Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Letters from a Nut

A couple of my esteemed colleagues drew my attention to this book and I'm glad they did. It is a collection of falsely written letters by author Ted L. Nancy to various organizations and businesses. In one, he poses as someone who wishes to take his own mattress to the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. In another, he pretends to want to temporarily install his own pop machine in his room at the Palace Station Hotel and Casino, also in Las Vegas. And in a third letter, he writes to the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, Washington, saying that he travels with his 2200 pet red ants and would like to know if the staff there could accommodate his entourage. Printed after each letter is the answer he received. Part of me is uneasy about his writing fraudulent communications and taking up workers' busy time with such frivolity. But another part of me (probably the greater part!) found these missives to be absolutely hilarious. Some of the responses were written with very matter-of-fact denials of the author's requests. In others, staff bent over backwards to provide the proverbial great customer service. Skim through this book. You will LOL.


Letters from a nut
David D.


Multiple times over the last few days, I have read In front of my house by Marianne Dubuc to my 19-month-old daughter.  I like it especially compared to most of the books that we read because it is a little bit longer story, but there are few words on each illustrated page so it still holds her attention.  The book begins at "my house" and takes readers on a fantastic adventure that includes the forest, the ocean, outer space, and even fairy-tale land before circling back and ending comfortably once again at "my house." There are a lot of words/images that my young daughter knows already, which is always a plus with this age. This is a great one if you're looking for a book to read to multiples ages of children, because the concepts (i.e. fairy tale characters such as the Three Pigs) are definitely geared toward a little bit older children (my guess is at least up to second grade) but because of the simple presentation, toddlers like my daughter can also get into it.


In front of my house

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

There are so many good cookbooks in the KPL system. My favorite is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer! It’s an everyday cooking cookbook. I’ve always appreciated its step-by-step bread recipes. The bread making chapter is called “about breadmaking” and it explains the process of yeast raising, flours, sweeteners, kneading and everything you need to know about bread making. There’s a basic recipe for sweet buns of which you can use for any of your sweetbreads; such as, coffeecake, doughnuts, raisin bread and stollen. I love their French bread recipe. I’ve used it for pizza dough made with a good virgin olive oil.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook also has a great recipe for homemade mayonnaise made with olive oil. So, just imagine a sandwich made with your own homemade bread smeared with your homemade mayonnaise. Mmmm Yum!

Some other of my favorites Fannie Farmer recipes are stuffed cabbage, eggplant parmesan, chicken cacciatore and chicken jambalaya. Mmmm Yum!

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has been around since 1896, but it will always be current.


The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

“What is Left the Daughter”

Every once in a while I read a book, and after finishing it, wish I had someone to tell about it. What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman is one of those rare, haunting kinds of books.

Set in Nova Scotia during World War II, Wyatt Hillyer is an unwilling accomplice to a murder committed by his uncle. Wyatt’s daughter is now 21, and a virtual stranger. He wants to leave a written record for her about how life’s circumstances and coincidences have brought him to where he is in his life, beginning with the suicides of both his parents on the same day. As a young man, Wyatt goes to live in a small village with his wise and loving Aunt Constance and his practical Uncle Donald, a woodworker. Wyatt falls in love, which is unrequited since Tilda, the young woman he loves, is head over heels for a German university exchange student. Public sentiment in this time of war, when German U-boats cruise the Canadian coast, runs high. So begins a series of events that is by turns tragic, funny, and heart breaking.

This book is not long, but the author’s writing is so sharp and crisp that he packs a lot into a relatively short tale. I think this would be a great choice for a book discussion group; search this book out, especially if you like historical novels with a strong sense of setting.


What is Left the Daughter

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness argues that African American men have been  disproportionately sent to prison due to the "War on Drugs," even though black men do not use drugs, or deal drugs, at a higher rate than white men [books on drug abuse]. Furthermore, the book argues that because being labeled a felon can exclude a person from voting, housing, health care, and public benefits, that this situation is analogous to the Jim Crow era (segregation). This is a large claim to make (the author thought it was crazy when she first encountered it), and this is a very hard, depressing, serious book to read, but it is well written--it is a barrage of statistics, pleas, arguments, history, and explanations. Alexander does not devote much ink on solving the problem, but perhaps she's planning a sequel?

Here's a good Q and A session by author, explaining the book.

For books on African American prisoners, click here. On criminal justice generally, here.


New Jim Crow

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

When the Taliban took control of Kabul, Kamila Sidiqi’s life changed, as did life for all women in the city. No longer were they allowed to teach, attend school, work in the embassies, or even step outside their homes without a male relative accompanying them.

When Kamila’s father and brother were forced to leave Kabul, she became responsible for her younger brother and sisters. Realizing that women still needed clothes to wear under their chadris, she decided to learn to sew and quickly created a dressmaking business to support not only her family but other destitute women in Kabul, who she employed as dressmakers.

