Staff, Trustee, Patron and Volunteer favorites in 2021. Some new titles, some older
Lisa Murray, Director: For fiction, I was absorbed in the Ishmael Series, by Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, The Story of B & My Ishmael) . It is impossible to give a pat description of what these three books are about, as they all explore modern animism in one way or another. All three explore modern society and its hypocrisy, ranging from world hunger and poverty and the disparity from the connection with all living species and our environment. Featuring a gorilla as teacher. Yes, it is fiction, but there’s a lot to think about in each of these thin volumes.
Maps and wayfinding are a passion of mine and I was thrilled to have a friend recommend Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, by M.R. O’Connor. The book delves into how people have managed to find their way across the globe well before the advent of not only GPS, but paper or even primitive tools. Part neuroscience, part cultural travelogue, the title reinforced by love of exploration via natural landmarks and phenomena, paper maps, and word of mouth. I now understand why every Mainer has a well-worn copy of the Gazetteer in their vehicle!
A library patron recently recommended Everything Was Possible to me, as a fascinating look into the making of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Follies. She specifically found the process of pulling all the pieces together so quickly fascinating. Published in 2005, author Ted Chapin was a production assistant at the creation of one of the greatest Broadway musicals, Follies. He kept a journal of everything he saw and heard and was able to document how the musical was created. Now, more than thirty years later, he has fashioned an extraordinary chronicle. At a time when many of us are missing live theatre, this title will help you get your stage fix.
Carey Donovan, Substitute & Volunteer: One of my favorite books this year was Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson. This is the true story of an upper class French woman who headed a major spy ring in France during World War II. The intelligence her group delivered to the British was of high value to the Allies. It did not come easy. The story of what she and her compatriots accomplished is stunning. Her role was not widely known or celebrated after the war, but this book gives her the credit she is due. In addition to being a gripping story, it also gives a realistic picture of what life was like in France during World War II and the various ways in which people coped.
Peter Madeira, Library Board: No matter where you sit on the national political spectrum, The Room Where it Happened, by John Bolton is an excellent insider’s take on how the White House functioned during the eighteen months that Bolton was National Security Advisor for Donald Trump. Bolton, who had worked in the White House for other Republican presidents (Reagan and both Bush’s) was stunned by the chaos and disorganization he saw during Trump’s tenure. Decisions were always made with an eye toward the effect on the hoped-for re-election. Bolton was involved with challenging diplomatic issues as far ranging as Ukraine, North Korea, China, Russia, Iran and Venezuela. Many of these have had far reaching impacts on the United States diplomatic policy going forward. At over 500 pages it is not light reading but well worth it if you are interested in recent history, national politics and diplomacy.
Melinda Rice-Schoon, Library Board: I loved Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce, about a middle-aged woman in post World War II England setting out on a quest to find a mythical beetle in New Caledonia with the help of an unlikely companion. It’s poignant, funny, feminist and a great adventure story with very unlikely heroines and it has an ending that is unexpected and very satisfying.
Art Paine, Library Board: I have many to recommend, but I think I’d start with Lost Connections by Johann Hari. It’s supposed to be a book about his own journalistic quest to learn and reveal everything about modern treatment of depression and anxiety. This from an author who had been using antidepressant drugs since the age of 17. He points out that the incidence of depression has steadily increased over the past 20 years, and gone ballistic during Covid. He’s come to the conclusion that SSRI drugs are hardly effective at all, and that people ought to stop blaming themselves and chemical imbalances in their brains, and begin realizing that the society around them is broken, depressing, and anxiety provoking. He proposes various fixes, but first of all he makes a good case that Big Pharma and drugs are no answer. It was a great book mostly for the view it presented about modern Western Civilization.
Kathie Pratt, Library Board: Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics by Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann is a big book with a beautiful cover photo of a young Dolly. It’s best enjoyed with Youtube, so you can listen along while reading the lyrics. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from an era when good photos were an art form, not just pics from a smartphone. Its language is simple and straightforward, so you really get the sense that it comes right from the source. Dolly never forgets her roots, and her sincerity and humility is evident on every page. As she often describes herself, she may be artificial on the outside but she’s as real as it gets on the inside. Even if you are not a country music fan, you gotta love Dolly.
