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The first of several books recommended by the staff of The Bookloft in Great Barrington.

Books To Read and To Give: Staff picks from The Bookloft

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By Sunday, Nov 18, 2018 Arts & Entertainment

The staff members at The Bookloft in Great Barrington – Pam, Julia, Cheri, Tim, Giovanni, Ellyne, Linda — are happy to recommend the following books to the community. Some are newly published, others are older, but all come highly endorsed!

Fiction for Adults

For those interested in sci-fi and fantasy, here is a book that combines the two: “Space Unicorn Blues” by T.J. Berry.

Pam says: “I picked up this book to read just because of the title, but you may need a little more encouragement! It’s about a century old battle between the magical beings of space and humans who have destroyed their own planet and are moving across the universe doing the usual things humans do while exploring new territory (mainly paying little head to the beings that already live there). It’s sad and funny and charming, and all the characters are relatable. I loved it and devoured it in a day.”

A novel that combines history, magic, and myth, “She Would Be King” by Wayetu Moore, is recommended by Julia.

“This historical retelling of the birth of Liberia and its complicated connection with the U.S. will draw you in. The novel skips back and forth between locations (Virginia, Jamaica, and West Africa) and between characters–Gbessa born in the village of Lai who was cursed at birth, June Dey a slave with supernatural strength, and Norman Aragon son of a British colonizer and a Maroon slave who can become invisible. “She Would Be King” is a beautifully woven tapestry layered with history, mythology, and magic.”

“The Bone People” by Keri Hulme is from a New Zealand author and artist, and won both the Booker Prize and Pegasus Prize when it was published in 1986. It is now on our Staff Pick shelves courtesy of Cheri’s recommendation.

“Have you ever read something that sticks with you for years and years? Keri Hulme’s “The Bone People” is one of those stories for me.  I still think about the characters and the landscape to this day.  If you are interested in learning about different cultures and also like a mix of mystery, love and family, this might be a good choice for you.  Be prepared for an experimental, yet beautiful reading experience that at times is akin to poetry and tells the tale from varying points of view. ”

Tim highly recommends “The Ink House” by Rory Dobner.

Written and illustrated by a U.K. designer (check out www.RoryDobner.com), this book is a delightful portal into a world where ink is a magical elixir through which creativity, fun, mischief and beauty are unleashed. You are the only human invited to join the gathering of eclectic animal friends as they hold their Annual Ink House Extravaganza while the Artist is away. Hurry inside, the party is about to start…

Another new favorite in our fiction section is “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, recommended by Pam.

“Loneliness and melancholy weave a background hum with the beauty of the marshes dancing along as the melody of this song about love of nature and the wild things that dwell far from populated areas, out where the crawdads sing. Abandoned as a child, Kya raises herself with scants bits of help from a few others. She grows to know the salt marshes and becomes an expert on all that lives within them. A tale beautifully told.”

Giovanni recommends “Sip” by Brian Allen Carr.

“This dark dystopian novel is a great quick read for anyone who loves a good story. It follows three primary characters: Mira, a shadow-trader feeding the shade of birds and animals to her mother who has lost her own shadow; Muck, the half-mad, one-legged junkie who sips his own shadow to get high; and Bale, an exiled citizen from one of the dome cities who must learn to survive in this world of addicts and revolutionaries. A compelling story about fear, hunger, and sacrifice, but also about loyalty and determination.”

A book that combines both fiction and non-fiction for adults is “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2018.”

Tim says, “Each year I seem to forget how great the “Nonrequired Reading” series is! Inside, you might find some short fiction, poetry, or essays, but there might also be want-ads, Instagram posts, and police blotter updates. I love that virtually nothing is off limits! The BEST thing about the series, though? How it comes into being every year. It’s edited by San Francisco-area high school writing students who attend “826 Valencia,” a creative writing and tutoring center. The student committee meets on Monday nights from 6 to 8pm, and each student brings reading selections up for debate with the whole group, which then votes on what makes it into the anthology that year. Knowing about that process is what makes this collection such a treasure to enjoy. ”

Adult Non-Fiction

“Kafka’s Last Trial: The Case of a Literary Legacy” by Benjamin Balint comes highly recommended by Ellyne.

“Max Brod hated the word ‘Kafkaesque’, yet what else can one call the story of Kafka’s papers and how they ended up, many of them, in a Tel Aviv apartment ‘living’ with one woman and a lot of cats? Having read a wonderful article written by Elif Batuman some years ago in the New York Times Magazine about this very subject, I was hooked the moment I saw the title. The question before the Israeli court: where should the papers reside if not on Spinoza Street with Eva Hoffe and her cats?  Whose papers are they, given that Kafka asked that they be burned? These questions and more WILL be answered!   P.S. Eva Hoffe died on August 4, 2018, at the age of 85, leaving no heirs.”

“Ticker: The Quest to Create an Artificial Heart” by Mimi Swartz is another non-fiction title new to our Staff Pick Shelves.

