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Staff Picks: Books

On the Camino, by Jason

Here’s why I recommend On the Camino, by Jason:

  • I like graphic novels. I like travel memoirs, where the traveler(s) journeyed on their own steam, just as much. Combine those aspects; I’m generally hooked!
  • Jason’s wry sense of humor had me chuckling often.
  • The artist’s portrayal of himself and other hikers as animals lent a quirky perspective to his tale of hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile path through the north of Spain.
  • Yet, this tale isn’t all quirk and humor. I appreciated his humility and his honesty about his doubts along the way. He pondered whether he fit in or not with the other hikers and why exactly he chose to hike the trail. He described his fears when he was sure he was lost along the way.
  • I became curious about the logistics of creating the graphic novel. I wondered, did Jason take notes along the way? Did he draw each day after he’d finished hiking, or did he chronicle the whole trip from memory once the hike was over?
  • Maybe you’ll read this and have your own thoughts about what journey--physical or otherwise--you might chronicle and how you might do it, if you were drawing a memoir. For myself, I’m still pondering. 

 


Secret Marvels of the World

This is another of Lonely Planet's publications, and it describes, as indicated in the subtitle, 360 Extraordinary Places You Never Knew Existed and How to Find Them. Most of the places in this book I 'never knew existed,' but I'm not so sure I would want to know 'how to find' some of them. I did enjoy paging through this book, learning about pink lakes in Senegal and Australia; The Karoo in South Africa, where one can see a giant South African flag the size of 66 soccer fields; the Billionth Barrel Monument in Brunei, which celebrates a milestone in oil drilling; and Tashirojima, Japan, which is an island on which cats outnumber humans six to one. There are American sites as well, such as the Lunchbox Museum In Columbus, Georgia; Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska, which has non-working automobiles set up like Stonehenge; and the world's largest maze on the Dole Pineapple Plantation, about 40 minutes from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. All in all, this is a fun volume to explore.


Yellowstone

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I won’t be making the trip to Yellowstone National Park anytime soon. But, I can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (albeit a few months late) with the help of this book. Subtitled A Journey through America’s Wild Heart, one finds herein a short history of the park; however, author David Quammen’s purpose in writing this book is to describe the park as it exists today. One would expect to find great photography in a publication from the National Geographic Society, and this work is no exception. The unconventional size (7” tall x 10” wide) adds to the uniqueness of this volume. For a good survey of life in today’s Yellowstone, take a look at this.


Flying Couch

There’s something about graphic memoirs that allows them to resonate with me in a way that normal memoirs do not. When a person’s life story is illustrated in frames that capture snapshots of their life, it’s even easier to put myself in their shoes and feel their experiences.

If you’re looking for a particularly beautiful graphic memoir, look no further than Flying Couch, by Amy Kurzweil. This book encompasses two stories: it is centrally focused on Kurzweil, and her experience finding her identity as a Jewish woman, and along the way, the memoir is interlaced with her grandmother’s story of surviving the holocaust by assuming the identity of a Polish gentile girl. I loved learning about a culture so different from my own, and traveling with Kurzweil as she goes from Michigan, to New York, Israel, and Germany. I heartily recommend it.


Beneath Wandering Stars

When this book showed up on my new books cart, I was first drawn in by the cover. It wasn’t a title I had been anticipating, but as I flipped it over to see what it was about, I knew I would be taking this one home.
After her brother Lucas is wounded in Afghanistan, Gabi Santiago vows to hike the Camino de Santiago in his name. The only catch, her brother’s best friend Seth, whom Gabi hates, has to walk it with her. As they hike this centuries old pilgrimage searching for meaning, forgiveness, and a miracle for someone they both love, they begin to understand each other better, and more importantly, themselves.
The Camino de Santiago has fascinated me for a long time. Five years ago, my mom and I watched a The Way (which I also highly recommend!), and I decided that I wanted to walk it. My mom and I agreed that in five years, when I turned 30, we would hike the Camino together, and finally that year has arrived. When this book appeared on my cart, it was just one more encouragement for me. The story moved me, and cemented my desire to make this pilgrimage. I highly recommend this touching story that deals with change, friendship, and grief in a beautiful way.


