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.

06.01.2020

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS SUMMER 2020

John Buchtel

Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman by Peter Korn

(Library of Congress TT149 .K67 2013)

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

(Cutter Classification 65 .P669)

Having recently enjoyed Peter Korn’s Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman (Boston: Godine, 2015), I’ve turned to a book he recommends that I’ve been meaning to read for years: Robert M. Pirsig’s classic Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (first published 1974). I never imagined a disquisition on Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy, scientific method, fixing bikes, and being a better person could keep me on the edge of my seat, but Michael Kramer’s superb reading of the narrative did exactly that. (Yes, your Curator of Rare Books does sometimes opt for audio books, however much he loves the heft of a physical book in his hands….)

Maria Daniels

Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe by Alan Hirshfeld

(available through Interlibrary Loan)

BA docent Scott Guthery recommended this terrific work of science history. I enjoyed the connections between nineteenth-century astronomers’ explorations and the role of photography. Those impressively creative people built technologies to peer into the skies and record what they saw. It’s the lively story of a quest to see the universe in its vast complexity.

Libby Miserendino

Eleanor Roosevelt by Blanche Wiesen Cook

(Library of Congress CT275.R666 C66)

My family’s history intertwined a bit with the Roosevelts and it would seem our fascination with Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor has been passed down from generation to generation. Cook’s volumes on Eleanor are incredibly insightful. By the first chapter you feel close to her, and by the third volume, you’re not totally convinced you haven’t known her your whole life.

Carolle Morini

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

(Library of Congress PZ3.H53985 Tal)

I am sure many of you have seen one of the film adaptations of The Talented Mr. Ripley….but have you read the book? No! Well, you must, as it is the perfect read under the hot sun. No one will know if you’re sweating from the sun or from the building suspense Highsmith creates. And as you close Ripley #1 you must then lean over your lounge chair, hammock, or bed, and pick up Ripley#2, Ripley Under Ground. When you find yourself finished with Ripley #2 don’t fret because there are five Ripley books that can easily fill up the dog days of summer. Nothing to fear.

KL Pereira

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

(On order but not yet in catalog)

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

(Library of Congress NEW PZ7 .A1822 Wi 2019)

I’ve been on a novel kick, so I’ve been jamming to the very vital titles: The Poet X and With the Fire on High, both by Elizabeth Acevedo. The Poet X is a novel-in-verse about a young Latina poet who is finding her voice and her place within her family and her community in Harlem, N.Y. This story has so much beat, passion, and fierce pride that I couldn’t stop devouring it. With the Fire on High reminds me of Laura Esquivel’s classic Like Water For Chocolate with its interspersed recipes and vulnerable, strong characters that never give up. Positive and inspiring, both books encourage you to live deliciously and follow what makes you feel alive. 

Kaelin Rasmussen

Imperium in Imperio by Sutton E. Griggs

(On order)

Discovering this novel was my first encounter with Sutton E. Griggs (1872–1933), a Black writer, minister, and activist from Texas. Imperium in Imperio was Griggs’s first novel, which he published and sold himself in 1899, and in it, he explores the themes of racism and Black Nationalism through a fictional (but very powerful) lens. The story follows two young Black men from Texas and their encounters with racism and white supremacy, and their involvement in a secret society whose aim is to establish the state of Texas an all-Black republic. Like Griggs himself, his characters grapple not only with the racism of whites, but also with the dual forces of conciliation and nationalism within the Black community of the time. Though in later life Griggs would become disenchanted with his early spirit of activism, Imperium in Imperio embodies powerful ideas and paints a vivid picture of the all-pervading damage caused by racism. Read more about Griggs here.

Leah Rosovsky 

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

(On order)

This short novel tells an unusual coming of age story. Set in Britain, it focuses on seventeen-year-old Silvie, whose father is obsessed with the study of the island’s ancient residents. The family spends their summer holiday re-enacting Iron Age life in an encampment filled with university students. Her situation there leads Silvie to consider a new set of possibilities for her own life. Complications ensue.

Carly Stevens

Waking up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debbie Irving

(Library of Congress NEW E185.615 .I778 2014)

Many of the popular anti-racist books are sold out at independent book shops across the country. A lesser known title, but available online is Waking up White. Irving’s story begins with her childhood and extends into her adult life to explore how racism is learned and reinforced in White Americans through various systems and societal values. She confronts her own discomfort around race and demands readers do the same. Included after every chapter are writing prompts and reflection questions for the reader’s engagement. It’s an important read for anyone looking to engage with anti-racist titles. 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

(Library of Congress PZ4.W85962 In 2013)

I particularly enjoyed this read because Wolitzer is skilled at creating wonderful characters and constructing meaningful relationships. The Interestings focuses on a group of friends who form a lifelong bond at a New York summer camp in 1979. The chapters jump back and forth in time juxtaposing childhood creativity and ingenuity thriving in the heat of summer with the practicality and banality of adulthood. In the time of COVID-19 where connection can be difficult this book transported me to times of friendship and summer. It reminded me that life is nothing if not interesting.

