RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me

My favorite graphic novels tell true stories. I especially like reading graphic memoirs and learning about other people’s lives.

In Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me: a graphic memoir, Lorina Mapa combines the personal and political, weaving together past and present: her father's death, her teen years and her family's experience with the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. Music had a big influence on teenaged Mapa. She obsessed about many bands and songs, one day playing Duran Duran’s “Tiger Tiger” 27 times in a row, till her brother threatened to throw the tape deck out the window! On a more serious note, most of her family engaged in the campaign to successfully elect Corazon Aquino and remove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power. The death of her father several years later brought all the memories back; her graphic novel brings them to life for her readers.

Bonus: the last pages include a discography of Mapa’s 1980's music favorites as a teen!


Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin

Here's a nice cookbook with a good dose of history included, or it might be called a history book with recipes. Benjamin Franklin was famous for his interest and expertise in many fields. I didn't know that one of them happened to be cooking. In this book from the Smithsonian, the author describes Franklin's interest in food and the place it had in his life. She goes into lots of detail, such as what the kitchens he designed were like, how much he valued American corn and other local foods, and how he championed healthy eating habits. There are 62 recipes here. Some of them I would never even try to prepare (or eat), like ox-cheek stew, but there are others that don't sound too bad, like lemon ice cream or apple marmalade. All recipes are updated for use with modern appliances and utensils. This hybrid volume represents an excellent effort by Rae Katherine Eighmey, author, food historian, and cook.


Fantasyland

The country’s initial devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, Andersen argues, has over the centuries morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom-made reality. So your right to believe in angels and your neighbor’s right to believe in U.F.O.s and Rachel Dolezal’s right to believe she is black lead naturally to our president’s right to insist that his crowds were bigger.—New York Times’ Hanna Rosin

According to author Kurt Andersen, America is a nation of grifters and the grifted. His historical survey of America’s credulous embrace of the superstitious and various forms of magical thinking begins with Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church and quickly transitions to a scrutinizing inquiry into the extremely bizarre practices of the puritans and pilgrims. They were arguably the Islamic State of the 17th Century when one considers their extremism. He finishes this readable, breezy examination of uncritical, irrational cult thinking, by arguing that America has long had a unique and troubling relationship between fact and fiction, reality vs fantasy—a bond between utter nonsense and the social and legal freedoms to defend that very nonsense. Example after example, from religious hocus pocus to New Age fads marketed as science, Andersen rips apart America’s infatuation with constructed realities. There are uneven, somewhat sloppy areas of argument when Andersen attempts to draw threads of historical continuity that when situated under the microscope, possess reductive claims. He clearly needs to read a bit further about postmodern thinking and its leading thinkers because he does a disservice to the reader when attempting to link them to various cultural and social developments of the 1970’s. However, Andersen’s book will appeal to skeptics who have grown weary of America’s ‘if you can invent and sell it to the masses, well, then it must be true’ bar for reality.


Hot Pink!

New York Fashion Week has come to a close, but London Fashion Week is just starting up! That’s right, we are right in the middle of the first Fashion Month of 2018, a time I personally refer to as The Highlight of my Instagram Feed.

 

While it is always a delight to see the latest trends sashay down the runway, a true fashionista knows that you can’t really understand where fashion is going until you know where it’s been.  Many are familiar with the revolutionary influence of Coco Chanel, but few know about her contemporary, the avant garde visionary Elsa Schiaparelli.

A mastermind ahead of her time, Elsa Schiaparelli set in motion all of the fashion paradigms we take for granted today. Make sure to check out this book to read about the inventor of runway shows, ready to wear collections, bolero jackets, culottes and most importantly—hot pink!

Also, click here to see some of her most famous works


Fallen Glory

Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings is the story of 21 vanished buildings from all over the world and from all time periods. Most readers would know these buildings by name and location but wouldn't have much more information on them than that. This book fills in those gaps. Some of them are ones that most readers probably have not heard of at all, such as the Karakorum in Orkhon Valley, Mongolia, the Fortress of Golconda in Hyderabad, India, the Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, or, closer to home, the Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, Missouri. Many photographs and drawings add to the quality of this large, well-documented work. Prolific mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith calls this 'the most interesting book I have come across this year. This is a magnificent study of buildings and other structures that have disappeared.'


Stolen Words

During the Native American Heritage program last November, I sat listening to one of the presenters explain how as a young child she was adopted away from her Anishinaabe heritage.  Now, as an adult, she was determined to learn the culture and language of her elders.  This memory came rushing back to me when I picked up this book, Stolen Words by Melanie Florence.  This nicely illustrated picture book introduces the not-so-long-ago practice of the Canadian residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families.   In this story, a young Cree girl asks her grandfather to tell her words in his Cree language.  When he explains that his Cree words were stolen from him as a child, the little girl decides to help her grandfather get his words back.  Historical picture books are great way to introduce young children to the past and to discuss how the past and the present are always connected.   

 


It's All a Game

Subtitled The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, this 2017 book is a 'colorful and entertaining history of board games that provides a fascinating look into what board games can teach us about ourselves.'  Included are histories and analyses of board games such as chess, backgammon, The Game of Life, Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble, the plastic games (Mouse Trap and Operation), and Trivial Pursuit. The subheading of the chapter on Monopoly says, 'How Monopoly went from anti-landlord tirade to celebration of cutthroat capitalism.' The chapter on Clue tells how 'Clue's very British murders created a world of armchair sleuths.' In discussing modern board games, author Tristan Donovan also writes about 'how Germany revitalized board gaming for the twenty-first century.' This is another book that doesn't necessarily need to be read straight through to be enjoyed. I love the dedicatory note in the front: 'To my sister Jade, the queen of overturned Monopoly boards.'


Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free

 Red Tail Captured, Red Tail Free: Memoirs of a Tuskegee Airman and POW is Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson’s account of becoming a Tuskegee Airman, and getting shot down over Germany during his 19th mission on August 12th, 1944. He was taken to a prisoner of war camp, and was held captive until April 29th, 1945. Jefferson writes about growing up in segregated Detroit and tells how his fascination with aviation influenced his education. He talks about training to become a Tuskegee Airman and his missions overseas. He discusses his experience as a prisoner of war, and also details his life and career after the war.

  

 The most interesting part for me was reading about how many barriers stood in the way of black men to join the Army Air Corps, because no one wanted black men to have the chance to prove they were as intelligent and capable of flying as white pilots. Women faced similar obstacles, as I read about in WASPs: Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Vera S. Williams. Jefferson writes:

  

 “On September 23, 1942, I was sworn into the Army Reserves. I immediately volunteered for flight training but was told to return home and wait for a position to open up. When I asked when this would be, I was told not to worry about it. I wasn’t sure I would ever be called, but at least being in the reserves kept me from being drafted. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on, but I later learned there was a rigid quota restricting how many blacks could be inducted each month into the training program at Tuskegee,” (24).

  

 Even if someone made it into the program, it was unlikely that he would graduate. The government made sure that only a small percentage of cadets graduated.

  

 “We cadets were all college graduates…there were 90 of us who started…by the end of our nine months of training, only 25 of us had survived. Some were eliminated for flying inadequacies, and some for non-military reasons. Years later, through the Freedom of Information Act, we discovered there had been a quota for how many blacks were allowed to graduate. The phrase used to wash guys out was “eliminated while passing for the convenience of the government,” (26).

 

 Like many black veterans, and talented individuals of color in many industries, Jefferson was not officially recognized for his achievement and sacrifice by the government until much later on in life. He received the Purple Heart in 2001 and collected other prestigious awards too. Of course, his induction into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame at the Kalamazoo Aviation Museum (now known as the Air Zoo) in 1995 stood out for me among his honors.

 

 

 


What Is Hip-Hop?

I absolutely LOVE THIS BOOK!  Beautifully written in rhyme, it provides younger children with a great introduction to the history of Hip Hop music.  Anny Yi's amazing 3-D clay art form kept me laughing all the way through.  From DJ Cool Herc to LL Cool J, Flava Flav to De La Soul, Salt-N-Pepa to Eminem… I really enjoyed this trip down memory lane and seeing all the Hip Hop artists represented.  Anyone who grew up on Hip Hop will want to read this picture book.  Listen here to author Eric Morse as he talks about his exposure to Hip Hop music and writing this wonderful book.  

 


The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, Literary Treasures

I find it hard to believe that it has been 26 years since the Kalamazoo Public Library gave up its card catalog in favor of an online catalog. This means that a fairly large segment of the population has no memory of this iconic entity. As do a few others on the staff here at the library, I remember well the days of walking to the card catalog from the desk to determine whether we owned a certain book or not. While I would never want to return to this method of library service, I did enjoy looking at this 2017 book produced by the Library of Congress. In it are five chapters: 1) Origins of the Card Catalog, 2) The Enlightened Catalog, 3) Constructing a Catalog, 4) The Nation's Library and Catalog, and 5) The Rise and Fall of the Card Catalog. There are lots of illustrations, not only of the furniture, but also individual cards as well as photographs of original book jackets to go along with the cards depicted. I loved seeing covers of books such as those for To Kill a Mockingbird, The Cat in the Hat, Charlotte's Web, The Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and many others. This book evokes nostalgia for the past as well as gratitude for the present.