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Staff Picks: Books

Libraries and E-books

NPR ran an interesting segment yesterday about libraries and e-lending—a good reminder that (to borrow a phrase from another NPR story) “change is the only constant in today’s publishing industry.” According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 75% of Americans read a book (in any platform) during the past year, and of those, 30% read an e-book. Sales of e-books for the same period grew modestly, up 34% over 2011, and e-book prices have somewhat stabilized at or near the $10 mark. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablet pcs, however, the demand for e-content is forcing publishers to reexamine traditional sales and lending models.

Ok, you might say, that’s fine, but what about those of us who find the cost of purchasing our own content prohibitive (or restrictive at very least)? And once I buy an e-book, do I really “own” it anyway? Can I pass it along to my parents or my kids or a friend to read? Will there ever be such a thing as a digital “used” bookstore? (Probably not.)

Public libraries (including KPL) continue to expand e-book services, although selection remains frustratingly limited. According to the Pew study, only about 5% of library users borrowed an e-book in the past year, and only 31% were even aware that they could. Why is that? Don’t libraries know that users want more e-content? Of course they do, but the fact remains that many of the major publishers simply don’t want to play nice with libraries. They tend to view library lending as a threat to sales rather than the enormous promotional opportunity that it is. Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library in New York, says “public libraries, I mean, we're out there really pushing the product of these publishers, and I can't imagine another industry in this country that has that type of a relationship.” And as for those publishers that do make library content available, prohibitive pricing models and the resulting tangle of software designed to protect publishers’ digital rights only serves to compound the issue. So what do we do?

The answer is like Michigan weather… stick around, it’s bound to change. Currently, KPL licenses and distributes its e-content through a consortium of Michigan libraries in order to offer the broadest possible selection in a cost-effective manner. And we’re constantly researching new and different models for e-books, digital audiobooks, music, and other e-content. To help alleviate the waiting time, KPL purchases additional copies of many popular titles (called Advantage titles), which are available through the consortium but only to KPL resident borrowers. For first-time users, we’ve posted newly revised instructions to help make the library e-book experience as smooth as possible. And for hands-on help, the library is hosting a series of e-book information sessions where users can get help with technical questions and learn about new developments in KPL digital collections.

So go ahead, explore KPL’s digital collections and rest assured that as new developments come about, your library will be right there with you.



Buildings of Michigan

Last month I wrote about a book that provided a tour of great buildings of the world. This month I'll call your attention to something a little closer to home, a book on buildings right here in Michigan. In the introduction, Kathryn Bishop Eckert discusses various aspects of Michigan architectural history. The arrangement of the individual building entries, with some black and white photographs, is by region of the state, and by county within each region. Some of the Kalamazoo buildings included are the Kalamazoo City Hall, First Presbyterian Church, Rose Street Market, and the Henderson Castle. An error in the 1992 edition, which had a photograph of the Ladies Library Association Building with a caption calling it the First Presbyterian Church, has been corrected this time around.


Buildings of Michigan

It’s Winter

It’s winter, and though there’s no snow on the ground right now in late December, we can pretty much assume that it will get cold and snowy sometime soon. Why not check out some of these new children’s books about winter, get cozy with a cup of cocoa, and read?

I See Winter by Charles Ghigna and Henry Goes Skating by B.B .Bourne both celebrate winter activities—snowmen, sleds and skates. In more of a folktale vein and for slightly older children is The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman. Lovely illustrations complement the story.

A chapter book and part of a series is Good luck, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Young Anna goes from her native Africa to Canada to visit her grandmother. It’s cold and snowy there, and new adventures and experiences await Anna.

Spring, summer, fall and winter—your library is a great resource year round!


I See Winter

Reading Goals

Does anyone else make reading goals at the beginning of the year? I find it so interesting how different readers approach reading. Everyone does it a little bit differently but the goals are often the same: reading for pleasure, reading to learn, reading to grow, reading to escape for a bit! It's always at the end of the year when I am reflecting on the year that has passed and preparing for the new year that I'm thinking about personal reading goals. More reading is always on my goal list.

Last year, I challenged myself to read 100 books and keep track of them on Goodreads. I love having a record of what I've read! In 2013, I'll try to read 100 books again, but I think I'll choose 12 personal growth books or lifelong learning that I've been wanting to read but don't make time for. They are going on a list and I'm plowing through them, one month at a time. Knowledge is power, friends! 

Number 1 on that list: Help, Thanks, Wow: the three essential prayers by Anne Lamott. If you know me, you probably saw that coming! I'm also looking forward to Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead by Brene Brown. Have you seen her TED talk on vulnerability? So inspiring!

What books are you looking forward to making time for in 2013? If you need some best of lists, KPL's staff lists are great. Our staff has diverse tastes but share a love for reading, listening and viewing. I love that the lists are linked to our catalog so I can search for the location or place holds as I peruse the favorites! I also love this list by NPR, this list and this list by the New York Times, and this list of notable fiction by the Washington Post. 

Happy new year to all! I wish you many hours of enjoyable reading for fun, reading for growth, and reading just because you can!


Reading Goals





Heart of Mulder, Mind of Scully

As I write this, it is 12/21/12 and I am currently not experiencing any sort of Mayan-prophesied apocalypse.  Experts will tell you that the Mayans prophesied no such thing, but - as humans are wont to do - there were folks who built an urban legend out of scraps of misinformation and turned it into a whole big deal.  And thanks to all that doomsday hoopla, civilization was cursed with one particularly crappy John Cusack movie.  Now I don't personally know anyone who will confess to believing that the world was going to end today, but I do know a lot of people who believe many other things that I find difficult to swallow.  From outlandish conspiracy theories to the existence of ghosts and little green men to ancient mythologies, I'm constantly surprised by what people are willing to accept without any substantiation.

Now don't get me wrong:  I love stories of the supernatural and extraterrestrial - The X-Files is my all-time favorite television show.  And like that program's protagonist, Fox Mulder, I want to believe.  I'd give anything to have a ghostly experience or some psychic communication with loved ones from beyond the grave.  But I have to admit to myself, that deep down, I'm much more like Mulder's partner Dana Scully, the skeptic, whose job it was to scrutinize all of Mulder's investigations and look for fact-based scientific evidence to explain their otherwise otherworldly encounters.  I want to believe, but I don't - I can't, in good conscience, accept something outside the parameters of what we as humans have proven as fact.

I'm perfectly comfortable, however, that people believe things that I do not, but I have a hard time when people demonstrate the inability to process new information; acceptance of unproven things should not exclude acceptance of proven things.  I also dislike when selfish people prey upon the personal beliefs of others, as with so-called "psychics" who use the practice of cold reading to take your money and tell you that your dearly departed loved one says that it's okay for you to move on.  These kinds of behaviors make me very angry; I am a humanist and I believe that we should leave this world better than when we found it.  And when I'm angry, I often seek answers that help me understand why things are the way they are.  This summer I found solace in two books by fellow skeptic Michael Shermer:  Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time and The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.  In these books, Shermer discusses how the evolution of our brains helped us survive by becoming good at recognizing significant patterns in life - yet we're not particularly good at distinguishing between connections that actually exist and connections that have no significance.  He also discusses how we tend to choose our beliefs and then actively select which bits of information we support them with, and which bits we actively ignore.  These are fascinating reads and I suggest them to anyone whether you're a skeptic or not.

In the end, life is full of people who disagree with us, and we need to work hard to figure out a way to thrive among them.  The world would be a boring place if we all believed the same things, but that doesn't mean we can't argue in constructive and productive ways, and it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't, like Mulder and Scully, always be in search of the Truth. 


The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

Sacks: Science is my left brain, Religion is my right

If you don't like the recent trend of science and religion yelling at each other, you might like this book. Jonathan Sacks argues, like many before him, that science and religion are compatible, "more than compatible," harmonious. Like two sides of the same coin and the right and left hemispheres of the brain, they need each other. He actually takes the brain analogy literally. Science is a left-brain activity; it analyzes things, pulls them apart, explains them. Religion is a right-brain activity; it joins things together, tells stories, focuses on relationships, and interprets things. They are simply two different ways of being, two different perspectives on the world. A thing is a thing and a person is a person.

He also makes a very interesting point about why we Westerners confuse science and religion. He blames it on the Greeks! The Jewish religion, he says, was not scientific or philosophical at all. Neither was early Christianity. But then Christianity was married with Greek philosophy and science. Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, created a beautiful system of Christianity based on Aristotle's science and metaphysics and the Bible. Science and religion became one. Once we figured out Aristotle was wrong, it chipped away at religion too, etc. Get it? They became enemies because they were on the same turf.

What I liked most about the book is that the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks knows his science and religion and philosophy (of course he is definitely an Old Testament scholar), which is nice. Usually these books are written by a scientist pretending to be a theologian, or a theologian pretending to be scientific. The book starts strong and ends strong, but the middle gets repetitive and loses its' vigor. Not a bad read!


The Great Partnership

More Than Human

You’ll never look at roosters the same after you’ve seen the images of the genetically engineered featherless one shown in this larger-than-life collection of animal portraits by photographer Tim Flach. Treat yourself.


More Than Human


Goblin Secrets

I have to say that fantasy is not my favorite type of story. However, I felt an obligation to read Goblin Secrets, the latest National Book Award winner (youth category) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! Charming goblins, people with gears in their legs, and a really creepy underground railway kept my attention. This fast-moving story by a first-time novelist is worthy of the award!


Goblin Secrets

The Chamber in the Sky

At the beginning of The Chamber in the Sky, the fourth and final book in the Norembugan quartet, Brian and Gregory are lucky to be alive. The Thusser horde have already colonized the minds of the inhabitants of the Vermont subdivision where it all began after The Game of Sunken Places. Brian and Gregory, along with their blue-blooded elfin companion Gwynyfer have to find a travelling chamber that contains the off switch to the centuries-long game if they hope to make it back to Vermont. M.T. Anderson is a fine storyteller and funny. What a unique blend of laugh out loud moments along with genuinely thrilling plot twists and turns. The four-part series will probably be most enjoyed by 10 and ups.


The Chamber in the Sky

Apocalypse or family visit...

…the library has you covered.  The world may end in nine days (and many of our survival skill books are checked out already), but if it doesn’t, you may want to check out The worst-case scenario survival handbook: holidays.  According to the cover, it will show you how to prevail against hordes of shoppers OR reindeer.  I think it also has tips for tough family situations.



The worst-case scenario survival handbook. Holidays

Half the Sky

A few months ago, I happened to catch a show on PBS called “Half the Sky,” a series about the oppression of women in developing countries. The film followed a number of women throughout the world who have devoted their lives to freeing women and young girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare (including access to better prenatal care and freedom from genital mutilation). The topics were heavy and the film footage often heartbreaking, but the work being done by these selfless, heroic women was inspiring.

Come to find out, the film was based on a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote Half the Sky in an effort to address the oppression of women—a problem they saw reaching a crisis point but not being discussed at a global level. Not only does the book attempt to raise awareness of the issues that women and girls face worldwide, but it also acts as a call to arms to inspire and enact change. They believe that empowering women, while morally right, also serves to help the global economy and combat poverty, and they give plenty of examples of organizations working hard to fight for women’s rights. Don’t be frightened away by the weighty topic—this powerful and enlightening book will leave readers full of hope and optimism.


