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Staff Picks: Books

Oddball Michigan

The subtitle of Oddball Michigan is A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. I take issue with the contention that the 450 attractions covered are 'really strange,' although I must say the Kalamazoo-area ones would probably qualify. I immediately turned to the local section and found the sites where Elvis was supposedly seen -- years after his death. The other Kalamazoo venue is the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, listed because it was on this facility's parking lot that comedian Tim Allen was arrested by the Michigan State Police for trying to sell 1.4 pounds of cocaine. Among the other West Michigan sites included are the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Bear Cave in Buchanan, and the WZZM-TV Weatherball in Grand Rapids. For locations that open and close, further information is given -- phone, hours, cost, website, and directions.

 


400 Extraordinary Places

This book was received in the library at the end of 2012, but for those who haven't seen it, it's worth the time. In one- and two-page summaries, '400 extraordinary places' are described. Being another fine publication from National Geographic, it's a given that the photographs are of high quality. Even if one doesn't intend to travel to any of these locations, the reader can learn about, and maybe encounter for the first time, exotic places such as Torres del Paine (Chile), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), islands in the Adriatic Sea (Croatia), Koh Lipe (Thailand), Petra (Jordan), and the Orkney Islands (Scotland), among many others. Closer to home, the book has a couple of pages on New York City and other U.S. destinations.

 


PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO

With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.

Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.

Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.

In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.

Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.

My husband and I  traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.

This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.


Life is a Wheel

“When you move forward, even slowly, things change; when you stand still, they don’t. This is the lesson that bicycling teaches me over and over again, one that is so sensible and obvious you’d think it would be easy to remember, especially when I’m not on a bicycle.”

This is one of many wisdoms expressed in Bruce Weber’s latest book, Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride across America. In 2011, journalist Bruce Weber embarked on his second cross-country (U.S.) bike trip. He blogged along the way, and many followed his accounts of the trip. In this book, Weber expands his story, drawing comparisons among his various bike trips and sharing life lessons learned in the meantime.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re reading a blog entry or something he’s written especially for the book, but it doesn’t really matter, because his writing engages readers and keeps us moving along with him. He’s a very colorful writer. I’d like to share a meal with him, or to have encountered him along the way, while he was cycling across country.

If you're a biker or other long-distance exerciser, someone who enjoys blogs, memoirs or loving life, read this! It's a fast-paced account of a slow journey, mile by mile.

Book

Life is a Wheel
9781451695014

Going Camping?

I’m going camping this summer, and I can’t wait to be outdoors 24/7 for a few days. If, like me, camping is in you and your family’s future this summer, take advantage of the resources KPL offers as you gather your gear, plan your meals, prep the kids and decide where to go.

We have books about cooking outdoors, camping and wilderness survival skills and stories to help children get over fears of camping and excited about sleeping under the stars. We have plenty of camping directories and even a movie for beginning campers.

Are you a district resident cardholder? You can go to Zinio and read digital magazines like Backpacker or check out shows on Hoopla. (Sign in, click on the Browse page, choose Television, scroll down and find the ‘Travel around the World’ topic.) Find titles such as Ken Burns: The National Parks, and Trekking the World.

What’s your next adventure?

Book

Camping Michigan : a comprehensive guide to public tent and RV campgrounds
9780762782505

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster

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.

Book

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster
9780763650797

Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo

This title immediately piqued my interest, since it was about both Italy and train travel. The author Tim Parks is British, and he has lived in Italy for over 20 years. He regularly travels by rail from his home in Verona to Milan for his work, as well as having travelled to other regions of Italy by train, so he’s well placed to give his thoughts. Whether he’s commenting on the passengers or staff, the history of railroads in Italy, or his views of modern Italy and its politics, it makes for entertaining and informative reading.

If you’re planning a trip or just enjoy travel writing from the comfort of home, give this a try! 

