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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.


October Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture


Henry David Thoreau's grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. "I would rather sit by myself on a pumpkin than be crowded on a velvet cushion."

Henry David Thoreau’s grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”


Happy October! There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are brazen and bright in the trees, and we’re looking up. Here are our staff picks for October (and…a quick search result in the PPL catalog for all things pumpkin).




Laura’s Pick 

theoctopuppyThe Octopuppy, by Martin McKenna

I cannot express how much I loved this book, but I’ll try: the phrasing, illustrations (don’t overlook all the unique and detailed iterations of Jarvis on the inside covers!) and sentiment are perfect. It is a wonderful read for all ages. I wish Edgar and Jarvis lived with me and I bet you will too! (Also, October is Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month so head down to your local shelter and see if you can find an Octopuppy/ new best friend.)




Kerry’s Pick  

browngirldreamingBrown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson shares vivid stories of her childhood in her latest book Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir written in free verse poetry. In beautiful language Woodson chronicles her experiences growing up during the Civil Rights movement. She tells stories about her family, her experiences being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, her academic struggles, and her journey towards becoming a writer.
My favorite poem “stevie and meis about her weekly visits to the library. Woodson struggled with reading and had teachers who told her not to read picture books, but at the library she was free to choose the books she wanted.

An excerpt from the poem:  

Every Monday, my mom takes us to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. On those days
no one complains
that all I want are picture books


Adult Fiction


Lisa’s Pick 

snowed inSnowed In, by Christina Bartolomeo

A wonderfully funny look at a women’s first winter in Portland, Maine, after moving here from Washington D.C. Snow Ban parking, rules around when landlords have to turn the heat on, and a very fun retelling of a trip to LL Bean: which promises to have everything one needs to make it through the winter in the great white north. Very accurate descriptions of Portland in all its quirkiness.



Jim’s Pick 

the little peopleThe Little People, by John Christopher

The interesting thing about The Little People is that it was pulled off the shelves because a staff member noticed its spine was peeling.  It had not been read in over twenty years.  The genre of the book is horror/suspense, which I love (a good read for October!), and it’s set in Ireland.  I’m always fascinated by the nature of stories that become forgotten and can be rediscovered by happenstance. John Christopher is best known for his Penguin Classic novel The Death of Grass, which is a post-apocalyptic, world-hit-by-famine (an original Hunger Games?), suspenseful and scintillating Sci-Fi masterpiece.


Adult Nonfiction


Sonya’s Pick

conversationReclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, by Sherry Turkle

We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating…but how well? Sherry Turkle argues that we have sacrificed critical conversation for mere connection, and she investigates the troubling consequences: at work, at home, in politics, and in love, we find ways around conversation, tempted by the possibilities of a text or an email in which we don’t have to look, listen, or reveal ourselves. Reclaiming Conversation is a great read for followers of PPL’s Choose Civility Initiative, a series of programs and discussions that brings folks into the Library for community conversations about the issues that affect our community and our lives.  As Turkle writes, the virtues of person-to-person conversation are timeless, and our most basic technology, talk, is crucial in responding to our modern challenges.

Pair Turkle’s book with a Choose Civility list of 13 other books that tackle how to have the most challenging and important conversations (and also how to listen).



Hazel’s Pick 

betweentheworldandmeBetween the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I don’t often give unsolicited book recommendations, but when I encounter writing that I feel in my bones is as essential as Between the World and Me, I will mention it at all social gatherings and force it on unsuspecting friends and family disguised as holiday gifts. In his second book, Coates shares an elegant, vulnerable open letter to his son in which he turns an unapologetic and critical eye toward the politics of protecting one’s own body in America. Deeply personal, this densely packed little volume honors the legacy of (and breathes new urgency into) Baldwin’s forever relevant The Fire Next Time, while still forging its own inspired path onward and upward. Between the World and Me is an invaluable gift: it is real, it is current, and it will shake you.



Elizabeth’s Pick

felicityFelicity, by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was once asked if she had a secret stash of poetry tucked away. She did, she said: poems about love. There are a slender sheaf of love poems included in her latest poetry collection, and Oliver weighs in on the subject with a gently nudging humor and delight. She writes wryly about jumping in, and the reader wants to believe such bravery would yield as profound a reward as it seems to have done for Mary O. Or perhaps I’d just like to think so? Oliver’s poetry is always a pleasure, and it certainly is in Felicity.


"I Did Think, Let's Go About This Slowly," from Mary Oliver's Felicity.

“I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly,” from Mary Oliver’s Felicity.

Pair these poems with other great collections from 2015: Terrance Hayes’ current finalist for the National Book Award, How to Be Drawn; the new Breakbeat Poets Anthology (New American Poetry in the Age of Hip Hop); or Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska’s Map: Collected and Last Poems.










Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for further recommendations, try checking out our staff book lists for Adults, Kids & Families, and Teens.


Be Free to Read! September Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture

It’s a fact: Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, A Light in the Attic, was once banned because the poem “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes” purportedly encouraged children “to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” Some might see the humor there, but as Maine’s own oft-banned, oft-challenged Stephen King once wrote, “Censorship in a free society is always a serious matter.”

Books by Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison at PPL.

Books by Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison at PPL.

September 27-October 3 is Banned Books Week nationwide, and at PPL we’re celebrating the freedom to read–which, truthfully, we like to celebrate all the time! (Click for more information and resources from the American Library Association on Banned and Challenged Books, Banned Books Week, and Frequently Challenged Books). This month our staff is sharing quotations from banned or challenged books.


Mary’s Picks

“I wish I were a rock,’ he said, and he became a rock.” -from Sylvester and the Magic Pebble





Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause

“I’d like to give you my heart, but since that might be inconvenient, I’ve brought you someone else’s.”-from Blood and Chocolate




Laura’s Pick



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

“You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”

- Albus Dumbledore, from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire



Hazel’s Pick


The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

“And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.” -from The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Carrie’s Pick


It’s Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris

“Unfortunately, kids tease each other about the ways their bodies look and grow during puberty.” -from It’s Perfectly Normal






Sonya’s Pick



The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” -from The Great Gatsby



George’s Pick

americantragedyAn American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser

It was as though there was an unsurmountable wall or impenetrable barrier between them, built by the lack of understanding – for it was just that. She would never understand his craving for ease and luxury, for beauty, for love – his particular kind of love that went with show, pleasure, wealth, position, his eager and immutable aspirations and desires. She could not understand these things. She would look on all of it as sin – evil, selfishness. And in connection with all the fatal steps involving Roberta and Sondra, as adultery – unchastity – murder, even. – from An American Tragedy


Brandie’s Pick

fun homeFun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel


“I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy.”-from Fun Home




Samantha’s Pick



Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”-from Frankenstein





Sarah’s Pick



Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

“The thing is – fear can’t hurt you any more than a dream.”-from Lord of the Flies




Raminta’s Pick



A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor

“She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.” from “Good Country People”




Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.

Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.


Patti’s Pick

One of my favorite banned books is American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. I consider this to be one of the most obscene passages in the book. It’s a description of Patrick Bateman’s office:

americanpsycho“The Stubbs painting should probably go over the life-size Doberman that’s in the corner ($700 at Beauty and the Beast in Trump Tower) or maybe it would look better over the Pacrizinni antique table that sits next to the Doberman. I get up and move all these sporting magazines from the forties–they cost me thirty bucks apiece–that I bought at Funchies, Bunkers, Gaks and Gleeks, and then I lift the Stubbs painting off the wall and balance it on the table then sit back at my desk and fiddle with the pencils I keep in a vintage German beer stein I got from Man-tiques. The Stubbs looks good in either place. A reproduction Black Forest umbrella stand ($675 at Hubert des Forges) sits in another corner without, I’m just noticing, any umbrellas in it.” -from American Psycho


Elizabeth’s Pick


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.” from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian



Brandon’s Pick



Grendel, by John Gardner

“‘Poor Grendel’s had an accident,’ I whisper. ‘So may you all.’” -from Grendel







Wendy and Lisa’s Pick

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

to kill a mockbird


“But things are always better in the morning.” -from To Kill a Mockingbird





Kathleen’s Pick


Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes

“I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being–one of many ways–and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.” -from Flowers for Algernon






As always- thanks for reading! And if you’re looking for other ways to celebrate the freedom to read, pair these Staff Picks with our Banned Books Film Series 2015 on Thursday nights throughout October at the Main Library.


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