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In a year of special focus on reading women, it’s meaningful to hear this month that 17-year-old Malala Yousafzi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 (shared with Kailash Satyarthi). Yousafzi’s memoir, “I Am Malala,” tells her incredible story as a passionate advocate for education for girls. Find it in print at PPL here, or check it out as an ebook!
A rich crop of other memoirs and essays are being published in the last months of 2014. As a City of Readers team member here at the library, I’m engaged with many of the conversations being sparked around new (and old) books. Some issues are timeless: is a writer-who-happens-to-be-a-woman a woman writer, or just…a writer? Authors Cheryl Strayed and Benjamin Moser tackle these and other ideas in a recent New York Times Book Review article, “Is This a Golden Age for Women Essayists?”
To help you celebrate the Golden Age, here are some of Portland Public Library’s own New Nonfiction releases. Click on the titles below for more info:
This list should stop somewhere…but it feels like a good thing that it could go on and on! Happy reading.
(For more recommendations, to ask questions, or to request books and other materials over the phone, please contact your branch, the Reader’s Advisory Desk at the Main Library at 871-1700 ext. 705, or the Reference Desk at the Main Library at 871-1700 ext. 725).
Portland poet Megan Grumbling at the Port City Poems reading.
Last Tuesday, October 7, a group of local poets drew a crowd of 91 to the Rines Auditorium. Anita Clearfield, Wil Gibson, Megan Grumbling, Claire Hersom, Annaliese Jakimides, Michele Leavitt, John McVeigh, Edward J. Rielly, Betsy Sholl, David Stankiewicz, Sally Woolf-Wade, and Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel read from their poetry. They were introduced by Marcia F. Brown, Portland Poet Laureate and editor of the anthology Port City Poems. It was an evening full of thoughtfulness and humor, celebrating Portland but also touching on other themes.
For those of you who couldn’t be there, I took notes.
Ed Rielly read his poem, “The Sea Dogs Come Out of the Corn.” The poet muses at a baseball game. “ ‘Is this heaven?’ I ask my wife, joking…‘No, it’s Portland, Maine.’ ” One of Wil Gibson’s poems was written as a love letter to Portland. “I miss your freckles,” Wil Gibson read aloud (addressing spurned Illinois, a former home) “but Portland, she is different. She is the most amazing, attentive lover…I have the scratches on my back to prove it.”
Sally Woolf-Wade read poetry on island life.
Other images of Portland rose, as sweetly and sharply, out of the readings. Megan Grumbling’s poem, “Landing,” evoked the golden light caught in the curved windows of a staircase at the Portland Museum of Art, a place to return to in deep winter. One of Claire Hersom’s poems spoke to a favorite wharf-haunt: J’s Oyster Bar. John McVeigh paid homage to the horses that pulled the old engines (“The spokes of the wheel are a blur”) of the Portland Fire Department in 1912. Later, David Stankiewicz’s Saint Augustine-inspired poetry moved the audience from Bailey Island’s Cribstone Bridge to travels on the Downeaster: “If I sit very still, might the conductor overlook my transgression?”
Annaliese Jakimides before the crowd.
The poetry that resonated could be both beautiful and stark, as in Michele Leavitt’s excerpt from a cycle of poems on Hepatitis C. Or the poems imparted unapologetic knowledge: what comes to us may come as a surprise. “Because,” Anita Clearfield noted, “what happiness have we ever had that we asked for?”
And there was laughter, as the poets touched on religion, on menopause imagined or real, on the Old Port…“At last I’m old and wrinkled, celibate and wise,” read Michele Leavitt, tongue-in-cheekily. “I keep trying to write these spiritual poems that won’t be obnoxious,” quipped Betsy Sholl. The evening ended more seriously, with Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel’s poem on Alexander Hamilton. “I am afraid to do as Alexander Hamilton did: predict the future.” Nonetheless, Wrobel noted: “I think I know which duel to fight.”
I walked home that night through the city, thinking of Wil Gibson’s words: “Portland: she is the family I always wanted.”
We’re coming down to the wire in the final days of voting for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award, 2014! Book lovers across the state are invited to vote by September 15, 2014 for a favorite novel that has been nominated for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award.
