An Embarrassment of Riches

An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.

On car trips, my husband and I used to pretend that there was a noise-proof window between the front seat and the back. One of us would hit an imaginary button on the dashboard, and-- in our minds-- the window would close, so we couldn’t hear our little darlings squabbling and shrieking in the back seat at all-- except that sadly, we could still hear them, due to the unfortunate imaginary nature of the window.

I wish that we’d discovered audiobooks for the car ages ago! A whole lot of library users have apparently wised up to their usefulness in the past few years;  I've been asked frequently lately for audiobook suggestions for family car trips. So I’ve made some lists of great audiobooks that can be enjoyed by listeners of various ages, one in CD format and one in downloadable. You might also consider consulting two excellent lists a  colleague of mine made: this list of classics on audio and this one for very young listeners.

It’s amazing how much kids will settle down when they’re involved in a story. I tried to find audiobooks that would be interesting and involving for the adults in the car, as well. So go ahead-- plan a summer getaway. Just don’t forget the audiobooks.

Or the barf bags. (But that’s another story.)

The comedian Steven Wright said, "everywhere is walking distance if you have the time." The line makes me smile, but it makes me wistful too. If only I had the time.

Walking folds the walker into the pace of the world, while providing respite from the cares attached to our home or workplace. Baudelaire used the word "flaneur" to describe the walking explorer: "For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world." 

If you're hankering for a long walk but have no time, here are some titles to try, and a longer list, to boot.  :-)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of a man plagued by the sense that he has made nothing of his life. One day he receives a letter from an old friend who is dying, thanking him for a past kindness. Harold writes a letter of condolence, but when he goes to mail it, he's struck with the sense that he must deliver the letter by hand. And so he sets off on a journey of several hundred miles, with only the clothes on his back. As he walks he reflects on the events that shaped his life.

Walking memoirs abound, with a resurrgence tied to Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. But don't miss the earlier A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. Relax into the rhytm of Robert Macfarlane's The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane details the author's effort to become more intimately acquainted with his country by starting at his home in Cambridge, England and following the old roads and ancient tracks that crisscross his country. I'm looking forward in particular to Lauren Elkin’s Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London for a female perspective on Baudelaire's phenomenon.

Happy reading, and happy trails.

cover image of joy harjo books

Stella Brings the FamilyWhen my kids were younger, I was always on the lookout for children’s books that stood up against stereotypes of all kinds. In King and King, a prince falls in love with another prince, not a princess. In bell hooks' Happy to Be Nappy, a little girl celebrates the beauty of her natural African-American hair. My Princess Boy tells the story of a little boy who loves to dress in pink, sparkly clothes. These titles are all classics of the anti-bias genre, and they still deserve to be read.

New ShoesBut a couple of weeks ago, a library patron asked me to suggest some anti-bias books that have been published more recently, and I discovered some real gems that I wish had existed when my kids were still the right age for picture books. It might not be too late for your kids, though, so check out this list! And let me know if you have more titles that should be included on it.

It's said that history is written by the winners but many stories go untold, especially when they concern women. For instance, have you ever heard of Nellie Bly?

I had a vague notion about her buried somewhere in my brain - 'a reporter, wasn't she?' - but I knew nothing more. As it turns out, she entered journalism at a time when the only role for female reporters was to contribute to the society pages. In a bold move to show her editor that women could do hard-hitting journalism, she volunteered to go undercover, and committed herself to the notorious women's asylum on Blackwell's Island. Bly reported that if one wasn't insane when committed, one would most certainly lose one's sanity in the horrendous conditions on the island. Her work resulted in improvements to the facility and better care for inmates.

A good reporter can never rest on her laurels though, and so in 1889, Bly set out to race around the world in 80 days or fewer to see if the journey that Jules Verne imagined in Around the World in 80 Days could be accomplished. What she didn't realize was that a rival paper decided to make it a race by sending the young Elizabeth Bisland around the world in the opposite direction.

You can follow this riveting story by reading Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-making Race around the World, by Matthew Goodman, which describes a great chase by ship and train across many countries. The excitement of the race is nicely balanced by the historical detail, and satisfies the curiosity while reading like a novel. You can also join fans of Nellie at an upcoming event that will give you an inside perspective on this remarkable woman.

For more inside stories about surprising women in history take a look at the accompanying reading list.

 

Zahir Janmohmaed, Soleil Ho and Alan Montecillo are the brains behind the podcast The Racist Sandwich. Together, they examine the politics of food and the ways we consume, create and interpret it. From discussions about racism in food photography to interviews with chefs of color, they hash out a diverse range of topics with humor, grace and very little pretension.
 
Zahir's picks:
 
1. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
This is one of the sharpest memoirs I have ever read. Shteyngart writes about immigrating to the U.S. as a Russian Jew and his struggle to adjust to life in America. 
The book is so incredibly funny that it is easy to forget that underneath the humor is a profound exploration about identity, immigration, anti-Semitism and the former Soviet Union. I can't recommend it enough. 
 
2.  The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 
There are very few books that have made me sob. This is one of them. Ishiguro's masterpiece, published in 1989, won the Booker prize that year and deservedly so. The novel centers around a butler, Mr. Stevens, and his conflicted feelings towards his former colleague, Miss Kenton. Skip the movie, which turns this incredibly complex novel into a love story alone. It is that too, but it is also an examination of complacency, bigotry and blind allegiance to tradition. 
 
3. Orientalism by Edward Said
Admittedly this might not be the best book to take to the beach but no other book has had a greater influence on me than Said's. This book was published in 1978 and remains a seminal text in understanding post-colonialism. Said's essential argument is that Orientalism is the exaggeration of difference, the presumption of Western superiority, and the application of clichéd analytical models for perceiving the "Oriental" world. When we started our podcast, Soleil Ho and I spoke at length about this book and how our podcast was an attempt to take Said's theory of Orientalism and apply it to the world of food. 
 
Soleil's Picks:
Nguyen blasts open the banh mi paradigm with this book, and every recipe in it is stellar.
 
I love Bryant Terry’s mission to place the plant-based diet within the context of African diasporic cooking, and I especially love his suggested musical tracks to bob your head to while you’re working though his recipes.
 
3. Koreatown: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong
Oh, the banchan! The language in this book is so light and familiar, and it’s lovely to read various notables' fond memories of Korean food. 
 
Alan's Picks:
1. Red Sorghum by Mo Yan
I think Americans should read more Chinese literature. Here’s one place to start. This is a sprawling, visceral, multi-generational tale of a sorghum winemaking family in China. It takes you through pivotal moments in modern Chinese history, from the Japanese invasion in the 1930s all the way through the Cultural Revolution. Mo Yan’s writing has been compared to the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I don’t know enough about Marquez to judge whether that’s accurate, but I will tell you that I first read this six years ago and its images and descriptions have stuck with me.
 
Dr. Gawande shows us how the medical system is ill-equipped to deal with the reality of modern aging. But more fundamentally, this book will change the way you see old age, medicine and dying itself. 
 
Even if geopolitics isn’t really your thing, I recommend this book. And if you’re a generally curious, politically-minded person who wants to read something that will challenge your view of the world, you should absolutely read this book. The South China Sea is an abstract news headline to many Americans, but for millions of Asian-Americans and the hundreds of millions of people who live in Southeast Asia, it’s one of the most important issues of our time. Kaplan’s hard-nosed realism can be tough to swallow — and I don’t know if I necessarily agree with all of his conclusions — but it’s a sober and sharp reminder of how complex the world is.

 

 

 

Hasn’t 2016 been a doozy of a year? A friend of mine told me he wants to get some lighter fluid to incinerate his calendar. I told him I thought I might need explosives for mine.

Lately I have been trying put in some effort every day to make the world a little better. I go to demonstrations, give donations to worthy causes, subscribe to two good newspapers, and email my representatives in state and federal government. But once bedtime comes along, I need to leave this world behind and get lost in a novel. It's not a time for books that are esoteric, demanding, or very dark. My ideal escape read sucks me right into the story and gets me involved with its characters. If I especially like some of those characters, all the better.

The Bookshop on the Corner fit the bill perfectly. It tells the story of a laid-off librarian who buys a van, turns it into a portable bookshop, and moves to Scotland. The author's vision of Scotland is charming and cozy, full of perfect nooks for reading, gorgeous landscapes, cheap and lovely flats, handsome Scottish lads, exceptionally delicious toast, and, of course, many opportunities for reader's advisory. I loved it and have spent the last month forcing it on my librarian pals, who also love it.

In case you need some escape reads, too, I made you this list. And if you know of any excellent books that will whisk me away and guarantee me a good night’s sleep, please let me know. I think I’ll be needing these for a while to come.
 

Wendy Red Star uses a variety of media to create her art, which draws from her tribal background (Crow) to explore the intersections of Native culture and colonialist structures. Her work has been shown at the Portland Art Museum, and as far afield as Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria.

Greetings, from Wendy Red Star and Beatrice Red Star Fletcher (my nine-year old daughter). Together we make up a mother/daughter artist collaborative duo. You can see some of our artwork at the Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum this month through December. Beatrice is an avid reader with a book in her hand at all times including at art functions, birthday parties, and the dinner table. I also love reading but my focus is on specialty books including, Native crafts, sewing, historical photography books on Native Americans, individual artist monographs, and anthropological books on the Crow Nation. I use these books for inspiration, knowledge, and references for art projects.

Here are my picks:

Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamichi

This book gives me endless inspiration about the possibilities of pattern making. Whenever I need a break from conventional patterns I take a look at this book. In the past I have tried to make a few of the patterns out of paper. This book is challenging and engaging and a fun way to spend the afternoon.

The Art Of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff

A seamstress's dream book! With over 350 diagrams and beautifully illustrated images demonstrating techniques to resurface, reshape, restructure and reconstruct using a simple square of fabric, thread and needle. This book truly brings out my inner nerd. I love spending hours analyzing each technique and dreaming up new ideas.

The Stars We Know: Crow Indian Astronomy and Lifeways by Timothy P. McCleary

My copy of this book is marked with underscores and notes in the margins. I have reread this book countless times and still find myself learning new information with each read. I am friends with the author, who I have worked with on projects including my solo exhibition Medicine Crow & the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation at the Portland Art Museum’s Apex Gallery in 2014. The observations of Crow star knowledge are fascinating. The old Crow stories are entertaining and eerily gruesome.

Crow Indian Beadwork (A Descriptive and Historical Study) by William Wildschut and John C. Ewers

This book is a great guide and resource to the art of Crow Indian beadwork from 1805 to contemporary times. The book includes several illustrations and photographic images of classic Crow designs. I use this book as a reference and a guide for my own beadwork.

Identity By Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native women’s dresses edited by Emil Her Many Horses

This is a gorgeous book filled with rich photographs of some of the best dresses and accessories of traditional Native women’s clothing. This book includes examples of historic clothing and contemporary trends across Native America. Filled with interesting essays and information that make it a valuable read.

Beatrice's picks:

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad

It has lots of adventures and lots of mischief, like falling asleep in a crate between a goat and a bunch of geese and getting half your hair chewed off.  It is full of marvelous literature!

Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Nikki, the main character, has lots of awkward situations in her school life. Nikki has a lot of personality, and all of the Dork Diaries books have interesting plots filled with tons of funny moments. Also amazing illustrations.

Thea Stilton and the Cherry Blossom Adventure by A Geronimo Stilton

The Thea sisters travel to different places and learn about other cultures. The books are filled with interesting mysteries that the Thea sisters have to solve. There are amazing illustrations and amazing graphs.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle uses magic to engage young children to behave. The books are filled with interesting things like her house being upside down. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an interesting character because she owns a well-mannered pig and she loves kids.

