NOTE: Central Library will open at 10 am on Tuesday, May 24 (one hour later than usual). Normal open hours otherwise.

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Staff Picks: Books

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

     This immensely popular book by Jonas Jonasson alternates between the present life of Swedish centenarian Allan Karlsson and the timeline of his long life up until then. On the day of his 100th birthday, dreading the party planned for him at the Old Folks Home, he simply walks away. He goes to the bus station, and while there he waits for a bus that will take him as far as he can get with the money on him, and that will leave as soon as possible so as to avoid being caught by Director Alice of the Old Folks Home. As he waits, this punk type reluctantly asks him to watch his suitcase while he uses the restroom. And what does Allan do, but take the suitcase with him onto the bus, unaware of the surprising contents! 

     This sets a funny, dangerous, wonderful chain of events into motion that more and more people become involved with as the story progresses. Allan’s past is even more interesting than his present, and even more full of perilous and amusing twists and turns. He meets Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung, among other famous historical figures. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared was a joy to read from start to finish, and I highly recommend it. It will definitely be admired by readers who appreciate adventure, quirky/dark humor, and outlandish situations.

Cecil’s Everlasting Roar

When Cecil the lion was killed in July 2015, the event precipitated a huge outpouring of grief, anger and disgust among people from all over the world. Cecil was a protected lion who was lured out of his safe haven, the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa, by native hunting guides for the express purpose of letting Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist by vocation and a misguided, self-styled big game hunter by avocation, shoot him dead. Cecil was killed in cold blood only to satisfy an American dentist’s craving to be surrounded by dead animal trophies.
Shortly after the news of Cecil’s demise spread, numerous protests erupted led by conservation groups, animal advocates and just common folks. The anger and sadness resonated and lingered on for more than a month after the careless killing.

However, one positive outcome was a huge surge in donations for animal conservation efforts. Even celebrities such as Jimmy Kimmel spoke out against the senseless slaughter and helped raise over $150,000 to aid preservation. Jane Goodall the world renowned primatologist simply stated, “I have no words to express my repugnance.”

The authors of Cecil’s Pride: The True Story of a Lion King are a father and his two daughters, the Hatkoffs. They wrote this children’s book not to dwell on his sudden and inhumane death, but rather to celebrate through narrative a life that was well lived. Photographs by Cecil’s human friend Brent Stapelkamp, underscore the beauty and fullness of his time on earth. Taken over the course of nine years, Brent, a wildlife researcher, tracked, and documented Cecil as he wandered about in the forests and plains of Hwange Park.

Since lions defend their pride and territory against other lions who challenge them, it was known that Cecil was challenged by a long-time rival named Jericho. They fought to see who would gain control. But when other male lions started moving into their domain, something unusual happened; Cecil and Jericho formed an alliance against the interlopers!

After Cecil’s sudden death, it was feared that Jericho would either abandon or kill Cecil’s cubs to start his own family, which is usually the case when the male head of the pride dies. However, in this case another astonishing turn of events came to be when Jericho took in Cecil’s cubs to raise them as his own.

This is a wonderfully touching true story with vivid photos that proclaims that Cecil’s legacy will live on.

Facts about lions as well as the global impact of Cecil’s death are included. New laws and regulations about illegal hunting of lions as well as other endangered species is a hopeful sign that conservation efforts will improve and protect these majestic animals. But as is usually the case, only time will tell if they still have a chance.



I became a fan of Lindy West’s during her time as a writer for the popular feminist blog Jezebel.  She’s wildly funny and writes honestly about topics such as feminism, body image, and abortion.  Shrill, her first book, had me cracking up—sometimes in public, which is an embarrassing situation if you’re sitting in a coffee shop by yourself and suddenly start laughing out loud.  I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any Millennial looking for a laugh alongside insightful commentary on life for young women today.

