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Staff Picks: Books

Crusade for Justice

The Google Doodle that marks Ida B. Wells’ 153rd birthday today begins by reporting that the American journalist was a voracious reader, consuming all of Shakespeare and Dickens before she turned twenty. As a journalist and newspaper editor she was a prolific writer and truth teller even in the face of racial inequality and mob violence. When thugs destroyed her printing press because they opposed her newspaper’s message against segregation, Wells kept on. 

The library has several biographies of Ida B. Wells along with her memoir, Crusade for Justice. Wells was married to fellow journalist Ferdinand L. Barnett who went on to practice law and became the first black state's attorney in Illinois. Their daughter, Alfreda M. Duster, edited Crusade for Justice. At its publication in 1970, Elizabeth Kolmer wrote: "Besides being the story of an incredibly courageous and outspoken black woman in the face of innumerable odds, the book is a valuable contribution to the social history of the United States and to the literature of the women's movement as well."


The Magic Mirror

Kamara had a hard day at school. One of the boys called her names and used some nasty words talking about her. The one bright spot is that she is on her way to gramma’s house. Kamara knew that gramma would make her feel better. And gramma did. Gramma sent Kamara to clean the mirror upstairs. It was a mirror that had been passed down from her great grandmother to her grandmother and it turned out to be a magic mirror. When Kamara started rubbing the mirror she saw another young girl’s eyes staring back at her.  Through the eyes of women throughout the past centuries Kamara was able to see the violence, hatred and poverty that women of color have faced throughout history. Through it Kamara sees humiliation and determination. She sees pride, beauty and courage.  

There is a lot of history in this very small book. In The Magic Mirror Zetta Elliott does an amazing job of teaching history and courage. She sends the message to young girls that they are not alone.


At the Water's Edge

This new title by Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants, is another well written period novel, this time World War II in a small village in the Scottish Highlands.

It is a love story, an examination of the impact of war on a naïve young woman, the search for the Loch Ness monster, and a husband’s spiral into self-deception. At times the story is quite believable, others times it is a stretch. I did keep reading to the end though.

I consider this a good beach read, better than many of that unofficial genre.

 


Happy Loving Day

Today marks the 48th anniversary of legal protection for interracial families and their right to marry throughout the nation. The landmark case, Loving V. Virginia (1967) and the story behind it, has recently been transformed into an illustrated children's book called The Case for Loving: the fight for interracial marriage. Sound interesting? Check out the HBO-produced documentary about this significant legal case and its historical importance.


First Ladies

One of my fields of study in addition to librarianship has been political science, so it naturally follows that I would be an eager viewer of C-SPAN. In fact, I have been known to watch Senate hearings at 3:30 a.m. The program on which this 2015 book is based, though, comes on at the more reasonable time of 8:00 p.m. on Sunday evenings. Susan Swain, the moderator of C-SPAN's series on first ladies of the United States, is in my opinion one of the finest interviewers on TV. In this book she has compiled material from the series that originally ran in 2013 and 2014 and is now being replayed. The result of her efforts is, under one cover, an absolute treasure of information and little-known facts about the presidents' spouses, and by extension, the presidents themselves, their families, and events concurrent with their time in the White House.


A graphic novel telling the true life story about Nat Love

A publisher friend asked Nat Love to write his story. He lived an interesting life at an important time in American history. He was born a slave but was fortunate enough to be on a plantation where he was treated kindly. It was well after the war when his family found out they were free but, farm life was tough and they all had to pull together to make a living. Everyone had to do their part. That’s when Nat started wrangling. He became a cowpuncher, learned to shoot and became a real cowboy. 

 
This was easy reading and the graphic novel version was an interesting way to tell a true story. I enjoyed it.

 

 


Last Call: Prohibition in Kalamazoo a Century Ago

On May 1st, 1915 — exactly 100 years ago today, Kalamazoo “went dry,” closing the doors on all of the saloons, bars, clubs and other public drinking establishments throughout the county. During the April 5th election that year, Kalamazoo voters had turned out in strong support of the “local option,” which would make it illegal to sell or manufacture distilled liquor, beer and wine after May 1st.

With little in the way of last-minute fanfare and without a single reported incident of public drunkenness, 65 local establishments cleared their shelves, drained their kegs, and closed their doors in order to meet the midnight, April 30 deadline. This included 39 saloons in the city of Kalamazoo, along with a handful of others in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg, plus the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, the last in Kalamazoo’s long line of pre-Prohibition brewers and distillers.

But Kalamazoo wasn’t the first county in the state to ban liquor sales. Anti-liquor sentiment had been “brewing” in Michigan since before the Civil War. Van Buren County led the way when it went dry in 1907, and by 1911, 39 counties had adopted local ordinances against alcohol. Michigan became the first state in the nation to go “dry” with a statewide ban on liquor sales in 1918, more than a year ahead of the nationwide federal ban on alcohol sales and consumption, the Eighteenth Amendment.

Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, April 6, 1915

This all came to an end in December 1933 with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment and the repeal of Prohibition, but the effects of the prohibition movement lingered for decades. Kalamazoo restaurants were prohibited from selling liquor by the glass until 1964, and the sale of liquor before noon on Sunday was still against the law until 2011.

Now, of course, Kalamazoo has a thriving batch of craft brewers and distillers, and has since earned a solid reputation among beer lovers nationwide. So celebrate... check out The Michigan Beer Film, take a tour of Kalamazoo's beer culture with West Michigan Beer Tours, or earn your degree in sustainable craft brewing from the new KVCC-WMU joint venture. How things have changed. Cheers!


Remembering Ivan Doig

Ivan Doig has been one of my favorite writers since I first discovered his books 10-15 years ago. I was sad to read he passed away earlier this month.

Doig wrote primarily of the western landscape and people, usually with a Montana setting where he was born in 1939 and grew up, often accompanying his father on ranch jobs along the Rocky Mountain Front. His use of language, development of the characters, and description of the land stayed with me long after I’d finished each book.

He wrote both fiction and nonfiction; three Montana novels – English Creek, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, and Ride With Me Mariah Montana, form a trilogy covering the first century of Montana’s statehood from 1889 to 1989.

Tributes to him mention his final book to be published later this year: Last Bus to Wisdom. I’ll be watching our new books for it and in the meantime plan to reread some of my favorites.


Siege Winter

I am a fan of historical fiction, so when Ariana Franklin’s newest title Siege Winter arrived, I looked forward to reading it. And with good reason, as it turns out.

The story takes place in 12th century England, around 1140, when King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, are fighting over control of the country. Their armies and supporters battle it out, and a castle located on the Thames is considered to be a strategic location for both Stephen and Matilda. The castle, Kenilworth, belongs to 15 year old Maud, married against her wishes to a much older man. The story revolves around a long, brutal winter of siege, when mercenaries, soldiers, and a truly evil monk all scheme to achieve their own ends.

Sadly, author Ariana Franklin died while writing Siege Winter; the book was completed by her daughter. Franklin is also the author of a wonderful series set in medieval Cambridge, where an Italian woman doctor acts as a sort of medical sleuth. The first in that series is Mistress of the Art of Death, and I highly recommend that series.


How We Got to Now

This 2014 book by Steven Johnson is subtitled Six Innovations That Made the Modern World. Those six are each described in chapters which are entitled glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. Various inventions are recalled under each heading. For example, the chapter on cold discusses the development of refrigeration and the chapter on clean covers advances in public health. The illustrations and photographs by themselves make this book worthy of examination. One of my favorites is the reproduction of the old Clorox ad on page 153. Available in four formats: e-book, digital audiobook, compact disc, and print.