Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
In 2007 Colleen Burcar wrote the second edition of this book about Michigan's 'quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff.' Well, she's back with a third edition, published just last year. I right away looked to see if anything from this area was included, and found the Air Zoo. I don't necessarily consider that establishment to be 'quirky,' but I think the name of the museum is what precipitated this entry. I particularly enjoyed the story about the giant grasshopper at Kaleva in Manistee County. This sculpture, which is 10 feet high and 18 feet long weighs 500 pounds and was made out of recycled metal. While in Kaleva, visitors are also urged to see the Bottle House, which was constructed by the Finnish immigrant who owned the Northwestern Bottle Works. Another attraction that got my attention was 'The Great Pyramid of the Forty-Fifth Parallel.' In Kewadin, which is in Antrim County near the line that is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, is a monument made of rocks from each of Michigan's 83 counties. For those who want to keep their summer travel close to home, this book is a good one.
Michigan curiosities : quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff
Recently I’ve read a couple of very good books about resistance efforts during World War II in several countries. Shirley Hughes, who is best known for her picture books for very young readers, has now written Hero on a Bicycle for older children.
In 1944, 13-year-old Paolo lives in Florence with his mother and sister; their father has quietly disappeared into the mountains. They are quite certain he is working for the resistance, but no one talks about that. Paolo would love to have an adventure; every night he secretly rides his bicycle through the quiet, dark streets of his town. Suddenly, when the possibility of a real adventure comes to him, Paolo has to make a quick decision. Can he become a real hero?
Hero on a Bicycle
I have read books about Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander IV, and his family in the past. Each has portrayed the family as scheming, manipulative, and scandalous. One need not look far to see this perception of the family perpetuated through other materials at the library. G.J. Meyer's book, The Borgias: the hidden history, call these attitudes into question, especially when talking about Rodrigo and Lucrezia Borgia. The book focuses on three main members of the family: Alonzo (Pope Calixtus III), Rodrigo (Pope Alexander IV), and Cesare. Meyer conducted a lot of research for this book and believes the rumors started about the family were the result of political enemies hoping to tarnish the family reputation that were perpetuated as a result of historians that did not dig deeply enough into the stories to uncover the truth.
Alonzo was an obscure Spanish Cardinal before being unexpectedly elected Pope in 1455. This begins the ascension of the family to the upper ranks of Rome and the Church. Alonzo’s nephew, Rodrigo, moves with him to Rome, is appointed protonotary apostolic and, a year later, Cardinal. The book gives many details about Rodrigo’s life following Calixtus’ death as he continued to be one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. Meyer works to debunk many of the myths about Rodrigo, especially the myth that he fathered a number of children with a longtime mistress named Vannozza. Meyer argues these children, which include Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia, two renaissance figures greatly villainized in the centuries since they lived, were Rodrigo’s nieces and nephews. Meyer argues Rodrigo’s greatest weakness as a leader was his extreme nepotistic tendencies for these young Borgias, and though this is indisputable, there is no dependable proof that Rodrigo was their father.
The political situation in 15th and 16th century Italy was an every changing tapestry. Alliances were made and broken with ease, some seemingly changing with the moods of their young, spoiled, irrational rulers. The Papal States was a number of small city states in central Italy that were supposed to pay tribute to Rome and the pope but were, in reality, ruled by local warlords who had seized power of the cities and, generally, ruled over them with an iron fist. A serial headache of the Renaissance popes, the author does a good job keeping up with the ever shifting landscape of the Papal States, as well as the rest of the Italian peninsula and parts of Spain, France and Constantinople. Cesare, a military mastermind, aimed to reclaim these rebellious city states and carve out a kingdom for himself in the Romagna. The last section of the book details this quest. The thing I liked best about this book, besides that it challenged all that I thought I knew about Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia, was its “Background” sections between chapters. These sections allowed the author to distance the reader from the developing story of the Borgias to offer background information on different people, places and situations. These chapters unfailingly put the drama of the book’s characters in greater context. They were also very interesting (to one who is interested in learning more about Renaissance Italy). Meyer also concludes with a section titled “Examining Old Assumptions” that elaborates more on the characters of Rodrigo and Lucrezia bringing up things he was unable to work into the full text.
This is a dense book that takes some concentration to read. It is well written, comprehensive and definitely challenges the status quo understanding of the Borgias. I am so glad I stumbled upon it the library’s collection!
The Borgias: the hidden history
Missing May is a bitter-sweet story about the after-effects of coping with the death of a most-beloved wife and stepmother named May. For many years May and Ob, her husband, a disabled Navy veteran, lived in Deep Water, West Virginia in a rusty old trailer. They were a childless couple until they met Summer, a distant relative who became parentless at the age of six, and who was subsequently “adopted” by May and Ob.
