Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
In the September 2012 issue of the locally published SW Michigan Spark, Steve Ellis calls Grand Marais, Michigan "one of the prettiest towns in the Midwest." I believe this claim is justified, even if the closest I ever got to this Lake Superior village was about 70 miles away from it. In looking at this 2012 Wayne State University publication about Michigan's Pictured Rocks and National Lakeshore, I received a good idea of what he was writing about. Although primarily a work of science and cataloged as such, this book is also appealing to a general audience in that it also includes some really spectacular photographs as well as a road log that directs the reader to some very beautiful scenery.
Geology and landscape of Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and vicinity
An avid history fan, I’m listening right now to a wonderful audiobook version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall. It’s a look at the England of Henry VIII, when Henry decided to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, and marry Ann Boleyn. Mantel portrays these turbulent political and religious times through the life of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell was very much behind the scenes, and powerful. He came from humble beginnings. But he contrived to know the right people and got things done, first for his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, and later for Henry VIII, when Wolsey fell out of favor with the king. Cromwell is not always portrayed in a favorable light; here Mantel has made him a wholly believable and not unsympathetic figure.
Wolf Hall was longlisted for the Booker Prize, and it’s well deserved. Mantel is historically accurate, and the characters and times are fascinating in their detail. Library Journal’s review says, “There will be few novels this year as good as this one,” and I would concur. Author Hilary Mantel was born in England. She studied law at the London School of Economics, and has lived and worked in Botswana and Saudi Arabia, before returning to live in England.
"Everybody matters: that is our central idea," says the author of this book, Kwame Anthony Appiah, philosopher and champion of an ethical worldview called "Cosmopolitanism." This isn't new of course; when your mother said "eat your food...there's kids starving in Somalia" she was thinking like a cosmopolitan, greek for "citizen of the cosmos."
Cosmopolitanism is more of a challenge than anything else, a personal challenge to get past our hate, ignorance, and lack of imagination; and a national challenge to get past our pride, exceptionalism, and our differences. It's not an easy task to love someone across the globe; in fact, due to our evolutionary wiring, some would say it's impossible. Luckily, we don't have to. All we have to do is tolerate, or "get used to" other people that aren't like us. That's all. We don't have to agree. That's the beauty of it. If we learn about people who are different, we will tolerate them. That's the whole point of this book.
Cosmopolitanism also means realizing that people have basic needs that need to be met: health, food, shelter, education, consenting sex, to move, to express themselves (politically or otherwise). People deserve these things. This is a good place to start. But there are millions of details here, all of which even cosmopolitans could disagree on. For example, Appiah believes the "nation-state" is the best government to get things done, but others think a world government is. This is where the book falls short. There is no detail, no fleshing out of the theory, no meat so to speak. It's a primer, at best. I am disappointed.
He also has a bone to pick with the so called "cultural relativists," who think that values are subjective, that morals aren't real, that all cultures have their own ethical code which are neither right nor wrong and that talking about universal ethics makes no sense. Appiah wants to distance himself, and he knows that he's tiptoeing the line, so he spends some time on it with a nice philosophical discussion. It's a lot like "religious pluralism" (which I've blogged about before)--all religions can be equally valid paths to a single truth, or set of truths. That's the line he wants to take.
For those who want an introduction and light philosophical discussion and fast read, I recommend this book.
Dead until Dark is the first novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. It is a serial killer mystery and an unconventional romance complete with humans, vampires and other intriguing supernatural creatures. The story is set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires are attempting to coexist with humans because they can survive on newly invented artificial blood. The story is narrated by Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with the ability to read minds, and begins with the murder of her co-worker Maudette Pickens. Sookie attempts to help solve a subsequent series of murders for which her brother, Jason Stackhouse is a prime suspect. At the same time, Sookie begins a socially unacceptable relationship with a handsome, 173 year old vampire, Bill Compton.
If you, like me, are a fan of the HBO television series True Blood, you will likely enjoy this book. It closely follows the plot of season one but not exactly. The book contains an interesting vampire character “Bubba” that is not included in the TV series and some characters from television are not in the book. Even though I knew the identity of the murderer, it kept me engaged and was a light, fun, end-of-summer read.
Dead until Dark
What a fascinating look at the relationships between former presidents in The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.
Harry Truman first reached out to Herbert Hoover as they jokingly decided to form a “Presidents Club” to start the relationship between the current and former presidents.
Relationships and rivalries, some backstabbing and clashing egos are all described. However, all club members, no matter their political party, care deeply about the country and truly understand the challenges that go with the job.
The insights and stories are amazing in this well-written, most readable book.
The Presidents Club: inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity
Zero and One… two books by Kathryn Otoshi. Kathryn Otoshi uses numbers and colors to explain self-worth to children in her two books titled: One and Zero. Otoshi’s writing is direct, simplistic and surprisingly complete. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can read this book over and over to remind children that each and every child has value.
One is the winner of 10 Awards including the E. B. White Read Aloud Honor book.
The colors in One are associated with personality characteristics, Blue is quiet, Yellow is sunny, Green is bright, Purple is regal, Orange is outgoing, Red is hot. In One the color Red bullies Blue who is liked by all the other colors, but those colors do not stand up for Blue or for themselves! Then, along comes the number One. One is funny and makes the colors laugh, except for Red, who demands that One quit laughing. But One stands up straight like an arrow and says “No,” and, “If someone is mean and picks on me, I, for One, stand up and say, No.” The story continues with coping skills for Blue to stop Red’s bullying.
Zero features the number zero who feels worthless and tries to gain worth by joining the other numbers and giving up her value, but it just doesn’t work! The other numbers convince Zero to count more and bring value to everyone!
