“Sharpen the bread knife and poise the toaster for action: the long, cold winter is looking better already!”
—from Eileen’s Picks
In November our hardworking library workers turns their thoughts to recent reads plus baking, birdwatching, painting, sewing, and preparing to romp around in Maine’s great snowy outdoors. It may be sunny and 60 degrees (today), but we’re ready for blizzards.
Hope these ideas inspire you to fill your own bags with books!
I was very excited to discover that Rainbow Rowell’s wonderful novel Fangirl has been turned into a manga series, adapted by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Gabi Nam. It’s fun to see the characters I imagined come to life in the illustrations. “Cath doesn’t need friends IRL. She has her twin sister, Wren, and she’s a popular fanfic writer in the Simon Snow community with thousands of fans online. But now that she’s in college, Cath is completely outside of her comfort zone. There are suddenly all these new people in her life…”
Also in my pile of books I can’t wait to read is My Jasper June, a middle grade novel by Laurel Snyder, the author of Orphan Island. This is a book about finding one’s way through a devastating loss for one young teen.
Finally, a new nonfiction book: WE CAN: Portraits of Power by Tyler Gordon, a fifteen-year-old painter whose work has been featured in Time and Essence magazines as well as on Good Morning America and ABC News.
Tyler paints dynamic portraits of his favorite people, like basketball player LeBron James, Vice President Kamala Harris and Colin Kaepernick. What I liked best about each portrait was that he explains why he likes each person that he paints and how they positively affect his life: “Like me, President Biden has a stutter. I was often bullied at school because of this and would pour myself into my art as an outlet for my sadness and frustration. After learning that President Biden also has a stutter, I felt empowered.”
Sarah Mari’s Picks
Two cozy romances for cold nights, both full of classic romance tropes that will hit the spot!
The first is She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen, a YA rom-com where the Fighting Reindeer’s basketball star, Scottie, and head cheerleader, Irene, are intense rivals, forced to carpool after a fender bender puts Irene’s car in the shop. The pair begin to pretend to date to get back at Scottie’s ex, but, of course, things don’t stay simple for long…Vibrant side characters, atmospheric descriptions, and swoon-worthy romance abound.
The second is Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner, where famous actor-turned-producer, Jo, and her assistant, Emma, are photographed whispering and laughing on the red carpet of a premiere. The resulting picture catapults them into the spotlight when everyone assumes that there must be something going on between them. The slowest of slow-burns makes this book a can’t-put-down sort of read!
“My prayer for them came to me like words of a song I’d already known the melody of.
I was telling them all that I hoped they did not have the sense, in their not-cages, they would be there for the rest of their lives…”
—from One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
The unnamed narrator, a hospital chaplain on the night shift, goes about her rounds, sitting with patients, listening, remembering, wondering about the soul. It’s a small, dreamy, intense, quiet novel that left me feeling full and hopeful.
In The Ride of Her Life author Elizabeth Letts takes us on an amazing journey with Annie Wilkins, a 65- year-old Mainer from Minot with health problems, little money, and no real map. It’s 1954 when she decides to ride a horse to California and figures if she heads Southwest, she’ll avoid bad weather. Letts paints a vivid portrait of a determined woman, a country shifting from small-town roads to superhighways, and the souls of some special animals (two horses and a little dog). Sheer grit and the kindness of strangers propel Annie to her destination, the ride of her life, and a very good read.
As I write this, I am exhausted. This is because I was up late last night reading Margaret and the Missing Body, by Megan Milks. Do you love The Babysitter’s Club and Scooby-Do? You will love this darkly humorous story about friendship, queerness, and tweens who solve mysteries. While it’s classified as fiction for adults, teens may also enjoy the subject matter and pacing. (This book does have a plotline about eating disorders.)
