Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
What is the first foreign country you would encounter if you went due south from Detroit? Anyone who answered Canada would be correct. Which city is farthest west -- Chicago, Denver, Reno, or Los Angeles? Reno it is. Of the 48 contiguous United States, which is the most northerly? Did someone think Maine or Washington? No, it's Minnesota. Where is the Sea of Tranquility? On the moon! Not limited to the USA, or even Earth, this book of geographic trivia that arrived just this month is one I found to be addicting. As has happened so many times through the years, I loved the KPL book so much that I have resolved to buy my own copy.
The trivia lover's guide to the world : geography for the lost and found
Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the event, which this year is celebrated September 30-October 6. According to the American Library Association website, Banned Books Week brings together booksellers, libraries, publishers, journalists, and readers of all types in “shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”
Banned Books Week draws national attention annually to books that communities or organizations have attempted to restrict access to, or remove from libraries and schools.
Here are a few of the titles on this year’s list: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer; Nickel and Dimed: on (not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich; and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Teen and children’s titles are not immune to challenge, either. Some examples are: Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Stolen Children by Peg Kehret.
You can read more about Banned Books Week, and view annotated lists explaining why the books were challenged, at the American Library Association website. Don't miss the Banned Books Readout at Central Library on October 4th, 7 pm.
Banned Books Week
This fall is an exciting time for fiction readers. A handful of greatly loved, established writers are releasing new books this season. Earlier this month, Zadie Smith released her fourth novel, NW. Louise Erdrich's fourteenth novel, The Round House, will be published at the beginning of next month. Early November will see the publication of Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver's latest novel, and Dear Life, a new collection of stories by Alice Munro. And later this week, J.K. Rowling's much anticipated first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, hits shelves. Place your holds today!
I’ve known three pairs of people now, who have been a kidney donor and a recipient to that donated kidney. I know bits and pieces of their stories, more from the donor’s perspective than the recipient’s. In each case, the donor knew instinctively that she was meant to give her kidney, and each time, she was sure she would be a “match” to the recipient, which in fact she was.
So I was intrigued to read this moving account of journalist colleagues, who grow to be friends and eventually "kidneys-in-law” (their humor,) when Martha McNeil Hamilton donates her kidney to Warren Brown for transplant. It was poignant and illuminating to learn, from Brown’s perspective, the difficulties he lived with prior to the transplants. (Previously, his wife donated a kidney to him. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for Brown’s body.)
Brown and Hamilton each describe growing up in a segregated South—she, a white female, and he, a black male. As colleagues at the Washington Post, they moved beyond the segregation of their youth, to develop a strong friendship over the years. Both were journalists at the Washington Post during and after 9/11, so part of their story covers how they dealt with the stress of post 9/11, in the news media world, in addition to the health crises and personal challenges they faced.
Black and white and red all over : the story of a friendship
Author Bob Tarte is at it again, this time with the rather lengthy titled, Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home.
Tarte, a Lowell, Michigan native whose previous books include Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather, has written a laugh out loud, true life account about his wacky existence living with six cats under one roof! His feline cast of characters include Agnes, Lucy, Maynard, Moobie, Tina, as well as Frannie the star stray. Being a celebrity in her own mind, Frannie, among other attention seeking eccentricities, insists on being petted while she eats.
And as if six fussy felines weren’t enough, Bob and his wife Linda also care for a variety of other abandoned animals such as rabbits, grey parrots, parakeets, songbirds, doves, hens, ducks and geese; in other words any animal that comes their way and needs a helping hand.
But the anecdotal antics in this volume focus mainly on the felines who constantly entertain, delight and sometimes aggravate their human owners. This book gets four enthusiastic Paws Up from me. It’s an enjoyable read for any animal lover who isn’t in complete sync with household harmony or perfection, but rather thrives on chaos and constant activity. The author uses great observational humor mixed with true compassion for these animals to paint memorable portraits of each. And each one is truly a one of a kind character.
Kitty Cornered: How Frannie and Five Other Incorrigible Cats Seized Control of Our House and Made It Their Home
Thursday, September 20th marks the beginning of the seventh season of Classics Revisited, a book discussion group held at KPL that focuses on classic literature (with a few contemporary standards thrown in for good measure). This month we’re discussing the masterful epic Middlemarch by George Eliot. Middlemarch, published in serials between 1871-72, follows the ambitions, successes, and failures of a number of the residents of a provincial English town during a time of political reform. Eliot had amazing insights to human nature—in fact, it was surprising to me just how modern her observations and characterizations were. If you’re familiar with Middlemarch and would like to join us for a lively discussion, please feel free to stop by the Central branch Thursday at 7pm.
Classics Revisited meets on the third Thursday of every month, September through May. Up next is Hemingway’sThe Sun Also Rises, which we will discuss on October 18th. The complete schedule is available on the KPL website and also on the Classics Revisited blog.
Life of Pi is an award winning novel by Canadian author, Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, the 16 year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. Pi is a spiritual seeker at an early age. He is a Hindu but falls in love with the stories of other religions and tells his parents that he wants to also be a Christian and Muslim. His family emigrates from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship along with their zoo animals. When the ship sinks, Pi ends up alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
The book describes the experience of how Pi survives 227 days adrift in the ocean with his unlikely companions. When he is finally rescued, Pi tells his extraordinary story to representatives of the Japanese shipping company searching for the cause of the sinking. They express deep disbelief, so he offers them a second, more believable story that parallels the first one. The company reps, and the reader, can choose to believe either one. The book depicts how all people use stories to give meaning to their experiences and process reality around them – some based on faith and religion.
