09.25.2023

Staff book suggestions for Autumn 2023

Six staff members holding books up in front of their faces.

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.

06.22.2023

Staff book suggestions for 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.

05.02.2023

Staff book suggestions for 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.

03.09.2023

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.

08.25.2022

Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2022

Dan Axmacher

(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)

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

(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)

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.