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October Staff Picks

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



There’s a chill in the air. Time to load up on books! (Which, we confess, we would do whatever the weather). Here are some selections of fiction and nonfiction that our staff members have recently read and recommend.


Adult Fiction


stationelevenhcus2Sarah’s Pick

I read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel several months ago and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I usually read classic and modern scholarly literature, never post apocalyptic dystopian science fiction (is that one genre or four?). But I am so glad that my book club talked me into veering off of my usual path and taking a chance on this one! It has it all – well-developed characters, a plot that keeps you glued to the pages, a little bit of mystery, and an ending that makes you want to know more. It’s also filled with beautifully painted imagery and a sense of place and time that make it seem so real. It is a true literary work. I haven’t heard any rumors of Mandel’s next book, but I am keeping my ear to the ground and will order many copies for PPL as soon as I hear anything.



distantPriscilla’s Pick

A book I really loved that I just finished is The Distant Land of My Father by Bo Caldwell. It takes place in part during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai. That piece of history was fascinating. The father was a complex character, and the way that played out over the years and his effect on his family was a compelling narrative. When I tell people about this book, they suggest that I see the movie, Empire of the Sun.




atomicStephanie’s Pick

My pick is The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J.Church. It traces the story of Meridian, a bright ornithology major, who marries a brilliant, older physics professor, Alden, and follows him to Los Alamos, New Mexico. You can guess what he’s working on there during the 40′s, but the value of this story is it presents very real unique characters against the universal back drop of the dutiful war years,  the “good housekeeping” 50′s, and the freer feminist 60′s. Meridian creates a satisfying resolution to her life in the 70′s by contributing to the successful future of other young women. I especially enjoyed her careful observations of crows, which began as scientific study and ended like family. Church’s style reflects an unusual combination of lyrical descriptive prose and careful scientific detailing, which was a welcome change from straight modern fiction. It’s her first novel and not perfect, but a winner which stayed with me.



Eileen’s Pick

we-the-peopleOne day in early October I admitted to myself that I had not read the Constitution of the United States since high school, when, honestly, I wasn’t really paying much attention.  Shame on me, but I was determined to make amends.  So on a sunny Wednesday, while my boon companion ran his daily constitutional, I settled on a Bowdoin playing field, my back against a goal post, and commenced reading.

Establishing order among the firebrands who were former siblings-at-arms must have been far more challenging than agreeing on the “simple” matter of ridding ourselves of a tax-mad despot, that being King George III.  Not to denigrate the stark courage and jarring realities of declaring independence, but such a venture seems ripe for dramatic, prosaical flourishes around complaints and lists of grievances.  Righteous indignation.  Self-evident Truths.  For all its inspirational beauty, it is a free-standing one-off telling it like it was.

Ah, but the Constitution of the United States is more about nuts and bolts, a study in contradictions and determination to make this thing, these separate but United States, work.  It is iron-clad and flexible.  It works in its immediacy and its timeless aspiration.  Sometimes misguided in its particularities while spot-on in its generalities.  Open to amendment and redefinition and reconsideration.  Slow but inexorable in its expansiveness and view.   Packed full of good intentions and the recognition that mistakes will be made and  rectified.  Flawed but evolving.  An absolute wonder of principle and compromise.

I suggest sitting down, whether on a rainy day with a cup of coffee, or a sunny morning on the dewy grass and taking a new look at our young nation’s astounding feat.  And, what the heck, spend a few minutes with the Declaration of Independence, too.  What shoulders we stand on!


Nate’s Picks

Two books I have enjoyed over the last little while are Teju Cole’s new collection of essays, Known and Strange Things, and Spain in Our Hearts, by Adam Hochschild.

Cole’s collection covers a wide variety of topics, with essays on travel, contemporary photography, the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and the intricacies of life as a Nigerian-American writer.  I find myself uniquely enveloped by Cole’s writing.  His words seem to put me entirely at ease regardless of my situation or the topic of the essay.  This collection also includes a number of Teju’s own photographs which I appreciate for their subtlety and attentiveness to the minutia of every day life.

spainSpain in Our Hearts recounts portions of the Spanish Civil war through the experiences of various Americans who were involved in the struggle.  A number of prominent writers make appearances throughout the story and seeing their relationships and interactions with the war through an outsider’s eye adds valuable context to the work they would later publish about the conflict.  I found especially enlightening Hochschild’s framing of the war as both the immediate predecessor to, as well as a testing ground for many of the tactics Hitler and Mussolini would employ during WWII.



Jim’s Pick

deepDeep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, by Paul Theroux

Theroux is a great writer of travel literature, and this is an area of the country near and dear to his heart.  If you want to grasp the ‘how’ and ‘why” the people of the south might seem to think so differently from those of us in New England, you would do well to start with his book: although it could only be seen as a start.