Life of Pi is a readable book with a thought provoking ending and would make a great selection for a book club discussion.
Life of Pi
Charlie Collier: Snoop for Hire
Growing up I read every Encyclopedia Brown book. Recently Donald Sobol, the author of this series died and I was feeling nostalgic. Then I came across Charlie Collier, Snoop for Hire by John Madormo. It's not nearly the caliber of the Encyclopedia Brown series (Sorry John) but it was good enough to scratch the itch. If you recall Encyclopedia Brown had a desk and charged to solve crimes and had a girl named Sally as his "enforcer" and a bully named Bugs Meanie. Charlie has a desk in his garage and his "enforcer" is named Henry. Encyclopedia Brown had the support of his parents (his father was the police chief). Charlie has to sneak his detective work and if his parents come home too soon Henry and Charlie have to hurriedly clean up the garage. But luckily Charlie's grandmother is supportive, in more ways than you would think, but you have to read the book to find out more. Some of the solutions Charlie comes up with are a bit of a stretch. For example, his father reads in the newspaper that a man was found on the beach in Miami, no foot prints, his bones were broken but they were broken after death, cause of death was hypothermia. Charlie has the one and only possible solution, The man was a stowaway on an airplane . He stowed away in the landing gear and when it got to thirty thousand feet he froze to death, when the landing gear came down, he fell out and on to the beach. Throughout the main story there are little brain teasers like this, mostly from his assistant Henry who wants to try and stump him. You can find this book in our Children section of the library.
Charlie Collie Snoop for Hire
I have been familiar with many of Michelangelo's works since college when I took a class titled "The Arts and Letters of Michelangelo". A wonderful class, the professor greatly elaborated upon the Neoplatonic views that were circulating at this time among philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino, and how Michelangelo incorporated these views into his artwork. I was happy to find that this book does the same thing, as well as, discusses the political and cultural climate of Italy in the late 15th to early 16th centuries. The author John Spike seems to have a keen insight and understanding into the artist.
Young Michelangelo tells us about Michelangelo's upbringing including his beginning as an artist under the direction of Domenico Ghirlandaio and in the garden of Lorenzo de' Medici. We are introduced to Michelangelo's first works, the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, as well as sketches he did after frescoes by Masaccio and Ghirlandaio. These extant works show how versatile and talented Michelangelo was as a young artist in different mediums. The book talks about his Bacchus, David, Pieta, and other early commissions before going into details about his long and complex relationship with Giuliano della Rovere, a.k.a. Pope Julius II. We see the beginnings of his longtime habit of taking on more in commissions than he could finish and leaving projects in an unfinished state.
The author, John Spike, is very good at explaining the different stresses in Michelangelo's life and interpreting his response to these stresses, whether they are the political climate of his native Florence, the wishes of a demanding patron, or competition from other artists. The opinion of many art historians is that three Italian Renaissance artists catapulted themselves above the rest in their ability to produce extraordinary artwork at this time. Michelangelo was one of these artists, the other two being Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio. Spike also discusses Michelangelo's interactions with these two artists. Michelangelo was put in direct competition with da Vinci through a fresco commission in Florence; Raphael he writes off as a young kid of mediocre talent until he also comes under the commission of the pope. Contemporaries who knew each other personally, it is very interesting to me to hear how they interacted with and perceived one another with their very different attitudes and quirks.
Spike has done a lot of research to write this book. I would like him to write a Part II that would be a biography of Michelangelo's later life talking about his continued issues with Julius II and his issues cooperating with his assistants. In my opinion, Young Michelangelo seems to abruptly end. There is no conclusion and the last work of art the author talks about in the work is actually a fresco by Raphael. The format of the book also seems a bit strange. The first chapters are of a nice length but the very last chapter of the book reminds me of a run-on sentence being much longer. It strikes me as unfinished and lacking conclusion; the subtitle is "the Path to the Sistine", so please, tell me about the Sistine in another book! I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Michelangelo's early life though. It amazing the kinds of work he was able to produce at such a young age!
Young Michelangelo: the Path to the Sistine
Like slowing down to watch as you drive by a highway accident or being sucked into an extended viewing of “fail” videos during your lunch break, reading Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator won’t make you feel good about the world, but once you start reading it is very hard to turn away. The book scandalizes the new media culture by illustrating how the incessant need for fresh new content to feed millions of blogs, the mindless chasing of “pageviews” that is drives bloggers to publish first and verify (or not) later, and an utter lack of anything resembling journalistic integrity allows Holiday, and presumably many others like him, to easily manipulate the media for fun and profit. The first half of the book is basically a how-to guide for new media manipulation as Holiday recounts the ethically corrupt behavior that helped him push Fratire author Tucker Max to the top of bestseller lists and create an almost perpetual buzz around the company American Apparel that has translated into millions of dollars in profit. Most of the exploits that Holiday writes of are completely verifiable, he names names and gives dates, and he does give lip service to having regrets about his actions. But it is hard to feel anything but contempt for Holiday as he uses the second half of the book to indict the world of fast news and our meme-a-minute craving culture, yet continues to exploit and work in the very culture he condemns. Going so far as to push his book into the media spotlight using the very techniques that he "confesses" to in the book. It's a very confusing world we live in. But questioning Mr. Holiday’s motives is very silly when he tells you he is lying in the title, yet I did find this book utterly fascinating and would recommend it to anyone interested in media and the influence of popular culture on the new journalism.
Trust Me, I'm Lying