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Ben's Picks


Ben is our beloved website maintenance man! You may find him on one of our many computers, shelving books or magazines, or perhaps making sandwiches in the Shine Cafe. He's tall with very long hair and always wears a hat. You can't miss him!
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Roughing It Cover Image
ISBN: 9781626360631
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Skyhorse Publishing - February 4th, 2014


This book is an eminently hilarious gonzo style autobiography of Mark Twain’s early days trying to make it big in the west. I don’t think any book has ever made me laugh quite as much. It lampoons absolutely everyone and every institution of the time.
This particular edition (the one I personally read), is also illustrated my a man who truly understood Twain’s humor. Highly recommended.

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Trump's America: Buy This Book and Mexico Will Pay for It Cover Image
ISBN: 9781501172670
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Gallery Books - February 21st, 2017


Regardless of what you think of the man, this book is hilarious! Its by the creator of The Onion, so how could it not be?

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I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Born 10 B.C., Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679724773
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - October 23rd, 1989

JUNE 2017

I read this fascinating, violent book at a pace of a hundred pages a day, it was so gripping. If you are at all interested in roman history, tales of intrigue, or just really good books, I would highly recommend  I Claudius. Its historical fiction at its finest.

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What Are People For?: Essays Cover Image
ISBN: 9781582434872
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Counterpoint LLC - May 25th, 2010

MAY 2016

Dive into this beautiful collection of essays from the great conservationist, poet, novelist, and overall rationalist Wendell Berry! Ranging from literary criticism to agriculture to land ethics, These essays highlight his fundamental life philosophy of moderation. His prose is among the best I’ve ever encountered. Once I finish an essay I feel as though every word was exactly as it should have been. In a time that is troubled both politically and environmentally, he speaks with a voice of undeniable reason.

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The Savage Detectives Cover Image
By Roberto Bolano, Natasha Wimmer (Translator)
ISBN: 9780312427481
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador USA - March 4th, 2008

APRIL 2017

I had heard about this book back in 2008, when I was really beginning to get in to literature. I recently picked it up, and I am glad I did. As far as literary books are concerned, this is one of the most engaging that I have ever read. It's a fast paced, existential look at the literary underground of Mexico and the world at large. Following two main characters through the eyes of their companions and acquaintances, each with a unique and unmistakable voice of their own, It tells of their journey to the unknown center of Mexican poetry and life itself.

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A Scanner Darkly Cover Image
ISBN: 9780547572178
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Mariner Books - October 18th, 2011

MARCH 2017

This is one of my all time favorite books by one of the all time greats. I am always suggesting books by this cerebral SF giant. Whereas much of SF deals with grand galactic themes and romances a la Star Trek, Phillip K Dick prefers to delve far into the human psyche and the fear and paranoia of modern and future society. Sure, there are many robots, spaceships, and other genre tropes throughout his works, but it takes a backseat to his themes of identity, mental illness, what it means to be human, and the existence of reality. This is one of his most philosophical novels, and an absolute mind-bending experience, like most of his great works.


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A People's History of the United States Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062397348
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - November 17th, 2015


Now more than ever it is important to read up on our country’s history, and the political trends that led up to where we are now. This book gives honest accounts of the events in history that we may not be particularly proud of, and may have even expunged from the textbooks. From Columbus landing in the new world, on through the Revolutionary War, Vietnam, and the Bush era (when  it was last updated before the author’s death), read about the civil rights advocates, union organizers, anti-war protesters and many others who fought for freedom and liberty who you may have never heard of. On the other end, read of the reactionaries, robber barons, feudalists, and oligarchs who have continually opposed them along the way.

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Tree of Smoke Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312427740
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador USA - September 2nd, 2008


This is one of the great war novels of our time, and one of my favorite books. It deals with the psychological aspects of Vietnam, from the widespread use of psychoactive drugs to the horrors of PTSD. On the surface, it is a sort of CIA intrigue thriller. Beneath the surface, With its dark and gritty realism with occasional insanity, it is reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket. Many ungodly, unforgettable scenes. Recommended.

