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Staff Picks: Books

The Divide

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi’s current events articles in Rolling Stone, although I did feel at times that his over the top, (but funny) vitriolic name calling cut into his credibility. He is undeniably intelligent and is excellent at explaining complex issues in easy to understand and entertaining prose. 

 
For the first time, I delved into one of his books, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Here Taibbi investigates the banking/housing financial crisis of 2008, where clearly fraudulent business practices led to the loss of 40% of the world’s wealth, but almost no one went to jail, alongside the proactive policing of the poor that is filling our jails even though crime is declining. 

 
One thing he uncovers is that government agencies are reluctant to go after wealthy corporations because it would cost so much to bring those cases to trial and would be harder to win, because of the top notch lawyers these corporations can employ. On the other hand, the poor are vulnerable and easy to convict; low hanging fruit. 

 
I ask myself if this is anything new. Hasn’t this divide always existed? Taibbi argues that the divide is growing and threatens our country’s foundational values.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

I’m deeply in love with the book We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. She writes with a candor that can be uncomfortable at times, but with a purpose: self-reflection that compels the reader to see their own humanity. This book is about what it is to be a person, because being a person is horrible a lot of the time, occasionally all right, and usually ridiculously funny. Irby is so incredibly funny that I spit out my coffee multiple times while reading this book because I couldn’t control my laughter. Read this book.


TIDY TO A FAULT

Author and Illustrator Emily Gravett has done it again! In "Tidy", she introduces us to Pete the Badger, who happens to be a cleanaholic. Pete was born to clean, scour, tidy up anything and everything; a daunting task if one lives in a forest. No tidying challenge is too big for Pete and he soon gets carried away resulting in a disaster for the forest and its inhabitants.

Luckily, Pete and his friends set things right and Pete learns a valuable life  lesson. Too much of a good thing may not be good after all!

This rhyming book is pure fun and the illustrations are delightful. It also effectively delivers a subtle message about preserving the environment. After all, as the saying goes "you don't know what you've got 'till its gone".


Hunger

In a world where “thin and fit” has become the (assumed) aspiration of every woman and one’s deviation from that end the standard by which women are so often judged, Roxane Gay’s new book, Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, stands out. It is brave, funny, and heart-wrenching, but mostly break-open honest, exposing an existence few of us can fully appreciate. Until now…at least a little bit.

Listen to Gay's interview on Fresh Air.

 


Real Sisters Pretend

Real Sisters Pretend is a simple and moving picture book about two sisters who, while pretending that they are princesses on a hike, talk about how they are not pretend sisters. Real Sisters Pretend is in Kalamazoo Public Library's Grow neighborhood of picture books. The grow neighborhood has picture books about adoption, new baby, bereavement, divorce, first day of school, and more. Sisters Mia, a preschooler, and Tayja, school-aged, reckon with the comments of a lady at the grocery store the day before. The lady had asked them, "Are you real sisters?" and how Momma said "Of course they are." Even though Momma explained to them that the lady didn't understand about adoption, the story is about how the girls talk through their experience through play. While there is a message to this book, I don't think it's heavy handed. Rather, here is a lovely picture book that focuses on the close relationship between two sisters. 


Detroit Terror

Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression Era Detroit – what a story!

This is a look at Detroit in the mid 1930s mixing sports, especially baseball, with the racist Black Legion killing spree. Although the Tigers figure prominently, the Lions and the Red Wings, are also part of the story as is Joe Lewis. This was the time period with three major sports titles in Detroit at the same time. What a contrast to the Black Legion.

I didn’t grow up here and don’t know a lot of Michigan history but friends who did, didn’t know about this shameful time.

Added bonus: author, Tom Stanton, will be speaking at our Oshtemo Branch on Tuesday, July 25 at 6 PM. I expect he will discuss this history and his research, and will be signing books.


Dewey the Library Cat

I always thought library cats only existed in myths, until I read this book about Dewey Readmore Books, the library cat who had lived in the Spencer Public Library in Iowa for 19 years. 

Dewey was left in the library's drop box one cold winter night, when the temperature was only minus 15 degrees outside. Since then he had become the king in the library. He brought light and laughter into the little town. Patrons went to the library just to see him and spend time with him. He had attracted media from all over the world. 

I enjoyed reading this book as the author Vicki Myron, former director of the Spencer Public Library, shared how Dewey comforted her during her life's biggest challenges. I thought about how we all have different difficulties in life, but when we look back, most of the time we would see the small blessings surrounded us. 


Beach House

Short rhyming phrases tell the story of a family’s trip from city home to beach house vacation: “Breathe salt air / squint at the sun. Hot-foot hopping / Squeal and run.”   The spare couplets are expanded upon in the glorious watercolor illustrations of water and sunshine and kids and dogs and sand and toys and hot dogs and kites and clams.  Beach House is a lovely summertime book!

 


Beneath Wandering Stars

When this book showed up on my new books cart, I was first drawn in by the cover. It wasn’t a title I had been anticipating, but as I flipped it over to see what it was about, I knew I would be taking this one home.
After her brother Lucas is wounded in Afghanistan, Gabi Santiago vows to hike the Camino de Santiago in his name. The only catch, her brother’s best friend Seth, whom Gabi hates, has to walk it with her. As they hike this centuries old pilgrimage searching for meaning, forgiveness, and a miracle for someone they both love, they begin to understand each other better, and more importantly, themselves.
The Camino de Santiago has fascinated me for a long time. Five years ago, my mom and I watched a The Way (which I also highly recommend!), and I decided that I wanted to walk it. My mom and I agreed that in five years, when I turned 30, we would hike the Camino together, and finally that year has arrived. When this book appeared on my cart, it was just one more encouragement for me. The story moved me, and cemented my desire to make this pilgrimage. I highly recommend this touching story that deals with change, friendship, and grief in a beautiful way.


Sun, Moon, Earth

Here’s a very timely book, especially in view of the fact that there will be a total eclipse of the sun on Monday, August 21. The subtitle: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. To set the tone, author Tyler Nordgren quotes The New York Times in reference to an eclipse that occurred in 1925, “It is a spectacle pure and simple, the most magnificent free show that nature presents to man. Not to view the coming one would be literally to lose the opportunity of a lifetime.” The book is dedicated to the author’s father, who “still feels terrible about me missing the 1979 eclipse. Don’t worry anymore; it set me on the path to be the right person at the right place and time for 2017.” There are nice illustrations as well as a map that shows the paths of total solar eclipses that will take place all the way down to 2065. Anyone wanting to prepare for August 21 or learn the science and history of eclipses would like this book. If going to St. Louis, which is directly in the path of totality, one should call ahead. My brother who lives there says the hotel reservations are filling up fast.