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Staff Picks: Books

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"I wrote Ghost for all the young people who feel like they're suffocating, who feel like they're gasping for breath, exhausted from running for their lives, and sometimes FROM their lives. It's for both the traumatized and the triumphant." - Jason Reynolds, 2016 National Book Award Finalist                                                                                                                                                                           The Track series by Jason Reynolds has been a teen favorite for the last two years. The stories of elite track team members, Ghost, Patina, and Sunny, have captured our hearts and we can't wait to have all four books in our hand when Lu comes out in October. We're hosting teen book clubs each month to celebrate these amazing books over pizza. Join us September 20 for Pizza and Pages: Ghost. Free copies available now in Teen Central. 


Night Job

Karen Hesse is renowned for Out of the Dust, a Newbery Medal winning dust bowl story written in verse, and other great reads. Hesse has some wonderful picture book collaborations, too, where words and pictures combine to make something really special. The new picture book, Night Job, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas, is a great example. The story seems pretty mundane: dad brings child to work as custodian at a large middle school. But what makes the book special is the representation of father and child in their everyday lives. Sure, they ride a motorcycle to and from work, but it's a mode of transportation, nothing flashy. There's something really poignant about shooting baskets in the big-kid-gym while dad works or falling asleep in an office until dad is done and it's time to go home.

9-11 Literature

Author Bryan Charles grew up in Galesburg, Michigan and attended Gull Lake High School in the early 1990’s. His sophomore effort is a memoir detailing the ups and down’s of trying to be an aspiring writer in the Big Apple, after having relocated from Kalamazoo to New York City in the late 1990’s. He quickly discovers the cruel realities associated with big city living, with much of the early part of the book chronicling his frustration with having to work at a soul-crushing job instead of being recognized as the next Don DeLillo. The best-written part of the book (first having appeared in a literary journal as The Numbers), and certainly the book’s emotional core, contains a harrowing passage that describes his escape from one of the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001. Other novels and collections of short stories that attempted to meditate on the post and pre-9-11 world include:

Falling Man: A Novel, Don DeLillo

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud 

The Submission by Amy Waldman 

The Zero by Jess Walter 

Oblivion: Stories by David Foster Wallace

Netherworld by Joseph O'Neill

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

There are some who would say I need this book, and desperately. I picked it up even though I'm not Swedish, and thought I would share it with those who might be interested. Subtitled How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, this book is, at it says on the back cover, 'A charming and practical approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.' In Sweden there is a practice known as dostadning, which is a form of decluttering. Author Magnusson defines this as a 'surprisingly invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings [that] can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner rather than later, before others have to do it for you.' The difference between this and other methods of clutter control is that there are elements of fun and joy involved, meaning that the process is not burdensome, but rewarding.

On the Camino, by Jason

Here’s why I recommend On the Camino, by Jason:

  • I like graphic novels. I like travel memoirs, where the traveler(s) journeyed on their own steam, just as much. Combine those aspects; I’m generally hooked!
  • Jason’s wry sense of humor had me chuckling often.
  • The artist’s portrayal of himself and other hikers as animals lent a quirky perspective to his tale of hiking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile path through the north of Spain.
  • Yet, this tale isn’t all quirk and humor. I appreciated his humility and his honesty about his doubts along the way. He pondered whether he fit in or not with the other hikers and why exactly he chose to hike the trail. He described his fears when he was sure he was lost along the way.
  • I became curious about the logistics of creating the graphic novel. I wondered, did Jason take notes along the way? Did he draw each day after he’d finished hiking, or did he chronicle the whole trip from memory once the hike was over?
  • Maybe you’ll read this and have your own thoughts about what journey--physical or otherwise--you might chronicle and how you might do it, if you were drawing a memoir. For myself, I’m still pondering. 


A Story of Love and Cats

Catnip: A Love Story by Michael Korda is a small whimsical true story of delightful doodles of cats( and once in a while a stray horse or two), engaged in human-like activities and situations. It is the author's acknowledgement of his love for wife Margaret who loved both cats and horses.

