“It all started with a sudden urge to know more about mosses and lichens.” -from Eileen’s Staff Picks.
In March, our library staff explores their sudden–research-related–urges and reading ideas: from the wild, wonderful world of books on mosses and spring gardening to a new thriller that’s worth the wait, a Brazilian romance, a family curse,magical short stories, new memoirs and poetry—as well as the nonfiction series that claims to be the Best.
Before I plug some newer additions to our fiction collection, I want to sing my praises for Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. A family escapes Brooklyn by renting a vacation home on eastern Long Island. On the second night of their trip, the homeowners come knocking…and that’s all I will say. Tightly written from multiple perspectives, this apocalyptic family drama literally had me reading late into the night and up early the next morning. Get on that waiting list – it’s worth it!
On to the latest:
An Apprenticeship, Or, The Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector: Published originally in Brazil in 1969, this romance by Clarice Lispector has finally made its way to the States with a new translation. It chronicles the developing relationship between a disillusioned primary school teacher and a blustery professor of philosophy.
Dial A for Auntiesby Jesse Q. Sutanto: Meddi Chan believes there is a curse upon her family: all the men leave or die. After a man dies while on a date with her, Meddi calls upon her boisterous extended family to help her hide the evidence. Booklist sums up this title in one sentence: “Murder is never funny, except when it is.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton: With 1970’s New York City as the backdrop, Afro-Punk singer Opal meets English songwriter Nev. The duo quickly enjoys a cult following…until one horrific night causes everything to crumble. If you love Just Kids, you’ll be happy to cross over into a new genre for this fictional oral history.
It’s never too early to start planning this year’s garden! Here are three new titles that will help you get started, whether you’re interested in decorative gardens, growing your own food, protecting our amazing tree canopy, or all of the above (and below).
American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore: If your interest in gardening is all about beautifying the landscape you’ll want to follow along on this tour of amazing American gardens with British broadcaster and horticulturalist Monty Don and photographer Derry Moore. The pair travel from coast to coast to visit gardens of all shapes, sizes, and purposes. The book accompanies one of Don’s many popular BBC series on gardens.
Beginners Guide to Growing Great Vegetables by Lorene Edwards Forkner: The growing season may still be a few months away, but that means it’s time to do your research and select your seeds to make the most of it. First-timers and veteran growers alike will find useful information in this guide to a great year of producing your own food. And if you don’t have a yard to convert into a garden, Forkner offers tips on container and balcony gardens for nearly any space.
The Nature of Oaks by Douglas W. Tallamy: Unlike our annual and even many of our perennial garden plants, our trees are with us all year long, dominating the landscape, especially here in the most heavily forested state in the nation. And standing among our pines and birch are innumerable oak trees. Tallamy explores the complex ecosystems in which oak trees grow, and those that the tree itself creates on the macro and micro scale. And just because we have already have so many trees in our state doesn’t mean we couldn’t use another. If you are considering planting an oak, this volume will also guide you in selecting a variety and in caring for your very own oak tree.
I’d like to endorse the entire Best American series in essay form. From Best American Travel to Cooking and from Sports to the (eclectic) Non-Required Reading it helped keep my restlessness during this pandemic under control. Sometimes when fiction seems repetitive the essay comes to the rescue.
It all started with a sudden urge to know more about mosses and lichens. As is so often the case with my sudden urges, I headed to the library catalog to see what could make it happen. I came away with call numbers for a Princeton Field Guide to fit a good-sized pocket, Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians and what turned out to be an absolutely enormous tome called Lichens of North America, both of them chock full of wonderful photographs , illustrations and useful information.
I have armed myself with a reasonably priced, reasonably good hand lens (aka a loupe), the better to identify what I find in the field. And, despite my winter-long craving for warm fires and hot cocoa, off I have trudged into cold snowy woods to peer at all manner of things found growing, sprouting, sleeping in cryogenic slumber on tree bark, stumps, stones and boulders, or sodden and plump at bog’s edge. I take pictures with my phone, clumsily balancing my creaking bones, hovering unsteadily at odd angles in crystalline snow and over ice-skimmed streams while trying to hold the loupe under the camera’s tiny lens and keeping all in focus. Results are mixed, but, oh! when it works it is amazing, magical, immensely satisfying. Moving serendipitously from flora to fauna, I even got some pretty cool videos of perambulating and hopping snow fleas, thrillingly magnified!
