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Staff Picks: Books

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.

Recipes for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I love to cook (and eat). A few years ago when I was living in New Hampshire, where all my extended family lives, I prepared a huge Thanksgiving dinner for them and made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin pies, which required baking, scraping, and pureeing two whole sugar pumpkins. I relied on several books and resources for recipes and cooking techniques, and I recommend them highly.

I'm not much of a meat eater and don't cook meat very often, but that Thanksgiving I prepared what my uncles say was the best turkey they've ever eaten. I owe all the credit to Alton Brown and his Good Eats Roast Turkey method, which involves soaking the turkey in a brine for a minimum of eight hours. I got the pumpkin pie recipe, which I must say was the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. Additionally, I referred to Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie for tips on mixing and rolling pie pastry. I also used Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook for her multigrain rolls, which were tasty and much easier to make than I anticipated. If you're looking for vegetable sides, Recipes From the Root Cellar is a great book with tons of recipes for sweet potatoes, squash, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips-- all the great winter vegetables currently in season. The Maple-Balsamic Root Vegetables are a favorite. For past vegetarian Thanksgiving meals I've made a lentil loaf as the main dish, but that rarely goes over well with omnivores. I suggest Deb Perelman's Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It is so flavorful and satisfying, that I can't imagine even a meat lover not asking for seconds. The one dish that remains completely elusive for me is stuffing; I cannot find a recipe I like. I'll happily take your recommendations!

We have a bit more than two weeks to plan Thanksgiving meals. KPL has a wonderful cookbook collection, so you should have no trouble finding some great recipes to try. What will be on your menu this year?


Recipes From the Root Cellar


A Literary Tour of the Country

Someone, somewhere has compiled a list of books by most any imaginable subject or arrangement. This one caught my eye, especially for those of us who like books with “place” as a central theme.

50 States, 50 Novels: A Literary Tour of the United States

More books for my reading list….


Looking for Alaska

The Burgess Boys

My book group had one of our most spirited conversations ever about The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout. We had liked her previous book, Olive Kitteridge, so her new book was a logical choice for us.

Briefly this is the story of three siblings living with the guilt of their father’s death at a very early age. A crisis with their nephew compels the brothers to return to their Maine hometown. They revisit the tragedy, the relationship among the siblings, and the cultural divide between their small hometown and their current life.

We had so much to talk about….the relationship among the siblings, the action of the nephew that divides the small town, the Somali refugees, the marriage of Jim Burgess, family secrets. We even continued the conversation the next day on email!

This is a well-written, character driven story about family relationships. It is a good read alone or for a book group.


The Burgess Boys

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.


Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Oh, that's why it tastes so good

Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one Dorito? Or why that can of Coca-Cola seems to call out to you from behind the refrigerator door? Read, Pullitzer Prize winning author, Michael Moss’s latest book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and you will wonder no more. The short answer, science. Plus millions of dollars in advertising and loads and loads of salt, sugar, and fat tossed in just to make sure we can't get enough. Moss takes readers inside the story of the rise of the processed food industry into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today and how big food’s insatiable craving for profit has left an obesity epidemic and generations with poor eating habits in its wake. Salt Sugar Fat is certainly a cautionary tale, and will have every reader questioning their own consumer behavior and eating habits. But Moss’s tone isn't overly preachy and takes a pragmatic view of the food industries focus on providing the much in demand convenience of processed food with the need for individuals to be aware of and responsible for what they put into their bodies. Highly recommended.


Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

Wumbers : it's words cre8ed with numbers!

What do you get when you combine a word and a number? A Wumber!

Wumbers: It’s a book! It’s a game! It’s words cre8ed with numbers! Wri10 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustr8ed by Tom Lichtenheld this is such a creative and fun book. Each two page spread is a little story. Characters speak through balloon captioned text. The text is so easy and fun that kids and adults will be it over and over.

Samples from the end pages:

  • Have you ever tiptoed through the 2lips?
  • What question would you ask a 4tune teller?

What a fun book to share plus you may want to try making wumbers yourself!


Wumbers : it's words cre8ed with numbers!

More Short Stories

Last month Steve and Ann recommended two collections of short stories, and the New York Times declared the form is being revived because of the proliferation of devices like e-readers, tablets, and smartphones. I have always enjoyed short stories, but I've found myself more interested in reading them since acquiring an e-reader. Whether you read e-books or print, I recommend short stories as a way to get in a bit of reading every day.

The new collections at the top of my list are Vampires in the Lemon Grove, the latest from Swamplandia! author Karen Russell, and There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Russian writer Liudmila Petrushevskaia.

Here are a few good collections, published last year, that you may have missed:

Who are your favorite short story writers?


There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself

A Short Story Winner

You Know When the Men are Gone, a collection of eight loosely connected stories, is centered on Fort Hood, Texas. The title of the first story and the collection refers to what is not heard through the thin walls of military housing: no boots stomping, no football games, no early morning doors slamming as they leave for drills. You know the men have deployed.

The women and the children wait, they cope in different ways. The men on deployment cope in their ways also; the homecoming can be bittersweet, challenging.

These are personal stories, not political. The tone is straightforward, the stories are compelling. They put a human face on the news stories.


You Know When the Men are Gone

Libraries and E-books

NPR ran an interesting segment yesterday about libraries and e-lending—a good reminder that (to borrow a phrase from another NPR story) “change is the only constant in today’s publishing industry.” According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 75% of Americans read a book (in any platform) during the past year, and of those, 30% read an e-book. Sales of e-books for the same period grew modestly, up 34% over 2011, and e-book prices have somewhat stabilized at or near the $10 mark. With the growing popularity of e-readers and tablet pcs, however, the demand for e-content is forcing publishers to reexamine traditional sales and lending models.

Ok, you might say, that’s fine, but what about those of us who find the cost of purchasing our own content prohibitive (or restrictive at very least)? And once I buy an e-book, do I really “own” it anyway? Can I pass it along to my parents or my kids or a friend to read? Will there ever be such a thing as a digital “used” bookstore? (Probably not.)

Public libraries (including KPL) continue to expand e-book services, although selection remains frustratingly limited. According to the Pew study, only about 5% of library users borrowed an e-book in the past year, and only 31% were even aware that they could. Why is that? Don’t libraries know that users want more e-content? Of course they do, but the fact remains that many of the major publishers simply don’t want to play nice with libraries. They tend to view library lending as a threat to sales rather than the enormous promotional opportunity that it is. Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library in New York, says “public libraries, I mean, we're out there really pushing the product of these publishers, and I can't imagine another industry in this country that has that type of a relationship.” And as for those publishers that do make library content available, prohibitive pricing models and the resulting tangle of software designed to protect publishers’ digital rights only serves to compound the issue. So what do we do?

The answer is like Michigan weather… stick around, it’s bound to change. Currently, KPL licenses and distributes its e-content through a consortium of Michigan libraries in order to offer the broadest possible selection in a cost-effective manner. And we’re constantly researching new and different models for e-books, digital audiobooks, music, and other e-content. To help alleviate the waiting time, KPL purchases additional copies of many popular titles (called Advantage titles), which are available through the consortium but only to KPL resident borrowers. For first-time users, we’ve posted newly revised instructions to help make the library e-book experience as smooth as possible. And for hands-on help, the library is hosting a series of e-book information sessions where users can get help with technical questions and learn about new developments in KPL digital collections.

So go ahead, explore KPL’s digital collections and rest assured that as new developments come about, your library will be right there with you.