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Staff Picks: Books

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook

Full disclosure, I am far from a vegetarian. But I do like good food, have passing interest in eating healthier, and I’m a big fan of everything that America’s Test Kitchen does, so when I saw that America’s Test Kitchen had released a new cookbook, The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook: a fresh guide to eating well with 700 foolproof recipes, I put my bias for animal products to the side and checked it out. There are recipes here to suit any mood, time, or flavor interest, and having them vetted by the impossibly thorough cooks at ATK means that you can basically turn to any random page and find something great. What I truly love about this cookbook is the “why this recipe works” section that is included with each recipe and offers the home cook some pointers about technique, ingredient selection, or intangible things that the ATK testers discovered are helpful in executing the recipe as designed. I’ve only made one of the recipes so far, a curry lentil soup, but I’m happy to report that it was easy to follow, the tips offered made total sense, and the soup itself was delicious.

Why Women are Better than Men

Oxytocin, a bizarre unsuspecting hormone expressed during sex and breast feeding, has been heavily linked to empathy, trust and - in a word - being a good person.

Okay. So what. Well, here's the problem. Women have it. Men don't (generally speaking). This explains why women tend to be less violent, more giving, and more empathic than men. Sorry, men, we simply cannot ignore these statistics.

Of course there is much more to the story than that. But this book, which absolutely blew my mind, tries to explain how and why oxytocin forms the building blocks of morality. For me, a student of religion, philosophy, and the intersection between them and science, this argument was fascinating. I highly recommend this book. This is one of those books that I will never forget

Lucky Cat...Lucky Family

The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat is a heartfelt  memoir written by Lissa Warren, who in addition to being an author, is also an editor and publicity director residing on the East Coast. This chronicle revolves around Ting-Pei, Lissa’s family’s Korat cat. The Warrens’ had always been a cat loving family. Ting’s feline predecessor, Cinnamon, had lived with them for over 19 years, when kidney disease finally claimed her.


So in 1996, when Lissa’s father Jerry retired, had quadruple bypass surgery, and needed a companion to help him pass the time during recovery, Ting was adopted. Despite the fact that she weighed a mere seven pounds, Ting was a kitten full of vim, vigor, and a pronounced mischievous streak. Using her abundant intellect and winning personality, she quickly established herself as a prominent member of the Warren clan. Being on very friendly terms with everyone, she especially bonded with the father, and was an integral part of his daily life right up to the time of his death due to a heart attack in 2008.


Not too long after that loss, Ting begins to act strangely; stumbling, swaying back and forth and just staring into space for prolonged periods of time. A visit to the veterinarian reveals that Ting had become “syncopal”. These episodes of semi-loss of consciousness were being caused by a lack of blood reaching the brain as the result of cardiomyopathy; a condition where there is a weakening of the heart muscle thereby decreasing it’s ability to pump.


Ting’s prognosis is grim unless she has a pacemaker implanted; a common procedure for humans, but not so much with cats. However, neither this knowledge nor the rather high cost involved, daunts Lissa, and she transports Ting to Boston where the procedure is completed.


After surgery, Ting recuperates at the Boston clinic for about a week, and after a few more weeks at home, recovers completely. As of the book’s publishing date, she was still doing fine at 19 years of age!


Unfortunately, three years after Ting’s pacemaker implantation, Lissa was diagnosed with MS. Once more, Ting becomes a valuable support.


This book focuses on Ting and how she changed the lives of Lissa’s dad and Lissa herself. It is also a moving tribute to a family’s power to love, rejoice, deal with illness, grief, fear and accept their own fates.

The Lego Neighborhood Book

I never got into Legos as a child. For some reason, Legos were an item I just didn't happen to beg my parents to buy for me. I had Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys, yes. Legos -- no. But I became interested in them when I saw the wonderful exhibits here at KPL by some very talented people. Earlier this week I happened to spot this 2014 book by Brian and Jason Lyles and was amazed at some of the patterns that could be constructed using these plastic blocks. This book on Lego villages has everything figured out, right down to the fire hydrants. And this is only one book on the topic. KPL has many others from which to choose, in the children's, teen, and adult areas of the library.

