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February Staff Picks

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


At the end of February, library workers are deep into the winter routine, hauling home the stacks of movies and books that see us through the days of sun and days of snow. We hope you are likewise finding plenty to keep you occupied! Here are our staff picks.


Cindy’s Picks

“I’m a jellyfish glowing in the dark sea, bright and brilliant, just waiting to be discovered. 

I’m reading The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm, a chapter book about 11-year-old Ellie, who doesn’t like change.  When her beloved pet goldfish dies, her best friend seems to be abandoning her, and then her scientist grandfather suddenly shows up at her house, miraculously de-aged to 14 years old, she is confronted with a lot of it all at once.  

The first line reads: “When I was in preschool, I had a teacher named Starlily.  She wore rainbow tye-dyed dresses and was always bringing in cookies that were made with granola and flax and had no taste.” The book is quirky and fun, but touches on a lot of hard subjects, from living with a family fractured by divorce, loss and middle-school friendship issues.  It is often very funny at the same time you really feel for Ellie and her grandfather, who are both struggling with issues of change.  I am listening to this as an audiobook and the reader is particularly good 

I also just finished listening to the inimitable voice of Jim Dale reading Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne.  Verne already has such an incredibly fresh and fun voice as an author, despite having written his books more than 100 years ago.  His sense of humor is genuinely of the laugh-out-loud variety and I was on the edge of my seat over and over, listening to this madcap voyage around the world that begins with a gentleman’s club bet on the part of the main character, Phileas Fogg.  The story is told from the perspective of his brand new French valet, Passepartout, a man who really only wants the quiet life of an English manservant, but gets much more than he bargained for.  

This book even holds a mystery: Is Phileas Fogg the notorious Gentleman Bank Robber who stole 50,000 pounds at a London bank?  Is his “bet” actually a ploy for escaping capture by the Police?  Join Police Inspector Fix as he follows Fogg around the world, trying to arrest him for the crime time and again and discover the truth! 

If you have put off reading Jules Verne, thinking it may be dry and boring, rush to the library today and disabuse yourself of that notion immediately, and be prepared for a laugh fest that is both touching and exciting. 


Emily’s Pick 

Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed have co-written a sweet teen romance and inspiring call to action all in one. Yes No Maybe So introduces readers to Jamie, an anxious but charming 17-year-old whose cousin roped him into helping out on a local election campaign, and whose mom is pushing him to give a speech at his sister’s upcoming bat mitzvah. When he goes to the local mosque for an interfaith Iftar and campaign event, he bumps into his outgoing childhood friend Maya—and also bumps into a wobbly table, knocking the whole thing over. Their parents encourage the two to start canvassing, and while both are reluctant at first, they discover a new understanding of why local politics matter, and how important even seemingly small elections can be to protect individual rights and freedoms. Albertalli and Saeed have not only written a book that will inspire readers to take action in local politics, but they’ve also written a charming friendship between Jamie and Maya, which so sweetly develops into a romance. Readers will be drawn in, rooting for both Jamie and Maya as they grow over the course of the book — and will be anxious to see how this fictional Senate race will turn out!   

For readers who are following along with the library’s 2020 Reading Challenge — this one has a potential for checking off so many boxes. Written by two authors, an #OwnVoices book, a book that teaches a skill (canvassing!), or the category I’ve fit the book into — a book I wish I could have given my teenage self. Of course, you can also now use it as a book that is recommended on Staff Picks! 




Kerry’s Pick 

I am excited to read Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Uniona historical romance and spy novel that takes place during the US Civil War. I devoured Alyssa’s Reluctant Royals series and have no doubt this book will be just as spectacular. 


Sarah’s Pick 

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry follows a high school field hockey team from Danvers, Massachusetts (formerly Salem Village) in the 1980’s. After a depressing defeat, and thinking of the women who were tried for witchcraft three centuries earlier, the members pledge allegiance to a notebook bearing the image of Emilio Estevez. When the official season starts and the Falcons start winning games, the girls feel Emilio pushing them toward their more devilish impulses. As they cause increasing mayhem around Danvers, the team can feel Emilio demanding more from them, and they worry they won’t be able to keep the magic going long enough to win the state championship.  

