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Tracy K. Smith, Poet Laureate of the United States, spoke on November 1 at the Lewiston Public Library, leading a conversation about poetry and community in a room packed with Mainers. A mic was passed around, and we heard from each other—from kids, high school students, grown-ups—on the power of poetry, voices, identity, connection, being, and being together. Smith also read from a long poem of hers, drawn from historical documents in which veterans who fought for the Union in the Civil War wrote letters advocating for the rights that were being denied them. And so, from across the years, we heard their voices, too.
The historical era we’re living through today is marked by civil and human rights movements and individuals and communities working for social change. In November our staff looks at related themes, including new books on historical figures making a difference past and present, and how explorations of many issues also shine through novels, poetry, short stories, and science fiction.
We just touch base on a few subjects and titles, and don’t cover all the important ground there is to cover in this one blog post. There are many more resources at the library (and available through the wider reach of Interlibrary Loan) to keep exploring, as well as booklists and ideas for resources that we’ve created that may not be represented in this month’s post.
-Elizabeth, Reference Staff
I can’t stop thinking about The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis by David Fishman. It’s the true story of prisoners in the Vilna Ghetto, led by artists, teachers and librarians, who risked their lives to hide Jewish books and religious documents. Many young workers smuggled materials page-by-page in the linings of their clothes; the poet Abraham Sutzkever built a bunker 60 feet underground to safely store art, including drawings by Marc Chagall. It’s the best kind of nonfiction: dense and well-researched but also a page turner.
Related recommendation: The Librarian of Auschwitz is a new YA novel by Antonio Irtube, based on the life of Holocaust survivor Dita Kraus. She was only fourteen when she took responsibility for 8 contraband books and painstakingly hid them inside the concentration camp. It’s beautiful, harrowing (recommended for ages 14 or older), and would be a great companion read for anyone who connects with The Book Thief or Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.
Finally, I must mention the excellent YA nonfiction book Beyond Courage: The Untold Stories of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust, by Doreen Rappaport. Did you know there were documented acts of resistance in EVERY single ghetto & concentration camp in Europe? This accessible, captivating and inspiring read tells dozens of stories of ordinary people taking extraordinary risks, big and small, to protect themselves, their neighbors and their cultural legacy during the Holocaust. To me, these are not just stories from history that deserve to be told, but critical reminders for us all to amplify and preserve the voices of the oppressed.
Learning the history that has been left out of textbooks is, for me, an act of civic responsibility. There are many people who have come before us—including LGBTQ+ people, people of color, people with disabilities, women, and individuals and communities with economic disadvantages—whose complex lives and stories have been historically forgotten, neglected, or diminished instead of being sought out, taught, and shared. As a parent, I feel responsible for helping my children discover a wider range of history, so they can see where we’ve come from and help write new narratives in the future.
For a book chock full of biographies of inspiring women, check out Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, also available on audio and narrated by a diverse cast of powerful women. My daughter discovered a love for the marine biologist Sylvia Earle, tells me facts about fossils and paleontologist Mary Anning, and chats about the crampons and skirts the Cholita Climbers wear to scale mountains in Bolivia.
If you have older readers looking for stories of world-changing women from history, check out Bygone Badass Broads, a collection of stories written by Mackenzi Lee, diving all the way back to 2700 BCE with Empress Xi Ling Shi to the 1950s with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. Lee tells the tales of women who led revolutions, changed medicine, and will prove to your teenagers that history is anything but boring.
Adults looking to learn more about the role of contemporary women and non-binary people as leaders of social change could take out Modern HERstory by Blair Imani, illustrated by Monique Le. It’s an inspiring collection starting with those who laid the foundations for modern-day activist movements and discussing women and non-binary people of all ages who are making a difference today.
Can We All Be Feminists?: New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism is a new anthology that goes deep. Editor, writer, and feminist activist June Eric-Udorie observes in her introduction: “For those not already versed in the challenges facing, and debates within, feminism today, reading this anthology is a great place to start. For those of you who, like me, live and breathe these issues, I hope you’ll find some common truth, or see experiences like yours represented in this collection, which includes only marginalized voices and so puts them front and center…Gabrielle Bellot and Juliet Jacques remind us of the precarious position in which trans women find themselves. Frances Ryan chronicles the issues facing disabled women. And Wei Ming Kam demonstrates immigration is a feminist issue. These are just some of the voices in these pages.”
