Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
This atlas is subtitled 'Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will.' The author, Judith Schalansky, is German; hence this 2009 book is now showing up in a 2010 translation. After a 23-page introduction, there appear 50 maps of remote islands, and on the facing page of each is a timeline and a poetically written commentary. Among the 50 islands is Howland Island, the intended destination of Amelia Earhart when her plane was lost. Colorful geographic names abound, such as Deception Island, Christmas Island, Possession Island, and Lonely Island, which is Russian. About Trinidade, which is in the Atlantic Ocean off Brazil, Ms. Schalansky writes, 'This place is a topographical disaster. Everything has been arbitrarily hurled into the ocean; the ground is rutted, downward sloping and hostile. Over and over again, someone out on a walk disappears without trace -- washed away by waves several metres high, buried alive by a landslide or swallowed up by a crater. In the cemetery, crosses without graves stand memorial to those who have disappeared.' This volume is an informative work that brings awareness of places that seldom, if ever, make the daily headlines.
Atlas of remote islands : fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will
If you’re anything like me, you become pretty excited when you discover that one of your favorite authors is publishing a new book—especially in cases where the writer spends years composing a follow-up. One of my favorite web sites for satisfying my love for contemporary fiction is the online journal The Millions. For those who enjoy today’s hottest writers and critically lauded books, The Millions has a wealth of author interviews, reviews of recently published works, critical essays and a variety of helpful/fun lists. One of their most recent posts highlighted some notable authors and their books to be published this Fall/Winter. I’m looking forward to picking up the newest from Don Delillo, Denis Johnson, Donald Ray Pollock, Joan Didion, and Thomas Bernhard. What about you?
The devil all the time : a novel
After making the commitment to adopt two male rescue kittens, I realized that maybe I needed to brush up on some pointers for their care, since it’s been quite a while from the time when we last heard the pitter patter of tiny kitten paws on our household’s floors. So, I picked up some cat care books at the Eastwood Branch Library. One in particular, Cats For Dummies was especially helpful because it contained clear, no-nonsense information on the topic.
My main concern was Ollie, our 3½ yr old resident feline. He would have to be properly introduced to the “kitten kids” for the adoption to have any chance of succeeding. While friendly with those he knew, Ollie was more than just a little skittish when confronted by strangers, be they human or of another species. This wasn’t surprising considering that we found him abandoned at a local community college when he himself was a kitten, and from the looks of him at the time, he seemed to have been abused and on his last legs. So, any changes made to his current comfortable surroundings in our home, was met with fear, suspicion, disapproval and avoidance on his part.
Following the suggestion of an online source, I had a neighbor bring over the kittens to our home. This was done so that I would not be associated with the tykes in Ollie’s eyes. Prior to their actual arrival, I showered Ollie with lots of TLC and attention. A healthy dose of freshly picked catnip didn’t hurt either. Despite all these careful preparations, when the kittens did arrive, Ollie, true to form, refused to come to see what the commotion was all about. When he finally did make it downstairs, I tried the best I could to completely ignore the two super cute kittens and instead paid all my attention to our tenured cat.
Initially, Ollie displayed some hurt feelings in the form of increased hissing and attempted swipes at the youngsters. Four days later however, the hissing subsided and he sat down on his favorite ottoman in the center of the living room to observe their playful interactions with each other, as well as with Patrick, our house rabbit. Several days later on, he began slowly to accept them as family members and even attempted to roughly “play” with them, but only under my close supervision. Yes, there is still some swatting and jealous feelings but considering the circumstances, Ollie is adjusting quite well to little Graham and his bother Lionel.
Stay tuned for future updates as our newly re-formulated family coalesces!
If you are interested in adopting a kitten or cat, check out the SPCA, Pet Rescue Network or Animal Rescue to name just a few area sources. We found our new family members at Animal Rescue where one of their volunteers, Leanne, was a surrogate mother for these wonderful kittens from age of one week (when they were found), to nine weeks. She did a fantastic job teaching the kittens proper litter habits and socializing them so that they are comfortable with human touch, thereby increasing their chances for growing into truly loving companions.
