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Staff Picks: Books

Oddball Michigan

The subtitle of Oddball Michigan is A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. I take issue with the contention that the 450 attractions covered are 'really strange,' although I must say the Kalamazoo-area ones would probably qualify. I immediately turned to the local section and found the sites where Elvis was supposedly seen -- years after his death. The other Kalamazoo venue is the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, listed because it was on this facility's parking lot that comedian Tim Allen was arrested by the Michigan State Police for trying to sell 1.4 pounds of cocaine. Among the other West Michigan sites included are the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Bear Cave in Buchanan, and the WZZM-TV Weatherball in Grand Rapids. For locations that open and close, further information is given -- phone, hours, cost, website, and directions.

 


Tibetan Peach Pie

It is hard to believe that the iconic counter-culture writer Tom Robbins is now an octogenarian. Yet reading his rollicking new memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie, leaves little doubt that it has been a suitably wild and unconventional 82 years. Fans of Robbins, a writer who can eke out more sheer fun and joy in a single sentence than many writers can manage in their whole career, this is a must read. For those unfamiliar with Robbins, it’s never too late to love this guy, but I might suggest that you start with some of his better known novels - Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, Even Cowgirls get the Blues, etc. – and then circle back to get the full story on Robbins.


Chickens in the Road

This Spring I read Farm City by Novella Carpenter, one of two titles that were picked for the “Reading Together” program that the library sponsors with several other organizations in the community. The book was thoroughly enjoyable and told of the author’s attempt to become an “urban farmer,” as she lived in downtown Oakland, California. Since I liked this topic so much I decided to seek out other books where people are doing the same in going back to the land and becoming self-sustaining.

My next choice was a book entitled Chickens in the Road by Suzanne McMinn. The author was previously a romance writer who after a divorce moved with her three children to rural West Virginia where some of her other relatives had lived and she had visited the area many times growing up. She depicts her struggle in adjusting to being a full time farm owner where everything she raised, crops and animals, were either eaten by her family or sold at the market.  Of course there were many struggles along the way; a partner who stopped paying his share, building a brand new home on a rather precarious piece of land, many roads that continuously flooded, and the overwhelming amount of nonstop work. When that farm was no longer manageable, she sold it and bought one more suitable to her. Through her can-do attitude and a great sense of humor, she is now not only a successful farmer, but conducts workshops at her farm for others wanting to learn all the skills connected with farming, and she writes an almost daily blog, also called Chickens in the Road, as to what’s going on in her farm life. An extra plus is that there are many wonderful pictures of the farms and her family. This book was thoroughly enjoyable and you find yourself pulling for her to succeed. And succeed she did!


400 Extraordinary Places

This book was received in the library at the end of 2012, but for those who haven't seen it, it's worth the time. In one- and two-page summaries, '400 extraordinary places' are described. Being another fine publication from National Geographic, it's a given that the photographs are of high quality. Even if one doesn't intend to travel to any of these locations, the reader can learn about, and maybe encounter for the first time, exotic places such as Torres del Paine (Chile), Fernando de Noronha (Brazil), islands in the Adriatic Sea (Croatia), Koh Lipe (Thailand), Petra (Jordan), and the Orkney Islands (Scotland), among many others. Closer to home, the book has a couple of pages on New York City and other U.S. destinations.

 


Carla's Comfort Foods:Favorite Dishes from Around the World

I love looking at cookbooks. A new one, Carla’s Comfort Foods, caught my eye recently. The author, Carla Hall, is currently a co-host on the ABC talk show “The Chew” and is owner and executive chef of an artisanal cookie company.

Especially with fall and cooler weather approaching, comfort foods sound particularly appealing to me. The author has found inspiration from flavors from around the world, incorporated them into new takes on standbys like meats, seafood, soups and grains. She includes a section on vegetarian entrees and desserts, too. Wonderful photos add to the book, and provide incentive for the aspiring cook.

How could you not want to try Dijon Tarragon Salmon, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Black Bean Empanadas, or Salted Peanut Chocolate Pudding Tarts? Let the cooking and eating begin!


Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

There is a farm in Costa Rica that has the most unusual crop! They grow butterflies and this book Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey tells their story!

It takes the upmost care to begin with a butterfly egg that changes into a caterpillar and then a pupae. There are so many things to consider and many things to watch out for. Their caregivers have to watch out for birds, frogs and snakes. They have to protect the environment from grasshoppers that just want to eat the plants that are needed for their habitat. The growers have lots of tricks and techniques to keep the caterpillars, and later the butterflies, fed.

This wonderful book by Lorre Griffin Burns provides us with many facts and adventures about butterfly life in a greenhouse in Costa Rica. Ellen Harasimowicz provides us with great pictures from everyday life on the farm.  This journey begins there with such great care and attention it is amazing to be able to follow along with the details of the butterfly raising process.

Check this one out. It’s a keeper!


Do less

Over the last few years I’ve come to the startling realization that I am indeed getting older. This realization has created a longing in me to use my precious time as fully and enjoyably as possible. Sifting through hideous clothes in the closet trying to find something decent to wear (and failing), sorting through endless papers stacked on my countertops and reading the Facebook statuses of distant acquaintances are things that bog down my spare time and rob me of full life enjoyment. As a cataloger at KPL, I get to see most of the new books before they go out on the shelves, and one topic that keeps jumping out at me is the minimalist lifestyle (which can be found using the term “simplicity” in KPL’s catalog). One such title is Do less : a minimalist guide to a simplified, organized, and happy life, which I appreciate because it is concise and I don’t have time to fool around. This book focuses on having more time to enjoy by decluttering many aspects of your life, even how many friends you are trying to keep up with on Facebook and how many digital pictures you take. It gives very practical tips. The best quote from the book is, “It’s so tempting to think more is better, when in face more complicates your life.”


PARROTS OVER PUERTO RICO

With exceptionally vibrant collage artwork that gives the illustrations an exciting three dimensional effect, and informative yet not over-bearing text , “Parrots Over Puerto Rico” by Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore is the true story of the bright green and blue feathered parrots who had lived in Puerto Rico for millions of years before they almost became extinct in the last century.

Their history of survival echoes Puerto Rico’s history as well; well before humans even inhabited the island and when hundreds of thousands of these majestic birds thrived in their nesting holes up in the tall trees.

Parrot numbers started to dwindle when people came in droves and hunted them for food, when invader birds and other predatory animals were introduced into the ecosystem, when settlers systematically cut down their forest habitats, and when hurricanes ravaged whatever precious wild nesting spaces remained.

In 1937, most of the over two thousand remaining parrots lived in El Yunque, a mountainous tropical rain forest. By 1967, twenty-four parrots were found in that same rain forest; by 1975, only thirteen remained.

Luckily, people started to notice their precipitous decline. With aid from the U. S. federal government and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was initiated. And now, after many years of effort by determined scientists, the parrot population has started to grow once more. Currently there are 300 birds in two protective aviaries, and over 150 in the wild.

My husband and I  traveled to Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, and once again three years ago. On our first two visits, the El Yunque rain forest was on our “must see” list. It’s truly a natural treasure. And even though we didn’t see any of the parrots in the trees above us, just the possibility of getting a glimpse of their vivacious plumage was thrilling enough.

This book won the Sibert Medal in 2014, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.


Next Book from Novella Carpenter

Novella Carpenter visited Kalamazoo in April as one of two authors for 2014 Reading Together. When talking about her book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, she mentioned her next book, Gone Feral: Tracking My Dad through the Wild. It has now been published and is in our collection.

I’ve just started it, but fans of Novella’s are sure to appreciate this new title. She continues to write in a storytelling style about her dad and why he chose a life of solitude as she contemplates having a family of her own. Her untraditional life growing up certainly influenced her untraditional life described in Farm City.

This is a good companion to Farm City, although each stands alone. 


Recovering Priceless Treasures

I stumbled upon the book Priceless:  How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures.  The founder of the FBI Art Crime Team, author Robert Wittman recalls a number of cases when he recovers stolen artifacts or artwork, working undercover convincing mobsters and corrupt collectors that he’ll pay big money for their stolen works.  It can take months, even years, of building rapport with the sellers or middlemen before setting up a sting which involves large amounts of cash, priceless works of art, and, very likely, guns or other dangerous weapons.

