RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Thomas and the Dragon Queen

When the kingdom is at war and the princess must be rescued, but all the knights are at the far-off Borderlands, to whom does the King turn? He turns to Thomas. Thomas, the very newest knight. Thomas, the very shortest knight. Thomas, who has a donkey, a vest made by his Da, and a very short sword.

Thomas may be small, but his bravery and determination lead him to the princess and back home again.

Ann Arbor author Shutta Crum has created a great family read-aloud story in Thomas and the Dragon Queen.


Thomas and the Dragon Queen

Bury Your Dead

One of the best mysteries I’ve read this year is Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny. If you haven’t happened across this series about Inspector Gamache, you have some good reading ahead.

This rich telling skillfully weaves several story lines together. Chief Inspector Gamache, of the Sûreté du Quebec, is recuperating both physically and mentally from a recent case, while staying with an old friend and mentor in Quebec City. Soon Gamache is drawn into the murder of an archeologist, who was searching for the remains of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec. Ironically, the man was discovered in an English language library, one of the last bastions of the English speaking minority in the city. At the same time, Gamache is concerned that the wrong man from a previous case may have been wrongly incarcerated, and sends one of his best inspectors to the small village of Three Pines to investigate. (Three Pines and its residents have figured into previous novels in the series.)

Author Penny has managed to juggle all the story lines into a very cohesive whole, with believable characters and well defined settings. I would love to visit Quebec City after reading this book (though maybe in the summer months!) A note to potential readers: if you first read the preceding fifth book in the series, A Brutal Telling, you will understand and appreciate this most recent one even more.


Bury Your Dead

Librarian on the Roof!

Ms. RoseAleta Laurell is one determined librarian who decided to raise money for children’s library services at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart, Texas. For an entire week in the year 2000 she lived on the library rooftop of the oldest library in the state of Texas. When she began her new position as library director, she noticed there were no children in the library… the children said it was for “grown-ups.” RoseAleta exclaimed: “We need more books—picture books, mystery books, adventure books! We need tables just the right size. Comfy chairs. Colorful artwork. And computers. Lots of families around here can’t afford computers.” RoseAleta wrote letters asking for donations for the children’s area, but got no money.

Onward and Upward! RoseAleta ascended to the library rooftop via an electric company bucket, supplied with a tent, a bullhorn, a laptop, two cell phones and a slingshot. She blew kisses and threw water balloons at the dancing children, the high school band played, and, politicians ordered her down, and finally the townspeople noticed! RoseAleta even survived a terribly cold and windy rainstorm that nearly blew her off the roof! Was RoseAleta Laurell’s rooftop fundraiser successful? Did she raise enough money for the Children’s Section? You’ll find out when you read the book: Librarian on the Roof!; a true story by M. G. King.


Librarian on the roof!; a true story

East of Eden

I keep informed about new books and best sellers as part of my job as a librarian, but I have a tendency to read a lot of classic literature.  My favorite classic read this year is East of Eden.  I devoured a number of books by Steinbeck when I was a teenager, but never got around to East of Eden.  After about eight to ten years without reading any of his work, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed his writing as much as I did in high school.  East of Eden is an epic masterpiece that explores the dichotomy of good and bad innate in every human being.  Set mainly in the beginning of the 20th century, the story follows the lives of the Trask and Hamilton families as they try to live the American dream.  Steinbeck’s characters are based on archetypes that are thousands of years old, yet his book perfectly captures the innovation, chutzpah, and greed driving the American spirit.   This book, or any novel by Steinbeck, is perfect if you’re in the mood for a classic.


East of Eden

Let My People Go

 I recently enjoyed listening to Bruce Feiler's audiobook America's Prophet:  Moses and the American Story as I commuted back and forth from work.  Many times I wished I was reading it, because there were so many great quotes I wanted to right down.  Feiler uncovers the great influence the story of Moses and ideas from what we call the books of Moses in the Hebrew Bible have had all through the history of the United States.

Feiler finds it fascinating that this story of an oppressed people rising up to liberate themselves has resonated with and provided the inspiration for multiple, disparate groups in the United States from Revolutionary War leaders to African-American slaves to leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements.

A particularly interesting chapter details how abolitionists and those who defended slavery, both used the words of Moses to justify their actions. 

Feiler also points out Moses' connection to the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, and the Supreme Court along with interesting tidbits about Cecil B. DeMille's movie The Ten Commandments.

One thing I hadn't given much thought to was that part of Moses' story is that he never makes it to the Promised Land.  Feiler argues that this part of the story is powerful right along with the liberation story, because it reminds people that it may take several leaders, several generations before the Promised Land is reached.  A loss of a powerful leader does not mean the end of a movement. 

If you are interested in U.S. history or religious history, I highly recommend this insightful and powerful book.


America's Prophet

Digital Dickens

Suddenly eBooks, and the associated devices that display them, seem to be everywhere, in the media and on the minds of many avid readers and the holiday gift givers who love them. As the way we think about books changes, KPL’s services to readers will change as well, but always with a focus on providing the titles that our community are interested in, no matter the format. To that end, I want to be sure our digital book reading patrons know that KPL has literally thousands of ebook titles available for checkout and download. From high demand bestsellers that can be placed on hold using your library card to public domain titles that are always available, the KPL eBooks webpage is sure to guide you to something you will enjoy reading as well as explain the service to those new to eBooks. There is something slightly incongruent to me about reading classic literature on an ebook reader, but that is exactly what I will be doing this holiday as I reread A Christmas Carol for the first time on a KPL Sony Reader. I have been reluctant to embrace the eBook experience, but as Mr. Dickens said himself: “An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.”


A Christmas Carol

Bugs and Bugsicles

Have you ever wondered where insects go in the winter time? I sure have. While insects are typically out of sight and out of mind in the winter, they must get through the winter somehow, right? Bugs and Bugsicles is a wonderful new picture book format non-fiction title about the ways that Monarch Butterflies, Praying Mantises, Field Crickets, Lady Bugs, Dragonflies, Honeybees, Pavement Ants, and Arctic Wooly Bear Caterpillars manage to get through the winter - or to make sure their offspring do. While many insects have common strategies, huddling together in a mass to stay warm works well, the book shows other often surprising ways that insects keep it going throughout the seasons.

Explore the variety of children's non-fiction books at Kalamazoo Public Library as read-aloud choices for beginning readers or as entertaining and informative reads for older kids. My five year old daughter and I both enjoyed Bugs and Bugsicles. Now we know where some insects go in the winter.


Bugs and Bugsicles

Lunch Lady to the Rescue!

My 7 year old son Hayden and I are having a great time reading Jarrett Krosoczka's series of graphic novels about an unlikely superhero:  the Lunch Lady.  Using all sorts of gadgets like taco-vision night goggles, a spork phone, and a spatula helicopter created by her lunch lady sidekick Betty, she foils the evil plans of school librarians, cyborg substitutes, and visiting authors.  Lunch Lady breaks out with one of our favorite quotes while taking on a cyborg army, "Should I serve up some whaaamburgers and cries?" 

Hayden is a little behind in his reading skills and these have been great books for him to read to me and get some practice. 


Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute

Depression: discovered or manufactured?

The title of this book sounds offensive - oh, so depression isn't real? - but it turns out to be more balanced and wide-ranging in scope. The author believes that depression is real, but over-diagnosed; and that drug companies shouldn't have a monopoly on how it is treated. His perspective is from a practicing therapist (psychotherapy), a depressed person (which constantly shows in his writing), and the viewpoint that human suffering has an important existential meaning, something connected to our life that we should understand.

The book can be appreciated on many different levels. The little scientific stories about how diseases and drugs are stumbled upon are fascinating. The medical jargon and disputes were, for me, too technical and repetitive. The personal stories are, well, depressing. But the core philosophical issues that Greenberg raises are engaging. He argues that the "depression doctors," as he calls them, cannot disentangle their drug-philosophy from the worldview that it stands upon, which goes way back in the history of thought; that we are nothing more than the "sum of our parts," bundles of neurons and chemicals that require other chemicals to be cured; that the mind, apart from the brain, has no power (if it exists at all). That depression, in other words, is completely out of our control. Greenberg struggles, lashes out, hates, appreciates, and almost accepts this view at various points in the book.


Manufacturing Depression

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

 Happy Birthday to Jane Austen, one of my favorite British novelists. Born December 16, 1775 she is a popular as ever. Austen was the seventh child of clergyman George Austen and his wife Georgia, and was very close with her family which was considered part of the lower gentry society. She began writing short satirical, comical stories called juvenilia in her youth. Her serious writing began in her twenties. She tragically died at the young age of 41 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Austen’s works are elegant, witty, romantic realism and often contain a biting social commentary. Although she was not well known in her lifetime, she is an important historical literary figure. Her now well known works have been much studied by scholars and critics, and enjoyed by all. Take the time to revisit one of your favorite Austen titles this month and enjoy a true classic literary gift. Happy Reading!
“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Pride and Prejudice, 1811.


The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

The Best Books of 2010

Are you wondering what great books you missed reading this year? It’s the time of year when the “Best Of” book lists are compiled and these lists are a wonderful opportunity to check out what titles the reviewers and critics preferred. I always enjoy taking a look through them, and I always end up adding a number of the suggested titles to my reading list.

These lists represent a wide range of reading preferences and offer some great choices to catch up on your reading as winter settles upon us. We even have our own Best of 2010 list here at KPL! Even if the holidays have you hustling and bustling, take a moment to click on these links to NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and to see what all the reading buzz of 2010 is about. Happy Reading!


Staff Picks: Best of 2010

More Fun from Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline has another book of essays, My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space, to join her first one, Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog. This second one, like the first, is a collection from her “Chick Wit” column which appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her daughter Francesca joins her in this second volume to add the twenty-something perspective.

I agree with the reviewer who described this as a “clever compilation from two generations of women reflecting on family, love, dessert, and everything in between.” Mother Mary, mother and grandmother to these two women, makes another appearance too.

Readers of Scottoline’s many bestselling novels will enjoy this more personal look into her life and thoughts, all written with a laugh out loud humor about “extraordinary moments in the life of an ordinary woman”. You don’t have to have read her mysteries to enjoy these essays though.


My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space

Homemade Dog Treats

I’ve spent the past year, like many people, trying to tighten my budget.  I particularly focused on my food/grocery budget, a part of my budget where I found money could easily disappear unnoticed; so I tried to eat out less, buy less processed food, and even started a garden so I could have the freshest local food available without spending big bucks.  Recently I noticed that although I had been careful about the money I spent on my food, I really hadn’t given any consideration to the money I spent on pet food.  With two dogs and a cat, my household was going through pet treats at breakneck speed; overtime the cost of treats really can really add up! I decided that instead of buying treats, I could make them myself.

KPL owns a number of books with recipes for pet food and treats.  My favorite is The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook from the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, which includes recipes that are easy to make and healthy for your dog.  Some of the recipes did include ingredients such as brown rice syrup (a healthy sweetener) that I did not have on hand, but for the most part I had all of the ingredients in my pantry.  I found a few good recipes in The Good Treats Cookbook for Dogs, even though overall I found the book a little extravagant; many of the recipes in it called for ingredients that were expensive (such as salmon) or wouldn’t have a long shelf life.  If you’re interested in making meals, not just treats, The Natural Pet Food Cookbook has healthy recipes for both dogs and cats. While it may seem time consuming to bake treats for your pets, I really found it to be simple and budget-friendly.


Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook from the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company

Lost No More

Here is a book that because of its format doesn’t have to be read in its entirety to be appreciated. It is a collection of 11 stories that, according to author Martin W. Sandler, “history forgot.” It isn’t necessarily true that “history forgot” these; it's that they are not well known. The story I’m reading right now is the one about the great forest fire at Peshtigo, Wisconsin, which isn’t too far from Menominee, Michigan. Since it happened the same day as the 1871 Great Fire of Chicago, it has been overshadowed, even though over 1200 people died as opposed to 200-300 in Chicago. Other accounts in this volume are about the sinking of the Sultana on the Mississippi River after the Civil War and about America’s first subway in New York City. Including material from across many centuries and civilizations, this book has something in it to appeal to even the casual history fan. 



Lost to time : unforgettable stories that history forgot

We Are in a Book!

Add this Elephant and Piggie title to the list of self-referential illustrated books for kids. As Mo Willems books often will, this one made me laugh out loud. Elephant and Piggie immediately realize that they are being watched. By a monster? No, by a reader. After quickly dealing with the self consciousness issues that arise, Elephant and Piggie think of some hilarious ways to have fun with the situation. Then they have to learn how to embrace impermanence. Existentialism in an early reader format? With Mo Willems at the helm, it's great fun for kids and adults. This may be my favorite Elephant and Piggie book yet!


We Are in a Book!

The Problem with “Best Of” Lists

Throughout this year I’ve kept a list of the books that I thought might end up on my Best of 2010 list. A few weeks ago, KPL published the lists that some of our staff members created.

The problem with my list, though, is that I keep adding books to it! The one I added today is Art and Max by David Wiesner. For years, David Wiesner has been creating books that nudge us to step out on a wobbly twig to appreciate the complexities of his artwork. In this new picture book, he nudges us again. Take a look at Art and Max . . . I’m guessing you may be adding to your list, too!


Art and Max

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain

The year 2010 marks several milestones in the life of Mark Twain. November 30, 2010 is the 175th anniversary of his birth. This year also is the 125th  anniversary of the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), a book considered by many to be the most important novel in American literature. (Read what some local literary experts recently said about Mark Twain here.)

And this year marks the 100th anniversary of his death on April 27, 1910. When he died, Mark Twain left behind a mountainous autobiography that has only now been published. The author stipulated that his recollections on life could not be printed until 100 years after his death, so that anyone he might offend would be long dead, as would their children.

To the delight and surprise of booksellers everywhere, the four-pound, 500,000 word autobiography is “flying off the shelves,” according to a Nov. 19 story in the New York Times.

The modest 7,500 print run is now up to 300,000. Sales are being driven by scholars and ardent collectors, but also generations of readers whose affection for this most American of authors began when they were introduced to Huckleberry Finn. At last we can know a little better the heart and mind of a fascinating man.



“Time to visit the kinfolks”

Delana's Aunt Tilley was full of life. Every night Aunt Tilley filled Delana's head with wild, outrageous family stories. These tales were so unconventional that Delana didn’t know if they were fact or fiction. Whenever Aunt Tilley said “Time to visit the kinfolks” Delana knew that with every family photograph came a dramatized fabrication or truth and something new would be added to her aunt’s “book of bewares”.  And then one night Aunt Tilley went to her favorite tree by the river and died.

Tonya Bolden’s Finding Family: a novel is a book full of imagination, family secrets, disappointments and delights.


Finding Family: a novel

A mother, a boy and Huey Newton

In the summer of 1968 Pa packed up his three daughters and put them on a plane headed for Oakland, California. He wanted his girls to get to know their mother. Cecile had abandoned her children when they were very young. Delphine, the oldest child, took on the parental role for her sisters as if she had been entirely responsible for their every action.

In One Crazy Summer, in the midst of the Black Panther movement, Rita Williams-Garcia does a terrific job of telling a family’s story of discovery. Delphine, Vonetta and Fern set off for the adventure of their lives and not only found out a lot about their mother but they also discovered a lot about themselves.


One Crazy Summer

Future Now

William Gibson is an author who suffers from a form of literary type-casting. Through his steady and consistent work in the late 1980’s and 90’s, including the masterful Neuromancer, he helped define the cyberpunk genre. But if you lost track of Gibson, as I fear many did, around Mona Lisa Overdrive then you may have missed out on his current, and I would argue some of his best, work. Gibson has said that he stopped writing about the far future because the present had become so choke full of technological and cultural weirdness that, when truly examined, it seems completely futuristic. His latest Zero History, which can stand alone but is the final book in a loosely tied together trilogy, certainly holds to that. Like a good internet surfing session Gibson seemlessly weaves together divergent subjects as far afield as micro trend spotting, base jumping, fashion, the military industrial complex, modern perceptions of privacy, addiction, the music industry and, my favorite meme from Zero History, the Festo Air Penguin (see video below), into a strong character driven thriller and sprinkles it all with a kind of slick urban dread that he does so well.


Zero History

Wicked Appetite

Diesel now has his own series! Janet Evanovich is expanding the world of that gorgeous character from her Stephanie Plum Between-the-Numbers series, and he has brought his shadowy cousin Gerwulf (Wulf) Grimoire with him. As Evanovich continues to explore the vampire world she also introduces a new character, Elizabeth (Lizzy) Tucker, a pastry chef whose cupcakes are fabulously beyond description. Lizzy has inherited her Aunt Ophelia’s house in Salem, MA and has a new job at Dazzle’s Bakery. Both Wulf and Diesel explode into her life like sizzling bombs looking for the Seven Stones of Power referring to her “gift”, and that they need her gift to find the Stones. The Seven Stones of Power represent the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, wrath, sloth, and gluttony. They are everything that is wicked and have alluded treasure hunters for centuries. Lizzie’s world is turned inside out as she inherits a ninja cat and an extremely rude monkey, tries to keep one step ahead of Wulf, and not melt into a puddle around Diesel.

I always enjoy Evanovich’s books when I need a funny lighthearted escape from reality. Her stories are fast entertaining reads that are so much fun to follow. We will see how Diesel does now that he is standing on his own as the series continues. If you have never tried reading a Janet Evanovich book, take a break to breathe and entertain yourself while you relax with Wicked Appetite or another of her titles. You will enjoy yourself. Happy Reading!


