Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

75 years!

 Life was a general interest magazine that was published as a weekly from 1936 until 1972, in special editions from 1972 until 1978, and finally as a monthly from 1978 until 2000. In this commemorative book, the editors of Life Books have presented a diverse selection of the best photographs from those 75 years. Many of these are formal portraits and candid shots of world leaders and celebrities, but also included are common people going about their daily lives and work. I found the photographs of each of the covers particularly worthy of notice. A nice bonus is that a niche was cut out in the back of the book to house a replica of the very first Life, dated November 23, 1936.


75 years : the very best of Life
David D.

Summer of 1962: “Dead End in Norvelt”

The summer of 1962 in a small town Norvelt, PA is off to an iffy start for 11 year old Jack in Dead End in Norvelt. He accidentally fires off his father’s World War II Japanese rifle, and, Jack’s mother “grounds him for life” (or at least the summer.) The one exception to his not leaving the house is to help Miss Volker, whose arthritic hands make it impossible for her to type the newspaper obituaries. She can’t drive, either, so she gives Jack driving lessons and with Jack at the wheel, they careen around town trying to discover if a Hell’s Angel really put a curse on the town, or if the Girl Scout cookies are laced with rat poison. Eccentric and colorful characters abound in this book. It also provides a glimpse into actual historical events, an added plus. (There really was a town called Norvelt, created by Eleanor Roosevelt, and based on communal land ownership.)

A wonderfully readable book with non-stop action for older children, Dead End in Norvelt won the Newbery Award for 2012. It joins a long list of other great titles by popular author Jack Gantos, including the Joey Pigza chapter book series and the Rotten Ralph picture books.


Dead End in Norvelt

What's the Difference Between Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and JFK?

Benjamin Franklin was a paragon of self-taught education. To learn how to write he literally took scholarly articles apart and put them back together (like a type setter would). Abigail Adams had no choice; being a woman in the 1750's, she had to teach herself. Andrew Jackson, an Irish farm kid, grew up in a sort of cowboy environment, open land, the time of the Regulators, no law, British invading and pillaging. His education was honor and violence.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sojourner Truth was growing up as a slave after the war when Noah Webster was writing his grammar book, arguing for abolition and a national language and education system. But her master could care less about emancipation, so she (literally) walked off to freedom with her one year old baby, living in the woods and finding work to survive. She realized that freedom was another form of slavery, and then became “Sojourner Truth,” a traveling minister and truth-teller like Frederick Douglas (When she met Lincoln he apparently tensed up and called her “Aunty,” as he would his washerwoman).

The boy Lincoln, who was obsessed with reading and mostly self-taught, said “among my earliest recollections, I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand…that always disturbed my temper and has ever since.” This thirst and curiousity made him. Lincoln thought that reading separated him from the Natives. Thocmetony, aka "Princess Winnemucca," a Native "turned American," actually agreed. She grew up surviving, then tried to create a school for her people: "A few years ago," Sarah wrote the parents of her students, "you owned this great county; today the white man owns it all, and you own nothing. Do you know what did it? Education." Her school was to be different; it would not have this motto--"You cannot become truly American citizens...until the INDIAN within you is DEAD"--as the current ones did. It would be culturally integrated. Sadly, it failed and her people were virtually wiped out by the Trail of Tears.

Henry Ford, industrious to the core, had to learn by physically touching the machines (sort of like how Einstien had to visualize math). He thought education gives you a fundamental base, but after that vocational school is best (Booker T Washington might agree). Du Bois represents the beginning of high schools, which were actually created to Americanize the Irish immigrants bringing "discord, immorality, and poverty." Du Bois, a very poor boy with a poor, single, handicap mother, became the black kid that excelled among white kids; he was proving something. A man named Frank Hosmer became his mentor: teacher, president, progressive school reformer--a man who became part of Du Bois's "talented tenth" way of thinking.

