Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

I heard the title story in Karen Russell's collection of short stories read aloud by Joanna Gleason on PRI's Selected Shorts a while back and greatly enjoyed it. Each of Karen Russell's short stories in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is surreal and darkly funny, zooming right along in original and unexpected ways. The stories read like somone recounting "the strangest dream" and you're both laughing because it's so funny and otherworldly and you're really kind of glad that it was just a dream. If you like George Saunders you'll probably love Karen Russell, too. Now I'm looking forward to reading Russell's full length novel Swamplandia, a taste of which we get in "Ava Wrestles the Alligator", the first story in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.


St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

The Johnstown Flood

David McCullough is in the news for his new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. By coincidence, I just read one of his early books, The Johnstown Flood, published in 1968.

I grew up in Pennsylvania and although I had heard of the Johnstown flood, I knew nothing about it. I’m a fan of McCullough’s and when I realized one of his earliest works was about the flood, I knew it would be a readable account of this tragedy.

The flood occurred on Memorial Day, 1889, when a huge storm caused the dam and lake at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to give way and rush fifteen miles down the mountain destroying everything in its path, including much of Johnstown. Over 2200 people perished.

The Club was a mountain resort with large “cottages” of Pittsburgh’s wealthiest – Carnegie, Frick, Mellon, among others. When they bought the property the dam was neglected and “repairs” were made. Although there were many lawsuits, none were won and the club assumed no responsibility.

Of course floods are in the news currently. Now, unlike 122 years ago, there is some advance warning and preparation time, and a realization of the devastation that can occur.

This is yet another very readable, historical narrative from McCullough. Even though I knew the outcome of course, there is feeling of terror as the water approaches and the town is swept away.


The Johnstown Flood
johnstown-flood-cover-160 M133

Quit Monkeying Around, Jay Berry!

Wilson Rawls, known for his Where the Red Fern Grows, has written a treasure titled Summer of the Monkeys. I happened on this book one night shift in Teen at Central. It’s the story of Jay Berry Lee, his family, and his blue-tick hound, Rowdy. The family lives on a farm “smack dab in the middle of the Cherokee Nation” in Oklahoma. The time is the late 1800s. Summer of the Monkeys is the story of 14-year-old Jay Berry Lee and his adventures in the bottoms of a river not too far from their homestead. Jay Berry has a younger sister by the name of Daisy, who was born with her right leg “all twisted up”. She walks with a crutch, and has a fairy-world type of imagination that lets her almost forget her leg and its limits on her life.

The Lee family is eking out a living on their farm, but there is not much money left over, and certainly not enough to take Daisy “to the city” where doctors can fix her leg.

Jay Berry comes upon a bunch of monkeys that belong to a circus and who have escaped on account of a train wreck. There is a reward for their return, and Jay Berry immediately sees $$$$ which add up to a rifle of his own, and a new pony.

The author says it much better than I can in this excerpt from the first chapter of his book: “Up until I was fourteen years old, no boy on earth could have been happier. I didn’t have a worry in the world. In fact, I was beginning to think that it wasn’t going to be hard at all for me to grow up. But just when things were really looking good for me, something happened. I got mixed up with a bunch of monkeys and all of my happiness flew right out the window. Those monkeys all but drove me out of my mind.”

Reading Rawls’ story was a real treat. I laughed. Out loud. I cried. Silently. I hope you will enjoy this story of familial loyalty as much as I did.


Summer of the Monkeys

A dangerous inheritance

After the death of her mother, Yeine Darr is surprised to hear her estranged grandfather name her one of three potential heirs.  Now her cousins, the other two heirs, want her dead.  To stay alive, she has to learn her way around the dynasty and the political complexities in its skytop palace while becoming acquainted with the gods her family has defeated and keeps as servants.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin is a fantastic story that combines power struggles, romance and a coming-of-age story.  A compelling read, it introduces a creative new mythology with recognizable elements from various world religions.  There are universal themes of order and chaos, and the explosive combination of the two which results in life.  Fantasy with a touch of scifi, you'll find this book in the fiction stacks at the Central library, and as an ebook and a digital audiobook.

If you enjoy it as much as I did, you will be delighted to hear that this book is the first in a trilogy.  The second is The Broken Kingdoms which is also available as a downloadable audiobook. The third, The Kingdom of Gods, is released at the end of October.  I'll be placing a hold on it; feel free to join me.


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Why Read? It’s Summertime!!

Recently, I was reading the May/June 2011 issue of The Horn Book Magazine when an editorial caught my eye. Written by Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief for the magazine, the editorial, titled “Who Can We Count On?” raises several very good questions about reading in general, and specifically, about summertime reading by schoolchildren. These questions are certainly ones that teachers, parents, librarians, and other concerned adults should ponder. Here they are, with some of my own added:

• How many books should one read in a given time frame?

• Should we encourage schoolchildren to read?

• Does reading level (of the reader) really matter?

• Should summer reading schoolchildren be provided with incentives for reaching pre-set reading goals? And, who should set these goals?

• What types of incentives should be offered? (books, burgers, bicycles?)

• Should the number of books read count for anything?

