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Crave Radiance: August Staff Picks

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


Elizabeth Alexander's poetry at PPL. Her memoir, "The Light of the World," is a staff pick for August.

Elizabeth Alexander’s poetry on shelf at PPL. Her memoir, “The Light of the World,” is a staff pick for August.


  • It’s the end of August! Even if you’ve just been cramming in summer activities by the kayak-load, don’t fret. There’ll still be plenty to read in the coming months. Portland Public Library’s dedicated book groups continue to meet throughout September. On September 1st, the Peaks book group will discuss Crow Lake. On September 10th, Riverton’s group will tackle Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. On September 18th, the Main Library’s Friday Night Book will discuss Skippy Dies. And on September 19th, the LGBTQ Teen Book Group will discuss “I’ll Give You the Sun.”
  •  On September 15th at the Main Library, we’ll also be starting a 5-book discussion series through the Maine Humanities Council with facilitator Michael Bachem, PhD. The series is called “Exploring Human Boundaries: Literary Perspectives on Health Care Providers and Their Patients.”  From September-December, we’ll be reading The Plague, Wit, The Yellow Wallpaper, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. No need to check out the books: you can pick up copies of each title at the Reader’s Advisory Desk at the Main Library or at each discussion group. To register for the group, contact Elizabeth Hartsig at or 871-1700 ext. 705. 


Read on for August Staff Picks: we’ve got Shakespeare-performing zoo animals, bumbling protagonists and famous writer’s homes, an ominous forest, much coming of age, love in dystopia, and…how to hand-build a Cob Cottage.

 August Staff Picks

Children’s Fiction

 Laura’s Pick


The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth, by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo, Illustrator

How wonderful and refreshing it is to know that a story that has been re-told hundred of times before can still be presented in an unique and hilarious way! This book is a perfect introduction for young readers – the story of Macbeth is here, but told in a funny, engaging, and not-so-scary way. Packed with asides that would make The Bard himself proud, you will be left hoping this dynamic author and illustrator duo puts their spin on all of Shakespeare’s work.

-Laura, Children’s and Teen Services


Carrie’s Pick

augustcarrieRed Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen

If you loved Wonder and Brown Girl Dreaming you will be in for a treat when you read Red Butterfly, by A.L. Sonnichsen. A moving novel in verse, set in China, Sonnichsen’s “Red Butterfly” allows us a window into the world of abandoned Chinese children. The heart of “Red Butterfly” is the story of 11-year-old Kara, a girl who is born with “one blunt hand/ with two short nubs/ instead of fingers,” abandoned, and relegated to a secret life with the undocumented American woman who has raised her. Kara navigates her complex world with determination to live a “normal life” and a growing understanding of what that life may look like.  A story of identity and family, concise and lovingly written, Kara’s honesty allows us to see the struggles of these forgotten children.



Now so clear,

all the hiding

and whispering

and bundling up

 to go


so a foreign woman

wouldn’t be recognized, 

wouldn’t be asked 

for her paperwork.


Big love,

stupid love, 

just like Zhang Laoshi said.


-Carrie, Children’s Services


Teen Fiction

Kelley’s Pick

augustkelleySimon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy stuff this summer, so it was a treat to pick up this sweet and smart novel about a young man outed before he’s ready to be. Sixteen year old Simon Spier knows that he’s gay, he just hasn’t felt the need to tell anyone yet. His only confidant is his anonymous email pen pal, Blue. His exchanges with Blue are becoming so preoccupying that the very careful and private Simon risks using a public computer at his school library one day and then forgets to sign out of his email. It just so happens that the next person to use the computer is a classmate who is desperate to get a date with Simon’s magnetic best friend, Abby. So begins a short tale of botched blackmail that lands Simon’s most personal secrets on the school’s Tumblr. What follows is the story of how Simon’s coming-out impacts not just his relationship with Blue, but with each of his friends and family members.

Though completely current, there is something timeless about the way that Simon experiences high school, family, friendships, and first love. The only flaw I can find is that perhaps Simon is just a little too adjusted for your average teen? Is the adversity he faces realistic? Is the ending just a little too precious? That’s probably just me… you’ll eat this story up like a plate of waffles. Highly recommended for those who enjoy contemporary YA fiction with wit and heart a la John Green.

-Kelley, Teen Librarian


Adult Fiction

Ellen’s Pick

augustellenAn Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke

I came across this title while surfing the Web. (Surfing is really the wrong word; what I do is more like water skiing and then falling off every few feet, swimming around looking at the underwater life, then popping back up to speed off before the next plunge!) The title was the first thing to catch my fancy — I mean, who wouldn’t want to know where this might go?! — followed by a comparison of the hapless main character Sam Pulsifer with the “hero” one of my all-time favorite picaresque novels, Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. The story opens with Pulcifer doing time for the accidental burning of Emily Dickenson’s Amherst, MA house, a fire which took the life of two people who were making love on the poet’s bed at the time. The writer takes the reader on a cockeyed trek through the mess of this clueless man’s life as copycat arsonists takes up where he left off, setting fire to the houses of other literary figures. Will Pulsifer figure out who the real culprits are? Full of absurdist humor and literary allusions, this book is a fun summer escapade.

-Ellen, Burbank Branch Manager


Jim’s Pick



The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 Edition, ed. by Rich Horton

Really enjoying the Year’s Best Fantasy and Science Fiction stories 2015. One of my favorite compilations that happen annually.  The Elizabeth Bear entry is particularly strong. (Authors also include staff favorites Cory Doctorow, Kelly Link, Yoon Ha Lee, and Jo Walton).

-Jim, Head of Reference and Information Services



Emily R’s Pick


Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

This book is a great return to epic fantasy, complete with forbidding forests, unknown magics, political intrigue, and a dark history underlying the characters’ day to day existence.  The friendship between two girls drives as much of the story as the search for answers about the forest and its ominous creep that occasionally eats villages overnight.  Vividly rendered, this is a lush novel that will sweep you off your feet, great for summer reading!

-Emily, Teen Services



Susanne’s Pick



The Girls from Corona Del Mar, by Rufi Thorpe

I recommend the book The Girls from Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe (2014). It is a coming of age story set in southern California. Two girls, Mia and Lorrie Ann, grow up together as best friends, in spite of different family backgrounds. Their upbringings shape their adult lives and the choices they make.

But as the story unfolds it turns out that everything isn’t really as it first seems and this is reflected in the girls’ different life paths. A book light enough for a day at the beach, but with enough substance for a rainy day.

-Susanne, Lending Services Supervisor

Brandie’s Pick

augustbrandieThe Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood

I love the worlds that Margaret Atwood creates. I wasn’t initially drawn to the characters but the story and setting were both so captivating that I was hooked from the first page.

Stan and Charmaine are living in their car and barely surviving after an economic collapse. When they hear about The Positron Project they are immediately intrigued, even though they have to sign up for life. Naturally, if something is too good to be true it usually is. In true Atwood fashion, this twisted dystopian love story has some interesting turns and all is not as it seemed. Though Positron at first appears as a Utopian society, as the story progresses much darker intentions are revealed.


For those who do not like comedies: “…comedy is so cold and heartless, it makes fun of people’s sadness. She prefers the more dramatic shows where everyone’s getting kidnapped…or shut up in a dark hole, and you aren’t supposed to laugh at it. You’re supposed to be upset, the way you’d be if it was happening to you. Being upset is a warmer, close-up feeling, not a chilly distant feeling like laughing at people.” -from The Heart Goes Last 

-Brandie, Reference


Adult Non-Fiction

Zeb’s Pick

augustzebThe Hand-Sculpted House: a Philosophical and Practical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage, by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, and Michael Smith

If you find that an inordinate number of your internet searches land you in the Mother Earth News archives, The Hand Sculpted House is probably your kind of book. (Inversely, if you like this book, we also keep plenty of Mother Earth News on hand).

The Hand-Sculpted House is a great handbook on many elements of DIY home construction. While the book is primarily about the creation and use of cob it touches on numerous materials, methods, and designs in the field of home construction. With an optimistic undertone of consumer consciousness and general thriftiness it makes for some pleasant reading. Start to finish, it does well in balancing the technical aspects of construction with a lighter philosophical side of home ownership. Even if you are not looking to go fully off the grid, thumb through and I bet you will find some welcome additions to your home life. I personally found this book to be a fresh break from the industry norms of synthetics, volatile organic compounds, and the generally hazardous materials that are predominantly available. Numerous times throughout this book I had to stop and ponder how effortlessly it made sense out of problems that I have always accepted as obstructions to deal with rather than solve. I hope you will find The Hand-Sculpted House equally as valuable.