The story begins after May’s death. May was a very loving woman and both Ob and Summer grieve so desperately that they attempt to find May’s spirit. Cletus Underwood, a kid from Summer’s seventh grade class, befriends Ob and senses Ob’s despair. He tells Ob and Summer about a Spiritualist in a nearby county, so, Ob, Summer, and Cletus begin a quest to find The Reverend Miriam B. Conklin, Small Medium at Large. Do Ob and Summer find what they’re looking for to quell their sadness? You will discover the truth after reading this inspirational story that received the 1993 John Newbery Award.
In the year 2000, Daniel Suelo took out his last thirty dollars and left it in a phone booth, taking the final step in his quest to try to live without any money. Author Mark Sundeen, reports on Suelo’s adventures over the next decade, which included living in a cave in Moab, Utah in his book The Man Who Quit Money.
Some are inspired by his spiritual and philosophical journey. Others call him a freeloader. Read this fascinating book and decide for yourself. Maybe I will see you in Moab.
If you are interested, you can check out Suelo’s blog.
The Man Who Quit Money
Looking for a great audio book? I loved the audio version of “Dodger” by Terry Pratchett. On a dark and stormy night (what else) in Victorian London, a young 17 year old man named Dodger happens upon a young woman who is being kidnapped. He rescues her, and being a young man who makes his living from the streets, knows how to survive and protect her. It fast becomes apparent that some very bad men are trying to get Felicity back. Whirlwind action, mystery and history combine to make great listening. I’ve listened to lots of audio books over the years, and the reader can make or break a story. The reader here does a great job, and sounds as though he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.
Pratchett has some real life people make appearances, such as Charles Dickens as a sharp newspaper reporter, and also Sweeney Todd, the famous barber murderer. Dodger interacts with them, in what Pratchett calls “historical fantasy.” It’s so well done that it seems perfectly natural.
I really enjoyed this audio version from start to finish, and hope Pratchett does a sequel, preferably soon!
In the past, I’ve enjoyed reading many non-fiction books about cats, my all time favorites being Dewey, Kitty Cornered, and Cleo. Now I think that I might have to add a new title to that list, Paw Prints in the Moonlight by Denis O’Connor.
This book was given to me as a pre-publication copy about ten months ago by a colleague, to whom I will always be grateful to for bringing it to my attention. It features the then twenty-nine year old author, Denis, who at the time lived in North Cumberland, England in a stone house circa 1876, complete with three-foot thick walls. One icy, stormy January evening, he discovers a silver grey cat screaming in agony and distress, twisting and turning in a trap, caught by the hind leg. Upon releasing the animal, he retreats back to the warmth of his dwelling. However, guilt induced concern makes him return to the scene and goads him into following the cat’s bloodstained tracks to an old barn. There he finds what turns out to be a female who, despite her injuries, has been driven by maternal instincts to return to care for her two, very tiny and bedraggled kittens. Being a cat and nature lover, Denis scoops up the entire group and carries them off to the local veterinarian. After examining the three creatures, the vet only has grim news: The mother cat is near death and her two youngsters are not faring much better. The vet proclaims that there is no hope for any of them, and suggests to Denis that the humane thing to do would be to put the entire lot down and thereby end their individual miseries.
While talking to the vet however, Denis notices that one of the kittens has moved to his outstretched hand and snuggles up to it. So he decides to deposit the little guy into a pocket of his sheepskin jacket and leaves the clinic. As he is walking out the door, the vet warns him not to get his hopes up for the kitten because, “The wee thing will suffer and die no matter what you do.”
Back home, the writer takes on the role of nursemaid to the tiny, shrew-sized kitten, who barely clings to life; the sole survivor of the storm’s havoc upon his feline family. He fills the ink sac of an old fountain pen with some warmed up evaporated milk, adds a few drops of halibut oil, and then feeds this concoction to the kitten who lays motionless in a blanket-lined box near a blazing fireplace. As he accomplishes that first feeding, Denis realizes that he has accepted a do or die mission that will require plenty of determination on his part, an unyielding will to live on the part of his charge, and a more than fair measure of just plain old good luck for both of them.
After a few stressful days, the kitten begins to rouse. A few weeks later, he seems to be out of the woods, showing a greater interest in his surroundings and becoming much more active. To encourage further progress, while at the same time assuring the cat’s safety while he goes off to work in a nearby college, Denis ingeniously decides to utilize a wide-bottomed, clear glass jug, covering it with cotton wool and placing the kitten within this new enclosure, next to the fire. Upon his return from work, he finds the kitten standing on its hind legs, peering out from inside the jug welcoming him home.
