Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
If you grew up to the music of the ’60s or grew up in Detroit or both, you are likely to relate to Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.
The question asked is… can a song change a nation? In 1964 “Dancing in the Street” was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA by Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves arranged her own vocals and the song was released with the expectation it would be an upbeat dance song.
Ultimately it became a sort of anthem for the summer of 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, Vietnam War, free speech movement, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The song took on a new meaning for many and was eventually recorded by more than 30 artists or groups.
A good dance song or an activist anthem for the changing times…. either way, this is an interesting look at the mid-1960s.
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
If you’re interested in American guitar history, you’ll want to explore this comprehensive new work about C.F. Martin and his contemporaries’ early technical developments in guitar design and manufacture. In a relatively short period of time before 1865, C.F. Martin and other builders developed and incorporated significant refinements, most notably an X-braced top capable of withstanding the higher string tension to which a steel-stringed guitar would be subjected. While Martin may or may not have invented X-bracing, his guitars were to the first to exploit this bracing system on a large scale.
Of course, folks in Kalamazoo get pretty excited about that other well-known granddaddy of the American guitar, Orville Gibson, who famously applied violin building techniques to mandolins and guitars. Arched-top mandolins and guitars? Yep, invented right here in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is rightly proud of the stack and factory on Parsons Street where luminaries such as Lloyd Loar, Thaddeus McHugh, Ted McCarty, and others ran with Orville’s early ideas and made industrial design and musical instrument history.
From a business history standpoint, these two icons of American guitar manufacture are very different. Orville Gibson sold his nascent business and patent to a small group of Kalamazoo industrialists in 1902. Gibson Guitar relocated its headquarters to Nashville in 1981. The Heritage Guitar Company continues to build in the Parsons Street building today. C.F. Martin & Company, still located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, remains a family owned business more than 175 years later.
Your Kalamazoo Public Library has lots of great books on guitar history. This new work is definitely worth checking out. I like it because it focuses on little-known technical history before the American Civil War – no dreadnaughts to be found here. The full color plates of many of the very earliest C.F. Martin instruments in this large format book are truly gorgeous to behold.
Inventing the American Guitar
As librarians we frequently recommend books, music, and films to our patrons, but sometimes this goes the other way and our patrons suggest library materials to the librarians. This happened to me recently when a loyal KPL patron brought me this book and told me it might appeal to my interests. He was right. This 2013 title by Chris West uses a unique concept in that it covers the dual subjects of British postage stamps and British history. Mr. West takes 36 stamps and in a few pages gives a summary of the history behind the subject of each one. Topics include the coronation of Elizabeth II, the 800th anniversary of Ely Cathedral, and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One can read any or all of the 36 chapters. The color illustrations of the stamps are beautiful and really enhance the impact this book makes.
History of Britain in thirty-six postage stamps
If you've been looking at the KPL Staff Best of 2013 lists, you've no doubt found something new that you hadn't seen before. For me, this years' big surprise was volume 1 of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree, released in book form just last week- just in time to make it on my end-of-year list! Collected from nearly two years' worth of serialized strips on the weird tech/culture blog Boing Boing, Hip Hop Family Tree takes it way, way back to the formative years of hip hop. Starting with DJ Kool Herc spinning records at a local rec center in the South Bronx in the mid-70s and ending with the mainstream hip hop explosion of 1981, Hip Hop Family Tree covers a ton of ground in only a few years. Visually it's a treat as well, done in a yellowish, pulp comics look that wouldn't feel out of place next to a newsstand copy of X-Men in Times Square in 1979. Raw yet painstakingly researched, Hip Hop Family Tree is an essential read for hip hop fans. Ch-ch-check it out!
Hip Hop Family Tree
I was born in Washington D.C. four days after JFK was killed. As a result I always felt an affinity for, and curiosity about, Kennedy.
I was especially moved when my father and I had the chance to visit the 6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. We went to Dallas together on the last major trip my father took before he died. We watched TV clips of pivotal moments in Kennedy’s presidency. We looked out of the window from which the shots were fired, onto the white painted “X” on Elm Street marking the spot where Kennedy was struck dead. Dad told me about how he felt, living in D.C., expecting a new baby to the family, while memorial events for the fallen president were taking place.
After the museum, Dad and I went for dinner at a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby. As we were finally leaving downtown, we got a little turned around and drove down a few different streets before finding the exit onto the freeway. I felt chills when I realized-- just as we were clearly headed in the right direction-- that I was driving right over the fatal spot, the painted “X” on Elm Street.
As the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches, you may wish to revisit that time, explore something new about Kennedy’s administration or ponder the controversies surrounding his death. We’ve got so much you can read, view and hear.
