STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS SPRING 2021
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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.