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.

His readers know suspense writer Andrew J. Rush as a successful mild-mannered author of high profile suspense mysteries and thrillers. His publisher is happy because Andrew’s books sell thousands of copies and he is in high demand as a speaker in bookstores across the U.S.  He has a beautiful house, a lovely submissive wife and is able to send his children to the best and most exclusive schools.  Enthusiastic reviewers hint that he may be compared to Stephen King, although Andrew himself can’t see it.  

But Andrew holds his cards close to his chest because on the side where it is dark and unkempt and cold, is the Jack of Spades.  The  books written by the Jack of Spades are cruel and twisted and violent.  They are so secret that even Andrew’s publisher doesn’t know his real name; he has a locked room in the basement where he writes his Jack of Spades books.

The manuscripts are unsigned and all the profits  go to a private bank account.  His family live in complete ignorance of these secrets.

Then two things happen:

First a woman accuses him of breaking into her house and stealing her ‘words’- ideas, sentences and whole paragraphs that appear in his published titles.

Second- his daughter accidently picks up and reads one of the books written by the Jack of Spades.  She is disgusted and horrified to find some events described there are taken from her own family.

As Andrew desperately tries to hang on to his ‘normal’ life he begins to hear a black, ugly voice buzzing in the back of his mind. ‘Do it, Do it Do it’.                                                                          Wondering who ends up holding all the aces? Read Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates

                                                                      

                                                                       

In the 1970’s, if you lived in a small southwestern desert town near the Mexico border, you didn’t expect to hear much soul music on the radio. So, when Diane Mays ran down 2nd Street hollering “there’s Negroes on the radio!” ; nobody paid attention. Then Gary, her brother, put a radio on the front porch and turned it up. That brought all the Saturday clean-up to a screeching halt. Radios switched on from the gambling man's house all the way down to the preacher's.

The piano was striding, the bass was bumping and the drums thumping. So the words caught us all by surprise.

"Did they say Jesus?"

 "Naw, they must be thinking that's how you say Hay-zeus (spelled "Jesus" in Spanish)."

"Hush now, let's us listen."

And yes, that was gospel on the radio.

For a sample of what we heard go to Hoopla, sign in and type this: "Oh Happy Day". Click on the one by Edwin Hawkins-2004. It's short 'cause church mothers was falling out all over and couldn't take much.

Citing Emma Brown, Washington Post Staff Writer; Wed July 14, 2010:

Edwin Hawkins & Family won a Grammy for "Oh, Happy Day" in 1970. It was the 1st gospel song to climb mainstream charts. In 1968, a (Berkeley, Calif., choir) under the direction of Hawkins recorded an album. They expected to sell a few hundred as a fundraiser for an upcoming trip to Washington, D. C. But one of their songs--"Oh Happy Day"--caught the eye of a local Dj, who played it on the radio. It became an international hit, selling an estimated 7 million copies.  It was the first gospel song to climb the mainstream charts.

Folks started talking about modern vs traditional gospel.

"What is tradition, anyway?" Bishop (Walter) Hawkins once said. "Gospel music doesn't have a particular style. Gospel's got to progress."

In our little dried up town, far from the centers of black culture, even we knew 'thangs' had changed!

 

 

Death and Mr. Pickwick: A Novel

by Stephen Jarvis

Jarvis recreates the writing of Charles Dickens'  first novel "The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club" giving us a flavor of 19th century London and the publishing industry of the time. For Dickens fans everywhere.

The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family's Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis

by Simon Goodman

A dramatic story about a seventy year detective hunt for stolen family treasures which included works by Degas, Renoir, Botticelli and many more. A heartfelt tale of loss and redemption.

Once Upon a Time in Russia: The Rise of the Oligarchs --  A True Story of Ambition, Wealth, Betrayal and Murder

by Ben Mezrich

The bestselling author of "Bringing Down the House" brings us a tale of wealth and rivalry among the super-wealthy oligarchs who amassed great riches and power after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Theft of Memory: Losing My Father, One Day at a Time

by Jonathan Kozol

Kozol, who has written award winning books on vulnerable children and education, tells the story of his father's life, a specialist in brain disorders, and his descent into dementia. A tender portrait of love and understanding.