I have brought home sticks adorned in tiny orange jellies, black-eyed rim-lichen and myriad yet to be named mosses and lichens so I may study them while crouched happily over the kitchen table, loupe held to one eye, the books propped conveniently to one side. With identification likely, if not inevitable, the venture is proving pretty darn addictive.
And once it warms up and there is more to see, with wildflowers, caterpillars, spider webs… well, I see more field guides in my future, for sure. I can’t wait to see where in the stacks my urges lead next.
Eileen’s lovely homage to the minute and meaningful worlds of lichen and moss reminds me of another wonderful moss book (given as a birthday book to a moss-loving friend years ago). If your curiosity is sparked, you can safely add Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mossesto your mossy lists.
“My body could be a source of joy and pride. It was for me and me alone.” We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir explores writer and photographer Samra Habib’s powerful journey through faith, love, sexuality, art, and their celebration of queer Muslim spaces, stories, and communities.
“Those of us who ate the qiguo noticed that the sun was warm on our limbs and the sound of a bicycle bell tinkling outside reminded us of the warm air, of the spring breeze, of possibilities.” The Land of Big Numbers is a rich, immersive new collection of short stories by Te-Ping Chen. The stories almost feel like folk tales or fables, poignant, deep, and real, and I found myself thinking of the different stories and characters long after I finished turning the pages. One favorite was “New Fruit.”
Maybe you have a minute to read writer Jamara Wakefield’sbeautiful review of cultural icon Ntozake Shange’s incredible personal history Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance? Wakefield describes the intimacy and joy in collaborations Shange discovered and that she discovered through reading Shange: “In Dance We Do, I found the tenderness my life has lacked in the last few months of the pandemic. These stories of colleagues becoming friends and friends becoming collaborators are love stories…Shange details ‘dancing to somebody’s music’ one summer night at the East in Brooklyn. There she met dancer Bernadine Jennings, who suggested she audition uptown for a new company. After getting lost in Harlem, Shange landed at Dianne McIntyre’s Sounds in Motion studio, at which point she knew ‘that was where I was supposed to go.’”
Irish poet Eavan Boland’s dark and thoughtful historical poem “Quarantine” (from New Collected Poems) is a testament to love “in the worst hour” and has been one of many poems I’ve seen shared during the pandemic. Boland’s final collection of poetry, The Historians, is new at PPL.
Here’s a last idea for memoir lovers: Crying in H Martis a lyrical, moving new memoir by Michelle Zauner (who is also the guitarist and singer of Japanese Breakfast, her solo music project). It’s all about her mom and food and music and life.
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.
Our staff shares ideas for fiction and nonfiction reads from our Youth and Adult collections. Whether it’s a cozy mystery like Abby Collette’s A Game of Cones, a heartfelt romance, the latest graphic novel or some stellar sci fi: we’ve got you covered.
I’m excited to share three brand new picture books we have in the Children’s Library.
“As a boy, Jadav Payeng was distressed by the destruction deforestation and erosion was causing on his island home in India’s Brahmaputra River. So he began planting trees. What began as a small thicket of bamboo, grew over the years into 1,300 acre forest filled with native plants and animals.” Lovely sepia-toned paintings illustrate this beautiful biography of one boy who brought about big changes.
“All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn’t know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers at the Welcome Center are happy to lend a hand–and a sprinkle of sumac.” Dynamic earth-toned images illustrate one girl’s journey to recreating the food she remembers from her home country of Syria.
I’d ❤️ love ❤️ to highlight some of my favorite romantic Teen books by Black authors for Valentine’s Day. These will make you laugh, cry, and swoon for first love:
“Felix Love has never been in love, painful irony that it is. He desperately wants to know why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. He is proud of his identity, but fears that he’s one marginalization too many– Black, queer, and transgender. When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages– after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned– Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. He didn’t count on his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi-love triangle.”
“Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school, after all, her family is black and rather poor, especially since her mother died; instead she has concentrated on her grades and her musical ability in the hopes that it will win her a scholarship to elite Pennington College and their famous orchestra where she plans to study medicine–but when that scholarship falls through she is forced to turn to her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen, which plunges her into the gauntlet of social media which she hates and leads her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships.”
“Henri ‘Halti’ Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University. There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his ‘intense’ classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself. Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for.”
I would like to do a shout out to a bookthat I enjoyed here at the Burb.
