First ladies in fiction

Last year I wrote about two memoirs of First Ladies – by Michelle Obama and Laura Bush. Today, in honor of our upcoming election, I would like to share two books I’ve recently read about First Ladies who appear in fictional accounts of their lives.

“Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters,” by Jennifer Chiaverini, who seems to be finding a niche writing novels about Mary Todd Lincoln (see Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival), presents Mrs. Lincoln as a somewhat unpleasant and unlikeable First Lady, although she did seem to adore her husband, Abraham. I didn’t find the book to be very interesting, but I did learn a lot about Mary Todd Lincoln and her family, especially her sisters, who didn’t seem to be overly patient or kind to their famous sister.

In contrast, Curtis Sittenfeld writes a brilliant and engaging novel about Hillary Rodman, “Rodman,” which surmises what would happen if Hillary turned down Bill Clinton’s third offer of marriage, and went on to live her own life. While at times the politics of the book made it drag, overall this is a tour de force, written with some wonderful humor. I loved how this book turned out, and found Hillary Rodman quite an endearing character. I was really cheering her on throughout the book.

Regardless of how the election on Tuesday turns out, I can see foresee that a novel about Melania would be quite fascinating, don’t you?

Read Me Maine 2020

Every summer the Maine Humanities Council sponsors Read Me Maine, a statewide summer reading experience. This year’s selection was made by Lily King, Maine author (Writers & Lovers, Euphoria, Father of the Rain), who chose the two books by Maine authors, fiction and non-fiction, for our reading pleasure. The fiction choice is The Vigilance of Stars  by Patricia O’Donnell. The non-fiction choice is a memoir, Roughhouse Friday, by Jaed Coffin.

I was fortunate to be able to read both these books at the same time, and found them to both be quiet yet strong books, in their own way. Although Jaed Coffin is a Brunswick author, this takes place in Alaska, chiefly in Sitka, where Coffin found himself living and working when he was a young man, tutoring and teaching in a local high school by day, and spending his spare time in a boxing gym. But this is not really a book about boxing, so don’t let the subject matter turn you away, if that’s not your thing. It’s more a book about a young man finding himself. Full of honesty and self-doubt, this book will get under your skin, as Coffin comes to terms with his parents’ marriage and subsequent divorce, and his relationship with both of his parents, as well as his own journey as a half-Thai American man. But the book is rich with the characters he finds in Sitka, as well as the landscape.

Patricia O’Donnell’s book takes place in Maine, specifically in Portland and on a lake somewhere in Maine, which makes it fun to recognize familiar places in Portland. The focus of the book is on a pregnant young woman and her disinterested in fatherhood ex-boyfriend, and their various parents and lovers (the real person William Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who lived in the Rangeley area, makes an appearance in a more historical segment). The writing is beautiful and mesmerizing, and while the plot is not gripping, I did find myself moving quickly through the book, and greatly interested in the characters, wondering what would happen to them, and hoping for a good outcome.

Summer is over, but you can still find these wonderful books in our island library.

Booksellers in fiction

I’ve recently read several books where some of the main characters are booksellers. As someone who loves books and bookstores, these settings resonate with me. Two of the books take place in England: “The Library of Lost and Found” by Phaedra Patrick,  and “Bookends” by Jane Green. In “The Library of Lost and Found,” the main character, Martha Storm, works in a library but becomes acquainted with a bookseller, who finds a mysterious book that has Martha’s name attached to it. The charming novel, which takes place in a seaside village, emphasizes the power of stories and writing, and of course, books, to inspire. The other British novel, “Bookends,” uses more of an urban setting, in London, to share a story of a woman whose long-time dream was to quit her dreary corporate job to take a chance to open a bookstore/café with a friend.

Island dwellers may appreciate “The storied life of A.J. Fikry” which takes place on a fictional island in Massachusetts – A.J. Fikry is a curmudgeonly bookseller, whose life is changed when he allows love to enter his world.

These are all fairly light reads, in contrast to my favorite recently read book with this theme: “American dirt” by Jeanine Cummins. Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore before her life changes dramatically, thanks to her favorite patron, who turns out to be her greatest nightmare. This extremely well written and paced book is a thrilling book to read, although I could only handle one chapter each evening, due to the intensity of the story telling.

There are many more out there, that have booksellers as main characters – I would love to hear about some of your favorites!

More ways to access great books during the age of COVID-19

I recently learned of more great ways to access books these days, and a wonderful way to have books arrive in your mailbox! (and support the Long Island Post Office)

Paperback Book Swap

Here’s how it works:

  • It’s easy: List books you’d like to swap with other club members.
  • Once a book is requested, mail it to the club member.
  • In return, you may choose from 1,206,450 available books!
– You pay postage for the books you send out; the books you receive come to you postage-paid.
– Books you request are yours to keep, or swap again!
And it’s not just paperbacks – it includes hardbacks, DVDs, etc.
Another fun one is The Page 1 Book Subscription – a personalized service that hand-selects books for you based on your preferences and our knowledge. You receive a new book every month. This bookstore, out of Evanston, Illinois, has a fun website, regardless of whether or not you subscribe to the service. Sounds like the perfect gift to me!
In any case, no matter how you receive your books, happy reading!

Portland peninsula bookstores in the age of Coronavirus

While the libraries are opening up in various ways, including curbside service for our island residents, and “PPL-to-go” for those of use who like to make good use of our Portland Public Library, sometimes a bookstore is just what you need, especially if you are looking to purchase a book as a gift. Here is a rundown of which bookstores, within walking distance of Casco Bay Lines, are open for those who need books.

Longfellow Books. This beloved and venerable Portland landmark is still closed for browsing but offers this information on their website: We are currently closed to the public, but we are providing curbside pick-up Monday-Friday, from 1:00-4:00 PM and Saturday from 12-2 PM. AND we can still ship you books as always–we will continue to waive shipping fees for those experiencing financial hardship!  We will be here answering phones and processing orders Monday- Friday 10am-4pm.

Sherman’s Bookstore. In contrast, this store on Exchange Street, is very open to the public. Exchange Street is blocked off to car traffic these days, which makes for a very pleasant stroll. According to their website: Our Website is Open and Mailing Out Orders Daily. You Can Now Order Online and Pickup In Store or Curbside. (Wait for Our Call Before Coming to Pickup…We May Not Have Your Book in Stock Yet!). Thanks For Shopping Locally!

Print: a bookstore. This lovely store at the foot of Munjoy Hill,  is one of Portland’s newest bookstores. They are still closed to the public, but do have curbside service. On their website, updated July 27th, they state: At this time, the doors of Print remain closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are, however, still here to get books to you. We continue to offer shipping directly to customers – with free shipping on orders over $20 – and curbside pickup from 1p to 4p, six days a week.

Yes Books. If browsing through used bookstores is your thing, you’re in luck. Yes Books, located next to Congress Square Park, and across from the art museum, is open to the public. No doubt protocols are in place, so wear your mask. This is a great place for the atmosphere and charm, alone.

The Green Hand Bookshop. This charming bookstore, located in the arts district on Congress Street, is owned by my friend Michelle Souliere, and offers a “warm outpost with shelves stacked with a handpicked selection of secondhand books from all genres.” The Green Hand opened up mid-July to the public, with limited hours. Michelle does offer pick-up, for those who aren’t ready to venture into her shop.

Carlson Turner Antiquarian Books and Bookbindery. Another longtime institution on Congress Street, advertises that We are currently open by Appointment or Chance. Give us a call if you want to stop by. We’re planning to RE-OPEN and returning to regular hours EARLY to MID JULY. We hope to see you then! (I haven’t walked by yet, to see if they are indeed open).

There are other options for specialty books, such as Casablanca Comics and Maine Historical Society’s museum shop. And don’t forget that the Ivy Hall Gift Shop on Long Island, also has books for sale! So, there is no reason to not be able to continue to purchase books in Portland and our island, and support our local booksellers.

Portland Museum of Art films

For those of you who love film, just a reminder that the Portland Museum of Art is a great source! During COVID-19 many of their films that are usually viewed on site have been available online.

On their website they say, “While our primary goal is to bring audiences together to enjoy theatrical screenings in person, PMA Films has gone dark to help protect our community from the spread of the COVID-19 novel .  In the meantime, we’re part of a national conversation with other exhibitors and distributors to find new ways to bring first run content to the safety of your home. ”

Several months ago some friends and I went to a Cat Video Fest at the PMA – now it seems like a distant memory, of a time when a full house of all ages could gather together without fear, to laugh and enjoy funny films about cats.

You can subscribe to the PMA films newsletter to find out more of their offerings. While we all love and appreciate the films we see here at the Long Island Community Library/Long Island Learning Center, this is a way to get to see wonderful films from home, until it is safe to gather again in person.

For more information:

PMA films

The delicious taste of food memoirs

One of my favorite literature genres is food memoirs. Who can resist Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing up at the Table or Julia Child’s My Life in France? (or any memoirs by Reichl or Child – all are delicious!). Speaking of Julia Child, I recently read Judith Jones’ memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. Judith, a food editor who lived for many years in France after World War II,  championed Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Many food memoirs take place in France, including another wonderful book I’ve written about in the past: Bonjour Kale: a Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes, by Kristen Beddard. There’s definitely a strong connection between France and food. 


