Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Covert, Michigan and the Smithsonian

A few weeks ago I went to Covert, Michigan to be interviewed by Deborah Tulani Salahu-Din, the Project Director for the Smithsonian Institution African American Museum of History & Culture, and Michele Gates Moresi, the Curator for the museum. They had requested a meeting with the descendants of the early black and white settlers of Covert, Michigan. My great-great grandfathers William Bright Conner and his family, and Dawson Pompey and his family were the first African Americans to settle in Covert, Michigan after the Civil War ended. My great grandfather John Conner and his brother Frank, and his two brother-in-laws Himebrick Tyler and Joseph Seaton and my great grandfather Washington Pompey and his brother Napoleon were all veterans of the Civil War.

Our library has a book titled A Stronger Kinship: One Town’s Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith by Ann Lisa-Cox which tells the story of Covert’s unique history as a racially integrated community during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Covert was a town where blacks and whites went to church and school together. They lived among each other and intermarried. Blacks held public offices and owned businesses. My great grandmother Annis Pompey owned and operated a cider mill and was the first female in Covert to have her own business. Anna Lisa-Cox was instrumental in getting the Smithsonian to take a look at this community.


The new Smithsonian African American Museum of History & Culture will have an exhibition titled “Making a Way Out of No Way” which will include eleven communities from across the United States and Covert, Michigan will be one of the eleven exhibits.

I’m very excited that my ancestors will be a part of this exhibit and proud of the contributions they made to society. If you are interested in learning more about the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History & Culture that will open in 2015, you can visit this website:


A Stronger Kinship
Valerie O

Are You a Psychopath?

Did you ever wonder if you were a psychopath? I hope you answered, “no,” to that question. If you have, please do not comment on my blog entry and I do not work at the Kalamazoo Public Library.

But seriously, all types of folks should enjoy Jon Ronson’s new book, The Psychopath Test: a Journey Through the Madness Industry. As Ronson tries to untangle the history of the label of psychopath by exploring several different cases, he starts to wonder if the traits of a psychopath are actually advantages in business or the political arena. He also questions his own sanity at several different points, especially after he reads through the mental illnesses listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-IV).

I listened to this book during my commute to work and along with the interesting subject matter, I loved listening to Ronson’s British accent and his, at times, over-excited delivery. I definitely recommend the audiobook.


The Psychopath Test
Steve S

Update on favorite authors

Readers of my previous posts will know of my fondness for N. K. Jemisin and Joseph Heywood.  Both published new books fairly recently, and I enthusiastically devoured them.  Jemisin's finale to her Inheritance trilogy, The kingdom of gods, was just as delightful as its two predecessors; Heywood's latest installment in the Woods Cop series, Force of blood, was another enjoyable, exciting read (and I particularly liked the self-reference near the end).

Right now I'm rereading a classic by Jerry Mander, Four arguments for the elimination of television.  It's just as compelling the second time around.


The kingdom of gods

The Unforgotten Coat

When Julie, a generally bored 6th grader living in a small town near Liverpool, is asked to be the “good guide” for two new 6th grade classmates who suddenly arrive from Mongolia, she’s excited to take on the challenge. She teaches them about soccer, British slang, and school uniforms. She ends up learning quite a lot about traditional Mongolian life - but not from the brothers - and wishing the two weren't so secretive and quite so eager to "fit in" at their new school.  

Some of the things she thinks she learns from the brothers are expressed as Polaroid style pictures, created for the book by illustrators Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. Frank Cottrell Boyce has crafted a school story that is in part about the ways the adult world can disrupt the lives of children. The Unforgotten Coat was inspired by the real-life story of a girl from Mongolia whom Boyce met during a visit to a school. This is an entertaining real-world that you won't want to put down.  


The Unforgotten Coat

Best American Comics

I typically prefer novels over short stories. I like to sink my teeth into a story and chew on it for a while. However, sometimes I’ll read anthologies of short stories, to get some ideas about new (to me) authors, whose novels I might like to read.

