Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Detroit has been in the news a lot lately, and there hasn't been much good reported. But, for a different view, I invite examination of this book that we received in the History Room within the last year. From the Wayne State University Press comes this beautifully crafted volume that documents the houses of worship of the various denominational groups in the city. The survey begins in 1848 and comes all the way down to the middle of the twentieth century. There are nice maps, close-ups of the stained glass and organs, views of the exteriors, and views of the interiors that sometimes even include the ceiling. I like the photo of the optimistic sign in front of the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church which says, "GIVE THANKS ... It could be worse."
Detroit's historic places of worship
Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.
The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.
Do you ever listen to “StoryCorps” on NPR? Here it Kalamazoo, it airs on Friday mornings and I’m frequently within listening range as I’m getting ready for work. I’ve read several of the books that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, has put together from transcripts of some of the recordings.
This new one, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is a treasure. The very short, very personal stories are all good reminders of how we are connected to each other and how those connections bind us together in so many interesting ways.
Ties That Bind Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps
I recently read accounts of two long solo walks. One was fictional; one was a memoir. One takes place in England; the other transpires on the west coast of the USA. Still, both books drew me right in, and I found intriguing similarities in the stories.
Harold, the unassuming hero of Rachel Joyce’s debut novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, leaves the house one day to post a letter to a dying friend. Suddenly, his feet take off and before he knows it, he’s headed across England to see her in person, convinced that his journey will keep Queenie alive. Cheryl Strayed was still reeling from the death of her mother and the end of a marriage, when she set off hiking across the Pacific Crest Trail, weighted down by much more than her far-too-heavy backpack.
Harold and Cheryl are both compelled to continue, day after harrowing day, despite torturous run-ins with ill-suited footwear and other gear. Strayed starts off Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail with a punch. We learn that she has just lost one of her hiking boots down the side of the mountain. They never fit well, anyway, and what good is one boot without the other? Her reaction, then, is to heave the other out into the abyss, and we are left wondering how on earth she made it safely home, without hiking gear for her feet. (Read the book to find out!)
Strayed and Joyce each give excellent descriptions of nature discovered, and human connections created, along the way. The people they meet enrich their experiences; however, ultimately both the heroine and the hero find the strength to complete their journeys solo, facing down inner demons in the process.
Wild: from lost to found on the pacific crest trail
Are you interested in modern art, but don’t know quite what to make of it? Do you just keep your mouth shut, because you don’t want to come across as stupid? Do you wish you had taken the time to take the Art Appreciation class in college instead of rushing through, taking only classes that fulfilled degree requirements?
Well, What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz can help you out a bit in all three of these cases. Gompertz was the director of London’s Tate Gallery and is now the BBC Arts Editor. He introduces you to dozens of artists and art movements from Impressionism up to the present, showing how each fed off those that came before and often were rebellions against the ideas of the earlier artists. My favorite part was a fun story about Robert Rauschenberg asking Willem de Kooning for a drawing so he could erase it. It’s interesting how many of the names that we use to categorize different movements were taken from derogatory reviews of their work.
The book includes some color plates of art work in the middle as well as some black and white images sprinkled throughout the text, but you will find yourself searching the internet for many of the works of art that are discussed, but not depicted. You will want to see what he is talking about and you might find yourself making your own explorations online.
This is a really easy to read and fun introduction to modern art.
What Are You Looking At?
John Berryman is the kind of poet that has always interested me. He was an emotionally tormented soul for most of his life and whose complicated verse radiated both a deep intelligence and humane tenderness, sometimes within a single line. His most famous work, the epic Dream Songs series, is considered by many critics to be among the best written, if not some of the most highly influential poetry of the post-war period. Berryman’s work is difficult to describe but he’s often lumped in with the Confessional Poets (see: Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton). One moment, Berryman’s voice is raw and revealing, the next, lyrically abstract but heartbreakingly profound. For those looking into his work, I recommend the Dream Songs, a masterful work that like Whitman's Leaves of Grass, Pound's Cantos or Olson's Maximus Poems, possesses both variety and thematic continuity.
