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Staff Picks: Books


Jeff Smith's classic fantasy comic Bone first came out in 1995. As I was only a toddler at the time (sorry if I just made anyone feel old), I am reading the entire complete series now for the first time. It's an obvious choice for comic lovers of all ages; hopefully this post will allow more new readers to discover it. Bone is about three...well...bones who are on the run from their angry fellow villagers of Boneville. Their names are Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. Lost in the desert, they find a map that leads them into a seemingly idyllic valley. The book leads them on various adventures from there.

Bone is great because it incorporates the hallmarks of fantasy (dragons, royalty, monsters) with interesting characters, a clever sense of humor, and a satisfying pace. You can read the entire thing as one big volume (1,332 pages) or check out the smaller in-color volumes. They read as chapters that can be savored in one sitting, or a few days for younger readers. The first part of the story is called Bone: Out of Boneville. This is an excellent book to add to your fundamental comics education, especially if you seek non-superhero material. Enjoy!

Bitch Planet

Bitch Planet is an ongoing comic series published by Image Comics (Walking Dead, Saga). Currently, there are 2 volumes out. Volume 1, which I'm going to talk about today, is called Extraordinary Machine and contains issues #1-4. Volume 2 is called President Bitch, and contains issues #6-10. 

The first thing I want to say about this book, is that I read it in one sitting and loved it. It takes place in a dystopian future where patriarchy and government are one and the same (reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale). Non-compliant women are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, a prison on another planet commonly referred to as Bitch Planet. What kinds of crimes earn a sentence on Bitch Planet? Seduction, emotional manipulation, disrespect, and being a "bad mother" go hand in hand with murder and assault. Former athlete Kamau Kogo also finds herself there. She accepts an offer from management to form a duemila, or megaton, team. The fictional sport combines football, boxing, wrestling, and favoritism from the judges. Her team of inmates will play against the guards; those on Earth will see it broadcast over The Feed. 

Meanwhile, readers observe the sexist and racist nightmare that is Earth, and the scheming of those in power to keep society that way. The two stories weave together to form something utterly sinister. As a bonus, at the end of each issue, you'll find a page of fictional advertisements-make sure to read them!

This fantastic book showcases a diverse array of women, who vary in skin color, body type, and sexuality, a welcome quality in any book. It also features plenty of nudity, language, and violence, so it's rated M for Mature. 

Find both volumes of Bitch Planet digitally on Hoopla. If you prefer print, request from MelCat or check in with your local comic book store if you would like to own it.



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!