08.25.2022

Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2022

Dan Axmacher
Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino.

(Library of Congress Classification PZ3.C13956 Co)

I recently finished Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, a delightful little collection of short stories that play out across millennia. The immortal narrator Qfwfq recounts a series of situations and stories from his various lives and incarnations, exploring human relationships and foibles on a cosmic scale. This one was a real treat. Available as an audiobook on cloudLibrary.

(Library of Congress SH383.2 .D65 2007)

Next, I’m plummeting back down to Earth and into the sea: I’ve just started Leviathan, Eric Jay Dolin’s historical account of the American whaling industry. I’m only a few chapters in, but so far it’s been interesting to see how the growth of the whaling industry was so closely intertwined with the growth of the United States from its earliest days. It doesn’t hurt that the subject matter pairs perfectly with some of these gloomy New England autumn days. Available on cloudLibrary as both an audiobook and ebook.

Emilie Barrett

(Library of Congress PZ4.H134 Ot 2020)

For those of us who love Jane Austen, The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is a deeply interesting delve into the characterization of the forgotten Bennet sister, Mary. Through a journey of self-discovery and romance, Mary must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and have prevented her from what makes her happy, and undergo an evolution in order to finally find fulfillment in her life. Hadlow’s prose is a beautifully written accompaniment to Austen’s original work and keeps in the spirit of the characters we originally loved in Pride and Prejudice, while adding additional layers of intrigue, lovability, and disdain to many of the characters we did not get to know as well.

John Buchtel
Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny

(Library of Congress PZ4 .P4275)

John Buchtel has gotten hooked on Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series, with its rich cast of characters, delightful sense of humor, and insight into the art world, the world of libraries and books, and especially into human nature. Not to mention a protagonist who is both truly noble and deeply human, and a setting that will make you want to pack your bags for the Québec countryside as soon as you can: the idyllic, Brigadoon-like village of Three Pines. The first four books are each set in one of the four seasons, starting with the autumnal Still Life. Some titles are available on cloudLibrary.

Jacqueline Chambers

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B1275 An 2020)

This extremely funny and heartwarming novel is sure to make you laugh and cry! Quirky characters abound, and seeing how these strangers grow and come together through a bizarre situation is delightful. 

Will Evans

(Library of Congress PZ3 .T1626 Mak)

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.

Unfolding during the years just prior to WWII, the Makioka sisters are the last in a line of a once powerful and wealthy family in the Osaka area of Japan. The story primarily centers on the family’s attempts to find a suitable husband for the third oldest sister, Yukiko, an emotional reticent woman on the verge of spinsterhood, and the rebellious (read: often Western) behavior of the youngest sister, Taeko, who is forbidden to marry until her older sister has done so. While the plot concerns the two younger sisters, it’s through the eyes of the second oldest sister Sachiko—a happily married woman with genuine love and concern for her younger siblings—that we experience the story. 

Tanizaki serialized the story during the war, and he presents in microcosm what must have been cataclysmic societal shifts happening in Japan at the time. Many of the characters, especially Sachiko and her husband Teinosuke, exhibit wistful longing for the past, while we witness the transgression of tradition, patriarchy, and obedience to elders in the form of Taeko’s actions. The tone, period, and setting made this a compelling read for me, and I was fascinated by customs it outlined, especially around marriage. 

(Cutter Classification VEF .Sh165 .fo)

Does time erode one’s culpability for a wrong committed long ago? Isobel Bracken, the foolish gentlewoman, becomes convinced it does not. A sentimental, kind-hearted widow, Isobel is determined to right a wrong she enacted in her youth by means of an extraordinary, grand gesture. Her prickly brother-in-law and solicitor Simon steadfastly tries to thwart Isobel’s efforts to provide restitution for what he considers a very venial sin.

Like her contemporary Stella Gibbons, Margery Sharp is a shrewd observer of the comic and unremitting Englishness of the British. Available as an ebook on cloudLibrary.

(Library of Congress PZ4 .L6775 Sh 2005)

Octogenarian Nikoli, an eccentric Ukrainian emigre living in the English countryside, has married buxom, blond Valentina, who recently arrived from the Ukraine with an expired green card, a “gifted” school-aged son, and a volatile personality. Seeing through Valentina’s obvious charms and even more obvious motives, Nikoli’s daughters Vera and Nadezhda set aside their troubled history with father and each other to free the smitten old man from the clutches of his new wife.

This book careens from humor, pathos, and human cruelty, and it may be off-putting to some (it depicts elder abuse among other travesties). Nevertheless, the sometimes frustrating, comic, awkward, and joyful experience of caring for an aging parent depicted here rang true for me. Additionally, the enlightening snippets of Ukrainian history told through the family’s history and Nikoli’s treatise on tractors (which gives the book its title) provide some insight to current events. Available as an ebook on cloudLibrary.

Leah Rosovsky
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner.

(Library of Congress PZ4.O8336 Th 2020)

Four friends, living in a retirement village in England, solve murder mysteries in their spare time. The series is delightful, witty, and surprising. Available as both an ebook and audiobook on cloudLibrary.

(Library of Congress CT275.Z386 A3 2021)

Michelle Zauner comes to terms with her mother’s death by writing about their shared obsession with food. It’s a lively memoir that alternates between humor and pain. And, the descriptions of Korean food are mouth watering! Available as both an ebook and audiobook on cloudLibrary.

Emily Schuman

(Library of Congress TX357 .S23 2022)

A fascinating look at the history of foods and the impact of mass farming. It’s made me think about how to buy and support the local farms and ecosystem both from an environmental and a health perspective. 

Jessica T. Pinkham Schweber

(Library of Congress PZ4 .W74728 Se 2021)

The author of this book weaves several generations of Dakota women’s stories together within her main character’s life experiences of trauma, love, and loss. It was both personally and historically compelling. Available as an audiobook on cloudLibrary.

(Available as an ebook on cloudLibrary)

This reader is not always a fan of murder mysteries, but I was delighted by Tursten’s somewhat ethically challenged protagonist Maude, an octogenarian who will not be pushed around.

