Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2023

Jacqueline Chambers

Homecoming: A Novel by Kate Morton

Full of beautiful Australian imagery and Morton’s classic use of buried, tangled family histories, this is an enjoyable read that gives you pause for reflection long after finishing.

Emily Cohen

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited and with an introduction by Meghan Daum

If spring is the season of birth, then I, as a proud childfree adult, could make the case that this book recommendation works for the fall, but the truth is, I just like this book. The great thing about essay collections on a particular topic is that some may ring very true to your own experience, some you may hate, and some entice you to read more by that author. While the subject matter is one I feel strongly about, Danielle Henderson is the writer that made me want to read it and while her work never disappoints, I also enjoyed Anna Holmes and Kate Christensen.

Although Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed may seem like a book for a limited group of individuals, it might be the perfect book to have around during the holidays. Perhaps there’s a conversation you’ve been wanting to have with your significant other or family members that seem to use their biological clocks to tell time in other people’s time zones?

Julie Corwin

A Most Agreeable Murder by Julia Seales

Do we need another book reflective of Pride and Prejudice? Yes! You’ll find wit, suspense, romance, and a lead character you want to root for all wrapped up in this fun, polite murder mystery. It’s light and fluffy and perfect for the commute. Available on cloudLibrary.

Bruno Faria

The Box Man: A Novel by Kobo Abe; translated by E. Dale Saunders

“I personally feel that a box, far from being a dead end, is an entrance to another world. I don’t know to where, but an entrance to somewhere, some other world.”
—Kōbō Abe, The Box Man

A book that I have never been able to finish although I’ve tried countless times, simply because it is pure genius.

Shay Glass

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell

I’ll recommend Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell. This graphic novel pretends to be about two friends working their last shift together at a pumpkin patch, but really it’s about as many quintessentially fall treats as the creators can squeeze in. Are you a fall person? This book is for you.

Anna Kelly

A Council of Dolls by Mona Power

A Council of Dolls follows three generations of Dakota women and their struggles and triumphs, primarily told through the stories of their relationship with their dolls. It is a powerful story about both the effects of intergenerational trauma as well as the ability, through love and forgiveness, to overcome it.

Michelle LeBlanc

Unworthy Republic by Claudio Saunt

In this gripping read, Saunt brings in a variety of voices to expand the story of the Trail of Tears and shows how the removal of Indigenous communities was not an inevitability and garnered widespread protest as well as indifference. His use of letters and government documents is particularly compelling and paints a vivid picture of both human suffering and the unfathomable undertaking of forcibly removing thousands of families from their homes.

Kat Meyers-Moock

Once and Future Sex by Eleanor Janega

Forget everything you’ve ever learned about women’s roles in medieval European society. Janega dives into court records and documents to find the women who were making a living for themselves and their families, while defying the roles that thinkers of that age placed women into.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

Food is the backbone of so many of our memories and nostalgic longings, so what happens when the foods you love and crave from your youth are so directly tied to pain and suffering? This book will make you cry, while also making you crave kolbasa and good rye bread.

Christina Michelon

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

If you like houses (or castles) that become main characters, unusual first-person narrators, or complicated but (sometimes) heartwarming family dynamics, read Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (1948) and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) back-to-back this fall. Both books are fictional diaristic recountings of the protagonists’ daily lives that are anything but normal. Strong and complex bonds between sisters drive both narratives and anchor two rich casts of characters. Start with Smith in early autumn, follow with Jackson for spooky season!

Carolle Morini

Hour After Happy Hour by Mary O’Donoghue

A wonderful short story collection that is in touch with the subtleties, sensitivities, and humor of being human. Click here for more on this author.

Zoe Palmer

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic is the perfect read to get into the Halloween mood. Travel with its protagonist Noemí to the mysterious High Place, where nothing is as it seems, and everything is conspiring against Noemí. Mexican Gothic combines classic Gothic tropes with explorations of colonialism’s sinister sciences to make a book that will have you afraid to turn the page but unable to turn away.

Leah Rosovsky

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

This book explores the relationship between three friends over a 20 year stretch. I didn’t believe that I would find the setting—a company that creates video games—to be interesting. I was completely wrong! It’s an incredibly compelling read.

Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer

If anyone in your life is under age six, you should pick up this book. It’s the story of a penguin and how he copes with a very bad day. The story and illustrations are charming and instructive. After all, who doesn’t need guidance on strategies for conquering a bad mood?

Mary Warnement

The Burgundians: A Vanished Empire; A History of 1111 years and One Day by Bart van Loo

Autumn means back to school for me, and my favorite topic to study is medieval history, specifically the fifteenth century. I was delighted to see this popular history, The Burgundians: A Vanished Empire; A History of 1111 Years and One Day by Bart van Loo appear in paperback in English this year. Given that lengthy subtitle and awkward second subtitle (preceded by semicolon for those of you who like to keep up to speed on obscure bibliographic citation rules), you may well fear taking home this hefty tome, but Loo manages to keep it under 600 pages. Bart van Loo is Flemish, lives in Belgium, and has published extensively on French history, literature, and culture. His popular treatment of the Low Countries at its pinnacle has received high praise and spawned a podcast in both Flemish and French. If you’re interested in the art of Jan Van Eyck or Rogier van der Weyden, the library of Philip the Bold, and historic cities like Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels, then this is the title for you.

The Bookbinder by Pip Williams

Pip Williams’s The Bookbinder is the author’s second novel, also set in the bookish world of Oxford. There is overlap of periods and characters with her earlier Dictionary of Lost Words, but you need not have read that to fully grasp her follow up. Again, there is a map of Oxford with buildings key to the plot illustrated. Various titles published at the Oxford University Press during WWI (when this novel is primarily set) appear in the plot, and several act as section headings, although in the afterword Williams tells her readers that she did not put much thought into their choice. I don’t quite believe her (I’d like to know if other readers agree with me). Williams has researched extensively, created believable characters, and doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow, which was appreciated. A world where books act as insulation, inspiration, and solace is one in which I am comfortable. If you are the same and enjoy historical fiction, then I highly recommend this.


An interview with Graham Jones, award-winning screenwriter

July 2023

Interview by Zoe Palmer

Graham Jones is an award-winning screenwriter and proud Athenæum member who hails from Greenwich, Connecticut. After studying history at the University of Colorado, he moved to Los Angeles to work as a production assistant in the film industry. There, he began writing screenplays and attending workshops at the University of California, Los Angeles Extension.

Q: Can you please tell me about your journey in the film industry and your background as a writer?

GRAHAM JONES: I wasn’t really a writer and didn’t think I wanted to be a writer until I was going up the chairlift in Aspen with a friend of my parents and said, “I’d like to go to Hollywood, but I’m a history major, not a film major.” They didn’t have film majors in my day. Maybe at University of Southern California, or University of California Los Angeles. My friend said, “History’s a good preparation, you should go do that.”

I was never admitted to UCLA. When I first went to Los Angeles, I applied to all the big film schools, USC, UCLA, American Film Institute, right? After I’d been there for a year or two, I started working for a film director, Peter Markle. He made me what was called a director of development, to read all the scripts he wrote, that his friends wrote, that his agent (Creative Artists Agency) sent over. This was a big deal. You’re 27 and you’re the director of development for a working movie director who’s represented by CAA. It’s a pretty big deal. So after about a year our mailbox was filled with invitations begging me to come to the screening of the work of film students whose class I would’ve been in!

I worked for Peter after working in the mailroom at Walt Disney, and that was no fun, and also helping friends on their student projects, which was fun. Peter said to me, “If you want your dreams to come true in Hollywood, you have to write screenplays.” And I couldn’t. I just wasn’t any good at it. It didn’t happen. But I was around Peter, and I was around screenwriters, and this was, dare I say it, the early to mid 90s. Career instability in Los Angeles, that’s the name of the game there. It’s not Boston, it’s very different. Lots of career instability. I started taking film classes at UCLA.

Fast forward to the writing. I made a little film and it did OK, it won an award, and then the writing just started to come. And it started to come while I was working for Mark Burnett, the reality television guy, who didn’t care about scripts. They humored me and read a couple of them, and then I just started writing.

Q: What are some of your favorite screenplays you’ve written?

GJ: Back when I was a 20-something, I actually wrote this screenplay to make in Boston, but I lost it! So I’m seeing this therapist, saying, “I don’t know where the thing is!” After, I wrote a bunch of scripts and they won a bunch of awards, I found the script I’d lost. It was a hard copy, the digital was long gone. I read it and it’s one of my favorite scripts. I’ve rewritten it a couple times, but it’s never been as good as this version that I barely remember writing.

At this point it was the mid to late 2000s, and I wrote screenplays about George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt and Ulysses Grant, and I wrote a screenplay about equestrian polo. Back then in LA, I was pretty into polo for a couple of years. In a grass field polo team, there are four players. And guess what, there are three Musketeers and D’Artagnan. I read The Three Musketeers, wrote down all the plot points the way Syd Field tells you to. Dumas, he wrote like film. First act, second act, midpoint, climax, end of second act, third act, resolution. That’s the way he wrote. Boom, I turned it into a script about four polo players at a mystical college. It’s really UCLA, but I call it University of Los Angeles. I wrote it around 2005, I wrote it to take place after the First Gulf War. You read these things now and they read like period pieces, which makes me feel like I should have a little walker.

In some ways, I’m the most proud of those scripts, but they’re not my best. My best are the three president scripts I wrote, one each about Washington, Roosevelt, and Grant.

Q: What is your writing process like?

GJ: I used to say the writing process consisted of the right mix of junk food, naptime, and exercise, but I don’t eat junk food anymore. At my age, you can’t eat junk food. So it’s naptime and exercise. I can never write a script in class. I have to have it done first. I would write, and then take the class, and rewrite.

I wrote a novel in second person singular, which we don’t often use in English, but a friend of mine from Paris said it is more common in French. So I wrote that novel, but it’s not published—I couldn’t get anybody interested in it. The process behind that was lots of caffeine, especially in Los Angeles. Taking my laptop, writing around people. That was something I could do then. I’m not sure I could do that now.

So my process is to be alone. I don’t have any writing partners. I don’t want one. I have tons of writing friends. We don’t do this to have a partner. That’s the whole point. We have a production company for a movie. That’s fine. But when somebody wants to be a writing partner, you buy it. You go, “Hand me the check, see you later.”

Q: I noticed on your IMDB page that you’ve also directed and produced and edited some of your own work?

GJ: Yes, my short work, and some of Peter’s stuff I helped develop. I enjoyed that part of the process as sort of a social, exciting thing to do with friends.

Q: Are there any writers or screenwriters whose work you particularly admire?

GJ: A filmmaker named Curtis Hanson. I never met him personally. The guy who wrote LA Confidential, James Ellroy, was my favorite writer. When I was a boy, I read a lot of Tolstoy. I read War and Peace a few times, Anna Karenina. William Goldman was the ghostwriter on a lot of stuff. He’s probably the best screenwriter there is. And these writers in these workshops at UCLA, some really good writers there. And you learned as much from the other writers as you did from the instructor.

Q: How did you first get involved with the Athenæum?

GJ: Dad had some friends that were very involved and I think still are, and a friend of my mother’s and father’s bought my father a membership. Friends got Dad his first Athenæum membership, and a friend gave me mine.

Q: And to close us out, do you have any favorite spots in the library to work or read?

GJ: I like the quiet room on the fifth floor with the vaulted ceilings. Probably the statue of Washington. I also like the portrait of Mrs. Cabot that I think is from 1910 or 1912, the tall thing where she’s got the big hat and the long 1912 style. I think it’s pre-World War I. That’s probably my favorite right now. A lot of my writing has to do with portraits. The first script, the one I lost and then found, was about a guy in Boston being haunted by a ghost that lives in one of his family’s portraits at their house on Beacon Hill.


Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2023

Emily Cohen

I don’t know what kind of summer it’s going to be but I can tell you I am in my nostalgia era and I welcome you to join me down on Sesame Street!

Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America by David Kamp
(Library of Congress Classification PN1992.8.C46 K36 2020)

Kamp’s 2020 book tells the history of Sesame Street, as well as the other shows of the time: Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, The Electric Company, Schoolhouse Rock!. I’ve always enjoyed Kamp’s dependable and entertaining style. Whether he is talking about sun-dried tomatoes in The United States of Arugula, or in Sunny Days speaking to Marlo Thomas about Free to be You and Me, Kamp is never lacking for sources.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis
(Library of Congress Classification PN1992.77.S43 D38 2008)

HBO (AKA “Max”) released a documentary in 2021, Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, which like most great movies, starts with a book, Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis, published in 2008. It’s a beautiful creation story of what people can do and how impactful inclusivity can be for children and adults everywhere. I’m not just talking about in front of the camera when it comes to seeing people who look like you—which is extremely important—but also about the amount of time and effort provided by educators to create content that would engage children and then get feedback from the kids to see what worked and what didn’t.

While I recommend both these books, I would say the audio book of Street Gang is especially enjoyable because it is read by Caroll Spinney. Did you know that he modeled Oscar the Grouch’s voice after the NYC cab driver who took him to his audition? Okay, no more spoilers.

Now let’s all sing… “Who are the people in your neighborhood, the people that you meet each day.”

Will Evans

Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3 .B79 Te)

Why is Anne relegated to a footnote in the Brontë story? While I have long appreciated the works of her sisters, especially Charlotte’s Villette, I had assumed that Anne’s work was inferior to that of her siblings, given the relatively meager attention she receives. My assumption proved groundless. Devoid of the Gothic window dressing of the older Brontës, Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall offers a frank, uncompromising, and emotionally charged portrait of marital abuse and the corrosive effects of alcoholism, themes that are sadly contemporary. In Anne’s telling, this story could be written today and still ring true, if the formal manner of discourse were removed (Not that I’m suggesting such a measure! Revisiting nineteenth literature offers a reminder of how richly expressive the English language can be). Come out from the shadow of your sisters, Anne!

