Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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.
The Big Tiny
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.
Beginning Runner's Handbook
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
Last week the application to be a Book Giver on World Book Night became available! What is World Book Night? It's an "annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person." Book Givers give out 20 copies of a book they love to adults and teens who may not have access to reading materials.
The folks behind World Book Night also revealed the titles that will be given out by tens of thousands of people in their communities on April 23, 2014. The list of titles includes some of my favorites, like Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.
The deadline to apply to be a Book Giver is January 5, 2014. Apply here. Kalamazoo Public Library will again serve as a pick up site for Book Givers.
One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is the 1990 James Beard Award-winning Please to the Table: the Russian Cookbook by Moscow native Anya von Bremzen. The book allows me to recreate some of my delicious memories from the time I spent in Russia several years ago, with recipes for everything from adzhika to pirozhki to vareniki, originating from across the former Soviet Union. So naturally I was delighted to discover von Bremzen’s forthcoming memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, and I devoured it almost as quickly as a plate of blini.
Von Bremzen’s book is not simply about food—something that is so inextricably bound with culture, tradition, politics, economics, the environment. And it is not only personal memoir and family history, but a sweeping account examining the twilight years of the Russian Empire, the nearly 70 years of the Soviet Union’s existence, the Russian Federation’s bleak early days, as well as its more recent economic boom. Into this epic history, she weaves in details of her family’s experience. Like her paternal grandmother Alla, who was born in Central Asia, orphaned, and then raised by an early activist for women’s rights who was later exiled to Siberia. Alla moved to Moscow as a teenager, and brought Uzbek recipes with her. Von Bremzen’s mother’s bout with scarlet fever, suffered while subsisting on wartime rations, contrasts sharply with her first taste of Pepsi-Cola a decade later. And von Bremzen’s own experiences – rejecting on principle difficult-to-procure products like special candy from the Red October Chocolate Factory at her school for children of Communist Party elites, to her confusion over Pop Tarts as an immigrant in Philadelphia – are shared with earnestness.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is a satisfying read, and especially suggested for readers of food memoirs like Gabrielle Hamilton’s candid Blood, Bones and Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, or Russian culture enthusiasts who enjoyed Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking