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Penn Libraries News

Featured Books and DVDs: Staff Picks

Find Staff Picks on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books.

A person sitting in a chair holds a stack of books topped by a stack of DVD cases.

As winter break and holidays approach, the Penn Libraries staff have recommendations to fill your free time. Whether you’re looking for picks to share with the whole family, want to learn something new, or just love being entertained, let our descriptions below be your guide to discovery. Spend time exploring the Arctic, meet Dublin’s 1980s lesbian community, or have a smoke in the library — only vicariously, of course! 

You can find these and many more on display on the first floor of the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, next to New Books. 


Stir-Fry: A Novel by Emma Donoghue 

Selected by Sarah Heim, Public Services Librarian 

This is a warm and vivid story of relationships set in the lesbian community in 1980s Dublin. 

Popisho by Leone Ross 

Selected by Natalie Pendergast, Penn Libraries Intern 

A delicious, truly original novel that examines what it's like to live in a world on the brink of total systemic overhaul. This is a classic example of magical realism, fitting right in the lineage of Gabriel García Márquez, with every page full of vibrant surprises and tender tangibility. Ross manages to tackle so many relevant things — addiction, corruption, love, and the power of food — succinctly and with the detail of a careful observer. 

The Polar Express written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg 

Selected by Sue Gavin-Leone, Library Assistant 

This 1986 Caldecott Medal Winner was a perennial favorite every Christmas for my children. Even before the hit movie with the memorable narration by Tom Hanks, my children were enchanted by Van Allsburg’s vivid illustrations. As a family of train buffs, we even visited Santa’s North Pole Express Train in New Hope one year. As they got older, it became a gentle way to answer that age-old question, “Is Santa real?” A silver bell ornament, just like the one pictured in the book, has a place of honor on our tree every year. The CD included with this edition has a resonant narration by Liam Neeson. 

Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentlemen Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail by Stephen R. Bown 

Selected by Edith Mulhern, Bibliographic Assistant 

This volume sails into the storm at the intersection of empire and science, with a fascinating in-depth look at scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Brown's take borders on the sensational, but the journey is a whirlwind, and the book is difficult to put down. 

The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live by Danielle Dreilinger 

Selected by Aman Kaur, Health Literacy Librarian 

Earlier this semester, the Penn Professional Staff Assembly Book Club discussed this particular book about the history of women in STEM. This book begins with the reasons why home economics was an established field. For me, this dismantled the myth that home ec is an easy major for women. It was actually created at a time when women wanted to study STEM, but women weren't allowed to major in chemistry and engineering. 

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones 

Selected by Erin Sharwell, Head of Circulation Services  

Horror fans, take note! Bram Stoker Award triple winner (for Mapping The Interior, The Only Good Indians, and Night of the Mannequins) Stephen Graham Jones should be on your to-read list. 

An unethical hunting incident on the reservation comes back to haunt Lewis and his friends in the form of a supernatural avenging elk. Inventive, gory, haunting, and devastating, this novel has it all: disturbing psychological horror, well-drawn characters, and gritty social commentary. 

If you haven’t read any fiction by Blackfoot Native American Stephen Graham Jones yet, you are in for a treat. He writes horror, crime, experimental, and science fiction. 


The Terror. The complete first season 

Selected by Cynthia Heider, Public Digital Scholarship Librarian 

The Terror is a favorite rewatch on cold, bleak December days for maximum effect. Great acting and lovely cinematography elevate this eerie series that imagines what may have happened to a real-life Arctic exploration team that went missing in the 1840s. 

Amores Perros (Love’s a Bitch) 

Selected by Manuel de la Cruz Gutierrez, Director of Data & Innovation Services at the Biotech Commons 

The film that put Alejandro González Iñárritu on the map. 

Céline et Julie vont en bateau (Celine and Julie Go Boating) 

Selected by Ben Webster, Assistant Head of Stacks 

Female friendship; roller skating; drug candy; smoking in the library. 

The Addams Family: The Complete Series 

Selected by Rachael Schecter, Library Assistant 

For warming yourself during cold dreary days. A wholesome way to prepare for family gatherings and less social life events. 

The Learning Tree Gordon Parks 

Selected by Eileen Kelly, Head of Collection Management 

Gordon Parks wrote, directed and composed music for the film. The result is a beautifully rendered adaptation of his semi-autobiographical novel about growing up Black in rural Kansas during the 1920s. Issued by the Criterion Collection, this edition includes a new documentary on the making of the film. You can borrow the novel from the library, as well! 

Europa Lars von Trier 

Selected by Richard King, Senior Systems Technician 

At Holiday time, many look back fondly on having played  

with model train sets. Here, director Lars von Trier has  

a gigantic one: the postwar German Railway Network.  

De-Nazifying? Or maybe not. A simple American do-gooder  

is drawn into a relentlessly paced web of intrigue, with  

Barbara Sukowa as the quietly irresistible femme fatale.  

 But best of all, are the spectacular collage visuals. This  

was von Trier allowing himself to go all out before later  

converting into his austere, minimalist Dogme 95 phase.  

If only he could have made a few more like this!  

But alas...  

In the meantime, All Aboard! 

Everything Everywhere All at Once 

Selected by Amanda Alexander, External Relations Associate 

This superhero film has it all: family drama, amazing costumes, and the weaponization of a fanny pack.