Baby Mouse Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Great book for young girls because it is about a girl mouse. Baby Mouse is very sassy, loves cupcakes, and has a wild imagination and a homework-eating locker. It’s awesome because every page is pink.

 

Casey Jarman is a music critic, writer and illustrator, contributing to The Believer, Willamette Week and Portland Monthly, among others. His latest work is Death: An Oral History,  a collection of conversations with people on the  topic of death. He will be talking about his new book at Wordstock, Nov. 5 at the Portland Art Museum and at Powells on Oct. 27 at 7:30 pm.

I wrote a book about death partly because I was sick of writing about music. That’s my background, for the most part: writing profiles of and doing interviews with musicians. I’m a nerd about songwriters and music production, but I thought I needed to write about something that shook me up a bit and challenged me. So I pitched a book of interviews about death, and I was lucky enough to have an editor go for it.

When I started the book, almost two years ago, I interviewed a retired Catholic priest in Eugene. We had a lovely conversation — it didn’t make it into the final book, but it still floats to the forefront of my mind often. When I got into my car to leave the church where we spoke, I tuned the radio to the local college radio station. The DJ was playing “Farewell Transmission” by Magnolia Electric Company. I felt a sort of buzz go through my body as Jason Molina, who himself died a pretty dismal death in 2013, sang “The real truth about it is / There ain't no end to the desert I'll cross / I've really known that all along.” And then, “I will be gone, but not forever.”

This sort of thing kept happening. The deeper I got into these intense interviews, the more I noticed themes of death and grief coming up in the music I loved. I started hearing these songs in a new light, because of the really personal discussions I was having with people. So I started keeping a list of songs that addressed death in a thoughtful way, and I started daydreaming about making a Death Mixtape that I could hand out after readings or discussions. Readings and discussions make me pretty nervous, but sharing a compilation of songs I love, that’s a joy. So here it is!

There are a lot of sappy, sentimental songs about death. There’s a time and place for those, I’m sure, but I haven’t found that time or place just yet. The songs on this list are funny or pretty or abstract. I tried to leave out songs that we’ve all heard a thousand times. Leonard Cohen doing “Hallelujah” is no less a wonder because we’ve all heard it a hundred times, but hopefully you'll find something new here.

1. “Poor Bastard,” Kyle Morton

The opening track from the Typhoon frontman’s recent solo debut, What Will Destroy You, finds its protagonist regaining consciousness in the midst of his own funeral. When he springs from his coffin, he announces, “I’m feeling so much better now, I want to thank you all for coming out — though premature, it truly means the world.” It’s a darkly funny tune, but the arrangement is deeply melancholy. Morton has spent years writing insightful songs about mortality, but this might be the first time he’s used an absurdist comic fantasy to get into it. It reminded me that many of the deepest and most moving conversations I had about death, while working on this book, also involved a lot of laughter.

2. “Undertaker,” Bry Webb

A brooding gothic folk tune with a funeral dirge brass arrangement that probably should have landed on the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack at some point. This one really only has a vague narrative, but I believe it. A small-town undertaker singing “all my enemies come back to me” gets me every time.

3. “This Woman’s Work,” Kate Bush

It’s so shocking to me that Bush wrote this incredible song for a mediocre John Hughes film starring Kevin Bacon. Ostensibly about complications during childbirth, to me it reads like a song about the frantic and overwhelming pause before grief. It has these cascading moments of sheer panic and confusion — I’m reminded of discussions I had with Jana DeCristofaro about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief refusing to proceed in an orderly fashion — but then it also has these distinct moments of clarity. It’s a wise and generous song.

