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Staff Picks: Books


The country’s initial devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, Andersen argues, has over the centuries morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom-made reality. So your right to believe in angels and your neighbor’s right to believe in U.F.O.s and Rachel Dolezal’s right to believe she is black lead naturally to our president’s right to insist that his crowds were bigger.—New York Times’ Hanna Rosin

According to author Kurt Andersen, America is a nation of grifters and the grifted. His historical survey of America’s credulous embrace of the superstitious and various forms of magical thinking begins with Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church and quickly transitions to a scrutinizing inquiry into the extremely bizarre practices of the puritans and pilgrims. They were arguably the Islamic State of the 17th Century when one considers their extremism. He finishes this readable, breezy examination of uncritical, irrational cult thinking, by arguing that America has long had a unique and troubling relationship between fact and fiction, reality vs fantasy—a bond between utter nonsense and the social and legal freedoms to defend that very nonsense. Example after example, from religious hocus pocus to New Age fads marketed as science, Andersen rips apart America’s infatuation with constructed realities. There are uneven, somewhat sloppy areas of argument when Andersen attempts to draw threads of historical continuity that when situated under the microscope, possess reductive claims. He clearly needs to read a bit further about postmodern thinking and its leading thinkers because he does a disservice to the reader when attempting to link them to various cultural and social developments of the 1970’s. However, Andersen’s book will appeal to skeptics who have grown weary of America’s ‘if you can invent and sell it to the masses, well, then it must be true’ bar for reality.

How to Eat a Lobster : And Other Edible Enigmas Explained

I think this must be one of the smallest books the library owns (4-3/4" x 6"), but there is certainly a lot in it. As implied by the title, it is a book of procedure. How many would know that it takes six tools (skewer, towel or dishcloth, mallet, kitchen knife, butter knife, and paring knife) to open a coconut? Step-by-step instructions are given for this task. Most of the book details how to eat various commodities, such as a papaya, pigs' feet, asparagus, and artichoke. There are pages on how to eat something messy or spicy and even how to recover from a tongue burn. Mealtime etiquette is covered, along with hints such as how to stop yourself from choking. The dedication in the front of this book is priceless: 'TO MY MOM: Thanks for supporting me through the years. I'll never forget the time you were worried I'd mess up cooking dinner for the first time, but then you proceeded to set the taco shells on fire yourself. I love you.'

Hot Pink!

New York Fashion Week has come to a close, but London Fashion Week is just starting up! That’s right, we are right in the middle of the first Fashion Month of 2018, a time I personally refer to as The Highlight of my Instagram Feed.


While it is always a delight to see the latest trends sashay down the runway, a true fashionista knows that you can’t really understand where fashion is going until you know where it’s been.  Many are familiar with the revolutionary influence of Coco Chanel, but few know about her contemporary, the avant garde visionary Elsa Schiaparelli.

A mastermind ahead of her time, Elsa Schiaparelli set in motion all of the fashion paradigms we take for granted today. Make sure to check out this book to read about the inventor of runway shows, ready to wear collections, bolero jackets, culottes and most importantly—hot pink!

Also, click here to see some of her most famous works


Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins visited the Powell branch in 2016 for the Embracing Forgiveness program. In 2017, they published Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Friendship and Forgiveness. Andrew was a dirty cop in Benton Harbor who caused Jameel McGee, a completely innocent man, to be arrested and imprisoned. Andrew employed many dishonest and illegal shortcuts in order to more easily obtain search warrants, make arrests stick, and skim from confiscated money. He did these things because he believed he was doing his part to clean up the city, and thought he had earned the right to do so. The book's chapters alternate between Andrew and Jameel's perspectives. I have a powerful quote from Jameel's reflections while in prison that I want to share with you: "I'd spent so much time being angry at everyone who put me here...I had to stop blaming everyone else and spending all my time being consumed by anger and a desire for revenge. All anger had done so far was turn me into someone I didn't like, someone I did not want to be," (107). 
Jameel brings up a key point here. Both men saw the need to change their ways because they didn't like who they had become. Andrew never envisioned that his childhood dream to become a cop would warp into a corrupt, self-serving role. Jameel saw how his anger affected him and sought a new path. The two also found religion, and that helped pave the way for their new outlooks. I have to commend both men. Andrew admitted he was wrong and tried to amend his errors. We all know how hard it is to admit when we're wrong and to openly and sincerely apologize for it. Jameel was dealt a bad hand but chose to forgive and move forward. The story inspires even more so once Jameel and Andrew meet after the main events of the book and develop not only a working relationship, but a friendship. I highly encourage you to check out this amazing story.


A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches

Despite the title, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches isn't actually all that upsetting. What it is, however, is an insanely great cookbook about- yes- sandwiches from Tyler Kord, owner and head chef at No. 7 Sub in New York. Hilariously written with lots of attitude and great stories surrounding each (delicious) sandwich, along with mouthwatering photography by none other than William Wegman (famous for taking photos of his pet Weimaraner dogs wearing costumes), this is well worth a read if you love sandwiches, or funny writing, or both.

Fallen Glory

Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings is the story of 21 vanished buildings from all over the world and from all time periods. Most readers would know these buildings by name and location but wouldn't have much more information on them than that. This book fills in those gaps. Some of them are ones that most readers probably have not heard of at all, such as the Karakorum in Orkhon Valley, Mongolia, the Fortress of Golconda in Hyderabad, India, the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, or, closer to home, the Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri. Many photographs and drawings add to the quality of this large, well-documented work. Prolific mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith calls this 'the most interesting book I have come across this year. This is a magnificent study of buildings and other structures that have disappeared.'

A new republic

Classic European portraiture gets a new face in the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, whose striking paintings portray modern African American subjects in poses that mimic European masters in the book Kehinde Wiley : a new republic, which is part of the KPL social justice collection. Wiley's work shines a light on the lack of African American faces in historical and cultural contexts. There is also a documentary about Kehinde, available on DVD or through Hoopla.

Turner, Monet and Twombly

Culled together from an exhibit at the Tate Modern Museum in 2012, Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings is a handsome examination of the influences of nature, light and atmosphere upon the works of these three legendary painters. The book illustrates both the similarities and the differences between the three painters, traces the impact of light and natural landscapes on their particular vision, and how each brought into being their masterpieces, that today, routinely fetch millions at the auction houses.

I Work at a Public Library

The subtitle of this book pretty much says it all: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks. Gina Sheridan, a librarian in St. Louis, Missouri, has gathered 152 pages of stories about her experiences with patrons while working in libraries. I sampled a few of the anecdotes and found them to be really quite amusing. Some day I'll read the rest!

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.