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
(Library of Congress Young Adult PZ7 .L6 Las 2021)

I don’t often dwell in YA territory. Being many years removed from that demographic and a bit world weary, a genre that I perceived to be teeming with disaffected teens, dystopian societies, and death offers little appeal. How surprising then to find a YA novel of historical fiction with an emotionally resonant story. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club concerns Lily Hu, a Chinese-American teenager growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown of the 1950’s. Lily’s life is complicated by her sense of obligation to adhere to the suffocating code of conduct dictated by her tradition-bound family and a desire to partake in the alluring world that lies beyond the boundaries of Chinatown. Lily’s increasing self-awareness about her sexual identity adds to her internal conflict. This is one of the best works of queer literature I have read. Lo perfectly captures the emotional stew of giddy anticipation, fear, guilt, and desire that accompanies coming to terms with being a gay teen.

Shay Glass

Moon Pops by Heena Baek
(Library of Congress Classification Children Picture Book + BAEK)

On a night so hot the moon melts from the sky, Granny Wolf catches the liquid melted moon, pops it in her fridge, and makes glowing moon-sicles for her neighbors. The story is loosely based on a Korean folktale and illustrated with striking photographs of lit three-dimensional collages. This quirky picture book is perfect for staying up past your bedtime on a magical summer night.

Rachel Jacobe

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3.J27 Su 2008)

A short and sweet series of vignettes that are simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. And, as the title implies, it’s perfect for summer!

Anna Kelly

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.W6835 Bla 2022)

Black Cake is a story about family, love, and sacrifice that is told from the perspective of multiple characters spanning decades. When Benny and Byron’s mother dies, the estranged siblings are left with just an audio recording from their mother and a black cake. As the siblings listen to the recording, they realize how little they know about their mother, and just how many secrets their family, and they themselves, harbor. Wilkerson takes the reader on a journey around the world with complex, deep, and intriguing characters who must make tough choices to protect themselves and the ones they love.

Carolle Morini

A Few Collectors by Pierre Le-Tan; translated from the French by Michael Z. Wise
(Library of Congress N5200 .L48 2022)

I truly enjoyed this little book. A wonderful way to discover artists, collectors, and designers that I had not heard about and Pierre Le-Tan’s drawings are a true delight.

Zoe Palmer

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
(Library of Congress PZ4 .M9739 Co 2018)

This is the story of Keiko, a woman who has worked in a convenience store for her entire adult life and is perfectly satisfied in what others see as a dead-end job. She is befuddled by her friends’ and family’s desire for her to be “normal.” Keiko’s frank narration delivers refreshingly sharp observations about conventional expectations and experiences outside of societal norms; this is a quick read that prompted me to consider my biases about the modern workforce and life’s trajectory.

Leah Rosovsky

Old Filth by Jane Gardam
(Library of Congress PZ4.G218 Ol 2006)

Jane Gardam is a novelist who deserves to be much better known in the US. Old Filth is the first novel of a trilogy where the same stories are explored from different perspectives. “Old Filth” is the nickname of a successful former judge returned to England from Hong Kong. The novel is highly readable and a terrific portrait of a fascinating character.

Revenge of the Librarians by Tom Gauld
(Library of Congress PN6737.G38 R48 2022)

This short book of cartoons is designed to appeal to all readers. You will laugh out loud as you peruse its pages.

Jessica Schweber

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (through Network Effect)
(Available on cloudLibrary)

Network Effect by Martha Wells
(Library of Congress PZ4 .W4595 Ne 2020)

SecUnit is meant to be a mindless security bot whose every action is controlled by its owner corporation, but after “accidentally” becoming self aware and disabling its control module, it decides to assert its independence mainly by streaming intergalactic soap operas during mission downtime. SecUnit must balance a desire to avoid any and all earnest social interactions while hiding its illegal autonomy, and making sure none of the hapless humans under its protection are harmed by planetary threats or sinister plots.

The Cloisters by Katy Hays
(Library of Congress PZ4.H282 Cl 2022)

Set in NYC in the steaming heat of summer, The Cloisters follows Ann Stilwell, a young, would-be curatorial assistant who has moved to the city from middle America expecting a new start at the Met. Disaster seems imminent when she discovers her position is no longer available, but she is swept up instead into the gothic Met Cloisters. If you are in the mood for August in NYC, and deadly museum intrigue, this is the summer read for you.

Kate Smails

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.F64875 Sh 2006)

I’m sure some folks are already familiar with this novel (or perhaps the fabulously done HBO miniseries based on it), but my summer reading rec is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Reporter and unreliable narrator Camille returns to her tiny Missouri hometown in the hopes of a much-needed success story, covering a series of mysterious murders that cut much closer to home than she originally realizes. The slow-burn gravity and depth of the unfolding plot are as tangible as the summer mugginess and heat that stifle the narrator almost as much as her hypochondriac mother and the weight of her own past. This book kept me hooked through the shocking (sometimes graphic) discoveries and mundane humid porch moments alike; it’s balanced right on the precipice of imagination. My jaw hit the floor upon reaching the final plot twist of this novel, a twist that still makes me shudder. Whether you’ve seen the miniseries or cannot wait until after you’ve read the novel to do so, add Sharp Objects to your summer reading list!

Mary Warnement

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, (translated by Michael Hofmann)
(Library of Congress Classification IN PROCESSING)

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the translation of Erpenbeck’s latest novel, and it appeared June 6. The author was born in East Germany and described the changes that occurred after the collapse of the Berlin wall as emigrating without packing a bag: her country moved rather than her. This novel begins in the mid-1908s when a 19-year-old meets an established, married, middle-aged author. Their romance is set against all that comes next. I have only started the book but recommend it unreservedly.

A Chateau Under Siege by Martin Walker
(Library of Congress Classification IN PROCESSING)

My second recommendation is one for the end of summer, because it will not be published until August 29. If you have not met Bruno Chief of Police—and if you enjoy mysteries fueled by eccentric characters and descriptions of good food—then you will want to start this series. Not everyone shares my need to read a series in order, but I strongly suggest you do for this one. Good thing you’ve got plenty of time before this appears on our shelves. I promise, I’ll give members first dibs.


Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2023

Emily Cohen

Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries by Greg Melville
(Library of Congress Classification GT3203 .M44 2022)

When I think of spring, I think of all the beautiful walks I have taken in the cemetery, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge to be exact. As someone who grew up in New York City, I avoided cemeteries, held my breath as I passed them and knew I didn’t want to end up in one.

The author does a lovely job explaining what makes Mount Auburn Cemetery a great place to visit and includes the history of several cemeteries around the country (and their European and Egyptian influences.) The histories are as different as each cemetery, but they all start from a place of necessity. Melville doesn’t shy away from the discrimination, segregation, or the influence of the “multibillion-dollar Death Industrial Complex,” but he also writes about these sacred places with respect and appreciation. This made for an enjoyable read… though I still plan on being cremated.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, Narrated by Simon Vance
(Available on cloudLibrary)

I am not recommending this book to learn about Taoism. I just know that I listen to it whenever I want to stop overthinking, like a nostalgic meditation app. It is narrated by Simon Vance and when I say narrated, I mean he does all of the voices! Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, and of course Pooh. It’s as sweet as honey. I’ve been enjoying this one with special pleasure!

Will Evans

Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
(Library of Congress Classification Z330.6.W54 B98 2019)

Bythell, a used book dealer in a village on the west coast of Scotland, chronicles the peculiarities and frustrations of his trade. Less confessional than wry, the entries reveal his singular nature, equal parts grumpy resignation and hail-fellow-well-met affability. Among the more vexing issues he contends with are the mercenary practices of Amazon; the notoriously thrifty Scots (and American tourists!) that willfully remain ignorant of the concept of profit margins; an eccentric staff and faulty technology, both of whom determinedly act contrary to their boss’s wishes; and obliquely referenced but moving details of a disintegrating romantic relationship. The additional details of village life and descriptions of the countryside (Bythell is a fisherman, of course) further fueled my passion for all things Caledonian.

Table Two by Marjorie Wilenski
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3.W6482 Ta 2019)

It’s the summer of 1940. England is licking its wounds over Dunkirk, and the Battle for Britain rages in the sky. Into this theater of war steps Anne Shelley-Rice, a carefully brought up young woman in newly reduced circumstances, who moves to London to enter the workforce for the first time like thousands of other women. She finds translation work at a large ministry concerned with foreign intelligence, where she is stationed at table two (of the title) along with a dozen other women translators from all levels of society. One tablemate, Elsie Pearne, a clever and efficient woman of a certain age that’s universally despised for her acid tongue and imperious manner, unaccountably takes Anne under wing. As a romance with a recuperating member of the RAF begins to blossom for Anne, Elsie’s increasing demands upon their friendship start to chafe. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe shifts its focus to the London Blitz, and the realities of war begin to literally hit home.

Published in 1942, Wilenski’s only novel convincingly captures the uncertainty of the times and the impact of the war on societal norms, an endlessly fascinating topic for me. Additionally, the subtext of Elsie’s obsession with Anne could easily have been heavy handed, given the intolerance of the times, but Wilenski purposefully renders Elsie a sympathetic character by including her backstory. This is one of the more remarkable works among the canon of mid-twentieth century British women writers.

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.K2537 Sm 2021)

Set in an Irish village in the not-too-distant past during the weeks leading up to Christmas, this work would seemingly be more suitable as a winter recommendation. But great writing transcends seasons, and this novella lives up to all the praise heaped on it by the critics. It’s been some time since I felt this emotionally engaged with a character, but Keegan’s Bill Furlong demands your empathy. A solid, loving family man and fair business owner by all outward appearances, who inwardly lives a haunted, questioning existence. When faced with a situation that demands moral action, Furlong evokes a discomforting mixture of admiration and fear due to the certainty he’ll do the right thing despite the damning consequences. Keegan needs to write more!

Shay Glass

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons by Il Sung Na
(Library of Congress Classification Children Picture Book + NA)

This is a sweet, simple picture book with minimal text that’s wonderful to read with very young children. When winter comes, Rabbit and all her friends react in different ways: some fly away from the cold, some grow thick woolly coats! But the seasons keep changing, and soon the snow melts and flowers bloom. The illustrations use different patterns and textures on top of line drawings to evoke snowflakes and flowers, and the rabbit is adorable, with rosy cheeks and teeny tiny whiskers.

Anna Kelly

A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
(Available on cloudLibrary)

The remote coastal town of Golden Cove is characterized by a rugged landscape and a tight knit community, both of which may be much more dangerous and unforgiving than anyone could have imagined. When a local young woman goes missing, the town police officer and an estranged local must sift through the secrets and lies that come to light to figure out what happened to her, along with the three women who disappeared years ago without a trace. Are these disappearances a mere coincidence, or is there something, or someone, much more sinister at play? A Madness of Sunshine is a slow-building and suspenseful tale of light and darkness, of loyalty and betrayal, of twists and turns. The alternating character viewpoints and flashbacks create a multi-layered story that pulls the reader in and is supplemented by an intricate description of the stunning yet unforgiving environment. If readers are patient enough to endure the slow initial chapters, they will be rewarded with answers to their questions and unimaginable reveals. I listened to the audiobook, available on cloudLibrary, and thought the narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, did a wonderful job with pacing and accent.

Carolle Morini

Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza; translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead
(Library of Congress PZ4.G143 Po 2022)

Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho; translated from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa; introduction by Kate Zambreno
(Library of Congress PZ4.C331 Em 2021)

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt
(Library of Congress PZ4.H9759 Me 2019)

All three of these books will have you thinking about art, collecting, creating, and memory in different ways. Each book is clever, thoughtful, and insightful.

Elizabeth O’Meara

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
(Library of Congress PZ4.R9876 Sp 2013)

Queen of Dirt Island by Donal Ryan
(Library of Congress PZ4.R9876 Qu 2023)

One of our members introduced me to the Irish writer Donal Ryan and I immediately tore through his books. I just love his prose and his characters. The writing is spare and elegant and I particularly love how he plays with structure in his books. Queen of Dirt Island is a story of four generations of women living together in Ireland and it’s impressive how each chapter is no longer than two pages but incredibly satisfying. I would recommend any of his six novels.

Zoe Palmer

Koshersoul: The Faith and Food Journey of an African American Jew by Michael W. Twitty
(Library of Congress TX724 .T85 2022)

This is an exploration of African-American and Jewish culture through the common essential touchstone of food. Twitty, a culinary historian, recounts different aspects of Jewish and African-American culture and identity and how they intersect with or differ from each other, providing opportunities for exchange and understanding. His anecdotes both resonated with me and illuminated some of my blind spots, and I’m eager to research more (perhaps through his first book, The Cooking Gene, also in the Athenæum’s collection). The book also includes delicious recipes like West African-inspired brisket, stuffed kashered crab, and peach kugel.

Leah Rosovsky

The Bangalore Detectives Club by Harini Nagendra
(Library of Congress PZ4.N146 Ba 2022)

The heroine of this mystery is a young, brilliant Indian woman who moves to Bangalore in the 1920s to marry. She solves two murders while building a real partnership with her new husband.

Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts by David Pearson
(Library of Congress Z4 .P43 2008)

John Buchtel recommended this wonderful exploration of books as historical objects. The lavish illustrations helped me understand Pearson’s (and John’s) fascination with every aspect of the creation and life of a book.

Jessica Schweber

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa (translation by Alison Watts)
(Available on cloudLibrary )

Who can resist the combination of cherry blossom season, Japanese sweets, and intergenerational friendships? A cook with a blemished past and unfulfilled dreams of becoming a writer befriends an elderly woman with her own troubled history. This charming novel explores the redemptive power of friendship and personal growth.

