Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

New Year's Resolution??


Every year, I think I will make a New Year’s resolution…or two, or three.  Even if I get around to making a resolution, I seldom keep it for the entire year. 

Well!  The thought of a New Year’s resolution brings to mind giving up something lovely, like candy…or, more specifically, M&M’s type candy.

I was interested in the title blogged by David DV earlier this month which was Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise? (An Imponderables book).  Page 228-229 are all about the M&M’s candies.  For example, did you know that the mix of colors is different in the plain packages than it is in the peanut packages?  The Imponderables book referred to above was copyrighted in 1987 when M&M’s still had the tan color as opposed to the blue color in its packages.  The percentages are the same per color until green and tan, when the book says there are 10% green in plain candy and 20% green in the peanut.  Tan falls short in the peanut category, because there are 10% in plain, and 0% in peanut!  Now that tan has been replaced by blue, I wonder if the numbers will change?  Does this mean that I get to purchase several regular size packages of each candy and do a count?

So much for the resolution of giving up M&M’s!!

If M&M’s are favs or yours, and if you want more information about the product and its spinoffs than you care to imagine reading, just go to the following websites: or  Guaranteed you will learn all about M&M’s and Mars candies of all sorts.  Why, you can even come to the library and get a book to use with your child that will help with developing math skills!  Check out Barbara McGrath’s The M&M’s Brand Chocolate Candies Counting Book, count to your heart’s content, and then enjoy the final reward:  it really will “Melt in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand”! (slogan copyright by M&M Mars, 1954).


The M&M's Brand Chocolate Candies Counting Book


Undercover in High Heels

First, let me say that I couldn’t do anything in heels any higher than ½”!

But, Maddie Springer, children’s shoe designer extraordinaire, can. She has a nearly uncontrolled fetish for collecting shoes: all styles, colors, heel heights, etc. In fact, the more expensive the shoes, the better! Imagine a pair of $800.00 Prada boots! With a VISA that’s always maxed out, twenty-something, single Maddie gallops through life, having such experiences as seeing her ex-boyfriend’s boss murdered; seeing Las Vegas for the first time; discovering that her “absent for the last 25 years” dad is a drag queen dancer in a sleazy Vegas club, etc. Undercover in High Heels is #3 in this series that caught my interest when I saw the next book advertised.

I’ve blogged about the mystery series genre at KPL before and I just can’t seem to get enough! When one title is good, then more by the same author and with the same characters are better! If you “wanna be” a size two, a B&B owner, a coffee aficionado, a tea lover, a plus-sized southern PI, a purse collector…it’s all here and available to check out and enjoy!

Imagine the hours of escape reading you can do, all in the name of literacy! 


Undercover in High Heels

The Curious Case of F. Scott Fitzgerald

 I stood in line to see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” when it opened at the Rave Theater on December 25. Quirky, funny, sad and sweet — with occasional sentimentality that I overlooked due to the very fine acting. A little bit “Big Fish,” a trace of “Forrest Gump.” 

The movie is loosely based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald from his Tales of the Jazz Age collection. Very loosely based. Screenwriter Eric Roth took the idea of aging in reverse and ran with it. There’s not much else that resembles Fitzgerald’s work. (The movie’s leading female character is named Daisy, a nod to Fitzgerald’s Daisy Buchanan from his great novel  The Great Gatsby.)

So, lest you think that seeing the movie counts as having read the story or having read Fitzgerald, think again. I like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories — “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” and “Winter Dreams” are excellent, but I don’t think “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of his strongest.

Do delve into his stories if you’ve never read them. Of course, if you’ve never read Fitzgerald at all, then go straight to The Great Gatsby — now. Fitzgerald’s sharp observations about people and class will never go out of style.

F Scott Fitzgerald


In Memoriam for 2008

They may have passed on in 2008 but their life's work will continue to resonate from the books, films and cd's by and about them.

Robert Rauschenberg (Artist)

Harold Pinter (Writer, Actor, Political Activist)

Paul Newman (Actor)

David Foster Wallace (Writer)

Heath Ledger (Actor)

Tim Russert (Journalist)

Bobby Fischer (Chess Player)

Arthur C. Clarke (Writer)

Sidney Pollock (Actor, Director)

Eartha Kitt (Actor, Singer)

Isaac Hayes (Musician)


Robert Rauschenberg : breaking boundaries



Short but Worthy

If you're drawn to a variety of short pieces by many writers, these collections should appeal to you: The Best American Magazine Writing and The Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. If you prefer a themed collection, try Jeffrey Eugenides' My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead for some grand love stories. You'll find a lot to like in these volumes, guaranteed.


My Mistress's Sparrow is Dead
Wendy W.

On the Road with Cliff

 Although new to me, Jim Harrison is a prolific author of fiction, poetry, short stories and more. The English Major, which I just finished reading, and a number of his other works are set, at least in part, in either northern lower or the upper peninsula of Michigan. Probably his best-known work is Legends of the Fall, which was made into a successful movie starring Brad Pitt.

Cliff, the 60 year old protagonist, a former high school teacher who graduated from MSU with, of course, a major in English, (as did the author) spent years tending an inherited farm in northern Michigan. He sets off on a cross-country adventure after his real estate agent wife leaves him, sells the farm out from under him, and his dog dies. As he tries to make some sense of his situation and find a new purpose for his life, he settles on a personal quest to rename all the states and state birds that he feels are not nearly colorful and descriptive enough.

Very quirky and entertaining; Cliff’s road trip takes a number of unlikely turns as he realizes that change, however it comes, can be a good thing. I will definitely pick up another of Mr. Harrison’s books.


