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Library Love: February Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture
This nonfiction display at the Main Library has a lotta heart.

We’ve got a whole lotta heart.


Children’s Fiction and Nonfiction

Laura’s Pick

loveismyfavoriteLove is My Favorite Thing, by Emma Chichester Clark

Plumdog, the internet sensation, joyfully and hilariously expresses the exuberance of loving love in Love Is My Favorite Thing by Emma Chichester Clark. This British author’s style and voice are very easy to love. This lovely book has good repetition, great humor, a sweet and reassuring message and beautiful illustrations that often contrast nicely and hilariously with the text. Embrace love with Plumdog this February!



Carrie’s Pick

shouldyoubeariverShould You Be A River: A Poem About Love, by Ed Young

A labor of love, an ode to unconditional love, a poem for his two daughters, Ed Young uses cut paper, photographs, and calligraphy to accompany his enchanting poem Should You Be A River: A Poem About Love.

Young’s poem speaks to the unpredictable and often heart wrenching nature of unconditional love, while immersing the reader in the power and splendor of nature. While adults will appreciate the craft and creativity of the illustrations, children will respond to the bold colors and simple text.

Looking for a nontraditional picture book to love this year? A poem with heart? A well-crafted work of art? Ed Young hits the mark here and gives us yet another reason to love picture books, no matter our age.


Teen Fiction


Books and Valentines on display in the Teen section of the Main Library.

Books and Valentines on display in the Teen section of the Main Library.

Emily’s Pick

simonvsSimon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

“He tells me to pick the music. I’m not sure if he knows that handing me his iPod is like handing me the window to his soul…..He talked about the ocean between people.  And how the whole point of everything is to find a shore worth swimming to.”

Simon is in love with a boy named Blue, but since they’re both in the closet their relationship starts entirely over email – just real enough to be exciting.  Full of complex characters all keeping their own secrets, coming out and growing up is challenging for everyone all around.  Sweet, compassionate and thoughtful, this book paints an endearing love-story with soul and heart, following a strong and relatable cast of supporting characters. Sometimes the hardest thing is explaining to people you love that you’re picking up the drums, that you have a boyfriend – that you need to tell them something new about yourself.  This book will have you cheering for the Simon and his three closest friends as they take on bullying, crushes, new love and navigate the emotional waters of growing up.

Kelley’s Pick

howiliveHow I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff

Call me bleak, but when I think “love”, the first book that comes to mind is full of pain, loss, and grief. Oh, and taboo relationships!

This slim volume from YA author Meg Rosoff packs an emotional wallop. Just shy of 200 pages, the story of two teens in wartime manages to be both literary and compelling; a survival book about a war that could very plausibly happen, and a love story as beautiful and evocative as it is troubling. I audibly sobbed through the last two chapters, feeling as if I had been through the wringer with these characters. The well-done film adaptation starring Soairse Ronan is also recommended. It also made me cry.

Online Resources


Start learning a Romance Language with Mango Languages this February

Start learning a Romance Language with Mango Languages!


Language Learning


If language learning is your love this winter, try PPL’s resources including Mango Languages, Mango Premiere, Ebooks and Eaudiobooks, Muzzy Languages online, and the Learning Express Library’s TOEIC practice tests. Click here for more information.





Adult Fiction

Jim’s Picks

avirtuousAn Island Apart by Lillian Beckwith and A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

Two books: one set in the American South, and one on a Scottish Island. I wonder if I’ve always been drawn to love stories where the candle is kindled slowly and the outcome is uncertain or unfulfilled. The struggle for romance is not recognized as the missing component but happens in spite of the characters certainty that it does not, can not exist. The adjective ‘bittersweet’ was invented for stories such as these.


Susanne’s Pick


Lamb in Love, by Carrie Brown

One of the sweetest love stories I’ve read is Carrie Brown’s novel “Lamb in Love” from 1999. It is a quiet story about two middle aged people who for the first time in their lives fall in love. This story is a true celebration of the power of love to transform the ordinary into the magical. The characters and the story develops and comes to life as you turn the pages, perfect for spreading warmth in the middle of winter.


