Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

You Are Where You Eat

My sister-in-law is a New Orleans native and a fabulous cook. Recently, she sent me the book, You Are Where you Eat: Stories and Recipes from the Neighborhoods of New Orleans, by Elsa Hahne. This she did without realizing that Ms. Hahne will be here at Kalamazoo Public Library, on January 28, to talk about her book. What a coincidence!

My sister-in-law’s note that accompanied her gift describes the book better than I could, so here’s a quote from Gabrielle: “I received a copy of You Are Where You Eat for Christmas. I read it from cover to cover, completely fascinated by the cultural and culinary patchwork that is New Orleans---something I always knew of course, but didn’t necessarily appreciate. This is a writer’s book as well as a cook’s book, a book for people who appreciate anthropology, sociology, and community.” 

The thirty-three multi-ethnic home cooks featured in this book share their stories, recipes and enthusiasm for their food and their city. I hope you’ll check out the book and join us on January 28 at Central Library. Ms. Hahne’s appearance is in support of the exhibit, “Spared from the Storm: Masterworks from the New Orleans Museum of Art” at the KIA through February 8.


You Are Where You Eat

Who Won Kalamazoo's Caldecott Award?

Last night we conducted our Mock Caldecott with Ed Spicer, an official member of the 2008 Caldecott Committee.  Ed has done many programs around the Kalamazoo area in the past couple of months (including two here at the Kalamazoo Public Library) where he introduced new books that were eligible for the Caldecott Award given to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  From votes taken during these programs, he developed a short list of books that we discussed last night and voted on.  Congratulations goes to local photographer, Nic Bishop, for his book Frogs!  (Nic being from Kalamazoo didn't bias us at all.)  Ed explained how the actual Caldecott Committee might have to vote multiple times as they narrow it down to one book and up to four honor books. 

Ed Spicer with mock Caledcott committee

After three votes of our own, we chose the winner and two honor books:

The House in the Night illustrated by Susan Marie Swanson

Wabi Sabi illustrated by Ed Young

Now we just have to wait until late January 2009 when they announce the actual Caldecott winner to see how we did.  If Nic Bishop were to win the Caldecott, it would be a historic event since it would be the first time that a book with photographs won the award.  Good luck, Nic!

Let us know who you think is the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children in 2008.


Steve S

Community Capitalism: Lessons from Kalamazoo and Beyond

How has Kalamazoo responded to its economic challenges? Author Ron Kitchens has written an informative book which answers this question and more. Community Capitalism: Lessons from Kalamazoo and Beyond, written with Daniel Gross and Heather Smith, begins with a brief history of Kalamazoo's economy and then proceeds to discuss how the community has responded. He defines what community capitalism is and identifies its five key areas.

Individual chapters are devoted to each key area and include compelling case histories, statistics, and examples. The authors provide a critical perspective of a forward-thinking community searching for unique innovative solutions. Read this book and find out about the Southwest Michigan First Life Science Fund, "the largest sum of private capital ever to be raised and managed by an economic development organization". It is impressive and this community is the only place in the country to have it. I was fascinated with all the community information this book contains and it is a fast read. I learned so much!

Ron Kitchens and Heather Smith will be speaking about their book here at the Library Thursday November 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the VanDeusen Room. It will be an exciting program with informative discussion. Come and join us! 


Community Capitalism: Lessons from Kalamazoo and Beyond

It's Not Easy Being Green

Kermit the Frog once sang that it wasn't easy being green, spending each day the color of the leaves.  Well, I would venture to say that is true in our society as well--it isn't easy being "green" doing all the recycling, conserving, reusing, etc.  There is even a software out now that says it "eliminates unwated pages saving paper, ink, money, and millions of trees".

How else are we saving trees?  In Douglas Tallamy's book Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens the question is raised about our habits unrelated to recycling the trash.  What do we plant that will sustain our environment?  Do we plant non-native species that attract destroying insects?  Or, do we plant things that will create a strong ecosystem in Michigan?  Doug states; "Only 15 percent of the Amazonian basin has been logged, whereas well over 70 percent of the forests along our eastern seaboard are gone" (25).  That seems to possibly prompt us to a rethinking of priorities.  As I drag my yellow recycle bin to the curb every week, am I passing a smooth carpet of green grass (where most of the watering we do is run-off) or am I passing some flowers designed by nature to encourage bird and insect life?

These are the ideas Tallamy presents in his book.  While many of the plants and grasses he promotes aren't as pretty as those wild pink hybird coneflowers showing off in the garden next to the Japanese Beetle attracting zinnias, they are made to work in collaboration with other things found naturally in Michigan.  Ever wonder where all the birds in your backyard went?  Take a look around and see what might keep them there--do they have natural shelter to dwell in and a plethora of insects to feast on?  If the answer is no, then you might consider upping your "green-ness". 

NOTE:  Doug Tallamy will speak at a free, day-long conference held on October 11, 2008 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center and sponsored by Kalamazoo's Wild Ones


Bringing Nature Home:  How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens

Who's Your City?

Richard Florida, Mr. Cool Cities himself, has done it again. This time, he’s telling us that where we choose to live may be the most important decision we make. In Who’s Your City: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life, Florida says that where we live affects every other aspect of our lives – our friends, our mates, our careers, our happiness.