Mary Warnement

Shooting at Chateau Rock by Martin Walker 

(On order but not yet in catalog)

Martin Walker is in good form: good food, good characters, a good read. I can’t go to France—or pretty much anywhere—right now, so I was pleased to travel to the world of Bruno, Chief of Police. The links between this village cop and world events stretches belief, but Walker clearly believes what anyone does can have far-reaching effects. Walker was particularly kind in his acknowledgments’ conclusions: “And we’d all be in trouble without the booksellers, book reviewers, librarians, bloggers and book clubs, who bring the books to the most crucial people of all—readers like you.” I could not resist that praise or his convivial imagined world. If you like mysteries and the Mediterranean, then this is for you.

Hannah Weisman

The Girl Before by JP Delaney

(Library of Congress PZ4.D3365 Gr 2017)

The enigmatic architect and landlord of One Folgate Street asks prospective tenants, “Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.” The intrusive application question is just the smallest hint of the manipulation Jane and Emma, successive residents of the house, find themselves embroiled in. This thriller is perfect if you’re looking for a fast read for the beach or for sitting on the porch with a cold drink.

03.13.2020

Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2020

Christina Michelon

Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World by Zara Anishanslin

(Library of Congress E18.82 .A55 2016)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

(Library of Congress PZ3.R3494 Wi)

By day I’ve been reading Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World and by night, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea. Both books take beloved and familiar cultural products (colonial portraiture and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, respectively) and examine them from a different perspective. Both authors sensitively probe the enduring legacies of slavery, gender, and power dynamics through a panopoly of historical actors (real and fictional). Anishanslin follows the threads presented by one portrait; they lead her to London’s Spitalfields and its textile manufacturers, to high society in Philadelphia, and into the professional nexus of a New England artist. Rhys gives us a poetic but unvarnished glimpse into the life of Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway, offering a thought-provoking alternative to Bronte’s story. Ultimately, both texts reveal the complex networks and varied experiences of the British Atlantic World in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—reading them in tandem has been particularly enriching.

Carolle Morini

Patterns: Inside the Design Library by Peter Koepke

(Library of Congress + NK8805 .K64 2016)

Such joy to step inside this book, absorb the patterns, and learn about this wonderful library and what they do. Just as fun as walking through a colorful garden. 

The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley

(Library of Congress PZ4.P158 Li)

Some of these stories are over 60 years old, yet still so resonant and fervent today. Paley said it best: “The wrong word is like a lie jammed inside the story.” In this collection of stories Paley is as careful as a surgeon selecting the precise instruments to make the story live and breathe. 

House of Lords and Commons by Ishion Hutchinson

(Library of Congress PR9265.9.H85 A6 2016)

Hutchinson writes powerful, stunning, thought provoking poems that will not leave you in a hurry. You will put the book down and become a different kind of listener to the world around you (near and far). These poems will not be ignored nor will you be able to shake the waves of truth afterwards. 

Elizabeth O’Meara

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

(Library of Congress HV6574.G7 K44 2019)

I found this a riveting story of the so-called Troubles that took place in Northern Ireland during the seventies. Keefe uses the story of the disappearance of a mother from a family of ten children as a framework to look at these tragic times and tragic lives of people in Northern Ireland. There is also an interesting Boston connection to Keefe’s story. After the Good Friday Agreement, Boston College collected oral histories from the participants which were to remain sealed until after their deaths. The portrait of Jerry Adams and the betrayal felt by many of his fellow IRA members that Keefe learned from that archive has stayed with me.

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age by Leo Damrosch

(Library of Congress PN452 .D36 2019)

This was such a fun read. Damrosch paints a fascinating portrait of English life in the late eighteenth century with brief character sketches of members of a club created to help Samuel Johnson cope with one of his bouts of depression. A number of the men in the club went on to have very distinguished careers. Joshua Reynolds was the friend who first proposed the idea of a group of friends getting together for drinks, food and conversation. Oliver Goldsmith and Edmund Burke were part of the original group and the club expanded out to include James Boswell, David Garrick and Adam Smith. Although there were no women in the club, Johnson was quite close with a number of women who we meet in the book. Damrosch did a great job of bringing all these people to life.

KL Pereira

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

(Library of Congress PZ4.W3292 Ni 2006)

I can’t get enough queer historical fiction, so obviously I’m a fan of Sarah Waters. I’ve been revisiting her gorgeous novel of London in the 1940s, The Night Watch (shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prizes). Centered around four protagonists, this novel (which begins in spring 1947 and ends in 1941) moves between very different characters and their common experiences of love, death, and survival during and after wartime. Rather than confusing the reader, the backward motion of the text builds tension and a delicious dramatic irony. The prose is both lush and sharp with Waters’s trademark eye for historical detail and keen description. A fantastic examination of the inner worlds and growth of those on the front lines of a world crisis, and of course, the power of friendship. 

Kaelin Rasmussen

The Magazine Novels of Pauline Hopkins, with an introduction by Hazel V. Carby

(Library of Congress PZ3.H777 Ma)

One of my BA colleagues alerted me to the existence of the novel Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins (1859–1930), having seen the book highlighted as part of the recent Ancient Nubia Now exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts. I was immediately intrigued by their description and was very pleased to find the Athenæum had a copy as part of a collection of Hopkins’s serially-issued novels published in 1988. So far, I have only read Of One Blood. Set in the early 1900s, the book tells the story of Reuel Briggs, a brilliant young Harvard medical student with a mysterious past, who although himself lacking funds, has social ties with his wealthy, high-society classmates. In their company, Reuel attends a performance of a company of jubilee singers (African American performers singing spirituals of the old South) and there encounters a beautiful young woman of mixed race who will change his life forever. Reuel’s adventures take him from Boston mansions and hospitals all the way to Africa, where he discovers that the legacy of the Ancient Nubian civilization is not dead and gone, and it is up to him to help it rise again. Pauline Hopkins (born in Portland, Maine) was known for her use of the romantic novel to explore social and racial themes, and this amazing book is an example of that. The plot has elements of the romantic, fantastic, and melodramatic, but the novel’s portrayal of the all-encompassing menace of racism, the long shadow cast by slavery, and the desire to restore the deliberately obscured significance of Nubia in the ancient world ring all too true. As I read Of One Blood, I became astonished and angry that I had never known about it before. So I am spreading the word and recommending it now!

Mary Warnement

Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars by Francesca Wade

(On order but not yet in catalog)

If you’re a fan of Bloomsbury—both the area of London and the literary set that populated it—then you’ll enjoy this book from Faber and Faber. I recommend the British edition—its cover resembling a white line woodcut entices me to walk around the square and the “Hazlitt” endpapers designed by Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher both charm and suit the subject perfectly. The subjects are five writers who lived in Mecklenburgh Square: HD (Hilda Doolittle), Dorothy Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power, and Virginia Woolf. I knew them all (although only a little about HD) and was intrigued at the grouping. I’ve read much (probably a small percentage of what I could) about Virginia Woolf, a biography of Dorothy Sayers, and Mary Beard’s biography of Jane Harrison. Eileen Power was the main attraction for me. I’d read that many of her papers were destroyed and had thought there was no bio. I now know there was one written in 1996, after my keen interest in Power whose stature as a historian caught my undergraduate eye. How pleased I was to pull my Penguin of Medieval People off my shelves and recall my younger self reading The Goodman of Paris and Medieval Women. Would Wade’s group treatment be more than a look at the coincidental, and non-concurrent, residential circumstances of five women? Yes.

I pre-ordered my copy for pick-up at the London Review Bookshop. I didn’t care that it was a signed edition, but I chose this as my main souvenir for a trip, months in the planning, for winter. I had bought a cheap airline ticket that allowed only a carry-on, necessitating a disciplined approach in bookstores and museum shops. I picked it up my first day and admit my first thought was mundane—it is much bigger than expected. I saved it to read for after the trip, when I wanted to return virtually. Travel is not advised right now, so if reading takes you away and you want to visit or revisit London, let Wade take you there in good company. Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own informs most of the chapters, a fact Wade acknowledges (338): “The story I’ve told in this book has been one of community: not only between Bloomsbury women, but also between past and present and across the wider world.” Wade satisfied my own search for a sense of community right now.

Hannah Weisman

A Shoemaker’s Story: Being Chiefly about French Canadian Immigrants, Enterprising Photographers, Rascal Yankees, and Chinese Cobblers in a Nineteenth-Century Factory Town by Anthony W. Lee

(Library of Congress F74.N8 L43 2008)

Originally I selected this book only to inform my Eye of the Expert presentation on the Chinese workers who came from the west coast to work at the CT Sampson Shoe Factory in North Adams, MA, in June 1870. I expected dry, academic writing that I would have to slog through. Instead I was delighted to discover that Lee weaves the story in a way that compels the reader to turn page after page. The incredibly unique story of Chinese shoemakers in western Massachusetts reveals universal themes of how we understand (or don’t understand) people who are different from us and how we cope with changes that are out of our control.