Half the sky

Woolman says loving your kids too much supports slavery

John Woolman--18th Century American Quaker, reformer, mystic, abolitionist, writer, wandering preacher--argued that excessive love contributed to the institution of slavery. Yes, that's right--excessive, gluttonous, kinship love. The argument is quite simple: parents who had slaves could save more money for their childrens' futures; they could give them more stuff, provide a secure life for them. John Woolman, of course, thought this was narrow-minded, immoral love; not a Christian love at all. It's loving one person at the expense and misery of another. And he wasn't arguing against the sort of slave-holder you think about. He was arguing against his fellow Quakers who had slaves! They were the guilty kind, the kind who wouldn't beat their slaves, who perhaps didn't like the institution alltogether; the kind who said "necessary evil" and "at least it's a way to convert them to Christianity". John Woolman loved his children too. But he loved them as he loved everyone else (I know that's hard to comprehend, but the biography portrays his life that way...he barely mentions his family in his own autobiography; he is a rare man indeed).

Woolman's life-long project to end slavery by literally walking around America talking to the slave-holders themselves, is only a fraction of his beautiful soul. Much like Martin Luther King Jr. thought that racism was part of a larger problem (hence, he devoted his life to anti-war, pro-union, anti-poverty projects too), Woolman's life was filled with nothing more than an obsession to purify his heart of sin, to figure out God's Will, to be humble, to wait for God to speak to him, to pray, to travel across the world. What amazed me so much was this man's obsession to be morally perfect in God's eyes, as he understood it along the way. The title of the book--The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman--is apt. For him the big things and the little things mattered. At one point he realized that an unbleached hat would last longer than a bleached hat. This was practically a moral crisis for him. For the rest of his life he wore completely unbleached (white) clothes (which made him look very weird). He had similarities with the saints that William James analyzes in Varieties of Religious Experience. But what makes his soul most beautiful is his character, how he chose to carry himself: humble, meek, mild, understanding, loving, patient, hopeful, steady, grateful. He showed love to the slave-holder; that's why he was successful in changing their minds.

This is not the best written biography by far, although it's good scholarship. It repeats a lot, and reads much like a long, extended commentary of Woolman's own Journal. But the subject matter is fascinating and worth it.


The Beautiful Soul of John Woolman

Ten Tiny Toes

“Into the world came ten tiny toes, a hundred times sweeter than one could suppose . . .” This book is just so darn cute! The rhythmic text touches on all the milestones of a baby’s life and the collage illustrations show a whole swarm of babies, toddlers, and other little ones in action. What a great gift this would be for a family with their own new Ten Tiny Toes.


Ten Tiny Toes

The Dead Family Diaz

I, as many of you may know, am Hispanic and when my children were small we used to practically live in the library. I’ve always loved the books and movies that I could borrow that supported and educated my children about their Latin heritage. The library just received a book that I fell in love with! The book is called The Dead Family Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle and Poly Bernatene.

This rollicking book involves every skeleton family in the land of the dead making their annual pilgrimage among the living to celebrate el Día de los Muertos or the celebrated Day of the Dead in Mexico. It is the one time a year when families put up alters to welcome the spirits of their ancestors who will be among them that day. Who’s not excited about the trip ? Little Angelito, who has been told by his sister that the humans have bulgy eyes and squishy skin. This amusing and a quirky twist on learning to accept others is refreshing. The illustrations have a Tim Burtonesque quality that delights.

Espero que lo disfrutas! I hope you enjoy it!


The Dead Family Diaz

Care of Wooden Floors

The engaging and darkly humorous Care of Wooden Floors, a debut novel by UK journalist Will Wiles, tells the tale of a nameless house-sitter who is given the opportunity to get away from his rather drab life in London and visit a nameless eastern European city to watch over the sleek and ultra-modern apartment of an old college friend and finally concentrate without distraction on the creative writing that he tells himself he has in him. Oscar, the friend, a renowned minimalist composer and beyond serious neat freak, leaves nothing in his life to chance. As the narrator discovers a series of obsessively specific notes concerning the care of the flat, and particularly the unique wood floors, it becomes clear that there is more to the house-sitting, and more to the relationship with Oskar, than was assumed. As the story unfolds, and then absurdly unravels, a sense of schadenfreude sets in and readers will revel in the “it can’t get any worse” twists and turns as the simple house-sitting assignment morphs into a downright Kafkaesque existential struggle.


Care of Wooden Floors

Life is not a romance novel

Have you ever read a romance novel? Romance is the highest selling segment of all published fiction. From Whitney, my love to the currently trending 50 Shades of Grey (73 holds on it as of this writing), one feature they all seem to share is poor communication between star-crossed lovers. If they had self-awareness and the ability to communicate honestly and openly, there would be a very different story, of course, but whenever I have picked up a bodice-busting paperback the most notable feature is an astounding lack of communication. This results in several hundred pages of uncertainty and misery. To help you avoid these pitfalls in your own life, take a look at some of our books on communication skills. The book I have featured here, Conversation Transformation, is one place to start.

[The Life is not a romance novel series started with Only connect, continued with Into the kitchen and Not so fast. Stay tuned for further installments, and please leave suggestions for future topics in the comments. Or comment on my reading choices.]


Conversation transformation : recognize and overcome the 6 most destructive communication patterns

Where’s My T R U C K?

Karen Beaumont is the author of several wonderful children’s books. Her books are fun to read aloud. Have you ever spelled a word to someone else as a secret code to keep a child from understanding the discussion?

Karen Beaumont’s most recent book is Where’s My T R U C K? It is about a little boy named Tommy who loses his red truck. He is extremely upset and angry and he goes on a quest to find it, looking under his bed, in dresser drawers, his toy box, his sandbox, even in flower beds and up in trees. Tommy is so distraught he begins to cry and the frantic parents don’t know what to do! Throughout the book, the word T R U C K is spelled out, giving a rhythmic pattern to the text. David Catrow’s illustrations are comical, colorful, and lively.

We have many wonderful children’s books by Karen Beaumont in our collection. Here are a few more of my favorite Karen Beaumont books!


Where’s My T R U C K?

Three New Kids' Titles

I’ve been a children’s librarian for a lot of years, so am always on the lookout for new children’s titles. One that definitely caught my eye is Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer. One of the most requested topics we get is “princess books” for kids. This book is certainly that, but with a twist. Princess Viola loves to skateboard, karate chop and jump in the moat- not your traditional princess activities. The king and queen send Viola to princess school, with hilarious results, and an ending that is totally satisfying.


I love dogs, and in Boot and Shoe by Marla Frazee, two canines from the same litter, Boot and Shoe, do everything together. They eat together, they eat out of the same bowl, they sleep in the same bed. But Shoe is a front porch kind of dog, and Boot camps out on the back porch all day, which is perfect until a pesky squirrel throws their ordered world into disarray. Wonderful, expressive pictures add a lot to the story, and it’s perfect for new readers.


Dog in Charge by K.L. Going has some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen in a quite a while. Illustrator Dan Santat captures dog and cat personalities to a “T”. Dog is given the task of keeping the family cats in line while their family is gone, and the wily felines prove to be a challenge for somewhat clueless Dog. All is well in the end, and peace reigns.

Check out these and other new kids’ titles just for the fun of it, and to keep kids reading!


Princess in Training

Great Buildings

As soon as I saw that this 2012 book was from DK (Dorling Kindersley Ltd.) in Great Britain, I knew it would be good. Their publications are always well done, with a fine layout, excellent photographs, and good content on high quality paper. This particular offering did not disappoint. Chronologically covering 4500 years of architectural achievements, it gives photographs, commentary, and a brief biography of the architect, when one can be identified. Beginning with the pyramid at Giza, Egypt, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Colosseum in Rome, author Wilkinson continues down through history, including such edifices as the Alhambra in Spain, the Versailles Palace in France, and the Houses of Parliament in the U.K. There are also some American buildings -- the Chrysler Building in New York City, Monticello in Virginia, and Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright in Pennsylvania. Many of the buildings were familiar to me, but many also were not, such as the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai and Belem Tower in Lisbon, Portugal. Check this out for a great tour around the world.


Great buildings : [the world's architectural masterpieces explored and explained]


Julia Child’s Fascination with Felines

For many more years than I would like to admit to, I remember spending innumerable Saturday afternoons enjoying Julia Child’s cooking shows on the local PBS station. First, there was her classic “French Chef” series, then “Julia Child & Company,” followed up by “Julia Child and More Company.” All in all, her television career lasted for over thirty-seven years, and included nine more separate series in addition to the ones already mentioned. Considering the hundreds of episodes that she appeared in, it isn’t all that surprising that in 1996, TV Guide named her to their list of the “Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.”

Of course, fine food was the centerpiece of all these programs, as it also was in Julia’s personal life. But there was an additional source of great pleasure for her that until recently was not all that well known. Cats!

When Patricia Barey’s and Therese Burson’s book entitled Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in The Company of Cats appeared late last summer, I immediately placed a hold on the title. Being unabashedly cat crazy myself, and admiring Julia Child’s spunky, unpretentious, joie de vivre style, I very much looked forward to reading this slim volume, which is enhanced with many black and white photos of Julia and her felines.

As is told in the book, Julia’s story begins in 1948 as a newly wedded bride of thirty-six, who is madly in love with her husband Paul. They start married life living in Paris, France, a country and city obsessed with food and romance. There, Julia and Paul begin to collect the first of many cats who would grace their lives, several of whom adopted the young couple rather than the other way around. By throwing in their lot with Julia and Paul, these felines ended up winning the cat equivalent of the lottery, going on to live in the lap of luxury with a master chef and hanging out as the perfect kitchen comrades with the couple who truly adored them.

But this book is not only about cats. It also follows Julia as she begins attending the world renowned culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. Here, she receives a failing grade in her final exam at the hands of her instructor and nemesis Madame Brassart, who states that, “Julia does not have any great natural talent for cooking.” Over time, this has come to be recognized as one of the greatest misjudgments in the history of culinary arts education. In 1961, after her well received book titled The Art of French Cooking hit the stands, Julia went on to become an overnight sensation, and her name is still synonymous with fine cuisine to this day.


In addition to this adult account, released at about the same time was a children’s volume about Child and one particular cat. Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat by Susanna Reich is a forty-page book about Julia learning to cook in Paris with her devoted feline friend, Minette, at her side. Although she has the best products of fine food preparation within constant reach, truth be told, Minette is not too fond of gourmet meals, often preferring the taste of a freshly killed mouse instead.

So, whether you are a Julia Child admirer, a cat devotee, both or even neither, you are in for a treat with these two volumes. As Julia might have said, “Bon Appétit, happy reader, Bon Appétit!”

It should be noted that had she lived, Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday last August.


Julia's cats : Julia Child's life in the company of cats

Let the Wild Rumpus Begin

While scanning the new books in the rotunda a couple of weeks ago, I came across The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.  Flipping through, I saw detailed diagrams of things I had done with my kids, things my parents did with me, and things I've seen other parents do with their kids.  It seemed ridiculous and hilarious how it used four figures to show how to get your child up onto your shoulder.  Why a book like this when we all know this stuff?  Because we often forget to do it, or we did it with our first child and kind of petered out as others were born and we got older and everything got busier.  As I was laughing at the book, I had this realization, which induced a little panic.  My two youngest children are now 7 and 9.  Was there still time?

