Staff Pick: O Beautiful by Jung Yun

I listened to the audiobook, O Beautiful by Jung Yun on the CloudLibrary online catalog and was invested in the story from the first few lines. It’s about a woman named Elinor in her forties trying to reinvent herself after a modeling career from her youth. When she gets the opportunity to write an article on her hometown for a prestigious magazine, she discovers much more than she anticipated. As she explores how the Bakken oil boom has transformed the entire landscape of what she remembers of North Dakota, I was on the edge of my seat as she interviews those who are affected. I will never forget this book. Yun shows the complexity and greyness of capitalism, racism, sexism, and social class.

-Gia, Children’s Room

Staff Picks: Selfish, Shallow, and Self Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum

Leaving aside those who wish to have children but don’t,  there are surely as many reasons for not being a parent as for being one and as many ways to be as to not be one. The essays in Selfish, Shallow, and Self Absorbed are thoughtful and honest about the challenges of living an “authentic” life. It’s clear that there can be courage and a rich emotional life in either decision.

-Barbara, Circulation

Staff Pick: Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Traditional fantasy takes on a brutal edge in Rebecca Yarros’ new novel, the immensely popular Fourth Wing.  Violet Sorrengail, the youngest of the General’s three children, enters the Rider’s Quadrant with every eye on her – and not much hope of surviving the next few weeks.  After all, a quarter of Rider Candidates never make it to even get the chance to meet the dragons, and some make it no further than that.  To add to the fear of being killed in training and by dragons, Violet has the pressure of her mother’s brutal history of squashing rebellions throughout the country.  It isn’t unusual for candidates to be killed by their classmates, and Violet’s classmates can hold her responsible for tragedy and brutality in the country and in their families.  Plus, she’s about the tiniest person in her class.  Near misses abound in this action packed, dragon infused traditional fantasy with a spicy side, as Violet breaks through it all and becomes her own person along the way, out of her family’s shadows and into situations she believed unthinkable.  Expect to lose sleep to this one – and put yourself on the hold list for the second installment, Iron Flame, before you start the first!

Aurora’s Anticipated Non-Fiction: January

Toxic: Women, Fame, and the Tabloid 2000s by Sarah Ditum

Although my teenage years fell right in the middle of the period British journalist Sarah Ditum spotlights in her new book, I spent the decade doggedly ignoring pop culture, because it terrified me. Toxic proves just how valid was my terror-—and how futile my efforts to flee from it. In this incisive and entertaining, yet consistently disturbing, examination of the casual cruelty leveled at female celebrities throughout the early aughts, Ditum argues that the tabloid treatment battered not only the targeted celebrities themselves, but also all women with the misfortune of coming of age in the midst of the feeding frenzy. Each chapter reviews the case of a woman chewed up and spat out by the carnivorous mass-media machine, from Britney Spears to Janet Jackson to Amy Winehouse, and reconsiders the star’s notorious story in the wider sociocultural context of the era. Of particular relevance, Ditum writes, is the rise of the Internet, with its proliferation of the gossip blogs that would turbocharge a seemingly bottomless public appetite for women’s mortification. Reality TV, the 2008 financial crash, social media and their discontents are dissected as well, bearing new insights into the grotesqueries of the not-so-distant past and their lingering influence today. 

For fans of critical pop culture studies, celebrity biographies, and Sadie Doyle’s Trainwreck. Also recommended for recovering survivors of a 2000s girlhood (who wants to start a support group?).

 

The Cancer Factory: Industrial Chemicals, Corporate Deception, and the Hidden Deaths of American Workers by Jim Morris

Jim Morris, journalist and founder of the nonprofit news organization Public Health Watch, reports on a different sort of noxiousness in his investigation of one of the most grievous, and best documented, cases of lethal corporate negligence in U.S. history. Between 1980 and 2022, 78 people associated with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company chemical factory in Niagara Falls, NY were diagnosed with bladder cancer, the result of a carcinogenic chemical supplied to Goodyear by DuPont. Both companies had been aware of the chemical’s health risks as far back as the 1950s, yet failed to notify workers of the dangers or institute any measures to protect them. In The Cancer Factory, Morris traces the stories of the men and women sickened by chemical exposure at Goodyear and the lawsuit they filed against the company. While his writing on the harms done to individual workers is harrowing and impassioned, Morris’s book is ultimately a critique of corporate callousness, as well as of the limp, lagging regulatory system that enables companies like Goodyear to knowingly poison their workforce for decades. He warns that regulations remain inadequate to protect workers, even as countless new chemicals – the long-term health impacts of which no one knows – are poured into the market each year. An unsparing and poignant feat of muckraking journalism, The Cancer Factory sounds the call for accountability and an end to profits over people.

