Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Prompted by a library user suggestion, we decided to shelve our fantasy books in the same location as our science fiction books. Since many readers who like either of these genres often like both, we hope this makes it easier for you to find the books you want and to discover new authors and titles in which you might be interested.
Stop in and choose your own adventure.
A Dance with Dragons
“The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth,” sang Geddy Lee, lead singer of my favorite band Rush when I was a teenager growing up in a Chicago suburb. This is not the case in Shaun Tan’s book of mini-surreal masterpieces, Tales From Outer Suburbia. In these suburbs, there is a water buffalo that answers questions in an empty lot, a dugong (manatee type creature) that appears on someone’s lawn, ICBMs in everyone’s backyard, and a man wandering around in a diving suit.
I found the stories from Tales From Outer Suburbia to be a little too bizarre at first, but my compulsion to finish books that I’ve started carried me through until I slowly became enchanted. The stories feature physical manifestations of the hopes and fears of the people who live in these suburbs and they wove their way into my psyche and released strong feelings of wonder, healing, and letting go. The strange story lines somehow open you up and leave you thinking about them long after you have read them.
I especially identified with a story about two brothers who have a map of their suburb and decide to walk to where the map ends to see what is there. It reminded me of a 10 mile hike my brother and I took to complete the hiking merit badge. We weren’t going to get “out in nature” anytime soon, so we just decided to walk around our Chicago suburb (which, oddly enough, included a stop at the public library to pick up some 8mm films). The experience did have a surreal feeling and it completely changed the way I felt about where I lived. Walking gives you such an intimate connection with your surroundings and it empowered me, as I went to places I had only gone with my parents up to that point.
I was so struck by the book that I asked my son if I could read him the extremely short stories before he went to bed. He agreed and loved the stories and I got to have the nice experience of reading aloud to him that I hadn’t had in several years and to talk a little bit about what it is like to have an older brother who is always right.
Tale From Outer Suburbia
George Saunders has hit the big time. His current collection of bizarrely funny and moving short stories, Tenth of December, is getting a lot of well-deserved publicity. Saunders is always playing his characters for laughs, but never deserts them, leaving them unsympathetic. He teases out their inner dialogues until we recognize ourselves in them, and as we laugh, we know we are guilty too. I have found reading his stories a singular pleasure ever since his debut collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. There is no one else like him.
Tenth of December
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
Books about Buddhism are very popular at the Kalamazoo Public Library, so I am always looking to buy new titles. Within the subject of Buddhism, author Thich Nhat Hanh is a perennial favorite, so I wanted to let you know that I just ordered his new book: Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day. Even though we have not received the book yet, you can still place a hold on it.
Other Thich Nhat Hanh titles I have ordered this year:
Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
Have a Happy New Year!
Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
While scanning the new books in the rotunda a couple of weeks ago, I came across The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It. Flipping through, I saw detailed diagrams of things I had done with my kids, things my parents did with me, and things I've seen other parents do with their kids. It seemed ridiculous and hilarious how it used four figures to show how to get your child up onto your shoulder. Why a book like this when we all know this stuff? Because we often forget to do it, or we did it with our first child and kind of petered out as others were born and we got older and everything got busier. As I was laughing at the book, I had this realization, which induced a little panic. My two youngest children are now 7 and 9. Was there still time?
Last week, we found ourselves on several occasions, piling the couch cushions and pillows in the middle of the living room floor, scanning through the book, and trying things out. Long live the human cannonball!
The Art of Roughhousing
It was just a coincidence that I read Timothy Egan’s book about the Dust Bowl called The Worst Hard Time right after finishing Empire of the Summer Moon : Quanah Parker and the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history by Samuel Gwynne, but I’m glad I did. They are both histories of the same piece of land; mostly the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma, with one picking right up where the other left off.
Empire of the Summer Moon details the battles between the southern Plains Indians and the new white settlers, but does not report much on why the new settlers were coming or U.S. public policy that encouraged the movement West. You just see more coming and witness the subduing of the Native Americans, which was aided most by the wholesale killing of the bison that roamed the plains and supported the southern Plains Indian culture for centuries.
In The Worst Hard Time you learn that white settlers were drawn West by false claims made by railroad companies and others hoping to get rich along with the U.S. government giving away land to those willing to relocate. Many of the first settlers see the hopelessness of farming in that area of the country and leave, causing the railroads to lure people from other countries like Russia to settle in the area. A couple of good years of rain, guaranteed prices for wheat during World War I and people were plowing up the buffalo grass of the plains at an alarming rate. When dry years returned and the price of wheat dropped, the land was left unplanted, subject to the strong winds of the Plains. The great storms of the Dust Bowl were a man-made natural disaster.
It was stunning to think that in just 40 short years from when the last group of Comanches agreed to settle on their reservation land, their ancestral lands that they had lived on for centuries were destroyed.
Empire of the Summer Moon