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Staff Picks: Books

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.


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.


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 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.