4. “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” Bobby Bare

Like I said, there are many sappy country songs about death. This one, though — written by Tom T Hall — seems so honest and unvarnished. It’s a small story with little details that wouldn’t matter much to anyone but the narrator. It’s not a big sentimental number about some great American — it’s about a random guitar player that just made an impression on Hall when he was a kid.

5. “I Seen a Man Die,” Scarface

There are certain MCs who function more like journalists or ethnologists than entertainers, and Scarface is one of those. Even for him, “I Seen a Man Die” is a pretty deep dive. The third and final verse is especially striking: It’s basically Scarface coaching a young man through the process of dying, which reminded me a lot of talking with Katherine MacLean about guiding her sister to the unknown. Scarface’s version: “I hear you breathing but your heart no longer sounds strong / But you kinda scared of dying so you hold on / And you keep on blacking out because your pulse is low / Stop trying to fight the reaper just relax and let it go”

8. “Living Without You,” Randy Newman

It’s unclear whether the titular “You” in this song is deceased or just out of the picture, but it’s an incredibly visceral grief that a young Randy Newman touches on here, and it certainly translates to bereavement. Plain and direct and brutally honest. “Nothing’s gonna happen / Nothing’s going to change / Baby it’s so hard living without you.” The arrangement is totally flooring, too.

6. “King of Sorrow,” Sade

Thematically identical to “Living Without You,” only this has Sade’s notoriously sexy vocals and smooth production attached. “I’m crying everyone’s tears” is one of the most open-ended and compelling lyrics I can think of, though, and the total disregard for gender conformity in the chorus is something I greatly enjoy.

7. “Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San,” John K Samson

I don’t know how you write a believable song from the perspective of a dying man when you’re not dying, but I think this is one. I do know that in Samson’s case, there was a lot of research about the actual Ninette Sanatorium in Manitoba. (On the same album, he also writes a song from the perspective of a graduate student who’s researching this Sanatorium, so it all gets very meta.)

9. “Don’t Interrupt the Sorrow,” Joni Mitchell

Good to get a little funky ’round the middle of the mixtape. “Death and birth and death and birth!”

10. “Joy & Pain,” MAZE

I got to see Maze in 2012. It was a life-changing event. This is a marquee song for the band. It’s healing in its simplicity. It also keeps the funky middle-bit of the mixtape going strong.

11. “Dead Slate Pacific,” John Vanderslice

A song about mental health, suicide, and anxiety. Different readings could make it feel guilt-trippy or sweet. After years of hearing it, I’m still not sure which reading I subscribe to.

12. “Priests and Paramedics,” Pedro the Lion

I talked to Pedro co-founder David Bazan about this song, wherein a paramedic debates whether it would be best to tell a dying man that he’s dying or not, and a priest decides to reveal his own battle with depression mid-eulogy. He felt like he should have given the story another twist. But I like it just the way it is, Bazan’s bleak vocals and all. If you haven’t checked it out, Control is one of the great rock records of its era.

13. “Funeral Song,” Laura Gibson

I won’t claim to know what Gibson, a dear friend of mine, is getting at here. To me, it sounds like a story about the whole world — even inanimate objects — coming together to mourn. And there’s something very pretty about that, beyond Gibson’s great voice and playing.

14. “Even The Good Wood Gone,” Why?

I thought this was a nice bookend to pair with “Poor Bastard.” Instead of waking up in his casket, this song’s protagonist wakes up as a museum pharaoh with a “No Flash Photography” sign hung around its neck. Songwriter/frontman Yoni Wolf’s transition from rebirth to a much less exotic death is pretty compelling, too. Something about the whimsical, baroque instrumentation here just does it for me, too.

Walk a mile in someone else's shoes, even if you're commuting by bus. These audiobooks are available on demand, through Hoopla, with your library card. Happy listening.

Hey, everyone, I'm David F. Walker. I write graphic novels (or if you prefer, comic books — it's all the same to me). I grew up reading comics (mostly Marvel), and to this day, I still love the medium. At any given time, I have stacks of comics and graphic novels all over my home, waiting to be read and reread. I'm a sucker for a good Young Adult novel, as I also dabble in YA. I love history, so I often spend what little free time I have watching documentaries. When I am not reading or writing comic books, I'm a filmmaker, journalist, and educator. My work includes Power Man and Iron Fist, Nighthawk (Marvel), Shaft: A Complicated Man, Shaft’s Revenge (Dynamite), Cyborg (DC), Number 13 (Dark Horse Comics), and the YA novel, Super Justice Force: The Adventures of Darius Logan, Book One.

Here are my picks:

The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Perhaps the greatest book I have ever read. There isn’t much more than that to say. It makes me laugh out loud. It makes me cry. It makes me want to be a better writer.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Two incredible examples of the storytelling possibilities found in the graphic novel medium, which serve as companion pieces to a larger story. I recommend reading Boxers first, but that’s not as important as reading both.

Eyes on the Prize – DVD

Produced back in the 1980s, this multi-part PBS documentary is the greatest jumping-off point for learning about the Civil Rights in America. In a perfect world, families of all stripes would sit and watch this together.

Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness

I love a good YA book (perhaps because I suffer from a case of arrested development). Whatever the case. The Chaos Walking series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men) is probably my favorite YA series. Ness is an incredible writer, and this series is riveting.

Will Eisner’s New York – Life in the Big City by Will Eisner

My absolute favorite comic book creator of all time, Eisner is best known for creating The Spirit, and some historians credit him with creating what we now know as the graphic novel. This collection of stories is the Eisner I love the most – a brilliant example of how image and text can become literature.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick

One of my favorite comic series currently being produced, it is a hard-hitting, hilarious, radical bit of speculative fiction that finds non-complying women sentenced to a prison on another planet. DeConnick and her creative team are dangerous in the best way possible.

The Central Park Five – DVD

Living in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is difficult to describe the climate of what it was like to be young and black in a city that feared you. The infamous Central Park Park Rape case explains it with unflinching humanity, examining the gross miscarriage of justice that ocurred when five black teenagers were sent to prison for a heinous crime none of them committed.

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor

Combining two forms of expression that I absolutely love – comic books and hip hop, Piskor’s exhaustive historical narrative is a revelation. Four volumes in, this is the graphic novel done brilliantly.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

I saw an ad for this YA book in, of all places, a comic book. Having read Higson’s Young Bond series, I decided to give this a shot. I can only describe this as The Walking Dead meets The Lord of the Flies – and there are five more books in the series.

Concrete Park by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander

One of the most over-looked graphic novels of the last several years, both volumes of Concrete Park are works on incredible art. Set on a planet billions of miles from Earth, where people of color and other minorities have been exiled, the series is as brutal as it is beautiful.

The Legend of the Mantamaji by Eric Dean Seaton

Eric Dean Seaton’s three-volume graphic novel series delivers to the superhero the diversity that is sadly lacking from so many other comics. The struggle to find true diversity in works of pop culture continues to be an uphill battle, but this series is a refreshing example of how to do it properly.

Slavery By Another Name – DVD

This PBS documentary is equally engrossing and heartbreaking, as it traces how slavery never really ended in the Untied States, it just became something else. This is one of those “missing” pieces of history that helps to explain the horrific inequities we see in this country, based on race and class.

A Band Called Death – DVD

On the surface, this a documentary about a forgotten proto-punk band being rediscovered after years of languishing only in the fading memories of a few people. But it is so much more. It is about family, and love, and commitment to your art, and how the key to immortality is art.

Moshow the Cat Rapper is passionate about many things: cats, cat ladies, music and creativity. He dropped by the library to share some of his favorite songs with us.
  1. "Handy Man" on JT by James Taylor. 
  2. "By Your Side" on Lovers Rock by Sade.
  3. "Blue Light" on Silent Alarm and streaming by Bloc Party.
  4. Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
 
Oh, and Sushi's favorite book? The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.

 

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