Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

What's Old Is New Again

Most of the time when one thinks about atlases it's in terms of consulting one for reference. That's probably how they are used most of the time; however, as I've said in this space before, I read them for entertainment. The Kalamazoo Public Library has many atlases that diverge from the usual road variety, as was shown in the book about remote islands that I brought forward last month. Here is another special-use atlas that was received just this month -- a book of maps and commentary on biblical places. This volume is very different from other atlases of its type in that it includes the latest archaeological and historical research, new mapping styles, and maps that have never appeared before, all in full color with an accessible text. Last, but not least, this book is in the circulating collection, so this well-done, visually appealing effort can be enjoyed at home.

Book

The one-stop Bible atlas
9780745953526
David D.

Caleb’s Crossing

Geraldine Brooks has crafted a wonderful historical novel in Caleb’s Crossing. Set in 1660’s New England, it’s the fictional story of the first Native American, Caleb Cheeshateaumauk, to graduate from Harvard College.

The story is told in flashbacks, from the point of view of Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a Martha’s Vineyard preacher. Bethia and Caleb meet as children on the island, and become clandestine friends. She is as hungry for an education as he is, but in New England of that time education for girls was considered frivolous. In their teen years, both Caleb and Bethia find themselves at Harvard in Cambridge: Caleb as a respected student, Bethia as an indentured servant. Events largely beyond their control shape their lives, and as Bethia looks back, she tells the story in verbal snapshots.

Author Geraldine Brooks has taken the few facts known about Caleb, and woven a compelling story where the New England of that time, and her characters as well, seem to come alive. Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel March, about the Civil War.

Book

Caleb’s Crossing
9780670021048
NancyS

What Would Joey Do?

I’m currently reading What Would Joey Do?, book three of four in the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos. I like reading about Joey and his unpredictable life, his sweet behavior, his incredibly stupid behavior, and his mature logic about himself and his family—the abusive cigarette-smoking oxygenated grandma who raised him, his single mom with whom he now lives and who was AWOL most of his life yet now treats him with love and care, and his well-intentioned alcoholic dad Carter who lives three hours away in Pennsylvania, and his constant companion Pablo, a dachshund who tags along in Joey’s backpack.

Joey is high-strung and has major behavior problems that prompt his mom to get him evaluated resulting in him wearing medicated patches. Joey jumps into laugh-out-loud situations then suddenly sinks to real-life issues loaded with poignancy and despair. Joey is a grown-up little kid and his favorite expression is, “Can I get back to you on that?” Gantos is an extremely clever writer who has created a humorous character you do want to know!

Jack Gantos is the author of the Joey Pigza series:

Book

What Would Joey Do?
0374399867
AmyChase

Love Part 15: Machiavelli

If Hobbes and Machiavelli agree on one thing, it's the "baseness of men," that humans are nasty little creatures (Hobbes: "I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restlesse desire for Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death"). Machiavelli always keeps this in mind.

Machiavelli isn’t best described as a moral thinker, and many of his ideas, to put it bluntly, are actually immoral. Completely opposite of Socrates, he is not interested in issues of good and evil or right and wrong. In fact, he is sick of talking about it; he doesn’t think talking about it has helped humanity, especially because all the talk assumes that people are good. When you assume that people are good, government fails. Interestingly, this is not too far from how our American government was formed, based on the idea that, given human nature, we need several “check and balances” and laws which constantly check human nature. Machiavelli was a military genius, writing while in political exile, trying to help out his government gain the power back that it had. His hero, the “prince,” is not the virtuous “Sage” of the Tao te Ching, but he does trick his people into thinking he is! His startling claims, his brutal views about human nature (realistic he would probably say), and his coldly rational political tactics must always be looked at in this lens, I suppose.

Love Fails, Fear Wins

Compared to the fear of punishment, love is weak. It’s important to remember that Machiavelli is talking about how a “prince,” or leader, should act, not necessary of normal person; however, he does make some starting claims about humans in general. A prince should try to be both feared and loved, but especially feared:

“because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous…and that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined…men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who if feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

But a ruler should steer clear of hatred: “Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.” Killing people for just cause, he says, is even better than taking their property away from them. People really hate that. He applauds Hannibal, in a sense, for keeping people afraid of him through his “inhumane cruelty.”