Brandie’s Pick


The Tsar of Love and Techno, by Anthony Marra

“I gave him the mixtape the morning of his departure…For Kolya, in Case of Emergency!!! Vol. 1.”

I loved Anthony Marr’s first book, A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his newest novel, The Tsar of Love and Techno. He did not disappoint with this complicated and beautiful collection of stories. They span decades, starting in Leningrad in 1937 and soaring into outer space, year unknown. I was captivated by the people: Marra isn’t afraid to create complex, meaty characters, both villainous and wonderful. The book’s settings, Siberia and Chechnya, are so vivid that they are like other beloved characters. I feel as if I am always saying I am not a fan of short stories, but then I read something like this and am blown away. Love in Marra’s work can be a fragile thing, subject to betrayal and death, but also something lasting, raw, vibrating through lifetimes, showing up in the strangest places: a mixtape, a face painted into the background of hundreds of pictures, an act of violence that is also an act of mercy.  Though each of these stories could stand on their own, they weave together beautifully to tell gorgeous, brutal, engrossing stories of life and loss, love and heartbreak (and humor, too!).

I am a huge fan of Marra’s writing and will read anything he writes. I hope he is working on something now.

Adult Nonfiction

Thaddeus’ Pick

turning the mindTurning the Mind Into an Ally, by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

My pick for a book about love is about finding the contentedness that can lead to a life of fulfillment and joy by sowing the seeds of love for the most important person in your life: yourself. Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche is a Western look at Buddhist mindfulness practices, the Sakyong himself being the American son and successor of a Buddhist spiritual leader.

Mipham emphasizes the need to love oneself in order to find the mind-state needed to spread love to others, extolling the virtues of mindful living and meditation to help stop us from questioning our goodness and wisdom and recognize the most simple of loving facts: we are all good and wise, we just need to reign in our minds from the anxiety and confusion of our life in order to truly embrace it.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to be inspired by Mipham’s writing! Everyone can benefit from his teachings about living in and embracing the moment, about recognizing the kindnesses in everything around you (“People work at night so that we can read the news at breakfast. A total stranger grew the potato we ate at lunch. Even someone who irritates us will give us the time of day if we ask”), and about taking a moment, maybe even two moments, every day to love yourself for who you are: a living, breathing person who has so much to teach and so much love to give if you cultivate the mind to do so.

Sonya’s Picks

whatcolorLove your job!

Each year the average American spends roughly 1,800 hours a year at work. 1,800 hours!

If you are going to spend that much time somewhere wouldn’t it be great to LOVE what you are doing? Here are some titles to get you thinking along those lines:

What Color Is your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-hunters and Career-changers (2016) by Richard Nelson Bolles has been the go-to manual since 1970, and it’s been revised and updated each year since.

Roadmap: The Get-it-together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With your Life (2015) by Nathan Gebhard. This book offers a wealth of exercises, diagrams, quotes, charts, cartoons, and texts geared to help you let go of misaligned self-perceptions, define core personality traits and desires, and become the next new version of you!

 Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent your Work, and Never Get Stuck (2015)  by  Jonathan M. Acuff. This book will give you the power to call a Do Over–whether you’re twenty-two, forty-two, or sixty-two. You’ll have the resources to reinvent your work and get unstuck. You’ll even rescue your Mondays as you discover how to work toward the job you’ve always wanted.

Raminta’s Pick

becomingnicoleBecoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, by Amy Ellis Nutt

Becoming Nicole is the story of a family’s journey and growth as they work towards supporting the needs of their transgender child. The transformation in this story is not only that of Nicole Maines and her transition from Wyatt to Nicole, but also that of her father Wayne.  A man who deeply loved his wife and his children, Wayne struggled at first to understand his child’s true identity.

One of the most touching, pivotal scenes in the book occurs on Valentine’s Day in 2008, when Wayne and 10-year-old Nicole go to a father-daughter dance in Orono.  “Wayne was nervous, of course, about whether he might trip over his own feet, but he also worried that others might mistake his nervousness for embarrassment about his being there with his transgender daughter.” His love of his daughter and his wish to be there for her helps him overcome his fear of dancing. It’s a sweet moment in the book when the reader gets to see Wayne as supporting father who is coming to learn more and more about himself, the categories he’s limited himself to in the past, and what he ultimately wants for his relationship with his family.