Graham Skinner
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (volume 1 of the Temeraire series)

(Available through cloudLibrary on both audiobook and ebook)

Screenshot of the cover for His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik from the Athenæum’s cloudLibrary portal.

Dragons and the Napoleonic Wars! What else is there to say? Aside from dragons, I became enamored with the historic fantasy fiction novel and the friendship between the dragon Temeraire and the at first reluctant Captain Will Laurence, who makes a decision between seafaring and becoming part of the Aerial Corps. There is an amazing cast of characters, humor, and friendship that Novik’s writing style captures and is so deeply engaging that I am now three novels into the series.

Mary Warnement

(Library of Congress PS3556.A314 Z46 2017)

Suggesting a book to fall in love with for everyone is a tall order! I have an author to recommend: Anne Fadiman has written on a variety of topics, and her book of essays Ex-Libris is my favorite book to give, but more recently she wrote a biography of her father. Also available as an audiobook on cloudLibrary.

(Library of Congress PZ4.S52645 Gu 2008b)

If you haven’t discovered it or you’re a fan of rereading, I recommend returning to the charming world in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Available both as an ebook and as an audiobook on cloudLibrary.

Murder on the Vine by Camilla Trinchieri

(Library of Congress On order for the Athenæum)

And finally, something new, a book set in October during the wine harvest season in Tuscany, currently available as an ebook on cloudLibrary. Maybe you want to read the series in order, in which case get Murder in Chianti, also available as an ebook and as an audiobook on cloudLibrary.

06.03.2022

Staff Book Suggestions Spring & Summer 2022

Will Evans

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam
(Library of Congress Classification PZ3.A196 Ho)

Adam, along with her husband, small children, and a band of friends, decide to pool their resources to escape the deprivations and squalor of London at the close of WWII. Renting a manor house in the seemingly idyllic English countryside, they immediately become the envy of their city friends and foes, who all too frequently assume the form of unwanted guests. Moreover, Adam and company, former flat dwellers, quickly realize the necessity of servants needed to run such a behemoth of a residence, a proposition at odds with their democratic ideals newly born out of the irrevocably altered, postwar social order. Additionally, these erstwhile urbanites often serve as a form of amusement for the local rustics by their general cluelessness of country life. Lack of fortitude among the principles soon gives way to shirking and recrimination, and the band of utopians slowly dwindles. Part social experiment, part fish-out-of-water story, this semi autobiographical work offers wit, gentle humor, and a fleeting glimpse at a way of life that has all but disappeared. This work is unique among Adam’s writings, the majority of which explore feminist issues.

(Library of Congress PZ3.C3133 Be)

Possessed by self-assurance but unencumbered by any formal education, 17 year-old Sarah longs to restore the family country estate to its former glory. Reduced to genteel poverty by a deceased father that exercised poor business judgement while among the living, Sarah and family dwell amid the crumbling manor with little purpose in a neighborhood inhabited by eccentrics common to English villages. Her terminally vague mother does little to help the cause, when she marries a maestro, who brings to the union a fragile constitution and his objectionable children, a stepfamily rich in artistic pretensions, but poor in liquid assets. A new acquaintance in the form of a handsome diplomat, all kindness and flash, might rescue Sarah, but he proves to be frustratingly enigmatic largely due to Sarah’s naiveté. Determined to impress him, she impulsively escapes to London to earn a living, but her lack of any qualifications lands her a menial job and lodgings unsuitable for a carefully brought-up young lady. Sarah’s combination of cluelessness and candor is endearing and the cast of supporting characters do much to enhance this comedy of manners. But it’s England, the summer of 1939, and throughout the book an atmosphere of wistfulness coupled with a hint of impending doom hangs in the air. 

Anna Kelly

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley
(Library of Congress Classification PZ7.B6637 Fi 2021)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook format.

This book follows 18-year-old Daunis Fontaine, who is half white and half Ojibwe, as she navigates family tragedy, a budding romance, and a drug issue on her reservation. When she witnesses a shocking murder, she steps in to help the FBI with their drug investigation. She is reluctant, but her love for her family and community is strong, and she believes she can help the community find peace and healing by helping to find a solution. As she uncovers secrets, she realizes going undercover and searching for the truth was more complicated than she imagined. Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Ojibwe woman (Anishinaabe kwe) and how far she’ll go for her community and loved ones.

Boulley does a tremendous job of bringing to light the drug trafficking and resulting tragedies that are occurring on this reservation and providing context for the prevalence of an issue like this, while simultaneously showcasing the strength, beauty, and resilience of Native communities and cultures. She reminds us to consider the human aspect of these types of tragedies, the effects they have on real people, and how to continue to honor those whose lives are taken at the hands of such tragedies. I also felt attached to Daunis immediately; as someone with a white mother and a Native father, I understood Daunis’s feelings of not quite belonging in either world. She is so easy to root for because of how smart and strong she is and how deeply she cares about her community and family, even with its faults. 

Christina Michelon

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .P46465 Es 2018)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook format.

I highly recommend this as a late summer beach read, especially if you find yourself in marshy North Shore areas such as Massachusetts’s own Essex. Over the span of a year and set in late Victorian England, Perry beautifully illustrates a range of relationships, exploring the nuances of friendship, love, and intimacy. All the while, an invisible threat forever alters the lives of this broad group of complex characters. Gothic tropes abound!

This had been on my “to read” list for years but its recent adaptation as an Apple TV series motivated me to finally give it a go. My advice: read the book, skip the show! (Not even Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston could save it.)

Leah Rosovsky

Just Kids by Patti Smith
(Library of Congress CT275.S6444 A3 2010)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook and eAudio format.

I have particularly enjoyed Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which covers her first experiences living in New York City and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

 

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri
(Library of Congress CT1518.S85 A3)

 

Meatless Days is a memoir about postcolonial Pakistan. Sara Suleri was the daughter of a prominent Pakistani journalist and a Welsh mother. She tells powerful stories of her family and her losses in a hypnotic style.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
(Library of Congress PZ3.J27 Su 2008)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook and eAudio format.

