Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
When Georges moves to a new apartment building, the last thing he expects is that he will become a spy. Not only a spy, but friends with 12-year-old, coffee-drinking Safer, and his sister Candy, home-schooled kids whose parents allowed them to name themselves. Of course, the story involves spying and lying but you’ll need to read Liar and Spy yourself for details. (And don’t miss the interrupting chicken.)
Liar and Spy
So far this year I have written in this space about several books that were published because of an anniversary of the topic. Well, here's another one, and it's a 60th anniversary that's happening very soon. In early November, 1952, Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower was elected president. This election was historic for many reasons, and this biography by Jean Edward Smith covers the entire life of Eisenhower, with an emphasis on his service in World War I and the time after that. This is a hefty volume, and it's probably not expected that everyone who encounters it will read the whole thing. Yet, it's worth looking at, even if only to read selected chapters or to see the photos and editorial cartoons interspersed with the narrative.
Eisenhower : in war and peace
I might be an extravert but I'm not sure. I don't like labels. Personality and temperment are just not that simply defined. I picked up the book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, because personality psychology is a topic that interests me. I was hoping to better understand introversion and extraversion and how our culture values, or perhaps undervalues, either trait. I think Susan Cain does a great job of explaining the theories and research behind this aspect of personality. The book is well-written and the research presented is compelling. And it doesn't read like a psychology textbook so that's a plus!
I'm not sure exactly sure where I fall on the introversion/extroversion continuum. Socially, I much prefer small groups to large parties and while I don't seem to "need" solitude, I enjoy it and feel refreshed by it. Regardless, I think it's important that society learn to value people as they are, without requiring a certain level of extroversion. I can already tell I'll be thinknig about this book for a long time. I hope it sparks a movement toward greater acceptance and celebration of every individual's strengths, whatever they may be.
It's time for Music and Make Believe again! This week the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra String Quartet and Kalamazoo Public Library will collaborate to bring you this special program. Preschoolers will enjoy hearing the story, The Maestro Plays, and completing a craft in the children's room. Then we all go upstairs, where the KSO String Quartet will be waiting to illustrate the story again with music. Kids will love the interaction with the orchestra members and the beautiful music.
We'd love for you to join us at one of the 5 Music and Make Believe sessions this week. Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 and 10:30 am at Central. And Thursday at 10:30 am at Eastwood.
Register on our website or call 553-7804 for more information.
The Maestro Plays
If you dabble in interior design or take a lot of pictures of the food you make, chances are I’ve read your blog. I’m a regular reader of a number of blogs that focus on DIY house projects or made-from-scratch recipes, and lately it seems as though the writers of all my favorite blogs are getting book deals. I’ve been really excited about the release of Deb Perelman’s book, The Smitten Kitchen. The Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog, mainly because the author uses simple ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes in a tiny, tiny kitchen—in other words, she makes me think I can recreate her recipes in my own kitchen. Perelman’s photography skills make the blog particularly appealing, and I’m hoping that the cookbook has the same appetizing look.
In addition to The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I’ve been looking forward to the book from Sherry and John Petersik, creators of the house blog Young House Love. Like the blog, the book Young House Love is full of do-it-yourself projects to decorate the home. I’d categorize their style as bright and cheerful with modern elements, and their casual manner and detailed instructions make it easy to bring their look into your own home. They’re very inspiring for people slightly afraid of a DIY challenge.
The Smitten Kitchen and Young House Love aren’t the only blogs that have made their way to print recently. Checkout Joy the Baker (http://joythebaker.com/), Dinner: a Love Story (http://www.dinneralovestory.com/), or Design Sponge at Home (http://www.designsponge.com/).
Recently, more and more nonfiction books are being published in graphic novel format. Although I have not yet succumbed to the traditional fiction graphic novels, no longer can I ignore the intrigue of these new nonfiction ones that include biographies, social histories, and loads of other topics. My first official selection was My friend Dahmer, a graphic novel by Derf Backderf. Derf was a teenage acquaintance of Jeffrey Dahmer, and the book tells the back story of Dahmer's adolescence, mainly his increasing social isolation and dysfunctional family life in the years before he became a serial killer. The story concentrates only on Dahmer and the author as teenagers, so while disturbing, I did not find it gory or difficult to read. The illustrations were captivating and the story was heartbreaking. This was a good choice for my first graphic read...it has hooked me into a new genre that I didn't think I would like...but did.
My friend Dahmer
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is a love story set against the horror of the Armenian genocide in 1915. The novel moves between the present day narrated by Laura Petrosian, and the early years of the war. Laura is researching her family history to learn the story of how her grandparents met and fell in love.
The woman who would become Laura’s grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke when she arrives with her father in Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees. Laura’s future grandfather, Armen, is an Armenian engineer who has come to Aleppo in search of information about his wife and infant daughter who have been killed by the Turks. Elizabeth and Armen fall in love but are temporarily separated as Armen leaves to travel to Egypt to join the British Army.
Elizabeth and Armen's story includes other compelling characters. Nevart, a widow who lost her husband during the genocide, has unofficially adopted Hatoun, a young girl who witnessed the decapitations of her mother and sister. And, two German army engineers risk their lives to photographic the savagery of the Armenians' predicament for posterity.
Laura Petrosian’s journey back through her family's history reveals not only love, tremendous loss, and gruesome images of the Armenian genocide, but a wrenching family secret that has been buried for generations.
The Sandcastle Girls : A Novel
When I read the new picture book Sky Color, I was reminded of a fascinating piece from Radiolab called "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?". In different ways, Peter Reynolds' new picture book and the Radiolab program acknowledge that the color concept of a clear blue sky may be largely a social and linguistic construction.