Wicked Appetite



Making Rounds with Oscar: the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

I chose this book, Making Rounds with Oscar; the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat, because of the title and the cat photograph on the cover. I am glad that I read the book as I was educated about the serious business of caring for aged patients afflicted with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This true story takes place at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rhode Island and is told by Dr. David Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Dr. Dosa hears a rumor about a cat named Oscar who lives at Steere House and who happens to visit and remain with dying patients. The rumor turns out to be true and Dr. Dosa begins a quest to understand the link between animals and humans. How does Oscar know when a patient is dying? Dr. Dosa interviews families who had witnessed Oscar’s vigil during the painful death of a loved one. Although sorrowful memories were discussed, every single family member was grateful to Oscar for his steadfast, dutiful presence.

Dr. Dosa does an excellent job of relaying the personalities of the staff members and the Steere house patients and their personal histories. Everyone has a story and Dr. Dosa listens. Dr. Dosa is a caring, sometimes underappreciated physician whose work revolves around a subject most of us shun.


Making Rounds with Oscar; the Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat

Ill Fares the Land

There are good books that you read and while you enjoy them, they tend to fall off your mental radar once you’ve set it aside. Then there are fantastic books that you cannot wait to tell your fellow bibliophiles about. These are the books that go beyond good and qualify as great, the ones that you feel enormous admiration for and would passionately defend at great lengths in the company of critics of the work.

I think British historian Tony Judt’s most recent book of short essays called Ill Fares the Land is one of these kinds of books, the rare text that strikes you for it’s fierce intelligence, its clear and concise prose, its deep and moving insights, and its civil and lucid tone. Judt’s brief essays pose several core questions about the nature of society, politics, economics, and the role of the state but primarily attempts to show with both historical and contemporary data regarding wealth concentration, income disparities, labor and employment figures, etc., that societies that are economically stable, healthy and happy are those that do not have a stark gap between rich and poor. Judt argues that where the state continues to play a meaningful civic role in shaping policy and providing for the promotion of a shared vision of the collective good, nations have retained a far more sound foundation for both economic growth and social stability.

A fashioned public intellectual who wrote both for academics and the general public, Judt’s work is sincerely non-polemical and highly refreshing compared to the cacophonous prattle of cable television punditry. Sadly, Judt passed away this year from complications from ALS. His last work, a memoir called The Memory Chalet was published in November. Those who enjoy this book may be also interested in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.


Ill Fares the Land

Literature Prize for author Polly Horvath

Last week, author Polly Horvath received the $20,000 Vicky Metcalf Award for Children’s Literature. This award is given to a Canadian writer of children’s literature for an entire body of work. That’s nice, isn’t it? What’s even nicer, though, is that Polly Horvath grew up in Kalamazoo! Polly’s mom, Betty Horvath, is also a writer of children’s books.

In addition to this lovely award, Polly has won the National Book Award, a Newbery Honor Award, and the Young Adult Canadian Book of the Year. You can read any of Polly’s books by visiting KPL.

We’re proud to call Polly Horvath one of our own!


Northward to the Moon

The Coral Thief

Traveling back in time to post Napoleonic Paris of 1815, author Rebecca Stott does a masterful job making us feel that we are there. A recent college graduate from Edinburgh, Daniel Connor, is traveling to Paris for an arranged position with an esteemed biologist. On the way he meets a mysterious, intriguing, and beautiful woman, Lucienne Bernard. She steals not only his heart, but also his fossils of coral, meant as a special gift for his new mentor. Confused and angered, Daniel begins searching Paris for Bernard. What he finds is totally unexpected and life changing.

Stott’s descriptions of this era of political unrest, and Paris in particular, are wonderful, and readers of historical novels will find much to enjoy and savor. Rebecca Stott is also the author of Ghostwalk, an intriguing time travel set in both the present and 17th century England, which is well worth reading.

I listened to the audio version of The Coral Thief. The reader, Simon Prebble, is excellent, and brings added dimensions to an already fascinating story and setting.


The Coral Thief

The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

In The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, Michelle Norris, one of the hosts of NPR’s All Things Considered radio program, writes of the “hidden conversations” about race that are taking place in America.

She begins by listening in on the conversations of others, but her search takes her to her own family, where she has to confront the fact that conversations in her own family had not always been open and forthright.

Ms. Norris’ excellent research is enhanced by the thoughtful, honest observation of not only strangers, but also those who are closest to her heart.


The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

Tink and Pink : foster parenting in the animal world!

Oh my goodness, I came across the cutest new book that KPL is adding to the juvenile collection, and had to flip through it with a small crowd of coworkers gathered around, oohing and ahhing.  Little pink pup is about a runt piglet (Pink), pushed out of the way by his bigger sibblings trying to get food.  Tink, a dachshund and mother of a new litter of pups, takes Pink in as one of her own.  The book is a true story from the author Johanna Kerby's farm.  More info. about the author, the book and of course, Tink & Pink, can be found on the author's website. The book can be located in the Children's collection, JE KERB.


Little pink pup

Don’t Go Their!

We are living in a time when the use of the English language in writing is at a level that could use some improvement. Now comes Charles Harrington Elster with a book that “shows you how to navigate the hairpin turns of grammar, diction, spelling, and punctuation with an entertaining driver’s manual covering 350 common word hazards and infractions, arranged in order of complexity for writers of all levels.” The key word here is “entertaining.”  It’s easy to become engrossed in the 350 “accidents.” Some examples are “Don’t write included with it,” “It’s a safe-deposit box, not a safety-deposit box,” and “It’s fall through the cracks, not fall between the cracks.”  The book is nicely indexed and there’s even a quiz entitled “Are You Roadworthy?” I love the cover.


The accidents of style : good advice on how not to write badly

Vampires in Fiction or The Undead Next Door

One of the recent popular directions in fiction is to vampire-ize or vamp-up the story line of a classic. Being curious, I decided to do some research to take a more in-depth look at some of the interesting titles in this subject area because I am always on the look-out for unique and quirky book titles. Why you wonder? Just chalk it up to my librarian’s bookish sense of humor.

We’ll begin with a few of the classics for you to enjoy such as Wuthering Bites and Little Vampire Women. Also included are Romeo & Juliet & Vampires, Shakespeare UndeadAbraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, and Mr. Darcy, Vampyre. Ok, I know Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang isn’t a classic but the title just screams "read me"!

The vampire craze also infected children and teen books as well. Just take, for instance, Bunnicula the (supposedly) Vampire Rabbit, and Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Don’t forget Sucks to be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire as well as A Practical Guide to Vampires, and Eighth Grade Bites!

More titles jumped out at me like Dracula in Love, Dead and Dateless, Love Bites, and You Suck, a Love Story. Hmmm. I was beginning to notice another theme. Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Fanged and Fabulous, and Hearts at Stake. Yep, I definitely found another theme.

I even found a holiday title All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire so I guess I have a lot of Late Night reading to sink my teeth into (sorry I just couldn’t help it), and you can too just by checking out these highlighted titles or the Library’s catalog for more vampire fiction. But don’t worry if all these titles suck the daylight out of you, you can always join The Reformed Vampire Support Group for therapy. Happy Reading!


The Undead Next Door

Made In America

Do we move around more than prior generations of Americans?  Are we less religious, more violent, and more indifferent to the needy?  Are we more greedy and materialistic?  Claude Fischer takes on these subjects and many more in Made in America:  a Social History of American Culture and Character.  You will be surprised by many of his findings and develop a more nuanced view of American history.  I think one of the reasons we have such a different view of American history than what Fischer paints is that we have mostly heard about the upper classes and how they lived, rather than the majority of Americans. 

Fischer's book is concise, which may leave you wondering how he can draw such big conclusions with so little evidence until you realize that there are 102 pages of notes and a 107 page "Work Cited" section at the end of the book.  Plenty of information for those who want to look more into his conclusions. 


Made In America


Curiouser and Curiouser

145 years after its original publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland still manages to mesmerize readers, artists, and more than a few directors.  Alice was a childhood favorite of mine, and I’m happy to return to it as an adult for the Classics Revisited book club this month.  KPL has many different incarnations of the book, including copies with the iconic John Tenniel illustrationsaudio recordings of the book, and even an annotated version.  We also have Disney’s classic movie and Tim Burton’s recent adaption (my favorite movie version, Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, is available via MeLCat).

You can join Classics Revisited on October 21st at 7pm to discuss Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  If Alice doesn’t interest you, take a look at our blog to see upcoming book selections and dates.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Fame, fame, fatal fame

Austrian wunderkind Daniel Kehlmann’s latest title Fame: a novel in Nine Episodes is, as the title would suggest, a collection of nine separate yet interconnected stories that all address the absurdity, irony, and utter despair that goes hand in hand with being famous in our modern hyper-connected culture. In my favorite of the nine episodes entitled The Way Out, a film celebrity named Ralf Tanner seeks reprieve from his life in the limelight by impersonating an impersonator of himself only to find people telling him he’s not that good at impersonating Ralf Tanner and gradually finds himself somehow switched with the impersonator that he is impersonating who, it turns out, is better at being Ralf Tanner than the actual Ralf Tanner! Not all of the stories are this mind-binding, yet they all are just as intriguing and entertaining. Kehlmann’s work is translated from German and his previous novel Measuring the World (2006) is one of the biggest selling books in the German language ever.


Fame: a novel in nine episodes

The “Candyman Can”

Or, if he can’t, The Candymakers certainly can! Author Wendy Mass’ latest novel for upper elementary readers starts out like it might parallel Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in that there are four children chosen to take part in a candy-creating/making contest at the Life is Sweet candy company. The four are a part of a larger group of thirty-two who will be competing for the best new candy created especially for the contest. So, gather ‘round and join Logan, Philip, Daisy, and Miles as they begin their creative endeavors.

On the surface, this appears to be just another story about four children who each want only one thing: to win the candy contest. About a third of the way into the story, the surface opens up and things really begin happening! Each of the four children brings with himself/herself a secret that, when exposed, will affect the outcome of the contest. Each also shares just a bit about family and past memories, which could also hurt their chances in the contest.

Wendy Mass weaves a tangled web of fantasy about children who are motivated by so many outside factors that they often don’t understand at all. Logan’s parents (owners of the candy factory) have hidden him away from prying eyes for about eight years. Philip’s father seems to stop at nothing to take over others’ businesses, all in the name of greed. Daisy’s family didn’t even tell her when her birthday is so that she won’t blow her cover! And, Miles? Miles is into the afterlife, and is allergic to a great many things, including chocolate chip pancakes.

I’m sure you are wondering what all of this has to do with winning a candy-making contest. Trust me! You will be drawn into this story quickly and you will take on the characteristics of each of the children as their part in this drama unfolds. While some of the surface-opening surprises are really surprises, there are a good many things that happen that the reader can figure out on his/her own. The ending chapters contain at least two “surprises” that I would never have thought of as I was reading this story.

Choose this for a “back to school” read-aloud for your 3rd-4th-5th grade classroom. Then, sit back, and enjoy some good old fashioned chocolate candy/toffee/gum/licorice or gum as you get drawn in to the world of the Candymaker.


The Candymakers

I Trust the CIA

There is no shortage of books about baking and I am a sucker for just about every one of them. My latest attraction is Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. If you go through the pastry program at the CIA, you end up with a deep understanding of how baking works, how ingredients behave under various conditions, how far you can push the limits. That knowledge lets conjure up all sorts of wonderful things.

Well, this book is rather like being a CIA student at home. There are recipes for yeast breads, quick breads, cookies, pies and cakes, plus custards and frozen desserts (what’s a good cake without ice cream)? Beautiful photos and easy to understand text will guide a cook to success.


Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America


Dinosaurs seem to be perpetually intriguing to kids, and here are three new picture books for children ages 3-8 that should appeal to dino fans who just can’t get enough about them.

Brontorina is born to dance and she dreams big. There’s only one problem- she’s a huge dinosaur, and is too big to fit into Madame Lucille’s ballet studio. She towers over the pint sized kids in class, and how can she find ballet slippers large enough, anyway? In James Howe’s book Brontorina, Madame Lucille decides that “The problem is not that you are too big. The problem is that my studio is too small.” In the final pictures of this charming story about acceptance and pursuing your dreams, Brontorina and the children pirouette and jump in Madame’s new open air studio.


I'm Big!

Husband and wife duo Kate and Jim McMullan have another winner in I’m Big!, following others by them such as I Stink (a garbage truck with an attitude). In their newest tale, a gigantic sauropod gets separated from his pack and meets other varieties of dinos in his search, including some hungry carnivores. Using his wits, the creative sauropod eludes them, because as he says, “I’m a whole lotta lizard!” Large colorful illustrations add to the fun.


Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex

Wouldn’t it be fun to have a dinosaur guest at your birthday party? Erin thinks so, and she invites one, in Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex by Lisa McClatchy. Erin even offers the dino enticements such as an extra large cake, goody bags, and games. A T rex takes up a fair amount of space, however, and helping blow out the candles makes the frosting fly. A lot of the fun in this story is in the humorous pictures- an illustration of a puzzled pizza delivery person with 25 pizzas (with pepperoni for the meat eating T rex, of course) is great.

Our library staff are glad to help you find just the right book for children, whatever their interests may be! Come and check out our wide selection.



Indian Shoes

Ray Halfmoon, a Seminole-Cherokee boy living with his grandfather in Chicago, is at the center of this short book of connected stories. Showing the contemporary life of a young boy, the story is filled with challenges and successes as Ray and his grandpa go through their days.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Mary Calletto Rife Youth Literature Seminar, which will be held Friday, November 5, 2010. This annual celebration of youth, books, and reading is now in its 33rd year.

If you’re an adult with an interest in children’s books, we’d love to see you at the Seminar! Cynthia Leitich Smith will also be our guest at a free program for families at the Central Library on Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.


Indian Shoes

“The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus

I was employed at Kalamazoo College in an earlier life so I was particularly interested to read Gail Griffin’s new book which chronicles the horrific deaths of two students on campus in 1999. Griffin’s extensive research introduces us to the people involved, the circumstances of their relationship, and most fascinatingly, the mixed reactions of the campus community during the aftermath.

Through interviews as well as police and campus records, Maggie Wardle and the student who shot her, Neenef Odah, become more than mere subjects in an investigation. I feel as if Maggie was someone I knew. It’s been several days since I finished the book, and indeed I find myself still digesting the story and—because I’m familiar with the campus and with many of the faculty and staff involved—reliving the pain, particularly as the 11th anniversary of the deaths approaches. Griffin, herself, is Parfet Distinguished Professor of English at the College, so her recounting is not wholly impersonal. She was there. And it is that fact that gives us the unique perspective into how the entire campus was affected during the months and years after.

Obviously, this is not an easy story to read, but it was both thought-provoking and fast-moving, and I didn’t want to miss a word.


“The Events of October:” Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus

Diving Into History

Shadow Divers is a journalist style work describing the discovery of a mystery shipwreck in the Atlantic, 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. Turns out the ship is a previously undiscovered WWII era German submarine. The story is the chronological description of how a group of adventure divers penetrate the wreck. The book is about the dangerous, even deadly, sport of deep level diving; but also contains interesting descriptions of the original research that was needed to identify the wreck. Eventually the divers find not only the true identity of the U-Boat, but also plumb the depths of their inner selves as well.  Those interested in history, WWII, underwater adventure, and the intricacies of human interactions will find this book fascinating.


Shadow Divers


Why Architecture Matters

To me few subjects, perhaps with the exceptions of Haute Couture or Contemporary Art, lend themselves so seamlessly to a certain type of verbose and overinflated writing style more than architecture. Yet Paul Goldberger’s Why Architecture Matters, a book focused entirely on writing about buildings, avoids all of the bombast and self-consciousness affectation that can plague writing about architecture and yet passionately and eloquently discusses the subject in a very satisfying and readable way. Goldberg, who many may know from his role as the architecture critic for the New Yorker, clearly has a deep understanding of buildings and what makes them great, or not. But it’s his refusal to show any overt favoritism toward a particular architectural style or period and to instead use his engaging conversational style to discuss the subtle and ever shifting criteria that we use to discuss and judge a buildings worth that matters about Why Architecture Matters.


Why Architecture Matters

The Words of Gandhi

I've been meaning to read about Gandhi for a while now. And then I thought to myself: why read about Gandhi when I can read Gandhi himself? Isn't that funny how we do that all the time?--instead of reading a primary source, we read a longer, more confusing, interpretation of that source? Here Attenborough arranges Gandhi's sayings in a simple way, under the headings "daily life," "cooperation," "nonviolence," "faith," and "peace." Here are some of my favorite passages:

"Possession of arms implies an element of fear, if not cowardice. But true nonviolence is an impossibility without the possession of unadulterated fearlessness."

"It is no nonviolence if we merely love those that love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us...[l]ove of the hater is the most difficult of all. But by the grace of God even this most difficult thing becomes easy to accomplish if we want to do it."

"All of your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be vain if at the same time you did not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions."

"I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills."


The Words of Gandhi


Of all the sensory powers that humans share, the sense of sight has been most admired. In science, it has been studied much more than taste, or touch. In religion, spiritual sight is the preferred metaphor to use (have you ever heard of someone with spiritual touch, or taste?) Advertising needs to know how we see. Philosophers have been obsessed with the "problem" of how we see the external world. Art is largely visual, and the beautiful is mostly linked with the visual.

What is so special about sight? As I just finished writing a paper on a philosopher's theory of visual perception, I must admit that I too have been caught with the fascination of sight. If you haven't, read this book!


A Natural History of Seeing

People are Reading the Constitution

The Law Library has free copies of the United States Constitution, which, I'm happy to say, have lately been flying off the shelves. In fact, there seems to be a revived interest in our most cherished founding document, mostly known for its magnificent "add-ons" (the Bill of Rights). Whether this interest comes from new political issues or new social problems, we should all think about what the Constitution means at some point. It defined the birth of our nation; it set the conditions for the "American experiment"; it starts with the word "we." Martin Luther King called it a "check" that needs "cashing," a "promissory note" that needs to be performed:

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (read here).

Go to for commentary, great historical notes, and full text. Or drop by the Law Library and read our books on Constitutional Civil Rights, or First Amendment Law, or The State and Religion.


The Constitution of the United States of America


Rust Never Sleeps

I found Jennifer Egan’s new novel A Visit from the Goon Squad an engaging pleasurable read. Great prose mixed with a dash of postmodern structuring, for me, kept it flowing and interesting right to the end. Set against a backdrop of the rock music business with characters that, if not for Egan’s talent, might veer too far into indie rock cliché the novel handles its themes (ageing hipsters, fading glory, the corruption inherent in much of modern culture, & more) with such deft storytelling that they never really hit you until you've completed the novel, even though you've enjoyed it all the way. The book is in essence a series of related and interconnected chapter-long stories that are each great taken alone, but it is the way in which the whole story reveals itself bit by bit and the charecters become more fully formed as each chapter flashes forward and back through the collective timeline of the ensemble of characters that makes this such a great novel, and what marks Egan as such a talented writer.


A Visit from the Goon Squad

The Everything Pressure Cooker Cookbook

If a pressure cooker is now part of your kitchen equipment, you may be wondering what to do with it once canning season ends.

The same high pressure that tightly affixes lids to jars also shortens cooking time. That means time intensive ingredients such as beans and whole grains (say, whole berries of wheat, or brown rice).

They were popular in the 1950s, but pressure cookers declined in use as convenience foods emerged on the scene and cooks prepared fewer meals from scratch.

The Everything Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Pamela Rice Hahn teaches you how to cook beans and grains, but also some other dishes that might surprise you: barbecue sauce, coq au vin and osso buco, to name a few. And there’s dessert, including coconut custard and molten fudge pudding cake.


The Everything Pressure Cooker Cookbook

Rosh Hashanah

In recognition of this week marking the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, allow me to point to several Jewish writers who have inspired and educated me with their engaging works of fiction, poetry and scholarly nonfiction.





Ill fares the land

Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer????

Yup. And, it appears, for a thirteen-year-old middle school 8th grader, a darn good one. Theo’s family are all lawyers. His Dad, real estate things. His Mom, abuse cases. His Uncle Ike, disbarred but doing income tax things. Theo’s classmates and schoolmates ask him questions about their brother’s getting arrested for marijuana, about which parent should a child live within a divorce case, about what can be done with an illegal immigrant who…

OOPS! I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot of John Grisham’s newest thriller titled Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer. Theo lives in a small town with many “real” lawyers, including his family as described above. He even fancies himself as an attorney, sort of. And, then, the unlikely happens. A murder is committed, and the defendant is being tried by a local judge, who just happens to be Theo’s friend. At least, as much of a friend as a sitting judge can be to a kid in the 8th grade. Theo’s favorite class in school is Government, and he finagles seats for his classmates so that they can attend the opening day of this murder trial. And, the excitement begins.

Author John Grisham’s titles for adults are known for their intrigue and suspense, a fact that has made him a #1 international best-selling author. He is certainly the master of the legal thriller. When I heard that he had written a book for younger readers (and I’d say late elementary age through middle school), I thought, “yeah, right”. John Grisham can’t write a book for children! Well, friends, guess what? He can, and he has.

Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer is for kids and it is every bit as exciting as the author’s adult novels. I started this book yesterday, and finished it today…it kept me guessing and kept me turning pages as I read (almost skimmed some parts, I was so interested) what certainly could become a best-seller for children, and maybe even an award winner!

Thanks, John Grisham! But, you didn’t finish the story. A sequel maybe?


Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer

Where to this time?

I do more with atlases than just use them. I read them. Kalamazoo Public Library owns lots of atlases for various purposes and users. My favorite road atlas is the Rand McNally Road Atlas that comes out every year in paperback edition. Here at the library we have copies for loan as well as for reference. I bought my own copy and keep it under my sofa so that when I read the newspaper I can refer to it when a location with which I am unfamiliar is mentioned. Then I get sidetracked by studying the atlas, and often a lot of time elapses before I get back to my newspaper. Even though I love web sites such as and and use them regularly, I still find that for browsing there is nothing like my Rand McNally. Check out an atlas and read it tonight!


Rand McNally, the road atlas, large scale 2011 : United States

Is Charlotte Brontё the New Jane Austen?

 Rumor has it that Jane Austen is falling out of vogue and that Charlotte Brontё and her sisters are the new literary IT women. With the recent economic downturn, it seems that readers have turned their interest towards the Brontё’s who were more materially and economically impoverished than Austen and did not have Austen’s social standing. I have been a longstanding Jane Austen fan so I was intrigued. Austen and Brontё have been under the comparison microscope for a long time. I can imagine many of you took a high school or college class where their works were part of the discussion and literary paper “fighting ring” of criticism.
Jane Austen was born in 1775 and died in 1817. She was the seventh child (second daughter), and her father was a Reverend. Charlotte Brontё was born in 1816 and died in 1854. She was the third child (third daughter) of six children, and her father was also a Reverend. Charlotte’s well-known sisters Emily and Anne were born in 1818 and 1820 respectively. Whether you have a preference or are now curious about one or all of these famous British women authors, KPL has a wonderful selection of their materials for you to check out and decide for yourself. Just click on these links to our library catalog to explore works by Jane Austen or works by the Brontё sisters to decide for yourself. Maybe you will enjoy reacquainting yourself with an old favorite of yours or perhaps you will find a new one. Who knows, maybe you will discover you are an Austen fan, a Brontё fan or maybe both. Happy Reading!


The Brontё Myth

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Dwight is the weird kid, whose 6th grade classmates tolerate him hanging around, is the owner of Origami Yoda. The paper finger puppet, interestingly, offers cryptic advice to any question asked of it.

So should you take advice that comes from Origami Yoda? Visit the Children’s Room to find the answer to that question PLUS instructions for making your own Yoda.


The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

A 2010 Nonfiction Favorite - Maybe

At a library conference several years ago, I heard mystery writer Lisa Scottoline. She was promoting a new book, I don’t remember which one. I do remember that I really enjoyed her – she was witty, humorous, engaged the audience. I didn’t read the book she was promoting nor anything else she has written – I confess I am not a mystery reader.

Now she has published a book of essays. The style and approach I so enjoyed when I heard her, come through loud and clear in Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, a collection of essays originally published in her hometown paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, entitled “Chick Wit.”

She writes of her built-in guilt-o-meter, her Mother Mary and just-graduated-from-Harvard daughter, her former husbands known as Thing One and Thing Two, and, of course, why her next husband will be a dog. Women of a certain age – and she writes about them too and whatever that age might be – will relate to her everyday experiences told in an engaging style from the perspective, she says, of an ordinary woman.

Each essay is about 2 ½ pages, just the length of a newspaper column – read a few here and there or read them straight through. I’m beginning to think about my favorite books of the year. This one just might be on my nonfiction list.


Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog

The Death and Life of American Journalism

Don’t blame the Internet. American journalism’s collapse is not entirely the result of an external blow by all things digital but from a self-inflicted wound. In their book, The Death and Life of American Journalism, Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols look at historical trends in journalism and offer new ways to sustain an independent news media.

Newspaper readership in fact began its decline after World War II, they write. By the late 1970s family owned newspapers were being bought by corporations looking for investments.

Bean counters treated their investments as any other product, not understanding that successful American journalism is a mission-driven enterprise.

And corporations want profits. So they started slicing into editorial budgets. Today’s dailies, contrasted with those from the late 1940s and up to the 1970s, have far fewer international, national and even local stories. McChesney and Nichols write, “Newspapers often actually exposed readers to new ideas, different perspectives and real possibilities — as opposed to weather reports, celebrity gossip, syndicated fare and exercise tips.” (p32-33)

In September 2009, President Obama was asked about the decline of American newspapers. He said:” I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, then what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”

In Chapter 4 McChesney and Nichols contend the only hope for saving serious journalism is through government subsidies and policies to support a free and working news media. Whither goest journalism, goest democracy.


The Death and Life of American Journalism

Apocalyptic Childhood

Did you watch The Day After, the made for TV movie about nuclear war where bombs were dropped on Kansas City and the surrounding area?  It aired on November 20, 1983 and almost 100 million people watched.  I remember there being so much hype and at age 15, I was one of those millions watching. 

So when I ran across The Day After the Day After: My Atomic Angst, a memoir by Steven Church, I was transported back to the early eighties.  I also thought about my wife's family who were living in Topeka, Kansas at the time, especially her brother who is fascinated by apocalyptic visionaries like John Brown and creates apocalyptic landscapes in many of his works of art. 

Steven Church covers John Brown and many end of the world 70's and 80's movies as he reports on the atmosphere he grew up in while in Lawrence, Kansas and what it was like for "the end" to be filmed in his town when he was a kid. 

I sent a copy of the book to my brother-in-law and then took the library's copy on an almost 5000 mile road trip with my family.  It was the perfect book for my trip, because we would be making a stop in Lawrence, Kansas to visit some of my wife's old high school friends and because a 5000 mile trip with four kids can feel apocalyptic at times. 

I talked with one of my wife's friends about the book and the movie and he said that the movie terrified him and he is glad that his kids aren't growing up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over them as much as it was for us.  I remember being disappointed by the movie, finding it slightly boring and melodramatic.  The nuclear war threat just never seemed real to me and I didn't loose much sleep over it as a child. 

How was it for you?  Read Steven Church's memoir and see what memories it brings back for you.


The Day After the Day After

A Beautiful Place to Die

One of the great things about fiction is the wonderful variety of places and times where you can be transported. I recently listened to Mala Nunn’s A Beautiful Place to Die and was instantly taken to apartheid South Africa in the 1950s.

A white police captain has been murdered in the small town of Jacob’s Rest, on the border of Mozambique and South Africa. Sent to investigate is Detective Emmanuel Cooper, and he is immediately resented as an outsider from the big city of Johannesburg. Cooper has to cope with an understaffed local police department and officers from Special Branch with their own political agenda, not to mention residents with secrets of their own.

As much a glimpse of apartheid as it is a mystery, this is a promising beginning to a planned series for South African born author Nunn. If you listen to the CD version, the reader does an excellent job, and I guarantee you will be pulled right into the story.


A Beautiful Place to Die


Two of the titles that I’m currently reading are “adapted” from popular blogs, and that has me thinking about this unquestionably modern publishing trend. Both books are taken from humorous sites, but there are abundant examples of the blog-to-book phenomenon and each with its own unique path to publication in meatspace. Bike Snob: systematically & mercilessly realigning the world of cycling is from the site BikesnobNYC and offers a witty opinionated (does it even make sense to describe a blog opinionated?) and often hilarious critique of all things bicycle and bike culture and while the authors sarcastic tone translates fine to the printed page, the content seems more stretched, slightly less edgy, and more like a series of essay’s than the stream of consciousness feel that the blog has. The other title Stuff My Dad Says (title has been sanitized in recognition of the diverse sensibilities and potential all-ages audience of the KPL blog) comes from Justin Halpern’s Twitter feed of the same name which published the profane, grouchy, but sort of Zen quips of Halpern’s 74 year old father. Reading the Twitter feed often left one wondering about the real relationship between Halpern and his father and the book expands beyond what is possible in 140 characters per post twitter formant and clarifies Halpern’s genuine love for his painfully social filter-less father.
The examples of blog-to-book are numerous, with the most famous and probably the most lucrative thus far coming from Julia and Julia: my year of cooking dangerously which not only gained popularity in book form, but went into hyper-popularity with its adaptation into a Hollywood movie. There is also the gritty and frightening My War: Killing Time in Iraq, from Colby Buzzel’s blog written while serving in the army in Iraq in 2004. Or the hilariously voyeuristic entertainment of Passive aggressive notes: painfully polite and hilariously hostile writings, and just plain aggressive and Cake Wrecks: when professional cakes go hilariously wrong. I’m not sure what the blog-to-book phenomenon means exactly, but I am enjoying the two titles that I’m reading. As a book fan I’m encouraged that great writing continues to get commodified through the printed page and as a blog reader I’m pleased that some of this great content can find its way into the traditional collections of libraries and expand its potential reading audience.


Bike Snob systematically and mercilessly realigning the world of cycling

The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Dit is disappointed to learn that the new postmaster’s child is a girl, not a boy, as he’d been led to expect. The whole town of Moundville, Alabama is surprised that the newcomers to town are black. Emma, the postmaster’s daughter, is as different from Dit as she could be – smart, well-read, a very thoughtful only child. Dit is a white boy from a family of twelve. He loves to fish, play baseball, skip stones, and hunt. How could they ever be friends?

Despite their differences, Dit and Emma each learn from the other, and they develop a close friendship. Together, they witness a horrific, unthinkable incident and learn more about how different ‘justice’ is for ‘coloreds,’ than it is for white folks in 1917 Alabama. The two devise a courageous plan to alter the course of justice. 

Kristin Levine is a fabulous storyteller. This book kept me up late at night, turning pages and reading ‘just one more chapter.’ You know the deal. It's her first novel, and I hope we may look forward to many more.


The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had

Trying to be debt-free and stress-free

 Less is more. That statement can be true when it comes to spending less money and saving more! I’m always keeping my eye out for great financial self help books to cross my path at the library. I usually walk away with at least a couple tips and tricks to help me keep my spending and saving in check. The Cheapskate Next Door The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means does just that. Author Jeff Yeager traveled the country visiting self proclaimed Cheapskates and learning their secrets. While some of the suggestions he learned are way out of my reach, like cleaning one’s own septic tank, many suggestions from the cheapskates of America are easy lifestyle changes that can add up big over the years, for example driving a manual transmission car over an automatic. The book focuses on 16 attitudes that most cheapskates have about money that enable them to live a debt free, happy life. The author makes too many references to his previous book in my opinion, but overall, his message comes through. Yeager makes a point to mention that most of the cheapskates he met are avid readers that always use their public library! Check it out and see if you fit the cheapskate profile!


The Cheapskate Next Door The Surprising Secrets of Americans Living Happily Below Their Means


Extra Lives

Earlier this year, film critic Roger Ebert ignited a minor internet firestorm by suggesting that video games can never be art (in a Sun-Times piece titled, appropriately, “Video Games Can Never Be Art”). Eventually he backed off, but this isn't the first time Ebert has made this claim and he's got plenty of company in his opinion. Ever since the first Pac-Man slithered his way out of the primordial pixel soup, critics have argued about the cultural significance of video games, usually with both sides agreeing to disagree. Enter journalist and author Tom Bissell, whose book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter provides another look at the love/hate relationship we have with games. Based on a series of essays and interviews that appeared in the Guardian, Kill Screen, The New Yorker and others, Extra Lives is both a passionate defense and a sharp critique of video game culture.

One of the strengths of Extra Lives is the way it calls out the shortcomings of popular games while at the same time celebrating the parts that make them so rewarding. Bissell’s descriptions of the making of Resident Evil, a monumentally stupid and yet utterly thrilling game, are some of the best of the book. Bissell also examines what makes storytelling so difficult in a medium like video games, and why we’re unlikely to see a video game with a first-class storyline (and why that may not be a bad thing). Moreover, he does all of this with passion and humor that rises above the often dopey subject matter. This frequently involves personal narratives that help reinforce his point: one of the most engrossing essays focuses on Bissell’s time spent living in Estonia and playing Grand Theft Auto IV while simultaneously becoming addicted to cocaine. Bissell doesn’t shy away from the gory details, and the comparisons between the repetitive nature of the game and the eternal quest for the bigger high are horrifying.

While this collection of essays could probably be more accurately subtitled “Why Video Games Matter to Tom Bissell”, he nevertheless provides a thoughtful look at why video games are so fascinating and infuriating to so many others. Even if you have no interest in games, Extra Lives is worth a read for Bissell’s unique insights on the medium.


Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter


I was excited to see that Mark Haddon had written a new book but was rather surprised to find that it was heading for the children’s department.  I am a fan of Haddon’s adult fiction works The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (a past Reading Together selection) and his less acclaimed Spot of Bother.  It isn’t uncommon for authors to cross genres and audiences and I decided it was worth giving Haddon’s latest book, Boom!, a read.

In the book’s introduction I learned that it was originally published in 1992 under the title Gridzbi Spudvetch!.  Haddon jokingly states that only twenty-three people bought this difficult to pronounce title.  At the time it was first published, Haddon had not received his notoriety so it isn’t all that surprising that the author and his publishers decided to update, rename and republish this book.

Boom! is the story of two young friends who find themselves in a life-changing misadventure after bugging their school faculty’s staff room.  Overhearing a conversation between two teachers in a secret language, the boys’ curiosity is piqued.  They boost their spy skills to a new level in order to find out what their teachers are up to only to find that they are now the ones being targeted!  As the plot unfolds with amusing and lively twists and turns, the boys find that the “evaluation” they are receiving might be out of this world!    I’ll leave the rest for you to discover.