Elizabeth’s Picks

morningThe Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches From Syria, by Janine Di Giovanni

I started looking for more writing on Syria to better comprehend the war as the news on my commute became more and more emphatically brutal this fall. Reporter and editor Janine Di Giovanni’s book is a caring and unflinching look at individual stories from Syria, where she has reported on men and women who experienced torture, the killings of loved ones, displacement, hunger, despair, and all the relentless human agonies and tolls of a war that is still going on.  One of Di Giovanni’s conversations was with a devoted man who, with five others, was still trying to bake bread for thousands in Aleppo that year: “Together, Mohammed and his little team made about 17,000 bags of bread a day—each bag containing fourteen loaves of flat bread. He said this bread was keeping Aleppo alive…Our lives, he told me, depend on whether we can get petrol for the generators. Imagine this, he said in an exhausted voice. ‘Every step I take, everything I do is about whether or not I can get petrol for the generator. I have to feed a city on that hope. Every single day.’”

wegonbeWe Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, by Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang’s book was another powerful read this month, alongside two others: the brilliant essays collected in The Fire This Time (edited by Jesmyn Ward) and its inspiration, James Baldwin’s classic The Fire Next Time. Chang’s publisher notes: “Through deep reporting with key activists and thinkers, passionately personal writing, and distinguished cultural criticism, We Gon’ Be Alright links #BlackLivesMatter to #OscarsSoWhite, Ferguson to Washington D.C., the Great Migration to resurgent nativism. Chang explores the rise and fall of the idea of “diversity,” the roots of student protest, changing ideas about Asian Americanness, and the impact of a century of racial separation in housing. He argues that resegregation is the unexamined condition of our time, the undoing of which is key to moving the nation forward to racial justice and cultural equity.”


As always, thanks for reading.


Adventures in Staff Picks

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

 August Adventures

It’s time for August staff picks! We’re not quite done with summer yet, and we’re still being inspired by exploration and discovery. So as Dumbledore didn’t say: “Let us step into the blog post and pursue that flighty mistress, Adventure.”

Youth Services

Carrie’s Picks

augustadventure51. Not-For-Parents South America: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know by Margaret Hynes is part of the newest series for children from Lonely Planet. Adults who loved the Lonely Planet guides as they roamed around the world in their youth will be delighted to share colorful photos and fun facts with their young citizens of the world. With a small kid friendly format and pages bursting with action photography, art, and fascinating facts, these guides are sure to be a hit with families preparing for an upcoming adventure or simply interested in learning more about the far corners of our world.

2. Family Science Backpacks make adventuring easy and fun for the whole family. Six backpacks, with themes ranging from Star Gazing to Water Wonder, give families real tools to use as they explore their world. Binoculars, bug nets, butterfly guides, magnifying glasses, and lists of Citizen Science connections take learning beyond the book. Family Science Backpacks check out from the Children’s Desk for one week and encourage children to explore their world and share what they learn. Whether your adventure takes you to you to your backyard, local park, or beyond!



Kelley’s Pick:

Child of Light by Ubisoft, Inc.child-of-light-listing-thumb-01-ps4-us-09apr14

Available for PC, PS Vita, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii-U

Why? Because this is the closest I will ever get to being a red-headed princess floating through a fairy-tale landscape while wielding a sword and defeating the forces of darkness with my rag-tag friends and amazing powers of light-magic.

Be prepared to lose yourself (for hours) in Aurora’s quest through the haunted land of Lumeria. Perfect for a stormy day when you can’t go to the beach or tend to your garden. Child of Light features a strong, kind and (very important here) playable female protagonist, which is a gem in the gaming world. The story isn’t just a series of quests but a coming-of-age for Aurora, who not only grows stronger and more powerful throughout the game, but also more world-wise.


  • We currently only own this game for PS Vita at the library but I hope to make it available for the other platforms.


Adult Nonfiction  

Sonya’s Picks

augustadventure3Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum. This book recounts Slocum’s epic solo voyage around the world and has inspired many – myself included. While I did not sail alone around the world, I did spend a few years crewing on sailboats. I would often revisit this title when we were on a long, offshore journey not seeing land for days at a time. In 1899, after three years at sea, he completed his around the world trip aboard his S/V SPRAY.  With this feat he proved not only that one could sail solo around the world but that he could write a captivating story.
I also would like to recommend  Travels with Charley, In Search of America by John Steinbeck (I highly recommend the audiobook version available via Mainecat). In the 60′s John Steinbeck felt he had lost his understanding of America. So he and his beloved dog, Charley, set off on a road trip across the states. Their travels sent them through forty states, including Maine where he travels Rte One, heads to Deer Isle and meets a disillusioned waitress outside of Bangor. This book reads as a poignant love letter to America, and also give deep insight to Steinbeck’s thoughts in his later years.


sistersPriscilla’s Pick

The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice

The riveting story of the adventures and scholarship of two extraordinary Scottish sisters, Dr. Agnes Smith Lewis and Dr. Margaret Dunlop Gibson. Daring and dedicated linguists and explorers, the two tracked down ancient manuscripts in Sinai, Jerusalem, and Cairo, discovering a palimpsest of some of the earliest versions of the gospels recorded in ancient Syriac.


Gabrielle’s Pick

augustadventure4First published in 1939, Always a Little Further by Alastair Borthwick is the tale of the author’s adventures hiking and climbing in Scotland in the 1930s. He writes with humor and a sprinkling of philosophical musings. And, because it is an older book (a book of a certain age, as my mother would say), it is also a chance to travel back in time, to days when adventurers clambered around, clad not in high tech materials but in “breeches” that froze solid in the snow, toting lightweight eiderdown sleeping bags (that usually dried out by the end of a journey) and rucksacks stuffed with biscuits.

Yet such is the peculiar constitution of man that winter mountaineering is a disease both infectious and chronic. There are two reasons why this should be so. First, man is an optimist: yesterday was filthy, but tomorrow the sun may shine … And second, the reasoning powers of man are obscured by an inability to distinguish between things he enjoys doing, and things he enjoys having done.


Adult Fiction

Elizabeth’s Pick


(My favorite adventure of all time feels a little dusty and dated, but it’s true: The Princess Bride is still the best! An old love is a true love).

Epic space opera and graphic novel fantasy Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is a much more gritty, futuristic adventure for 2016. Alana (she’s got wings) and Marko (he’s got horns) are in deeply star-crossed love—and they’re on the interplanetary lam. Two soldiers from the opposite sides of a galactic war, they’re just trying to protect each other and their daughter Hazel. Brilliantly bizarre worldbuilding, complex relationships, and non-stop plot twists, plus key characters like a robot prince with a television for a head, a lie-detecting cat, and a wisecracking-yet-fearsome ghost babysitter make the initial volumes in this series sound lively and cute, yet the themes besides love, friendship, and family are harrowing, adults-only, a ferocious commentary on the very darkest sides of the universe. (Slavery. Addiction. Endless war). It’s tough out there in space…even when the plot is sprinkled with the stardust of blazing hope. Will love survive? Saga has won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story and several Harvey and Eisner awards for art and writing. Access it online through Hoopla or find it in our Adult graphic novel section—again, be advised that the series contains (very) mature content. For adults. The exploits of Prince Humperdinck and Count Rugen pale.


Thanks for reading, everyone! Hope you have many adventures in the rest of August…

Olympic Vocabulary

posted: , by Raminta Moore
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture | Health

Over the past week or so, many of us have been glued to our televisions, radios or computers rooting for our favorite Olympians. Many of the commentators are former Olympians themselves and have steeped themselves in the sport and its vocabulary. The rest of us can probably barely differentiate from a remise or a riposte or may just not understand why the runners are jumping over hurdles and small bodies of water. We are here at PPL to help you broaden your sports horizons and maybe even provide you with a few new words for your sports vocabulary or your next crossword puzzle clue. This incomplete list consists of various terms used in sports or games played in the Summer Olympics.

fletching: (also called vanes), feathers near the end of the shaft. The fletching, which may be actual goose or turkey feathers or, especially in target arrows, may be made of plastic, make an arrow spin in flight. The spinning motion steadies the arrow and keeps it flying straight. Most arrows measure between 25 and 28 inches (63 and 70 centimeters) long.
From the Britannica Library Reference Center

For more information on Archery, check out Precision Archery

steeplechase: is an obstacle race, run usually over a 3000-m course containing hurdles, water jumps, and other hazards.
From Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia

Before you put on your sneakers and head out onto the track, check out The New Rules of Running

: traditionally a cork ball fitted with stabilizing feathers that is now sometimes made of nylon, is hit back and forth over the net with lightweight rackets. With the shuttlecock traveling at speeds up to 260 km/hr (162 mph), badminton is considered the world’s fastest racket sport.
From Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia
Check out the Funk & Wagnalls’ article on badminton to learn about battledore, which sounds like a lot more fun or check out Better Badminton from 1939 to see if women were still required to wear skirts at that time.

Cycling and Rowing:
: a second-chance heat in cycling or rowing in which losers of the first round of competition are matched against each other for another chance to qualify for the final heat.
From Webster’s Sports Dictionary

Also check out The Boys in the Boat

: In dressage, the riders guide their horses through a series of movements. There are two types of dressage, a championship test with predetermined movements and a freestyle test in which athletes choose the movements and music. In addition, there is a team test. Both men and women compete.
From Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia

a second thrust at the target while still in the lunge position and with the arm still extended after an initial attack has missed that is made immediately after the opponent has parried the initial attack but before he makes a riposte or before he is able to complete the movements of a complex riposte.

riposte: a counterattack immediately following a successful parry.
From Webster’s Sports Dictionary

Also check out By the Sword

Track Cycling:
created in Japan in 1948, this event features nine racers competing over a distance of 2km. Each racers starts in his own lane. At the starting signal, the racers struggle to catch up to a lightweight motorcycle that is already running. The motorcycle sets the pace of the race, which lasts 3 to 5 laps. When the motorcycle leaves the track at the start of the second last lap, the racers sprint to the finish.
From Sports The Complete Visual Reference

For a step back in time, come to the Portland Room at the Main library and take a look at the 1895 book, A Road Book for Cycling and Carriage Driving in Maine

This list barely scratches the surface of athletic terms used in the Games, but hopefully this list will give you a better understanding of what’s going on when your rooting for your favorite team or Olympian!


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