Pick #2: an uplifting, heartening book about climate change? Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future investigates how hurricanes, drought, deforestation, permafrost degradation, extreme heat, and rising seas impact marginalized communities and countries, showing how human rights and climate change go hand in hand. At the same time, Mary Robinson (the former president of Ireland and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change) shares all that IS truly possible through stories of those who are impacted turning to grassroots work in climate justice that goes on to change their communities, countries, and the world.
We see how Sharon Hanshaw of East Biloxi, Mississippi became an activist for the rights of her community after Hurricane Katrina. Constance Okollot, who calls herself a “climate change witness,” advocates on behalf of women farmers in Uganda who are experiencing the crippling fallout of drought. Jannie Staffansson is a powerful voice for how climate change has affected Europe’s indigenous Saami people. Vu Thi Hien, in the mountains of Vietnam, works with local authorities and village leaders to organize communities of forest protectors who are paid for their work to reduce illegal logging, which has also empowered women in ethnic minority groups. And Ken Smith, a union leader for a former mine in Canada, protects workers and their families and communities by calling for “just transition strategies” as mines are closed and the advocacy for transition to green energy jobs begins.
With many other stories of individuals making a difference (some who helped to shape the Paris Agreement through their testimonies), Climate Justice reminds us of our own impacts as well as how many people and countries continue to be devoted to our planet’s future—and to each other.
On to new fiction: Friday Black is a powerful, unforgettable new collection of short stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah that offers a bloody critique of violence, racism, capitalism, and most especially questions of morality and humanity. Friday Black is a clarion call and a reminder that dystopian fiction (like The Handmaid’s Tale) goes to extremes so that readers are horrified: so that we are moved, so that we don’t dull in our responses to real horrors, and maybe even so that we might, if we are willing, recognize injustice and act. As Tommy Orange (author of this year’s phenomenal There There) observes in The New York Times Book Review, this writing packs tenderness and heart, too. Orange writes: “Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah has written a powerful and important and strange and beautiful collection of stories meant to be read right now…Violence is only gratuitous when it serves no purpose, and throughout Friday Black we are aware that the violence is crucially related to both what is happening in America now, and what happened in its bloody and brutal history…More often than not his characters struggle with not knowing what to do, given these seemingly impossible, extreme circumstances, and not all of them figure it out. But we don’t need them to: Adjei-Brenyah’s many truths, insights and beautifully crafted sentences just sing on the page.”
Reviewer Jeff Chang writes, “Those concerned with justice and liberation must always persuade the mass of people that a better world is possible. Our job begins with speculative fictions that fire society’s imagination and its desire for change. In adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha’s visionary conception, and by its activist-artists’ often stunning acts of creative inception, Octavia’s Brood makes for great thinking and damn good reading. The rest will be up to us.”
The 1968 Project aims to highlight some of the historic events of the year. From protests and famous battles to chart-topping popular hits and box office smashing film, 1968 was a huge historical year with reverberations that we still feel today. The 1968 Project looks to grab snippets of these events on a monthly basis and list them here with links for further exploration.
Originally called Night of the Flesh Eaters and directed by George Romero, Night of the Living Dead is released in theaters.
Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, a book of his letters and essays from Folsom Prison, is published.
First edition cover to Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver.October 2nd
On this date, the National Trails System Act was signed into law. This law placed over 50,000 miles of hiking trails under the protection of the US Department of the Interior.
Marcel Duchamp passes away suddenly from heart failure in his home in France at the age of 81. His grave states, “D’ailleurs, c’est toujours les autres qui meurent” (“Besides, it’s always the others who die”).
October 3rd The Great White Hope, a play by Howard Stackler, debuts on Broadway at the Alvin Theater. The production starred James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander.
The Troubles, a thirty year era of conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, began in earnest when plicement attacked a group of protestors demonstrating against the discrimination of Roman Catholics by Protestants.