Wittman struggles with the widely accepted opinion at the bureau that art crime is less important than other types of investigations.  What is even more perplexing to those investigators that take this stance is that arresting those guilty of the theft or selling the stolen property is much less important than recovering the stolen works.  Regardless of this, each time something is recovered, communities celebrate the return of their lost treasures, whether they have been gone a few months or more than a hundred years.

The book starts and ends with talking about the Gardener Heist. The most valuable collection of stolen artwork in the world, the paintings were cut out of their frames in March 1990 and are estimated to be worth more than $580 million.  One painting, Vermeer’s “The Concert”, is estimated to be worth $200 million on its own!  We learn from the book that the heist is so well known and the paintings so recognizable, they could only ever be sold on the black market.

I really enjoyed reading Priceless.  Most chapters are their own little short stories.  This means the book works well for those with similar scheduled to mine that may not give them an opportunity to sit down with a book for long periods of time.  I greatly appreciate that Wittman rescues different types of art and artifacts all with the same dedication to returning them to their rightful owners.  Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did if it makes it onto your reading list!


Life is a Wheel

“When you move forward, even slowly, things change; when you stand still, they don’t. This is the lesson that bicycling teaches me over and over again, one that is so sensible and obvious you’d think it would be easy to remember, especially when I’m not on a bicycle.”

This is one of many wisdoms expressed in Bruce Weber’s latest book, Life is a Wheel: Love, Death, Etc., and a Bike Ride across America. In 2011, journalist Bruce Weber embarked on his second cross-country (U.S.) bike trip. He blogged along the way, and many followed his accounts of the trip. In this book, Weber expands his story, drawing comparisons among his various bike trips and sharing life lessons learned in the meantime.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if we’re reading a blog entry or something he’s written especially for the book, but it doesn’t really matter, because his writing engages readers and keeps us moving along with him. He’s a very colorful writer. I’d like to share a meal with him, or to have encountered him along the way, while he was cycling across country.

If you're a biker or other long-distance exerciser, someone who enjoys blogs, memoirs or loving life, read this! It's a fast-paced account of a slow journey, mile by mile.

Book

Life is a Wheel
9781451695014

A Nelson Mandela Tribute!

How profound! That Maya Angelou’s last book would be His Day Is Done! Like Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, the “global renaissance woman”, has been a crusader for many. For me, her life has paralleled Mandela’s. She, too, has opened many doors and as she says in the book about Mandela she has enlarged many hearts with tears of pride.

Though this is a small book of poetry, it makes an awesome footprint and melts a little bit of your heart. And now we can say Her Day is Done.

Book

His Day is Done: a Nelson Mandela Tribute
9780812997019

DNA Home Kits, Walmart drugs, and good bye Doctors

I heard a story on Michigan Radio yesterday that was about the future of medicine, and it reminded me of this book. The future of health care, as imagined by this author, is basically this: people take DNA tests at home to figure out what’s wrong with them. Meanwhile, the government deregulates the pharmaceutical industry (political argument), which allows them to create a drug for every specific thing that’s wrong with people (molecular medicine). Then, armed with my detailed knowledge about what’s wrong with me, I go to Walmart and buy the exact drug that I need. And, lucky for me, there’s a generic version (economic argument)—cheap! And, the author thinks, this solves the problem of expanding health care costs—we cut out the very expensive middle-man—doctors and hospitals (which he calls “helpless care”). That’s the nutshell (oversimplified) version.

Recently I talked to a person who actually makes drugs for a large pharmaceutical corporation. I asked him “do you think drug companies are too regulated?” His answer was complex. First, he partly disagreed with this book—he said they are not too regulated. Instead of getting rid of the FDA, he said they need more people on staff; expand it. He also mentioned that the FDA needs to “get into the 21st Century,” which agrees precisely with this book. They are using outdated science (read the book for details) which slows down drug production.

book

the cure in the code
9780465050680

A Long Way Home

When Saroo was five years old, he became separated from his older brother and lost on a train in India that took him about a thousand miles from his small village. With a limited vocabulary making it difficult to properly communicate who he was and where he was from, and unable to trust most people he encountered, he spent several weeks surviving on the streets of Calcutta alone, until he eventually landed in an orphanage and was adopted by a family in Australia. Twenty-five years later, studying satellite images on Google Earth, he was able to locate his village. Saroo Brierley’s biography A Long Way Home begins with Saroo returning to his small village for the first time since he was lost as a small child, finding his tiny former home, and asking current neighbors if anyone knows his mother, brothers, or sister. Then a man says, "Come with me. I'm going to take you to your mother."

I don't know yet exactly how his story ends, as I am only halfway through the book. I am almost to the photo spread in the center of the book and I must admit I have peeked ahead. I am completely engrossed in this book and can't wait to finish it. It is just an astounding story.

Book

A long way home
9780399169281

American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States.

Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.

Book

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide
9780844411064

Coded Racism

When you hear the phrase "welfare queen," what do you think of? Although technically speaking the phrase itself - welfare queen - isn't racist, I think we all know it actually is. Indeed, it was meant to be, by the politician who carefully created the myth. This book is about the history of such language. Specifically, it's about how politicians use this language to gain votes by creating fear, by focusing demographically, by dividing smaller groups from bigger ones. As for the three main targets, we are talking about African Americans, Latinos, and Muslims.

Although the author mostly blames Republicans and Fox News for racial politics, he does blame the Democratic Party too (he is not too kind to Clinton, for example, and he criticises Obama's strategy when it comes to race). Turns out the insatiable thirst for votes is bipartisan. But the major theme throughout the book is how the Republican Party specifically and intentionally became the white man's party in the late 1960's, beginning with the so called "Southern Strategy," which was summarized rather brutally by Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist:

"You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites."

This is a complex book on racism and politics in America.

book

dog whistle politics
9780199964277

An RCA Television?

In this book we received last fall, Smithsonian Institution Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture Richard Kurin provides a wealth of information regarding 101 objects held by that museum. At 762 pages, this publication was no small effort, I am sure. Organized by historical era, the author provides photographs and commentary on such items as the Appomattox Court House furnishings, Abraham Lincoln's hat, a bugle from the U.S.S. Maine, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, Thomas Edison's light bulb, a Ford Model T, Helen Keller's watch, Louis Armstrong's trumpet, a World War I gas mask, Dorothy's ruby slippers, a Berlin Wall fragment, Neil Armstrong's space suit, an RCA television set, and a door from one of the fire trucks that was at the scene of 9/11 in New York City. This is a quality publication from a very fine establishment.

Book

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects
9781594205293

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Recently I discovered a new author. Her name is Bich Minh Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to this country in 1975, when she was just a few months old, with her family on one of the last boats out of the country before the war really heated up. She has since taught at Purdue University in the area of fiction and creative non-fiction. Her book that I found most enjoyable is, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. It’s a memoir of her family eventually settling in Grand Rapids, and how each of them, a father, grandmother, sister, and a couple uncles adapt as outsiders and struggle to fit into a very Dutch community. The story takes the sisters from a young age through their school years and how they go off in different directions. The grandmother is the rock of the family as she hangs on to her Vietnamese customs. And the father is a hard worker, but often distances himself from the family.

This book was selected as the “Great Michigan Read” for 2009-2010. This is a program similar to our own “Reading Together” event held every year where a book is picked and the whole community reads it, but in this case there are many programs around the whole state connected with the chosen book. Not only was the story interesting, but you would like it if you are familiar with the Grand Rapids area as there are many references to the city. This book is available in print and audio at KPL.

Book

Stealing Buddha's Dinner : a memoir
9780670038329

Two Cool Cats

The World According to Bob is the sequel to the NYT bestseller A Street Cat Named Bob by author James Bowen. It is a well written and much anticipated book worthy of becoming another hit for the James and Bob duo.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with their tale, here is a quick recap. Two years prior to the writing of this second work, James Bowen was a down on his luck, recovering addict who happens to find a ginger/orange cat with open wounds on his legs and body. The two form an instant bond, and although James assumes that the cat he names Bob will return to the streets after he nurses him back to health, Bob has other plans. He steadfastly refuses to leave James’ side, following him wherever he goes about town.

As the saying goes “cats choose you and not the other way around”, and it was certainly true in this case.

The pair become inseparable, existing on the streets of London, each one helping the other heal the wounds of their mutually troubled past. James gives Bob companionship, food, and a place to crash, and in return Bob gives James new hope and a purpose in life. James learns to appreciate the minute things of life – his threadbare flat, his job selling a street magazine called “The Big Issue,” and now his newly arrived feline friend.

