RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Reverse White Flight

Before reading this book, I knew very little about gentrification. It made me think of Grand Rapids and Detroit. I had the intuition that it was bad for people of color–turns out my intuition was right—but I didn’t know exactly how it happened, who was pulling the gears and making the policies and building the apartments. It’s much more than white hipsters moving in, opening coffee shops, inflating rent prices, and displacing black people – although that’s part of it. After all, who doesn’t like a fancy coffee shop, right? 

That’s not the point and misses the bigger picture.

Gentrification is a multi-decade urban planning tool used to increase city revenue by cutting services to the poor and giving money to the rich (in the form of business subsidies and real estate development). In that sense, it’s capitalism. After Ronald Reagan changed the way cities get funded (less federal spending on social services), gentrification was sort of a predicable result. The end game of gentrification, whether intentional or not, is the massive displacement of poor and middle class people from their apartments (disproportionately people of color), making way for whiter and wealthier people and business. The final stage of gentrification, ironically, is a city that no longer has people living in it, a completely unaffordable city, a city that houses the wealth of billionaires from around the world in the form of real estate capital—much like New York City.
This book is part research, part social commentary, and part memoir. The author essentially does walking tours of four major cities, remembering the good old days and making fun of the new coffee shops and high-rise apartments and art studios. This gets a little repetitive after a while, I must say. Other than that, I enjoyed the book.

To get to the most important part of the book – the alternatives to gentrification – you have to read the last chapter. The author suggests rent control laws, using “land banked” property for affordable housing, constructing public housing, building infrastructure to accommodate more people living in cities, and raising taxes to spend on the poor.

The Fire This Time

As a white person, watching the events unfold at Charlottesville this past weekend has been a bit surreal—and, of course, deeply disturbing. It’s hard to believe that in 2017 white nationalism is so prominent, but I think it’s hard for me to understand because I don’t experience oppression based on my skin color the way people of color do. As a white person, I’m often wondering what I can do to help change things and make it so white supremacy has no place in our country. As a librarian, I know that knowledge is power and that we have plenty of knowledge behind our doors. I can suggest a few books for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge of racism in the U.S.: The Fire Next Time and The Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race. The Fire Next Time is a beautiful, poetically written essay by James Baldwin, published in 1963 as the civil rights movement was gaining traction in the U.S. I read it when I was 20, in a Black American Literature class at WMU, and was deeply moved by Baldwin’s experiences as a black man and his passionate call for racial justice 100 years after the end of slavery.

Fire this Time: a new generation speaks about race is a collection of essays and poetry by black writers published in 2016 and edited by Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for her novel Savage the Bones. It’s response to Baldwin’s essay and a continued rallying call for racial justice over 50 years after his essay was originally published. Comparing and contrasting these two books is a great way for white people to deepen their understanding of racism and its hold in the U.S.

If you are interested in learning more about racism or other topics related to social justice, I suggest searching “KPL Social Justice collection” in our catalog. The library has begun gathering works on a variety of topics, such as racism, feminism, ableism, and more in an effort to support social justice in the Kalamazoo community. You can learn more about our social justice commitment here.


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See, takes place in 19th century China and tells the story of two women, Lily and Snow Flower. The girls, as decided by their parents and a matchmaker, become laotong when they are children. Laotong are more than best friends. They are sisters united by similarities such as birthday, foot size, number of siblings, and other factors, and promise to maintain a deep, loving relationship throughout all stages of life. They even write and sign their own laotong contract. Lily narrates hers and Snow Flower’s lives, describing their foot binding, marriages, children, and other significant events that they experience and that test their loyalty to each other and the contract they signed. The two women communicate to each other by writing in nu shu, the secret women’s language, on a fan they pass back and forth. This book illuminates historical Chinese culture and the way women lived during that time while also encompassing complex, universal themes. At times, the novel was not easy to read, due to the injustices against females that I perceived as a modern Western woman. However, I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan quite a lot. Those with an interest in other cultures and historical periods should add this one to their reading lists.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

I first fell in love with Chris Cleave’s writing in Little Bee, and when I read this novel set during World War II, I fell in love all over again. But as with a person, it can be hard to pinpoint what about a book makes you fall in love, particularly when the book depicts so many horrors of war.

I recently reread Everyone Brave is Forgiven to try to figure it out, and I think what most draws me to Cleave’s writing is that his characters are so full of heart and spirit that even bleak events (or the telling of them) seem to have redeeming value.

Cleave’s descriptions and dialog are vibrant and often humorous, and his writing is masterfully paced, playing with the way time can elapse very slowly and then without warning stand still on a sudden dramatic event. It’s quite a balancing act and evokes the precarious experience of going through daily life under the constant threat of bombing.

