Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

A Week Without TV @ Your Library

TV Turnoff Week is April 20th through the 26th. If you’re looking for alternatives to watching TV, playing video games, or otherwise engaging in screen media - there’s a lot to choose from here at Kalamazoo Public Library.

Tune in to real live fun right here in your community. And if you’re not looking for alternatives to screen media, Kalamazoo Public Library has lots of movies and video games as well as internet access and even downloadable DVD quality programming from MyLibraryDV. These services and more are available just like always and they’re always free of charge.


TV Turnoff Week

A Country Soundtrack

Mark Sahlgren treated us to a wonderful concert on March 11, including a display of his collection of vintage Gibson guitars. Mark was joined by two beautiful singers: his Grassroots co-host Lorrain Caron, and his daughter Darcy Willis, of Cornfed Girls.

When we were planning Reading Together activities, we wanted to be sure that there was a concert of music with a Southern accent. One cannot form a complete picture of Rick Bragg’s rural South without a soundtrack. After all, there is a reason they call it country music.

The South’s relative isolation allowed cultural traditions of its settlers to remain alive. What did immigrants bring with them? Maybe a fiddle or guitar — or maybe only words and melodies remembered and rehearsed and handed down. That’s a challenge in any case, but for instrumental music, even more so. How did the fiddler avoid mixing up one waltz with another? The guitar accompanist likely learned chord changes without ever knowing what guitar tablature looked like. (There was little formal training except perhaps at the hand of the Baptist preacher’s wife who also taught piano lessons and made sure every girl learned how accompany hymns.)

And that guitar might have been a cheaply made instrument bought from a Sears Roebuck catalog, or Montgomery Ward. On such instruments, the strings were so far from the fretboard that the new musician had to endure a painful ordeal until thick callouses were developed on the fingertips. Most people hadn’t played finely made expensive instruments and thus no one knew it could be better. Life was hard. Why wouldn’t there be a trial to achieve moments of pleasure?

Many of the songs from the South are about hardship. You can’t think about hardships without also thinking about faith and religion. In Chapter 9 of All Over But the Shoutin’, Rick Bragg recalls the influence of religion and retells some of his churchgoing experiences. He titles that chapter On the Wings of a Great Speckled Bird. That line is from what may be one of the greatest songs of country music, “The Great Speckled Bird.”

What a beautiful thought I am thinking,
Concerning a great speckled bird.
Remember her name is recorded,
On the pages of God’s Holy Word.

The words of this gospel song are attributed to Rev Guy Smith. Recorded in 1936 by Roy Acuff, the song is about remaining righteous amidst the trials of life. The phrase “great speckled bird” comes from a Bible passage, Jer 12:8-9. (For more about the meaning of the song, here’s an interesting discussion.)

I know people have ridiculed country music because of its bounty of songs about hardship, particularly drinking and infidelity. I guess there’s a reason for the stereotypes. Likker, relationships and religion were not insignificant themes.

And that’s why “The Great Speckled Bird” is so emblematic of country music. The irony is that its melody is shared by a song from the 1920s, “I Am Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes.” The same melody was later used in the 1952 country hit “The Wild Side of Life,” sung by Hank Thompson (about a wife that strays) and the loud retort from Kitty Wells: “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.”


Mark Sahlgren's Gibson guitars

Baby Storytime for Guys

KPL’s new evening Baby Storytime program is a great way to come together with other parents and caregivers and their babies to share songs, rhymes, books and bounces. Children’s author Mem Fox writes about the value of songs and rhymes in Reading Magic: "Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're four years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're eight." That’s a good enough reason to practice songs and rhymes with your baby. Another good reason is that it’s fun. We had a great time at the most recent session of Baby Storytime for Guys. Though the program is primarily designed for pre-walking babies and their caregivers, there are always babies on the edge of walking or beyond. And because it’s a drop-in program (no registration required), we welcome older children who want to play along with stuffed animals as their babies. It’s fun for the older kids to bounce their own animal babies and to practice songs and rhymes that, by now, may be fun and familiar. Despite the name, Baby Storytime for Guys is open to moms and other female caregivers, too. If you’re expecting, now is a great time to meet other parents and caregivers, learn some new songs and rhymes or reacquaint yourself with old favorites, and find out what KPL has to offer you and your new little person. Stop by KPL’s Central branch on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm for Baby Storytime for Guys. And take a look at the rest of KPL’s storytime programs for babies, toddlers, preschool aged kids, and the whole family.


Baby Storytime for Guys

Pietra Rivoli author visit

On Thursday, April 2nd KPL welcomed Pietra Rivoli, author of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, to the Central library for a fascinating discussion of her book and the complex issues related to the global economy. Dr. Rivoli’s book does just as its title suggests, it follows a t-shirt, chosen Rivoli says because of its ubiquity and, as she put it on Thursday, because “we all, everyone in this room, has more t-shirts than they know what to do with”, from cotton fields in Texas, across the globe to a textile factory in China, back to the United States to be sold to Rivoli from a discount bin and eventually and surprisingly to Tanzania. Dr. Rivoli’s talk was as engaging and as interesting as her book and encompassed free trade agreements, labor conditions worldwide, environmental impacts and basically all sides of the global economy argument and really much more. Pietra Rivoli was in Kalamazoo to speak at Kalamazoo College as part of the Kalamazoo College Business Guild 2009 Conference and our friends at K were kind enough to consider a public appearance by Dr. Rivoli and thought of the library as a good venue for such an event. A newly updated edition of Travels of a T-Shirt has just come out in paperback, and even if you previously enjoyed the book you will find the updated information well worth a second read.


Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy



Mark Sahlgren's musical celebration of Reading Together

Local music legend and co-host of WMUK's Grassroots program, Mark Sahlgren, helped celebrate Reading Together by performing music inspired by the Rick Bragg memoirs. Sahlgren was joined by Grassroots co-host Lorraine Caron (Duffield/Caron Project) and daughter Darcy Wilkin (Corn Fed Girls) in a set that featured a wide range of folk, country and Americana.

In addition to the great music, Sahlgren shared with the audience a stage filled with Gibson guitars, including several specifically crafted during the Depression which ties directly to the Bragg books. After hearing the sweet sounds of Caron, Wilkin, and Sahlgren the audience was encouraged to sing along to the final song!


Mark Sahlgren
Kevin King
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