Thursday, July 20, 2017

Not so light reads for summer

I’ve never understood why summer was considered the best time for light reading. It’s a time when many people are working less and therefore better suited to take on those tough, long books they’ve always wanted to read. (Plus, taking a giant book to the beach makes you look really cool.) Here are a few of my favorite anti-beach reads, all of them challenging, fun, and available at PWPL.

Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives, 2007
The book, in the form of diary entries and interviews, reconstructs the lives of a young man and a group of avant garde poets with whom he gets involved in Mexico. Bolaño delights in giving fragments of a story—sometimes via untranslated poems, sometimes via journal entries that stop abruptly—and having readers figure out the big picture for themselves. The book is impressive in the sheer number of characters and settings it manages to include. Despite its title, this is not a standard detective novel: it concerns a mystery that seems as deep as life itself, and after you finish the book you won’t be able to stop thinking about it.

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, 1985
If you’ve read much Cormac McCarthy, you probably know the setup—a 19th-century young man goes on a quest through the southern US and quickly finds himself in circumstances he isn’t prepared for. As with many other McCarthy books, both the landscapes and people in Blood Meridian are relentless. This one of the first books I checked out from PWPL, and it is perhaps most challenging in its sentences, which stretch many of the rules of the English language. (There is one sentence in this book that will have you floored; you’ll know it when you get to it.) McCarthy can deftly pack pages’ worth of detail into a single paragraph, and although this means the reader has to do some unpacking, it is as much fun as work.

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, 2004
If you’ve seen the movie, you’re familiar with the concept: there are six different stories from the past, present, and future—encompassing everything from a 19th-century composer to a futuristic cyborg society. The stories, each with their own narrators and styles, change into each other abruptly, and part of the fun for the reader is figuring out how they’re all linked together. Mitchell shows an impressive ability to convincingly write in six different genres, and more importantly, this is not just a pretentious concept; the stories are all fun and engaging, and together they deliver a powerful message about humanity.

Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad, 2010
This is another book that spans genres, time periods, and perspectives. At its heart are a few people in the music industry, and the book involves the people they spend their time with as well as the people they become. Each chapter is told by a different character, and while the chapters all work as short stories, they also form a larger narrative. Despite having a complicated structure, this book is accessible and fun. Not to mention, one of the chapters is in PowerPoint Slides, and Egan makes it compelling!

Samanta Schweblin, Fever Dream, 2017
This novel, translated from Spanish, seems like the perfect beach read—it’s short, and its title suggests pulpy horror—but there is something deeper at work. A dying woman talks with a young boy, and although their conversation seems clear enough, the reader begins to think that they can’t possibly be talking about what it seems they’re talking about. The woman starts to tell a story, and it gets crazier from there. The fact that Schweblin can take simple sentences and images and create a discordant, gripping, and wholly new story out of them is remarkable.

--Ben Kinney, Youth Services

Monday, July 10, 2017


Look for a great selection of memoirs on the library shelves.  Some are written by celebrities, while others are the product of ordinary people who have taken extraordinary life journeys.  Check out the latest titles in the New Non-fiction section on the main floor.

Canada by Mike Myers (792.7028 MY).  A.k.a. Austin Powers, Wayne of Wayne’s World, and comedian for Saturday Night Live, Mike Myers spent his formative years in Canada.  This is Meyers’ tribute to that country of gracious, compassionate, fair-minded and industrious people who helped shape his view of the world - especially his view of the United States where he now resides.  Stories of the author’s outdoorsy childhood are very similar to those of us who grew up in the Upper Peninsula.  As you might expect from a famous comedian, this books is full of humor and some laugh-out-loud moments.

Jackie's Girl by Kathy McKeon (921 McKeon) is an intimate recollection of McKeon’s thirteen years as personal assistant to Jackie Kennedy after the death of President John F. Kennedy.  She tells about her interview for the job and getting to know the other staff, as well as the Kennedy children, John and Caroline.  McKeon also reflects back to her own childhood, which influenced how she viewed the famous Kennedys and adjusted to their prosperous way of life.  Many years later, after leaving her job to marry, McKeon kept in touch with Jackie, and was still regarded as a member of their family.  The book contains several pages of original photos from McKeon’s scrapbook

Vegan Betrayal: Love, Lies and Hunger in a Plant Only World by Mara J. Kahn (613.262 KA) begins as Kahn, a vegan of 25 years, prepares to bite into a bison burger. The results are surprising.  Kahn chronicles her own journey through veganism, as well as a wider history of vegetarians and vegans.   She delves into the finer points of food science and the nutrients that come from plants, meats, and dairy. Whatever kind of food you choose to consume and be identified with – be informed!

