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Staff Picks: Books

And Still We Rise

There’s still time to go see And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations, the quilt show on display at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum (KVM.) But hurry, it ends June 4. Give yourself plenty of time both to appreciate the amazing artistry and also to take in the depth of the stories depicted.

The quilts have so much texture, vibrancy, passion woven into them. Many depict painful, brutal episodes of racist treatment of African-Americans in the United States’ story. The very first in the display is 3-dimensional. Instantly, you are face to face with the picture of many Africans stuffed into the hull of a slave ship headed to Virginia, while one man escapes to ‘freedom’ into the ocean. Many others offer deep celebration of the inventive, intellectual, creative, athletic, entrepreneurial, political and heroic triumphs of various African-American individuals and groups in the past 400 years.

Dr. Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the Women of Color Quilters Network, curator of this exhibit and author of the book by the same name, will be at KVM this Sunday, May 21. If you plan to go, tickets are free, but required.

Each quilt has an artist’s statement. These appear in the book, alongside photos of their quilts. Reading the book, you have a second chance to absorb what they had to say about their piece and remember.


Animal Cuteness Overload

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry and Pictures by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore , with captivating poetry by Newbery Award winning author Kwame Alexander, observes the natural beauty, diversity and fragility of the animal world.

This mesmerizing and amazing book features more than forty unique full-color animal photographs accompanied by lively haikus, each set against a solid black or white page. The message here is simple: it's steadfast focus is on the conservation of the "natural" in the planet we all live on.

Although officially a children's book, this brilliant collaboration between photos and text will certainly please anyone interested in nature and the animals that inhabit it.


Now For Something Completely Different

When I was a kid, Monty Python’s Flying Circus came on at 11:00 pm on Sunday nights on PBS, long past my bedtime, especially with school the next day. My older brother had discovered it and his room was in the basement where the tv was, unlike my younger brother and I who shared a room upstairs. So on Sunday nights, my brother and I would sneak into the upstairs bathroom and lower ourselves down through the laundry chute that my dad had made by cutting a hole in the floor and a plastic garbage can and shoving that garbage can into the hole in the floor. It was pretty easy to get down, but it was a struggle as my older brother had to push us back up the chute when it was over.


So I was eager to read Monty Python alum, Terry Gilliam’s book Gilliamesque: a pre posthumous memoir. Gilliam rarely appeared on the Flying Circus, but he was responsible for all the crazy animation sequences. He was also the only non-British member of the troupe, having grown up in the United States. 

 
Gilliam also directed a few of my favorite movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, and The Fisher King and he touches a little on all the movies and projects of which he has been a part. 

 
What surprised me most was how normal his childhood was. Especially for someone who created such bizarre images and fantasy filled movies. It’s nice to know that is possible.


The Circle

 So you might have noticed that new movie out in theatres right now. You know the one starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson called The Circle? You might have seen the trailer and thought, “Oh, that looks interesting, I will spend my money on this.” I am here to urge you to think again!

I want you all to read the book by Dave Eggers instead for two reasons: 1, the movie is horrible. 2, The book is a thrilling masterpiece exploring the way information is shared and stored in modern times that will have you examining all of your life choices regarding social media.

Some of you are saying, “But I really like Tom Hanks,” and to that I just want to point out that 1, you can always imagine Tom Hanks in your mind’s eye as you read the much better book, and 2, there are so many other great Tom Hanks movies. So many.  


I Want That Love

I Want That Love is a book about Tyrannosaurus who, after a lifetime of terrorizing smaller animals, is transformed when he is mistaken by some juvenile Triceratops for a less fearsome dinosaur. The Triceratopses offer the senior dinosaur something that challenges his perception of himself. He had spent his life thinking that "he could do anything he wanted because he was the strongest." After the elder Tyrannosaurus sustains a tail injury from a group of younger and faster Masiakasauruses, the Triceratopses offer Tyrannosaurus some berries. Then he protects the Triceratopses from a pair of violent Giganotosauruses and passes on his new-found world view which, a generation later, another young Triceratops gleans from his dad: Love is stronger than violence. That is a nice message in this picture book, one in a series from Tatsuya Miyanishi. Originally in Japanese, the art in these books is pretty great, I think. Younger children who like dinosaurs will appreciate the focus on real dinosaur names, if they aren't too put off by the anthropomorphized dinosaurs.


