What to read next…?

What to read next…?

by Ellen Wanamaker

I’ve done it again, that thing that librarians do. I’ve brought home too many books and can’t settle on which one to start. It’s a good problem to have, being surrounded by so many books that you’re paralyzed by the sheer pile of awesomeness in front of you.

One of the books in my heap is “The Falcon Thief: A True Tale of Adventure, Treachery, and the Hunt for the Perfect Bird” by Joshua Hammer. This one made it home because I’m just a sucker for books about birds. Also, how can you resist a true crime story about a man so desperate to steal rare peregrine falcon eggs that he taped them to his belly to attempt a sneak through airport security?

Susan Lacke’s “Running Outside the Comfort Zone: An Explorer’s Guide to the Edges of Running” is another one that made it home recently. Lacke embarked on a year of 18 running challenges, among them the Red Bull 400 (running UP a ski jump), the Pony Express Trail 50 miler, and something called the Coffin Race. She even ran the Grand Blue Mile, which she critiqued by saying, “it was fresh. It was sexy. It was thrilling. It was absolutely the opposite of what I expected from a mile race in downtown Des Moines.”

Another non-fiction book sitting atop my pile is Robert Macfarlane’s “Underland: A Deep Time Journey,” a gorgeous book about all the reasons people go underground. He writes about caving and catacombs, communication networks among trees, and deep-sunk hiding places for nuclear waste. I am in love with Macfarlane’s curiosity. In the introduction he explains that “into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.” He expresses overarching reasons we seek to go beneath the earth. “The same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious (memories, messages, fragile lives), to yield what is valuable (wealth, metaphors, minerals), and to dispose of what is harmful (trauma, poison, secrets).”

I do have a few fiction titles in my stack, and Myriam J. A. Chancy’s “What Storm, What Thunder” is one. I’ll admit that I brought it home because of the hummingbirds on the cover. I told you I’m a sucker for birds. But this is a serious work of historical fiction set amidst the unimaginable tragedy of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Chancy’s novel imagines the lives of a handful of people living in Port-au-Prince. She masterfully connects the characters through their shared relationship with wise Ma Lou, an old woman who sells produce in a city market. The characters in “What Storm, What Thunder” are based on the real lives of the people who were literally shaken to the ground that day in 2010. Good fiction is often born from the tumult and reconstruction of real life.

Timothy Schaffert’s “The Perfume Thief” is yet another story that sits awaiting my full attention. This one is set in 1940s Paris, about a 70-year-old con-artist named Clementine who is hired to steal the recipe from a famous perfumer. Clem gets wrapped up in the underground Nazi resistance movement, using her expertise as a chemist and lepidopterist (one who studies butterflies) to outwit them. Clem’s swagger is evident as she describes sneaking past Nazi occupiers with contraband. “I’ve doused myself, lapel to sock, in a perfume I’ve bottled new for the occasion… smuggled up from the unoccupied zones, snuck past the border by my underground spice merchant. This illegal perfume is my slap on the nose to any Nazi who comes sniffing around my throat.” Now that’s a character I can get along with right away.

If, like me, you’re faced with that “what do I read next” dilemma, there are many ways to problem-solve. You can ask a librarian for a recommendation – in person at our desk, over the phone, via chat, or via our “personalized picks” option. We are happy to help you find a stack of books to take home and peruse, or to narrow down the choices to find your one perfect next read.