Portland Public Library’s Journaling group meets every 3rd Wednesday of the month, at 5:30, in the Portland Room. For July’s gathering we decided to meet at the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Garden, thanks to our wonderful neighbors at Maine Historical Society. (For the August 16th meeting, we’ll be back in the Portland Room, at 5:30.) One of our popular journaling prompts, to get the writing wheels turning, is something we call “write where you are.” We began the summer evening by seating ourselves in different parts of the garden, which offers plenty of nooks and perches. After 12 minutes, we gathered and read aloud what we came up with. Most of our participants sent in their choice excerpts from the exercise, and here they are:
“There are two trellises in front of the brick wall. They appear to be window frames but when one looks through them there is only the bricks. Windows to nowhere. This seems absurd just like the artist who painted ‘This is not a pipe.’ This is not a window.
Some people have windows that have nothing to see when peered out of. Others have windows that showcase spectacular views. Are they always appreciative of the view or does its ability to enthrall wane over time. The human mind enjoys variety. After a certain amount of time it is not aware of what is right in front of it. If sticky notes become ubiquitous the mind ignores them, searching for some fresh perspective to alight on.”
“The pathway of flagstone steps leads up and around through yellow day lilies and ferns. A birdbath sits at the top of the path but no birds are bathing at this moment though their song can be heard from where they perch on branches overhead.”
“A stream comes from lion’s mouth,
The stream hits the water beneath,
Every tree is different,
Dressed leaves or pods.
Some trees stretch their arms towards the sky.”
– Karen P.
“The living brick,
the wind in brick,
Tree stirred to swimming shadow
on the once-dead wall.”
“Colorless sky, unconvincing siren, sea gulls sound their own alarm. A tiny ant makes its way across the sea of bricks, passing by another ant. Writers return to their seats.”
“A stone lion always running his mouth, but forever in one place. This place, with black, iron benches forged with designs of grapes, not of wrath, but of respect for one’s solitude.”. In case someone has submitted a line referencing the lion or the grapes, and you do not wish the collaboration to fall redundant, here is another: “The garden is dressed head to toe in brick, but hidden within a concrete jungle.”
“They are red, purple
Staring up at the sky
waiting to be noticed
Planted to stay
but free to climb
They change the
Of the green landscape.”
“Writers are spread around the garden, surely pleasing Henry’s spirits! At the height of summer, the tress; verdant drapery are at their densest, and earthen aromas of boxwood waft with the breezes. All of this is situated right at the center of the city, and few have any idea this is here, along the busiest street in this state. But on scratch and scribe the writers in Hank’s back yard, scribbling with the seagulls and garden beetles.”– Abraham
(Items from the Library, about the Longfellow Garden!)
What’s hot in new fiction at the library this summer? We’re happy to share a few favorites for you to stow away in your beach bag or backpack to read in the warm light of the sun this July and August.
Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root is a celebration of farming, food, innovation, diversity, and fun: all in a sweet little picture book. With upbeat lyrical language and a realistic portrayal of urban community, young and old alike will be inspired to plant a little garden.
Be it in a plot, a pot, or a shoe, growing a garden is something we all can do, together!
New YA Fiction
The YA books Teen Library staff members are most excited about reading this summer are:
I went into this book thinking it would be just a fun fluffy romance, and it has that, but there is so much more depth to it than I was expecting. It is amazing to see historical fiction that is accurate, interesting, and also written in a way that makes it relevant to modern readers. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is socially aware without being heavy handed, and takes on issues of race, sexuality, gender, and ability with subtle aplomb. Lee also clearly knows 18th century Europe and is good at talking about it – her historical notes at the end are actually interesting to read!
More LGBTQ historical fiction like this please!
New on DVD
Ixcanul is a Guatemalan film set in in a remote Mayan village located at the base of a volcano. The primary language spoken in the film is Kaqchikel, an indigenous tongue still widely used and taught throughout central Guatemala. The film follows a three-person family of coffee harvesters: a mother, father and teenaged daughter. As the parents attempt to arrange a marriage for their daughter, she herself is dreaming of running away to America.