While the first book documents their first meeting and their lives in the early part of their relationship, this sequel delves further into what their life was like then, the people they met, (both good and evil), and the many experiences they shared along the way. It also goes into explaining how the first book came to be.

In September 2010, a reporter from the Islington Tribune interviewed James and took the famous photo of Bob perched on his shoulder. A few days later, there appeared a poignant article about James’ past and how he and Bob met, titled: “Two Cool Cats...the Big Issue Seller and a Stray Called Bob.”

Soon thereafter, a major London publisher approaches the duo about a possible book deal. James does not expect this book about himself and his stray cat to become a big hit. Rather, he thinks that it would end up being a nice little one-time windfall. But then events start indicating otherwise.

One day, completely unannounced, Sir Paul McCartney and his family stop by the street corner where they work selling the magazine to admire Bob. Instead of the little handful of people that James expected to be at the first book signing, over 300 show up, and all 200 copies available sell out in the first half hour. In addition, James and Bob are treated as celebrities with photographers and a television camera crew in attendance.

Having been translated into 26 languages, the book becomes an international bestseller. And for the first time in their lives, James and Bob become financially secure. No, Bob and James did not become millionaires, but they are able to live a comfortable existence with James enjoying having some money in the bank and even paying taxes like a true member of society. He also enjoys being able to give something back to Blue Cross, the animal charity that was so kind to both of them during their struggles in earlier years.

The first book also produced other positive windfalls. It greatly improved the relationship James had with his parents. And it also seems to have had an impact on people’s attitudes to London’s “Big Issue” sellers and the homeless in general. Many folks wrote to James to express their awareness of homeless people, and many others have stated that the book gave them an incentive to make a special point of engaging the homeless in a conversation instead of simply ignoring their plight.

The story of James and Bob seemed to connect with people who were facing difficult times in their own lives, while others expressed a newly gained strength from animals’ ability to heal human psyches.

With their account, these two cool cats touched the hearts, minds and lives of many, many others. And that may be the best windfall of all, for all of us.

Book

The World According to Bob
9781250046321

The Boy on the Wooden Box

Leon Leyson was number 289, the youngest on the list.  The list that would eventually mean life for more than a thousand Jews.  Leon was Number 289 on Schindler's list.  His powerful memoir, The Boy on the Wooden Box  tells his story to the young people of today what it was like surviving the Holocaust.  The reader sees this horrific time through the eyes of a child.  His youthful perspective brings a powerful message of survival and humanity.  Leon was only a boy during WWII, spending most of his years from 10-19 in Jewish ghettos, work, concentration and displaced persons camps.  The hunger, loss, pain and suffering are real.  Separated for months at a time from his family, Leon found the will to survive inside of him.  If you are a reader at 40 or a child at 10 reading this book, you will feel the struggle. You will hold your breath as the family is forced to separate.  You will wonder how evil can exist.  You will wonder if Leon ever sees the faces again of his brothers.  Share this book with your children or students. 

I think the dedication page is its own recommendation for reading this book:  "To my brothers, Tsalig and Hershel, and to all the sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents who perished in the Holocaust.  And to Oskar Schindler, whose noble actions did indeed save a "world entire." - Leon Leyson

Book

The Boy on the Wooden Box
9781442497818

The Big Tiny

I first heard about Dee Williams and tiny houses in the fall of 2010, when I worked at a public library in New Hampshire. Because she knew I'd lived in housing cooperatives for several years and was interested in simplicity and sustainable living, one of my coworkers shared this article from Yes!, a magazine to which our library had recently subscribed. Though fascinated with the idea of tiny house living, I couldn't imagine what life in 84 square feet would actually be like. So when I read earlier this year that Williams wrote a book about her tiny house experience, I couldn't wait to read all about it.

After I learned about Dee and her tiny house, I read Little House on a Small Planet, the only small house book I could get my hands on back in 2010. More recently, information on and interest in tiny houses has exploded - a google search for 'tiny houses' yields over 20 million results! - and I've since spent possibly one thousand hours on the internet reading about tiny houses and the people who inhabit them. I've learned that tiny housers aren't unified in their reasons for tiny living. Some people are interested in living a more sustainable life, using fewer resources and decreasing their impact on the planet. Others are attracted to tiny house living for financial reasons - it's possible to live mortgage-free in a tiny house. Still others want to downsize and simplify their life, focusing on what is truly important to them. This was Dee's motivation, after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The Big Tiny chronicles her tiny building adventure and offers insight into day-to-day tiny living. The book's tone is charmingly conversational; I felt like I was sitting next to Dee on her porch, listening to her story straight from her mouth.

If, like me, you can't get enough of tiny houses, check out the new documentary, Tiny: A Story About Living Small, which follows the process of building a tiny house and features interviews with several tiny housers, including Dee Williams.

Book

The Big Tiny
9780399166174

Going Camping?

I’m going camping this summer, and I can’t wait to be outdoors 24/7 for a few days. If, like me, camping is in you and your family’s future this summer, take advantage of the resources KPL offers as you gather your gear, plan your meals, prep the kids and decide where to go.

We have books about cooking outdoors, camping and wilderness survival skills and stories to help children get over fears of camping and excited about sleeping under the stars. We have plenty of camping directories and even a movie for beginning campers.

Are you a district resident cardholder? You can go to Zinio and read digital magazines like Backpacker or check out shows on Hoopla. (Sign in, click on the Browse page, choose Television, scroll down and find the ‘Travel around the World’ topic.) Find titles such as Ken Burns: The National Parks, and Trekking the World.

What’s your next adventure?

Book

Camping Michigan : a comprehensive guide to public tent and RV campgrounds
9780762782505

The well-loved pet (or trophy)

The title of this post is mostly a joke; our taxidermy books are probably more useful for hunters.  Whatever your reason for wanting to preserve the bodies of animals, or if you are just interested in learning for its own sake and exploring a fairly esoteric topic, we have a few books that will make for an unconventional beach read.  The title pictured here (as yet unread by this blogger) does indeed explore pet memorials among other types of taxidermy. 

Book

The authentic animal
9780312643713

What does spiritual but not religious mean?

According to Pew, there is a growing number of young Americans that are not affiliated with any particular religion, a.k.a. "nones." This book, a sort of spiritual memoir by Roger Housden, is one example of a "none" trying to keep his faith. Or rather redefine it.

A very short book, almost an extended poem, his faith amounts to this: beauty, nature, kindness and love. Read poetry; look at art; walk in the woods; love people. The book is more like a memoir, a Whitman nature poem, a reflection on faith as solitary, personal, open-ended - a life-journey.

Now, I sympathize with his faith and applaud his ideals, but we must admit that this kind of faith is drastically different from the faith of many other people. That's okay. (disclaimer: I didn't read the entire book so I have no room to comment, but yet here I am commenting). Is Housden merely describing his own happy, privileged, care-free life and calling it faith? Going to Starbucks, writing best sellers, enjoying art and peotry, watching the waves through his window. Sounds great to me! But what happens when you reduce faith into a few ideals? Is anything lost? Perhaps not. Where's the pot-lucks? Mr Housden has redefined faith into a solitary pursuit of truth and beauty (nothing wrong with that, he comes from a long tradition), but let’s be honest - he is getting rid of something here. Or, another way to put it: he probably got rid of his faith, kept a few things from it (truth, beauty, love, awe), and started something new and different.

If you are spiritual-but-not-religious, and you like poetry, you will like this book.

book

Keeping the faith without a religion
9781622030927

Designed in Cupertino

It’s difficult to imagine now but during the late 1980s and into the 90s, Apple Inc. was a struggling, poorly managed computer company trying unsuccessfully to compete with the Windows based PC that was quickly dominating the exploding computer market and putting Apple at deaths door. Also hard to believe is the fact that during most of that time, a time distinguished by uninspired mac models and failed device launches, Apple had Jony Ive, the industrial designer credited for the much imitated Apple “look and feel”, working in their design department. Much of the credit for Apple’s remarkable turnaround gets assigned to Steve Jobs; and rightly so. But it is specifically Job’s decision to move Apple from engineering based to a design-driven company and put his faith in the very talented Jony Ive that would lead to the string of industry changing products that eventually made Apple the most valuable company in the world. Not since Dieter Rams and the Braun Company in the 1950s has a designer’s ethos aligned so successfully with a corporation and not surprisingly Ive sights Rams (and his famous 10 principles of good design) as a strong influence on his work. But unlike Dieter Rams, for someone who’s designs have become cultural icons (just think about those white headphones alone!) next to nothing is known about the quiet and very private Jony Ive. But that has now changed a bit with the publication of Leander Kahney’s bio of Ive, Jony Ive : the genius behind Apple's greatest products. While the book doesn’t dive too terribly deeply into Ive’s personal life, it does a good job detailing his design career and outlining his close relationship with Jobs and the hard work and minute attention to each and every detail that has marked his, and Apple’s, success.

Book

Jony Ive: the genius behind Apple's greatest products
9781591846178

This is ridiculous, this is amazing

I am not much of a laugh-out-louder, but I found myself doubled-over with tears in my eyes more than once while reading This is ridiculous, this is amazing : parenthood in 71 lists by comedic blogger Jason Good, of JasonGood.net. Here Good compiles lists that many parents can relate to, including “Reasons your toddler might be freaking out” (he jumped off the sofa and we weren’t watching) and my personal favorite, “Oh, the new and wonderful new things you’ll get to do” (put someone in a Bob the Builder costume while fighting off diarrhea). There are actually some good tips that can be gleaned from several of his lists, like “Games you can play while lying down,” which if done correctly, will allow you to catch a quick nap (Put all the sunglasses and hats on Daddy) (Put Daddy in ‘sofa jail’) (Vacuum Daddy). I can particularly relate to the list “Love hurts : especially my shoulder” where Good details various injuries he’s sustained playing with and chasing around kids…brought me back to two summers ago when I injured my knee jumping on a trampoline with my daughter, then re-injured it a few months later while doing a side slide on the kitchen floor to Don’t stop believin’. I was forced to wear a knee brace for four months until the knee finally healed. Ahhhhh…parenthood has its struggles. But thanks, Jason Good, for making me see the humor in them.

Book

This is ridiculous, this is amazing

9781452129211

 


Vintage Toys

I love attending the Circus Maximus Antique Toy Show every May and November at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center. It's such a festive gathering, and the architects and contractors certainly did a nice job on the new and renovated buildings there. Looking at this book isn't quite as good as being at the show, but there are compensating factors, such as being able to read the histories of many toys I played with as a child. Arranged by type of toy rather than chronologically, the author provides two-page narratives with photographs of toys from the 1940s to the 1990s. Here are Play-Doh, Tonka Trucks, Rubik's Cube, Frisbee, Etch-A-Sketch, and Magic 8-Ball, along with many others. I especially enjoyed being reminded of the Vac-U-Form, since my cousin John in Grand Rapids had one. I can still remember how the plastic smelled when we heated it up!

Book

Toy time! : from hula hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos : a look back at the most- beloved toys of decades past
9780385349123

Graphic Memoirs

As the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. I love graphic novels –stories told using both pictures and words—because you can glean so much of the emotion and action of the story from the artwork. I recently read two poignant memoirs, which explore the final years of the lives of beloved parents.

In Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my Mother, and Me, the beauty is in the great detail that Sarah Leavitt shares with the reader. Some of the details are frustrating and heartbreaking to read and see, as her mother gradually loses more and more of her capacity to thrive; still, the little daily challenges and special moments shared by family are what make caregiving for an ailing loved one so rewarding.

Joyce Farmer illustrates the final four years of her father and stepmother, Lars and Rachel, in Special Exits: A Graphic Memoir. Her writing and drawing style are much different than Leavitt’s, but again, you feel the full emotion of her experience supporting them in their final years.

I was struck by the role of cats in each of these books. Note p. 192 of Special Exits, where the beloved Siamese cat, Ching, is loving on her “Daddy” so much that he can’t breathe. In five cartoon boxes, author Farmer paints love and affection between cat and human, while deftly illustrating the frailty of her dying father. In Tangles, (p. 65-66) Mom adores Lucy the cat, who  actually wants nothing to do with her. Even though Leavitt admits to feeling some jealousy of her mother’s adoration of the cat, she makes little books with cards and photos about Lucy, which her mom then carries around with her. The picture of the cat hiding under the covers on Mom and Dad’s bed is simple, yet priceless.

We have quite a few other memoirs in our graphic novel collection.

Book

Special Exits: A Graphic Memoir
9781606993811

Different people. Different values. Can’t we all just get along?

Pro-lifers yell “Right to life!” Pro-choicers yell “women’s right to choose!” End of discussion, right? This book is an attempt to solve that problem. From conservatives to communists, from Jews to Jehovah Witnesses, we need a way to make decisions together — especially about public policy — if we are to get along. We need a “metamorality,” a universal language, a “common currency,” says the philosopher/neuroscientist Joshua Greene; we need an ethical code that transcends each particular one.

And his answer is…drumroll please….utilitarianism! (I can feel your excitement). A moral philosophy invented by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill in the 1700’s, utilitarianism is amazingly simple: maximize happiness and reduce suffering, as much as possible. Instead of talking about rights, principles, commands or duties, perhaps we can all agree on this one thing: happiness is good; suffering is bad.

Can we agree on that?

Probably not. That’s why the book is 300+ pages. And still, probably not. Nice try though., right?

As for me, I must say, I am convinced. This book has fundamentally changed some of my opinions. This is one of the most important books I have read this year, perhaps in my entire life. It has certainly brought together several intellectual strains that have been floating around in my head for decades now. To explain, I have always admired the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, whom I named my son after. Kant has a strict, rule based, "no exceptions" morality (never life, never cheat, never steal); in other words, your basic religious morality with a rational spin. John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, founder of Utilitarianism, I have admired from a distance. Now, finally they come together in a harmonious embrace. Which, for me, means a lot (check out my personal blog for more). In fact, I emailed the author and told him so. He emailed back right away said “that makes it all worthwhile.” Whether you hate utilitarian thinking or not, this book is amazing on many different levels: brain science, psychology, philosophy, politics, and religion. A bright, interdisciplinary guy and a good writer.

book

Moral Tribes
9781594202605

A “Get the Facts” Story!

I appreciate that Tonya Bolden took on the awesome responsibility of researching this story. It is an amazing story with a wellspring of information.

Sarah Rector was a Creek Freedman born in Indian Territory in 1902. Her grandparents had been slaves to Creek Indians and her grandfather was among the Blacks in the Company D that joined the pro-union First Indian Home Guard which was formed to fight against the confederate army.

The story that Tonya Bolden tells is about Sarah receiving an allotment of land as a child and then, as fortune has it, after her father had been struggling to pay the taxes and would have given the land away he leases it to Devonian Oil Company and oil is struck big time. Sarah becomes the richest black girl in America!

And although, oil gushes from the wells on her land, that is not the crux of Sarah’s story. Her story is what happens after she becomes the richest child of the “colored” race. Besides a new house and a car, wealth brings newspapers articles, marriage proposals, half truths, lies, assumptions, mistrust and accusations to and about Sarah’s family.

Read this very interesting, troublesome and yet comforting story to see why Tony Bolden titled it Searching for Sarah Rector: the richest black girl in America. It will yank at your heart strings and send you tumbling in so many different directions that you will want to know more. I hope that I learn from the example that Miss Bolden set by telling both sides and explaining the half truths of this intriguing story.

Book

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America
9781419708466

Are Geniuses Made or Born?

Was Einstein one-of-a-kind? Was he original, special, unique—so unique that nobody else could have possibly come up with the theory of relativity? There will never be another Einstein. Or, was he made, a product of the time, a small part in a larger collaborative scientific environment—at the right place at the right time? There are many Einstein’s.

Of course the answer is probably in the middle, and we sometimes forget that there are many other geniuses in history and alive today. (Good Will Hunting is a great movie on the subject). Einstein does get a “special” place, “relatively” speaking; we give him more “space” and more “time” than any other genius (puns intended)—perhaps deservingly so. Look up genius in the dictionary, you see Einstein’s silly little wise grin.

The author of this book thinks that, on the whole, genius is a product of a particular culture and that major scientific advances could have been made by many different people at any given time. Nobody is that special. Science is collaborative. Einstein disagrees: “Einstein believed that ‘great men’ shaped history and that advances in the arts, in the humanities, and in science were due to the contributions of outstanding individuals who labored in the solitude of the creative process” (27). Isaac Newton particularly comes to mind here. Oppenheimer, on the other hand, a contemporary of Einstein, stressed the collective nature of science a little more.

