Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

We Made a Wampa

Fans of Star Wars of all ages will enjoy the projects in The Star Wars Craft Book.  My family tackled our first project last weekend.  wampa-2-160.jpgWe made our very own Washcloth Wampa!  It took most of the afternoon, but was worth it.  Next on our list to make are: Yoda finger puppets, Han Solo in Soaponite, Wookiee Bird House and a Star Wars snow globe.  The directions for each project are easy to follow and simple to create.  Several of the projects use inexpensive items found around your house or your recycling bin.  The book is filled with fun references for the Jedi in all of us.  Check this book out and let yourself “Give in to the Power of the Crafty Side.  May the glue gun be with you.”



The Star Wars Craft Book
Jill L

Time-crunched Life

Anyone who’s been out and about in Kalamazoo on a Saturday morning since early winter has likely encountered the large groups of runners, many organized by the awesome Kalamazoo Area Runners, who have been training steadily for the Kalamazoo Marathon (May 6-8). With the weather improving (any day now!) and the event now only a week away, the dedication and discipline of these runners who trained outdoors through the Michigan winter is sure to pay off. The fact that these folks are not professional athletes, but regular, busy, time stressed, everyday people with professional, social, and family lives is not lost on me. While I am not a runner, I am a (mildly) competitive cyclist and the older I get and the more packed my daily life becomes with family, professional, and community commitments, the more my fitness goals take a backseat in my life and my time to devote to training shrinks further. Luckily KPL has multiple resources that can help keep you motivated and getting the most out of even the most limited of training schedules. If its training/social groups that keep you motivated then there is no better place to start your search for local organizations than the Kalamazoo Public Libraries Local Organization Directory. If you are looking for books to help make the most of your workouts, Chris Carmichael’s The Time-Crunched Triathlete , Kris Gethin’s Body by Design, and in the extreme even the craziness of Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body, provide a scientifically (if not a tiny bit morally questionable in the case of Ferriss) backed approach to squeezing the most fitness out of the least amount of time. If it is advice or motivation from the vast amount of online communities and information sources that keep you going, KPL has you covered with free wifi in all of our locations and plenty of newly installed blazing fast computers. But even with all of these information sources easily accessible from KPL, it is still the individual that gets out of bed and out running on a cold and snowy January morning and that is why those folks running in next week’s marathon are so worthy of the communities support and I wish everyone participating, no matter what distance or target time, good luck in next week’s event. 


Time-crunched Triathlete

“The Adventures of Nanny Piggins”

This new children’s chapter book caught my eye with its appealing cover. Who is this pig dressed in a jaunty hat and a snappy polka dot suit? And her expression just exudes confidence with a hint of sassiness.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt features the most appealing nanny three kids could hope for. The children- whose mother has died- have a Type A father whose main interest is his job, and not spending money unless absolutely necessary. So Mr. Green posts a sign in the yard saying, “Nanny Wanted.” When a stylish Nanny Piggins knocks at the door and says she will accept ten cents an hour salary, Mr. Green can’t say no.

Nanny’s former job was getting shot out of a cannon for the circus, so you know she is adventurous, and she’s also great fun. This would be a good read aloud, since the author has a sly sense of humor that I think will appeal to adults as well as children. Each chapter is a separate adventure, and it’s laugh out loud funny for children in grades 3-up. A sequel with the chocolate loving Nanny is planned.


The Adventures of Nanny Piggins

Coming in July...

When I read an entire book in a day--not a common occurrence for me--I know it must have something special. Such is the case with Once Upon a River, the next offering by Kalamazoo's own National Book Award nominee, Bonnie Jo Campbell. And for this, I credit Campbell's mastery of language; her sound, down-to-earth characterizations; and a setting I could actually feel in my bones. This is the story of sixteen-year-old Margo Crane’s struggle to find the mother who abandoned her, while carving out her own existence along the fictitious Stark River in southwest Michigan following her father's untimely death. And yet, life on the river is not the challenge one might expect it to be; in fact, that is where Margo feels most at home. Rather it is in the relationships--and self-discovery--that happen along the journey that we come to know Margo best. While published for an adult audience, teen readers will identify as well.

As you anticipate the release of this title (July 2011), you might want to take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on some of Campbell's previous work. I know I will. 


Once Upon a River

Karen S

Dying Words of Gandhi, Hitler, Hobbes, Booth

Every time I browse the enormous collection of reference books on the central branch second floor, I find a gem like this Dictionary of Last Words. Some that I found:

John Donne [click for books on or by Donne]: “I were miserable if I might not die…They Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “Is it the Fourth?” 

William James (American philosopher/psychologist): “It’s so good to get home!” 

Henry James (writer): “So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!” 

Beethoven: (when the wine he asked for came late) “Too bad! Too bad! It’s too late!” 

Alexander Graham Bell: “So little done. So much to do.” 

Jeremy Bentham (utilitarian): “I now feel that I am dying; our care must be to minimize pain. Do not let the servants come into the room, and keep away the youths; it will be distressing to them, and they can be of no service.” 

John Wilkes Booth: “Tell my mother—I died—for my country…I thought I did for the best…Useless! Useless!” 

Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, the fog is rising.” 

Charles Darwin: “I am not the least afraid to die.” 

Jean Jacques Rousseau: “See the sun, whose smiling face calls me; see that immeasurable light. There is a God! Yes, God Himself, who is opening His arms and inviting me to taste at last that eternal and unchanging joy that I had so long desired.” 

Hitler: “Above all, I enjoin the government of the nation and the people to uphold the racial laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, interational Jewry…My wife and I choose to die in order to escape the shame of overthrow or capitulation. It is our wish for our bodies to be cremated immediately on the place where I have performed the greater part of my daily work during twelve years of service to my people.” 

