Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Give the Gift of a Library

During this busy holiday season, parents and other adults are scrambling about in search of the perfect gift for their children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. Well, look no further!

Consider a gift that will entertain and educate kids of all ages and bring your family closer together. Give the gift that keeps on giving - the gift of reading! Reading with a child/children and encouraging them to read independently are two of the most significant things an adult can do to influence a youngster’s life.

Of course, good books make wonderful gifts. Kids naturally enjoy the magic that a book brings as they go over the story and illustrations, (many times, often more than once), practice their reading skills and perhaps learn something new in the process. Magazine subscriptions also make great recurring reading presents.

But maybe the best option for a reading themed gift is to bring a child to the Kalamazoo Public Library sometime during their holiday break. If you time it right, you can attend one of many programs planned for children. Then you can sign up the little guys for their own library cards, which come complete with plastic carrying cases and lanyards. And even though it is free of charge, the amount of pride and joy you’ll see in the little ones’ faces when first presented with it, will form a pleasurable, lasting memory for all gift givers.


Once armed with the card, the child has the entire library’s collection at his or her disposal. They can choose their own books, audiobooks, magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Of course, librarians are always on hand to aid your young ones in the selection process, helping to match the child with books covering their particular interests, and on their reading level as well. Best of all, this process can be repeated again and again. Just return the items and pick out new ones as many times as you like. Truly the best gift of all. And one that will keep on giving for a lifetime!


Library Card

Ten Years Later -- Remembering 9/11

I was doing my morning stretches and listening to NPR, when the news came on. I remember the feel of that September day—sunny, blue skies, warm with no humidity – just like the weather in New York City. I know whom I called, what we said, what I did the rest of that day. And I remember which books I read over the years, to help me make sense of the event.

We each have our own memories of September 11, 2001. KPL has many books and movies that express individual experiences of that day, fictionalized accounts, analytical perspectives. Here are some to consider, as we commemorate the tenth anniversary: 

Before & After stories from New York. Thomas Beller, editor

(Many authors tell stories of New York City, before and after the attacks. This anthology includes local author Bryan Charles’ moving account of the agonizingly long descent down a Tower staircase, after the attack.)

Reluctant Hero : a 9/11 Survivor Speaks Out about that Unthinkable Day, What he's Learned, How he's Struggled, and What no one should ever Forget ,  by Michael Benfante. 

(Benfante’s experience of the descent included stopping at the 68th floor to offer help to a woman in a wheelchair. He and a co-worker carried her down 68 flights to safety, emerging minutes before the building exploded. The media turned Benfante into an instant hero, but in the years following, he wrestled with private anguish, depression and alcoholism.)

9-11 : Emergency Relief , Chris Pitzer, editor. 

(Several graphic novelists joined together to chronicle their experiences of the day. I didn't own a TV on 9/11, so unlike many others, I didn't view thousands of devastating images of the attacks and their aftermath.  This book made 9-11 'real' for me, somehow.)

Arab in America
El Rassi, Toufic. 

(El Rassi’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel gave an honest account of life in the United States growing up as an Arab-American, post 9/11.)


9-11 : emergency relief



May is National Bike Month – get inspired!

I admit it. I am in awe of long-distance bicyclists. You may have caught my blog on Emmanuel’s Gift, the documentary about cyclist Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah, who biked across his home country of Ghana to raise awareness about people living with disabilities.

Take a minute to imagine the athleticism, courage and perseverance necessary to conduct a solo bike ride. Now see yourself as a woman riding around the world, for fifteen months, in 1894! Read all about Annie Londonderry’s incredible bike journey in Around the World on Two Wheels by Zheutlin, Peter.

Closer to home and the present, Grand Rapids author Sue Stauffacher has led a 5-day, 250-mile bike convoy this week, as a tribute to Tillie Anderson, 1898 world champion cycling racer. Stauffacher detailed Tillie’s adventures in Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History. The cycling group stopped at schools along the bike route—who have not had author visits in five years--to encourage kids to get excited about both biking and reading.

May is National Bike Month, a good time to let others’ efforts inspire you to get out onto two wheels (and encourage someone else to do it, too!)


Tillie the Terrible Swede: How one woman, a sewing needle and a bicycle changed history


Oh, the Places You Could Go!

I was looking for a particular travel memoir and found myself drawn to all of its companions on the shelf. Before long, I had an armful of books off the shelf.

I found titles recommending where to go and what not to miss:
Unforgettable places: Unique Sites and Experiences around the World
1001 Historic Sites You Must See before You Die
Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Greatest Trips

There were books that advise how to travel smarter, cheaper, or under certain conditions:
Ethical Travel: 25 Ultimate Experiences; Make the Most of your Time on Earth
The Family Sabbatical Handbook: the Budget Guide to Living Abroad with your Family
Wanderlust and Lipstick: the Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo

And then there were travelers’ experiences that just draw you right in:
Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of six Continents
How to Fit a Car Seat on a Camel: and other Misadventures Traveling with Kids
Rowing to Alaska and other True Stories

Where was I, in specific? Standing in front of the books in the 910.2 dewey decimal section at Central. You, too, could get inspired to travel however and wherever you wish. Come down and take a browse, or explore via our catalog. Be sure to look beyond the first page, as there are several fun pages of books and DVDs to choose from. We have plenty of other travel books and movies, beyond the 910.2 section; please ask for help if you don’t find what you’re seeking!


Unforgettable places: unique sites and experiences around the world


Curiouser and Curiouser

145 years after its original publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland still manages to mesmerize readers, artists, and more than a few directors.  Alice was a childhood favorite of mine, and I’m happy to return to it as an adult for the Classics Revisited book club this month.  KPL has many different incarnations of the book, including copies with the iconic John Tenniel illustrationsaudio recordings of the book, and even an annotated version.  We also have Disney’s classic movie and Tim Burton’s recent adaption (my favorite movie version, Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, is available via MeLCat).