This is a story of suffering and tragedy, but paradoxically, the message I take away from it is of survival, redemption, bravery, and love.

Picturing America

Subtitled ‘The Golden Age of Pictorial Maps,’ this is definitely a book that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. It is beautiful. Printed on high quality paper, the maps contained herein are not the kind one would find in a standard atlas, and certainly not on Mapquest or Google maps. These are, in their own way, real works of art. The subdivisions are maps to amuse, maps to instruct, maps of place and region, maps for industry, maps for war, and maps for postwar America. I automatically looked to see if there was a map of Michigan and found the 1935 ‘Map of the Commonwealth of Michigan,’ which shows illustrations of natural features and major industries. The essence of these maps can be summarized in the tribute on page 33 to mapmaker Ernest Dudley Chase: The man who turns the prose of maps into the poetry of art. What a wonderful addition to KPL’s collection!

What Elephants Know

What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein is an engrossing read that has garnered effusive praise from numerous reviewers including animal advocate Jane Goodall. It has also won the South Asia Book Award. Dinerstein is a wildlife scientist currently serving as the director of biodiversity at RESOLVE, an organization devoted to wildlife preservation solutions. Earlier in his professional career he spent a great deal of time in Nepal, studying both elephants and tigers. Both Nepal and these two particular species are central to this novel.

It is told in first person by the narrator, Nandu,, who survives being abandoned in the Nepalese jungle by being cared for by a pack of wild dogs or dholes. He is rescued by an old man , Subba-sahib, the owner of an elephant stable used by the king for tiger hunt expeditions. Nandu comes to see the old man as his father and a sweet protective female elephant, Devi Kali, as his mother.

The book's main focus is on Nandu, now age twelve,who is very fond of animals and treats them all with respect.By saving a tigress during a royal hunt, Nandu brings upon himself both praise from the king and scorn from his entourage. The latter hatch a plot to close down Nandu's father's elephant stable, but Nandu tries to save the day with a plan of his own.

This book is a quick-paced fun informative read for all animal lovers from fourth graders to adults.I'ts just that good and that important.

The Kalamazoo Public Library is sponsoring a visit by author Dinerstein scheduled in mid October, not to be missed.

Steven Universe: Art and Origins

Animated series Steven Universe is one of the most beautiful shows on television right now, and has inspired a large and devoted fandom. I think what sets the show apart is that every element of the show is carried out thoughtfully – from the story and development of the characters, to the sound editing, even the tiniest details nestled into the background are often purposely drawn in to foreshadow future events.

It’s always a treat to watch a new, perfectly polished episode of Steven Universe, but it is fascinating to flip through this book and see early character designs and to read Rebecca Sugar’s early thoughts about who the characters were when she pitched the pilot and who they have now become. In this book we get to see rejected episode storylines, unfinished storyboards, and we also get to read about the creator’s childhood, the projects she was working on in college, and the cartoons she watched growing up. A must read for any fan of the show.

Smoothies Forever

Over the past several years, I've attempted to reduce my sugar and ice cream intake (not an easy endeavor) by experimenting with a variety of smoothies solutions. Smoothies can be a great way to add a tasteful source of protein to your diet as well. Be they green and full of super foods like spinach, kale, mango and pineapple or something a bit more centered around summer berries, our collection has a wealth of recipes that will aid in your finding of the perfect combination.

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet!

The village of La Paz endures changes that include lots of singing, to no singing, to a rooster joining the community that simply would not be quiet.  The rooster always has a positive side to look at and shares that in his humble rooster way.  Woven into this book are messages about bullying, perseverance, politics, resistance and the strong voices we are all born with.   Read this book with your children and in classrooms and encourage the young people in your life to keep talking so that their voices are always heard.   



When more than one patron and all the youth librarians you know, say you should listen to a particular audiobook, you must listen.  Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan is an incredible book but it might be the best audiobook I've ever listened to. It's so good that I want to keep driving around instead of parking my car and getting to work. It's a story within a story about a young boy named Frederik, living in the heart of the Black Forest, during the early Hitler years. His father, an accomplished cellist, is deemed a Jewish sympathizer and is arrested and taken from Frederik. He's left to figure out how to navigate this most dangerous new world without him. But did I mention, Frederik does carry with him a magical harmonica. And that's just Part 1. Part 2 opens in Pennsylvania! This incredible story is suspenseful and superbly performed, with multiple voices and musical pieces throughout. It's historical fiction and fantasy combined into one amazing story. Available from KPL in print, Ebook, and audiobook as Compact Disc or through our downloadable service, Hoopla.