Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words cause permanent damage. And that certainly holds true in Alena Graedon’s inventive debut novel The Word Exchange. The book is equal parts page-turning dystopian thriller and cautionary tale about the cultural costs of our society’s mass-reliance on technology, with some questions about the nature of love thrown in for good measure. The Word Exchange imagines a near future in which our mass-addiction to devices and the associated intellectual sloth creates the opportunity for malevolent corporations to corner the market on language itself, usurping the authority of dictionaries and monetizing access to word meaning. But when the plan spirals out of control and a fast moving digital virus that manifests itself physically in humans causing word flu, because it causes a peculiar form of aphasia in its victims, it is left to the stories unlikely heroine Anana Johnson, daughter of the chief editor of the North American Dictionary of English Language, the genius lexicographer Doug Samuel Johnson, to try and piece the plot together and save the world from descending into a babbling incoherent mess. This is a great read and I can't wait for more from Graedon.
The Word Exchange
It’s difficult to imagine now but during the late 1980s and into the 90s, Apple Inc. was a struggling, poorly managed computer company trying unsuccessfully to compete with the Windows based PC that was quickly dominating the exploding computer market and putting Apple at deaths door. Also hard to believe is the fact that during most of that time, a time distinguished by uninspired mac models and failed device launches, Apple had Jony Ive, the industrial designer credited for the much imitated Apple “look and feel”, working in their design department. Much of the credit for Apple’s remarkable turnaround gets assigned to Steve Jobs; and rightly so. But it is specifically Job’s decision to move Apple from engineering based to a design-driven company and put his faith in the very talented Jony Ive that would lead to the string of industry changing products that eventually made Apple the most valuable company in the world. Not since Dieter Rams and the Braun Company in the 1950s has a designer’s ethos aligned so successfully with a corporation and not surprisingly Ive sights Rams (and his famous 10 principles of good design) as a strong influence on his work. But unlike Dieter Rams, for someone who’s designs have become cultural icons (just think about those white headphones alone!) next to nothing is known about the quiet and very private Jony Ive. But that has now changed a bit with the publication of Leander Kahney’s bio of Ive, Jony Ive : the genius behind Apple's greatest products. While the book doesn’t dive too terribly deeply into Ive’s personal life, it does a good job detailing his design career and outlining his close relationship with Jobs and the hard work and minute attention to each and every detail that has marked his, and Apple’s, success.
Jony Ive: the genius behind Apple's greatest products
A search for 'Lance Armstrong' in the KPL catalog reveals many books written about the subject. There are the books that helped create the mythical Armstrong story, which goes something like - raised by a tough single mother, displayed phenomenal athletic ability at a young age, near-terminal cancer diagnosis cuts short a promising cycling career, survives cancer, a changed man - he comes back to become the world’s greatest cyclist and wins the Tour de France an utterly amazing 7 times in a row, retires from cycling to lead a philanthropic foundation that reaches millions of cancer survivors around the planet. (see: Tour de Lance or 23 Days in July) Now there are the post-federal investigation/Oprah confession books that reveal Armstrong to be a sophisticated drug cheat, a total bully, a bald-faced liar, and detail his recent plummet from hero to pariah. (see: Wheelman and The Armstrong Lie) Having closely followed professional cycling throughout the era that Lance Armstrong won 7 straight Tour de France titles; I can understand his current perspective which is basically: if everyone was cheating, then nobody was cheating. But the thing that ultimately led to his spectacular fall from grace, and what makes Juliet Macur’s new book about Armstrong, Cycle of Lies: the fall of Lance Armstrong, so captivating, is the fact that the single-minded competitiveness that allowed him to beat cancer and win bike races also fueled the ferocity of his denials and the personal attacks on those that dared to defy him. Macur, unlike most journalists outside Oprah herself, was allowed access to Armstrong and his inner circle, and uses that access to produce a nuanced portrait of how the Lance Armstrong myth formed and grew and how it ultimately collapsed upon itself so catastrophically.
Cycle of Lies
Much like Mike Tyson’s greatest fights, Undisputed Truth, the autobiography by the controversial boxer is shocking and brutal, but despite the shock, it is hard to turn away from. Written with the assistance of well-respected coauthor Larry Sloman, Undisputed Truth offers a raw, no holds barred look at the high-flying story of Mike Tyson so far. From his incredibly difficult childhood (with shockingly little parental involvement, Tyson was left to survive on the gritty streets of Brooklyn, New York on his own and was committing armed robbery as a very young child) to training under the tutelage, and basically being adopted by, boxing coach Cus D'Amato as a teenager, to boxing world champion, convicted rapist, celebrity, drug addict, and notorious ear-biting villain, Undisputed Truth is a truly wild ride. The book does little to dissuade readers that Tyson has been anything but a truly despicable person for most of his life, but the raw and honest way that Tyson talks about his life and confronts his demons is admirable and by the end of the book you can’t help but root for him and his redemption as a human being and a sports figure.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that Ron Burgundy: Let Me Off at the Top! My classy life & other musings, the new book by legendary fake news anchor Ron Burgundy, is by far the best movie tie-in fake biography of a fictional character that I’ve read this year. The book not only presents the rich, dare I say majestic, life story of Mr. Burgundy, but also offers readers the kind of practical advice that only comes from a life lived at top speed without brakes. That is, the life of a local TV news anchor. Burgundy’s tips on parenting, like instilling confidence in a ten-year-old by teaching them to drive on the freeway, along with his essential “rules for living through a prison riot” are priceless, pure Burgundy and worth their weight in gold. As the man himself says in the introduction to Let Me Off at the Top!, this book is a gift. If you are a silly person looking for a very silly read, it is a very nice gift indeed. Stay classy.
Ron Burgundy: Let Me Off at the Top!
"Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." - Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela related resources at KPL:
Margaret Atwood brings the trilogy, which she began with the brilliant Oryx and Crake, to a satisfying conclusion with her latest novel, MaddAddam. The story continues on from the events in the second book The Year of the Flood, but also relates back to Oryx and Crake giving readers a more complete picture of the story arc without tying everything up too neatly that it becomes uninteresting. If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, I encourage you to do so, and once you do, I then defy you to not read the other two books. The post-apocalyptic near-future satirical world that Atwood conjures in these books is vividly drawn and fascinating to explore, but its true power comes from the scenarios we can project from the realities of our current world that turn the trilogy from science fiction to plausible prediction.
Author and essayist Chuck Klosterman examines pop culture like nobody else. He seems to revel in each just-right cultural references and to thrill in the depth of his arguments about the shallowest areas of our culture. In his latest collection of essays, I Wear the Black Hat: Grapling with Villians (Real and Imagined), Klosterman takes on the concept of villainy and in quintessential Klosterman style he gleefully examines the role that bad guys play in our culture. To the uninitiated, Klosterman’s rants can get tedious at times and to many readers going on for pages about the gangster rap group N.W.A.’s use of the imagery of the Oakland Raiders professional football team and how both organizations cultivated the image of themselves as bad guys to great success, might seem a bit much. But sticking with Klosterman is well worth it, he is funny and smart and you get the sense that he would probably be writing all this down regardless if anyone actually reads it or not and that kind of commitment to ideas is always worth checking out. As I’ve been reading the essays in I Wear the Black Hat on and off for the past week, I’ve also been reading Wheelmen: Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, and the greatest sports conspiracy ever, by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell. Nobody illustrates the hero to villain archetype better than Armstrong, O.J. Simpson might be close, and his very public swapping of white hat (or yellow wristband) for black is fully illustrated in Wheelmen. While reading all the sordid details of Armstrongs cheating, I couldn’t help but think of Klosterman’s assessment that a villain is the person who “knows the most, but cares the least” and apply it Armstrong.
I wear the black hat
The long awaited sophomore effort from author Marisha Pessl, Night Film, has received nearly as much hype as her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, received. For me, a lot of publishing industry hype is not always a good thing and can often lead to a total letdown when I actually get around to reading the book. But with Night Film, I’m happy to report, that the hype on this shadowing, page-turning thriller is justified. Like Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the story centers on a father-daughter relationship, but the relationship in Night Film is much much darker, focusing on the details surrounding the suicide of the enigmatic daughter of reclusive and mysterious film maker Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s psychologically dark films have gained a feverish level of notoriety and have sparked the formation of a secretive society of fans who plan underground screenings of his films and hotly debate the film makers shadowy private and family life, and even his very existence. Night Flim is narrated by burned out journalist Scott McGrath, who’s grizzled attitude and ethically challenged investigation lends the book a noir-ish feel. The author does include some unconventional literary stunts to tell the story. Screen shots from webpages, news articles, and other media are sprinkled throughout the book. This my annoy some readers, yet, surprisingly they worked for me and I felt they added something to the richness of the story and were not so frequent as to distract from the flow of the narrative.
