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Staff Picks: Books

Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride

 Summer is the perfect time for light reading, so I have another graphic novel to tell you all about! Lucy Knisley, an artist with a knack for turning her personal experiences into entertaining graphic memoirs, is back with Something New! Literally—that’s the name of the book


Knisley has written about the important role of food in her life, and some of her exciting travel adventures, but this time she’s covering her experiences grappling with the beautiful and incredibly stressful task of getting married. This lovely memoir includes many fun components, such as, a section on to buy, or DIY, how she and her husband met, and wedding traditions from around the world. I’d recommend this to book to anyone, whether they’re married, engaged, or single, because honestly, it’s just fun going on this wedding journey with Lucy Knisley.

Looking for more books by Lucy Knisley? Be sure to check out some of her other titles here. 

The Poisoning of Michigan

The environmental history of Michigan in the twentieth century (and beyond) has been one characterized by intermittent disasters with wide-ranging implications for the health and well-being of its citizens. One need only examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s maps of Superfund sites (specially-designated toxic waste remediation locations) in Michigan to better understand the current scope of the problems.

We have seen recent examples play out over the last year including the Flint water crisis and the discovery of water contamination stemming from a decommissioned Air Force Base in Oscoda. Citizens of Kalamazoo will be well-aware of the Allied Paper Mill / Portage Creek / Kalamazoo River Superfund PCB remediation process that has dominated the environmental consciousness of Kalamazoo and Allegan counties since the early 1990s - not to mention the subsequent Enbridge oil spill.

As alarming as these scenarios have been, the effects and general contamination produced by each could be described as relatively localized, at least in comparison to a 1973 disaster which resulted in the poisoning of the general population (approximately 9 million individuals) of Michigan through compromised dairy products. This is the subject of The Poisoning of Michigan by Joyce Egginton.

Egginton begins by summarizing the broad strokes of the accident, which began at the Michigan Chemical Corporation where a variety of industrial chemicals were produced. Among these were Nutrimaster, an additive for livestock feed which was shown to increase milk production in dairy cows and have other beneficial effects, and Firemaster, a polybrominated biphenyl (a type of chemical very similar to PCBs) that was being used at the time as a top-notch industrial fire-retardant. The chemicals were nearly indistinguishable to the naked eye, and a paper shortage had led to some extremely questionable techniques being implemented to label the 50-pound brown paper bags in which both Nutrimaster and Firemaster were shipped.

The outcome of this unconscionable confluence of circumstances was that in the Spring of 1973 a truck driver delivered several thousand pounds of Firemaster to the largest agricultural feed plant in Michigan where it was unknowingly combined with livestock feed, dispersed to more than 5,000 farms all over the state and fed to a variety of farm animals for nearly a year before being positively identified.

Egginton goes on to discuss in great detail the efforts of a handful of individuals, including a dairy farmer with a chemistry degree, who worked to pinpoint the cause of what followed: cows lost weight precipitously, milk production plummeted, chickens were born with tumors, animals in general refused to eat and perished. Similar outcomes awaited humans who consumed the products produced by those animals to the degree that a measurable decline in the athletic prowess of Michigan sports teams was noted during the years of peak contamination. All of this took place within an atmosphere which Egginton describes as one characterized by bureaucratic denial, industrial indifference, and the isolation of the afflicted.

Even when viewed alongside such well-known environmental disasters as Love Canal, which would be brought to light five years later, the degree of contamination stemming from the accident remains unparalleled in the United States. Occasionally the event is revisited by the media, and the ongoing effects are measured and discussed, but proportional to its impact, it seems to have become a little-known chapter in the environmental and agricultural history of Michigan.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood

Mira loves to "doodle, draw, color, and paint" so her room is filled with vibrant pictures that she created herself.  Her neighborhood, on the other hand, is dull and gray.  Until the day a muralist moved in.  Together the two of them set off to paint the town.

Based on a true story, this picture book is about the East Village neighborhood in San Diego.  It tells the story of a community that Rafael and Candace Lopez brings together and the creation of the Urban Art Trail.  Lopez (who is also the illustrator of the book) along with community leaders, teachers, artists, and residents worked together to turn their neighborhood into a walkable piece of art.  This picture book is an inspiring story with wonderful illustrations that young children will love.

What Should I Read Next?

Full Disclosure: I haven’t read The Grownup by Gillian Flynn yet, but it’s on my list of books to read next. I discovered The Grownup while using our new database, NoveList, to find reading recommendations based on books I love. NoveList is an online resource that makes it easy to find books to read; it offers read-alike recommendations, reading lists, and an “appeal” feature that helps readers determine why they enjoy a book and whether a particular book will fit their style. I looked up my favorite book that I’ve read this year: Mr. Splitfoot, a contemporary gothic novel by Samantha Hunt. It was atmospheric, unsettling, and full of great character development. I wanted more! NoveList gave me list of ten recommendations based on that title, and due to its description, The Grownup appealed to me the most. Why did NoveList recommend The Grownup based on my love of Mr. Splitfoot? According to the recommendation, “These books are Creepy and Compelling, and they share: the genre 'Gothic fiction' and the subject 'Swindlers and swindling'.” All right, I’m sold.

NoveList is accessible with your library card on our website.

School's First Day of School

 Everyone is just a little bit nervous on the first day of school, even the brand-new school building.  “A sign above the door read, FREDERICK DOUGLASS ELEMENTARY.  ‘That’s a good name for me,’ thought the school.”  On this first day, some kids learn about rectangles, some cry, some are bored, some play on the jungle gym.  “So that’s what that is for,’ thought the school.”  Be sure to take a look at this book before school starts . . . School’s First Day of School is a reassuring story about new beginnings for everyone. 


When the Science Industry Goes Wrong

We like to think of science as the most objective, most unbiased, most pristine and humble profession; slowly but surely delivery us a progression of facts and knowledge and theories that explain them. Well, yes and no. Unfortunately science is composed of human beings, people and institutions that suffer the same imperfections, motivations, and errors of judgment. And greed and money (didn't someone say that money is the root of all evil?).

This book is a hoot. The writer not only exposes bad science and - probably more importantly - bad interpretations of science by the media - but he does so in a hilarious, entertaining way that will make you feel less dumb when you're finished. He clearly explains concepts in statistics that most people don't understand.

Oddly, a met a random library user in the stacks last week. She was looking for this book. I said: I'm reading that book! So I (finally) returned the book and let her have it. Enjoy random reader!

Dead Presidents

Dead presidents. That would be all of them except for five. This rather unorthodox and macabre yet sometimes humorous book published in 2016 discusses the circumstances of the presidents' deaths, burials, and legacies. Other than the first chapter, which is about George Washington, author Carlson does not take a chronological approach, but a topical one. Chapter 3 ("The First Patient") is about Garfield, Hoover, and Taylor, and the doctors who kept them alive (and occasionally made them worse). The fifth chapter ("Death Trips") is about the posthumous (yes, that's right) travels of Polk, Monroe, Tyler, and Lincoln. In chapter 8 we read about "Unintended Legacies," the story of how the reputations of Taft, Jackson, and Jefferson have changed over time. For a different way to consider the presidents of the United States, please try this.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

My sister recommended this book to me but I put off reading it for a while. I wish I hadn't waited to read it though. In Octavia Butler's Kindred, published in 1979, African-American woman Dana gets sent back in time from 1976 to the early 19th century. There, she must learn how to survive in the era of slavery until she can get back home. Her white husband, Kevin, also becomes involved in her time travel, so the reader can compare and contrast their experiences. Despite the time travel aspect of the story, it mainly reads as historical fiction. It is an uncomfortable read (the ending was especially unsettling), but that makes it more authentic and worthwhile. The edition that I read includes a critical essay by Robert Crossley at the end which discusses Butler as a black, female author in the historically white, male genre of science fiction, and explains some of the plot points to increase the reader's understanding of the book. I hope this title makes it to your reading list, because it greatly deserves a spot there.


Soon all the books about Jupiter will be out of date and I can't wait! On Monday the Juno mission reached Jupiter. Now we can look forward to new discoveries about this giant of our solar system. When I was in third grade, my father brought the family telescope to school for an evening event where we all had the opportunity to see Jupiter, and some of its moons, through the eyepiece. A home-built six-inch reflector telescope is enough to see what Galileo so famously observed: a tiny dot of light with a few even tinier dots nearby. Those tiny dots were a few of Jupiter's moons. It was about that time that the Voyager probes began to deliver spectacular much-closer-up images of the outer planets and their satellites. And, of course, all the books about the planets became woefully out of date. So get ready, publishers. We're looking forward to updating the books about our outer solar system with new and up to date materials!


King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England

At some point in a semi-recent reading of Dan Jones’ The Wars of the Roses, it occurred to me that almost everything I knew about King John of England had been gathered from films, from the timeless The Lion in Winter to the marginally enjoyable Ridley Scott adaptation of Robin Hood. Naturally, I was pleased when I saw Marc Morris’ recent biography of King John appear on our shelves. Morris, an historian who studied and taught history at the Universities of London and Oxford, is the author of the very well-received A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain and Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England.

The broad strokes of John’s life are fairly well-known to many: he took part in a wide variety of power struggles within his immediate family, earning himself a reputation as an attempted usurper, orchestrated the murder of his nephew and rival, quarreled with the Pope, was excommunicated from the Church, lost all his inherited lands in continental Europe, heavily taxed his barons resulting in his forced signing of the Magna Carta, and upon his death, left England in a state of upheaval. Certainly, the details of such a life warrant closer examination and King John’s life has been the subject of numerous efforts by historians, many of whom see in him an ambitious and able-bodied administrator whose reputation has been tarnished by both his contemporary chroniclers and those who have come since.

Morris’s assessment of the life and legacy of King John is less glowing, however. He describes him as deficient in matters of both military and political, and states, “Besides his reputation for treachery, John lacked boldness.” Additionally, he makes it plain that John seemed to have a tendency towards cruelty and argues that authors of primary sources concerning his life who claimed as much certainly had plenty of source material from which to draw their criticisms.

In addition to what I would consider a fair treatment of King John, I was also pleased to find thought-provoking depictions of his family, friends, and rivals. Even among such colorful characters as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II, and Richard the Lionheart, the one who stood out the most in my mind was Philip II, called Philip Augustus, of France. The delicate relationship between the two monarchs, frequently cooperative, but ultimately antagonistic, constituted a turning point in European geopolitics that I’m sure I had never properly appreciated before and is handled with great precision here.