Here are some more gems that will arrive at the library soon:
- The Cat Who Saved Books, by Sosuke Natsukawa: Rintaro, an introverted teen who inherits his grandfather’s bookstore, meets a talking cat named Tiger. Tiger is on a mission to save “imprisoned” books, and he wants Rintaro’s help. Kirkus describes this book as a “tale of gentle wholesomeness,” which is something many of us need right now. Sign me up!
- The Fortune Men, by Nadifa Mohamed: Booker Prize shortlist alert! Nadifa Mohamed tells the fictionalized story of Mahmood Mattan, a father and merchant seaman from Somalia living in Cardiff in the 1950s. Mattan was wrongfully convicted of murder and was subsequently executed. The book moves between the perspectives of Mattan and the murdered shopkeeper, giving readers a thorough account of this tragedy.
- A Single Rose, by Muriel Barbery: This book by the author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog was quietly released back in September. (Thank you to the patron who alerted me!) Rose, a botanist living in France, is summoned to Japan for the reading of her estranged father’s will. This begins her journey around her father’s Kyoto, which has much in store for Rose. This short and quiet read with lush descriptions of gardens might be just the thing for the start of winter.
To celebrate the birthday of the late Kurt Vonnegut (November 11), I’d like to recommend The Sirens of Titan. This sci-fi/fantasy/adventure follows Malachi Constant on a journey that explores free will, morality, privilege, luck, and the space-time continuum. Two of my favorite lines from Vonnegut come from this novel: “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all” and “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
I’m reading Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar and would love to recommend it. It’s a fictional memoir portraying the life of a Muslim American writer whose family is grappling with identity and belonging in the United States post-911 and during the Trump era. It’s a fascinating and devastating look at this country and exceptionally well written.
I assumed ownership of a counter-top grain mill a few weeks ago and have been exploring what that might mean for our health and my weekend downtime. Browsing PPL’s stacks, I happened upon Flour Lab: An At-home Guide to Milling Grains, Making Flour, Baking, and Cooking by Adam Leonti with Katie Parla, which was satisfyingly informative on different varieties of wheat (Did you know there is a variety called Warthog? And another named Frederick? I didn’t) and other grains. If you fancy grinding your own flour, give it a spin and see what you think.
Martin Philip, head bread baker at King Arthur Baking Company, wrote Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey in 75 Recipes (2018) which I read and enjoyed. But what was I looking for and not finding in these and several other good books I optimistically carted home? I didn’t know.
And then I found Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor from 2007. Bingo! Lots of background information, terrific commentary ‘longside the recipes, wherefores and whys in profusion, all presented in a way suited to my learning style. I was absolutely certain I didn’t want to get into the custodial responsibilities of feeding and caring for a starter, but here I am fermenting soakers and bigas, an enthusiastic mash-cultured mother-starter bubbling away on the counter and my precious home-milled flours making our kitchen a happy haven for hardworking microbes and yeasts! Rye, wheat, barley, corn, spelt, oats, einkorn, buckwheat…sharpen the bread knife and poise the toaster for action: the long, cold winter is looking better already!
So much more work to do to get it right, but Peter Reinhart will see me through. I just know it.
November’s long nights have me curled up with books about artists and their work, and I’m also gathering project ideas to share with crafty, creative friends.
- Four beautiful art books, old and new: Bisa Butler: Portraits. Mamma Andersson: The Lost Paradise. Chagall: Watercolors and Gouaches. Jeanne Morningstar Kent’s The Visual Language of Wabanaki Art.
- Four how-to books for artists who love nature: The Complete Book of Drawing Nature, Watercolor Botanicals, Nature Painting in Watercolor, and Birds in Watercolor, Collage, and Ink.
- For fans of the art of needle and thread, four books on embroidery, block printing, felting, and mending: Embroidered Animals by Yumiko Higuchi. Jen Hewett’s Print, Pattern, Sew. Fi Oberon’s The Natural World of Needle Felting, and Noriko Misumi’s Mending With Love.