After a diagnosis of malignant brain cancer and two unsuccessful surgeries,Margaret's prognosis was not encouraging. To distract her from the ever more powerful and uncomfortable medical treatments she had to endure, Michael began sending to her his drawings of cats via email.Although not an ardent cat lover himself, he observed the cats and their individual personalities, sketching quickly rendered cartoons of them on the back of old manuscripts in the tack room of their horse barn. The cats were depicted playing musical instruments,cooking, eating meals at the table, etc much to Margaret's delight.

Unbeknownst to Michael, Margaret started sharing these feline depictions with various friends, who shared them with their friends, one of whom was a publisher. And so, this compilation of the drawings came to be; a wonderful and loving graphic tribute to the late Margaret.

This is a touching and very  personal story both humorous and sad in its expression of everlasting love, one that I will not soon forget. Absolutely charming!

The River Why

I recently borrowed this 1983 novel by David James Duncan from my parents, and as soon as I began it, I wondered why I’d never picked it up before. The River Why is a hilarious, quirky, and heartfelt coming-of-age story with a conservation message narrated by the highly earnest Gus Orviston. The son of two passionate but very different fisherpeople, Gus moves to an isolated fishing cabin on an Oregon river as soon as he graduates from high school—in part to escape the maddening relationship between the people who taught him his deep love of fishing. Gus also wants to live by what he calls an "ideal schedule," allotting as much time as possible each day to fishing, spending the bare minimum on necessities such as eating and sleeping.

Gus gradually discovers that as much as he loves fishing, his life is lacking something. Several friends and acquaintances—particularly his eccentric little brother Bill Bob, the only member of the Orivston family who doesn't like fishing—guide Gus in discovering the deeper meaning of life.

I liked this book so much, I wanted to share it with others by writing a review, but at the time, KPL did not own a copy. So I used the suggest an item feature on to request that the library purchase a copy, and they did. Check it out! 

The Lake Michigan Cottage Cookbook

I really don't know what draws me to cookbooks. I don't cook, and I don't think I would like a lot of the entrees advocated therein. But, here's one that attracted my attention, probably because it has a regional focus -- and it's our region. Chicago-based food writer Amelia Levin has assembled a collection of recipes from the four states around Lake Michigan -- Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. These recipes are either inventions of local cooks and/or contain ingredients native to these four states. An example from the Michigan recipes is 'Enchiladas de Berrien Springs,' a dish served at Leaning Shed Farm in that community. Some sound really good, like 'Michigan Peach Crisp' and 'Strawberry-Rhubarb Hand Pies.' From Salt of the Earth, a restaurant in Fennville, comes 'Cranberry-Nut Bread.' Good photographs of food, cooks, and restaurants give the reader a great culinary tour of our part of the Midwest.

The Kiss

I came upon this book because it included a piece from an author I have recently discovered, Ada Limón. As it turns out, this collection of essays and stories contains works by other authors I enjoy—among them Pico Iyer, Aimee Bender and Markus Zusak—which in turn made me read more. 

Also included:

She also said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feelings she gave him a thimble. ~ J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

I did not realize that kissing was a first date taboo. I’m such a sinner. ~ Roxane Gay

You leaned in to kiss me outside on the spring sidewalk among Brooklyn’s many broken tulips, petals all tipsy from traffic, and I felt like I could breathe again. Like it was not a kiss, but a resuscitation. ~ Ada Limón
I look forward to reading more.


Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Today is Harry Potter's birthday, and J.K. Rowling's, too. The series is remarkable in its appeal to a wide range of readers (and read-tos). For that reason, Kalamazoo Public Library has copies of the books in this most well-known series in a variety of formats and in a variety of locations. The audiobook (and eAudiobook) versions of the Harry Potter books, voiced by Jim Dale, are standouts. The larger format and more heavily illustrated, yet unabridged print editions that began to come out a few years ago are another great way to enjoy this modern classic. And, soon to be released 20th anniversary editions with cover art by Caldecott Medalist Brian Selznick are something to look forward to in the very near future. It's always nice to have something to look forward to. Like a birthday. Happy birthday, Harry!