Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

American Folklife

Library of Congress American Folklife Center: an Illustrated Guide…the title sounds bland, but the book/CD set is anything but! It covers a wide cross-section of folk art and folk lore in the United States. 

 Most amazing is the accompanying CD. With 35 tracks in all, there are songs from all over the U.S., including a song sung by Zora Neale Hurston, storytelling, personal interviews with many different people about aspects of daily living and the impacts of war and slavery. Some recordings are over 100 years old. Altogether they demonstrate the richness and variety of cultural experience in our country. This would be a great teaching tool to help bring an American history topic to life for your students.


Library of Congress American Folklife Center: An Illustrated Guide

Books on Music: Louder Than Hell

Ever wonder what life is like for the average metal musician? If Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal is to be believed, it involves massive substance abuse, anonymous and degrading sex, and tons of questionable behavior- and that's the good parts. Combing through hundreds of interviews with musicians, roadies, managers, groupies and journalists, Louder Than Hell paints a simultaneously fascinating and horrifying portrait of one of the most-loved and most-hated music genres- heavy metal. While this book definitely isn't for everyone- the amount of booze and bloodshed can be stomach-turning at times- the sheer amount of music history on display is impressive. Authors Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman spent 25 years interviewing everyone from Alice Cooper and Lemmy Kilmister, Dave Mustaine and Chino Moreno, Trent Reznor and Nivek Ogre- and if any of those names mean anything to you, and if you like your music loud, heavy and excessive, then you're probably the right audience for Louder Than Hell.


Louder Than Hell
Stewart F.

Books on Music: Hip Hop Family Tree

If you've been looking at the KPL Staff Best of 2013 lists, you've no doubt found something new that you hadn't seen before. For me, this years' big surprise was volume 1 of Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree, released in book form just last week- just in time to make it on my end-of-year list! Collected from nearly two years' worth of serialized strips on the weird tech/culture blog Boing BoingHip Hop Family Tree takes it way, way back to the formative years of hip hop. Starting with DJ Kool Herc spinning records at a local rec center in the South Bronx in the mid-70s and ending with the mainstream hip hop explosion of 1981, Hip Hop Family Tree covers a ton of ground in only a few years. Visually it's a treat as well, done in a yellowish, pulp comics look that wouldn't feel out of place next to a newsstand copy of X-Men in Times Square in 1979. Raw yet painstakingly researched, Hip Hop Family Tree is an essential read for hip hop fans. Ch-ch-check it out!


Hip Hop Family Tree


Stewart F.

The Beatles Were Fab

The Beatles Were Fab (and they were funny) by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer and illustrated by Stacy Innerst is a new favorite of mine! This biography, told like a story, follows the Beatles from their earliest days in Liverpool through the ends of Beatlemania. It also includes an historical timeline and a list of sources for more information. As the Horn Book reviewer said, "Youngsters wondering why the band is still beloved by their parents and grandparents will understand after reading the many humorous anecdotes." The charming illustrations include nods to various lyrics and anecdotes, like an address marker for Penny Lane and a Yellow Submarine on one page. My favorite part is the story about the Queen Mother laughing at John's jokes! 


The Beatles Were Fab

How Music Works

Readers of a certain age may have an image of the artist David Byrne in that big kabuki inspired suit he was wearing around the time the 1983 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense came out. Byrne was the lead singer of that popular "new wave" band. If that is the case, and you have not kept tabs on the artist, I urge you to update that image of Byrne and to explore the multifaceted work that he has produced since those big suit wearing days. And checking out Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, is a perfect way to do just that. How Music Works is a fascinating analysis of the power of music and musical performance. From the music neophyte to jaded indie rockers, every music fan will find something to peak their interest in this difficult to define book. Equal parts music theory, social science, and memoir How Music Works is as entertaining as it is informative. Byrne’s brainy but casual writing style here is similar to his voice in his last book, the also great, Bicycle Diaries and it works very well with the content. This is a must read for music fans and fans of Byrne (old and new!) alike.