The initial services for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), with the Reverend Troy Perry, were held at Huntington Park, California. The MCC became known as the “world’s first church group with a primary, positive ministry to gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender” peoples. Reverend Troy Perry had been a Pentecostal Christian minister. He resigned after revealing that he was gay.
Rev. Troy Perry in 1969.
October 10th Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda, is released in theaters.
The Detroit Tigers win the World Series by a score of 4 to 1. They defeated the St. Louis Cardinals.
Apollo 7, launched from Cape Kennedy, became the first manned space mission with three astronauts. Those astronauts were Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham. Later that month, the Apollo 7 crew became the first men to transmit a live television broadcast from space.
Still photograph from the first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft.
The opening ceremony of the Games of the XIX Olympiad, took place in Mexico City.
The pornographic film, Vixen! becomes the first American film to receive an X rating under the new classification guide released by the MPAA.
During the medal ceremony for the men’s 200 meter race, African-American athletes Tommie Smith (gold medal) and John Carlos (bronze medal), raised their fists in a black power salute. White Australian, silver medalist, Peter Norman, wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge to show support for his fellow medal winners. When Smith and Carlos refused to apologize for the act, they were kicked off the Olympic team and sent home.
The american sprinters Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman during the award ceremony of the 200 m race at the Mexican Olympic games. Photo by Angelo Cozzi.
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham reform The New Yardbirds to create Led Zeppelin. On this date, they performed their first concert under this new name at Surrey University in England.
The 1968 Summer Olympics closes in Mexico City. The United States goes home with 107 medals, 45 of which were gold. The Soviet Union came in second to the most medals with a total of 91 medals.
Lise Meitner, co-discoverer, with Otto Hahn, of the process of nuclear fission in uranium, passed away in her sleep in Cambridge, England.
October 30th The Lion in Winter, starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, is released in theaters.
October 31st Forty Years On, Alen Bennett’s first play, debuts at the Apollo Theater in London’s West End. This first production starred John Gielgud, Paul Eddington and the playright, Bennett.
Eeek! It’s October. Are you researching Apples of Uncommon Character? Telling ghost stories, dreaming about New England road trips? We at the library are focused on a wide range of autumnal themes. Here are October’s staff picks—inspired by the changing of seasons, the crisp smell of fall, scary stories, thrillers and fantasy, bright foliage, and thoughtful looks at the mysteries of life and death.
Youth Services Collections
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers!”
This month will always make me think of the iconic 1985 CBC Anne of Green Gables miniseries starring Meghan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst. This might seem like an oddly specific association, but I grew up watching Anne and Diana stroll through the fields and forests of Prince Edward Island, brilliant foliage filling the screen, and ever since it’s been held in my heart as an ode to autumn.
The series captures the unique, dramatic seasons of the Northeast with real love and depth, not only in terms of photography but thematically as well. The original 1908 novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery handles change, loss, growth and new beginnings, through the eyes of a resilient and precocious girl you can’t help but love.
PPL has this series in our DVD collection, as well as many subsequent sequels. Of course we have the classic novel and, amazingly, a new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden in the children’s library! As the seasons change it is really sweet to see Anne (with an E) being introduced to a new generation of kindred spirits.
“Chores completed, Felix stood on the back steps of Poplar House. He watched at a distance, taking in a scene by halves: through his left eye he saw his father, and through his right he saw only a gentleman, dressed in black. The two men were shaking hands in the pink morning sun.
The handshake told Felix he would never be alone. He belonged somewhere, to someone, whether he liked it or not.”
The House in Poplar Wood, a middle-grade paranormal mystery by K.E. Ormsbee, is the perfect choice for the month of October! The Vickery twins, Lee and Felix, live in the same house, but separated on every day but Halloween. Felix and father assist Death, and Lee and mother serve Memory. This is the Agreement and it can never change. . .
Until Gretchen Whipple barges into their quietly repetitive lives with a bargain: if the twins help her solve the murder of a local girl, she will help them break the Agreement for good.
It is a compelling and fascinating read, leaving you thinking about it when you aren’t reading, and totally focused when you are. Don’t miss this delightfully spooky page-turner!
