Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Mindful Reading

Books about Buddhism are very popular at the Kalamazoo Public Library, so I am always looking to buy new titles.  Within the subject of Buddhism, author Thich Nhat Hanh is a perennial favorite, so I wanted to let you know that I just ordered his new book:  Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day. Even though we have not received the book yet, you can still place a hold on it.

Other Thich Nhat Hanh titles I have ordered this year:

 Good Citizens:  Creating Enlightened Society 

 Fear:  Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

Have a Happy New Year!


Work:  How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
Steve S

Libraries and E-books

NPR ran an interesting segment yesterday about libraries and e-lending—a good reminder that (to borrow a phrase from another NPR story) “change is the only constant in today’s publishing industry.” According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 75% of Americans read a book (in any platform) during the past year, and of those, 30% read an e-book. Sales of e-books for the same period grew modestly, up 34% over 2011, and e-book prices have somewhat stabilized at or near the $10 mark. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablet pcs, however, the demand for e-content is forcing publishers to reexamine traditional sales and lending models.

Ok, you might say, that’s fine, but what about those of us who find the cost of purchasing our own content prohibitive (or restrictive at very least)? And once I buy an e-book, do I really “own” it anyway? Can I pass it along to my parents or my kids or a friend to read? Will there ever be such a thing as a digital “used” bookstore? (Probably not.)

Public libraries (including KPL) continue to expand e-book services, although selection remains frustratingly limited. According to the Pew study, only about 5% of library users borrowed an e-book in the past year, and only 31% were even aware that they could. Why is that? Don’t libraries know that users want more e-content? Of course they do, but the fact remains that many of the major publishers simply don’t want to play nice with libraries. They tend to view library lending as a threat to sales rather than the enormous promotional opportunity that it is. Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library in New York, says “public libraries, I mean, we're out there really pushing the product of these publishers, and I can't imagine another industry in this country that has that type of a relationship.” And as for those publishers that do make library content available, prohibitive pricing models and the resulting tangle of software designed to protect publishers’ digital rights only serves to compound the issue. So what do we do?

The answer is like Michigan weather… stick around, it’s bound to change. Currently, KPL licenses and distributes its e-content through a consortium of Michigan libraries in order to offer the broadest possible selection in a cost-effective manner. And we’re constantly researching new and different models for e-books, digital audiobooks, music, and other e-content. To help alleviate the waiting time, KPL purchases additional copies of many popular titles (called Advantage titles), which are available through the consortium but only to KPL resident borrowers. For first-time users, we’ve posted newly revised instructions to help make the library e-book experience as smooth as possible. And for hands-on help, the library is hosting a series of e-book information sessions where users can get help with technical questions and learn about new developments in KPL digital collections.

So go ahead, explore KPL’s digital collections and rest assured that as new developments come about, your library will be right there with you.



Buildings of Michigan

Last month I wrote about a book that provided a tour of great buildings of the world. This month I'll call your attention to something a little closer to home, a book on buildings right here in Michigan. In the introduction, Kathryn Bishop Eckert discusses various aspects of Michigan architectural history. The arrangement of the individual building entries, with some black and white photographs, is by region of the state, and by county within each region. Some of the Kalamazoo buildings included are the Kalamazoo City Hall, First Presbyterian Church, Rose Street Market, and the Henderson Castle. An error in the 1992 edition, which had a photograph of the Ladies Library Association Building with a caption calling it the First Presbyterian Church, has been corrected this time around.


Buildings of Michigan
David D.

It’s Winter

It’s winter, and though there’s no snow on the ground right now in late December, we can pretty much assume that it will get cold and snowy sometime soon. Why not check out some of these new children’s books about winter, get cozy with a cup of cocoa, and read?

I See Winter by Charles Ghigna and Henry Goes Skating by B.B .Bourne both celebrate winter activities—snowmen, sleds and skates. In more of a folktale vein and for slightly older children is The Wind that Wanted to Rest by Sheldon Oberman. Lovely illustrations complement the story.

A chapter book and part of a series is Good luck, Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Young Anna goes from her native Africa to Canada to visit her grandmother. It’s cold and snowy there, and new adventures and experiences await Anna.

Spring, summer, fall and winter—your library is a great resource year round!


I See Winter

Reading Goals

Does anyone else make reading goals at the beginning of the year? I find it so interesting how different readers approach reading. Everyone does it a little bit differently but the goals are often the same: reading for pleasure, reading to learn, reading to grow, reading to escape for a bit! It's always at the end of the year when I am reflecting on the year that has passed and preparing for the new year that I'm thinking about personal reading goals. More reading is always on my goal list.

Last year, I challenged myself to read 100 books and keep track of them on Goodreads. I love having a record of what I've read! In 2013, I'll try to read 100 books again, but I think I'll choose 12 personal growth books or lifelong learning that I've been wanting to read but don't make time for. They are going on a list and I'm plowing through them, one month at a time. Knowledge is power, friends! 

Number 1 on that list: Help, Thanks, Wow: the three essential prayers by Anne Lamott. If you know me, you probably saw that coming! I'm also looking forward to Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead by Brene Brown. Have you seen her TED talk on vulnerability? So inspiring!

What books are you looking forward to making time for in 2013? If you need some best of lists, KPL's staff lists are great. Our staff has diverse tastes but share a love for reading, listening and viewing. I love that the lists are linked to our catalog so I can search for the location or place holds as I peruse the favorites! I also love this list by NPR, this list and this list by the New York Times, and this list of notable fiction by the Washington Post. 