As the story unfolds, director Jayro Bustamante is able to grapple with a number of poignant issues currently facing Guatemala, including climate change and racism. The lead actresses, María Telón and María Mercedes Telón, both of whom had little acting experience prior to their involvement in Ixcanul, provide resounding performances as a mother-daughter pair. Though I have never been, I believe cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga has done a commendable job of capturing the beauty of Guatemala. Even though the storyline progresses slowly at times, Ixcanul satisfies through its completeness, making for an immersive viewing experience.
New Adult Fiction
Lisa Ko’s debut novel The Leavers is the story of a young man’s struggle to discover who he is and where he belongs after his family is ripped apart. Eleven-year-old Deming Guo’s life is turned upside-down after his mother, a Chinese immigrant, disappears without a trace. Deming is sent into the foster care system and adopted by an upper-class white family who rename him Daniel. He struggles to fit in his new surroundings and to meet the high expectations of his adoptive parents. Over the years he grows depressed and eventually flunks out of college after developing an gambling addiction. One day he receives an email from an old friend who has information about what happened to his mother. At first he ignores it, afraid of the pain it will bring, but eventually he decides to meet with his friend. He begins a journey to find his mother, and along the way begins finding himself. The Leavers is a beautiful coming of age story that is not to be missed!
While reading 1997’s Man Booker Prize winner The God of Small Things almost 20 years ago, I was instantly captivated by Arundhati Roy’s lush, gorgeous prose and mysterious tale of misunderstanding and pain. I had discovered an author who understood language, structure, and the craft of writing so beautifully and I yearned for more. Twenty years later, Arundhati Roy has finally delivered more with her second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. This story of love, politics, and suffering is set across the Indian subcontinent and filled with the odd and the unforgettable. The author weaves lives together in the clever, beautiful, and hauntingly painful way that captivated me 20 years ago. This was my most anticipated book of 2017 and it has not disappointed!
I know I have raved about him before but I must do it again because a) Bill Roorbach is a wonderful writer and b) I l loved his latest collection of short stories, The Girl of the Lake, which was published this June. I don’t naturally gravitate towards short stories, so when I find a collection I like, I can’t help but recommend them to everyone I come into contact with. Each of these ten stories deals with the complicated beauty of relationships, and each is filled with hope and honesty.
My favorite story in the collection is The Fall. I love the way Roorbach delves into romantic relationships in such a brutal way, but also I read it right before I hiked Katahdin. It freaked me out, for sure, but it also gave me a lot to think about on my 8.5 hour hike. And weeks after finishing it, I am still thinking about it. That, to me, is the mark of a truly successful story. Get on the hold list now!
I’m still midway through Neal Stephenson’s and Nicole Galland’s rollicking entertainment, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. This fantasy/sci-fi mash-up is based on a premise any grown-up Harry Potter fan will flock to: magic is real! Witches too! Except magic died out in 1850 or so…but why? And how to get magic back? With time-traveling, quantum physics, rare books, and lively discussions of Schrödinger’s Cat. Although totally gratuitous in the wink-wink-nudge-nudge humor department, this behemoth means well and is appropriately warmhearted for a suspenseful summer read, and so it casts its charm.
Bonus recommendation: Dina Nayeri’s memorable Refuge tells the story of an Iranian-American woman, Niloo, who is living in Amsterdam, helping Iranian refugees, and who has only been able to reunite four times in her adult life with her Hafiz-reciting, charismatic, left-behind father Bahman. From the author of A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.
Critics and readers alike have not stopped talking about Lincoln in the Bardo since its release this past February. In his first full-length novel, author George Saunders tells the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie through a combination of dozens of characters providing narrative and real letters and memoirs from 1862. The story takes place over the course of one night in a place (the Bardo) that resembles purgatory. It is a truly unique examination of life explored through the dead. But even more remarkable than the book is the audiobook version of Lincoln in the Bardo. The 166-person full cast includes the likes of Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Miranda July, Bill Hader, Megan Mullally, Lena Dunham, Don Cheadle, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Ben Stiller…and so many more. The combination of a marvelous story told through expertly cast characters makes for a real treat. Perfect for a summer road trip!