“It all started with a sudden urge to know more about mosses and lichens.” -from Eileen’s Staff Picks.
In March, our library staff explores their sudden–research-related–urges and reading ideas: from the wild, wonderful world of books on mosses and spring gardening to a new thriller that’s worth the wait, a Brazilian romance, a family curse, magical short stories, new memoirs and poetry—as well as the nonfiction series that claims to be the Best.
Before I plug some newer additions to our fiction collection, I want to sing my praises for Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. A family escapes Brooklyn by renting a vacation home on eastern Long Island. On the second night of their trip, the homeowners come knocking…and that’s all I will say. Tightly written from multiple perspectives, this apocalyptic family drama literally had me reading late into the night and up early the next morning. Get on that waiting list – it’s worth it!
On to the latest:
An Apprenticeship, Or, The Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector: Published originally in Brazil in 1969, this romance by Clarice Lispector has finally made its way to the States with a new translation. It chronicles the developing relationship between a disillusioned primary school teacher and a blustery professor of philosophy.
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto: Meddi Chan believes there is a curse upon her family: all the men leave or die. After a man dies while on a date with her, Meddi calls upon her boisterous extended family to help her hide the evidence. Booklist sums up this title in one sentence: “Murder is never funny, except when it is.”
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton: With 1970’s New York City as the backdrop, Afro-Punk singer Opal meets English songwriter Nev. The duo quickly enjoys a cult following…until one horrific night causes everything to crumble. If you love Just Kids, you’ll be happy to cross over into a new genre for this fictional oral history.
It’s never too early to start planning this year’s garden! Here are three new titles that will help you get started, whether you’re interested in decorative gardens, growing your own food, protecting our amazing tree canopy, or all of the above (and below).
American Gardens by Monty Don and Derry Moore: If your interest in gardening is all about beautifying the landscape you’ll want to follow along on this tour of amazing American gardens with British broadcaster and horticulturalist Monty Don and photographer Derry Moore. The pair travel from coast to coast to visit gardens of all shapes, sizes, and purposes. The book accompanies one of Don’s many popular BBC series on gardens.
Beginners Guide to Growing Great Vegetables by Lorene Edwards Forkner: The growing season may still be a few months away, but that means it’s time to do your research and select your seeds to make the most of it. First-timers and veteran growers alike will find useful information in this guide to a great year of producing your own food. And if you don’t have a yard to convert into a garden, Forkner offers tips on container and balcony gardens for nearly any space.
The Nature of Oaks by Douglas W. Tallamy: Unlike our annual and even many of our perennial garden plants, our trees are with us all year long, dominating the landscape, especially here in the most heavily forested state in the nation. And standing among our pines and birch are innumerable oak trees. Tallamy explores the complex ecosystems in which oak trees grow, and those that the tree itself creates on the macro and micro scale. And just because we have already have so many trees in our state doesn’t mean we couldn’t use another. If you are considering planting an oak, this volume will also guide you in selecting a variety and in caring for your very own oak tree.
I’d like to endorse the entire Best American series in essay form. From Best American Travel to Cooking and from Sports to the (eclectic) Non-Required Reading it helped keep my restlessness during this pandemic under control. Sometimes when fiction seems repetitive the essay comes to the rescue.
It all started with a sudden urge to know more about mosses and lichens. As is so often the case with my sudden urges, I headed to the library catalog to see what could make it happen. I came away with call numbers for a Princeton Field Guide to fit a good-sized pocket, Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians and what turned out to be an absolutely enormous tome called Lichens of North America, both of them chock full of wonderful photographs , illustrations and useful information.
I have armed myself with a reasonably priced, reasonably good hand lens (aka a loupe), the better to identify what I find in the field. And, despite my winter-long craving for warm fires and hot cocoa, off I have trudged into cold snowy woods to peer at all manner of things found growing, sprouting, sleeping in cryogenic slumber on tree bark, stumps, stones and boulders, or sodden and plump at bog’s edge. I take pictures with my phone, clumsily balancing my creaking bones, hovering unsteadily at odd angles in crystalline snow and over ice-skimmed streams while trying to hold the loupe under the camera’s tiny lens and keeping all in focus. Results are mixed, but, oh! when it works it is amazing, magical, immensely satisfying. Moving serendipitously from flora to fauna, I even got some pretty cool videos of perambulating and hopping snow fleas, thrillingly magnified!