Ever get annoyed by any of those TED talks that seem to gloss over the complexities of a problem and present a technological solution that seems too good to be true in its simplicity? Ever feel grumpy when technology pundits seem to assume that there are socially-networked, big data solutions to all of the world’s problems? Well, let me introduce you toEvgeny Morozov, one of the most challenging, snarky, and clearly brilliant people examining technology and its impact on our world today. Morozov’s latest title, To Save Everything Click Here, argues against the ubiquitous “solutionism” and “Internet-centric” thinking that seeks slick and efficient technology based solutions to nearly all of mankind’s problems and fails to recognize, or even consider, the value that messiness and inefficiency can often bring to certain systems (American politics being a good example, where conflict, compromise, and messiness are built right into the process). This is not what I would call a “light read” by any stretch, and the shear ferocity of Morozov’s argument can become tedious and annoying along the way, but his appraisal of our modern world and the way that it is developing are well worth it. For more brilliant contrarian views on our networked society see Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier.
To Save Everything Click Here
The most prestigious cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will celebrate 100 years of racing when it finishes on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday and, as always, le grande boucle (roughly translated as the “big loop” for the circular path the race takes around France) has been three weeks full of exciting racing, spectacular scenery, and superhuman athletic performance. A new book, Tour de France 100: the definitive history of the world’s greatest racegives a fine overview of the history and spectacle of this incredible event. There are several more titles in the KPL collection that celebrate and document the race, Tour de France, tour de force: a visual history of the world’s greatest bicycle race and Slaying the badger: Greg Lemond, Bernard Hinault, and the greatest Tour de France are both excellent. But these books do little to explain the tricky circumstance that the race now finds itself in. The Tour has always, for its entire 100 year history, had foul play, doping, and other forms of cheating associated with it. But with this past year’s spectacular confession from Lance Armstrong that he used drugs and banned methods to win all seven of his Tour victories and an unheard of wave of confessions or outings of professional cyclists from the “Armstrong Era” has lifted the veil on how these guys could race at top speed for three weeks around an entire country with such unnatural strength. And now every spectacular performance (in particular this year’s domination by the current race leader Chris Froome) or incredible comeback is called into question and we, the fans and journalists alike, have no reference points for what is physically possible on “pane e acqua” (bread and water) alone in cycling. While the latest generation of professional racing cyclist talks of a change that has taken place in the sport – more ethical teams, more and better PED testing, a biological passport that tracks blood levels throughout the year – the problem is that the sport has been claiming the birth of a new, clean, era for several decades now but then each decade brings a new string of doping scandals and so skepticism (or outright abandonment on the part of Germany where the media has boycotted the race and there is no longer television or journalistic coverage) about the cleanliness of the sport abounds. But despite all of the controversy, the lies, and the falls from grace, the roads of France during July continue to be filled with literally millions of fans waiting to get a glimpse of the riders as they fly past and the unparalleled beauty and drama of this great sporting event continues into its second century.
Tour de France: the definitive history of the world's greatest race
I couldn’t help pick this book up after seeing its clever title in the New KPL Books stream in the KPL catalog, and after reading through it I can say that I am glad I did. The story of craft beer brewing in the United States is as funky as some of the places that helped it grow and pushed it forward during the past 30 or so years. The book takes you from San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., which was basically the only small batch “local” brewery that existed in the mid-1970s, to today’s craft brew industry where we have literally thousands of craft breweries scattered across the country and introduces you to a seemingly endless stream of interesting and passionate people and their unlikely stories along the way. The book is thoroughly researched and comprehensive with interviews with all of the important players and tons of history thrown in to give the stories context. It’s a rich and full-bodied tale sure to interest any beer fan out there. And for the record, Kalamazoo may have come up short in its bid to be named Beer City, USA, but we do figure pretty early on in the story of the craft beer revolution with the Kalamazoo Brewing Company appearing right there on page 119! Number of times anything associated with Grand Rapids appears in the index = 0. Hmmm
The Audacity of Hops
For most of my adult life my cooking repertoire has been severely hindered by both a lack of experience, and thus confidence, and by limiting myself to just a few very basic skills (think - boiling water, pushing down the toaster mechanism, or programming the microwave). But then just a couple years back, likely through a combination of my awareness of the seemingly endless supply of tantalizing cookbooks that KPL acquires for the collection and a growing interest in cooking that developed through the popularity of cooking shows on television and how easy they make things seem, I started to really read those cookbooks and began looking for things that I could actually attempt. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that a good recipe makes all the difference. I can’t say that everything that I create would challenge Bobby Flay, but when it works it feels like nothing short of alchemy to me to be able to pull together a great meal from simple, healthy ingredients and with my limited culinary skillset. My favorite recipes and best results have come from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’ve had success with other cookbooks as well. The latest recipes that I’ve tried came from Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes by Ming Tsai. I’ve made Chicken & tri-bell pepper chow mein (pg. 34), Wonton shrimp & noodle soup (pg. 156), and Asian sloppy joes with hoisin sauce (pg. 71) and they were all just as advertised – quick, healthy, and really good!
Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes