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I Had Been My Whole Life a Bell: July Staff Picks

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


“My acquisition and digestion of books is, to be frank, absurd. Just get a Kindle, everyone advised me a few years ago. Yet here I am, packing for a short flight between London and Belfast, with my Kindle, certainly, but also with four or five hardback books jammed into my hand luggage, just in case. Just in case we happen to fly through a wrinkle in time in which an hour expands to accommodate infinity. While I’m not sure I can recommend living this way, I can say that if you are similarly afflicted, summer is your season: the beach is one of the few places pathological readers can pass undetected among their civilian cousins.” -Zadie Smith


Whether you’re indoors or out this July, we hope you find a great spot to read (or listen) to PPL’s books and audiobooks. You can even borrow a state park pass to bring your books to the beach (and, if Zadie Smith’s quotation above rings true for you, you too can pass happily undetected in your zeal alongside fellow beach-readers). If you’re looking for a recommendation, here’s our staff weighing in on a few favorite reads.


Youth Services

Mary’s Pick

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)

“There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.” – opening line of The Graveyard Book


the graveyard bookNeil Gaiman’s novel gets the full-cast treatment in this magical, entertaining audio edition of his award-winning book (the only novel to win both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals).  Nobody Owens (known as Bod) is a boy who has been raised and educated by ghosts in a graveyard.  Although he is a real boy, he learns to see in the dark, pass through walls and fade from view.  There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard – but outside the graveyard Bod will be pursued by the man named Jack who has already killed his family.  The cast led by Derek Jacobi (and including Neil Gaiman) captures the voices of the many odd and idiosyncratic characters of the graveyard and beyond. -Mary, Head of Youth Services


Adult Non-Fiction

Samantha’s Pick

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

h is for hawkThis is a book that defies classification, (we’ve shelved it in the 598’s with other birding books), but it is more memoir than non-fiction–an intertwined memoir of grief, love, falconry, and the natural world. What all of its parts have in common, however, are that they are beautifully, elegiacally written and absolutely captivating. I think the book is probably best summed up by this comment from the acknowledgements: “I would like to thank my father, who taught me how to love the moving world, and to my beloved hawk who taught me how to fly in it after he was gone.” -Samantha, Science and Technology Librarian


Hazel’s Pick

Just Kids, by Patti Smith

just kidsI happen to be a big fan of Patti Smith’s other ventures (music, poetry)—but you don’t have to be for Just Kids to work its magic. The protopunk icon’s memoir of ‘60s-‘70s New York City revolves largely around her relationship with longtime artistic and romantic partner, acclaimed photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith is a generous storyteller whose writing is both elegantly reflective and unapologetically candid, and the result is a critical, yet forgiving, meditation on youth, art, and the boundless nature of love. If you missed Just Kids (and the slew of awards it claimed) in 2010, now is your chance to see what all the fuss is about before the next episode of Smith’s story, M Train, hits in October. -Hazel

“Yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. It had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. Now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. Perhaps it was an awareness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. Sometimes I just wanted to raise my hands and stop. But stop what? Maybe just growing up.” -Just Kids


Sonya’s Pick

Getting (More of) What You Want, by Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys

getting moreI have to admit I am a horrible negotiator. I often walk away from a deal feeling like I left something on the table.  Getting (More of) What You Wantprovides useful tips to navigate the murky waters of negotiation. In this book, Margaret Neale and Thomas Lys draw on the latest advances in psychology and economics to provide new strategies for anyone shopping for a car, lobbying for a raise, or simply haggling over who takes out the trash. -Sonya


Gabrielle’s Pick

The Guynd: A Scottish Journal, by Belinda Rathbone

the guyndIf you’re finding yourself overwhelmed by the list of things you have to do around your house — mow the lawn, repair the screen door, get the dishwasher fixed – try this book about an American woman who marries the laird of an ancient Scottish family home. Their list of house (or in this case, estate) chores might make yours seem manageable. Rathbone writes lightly and engagingly of troubles with tenants, struggles with overgrown gardens, and the challenges of the long, cold Scottish winters. -Gabrielle

“Bar and I improvised an Angus fish chowder with the local smoked peppered mackerel and potatoes out of our own fields. With oatcakes and salad and Stilton cheese and plenty of wine we ate and drank after a long day’s work. After dark, around the dinner table with the shimmer of old silver and glass in the candlelight and the laughter of friends, I felt as far away and out of time as anyone could hope to be. We lingered, as people do here. There was no reason to hurry. Nothing happening here except us, nothing outside but the hoot of an owl or the flicker of a bat, while indoors we hovered on a classical cloud.” -The Guynd

Tom’s Pick

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz


the long walkAn old favorite of mine is The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, originally published in 1956.  It’s the story of seven POW’s from a 1939 Soviet labor camp in Eastern Siberia, who escaped on foot down the River Lena, around Lake Baikal, through Mongolia (including a traverse of the Gobi, north to south) through Central China, Tibet and Nepal to eastern India (now Bangladesh).  An incredible tale of dogged, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, gut-it-out bravery.  Cyril Connolly of the London Times said it was “positively Homeric,” and I agree. -Tom, Reference librarian


Harper’s Pick

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard


My mother bequeathed her well-worn copy of Pilgrim to me when I was thirteen and in need of spiritual sustenance. I have read and reread it nearly every year since, stumbling to find the moments in nature when I too am a bell, ringing. -Harper




“When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw ‘the tree with the lights in it.’ It was for this tree I searched through the peach orchards of summer, in the forest of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost changed and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time able to see, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.” -Pilgrim at Tinker Creek


Adult Fiction

Patti’s Pick

Sedition, by Katherine Grant

seditionLondon, 1794. Four rich men devise a plan to marry off their daughters. They will collectively buy one of these newfangled musical instruments–a pianoforte–and have the girls give a recital for marriageable young men with titles. What these wealthy men don’t know is that the piano maker considers them philistines, that he would not sell them a piano were he not in desperate need of the money, and that he has contracted for them a French piano teacher–a refugee from the French Revolution–whom he has bribed to seduce the daughters. That is, if the daughters don’t seduce him first. -Patti


Harriet could wait no longer. She took off a shoe and thrust it into Georgiana’s hand. “See, Georgiana! Straight from the foot of a noble Frenchie. Aren’t they fancy.”

Georgiana forced her attention onto the shoe. A small garden scene had been painted on the heel. “How do you know they came from someone noble?”

“It was picked up at the guillotine, silly. There’s lots of shoes like this to be had from France right now. Father gets them, though he tells Mother they were made in London. You know how she is about foreign things.” -Sedition


Meghan’s Pick

The Pharmacist’s Mate, by Amy Fusselman

pharmacistAs a new mother, I am all too aware that joy is girded by sadness. All the future pain and loss my child will experience — the hypothetical as well as the inevitable — rushes up within me as I watch her sleep. But what if my experience were reversed, if new life was created in the shapeless, nonsensical aftermath of loss? I picked up Amy Fusselman’s 2001 novel “The Pharmacist’s Mate” because of the cover: a painting by Marcel Dzama of a woman playing guitar for a ghost. In the weeks following the death of her father, the narrator continues receiving endlessly frustrating, and endlessly comical, fertility treatments, trying to create life while she tries to understand where her father is now. Though it’s an inconclusive fact, she keeps noticing that music does in fact exist, although we cannot see or touch it. This slender, quick-reading novel is a reminder that joy and sadness are always present, though we can’t always see them both. -Meghan


Lisa’s Pick

Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter (audiobook). Read by Alex Wyndham.

stranglerA fascinating mystery set in 19th century colonial India. This audiobook is a true adventure story, with  highwaymen, spies, thugs, and agents of the British East India Company tromping from one end of India to the other. The book also contains a fascinating history of colonial rule and the Indian people. The reader, Alex Wyndham, is perfect, and dishes out the story in such a wonderful British accent that you’ll find yourself sitting in the driveway for just a few more minutes to get to the end of chapter.

We’ve ordered the audiobook, and in the meantime, find it at PPL in print.

-Lisa, Outreach Manager


Elizabeth’s Pick(s)

The Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein.

My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

my brilliant friend story of a new those who leave







“Nowhere is it written that you can’t do it.”-My Brilliant Friend

Lesson learned: don’t judge books by their puzzlingly pastel, frilly, or soft-appearing covers. 

What can you do with the life and the world you’re born into? Do you choose anything freely? Who is best to love?  How do the choices you make change your life? How does friendship work over time? How do you stay true to yourself, or to others? How do you learn, over and over again? These questions rose- full of grit and ferocity and real feeling- again and again as I read through Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Ferrante’s writing follows two friends, Lila and Elena, from the time of their childhood. The books and Lila and Elena’s lives are steeped in the Neapolitan neighborhood they grow up in, the people they grew up with, and all that grips the two women tightly: harshness, yearning, choice, constraint, education, family, sex, class, work, politics, children, and most of all, their own complicated friendship. What will become of them? Ferrante’s final installment of Lila and Elena’s captivating journey together (and apart), “The Story of the Lost Child,” comes out in September. -Elizabeth


Thanks for reading! For any questions or help locating materials, please contact us.

Videoport gift doubles PPL’s DVD collection

posted: , by Emily Levine
tags: About the Library | Director's Updates | Library Collections | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture | News

Long-time Portland movie resource Videoport has announced that the store will cease operation in late August after 28 years serving the community. As part of the closing process, Videoport owner Bill Duggan has worked with Portland Public Library to donate the store’s collection of more than 18,000 DVD titles. The gift effectively doubles the Library’s existing DVD collection, adding tremendous depth to the resources available to patrons. “We are pleased PPL is going to to take on the Videoport collection and keep it available to all,” said Duggan

“Videoport has had a unique and important impact in the Portland community with its high-quality, wonderfully diverse collection, and we are sorry to see it close its doors,” says PPL Executive Director Sarah Campbell. “We are so grateful that Videoport has chosen to make this gift to the Library, and plans are underway to incorporate their collection into the PPL holdings as quickly as possible. We know our patrons will benefit tremendously from this gift.”

In addition to its DVD collection, PPL offers video streaming service via Hoopla and also hosts regular film screenings and film festivals. “Our patrons and visitors value film as a way to experience great stories, and to engage with ideas and with their community,” Campbell said. “We hope that as dedicated Videoport customers access these holdings at PPL, they will also enjoy our film-related programs and will share in these events.”

What to Read Next? June Staff Picks!

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture
A page from Sabrina Ward Harrison's nonfiction book, "Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself."

A page from Sabrina Ward Harrison’s nonfiction book, “Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself.”


It’s nearly summer. The days are just starting to warm up, and we’re stocking up on great reads. Whether you’re still as busy as ever or you’re about to enjoy a bit of a vacation, we hope you have a chance to answer the call to slow down and pick up a book! Here’ s a few Staff Picks for June: books we’ve read and loved, been inspired or thrilled by, books that taught us something, books that just plain hooked us, and a few brand-new, about-to-be-published books that we’re looking forward to reading  this summer.


Children’s Services


revolutionCarrie’s Pick

Revolution, by Deborah Wiles

“It’s 1964 and Sunny’s town is being invaded.” It’s Freedom Summer in Mississippi and Sunny’s life is changing.

This amazing fiction story is interspersed with factual accounts of the Summer of 1964 including pictures, speeches, and personal accounts. I learned more about Freedom Summer from this book than I ever learned in history class. -Carrie, Children’s Services

Quotations from Revolution (from the perspectives of two different characters in the book):

“There was a colored boy in our pool. A colored boy. And I touched him, my skin on his skin. I touched a colored boy. And then he ran away like he was on fire.”

“So I run. I run like a fox away from a hound dog. Sweet Lord, save me! . . .I was hot, so hot, and now I’ll be hotter than the other side-a heaven, but I couldn’t help it, just wanted to see it. They closed our pool so long ago, drained the water clean out, and now none of us have a place to swim except the muddy Yazoo or the Tallahatchie, and why not that sparkling clean water for me, in that bis-as-Noah’s-ark pool, that pool for white folks – who says it has to be just for white folks? Don’t everybody need a pool? Ma’am say that’s just the way it is and I want to know why.”

Don’t forget: the Children’s summer reading program, “I Heart Reading in Portland: Sail Into Reading,” starts June 15!

I ♥ Reading in Portland: Sail into Reading!” starts June 15th!


Kelley’s Pick

Panic, by Lauren Oliver

Quotation from Panic: “The rules of Panic are simple. Anyone can enter. But only one person will win.”

First off, I’m sorry folks, but this is nothing like The Hunger Games. So all you haters out there who haven’t read this and dismiss it as a HG ripoff: Just. Stop. I’m not overreacting; just go to Goodreads and see for yourself all the reviewers who feel the need to tell everyone else that they won’t read Panic because it’s “trying to be the Hunger Games.” Actually, don’t do that. Just take my word for it and read the book instead.

bookcover_home_panicPanic is a great summer read for teens, and for any YA-reading adult who remembers their high school summers: drawn out, lazy, humid, restless. Lauren Oliver does an expert job of capturing the feeling of what it’s like to be a teen with no money and nothing to do in a small, Upstate New York town (I’m from Upstate New York, and I’m telling you: she nailed it).

Years ago, faced with the prospect of another boring, endless summer, a group of teens in the small town of Carp invented a game that everyone simply calls “Panic.” The game is shrouded in secrecy, strict rules, and a history of tragic accidents that may or may not be related. (Like Fight Club, people who play Panic don’t talk about Panic.) Any graduating Senior earns the chance to play, and every player earns the chance to win a very large sum of money if they win. Can’t play? You can always watch, as long as you swear complete secrecy to the game. What do the players have to do? Only the judges know, and no one knows who the judges are.

Heather never thought she would take part in Panic, but an explosion of impulsiveness at the first trial throws her headfirst into the game. Dodge always knew he would compete; he’s been waiting for it, and it’s not the money he’s after. The duel narration between these two characters allows for maximum insight into the mechanics of the game and the desires of the contestants. It’s not just boredom that drives Heather and Dodge to endure the risks of Panic, and it’s their interior lives that add richness and depth to a thrilling plot.

I have very high standards for audiobooks, and in the audiobook version narrator Sarah Drew does an excellent job creating unique, consistent voices for both Heather and Dodge, as well as a cast of supporting characters. She makes the tense moments vibrate with urgency and real fear. If you’re looking for a tender pair of coming-of-age stories nested within a backwoods game designed by sociopaths, then this one is for you.

-Kelley, Teen Librarian @ the S. Donald Sussmann Teen Library

The Teen Summer Reading Program, Summer Reading is My Superpower, also starts June 15.

Adult Non-Fiction Staff Picks

Steve P’s pick

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

It may have been written in 2004 and the movie may have been released in 2011: but hey, it is nearly summer and it is baseball season! A great story and still relevant as a showcase of baseball personalities and for the art and science of baseball decision making in all its craziness. -Steve P.


Laura’s Pick

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley

You won’t have to worry about bad food if you follow the beautiful and easily digestible illustrations of recipes at the end of each chapter in this creative and compelling (and Alex Award winning!) memoir from Lucy Knisley, who was a foodie before everyone else. Perfect for reading all year round but her stories of the outdoors and the freshest of the fresh ingredients will make mouths water particularly on a bright summer day. Let’s get cooking, readers! -Laura, Children’s and Teen Services

The helpful "Cheese Cheat Sheet" page from Relish.

The helpful “Cheese Cheat Sheet” page from Relish.

Quotation from Relish: “I love the treat and pleasure of eating when it becomes an act of focused giving and sharing…[T]here’s a lot to be said for eating as a social act. It’s a treat, even when the food is bad.”

Ellen’s Pick
-Ellen, Burbank Branch Manager

Sarah’s Pick
The photographer Nicholas Nixon married a Brown sister, Bebe, and took a portrait of Bebe and her three sisters every year for forty years. “The Brown Sisters: Forty Years” collects these portraits. Magical, gorgeous, fascinating, these photographs are a compelling meditation on kinship, change, and the passage of time. The book makes for a thoughtful, stirring read–perfect to page through on a drowsy summer day.

Hazel’s Pick
I tend to catch myself measuring my life in terms of summers. Perhaps it’s the seventeen formative years spent heavily punctuated by school vacations, but whatever the reason, this time is when I feel the strongest pangs of sentimentality, and also why I consider summer to be the season of the memoir. Speak, Memory is the best one I have read to date. Nabokov was a polyglot, a self-translator, and a master of language. You’ll find yourself wishing your memory would speak like this.

RIYL: Word play, synesthesia, entymology, nostalgia, Nabokov


Quotation from Speak, Memory: “All one could do was to glimpse, amid the haze and the chimeras, something real ahead, just as persons endowed with an unusual persistence of diurnal cerebration are able to perceive in their deepest sleep, somewhere beyond the throes of an entangled and inept nightmare, the ordered reality of the waking hour.”

Adult Fiction

brendabowenLisa’s Pick

A great Beach Read!  This novel by Brenda Bowen has a cottage on an island off the coast of Maine, a family left behind in New York City, and…a tattooed librarian. What more could you want? It’s a fantastic story about the need for just a little alone time. In a crazy world of kids, spouses, bills, work and stuff, it’s easy to relate to a fantasy about running away for a few weeks. Ms. Bowen’s characters do it and they do it with style. Little Lost Island is wonderfully captured in all its quirkiness and eccentricity. I hope you find your Little Lost this summer. -Lisa, Outreach Manager


Meghan’s Pick
Perhaps you don’t need one more person recommending the National Book Award winner from 2014, but if you’re like me, and politics filters your perception of US combat operations in the Middle East, I would strongly recommend these very artful short stories that deal not with the politics, but with the very personal experiences of war. Reading these stories allows the reader to privately put aside his or her opinions about war, and about the Iraq war in particular, and to simply become open to understanding some of the a-political, human realities faced by our troops. What better endeavor to bring to the beach this summer?! -Meghan

Jim’s Pick
One of my favorite authors of short stories. -Jim
 Quotation: “He was a slump-shouldered knob-kneed stick-shanked droop-reared string-necked pole-armed shuffling husk of a man, with shambly shovel-feet that went in two different directions.” -From the short story “American Tall Tale: In Which I Tell You About Paul Bunyan’s Brother,” collected in Voices in the Night

Elizabeth’s Pick
Confession: I haven’t read Mia Alvar’s first collection of short stories yet, but it’s coming out in a few days– a true blue new-in-June book– and it looks brilliant. (New novels get all the love! Let’s hear it for debut collections of short stories, which I’d wager are crafted just as tenaciously, and which are just as hard won). I’m drawn to discovering Alvar’s fictional take on themes of home: longing for home, creating home, connecting with others, and beginning again.
Here’s the publisher’s description: “These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again. In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer.”
Below are a few more 2015 fiction titles I’m looking forward to reading- soon!
hanif go set a therocks birdhill
-Elizabeth, City of Readers Team

 Brandie’s Pick
Oh Miranda July, you wacky woman. This book has a lot of strange parts and some uncomfortable parts, but also some really endearing moments. July’s sense of humor is what keeps me reading, though. There were many, many pages where I laughed out loud. One of my favorite reads of 2015 so far.
Quotation from The First Bad Man: “Sometimes I looking at her sleeping face, the living flesh of it, and was overwhelmed by how precarious it was to love a living thing. She could die simply from lack of water. It hardly seemed safer than falling in love with a plant.”
Dark, heartbreaking, thoughtful, funny, strange: with her first novel, Miranda July does it again.
-Brandie Burrows, Reference Librarian



George’s Pick

Last summer I read “Matterhorn” by Karl Merlantes. Mr. Merlantes is a decorated Marine who was in the Vietnam War in 1969, and it took him 30 years to write this book. I think he wanted to get it right, and that he had to take breaks from writing about his experiences, as he also experienced PTSD (which he’s written and spoken about).
This novel is a nice thick beach book. I did not find myself stopping to admire the beauty of Marlantes’ prose so much as pausing to catch my breath at the intensity of the experiences he portrayed. “Matterhorn” takes you deep into the Vietnam War in 1969, and the experiences of a company of marines in the thick of the fight. You come away with an intimate understanding of what those who were there went through. Merlantes’ ideas about the sacrifice and courage of our marines, the methodical insensitivity and incompetence of our leadership, and most of all the pointlessness and the utter waste of the whole thing come through in a way that make this a must read. It’s one of those books that draws you into a world that you can’t stop thinking about and keep going back to. -George

Last but not least…PPL’s Adult Summer Reading Program is up and running, from now until July 31! You can also check out one of our monthly book groups (at the Main Library, Peaks, and Riverton) and join them.

We look forward to seeing you at the library, and hope you enjoy all your reading this June.


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