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Staff Picks

The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong []

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Armstrong is a well-known biographer and author on religious and cultural subjects. This memoir is her most personal to date and helps us to understand her interest in the subjects she so skillfully covers, as a person with one foot in the world of the secular and the other in the sacred. She does not skirt around the difficult questions but shows rare candor.

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Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert []

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A humorous look at our thoughts and perceptions around happiness. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert explains why our predictions of what will make us happy are often wrong. He also examines how our memories of happy times may be distorted. This is not a self-help book, but Gilbert does help us become more realistic in our search for happiness.

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Understanding comics by Scott McCloud [, ]

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The first book in Scott McCloud’s influential trilogy of comics about comics, “Understanding Comics” is both entertaining and informative. Anyone interested in art and storytelling would enjoy reading this fascinating book.

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With Malice Toward None by Stephen B. Oates []

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Oates brings to life both Lincoln’s deep humanity and personal struggles, and his genius in guiding the nation through the Civil War despite political pressures on all sides (not least from his own cabinet). If you don’t have a profound respect for Abraham Lincoln as our greatest president, you will after reading this book.

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The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton []

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Set in Kenya, this book tells the story of a foreign librarian who goes to work at a bookmobile service. Traveling by camel to reach remote villages, she becomes emotionally involved in one community where a couple of books have not been returned. This threatens bookmobile services for the entire village. Beautiful writing and moving story – highly recommended.

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The California Book of the Dead by Tim Farrington []

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Lesbians Marlowe and Daa search for a lover and roommate to replace the departed Jackson, while masseur Jack seduces Marlowe’s cousin, Sheba, into their world of Buddhist rituals, banana smoothies, and California enlightenment.

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Border Songs by Jim Lynch []

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Brandon Vanderkool’s extreme dyslexia and height give him a peculiar perspective, which proves handy once his father pushes him off their Washington dairy farm into the Border Patrol. Though he used to just jump over the ditch into British Columbia, he’s uncomfortable in this uniformed role and instead indulges his obsession with birds and art while incidentally spotting smugglers and illegal immigrants who are provoking an already paranoid society.

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The Botany of Desire : A Plant’s-eye View of the World by Michael Pollan []

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Do we choose what to plant in our gardens? Or do the plants choose us? Learn about four common plants and the human desires they inspire: the apple and sweetness; the tulip and beauty; marijuana and intoxication; and the potato and control. Pollan weaves an interesting tale with observations from philosophy, natural history, botany, and his own gardening experience.

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The Alchemist’s Daughter : a novel by Katherine McMahon []

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A student of Isaac Newton, John Selden believes he can turn his daughter into a brilliant natural philosopher and alchemist. Secluded in their ancient house, with only two servants for company, he fills Emilie with knowledge and records her progress obsessively. After encounters with two strangers, Emilie discovers that for all her extraordinary education she has no insight into the workings of the human heart. When she tries to return to the world of books and study, she instead unravels a shocking secret that sets her on her true journey to enlightenment.

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Strangest dream by Popcorn Behavior []

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A local contra dance band, Popcorn Behavior plays wonderfully danceable tunes drawing from a range of traditions. This album also contains some songs, which are every bit as good as the dance tunes which surround them. A great album.

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