Last week, we found ourselves on several occasions, piling the couch cushions and pillows in the middle of the living room floor, scanning through the book, and trying things out.  Long live the human cannonball!


The Art of Roughhousing



Not just a Christmas story...

Piggybacking on Christine's post (2 down from this one), I also just finished a book about living with autism. This is a topic many of us can relate to, as 1 in 88 children are identified with having an autism spectrum disorder ( The book I read is The cat who came back for Christmas by Julia Romp. The book details single mom Julia's extremely difficult time raising her son George, who was eventually diagnosed with autism. He communicated poorly, had many behavior issues, was never affectionate or loving, and rarely showed happiness...until they took in a stray cat when he was 9 years old. George and the cat, Ben, had an instant connection and George quickly came out of his shell, beginning to communicate on a level (both with the cat, and with his mom) that Julia had never thought possible, even showing affection toward Julia that she had longed for since his birth. Then the worst thing possible happened...when Julia attempted to take George on their first real vacation, Ben went missing. As the months dragged on with no sign of Ben, grief-stricken George regressed, and Julia searched desperately, knowing the only way to get her son "back" was to find their cat. I won't give away anything else (although the title doesn't leave much to the imagination), but I must say this is one of the BEST books I have read in a long time...could not put it down.


Cat who came back for Christmas

A Small Hotel

On the day their divorce is to be finalized, Kelly returns to the small boutique hotel in New Orleans where she and her husband, Mike, fell in love and visited frequently.

The story follows their lives as it chronicles the complexities of their twenty year relationship and as Kelly faces a major decision and the impact of it for her daughter.

A Small Hotel is a passionate love story showing the consequences of miscommunication and insecurity written by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert Olen Butler.

Good writing, a good story that can be read and appreciated on various levels.


A Small Hotel

Moving Memoirs

I recently read two books about people living with autism. I found both of them to be moving and insightful.

Now I See the Moon: a mother, a son, a miracle - When Elaine Hall’s adopted son, Neal, was diagnosed with autism, she had a variety of negative emotional responses to the news. Over time, Hall learned not only to accept her son’s condition, but to see and appreciate the very special gifts that her son and other autistic children offer. Hall, who already had experience training child actors, developed a groundbreaking program to engage autistic children in drama and other performing arts.

The Journal of Best Practices David Finch describes, with humor and insight, his own journey of discovering that he has Asperger syndrome. He developed a very systematic process for understanding his condition and improving his relationship with his wife and his children.


The Journal of Best Practices: a memoir of marriage, Asperger syndrome, and one man's quest to be a better husband

National Book Award Finalists

Yesterday, the National Book Award winners were announced. Here is a list of the Fiction and Nonfiction books that were nominated including the winners.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Winner)

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers


Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, And Hope In A Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo (Winner)

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro

The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez

House of Stone: A Memoir Of Home, Family, And A Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid


Yellow Birds








It's that time of year and our library has a bunch a good books on hunting, whether you are a beginner or just want to learn about the beautiful Whitetail Deer. (did you know they shed and re-grow their antlers every year? that they are the fastest growing bone in the world? that they chew their cud?)

The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food is the most well written. Besides being informative and practical, the author actually makes an ethical argument for the benefits of harvesting meat locally, natural, organic, non-wasteful, and in the most humane way possible. He calls himself a "locavore" and says it the closest thing to being a vegetarian.

Stop by the downtown Central library and check out our other books on deer and hunting. They are arranged by subject, so they're all in the same area.


The Beginner's Guide to Hunting Deer for Food

Help. Thanks. Wow.

I've enjoyed Anne Lamott's previous books and therefore have been looking forward to reading her latest, Help. Thanks. Wow.: The Three Essential Prayers. The simple concept of the title combined with her familiar and often humorous writing style have led me to think (hope) that once again, I'll be able to identify with her perspective on personal spirituality in an easy-to-read, down-to-earth way. 



Help. Thanks. Wow.: The Three Essential Prayers

Liar and Spy

When Georges moves to a new apartment building, the last thing he expects is that he will become a spy. Not only a spy, but friends with 12-year-old, coffee-drinking Safer, and his sister Candy, home-schooled kids whose parents allowed them to name themselves. Of course, the story involves spying and lying but you’ll need to read Liar and Spy yourself for details. (And don’t miss the interrupting chicken.)


Liar and Spy

Yet another anniversary

So far this year I have written in this space about several books that were published because of an anniversary of the topic. Well, here's another one, and it's a 60th anniversary that's happening very soon. In early November, 1952, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower was elected president. This election was historic for many reasons, and this biography by Jean Edward Smith covers the entire life of Eisenhower, with an emphasis on his service in World War I and the time after that. This is a hefty volume, and it's probably not expected that everyone who encounters it will read the whole thing. Yet, it's worth looking at, even if only to read selected chapters or to see the photos and editorial cartoons interspersed with the narrative.


Eisenhower : in war and peace


I might be an extravert but I'm not sure. I don't like labels. Personality and temperment are just not that simply defined. I picked up the book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, because personality psychology is a topic that interests me. I was hoping to better understand introversion and extraversion and how our culture values, or perhaps undervalues, either trait. I think Susan Cain does a great job of explaining the theories and research behind this aspect of personality. The book is well-written and the research presented is compelling. And it doesn't read like a psychology textbook so that's a plus! 

I'm not sure exactly sure where I fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum. Socially, I much prefer small groups to large parties and while I don't seem to "need" solitude, I enjoy it and feel refreshed by it. Regardless, I think it's important that society learn to value people as they are, without requiring a certain level of extroversion. I can already tell I'll be thinknig about this book for a long time. I hope it sparks a movement toward greater acceptance and celebration of every individual's strengths, whatever they may be.



Music and Make Believe (M&Ms)

It's time for Music and Make Believe again! This week the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra String Quartet and Kalamazoo Public Library will collaborate to bring you this special program. Preschoolers will enjoy hearing the story, The Maestro Plays, and completing a craft in the children's room. Then we all go upstairs, where the KSO String Quartet will be waiting to illustrate the story again with music. Kids will love the interaction with the orchestra members and the beautiful music.

We'd love for you to join us at one of the 5 Music and Make Believe sessions this week. Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 and 10:30 am at Central. And Thursday at 10:30 am at Eastwood.

Register on our website or call 553-7804 for more information.


The Maestro Plays

Blogs in Print

If you dabble in interior design or take a lot of pictures of the food you make, chances are I’ve read your blog. I’m a regular reader of a number of blogs that focus on DIY house projects or made-from-scratch recipes, and lately it seems as though the writers of all my favorite blogs are getting book deals. I’ve been really excited about the release of Deb Perelman’s book, The Smitten Kitchen. The Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog, mainly because the author uses simple ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes in a tiny, tiny kitchen—in other words, she makes me think I can recreate her recipes in my own kitchen. Perelman’s photography skills make the blog particularly appealing, and I’m hoping that the cookbook has the same appetizing look.

In addition to The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I’ve been looking forward to the book from Sherry and John Petersik, creators of the house blog Young House Love. Like the blog, the book Young House Love is full of do-it-yourself projects to decorate the home. I’d categorize their style as bright and cheerful with modern elements, and their casual manner and detailed instructions make it easy to bring their look into your own home. They’re very inspiring for people slightly afraid of a DIY challenge.

The Smitten Kitchen and Young House Love aren’t the only blogs that have made their way to print recently. Checkout Joy the Baker (, Dinner: a Love Story (, or Design Sponge at Home (


Smitten Kitchen

My foray into the graphic novel world

Recently, more and more nonfiction books are being published in graphic novel format. Although I have not yet succumbed to the traditional fiction graphic novels, no longer can I ignore the intrigue of these new nonfiction ones that include biographies, social histories, and loads of other topics. My first official selection was My friend Dahmer, a graphic novel by Derf Backderf. Derf was a teenage acquaintance of Jeffrey Dahmer, and the book tells the back story of Dahmer's adolescence, mainly his increasing social isolation and dysfunctional family life in the years before he became a serial killer. The story concentrates only on Dahmer and the author as teenagers, so while disturbing, I did not find it gory or difficult to read. The illustrations were captivating and the story was heartbreaking. This was a good choice for my first graphic has hooked me into a new genre that I didn't think I would like...but did.


My friend Dahmer

The Sandcastle Girls

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is a love story set against the horror of the Armenian genocide in 1915. The novel moves between the present day narrated by Laura Petrosian, and the early years of the war. Laura is researching her family history to learn the story of how her grandparents met and fell in love.

The woman who would become Laura’s grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke when she arrives with her father in Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees. Laura’s future grandfather, Armen, is an Armenian engineer who has come to Aleppo in search of information about his wife and infant daughter who have been killed by the Turks. Elizabeth and Armen fall in love but are temporarily separated as Armen leaves to travel to Egypt to join the British Army.

Elizabeth and Armen's story includes other compelling characters. Nevart, a widow who lost her husband during the genocide, has unofficially adopted Hatoun, a young girl who witnessed the decapitations of her mother and sister. And, two German army engineers risk their lives to photographic the savagery of the Armenians' predicament for posterity.

Laura Petrosian’s journey back through her family's history reveals not only love, tremendous loss, and gruesome images of the Armenian genocide, but a wrenching family secret that has been buried for generations.


The Sandcastle Girls : A Novel

Sky Color

When I read the new picture book Sky Color, I was reminded of a fascinating piece from Radiolab called "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?". In different ways, Peter Reynolds' new picture book and the Radiolab program acknowledge that the color concept of a clear blue sky may be largely a social and linguistic construction.

In Sky Color, Marisol has the opportunity to share in painting a mural in her school library. When she can't find the color blue, which she thinks she needs for the sky, she thinks a bit more on how to represent the sky on her mural. That night, she has a dream and realizes she may not need the color blue to present the color of the sky after all.

Sky Color is the third in a series of picture books by Peter H. Reynolds about creativity. The first two titles are The Dot and Ish.


Sky Color


FROGEE or Being In My Element!

I don’t like to draw attention to myself or stand out in a crowd, but that’s what I’m kind of doing now, whenever I drive around Kalamazoo. It all started in March of 2008 when my car lease was close to expiration. Two months before that, I had approached my husband about leasing another Honda, but this time not just another plain vanilla CRV, like the ones we had owned twice previously. No, this time I wanted a Honda Element.

He wasn’t surprised at this request, but he wasn’t thrilled about it either. He had known that since about the time that the first Element appeared in late 2002, I saw it as being the ideal car for me. And he did not exactly applaud my choice. In fact, the word “ugly” may have passed his lips more than once in assessing my preference. What?! Ugly?! Far from it, I thought. But, if I couldn’t convince his heart with car looks, I decided that I’d try to convince his brain with car facts.

My brother-in-law owned (and still owns) an Element that he would drive to Midland, Michigan from Cleveland, Ohio and back every week for over two years. That’s a hundred and four trips. He swears by the steadfast reliability of his Honda Element and given the slightest opportunity, constantly sings its praises. His recommendation definitely carried some weight, and I could see my husband starting to give a little.

