Library Resources, Library Staff, Readers' Advisory

Winter Break Reads: Part Two

This series shares some of the books our library staff were able to read over the winter break. Perhaps you will find a book for your “TBR” stack for spring or summer break!

Note: Some books are available through NYPL. For more information on getting your NYPL card, check out our blog post!

Jane Suda, Head of Reference and Information Services

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The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing 

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing provides a deep anthropological dive into the growth, collection, sale, and value of the rare and highly prized Matsutake mushroom. In this curiously poetic exploration of precarity, Lowenhaupt Tsing explores social, economic, environmental, and philosophical aspects of destruction, regeneration, and resilience. The author uses the Matsutake to reveal how collaborative survival and diversity are the foundation of regrowth and encourages the reader to reimagine the ways we choose to perceive the world and structure our lives.

Check it out!

Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell 

A fictional account of the life of Agnes, William Shakespeare’s wife, and the death of his son Hamnet, who died at age 11. The writing is a passionate elaboration on life, love, and loss. In her writing, O’Farrell creates a time and place both vivid and far away; I found myself totally lost in the history and characters that she created. Although the play Hamlet is not central to the novel Hamnet, it inspired me to reread the play and reflect on the creative process and inspiration of both O’Farrell and Shakespeare.

Check it out! 

Jeannie Hoag, Reference and Assessment Librarian

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven orbits around a cataclysmic pandemic. If you’re wary of something that hits too close to home, know that I am too. Thankfully, Station Eleven spares us from the most traumatic details. Instead, we focus on the lives of three main characters in the past, present, and twenty years in the future. This is a character-driven and enjoyable read. I picked up Station Eleven after reading a few reviews of the new HBO adaptation of the book, and it did not disappoint. 

Check it out!

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Who wants to read a book about an abbess from the 12th century? You do. Matrix is a beautifully-written fictional treatment of the life of medieval poet Marie de France. From her beginnings as a heartsick teenager forced into religious life, she eventually becomes a powerful, captivating abbess whose leadership is rooted in fierce instincts honed by the Crusades. The stream-of-consciousness narration will have you firmly sympathetic to Marie, in all her imposing, visionary, heretical glory. 

Check it out!

Peter Patten, Reference Librarian

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A Land so Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca: The extraordinary tale of a shipwrecked Spaniard who walked across America in the 16th Century by Andres Resendes

A Land so Strange is narrative history at its best. As we now know, Columbus was not, in fact, the first European to reach the Americas, having been preceded by the Vikings who landed in Newfoundland in 1021 but, finding nothing there to loot or pillage they decided Canada was ok for a visit but not the kind of place you really want to stay.  Cabeza de Vaca and his companions were, however, the first Europeans to see the southern U.S. He has been described as one of the first anthropologists. The encounters between the old world and the new during the 16th century Age of Discovery set the pattern for the terrible cycles of extermination and exploitation to come, but also remind us how complex the interaction was and that neither the European side nor the native side can be seen in simplistic moral terms. Levels of brutality that seem shocking today were commonplace in both the Americas and Europe of the 16th century. Due to horses, guns, steel weapons and armor, disease and eventually sheer numbers the Europeans were an irresistible power. 

Resendez’s writing is so vivid and it reminds us when reading history that no one ever lived in their past. Like us they had to meet the ever-changing challenges of the present moment. We are lucky to have the record they left behind. 

Check it out! 

Katie Wolf, Science and Technology Librarian

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Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather L. Clark

An in-depth and compassionate look at the life of a literary icon, this work is approachable despite being so long. Extremely readable and very well-researched, this book helps bring Plath and her work into a new perspective, and helps to cement her as a timeless figure in the world of poetry. 

Check it out!

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