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Staff Picks: Books

This is What a Librarian Looks Like

The first librarian in my life was my elementary school librarian. Everyone was so afraid of her. She would yell at us if we didn't put the books back to the correct places. Since then I have always thought that librarians were book police that all they did was keeping their books safe.

It was not until I was in a college research writing class when I realized librarians can also help me come up with research topics, guide me through the research process, and even proofread my citations! And of course, working at the library now also helps me understand that librarians actually do all kinds of things.

This book includes more than 200 portraits of librarians. They share their passion towards what they do and why that is meaningful and important. This books helps the public to understand that there are so many different kinds of librarians out there, and they all share a common goal: to help people. 


Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors

On May 15 the Oshtemo Branch Library hosted a Get to Know Your Muslim Neighbors event inviting folks to participate in one-on-one and small group conversations with members of our local Muslim communities. Station activities included henna and hijab tutorials and information stations about prayers and holidays. Shawarma King on Drake Road provided snacks, local Kurdish and Iranian musicians performed, and the Kalamazoo Islamic Center's imam was available to answer questions about the Quran.

If you were not able to make it to the event, or you want to do some reading on your own, check out these books from the library:

The Muslim Next Door: The Qur'an, the Media, and That Veil Thing by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Growing Up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

1001 Inventions and Awesome Facts from Muslim Civilization by National Geographic Kids

Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan


Animal Cuteness Overload

Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World In Poetry and Pictures by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore , with captivating poetry by Newbery Award winning author Kwame Alexander, observes the natural beauty, diversity and fragility of the animal world.

This mesmerizing and amazing book features more than forty unique full-color animal photographs accompanied by lively haikus, each set against a solid black or white page. The message here is simple: it's steadfast focus is on the conservation of the "natural" in the planet we all live on.

Although officially a children's book, this brilliant collaboration between photos and text will certainly please anyone interested in nature and the animals that inhabit it.


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.


300 Arguments

Slimmer than a bloated, philosophical treatise and far weightier than pap self-help drivel, Sarah Manguso’s formally clever 300 Arguments offers readers a powerful collection of epigram-sized nuggets bursting with personal wisdom, truth and naked self-analysis about what it means to desire, regret, love and investigate one’s inner life. It is a magnificent little book that bobs and weaves with sly, aphoristic intelligence, periodically sneaking up on the reader with taut punches to the gut. Here's a review from NPR.


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.


Very Good Lives

Very Good Lives is the commencement address J.K. Rowling delivered to the Harvard University class of 2008, where she talked about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

Regarding her “epic failure” in life, Rowling said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.”

How true is that! Life is made up of countless setbacks and disappointments. They all helped shape who we are. We learn from these experiences and become better friends, family, and citizens. 

The second part of the address talks about the importance of having the ability to empathize. If we can imagine ourselves into other people's lives, we all can help create a better world. 

This little book gave me comfort. It tells me that there’s beauty in failure. No matter how reality doesn’t align with expectations, I should still press on. Failure is essential to success. 


 



The Phenomenon

Last Sunday, I was in my car and I happened to turned on Fresh Air on NPR to the sound of Terry Gross introducing Rick Ankiel as this week’s guest. The name was vaguely familiar to me as a moderately enthusiastic baseball fan, and as the story unfolded on the radio, I recalled the events of game one of the 2000 National League Division Series played by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. A game where a guy they were calling “the next Sandy Koufax”, a 21 year old who had secured a slot in the St. Louis Cardinals system at the age of 18 with a signing bonus of $2.5M, managed five wild pitches in a single inning. He chalked it up to the yips.

To athletes and fans, that is likely a term with which they are at least passingly familiar. The yips refers to the acute psychological and physiological occurrence in which a motion or action, previously reproduced thousands of times, suddenly becomes impossible or unreliable at best. It’s a disconnect between the body and mind of the athlete that can strike suddenly and spiral completely out of control as anxiety from each successive mistake steadily mounts.

