Henry David Thoreau’s grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
Happy October! There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are brazen and bright in the trees, and we’re looking up. Here are our staff picks for October (and…a quick search result in the PPL catalog for all things pumpkin).
I cannot express how much I loved this book, but I’ll try: the phrasing, illustrations (don’t overlook all the unique and detailed iterations of Jarvis on the inside covers!) and sentiment are perfect. It is a wonderful read for all ages. I wish Edgar and Jarvis lived with me and I bet you will too! (Also, October is Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month so head down to your local shelter and see if you can find an Octopuppy/ new best friend.)
Jacqueline Woodson shares vivid stories of her childhood in her latest book Brown Girl Dreaming, a memoir written in free verse poetry. In beautiful language Woodson chronicles her experiences growing up during the Civil Rights movement. She tells stories about her family, her experiences being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, her academic struggles, and her journey towards becoming a writer.
My favorite poem “stevie and me” is about her weekly visits to the library. Woodson struggled with reading and had teachers who told her not to read picture books, but at the library she was free to choose the books she wanted.
An excerpt from the poem:
Every Monday, my mom takes us to the library around the corner. We are allowed
to take out seven books each. On those days
no one complains
that all I want are picture books
A wonderfully funny look at a women’s first winter in Portland, Maine, after moving here from Washington D.C. Snow Ban parking, rules around when landlords have to turn the heat on, and a very fun retelling of a trip to LL Bean: which promises to have everything one needs to make it through the winter in the great white north. Very accurate descriptions of Portland in all its quirkiness.
The interesting thing about The Little People is that it was pulled off the shelves because a staff member noticed its spine was peeling. It had not been read in over twenty years. The genre of the book is horror/suspense, which I love (a good read for October!), and it’s set in Ireland. I’m always fascinated by the nature of stories that become forgotten and can be rediscovered by happenstance. John Christopher is best known for his Penguin Classic novel The Death of Grass, which is a post-apocalyptic, world-hit-by-famine (an original Hunger Games?), suspenseful and scintillating Sci-Fi masterpiece.
We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating…but how well? Sherry Turkle argues that we have sacrificed critical conversation for mere connection, and she investigates the troubling consequences: at work, at home, in politics, and in love, we find ways around conversation, tempted by the possibilities of a text or an email in which we don’t have to look, listen, or reveal ourselves. Reclaiming Conversation is a great read for followers of PPL’s Choose Civility Initiative, a series of programs and discussions that brings folks into the Library for community conversations about the issues that affect our community and our lives. As Turkle writes, the virtues of person-to-person conversation are timeless, and our most basic technology, talk, is crucial in responding to our modern challenges.
I don’t often give unsolicited book recommendations, but when I encounter writing that I feel in my bones is as essential as Between the World and Me, I will mention it at all social gatherings and force it on unsuspecting friends and family disguised as holiday gifts. In his second book, Coates shares an elegant, vulnerable open letter to his son in which he turns an unapologetic and critical eye toward the politics of protecting one’s own body in America. Deeply personal, this densely packed little volume honors the legacy of (and breathes new urgency into) Baldwin’s forever relevant The Fire Next Time, while still forging its own inspired path onward and upward. Between the World and Me is an invaluable gift: it is real, it is current, and it will shake you.
Mary Oliver was once asked if she had a secret stash of poetry tucked away. She did, she said: poems about love. There are a slender sheaf of love poems included in her latest poetry collection, and Oliver weighs in on the subject with a gently nudging humor and delight. She writes wryly about jumping in, and the reader wants to believe such bravery would yield as profound a reward as it seems to have done for Mary O. Or perhaps I’d just like to think so? Oliver’s poetry is always a pleasure, and it certainly is in Felicity.
“I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly,” from Mary Oliver’s Felicity.
It’s a fact: Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry, A Light in the Attic, was once banned because the poem “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes” purportedly encouraged children “to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.” Some might see the humor there, but as Maine’s own oft-banned, oft-challenged Stephen King once wrote, “Censorship in a free society is always a serious matter.”
Books by Sherman Alexie, Isabel Allende, Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison at PPL.
September 27-October 3 is Banned Books Week nationwide, and at PPL we’re celebrating the freedom to read–which, truthfully, we like to celebrate all the time! (Click for more information and resources from the American Library Association on Banned and Challenged Books, Banned Books Week, and Frequently Challenged Books). This month our staff is sharing quotations from banned or challenged books.
“And I thought that all those little kids are going to grow up someday. And all of those little kids are going to do the things that we do. And they will all kiss someone someday. But for now, sledding is enough. I think it would be great if sledding were always enough, but it isn’t.” -from The Perks of Being a Wallflower
It was as though there was an unsurmountable wall or impenetrable barrier between them, built by the lack of understanding – for it was just that. She would never understand his craving for ease and luxury, for beauty, for love – his particular kind of love that went with show, pleasure, wealth, position, his eager and immutable aspirations and desires. She could not understand these things. She would look on all of it as sin – evil, selfishness. And in connection with all the fatal steps involving Roberta and Sondra, as adultery – unchastity – murder, even. – from An American Tragedy
“She took care of it as someone else would his soul, in private and almost with her own eyes turned away.” from “Good Country People”
Artwork courtesy of the American Library Association.
One of my favorite banned books is American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. I consider this to be one of the most obscene passages in the book. It’s a description of Patrick Bateman’s office:
“The Stubbs painting should probably go over the life-size Doberman that’s in the corner ($700 at Beauty and the Beast in Trump Tower) or maybe it would look better over the Pacrizinni antique table that sits next to the Doberman. I get up and move all these sporting magazines from the forties–they cost me thirty bucks apiece–that I bought at Funchies, Bunkers, Gaks and Gleeks, and then I lift the Stubbs painting off the wall and balance it on the table then sit back at my desk and fiddle with the pencils I keep in a vintage German beer stein I got from Man-tiques. The Stubbs looks good in either place. A reproduction Black Forest umbrella stand ($675 at Hubert des Forges) sits in another corner without, I’m just noticing, any umbrellas in it.” -from American Psycho
“I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.” from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
“I see now that the path I choose through that maze makes me what I am. I am not only a thing, but also a way of being–one of many ways–and knowing the paths I have followed and the ones left to take will help me understand what I am becoming.” -from Flowers for Algernon
As always- thanks for reading! And if you’re looking for other ways to celebrate the freedom to read, pair these Staff Picks with our Banned Books Film Series 2015 on Thursday nights throughout October at the Main Library.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.