Thomas Hobbes: “I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at.” 

Gandhi: “Oh, God.”


Dictionary of Last Words

For All the Tea in China

While many of us sip on a bit of Earl Grey with a swirl of honey with our morning scone, others of us inundate the brewed goodness of green tea with ice and lemon.  Regardless of how we imbibe our tea or savor the complex tastes, we likely don't consider how it got to our pots, cups, and glasses.  For All the Tea in China is a journey from England to China and back, chronicling the years that Robert Fortune spent hunting for tea plants in the nether regions of the East.

It wasn't in the locating of the tea plants that made Fortune famous.  It was his acquiring the skill to grow and harvest the tea especially considering its brutally long journey from China to India and finally to arrive in England in a usable condition.  We often take for granted time in our 21st century world of instantaneous gratification, so to even postulate on the process involved in sending seeds and plants from China to England via ship is strange at best.  However, with Fortune's ability to challenge accepted, standard methods of shipping plants, tea was able to arrive in tact, ready to germinate and be further propagated.  His work for the East India Company was invaluable, for sure.

Sarah Rose's style of writing tells the story of Robert Fortune rather than spews the facts related to bringing tea to England.  There are even some nice side stories such as the one related to technologically advanced (for the time) weaponry used in India using only beef or pig fat for greasing the chambers.  (Consider the two main religions of India and how this might be perceived...)

Listen to the serialized BBC version or check KPL's copy on CD.

I've moved on to reading Salt:  A World History by Mark Kurlansky which is not at all as delightfully told but still full of amazing trivia and facts that we often take for granted as we sprinkle our fries gently with little granules of goodness.  Regardless of the style of the book, I always find non-fiction of this sort an amazing way to sprout my knowledge of the historical and contemporary world.


For All the Tea in China

Knockin' on heaven's door...

I just finished in two eager sittings Heaven is for real : a little boy's astounding story of his trip to heaven and back. The book, written by the subject's father, Todd Burpo, tells of 4-year-old Colton's extraordinary journey taken while undergoing surgery for a ruptured appendix, and then revealed to his parents in pieces over the following months. As far as all the medical reports go, there was never a time when Colton was pronounced dead during the surgery, but the little boy recounted to his father exactly what his father and mother had been doing in other parts of the hospital during his surgery, as well as describing going to heaven and meeting his deceased grandfather, his sister (who was actually miscarried, unbeknownst to the little boy), God, Jesus, and other biblical figures. He described fine details that his father, a small-town pastor, later compared to and found to be in line with the Bible. This thought-provoking read is available in book or audiobook format. For other books on this topic, try the subject heading Near-death experiences.


Heaven is for real

Another Satisfying Book

This Side of Brightness is an earlier work by Colum McCann, recently acclaimed for Let the Great World Spin. Since I liked that, I decided to read some of his earlier work.

Both of these books weave historical fact with fiction. In This Side of Brightness, it is the digging of subway tunnels under the East River about 100 years ago centering on “sandhog” Nathan Walker who came north for work. This dangerous job blurs racial and ethnic differences; an explosion literally blows Walker and three other men through the earth and into the river.

Told in alternating chapters, is the story of Treefrog, a homeless man living in the tunnels that Walker helped build. An equally dangerous profession and madness has brought him out of the light and into the darkness of the tunnels.

The story spans four generations; they overlap in a way I didn’t see coming. This was a very satisfying read for me. I already have a “hold” on some of McCann’s other books.


This Side of Brightness

history of criminal justice in Michigan

While browsing the second floor reference books today, I stumbled upon this amazing book, History of Michigan Law, which is a collection of articles on various aspects of Michigan law. The chapter on the history of criminal justice in Michigan was enlightening in the following ways:

  • substantitive law (list of crimes and punishements) [links to current MI penal code] has not changed much since the 1800's; although many new crimes have been added and amended, most crimes remain unclear, and are left to the courts to interpret. A "model penal code" was attempted a couple times, and failed.
  • Michigan was the first English-speaking government to ban the death penalty. wow.
  • Michigan gave poor criminals the right to a defense and appeal before the U.S. Surpreme Court did.
  • In 2001, our indigent defense system was ranked 49th in the nation (=bad).
  • Around the eighties, we had very severe minimum mandatory sentencing laws.
  • In 2004, we followed the U.S. Supreme Court by adopting the "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule; which gives police a certain exception when illegally searching and seizing. (interesting point to remember: States can give citizens more rights than the U.S. Constitution, but not less.)

In sum, the author described this history as a constant "balancing act," between preventing and punishing crime, and giving criminals and alleged criminals fair treatment. It is social, legal, and political.


The History of Michigan Law

Buddha, Jesus, Aristotle, and Stoicism

Reading some of the passages from the Dhammapada (collected wisdom of the Buddha), I found some interesting parallels:

(1) “By one’s self the evil is done, by one’s self one suffers; by one’s self evil is left undone, by one’s self one is purified. The pure and the impure stand and fall by themselves, no one can purify another.”  

This sounds exactly like the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius, but also Jesus in the Gospels: “by your own words you shall be what measure you measure others, shall be measured unto you." 

(2) “let a man, after he has discerned his own duty, be always attentive to his duty.” 

Again, classic stoicism, but this sounds like Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy, who was obsessed with the concept of duty. Philosophy is finding out, by reason, what our duties are; and the truly good person does their duty for the sake of duty alone. Which reminds me of a much older saying: "know thyself, and do thy duty" [who said that?]. 

(3) “The virtuous man is happy in this world…”

Sounds like Aristotle, who thought the only road to true happiness was contemplating and practicing virtue constantly.


The Wisdom of the Buddha
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