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Staff Picks: Books

A new republic

Classic European portraiture gets a new face in the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, whose striking paintings portray modern African American subjects in poses that mimic European masters in the book Kehinde Wiley : a new republic, which is part of the KPL social justice collection. Wiley's work shines a light on the lack of African American faces in historical and cultural contexts. There is also a documentary about Kehinde, available on DVD or through Hoopla.


Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing

Save the date: Kwame Alexander is coming to visit Kalamazoo on February 28th

In the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, use original poems to celebrate twenty poets who, for the three authors of this book, had to be interesting people with poems that they loved. I love how Kwame Alexander opens the book with the premise that poetry can be fresh and freeing. You can make up your own rules about writing! What a wonderful notion that the connections around different senses of words and the way punctuation looks on the page conveys a feeling to other people. These original elements of style are unique to the poet and their poetry. The poems in the first part pay tribute  to Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Langston Hughes, and others in this way.

Poetry expands our thinking about everyday things. You definitely do not need to know the twenty poets that the poems in Out of Wonder celebrate. You might want to read them after you read these poems celebrating Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Chief Dan George, Mary Oliver, and many more. The collage illustrations by Ekua Holmes, who also illustrated Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, add to the sense of the poems and make it even more accessible to young readers and listener watchers. The title, Out of Wonder, Alexander writes in the preface, comes from a quote by renowned poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton who wrote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

For more information about Kwame, visit his website. His new literary focused web show, Bookish, airs weekly on FB Watch.


Turner, Monet and Twombly

Culled together from an exhibit at the Tate Modern Museum in 2012, Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings is a handsome examination of the influences of nature, light and atmosphere upon the works of these three legendary painters. The book illustrates both the similarities and the differences between the three painters, traces the impact of light and natural landscapes on their particular vision, and how each brought into being their masterpieces, that today, routinely fetch millions at the auction houses.


I Work at a Public Library

The subtitle of this book pretty much says it all: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks. Gina Sheridan, a librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, has gathered 152 pages of stories about her experiences with patrons while working in libraries. I sampled a few of the anecdotes and found them to be really quite amusing. Some day I'll read the rest!


Papillon- One Remarkable Cat

Papillon, the very fluffy kitty who has the amazing ability to float like a cloud in the sky, is at it again in A.N. Kang's sequel Papillon Goes To The Vet. This time Papillon must make an unexpected trip to the kitty doctor after accidentally swallowing a yarn toy during a robust playtime session. The toy gets stuck somewhere in his belly, making him feel sick with a case of the hiccups to boot. His owner, Miss Tilly, transports her kitty, via bike, as he forlornly sits in the front basket

The vet sees the obstruction on an x-ray and Papillon is ordered to spend the evening at the clinic, where he feels sad, scared and lonely. His cries for help only make the hiccups worse, but the silver lining is that after one particularly ferocious hiccup, the fluffy toy pops out of his mouth.

The other cat patients present at the clinic are quite impressed with Papillon's post recovery antics, and come to see him as the very talented and special cat that he truly is. Next day this remarkable floating cat returns home with a fresher spring in his step and a mouth that will be determinedly closed when around any yarn toys that happen to be lurking about!

This book is chockfull of extremely expressive illustrations that are sure to please both young and old cat lovers alike. As fate would have it, author Kang herself has an amazing fluffy black and white cat named Papillon as well!


New Favorite Author

I loved Elizabeth Strout’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kittredge, but for some reason did not go on to read any of her other books until just recently. While packing to go on a short trip, I wondered out loud if I had enough books for all the reading time I would have in airports, on planes, and in hotel rooms. My wife said that I could take one that she had just started, Anything Is Possible.

 
Once again, I was drawn in by her beautiful prose that illuminates all the corners of her characters’ hearts and minds. Do you ever read books and just get the feeling that you are settling into a comfortable chair?


I didn’t know that Anything Is Possible echoes back to an earlier Strout novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, so I had to read that one next. Now I’m listening to The Burgess Boys and have the Olive Kittredge tv miniseries checked out.

 
Elizabeth Strout has moved into my favorite authors category. Settle into one of her novels and enjoy how she weaves together the stories of her character’s flawed lives, often making you upset with and then sympathetic towards them.


Dear Martin

I devoured this book. Earlier this year I was struck by PIECING ME TOGETHER by Renee Watson, and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. DEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone was right up there with them. Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and on his way to Yale. One night he's trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home, only to be the one that lands in handcuffs (which is putting it mildly). After his encounter with police profiling, he starts to really notice the injustices and inequalities in his life from all directions. Justyce decides to write Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. letters to express his frustrations and study his writing to try and understand what MLK would do in those situations. What I loved about this book that I didn't get out of the other two mentioned, was how Justyce asked questions not just about the white people he encountered but about his own standing and where he came from - how does he fit in? He says in one of his letter, "It's like I'm trying to climb a mountain, but I've got one fool trying to shove me down so I won't be on his level, and another fool tugging at my leg, trying to pull me to the ground he refuses to leave." Nic Stone does an amazing job capturing nuance and complexity in this book. We'll be reading this for our January Pizza & Pages program at Central. Teens can register starting December 19!


A Plea to White People

This book is a very heartfelt, thoughtful, emotional yet rational plea for white people to understand what it's like to be black in America. Structurally, it's based on a sermon, but I'm not sure it reads like one - it's more social justice book than religious sermon in my opinion. Michael Eric Dyson, a pastor, is one of the greatest black intellectuals of our day. This book was truly enjoyable, humanizing, and sad. As Steven King says, "Dyson tells you what you need to know--what this white man needed to know, at least."

The end of the book has an incredibly extensive reading list, for anyone that wants to take an intellectual deep dive. But even better - check out our KPL Social Justice Collection.


Studio: creative spaces for creative people

Studio: creative spaces for creative people by Sally Coulthard takes you into the studios of dozens of artists and makers. Providing the reader with inspiration and motivation for creating a productive studio space of their own, Studio is full of photographs of the beautiful and interesting workspaces of visual artists, woodworkers, textile artists and more. If you dream of carving out a creative space to explore your artistic thoughts completely and need inspiration, or wish to improve your current studio space to better suit your needs, or just like to look at visually interesting productive spaces – this book is for you. This book would also make a great holiday gift for any creative person on your list.


The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty

Growing up in the subtropical Hong Kong, I had never seen snow in my life before I came to the U.S., and I thought snowflakes were only people’s romantic imaginations for winter.

Then one cold winter morning in Utah, when I was walking to campus, I saw these tiny dusts falling down from the sky. When I looked closer as they fell on my gloves, they were REAL snowflakes!! They were so tiny, yet so sophisticated and beautiful.

This book has included a lot of gorgeous snow crystal photographs and diagrams to show the science behind the formation of a snow crystal. The author Kenneth Libbrecht is a professor of physics at Caltech. I love how he said about his study of snowflakes, “my flaky studies are not driven by practical applications. Instead my motivation is scientific curiosity.” Hence, a whole book dedicated to the beautiful snowflakes!