Barry (also the author of She Weeps Each Time You’re Born) is deeply witty, writing the narrator as a sort of omniscient group-think, the team speaking as one wry voice. Barry spends time with each of the team members and examines their struggles with the gender norms of the late 1980s as well as with race, identity, family, and friendship. Three of the characters are women of color who have complex relationships to being surrounded mostly by white people; a few of the girls discover budding nuance in their sexuality; and they all start to wonder if witchcraft is really about taking up space in a world that wants to keep you small. As Emilio pushes them further down the path of darkness, readers will cheer them on because what they’re really doing is learning to be fully and authentically themselves. Touching, hilarious, and deeply satisfying. 



Elizabeth’s Picks 

Technology. Magic. Folklore. Friendship, history, revenge, revelation: time for new books! There’s a heap from favorite and new authors coming out this springDanez Smith’s new poetry collection, Homie, is out, and Louise Erdrich has a new novel in March—The Night Watchmanbased on the life of her grandfather.  I’m also looking forward to a bunch of great-looking fiction debuts, including New Waves by Kevin Nguyen, Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn, These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy CardConjure Women by Afia Atakora, and Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang. 




Becca’s Pick 

I spent New Year’s in the company of friends who are graphic novel connoisseurs. While browsing their shelves, I discovered the first volume of Crowdedwhich collects the first six issues of the comic and poses a horrifying idea: what if the most coveted paycheck in the gig economy were a human life?  

Charlie wakes up one morning to discover a campaign was created on Reapra legal assassination appin her name. The campaign has thousands of backers, and the first person to assassinate her stands to make over a million dollars. Charlie hires Vita, a bodyguard with low online ratings, to keep her safe until the campaign ends in one month.  

I began reading Crowded as New Year’s Eve crested into New Year’s Day, and I didn’t stop until it was finished. The story is fast-paced, the characters are delightful, and the premise is just familiar enough on the cusp of this new decade to leave you wanting more (and please let “more” be an ending that isn’t global catastrophe!). If you like character-driven stories with a sinister undertone that still make you spontaneously guffaw, I suggest checking Crowded out. 


Carrie’s Pick 

Minestrone, Beluga Lentils with Kale, and all the timings for beans, grains, and vegetables! I love my Instant Pot and The Essential Vegan Instant Pot: Fresh and Foolproof Plant-based Recipes for your Electric Pressure Cooker by Coco Morante has become my go to for ideas. And the minestrone is now a weekly favorite at our house. 




Eileen’s Pick   

Hearts and flowers and love.  That’s what you get when you sit down with the 2000 movie Return to Me  

Grace Briggs, played by Minnie Driver, tends an urban garden behind Grandpa’s Irish-Italian restaurant, her plants thriving as she accustoms herself to a post-heart transplant life of promise and possibility.  Color celebrates this simultaneously lucky and tragic gift of a future in her fanciful watercolors painted in the garden, but her hopes reach beyond the garden fence and close circle of dear family. Life awaits even as she is drowning in their love. 

The cast is an absolute dream, and the relationships they create on screen feel right and natural.  In his last film, Carroll O’Connor, as Grace’s grandpa Marty, reminds me of Irish Catholic gentlemen in my own life, with his devoutly clutched beads and earnest faith that prayers are always heard.  Bonnie Hunt, multitasking as co-writer and director, also plays Megan, Grace’s confidante, with hopeful realism and a sense of the absurd that finds honesty in any circumstances.  It doesn’t hurt that her foil is James Belushi as Joe, Megan’s husband and dad to their several unruly children; Joe is a master of unintended silliness, especially when life is at its most chaotic.  David Duchovny is Bob, a young widower just allowing light to penetrate his enormous grief, both baffled and bolstered by the possibility of joy after a chance encounter with Grace.  Good friend Charlie (David Alan Grier), who has tried his best to cajole Bob back into life with offers of unpromising blind dates, is bemused to find that Bob has been adopted by his new silver-haired widowed friends (O’Connor, Robert Loggia, William Bronder, Eddie Jones) and is now happily bowling, begad!, albeit badly, with Grace’s extended family.  The scene of Bob’s induction into the after-hours poker game at O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant wins my heart every time I see it; and accompanying them all to the bowling alley is a sure-fire antidote for what ails me, even in February, which sometimes feels like an ailment all on its own. 

The film is more confection than perfection, I suppose, with its predictably improbable bumps in the road.  The plot may be far-fetched, but so is life, as often as not.  As with life, it goes down better because of the small delights along the way, and Return to Me is chock full of small delights and scenes of everyday love.  

Every time I see it, it makes me happy.  




As ever, thank you for reading! We share our staff picks of favorite library materials here at the Life of the Library blog each month. If you are looking for more reading ideas, try filling out a Your Next (Great!) Read form to get a personalized list of reading suggestions from our Reader’s Advisory Staff, or check out our booklists.

Staff PET Picks! Our furry friends share their library faves

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

We library workers have a LOT of pets. A very kind and persuasive staff member fostered kittens for a local rescue for years: we have many, many cats among us. And dogs.

People who share their lives with animals know that they have a lot to say—with a woof, a mew, a reach of a paw (or claw!), a twitch of the tail, a plaintive sigh when a walk is not forthcoming. And could human eyes ever be so expressive?

So this January…we checked in with our favorite furballs and imagined all they might say (or choose from the library for themselves): here are their pet picks.



“My love for Kitten’s First Full Moon can be traced to my early upbringing in rural Connecticut and my experience as a young cat in the out-of-doors.  

I, too, used to spring, bump, and bang. I chased through gardens and ran by the pond. Climbed to the top of the tallest tree, scared though I may have been. And upon my return there was always a little bowl, waiting just for me. I was a ‘Lucky Kitten!’ 

Ha, of course I do not think the moon is a giant bowl of milk! I may have been born in a barn, but I am now a well-heeled city cat of seven years, thank you very much. Not that I get outside anymore to investigate such things…these days I greet the moon through the window and only venture as far as a visit with my friend Zach, the cat down the hall: the life of an apartment cat.  

Thank you for letting me share my favorite picture book with you this month.” 

-Very Truly Yours, Minna (& Carrie) 



What Pete Ate from A-Z: where we explore the English Alphabet (in its entirety) In Which a certain DOG DEVOURS a MYRIAD of ITEMS which he should NOT by Maira Kalman

I was looking for a self-help book about how to positively cope with my boredom and borderline separation anxiety. My human adores Maira Kalman and I like to eat so I figured I’d check this out. What I found was validation! 

‘Egads! Doesn’t Pete Know the difference between edible and inedible?’ I like this quote because my humans shake their heads and sigh after I eat certain things. I’m still working on the  concept of edible/inedible, having eaten avocados, a bed (mine), a cell phone, furniture, gloves, lettuce seedlings, masking tape, paper towels, pillows, remote controls, shoes, sponges, stuffed animals, ukulele music, a watering can, and a zipper. Looks like I still have some more of the English alphabet to explore. I totally relate to Pete, except I eat my kibble too! 

Respectfully submitted by: Bruno Blatt (aka B-Boy & Boo), Age 16 months, Peaks Island, ME (& Jerri) 





“Just like Chet the Wise in Dog On It, in my doggy ways I’m full of heart and occasionally (almost always) prone to mischief. I’m loyal to my parents, and love to cuddle very much. I enjoyed this read because it’s about investigation, as I enjoy being curious and finding things to sniff throughout my daily walks with Daddy. And hey! I have an annoying cat brother called Ron.”

-Odo (& Will) 



“Hi, my name is Ron (and yes! your guess is right: I’m named after Ron Weasley). Born a Canadian, I lived for eight years in Falmouth in the States, and about a year ago I traveled to Westbrook. In Westbrook I have been to every house in my neighborhood which I kinda like a lot. I share with you my Travel Book as I wonder where fate will take me in the next chapter of travels…maybe Ghana? Who knows! Worry not, I will send a post card your way.”

-Ron (& Will) 




Night Boat to Tangier is about gangsters.  I would have made a great gangster.  Just last night–between the fence and the blackberry bushes–I had to whack an opossum.  He showed me no respect.  As great as this book is, it actually does not contain enough whacking.  Mostly just allusions to wrongdoing.  The book is actually a heartbreaking tale of friendship, which, for me, is nearly as good as an invigorating whack. The two gangsters in this book are constantly talking and they don’t express their emotions directly. That was another way for me to empathize with these people. I was plucked from Georgia at 8 weeks old, so the storyline in this book about the missing daughter hit me right in the solar plexis. The daughter is what her father and his friend call a crusty. I like crusties. Crusties are often accompanied by dogs like me. I’m a cross between a pitbull and a catahoula leopard hound.  Crusties don’t bathe much, just like me, and they don’t have much regard for societal norms, also like me. 

Perhaps the best part of this book, though, is the writing.  The kind of writing I like is visceral and concrete. In just a few words Kevin Barry is able to remind me what it feels like to be alive on this earth. When I’m on the couch I like feeling like I’m not on the couch, so if that’s something you like, too, read this book.

-George (& Lewis) 





Finlay is our sweet beagle who we first met way up in Newfoundland. His favorite things are to snooze in the sun on the couch with his favorite people, to eat as much food as possible, and to try as hard as he can to get close to a cat. Why? He can’t quite say (and we’ve never really given him a chance to show us). But whether it’s out on a walk or in our back yard, if there’s a cat around, he lets us all know with a classic beagle howl!  

So, we combined some of Finlay’s favorite things by all reading Bodega Cat on the couch in the sun. My kids thought that Chip, the “boss” of this story’s bodega, was the funniest cat around. Chip runs the NYC store with his family from the Dominican Republic, and shows how they all play a role in making the bodega a spot essential for the whole neighborhood. Finlay snoozed away as we read about this cat and the tasty bodega specials, and I’m pretty sure he was one happy guy.





This is Napoleon, and he loves to read The New York Times. We sit and read it together, every morning. He loves to stay on top of the latest Mews… 

 As a kitty who loves all things dairy (he is French after all) we love to read the Food Section on Wednesdays. We pick out what recipes we plan to try in the future and then he’ll beg me for tastes as I’m cooking. One of our favorites this year was “Vinegar Chicken with Crushed Olive Dressing” by Alison Roman of Dining In fame. Though it was chicken, not dairy, he still was a beggar for little morsels when it was done cooking.




Jack & Rose 

Jack and Rose are feral rescues from Southern Maine who have been thick as thieves since I brought them into my home last year. Sometimes I hear them chatting in the basement but I can’t quite make out what they’re discussing. I’m convinced they’ve built secret passageways throughout the house as they vanish without a trace for hours but always reappear at dinner time. Funny thing about dinner time, too, is that they are able to convince me to feed them whatever they desire. Sure enough, I caught them reading The Art of War by Sun Tzu before nap time the other day. This classic book of military strategy can allegedly teach you to conquer your opponents and gain a loyal following. Sun Tzu writes “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” I think it’s working. I’d do anything for them at the slightest purr. 




Mungo’s recommendation: heroes, heroines, swashbuckling men in boots and fantastic hats, sword fights, political machinations…it’s the BBC tv series The Musketeers! All three seasons are available via MaineCat.  Mungo loves to settle down on a lap and escape to this world where good mostly conquers evil and where courage, love, passion, and panache prevail. (Mungo thinks he would have made a splendid Musketeer.)   


Mungo’s roommate, Violet, recommends Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty.  The luscious, color-drenched paintings are enchanting. They accompany nuggets of writing in which melancholy and joy rub elbows, as in this passage: “My husband died at the age of 49. I could collapse thinking about that. But I don’t want to talk about that now. I want to say that I love that George [Gershwin] is nearby under a leafy tree. And Ira Gershwin too. It’s very cozy.”  

Violet suggests you find a sunny spot, snuggle up with a beloved human, and lose yourself in Kalman’s vision for an hour or so. (She would also like readers to know that the book in the photo is her own personal copy. She would never leave a library book open like that.) 





This is Midna. 

She advises folks to check out PPL’s growing collection of fantasy and role playing manuals and handbooks! 







This is Bev. She’s basically a Beatrix Potter character come to life. She’ll occasionally wear hand knit sweaters, and she’s hoping to one day have a hand knit cat friend to play with. This book is inspiring. 







And this is Sappho. She’s still a baby, and believes that books are for teething on. For small human friends who are also in the early literacy phase of life, Sappho recommends checking out PPL’s vast board book collection. Some recent favorite titles include C is for Consent and Before & After. 





Luna and Neville 

I used to get a lot of knitting done while watching TV or listening to audiobooks. Since adopting Luna and her brother, Neville (white paws and bib), a year ago, knitting has become much more of an active pursuit. No matter where Luna and Neville are or what they’re doing, at the first click of my needles they come running. Chaos ensues: *Neville grabs the ball of yarn and rockets around the house with his ‘prey’. Luna attacks the unspooling strand of yarn- one end attached to my project, the other end attached to the rapidly shrinking ball.  After negotiations and offers of treats/toys, I retrieve the ball and rewind the yarn.  Repeat from * until project (eventually) reaches desired length. 

Like me, Luna and Neville are looking forward to the first official book of Harry Potter knitting patterns, set to be published at the end of January. 





My greyhound, Maple, is a study in mindfulness. She is always fully present, noticing and appreciating every sound, smell, or treat. She isn’t bogged down by human mental weight; no wistful reflections on the past or anticipatory anxieties of the future. She suggests reading Now is the Way: An Unconventional Approach to Modern Mindfulness to achieve this level of zen. Cory Allan (of ‘The Astral Hustle’ podcast) combines depth and wisdom with accessible exercises to support living in the moment, as opposed to (as Allan says) getting caught up in “the spaces between the moments.” Even readers who don’t typically enjoy ‘new age’ ideas will likely find thoughts and strategies that resonate. It is always the right time to move towards peace within ourselves, and life with a pet leads us naturally in this direction.

Maple also wants everyone to check out For the Love of Greyhounds, by Alex Cearns. As greyhound racing becomes less popular and widely banned, thousands of these beautiful animals will be in need of homes. The stunning photography in this book captures retired racers in all their elegance, quirkiness, and joy. Maple hopes that learning more about rescued greyhounds will encourage readers to consider opening their homes to a special dog like her. If you’re interested in more information, the local non-profit Maine Greyhound Placement Services is a great resource.




As ever, thank you for reading! We share our staff picks of favorite library materials here at the Life of the Library blog each month. If you are looking for more reading ideas, try filling out a Your Next (Great!) Read form to get a personalized list of reading suggestions from our Reader’s Advisory Staff, or check out our booklists.

Winter and Wonder: December Staff Picks

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


Nora’s Picks 

So the shortest day came / and the year died, / And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world / Came people singing, dancing, / To drive the dark away…” So begins Susan Cooper’s poem The Shortest Dayjust published in picture book form with gouache illustrations by Carson Ellis. Cooper’s words and Ellis’s pictures, through the holding of hands and the melding of voices, journey the reader through the darkest day of the year into a joyful horizon.

At the winter solstice, an instinct for reflection and a yearning for regeneration colors my reading. I think about all of the Mary Oliver poems I reread this year, knowing she wouldn’t write any more. The early spring mornings waiting for the bus, reading Ross Gay’s Book of Delights as a spell against the still-biting cold. The lines from Julia Phillip’s debut novel Disappearing Earth that, months after reading, I find myself repeating under my breath as I go about the day. And now I’m ending the year reveling in Carrying Water to the Field, Joyce Sutphen’s new and selected poems, full of farm life and people: a hardworking father, lost loves, and an aging grandmother gradually loosening her hold on the land.

Just as Cooper and Ellis gently us urge toward the sun, Sutphen speaks in “From Out the Cave” of a moment when “in the midst of these / everyday nightmares, you / understand that you could / wake up, / you could turn / and go back / to the last thing you / remember doing / with your whole heart.” Perhaps another line to repeat under the breath, to carry as a mantra through the darkest days and into the new year. 


Cindy’s Pick 

My staff pick for December is a teen selection: Call Down the Hawk (Dreamer #1) by Maggie Stiefvater.  

“The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.” 

This is a new series by Stiefvater with some of the same characters from the beloved Raven Cycle series, most particularly, my favorite, Ronan Lynch, a prickly, deeply emotional “dreamer.” The stakes are high: the safety of the world is at stake and Ronan may or may not be the one to save it from destruction.  

It is just as lavishly written as Stiefvater’s other books, and a true page turner! 



Kerry’s Picks 

My top five reads from 2019, in no particular orderThe Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, What Is A Girl Worth? by Rachael DenhollanderThe Bride Test by Helen Hoang, The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, and A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole. 



Joanna’s Picks 

Happy December! Here are my staff picks: 

Lately the three-week check out period hasn’t been long enough to finish all the new books I want to read. I couldn’t finish Tegan and Sara’s memoir before I needed to return it for the next people waiting in line and then more desired reads started filtering in to the hold shelf.  

I did surprise myself, however, by finishing Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid in only a couple of sittings. I have seen this cover pop up a lot in the media and I wanted to see if it would live up to the reviews. It’s a fun romp through the 1970s rock n ’roll scene which feels similar to watching a documentary about Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or The Beatles Anthology. The alternating dialogue told in the voices of different characters keeps the story moving, even as I felt like I’d heard the story before. I read some reviews that said the audio book version is even better with a terrific cast of voice-actors, which makes me think I might recommend listening to Reid’s novel. 

Spoilers: I was disappointed by the inclusion of the lyrics at the end. I think I anticipated something a bit more complex. I feel the story would have benefited from letting the reader wax nostalgic and imagine the impact of their favorite 70s lyrics. 

My #1 goal for the upcoming year will be to finish more of the books I check out! Wish me luck. 


Emily’s Pick 

I am currently deep into Erin Morgenstern’s rich and delightfully literary fantasy, The Starless Sea. Zachary Ezra Rawlins, graduate student and son of a fortune teller, discovers a mysterious book in the library of his graduate school. The book contains fantastical tales of pirates, a secret underground harbor full of books, and somehow, a story from his own childhood when he found a door into that magical world, and walked away. Alarmed and intrigued to find his life in a book far older than him, Zachary follows clues to New York City and stumbles upon a quest. Listening to the audiobook helps me navigate the many stories that Morgenstern weaves together — each section has a different narrator, and they’ve skillfully drawn me into a tale full of magic, danger, queer romance, and the world’s biggest secret underground library. It’s the perfect wintery audiobook to fall into. 



Elizabeth’s Picks 

I loved too many books in 2019 to champion all of them here (without even mentioning nonfiction!), but reading sustained me through the year, a deep stew-pot of steadying bookish nourishment I am thankful for again and again, each time a story or character warms me or a memoir or essay has me mulling.  Cantoras and In West Mills were two immersive, character-driven favorites from historical fiction; I whiled away a week last spring with the dreamy, heart-wrenching, lyrical The Dragonfly Sea, and read more fiction from up north, like the short-but-high-impact novels Small Beauty and Jonny Appleseed. The graphic novel Mooncakes was super sweet and fun, and the sci-fantasy romp Gideon the Ninth was super skeletal and fun too. Pet was seriously wonderful.  Sorcery of Thorns had both library magic and a loveable demon.  Waves, read just today, is beautiful and sad.

“For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque- but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.” -from Sorcery of Thorns 

2020: Can anyone be faulted for being ready for a new year, as if it might be wholly new? At least there are new books.

Here’s a few recent (or on order) fiction titles that I’m looking forward to: The Resisters by Gish Jen, a tale of baseball, family, and how a dystopia quietly sets up shop. The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde: “Seventy-year-old Signe sets sail alone on a hazardous voyage across the ocean in a sailboat…” Sign me up. Girl, Woman, Other: I’m really excited to read this Booker Prize Winner from Bernardine Evaristo. Little Gods by Meng Jin: History, physics, memory, time, mothers and daughters. Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted: queer librarian spies cause a ruckus of resistance in the future authoritarian Southwest. Notable quote: “You’re running away. You’re running away to join the Librarians.” Yep. 



Eileen’s Pick 

In 2013, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass was published.  I am just now settling in to read this collection of nature essays.  I wouldn’t mind having found them sooner, but I am so very glad to read them now. 

 These days, relentless snow moving and harrowing slow motion drives to work and back home again have eaten into my time for pleasure reading.  All the sweeter, then, are my stitched together moments with Kimmerer’s musings.  “Mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation”, reads her book jacket bio, and all these identities are plumbed in her writing.  

 Here is a nubbin of what I gathered from the book’s lovely introduction:  Braiding sweetgrass requires tension, a point of connection & resistance, perhaps the hands of another person, from which the braider works. 

I imagine fumbling to get it right, seeking balance between the anchor point and the braider.  Deftness follows as seeking balance yields to sensing balance, balance that is always there but often obscured by effort.  This is how I, on a good day, choose to see all of life and so I may be finding in Kimmerer’s words some things that aren’t meant.  But I like her words. They set me on my own traverse with momentum I would not otherwise have. 

She writes of connecting with her ancestral language, nearly extinct with just nine fluent speakers remaining.  With Kimmerer’s help, I am seeing language as a reflection of life view, pointing toward animacy with its verbs full of spirit and being.  Who needs a deadening, delimited noun when “to be a hill, to be a sandy beach, to be Saturday, all are possible verbs in a world where everything is alive?”  Not things to pinpoint with GPS and timepieces, but ancient, evolving, always fresh energies.  Verbs.  Bend my mind to this new shape and I see the world in a new way, the natural world and the place in it that is taken up with people.   

 Grammar as mind expansion.  Tell me more, please, I think to myself.  And she does. 

 Thankfully, there is truth that the heart can speak fluently even when words fail.  Words, in whatever language, are an imperfect effort to give form to truth so that it can be understood, passed to others. Braiding Sweetgrass is helping me feel the truth of people and cultures and trees and algae and gratitude… the whole shebang.  

 When winter calls me away and puts a shovel in my hands again, I hope I can create a verb that will make it a thing of wonder… to be wind, perhaps, to be snow, to be the moment. 




As ever, thanks for reading from all of the PPL staff- and wishes for a peaceful new year.

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