Curling up with a good book is on the Mount Rushmore of rainy-day activities. And what’s better than absorbing another 100 pages under an umbrella poolside on vacation?
But now that the coronavirus has made staying home the world’s most highly recommended activity, every day feels like a rainy day. And we need books. To keep us company, to pass the time, to occupy the kids, to help us escape.
We asked a handful of bookstores around the state to give us their recommendations on books by a Connecticut author or with a Connecticut theme. The stores are all closed, for now, but some are still working to help you get your hands on these gems. Details at the end.
Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State
By David E. Philips
Glenn Shea, of The Book Barn in Niantic, says: “It's a great and readable collection of tales from a Connecticut that in some ways doesn't still exist and in some ways is still very recognizable.”
Find a Place that Could Pass for Home and The Pilgrims of Tombelaine
By Glenn Shea
Shea says of his work: “A variety of locales in the poems (Ireland, France, Tibet, India) will get you out of the house, but the voice is New England to the bone.” Shea suggests readers go to The Book Barn’s website and click on “Glenn's Book Notes,” where they'll find 150-plus short essays on books they should read. “That'll keep ’em busy.”)
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House
By Eric Hodgins with illustrator William Steig
Peter Vaughn, of House of Books in Kent, says: “A classic humorous tale about a New York advertising executive building a house in Litchfield County. Many people agree most of Mr. Blandings’ travails are as true today as they were in 1946, when the book was first published. The dream house stands today in Merryall and Mr. Steig was a longtime resident of South Kent. A quintessential Connecticut tale.”
Dinosaur Vs. and Ballet Cat series
By Bob Shea
Page Berger, from Barrett Bookstore in Darien, says: “A laugh-out-loud recommendation for the younger set is anything by Bob Shea. Two of our favorite series: Dinosaur Vs. and Ballet Cat. Sure to bring a smile to the face of the narrator and young audience!”
By Carola Lovering
Berger says: “If you’re looking for a book to take you out of the present moment entirely, I recommend Lovering’s psychologically consuming novel. Lovering’s coming-of-age novel draws the reader into a toxic relationship that seems both entirely unavoidable and frustratingly escapable. Topping many of the Best of Summer lists last year, you might take it into your backyard and escape the current environment by immersing yourself in this page-turning narrative.”
By Jacques Pepin
Berger says: “If you find yourself with some extra time in the kitchen, why not check out Jacques Pepin’s backlist? He has an incredible catalog of cookbooks including Essential Pepin which boasts over 700 essential recipes to help you perfect old favorites and learn new tricks.”
The Legend of Hobbomock: The Sleeping Giant
By Jason Marchi with illustrator Jesse Bonelli
Richard Parent, of Breakwater Books in Guilford, says: “This children's picture book was a winner at the Connecticut Press Club Awards in 2012. It is based on a Native American legend and tells the story of a young Quinnipiac brave named Blackbird. Blackbird must stop Hobbomock, a stone giant who is angry with the Quinnipiac for no longer speaking the language of the birds and animals, from destroying Blackbird's people. In stopping Hobbomock, Blackbird's story explains how Sleeping Giant in Hamden came to look like its name. It's a great story for parents to read to their children during this time of crisis.”
By Christopher Wigren
Gail Hanke, of RJ Julia, says: “Another reason to love Connecticut! Browse through the greatest architecture of our state, both new and historic. Place this gorgeous book on your coffee table and enjoy the discussion and nostalgia it will generate. A fun and essential part of our state’s history.”
By Luanne Rice
Kate Larson, of Bank Square Books in Mystic, says: “A thriller set locally, based on a true story, written by a local author, and sold by a local bookstore! Can't get any better than that.”
By Dani Shapiro
Roxanne Coady, of RJ Julia in Madison, says: “Who are we? Does who we think we are change when we learn a family secret that alters the source of our identity? Shapiro has explored issues of identity in her previous memoirs, but in her latest she applies her signature candor and heart to a riveting, provocative, and inspiring genealogical mystery and journey of discovery.”
