Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.


Two delightfully voyeuristic books have just been released: Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You and Milk Eggs Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found. If you find yourself noting what the person ahead of you in the checkout line is purchasing (and then wonder what the person behind YOU thinks of your selections), these books will appeal to your inner snoop.


Milk Eggs Vodka
Wendy W.

Adventure! Excitement! Office Supplies!

The young members of The Mysterious Benedict Society are back for another adventure! Picking up a year after the events of the first novel, the multi-talented foursome reunite for a international scavenger hunt with their benefactor, Mr. Benedict. However, things instantly go wrong when Mr. Benedict and his assistant Number Two are kidnapped by the evil Mr. Curtain. It's up to Reynie, Kate, Sticky, and Constance to rescue them, and save the world (again) in the process. Traveling by train, bicycle, seaplane, and the world's fastest cargo ship, the four solve bizarre puzzles and learn more about themselves and Mr. Benedict along the way. The children get help from an assortment of strange adults while trying to outrun the sinister Ten Men, who wield briefcases full of deadly office supplies worthy of a James Bond film.

The stakes are higher and the situations more dangerous than in the first novel, and there's more explicit violence as Stewart ratchets up the action in the last half of the book. On the other hand, there's a lot more character development this time around and some startling revelations about all four of the children, especially 3-year-old girl genius Constance. Fans of the first novel won't be disappointed, and best of all, the ending leaves the series wide open for more Benedict sequels. JOIN THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AT YOUR OWN RISK!


The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey
Stewart F.

My Kind of Weekend

I recently had a reading marathon weekend. I told my family I had to read for work. I couldn't do weekend chores, I couldn't do much cooking, I was just going to read all weekend. It was about 80% true that I had to "read for work," but I had a relaxing weekend and read 3+ books.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears a debut novel by Ethiopian emigre Mengestu, is set in the 1970's in a gentrifying Washington, DC neighborhood. Ethiopian grocery store owner, Stephanos, is adjusting to a neighborhood in flux, befriending a white woman and her biracial daughter, and dealing with the emotions of unrealized dreams in America.

It's a satisfying story with many contrasts: rich/poor, black/white, citizen/foreigner. It is well worth adding to your "list of books to read." I also recommend a reading marathon weekend!


The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Rauschenberg RIP

As the first decade of the twenty-first century nears its conclusion, fewer and fewer of the truly titanic artists of the twentieth century’s post-war landscape will live to see the next phase in cultural production, be it painting, sculpture, cinema, music, or theater. I am thinking of the brilliant painter Robert Rauschenberg, who died last month at the age of 82. His extraordinary influence on painting, sculpture, theatre design, graphic design, print-making, and photography can be seen so often in the work of contemporary artists, that it could easily be argued that we live in a universe ubiquitously stamped with Rauschenberg’s unique flair for fusing swaths of color and pop culture imagery to everyday objects.

Who will be the next generation of artists to transform our ways of hearing, feeling, thinking, or seeing? Will we in the future even pause from our media saturated world to recognize the lives and accomplishments of the current cadre of tabloid ingénues, image-bloated celebrities, the one-hit-song wonders embedded within car commercials, or the disposable “reality show” characters choreographed by Madison Avenue to dumb us down rather than to inspire, educate or enlighten us? Who will represent the artistic qualities and visions requisite for an open society to meaningfully reflect upon complex and difficult subject matter that both informs and shapes our way of being?

The best kind of art rarely promoted or even discussed by the mainstream media, can raise salient questions about social relations or address the nature of the individual’s place in the broader social matrix. It can rupture traditions, both artistic and ideological.  It can shock us with its absurdities or provoke us to think more deeply because of its subtleties. It can make us both laugh and cry, sometimes simultaneously. Here at KPL, library users have access to all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the painters, the musicians, the auteurs, and the poets.


Robert Rauschenberg, a retrospective


It's 1946 and a young college graduate leaves home to earn money and accepts a job with the Greyhound Bus line. She becomes a company spy. Margean Worst is hired to ride the buses throughout Michigan and beyond and report on the activities of the bus drivers. She poses as a passenger and reports on the drivers honesty and equipment handling. The talks of the hotels she stays in, her roommates, costs of meals and the weather. She has to make sure she doesn't ride with the same driver and is recognized. She makes good money for the time but faces fatigue and loneliness. Margean Gladysz is A Spy on the Bus.

Margean grew up in Galesburg and still works at the Kalamazoo Public Library.


A Spy on the Bus
Joanna L

George Carlin: 1937-2008

Have you noticed that quite often when you leave someone they ask you to relay an affectionate message to someone else? They'll say, "Give my love to Klaus. Tell Klaus Rebecca sends her love."

Do you mind that? Do you mind being used that way? The awesome responsibility of carrying Rebecca’s love to Klaus? Suppose you don't see Klaus? What do you do with Rebecca's love? Carry it around? Give it to someone else? – excerpt from Napalm & Silly Putty by George Carlin.

George Carlin’s humor has always been a beacon – a guiding light through the otherwise murky waters of commercial humor. He is quoted as having said, "I think it is the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." Yes, George was funny. But more importantly, George made us think - an awesome responsibility that he so effortlessly carried.


Napalm & Silly Putty

Such an Inspiration!

Emmanuel Osofu Yeboah was born with only one fully-functional leg, in Ghana, where 10% of the population is living with a disability, often cast away from their families and forced to beg for survival. Though his father left after his birth --fearing his son’s disability meant the whole family had been cursed--Emmanuel was lucky to have a mother and extended family, who supported him to get an education and believe in himself. Using a bike received from a grant, he rode across Ghana, to change societal attitudes about people living with disabilities and to encourage other disabled people in his country.

Watch Emmanuel’s Gift to learn about his amazing journey and how he continues to change lives and public policy in his home country and around the world.


Emmanuel's Gift


I don't usually read short stories, but two authors whose novels I have liked, both recently published short story collections, so I gave them a try.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahira, author of The Namesake, is eight short stories all focusing on immigrants from Bengal in the US. All focus on the immigrant experience of adjusting to life in a different culture.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, is a collection of thirteen short stories, all involving Olive throughout the years. In some of the stories she is the central character, a minor character in others. All the human drama is represented: desire, despair, hope, love.

It pays to be more adventuresome in reading! Maybe I do like short stories afterall, or at least some short story collections.


Unaccustomed earth

The Year of the Long Book

I know I am not the only one out there who feels overwhelmed by all the books I want to read.  I often pass over longer books just because I know I could cross off two or three shorter books in the same time.  This year I decided to stop all that madness and declare it,"The Year of the Long Book."  I started with the intricately plot-nested, historical fiction, sci-fi, apocalyptic, environmental thriller Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The six different plot lines in this book are all written in a different style and I would even say genre, so it is hard to have just one opinion about it.  Some parts I really liked and couldn't stop reading and other sections dragged a little.  One of the fascinating things about the book is that at some point each story reveals how it is connected to the one before.  Often it is just one sentence or one reference that brings them together, but it completely changes the way you see the previous story.  That makes it all worth it. 

Take time out from your book gobbling frenzy and read a long book.  Check out Cloud Atlas.

Other long books I will read this year: 

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
At Canaan's Edge by Taylor Branch
Pillar of Fire by Taylor Branch
Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

Any other suggestions?


Cloud Atlas
Steve S

Troubled Waters

Troubled Waters is the fourteenth in a series of novels about a British naval officer named Alan Lewrie, who is, among other things, a Revolutionary War veteran. The series is authored by Dewey Lambdin who is well grounded in all aspects of British naval history, but whose knowledge is especially deep during the "iron men and wooden ships" era of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Troubled Waters is set in 1800. Lewrie is in his late thirities and his naval career has advanced with much more success than his private life. He is beset by legal troubles brought on by his freeing of a ship load of slaves in the West Indies; his marriage is troubled; an old nemisis from his youth is on his trail, spreading all-too-true tales of Lewrie's sexual adventures among the "Red Indians" of the Georgia Coast. With thirteen novels in back of this one, Troubled Waters is not the one to start off with, but it  is a good place to learn about such things as the British legal system of the time, slavery and slave laws of Great Britain at the time, the Napoleonic Wars through the eyes of the British sailors, and a British Navy that is recovering from the two worst mutinies of it's history, and finally, a view of homosexual behavior in the Royal Navy by the powers that be -- no "Don't ask; don't tell" in the nineteenth century British Navy.

Alan Lewrie is a flawed man, a complicated man, and a good man to spend time with. Troubled Waters is a rewarding experience.


Troubled Waters
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