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 Wood Fire Handbook

This book elicits rapturous oohs and ahhhs from firewood enthusiasts.  The author, Vincent Thurkettle, is an expert woodsman who trained as a Chartered Forester and he is THE fine vintner of wood.  The Wood Fire Handbook is a fantastic reference to identifying and selecting different kinds of wood, how they smell when they burn, how to split and store ageing wood, and he discusses very specific methods for building fires.


I Hold a Wolf by the Ears: Stories
Laura van den Berg

The women in these eleven stories live on the margins of society: a woman creates her own profession, becoming an impersonator of deceased spouses for hire. An illustrator paints murals of ballet-dancing animals and hides them behind her furniture.  A young wife finds herself slowly drugged into submission by her husband in league with other sadistic husbands. Even as some of these women could be viewed as victims, they all seem to be cogent agents of their own fates somehow, seeking self-actualization in an overbearing world. Van den Berg’s social conscience and surrealistic humor create the field for these portraits, and her seductive descriptive skills and unique plot inventions keep readers riveted.  Though the stories have the rich contextual reach of poetry, I addictively read this collection quickly, and will definitely reread it. A tour de force.


Midnight in Chernobyl
Adam Higginbotham

What do you remember about Chernobyl?  Not the true story, not the full story.  Adam Higginbotham spent 10 years researching letters, documents, memoirs, and declassified Soviet archives.  He also interviewed many men and women who witnessed the disaster and its aftermath first-hand.  From this wealth of material he has created a compelling narrative of the events of April 26, 1986, the actions (heroic and otherwise) of people on the scene, in Kiev, and in Moscow, and the repercussions that followed over weeks, years and decades.  Through Higginbotham’s skillful writing we come to know these people and to understand that no system designed by humans is truly fail-safe—and that we must consider not only the risk but the consequences of inevitable failure.


Blood Brothers
Ernest Hafner

A hyper-realistic account of a gang of boys living on the streets of Berlin on the cusp of the Nazi take over. Haffner's prose is spare but has a depth of detail that gives the novel an immediacy that makes you feel as if you are in the midst of it.


The Uninhabitable Earth
David Wallace-Wells

First published in 2019, David Wallace-Wells gives a no-nonsense look at how our lives on Earth will be changed forever by the end of the century:  more wildfires, more flooding, higher temperatures and less resources.  And perhaps the largest migration of people since WWII.  The news seemed to be all about the war in Ukraine, women's reproductive rights, mass shootings, and midterm elections.  I wanted to read something that put things into perspective for me; that all these struggles would be for naught if the world didn't increase its focus on the great calamity that will befall (but, hopefully, unite) us all, regardless of any other differences.


The Essential Best Foods Cookbook
Dana Jacobi

A great hot weather cookbook, with economical recipes that are extremely delicious!


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.


A Little Life
Hanya Yanagihara

This novel shattered me. At first, the story seems to be about four young men, college friends, building their adult lives in New York City. But the narrative ultimately settles on one of the men, Jude, slowly revealing the extraordinary brutality of his childhood, the physical and psychological scars of which shape the rest of his life. Yanagihara is unflinching in her exploration of the terrible violence visited upon Jude, but almost more startling is how boldly, how hopefully, she writes of love. This is not a heart-warming book, but it’s a full-hearted one. You’ll think and worry about these characters long after you finish reading, as if they were real people you once knew.


The Jesus Cow
Michael Perry

Michael Perry once again takes us to small town Wisconsin, where his main character, Harley Jackson’s already complicated life is further complicated when a cow in his barn gives birth to a calf, bearing the image of Jesus Christ on its side, you know, the image that somehow shows up on tortilla chips from time to time, bringing its discoverer 15 minutes of fame.  Harley senses trouble on the horizon.  Perry does this kind of small town deadpan humor as well as anyone.  His first novel is a pleasure all the way through.