In The Phenomenon, Ankiel and co-author Tim Brown describe the events that day at Busch Stadium and its aftermath. The Cardinals would go on to win that game and the NLDS, but for Ankiel, the damage was done. He would spend the next several years playing minor league ball at lower and lower levels while he battled alcoholism, injury, and the yips in an effort to pitch his way back to the majors - which he did, only to reinvent himself as a power-hitting center fielder.

This is not just a book for baseball fans or sports enthusiasts in general. It’s an eerily relatable biography with a focus on family, mentorship, and personal struggle both superficial and unseen. More than a story of one of the most bizarre and unlikely baseball careers in recent memory, The Phenomenon is a case-study in the concept of mind over matter, both for better and worse.


A Really Good Day

Having been misdiagnosed with Bipolar II, and later with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), Waldman begins her book at a point where all her remedies for depression and mood swing have essentially failed her. She has stumbled across the book The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by James Fadiman. Waldman, a previous federal public defender and law professor who taught “The Legal and Social Implications of the War on Drugs” at UC Berkeley, is also the mother of four. Disturbed by the impact of her emotional instability on her family, she begins taking microdoses of LSD following Fadiman’s protocol. Having no interest in an LSD prompted spiritual enlightenment or hallucinatory experience; she is motivated instead to join Fadiman’s experiment by the outcomes described by others who have participated: namely more positive mood and increased ability to focus. 

A Really Good Day, is written as an amusing daily journal of her experience “microdosing” which she intersperses with the compelling story of LSD as a pharmaceutical and then social drug. She is forthright in her concerns regarding the use of LSD as an illegal substance and hiding this use from her children, and her internal conflict with taking what is perceived to be a “recreational” drug. Waldman explores the effects of microdosing on depression and anxiety through her witty and deeply personal disclosure, which she balances with a rich and informative history of LSD. Her skepticism, overcome by self-described “desperation” for “A Really Good Day” is met with outcomes that are surprising and provocative.


Racism in a Chicago Court

This book is horrifying.

For anyone concerned about racism in the criminal justice system, this is a must read and a truly original contribution to the conversation. Drawing on thousands of hours of actual observations in the Cook County criminal court system (Chicago), Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve exposes the various forms of racism that exist within the culture. The scene is set by a sad and shocking context: a huge courthouse, built next to a huge jail, built in a poor area where mostly people of color live. The people getting charged and the families of defendants are overwhelming people of color, mostly from that area. Next, you have an almost all white cast of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and defense attorneys—all commuting to work from a different area. Even the professionals find this very peculiar and odd, although they become desensitized to it eventually.

Cook County is a highly efficient cattle call of defendants taking a “plea” (pleading guilty for a reduced sentence) and going to jail. After finishing the book, the words “due process” and “justice” and “adequate representation” are non-existent. Most shocking is the more overt, “old school” racism. For example, a prosecutor will openly mock a defendant by talking in Ebonics. Or the term “mope” is the official term for most defendants in the system: lazy, criminal, undeserving defendants that suck up taxpayers money, a term which closely resembles another racially charged word that we don’t say anymore. Or the way people of color are segregated from the court proceedings, kept in a bullet proof room in the back of the court. These are defendants families, victims’ families, court watchers—again almost all Black or Brown. Frequently, they are dealt with in a rude, humiliating, or even aggressive way by judges or sheriffs.

Although the writing is a bit bad, repetitive, and academic (and I almost put the book down for that reason), I am enriched by the content and original research that went into it. The entire history of racism is brought to bare and applied in specific ways. The author has keen insight into the nuance of how racism becomes cultural and institutional—it’s not just a few “bad apples”. She goes out of her way to get the perspectives of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys—all who do not, by the way, end of looking very good at the end. In fact, the defense attorneys end of looking surprisingly bad. You feel the sheer exhaustion, outrage, and guilt the author feels as she finishes the book. After all, in order to get the “inside” scoop, she essentially goes undercover as a clerk and takes part in the culture that she is writing against. And for what end? To expose the reality of day to day life in a real court system, something that can only be gleaned by observing it.