The book is both humorous and fun.  While I believe that Haddon’s writing skills have improved in his more recent works, I found that his knack for character development is his talent and true foundation.  If you’ve read his other novels, you know that no one writes an innocent, naïve character better than Mark Haddon.  It’s easy and fun to get lost in his work.



Happy Birthday Agatha Christie!

Agatha Christie’s 120th birthday will be celebrated by fans this coming September 15. I decided to do some research and look up a biography about her using the Library’s research database Literature Resource Center. The source cited on Literature Resource Center for Christie’s biography is Contemporary Literary Criticism Select.

The celebrated detective novelist and playwright was born in Torquay, England in 1890. “The Grand Dame of mysteries” studied piano and voice in Paris before she served as a nurse in World War I. Her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920 was written during lulls in her work as a response to a challenge from her sister. It was the beginning of her series with famous character Hercule Poirot. Interestingly, it was rejected by six publishers before it was purchased for twenty-five pounds.
Christie lived a relatively quiet life and produced nearly one hundred mysteries. Her substantial body of works also includes romances, short stories, plays and poems, however. I encourage you to check out our Library catalog for works by Christie and also check out a dedicated website to her Happy reading!


Murder on the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery

The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing

When I picked up The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, the memoir of veteran bluesman David Honeyboy Edwards, I was expecting to read the story of a person, a living legend, one of the last of the original Mississippi Delta bluesmen. But what I got instead was a story of a people—a first-hand glimpse at life in rural America during and after the Great Depression. That was a pleasant surprise.

Edwards paints a captivating portrait of the way life was… for himself and for others. His stories are brutally honest and refreshingly candid. “That song, about the ‘killin’ floor,’ that mean they got you so down you can’t do nothing for yourself. I been there! That was some bad times back when I was a boy.”

His name might not be a household word... like say Muddy Waters or BB King, nor does Edwards claim to be a “father of the blues” like some of his contemporaries. But he was certainly there... right in the middle when it all began; sharecropping in Mississippi, jumping freights with Big Joe Williams, gambling with Little Walter, playing the juke joints and barrelhouses with Sunnyland Slim, fishing and hanging around with Elmore James, hitching rides and playing small town whiskey houses with Big Walter Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson, recording for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress. Edwards even claims that he was drinking with Robert Johnson the night he was poisoned.

And then there was Chicago in the ‘50s – “Everybody was in Chicago by then,” says Edwards. He found himself playing with the likes of Magic Sam, Big Walter, Junior Wells, Elmore James, and Kansas City Red.

Edwards just celebrated his 95th birthday on June 28th, “ of our last living links to the roots of the music,” says Josh Hathaway of Verse Chorus Verse. He’s the “real deal” …and he’s still at it. Edwards will be in Chicago on August 31st, and has dates booked well into 2011 as part of “Blues at the Crossroads: The Robert Johnson Centennial Concerts” —you can catch him on that tour in Ann Arbor on February 10.

“The blues is something that leads you,” says Edwards. “I’d always follow it. I’d get up and go wherever it took me. And everywhere the blues took me was home.”


The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing

Infinitely Fascinating

There are great writers who harbor brilliant minds but whose works of poetry and fiction reside at the margins of my reading interests or framed another way, these sort of books achieve critical success in pushing art and its ideas forward yet fail to capture my willingness and attention, a prerequisite for engaging any kind of complex work of literature, especially when that book is almost 1100 pages long. One can always appreciate from afar the contributions of an artist who expands our intellectual grasp of what it means to be human while not delving into their work with the sort of zeal that a fan would.

I could spend all day reading about David Foster Wallace or watching the few interviews and public readings that are available on the internet. He was a larger than life sort of writer, who sadly passed away in 2008 at the age of 46. He had both his admirers and his critics, as do all great writers who make a cannonball like splash in the publishing world. His most well known and critically lauded work, Infinite Jest (1996), is a magisterial novel that firmly cemented him as a sort of Kurt Cobain of the literature world.

I’ve been reading a new book of interviews that Wallace gave just at the moment that Infinite Jest brought him notoriety. Wallace possessed a dazzling and erudite mind that is captured here as he discusses a wide range of topics. His quick wit, wildly learned analyses and self-deprecating views on his recent celebrity, along with intimate discussions regarding his battle with depression will help the novice reader understand this key writer prior to engaging his novels and essays or will provide his already established fans with greater insights into his life and works. Here is a clip of Wallace talking to Charlie Rose sometime during the late nineties.


Although of course you end up becoming yourself : a road trip with David Foster Wallace

Fortune or Fortunate?

One of the latest juvenile historical fiction titles I have read is titled Good Fortune and which is written by Noni Carter.

New to the publishing world, Ms. Carter “was only a child when she first conceived of this story of a young girl’s journey from freedom to slavery and back to ultimate freedom…” (back jacket) Would that all first-time authors could pen something as engrossing and compelling as Good Fortune!

Written from the viewpoint of Ayanna Bahati, her African free self; and moving to being called Sarah, her slave self; and finally, to Anna (free in the North), this story details the daily happenings of a field hand on a Southern plantation. Sarah experiences horrible living conditions, appalling working conditions, beatings, and more until she meets John, an itinerant “preacher man” who begins to care for Sarah in a “womanly way”. The author keeps all situations in check, however, and only hints at things that Masta Jeffry might do to Sarah and the others.

Sarah, her brother Daniel and a friend take the big step: a leap forward in the freedom process one dark and stormy night and endure hardships that are almost unbelievable. They also find kindnesses in folk willing to help them on their way via the Underground Railroad to Ohio and eventual freedom. Their friend doesn’t make the entire trip, but Sarah and Daniel do, and are transplanted into an all Black community near Dayton, Ohio where they begin to make their way into a life previously unknown, or hardly remembered: that of freedom. They are able to work, save their money, buy things, marry, have children, get educated, etc. Part of the appeal of this story is that of female protagonist Sarah, who is about 12 years old when she begins her journey. Sarah teaches herself to read and write by covertly listening to the plantation owners’ children as they do their daily lessons. She capitalizes on her limited education, and eventually becomes a teacher for the community in which she lives in Ohio. Such determination! Such will! No wonder she is able to escape the bonds of slavery!

A must read for ‘tweens and older. This is an excellent glimpse into Southern plantation life and the life of the slaves that lived and worked there. I can see this book being awarded maybe a Newbery Medal, or a Coretta Scott King award (for new authors). Check it out today!


Good Fortune

My Little Round House

If you like children’s books, you might like the International Children’s Digital Library website, named one of 25 Best Websites for Teaching and Learning by the American Association of School Librarians. Take a look at this title by Bolormaa Baasansuren featured on the ICDL’s website. Finding a digital version of this Mongolian title featured on the ICDL site led me back around to the English language adaptation of the text by Helen Mixter: My Little Round House. Baasansuren’s illustrations and story of a one-year-old’s world are beautiful. Jilu, the son of a nomadic Mongolian family, tells about his first year and all his round homes. First, there’s his mommy's tummy. Then there is the roundness of his family’s ger, or yurt, as well as the earth and sky. Jilu talks about the frequent moving of his family, following the cycle of the seasons, and his favorite season, summer.
Here’s something fun to do on the ICDL website. Find some picture books with text in a language that you can't read. Look at the pictures and see what it’s like to be a pre-reader again.


My Little Round House

Cupcakes and More Cupcakes!

 I recently volunteered to bake the cake for a very special baby shower I was attending. I wanted to make something special to mark the occasion but since I am not a professional baker, I needed some ideas and recipes. I searched the Library’s great cooking/baking collection and found some wonderful books to help me. Cupcakes are the “in” cake right now so I checked out Karen Tack’s  What’s New, Cupcake?: Ingeniously Simple Designs for Every Occasion and Hello, Cupcake: Irresistibly Playful Creations Anyone Can Make as well as Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes: 175 Inspired Ideas for Everyone’s Favorite Treats.

Karen Tack’s cupcake books were so much fun to read! Her recipes are easy to follow and her decorating ideas use easy-to-find ingredients. The books have such a wide variety of inspiring, creative ideas that will absolutely WOW everyone at a party. I learned a fabulous new way to frost cupcakes that I will now use-often. Of course, you can always count on Martha Stewart as a go to for recipes and ideas. Her book is a great standard to have. The Library has many more cupcake and cake books to check out just search the catalog to take a look at them. My cupcakes turned out well and tasted great so I highly recommend Karen Tack’s and Martha Stewart's books. Happy reading!


What's New, Cupcake?

A Happy Marriage

I read a review of Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias in one of the many book review sources I skim. It wasn’t an author I had read but it sounded good and I put a “hold” on it.

Although fiction, it is an autobiographical account of his nearly 30-year marriage told in alternating chapters as Margaret succumbs to cancer. The novel opens in 1975 when Enrique Sabas, a high-school dropout who has become the darling of the literary world with his first novel, meets Margaret Cohen, a slightly older, beautiful, budding graphic designer who will become the love of his life. The novel moves through their three decades together as Margaret says good-bye to family and friends and prepares to die.

It is brutally honest as her health declines and her husband becomes her caregiver but a good balance between their young romance, raising a family, losing a parent, a brief affair, and ultimately her physical decline.

It’s heartbreaking, not depressing.


Happy Marriage

The Ice Princess

For those of us who can’t seem to get enough Swedish mysteries, this novel by Camilla Lackberg is a promising new writer for an American audience.

Successful writer Erica Falck returns from Stockholm to her small hometown on the Swedish coast, to discover that one of her best friends from childhood is dead, an apparent suicide. The more Erica investigates her friend’s death, however, long buried secrets are uncovered which seem to implicate a number of the town’s residents.

Setting plays an important part in this story, and though there are a number of characters, they aren’t overwhelming. A great summertime, or anytime, read for mystery fans.


The Ice Princess

The Hanging Tree

I’ve just finished reading Bryan Gruley’s newest mystery and I’m still shivering with cold! All the folks from Starvation Lake are back in this new book, still playing hockey, still making ends meet in small-town Michigan, still getting out the news whether it’s in the weekly paper or around Audrey’s diner tables.

The Hanging Tree hits bookstore shelves August 3, but if you wait a few days you can meet the author and buy your book in person. Bryan Gruley will be in Kalamazoo on Saturday, August 7, 2:00 p.m. at the Central Library to give us the backstory behind these two terrific mysteries.

When he’s not writing about Starvation Lake, Bryan Gruley is the Chicago bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal; he’s also a former reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. Don’t miss this chance to meet Brian, buy a book from our good friends at Michigan News Agency, and hear all about our new friends in Starvation.


The Hanging Tree

Fur Person Tales

Weeks ago, a friend’s dog went missing in Mattawan. Many days later, he opened the gate and entered the back yard at another friend’s home in Kalamazoo. This sweet dog had lived there five years previously; in between, he lived two other places! Samuel was much thinner, and his pads were worn, but he made it home to his grateful owner.

We all said it was just like The Incredible Journey, the long-beloved children’s book by Sheila Every Burnford, about two dogs and a cat that travel together across the wilderness to reunite with their family. That got me thinking about other books written from the animal’s point-of-view:

The family dog, Enzo, tells The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Enzo’s ‘dad,’ Denny, loses wife, Eve, to breast cancer, and suddenly finds himself embroiled in a custody battle with Eve’s parents for their young daughter. This moving story is sprinkled throughout with insights Enzo has learned from Denny’s racing career, as metaphors for life. Enzo displays a wisdom many humans only wish we had.

The Fur Person (May Sarton) is a charming tale, written from the perspective of a stray ‘Cat about Town.’ This Gentleman Cat decides it’s time to adopt himself a suitable ‘housekeeper’ for a while and explore the comforts of an indoor home. He finds Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice – his name for the two women who inhabit the suitable home -- and to his astonishment, he transforms into a Fur Person, “a cat who has decided to stay with people as long as he lives.” I discovered this book in the Friends bookstore, not long before my ‘fur person’ adopted me.


The Art of Racing in the Rain

Chilling Debut

Stayed up way too late several nights reading Cold Earth! It's chilling, suspenseful, and all too plausible. Six young archaeologists on a summer dig in the west coast of Greenland face the possibility of apocalypse at home and being stranded close to the Arctic Circle as winter inexorably approaches. Moss tells the tale through each of the six voices; some better defined than others. At only 278 pages, I think Moss could have given some characters a larger voice and expanded the ending; I longed for more.


Cold Earth

Before you Rent...

It's the time of year when many college students are looking to rent. When entering into any legal situation, a basic understanding of your rights and obligations is your best protection. And with these awesome books by Nolo, it is very easy, interesting, and up-to-date. Learning before is always better than after some dispute comes along.

This book goes over the basic rights that tenants have in relationship to the lease and the landlord. Is this an illegal lease provision? Can the landlord raise my rent? How much can the security deposit be? What does the law say about discrimination? What happens if I end my lease? Can a landlord change my locks? How does the eviction process go?

Although this book is not a specific discussion of the law in Michigan, it does have an appendix in the back that references to various state laws. For much more information, come visit the Law Library.


Renters' Rights: The Basics

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

Even though I haven't read this book, or seen the movie Alice in Wonderland yet, I know that these "Blackwell philosophy and popculture series" books are excellent ways to dive into the deeper themes of the movies and shows that we love (see also Matrix and Philosophy, Terminator and Philosophy). This books seems to focus on the following philosophical topics: the nature of language, the problem of induction, perception vs. reality, and Nietzsche on perspective. Tell me what you think!


Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy

To Kill A Mockingbird Turns 50

 The treasured American classic To Kill a Mockingbird just turned 50! Author Nelle Harper Lee’s book was published July 11, 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Lee grew up next door to Truman Capote in Monroeville, AL, which was the model for the town of Maycomb in the book. Lee, who is 84, is extremely reclusive and still resides in Monroevill, spent four years penning this powerful literary work about the Deep South and searing racial injustice.
To Kill a Mockingbird is the coming-of-age story of Scout Finch and her brother Jem, whose father, Atticus, is an attorney who defends a black man in a rape trial. I won’t give away anymore than this basic outline of the book, you just must read this richly layered masterpiece that can be read on so many levels. It is all at once a story of the microcosm of small town life, hatred, courage, morality and tolerance. Please take the time to step back this summer and read about this book and author Harper Lee. You will be glad you did. Happy Reading!


To Kill A Mockingbird

Cooking for baby : Part deux

As a follow-up to a blog that Lisa Williams wrote last year, I would like to share my personal experience cooking for my lil' bun the past 6 months since she started on solid foods.  I have never been much of a cook, but the recipes have taught me lots of basic skills and babies are gentler critics than adults – no anxiety there!  Lisa highlighted the book Cooking for baby by Lisa Barnes.  One of my little one’s favorites from this book (that doesn’t even involve cooking) is the blackberry & ricotta parfait. I’ve also appreciated the many finger foods suggestions on p. 68 as my daughter has begun to feed herself. Fortunately, KPL just added Top 100 finger foods by Annabel Karmel to the collection, which I am going to check out next!

On today’s lunch menu is chicken with brown rice and peas, from Blender baby food by Nicole Young.  While it may sound time-consuming and impractical to spend a lot of time cooking such meals when a baby eats only a tiny portion, the great thing is that most recipes can be frozen (i.e. into 1 oz. ice cube tray portions) for up to 3 months, and most recipes make between 5-20 servings.  Saving money has been a plus—from my experience, store-bought baby food fruits & veggies run at least 40¢ per serving on sale, whereas my homemade purees cost 10¢- 15¢ (4 large apples on sale cost about $3.00 and make about 30 servings of applesauce).  As far as time spent, I usually make more than one type of food at a time – fruits and veggies (which mainly involve just steaming and removing skins when necessary, then blending) take less than 1 hour to make multiple servings of 2-3 different items, and recipes involving meats and grains usually take a few hours to make 3-4 different dishes, so you’re only cooking once a week or every other week, and once you build up a nice inventory, you’re golden--right now my freezer is full and I haven’t made anything new in several weeks.

For more books on this topic, check out the KPL catalog using subject search “Baby foods.”


Top100 Finger Foods

Does Your House Have Sixty-Eight Rooms?

Well, mine doesn’t either. But, I know one that does! Carry yourself to Chicago, and then to the Art Institute of Chicago, and then to the exhibit of the “Thorne Rooms”, which is a collection of dollhouse-like rooms that is a permanent part of the collection at the Art Institute. Page 10 of the book describes this exhibit as “better than any crummy dollhouse by far.”

Ruthie and Jack, BFF, and in the same sixth-grade class at one of Chicago’s private schools (Oakton), are the central and most believable characters in this story called The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. As part of a class visit to the Institute, Ruthie and Jack discover the Thorne exhibit and become enthralled and even entranced by it. The dollhouse includes American and European-themed rooms that portray daily life with extreme detail. Enough detail that, when Ruthie and Jack are transported “back in time”, they even find beds with sheets and blankets, and desks with quill pens and tablets, and more. The children find a key (they snooped behind the exhibit to see its inner workings!) that, when held, will take them on a time-travel adventure beyond anything they can imagine. This key allows them to shrink small enough to sneak inside and explore the secrets of the rooms, as well as become a part of the world of the time. The same key transports them back to the present day.

Other characters in the story are Mrs. McVittie, an antiques shop owner; Mr. Bell, a museum security guard and former portrait photographer; Lydia, Jack’s mom; Claire, Ruthie’s older sister; and Mrs. Biddle, the sixth-grade teacher at the Oakton School.