I read A Fair Wind Home by Ruth Moore so many years ago, I’d forgotten exactly what it was about. So I picked it up again and could barely put it down. I am an avid Moore fan, and feel that she’s spoiled me for other fiction. Nothing ever quite compares. It was her 6th novel, a sort of prequel to Candlemas Bay. Set in the 1700’s, it tells the origin of the fictional Ellis family. It is an adventure story, complete with pirates, romance, treasure, betrayal, arson, and murder. It has a different feel than her other works, yet in her usual signature way, she weaves in exquisite descriptions of the land and seascape, and zeroes in on the inner thoughts of choice characters. It makes me want to reread Candlemas Bay, which was a more present day look at the Ellis family when it was written in 1950.
A sixth grade student turned me on to Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone. I have only read a few chapters, but so far so good. It was written for middle school readers, but it’s high quality and interesting to this adult as well. The main plot is that some girls stand up against an unfair, sexist, body-shaming dress code at their school. Just a few pages in and my blood was boiling at that all-too-familiar injustice. Growing up in the 2nd wave of feminism, I could relate. I was sad, but not surprised that 50 years later, girls are still dealing with it. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Amanda Crafts, Librarian: It is possible, if you had read a few of author Gary Paulsen’s obituaries when he died this past fall, that you might think that you had a knowledge of his early life. But Gone to the Woods- Surviving a Lost Childhood By Gary Paulsen, which was published earlier in 2021, fills in the gaps. Suddenly the reader is aware of exactly how his beginnings shaped the man and the author. Told primarily in the third person, Paulsen removes the emotion from his story. His story, however, in it’s stark retelling, will cause emotion enough in the reader. Paulsen’s books speak to his excellent storytelling, often encouraging reluctant readers. The Newbery Prize winning author of Hatchet and 200 other books aimed primarily for young readers has often focused on survival, exploration & adventure. The retelling of his own life story is no different; causing the reader to wonder how he survived such a chaotic and dysfunctional childhood.
During this Covid Crisis, I found comfort in another Pandemic Book. (Yes, there is an entire group of them!) Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks is one of my favorite novels of all time, so it was not difficult to leave our current pandemic for the plague of 1666 in a tiny village in England. There is much to be thankful for in our present situation, especially compared to life and medical beliefs back then. This village understood that SOMEHOW the “plague seeds” had been brought to the village, probably from London. As a community, they decided to act for the good of the towns that were nearby and they quarantined themselves from any outside contact. It was eye-opening to see how human nature tends to react in similar ways, no matter what the scientific ”knowledge” is at any given time.
I have loved the work of Laura Amy Schlitz for years. She writes primarily for young readers and her books are very different from one another in their style. However, her newest, Amber and Clay, is completely unique. Set in ancient Greece and the surrounding area, the reader gets to know two children as they travel to new lands and grow into teenagers. These two stories are told separately, until the lives of the artistic slave and the tempermental daughter of a wealthy family, both of whom seem to be trapped with no options for their future, are woven together. Newbery Award winner Schlitz weaves the epic tale like a drama of the time, complete with Gods and Goddesses making humorous comments to the audience, together with appearances of a Greek Chorus and rather unbelievable events.
Jory John and Pete Oswald have done it again! The Smart Cookie is added to their picture book collection of The Good Egg, The Bad Seed and The Cool Bean. The cookie, the main character of this story, most certainly does not feel smart, quite the opposite. After a school assignment that gets Cookie to see things in a slightly different way, Cookie’s view of themselves changes for the better. Everyone in this quartet of hilarious books, The Egg, The Seed,The Bean and The Cookie, ALL have views of themselves that kids will recognize…even as the characters learn that THEY are more than what they seem at face value. Kids love these books…and so do adults!
Book we look forward to reading in 2022
Landslide, Susan Conley
Things in Jars, Jess Kid
Violeta, Isabelle Allende
Young Mungo, Douglas Stuart
The Candy House, Jennifer Egan
The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue
World of Wonders -In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Harvest -The Hidden Histories of Seven Natural Objects by Edward Posnett
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
The Damage by Caitlin Wahrer