How Music Works

Long Live Rock

Books about rock stars are flooding the bestseller lists lately.  Back in November, there were four in the Top 10. 

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young

Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Rod by Rod Stewart

Bruce by Peter Carlin (about Bruce Springsteen, but you probably guessed that)

I've read excerpts of Townshend's and Stewart's books in Rolling Stone magazine.  Townshend really opens up and shares his thoughts and emotions in an artfully written, intellectual style.  I'm not that interested in Rod Stewart so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his authorial voice and fun stories about his friendship with Elton John. 

If you are interested in rock history, we have all these books and many more.


Who I Am
Steve S

Music and Make Believe (M&Ms)

It's time for Music and Make Believe again! This week the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra String Quartet and Kalamazoo Public Library will collaborate to bring you this special program. Preschoolers will enjoy hearing the story, The Maestro Plays, and completing a craft in the children's room. Then we all go upstairs, where the KSO String Quartet will be waiting to illustrate the story again with music. Kids will love the interaction with the orchestra members and the beautiful music.

We'd love for you to join us at one of the 5 Music and Make Believe sessions this week. Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 and 10:30 am at Central. And Thursday at 10:30 am at Eastwood.

Register on our website or call 553-7804 for more information.


The Maestro Plays

Play the Drums!

Drumming, by Ian Adams, is a good introduction to playing drum set. This new nonfiction title for beginning drummers shows the different kinds of equipment used to get started playing the drums along with good advice on safe drumming (ear plugs) and finding a teacher. An explanation of musical notation specific to drums, grooves and styles, inspiring highlights on influential rhythmic creators like Stewart Copeland, Cindy Blackman, and DJ Afrika Bambaataa plus great images of drummers from a wide variety of musical genres make this a great read for upper elementary, middle school, and teen readers.




25 Years of Brilliant Essays and Reviews

There are several elements that I feel, that while not required, certainly make for better reading when it comes to essays, reviews and personal reflections. They are: 1.) an energetic prose that flows well and that doesn’t become bogged down in obtuse jargon and esoteric detail 2.) an economy and focus (most pieces should not exceed 7 pages in length) when summarizing a particular subject’s value or importance to either the audience or the writer 3.) a calm passion and genuine curiosity for the subject matter and lastly 4.) an engagement with complex ideas or cultural values by mixing together an element of wit with a fierce and independent intelligence.

Geoff Dyer’s nonfiction prose really hits the spot for me and for those who love writers willing to tackle a multitude of subjects with a fresh perspective, check out his Otherwise Known As the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews. Fans of the late cultural critic John Leonard or those who enjoy the inventive observations of Greil Marcus may also enjoy Dyer’s work. Dyer tackles the books of writers like Richard Ford, Don Delillo, Lorrie Moore, and John Cheever along with personal takes on comic strips and life as an only child. He delves into the inner essence of works of art like J.M.W Turner’s painting Figures in a Building, linking its evocative power with that of Tarkovskii's masterpiece, Stalker. Along the way, you’ll learn about the impact of Richard Avedon’s mixing of high art with fashion photography and how Susan Sontag’s fiction pales in comparison to her contributions as a cultural critic. Dyer is never boring even when you may take issue with his opinions. You’ll never end up with just a straight, descriptive review with Dyer. He’s a deft craftsman with a talent for bringing out new readings on old subjects. Highly recommended.


Otherwise Known as the Human Condition

Def Jam Recordings

To recognize the first 25 years of the label, Def Jam Records has released this huge coffee table style book that celebrates the artists and personalities that helped take Def Jam from a scrappy young label that focused on getting the fresh new sound of hip hop on record to a bonafide pop culture icon. With photographs from across the labels first quarter century and essays from its founders, artists, and top executives, Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label chronicles all that has made the label what it is today and walks those of us who grew into adulthood alongside Def Jam down a beautifully constructed rap music memory lane.


Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label
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