Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
In this book we received last fall, Smithsonian Institution Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture Richard Kurin provides a wealth of information regarding 101 objects held by that museum. At 762 pages, this publication was no small effort, I am sure. Organized by historical era, the author provides photographs and commentary on such items as the Appomattox Court House furnishings, Abraham Lincoln's hat, a bugle from the U.S.S. Maine, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, Thomas Edison's light bulb, a Ford Model T, Helen Keller's watch, Louis Armstrong's trumpet, a World War I gas mask, Dorothy's ruby slippers, a Berlin Wall fragment, Neil Armstrong's space suit, an RCA television set, and a door from one of the fire trucks that was at the scene of 9/11 in New York City. This is a quality publication from a very fine establishment.
The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects
I love attending the Circus Maximus Antique Toy Show every May and November at the Kalamazoo County Expo Center. It's such a festive gathering, and the architects and contractors certainly did a nice job on the new and renovated buildings there. Looking at this book isn't quite as good as being at the show, but there are compensating factors, such as being able to read the histories of many toys I played with as a child. Arranged by type of toy rather than chronologically, the author provides two-page narratives with photographs of toys from the 1940s to the 1990s. Here are Play-Doh, Tonka Trucks, Rubik's Cube, Frisbee, Etch-A-Sketch, and Magic 8-Ball, along with many others. I especially enjoyed being reminded of the Vac-U-Form, since my cousin John in Grand Rapids had one. I can still remember how the plastic smelled when we heated it up!
Toy time! : from hula hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos : a look back at the most- beloved toys of decades past
A book that has as its subject the continent of North America is a bit unusual. Generally one would find separate works for the individual countries of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the various Caribbean island nations, but this book has them all. Lots of facts are included, such as: 1) Some desert plants, like the cereus, bloom at night instead of during the day to attract pollinators like bats that come out at night when the desert is cooler, 2) Ninety percent of the world's tornadoes occur in North America, although tornadoes have occurred on every continent except Antarctica, and 3) With temperatures falling to fifty below, the pines of northern Canada become stunted but still form the largest forests of the continent. Containing striking photographs, this companion to the Discovery Channel series includes narrative on North America's wildlife, weather, plants, and geography. This is an impressive book.
North America : a world in one continent
In this book we received just last year, Eric Chaline indicates that his survey of iconic machines goes back not "to the invention of the hand ax or wheel, but begins in 1801, with the first successful application of automation to weaving, which had until then been the preserve of the skilled artisan." Among the 50 machines profiled with brief historical treatments and artwork are the Singer sewing machine, Underwood No. 1 typewriter, diesel engine, Kodak camera, Westinghouse AC system, Model T Ford, Black and Decker electric drill, Saturn V rocket, Magnox nuclear reactor, GE top-loading washing machine, Atari 2600, Sony Walkman, IBM PC 5150, and the Hubble Telescope. This is informative and entertaining at the same time. I was hoping to see my old friend/nemesis the Regiscope included, but didn't find it. Maybe it will be in the next edition.
Fifty machines that changed the course of history
In the 1950s and 1960s it was not unusual to see lots of Volkswagen Beetles around the Kalamazoo area. One that I remember with fondness was owned by two of my esteemed colleagues, FDC and GO, long past the time that the car was in its heyday. I always enjoyed seeing that car go by. Today there is the New Beetle in colors that vary quite a bit from the original Type 1. About six months ago KPL acquired a well-documented history of the VW Beetle. I particularly liked looking at the ads that are interspersed throughout the text. Anyone interested in automotive history or advertising practices of the mid- to late 20th century would appreciate this fine effort.
The People's Car : a global history of the Volkswagen Beetle
Here I go again. The library's non-cook is writing about a cookbook. But, the historical aspect of this book is what attracted me to it. There are 100 recipes here, one for each year from 1901-2000, included by 100 different chefs. To give the readers of this blog a flavor (pun intended) of what's in this book, I'll list a few of the recipes: 1909 - Baked Alaska; 1910 - The Comet Coupe (in honor of Halley's Comet that year); 1932 - "The Sun Also Rises" Punch; 1945 - Original Brain Tapioca Ambrosia (not the brain one thinks with, but because of the invention of the ENIAC computer); 1952 - Geraldine's Maryland Crab Soup; 1976 - Firecracker Fourth of July Beef Ribs (to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial); 1979 - Meatball and Potato Pizza. Some of the 100 sound delicious; others I would never consider touching. But I think that's how it would be for anyone looking at any recipe book, not just me. Clever and fun idea - yes. Good photos - yes. Bon appetit - maybe.
The way we ate : 100 chefs celebrate a century at the American table
As librarians we frequently recommend books, music, and films to our patrons, but sometimes this goes the other way and our patrons suggest library materials to the librarians. This happened to me recently when a loyal KPL patron brought me this book and told me it might appeal to my interests. He was right. This 2013 title by Chris West uses a unique concept in that it covers the dual subjects of British postage stamps and British history. Mr. West takes 36 stamps and in a few pages gives a summary of the history behind the subject of each one. Topics include the coronation of Elizabeth II, the 800th anniversary of Ely Cathedral, and the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One can read any or all of the 36 chapters. The color illustrations of the stamps are beautiful and really enhance the impact this book makes.
History of Britain in thirty-six postage stamps
Here is an outstanding book that gives photographs and one-paragraph commentaries on notable buildings in Michigan. Any book of this nature will, of course, be subjective in the selections made for inclusion, but I think Mr. Gallagher made some wise choices. The book is divided into eight sections -- buildings in which we gather, play, govern, learn, worship, work, and live, as well as facilities for art. The Kalamazoo buildings presented are the 1931 Kalamazoo City Hall, the 1852 Amariah T. Prouty house at 302 Elm Street, and the 1947-49 Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Parkwyn Village, off Winchell Avenue. The photography is by Balthasar Korab, who also took the pictures for Peter Schmitt's 1976 book on early Kalamazoo homes. Clear pictures, concise narrative, and great buildings make this a book worth seeing.
Great architecture of Michigan
Detroit has been in the news a lot lately, and there hasn't been much good reported. But, for a different view, I invite examination of this book that we received in the History Room within the last year. From the Wayne State University Press comes this beautifully crafted volume that documents the houses of worship of the various denominational groups in the city. The survey begins in 1848 and comes all the way down to the middle of the twentieth century. There are nice maps, close-ups of the stained glass and organs, views of the exteriors, and views of the interiors that sometimes even include the ceiling. I like the photo of the optimistic sign in front of the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church which says, "GIVE THANKS ... It could be worse."
Detroit's historic places of worship
Last month in this spot I wrote about This Is Not My Hat, the 2013 J. Klassen book that won the Caldecott Award. I had seen a picture of the cover in The New York Times Book Review. Even though I don't fall into the recommended age group of 4-8 years, I wanted to read more by Mr. Klassen. Checking the KPL catalog, I discovered I Want My Hat Back. This one, written two years earlier in 2011, is about a bear who lost his hat but, after conversations with lots of other animals, remembers that he had seen it on a rabbit and recovers it. Both text and illustrations make this pleasant reading for children (and others such as myself who might enjoy taking a three-minute vacation from their usual reading patterns).
I want my hat back
I know I'll get questions about how I happened to land on this book, so I'll address that issue right away. I saw a picture of the cover when I was reading The New York Times Book Review and it captured my attention. This winner of the 2013 Caldecott Medal is a story about a fish who steals a hat and thinks he got away with it.*
*But -- did he?
This is not my hat
In terms of food preparation, we're living in a time when even the microwave seems too slow. With that thought as a backdrop, please consider this 2013 offering by Ms. Caitlin Freeman. She has written this book of dessert recipes that derive their inspiration from famous artists and their works. I would probably have been one of the last on the library staff to pick up this book; however, I had a wonderful art history course at WMU during my undergraduate days, the memory of which this volume caused me to recall. I think it would take even an experienced cook a lot of time and patience to make these treats, but the pictures make them look so good that I'm sure someone out there will want to give Matisse Parfait, Mondrian Cake, and Warhol Gelee a try.
Modern art desserts : recipes for cakes, cookies, confections, and frozen treats based on iconic works of art
In 2007 Colleen Burcar wrote the second edition of this book about Michigan's 'quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff.' Well, she's back with a third edition, published just last year. I right away looked to see if anything from this area was included, and found the Air Zoo. I don't necessarily consider that establishment to be 'quirky,' but I think the name of the museum is what precipitated this entry. I particularly enjoyed the story about the giant grasshopper at Kaleva in Manistee County. This sculpture, which is 10 feet high and 18 feet long weighs 500 pounds and was made out of recycled metal. While in Kaleva, visitors are also urged to see the Bottle House, which was constructed by the Finnish immigrant who owned the Northwestern Bottle Works. Another attraction that got my attention was 'The Great Pyramid of the Forty-Fifth Parallel.' In Kewadin, which is in Antrim County near the line that is halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, is a monument made of rocks from each of Michigan's 83 counties. For those who want to keep their summer travel close to home, this book is a good one.
Michigan curiosities : quirky characters, roadside oddities & other offbeat stuff
Writing about the U.S. presidents has been a popular thing to do throughout most of the history of the country, but especially recently, whether individually or collectively. Here's a rather large volume that has two parts: 1) The Making of the President, 1787, and 2) Presidential Profiles. I found the profile section to be particularly enjoyable. For each president, author Davis gives biographical milestones, quotations, fast facts, a lively summary of the administration, online resources for further information, and a final analysis and grade. This latter item provides the capstone to each chapter. While I don't agree with all of the ratings, I was interested to note the rationale for each. Some are obvious and expected -- Washington and Lincoln get an A+. Three in a row get an F -- Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan. But there are some surprises among the rest. This is a nice work of history presented with an entertaining flair.
Don't know much about the American presidents : everything you need to know about the most powerful office on Earth and the men who have occupied it
As we reflect this month on teen novels for adults to read, I offer this item from the teen collection. Actually it isn't a novel, but a collection of short stories, so it does count as fiction. It isn't specifically directed toward a teen audience either, but it's one teens would enjoy. When I was a sophomore in high school, one of the assigned readings from our literature text was 'Cask of Amontillado' by Edgar Allan Poe. I remember being captivated by the tense horror of the story, so I later bought a paperback so I could read more of Poe's work. When I arrived at WMU as a freshman, the first English class I took read 'The Tell-Tale Heart.' Other favorites of mine were 'The Pit and the Pendulum,' 'Fall of the House of Usher,' and 'Descent into the Maelstrom.' It has been many years since I read any of these, so perhaps it's time for me to revisit them.
Complete stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe
People who know me are aware that I enjoy discovering unusual names. In fact, readers of this column will know that too, since I've reviewed books that contain listings of them. But this book is different. It is a listing of American place names. Of course, I immediately turned to the Michigan chapter and found Bad Axe, Christmas, and Germfask. Take a look to see why Mr. Gallant also included Schoolcraft. Or, how about Okay, Oklahoma. Igloo, South Dakota. Correctionville, Iowa. Mermaid, Delaware. Toast, North Carolina. Well, you get the idea. And there are probably even stranger ones that I just haven't gotten to yet.
A place called Peculiar : stories about unusual American place-names