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Staff Picks: Books

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

There are some who would say I need this book, and desperately. I picked it up even though I'm not Swedish, and thought I would share it with those who might be interested. Subtitled How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, this book is, at it says on the back cover, 'A charming and practical approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.' In Sweden there is a practice known as dostadning, which is a form of decluttering. Author Magnusson defines this as a 'surprisingly invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings [that] can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner rather than later, before others have to do it for you.' The difference between this and other methods of clutter control is that there are elements of fun and joy involved, meaning that the process is not burdensome, but rewarding.

On the Camino, by Jason

Here’s why I recommend On the Camino, by Jason:

  • I like graphic novels. I like travel memoirs, where the traveler(s) journeyed on their own steam, just as much. Combine those aspects; I’m generally hooked!
  • Jason’s wry sense of humor had me chuckling often.
  • The artist’s portrayal of himself and other hikers as animals lent a quirky perspective to his tale of hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile path through the north of Spain.
  • Yet, this tale isn’t all quirk and humor. I appreciated his humility and his honesty about his doubts along the way. He pondered whether he fit in or not with the other hikers and why exactly he chose to hike the trail. He described his fears when he was sure he was lost along the way.
  • I became curious about the logistics of creating the graphic novel. I wondered, did Jason take notes along the way? Did he draw each day after he’d finished hiking, or did he chronicle the whole trip from memory once the hike was over?
  • Maybe you’ll read this and have your own thoughts about what journey--physical or otherwise--you might chronicle and how you might do it, if you were drawing a memoir. For myself, I’m still pondering. 


A Story of Love and Cats

Catnip: A Love Story by Michael Korda is a small whimsical true story of delightful doodles of cats( and once in a while a stray horse or two), engaged in human-like activities and situations. It is the author's acknowledgement of his love for wife Margaret who loved both cats and horses.

After a diagnosis of malignant brain cancer and two unsuccessful surgeries,Margaret's prognosis was not encouraging. To distract her from the ever more powerful and uncomfortable medical treatments she had to endure, Michael began sending to her his drawings of cats via email.Although not an ardent cat lover himself, he observed the cats and their individual personalities, sketching quickly rendered cartoons of them on the back of old manuscripts in the tack room of their horse barn. The cats were depicted playing musical instruments,cooking, eating meals at the table, etc much to Margaret's delight.

Unbeknownst to Michael, Margaret started sharing these feline depictions with various friends, who shared them with their friends, one of whom was a publisher. And so, this compilation of the drawings came to be; a wonderful and loving graphic tribute to the late Margaret.

This is a touching and very  personal story both humorous and sad in its expression of everlasting love, one that I will not soon forget. Absolutely charming!

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook

I really don't know what draws me to cookbooks. I don't cook, and I don't think I would like a lot of the entrees advocated therein. But, here's one that attracted my attention, probably because it has a regional focus -- and it's our region. Chicago-based food writer Amelia Levin has assembled a collection of recipes from the four states around Lake Michigan -- Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. These recipes are either inventions of local cooks and/or contain ingredients native to these four states. An example from the Michigan recipes is 'Enchiladas de Berrien Springs,' a dish served at Leaning Shed Farm in that community. Some sound really good, like 'Michigan Peach Crisp' and 'Strawberry-Rhubarb Hand Pies.' From Salt of the Earth, a restaurant in Fennville, comes 'Cranberry-Nut Bread.' Good photographs of food, cooks, and restaurants give the reader a great culinary tour of our part of the Midwest.

The Kiss

I came upon this book because it included a piece from an author I have recently discovered, Ada Limón. As it turns out, this collection of essays and stories contains works by other authors I enjoy—among them Pico Iyer, Aimee Bender and Markus Zusak—which in turn made me read more. 

Also included:

She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble. ~ J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I did not realize that kissing was a first date taboo. I’m such a sinner. ~ Roxane Gay

You leaned in to kiss me outside on the spring sidewalk among Brooklyn’s many broken tulips, petals all tipsy from traffic, and I felt like I could breathe again. Like it was not a kiss, but a resuscitation. ~ Ada Limón
I look forward to reading more.


The Story of a Loving Beautiful Relationship

Rescue & Jessica- A Life Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky is a fictionalized true story. The book focuses on the bond between young Jessica and her service dog named Rescue.

Rescue is a black lab pup who was destined to be trained as a seeing eye dog.However, it soon becomes clear to his trainer that Rescue might be better suited being a service dog; a canine helper doing such everyday chores as opening doors, fetching items, and turning on lights for people with disabilities.At the same time ,Jessica contemplates life as an amputee, after operations to remove one leg and then the other it is suggested that she acquire a service dog.

Before Jessica meets Rescue she becomes worried about how the dog will be able to help her with daily routine functions. On the other hand, Rescue is wondering whether he will be able to make a connection with his new companion who needs his help.Once together, it becomes clear to one and all that Rescue and Jessica were meant to save each other.

In the book's afterward, it is revealed that author Jessica Kensky is also an amputee who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing. Rescue is also the name of her real-life service dog.

Told with compassion and sensitivity this story is recommended for children ages 4-7.



Animals that Work Together

I recently discovered a wonderful new children’s non-fiction series entitled, “Animal Teamwork.” Books on Elephants, Wolves, Gorillas, and Meerkats are now part of the collection. Each book details how the animals live and work together, and like many great non-fiction picture books, extra facts added to each page provide additional chances for young readers to learn more about these incredible creatures.

Silence : In the Age of Noise

Isn't it ironic that I'm writing about silence on the eve of the noisiest day of the year? Erling Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot -- the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. In this small book translated from the Norwegian, he discusses the 'silence around us, the silence within us, and the silence we must create.' He further tells why silence is essential to our sanity and happiness, and how it can open doors to wonder and gratitude. Silence seems to be in short supply in this modern age, and the author indicates that 'there are very few people who are able to avoid noise altogether. We learn to live with it because we think that we must, but noise is and remains a disturbing element that reduces our quality of life, not only for people, but for animals as well.' There are many other well-said thoughts here, such as, 'Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.'

Heating & Cooling

I like a book I can read in an hour—it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. But admire Beth Ann Fennelly's Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs so much I read it twice. As the subtitle suggests, it's a collection of very short memoir pieces, many shorter than this post, covering a range of subjects from childhood memories to snapshots of marriage and parenthood to seemingly trivial incidents from her life. She probes these small events with curiosity and close attention, infusing them with significance. Recurrent themes include grief, faith, and intimacy. Several pieces address the nature of memory as Fennelly questions the attitudes and perspectives of her memories of certain events. 

Heating & Cooling is a good, quick, summer read that is a refreshing new take on memoir and also very funny.

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.