Staff Selections


The White Book
Han Kang, trns. by Deborah Smith

This is the perfect book to read on a snowy winter day. Han Kang's precise prose rendered exquisitely by translator Deborah Smith is hushed, contemplative, and mysterious. The short vignettes that make up this novel are dedicated to a series of white objects and offer a delicate introspection of the spirit's form, the past's confluence with the present, and memory. I was already a fan of The Vegetarian, but fell in love with this book even more. Best when read all the way through, near a window in a snowstorm.


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.


Meet Me at the Museum
Anne Youngson

This quiet, beautifully written book is an exchange of letters between an English farmer's wife and a widowed museum curator in Denmark that opens as a conversation about bog bodies and transforms into a deep friendship and philosophical dialogue. This book is perfect for readers of Major Pettigrew, Our Souls at Night, and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.


Robin Sloan


Sourdough is for the foodie, the techie, the Luddite, the adventure-seeker, the problem-solver, and of course, the San Franciscans at heart.

As Sloan did with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Sourdough offers a nuanced look at the relationship between food and technology that the current world (or the very near-future one) has fostered. A 20-something Midwestern woman moves to San Francisco to begin programming for a robotic arms manufacturer, but after a serendipitous encounter with two eccentric brothers and a killer sourdough starter, she begins to question whether efficiency and money are worth the loss of tradition and handmade quality. Mirroring Penumbra’s adventure sequence, Sloan has perfected his gaze in this second book, critiquing cases of the pendulum swinging too far in either direction, and positing that there is value in both—like say, solving global food insecurity and making a loaf of sourdough with a perfect crust and crumb so lovely it would bring even your Paleo friend to tears.


Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
Joshua McFadden

This title has become a best-selling cookbook at Prairie Lights, and deservedly so.  Joshua McFadden seems to have distilled his knowledge from an impressive resume as chef and owner of great restaurants in Oregon, learning his skills in New York at Momofuku and Blue Hill, and working with Alice Waters in Rome and as manager of Four Season Farm in Maine.   Using the harvest of a season as a guideline, this book champions fresh produce and the recipes yield big flavor, sometimes with surprising simplicity.  My favorite part is its stocking suggestions, from cold brined raw vegetables to sauces and seasoned butters and dressings.  You will find yourself collaborating deliciously with this exciting approach.


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.



The Water Knife
Paolo Bacigalupi

A near-future dystopian novel by the author of The Windup Girl.

Through his compelling characters, Bacigalupi explores the disparate effects income inequality has on technology, society and personal ethics in the face of changes brought about by climate change.  It deals with water rights and water privatization on the Colorado River in an arid American Southwest, making it a particularly timely “summer read”—but one that will leave you thinking about it past summer.


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.