Then, I heard Click and Clack—The Tappet Brothers, also known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk fame, repeatedly recommend this “toaster on wheels” to numerous on-air callers, giving it high marks mainly for its dependability, sturdiness and versatility. I made sure my husband was listening to these accolades, and underscored them with well placed comments for emphasis, such as, “You see?”

Then, I nailed the deal by pointing out to him that in addition to these positives, there was an even greater bonus; it would cost less to own or lease an Element, than it would to get another CRV.

Well, to make a long story at least a little shorter, we decided that the Element was going to be our next car. Then it came time to select a color. Maroon was the first choice, with kiwi green (actually more of a lime green) being the back-up. Actually, the maroon was once more my husband’s selection. He said it made a bad looking car a little more dignified. My rationale for choosing the lime green was why get a funky looking car without a funky looking color to match? And besides, green is my favorite color. The dealer told my husband that he shouldn’t worry, because he was certain, (no, make that absolutely positive!) that he’d be able to find us a maroon one somewhere in the Midwest.

However, when we arrived a week later to pick up our new car, there, standing in a conspicuous place, all alone, waiting for someone to claim it was my kiwi green Element. As my heart broke out into a song of jubilation, my husband’s sank beneath waves of despair. The dealer was very apologetic saying he could not deliver our first choice because it was very, very popular and back ordered for many months to come, but that “on the bright side”, there were plenty of lime green Elements to go around.

My husband was muttering something about conspiracies while we signed the lease papers. I on the other hand, was trying to come up with a name for our new wheels. Taking the color and shape of the vehicle into account, I thought that “Frogee” would fit the bill nicely. And shortly thereafter, we received our license plate proudly emblazoned with the “FROGEE” moniker.

The car and it’s plate has brought us some unanticipated attention. It has raised a smile on numerous occasions from other drivers and their passengers, as they spot, point and react to the license plate. Some wave, most don’t. We have been approached by total strangers asking us if we collect frog themed objects. It has been photographed by several people who seek unusual license plates. It has been encouraged to “Leap, Frogee, leap”, by a laughing customer at a gas station, wanting us to move forward to the next available pump. And once, when I was lost in the Arcadia area and asked a walker for directions, she not only obliged me, but jumped at the chance to take me there personally and proceeded to hop in the car with no coaxing from me. She said that she couldn’t wait to tell her teenage son that she had driven in a lime green Element. She believed that the ride would boost her coolness factor in his eyes.

In the 2010 book Carjacked by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez, the authors explore the love, lust and reality of America’s car culture and examine our obsession with cars. It details the complex impact of the automobile on modern society and shows readers how to develop a healthier, cheaper, and greener relationship with cars. Unfortunately, it tends to explore these issues from a negative perspective as is reflected by the cover art depicting a human carrying the load of his SUV, rather than it carrying him. But it did make me re-evaluate my bond with Frogee.

I can’t deny that I love Frogee, but my husband still has doubts as to whether it’s a healthy relationship. We both agree that it’s relatively inexpensive to own and operate, and when it comes to being green, well just look at it! But I also know that in reality it is just a car designed to take us from point A to point B. In our society, you pretty much have to drive, so you might as well drive a car that you’ll love, that fits your lifestyle and makes your driving experience a joyful one. That is what this Honda Element does for me.

In the end, it might not win any beauty contests, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder and my kiwi green beauty fits me to a “T”. Despite the fact that it is a mere thing, he’s my Frogee and when I drive him, I’m in my Element.




The 19th Wife : a novel

In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two stories into one engaging novel, which takes the reader back and forth between historical fiction and modern day murder mystery. While the former helps to lay the groundwork for the latter, each is its own journey. Using a series of fictional documents to tell the story of Ann Eliza Young, whose divorce from Brigham Young in the mid 1870’s, and outspoken criticism of polygamy became national news, the author provides the almost unbiased feeling of being a researcher. Meanwhile, his first person narrative of Jordan, the excommunicated son of fundamentalist Mormons from an isolated community, immediately draws you into to his struggle. This is the character I really cared about, and what keep me up at night to read “just one more chapter.” This definitely does not read like a judgment of a religious practice, but rather a glimpse into a different world. As you follow Jordan on his path to confront his past, you feel the weight of how much history has defined it, and you really care about him, and the unlikely heroes who help him find his way.


The 19th Wife

Where Do Those Eureka Moments Come From?

How does creativity work? Moreover, how do we harness creativity, both individually and as a group? These are the questions explored in the book Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired magazine and author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and How We Decide.

The book is divided into two parts, “Alone” and “Together,” where Alone uses current brain research to discuss individual creativity, and Together explores history to uncover the roots of societal and group creativity. In Alone, Lehrer distinguishes two types of individual creativity. The first is what I call the “Aha!” creativity. These Eureka moments occur most often when one is not overly-focused, letting one’s mind drift and broaden enough to make subtle connections between seemingly-unrelated points of knowledge. In contrast, the second type of individual creativity is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison’s quote, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” That is, in order to materialize one’s new ideas and Eureka moments, one must maintain enough focus and persistence to carry the concept to completion. While these two creative processes, non-focused and hyper-focused, may inhibit one another, they are complementary ways for an individual's creative ideas to be realized.

In part two, Together, Lehrer discusses how creative outputs of societies and organizations often depend on how they are structured, both physically and socially. For example, the dynamics of cities with high population densities almost force their inhabitants to interact with a diverse range of people and ideas, enabling various forms of thought and action to synergize in new ways. On a smaller scale, companies have gone so far as to design their campus architecture in ways that maximize casual communication and idea sharing among disparate departments. There is even historical evidence to show that groups seeking competitive advantage by hiding their innovations from one another (with non-disclosure agreements, etc.) actually hamper the group's own creative potential in the long run. These are fascinating conclusions for both groups and individuals about how diverse experiences and cooperation are often invaluable for creativity.

In conclusion, I’ve learned a lot about "how creativity works." The main concepts I’ve gleaned from Imagine are: on a personal level, a state of non-focus (almost akin to boredom) allows one to see the big picture and let those “Aha!” moments arise. On the other hand, many incredible works of art, literature, and science have been created by persistent focus and sustained concentration. On a social level, exposure to new ways of doing and thinking—often through unintended or casual collaboration—is the best way to create novel concepts among groups. Imagine helped me understand the creative process and gave me some new ideas of my own.

I note that, in "reading" the audiobook version of Imagine, this is the first audiobook I’ve heard that was narrated by the author themself. Thereby, I have no basis for comparison, but if you’re interested in the audio version of this book, I think that the author does a pretty good job of narrating the stories, conversations, and research throughout.

Publication Issues: Self-Plagiarizing and Quote Fabrication

Imagine—or rather, its author’s reputation—has been marred in the media by the author’s oversight on two critical publishing issues. The first is that Lehrer “self-plagiarized” by virtually cut-and-pasting portions of his magazine articles into the book without citations. Second – and most infamous – is his fabrication of a quote by folk rock legend Bob Dylan. It seems that, in centering the first few chapters of the book on Bob Dylan’s creative process, Lehrer basically conjured up a short but non-existent quote by the artist, perhaps to bring the narrative together. Not a good move.

Jonah Lehrer, as a fairly young but brilliant journalist and author, received ample notoriety and job opportunities prior to finishing Imagine. Did Lehrer simply stretch himself too thin as an impressive new writer? Whatever the case, I strongly think that (omitting the Dylan quote) Imagine is an excellent book that I would strongly recommend to readers interested in the creative mind, the artistic process, and the ways that groups can innovate.


Imagine : how creativity works

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook

Cookbooks are one of my reading weaknesses; the best ones have lovely photos, recipes that are unique but not silly, and are written with an interesting voice.

The Back in the Day Cookbook has all that. It’s cheerful and fun to read . . . and now my “Bake This” list is even longer!


The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook


Peter McCarty is a Caldecott honoree illustrator; that is, he won an award for his artwork for his picture book: Hondo and Fabian. His most recent picture book is Chloe, featuring a little bunny who has a mother and a father and twenty brothers and sisters; Chloe is in the middle.

One day, Chloe’s dad surprises everyone and brings home a new television set for some family fun. After dinner the family watches a television program. However, watching television is definitely not fun for Chloe who decides that playing with the tv box and bubble wrap packaging is much more entertaining and imaginative. Soon, each of Chloe’s siblings dumps the tv show and joins their sister Chloe. Even mom and dad can’t resist Chloe’s bubble-wrap popping and bigbox playtime!

Peter McCarthy’s calm, ethereal, sometimes comical illustrations are adorable. He’s written several children’s books and the first book that got my attention is Honda and Fabian, a story about a dog and a cat. Baby Steps is based on a month by month chronicle of his daughter Suki’s first year of life with the most beautiful, delicate life-like drawings of a baby.



The Trivia Lover's Guide to the World

What is the first foreign country you would encounter if you went due south from Detroit? Anyone who answered Canada would be correct. Which city is farthest west -- Chicago, Denver, Reno, or Los Angeles? Reno it is. Of the 48 contiguous United States, which is the most northerly? Did someone think Maine or Washington? No, it's Minnesota. Where is the Sea of Tranquility? On the moon! Not limited to the USA, or even Earth, this book of geographic trivia that arrived just this month is one I found to be addicting. As has happened so many times through the years, I loved the KPL book so much that I have resolved to buy my own copy.


The trivia lover's guide to the world : geography for the lost and found

30th anniversary of Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the event, which this year is celebrated September 30-October 6. According to the American Library Association website, Banned Books Week brings together booksellers, libraries, publishers, journalists, and readers of all types in “shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

Banned Books Week draws national attention annually to books that communities or organizations have attempted to restrict access to, or remove from libraries and schools.

Here are a few of the titles on this year’s list: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer; Nickel and Dimed: on (not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Teen and children’s titles are not immune to challenge, either. Some examples are: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Stolen Children by Peg Kehret.

You can read more about Banned Books Week, and view annotated lists explaining why the books were challenged, at the American Library Association website. Don't miss the Banned Books Readout at Central Library on October 4th, 7 pm.


Banned Books Week

Fall's New Books

This fall is an exciting time for fiction readers. A handful of greatly loved, established writers are releasing new books this season. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith released her fourth novel, NW. Louise Erdrich's fourteenth novel, The Round House, will be published at the beginning of next month. Early November will see the publication of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, and Dear Life, a new collection of stories by Alice Munro. And later this week, J.K. Rowling's much anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves. Place your holds today!



Black and White and Red All over: The Story of a Friendship

I’ve known three pairs of people now, who have been a kidney donor and a recipient to that donated kidney. I know bits and pieces of their stories, more from the donor’s perspective than the recipient’s. In each case, the donor knew instinctively that she was meant to give her kidney, and each time, she was sure she would be a “match” to the recipient, which in fact she was.

So I was intrigued to read this moving account of journalist colleagues, who grow to be friends and eventually "kidneys-in-law” (their humor,) when Martha McNeil Hamilton donates her kidney to Warren Brown for transplant. It was poignant and illuminating to learn, from Brown’s perspective, the difficulties he lived with prior to the transplants. (Previously, his wife donated a kidney to him. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for Brown’s body.)

Brown and Hamilton each describe growing up in a segregated South—she, a white female, and he, a black male. As colleagues at the Washington Post, they moved beyond the segregation of their youth, to develop a strong friendship over the years. Both were journalists at the Washington Post during and after 9/11, so part of their story covers how they dealt with the stress of post 9/11, in the news media world, in addition to the health crises and personal challenges they faced.


