PLEASE NOTE:Eastwood Branch Library is CLOSED Tuesday, September 19 due to a water leak. We apologize for the inconvenience.

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Staff Picks: Books

Yellowstone

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I won’t be making the trip to Yellowstone National Park anytime soon. But, I can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (albeit a few months late) with the help of this book. Subtitled A Journey through America’s Wild Heart, one finds herein a short history of the park; however, author David Quammen’s purpose in writing this book is to describe the park as it exists today. One would expect to find great photography in a publication from the National Geographic Society, and this work is no exception. The unconventional size (7” tall x 10” wide) adds to the uniqueness of this volume. For a good survey of life in today’s Yellowstone, take a look at this.


All the Wild that Remains

On my vacation trip to Utah this year, I brought along All the Wild that Remains by David Gessner. Gessner is a creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and is well known for his nature writing. Although he is a New Englander, he fell in love with the West and two revered and influential writers: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, during some time he spent there in his 20s.


In All the Wild that Remains, Gessner travels around the West to important places in Stegner’s and Abbey’s lives; sometimes interviewing old friends of theirs, and commenting on these writers’ legacies and what they taught us about living in the West.

 
Stegner, my favorite author, spent some of his formative years in Salt Lake City and chose to have his papers archived at the University of Utah rather than Stanford where he founded and led an outstanding writing program that boasts a long line of famous attendees such as: Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and our other featured author, Edward Abbey. Stegner fought to preserve the wild places of the West in many ways and is best remembered in environmental circles for what is called the Wilderness Letter, which was influential in creating the National Wilderness Preservation System.


Abbey lived a wilder life and his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, was the inspiration for the creation of the environmental organization Earth First!. Many agree that his masterpiece though is the autobiographical Desert Solitaire that Abbey wrote about his time as a park ranger in Arches National Park. Unable to attend Abbey’s funeral celebration in southern Utah, Stegner sent these words for Wendell Berry to read, "He had the zeal of a true believer and a stinger like a scorpion . . . He was a red-hot moment in the life of the country, and I suspect that the half-life of his intransigence will be like that of uranium."


If you haven’t heard of either of these authors, it wouldn’t be that surprising. They were characterized as Western authors and therefore, somewhat ignored by the East Coast literati, much to Stegner’s chagrin. Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Angle of Repose wasn’t even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. 


But now you know about them, so add them to your reading lists.


Everyone Brave is Forgiven

I first fell in love with Chris Cleave’s writing in Little Bee, and when I read this novel set during World War II, I fell in love all over again. But as with a person, it can be hard to pinpoint what about a book makes you fall in love, particularly when the book depicts so many horrors of war.

I recently reread Everyone Brave is Forgiven to try to figure it out, and I think what most draws me to Cleave’s writing is that his characters are so full of heart and spirit that even bleak events (or the telling of them) seem to have redeeming value.

Cleave’s descriptions and dialog are vibrant and often humorous, and his writing is masterfully paced, playing with the way time can elapse very slowly and then without warning stand still on a sudden dramatic event. It’s quite a balancing act and evokes the precarious experience of going through daily life under the constant threat of bombing.

This is a story of suffering and tragedy, but paradoxically, the message I take away from it is of survival, redemption, bravery, and love.


Kizzy Anne Stamps is an excellent story

Virginia schools are integrating and Kizzy Anne Stamps is about to start a new school. Although, Kizzy is strong willed and stubborn she’s nervous about attending school with white kids. Her old-school teacher suggested she become acquainted with her new teacher so Kizzy started writing her letters. She told Mrs. Anderson all about herself, her dreams and her struggles.

This is a great story about a little girl and her border collie dog, Shag. She had a lot of challenges but she met them with strength, kindness and humor.


A Horrifying Time in Our History

In the 1920s, the Osage were very wealthy, for the times, from the discovery of oil. As other tribal lands were being parceled out and the government was forcing the assimilation of the Native American culture, the Osage had negotiated the mineral rights for their corner of Oklahoma….and then oil was discovered!

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is the story of the systematic murder for money – execution-style shootings, poisoning, exploding houses – sometimes by family members, sometimes by “guardians” who the federal government had appointed with the belief the Osage were not capable of handling their own affairs.