We have so many books on art, artists, painting, mixed media, fiber arts, and more, so please reach out to our staff if you’re looking for a great book to inspire you.
Sarah S’s Picks
Literature lovers, rejoice! In honor of their 125th anniversary, NYTBR bring us The New York Times Book Review: 125 Years of Literary History. According to the blurb, “this beautiful book collects interesting reviews, never-before-heard anecdotes about famous writers, and spicy letter exchanges. Here are the first takes on novels we now consider masterpieces, including a long-forgotten pan of Anne of Green Gables and a rave of Mrs. Dalloway, along with reviews and essays by Langston Hughes, Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Nora Ephron, and more.” Sounds like a dreamy way to spend the cold, darkening evenings of November.
Maine’s winter birds are starting to appear. Hello Snow Buntings! This is a great time to go outside and explore, now that there are no more ticks and mosquitoes. These books will help pique your curiosity as you navigate our unique winter landscape.
- A Guide to Nature in Winter: this classic guide provides a great overview of what to look for in a winter landscape. Naturally Curious takes us on a month-by-month journey through the fields, woods, and marshes of New England. Discover winter insects and arachnids and identify animal tracks and scat and signs of hibernation dens. Winter World describes the hidden inner mechanisms that allow the tiniest of creatures to survive the coldest conditions.
- The Birds of Winter focuses on some of nature’s least appreciated birds. Birdwatching in Maine compiles local insight for places to see birds in Maine, all year round.
- Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter: Lauren Brown’s 1977 classic is now available in a revised edition. A Guide to Wildflowers in Winter: Carol Levine adds a contemporary take, beautifully illustrated by Dick Rauh.
- The Snowflake includes an identification guide, and is great with a magnifying glass, or even better a microscope.
- Essential Guide to Winter Recreation offers current information on the best gear and safety practices for winter recreation by a Maine State Park Ranger stationed in Baxter.
- Keeping A Nature Journal: There is no better way to learn about the world around us than to settle in at home and reflect on your day’s experience.
As ever, thanks for reading! Here’s a link to a list of the books we talk about in this post: Sharpen the Bread Knife: November Staff Picks. If you’re looking for more reading ideas, we’d love to help. Try Your Next (Great!) Read to get your own personalized booklist of ideas from our staff.
Humans are natural storytellers. We love creating stories about our world, narrating our own lives, and imagining what lies beyond our limited knowledge of the universe. It’s hard to combine bits of a story into something coherent; we lead busy and stressful lives!
NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month – provides structure, deadlines, and community to motivate participants to finally tackle that writing project. What started as an Internet initiative to write 50,000 words in November has become a nonprofit dedicated to helping others realize their literary potential. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, poem, cookbook, or other type of tale, now’s your chance to join the fun!
If you finish your book in November, or if you have a self-published book already – congratulations! We often get questions about whether the library can stock self-published books. The short answer is…it depends. We only have so much space on our shelves, so we carefully evaluate every book we purchase.
However, one place where we never run out of room is our eBook collection. We would love to make your self-published eBook available to the community. Portland Public Library is a member of the Indie Author Project, where you can upload your book and share it with our patrons. Once it is uploaded, you will be a PPL Featured Author on Biblioboard. Your book will also be findable in our catalog.
Indie Author Project reviews all submissions for additions to their Select Collection. These items are available to all libraries who use the Indie Author Project. Titles in this collection are also considered for awards! You can see Select Collection titles in CloudLibrary, alongside lots of other popular items.
Looking to publish the old-fashioned way? Check out Publishing For All, our list of resources for publishing your big and small projects.
The library has lots of free resources for writing inspiration and creativity. This means anyone can tell their story…including you! .
