It’s September, season of change, and the library is full of new arrivals. The great Toni Morrison unwaveringly looks out at us from the poster for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, the 2019 documentary about her life and the abiding power of her words, newly out on DVD. We’re also days away from the release of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, and Stephen King’s The Institute just hit the shelves.
Our staff shares their picks of this month’s favorite library materials—time to place your holds in summer for autumn days of books, movies, e-Books, audiobooks, and more…
Our family is getting ready to send our first kid into Kindergarten, and we’re all feeling that familiar feeling of excitement mixed with wariness. One book that’s helped all of us? The King of Kindergarten by Derrik D. Barnes. The bright, cheerful illustrations and sweet story show a new Kindergartener having a great first day of school, with happy parents to cheer him on. It’s sure to boost the confidence of any new school kids in your home, too.
For my own reading, I have a growing list of books I can’t wait to read — here are some new books to look out for, come and join me on the hold lists!
Frankly in Love by David Yoon
Frank Li and Joy Song are two high schoolers with the same problem: both are dating people their Korean-American parents will never approve of. A fake dating scheme sounds perfect — what could go wrong?
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
A young girl growing up in a house full of artifacts feels more and more like a prize hoarded away. When she discovers a book that describes doors as portals to other worlds, she discovers thrilling secrets about herself, and a way to escape her narrow world.
The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman
For those of us who loved reading The Golden Compass trilogy, last year’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage was a delight. I can’t wait to listen to the next in the new series to find out more about Lyra’s adventures. (And yes, I will definitely be seeking this one out on audio, narrated once again by the talented Michael Sheen).
As summer wraps up in Maine, sigh, and most children head back indoors, SIGH, we begin to get questions about internet screen and media addiction. Many families struggle with the balance of screen time vs. family time.
Jonathan R. Werner, the Library and Instructional Technology Specialist at the Cape Elizabeth Middle School Library & Learning Commons, presented his free talk and slideshow, Resisting the Irresistible: Understanding and Combating Addictive Technology this past fall at Lincoln Middle School in Portland. Most compelling was Mr. Werner’s own story of finally coming to terms with his media addiction while on the shores of a gorgeous Canadian lake with his family. All of his materials are available free online, and he encourages people to not only share his slides, but also to contact him if they would like him to present free of charge to their school or community group.
Happily, you can also stop by the Children’s room for inspiring books, periodicals, and audio to take home, or come for a visit with your child and play a board game, build with Legos, play in the Early Literacy room, and curl up with a great book.
“On your marks, get set, bake!”
My pick for September is The Great British Baking Show. I usually read pretty severe nonfiction, but everyone needs a break from time to time, and this show has been the perfect escape. It stands out among other reality competition shows: you won’t find any huge cash prizes, product placement, snarky backstabbing between contestants, or nasty judges. Instead you’ll find a group of average people baking various breads and pastries for the simple reward of a job well done and the title of Star Baker.
The contestants are sincerely kind and supportive of each other; the judges are constructive and root for everyone. This cotton candy content has potential to be boring, but TGBBS is compelling viewing thanks to clever editing, a dramatic musical score, and quips from the comedienne hosts. Some of the competitions are real nail biters. Will Martha’s custard finish baking in time? Will Norman burn his ciabatta?
If you haven’t already discovered this gem of a show, check it out: PPL has the first five seasons on DVD.
What if our dystopian nightmare began tomorrow? Would we even notice? Ling Ma’s Severance follows Candace, a recent wayward college graduate who designs Bibles for a publishing conglomerate. When Shen Fever – an illness dooming civilization to death by nostalgia – hits New York, Candace and a group of survivors plan their next move.
Ling Ma plucks topics from our subconscious dread – globalization, pandemic illness, and the commodification of creativity – and places them together into a quietly terrifying landscape. Severance is like Colson Whitehead’s Zone One with less intensity and Shaun of the Dead with less slapstick. I also suggest listening to the audiobook on CloudLibrary, narrated by Nancy Wu with some much-needed droll levity.