Book

Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo
9780393239324

No Ordinary Cat

I have just finished reading A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life by James Bowen, a true account of the author’s remarkable relationship with his best friend, the feline Bob. At the time of their first meeting, Bowen is a struggling street musician, who has to carry the additional burden of trying to shake off a heroin addiction problem. Day to day survival on the streets of London was his only preoccupation.

One gloomy March evening, James notices a ginger cat curled up on a doormat outside a ground floor flat. Having always had a soft spot for cats, and seeing the same cat on several subsequent occasions, James decides to give him a little loving attention; something which the poor puss seems to crave. Upon closer inspection, the cat appears to be a real beauty with memorable, piercing green eyes. But its obvious that just like James, he too has been somewhat down on his luck of late. His coat is in poor condition, thin with bald patches in places. And one of his back legs, which the cat holds in an awkward manner, is clearly in need of medical attention.

James tries to find the cat’s owner, but no one wishes to claim or take responsibility for him. So James makes up his mind to transport him back to his own threadbare flat. He offers the tom some milk and a bit of tuna mashed up with biscuits which is enthusiastically wolfed down in no time. After the meal, the cat settles in a comfortable spot near the radiator moving only when James goes to bed, whereupon he wraps himself up into a ball by James’ feet. James is pleased with his new company; something he hasn’t had a lot of recently. And the cat seems to enjoy what must be very fine accommodations compared to what he had experienced in recent times, and with the added bonus of a gentle soul and kindred spirit for a flat mate.

At first, James attempts to heal the animal’s abscessed leg with a home remedy. This does not work, and he ends up taking the cat to see a local vet. After paying twenty two pounds for the visit out of the total thirty he has to his name, he decides to name the cat Bob, after a favorite character in the Twin Peaks series called “Killer Bob”. Although James enjoys Bob’s company, he doesn’t want to form a close bond with the feline, because he plans to return him back to the streets after he is healed and neutered.

Following the neutering operation, James tries to implement his original plan to set the tom free, but Bob would have none of that. He becomes James’ shadow, following James wherever he goes, often by sitting on his shoulder and looking out the window of a double-decker bus as they travel around London.

streetcatbob-1-598.jpg

James was a guitar playing busker in Covent Garden. Ordinarily, no one would exchange a look with James, much less try to engage him in conversation. He was just another grubby London panhandler that most people don’t see; a person to be avoided and even shunned. But with Bob by James’ side or on his shoulder, people would stop and broad smiles would break out on their faces. Seeing James in the company of the cat softened him in the eyes of the public. Coins and pounds were dropped into his guitar case, sometimes even before he began playing his guitar. Bob was indeed a charmer and that first day busking with the feline was the most lucrative of James’ career up to that point. With time, people started to bring Bob tidbits of food, homemade knitted sweaters, and even asking to purchase Bob who was definitely not for sale. The cat gave the man back his dignity and identity as well as a chance to get back on life’s right track. In James’ eyes, Bob was truly priceless.

James has now lived with Bob for several years, and they are still going strong. James believes in karma – that what goes around, comes around. And he believes that Bob came into his life at an exact, crucially important moment. Bob became the best mate who guided James towards a different, more productive way of living. He states in the last two lines of the book, “Everybody needs a break, everybody deserves that second chance. Bob and I had taken ours...”

Anyone who loves cats or animals will be drawn to this feel good book, about the power of love between a man and an animal. Bob is one remarkable cat who did save James’ life. This read will put a smile on your face and maybe produce a few tears of joy as well.

Long live Bob, James and the human/animal spirit!

Follow Street Cat Bob on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog.

Book

A Street Cat Named Bob: And How He Saved My Life
9781250029461

A Literary Tour of the Country

Someone, somewhere has compiled a list of books by most any imaginable subject or arrangement. This one caught my eye, especially for those of us who like books with “place” as a central theme.

50 States, 50 Novels: A Literary Tour of the United States

More books for my reading list….

Book

Looking for Alaska
9780525475064

Le Grande Boucle

The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest race gives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.

Book

Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race
9781844037421