Calling all fans of pumpkins and page-turners! Grab a mug of hot cider and settle in with our staff for Cozy Spooky Season (trademark Becca Starr, Literature and Language Librarian, see below for more details) and our October Staff Picks. October is always a fun month to share all the fantastical, thoughtful, mysterious, scary and wonderful riches at the library. Thanks for joining us, and read on…
The Door by the Staircase by Katherine Marsh is one of my favorite spooky October reads. Chock to the brim with eerie creatures and happenings, you will be hooked on this gem of a middle grade novel from the moment the main character, Mary, climbs into a dirty, cramped chimney on a chilly October night to escape her orphanage!
At times it has an almost fairy tale-ish atmosphere: “Something rustled in the overgrowth. A buck? A bear? She backed away just as a pair of yellow eyes flashed in the darkness and an enormous white wolf trotted out.” However, in this book, the wolves are helpful and kind, and people who appear to be kind are not always what they seem. Mary must learn the terrifying secret about the old woman who adopts her.
I’m excited about a brand new book from our Maine Student Book Award shelf: No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt. Elaborately illustrated with dynamic black and white drawings, it has an almost graphic novel feel to it, but with as much text as a regular novel. Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood.
“Sunset. The sky dims from pink to purple. Feel the chill of the night breeze. Hear the whisper of dry grass, the skitter of leaves down empty sidewalks. The shadows creep closer. Once we feared those shadows. Remember? You’ve heard the stories. Stories of Monsters. Bogeys and boggarts and bugbears, waiting to spring from the darkness. Ah, but that was long ago, back when the woods were still wild and the shadows untamed. We are safe now. There is no place for monsters in suburbia.”
But children have been going missing in Cowslip Grove despite the neatly-mown lawns and tidy sidewalks. No one remembers the missing children except for Levi and Kat, and it will be up to them to fight whatever is taking the children and save the missing kids before it’s too late.
Home Sick Pilots, Vol. 1 by Dan Watters
Just when you thought haunted houses were getting predictable, this comic comes along with a big dose of 90’s indie rock nostalgia and a whole bunch of gore.
The Hazards of Love, Vol. 1 by Stan Stanley
Big bold magical realism, this graphic novel is unlike anything else I’ve read this year. Watch your hands and don’t trust the talking cat.
White Smoke by Tiffany Jackson
Is it just me or is this house haunted? Tiffany Jackson will keep you guessing in her latest thriller—it’s a page turner and it will keep you up with the lights on.
All These Bodies by Kendare Blake
One of my favorite authors of dark YA fantasy is back just in time for Halloween with an historical thriller reminiscent of In Cold Blood with a (possibly?) paranormal twist.
What to read in October? I’m in the mood for creepy crawlies and creatures of the night! Here’s a selection of monsters—some loveable, some terrifying—for my favorite time of the year: Halloween.
With vampires and so much more, I adored Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell. Ex-Chosen One Simon and vampire Baz unravel a new threat to the world of mages—a sudden abundance of new “Chosen Ones”—with plenty of romance-fueled interludes. What I didn’t expect was how steamy some of those interludes were. (Be forewarned, though it was a pleasant surprise for me!) Simon’s trauma and his difficulties with intimacy were well handled and rang achingly true despite the giant dragon wings and vampire fangs. This is the last in a trilogy, so start with the first, Carry On!
The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl is another vampire book that I’m looking forward to. One in a string of discarded vampiric conquests, Holly is stuck just as she was when her jerk of an ex-boyfriend and vampire sire, Elton, turned her years ago. When she meets Elton’s other exes, they rope her into a plan to kill Elton before he can add new girl Parker to his list. That concept is enough to get me interested—throw in that Holly is also falling for Parker, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the book.
Werewolves, merpeople, and…something else? populate What Big Teeth by Rose Szabo, the story of estranged daughter Eleanor’s return to her Maine home and her struggle to reconnect with her monstrous kin after years of boarding school. Lots of small factors made this work for me—the rowdy werewolf family, the misfit struggling to find her place, the Maine setting, the queer and polyamory representation, the eldritch horrors…
Kelly DeVos’s Eat Your Heart Out stars a fully realized cast of teens, each one with their own reason for attending Camp Featherlite, a fat camp designed to prey on fat teenagers for its own nefarious purposes. And then…zombies?! This was a sharp and thoughtfully written book with a fast-paced plot and a heavy side of drama. I grew to love every member of the group—even the ones I started off despising.
