Kathleen Harrigan, Executive Director of the Friends of the Rappahannock

This post is part of our Guest Picks series, featuring members of our library community sharing their favorite books and movies.

Books are a big part of my life: paper books and audiobooks, magazines and newspapers. Some have been part of a common canon I shared with my parents; others are shared with friends. Some help me learn new things. Others offer an escape and a distraction. Sometimes the great ones fit all of the categories. There are so many that have enriched my life it was hard to pick just a few, so I’ve focused on books that give me a sense of place and that I’ve gone back to time and time again.

My first cookbook was Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbookan easy version of my mother’s go-to cookbook from her youth. It was the first of many cookbooks in my life. I think of cookbooks as easy-going chapter books. Cookbooks ground me to my family and all of the wonderful meals we shared while I was growing up and are the ultimate escape.

A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, was the book that introduced me to authors who convey a sense of wonder and respect for a particular place across the seasons. Closer to home, Tom Horton’s Bay Country is another example of how I can see a place through the author’s eye.

Several of my favorite authors bring that sense of place to their fiction and non-fiction. Barbara Kingsolver is one who always gives me that satisfaction from the deserts of the Southwest to the mountains of Virginia. The first that I read was Prodigal Summer, and, while I’ve read many of her books since, I keep coming back to this one.

Wendell Berry is another author who can stop the world around me and transport me to a fictional community of his creation or, through his poetry and essays, can help me focus on the real world around me. He can fire me up with outrage at injustices, bring me to tears with compassion for a lost friend, or slow me down in appreciation of the wild world. Again, The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry is one I keep reading time and time again.

And then there are books set in places that are at once familiar but also offer a twist on reality and give you a sense of an unexpected place. One of my favorite authors in that genre is Neil Gaiman. You may be familiar with his novels, but I’ll point you towards his short stories. One that really captivates me is The Truth Is a Cave in the Black MountainsI have read it time and time again; whenever I finish it, I want to go back to the beginning and start again.

Generally, there is a stack of cookbooks and a non-fiction book or two on the coffee table, and a couple of audiobooks from OverDrive and podcasts cued up on my phone. I am very appreciative of the CRRL’s collection for offering me so many options. Thank you!

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