Machiavelli also adopts the idea of friendship into the character of his "prince." To other nations, a prince should either be a loyal friend or a bitter enemy--but, like Dodge, never neutral: “A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend [to another state] or a downright enemy.” Laissez faire is not a good foreign policy. Why? Because “it will always happen that he who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, whilst he who is your friend will entreat you to declare yourself with arms.” If they win, you win too; and if they lose, they will try to “shelter you” from the winner.

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer 
Love Part 14: Hobbes

book

Leviathan
0140449159
MattS

Love Part 14: Hobbes, Love as Obedience

Love is a desire, a craving, an "apetite" for what people think is good for them. The more "obedient" you are to a person, an idea, or a feeling, the more you act on it. For a second this sounds like Plato, but only for a second. In the state of nature, this "apetite" goes unchecked, leaving human nature to commit the most brutal selfish acts. What people need, says Hobbes, is the government to tell them what is good for them, what they should be obedient to:

“in the condition of men that have no other law but their own appetites, there can be no general rule of good and evil actions. But in a Commonwealth this measure is false: not the appetite of private men, but the law, which is the will and appetite of the state, is the measure.”

As Hobbes lays out the laws, or starting principles, of his utopia, he makes some startling claims about what “the people are to be taught.” First, they should not love other nations. Second, they should not love particular “popular” people [heroes] within their own nation; this takes away from the “Sovereign” [the ruling class, I take it]. Loving heroes "may fitly be compared to the violation of the second of the Ten Commandments.”

Sounding much like Augustine, but with a more grim and authoritarian tone generally, Hobbes reduces even the Golden Rule, and salvation itself, to pure obedience to God:

“All that is necessary to salvation is contained in two virtues, faith in Christ, and obedience to laws. The latter…if it were perfect, were enough to us. But because we are all guilty..."

And:

“The obedience required at our hands by God, that accepteth in all our actions the will for the deed, is a serious endeavour to obey Him; and is called also by all such names as signify that endeavour. And therefore obedience is sometimes called by the names of charity and love, because they imply a will to obey; and our Saviour himself maketh our love to God, and to one another, a fulfilling of the whole law” And whoever loves God and others “hath all the obedience necessary.”

Hobbes focus on love as obedience reminds me of a quote from my blog on Christian love, where Jesus says that obedience fuels love, and vice versa: "If you love me, you will obey my teaching" and "this is my command: love each other."

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer 

book

Leviathan
9780199537280
MattS

Memoirs of a Goldfish

Ever wonder what a day in the life of a goldfish is like?  Well, wonder no longer.  Michgan author Devin Scillian's brilliant book, Memoirs of a Goldfish (excellently illustrated by Tim Bowers), takes you through not only a day but several days for an adorable little goldfish.  He gets curious, grumpy, lonely, excited, and nervous among many other things.  He finds friends, love, and probably himself.   I like him and so will you!  (P.S.  Tell all your friends about him, too, since this book is the Michigan Reads! title for 2011!)

Book

Memoirs of a Goldfish
9781585365074
JenniferC

Feast of Love

My book club read Feast of Love, from the library’s “Book Club in a Bag” service for August. (It sure is easy to take a bag of books and just pass them out for the next month.) It stimulated good conversation and everyone liked it – not always the case with this group!

The book begins with the author himself, Charles Baxter, waking from a nightmare and going for a moonlight walk through Ann Arbor. While sitting on a park bench, he is joined by an acquaintance, Bradley. As they talk, Bradley provides the title for the novel Baxter is working on and offers himself as a character.

From that quirky beginning, what follows is a chronicle of love told through an ensemble of characters woven together seamlessly. A variety of subplots creates a multi-layered story about human relationships.

We had a good conversation about this book and recommend it to book groups or individuals.

Book

Feast of Love
0375410198
AnnR

A comprehensive financial resource

 In contrast to my previous blog post, a big book (1200 pages!) that goes beyond investing to cover every facet of your financial life is Making the Most of Your Money NOW by Jane Bryant Quinn. It is not necessarily a book you read straight through, but contains chapters on all aspects of your financial life, from budget planning to insurance to saving for college to wills & trusts. It is a fantastic resource to dip into when there is a specific topic you need to know about.

It was revised in 2010 to stay up-to-date with your financial information needs.

Book

Making the most of your money now : the classic bestseller 
9780743269964
EleanoreC

Love Part 13: Chaucer

Nobody can escape love, says Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde; nature forces it onto people as she sees fit. The universe calls us to love: "God loves, and grants that love shall be eternal / All creatures in the world through love exists." Love "saves mankind from wickedness and shame" and "converted thee from all wickedness." And if we don't love, Nature tries to change our mind, it will stike back, come to you, well up:

And loveless hearts, let them by Love be bent
To learn to love, and thus in pity grow,
But faithful hearts may Love keep ever so!

But much of Chaucer's poem, about a knight falling in love with the beautful Criseyde, is not about how great and beautiful love is, but how horrible and stressful it is. Like Cupid, God shoots an arrow of love-at-first-sight disease at the independent knight, "though he thought that nothing had the might / To curb the heart of such a one as he / Yet with a look, no longer was he free, / And he who stood but now in pride above / All men, at once was subject most to Love.” But, Chaucer replies, “scorn not Love…For still the common fate on you must fall / That love, at nature’s very heart indwelling, / Shall bind all things by nature’s might compelling / …men of greatest worth have deepest loved / …For wisest men have most with love been pleased.”

For for the woman especially, love is bondage. At one point she has a "cloudy thought," “Alas, since I am free, / Should I now love and risk my happy state / And maybe put in bonds my liberty?...who loveth not, no cause hath to complain.” She does not fall in love with him on appearances: "No, moral virtue, firmly set and true, / That was the reason why I first loved you." And another knight bases his choice (a "burden") on her "goodness." So we have a mix of the Plato-Aristotle love for virtue's sake theme, and the medieval love-at-first-sight as well.

The Clerk's Tale is a ghastly story about a rich knight marrying a poor woman, testing her loyalty in a Job-like way by taking away her new born children, only to find out at the very end that the story is not about sexist attitude towards women. It's not about that, says the author directly: “This story’s told here, not that all wives should / Follow Griselda in humility, / For this would be unbearable / But just that everyone, in his degree, / Should be as constant in adversity." And then he gives women a battle cry: “Strong-minded women, stand at your defense, / …suffer no man to do to you offense." And to the controlling men:

For one thing, sirs, I safely dare to say,
That friends each one the other must obey
If they’d be friends and long keep company.
Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery comes, the god of love anon
…Love is a thing as any spirit free;
Women by nature love their liberty
And not to be constrained like any thrall,
And so do men, if say the truth I shall.

Free Bird!

Yes, just like the song, women who are treated badly will leave. They will choose "worms" over a "golden cage":

Take any bird and put it in a cage
And do your best affection to engage
…although its cage of gold be never so gay,
Yet would this bird, by twenty thousand-fold,
Rather, within a forest dark and cold,
Go to eat worms and all such wretchedness.
…above all things his freedom he desires.

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas 
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter

book

Geoffrey Chaucer
9780791094389
MattS

Minding Frankie

Minding Frankie is one of Maeve Binchy’s best novels yet! Baby girl Frankie is born to mother Stella, who is dying of cancer. Stella names Noel--an alcoholic struggling with work and life, who has had no recent contact with Stella—as the father. Noel is forced to step up to the plate and do right by this infant. As a result, his life is transformed, as well as the lives of many family members and neighbors.

As happens also in Jan Karon novels, the lives of Maeve Binchy's characters intertwine with each other in unexpected ways. We get to know and care about who they are, how they are growing and how their lives touch each other. In recent Binchy novels, I’ve felt a strong thread of cynicism that has frankly put me off. The classic Binchy irony appeared again in this novel, but she left the cynicism out, allowing the humor and richness of the busy world we inhabit to shine through.

I would rank this one right up there with Evening Class.

Book

Minding Frankie
9780307595164
Christine
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