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Staff Picks: Books

The final words

“You hop into a car, race off in no particular direction, and blam, hit a power pole. Then it’s off to jail.” Those arresting lines begin the story Triumph Over The Grave, one of the five stories included in Denis Johnson’s posthumous collection The Largesse of the Sea Maiden. Johnson, who passed away last May after battling liver cancer, gave grace and significance to the desperate and damaged characters who inhabited his stories - particularly in his masterpiece story collection, Jesus’ Son. The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, which sadly his publisher says will be the final words from Denis Johnson, solidifies Johnson’s place as a true master of his craft and one of the greatest literary voices of his generation.


Hot Pink!

New York Fashion Week has come to a close, but London Fashion Week is just starting up! That’s right, we are right in the middle of the first Fashion Month of 2018, a time I personally refer to as The Highlight of my Instagram Feed.

 

While it is always a delight to see the latest trends sashay down the runway, a true fashionista knows that you can’t really understand where fashion is going until you know where it’s been.  Many are familiar with the revolutionary influence of Coco Chanel, but few know about her contemporary, the avant garde visionary Elsa Schiaparelli.

A mastermind ahead of her time, Elsa Schiaparelli set in motion all of the fashion paradigms we take for granted today. Make sure to check out this book to read about the inventor of runway shows, ready to wear collections, bolero jackets, culottes and most importantly—hot pink!

Also, click here to see some of her most famous works


Convicted

Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins visited the Powell branch in 2016 for the Embracing Forgiveness program. In 2017, they published Convicted: A Crooked Cop, an Innocent Man, and an Unlikely Journey of Friendship and Forgiveness. Andrew was a dirty cop in Benton Harbor who caused Jameel McGee, a completely innocent man, to be arrested and imprisoned. Andrew employed many dishonest and illegal shortcuts in order to more easily obtain search warrants, make arrests stick, and skim from confiscated money. He did these things because he believed he was doing his part to clean up the city, and thought he had earned the right to do so. The book's chapters alternate between Andrew and Jameel's perspectives. I have a powerful quote from Jameel's reflections while in prison that I want to share with you: "I'd spent so much time being angry at everyone who put me here...I had to stop blaming everyone else and spending all my time being consumed by anger and a desire for revenge. All anger had done so far was turn me into someone I didn't like, someone I did not want to be," (107). 
Jameel brings up a key point here. Both men saw the need to change their ways because they didn't like who they had become. Andrew never envisioned that his childhood dream to become a cop would warp into a corrupt, self-serving role. Jameel saw how his anger affected him and sought a new path. The two also found religion, and that helped pave the way for their new outlooks. I have to commend both men. Andrew admitted he was wrong and tried to amend his errors. We all know how hard it is to admit when we're wrong and to openly and sincerely apologize for it. Jameel was dealt a bad hand but chose to forgive and move forward. The story inspires even more so once Jameel and Andrew meet after the main events of the book and develop not only a working relationship, but a friendship. I highly encourage you to check out this amazing story.

 


Future Home of the Living God

Louise Erdrich's latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, is a suspenseful and topical story, covering themes including reproductive rights, the treatment of Native Americans, and religious intolerance.

Cedar Songmaker is a young, pregnant woman eagerly anticipating motherhood while at the same time in fear for her own survival and that of her baby. The book takes the form of a journal she is writing to her unborn child, recounting the events leading up to its birth, in case she does not live to tell the tale in person. The reason? Many biological organisms are no longer developing as expected. Scientists aren't sure exactly what is happening—evolution is described as running backward or sideways, and the government's response is increasingly autocratic.

Cedar seeks out her Native American birth mother in order to find out about any genetic diseases in her family, and in the process she is forced to come to terms with the truth of her own origins and her adoptive white parents. Cedar is a spirited protagonist and her personal situation, as well as the environmental and societal changes surrounding it, cause her to question who and what she can trust and to take drastic measures to keep her freedom.


A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches

Despite the title, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches isn't actually all that upsetting. What it is, however, is an insanely great cookbook about- yes- sandwiches from Tyler Kord, owner and head chef at No. 7 Sub in New York. Hilariously written with lots of attitude and great stories surrounding each (delicious) sandwich, along with mouthwatering photography by none other than William Wegman (famous for taking photos of his pet Weimaraner dogs wearing costumes), this is well worth a read if you love sandwiches, or funny writing, or both.


Trashed

I was talking to my coworker Anastasia about my new year's resolution to reduce my output of household garbage, and she recommended Trashed by Derf Backderf to me. His real name is actually John, and he also wrote My Friend Dahmer, which was recently made into a movie. Published in 2015, Trashed is a graphic novel that blends the fictional narrative of a garbageman with plenty of research and statistics about the history of waste management, and its present practices and problems. The story part of the book included some great humor and laugh-out-loud moments; the facts alongside it surprised and fascinated me. This book may inspire you to think differently about your everyday habits and the products you use. If you need some ideas on how to lessen the amount of trash you produce, type in "zero waste" in KPL's catalog or look into some of the online blogs of zero wasters. The zero waste lifestyle may seem extreme, but we can all take ideas from it to try to do our own part to address this environmental issue.


Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

I'm excited about the new picture book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, Libba. Elizabeth Cotten is best known for her song "Freight Train". She taught herself to play guitar and wrote the now-famous song by the time she was eleven. Playing and singing was deferred while Elizabeth Cotten made a life in segregated North Carolina. Then, in her 50s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in a department store. It was there she met Ruth Crawford Seeger, part of that famous American folk-music family. She began working for them as a housekeeper and started playing again. 

This new picture book biography is important because it tells the story of a hugely influential American songwriter. Written by singer-songwriter Laura Vieirs with illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, there is a lot of American history addressed in Libba: music, guitar, segregation, privilege, and much more. It's a great one to share with your family. 


Fallen Glory

Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings is the story of 21 vanished buildings from all over the world and from all time periods. Most readers would know these buildings by name and location but wouldn't have much more information on them than that. This book fills in those gaps. Some of them are ones that most readers probably have not heard of at all, such as the Karakorum in Orkhon Valley, Mongolia, the Fortress of Golconda in Hyderabad, India, the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, or, closer to home, the Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri. Many photographs and drawings add to the quality of this large, well-documented work. Prolific mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith calls this 'the most interesting book I have come across this year. This is a magnificent study of buildings and other structures that have disappeared.'


What is a bardo?

I was introduced to George Saunders on a list of “smart summer reads” that I found at Cody’s books in Berkeley, California and have loved his books ever since. However, I didn’t make it far the first time I picked up his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I was turned off by the citations below the statements from every character and I didn’t really know what he was doing. I had not read the jacket cover or anything about the book. 

Then I saw Lincoln in the Bardo on several of my library colleagues’ best of 2017 lists and my wife enjoyed it so I gave it another try. 

Bardo is a term that comes from Tibetan Buddhism signifying the state of existence in between death and rebirth, but in the book it seems closer to the idea of purgatory. Saunders was inspired to write the novel after reading about Abraham Lincoln making several visits to the crypt to hold the body of his young son Willie who passed away at the age of 11. He started to imagine what that depth of grief must have been like, especially as the casualties of the Civil War started to escalate. 

Saunders has no lack of imagination. I recommend taking this sometimes sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying and sometimes overwhelmingly sad journey into the bardo.


Bird Balloon Bear by Il Sung Na

Many of my family's all time favorite picture books were created by Il Sung Na. Bird, Balloon, Bear is a new favorite. In this charming story, Bird, is looking for a friend when Bird spots Bear. As Bird works up the courage to say "Hi", Balloon shows up. Bear and Balloon run off to play and Bird steps back shyly. You'll have to check out what happens next is this sweet story. Be sure to take a careful look at the beautiful illustrations while you're at it.