Rachel Wentworth

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

(Library of Congress PN6727.B3757 Z46 2006)

If all this warm weather and sunshine has you longing for the days when we could hole up inside with a good book without any guilt at all, I’ve got the perfect thing. Despite its readability, this graphic novel packs a huge punch. I finished it in just two commutes to the Athenæum and, each day, I left the train with my head spinning. It was one of those rapturous reading experiences where you’re left in the same confused and dissociated state you might wake up in at the beginning of Daylight Savings. I highly recommend listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the soundtrack to the musical based on the book once you’re done reading. You’ll smile, you’ll cry, it’s an ordeal. No wonder it won so many Tonys. I might be a couple years behind the eight ball with this but I think it’s one that will last far beyond its initial success.

12.05.2019

Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2020

Patricia Boulos

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

(Library of Congress Z733.L8742 O75 2018)

The main subject of The Library Book is the horrifying fire at the Los Angeles Central Public Library in 1986, when 400,000 books were totally destroyed, and 700,000 more damaged. This in itself would make a compelling book, but the author broadens her investigation of the fire, its investigation, the perpetrator, the importance of books and libraries in the world, and so very much more. Read the publisher’s description (not one exaggeration) at the link above, and you’ll be hooked.

Maria Daniels

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

(Library of Congress PZ4.F555 Be)

I bought this for myself, wrapped it, and put it under the tree “from Santa.” Shh! Don’t tell my family. It’s absurd to work at the BA and buy a book, but I own most of this astounding writer’s other novels and I reread them sometimes, so I couldn’t resist. The story opens in 1913 Moscow, at a moment between two revolutions. A Russian-born Englishman and his three children have been abandoned by his wife. Things are not going to go well.

Kurt Grewal

Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

(Library of Congress PN145 .D74 2019)

On cold winter days, some people love to stay warm and write. This modern and witty guide by Benjamin Dreyer is a great read for writers of all abilities. Dreyer covers numerous examples of writing from amateur writers to famous authors. Regardless of your prose, you will learn about grammar, punctuation, and more in a way that will leave you smiling and a better writer.

Carolle Morini

Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan

(Library of Congress PR6119.U438 A6 2018)

Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection, which won the T. S. Eliot Award, is three long poems that stand apart and together they are a compelling unity showing the complexity of being human. 

The three poems are:

“You, Very Young in New York” which is a tender study of romantic possibility, disenchantment, and of innocence. 

“Repeat Until Time” begins with a move to California, explores repetition, returning home as a young adult (what we take and what we leave behind)—a balance of the personal and philosophical.

“The Sandpit After Rain” explores the birth of a child and the loss of a father.

The Order of the Day by Éric Vuillard ; translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti

(Library of Congress PQ2682.U45 O73 2018)

A brilliant haunting book that tells the story of one day, February 20, 1933. A meeting of 24 German leaders of industry and senior Nazi officials meet in secret during a harsh Berlin winter. Vuillard puts you in the room, sits you at the table, and feeds you the details with the stress of that fateful evening. There is a very good reason this book won the Prix Goncourt in 2017. 

The Party by Elizabeth Day

(Library of Congress PZ4.D27292 Pa 2017)

Have you read all of Patricia Highsmith’s books and found yourself craving a book with characters who remind you of Ripley and Greenleaf (outsider versus insider) with a touch of Gatsby? The Party is about a friendship that takes place at a fortieth birthday party. British society, champagne, drugs, glamour, new money, old money, and a secret between friends boils over. You’ll be able to feel the champagne fizz over the tension—thankfully. 

KL Pereira

The Book of Dust: Volume 1 by Philip Pullman

(Young Adult/Children’s Room PZ7.P968 Bo 2017)

The perfect novel to dive into on these cold, dark, winter days. In this first book of a trilogy, Pullman returns to the world of His Dark Materials to explore an alternative universe much like our own but with magic, witches, societies of scheming scholars, armored bears, and daemons. Those who loved His Dark Materials will revel in learning the origin story of Lyra Belaqua and the theocratic Magisterium that she fights against, while also being introduced to some compelling new characters. And for those who fall in love, volume 2 of the trilogy (The Secret Commonwealth) just came out so you won’t have to wait for the next installment! Best for a cozy afternoon beside the fire with your favorite cup of tea.  

Kaelin Rasmussen

Harlem Renaissance: Four Novels of the 1930s

(Library of Congress PS508.N3 H368 2011)

This collection of Harlem Renaissance classics is a definite must-read. Both individually and as a collection, these four powerful novels deserve to be read as powerful and enduring classics of American literature, from the African American perspective. Whether you enjoy realism, science fiction, mystery stories or historical fiction, there is something here for you!