September means only one thing in my book world – the release of The Testaments, the much-anticipated sequel to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I was left with so many questions at the end of Handmaid’s Tale. What happened to Offred? What the heck was going on in Gilead? Did all handmaids use butter for moisturizer? So. Many. Questions. The Testaments picks up fifteen years after Offred’s story ends and Atwood promises:
“Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.” —Margaret Atwood
Sequels are sometimes risky, and I’ve been burned before (ahem, Go Set a Watchman), but I have faith in Atwood and feel really good about this one. If you need me September 10th, I’ll be totally unavailable.
Today I’m hoping all the good books I’ve lugged home-and-to-the-library-again lately are signs of a fall of further gems. Fingers crossed, and thank you, books, for all you do…
De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s new novel, In West Mills, is a page-turning tale full of life, heart, worry and wisdom, and most of all, characters to laugh with, cry with, and root for. A great book to dive into on these still-summer days.
Memory and loss, vanished ferries and missing birds, burning libraries…a woman on an unnamed island struggles to hold on to the world she remembers. The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is entrancing new fantastical fiction (translated by Stephen Snyder).
In New Nonfictionland, “Explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers” (as well as physicists, miners, and more!) populate the grimly beautiful depths of Robert Macfarlane’s Underland. You’ll be on the edge of your seat whether he’s describing dark matter, underground rivers, a wild drive many miles beneath the sea, or a harrowing journey through a boulder ruckle.
What’s a ruckle, you ask? Pick up Underland and shine a light—but be warned: Macfarlane is keen to tell you “what lies underground, why you should not disturb this place, and what may happen if you do.”
If someone wanted to take stock of what’s on my mind, a quick scan of our coffee table tells the story. That is where library books land when I unload my backpack. A selective survey shows that chosen cookbooks lean toward plant-based these days, with Timothy Pakron’s Mississippi Vegan forming the base of my precarious reading material pyramid. Some fiction of the fluff variety makes an appearance or two, sweet glue that keeps me happily unchallenged. Aspiration takes hold with the next few volumes: Being Bold with Watercolor by Annette Kane, Learn Watercolor Quickly by Hazel Soan, and, just to balance the craft of it with some history and unbeatable modeling, Masters of Color and Light: Homer, Sargent, and the American Watercolor Movement by Linda S Ferber.
Let me briefly sidetrack my biblio-train of thought to encourage you to take advantage of the library’s free pass to the Portland Museum of Art. I did just that earlier this summer and it was a real treat… so lovely that since then I, she of the tight wallet, have purchased a membership. Now I can walk down Congress Street during my lunch break to soak in the quiet and brilliance of it all, smack in the middle of my work day. Sublime. Each visit makes my fingers itch for my recently acquired ultra-cheap watercolors, and I imagine unearthing my inner Wyeth. So far, whichever Wyeth I think is buried deep within has proved elusive, but, more important, my inner Eileen has come closer to the surface and she is having a grand time seeing light and playing with color in whole new ways. So go to the museum. Then give in to the urge to create something.
But back to my stack: Hopes and dreams take a lofty leap with A Pretty Good Person: What It Takes to Live with Courage, Gratitude, and Integrity, Or, When Pretty Good Is As Good As You Can Be by Lewis B. Smedes. Similarly remote heights loom with How to Retire Happy by Sam Hinden. Both seem equally far off in the unreachable mists, but if I have a dilletante’s nerve to slosh around with watercolors and see what comes of it, I surely can indulge in a fantasy of good personhood and a happy retirement. Surely that.
My stack is far higher than that brief list, much wider than I am likely to conquer, and inevitably some of the books will make their way back to the library without being tapped. When I saw them, I had to hold them, call them mine for a few weeks, spend time finding if what they offered would fit the spaces curiosity creates. My teetering heap of books seems random at times, but it follows my heart whether I know it or not as I pluck each volume from the shelf. And what is going on in my heart is what’s on my mind.
What’s on your coffee table?
As ever, thanks for reading.
(You can explore more new library materials here. And if you’re looking for more ideas of books to add to your reading list, check in with our Reader’s Advisory crew at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a Your Next (Great!) Read form to get a personalized list of reading suggestions).