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Staff Picks: Books

Say Goodbye to Dietland

Plum Kettle is fat, and she doesn’t want to be. She spends her days in solitude, dreaming of the day she’ll be thin after her scheduled bariatric surgery and buying clothes for her future thin self—that’s when she’ll be happy and finally start living the life she wants. But there would be no story here if that’s what happened to Plum; instead, an encounter with a mysterious woman leads Plum to discovering an underground faction of fierce feminists who challenge how Plum sees herself and the whole wide world. The book jacket describes Dietland as “part coming-of-age story, part revenge fantasy,” is which absolutely a great description of this darkly funny, feminist novel.

Teens' Top 10

There are so many wonderful titles on YALSA's Teens' Top 10 2016 List. My personal favorite is Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and there are so many other great titles on the list. We have all of these titles at every library location. You can vote for your favorite at this link until the end of October's Teen Read Week. 

Every year, teens across the country nominate titles after reviewing and discussing them in their book groups. The annotated, nomination list is announced each spring. Voting begins to choose the "Top 10" in August 15 and continues through Teen Read Week in October. 

KPL is working to establish a teen book group that would receive and write reviews to participate in this initiative. If you are, or know, a teen who would be interested in joining us, please check out our info page and contact me. And interest meeting will be held in early September.

Margaret Atwood

In anticipation of seeing her later this fall in Ann Arbor, I'm trying to catch up on at least part of Margaret Atwood's body of work, starting with The Handmaid's Tale, originally published in 1998. Considered by some as dystopian or fantasy fiction, I had dismissed it before now as something I wouldn't like. Full confession: I was wrong. Between the characterizations, the vivid descriptions of the futuristic setting, and her command of the language (oh my the language), I'm hooked! While I look forward to reading other earlier Atwood titles, I also look forward to seeing her new graphic novel(!), Angel Catbird and her upcoming re-telling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Hag-Seed (coming in October).

The Verses we Would Rather Forget

This book is not anti-religion by any means, and it makes great pains to show that Islam stacks up very well against Christianity on the issue of violence, but the book does want to have a serious and detailed conversation about the violent passages that exist in our religious texts, in all major world religions (except Buddhism…I don’t think spends much time on that). 

First, what violent verses are we talking about? Second, what are the historical atrocities that have been committed, using interpretations of those very verses as justification? Third, how to we keep that from happening in the future? This is a story about how religion has evolved, and is still evolved, and how interpretation matters, and how learning from the past saves us from future blunders.

For some reason I lost interest in the topic, and only got half-way through the book, but I did enjoy it.

Black People Behind Bars: How Did We Get Here?

Check your optimism at the door folks; this is going to be a bumpy ride. I give my whole-hearted recommendation for this book, and I did read the entire thing, with one caveat: it’s quite academic, sometimes dry, many times repetitive, and takes a lot of concentration and time and patience to get through. In other words, it’s not the best writing ever.

Mark Twain once said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

This is not engaging and entertaining writing, and the author takes great pains to take her opinions and personal thoughts out of it. After all, it’s published by Harvard, so it’s meant to be academic. But I felt like the first 100 pages were very repetitive—in other words, it feels like you keep reading the exact same sentence over and over again. However, the content and subject-matter and ambition of the book is essential reading. This book was depressingly fascinating, the research is extensive, the history is meticulous, and the sweeping history of incarcerating young black men is long and hard and consistent. Currently, we live in an era of mass incarceration, which disproportionately has affected young African American men. How’d we get here? This book will take you from beginning to end (wait…beginning to now); she will take you detail by detail, program by program, policy by policy, administration by administration, president by president—without gaps. Elizabeth Hinton will show you that, contrary to popular narrative, the War on Crime was first started by a Democrat, and his name was Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Great Society had an evil twin, and that evil twin spawned ideas, and policies, and legacies that grew into the greatest penal nation in the world.

Does the Critic Matter?

What is “criticism”, who are “critics” and what sort of social role should they play in determining taste and value judgments are just a couple of the questions that New York Times journalist A.O. Scott attempts to explore in his charming, new book Better Living Through Criticism: how to think about art, pleasure, beauty and truth. Scott’s interest in the topic is certainly personal given his livelihood is based upon the notion that open societies benefit from a profession that functions to analyze, probe, and lay bare deeper truths about our various forms of expression, communication and creativity. Scott's tone is warm and self-reflexive. He understands and in some cases, sympathizes with the anti-intellectual strain of discourse that mocks his profession as elitist or unnecessary nor does he shy away from discussing criticism's inherent flaws and blind spots but he also makes a strong case for its noble role as an exercise in thinking about important matters connected to a democratic and increasingly culturally, complex society.

The Excellent Lombards

This coming-of-age novel by Jane Hamilton centers on Mary Frances “Frankie” Lombard and her family’s sprawling apple orchard. Her idyllic life on the farm begins to fray in the complexities of family dynamics, love, and loss as the future of the farm becomes increasingly unclear.

Hamilton writes almost a love letter to a threatened way of life. One reviewer says it “takes us back to being a child and believing in one thing wholeheartedly.”

There is much to discuss and appreciate in this novel. It would be a good book group choice.

Missing Brazil

Probably, like many of you, I spent a lot of time watching the Olympics over the past two weeks. Because of all the commercial breaks, I also got time to read. I reviewed my books-to-read list and discovered that there was not just one, but two books about Brazil.

Crossing the River: a Life in Brazil by Amy Ragsdale

Nemesis: One Man and the Battle for Rio by Misha Glenny

I went with Amy Ragsdale’s story about her family’s year in Penedo, a small town in northeastern Brazil. Her father passed along to her the value of travel and experiencing other cultures. This was something she wanted to pass on to her children and she wanted to escape her fast-paced life in the United States.

If the Olympics gave you a little taste of Brazil and you want more, settle down with Ragsdale’s book and see how Brazilian culture transforms her family.

One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment

 In 1980, the Chinese Government enacted a one child policy, mandating that each family could only have one child in hopes of curbing the rapid population growth of the country. This controversial policy was put into place to avoid facing another disaster like the Great Chinese Famine from 1959-1961 that killed an estimated 15 to 30 million people

However, there were unintended consequences. At the beginning of this year the one child policy was lifted, but millions of families are still have to live with the unique challenges it caused, such as the gender imbalance caused by widespread infanticide, and millions of unauthorized second children who live unacknowledged by the state, unable to attend school, or even get a library card.

In OneChild: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, Mei Fong explores the aftermath of this policy through well researched analysis, and by following families to capture the repercussions through a more personal lens. This book is a really fascinating, eye-opening read. I definitely recommend it. 

I Am Princess X

In fifth grade May and Libby created Princess X together. For years after the two continued the story of the princess in the purple dress and red chucks who wields a katana. That is, until Libby and her mom drive off a bridge on a rainy night. Three years later, lonely May discovers a sticker of Princess X on a shop window. No one could have created it, except for Libby. It seems impossible, but May wonders if her friend might still be alive. 
This clever murder mystery trails May on her quest to find out what exactly happened the night that Libby and her mom died, and to find Libby if she did indeed survive. Fans of webcomics, suspense, and puzzles will love this book! I sure did!