Tim by Colleen McCullough: Absolutely heart wrenching and heartwarming. Incredibly sweet and pure. McCullough never fails to deliver content that challenges our views and biases with emotion, and love.
If It Bleeds by Stephen King: Excellent short stories! A must for a new King fan, or a frequent follower.
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts: Incredible novel by Nora Roberts, and likely one of her best. Both page turner and romance, she nailed the realistic genre of today’s society with unfortunate events.
I Found You by Lisa Jewell: A great, typical Jewell book!
There are so many titles I can’t wait to share with you this month! Here are a few that really caught my eye:
The Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries, by Abby Collette: Win Crewse returns to her Ohio hometown to manage her family’s ice cream parlor. She never expected to become an amateur detective, but that’s exactly what happens upon finding a body on the eve of the shop’s reopening. This coziest of mystery series has two books so far: A Deadly Inside Scoop and A Game of Cones (out in March!).
How to Order the Universe, by María José Ferrada: Young M loves going on sales calls with her father. She begins skipping school to travel around Pinochet-era Chile and help him close deals. However, after an unexpected meeting with a mystical photographer, life begins to unravel in strange ways. This slightly supernatural coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of magical realism.
Lolita in the Afterlife, edited by Jenny Minton Quigley: Re-examine one of the world’s most hated and loved novels with this new collection of essays. Would Lolita have been published if it was pitched today? Contributors include Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, and Andre Dubus III, among many more.
My husband and I read James Herriot’sAll Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful to our kids—then 4 and 8 years old—last year and they are books that appealed to the whole family. The trials and tribulations of a veterinarian practicing in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930’s are actually incredibly more relatable that you might think, especially written in Herriot’s candid and witty style. We are now watching the new television series created by the BBC and available on Public Television. Television and film renditions of books are often much less enjoyable than the book, but we all think it captures the characters in the book very well and it’s filmed in the beautiful setting of Yorkshire which is lovely to see.
This title brings together the works of over 80 Black writers describing the history of African America (from 1619-2019) and marks the first time this history has been written by so many Black voices in one title. Given the success of Blain and Kendi’s previous works, I am truly excited to have this on my hold list.
“Her story travelled like an ancestor, always ahead of, beside and behind her.” Meet Sankofa: a girl whose glowing green touch has mysterious power, traveling on a poignant quest in a world of shea trees and robocops with only a fox companion at her side. Remote Control is NnediOkorafor’s mesmerizing new sci-fi adventure—and it fits the 2021 Reading Challenge category “A Book with a Journey…”
Interested in a book that suits the same Reading Challenge category PLUS checks a box for the Lambda Award Winner or Nominee category (for Lesbian Romance)? Alyssa Cole’s Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is full of chemistry, conversation, and two lovers reunited in NYC: “Out of all the train cars in all the world you had to walk into mine.”
Delita Martin’s art is beautiful—she uses drawing, painting, printing, handstitching, fabric and decorative papers. “My work is very much pieced together like the quilts I grew up helping my grandmother make.” She talks about her processhere. You can find her portraits in Shadows in the Garden.
As ever, 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.
In January, our staff looks at newer and on-orderbooks for kids, teens, and adults at the library—a trove of fresh ideas and hidden gems for the new year.
I‘m excited about five new books that we have in the Children’s collection. The first is Brown: The Many Shades of Loveby Nancy Johnson James and Constance Moore. “Mama’s brown is chocolate–clear, dark, and sweet. Dady’s brown is autumn leaf or like a field of wheat.” Sweet and simple watercolor illustrations fill each page with a celebration of the many colors of brown skin.
The second book is I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes and Gorrdon C. James (creators of Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut). “I am a roaring flame of creativity. I am a lightning round of questions, and a star-filled sky of solutions. I am an explorer, planting a flag on every square foot of this planet where I belong. I am a sponge, soaking up information, knowledge, and wisdom. I want it all, and I am allllll ears.” The dynamic painted illustrations pull us from page to page in a super celebration of everything that makes kids special.
Another book I was enthralled by is Young Water Protectors: A Story About Standing Rockby Aslan Tudor, Co-Written by Kelly Tudor “As Native Americans we want to protect the Earth and water from getting polluted and harmed because these are sacred lands and waters to us. We want to keep our homelands from getting harmed.” Clearly drawn maps and beautiful photographs help to illustrate the story of the effort to stop the pipeline from being built through the sacred Standing Rock area, told from the perspective of one of the children who stood up for his rights.