The Summer Book is a novel with a strong feeling of memoir. A young girl and her grandmother spend the summer on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Told in a series of vignettes, we watch the impact of time on an older person, on a child, and on the island itself. 

Graham Skinner

Role Models by John Waters
(Library of Congress PN1998.3.W38 A3 2010)
Available through cloudLibrary in eAudio format.

While not as beautifully sickening as Waters’s Carsick, the “King of Filth” and director of Pink Flamingos and Serial Mom muses on role models and influences on his early and later life. The book is a delightful walk through a gallery of his friendships, personal and filmic influences, his love of Rei Kawakubo’s fashion, and even a muse on the arts that he’s brought into his home. A good read for a John Waters fan, but Role Models is also a fabulous book that may not look at individuals we typically see as role models, but definitely the influences and “loves” of his life.

Carly Stevens

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
(Library of Congress PZ4 .H1447 Mi 2020)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook and eAudio format.

I listened to The Midnight Library on cloudLibrary . It was narrated by actress Carey Mulligan who did an excellent job. Overall, the plot is a fun concept and I found the characters heartwarming. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
(Library of Congress PZ4.B98666 Pa 2016)
Available through cloudLibrary in eAudio format.

Parable of the Sower is a beautifully written book with great characters. It is an interesting and important story crafted by a talented writer. 

Mary Warnement

August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones
(Library of Congress PZ4.J7938 Au 2017)

This title may confuse, but no, it is not a depressing weather forecast for New England but rather a rollicking thriller set in Detroit whose ex-military, ex-cop, incurable Romantic hero is named August Octavio Snow. Jones is a poet and playwright and while those sensibilities may inform his prose, this story is a page-turner for the beach, the plane, or the backyard hammock. You’ll get to know Mexicantown and other areas in Detroit, which are most likely unfamiliar. Yes, it’s a macho romp, but you’ll rethink the word “macho” after finishing.

Godine at Fifty: A Retrospective of Five Decades in the Life of an Independent Publisher by David R. Godine
(Library of Congress Lg Z1217.D38 G63 2021)

If you are a book collector living in the Boston area, you probably know about David Godine’s books, and the subtitle of this tells you pretty much all you need to know about his latest. Not simply a checklist or annotated bibliography, it’s a beautifully illustrated brief history of both his work in general and individual titles in particular. Anyone looking to satisfy a bookish craving will find nourishment with every flip of the page.

Bruno’s Challenge: And Other Stories of the French Countryside by Martin Walker
(Library of Congress PZ4.W183 Br 2022)
Available through cloudLibrary in eBook format.

In recent years, summer has meant a chance to bask in the sun of southern France while reading of the amorous and culinary adventures of Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of a village in the Dordogne who mediates everything from neighborly disputes over geese to espionage with major international implications. The latest in the series won’t be out until the end of August, but these short stories act as an amuse-bouche until the main entry is ready.

12.09.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2022

John Mathy

Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War by Samuel Moyn

(Library of Congress KZ6385 .M835 2021)

A fascinating exploration of the Peace movement that asks the question: what if attempts to make war more ethical have actually just made it easier to accept, leading to the creation of wars that never end?

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Library of Congress PZ4.I78 Bu 2015)

An exciting and heartwarming stroll through the world of Arthurian legend that explores the importance of human memory and purpose.

Carolle Morini

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangal; translated from French by Jessica Moore

(Library of Congress PZ4.K41 Pa 2021)

A lovely book about growing up, creating art, and looking closely at one’s surroundings—the natural and manmade environments.

Elizabeth O’Meara

Following are a few books I’ve read recently that I’ve rated five stars on Goodreads.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

(Library of Congress PZ4 .C987 Se 2021)

I enjoyed the conceit of the book: the protagonist is writing a letter to a close friend of her experience inviting an artist to live in a cottage on their property that she and her husband refer to as ‘the second place’. Through this letter she recounts the events of how this additional presence impacts her family and herself.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe

(Library of Congress CT275.S135 K44 2021)

I listened to this book on cloudLibrary, which was read by the author. As can be imagined, it’s a fairly aggravating topic since this family has been able to use its wealth and connections to evade the consequences of what they did with their product Oxycontin. What I found most interesting is the reporting done on the first generation Sacklers and where it all started.

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

(Library of Congress PZ3.M4518 Ear 2008)

This was the first piece I’ve read of Maxwell’s and I was enthralled with his writing. This short novel written in 1934 encompasses mostly one day in the lives of a boarding house and its occupants.

Leah Rosovsky

Many of my best reads are a result of recommendations from the Athenæum staff and members. All three of my books fall into this category.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

(Library of Congress PZ7 .G48 Van 2017)

Mary Warnament recommended The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street in her holiday list. It is so good I had to mention it again. It’s a charming story of five siblings living in New York City. The book reminds me of some of my favorite childhood authors (Elizabeth Enright, E. Nesbit) yet it is completely contemporary in feel.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

(Library of Congress PZ3.P9936 Ex)

I know I’m late to the party when it comes to Barbara Pym. Will Evans suggested Excellent Women to me this fall. I couldn’t believe that I had missed it. It’s a savagely funny read filled with hilarious characters.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

(Library of Congress PZ4 .O313 Ha 2020)

Tim Diggins, the President of the Athenæum, urged me to read Hamnet. The writing is just beautiful even as the story is heartbreaking. I gulped the book down in two afternoons over the holidays.

Carly Stevens

Chickenology: The Ultimate Encyclopedia by Barbara Sandri and Francesco Giubbilini; illustrated by Camilla Pintonato

(Library of Congress + SF487.5 .S36 2021)

I am nearing the end of the semester which means my time for fun reading is extremely limited. Chickenology is a quick and informative read with beautiful illustrations. Caution: There is a strong possibility you’ll want to adopt a therapy hen after reading! Consider yourself warned.