To become an Einstein, I believe many stars must align. First, geniuses really do exist, they are different; they have an Intel Quad-Core processor, we have an abacus. My mom said life’s not fair and she’s right. Second, education and upbringing. If the flower isn’t watered, if the fire isn’t kindled, if the…you get it. Einstein was well read and widely read. “I am really more of a philosopher than a physicists,” he once said. The fact that he read Kant’s ideas on space and time has a lot to do with how he developed his own ideas. Third, a thriving culture of learning is required, especially for science types. Also, it’s very important to remember that you don’t have to be a “genius” be do great things (indeed, Einstein considered ‘moral geniuses’ like Jesus and Gandhi).

What do you think?

book

Einstein and oppenheimer
9780674028289

Move Over Guinness: The Animals Are Coming

Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records by Mark Carwardine is a fascinating and addictive book about truly amazing animal records. It is quite comprehensive, utilizing the traditional animal classification system of groups, orders, families and species for organizational purposes.

The main goal is to “celebrate the wonders of the natural world and particularly its diversity.” For example, the box jellyfish found off the coast of Australia carries enough venom in it to kill sixty adult humans. At least seventy people have died from its stings, more so than from shark and crocodile attacks combined in that part of the country. In fact, some succumbed in as little as four minutes from the time they came in contact with the jellyfish’s tentacles.

The book also points out that quite a few of these record breaking animals are endangered and close to extinction, such as the white, black, Indian, Sumatran and Javan rhinoceroses. These rhinos hold a number of records including thickest skin on a mammal.

This volume will captivate kids with fantastic photographs and keep them reading and learning astonishing facts which are presented in a fast and fun way. A great gift for your young nature lover or a good reference volume just to have in your own book collection.

Book

Natural History Museum Book of Animal Records
9781770852693

Another Look Back at the 1960s

There are many recent books about various aspects of the 1960s – 50 years ago. I’m drawn to these books as the time when I grew up but was not old enough to fully understand and appreciate the significance of many events.

I grew up in Pennsylvania and attended the NY World’s Fair in the summers of 1964 and 65. I remember many of the major exhibits. Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America tells the back story of the politics of the fair told against the times: the Kennedy assassination, the US and the Soviet Union, Malcolm X and racial issues, color TV, the Ford Mustang, Disney World, the Beatles.

This is a history of the mid 1960s with the World’s Fair as a reflection of the times. It is fascinating reading if you attended the fair or not.

Book

Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World’s Fair and the Transformation of America
9780762780358

~~~~~~~~~~Wave~~~~~~~~~~

The book Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala is the London survivor's account of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that struck the day after Christmas while her family was vacationing in her native Sri Lanka in 2004. Sonali lost her husband, both precious young sons, both parents, and good friend in an instant as they were swept away, trying to escape the monstrous wave that suddenly engulfed their coastal hotel on an otherwise calm, sunny morning. Sonali, swept inland and back out again by the wave, eventually clung to a branch and survived. The book starts off with these horrifying events, then plunges into the agony and despair that is the new reality for Sonali. Numbing alcohol, wanting to die, guilt, blame, anger. As she tells the story of years leading up to the devastation, she memorializes the love of of her life, Steve, and his mouth-watering cooking, 8 year-old Vik who played cricket, 5 year-old Malli who put on shows with puppets and costumes, and long holidays with her parents Aachchi and Seeya at Sonali's childhood home in Colombo. This book is a sad, sad book...but it is also a beautiful love story.

Book

Wave
9780307962690

Pearl Cleage lays it all out there!

When I started reading this book I got really excited. I thought that I had a lot in common with Pearl Cleage. The similarities stopped quickly and although the timing of our first children was close there was little to compare after that. Like me she quit working but she was still very connected. How could she not be when she wrote speeches for the city of Atlanta’s first black mayor and fraternized with some very important people? She was married to Michael Lomax, who became the president of The United Negro Fund. In Things I should have told my daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs, Pearl gives her readers a very candid look into her life back in the 70s and 80s. Some of her bear-it-all details were tough for me to imagine because where I had become Pollyannaish she was making major life changes and her world was broadening while mine was narrowing. I don’t envy her and her world, I just marvel at it. She had 2 affairs with married men and still ended up happy!

Pearl says it was all worth it, even the messy parts.

Book

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs
9781451664690

You Are Probably Too Busy to Read This Book

In today's world, when work and home life seem to intertwine and many of us are tethered to technology that keeps us constantly available, time is our most precious commodity.  In Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has theTime, Brigid Schulte takes a look at the U.S.'s perpetual time crunch and what makes us all in such a hurry.  Schulte offers extensive research regarding time, work, and play in the U.S. and the results are fascinating: it turns out time is gendered in our society.  Schulte argues that the myth of the "ideal worker" (an employee who puts in hours upon hours of face time in at work and will drop everything at a moment's notice for their employer) is detrimental to the health and happiness of individuals and does nothing at all to support families.  Women, particularly mothers, assumed to be the care givers in families, are the ones who suffer the most; they make less money, are less likely to rise to management levels within companies, and feel relentless pressure to be the perfect parent.  Schulte offers lots of data to back up her argument, and she suggests changes (including paid maternity/paternity leave, paid vacation, flexible work hours, more egalitarian household duties, etc.) that she thinks would offer better support to families and in turn generate happy, healthy, and productive workers.

I found this book extremely interesting to read despite a topic that, handled differently, could have easily been boring; it made me look at structures in our society that are taken for granted and realize that, yes, we can have more time, better gender equality, and still be a productive society.  I do wish more attention was paid to how low income families and people of color are impacted by "the overwhelm" as the author describes it-although Schulte occasionally addresses both income and race, there's plenty more that could have been discussed along those lines.  Despite that flaw, I came away from this book with the feeling that the topic of time--both work and leisure--is incredibly important to discuss and that a cultural shift in how we think about time could have a huge, positive impact on our society. 

Book

Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
9780374228446

 


Bluffton: My Summers with Buster

Vacationing on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s scenic west coast shoreline is a wonderful choice. More than one hundred years ago Buster Keaton’s family and their vaudeville team vacationed in Bluffton, near Muskegon. Matt Phelan wrote and illustrated a graphic novel titled: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster.

The story, told in remarkable drawings, is about a boy named Henry Harrison who lives in Muskegon year round. Henry hears about the vaudevillians and is captivated by the performers and their animals! He and the young Buster Keaton form a summer friendship and they hang out and play baseball with other kids. When summer ends, kids go back to school, but not for Buster! Buster travels around doing vaudeville acts, then returns to Bluffton the next summer. Bluffton offers a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most well-known silent screen actors and the few summers he lived on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Go back in time and watch Buster Keaton’s black and white slapstick silent films on KPL’s Hoopla site. It’s accessible directly from the KPL catalog, just enter Buster Keaton in the search field.

Book

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster
9780763650797

A World in One Continent

A book that has as its subject the continent of North America is a bit unusual. Generally one would find separate works for the individual countries of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the various Caribbean island nations, but this book has them all. Lots of facts are included, such as: 1) Some desert plants, like the cereus, bloom at night instead of during the day to attract pollinators like bats that come out at night when the desert is cooler, 2) Ninety percent of the world's tornadoes occur in North America, although tornadoes have occurred on every continent except Antarctica, and 3) With temperatures falling to fifty below, the pines of northern Canada become stunted but still form the largest forests of the continent. Containing striking photographs, this companion to the Discovery Channel series includes narrative on North America's wildlife, weather, plants, and geography. This is an impressive book.

Book

North America : a world in one continent
9780762448425

 


It is about the lies

A search for 'Lance Armstrong' in the KPL catalog reveals many books written about the subject. There are the books that helped create the mythical Armstrong story, which goes something like - raised by a tough single mother, displayed phenomenal athletic ability at a young age, near-terminal cancer diagnosis cuts short a promising cycling career, survives cancer, a changed man - he comes back to become the world’s greatest cyclist and wins the Tour de France an utterly amazing 7 times in a row, retires from cycling to lead a philanthropic foundation that reaches millions of cancer survivors around the planet. (see: Tour de Lance or 23 Days in July) Now there are the post-federal investigation/Oprah confession books that reveal Armstrong to be a sophisticated drug cheat, a total bully, a bald-faced liar, and detail his recent plummet from hero to pariah. (see: Wheelman and The Armstrong Lie) Having closely followed professional cycling throughout the era that Lance Armstrong won 7 straight Tour de France titles; I can understand his current perspective which is basically: if everyone was cheating, then nobody was cheating. But the thing that ultimately led to his spectacular fall from grace, and what makes Juliet Macur’s new book about Armstrong, Cycle of Lies: the fall of Lance Armstrong, so captivating, is the fact that the single-minded competitiveness that allowed him to beat cancer and win bike races also fueled the ferocity of his denials and the personal attacks on those that dared to defy him. Macur, unlike most journalists outside Oprah herself, was allowed access to Armstrong and his inner circle, and uses that access to produce a nuanced portrait of how the Lance Armstrong myth formed and grew and how it ultimately collapsed upon itself so catastrophically.

Book

Cycle of Lies

9780062277220

Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden

Whether you are a novice or experienced gardener, “Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden” by Niki Jabbour is just the book for inspiration. I first saw this title when there were still piles of snow on the ground here in Michigan, and just looking through the book was better than a dose of spring tonic.

73 different experienced contributors have provided plans for gardens such as “Edibles on a patio”, “Asian vegetables”, “Backyard orchard”, and “Chile lover’s garden”. And that’s just a small sample. Lavishly illustrated, if you are currently a gardener or want to be, I can almost guarantee you will find something to pique your interest here.

I love thinking about what to plant every year in my garden, and I got lots of suggestions and ideas from this book. Spring has arrived- let the planting begin!

Book

Groundbreaking Food Gardens: 73 Plans That Will Change the Way You Grow Your Garden

9781612120614

 



Would You Kill One to Save Five? please comment

Scenario One: A trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. You happen to be watching the horrible scene unfold. But, you also happen to be next to a lever. If you pull the level, the trolley switches tracks and kills one person (also tied to the tracks). If you do nothing, five people die. Those are your only options.

Do you pull the lever?

Scenario Two: Again, a trolley is about to run over five people tied to the tracks. But now there is a platform overlooking the tracks with a very large man standing on it (I apologize for the offensive nature of this thought experiment in advance). You are standing behind him on the platform. You have two options. You can do nothing and the five people die. Or you can push the large man in front of the trolley, which will stop it; but he will die. Those are the only options you have.

Do you push the large man?

Most people, it turns out, would pull the lever but would not push the large man, usually because the latter is more intentional. Interestingly, men are more willing to push the large man in front of the trolley. Military workers are more likely to push (vs hospital workers), liberals push (as opposed to conservatives), non-religious people push (vs religious) and — wait for it — psychopaths push! But there is no correlation regarding income or education and pushing.

The point, of course, has nothing to do with trolleys or large men. The point is that both outcomes are the same. One person dies and five people are saved. Yet why do we not push the large man? What else is going on here?

It has everything to do with your moral philosophy, which roughly come in two flavors: Utilitarian or Deontologist, John Stuart Mill or Immanuel Kant. Do you calculate numbers or do you follow strict rules? Does the outcome matter (save five) or does the principle matter more (do not kill)? Does the consequences of your actions matter, or just the actions themselves? Most people (me included) fall into the principle, rule-based camp (Deontology). Other people think that the means justify the end, that morality is about maximizing the best possible outcome for the greatest number of people, that sometimes by golly you have to crack an egg to make an omelet (Utilitarianism).

As for me, I would not pull the lever or push the man. What about you? Please comment below.

book

Would you kill the fat man
9780691154022

Earth Day: celebration and remembrance

Happy Earth Day, everyone! Today we celebrate the planet we live on, and to that end we have many items for you to explore, from Earth Day specific, to activity-based ways to enjoy the Earth, including camping, hiking, and gardening.

On a more somber note, this year we mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon, and a coalition has formed to highlight the importance of avoiding species extinction in the future. This effort is led by Joel Greenberg, a research associate with both the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and the Chicago Field Museum. Greenberg has written a book about the passenger pigeon, A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction, which you can place on hold, as it is currently checked out at this writing.  Next Monday, Greenberg will address the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo, at an event which is free and open to the public.

Book

A feathered river across the sky : the passenger pigeon's flight to extinction
9781620405345

Undisputed Truth