Nicole states in the book, “Stories move the walls that need to be moved.” This family’s love for each other and the transformation of each of them will move you as well.

Elizabeth’s Pick

inotherwordsIn Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Sonno di continuo a caccia di parole,” Lahiri writes, emphatically, at the opening of a chapter in her new book. In English: “I’m constantly hunting for words.”

I confess that I haven’t read In Other Words, my book-love-pick for February, but stubbornly, I’m picking it anyhow. Lahiri’s book is hot off the presses, an ink-and-paper newborn this month. She wrote it in Italian (it is translated in Knopf’s publication by Ann Goldstein), and it is about her love of the Italian language, among other things, a love that actually transported her and her family to Italy, where she settled down to learn, immersed in the teaching that blossomed all around her. Flipping through the dual Italian-and-English text, I’m already noting passages that grip me, including her frank discussion of the frustrations of this love: her husband (who doesn’t speak as well as she) is mistaken for a native Italian and praised, while Lahiri—the one so enamored, the student, the language-lover—realizes that because of her appearance, she is never complimented this way or applauded for speaking so well. Nonetheless, she persists. In the chapter “Gathering Words,” she speaks of words that are obscure to her, satisfying, fascinating. “I would describe the process like this: every day I go into the woods carrying a basket…I gather beautiful words that have no exact equivalents in English (formicolare, chiarore: to move in a confused fashion, like ants, and also to have pins and needles; a shaft of light).”

What will happen to Lahiri’s love, I wonder? I’m glad for the chance to spill out her (and Goldstein’s!) basket of words this February, and to discover all the other wisdom this favorite writer’s been gathering.

Portland Public Library light falls on the pages of "In Other Words."

Spoiler alert: light falls on the pages of “In Other Words.”



Hazel’s Pick

petergabriel1So by Peter Gabriel

Released in 1986, So was among the first compact discs my parents owned, and it got a lot of air time during my early years. Even with its hallmark ‘80s cheese, when I listen to it I hear the love of home and family in “Sledgehammer” (“all you do is call me / I’ll be anything you need”). I revisited it when I was in junior high and had just seen Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything…, with its iconic boombox-in-the-rain scene featuring “In Your Eyes,” which naturally felt representative of my own awkward adolescent “love life.” Last fall I chanced upon a vinyl copy of So at WMPG’s annual record sale, and discovered the album anew, including some of the slower songs I had dismissed in my youth, and as for my parents before me, it has become a household favorite.

Eileen’s Pick

2c7d2d4d035ad815405aa6890e58d19dLand of the Bottom Line, by John Gorka

Ah, Love! It embraces pizza and Gene Kelly movies and jeans that fit. In its full glory you can count on it to unhinge you and make you whole.  It bewilders and informs, sweeps the way clean, clutters the mind.  It floats.  It runs aground.

I remember my years-ago first hearing of John Gorka’s CD Land of the Bottom Line.   I liked the album very much.  It didn’t hurt that Gorka’s voice is what it is: smooth, strong, personal, direct.

More to February Picks’ thematic point, I was blown sideways when the penultimate track “Love Is Our Cross to Bear” tripped through the tympanic membrane straight to my heart.

I often do not understand things poetic.  Music making is a mystery to me.  But, make no mistake, I felt in Gorka’s delivery all the contradictions, elusive contentment, the crushing emptiness and aching fullness of love at all ages and stages. THAT, my friends, is not an intellectual exercise.  It is connection of the finest kind.  Like love.


Find these titles and more at PPL! And have a Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

Staff Picks for a New Year

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Seniors | Art & Culture
"Only the things I didn't do.

“Only the things I didn’t do/crackle…” -Naomi Shihab Nye. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


In the poem “Burning the Old Year,” poet Naomi Shihab Nye muses as she gets rid of some old letters: “Only the things I didn’t do/crackle after the blazing dies.” It’s that time again: at the beginning of the new year, we assess. We take stock. We remember old goals and renew them. We break trail, inspired to take on new tasks and ways of being in the world. Our staff picks in January offer a look at a few library resources and books that celebrate new beginnings and growth.


Staff Picks: Online Resources

Sonya’s Pick

Create the life you have always wanted and start your own business! You’ll need to write a business plan as your roadmap and to show to potential funders. A great way to get started in writing a business plan is to look at samples of business plans from existing successful organizations…and PPL has you covered. The Small Business Resource Center  provides thousands of in-depth business plans for a variety of industries. See our Business page for other helpful resources, and let our Business Librarian know if you need assistance.

Staff Picks: Nonfiction

Hazel’s Pick

Bbirdbybirdird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

“When people shine a little light on their monster, we find out how similar most of our monsters are. The secrecy, the obfuscation, the fact that these monsters can only be hinted at, gives us the sense that they must be very bad indeed. But when people let their monsters out for a little onstage interview, it turns out that we’ve all done or thought the same things, that this is our lot, our condition. We don’t end up with a brand on our forehead. Instead, we compare notes.” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I don’t usually make resolutions in January (I’m still stuck in an academic calendar mindset where the new year begins in September), but this year felt different. I closed the door on 2015 with both heart and mind focused on the pursuit of writing to which, despite identifying as a writer for the better part of my life, I have devoted little energy in recent years. I spent New Year’s Day reading Anne Lamott’s celebrated manual/pep-talk hybrid and gearing up for a long overdue return to the writing life.

Eileen’s Pick

maineatlasThe Maine Atlas and Gazetteer

In late 1989, before the days of cell phones and GPS, never mind smart phones that do everything, we two country folk moved to the great State o’ Maine with no jobs and these pooled resources: one graduate degree (his), two cats (ours), and a dogged determination to be shed of Boston (mine). NH had been home before our stint in Boston, but employment would more likely be found around Portland.  Enter The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, the Delorme bible that would ease me into our chosen Promised Land after having not driven EVER, ANYWHERE  for three and a half years. From the big picture to city streets and gravel roads, it had it all and showed the way to job interviews and the laundromat.  Even better, it brought me home again every time. I am happy to say that our New Beginning worked out just fine.  I still consult my Maine Atlas, albeit a newer edition, in lieu of more modern contrivances.  It always gets me home, where my heart is.

Elizabeth’s Pick

it's what i doIt’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynsey Addario

Lynsey Addario’s memoir is a straightforward, perceptive, and harrowing account of her work as a war photographer in the 21st century. It’s also a vivid portrait of the world in conflict and of the lives of others.  In It’s What I Do, Addario is a thoughtful recorder of the harsh realities and complex experiences of journalists, the many different people they write about, photograph, film, and record, and all those who help the media along the way and who are put at risk. Recounting her experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo, and Libya, Addario writes about lives changed, damaged, and lost. She writes about compassion, fear, hospitality, censorship, courage, love, and “the privilege of witnessing things that others do not; an idealistic belief that a photograph might affect people’s souls.” How does her account of her life and the lives of others help me grow? It does make me want to pick up my camera (though here in Maine and elsewhere, I’ll only ever be taking pictures of friends and family). More complexly, her work urges me to continue to grow towards care, towards thoughtfulness, and towards always learning, questioning, and paying attention.

bigmagicthe cliff walkordinarylight outofthewoods







Here are some other ideas for nonfiction titles at PPL that explore different themes of growth and new beginnings:

And there’s always…Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” which is a marble-writ glow of a reminder: “You must change your life.”

whenifirsteatingwildlybecoming nicoletrespassingon








Staff Picks: The First Folio

Ellen’s Pick

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio, by Andrea E. Mays

This book is a perfect prelude to the First Folio event at PPL that will dominate conversation in the Portland cultural community for the month of March. The first chapters focus on the fascinating history behind the creation and publication of the First Folio. Later chapters flesh out the story of Henry Folger’s mania for finding and collecting these prized documents. Mays presents a compelling and accessible tale, and one that provides an excellent context for the First Folio’s anticipated visit to Portland and its only visit to Maine.