At Home in the World

I love reading travel memoirs like At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider. After saving for what seemed like forever (to me as blog reader), the Oxenreider family set out to travel the world together for 9 months. 2 adults and 3 kids under 10 with 5 backpacks for 9 months. I don't know if I'll ever make extended travel happen for my family but I sure loved reading about their adventure. Tsh's blog is already my go-to resource for simple travel tips for families, so I was excited to read her new book. I'm happy to say it's wonderful and I'm savoring it slowly, chapter by chapter. As always, I'm reminded that we need far, far less than we think we do. Time to do some more simplifying in my life and mind so that we can enjoy more of what really matters.


UTR MI - the First 50

We were researching where to vacation in Michigan and came upon this TV clip about Beaver Island. I was intrigued to learn more about lesser-known places in Michigan, so I sought out Under the Radar Michigan’s website. The TV show takes viewers all around MI to places both quirky and not quirky, but just worthy of getting to know. The series will be coming to KPL’s DVD collection this summer. In the meanwhile, check out the companion book to the show.

Each chapter corresponds to the episode of the same number. Sometimes they go to opposite sides of the state in one episode. Other times they zero in on a region-- as with chapter 45, the “West-Side Mitten Adventure”-- or a theme such as the “Michigan Festivals Special” (ch. 26.) The indexes enable you to find specific sites, cities, and regions covered in the book. Kalamazoo is featured more than once, and the Kalamazoo places listed in the book are brag-worthy. I learned about some businesses I had not known, as well as more about places already familiar to me in our community.

Check it out and start planning your next trip!


Tent Camping in Michigan

It’s the time of year when our camping gear comes out of storage and we start to think about where we will explore Michigan this summer. For years, one of my favorite resources has been the Best Tent Camping Michigan guide. 

I always research any travel destination online and in print books. KPL has so many helpful resources for planning your next adventure in Michigan, or anywhere else.


American Street

American Street follows the story of a Haitian teenage girl named Fabiola who planned on coming to stay with her aunt and cousins in Detroit, Michigan. Though Fabiola was born in the US, and is an American citizen, her mother is not, and she ends up getting detained at the JFK airport. As a result, Fabiola is forced to start a brand new life on her own-- creating a new identity in an unfamiliar country, with family she doesn't know, all the while trying to find a way to be reunited with her mother.

It's always interesting to see your home through someone else's eyes, and this debut novel by Ibi Zoboi, a Haitian immigrant herself, provides a fresh and unique perspective on the American Dream, and the compromises one has to make along the way.  


An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders

Some time ago I wrote in this space about the Atlas of Cursed Places : A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations. One of my colleagues remembered that when she saw the book Atlas Obscura and mentioned to me that I might like it as well. She was right. I did. This book is wide-ranging in that it covers both natural and human-made attractions throughout the world, even in remote locations of Oceania and Antarctica. I checked to see what there was in Michigan and found three entries: 1) Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, 2) Hoegh Pet Caskets in Gladstone, and 3) a test tube called Edison's Last Breath in Dearborn. I might add that this book is not for the faint of heart (or stomach), since some of the material is rather macabre, such as the photo of bodies in the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo on the island of Sicily. Shall I go on? Listings for The Netherlands include the Teylers Museum which has been lit only by sunlight since it opened in 1784, and Micropia, which is a zoo that includes only organisms that are invisible to the naked eye, such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds. And there are more by the Dutch: The Hash, Marihuana, Hemp Museum; The Torture Museum; and the Cigar Band House. Or, one could go to Minneapolis and visit Orfield Laboratories, which has an anechoic chamber that's called the 'World's Quietest Room.' What a world we live in. What a book!