Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Where in the World??

As those who have read my columns know, I love looking at maps and atlases. I have a good collection of them at home, but it doesn't compare with the riches available here at KPL. And now ... for something completely different. This volume came to my attention only a couple of weeks ago. Maps I wouldn't have thought to exist are presented here. I think my favorite is the one on page 100, which is of Carpatho-Ukraine, a country that was independent in 1939 for only one day! There are also maps of proposed boundaries that never came to fruition, such as the 38-state plan that had Kalamazoo in a state called Dearborn. Another one is a plan to break up the United States into 16 new nations, under the premise that such a large population has become too unwieldy to govern from Washington. Michigan would be in a country named The Boundary Waters. The author does have some unflattering comments about Michigan pioneer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, but I guess I'll forgive him for those, since there is so much other material in this book to enjoy. Come take a look.


Strange maps : an atlas of cartographic curiosities
David D.

Extreme Experimentation

What would it be like to always tell the truth about what you were thinking?  This is one of the month long experiments A.J. Jacobs reports on in his book My Life as an Experiment.  Jacobs made his name trying to live a full year according to the rules in the Bible and writing about it in The Year of Living BiblicallyMy Life as an Experiment includes details of ten other challenges he gives himself such as:  living by the 110 rules George Washington wrote in a notebook, impersonating an actor at the Academy Awards, and my favorite, outsourcing personal tasks to a company in India.  In fact, it made me wonder if I could have that same company write my blog post.  Jacobs book is a good, funny, simple summer read.


My Life as an Experiment
Steve S

Everything Is Its Own Reward

Not everyone was amused when the San Francisco Chronicle began running Paul Madonna’s feature called “All Over Coffee” in early 2004. For those who were looking for the traditional cartoons and comic strips, Madonna’s work was not the least bit funny.

A one hundred and eighty degree departure from the ubiquitous newspaper “funnies,” readers were taken on a pen-and-ink tour of San Francisco’s architectural landscape, mixed with witty and sometimes eccentric bits of integrated text. Clearly some did not get it, but others relished this fresh new approach. By 2007, Madonna’s much heralded work had filled a coffee table book, aptly titled All Over Coffee.


Fast-forward four more years and we’re treated to a second batch of Madonna’s sepia tone and watercolor drawings. Everything Is Its Own Reward captures street corners, lamp posts, back alleys, telephone wires, stark landscapes and random bits of architecture in seemingly suspended animation, as if all forms of animal and human life had vanished. Yet strangely enough the human element is still very much present in his drawings, evidenced by the author’s bits of brief (ok, sometimes long and prophetically rambling) textual commentary.


“Does the smell of the air today
remind you of another time?

Inhale through your nose.
And the next time a day like this comes around
you’ll be transported back to now.”

The video here is from Paul Madonna’s talk at the Booksmith bookstore in San Francisco last month. Madonna talks about his new book and gives insight into his creative process. The visuals are rough but the underlying story is fascinating.

Everything Is Its Own Reward is an interesting and thought-provoking visual journey.


Everything Is Its Own Reward

Love Part 7: Christian Love

For Christian love I look to the teachings of Jesus, as written in the Gospels, with a little help from Paul (because he elaborates on some important teachings). It's important to note that Christ, like the Buddha, didn't write down his teachings; we could call this "mysticism," the idea that the Truth or Way must be lived and experienced, not written, to make sense.

Christian love is as simple as Buddhist love; it goes like this: love everyone, without qualification. (Buddha sometimes goes further by saying love every living thing).

Like Buddhist loving kindness, love is foundational. There are many ways that love is expressed as the greatest. Paul says “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” and “do everything in love.” And, of course, the famous wedding passage--"love is patient, love is kind"--which ends: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” But people people usually don’t hear the beginning of this famous passage, which says “and now I will show you the most excellent way.”

Love is the Golden Rule and the greatest commandment:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

This is constantly restated, and Paul interprets it as one law: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: love your neighbor as yourself.” (later he says “honor one another above yourselves.”)

Who is our neighbor? In the good samaritan story (Lk 10:30), Jesus says that everyone in need of help is our neighbor.

Love your enemies
But, as we saw in Aurelius and Buddha, there is an extension to the golden rule, an even higher commandment (request?) that Jesus gives as well:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (A perfect God, then, does not hate enemies, but loves them.)

This is added to elsewhere with “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you” and (even!) “lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great.” A more practical, or rational reason (think Aurelius) to love enemies is to be better than sinners: “If you [only] love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Very much like Buddha, Christ and Paul do not think this love-your-enemies stuff is just wishful thinking; they think that love can drive out, extinguish, and get rid of hatred and evil:

“Live in harmony with each other…Do not repay evil for evil…live at peace with everyone. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And 1 John adds “perfect love drives out fear.” Buddha (who said "this is an old rule") and Gandhi would agree with this.

How does love act?
First, by obeying moral principles:

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.”

Second, by forgiving. Paul makes this clear when he gives Corinth instructions on how to treat someone who has (apparently) done something bad:

“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient…now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him…reaffirm your love for him.”

