Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain

The year 2010 marks several milestones in the life of Mark Twain. November 30, 2010 is the 175th anniversary of his birth. This year also is the 125th  anniversary of the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), a book considered by many to be the most important novel in American literature. (Read what some local literary experts recently said about Mark Twain here.)

And this year marks the 100th anniversary of his death on April 27, 1910. When he died, Mark Twain left behind a mountainous autobiography that has only now been published. The author stipulated that his recollections on life could not be printed until 100 years after his death, so that anyone he might offend would be long dead, as would their children.

To the delight and surprise of booksellers everywhere, the four-pound, 500,000 word autobiography is “flying off the shelves,” according to a Nov. 19 story in the New York Times.

The modest 7,500 print run is now up to 300,000. Sales are being driven by scholars and ardent collectors, but also generations of readers whose affection for this most American of authors began when they were introduced to Huckleberry Finn. At last we can know a little better the heart and mind of a fascinating man.



“Time to visit the kinfolks”

Delana's Aunt Tilley was full of life. Every night Aunt Tilley filled Delana's head with wild, outrageous family stories. These tales were so unconventional that Delana didn’t know if they were fact or fiction. Whenever Aunt Tilley said “Time to visit the kinfolks” Delana knew that with every family photograph came a dramatized fabrication or truth and something new would be added to her aunt’s “book of bewares”.  And then one night Aunt Tilley went to her favorite tree by the river and died.

Tonya Bolden’sFinding Family: a novel is a book full of imagination, family secrets, disappointments and delights.


Finding Family: a novel

A mother, a boy and Huey Newton

In the summer of 1968 Pa packed up his three daughters and put them on a plane headed for Oakland, California. He wanted his girls to get to know their mother. Cecile had abandoned her children when they were very young. Delphine, the oldest child, took on the parental role for her sisters as if she had been entirely responsible for their every action.

In One Crazy Summer, in the midst of the Black Panther movement, Rita Williams-Garcia does a terrific job of telling a family’s story of discovery. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern set off for the adventure of their lives and not only found out a lot about their mother but they also discovered a lot about themselves.


One Crazy Summer

Future Now

William Gibson is an author who suffers from a form of literary type-casting. Through his steady and consistent work in the late 1980’s and 90’s, including the masterful Neuromancer, he helped define the cyberpunk genre. But if you lost track of Gibson, as I fear many did, around Mona Lisa Overdrive then you may have missed out on his current, and I would argue some of his best, work. Gibson has said that he stopped writing about the far future because the present had become so choke full of technological and cultural weirdness that, when truly examined, it seems completely futuristic. His latest Zero History, which can stand alone but is the final book in a loosely tied together trilogy, certainly holds to that. Like a good internet surfing session Gibson seemlessly weaves together divergent subjects as far afield as micro trend spotting, base jumping, fashion, the military industrial complex, modern perceptions of privacy, addiction, the music industry and, my favorite meme from Zero History, the Festo Air Penguin (see video below), into a strong character driven thriller and sprinkles it all with a kind of slick urban dread that he does so well.


Zero History

Wicked Appetite

Diesel now has his own series! Janet Evanovich is expanding the world of that gorgeous character from her Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers series, and he has brought his shadowy cousin Gerwulf (Wulf) Grimoire with him. As Evanovich continues to explore the vampire world she also introduces a new character, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Tucker, a pastry chef whose cupcakes are fabulously beyond description. Lizzy has inherited her Aunt Ophelia’s house in Salem, MA and has a new job at Dazzle’s Bakery. Both Wulf and Diesel explode into her life like sizzling bombs looking for the Seven Stones of Power referring to her “gift”, and that they need her gift to find the Stones. The Seven Stones of Power represent the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth, and gluttony. They are everything that is wicked and have alluded treasure hunters for centuries. Lizzie’s world is turned inside out as she inherits a ninja cat and an extremely rude monkey, tries to keep one step ahead of Wulf, and not melt into a puddle around Diesel.

I always enjoy Evanovich’s books when I need a funny lighthearted escape from reality. Her stories are fast entertaining reads that are so much fun to follow. We will see how Diesel does now that he is standing on his own as the series continues. If you have never tried reading a Janet Evanovich book, take a break to breathe and entertain yourself while you relax with Wicked Appetite or another of her titles. You will enjoy yourself. Happy Reading!


