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Staff Picks: Books

Books about Books, What to Read Next, and other tools

We are what we read. But how do we decide what to read? Normally we don't have a systematic program for our reading life. Perhaps a friend told us, or the "customers also bought this..." on, or our last book mentioned it, or we heard it on NPR or Oprah. These are all great, but there's many other ways. Try the Now Read This through our website. Or, if you want a Read-a-Like based on an author you like, try our Books and Authors database (or try Good Reads or LibraryThing).

But, if you want to get super serious, we have tons of books that are about books (i.e. bibliographies, "treasuries," "anthologies," "companions").

Based on Age:

1001 children's books you must read before you grow up, 100 best books for children, The Book of virtues for young people : a treasury of great moral stories, Black Books Galore! Guide to great African American children's books about girls, 500 Great Books for Teens, Disabilities and disorders in literature for youth : a selective annotated bibliography for K-12, The Ultimate Teen Book Guide

"I just want the classics!" (usually this means great literature, not necessary from the Classical period):

Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, Magill's survey of world literature, Literature Lovers Companion: the essential reference to the world’s greatest writers—past and present, popular and classical, Assessing the Classics: great reads for adults, teens, and English language learners, The modern library : the two hundred best novels in English since 1950, Harvard Classics series (has the actual writings)

By Genre:

Short Story Writers, The Essential Mystery Lists, Harold Bloom writes several books, e.g. on British Women Fiction Writers, Asian American Women Writers, Major Black American Writers, Classic Science Fiction Writers, and more.

To find the major books in an academic field, like philosophy or physics or astronomy, look for an introductory book. They usually have primary sources and "further reading" sections.

Racial or Cultural Identity:

African Writers, Sacred fire : the QBR 100 essential Black booksConcise encyclopedia of Latin American literature, Native American literatures : an encyclopedia of works, characters, authors, and themes

Movements and Places:

Literary movements for students : presenting analysis, context, and criticism on commonly studied literary movements, Promised Land: 13 books that shaped AmericaThe Oxford companion to American literature (we also have these for Austrialian, French, Canadian, and more); Michigan in the Novel (really cool book list of novels set in MI or about MI)

Have fun reading, and slow down to think!


1001 Books for Every Mood

Living In Relative Harmony

This past July, I posted a blog about kitten care. That effort came about as a result of our family’s recent adoption of two rescue kittens. As promised then, this is an update about their and our family’s progress together.

The two kittens, Graham and Lionel are a little over six months old now, which means that their individual looks and personalities are beginning to shine through. And at this point in time, they don’t look or act like there is much common parental heritage. While it is true that kittens born to the same litter are more likely to share only their mother’s genes since they have different fathers, in this case even a remote resemblance to maternal ancestry seems to be hidden.


Both Graham and Lionel are supposedly of mixed breed, but that has not prevented them from being quite handsome. Graham in particular appears to have more than a smidgen of some pure bred feline in him. He has very soft, long fur and an especially elongated, bushy and willowy tail. He seems to know of the attractiveness of his back extremity, and will take every opportunity to show it off by swaying it back and forth in an exaggerated manner whenever a human is in the vicinity; somewhat reminiscent of a feather boa in the beckoning hands of an old timey cabaret dancer. In addition to drawing attention to himself, Graham also has found a more utilitarian use for its length by completely covering his nose and ears with it when he wishes to sleep undisturbed.


After doing some research in The Encyclopedia of the Cat by Bruce Fogle, DVM, my husband now firmly believes that he is mostly Norwegian Forest cat, a breed that possesses pronounced tufts on their ears and paws, as does our Graham. Whatever is his lineage, it’s clear that he is proud of his good looks. He washes himself much more than his brother, and often purrs with enjoyment while doing so. Actually, Graham purrs most of the time because he is one very happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care kitten!

Lionel on the other hand is a short haired orange and white tabby with attractive markings on his back. He is a bit smaller than his brother, but whatever he lacks in stature and looks, he seems to have made up for by having more than his share of smarts. In both looks and personality, he closely resembles our beloved Cosmo, who died from renal failure last February. Lionel learns quickly, understands commands and is very enthusiastic when it comes to playtime.

