Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

More Good Books

I like book lists. I like to see what others have particularly enjoyed and recommend. I check off the ones I have read, add some to my list-of-books-to-read-sometime.

One of my favorite lists has just been released: Notable Books 2011. This list is compiled by librarians who work with adult literature, are familiar with the opinion of book reviewers, and probably read tens and tens of books a year themselves. They select fiction, nonfiction, and poetry titles.

Once again, I have several titles to add to my list. I need more reading time!


Notable Books

The Big Payback

In the summer of 1985 I drove to Kalamazoo (I had just turned 16 and I had just acquired my driver’s license. This was my first drive of more than 10 minutes duration) with two of my close friends from our small town of Stevensville, MI to attend the Fresh Fest at Wings Stadium. The Fresh Fest was the first multiple act rap music concert to tour the country, and brought a taste of hip-hop music and culture to many area's of the country for the first time. The concert featured headliners Run-DMC, along with the Fat Boys, Whodini, pioneering DJ Grandmaster Flash (sans the furious five), and an assortment of break dancing crews and graffiti artists. This was before the ubiquity of MTV and before the internet leveled the information playing field and information was not as free and easy as it is today.  My friends and I seemed to be the only people in our town who knew about rap music and only because we were hip to a fuzzy but listenable signal that, on a clear day, reached across the lake to us from WGCI 107.5 in Chicago and back then only occasionally played hip-hop music. The Fresh Fest was the first time my friends and I saw hip-hop culture live and in person and it blew our minds it was so cool! And yet we had no clue that we were witnessing the first leaps of a cultural phenomenon that would evolve into a multibillion-dollar industry not only dominating the music industry but gaining global cultural influence. These memories have come pouring back to me while reading The Big Payback, Dan Charnas’s authoritative and comprehensive history of the business of hip-hop music. Charnas leaves no stone unturned as he chronicles the amazing story of hip-hop and the artists, entrepreneurs, record executives, and hustlers who made it what it is today. If only I had kept that Run-DMC t-shirt that I bought at the Fresh Fest!


The Big Payback

An Early 2011 Favorite

One of the first books I’ve read in this new year, might just end up being one of my favorites of the year!

Patti Smith went to New York City in the late 60’s, determined to make art her life. Through a series of almost unlikely events, she meets Robert Mapplethorpe, and they become life-long soul mates, as they eventually both become famous - Patti ultimately in music, Robert in photography.

Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, 2010 National Book Award nonfiction winner, describes the NYC scene in the late 60’s and 70’s; shares tales of the Chelsea Hotel, Scribner’s ,Brentano’s and Strand bookstores; and relationships with many then emerging artists – Allen Ginsberg, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter among others.

Mostly, however, this memoir is a tender love letter to Robert, their deep friendship and her abiding belief in his genius.

I know it is early to declare favorites of the year – it’s only January - but I will say my reading year is off to a wonderful start.


“Just Kids” by Patti Smith
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