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Curiouser and Curiouser: November Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Programs & Events | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture
"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.

What inspires your curiosity at the library? Maybe you’d check out The Oldest Living Things in the World, explore The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, uncover Hidden Treasures, study the Daily Rituals of famous artists, learn what gets Lost in Translation, eat Voracious-ly, find Home, or see why Knowledge is Beautiful?

At heart, libraries are happy to cater most constantly to the curious: those who want to explore the world through fact or fiction, brush up on old knowledge, or learn new things.

In honor of the Wake Up Alice! Exhibit, our staff is  highlighting a few gorgeous, unusual, interesting books in our collection that satisfy our curiosity- and, we hope, may spark yours.










dailyritualshiddentreasures knowledge








Youth Services

Mary’s Pick

The Marvels, by Brian Selznick

Uncle Albert sighed. “You either see it or you don’t.”themarvels

An illustration from The Marvels.

The Marvels

Two seemingly unassociated stories (the first in 400 pages of pencil drawings and the second in text) slowly and curiously wrap themselves together. The illustrated story of generations of the Marvels, a family of London thespians, segues into the modern story of Joseph, a runaway from boarding school, and his uncle, Albert Nightingale. Joseph seeks clues about his family legacy and the story in text begins to pick up traces of the past – and all ends with a short illustrated section. This is a story of family and what defines family and home. The book has stunning art and beautiful writing.

The Marvels is the final volume in Selznick’s trilogy which includes The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck.

Kelley’s Pick

through the woodsThrough the Woods, by Emily Carroll (no relation!)

This weird, wonderful graphic novel for older children and teens is a true delight. (And it’s a 2015 Maine Student Book Award nominee). The best scary stories make an art of building suspense. In Through the Woods, the impact of suspense built both textually and graphically packs a real wallop. I devoured these 5 tales in one sitting, and there were moments when Emily Carroll’s images made me gasp aloud. “Are you okay???” was asked from two rooms away in my house. Some tales are classical, some are modern; all are drenched in shadows, saturated with bleeding colors, and scrawled with text that crawls and scratches its way across the page. Spine tingling and creepy… in a very good way.


Adult Fiction

Thaddeus’ Pick

House_of_leavesHouse of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

How much more curious does it get than a book with footnotes containing footnotes within? House of Leaves is an adventure simply to read all on its own. Fonts change with narrators, entire pages may have one one word, or one line of words, or an entirely upside-down paragraph, and the word “house” is always printed in blue — always. Is the book horror? Or is it a love story? It’s hard to say…perhaps a little of both. But regardless, it is an extremely curious – and curiouser – book.


Samantha’s Pick


Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Although every Murakami I read promises to be my favorite, this is a real contender in my ranks. Featuring librarians whose collection consists of only skulls, shadows that get detached from their human, dream reading, mysterious underground caves, and a condition that imparts pure silence. A true wonderland of a book. One (of many) favorite lines: “Life’s no piece of cake, mind you, but the recipe’s my own to fool with.”


Harper’s Pick

speak easy

Speak Easy, by Catherynne M. Valente

“Make me real ’cause you’re only real if somebody’s talking about you, and fiction’s the best kind of gossip there is.”

Very much in the Alice tradition, Speak Easy is a beautifully lyrical novella set in a Jazz Age hotel  that teaches us about the dangers and delights of getting lost in a mysterious underworld.



Eileen M’s Pick

Human Croquet USHuman Croquet, by Kate Atkinson

Here is a curiouser book by a curiouser and curiouser author. I have been binging on Kate Atkinson since an accidental encounter with Life After Life in August. I keep meaning to take a break from her intense, wry, bent stories, but I always fall back into her. What if I meet my end before I read it all?…must keep reading Kate Atkinson. Human Croquet flexes time with humor and insight. It never let me go, even after I turned the last page. The powerful thrall of Atkinson’s incredible plotting and addictive style has wrapped me up and made me look more closely by seeing more broadly.

A line that grabbed me: “The marmalade’s the colour of amber and melted lions.” Wow.


Adult Nonfiction

Jim’s Picks



Two fabulous, curious books on artist Andy Goldsworthy: The Andy Goldsworthy Project by Molly Donovan and Tina Fisk, and Enclosure by Andy Goldsworthy.

Maybe I just love stone?



These two titles give a full range of the artist’s work with landscape art–which inspires me because it seems to work with nature and doesn’t try to dominate it. His art also strangely reminds me of ruins of stone that one finds in Native American sites like Chaco Canyon, or in Celtic sites in the British Isles.



Hazel’s Pick

bitingthewaxtadpoleBiting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic, by Elizabeth Little

Are you someone who collects unusual phrases like rare butterflies, delights in the drama of etymological disputes, or perks up at the sound of words like “declension” and “participle”? If so, what a thrill it would be to discover Biting the Wax Tadpole in our nonfiction stacks! An accessible, witty, and charmingly illustrated compendium of linguistic quirks and curiosities from around the world, this book is full of word play of which Lewis Carroll himself would surely have approved. Recommended for amateur armchair linguists and generally curious readers alike.

Meghan’s Pick

faroutFar Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, by Tomi Ungerer

I want to live among the elements, where I can feel the lick of fog on my cheeks and smell ferns baking in the sun and listen to the unmannered grunts of all kinds of untamed beasts; I also want to be able to order an americano within a five-minute walk from my front door. I guess my need for coffee (and a job) won out, because here I am in Portland. But when I feel the need to be OUT THERE, I pick up a copy of children’s book author/ erotica artist/ political rabble-rouser Tomi Ungerer’s Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond, which is a heavily illustrated memoir of his move to a remote Nova Scotian peninsula, where he and his wife bought an old farm house accessible only at low tide. Like his children’s books, this one does not shy away from the darkly comic nature of being a human — whether it involves learning the hard way how to butcher a hog or negotiating relationships with (distant) neighbors and their sheep. His illustrations and reflections satisfy my curiosity about a life I might have lived, while piquing further curiosities: Why, for instance, does he never paint his wife’s face?

An illustration from "Far Out Isn't Far Enough."

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough











Elizabeth’s Pick

humansHumans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton

“When my husband was dying, I said, ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.”

I love true stories, and (I’m not afraid to say it) humans, too, in all their wild complexities.  There’s a joy in discovering the small and large truths of others, of paying attention to people who aren’t me and to stories that aren’t mine. If I’m too shy to approach strangers in Maine and pepper them with questions, I’m thankful that my world is hugely expanded and my brain happily enlarged anyhow by books and film and the news and radio and any kind of thoughtful story-sharing project. Photographer Brandon Stanton is the best sort of thoughtful story-sharer. He’s been taking portraits of people on the streets of New York (and around the world) since 2010.  Photos and small snippets of hundreds of wide and various lives and voices are gathered here in this 2015 collection. Candid, surprising, saddening, and joyful, Humans of New York: Stories enriches my understanding of the extraordinary human heart.

Thanks for reading! If you’re still curious, click these links for book lists of recommended reads for Adults, Kids & Families, Teens, and for more information on book groups at the Main Library, Peaks, and Riverton.


Philosophy Forum – monthly at the Library!

posted: , by Abraham
tags: Programs & Events | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture | Portland History

Philo IMG_0928 CR
Plato famously observed that “philosophy begins with wonder.” Etienne Gilson, in the 20th century, wrote, “Philosophy in its exact sense does not mean a body of doctrine, but a love of wisdom.” These are among many enduring phrases of encouragement in appreciation of reflection and thought. In the spirit of Socrates’ saying that “the unobserved life is not worth living,” many philosophical community discussion groups have formed around this country and throughout the world. Philosophy groups are no longer confined to university campuses.

Philo Blumenau
Here at the Library, we launched Philosophy Forum last August, which is held on the 2nd Wednesdays of the month, in the Portland Room (2nd floor of the downtown library, Monument Square), from 6:30pm-8pm. For November, our meeting will be on Wednesday evening November 18th. All ages are welcome, and there are no reading assignments required- nor any prior experience necessary in a philosophy group.

PhiloNow Art
Very much in the spirit of a “Socrates Cafe,” or an informal campus group (I was part of the philosophy Symposium at UMass-Boston, as a graduate student), our gatherings are essentially collaborative discussions, sharing our ideas based upon a central topic open-ended enough to invite the insights of all present! Rather than being a debating society that seeks consensus, our purpose is to inspire Socratic exploration through the discussion of the evening’s question. Thus far, our topics have included such questions as:
* How do you discover and define meaning in your life?
* Do each of us have a responsibility to contribute to society?
* What are the best ways to measure or evaluate a society’s well-being?

These community conversations have been very enjoyable for the entire group. As moderator I’ve been reminded of how much groups like these added to my education, and how grateful I am to host this at my place of work!

We hope you’ll join us for these monthly gatherings. See you soon!

Philo DaleyPlaza
Socrates Cafe

Philo Belfast Bay

True Story: A Nonfiction Book Club

posted: , by Brandie Burrows
tags: Programs & Events | Adults
Portland library users, we have heard your request for a non-fiction book club and are responding with True Story: A Non-Fiction Book Club. We will meet on the third Thursday of each month in meeting room 3 at the main branch from 12:00-1:00 (bring your lunch!). We will meet to discuss nonfiction of all sorts. Books about science, travel and exploration, food, health, relationships, memoir, business, civility, culture, math, society, history, poetry…the sky’s the limit! True Story will be facilitated by PPL Reference Staff.

Reading A Walk in the Woods on our own library adventure.

Our first book will be A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. Many people have traveled this stretch of wonder but Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He has also done his research and provides great background information, introducing us to the history and ecology of the trail (as well as a couple of bears!). Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for a great adventure of your own.
Two of us here at the library read this book while on our own adventure in Guatemala to visit and work in a library. It was an great read with many laugh out loud moments. This line from the book really summarizes our adventure:

“Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.”

Unfortunately all of our copies are checked out but there are still many available copies through MaineCat. Hope to see you next Thursday at noon!
Upcoming Meetings in 2015-2016:

Readers are encouraged to call the Readers’ Advisory desk (871-1700 x705), email ( or come into the library to reserve copies of the books. If you have trouble finding the book in the Portland library system, please contact us and we can locate a book through MaineCat.

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