Langston Hughes’s Not Without Laughter (1931), the poet’s only novel, an elegiac, elegantly realized coming-of-age tale suffused with childhood memories of Missouri and Kansas, follows a young man from his rural origins to the big city. George S. Schuyler’s Black No More (1931), a darkly comic satire founded on the science fiction premise of a wonder drug permitting blacks to change their race, savagely caricatures public figures white and black alike in its raucous, carnivalesque send-up of American racial attitudes. Considered the first detective story by an African American writer, Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies (1932) is a mystery that comically mixes and reverses stereotypes, placing a Harvard-educated African “conjure-man” at the center of a phantasmagoric charade of deaths and disappearances. Black Thunder (1936), Arna Bontemps’s stirring fictional recreation of Gabriel Prosser’s 1800 slave revolt, which, though unsuccessful, shook Jefferson’s Virginia to its core, marks a turn from aestheticism toward political militancy in its exploration of African American history.

Mary Warnement

How to be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery and illustrated by Rebecca Green

(Library of Congress QL85 .M65 2018)

This title may sound like a self-help book, but although it is more a nature memoir, it may indeed help those who have resolved to improve themselves in the new year. Sy Montgomery writes a charming and searingly honest memoir of thirteen animals whose goodness has inspired her. “Good” isn’t a word many would choose to describe an ermine/weasel who kills a beloved hen, but Sy understands animals—that they kill to eat and to defend themselves. While she adores them, she doesn’t anthropomorphize them (too much). She knows they are other beings, especially the octopus who seemed “alien” to her and yet with whom she felt a shared connection. It’s a delightful reminder to respect our fellow creatures, whether human, furry (even a hard-to-love furry spider), or an inside-out skeletal sea animal.

Hannah Weisman

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

(Library of Congress PZ4.M85265 Bi 2014)

Young, single mother Jane and her son Ziggy move into the seaside community of Pirriwee, where Jane befriends beautiful but reserved Celeste and vivacious but insecure Madeline on the day of kindergarten orientation. An incident between two children at orientation sets the ball rolling on a Rube-Goldberg-like series of events that lead to a death. Was it murder? An accident? And will Jane, Celeste, and Madeline divulge their secrets to find answers? Moriarty develops characters facing relatable challenges and strikes the right balance between a considered exploration of adult friendship and a fast-paced mystery.

Rachel Wentworth

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

(Library of Congress PZ4 .V9755 On 2019)

If you, like me, find the melancholy of winter quite appealing to your inner angst-monster, pick up Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous as soon as you can. It’s the perfect book for those days when you take pleasure in the gloomy, dreary weather and walk the damp streets with some sad tune playing in your earbuds like your own personal soundtrack. Vuong explores his heartbreakingly beautiful relationship with his mother in the form of a letter she may never get to read. It’s a love poem wrapped in a memoir shot through with striking condemnations of racism, homophobia, and systemic oppression. A quick and intense read, this one leaves you with a chill that’s hard to shake.

09.16.2019

Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2019

Carolle Morini

Autumn by Ali Smith

(Library of Congress PZ4.S64231 Au 2017)

Autumn is the first of a quartet to span the four seasons. Intensely divided England during the months following the Brexit vote. The protagonist is an art lecturer named Elisabeth Demand who is facing the loss of two things she cherishes: human decency and the elderly neighbor Daniel, who was her unofficial babysitter and unconventional kindred spirit from her childhood. With all the emotional adjustments happening within her, her family, and her environment, she quickly learns that the veil of human decency can easily be swept away but her memories of childhood and her determination to be kind keep her strong and compassionate.

Milkman by Anna Burns

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B9666 Mi 2018)

It is no surprise that this book won the Man Booker in 2018 (along with many other prizes). A novel of chatter, hearsay, and calculated quietness. Burns creates a place full of fear, misjudgment, misunderstanding, tradition, and hope to be your true self. Beautifully crafted with characters, environments and dreams that will long live with you (and haunt you) after you put the book down.

KL Pereira

Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

(Library of Congress PZ7 .N25 Li 2019)

A valentine of sorts, to a period that has been getting a lot of love in pop culture these days: the 1980s. Certainly, it reminds me of the 1986 classic Pretty in Pink except the primary focus stays on the outcasts and their love and activism (as well as the subversive glitter of so many gay icons). This narrative takes on a lot: questioning queerness, immigrating to the US from Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution, familial and romantic relationships, the AIDS crisis, and finding out what it means to love and be loved. Highly recommended for teens and adults. 

Kaelin Rasmussen

The Radiance of the King, by Camara Laye, translated from the French by James Kirkup, introduction by Toni Morrison

(Library of Congress Call number TBD)

The 1954 novel Le regard du roi (translated here as The Radiance of the King) is considered a masterpiece of Francophone African literature. I came upon this fascinating book by chance, wanting in a general way to read more African fiction and intrigued by the promise of an introduction by the late Toni Morrison (originally written in 2001). The story is told from the perspective of Clarence, a white man who has come to Africa and fallen on hard times. In debt and repudiated by the white community, Clarence resolves, rather vaguely, to seek employment with the king, a figure shrouded in grandeur and mystery he does not understand. An old beggar takes Clarence under his wing, and together they journey to “the South,” where the beggar, by turns comical and sinister, assures him the king will come. Someday. Clarence’s Kafka-esque journey, his inability or refusal to understand what is happening around him in a land not his own, reimagines the literary cliché of the white man’s journey into Africa, turning it on its head. Although scholars have debated whether Guinean author Camara Laye had full authorial control while writing this novel, reading it as an African subversion of a classic colonial European trope, which was Morrison’s interpretation, is immensely rewarding.

