Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

To Save Everything Click Here

Ever get annoyed by any of those TED talks that seem to gloss over the complexities of a problem and present a technological solution that seems too good to be true in its simplicity? Ever feel grumpy when technology pundits seem to assume that there are socially-networked, big data solutions to all of the world’s problems? Well, let me introduce you toEvgeny Morozov, one of the most challenging, snarky, and clearly brilliant people examining technology and its impact on our world today. Morozov’s latest title, To Save Everything Click Here, argues against the ubiquitous “solutionism” and “Internet-centric” thinking that seeks slick and efficient technology based solutions to nearly all of mankind’s problems and fails to recognize, or even consider, the value that messiness and inefficiency can often bring to certain systems (American politics being a good example, where conflict, compromise, and messiness are built right into the process). This is not what I would call a “light read” by any stretch, and the shear ferocity of Morozov’s argument can become tedious and annoying along the way, but his appraisal of our modern world and the way that it is developing are well worth it. For more brilliant contrarian views on our networked society see Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.


To Save Everything Click Here

Modern Art Desserts

In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.


Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art
David D.

The Ultimate Secret to Weight Lifting

People work out for different reasons: to look good, lose weight, gain muscle, get abs, feel better. And, like dieting, everyone wants "the secret" to meeting their goals; the easy answer, the short cut, the 10 step, 5-minute, 7 day, what-have-you-plan. So where to start? You could get a personal trainer, read a book like this one (which promotes "cross-fit" style full-body lifts (which is just fine), or just dive right in.

In my opinion there are no secret exercises, machines, or workouts...only these two principles:

  1. Intensity: this is the one most people miss. In high school I went to the gym for years and didn't get any results at all. None. In college I started lifting with intensity and I got tons of results fast. Get angry, get pumped up, increase the intensity, listen to the Rocky IV soundtrack, be that person who makes noises (not that loud), work up a really good sweat, become exhausted by the end. At first it will be hard, but we get used to it. Now I couldn't have an "easy" workout even if I tried--our brains and bodies are amazing machines of habit, which in this case is a good thing. You need to push your body to allow that habit to form.
  2. Form: perfect form, every excercise, every rep. This is what keeps you from injuring yourself. Especially combined with extreme intensity, this is crucial. Trust me, I've hurt myself more than once. Before you do any excercise, know what the correct form (technique) is. Don't be the person who can curl tons of weight by arching your back, or who can bench tons of weight only because you bounce it off your chest.

With high intensity and perfect form you will see results (and of course humble librarians are the experts on these matters, right?!). Above all, have fun. And do cardio too, not just lifting (those eliptical machines are really good if you have problems with running).


the new rules of lifting

A Whey Out Curdling Tale

Ah, the good and simple life. Living on a farm out in the country, with some hens, goats, sheep, and a few cows thrown in for good measure. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Well according to author Angela Miller’s 2010 memoir entitled Hay Fever, farm life is anything but easy and carefree. Miller, a Manhattan-based literary publicist, decided one day that her frenetic, super urban lifestyle needed a U-turn into a more placid diversion of some sort. So she, together with her somewhat reluctant hubby, purchase and move into a 19th century farmhouse in rural Vermont, that comes complete with a little over 300 acres of surrounding countryside. The year was 2001, and the farm was envisioned to be a refuge from the NYC hustle and bustle. But the farm’s history as a working creamery and cheese making facility put a bug into Angela’s brain that she too could run a profitable dairy based concern as had its originating owner, one Consider Bardwell. However, until profits materialized, and because she couldn’t bear to totally cut herself off from her literary clients in the big city, Angela came to the conclusion that she would still need to continue being a literary agent during the middle of the week, and run the farm on extended weekend stays. The latter task was made all the more difficult since she had precious little experience in farming, much less operating an artisanal cheese making business.

Angela and Rust, her husband, acquire the requisite goats and other barnyard animals, as well as assemble a cast of farmhands, cheese makers, vets and a sundry other rural characters. They also attend many cheese making workshops and seminars and believe that armed with their newly gained knowledge, they are well on their way to building a world class cheese company on the premises of Consider Bardwell Farm. However, that road is fraught with many unforeseen bumps and learning curve detours that constantly make the project an iffy proposition at best.

This book is a cautionary tale of sorts as Angela recounts the difficulties of running and maintaining the farm, which is the primary source of goat milk that is crucial to the cheese making venture. The year 2008 proved to be an especially difficult time and she particularly concentrates on the many problems that they ran into. For example, one variety of cheese that had previously been a prize winner, was rejected by specialty food retailer Zingerman’s of Ann Arbor, which stated that the 250 pounds that were delivered to them did not match the taste profile of the winning cheese that their buyer had sampled some seven months earlier. It was returned and ended up being fed to the neighbor’s pigs. Soon after that, the farm instituted a new, more stringent control process, continuously testing and grading all the cheese being produced to assure consistent quality from one batch to another.

Currently, Consider Bardwell Farm makes over fifty thousand pounds of cheese annually, has won many prizes, and sells their products at over a dozen East Coast farmers’ markets. They are also found in the cheese carts of many fine dining establishments, as well as in numerous gourmet food shops across the country.

Speaking of farmers’ markets, my husband and I love to visit Kalamazoo’s outdoor version held every Saturday, between May and November on Bank Street. It is extremely popular, judging by the hordes of shoppers it attracts each week. It is also very well run and draws in many participating vendors, thanks in large part to the efforts of the People’s Food Co-op, which took over managing its operations from the city this year.

Last year, we remember purchasing a number of different goat cheese products at the market made by a small local producer. Now that vendor is nowhere to be found. We also searched for them at Sawall’s and the Food Co-op, both of whom used to carry their cheeses, but again these had disappeared from the dairy cases. I even went so far as doing a little more detective work by looking up the farm online. That resulted in the discovery that their prior site had been disabled, and that neither their phone number or email address worked anymore. Yes, artisanal cheese making is a tough, risky business. No one is guaranteed to make a profit and as a result, some farms don’t make it at all.

So go to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, get something yummy (preferably cheese) to munch on and spend some time reading Hay Fever. After all, it’s summer. Time to kick back and relax.

Unless of course you live on a farm!

For more information of the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market go to:


Hay fever : how chasing a dream on a Vermont farm changed my life

Le Grande Boucle

The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest racegives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.


Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race

The Burgess Boys

My book group had one of our most spirited conversations ever about The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. We had liked her previous book, Olive Kitteridge, so her new book was a logical choice for us.

Briefly this is the story of three siblings living with the guilt of their father’s death at a very early age. A crisis with their nephew compels the brothers to return to their Maine hometown. They revisit the tragedy, the relationship among the siblings, and the cultural divide between their small hometown and their current life.

We had so much to talk about….the relationship among the siblings, the action of the nephew that divides the small town, the Somali refugees, the marriage of Jim Burgess, family secrets. We even continued the conversation the next day on email!

This is a well-written, character driven story about family relationships. It is a good read alone or for a book group.


The Burgess Boys

Rainbow Stew

Morning begins with a stretch, wiggle, sniff and giggle as the 3 kids scramble from their beds – Grandpa’s making pancakes. The grandkids love visiting him. Even though it is a rainy day Grandpa plans an outdoor activity. They will be finding colors for his famous Rainbow Stew! The colors of course are in the garden. They all put on their rainy day gear and head outside. They find lots of greens: spinach, kale, cucumbers and then they move through the garden looking for the colors of the rainbow by picking vegetables. When the basket is full, the cooking goes into full swing. Grandpa and the kids cook up a colorful stew from Grandpa’s garden.

The story is told in rhyme with bold colorful illustrations. It is the loving story of Grandpa and his grandkids sharing a special day together. The treat is how to make the rainbow stew which is included at the end of the story.

When I first read this picture book, it reminded me of our very own Fresh Food Fairy, Hether Frayer. She is visiting the Eastwood Branch, for a storytime celebrating healthy foods, on July 25th at 10:30am and at the Central Library on August 23 at 10:30 am. What a fun book to share with your preschoolers and then join in at the storytimes with the Fresh Food Fairy. Enjoy


Rainbow Stew

Fun with the Family

Are you vacationing in Michigan this Summer? Kalamazoo Public Library has many Michigan travel books. One particularly family-friendly book is: Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Bill Semion, c.2007. The contents are separated by geographic areas, such as West Michigan-North, West Michigan-South, and Upper Peninsula-East, Upper Peninsula-West… you get the picture…(picturesque!) It includes listings of events, adventures, parks, museums, sports, theatres, places to stay, and restaurants.

I also recommend viewing: Under the Radar Michigan, a PBS television show hosted by Tom Daldin, who has a friendly, comfortable presence and a great sense of humor. UTR Michigan is in its third season. UTR Michigan showcases a different Michigan town in each episode, featuring local places of interest, stories, great people, and mouth-watering foods at local restaurants. UTR is a helpful, convincing site for choosing a Michigan town to visit. Episode 318 highlights Grand Rapids, and, if you want to see a hilarious sight, watch the people pedaling on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser, it’s crazy! To find out the art of coffee roasting and information about the Can-Do Kitchen, watch the inspirational episode featuring Kalamazoo!


Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids

Eleanor and Park

One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book.  Eleanor and Parkwas just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction.  Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up.  Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave.  I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.

Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather.  Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special.  I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality.  This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.


Eleanor and Park


I just love Jessica Souhami’s books. I think it must be her background as a puppeteer that makes these folk-lore based picture books so good. Sausages, for instance, is a wonderful story about being careful what you wish for. In Souhami’s newest offering, Foxy!, the storyteller and illustrator puts her own spin on a trading-up trickster tale told in different ways the world over. In this wonderfully illustrated version based on a North American version of the story by Clifton Johnson from 1897, the fox is the trickster and he’s looking for a meal. What an entertaining read-aloud!


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