Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Jesmyn Ward won the 2011 National Book Award for fiction with her book Salvage the Bones, a novel that follows a poor Mississippi family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and uses their story to confront issues of poverty and racism. Ward’s new book Men We Reaped continues the discussion of poverty and race, but this time the stakes seem even higher: Men We Reaped is a memoir centering on the death of five men, in as many years, in her small DeLisle, Mississippi community. All five men touched her life in some manner, but the heart of the book lies with the death of her beloved brother Joshua. Though the circumstance of each death varies, they are inevitably linked by unyielding poverty and deeply systemic racism.
Interspersed between the stories of their deaths, Ward tells stories of her childhood; the nonlinear storyline of the book unwinds like a puzzle—as more pieces of her childhood and details of her community are revealed, the issues that tie the deaths together become more apparent, and her feelings that the black men in her community are being stolen away are understandable. Ward knows the hopelessness, the fear, and sadness left behind when a community loses its men; this is her attempt to tell their stories and let the world know that their lives mattered.
Men We Reaped
One of my favorite things about reading a novel is when I come across one with characters so believable, so engaging, that I think about them for days after I’ve finished the book. Eleanor and Parkwas just one of those books for me, and I nearly decided not to read it because it was labeled as young adult fiction. Based on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I trusted, I put my teen lit prejudices aside and found I couldn’t put the book down once I had picked it up. Eleanor and Park are sixteen in 1986, social outcasts, and falling in love over comic books and New Wave. I’m certain I would have been friends with them in high school.
Tension in the novel arises from Eleanor’s home life—she lives in poverty with an abusive stepfather. Her situation is a tough one, and it’s heartbreaking, but author Rainbow Rowell manages present her story in a realistic way without turning it into a schmaltzy after-school special. I consider the absence of schmaltz a major feat since this is basically a story about two socially awkward teenagers falling in love for the first time, and it’s ripe with opportunities for sentimentality. This book is good for anyone, teen or adult, who likes great character development.
Eleanor and Park
While reading two books, The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Two Whole Cakes, I came across references to a movement called “Health at Every Size (HAES).” Unfamiliar with the phrase, I did a little research and found a book called Health at Every Size: the Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon. In her book, Bacon discusses obesity and dieting and concludes that humans have evolved to store fat well, but not to lose it. She uses scientific studies (she herself is a scientist) to back up her argument that diets don’t work and that a number on scale does not determine a person’s health or wellbeing. Bacon urges people not to look at food (any food) as good or bad, but to listen to their bodies and eat food that makes them feel their best—energized and strong. She also encourages readers to incorporate more activity into their daily lives, but to focus on activity that is enjoyable and not a chore.
This is not a diet book; in fact it’s the opposite: Bacon advises people to pay attention the way their bodies feel in relation to food and movement to improve health, not to lose weight. I really, really liked this book; it was incredibly refreshing to read a book talking about health that urges you to listen to your body, to trust it to tell you what you need—I’d rather trust myself with my health than a diet industry that makes a huge profit selling people one particular body ideal.
health at every size: the surprising truth about your weight
Davy Rothbart’s life is anything but ordinary. This Ann Arbor native and creator of Found Magazine has an endless yearning for new experiences, exhibits a complete fearlessness of strangers, and falls in “love” with every pretty girl he meets, however briefly that meeting may be (if you have dark eyes, long hair, and work at a Subway—watch out!). My Heart Is an Idiot, Rothbart’s new collection of essays, chronicles the adventures he stumbles upon, or rather creates, in his travels across the U.S. Rothbart has the ability to make friends with anyone and everyone, and that talent, combined with a restlessness that compels him to constantly be on the move, makes for some very crazy encounters. Hitchhiking? There’s plenty of that. Traveling across the country for a girl he barely knows? Sure! Dead man in a pool? Yeah, he found one once. I can’t say that his writing is the best or that his constant pursuit of unrealistic romance didn’t get tiresome, but the weird situations and odd coincidences in these stories make My Heart Is an Idiot entertaining. His heart is definitely an idiot, but at least it’s a charming, adventurous one.