Both kittens respect Ollie our other cat, three years their senior. To our surprise, he has taken upon himself the task of surrogate parent, washing each kitten regularly, showing them where the chipmunks come to the sliding glass door, and when are proper nap times, snack times etc. If they don’t show respect to him and his direction, he does not hesitate to swat them with his oversized front paws or give them a sharp nip, thereby reminding the miscreant who is boss.


Unfortunately for Patrick, our four pound house bunny, pet politics in our home has turned somewhat for the worse. Whereas Ollie has always left Patrick alone, both Lionel and Graham have developed an unhealthy fondness for the game of “Hunters and Hunted”, with you know who being reluctantly yet steadfastly cast as prey. Whenever they get bored and left to their own devices, both kittens begin stalking, chasing and roughhousing with Patrick. We on the other hand try the best we can to get it through to them that this is a big no-no. This is usually accomplished with a few well aimed squirts of water from a spray bottle, accompanied with whoops and hollers of reprimand. While water is of course harmless, it is also disliked by most cats, and this combination has been most effective in dissuading Lionel from engaging in this behavior. However, Graham seems to enjoy all things aquatic, (again my husband blames this on his Norwegian Forest cat ancestry) and is curious and amused as to why anyone would want to spray him with water, how we accomplish this feat and even how the water bottle sprayer works. But however slowly, both kittens are learning that the pursuit of bunnies is not an acceptable diversion, and find other ways to amuse themselves. This is a good sign that they are maturing and that their listening /obeying skills are on the increase; a major positive for both our household and Patrick’s nerves.

Every evening I organize a play session with all three felines - Ollie, Graham and Lionel - that lasts for about 45 minutes, so that they can all chase, jump, retrieve and especially interact with one another. This last activity is most important since it builds positive feelings about each other, while decreasing jealousies. No one ever misses playtime; it’s clearly the highlight of their hectic day, which includes many naps, eating, drinking, listening to mellow music and getting into whatever mischief they can. And so our three feline family members live a life of comfort and relative harmony.

Hmmm, I wonder how Patrick feels about that “harmony” part?


The Encyclopedia of the Cat

What's Old Is New Again

Most of the time when one thinks about atlases it's in terms of consulting one for reference. That's probably how they are used most of the time; however, as I've said in this space before, I read them for entertainment. The Kalamazoo Public Library has many atlases that diverge from the usual road variety, as was shown in the book about remote islands that I brought forward last month. Here is another special-use atlas that was received just this month -- a book of maps and commentary on biblical places. This volume is very different from other atlases of its type in that it includes the latest archaeological and historical research, new mapping styles, and maps that have never appeared before, all in full color with an accessible text. Last, but not least, this book is in the circulating collection, so this well-done, visually appealing effort can be enjoyed at home.


The one-stop Bible atlas

Kitten Adoption

After making the commitment to adopt two male rescue kittens, I realized that maybe I needed to brush up on some pointers for their care, since it’s been quite a while from the time when we last heard the pitter patter of tiny kitten paws on our household’s floors. So, I picked up some cat care books at the Eastwood Branch Library. One in particular, Cats For Dummies was especially helpful because it contained clear, no-nonsense information on the topic.

My main concern was Ollie, our 3½ yr old resident feline. He would have to be properly introduced to the “kitten kids” for the adoption to have any chance of succeeding. While friendly with those he knew, Ollie was more than just a little skittish when confronted by strangers, be they human or of another species. This wasn’t surprising considering that we found him abandoned at a local community college when he himself was a kitten, and from the looks of him at the time, he seemed to have been abused and on his last legs. So, any changes made to his current comfortable surroundings in our home, was met with fear, suspicion, disapproval and avoidance on his part.

Following the suggestion of an online source, I had a neighbor bring over the kittens to our home. This was done so that I would not be associated with the tykes in Ollie’s eyes. Prior to their actual arrival, I showered Ollie with lots of TLC and attention. A healthy dose of freshly picked catnip didn’t hurt either. Despite all these careful preparations, when the kittens did arrive, Ollie, true to form, refused to come to see what the commotion was all about. When he finally did make it downstairs, I tried the best I could to completely ignore the two super cute kittens and instead paid all my attention to our tenured cat.

Initially, Ollie displayed some hurt feelings in the form of increased hissing and attempted swipes at the youngsters. Four days later however, the hissing subsided and he sat down on his favorite ottoman in the center of the living room to observe their playful interactions with each other, as well as with Patrick, our house rabbit. Several days later on, he began slowly to accept them as family members and even attempted to roughly “play” with them, but only under my close supervision. Yes, there is still some swatting and jealous feelings but considering the circumstances, Ollie is adjusting quite well to little Graham and his bother Lionel.

Stay tuned for future updates as our newly re-formulated family coalesces!


If you are interested in adopting a kitten or cat, check out the SPCA, Pet Rescue Network or Animal Rescue to name just a few area sources. We found our new family members at Animal Rescue where one of their volunteers, Leanne, was a surrogate mother for these wonderful kittens from age of one week (when they were found), to nine weeks. She did a fantastic job teaching the kittens proper litter habits and socializing them so that they are comfortable with human touch, thereby increasing their chances for growing into truly loving companions.

Animal Rescue spays/neuters the kittens before you are able to bring them home. They also have their first booster shots and an ID microchip is placed underneath the skin in the neck area in case they turn out to be quick escape artists or get lost. All these services are provided for a reasonable adoption fee. Also prior to the adoption, a comprehensive questionnaire needs to be filled out by the prospective adoptive parent.

Right now it’s the high season for litters of kittens. Most are in desperate need of good indoor homes. Can you help? The following photos are current kittens looking for great homes. If you have what it takes, please contact Leanne at 269-375-5402 or You’ll be glad you made this all important commitment to help a feline (or two) in need!



Cats for Dummies
cats-for-dummies-cover-160 S732

Love Part 8: Augustine

Before Saint Augustine was a Christian Bishop, he was a well-versed Roman philosopher, so this post sort of concludes my last seven posts. In the Confessions, Augustine remembers reading "the platonists," which "taught [him] to search for incorporeal truth," and "the Apostle" (Paul), which taught him to "rejoice with trembling" (he also "trembled exceedingly"). "For where was that charity building upon the 'foundation' of humility...or when should these books teach me it?” “Most eagerly then did I seize that venerable writing of Thy Spirit; and chiefly the Apostle Paul."

Speaking of Paul, Augustine's nice elaboration on his famous Corinthian speech:

“But sight shall displace faith; and hope shall be swallowed up in that perfect bliss to which we shall come: love, on the other hand, shall wax greater when these others fail.”

Why do we love our enemies? “And hence it is that we love even our enemies. For we do not fear them, seeing they cannot take away from us what we love; but we pity them rather, because the more they hate us the more they are separated from Him Whom we love.” sounds sorta like Aurelius?

Following the greatest commandments “is true religion” he says. Paul collapsed the greatest commandments into loving others. Augustine collapses it into loving God:

“you ought not to love even yourself for your own sake, but for His in Whom your love finds its most worthy object, no other man has a right to be angry if you love him too for God’s sake…Loving his neighbor as himself, a man turns the whole current of his love both for himself and his neighbor into the channel of the love of God, which suffers no stream to be drawn off from itself by whose diversion its own volume would be diminished.”

Loving yourself is implied: “there is no need of a command that every man should love himself and his own body…we love ourselves…through a law of nature which has never been violated.”And: “that man might be intelligent in his self-love, there was appointed for him an end to which he might refer all his actions…and so, when one who has this intelligent self-love is commanded to love his neighbor as himself, what else is enjoined than that he shall do all in his power to commend to him the love of God? This is the worship of God, this is true religion, this right piety, this the service due to God only.”

The Love Test of interpreting scripture

When people don’t like a part of scripture they read it “figurative,” and when they like it it’s “literal.” Augustine’s solution is to read it always with love in mind:

“Scripture enjoins nothing except charity [love] and condemns nothing except lust.” And: “He who is mature in faith, hope and love, needs Scripture no longer…many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces.”


“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love…his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception.”

There are six steps to “wisdom,” many which have to do with love. The third, knowledge, comes down to nothing more than the “greatest commandments”: “After these two steps of fear and piety, we come to the third step, knowledge…in this every earnest student of the Holy Scriptures exercises himself, to find nothing else in them but that God is to be loved for His own sake, and our neighbor for God’s sake.” And “through being entangled in the love of this world—i.e., of temporal things—has been drawn far ways from such a love for God and such a love for his neighbor as Scripture enjoins.” … “then in the fifth step—that is, in the counsel of compassion—he cleanses his soul…And at this stage he exercises himself diligently in the love of his neighbor; and when he has reached the point of loving his enemy, full of hopes and unbroken in strength, he mounts to the sixth step…”

Augustine wrestles back and forth with how, exactly, to love yourself and other people. He is so convinced that God alone deserves to be loved, that he wonders how we are to love imperfect people and things. “For a great thing truly is man” and “we are commanded to love one another: but it is a question whether man is to be loved by man for his own sake, or for the sake of something else…It seems to me…that he is to be loved for…something else.”

