Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

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
Karen S


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
Steve S

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

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