Third, through sacrifice:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…this is my command: Love each other.”

Paul adds to this: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man…But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus sees his mission as to transfer God’s love to people: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” And Jesus shows the “full extent” of his love for his disciples when he washes their feet: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet…no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha


Holy Bible New Testament

Easy and Delicious

The joy of coming home after a long day of work to a savory aroma that foreshadows a delectable dinner cannot be overestimated. I love the ease of cooking in a slow cooker (also called a crockpot after the branded product of the Rival company). It won’t heat up the kitchen on a summer day, which is something I currently appreciate, however it will also make cozy stews and roasts during the winter. It is an all-season delight. I read a lot of slow cooker cookbooks, and Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea is the best I’ve read yet. O’Dea made a New Year’s Resolution in 2008 to use a slow cooker every day for a year. Every day she blogged about the day’s recipe and posted beautiful pictures at, and that led to this cookbook.

Note: an allergy in her family means the recipes in this book are gluten free.

O’Dea writes recipes that are easy and simple and fun and delicious (with a humorous flair). She sometimes refers to herself as ‘lazy’, and some of her instructions call for dumping everything in the pot and turning it on with no more prep than that, which suits me just fine. I’ll take easy recipes!

More than just stews and roasts, a slow cooker will also make meatloaf, baked brie, banana bread and a quite delightful crunchy chickpea snack. I regularly make rice in mine, and some excellent broccoli, both inspired by O’Dea’s book. I followed her recipes exactly the first time, and then tweaked them to suit me better (I leave out the butter in my rice, and I have varied the seasoning in the broccoli – it’s always good).  If you can only have one kitchen appliance, or only have one outlet to use, I’d pick a slow cooker over a hot plate (or a toaster or a food processor) anyday.

I enjoy reading cookbooks, and this is a subcategory of cookbooks that I really like; the next books I’ll be enjoying are Crazy about Crockery and 3-ingredient Slow Cooker Comfort Foods.  Please share your favorite slow cooker recipes in the comments!


Make it Fast, Cook it Slow

Love Part 6: the Buddha

Some think that the Western concept “love” does not translate well into Buddhism; I found that the teachings of the Buddha are actually brimming with it—whether you translate it “compassion” or “loving kindness” or “friendliness”—love is at the heart of Buddhism.

We begin with the child Buddha, who was said to grow up “as the light of the moon increases little by little…the child grew from day to day in mind and in body; and truthfulness and love resided in his heart.”

Love of Family versus Love of People
Leaving behind loved ones, in search for a higher calling, is a theme found in stories of prophets, heroes, Jedi’s, and religious leaders. At the beginning of his search for Nirvana, the Buddha is torn: “There Siddhartha stood gazing at his beautiful wife and his beloved son, and his heart grieved. The pain of parting overcame him powerfully…the tears flowed freely.” He left, and even after reaching Enlightenment, he was faced with a similar situation. Should he enter Nirvana, or stay on earth to help humans? After being tempted to leave humans and enter Nirvana (similar to the temptation of Christ), the Buddha stays: “In a state of ecstasy he saw...all the misery and sorrow of the world...and a deep compassion seized his heart.” The Buddha reunites with his father when he asks him to "let the ties of love that bind him to the son whom he lost embrace with equal kindness to all his fellow beings, and he will receive in his place a greater one than Siddhartha [Buddha]"..."[the father] trembled with joy when he heard...'now I reap the fruit of your renunciation.'"

Loving Kindness
"And the Buddha made this solemn utterance:
    Do not deceive, do not despise
    Each other, anywhere.
    Do not be angry, nor should you
    Secret resentment bear;
    For as a mother risks her child,
    So boundless be your love to all,
    So tender, kind and mild.
    ...Whatever you have in mind,
    The rule of life that's always best
    Is to be loving-kind.
Gifts are great, the founding of viharas is meritorious, meditations and religious exercises pacify the heart, comprehension of the truth leads to Nirvana, but greater than all is loving kindness...loving kindness is sixteen times more efficacious in liberating the heart than all other religious accomplishments taken together."

These are amazing passages that, much like the famous Corinthians passage, speak about love as the most important thing in religious life.

Loving Enemies
Loving your enemies is an act of self-control and a way to transform the world; non-violence is the only way to stop violence:

"If someone foolishly does me wrong, I will return to that person the protection of my ungrudging love; the more evil comes from such a person, the more good shall go from me; the frangrance of goodness always comes to me, and the harmful air of evil goes to that person."

Letting the person slap you on the other cheek is like giving a person back a present. In a scene where a person actually does this to the Buddha, he replies: "You have railed at me, but I decline to accept your abuse, and request you to keep it yourself. Will it not be a source of misery to you?" It is like the person "spits up at heaven"--it comes back down on them.

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 


The Teachings of Buddha

Okay for Now

Gary Schmidt is one of my favorite authors. The Wednesday Wars is one of his books that I often recommend to middle-grade readers. Now Schmidt has written a companion story, telling about one of the minor characters from the earlier book.