Thusly, the author names the little survivor Toby Jug. He grows into a truly beautiful adult cat with emerald green eyes, and long black fur that extends down to his nose where bloom a white moustache, mouth, throat and chest. It turns out that Toby Jug happens to be a Maine Coon; one of the largest of all domestic cat breeds. He also happens to have a personality all his own.
Author and cat develop an extremely close bond; Toby’s favorite pastime being sitting on Denis’ shoulder. Unfortunately, after only twelve too short years filled with many adventures together, cat and owner are separated by Toby’s death. That day, Denis makes a promise that he would write and publish a story of the life that he and Toby shared together.
Despite all the aspects that I found very attractive about this account, there was one that bothered me throughout. It was the author’s decision to let Toby wander at will in the fields and woods near his home. Denis states that Toby was his pet, but “...also his own cat who had enough of a wild streak to give him his natural rights and dignity as an animal.” Even though there were several close calls with wildlife and the elements, the cat was still allowed access to the outdoors at his discretion.
Personally, I could not let any of the three beloved felines who currently share our living quarters that same sort of freedom. The many dangers that are out and about, and the inherent risks that they could pose to their health and safety, are concerns that would constantly gnaw at the back of my mind.
This book took over twenty years to write due to the author’s sorrow and pain when he had to recollect their great times together that culminated in the loss of his wonderful friend. It took me ten months to complete reading it, because I found myself re-reading chapters multiple times. Simply put, I did not want the story to come to its inevitable end.
This is a heartwarming tribute that would appeal not only to cat lovers, but to anyone who has ever had a very special relationship with any animal. I absolutely love and recommend it. But make sure you have a box or two of tissues handy when reading. Believe me, you’ll make good use of them.
And if you keep your cat next to your heart like I do, please keep it indoors next to you. That’s the only place where it can revel in and enjoy the natural rights and dignity of being your true friend!
Paw Prints in the Moonlight
I'm really enjoying Laurel Synder's chapter book Any Which Wall, which also happens to be the June 27 selection in KPL's Bookworms book group at Children's Room. Bookworms is for kids in grades 1-3 (or there-abouts) with their adults. You can pick up a copy of Any Which Wall at the Children's Room desk. I like this book because it's about magic. It also features Henry and Emma and Roy and Susan -interesting characters who are children of various ages. It's well written and it's pulled me right in. I'm curious what you think about the book, about "common magic", and where you would go if you had a magic wall that could take you to any place and any time.
Bookworms is a free program and a great way to enjoy Summer Reading with other readers!
Any Which Wall
I couldn’t help pick this book up after seeing its clever title in the New KPL Books stream in the KPL catalog, and after reading through it I can say that I am glad I did. The story of craft beer brewing in the United States is as funky as some of the places that helped it grow and pushed it forward during the past 30 or so years. The book takes you from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., which was basically the only small batch “local” brewery that existed in the mid-1970s, to today’s craft brew industry where we have literally thousands of craft breweries scattered across the country and introduces you to a seemingly endless stream of interesting and passionate people and their unlikely stories along the way. The book is thoroughly researched and comprehensive with interviews with all of the important players and tons of history thrown in to give the stories context. It’s a rich and full-bodied tale sure to interest any beer fan out there. And for the record, Kalamazoo may have come up short in its bid to be named Beer City, USA, but we do figure pretty early on in the story of the craft beer revolution with the Kalamazoo Brewing Company appearing right there on page 119! Number of times anything associated with Grand Rapids appears in the index = 0. Hmmm
The Audacity of Hops
Starting with their first letters — or ¬earlier, with the decision to correspond at all — friendship is the book’s overarching subject, and the various topics that come and go are before all else attempts at finding that common ground upon which friendship can flourish. --From the New York Times Book Review (Martin Riker)
Two of my favorite contemporary novelists have published a book of fascinating correspondence between the two that covers a wide range of subjects including the financial meltdown of 2008, sports, friendship, film, love, death and of course, their own work and those books and authors they adore. Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, two of contemporary literature’s most respected and acclaimed writers began their friendship in 2008. The subsequent result gave birth to a letter writing project collected in Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011. Letters range in length from a few pages to several sentences so one could easily bring this book along with them to the beach. Reading these letters (most of them composed on paper and sent through the mail) is like being a fly on the wall of a darkly lit bar, listening in on two incredibly charming and insightful artists feed off of one another’s brilliant minds.
Here and now: letters