Anthea Reilly

I am on an Ann Patchett kick:

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

(Library of Congress CT275.P37885 A3 2013)

2013: essays on the craft of writing, love, friendship art.

Run

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Ru 2007)

2007: absorbing novel about family and politics.

Patron Saint of Liars

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Pa)

1992: notable fiction.

Mary Warnement

Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt by Ken Krimstein

(Library of Congress CT1098.A73 K75 2018)

Philosophy is not my thing. Does that slang convey my ignorance? I mean it to. I have no head for philosophical thought. It’s too wispy, I can’t grasp it and hold it. I’ve wondered about Arendt’s philosophy for some time but my natural disinclination to read this subject has hindered me. When I glanced through this graphic novel biography I was hooked, and this gave me an understanding of Arendt’s thought as well as her life. Would a philo-philosophy reader find it too simplistic? There were more footnotes in tiny print than one would expect in a book like this. Arendt knew everyone who was any intellectual, and while I knew most, I found it helpful. The book held heartbreaking moments, in particular Walter Benjamin’s decision in the south of France in 1940. I am interested to know what others think of Krimstein’s handling of Arendt’s relationship with Heidegger. If you have an opinion, let me know.

Rachel Wentworth

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

(Library of Congress PZ4.F356 My 2012)

As our days here in Boston get shorter, darker, and chillier, I’ve been seeking wrapped-in-a-blanket-with-a-mug-of-tea cozy books. As I think everyone would agree: the coziest book in the world is Pride and Prejudice. The second coziest book, however, just might be My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante from the Neapolitan Quartet. In the words of John Freeman of The Australian, “Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.” Now, I don’t know if I’d describe My Brilliant Friend as explosive, but its slow burn surely did warm me up. It is a remarkable portrayal of an intimate female friendship that provides space for all its inherent complexity. Escape from the Northeastern chill into the warm bay of Naples for just a few hundred pages and see if you can stop yourself from rushing out to pick up the sequel.

06.06.2019

Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2019

Jacqueline Bateman

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval N. Harari

(Library of Congress CB113.H4 H3713 2015)

As the title suggests, this book chronicles the history of Homo Sapiens from the beginnings of the Agricultural Revolution through the technology boom. Harari touches on a large array of subjects, including religion, economics, colonialism, and scientific advancements. Although it is a large book, it really is ‘brief’ in how quickly it jumps from one subject to another. An enjoyable, easy read for anyone interested in a historic and philosophical look at what makes us human.

Maddie Mott

The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead

(Library of Congress PZ4.W58863 Und 2016)

Last month, on Juneteenth, Ta-Nehisi Coates gave a testimony to the House in support of H.R. 40, a bill that would create the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. It’s pretty easy to find his opening remarks if you want to read the full text, but here’s a quotation from Coates’s statement that stood out to me—”Yesterday, when asked about reparations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a familiar reply: America should not be held liable for something that happened 150 years ago, since none of us currently alive are responsible.” If you, like Sen. McConnell, don’t agree with the need for reparations or are unsure about where you stand, I would recommend reading Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and then thinking about this topic again. The book is both incredible and terrible. You follow the journey of Cora, a young, enslaved woman from a plantation in Georgia and her trips on the Underground Railroad. It’s an enthralling and accessible read, full of twists and turns that leave you on the edge of your seat. Throughout, Whitehead forces the reader to get uncomfortable and confront the horrors and sheer inhumanity of slavery in a way my history classes never made me do. It’s a powerful examination into the foundation of our country that needs to be required reading.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

(Library of Congress PZ4.J4884 Fi 2016)

I’ll own the shame and admit I’ve fallen off the reading train. I used to be a big reader as a kid, but as I enter my eighth year of higher education, reading is less and less fun for me. I vowed this year that I would venture back into reading fiction for fun and N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season reminded me how amazing it is to read. Fantasy fiction has always felt slightly out of reach for me, but Jemisin’s casual tone and knack for world-building makes it easy to understand the alternate reality you are in. You follow the story lines of Essun, Syenite, and Damaya, three women who live in the Stillness—an ironic name for a world plagued by earthquakes—and possess the gift/curse of orogeny, the power to stop the shaking. I think this book is a great starting point for those looking to get into fantasy/sci fi fiction and especially for those looking for character diversity that the genre seems to lack. 