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The Birds Cover Image
By Tarjei Vesaas, Torbjorn Stoverud (Translator), Michael Barnes (Translator)
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ISBN: 9780914671206
Availability: Backordered
Published: Archipelago Books - May 3rd, 2016


The gorgeous and ghostly, but fast flowing prose of this Norwegian Nobel Prize nominee makes it an eminently readable book, and one that is hard to put down, despite its sensitive subject matter. And beneath the story itself lies a beautiful mystery known only to the protagonist.

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In the Heart of the Heart of the Country: And Other Stories Cover Image
By William H. Gass, Joanna Scott (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590177648
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Published: New York Review of Books - November 4th, 2014


Harsh, exuberant, dark, dreamlike, bursting with life (and death). These are some of things I would say about In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and about William Gass as a whole. In the haunting midwestern landscape of this book, everyday life is constantly giving way to the dormant fears and pains that lie beneath its thin exterior.

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No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250069269
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Published: Picador USA - May 5th, 2015

JUNE 2016

A truly poignant and relevant book, chronicling the lives of three separate people in post  9-11 Afghanistan,  and the pervasive brutality and folly of the war that raged around them.

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Jesus' Son: Stories Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781250074805
Availability: Backordered
Published: Picador USA - November 3rd, 2015

APRIL 2016

Denis Johnson is one of my favorite modern authors. He writes in a style reminiscent of  William Burroughs and other stream of consciousness style beat authors  at times, but  is also capable of heart rending tenderness. In this book, which uses lyrics from The Velvet Underground’s song Heroin as its title,  we step inside the chaotic mind of the unnamed narrator, a paranoid drug addict living somewhere in the Midwest. It is written in the form of short stories, stark and often terrifying scenes within the young man’s life as he struggles to live. I would highly recommend this lovely hardcover edition.

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Waiting for the Morning Train: An American Boyhood Cover Image
ISBN: 9780814318850
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Great Lakes Books Series - August 1st, 1987


Bruce Catton is one of my personal favorite authors, his having crafted a beautifully flowing within his many historical writings, mostly on the Civil War. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for these. This book, however, is about growing up in his (as well as my) hometown of Benzonia, Michigan, around the turn of the century. It is both a memoir of his own life, filled with many fun and interesting stories of life in the pioneer days, and the story of Northern Michigan itself, with all its ambitions and failures.

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Butcher's Crossing Cover Image
By John Williams, Michelle Latiolais (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781590171981
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Published: New York Review of Books - January 16th, 2007


\Written in Williams' sparse yet shimmering prose (think somewhere between Hemingway and Steinbeck), this book is an epic, ideologically encompassing tale, chronicling in a microcosm the ending of the Old West era.

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I Spy Spooky Night: A Book of Picture Riddles Cover Image
By Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick, Walter Wick (Photographer)
ISBN: 9780590481373
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Scholastic - September 1st, 1996

October 2015

One of my favorite halloween books as a child. It contains many spooky pictures with cleverly arranged objects hidden inside. At 24 it is still fun to scan through this book, and still somewhat challenging.

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The Complete Stories Cover Image
By Flannery O'Connor, Robert Giroux (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780374515362
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Noonday Press - January 1st, 1971

June 2015

Winner of the best of National Book Award for 1950-2008, this collection of stories rivals the best of Faulkner in it's intensity, eeriness, and quest for social justice in the old Deep South.

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Doctor Zhivago Cover Image
By Boris Pasternak, Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator)
ISBN: 9780307390950
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - October 4th, 2011


Doctor Zhivago is a book of unflinching moral intensity, set within a landscape of incredible beauty and desolation. It is the story of doomed love during the Bolsevik Revolution and the ensuing civil war. It is a sort of companion piece, in my mind, to the seminal And Quiet Flows the Don (even though Sholokov later became a Soviet apologist), with many similiar themes. The meaning of life, the soul changing effects of violence, and the sense of moral ambiguity during times of suffering each have their place among the central themes of these two novels.