Oh William!: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
(Library of Congress PZ4.S9186 Oh 2021)

I picked up this book because I’d noticed many of our members had done the same—it is one of our most checked out books of the past year, and I can understand why. The novel is delightfully narrated by the protagonist Lucy, who ostensibly wants to tell us about her inscrutable ex-husband’s recent spate of bad luck. The story simultaneously delves into her own past, and her family’s past and present relationships, examining the ways these relationships have grown or remained unchanged over time, for better or worse.

Mary Warnement

The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.W7855 Wh 2023)

Perhaps like me you expected a new installment in the Maisie Dobbs series in March and was disappointed to see that for the first time in many years, Winspear did not add a title as usual. Nevertheless, I admire the author enough to trust her. At first, some similarities between some characters in The White Lady and Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series gave me pause, but this story came into its own. Her thoughtful lead character—coping and calm and competent—is a relief to spend time with. This heroine’s origin story differs from Maisie’s in the structure of its telling. Here, Winspear goes back and forth in time; whereas in Maisie, she stuck to strictly chronological. I shouldn’t have been surprised to read her lead is based on a true woman. The White Lady probably influenced Maisie more than the other way ’round.


Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2023

John Buchtel

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts by Christopher De Hamel
(Library of Congress Classification Z106.5.E85 D44 2016)

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to go to Trinity College, Dublin, and ask to turn the pages of the Book of Kells in person? Christopher De Hamel, one of the world’s leading experts on medieval manuscripts, is one of a handful of people who has ever had that opportunity. With wit and insight he tells the story of that remarkable book, and of 11 more of the most famous illuminated manuscripts in the world. His personable, engaging prose sparkles like the burnished gold leaf that illuminates these books’ painted pages. Along the way, he makes new discoveries that could only be made by an actual physical examination of such manuscripts as the Codex Amiatinus—the earliest surviving complete one-volume Latin Bible, and the Hours of Jeanne de Navarre—one of the most spectacular illuminated manuscripts ever produced. Every book I’ve ever read by De Hamel has been wonderful; I’ve been enjoying this one with special pleasure!

Will Evans

Shy by Mary Rodgers
(Library of Congress CT275 .R6283 Sh 2022)

Shy tells the story of Mary Rodgers, the oldest daughter of composer Richard Rodgers (of Broadway titans Rodgers and Hammerstein fame) and his wife Dorothy. Spoiler alert: Richard and Dorothy were not good parents, or even nice people. They had little confidence in their daughter’s abilities, and they freely dispensed their low opinion of her. But Shy is more than an autobiographical vendetta in the Mommie Dearest mold. In a brutally candid, conversational tone (much of the book was dictated), Rodgers keeps the focus on her journey. In doing so she offers an absorbing description of the East Coast creative class of the period, among whom she doggedly pursues a career as a Broadway composer, notwithstanding the long shadow cast by “Daddy”. She achieves modest success in that field (notable her Once Upon a Mattress, a star-making vehicle for a young Carol Burnett) and would go on to have encore careers in children’s literature and philanthropy. Rodgers dishes plenty of dirt along the way (Was Arthur Laurent the most hated man on Broadway? Also, after having suffered an abusive marriage to a closeted gay man, Rodgers seriously contemplated a romantic relationship with BFF and Hammerstein protégé Stephen Sondheim, an idea endorsed by Sondheim’s therapist!). I enjoy a good dish as much as anybody, but the social history documented here is equally intriguing. Rodgers’s life seemly jumps from one social injustice or cultural hot-button issue to another: antisemitism, alcoholism, women in the workplace, women working in a male dominated field, working mothers, soft parenting, domestic abuse, homosexuality, prescription drug abuse, mental illness, the mainstreaming of therapy. Rodgers suffered, experienced, or bumped up against it all, yet she endured, and her triumph makes for an engaging read.

The Old Boys by William Trevor
(Library of Congress PZ4 .T8163 Ol)

In English public-school parlance (which is in fact private school) an “old boy” is any alumni of the school, be they 17 or 70. The old boys referenced in William Trevor’s title fall into to the latter age bracket, a group of septuagenarians that form some sort of governing board for their alma mater. An election for a new leader approaches, an occasion for some to seek vengeance for wrongs suffered decades ago. Trevor offers a fun cast of characters that include the entitled blowhard and his long-suffering wife, the quiet, embittered outsider, a pair of eccentrics that answer want ads out of boredom, all of whom seek refuge in their old boy identity with a tenacity that suggests they just walked off the cricket field and are heading to maths. They also all share a fear of death, some in a more self-aware fashion than others. Another remarkable (and enjoyable) feature of this book is the language Trevor put in the mouths of the old boys. The characters speak the Queen’s English with laser-like precision, expressing themselves in complete sentences that leave little room for ambiguity. It’s as though they inhabit a Trollope novel of the 1860s instead of 1960s London. While these absurdly exacting exchanges might signify the class and age of the old boys, their comic fastidiousness suggests that Trevor mocks those that cling to the past out of distaste for the present and fear of the future.

