Books After Our Own Hearts

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What’s love got to do with our latest staff picks? Very little, in some cases. Our booksellers only had one rule in making their picks for February: use the word “love” somewhere in each recommendation. We didn’t say it had to be a love story… just that they had to love it. Here’s what everyone came up with.

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I love Honeydew. This book is yet another burst of brilliance from my favorite short story writer, Edith Pearlman. The author Kelly Link says it best: “Honeydew is a collection of work so vivid, so true, and so vital that the reader herself comes away all the more real. How can a story do what Pearlman’s stories do? She is an incomparable master.” – Ann Patchett

For anyone who “discovered” Edith Pearlman with her award-winning Binocular Vision, this latest collection of stories comes as a gift. She’s been called “our greatest living American short story writer” (Boston Globe), and readers of this book, no doubt, will agree. Twenty diverse stories come together to entertain and enlighten. Who wouldn’t appreciate a story about a mother who forces her daughters to marry men whose names are drawn from a hat!? You’ll love it. — Mary Grey James


The Signature of All Things

By Elizabeth Gilbert

A story of unrequited love, this amazing novel spans the life of Alma Whittaker who was born at the turn of the 19th century. She is tall, awkward, and unapologetically intelligent for a woman of that time period. Fortunately her well-to-do parents, especially her mercurial father, encourage her interest in scientific research. Unfortunately this makes her an unsuitable match for the men the Philadelphia upper class of that time period. It does not stop her from falling in love, though, and with disastrous results. This story is about this love and so much more. You will travel the world in this truly epic tale. – Karen Hayes


Brown Girl Dreaming 

Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming is so big-hearted and open that there’s room for the reader to walk right into the story and experience what it’s like to live and dream alongside the author. I’ve bought a dozen copies of this book and given it to people as young as 10 and as old as 92. Every single person has loved it. I love it. – Ann Patchett


The Girl on the Train

By Paula Hawkins

Rachel seems to be in love with all the wrong things: drinking, her ex-husband, and the secret glimpses she has into strangers’ lives as she passes their houses from the train on her daily commute. Through one of these windows she sees something terribly wrong, and suddenly she’s thrust into the center of a mystery barreling towards a dangerous conclusion. – Niki Coffman


Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking)

By Christian Rudder

Think social media is killing the written word and ruining romance? In this fun, fascinating study of human behavior, Rudder disagrees. Twitter, he writes, “forces its users to wring meaning from fewer letters.” In fact: “There’s a certain epistolary, Austenian grandness to the whole enterprise… We’re writing to one another more than ever. Even if sometimes ‘dam gerl’ is all we have to say.” Tweets… the new love letters. – Mary Laura Philpott


Dept. of Speculation

By Jenny Offill

I’m afraid if I tell you this is somewhere between poem and prose, and that it’s studded with references ranging from song lyrics to Socrates, you’ll think it’s stuffy and weird. It’s not. It’s short and brilliant and funny and sad and a perfectly, uniquely crafted depiction of what happens to grownup love when you mix it up with marriage, parenthood, and creative ambition. Reviewers have used words like “sparkling” and “glittering” and “radiant,” and those are all true. Jenny Offill has created a jewel. – Mary Laura Philpott


Animals Nobody Loves

By Seymour Simon

I love some of these animals. – Sissy Gardner

 


California

Marriage is HARD. Love is work. – Sissy Gardner

 


Vanessa and Her Sister

Sister love colors the entire lives of of these two famous women, painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf. When one marries and their inseparable bond changes, tragic consequences ensue. Told in diary entries and letters, this one had me unable to put it down. – Kathy Schultenover


The Country of Ice Cream Star

By Sandra Newman

There are many kinds of love — romantic, comforting, idyllic — and this book inspires none of them. Instead this book sparks good old fashioned obsessive love. It is one of the best, most brilliantly crafted books I have ever read in my life, and I can’t wait to read it again and again. Newman’s ambitious and stunning narrative grabs you instantly and pulls you into a world both familiar and foreign, horrifying and resplendent. – Grace Wright


The Sculptor

Scott McCloud once again proves himself a master of the comics medium. Sculptor is a gorgeous celebration of everything that a graphic novel should be — and even better, everything a good story should be. A tortured love song to art and passion, I can’t think of a better Valentine’s Day read! – Grace Wright


The Historian’s Craft

By Marc Bloch

This book is strictly for history geeks. I guess that’s why I love it. Written without the help of Bloch’s own books (the Nazis had siezed them), this book examines how historians approach their craft. Spoiler alert: It comes to an abrupt stop. Bloch, who was with the French Resistance, was executed by the Gestapo before the book was completed. – Andy Brennan


Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude

By Kevin O’Malley, Carol HeyerScott Goto

This is one of those picture books that I always look back on and laugh at how much fun it is. It is the story of a young boy and girl who are assigned to write a story in class. The girl wants to write about a fairy tale princess and the boy wants to write about a cool motorcycle dude. The mash-up of their stories is hilarious and will have something for both boys and girls to love. – Catherine Bock


The Swimmer

By Joakim Zander

I picked up this book on a whim and finished it in under 24 hours. Love may not be a stong enough word for my feelings about this book. Obsessed seems more fitting. After Klara, an EU Parliamentary aide, agrees to help a friend and sees something she shouldn’t, she finds herself hunted by the CIA. Joakim Zander respects his audience’s intelligence and makes you connect the dots. If you want a book that grabs you, demands your attention, and leaves you utterly satisfied like only the best books can, buy this book. – Ashton Hickey