A quote from the book jacket says “Housed deep within the Art Institute of Chicago, they are a collection of sixty-eight exquisite—almost eerily realistic—miniature rooms. Each of the rooms is designed in the style of a different time and place, and every detail is perfect, from the knobs on the doors to the candles in the candlesticks. Some might even say the rooms are magical.”

Similar in scope and content to Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer, The Calder Game, and The Wright 3; Malone’s Sixty-Eight Rooms is an “I can’t put it down” read! It would make an excellent read-aloud for older elementary students, too.


The Sixty-Eight Rooms

Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

Katherine Paterson is the newly-ordained National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. She follows in the raucous wake of Jon Scieszka, who set new standards for hilarity and mock-pomp as the first Ambassador. On the surface, you see a fair amount of disparity between these two Big Names in the world of children’s books.

Jon Scieszka (rhymes with “fresca”) writes books like The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, the “Time Warp Trio” series, and Guys Write for Guys Read. He grew up in Flint, one of five boys, who all attended Catholic school. Needless to say, lines were crossed. The stories he relates in his autobiography, Knucklehead, are hilariously funny and will give young readers excellent ideas for new levels of mischief to be attained. But Jon’s passion is boys and reading. It’s hard to beat Jon when he makes that his crusade. Check his website: It’s funny, it’s true, and it’s full of passion.

So how does Katherine Paterson, the author of (among dozens of others) Jacob Have I Loved and Bridge to Terabithia, take Jon’s place? She’s the 77-year-old wife of a minister. She has already won nearly every award possible, and she’s known around the world as a passionate advocate for kids and books. She regularly faces censorship challenges (sounds like a line-crosser, like Mr. Scieszka), but they never stop her. Her intensity matches Jon’s, but she’s a bit less gaudy about it.

When asked if Jon Scieszka offered her any advice about the new gig, Katherine mentioned the cape and the helicopter and the very cool jet-pack. (Yes, other ambassadors might receive a medal and a plaque . . here in the Children’s Literature world, we treat our ambassadors right!). But Jon told Katherine to just enjoy the kids . . and I can’t imagine her doing anything else.

This book, Gates of Excellence, is a series of essays by Katherine Paterson that examine her life as a writer. As you re-read some of her novels for children, don’t overlook this slim volume.


Gates of Excellence

Get Cooking

 Are you estranged from your kitchen? Perhaps you are a timid cook. Or perhaps you are a confident cook, who, out of life’s busyness, has relied on take-out and restaurant meals a bit too often.

Mollie Katzen’s advice is Get Cooking: 150 Simple Recipes to Get You Started in the Kitchen. The recipes are simple, but not in the least bit boring. (The delicious Mushroom Popover Pie is such a favorite that I’ve memorized the recipe.) Katzen’s dishes are about cooking from scratch, not relying on a box or can of soup. Each recipe has a sidebar detailing creative variations. Because Katzen is well known for her famous Moosewood vegetarian restaurant and numerous cookbooks, she offers recipes for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.

Simple recipes can be found in many places, but Katzen’s greatest achievement in this book is her writing approach -- the reassuring and appetizing foreword to each recipe, and the step by step instructions tailored to a cook lacking confidence. For example, she advises when to switch from a whisk to a spoon in stirring up a gingerbread batter, and parenthetically says it’s OK if the finished batter isn’t completely smooth. When oiling a baking sheet to roast potatoes, Katzen says to use one of the cut potatoes to spread the oil. Little things like that go unsaid in most recipes but they can help a new cook develop technique and confidence.

To eat well and save money in the food budget, revisit your kitchen and Get Cooking.


Get Cooking

Xerox in 1952?

"Word geeks, rejoice!" This is the opening sentence of the Publisher's Weekly review of the little volume called There's a Word for It : The Explosion of the American Language since 1900. What sets this book apart from other word histories and dictionaries is the chronological approach used by author Sol Steinmetz. Covering the period from 1900 to 2009, he offers a chapter on each decade, beginning with a short commentary on main events, situations, and trends that prevailed during that particular time period. Then there is a year-by-year listing of words that came into use. I chose 1952 as a section to study, and these are some of the words that first appeared then: beat generation, computerized, decal, do-it-yourself, downbeat, scuba, and Xerox. I found this book to be amusing and informative, and am thankful to the author for doing the research that must have been necessary to write it.


There's a Word for It : The Explosion of the American Language since 1900

Brava Valentine

 Are you looking for a fun, quick summer read? Brava Valentine by Adriana Trigiani is an appealing light romance. In Trigiani’s sequel to Very Valentine, Valentine takes over the Roncalli/Angelini shoe business, and the entire family travels to Italy for grandmother Teodora’s wedding. Sparks fly as Valentine encounters the gorgeous Gianluca once again, and the rowdy Roncalli family antics create wedding drama that will have you chuckling to yourself!
Back in the New York after the wedding, Valentine and her brother, Albert, must find a way to work together to make their family business survive. While doing research, Valentine makes a business connection in South America that brings to light family connections and a long-buried secret that challenges the entire family and its history. I so enjoyed Gabriel, Valentine’s close friend and roommate in this second book in Trigiani’s trilogy, as well as her humorous unpredictable Italian New York family.
The beautiful descriptions of the family’s shoes really made me wish they were real and I loved learning a little about shoe design and manufacturing. I am really looking forward to the next book in this trilogy and I know you will enjoy ready both Very Valentine and Brava Valentine. Happy Reading!


Brava Valentine: A Novel

Two Exceptional Stories!

Both works of fiction for older readers, Mahtab’s Story (by Libby Gleeson) and Boys Without Names (by Kashmira Sheth), these stories spoke to me right from their first arrival here at KPL.

I should say that I have a seemingly more than ordinary curiosity about stories set anywhere in the Middle East and/or India. This interest was first fueled by news events, and then by several titles by Deborah Ellis (who wrote The Breadwinner, Parvana, Parvana’s Journey, and Shauzia just to name several).

Kashmira Sheth’s Boys Without Names chronicles eleven-year-old Gopal and his family as they are forced to flee their rural Indian village in secrecy and under the cover of darkness, because they are too far in debt to the moneylender to ever get clear again. Upon their arrival in the big city of Mumbai, Gopal’s father goes missing (or does the moneylender have him?) and Gopal, desperate to help his family by earning money for basic living, ends up locked in a sweatshop from which there is no escape. It is common practice to purchase orphans or street beggars for what seems like a large sum of money, and then enslave them in horrible conditions as child laborers. Newbery Award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson says that “Boys Without Names is one of the best books I have ever read.” While I can’t compete with Ms. Woodson’s literary evaluation skills, I, too, think this is an excellent choice for ‘tween-age readers, and would recommend it to any classroom teacher for a read-aloud as well.


Mahtab’s Story by Libby Gleeson is another tale of a family forced to leave their home, this time in Herat, Afghanistan; and journey secretly through the rocky mountains to Pakistan, and finally to far-away Australia, to escape the Taliban. Mahtab’s family, like Gopal’s, waits months and months for any solution to their situation. Mahtab’s father, too, goes missing in his attempt to reach safety and get established for his family. Confined to several detention centers along the way, the family is finally re-united! This family endures hardships and tortures that can only be imagined by those of us living in the Western world. This story, too, would make a good read-aloud for the ‘tween-age reader in a classroom setting.

These stories give good glimpses into the cultures and religious restrictions in each of these locales. The families in each book are strong, yet weak; determined, yet uncertain; and real enough to make the reader want to have a “happy ending.”


Mahtab’s Story

Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer

If you ask my close friends and family what has been on my mind lately, they will tell you one thing: my garden.  Interested in living a more earth-friendly, sustainable lifestyle, I decided to actively participate in the slow food movement by growing my own organic food.  My efforts to learn more have led me to devour any book related to gardening and food production.  Recent reads include Carrots Love Tomatoes, In Defense of Food, and Fresh Foods from Small Spaces.  If it’s about gardening, let me at it.

By far, my favorite garden read has been Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter. Farm City is one-part memoir, one-part garden meditation that details Carpenter’s experiences cultivating a farm in the inner city of Oakland, California.  Surrounded by abandoned buildings, drug pushers, and a noisy highway, Carpenter manages to create a mini-farm on a vacant lot next to her apartment building; the farm is replete with vegetables and fruit trees, not to mention a bee hive, chickens, turkeys, and ducks.  I was fascinated to read about how gardening and raising her own food affected not only her own life, but the lives of her neighbors, too.  I highly recommend Farm City to anyone interested in urban farming.


farm city

Transgender Warriors

What with last year’s passage of Ordinance 1856 in Kalamazoo and June being now-presidentially-proclaimed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Pride Month, I have been inspired to learn more about the lives of transgendered individuals, the oppressions they face and the strength it takes to walk in this culture as a trans person. At KPL, I discovered documentaries, feature films, biographies, historical accounts, sociological perspectives and novels.       

I was especially struck by Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg gives many examples through history of famous and not-so-famous people who crossed the lines of the gender expectations our culture holds. I learned so much through their and Feinberg’s own experiences.

Some subject terms you can use to find information about, by and for transgendered people in KPL’s collection are: transgender people; transgenderismtranssexuals and gender identity. Also, check out the GLBT Pride display on the first floor of the Central library through the end of June!


Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul

Young Adult Titles with Adult Appeal

In the world of book awards, there exists a category given to books published for adults but with high appeal for teen readers.  These are the Alex Awards.  So far, I am not aware of an award that does the opposite, i.e., acknowledges books published for teens that have high appeal for adult readers, but perhaps it's only a matter of time before such an award is created.

Until then, I'll make a couple of recommendations.  And while it's true I am an adult, I am also an ex-teen and I believe that common experience is what could make many of today's teen titles appealing to adults.  We've all been there.

Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick is the inspiring story of Amber Appleton, a teenager who lives on the school bus her alcoholic mother drives by day, but who, in spite of those circumstances, manages to create an existence in her community that truly makes a difference in the lives of others. And when tragedy comes into her life, it is those very people who build her up.

The View from the Top by Hilary Frank takes a realistic look at modern-day teen relationships--with friends, family members, and boyfriends/girlfriends. Through the alternating voices of six young people in one small town during the summer before they head off to college, Frank illustrates how difficult (but normal) it is to first, sort out one's feelings, and, second, to express them honestly to the people who need to know.

Regardless of our age, we can all take away something from these "teen" stories...come browse the Teen collection and see for yourself!


Sorta Like a Rock Star


In the publishing world there is a lot of talk about there being too many memoirs published.  My wife says she hates them.  It certainly was not a genre choice for me before I started my job, purchasing nonfiction books for adults for the library.  Now I know how many are published and it does seem ridiculous at times, but I have been intrigued by some of the reviews.  More and more memoirs are finding their way onto my reading list.

Two that I have really enjoyed lately are In Due Season by Paul Wilkes and The Thing About Life Is that One Day You'll Be Dead by David Shields.  Paul Wilkes is a freelance writer and filmmaker who concentrated much of his work on reporting on the Catholic Church in magazines like The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and Atlantic Monthly.  I'd never heard of him, but his spiritual journey fascinated me.  He bobs back and forth between the material world and his call to a spiritual life.  As he begins to achieve success in journalism in New York, he decides to follow Dorothy Day's example and chooses a life of voluntary poverty, helping the poor from a Brooklyn storefront.  From there he is pulled back into the New York highlife by a successful television documentary series based on a book he had written before giving everything away and pursuing a life of voluntary poverty. Later, inspired by Thomas Merton's example, he tests out a monastic life, which also doesn't feel completely right.  I found experiencing his journey vicariously through his memoir well worth it.

David Shield's meditation on our deteriorating bodies through stories of his life and reflections on his dad is illuminating, sobering, and often hilarious. He fills the book with information about how the body ages and then succinctly points out how his father seems to always be the outlier, defying the odds. 

Do you read memoirs?  Maybe it is time to start.  There certainly are plenty of them.


In Due Season

Short Story Recommendation

I don’t usually read short stories but here I am writing another blog about a short story collection – Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom.

In her third collection of short stories, Bloom explores love in many different forms with her penetrating insights. Two sets of stories that form the core of the collection are really novellas – one set revolves around two couples, the other features a complicated relationship between a woman and her stepson. The four stand-alone stories are not as compelling but well worth reading.

I usually find my way to a short story collection after reading a novel by an author whose writing I have enjoyed. I then want to read other works by the author. This is no exception. I read this collection of short stories after reading Bloom’s Away. I recommend both.

I guess I am an occasional reader of short stories!


Where the God of Love Hangs Out

The World Cup Companion

Beginning June 11, billions of people will turn their eyes to South Africa as teams from 32 countries gather for the World Cup, the largest sporting event in the world. This is the real activity that unites us. It’s not drinking a Coke, not watching the Super Bowl or American Idol.

Just in time is The ESPN World Cup Companion: Everything You Need to Know About the Planet’s Biggest Sports Event. It contains World Cup history since 1930, highlights of important teams and players, even a little gossip about players’ wives and girlfriends. It includes Zinedine Zidane’s bizarre fall from grace in the 2006 final when the wily and explosive midfielder was ejected after head-butting an Italian player talking trash about his sister. Playing one man down, France held Italy to 1-1, even after playing 30 minutes extra time, but lost the game 5-3 in a shoot-out.

Here’s why I enjoy watching what’s come to be called “the beautiful game”:

-  Superior athleticism. There are no time-outs and no television commercial breaks. Players run up and down a pitch that is larger than a standard American football field. They run for 45 minutes. They get a break. They run for another 45 minutes. And in some championships games, they may have to play 30 more minutes to determine a winner. And even then they may have a penalty kick shoot-out. That level of endurance requires extreme conditioning.

-  It’s a low maintenance sport. No equipment, no helmets, no shoulder pads.

-  It requires strategy but honors personal artistry. Some players are fancy, some are agile, and others are like steam rollers, but hogging the ball will get you only so far in the game. The most beautiful goals are not the long shots from afar, but orchestrations of strategy and improvisation that require players to trust each other to be where the ball is going.

I’ll be watching the World Cup and I think you should, too.


The ESPN World Cup Companion


The world's most popular team sport has the world's attention during World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Football, or soccer if you prefer, has been around for thousands of years. People have always played soccer and likely always will. In Goal!, a group of young friends in a dusty South African township come together in a pickup game with their brand-new, federation-size soccer ball. How do they team together when some older boys, bullies, try to steal their ball? We see the best and worst of human nature when people come together to watch or to play the most human game. I like that Goal! focuses on football as the sport of the people and the joy of the game – even in the face of adversity.



Just Kids

“Life is an adventure of our own design, intersected by faith, and a series of lucky and unlucky accidents” (Patti Smith).

Most of us probably recognize Patti Smith as the rock icon who helped pioneer the CBGB’s era New York underground scene of the 1970s that brought us bands like Talking Heads, Television and Sonic Youth. Her 1975 album, Horses, was named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 50 rock albums of all time.

Still others might recognize her as an activist, artist and poet, who was highly influenced by the works of William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud and Jim Morrison. The Velvet Underground influence might seem obvious – John Cale produced her first record – but she says that wasn’t a conscious effort. 

Regardless, her use of words, be they her own or interpretations of others’, is a craft that few others have equaled. Her take on Teen Spirit is quite amazing... if not articulate.

After decades of publishing her poetry in influential works like Babel and Auguries of Innocence, Patti’s latest book, Just Kids: from Brooklyn to the Chelsea Hotel: a life of art and friendship, is her first foray into prose.

Using stark, simple imagery, much as she does in her music, Smith tells of her relationship with Robert Maplethorp, her lifelong friend, lover, and the genius behind the lens in many of her early photographs. (It’s Maplethorp’s image of Patti that adorns the cover of her first album, Horses.) Described as “a beautiful love letter to her friend,” Just Kids tells of their days exploring (or creating) the New York underground scene of the late 60s until Maplethorp’s untimely death in 1989. A worthy and interesting exploration.


Just Kids

Shift Your Habit and Save

If you think “going green” means spending more money, take a look at Shift Your Habit. Simple strategies that are budget conscious and eco-friendly are the focus of this new book by Elizabeth Rogers, author of The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time

Shift Your Habit offers little tweaks for home, food, kids, pets, work and other areas of life and estimates how much money you can save by making each change. They're called shifts because they're not radical turnarounds. Shifts are easier to adopt. Shift suggestions are organized into nine categories. Each shift is accompanied by an estimated cost savings, a description of its eco-friendliness, and other reasons why it’s good for you.

For instance, replacing commercial cleaning products with homemade versions can save up to $200 per year. More importantly, you’ll limit your family’s exposure to toxins and prevent these bad boys from reaching the groundwater. An easy to read chart features a dozen recipes for homemade cleaners – everything from disinfectant to fabric softener – all made from ingredients you’re likely to have around the house. 

Shift Your Habit is a well organized and fun to read book of ideas to consume fewer resources, create less waste, and save more money.


Shift Your Habit


Martin Gardner

The world lost Martin Gardner on Saturday, May 22nd. He was 95. Gardner was a prolific writer on many subjects, but is perhaps best known for books about tricks and puzzles, optical illusions, and recreational math. In the early 1950s, Gardner edited the children’s magazine Humpty Dumpty. In 1956, Gardner began writing Scientific American's Mathematical Games column which ran for 25 years. Gardner introduced lots of people to the work of then contemporary M.C. Escher when the work of the great Dutch artist was not so well known. Gardner wrote The Annotated Alice. Gardner also focused on debunking pseudoscience. Here is Scientific American's tribute to Martin Gardner.