Former ABC news anchor GayleTzemach Lemmon wanted to give readers a story that would help readers understand the lives of enterprising women in Afghanistan. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana provides a glimpse into the hidden world of women who were severely limited in what they were allowed to do, but who were determined to take care of their families.


The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Beyond biography

I admit that before reading Douglas Coupland’s unique and, in my opinion, brilliant new biography Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! I really did know very little about McLuhan aside from the few well-known McLuhan-isms that seem to make up most people’s knowledge of McLuhan; his famous declaration that the medium is the message turning out to be just as prescient and unclear in its intent as Andy Warhol’s prediction that in the future we would all be famous for 15 minutes. But since we now live in the world that McLuhan so clearly predicted nearly half a century ago (as did Warhol for that matter – youtube anyone?), I found it fascinating to read about the man himself and to find him so complex and full of contradictions and, filtered as he is through multiple layers of pop culture, nothing like what I thought he was like. A quick internet search gives us easy access to the chronological facts of McLuhan’s life, a quick glance at the Wikipedia page devoted to him will give you the highlights, but this biography provides something much more, something human and modern and interesting in and of itself, even if you care nothing about Marshal McLuhan. This slim volume is structured nothing like a conventional biography, it bounces all over the place in short little dissociated blurbs of text, but the choice of this approach in Coupland’s accomplished hands is perfect and renders the book and the subject much more interesting than a straight telling of the facts would have. The way that the format of this book added to deeper understanding of the subject reminds me of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke and the way that book added to my understanding of the build up to WWII in such an interesting and meaningful way.


Marshal McLuhan: You Know Nothing of my Work!

A Gem from Alice Hoffman

I usually read any new book from Alice Hoffman, though some of her work is a bit too mystical for me. Her newest one, The Red Garden, is just right for my taste.

Through a series of linked stories spanning 200 years, she recounts the history of Blackwell, a small town in rural Massachusetts. The novel opens with the arrival of the first settlers, with the focus on Hallie, a pragmatic English woman. Each story builds on the previous one with a wide range of characters, including the ghost of a young girl who drowns in the river but remains in the town’s consciousness.

Critics have called it “among her recent best.” I agree.


The Red Garden

“Reading, Rhyming, and ‘Rithmetic”

Reading, Rhyming, and ‘Rithmetic,” poems by Dave Crawley, c.2010, is a fun, entertaining book of school-themed poetry for elementary age children and on up through any age. The poems focus on every day events in a typical school day as perceived by a somewhat mischievous student. The illustrations are comical and bright.

Here are the first several lines from two favorites:

“Sub Fun: A substitute teacher! This will be fun! She won’t even ask if our homework is done! We can goof off now and play silly games! Best part of all, she won’t know our names!” (p. 26)

“Saw My Teacher on a Saturday! I can’t believe it’s true! I saw her buying groceries, like normal people do!” (p. 22)

There are many fantastic poetry books for children at KPL in the J811 section of the library. Do yourself a little favor and read a children’s poetry book. You’re in for a smile all the while!


Reading, Rhyming, and ‘Rithmetic

Sharon's theory on human suffering and God

Kidder gives us various viewpoints on human suffering and the existence of God. If God exists, why does suffering exists? [for library materials on this topic, click here.] This has been called by philosophers and theologians the "problem of evil." [click here for philosophy of religion books.] Remember that Deo's answer was, basically, that God left humans to their own devises, and this is what happened--a  Deistic approach. (Can you find the exact quote?) At one point the author gives part of his opinion:

I said to Sharon, "One of the things I've noticed about some of the genocide narratives I've read, people will say, 'God spared me.' The problem I have with that is then you think, 'Well, what about all the people who got their heads chopped off?...So I'm not quite sure that's the way to look at it" (p. 177).

But Sharon, the ex-nun who helped Deo find a home in New York, replies with very unique and interesting take on God and human suffering:

"I have a theory," she replied. "I remember thinking long ago, 'We're loved infinitely for however little bit of time we have.' And it's not ultimately tragic to die at any age. Whether we're talking about being blown into little pieces or waht is ultimate tragedy, I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surrounded by--I tell the little kids about the Good Shepherd...but the vine and the branches is great, too--but whether we feel it or not, we are surrounded by this tremendously loving presence, and that covers every second of every day. Of everybody" (p. 177).

Of all the philosophy books I've read on the subject, I find this "theory" most unique, complicated, and brilliant. It ignores the question entirely by making a statement (a "tremendously loving presence" exists at all times) that "covers" the problem.

What do you think of Sharon's theory? What do you think the novel is trying to say about suffering, God, and religion?

Did you know that Tracy Kidder is coming to Kalamazoo? And "Deo" himself?


Strength in What Remains
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