Mary Warnement

A Street in Suffolk by Adrian Bell; with drawings by Richard Shirley Smith

(Cutter Classification N9Y .B414 .st)

In 1964 Faber and Faber published this collection of essays by Adrian Bell, who was a farmer, author, and also first compiler of the crossword in the London Times (eventually contributing almost 5,000). I’m currently savoring a new edition of selections from his weekly column in The Eastern Daily Press, which he wrote from 1950 to 1980 and recently published by Slightly Foxed with a focus on his winter writings. The BA’s 1964 selection is charmingly illustrated as is the 2021 selection, though by different artists. Bell’s well-written reflections on his simple surroundings make for a contemplative treat. Not all of these focus on winter but this season is an excellent time to stop, look closely, and notice the beauty of a season when so much seems dormant. I add an interesting fact I learned while preparing this recommendation: his daughter was Anthea Bell, an award-winning translator whose work I also admire and recommend.

Death of an Englishman by Magdalena Nabb

(Library of Congress PZ4.N114 De)

This book is by no means new, published in 1981, but if you like mysteries set in Italy and don’t know about this author, you will want to add her to your list. This is the first in her series set in Florence featuring Marshal Guarnaccia. We meet him first suffering from a cold, not at his best, and struggling to solve the murder of a foreigner in his city, which as presented here is not the tourist mecca of steamy sunshine but ratyher as the city of locals during the rainy off-season. I found that even more interesting. Our detective prescribes the cocktail Negroni to treat his ailment, and as we enter flu season during a pandemic I find myself wishing that were truly a panacea. If you enjoy this, your reading list is enriched; she wrote 13 more in this series.

11.22.2021

Staff recommendations from 2021 Holiday Pop-up Bookshop

Carolle Morini

Books and Libraries, Everyman’s Pocket Poets  edited by Andrew Scrimgeour
Stories of Trees, Woods, and the Forest Fiona Stafford
Literary Places Sarah Baxter
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks (age: 10-14) by Jason Reynolds,
Lore Alexandra Bracken  (YA)

Elizabeth O’Meara

The Friend Sigrid Nunez
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations Toni Morrison
The Lost Words  (Picture Book for old and young) Robert Macfarlane
The Old Truck  (Picture Book) Jerome Pumphrey

Anthea Reilly

Paris in the Present Tense Mark Helprin
Collected Stories Shirley Hazzard
Death in the Vines M.L. Longworth
Charlotte’s Web (Youth) E.B. White

Mary Warnement

Murder in Chianti Camilla Trinchieri
Cheese, Wine, and Bread Katie Quinn
The Inheritance Game  (Young Adult novel)Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Outside In  (Picture Book)    Deborah Underwood
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street  (Youth) Karina Yan Glaser

09.07.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2021

Lauren Graves

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .T2385 Re 2020)

Brandon Taylor’s debut novel tells the story of Wallace, a gay black doctoral student attending a predominately white midwestern university. Described as a “coming of age” and “campus” novel, this book follows Wallace’s search for life, real life, beyond the academy. 

Carolle Morini

Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer; translated by Antoinette Fawcett

(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.M495 Bi 2018)

Based on the life of Len Howard, a British naturalist and musician, this story traces her life from the stage to seclusion. It is a lovely book about her immersion into the natural world around her. 

Derek Murphy

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

(Library of Congress PZ4 .R66263 Mi 2020)

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest reads more like a pop-history narrative from the near future than a traditional science fiction novel. It combines fictional narrative, scientific and historical essays, and poetry to portray a best case scenario where human civilization not only survives climate change, but actively mitigates it, building a better world in the process. This book is vivid and unsparing in its portrayal of climate catastrophe, but in the end it left me a little more optimistic than I was before.

Leah Rosovsky

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4.H4316 Tr 1980)

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

(Library of Congress PZ4 .O5398 Wa 2018)

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller

(Library of Congress PZ4.M645 Nor 2013)

I just finished reading The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard and Warlight by Michael Ondaatje. Of course, I’m always reading a mystery story too. I loved Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller. I would love to hear about your favorites.

Carly Stevens

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Library of Congress PZ4 .I78 Kl 2021)

I listened to the audiobook of Klara and the Sun via cloudLibrary. Ishiguro’s latest is the perfect Fall read for those colder days when you miss the warmth of the summer sun.

Mary Warnement

Autumntide of the Middle Ages: A Study of Forms of Life and Thought of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries in France and the Low Countries by Johan Huizinga

(Library of Congress + DC33.2 .H83 2020)

Huizinga was a huge figure in twentieth-century academic circles and inspired many interdisciplinary studies, and I’d be surprised if most hadn’t encountered his works in college. His most well-known book had five editions in his lifetime and was translated into many languages. It appeared first in English in 1924 as The Waning of the Middle Ages, and Huizinga collaborated with Frits Hopman on what he knew was an adaptation rather than a full translation. In 1996, a new English translation appeared. In 2020, Leiden University sponsored a new translation with a history of the work’s publication as well as an explanation of Huizinga’s other works and his influence on scholarship over the last century. It also has excellent reproductions of many paintings, manuscripts, and prints discussed. It includes the bibliography omitted from the first English translations and even lists the specific books Huizinga checked out from his university’s library. If you like medieval and book history, this is for you. One caveat: it is in the format of a huge art book and is meant to be read on a table rather than in one’s lap or hands.

The Day of the Dead: The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni

(Library of Congress PZ4.D31 Da 2014)

We’ll be reading this together; it’s on my list for the fall. This series set in Naples in the 1930s was recommended to me years ago, and I’ve been slowly savoring it. I know someone who gobbles ‘em down and then waits impatiently for the book to be written and then translated from Italian. At first, I scoffed at the premise, a detective who is cursed to see the dead in their final moments, but the author writes sensitively and beautifully and realistically. If you like mysteries, I highly recommend this and suggest you actually start with the first I Will Have Vengeance: The Winter of Commissario Ricciardi. If I change my mind after reading this fourth in the series, I’ll own up to it for our winter recommendations.

06.16.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2021

John Buchtel

Come in out of the hot sun and cool off with one of these big books while learning about one of the most important treasures in the Athenæum’s collection, the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493:

The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle by Adrian Wilson

(Cutter Classification :X7Z //K796 //w)

A richly illustrated in-depth history of the most extensively illustrated early printed book. An experienced book designer and printer himself, MacArthur grant recipient Adrian Wilson tells the story through the lens of the astonishing survivals of early contracts, sketches, and layouts for the massive 1493 publication. He argues persuasively that some of the sketches may have been done by a young Albrecht Dürer.

