Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Green is good!

Some books are just great to look at. I love this new book, Green by Laura Vaccaro Steeger. My favorite color is green and so I was naturally interested in this book as soon as I saw it. From the inside flap:

"How many kinds of green are there?

There’s the lush green of a forest on a late spring day, the fresh, juicy green of a just-cut lime, the incandescent green of a firefly, and the vivid aquamarine of a tropical sea."

On each page of this beautiful book a different shade of green is explored. My favorite was the just-cut lime. The artistry is so masterful and there are cut-outs between the pages that completely delight. As you flip through the pages the cut-outs allow you to see glimpses of the pages before and after. I don't want to give anything away but look for the fireflies that turn into apples on a tree. Each time I look through it I notice something new. It's a wonderful picture book for readers, young and old.





the influences on our Free Will

It's always been a big philosophical question whether our choices really are "free." If science tells us that all events have a necessary cause given a set of initial conditions, then how could anything be free? If you can predict my behavior by looking at my brain a few minutes beforehand, how is that free? If an all-knowing God knows what I'm going to do next, how is that free? If we are the "slaves of our passions" (Hume), rather than guided by Reason, how are we free?

This book sheds light on the debate by talking about how our legal system depends on and argues about this stuff all the time. The difference between a legal and illegal contract, the difference between murder and manslaughter, between sex and rape, has everything to do with whether the people "freely" chose something. The new health care debate is over choice. It has everything to do with "personal responsibility" as well (e.g. do poor people choose to be poor? our answer depends on whether we think they are "responsible" for there condition or not).

I loved Greenfields' discussion of court cases, but readers will also enjoy his grasp of brain science, culture, and our capitalist market--all things that influence and constrain our choices. Examples:

Bikini effect: show men a bikini and they will buy. In fact, show people an attractive person and they will treat them better, give them more tips, not send them to prison, think they’re smarter, etc.

Priming or “mental contamination”: in one study, students were asked whether they were happy. If they were first “primed” by asking them something depressing, happiness fell. Other students were asked how many countries in Africa? If they spun a wheel with numbers it affect their answer. When African Americans were asked about their race before a test, they did worse (negative stereotypes probably seeped in). President Bush put a subliminal word “RATS” in one of his commercials about Gore.

Context: A company was not selling their $275 dollar bread maker. They created another one for double the price, and the same $275 dollar one doubled in sales.

Memory problems: they way we remember events will affect choices we make about similar events. If you make the ending of a colonoscopy seem pleasant by leaving the probe in for 20 seconds longer, they are more willing to return for screenings.

The whole point of the book, however, is not to depress us, but simply to say that knowing what influences our choice is half the battle. Which, like most things, reminds me of the Matrix trilogy. The Matrix argues (in the words of the Oracle) that free will doesn't consist in the fact that we could have chose differently (sorry Neo, it's all set in stone); but rather free will consists in our ability to understand why we chose this or that. Know thyself; live a reflective life. This is sorta what Greenfield is saying. What's also not depressing is that influence is not coercion--in other words, you can influence me all you want, but in the end I get the last laugh, I stand alone with my stoic decisions.

Other books: The Art of Choosing, Nudge, Blink, The Impulse Factor, U-Turn, and The Paradox of Choice.


the myth of choice

Another Anniversary

Guess who is observing a 60th this year? It's Lucy. In this large commemorative volume are summaries of all the episodes of "I Love Lucy," complete with photos to accompany each. Also included are recipes of foods they ate on the show, lyrics of songs they sang, and little-known facts about the production. At the back is a section that has information about, photos of, and comments by Lucille Ball's real-life family. I'm a long-term Lucy fan, and I've looked at a lot of Lucy books, but this one has much that I had never seen before. KPL also owns the DVDs for those who would be interested in watching the show.


"I love Lucy" : a celebration of all things Lucy : inside the world of television's first great sitcom 
David D.

When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man

This debut novel from Nick Dybek is as dark and imposing as the Pacific Northwest Seas that provide a constant backdrop in this coming of age story meets morality play. When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man is told from the, wise beyond his years, perspective of 14 year old Cal the son of a king crab fisherman from Loyalty Island, Washington who over the course of the year that is being remembered in the novel discovers a dark secret that will force him to come to grips with the disintegration of his family, his innocence, and his understanding of life as he knows it. The extreme measures that people will take to ensure the preservation of their livelihood and the protection of their loved ones, leads to a terrible choice for young Cal and the book builds to this choice up until the very last pages. A well paced and suspenseful novel, When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Manis the kind of powerful debut that solidifies an author’s name in your mind and will make you seek out all that they write in the future. Don’t miss this one.

And don’t miss Nick Dybek talking about his novel, his writing process, and more when he speaks at the Oshtemo Branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library on June 7th at 6:30 p.m. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing (thanks to the fine folks at Bookbug) at the event.


