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.