Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
It’s late February, that time of year when people from all over the US and the rest of the world are beginning to see some positive results from their New Year resolution dieting regimens. If only that were true! More likely is that they’ve become demoralized, disgusted and are ready to throw in the towel. They are abandoning the promise that they had made to themselves for a new start at improving their health and body profiles. For them, it’s turning out to be another winter of discontent, as weight once again begins its ceaseless ascent!
This year I too had made a similar resolution: To lose the ten or so pounds I had put on during the holidays. Ah yes, the holidays! A particularly perilous time for those of us for whom weight watching is a nasty, yet necessary, lifelong pursuit. Those cheery holidays, chock full of friendly parties and family get-togethers, each laden with high caloric temptations disguised in minute, innocuous forms such as pierogies (well, in my family anyways), snacks, cakes, cookies, toffees and cocktails among other so-called “goodies.”
But wait, there’s help on the horizon. Luckily, many new weight loss books have suddenly appeared like so many healthful sprouts in a pan found in one’s kitchen window winter garden. Two that have received an especially generous amount of exposure on the morning talk shows recently are, Shred: The Revolutionary Diet: 6 weeks, 4 inches, 2 sizes written by Ian K. Smith, and Al Roker’s Never Goin’ Back: Winning the Weight-Loss Battle For Good.
The Shred book claims to be an easy to follow, complete program for those who have reached a weight plateau in their dieting and now need something to overcome that hump. It’s a six week “jump-start” regimen, each week devoted to a different phase in the process.
Roker’s Never Goin’ Back book is part autobiography, part plan for reducing weight and keeping it off over the long term. It’s written in a casual, personal style that has become Al Roker’s on-air trademark over the years.
Of course, if these newly published works don’t strike your fancy, there are many, many more both current and from years gone by. KPL owns quite a few of them in its collection. Some are better than others, but if nothing else, they can all be counted on to effectively burn calories if bunched up in a bag or backpack and lugged about while doing one’s regular daily chores.
From personal experience, I know that what works for one person won’t necessarily for another. And fad diets are called just that for a reason; they impact popular culture in one great, but short lived, burst of attention and then fade quickly away, somewhat like a one-hit wonder, Hollywood celebrity. I tried a number of fad diets about ten years ago when I had a much more serious weight problem. I was becoming desperate and wanted to find an easy fix. In particular, I remember indulging in, (if you could call it that), the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet; the diet of choice for college students with limited means, and others, such as myself, who must have had cabbages for brains. At first, the diet seemed like it would do the trick. Starvation usually does. Unfortunately, it did much more than that, leaving people ill, constantly hungry, energy depleted and worse. Some ended up in the emergency room with gall stone attacks which apparently the acids in the cabbage seemed to aggravate in some people. I was luckier than that, but after emerging from the restroom for the fifth time in one day, I came to the realization that this road to salvation was not for me.
I then did the only sensible thing I could think of, and simultaneously joined Weight Watchers and a gym. I tried each alone before with little to show for it. But together, they clicked for me. The Weight Watchers points system proved to be easy to implement. And physical exercise was no problem at all because I am fortunate enough to be one of those nuts who loves to work-out, walk and swim. In the end, I lost a total of 77 pounds between the beginning of the year and July when I finally attained my goal weight.
The point of the matter is to never give up! In the beginning, my goal seemed lofty and unachievable. But as I started to see results, and with the support and encouragement of my family and friends, I began to feel more empowered over the task, and the goal appeared to be not that far away after all.
So, good luck to all you dieters out there. Persevere and remember that it’s all within your reach! You might just have to stretch a little more than you’re used to in order to get to the place you want to be.
Shred, the revolutionary diet : six weeks, four inches, two sizes
There seems to be a real spike in the number of writers who are taking an interest in blending fiction with nonfiction, memoir and essay. The best of these are often clever and inventive hybrid texts that underscore the creative possibilities and evocative power of blending a traditional, linear narrative with a more fragmentary and poetic approach to language and style. Ali Smith’s new book Artful is simply an undefinable book that like the works of W.G. Sebald (The Rings of Saturn), J.M. Coetzee (Elizabeth Costello) and Geoff Dyer (Zona), strives to dismantle the narrow rules of what literature is and can be. The book is framed as a series of academic essays about art and literature channeled through a grieving narrator who is literally haunted by their dead lover, who we discover was the author of the papers (in reality, it was Smith herself who delivered these lectures). Smith’s project is to show us that fictional storytelling can be a vehicle for expressing fresh ideas about literature without that discourse being academically prose-less and obtuse, that it can explore the complex and beautiful marriage between art and life with originality.
In 2011, Zach Wahls’ speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee was posted online and went viral, where it gleaned over 17 million hits on YouTube. For those who’d like to hear more from this promising young activist, you can read his book, My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family.