This Fight is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren (305.55 WA) is officially about politics, but Warren weaves in stories from her family history to illustrate how political policies affect all American families.  She writes about how her grandparents lived through the Great Depression, and about the measures taken by Franklin Roosevelt to create a Social Security safety net for the working class.  Warren travels through the politics of the twentieth century, bringing us forward to her years in Congress.  One of her concerns with the country’s current political situation is watching Roosevelt’s safety net crumble away each day, leaving the middle class without resources.  This book is a researcher’s dream with a section of notes and an index in the back.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (921 Noah) is a witty memoir about Noah’s childhood in South Africa.  The child of a black mother and white Swiss father, he was an outcast, as interracial relationships were illegal.  Just like the title, he was “born a crime.”  The first page of each chapter gives statistical or cultural information about South Africa, providing context to Noah’s stories about growing up in a country where 11 official languages were spoken, and each tribal culture clashed with the next.  Try to stifle a giggle while reading the story of the prom date and hold back your tears when Noah’s mom becomes the victim of domestic violence.

Neverthless by Alec Baldwin (921 Baldwin) begins with the author’s childhood as one of six children in a financially strapped household in Massapequa, New York.  His unremarkable - and a bit dysfunctional - upbringing taught him to observe life and create from within.  He grew up, went away to college, took an interest in politics, and ended up enrolling in acting classes.  Baldwin’s first break was landing a steady acting job on “The Doctors” a 1980’s era soap opera.  From there he moved to California and became one of Hollywood’s most recognized stars.  The book also covers Baldwin’s less-than-perfect public moments.  Don’t miss “The Actors Index” at the back of the book which reflects Baldwin’s ongoing romance with the profession of acting.

Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Fowler (921 Fowler) is a love story about building a life with your chosen partner, only to have that person die unexpectedly of a jellyfish sting in a foreign country.  Even worse was Fowler’s battle with authorities who wanted to declare her husband’s death a drunk drowning because a beach full of lethal jellyfish wouldn’t be good for tourism.  What direction does one take in their life journey toward healing and wholeness?  Fowler honored her partner by continuing to travel the world until she was able to start a new chapter of her life.

--Lynette Suckow, Reference Department

Monday, July 3, 2017

Local history

This week is all about exploring our history and surroundings. These new titles at the Peter White Public Library all focus on the UP and Michigan.

Upper Peninsula of Michigan: A History by Russell M. Magnaghi.

The latest book from NMU Professor of History Dr. Magnaghi. This 209-page book, wrapped in the colors of a well-worn flannel shirt, tells an all-encompassing history of the Upper Peninsula. The topics it covers include pre-history, first nations, geology, mining, lumber, fishing, and other industry, as well as how the UP formed a cultural identity as it bobbed along through world history.

New non-fiction 977.49 MA

100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die by Kath Usitalo.

A very self-explanatory title. How many of the 100 things have you done? Author Usitalo’s family hails from the UP, and she resides in Naubinway. She also edits for Experience Michigan magazine and writes about Michigan for a variety of sources.

New non-fiction 917.749 US

Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913 by Daniel Wolff.

This book is about much more than the events at the Italian Hall in Calumet. It weaves together over a century of accounts of the struggles between haves and have-nots, and the directed efforts to change those circumstances. This is what the author calls “grown-up anger”. He then combines them with the musical backdrop of Dylan and Guthrie, who transformed events into cultural touchstones.

New non-fiction 782.4216 WO

Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies.

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of one of the largest civil disturbances in United States history. With contributions from over two dozen writers, Detroit 1967 attempts to dissect and confront the difficult history of Detroit in the summer of 67, examining the history of Detroit far before 1967, and the decades that followed. Joel Stone, Senior Curator with the Detroit Historical Society is the editor, and also a contributor.

New non-fiction 303.623 DE

Tuebor I Will Defend: An Anatomy of a Michigan State Police Trooper by Robert Muladore.

A biography and collection of law enforcement tales drawing from the author’s 25-years with the MSP, and as a township patrolman beginning in 1976. While serving with the State Police at the Northville Post, he attended the Detroit College of Law in the evenings. Includes many vivid accounts, giving a candid look into the profession.

New non-fiction 363.2 MU

--Bruce MacDonald, Technical Services Librarian