Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
When I started reading this book I got really excited. I thought that I had a lot in common with Pearl Cleage. The similarities stopped quickly and although the timing of our first children was close there was little to compare after that. Like me she quit working but she was still very connected. How could she not be when she wrote speeches for the city of Atlanta’s first black mayor and fraternized with some very important people? She was married to Michael Lomax, who became the president of The United Negro Fund. In Things I should have told my daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs, Pearl gives her readers a very candid look into her life back in the 70s and 80s. Some of her bear-it-all details were tough for me to imagine because where I had become Pollyannaish she was making major life changes and her world was broadening while mine was narrowing. I don’t envy her and her world, I just marvel at it. She had 2 affairs with married men and still ended up happy!
Pearl says it was all worth it, even the messy parts.
Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs
In today's world, when work and home life seem to intertwine and
many of us are tethered to technology that keeps us constantly
available, time is our most precious commodity. In
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has theTime, Brigid Schulte takes a look at the U.S.'s perpetual time
crunch and what makes us all in such a hurry. Schulte offers
extensive research regarding time, work, and play in the U.S. and
the results are fascinating: it turns out time is gendered in our
society. Schulte argues that the myth of the "ideal worker"
(an employee who puts in hours upon hours of face time in at work
and will drop everything at a moment's notice for their employer)
is detrimental to the health and happiness of individuals and does
nothing at all to support families. Women, particularly
mothers, assumed to be the care givers in families, are the ones
who suffer the most; they make less money, are less likely to rise
to management levels within companies, and feel relentless pressure
to be the perfect parent. Schulte offers lots of data to back
up her argument, and she suggests changes (including paid
maternity/paternity leave, paid vacation, flexible work hours,
more egalitarian household duties, etc.) that she thinks would
offer better support to families and in turn generate happy,
healthy, and productive workers.
I found this book extremely interesting to read despite a topic
that, handled differently, could have easily been boring; it made
me look at structures in our society that are taken for granted and
realize that, yes, we can have more time, better gender equality,
and still be a productive society. I do wish more attention
was paid to how low income families and people of color are
impacted by "the overwhelm" as the author describes it-although
Schulte occasionally addresses both income and race, there's plenty
more that could have been discussed along those lines.
Despite that flaw, I came away from this book with the feeling that
the topic of time--both work and leisure--is incredibly important to
discuss and that a cultural shift in how we think about time could
have a huge, positive impact on our society.
Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
Vacationing on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s scenic west coast shoreline is a wonderful choice. More than one hundred years ago Buster Keaton’s family and their vaudeville team vacationed in Bluffton, near Muskegon. Matt Phelan wrote and illustrated a graphic novel titled: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster.
The story, told in remarkable drawings, is about a boy named Henry Harrison who lives in Muskegon year round. Henry hears about the vaudevillians and is captivated by the performers and their animals! He and the young Buster Keaton form a summer friendship and they hang out and play baseball with other kids. When summer ends, kids go back to school, but not for Buster! Buster travels around doing vaudeville acts, then returns to Bluffton the next summer. Bluffton offers a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most well-known silent screen actors and the few summers he lived on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Go back in time and watch Buster Keaton’s black and white slapstick silent films on KPL’s Hoopla site. It’s accessible directly from the KPL catalog, just enter Buster Keaton in the search field.
Bluffton: My Summers with Buster
A book that has as its subject the continent of North America is a bit unusual. Generally one would find separate works for the individual countries of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the various Caribbean island nations, but this book has them all. Lots of facts are included, such as: 1) Some desert plants, like the cereus, bloom at night instead of during the day to attract pollinators like bats that come out at night when the desert is cooler, 2) Ninety percent of the world's tornadoes occur in North America, although tornadoes have occurred on every continent except Antarctica, and 3) With temperatures falling to fifty below, the pines of northern Canada become stunted but still form the largest forests of the continent. Containing striking photographs, this companion to the Discovery Channel series includes narrative on North America's wildlife, weather, plants, and geography. This is an impressive book.