Sometimes I’ll pick up an annual Best American Comics for the same reason -- to be exposed to some new graphic novelists.  Series editors Jessica Abel and Matt Madden choose a guest editor each year, who picks some 25-30 graphic novel excerpts or comic strips to be included. Some strips are chosen from “online only” comics; some are published in traditional print fashion. Best American Comics 2011, published this fall, was edited by Alison Bechdel, one of my favorite cartoonists.

Check it out, but don’t stop there. If you’re intrigued by a strip, find more works by your favorite artists from among almost 3500 titles held by KPL!


Best American Comics


Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five

Can you count to 20? How about colors—do you know them? Opposites? Seasons? Before heading to kindergarten there is a lot to learn! This book is a great check for the 4-year-olds who have been learning so many, many things.

In Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five, Valorie Fisher has created bright, fun, photographs featuring retro toys to illustrate this book of concepts. This book would be a great gift for the clever preschooler on your list.


Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five

Holiday Read-Togethers with Kids

We usually travel to my sister’s place in Cleveland, Ohio to celebrate both Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s a hectic, yet fun time for all, but especially so for the kids. In this case, I’m talking about my niece’s two young girls Zoya, age 7 and Maya, who is 4. To keep the tykes from being underfoot in the kitchen while celebratory meals are being prepared, I have taken to bringing a bag full of children’s books to read to them. All three of us find a comfortable sofa, oversized pillows or bed in a quiet nook of the house and settle in for some choice holiday stories. After doing this for the last 3 years or so, the girls eagerly look forward to our holiday read-together times.

During Thanksgiving our favorites have included Run, Turkey, Run! by Diane Mayr, as well as A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting. In both of these humorous kid’s tomes, the turkey does not get eaten on Thanksgiving Day and instead a vegetarian meal is served. In Run, Turkey, Run! the meal substitution is completely unintentional, when the turkey manages to outwit the farmer and his family who have to settle for grilled cheese sandwiches as a result. However in A Turkey for Thanksgiving, a non-turkey menu is planned from the very start, as the moose family (all fervent vegetarians by birth) invite their local turkey neighbor to sit down with them for the feast as their guest of honor. And of course as befits this special status, he is placed at the head of the table.

For the Christmas holidays, some of our past favorites have included: What Dogs Want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski, The Christmas Day Kitten by James Herriot, Wake Up Bear...It’s Christmas! by Stephen Gammell, as well as the British classic, The Church Mice at Christmas by Graham Oakley.

On occasion, I like to mix-up the repertoire a little by also including stories not related to the holidays. One of these is Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters, which happens to be Zoya’s particular favorite, and which I have had to read numerous times due to the incessant clamor of an unyielding, adoring (and adorable) audience. To further keep interests high, along with the stories I will sometimes incorporate a craft or two that relates either to the holiday theme or the main character of a book.

So if you have kids, nephews, nieces or friends with children, go to your local library to stock up on some fun titles. Then take some time out, gather up the troops, read, laugh and enjoy.

Reading together: It’s a great way to put that memorable, extra special, human sparkle into the next generation’s holiday season!


Run, Turkey, Run!

Love Part 20: Milton

Milton (Paradise Lost), in true Enlightenment fashion, says that love is based on reason, not on passion:

“In loving thou dost well, in passion not,
Wherein true Love consists not; love refines
The thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat
In Reason, and is judicious”

Love isn't willy nilly, spur-of-the-moment stuff. It obeys rules. It carves out its' actions with obedience to higher laws, principles, and ideals:

“Be strong, live happy, and love, but first of all
Him whom to love is to obey, and keep
His great command”

This sounds like Hobbes focus on obedience, and Jesus's "he who loves me will obey my teaching."

Sometimes love can be nasty, right? Dalia, after betraying Sampson in one poem, is trying to justify her actions. She asks: “And what if Love...Caus’d what I did?” To which he answers “Love seeks to have Love” and “But had thy love…Bin, as it ought, sincere, it would have taught thee Far other reasonings, brought forth other deeds.”

Love doesn't breed hate; it doesn't "reason" that way. Forgivness, of course, is a close relative of love. We've all heard the phrase "I will forgive, but never forget" (discussed in my MLK blog). Well, Sampson does exactly that:

“Let me approach at least, to touch they hand,” says Dalia, to which Sampson answers “Not for thy life…my sudden rage to tear thee joint by joint. At distance I forgive thee, go with that.”

Clearly this is not what Martin Luther King had in mind when he described forgiveness—this is the opposite! This also agrees with what Spinoza said about hating someone that you once loved; that it will make you hate them more, treat them worse than if, say, a stranger betrayed you.

Adam learns some things after the Fall, and after an angel talks to him. Adam says that he should love and fear God, be humble, merciful, meek, etc, and keep working for the good. To which the angel replies:

“thou hast attained the sum
Of wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Stars
Thou knewest by name, and all the ethereal Powers,
…And all the riches of this World enjoydst,
And all the rule, one Empire; onely add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Vertue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call’d Charitie, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradse, but shall possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far.”

In other words, add deeds to your wisdom, and especially love. This is a variation on Paul's "the greatest of these is love"; and when Augustine said that the end of all wisdom, scripture reading, etc. is nothing more than learning how to love, how to embrace charity. Finally, Milton interprets the Holy Spirit as the bringer of the "Law of Faith / Working through Love," which "Upon their hearts shall write..."

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer 
Love Part 14: Hobbes
Love Part 15: Machiavelli 
Love Part 16: Montaigne
Love Part 17: Bacon
Love Part 18: Spinoza
Love Part 19: Your Body


Paradise Lost


Geek lit icon Neal Stephenson is back with a near future thriller titled REAMDE that is sure to please fans of his 90’s cyberpunk fiction as well as those who crave the dense and erudite yet page-turning fiction that he seems capable of churning out in reams (six 1,000+ page novels in the last decade or so!). REAMDE at its core is a straight ahead thriller, but it maintains Stephenson’s uber-nerd sensibilities as it careens through a twisting plot path that includes an elaborate World of Warcraftlike massively multiplayer online game and the company that runs it, a computer virus that leverages the game to extract “real” ransom from users, menacing Russian gangsters, Chinese hackers, a welsh jihadist terrorist, heart thumping chase’s, and plenty of gun fights. It’s a wild ride; and the fact that Stephenson can make this 1,000+ page tome feel like a page-turner is a testament to his considerable talent.



When She Woke, She Was Red.

I’m not usually interested in books that are touted to be just like another book, but after reading reviews of When She Woke that compared it to The Scarlet Letter and The Handmaid’s Tale—two of my favorite books—I was intrigued.  Hillary Jordan’s second novel takes place in the near future, a dystopic future where criminals are infected with viruses to turn their skins bright red, blue, green or yellow depending upon the severity of their crimes.  The heroine of the novel, Hannah Payne (an obvious homage to The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne), is convicted of murder for procuring an illegal abortion and sentenced to live her life as a Chrome.  Chromes—the brightly-colored convicts—generally suffer particularly awful fates as they are shunned, beaten, or worse by members of their community.  When She Woke follows Hannah Payne as she attempts to deal with brutal realities of life as an outsider.

Though I enjoyed reading it, there are a few things that irked me about the novel.  The social commentary is very heavy-handed, and at points I found myself thinking “all right all ready, I get it!”  There are also a few things Hannah Payne does that seem out-of-character for her—things done solely to make a point, not because Hannah would have naturally done them.  However, for fans of The Scarlet Letter, The Handmaid’s Tale or dystopias like 1984, this is worth the read.  It’s absorbing, fast-paced, and thought-provoking.


When She Woke


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