Staff Picks: Fiction

Brandie’s Pick


The 40 Rules of Love, by Elif Şafak

I recently listened to and was inspired by a Ted Talk with Ann Morgan. She considered herself well-read until she discovered the “massive blind spot” on her bookshelf. Like Ann, I thought I read diversely, but I wasn’t stepping outside of my comfort zone (for me that’s mostly English and Spanish speaking countries). Ann created a goal for herself: to read one book from every country in the world over the course of a year. I don’t have time for that, but I have decided to read 12 books from 12 countries that I don’t normally visit. I have asked friends to join in on the challenge: we’ll meet once a month to discuss the books we read. This month we’re reading The 40 Rules of Love by Elif Şafak, a French born Turkish writer. The novel consists of two parallel narratives. The contemporary one is about an unhappily married Jewish housewife in Massachusetts. The second narrative is “Sweet Blasphemy,” about a wandering dervish and Rumi, the poet. It’s interesting to see how these worlds intersect, and it makes me look forward to reading my way around the world this year. Our next book is set in Iceland: Stone Tree by Gyrðir Elíasson.

Thaddeus’ Pick


The Gathering Storm, by Brandon Sanderson (for Robert Jordan)

The Gathering Storm turned me into a writer. Back in 2009 when the book was published, I was living in Massachusetts and had the privilege to meet Sanderson at a book signing, where I asked him about the writing process and how he managed to write such rich and engrossing fantasy universes while still managing to have a life. His advice was simple: “If you have a story to tell, then tell it. If you have a universe to share, then share it. If you write just three pages a day — just three a day, even skipping some weekends — you’ll have a book in 6 months.” Well, it took me almost 4 years, but my first fantasy novel was done, and I’ve continued to grow as a writer since! All thanks to Sanderson and The Gathering Storm.

 New Fiction in 2016


andaftermanythepast mynameyourheart







Last but not least…here’s a list of some of the library’s most anticipated new fiction titles for the beginning of 2016 (some not yet published): place your holds now!

spillsimmer peacekeeping shelter suddendeath

Peace, Joy, & December Staff Picks

posted: , by Elizabeth Hartsig
tags: Library Collections | Recommended Reads | Adults | Teens | Kids & Families | Seniors | Art & Culture
Images from "James Turrell: A Retrospective," one of the December Staff Picks.

A few serene images from the recent book “James Turrell: A Retrospective,” a December Staff Pick.


At the end of the year…in a time of reflection…staff members weigh in on library materials that personally inspire joy or peace.


Youth Services

Carrie’s Pick

zensocksZen Socks, by Jon J. Muth

Zen Socks, the newest installment in the Stillwater series by Jon J. Muth, introduces us to two new friends, Leo and Molly. Along with Moss, their cat, Leo and Molly learn timeless lessons of friendship, patience, and perseverance, from our favorite panda, Stillwater.

Set inside Muth’s sweet story and award winning watercolors is the traditional Zen tale,”The Taste of Banzo’s Sword.”Muth’s storytelling expertise shines in this short story within a story, which adds to the larger tale, while simultaneously being set apart with dynamic pen and ink drawings.

The book ends with and adaptation of the much loved, and often adapted tale, “The Star Thrower”, originally told by Loren Eiseley. This tale highlights the universal question: How should one act in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds? Muth’s answer: “Kindness works. Generosity works. Compassion works. Not every time, but always.”

Inner peace comes from knowing that you did the best you could, with the resources at hand, and in the time allowed. Stillwater reminds us once again that being kind and doing our best is always the right answer.


Hazel’s Pick

The_Red_Tree_(Shaun_Tan_book_cover)The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is a master of minimally worded, maximally illustrated picture books. With The Red Tree, he gives us immersive dreamscapes in which isolation, melancholy, and dark, persistent sadness dominate: a girl etching hundreds of tally marks into the shell of a slowly spiraling giant snail; an enormous gray fish floating ominously, casting a city in shadow. Maybe all this doesn’t sound so peaceful—but it’s the book’s hopeful, reassuring ending that makes it the obvious pick for me.