North America : a world in one continent
A search for 'Lance Armstrong' in the KPL catalog reveals many books written about the subject. There are the books that helped create the mythical Armstrong story, which goes something like - raised by a tough single mother, displayed phenomenal athletic ability at a young age, near-terminal cancer diagnosis cuts short a promising cycling career, survives cancer, a changed man - he comes back to become the world’s greatest cyclist and wins the Tour de France an utterly amazing 7 times in a row, retires from cycling to lead a philanthropic foundation that reaches millions of cancer survivors around the planet. (see: Tour de Lance or 23 Days in July) Now there are the post-federal investigation/Oprah confession books that reveal Armstrong to be a sophisticated drug cheat, a total bully, a bald-faced liar, and detail his recent plummet from hero to pariah. (see: Wheelman and The Armstrong Lie) Having closely followed professional cycling throughout the era that Lance Armstrong won 7 straight Tour de France titles; I can understand his current perspective which is basically: if everyone was cheating, then nobody was cheating. But the thing that ultimately led to his spectacular fall from grace, and what makes Juliet Macur’s new book about Armstrong, Cycle of Lies: the fall of Lance Armstrong, so captivating, is the fact that the single-minded competitiveness that allowed him to beat cancer and win bike races also fueled the ferocity of his denials and the personal attacks on those that dared to defy him. Macur, unlike most journalists outside Oprah herself, was allowed access to Armstrong and his inner circle, and uses that access to produce a nuanced portrait of how the Lance Armstrong myth formed and grew and how it ultimately collapsed upon itself so catastrophically.
Cycle of Lies
Whether you are a novice or experienced gardener, “Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden” by Niki Jabbour is just the book for inspiration. I first saw this title when there were still piles of snow on the ground here in Michigan, and just looking through the book was better than a dose of spring tonic.
73 different experienced contributors have provided plans for gardens such as “Edibles on a patio”, “Asian vegetables”, “Backyard orchard”, and “Chile lover’s garden”. And that’s just a small sample. Lavishly illustrated, if you are currently a gardener or want to be, I can almost guarantee you will find something to pique your interest here.
I love thinking about what to plant every year in my garden, and I got lots of suggestions and ideas from this book. Spring has arrived- let the planting begin!
Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden
Scenario One: A trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. You happen to be watching the horrible scene unfold. But, you also happen to be next to a lever. If you pull the level, the trolley switches tracks and kills one person (also tied to the tracks). If you do nothing, five people die. Those are your only options.
Do you pull the lever?
Scenario Two: Again, a trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. But now there is a platform overlooking the tracks with a very large man standing on it (I apologize for the offensive nature of this thought experiment in advance). You are standing behind him on the platform. You have two options. You can do nothing and the five people die. Or you can push the large man in front of the trolley, which will stop it; but he will die. Those are the only options you have.
Do you push the large man?
Most people, it turns out, would pull the lever but would not push the large man, usually because the latter is more intentional. Interestingly, men are more willing to push the large man in front of the trolley. Military workers are more likely to push (vs hospital workers), liberals push (as opposed to conservatives), non-religious people push (vs religious) and — wait for it — psychopaths push! But there is no correlation regarding income or education and pushing.
The point, of course, has nothing to do with trolleys or large men. The point is that both outcomes are the same. One person dies and five people are saved. Yet why do we not push the large man? What else is going on here?
It has everything to do with your moral philosophy, which roughly come in two flavors: Utilitarian or Deontologist, John Stuart Mill or Immanuel Kant. Do you calculate numbers or do you follow strict rules? Does the outcome matter (save five) or does the principle matter more (do not kill)? Does the consequences of your actions matter, or just the actions themselves? Most people (me included) fall into the principle, rule-based camp (Deontology). Other people think that the means justify the end, that morality is about maximizing the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people, that sometimes by golly you have to crack an egg to make an omelet (Utilitarianism).
As for me, I would not pull the lever or push the man. What about you? Please comment below.