Much like Mike Tyson’s greatest fights, Undisputed Truth, the autobiography by the controversial boxer is shocking and brutal, but despite the shock, it is hard to turn away from. Written with the assistance of well-respected coauthor Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth offers a raw, no holds barred look at the high-flying story of Mike Tyson so far. From his incredibly difficult childhood (with shockingly little parental involvement, Tyson was left to survive on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, New York on his own and was committing armed robbery as a very young child) to training under the tutelage, and basically being adopted by, boxing coach Cus D'Amato as a teenager, to boxing world champion, convicted rapist, celebrity, drug addict, and notorious ear-biting villain, Undisputed Truth is a truly wild ride. The book does little to dissuade readers that Tyson has been anything but a truly despicable person for most of his life, but the raw and honest way that Tyson talks about his life and confronts his demons is admirable and by the end of the book you can’t help but root for him and his redemption as a human being and a sports figure.

Book

Undisputed Truth
9780399161285

A One-Way Ticket to Self-Fulfillment

In journalism, a stringer is a writer/correspondent who isn’t formally employed by any one news organization, but rather produces articles that may be shopped around to many would be publishers, and more often than not, may actually end up being bought by none. Stringers usually cover their own expenses, provide their own support and go to places where established, affiliated reporters do not. The term itself is of unsure origin. Some say that it was coined because these writers are paid by the word and therefore would tend to “string” together words to increase their payout. Others believe that it refers to these journalists’ potential employers who would “string them along” into believing that a permanent contractual relationship was to be had just around the corner from the next article that they wrote.

Making a living by writing anything professionally is tough enough. Deciding to do it by becoming a stringer takes a certain character; one that is determined to succeed and driven by a thirst for adventure and non-stop action. It is also useful to have a very high tolerance level for repeatedly risking everything in search of that exceptional, preferably exclusive, story. All of these traits are displayed in abundance by Anjan Sundaram in his wonderful first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo.

In the summer of 2005, Sunderam decides to leave behind his postgraduate studies in mathematics at Yale, as well as a lucrative job offer from Goldman Sachs, and instead to travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why such an extreme exercise in life re-orientation? Although an explanation is provided, it is not very convincing. Rather it seems to be as much due to whimsy and a bad case of ants-in-the-pants as anything else. And why the Congo? Simply due to the shear coincidence that his bank teller tells him that her brother-in-law and family, whom he has never met, live there and would agree to put him up in their home during his stay.

Using his one-way ticket, he arrives and his previously calm predictable world completely disintegrates into the uncertainties of day-to-day Congolese existence; the latter occurring with the chaotic and frequently violent state of Congolese politics and social problems as a backdrop. After many mishaps and struggles along the way to becoming the journalist he sees himself as being, he lucks out by landing a position as a stringer with the Associated Press reporting on the never ending merry-go-round of political corruption and exploitation that are the trademarks of the country’s history.

Success begins to shine upon his efforts, and helps seal his commitment to his new life on the African continent. His story about the Pygmy tribes in Congo’s rain forest wins a Reuters journalism award. His Associated Press editor acknowledges that he himself also began his career as a stringer in Congo. Editor and writer form a bond. Other opportunities present themselves, and Sundaram’s writings have since appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times as well as the Chicago Tribune.

I first heard about “Stringer” when the author was interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show in early January of this year. However, be assured: This work is no light-hearted, comedic romp. Sundaram’s writing is crisp, searing, and bursting with visual details that make it unforgettable for the reader. (One reviewer used the word “luscious” to describe it, and I could not agree more.)

It is very rare to find a truly engrossing page-turner, much less one that is a work of quality non-fiction. This is just such a rarity.

Book

Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo
9780385537759

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain

What do you know about “the other Ellis Island?” Between 1910 and 1940, Angel Island was the port of U.S. entry for thousands of Asians seeking a new life in America. Russell Freedman’s new book: Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain tells the story of those who passed through, those who were detained, and those who never made it any further into the U.S. before returning to their country of origin.

Especially poignant are the poems that were carved into and painted on barracks walls: “Nights are long, the pillow cold; who can comfort my solitude? . . . Shouldn’t I just return home and learn to plow the fields?” Discovered by a maintenance worker long after the facility closed, the poems have been preserved and incorporated into the public areas of this National Historic Landmark.

Book

Angel Island: Gateway to Gold Mountain
9780547903781

Running in Kalamazoo

Though it certainly doesn't seem like it, spring - and the end of ice, snow, and freezing temperatures - is around the corner! Enjoy the warmer days and make good on your New Year's resolution to get fit by running. The Kalamazoo area is host to several races this spring: Kal-Haven Trail Run (April 5), Consumers Sunburst Run/Walk (April 26), Kalamazoo Marathon (May 4), Girls on the Run (May 22), and Kalamazoo Klassic (June 14). If you're interested in running a race, you can join a local training group through the Kalamazoo Area Runners or Gazelle Sports to keep you on track. And don't forget to check out the library's collection of resources on running!

Runner's World magazine - The most popular running periodical, available in print at KPL and as a digital magazine download through the library's Zinio portal.

The Beginning Runner's Handbook by Ian MacNeill - This is a great starter manual that provides basic information on the science and psychology of exercise, choosing shoes and clothing, technique and form, safety and injury prevention, as well as a 13 week training program with stretches and exercises.

Complete Book of Running by Runner's World - This thorough guide covers everything from nutrition to cross training, and includes a marathon training program.

The Little Red Book of Running by Scott Douglas - This small book contains 250 tips for running further, faster, safer, and more frequently.

Proceeds from the Consumers Sunburst Run are donated to the Oshtemo Friends of the Parks, which in turn helps support Oshtemo Library's Movies Under the Stars summer movie series at Oshtemo Township Park.

Book

Beginning Runner's Handbook
9781553658603

Are You a Good Judge of Character?

You may know Walter Kirn from the novels and short stories he has written, but it is more likely you have heard of him because of the movies Up in the Air starring George Clooney and Thumbsucker that are based on his novels of the same name. Since I spend a lot of time reading book reviews, I know he is also a hotshot reviewer.  

 
Now he has another claim to fame; manipulated dupe of impostor and murderer Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a.k.a. Clark Rockefeller.


Desperate for money as a struggling writer who had gotten in too deep buying a ranch in Montana, he agreed to drive a disabled dog from Montana to New York City to aid in its adoption by Clark Rockefeller, member of the immensely wealthy Rockefeller family. Kirn needed the money and was hoping to maybe find in this eccentric person a subject to write about or base a character on in a future novel. 

 
This was the beginning of a long, bizarre relationship during which Kirn actually decides not to write about Rockefeller in deference to their friendship. But this all changes when his friend Clark is brought up on murder charges and investigations start to reveal that the whole relationship has been a string of lies. 

 
You will be stunned by what Christian Gerhartsreiter was able to get away with in Kirn's new memoir/true crime book  Blood Will Out. 

Blood Will Out

Book
9780871404510

Everything but the Kitchen Sink (almost)

In this book we received just last year, Eric Chaline indicates that his survey of iconic machines goes back not "to the invention of the hand ax or wheel, but begins in 1801, with the first successful application of automation to weaving, which had until then been the preserve of the skilled artisan."  Among the 50 machines profiled with brief historical treatments and artwork are the Singer sewing machine, Underwood No. 1 typewriter, diesel engine, Kodak camera, Westinghouse AC system, Model T Ford, Black and Decker electric drill, Saturn V rocket, Magnox nuclear reactor, GE top-loading washing machine, Atari 2600, Sony Walkman, IBM PC 5150, and the Hubble Telescope. This is informative and entertaining at the same time. I was hoping to see my old friend/nemesis the Regiscope included, but didn't find it. Maybe it will be in the next edition.

Book

Fifty machines that changed the course of history
9781770850903

Kant was like Copernicus but way cooler

Copernicus threw us for a loop by putting the sun at the center and us off to the side. Kant (pronounced like “font”) changed the way we perceive the world by putting the mind at the center and the external world off to the side. For us to perceive reality and know about it, reality must conform to our minds—not the other way around.

What? Let’s back up. In the 1700s there were two major schools of thought. One, the so called empiricism of Locke and Hume: that the external, physical world is “out there,” that when we are looking at a tree we are pretty much looking at an “exact copy” of the tree that exists outside our perception of it; in other words, our eyeballs are windows to reality and our senses/mind represent things accurately. On the other hand, the so called idealism of George Berkeley: that the external, physical world is a baseless assumption, that we don’t really need it, that all the things we perceive are actually “in our mind” so to speak, impressions directly implanted by God (cut out the middle man!—matter). Sure it sounds odd, but consider: when we are dreaming it seems like there is an external reality “out there”—but there’s not, it’s all in our head.

The genius of Kant at age 47 was to bring together the two schools of thought; both are right and both are wrong. Yes there is a reality, an external world that exists completely separate from our perception of it (separate from dogs’ perception of it, whales’ perception of it). But the mind recreates reality, filters reality, represents reality in a particular human way (space and time are even filters of the mind!). By the time our minds go to work on it, who knows what’s really out there—we know nothing about what’s out there. That’s how Kant blew everyone’s mind. He suggested that when we refer to “reality,” we are really talking about the world as we perceive it. When we refer to the external world, we are really talking about the unknowable, unperceivable; metaphysical speculation, God, freedom, beauty—stuff like that. The point of his book, as he says, was to “do away with knowledge in order to make room for faith.”

Kant shook my world and I hope he shakes yours. Check out my book display on the 1st floor of the downtown, Central Library—IgeekPhilosophy. (Also, follow my personal blog at jesusmeetskant.blogspot.com which of course is not affiliated with KPL).

book

Critique of Pure Reason
9780140447477

One Tapir, Two Tapirs, Three Tapirs, Four...

Have you heard of an animal called the tapir, but have little or no idea what it looks like, much less what it’s up to on our fair earth? Well, The Tapir Scientist is just the book to correct this unfortunate state of affairs! With text by Sy Montgomery and photographs by Nic Bishop, it explores the world of this unusual looking creature, whose closest living relatives happen to be the rhinoceros and horse.

The focus is upon the field investigation work of Pati Medici, an animal conservation scientist who is one of the founders of the Institute for Ecological Research in Brazil. It is dedicated to helping endangered animals such as tapirs survive.

The tapir actually existed in prehistoric times and surprisingly, its appearance has not changed much over 12 million years. What has changed is where they live. Once roaming all over Europe, Asia and both North and South America, their natural habitat has shrunk to parts of South and Central America, as well as Southeast Asia. It is South America’s largest mammal, and there are four distinct species all of which are endangered.

tapir-photo-by-sy-montgomery-160.jpg

Tapirs are rather solitary, nocturnal animals who are difficult to see, much less count, capture, study and track as Pati and her team sets out to do. However, they persevere knowing that their work is crucial, since tapirs play a major role in propagating forest plant life. Being fruit loving herbivores, they eat, digest and then let’s just say “plant” seeds from one area to another. Without them, forests and all the animal life found within may very well disappear.