Wahls, an Eagle Scout, was raised -- in a home steeped in family values, discussing morals at the dinner table—by two moms. In his book, Wahls breaks down the Boy Scout motto, law, oath and slogan, giving concrete examples of how his family exemplified values in each of those codes and what he learned from the Boy Scouts about living out those values. He also gives a moving account of his mother, Terry’s, struggle with MS, and how her illness and triumphs over her condition impacted the whole family. In general, we see a family sharing love and struggles, as all families do. This family’s parents ultimately earned the legal right to marry in their home state, partly due to Zach Wahls’ inspiring speech on the Iowa legislative floor.
The library has other materials by, and/or for, children of gay or lesbian parents, and their parents. If you don’t find what you are looking for, please ask!
My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family
Utopias--perfect places of peaceful bliss--have been dreamed up from the beginning. They were planned, hoped for, written about, satired on, remembered, started and broken. Many civilizations looked backwords to find it: the Garden of Eden, the "good ol' days"; Rousseau imagined the "noble savages," uncivilized people not currupted by civilization. Many look to the future and wait for it: heaven, Nirvana; an age where technology and science solves all human problems. Many look to the present and find it here or coming soon: "the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." Stephen Pinker argues that now is the most peaceful time in human history. Whitmans says "to me every hour of light and dark are miracles."
The problem with utopias, as history shows, is that they rarely work and sometimes kill people. In other words, it's a slippery slope into dystopia (a chaotic, violent state). That's because if you have a perfect goal in mind, everything else seems expendable to acheive that goal--see the problem? It's the whole "you have to break an egg to make an omlette" thinking, only on a grander scale.
What amazed me most about this book is the sheer number and scale of utopian communities that have been developed over the years. America had a lot of them (I talked to a man at the library that was part of a utopian community based on B.F. Skinner's Walden Two!). They definitely hit a peak in the 17 and 1800's, and a few religious-based ones in American are still going today (Amish, Mormon communities). I noticed that almost all utopian dreams involve the sharing of wealth and property, or, at the very least, equality of rights among all people. What I didn't like about the book was that it didn't go in any detail about particular communities, making it read more like an enyclopidia or coffee table book.
Searching for Utopia
A Stronger Kinship is a story about a small town that decided to be fully integrated 100 years before most of the country was integrated. Fully integrated--think about that. At the same time when our nation was fighting a war over race-based human bondage, African Americans in Covert owned property, were elected to powerful political positions, send their children to the same schools as the white kids, conducted business together, were friends, went to the same churches, read the same books from the same library. Covert started on the right foot and never looked back.
Covert was a diamond in the rough, a city on a hill, a promised land for people of color. But this only makes sense if we have historical perspective. Living in the northern states as an African American (or Native American) was no picnic. The author quotes an editorial from the Illinois State Journal, 1862, which captures the feeling of many African Americans after Emancipation:
"The truth is, the nigger [sic] is an unpopular institution in the free states. Even those who are unwilling to rob them of all the rights of humanity, and are willing to let them have a spot on earth on whcih to live and to labor and to enjoy the fruits of their toil, do not care to be brought into close contact with them" (quoted on pg. 45).
If you learned in school that slavery and discrimination were "southern" problems that the "north" fixed in the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation (as I did), then you might wonder why Covert is so special. Sadly, that history is as glossy as when people say the war was about "states rights." The truth is that slavery existed in the northern states too. A book from our reference collection says:
"a British census taken in 1782 counted 179 slaves among the 2,191 people living along both shores of the Detroit River. In 1796, 31 adult black slaves and 16 black children, presumably the children of slaves, lived in the Township of Detroit among a 'free white' population of 238. The actual number of slaves was probably higher becasue many families in Michigan owned Indians as slaves..." (The History of Michigan Law, p. 20).
Even when the Northwest Ordinance banned slavery in 1787, it still existed in practice. Also, I think the ban was repealed in 1807 for ten years (because the Indiana Territories wanted white slave holders to move into their territory for economic reasons). And this is to say nothing about other forms of discrimination that existed in myriad forms at various times. As depressing as it is, slaves were freed only to find out they were not free.
So what was the secret of Covert? Why did Covert happen? Here is the beauty and the thesis of the book. There is no secret. The author, who is coming to KPL to speak by the way, says it best:
"Why did Covert happen? Although it may be the first question that comes to mind, it may not be the most powerful one. The question Covert should raise is, why not? Our puzzlement over Covert reveals a hidden assumption that racism is the norm, that unfairness and injustice are the natural patterns that the nation falls into if given half a chance. That assumption is not surprising, given the horrific and sorrow-filled history of race relations in this country, but Covert reminds us that that terrible history was a choice. That choice may have been made by millions of whites over many decades, but it was a choice, not a given" (208).
It's the story of ordinary people making ordinary decisions. Perhaps they seem extraordinary because "we have such an impoverished sense of the capabilities of ordinary people" (Charles Payne, quoted on pg. 201). It's easy to wallow in the depression of history and throw your arms up. What's your view of human nature? What do you think of yourself? And as you think about these questions, people are doing acts of kindness. We cannot take anything away from the amazing men and women in this book--they were giants.
A Stronger Kinship
It's actually as simple as this: (1) soak barley in hot water (2) boil with hops (3) put into bucket with yeast. No way. That's it? Well, yeah, of course it's a bit more complicated, but I must say it's a very fun challenge and learning experience to make your favorite IPA (my favorite is Two Hearted Ale, what's yours?).
But how much does it cost? That's what I wanted to know before I started. For me (I was very minimalist with everything), it all averages out to $5.88/six pack (compare Two Hearted @ almost $10/six pack). This includes all the equipment I ever bought, so it actually goes down with every batch I make.
If you're interested, we have some good books. Also check out the K.L.O.B. organization in Kalamazoo. Also, youtube "extract brewing," then "partial mash brewing" then "all grain brewing" to get an idea of the different ways to make beer (it depends on what sort of equipment you have or want to buy).
What are the top two most popular books printed in the English language?
The Bible is the number one most popular book printed in English and the second most popular book printed in English is Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language.
Noah Webster was born on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758. Noah didn’t want to be a farmer, he wanted to be a scholar. He went to school at Yale and graduated in 1778 and became a teacher. He soon realized there were no books about America; Noah wanted American schoolbooks! America was a new country and America needed a national language and government. Americans were spelling words any way they wanted, the same word might be spelled ten different ways in ten different places. So, Noah wrote an American spelling book so that Americans would spell every word the same way, every time, everywhere. Noah had the publisher put a blue cover on it so that people could just ask for the “blue-backed speller.” Noah’s blue-backed speller taught spelling and it also listed important American dates, town and states! Two years later he published his second book, a Grammar [noun: study of words; rules for using words].
Then Noah had another big idea: to write a dictionary [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them]. His book would be 100 percent American and it would include new American words, such as skunk, dime and tomahawk. He decided to show where the words came from, all the different origins. He began this wonderful dictionary in 1807 and he completed it nearly twenty years later! Noah’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Noah’s words DID unite America! This is a great book and the bright, fanciful illustrations will keep your attention. [noun: the act or state of applying the mind to something].
Noah Webster & His Words
I have recently written about great buildings of the world and buildings of Michigan. This month I will narrow the focus by highlighting a book that describes, in words and photographs, historic railroad stations in our state. Michael H. Hodges has presented a nearly-200 page volume in which there are 31 Michigan railroad stations, both active and inactive. The photographs are beautifully done; the narrative is well-written. I of course turned to the chapter on the Kalamazoo station on Rose Street and I was not disappointed. I learned several new things about this building even though I have worked less than a mile from it for a long time. Other area stations included are Battle Creek, Lake Odessa, Lawton, Muskegon, Niles, and Three Oaks. As I looked over the acknowledgements in the front, I was very proud to discover that two of my Local History colleagues, Beth Timmerman and J. Patrick Jouppi, are recognized as having assisted the author in researching this material. Former co-worker Lynn Smith Houghton, now of WMU Archives, is also credited. Next, I think it would be great if Mr. Hodges would at some point do a second volume. Bangor and Lacota, among others, would be interesting subjects.
Michigan's historic railroad stations
Detroit is described as our country’s greatest urban failure from once being a capitalist dream town.
As several reviewers have written, Detroit City is the Place to Be, captures the beauty and nobility of the city as well as the hardship and chaos. It is part history and part biography of a city and its people; a commentary on postindustrial America with some limited optimism for the future. The author grew up in the city and weaves in some personal narrative as well.
This may sound familiar to those who grew up in Detroit or Michigan. For those of us who were not here during the glory days of Detroit, it helps understand how and why Detroit became “a once-great American metropolis gone to hell” as one reviewer wrote.
This book provides the framework for our state, even our nation, to grapple with the issues facing Detroit.
Detroit City is the Place to Be
Needing direction, he randomly opens the Bible three times: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” What! Second, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” Wow. Ok, so maybe the third won't be so extreme? Nope: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow me.” This sums up Francis and the Order he started.
You know him as the Saint who talked to birds and flowers, but the real Francis was much more gritty, suffering, alone, real. He would live on a mountain for a month and come down with Stigmata wounds, and die soon after, and die in pain, and be glad for it. He was a rich kid who went to war, became depressed, gave up everything, and, as he says, "left the world" for a grueling life of serving God and the people who needed it most. The one thing that disgusted him--people with leprousy--became his passion.
What I like most about this "new" biography is that it has two separate parts. The first is the story of Francis' life, the best that the author can tell from the evidence. The second part is all about the scholarly debate, which I did not read and therefore was thankful for the separation.
Frank Sinatra said "I did it my way." Francis said "No one showed me what I should do, but the Most High himself revealed it to me, that I ought to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel." What's interesting is that the Medieval Church patterned their life according to the Acts of the Apostles, and denied that the wandering lifestyle of Jesus of the Gospels was appropriate anymore. It all worked out in the end, as Francis was whole-heartedly accepted by the Church.
And he liked animals too.
Francis of Assisi a new biography