When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man

There Once Was a Bunny with an Ear Not So Funny

Patrick, a Dutch Blue Dwarf rabbit, has lived with us for a little over two years. He weighed a meager four pounds when we adopted him from the Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary in Willis, MI, not too far from Ann Arbor.

Right from that first day when we met him we knew that he was going to be a handful. As we were readying him for his trip to his new home, one Sanctuary staff member casually mentioned that we should be careful in handling Patrick, since apparently he had started to nip people recently. No problem, I thought. He seemed docile and sweet enough. And besides, how much pain can a diminutive bunny inflict? A few days later I learned the hard way. Being irresistibly cute, Patrick was the recipient of many kisses from me; something that he did not enjoy as much being the recipient, as I did being the giver. So to get his displeasure through to me, one day he bit me on the cheek just as I was about to land a particularly loving smooch on that adorable little nose of his. The pain was tolerable. But I was shortly thereafter admitted to a local urgent care clinic to clean up the wound and stop the bleeding.

After reading up on domestic rabbits in a 2008 book titled, When Your Rabbit Needs Special Care: Traditional and Alternative Healing Methods by Lucile Moore, I was only a little bit happier to learn that only highly intelligent rabbits nip or bite. Supposedly, that’s because they know what they like and don’t like, and have no inhibitions in communicating their desires as forcefully as they can. No dumb bunnies for our family!


Patrick turned out to be brilliant - absolutely brilliant! However it was a brilliance that came with an attitude the size of Texas! A few months later in a momentary lapse of judgement brought on by his delightfully sweet appearance, I was once more bitten, this time on the lip. Back I went to the clinic to have it super glued together. No worries, but from that time on, I decided to show my affection to Patrick from the back of his head, so that my face was not in his. In all honesty, after that second bite, for a moment or so (actually it was a little longer than that), the thought of taking him back to the Sanctuary from where he came did cross my mind. But a promise is a promise, and I did pledge to take care of that rabbit until death did us part. However, who will precede whom into the great hereafter is still up in the air.

Well, as it happens, about three weeks ago we almost lost Patrick. On that Sunday morning, (why do these things always take place during the weekend when most vets are closed?) we noted that Patrick was uncharacteristically tilting his head and that one of his ears was drooping. After consulting the internet, we came to the conclusion that the treatment would be rather painless, relatively inexpensive, and that recovery would be imminent. The next day we took him to a local vet known to have some familiarity treating rabbits. She confirmed our diagnosis and prescribed an antibiotic for the infection in his ear. After administering one dose of the medication that day, Patrick began wheezing terribly and breathing through his mouth, which is not a good sign in bunnies.

He was visibly worse the next morning, but our local vet was not in the office, and rather than take him to the emergency clinic here in town that has little experience dealing with rabbits, we decided instead to transport him to a clinic in Grand Rapids. Although the vet there did have some knowledge of bunnies, after several hours he called saying that they couldn’t do anything more for him. However, he also suggested that we take him to see a true rabbit specialist in Cascade, MI. Although the specialist didn’t hold out much hope for his prognosis upon his arrival, after several days of intensive care, Patrick started responding positively.

After several more days, we were able to take him home where we continued his treatments. He seemed very happy to be back in his own environs at last and his condition improved dramatically, almost on a daily basis. The three feline members of our family, Ollie, Graham, and Lionel kept vigil over him and seemed to really care about his condition. They took turns lying by his cage and keeping him company throughout the day. It seemed obvious that they were hoping for his recovery almost as much as we were.

Finally after more than two weeks at home, Patrick is close to his normal self. No more force feeding him, no more meds or penicillin shots. He’s back to a normal bunny routine of constant eating and pooping with intermittent naps or jaunts around his area. He is still very assertive and isn’t above nipping the hands that nursed him back to health. But he is our bunny; we love him dearly and wouldn’t have it any other way!



When your rabbit needs special care : traditional and alternative healing methods

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

You never know when or where you'll find a book recommendation.  I was attending a memorial service for a friend's mother, when one of the speakers mentioned The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  My curiosity was peeked. 

The story takes place shortly after the end of WWII and is told through a series of letters.  The main character is Juliet Ashton, a writer looking for a new story.  She becomes friends with the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society members and goes to visit them.

The story tells about how the islanders survived the occupation.  All of this is told to Juliet as she becomes friends with the islanders and finds out how the literary society came to be.  I had no idea that the Channel Island's had been occupied during the war.  Yes, sort of a war book, with sad moments, but also with great humor. 


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society 

The Decline of Violence

Wait a minute: has violence declined? The first 361 pages argue that it has. A significant decline since records began; all forms that can be measured: murder, rape, war, etc. You might be thinking: wait a minute, World War I, World War II?! This is where you might disagree with what Pinker means by "violence has declined". He means the rate has declined, not the total number of people dying from it. A war that killed 2 million people back in the 8th Century, Pinker says, is much worse than a war that killed 2 million people nowadays, because there was less people then (it killed a larger percentage of the world back then). Get it? So taking the world population in consideration, Pinker is definitely correct that the rate of violence has gone down (all his graphs show a steep decline from top-left to bottom-right). In other words, if hypothetically you could pick any time period to live in, you may want to pick now because overall you have the least probability of dying from violence (unless you get dropped in Wash. DC!).

Another piece of his argument is to say that many forms of violence have been simply eliminated; no more witch burningno nukes have been used, no great powers have fought since 1953, slavery has almost been eliminated, and so on. There's a whole new moral consciousness, caused by numerous developments (social, political, economical)--it's not that human nature changed. 

Some people are a little worried about Pinker's arguments because they sound "old fashioned"; a little "arrow-of-history-ish" (history is pointing us towards some goal) which has a bad track record; or they sound a little ethnocentrist (civilized people are way better than primitive people who live in a state of war constantly); or a little democracy-biased. Plus I bet some historians are saying "who does this linguist think he is!" He is aware of these concerns, which is part of the pull to read the book (and watch his youtube videos).

Whether you have reservations or not, this book is an enormous endeavor, an audaciously large project that I cannot help but appreciate as such. It's part of a new trend to "mathmatize" history, using numbers to tell the story. I am amazed that one man could write on so many topics, pulling from so many sources. And it helps that Pinker is a master at writing good sentences that flow. There are hundreds of talking points. If you like history and evolutionary psychology, I recommend this book especially (oh did I mention it's really long?).


Better Angels of our Nature

What are you waiting for?

Most of the time I’m waiting for one book or another to come out. Knowing forthcoming publication dates is part of this profession but I think I’d be this way regardless.  Most of the time, I think the anticipation is fun and I even add reminders to my online calendar so that I don’t forget to put the book on hold.

The hardest part of reading a good series is waiting for the next book. Sometimes I’m so anxious to read it, I have to work hard to distract myself with other good books. Other times I forget about a series for awhile and then am pleasantly surprised when a new book comes out. A few times in my life, I’ve purposely waited until the whole series was available before reading because I just new it would be so good that I’d want to read it all at once. It’s hard to avoid spoilers but it’s pretty great to not have to wait for the next book. I read the Harry Potter series this way, start to finish. That was a great two weeks!

Early 2012 seemed to be a busy reading time for me with new additions to some of my favorite series for children and teens coming out. I really enjoyed Trenton Lee Stewart’s new book, The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict, a companion to his Mysterious Benedict Society series. This series is great for elementary aged kids but I know a fair number of adults who like it too. I think it’d be great for reading as a family or listening to on a road trip. Suspenseful and touching with lots of mystery and problem-solving. Funny, engaging characters. This latest book was easily my favorite of all four.

Now I’m moving on to Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore. It’s a companion book to “Graceling” and “Fire” and I’m hoping it’s just as wonderful. I've been waiting a long time to read more about Bitterblue, Po, and Katsa! 

So what books are you marking your calendar for? Anything I should be looking out for too?



House Held Up By Trees

Even though the cover of House Held Up By Trees has a melancholy look, the soft and gentle words tell a story that feels like a magical secret . . . an abandoned house that is lifted off its sterile foundation by the trees growing up around it. Poet Ted Kooser and illustrator Jon Klassen have created a quiet and thoughtful picture book that deserves to be seen beyond the walls of the Children’s Room.


House Held Up By Trees

Attention All Gymnasts!

One of the newest American Girl’s has arrived just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics. McKenna written by Mary Casanova introduces us to 10 year old McKenna who lives for gymnastics. Of course the 2012 Summer Olympics which will be held in London, England from July 27th to August 12, 2012 and will include many gymnastic events. Summer Olympics feature both Artistic and Rhythmic competitions. It never fails that after the Olympics are over, there will be a surge of young kids signing up at the gyms to take classes in gymnastics.

Fourth grader McKenna Brooks lives for gymnastics. We see her in school thinking about her floor, vault, beam and bar routines. But this year in school she has started to struggle with her work and in particular her reading. Early on her parents are concerned and want to help her – they tell her that if her grades don’t improve she may have to spend less time at the gym. Both McKenna’s parents and her teacher do not want her falling behind in her studies. As McKenna continues to struggle with her school work, her teacher thinks a tutor might be the answer. Josie, McKenna’s tutor helps her with her reading comprehension and much more.

Josie, confined to a wheel chair, helps McKenna face her challenges with school and gymnastics. Just as McKenna begins to shine in school she is sidelined with a gymnastics injury and her confidence unravels. Now she is worried about her grades and earning a spot on the elite competitive gymnastics team. Fortunately with the help of McKenna’s family and Josie she is able to regain edge.

This new American Girl and her friends will be a nice addition for summer reading fun. Don’t miss the 2nd title in the series McKenna Ready to Fly!


Share RSS