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Staff Picks: Books

The Georgia Peach is not so bruised.

 Many baseball fans have reluctantly considered Ty Cobb one of the greatest baseball players ever. I write “reluctantly” because he has been also thought of as a one of the most mean-spirited, violent, cruel and racist individuals to ever play the game. Author Charles Leerhsen set out on a monumental task of examining Cobb’s past to discover not only if the reputation is deserved, but also if the stories were even true. This amazingly well-researched biography debunks many of the myths that seem to form the basis of Cobb’s legacy. There is no proof that he ever sharpened his spikes on the dugout steps to scare opposing infielders. In fact, this is a lie that Cobb spent most of his life after baseball trying to disprove. Was Cobb an ultra-competitive, hard-nosed competitor? Most definitely. Was Cobb he a blood thirsty monster who would hurt other players and fans just to gain an advantage? No, he was the product of a time in which baseball was becoming “America’s pastime” and journalists were just beginning to learn to shine the spotlight on its stars. Cobb held the respect and admiration of many in the game up until his death. Leerhsen does a masterful job of washing away the dirt that covered the truth about Cobb. Fans of baseball will love this portrayal of baseball’s first superstar, a man so respected by other players that he was the first player elected to the Hall of Fame.

 


Last Call: Prohibition in Kalamazoo a Century Ago

On May 1st, 1915 — exactly 100 years ago today, Kalamazoo “went dry,” closing the doors on all of the saloons, bars, clubs and other public drinking establishments throughout the county. During the April 5th election that year, Kalamazoo voters had turned out in strong support of the “local option,” which would make it illegal to sell or manufacture distilled liquor, beer and wine after May 1st.

With little in the way of last-minute fanfare and without a single reported incident of public drunkenness, 65 local establishments cleared their shelves, drained their kegs, and closed their doors in order to meet the midnight, April 30 deadline. This included 39 saloons in the city of Kalamazoo, along with a handful of others in Schoolcraft and Vicksburg, plus the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, the last in Kalamazoo’s long line of pre-Prohibition brewers and distillers.

But Kalamazoo wasn’t the first county in the state to ban liquor sales. Anti-liquor sentiment had been “brewing” in Michigan since before the Civil War. Van Buren County led the way when it went dry in 1907, and by 1911, 39 counties had adopted local ordinances against alcohol. Michigan became the first state in the nation to go “dry” with a statewide ban on liquor sales in 1918, more than a year ahead of the nationwide federal ban on alcohol sales and consumption, the Eighteenth Amendment.

Kalamazoo Telegraph-Press, April 6, 1915

This all came to an end in December 1933 with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment and the repeal of Prohibition, but the effects of the prohibition movement lingered for decades. Kalamazoo restaurants were prohibited from selling liquor by the glass until 1964, and the sale of liquor before noon on Sunday was still against the law until 2011.

Now, of course, Kalamazoo has a thriving batch of craft brewers and distillers, and has since earned a solid reputation among beer lovers nationwide. So celebrate... check out The Michigan Beer Film, take a tour of Kalamazoo's beer culture with West Michigan Beer Tours, or earn your degree in sustainable craft brewing from the new KVCC-WMU joint venture. How things have changed. Cheers!


Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

Here's a 2014 book that I probably would have passed by if I hadn't seen a review of it which told of the author's connection to Michigan. Subtitled 'A Memoir of Food & Love from an American Midwest Family,' it's a collection of brief stories and recipes by Kathleen Flinn, who grew up near Flint. The stories are about her rural upbringing as half Irish and half Swedish, but the food descriptions and recipes she includes would transcend several nationalities. Some of the recipes are for foods I grew up with as well, such as the apple crisp and oatmeal cookies. For a retrospective on Michigan rural culture and cuisine, try this one.


Don't Write In Library Books

Ander Monson is the most bizarre, versatile, prize-winningest writer who hails from Michigan that you have never heard about. He won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award for Other Electricities, the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize for his poetry collection Vacationland, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for his book of criticism called Vanishing Point. If not for that last one, I would have had to add that the prizes he has won are just as unheard of as he is. 

 
I read Other Electricities several years ago which left me with a vivid impression of the mix of tenacious survivalism and self-destructiveness of the residents of the Upper Peninsula and the image of snowmobiles jumping snow banks out on to frozen Lake Superior; occasionally breaking through the ice and disappearing. 

 
His newest book, a collection of essays titled Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, comes out on February 3rd. Check it out and see what you think of Ander Monson and if you can resist writing in a library book about people writing in library books.


I Love You Just Enough

On the last day of school, Heather is looking forward to a summer helping her dad on their Hazel Ridge Farm. While pulling weeds in a field, she discovers a fuzzy, helpless, and frightened baby duckling, who somehow was separated from its family.

Heather wants to help the duckling by keeping it warm and well fed. Her dad tells her that “...the hardest thing that you will have to do is not to love him too much”. After explaining these words to his daughter, she replies that “ I think I can love him just enough”.

She calls her young charge Mr. Peet due to his “peet, peet, peet” vocalizations, and puts the little wood duck into an empty fish tank with a towel, heat lamp, and a screen cover. She then begins a daily ritual of scooping up dragonfly larvae, crayfish and other little pond dwellers which she feeds to him. Mr. Peet grows and begins to explore the house and the farm, and in time teaches himself how to fly.

Summer ends and Heather returns to her friends at school, while Mr. Peet finds friends of his own. The now grown duck comes to visit less often and Heather misses him greatly, but tearfully announces that he will be okay, “...because I loved him just enough”.

This book was written by Robbyn van Frankenhuyzen, and beautifully illustrated by her husband Gijsbert, (aka Nick), both of whom actually still live at Hazel Ridge Farm in Michigan. This narrative is a true account of the wild duck fostering experiences of one of their two daughters in the 1980’s. Through this and other stories, (many of which are in the KPL collection), they relate the adventures of wildlife rehabilitation and how they have cared for many injured and orphaned animals over the years.

I Love You Just Enough is a gratifying picture book that is just right for sharing with your children as the leaves turn to their fall colors.

Also, you can visit Hazel Ridge Farm online at www.hazelridgefarm.com.


Oddball Michigan

The subtitle of Oddball Michigan is A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. I take issue with the contention that the 450 attractions covered are 'really strange,' although I must say the Kalamazoo-area ones would probably qualify. I immediately turned to the local section and found the sites where Elvis was supposedly seen -- years after his death. The other Kalamazoo venue is the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport, listed because it was on this facility's parking lot that comedian Tim Allen was arrested by the Michigan State Police for trying to sell 1.4 pounds of cocaine. Among the other West Michigan sites included are the musical fountain in Grand Haven, Bear Cave in Buchanan, and the WZZM-TV Weatherball in Grand Rapids. For locations that open and close, further information is given -- phone, hours, cost, website, and directions.

 


Bluffton: My Summers with Buster

Vacationing on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula’s scenic west coast shoreline is a wonderful choice. More than one hundred years ago Buster Keaton’s family and their vaudeville team vacationed in Bluffton, near Muskegon. Matt Phelan wrote and illustrated a graphic novel titled: Bluffton: My Summers with Buster.

The story, told in remarkable drawings, is about a boy named Henry Harrison who lives in Muskegon year round. Henry hears about the vaudevillians and is captivated by the performers and their animals! He and the young Buster Keaton form a summer friendship and they hang out and play baseball with other kids. When summer ends, kids go back to school, but not for Buster! Buster travels around doing vaudeville acts, then returns to Bluffton the next summer. Bluffton offers a glimpse into the life of one of the world’s most well-known silent screen actors and the few summers he lived on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Go back in time and watch Buster Keaton’s black and white slapstick silent films on KPL’s Hoopla site. It’s accessible directly from the KPL catalog, just enter Buster Keaton in the search field.

Book

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster
9780763650797

More Reasons to Like Michigan

Here is an outstanding book that gives photographs and one-paragraph commentaries on notable buildings in Michigan. Any book of this nature will, of course, be subjective in the selections made for inclusion, but I think Mr. Gallagher made some wise choices. The book is divided into eight sections -- buildings in which we gather, play, govern, learn, worship, work, and live, as well as facilities for art. The Kalamazoo buildings presented are the 1931 Kalamazoo City Hall, the 1852 Amariah T. Prouty house at 302 Elm Street, and the 1947-49 Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Parkwyn Village, off Winchell Avenue. The photography is by Balthasar Korab, who also took the pictures for Peter Schmitt's 1976 book on early Kalamazoo homes. Clear pictures, concise narrative, and great buildings make this a book worth seeing.

Book

Great architecture of Michigan
098161440X

Fun with the Family

Are you vacationing in Michigan this Summer? Kalamazoo Public Library has many Michigan travel books. One particularly family-friendly book is: Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids, by Bill Semion, c.2007. The contents are separated by geographic areas, such as West Michigan-North, West Michigan-South, and Upper Peninsula-East, Upper Peninsula-West… you get the picture…(picturesque!) It includes listings of events, adventures, parks, museums, sports, theatres, places to stay, and restaurants.

I also recommend viewing: Under the Radar Michigan, a PBS television show hosted by Tom Daldin, who has a friendly, comfortable presence and a great sense of humor. UTR Michigan is in its third season. UTR Michigan showcases a different Michigan town in each episode, featuring local places of interest, stories, great people, and mouth-watering foods at local restaurants. UTR is a helpful, convincing site for choosing a Michigan town to visit. Episode 318 highlights Grand Rapids, and, if you want to see a hilarious sight, watch the people pedaling on the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser, it’s crazy! To find out the art of coffee roasting and information about the Can-Do Kitchen, watch the inspirational episode featuring Kalamazoo!

Book

Fun with the Family: Michigan. Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with the Kids
9780762743957