Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
For most of my adult life my cooking repertoire has been severely hindered by both a lack of experience, and thus confidence, and by limiting myself to just a few very basic skills (think - boiling water, pushing down the toaster mechanism, or programming the microwave). But then just a couple years back, likely through a combination of my awareness of the seemingly endless supply of tantalizing cookbooks that KPL acquires for the collection and a growing interest in cooking that developed through the popularity of cooking shows on television and how easy they make things seem, I started to really read those cookbooks and began looking for things that I could actually attempt. It hasn’t taken me long to figure out that a good recipe makes all the difference. I can’t say that everything that I create would challenge Bobby Flay, but when it works it feels like nothing short of alchemy to me to be able to pull together a great meal from simple, healthy ingredients and with my limited culinary skillset. My favorite recipes and best results have come from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, but I’ve had success with other cookbooks as well. The latest recipes that I’ve tried came from Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes by Ming Tsai. I’ve made Chicken & tri-bell pepper chow mein (pg. 34), Wonton shrimp & noodle soup (pg. 156), and Asian sloppy joes with hoisin sauce (pg. 71) and they were all just as advertised – quick, healthy, and really good!
Simply Ming one-pot meals: quick, healthy & affordable recipes
Ever wonder why you can’t just eat one Dorito? Or why that can of Coca-Cola seems to call out to you from behind the refrigerator door? Read, Pullitzer Prize winning author, Michael Moss’s latest book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and you will wonder no more. The short answer, science. Plus millions of dollars in advertising and loads and loads of salt, sugar, and fat tossed in just to make sure we can't get enough. Moss takes readers inside the story of the rise of the processed food industry into the multi-billion dollar industry it is today and how big food’s insatiable craving for profit has left an obesity epidemic and generations with poor eating habits in its wake. Salt Sugar Fat is certainly a cautionary tale, and will have every reader questioning their own consumer behavior and eating habits. But Moss’s tone isn't overly preachy and takes a pragmatic view of the food industries focus on providing the much in demand convenience of processed food with the need for individuals to be aware of and responsible for what they put into their bodies. Highly recommended.
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
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
The engaging and darkly humorousCare of Wooden Floors, a debut novel by UK journalist Will Wiles, tells the tale of a nameless house-sitter who is given the opportunity to get away from his rather drab life in London and visit a nameless eastern European city to watch over the sleek and ultra-modern apartment of an old college friend and finally concentrate without distraction on the creative writing that he tells himself he has in him. Oscar, the friend, a renowned minimalist composer and beyond serious neat freak, leaves nothing in his life to chance. As the narrator discovers a series of obsessively specific notes concerning the care of the flat, and particularly the unique wood floors, it becomes clear that there is more to the house-sitting, and more to the relationship with Oskar, than was assumed. As the story unfolds, and then absurdly unravels, a sense of schadenfreude sets in and readers will revel in the “it can’t get any worse” twists and turns as the simple house-sitting assignment morphs into a downright Kafkaesque existential struggle.
Care of Wooden Floors
Like slowing down to watch as you drive by a highway accident or being sucked into an extended viewing of “fail” videos during your lunch break, reading Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator won’t make you feel good about the world, but once you start reading it is very hard to turn away. The book scandalizes the new media culture by illustrating how the incessant need for fresh new content to feed millions of blogs, the mindless chasing of “pageviews” that is drives bloggers to publish first and verify (or not) later, and an utter lack of anything resembling journalistic integrity allows Holiday, and presumably many others like him, to easily manipulate the media for fun and profit. The first half of the book is basically a how-to guide for new media manipulation as Holiday recounts the ethically corrupt behavior that helped him push Fratire author Tucker Max to the top of bestseller lists and create an almost perpetual buzz around the company American Apparel that has translated into millions of dollars in profit. Most of the exploits that Holiday writes of are completely verifiable, he names names and gives dates, and he does give lip service to having regrets about his actions. But it is hard to feel anything but contempt for Holiday as he uses the second half of the book to indict the world of fast news and our meme-a-minute craving culture, yet continues to exploit and work in the very culture he condemns. Going so far as to push his book into the media spotlight using the very techniques that he "confesses" to in the book. It's a very confusing world we live in. But questioning Mr. Holiday’s motives is very silly when he tells you he is lying in the title, yet I did find this book utterly fascinating and would recommend it to anyone interested in media and the influence of popular culture on the new journalism.
