Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Ever since Emile Durkheim came on the block, sociologists and historians have taken belief out of religion. Religious belief, they say, is nothing more than, reducible to, a way for people to come together--“social solidarity”. Supernatural beliefs are peripheral, epiphenomenal, don’t matter much, and come later.
Rodney Stark disagrees: to take God out is to completely miss the point of religion, what it means to people, and how it works in history. Or as one review put it: “Religious world views can no longer be reduced to race, class, gender, economics, social location, or one of the other shibboleths of secular academia.” What people actually think about God or Gods or witches or angels really affects how they act in history. And this lengthy book shows how.
Science, for example, comes from a particular conception of a single, intelligent, law-making creator God. Witch-hunting, a second example, came from specifically Christian doctrine and beliefs. Lastly, it was Quakers, he says, not “the Enlightenment” or “economic self-interest” that destroyed slavery. As you can see, one limitation with the book is that it focuses mainly on one form of monotheism, Christianity; and it mostly uses other religions as counterpoints (e.g., Christianity abolished slavery, and here is why Greek polytheism did not).
As I am not a historian, it would be very hard for me to critique or have an opinion on any of these points. I have certainly heard these arguments, but I've also heard arguments against them. Also check out my blogs on John Woolman and Galileo Goes to Jail. As for abolition of slavery, I think most people accept the fact that Christianity had major part to play—but of course everyone knows southern planters also used the Bible to defend slavery.
At any rate, it is a very dense, heavy, ambitious book, a whirlwind of world history, religion, theory and sociology. He comes off as an angry academic, sick and tired of the anti-Catholic and anti-religious biases that are at the bottom of these so-called secular historians (I was interested to find out Rodney Stark is not religious). He calls out scholars left and right, which makes it more entertaining and breaks up the textbook feel but borders on ad hominem attacks. I recommend for history buffs.
For the Glory of God
Dr. Mary Pipher brought the challenges adolescent girls face in our society to the forefront of our national discussion in the mid-1990s with her book Reviving Ophelia. Now she turns her attention to the global environmental crisis and how it is affecting us psychologically in her new book The Green Boat: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture, which is getting great reviews.
Publisher’s Weekly writes, “As Pipher lucidly explains, the overwhelming amount of information about the desperate state of our planet leads to stress, avoiding discussion, willful ignorance, and outright denial, while the activist's call of 'Wake up!' is an ineffective remedy. Instead, Piper distinguishes between 'distractionable intelligence,' which makes us feel helpless, and 'actionable intelligence,' which combines information with suggestions for addressing problems, thus creating hope, motivation, and change.”
Will The Green Boat have the same cultural impact that Reviving Ophelia had? It certainly is a worthy subject.
The Green Boat
Like many of us, I have an extensive 'to-read' list. (Actually, it's multiple lists and collections of clippings and hastily scribbled notes). In my email today, a newsletter of recent releases had an item that caught my eye: Of dice and men: The story of Dungeons and Dragons and the people who play it by David Ewalt, which has now been added to the list. Though I've never been a fanatical player, I am definitely a nerd, and I have a soft spot in my heart for dice with more than six sides, so this book looks like a fun read.
The library has this book on order, so I can place a hold, or (more reasonably given the number of items I already have checked out) place it on one of my KPL lists. Do you know about this great feature? From the item record, I can click on the "Select an Action" button and choose "Add to My Lists" which will put the item on a list that is either temporary (if I'm not logged in) or attached to my account (if I am). In the latter case, I can log in and look at the titles on my list, and place a hold from there.
Of dice and men
Wow, has this story been in the news lately?!? Maybe you’ve heard about it? It’s about Henrietta Lacks. She was stricken with an aggressive cancer more than 60 years ago. In 1951 she was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital. It was later found out that the doctor took and preserved cells from her tumor without her knowledge. Although that was a common practice at that time, it continues to haunt the family because the scientific industry has continued to use the information gained from Henrietta, herself, and also other family members. They have made this information very accessible and until recently continued to do so. Her cells have been used around the world and they continue to contribute to some major medical advances and financial gains. These cells were named the HeLa cells and are called that till this day.
