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Staff Picks: Books

Potted

If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your patio or trying to perk up your houseplants, Potted: Make Your Own Stylish Garden Plants is a great place to start. Potted offers a variety of fun d.i.y projects to build cool and creative pots for all sorts of plants, whether in outdoors spaces or inside on a windowsill. The instructions are detailed and include a number of pictures, making these d.i.y’s a no-brainer.


Flying Couch

There’s something about graphic memoirs that allows them to resonate with me in a way that normal memoirs do not. When a person’s life story is illustrated in frames that capture snapshots of their life, it’s even easier to put myself in their shoes and feel their experiences.

If you’re looking for a particularly beautiful graphic memoir, look no further than Flying Couch, by Amy Kurzweil. This book encompasses two stories: it is centrally focused on Kurzweil, and her experience finding her identity as a Jewish woman, and along the way, the memoir is interlaced with her grandmother’s story of surviving the holocaust by assuming the identity of a Polish gentile girl. I loved learning about a culture so different from my own, and traveling with Kurzweil as she goes from Michigan, to New York, Israel, and Germany. I heartily recommend it.


Deep Look at Universal Basic Income

Unfortunately I stopped reading this book because the writing was dry and academic. I don't mean it had a lot of data, graphs, and analysis - of course it did - I just mean that the writing wasn't smooth, entertaining, exciting, or narrative-driven in any way.

Oh, what have I become! I used to love these books! Apparently my college days of reading are gone.

I also got a little bogged down in the economics, which is frankly over my head.

Anyway, this is a very deep look into the concept, theory, and practice of Universal Basic Income. See my previous post for a more accessible, American-centered book on UBI (which I did read from cover to cover).

The book ends of proposing what they call a "partial basic income." In this model, every citizen gets a monthly paycheck from the government. This amount is "partial" because it doesn't lift a person above the poverty line. Other welfare programs are kept intact and used to get people over the poverty line. It's more complicated than other UBI models, but the authors go into great detail on why they think it's the right call.


Understanding the Southern White Tea Party

The author, a liberal Berkeley sociologist, goes into the deep south and follows around a handful of Tea Party advocates. Although the premise of this book is noble - to empathize with the far right - I really wonder if this book accomplishes that goal. Or worse, backfires. I feel that Republicans might be offended that these people are giving them a bad name, especially after reading the book. And I feel that Democrats, especially liberal ones, might be horrified at what these people saying - verifying their worst fears and creating even more distance between them.

The overarching political narrative of the book is about poverty, lack of education, environmental disaster, corporate greed, and politicians who don't care about the people they serve. I'm talking about Louisiana, and all of these forces hit the people very hard. The personal stories of how these Tea Party people were affected by politics and things beyond their control is disturbing indeed and that, to me, is where a lot of compassion kicks in. In the end, you get a sense of where they're coming from.

Still, there is an undercurrent of racism in the background, lingering and festering; the idea that white taxes are going to those lazy, poor urban people "cutting in line". The author doesn't want to judge, so she remains silent. That needs to be addressed.

I would really love to hear other thoughts about this book, from people with various political views.


1971

Never a Dull Moment: 1971, the Year That Rock Exploded is the title of this 2016 book that puts forth the assertion that 1971 was a pivotal year in popular music. There are 12 chapters, one for each month of the year. Many musicians and groups are discussed, such as Don McLean, Sly and the Family Stone, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Carpenters, Carly Simon, Judy Collins, and many, many more. For readers under say, 55, this could be an introduction. For others like myself, who as a freshman and sophomore at WMU experienced 1971 firsthand along with lots of its music, it will be a review of the music complemented with stories of the musicians. These accounts are given a backdrop of the political, social, and economic climate of the time, adding to the interest of this book.


Solving poverty by giving people money

What happens when all semi trucks are self-driving? Heck, Uber even has it in their business plan. What about robots that flip burgers (already exists)? And software that makes investments? And 3D printers that can build a house in 24 hours (already exists)? Some experts (not all) have predicted that the future holds the elimination of jobs (blue collar and white) that we have never seen in human history.

Universal Basic Income - i.e., giving every citizen $1,000 dollars a month, no questions asked - was a new concept to me until a few months ago. Since then, I've watch some TED talks, heard about it in the news (Hawaii is considering it apparently), and read this nice book by Andy Stern, former labor leader turned UBI proponent.

