to our catalog for quicker hold-placing! If the library doesn't own something you are interested in, fill out a "Suggest an Item" and let us know.
Update as of 12/4: NPR has changed it up this year and is offering a book discovery tool called "Book Concierge" and it's lovely. No list format from them this year, just cover images to play around with! I'm in love!
Happy reading, listening, and viewing to you!
Sometimes it's surprising when younger readers ask for scary stories or when their parents say, "I don't know, she just likes scary stuff." Fair enough. For those horror loving youngsters, I am happy to say we have the first book in an exciting new series by James Preller. Scary Tales #1 is called Home Sweet Horror. This isn't a collection of unrelated short stories - like the classic Alvin Schwartz books. Instead, each chapter takes the reader further along into a family's new house and the horrors that lurk within. Take a look at this one to make sure it's not too scary for your young reader. The big blue dot we put on the spine indicates that this transitional reader's reading level is appropriate for 2nd and 3rd graders and up. You can look forward to the next book in the Scary Tales series: I Scream, You Scream!
Stephanie Plum and Lula are at it again. It’s a formula that works, Stephanie Plum is a cute, bumbling bounty hunter. She is torn between the two men in her life, Morelli and Ranger. Morelli is a former bad boy turned cop and Ranger is a mysterious man who runs a security company, can open any locked door and shows up just in time to save Stephanie over and over, mostly because he has trackers in her purses, cars etc. In Takedown Twenty Stephanie is after Salvatore "Uncle Sunny" Sunucchi who ran over a guy twice. Finding Sunny is problematic. Bella puts the evil eye on Stephanie. Stephanie, as she does in every book, needs Rangers help and wreaks and loses cars. Janet Evanovich, the author, in this book changed up the animal from a monkey, which we have seen in a couple of previous books to a Giraffe which Lula keeps trying to find and feed. The fun is in the reading, not the solving or capturing of the criminal. If you look at the back cover I think Stephanie Plum is Janet Evonovich’s alter ego.
Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism. Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years, in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community. All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua. Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.
Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable. Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.
Men We Reaped
Here is an outstanding book that gives photographs and one-paragraph commentaries on notable buildings in Michigan. Any book of this nature will, of course, be subjective in the selections made for inclusion, but I think Mr. Gallagher made some wise choices. The book is divided into eight sections -- buildings in which we gather, play, govern, learn, worship, work, and live, as well as facilities for art. The Kalamazoo buildings presented are the 1931 Kalamazoo City Hall, the 1852 Amariah T. Prouty house at 302 Elm Street, and the 1947-49 Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Parkwyn Village, off Winchell Avenue. The photography is by Balthasar Korab, who also took the pictures for Peter Schmitt's 1976 book on early Kalamazoo homes. Clear pictures, concise narrative, and great buildings make this a book worth seeing.
Great architecture of Michigan
This title immediately piqued my interest, since it was about both Italy and train travel. The author Tim Parks is British, and he has lived in Italy for over 20 years. He regularly travels by rail from his home in Verona to Milan for his work, as well as having travelled to other regions of Italy by train, so he’s well placed to give his thoughts. Whether he’s commenting on the passengers or staff, the history of railroads in Italy, or his views of modern Italy and its politics, it makes for entertaining and informative reading.
If you’re planning a trip or just enjoy travel writing from the comfort of home, give this a try!
Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo
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