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Staff Picks: Books

Boys in the Trees

Carly Simon came along at a formative time of my life and I always enjoyed singing along with that low range that always felt so comfortable in my own voice. Whenever I hear any of the songs from her Boys in the Trees album, I am immediately taken back to a time of innocence and wonder. Her new memoir has the same title, Boys in the Trees, and I look forward to learning more about her and some of my other favorite singers of the 70's.

Awesome desserts with 5 ingredients or less!

 Oh dear, dear, dear. I shouldn’t have opened this one! Lazy cake cookies & more by Jennifer Palmer (McCartney) is a fantastic little find! All desserts in this book are 2-5 ingredients and all nice basic things that you’ll either already have at home or can easily pick up. Plus, they all sound amazing…Oreo cheesecake cookies, Chocolate toffee cookie bars, Chocolate hazelnut pie…Beautiful color pictures showcase each tasty treat. A great book for someone who wants to make people-pleasing desserts without all the fuss.


A Shiloh Christmas

A Shiloh Christmas by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a holiday companion to the Newbery Medal winning book Shiloh.

It’s been a year since Marty rescued Shiloh from Judd. Not that it hasn’t been a year of struggles for both boy and dog, this Christmas season brings hope for them and their small town.

A new Minister and his family bring questions about the sermons full of fire and brimstone instead of love and mercy which Marty’s family and church members are used to. Marty has to write a biography about Rachel, the Minister’s oldest daughter, and he discovers that there is concern about the children’s treatment from their Father, the Minister. Marty knows that he has to share his concerns with adults who will know what to do about the situation.

Just as Judd seems to be working to improve his reputation, the woods catch fire. The fire destroys the woods and many homes including Judd’s. Some of the townsfolks blame Judd due to his past.

Can Marty help the Minister’s family and Judd during this Holiday Season – this is a story of suspense as well as comfort and joy. This is a comforting conclusion to the Shiloh QuartetShiloh, Shiloh Season and Saving Shiloh. Fans of the series will want to read this final story.


Literary Landscapes and Cursed Lands

Two atlases, of all things, have caught my eye as I’ve been ordering books for the library. 

Andrew DeGraff had the fun idea of creating detailed maps of the landscapes of literary classics in his book, Plotted: a Literary Atlas, giving you a fresh way to look at them and maybe even inspiring you to revisit them. I’m reading Watership Down to my kids right now and want to see what his map looks like for that one. Other titles mentioned in the reviews are The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, A Wrinkle in Time, Hamlet, Invisible Man, and a Christmas Carol.

Probably prompting less nostalgic feelings will be Olivier Le Carrer’s Atlas of Cursed Places: a Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations. See, the library is your passport to anywhere. Bon Voyage!


Obsessions Good and Bad

Kara Richardson Whitely’s memoir, titled Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro At 300 Pounds, is a brutally honest narrative of the author’s self-imposed ordeal to trek up the famous peak while weighing a hefty 300-plus pounds.

She had already reached the summit several years earlier to celebrate her 120 pound weight loss. This account is of her third attempt up the mountain, after failing to reach the summit a second time. Kara decides to undertake this challenge in order to recapture the positive feelings she had when her weight was under control.

She sets out on the climb in the company of four women friends. For added incentive they raise money for Global Alliance for Africa’s AIDS orphans programs. Kara and two of her friends make it to the summit. One has to turn back due to physical issues.

The author openly admits that she has always relied on food to get her through adversity. Hence, this Kilimanjaro obsession was the result of her being both “... a glutton plain and simple, as well as a glutton for punishment”.

During the trek, bad experiences from her past weigh heavily upon her soul, but she comes to the realization that she currently finds herself in a good place. With a devoted husband and a four year old daughter in her life, any future journeys that she might undertake will be easier without the emotional baggage she had previously carried. She is ready to face whatever comes next with joy and a sense of adventure.

I found this to be a good but not great read. The author’s fixation with descriptions of food and her overeating ultimately subtracted too much from my pleasure in reading this book.

November 12: We should be in Hong Kong

This 2014 book is subtitled 365 Things to Do and the Perfect Day to Do Them. From our friends at Lonely Planet comes this travel guide to some familiar but mostly unknown places. Beginning with January 1 and ending with December 31, there is an entry for the location to be visited and why it's a good day to be there. I checked my birthday, which was November 1, and found that it was a good day to visit Oaxaca, Mexico because of the Day of the Dead Festival. I didn't make it down there, but I had the opportunity to read about why I should have gone. Many of these attractions would be impractical for the average tourist to attend, but reading about rafting the Tara River in Montenegro on May 19, getting close to polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba on October 26, or joining the Turnip Festival at Lake Zurich in Switzerland on November 14 could be of interest to those who like to study exotic destinations.

Great Girls in Michigan History

Patricia Majher’s Great Girls in Michigan History tells the story of twenty women with a Michigan connection who did some pretty amazing things. Born in 1854, seven year old Dorothy Butler escaped with her sister and mother from the Butler plantation in Kentucky (Mr. Butler held them as slaves) to settle in Schoolcraft at a time when many people fled to Canada (the Fugitive Slave Act was not repealed by Congress until 1864). When she grew up she worked right here in Kalamazoo. Renowned violinist Regina Carter was born and raised in Detroit where, at age four, her parents enrolled her in Suzuki method classes at The Detroit Community Music School. She went on to study classical and jazz violin and is now well-known in the jazz world having recorded and performed on a violin once owned by Paganini. Carter performs internationally and still has a connection to Michigan as an artist in residence at Oakland University. How about jockey Julie Krone who grew up in Eau Claire? In 1993, she became the first woman to win a Triple Crown event, the Belmont Stakes. Or Serena Williams, who you probably already know, was born in Saginaw? We like to see new books about Michigan History especially when they also focus on contemporary history makers. Great Girls in Michigan History is an important new addition to books about Michigan History for young people.

A Cure for Suicide

The words beguiling, elegant, spellbinding, and bizarre seem to make their way into many of the reviews I have read of Jesse Ball’s latest novel, A Cure for Suicide. Ball is a very gifted, if unconventional, writer and these words are appropriate, but ultimately incomplete at describing this book. An attempt at a linear synopsis of the plot would likely only work to dissuade readers from checking it out. A Cure for Suicide is a puzzling and often disorienting read that needs to be experienced first-hand in order to grasp its power as a work of fiction. While reading it, I had the sense that Ball is exploring very deeply philosophical questions about love, loss, identity and more, but I encourage readers to simply read it without preconceived notions of what it is about and to make up their own minds about what the author is attempting to say with this story.

Working Toward Racial Equity in Kalamazoo

Journalist, New York Times bestselling author, and MacArthur fellow Ta-Nehisi Coates visited Kalamazoo last week to speak about equity at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's annual meeting. Coates read a couple passages from his new book, Between the World and Me, and focused his talk on mass incarceration. He also answered several questions posed by moderators. For me, the biggest take-away from Coates that evening, and one of the reasons I greatly admire him and his work, was to "question everything." He is constantly reading, researching, learning, writing. If you want to take a cue from him and learn more about some of the topics discussed, the library has a lot to offer.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is a great starting point for learning about mass incarceration. Coates also writes frequently on this topic, including his recent piece on the impact of incarceration on black families.

During the Q&A, a question was posed about the connections between African Americans and other people of color, specifically Latinos. Coates replied that he wasn't familiar enough with Latino American history to speak to this question. If you'd like to learn more about Latino American history, check out Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan González.

Learn the history of more people of color in the U.S.:
The State of Native America: Genocide, Colonization, and Resistance by M. Annette Jaimes
Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where It Comes from and What It Means For Politics Today by Steven Salaita
Yellow: Race in American Beyond Black & White by Frank H. Wu
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald T. Takaki
Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview by Audrey Smedley

Also during the Q&A, reference was made to an award-winning article Coates wrote on reparations. You can read that article, The Case for Reparations, at The Atlantic.

If you're a white person seeking to learn more about how you can work for racial equity, check out the following titles:
Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel
Understanding & Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America by Joseph R. Barndt
Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism by Paula S. Rothenberg
Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage by Daria Roithmayr
Race: the Power of an Illusion (documentary film)

There are many people and organizations in Kalamazoo working toward racial equity and eliminating racism. If you want to connect with this community of people, consider attending the 2015 Kalamazoo Summit on Racism. The Society for History and Racial Equity (SHARE) is hosting the Summit on Racism on Thursday, November 19. You can register on their website or by calling 269-381-9775.


Eileen is a terrible person. An unhappy childhood, with an alcoholic father and an unaffectionate (now deceased) mother, has turned her into a hot mess of an adult; she’s unhygienic, malnourished, and isolated from the world outside of her head. She’s overcome with pity for herself and unable to empathize with anyone, despite the suffering she witnesses on a daily basis at the boys’ prison where she works. It’s not until the enthralling Rebecca walks into her life that Eileen’s dream of running away from her pathetic life becomes a possibility.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh is a dark book, both darkly serious and darkly comical, and not for the easily repulsed; but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve read plenty of books with male antiheroes, detestable male narrators (hi, Humbert Humbert!), or with wicked-witch-like stepmothers, but it seems a bit rarer to come across a book with a main character who is both a young woman and so horrible. It almost has the perverse effect of making me like her.