Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

The Wonderful Future That Never Was (At Least Not Yet)

In the early part of the 20th century, the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine regularly carried predictions of technological advances that their readers could expect, either sooner or later. This fine volume is a compilation of some of the best of them, complete with the great period art from the original articles. Some of these turned out to be fantasy only. In 1928, for example, foreseen was the use of the rooftop lake, which would be the building's air conditioning. The ability to knock out a hurricane was forecast in 1963. But, some of the predictions came pretty close, if not true, such as the one in 1954 that talked about the TV that would be so thin it could be hung on the wall. And, in 1947, under the title 'Dinners Without Drudgery,' the item said that frozen dinners might soon be consumed in offices, restaurants, hotels, trains, planes, ships, factories, and at home. Some of the prophecies could still be a work in progress: we aren't totally there just yet. This book takes a wonderful look back -- and ahead!


The wonderful future that never was
David D.

Why Read? It’s Summertime!!

Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:

• How many books should one read in a given time frame?

• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?

• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?

• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?

• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)

• Should the number of books read count for anything?

As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.

This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.

Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?

Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?


Summer Reading

Love Part 2: Aristotle

"When men are friends they have no need of justice." This summarizes what Aristotle means by love and friendship. Friends always improve each other; they never cross each other--no laws are needed.

The perfect love, for Aristotle, is the same thing as the perfect friendship; they have the same goal and purpose. The purpose is nothing less than perfection; two people perfecting each other in virtue and goodness:

“Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good in themselves…therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good—and goodness is an enduring thing.” (unfortunately, by "men" I don't think he means "mankind")

Similarly, the purpose of marriage need not be for the "sake of reproduction," but also "so they help each other by throwing their peculiar gifts into the common stock. "This friendship," he calls marriage, "may be based also on virtue, if the parties are good; for each has its own virtue and they will delight in the fact.”

But not all friendships and relationships are what Aristotle considers "good" and "virtuous." “Such friendships are infrequent, for such men are rare.” In fact, most are based on either pleasure or utility (what can you do for me), which are superficial and based on things that will change. And by the way, what does he even mean by virtue? Many have criticised Aristotle on this front, saying that, in his philosophizing, he imagines that the perfect human being is....(drumroll) a philosopher that contemplates virtue all day long. Himself in other words.

Aristotle is the king of distinctions; too many I think. Goodwill towards others, he says, is not friendship, but the beginning of it. One cannot love mankind (or even many people for that matter). There's no intimacy. Also, you should love people in proportion to how "good" they are. What? This means if they are better than you, you owe them more love than they owe you. Yeah, I don't know about that. Aristotle has this matter-of-fact way of talking that is cool and coldy rational. It is not terribly inspiring, but more like a discussion.

I like how he thinks about the question "should we love ourselves?" He asks a different question. It is not that we should love ourselves, but how we should love ourselves. I think this is the right way of looking at it. How should we? He repeats his mantra: it is giving yourself virtue; in a perfect world, “everyone would secure for himself the goods that are greatest, since virtue is the greatest of goods.” Loving yourself correctly is giving yourself the only thing that matters--good stuff. You never have to take virtue away from someone else for you to get it. It abounds. Loving yourself by filling yourself up with useless stuff is selfish and hurtful to others.

In sum, Aristotle has some good things to say, but he frames the disscussion largely as Plato did (and less inspiring). I'm excited to move on...

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The Nicomachian Ethics

Read something “Exquisite”

What do red lipstick, saffron and hot air balloons have in common…? They’re all exquisite! Well, at least according to author Jessica Jenkins. Initially a private collection of things that simply made her happy, the Encyclopedia of the Exquisite she explains is “an ode to life’s many luxuries that don’t require much spending.”

I came across this book while browsing the new non-fiction and it was a great find! As a cat lover, I already knew “Felines” were rather exquisite, but reading about how Josephine Baker and Pola Negri (two of the early 20th century’s most glamorous women) used to parade around their pet leopards and cheetahs is really something to be impressed by. Another entry is on the “Topper” or top hat. Did you know that when the top hat was debuted on the streets of London it started a riot? I didn’t know this either, but firsthand accounts from 1797 report that the unusual sight caused women to faint, and children and dogs to scream. A boy who was thrown down in the frazzled crowd even suffered a broken arm. (This makes me wonder how these women and children would have reacted to all the “chic” hats worn in London at the recent royal wedding….) Yet, Jenkins tells us that by the middle on the 19th century, only 50 years later, this style of hat was ubiquitous among aristocratic men and boys.

Upon reading this book, I began thinking, what would I include in my own version of this book? I might like to include mangos because, in my opinion, a perfectly ripe mango is absolutely heavenly! I could also find good reason to include ballroom dancing, vineyards and mosaics to the list. What would you include in your own Encyclopedia of the Exquisite?


Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: an anecdotal history of elegant delights
Elysha Cloyd

Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends

I picked up this compilation of stories to take on vacation as a beach read, and was very much looking forward to indulging in some great cat themed essays.

The first offering turned out to be disappointing, and unfortunately set the stage for the entire book. It was written by Sophia Dembling about her cat Aretha. By her own admission it is a tale of neglect. It begins with the author packing to get away for the Christmas holidays. Her cat slips out the front door and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to miss her plane and find the cat, the writer abandons Aretha, boards the plane and is off on her merry little holiday. When the owner returns, she finds Aretha sitting in her neighbor’s backyard with no interest in the author, nor any intention of ever returning to Dembling’s home. This story showed me that the author was not writing about her feline “friend,” as is promised within the forward to this book. Unless, of course, you are the type of person who abandons your friends whenever it might inconvenience you to help them out.

A few of the essays that followed were of a similar theme written by women who weren’t crazy about their cats. In fact, some were by individuals who didn’t even like cats, much less loved them. Let’s just call them, “feline tolerant,” and rejoice in the fact that no cat haters were included.

That said, many of the essays were actually very gratifying, written with great love for the cats personified, and befitting the description of this collection. A very nice touch is that all the stories are accompanied by black and white photos of the felines in question, and these add to the tributes paid to these remarkable and well loved feline companions.

So, be a little finicky and read the ones you like and bury the rest. You’ll be happier if you do both!


Cat Women: Female Writers on Their Feline Friends

A story about freedom

A lot of the kids in the Kalamazoo Public School district may be familiar with My Name is Sally Little Song because it was one of this year’s KPL Global Reading Challenge books. It’s a story about a family that decides to risk their lives in search of freedom.

Read it and see how Sally May Harrison becomes Sally Little Song. Brenda Woods, author and of the Coretta Scott King honor award for The Red Rose Box does an excellent job telling the tale of the Harrison family and their quest for freedom.


My name is Sally Little Song

Waggle Dancing

Without a recommendation from a good friend, I don’t think I ever would have just picked up Thomas Seeley’s book Honeybee Democracy, which details the experiments Seeley did to find out how honeybee swarms choose their nesting sites. Early on you find out that certain honeybees scout out possible locations and then return to do “waggle” dances on the swarm that communicate to other bees the angle and distance to the site as well as a judgment about how good the site would be. I was in awe of the honeybees skills after that and only went on to find out more fascinating ways that they communicate with each other to decide the best nesting site and then all fly as a swarm directly there. It’s also really interesting to read about how Seeley designs his experiments and his equipment to learn about these honeybee behaviors.

Seeley ends his book with this statement.

“Some have said that honeybees are messengers sent by the gods to show us how we ought to live: in sweetness and in beauty and in peacefulness. Whether or not this is true, I believe that the story of house hunting by honeybees can inspire the light of amazement about these beautiful little creatures, a light that I hope has shined through each page of this book.”

So there’s my “waggle” dance for the book and this is where you can find it. If you like it, tell some other members of the swarm.


Honeybee Democracy
Steve S

Jack Reacher does it again

Jack Reacher does it again, The Hard Way. This is the tenth book of the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child and it still entertains me. A cataloger turned me on to the Jack Reacher series. She drooled over his physique and indeed he is built. I lean more towards the way he can snap a guys neck, or shoot a guy in the head and all that’s left is a red mist. I am not a fan of his wardrobe. He is proud that he has no possessions and when his clothes are not wearable, he buys new and dumps the old. When he moves on, he never stays anyplace long, he packs his toothbrush and off he goes. He boasts of staying any place only one night but in each book he finds someone in trouble and winds us staying until the trouble is solved, usually by Reacher (he likes to be called by his last name) killing or breaking bones of the “bad guy”. The books tend to go longer than I think they need to but I keep reading them.  


The Hard Way



 Stiff : the curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach. Now this is an interesting book. NonFiction but told in a narrative entertaining way. I actually did not “read” the book, I listened to the audio version that I downloaded through our KPL Overdrive audio books. For this book I found the inflections of the narrator added to the enjoyment. This book is a Teen book and I found out later that my daughter had read it in the 8th grade. It is fascinating to hear of all the ways a human cadaver can be used from what one commonly thinks of, used in a medical school teaching class to not thought of ones like Crash Dummies. Mary Roach gives a decent background on the topic and tosses in bits of humor.  



May is National Bike Month – get inspired!

I admit it. I am in awe of long-distance bicyclists. You may have caught my blog on Emmanuel’s Gift, the documentary about cyclist Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah, who biked across his home country of Ghana to raise awareness about people living with disabilities.

Take a minute to imagine the athleticism, courage and perseverance necessary to conduct a solo bike ride. Now see yourself as a woman riding around the world, for fifteen months, in 1894! Read all about Annie Londonderry’s incredible bike journey in Around the World on Two Wheels by Zheutlin, Peter.

Closer to home and the present, Grand Rapids author Sue Stauffacher has led a 5-day, 250-mile bike convoy this week, as a tribute to Tillie Anderson, 1898 world champion cycling racer. Stauffacher detailed Tillie’s adventures in Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History. The cycling group stopped at schools along the bike route—who have not had author visits in five years--to encourage kids to get excited about both biking and reading.

May is National Bike Month, a good time to let others’ efforts inspire you to get out onto two wheels (and encourage someone else to do it, too!)


Tillie the Terrible Swede: How one woman, a sewing needle and a bicycle changed history

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