By Elizabeth J. Normen with illustrator Michael Borders
Jamie McCauley, of RJ Julia, says: “Help children learn about Connecticut’s founding through the real life of Venture Smith. This volume compiles historical research and the narrative of Venture Smith’s life in Colonial Connecticut. A fascinating slave-to-entrepreneur story from Connecticut! Make history come to life!”
By Virginia A. McConnell
Nancy Brown, of RJ Julia, says: “True crime in our own backyard — poisoning, sexual predators, and courtroom drama. The attorney Virginia A. McConnell provides a riveting view of Connecticut in the late 1800s as revealed through the unrelated but disturbingly similar murders of two young women.”
By Stan Tekiela
Brown says: “If you're stuck at home, look out the window with the Birds of Connecticut Field Guide. They are out there building nests, singing at some ungodly hour of the morning, and generally being bird-like. And beautiful.”
By Jerry Roberts with photographer Tom Walsh
Joy Stifone, from RJ Julia, says: “Beautiful and informative, this book is a delight! What began as an idea to create an exhibit for the Connecticut River Museum soon became an endeavor to photograph and chronicle the entire length of the Connecticut River, from its source near the Canadian border to where it meets the sea at Long Island Sound. Spectacular photography along with interesting details make you feel as though you are along for the journey.”
By Peter Houlahan
Alice Hutchinson, from Byrd’s Books in Bethel, says: “One of the great things about this book is that it is true crime that reads like a really great novel. I had to remind myself over and over that this was a work of nonfiction. It is an account of a bank robbery in California in the 1970s. I do not read true crime, so I was surprised to realize how comprehensive this book is — from the surprising act of the robbery, to the courtroom, to the issues of PTSD in law enforcement.
By Karen Romano Young with illustrator Jessixa Bagley
Hutchinson says: “For ages 8-14. This is a wonderful book about Pearl, who works to save her small local library where her mother works after the head on the statue of Edna St. Vincent Millay goes missing! She uses the resources of the people in the library, her friends and a family of literate raccoons who just happen to live in the basement of the library to work to save the library. The clever use of sidebars on the page allows for us to feel like we are part of the "asides" that frequent live performances, allowing us to be brought into the story in two ways. Warm characters, great illustrations.”
By Juliet Grames
Darwin Ellis and Ellen Burns, from Books on the Common in Ridgefield, say: “A carefully researched multi-generational novel that follows an Italian family from a small village in Calabria in the 1920s to present-day Hartford. It’s an eye-opening look inside a sprawling Italian immigrant family on the East Coast with rich characters, insights into human nature, and an imposing main character who prevails, despite her seven or eight deaths.”
By Ocean Vuong
Ellis and Burns say: “Mother-son relationships can be difficult, but this book-length letter from son to mother is page after page of anguish. You wonder how hard it is for a son to tell his mother that he is gay. Add the fact that the mother is a Vietnamese refugee and the product of her mother’s liaison with a U. S. soldier. She has been scraping by at the margins of society in Hartford to make a living for herself, her mother and her outcast son. A summer job picking tobacco with a bunch of colorful characters is the turning point in his life. Beautifully written.
HOW TO BUY
The Book Barn (bookbarnniantic.com) is closed until further notice.
Bank Square Books (banksquarebooks.com, 860-536-3795) is offering free local delivery, curbside pickup from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, and free media mail shipping.
RJ Julia Booksellers (rjjulia.com, 203-245-3959) and Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore (wesleyanrjjulia.com, 860-685-3939) are offering free shipping for all online and phone orders in addition to pickup at their entrances or curbside.
Byrd’s Books (byrdsbooks.com, 203-730-2973) is open by phone from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and pickup is available in an outside bin. Online ordering and shipping is always available.
Books on the Common (booksonthecommon.com, 203-431-9100) is selling books by delivery only. Call or email the store to check for books in stock or order online.
Barrett Bookstore (barrettbookstore.com, 203-655-2712) is open by phone from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Online ordering and shipping is available (in-town delivery is free). There's also back-door pickup.