-Zeb, Maintenance


Hazel’s Pick

augusthazelThe Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe, by Marci Shore

The Taste of Ashes combines investigations into the tumultuous twentieth century history of Eastern Europe with an account of the author’s experiences, primarily in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the death of a close friend that brought her there. If the meat of Shore’s book is the letters pulled from freshly opened archives and interviews with political figures both detested and revered, then its spirit is her own narrative of loss and transience. In these more intimate moments, Shore’s musings reflect the era of post-communist transition and the challenges faced by citizens seeking to reclaim and rebuild personal and national identities.

-Hazel, Reference


Elizabeth’s Pick

augustelizabethThe Light of the World, by Elizabeth Alexander (2015)

More than anything so far this year, I loved The Light of the World, by Elizabeth Alexander. Her book is a memoir, and it remembers and celebrates her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, who died suddenly in 2012. It is love story and testimony: Ficre Ghebreyesus was a painter, father, chef, music-lover, book-lover, language-lover, and deeply good-hearted man. He was, warmly, “He who loved to wear the color pink. He whose children made him laugh until he cried.”

With all the splits and separations of this life, it feels somehow rare to hear of a love that works through the years: years of laughter, coffee breaks, two beloved sons…Casa dolce casa was their home, and the portrait of this home, marriage, and family is so moving, and so full of light.

Poet and Professor Alexander’s book is lyrical and slender- some chapters are just a few stark, cutting sentences- yet it’s rich with culture, music, recipes, and bookish references, pointing rewardingly to the wondrous variety both of what this man loved and what Alexander loves: the “Fables of Faubus,” Jimmy Scott’s version of “Heaven,” the writing of Yale art historian Sylvia Boone, fichi d’india (prickly pear fruit), the story of the magician Black Herman, pink shirts, shrimp barka, Lucille Clifton, Rilke’s Book of Hours, Derek Walcott, Yusef Lateef’s “The Plum Blossom,” Melvin Dixon’s poem “Fingering the Jagged Grains.” Alexander and Ghebreyesus’ collective loves and interests are a treasure trove for the curious reader. “He was a man of maps and atlas; he was a cartographer and a cataloguer; he was a squirrel with nuts in his cheeks.” After her husband’s death, Alexander writes, he becomes the “ghost of all bookstores,” bookstores that she must enter, now, without him. Why isn’t he there?

Alexander weighs in not just about love and art and music and memory but also on race and death, on subjects that are gripping our people. She transcribes a lecture she gives at Yale a week after Ficre dies: “It’s a fact: black people in this country die more easily, at all ages, across genders. The black artist in some way, spoken or not, contends with death, races against it, writes amongst its ghosts who we call ancestors…The black folk poets who are our ancestors spoke true when they said every shut eye ain’t asleep, every goodbye ain’t gone.”

I looked up Ghebreyesus’ paintings online as I was reading, and they are beautiful. He subscribed to what a woman called in his work “tutto,” as Alexander describes it, “an unshakeable belief in beauty, in overflow, in everythingness, the bursting, indelible beauty in a world where there is so much suffering and wounding and pain.”  Some time after their father’s death Alexander asks her sons: “How can we be so happy, when we have been through so much?” And she answers her question in the same breath:  “The forest is not denuded. The trees are standing tall.”

Lest I write on…and on, in my enthusiasm forever, I’ll wrap up, with the gratitude I have for all good books. (Gratitude I could not make any smaller). The Light of the World brims with joy and grief and celebration and wisdom, and most days in this life, when I get to read, tutto, that’s all I could ever really want.

Thanks for reading.

-Elizabeth, Reference

“How can I ensure I’m printing exactly what I want?”

posted: , by Hazel Koziol
tags: Adults | Teens | Seniors | Science & Technology

This post is part of a new Question of the Month series from Public Computing.

Printing is one of the most common reasons patrons use the library’s computers, and it can be frustrating when you get everything logged in, downloaded, opened, sent to the printer, and… it doesn’t come out how you thought it would. Occasionally the printer is to blame, but more often these misprints can be avoided by taking a quick extra step before printing.

Print Preview

Most applications list a Print Preview option directly above Print in the File menu. This allows you to see exactly what your printed pages will look like, including any weird formatting (common when printing from a webpage), or extra pages that you don’t want or expect to be included. You can take this opportunity to make changes beforehand.