Carrie’s Picks (Part One)
Deborah and James Howes’ books starring Bunnicula, the vegetarian vampire rabbit, were favorites of mine as a child in the late 1970’s, and about as far as I usually choose to go in the scary book category!
Begin with Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery: I was recently re-introduced to this fun little novel by some very literate baristas as the Congress Street CBD (if you stop in ask to meet Bunnicula!) and was compelled to revisit the entire series. Then a savvy library patron suggested that I listen to them on audio book and I was in for an even bigger treat! (The eAudiobook of the full series is also available to download from our cloudLibrary). Even if you are not an avid audio book listener I would suggest this as a great family listen together. The repartee between Harold, the dog, and Chester, the cat, is greatly enhanced by Victor Garber’s talented reading and the music and sound effects add to the suspense.
Mystery, anemic vegetables, and the possibility of a vampire rabbit make this a “scary” book that is fun and lighthearted enough for the whole family. Read it on a dark and stormy October night with a pile of colorful root vegetables and your favorite furry friend.
Teen Services Collections
For slow burn thrillers (set in Maine!), I recommend anything by local YA author Gillian French. I’ve read Grit and The Lies They Tell and devoured them both like a hungry zombie. The Door to January is in my TBR pile! Grit is the winner of the 2017 Lupine Award in Young Adult Literature.
My other pick for October is a zombie book, Zombie, Illinois, by Scott Kenemore. (Indeed this is about as far from my reading comfort zone as I have gone in many many many years). I will admit that I judged this book by its cover and title, but it did not disappoint. More than zombie apocalypse this book deals with the real frightening aspects of modern society: corruption, racial inequality, poverty, and class structure. There are zombies, and plenty of gory scenes to keep you on edge, but Zombie, Illinois is far more than just another zombie novel, it is a commentary on wealth and power run amok and who will be best prepared to deal with the collapse of so-called civil society. *Spoiler: alarm systems and your gated home on the North Shore will not protect you when zombies eat the mayor on live tv!
I know I rarely have time to finish a novel these days, and I’m sure that others may feel the same so I’m focusing on short story collections (and one short novella).
Richard Matheson (1926-2013) was an American Science Fiction and Horror author whose work has been adapted into film a plethora of times (most notably, I Am Legend,Duel, & sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone). His work is a cornerstone of modern Horror fiction. This collection boasts an EXCELLENT forward by author Victor LaValle (author of the excellent Ballad of Black Tom).
Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a wonderful take on H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories & includes many of the strange places and disturbing creatures featured in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” but with a very different and refreshing approach to the material. It’s a marvelous book from an intriguing author.
Ellen Datlow has edited great anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror 2008 which contains one of my favorite short stories, “The Fiddler on Bayou Teche” by Delia Sherman. There are a bunch of great, hard-to-find, and/or unfairly obscure short stories tucked away in various anthologies in our collections. One that definitely deserves a mention is “Horrer Howce” by Margaret St Clair, which appears in the collection Galaxy, Thirty Years of Innovative Science Fiction (with a nice intro by the author herself).
The Burbank Branch just received The Bone Mother by David Demchuk, a new collection of horror short stories centered around Slavic folk tales. Can hardly wait….! I shall read it by the light of a single candle.
Emily C’s Picks
October is the perfect time to dive into Deborah Harkness’s world of All Souls. Her stories of witches, vampires, and demons started with A Discovery of Witches, which I devoured as an audiobook when it came out. Diana Bishop is a reluctant witch who inadvertently discovers an enchanted manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, attracting the attention of all the other magical creatures around her, including the imposing 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew Clairmont. I happily listened along to the next audiobooks in the trilogy, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life, which continued the story of Diana and Matthew and their families, adding in time-travel to Elizabethan London and back again.
Harkness has created a rich cast of characters in a well-developed world that I happily jumped back into with her newest title, Time’s Convert. This story is focused on becoming a vampire, telling the story of Phoebe’s transformation in present-day Paris, and her future husband Marcus’s transformation during the American Revolution. Marcus and Phoebe both struggle with constraints around loyalty to family and their ideas of liberty, equality, and freedom. If you’ve already enjoyed the first three books and are ready for more magic, dive in! And if you’re new to Harkness’s world, start with A Discovery of Witches and enjoy hours of fantastic reading as you ease into fall.
