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Staff Picks: Books


I was talking to my coworker Anastasia about my new year's resolution to reduce my output of household garbage, and she recommended Trashed by Derf Backderf to me. His real name is actually John, and he also wrote My Friend Dahmer, which was recently made into a movie. Published in 2015, Trashed is a graphic novel that blends the fictional narrative of a garbageman with plenty of research and statistics about the history of waste management, and its present practices and problems. The story part of the book included some great humor and laugh-out-loud moments; the facts alongside it surprised and fascinated me. This book may inspire you to think differently about your everyday habits and the products you use. If you need some ideas on how to lessen the amount of trash you produce, type in "zero waste" in KPL's catalog or look into some of the online blogs of zero wasters. The zero waste lifestyle may seem extreme, but we can all take ideas from it to try to do our own part to address this environmental issue.

The Sandwich Swap

I grabbed The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania Al Abdullah, off of the shelf for a patron hold, and couldn't resist reading it myself when I saw it was about food. It is a simple yet inspiring story about learning to respect each other's cultural and lifestyle differences. Friends Lily and Salma eat lunch together every day, and can't help but be curious about what the other girl has brought from home. When they verbalize that curiosity, it tests their friendship, but ultimately, they discover a kinder approach that affects the entire school. Whoever put that book on hold, thanks-it's a fantastic story!

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See, takes place in 19th century China and tells the story of two women, Lily and Snow Flower. The girls, as decided by their parents and a matchmaker, become laotong when they are children. Laotong are more than best friends. They are sisters united by similarities such as birthday, foot size, number of siblings, and other factors, and promise to maintain a deep, loving relationship throughout all stages of life. They even write and sign their own laotong contract. Lily narrates hers and Snow Flower’s lives, describing their foot binding, marriages, children, and other significant events that they experience and that test their loyalty to each other and the contract they signed. The two women communicate to each other by writing in nu shu, the secret women’s language, on a fan they pass back and forth. This book illuminates historical Chinese culture and the way women lived during that time while also encompassing complex, universal themes. At times, the novel was not easy to read, due to the injustices against females that I perceived as a modern Western woman. However, I enjoyed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan quite a lot. Those with an interest in other cultures and historical periods should add this one to their reading lists.

Celebrate Elderhood

Celebrate Elderhood is a Kalamazoo County initiative that brings attention to the issues of aging, challenging myths and misconceptions so elders can reach their full potential no matter what their circumstances are, benefiting themselves, their families and communities. In this article, we will explore the myths and realities of aging.

Myth #1 – Dementia is a normal part of aging. FALSE
Getting a little forgetful is a normal part of aging. It is normal to forget milk at the store, or to forget someone’s name. It is not normal to become so forgetful that it is impossible to manage the tasks of everyday life.

Dementia is a severe form of memory loss and is not normal. There are a variety of causes of dementia and some can even be reversed. Malnutrition, depression, dehydration and drug interactions can all lead to dementia. Depression can be treated with talk therapy or medication and the dementia from depression may be reversed. Once the person receives proper nutrition and/or adequate liquids, the dementia may lift. Physicians should always be informed of all medications a person is taking to avoid the dementia that can result from bad combinations of drugs.

More severe and long-term forms of dementia are caused by diseases such as Parkinson’s, strokes or brain injuries. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common kind of dementia and causes severe memory loss and confusion. Alzheimer’s disease creates physical changes in the brain and people with it eventually fail to recognize their own family members and sometimes themselves. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease and the cause is still unknown. According to the 2016 Alzheimer’s disease Facts and Figures Report published by the Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people 65 and older (11%) have Alzheimer’s disease. About one-third of people age 85 and older have Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging.

Myth #2 – As people grow older, their intelligence declines significantly. FALSE
Current research evidence suggests that intellectual performance in healthy individuals holds up well into old age. The average magnitude of intellectual decline is typically small in the 60s and 70s. In the 80s there is more average decline observed, although even in this age range there are substantial individual differences. Little or no decline appears to be associated with being free of cardiovascular disease, little decline in perceptual speed, at least average socioeconomic status, a stimulating and engaged lifestyle and having flexible attitudes and behaviors at mid-life. TIP: Intellectual decline can be modified by life-style interventions, such as physical activity, healthy diet, mental stimulation and social interaction.

Myth #3 – Most older people are in poor health. FALSE
The myth of being old means being sick is simply not true for the majority of adults 65+ who rate their health positively. In fact, more than two-thirds of people over 65 told researchers that they are in good, very good or excellent health and more than half over 85 said that too. Older people make mental adjustments in their reference point of judging their own health and will typically see themselves as more healthy than they originally expected for their age, or compared to others their age.

However, older people are much more likely than younger people to suffer from chronic conditions (lasting 3 months or more), such as arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Most of us will have some type of chronic condition as we age, and many of us will have at least two. The good news is that there are proven programs that can help us live better with these chronic conditions, such as the Stanford Personal Action Toward Health programs and Matter of Balance Falls Prevention Program offered through the Area Agency on Aging IIIA in coordination with community partners and Enhance Fitness and Arthritis Programs offered by the Portage Senior Center, Senior Services Southwest Michigan, and YMCA.

