Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
People who know me are aware that I enjoy discovering unusual names. In fact, readers of this column will know that too, since I've reviewed books that contain listings of them. But this book is different. It is a listing of American place names. Of course, I immediately turned to the Michigan chapter and found Bad Axe, Christmas, and Germfask. Take a look to see why Mr. Gallant also included Schoolcraft. Or, how about Okay, Oklahoma. Igloo, South Dakota. Correctionville, Iowa. Mermaid, Delaware. Toast, North Carolina. Well, you get the idea. And there are probably even stranger ones that I just haven't gotten to yet.
A place called Peculiar : stories about unusual American place-names
The Fiddles Go On Strikeby Bobby Claeys is cute children’s book with a message. It starts out with a child asking is mom how does this or that work. The mom doesn’t know how our gadgets work, they just work. Then one day they stop working. The TV will not turn on, the computer will not work, the toaster will not make toast. Why? Repair people come and find a note inside each broken gadget saying “We Quit” We find out that the Fiddles or as some called them the purple dudes wrote the note. The Fiddles make a statement “BEHOLD! We are the reason your lives are easier. For too long, we have been working without any appreciation. You humans go through each day using your gadgets without even thinking ‘How does this work’” The humans hold a party thanking the Lil’ Purple Dudes. This is a cute entertaining book and especially dear to me as my sons best friend Bobby Claeys is the author. We look forward to more books by the soon to be famous author Bobby Claeys.
The Fiddles Go On Strike
There are some writers, whose hyper-serious books and their grim subject matter, transform the sadness and hopelessness of the human condition with remarkable accuracy and frankness (Raymond Carver, J.M. Coetzee, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Bernhard e.g.) into great literature. Then there are those authors who do ‘funny’ really well and whose stories reflect the power and role of levity and humor to shape a book’s tone and emotional heart, including the works of satirists (David Sedaris, John Irving, Tom Robbins, Tom Wolfe, Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith e.g.). There are those who wed ‘sad’ and ‘funny’ really well (Lorrie Moore, David Foster Wallace, Amy Hempel, e.g.), mixing up the two with a deft and subtle touch. These are the great books that bring the tragic and comedic together, that suture morbidity and human fallibility with hints of irony, poignancy and absurdity. You laugh and cry with equal measure as these imagined characters’ lives unfold.
Lorrie Moore is one writer whose stories bring together the humorous and the sad. Her characters are notorious for their brilliant one-liners that highlight the gallows humor in her novels and short stories, wonderful works that often plumb the complexity and ephemerality of relationships with a stylistic nod to both quirky experimentation and minimalist realism. Her first novel Anagrams is a pitch perfect and innovative book that plays with form and plot in a way that presents a series of possible lives of the primary character Beena as she’s written into different experiences and scenarios with reoccurring characters acting in different ways. The book is ultimately about a very simple fact—that we love others while falling out of love with them.
While I’m at it, read Amy Hempel’s short stories as well. She’s great!
Birds of America
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
I just finished reading Secrets of an organized mom by Barbara Reich, and after just a couple days my house is at least 100 pounds lighter, and the Three Rivers Goodwill store has got some fresh inventory, thanks to me. This book takes you through all the problem areas in your house and how to purge, design, organize, and maintain them. I have focused mainly on the purge and organize phases--So far I have rid our home of many bags of no-longer-worn clothes (or clothes that I wore even though I hated…which was most of them!) and 1 pair of skis that hasn’t been used in 10 years (I can always just rent them if I ever ski again, right?)…and I haven’t even gotten to the basement storage area yet—yikes! The main things that are beneficial about this book is that it is motivating, takes each room one at a time so you are not overwhelmed, and is practical. It throws in a little bit of psychology with common sense (are you really attached to the item, or is it the person that gave you the item?). I am excited for the weekend so I can hit up that hideous storage area!
Secrets of an organized mom
Most of these God-debate books either bash fundamental Evangelicals or New Atheism. This one bashes both, while saying some good things too. Author Frank Schaeffer comes from a unique perspective. He was raised by a fundamentalist evangelical preacher family and became a prominent one himself. Although he has a lot of good to say about his mother and father as people, he eventually rejects their religion on many grounds. He learned that it was almost impossible to love God if God is making you millions of dollars. He also thought that they worshiped the Bible more than God, as if God was the Bible. Also, they are never interested in what people have to say. Instead, every conversation is a chance to convert people. He reminisces the old days, when his mother and father would accept gay people into their community without thinking twice. Now days they target these people as a political tactic to strengthen the faith. An important point of the book not to overlook is this: you can bash a religion or atheism all you want, but this doesn't necessarily make the people bad. His mother and father were good decent people, he says, and that's because they didn't follow the nastier parts of their dogma.
He comes from the perspective of Soren Kierkegaard, the Christian mystic Existentialist philosopher (who I'm reading now): We have no clue what God is, so let's just be humble about it. We can try to figure out what God isn't (negative theology), but experience and openness is the best we got. In fact, this encapsulates his critique of the New Atheists: like fundamentalist Evangelicals, they think they know everything. They have no humility. It's a different form of the same thing. It's a frame of mind. This reminded me of a Jewish philosopher I read and blogged about recently, who blamed the Greeks for turning faith into a knowledge pursuit. This was a wrong step. Faith is not knowledge, and knowledge does not destroy faith.
The author talks about his new faith in the Greek Orthodox liturgical tradition. But mostly he talks about his family, and how much he loves them; and how much he thanks God for them and for all the good and bad in his life. He does not give an answer for why his God would allow children to suffer; he doesn't think there is an answer. His passion for life really comes through at the end.
Patience with God
Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one Dorito? Or why that can of Coca-Cola seems to call out to you from behind the refrigerator door? Read, Pullitzer Prize winning author, Michael Moss’s latest book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and you will wonder no more. The short answer, science. Plus millions of dollars in advertising and loads and loads of salt, sugar, and fat tossed in just to make sure we can't get enough. Moss takes readers inside the story of the rise of the processed food industry into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today and how big food’s insatiable craving for profit has left an obesity epidemic and generations with poor eating habits in its wake. Salt Sugar Fat is certainly a cautionary tale, and will have every reader questioning their own consumer behavior and eating habits. But Moss’s tone isn't overly preachy and takes a pragmatic view of the food industries focus on providing the much in demand convenience of processed food with the need for individuals to be aware of and responsible for what they put into their bodies. Highly recommended.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Crows have glossy black feathers with glints of dark blue and purple. Their life span usually ranges from 9 to12 years. Like humans, they can pretty much adapt to a variety of habitats, eating just about anything that their bodies can digest. Crows are highly social and enjoy traveling in groups. They can mimic various sounds and have a highly specialized and evolved language of communication. A flock of crows is called a “murder.” Although worldwide there are 45 different crow species, the ones most commonly seen in Michigan is the American or common crow.
Crows can be noisy, nosy, and downright annoying at times. Because of their raucous tendencies, some people don’t like them very much, and most farmers tend to lump them into the pest category of animals since they are inclined to dine on their crops. On the other hand, crows have also been proven to be beneficial in farm settings since they consume many insect pests that can ruin a harvest.
I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by these highly intelligent, comical, and mischievous birds. When my husband and I walk around KVCC’s Texas Township campus, we usually see and hear numerous crows. They tend to hang out in small mobs, idling on and around lamp posts or sauntering along the parking lots and fields; forever on the lookout for a scavenging opportunity. They don’t have to look far since college students throw away lots of fast food offerings such as fries or buns, making the entire site an ever changing smorgasbord. The garbage bins seem especially suited for quick crow take-out buffet dining, and we’ve been amused many times by crow dumpster divers in search of their next snack.
As the Crow Flies is a new children’s picture book that was published in December, 2012. It was written by Sheila Keenan and illustrated handsomely by Kevin Duggan, an experienced nature painter. It beautifully captures and celebrates crows and their world in rhyming verse:
“All day long you’re on the go.
You don’t have time to watch a crow.
But we’re here ...and here... and there.
We poke our beaks in everywhere.”
Just a few weeks ago, I also happened to watch a very well made PBS program, originally filmed in 2010, entitled A Murder of Crows, a part of their “Nature” series. It was enlightening, entertaining and made me especially aware of these birds’ high level of intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that they can manufacture and use tools to solve problems.
And since I was on this crow kick anyway, I also read the “J” non-fiction book, Crows: Strange and Wonderful by Laurence Pringle with illustrations by Bob Marshall, who are both popularly known wildlife advocates.
So the next time you are out and about, listen for the familiar “Caw, caw,, watch for streaks of black wing, and you might be fortunate enough to see crows in an entirely different, more appreciative way.
Crows and humans; we are so different, yet so alike!
As the Crow Flies
What do you get when you combine a word and a number? A Wumber!
Wumbers: It’s a book! It’s a game! It’s words cre8ed with numbers! Wri10 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustr8ed by Tom Lichtenheld this is such a creative and fun book. Each two page spread is a little story. Characters speak through balloon captioned text. The text is so easy and fun that kids and adults will be it over and over.
Samples from the end pages:
- Have you ever tiptoed through the 2lips?
- What question would you ask a 4tune teller?
What a fun book to share plus you may want to try making wumbers yourself!
Wumbers : it's words cre8ed with numbers!
I’ve always wanted to add elements of Japanese gardens into my backyard and while there may still be snow on the ground, those interested in sprucing up their yards with a new look should get a head-start with mapping out ways to add some creative composition to nature’s innate beauty. My goal for this year is to continue to battle my root-loving Maples in an area that is ripe for a Japanese-inspired shade garden but suffers from poor and shallow soil. Locate solutions to problems like root competition by browsing our fine array of gardening books. Apparently, creating a successful shade garden is as easy as laying down a coating of newspapers over the desired area and then covering them with high-quality soil. Spring will be here soon so start your planning now.