Staff Picks: Books

Staff-recommended reading from the KPL catalog.

How to Make Beer

It's actually as simple as this: (1) soak barley in hot water (2) boil with hops (3) put into bucket with yeast. No way. That's it? Well, yeah, of course it's a bit more complicated, but I must say it's a very fun challenge and learning experience to make your favorite IPA (my favorite is Two Hearted Ale, what's yours?).

But how much does it cost? That's what I wanted to know before I started. For me (I was very minimalist with everything), it all averages out to $5.88/six pack (compare Two Hearted @ almost $10/six pack). This includes all the equipment I ever bought, so it actually goes down with every batch I make.

If you're interested, we have some good books. Also check out the K.L.O.B. organization in Kalamazoo. Also, youtube "extract brewing," then "partial mash brewing" then "all grain brewing" to get an idea of the different ways to make beer (it depends on what sort of equipment you have or want to buy).



Noah Webster and His Words

What are the top two most popular books printed in the English language?

The Bible is the number one most popular book printed in English and the second most popular book printed in English is Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language.

Noah Webster was born on a farm in West Hartford, Connecticut in 1758. Noah didn’t want to be a farmer, he wanted to be a scholar. He went to school at Yale and graduated in 1778 and became a teacher. He soon realized there were no books about America; Noah wanted American schoolbooks! America was a new country and America needed a national language and government. Americans were spelling words any way they wanted, the same word might be spelled ten different ways in ten different places. So, Noah wrote an American spelling book so that Americans would spell every word the same way, every time, everywhere. Noah had the publisher put a blue cover on it so that people could just ask for the “blue-backed speller.” Noah’s blue-backed speller taught spelling and it also listed important American dates, town and states! Two years later he published his second book, a Grammar [noun: study of words; rules for using words].

Then Noah had another big idea: to write a dictionary [noun: a book listing words in ABC order, telling what they mean and how to spell them]. His book would be 100 percent American and it would include new American words, such as skunk, dime and tomahawk. He decided to show where the words came from, all the different origins. He began this wonderful dictionary in 1807 and he completed it nearly twenty years later! Noah’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828. Noah’s words DID unite America! This is a great book and the bright, fanciful illustrations will keep your attention. [noun: the act or state of applying the mind to something].


Noah Webster & His Words

American Idol fans, check this book out!

I have been a loyal follower of American Idol since season 2, despite my annoyance with how the show in general treats some of the contestants. So, when I saw the book Elimination night come across my desk, I could absolutely not resist it. The book is a parody of American Idol (or “Icon” in the book), and is supposedly written by someone with insider knowledge of the show (author = “Anonymous”). The main character is a stand-in assistant producer on the show (Sasha, a female who is called “Bill” because it is easier for the higher-ups to continue to call her the name of the person she is filling in for). The plot mirrors season 10, when judge Simon Cowell (“Nigel Crowther”) left the show to pursue X Factor (“The Talent Machine”) and was replaced by Jennifer Lopez (“Bibi Vasquez”) and Steven Tyler (“Joey Lovecraft”). If you know your Idol, you will be able to recognize every character in the book immediately. One warning, though…the book is less than flattering to basically every single person affiliated with the show, with the exception of Randy Jackson (“DJ Coolz”). I didn’t mind this, but it made me absolutely squirm when I read some of the details and didn’t know how much was accurate and how much was exaggerated for good storytelling. Read it, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.


Elimination night

All Aboard.....

I have recently written about great buildings of the world and buildings of Michigan. This month I will narrow the focus by highlighting a book that describes, in words and photographs, historic railroad stations in our state. Michael H. Hodges has presented a nearly-200 page volume in which there are 31 Michigan railroad stations, both active and inactive. The photographs are beautifully done; the narrative is well-written. I of course turned to the chapter on the Kalamazoo station on Rose Street and I was not disappointed. I learned several new things about this building even though I have worked less than a mile from it for a long time. Other area stations included are Battle Creek, Lake Odessa, Lawton, Muskegon, Niles, and Three Oaks. As I looked over the acknowledgements in the front, I was very proud to discover that two of my Local History colleagues, Beth Timmerman and J. Patrick Jouppi, are recognized as having assisted the author in researching this material. Former co-worker Lynn Smith Houghton, now of WMU Archives, is also credited. Next, I think it would be great if Mr. Hodges would at some point do a second volume. Bangor and Lacota, among others, would be interesting subjects.


Michigan's historic railroad stations
David D.

Private London

I like James Patterson’s books. The last few years a lot of “James Patterson” books are written under his guidance and he has a co-writer. I still read them. I like his solo books better but I read them all. “Private London”, soon to be followed by “Private Berlin” (reserve your copy now) is written by James Patterson and Mark Pearson. This series follows cases by a detective agency called “Private” because they handle cases for famous, rich people privately. In this one we are in the London office. You get a hint it will take place in London from the title. We are introduced to a new detective Dan Carter, who runs the London office. His ex-wife works for the London Police force, DI Kristy Webb. My synapses made a leap in my brain and I was thinking of Dragnet and Jack Webb, no connection and nothing to do with the story but thought I share that tidbit. Hannah Sahpiro as a child was abducted along with her mother. Jack Morgan, of Private USA found her but too late to save her mother who was raped and killed in front of her. Then we jump ahead seven years and Hannah is on her way to London to go to school and Dan Carter is charged with protecting her. Well, surprise surprise she gets abducted again. It would have made a boring mystery if she hadn’t. Dan Carter draws on the whole resources of Private International, a phrase they use over and over to show you how important they are. They even use it as an excuse for why Jack Morgan failed to save Hannah’s mother, he didn’t have the resources of Private International like he would today. I found the use of the phrase irritating but the actual mystery kept my attention. So if you can stomach that phrase, give it a read. 


Private London



A Look at Detroit

Detroit is described as our country’s greatest urban failure from once being a capitalist dream town.

As several reviewers have written, Detroit City is the Place to Be, captures the beauty and nobility of the city as well as the hardship and chaos. It is part history and part biography of a city and its people; a commentary on postindustrial America with some limited optimism for the future. The author grew up in the city and weaves in some personal narrative as well.

This may sound familiar to those who grew up in Detroit or Michigan. For those of us who were not here during the glory days of Detroit, it helps understand how and why Detroit became “a once-great American metropolis gone to hell” as one reviewer wrote.

This book provides the framework for our state, even our nation, to grapple with the issues facing Detroit.


Detroit City is the Place to Be

Francis the first Stigmata case

Needing direction, he randomly opens the Bible three times: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” What! Second, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.” Wow. Ok, so maybe the third won't be so extreme? Nope: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his Cross and follow me.” This sums up Francis and the Order he started.

You know him as the Saint who talked to birds and flowers, but the real Francis was much more gritty, suffering, alone, real. He would live on a mountain for a month and come down with Stigmata wounds, and die soon after, and die in pain, and be glad for it. He was a rich kid who went to war, became depressed, gave up everything, and, as he says, "left the world" for a grueling life of serving God and the people who needed it most. The one thing that disgusted him--people with leprousy--became his passion.

What I like most about this "new" biography is that it has two separate parts. The first is the story of Francis' life, the best that the author can tell from the evidence. The second part is all about the scholarly debate, which I did not read and therefore was thankful for the separation.

Frank Sinatra said "I did it my way." Francis said "No one showed me what I should do, but the Most High himself revealed it to me, that I ought to live according to the form of the Holy Gospel." What's interesting is that the Medieval Church patterned their life according to the Acts of the Apostles, and denied that the wandering lifestyle of Jesus of the Gospels was appropriate anymore. It all worked out in the end, as Francis was whole-heartedly accepted by the Church.

And he liked animals too.


Francis of Assisi a new biography

How Music Works

Readers of a certain age may have an image of the artist David Byrne in that big kabuki inspired suit he was wearing around the time the 1983 Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense came out. Byrne was the lead singer of that popular "new wave" band. If that is the case, and you have not kept tabs on the artist, I urge you to update that image of Byrne and to explore the multifaceted work that he has produced since those big suit wearing days. And checking out Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, is a perfect way to do just that. How Music Works is a fascinating analysis of the power of music and musical performance. From the music neophyte to jaded indie rockers, every music fan will find something to peak their interest in this difficult to define book. Equal parts music theory, social science, and memoir How Music Works is as entertaining as it is informative. Byrne’s brainy but casual writing style here is similar to his voice in his last book, the also great, Bicycle Diaries and it works very well with the content. This is a must read for music fans and fans of Byrne (old and new!) alike.


How Music Works

Long Live Rock

Books about rock stars are flooding the bestseller lists lately.  Back in November, there were four in the Top 10. 

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young

Who I Am by Pete Townshend

Rod by Rod Stewart

Bruce by Peter Carlin (about Bruce Springsteen, but you probably guessed that)

I've read excerpts of Townshend's and Stewart's books in Rolling Stone magazine.  Townshend really opens up and shares his thoughts and emotions in an artfully written, intellectual style.  I'm not that interested in Rod Stewart so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his authorial voice and fun stories about his friendship with Elton John. 

If you are interested in rock history, we have all these books and many more.


Who I Am
Steve S

Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend

Sitting in front of the town's general store, Ms. Pettway explains to Alex why Belle the mule is allowed to browse freely in her garden. The mule is revered in the little farm town of Gee's Bend, Alabama, for her role in the civil rights movement. In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Gee’s Bend to speak, encouraging everyone assembled to register to vote. People from Gee’s Bend took the ferry to Camden across the river in order to register. Belle helped to convey citizens from Gee's Bend all the way around - the long way - after racist ferry operators closed the ferry to the people who wanted to register to vote.
Belle is especially revered in the town because she is one of the two mules that served to honor Dr. King's wish that mules from Gee's Bend pull the farm wagon that would hold his burial casket. King had visited Gee’s Bend on several occasions. Community members from Gee’s Bend traveled elsewhere to march in protest with him. Based on a true story, this picture book portrays one moment in the American civil rights movement. The story was passed on to the author by the Reverend James E. Orange, who worked with Dr. King and remembered his connection with the community of Gee’s Bend.



Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend


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