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Staff Picks: Books

What Is Hip-Hop?

I absolutely LOVE THIS BOOK!  Beautifully written in rhyme, it provides younger children with a great introduction to the history of Hip Hop music.  Anny Yi's amazing 3-D clay art form kept me laughing all the way through.  From DJ Cool Herc to LL Cool J, Flava Flav to De La Soul, Salt-N-Pepa to Eminem… I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and seeing all the Hip Hop artists represented.  Anyone who grew up on Hip Hop will want to read this picture book.  Listen here to author Eric Morse as he talks about his exposure to Hip Hop music and writing this wonderful book.  

 


The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, Literary Treasures

I find it hard to believe that it has been 26 years since the Kalamazoo Public Library gave up its card catalog in favor of an online catalog. This means that a fairly large segment of the population has no memory of this iconic entity. As do a few others on the staff here at the library, I remember well the days of walking to the card catalog from the desk to determine whether we owned a certain book or not. While I would never want to return to this method of library service, I did enjoy looking at this 2017 book produced by the Library of Congress. In it are five chapters: 1) Origins of the Card Catalog, 2) The Enlightened Catalog, 3) Constructing a Catalog, 4) The Nation's Library and Catalog, and 5) The Rise and Fall of the Card Catalog. There are lots of illustrations, not only of the furniture, but also individual cards as well as photographs of original book jackets to go along with the cards depicted. I loved seeing covers of books such as those for To Kill a Mockingbird, The Cat in the Hat, Charlotte's Web, The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many others. This book evokes nostalgia for the past as well as gratitude for the present.


Chatham, Chicago, Segregation, and Gentrification

The content, issues, and stories in this book make it a must read. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn't get into the writing style, the flow, and the speed of the book. Hopefully you have a different experience.

Among the many things brought to light in this book, the Black middle class neighborhood of Chatham looms large. The author, a correspondent for NPR, grew up there. It's important to remember that, while the effects of segregation have been catastrophic for Black families as a whole, there are many different ways of "growing up Black" in America. Chatham is different from Harlem which is different from Baltimore.

If you read this book, then you must read The Color of Law, a more general book about the same issues.


Stephanie

Susan Faludi, a feminist writer probably most famous for writing Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women, has a new book exploring her family’s history titled In the Darkroom. It begins when she is contacted by her father from whom she has been long estranged and he informs her that he is now Stephanie, having gone through sex reassignment surgery. As they renew their relationship, Faludi takes you on a fascinating journey into her father’s identity and the idea of identity itself. 

 
She explores her father’s history as a photographer, adept at manufacturing and manipulating images and weaves this into the many changes her father has gone through in life. Then she layers on top of that the history of Hungary, her father’s homeland and current place of residence, which she reveals to be a most willing accomplice in the extermination of Jews during World War II. This was the back drop for her Jewish father’s early years in Hungary before emigrating to the United States. 

 
It seems like a mystery novel with Faludi as the detective, turning up clues and illuminating her father’s story.


Take a picture of me, James VanDerZee!

Years ago when I worked in archives, I would spend hours and hours looking through photos taken during the Harlem Renaissance era.  Most of those photos were taken by James VanDerZee, a brilliant African American photographer who had the ability to capture the true essence of his subjects.

VanDerZee was born in Lennox, Massachusetts in 1886.  As a young boy, he fell in love with "a huge contraption called a camera" and immediately taught himself how to take photos and develop the film in his own closet darkroom.  At 18, he moved to New York City when the Harlem Renaissance was beginning. After working several jobs, VanDerZee opened his own photography studio and began his journey photographing everyone and everything.  His photos were so well-produced, his services were in high demand for the next 60 plus years.

Andrea J. Loney introduces young readers to this amazing man in this well-written and illustrated biography picture book.  I recommend it for family reading.