Would you kill the fat man
Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today we celebrate the planet we live on, and to that end we have many items for you to explore, from Earth Day specific, to activity-based ways to enjoy the Earth, including camping, hiking, and gardening.
On a more somber note, this year we mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, and a coalition has formed to highlight the importance of avoiding species extinction in the future. This effort is led by Joel Greenberg, a research associate with both the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and the Chicago Field Museum. Greenberg has written a book about the passenger pigeon, A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction, which you can place on hold, as it is currently checked out at this writing. Next Monday, Greenberg will address the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo, at an event which is free and open to the public.
A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction
Much like Mike Tyson’s greatest fights, Undisputed Truth, the autobiography by the controversial boxer is shocking and brutal, but despite the shock, it is hard to turn away from. Written with the assistance of well-respected coauthor Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth offers a raw, no holds barred look at the high-flying story of Mike Tyson so far. From his incredibly difficult childhood (with shockingly little parental involvement, Tyson was left to survive on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, New York on his own and was committing armed robbery as a very young child) to training under the tutelage, and basically being adopted by, boxing coach Cus D'Amato as a teenager, to boxing world champion, convicted rapist, celebrity, drug addict, and notorious ear-biting villain, Undisputed Truth is a truly wild ride. The book does little to dissuade readers that Tyson has been anything but a truly despicable person for most of his life, but the raw and honest way that Tyson talks about his life and confronts his demons is admirable and by the end of the book you can’t help but root for him and his redemption as a human being and a sports figure.
In journalism, a stringer is a writer/correspondent who isn’t formally employed by any one news organization, but rather produces articles that may be shopped around to many would be publishers, and more often than not, may actually end up being bought by none. Stringers usually cover their own expenses, provide their own support and go to places where established, affiliated reporters do not. The term itself is of unsure origin. Some say that it was coined because these writers are paid by the word and therefore would tend to “string” together words to increase their payout. Others believe that it refers to these journalists’ potential employers who would “string them along” into believing that a permanent contractual relationship was to be had just around the corner from the next article that they wrote.
Making a living by writing anything professionally is tough enough. Deciding to do it by becoming a stringer takes a certain character; one that is determined to succeed and driven by a thirst for adventure and non-stop action. It is also useful to have a very high tolerance level for repeatedly risking everything in search of that exceptional, preferably exclusive, story. All of these traits are displayed in abundance by Anjan Sundaram in his wonderful first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.
In the summer of 2005, Sunderam decides to leave behind his postgraduate studies in mathematics at Yale, as well as a lucrative job offer from Goldman Sachs, and instead to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why such an extreme exercise in life re-orientation? Although an explanation is provided, it is not very convincing. Rather it seems to be as much due to whimsy and a bad case of ants-in-the-pants as anything else. And why the Congo? Simply due to the shear coincidence that his bank teller tells him that her brother-in-law and family, whom he has never met, live there and would agree to put him up in their home during his stay.
Using his one-way ticket, he arrives and his previously calm predictable world completely disintegrates into the uncertainties of day-to-day Congolese existence; the latter occurring with the chaotic and frequently violent state of Congolese politics and social problems as a backdrop. After many mishaps and struggles along the way to becoming the journalist he sees himself as being, he lucks out by landing a position as a stringer with the Associated Press reporting on the never ending merry-go-round of political corruption and exploitation that are the trademarks of the country’s history.
Success begins to shine upon his efforts, and helps seal his commitment to his new life on the African continent. His story about the Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest wins a Reuters journalism award. His Associated Press editor acknowledges that he himself also began his career as a stringer in Congo. Editor and writer form a bond. Other opportunities present themselves, and Sundaram’s writings have since appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times as well as the Chicago Tribune.
I first heard about “Stringer” when the author was interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show in early January of this year. However, be assured: This work is no light-hearted, comedic romp. Sundaram’s writing is crisp, searing, and bursting with visual details that make it unforgettable for the reader. (One reviewer used the word “luscious” to describe it, and I could not agree more.)
It is very rare to find a truly engrossing page-turner, much less one that is a work of quality non-fiction. This is just such a rarity.
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo