Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
This is a high-school love story with a subplot about protesting arts funding cuts at their high school. The chapters bounce back and forth between Omar “T-Diddy” Smalls and Claudia Clarke, newspaper editor. They are both seniors at West Charleston High School in South Carolina. T-Diddy was born in the Bronx, but was sent to live with his uncle Albert two years ago to avoid trouble with the law. T-Diddy is the star quarterback of the Panthers and he is pumped by the defeat of their Powerhouse rivals: Bayside Tornadoes.
Although Claudia is turned-off by playas like T-Diddy, she soon realizes his clout with his social media skills at bringing classmates together to protest Arts cuts. T-Diddy is dedicated to restoring arts funding to their school and so is Claudia. They realize the power of collaboration. Their Principal, Dr. Brenda Jackson, aka Cruella, supports the cuts made by the school board, including the drama guild, the poetry club, the choir, and the marching band, library closure three days a week, and several teachers and staff lay-offs. However, these cuts become unacceptable to T-Diddy, Claudia, and the rest of the student body.
As Omar and Claudia spend more time together, their young love blossoms. Omar’s Uncle Albert supports their protests and provides knowledge he gained during the Civil Rights Movement.
This is definitely a worthwhile read for all teens and reinforces the power and strength of togetherness.
He Said, She Said
I saw A star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith on a recommended list, and I’m so glad that I did. Historical fact skillfully blends with fiction to make a story that’s hard to put down.
It’s the story of five very different women, brought together in 1930 by a single shared experience- each of them had a son who was killed in World War I. That heartbreaking fact made each of them each a “Gold Star Mother”, an actual United States government designation. Thousands of women all across the country were offered the chance to travel to Europe to visit the final resting place of their sons, with all expenses paid by the United States.
In Smith’s novel, the five “Gold Star” women who are the focus couldn’t be more different. Cora, the youngest, is a librarian from rural Maine. Then there is Minnie, wife of an immigrant Russian Jewish chicken farmer; Katie, an Irish maid from Massachusetts; Wilhemina, the emotionally fragile wife of a banker, and Bobbie, a rich socialite from Boston. Joining hundreds of other Gold Star women, they travel by ship to France, where unexpected experiences and chance meetings will change their lives forever.
I did a little research and discovered that in 1929, Congress passed legislation that allowed mothers and widows of sons who died in service between the years of 1917 and 1921 the right to make a “pilgramage” to Europe to visit the resting place of their son. By 1933, when the project ended, almost 6,700 women out of an eligible 17,389 had made the trip.
It’s a fascinating story, and well told. For a change of pace, also try author April Smith’s mystery series featuring FBI agent Ana Gray. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed in those, either.
A star for Mrs. Blake
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
Recently, I’ve come across some fascinating non-fiction books for kids. I’ve just finished Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone.
Full of wonderful photos, this book tells the story of the men who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion out of Fort Benning, Georgia. These soldiers became America’s first black paratroopers and author Tanya Lee Stone uses their story to explore the role of African Americans in the military. This is a great addition to the literature of World War II.
Tanya Lee Stone also wrote Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream, another book that sheds light on a little-known aspect of American history.
Courage Has No Color
Yes, I studied actuarial science before getting my library science degree, which statement probably prompts most of you to think, “I didn’t even know those two sciences existed.” But I bring this up, because I am currently enjoying reading/listening to three books on three completely different subjects, but where numbers and statistics play a big part:
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Triumphs of Experience by George Vaillant
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong by David Sally
Lewis’ book The Big Short is a well- known bestseller that explains the financial meltdown of 2008. It is fascinating and infuriating and may leave you swearing like a Wall Street bond trader (bond trader is worthy of replacing sailor in that cliché).
In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant tells the story of the Harvard Grant Study, a longitudinal study that started in 1938 and has followed almost three hundred men of which the survivors are in their 90s now. The study was started as an attempt to, “transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them.” The conclusions are interesting as well as the different factors they study over time that they think might lead to optimum health and the changes in the definition of optimum health.
Sally’s book The Numbers Game is to soccer what Moneyball (written by Michael Lewis who wrote The Big Short) is to baseball. As he crunches the numbers, he comes up with conclusions like launching corner kicks into the box hoping to score a goal is less valuable than just retaining possession with a short safe pass and that the team that takes the most shots on goal actually loses slightly more than half of the time.
Isn’t it great that libraries have books to please all sorts of tastes?
The Numbers Game
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
Books focusing on one year are not uncommon, but there seems to be a rash of them lately, almost like a new emphasis in publishing.
Earlier this year, I read One Summer: America, 1927 – Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone…. what a summer, what an interesting time in our history.
I recently read and blogged about Ready for a Brand New Beat with a focus on the summer of 1964.
Now I’m reading The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America.
As I browsed our new nonfiction shelves yesterday I noticed Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893; Constellation of Genius: 1922; and Japan 1941.
Just an observation for what it is worth on a cold, snowy day…
One Summer: America, 1927
If you grew up to the music of the ’60s or grew up in Detroit or both, you are likely to relate to Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America.
The question asked is… can a song change a nation? In 1964 “Dancing in the Street” was recorded at Motown’s Hitsville USA by Martha and the Vandellas. Martha Reeves arranged her own vocals and the song was released with the expectation it would be an upbeat dance song.
Ultimately it became a sort of anthem for the summer of 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, Vietnam War, free speech movement, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The song took on a new meaning for many and was eventually recorded by more than 30 artists or groups.
A good dance song or an activist anthem for the changing times…. either way, this is an interesting look at the mid-1960s.
Ready for a Brand New Beat: How ‘Dancing in the Street’ Became the Anthem for a Changing America
If you’re interested in American guitar history, you’ll want to explore this comprehensive new work about C.F. Martin and his contemporaries’ early technical developments in guitar design and manufacture. In a relatively short period of time before 1865, C.F. Martin and other builders developed and incorporated significant refinements, most notably an X-braced top capable of withstanding the higher string tension to which a steel-stringed guitar would be subjected. While Martin may or may not have invented X-bracing, his guitars were to the first to exploit this bracing system on a large scale.
Of course, folks in Kalamazoo get pretty excited about that other well-known granddaddy of the American guitar, Orville Gibson, who famously applied violin building techniques to mandolins and guitars. Arched-top mandolins and guitars? Yep, invented right here in Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is rightly proud of the stack and factory on Parsons Street where luminaries such as Lloyd Loar, Thaddeus McHugh, Ted McCarty, and others ran with Orville’s early ideas and made industrial design and musical instrument history.
From a business history standpoint, these two icons of American guitar manufacture are very different. Orville Gibson sold his nascent business and patent to a small group of Kalamazoo industrialists in 1902. Gibson Guitar relocated its headquarters to Nashville in 1981. The Heritage Guitar Company continues to build in the Parsons Street building today. C.F. Martin & Company, still located in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, remains a family owned business more than 175 years later.
Your Kalamazoo Public Library has lots of great books on guitar history. This new work is definitely worth checking out. I like it because it focuses on little-known technical history before the American Civil War – no dreadnaughts to be found here. The full color plates of many of the very earliest C.F. Martin instruments in this large format book are truly gorgeous to behold.
Inventing the American Guitar
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