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May Staff Picks: Spring Into…

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Readers Writers

The joy of new books! Nonfiction is where it’s at this May, and plenty of unique and dynamic titles are already here. You can also log in to your library account and place holds on the new nonfiction books we have on order, including intriguing options like The Secret Life of CowsThe Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma, or Empress: The Astonishing Reign of Nur Jahan. Read on as a few of our Youth Services and Adult Services staff members share their own new nonfiction picks and reading ideas.  

Children’s Services New Nonfiction 

 Carrie’s Pick 

The Easy Family Cookbook 

I love family cookbooks and this British import is sure to become a family favorite! With metric and imperial measurements, heavy binding, and wipeable pages, this book has it all. The Easy Family Cookbook is packed with recipes that children will actually enjoy and families can make together on a weeknight without a lot of fuss. Organized by mealtimes and full of inventive and family friendly recipes, but still well balanced and healthy, this cookbook will grow with your family. Recipes include lovely photographs to entice even the most picky eaters. 

Research shows families that regularly eat dinner together benefit in myriad ways. From lower rates of obesity and eating disorders, to higher grade-point averages and self-esteem, the health benefits of family dinner are well documented. And family dinner conversation has even been shown to be a more potent vocabulary builder than reading! So why not start a new family tradition and let the kids pick a dinner or two a week to plan, cook, and clean up after? Everyone will benefit from the time spent together, the skills and confidence gained by learning to cook, and the magic that happens when families slow down and make eating well together a priority.  


Cindy’s Pick 

The Girl Guide, 50 Ways to Learn to Love your Changing Body by Marawa Ibrahim is a lovely new non-fiction choice for middle-grade readers who may just be sashaying into puberty.  Ibrahim’s very cheerful, friendly writing invites you to explore the many mysteries of puberty.  Whether it is hair growing in new places, periods, embarrassment, meditation, exercise, body positivity or body parts, Ibrahim covers it all nicely.  

It’s very inclusive of different body types and skin colors, without being pushy in any direction, which was refreshing to see.  There are illustrations and photographs aplenty, including one showing Ibrahim’s own beautiful face: one half picturing an unrealistic, airbrushed side of her face, smoothed out with flawless makeup, while the other half remains unedited with her natural skin, acne and all.  

What you come away with most strongly in this wonderful guide is that it is okay to be whoever you are, whatever you look like or feel like.  If only we had all gone through Middle School with this book in our backpacks! 


Teen Services New Nonfiction 

Kelley’s Pick 

I LOVED For Everyone by Jason Reynolds, read it twice in one sitting, and want to buy it FOR EVERYONE.

 Harper’s Pick 

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu is more than just another collection of women to admire. With art that is both cute and expressive without being overwhelming, Bagieu tells the stories of a diverse array of women. The depth of information on each is amazing, especially considering how each biography fits in just a few short pages. Brazen had me adding a number of names to my ‘cool people to learn more about’ list, including: Nzinga, Las Mariposas, Tove Jansson, Sonita Alizadeh, Mae Jemison, and so many more.  


Adult Services New Nonfiction

Eileen’s Pick 

I want to know everything.  A little bit at a time.  The Dewey decimal system is my map.  Today I am making a beeline for 508.7414. 

Granite, Fire, & Fog: the Natural and Cultural History of Acadia by Tom Wessels  

We are anchored to a marvel of natural wonder that is our home address:  Planet Earth.  Acadia is a small slice of Earth’s slow cooked story, a physical and eventually an ethnic amalgam of the past and present, with a whiff of the inevitable yet to come right in our own backyard.   Wessels steps onto the path that Acadia has travelled for billennia, wending his way through the fantastic evolution of a place, to my mind rivalling the most unbelievable fiction as it roiled, boiled, compressed, rose up, sparked life.  

On my second time reading Granite, Fog, & Fire, I again am enamored of the emotionally grounding nature of bedrock and what carves and covers it.  To wit: lichens, mosses, glacial striations, igneous intrusions, crevice communities and such like amazements.  Wondering what defines a bog versus a fen?  Look no further than page 44, although I cannot imagine stopping there.  You’ll not have met wind as sculptor or the travails of the Wabanaki who summered in Acadia for over 100 generations of regenerative lifestyle or the paper birch’s role as a “canary in the coal mine” of climate change… so many things I didn’t think to wonder about before reading Wessels’ gem.  It is eminently accessible, written by a devoted fan of Acadia who is also a professor of ecology at Antioch University of New England, part guide, part history book, all engaging. 

Did I mention that there is a glossary?  I do love a good glossary! 

Nonfiction has inspired and informed me, sometimes improved me, occasionally outed me as inept.  I have lamented my neck with Nora Ephron, cooked vegetarian for everyone with Deborah Madison to guide me, and slept with a helmet for my pillow in the Pacific theater ‘long side Robert Leckie.  DIY.  Travel guides.  Philosophy and religion.  It’s all there, a smorgasbord that will feed me forever.  I am ravenous and will not be satisfied anytime soon. 

So, I keep on keepin’ on, trolling the stacks for books to fill the huge gaps in what I know, exploring new territory, reexamining old ways of thinking, and sometimes prying open my wallet to buy something that speaks to me, like Granite, Fire, & Fog 

Thank you, Mr Wessels. 


Jessie’s Pick 

More than just a true crime book, Michelle McNamara chronicles her obsession with one of America’s most horrific unsolved crime sprees as she delves deeply into the case of the Golden State Killer in I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. Sadly, the author died suddenly before the book was finished. Her widower, actor Patton Oswalt, enlisted some of McNamara’s colleagues to complete her work using her extensive notes. McNamara’s respect for the victims is clear, and her confidence that the crimes would someday be solved shines through the deeply disturbing subject of her research: last month, two years after McNamara’s death, a suspect was finally apprehended.  


Brandie’s Pick 

“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the onset.”  

I’d heard a lot of buzz about David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon—a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction—but I don’t generally read from the 360s. Then Now Read This, a book club from PBS NewsHour and the New York Times, chose it as the book club pick for February. I’d committed to reading all the books they selected this year so I had to read it. I appreciate book clubs for so many reasons—but mostly because they get me to read outside of my comfort zone. This is a perfect example of a book I’d never have picked up on my own, but I’m so glad I read it. 

Killers of the Flower Moon is a well-documented narrative of conspiracy, small-town corruption, and the mysterious murders of wealthy members of the Osage Nation in Osage County, Oklahoma, in the 1920s after oil was discovered on their land. Newspapers described the increasing number of unsolved murders as the “Reign of Terror,” and local law enforcement couldn’t be trusted to solve the case or help the Osage Nation. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908: by the 1920s, though, it was still relatively small, with only a few hundred agents and a handful of offices around the country. Many agents, known for bending laws and getting cozy with criminals, were not to be trusted. The Department of Justice, Grann writes, “had become known as the Department of Easy Virtue.”  J. Edgar Hoover was appointed director in 1924 and the Osage murders were to be Hoover’s first significant test of the new F.B.I.’s abilities. 

Lies, greed, murder, cover-ups…this gripping true crime tale reads more like fiction than nonfiction. Grann is an extraordinary writer and really pulls you in from the first page. I don’t want to give too much away: there is so much to be discovered from all the twists and turns. It especially felt important to learn more about the Osage Nation as well as this dark piece of history. I highly recommend this read—check out the print version or you will miss all the fascinating pictures pertaining to this history.


Hazel’s Pick 

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

“When it comes to justice, it does not matter whether those in a host country think they have no obligation to refugees. Keeping people in a refugee camp is punishing people who have committed no crime except trying to save their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.”  

In less than 200 pages, Nguyen has compiled a series of brave and moving pieces from seventeen different refugee writers. Their accounts span widely across both time and place—from post-World War II Ukraine, to 1970s Chile under Pinochet, to Mugabe’s thirty-year presidency over Zimbabwe. These authors’ voices and their reasons for writing are as varied as their countries of origin, and the result is a timely and necessary collection that aches, endures, and reaches for home. 


Elizabeth’s Pick 

Powerful writing and profound responses to assault, harassment, and abuse make up the personal essays in the new collection Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Cultureedited by Roxane Gay with writing from Samhita Mukhopadhyay, Miriam Zoila Pérez, Brandon Taylor, and a host of other contributors. Many share personal experiences and impact. Together they also call out culpability on individual and institutional levels, challenge the toxic culture they reveal, and get to the roots of systemic violence and aggression, underscoring the need for more widespread accountability of criminal actions as well as meaningful social change of the cultural norms and behaviors that cause lasting harm.

As Nora Salem writes in “The Life Ruiner,” her essay in this collection: “I’m writing this for the other girls, some of whom may be in my family. The boys, too. I’m writing this for my friend who told me to blame myself…Like all the writers I read, I’m writing to prove I exist. The Life Ruiner alone didn’t ruin me. The world that made him did—the place that continues to manufacture replicas of him and continues to create the circumstances in which he and his replicas thrive. What is there to do about that?” 


Nate’s Pick 

As someone who has both struggled with and been intrigued by William Vollman’s fictional works, his nonfiction has offered slightly more grounded opportunities to explore his writing.  Though not a practice in brevity, his newest undertaking, No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies   presents a history of climate change, including major causes and a commentary on challenges associated with tackling the issue; it also explores the Fukushima nuclear disaster and Vollman’s travels in Japan.  From the author of books dedicated to the ethics of violence and poverty, I expect a comprehensive perspective complimented by thoughtful social commentary. 



As ever, thanks for reading. For more ideas, you can always explore new additions to the library’s collections on our website here. Or try filling out our Your Next (Great!) Read form here, briefly tell us what you like to read and what you’re in the mood to read next, and you’ll receive a book list of personalized reading ideas and suggestions created for you by our Reader’s Advisory staff.

Writers, Creators, History-Makers

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Readers Writers

April Staff Picks

You just can’t stop the inspiration of Women’s History Month: in April we continue celebrating women who have made history and who are making history (you can do this at the library all year long if you want!). In word and image, our April Staff Picks share just a few writers and journalists, mountaineers and musicians, makers, scientists, activists, artists, scholars, and other trailblazing historical and contemporary figures. 

Youth Services 

Carrie’s Pick 

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World, by Malala Yousafzai 

Malala was taught by her family to stand up for her beliefs and to be brave in the face of adversity; now Malala stands up for the rights of all girls to receive an education. For her peaceful activism, she is the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize winner. The Young Readers Edition of her biography is not only an inspiring story for young people finding their own voices in the youth empowerment movement, but also for adults wondering how they can support and inspire the young people in their lives.  

For more ideas, check out our Kids and Families booklist Smart Girls and Powerful Women.


Cindy’s Pick 

I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder series as a whole.  I think she chronicled her early life during a time that is endlessly fascinating.  We revel in watching Laura and her sister Mary playing in the prairie grass or on the banks of Plum Creek as children, we bite our nails in fear for her family as they live agonizingly through The Long Winter, nearly starving to death.  We watch her grow up, court a young man and ultimately get married and have children of her own.  Her stories are so human and simple on the surface, but speak at a very deep, compelling level.  

Adult Fiction 

Elizabeth’s Picks 

Aminatta Forna’s new novel Happiness beautifully explores the lives (and losses) of wolves and coyotes, foxes, parakeets and owls—as well as a group of thoughtful humans who engage and empathize with each other on the streets of London. Jean Turane, a wildlife biologist studying London foxes, is thrown together with Dr. Attila Asare, a gifted psychiatrist who works with war and trauma survivors. Jean helps as Attila searches London for his young nephew Tano, who has run away from a foster home after being placed there when immigration officials arrest his mother.

Forna’s fiction might especially appeal to fans of Barbara Kingsolver (Animals! Nature! People!) and Zadie Smith (People! Ideas! London!). Happiness wings on chance encounters and coincidence, but is also gently grounded in the steady, deliberate actions of attention, aid, and care that its cast of characters offer each other.

Another favorite recent read was Min Jin Lee’s epic novel Pachinko. 


Brandie’s Pick 

“The power of words. They weaseled under door crevices and through keyholes. They hooked into individuals and wormed through generations.”  

I devoured The Immortalists and recently heard author Chloe Benjamin speak at Print: A Bookshop. The image below, inspired by the reading, was created by local writer and illustrator Jessica Esch. (I asked if I could use her image because it’s such a great snapshot of the story: click on it to see a larger version). The basic premise of the book is: if you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your life?


The Immortalists starts in 1969 in New York City. Word spreads that a fortune teller who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die is in the neighborhood, so the four young Gold children combine their allowances and sneak out to hear their fortunes. The prophecies they hear that day inform the next five decades for the siblings. Each chapter follows the life of one of the Gold children, spanning a timeline from the start of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, through the 80s, and into the early years of this century.  Benjamin is a fantastic storyteller. She’s created a tremendously thought-provoking book—and it makes me wonder: would you like to know the date of your death? Hmm…



Raminta’s Pick 

Every Time I Feel the Spirit: The Concert Album, by Sister Rosetta Tharpe 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been eligible since 1963 to be a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but it wasn’t until this year that she was inducted into it as an Early Influence. Sister Rosetta is a pioneer in rock and blues. She came onto the recording scene in the 1938 with four hit songs, including Rock Me. Her 1945 single Strange Things Happening Every Day popularized gospel music and brought it into the mainstream.  In 1947, she brought onto the stage a 14-year-old Little Richard Penniman. Little Richard is to have said that this changed his life and made him want to follow a path to music. Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, and many other musicians have also cited her as influence and inspiration.   

Sister Rosetta was rock before rock. She was the first to use heavy distortion in her electric guitar playing. Even her early works sound like mixes of blues and gospel. There are calls and responses mixed in with slick guitar solos. If you have no experience with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I implore you to listen to this two-disc concert.  

Adult Nonfiction 

Aprill’s Pick 

I am so excited to spend some time with novelist Julia Pierpont’s new non-fiction book, The Little Book of Feminist Saints. 

Modeled after the traditional Catholic Saint of the Day books, The Little Book features “matron saints” complete with feast days, brief blurbs about their lives and work, and bold, lively portraits by Manjit Thapp.  

From Sappho to Kara Walker to The Night Witches- I can’t wait to celebrate the history changers that Pierpont has canonized! 


Nate’s Pick 

The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and our Energy Future, by Gretchen Bakke 

Professor Bakke was one of my first professors in college.  She taught a class called The Anthropology of Religion, introducing me to the work of outsider artist Howard Fincher as well as the various ways humans bridge existential gaps regarding what our lives mean and what happens when we die.  More recently Professor Bakke has written a book detailing the intricacies of the U.S. electrical grid.  I am finding this subject fascinating and the book has shed light on an essential part of my life that I know almost nothing about.  This work examines the initial, haphazard way in which electricity use and grids were developed here, and goes on to address some of the current problems associated with our countries’ aging infrastructure and current attempts in integrate renewable sources of energy into sections of the grid.  Written with non-electrical engineers in mind, Professor Bakke has crafted a compelling story which engages an easily ignored but vital component to our current standards of living. 


Jim’s Pick 

Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945) was my first major inspiration in learning how to make an art heartfelt and political.  An Expressionist artist during the 20th century’s worst horrors, Kollwitz lost her youngest son to WWI and a grandson to WWII.  She barely escaped deportation to Nazi concentration camps but her international fame at that time saved her; she died sixteen days before the war ended. Through it all she remained active in antiwar groups and activist organizations and always, always continued to make her art. 

Eileen’s Pick 

Let’s face it, flawed is the only kind of person there is. 

Allow me to suggest reading absolutely anything by Pema Chödrön, an American-born octogenarian Tibetan Buddhist nun who allows that being a flawed person not only is acceptable, but the best thing imaginable.   

Opportunities abound to acknowledge our flaws and those of others, so there is no time wasted with finger-drumming, waiting for your order of necessary equipment.  We can all get right to work.  Pema guides us in awareness, acceptance and working with ourselves and others just as we are.  She is spunky, a conduit for ancient wisdom in a modern world, someone you’ll want to spend time with. 

I select as my personal favorite Pema Chödrön book, based on the micro-sized attention span needed to read it:  Comfortable With Uncertainty : 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. 

Other titles recommend themselves: 

Start where you are : a guide to compassionate living 

The places that scare you : a guide to fearlessness in difficult times 

When things fall apart : heart advice for difficult times 

That’s just a sample. Cruise PPL’s catalog, slip into MaineCat. Pick a title, any title.  

Pema will help you find the wisdom in ordinariness and the joy in being painfully human.  

Elizabeth’s Picks 

Dr. Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower and journalist Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia are two recent additions to the nonfiction collection. Gessen won the 2017 National Book Award for Nonfiction for The Future is History: the personal is deeply political as her fascinating storytelling follows the lives of contemporary Russians impacted by the state.  

Dr. Cooper’s Eloquent Rage is centered in Black Feminism—capital B, capital F, as she notes: “That means I learned my feminism from Black women, and my feminist theory and praxis is situated in the particular ways Black women have understood, thought about, and written about the problems of racism and sexism across space and time.”

She continues: “My feminism begins not with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton showing out at Seneca Falls, but with Maria Stewart, a Black lady abolitionist, who was schooling audiences of men and women, Black and white, in Boston in the 1830s. When Sister Stewart asked her audience, ‘How long shall the fair daughters of Africa be compelled to bury their minds and talents beneath a load of iron pots and kettles?’ I see in her question an insistence on prioritizing the well-being of Black women and girls…Stewart concludes her speech by telling Black women, ‘Do you ask the disposition I would have you possess?…Sue for your rights and privileges. Know the reason you cannot attain them. Weary them with your importunities. You can but die if you make the attempt; and we shall certainly die if you do not.’ ”  

From what Black Feminism has taught the author—ranging through the inspiration of Maria Stewart as well as Dr. Cooper’s mother and grandmother, the women of the Combahee River Collective, Beyoncé, deep friendships and critical homegirl interventions—Eloquent Rage goes on, exploring subjects rooted in Dr. Cooper’s love, attention, and concern for the lives and creative universes of Black women and girls. As she writes: “What do Black women and girls need? What does it look like to create a world in which Black women and girls can thrive?”  

Meg’s Pick 

I recently devoured Arlene Blum’s Annapurna: A Woman’s Place, which chronicles the 1978 ascent of Annapurna I by the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition. Annapurna is the 10th highest mountain in the world at 26,545 feet and the first 8,000-meter peak to be climbed by Maurice Herzog‘s French expedition team in 1950. Known for its icy slopes and avalanches, Annapurna has the highest fatality rate in the world at 34%. Prior to 1978, there had four successful accents of out the 13 attempts and Annapurna claimed the lives of nine climbers (Blume, pg. 8). Ten American mountaineers faced a daunting task, and incredible skepticism, as they prepared for their expedition.   

Before delving into the details of the expedition, Blum’s introduction serves as a short history of women mountaineers from 1805 to the 1970s, including Marie Paradis, the first woman to climb Mont Blanc; Alexandra David-Neel, the explorer and writer who visited Tibet in 1924; New England rivals Fanny Bullock Workman and Annie S. Peck; and French designer and alpinist, Claude Kogan. This was the first time I’d read many of the names mentioned in the introduction and I was shocked to find myself so uninformed on the history of female mountaineer heroines.  Blum had me diving into the book’s bibliography before Chapter 1! 

As the book went on, I was engrossed in the details of the trip. The personalities of the women, the fundraising, the planning and packing, issues with customs, sherpas, and porters, personal doubts, weather, gear, and terminology. I continue to be struck by a Blum’s response to the debates about the psychological and physiological differences of men and women in climbing: “I don’t believe that such comparisons are of any value. Individual differences are more important than sexual ones, and motivation counts most of all. Women do have the strength and endurance to climb the highest mountains, just as men do, and both men and women should have the chance.”  

I think I’m ready to give crampons and ice climbing a go next season.  

Hazel’s Picks 

“We all craft a story we can live with. The one that makes ourselves easier to live with. This is not the one worth writing. To write your story, you must face a truer version of it. You must look at the parts that hurt, that do not flatter or comfort you. That do not spare you the trouble of knowing what made you, and what into.” -Melissa Febos

Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose and Abandon Me by Melissa Febos 

Sometimes the most triumphant and vulnerable thing a woman can do is tell her story exactly as she wants it told. These two essay collections have both left me reeling in recent months for their honesty, wit, insight, and utter lack of apology. Chew-Bose and Febos are both sure even as they waver, solid even in their most tender moments. These are very different books written by very different women, but both authors explore timeless literary and existential themes of identity, language, and memory in ways so bright and refreshing, I swear that when I finished each one, I could sense myself coming to, coughing up water, breathing. 




Thanks for reading! And if you’re still looking for more literary inspiration, join poet Crystal Williams for a reading at 3 p.m. in the Main Library this Saturday April 7th.

Portland Fire Department : 250th Anniversary

posted: , by Abraham
tags: Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Portland History

Portland’s esteemed and much-loved Fire Department celebrates its 250th anniversary this month. The City of Portland will recognize two-and-a-half centuries of the Fire Department’s service, with a special proclamation and observance at the Portland Fire Museum, on March 29th. Joining this extraordinary commemoration, the Library’s Portland Room is now exhibiting artifacts and photographs that attest to the brilliant history of the Portland Fire Department.


Above: Apr 1947 – Portland Fire Department fireman on a ladder truck; Second Parish Presbyterian Church (371 Congress Street) in background.

Below: January 1952 – Fire, at James Fruit Company, 225 Commercial Street.

Below: Portland Fire Department locations, in order:

Central Fire Station, Congress Street, Woodfords Corner, and Peaks Island:


Below: Views from the Portland Room archival exhibit:





Additional artifacts, such as a leather bucket, an antique Portland fire helmet, and a hose nozzle from an East Deering firehouse, have been lent by the Portland Fire Museum for the exhibit.
Below: Another ladder rescue, this time by Fireman Joseph R. Miller, on October 19, 1955.

Come on up and check out the exhibit!
The Portland Room is open Mondays-Thursdays, 10am-7pm; Fridays, 10am-6pm.

Archivist’s postscriptum:
During the processing (arrangement, description, and archival rehousing) of our large collection of photographic still film, I discovered a negative which had unusual crayon lines drawn across both sides:

A series of immersion baths in distilled water and Photo-Flo 200 wetting agent loosened the crayon marks from both the emulsion and acetate-base sides of the film, allowing me to completely remove the marks with cotton swabs:

The scanned image reveals the scene of a fire at Portland’s City Hospital (today, it’s known as the Barron Center), 1151 Brighton Avenue, on August 11, 1962, and now the visual information is preserved.

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