This book is part of a series by the Montgomery and Bishop team called “Scientists in the Field.” Author Sy Montgomery has taken on many challenges in the past including swimming with piranhas and chasing gorillas among other things. Nic Bishop is a renowned nature photographer. His photos have captured many animals in their full, natural glory. Fun fact: Nic used to live in the Winchell area of Kalamazoo for many years before relocating to New Zealand.

KPL owns a number of titles in the “Scientists in the Field” series, including The Tarantula Scientist, Snake Scientist and Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, as well as a few others. Both author and photographer have won many awards, and their works have been noted as being distinguished examples of the best science books for youth. (Although as an animal loving adult, I too found it to be engaging.)

With it’s lively, information laden text and beautiful pictures, The Tapir Scientist is a wonderful Brazilian animal travelogue!

Book

The Tapir Scientist
9780547815480

Who Did It?

About twenty years ago, I stumbled on a documentary called Paradise Lost: the Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It told the story of the investigation into the murder of three eight year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas and the subsequent conviction of three teenagers, casting doubt on whether the teenagers were guilty of murder or just guilty of wearing black, listening to heavy metal music, and enjoying horror films. 

 
Over the years, the documentary filmmakers who made the original Paradise Lost have produced two other films:  Paradise Lost: Revelations and Paradise Lost: Purgatory. These documentaries and other information about the case convinced some high profile people like: Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Johnny Depp, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to lobby for the release of these teenagers.
After a bizarre plea deal, they were released on August 19, 2011 after serving over eighteen years for crimes they possibly didn’t commit.

 
Now, Damien Echols, who was on death row for those eighteen years, tells his story in Life After Death. Watch the documentaries and read his book and decide who you believe.

Book

Life After Death 
9780399160202

 


The People's Car!

In the 1950s and 1960s it was not unusual to see lots of Volkswagen Beetles around the Kalamazoo area. One that I remember with fondness was owned by two of my esteemed colleagues, FDC and GO, long past the time that the car was in its heyday. I always enjoyed seeing that car go by. Today there is the New Beetle in colors that vary quite a bit from the original Type 1. About six months ago KPL acquired a well-documented history of the VW Beetle. I particularly liked looking at the ads that are interspersed throughout the text. Anyone interested in automotive history or advertising practices of the mid- to late 20th century would appreciate this fine effort.

Book

The People's Car : a global history of the Volkswagen Beetle
9780674050914

The Last Human

I was browsing the first floor rotunda at the Central Library and discovered a cool display of science themed books. The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans caught my eye. Extinct humans? I'd never really thought about it that way, but later species of hominids we know about from fossil records were other branches on the tree of human evolution. From the earliest hominids to Homo sapiens, each of the chapters in this large format illustrated book profiles one human species. I enjoyed the vignettes at the beginning of each chapter that take the reader into the world of these species finding food, making art, finding food, making stuff, finding food, and so on. It's fascinating to consider how some of these species coexisted in time until one, the last human, outcompeted them all.

This fascinating book is based on an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. If this topic interests you, you might also enjoy the Smithsonian Institution's Human Origins site.

Book

The Last Human
9780300100471

 


Courage Has No Color

Recently, I’ve come across some fascinating non-fiction books for kids. I’ve just finished Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone.

Full of wonderful photos, this book tells the story of the men who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers became America’s first black paratroopers and author Tanya Lee Stone uses their story to explore the role of African Americans in the military. This is a great addition to the literature of World War II.

Tanya Lee Stone also wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, another book that sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history.

Book

Courage Has No Color
9780763651176

Another Search for Meaning Out of the Dark Wood

I’m not a typical reader of memoirs but something about the description of Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding drew me in. The first thing readers will notice is Lynn Darling’s wonderful voice and the tone of the prose— frank, witty and poetically profound. Next, you’ll find out that the book is about the second act of a woman’s adult life, both the joys and obstacles to finding pleasure and wisdom in her pre-Golden Years. With her college age daughter having flown the coop and her husband having died a decade earlier, 50-something Darling decides to take flight from familiar comforts in an attempt to locate her “essential self” by living off the grid in rural Vermont. Favorably compared to other books with similar themes of personal exploration (Eat, Pray, Love, Wild and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek to name but a few), Darling plummets deep into both the real and the metaphoric woods of her being, seeking out answers to life’s household, ontological questions.

Book

Out of the woods: a memoir of wayfinding
9780061710247

 

 


A Librarian with a Statistics Degree?

Yes, I studied actuarial science before getting my library science degree, which statement probably prompts most of you to think, “I didn’t even know those two sciences existed.” But I bring this up, because I am currently enjoying reading/listening to three books on three completely different subjects, but where numbers and statistics play a big part: 

 
The Big Short by Michael Lewis


Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant


The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by David Sally


Lewis’ book The Big Short is a well- known bestseller that explains the financial meltdown of 2008. It is fascinating and infuriating and may leave you swearing like a Wall Street bond trader (bond trader is worthy of replacing sailor in that cliché).


In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant tells the story of the Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1938 and has followed almost three hundred men of which the survivors are in their 90s now. The study was started as an attempt to, “transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.” The conclusions are interesting as well as the different factors they study over time that they think might lead to optimum health and the changes in the definition of optimum health. 

 
Sally’s book The Numbers Game is to soccer what Moneyball (written by Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short) is to baseball. As he crunches the numbers, he comes up with conclusions like launching corner kicks into the box hoping to score a goal is less valuable than just retaining possession with a short safe pass and that the team that takes the most shots on goal actually loses slightly more than half of the time. 

 
Isn’t it great that libraries have books to please all sorts of tastes? 

Book

The Numbers Game

9780143124566

 


Unwrapping the Mystery of Salinger

J.D. Salinger is famous for two primary reasons (there are plenty of secondary reasons as well). First, he authored one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books written over the past 70 years (The Catcher in the Rye) and secondly, because he vanished from the public eye at the height of his fame, leaving several generations of devoted acolytes and the media to restlessly ponder the reasons behind his retreat into extreme privacy. Shane Salerno and David Shields have co-authored the gossipy, oral history called Salinger (a book based upon a documentary film) with the goal of cobbling together an assortment of viewpoints from those who knew him best. Ex-girlfriends, army buddies, fellow writers, family members, and various muses line up to break their collective silence to share their intimate memories and insights. It's a fascinating look at one of America's most significant writers and provides some new perspectives on both his creative output and his complicated private life.

Book

Salinger
9781476744834

Some Good, Some Not

Here I go again. The library's non-cook is writing about a cookbook. But, the historical aspect of this book is what attracted me to it. There are 100 recipes here, one for each year from 1901-2000, included by 100 different chefs. To give the readers of this blog a flavor (pun intended) of what's in this book, I'll list a few of the recipes: 1909 - Baked Alaska; 1910 - The Comet Coupe (in honor of Halley's Comet that year); 1932 - "The Sun Also Rises" Punch; 1945 - Original Brain Tapioca Ambrosia (not the brain one thinks with, but because of the invention of the ENIAC computer); 1952 - Geraldine's Maryland Crab Soup; 1976 - Firecracker Fourth of July Beef Ribs (to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial); 1979 - Meatball and Potato Pizza. Some of the 100 sound delicious; others I would never consider touching. But I think that's how it would be for anyone looking at any recipe book, not just me. Clever and fun idea - yes. Good photos - yes. Bon appetit - maybe.

Book

The way we ate : 100 chefs celebrate a century at the American table
9781476732725

Books with a Year Focus

Books focusing on one year are not uncommon, but there seems to be a rash of them lately, almost like a new emphasis in publishing.

Earlier this year, I read One Summer: America, 1927 – Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone…. what a summer, what an interesting time in our history.

I recently read and blogged about Ready for a Brand New Beat with a focus on the summer of 1964.
Now I’m reading The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.

As I browsed our new nonfiction shelves yesterday I noticed Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893; Constellation of Genius: 1922; and Japan 1941.

Just an observation for what it is worth on a cold, snowy day…

Book

One Summer: America, 1927
9780767919401

Books on Music: Louder Than Hell

Ever wonder what life is like for the average metal musician? If Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is to be believed, it involves massive substance abuse, anonymous and degrading sex, and tons of questionable behavior- and that's the good parts. Combing through hundreds of interviews with musicians, roadies, managers, groupies and journalists, Louder Than Hell paints a simultaneously fascinating and horrifying portrait of one of the most-loved and most-hated music genres- heavy metal. While this book definitely isn't for everyone- the amount of booze and bloodshed can be stomach-turning at times- the sheer amount of music history on display is impressive. Authors Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman spent 25 years interviewing everyone from Alice Cooper and Lemmy Kilmister, Dave Mustaine and Chino Moreno, Trent Reznor and Nivek Ogre- and if any of those names mean anything to you, and if you like your music loud, heavy and excessive, then you're probably the right audience for Louder Than Hell.

Book

Louder Than Hell
9780061958281

Ready for a Brand New Beat

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.

Book

Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
9781594487224

Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Have you ever browsed the non-fiction shelves for good books for your preschooler? You should! There are more and more wonderful books about real things that are perfect for very young kids. One of my favorites is Red-Eyed Tree Frog by Joy Cowley and Nic Bishop. The words are just right for a very young child and the photographs are superb.

This is a book I go to over and over, whether it’s for storytime or sharing at home or to recommend to another parent. The next time you’re at the library, ask us to show you some of our favorite non-fiction books.

Book

Red-Eyed Tree Frog
9780590871754

A Fan's Ultimate Guide to Wes Anderson

If I was forced into compiling a list of my favorite film directors, Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom) would be number five or six, perhaps even four given my mood. Regardless, he’s one of my go-to directors when I want to laugh, cry (well, not really) and be intellectually moved and artistically impressed. So I was pleased as punch to find out that a new, beautifully conceived book about Anderson and his singular cinematic vision was coming out this winter. The coffee table-sized book is a kitchen-sink assortment of analysis, interviews, and references to those touchstones which have inspired the director. The Wes Anderson Collection is a fan’s must-have tome. You can view a Q and A with the author here.

Book

The Wes Anderson Collection
9780810997417