Martin Gardner

2010 Pen Faulkner Award

Congratulations to Sherman Alexie winner of this year’s Pen/Faulkner award for Fiction for his title War Dances! The Pen/Faulkner Award is a national prize which honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens in a calendar year. It is the largest peer-juried award in the country with one winning writer and four finalists chosen from more than 300 annually submitted works. War Dances is a collection of stories, poems, and question and answer sequences in which Alexie confronts fatherhood, race, class, and sexuality in his piercing in-your-face style. Alexie is an astute observer and his stories are tragicomedies that reveal the triumphs and tragedies within Native American life. Whether his stories are amusing or bittersweet, they are always beautifully poignant and thought provoking.
While you are exploring War Dances, check out the four finalist writers and their wonderful titles: Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, Lorraine Lopez’s Homicide Survivors Picnic, Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, and Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor. Each would make a great summer read happy reading!

War Dances


Imagine Life on a Houseboat in the Louisiana swamp

I was entranced by Atchafalaya Houseboat: My years in the Louisiana swamp. Calvin Voisin and author Gwen Roland transform an old building into a houseboat and launch it into the Atchafalaya River Basin Swamp. They live simply, work hard and make some special friendships in eight years on Bloody Bayou. Roland’s spare, beautiful account of their experience is accompanied by C.C. Lockwood's lovely black-and-white photographs, originally published in National Geographic magazine.  This is an example of sustainable living in a world much different from Kalamazoo--although with the heat and humidity of this week, maybe you could begin to imagine the feeling!


Atchafalaya Houseboat: My years in the Louisiana swamp

Take Me With You! We’ve Been Friends All of Our Lives!

Author Carolyn Marsden’s latest novel, Take Me with You is set in an Italian town in the years closely following WWII.

Raised in an Italian orphanage, a young, bi-racial girl named Susanna and her best friend, Pina, want to be adopted (or, better yet, reclaimed by the parents who left them there as much younger girls), but fear being separated, as each considers the other her BFF and her OFF (only friend forever).

The book’s jacket says “Set in Naples, Italy; Take Me with You is a lyrical novel that follows the friendship of two girls and touches on the themes of identity and the meaning of home.”

I picked this novel up on the new books cart recently, started to scan it, and couldn’t put it down. Both Susanna and Pina, now bridging on their teen years, are desperate to discover their true parentage. Pina’s mother does live nearby, but has built her “new” life around her new family, and that family doesn’t include Pina. Heartbroken, Pina turns to Susanna, who has just learned that her father, an African American serviceman, will be coming to “claim” her and take her to America and a new home. Susanna is torn…between being unsure of her future and her concern for her friend. The novel’s ending could suggest a sequel because the girls’ futures are left open and unsettled.

While the main characters in this novel are female, it would make a good historical fiction read for anyone. This could even be a good classroom read-aloud.


Take Me with You

A Long Time Coming: a novel

Suppose an uncle who supposedly died in the London Blitz appeared out of nowhere, and told you he had been locked inside an Irish prison for the last 30 years, for a crime he didn’t commit? That’s the beginning of this thriller by British author Robert Goddard, and in Goddard’s world, there are unforseen twists and turns aplenty.

The story begins in 1976, when young Stephen Swan’s 68 year old uncle Eldritch shows up in England, claiming to have been wrongly accused of spying. Now ill, Eldritch persuades Stephen to try and help him track down a missing Picasso painting, worth an untold fortune to the family who owned it prior to World War II. The story alternates between Stephen’s narration in 1976, and Eldritch’s story, set in the 1940’s, when he was a cocky young man involved in profitable but somewhat shady activities. Secrets buried in the past are affecting current generations, and Eldritch hopes to right old wrongs.

This story of espionage and suspense kept me guessing until the final pages. Give Goddard a try if you like well written historical mysteries, with plenty of action and atmosphere.


A Long Time Coming: a novel

New York Wired

On some best fiction of 2009 list, I read that Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, is a realistic depiction of New York City street life in the summer of 1974. I spent time in New York in the late 60’s, so I was intrigued. When I started reading, I didn’t know Let the Great World Spinhad won the 2009 National Book Award, and I hadn’t seen Man on Wire, which I finally viewed midway through the book.

I didn’t predict McCann’s writing would take my breath away as effectively as Philippe Petit’s high wire walk between the twin towers---the book’s centerpiece---would. Petit's treacherous walk 106 stories above the streets of New York is like the hub of a wheel, and the spokes radiating out…or in this case down….are some dozen lives captured stunningly by McCann. The book really isn’t about Philippe Petit, but he is the lynchpin, and without him and his feat, the voices and dramas of beautifully rendered characters would have no stage. Stories of a street priest, his soulful brother, junkies, prostitutes, artists, grieving mothers, computer hackers, a judge, orphaned babies and their caretaker, and others stand alone, intersect, and stand alone again, each an element in the writer’s profound patchwork.

Some critics say Let the Great World Spin is a precursor to the devastating events to come….as though Petit’s walk and the collapse of the twin towers were fateful bookends. McCann has a personal connection to the 9/11 tragedy, and healing is one of a kaleidoscope of themes. As allegory, the book resonates well beyond its time and place. As a novel of 1970’s New York, it is a multi-dimensional snapshot, suspended in time, of an era gone by.


Let the Great World Spin

Mother Earth News

Last weekend I planted a vegetable garden in my backyard.  This is my first attempt at gardening, so I have no idea if I have a green thumb or not.  I hope it’s the latter, but rather than just hoping for a green thumb, I spent a good amount of time researching gardening techniques before I began planting.

As a beginning gardener, I felt overwhelmed by many of the gardening books I read during my research.  Most of them contained so much information that I was intimidated and didn’t know how to begin. Luckily I discovered Mother Earth News, an organic gardening magazine that provided me with the information and confidence I needed to get started.  Mother Earth News covers a wide variety of subjects for gardeners, in a format that is concise and easy to digest.  Articles include information about everything from growing vegetables to raising chickens to investing in renewable energy sources.  There’s just enough instruction in the articles to help you succeed, but not so much to be overwhelming.  I feel sure that with the knowledge I’ve gained and a little hard work, I’ll have a good harvest this year.

Mother Earth News is available at our Central and Oshtemo branches.  I highly recommend it for both beginners and gardeners with experience.


mother earth news

You Are Not A Gadget

 In his new book, correctly subtitled – A Manifesto, Jaron Lanier presents a lucid and intelligent, if not a bit nostalgic, critic of the current state of the internet and namely all of the collaborative, groupthink technology that has come to be known by the sweeping title of Web 2.0. In You Are Not A Gadget, Lanier argues that these technologies and thus the ways that we use and even think about the internet have the potential to become “locked-in” and tragically unchangeable going forward. Why is that bad you ask? Lanier, who may look like a complete hippy but is far from a Luddite and has worked at the forefront of the digital technology since the wild and wholly 90’s, argues that those who now run the computer industry and thus design how the net is build and used ultimately value the logic of machines over the intelligence and creativity of human beings and that much of the 2.0 technology is ultimately dehumanizing and brings out the worst in human behavior (spend time in any anonymous online forum to easily find evidence of this), watering down our creativity, spirituality, and culture into a big grey collective goop. It would take someone a whole lot smarter than me to know if Lanier is right or not, but his argument is well constructed and I believe anyone interested in technology and modern life will enjoy reading this.


You Are Not A Gadget

A Wonderful Year of Discussions

The Oshtemo Book Group has had a wonderful year of discussions about a variety of books. We ended the 2009-10 season with a “Readers Choice” roundtable where everyone could share a book they particularly enjoyed.

Not surprisingly, each book mentioned was a top favorite of the reader, and we all added that title to our “must read” list.

We were surprised that so many of the titles fell under the “historical fiction” category, but not all. There were several nonfiction books and a Pulitzer Prize winner as well.

So if you are looking for a good summer read you might want to check out the following titles:



Oshtemo Book Group

One of My Favorite Book Characters is Eighty (80!) Years Old This Year!!

I hope I look this good when I am 80! The character I’m referring to is Nancy Drew, who made her debut in 1930, at the tender age of 16 years. Nancy Drew lived “the life” in Midwestern River Heights, a town I always thought might be a Chicago suburb, but I have no proof that it could be. Nancy had it all: an understanding father who gave her free rein, a dashing blue convertible roadster (this morphed into a Mustang-type car in later editions, and then into a hybrid in very recent updates), a housekeeper who was a great cook and who took the best of care of Nancy and her widowed father, lawyer Carson Drew, and two friends, cousins Bess Marvin and Georgia (George) Fayne who supported Nancy in all of her adventures. Speaking of Nancy’s friends, I remember a very early story where Nancy visited her friend Helen Corning, at a lake resort/campground/association type place. There was a definite suggestion of affluence in these stories. There was also the element of boyfriends for each of the girls.

I always thought that the “author” of the Nancy Drew books was Carolyn Keene... a single, female type person with a wonderful gift for writing. As an adult, I learned that Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym, often for a team of ghostwriters employed by the actual creator of the series, Edward Stratemeyer. It seems that Stratemeyer himself wrote outlines and plot summaries for the stories, and then found writers to complete the stories, for a one-time fee of $50-$250. All copyright remained with the syndicate. Stratemeyer also owned the pseudonyms.

I began reading Nancy Drew after I finished the Bobbsey Twins (also a creation of the Stratemeyer Syndicate). I would get the books as gifts, and devour them quickly, and often. I would trade with girl friends so that I didn’t have to wait for the next occasion to get another book. So, I was about in third or fourth grade, and was already an avid library user. But, I couldn’t find my newest favorite books at the library! An article I read by Meghan O’Rourke in an issue of The New Yorker from 2004 said that “the Stratemeyer Syndicate came under attack from educators and librarians from the start.” The article continues with calling series published by the Syndicate “tawdry, sensationalist work taking children away from books of moral or instructional value.” I knew that my teachers didn’t allow me to do required book reports on Nancy Drew titles, but sure didn’t understand why.

I have always said that if I hadn’t read series books (Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Cherry Ames [not a Stratemeyer series]) that I wouldn’t be the reader that I am today. I see these books as stepping stones to more sophisticated literature…and I’ve read them all from Treasure Island to Tom Sawyer to Gulliver’s Travels to... I could go on and on. I’ve read biographies, and loved them. I’ve read romances, mysteries, science fiction, and fantasy (Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was wonderful)… I’ve read Newbery Award winners and nonfiction and...

Nancy Drew titles have been updated, and modernized and have had mentions of racism/sexism removed. Why have they survived? Back to Meghan O’Rourke’s article, it’s because of the re-writes, and because “as Nancy has aged, children’s book publishing has become more sensitive to psychological issues”, and Nancy now “acknowledges her flaws, and shows herself to be a more inclusive soul than the old Nancy.”

I sure wouldn’t hesitate to re-read these books, even now. And, to me, it would be a good way of saying to Nancy Drew and friends, “Happy Birthday”!


Nancy Drew

Come Back, Como

This true story of a San Franciso family features Steve and Sally Winn and their 12 year old daughter Phoebe. Steve’s accounts of life with Como, the 12 pound white terrier they adopt from an animal shelter, takes the reader on an up and down Frisco streets bare-foot running bathrobe flapping chronicle of how they learn to adjust to life with Como who, horrifically, had been abused by a male.

Como, named after a lake in Italy where the family had vacationed, naturally distrusts decent Steve who painstakingly and patiently attempts to win the dog’s trust and affection. Life with Como is difficult for Steve and the reader has empathy for both Steve and for Como. Steve deserves tremendous praise for his endurance for Como. Steve, Sally and Phoebe eventually uncover the dog’s true personality and appropriately christen him “Z” because he is Z: the oddest, zingiest, zaniest letter in the alphabet … elusive and zigzagging!


Come Back, Como; Winning the Heart of a Reluctant Dog

The Lock Artist

Compelling from the first sentence, this stand alone thriller by veteran Edgar Award winning author Steve Hamilton grabs the reader and doesn’t let go.

The narrator, Mike, is mute from a childhood trauma that also left him orphaned. As a teenager, Mike discovers he has a decided knack for opening locks, and narrates his tale as he’s ending a term in prison. Blackmailed by his girlfriend’s father, who is in debt to mobsters, Mike is trained as a “boxman” by the mysterious longtime Detroit lock artist known as “The Ghost.” Hamilton creates memorable characters in this intricately plotted, intense novel, and keeps the reader guessing to the very end. Steve Hamilton is the author of the “Alex McKnight” series, set in upper Michigan, and they’re also well worth your time.

I listened to the audio version of The Lock Artist, and reader MacLeod Andrews is very convincing as Mike, with his voice reflecting a combination of both innocence and world weariness. If you’re looking for an exceptional listening experience, give this one a try!


The Lock Artist


I love to immerse myself in a good family saga so I picked up Leila Meacham’s new title Roses to read. Meacham’s family saga follows the three most wealthy and powerful families of a small east Texas town from 1914-1985. The Toliver family owns a large cotton plantation, the Warwick’s are timber barons, and the DuMont’s are merchants. The story follows three generations of these families through war, depression, forbidden love, betrayal and a family curse with the focus on the middle generation of Mary Toliver, Percy Warwick and Ollie DuMont . The book is divided into three sections and told through three different character’s point of view. 

Mary and Percy’s drive and ambition, and their heartbreaking romance are at the center of this captivating story. It is reminiscent of Colleen McCullough’s fabulous title The Thorn Birds which I love to this day. Roses is a great summer escape read for any vacation or staycation! If you enjoy family sagas, I would like to also recommend these titles available at the Library: The Sight of the Stars by Belva Plain; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson; The Woodsman’s Daughter by Gwyn Hyman Rubio; No Angel by Penny Vincenzi; The Toss of a Lemon by Padma Viswanathan; The Assassin’s Song by M. G. Vassanji; The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis; Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh; Bloodroot by Amy Green; The River Wife by Jonis Agee; and of course The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.



Visions of Paradise

I found the National Geographic publication Visions of Paradise while I was shelving a book right next to it.  I was struck by the photograph on the cover and decided to take it home to enjoy with my family.

National Geographic asked its many photographers, "Where - or what - is heaven on earth?"  Visions of Paradise is a compilation of the photos taken to answer this question.  Some have very short descriptions and others have longer explanations of where the photo was taken and why. 

My favorite picture is what appears to be a tree submerged in otherworldly blue-green water on page 166.  The caption explains that it was taken in the Jiuzhaigou Valley in China and that "Jiuzhaigou" means Fairyland. 

My kids loved the brightly colored emperor shrimp crawling on a sea cucumber near the Fiji Islands on page 177.

Check this one out and choose your favorites.


Visions of Paradise

A Southern Cook’s Companion

In the early 20th century, many a Southern housewife relied on weekly cooking column of one Henrietta Stanley Dull.

Mrs. S. R. Dull’s recipes in the Atlanta Journal were so popular they were first published in 1928 as the book Southern Cooking. The book of 1,300 recipes has been reissued by the University of Georgia Press.

Mrs. Dull died in 1964 at the age of 100, which means her life and career spanned a time of great societal change. Just think of how kitchens changed during those 100 years. Damon Lee Fowler writes in the foreword: “Family lore holds that Mrs. Dull cooked her first corn pone on an open hearth at the tender age of six, and she cooked her last one, nearly a century later, on a modern range.”

Of course, books about regional Southern cooking are plentiful. One recent favorite is A Gracious Plenty by John T. Edge. How do these books compare? Mrs. Dull’s book contains an amazing 1,300 recipes and is valuable for its breadth but also for its history — the language of the text and the types of dishes reflect an earlier day. Edge’s collection, though smaller, contains heritage recipes in a more colloquial vernacular. Its dishes are on the rural side, while Mrs. Dull’s book has a slight city edge. Both, however, have worthy places on the bookshelf.

When Southern Cooking was originally published, some households still employed cooks, but more wives were learning to make their way in a kitchen. Mrs. Dull’s book, then, would’ve been an authoritative companion for a new cook of any age. As such, it begins with a discussion of kitchen organization, utensils, caring for the refrigerator and other appliances. Considerable attention is given to the importance of learning how to prepare a meal so that all dishes are finished on time.

This book is charming as well as useful, and will make for fine reading and tasty meals.


Southern Cooking

The Universe is Alive

As a convincing philosopher of science once argued, Thomas Kuhn, our scientific understanding of the world works within a paradigm, or model, or set of assumptions that unifies our view of it. The paradigm is supported by the discoveries it predicts, and vice versa. All scientists know, and almost everyone feels, that our latest scientific model of the world is that of the machine, given to us by the philosopher Rene Descartes (pronounced "Day Cart") and expressed in the revolutionary science of Newton. According to this model, the physical world is a giant mechanical clock, running and built on fully predictable and necessary laws, discoverable mostly through mathematics.

Many scientists today are realizing that, considering the discoveries in quantum physics, the machine model is leaving things out, is incomplete. Interestingly, The Matter Myth is an attempt of two scientists (professor of mathematical physics; astrophysicist) to overthrow the world as machine and replace it with the world as organic and living; which, they realize, is reminiscent of the old Aristotelian model of the world--the paradigm that was overthrown to begin with!

What I loved about this book is that, at the same time it argues for its' general thesis, it gives the reader a grand tour of the most difficult concepts in science--Einstein relativity, quantum theory, the big bang, evolution, cosmology--in a way that makes sense for people like me...people who cannot read Einstein, but want to check out a book at the library that explains him in a way I can understand.