The book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot tells her and her families’ story. It was published in 2010 and still remains on the New York Times Book Review Best Sellers list. Currently, it is #4 on the Nonfiction Paperback Best Sellers and although KPL has several copies they are often either checked out or on hold. The book tells about Henrietta, her life and how she died, and how the use of her cells has advanced scientific research. It also talks about the misuse of scientific studies done on her family without their permission, and how money has been made at her families’ expense. Rebecca Skloot can take credit for the exposure that her book has given to the HeLa cells. It has perked some interest and some results in the medical arena. There have been acknowledgements and just recently some laws have been passed that will hopefully prevent and protect families from going through what the Henrietta Lacks family has gone through.
If you get a chance pick up the book The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks and delve into this fascinating story.
The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks
Oh, the history of science and religion. I’m always learning about misconceptions or false generalizations or historians with this or that agenda. The stakes are high. Einstein is perhaps the best example. Depending on who you ask, he was either a devout Jew or militant atheist. How do you trust the book you are reading? My answer: read other books. Cast your net as far and wide and deep as possible.
Einstein, like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, is hard to pin down religiously (hmmm…maybe because people are hard to pin down? And maybe that’s okay?). Anyway, according to one of his biographers “He did believe in nature as some sort of universal spirit, or...'world soul,' or some kind of universal mind, which ruled the universe" (p. 21). "My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit," he says, "that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality" (40).
He thought religion should consist in the “conduct of life" (morality), that people like Gandhi were “spiritual geniuses,” and that the experience of mystery was at the heart of true science and true religion—the "truly religious attitude” of humility and awe. The fact that science is possible in the first place has always fascinated scientists and still does. "Why is nature mathematical?...that was the basis of Einstein's faith," says his biographer (25).
No matter what you think about Einstein, his religion or his politics, his theory of relativity changed physics forever and he remains one of the greatest of all time (along with Darwin and Newton). These brilliant scientists, like all brilliant theorists, do not come up with these grand theories from scratch. Like Kepler, Newton, and Darwin, usually they cobble together other peoples’ ideas—in just the right way. And maybe that’s okay too.
But this book is not just about Einstein or misconceptions of science and religion. It's a nice conversation between Krista Tippett (NPR "On Being" formerly "Speaking of Faith") and several scientists and historians of our time, giving the reader a very appreciative and nuanced and living view of many of these fascinating issues.
Einstein’s God by Krista Tippett
In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.
Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art
People work out for different reasons: to look good, lose weight, gain muscle, get abs, feel better. And, like dieting, everyone wants "the secret" to meeting their goals; the easy answer, the short cut, the 10 step, 5-minute, 7 day, what-have-you-plan. So where to start? You could get a personal trainer, read a book like this one (which promotes "cross-fit" style full-body lifts (which is just fine), or just dive right in.
In my opinion there are no secret exercises, machines, or workouts...only these two principles:
- Intensity: this is the one most people miss. In high school I went to the gym for years and didn't get any results at all. None. In college I started lifting with intensity and I got tons of results fast. Get angry, get pumped up, increase the intensity, listen to the Rocky IV soundtrack, be that person who makes noises (not that loud), work up a really good sweat, become exhausted by the end. At first it will be hard, but we get used to it. Now I couldn't have an "easy" workout even if I tried--our brains and bodies are amazing machines of habit, which in this case is a good thing. You need to push your body to allow that habit to form.
- Form: perfect form, every excercise, every rep. This is what keeps you from injuring yourself. Especially combined with extreme intensity, this is crucial. Trust me, I've hurt myself more than once. Before you do any excercise, know what the correct form (technique) is. Don't be the person who can curl tons of weight by arching your back, or who can bench tons of weight only because you bounce it off your chest.
With high intensity and perfect form you will see results (and of course humble librarians are the experts on these matters, right?!). Above all, have fun. And do cardio too, not just lifting (those eliptical machines are really good if you have problems with running).
the new rules of lifting
Ah, the good and simple life. Living on a farm out in the country, with some hens, goats, sheep, and a few cows thrown in for good measure. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
Well according to author Angela Miller’s 2010 memoir entitled Hay Fever, farm life is anything but easy and carefree. Miller, a Manhattan-based literary publicist, decided one day that her frenetic, super urban lifestyle needed a U-turn into a more placid diversion of some sort. So she, together with her somewhat reluctant hubby, purchase and move into a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, that comes complete with a little over 300 acres of surrounding countryside. The year was 2001, and the farm was envisioned to be a refuge from the NYC hustle and bustle. But the farm’s history as a working creamery and cheese making facility put a bug into Angela’s brain that she too could run a profitable dairy based concern as had its originating owner, one Consider Bardwell. However, until profits materialized, and because she couldn’t bear to totally cut herself off from her literary clients in the big city, Angela came to the conclusion that she would still need to continue being a literary agent during the middle of the week, and run the farm on extended weekend stays. The latter task was made all the more difficult since she had precious little experience in farming, much less operating an artisanal cheese making business.
Angela and Rust, her husband, acquire the requisite goats and other barnyard animals, as well as assemble a cast of farmhands, cheese makers, vets and a sundry other rural characters. They also attend many cheese making workshops and seminars and believe that armed with their newly gained knowledge, they are well on their way to building a world class cheese company on the premises of Consider Bardwell Farm. However, that road is fraught with many unforeseen bumps and learning curve detours that constantly make the project an iffy proposition at best.
This book is a cautionary tale of sorts as Angela recounts the difficulties of running and maintaining the farm, which is the primary source of goat milk that is crucial to the cheese making venture. The year 2008 proved to be an especially difficult time and she particularly concentrates on the many problems that they ran into. For example, one variety of cheese that had previously been a prize winner, was rejected by specialty food retailer Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, which stated that the 250 pounds that were delivered to them did not match the taste profile of the winning cheese that their buyer had sampled some seven months earlier. It was returned and ended up being fed to the neighbor’s pigs. Soon after that, the farm instituted a new, more stringent control process, continuously testing and grading all the cheese being produced to assure consistent quality from one batch to another.
Currently, Consider Bardwell Farm makes over fifty thousand pounds of cheese annually, has won many prizes, and sells their products at over a dozen East Coast farmers’ markets. They are also found in the cheese carts of many fine dining establishments, as well as in numerous gourmet food shops across the country.
Speaking of farmers’ markets, my husband and I love to visit Kalamazoo’s outdoor version held every Saturday, between May and November on Bank Street. It is extremely popular, judging by the hordes of shoppers it attracts each week. It is also very well run and draws in many participating vendors, thanks in large part to the efforts of the People’s Food Co-op, which took over managing its operations from the city this year.
Last year, we remember purchasing a number of different goat cheese products at the market made by a small local producer. Now that vendor is nowhere to be found. We also searched for them at Sawall’s and the Food Co-op, both of whom used to carry their cheeses, but again these had disappeared from the dairy cases. I even went so far as doing a little more detective work by looking up the farm online. That resulted in the discovery that their prior site had been disabled, and that neither their phone number or email address worked anymore. Yes, artisanal cheese making is a tough, risky business. No one is guaranteed to make a profit and as a result, some farms don’t make it at all.
So go to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, get something yummy (preferably cheese) to munch on and spend some time reading Hay Fever. After all, it’s summer. Time to kick back and relax.
Unless of course you live on a farm!
For more information of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market go to: http://farmersmarketkalamazoo.com/
Hay fever : how chasing a dream on a Vermont farm changed my life
The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest racegives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.
Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race
Are you vacationing in Michigan this Summer? Kalamazoo Public Library has many Michigan travel books. One particularly family-friendly book is: Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Bill Semion, c.2007. The contents are separated by geographic areas, such as West Michigan-North, West Michigan-South, and Upper Peninsula-East, Upper Peninsula-West… you get the picture…(picturesque!) It includes listings of events, adventures, parks, museums, sports, theatres, places to stay, and restaurants.
I also recommend viewing: Under the Radar Michigan, a PBS television show hosted by Tom Daldin, who has a friendly, comfortable presence and a great sense of humor. UTR Michigan is in its third season. UTR Michigan showcases a different Michigan town in each episode, featuring local places of interest, stories, great people, and mouth-watering foods at local restaurants. UTR is a helpful, convincing site for choosing a Michigan town to visit. Episode 318 highlights Grand Rapids, and, if you want to see a hilarious sight, watch the people pedaling on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser, it’s crazy! To find out the art of coffee roasting and information about the Can-Do Kitchen, watch the inspirational episode featuring Kalamazoo!
Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids