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Once Upon a Time: November, Nostalgia, and Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Art & Culture

It’s easy to enter a dreamy nostalgia in the library, maxing out your library card and hauling away tote bags heavy as sacks of potatoes. So. Many. Books. So many films. And music! Poetry! History! Nature! Art! There are favorite authors and worlds to remember, revisit, or to re-examine with an older, more critical eye or ear. It’s also a relief that more good stuff keeps coming, and that one of the greatest things about nostalgia is that exploring it can lead you to completely new finds.

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Carrie’s Pick 

The Sunday morning paper. Learning to read…and then finally realizing you can read the comics all by yourself! Spending the whole week waiting to find out what Charlie Brown and the gang will do next. The joy of anticipation.  

Take a trip back to childhood with The Complete Peanuts collection.  

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Sarah S’s Pick 

Nothing makes me quite as nostalgic as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. I credit the adventures of Laura, Mary, Caroline, and Charles with developing my love for reading at an early age, and fondly recall many hours spent in a blanket fort with a flashlight and a growing pioneer spirit. So I was really excited to learn about a new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder that is being published this month. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder was written by Caroline Fraser, editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House books.

Fraser has drawn from unpublished manuscripts, diaries, letters, and public records to give us the most complete Wilder biography to date. The publisher promises it will “reveal the complex woman who defined the American pioneer character, and whose artful blend of fact and fiction grips us to this day.” And as critic Patricia Nelson Limerick notes in The New York Times, “For anyone who has drifted into thinking of Wilder’s ‘Little House’ books as relics of a distant and irrelevant past, reading ‘Prairie Fires’ will provide a lasting cure. Just as effectively, for readers with a pre-existing condition of enthusiasm for western American history and literature, this book will refresh and revitalize interpretations that may be ready for some rattling.” 

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Harper’s Pick 

When I heard that Philip Pullman was going to be releasing a new series of books set in the His Dark Materials universe, my reaction was threefold. First, I’m pretty sure that I stopped breathing for a second. Then I let out a high-pitched squeal that was probably audible to most of the houses on my street. And then I dropped everything and ran to find my well-worn copies of The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass for immediate rereading.  

When I was growing up, the His Dark Materials series was a huge part of my life in a way I don’t really know how to explain. If you’ve ever picked up a book and immediately felt at home, you know what I’m talking about. From the first few pages, something about the world, the characters, the way they spoke and thought held me captive. I immediately connected to the idea of daemons — physical manifestations of a person’s soul that takes the form of an animal and can change shape in childhood but settles to one form as an adult. Much like the fun of figuring out what Hogwarts house you belong to, I loved trying to guess what people’s daemons would be, imagining how they would act, thinking about how our world would change with the addition of these creatures. (My daemon, if you’re wondering, settled as a red panda named Bantazion. What’s yours?)  

The His Dark Materials series is one of those that grow and mature with the characters. Being the same age as the main characters, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon, when I was reading The Golden Compass, helped me make an immediate connection — and then as I moved through the series, the characters grew up with me. I like to think of the three books in the HDM series as spanning the traditional age groupings of fiction: The Golden Compass is a middle grade chapter book, The Subtle Knife is a Young Adult novel, and The Amber Spyglass begins to cross the border into adult fiction.  

I haven’t actually finished La Belle Sauvage — mostly because I don’t want to leave it behind quite yet. While there are going to be two more books in The Book of Dust trilogy, I still want to savor the magic of finally going back to this world of daemons & Dust. A prequel told mainly from the point of view of eleven-year-old Malcom and his daemon Asta, La Belle Sauvage is easily accessible to younger readers, while still providing fascinating insight into the political & philosophical mysteries that lead up to the world first encountered in The Golden Compass. Whether you were, like me, a childhood companion of Lyra’s, or are a newcomer to Pullman’s world, I highly recommend these books to all.  

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Jim’s Picks 

My first nostalgic pick is The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn.  I read this for the first time as a freshman in college and eventually got my own copy.  It guided my efforts about how to train to be an artist.  I took Shahn’s exhortation for my own mantra: read everything, listen to everybody, do both manual and intellectual labor, look down on nobody. 

The second: Hoosiers with Gene Hackman. If you were raised in a small town and played basketball, then you know that this movie is spot on about how a single season of winning at high school basketball can seem to be the most important thing in the world during the winter months.  It is probably more of a wistful watch if your team never made it to a tournament; then the movie becomes a fantasy.  My high school basketball team was baaaddddd…and I rode the bench. 

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Megan’s Pick 

Always Coming Home is Ursula K. Le Guin’s fictional record of a future civilization in northern California. This “archaeology of the future” includes poetry, illustrations, maps, songs, folklore, and campfire tales from the land of the Valley. On top of that, there’s a “back of the book” section with recipes, etiquette, descriptions and illustrations of musical instruments, medical practices…There’s so much packed into this book that I never get bored. Two of my favorite parts: “Teasing the Kitten,” an improvised poem making fun of a lazy cat (“You are holding the dirt down / sound asleep in the sunlight”) and “Dried Mice,” the story of Coyote’s human pup leaving the den.

When I picked this book up by chance in high school, it was a reading experience unlike any I’d ever had. On rereads, it pulls me back to my teenage times as well as the now-familiar world of the Kesh. I’d recommend it as a good book to read backwards, forwards, in pieces, and in any order you please. 

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Kathleen’s Pick 

Nostalgia? For me, it would be T.H. White’s The Once and Future King… I wish I still had the worn, tattered, dog-eared copy that was the end result of my reading it in high school. At the time, I was completely transported by White’s version of the Arthurian legend. I don’t think I put it down until the end, despite its 600 pages! I still rate it as my favorite book of all. 

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Meg’s Pick

While I’m far from nostalgic for the subject matter of Caleb Carr’s historical psychological thriller, The Alienist, the book represents a very specific point of time for me: the discovery of non-required reading worth reading late into the night and early into the morning. I recall a school break many winters ago where chemistry and A.P. history books were set aside for a chubby, weathered, mass paperback loaned from a teacher. I was tucked into a twin sized bed under a handmade pink quilt, with a wood stove crackling in the room below my bedroom, as I devoured every gruesome detail of a serial killer loose during New York City’s Gilded Age. The Alienist was the first of many books that I voluntarily lost sleep over, but out of those that have kept me up late, it is the only one that featured Teddy Roosevelt as a character. 

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Hazel’s Picks 

Double pick! Mule Variations by Tom Waits + Hey Willy, See the Pyramids by Maira Kalman: 

Mule Variations was a permanent fixture of our very-fancy-for-1999 seven-disc home stereo. It was the soundtrack of choice that summer as I geared up for third grade (with my brand-new Pokémon handbook!), into winter while my mom rearranged the living room furniture and baked hazelnut biscotti, and for many seasons beyond. In typical Tom Waits fashion, some of the songs (“Filipino Box Spring Hog,” “Eyeball Kid”) both fascinated and disturbed me, while others (“Hold On,” “Take It With Me”) are more typically comforting tracks that recall for me the sudden, glowing chill of 4:00 sunsets in the country. The two experiences came together to cement the album as a unified whole in my nostalgic memory. 

Any of Maira Kalman’s picture books, and especially Hey Willy, See the Pyramids, also deserve a mention here. Her illustrations are so fantastic and bustling that they seem to go on buzzing, dancing, singing, and reciting poetry even while the pages sit closed and quiet. Reading one of her stories is like playing I Spy with someone else’s uncensored imagination, and several of them have lived on every book shelf I’ve called my own.  

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Meghan’s Pick 

It doesn’t happen often, but every time someone comes to the desk to check out the epic album Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, I get the shiver, and wonder if they’re going to feel it, too. I keep my mouth shut, though, not wanting to interfere. 

When I first heard Loveless, I was in college. I was recently disentangled from everything, free and boundless. Which is also to say, alone, and yearning for all the things a person that age yearns for. 

The songs themselves defy shape, taking on instead a driving ethereal power that builds on itself. This was a bit how I was feeling, too. Eventually it became impractical to listen to music no matter what I was doing, and so MBV fell out of my life a bit. When I do make the time to listen to it now, it doesn’t hit me the same way. Not until I let the details of my current self fall away, until I inhabit that gloriously shapeless and searching person that I was.  

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Elizabeth’s Picks 

Just outside of Chicago, I grew up in an ardently record-and-radio-focused family, and when we got to see him my grandpa played the jazz and blues albums he loved all through our brief time together.

Here in the lamp-lit Maine twilight each winter, with the snow drifting blue and darkness knocking, it’s a simple fix to transport and uplift myself in the warm nostalgia of horn, saxophone, piano, and the familiar vocals of a few bedrock albums from the library: John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Live at the Blue Note, Billie, Ella, Lena, Sarah! or Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners 

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Eileen’s Picks 

I am six years old. Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges, is my very favorite television show. I have a piercing little-kid crush on its scuba diving main character, Mike Nelson, and his gravity-defying underwater hair, swaying like eel grass above his swim mask.  Oh, my.  I am lying in front of our tv, elbows planted on the carpet, chin cupped in my hands, in thrall to the guy in the wetsuit.  Remembering this, I feel safe, warm, happy…a wave of contentment. Nostalgia. 

It is 1980.  Reading The World According to Garp is my first encounter with the amazing, mesmerizing, boundary-bumping John Irving. I get swallowed up by his style and plotting.  Garp changes me as a reader.  It has upped the ante; I will expect more from everything I read hereafter.  I think on this now and I feel the surprise, wonder, expansiveness…a familiar revelatory frisson.  Nostalgia. 

Each of the foregoing constitutes a time in my life that I can date stamp.  In neither case am I able to watch or read them again and feel what I felt then.  I have tried.  It is more that I can remember feeling those things in the moment.  Nostalgia.  

The third title, well, that is a little different. 

I tumbled to Bruce Springsteen in 1975 when his album Born to Run was released, a few years later than the Asbury Park cognoscenti can claim.  Awareness came by way of a transistor radio perched on my bedroom window sill.  When I heard the opening notes of “Thunder Road” for the first time it was like nothing I had ever heard before, a resonance far bigger than the sound easing out of the tiny, tinny speaker.  Here is where Mr. Springsteen wins the day: every single time I hear “Thunder Road” I am right there again.  It feels brand new, but with the extra thrill of knowing that I already love it.  It is nostalgia and then some.  It is ongoing. 

Maybe nostalgia is all about remembering.  Maybe I should have stuck with Sea Hunt and The World According to Garp, my time-locked recollections tied securely to particular slices of life.  But there is something about hearing the first strains of “Thunder Road” and feeling it like the first time all over again, always fresh, always grabbing my gut for reasons I can’t catalog or understand, that made me rethink my first tidily contained notions for the nostalgia-themed Staff Picks blog and say, “Nope.  That’s not it.  There’s more.” 

The screen door slams.  Mary’s dress waves 

There it is again. 

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 Thanks for reading. (And if you’re feeling nostalgic for older staff picks, consider revisiting last November’s blog post, where we discuss community, action, civic engagement, and rad women!)


October Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Art & Culture

“Here we are closer to something I am trying to understand: that openness to fear.

We are hearts and stingers. We ride the tide.

We believe in resistance; we are made both of fight and float.”

-from The Bright Hour, by Nina Riggs

This month our Staff Picks share a variety of different kinds of stories, experiences, and voices from library collections that engage with themes of fear and courage as well as education and action, challenges, resilience, resistance and growth.  

 

 Youth Services: Fiction and Biography

Carrie’s Pick 

Courage for Beginners, by Karen Harrington 

What does it mean to have courage?  

Twelve-year-old Mysti Murphy is faced with many of the same trials middle schoolers face every day: friends turning out to be not so friendly, the work of making new friends, the wish to fit in and be accepted. But for Mysti true courage comes when she accepts herself, and her family situation, and ultimately asks for help.  

Having courage does not mean shouldering the whole load. Courage often comes from recognizing our limitations, and accepting the help we need. With humor and an obvious love for avid readers, Karen Harrington spins a tale of family, friends, and courage in the face of adversity.  

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Kerry’s Pick 

Louis Sockalexis: Native American Baseball Pioneer is a picture book biography that tells the story of Louis Sockalexis, of the Penobscot Nation, the first Native American major league baseball player. The story focuses on his childhood in Maine and his baseball career, leading up to his first game with the Cleveland Spiders. Maine author Bill Wise writes that Sockalexis began playing baseball as a child when a group of white boys invited him to play, and he immediately took to the game. Although he excelled at the sport, he was constantly harassed and mocked by spectators who yelled racial slurs at him at him for “playing a white man’s game.” When Sockalexis joined the Spiders, Amos Rusie, the pitcher of the New York Giants, promised to strike him out. When it was his turn to bat the crowd booed and jeered, but Sockalexis ignored their taunts and hit a home run on the first pitch. He defied racism and prejudice, and his bravery paved the way for future Native American players.  

For adults interested in learning about Sockalexis there is also the biography Indian Summer: The Forgotten Story of Louis Sockalexis, The First Native American in Major League Baseball. 

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 Adult Services: Nonfiction and Memoir

Nate’s Pick 

Alexis Okeowo (a frequent contributor to The New Yorker) recently released her first book length work,  A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa. Okeowo’s well-researched reportage adds humanity and depth to stories often treated shallowly in the international news, sharing stories that illuminate people caught in moments of tremendous upheaval and the ways they push back against turmoil.  

Okeowo focuses on four tales of everyday life during challenging times across four different African locales. A chronicle of deeply flawed modern love unfolds across the borderlands of Uganda and Sudan (now South Sudan) during the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army, reflecting the muddy realities of the modern world. Resistance to slavery in Mauritania introduces the reader to an activist willing to risk his life to abolish the embedded institution from his society. A third storyline follows members of a community in Maiduguri, Nigeria, home to Boko Haram. Readers learn of individual acts of heroism from members of the “Chibok Girls,” as well as the establishment of a neighborhood militia, organized to oppose the increased presence of Boko Haram in the region. Finally the love of basketball takes Okeowo to Mogadishu, where she highlights the challenges facing a number of female basketball players and their defiance of Al-Shabaab.  

More than just tales of overcoming fear, Alexis Okeowo’s writing embraces the imperfection of everyday life. A Moonless, Starless Sky avoids descriptions which paint countries in Africa as places where only good or terrible events occur; the individuals Okeowo writes about have faults and make questionable decisions. This book ultimately amounts to a return of agency to individuals and communities caught up in some of the world’s more tragic events, becoming an empowering testament to those who stand up for injustice throughout the world.  

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Aprill’s Pick 

Kate Evans shines light on the courage of refugees in her nonfiction graphic novel Threads from the Refugee Crisis. Evans spent time as an aid volunteer in the Calais Jungle, a French refugee encampment that sheltered thousands of African and Syrian refugees before it was destroyed by the French government in 2016.  As a volunteer, Evans made friends in the camp, and she tells their stories throughout her account. I loved many things about this book, despite not feeling instantly attracted to its art. After just a few pages, it struck me as appropriate that the book’s art comes across as urgent, raw, and sometimes frantic, for how else does one report from a heartbreaking crisis of catastrophic proportions? In contrast to most of Threads’ more roughly hewn lines, at times we get to see the careful, tender portraits Evans drew for people she met in the camp. The portraits are powerful, both as gifts of art for those in camp, and as human faces that those of us reading cannot forget.   

While conditions in the Jungle are horrifying, Threads serves as a report on the tenacity of the human spirit and its potential for courage. Despite the horrors of war, and the heartlessness of nationalist policies that keep many refugees from resettlement, Evans meets people who have hope. In the mud and cold rain of a refugee camp, babies are born, children play with soccer balls, and friendships are forged over shared makeshift meals.  Threads’ message is clear: humanity persists, resilient despite all odds, but this does not excuse those of us leading less perilous lives from fighting to make the world a kinder and more just place. 

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George’s Pick 

Thus begins the story of Nien Cheng, a widow who had worked as a liaison to the Chinese government for the Shell Oil company until that night in 1966 when the Red Guard, under the banner of the Cultural Revolution, stormed her house and took her away from her home and her daughter.  She was held in a dank prison cell for 5 years in which she underwent deprivation, illness and intense psychological manipulation, all to get her to “confess” to crimes against the state.  She refused to do it.  She demanded to know what the crime was that she was admitting to, but was never told.  She faced her accusers fearlessly and never backed down, sometimes being left in her cell, in virtual solitary confinement, for months at a time.  Even when they decided to release her, she refused to leave until they printed an apology to her in the newspaper.  All the while, she had no idea what had become of her young daughter.   

 Life and Death in Shanghai is the story of one woman’s incredible character and integrity, and is really a wonderful read.  It also gives you a view into the history of Maoist China in its heyday.  

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Brandie’s Pick
 

I really enjoy Brené Brown’s books and have read most of them. I especially like listening to her audio books because she has a great voice. Although her books fall into the Personal Growth category, she is also a masterful storyteller. In her newest book, Braving the Wilderness, Brown focuses one of the most unsettling of fears…being alone. She argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other.  

This book is short and to the point, with lots of truth bombs and motivational nuggets. Brown bases much of her book on a quote that she always struggled with by Maya Angelou: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” It was only when she discovered freedom in standing alone that she realized there really is nothing to fear in the wilderness of being alone. 

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Williams’ Pick 

A Chance in the World, by Steve Pemberton 

Author Steve Pemberton shares how he overcame mental and physical obstacles in the early years of his life, after he was dropped off at a foster home at the age of 5. It started with a neighbor’s small acts of kindness and caring—and a box of books. From one of those books he learns that he must fight in any way he can—for victory is in the battle. His victory is to excel in school.

Against all odds, Pemberton succeeded. He attended college, graduated, became a successful corporate executive, and married a wonderful woman with whom he established a loving family of his own. Through it, he dug voraciously through records and files and found his history, his birth family—and the ultimate disappointment as some family members embrace him, but others reject him. A Chance in the World is a heart-rending but uplifting story of the human spirit’s ability to prevail.  

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Raminta’s Pick 

Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? by Kyung An and Jessica Cerasi is a fantastic introduction to the current world of art. If you are a layperson just wanting to get a slight grip on the whats and whys of contemporary art, this really is the book for you. The book breaks down different topics in art into 26 different short essays. None of these need to be read sequentially and in fact, the essays encourage you to jump around. Topics range from why folks become artists to curating and conserving, along with quick descriptions of contemporary pieces by artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Tania Bruguera. This is a judgement-free book. One of my favorite chapters is entitled, “WTF?! What on earth am I looking at?” and it starts off by trying to put the reader at ease: “Contemporary art can be hard work. Everyone at one point of another has walked into an art gallery, taken one look at what’s on display and thought, ‘What The F… is that?!?!?’ And it may be that the little texts on the walls confuse things even more, leaving you feeling like you just don’t get it. Unfortunately, this experience is quite normal.”

Understanding art, whether it is contemporary or not, is a process that first starts with the person experiencing the art, allowing themselves to be open to whatever message the artist is trying to portray. And the best message portrayed in this book is that you don’t have to like all of it. 

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Elizabeth’s Picks 

Poet and writer Nina Riggs died from complications of breast cancer at age 39 this year, leaving her family, loved ones, and her memoir The Bright Hour behind. “I am reminded of an image,” she wrote, “that living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”

Riggs’ candid exploration of fear and joy in her last months of life offers up a fog-blasting sense of perspective. Full of moving humor, gratitude, sorrow, and observations both gentle and sharp, her story is a memorable final homage to this brief life. The title quotes Riggs’ great-great-great grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body, and to become as large as the World.”  

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“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” Julia Alvarez quotes Toni Morrison in Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean. 16 writer-activists contribute to this new anthology, including Gloria Anzaldúa, Cherríe Moraga, Jamaica Kincaid, Rigoberta Menchú, and Michelle Cliff.

As Jennifer Browdy observes in the introduction,”As women who understand their writing as a form of resistance to the intertwined and complex oppressions of imperialism, elitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, they have long been practicing transnational, intersectional feminism…all the contributors to this volume have challenged borders—linguistic, geographical, social, cultural, ideological—through their writing and in their own lives.” And as Gloria Anzaldúa writes: “Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what the writing reveals: the fears, the angers, the strengths of a woman under a triple or quadruple oppression. Yet in that very act lies our survival because a woman who writes has power.” These powerful voices encourage truth-telling, courage, and connection in the darkest times.

“We write our resistance, page after page,” notes Veronica Chambers, “And we hope that the force with which we move our pens across the page can be matched by those who value life, democracy, equality, and humanity off the page, out in the world.” 

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As always, thank you for reading.


Maine Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election

posted: , by Williams Bandoma
tags: Recommended Reads | Adults | Seniors | Government | News

 

Please find a copy of the Maine Citizen’s Guide to the November 7, 2017, Referendum Election. The Information includes;

  • Each of the four referendum questions
  • The legislation each question represents
  • A summary of the intent and content of the legislation
  • An explanation of the significance of YES or NO vote
  • An analysis of the debt service on the bond issues
  • An estimate of the fiscal impact of each ballot measure on state revenues, appropriations, and allocations and
  • Public comments field in support of or in opposition to a ballot measure (if applicable).

The Guide is a collaborative effort by the Department of the Secretary of State, the State treasurer, the Attorney General and the Office of Fiscal and Program Review. For additional information relating to the election visit: http://www.maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/upcoming/citizensguide2017.pdf

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