Helen Keller is the story of the blind prodigy child. Rachel Carson (environmentalist) was a product of the "Montessori" school movement (back to nature, learn like the Natives). Elvis learned music at a poor, Pentecostal church. In fact, most of these great Americans grew up poor.

So what is the difference between Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and JFK?

Just as Carnegie thought libraries were "the great equalizer" between rich and poor, Horace Mann (founder of public schools) thought "free schools" were going to be the great equalizer. But many Americans were simply left out entirely (Sojourner Truth, Abigail Adams), and even those who could be schooled (Andrew Jackson) weren't schooled the same, as the chapter on JFK's education shows--privileged, private, rich. Even the teenage JFK says "how much better chance has [the] boy with a silver spoon in his mouth of being good than the boy who from birth is surrounded by rottenness and filth. This even to the most religious of us can hardly seem a 'square deal'." Talking about private schools, JFK's classmate said if you weren't "incorrigibly stupid or lazy" you could go to "any college you wanted."

I highly recommend this book. The author interweaves the stories brilliantly.


How Lincoln Learned to Read

The Joy of Cheesemaking

The Joy of Cheesemaking is a well-rounded guide to the somewhat complex world of cheese. The authors are educators in artisan cheese making, so the book really goes into the science of the process in a way that most home cheese making manuals miss. It includes lots of helpful illustrations that get down to the molecular level to explain the how and why. Yet the book is anything but a stuffy scientific text. There are beautiful photographs of dairy farms, and artisan cheese makers at work. Filled with lots of wonderful recipes, and guides to pairing with wine and beer, this is a book for the cheese aficionado. Having made hard cheeses for a while at home, I really appreciated the depth of information, but might not recommend this to someone as a “how to” for their first batch of fresh cheese. The focus is not so much on making cheese in your kitchen, though there is a simple Queso Blanco recipe that would probably work well for a beginner. That said, if you just love cheese this is a great resource, and it may even get you excited enough to give cheese making a try.


The joy of cheesemaking: the ultimate guide to understanding, making and eating fine cheese


Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is so entertaining from start to finish that even with 850 pages, it can be a quick read. The story is told from the perspective of Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher. Jake is introduced by his friend to a time portal that leads from Lisbon Falls, Maine in 2011 to September 9, 1958. He also learns the rules of time travel. You can visit the past for as long as you like but when you return to the present it's always exactly two minutes later. Every subsequent visit is a "reset." You can change the past and consequently the present, but as Jake learns, the past is obdurate. It resists.

Jake sets out on a mission to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. Because he enters the past in 1958, much of the story centers on the life he creates for himself while simultaneously preparing for the big day. He is always conscious of the butterfly effect – even his seemingly smallest actions could have major consequences for the future. This is a love story with vivid, unforgettable characters that is often very suspenseful. I enjoyed Stephen King’s creativity and thought provoking concepts. Consider this quote: “For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. . . . A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.” Hmmm…



Summertime Beach Read

Last summer, I chose as my beach read, the hilarious Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. This year, I grabbed another funny person’s book of witty ruminations as my choice of levity and escape. Comedian, actress and writer Mindy Kaling is mostly known for her work on the hit series The Office. Her new book of short takes on “American Pastimes” such as dating, dieting, celebrity, life as a comedy writer, and growing up unpopular won’t win a Pulitzer but it will probably make you smile, maybe even provoke an internal chuckle here and there. She amusingly conjures subtle truths about contemporary life as a twenty-something with a mixture of both ego-effacing honesty and a kind of self absorption that often feels like she’s invoking her vacuous Office character Kelly Kapoor. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) is a quick read that fits the criteria of summer, nonfiction reading, i.e. buoyant and unpretentious.


Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Telling Your Own Stories

Everyone has a story to tell and this little book titled: Telling your own stories; For Family and Classroom Storytelling, Public Speaking, and Personal Journaling by Davis, Donald, will provide you with suggestions to get you remembering! Wait a minute, you don’t think you have any stories to tell? Don’t believe it… This book will prompt you with many ideas that will truly bring out those hidden stories containing memories of your life. Donald Davis says to try for the earliest memories and then come forward rather than searching from the present backwards chronologically and that Our whole life is our library where personal memories are the books we are looking for.

