Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Time-crunched Life

Anyone who’s been out and about in Kalamazoo on a Saturday morning since early winter has likely encountered the large groups of runners, many organized by the awesome Kalamazoo Area Runners, who have been training steadily for the Kalamazoo Marathon (May 6-8). With the weather improving (any day now!) and the event now only a week away, the dedication and discipline of these runners who trained outdoors through the Michigan winter is sure to pay off. The fact that these folks are not professional athletes, but regular, busy, time stressed, everyday people with professional, social, and family lives is not lost on me. While I am not a runner, I am a (mildly) competitive cyclist and the older I get and the more packed my daily life becomes with family, professional, and community commitments, the more my fitness goals take a backseat in my life and my time to devote to training shrinks further. Luckily KPL has multiple resources that can help keep you motivated and getting the most out of even the most limited of training schedules. If its training/social groups that keep you motivated then there is no better place to start your search for local organizations than the Kalamazoo Public Libraries Local Organization Directory. If you are looking for books to help make the most of your workouts, Chris Carmichael’s The Time-Crunched Triathlete , Kris Gethin’s Body by Design, and in the extreme even the craziness of Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body, provide a scientifically (if not a tiny bit morally questionable in the case of Ferriss) backed approach to squeezing the most fitness out of the least amount of time. If it is advice or motivation from the vast amount of online communities and information sources that keep you going, KPL has you covered with free wifi in all of our locations and plenty of newly installed blazing fast computers. But even with all of these information sources easily accessible from KPL, it is still the individual that gets out of bed and out running on a cold and snowy January morning and that is why those folks running in next week’s marathon are so worthy of the communities support and I wish everyone participating, no matter what distance or target time, good luck in next week’s event. 


Time-crunched Triathlete

Coming in July...

When I read an entire book in a day--not a common occurrence for me--I know it must have something special. Such is the case with Once Upon a River, the next offering by Kalamazoo's own National Book Award nominee, Bonnie Jo Campbell. And for this, I credit Campbell's mastery of language; her sound, down-to-earth characterizations; and a setting I could actually feel in my bones. This is the story of sixteen-year-old Margo Crane’s struggle to find the mother who abandoned her, while carving out her own existence along the fictitious Stark River in southwest Michigan following her father's untimely death. And yet, life on the river is not the challenge one might expect it to be; in fact, that is where Margo feels most at home. Rather it is in the relationships--and self-discovery--that happen along the journey that we come to know Margo best. While published for an adult audience, teen readers will identify as well.

As you anticipate the release of this title (July 2011), you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on some of Campbell's previous work. I know I will. 


Once Upon a River

Karen S

Sharon's theory on human suffering and God

Kidder gives us various viewpoints on human suffering and the existence of God. If God exists, why does suffering exists? [for library materials on this topic, click here.] This has been called by philosophers and theologians the "problem of evil." [click here for philosophy of religion books.] Remember that Deo's answer was, basically, that God left humans to their own devises, and this is what happened--a  Deistic approach. (Can you find the exact quote?) At one point the author gives part of his opinion:

I said to Sharon, "One of the things I've noticed about some of the genocide narratives I've read, people will say, 'God spared me.' The problem I have with that is then you think, 'Well, what about all the people who got their heads chopped off?...So I'm not quite sure that's the way to look at it" (p. 177).

But Sharon, the ex-nun who helped Deo find a home in New York, replies with very unique and interesting take on God and human suffering:

"I have a theory," she replied. "I remember thinking long ago, 'We're loved infinitely for however little bit of time we have.' And it's not ultimately tragic to die at any age. Whether we're talking about being blown into little pieces or waht is ultimate tragedy, I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surrounded by--I tell the little kids about the Good Shepherd...but the vine and the branches is great, too--but whether we feel it or not, we are surrounded by this tremendously loving presence, and that covers every second of every day. Of everybody" (p. 177).

Of all the philosophy books I've read on the subject, I find this "theory" most unique, complicated, and brilliant. It ignores the question entirely by making a statement (a "tremendously loving presence" exists at all times) that "covers" the problem.

What do you think of Sharon's theory? What do you think the novel is trying to say about suffering, God, and religion?

Did you know that Tracy Kidder is coming to Kalamazoo? And "Deo" himself?


Strength in What Remains

The Big Payback

In the summer of 1985 I drove to Kalamazoo (I had just turned 16 and I had just acquired my driver’s license. This was my first drive of more than 10 minutes duration) with two of my close friends from our small town of Stevensville, MI to attend the Fresh Fest at Wings Stadium. The Fresh Fest was the first multiple act rap music concert to tour the country, and brought a taste of hip-hop music and culture to many area's of the country for the first time. The concert featured headliners Run-DMC, along with the Fat Boys, Whodini, pioneering DJ Grandmaster Flash (sans the furious five), and an assortment of break dancing crews and graffiti artists. This was before the ubiquity of MTV and before the internet leveled the information playing field and information was not as free and easy as it is today.  My friends and I seemed to be the only people in our town who knew about rap music and only because we were hip to a fuzzy but listenable signal that, on a clear day, reached across the lake to us from WGCI 107.5 in Chicago and back then only occasionally played hip-hop music. The Fresh Fest was the first time my friends and I saw hip-hop culture live and in person and it blew our minds it was so cool! And yet we had no clue that we were witnessing the first leaps of a cultural phenomenon that would evolve into a multibillion-dollar industry not only dominating the music industry but gaining global cultural influence. These memories have come pouring back to me while reading The Big Payback, Dan Charnas’s authoritative and comprehensive history of the business of hip-hop music. Charnas leaves no stone unturned as he chronicles the amazing story of hip-hop and the artists, entrepreneurs, record executives, and hustlers who made it what it is today. If only I had kept that Run-DMC t-shirt that I bought at the Fresh Fest!