J. Edgar Hoover decided this would be the perfect showcase for his new agency, the FBI. The investigation revealed a plan to take away the Osage fortune by killing over two dozen of the tribal members.

This is a compelling, horrifying story that has been lost in main stream history. I imagine it has not been lost in Osage or Oklahoma history.


This is my last book blog as KPL director. As I become a frequent library patron, I’ll continue to follow what the staff is reading and add many of their suggestions to my reading list. I expect to have more time to read!

 


The Secret Subway

The Secret Subway tells the story of Alfred Ely Beach and his Beach Pneumatic Transit, the earliest predecessor to New York City's subway system, unveiled in 1870. What drew me to this book initially was Red Nose Studio's (Chris Sickels) art: photographs of elaborate dioramas he made from clay and cardboard. But beyond the remarkable art is a story of a person who had an idea and worked for years to try to make it a reality.

   


The Divide

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi’s current events articles in Rolling Stone, although I did feel at times that his over the top, (but funny) vitriolic name calling cut into his credibility. He is undeniably intelligent and is excellent at explaining complex issues in easy to understand and entertaining prose. 

 
For the first time, I delved into one of his books, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Here Taibbi investigates the banking/housing financial crisis of 2008, where clearly fraudulent business practices led to the loss of 40% of the world’s wealth, but almost no one went to jail, alongside the proactive policing of the poor that is filling our jails even though crime is declining. 

 
One thing he uncovers is that government agencies are reluctant to go after wealthy corporations because it would cost so much to bring those cases to trial and would be harder to win, because of the top notch lawyers these corporations can employ. On the other hand, the poor are vulnerable and easy to convict; low hanging fruit. 

 
I ask myself if this is anything new. Hasn’t this divide always existed? Taibbi argues that the divide is growing and threatens our country’s foundational values.


Detroit Terror

Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression Era Detroit – what a story!

This is a look at Detroit in the mid 1930s mixing sports, especially baseball, with the racist Black Legion killing spree. Although the Tigers figure prominently, the Lions and the Red Wings, are also part of the story as is Joe Lewis. This was the time period with three major sports titles in Detroit at the same time. What a contrast to the Black Legion.

I didn’t grow up here and don’t know a lot of Michigan history but friends who did, didn’t know about this shameful time.

Added bonus: author, Tom Stanton, will be speaking at our Oshtemo Branch on Tuesday, July 25 at 6 PM. I expect he will discuss this history and his research, and will be signing books.


Sun, Moon, Earth

Here’s a very timely book, especially in view of the fact that there will be a total eclipse of the sun on Monday, August 21. The subtitle: The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets. To set the tone, author Tyler Nordgren quotes The New York Times in reference to an eclipse that occurred in 1925, “It is a spectacle pure and simple, the most magnificent free show that nature presents to man. Not to view the coming one would be literally to lose the opportunity of a lifetime.” The book is dedicated to the author’s father, who “still feels terrible about me missing the 1979 eclipse. Don’t worry anymore; it set me on the path to be the right person at the right place and time for 2017.” There are nice illustrations as well as a map that shows the paths of total solar eclipses that will take place all the way down to 2065. Anyone wanting to prepare for August 21 or learn the science and history of eclipses would like this book. If going to St. Louis, which is directly in the path of totality, one should call ahead. My brother who lives there says the hotel reservations are filling up fast.


Flame in the Mist

Set in Feudal Japan, Flame in the Mist follows three main characters: Hattori Mariko, Okami, and Hattori Kenshin. Right from the start, this book yanks the reader in. A betrayal has taken place, and revenge is sworn. Ten years later, we see Mariko, less than thrilled to be married off as a tool for political leverage, on her way to Inako. When her procession is attacked, and she manages to survive, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and find out the truth of who attacked her and why they want her dead. Through her search for the truth, she finds herself among the Black Clan and Okami. It is from them that Mariko learns she may be clever, but she certainly has more to learn. Her world is a lot smaller than she imagined it to be, and perhaps things are more complex than she thought as well.
I devoured this book. As I neared the end, I became frustrated knowing there was no way this book could be a stand alone, and as I flipped the last page with a cliffhanger, I sighed. There is so much left to be explored in this enchanting world. I have so many questions, and I can’t wait for the next book to answer them. Fans of Samurai Champloo, Robin Hood, and feminism will love this story as I did.