John Berryman: Collected Poems
Author and essayist Chuck Klosterman examines pop culture like nobody else. He seems to revel in each just-right cultural references and to thrill in the depth of his arguments about the shallowest areas of our culture. In his latest collection of essays, I Wear the Black Hat: Grapling with Villians (Real and Imagined), Klosterman takes on the concept of villainy and in quintessential Klosterman style he gleefully examines the role that bad guys play in our culture. To the uninitiated, Klosterman’s rants can get tedious at times and to many readers going on for pages about the gangster rap group N.W.A.’s use of the imagery of the Oakland Raiders professional football team and how both organizations cultivated the image of themselves as bad guys to great success, might seem a bit much. But sticking with Klosterman is well worth it, he is funny and smart and you get the sense that he would probably be writing all this down regardless if anyone actually reads it or not and that kind of commitment to ideas is always worth checking out. As I’ve been reading the essays in I Wear the Black Hat on and off for the past week, I’ve also been reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the greatest sports conspiracy ever, by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell. Nobody illustrates the hero to villain archetype better than Armstrong, O.J. Simpson might be close, and his very public swapping of white hat (or yellow wristband) for black is fully illustrated in Wheelmen. While reading all the sordid details of Armstrongs cheating, I couldn’t help but think of Klosterman’s assessment that a villain is the person who “knows the most, but cares the least” and apply it Armstrong.
I wear the black hat
Cassia Reyes lives in a peaceful, carefully planned Society where citizens are sorted into occupations and matched with their mates by government officials who use statistical modeling and drugs to ensure the perfect lives for their people. Cassia has no real needs- food, shelter, schooling, and even death are tightly controlled: a planned 80-year lifespan limitation may seem a little cold, but everything is done by the Officials for the good of the people. When Cassia is Matched with her childhood friend Xander, everything appears to be going exactly according to the Society's plans, but when the face of Ky (an "Aberration", prohibited from the same rights as normal citizens) briefly appears on Cassia's screen in error, the perfection of the Society begins to unravel.
While there may be an unavoidable comparison to the Hunger Games (female protagonist who has to choose between the love of two boys, oppressive government and society), the similarities are only surface-level. Matched is thoughtful, less action-oriented, and has more in common with A Brave New World, 1984 or The Giver. The story continues in two sequels, and the scope of the conflict between the Society's ideals and the desire of humans to make their own choices widens.
Want to know more? Meet author Ally Condie on Thursday, November 7th, 6:30 PM at Central library!
Does my dog know what I’m thinking? It always fascinates me to ponder the possibilities of communication between animals and humans. That’s just one reason why I found “We are all completely beside ourselves” by Karen Joy Fowler so mesmerizing.
When we meet eighteen year old Rosemary, she’s a college student drifting through life. Rosemary meets bad girl Harlow, and it forces her to confront events in her past. It’s only part way through the book that we discover Rosemary’s dad was a famous psychologist, and Rosemary’s twin sister was a chimpanzee named Fern. They were raised together as an experiment, along with older brother Lowell, and it profoundly affects all their lives, in ways none of them could have expected.
This book raises a whole host of unsettling and provocative issues, told in Rosemary’s words. The story is by turns funny, poignant and totally readable, and I really cared about the characters in this book. It's one of those stories that you find yourself thinking about later at random moments- it stays with you.
We are all completely beside ourselves
I love the way Eoin Colfer writes. I was hooked on his book “Benny and Omar” then I got hooked on the Artemis Fowl series. I just finished his book “The Wish List” and am still happy with his brand of writing. In The Wish List Meg and Belch are robbing an old man. Meg is reluctant and basically a good girl but Belch is rotten. When the old man pulls a shotgun Belch sic’s Raptor, his Rottweiler on the old man. Meg tries to help out, Belch is not happy. Meg jumps out the window and Belch follows her. Belch has the shotgun and in the ensuing struggle it goes off and a gas generator explodes killing Meg, Belch and Raptor. Now the twist, up until then it was a regular story but Eoin Colfer does not write just regular stories. Meg finds herself given a second chance. St. Peter gives her a chance to redeem herself and he sends her back to earth to help the old man. Belch has merged with his dog Raptor and the Devil has sent back him back to make sure Meg fails so he could get her soul. It makes an entertaining read.
The Wish List