What we're reading: Bartleby's staff shares books you can relate to

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Maria's Pick: "Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms" by John Hodgman

To say I love John Hodgman's writing is an understatement. "Vacationland," winner of the 2018 New England Book Award in nonfiction, was read aloud to anyone who would listen. As a part-time resident of the Berkshires and of Maine, his descriptions of the everyday life of these areas and the realization of his ineptitude at this rural life, its rules and mores, are so spot-on and laugh-out-loud funny.

Amazingly, he captures that relatability again with "Medallion Status," which at first glance, seems incredibly unrelatable, at least for this bookseller. Platinum Status at Beloved Airlines (his pseudonym for his preferred airline), access to secret societies, fancy A-list hotels and parties; see what I mean? But Hodgman, like so many of us, has notions on imposter syndrome, kinship, exclusion, loneliness and the weirdness of everyday and famous-person life. I thoroughly recommend his books for those looking for some social commentary with a dose of some observational comedy. You will not be disappointed.

Maria's Second Pick: "Sofia Valdez, Future Prez" by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts

Sofia is a young girl who sees a problem and then informs her neighbors. Panic sets in as she realizes she'll have to be the one to approach city hall about fixing the issue. Despite being just a kid, she doesn't back down when confronted with bureaucracy. This one kid will make a difference in her community.

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I am a champion for Andrea Beaty's books. Beaty has degrees in biology and computer science and her first three books, "Iggy Peck Architect," "Rosie Revere Engineer" and "Ada Twist Scientist" are fantastic picture books for your STEM collection. Sofia Valdez also encourages inquiring minds to ask the question "why?" The combination of Beaty's rhyming structure with Roberts' retro inspired, heartfelt illustrations are perfection and make these perfect read-alouds.

Ana's Pick: "A Manual for Cleaning Women" by Lucia Berlin

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Lucia Berlin, a relative unknown to wider audiences when she was alive, has posthumously gained recognition for her short stories, and the accolades are well-deserved. Her publishing record began as a trickle, with short stories appearing in various magazines in the 1960s, and it wasn't until midlife that any of her work was released as a collection. Readers have access to Berlin's stories in five current titles, with "A Manual For Cleaning Women," a compendium released in 2015, being her best known and most acclaimed.

Much of Berlin's writing inspiration sprang from a childhood spent in mining towns throughout the American West and Latin America, and she distinctively captured the untamed and sometimes desolate spirit of rugged places. She was also a master of conveying the hopelessness and gravity of life lived in the margins of society, writing honestly and without sentiment about people and situations where desperation is as much a character as the people. Sadly, it was Berlin's own alcoholism and hardscrabble living which hindered her works from reaching a wider audience. Despite the initial limited span of her work, it was consistently met with praise. Readers are blessed to have Berlin's work available. Please do yourself the favor of getting to know her clear, affecting voice. Her skill will not disappoint.

Lisa's Pick: "Opioid, Indiana" by Brian Allen Carr

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This novel is real and raw and I loved it. Told in the voice of 17-year-old orphan Riggle, the story unfolds over the course of one week during which Riggle has been suspended from school. He lives in Indiana with his young uncle who is addicted to drugs and has gone missing. Intertwined are the stories his mother told him as a young child about how the days of the week got their names. The novel is ultimately hopeful even with the many challenges that Riggle faces.

Lisa's Second Pick: "Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know" by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell digs into the topic of our interactions with strangers and how they can often go wrong in this fascinating new book. Like his other books, "The Tipping Point" and "Blink," Gladwell meticulously researches and tells stories that make complex topics more accessible. From spies to Adolf Hilter, from the Sandra Bland traffic stop to enhanced interrogation techniques and torture, Gladwell challenges long-held beliefs about how we judge whether someone can be trusted or is telling the truth. The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and the trials of Amanda Knox and Brock Turner and Jerry Sandusky are all covered. The tools we use to understand people are broken. This is a compelling read that makes you think!

About Bartleby's Books: Bartleby's Books is celebrating 30 years in business in 2019. The store is at 17 West Main St. in historic downtown Wilmington and is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. year-round. Visit myvermontbookstore.com or call 802-464-5425.


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