What is a Juggalo?

I was inspired to search out other Jon Ronson books after reading and really enjoying The Psychopath Test. I found Lost at Sea, a collection of journalistic investigations into eccentric people, belief systems, extraordinary projects, and human tragedies. Although I loved The Psychopath Test, I was not prepared for how many times I would laugh out loud while reading Lost at Sea at lunch in our staff room. 

As Ronson interviews people on a special cruise with psychic Sylvia Browne, or adherents to a new religious movement in England that involves speaking in tongues, or attendees at a Neuro-Linguistic Programming Conference, he is always skeptical but not mean or snarky. Many times he asked just the question that was in my head, but he did not badger people if they did not fully answer his question. I also liked that he did not completely remove himself from the possibility of believing in the things he was investigating. 

I was disturbed by the obsessive research and collecting of the filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and enjoyed learning of a town in Alaska called the North Pole where the letters sent to Santa arrive and the townspeople try to answer some of them.

Oh yeah, and the collection starts with a bang, focusing on Michigan’s own Insane Clown Posse and the interesting message they had for their fans, the juggalos, after twenty years of aggressive, offensive rap music.

International Cooking @ KPL

Peru : the cookbook is one of the most beautiful books I've seen come across my desk here in the cataloging department at KPL. The recipes inside are as beautiful and mouth-watering as the rainbow-colored cover. If you are adventurous in the kitchen and like to try cooking foods from other cultures, check out KPL's international cooking section, call number 641.59 (2nd floor). The numbers are further divided out by country/region.

Some popular ones are:
French, 641.5944
Italian, 641.5945
Greek, 641.59495
Chinese, 641.5951
Japanese, 641.5952
Indic, 641.5954
Middle Eastern, 641.5956
African, 641.596
Mexican, 641.5972
American, 641.5973
African-American, 641.59296

To find in the catalog, search the subject heading “Cooking” with a comma, then the region -- for example, "Cooking, French" or "Cooking, Japanese."

Countdown to Zero Day

I casually picked up Kim Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the launch of the world's first digital weapon because I was familiar with her writing for Wired magazine where she covers cybercrime, privacy, and security issues. While I knew Zetter as a skilled writer, I was not prepared for this book to capture my attention so profoundly and to be such a scary thrill to read. The book begins as an account of the detection and spread of what seemed at the time (2010-11) a rather routine computer “malware” attack but quickly unfolds into a thrilling whodunit with complex international implications and a glimpse at the kind of cyber-warfare that we will face in the future.


The Good Spy

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, is the compelling story of a remarkable CIA operative, perhaps one of the most important in CIA history. Many have said had he lived, he might have been able to heal the rift between the Arab and western worlds.

A geopolitical turning point occurred on April 18, 1983, when a bomb exploded outside of the American Embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people, including Robert Ames.

Ames had an extraordinary ability to form deep, meaningful connections with key Arab intelligence operatives, an ability that was extremely valuable and sorely missed. Might the situation been different in the mid-east, even today, had he lived? Some think so.

Book reviewers have called this a compelling and complex narrative that can be read on various levels, including the influence a truly good man can have on an agency as cynical at the CIA as well as a glimpse of the region’s political failures and descent into violence. This book is quite readable as it tells the story of a good man working in a not-so-good system in a violent part of the world.

Last Call: Prohibition in Kalamazoo a Century Ago

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

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

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

Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, April 6, 1915

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

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

A story of a brilliant young man that went to Yale but couldn’t leave the Hood behind.

This is a sad and much too familiar story. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is about a young who was gifted with a brilliant mind. His mom did what she was could to get him in the right places. He made it into Yale. He got all A’s, but it wasn’t enough. He could not separate himself from the Hood. The Dorm life, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry could not compete with the call of the lifestyle he was raised in. Robert Peace’s life ended tragically. He wanted to live both worlds. He was gunned down while trying to make fast money.

Jeff Hobbs did an excellent job on telling the Robert Peace story.