 


A Flag Worth Dying For

Some time ago I wrote in this space about the book Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Explain Everything about the World. Now comes author Tim Marshall with another book. This one is called A Flag Worth Dying For: The Power and Politics of National Symbols. In nine chapters Marshall gives histories of many of the world’s flags as well as anecdotes that make these histories interesting. I especially appreciated the color flag illustrations, particularly those of the many new countries that have evolved in the last quarter century. More than detailed accounts, these chapters analyze the symbolism and emotional impact the sight of a flag has on those who view it. According to Geographical magazine, ‘This might be the comprehensive flag volume we’ve all been waiting for – a slick yet detailed and well-researched journey through some of the world’s most infamous and interesting flags. Marshall guides us through this myriad of stories admirably.’

 


Yellowstone

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I won’t be making the trip to Yellowstone National Park anytime soon. But, I can celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (albeit a few months late) with the help of this book. Subtitled A Journey through America’s Wild Heart, one finds herein a short history of the park; however, author David Quammen’s purpose in writing this book is to describe the park as it exists today. One would expect to find great photography in a publication from the National Geographic Society, and this work is no exception. The unconventional size (7” tall x 10” wide) adds to the uniqueness of this volume. For a good survey of life in today’s Yellowstone, take a look at this.


All the Wild that Remains

On my vacation trip to Utah this year, I brought along All the Wild that Remains by David Gessner. Gessner is a creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and is well known for his nature writing. Although he is a New Englander, he fell in love with the West and two revered and influential writers: Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, during some time he spent there in his 20s.


In All the Wild that Remains, Gessner travels around the West to important places in Stegner’s and Abbey’s lives; sometimes interviewing old friends of theirs, and commenting on these writers’ legacies and what they taught us about living in the West.

 
Stegner, my favorite author, spent some of his formative years in Salt Lake City and chose to have his papers archived at the University of Utah rather than Stanford where he founded and led an outstanding writing program that boasts a long line of famous attendees such as: Larry McMurtry, Wendell Berry, Ken Kesey, Robert Stone, and our other featured author, Edward Abbey. Stegner fought to preserve the wild places of the West in many ways and is best remembered in environmental circles for what is called the Wilderness Letter, which was influential in creating the National Wilderness Preservation System.


Abbey lived a wilder life and his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, was the inspiration for the creation of the environmental organization Earth First!. Many agree that his masterpiece though is the autobiographical Desert Solitaire that Abbey wrote about his time as a park ranger in Arches National Park. Unable to attend Abbey’s funeral celebration in southern Utah, Stegner sent these words for Wendell Berry to read, "He had the zeal of a true believer and a stinger like a scorpion . . . He was a red-hot moment in the life of the country, and I suspect that the half-life of his intransigence will be like that of uranium."


If you haven’t heard of either of these authors, it wouldn’t be that surprising. They were characterized as Western authors and therefore, somewhat ignored by the East Coast literati, much to Stegner’s chagrin. Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Angle of Repose wasn’t even reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. 


But now you know about them, so add them to your reading lists.


Everyone Brave is Forgiven

I first fell in love with Chris Cleave’s writing in Little Bee, and when I read this novel set during World War II, I fell in love all over again. But as with a person, it can be hard to pinpoint what about a book makes you fall in love, particularly when the book depicts so many horrors of war.

I recently reread Everyone Brave is Forgiven to try to figure it out, and I think what most draws me to Cleave’s writing is that his characters are so full of heart and spirit that even bleak events (or the telling of them) seem to have redeeming value.

Cleave’s descriptions and dialog are vibrant and often humorous, and his writing is masterfully paced, playing with the way time can elapse very slowly and then without warning stand still on a sudden dramatic event. It’s quite a balancing act and evokes the precarious experience of going through daily life under the constant threat of bombing.

This is a story of suffering and tragedy, but paradoxically, the message I take away from it is of survival, redemption, bravery, and love.


Kizzy Anne Stamps is an excellent story

Virginia schools are integrating and Kizzy Anne Stamps is about to start a new school. Although, Kizzy is strong willed and stubborn she’s nervous about attending school with white kids. Her old-school teacher suggested she become acquainted with her new teacher so Kizzy started writing her letters. She told Mrs. Anderson all about herself, her dreams and her struggles.

This is a great story about a little girl and her border collie dog, Shag. She had a lot of challenges but she met them with strength, kindness and humor.