Caddie Woodlawn

This historical pioneer fiction novel for children takes place in Western Wisconsin during the 1860s. It is a story about eleven year old Caddie (Caroline Augusta) Woodlawn who lives with her parents John and Harriet and six siblings. Caddlie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink, is based on the true story of her grandmother, Caddie Woodhouse. You can visit a park and see exactly where Caddie once lived:
The Woodlawn’s moved from Boston seven years earlier, but Mr. Woodlawn was born and raised in England. Caddie is a tomboy and she hangs out with Tom, who is two years older and Warren, who is two years younger, all three are red-headed like their father. They are three jolly comrades in search of adventure in frosty weather or sunshine. She has an elder sister Clara and younger sister Hettie who prefer to stay at home and help mother with quilting or sewing or jelly making. Minnie and Baby Joe complete the family. Another child, little Mary, had died after they came from Boston, and daddy tried an experiment whereby he wanted little Caddie to run wild with the boys. “Don’t keep her in the house learning to be a lady. I would rather see her learn to plow than make samplers, if she can get her health by doing so. I believe it is worth trying.” (p.15). Uncle Edmund from St. Louis arrived on the Little Steamer which came up the Monomonie River once a week as far as Dunnville. Its arrival was a great event, for all the letters from the East and all the news from the great world, most of the visitors and strangers and supplies, came up the river on the Little Steamer. The Little Steamer travels down the Monomonie River to the Chippewa, down the Chippewa to the Mississippi, down the Mississipi to St. Louis.
In 1935 this adventurous book was awarded the John Newbery Medal for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
There are many events and characters who bring the story alive. Some of the people in the story are: Mr. Tanner, the Circuit Rider; Uncle Edmund from St. Louis, Cousin Annabelle from Boston; Indian John and his dog; Miss Parker the teacher at the one room schoolhouse, and of course, the school children, and the Woodhouse family dog, Nero the sheepdog.

Joseph's Big Ride

 When Joseph and his mother make the long journey from a refugee camp in Kenya to America, he brings along his fascination with bicycles.   Although there is much about  his new neighborhood that Joseph doesn’t understand, he does know a good bike when he sees one.  Joseph’s Big Ride is a story about making new friends, trying something different, and the simple joy of riding a bike. 


The dreams our stuff is made of

I came to this book through a small blurb I read awhile back in Wired magazine reporting that business magnate-engineer-investor Elon Musk naming his SpaceX drone spaceships after sentient spacecraft from the sci-fi novels of Iain M. Banks. When I read that those names didn’t adhere to your typical spacecraft naming conventions but instead had the provocative names 'Just Read the Instructions' and 'Of Course I Still Love You', I was intrigued and needed to find out more about Iain M. Banks and his brand of science fiction. I began with Player of Games, the second title in Bank’s series of interrelated but not necessarily sequential Culture Novels. It blew me away, and now I will read all ten novels the Banks wrote before his untimely death in 2013. Bank’s presents a vision of a far future society, called simply the Culture, in which humans and humanoids live symbiotically with highly evolved AI and technology so advanced as to create a post-scarcity economy in which everything desired is available for free with no need for work, or laws, or many rules of any kind. It is a wildly inventive concept and so much fun to read. Truly brilliant stuff!

Not All Comic Book Characters Wear Capes

Graphic novels have a reputation for being all about superheroes and explosions, but they can be a really great format to tell more nuanced stories as well. I’d like to shine a spotlight on two evocative, character-focused, slice-of-life stories that really shine in a graphic novel format.

The first is a manga called Solanin by Inio Asano. The story follows Meiko, a recent college grad, and her friends a group of 20-somethings living in the background of a Japanese city. Over the course of the summer they grapple with all of the challenges of new adulthood: starting careers, finding their purpose in life, and how to break it to their parents that they’ve moved in with their boyfriend. Though the characters are Japanese, the themes are universal. Solanin is a novel with fantastic art work, and a story that will stay with me for a long time.

The second graphic novel is called Token by Alisa Kwitney, with illustrations by Joelle Jones. Token is a story about fifteen year old Shira Spektor, living in Miami, Florida in 1987. She lives with her father in an apartment building on South Beach, and spends most of her time with her best friend, a spunky 80-year-old woman who shoots straight from the hip. When her father starts dating his secretary, and the girls at school turn decidedly nasty, Shira turns to shoplifting. Just when she feels that there’s no one she can talk to, she meets a tall handsome stranger. She is falling in love for the first time just as everything else in her life seems to be falling apart. Token is fun, flirty, and timeless.

Both books have a lazy summer vibe perfect for the upcoming warmer months.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

For the last six years or so, it has been more or less impossible to avoid hearing discussions concerning the HBO series Game of Thrones, and most have probably heard enough to determine for themselves whether or not it’s their cup of tea.

In the case of those who have become captivated by (read: obsessed with) the show and left wanting during the between-season stretch from July to April each year, the obvious solution has been to turn their attention to George R.R. Martin’s gritty and compelling magnum opus A Song of Ice and Fire, currently consisting of five novels off which the show is based. Many will be delighted to discover that these works tend to weigh in around 700+ pages each, meaning all that much more time to spend enthralled in the exploits of their favorite characters as conflicts rage across Westeros and Essos.