Black and white and red all over : the story of a friendship

6 Cats +

Author Bob Tarte is at it again, this time with the rather lengthy titled, Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home.

Tarte, a Lowell, Michigan native whose previous books include Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather, has written a laugh out loud, true life account about his wacky existence living with six cats under one roof! His feline cast of characters include Agnes, Lucy, Maynard, Moobie, Tina, as well as Frannie the star stray. Being a celebrity in her own mind, Frannie, among other attention seeking eccentricities, insists on being petted while she eats.

And as if six fussy felines weren’t enough, Bob and his wife Linda also care for a variety of other abandoned animals such as rabbits, grey parrots, parakeets, songbirds, doves, hens, ducks and geese; in other words any animal that comes their way and needs a helping hand.

But the anecdotal antics in this volume focus mainly on the felines who constantly entertain, delight and sometimes aggravate their human owners. This book gets four enthusiastic Paws Up from me. It’s an enjoyable read for any animal lover who isn’t in complete sync with household harmony or perfection, but rather thrives on chaos and constant activity. The author uses great observational humor mixed with true compassion for these animals to paint memorable portraits of each. And each one is truly a one of a kind character.


Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home

Do You Geek Classic Literature?

Thursday, September 20th marks the beginning of the seventh season of Classics Revisited, a book discussion group held at KPL that focuses on classic literature (with a few contemporary standards thrown in for good measure). This month we’re discussing the masterful epic Middlemarch by George Eliot. Middlemarch, published in serials between 1871-72, follows the ambitions, successes, and failures of a number of the residents of a provincial English town during a time of political reform. Eliot had amazing insights to human nature—in fact, it was surprising to me just how modern her observations and characterizations were. If you’re familiar with Middlemarch and would like to join us for a lively discussion, please feel free to stop by the Central branch Thursday at 7pm.

Classics Revisited meets on the third Thursday of every month, September through May. Up next is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which we will discuss on October 18th. The complete schedule is available on the KPL website and also on the Classics Revisited blog.



Life of Pi

Life of Pi is an award winning novel by Canadian author, Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, the 16 year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. Pi is a spiritual seeker at an early age. He is a Hindu but falls in love with the stories of other religions and tells his parents that he wants to also be a Christian and Muslim. His family emigrates from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship along with their zoo animals. When the ship sinks, Pi ends up alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

The book describes the experience of how Pi survives 227 days adrift in the ocean with his unlikely companions. When he is finally rescued, Pi tells his extraordinary story to representatives of the Japanese shipping company searching for the cause of the sinking. They express deep disbelief, so he offers them a second, more believable story that parallels the first one. The company reps, and the reader, can choose to believe either one. The book depicts how all people use stories to give meaning to their experiences and process reality around them – some based on faith and religion.

Life of Pi is a readable book with a thought provoking ending and would make a great selection for a book club discussion.


Life of Pi

Charlie Collier Snoop for Hire

Charlie Collier: Snoop for Hire

Growing up I read every Encyclopedia Brown book. Recently Donald Sobol, the author of this series died and I was feeling nostalgic. Then I came across Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire by John Madormo.  It's not nearly the caliber of the Encyclopedia Brown series (Sorry John) but it was good enough to scratch the itch. If you recall Encyclopedia Brown had a desk and charged to solve crimes and had a girl named Sally as his "enforcer" and a bully named Bugs Meanie. Charlie has a desk in his garage and his "enforcer" is named Henry. Encyclopedia Brown had the support of his parents (his father was the police chief). Charlie has to sneak his detective work and if his parents come home too soon Henry and Charlie have to hurriedly clean up the garage. But luckily Charlie's grandmother is supportive, in more ways than you would think, but you have to read the book to find out more. Some of the solutions Charlie comes up with are a bit of a stretch. For example, his father reads in the newspaper that a man was found on the beach in Miami, no foot prints, his bones were broken but they were broken after death, cause of death was hypothermia. Charlie has the one and only possible solution, The man was a stowaway on an airplane . He stowed away in the landing gear and when it got to thirty thousand feet he froze to death, when the landing gear came down, he fell out and on to the beach. Throughout the main story there are little brain teasers like this, mostly from his assistant Henry who wants to try and stump him. You can find this book in our Children section of the library.  



Charlie Collie Snoop for Hire




Young Michelangelo

I have been familiar with many of Michelangelo's works since college when I took a class titled "The Arts and Letters of Michelangelo".  A wonderful class, the professor greatly elaborated upon the Neoplatonic views that were circulating at this time among philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, and how Michelangelo incorporated these views into his artwork.  I was happy to find that this book does the same thing, as well as, discusses the political and cultural climate of Italy in the late 15th to early 16th centuries.  The author John Spike seems to have a keen insight and understanding into the artist.

Young Michelangelo tells us about Michelangelo's upbringing including his beginning as an artist under the direction of Domenico Ghirlandaio and in the garden of Lorenzo de' Medici.  We are introduced to Michelangelo's first works, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, as well as sketches he did after frescoes by Masaccio and Ghirlandaio.  These extant works show how versatile and talented Michelangelo was as a young artist in different mediums.  The book talks about his Bacchus, David, Pieta, and other early commissions before going into details about his long and complex relationship with Giuliano della Rovere, a.k.a. Pope Julius II.  We see the beginnings of his longtime habit of taking on more in commissions than he could finish and leaving projects in an unfinished state.

The author, John Spike, is very good at explaining the different stresses in Michelangelo's life and interpreting his response to these stresses, whether they are the political climate of his native Florence, the wishes of a demanding patron, or competition from other artists.  The opinion of many art historians is that three Italian Renaissance artists catapulted themselves above the rest in their ability to produce extraordinary artwork at this time.  Michelangelo was one of these artists, the other two being Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio.  Spike also discusses Michelangelo's interactions with these two artists.  Michelangelo was put in direct competition with da Vinci through a fresco commission in Florence; Raphael he writes off as a young kid of mediocre talent until he also comes under the commission of the pope.  Contemporaries who knew each other personally, it is very interesting to me to hear how they interacted with and perceived one another with their very different attitudes and quirks.

Spike has done a lot of research to write this book.  I would like him to write a Part II that would be a biography of Michelangelo's later life talking about his continued issues with Julius II and his issues cooperating with his assistants.  In my opinion, Young Michelangelo seems to abruptly end.  There is no conclusion and the last work of art the author talks about in the work is actually a fresco by Raphael.  The format of the book also seems a bit strange.  The first chapters are of a nice length but the very last chapter of the book reminds me of a run-on sentence being much longer.  It strikes me as unfinished and lacking conclusion; the subtitle is "the Path to the Sistine", so please, tell me about the Sistine in another book!  I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Michelangelo's early life though.  It amazing the kinds of work he was able to produce at such a young age!


Young Michelangelo: the Path to the Sistine


Trust Me, I'm Lying

Like slowing down to watch as you drive by a highway accident or being sucked into an extended viewing of “fail” videos during your lunch break, reading Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator won’t make you feel good about the world, but once you start reading it is very hard to turn away. The book scandalizes the new media culture by illustrating how the incessant need for fresh new content to feed millions of blogs, the mindless chasing of “pageviews” that is drives bloggers to publish first and verify (or not) later, and an utter lack of anything resembling journalistic integrity allows Holiday, and presumably many others like him, to easily manipulate the media for fun and profit. The first half of the book is basically a how-to guide for new media manipulation as Holiday recounts the ethically corrupt behavior that helped him push Fratire author Tucker Max to the top of bestseller lists and create an almost perpetual buzz around the company American Apparel that has translated into millions of dollars in profit. Most of the exploits that Holiday writes of are completely verifiable, he names names and gives dates, and he does give lip service to having regrets about his actions. But it is hard to feel anything but contempt for Holiday as he uses the second half of the book to indict the world of fast news and our meme-a-minute craving culture, yet continues to exploit and work in the very culture he condemns. Going so far as to push his book into the media spotlight using the very techniques that he "confesses" to in the book. It's a very confusing world we live in. But questioning Mr. Holiday’s motives is very silly when he tells you he is lying in the title, yet I did find this book utterly fascinating and would recommend it to anyone interested in media and the influence of popular culture on the new journalism. 


Trust Me, I'm Lying

Growing up with Fancy Nancy

Ooh la la, Fancy Nancy is growing up! The best friends Nancy and Bree that love all things glamorous, splendid and French now appear in their first chapter book: Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth (sleuth is a fancy word for detective). The book is a fabulous choice for transitioning readers that already are familiar with Fancy Nancy to chapter books. You must notice that Nancy is so mature now that she drops the Fancy from her title! The characters are likeable and felt like old friends to my daughter and me. We eagerly read chapter after chapter, hooked on the mystery and predicting what would happen next.

There isn’t a book two in the series yet, but there are no worries on what to read next at my house. At the end of the book, my daughter said, “Let’s read all the Nancy Drew books next.” I’d like to thank Nancy Clancy for recommending that wonderful series next!

Nancy Clancy Super Slueth


How to Be a Woman

When I heard a buzz about a British bestseller written by a very funny woman who wasn’t afraid to talk about feminism, I thought, “This is the book for me!” And when I checked out the book and found a blurb on it that referred to it as “the British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants,” I thought, “this is definitely the book for me!” Although I see only a few similarities between Bossypants and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (both written by funny women who are willing to acknowledge the difficulties of being a mother), it really was the book for me.
Caitlin Moran began her career as a columnist for Melody Maker (a British music magazine) at the ripe young age of 16. Her book is a funny but pertinent look at feminism and women in the Western world today, told through important events/mistakes over the course of her life and career. She’s warm, irreverent, and a bit crass. Reading this book felt to me like getting back in touch with an old friend and laughing about ridiculous life choices made in an effort to be a woman.


How to Be a Woman

Aquinas' Five Proofs for God

If you love philosophy of religion like me, and like to wander the stacks in the 100/200's area, then you love reading about arguments for the existence of God, the rebuttals, the replies to the rebuttals, etc. It all begins with Saint Thomas Aquinas. In only a few pages, he gives us his famous five:

  1. The First Mover: everything is moved by something else. The tree was moved by the wind which was moved by the weather which was moved by something else, and so on. This could either go on to infinity, or it could stop with a "Prime Mover," a being that gets the ball rolling. That's God. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher that was not a Christian, believed in a Prime Mover (Thomas actually snatched the argument from him).
  2. The First Cause: everything that happens is caused by something else that usually comes before it. What caused you?--your parents, their parents, their parents, and so on. Because every physical event must have a cause, this could either go on to infinity, or it could stop with an "Uncaused Cause," the beginner of the Big Bang so to speak. That's God. Check out Dean Overman's book for a current example.
  3. Contingency: When I was a kid I remember sitting on the couch thinking: what if nothing existed at all? No universe. What would that be like? I closed my eyes and could only picture black space, but then I thought to myself: black space is not nothing, it's something! I couldn't imagine or even think about it; it was such a shocking thought. When we look around we see things that pop into existence and then die. They never had to be in the first place. What if everything was like that? If nothing has to exist, then we can imagine at time when nothing exists--no matter, no space, nothing! This is impossible because you can't get something out of nothing. Therefore there must be at least one thing that must necessarily exist. That's God. Check out Paul Davies "fine-tuning" argument in Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe is Just Right for Life.
  4. Degree: we use terms like "good" and "honest" and "noble" that point to some standard of perfection, some benchmark. When we say a person is honest, we are saying they have some degree of that virtue. There must be a concept of perfection, which helps us to know this. That's God.
  5. Teleology (Design): everything seems to be directed towards some goal, or end, or purpose. Even ants build complex houses, and everything seems to work together. The orchestrator behind all the design is God. Francis Collins, the DNA guy, has a similar argument in The Language of God.

Although these are Christian arguments, they are used for other monothestic religion (Islam, Judiasm) and probably others (they began as Greek arguments). The history of these five arguments is incredible; they have been transformed, altered, defended, rebutted, discarded, revived. Philosophy of Religion and Karen Armstrong's The Case for God will give you a good overview. Also don't forget Blaise Pascal's argument that, if you were a betting man, you should at least bet on God. And you must read William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, a very nuianced and pragmatic argument.

As for rebuttals, a good start would be The Atheist Debater's Handbook, 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in God (author doesn't think they're good reasons), God: The Failed Hypothesis, and The Portable Atheist.


Aquinas Shorter Summa

The Pictured Rocks

In the September 2012 issue of the locally published SW Michigan Spark, Steve Ellis calls Grand Marais, Michigan "one of the prettiest towns in the Midwest." I believe this claim is justified, even if the closest I ever got to this Lake Superior village was about 70 miles away from it. In looking at this 2012 Wayne State University publication about Michigan's Pictured Rocks and National Lakeshore, I received a good idea of what he was writing about. Although primarily a work of science and cataloged as such, this book is also appealing to a general audience in that it also includes some really spectacular photographs as well as a road log that directs the reader to some very beautiful scenery.


Geology and landscape of Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and vicinity

Wolf Hall

An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.

Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.


Wolf Hall

Cosmopolitanism; or, can't we all just get along?

"Everybody matters: that is our central idea," says the author of this book, Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosopher and champion of an ethical worldview called "Cosmopolitanism." This isn't new of course; when your mother said "eat your food...there's kids starving in Somalia" she was thinking like a cosmopolitan, greek for "citizen of the cosmos."

Cosmopolitanism is more of a challenge than anything else, a personal challenge to get past our hate, ignorance, and lack of imagination; and a national challenge to get past our pride, exceptionalism, and our differences. It's not an easy task to love someone across the globe; in fact, due to our evolutionary wiring, some would say it's impossible. Luckily, we don't have to. All we have to do is tolerate, or "get used to" other people that aren't like us. That's all. We don't have to agree. That's the beauty of it. If we learn about people who are different, we will tolerate them. That's the whole point of this book.

Cosmopolitanism also means realizing that people have basic needs that need to be met: health, food, shelter, education, consenting sex, to move, to express themselves (politically or otherwise). People deserve these things. This is a good place to start. But there are millions of details here, all of which even cosmopolitans could disagree on. For example, Appiah believes the "nation-state" is the best government to get things done, but others think a world government is. This is where the book falls short. There is no detail, no fleshing out of the theory, no meat so to speak. It's a primer, at best. I am disappointed.

He also has a bone to pick with the so called "cultural relativists," who think that values are subjective, that morals aren't real, that all cultures have their own ethical code which are neither right nor wrong and that talking about universal ethics makes no sense. Appiah wants to distance himself, and he knows that he's tiptoeing the line, so he spends some time on it with a nice philosophical discussion. It's a lot like "religious pluralism" (which I've blogged about before)--all religions can be equally valid paths to a single truth, or set of truths. That's the line he wants to take.

For those who want an introduction and light philosophical discussion and fast read, I recommend this book.




Dead until Dark

Dead until Dark is the first novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. It is a serial killer mystery and an unconventional romance complete with humans, vampires and other intriguing supernatural creatures. The story is set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires are attempting to coexist with humans because they can survive on newly invented artificial blood. The story is narrated by Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with the ability to read minds, and begins with the murder of her co-worker Maudette Pickens. Sookie attempts to help solve a subsequent series of murders for which her brother, Jason Stackhouse is a prime suspect. At the same time, Sookie begins a socially unacceptable relationship with a handsome, 173 year old vampire, Bill Compton.

If you, like me, are a fan of the HBO television series True Blood, you will likely enjoy this book. It closely follows the plot of season one but not exactly. The book contains an interesting vampire character “Bubba” that is not included in the TV series and some characters from television are not in the book. Even though I knew the identity of the murderer, it kept me engaged and was a light, fun, end-of-summer read.


Dead until Dark

The Most Exclusive Club

What a fascinating look at the relationships between former presidents in The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.

Harry Truman first reached out to Herbert Hoover as they jokingly decided to form a “Presidents Club” to start the relationship between the current and former presidents.

Relationships and rivalries, some backstabbing and clashing egos are all described. However, all club members, no matter their political party, care deeply about the country and truly understand the challenges that go with the job.

The insights and stories are amazing in this well-written, most readable book.


The Presidents Club: inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity

Lessons About Value and Worth for Children

Zero and One… two books by Kathryn Otoshi. Kathryn Otoshi uses numbers and colors to explain self-worth to children in her two books titled: One and Zero. Otoshi’s writing is direct, simplistic and surprisingly complete. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can read this book over and over to remind children that each and every child has value.

One is the winner of 10 Awards including the E. B. White Read Aloud Honor book.


The colors in One are associated with personality characteristics, Blue is quiet, Yellow is sunny, Green is bright, Purple is regal, Orange is outgoing, Red is hot. In One the color Red bullies Blue who is liked by all the other colors, but those colors do not stand up for Blue or for themselves! Then, along comes the number One. One is funny and makes the colors laugh, except for Red, who demands that One quit laughing. But One stands up straight like an arrow and says “No,” and, “If someone is mean and picks on me, I, for One, stand up and say, No.” The story continues with coping skills for Blue to stop Red’s bullying.

Zero features the number zero who feels worthless and tries to gain worth by joining the other numbers and giving up her value, but it just doesn’t work! The other numbers convince Zero to count more and bring value to everyone!



Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder

If you can get past the title, you'll love the book. The story takes place in Oslo, Norway, days before the annual Norwegian Independence Day celebration. 11 year old Nilly has just moved to his new house where he meets his new neighbor, 11 year old Lisa. Nilly is very small - which is important to remember. Living next door to Lisa is the inventor, Doctor Proctor. Doctor Proctor has invented many things, including a powder that makes you glow green and the all important fart powder (regular strength) and fartonaut powder (extra strength). You'll also meet the not so nice twins Truls and Trym, and Anna Conda. You can decide what you think of Anna. There is intrigue, revenge, adventure, lots of laughter and of course - farts! The humor and magic has been compared to Roald Dahl. There are two more books in the series to enjoy, Bubble in the Bathtub and Who Cut the Cheese? My youngest son and I really liked the book and will be starting the next one tonight.


Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder

Moonlight by Helen Griffith

 Moonlight by Helen Griffith is easily one of my favorite pictures books of 2012. I picked it up in the Children's Room because of the beautiful cover but was delighted by the words and story when reading it to my toddler. It's a perfect bedtime book--very soothing with simple, rhyming text. My daughter calls it the butter book because the "moonlight falls like butter" according to the poem in the book. The yellow brushstrokes of moonlight on each page are beautiful enough that she reaches out to touch them. And when we finally see rabbit's dreams, she loves to call out the things she sees (strawberries, radishes, cabbage). It's been our favorite for a month or so now!


Moonlight by Helen Griffith

I Michael Bennett

The bad guys do not have to follow the rules. Dealing drugs makes you lots of money. It seems like a never ending battle. In James Patterson's latest book, written with Michael Ledwidge "I, Michael Bennett", Detective Michael Bennett arrests a major drug lord called The Sun King. Just because this drug lord is in jail doesn't mean he can't reach out and cause harm. Michael Bennett is trying to take a vacation with his 10 adopted children, his nanny, Mary Catherine, who is in love with him (the fool keeps putting his job before his happiness, he needs to just marry her), and his grandfather Seamus a Priest. He and his family go off to "Hicksville" as his kids call it. Of course this small town has changed since Michael has been there and now it is run down, boarded up and drug infested. Guess who supplies the drugs to this town, yep the Sun King. The Sun King orders a hit on Michaels kids and two of them get shot (but not killed). Michael gets mad  and working with other agencies tries to clean up the little town all the while traveling back and forth to the big city to testify in the Sun Kings Trial. Of course he cleans up the town, but does he put away the Sun King? The ending of this book was not what I expected. At first I was like Hey, but now I am eagerly waiting for the next book to see what happens next, so I guess the author's ending did what he wanted it to, make me read his next book. I recommend reading them in order, you don't have to but the Mary Catherine love piece, I think, feels better read in order.


I, Michael Bennett

Howard Thurman visits Gandhi and creates an Interracial Church

Most people don't know Howard Thurman (I didn't). You could say he was the John the Baptist to Martin Luther King Jr., the grandfather of African American nonviolence, a Gandhian, Christian, mystic, poet, and preacher.

Howard Thurman's childhood memories: burying his father because nobody else would (whites-only undertaker in their town); listening to the funeral sermon, which "preached my father into hell" because he wasn't officially Baptist. Thus we have the two things Howard Thurman fought against his whole life: Segregation and institutions.

But far more powerful memories sustained him: "The woods befriended me" and gave [me] "a sense of belonging...the ocean and the night gave me a sense of timelessness...death would be a minor thing." Of all the evils swirling around him, he would take solice in the storm and the God of the storm.

Like Tolystoy he became a Christian mystic, making a large distinction between "the religion of Jesus," which "offers me very many ways out of the world's disorders"--and Christianity. He felt God directly in nature, much like Emerson's "Original Experience"; a Chrisitian beyond Christianity: "the things that are true in any religious experience are to be found in that religious experience precisely because they are true; they are not true simply because they are found in that religious experience...this is not to say that all religions are one and the same, but it is to say that the essence of religious experience is unique, comprehensible, and not delimiting." This permeated his relationships: "That afternoon I had the most primary, naked fusing of total religious experience with another human being of which I have ever been capable."

A pivitol point in his life is when the president of his college called them "young gentleman": "What this term of respect meant to our faltering egos can only be understood against the backdrop of the South of the 1920's...the black man was never referred to as 'mister,' nor even by his the end of his days, he had to absorb the indignity of being called 'boy,' or 'nigger,' or 'uncle'." He was an amazingly disciplined intellectual:

the library was my refuge and my joy…at last the world of books was mine for the asking. I spent hours each week wandering around in the stacks, taking down first one book, then another, examining the title, reading the foreword and the table of contents, leafing through the pages, reading a paragraph here and there, getting the feel of the book and familiarizing myself with writers across centuries who would in time become as closely related to me as my personal friends…I kept certain books in the bathroom. Others I read only during the ten-minute intervals between classes…I would hasten to the next classroom, take my seat, and read until the lecture started.

He advocated for African American rights but, like his friend Martin Luther King Jr., he did so in a wholistic and strategic way: "Thurman would speak about race before white audiences, but on his own terms, and in his own way." He said: "This is always the problem of reformation: To put all of one's emphasis upon one particular thing and when that thing is achieved and the Kingdom of God has not come, then the reformer sits in the twilight of his idols."