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Child of God Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679728740
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage - June 29th, 1993


Cormack McCarthy is an author I have been meaning to use for a staff pick for some time. He is an all time American great, and one of the giants within the southern-gothic genre. In this tale of darkness and depravity, McCarthy uses his hallucinogenic prose as a tool, prying into the mind of a killer as well as our own.


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And Quiet Flows the Don Cover Image
ISBN: 9780679725213
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage Books USA - May 18th, 2001


And Quiet Flows the Don
As Harrowing and powerful a story of war and suffering as has ever been told. It follows the Don Cossacks during the first World War and the Bolshevik  Revolution,  as they struggle with the powers of the polarizing ideologies of the time. It Sweeps in and out of darkness with a soaring prose, at times jarringly dark and stunningly beautiful. Underlying is the theme that violence begets violence, and that beneath that violence, we are all human after all. For, as fellow Russian Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

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Walden and Other Writings Cover Image
ISBN: 9780553212464
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Bantam Classics - September 1st, 1983

MAY 2014

It's Walden! What more needs to be said? It is perhaps the single most widely celebrated nature book of all time. Filled to brimming with wit and wisdom, these profound musings encompass the meanings of life and death, our complex relationship with all living things, and includes day to day nature observations. It's a classic American summer read.

Trees of Michigan Field Guide Cover Image
ISBN: 9781591930006
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Adventure Publications - August 21st, 2002

APRIL 2014

Get into the spring spirit by learning how to identify all of your favorite trees as they bloom! Hopefully that's soon, but who knows? This particular book highlights only Michigan trees, to make it easier to find just what you're looking for regionally.

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In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's War on the American Indian Movement Cover Image
By Peter Matthiessen, Martin Garbus (Afterword by)
ISBN: 9780140144567
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - March 1st, 1992


Taken off the shelves originally because of the controvercy it incited, this meticulously researched book is key to understanding the crisis of modern Native Americans and what their future holds. Heartbreaking, violent, and harrowing as it is, it is something that we, in Indian country, must be made aware of in order to stop the atrocities that take place even today.

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Shadow Country: A New Rendering of the Watson Legend Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812980622
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Modern Library - December 2nd, 2008


Winner of the National Book Award, Shadow country is a huge, sweeping story of the Florida Frontier. To me, it is one of the great American novels, as it encompasses the violence, hardships, and beauty of the time in a wise and incredibly poetic prose particular to Matthiessen. A must read.

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The Story of Yellow Leaf: Journal of a Sioux Girl Cover Image
By Gavin Mortimer, Tony Morris (Illustrator)
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ISBN: 9780764161094
Availability: Special Order
Published: Barron's Educational Series - October 1st, 2008


As we enjoy the  post-Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas holidays, it is important for us to remember a piece of our society that is slowly fading away. That is to say, memories of the tremendous influence the Native Americans had in the founding of our country. The  Story of Yellow Leaf follows a young Sioux girl as she grows up on the North Dakota plains. She matures, plays outside, and learns to ride a horse, the descriptions of which are very traditionally accurate (and have interesting flip out bits). Things take a turn for the worse near the end. She eventually encounters the Battle of Little Big horn, and sees many of her people slain, the remainder sent to live in poverty on government reservations. It is a sad and beautiful book, and a way of life children  should all be aware of, so that they can understand and move forward.

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The Pickwick Papers Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780553211238
Availability: Special Order
Published: Bantam Classics - August 1st, 1983


In Charles Dickens’  first (and, I find, most endearing) book, we follow the  ludicrous Mr. Pickwick and friends as they ramble  about England to “observe things” for the club that they are a part of.  Along the way they meet up  with the quintessential Dickensian array of insane characters. The format of  having them wandering about without a clear purpose besides observation really gives Dickens the chance to stretch his legs comedically. hilarious, even for Dicken, though it is equally wise. I would not recommend it on that basis alone. It contains some of his best social commentary, a thing which he became well known for, mocking a decadent aristocratic class that is just a blown up version of those we see today.

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