The Big Payback

“The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus

I was employed at Kalamazoo College in an earlier life so I was particularly interested to read Gail Griffin’s new book which chronicles the horrific deaths of two students on campus in 1999. Griffin’s extensive research introduces us to the people involved, the circumstances of their relationship, and most fascinatingly, the mixed reactions of the campus community during the aftermath.

Through interviews as well as police and campus records, Maggie Wardle and the student who shot her, Neenef Odah, become more than mere subjects in an investigation. I feel as if Maggie was someone I knew. It’s been several days since I finished the book, and indeed I find myself still digesting the story and—because I’m familiar with the campus and with many of the faculty and staff involved—reliving the pain, particularly as the 11th anniversary of the deaths approaches. Griffin, herself, is Parfet Distinguished Professor of English at the College, so her recounting is not wholly impersonal. She was there. And it is that fact that gives us the unique perspective into how the entire campus was affected during the months and years after.

Obviously, this is not an easy story to read, but it was both thought-provoking and fast-moving, and I didn’t want to miss a word.


“The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus
Karen S

Before you Rent...

It's the time of year when many college students are looking to rent. When entering into any legal situation, a basic understanding of your rights and obligations is your best protection. And with these awesome books by Nolo, it is very easy, interesting, and up-to-date. Learning before is always better than after some dispute comes along.

This book goes over the basic rights that tenants have in relationship to the lease and the landlord. Is this an illegal lease provision? Can the landlord raise my rent? How much can the security deposit be? What does the law say about discrimination? What happens if I end my lease? Can a landlord change my locks? How does the eviction process go?

Although this book is not a specific discussion of the law in Michigan, it does have an appendix in the back that references to various state laws. For much more information, come visit the Law Library.


Renters' Rights: The Basics

Transgender Warriors

What with last year’s passage of Ordinance 1856 in Kalamazoo and June being now-presidentially-proclaimed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Pride Month, I have been inspired to learn more about the lives of transgendered individuals, the oppressions they face and the strength it takes to walk in this culture as a trans person. At KPL, I discovered documentaries, feature films, biographies, historical accounts, sociological perspectives and novels.       

I was especially struck by Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg gives many examples through history of famous and not-so-famous people who crossed the lines of the gender expectations our culture holds. I learned so much through their and Feinberg’s own experiences.

Some subject terms you can use to find information about, by and for transgendered people in KPL’s collection are: transgender people; transgenderismtranssexuals and gender identity. Also, check out the GLBT Pride display on the first floor of the Central library through the end of June!


Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul

Census 2010 will be Here Soon...

I always thought statistics were boring, until I started working on the Central library Reference Desk and learned how often people need statistical information.  Our patrons request statistics for such varied reasons as backing up business plans for small business loans, assessing community needs for grant applications, and protesting environmental racism in specific Kalamazoo neighborhoods. 

Some of the helpful resources I’ve discovered include the:

Statistical Abstract of the United States, published annually and detailing nationwide statistics on a wide variety of topics, such as “Out-of-pocket Net prices of Attendance for Undergraduates,” “Number of emergency and transitional beds in homeless assistance systems nationwide,” and “Carbon dioxide emissions;”

County and City Data Book: A Statistical Abstract Supplement, which is useful for identifying local data, and

American FactFinder, an electronic portal to data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau.

We can thank the U.S. Census Bureau for the availability of many of the stats we provide at the Reference Desk.  Read more about what data the Census collects and how it is used, then learn how data will be collected in the 2010 Census.


Statistical Abstract of the United States

A Visit to the Place of My Nativity

One of the privileges a library worker has is seeing the new books as they come in. This book of anecdotes about Bronson Methodist Hospital, by retired employee Dick Vander Molen, caught my eye recently. When I browsed through it I discovered an amusing story about the pediatrician who tended to me in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I took a copy to my dad to show him this story and he ended up wanting to read the whole book, which he did, saying he enjoyed the stories about many local people, some of whom are his acquaintances. Anyone interested in the history of Bronson or in the people who worked there in past years will enjoy this collection.


The Bronson I knew : gone but not forgotten
David D.

Giving and Getting

My curiosity was sparked, when One Red Paperclip fell off the shelf into my hand.  Blogger Kyle MacDonald documents how he traded one red paperclip on Craigslist--and later on his own blog—for something “bigger and better” each time he traded. Eventually, his trades earned him a house in Kipling, Saskatchewan.
MacDonald’s quest wasn’t just about gaining material goods, but also about linking people up with things and experiences that mattered to them--and meeting plenty of interesting folks along the way. 

If MacDonald’s story intrigues you, consider trades on the Kalamazoo area Craigslist, or you can join the local “reuse group,” Portage-Kalamazoo Freecycle™,” and simply give away what you don’t need.


One Red Paperclip: Or How an Ordinary Man Achievd His Dream with the Help of a Simple Office Supply
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