Okay for Now is the story of 14-year-old Doug, who looks and often acts like a thug. Of course, behind every thug is a real person, often with a compelling story. This is that story.

Even if you don’t usually read books from the Teen area of the library, this might be a good exception to make.


Okay for Now

The Godfather of Surf Photography

Living in Michigan, our direct exposure to surfing and surf culture is somewhat limited. Nontheless I have always been drawn to the imagery and broad cultural impact of this “sport of kings”. If you are too, or even if you are just mildly curious, there is no better place to get a sense of the origins of the sport’s popularity and its visual charm than through the camera lens of Leroy Grannis. Leroy Grannis: surf photography of the 1960s and 1970s beautifully showcasing the laidback style and rebellious outlook that would eventually garner corporate sponsorship and worldwide exposure. Affectionately known as the godfather of surf photography, Grannis (who died earlier this year at the age of 93) skillfully captures all of the natural beauty and grace of surfing, and was responsible for some of the first images of the, uniquely Californian, free spirit attitude and style that would take surfing well beyond the beach’s of Southern California.


Leroy Grannis : surf photography of the 1960s and 1970s

Love Part 5: Plotinus

Plotinus, a follower of Plato, has a detailed mythology of how love, the god, was born, and its divine nature—all of which I didn't have the patience to follow (it is very detailed!). Much of this is actually a commentary on the mythology found in Plato's Symposium.

Plotinus, like Plato, is a hard core dualist who believes that we should think of the material world as a dirty illusion, a reflection and "wanna-be" of the Real World--the immaterial world of perfect ideas. He thinks of love as existing in between these two realms; it exists in us as the link to the heavenly realm of Platonic ideal Forms. Love is the thing in the soul that constantly longs for “the Good,” “God,” “Truth,” etc:

“ [love] springs from the intention of the Soul towards its Best, towards the Good; as long as Soul has been, Love has been.” It was “born at the banquet of the gods,” sprung from “Poverty and Possession,” and “is of mixed quality. On the one hand there is in it the lack which keeps it craving: on the other, it is not entirely destitute.” “Thus Love," he elaborates, "is at once, in some degree a thing of Matter and at the same time a Celestial, sprung of the Soul; for Love lacks its Good but, from its very birth, strives towards It.”

So its kinda like the postage stamp of the soul, reminding us where we came from and where we need to go; without love, would we even know about this other Realm?

Love, being a "mixed" thing, is constantly battling with earthly love:

“The soul in its nature loves God and longs to be at one with Him in the noble love of a daughter for a noble father; but coming to human birth and lured by the courtships of this sphere, she takes up with another love, a mortal, leaves her father and falls. But one day coming to hate her shame, she puts away the evil of earth, once more seeks the father, and finds her peace.”

Plotinus is not a fan of earthy love, or earthly things at all. He is a complete dualist and in favor of neglecting our earthy desires: “here what we love is perishable, hurtful, that our loving is of mimicries and turns awry because all was a mistake, our good was not here, this was not what we sought; There only is our veritable love…”

Is he telling us not to love people? It's hard to tell. It sounds like he is in favor of a morality that a Monk or Nun might perhaps agree with: that romantic love takes away from spiritual love, but love of humanity in general is ok. However when he talks of marriage he thinks of this love as a stepping stone:

“but it, also, has its touch of the upward desire; and, in the degree of that striving, it stirs and leads upwards the Souls of the young and every Soul with which it is incorporated in so far as there is a natural tendency to remembrance of the divine.”

Ultimately, the primary motive to love is to see the immaterial beauty in yourself, other people, and things in general. It is not to neglect people, but to love the best things about them:

“What do you feel in presence of the grace you discern in actions, in manners, in sound morality, in all the works and fruits of virtue, in the beauty of souls? When you see that you yourselves are beautiful within, what do you feel?...These are no other than the emotions of Souls under the spell of love.”

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius


postage stamp love

The Dirty Life

Kristin Kimball was a Harvard-educated writer thoroughly entrenched in her East Village life when she had an epiphany while on a farm in Pennsylvania.  Researching for a writing assignment, Kimball had gone to the farm to interview a farmer named Mark, and before she knew what was happening, she was put to work.  The work she did that day changed her and made her realize that she wanted a home, one that she did not have in the city.  Within a few months of her farm visit, Kimball began a relationship with Mark and left the city to start a farm with him.  Kimball’s book, The Dirty Life, chronicles the first year of their lives on Essex Farm in upstate New York.

Recently there’s been no shortage of memoirs written by first-generation farmers seeking a more sustainable, back-to-the-earth lifestyle—believe me, I know, I’ve tried to read them all.  The Dirty Life stands heads above many of the others I’ve read, mainly due to Kimball’s storytelling abilities and the uniqueness of Essex Farm.  Kimball exposes both the brutal, unforgiving work a farm requires, along with Mother Nature’s willingness to take as quickly as she gives; but she is passionate about the work and about the farm she helped create, and that passion translates into a very good read.


The Dirty Life
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