Staff Selections


Corvus: A Life with Birds
Esther Woolfson

Ever since her daughter rescued a fledgling rook, Esther Woolfson has been fascinated with corvids, the bird group that includes crows, rooks, magpies, and ravens. Today, the rook, named Chicken, is a member of the Woolfson family along with other winged creatures. From their elaborate bathing rituals to their springtime broodiness and tendency to cache food in the most unlikely places, these corvids each share a bond with Woolfson that would have been considered rare if not impossible before this collection of essays. 

Letting her experience speak for itself, Woolfson takes into account the science of bird intelligence, evolution, song, and flight. It is through this intimate lens that Woolfson invites us to reconsider the kind of creature capable of being man's best friend. 


Dark Constellations
Pola Oloixarac, trns. by Roy Kesey

Is literature about cyber-punk hackers set in the Argentine jungle your cup of tea? It sure wasn't mine until I started reading Dark Constellations and was hooked. Pola Oloixarac's mind-bending novel is a critique of tech and surveillance culture that explores the concepts of science, genius, and justice all while following an awkward hacker through his formative years. The prose style is undeniably addictive; lightning fast and written in the style of an automaton, this exhilarating  translation by Roy Kesey is out of this world. This book is strange, sexy, and surprising.


The Ocean of Life
Callum Roberts

If you like nature, swimming, going to the beach or eating fish, this is for you.  It consists of three sections: a fascinating history of human exploration and exploitation of the oceans, a clear-eyed account of the damages and dangers their ecosystems currently face, and a hopeful call to action to protect and heal the intricate, beautiful web of life under the sea.  An important book on ecology, but even more a great piece of natural history writing.


Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit
Eliese Colette Goldbach

Goldbach returned to her hometown of Cleveland with a Master's degree in writing and nothing but low-paying job prospects that barely kept her solvent. At a friend's suggestion, she  applied for and worked hard to get a dangerous yet lucrative job at as a steelworker at the Mill. Learning the strenous and often life-threatening work was paired with navigating the social hierarchies, workplace codes of loyalty, and the personalities of a wide range of people. The book honestly depicts coping with Bipolar Disorder, and examines a personal religious and political internal struggle and evolution. I loved reading about someone really working hard physically and appreciated the honest mental rigor with with she challenged her own beliefs. 


Beartown & Us Against You
Fredrik Backman

These books are about a minor league hockey team in the middle of nowhere. They are also about everything else in the universe. Families, small town mentalities, immigration, toxic masculinity, decisions that change the course of everyone's lives, the fragility and resilience of ourselves. Backman's prose reaches straight through your sternum to strangle your heart before he slowly resuscitates you. I cried cover to cover, laughed throughout, and found humanity in every character of this novel.


Susan Howe

Howe's gorgeous new poetry collection (rumored to possibly be her final) unspools over five sections, which also include an essay and her signature cut-up text. Written in part while in residence at the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston, Debths interrogates the curatorial/archival impulse, American history, aging, law, poetry, and above all, loss. I think it's Howe at her clearest.


Are We There Yet?
Dan Albert

The interface of the automobile and American culture is seamless.   Dan Albert describes how well it’s worked to support our ideas of freedom and independence, figuring in rites of passage into adulthood, characterizing mechanical competency, class identity, and legitimacy as a citizen.  However, the ubiquity of cars in our lives is changing. With the advent of driverless cars, the increase of hired rides and decline of car ownership, and with environmental  and energy resource concerns, the American automobile identity is taking a turn.  As we work to redirect the role of automobiles to our new national needs , it is helpful to learn how we got here.

With an entertaining, conversational writing style, Albert relates the history of the development of the car, bringing us along in his own lifelong fascination with the subject.  Readers will enjoy the ride.



Michelle Hoover

Michelle Hoover who wowed Prairie Lights’ audience, reading from her first book, The Quickening, now has a second book.  It’s called Bottomland and, like her first, deals with rural culture in Iowa in the early 20th Century.  This book is more of a thriller than The Quickening, involving a Germ, as always, well researched with characters formed by the dark circumstances of their lives.  She’ll be reading the end of April, a reading all lovers of Willa Cather and the great mid-western writers will not want to miss.


The Mechanical Horse
Margaret Guroff

This book is a winner on several levels.  The bicycle’s progressive influences on American life are manifold, and Guroff manages to tell the story with a convincing thoroughness and a prose style that never drags.  The bicycle improved mobility for the working class, allowed women greater freedom and a more practical mode of dress.  Cyclists were instrumental in getting the awful 19th century road improved, and the list goes on.  For what is a relatively brief book, the notes and bibliography are impressive.



All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Took me a long time to get around to reading this. Now that I leave, I can’t wait to begin re-reading it. Every good thing you’ve heard about this book doesn’t do it justice.


Haints Stay
Colin Winnette

A quirky and interesting take on the Western. It’s short (just a tad over 200 pages) but it packs an outsized wallop. It reminded me of Patrick DeWitt's excellent Sisters Brothers, but with all the fat stripped out. This is pure literary muscle. (And if you haven’t read Sisters Brothers, you now know what to read when you finish Haints Stay).


Dear Mr. You
Mary-Louise Parker

In this stunning debut, award-winning stage and screen actress Mary-Louise Parker reveals her talent as a writer of incredible skill and sensitivity.  One part memoir, one part poetry and one part storytelling, Dear Mr. You is a series of letters written to the men (both real and imagined, both known and unknown) who have influenced and impacted her life.  Readers will find themselves struck by Ms. Parker's unforgettable imagery and way with words.  A very good read.


Home Made Winter
Yvette Van Boven

Perfect book for the upcoming frigid season: Beautiful photos and delicious recipes - a cookbook lover's must.


The Vegetarian
Han Kang

I loved The Vegetarian so much. A beautiful, harrowing, bizarre short novel about a woman whose life unravels after a disturbing dream prompts her to give up meat. I couldn't put it down, and I can't stop thinking about it now.