We asked staff members for their thoughts on the four (very) different novels…
Science and Technology Team Leader Samantha S tackled a review of Colum McCann’s wonderful TransAtlantic: “TransAtlantic is a beautiful ode to Ireland – its landscape, people, language, problems, and history. The novel begins with a story about the first flight across the Atlantic. The rest of the pages involve lives that are interrelated, whether through family or acquaintance, and in each chapter McCann follows a different person that is somehow connected to every other person in the story…A pair of flyboys try to cross the Atlantic just after WWI in a dangerous technical feat; runaway and activist Frederick Douglas takes refuge in Ireland as he waits for supporters to purchase his freedom; an Irish immigrant to the US marries a man in the business of harvesting ice; and, yes, they all do fit together so perfectly that they require no literary mortar to hold their place in the larger whole. It is not until the end of the book that every relationship is made clear.
Nowhere is McCann’s talent more on display then in the most pedestrian and contemporary story, which follows former Senator George Mitchell as he makes his way to Ireland for negotiations. Perhaps you don’t imagine that sitting at JFK in the VIP lounge as an aging Senator ponders hearth and home, the joys of tea, and avoiding looking too long at a hostess’s derriere could be worth reading? Maybe in the hands of a lesser author you’d be correct, but McCann’s lyrical words make even the most mundane moments come alive with truth.
McCann is an author to savor, an Irish poet in the greatest tradition of that term, and the sooner you begin the journey that is reading his work, the sooner you will open your eyes to an author who just keeps getting better and better.”
From Ireland to Holt, Colorado…Finalist Kent Haruf’s Benediction is the third book in his haunting, nuanced “Plainsong” trilogy. Haruf’s deft, stark prose sails off the page: “That was on a night in August. Dad Lewis died early that morning and the young girl Alice from next door got lost in the evening and then found her way home in the dark by the streetlights of town and so returned to the people who loved her. And in the fall the days turned cold and the leaves dropped off the trees and in the winter the wind blew from the mountains and out on the high plains of Holt County there were overnight storms and three-day blizzards.”
Setting down Haruf’s frank meditation on the final reflections of a dying man…we arrive, almost inevitably, at best-selling author Donna Tartt’s latest and heftiest of tomes: The Goldfinch. Here’s the review from Tech Services manager Jessica T at the Main Library:
“The Goldfinch, Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, eleven years in the making, is an atmospheric page turner that has stirred up a fair amount of literary controversy. Both praised and panned as Dickensian, it is an ornately scripted tale of the aftermath of a terrorist attack at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tartt’s flawed, charismatic characters are unreliable narrators who propel the suspenseful narrative as they dance in and out of danger in pursuit and possession of the titular painting. Sure, it’s probably a little too long at 700+ pages, but it includes passages like this one to savor:
‘Unsteadily, I got up and went to the window. Bells, bells. The streets were white and deserted. Frost glittered on tiled rooftops; outside, on the Herengracht, snow danced and flew. A flock of black birds was cawing and swooping over the canal, the sky was hectic with them, great sideways sweeps and undulations as a single, intelligent body, eddying to and fro, and their movement seemed to pass into me on almost a cellular level, white sky and whirling snow and the fierce gusting wind of poets.’ “
If you didn’t spend last winter curled up with The Goldfinch, isn’t it a relief to know that hundreds and hundreds of pages patiently await you this coming snowy season?
Our final (and succinct
review-in-a snapshot!) comes from our four-legged friend, Sadie (side-kick of Kathleen, Head of Access Services). A creaturely review is appropriate for a stunning debut novel—Helene Wecker’s bright, enchanting “The Golem and the Jinni,”—whose Jinni hero and Golem heroine are also inhuman, but grappling with their own fantastical, unique natures, and what it means for them to exist in this world. Sadie weighs in most favorably:
“Clay…Fire…two elemental spirits born into the maelstrom of 1899 New York…Two paws up!!”
Have your own thoughts on these four books? Follow this link to vote by September 15 for your own favorite pick for the Maine Reader’s Choice Award 2014.