I’ve just started No One Returns from the Enchanted Forest by Robin Robinson, a lovely graphic novel about a town of goblins searching for safety when their underground home is plagued by destructive earthquakes. Unfortunately I have already grown attached to mischievous goblin child Pella, who—at this point in my reading—has already entered the Enchanted Forest and therefore will surely never return! (Right?)
Finally, I have yet to read Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, but I’m excited for what looks like a charming book with the perfect pairing of queer crushes and werewolves. I’m hoping it will be the perfect cozy Halloween read!
Sarah S’s Picks
One of my favorite literary Halloween costumes is the girl from The Green Ribbon, a delightfully spooky tale from Alvin Schwartz’s classic In a Dark, Dark Room, and Other Scary Stories. Pair an eye-catching green ribbon with a gruesome gash from A Complete Guide to Special Effects Makeup and you’ll be a hair-raising hit!
Over the last several months I have read several books from our science collections that, though selected somewhat at random and at first seeming unrelated, have in retrospect formed a cohesive whole. A book about birds, a book about time, a book about consciousness, a book about animal (and human) instincts. All were chosen on different days by browsing what happened to be on our New Non-Fiction shelves at the Main library or what happened to be available on cloudLibrary when I happened to want to listen to an audiobook. But as I listened and read and reflected on these recent picks, common themes emerged.
All four books turn out to explore consciousness in one way or another – animal consciousness, human consciousness, our conscious perception of the movement of time, and urges that may arise in the subconscious or instinctual part of our brains but that drive us to seemingly conscious action.
Jonathan Meiburg, in A Most Remarkable Creature, and Maine’s own Berndt Heinrich, in The Homing Instinct, write with incredible sensitivity about what the lived experience of our animal neighbors may be, their conjectures pointing to a mystery we may eventually solve as we come closer to understanding animal consciousness. In Conscious, Annaka Harris manages to condense an incredibly complex topic into a short, readable volume that highlights what we do and don’t know about our own existence in the world, and Carlo Rovelli manages a similar feat in The Order of Time as concerns the famously daunting subject of quantum mechanics and our passage and experience of time. They are also all frank about the distinctions between what we know, what we might soon learn, and what is likely to remain a mystery, distinctions that in no way minimize the authors’ enthusiasms.
While there is of course value in deep investigation of specific topics (welcome to the library!), this grouping of books, read back-to-back, helped me remember that a broader context of direct and indirect connections is what makes meaning from simple information.
It’s spooky season, but it’s also cozy season! In honor of Cozy Spooky Season (trademark Becca Starr, 2021), here are some picks from our most recent purchases that will make you delightfully shiver:
Chouette, by Claire Oshetsky: A woman believes she has been impregnated by an “owl lover.” Everyone thinks she is just nervous about motherhood…until Chouette is born. Equal parts magical and horrifying!
Go Home, Ricky!, by Gene Kwak: Ricky Twohatchet is devastatingly injured during a wrestling match. Even worse (some would say), his career is ruined after an out-of-context video goes viral. Go Home, Ricky! is delightfully cheeky, but if fear of “being cancelled” keeps you up at night, you will find this book bone-chilling.
The Body Scout, by Lincoln Michel: A baseball player is murdered during a game. His brother investigates, maneuvering through a world of environmental disaster, bloated corporations, and cybernetic body parts. The Body Scout is a fun cyberpunk ride that may strike a little too close to home.
The Sinner and the Saint, by Kevin Birmingham: Isn’t true crime the ultimate Cozy Spooky? Learn about the true case that inspired Crime and Punishment and explore Dostoevsky’s life – and criminal companions – in Siberian exile.
Happy cozy spooky reading!
My October pick is much scarier than your average ghost story, since it involves vivid details about WWII London during the Blitz.
V is for Victory by Lissa Evans graphically portrays 1945 London life during the Blitz, recounting rockets, bombs, rationing and missing people. There’s a cast of great characters led by precocious 15-year-old Noel and his “aunt” Vee, plus the twins Winnie (an air raid warden) and Avril (her glam sister). Questions about identity and parentage offer suspense and surprise, but the heart of this novel lies in the lives drawn so well, with humor and compassion. The reader really lives with these heroes during daily wartime peril. Most surprising to me is the fact that so many managed “To Keep Calm and Carry On” as the Queen commanded.
From the Portland Room archives! Pictured above: Betty Small and Grace J. Whitmore, of Bath, with cat perched on a 110-pound pumpkin. This was printed in the Press Herald on October 15, 1946. The two women were students at Farmington State Teachers College (today’s UMF). And the real mystery is…what’s the cat’s name?
I don’t even know how to pick from all the riches that October brings to the library! Here are some ideas for dark nights from now through the depths of winter…
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones: Fantastic horror writer Stephen Graham Jones (member of the Blackfeet Nation) brings us this gory love letter to the slasher genre, described by one librarian as…Friday the 13th meets Shirley Jackson. In a town nestled by Indian Lake, high school senior Jade Daniels is an eighties slasher flick superfan…when she suddenly realizes she’s in a slasher. Will her encyclopedic knowledge help her survive? Ahhhh!
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu: Ropa Moyo has left school to earn money ferrying messages between the dead and the living in the phenomenal setting of a richly atmospheric, gloomy, ghoulish, haunted Edinburgh. With Zimbabwean magic, Scottish history, some “proper geekiness,” a cast of characters you’ll root for, and a grisly mystery to solve…plus a Library. Of. The. Dead. What more could you ask for?
For more tales of supernatural beings..if you loved Helene Wecker’s The Golemn and the Jinni, Chava and Ahmad are back in The Hidden Palace!
The 1998 film After Life by Kore-eda Hirokazu (who recently directed the out-of-this-world incredible Shoplifters) is a total gem of cinema. If you could bring one memory with you to eternity, what would you choose? Luminous cinematography, lovable characters, and a beautiful, wryly funny imagining of the lives of people after they die—hanging out in a big building that is a way station between life and death, wandering outside playing instruments, watching snow fall, filming memories and realizing what really matters.
I recently read This is Happiness by Irish writer Niall Williams, and felt my innards shift into a slightly different sequence. For one thing, my heart grew larger.
Loathe to leave the altogether agreeable state in which I found myself, I moved on to Mr Williams’s novel History of the Rain. For lack of a better explanation—and I so wish I could find just the right words to fill that lack—I was set to bobbing in its damp, liquid Irishness.
I am drawn to storytelling filled with meandering sentences that turn into freestanding paragraphs, words that sprout hyphens, and emotions that are bottled but could rock the rafters before too long.
Such tales remind me of my family, the people I grew up loving. They are quiet, even shy. They have always laughed whenever the opportunity presents itself, frequently at themselves. They slip through the world with words as beloved companions even though they do not always know how to speak their hearts. In the end, they find their way with grace, warmth, humility.
That is the blessed puddle I was happily splashing in while reading Niall Williams’s books. They render the privilege of wonder in the commonplace. Stories from ordinary life, stories special in their refraction.
I am now waiting for Niall Williams’s Four Letters of Love to come my way. I can’t wait to read it.
My thanks to Gail for suggesting that I might like This is Happiness. I sure did. And thank you to Andy, with whom I tumbled into a lunchtime conversation about the magic of storytelling. You inspired me to share the treasure that is Niall Williams’s brilliance.
As always, thank you for reading.
If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing. We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725.