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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 byMaira 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 Tangieris 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 Warby 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.
“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 Day, just 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 Earththat, 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.
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!
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.
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.
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. Petwas 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 Oceanby 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 Godsby 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.
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.
In November, our staff members celebrate a cornucopia of library resources. What books, movies, and more are you thankful for?
We’re thankful for them, and for the entire library community, too! Thanks for coming to story time at your local branch, for signing up for tech tutoring, for listening to a concert here or checking out an art exhibit or knitting at our knitting group or talking about what you’re reading with our staff or requesting exciting books we’ve never heard of that we can add to our own reading lists…phew! So many things. Thanks. We’re glad to see you.
Children’s Resources: Fiction
Just Like Beverlyis the perfect picture book companion to A Girl From YamhillandMy Own Two Feet, bringing together the most important parts of Beverly Cleary’s life for the youngest readers. The main idea and my most favorite lesson from all of Beverly Cleary’s books is:
“Try! Anyone can talk about writing, but only those who sit down and do it will succeed.”
Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky is a story packed full of adventure, and thrilling to read or listen to onaudio via ILL. Kwame Mbalia’s new middle grade book highlights vibrant African American and West African mythologies while also making kids laugh out loud with goofy jokes and hilarious characters. (Just listen and you’ll see what I mean — Gum Baby is a force). The story is centered around Tristan Strong, who is grieving over the loss of his best friend and disappointing his family by failing to live up to their expectations of him as a boxer. A trip to the family farm in Alabama turns into fantastical journey when Tristan accidentally rips a hole into another realm, accidentally taking an evil haint along with him. Tristan finds himself in a battle alongside the gods and beings from his favorite stories his grandmother told, including Brer Rabbit, Nyame, and John Henry. On audiobook Amir Abdullah’s versatile voice makes the whole cast come to life. This is the perfect story for kids looking for a book or long audiobook to get lost in, but fair warning for much younger readers or listeners — Tristan and the gods face down evils that are drawn from the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and what they encounter is decidedly scary.
Teen Resources: Nonfiction
I’m reading a book we got as an ARC at the SLJ Day of Dialogue Conference at the Cambridge Public Library a few weeks ago. It’s called Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance & Being You. By Kathryn Gonzalez and Karen Rayne, it is an “all-inclusive, uncensored guide for teens who are transgender, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, or gender-fluid.” They’ve interviewed all kinds of transgender teens and have their fascinating stories interspersed throughout the very helpful information in the book. It’s written in a very approachable way and is a highly compulsive read.
As the parent of a transgender child, I am finding it to be a wonderful resource in understanding what my child is going through and how best to support them and help them to have a wonderful, vibrant life.
A quote from the book about gender: “Gender is hard because it is made up; it’s a way that humans have developed over millennia to simplify how we see and interact with the world and the people in it. In reality, though, gender is complex and messy. The concept of gender has actually changed a lot over time, and not everyone agrees on the ways gender works or how others should embrace or embody their sense of gender.”
Adult Resources: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Film
“Moves shape her. Make her. Learned habits she would remember, her body sometimes when she can’t. Ingrained. Her feet to the earth. Her feet to the earth.”
Natasha Smoke Santiago’s vibrant cover art compelled me to pick up Melissa Michal’s debut collection of stories, Living on the Borderlines, but soon the memorable images were of the writer’s making. In thirteen short stories, many of which are interwoven, Michal seeks to convey contemporary experiences of individuals in Indigenous communities of New York, Haida Gwaii, and elsewhere. A girl confronts her identity when she learns that her biological mother was Haudenosaunee. A carver contends with the gaze of tourists as he strives to keep his origins alive in his work. A community reacts to a young Native girl becoming orphaned in their midst. What makes this book exceptional for me is Michal’s skill in creating characters with such vivid details and placing them in moments of such rich sensory awareness that it becomes possible to feel deeply connected to their stories, and yet to be aware that the individual and cultural experiences of the Seneca and others do not belong to those of us who are not Indigenous peoples. Books like Michal’s are gifts—windows into contending with and fleshing out perceptions.
In Joe Hill’s new book Full Throttle there is a short story called “Late Returns” about a bookmobile that becomes a conduit for long dead patrons to make visits. Very clever plotline, and of course for any bookmobile librarian, a must read!
Today I picked up a copy of High School, the memoir by Tegan and Sara Quin. The photos of the sisters dressed up in their ‘90s grunge-inspired outfits are terrific. I relate to some of their early stories, as I also have a sister I am very close with and we had similar arguments over who could claim the title of “best friend” with our shared playmates. I can’t wait to read more.
Another book I checked out recently was the nonfiction She SaidbyJodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. It’s not a light read, but I’m finding it worth the effort to find out more about the #MeToo movement and the Weinstein investigation. I keep taking breaks to think about the material...
A good way to take a break from sad or dark reading material is, at least for me, to watch a good light-hearted movie. I checked out Tea with the Dames, a documentary in which four famous Dames (Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright) talk about career highlights and drink tea. There are some mildly sad and insightful moments in which they talk about aging, but most of it is spirited and sweet. I especially loved the clips of them back in the 1960s when they were being rebellious and performing mostly in stage productions. It is well worth checking out.