Florida says what really drives global economy are what he calls “mega-regions” and these mega-regions can be characterized by distinct economic specialties and even personalities. How to be happy? Find a mega-region that's compatible with your skills, interests and your own personality.

The book offers a number of charts ranking cities large and small according to how happy you’re likely to be living there given certain life stages. For singles age 20-29, Kalamazoo-Portage ranked 77 out of 167. It ranked lower for professionals age 29-44 (120), families with children (128), empty-nesters (100) and retirees (142). Just for comparison, here are rankings for Ann Arbor: singles (20), professionals (105), families with children 84, empty-nesters (72) and retirees (70).

What I find a bit humorous is the discussion of geographic clustering of personality traits. Turns out, the following personality characteristics are not distributed evenly from city to city: Extroverted People, Agreeable People, Neurotic People, Conscientious People and Open to Experience People. Instead, some areas have more neurotic people than others. New York City, for instance, is the epicenter for neurotic people. You might be wondering how this region fared in the survey. According to the maps, we rated fairly high in extroverted and conscientious people and had a touch of neurotic. We didn’t rank so high for the agreeable or open to experience factors.

Check it out. The personality cluster maps alone will make good conversation with your extroverted, conscientious and slightly neurotic friends.


What City Are You?

Reading Mohicans in Kalamazoo

Fenimore Avenue, Cooper Avenue,  Oak Openings… around Kalamazoo you can find, if you know what to look for, evidence that a certain famous writer was once much admired here, though mostly forgotten now.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) best-known for The Last of the Mohicans, often came to Kalamazoo to visit his niece (married to Horace Comstock) and even owned property here. One of Cooper’s last works was Oak Openings, with the Village of Schoolcraft and the Kalamazoo River as its setting.

Cooper’s works have been in and out of favor—mostly out—since the 1840s. Mark Twain’s scathing reviews in the 1890s practically buried him. But I’m finding that The Pathfinder, with its exciting adventures on Lake Ontario, is a thumping good read, and a new biography by Wayne Franklin is said to “restore Cooper to his rightful place in American literature.”

For more information about Cooper’s place in Kalamazoo history, visit our Local History Room at Central.

To learn more about Cooper's life and works, visit the webpages of the James Fenimore Cooper Society , or watch the video archives of C-Span's American Writers segment about him.


The Leatherstocking Tales

Where the Wild Things Are: Right Here

Tom Springer doesn’t understand why folks feel the need to go up north to experience wildness. And he's right. It’s all around us in Southwest Michigan. All we need to do is take some time and look around.

Tom’s new book, Looking for Hickories: The Forgotten Wildness of the Rural Midwest, is a collection of essays celebrating wild things in and around this part of the world —  from the satisfaction of gathering berries to the restorative experience of wading down a river. Billing his July 15 program as the “Smell the Wood Tour,” Tom passed around pieces of wood cut from trees found in the area — burr oak, cherry, hickory, osage orange and walnut — so we could appreciate each specimen's characteristic beauty and fragrance.

Tom was joined by artist Lad Hanka who illustrated the book. For the program, they brought along some tasty samples of foodstuffs made from wild things: serviceberry jam, maple syrup and sassafras tonic.


Looking for Hickories


It's 1946 and a young college graduate leaves home to earn money and accepts a job with the Greyhound Bus line. She becomes a company spy. Margean Worst is hired to ride the buses throughout Michigan and beyond and report on the activities of the bus drivers. She poses as a passenger and reports on the drivers honesty and equipment handling. The talks of the hotels she stays in, her roommates, costs of meals and the weather. She has to make sure she doesn't ride with the same driver and is recognized. She makes good money for the time but faces fatigue and loneliness. Margean Gladysz is A Spy on the Bus.

Margean grew up in Galesburg and still works at the Kalamazoo Public Library.


A Spy on the Bus
Joanna L

Go Guides!

Here’s a plug for the topic guides on the new KPL website. During my first post-launch visit to the site, I found that the highlighted topic guide was “Parenting.” I took a look and realized that the guide will be useful for a local committee I’m serving on.

Today I distributed copies of the Parenting guide to the group.  They were impressed to see such a variety of resources gathered together… …KPL catalog headings and website topics, books recommended by staffdatabasesnewspapers and magazinescommunity resources and websites.

The committee includes some early childhood development experts and educators, and they offered some suggestions for additional resources we could add. I’m glad the new website will be interactive so users of the topic guides can help us make them even better!


mother reading while child jumps on bed

Crimes of the Sarahs by Kristen Tracy

The Sarahs are the most exclusive group of teenage girls in Kalamazoo. The four occupy their time by committing petty crimes throughout the city, even stealing a book from KPL! Sarah T is constantly in fear of being booted out of the clique. When she screws up trying to steal a donation jar her place in the Sarahs is less solid. 

Anyone living or familiar with Kalamazoo will love reading about the Sarahs. The author Kristen Tracy lived in Kalamazoo for years and even taught at Western Michigan University. She references tons of real places in the book. My personal favorite is the character named Kevin King!


The Crimes of the Sarahs
Kevin King
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