After visiting Gandhi, Thurman really got to thinking about how to fix the problem of segregation and race problems in America. As a minister, he thought: how in the world can we tell the government to integrate white and black if our own religion is the most segregated institution in the country? It was embarrassing and wrong. Therefore, he helped create and became the minister of a truly interracial, multiculural church in San Franscisco. This was the legacy of Howard Thurman. Obviously his struggle continues.

Martin Luther King Jr. would listen to him preach in Boston: “He always listened carefully when Thurman was speaking, and would shake his head in amazement at Thurman’s deep wisdom” (192). Don't forget to supplement this book with Howard Thurman's autobiography With Head and Heart.


Visions of a Better World


Promise Not to Tell

 I killed someone tonight are the words on the cover of this novel, the second I've read of Jennifer McMahon's tales of suspense and mystery. As with (almost) all of her novels, the covers are as much of a beckon to read as are the hooking phrases.  Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, also quotes on the cover that the book is "deeply disturbing and darkly compelling".  I would agree...mostly.  I didn't feel that I would be looking around each corner for the Potato Girl, but she did leave an impression on me.  

Last summer, I read McMahon's fifth novel, Don't Breathe a Word and found it to be much more refined and crafted than Promise Not to Tell.  By the end of Promise..., I found myself a tad disappointed:  like I was at the end of a Murder, She Wrote episode with canned phrases and unrealistic behaviors contrary to the rest of the novel where I often felt empathy, anticipation, and anxiety for the characters and their experiences.  McMahon weaves snippets of issues like bullying, incest, sexual abuse, homosexual experimentation, divorce, sub-culture, and Alzheimer's all in one story.  None are the main theme, but all come together for one dark story.

Like with Don't Breathe a Word, I read this novel faster than I have most others and for longer stints of time.  I look forward to the books of hers between these two and her newest creation.  I am not fond of formulaic novels, and can see threads of the same themes and characters as I read summaries and previews of her other work.  I hope they are going to be different enough or differently penned so I will not lose interest--because there is nothing like reading about a person with a flashlight sneaking down a path following steps she knows not to whom they belong and having something creeping outside my window at 1:00 a.m....


Promise Not to Tell

Wicked Business

If you are looking for a book that has a guy who can open any lock, one who can disappear in a puff of smoke, a guy who dresses in medieval armor and carries around a sword, spells that only partially work and an extremely smart monkey then Janet Evanovich's latest book "Wicked Business" might be for you. (You should read "Wicked Appetite" first). In "Wicked Business" Lizzy, the cupcake maker and sensor of magical objects, and Diesel, a magically enhanced good guy are tracking down the Luxuria stone (Latin for lust) one of the seven ancient stones that hold the power of the seven deadly sins. Professor Gilbert Reedy is tossed out of his fourth floor window. When Diesel and Lizzy show up with Carl the monkey, Carl runs up the professor's body and comes away with a tiny key in his hand. Lizzy and Diesel have to find out what the tiny key opens, solve some riddles, and find the magical stone before Wuff the magically enhanced not good guy cousin of Diesel. The fun of reading Janet Evanovich's novels is not so much the actual solve the mystery, but the journey, all the mishaps that occur along the way. Enjoy.



 Wicked Business


My Teacher

I’m always drawn to picture books illustrated by James Ransome. In September, 1994 Mr. Ransome visited KPL and we found that he was not only a terrific artist but also a warm and engaging man. In the years since then, it’s been interesting to follow his career as a creator of children’s books. The Children’s Book Council has named him one of the 75 authors and illustrators everyone should know.

One of Mr. Ransome’s newest books is My Teacher, a loving look at a special elementary school teacher. This warmly-told story is a nice reminder that back-to-school is coming soon.


My Teacher

I’m Just Wild About “Wild”

I walk regularly - almost on a daily basis and especially so in non-winter months. In addition to the exercise it provides, I love the simplicity of the activity. Walking is a natural form of stress releasing fun. So it’s no surprise that what attracted me to read this book titled Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was it’s simple premise: One woman’s extraordinary solo hiking journey of 1,100 miles from Mojave, California to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.

It’s a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, the acclaimed author of the very well received novel Torch. The book starts off with the 22 year-old Cheryl caring for her 45 year-old vegetarian, non-smoking mother who nonetheless is suddenly diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and ends up dying just a little over a month after that initial diagnosis is made. This event throws Cheryl into a frenzy of confusion and doubt where she makes a number of life changing decisions, some much worse than others. She divorces her husband whom she confesses she still loves, has several affairs and dabbles with heroin. Changing her last name to “Strayed” as a reflection upon the state of shambles that her life had become, she decides to find herself. This moment of self-enlightenment comes four and half years after her mother’s death. Looking for some drastic challenge to undertake, Cheryl decides to hike the Pacific Coast Trail even though she knows little about long distance hiking.

She chronicles her journey with Monster, an overstuffed backpack weighing in excess of forty pounds, on her back, and an ill-fitting pair of new hiking boots that leave her feet blistered, sore, bruised, and with several of her toenails severed off.

On her trek, she has to regularly deal with the rattlesnakes that she spots, as well as cougars and other wildlife. If that weren’t enough, not all the people she meets on or near the trail are friendly. A few are downright fearsome and want more from her than a little conversation or a friendly smile.

I found this book to be very honest, in fact brutally so. But this is tempered by Strayed’s very easygoing and likeable writing style, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading of her soul searching adventure. It is definitely an emotional trip, and one that is not easily forgotten.

And I also look forward to reading Torch.

But first, it’s almost time for my walk! Just around the neighborhood mind you.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Simple genius or simply a jerk

Steve Jobs, the enigmatic founder and leader of Apple Inc., has been gone less than a year, but it is likely that we will be debating the man and his legacy for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. What fodder for debate we have in a figure like Jobs? A Zen Buddhist who routinely belittled and abused others, a 1960’s hippie flower child who was so outrageously selfish that he continually parked in handicapped parking spaces even after photos of him doing so were repeatedly posted online, and a self-described humanist who rarely put his friends or family above business. While Walter Isaacson’s amazing and brutal biography, published just after his death, currently serves as our collective take on Jobs and his accomplishments, it will certainly not represent the last word on the man. Just as we continue to examine the other universe denting individuals that Jobs is often compared to - Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney – we will look at Jobs from a new angle and through a seemingly endless series of contemporary lenses far into the future.  Last week I read Insanely Simple: the obsession that drives Apple’s success by Ken Segall, an advertising executive who had worked closely with Jobs to develop the Apple brand and the advertising that would so effectively express it. The book isn’t focused specifically on Steve Jobs, but nevertheless, he and his legendarily micromanagement techniques are displayed and praised on nearly every page of the book. While I was reading Insanely Simple and seeing Jobs and Apple’s adherence to simplicity in all things as a special kind of genius, I happened to see that Jobs was once again featured on the cover of Wired magazine which ran a feature article titled The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale. The article tells of several high-powered Silicon Valley execs who after reading the Isaacson biography have decided it’s not worth it to be like Steve and have begun to focus more on their families and the quality of the time they get to spend while on this Earth.  As one reformed Jobs admirer states in the article when referring to Jobs and his focus on work and not his family, “If you’re going to fail at building something, fail at building the (expletive) iPad. Don’t fail at building children.” Are we seeing breaks in the Steve Jobs reality distortion field or have we simply misunderstood Jobs and his legacy? Time will tell, and tell again.


Insanely Simple: the obsession that drives Apple's success

Home Preserving

The recording-breaking heat this summer has lead to an abundance of reddening tomatoes in my garden—a bit earlier than usual.  I love growing lots of tomatoes because they can be preserved easily and they make great additions to soup and stews in the winter months.  It’s always a nice reminder of summertime when I open a can of homegrown tomatoes in the dead of winter! 

Although preserving vegetables isn’t difficult, in order to ensure safety, canners must be precise.  I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to get canning recipes and tips for problem-solving.  It includes recipes for jams, salsas, and all sorts of canned vegetables.  It’s a great guide for beginners, but offers plenty of great recipes for experienced canners. 



Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

The Housekeeper and the Professor

This tender, sweet story by Yoko Ogawa revolves around a housekeeper and the man for whom she cares:  the professor, who has a memory of no longer than 80 minutes.  After that time, his world essentially "resets".  To accommodate for this seemingly problematic situtation, the professor pins a plethora of notes to his suits to remind him of things, including who the housekeeper is. 

A mathematical genius, the professor exposes the housekeeper to a way of seeing the world she previously had not:  through numbers and their meanings. In reacclimating himself to her each day (or each 80 minutes, in fact), he asks her questions about everything from shoe size to birthday to phone number.  Then, he then assesses her world according to how those numbers "fit"--amicable numbers, prime numbers, etc.  Her world has been a series of simplistic experiences and disappointments up until the time she meets the professor, and she realizes the interconnectedness of the world through numbers. 

The only character named in the book is the housekeeper's son, whose nickname becomes Root when the professor likens his flat topped haircut to a square root symbol.  The relationship between Root and the professor is forged through baseball, both the enjoyment of the game and the mathematics inherently within.

I ended up buying the book since it quickly became one of my all time favorites.  Author Paul Auster, a well known fiction writer, commented that the story was "Highly original, infinitely charming, and ever so touching".  I would agree.


The Housekeeper and the Professor

75 years!

 Life was a general interest magazine that was published as a weekly from 1936 until 1972, in special editions from 1972 until 1978, and finally as a monthly from 1978 until 2000. In this commemorative book, the editors of Life Books have presented a diverse selection of the best photographs from those 75 years. Many of these are formal portraits and candid shots of world leaders and celebrities, but also included are common people going about their daily lives and work. I found the photographs of each of the covers particularly worthy of notice. A nice bonus is that a niche was cut out in the back of the book to house a replica of the very first Life, dated November 23, 1936.


75 years : the very best of Life

Summer of 1962: “Dead End in Norvelt”

The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)

A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.


Dead End in Norvelt

What's the Difference Between Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and JFK?

Benjamin Franklin was a paragon of self-taught education. To learn how to write he literally took scholarly articles apart and put them back together (like a type setter would). Abigail Adams had no choice; being a woman in the 1750's, she had to teach herself. Andrew Jackson, an Irish farm kid, grew up in a sort of cowboy environment, open land, the time of the Regulators, no law, British invading and pillaging. His education was honor and violence.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sojourner Truth was growing up as a slave after the war when Noah Webster was writing his grammar book, arguing for abolition and a national language and education system. But her master could care less about emancipation, so she (literally) walked off to freedom with her one year old baby, living in the woods and finding work to survive. She realized that freedom was another form of slavery, and then became “Sojourner Truth,” a traveling minister and truth-teller like Frederick Douglas (When she met Lincoln he apparently tensed up and called her “Aunty,” as he would his washerwoman).

The boy Lincoln, who was obsessed with reading and mostly self-taught, said “among my earliest recollections, I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand…that always disturbed my temper and has ever since.” This thirst and curiousity made him. Lincoln thought that reading separated him from the Natives. Thocmetony, aka "Princess Winnemucca," a Native "turned American," actually agreed. She grew up surviving, then tried to create a school for her people: "A few years ago," Sarah wrote the parents of her students, "you owned this great county; today the white man owns it all, and you own nothing. Do you know what did it? Education." Her school was to be different; it would not have this motto--"You cannot become truly American citizens...until the INDIAN within you is DEAD"--as the current ones did. It would be culturally integrated. Sadly, it failed and her people were virtually wiped out by the Trail of Tears.

