12.09.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Winter 2022

John Mathy

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

(Library of Congress KZ6385 .M835 2021)

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

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Library of Congress PZ4.I78 Bu 2015)

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

Carolle Morini

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

(Library of Congress PZ4.K41 Pa 2021)

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

Elizabeth O’Meara

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

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

(Library of Congress PZ4 .C987 Se 2021)

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

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

(Library of Congress CT275.S135 K44 2021)

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

Bright Center of Heaven by William Maxwell

(Library of Congress PZ3.M4518 Ear 2008)

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

Leah Rosovsky

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

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

(Library of Congress PZ7 .G48 Van 2017)

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

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

(Library of Congress PZ3.P9936 Ex)

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

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

(Library of Congress PZ4 .O313 Ha 2020)

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

Carly Stevens

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

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

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

Mary Warnement

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

(Cutter Classification N9Y .B414 .st)

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

Death of an Englishman by Magdalena Nabb

(Library of Congress PZ4.N114 De)

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

11.22.2021

Staff recommendations from 2021 Holiday Pop-up Bookshop

Carolle Morini

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

Elizabeth O’Meara

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

Anthea Reilly

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

Mary Warnement

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

09.07.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Autumn 2021

Lauren Graves

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

(Library of Congress Classification PZ4 .T2385 Re 2020)

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

Carolle Morini

Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer; translated by Antoinette Fawcett

(Library of Congress Classification PZ4.M495 Bi 2018)

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

Derek Murphy

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

(Library of Congress PZ4 .R66263 Mi 2020)

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

Leah Rosovsky

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4.H4316 Tr 1980)

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

(Library of Congress PZ4 .O5398 Wa 2018)

Norwegian By Night by Derek B. Miller

(Library of Congress PZ4.M645 Nor 2013)

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

Carly Stevens

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

(Library of Congress PZ4 .I78 Kl 2021)

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

Mary Warnement

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

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

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

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

(Library of Congress PZ4.D31 Da 2014)

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

06.16.2021

Staff Book Suggestions Summer 2021

John Buchtel

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

The Making of the Nuremberg Chronicle by Adrian Wilson

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

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

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

(Library of Congress Classification Lg Z241 .S3413 2001)

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

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

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

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

Jacqueline Chambers

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

(Library of Congress PZ4.M9056 Sec 2012)

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

(Library of Congress PZ4.M9056 Fo 2009)

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

Carolle Morini

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

(Cutter Classification VF3 .C1573 .l .E)

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

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

(Library of Congress N7445.4 .W325 2015)

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

Derek Murphy

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

(Library of Congress PQ613 .D38 1987)

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

Anthea Reilly

Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H478 Pa 2017)

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

Death at the Château Bremont by M.L. Longworth

(Library of Congress PZ4.L8591 De 2011)

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

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H4316 Co 2020)

Shirley Hazzard Short Stories—excellent writer as usual.

Allegorizings by Jan Morris

(Library of Congress PR6063.O7489 A79 2021)

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

Kaelin Rasmussen

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

(Library of Congress PZ4.D547 Do 1996)

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

Leah Rosovsky

A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr

(Library of Congress PZ4.C3118 Mo)

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

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

(Library of Congress PZ4.M11865 De 2020)

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

Carly Stevens

Waiting for the Night Song by BA Member Julie Carrick Dalton

(Library of Congress PZ4 .D149 Wa 2021)

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

(Library of Congress E185.96 .T83 2021)

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

Mary Warnement

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

(Library of Congress + Z814.L53 L53 2020)

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

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

(Library of Congress DA245 .C3687 2006)

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

Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B626956 Th 2020)

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

Hannah Weisman

While Justice Sleeps by Stacey Abrams

(Library of Congress PZ4.A165 Wh 2021)

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

03.10.2021

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS SPRING 2021

John Buchtel

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

(Library of Congress SF517 .M45 2020)

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

(On order)

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

Carolle Morini

Nightshade: A Novel by Annalena McAfee

(Library of Congress PZ4 .M11192 Ni 2020)

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

Costalegre by Courtney Maum

(Library of Congress PZ4.M452 Co 2019)

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

Lisa Muccigrosso

A Lyttel Booke of Nonsense by Randall Davies

(Cutter Classification VEA .D285)

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

Kaelin Rasmussen

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

(Cutter VE .P753 .3)

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

Anthea Reilly

In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

(Library of Congress PZ4.B7839 Inf 2017)

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

(Library of Congress PZ3.C2858 De 1999)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

(Library of Congress PZ4 .F356 Ly 2020)

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

(Library of Congress PZ4 .H4316 Co 2020)

Memoir from Antproof Case by Mark Helprin

(Library of Congress PZ4.H478 Me)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

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

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

(Library of Congress PZ4 .M6652 Wh 2020)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Du 2019)

Please Stop Helping Us by Jason Riley

(Library of Congress E185.86 .R55 2014)

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

Graham Skinner

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

(Library of Congress PZ4.T6465 Dr 2019)

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

Mary Warnement

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

(Library of Congress ND653.G7 G94 2020)

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

Hannah Weisman

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

(Library of Congress E748.D6 L37 2011)

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

01.05.2021

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS WINTER 2021

Carolle Morini

Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

(Library of Congress PR6069.M59 I46 2020)

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

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B4665 Va 2020)

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

Lartigue: The Boy and the Belle Époque by Louise Baring

(Library of Congress TR140.L32 B37 2020)

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

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

(Library of Congress PS591.N4 B36 2017)

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

Derek Murphy

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

(Library of Congress CT1838.M87 A3 2008)

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

Elizabeth O’Meara

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

(Library of Congress PZ4.F872735 Se 2020)

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

Mary Warnement

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

(Library of Congress QH84.1 .L67 1986)

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

Snow by Marcus Sedgwick

(Library of Congress PR6069.E316 S66 2016)

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

Hannah Weisman

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

(Library of Congress PZ4.P294 Du 2019)

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

12.04.2020

Staff recommendations from 2020 Holiday Pop-up Bookshop

Daniel Axmacher

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

Bruno Faria

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

Adriene Galindo

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

Sam Gill

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

Andrew Hahn

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

Michael Jugenheimer

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

Carolle Morini

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

Kaelin Rasmussen

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

Graham Skinner

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

Mary Warnement

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

09.21.2020

STAFF BOOK SUGGESTIONS AUTUMN 2020

John Buchtel

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

(Library of Congress Classification CT275.S8421 A3 2014)

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

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

(Library of Congress E185.615 .T57 2019)

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

Carolle Morini

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B28138 Ni 2019)

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

Artforum by César Aira

(Library of Congress PZ4.A293 Ar 2020)

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

Elizabeth O’Meara

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

(Library of Congress ND653.G7 G94 2020)

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

Autumn by Ali Smith

(Library of Congress PZ4.S64231 Au 2017)

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

Leah Rosovsky 

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

(Library of Congress TX652 .C714 1988)

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

Mary Warnement

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby

(Cutter Classification 8AB1 .N429)

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

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

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

Rachel Wentworth

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wung

(Library of Congress RC514 .W36 2019)

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

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

(Library of Congress PZ4 .S3362 Gr 2019)

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

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.