As a kid, Augustine’s best friend dies and he is devastated, falling into a deep and long depression: “Wretched I was; and wretched is every soul bound by the friendship of perishable things.” Like the stoics, he thinks this type of grieving is wrong, and, similar but different to the stoics, his solution is to love people "in God":

“Blessed whoso loveth Thee, and his friend in Thee, and his enemy for Thee. For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him Who cannot be lost.”

His reasoning seems to be this: you can only love what you can depend on, and ultimately you can only depend on God. The same goes for loving things: “If material things please you, praise them in God…If persons please you, let God be loved in them.” “..for these go their way and cease to be, and the soul is torn from them with sick longing, for it wants them to continue being so it can rest in what it loves in them.”

And: “Further, all men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who…are brought into closer connection with you.”

The Confessions is Augustine beating his chest before God and his readers. It can be painful and self-deprecating to read. You could summarize the whole memoir as "I'm sorry" and "thank you." It does have many of his thoughts on love, but City of God also does, where he joins the history of utopian writings (“in order to discover the character of any people, we have only to observe what they love").

Related Posts
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love 
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus 
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love


The Confessions

Where in the World??

As those who have read my columns know, I love looking at maps and atlases. I have a good collection of them at home, but it doesn't compare with the riches available here at KPL. And now ... for something completely different. This volume came to my attention only a couple of weeks ago. Maps I wouldn't have thought to exist are presented here. I think my favorite is the one on page 100, which is of Carpatho-Ukraine, a country that was independent in 1939 for only one day! There are also maps of proposed boundaries that never came to fruition, such as the 38-state plan that had Kalamazoo in a state called Dearborn. Another one is a plan to break up the United States into 16 new nations, under the premise that such a large population has become too unwieldy to govern from Washington. Michigan would be in a country named The Boundary Waters. The author does have some unflattering comments about Michigan pioneer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, but I guess I'll forgive him for those, since there is so much other material in this book to enjoy. Come take a look.


Strange maps : an atlas of cartographic curiosities

Love Part 1: Platonic Love

I'm embarking on a whole new reading journey. Before I get married this Fall, I wanted to read and think about what some of the greatest thinkers have written about love. Where to start? (well, the library of course). There is a set of books called Great Books of the Western World, a collection of the knowledge and wisdom in fiction, philosophy, science, history, poetry, religion, and more. And it comes with an index (called the "synopticon") that allows you to read through these great thinkers by subject. I'm using this reading list as my foundation, but will probably supplement it with other writers (Eastern thinkers, for example!). This blog will be the chalkboard of my reading experience. I hope you comment, add your wisdom and experience, suggest other books, and join me!

We begin with Plato, the father of philosophy. On my first reading, I must admit I was not impressed with what Plato had to say. It seemed like an eccentric philosopher talking about something he had no clue about, over-intellectualizing it, making jokes about it, and talking a lot about the Greek practice of old men "loving" young boys. But I dug deeper. Someone once said that all of western philosophy is merely a footnote to what Plato already said. I don't know about that, but this is what he says [in Plato's dialogues, Socrates is his mouthpiece] about love:

Love is “young and tender” and “of all the gods he is the best friend of men, the helper and the healer of the ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race." “He walks not upon the hard but upon the soft…in the hearts and souls of both gods and men…in them he walks and dwells and makes his home…and also he is of flexile form; for if he were hard and without flexure he could not enfold all things, or wind his way into and out of every soul of man undiscovered.”

Socrates sees love as a sort of mediator between God and man:

“he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together…For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse and converse of god with man…is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom…is mean and vulgar.”

This has parallels with Christianity, and there is no wonder that future Christian thinkers will take a lot from Plato.

The goal of Platonic love is to increase virtue and wisdom, “communicating wisdom and virtue...seeking to acquire them with a view to education and wisdom.” “Thus noble in every case is the acceptance of another for the sake of virtue. This is that love which is the love of the heavenly goddess, and is heavenly, and of great price to individuals and cities, making the lover and the beloved alike eager in the work of their own improvement."