The English Major
Martha C

When are Red Beans and Rice not Red Beans and Rice?

Why, when they are Remarkable Foon's Sizzling Hot Pebbles, that's when!  In Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook: recipes inspired by Dr. Seuss! the foods that many of us have tried take a new spin of whimsy when accompanied by a verse from one of Dr. Seuss's many books.  For example, simple strawberries with yogurt dip becomes Brown Bar-ba-loots' Truffula Fruits and goes along with The Lorax.  Nupboards' Nuggets are a lot like granola and can be discovered in the book There's a Wocket in My Pocket!  From main dishes to sweets, this book is a must for all ages (not just for the fun, but for the tastiness, too!  The recipes are delicious!)

The author, Georgeanne Brennan, is also repsonsible for other books of food and fun ranging from a Williams-Sonoma cookbook to one called A Pig in Provence: good food and simple pleasures in the south of France.  I think I'm going to try her book entitled Salad next. 


Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook:  recipes inspired by Dr. Seuss

A Jewel Spared

A KPL librarian recently asked her colleagues to submit titles of books and movies that have had special meaning for us---inspiration, memory, life impact, whatever. Instantly, I thought of All Mine to Give, a movie I’d seen with my mother in the late fifties when I was about ten years old.

All Mine to Give was the wrenching story of a Scottish pioneer family that settled on the Fox River in central Wisconsin in the 1860’s. The beloved father, a logger, and his wife died in close succession, leaving six orphaned children. To keep a promise he made to his dying mother, the oldest son trekked through the snow on Christmas day seeking homes for his siblings among the families in the town. This was a tear-jerker, yet the most uplifting movie I had seen to date.

Alas, KPL did not own the film, and there could be no book because the movie was based on a story my mother had read in a magazine. Somehow I remembered the title, The Day They Gave Babies Away, and I set out to track it down. Before checking any magazine indexes, I keyed the title into the library’s catalog. I was shocked to find a matching entry, classified as an essay, written in 1947, 38 pages long. Excited but dubious, I flew down the back stairs of the library in search of 818 E88. The slim volume was dwarfed between two larger books. Inside the re-bound orange cover, the words “overflow storage” were stamped in six places. On the seventh yellowed page, I read, “this essay originally appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine.” 

At home that evening, in my favorite chair, a cup of tea in hand, I read the story. It was just as I remembered the movie, but until this reading, I had no idea the tale was true. The author, Dale Eunson, wrote the brief family history to memorialize his father, his aunts and uncles and his grandparents.

At Kalamazoo Public Library, staff weed our collections vigorously and responsibly---to remove outdated material, to get rid of worn copies, to keep the collection fresh, to make room for new titles. How and why the library’s weeding machine spared this little jewel, which has been checked out just seven times since 1990, I’ll never know. I’m a strong advocate for weeding, but this time I'm glad there was clemency!

Coincidentally, All Mine to Give has just been released on DVD as part of a collection of MGM holiday classics. It’s now on order for the library. Look for it in January.


The Day They Gave Babies Away
818-E88-160 E88

Best Read of 2008

It is the time of year for all the lists of "Best of 2008". Not surprisingly, I seek out all the lists of the best books of the year and find many I have read but even more to add to my list of "books to read sometime".

Today, almost at year end, my favorite fiction book from 2008 is Five Skies by Ron Carlson. It is the story of three men brought together in Idaho's Rocky Mountains to construct a motorcycle ramp across a canyon. All the men are running from personal and emotional setbacks and are trying to get their lives back on track. In this simple, understated story, the author writes about their interactions, what they teach each other, loyalty, grief.

My favorite may yet change by December 31, but then I'll move on and begin my 2009 reading list.

What was your favorite book of those you read this year?


Five Skies

Maps and Legends


Renowned children’s book illustrator, Kadir Nelson, spoke at KPL’s 31st Children's Literature Seminar last month. He told his audience that some of his illustrations derive from childhood memories, and he always strives to tell the truth. That’s what readers want, he said. 

Nothing against Mr. Nelson (he was great), but Michael Chabon, in his book of essays, Maps and Legends: reading and writing along the borderlands, would disagree. The inspiring flecks of memoir scattered throughout his book hail partly from real events and partly from invention. By entangling the two, he asserts, the made up stuff becomes credible.

This narrow margin between truth and lies is just one of the boundaries the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chabon addresses in his musings about the writers’ craft. Chabon testifies that interesting and entertaining writing requires the creator to cross borders, venture into new zones, or skitter around the edges of convention. He extols genre fiction---fantasy, science fiction, graphic novels, ghost stories, etc. and celebrates the use of quirky character devices, such as golems, tricksters, and daemons. He even employs the book’s physical form to reinforce his unique literary views. The beautifully designed jacket doesn’t wrap the entire cover and its inside flaps are void of words and the author’s acknowledgements are laid out visually as a map with legend.  

Chabon’s penchant for the extraordinary started in 1969 when his family joined a smattering of colonists as residents of Columbia, MD, one of the country’s planned, utopian communities.  In the title essay, Maps and Legends, Chabon declares that moving “into the midst of that unfinished, ongoing act of imagination set the course of my life.” For a acollege urban studies class in the late sixties, I wrote a paper about Columbia and other "new towns."  If only I'd had this mesmorizing essay as a resource.

Esquire Magazine recently named Chabon one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st Century for their belief he will help insure the survival of reading...especially reading for pleasure. After experiencing this book, I can see why.


Maps and Legends

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