The idea is very simple (albeit expensive). Rather than have welfare programs, we simply give all citizens enough money to get them out of poverty. The "universal" part is also simple: everyone gets the money, no matter if they work or not. Even rich people.

What really impressed me about the book is how it convinces the reader that both ends of the political spectrum - progressives and libertarians - have solid reasons to get behind UBI, and therefore it might even get support. Martin Luther Jr. supported UBI, but so did Richard Nixon. The book is enjoyable, easy to read, and is full of interviews from a spectrum of various thoughts. 


Jim Harrison Redux

When Jim Harrison passed away last year it was not necessarily a big surprise to anyone, the 79 year old's health had been declining for years and his unrepentant overindulgent lifestyle was the thing of legends, yet rereading Harrison’s work this summer has given me a heightened sense of what has been lost with his passing. Novelist, smoker, drinker, glutton, hunting/fishing enthusiast, force of nature, and personal friend to the notorious Hunter S. Thompson, these all describe Harrison, but you also must add poet, devoted husband, bird watcher, gourmand, and naturalist to this list in order to get a more complete picture of the Michigan native. Harrison also happens to be responsible for some of my absolute favorite book jacket bio photos, which themselves give you a sense of the man's distinct lack of care for what anyone thought of him. A new collection, A Really Big Lunch, of 47 previously published rambling essays dating from between 1981 and 2015 about food, writing, life, and much more, is a great way to get to know Harrison. I can almost guarantee that reading some of these essays will compel you to explore more of Harrison’s work, of which there are copious amounts of novels, novellas, nonfiction, and books of poetry to enjoy. Like the legendary 37-course, 11-hour lunch from which the essay collection gets its title, delving into Jim Harrison’s bibliography can be a time commitment, but in the end it proves deeply satisfying.


A Horrifying Time in Our History

In the 1920s, the Osage were very wealthy, for the times, from the discovery of oil. As other tribal lands were being parceled out and the government was forcing the assimilation of the Native American culture, the Osage had negotiated the mineral rights for their corner of Oklahoma….and then oil was discovered!

Killers of the Flower Moon: the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is the story of the systematic murder for money – execution-style shootings, poisoning, exploding houses – sometimes by family members, sometimes by “guardians” who the federal government had appointed with the belief the Osage were not capable of handling their own affairs.

J. Edgar Hoover decided this would be the perfect showcase for his new agency, the FBI. The investigation revealed a plan to take away the Osage fortune by killing over two dozen of the tribal members.

This is a compelling, horrifying story that has been lost in main stream history. I imagine it has not been lost in Osage or Oklahoma history.


This is my last book blog as KPL director. As I become a frequent library patron, I’ll continue to follow what the staff is reading and add many of their suggestions to my reading list. I expect to have more time to read!

 


The Divide

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading Matt Taibbi’s current events articles in Rolling Stone, although I did feel at times that his over the top, (but funny) vitriolic name calling cut into his credibility. He is undeniably intelligent and is excellent at explaining complex issues in easy to understand and entertaining prose. 

 
For the first time, I delved into one of his books, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Here Taibbi investigates the banking/housing financial crisis of 2008, where clearly fraudulent business practices led to the loss of 40% of the world’s wealth, but almost no one went to jail, alongside the proactive policing of the poor that is filling our jails even though crime is declining. 

 
One thing he uncovers is that government agencies are reluctant to go after wealthy corporations because it would cost so much to bring those cases to trial and would be harder to win, because of the top notch lawyers these corporations can employ. On the other hand, the poor are vulnerable and easy to convict; low hanging fruit. 

 
I ask myself if this is anything new. Hasn’t this divide always existed? Taibbi argues that the divide is growing and threatens our country’s foundational values.


We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

I’m deeply in love with the book We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. She writes with a candor that can be uncomfortable at times, but with a purpose: self-reflection that compels the reader to see their own humanity. This book is about what it is to be a person, because being a person is horrible a lot of the time, occasionally all right, and usually ridiculously funny. Irby is so incredibly funny that I spit out my coffee multiple times while reading this book because I couldn’t control my laughter. Read this book.