If you can get past the title, you'll love the book. The story takes place in Oslo, Norway, days before the annual Norwegian Independence Day celebration. 11 year old Nilly has just moved to his new house where he meets his new neighbor, 11 year old Lisa. Nilly is very small - which is important to remember. Living next door to Lisa is the inventor, Doctor Proctor. Doctor Proctor has invented many things, including a powder that makes you glow green and the all important fart powder (regular strength) and fartonaut powder (extra strength). You'll also meet the not so nice twins Truls and Trym, and Anna Conda. You can decide what you think of Anna. There is intrigue, revenge, adventure, lots of laughter and of course - farts! The humor and magic has been compared to Roald Dahl. There are two more books in the series to enjoy, Bubble in the Bathtub and Who Cut the Cheese? My youngest son and I really liked the book and will be starting the next one tonight.
Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder
Moonlight by Helen Griffith is easily one of my favorite pictures books of 2012. I picked it up in the Children's Room because of the beautiful cover but was delighted by the words and story when reading it to my toddler. It's a perfect bedtime book--very soothing with simple, rhyming text. My daughter calls it the butter book because the "moonlight falls like butter" according to the poem in the book. The yellow brushstrokes of moonlight on each page are beautiful enough that she reaches out to touch them. And when we finally see rabbit's dreams, she loves to call out the things she sees (strawberries, radishes, cabbage). It's been our favorite for a month or so now!
Moonlight by Helen Griffith
The bad guys do not have to follow the rules. Dealing drugs makes you lots of money. It seems like a never ending battle. In James Patterson's latest book, written with Michael Ledwidge "I, Michael Bennett", Detective Michael Bennett arrests a major drug lord called The Sun King. Just because this drug lord is in jail doesn't mean he can't reach out and cause harm. Michael Bennett is trying to take a vacation with his 10 adopted children, his nanny, Mary Catherine, who is in love with him (the fool keeps putting his job before his happiness, he needs to just marry her), and his grandfather Seamus a Priest. He and his family go off to "Hicksville" as his kids call it. Of course this small town has changed since Michael has been there and now it is run down, boarded up and drug infested. Guess who supplies the drugs to this town, yep the Sun King. The Sun King orders a hit on Michaels kids and two of them get shot (but not killed). Michael gets mad and working with other agencies tries to clean up the little town all the while traveling back and forth to the big city to testify in the Sun Kings Trial. Of course he cleans up the town, but does he put away the Sun King? The ending of this book was not what I expected. At first I was like Hey, but now I am eagerly waiting for the next book to see what happens next, so I guess the author's ending did what he wanted it to, make me read his next book. I recommend reading them in order, you don't have to but the Mary Catherine love piece, I think, feels better read in order.
I, Michael Bennett
Most people don't know Howard Thurman (I didn't). You could say he was the John the Baptist to Martin Luther King Jr., the grandfather of African American nonviolence, a Gandhian, Christian, mystic, poet, and preacher.
Howard Thurman's childhood memories: burying his father because nobody else would (whites-only undertaker in their town); listening to the funeral sermon, which "preached my father into hell" because he wasn't officially Baptist. Thus we have the two things Howard Thurman fought against his whole life: Segregation and institutions.
But far more powerful memories sustained him: "The woods befriended me" and gave [me] "a sense of belonging...the ocean and the night gave me a sense of timelessness...death would be a minor thing." Of all the evils swirling around him, he would take solice in the storm and the God of the storm.
Like Tolystoy he became a Christian mystic, making a large distinction between "the religion of Jesus," which "offers me very many ways out of the world's disorders"--and Christianity. He felt God directly in nature, much like Emerson's "Original Experience"; a Chrisitian beyond Christianity: "the things that are true in any religious experience are to be found in that religious experience precisely because they are true; they are not true simply because they are found in that religious experience...this is not to say that all religions are one and the same, but it is to say that the essence of religious experience is unique, comprehensible, and not delimiting." This permeated his relationships: "That afternoon I had the most primary, naked fusing of total religious experience with another human being of which I have ever been capable."
A pivitol point in his life is when the president of his college called them "young gentleman": "What this term of respect meant to our faltering egos can only be understood against the backdrop of the South of the 1920's...the black man was never referred to as 'mister,' nor even by his surname...to the end of his days, he had to absorb the indignity of being called 'boy,' or 'nigger,' or 'uncle'." He was an amazingly disciplined intellectual:
the library was my refuge and my joy…at last the world of books was mine for the asking. I spent hours each week wandering around in the stacks, taking down first one book, then another, examining the title, reading the foreword and the table of contents, leafing through the pages, reading a paragraph here and there, getting the feel of the book and familiarizing myself with writers across centuries who would in time become as closely related to me as my personal friends…I kept certain books in the bathroom. Others I read only during the ten-minute intervals between classes…I would hasten to the next classroom, take my seat, and read until the lecture started.
He advocated for African American rights but, like his friend Martin Luther King Jr., he did so in a wholistic and strategic way: "Thurman would speak about race before white audiences, but on his own terms, and in his own way." He said: "This is always the problem of reformation: To put all of one's emphasis upon one particular thing and when that thing is achieved and the Kingdom of God has not come, then the reformer sits in the twilight of his idols."
After visiting Gandhi, Thurman really got to thinking about how to fix the problem of segregation and race problems in America. As a minister, he thought: how in the world can we tell the government to integrate white and black if our own religion is the most segregated institution in the country? It was embarrassing and wrong. Therefore, he helped create and became the minister of a truly interracial, multiculural church in San Franscisco. This was the legacy of Howard Thurman. Obviously his struggle continues.
Martin Luther King Jr. would listen to him preach in Boston: “He always listened carefully when Thurman was speaking, and would shake his head in amazement at Thurman’s deep wisdom” (192). Don't forget to supplement this book with Howard Thurman's autobiography With Head and Heart.
Visions of a Better World