Happy new year to all! I wish you many hours of enjoyable reading for fun, reading for growth, and reading just because you can!


Reading Goals






Heart of Mulder, Mind of Scully

As I write this, it is 12/21/12 and I am currently not experiencing any sort of Mayan-prophesied apocalypse.  Experts will tell you that the Mayans prophesied no such thing, but - as humans are wont to do - there were folks who built an urban legend out of scraps of misinformation and turned it into a whole big deal.  And thanks to all that doomsday hoopla, civilization was cursed with one particularly crappy John Cusack movie.  Now I don't personally know anyone who will confess to believing that the world was going to end today, but I do know a lot of people who believe many other things that I find difficult to swallow.  From outlandish conspiracy theories to the existence of ghosts and little green men to ancient mythologies, I'm constantly surprised by what people are willing to accept without any substantiation.

Now don't get me wrong:  I love stories of the supernatural and extraterrestrial - The X-Files is my all-time favorite television show.  And like that program's protagonist, Fox Mulder, I want to believe.  I'd give anything to have a ghostly experience or some psychic communication with loved ones from beyond the grave.  But I have to admit to myself, that deep down, I'm much more like Mulder's partner Dana Scully, the skeptic, whose job it was to scrutinize all of Mulder's investigations and look for fact-based scientific evidence to explain their otherwise otherworldly encounters.  I want to believe, but I don't - I can't, in good conscience, accept something outside the parameters of what we as humans have proven as fact.

I'm perfectly comfortable, however, that people believe things that I do not, but I have a hard time when people demonstrate the inability to process new information; acceptance of unproven things should not exclude acceptance of proven things.  I also dislike when selfish people prey upon the personal beliefs of others, as with so-called "psychics" who use the practice of cold reading to take your money and tell you that your dearly departed loved one says that it's okay for you to move on.  These kinds of behaviors make me very angry; I am a humanist and I believe that we should leave this world better than when we found it.  And when I'm angry, I often seek answers that help me understand why things are the way they are.  This summer I found solace in two books by fellow skeptic Michael Shermer:  Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time and The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies - How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths.  In these books, Shermer discusses how the evolution of our brains helped us survive by becoming good at recognizing significant patterns in life - yet we're not particularly good at distinguishing between connections that actually exist and connections that have no significance.  He also discusses how we tend to choose our beliefs and then actively select which bits of information we support them with, and which bits we actively ignore.  These are fascinating reads and I suggest them to anyone whether you're a skeptic or not.

In the end, life is full of people who disagree with us, and we need to work hard to figure out a way to thrive among them.  The world would be a boring place if we all believed the same things, but that doesn't mean we can't argue in constructive and productive ways, and it certainly doesn't mean that we shouldn't, like Mulder and Scully, always be in search of the Truth. 


The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

Sacks: Science is my left brain, Religion is my right

If you don't like the recent trend of science and religion yelling at each other, you might like this book. Jonathan Sacks argues, like many before him, that science and religion are compatible, "more than compatible," harmonious. Like two sides of the same coin and the right and left hemispheres of the brain, they need each other. He actually takes the brain analogy literally. Science is a left-brain activity; it analyzes things, pulls them apart, explains them. Religion is a right-brain activity; it joins things together, tells stories, focuses on relationships, and interprets things. They are simply two different ways of being, two different perspectives on the world. A thing is a thing and a person is a person.

He also makes a very interesting point about why we Westerners confuse science and religion. He blames it on the Greeks! The Jewish religion, he says, was not scientific or philosophical at all. Neither was early Christianity. But then Christianity was married with Greek philosophy and science. Saint Thomas Aquinas, for example, created a beautiful system of Christianity based on Aristotle's science and metaphysics and the Bible. Science and religion became one. Once we figured out Aristotle was wrong, it chipped away at religion too, etc. Get it? They became enemies because they were on the same turf.

What I liked most about the book is that the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks knows his science and religion and philosophy (of course he is definitely an Old Testament scholar), which is nice. Usually these books are written by a scientist pretending to be a theologian, or a theologian pretending to be scientific. The book starts strong and ends strong, but the middle gets repetitive and loses its' vigor. Not a bad read!


The Great Partnership

More Than Human

You’ll never look at roosters the same after you’ve seen the images of the genetically engineered featherless one shown in this larger-than-life collection of animal portraits by photographer Tim Flach. Treat yourself.


More Than Human


Karen S

Goblin Secrets

I have to say that fantasy is not my favorite type of story. However, I felt an obligation to read Goblin Secrets, the latest National Book Award winner (youth category) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book! Charming goblins, people with gears in their legs, and a really creepy underground railway kept my attention. This fast-moving story by a first-time novelist is worthy of the award!


Goblin Secrets

The Chamber in the Sky

At the beginning of The Chamber in the Sky, the fourth and final book in the Norembugan quartet, Brian and Gregory are lucky to be alive. The Thusser horde have already colonized the minds of the inhabitants of the Vermont subdivision where it all began after The Game of Sunken Places. Brian and Gregory, along with their blue-blooded elfin companion Gwynyfer have to find a travelling chamber that contains the off switch to the centuries-long game if they hope to make it back to Vermont. M.T. Anderson is a fine storyteller and funny. What a unique blend of laugh out loud moments along with genuinely thrilling plot twists and turns. The four-part series will probably be most enjoyed by 10 and ups.


The Chamber in the Sky
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