In contrast, loving for the sake of temporary things like physical beauty, is unwise:

“Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, insasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away.”

On a more practical note, Plato talks about what makes two people compatible for marriage. In Lysis, the conclusion is that totally different people cannot be friends or lovers, but also that the same nature will gain nothing from the other; thus, lovers should be similar but different.

Related posts



The Symposium

Dying Words of Gandhi, Hitler, Hobbes, Booth

Every time I browse the enormous collection of reference books on the central branch second floor, I find a gem like this Dictionary of Last Words. Some that I found:

John Donne [click for books on or by Donne]: “I were miserable if I might not die…They Kingdom come, Thy Will be done.” 

Thomas Jefferson: “Is it the Fourth?” 

William James (American philosopher/psychologist): “It’s so good to get home!” 

Henry James (writer): “So here it is at last, the distinguished thing!” 

Beethoven: (when the wine he asked for came late) “Too bad! Too bad! It’s too late!” 

Alexander Graham Bell: “So little done. So much to do.” 

Jeremy Bentham (utilitarian): “I now feel that I am dying; our care must be to minimize pain. Do not let the servants come into the room, and keep away the youths; it will be distressing to them, and they can be of no service.” 

John Wilkes Booth: “Tell my mother—I died—for my country…I thought I did for the best…Useless! Useless!” 

Emily Dickinson: “I must go in, the fog is rising.” 

Charles Darwin: “I am not the least afraid to die.” 

Jean Jacques Rousseau: “See the sun, whose smiling face calls me; see that immeasurable light. There is a God! Yes, God Himself, who is opening His arms and inviting me to taste at last that eternal and unchanging joy that I had so long desired.” 

Hitler: “Above all, I enjoin the government of the nation and the people to uphold the racial laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, interational Jewry…My wife and I choose to die in order to escape the shame of overthrow or capitulation. It is our wish for our bodies to be cremated immediately on the place where I have performed the greater part of my daily work during twelve years of service to my people.” 

Thomas Hobbes: “I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at.” 

Gandhi: “Oh, God.”


Dictionary of Last Words

history of criminal justice in Michigan

While browsing the second floor reference books today, I stumbled upon this amazing book, History of Michigan Law, which is a collection of articles on various aspects of Michigan law. The chapter on the history of criminal justice in Michigan was enlightening in the following ways:

  • substantitive law (list of crimes and punishements) [links to current MI penal code] has not changed much since the 1800's; although many new crimes have been added and amended, most crimes remain unclear, and are left to the courts to interpret. A "model penal code" was attempted a couple times, and failed.
  • Michigan was the first English-speaking government to ban the death penalty. wow.
  • Michigan gave poor criminals the right to a defense and appeal before the U.S. Surpreme Court did.
  • In 2001, our indigent defense system was ranked 49th in the nation (=bad).
  • Around the eighties, we had very severe minimum mandatory sentencing laws.
  • In 2004, we followed the U.S. Supreme Court by adopting the "good faith exception" to the exclusionary rule; which gives police a certain exception when illegally searching and seizing. (interesting point to remember: States can give citizens more rights than the U.S. Constitution, but not less.)

In sum, the author described this history as a constant "balancing act," between preventing and punishing crime, and giving criminals and alleged criminals fair treatment. It is social, legal, and political.


The History of Michigan Law

The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book

There are so many good cookbooks in the KPL system. My favorite is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer! It’s an everyday cooking cookbook. I’ve always appreciated its step-by-step bread recipes. The bread making chapter is called “about breadmaking” and it explains the process of yeast raising, flours, sweeteners, kneading and everything you need to know about bread making. There’s a basic recipe for sweet buns of which you can use for any of your sweetbreads; such as, coffeecake, doughnuts, raisin bread and stollen. I love their French bread recipe. I’ve used it for pizza dough made with a good virgin olive oil.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook also has a great recipe for homemade mayonnaise made with olive oil. So, just imagine a sandwich made with your own homemade bread smeared with your homemade mayonnaise. Mmmm Yum!

Some other of my favorites Fannie Farmer recipes are stuffed cabbage, eggplant parmesan, chicken cacciatore and chicken jambalaya. Mmmm Yum!

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has been around since 1896, but it will always be current.


The Fannie Farmer Cookbook