I am reminded of food memoirs by other chefs, such as Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, by Gabrielle Hamilton, and Dalia Jurgensen’s Spiced: a Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire (the titles in themselves are evocative  descriptions). It’s so inspiring how many chefs are such good writers – Gabrielle Hamilton has a master’s degree in creative writing – and even moreso that they were able to take the time to write about their experiences. 


And then there is the more spiritual aspect of food. I recently read Melissa D’Arabian’s Tasting Grace: Discovering the Power of Food to Connect us to God, One Another, and Ourselves. Melissa, the winner of the The Next Food Network Star, shares her life story with food, including her years living in France (where she met her French husband). It reminds me also of the book that several of us at Evergreen United Methodist Church studied last year: Taste and See: Discovering God among Butchers, Bakers, and Fresh Food Makers by Margaret Feinberg. At each session we brought food to share, based on food in the Bible, such as figs, salt, bread, and dates, and culminated with lunch at Tiqa. 


These books are just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully this list will whet your appetite to read some food memoirs, and enjoy food in general!



Island reading in the time of Coronavirus

If you’re a book lover  this is the prime time to be living on an island. Although our library is closed, there are still a myriad of opportunities for folks who love the written word. First of all, most of us have a “Tsundoko” – it’s a Japanese term, which refers to the stack of books on a bedside table waiting to be read. When that runs out, we can delve into our libraries to reread old favorites. Then, we borrow books from friends (social distancing, of course).

For those who don’t mind reading books on a device, you can download books through a variety of sources, including the Long Island Community Library e-books and audiobooks – see Long Island Community Library website for more information.

Beyond reading books, for those who have access to a computer, there is a whole world out there for literary experiences, as businesses and organizations in the business of the written word are expanding their offerings to the online community.

For example, here in Maine, you can attend poetry readings online such as this one at Longfellow Books’ website, which offers a poetry reading by Scott WithiamLongfellow Books is also willing to mail books.

For the writers in our midst, there are online classes available through the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance

Maine Women Writers Collection offers a fun Instagram as well as a Quarantine Book List by Maine women writers.  Greater Portland Landmarks also offers their suggested book list

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – there are many more out there. (Anyone have any favorites?)

So, there’s no excuse, in these days of quarantine, to not be able to expand your universe beyond the walls of your home – especially through books!

Harbingers of spring: birds from the collections of Long Islanders

While many of us have patches of snow in our yards, and the winter wind can still bring a chill, it feels like spring is around the corner, with longer days, and occasional mild temperatures. Some folks claim to see the beginning of crocuses, and some of us have heard birdsong. In honor of spring, our latest exhibit, in the small glass case in the island library, celebrates our love of birds.

Thanks to the generosity of Nancy Berges, Florence Brown, Ann Caliandro, Henry Donovan, Penny Murley, Meredith Sweet, and Marion Ulmer, we can all enjoy seeing up-close representations of our feathered friends. Types of birds include goldfinch, bluebird, bald eagle, chickadee, penguin, seagull, orion, robin, Baltimore oriole, cardinal, crow, sandpiper, Alaska Thunderbird, hummingbird, blue jay, puffin, and duck. The birds come in all sorts of materials: clay, glass, plastic, wood, metal, ceramic, and fiber. We even have an image of a bird painted on a mushroom! One can see a snow globe and a “rocking crow.” We have a (stone) egg with nest, a birdhouse, postcards, feather (turkey and hawk), and beautiful informational cards.

Books from the LICL collection give examples of the types of books in the library collection (see 598 section for more bird books). And more birds can be found all over the library – in the new Blue Butterfield exhibit, and in a display case in the school. Once you open your eyes, birds are everywhere!

A special treat in this exhibit are pottery birds made by Lucy Donovan, a Christmas tree ornament made by Gail Wood, and a bird house made by David and Sally LeBreque.

Please come see our wonderful birds the next time you visit the island and library.

Open during library hours


Mobile librarians in fiction

There seems to be spate of novels recently about mobile librarians – that is, librarians not in the traditional “brick and mortar” library. Of course, this is nothing new – years ago Masha Hamilton wrote “The camel bookmobile,” about a bookmobile in Kenya. I recently read, “The library at the edge of the world,” by Felicity Hayes-McCoy, which is about an Irish librarian who drives a bookmobile, from time to time.

Closer to home, and more recently, one can find both “Giver of stars,” by JoJo Moyes and “The book woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson, novels centered on the Kentucky Pack Horse library service.  

In researching this blog, I came across Mary Lemist Titcomb (May 16, 1852–June 5, 1932), a librarian who developed an early American bookmobile and helped establish a county library system in Washington County, Maryland. A recent book about her, “Library on wheels : Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s first bookmobile” by Sharlee Glenn, tells more of her story. We have Mary Lemist Titcomb to thank for this wonderful concept of bringing books to the people!

A small library on an island on the coast of Maine