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.
If you’re looking for even more spooky teen reads, check out our beach-read list from August (oh so long ago!): Chilling YA for Your Beach Day.
Adult Services Collections
Carrie’s Picks (Part Two)
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.
I found Sallie Tisdale’s 2018 book Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying excerpted in an issue of Tricycle magazine serendipitously snagged for lunchtime reading. I wanted more. At the time it wasn’t available for loan locally, nor was it borrowable through my go-to resource and (coincidentally) my daily workplace, Interlibrary Loan. I did the unthinkable. I bought my own copy.
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.
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.
The Salzburg Connection by Helen MacInnes is published.
The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is also published.
The Kingdom of Swaziland, a British colony surrounded by South Africa is granted its independence.
Lucio Fontana Creating Spatial Art. Photo credits christies.com
Lucio Fontana, Italian painter and sculptor, passes away in his mother’s hometown of Comabbio, Italy.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour debuts on NBC and runs for two seasons.
One of the first mass protests to attract wide media attention of the Women’s Liberation Movement and Second Wave Feminism, takes place in Atlantic City against the Miss America Pageant.
The very first U.S. Open is held. Virginia Wade defeated Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe defeated Tom Okker.
Ashe at the first U.S. Open
Henry Kissinger begins a relationship with candidate Richard Nixon’s foreign policy advisor, Richard V. Allen. Kissinger would later be appointed as Nixon’s National Security Advisor and then later, U.S. Secretary of State.
Mickey Mantle rounding the bases after hitting his 535th career home run. Image from NYTimes.com
Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees hits his 535th home run. This put Mantle in third place on the career home list behind Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (who had 585 at that time).
Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand, is released in theaters.
The television show, Adam-12, debuts on NBC.
Author of The Lost Weekend, Charles R. Jackson, dies of an overdose of barbiturates.
Mayberry R.F.D., a spin-off of The Andy Griffith Show, premiers.
Padre Pio, now Saint Pius of Pietrelcina and famous for his stigmata, passes away in Italy at the age of 81.
Charly, based on the Daniel Keyes novel, Flowers for Algernon, is released in theaters.
60 Minutes debuts on CBS.
Sly & the Family Stone release the album, Life.
This is the cover art for the album Life by the artist Sly & the Family Stone. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, Epic /, or the graphic artist(s).
Shirley Jackson‘s book, Come Along With Me; Part of a Novel, Sixteen Stories and Three Lectures, is published.
Be sure to come back at the end of next month for events from October 1968!
January & February 1968
Our September Staff Picks focus on lifelong learning at the library. Here are few of the books, films, science backpacks, and other resources that taught us something new this year, whether we were meandering in our quests for knowledge or looking with microscopic precision and care into the deep depths of the world’s mysteries. What did we learn? What inspired us? How can we help inspire you at the library?
While you’re learning more, don’t forget to check out the incredible new site of the Digital Maine Library. You can access the Digital Maine Library through any public computer within the library, or from anywhere in Maine using your library barcode number located on the back of your library card. The site includes MyHeritage, Gale LegalForms, the Gender Studies Collection, the Home Improvement Collection, National Geographic Kids, Pronunciator (great for ELL, or learn 80 other languages!), and so many other wonderful resources. The possibilities for learning in this life may actually be endless.
Carrie’s Picks (and Poem)
How can we be lifelong learners?
Let me count the ways!!!
First of all go out and play!
And then stay outside the whole dang day.
No matter the weather, season or time,
there are things to learn and mountains to climb.
So grab a Family Science Backpack, a snack, and a friend
Go out! And come back to see what else the library has to lend.
Telescopes and seeds, movies and good reads,
we have all the things you’ll ever need!
My four picks for learning at the library (and outside the library!) are: How to Raise A Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature; Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World; Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life; and Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
Portland Public Library’s research librarians are my pick for my favorite resource at the library for lifelong learning. The last few months I’ve become involved in a project with some film-maker friends that has necessitated my doing the type of research that I haven’t done since college. I have discovered and learned to use the wide range of research databases available through the library, the power of access, through Interlibrary Loan, to sometimes obscure resources from other libraries, but most especially the amazing knowledge, zeal for the search, and commitment to help of the research librarians. I’ve worked with Raminta and Meg who have helped me immensely in this project.
An illustration from Samin Nosrat’s “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”
Emily C’s Pick
“Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.”
This was the year I started to really explore the cookbook section in the library — I love taking out a new cookbook to give recipes a test run before committing to bringing the book home to keep (my cookbook shelves are already too full!). One stood out this past year as the most instructive and easy to use: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking. The author, Samin Nosrat, begins her cookbook with chapters dedicated to these four elements, digging into the science behind why they are each so important to creating delicious food, and giving example recipes to try to fully understand the role they each play. The second two-thirds of her cookbook contain recipes for you to explore once you’ve digested the first third, and my kids continue to sing their praises over her granola in particular.
This fall, I’m looking forward to another cookbook from Julia Turshen, who also excels at writing accessibly about food. Her cookbook Now & Again focuses on delicious recipes to share — and how to get creative with your leftovers.
A perk of working in the library is the breadth of items from the collection you are exposed to. Working at the circulation desk, I often find myself lingering over a recently returned book or DVD before quickly adding it to my holds list. I especially appreciate the act of browsing the library’s DVD collection, whether strolling through the shelves or scrolling through the “on order” section of the website. As access to TV shows and movies are increasingly dependent upon streaming services and the specific content such services provide, I love the randomness and chaos of discovery that looking through the PPL DVD collection without a specific title in mind can produce. Recently I came upon a documentary by director Quino Piñero titled Roaring Abyss. It explores the music of Ethiopia, a country of more than 90 million people and home to an incredible diversity of musical traditions. From songs which have been passed down through multiple generations to glimpses of popular music played in clubs in Addis Ababa, this film is staggering in its breadth. Go browse!