There are many great prompts and marvelous ideas in his book and a sampling of them are:

  • Can you remember a time when you learned something from a child?
  • Can you remember a pet you once had which you don’t have any more?
  • Take us to school with you during one of your favorite years in school
  • Can you remember a time when you got into trouble for something you had already been told not to do?
  • Can you remember a trip that you would not want to have to take again?
  • Can you remember a night your parents never found out about?
  • Can you remember a time when you got sick at a very inconvenient moment?
  • Can you remember a birthday or a holiday you would like (or not like) to live over again?
  • Can you remember a time when you got lost? Or separated from your companion(s)?

Davis includes a story-Form Format: Main Character > Trouble coming > Crisis > Insight > Affirmation.

We all enjoy a good story and you have many to tell!


Telling Your Own Stories

My favorite author for 2012 summer reading

So...I've been looking for a while for a fiction author to get into, and I thought that during 2012 summer reading would be a great time to find one. I usually read nonfiction, often kind of heavier stuff, and I really have been wanting to find something lighter and more entertaining. Enter The rock star in seat 3A by Jill Kargman! In Rock star, New Yorker Hazel ends up not only meeting her celebrity crush, singer Finn Schiller, after a chance encounter on an airplane, but dating him and finding out what the L.A. rock-star lifestyle is really all about. This book was such a thoroughly entertaining read, that I moved on to an older title by Jill Kargman [Arm candy, 2010], which also takes place in New York and involves aspects of celebrity. So far Kargman's novels could be described as chick lit with slightly older characters (30s-40s). I am looking forward to reading The ex-Mrs. Hedgefund and Momzillas next.


The rock star in seat 3A

Not so fast!

New relationships are exciting, but before moving in together, check out Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples.  You may be great at cooking with your special someone, but merging lives is a bit more complicated.  While an unsuccessful omelet can be tossed in the trash or fed to the dog, a relationship is harder to dispose of (and you may be more eager to avoid disaster; an egg is $.25, but true love is priceless).  If you plan on merging assets, raising children, or writing a will, some legal precautions are in order, and Nolo will give you excellent information.

This book would be handy for relationships other than romantic.  Cohabitators of any ilk could benefit from perusing it.


Living together : a legal guide for unmarried couples

non-white, non-male philosophers?

Yes, a lot of them actually. But if you take a philosophy course, or read an introductory book, you learn about the "great white men and the ivy league cavalcade" (as Romano calls them). The point of the book is not to downplay these great white men (he devotes a long chapter on them), but to bring us up to speed, to survey all the great philosophers in America: African Americans, women, Native Americans, critics, psychologists, gay people, journalists, etc (he expands the term "philosopher" to include Hugh Hefner, which is a bit of a stretch).

For a small sampling: African American philosophers: Alaine Locke, Cornell West, Michael Eric Dyson, Kwame Anthony Appiah. Women philosophers: Margaret Fuller (1800's transcendentalist), Gerda Lerner, Ayn Rand, Hannah Arendt, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Martha Nussbaum.

Romano also has a bone to pick with so called "philosophy" departments, which have been reduced to analyzing language and splitting hairs instead of talking about issues that really matter to people (as a philosophy student I can attest to that a little bit). The author shows his true colors; he likes the pragmatic tradition (a very American tradition), and especially Richard Rorty.

I forgot who it was, but someone in 1800's America predicted that soon we all would be philosophers. Were they right? This book reads like a very long series of book reviews, which is fine if you want a survey of intellectualism in America. It can be long winded and too wity. Certainly it is not a good or "philosophical" argument that America is the most philosophical place in the history of the world. Not even close. He simply says "hey, look at all these smart people I'm talking about; therefore, we must be philosophical!" Still, if you want to know the inside story of philosophy in America, it's a good read.


America the Philosophical
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