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Staff Picks: Books

A Plea to White People

This book is a very heartfelt, thoughtful, emotional yet rational plea for white people to understand what it's like to be black in America. Structurally, it's based on a sermon, but I'm not sure it reads like one - it's more social justice book than religious sermon in my opinion. Michael Eric Dyson, a pastor, is one of the greatest black intellectuals of our day. This book was truly enjoyable, humanizing, and sad. As Steven King says, "Dyson tells you what you need to know--what this white man needed to know, at least."

The end of the book has an incredibly extensive reading list, for anyone that wants to take an intellectual deep dive. But even better - check out our KPL Social Justice Collection.


Studio: creative spaces for creative people

Studio: creative spaces for creative people by Sally Coulthard takes you into the studios of dozens of artists and makers. Providing the reader with inspiration and motivation for creating a productive studio space of their own, Studio is full of photographs of the beautiful and interesting workspaces of visual artists, woodworkers, textile artists and more. If you dream of carving out a creative space to explore your artistic thoughts completely and need inspiration, or wish to improve your current studio space to better suit your needs, or just like to look at visually interesting productive spaces – this book is for you. This book would also make a great holiday gift for any creative person on your list.


The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty

Growing up in the subtropical Hong Kong, I had never seen snow in my life before I came to the U.S., and I thought snowflakes were only people’s romantic imaginations for winter.

Then one cold winter morning in Utah, when I was walking to campus, I saw these tiny dusts falling down from the sky. When I looked closer as they fell on my gloves, they were REAL snowflakes!! They were so tiny, yet so sophisticated and beautiful.

This book has included a lot of gorgeous snow crystal photographs and diagrams to show the science behind the formation of a snow crystal. The author Kenneth Libbrecht is a professor of physics at Caltech. I love how he said about his study of snowflakes, “my flaky studies are not driven by practical applications. Instead my motivation is scientific curiosity.” Hence, a whole book dedicated to the beautiful snowflakes!


It's All a Game

Subtitled The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, this 2017 book is a 'colorful and entertaining history of board games that provides a fascinating look into what board games can teach us about ourselves.'  Included are histories and analyses of board games such as chess, backgammon, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, the plastic games (Mouse Trap and Operation), and Trivial Pursuit. The subheading of the chapter on Monopoly says, 'How Monopoly went from anti-landlord tirade to celebration of cutthroat capitalism.' The chapter on Clue tells how 'Clue's very British murders created a world of armchair sleuths.' In discussing modern board games, author Tristan Donovan also writes about 'how Germany revitalized board gaming for the twenty-first century.' This is another book that doesn't necessarily need to be read straight through to be enjoyed. I love the dedicatory note in the front: 'To my sister Jade, the queen of overturned Monopoly boards.'


Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free

 Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW is Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson’s account of becoming a Tuskegee Airman, and getting shot down over Germany during his 19th mission on August 12th, 1944. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp, and was held captive until April 29th, 1945. Jefferson writes about growing up in segregated Detroit and tells how his fascination with aviation influenced his education. He talks about training to become a Tuskegee Airman and his missions overseas. He discusses his experience as a prisoner of war, and also details his life and career after the war.

  

 The most interesting part for me was reading about how many barriers stood in the way of black men to join the Army Air Corps, because no one wanted black men to have the chance to prove they were as intelligent and capable of flying as white pilots. Women faced similar obstacles, as I read about in WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Vera S. Williams. Jefferson writes:

  

 “On September 23, 1942, I was sworn into the Army Reserves. I immediately volunteered for flight training but was told to return home and wait for a position to open up. When I asked when this would be, I was told not to worry about it. I wasn’t sure I would ever be called, but at least being in the reserves kept me from being drafted. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I later learned there was a rigid quota restricting how many blacks could be inducted each month into the training program at Tuskegee,” (24).

  

 Even if someone made it into the program, it was unlikely that he would graduate. The government made sure that only a small percentage of cadets graduated.

  

 “We cadets were all college graduates…there were 90 of us who started…by the end of our nine months of training, only 25 of us had survived. Some were eliminated for flying inadequacies, and some for non-military reasons. Years later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we discovered there had been a quota for how many blacks were allowed to graduate. The phrase used to wash guys out was “eliminated while passing for the convenience of the government,” (26).

 

 Like many black veterans, and talented individuals of color in many industries, Jefferson was not officially recognized for his achievement and sacrifice by the government until much later on in life. He received the Purple Heart in 2001 and collected other prestigious awards too. Of course, his induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum (now known as the Air Zoo) in 1995 stood out for me among his honors.

