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Staff Picks: Books

An Excess Male

An article in my news feed detailed how, because of the One Child Policy, males vastly outnumber females in China. "An Excess Male" is a dystopian novel that isn't that much of a stretch as what could happen. As is a reality in China, males are competing to get a wife. Though in this novel, a woman can have up to three husbands, and the main family has decided to go to the max. This book details how an unconventional family try to get along with each other and somehow still fit into society. Each of them faces personal difficulties that threaten to tear the family apart. 

I was impressed that this is Maggie Shen King's debut novel. I grew to love each of the characters, and laughed and grew frustrated with them. The conclusion, while a bit open ended, left me wanting a sequel. I wanted to know what happened next, and I am left letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities!


Spy of the First Person

The playwright and actor Sam Shepard died of complications from ALS last year. He leaves behind a final work, composed and transcribed with the assistance of family and friends. Spy of the First Person is both bleak and poetic. The slim novella is stripped of adornment, the prose is spare and haunting, and its themes are familiar to Shepard’s previous work. Not surprisingly, the story echoes the truth of the author’s predicament, even as the disease is only referenced obliquely. Echoing the somber, minimalist work of Samuel Beckett, Shepard’s swan song is the culmination of a cryptic voice, one that confronts its mortality through the expression of the fragments of life lived, seen and ended.


Secret Marvels of the World

This is another of Lonely Planet's publications, and it describes, as indicated in the subtitle, 360 Extraordinary Places You Never Knew Existed and How to Find Them. Most of the places in this book I 'never knew existed,' but I'm not so sure I would want to know 'how to find' some of them. I did enjoy paging through this book, learning about pink lakes in Senegal and Australia; The Karoo in South Africa, where one can see a giant South African flag the size of 66 soccer fields; the Billionth Barrel Monument in Brunei, which celebrates a milestone in oil drilling; and Tashirojima, Japan, which is an island on which cats outnumber humans six to one. There are American sites as well, such as the Lunchbox Museum In Columbus, Georgia; Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska, which has non-working automobiles set up like Stonehenge; and the world's largest maze on the Dole Pineapple Plantation, about 40 minutes from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. All in all, this is a fun volume to explore.


Friendly Greetings to All

A recent addition to KPL's Je Nature category is Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel, who previously authored They All Saw a Cat. In this outing, Brendan introduces us to black and white cats, then zebras, panda bears and colorful parrots, fish, tigers, lizards, etc. The list goes on and on.

The idea is that a world to see is a world to know and that knowledge usually begins with a friendly greeting of Hello Hello.

With rhythmic text, exuberant art and an important message relating to conservation and protecting our diverse planet, each of these encounters celebrates nature's differences and yet marvels at its wonderful similarities. It also makes a point to mention that many of the animals depicted in the colorful illustrations happen to be threatened or endangered.

A worthwhile addition to any picture book collection and especially recommended for kids 3 to 6 years of age.


Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy

Here's another book that's good either for browsing or for reading all the way through. English author Harford has in this volume written a chapter of five or six pages about 50 inventions that shaped the modern economy. I was not surprised to find that all this takes place in exactly 50 chapters. Included are many obvious inventions, like the elevator, air conditioning, clocks, paper, batteries, etc.  But there are also many that I never would have thought to be inventions, although I have to acknowledge that they were, like management consulting, intellectual property, tax havens, and insurance. The fact that this book is written in a breezy, entertaining way makes it appealing to a wide range of audiences.


Shade, the Changing Girl

 Have you ever felt like you don’t fit in? Like everyone else is doing a great job at life, and you’re just trying to make sure you don’t look like a fish out of water? Well amplify that feeling by a thousand, and you’ll understand what it’s like for Loma Shade. Bored with her life on the planet Meta, Loma steals the “madness coat” that belonged to her hero and poet Rac Shade and uses it to take over the body of a high school mean girl and experience life on earth.

 

But they don’t call it the madness coat for nothing. Loma’s struggling to get a grip on her new life, all of the feelings that come with the teenage experience, and reality itself. Each frame bursts off the page in psychedelic whimsy while the story itself stays grounded with award winning YA author Cecil Castellucci’s sardonic wit.  

Shade the Changing Girl is wonderfully weird, and available to check out today.  


The Ghosts of the Past: Annie's Ghosts

When I recommend books to patrons, I don't normally recommend the latest book. I normally recommend the books that I keep going back to. This book isn't a classic, but I've probably read it 3 times. Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret is the true story of Steve Luxenberg's journey to find out about his mother's sister, a sister that his mother only revealed upon her deathbed. The book is Steve's journey to learn more about this aunt, condemned to a mental institution, and the family her never spoke of her. Luxenberg explores life in 1940s and 1950s Detroit and in Eloise, the institution to which is Aunt was committed.


Vacationland

Those who are familiar with writer/comedian/actor John Hodgman's previous books of fake facts may be surprised by Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches. (Those who are not familiar with his books may recognize him as the PC from the Apple television commercials or from his appearances on The Daily Show.) Rather than tongue-in cheek, Vacationland is an honest, humble, and heartfelt--yet still very funny--memoir of loosely connected essays, which do concern various vacation escapades but also wander into many other topics. In addition to recounting the mishaps of home-ownership, country life, and being a weird dad, Hodgman offers his personal insights on adolescence, only children, bullying, becoming an adult (or not), grief, and his own race and class privilege. 

I listened to the Vacationland audiobook (available on Overdrive) which is read by Hodgman himself. I usually prefer audiobooks narrated by the author, particularly ones by humorists (another good one is Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It), and as I hoped, Hodgman's dry and self-deprecating humor really shines through in his reading.


God got arrested?

While putting books away in the children’s section, the title God got a dog caught my eye. It’s a short book of 16 poems written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of whom are big names in children’s literature. 

Flipping through and first reading “God took a bath,” I got a sense this book wasn’t just for children. In fact, it would probably be more appreciated by adults. In poems with titles like “God found God,” “God went to the doctor,” and “God got cable,” Rylant plays with our beliefs about God in an irreverent, but not blasphemous way.

Make a trip to the children’s section to see if you can find God   got a dog.


Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

Did you know that NASA ran a competition for members of the public to pick a name for Curiosity? The winning name for the nine-foot self-propelled rolling laboratory was submitted by Clara Ma, a sixth grader from Kansas. I like how the book about Curiosity begins: "Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away." This new large-format non-fiction book is narrated by Curiosity in the first person and tells the story of the rover's mission, design and development, launch and landing, and continuing exploration of the red planet. With excellent illustrations that tell the story along with an anthropomorphized rover that doesn't talk down to readers, this is a great choice for the science and technology minded. If you are curious about the technology that humans are developing and using to explore other worlds, I think you will really enjoy this one.