Animal Rescue spays/neuters the kittens before you are able to bring them home. They also have their first booster shots and an ID microchip is placed underneath the skin in the neck area in case they turn out to be quick escape artists or get lost. All these services are provided for a reasonable adoption fee. Also prior to the adoption, a comprehensive questionnaire needs to be filled out by the prospective adoptive parent.
Right now it’s the high season for litters of kittens. Most are in desperate need of good indoor homes. Can you help? The following photos are current kittens looking for great homes. If you have what it takes, please contact Leanne at 269-375-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll be glad you made this all important commitment to help a feline (or two) in need!
Cats for Dummies
I was looking for a “good listen” book on CD for an upcoming car trip, and selected The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. It was a lucky choice. Mummies, mystery, and lots of action make for a riveting story.
When a mummy is discovered in the basement of a Boston museum, it’s dubbed “Madam X” in the ensuing media attention. Everyone assumes it’s an ancient mummy- until a very modern bullet is discovered in the body when the wrappings are removed.
It’s up to homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles to unravel the tangled tale, and to figure out why additional recently mummified bodies are appearing.
Information about Egyptology in the story is a plus, in this seventh in the series by Gerritsen that began with The Surgeon. TNT also has a TV series called, not unsurprisingly, “Rizzoli and Isles.”
Lisa Gardner had me guessing, backtracking and rethinking. She did it, she didn’t do it or how could she do it! In Love You More a female state trooper must fight the battle of her life for her survival and the survival of the most important person in the world to her. This is a passionate suspense that touches on the lives of many and the relationships that intertwine with them. Great story! I was hooked from the beginning and could not put it down!
This title comes in many formats. I'm sure you can find the right one for you.
Love you more
When the weather is sweltering and the mosquitoes are biting, it is tempting to explore the wilderness through a good book. Instead of venturing out for a hike, take a virtual trip with DNR Detective Grady Service, a Conservation Officer with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Service, the main character in Joseph Heywood’s Woods Cop mystery series, is a former Marine who patrols the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, thwarting poachers and solving mysteries. The first book in the series is Ice Hunter; if you enjoy it, there are six more mysteries featuring Service, and KPL has them all.
These are intricately plotted mysteries that leave the reader with heightened appreciation for the natural beauty of Michigan’s wild areas.
Joseph Heywood lives in Portage.
If my book group hadn’t chosen to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I’d not have picked it up on my own. The title was just too fluffy for me. But the content is not. Excuse me for saying it, but it is a delightful read! Authors Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows somehow tell vital truths about the horrors of living in an occupied warzone, while emphasizing the beauty of life that persists despite the war. The story unfolds completely through correspondence to, or from, Juliet Ashton, an author in search of a new topic to write about. We gradually come to know many (fictional) inhabitants of Guernsey Island, who survived German occupation during World War II and forged sturdy friendships in the process.
Early on in the novel, we learn how the friends are caught in the act of returning home after curfew from a pig roast, an activity definitely not sanctioned by the Nazi occupiers. Elizabeth, perhaps the most colorful character of the book, makes up an impromptu book discussion group as the excuse for why the group lost track of time, and manages to save them from arrest. Thus, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is born.
Discussing this scene led my group to note that we didn’t have our own name, and we wanted one. We ultimately settled on “BookSisters,” but for a while I thought maybe we should choose the "Kalamazoo Literary and Food Feast Society.”
Catch Diane Rehm on NPR, when she discusses this novel on her next Readers’ Review show.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Why didn't I read this book earlier in my life! As I read this in a coffee shop yesterday, exhilarated in a perfect calm, I could not help but have a sense of loss that it took so long to read this book. Books can do so many things to us.
There is no question that love was at the very center of Martin Luther King, Jr's nonviolence:
“At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love…Along the way, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.” And: “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system.”
MLK was a professional lover of enemies. During the height of the Civil Rights movement, you could say that was his full time job. He was the real thing. That’s what he did. He lived and died by loving those who hated him; some hated him consciously, others unconsciously. He proved that enemy-loving was not a pipe dream, not a “pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer”; rather, “the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of the world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: his is the practical realist.”