Laura’s Pick

lovabyeLovabye Dragon, by Barbara Joose

A book that has recently made me feel both peaceful and joyful is Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joose. The words have a lovely cadence which is wonderful to read aloud and the illustrations have a beautiful, soft, distinctive style that enriches the text. Lovabye is the story of Girl, who longs for a dragon for a friend, and Dragon, who longs for a girl for a friend. Thankfully, they find one another and discover that: “On the outside, Girl is little. On the outside, Dragon is biggle. But they’re just the same size, exactly the same size, in the middle.” The author says, “I think maybe I wrote this for little me.” I think everyone, big and little alike, will find joy in the idea of discovering just the friend you’ve been longing for.


Lisa’s Pick

MissRumphiusBookCoverMiss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney

Of all the stories set in our beautiful Maine, I’ve always found joy and inspiration in Miss Rumphius. The classic story of the Lupine Lady offers us three simple but bedrock rules for a good life:

1. Go to faraway places.
2. Come home to live by the sea.
3. Do something to make the world more beautiful.


 Emily R’s Pick

instructionsInstructions, by Neil Gaiman

Lots of people get excited about Gaiman’s longer works; for me, his poetry and short stories are where the poignancy lie.  “Instructions,” a poem written out and illustrated in book form, talks you through what to do if you find yourself suddenly walking through a gate you’ve never seen in a wall you walk by every day.  Drawing from tens of different fairy tales, advice is given: it may be about trusting youngest sisters, or about ferrymens’ riddles.  Be kind; remember that jewels are just as uncomfortable as frogs when falling from lips; trust the wolves. In the end, Gaiman returns us to where we started, changed though we are by the experience of the journey, the poem, and more peaceful for this time.

“All fairy tales take place in the woods, King Cole, even the ones that don’t.” – Bill Willingham



Ann’s Pick

bluehorsesBlue Horses, by Mary Oliver

The poet Mary Oliver has been a particular favorite this year (other inspiring recent reads include Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief, and the book I’m reading now, Ivan Doig’s last novel, Last Bus to Wisdom).

One example from Blue Horses is the poem “Do Stones Feel?” (p 71) from which I quote just a few lines at the end:

“Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.
Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.”

Oliver’s themes are the beauty, ferociousness, sanctity, and interdependence of all life.  All her poems are life-affirming to me.  When she says “too terrible it would be, to be wrong” about the question of stones feeling or clouds gladly giving up rain, she argues for the unknowable wonder, exploration and tolerance of the world, including human beings.   Reading Mary Oliver helps me to come back into balance when I’m overwhelmed with the events of the day.


Elizabeth’s Pick


A Season For Building Houses

“To me, a home is where I find love, peace, friends, joy, strength, faith, and trust in those around me.” -Richard Akera, from “I Started to Explain,” A Season For Building Houses

Local writing center The Telling Room and their Young Writers and Leaders program just won a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program award. It’s news that inspires joy.

I just finished the TR’s new anthology,”A Season for Building Houses,” feeling gratitude that the compelling writers (and many familiar faces) represented in it are getting their stories and poems- and their important questions and reflections on home, the world, and life- heard, published, and spread far and wide. The anthology is currently being cataloged for the library’s collection.

You can also listen to readings from the anthology in the author’s voices here on SoundCloud. Pair with The Telling Room’s The Story I Want to Tell: Explorations in the Art of Writing.


Eileen M’s pick


Splitting an Order
, by Ted Kooser

Peace can be elusive, perhaps because we think it is something to pursue, rather than a place to inhabit.  Ted Kooser’s deceptively simple, utterly accessible poetry often gives me that sense of being in peace.  Knotty problems and hard issues are there along with spot-on renderings of the natural world , canning lids and a passel of other things.   Kooser’s Splitting an Order, published in 2014, offers up a bit of perfection in the eponymous poem (don’t wait! turn to page 9!) …leaving me damp-eyed and smiling and feeling at peace with what is and what may be.  But don’t stop there.  Read them all.