 

 

 


ELEPHANTINE BABY STEPS

This is a truly captivating book by acclaimed author and illustrator Katherine Roy who had previously written the very well received tome "Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California's Farallon Islands". Titled How to be an Elephant:Growing Up in the African Wild, this volume focuses on the anatomy, environment, family life and survival skills of a newly born elephant as she matures and becomes part of her herd. Roy vividly captures the way that these 7,000-pound giants live in the African savanna concentrating on the challenges that they face throughout their lifespans.

The accompanying large , earth-tone illustrations are stunning, and show the stages of elephant development, their bone structure, keen sense of smell, their very utilitarian trunks, their use of sounds to communicate, how they cool their bodies in hot weather, as well as several other fascinating elephant facts. These pictures are dynamic in their depiction of real elephant life, making them a wonderful, integral part of this book.

this title would be a great and meaningful addition to any library collection that serves early to middle elementary school kids. It would also be a great read for animal lovers of any age.


National Book Award Winners

The winners of this year's National Book Awards were announced in a ceremony in New York last night.

Fiction:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Non-Fiction:
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen

Poetry:
Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart

Young People's Literature:
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

You can check out all the winners at KPL.


Autumn

Autumn is one of four seasons--portions of the year which are distinguished from each other by particular characteristics of daylight, temperature, and weather. In autumn, the whole world seems to be preparing for restor death. The days grow shorter, the temperature cools, and plants and animals prepare for the cold months of winter. Wild animals migrate to warmer places or take on calories and build warm shelters, deciduous trees drop their leaves to conserve energy, and humans, who in this country call autumn “fall,” get out their warm clothes, turn on the furnace, and rake the fallen leaves from their yards.

Autumn is also a book by the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, and the above paragraph is a feeble attempt to imitate his writing style. Autumn is a collection of short essays on a curious variety of topics: apples, plastic bags, infants, fever, lice, churches, dawn, and chimneys, to name a few. Most of the pieces consider natural and man-made things or physical experiences, but a few discuss more abstract concepts like loneliness and forgiveness or the works of particular writers or artists.

These pieces are presented as Knausgaard’s introduction to the world for his unborn daughter, and according to the book jacket, it is "the first of four volumes marveling at the vast, unknowable universe around us." Each piece describes its topic in precise details which I, for one, rarely ever think about. Some of Knausgaard’s observations are quite frank and disturbingly graphic, yet each piece eventually moves beyond concrete facts to the strange ways we relate to the thing being considered. For example, Knausgaard concludes an essay called "Vomit" (of which I confess I skimmed the beginning description) with a memory of a time when one of his children vomited, like this:

"… but it was neither disgusting or uncomfortable, on the contrary I found it refreshing. The reason was simple: I loved her, and the force of that love allows nothing to stand in its way, neither the ugly, nor the unpleasant, nor the disgusting, nor the horrific."

With his keen attention and the connections he makes between the mundane and the deeply personal, Knausgaard shows the very familiar things that make up daily life in a fresh and vivid light, in the same way that the world can look brand new just after an autumn rain.


More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers

Novelist Jonathan Lethem’s new book of short essays, reviews, introductions, and a hilarious, imagined interview between the filmmaker Spike Jonze and one of Lethem’s fictional characters, More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers will appeal to those who enjoy Lethem’s spirited, polygonal criticism and literary ephemera. Lethem’s enthusiasm for delving into the essence of the books and writers that have moved him over the years is infectious from the first essay onward and will inspire readers to seek out the authors and books discussed. His reflexive, stylistic musings, collected over the course of a decade, engage with both the canon (Kafka, Melville, Dickens) and the lesser known (Steven Millhauser, Vivian Gornick, Thomas Berger), the long ago, dead authors (Bernard Malamud and Philip K. Dick) and those still working and alive (Philip Roth, Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro).


What Is Hip-Hop?

I absolutely LOVE THIS BOOK!  Beautifully written in rhyme, it provides younger children with a great introduction to the history of Hip Hop music.  Anny Yi's amazing 3-D clay art form kept me laughing all the way through.  From DJ Cool Herc to LL Cool J, Flava Flav to De La Soul, Salt-N-Pepa to Eminem… I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and seeing all the Hip Hop artists represented.  Anyone who grew up on Hip Hop will want to read this picture book.  Listen here to author Eric Morse as he talks about his exposure to Hip Hop music and writing this wonderful book.