Them: Adventures with Extremists

I love Jon Ronson. He is an anxious, hilarious, and highly intelligent journalist and writer who decided to interview extremists such as the leader of the KKK, the head of a terror cell in the UK, and various people who think the world is run by giant lizard men. The result is as hysterical as it is insightful and enlightening. – Ashton Hickey


Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

By Alexis Coe, Sally Klann

Alexis Coe’s debut work Alice + Freda Forever is a killer exposition of the 1892 murder of Freda Ward by her ex-fiancee Alice Mitchell. With a background in historical research, Coe puts her powers to good use by crafting a narrative through letters, newspaper articles, and court hearings. Also it’s illustrated. Beautifully. Let’s be honest: nothing really says “love” like a nineteenth-century Southern murder scandal. – Lindsay Lynch


My Mistress’s Sparrow Is Dead: Great Love Stories, from Chekhov to Munro

By Jeffrey Eugenides

I couldn’t bear to pick one great love story — so I cheated and let Jeffrey Eugenides pick them all. – Lindsay Lynch


Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

By Jared Diamond

A fascinating read, whether you’re into anthropology/sociology or not. Diamond explains the evolution of mankind through the last 13,000 years and his writing earned a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize. – Bill Long-Innes

(Ed. note: Bill did not follow the rule and use “love” in his recommendation, but we’re letting it slide because it doesn’t seem wise to mess with someone who loves guns and germs.)


The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse

By Patricia MacLachlan, Hadley Hooper

“If you were a boy named Henri Matisse who lived in a dreary French town where there were gray skies and you wanted color and light and sun, what might you become?” There. You just read one-half of a radiant, new children’s picture book that I love, love, love. With lyrical diction and friendly artwork, it answers its question by revealing the artist’s early creative influences. Later, when boy meets himself as grown man, young readers will see how the people and things they love now can touch their lives later. MacLachlan and Hooper give us an intelligent biography that encourages children to marvel, not only at the world around them, but at themselves. – Miriam Mimms


Prosperous Friends

By Christine Schutt

Marriage: Love it or hate it, we’re endlessly fascinated with what makes it work. Or not. With a light and lyrical hand, Schutt skitters through that of newlyweds Nick and Isabel, the sex within (and without) it, and the people that influence it. Then she juxtaposes theirs against the older Clive and Dinah’s — one that works, in its own special way. At the end of Prosperous Friends, I was wrung out with emotion. If I were a smoker, I’d have lit up afterwards. – Miriam Mimms


Vivian Apple at the End of the World

It’s been a while since I’ve met a character I loved as much as I loved Vivian Apple. Her story is a story about family — the family we’re born into and the families we make for ourselves — and it’s a story about what we believe, why, and how our beliefs shape the world around us. Vivian is so uncertain about all of these things, struggling so much to figure them all out, and Katie Coyle captures this struggle perfectly. Three cheers for Vivian Apple! – Stephanie Appell


Stella by Starlight

By Sharon M. Draper, Sarah Jane Coleman

If there ever was a book about love, it’s this one: Yes, times are hard in 1932 for 11-year-old Stella Mills, her family, and her small, rural community of Bumblebee, North Carolina. Racism affects Stella’s life in small and big ways, and Stella is faced with situations that call for her to be more brave than she even thought possible. But Draper surrounds Stella with a strong family and a community that comes together to face hard times together, and warmth radiates from the pages. – Stephanie Appell


I love that Simon Schama said “irreverence is the life blood of freedom.” O’Connor glories in irreverence for what has grown sacred — empty piety, religion of externals, intellectuals who judge without understanding or feeling. But her characters have violent moments of self-recognition where mystery transcends manners. In this volume, her letters are indexed, so you can read her own commentary on her stories, her art and faith, and peacocks. Aw, yeah. – Margy Roark


View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems

By Wislawa Szymborska

Here’s Szymborska in the poem “An Opinion on the Question of Pornography”:

Nothing’s sacred for those who think.

Calling things brazenly by name,

risque analyses, salacious syntheses,

frenzied, rakish chases after the bare facts,

the filthy fingering of touchy subjects,

discussion in heat — it’s music to their ears.

I gave my copy away lately and immediately felt like I was missing a vital and beloved part of me. – Margy Roark


March, Book 1 and March: Book Two  

 By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

Because it is a good and right thing to get the truth from a graphic novel, especially if you are a 10-year-old boy. I have one of those, love him deeply, and am so grateful for these books. – Margy Roark


The Marriage Plot

By Jeffrey Eugenides

The classic marriage plot with a twist. Filled with all the trappings of young love: witty banter with a bipolar suitor, Victorian considerations on marriage, and even Mother Teresa herself. — Mythili Sanikommu


Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry: A Bilingual Edition

By Paul Celan, Pierre Joris

Breathturn Into Timestead brings together the last six volumes of Celan’s poetry. I love so many of these poems. I also love the approach Pierre Joris takes when translating, since he does not view any effort as permanent and constantly works to improve them. — Nathan Spoon


The New Way Things Work

By Neil Ardley, David Macaulay

I have a precocious 6-year-old who loves to ask questions and loves detailed answers even more. One morning he asked, “What exactly happens when you turn the key to the car?” This book has saved me, as I do not know half of the answers to his questions. Now we can go look it up in the book! — Ginger Nalley


Thomas Jefferson: President and Philosopher

By Jon Meacham

I love this book because it’s a nonfiction book that reads like an action novel. It’s history, but the way Jon Meacham writes makes it really interesting. — Cameron P., junior bookseller (age 11)

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Roses are red
Violets are blue
The bookstore’s our happy place
How about you?

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Happy February, book lovers!