"Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light": Staff Favorites from the Camden Public Library
Updated: Jan 3
Another year in the books, quite literally. More and more of you have been returning to the library to traverse the stacks or settle in the Reading Room, a haven of books and harbor views. Meanwhile, the staff at the library continues to read, listen, and watch, hoping to bring joy and thoughtfulness to our own days while also seeking constantly to bring a diverse array of books, films, and more to you, our community. The holiday season and end of the year are a time for reflection and sharing, so, in that spirit, here are some favorites from our staff. From older gems discovered in the uncharted terrain of 2021 to books as new and fresh as a blanket of pure snow, a gift from us to you. We read about pigs, we read about libraries, we watched films, we followed recipes, we devoured breathtaking picture book illustrations with our eyes, we read about hope. All we ask is that you reciprocate by sharing with us some of the literary delights you have discovered this year and unearth in the days to come. Get your to-read list ready for additions; there's a bounty up ahead!
Everyday Dinners by Jessica Merchant
What I love most about this book is that the recipes are so good! Secondly, it focuses on making dinners, taking into account a person’s limited schedule. The author eases you into these family-friendly recipes with helpful tips, strategies, and 10-minute meal preps which allow you to accomplish a delicious meal in 30 minutes at the end of a work day. In addition to the dinners, she provides a wonderful array of accompanying sauces and dressings. Great pictures, simple and clear recipes. The chicken tortilla soup is wonderful!!
The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson
I would encourage everyone to read this book. It is formatted as a thoughtful, real, and inspiring dialogue between Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams, the author of The Book of Joy. Jane offers us hope, resilience, and ideas for action in a current climate that often feels daunting. She gives us hope for our children.
My favorite film that I got to watch this year with the library's film club was Hunt for the Wilderpeople based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress. Summary: A misadventure in the wilderness leads to life-changing discoveries for a troubled orphan teen from the city and his belligerent foster father. In my opinion, it was charming, heartwarming, bizarre, and hysterical.
The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
This 2021 book had me right away. The characters had me captivated and vested in their growth and change from the beginning. I loved the connections, and I found myself wanting to read or re-read the books on the list. Mookesh is a lonely older gentleman dealing with his 3 busybody daughters after his wife's passing. Alicia is a college student struggling with her mom's issues. And then all of the other library patrons and people connected in the story. The Reading List will have you laughing, crying, and just wanting more. The list ties the characters together and creates a sense of community for all those touched by the list as characters and as the reader. Heartbreakingly real and raw!
The Idiot by Elif Batuman (2017): The tone and humor of this book is unforgettable!
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (2015): This was the first fantasy book I’ve read for many years and the first novel I’ve read in a while that I simply couldn’t put down.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (2021): A more serious read but absolutely beautifully written. Yaa Gyasi says it best, “Tender poetry, a love song to Black art and thought.”
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (2018): A very moving memoir, definitely not shying away from some heavy and painful topics, but the language is unforgettable.
For the Love of Men by Liz Plank (2019): The subtitle says it all, “a new vision for mindful masculinity.” Super interesting.
Minding the Gap: I just couldn't stop talking or thinking about this documentary for weeks.
Summer of Soul: A delightful glimpse into the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival with tons of live footage of incredible historic performances.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019, non-fiction)
This creative memoir recounts the author’s abusive relationship with her ex-girlfriend. With each new chapter, she reimagines her experiences through the lens of various genres of fiction. It flows much better than I thought it would. Definitely one of the most unique books I’ve read over the past year.
It has a sometimes eerie feel, due to the second person perspective (using “you” language) that Machado employs to refer to her past self. Her perspective on domestic abuse, especially how it’s handled in the LGB community and perceived outside of it, comes from both a personal and political perspective that feels like an important contribution to an ongoing dialogue.
(Content warnings if you need them: domestic abuse and explicit adult scenes.)
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg (2018, fiction)
Continuing my dive into unique books this year, I had an overall positive experience with this historical fiction where two stories occur simultaneously: the first story is a fictitious memoir allegedly written by Jack Sheppard (the historically famous thief and jailbreaker), and the second story is from the perspective of the fictitious professor editing and translating the record, told through the footnotes of his manuscript. Is this complicated? Yes. Incredibly.
This is a book with a very niche appeal that is further compounded by its academic language and concepts, but I appreciate the risks that it takes. Rosenberg did a great job writing several distinct narrative voices that develop through the story, and he’s added an interesting entry to the very small canon of adult transgender literature. It has heart, and I’m very glad I gave it a chance, despite its many flaws.
(Content warnings if you need them: explicit language, explicit adult scenes, transphobia, racism. This book taught me a lot of dirty words in Ye Olde English.)
Murder in the Crooked House by Sōji Shimada (trans. Louise Heal Kawai) (fiction, 1982) (trans. 2019)
I read this book because it has my favorite subgenre of mystery: locked room mystery. The whole story takes place in an architectural marvel and/or crime, depending on your perspective. The Crooked House is, as its name suggests, very much not symmetrical. Its wealthy owner and designer invites a sizable cast of characters to enjoy his home in snowy Hokkaido for a Christmas party. Of course, the peace doesn’t last for too long.
This mystery is complicated, and it delights in that. I had a lot of fun forming detailed lists of the cast and their lodgings in this crazy house. I admit that I enjoyed the journey much more than the destination, but I won’t discuss the ending, in case you’d like to check it out yourself.
Lesser Beasts: A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig by Mark Essig (non-fiction, 2015)
This is a conversationally written history book. If you’ve read history books before, you’ll understand why that’s a pretty big positive. Essig discusses the history of pigs, particularly where it intertwines with humans.
All over the “Old World,” people have both venerated and loathed pigs for a variety of reasons, ranging from religion to economics. I learned a lot in this book, including how pigs were used in the European conquest and environmental destruction of the Americas, which I had no idea about. Essig concludes the book with an examination of the present day abuse of pigs raised in confinement barns and a discussion of how people are working to end it. This was my favorite history book I read in 2021; it’s an entertaining and informative book about an often misunderstood animal.
Sometimes you read book after book and feel that they're all high quality, that surely they're perfect for someone else, but they're just not what your heart needs (or your eyes, which start to roam and roguishly refuse to settle on the page). That was my 2021 until I hit upon two treasure troves in the latter part of the year: the canon of the late writer Brian Doyle and a bounty of particularly beautiful picture books.
My entry into Brian Doyle's work was inspired by a fellow librarian's recommendation of his posthumous selected works, One Long River of Song. While Doyle was also a novelist, this collection is comprised of essays that flow like an awed and somewhat untamed river. If a run-on sentence irks you, know that Doyle practically reinvents it here, indulging his instinct to go on and on in rapture, celebration of, and reflection on everything from family to nature to the church. I've gone on to delight in a number of his books of essays and prose poems, the highlight of which was A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 celebrations of the miracle & muddle of the ordinary, a little book with perhaps the biggest heart I've yet encountered between two covers that I savored for months and finished with deep gratitude over Thanksgiving. If you need a moment to think about being grateful for nurses, cashiers, chess, and "the little flying dinosaurs we call dragonflies," look no further than this purely lovely and often humorous book of brief poetic meditations.
While Brian Doyle resonated with me in a way that tingled from head to toe, my reaction to Tasha Spillett-Sumner and Michaela Goade's I Sang You Down From the Stars was more visceral, bringing immediate tears to my eyes with the gorgeous illustrations that accompany an Indigenous mother's preparation for and welcoming of her new child. Other illustrated highlights of the year include the sweet Share Some Kindness, Bring Some Light by Apryl Stott, the fiction/non-fiction blend 189 Canaries by Dieter Böge, and the heartbreaking tribute Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile, which pairs poems by María José Ferrada with the art of María Elena Valdez to honor the children who fell victim to Augusto Pinochet's dictatorial regime in Chile. Myriad delights were found in Elizabeth Haidle's collective graphic novel biography Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators as Kids, featuring endless random discoveries, from Tove Jansson's fantastically crafted personal library bookplate to Wanda Gág's likening of storytelling to "bit[ing] into a big juicy pear." I'll certainly need to follow it up with Haidle's previous book, Before They Were Authors: Famous Artists as Kids. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg by browsing Fiona Waters and Britta Teckentrup's illuminating Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright!, a hefty volume of 366 fantastically illustrated animal poems (one for each day of the year), and I eagerly anticipate reading more throughout the coming months.
I'm ending the year on a middle grade high, having just read Linda Sue Park's The One Thing You'd Save and now slowly relishing Heather Fawcett's new fantastically conceived novel of magic school (turned inventively on its head). In The School Between Winter and Fairyland, Fawcett performs masterful worldbuilding as beastkeeper Autumn tries to unravel the mystery of what happened to her missing twin brother at the Inglenook School of Magic.
Looking toward to 2022, I leave you with a refrain from Stott's aforementioned picture book: