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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
It’s Black History Month! A time to celebrate the
accomplishments of African Americans, but also a great time to examine some of
the social issues and complexities of race in America. For all of the insistence upon inherent difference between races, it is actually just a social construct based on
appearance with a few cultural differences thrown in for good measure. Or as
Maya Angelou put it in her poem Human Family, “we are more alike, my friends/ than we are unalike.”
In the 1920’s when Black Americans were treated poorly and
granted way less opportunities for success, many fair-skinned Black Americans
decided to cut ties with their family and friends to try and live out the American Dream the best
way they knew how—by pretending to be White. Americans were all too aware of
this, and as a result, there were many films and novels focused on the subject
My absolute favorite novel from this time period is Passing by Nella Larsen. Published in
1929, during the Harlem Renaissance, the story follows two
women, Irene Redfield and Clare Kendry, childhood friends who meet later as
adults. Irene is married, and living in Harlem right in the hub of the Black
social circle, while Clare, a wealthy socialite who married a racist White man,
is passing for White.
Passing explores themes of deception, jealousy, loyalty and
betrayal. It’s a tale of fashionable frenemies, scandalous parties, and a crazy
twist ending I’d love to talk to you about if you get a chance to read it. I
love it to pieces and hope you will too.
By CE 130, the city of Rome was the center of an enormous empire, roughly rectangular in shape, that stretched from the province of Aegyptus (Egypt) at its southeastern corner to Britannia in the northwest. Bronwen Riley chooses CE 130 as the year in which she imagines and constructs a journey “from the heart of Rome to Hadrian’s Wall” in this wonderfully accessible 2016 offering. In doing so, she draws upon a wide variety of sources ranging from modern scholarship to the immutable contributions of Cassius Dio, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger.
While Egypt was immensely important to Rome, with the Nile River delta serving as the empire’s breadbasket, Britannia was… less so. Considered by cosmopolitan Romans to be the very embodiment of the term ‘provincial’, Britannia had functioned as an Imperial Province since CE 43 when the Emperor Claudius ordered finished the work begun by Julius Caesar almost a century prior. In the 90 years between CE 43 and 130, the Romans successfully secured their claim on Britannia, from the southern coast to the site of the modern village of Bowness-on-Solway, through the liberal application of butchery, diplomacy, and industry.
Unlike the tamer Senatorial Provinces closer to Rome such as Sicilia, Epirus, or even Macedonia, operations in Britannia were overseen by the Roman military. Riley selects for her travel companions the sorts of Romans who might be appointed to such a post. With her are Sextus Julius Severus, a battle-hardened Roman general who took up his governorship there in CE 130 and Minicius Natalis the Younger, the Patrician champion four-horse charioteer of the 227th Olympic Games, who assumed command of the Roman Sixth Legion at Eboracum (York) that same year.
Riley describes in exceptional detail the ins and outs of travelling as a Roman citizen during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, who we’ll recall from our Western Civ. courses as the third of the ‘Five Good Emperors’. How would one arrange for travel from the ports of Ostia to those in Gallia Narbonensis on the far side of the Alps? What should one know of the intricacies of Gallic hospitality on the way to Gesoriacum (Bulogne)? Here’s a travel tip: avoid the ‘pork’ offered by dodgy innkeepers if you harbor any qualms regarding potential acts of cannibalism.
Along the way, Riley draws attention to the myriad foundations of modern western civilization laid by Roman engineers. Upon arrival in the cities of Britannia, Riley focuses on the ways in which those engineers set to work emulating Roman life on the fringes of the empire. After all, city planning and the provision of civic institutions such as temples, amphitheaters, public baths, and above all, roads, were as important to Romans on the edge of their world as it was to those at its center.
It’s an engaging, immersive work that ultimately has far more in common with a historical monograph than a travel guide or a gazetteer, and in my opinion, comes off as less heavy and more approachable. Anglophiles and Romanophiles in particular will not be disappointed.
In case you didn’t know, right now in theatres there is a
brilliant movie called the Queen of Katwe. Starring Lupita Nyong’o, and David
Oyelowo, it follows the journey of a young girl named Phiona living in the
slums of Uganda who learns the game of chess and quickly skyrockets through the
ranks to be a national champion, even competing in international competitions
for the rank of Grandmaster. In the process, she is able to improve life
conditions for herself, her family, and uplift the community as a whole.
Right after the credits rolled, I headed straight to the
bookshelves to find out more about this incredible individual. The biographythe movie is based on, by Tim Crothers, fleshes out the inspirational tale a bit more to include the political climate of the country
at the time, and gives more details about some of the great challenges Phiona
Mutesi was able to overcome. Don’t miss
out on this great story of true life triumph!