For those of you who are keeping track, I am still on the waiting list for Trick Mirror(although I’m now number 18!). As I continue to wait, I was able to snag another highly anticipated new release: Catch and Killby Ronan Farrow. In this meticulously researched story, Farrow details the winding road to bringing the stories of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior to print. This road includes NBC producers who suppressed the story, spies, professional intimidators, and a feminist champion with secret loyalties. Catch and Kill is a tremendous work of nonfiction that reads like a spy thriller, all while paying homage to the various actors who took a leap of faith to expose corruption and abuse. There’s still time left in 2019 to read other great books published this year, but I suspect this will remain my top choice through the new year.
A new book I have been exited for is figure skater Adam Rippon’s memoir Beautiful on the Outside. I have been waiting for this memoir for months and can’t wait to read about his life on and off the ice!
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhoodwas gently radical and radically gentle in its acceptance of children’s feelings and experiences. Fred Rogers taught us about kindness and peace — concepts that should be simple, yet seem increasingly complicated here in 2019. Rogers has recently been the subject of several books and films, and while they are all worthwhile and special, I will specifically recommend Exactly As You Are: The Life and Faith of Mr. Rogers. Shea Tuttle shares his story thoughtfully, with a philosophical bent and an honest scope; it is an immersive and inspiring read. (You can also find the excellent Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?in our DVD collection.)
My second pick– the story of Vancouver’s response to the opioid epidemic– might seem completely unrelated, but it turns out that unconditional positive regard and acceptance are key tenets in healing this public health emergency. Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction is gripping and critically relevant. Travis Lupick details the fearless grassroots advocacy that led to the creation of Insite, the first legal supervised drug injection site in North America. This lifesaving, science-based initiative made Vancouver a safer place for everyone. If that sounds counter-intuitive, I hear you; please consider reading this book.
Fred Rogers was drawn to those on the margins, those who needed the most support. As our own communities grapple with the opioid crisis, and as we head into the darkest time of the year, I remind myself to sit with compassion, even when it doesn’t come easily, when it is uncomfortable. It is good to challenge ourselves to accept everyone in our neighborhood, exactly as they are.
“A good story is always a healing ceremony.”
Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed (Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction) stands out in newfiction. It’s an intimate novel about life and relationships: narrator Jonny’s voice is urgent and open as he reflects on complex histories, sex, tenderness, hurt, family, friendship, and what is “medicine.” As Whitehead notes in the afterword: “2S folx and Indigenous women are centred here…Jonny has taught me a lot of things but there are two that I want to share with you: one, a good story is always a healing ceremony, we recuperate, re-member, and rejuvenate those we storytell into the world; and two, if we animate our pain, it becomes something we can make love to.”
Genre shift: this was the Book of the Week this week, but I would love to share it here too for those not following the library on Facebook or Instagram. Tamsyn Muir’s funny, smart, and gruesome Gideon the Ninth is one of the most entertaining reads in science-fantasy this year. Brilliant swordswoman Gideon Nav teams up with her lifelong nemesis, the book-loving necromancer Harrowhark, in a decaying gothic horror palace full of deadly tests, locked doors, and weapon-wielding competitors—they need to solve all the puzzles, figure out whether rivals are friends or foes, and stay alive while bodies pile up and skeletons serve them soup. It’s full of bloody twists and surprises, great reading for dark nights. And it’s the first in a series. (Kelley, our Teen Librarian, would like to note for the record that she also loved Gideon).
Spurred by the wonderful N.C. Wyeth exhibit that recently opened at the Portland Museum of Art, and by the shameful realization that I had never read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, I am currently having my timbers shivered by an edition of Stevenson’s classic tale of adventure illustrated by Wyeth, whose pictures are truly worth a thousand words.
I am midway through the book, curling up on the couch to read awhile on these gray drizzly evenings. The story is exciting. The characters epitomize pluck and mettle. The fact that I don’t speak pirate or have a background in nautical lingo puts me at a disadvantage, but I don’t really need to know a scupper from a foc’s’le to know that Long John Silver is not a nice man. I suspect that good will out, but not before the body count rises yet more.
I’ll be honest: I am less driven by the filled-to-bursting story of mutineers and treasure maps, cutlasses, muskets and all the rest, than I am by the prospect of another of N.C.’s evocative illustrations coming up in another few pages. Moody and textured, they tell the story alongside the writing and have kept me yo-ho-ho-ing when I might otherwise have given up for the night. It has been such a lovely way to move through a book, from picture to picture, enjoying the story even more than I expected.
All in all, a pretty good way to end the early darkening days.
If you venture to the PMA, you will be treated to a few of the original oil paintings that comprise the book’s illustrations. Some original Wyeth works reproduced in other classic novels are included in the show as well. N.C. Wyeth isn’t only about his illustrations, though, so this is an opportunity to see (and love) his fine art work as well. Absolutely worth the trip.
Read some books. See some art. Spend time in your own imagination. Now that’s an adventure.
As always, thanks for reading! 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 Staff Picks page for booklists.