Henry Ford, industrious to the core, had to learn by physically touching the machines (sort of like how Einstien had to visualize math). He thought education gives you a fundamental base, but after that vocational school is best (Booker T Washington might agree). Du Bois represents the beginning of high schools, which were actually created to Americanize the Irish immigrants bringing "discord, immorality, and poverty." Du Bois, a very poor boy with a poor, single, handicap mother, became the black kid that excelled among white kids; he was proving something. A man named Frank Hosmer became his mentor: teacher, president, progressive school reformer--a man who became part of Du Bois's "talented tenth" way of thinking.

Helen Keller is the story of the blind prodigy child. Rachel Carson (environmentalist) was a product of the "Montessori" school movement (back to nature, learn like the Natives). Elvis learned music at a poor, Pentecostal church. In fact, most of these great Americans grew up poor.

So what is the difference between Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and JFK?

Just as Carnegie thought libraries were "the great equalizer" between rich and poor, Horace Mann (founder of public schools) thought "free schools" were going to be the great equalizer. But many Americans were simply left out entirely (Sojourner Truth, Abigail Adams), and even those who could be schooled (Andrew Jackson) weren't schooled the same, as the chapter on JFK's education shows--privileged, private, rich. Even the teenage JFK says "how much better chance has [the] boy with a silver spoon in his mouth of being good than the boy who from birth is surrounded by rottenness and filth. This even to the most religious of us can hardly seem a 'square deal'." Talking about private schools, JFK's classmate said if you weren't "incorrigibly stupid or lazy" you could go to "any college you wanted."

I highly recommend this book. The author interweaves the stories brilliantly.


How Lincoln Learned to Read

The Joy of Cheesemaking

The Joy of Cheesemaking is a well-rounded guide to the somewhat complex world of cheese. The authors are educators in artisan cheese making, so the book really goes into the science of the process in a way that most home cheese making manuals miss. It includes lots of helpful illustrations that get down to the molecular level to explain the how and why. Yet the book is anything but a stuffy scientific text. There are beautiful photographs of dairy farms, and artisan cheese makers at work. Filled with lots of wonderful recipes, and guides to pairing with wine and beer, this is a book for the cheese aficionado. Having made hard cheeses for a while at home, I really appreciated the depth of information, but might not recommend this to someone as a “how to” for their first batch of fresh cheese. The focus is not so much on making cheese in your kitchen, though there is a simple Queso Blanco recipe that would probably work well for a beginner. That said, if you just love cheese this is a great resource, and it may even get you excited enough to give cheese making a try.


The joy of cheesemaking: the ultimate guide to understanding, making and eating fine cheese


Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is so entertaining from start to finish that even with 850 pages, it can be a quick read. The story is told from the perspective of Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher. Jake is introduced by his friend to a time portal that leads from Lisbon Falls, Maine in 2011 to September 9, 1958. He also learns the rules of time travel. You can visit the past for as long as you like but when you return to the present it's always exactly two minutes later. Every subsequent visit is a "reset." You can change the past and consequently the present, but as Jake learns, the past is obdurate. It resists.

Jake sets out on a mission to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. Because he enters the past in 1958, much of the story centers on the life he creates for himself while simultaneously preparing for the big day. He is always conscious of the butterfly effect – even his seemingly smallest actions could have major consequences for the future. This is a love story with vivid, unforgettable characters that is often very suspenseful. I enjoyed Stephen King’s creativity and thought provoking concepts. Consider this quote: “For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. . . . A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.” Hmmm…



Summertime Beach Read

Last summer, I chose as my beach read, the hilarious Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. This year, I grabbed another funny person’s book of witty ruminations as my choice of levity and escape. Comedian, actress and writer Mindy Kaling is mostly known for her work on the hit series The Office. Her new book of short takes on “American Pastimes” such as dating, dieting, celebrity, life as a comedy writer, and growing up unpopular won’t win a Pulitzer but it will probably make you smile, maybe even provoke an internal chuckle here and there. She amusingly conjures subtle truths about contemporary life as a twenty-something with a mixture of both ego-effacing honesty and a kind of self absorption that often feels like she’s invoking her vacuous Office character Kelly Kapoor. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a quick read that fits the criteria of summer, nonfiction reading, i.e. buoyant and unpretentious.


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Telling Your Own Stories

Everyone has a story to tell and this little book titled: Telling your own stories; For Family and Classroom Storytelling, Public Speaking, and Personal Journaling by Davis, Donald, will provide you with suggestions to get you remembering! Wait a minute, you don’t think you have any stories to tell? Don’t believe it… This book will prompt you with many ideas that will truly bring out those hidden stories containing memories of your life. Donald Davis says to try for the earliest memories and then come forward rather than searching from the present backwards chronologically and that Our whole life is our library where personal memories are the books we are looking for.

There are many great prompts and marvelous ideas in his book and a sampling of them are:

  • Can you remember a time when you learned something from a child?
  • Can you remember a pet you once had which you don’t have any more?
  • Take us to school with you during one of your favorite years in school
  • Can you remember a time when you got into trouble for something you had already been told not to do?
  • Can you remember a trip that you would not want to have to take again?
  • Can you remember a night your parents never found out about?
  • Can you remember a time when you got sick at a very inconvenient moment?
  • Can you remember a birthday or a holiday you would like (or not like) to live over again?
  • Can you remember a time when you got lost? Or separated from your companion(s)?

Davis includes a story-Form Format: Main Character > Trouble coming > Crisis > Insight > Affirmation.

We all enjoy a good story and you have many to tell!


Telling Your Own Stories

My favorite author for 2012 summer reading

So...I've been looking for a while for a fiction author to get into, and I thought that during 2012 summer reading would be a great time to find one. I usually read nonfiction, often kind of heavier stuff, and I really have been wanting to find something lighter and more entertaining. Enter The rock star in seat 3A by Jill Kargman! In Rock star, New Yorker Hazel ends up not only meeting her celebrity crush, singer Finn Schiller, after a chance encounter on an airplane, but dating him and finding out what the L.A. rock-star lifestyle is really all about. This book was such a thoroughly entertaining read, that I moved on to an older title by Jill Kargman [Arm candy, 2010], which also takes place in New York and involves aspects of celebrity. So far Kargman's novels could be described as chick lit with slightly older characters (30s-40s). I am looking forward to reading The ex-Mrs. Hedgefund and Momzillas next.


The rock star in seat 3A

Not so fast!

New relationships are exciting, but before moving in together, check out Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples.  You may be great at cooking with your special someone, but merging lives is a bit more complicated.  While an unsuccessful omelet can be tossed in the trash or fed to the dog, a relationship is harder to dispose of (and you may be more eager to avoid disaster; an egg is $.25, but true love is priceless).  If you plan on merging assets, raising children, or writing a will, some legal precautions are in order, and Nolo will give you excellent information.

This book would be handy for relationships other than romantic.  Cohabitators of any ilk could benefit from perusing it.


Living together : a legal guide for unmarried couples

non-white, non-male philosophers?

Yes, a lot of them actually. But if you take a philosophy course, or read an introductory book, you learn about the "great white men and the ivy league cavalcade" (as Romano calls them). The point of the book is not to downplay these great white men (he devotes a long chapter on them), but to bring us up to speed, to survey all the great philosophers in America: African Americans, women, Native Americans, critics, psychologists, gay people, journalists, etc (he expands the term "philosopher" to include Hugh Hefner, which is a bit of a stretch).

For a small sampling: African American philosophers: Alaine Locke, Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, Kwame Anthony Appiah. Women philosophers: Margaret Fuller (1800's transcendentalist), Gerda Lerner, Ayn Rand, Hannah Arendt, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Martha Nussbaum.

Romano also has a bone to pick with so called "philosophy" departments, which have been reduced to analyzing language and splitting hairs instead of talking about issues that really matter to people (as a philosophy student I can attest to that a little bit). The author shows his true colors; he likes the pragmatic tradition (a very American tradition), and especially Richard Rorty.

I forgot who it was, but someone in 1800's America predicted that soon we all would be philosophers. Were they right? This book reads like a very long series of book reviews, which is fine if you want a survey of intellectualism in America. It can be long winded and too wity. Certainly it is not a good or "philosophical" argument that America is the most philosophical place in the history of the world. Not even close. He simply says "hey, look at all these smart people I'm talking about; therefore, we must be philosophical!" Still, if you want to know the inside story of philosophy in America, it's a good read.


America the Philosophical

Gluten-free Recipes Galore!

If you or a family member are one of the estimated 1 in 133 people needing to avoid gluten, due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, look to KPL for more information. We have dozens of gluten-free cookbooks. Most have helpful suggestions in front about navigating a gluten-free lifestyle, like which foods to avoid and what ingredients to keep on hand. And the recipes are inspiring!

Consider these options:

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking, by Kelli and Peter Bronski. Check out the Crab Cakes recipe on p. 52.

Getting your Kid on a Gluten-Free Casein-Free Diet, by Susan Lord. Filled with straightforward advice and easy tips from a registered dietician, whose daughter was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and has been on a gluten-free, casein-free diet for many years. The “Nutrition First” chapter has wise tips for anyone pursuing a gluten-free diet. I can’t wait to try the Pad Thai recipe.

Deliciously G-free: Food so Flavorful They’ll never Believe it’s Gluten-Free, by Elizabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of The View. Chock-full of delicious recipe ideas, such as Smoked Salmon on Corn Fritters, Chocolista Chocolate Cupcakes and French Toast with Caramel Rum Banana. This one is even available in an e-book.


Getting your kid on a gluten-free casein-free diet


The Homemade Pantry

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making is a compilation of recipes for pantry stapes by food blogger Alana Chernila.  Mother of two young children and avid home cook, Chernila shares her recipes for such stapes as sandwich bread, ketchup, jam, salsa, and even vanilla extract.  If you’re really adventurous in the kichen, you can try her recipes for homemade mozzarella, toaster pastries, or peanut butter cups.  Although she does include recipes for entrees such as lasagna (with homemade noodles!), generally you won’t find full meals here, but recipes for food that most people probably buy prepackaged and that might be a component in a meal or snack—breads, condiments, soup, dressings, etc.

Chernila admits that buying prepackaged food certainly is faster and easier, especially for busy families for whom dinnertime can be rushed and chaotic.  She gives five reasons in particular for making the effort to prepare more food at home:  1. Food made at home is better for you;  2. Food made at home tastes better; 3. Food made at home usually costs less;  4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging;  5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.

While I agree with her reasons, I seriously doubt that I’m going to make potato chips or fruit roll-ups any time soon, and I feel no guilt about that whatsoever.  Food can be a very sensitive subject in our culture, with plenty of judgments being passed around regarding what and how people eat; I’ve glanced through plenty of cookbooks that come off as snobby or authoritarian, but this isn’t one of them.  Chernila is simply sharing recipes for food she likes to make at home, and she makes home cooking look easier and more worthwhile than always relying on prepackaged food.


The Homemade Pantry