The next book is the middle grade novel, Tune it Outby Jamie Sumner, author of Roll With It.“Lou has the voice of an angel, or so her mother tells her and anyone else who will listen. But the two of them have been performing the country fair and street corner circuit for so long that Lou can hear only the fear in her own voice. She’s never liked crowds of loud noises or even high fives; in fact, she’s terrified of them, which makes her pretty sure there’s something wrong with her.” Sumner brings home the poignancy of the middle school experience all over again. You are guaranteed a moving and special experience, reading her new book.
My final offering is middle grade novel That’s What Friends Doby Cathleen Barnhart. This is her debut novel. “Samantha Goldstein and David Fischer have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.”
This year, I want to treat myself to more great comics. Here are all the new graphic novels in my hold list right now, plus one I’ve actually read:
Sometimes I just want something scary and action-packed to rip through in an evening. This book looks like it will deliver. Basically, kids have been going missing from a certain small town, and some escape and return with tales of horrifying monsters. Enter the mysterious woman who has one mission: to kill the monsters. Tynion’s previous horror series, The Woods, brought on the creepy space monsters and a quick, twisty plot, so I have high hopes for this one as well.
Do you ever come across something and just think, “Oh, this was made for me“? That’s how I felt discovering Beetle & the Hollowbones. Key elements: a goblin witch, a sorceress aunt, a friend named Blob Ghost (?!), gorgeous art done in a sunset color palette, soft gothy vibe. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while!
Even when she writes about difficult topics, Allie Brosh’s autobiographical comics always set off a bout of laugh-until-it-hurts. I can’t wait to get my hands on her new collection and might reread her older comics (in print and collected on her website, Hyperbole and a Half) in the meantime.
Lora feels abandoned by former friends, but makes a new one during her Halloween-adjacent birthday séance in this middle-grade graphic novel. First off, the house-haunting Alexa reminds me of a certain technological product, and I think that’s hilarious. That aside, we all need to have fun on our own right now, so this cozy tale of supernatural friendship really grabs me.
What I know about this book: various anthropomorphic animals go on some kind of fantasy, D&D style quest together. Why I want to read it: is that adventurer a beefy snake with huge muscled arms? Fingers crossed.
I came across this one while making book lists and it grabbed me immediately. Earth has just exploded – now what? The last surviving human, a 13-year-old named Kay, gets scooped up by alien pals for space adventures. I’m hoping for a book packed with charm, action, and sappy feelings.
Cici needs to cook the perfect food in Measuring Up in order to win a contest and pay for her grandmother’s birthday plane ticket. Cooking and graphic novels is a great mix – I love seeing visuals of the delicious food as I read about it (and take notes for my own menus).
Reminaby Junji Ito Remina’s first English release was just this past December, and I’m excited to dive into another work by Ito full of that grotesque art I’ve grown to love. This one is about a planet that suddenly appears from a wormhole. The discovery of the planet Remina is met with celebration – but that quickly sours when Remina is seen destroying everything in its path on the way to Earth.
Finally, the only book on this list I’ve actually read: The Magic Fishby Le Nguyen Trung
This was my favorite book of all 2020. It’s billed as a book about 12 year old Tiến and his struggles coming out to his mother, Hiến. It’s about that, but it’s just as much about Hiến, her longing for the family she left behind, and her search for connection after years of fighting the distance. The fairy tales shared between mother and son weave throughout the book and tie into each other seamlessly. As a theme, their intermittent storytelling brought home both the impermanence of oral histories and the power of choosing your own story. On top of that, the art was truly gorgeous. There’s lots of well-researched and well-drawn fashion choices throughout – on everyone, not just the glamorous princesses. I absolutely cried at the end and I want everyone I know to read this book.
The next few months bring us many engrossing tales from lesser-known authors and independent publishers. Here are a few that I’m excited to carry soon:
Cathedral by Ben Hopkins: It’s the turn of the 13th Century, and construction begins on a new cathedral in the Holy Roman Empire. Cathedral follows the people surrounding this massive building – the builders, merchants, nobles, and church administrators – as they fight to gain power. If you like sweeping epics by Ken Follett and Umberto Eco, this is the book for you.
Even As We Breatheby Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle: In 1942, a young man leaves his home on the Cherokee reservation to work for a resort housing diplomats and wealthy prisoners of war. When a young girl goes missing, he must prove his innocence while fighting against racism and classism. First-time novelist Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle is believed to be the first enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to become a published author.
Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons by Keith Rosson: This new collection of stories will appeal to fans of fantasy and magical realism with a touch of evil. Publisher’s Weekly opined, “The premises [of these stories] often look like very dark Monty Python sketches.” If you’ve finished Kelly Link’s stories and are yearning for more, this book awaits.
Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlemby Gary Phillips: In the mood to start a new series? In this series set in the 1920s, Arctic explorer Matthew Henson returns to Harlem to become a bodyguard for a controversial religious leader…and save the world from total destruction. This classic pulp will appeal to fans of the genre and to fans of Indiana Jones.
In Memory Ofby Spencer Bailey looks at contemporary memorials from around the world. Through photographs and essays, the book describes how and why these monuments exist. Sir David Adjaye OBE, designer of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, says it best in his forward, “the narrative of memorials is a device to project the many things facing people across the planet: nationhood, citizen rights, human rights, climate action. Memorial form is an important act of un-forgetting.”
Xiaolu Guo’s A Lover’s Discourse is a thoughtful, dark-humored novel full of questions and conversations. Part of it takes place on a houseboat the narrator and her partner live on in a London canal—so maybe it counts for Challenge #20: A book with a journey by bus, boat, bike…? Dark, Salt, Clear: The Life of a Fishing Towndefinitely has a journey by boat as Lamorna Ash writes about joining a fishing crew in Cornwall, and Li Juan’s Winter Pasture brings another journey as she sets out for the winter with a family of Kazakh herders.
The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits has one of the most intriguing book descriptions this winter (Tsarist Russia, women and knives!). Another description that hooked me is the one for Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, which “draws on indigenous Abinhinaabeg beliefs to create a bold, affecting portrait of an urban landscape and its network of living beings. Mashkawaji, two years after falling into ice and being frozen, remembers and experiences the world through a sensory connection to people, animals, and plant life in Toronto from her place under the ice.”
And…I was born in Florida but moved away when I was little, and don’t remember it, so it’s always seemed very mysterious! I’m curious to read Milk Blood Heat, a collection of stories by Dantiel W. Moniz described as exploring “the sultry lives of Floridians in intergenerational tales that contemplate human connection, race, womanhood, inheritance, and the elemental darkness in us all.” Morgan Rogers’ new novel Honey Girl also involves a trip to Florida (as well as a summer in New York) but more importantly, it’sreported to have astronomy and queer found family and love and therapy and friendship and I can’t wait to check it out.
My pick is a virtual reading series of Maria Dahvana Headley’s lauded new translation of Beowulf (which you can find at PPL). It begins with a reading by Miz Cracker in beautiful, beautiful old English and goes from there in a wild range of voices. Twenty-two readers bring this tale to glorious life: you can watch them all at your own pace here.
“I’m having quite a complicated day here!”–Anxious Peopleby Frederik Backman
The title was irresistible to me, being a member of the group myself, and I have liked or loved everything I have read that he has written. That’s why I had no choice but to plop myself on the waiting list a month or two ago. Last week, my name came up.
Irritated by too many adverbs? Incensed by a proliferation of adjectives? Backman has an unfussy style of writing; he might be your kind of guy. Always, the stories have a quirkiness about them, the characters weighed down by life while managing also to be adrift. I think of John Irving for some reason, although they don’t have a whole lot in common other than their occupying my head in a similarly inevitable way. To force analogies further, Backman inhabits the same corner of my mind as film director Bill Forsythe (Local Hero; Comfort and Joy; Gregory’s Girl): humorous with a dollop of melancholy… only maybe Backman is more melancholic with a dollop of humor.
What’s Anxious Peopleabout? “This is a story about a bank robbery, an apartment viewing, and a hostage drama. But evenmore it’s a story about idiots. But perhaps more than that.”
Yes, there is more than that. There are pistols and bridges. There are children and old people, pizzas, cigarettes, bad coffee, emotional darkness. There is love and impatience and connection and coincidences and letters. It’s complicated. I loved it.
But enough! More important is how you feel about it. Get yourself onto the hold list if you aren’t there already. If you currently are patiently (or not so patiently) awaiting your turn, you have a treat in store. While you’re waiting, maybe read something else by Frederik Backman. There’s not a loser in the bunch.
I wish you a year of reading that feeds your soul.
As ever, thanks for reading. You can find our full booklist of ideas from this post here at I Am Every Good Thing: January 2021 Staff Picks. 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.