My Heart Is an Idiot
A few months ago, I happened to catch a show on PBS called “Half the Sky,” a series about the oppression of women in developing countries. The film followed a
number of women throughout the world who have devoted their lives to freeing women and young girls from sex trafficking, domestic violence, and inadequate healthcare (including access to better prenatal care and freedom from genital mutilation). The topics were heavy and the film footage often heartbreaking, but the work being done by these selfless, heroic women was inspiring.
Come to find out, the film was based on a book called Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn wrote Half the Sky in an effort to address the oppression of women—a problem they saw reaching a crisis point but not being discussed at a global level. Not only does the book attempt to raise awareness of the issues that women and girls face worldwide, but it also acts as a call to arms to inspire and enact change. They believe that empowering women, while morally right, also serves to help the global economy and combat poverty, and they give plenty of examples of organizations working hard to fight for women’s rights. Don’t be frightened away by the weighty topic—this powerful and enlightening book will leave readers full of hope and optimism.
Half the sky
If you dabble in interior design or take a lot of pictures of the food you make, chances are I’ve read your blog. I’m a regular reader of a number of blogs that focus on DIY house projects or made-from-scratch recipes, and lately it seems as though the writers of all my favorite blogs are getting book deals. I’ve been really excited about the release of Deb Perelman’s book, The Smitten Kitchen. The Smitten Kitchen is my favorite food blog, mainly because the author uses simple ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes in a tiny, tiny kitchen—in other words, she makes me think I can recreate her recipes in my own kitchen. Perelman’s photography skills make the blog particularly appealing, and I’m hoping that the cookbook has the same appetizing look.
In addition to The Smitten Kitchen cookbook, I’ve been looking forward to the book from Sherry and John Petersik, creators of the house blog Young House Love. Like the blog, the book Young House Love is full of do-it-yourself projects to decorate the home. I’d categorize their style as bright and cheerful with modern elements, and their casual manner and detailed instructions make it easy to bring their look into your own home. They’re very inspiring for people slightly afraid of a DIY challenge.
The Smitten Kitchen and Young House Love aren’t the only blogs that have made their way to print recently. Checkout Joy the Baker (http://joythebaker.com/), Dinner: a Love Story (http://www.dinneralovestory.com/), or Design Sponge at Home (http://www.designsponge.com/).
Thursday, September 20th marks the beginning of the seventh season of Classics Revisited, a book discussion group held at KPL that focuses on classic literature (with a few contemporary standards thrown in for good measure). This month we’re discussing the masterful epic Middlemarch by George Eliot. Middlemarch, published in serials between 1871-72, follows the ambitions, successes, and failures of a number of the residents of a provincial English town during a time of political reform. Eliot had amazing insights to human nature—in fact, it was surprising to me just how modern her observations and characterizations were. If you’re familiar with Middlemarch and would like to join us for a lively discussion, please feel free to stop by the Central branch Thursday at 7pm.
Classics Revisited meets on the third Thursday of every month, September through May. Up next is Hemingway’sThe Sun Also Rises, which we will discuss on October 18th. The complete schedule is available on the KPL website and also on the Classics Revisited blog.
When I heard a buzz about a British bestseller written by a very funny woman who wasn’t afraid to talk about feminism, I thought, “This is the book for me!” And when I checked out the book and found a blurb on it that referred to it as “the British version of Tina Fey’s Bossypants,” I thought, “this is definitely the book for me!” Although I see only a few similarities between Bossypants and Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman (both written by funny women who are willing to acknowledge the difficulties of being a mother), it really was the book for me.
Caitlin Moran began her career as a columnist for Melody Maker (a British music magazine) at the ripe young age of 16. Her book is a funny but pertinent look at feminism and women in the Western world today, told through important events/mistakes over the course of her life and career. She’s warm, irreverent, and a bit crass. Reading this book felt to me like getting back in touch with an old friend and laughing about ridiculous life choices made in an effort to be a woman.
How to Be a Woman