“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.” –Nora Ephron
Whether we’re listening to an audiobook, paging through a picture book, downing a hefty hardcover or adding just one more title to our e-book-shelves, the books in our lives are a joy to be thankful for, and a meaningful part of end-of-the-year reflections as we think over authors, ideas, and the delights of stories invented and true. PPL staff members share just a few of the many books we’ve been enjoying lately.
Budding chefs, vegetarians, lovers of food photography rejoice! The Forest Feast For Kids is the lovely companion to The Forest Feast Gatherings and sure to get you cooking in the new year. Full page photographs of ingredients, techniques, recipes and children enjoying the fruits of their labor will inspire you to eat seasonally and cook at home. Techniques are explained thoroughly, and most recipes have but a few ingredients to showcase the beauty of simple food. Not just for vegetarians and great for those looking to lessen the impact of their food choices, The Forest Feast For Kids will get the whole family cooking and eating together.
Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Willems
Freshly baked bread always makes me rejoice and it being the subject of Mo Willems’ newest, hilarious picture book, I’m overjoyed! It’s the first time that Nanette has been given the responsibility to go to the bakery for her mother. Just one baguette is on the list. But so many distractions! And then there’s the problem of getting the warm, yummy smelling baguette home. After reading this, I headed right down to Standard Baking Company to get my own.
365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts is a collection precepts gathered together by the fictional Thomas Browne, the middle school teacher from R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder. The book is filled with inspirational quotes for every day of the year. I highly recommend reading this book as a way to READjoice and welcome the New Year! There are so many beautiful words to live by in this book. These are some of my favorites:
January 12th – “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank
February 1st – “It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all of the answers” – James Thurber
March 20th – “Where there is love, there is joy.” – Mother Theresa
June 18th – “When we know how to read our own hearts, we acquire wisdom of the hearts of others.” –Denis Diderot
December 17th – “True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” –E.S. Bouton
“Just look at us, all of us, quietly doing our thing and trying to matter. The earnestness is inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time.”― Amy Krouse Rosenthal
When I think about books that bring me joy, Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s books spring to mind. She writes great children’s books (Little Pea, Spoon, Duck! Rabbit!), short films (The Beckoning of Lovely, The Money Tree), and grown-up books. My daughter and I have read Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Lifeso many times, our sad paperback copy is finally losing its cover.
This summer she published a new book, Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which was equally enjoyable. Using her distinct blend of nonlinear narrative, wistful reflections, and insightful wit, she has created a perfect collection of snippets of life. This interactive (the book literally texts you back!) memoir will have you sighing happily, will move you to tears, and will make you laugh out loud.
Why the title Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal? She responds with:
- Because the book is organized into chapters with classic subject headings such as Social Studies, Music, Language Arts, Math, etc.
- Because textbook is an expression meaning “quintessential,” as in, Oh, that wordplay and unconventional format is so typical of her, so textbook Amy.
- Because for the first time ever, readers can further engage with a book via text messaging.
- Because if an author’s previous book has Encyclopedia in the title, following it up with a Textbook would be rather nice.
Sometimes, when life seems too fragile, scary, hectic or just…hard, I like to stop and think, “What would Bill Murray do?” There’s a quality of honesty to his humor that reminds me of what it is to be human and makes me want to be better. As Bill himself once said,
“This is your life, not a rehearsal. Somewhere there’s a score being kept, so you have an obligation to live life as well as you can, be as engaged as you can. The human condition means that we can zone out and forget what the hell we’re doing. So the secret is to have a sense of yourself, your real self, your unique self. And not just once in a while, or once a day, but all through the day, the week, and life. You know what they say: ‘Ain’t no try, ain’t nothing to it but to do it.'”
You can find much more wisdom, inspiration, trivia and fun in The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray.
To get everyone smoothly through the holidays may I suggest The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving A F*ck by Sarah Knight.
This gem is so much more than a parody of the 2014 best-seller by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The subtitle says it all: how to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do.
As someone who spends far too much time wondering if I said the right thing, forever wondering if I am ‘doing enough’ and all of the other ways we beat ourselves up, this book brought me joy. I found it liberating. Truly.
This title challenges YOU to do YOU! It asks you to look at your life and see what stresses you, what your pain points are and to well, not care! As snarky as the title suggests this read might be, the book really gives valid career, relationship and general life advice.
How to choose between A) Hamilton, B) Hamilton, and C) Hamilton? A) Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording. B) The Hamilton Mixtape. C) Hamilton: The Revolution, Being the Complete Libretto of the Broadway Musical, With A True Account of Its Creation, and Concise Remarks on Hip-hop, the Power of Stories, and the New America. Even if tickets were available, I can’t think of anyone I know who could ever cough up all the dough to see this show, so I’ll stick with PPL’s Hamiltons, with thanks as ever for the access a simple library card affords. Since the music is already firmly lodged in me, my pick at the end of 2016 is the Hamilton of the printed page.
Hamilton: The Revolution (by our hero Lin-Manuel Miranda, who annotates the libretto, and Jeremy McCarter) explores the brainy brilliance of the musical, its creators, and its cast. (I hear the audiobook version is pretty great too; it’s without the book’s photographs and sketches, but Miranda reads and sings some of those annotations). The Table of Contents has already struck a chord, and has me looking forward to the tales this book will tell and the ideas it will espouse: “Giving the history of Ron Chernow, along with remarks on who may play a founding father,” “On the perfect union of actor and role, with allusion to Renée Elise Goldsberry,” and “An account of rapping for the children, who will one day rap for themselves.” I haven’t gotten my hands on it yet—I’m patiently waiting, the book on hold—but this is my pick all the same: hope for a future of sheer lyrical word-wizardry, the kind that might even spark a revolution.
Around this time of year, when the winter cold starts settling in, I start longing for the satisfaction of cozying up on the couch under a blanket with a cup of tea and a good dense novel. If you too suffer from this craving and, like me, also enjoy a good dose of magic and fairy tales in your fiction, December might be a good month to pick up Susanna Clarke’s hefty first novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
Set in 19th century England, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell tells the story of two wizards attempting to bring the practice of magic back to its place of prominence in their country. Immensely detailed and written with a sharp and sardonic sense of humor (seriously, rethink your opinion on footnotes — these are well worth reading), Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell feels almost like a fantastical version of an Austen novel. While some readers might find it slow to start, the book is well worth sticking through, and is filled with humorous anecdotes, well-developed side characters, trickster faeries, rewritten history, and magical worlds, and will keep you company throughout many of these coldest nights of the year.
If you really can’t get through it, though, don’t fret—the recently released BBC miniseries is almost as good.
‘Then you forget some of it all, maybe most of it all, almost all of it, in the end, and you work hard at remembering everything now so you won’t ever forget, but you can kill it too even by thinking about it too much, though you can’t help thinking about it nearly all the time.’ -from Break it Down, by Lydia Davis
My introduction to Break it Down was an audio recording of Lydia Davis reading the title story. I was working at the moment, in the middle of processing 50 lbs of potatoes for potato salad as a cook with a catering company in Vermont. As Davis progressed through the first quarter of the story my attention piqued. I found myself standing in the middle of an industrial kitchen, knife in one hand, pile of potatoes in front of me, unable to manage anything but listening. As soon as the recording ended I replayed it again, and then again one more time. I found it both haunting and heartbreaking. I was drawn in by the depth of emotion and honesty conveyed through so few words. What if Davis is telling the truth, what if our relationships can be summed up in hours and dollars? And it is true, romance often culminates in sorrow. So why do we even bother? But regardless of whether the moments that make up a relationship can be ascribed a monetary value, and even knowing that most of them will fail, we will continue to engage in them. I believe Davis’ writing is an attempt to express that the value and the failure are not what is important, the emotions we experience during the course of our lives are what linger, what shape us as human beings, and what we ultimately desire. Within this collection of stories I found Davis’ ability to write about the minutia that makes up a large part of our daily existence in such an enthralling way beautiful. For the month of December I will rejoice in both sparsity and the writing of Lydia Davis.
Nothing made me quite so happy this last week as picking up the newest Best American Short Stories anthology (edited this year by Junot Diaz) and seeing in the contents list the amazing cast of diverse, American voices. Reading the stories then redoubled this joy—what smart, funny, inventive and crucial writers we have in our midst, and how lucky we are to be Americans with them.
If you’re curious about other PPL Staff Picks blog posts, you can find a few here. Try “November Staff Picks: Be the Change,” “Spring Into Nature: March Staff Picks,” or last January’s “Staff Picks for a New Year,” for inspiration as we head into 2017. You’ll find new staff picks here in January, of course! As ever, thanks for reading, and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.