Where were you? America Remembers the JFK Assassination
Detroit has been in the news a lot lately, and there hasn't been much good reported. But, for a different view, I invite examination of this book that we received in the History Room within the last year. From the Wayne State University Press comes this beautifully crafted volume that documents the houses of worship of the various denominational groups in the city. The survey begins in 1848 and comes all the way down to the middle of the twentieth century. There are nice maps, close-ups of the stained glass and organs, views of the exteriors, and views of the interiors that sometimes even include the ceiling. I like the photo of the optimistic sign in front of the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church which says, "GIVE THANKS ... It could be worse."
Detroit's historic places of worship
Do you ever listen to “StoryCorps” on NPR? Here it Kalamazoo, it airs on Friday mornings and I’m frequently within listening range as I’m getting ready for work. I’ve read several of the books that Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorp, has put together from transcripts of some of the recordings.
This new one, Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps, is a treasure. The very short, very personal stories are all good reminders of how we are connected to each other and how those connections bind us together in so many interesting ways.
Ties That Bind Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of StoryCorps
Are you interested in modern art, but don’t know quite what to make of it? Do you just keep your mouth shut, because you don’t want to come across as stupid? Do you wish you had taken the time to take the Art Appreciation class in college instead of rushing through, taking only classes that fulfilled degree requirements?
Well, What Are You Looking At? by Will Gompertz can help you out a bit in all three of these cases. Gompertz was the director of London’s Tate Gallery and is now the BBC Arts Editor. He introduces you to dozens of artists and art movements from Impressionism up to the present, showing how each fed off those that came before and often were rebellions against the ideas of the earlier artists. My favorite part was a fun story about Robert Rauschenberg asking Willem de Kooning for a drawing so he could erase it. It’s interesting how many of the names that we use to categorize different movements were taken from derogatory reviews of their work.
The book includes some color plates of art work in the middle as well as some black and white images sprinkled throughout the text, but you will find yourself searching the internet for many of the works of art that are discussed, but not depicted. You will want to see what he is talking about and you might find yourself making your own explorations online.
This is a really easy to read and fun introduction to modern art.
What Are You Looking At?
1. The Tolstoy Connection: After reading The Kingdom of God is Within You, he admired the late Leo Tolstoy who became a radical Christian of non-violence and love. Indeed, Gandhi started a community that was named after Tolstoy. Gandhi also read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and was very interested in the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.
2. He was obsessed with making clothes. Not only to be self-reliant, but as a way to free India from the British textile industry.
3. He had a guilt-complex about sex. Imagine the very young Gandhi at his father’s death bed. Lust, he says, pulled him away to his 13-year-old wife. His father dies as he indulges the pleasures of the flesh. He was not there at the most important, most sacred moment of his father’s life. This haunts him his entire life. Of course this doesn’t fully explain why he took an oath of celibacy (apparently his wife was okay with that), or why he would sleep next to young women simply to “test” his faith, or why he abstained from alcohol, drugs, fancy dress, fancy food, fancy everything. It was a religious virtue for him, a tradition he got from the Gita and the Gospels. He loved disciplining his body; fasting made him giddy.
4. He was a Christian. Well, actually he was a Hindu, Christian, Moslem, Jew, etc—a religious pluralist. “The Sermon on the Mount went straight to my heart,” he said. But he was very partial to the teachings of Jesus, so much so that his fellow Hindus would accuse him of being a secret Christian (they were missing the whole point obviously). In the mud hut he lived in, he had one thing on the wall: a picture of Jesus that said “He is our Peace.”
5. At times, he was not a very good husband and father. A lot of this has to do with the fact that he was forced to marry at a very young age. He was controlling, jealous, and cruel. He left his family for long periods of time, both for professional and spiritual pursuits (many religious figures have this issue unfortunately). He was a task-master, raised the bar way too high for his sons, and treated them just like everybody else in terms of affection. His eldest son became a drunk that would slander his father in the papers. Yet he loved them all, just as he loved all Indians, all people. Just as he even loved the person who shot him in the chest three times, as he gasped his last breath: “Oh, God.”
And that’s the whole point of Gandhi; it's not about the flaws and pecedillos, it’s what you already know about Gandhi. Like Jesus, Mother Theresa, and St. Francis of Assisi, he really loved people as much as he possibly could. That's his legacy.
Gandhi the man, his people, and the empire
For all those Malcolm Gladwell fans out there (which seems to be everyone considering how long his books have been on the bestseller list), you will be happy to know that he has a new book coming out on October 1st. In David and Goliath, Gladwell examines the lives of individual and team underdogs, illustrating how some disadvantages may lead to advantages in the long run and vice versa.
We already have many copies on order so you can put it on hold today.
David and Goliath