For rabble-rousers, Upton Sinclair enthusiasts, and fans of Kerri Arsenault’s Mill Town.

Staff Pick: The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History by Nathalia Holt

I have such a new appreciation for the movies I grew up with and the work and art that was put into the animation for them. The women who created them are extraordinary and are finally getting the credit they deserve. The Queens of Animation was one of my favorite reads of 2023.

-Gia, Children’s Room

This title was featured on the list Favorite Staff Reads of 2023.

Staff Picks: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a must-read for anyone interested in what happens when you donate your body to science, and who wants to laugh hysterically out loud while reading about it.

-Samantha, Development Director

This title was featured on the list Favorite Staff Reads of 2023.

Staff Pick: Pluto by Naoki Urosawa

An emotionally devastating manga series that combines the ethics of AI with a murder mystery and features some truly unforgettable characters. It was adapted recently into an anime series and while the entire series is terrific, the North #2 episode is especially beautiful.

-Sarah, Reference and Children’s

This title was featured on the list Favorite Staff Reads of 2023.

Staff Picks: Favorite Staff Reads of 2023

It was a great year for reading!  Here are some of the PFL Staff’s favorites from 2023.

 

Pet by Catherine Chidgey

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

A delightfully unnerving collection of wild and genre-defying short stories. -Sarah, Reference and Children’s Room

The Body in Question by Jill Ciment

Spare by Prince Harry

Audio is a must! -Gia, Children’s Room

Wellness by Nathan Hill

The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History by Nathalia Holt

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

An unsettling novel of a couple’s s grief after the loss of a young son. – Sarah, Reference and Children’s Room

Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues by Jonathan Kennedy

Fascinating history of how germs have shaped our history from the rise of humans to the present. -Meredith, Children’s Room

Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius

An unflinching look at the political and environmental struggles experienced by the Sámi people of Northern Europe. -Sarah, Reference and Children’s Room

Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, Signal to Noise, all by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

My #1 favorite read of the year. The characters in this story were so fleshed out I felt bereft once I closed the book from knowing I had to say goodbye to them. -Gia, Children’s Room

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Watership Down graphic novel adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel by James Sturm and James Sutphin

For fans of the classic novel, or rabbits, or both. -Sarah, Reference and Children’s Room

Palestine and Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

Invaluable for gaining more understanding of the conflict. -Sarah, Children’s Room

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

Such heartbreaking (and then hopeful) prose from my favorite poet. -Gia, Children’s Room

Eight Billion Genies by Charles Soule

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino

Pluto by Naoki Urosawa

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Aurora’s Favorite Non-Fiction of 2023

With a new year swift upon us, rather than spend our long midwinter nights brooding on the uncanny speed with which the months seem to flee, or stewing over unchecked items on the past year’s to-do lists, wouldn’t it be altogether more pleasant to reminisce about the best nonfiction offerings from 2023? Yes, let’s do that instead. Below Aurora presents her own personal favorites, in no particular order.

 

Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear by Erica Berry

Taking as her central thread one lone wolf’s 1000-mile trek through the mountains from Oregon to California, Erica Berry deftly weaves cultural criticism, philosophy, natural history, mythology and memoir through Wolfish to craft an intricate, illuminating study of the real wolf and the symbolic one, wolves as they are and as we have feared them to be. For local interest points, the author is a Bowdoin graduate.

Standing in the Forest of Being Alive by Katie Farris

Katie Farris documents her treatment for breast cancer at the age of 36 during the pandemic era’s mass reckoning with disease and mortality; and while there is grief in her words, and fear, frank and aching, Standing in the Forest of Being Alive is more than anything a collection of love poems. To remain in love with living, to love her body even as its vulnerabilities are painfully exposed, Farris cultivates the discipline to find, as she writes, “in the midst of hell, what isn’t hell.”

Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder

George Orwell is required reading for high schoolers everywhere, revered as a champion of progressive politics and the eerie prescience of his most famous book, 1984. Far less known is the woman written out of his story: Eileen O’Shaughnessy, Orwell’s first wife, who abandoned her own work and talents to bolster her husband––a man whose revolutionary idealism, as Anna Funder reveals, failed to extend into his relationships with women. In Wifedom, Funder melds what scant biographical details she can unearth with her own fictional reconstructions of O’Shaughnessy’s life, imaginatively resurrecting a woman too long blurred out of focus by the haze of her husband’s shadow.

BReD: Sourdough Loaves, Small Breads, and Other Plant-Based Baking by Ed Tatton

One day I will have both the gumption and the time for a proper go at sourdough bread­––in my daydreams I am baking dense, dark sourdough Danish rye and eating it smeared with elderberry jam, preferably by candlelight, whilst pretending it’s the twelfth century. And when that long-awaited day finally arrives, this comprehensive guide to all things vegan sourdough will be the book to join me in my faux-medieval kitchen. 

Staff Holiday Favorites Part 2: Cookbooks, Holiday Books, and Surprising Films

PFL staff are back with more holiday recommendations! Did you miss Part 1?  View it here.

Please note, not all of these gems are available in our catalog.  We have put links to the ones that can be places on hold through Minerva.  Visit the Information Desk for help tracking down anything else that looks interesting to you!

Books

Christmas in Allagash: The Early Years edited by Cathie Pelletier

An anthology containing dozens of long-ago holiday memories from folks who grew up in the Allagash area. -Shannon, Tech Services

The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

I like to take some alone time to sit down and read this one as it reminds me of my late grandfather, who loved the poetry of Robert Service. -Shannon, Tech Services

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

A favorite and one of the few books for which I equally enjoy the tv version. -Karen, Children’s Room

Flour, Too by Joanne Chang

Not a holiday book at all but it has the best Buche de Noel recipe. -Sarah, Reference and Children’s

Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas: Roots and Rebirth of the Folkloric Devil by Al Ridenou

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

 

Films

Bob’s Burgers

We like to watch all the Christmas episodes- they are so weird and wonderful (and often musical as well!). -Hannah, Programs and Outreach

Christmas Greetings From Aroostook

This special that airs on Maine PBS every December and shows different holiday scenes and traditions from the County. Fittingly for that area (and I say this with love, being a County-native myself), it was produced around 2007 but looks like it was filmed on giant camcorders in the late 90s. -Shannon, Tech Services

Elf

My sisters and I watch it every year and quote it incessantly. Buddy the elf finds out he’s a human, not an elf, and goes to NYC around Christmas to find his birth father. What a good story about found family, acceptance and holiday cheer! -Mary, Head of Children’s Services

Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas

Harry Potter

Movie marathon!  –Andrea, Circulation

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Love Actually

I enjoy enough of the story lines to put up with the ones I don’t like. -Karen, Children’s Room

Moonstruck

I always wrap presents and watch Moonstruck on Christmas Eve. Not a holiday movie at all, but it is winter and there is opera (and lots of Italian humor) so it feels festive to me! -Gia, Children’s Room

Rick Steves’ European Christmas

My whole family loves watching the Rick Steves’ European Christmas special annually, mostly because we all fiercely want to sled home down a Swiss mountain at night by light of giant torches…-Laurel, Reference

Silent Night

Set during WWII and starrting Linda Hamilton who plays a German woman who is traveling with her young son and has stopped at their family cabin for shelter. They’re soon joined by a few American soldiers, then later by a few German soldiers. Linda’s character handles the tense situation admirably, and they all soon learn to see each other as humans, rather than simply as enemies. I love the hope in this movie, the idea that there may be people completely opposed to each other’s ideas who can actually learn to respect each other. -Karen, Children’s Room

While You Were Sleeping

A heartfelt holiday movie that does not usually get recognized for being a holiday movie. –Laurel, Reference

 

 

 

 

 

 

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