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October Staff Picks

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


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

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


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




Laura’s Pick 

theoctopuppyThe Octopuppy, by Martin McKenna

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




Kerry’s Pick  

browngirldreamingBrown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson

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

An excerpt from the poem:  

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


Adult Fiction


Lisa’s Pick 

snowed inSnowed In, by Christina Bartolomeo

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



Jim’s Pick 

the little peopleThe Little People, by John Christopher

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


Adult Nonfiction


Sonya’s Pick

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

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

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



Hazel’s Pick 

betweentheworldandmeBetween the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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



Elizabeth’s Pick

felicityFelicity, by Mary Oliver

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


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

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

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










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


Philosophy Forum – monthly at the Library!

posted: , by Abraham
tags: Programs & Events | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture | Portland History

Philo IMG_0928 CR
Plato famously observed that “philosophy begins with wonder.” Etienne Gilson, in the 20th century, wrote, “Philosophy in its exact sense does not mean a body of doctrine, but a love of wisdom.” These are among many enduring phrases of encouragement in appreciation of reflection and thought. In the spirit of Socrates’ saying that “the unobserved life is not worth living,” many philosophical community discussion groups have formed around this country and throughout the world. Philosophy groups are no longer confined to university campuses.

Philo Blumenau
Here at the Library, we launched Philosophy Forum last August, which is held on the 2nd Wednesdays of the month, in the Portland Room (2nd floor of the downtown library, Monument Square), from 6:30pm-8pm.
All ages are welcome, and there are no reading assignments required- nor any prior experience necessary in a philosophy group.

PhiloNow Art
Very much in the spirit of a “Socrates Cafe,” or an informal campus group (I was part of the philosophy Symposium at UMass-Boston, as a graduate student), our gatherings are essentially collaborative discussions, sharing our ideas based upon a central topic open-ended enough to invite the insights of all present! Rather than being a debating society that seeks consensus, our purpose is to inspire Socratic exploration through the discussion of the evening’s question. Thus far, our topics have included such questions as:
* How do you discover and define meaning in your life?
* Do each of us have a responsibility to contribute to society?
* What are the best ways to measure or evaluate a society’s well-being?
* What determines our convictions?
* How much of the action in our lives’ paths do we really choose?
* What causes our cultural self-centeredness?
* How can we explain society’s general fascination with “the dark side?”
* What is the significance of discomfort, and what we deem to be “unproductive?”
* Why philosophize? Why ask “why?”
* What is perseverance, and why do we persevere?
* How does life exist without desire? What is significance?
* How essential are shared values to a society?
* What are our responsibilities as private citizens?

These community conversations have been very enjoyable for the entire group. As moderator I’ve been reminded of how much groups like these added to my education, and how grateful I am to host this at my place of work!

We hope you’ll join us for these monthly gatherings. See you soon!

Philo DaleyPlaza
Socrates Cafe

Philo Belfast Bay

True Story: A Nonfiction Book Club

posted: , by Brandie Burrows
tags: Programs & Events | Adults
Portland library users, we have heard your request for a non-fiction book club and are responding with True Story: A Non-Fiction Book Club. We will meet on the third Thursday of each month in meeting room 3 at the main branch from 12:00-1:00 (bring your lunch!). We will meet to discuss nonfiction of all sorts. Books about science, travel and exploration, food, health, relationships, memoir, business, civility, culture, math, society, history, poetry…the sky’s the limit! True Story will be facilitated by PPL Reference Staff.

Reading A Walk in the Woods on our own library adventure.

Our first book will be A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson. The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. Many people have traveled this stretch of wonder but Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He has also done his research and provides great background information, introducing us to the history and ecology of the trail (as well as a couple of bears!). Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for a great adventure of your own.
Two of us here at the library read this book while on our own adventure in Guatemala to visit and work in a library. It was an great read with many laugh out loud moments. This line from the book really summarizes our adventure:

“Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.”

Unfortunately all of our copies are checked out but there are still many available copies through MaineCat. Hope to see you next Thursday at noon!
Upcoming Meetings in 2015-2016:

Readers are encouraged to call the Readers’ Advisory desk (871-1700 x705), email ( or come into the library to reserve copies of the books. If you have trouble finding the book in the Portland library system, please contact us and we can locate a book through MaineCat.

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