In Sky Color, Marisol has the opportunity to share in painting a mural in her school library. When she can't find the color blue, which she thinks she needs for the sky, she thinks a bit more on how to represent the sky on her mural. That night, she has a dream and realizes she may not need the color blue to present the color of the sky after all.
Sky Color is the third in a series of picture books by Peter H. Reynolds about creativity. The first two titles are The Dot and Ish.
I don’t like to draw attention to myself or stand out in a crowd, but that’s what I’m kind of doing now, whenever I drive around Kalamazoo. It all started in March of 2008 when my car lease was close to expiration. Two months before that, I had approached my husband about leasing another Honda, but this time not just another plain vanilla CRV, like the ones we had owned twice previously. No, this time I wanted a Honda Element.
He wasn’t surprised at this request, but he wasn’t thrilled about it either. He had known that since about the time that the first Element appeared in late 2002, I saw it as being the ideal car for me. And he did not exactly applaud my choice. In fact, the word “ugly” may have passed his lips more than once in assessing my preference. What?! Ugly?! Far from it, I thought. But, if I couldn’t convince his heart with car looks, I decided that I’d try to convince his brain with car facts.
My brother-in-law owned (and still owns) an Element that he would drive to Midland, Michigan from Cleveland, Ohio and back every week for over two years. That’s a hundred and four trips. He swears by the steadfast reliability of his Honda Element and given the slightest opportunity, constantly sings its praises. His recommendation definitely carried some weight, and I could see my husband starting to give a little.
Then, I heard Click and Clack—The Tappet Brothers, also known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Car Talk fame, repeatedly recommend this “toaster on wheels” to numerous on-air callers, giving it high marks mainly for its dependability, sturdiness and versatility. I made sure my husband was listening to these accolades, and underscored them with well placed comments for emphasis, such as, “You see?”
Then, I nailed the deal by pointing out to him that in addition to these positives, there was an even greater bonus; it would cost less to own or lease an Element, than it would to get another CRV.
Well, to make a long story at least a little shorter, we decided that the Element was going to be our next car. Then it came time to select a color. Maroon was the first choice, with kiwi green (actually more of a lime green) being the back-up. Actually, the maroon was once more my husband’s selection. He said it made a bad looking car a little more dignified. My rationale for choosing the lime green was why get a funky looking car without a funky looking color to match? And besides, green is my favorite color. The dealer told my husband that he shouldn’t worry, because he was certain, (no, make that absolutely positive!) that he’d be able to find us a maroon one somewhere in the Midwest.
However, when we arrived a week later to pick up our new car, there, standing in a conspicuous place, all alone, waiting for someone to claim it was my kiwi green Element. As my heart broke out into a song of jubilation, my husband’s sank beneath waves of despair. The dealer was very apologetic saying he could not deliver our first choice because it was very, very popular and back ordered for many months to come, but that “on the bright side”, there were plenty of lime green Elements to go around.
My husband was muttering something about conspiracies while we signed the lease papers. I on the other hand, was trying to come up with a name for our new wheels. Taking the color and shape of the vehicle into account, I thought that “Frogee” would fit the bill nicely. And shortly thereafter, we received our license plate proudly emblazoned with the “FROGEE” moniker.
The car and it’s plate has brought us some unanticipated attention. It has raised a smile on numerous occasions from other drivers and their passengers, as they spot, point and react to the license plate. Some wave, most don’t. We have been approached by total strangers asking us if we collect frog themed objects. It has been photographed by several people who seek unusual license plates. It has been encouraged to “Leap, Frogee, leap”, by a laughing customer at a gas station, wanting us to move forward to the next available pump. And once, when I was lost in the Arcadia area and asked a walker for directions, she not only obliged me, but jumped at the chance to take me there personally and proceeded to hop in the car with no coaxing from me. She said that she couldn’t wait to tell her teenage son that she had driven in a lime green Element. She believed that the ride would boost her coolness factor in his eyes.
In the 2010 book Carjacked by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez, the authors explore the love, lust and reality of America’s car culture and examine our obsession with cars. It details the complex impact of the automobile on modern society and shows readers how to develop a healthier, cheaper, and greener relationship with cars. Unfortunately, it tends to explore these issues from a negative perspective as is reflected by the cover art depicting a human carrying the load of his SUV, rather than it carrying him. But it did make me re-evaluate my bond with Frogee.
I can’t deny that I love Frogee, but my husband still has doubts as to whether it’s a healthy relationship. We both agree that it’s relatively inexpensive to own and operate, and when it comes to being green, well just look at it! But I also know that in reality it is just a car designed to take us from point A to point B. In our society, you pretty much have to drive, so you might as well drive a car that you’ll love, that fits your lifestyle and makes your driving experience a joyful one. That is what this Honda Element does for me.
In the end, it might not win any beauty contests, but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder and my kiwi green beauty fits me to a “T”. Despite the fact that it is a mere thing, he’s my Frogee and when I drive him, I’m in my Element.
In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two stories into one engaging novel, which takes the reader back and forth between historical fiction and modern day murder mystery. While the former helps to lay the groundwork for the latter, each is its own journey. Using a series of fictional documents to tell the story of Ann Eliza Young, whose divorce from Brigham Young in the mid 1870’s, and outspoken criticism of polygamy became national news, the author provides the almost unbiased feeling of being a researcher. Meanwhile, his first person narrative of Jordan, the excommunicated son of fundamentalist Mormons from an isolated community, immediately draws you into to his struggle. This is the character I really cared about, and what keep me up at night to read “just one more chapter.” This definitely does not read like a judgment of a religious practice, but rather a glimpse into a different world. As you follow Jordan on his path to confront his past, you feel the weight of how much history has defined it, and you really care about him, and the unlikely heroes who help him find his way.
The 19th Wife