Thaddeus’ pick


If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut

This prompt actually took quite a bit of thought. A lot of things make me happy, you see. I settled on a favorite though: If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by the late Kurt Vonnegut. While Vonnegut’s novels are known for his postmodern and almost dismal black comedy, his graduation speeches in If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? are testaments to hope and snark, to futures and failures, and to the momentousness of living. Whether waxing poetic on the need for extended community (“A husband and wife and some kids aren’t a family any more than a Diet Pepsi and three Oreos is a breakfast,”) or on the proof of God being the existence of music (“Bill Gates doesn’t seem to realize that we are dancing animals,”) Vonnegut extols the virtues of human beings simply recognizing that they are happy. After all, when was the last time you paused what you were doing on a sunny day and interrupted your companion to ask “if this isn’t nice, what is?”


Brandie’s Pick

mariekondoThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō

“Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?”

I recently read The Life Changing Habit of Tidying Up. (Everyone was reading it and remarking about how life-changing it truly is). A copy finally arrived as I was moving into my new home…which made unpacking take a great deal longer. Did it change my life? I don’t think so. I just can’t get that excited about organizing my sock drawer or rolling my shirts to maximize storage. But this guide to eliminating clutter is presented in an easy-to-manage way, and I do think that living with less clutter and less stuff creates a sense of peace. I also find myself using KonMari as a verb. I KonMaried my closet. I KonMaried my kitchen.

Perhaps this book sparked joy after all.


 Jim’s Pick

James Turrell von Michael GovanJames Turrell: A Retrospective, by Michael Govan and Christine Y. Kim, with photography by Florian Holzherr

My choice is our newest book on James Turrell’s work. I became acquainted with Turrell’s art some 25 years ago in New York.  It’s hard to define other than to say he manipulates light.  True story: I walked up to a grey rectangle in a gallery at the MOMA that was approximately 30 feet by 50 feet; only when I got to within 6 inches (!) did I see that it was not a rectangle, but that I was looking into another room.

Second time I saw his work: Arizona, Christmas vacation, 15 years ago. I allowed myself to be placed in a hollow ball that was sealed by a door, and then have laser lights alter the interior walls, so that I thought I was looking out into an endless blue vista…

As the book jacket notes, in his art “Turrell invites us to ‘go inside and greet the light,’ evoking the meditative practices of his Quaker upbringing.” Turrell also owns a crater out west (the Roden Crater Project) that I’ve yet to visit, which is supposed to be his magnum opus: the book includes beautiful images of it.


Meg’s Picks

"Sampler of Hand Stitches," from Rebecca Ringquist's Embroidery Workshops

“Sampler of Hand Stitches,” from Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops


9781617691416Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops, by Rebecca Ringquist

I love winter. When I’m not out playing in the snow, I love to hunker down with a cup of tea and an embroidery project. Rebecca Ringquist’s Embroidery Workshops: A Bend-the-rules Primer is my pick for this month because it has inspired me to embrace the darkest months as an opportunity to lose myself in the quiet, meditative nature of embroidery.





Works of Anne Bradstreet, by Anne Bradstreet

Cozy indoor projects are also a great time for reflection and a reminder of the great Anne Bradstreet who wrote, “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome” (Meditations Divine and Moral). So if needlework is not your thing, perhaps a good poem is.





Penelope’s pick:

MI0001910828Mbaqanga by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens

It’s mid December. I’m driving around at 4 pm, and it’s already pitch dark, for Pete’s sake. Time to crank up some joyful music to lift my spirits. I need something that is the total opposite of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Nothing could be better than this great album of South African pop recorded in 1992.

The style of music called mbaqanga emerged from the segregated townships near Johannesburg in the 1960s. The groovy sound is created by plinky electric guitars and exuberant  call-and-response singing between Mahlathini, a gravel-voiced “groaner,” and the Queens, a female trio. Most of the lyrics are in Zulu, with a bit of English scattered around. One of the tracks is titled “Stop Crying,” and that is a good advertisement for what this music can do for you.

A word of warning: this album is liable to cause vigorous car dancing. Please exercise caution if you listen while driving.



Thanks for reading, everyone, and all best wishes for a Happy New Year.

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