Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism. Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years, in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community. All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua. Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.
Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable. Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.
Men We Reaped
Here is an outstanding book that gives photographs and one-paragraph commentaries on notable buildings in Michigan. Any book of this nature will, of course, be subjective in the selections made for inclusion, but I think Mr. Gallagher made some wise choices. The book is divided into eight sections -- buildings in which we gather, play, govern, learn, worship, work, and live, as well as facilities for art. The Kalamazoo buildings presented are the 1931 Kalamazoo City Hall, the 1852 Amariah T. Prouty house at 302 Elm Street, and the 1947-49 Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Parkwyn Village, off Winchell Avenue. The photography is by Balthasar Korab, who also took the pictures for Peter Schmitt's 1976 book on early Kalamazoo homes. Clear pictures, concise narrative, and great buildings make this a book worth seeing.
Great architecture of Michigan
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!
Italian Ways: on and off the rails from Milan to Palermo
It took me almost a whole year to read through Andrew Solomon’s deeply moving book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. One reason is because it is so long (over 700 pages) and the other is because it was a little bit popular among Kalamazoo residents so I would have it for three weeks and then return it to fill a hold and get it back several weeks later. I don’t think this was a bad way to experience this book. It is so dense and at times emotionally draining, it was good to move slowly and take some time off.
Through interviews with parents, Solomon explores the lives of families coping with children with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities; and with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, and who are transgender. The summary in our catalog describes the book as, “elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance--all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.”
Do not be put off by the size of the book. If you just can’t get yourself to take on a project that big, the chapters stand mostly alone so you could pick and choose what you wanted to read. Also, just reading the introduction is highly satisfying, as you encounter more compelling and fascinating ideas than most whole books.
In the chapter on transgender children, Solomon mentions a documentary titled Prodigal Sons that was made by one of the subjects of that chapter. I was delighted to see that the library owned a copy and I highly recommend it.
Far From the Tree
Think back….way back when you were a kid in the library or at home reading a book. It was your ah-hah moment…. when reading a book struck you as something to remember for the rest of your life. Well, at the library, we as the staff were challenged to think about our stories. So, I went home and asked my daughters what were theirs.
My 24 year old said for her it was when I would visit her school library twice a year to read. I always read The Gunniwolf. The Gunniwolf retoldby Wilhelmina Harper is a “don’t go in the jungle” story. It’s a little scary as the little girl after seeing flowers on the edge of the jungle goes further and further in and then meets up with the wolf. She had been so excited by the beautiful flowers that she was singing a song when the wolf rose up. The wolf demanded that she sing the song for him and he would fall asleep. While he was asleep she would try to make her escape….”PIT-pat, PIT-pat, PIT-pat” and the wolf would wake up and chase her “hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA, hunker-CHA”…..The little girl eventually escapes.
Glenna said that all the kids loved it. It made her feel like a superhero for the day. I am so glad to be part of her ah-hah moment…..
Bob Graham’s books always catch my eye... his stories are often about the ordinary things that happen in families with young kids and the illustrations have all kinds of interesting things to look at.
In The Silver Button one thing happens: Jodie draws a duck and then her baby brother takes his first step. But what else is happening? Subsequent pages show other parts of the neighborhood and then we realize that myriad things are happening and all at the same time!
This book is a little unusual, but very satisfying.
The Silver Button
At a library conference this summer, I heard Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors, rave about a soon-to-be released book, The Goldfinch, by her good friend, Donna Tartt. I added it to my reading list.
I just finished this lengthy novel. At almost 800 pages it does take a substantial investment of time and I agree with some reviewers that some sections dragged, but overall I liked it.
The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills narrator Theo Decker’s mother and leads to his unlikely possession of the Dutch masterpiece “The Goldfinch.” His life and fate revolves around the painting as the novel covers the next 14 years.
At times the story seemed just too coincidental but I was totally caught up in it and had to read to the end.
If you take on this book, I’d be interested in what you thought of it. I’d give it four out of five stars.
I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.
I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.
After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.
As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.
Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination
When I recently came across a book that was the subject of an earlier blog post by Sue, I noticed it has a new sticker on it: PEN/Bellwether Prize Winner for Socially Engaged Fiction. This led me to look up more about this award and its background. Here’s what I learned:
The Bellwether Prize, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her, was created to promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The $25,000 prize is awarded biennially to the author of a previously unpublished novel of high literary caliber that exemplifies the prize’s founding principles. The winner also receives a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. The PEN/Bellwether Prize will be conferred at PEN’s Literary Awards Ceremony in New York City in the fall of 2014.
Past winners include:
2000 – Donna Gershten for Kissing the Virgin’s Mouth [now on order for KPL]
2002 – Gayle Brandeis for The Book of Dead Birds
2004 – Marjorie Kowalski Cole for Correcting the Landscape
2006 – Hillary Jordan for Mudbound
2008 – Heidi W. Durrow for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
2010 – Naomi Benaron for Running the Rift
2012 – Susan Nussbaum for Good Kings Bad
PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I love to cook (and eat). A few years ago when I was living in New Hampshire, where all my extended family lives, I prepared a huge Thanksgiving dinner for them and made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin pies, which required baking, scraping, and pureeing two whole sugar pumpkins. I relied on several books and resources for recipes and cooking techniques, and I recommend them highly.
I'm not much of a meat eater and don't cook meat very often, but that Thanksgiving I prepared what my uncles say was the best turkey they've ever eaten. I owe all the credit to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Roast Turkey method, which involves soaking the turkey in a brine for a minimum of eight hours. I got the pumpkin pie recipe, which I must say was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Additionally, I referred to Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie for tips on mixing and rolling pie pastry. I also used Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for her multigrain rolls, which were tasty and much easier to make than I anticipated. If you're looking for vegetable sides, Recipes From the Root Cellar is a great book with tons of recipes for sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips-- all the great winter vegetables currently in season. The Maple-Balsamic Root Vegetables are a favorite. For past vegetarian Thanksgiving meals I've made a lentil loaf as the main dish, but that rarely goes over well with omnivores. I suggest Deb Perelman's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is so flavorful and satisfying, that I can't imagine even a meat lover not asking for seconds. The one dish that remains completely elusive for me is stuffing; I cannot find a recipe I like. I'll happily take your recommendations!
We have a bit more than two weeks to plan Thanksgiving meals. KPL has a wonderful cookbook collection, so you should have no trouble finding some great recipes to try. What will be on your menu this year?
Recipes From the Root Cellar