Carolle Morini

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes 

(Library of Congress PS3558.A8378 A6 2018)

Powerful, smart, honest, and stunning poems that reflect contemporary American life. 

Elizabeth O’Meara

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy; translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

(Library of Congress PZ3.T588 Wa 2007)

People probably don’t think of this book when thinking of a beach read, but I will always associate it with the 1962 James Stewart movie, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation. Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Hobbs brings War and Peace to read on the beach and in the process prompts another person on the beach to start reading it (a very dated scene).  But if you’re up for the read (on the beach or off), I highly recommend this translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, a husband and wife team. She’s Russian and he’s a writer of poems and essays. The writing is beautiful, energetic and vivid, bringing to life Tolstoy’s masterpiece.

KL Pereira

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

(Library of Congress PZ4.G2164 On 2003)

Every summer, I reread One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The Athenæum’s copy, like the first copy I owned, is covered in lush and verdant landscape art, and for me evokes Macondo, the jungle-town dreamworld in which the epic unfolds. While the plot follows generations of a family who create themselves, their world, and their downfall in the jungles of South America, the real magic of this novel is how it transports you to a place where love is inexorable, thriving beyond death, where every moment is saturated in the perfect alchemy of Márquez’s language, and ghosts live along with us and remind us who we are. And if I still need to convince you, here’s my favorite quotation from the novel: “Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mother gives birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.

Arnold Serapilio

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

(Library of Congress PZ4.R77533 Co 2017)

I’m not sure the hype surrounding Sally Rooney’s debut novel does the author, the reader, or the actual text any favors, but then again when does hype ever serve us? Even Rooney herself is uneasy with the sudden surge of attention and praise, balking at claims that she is the definitive voice of the millenial generation. Take the book on its own merits. The territory might seem well-worn—young lady in college has affair with older married man—but in Rooney’s hands we get living, breathing characters with distinct differences and opinions on things other than the plot and interpersonal dynamics that are so realistic as to be unsettling, like she’s been in listening in on your own conversations with friends. By the end you may be surprised by the extent of the emotional impact. Is she the voice of a generation? Is it even possible for one voice to encapsulate something as vast and as nebulous as the idea of a “generation”? Who cares? This is a confident and satisfying debut from a serious talent. Keep her on your radar.

Mary Warnement

Turbulence by David Szalay

(Library of Congress PZ4 .S998 Tu 2018)

What could be more summery than a book about travelers by plane? I saw this book at some point this past winter and ordered it for the library. I thought maybe of buying it for myself while in London, in the British edition, and tempted, I handled it, in the London Review Bookshop, but I had to be disciplined about not overfilling my suitcase. I checked it out after seeing it on the new book shelves when—unusually caught without reading material—I was looking for something to distract me on the red line. I saw that the author had been praised as a “promising new artist” and that a previous work had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I hesitated. Those two accolades don’t guarantee I will like an author, but I enjoyed his premise very much. Szalay’s insights into the various characters, circling the globe, rang true. Only in the penultimate chapter did I see where the end would be. I will look for his other titles.

Summer puts me in touch with my younger self. If that holds true for you, then you may want to join me in reading children’s books, perhaps the two I mention below:

Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri

(Children’s Library Children Picture Book TETRI)

I think Tetri the author identifies with Tiger the character whose picture appears on the inside back flap with the author info. Tiger has a friend, the monster under her bed, who helps stave off nightmares, until one night, a nightmare defeats poor monster. That battle, all told on a two-page spread of imagery without words, touched my heart, and the illustration of poor monster hiding under the bed on the next broke my heart. Tetri invested so much expression with so few strokes. Poor Tiger asleep at her desk at school, asleep at dinner at home. That touching “poke” by her mom. An instruction manual in friendship and how to be fierce.

Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman

(Children’s Library QL737.C25 N49 2017)

I learned a lot about otters from this book. I had known they are fierce and respected them, but I also find them adorable, living their lives mostly floating on their backs. I not only learned about otter behavior but also about the relationship between the otters, their food source crabs, and the crabs’ food source. Makes me wish I had become a scientist. Perhaps a child—or you—reading will follow through on that. Beautiful photography and drawings illustrate the volume that is both a Robert F. Sibert Informational Honor Book and a Green Earth Book Award Winner.

05.14.2019

Staff Book Suggestions Spring 2019

Jacqueline Bateman

Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto

(Library of Congress F128.4 .S56 2004)

This nonfiction work by Russell Shorto examines the cultural identity of the often forgotten Dutch Settlers in Manhattan and Rensselaer, before New York was New York. Shorto argues that the national identity of the United States has a great deal more in common with the socially mobile, and religiously tolerant Dutch merchants more so than the Monarchist and relatively more conservative English ideals of the Early Colonial Era. The bulk of the book follows the lives of two Dutchmen in New Amsterdam, Adrien Van Der Donck and Peter Stuyvesant, two well educated and prominent figures in the Colony, one whose legacy lives on, and one who time forgot. It also seeks to dispel myths about the Dutch Colony, such as the legend of Manhattan being sold by the Native Americans on the Island to the Dutch for 24 dollars, and it being a glorified fort until the British took over. A must read for anyone interested in Early Colonial America, or the history of New York State. 

Dani Crickman

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

(Library of Congress PZ4 .P186 As 2018)

“My mother is a bird,” begins this gut punch of a book. Leigh’s mother has died of suicide. This tragedy takes Leigh to Taipei where she connects with a familial past that’s been kept hidden from her. Eerie coincidences and moments of incense-fueled transport into memory propel her toward discovering more about her mother, who appears to her, fleetingly, as a large red phoenix. I loved this surreal, evocative story for its fierce teen protagonist, rich sense of place, and sheer depth of feeling.

Carolle Morini

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’s Masterpiece by Camille Laurens

(Library of Congress CT1018.G64 L38 2018)

Enlightening and short read about this famous sculpture. You’ll never look at the Little Dancer the same after reading this book.

Kaelin Rasmussen

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

(Library of Congress PZ4. G1414 Go 2006)

Only a few weeks ago did I finally get around to reading this classic of fantasy literature (originally published 1990), and I loved it! It’s a great read for the slide into the summer months. There’s a new TV show out based on it (I haven’t seen that yet), and I’ve always been of the opinion that one should read the book first. The story features demons and angels in cahoots, witches ancient and modern, rare occult books, enterprising schoolchildren, and loyal furry friends, all careening toward an imminent, slightly off-kilter Apocalypse. Alternately suspenseful and hilarious, always intelligent and inventive, Good Omens reminds me of those long childhood summer days where wild flights of imagination ruled and anything seemed possible.

Mary Warnement

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

(Library of Congress PZ4.P8471 Gr 2015)

Grief seems a strange topic for spring, but I have been attracted to writings about birds, and this novel is a poetic stream-of-conscious work of fiction that calls to mind new life. I was unfamiliar with Ted Hughes’s collection of poems Crow, but reading this gem of faceted phrases bouncing off each other, I quickly became aware that Porter was responding not only to mythical stories about crows but to a specific version of it—created by Hughes and inspired by Leonard Baskin’s art. My British edition from Faber has a cover by Eleanor Crow that better evokes Baskin than the American edition owned by the Athenæum. Can that possibly be the artist’s true name? Yes, it is and her website’s homepage features a drawing of JAS Smith and Sons Umbrellas, which catches my eye on New Oxford Street every time I visit London. Enough about the cover; what’s inside? No character is named: the characters are the Mum (missing, gone, dead), Dad, Crow, and Boys. The boys are grouped together although each speaks with a different voice. Could I distinguish one from the other? Not always at first. There were many in jokes. Parenthesis Press in Manchester. Parenthesis for Faber’s periodical. Hughes connection to Faber. I’m sure I’m missing many references and while I don’t care enough for Hughes to look them up, I don’t think that detracts from what this book gave me. Hughes was the protagonist’s obsession before his wife’s death replaced it with grief. When the crow left, then obsession left, if not the grief. “Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.” I read this before having an immediate reason to grieve, and even after recent events in my life put me in touch with that emotion, grief is not the one I associate with this volume. Do not let the title scare you off. It is a beautiful book.

Hannah Weisman

Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (translated by Shaun Whiteside) 

(Library of Congress NEW HV5840.G3 O3513 2018)

Ohler digs deep into the Third Reich’s addiction to methamphetamines, opiates, and cocaine in their over-the-counter, prescription, and illegal forms. By examining Hitler and the Third Reich through the lens of drug use, Ohler encourages the reader to consider the motivations and means by which the Third Reich succeeded and failed in specific military campaigns, societal manipulation, and the entirety of World War II. Ohler’s writing reads like a novel, with only a few diversions to indulge his apparent nerdiness in chemistry.

Rachel Wentworth

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

(Library of Congress PZ4.D1853 Ho)

Pro tip: don’t try to read this one on the T. It will have you rotating, flipping, and pulling out mirrors to follow along. To put it as simply as possible, this is a faux academic publication by a man named Zampano on a non-existent documentary with references to works that also don’t exist, edited by Johnny Truant, a partying tattoo shop assistant who becomes more and more obsessed with (and haunted by) the book as he edits it. The subject of the book (within a book) is The Navidson Record, a documentary (or fictional short film, depending on who you believe) on a haunted-house-meets-labyrinth that seems to mirror the psyche of those who enter its bigger-on-the-inside walls. With a mix of narrative voices, genres, a complicated web of footnotes, and the most intriguing form I’ve seen in years, it’s a horror story that works on a number of levels. Even when you have no idea what’s happening, you can’t seem to stop turning the page.