You can join Classics Revisited on October 21st at 7pm to discuss Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  If Alice doesn’t interest you, take a look at our blog to see upcoming book selections and dates.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Apocalyptic Childhood

Did you watch The Day After, the made for TV movie about nuclear war where bombs were dropped on Kansas City and the surrounding area?  It aired on November 20, 1983 and almost 100 million people watched.  I remember there being so much hype and at age 15, I was one of those millions watching. 

So when I ran across The Day After the Day After: My Atomic Angst, a memoir by Steven Church, I was transported back to the early eighties.  I also thought about my wife's family who were living in Topeka, Kansas at the time, especially her brother who is fascinated by apocalyptic visionaries like John Brown and creates apocalyptic landscapes in many of his works of art. 

Steven Church covers John Brown and many end of the world 70's and 80's movies as he reports on the atmosphere he grew up in while in Lawrence, Kansas and what it was like for "the end" to be filmed in his town when he was a kid. 

I sent a copy of the book to my brother-in-law and then took the library's copy on an almost 5000 mile road trip with my family.  It was the perfect book for my trip, because we would be making a stop in Lawrence, Kansas to visit some of my wife's old high school friends and because a 5000 mile trip with four kids can feel apocalyptic at times. 

I talked with one of my wife's friends about the book and the movie and he said that the movie terrified him and he is glad that his kids aren't growing up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over them as much as it was for us.  I remember being disappointed by the movie, finding it slightly boring and melodramatic.  The nuclear war threat just never seemed real to me and I didn't loose much sleep over it as a child. 

How was it for you?  Read Steven Church's memoir and see what memories it brings back for you.


The Day After the Day After
Steve S

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

Even though I haven't read this book, or seen the movie Alice in Wonderland yet, I know that these "Blackwell philosophy and popculture series" books are excellent ways to dive into the deeper themes of the movies and shows that we love (see also Matrix and Philosophy, Terminator and Philosophy). This books seems to focus on the following philosophical topics: the nature of language, the problem of induction, perception vs. reality, and Nietzsche on perspective. Tell me what you think!


Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

Two Long Ears, Likes to Hop

Rabbits have long been the subjects of art, books and movies. Who doesn't love Watership Down or The Runaway Bunny? Rabbits are so adorable you just might be tempted to bring one home.

But don’t hop too quickly on that idea.

Every year, thousands of rabbits are abandoned or die from neglect because their owners were surprised they weren’t as playful as dogs, or as self-sufficient as cats.

The fact is rabbits are high-maintenance pets and therefore inappropriate for small children or for adults seeking a quiet and pretty companion.

Rabbits are beautiful, to be sure, but they are not dumb fluff. Intelligent creatures highly motivated by a good meal or treat, rabbits can be taught words and phrases. Mr. Chloe, our own 10 year old dwarf Dutch mix, understands and responds to a couple dozen words and phrases.

rabbit-2451-240.jpgThis intelligence also means he can be manipulative and demanding. Chloe has a fully developed personality. He is spirited, humorous, joyful and affectionate.

Domestic rabbits are by nature social creatures whose wild habit is to live in communities with an elaborate hierarchy (remember Watership Down?). Rabbits need and want attention from their humans. They should live in the home, not be imprisoned in a backyard hutch where they can be tormented or frightened to death by hawks or other predators. They also need exercise and mental stimulation which is unavailable in a hutch. Chloe lives inside with us and is trained to use a litter box. He has full run of the house with our supervision. When we’re asleep or when we leave for work, he goes into his cage. We do this for his safety, because he is curious and unafraid of heights.

rabbit-2465-160.jpgAbout heights: Chloe recently fractured his little front paw and we think it’s because he hopped badly from a step. Because of his advanced age, the recuperation will be slow. He is taking a small amount of oral painkiller from a plastic syringe. And even though he is smart, Chloe cannot comprehend instructions to lie still and elevate that broken paw.

If you still want to get into the rabbit habit, read up on it first. Consult the House Rabbit Society to learn more. Visit some house rabbits and their people to see if having a rabbit is compatible with your family.


Watership Down

Any Lost Fans?

Fans of the TV series Lost are fanatical not only because the show keeps you constantly guessing and hungry to watch the next episode, but because there are deep philosophical themes  peppered throughout. Who is John Locke, and how does he relate to the 17th century philosopher that heavily influenced our constitution? And then he becomes Jeremy Bentham, founder of utilitarianism, which makes more sense insofar as the character will do anything that the island demands ("Boone was a sacrifice the island demanded"). My favorite, however, is the character Desmond Hume representing David Hume's idea that the self is nothing but a loose connection of memories and sensations. Further, what does Rousseau have to do with the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau? And of course you can't have an epic drama without the age-old struggle between fate and free will, the relationship between faith and reason, and...smoke monsters coming from the forest.


Lost and Philosophy

The Story Sisters

Alice Hoffman’s new book, The Story Sisters, is true to form for the author – mystical and strange with compelling characters and complicated relationships. Their “stories” bump up against reality and the author’s imagery creates a beautiful, haunting, sad tale, but the reader ultimately recognizes the possibility of redemption through love. 

Although I found The Story Sisters a little more difficult to read than some of Hoffman’s other books, it was worth the effort. If you are not familiar with her work and want to try her out you might want to read one of her earlier novels first, try Practical Magic (made into a movie in 1998, starring Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and Stockard Channing) or Turtle Moon. They are also beautifully written and also intriguing with elements of magic, but are not so dark.


Story Sisters
Martha C
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