The Matter Myth

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

I recently listened to The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, a first novel by Heidi W. Durrow. I was intrigued by this book for several reasons. Having just re-read Snow Falling on Cedars as part of KPL’s Reading Together program this year, I was interested since one theme in this book is the treatment of minorities in our society; in this case the protagonist is the daughter of an African-American G.I. and a white Danish mother. I am also a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver, and not only was this book cited somewhere as being one a Kingsolver fan would enjoy, but it was the winer of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in 2008 AND Snow Falling on Cedars was a previous winner. The Bellwether is a financial prize established by Barbara Kingsolver, herself an author who writes “socially responsible” fiction, and encourages authors with this prize who do the same.

“Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous. Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities.”

—Barbara Kingsolver, founder

This touching book begins with tragic circumstances, and successfully explores a number of large themes. The story is revealed in the “voices” from several different characters, which I have always appreciated in Kingsolver’s books and which lent itself perfectly to an excellent audio version.

I am still thinking about this book although I finished it a couple of weeks ago. That’s always a good sign.


The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Here Comes Jack Frost

Although April shouldn’t put a reader in mind of frosty winter days, the weather this week has felt more like winter than spring!

One day in early winter a child yearns for a friend and finds a surprising one outside. Jack Frost, with his spiky features and daredevil challenges, is the perfect cold-weather companion. “Never mention anything warm in front of me,” Jack warns. The child, the dog, and Jack play all winter long, until someone spots a snowdrop pushing up through the snow. And, just like that, Jack’s gone for another year.

Take a look at the woodcut illustrations... the colors are crisp and the design clean and simple. Also look at another book by Kazuno Kahara... Ghosts in the House.


Here Comes Jack Frost

Death by Design

It is always gratifying to emerse oneself into a totally alien culture and become so absorbed into that world that one feels that one could navigate with ease any twists and turns that might come up while one is there. That is the feeling that I get when I read the wonderful series of mysteries by the British author Barbara Nadel featuring Turkist police inspector Cetin Ikmen. I know in the back of my mind that I would be completely out of my element in the palaces and the back alleys of Istanbul, but Nadel paints such a complete picture of these places that I feel that I would be right at home, and her policeman is such an ethical and competent detective that I feel that I would love to bump into him and have a conversation about his latest case or his large family (9 children) or his Albanian mother who is reputed to have had magical powers which Ikmen has inherited, or any number of topics about which he is knowledgeable.

The Ikmen series runs to at least 9 titles and I am sure there are more to come. They are in cronological order but it is possible to wade in anywhere and navigate the story without getting lost and wishing that you could have read the series in order.

A particularily delightful story which shows off all the talents of Cetin Ikmen is Death by Design. The action takes place in both Istanbul, Turkey and London, England.  The plot involves the smuggling and enslaving of illegal aliens to work in nightmarish conditions producing counterfeit goods. The descriptions of the conditions of these illegal workplaces and of the efforts to close them down are some of the most compelling fictional narratives that I have read in a long time.

When I look for "something to read" I want a character and a setting that I would like to spend a good deal of time with.  Nadel's Inspector Ikmen series meets that standard in every way.


Death by Design

How the States Got Their Shapes

The History Channel has really been outdoing themselves with new and fun programming.  Some of my favorites are Food Tech, American Pickers, and Pawn StarsFrom these websites, you can watch previous episodes or learn about the program in more detail.

One of the shows I caught the other night (since baseball season has not monopolized the TV quite yet) was How the States Got Their Shapes.  The stories behind many of our state's boundaries are quite fascinating and noteworthy.  Beyond the geographic obviousness of things like the Great Lakes or the Gulf of Mexico, the state shape legacy often revolves around money and politics--often including a war or conflict of some sort.  The belief in slavery (or lack thereof) carried far into the West and determined the straight, horizontal lined borders of many states.  Even major rivers such as the Mississippi River don't automatically create a border.  The "boot toe" part of Louisiana crosses right over the Big Muddy, for example. 

If you missed the show on state shapes, you can pick up a book of the same name here at the library.  Each state is its own chapter chock full of maps and stories that help provide insight into some of the weird things we either don't realize or take for granted. For instance, what if half of your town in is Canada and your Uncle George lives on the other side of town?  Plan on a couple hours of passport, border patrol time!


How the States Got Their Shapes

Two Long Ears, Likes to Hop

Rabbits have long been the subjects of art, books and movies. Who doesn't love Watership Down or The Runaway Bunny? Rabbits are so adorable you just might be tempted to bring one home.

But don’t hop too quickly on that idea.

Every year, thousands of rabbits are abandoned or die from neglect because their owners were surprised they weren’t as playful as dogs, or as self-sufficient as cats.

The fact is rabbits are high-maintenance pets and therefore inappropriate for small children or for adults seeking a quiet and pretty companion.

Rabbits are beautiful, to be sure, but they are not dumb fluff. Intelligent creatures highly motivated by a good meal or treat, rabbits can be taught words and phrases. Mr. Chloe, our own 10 year old dwarf Dutch mix, understands and responds to a couple dozen words and phrases.

rabbit-2451-240.jpgThis intelligence also means he can be manipulative and demanding. Chloe has a fully developed personality. He is spirited, humorous, joyful and affectionate.

Domestic rabbits are by nature social creatures whose wild habit is to live in communities with an elaborate hierarchy (remember Watership Down?). Rabbits need and want attention from their humans. They should live in the home, not be imprisoned in a backyard hutch where they can be tormented or frightened to death by hawks or other predators. They also need exercise and mental stimulation which is unavailable in a hutch. Chloe lives inside with us and is trained to use a litter box. He has full run of the house with our supervision. When we’re asleep or when we leave for work, he goes into his cage. We do this for his safety, because he is curious and unafraid of heights.

rabbit-2465-160.jpgAbout heights: Chloe recently fractured his little front paw and we think it’s because he hopped badly from a step. Because of his advanced age, the recuperation will be slow. He is taking a small amount of oral painkiller from a plastic syringe. And even though he is smart, Chloe cannot comprehend instructions to lie still and elevate that broken paw.

If you still want to get into the rabbit habit, read up on it first. Consult the House Rabbit Society to learn more. Visit some house rabbits and their people to see if having a rabbit is compatible with your family.


Watership Down

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Set in both 1991 and 16th century Massachusetts, this book is appealing on several fronts. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane successfully combines historical fiction, the Salem witch trials, and romance, for a good read with substance.

Cambridge graduate student Connie Goodwin moves to the rundown family home in Marblehead, Massachusetts for the summer. Connie finds an old key and a small piece of paper in a family Bible, with the words “Deliverance Dane” scrawled on it, and begins an investigation into its source. Soon after, strange events begin to occur. Flashbacks to Connie’s ancestors and events in the early American witchcraft era are seamlessly interwoven into the story.

I listened to the audiobook version of this title, read by Katherine Kellgren, and highly recommend it.


The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane: a novel.

Read Any Good Epistolary Fiction Lately?

Before email, instant messaging, tweets, texting and even phoning, friends and family exchanged letters. Epistolary fiction is a story based on letters or diary entries, a format that is enjoying a resurgence.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a recent bestseller and a favorite of many book groups, is the correspondence between a British journalist and a reading group from Guernsey, set just after World War II. (KPL also has the audiobook version.) 

Twenty years of correspondence is the basis for 84 Charing Cross Road, based on the real-life exchange of letters between New Yorker Helene Hanff, a freelance writer, and Frank Dole, a used book dealer in London.

One of my favorites in this format is The Diary of Mattie Spenser, a fictional journal of settling the Colorado Territories in the late 1800’s.

There are children’s, teen, and adult materials, fiction and nonfiction, in a letter or diary format. The subject headings in our catalog are “epistolary fiction” and “diary fiction.”


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Liberty Porter or the Obama Girls?

My latest read from the Juvenile collection is called Liberty Porter, First Daughter. Its author, Julia DeVillers, combines just the right portions of humor, truth, frustration, and embarrassment to deliver this quick read for third-fifth graders. Liberty Porter’s dad has just gotten a new job…and she has to move to a new house…in a new city…and, well, even though it seems predictable since her dad is now President of the United States, and her new house is the White House in Washington DC, and now that she has her own Secret Service detail…

Liberty likes her new house, sort of. She likes her father’s notoriety, sort of. She likes being in the public eye, sort of. Liberally sprinkled with black and white illustrations that curiously resemble the Obama family, Liberty Porter, First Daughter is a quick, enjoyable read. The book would make a great book report for a school assignment, too! Readers will enjoy just enough truth about what’s inside the White House to make them want to explore further through other books in the Kalamazoo Public Library’s collection about this National landmark, the home of the President and his family.


Liberty Porter First Daughter

The Postmistress

It is 1940 and the United States is on the cusp of entering World War II. London is in the middle of the Blitz, Jews all over Europe are being rounded up and contained, and coastal townsfolk in the U.S. fear invasion. Iris James is the postmistress of a small Massachusetts town performing her duties to her town and country keeping the mail organized and delivered on schedule. Emma Fitch, the young doctor’s bride, is new in town. Frankie Bard is busy blazing a new path as a female war correspondent/radio reporter in Europe. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake is the story of the intersection of these three women’s lives.

Blake’s historical fiction novel makes you feel the edgy uncertainty and fear of that time. The novel is divided into sections with titles of the changing seasons which reminds the reader that the world is about to be devastatingly changed by the seasons of war. It addresses how people react to fear, the fear of war, invasion, loss of family, loneliness, and the fear that you know too much about someone’s life. What do you do with information that you know is going to devastate someone’s life forever, how do you tell them? What will happen if a letter is purposely not delivered? I was drawn in to this novel getting to know each of these women wondering how their lives would touch, and I was not disappointed. It sweeps from the U. S. to London, then Germany, and back to the U.S and takes the reader along into these women’s intertwining lives. This is a great book for readers who like the 1940s or WWII era with some romance and drama elements. It is also a great women’s fiction book as well.

If you find you would like to read more books like The Postmistress I would like to recommend: A Season of Shadows by Paul McCusker; The Night Watch  by Sarah Waters; Charlotte Gray: A Novel by Sebastian Faulks; Human Voices  by Penelope Fitzgerald; Touch the Face of God: A WWII Novel by Robert Vaughan; and last but not least La’s Orchestra Saves the World: A Novel  by Alexander McCall Smith. Happy Reading!


The Postmistress

TAGGED – Mara Purnhagen

Is it art or is it graffiti? Is being in the “in” crowd worth fighting for? Can a high school girl just choose to disappear into the background, or is standing up for your friends worth the humiliation and pain of being thrust into the spotlight? These issues and much more surround the story of Kate and her best friends Lan and Eli in this new teen book by debut author Mara Purnhagen.

I have to admit, I’m partial. Mara is my daughter and worked here at the Kalamazoo Public Library for 4 years in high school. It was here that she learned to love reading and here that her spirit was nurtured. But I think you will find that this is a quick and fun read—with a good story plot to boot. Still and all - the best part of the story is discovering gorillas in the high school, on the town square, outside the coffee shop, all over the state? …. Enjoy!



The Happiness Project

Author Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one day: she realized she could be happier than she currently was.  To remedy this, she embarked on a year-long “happiness project,” devoting herself to researching happiness and forming resolutions to actively pursuit it.  Rubin identified eleven areas in her life (such as marriage, energy, work, etc.) that she felt were vital to her happiness; beginning in January, she allocated one month to each topic and made resolutions to increase her happiness surrounding that topic.  The month of December was then dedicated to managing a year’s worth of resolutions and reflecting on her personal happiness.

In the process of becoming happier, Rubin began a blog chronicling her journey and garnered a book deal.  I first heard about her book The Happiness Project Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun on her blog at  The idea of meditating on happiness and actively appreciating the good things in life seemed like a worthy cause, so I gave her book a try.  I’ll admit the reading about Rubin’s resolutions and thoughts on happiness instantly perked me up and made me think about the ways I could pursue a more thoughtful, cheerful life.  By the end of book I found the monthly compounding of Rubin’s resolutions overwhelming: her happiness project took work—so much work that I was exhausted just reading about it!

Despite the overwhelming number of resolutions the author made, the book is a good read for anyone interested in the nature of happiness and how to bring more of it into life.  I also recommend Rubin’s website, The Happiness Project Toolbox; it’s an excellent resource for establishing your own happiness project.  


the happiness project



Universal Healthcare

With the healthcare debate raging, I decided to check out T. R. Reid's book The Healing of America:  a Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.  Mr. Reid has some pain in his shoulder and decides to travel the world to see what kind of medical care he gets.  Although he does make a stop in India, most of the countries he chooses to visit have some kind of national health care system that covers all of its citizens.  He finds that these countries have all found different ways to administer their national health care systems with varied combinations of public and private providers.  He gives a short history of how they developed their models and the successes and drawbacks of their systems. This is a great, accessible resource to get you thinking about the issue of health care in our country and help you decide where you stand.


The Healing of America

The Closing of the American Mind

This book is not only important because it is a penetrating critique of higher education in America, but because, when it was published in 1988, many people read it; it's a historical phenomenon; whether positive or negative, it struck a cord.

With its ambiguity, lack of clear argumentation, interesting and constant digressions, and deepness of thought, I sincerely struggled and disagreed, and agreed, and hated, and loved this book. Which makes me think: isn't that the beauty of a book?--that we can agree and disagree, understand and misunderstand, throw away and keep some or all of its' parts?

Bloom basically thinks that the American university, under the influence of some German thinkers (Nietzsche, Freud), has lost its' philosophical grounding, and has reduced itself to thinking there is no truth, that morals are relative, and so on. And from the rubble of this Nihilism emerges a student population that doesn't see the point of education, doesn't think seriously, and doesn't discuss things like what it means to live a good life, or be a good human, or have a good government. In a word, Bloom thinks the philosophers have left the building.

What I truly took away from this roller-coaster discussion--of ancient philosophy, the Founding Fathers, the sixties, and what it all has to do with the university--is that, somewhere along the way, we may have lost the sense that human knowledge is a unified whole (or even the sense that there is such a thing called knowledge!). We have forgotten that the great thinkers of our past--Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Jefferson, Locke--all considered there to be branches of knowledge that fit together in a coherent and meaningful way; they were part of a grand project, which is why they knew so much about other areas of knowledge. Have our college students lost this sense of unity?


The Closing of the American Mind

Sarah’s Key

I had never heard of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Jews in France on July 16 and 17, 1942, by the French police. This story has long been buried in the history of the holocaust. It was a source of great embarrassment to the French government and rarely taught in history lessons. Sarah’s Key tells the tale through the eyes of both a young girl caught up in the roundup, and a reporter 60 years later uncovering the story only to find it has personal ramifications for her family. What is especially riveting is how the author weaves the story around a key—a tragic key that locked a little boy away in a closet, while his sister, Sarah, who locked him away to keep him safe and hidden, is sent to the camps—not just for the few hours she suspected, but for many months until she escapes.

I really enjoyed this book. It was hard to put down, and I am planning on choosing it for an Oshtemo Book Group read in 2011.


Sarah’s Key


Here in libraryland we often talk about the impact that Google has had on our world. The conversations often lead to discussions of not only the change Google has brought to library use, but also its broader worldwide cultural impact. So reading Ken Auletta’s new book Googled: The End of the World as We Know It was both insightful and troubling; giving me a much more nuanced understanding of the Google story but simultaneously raising many questions concerning Google's intentions with its multi-faceted global scope and whether or not a multi-billion dollar global business juggernaut can indeed, as Google’s tagline goes, "not be evil". Best-selling author and journalist Auletta does a great job summarizing the Google story, including informative profiles of its two wunderkind founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, but only hints at the current battle of the titans that has the Silicon Valley and the media all a twitter.


Googled: The End of the World as we Know It

Have I Got a Book for You!

Nancy Pearl used the term “meta-picture book” to describe Melanie Watt’s Chester, and its sequel, in which the title character is actively involved in the subversion of the book itself. Another book by Watt sells itself, its title proclaiming Have I Got a Book for You! Maybe it’s a Canadian thing? Polly Horvath lives there now. In her chapter book The Pepins and their Problems, a great book for third graders and up or read aloud, Horvath asks for and presents suggestions from her readers (sent to her via telepathy) as to what her characters should do to solve their various (and hilarious) problems. Lots of books refer back to themselves to have fun.

Check out Emily Gravett’s Wolves as well as Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, both triumphs of book design and winners of the Kate Greenaway award. As in David Wiesner’s masterful The Three Pigs, in which the wolf blows the pig right out of the story (just the beginning of a wild turn of events), the books themselves are apparently affected by the events unfolding within them as we read them.

In his review of Do Not Open this Book!, Bruce Handy asks, “Do kids really want to explore the artificiality of the fictive narrative? Probably not,” he answers, “unless there are good jokes.” Yep, good jokes-and how about suspense?

Here are two modern read aloud picture book classics. In Go Away Big Green Monster, the reader (or the read-to) causes a monster to appear and then to disappear with the turning of the pages. Get ready for your child to say, "Read it again!" The Monster at the End of this Book, Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover is a favorite because it was read to me when I was a little guy. And I’m not the only one. Lots of adults have fond memories of this book.  In an effort to prevent us from having to deal with the monster at the end of the book, Grover implored us, "Please do not turn the page!". Of course, we did turn the page and there sat Grover, in a pile of bricks and dust, observing, “Did you know that you are very strong?” Now that was fun. Read it again!