Your Table is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maitre D’ by Michael Cecchi-Azzolina
(Available as an audiobook on cloudLibrary)

Equal parts Goodfellas, Kitchen Confidential, and a social history, Cecchi-Azzolina’s autobiography chronicles his journey from a young punk on-the-make in his crime infested Brooklyn neighborhood to his career as a maitre d’hotel at some of the finest restaurants in Manhattan (or the world), namely the River Cafe and James Beard recipient, Le Coucou. Cecchi-Azzolina has a good story to tell. With dreams of stardom he crosses the East River in his early twenties, but like many a would-be actor, he resignedly waits tables until his big break materializes. Nevertheless, he quickly realizes his street-smarts will serve him well in the restaurant industry, and he begins to bluff his way up the food chain. In the course of his narrative, he outlines the fascinating dynamics of front-of-the-house operations. He also name-drops a lot, reciting a catalog of A-listers from the entertainment, sports, finance, and society pages. New York City also has a starring role in this story. The years of urban decay that plagued the city in the 1970s serve as a fitting backdrop or nurturing environment for Cecchi-Azzolina’s debauched lifestyle of that period. The sudden advent of the ‘80s financial boom ushered in the era of the pinstriped Wall Street heavyweights, financial kingpins who handed out c-notes like they were business cards. Accordingly, Cecchi-Azzolina’s own fortunes and morals rise, achieving the exalted post of maitre d’hotel at the aforementioned world-class restaurants. Cecchi-Azzolina’s also relates with genuine feeling the onslaught and subsequent devastation of the AIDS epidemic that decimated the New York restaurant and theater worlds he inhabited.

I would not have likely picked up this book myself. It was forced upon me by my book group, chosen mainly on the merit that it was under 300 pages (One of their steadfast rules!). After initial resistance largely born out of confusion (I’m not sure why, but I imagined we were to be regaled with anecdotes of a cosmopolitan, Upper East Side eatery), I gradually became disarmed and abandoned my snobbery to enjoy the earthy narrative. Also, uncharacteristically for a book group selection, I listened to the audiobook, and in doing so I unwittingly became captivated to a degree that I’m sure I would not have achieved by reading the book. Cecchi-Azzolina reads with the measured cadence of a trained actor, but his Brooklynese adds a note of endearing humility to his tale that would have come across as bravado on the printed page.

Carolle Morini

The Hero of This Book: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken
(Library of Congress PZ4.M13186 He 2022)

Wonderfully written—witty and introspective.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut; translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West
(Library of Congress PZ4.L137 Wh 2020)

Excellent work. It will haunt you well after you finish.

Leah Rosovsky

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3 .K1775 Sn)

This short book, by a Nobel Prize winning Japanese author, takes place at a hot spring in a rural town popular for hiking and skiing. It tells the story of a doomed love affair between a wealthy Tokyo intellectual and a geisha. The book combines mesmerizing descriptions, particularly of the natural world, with characters sketched in quick brushstrokes.

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .S765 Fo 2020)

I loved this mystery, the first of a new series. The main characters are female versions of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin written with much flair and wit. There is a great plot and lots of stylish dialogue. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next two novels!

Jessica Schweber

Kindred by Octavia Butler
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .B98666 Ki 2003)

Watching a commercial for a new television show based on this book inspired me to read Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred. The time-traveling narrative highlights slavery as a nexus event, the effects of which ripple through American history and continue to impact the present. An exciting, thought-provoking, and emotional read as relevant now as it was in 1979 when it was first published.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .G1414 No 2017)

I bought this book as a holiday gift for my sibling and couldn’t resist reading before gifting it. The winter weather is a good match for Norse mythology and Gaiman’s prose revives these ancient tales while keeping the original feel of the stories.

After reading this, I now feel an urge to compare to Gaiman’s source materials which, happily, are also available at BA!

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated from the Icelandic
(Cutter Classification VCYL .Ed21 .E .b)

The Elder or Poetic Edda by Edda Sæmundar
(Cutter VCY .8V69)

Mary Warnement

The Posthumous Papers of the Manuscripts Club by Christopher De Hamel
(Library of Congress Classification ND2900 .D44 2022)

I enjoyed his first thick book Meeting Remarkable Manuscripts, about his studying iconic medieval illuminated books, and I’m looking forward to settling in on the love seat with his follow-up about the collectors of those books over the centuries. This seems like it would pair well with a reread of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, or maybe Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.