Louise’s Erdrich’s 2005 novel The Painted Drum roams through each season and tells many stories, but it begins and ends with a woman in a cemetery in New England, settling its complex world down at last in a luminous fall. It is a book I’ve read and re-read.
From our newer collections: Ling Ma’s 2018 post-apocalyptic satire Severance packs plenty of thrilling, anxious moments, along with deadpan humor and a nuanced commentary on capitalism, love, loss, tyranny, and what it means to truly stay alive. I rooted hard for Candace Chen all the way to the end.
If you‘re looking for a great intriguing-atmospheric-mystery-with-ghosts-set-in-a-small-village-in-Ireland this fall, Jess Kidd’s novel Himself should do the trick.
And director Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You is at the top of the heap of the best films labeled fantasy that terrifyingly mirror reality.
Set in a fantasy world of author Sofia Samatar’s imagining, A Stranger in Olondria tells the story of the life of Jevick of Tyvom, the son of a pepper merchant from a tropical island rich in oral history but without any written language. Taught by a foreign tutor, Jevick learns to read and write and grows up fascinated by the books and people of the country of Olondria across the sea. When his father dies, Jevick takes his place on the yearly selling trip to Olondria, and becomes even more enraptured with the culture and stories there. At an Olondrian festival, Jevick’s life is pulled off-course when he becomes haunted (literally) by the ghost of a girl from his homeland, who demands that he tell her story. This haunting, which has a visibly traumatizing effect on Jevick, pulls him into the religious and political machinations of Olondria, a country divided in its beliefs in a way Jevick had never pictured in his idealization.
The style of storytelling is very reminiscent of an 18th century travel narrative, almost Virginia Woolf-esque (think The Voyage Out), peppered with magic but in such a way as to make it feel as if these events could have happened here in our world. It is a captivating story of culture, reading, love, and the way lives and stories can haunt us. My mind was instantly pulled into this world and is reluctant to leave. (Luckily, Sofia Samatar’s companion novel The Winged Histories is also available through MaineCat!)
It is Autumn, season of dazzling foliage, apple pies and bluer-than-blue skies. We’re looking at frost warnings, dusk’s descent at drive-time and my least favorite activity after snow shoveling: raking. Life winds down, sharply contrasting with the busting out all over of Spring and Summer, heading toward Winter’s icy interval.
In Advice for Future Corpses, Tisdale shares her compassionate observations of life’s end, gleaned from personal and professional experience as an oncology nurse, palliative care practitioner, Buddhist teacher, accidental bystander, daughter and friend. Sometimes funny, occasionally brilliant, never precious, she is unflinching in explaining what I have always been too polite ask about bodies lurching toward death. What happens when they get there … and what do we do with what is left behind? She talks about how we die: with piercing suddenness or excruciating slowness; in spite of our efforts or initiated with intent. She digs into the plans that we can make, the legal paperwork that we can see to and, separate from that, the sought after control that simply isn’t part of the deal: the inevitability of it, the “not if, but when” of death. She looks at the cultural weight brought to bear on death and dying, burial customs and practices. She speaks of and to caregivers. She explores the myriad shapes of grief and mourning.
“Grief is the opportunity to cherish another without reservation. Grief is the breath after the last one.”
This suits my sense of season, both on the calendar and in life. It is Autumn in every sense. As I settle into seasonal slowing down time, I will come back to Advice to Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them.) There is much to sate curiosity and sustain deep thinking, the kind that I manage best when days grow shorter and endings seem rhythmic and reasonable.
As always, thanks for reading our Staff Picks.
If you’re looking for other reading recommendations tailored specifically to your own interests (cookbooks, 18th century travel narratives, contemporary poetry, hidden gems, social justice, you name it), head to our Your Next (Great!) Read page to learn more and fill out a very short form on what you’re in the mood to read next.
We’ll send you a list of ideas that links directly to the library’s catalog so you can place holds easily.