As a librarian in a public library who works almost exclusively with children’s reading habits, I find these questions “right on the money” for insuring success in a summertime reading program or club. At the Kalamazoo Public Library, the summertime reading program for kids begins in early to mid-June, and continues until the last weekend in August. Somewhere close to twelve (12) weeks. The Library offers summer games for children ages birth-entering Kindergarten, for children entering 1st-4th grade, for ‘tweens who are entering grades five through seven, and for teens entering grades eight through graduation. (Don’t worry, adults, there’s a game for you, too!) Each of these games offers incentives at intervals along the way. Each of the children’s games encourages reading books at one’s pre-determined level (usually from the Accelerated Reader program in the schools). Each game encourages reading for a minimum of twenty (20) minutes a day, and also allows for reading at one’s level and for being read aloud to.

This year, incentives and games are going to be more “across the board” than they have been in the past. Readers will earn paperback books, tee shirts, stickers, and colorful beads at pre-set intervals.

Should you bring your child/encourage your child to come to the library this summer and read in one of the games? Absolutely! And, don’t forget to read yourself! What better role model than a reading parent?

Roger Sutton’s editorial concludes with this question: “…creating a second home on the floor of the children’s room…”. Won’t you join me this summer and read, read, read?


Summer Reading

Expanded Best Seller List

I always skim the lists of bestsellers in the Sunday New York Times Book Review when the library copy comes my way. The lists have traditionally included hardcover fiction and nonfiction, and paperbacks in various formats and genres.

Not surprisingly, there are now two news lists: E-Book Best Sellers and Combined Print and E-Book Best Sellers. There is also a comparison of the fiction bestsellers – where the same title falls on the print list vs. the e-book list.

There is quite a bit of overlap. The titles high on the print lists are also high on the e-book list. Obviously readers want a particular title and the format is increasingly unimportant.

Is the format important / unimportant to you? I admit I still prefer print.


The New York Times Best Sellers

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

As a librarian in the Teen Services area, I'm always interested in the Alex Award winners...books that were originally published for adults that have appeal for teens. This title, by Aimee Bender, is one of this year's Alex Award winners.

The story chronicles the childhood and young adulthood of Rose Edelstein who, at age 9, discovers quite by accident, that she has the ability to "taste," in homecooked food, the emotions of the person who made it. Not surprisingly, the first time it happens, the food has been prepared by her mother and Rose finds herself privy to some feelings that her mother has never outwardly expressed. And so it begins. Throughout the book, as Rose finds ways to manage (or in some cases, not) this unusual gift, she learns more than perhaps she ever wanted to know about herself and the people in her life, namely her parents and her reclusive brother. 

I'm glad to say this was the first time I checked out an eBook with my KPL library card, and there were many things I liked about the experience: 
    • Because I had installed the appropriate Android app, I was able to download the title to my phone and was therefore able to read a few pages whenever I had time to spare...waiting to pick up my kids, in the doctor's office, even at the gym; 
    • I appreciated having a time limit on finishing the book. eBooks are not renewable so I had to finish the book in the allotted time (14 days) before it disappeared from my phone. That forced me--in a good way, of course--to keep reading; 
    • I continued reading one or two of the printed books by my bedside. In this way, the eBook was almost like a "bonus book" that I found myself enjoying at times and places where I might not normally have a printed book with me.

If you haven't tried it yet, and you have a device that allows you to read eBooks (or audiobooks too), I encourage you to give it a try.  


The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Karen S

Digital Dickens

Suddenly eBooks, and the associated devices that display them, seem to be everywhere, in the media and on the minds of many avid readers and the holiday gift givers who love them. As the way we think about books changes, KPL’s services to readers will change as well, but always with a focus on providing the titles that our community are interested in, no matter the format. To that end, I want to be sure our digital book reading patrons know that KPL has literally thousands of ebook titles available for checkout and download. From high demand bestsellers that can be placed on hold using your library card to public domain titles that are always available, the KPL eBooks webpage is sure to guide you to something you will enjoy reading as well as explain the service to those new to eBooks. There is something slightly incongruent to me about reading classic literature on an ebook reader, but that is exactly what I will be doing this holiday as I reread A Christmas Carol for the first time on a KPL Sony Reader. I have been reluctant to embrace the eBook experience, but as Mr. Dickens said himself: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”


A Christmas Carol

The Best Books of 2010

Are you wondering what great books you missed reading this year? It’s the time of year when the “Best Of” book lists are compiled and these lists are a wonderful opportunity to check out what titles the reviewers and critics preferred. I always enjoy taking a look through them, and I always end up adding a number of the suggested titles to my reading list.

These lists represent a wide range of reading preferences and offer some great choices to catch up on your reading as winter settles upon us. We even have our own Best of 2010 list here at KPL! Even if the holidays have you hustling and bustling, take a moment to click on these links to NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and to see what all the reading buzz of 2010 is about. Happy Reading!


Staff Picks: Best of 2010

Future Now

William Gibson is an author who suffers from a form of literary type-casting. Through his steady and consistent work in the late 1980’s and 90’s, including the masterful Neuromancer, he helped define the cyberpunk genre. But if you lost track of Gibson, as I fear many did, around Mona Lisa Overdrive then you may have missed out on his current, and I would argue some of his best, work. Gibson has said that he stopped writing about the far future because the present had become so choke full of technological and cultural weirdness that, when truly examined, it seems completely futuristic. His latest Zero History, which can stand alone but is the final book in a loosely tied together trilogy, certainly holds to that. Like a good internet surfing session Gibson seemlessly weaves together divergent subjects as far afield as micro trend spotting, base jumping, fashion, the military industrial complex, modern perceptions of privacy, addiction, the music industry and, my favorite meme from Zero History, the Festo Air Penguin (see video below), into a strong character driven thriller and sprinkles it all with a kind of slick urban dread that he does so well.


Zero History
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