Chronicle of the World: The Complete and Annotated Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 by Hartmann Schedel

(Library of Congress Classification Lg Z241 .S3413 2001)

A complete full-color facsimile of a stunningly hand-colored copy of the German edition of the most extensively illustrated early printed book, with a well-researched introduction in English by Stephan Füssel, director of the Institute for Book Studies at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

The Nuremberg Chronicle: A Pictorial World History from the Creation to 1493 by Ellen Shaffer by Hartmann Schedel

(Cutter $7T //Sch2 //zs)

A limited edition fine-press book that tells the story of the Nuremberg Chronicle. Some of its content has been superseded—but it includes an original leaf from the 1497 piracy! N.B. As this item is part of our Special Collections, it doesn’t circulate, but one can view it by way of a research appointment.

Jacqueline Chambers

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

(Library of Congress PZ4.M9056 Sec 2012)

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

(Library of Congress PZ4.M9056 Fo 2009)

Kate Morton is one of my favorite writers. Her novels center around family histories, generational mysteries, and the indelible bonds of women. Both The Secret Keeper and The Forgotten Garden were wonderful reads, and I could not put either book down even as the hours ticked on and my eyes strained to remain open late into the night! I love the way her stories span over many generations and locations, and you become deeply invested in her flawed and beautiful characters. 

Carolle Morini

Lyrical and Critical Essays by Albert Camus. Edited and with notes by Philip Thody. Translated from the French by Ellen Conroy Kennedy.

(Cutter Classification VF3 .C1573 .l .E)

If you have read his fiction and have a hankering for more Camus in your life, check out his essays—you will not be disappointed.

Looking At Pictures by Robert Walser. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

(Library of Congress N7445.4 .W325 2015)

Take a read of these short unique pieces about art, artists, and life before you head to the museums and galleries. The perfect size for travel.

Derek Murphy

Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France by Natalie Zemon Davis

(Library of Congress PQ613 .D38 1987)

This was one of those fortuitous discoveries for which the Athenæum’s stacks are so well-suited. The title caught my eye while I was looking for another book, and the first sentence of the preface cemented my interest: “For years I have been reading sixteenth-century letters of remission for crimes, dutifully taking notes on names and acts, while chuckling and shaking my head as though I had the Decameron in my hands.” In sixteenth-century France, some citizens convicted of certain crimes were given the chance to plead their own case, telling the story of their crime in hopes of a pardon. These stories were typically transcribed to be reviewed by the king or his chancellery. Many of these documents survived in the archives, and they give a rare insight into the voices of the common people of the time. The author shares several entertaining examples of these pardon tales, and considers what they can tell us about the ways people of that time and place lived and told stories.

Anthea Reilly

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H478 Pa 2017)

Any novels by Mark Helprin—He is a delight to read—writes as though he is composing a fantastic symphony.

Death at the Château Bremont by M.L. Longworth

(Library of Congress PZ4.L8591 De 2011)

M.L Longworth mystery series set in Aix-en-Provence—charming and good for fast reading.

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H4316 Co 2020)

Shirley Hazzard Short Stories—excellent writer as usual.

Allegorizings by Jan Morris

(Library of Congress PR6063.O7489 A79 2021)

Her final book—essays on her life, another excellent read.

Kaelin Rasmussen

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

(Library of Congress PZ4.D547 Do 1996)

Like many of us, I have seen the film Blade Runner (at least two cuts of it, anyway). Until now, however, I had not read the book upon which it was based. Though in general I quite enjoy dystopian science fiction of yesteryear, I had always avoided Philip K. Dick’s 1968 classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, thinking “Been there, seen that.” I have now changed my mind and recommend the book on its own merit. The apocalyptic, noir-ish flavor of the book will be familiar to movie fans, but there is so much more there. Rick Dekard’s hunt for renegade artificial humans is fraught with huge ideas about the nature of human emotion, intelligence, perception, and empathy, and alongside, the small, sharp uncertainties and petty urges of everyday life. In other words, the good stuff. While I was not pleased with the stereotypes embodied in the women characters, a not unexpected flaw, I still enjoyed the skillful world-building, the exciting story, and the troubling possibilities of this surprising novel. Plus, science fiction makes great summer reading!

Leah Rosovsky

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

(Library of Congress PZ4.C3118 Mo)

This beautiful short novel tells the story of a shell shocked World War I veteran, Tom Birkin, who spends a summer just after the end of the war in the English countryside. Birkin has been asked to restore a medieval mural that has been uncovered in a small local church. The book poses questions about love, memory, place, and art especially as part of the process of recovery. It’s deeply moving and deeply enjoyable.

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

(Library of Congress PZ4.M11865 De 2020)

Set in New York City in the fall of 1969, the novel starts when one of the deacons of the local Baptist church shoots a young man dealing drugs in the Brooklyn project where they both live. McBride is an amazing storyteller and creates vivid portraits of a large cast of characters and their overlapping lives. The novel is alternately painful, gripping, and very funny.

Carly Stevens

Waiting for the Night Song by BA Member Julie Carrick Dalton

(Library of Congress PZ4 .D149 Wa 2021)

Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaiki Tubbs

(Library of Congress E185.96 .T83 2021)

I detest the summer months. To cope, I throw myself into books to pretend I’m anywhere but Boston during the grueling heat and humidity. In my mind, nothing can transport you out of the heat better than a thriller. Waiting for the Night Song by member Julie Carrick Dalton fits the bill perfectly. I also like to throw in some nonfiction to keep my brain in tip-top shape. Three Mothers by Anna Malaiki Tubbs is an engrossing read that asks readers to reexamine the legacies of Berdis Baldwin, Alberta King, and Louise Little in order to understand a mother’s role in resistance and activism.

