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Staff Picks: Books

Horrorstör

Everyone who's ever been to, or worse, worked at an Ikea store knows that they are their own special level of hell, reserved for those foolish enough to enter in search of cheap furniture and lukewarm meatballs. In Horrorstör, author Grady Hendrix asks the question: what if big-box retail shopping really IS a literal gateway to hell? The Ikea knock-off store, Orsk, is by day an average retail shopping nightmare but after the lights go out the real horror begins. After the Cleveland Orsk store experiences several after-hours disturbances, several employees stay after closing to try and catch the perpetrators and, in typical horror-movie fashion, get far more than they bargained for. Designed and built as a modern-day panopticon on the ruins of an ancient asylum for the insane, this Orsk store houses more than just cheap flatpack dressers and tables. Designed like a fake Ikea catalog and full of increasingly creepy product descriptions (for bonus fun, be sure to look up the meanings of the product names!), this book will have you reading with your Reniflür table lamps switched on...


Very Good Lives

Very Good Lives is the commencement address J.K. Rowling delivered to the Harvard University class of 2008, where she talked about the benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.

Regarding her “epic failure” in life, Rowling said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.”

How true is that! Life is made up of countless setbacks and disappointments. They all helped shape who we are. We learn from these experiences and become better friends, family, and citizens. 

The second part of the address talks about the importance of having the ability to empathize. If we can imagine ourselves into other people's lives, we all can help create a better world. 

This little book gave me comfort. It tells me that there’s beauty in failure. No matter how reality doesn’t align with expectations, I should still press on. Failure is essential to success. 


 



Becoming Bach

In this wonderful picture book, Johann Sebastian Bach tells readers about his childhood filled with music.  Everywhere he went, there was music.  It was his destiny to grow up and become a "Bach."  Tom Leonard's colorful illustrations will guide you through the pages of this delightful biography. And, prepare you for KPL's upcoming Bach in Jammies programs at the Central Library and Oshtemo Branch in partnership with the Kalamazoo Bach Festival.


Novels in Verse

Before poetry month comes to a close, I want to highlight some novels written in verse. Through a series of short poems, an author can tell an amazingly rich story, despite the limited scope for details and dialog. 

Most recently, I read A Girl Named Mister, by Nikki Grimes, who is coming to KPL on May 9. The book combines sections in the voice of the title character with poems in the voice of the Virgin Mary, which are in a book Mister is reading during a challenging time. 

One of my favorites is Sharon Creech's Love That Dog, which is written as the diary of a boy who is learning to love poetry. The title poem pays homage to a poem by Walter Dean Myers, and others throughout the book are modeled after other famous poems. Speaking of dogs, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant and Marla Frazee imagines what it would be like if God had a life like an ordinary human.

All the novels in verse I've come across are written for children and young adults, but there is much in them to be appreciated for any reader. They seem particularly well suited to addressing difficult topics such as grief and the darker chapters of history, such as Jacqueline Woodson's memoir of growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, Brown Girl Dreaming. Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone takes place during the Armenian genocide. 

Other authors who frequently write in verse include Kwame Alexander and Margarita Engle. Novels in verse are not a replacement for regular fiction, but like graphic novels, you can read through them quickly for the basic story, or better yet, you can linger to enjoy the nuances of language.


The Phenomenon

Last Sunday, I was in my car and I happened to turned on Fresh Air on NPR to the sound of Terry Gross introducing Rick Ankiel as this week’s guest. The name was vaguely familiar to me as a moderately enthusiastic baseball fan, and as the story unfolded on the radio, I recalled the events of game one of the 2000 National League Division Series played by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves. A game where a guy they were calling “the next Sandy Koufax”, a 21 year old who had secured a slot in the St. Louis Cardinals system at the age of 18 with a signing bonus of $2.5M, managed five wild pitches in a single inning. He chalked it up to the yips.

To athletes and fans, that is likely a term with which they are at least passingly familiar. The yips refers to the acute psychological and physiological occurrence in which a motion or action, previously reproduced thousands of times, suddenly becomes impossible or unreliable at best. It’s a disconnect between the body and mind of the athlete that can strike suddenly and spiral completely out of control as anxiety from each successive mistake steadily mounts.

In The Phenomenon, Ankiel and co-author Tim Brown describe the events that day at Busch Stadium and its aftermath. The Cardinals would go on to win that game and the NLDS, but for Ankiel, the damage was done. He would spend the next several years playing minor league ball at lower and lower levels while he battled alcoholism, injury, and the yips in an effort to pitch his way back to the majors - which he did, only to reinvent himself as a power-hitting center fielder.

This is not just a book for baseball fans or sports enthusiasts in general. It’s an eerily relatable biography with a focus on family, mentorship, and personal struggle both superficial and unseen. More than a story of one of the most bizarre and unlikely baseball careers in recent memory, The Phenomenon is a case-study in the concept of mind over matter, both for better and worse.


Call Me Tree - Llámame Árbol

Written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez, Call Me Tree is a beautiful journey that imagines life as a tree, from a seed in the ground to an árbol standing tall. Written in both English and Spanish, the sparse, lyrical wordings perfectly complement the rich and expressive imagery exploring nature, connectedness, and individuality.


Love & Gelato

I read almost every book set in Italy I can find. So of course I would pick this one up. Love & Gelato tells the story of Lina, who is moving to Italy to live with a father she's never met after her artist mother has died. When she arrives, Lina is given her mother's old journal, full of sketches and writings, detailing her own college years in Florence. Though she grieves for her mother and her life in the States, Lina takes every opportunity to learn who her mother and father are this summer in Italy. In the process, she unearths a major secret, makes friends, and meets a love interest. I loved this YA novel. It's the perfect summer read for fans of realistic fiction, with light romance and travel.


A Really Good Day

Having been misdiagnosed with Bipolar II, and later with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), Waldman begins her book at a point where all her remedies for depression and mood swing have essentially failed her. She has stumbled across the book The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys by James Fadiman. Waldman, a previous federal public defender and law professor who taught “The Legal and Social Implications of the War on Drugs” at UC Berkeley, is also the mother of four. Disturbed by the impact of her emotional instability on her family, she begins taking microdoses of LSD following Fadiman’s protocol. Having no interest in an LSD prompted spiritual enlightenment or hallucinatory experience; she is motivated instead to join Fadiman’s experiment by the outcomes described by others who have participated: namely more positive mood and increased ability to focus. 

A Really Good Day, is written as an amusing daily journal of her experience “microdosing” which she intersperses with the compelling story of LSD as a pharmaceutical and then social drug. She is forthright in her concerns regarding the use of LSD as an illegal substance and hiding this use from her children, and her internal conflict with taking what is perceived to be a “recreational” drug. Waldman explores the effects of microdosing on depression and anxiety through her witty and deeply personal disclosure, which she balances with a rich and informative history of LSD. Her skepticism, overcome by self-described “desperation” for “A Really Good Day” is met with outcomes that are surprising and provocative.


Federal Budget Blueprint

Each year the oval office releases a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The full budget will be released later this spring.

Meanwhile, America First: a Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again gives us a preview of President Trump’s budget. The book spells out his priorities right on the first page of the document. Page 5 lists the agencies for which he recommends eliminating funding. The next several pages give details about his approach to management and regulations. The rest of the book highlights the Executive office’s proposals for several major agencies. 

If you want to know how the current administration proposes to spend your federal tax dollars, but you don’t have time or energy to sort through a whole lot of information, look at this book. You can read it online right now or stop by the Central branch to read our print copy.


Big Cat, Little Cat

 Elisha Cooper’s books are always a joy.  His use of line is simple and elegant; here, a white cat welcomes a small black cat to the home and teaches it “when to eat, when to drink, where to go, how to be.”  They live together, play together, and the black cat becomes older and larger as the white cat then begins to age.  Then one day the white cat went away.  “And that was hard.  For everyone.”  Big Cat, Little Cat is a lovely book for young pet lovers.