I have brought home sticks adorned in tiny orange jellies, black-eyed rim-lichen and myriad yet to be named mosses and lichens so I may study them while crouched happily over the kitchen table, loupe held to one eye, the books propped conveniently to one side. With identification likely, if not inevitable, the venture is proving pretty darn addictive.
And once it warms up and there is more to see, with wildflowers, caterpillars, spider webs… well, I see more field guides in my future, for sure. I can’t wait to see where in the stacks my urges lead next.
Eileen’s lovely homage to the minute and meaningful worlds of lichen and moss reminds me of another wonderful moss book (given as a birthday book to a moss-loving friend years ago). If your curiosity is sparked, you can safely add Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses to your mossy lists.
“My body could be a source of joy and pride. It was for me and me alone.” We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir explores writer and photographer Samra Habib’s powerful journey through faith, love, sexuality, art, and their celebration of queer Muslim spaces, stories, and communities.
“Those of us who ate the qiguo noticed that the sun was warm on our limbs and the sound of a bicycle bell tinkling outside reminded us of the warm air, of the spring breeze, of possibilities.” The Land of Big Numbers is a rich, immersive new collection of short stories by Te-Ping Chen. The stories almost feel like folk tales or fables, poignant, deep, and real, and I found myself thinking of the different stories and characters long after I finished turning the pages. One favorite was “New Fruit.”
Maybe you have a minute to read writer Jamara Wakefield’s beautiful review of cultural icon Ntozake Shange’s incredible personal history Dance We Do: A Poet Explores Black Dance? Wakefield describes the intimacy and joy in collaborations Shange discovered and that she discovered through reading Shange: “In Dance We Do, I found the tenderness my life has lacked in the last few months of the pandemic. These stories of colleagues becoming friends and friends becoming collaborators are love stories…Shange details ‘dancing to somebody’s music’ one summer night at the East in Brooklyn. There she met dancer Bernadine Jennings, who suggested she audition uptown for a new company. After getting lost in Harlem, Shange landed at Dianne McIntyre’s Sounds in Motion studio, at which point she knew ‘that was where I was supposed to go.’”
Irish poet Eavan Boland’s dark and thoughtful historical poem “Quarantine” (from New Collected Poems) is a testament to love “in the worst hour” and has been one of many poems I’ve seen shared during the pandemic. Boland’s final collection of poetry, The Historians, is new at PPL.
Here’s a last idea for memoir lovers: Crying in H Mart is a lyrical, moving new memoir by Michelle Zauner (who is also the guitarist and singer of Japanese Breakfast, her solo music project). It’s all about her mom and food and music and life.
As ever, thank you for reading! You can find “Gathering Moss: March Staff Picks” in this booklist linked to the library catalog. Other great booklists for March include 21 Debuts: Women Writing New Fiction, Poetry, and Graphic Novels and a shout out to St. Patty’s Day with New Irish Fiction and Poetry.
If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing. We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725.
Our staff shares ideas for fiction and nonfiction reads from our Youth and Adult collections. Whether it’s a cozy mystery like Abby Collette’s A Game of Cones, a heartfelt romance, the latest graphic novel or some stellar sci fi: we’ve got you covered.
I’m excited to share three brand new picture books we have in the Children’s Library.
The Boy Who Grew A Forest: The True Story of Jadav Payeng by Sophia Gholz, illustrated by Kayla Harren
“As a boy, Jadav Payeng was distressed by the destruction deforestation and erosion was causing on his island home in India’s Brahmaputra River. So he began planting trees. What began as a small thicket of bamboo, grew over the years into 1,300 acre forest filled with native plants and animals.” Lovely sepia-toned paintings illustrate this beautiful biography of one boy who brought about big changes.
Momma, Did You Hear the News? by Sanya Whittaker Gragg, MSW, illustrated by Kim Holt
Soft, comforting pastel images illustrate this small but very powerful book.
Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan with art by Anna Bron
“All Salma wants is to make her mama smile again. Between English classes, job interviews, and missing Papa back in Syria, Mama always seems busy or sad. A homemade Syrian meal might cheer her up, but Salma doesn’t know the recipe, or what to call the vegetables in English, or where to find the right spices! Luckily, the staff and other newcomers at the Welcome Center are happy to lend a hand–and a sprinkle of sumac.” Dynamic earth-toned images illustrate one girl’s journey to recreating the food she remembers from her home country of Syria.
I’d ❤️ love ❤️ to highlight some of my favorite romantic Teen books by Black authors for Valentine’s Day. These will make you laugh, cry, and swoon for first love:
Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
“Felix Love has never been in love, painful irony that it is. He desperately wants to know why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. He is proud of his identity, but fears that he’s one marginalization too many– Black, queer, and transgender. When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages– after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned– Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. He didn’t count on his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi-love triangle.”
You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
“Liz Lighty has always done her best to avoid the spotlight in her small, wealthy, and prom-obsessed midwestern high school, after all, her family is black and rather poor, especially since her mother died; instead she has concentrated on her grades and her musical ability in the hopes that it will win her a scholarship to elite Pennington College and their famous orchestra where she plans to study medicine–but when that scholarship falls through she is forced to turn to her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen, which plunges her into the gauntlet of social media which she hates and leads her to discoveries about her own identity and the value of true friendships.”
Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe
“Henri ‘Halti’ Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University. There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his ‘intense’ classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself. Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for.”
I would like to do a shout out to a book that I enjoyed here at the Burb.
New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing By Women of African Descent shares the writing of more than 200 writers from more than 50 countries, from Margo Jefferson to Ayòbámi Adébáyò, Malorie Blackman and Yrsa Daley-Ward to Edwidge Danticat, Sisonke Msimang and Panashe Chigumadzi.
Tim by Colleen McCullough: Absolutely heart wrenching and heartwarming. Incredibly sweet and pure. McCullough never fails to deliver content that challenges our views and biases with emotion, and love.
If It Bleeds by Stephen King: Excellent short stories! A must for a new King fan, or a frequent follower.
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts: Incredible novel by Nora Roberts, and likely one of her best. Both page turner and romance, she nailed the realistic genre of today’s society with unfortunate events.
I Found You by Lisa Jewell: A great, typical Jewell book!
There are so many titles I can’t wait to share with you this month! Here are a few that really caught my eye:
The Ice Cream Parlor Mysteries, by Abby Collette: Win Crewse returns to her Ohio hometown to manage her family’s ice cream parlor. She never expected to become an amateur detective, but that’s exactly what happens upon finding a body on the eve of the shop’s reopening. This coziest of mystery series has two books so far: A Deadly Inside Scoop and A Game of Cones (out in March!).
How to Order the Universe, by María José Ferrada: Young M loves going on sales calls with her father. She begins skipping school to travel around Pinochet-era Chile and help him close deals. However, after an unexpected meeting with a mystical photographer, life begins to unravel in strange ways. This slightly supernatural coming-of-age story will appeal to fans of magical realism.
The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History, by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson: Learn about the founding and growth of the Black Panther Party, as seen through the eyes of on-the-ground members and activists. Pair this graphic novel with a viewing of the PBS documentary The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution.
Lolita in the Afterlife, edited by Jenny Minton Quigley: Re-examine one of the world’s most hated and loved novels with this new collection of essays. Would Lolita have been published if it was pitched today? Contributors include Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, and Andre Dubus III, among many more.
My husband and I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful to our kids—then 4 and 8 years old—last year and they are books that appealed to the whole family. The trials and tribulations of a veterinarian practicing in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930’s are actually incredibly more relatable that you might think, especially written in Herriot’s candid and witty style. We are now watching the new television series created by the BBC and available on Public Television. Television and film renditions of books are often much less enjoyable than the book, but we all think it captures the characters in the book very well and it’s filmed in the beautiful setting of Yorkshire which is lovely to see.
I am very excited for an upcoming title, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.
This title brings together the works of over 80 Black writers describing the history of African America (from 1619-2019) and marks the first time this history has been written by so many Black voices in one title. Given the success of Blain and Kendi’s previous works, I am truly excited to have this on my hold list.
“Her story travelled like an ancestor, always ahead of, beside and behind her.” Meet Sankofa: a girl whose glowing green touch has mysterious power, traveling on a poignant quest in a world of shea trees and robocops with only a fox companion at her side. Remote Control is Nnedi Okorafor’s mesmerizing new sci-fi adventure—and it fits the 2021 Reading Challenge category “A Book with a Journey…”
Interested in a book that suits the same Reading Challenge category PLUS checks a box for the Lambda Award Winner or Nominee category (for Lesbian Romance)? Alyssa Cole’s Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is full of chemistry, conversation, and two lovers reunited in NYC: “Out of all the train cars in all the world you had to walk into mine.”
This is Major is full of Shayla Lawson’s essays and insights. Her article “This Black History Month, Stop Asking Black Women to Do the Most” has been on my mind this week. “I’m soaking in rose petals,” she writes. “I’m drinking hibiscus hot tea beside a lavender-scented candle. I’m not available to write your anti-racism booklist.”
Delita Martin’s art is beautiful—she uses drawing, painting, printing, handstitching, fabric and decorative papers. “My work is very much pieced together like the quilts I grew up helping my grandmother make.” She talks about her process here. You can find her portraits in Shadows in the Garden.
As ever, thank you for reading. If you’re looking for more ideas, that is our very favorite thing! We’re happy to help. Try our Your Next (Great!) Read service for kids, teens, and adults to get personalized lists of print or eBook recommendations from our staff. Our Reference staff is also available Monday-Friday, 10-4, at 871-1700 ext. 725.
At Portland Public Library, we strive to lift the voices of African Americans (and other marginalized voices) on a daily basis through our programming and collections. For this blog post, I asked staff to submit their favorite resources.
Celebrate Portland Black History by taking a walk along the Portland Freedom Trail.
Support local, Black businesses and organizations through Black Owned Maine.
Since 2017, a group of African immigrants in Lewiston has leased 30 acres of land off to operate a cooperative farm, the New Roots Cooperative Farm. Their dream of owning the land they painstakingly developed over the past four years received a major boost when they received word that they are the recipient of two grants totaling $80,000.
The Indigo Arts Alliance
has video from this past year’s Beautiful Blackbird Children’s Book Festival online here
. They also are co-hosting a new exhibit at Cove Street Arts this month called “Soulful Stitching.”
Rep. Talbot Ross from the Maine State Legislature
You can find news from Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross and updates on her ongoing (historical!) work in the Maine Legislature here. You can also read documents like her letter to Governor Mills and others on behalf of the Maine Black Caucus as published here in Amjambo Africa! (the free newspaper for and about New Mainers from Africa). On February 3, 2021 she introduced “L.D. 2, An Act To Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process, which she noted was “the first step in recognizing that many of our laws have produced disproportionate outcomes for generations of Black and indigenous populations in Maine…to disrupt this historical pattern, legislators must be intentional in factoring in race throughout the development, review and adoption of public policy.”
As voting rights and political power are a continual historical fight, Black Futures
works to build Black political power while partnering with Black-led grassroots organizations across the U.S.
The African American Collection
at the USM Library was started with donations from Gerald E. Talbot
. The history of the collection notes: “As Mr. Talbot explained in April 1994: ‘It is because of my long involvement in civil rights in Maine and New England and my deep interest and involvement in my Black culture and history, that I have collected and preserved pieces of that black history, nationally and locally, for others to see and learn from.’ Another inspiration came from the documentary Anchor of the Soul
…Shoshana Hoose, who was largely responsible for researching and making the documentary, and Gerald Talbot began meeting with officials for the University of Southern Maine in 1994. They wanted to build a collection that would document and preserve African American culture and history.” You can find the DVD Anchor of the Soul: A Documentary of Black History in Maine
There are so many events nationwide this month…a couple are: on February 18 the
K. Kendall – originally posted to Flickr as Audre Lorde (Creative Commons)
Mills College Trans Studies Speakers series will host a talk with C. Riley Snorton and Rod Ferguson. On February 20 the Audre Lorde Project will host “Pillars of Audre Lorde: Joy, Safety, Healing and Liberation” celebrating her work, art, and vision (and her values of joy, safety, healing and liberation!)