Copies vs. pages

Sometimes these quantities get confused, but they mean very different things when you’re printing. Pages indicates the count of unique pages in a document, while copies indicates how many times you want to print each page. Mixing them up can result in a lot more pages than you wanted, or a lot less, depending how you switch them.

Printing from email

Email attachment: For best results, download the file before printing.

Email message: Look for a “print” icon  or a menu option for “print this message.”

Both of these practices will prevent the computer from sending the entire webpage to the printer.

Choosing the right printer (Main Branch only)

When you print you have two options: BWLetter (black and white) and ColorLetter. We have one physical printer in PC, and whichever one you choose it will end up in the same place, but the difference is how you are charged—either 15¢ or 25¢ per page. Some machines default to ColorLetter, so whenever you are printing, it is always a good idea to check that the one you want is selected.


As always, please ask staff for assistance with any of these tips!

Award Winning Audiobooks for Your Summer Listening Pleasure

posted: , by Ellen Gilliam
tags: Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture

The heart of Summer is upon us! Whether loading the kids into the car for a trip to the beach or stretching out in a hammock under a tree or mowing the lawn or hiking a trail (or, perish the thought, back-to-school shopping!), audiobooks are a great way to dip into those bestsellers or classics you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t had the time or focus for during the busy year.

apawinnerscircle1_16Every year the Audio Publishers Association and the American Library Association award special merit to audiobooks in a variety of categories with particular attention to what makes them unique — the art and craft of audiobook narration and recording. The APA’s Audie Awards marked their 15th year with their 2015 picks in 33 categories, including Fiction, Fantasy, Drama, Children’s, Biography/Memoir, Business, History, Non-Fiction, Audio Book of the Year and Distinguished Achievement in Production. (See the full list with sound clips at Audiofile Magazine.)ListenList

The ALA’s Reference & User Services  (RUSA)  division, highlights extraordinary narrators and listening experiences in its RUSA Listen List, seen here with “listen-alikes” and availability notes for PPL users. PPL offers access to many of these award-winning titles in a variety of formats, from CDs in our collections and in the larger MaineCat collections to downloadable and streaming audiobooks in our Overdrive/Maine Infonet Download Library and Hoopla platforms. Some highlights follow.

 Both Audie and RUSA winners:

Note: RUSA awards were not listed by category. Descriptions are from RUSA Listen List.

Furious Cool by Richard Pryor Furious Cool by Richard Pryor Audie for Non-Fiction. Richard Pryor’s rise to self-destructive super-stardom is presented within the social context of African-American life during the 1960s and ’70s. Channeling an array of celebrities, including a stunning embodiment of Pryor himself, Graham’s raw performance captures the passion and pain that fueled Pryor’s comic genius. Available as CD.  Silkworm by Robert GalbraithThe Silkworm by Robert Galbraith  Audie for Mystery. A missing author, a tenacious private investigator and scandals in the publishing world form the backbone of this fast-paced and wryly humorous mystery. Glenister’s resonant voice and fluid narration ably depict class and region, gender and age, while maintaining the grit and suspense of classic noir. Available as CDThe Martimartianan by Andy Weir Audie for Science Fiction. Weir’s breakout survival epic transports listeners to Mars alongside stranded astronaut Mark Watney. Bray matches the self-mocking tone and dry wit of Watney’s journal entries, while detailing efforts of an international team desperate to save him. Authentic accents combine with rollercoaster pacing in this convincing, compelling performance. Available as CD.

Audies by Category: 

Note: Descriptions are  © AudioFile Magazine graveyard book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 3 Categories: Audies for Distinguished Achievement in Production, Children’s Titles for Ages 8-12, and Multi-Voiced Performance. Neil Gaiman fans, rejoice! There are now TWO wonderful versions of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK to listen to. As narrator, Derek Jacobi does the heavy lifting in this full-cast recording, with other cast members voicing characters’ dialogue. It all fits together seamlessly as listeners are swept, entranced and intrigued, into the magical story. Robert Madge sounds perfectly wide-eyed, curious, and boyish voicing Bod, the boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts. Miriam Margolyes’s considerable talents shine as Bod’s nurturing adoptive mother, Mrs. Owens, and as his teacher, Miss Lupescu. And Julian Rhind-Tutt is deliciously grave as Silas, Bod’s mysterious guardian. The cast is uniformly excellent, giving broad or subtle performances as appropriate, and the overall effect is to enhance the sense of the graveyard as a community, and of the dangers lurking outside it.  Available as CD.    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerrall the light  Audie for Fiction. There’s something familiar and comfortable about Zach Appelman’s performance in this beautifully crafted audiobook. His clear, confident tone also features subtle warmth. His voice animates the story of Marie-Laure, a French girl, and Werner, a German boy, and their experiences during the period of WWII…Details and images are elegant in their simplicity, and the dramatic history is tempered by humanity—thanks to both a skilled author and a masterful narrator. Available as CD and as Overdrive download.  Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming Audie for Autobiography/Memoir. Celebrated actor Alan Cumming is best known for his lilting Scottish accent and his well-trained musical voice. His roles in hit movies, Tony award-winning performance on Broadway in CABARET, and many television roles show how versatile his talent is. Cumming uses all his vocal experience and charm in this searing memoir. His unashamedly not my fathers sonhonest and emotionally raw remembrance of surviving his abusive father is a must-hear. Intrigue also plays a part in the story as Cumming recounts how he set out to solve a mystery surrounding his grandfather—and found out way more than he bargained for. Delivering stories that are both harrowing and at times hilarious, Cumming reaches through your earphones and doesn’t let go. Make sure you carry a pocket of tissues. Available as CD and as Overdrive download.   euphoria Euphoria by Lily King Audie for Literary Fiction. In a perfect marriage of words and voice, narrators Simon Vance and Xe Sands join author Lily King to produce an extraordinary audiobook experience. Inspired by events in the life of cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, King has fashioned a haunting novel of love, ambition, and obsession, focused on three anthropologists off-map in New Guinea just before WWII. Delivering the alternating chapters of Mead’s stand-in, American Nell Stone, and Englishman Andrew Bankson, Sands and Vance perform the stupendous feat of creating memorable versions of the same characters. Their performances offer nuanced interpretations of the different personalities and echo, but do not copy, each other’s approach. Also, each uses a unique narrative pace that enhances the listener’s understanding of this unforgettable tale. Available as CD and as Overdrive and Hoopla downloads. bully pulpitThe Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin Audie for History/Biography.   Few audio productions this year are likely to match, or deserve as much praise as, this history of the Progressive Era and the presidential friendship that shaped, and was destroyed by, its politics. Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of our most popular and esteemed his torians, and her gifts have never been better illustrated than in her shaping of that noisy and pontificate age into a manageable narrative—one that makes even the childhood and young manhood of William Howard Taft compelling listening. Edward Herrmann is simply her most simpatico reader. As in his reading of NO ORDINARY TIME, his steady, unflagging delivery is perfectly attuned to her narrative voice and, without mimicry, to the broad array of voices, personalities, and events that highlight this rich personal and social drama. Available as CD.  yes pleaseYes Please by Amy Poehler Audie for Humor. Actress and comedian Amy Poehler’s memoir is full of charm and life lessons, but what’s REALLY fun is how out of the box the audiobook production is. Listeners know they’re getting something special, unique, and a bit absurd right from the start when Poehler claims to be narrating from her own personal audio booth, built at the base of Mt. Rushmore. Poehler sounds consistently warm, funny, and genuine, and it’s only a matter of time before she’ll have you laughing out loud. When she’s joined in “her” studio by Seth Meyers and Mike Schur to reminisce about “Saturday Night Live” and “Parks and Recreation,” it sounds like we’re overhearing candid (and giggly) conversations between friends. Cameos from Carol Burnett, Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart (intoning strange haikus), and even Amy’s parents add even more flavor. What a treat. Available as CD and as Overdrive download. 

Want to see what brand new audiobooks are in PPL’s  collections?  Check out the list of NEW TITLES under the Explore button on our home page. You can search for, request, and place holds on”Just Arrived” or “On Order” audiobooks for all audiences (adults, teens, & children). Be sure to specify “Audiobook CD” under Explore – New Titles.

Need help? Contact our Public Computing desk for technical help ( or (207) 207-871-1700 x708) and our Readers Advisory (207-871-1700 x705) desk for help finding titles or borrowing.  Branch staff at Burbank, Riverton and Peaks can also guide you in your audiobook selection and access. Hoopla and Overdrive/Maine InfoNet Download Library  catalogs can be searched directly; borrowing requires a PPL patron account.

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