One of my favorites this year is Everyday Watercolor: Learn to Paint Watercolor in 30 Days by Jenna Rainey. The book breaks down the elements of painting in watercolor from paper, to color theory, to paint choices, to brush types, and starts you off with simple exercises that build off one another each day. I’ve checked it out at least twice in the past year and although I’m still not through all 30 lessons, I’ve really enjoyed getting back into a medium I haven’t touched in over 15 years and will eventually complete the last exercise which is a complete painting. There’s something refreshing about being a beginner again, not to mention the relaxation properties of painting, and it’s been fun to use this medium when planning embroidery projects. It’s much easier to paint over a color that doesn’t work than it is to rip out a section!
I also recommend Hazel Soan’s The Essence of Watercolour and Learn Watercolour Quickly. For those who prefer to learn via video, the Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center has some great tutorials, including this one on how to execute a graded wash.
These days my brain is easily overwhelmed by the volume of information encountered each day. It seems like this is the new normal. Is it any wonder that this constant stimulation can make it difficult to focus and concentrate at work and even in daily life? Cal Newport’s insightful book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World taught me how to stay focused regardless of the plethora of distractions, decide what is important and unimportant in this information tsunami, and succeed at work and life. Highly recommended for those wanting to learn how to work on a deep level.
This year’s popular memoir Educated, by Tara Westover, taught me about the power of self-determination, fierce family loyalty and the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. It is the story of Westover’s childhood, one that lacked health care and a formal education. She didn’t even have a birth certificate. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling canned goods, guns, and avoiding the government at all costs. Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom: she mostly educated herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to a university, where she studied history, learning for the first time about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Education transformed Westover’s sense of self and her views and gave her new opportunities, and she ended up studying at both Harvard and Cambridge. This is more than an account of family tragedy, abuse, and neglect. It’s an account of surviving it all and the struggle for self-invention.
Did you know that people with a great sense of humor tend to fare well in emergencies? Or that hysterical panic is not a common response to a crisis? In The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes—And Why, Amanda Ripley weaves unforgettable true stories together with psychological research to deliver fascinating lessons on surviving the unimaginable. Some tips might seem obvious (always pay close attention to the pre-flight safety presentation!), but others were more counter intuitive and thought-provoking. For instance, waiting for help from emergency services or authority figures isn’t wise, and can even be harmful due to system breakdowns and bureaucratic delays. Ordinary people are always the true first responders, and we are capable of astonishing feats of heroism. This book was riveting, empowering and so chock-full of potentially life-saving information that I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know!
If you go to the library often, learning can either be deliberate or a biproduct of serendipitous encounters. This year I found Lorna Simpson Collages and Isabel Quintero’s Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide when I was looking through new books, heard for the first time the beautiful music of the kamancheh in the film The Music of Strangers, and gathered ideas for my next trip to the woods in Aislinn Sarnacki’s Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path. I did not brush up on algebra (and I never, ever will) but I did read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics quite happily. The lessons were a little too brief, and I will have to read it again. Lifelong learning.
But I delved most deeply this past year into the library’s profound access to stories and truths collected in narratives, memoirs, essays, and nonfiction meant to share lived experiences, educate, empower, and call for action. From the last year of reading, there are many powerful and memorable titles: Angela Y. Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Ursula K. LeGuin’s Words Are My Matter, Dunya Mikhail’s The Beekeeper, the voices of the anthology Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay, Brittney C. Cooper’s Eloquent Rage, Masha Gessen’s The Future is History, Sarah McBride’s Tomorrow Will Be Different, and Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends.
It is a real gift when a randomly selected book sets me on a path to something unexpected. Case in point: I see the cover of Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting and start humming an off key rendering of the Beatles song as I riffle through the pages. Ah, this book is about real wood, which I would already know if I had taken in the subtitle: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way. It sounds sort of overly focused, but we cut, stack and burn wood at home so… maybe there are pictures I can look at? Well, yes, with captions, and whole chapters about axes and wedges and woodpiles and whatnot. Here are different ways of loading a woodstove, including an arrangement for something called top-down burning which I have never heard of, but looks sort of interesting, huh? Dubious of it actually working, we give it a try in the interest of scientific research. It is simplicity itself with its up-front cross-hatched architecture. The fire catches like a dream and requires nothing but lazy admiration for a long spell thereafter. We search the internet for variations on the theme and refine our technique. Our cold weather lives are changed for the better because I like the Beatles and cannot keep my hands off every book that piques my curiosity. If you don’t think that curiosity is at the root of lifelong learning, I am open to your ideas about it. But I’m not optimistic about your winning me over.
When I am looking for something special to fill my current hunger to know more, I start with a subject, a question. I ask my astounding colleagues here at PPL to point me in the right direction. They love to do that! There is no better resource for lifelong learners than an enthusiastic reference librarian. They are curious by nature, training and profession. I urge you to take full advantage. You won’t be disappointed.
And then there are the times when I lack the energy to do anything but reach for my battered, beloved American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Dictionaries make order out of chaos. They are a browser’s paradise. I have loved getting lost in a dictionary since I learned how to use one. One word leads to another, then another, and suddenly the room is in shadows, my tea is cold and I’ve burned the brownies.
Here’s a quote from my beloved American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: “Bliss. [See Synonyms at ecstasy].” Its 3rd definition: “A cause of great delight or happiness.”
Apropos of lifelong learning, I’ll use it in a sentence: Follow your bliss.
For my money, roundabout routes are best. And always and forever, stay curious.