Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

Listening is an Act of Love

 I just finished one of the most amazing book I have ever read. Its called  Listening is an Act of Love and is a compilation of 49 stories collected from more than 10,000 recorded stories in the Storycorps Project. If you listen to NPR on Fridays, you might have heard one of these stories.

A few years ago the Storycorps Project came to Kalamazoo. It was located in Bronson Park right downtown, and you could make an appointment for a 40 minute time slot to share a story from your life.  Many people took advantage of it.  It turns out that all over the nation people took advantage of this opportunity, and still do.

This book takes a sampling covering a broad range of peoples life experiences – from reminiscences of living through the Great Depression, to watching a loved one die from cancer, to surviving a walk down 100 flights of steps in a World Trade Tower on 9/11. In this book you get a glimpse of ordinary people, doing ordinary things – or extraordinary as the case may be – and you are left with a beautiful picture of this American life.  You will not regret picking up this book and getting caught up in its stories.

Listening is an Act of Love

Listening is an Act of Love


Get Lost in the Suburbs

It recently dawned upon me that my summer reading interests all possessed a common thread that provided each book with a rich and satisfying dimension. White Noise by Don Delillo, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates and The Sportswriter by Richard Ford each tackle with individual flare and style the subject of American suburbia both as a subject for commentary and geographic setting. These books depict with both horror and humor, the world of the post war dream, its cultural minutia, norms and symbolic representations. Ford’s trilogy of The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land takes on suburban life from a much more gracious and complimentary point of view, following the fascinating journey of Frank Bascombe. All three books, set in the suburbs, explore the way in which illusions (both personal and cultural) are ruptured and shown to possess a much more dark and dubious side to them that contrasts with the image of suburbia as a place of serenity, certainty and contented bliss.  

In the case of Yate’s masterpiece, soon to hit the celluloid big screen with Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet as its protagonists, suburban malaise and its false promise of domestic harmony serve as the driving force behind the main character’s doomed, Gatsbyian ruin. For lovers of great American fiction, these three titles will not disappoint.


Independence Day

The Last Lecture

Many of you are familiar with author/computer science professor, Randy Pausch. His last lecture was given at Carnegie Mellon University and is accessible all over the internet. After his lecture, he decided with Jeffrey Zaslow to write The Last Lecture about the lecture, his preparation for it, and his perspectives on life. Whether or not you watched his lecture online, I highly recommend his book. While it is a quick and easy read, it is also very poignant and inspiring. We can all identify with him as he recounts the "brick walls" he encountered throughout his life, but the values and lessons he learned and his grateful pay it forward focus are what is truly compelling. There is something for everyone to take away and think about from this book. Looking back, I know that I am definitely grateful for my "Coach Graham" and "Dutch Uncle" who encouraged (and sometimes pushed) me through some of my own brick walls. 


The Last Lecture

Speaking of Two-wheeled Adventures….

Why do I recommend Cycling’s Greatest Misadventures?

First, consider Bob Mina’s “Spin Cycle,” the second piece in the book .  It’s laugh-out-loud funny, grab-a-tissue and-hold-onto-your-sides funny.  Your co-workers won’t know if you’re laughing or crying (well, if you’re reading it at work, as I was, in preparing to write this blog entry.)

Additionally, the story Erich Schweikher recounts in the introduction is kinda sweet. 

Then there’s the deeply-moving “The Shock and Numbness are Starting to Set In,” by Heather Andersen, a bike trip leader processing a profound, ironic, upsetting experience, as she shares the details with the readers.

This collection, edited by Erich Schweikher and Paul Diamond, contains 27 true stories, some of which were too scary for me to read, but others of which really inspired.  If you like two-wheeled adventures, don’t miss this book!


Cycling's Greatest Misadventures

Take Time for the Mouse

 A recent advertisement for the fourth in a wonderful series featuring an anthropomorphized mouse named Hermux Tantamoq caught my eye because I have read and loved the first three books about this watchmaking/clock repairing rodent.  The title of the newest book is Time to Smell the Roses, and it will be available in libraries and bookstores in October of this year.   Joining Time Stops for No Mouse, The Sands of Time, and No Time Like ShowTime, this promises to be just as wonderful a read as the others were.  Hermux Tantamoq has a pet cricket, a girlfriend named Tucka Mertslin, and a house to live in that would rival a Martha Stewart creation.  That is, if the descriptives of author Michael Hoeye ring true.  Explore the author’s website at and see what makes Hoeye and his mouse Hermux tick.


Time Stops for No Mouse

Is There Life After Harry?

(taken from Brian Kenney’s editorial in School Library Journal, November 2007)

At the risk of posting a dated entry, I’ll base my reasoning on a rumor that I heard not too long ago, being that there will not be a Harry Potter movie for each of the seven books written!  And, the latest movie has been postponed until 2009!  Oh, no!  Or, OK, then I’ll read something from the library while I’m waiting.  Yes!

“We all remember in our own lives a time when a book has become for us a signpost, a continuing presence in our lives.”  (Coles, Robert.  The Call of the Stories, Houghton-Mifflin, 1989)  For me, books became my friends at an early age, friends that I wouldn’t part with for any reason.

The gist of the School Library Journal editorial is that now that the Harry Potter series has ended, it’s feared that kids will never read again!  To quote the editorial's author, “Librarians know this is nonsense.  Connecting kids and books doesn’t often have the advantage of a huge media frenzy; it’s more often a one-on-one affair that involves both knowing books and knowing readers.”

I’m reminded of titles I first read in elementary and junior high school:  Little Women, Bright Island, and Anne of Green Gables…I could fill pages with titles, I’m sure.  Books I’ve read and loved since becoming an adult are A Wrinkle in Time, Mandy, The Orphan Train, Matilda Bone, The Midwife’s Apprentice…again, the list could go on and on!

Many of the above books are considered classics by youth librarians and other book lovers.  Some are by contemporary authors and a few are by foreign authors.  A classic title is often defined as “a book everyone has heard of but no one has read!”  A contemporary title would be one written relatively recently, or one that has a more modern story line, or a multicultural cast of characters.

Librarians talk with kids about interests and experiences and then recommend or suggest books that will be enjoyed by yet another generation.  It is hoped that today’s kids and those of the future will continue to be exposed to such characters as Meg and Charles Wallace, Mandy, the March girls, Thankful Curtis, Harry Potter, and Hermione Granger as well as those not yet thought of who will live on in their lives for years.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Get the message?

After witnessing a bank robbery and foiling the suspect in his attempt to get away, nineteen-year-old cab driver, Ed Kennedy, who has always had very little ambition to make anything of his life, starts receiving mysterious messages written on playing cards. He ultimately figures out he has been chosen, for some unknown reason, to enter into the lives of various people in his small town, and as a result changing their lives—and his own—forever.

I Am the Messenger, by award-winning author Markus Zusak, is one of those titles that I wished could go on and on. Although I finished reading the book several days ago, I actually miss Ed and his friends, so poignantly brought to life via Zusak's hand. Ed's reactions to the events happening in his life--and the questions they raise for his future--take on human features that actually make them seem like primary characters. And there was something about that style of writing that made the actual experience of reading the book feel like a big hug.  What could be better? 


I Am the Messenger
Karen S


Read the title of this book very carefully. It’s not about a prominent search engine. No, it’s about a style of architecture named for a Los Angeles restaurant that was built in 1949. Buildings that went up during the middle of the 20th century were comprised of lots of steel and glass in rather severe angular shapes. One area example of this is the early-1960s Dawn Donuts at 6225 S. Westnedge in Portage, which later became the southern office of MacKenzie’s Bakery and is still standing. Author Alan Hess presents a survey of this type of architecture along with some colorful photographs that capture not only the buildings themselves but also how this style seeped into the design of automobiles, signage, and the advertising of the day. Hess evokes nostalgia since much of the American architecture in this style has been lost; however, it’s gratifying that the preservation community is now trying to save some good examples of it. Printed on quality paper, this book is worthwhile even if all one does is look at the pictures. This is only one example of a very appealing book that I saw here at the library and just HAD to buy my own copy.


Googie : fifties coffee shop architecture

David D.

Then We Came to the End

How do you make someone suffering from breast cancer laugh? That is the assignment a floundering ad agency in Chicago is given in Joshua Ferris' first novel Then We Came to the End. Making us laugh at bad situations is a trick Ferris pulls off over and over again. There are definitely situations when you are thinking that there is nothing funny about this and then you will find yourself laughing. If you need some comic relief in these bad economic times, try this novel which the New York Times Book Review rated one of the ten best books of 2007. It is definitely in my top ten for 2008.


Then We Came to the End
Steve S


I have never been much of a classics reader, but recently, after once again viewing a couple of my favorite movies, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, I decided it was time to read something by Jane Austen. I chose Emma, the story of a confident young woman who generously attempts to manage the life of a friend and discovers that there were some things about her own life that needed her attention.

It was a lovely, humorous story. I found it especially interesting, after years of reading historically set novels, to read something actually written almost two hundred years ago. The basic plot could adapt to any time period, but the early19th century language gave the novel special appeal for me.

I don’t know if I am now ready to be an all out classics reader, but I am looking forward to my next Jane Austen book. I am moving on to Persuasion just in time for the Library’s Classics Revisited book discussion of it in November.


Beth T
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