Mary Warnement

The Library of the Dukes of Burgundy, edited by Bernard Bousmanne & Elena Savini

(Library of Congress + Z814.L53 L53 2020)

A book about books always catches my eye, and the fifteenth century is my favorite period, so how could I resist this. These rulers took their impressive collections with them as they travelled from stronghold to stronghold. If you are familiar with a medieval illuminated book, then it was probably owned by one of these dukes. This is an over-sized book but manageable. A brief introduction explains the history of the dukes and the region they ruled. A short chapter from the conservators highlights repairs made—or not—with excellent photographic illustration, as is the case for the catalog entries. These books now reside in the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) and the book accompanies an exhibition in a newly designed space to showcase their amazing collection. If the history doesn’t interest you—and some of the translations are a little uneven—you can jump ahead to the catalog entries for these gorgeous books. If you’re ready to start thinking about packing your bags again for travel, just think what these ducal households had to consider when packing their libraries.

Blood and Roses: One Family’s Struggle and Triumph During England’s Tumultuous Wars of the Roses by Helen Castor

(Library of Congress DA245 .C3687 2006)

My second recommendation also focuses on the fifteenth century, told through a family’s letters, which have the “immediacy of an overheard conversation.” My commutes for a month were enlivened by Castor’s story of their survival, discovery, publication, rediscovery, and republication, which interested me as much as the history itself. The Pastons are well known among medievalists, but if this isn’t a period you know much about, you’ll learn much and no doubt be shocked at the level of upward social mobility. Castor writes well and not only simplifies the complicated political and family history. If you want to know about the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstoff, this is good for that too.

Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B626956 Th 2020)

And now for something completely different, to prove I am not (only) a history geek. Mystery lovers may know Cara Black’s Aimée Leduc series set in modern Paris. This standalone thriller is set primarily on one June day in 1940. The first chapter opens with a bang, and you can’t imagine how it can keep it up; however, then comes the twist and the thrill is there till the end. A great summer read.

Hannah Weisman

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

(Library of Congress PZ4.A165 Wh 2021)

As a fan of political soap operas—er, dramas—on television, Stacey Abrams’s newest novel is the perfect summer read. Although I haven’t made it to the end yet, I’m deeply invested in whether Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn will survive his coma, whether his bright law clerk Avery Keene will determine whether the Justice’s cryptic message to Keene forewarns a legitimate national security threat, and whether President Stokes will play a role in ending the Justice’s life. Abrams’s story rolls along at a pleasant clip, making it easy to enjoy on the beach or on the front porch with a summer beverage.

03.10.2021

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS SPRING 2021

John Buchtel

The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World by Edward D. Melillo

(Library of Congress SF517 .M45 2020)

The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjöberg; translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal

(On order)

In anticipation of the daffodils’ emergence and the awakening of their pollinators, John Buchtel’s thoughts took an entomological turn as he prepared his March 29th Curator’s Choice presentation on “Bugs!” (Check out the video on our Vimeo page, if you missed it!) From the new book shelves, John commends two books on his six-legged theme to us. In The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2020), Edward D. Melillo, professor of history and environmental studies at Amherst College, tells the fascinating story of the impact on human culture of such insect products as silk, shellac, and cochineal (John’s presentation included not only stunningly beautiful rare illustrated entomology books, but also exquisite examples from our collection of these three insect products, and more besides!). John also gives his highest recommendation to Fredrik Sjöberg’s The Fly Trap (New York: Pantheon, 2015). In a lyrical translation from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, Sjöberg’s memoir is as much about the beauty of art and nature, the mania for collecting in general, and the influence our predecessors have on our intellectual curiosity in the present, as it is about one man’s obsession with the study of rare hoverflies on a remote Swedish island.

Carolle Morini

Nightshade: A Novel by Annalena McAfee

(Library of Congress PZ4 .M11192 Ni 2020)

London, NYC, art, artists, creativity, poisonous plants…death. What else could you ask for? And a good guide for what not to plant in your home garden.

Costalegre by Courtney Maum

(Library of Congress PZ4.M452 Co 2019)

Costalegre is inspired by the relationship between Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen. It is set in 1937, war on the horizon, art and artists to save, artists to know, art to create and adolescence to through—written in a diary style by the teenage girl.

Lisa Muccigrosso

A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense by Randall Davies

(Cutter Classification VEA .D285)

I’ve got A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense on my bench in the lab. In 1912, Randall Davies took medieval woodcuts and composed limericks to go along with them. It’s definitely a fun little diversion.

Kaelin Rasmussen

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, from The Works of Edgar Allan Poe

(Cutter VE .P753 .3)

Now that spring is in the air and hope springs anew, many of our thoughts turn to wistful plans for the misty future. How about a nice sea adventure novel to put you in the mood…? No. Wait. That’s a different book. This book is Edgar Allan Poe’s version of a boy’s adventures on the high seas: Nantucket-born Arthur Gordon Pym, a romantic lad in his late teens, imagines that a whaling journey to the South Seas sounds like good fun. But his parents say no, so naturally he and his best friend, son of the ship’s captain, hatch a plan to get him on board in secret. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. Poe’s plot is gruesome, his prose filled with his wonderful dark urgency. It’s a novel of the nineteenth century, with the nineteenth-century novel’s troubling portrayal of people of color from a white perspective, which I read as an exercise in identifying and thinking about how those troubling ideas are still with us today.

Anthea Reilly

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

(Library of Congress PZ4.B7839 Inf 2017)

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

(Library of Congress PZ3.C2858 De 1999)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

(Library of Congress PZ4 .F356 Ly 2020)

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H4316 Co 2020)

Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin

(Library of Congress PZ4.H478 Me)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

(Library of Congress DA566.9.C5 L37 2020)

Why I Don’t Write and Other Stories by Susan Minot

(Library of Congress PZ4 .M6652 Wh 2020)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Du 2019)

Please Stop Helping Us by Jason Riley

(Library of Congress E185.86 .R55 2014)

All authors are equally excellent in their own ways. I will not go into windy explanations why I read these books.

Graham Skinner

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych) by Olga Tokarczuk

(Library of Congress PZ4.T6465 Dr 2019)

Once again Olga Tokarczuk captures my heart with this wonderful philosophical treatise wound in William Blake and draped in a whodunit. The main character Janina, an animal-rights activist, satirizes hunters, minor politicians and hypocritical priests and follows her astrological analysis while speaking on age and her life throughout the novel. Tokarczuk paints an amusing and enrapturing picture that reflects much of her earlier novel Primeval and Other Times while focusing on such an enigmatic and charming protagonist. 

Mary Warnement

Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him by Mariella Guzzoni

(Library of Congress ND653.G7 G94 2020)

A book about books and an artist’s love of books, beautifully illustrated. This screams fresh start and spring to me, and I hope to many of you book and art lovers out there. In 2009, Van Gogh’s letters were published in print and they are free online (not only in full but actually more extensive than the print volumes). Guzzoni has plumbed these for Van Gogh’s reactions to what he has read (and he read extensively in four different languages) to inform her biography focused on the influence reading played in Van Gogh’s life and art. Page after page of color illustrations (ephemera, book covers, his paintings as well as other art that influenced him) are a feast for the eye. Another treat for this reader, a ribbon bookmark! From a university press no less. I wish the captions included the institution where the painting resides rather than forcing one to look in the list of acknowledgments at the back, but that’s a minor quibble, especially when other books simply provide a list of credits unconnected to specific captions. The penultimate chapter, about his paintings of people reading, is a particular pleasure.

Hannah Weisman

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

(Library of Congress E748.D6 L37 2011)

Larson takes his readers through pre-war Berlin through the eyes of the professorial US Ambassador to Germany William E. Dodd and his vivacious daughter Martha as they come to realize the catastrophe befalling Germany, Europe, and the world. The book was particularly compelling to me after having seen the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s exhibition Americans and the Holocaust, because both the book and the show delve into the complexities of which American officials knew what about Hitler’s intentions and what they did with that information. Larson treats his subjects and topic with the respect and seriousness they deserve, but writes in a style that helps move the reader through the material without feeling weighed down by the subject.

01.05.2021

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS WINTER 2021

Carolle Morini

Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

(Library of Congress PR6069.M59 I46 2020)

A great collection of essays that speak to right now. Smith is always intelligent and interesting. This collection, like all her essays, will leave you wanting to craft the perfect essay yourself.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B4665 Va 2020)

This novel is on my top five “books read list ” in 2020. Beautifully written and thought provoking. Bennet creates a world that you will not easily forget and her characters, months after you read it, will continue to be a part of your thoughts. It is clear why this novel is on everyone’s list. 

Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque by Louise Baring

(Library of Congress TR140.L32 B37 2020)

If you just want to smile and look at fun photographs then this is the book for you. Utterly charming, engaging and lively. With this book in hand you’ll feel like you’ve found a long lost friend.

Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden; edited by Kwame Dawes and Matthew Shenoda, with a foreword by Derek Walcott

(Library of Congress PS591.N4 B36 2017)

A fine collection of poetry responding to Bearden’s art. The fantastic group of poets within this slim volume will have you lingering the artistic alleys of the mind.

Derek Murphy

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami

(Library of Congress CT1838.M87 A3 2008)

I first came to Murakami through his novels—wonderful and bizarre postmodern (perhaps metamodern?) stories about disaffected middle-aged jazz enthusiasts cooking pasta, meeting talking cats, and falling through portals in wells. Recently I’ve taken up running, and this contemplative and self-effacing meditation on the hobby has given me solace on days when it’s too cold to go running myself.

Elizabeth O’Meara

The Searcher by Tana French (also available as an audio book from CloudLibrary)

(Library of Congress PZ4.F872735 Se 2020)

This is the latest book from Irish crime fiction writer Tana French. And another success for me. She’s best known for her Dublin Squad series, which I recommend, but her most recent is a standalone book. In interviews she has talked about how this book was influenced by John Ford’s western The Searcher. French’s book is also about the search for somebody and a man struggling to come to terms with his previous life and what he has always believed was his moral code. The bare bones outline of the plot—that a retired Chicago police officer moves to a small rural village in the west of Ireland and is asked to find out what happened to a missing teenager—does not do any justice to the world French creates.  Read it and enjoy The Search.

Mary Warnement

Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape by Barry Lopez

(Library of Congress QH84.1 .L67 1986)

I’m taking an unusual step and recommending two books I’ve only just started, both perfect for the season. I discovered Barry Lopez just days before he died. The first pages of his Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape mentions Kalamazoo, MI, a city not far from where I and my parents grew up (Perhaps you know it from the song or more recently from the Pfizer plant producing a vaccine). That connection wasn’t why I picked up the book or why I turned the page again and again, but connections are important this year. Arctic Dreams won many awards, most notably the National Book Award in 1986. A natural history classic. Poetic, intelligent, informed consideration of a landscape and its inhabitants. 

Snow by Marcus Sedgwick

(Library of Congress PR6069.E316 S66 2016)

I admire many of Little Toller’s publications, both its classic reprints and its new list. It is small but its authors have garnered a lot of attention and major awards. How could I resist sharing this meditation, as multifaceted as a flake (and its beautiful cover) for my winter recommendation.

Hannah Weisman

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Du 2019)

The Conroy Family has occupied my attention for the last several days as I make my way through The Dutch House. I typically shy away from anything that includes the “wicked stepmother” trope, but Patchett’s telling of Danny and Maeve Conroy’s experiences taps into themes of belonging, identity, and familial love, and loss in a sensitive and thoughtful way. Patchett cleverly uses the extravagant house the Conroy siblings were raised in as a character, adding dimension to the siblings’ stories. 

12.04.2020

Staff recommendations from 2020 Holiday Pop-up Bookshop

Daniel Axmacher

Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Bruno Faria

Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector
Borges: Selected Poems by Jorge Luis Borges
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey

Adriene Galindo

Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
Writers and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi

Sam Gill

Saturday by Oge Mora
Tiny T Rex and the Impossible Hug by Jonathan Stutzman
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neil
Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Andrew Hahn

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee
The Man Who Ate Too Much by John Birdsall

Michael Jugenheimer

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
Calypso by David Sedaris
Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Carolle Morini

Border Lines: Poems of Migration, edited by Mihaela Moscaliuc and Michael Waters
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song, edited by Kevin Young
Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel with Nineteen Letters from the Characters’ Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand

Kaelin Rasmussen

Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

Graham Skinner

The Plant Messiah by Carlos Magdalena
Dry Store Room No. 1 by Richard Fortey
The Falcon Thief by Joshua Hammer

Mary Warnement

Metropolis by Philip Kerr
Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht
The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

09.21.2020

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS AUTUMN 2020

John Buchtel

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

(Library of Congress Classification CT275.S8421 A3 2014)

Powerful: gripping narrative interlaced with thoughtful reflections on the failures of our criminal justice system. Disturbing, yes: but also inspiring and hopeful. A must-read. I haven’t seen the movie yet.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

(Library of Congress E185.615 .T57 2019)

Tisby provides a concise, clear history from the origins of American slavery to the development of segregated suburbia. Instead of merely offering an indictment, however, he issues a ringing call for repentance, reconciliation, and real unity, with practical ideas on how to achieve them.

Carolle Morini

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B28138 Ni 2019)

In a Port of Algeciras waiting room of the ferry terminal, two aging Irishmen, partners in smuggling drugs, sit together and wait for the arrival or departure of someone. They are not sure. As they wait, you read about the messy tangle of their lives and you may think half way through the book: why isn’t this a mini series on Netflix?

Artforum by César Aira

(Library of Congress PZ4.A293 Ar 2020)

Do you have a stack of your favorite periodicals at home? Is that stack more of a tower? Do you wait by the mailbox for a new issue? Do you live in fear of accidentally leaving a window open in your home when you leave—because what if it rains?! Are you behind in your reading goal for 2020 and need a short book to bump up your numbers? If you said yes to any of these questions, this little novella is for you. A funny and insightful story about a man and his passion for Artforum. Oh, and you may want to check out the actual Artforum in the Art Department or even a back issue or two or three or four…

Elizabeth O’Meara

Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him by Mariella Guzzoni

(Library of Congress ND653.G7 G94 2020)

Along with many people, I’ve always been drawn to Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and life story.  Several years ago I began Naifeh and White’s biography Van Gogh: The Life but didn’t finish it because I found it too sad. Guzzoni’s book was a pleasure to read. Van Gogh was a voracious reader and prolific letter writer. Guzzoni did a wonderful job pulling together his reading, writing and painting. It was a pleasurable journey into that piece of Van Gogh’s life.

Autumn by Ali Smith

(Library of Congress PZ4.S64231 Au 2017)

This is the first book of Ali Smith’s Season Quartet book series, AutumnWinterSpringSummer.  It seemed like a no-brainer suggestion for our autumn book recommendations.  I read this book last year but decided to reread it, and I’m so glad I did. I read it much too quickly that first go around. This book’s prose calls out for a careful, attentive pace. The structure, such as it is, centers on the caring relationship between two neighbors, a young girl and an old man. It was published in 2017 and has as its background the political disturbances of the time in Great Britain, which also resonates in 2020 America.

Leah Rosovsky 

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

(Library of Congress TX652 .C714 1988)

My recommendation is Home Cooking by the late Laurie Colwin. During the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves producing many more meals. This series of charming short essays and recipes, originally published in Gourmet Magazine, contemplates the role of food in our daily lives and in our families. It’s a lovely read that may even add a new dish to your rotation!

Mary Warnement

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby

(Cutter Classification 8AB1 .N429)

Newby is best known as a travel writer, a genre especially appealing now that armchair travel must suffice, but I started with his last book, a memoir about his time as a prisoner of war in the autumn and early winter of 1943–44, which seemed appropriate as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. (My colleague rewards—figuratively rather than literally—book recommendations evoking the season; I point out that mine not only takes place from September to December, but my edition sports pumpkin-hued cloth boards.) Newby amusingly describes the operation in 1942 in which he was captured, and that tone prevails, although it borders on Kafkaesque humor.

Early on I wondered how he could possibly write with so much detail over 25 years later, but he was taking notes. He even had a few books: Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides (which he regrets leaving behind at one point), a Lunario Barba-Nera (an almanac belonging to a farming family that harbors him), one volume of Gibbons’s Decline and Fall, a Bible, and something he called Mr. Sponge.

I wasn’t entirely sympathetic to Newby in the first 50 pages or so. His writing about women passing his prison as if they had no other existence but to appear in his imaginings put me off, but once he met a woman he fell in love with that attitude petered off. It didn’t disappear, look at his descriptions of Rita and Dolores who live and work on the farm where he’s given refuge, but it faded. I could appreciate his story and his manner of telling it. 

Rachel Wentworth

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wung

(Library of Congress RC514 .W36 2019)

I made a few false starts before I was able to read this collection of essays through to completion. There is something about the way Wung wields her pen from inside the experience of her illness that is jarring. It feels naked and vulnerable, like an open wound. Although at times almost academic, this collection weaves deeply intimate confessional prose with cultural criticism to profound effect. To quote The New Yorker, there is something radical about this collection. Wung confronts various interpretations of mental illness with a level of incisiveness that is only attainable with an #OwnVoices writer. She doesn’t promise clarity, instead sitting comfortably inside her uncertainty and inviting the reader to join. Anyone can benefit from this mold-breaking, mind-bending, eye-opening read, but I encourage those with direct experience with mental illness to treat themselves kindly when deciding whether to read it in its entirety.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

(Library of Congress PZ4 .S3362 Gr 2019)

I came to this book in the last days of my (seriously procrastinated) 2019 reading goal and, boy, did I read it quickly. Despite my panic-read, this quirky little novel made a huge impact. Ultimately a lifelong conversation between a set of grammarian twins, one a die-hard prescriptivist and the other an improvisational descriptivist, this text takes its reader on a wild ride. The way the twins (and this author) play with language like one might play with Play-Doh is a joy for grammarians and goofs alike. It is clearly a love letter to language, and its author makes her joy shine through every page. Read this if you live for the thrill of spotting a typo in the New York Times.