300 Arguments

Slimmer than a bloated, philosophical treatise and far weightier than pap self-help drivel, Sarah Manguso’s formally clever 300 Arguments offers readers a powerful collection of epigram-sized nuggets bursting with personal wisdom, truth and naked self-analysis about what it means to desire, regret, love and investigate one’s inner life. It is a magnificent little book that bobs and weaves with sly, aphoristic intelligence, periodically sneaking up on the reader with taut punches to the gut. Here's a review from NPR.


The Platinum Age of Television

Although subtitled 'From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific,' this is not just another history of television presented in a chronological manner, although such a presentation can be quite wonderful. No, this one is organized by type of show, making it easy to find the sections that will interest the reader. There are children’s programs, animation, variety/sketch, soap operas, crime, legal, medical, family sitcoms, workplace sitcoms, splitcoms (a word coined by the author), single working women sitcoms, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, westerns, spies, general drama, war, miniseries, and topical comedy. Five examples of each are detailed, dating from the earliest days of television and coming all the way down to shows like ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘The Office,’ and ‘Mad Men.’  Also included are interviews with or profiles of individuals connected in some way to television, such as Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Tom Smothers, Steven Bochco, Norman Lear, and Bob Newhart. This is primarily a narrative study, although there are some pictures as well. Anyone interested in the development of television broadcasting would enjoy looking at this good effort on the part of author David Bianculli.


The Sun is Also a Star

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably already super excited for the movie Everything, Everything  based on the novel by Nicola Yoon coming out on May 19th. But hello, that’s two whole weeks away! If you need something to make that time go a little faster, do yourself a favor and check out Nicola Yoon’s other fabulous book The Sun is Also a Star.

Natasha is a science nerd, and hard core grunge rock fan, who will be deported back to Jamaica in 12 hours. All of the careful plans she’s made for herself are about to be radically disrupted.  Daniel on the other hand, has just been going through the motions. He walks the path his parents have mapped out for him and isn’t excited about any of it.  The two meet on a chance encounter, and spend the day talking about everything that matters: life, love, and the universe on the Day that Changes Everything.

It’s ultra-romantic of course, but what I find most impressive is the way Nicola Yoon thoughtfully explores racial and cultural differences. She herself is a Jamaican American, married to a Korean American man, both of whom are the children of immigrants. So when the characters in the novel have conversations about race, food, and hair, those discussions are nuanced, well informed and authentic.

 

I give it the Milan Seal of Approval, but more importantly, it’s also a 2017 Coretta Scott King winner, #1 New York Times Bestseller,  2016 National Book Award Finalist, and those are just the honors I feel like mentioning right now. I just finished it yesterday—it is the greatest. The end. 


Horrorstör

Everyone who's ever been to, or worse, worked at an Ikea store knows that they are their own special level of hell, reserved for those foolish enough to enter in search of cheap furniture and lukewarm meatballs. In Horrorstör, author Grady Hendrix asks the question: what if big-box retail shopping really IS a literal gateway to hell? The Ikea knock-off store, Orsk, is by day an average retail shopping nightmare but after the lights go out the real horror begins. After the Cleveland Orsk store experiences several after-hours disturbances, several employees stay after closing to try and catch the perpetrators and, in typical horror-movie fashion, get far more than they bargained for. Designed and built as a modern-day panopticon on the ruins of an ancient asylum for the insane, this Orsk store houses more than just cheap flatpack dressers and tables. Designed like a fake Ikea catalog and full of increasingly creepy product descriptions (for bonus fun, be sure to look up the meanings of the product names!), this book will have you reading with your Reniflür table lamps switched on...


Very Good Lives

Very Good Lives is the commencement address J.K. Rowling delivered to the Harvard University class of 2008, where she talked about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

Regarding her “epic failure” in life, Rowling said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.”

How true is that! Life is made up of countless setbacks and disappointments. They all helped shape who we are. We learn from these experiences and become better friends, family, and citizens. 

The second part of the address talks about the importance of having the ability to empathize. If we can imagine ourselves into other people's lives, we all can help create a better world. 

This little book gave me comfort. It tells me that there’s beauty in failure. No matter how reality doesn’t align with expectations, I should still press on. Failure is essential to success.