What’s important is how we as older adults cope with the aging process and how our community responds. Staying active and engaged in our communities, whether that is volunteering with non-profit and faith based organizations, schools, having a part-time job, helping out our relatives and neighbors will pay dividends as we age. For those elders who due to more debilitating conditions cannot get out much, as a community we need to make sure they can stay at home with the supportive services needed and also determine how to keep them engaged with purpose in their lives.

Myth #4 – Older adults are less anxious about death than are younger and middle-aged adults. TRUE
Although death in industrialized society has come to be associated primarily with old age, studies generally indicate that death anxiety in adults decreases as age increases. Some of the factors that may contribute to lower anxiety are a sense that goals have been fulfilled, living longer than expected, coming to terms with the end of life, and dealing with the death of friends and relatives. However, this shouldn’t obscure the fact that some groups have great concern about death and dying, and that the process of dying might be feared more than death itself.

The topic of death and dying is not one that people want to discuss, but it is something that needs more understanding and discussion by everyone, including the medical community and long term care facilities that are often a part of the end of life journey.

*Contributors to this article are: Judy Sivak, Director, Region IIIA Area Agency on Aging, Vicki Martin, MA, LPC Administrator, Senior Services Southwest Michigan, and Breytspraak, L. & Badura, L. (2015) Facts on Aging Quiz (revised; based on Palmore (1977; 1981).

The Worst Breakfast

In The Worst Breakfast, written by China Miéville and illustrated by Zak Smith, a girl describes the most horrible breakfast ever endured to her younger sister. She can't believe her sister doesn't remember all the grotesque elements of the terrible meal they shared! She tries to jog her memory by rattling off each unpleasant food and its faults. Illustrator Zak Smith brings the rhyming story to life with his wonderfully strange and intricate art. The pictures in this book amazed me. I think that kids would like this book but adults especially will admire each image. My favorite illustration depicts a blue tea kettle overflowing with sugar cubes.

This book is worth borrowing for the illustrations alone. To put it simply, it's really cool and I think you'll like it.

Tomboy Vol. 1 by M. Goodwin

Tomboy Vol. 1: Divine Intervention is a graphic novel written and illustrated by M. Goodwin. If her name sounds familiar to you, it's because she has also contributed to the graphic novel Princeless, which I recommended via staff picks last year. Tomboy, however, while possessing a female protagonist as Princeless did, is decidedly not for kids. This fast-moving book combines corrupt cops, blood-soaked violence, personal tragedy, and a delightful dose of the supernatural with thoughtful art and expressive color work. The story begins on Addison's 16th birthday, which turns into a birthday unlike any other. This first volume collects issues 1-4 and is available through Hoopla. Volume 2 (Tomboy: Absence of Good) can also be found there, containing issues 5-8. The ninth issue came out in December 2016, which leads me to believe there is more to come. If you love graphic novels, then add Tomboy to your reading list.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

I haven’t finished it yet, but since I’m half-way through, I think I can already vouch for Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus. I’m sure somebody else at KPL recommended the book when it first came out in 2015, but I’d still like to put in my two cents.

In The Soul of an Octopus, the animal loving author researches the misunderstood octopus by visiting the New England Aquarium, located in downtown Boston, and speaking with the professionals there. She also observes and interacts with the resident octopuses, developing a strong emotional connection to each one. As she narrates her experiences at the aquarium, Montgomery teaches us a lot about these cephalopods’ intelligence, personalities, and unique abilities. She wants to know how these highly specialized organisms live and think, and she wants her readers to appreciate them for how amazing they are rather than simply dismissing them as monsters of the sea. I’ve been jotting down some of my favorite facts while reading. Here are a few:

-There are around 250 species of octopus and the giant Pacific octopus is the largest (p. 3).

-Octopuses have three hearts and blue blood (due to copper carrying the oxygen through their blood rather than iron, like in humans) (p. 13).

-Each octopus knows 30-50 camouflage patterns, including patterns that appear to move over the animal’s skin (p. 45).

-Each eye can move independently (p. 50).

Montgomery shares these facts about octopuses as she tells the stories of her new human and marine friends at the aquarium. In order to discover more, you’ll have to read it for yourself. The only aspect of the book I have not enjoyed has been Montgomery’s intense emotions about the octopuses she meets. For me, her personal experience comes on too strong at times and dilutes the purpose of the book. But you may feel differently when you read it. Give it a try!


Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida

I was just on MelCat, minding my own business, when a message caught my eye. It flashed across the banner on the homepage, and it said "No Flying, No Tights". When I clicked on it, a site full of librarians' recommendations for anime, manga, graphic novels, and other non-superhero related materials opened up. SWEET! 

I am always hunting for new titles in these categories. I read about Tokyo Ghoul, and placed a hold through MelCat for the first volume of the manga series. Manga are Japanese comic books. They read from right to left. This supernatural title features flesh-eating ghouls trying to blend into human society to avoid ghoul investigators and stay safe among their own often violent, territorial peers. People know about ghouls; their existence isn't a secret, so they have even more reason to protect their true identities. The main character, Ken Kaneki, unwillingly becomes a part of this dark underground world, and it changes his life forever. Since reading the first volume, I've already received and began reading the second one, and requested the third. The series was made into an anime show, but I can't vouch for it. However, I do highly recommend the manga to teen and adult horror fans. Enjoy!