For those who balk at that task, which is no small feat, yet still want to experience the canonical story elements sidelined, re-imagined, or omitted entirely by the show, I cannot recommend the audiobook versions of these books enough. This was my chosen method for getting myself up to speed so I could safely engage with online resources free of the dread feeling that I was about to stumble upon some devastating spoiler.

Since publishing the fifth entry in the seven book series in 2011 (which was only a year after the show began its run) Martin has been working on the sixth installment entitled The Winds of Winter. He had initially expressed his wishes via blog post to hand the book to his publisher by Halloween of 2015. That date was later revised to the end of the calendar year. Then it was to be finished by the premiere of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. In January of this year, he revised his stance again saying, “It will be done when it’s done.”

Fans are understandably anxious for the next book. The internet is full of angst over the idea that Martin may pass away before he’s able to finish the next two books- never mind that this is a human being we’re talking about- the books! YouTube videos have been made pleading for more news and sample chapters. Songs have been written. Guitars have been smashed.

For better or worse, Martin is not a single-minded automaton. He’s been busy attending conventions, working on the HBO show, living his life, and even working on other books. He recently published a three-part prequel novella collection entitled A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, which takes place approximately one hundred years prior to the events in the other books in the series, and chronicles the exploits of the young hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall, or Dunk, and his precocious squire, Egg.

The general tone tends to be bit more light-hearted than that of previous books in the series which many may find refreshing. A further departure from those works can be seen in the static point of view, told entirely from Dunk’s perspective as opposed to a rotating cast of characters. In both of these ways, it’s a bit like the Hobbit when compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Martin’s fans will find plenty to enjoy in the era of relative peace that preceded Robert’s Rebellion and the War of the Five Kings, and it’s a perfect distraction for those who are anxiously biding their time and waiting for the next bit of news concerning the coming of winter.

Reading Without Walls and Surfer of the Century

Gene Luen Yang, National Ambassador for Young People's Literature for 2015-2016, issued a challenge to readers called Reading Without Walls. Yang writes on his blog:

"I want every kid - every reader, really - to explore the world through books. Books have played a vital role in getting me outside of my comfort zone. I believe they can do the same for you. As National Ambassador, I issue you a challenge! I challenge you to read without walls in one of three ways:
1. Read a book about a character who doesn't look like you or live like you.
2. Read a book about a topic you don't know much about.
3. Read a book in a format that you don't normally read for fun. This might be a chapter book, a graphic novel, a book in verse, a picture book, or a hybrid book.
If you really want to go for the gold star, read a book that fits all three criteria! When you finish, take a photo of you and the book (or just the book if you're shy) and post it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadingWithoutWalls. You'll inspire others to do the same!"

This challenge inspired me to finally read a book I'd checked out, but hadn't opened yet. I initially picked up the picture book Surfer of the Century: The Life of Duke Kahanamoku because I thought the cover illustration looked nice and I didn't know much about surfing. I'd never heard Duke Kahanamoku's name before and knew nothing about his story. Kahanamoku lived a truly incredible and inspiring life. He won six Olympic medals for swimming, introduced the Hawaiian sport of surfing to people throughout the world, acted in over ten films during the 1920s and 1930s, and served as Honolulu's sheriff for 26 years.

In 1960, Kahanamoku was appointed Hawaii's official Ambassador of Aloha. He said, "In Hawaii we greet friends, loved ones or strangers with Aloha, which means with love. Aloha is the key word to the universal spirit of real hospitality, which makes Hawaii renowned as the world's center of understanding and fellowship. Try meeting or leaving people with Aloha. You'll be surprised by their reaction. I believe it and this is my creed. Aloha to you."

Kahanamoku was born in Honolulu in 1890, before the United States' illegal annexation of Hawaii. He passed away in 1968, nearly a decade after Hawaii became the fiftieth state. This book and his story showed me how little I know about the history of Hawaii, and now I can't wait to learn more.

I'm looking forward to checking out:
Waterman: The Life and Times of Duke Kahanamoku
Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii
Paradise of the Pacific: Approaching Hawaii
Unfamiliar Fishes

I Was a Child

I Was a Child tells a deceptively simple story of New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan's childhood in the 70s and 80s in suburban New York City. 

Thanks to simple yet evocative line drawings on every page, it's a quick read, especially because it is a collection of very short anecdotes and seemingly inconsequential details that somehow can take on a feeling of significance in a child's mind. 

Many of the details are familiar to my own childhood--an unused milk box by the front door, L'eggs pantyhose containers, and making ashtrays in school to give to one's parents are just a few. They are mostly the sorts of things I would never think important enough to mention in telling my own story, yet strung together they create a vivid and amazingly specific illustration of a particular family which is humorous, excruciating, and full of love.