Linda says: “Is it just a pump? Things are always changing and that includes the kinds of diseases and health issues that people have. It seems that after World War II, there was in increase in heart disease, which started the research experiments and search for possible ways to fix the heart. This book is about the incredible science — NASA engineers included — costs and homemade devices they came up with to keep people alive while they awaited heart transplants. The book looks into the medical field, the doctors, the costs, and the competition. The search continues: scientists are still working on an artificial heart that can do it all! Very readable and extremely interesting.”

If you are interested in U.S. history and culture, Catherine recommends

“American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America” by Colin Woodard.

“Most Americans today agree that we live in a nation divided. But what exactly divides us?  What makes a red state red and a blue state blue? Maybe it’s a lot more complicated than two primary colors. Maybe the United States were never united in the first place! This is exactly what Colin Woodard suggests in his fascinating book, “American Nations.”  This book came out in 2011, but the current political climate makes it perhaps even more relevant to current readers (post-November, 2016.) If you are interested in American history, in national vs. cultural identity, and in what it means to be “American,” this book is a must-read. I believe, in fact, that this book should be required reading for all American high school students. My mother was born and raised in France, but she has been living in the United States full-time for the last three decades. I can’t count the number of times she has exclaimed, “I simply do not understand this country!”  I gave her a copy of “American Nations” and after she read two chapters, she asked me to order five copies to give to friends. Read this book. You’ll be glad that you did.”

And for those who simply love words, there is this recommended by Julia: “The Lost Words” by Robert MacFarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris.

“A few years ago the editors at Oxford University Press decided to remit words describing nature for words about technology from the junior dictionaries. There would be a new generation of children who would not find words like “fern” or “acorn” in their dictionaries. “Lost Words” is an invitation for young and old alike to enjoy the 20 words that were removed, such as “adder” and “wren”. The illustrations are a celebration of the English countryside, of poetry in nature and the words we use to describe it. If you don’t close this book appreciating the poetry and wonderful illustrations, you will at least understand why we hold on to those ancient dictionaries.”

Children’s Picture Books 

“The Epic Adventures of Huggie & Stick” by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by David Spencer.

Giovanni says, “Huggie is a stuffed rabbit that has seen better days. Stick is a rather upbeat twig figure. Together they go on an epic adventure around the world, encountering all kinds of people and animals. While things don’t go smoothly for Huggie, Stick has the time of his life. A hilarious adventure story of an unlikely pair that will appeal to parents and kids alike.”

Tim recommends “I Just Ate My Friend,” written and illustrated by Heidi McKinnon.

“A good friend is hard to find; a tasty friend is hard to not eat. First time author McKinnon has brilliantly written and illustrated this simple story, universal in its message. We all struggle to belong and to find where we fit in. But do you fit all the way inside your friend’s mouth??!! A dark and hilarious look at impulse (and portion) control.”

On a less macabre note is Pam’s recommendation, “This Is The Farm” by Perrin Hendrick.

“A beautifully illustrated book filled with animals engaging in whimsical and esoteric behaviors (a horse in disguise on a secret mission; a cat who takes the words ‘cat burglar’ a little too much to heart!). Adults will love the whimsy; kids will love the flow of the rhymes; everyone will love the illustrations!”


For Middle Readers

“Finding Langston” by Lesa Cline-Ransome, was picked by Julia.

“This lyrical book is short and moving. A lovely tale about change, about pasts, and finding home in new places. After the death of his mother, Langston and his father move up north. Langston’s new home is lonely and alien. He misses his mom and his grandmother, who is still down south. His father is mourning their loss and isn’t able to give Langston the home he needs. Langston comes across a library, a place he was never allowed to enter in Jim Crow South. In this new sanctuary Langston finds friendship and connection he needs. He finds new family in books, poetry, classmates. He finds connections between poetry and his mother, opening up a new doorway for him and his father.”

Young Adult

Here are two recommendations from our Young Adult section. First is “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo

Julia says, “Tears, for me it ended with tears. I had this moment been reading a book about a girl that is not me. I am not from a big city, I am not from a Catholic or even religious family, I am not Latina nor do I speak any other language. Although Xiomara is a girl with a background very different from mine, Elizabeth Acevedo has written a story that is me. Xiomara is so many of us. She captures a struggle all too familiar among our teens. And Acevedo has written her beautifully. Powerfully.”

Jason Reynolds’ “Long Way Down” was also picked by Julia.

” Jason Reynolds is fast becoming a favorite of mine. His books never fail to satisfy, entertain or get me thinking. How long is an elevator ride? 30 seconds? Short enough to maintain your need for revenge, misguided by anger and hurt? Long enough for your ghosts to convince you otherwise? Or not? In ”Long Way Down” we may not get a clear-cut answer. What we do get is a chance to witness, to glimpse a young man’s struggle to follow the RULES as he has been taught, the rules of his world, his neighborhood. NO CRYING. NO SNITCHING. GET REVENGE.”

Finally, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas has recently arrived in movie theatres, but first it was a book and has been on our Staff Pick Shelves since its release in 2017.

“‘Sometimes things will go wrong, but the key is to keep doing right.’ This is a book about standing up and finding your voice for truth and justice, even when you are scared. A searingly honest look at racism and police shootings, as told through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl. I highly recommend this book, not just for “YA” audiences but for adults, too.”


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