Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
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
The recording-breaking heat this summer has lead to an abundance of reddening tomatoes in my garden—a bit earlier than usual. I love growing lots of tomatoes because they can be preserved easily and they make great additions to soup and stews in the winter months. It’s always a nice reminder of summertime when I open a can of homegrown tomatoes in the dead of winter!
Although preserving vegetables isn’t difficult, in order to ensure safety, canners must be precise. I use the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving to get canning recipes and tips for problem-solving. It includes recipes for jams, salsas, and all sorts of canned vegetables. It’s a great guide for beginners, but offers plenty of great recipes for experienced canners.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making is a compilation of recipes for pantry stapes by food blogger Alana Chernila. Mother of two young children and avid home cook, Chernila shares her recipes for such stapes as sandwich bread, ketchup, jam, salsa, and even vanilla extract. If you’re really adventurous in the kichen, you can try her recipes for homemade mozzarella, toaster pastries, or peanut butter cups. Although she does include recipes for entrees such as lasagna (with homemade noodles!), generally you won’t find full meals here, but recipes for food that most people probably buy prepackaged and that might be a component in a meal or snack—breads, condiments, soup, dressings, etc.
Chernila admits that buying prepackaged food certainly is faster and easier, especially for busy families for whom dinnertime can be rushed and chaotic. She gives five reasons in particular for making the effort to prepare more food at home: 1. Food made at home is better for you; 2. Food made at home tastes better; 3. Food made at home usually costs less; 4. Food made at home eliminates unnecessary packaging; 5. Food made at home will change the way you think about food.
While I agree with her reasons, I seriously doubt that I’m going to make potato chips or fruit roll-ups any time soon, and I feel no guilt about that whatsoever. Food can be a very sensitive subject in our culture, with plenty of judgments being passed around regarding what and how people eat; I’ve glanced through plenty of cookbooks that come off as snobby or authoritarian, but this isn’t one of them. Chernila is simply sharing recipes for food she likes to make at home, and she makes home cooking look easier and more worthwhile than always relying on prepackaged food.
The Homemade Pantry
For the past few summers I’ve spent my vacations getting to know my home state better. Whether exploring the U.P.’s Tahquamenon Falls, visiting the “most beautiful place in America,” Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, or stopping in for a beer at one of Michigan’s many craft breweries, I’ve discovered that there’s a lot to do and see in Michigan. If you’re thinking of spending your vacation close to home, the library has all sorts of books to help you plan your Great Lakes State vacation.
• Best Tent Camping Michigan gives details on the state parks and national forest campgrounds in Michigan.
• If you’re the outdoorsy type, Michigan offers plenty to do in beautiful settings. Check out Weekend Canoeing in Michigan, Hiking Michigan, or Road Biking Michigan.
• If you’re not the outdoorsy type, the Detroit and Ann Arbor travel guide can help you plan a vacation in the city.
• Only have a day trip in mind? Fun with the Family Michigan suggests great ideas for short trips.
• And don’t forget Weird Michigan, a fun collection of all the oddities and strange legends around the state.
Best Tent Camping Michigan
You won’t find ghosts, ghoulies, or anything supernatural in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Day, but you will find delicious recipes made with all natural, whole ingredients. San Francisco-based Heidi Swanson is well known to foodies in the blogosphere for her site 101 Cookbooks, where she posts recipes for food simple in nature but complex in flavor. It doesn’t seem to matter what vegetables, grains, or dairy she uses, she knows how to put things together to bring out the best in every ingredient. I’ve been a fan of her blog for ages, so I was very happy to find that KPL has copies of both of her cookbooks. My favorite recipes are for Straw and Hay Fettuccini Tangle, a pasta dish that uses asparagus and spinach to create a really tasty nontraditional pesto, and Double Broccoli Quinoa, a recipe that might convert even the strictest of broccoli haters. If you’re looking to incorporate more whole foods into your cooking, Super Natural Cooking and Super Natural Every Dayis a great place to start.
Super Natural Every Day
In her acceptance speech for the 2011 National Book Award for fiction, author Jesmyn Ward said “…I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor and the black and the rural people of the south so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, our lives as fraught and lovely and important as theirs.” If this was the goal for her award-winning novel Salvage the Bones, I certainly believe she achieved it. Salvage the Bones, set in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, tells the story of the Batiste family struggling to survive daily life in the shadow of a hurricane. Esch, the narrator, is fifteen and pregnant, and alone in a household of men. Her father, an alcoholic since her mother passed away, can think only of protecting the family from the hurricane, while her brother Skeetah is obsessed with his prize fighting pit bull and her pups. Her brother Randall is focused on winning a scholarship to basketball camp, and her little brother Junior relies on Esch to act as mother. Their lives seem dangerously close to falling apart even without the assistance of one the worst hurricanes in American history, and the threat of impending doom creates an uneasy tension in the novel. Salvage the Bones is the story of human struggle, endurance, and love, and I don’t what could be more “fraught and lovely and important” than that.
Salvage the bones