Trust Me, I'm Lying
Steve Jobs, the enigmatic founder and leader of Apple Inc., has been gone less than a year, but it is likely that we will be debating the man and his legacy for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. What fodder for debate we have in a figure like Jobs? A Zen Buddhist who routinely belittled and abused others, a 1960’s hippie flower child who was so outrageously selfish that he continually parked in handicapped parking spaces even after photos of him doing so were repeatedly posted online, and a self-described humanist who rarely put his friends or family above business. While Walter Isaacson’s amazing and brutal biography, published just after his death, currently serves as our collective take on Jobs and his accomplishments, it will certainly not represent the last word on the man. Just as we continue to examine the other universe denting individuals that Jobs is often compared to - Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney – we will look at Jobs from a new angle and through a seemingly endless series of contemporary lenses far into the future. Last week I read Insanely Simple: the obsession that drives Apple’s success by Ken Segall, an advertising executive who had worked closely with Jobs to develop the Apple brand and the advertising that would so effectively express it. The book isn’t focused specifically on Steve Jobs, but nevertheless, he and his legendarily micromanagement techniques are displayed and praised on nearly every page of the book. While I was reading Insanely Simple and seeing Jobs and Apple’s adherence to simplicity in all things as a special kind of genius, I happened to see that Jobs was once again featured on the cover of Wired magazine which ran a feature article titled The Story of Steve Jobs: An Inspiration or a Cautionary Tale. The article tells of several high-powered Silicon Valley execs who after reading the Isaacson biography have decided it’s not worth it to be like Steve and have begun to focus more on their families and the quality of the time they get to spend while on this Earth. As one reformed Jobs admirer states in the article when referring to Jobs and his focus on work and not his family, “If you’re going to fail at building something, fail at building the (expletive) iPad. Don’t fail at building children.” Are we seeing breaks in the Steve Jobs reality distortion field or have we simply misunderstood Jobs and his legacy? Time will tell, and tell again.
Insanely Simple: the obsession that drives Apple's success
Hari Kunzru’s weird and wonderful new novel Gods Without Men masterfully weaves together multiple story lines and characters with a deeply mysterious rock formation in the Mojave Desert loosely threading it all together. The novel, legitimately I believe, has been compared to “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham and David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” in the way it magically snaps back and forth through time and changes perspective without losing a bit of its momentum. Ultimately this rather surreal novel leaves it to the reader to determine what strangeness is happening out there in the desert, but along the way as more and more questions are raised and fewer conclusions offered you become twisted in knots of inquiry that pull you deeper into this book and don’t let go. This is Kunzru’s fourth novel and I enthusiastically recommend them all, they are all so different and all so great.
Gods Without Men
This debut novel from Nick Dybek is as dark and imposing as the Pacific Northwest Seas that provide a constant backdrop in this coming of age story meets morality play. When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man is told from the, wise beyond his years, perspective of 14 year old Cal the son of a king crab fisherman from Loyalty Island, Washington who over the course of the year that is being remembered in the novel discovers a dark secret that will force him to come to grips with the disintegration of his family, his innocence, and his understanding of life as he knows it. The extreme measures that people will take to ensure the preservation of their livelihood and the protection of their loved ones, leads to a terrible choice for young Cal and the book builds to this choice up until the very last pages. A well paced and suspenseful novel, When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Manis the kind of powerful debut that solidifies an author’s name in your mind and will make you seek out all that they write in the future. Don’t miss this one.
And don’t miss Nick Dybek talking about his novel, his writing process, and more when he speaks at the Oshtemo Branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library on June 7th at 6:30 p.m. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing (thanks to the fine folks at Bookbug) at the event.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man
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