Wicked Appetite



Making Rounds with Oscar: the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

I chose this book, Making Rounds with Oscar; the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, because of the title and the cat photograph on the cover. I am glad that I read the book as I was educated about the serious business of caring for aged patients afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This true story takes place at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island and is told by Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr. Dosa hears a rumor about a cat named Oscar who lives at Steere House and who happens to visit and remain with dying patients. The rumor turns out to be true and Dr. Dosa begins a quest to understand the link between animals and humans. How does Oscar know when a patient is dying? Dr. Dosa interviews families who had witnessed Oscar’s vigil during the painful death of a loved one. Although sorrowful memories were discussed, every single family member was grateful to Oscar for his steadfast, dutiful presence.

Dr. Dosa does an excellent job of relaying the personalities of the staff members and the Steere house patients and their personal histories. Everyone has a story and Dr. Dosa listens. Dr. Dosa is a caring, sometimes underappreciated physician whose work revolves around a subject most of us shun.


Making Rounds with Oscar; the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

Ill Fares the Land

There are good books that you read and while you enjoy them, they tend to fall off your mental radar once you’ve set it aside. Then there are fantastic books that you cannot wait to tell your fellow bibliophiles about. These are the books that go beyond good and qualify as great, the ones that you feel enormous admiration for and would passionately defend at great lengths in the company of critics of the work.

I think British historian Tony Judt’s most recent book of short essays called Ill Fares the Land is one of these kinds of books, the rare text that strikes you for it’s fierce intelligence, its clear and concise prose, its deep and moving insights, and its civil and lucid tone. Judt’s brief essays pose several core questions about the nature of society, politics, economics, and the role of the state but primarily attempts to show with both historical and contemporary data regarding wealth concentration, income disparities, labor and employment figures, etc., that societies that are economically stable, healthy and happy are those that do not have a stark gap between rich and poor. Judt argues that where the state continues to play a meaningful civic role in shaping policy and providing for the promotion of a shared vision of the collective good, nations have retained a far more sound foundation for both economic growth and social stability.

A fashioned public intellectual who wrote both for academics and the general public, Judt’s work is sincerely non-polemical and highly refreshing compared to the cacophonous prattle of cable television punditry. Sadly, Judt passed away this year from complications from ALS. His last work, a memoir called The Memory Chalet was published in November. Those who enjoy this book may be also interested in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.


Ill Fares the Land

Literature Prize for author Polly Horvath

Last week, author Polly Horvath received the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature. This award is given to a Canadian writer of children’s literature for an entire body of work. That’s nice, isn’t it? What’s even nicer, though, is that Polly Horvath grew up in Kalamazoo! Polly’s mom, Betty Horvath, is also a writer of children’s books.

In addition to this lovely award, Polly has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and the Young Adult Canadian Book of the Year. You can read any of Polly’s books by visiting KPL.

We’re proud to call Polly Horvath one of our own!


Northward to the Moon

The Coral Thief

Traveling back in time to post Napoleonic Paris of 1815, author Rebecca Stott does a masterful job making us feel that we are there. A recent college graduate from Edinburgh, Daniel Connor, is traveling to Paris for an arranged position with an esteemed biologist. On the way he meets a mysterious, intriguing, and beautiful woman, Lucienne Bernard. She steals not only his heart, but also his fossils of coral, meant as a special gift for his new mentor. Confused and angered, Daniel begins searching Paris for Bernard. What he finds is totally unexpected and life changing.

Stott’s descriptions of this era of political unrest, and Paris in particular, are wonderful, and readers of historical novels will find much to enjoy and savor. Rebecca Stott is also the author of Ghostwalk, an intriguing time travel set in both the present and 17th century England, which is well worth reading.

I listened to the audio version of The Coral Thief. The reader, Simon Prebble, is excellent, and brings added dimensions to an already fascinating story and setting.


The Coral Thief

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

In The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, Michelle Norris, one of the hosts of NPR’s All Things Considered radio program, writes of the “hidden conversations” about race that are taking place in America.

She begins by listening in on the conversations of others, but her search takes her to her own family, where she has to confront the fact that conversations in her own family had not always been open and forthright.

Ms. Norris’ excellent research is enhanced by the thoughtful, honest observation of not only strangers, but also those who are closest to her heart.


The Grace of Silence: A Memoir
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