The Monster at the End of this Book

Step Out On Nothing

Not long ago, I was sitting on the couch reading my Sunday morning newspaper and having a cup of coffee (which I look forward to ALL week) while my husband was flipping through the TV channels. He is an avid reader as well so he enjoys checking out the channels where authors do book talks. He stopped to listen to Byron Pitts speak about his book Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges. Pitts is a chief national correspondent for CBS News and a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes so he is a very familiar face on the news tv circuit. I was immediately drawn in to Pitts book talk and had to then check out his book.

Pitts had some major challenges to overcome growing up in Baltimore as he explains in his book.  He had a terribly debilitating stutter and was functionally illiterate. While these were huge obstacles to overcome, what makes Pitts book compelling is the story of the key people who took the time and effort to encourage and work with him-the people who literally stepped on nothing to reach him. They told his mother in elementary that he was illiterate so his mother and coach worked tirelessly with him through elementary and high school. He struggled with vocabulary and spelling so his roommate in college worked with him every day. He even had a college professor label him a failure and literally told him to drop out of college but another professor believed in him and helped him find the tools to succeed.

Two things stand out about this book to make it a winner. One, a few people in this young man’s life saw a child in need of some help and stepped up to give it to him, and he gives tribute to them. Two, this young man worked tirelessly and continuously to overcome his challenges and become a success. Pitt’s book is a success in my opinion because he acknowledges that on one hand we all have great challenges in our lives that can be overcome while on the other hand we all have opportunities to step out on nothing and make a difference to someone else. This is an encouraging uplifting story for those late winter blahs.


Step Out On Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges

The Pig Who Saved the World????

Recently, I was shelf-reading in the juvenile fiction collection in the Central Library’s Children’s Room when I happened across two books by Paul Shipton. Both had the word “pig” in their titles, and I think that one word is what grabbed my attention.

Book the first, The Pig Scrolls by Gryllus the Pig is a translation of an ancient Greek manuscript written by Gryllus, a talking pig who was once a man, and which opens the door to book the second, The Pig Who Saved the World by Gryllus the Pig, equally as entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny as the first. Did I mention that Gryllus can talk? And recite limericks? “There once was a merry young Spartan. But trouble he always was startin’. The friends that he had, Said the smell was so bad, Because he just couldn’t stop______” (Book the first, The Pig Scrolls, p. 33)

Do you remember your Greek mythology? Do you know who Odysseus was? Did you ever think Greek myths were boring? Well! You certainly won’t when you pick up these two titles and read about a Greek myth turned upside down. Couple the usual gods and goddesses with monsters, transformed humans, humor and danger and you have a pair of winning stories that will appeal to all ages from grade 3 to adult. Great read-aloud choices, too.


The Pig Who Saved the World by Gryllus the Pig

Another from Anne Tyler

Anne Tyler is one of my “Book My Favorites” authors. It’s always a treat to get her new book shortly after it is published.

Noah’s Compass is a continuation of her quirky characters in a Baltimore setting. Liam Pennywell is a man of “unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means, and curtailed ambition.” He has had two failed marriages and has an emotionally detached relationship with his grown daughters and second ex-wife.

Liam is attacked in his new apartment on his first night there and has no memory of the experience. As he searches to recover those few lost hours, he is lead into an examination of his rather disappointing life and into an unlikely new relationship with Eunice, a socially inept woman half his age, who is a “rememberer.”

Trust me—the book is better than it sounds from this brief description. It is typical Anne Tyler style with no solutions as to why people are they way they are and a main character who will be in a different place by the end of the book, but who will have grown along the way.


Noah’s Compass

Her Fearful Symmetry

I had enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger’s first book, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, and was looking forward to her newest novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry.” Moody and atmospheric, it has ghostly elements, but unravels about two thirds of the way through.

Set in modern day London, the story follows the lives of twenty year old identical twins, Julia and Valentina. The young women have inherited a flat in London from their Aunt Elspeth, and the building backs up to Highgate Cemetery, a centuries old burying ground. Their mother and Elspeth, also twins, were estranged, under mysterious circumstances never revealed to the girls by their mother. 30-something graduate student Robert, who also has a flat in the building, was Elspeth’s lover, and is a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery. Niffenegger obviously has a fondness for London and its history, and setting is a strength of the book.

I think this would be a good choice for book groups, since it could lend itself to some lively discussion. Readers seem to have strong feelings both ways- why not take a chance and see which camp you fall into?


Her Fearful Symmetry: a novel

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

This is not your typical fantasy novel.  The Red Wolf Conspiracy is an adventure novel first and foremost.  The fact that the characters range from humans to sentient animals is secondary to the tale that grips you from the first pages. 

The Mzithrin and Arquali Empires have been locked in a 40-year war over the resources in the Crownless Lands on their common frontier.  Pazel Pashkenle, introduced as a victim of that war, becomes a tarboy on the Mega-ship Chathrand, where many of the other characters come together.  There are spies and intrigue, a bully or two, a half-mad captain, an unwilling bride, miniature warriors, sentient animals, and a powerful sorcerer all intertwined in Pazel's adventures and misfortunes.  Each character is introduced in turn, and all become believable in this fantasy adventure.  This novel is part adventure on the high seas, part coming of age novel, and part fantasy.  I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next installment of Pazel's adventures in The Ruling Sea.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy

Point Omega

Acclaimed author Don Delillo’s newest book is a spare yet poetic novella that continues to draw upon the themes of his earlier works but also differs greatly in the way that his prose has become much more taut and compressed. His fiction has grown grimmer and those touches of gallows humor that surfaced in books like White Noise have dried up almost entirely in Point Omega. Unlike his previous novels like the award-winning Underworld, that often sought to explore broad social and cultural facets of the post-war American experience, Point Omega’s narrative is set mostly in the desert with only a couple of characters. It reads like an atmospheric meditation on the subject of time and how it slowly extends and retreats, expands and deletes, all amidst the background of big-picture history (Iraq War) and its menacing Other, the illusory image. Admirers of books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road will appreciate Point Omega for its bleak pessimism and stark observations but for those who require the sweet artifice of easy answers and the entertainment of bread and circuses from their fiction, they should look elsewhere. Delillo can be heard talking about his new novel during a recent interview on NPR.


Point Omega

Legal Problems? Try Nolo.

Thinking of evicting a tenant? Are you being evicted? Filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court? Bankruptcy? Fighting your traffic ticket? Charged with a crime?

There is a book published by Nolo (a for-the-layman legal publishing company) for virtually every legal situation that most citizens eventually find themselves in--whether it's getting Social Security Disability, facing foreclosure, or getting your idea copyrighted. If you do a key word search for "Nolo" in our catalog you'll see we have about 200 of them; some are in the Law Library, some in the Business Collection, some in the general stacks (2nd floor), and some in all three locations. These books combine the authority and practical advice of lawyers (most, if not all, are written by lawyers) without the legal jargon.

Represent Yourself in Court


Fashion Meets Function

I love modernist furniture and home design. There is just something about the graceful ways in which the masters of modernism brought both functionality together with the ethos of less is more. Modernism, with all of its varying adherents and specific stylistic schools, emerged roughly in Germany (Bauhaus), the Netherlands (De Stijl), the Soviet Union (Constructivism, Futurism), and France (Le Corbusier) around the 1920’s and continued to visually transform the aesthetic landscape of domestic and work environs through the 1950’s. Often referred to as the International Style, modernist designers and architects sought to streamline the process of creating furniture and homes by eliminating decorative elements and ornamentation. There was a direct correlation between the rise in manufacturing technology and the aesthetic ideas posited by many of the movement’s most passionate advocates. Utopian ideas regarding the “good society” and how the arts and crafts could play a vital role in transforming the everyday lives of citizens were often the underlying force behind the revolutionary impulses of many these thinkers.

Even today, modernist design values continue to inspire and sell (see: IKEA). One only needs to look to the popularity of various print publications like Dwell Magazine and Atomic Ranch or scan the online pages of the popular blog Apartment Therapy to see the vestiges of modernist sensibilities and its lasting influence. Southwest Michigan furniture manufacturers like Herman Miller and Cranbrook Academy of Art were important regional leaders in promoting the works of such visionary artists like Ray and Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, and many others. Here is a short list of important designers and key terms.

Ray and Charles Eames

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Walter Gropius

Marcel Breur

Alvar Aalto

Gilbert Rohde

Arne Jacobsen

Richard Neutra

Florence Knoll Bassett

Philip Johnson

The Bauhaus

The International Style


Warman's modernism furniture & accessories : identification and price guide

First Part Last

Three compelling but unrelated stories unfurl in alternating chapters. The deftly drawn characters of Await Your Reply share just one common thread—the absence of any attachment to their personal histories. Gradually, the author injects a smattering of clues, subtle and easily overlooked, and eventually weaves a stunning web of connections between these people and their unraveling lives.

Dan Chaon employs several creative devices to render his writing unique, but time is the premiere trickster. Jumbled sequences bring to mind the dazzling film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or the artful Memento, both of which whipsaw the viewer's sense of logic. But this literary telling progresses smoothly and most often masquerades as linear. A puzzling story whose ending happens before its beginning is bound to test the readers’ wit!

This is a "genre-bending" novel about the fragile nature of identity, an expose of technology’s ruinous potential, a masterful, if sobering, treatment of alienation, and a picture of the horrors that can befall people who lose their grounding---by chance or by choice.

Dan Chaon says his inspiration sprang from some favorite classics read in childhood, including some with a supernatural bent. I believe this chilling, contemporary spin on timeless themes is remarkable and fresh.

If you read this book, I’ll await your reply. It cries out to be discussed!


Await Your Reply

Nation’s Morons March on Washington State

When I moved to Madison, Wisconsin to go to library school, the staff of the satirical newspaper The Onion (a precursor to fake, hilarious news shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) was on its way out of town.  In fact, I almost bought a house from someone who worked for The Onion and was moving to New York.  Even after they moved to New York, you could get free copies of the paper in newspaper racks on campus and around downtown which was one of the real treats of living in Madison.  Recently, they published The Onion presents our front pages : 21 years of greatness, virtue, and moral rectitude from America's finest news source [1988-2008].  I had many good belly laughs while reading this book and I had a great time reliving the years I spent in Madison as well as catching up on all the years I missed before and since then.

If you've read The Onion before, check this out and relive the past two decades of hilarious headlines.  If you've never heard of The Onion, you are about discover a hidden treasure.


The Onion Presents Our Front Pages

Carl Jung

It's about that time of winter where we are pretty much done "enjoying" its beauty, snow, and festivities; now it's just cold, and for some, depressing. What a good time to delve into what might be the most important subjects of inquiry for your life, the well being of those who know you, and for science--the inner self.

Carl Jung (pronounced "Young") is one of the founders of that new branch of human knowledge we call psychology. Most commonly known for his school of psycholanalysis and his views about the "collective unconscious," Jung can also be thought of as a successor of Freud in much the same way that Aristotle was a successor of Plato--they both worked in the same paradigm, but disagreed and expanded on its content in great ways.

I think Jung is fascinating for two reasons. First, he was a renaissance man, believing that all areas of knowledge bear on and are important for being a intellectual in any field; thus, while reading his thoughts on psychology you find yourself reading a lot about philosophy, religion, literature, science, and even alchemy. Secondly, Jung represents a view of psychology that is in stark contrast with the way it is done now. For Jungians, psychology is the study of the soul, i.e. the mind with its thoughts, desires, beliefs, dreams, and affections from the world. Behavior follows from mind, and therefore is the primary subject of study. Each subject was a unique riddle to figure out in order to heal it.

The basic writings of C.G. Jung


Home Is Where the Heart Is

A lot of people are taking advantage of the home buyer tax credits. For those like me, who find the entire idea of owning their own home a wee bit daunting, start by doing some reading on the subject so that you’re better prepared to ask agents, lenders, owners, and inspectors the right questions. The library has helpful books about how to go about the process of selecting a home, the importance of identifying a real estate agent who understands your particular needs, and how to best utilize existing financing options when working with lenders.


Nolo's essential guide to buying your first home

Far Flung and Well Fed

Far Flung and Well Fed is a collection of food writing by the late R.W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times.

His appetite and wanderlust led him to write about many topics— politics, food, art, travel — for some 40 years. What I loved about his pieces was not his ability to describe how a thing tasted – though he did that well – but rather his toothsome arrangements of food, people and place. He approached stories with immense wit, deep knowledge, and a dash of self-deprecating wonder.

More than four dozen stories are organized by country and region. The titles themselves are enough to draw you in: “It Takes More than Crayfish to Make a Cajun Wiggle;” “In England, There Will Always be Whim Wham and Apple Dappy;” or “This Blessed Plot, This Realm of Tea, This Marmalade.” It's a great collection not just for its commentary on food, time, and place, but as an example of honest and stellar writing.

When Apple died in 2006, the October 5 Times obituary read: “With his Dickensian byline, Churchillian brio and Falstaffian appetites, Mr. Apple, who was known as Johnny, was a singular presence at The Times almost from the moment he joined the metropolitan staff in 1963. He remained a colorful figure as new generations of journalists around him grew more pallid, and his encyclopedic knowledge, grace of expression — and above all his expense account — were the envy of his competitors, imitators and peers.”


Far Flung and Well Fed

The Heaven Trilogy

Have you ever waited years to finish reading a series?  I’ve been waiting for the final book in the Heaven trilogy ever since 2003 when I finished reading First Part Last.  The wait is over!  Angela Johnson finishes her trilogy with the recent release; Sweet, Hereafter.  Just as with her other books, Johnson invites you into the lives of teens and their families from a small town in Ohio.  The characters are so beautifully written; you want to be a part of their lives and watch them come of age.  Sweet, Hereafter touches on topics of war, identity, family and high school relationships in a quick read that will leave you wanting to read more.  Thank you Angela Johnson for allowing me to be a part of the lives of your friends in Heaven!


Sweet, Hereafter

Two Titans

The world of arts and letters lost two titans today. Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States and the notoriously reclusive J.D. Salinger, who wrote one of the most widely read books about teenage alienation ever written, The Catcher in the Rye. These two seminal works have been enormously influential in shaping the literary and intellectual life of several generations of writers, scholars and students. Find out more about their lives and contributions here:

Howard Zinn

J.D. Salinger


A people's history of the United States : 1492-present

The Camera's Eye

When conjuring images of New York City, most often we think of the Big Apple as an imposing behemoth of concrete and steel, constructed to suit the architecture of commerce and the needs of infrastructure without deference to wilderness. Joel Meyerowitz’s Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks will go a long way as a visual corrective to the idea that New York City’s evolution as a concrete jungle has purged nature entirely from inside of its borders. Legacy is a coffee table sized book with gorgeous and evocative photographs, composed to illustrate the living results of a long-standing commitment by city officials and conservationists to preserve “pockets of wilderness within the urban environs.” Covering all five boroughs, Meyerowitz creates visual moments that present us with a fresh perspective on New York City’s relationship to the struggle and perseverance of the organic world while “contextualizing these corners of nature as an inextricable part of city life today.”

Just as powerful in eliciting both intellectual and emotional responses, Photo:Box is a wonderful collection of iconic images, both color and black and white works, arranged by categories like war, nudes, portraits, travel, cities, and reportage. Both the drama and the banality of everyday life are captured in celluloid time by both contemporary photographers and well documented masters of the craft. Etched into our public consciousness, many of the image makers and photographs are well known (Richard Avedon, Nan Goldin, Lauren Greenfield, Dorthea Lange, Man Ray, Robert Capa) and have been published hundreds of times, yet they still continue to draw our attention to their curious contents, asking of the critical mind to raise questions about the intersection between media, image and reality.


Legacy : the preservation of wilderness in New York City parks


Sweethearts of Rhythm

Take-Off: American All-Girl Bands During WWII  is a book with a CD that tells a story seldom heard. Take-Off is a great introduction to swing music and features recordings of some of the all-women swing bands that came into their own during the war. More than half of the tracks on the CD included with the book Take-Off were performed by The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, a sixteen piece band that was integrated at a time when, in many locales in the Jim Crow Deep South, it was actually illegal for black and white musicians to play together. The Sweethearts toured there, but not much. For the most part, they played sold out shows in New York, Chicago, Washington, and other cities in the North. In 1945 they traveled to Europe with the USO. 

Check out the book Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World, illustrated by 2010 Caldecott Medal winner Jerry Pinkney. Marilyn Nelson’s poems speak in the voices of some of the instruments in the band: Tiny Davis’s trumpet, Ina Bell Byrd’s trombone, Roz Cron’s tenor saxophone, or bandleader Anna Mae Winburn’s baton reminiscing from the shelves of a New Orleans pawnshop about struggles and glory gone by. The Sweethearts, and the other swing bands featured in Take-Off, played music based in the blues and filled with driving energy and joy. Why not place a hold on the books right now?


Sweethearths of Rhythm

Triumph over Poverty

Rosemary Bray’s memoir first attracted me because she grew up very close to where I spent my childhood. She mentioned so many of the places and events that had been part of my youth. Reading that Rosemary’s mother took her and her siblings on weekly visits to Blackstone Library thrilled me because my very first job had been at the Blackstone Library. But Ms. Bray’s story is so much more inspiring than mine, because even though she grew up in poverty and on welfare she became one of the first black women to attend and graduate from Yale. In Unafraid of the Dark: a memoirRosemary Bray reveals how the dark side of her life was made more tolerable by her resourceful mother who would not give up. When her children were starving and needed clothes she went against her ab