He was a minister that drew wisdom from a wide range of thinkers, constantly making allusions to Plato or Hegel (one of his favorites, I've heard), or Lincoln or contemporary Anthropologists. For his nonviolence he drew heavily from Gandhi: “Christ gave us the goals, and Mahatma Gandhi provided the tactics.” Once he stayed all night in Gandhi’s living quarters, drawing strength from a dead man, drawing strength to do the same work that will kill them both.
“When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: ‘Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.’” (He also clarifies that love does not mean "like", "love is greater than like.")
How to love enemies:
There are three steps to loving enemies: forgive them, understand them as persons, and reconcile or love them. “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship” It is a “fresh start” and “new beginning”…”cancelling of a debt.” To say “I will never forget what you’ve done” is missing the point: “we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding an new relationship.”
Secondly, to understand them as persons, “we must recognize an element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy” and “the evil deed…never quite expresses all that he is.” And when “we see him in a new light,” “we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
Thirdly, to reconcile, or love them, you cannot hurt them, but “win his friendship…every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” But seriously, how is this possible? How is this physically possible? By love MLK does not mean “like,” or have emotions and affections for (“love is greater than like”); he means respect, dignity, goodwill; a love backed by wisdom and understanding; compassion; he means the Greek word “agape,” which means “an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return, agape is the love of God operating in the human heart.” He means a love that “is the solution to the problems of the world.” It says “Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you,” even as you “beat us.”
Love requires a degree of intelligence: “one day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong.” We need to be “toughminded” and “tenderhearted,” and the way to bring change is through nonviolence. Ignorance, or “blindness,” is a great cause of evil. People do the wrong thing not because they are evil or ill-willed, but usually because “they know not what they do.” He calls this "blindness":
"Socrates was forced to drink hemlock...they were respectable citizens of Greece...his idea of God had a philosophical depth that probed beyond [their] traditional concepts. Not badness but blindness killed Socrates...The Churchmen who felt that they had an edict from God to withstand the progress of science, whether in the form of a Copernican revolution or a Darwinian theory of natural selection, were not mischievous men but misinformed men."
The end of all of this, of course, is that love wins; but not just for the lover; everyone willing to be transformed by love will win:
“But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
This is because “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” And "I must not ignore the wounded man on life's Jericho Road, because he is a part of me and I am a part of him. His agony diminishes me, and his salvation enlarges me."
For more on MLK, I recommend watching the free course at academicearth.org, "African American History: The Modern Freedom Struggle," especially lecture 10 "Vincent Harding on Martin Luther King, Jr" (he was a friend of MLK). The course on nonvoilence is also good. Or go to youtube.com and watch his speeches (e.g. "Mountaintop," the speech right before he was killed is incredible and might move you to tears).
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Strength to Love
I heard the title story in Karen Russell's collection of short stories read aloud by Joanna Gleason on PRI's Selected Shorts a while back and greatly enjoyed it. Each of Karen Russell's short stories in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is surreal and darkly funny, zooming right along in original and unexpected ways. The stories read like somone recounting "the strangest dream" and you're both laughing because it's so funny and otherworldly and you're really kind of glad that it was just a dream. If you like George Saunders you'll probably love Karen Russell, too. Now I'm looking forward to reading Russell's full length novel Swamplandia, a taste of which we get in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator", the first story in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves
After 37 pages into this somber, touching novel, I realized I would need to wait to read it. I just came off reading a very exciting, fun, woven, suspenseful novel. The completely opposite tone of Please Look After Mom would typically be a fitting change. But, something about the realism of the story, how it gets the reader immediately involved in the loss of the mother and the melancholy reflection of the daughter was nearly too much for me. As many reviews state, there likely won't be a dry eye when reading this story. I would agree. It is told in an almost eerie second person: you read mom the letters from your brother; you found mom on the board of the shed (paraphrased). That is another quality that makes the book so resonating to the soul.
I do want to return to the book at a later time, however. I get the feeling that a cool, crisp fall day is when I'll find myself picking up this book again. There is a time and place for everything, every story, and this one will be at another time for me.
Please Look After Mom