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 Beverly is the perfect picture book companion to A Girl From Yamhill and My 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 on audio 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 Said by Jodi 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 Kill by 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!
If you’re looking for a Veteran’s Day read this month, I recommend the book Project Omaha Beach: The Life and Military Service of A Penobscot Indian Elder by Charles Norman Shay .
“I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are.”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was 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 new fiction. 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.
In October, our staff picks fantastic fiction and nonfiction
from the library for their journeys through fall…
“… and all the while the leaves will be letting go of their branches and falling down on you like blessings.”
So Margaret Renkl beckons in “the most splendid day of October” in her recent memoir Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss, published by the ever-wonderful Milkweed Editions. The book is composed of short poetic essays reflecting on Renkl’s family—her life with them, her loss of them, and the stories she inherited—interspersed with artwork by her brother Billy and her own verbal images of the flora, fauna, and creatures that have populated her life in Alabama. Late Migrations is a narrative that leaps gracefully through time, from what it means to be a child of two loving parents to what it means to still be their adult child after they are gone. After each short piece, I had to stop reading and just hold the volume, my hands pressed to the nature-imbued silhouette on the cover. That love and loss walk hand in hand is the current that flows through, as Renkl writes,
“There are things you cannot keep safe, that you have already failed forever to keep safe, but you must remember to protect this one card written in your grandmother’s hand and saved in your mother’s recipe box. There’s a child in your house who won’t eat icing, and today is his birthday, and he will not always be a child, and you will not always keep him safe.”
If there could be a book worthy of splendid October, let it be this one, this beautiful book that recognizes what we can love but cannot keep, that emits a steady keen even when the winds of change shush it, that feels the cold start seeping in but keeps the fire stoked in the kitchen, a cake baking warm in the oven.
My October staff picks are inspired by Indigenous Peoples’ Day: here are three excellent children’s and teen books for you and your family to share. These books emphasize the fact that Indigenous peoples are here, present, and making stories to read and learn from today.
Traci Sorrel’s We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga explores the concept of Otsaliheliga, or the idea of expressing gratitude, centered around a Cherokee community’s year-round celebrations and experiences. It is written in English and Cherokee, with the Cherokee written both in Cherokee syllabary and transliterated for reading out loud. For those looking to hear Cherokee speakers sharing the story, I encourage you to request the audiobook companion to the book — it’s an excellent way to hear the story told with correct pronunciations, complete with subtle sounds of wildlife and quiet community conversations. Sorrel’s new picture book, At the Mountain’s Base, looks as if it will be another family favorite.
I am eager to read I Can Make This Promise, a new middle grade novel written by Christine Day. It’s inspired by the author’s family history: a young girl uncovers secrets her family has been hiding and discovers her own identity. It’s a highly recommended mystery that touches upon the ideas of cultural identity, adoption, and family separation of Native children, an ongoing crisis.
Finally, I’m learning a great deal as I read Debbie Reese and Jean Mendoza’s young people’s adaptation of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, written by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. I turn to Reese as an expert in Indigenous representation in children’s literature, and was delighted when I heard she and Mendoza have made the academic history more accessible for younger readers. The authors do an excellent job and will help any reader re-frame their understanding of history and how it continues to impact the present.
I can’t resist a good polar exploration saga, and In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides did not disappoint in the least. It really takes a skillful writer to alchemize the unimaginably dreary, monotonous landscape of Arctic survivalism into 400 pages of devourable narrative. Sides situates the titular story within the greater context of Gilded Age America–and especially the nationalist mania to solve the mysteries of the uncharted world–and the result is truly fascinating.
How to Be an Antiracist is the newest work from National Book Award winner Ibram X. Kendi. The book is not really, as the title suggests, a step-by-step guide or how-to manual. It is partially a memoir, in that the author self-critically returns to his own learning experiences as illustrative examples of the myriad ways that racism manifests. Using chapters structured around intersecting themes (e.g., racism/antiracism and gender, color, or class), Kendi defines antiracism by exhaustively examining all the ugly realities of its opposite.
Finally, I am looking forward to Find Me, André Aciman’s sequel to Call Me by Your Name, the acclaimed achy-breaky love story that utterly wrecked me in both book and movie form. Find Me, set decades after Elio and Oliver’s first summer, is out October 29th, so you still have plenty of time to stock up on tissues.
Eileen M’s picks
In August 1969, I was eyeing my new plaid pleated skirt and navy blue blazer, breast pocket embroidered with a Latin motto.
At 13, I was too young, too conventional and too focused on starting my freshman year in high school to be paying much attention to the historic cultural event playing out in upstate New York. At the same time, I was too old to be utterly oblivious to the perilous state of the world I lived in. The recent past, an unavoidable emotional wallop even if you were just a kid in junior high school, included assassinations, riots, protests both bloody and peaceful. The present wasn’t much cheerier, but I was all about the first day of high school where a sudden and unlikely transformation to coolness was my aim. Now, still uncool but okay with it, I can catch up on what I missed then with the 50th anniversary edition of Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World edited by Mike Evans and Paul Kingsbury.
Tons of photos anchor this story of the monumental Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Or maybe it’s the other way ‘round, the story holding the photos in comprehensible order. Either way, it is a cavalcade of traffic jams, mud, drugs, music, communal caregiving, loaves-and-fishes catering, sartorially minimalist romps, rain, more mud, idealism, bellbottoms, always more music. Amazing to think about, really, and more amazing still as you see it unfold page by page, expanding to fill the iconic space that has become the Woodstock of memory and legend.
Included is a post-Woodstock timeline (1969-1975) that caught my attention: my contextual entry into nominal adulthood outlined in sometimes grim synopsis. Is it any wonder that so many cling to the Edenesque sense of brother-and-sisterhood that is the best of what Woodstock-as-social-statement represents? I guess we just want to get ourselves back to the garden.
If you are open to toting the retrospective weight of the Woodstock volume home, maybe you’d care to summon what’s left of your upper body strength for more recent recollections with the oversize photographic reflections of Obama: An Intimate Portrait as photographed by former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza. Much is camera-caught: the hard work of smart grownups, sober consideration of next steps; celebrations of art, family, world community…what I continue to hope for in our leaders.
Words and pictures as time travel to the past and, keep a good thought, maybe to the future. Back to the garden.
My October Staff Pick is the novel The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J.Ryan Stradal.
Stradal’s debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, was one of the warmest, most heart-filled novels I have ever read. As a born-and-raised New Englander who has married into a Kansas family, I have a deep love and admiration for the self-mythology Midwesterners have and the stories they tell about the places that made them who they are, and TLQoM has already made me smile in recognition and joy multiple times in the first two pages, so I can’t wait to read further.
It also promises—like KotGM—to have some beautiful and evocative food writing and some incredibly funny dialogue between family members, neighbors, and rival beer-brewers or pie-bakers. I feel like this book will give me exactly the cast of lovable characters I need to get me through October and I’m so excited to sit with it on the couch with several layers of sweaters on and a (let’s be honest, pumpkin-flavored) beer.
Hello friends! I just returned from my honeymoon in Hawaii. You may imagine a newlywed librarian reading classic novels on the beach in the sun, however, when rainy weather made my husband and me stay indoors for a majority of the break: electronic media was very much a happiness-saver.
After seeing that a new season of Veronica Mars was being dropped on Hulu right around the time of my nuptials, my husband was appalled to discover I’d never seen the series (seasons 1-3 are available at our library). He set out to get me up to speed and we ended up watching the entire series plus the movie. The jury is out on whether he enjoyed the new season as much as the old ones, however, I enjoyed them all! It reminded me of a gritty Buffy the Vampire Slayer without the campy/fantasy elements.
I also played Overcooked (available on PS4 and Xbox-One in our Teen Library collection) for many hours. I especially enjoy playing the panda-chef. The graphics are adorable, the cooperative element is super fun, and where else can you find yourself yelling “I need lettuce on a plate!” Your character is a food-line worker who is trying to save the city by working with other players to complete meals for hungry customers before they become upset and leave. It would be simple enough, except every level adds a new element, for example: a conveyor belt on which you pass food to the other player to put in the oven and send back on the belt for the original player to deliver. If the food stays on the oven too long, it can burn. If you accidentally place the fire extinguisher onto the conveyor belt heading in the wrong direction (like I did): the whole kitchen can go up in flames.
I also began reading Mark Twain’s Letters From Hawaii while on my honeymoon, but was unable to finish it while standing in the stacks of the bookstore. I am putting it on hold for later perusal. It was interesting to see how many quotes from this collection appeared around Hawaii on different signs and in pamphlets. Jokes about the sulfurous smells around the volcanoes and other witticisms were very fun to read—I’m looking forward to reading more.
As I dutifully wait my turn in the queue for Trick Mirror (no, librarians can’t cut the line!), I’ve been inspired to read some dense nonfiction to pass the time. Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 left a necessary weight in my gut. Admittedly, I was nervous about revisiting the day; for 18 years, I’ve carried only blurry memories of rumors and the tears from my tenth grade Long Island classroom. Mitchell Zuckoff thoroughly retraces the steps of the lost and the traumatized at all three attack sites, calling upon first-person accounts, primary sources, and the 9/11 Commission Report. If you are looking for a book to help you process bearing witness – or, if you are a young adult looking to learn about what happened that day – this is the book for you.
As I recover from having the wind knocked out of me by my nonfiction pick, I await another library hold for some much-needed levity: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Kiddos solving crimes in post-WWII Britain? Yes, please! I can’t wait to devour this beloved series.
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 spooky and magical booklists.
“Downeast Maine, where I live, is for me the most beautiful place on earth, even in February, even on a dark day in a sharp wind.” -from Seaweed Chronicles by Susan Hand Shetterly
Every day at Portland Public Library, you can find readers of all ages curled up with books, lost in words and in other lands.
Many of us on the library staff wholeheartedly, unblinkingly believe every earnest thing said about books and stories: they can transport you to other worlds, help you figure out the world around you, expand your horizons, lighten your heart. They really can. Delving into books with our community is probably the best work there is, and we at the Reader’s Advisory desk are always curious about new ways to share the books around us.
The Book of the Week project kicked off last October just before U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith visited Maine: we posted a picture of her new anthology American Journal: Fifty Poems For Our Time. Then 52 weeks flew by (!) with a new book in the spotlight every Monday. It’s October again: the leaves are turning. Writer and musician Joy Harjo of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation is the new Poet Laureate of the U.S. And we’ll soon have new books to share. But first, here’s a brief look at the last year in reading…
“We would often wake before there was light in the sky and make coffee and let our minds rattle our tongues…It was a forty-year conversation.”-from Our World, with photographs by Molly Malone Cook and text by Mary Oliver
Book-of-the-Week Perks: Joyous Readers and Authors
One of the really sort of lovely and unexpected things that’s come from Book of Week is feedback—from readers who had enjoyed a book we shared, and from authors who were happy their books were being read in Maine (sometimes sharing hearts, sometimes shocked, Munch-scream emojis). British writer Robert Macfarlane, whose book Underland we did call “grimly beautiful,” responded, “Grimly beautiful. I’ll gladly take that. Thanks so much for this post, folks. I love Portland!”
“They were stunned by the sand dunes, the vast life of them…the lighthouse rose before them…Cheese sandwiches and salami for dinner around the campfire. The thrill of lighting the wood, keeping it burning. Laughter spiked their conversation, and when it lulled, the silence had a glow to it, crackled by flames. They were happy. They were not used to being happy. The strange feeling kept them up too late together, giddy with victory and amazement.” -from Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis
How Can Readers Explore More Books at PPL?
- Explore new titles on order…Try signing into your library account at our website, then click on “Explore” and “New Titles.” This will lead you to a page showing you all of the books (DVDs, CDs, etc) that have newly arrived, and all of the books that are on order. As soon as the librarians order a book, you can place a hold on it.
- Get a list of reading ideas from our staff…If you would like your own personalized list of reading ideas from our staff based on your interests, fill out a “Your Next (Great!) Read” form here and we’ll be in touch.
“Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who / loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no / place else to go. / Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short. / Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way / through the dark.” -from Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings, by Joy Harjo
Congrats, reader, you made it to October 2019! Can you spot any spots in the library where pictures were taken? Have you read any of the books of the week? Do you have a favorite quotation to share?
We’d be glad to hear from you. Be in touch anytime with bookish questions and requests at email@example.com, or call 871-1700 ext. 705.
Thank you for reading.
Find Books of the Week Here: