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Staff Picks: Books

Hot Pink!

New York Fashion Week has come to a close, but London Fashion Week is just starting up! That’s right, we are right in the middle of the first Fashion Month of 2018, a time I personally refer to as The Highlight of my Instagram Feed.

 

While it is always a delight to see the latest trends sashay down the runway, a true fashionista knows that you can’t really understand where fashion is going until you know where it’s been.  Many are familiar with the revolutionary influence of Coco Chanel, but few know about her contemporary, the avant garde visionary Elsa Schiaparelli.

A mastermind ahead of her time, Elsa Schiaparelli set in motion all of the fashion paradigms we take for granted today. Make sure to check out this book to read about the inventor of runway shows, ready to wear collections, bolero jackets, culottes and most importantly—hot pink!

Also, click here to see some of her most famous works


Future Home of the Living God

Louise Erdrich's latest novel, Future Home of the Living God, is a suspenseful and topical story, covering themes including reproductive rights, the treatment of Native Americans, and religious intolerance.

Cedar Songmaker is a young, pregnant woman eagerly anticipating motherhood while at the same time in fear for her own survival and that of her baby. The book takes the form of a journal she is writing to her unborn child, recounting the events leading up to its birth, in case she does not live to tell the tale in person. The reason? Many biological organisms are no longer developing as expected. Scientists aren't sure exactly what is happening—evolution is described as running backward or sideways, and the government's response is increasingly autocratic.

Cedar seeks out her Native American birth mother in order to find out about any genetic diseases in her family, and in the process she is forced to come to terms with the truth of her own origins and her adoptive white parents. Cedar is a spirited protagonist and her personal situation, as well as the environmental and societal changes surrounding it, cause her to question who and what she can trust and to take drastic measures to keep her freedom.


A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches

Despite the title, A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches isn't actually all that upsetting. What it is, however, is an insanely great cookbook about- yes- sandwiches from Tyler Kord, owner and head chef at No. 7 Sub in New York. Hilariously written with lots of attitude and great stories surrounding each (delicious) sandwich, along with mouthwatering photography by none other than William Wegman (famous for taking photos of his pet Weimaraner dogs wearing costumes), this is well worth a read if you love sandwiches, or funny writing, or both.


Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

I'm excited about the new picture book biography of Elizabeth Cotten, Libba. Elizabeth Cotten is best known for her song "Freight Train". She taught herself to play guitar and wrote the now-famous song by the time she was eleven. Playing and singing was deferred while Elizabeth Cotten made a life in segregated North Carolina. Then, in her 50s, she moved to Washington, D.C., and began working in a department store. It was there she met Ruth Crawford Seeger, part of that famous American folk-music family. She began working for them as a housekeeper and started playing again. 

This new picture book biography is important because it tells the story of a hugely influential American songwriter. Written by singer-songwriter Laura Vieirs with illustrations by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, there is a lot of American history addressed in Libba: music, guitar, segregation, privilege, and much more. It's a great one to share with your family. 


Fallen Glory

Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings is the story of 21 vanished buildings from all over the world and from all time periods. Most readers would know these buildings by name and location but wouldn't have much more information on them than that. This book fills in those gaps. Some of them are ones that most readers probably have not heard of at all, such as the Karakorum in Orkhon Valley, Mongolia, the Fortress of Golconda in Hyderabad, India, the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, or, closer to home, the Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri. Many photographs and drawings add to the quality of this large, well-documented work. Prolific mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith calls this 'the most interesting book I have come across this year. This is a magnificent study of buildings and other structures that have disappeared.'


What is a bardo?

I was introduced to George Saunders on a list of “smart summer reads” that I found at Cody’s books in Berkeley, California and have loved his books ever since. However, I didn’t make it far the first time I picked up his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. I was turned off by the citations below the statements from every character and I didn’t really know what he was doing. I had not read the jacket cover or anything about the book. 

Then I saw Lincoln in the Bardo on several of my library colleagues’ best of 2017 lists and my wife enjoyed it so I gave it another try. 

Bardo is a term that comes from Tibetan Buddhism signifying the state of existence in between death and rebirth, but in the book it seems closer to the idea of purgatory. Saunders was inspired to write the novel after reading about Abraham Lincoln making several visits to the crypt to hold the body of his young son Willie who passed away at the age of 11. He started to imagine what that depth of grief must have been like, especially as the casualties of the Civil War started to escalate. 

Saunders has no lack of imagination. I recommend taking this sometimes sweet, sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying and sometimes overwhelmingly sad journey into the bardo.


Bird Balloon Bear by Il Sung Na

Many of my family's all time favorite picture books were created by Il Sung Na. Bird, Balloon, Bear is a new favorite. In this charming story, Bird, is looking for a friend when Bird spots Bear. As Bird works up the courage to say "Hi", Balloon shows up. Bear and Balloon run off to play and Bird steps back shyly. You'll have to check out what happens next is this sweet story. Be sure to take a careful look at the beautiful illustrations while you're at it.


A new republic

Classic European portraiture gets a new face in the work of artist Kehinde Wiley, whose striking paintings portray modern African American subjects in poses that mimic European masters in the book Kehinde Wiley : a new republic, which is part of the KPL social justice collection. Wiley's work shines a light on the lack of African American faces in historical and cultural contexts. There is also a documentary about Kehinde, available on DVD or through Hoopla.


Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing

Save the date: Kwame Alexander is coming to visit Kalamazoo on February 28th

In the book Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Kwame Alexander, with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, use original poems to celebrate twenty poets who, for the three authors of this book, had to be interesting people with poems that they loved. I love how Kwame Alexander opens the book with the premise that poetry can be fresh and freeing. You can make up your own rules about writing! What a wonderful notion that the connections around different senses of words and the way punctuation looks on the page conveys a feeling to other people. These original elements of style are unique to the poet and their poetry. The poems in the first part pay tribute  to Nikki Giovanni, Naomi Shihab-Nye, Langston Hughes, and others in this way.

Poetry expands our thinking about everyday things. You definitely do not need to know the twenty poets that the poems in Out of Wonder celebrate. You might want to read them after you read these poems celebrating Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, Chief Dan George, Mary Oliver, and many more. The collage illustrations by Ekua Holmes, who also illustrated Carole Boston Weatherford's Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, add to the sense of the poems and make it even more accessible to young readers and listener watchers. The title, Out of Wonder, Alexander writes in the preface, comes from a quote by renowned poet and children’s book author Lucille Clifton who wrote, “Poems come out of wonder, not out of knowing.”

For more information about Kwame, visit his website. His new literary focused web show, Bookish, airs weekly on FB Watch.


Turner, Monet and Twombly

Culled together from an exhibit at the Tate Modern Museum in 2012, Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings is a handsome examination of the influences of nature, light and atmosphere upon the works of these three legendary painters. The book illustrates both the similarities and the differences between the three painters, traces the impact of light and natural landscapes on their particular vision, and how each brought into being their masterpieces, that today, routinely fetch millions at the auction houses.