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

by Robert Kurson

An extraordinary tale of the search for the 17th century pirate ship Golden Fleece lost somewhere near the Dominican Republic. In thrilling detail, Kurson relates the excitement of the search for gold and the research involved looking at documents and maps in libraries around the world.

 

 

Leviathan Wakes book jacketLeviathan Wakes is the first book in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (a pen name for for co-writers Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham).  If you prefer to watch instead, it is currently being produced as a 10 episode series for the SyFy channel. My husband wanted to read the book before seeing the show so he started in on it.  After about a third of the book, he insisted I also had to read it before watching the show. He wasn't too far into the second book when he asked for the third.

In this universe, set a few hundred years in the future, humanity has managed to colonize the solar system but hasn't yet reached the stars. The crew of a small ice hauler responds to a distress signal, and it all goes horribly, horribly wrong from there. Earth groans under the weight of 30 billion hungry mouths and doesn't get along with Mars or Luna.  Those three all look down on the 50 to 100 million Belters living on asteroids in the outer solar system. The Belters live a hardscrabble life taxed into poverty by the inner system and resent the folks born into a gravity well. When the ice haulers point the finger at Mars for the death of the ship, they find that things get ugly very, very fast.  The more sensible scramble to keep systemwide war from breaking out but the rest just add to the chaos. Remember, you don't need bombs if you can just push a big rock down a gravity well, so the wiser heads are terrified of humanity wiping itself out.

Once I got my turn with book one, I found this to be an action-packed title that alternates between two main characters who feel like believable men.  You see a great deal of the life in the "Belt" and it's a rough place.  Mistakes very quickly equal dead and the justice is quite frontier in style. Pretty much any consensual vice you can imagine appears to be legal but nobody bats an eye that an engineer that neglected some life support systems fell out of an airlock with some pretty terrible injuries. The science part of the science fiction does have a great deal of "handwavium", but it feels real.  The reader is given little details like how many years it took to put a stable spin on a larger asteroid so it would have some gravity for the inhabitants.Firefly dvd cover

I think that the setting and flavor of Leviathan Wakes would appeal to anyone who has the good taste to have loved Firefly.  It’s nice to see a new set of “big damn heroes”! I don't know that I hold out the greatest of hopes for the tv. show being as good as the books, but if they stick to the exciting story and interesting characters there's hope!  Even the tv show turns out to be awful, the books are well worth reading if you like space-set science fiction at all.

Books are for chumps drawingAbout a year ago this picture landed on my desk. Drawn on the back of a library survey that had been given out to hundreds of middle and high school students. A hastily drawn angry face with a speech bubble that says “Books are for CHUMPS!” When I first saw the drawing I couldn’t help but laugh. Then I wondered, who was it who drew this? Do they really think that books are for chumps? What even is a chump? Since the creator of this drawing is an anonymous student, I will respond to their cry for bookish help in the form of an advice column.
 
Dear Books Are For Chumps,
 
I understand that you do not think that books are fun or interesting to read. I sympathize with your struggle. I was once like you until I realized that it wasn’t that books were boring, it was just that I hadn’t yet met the right book. I know very little about you other than that you do not like to read, you do like to express yourself, and you have a great sense of humor. So with those three things in mind, here are some titles that I think will change your opinion about books.
 
Ready Player One book coverLet’s start with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Imagine that it is 2044 and the world has become a bleak place. Most people escape their extremely grim reality by immersing themselves in a virtual reality called the OASIS. The deceased creator of OASIS, James Halliday, leaves his inheritance to any gamer who can solve three puzzles that he has left within the OASIS. After years of isolation Wade Watts finds himself juggling real world danger, romance, friendship and 80’s nostalgia in a fast paced cyber quest.
 
Why read this: You love video games, Dungeons and Dragons, and 80s movies.
 
Grasshopper Jungle book coverIf you are in the mood for dystopian fiction with more of a  comical bend I recommend giving Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith a try. This is a book that is hard to explain and impossible to forget. Grasshopper Jungle is a first person chronicle of the end of the world told from the perspective of 16-year old Austin Szerba. Austin is a normal teen living in a small Midwest town, hanging out, having fun and struggling with his affection for his best friend, Robby and his girlfriend, Shann. Meanwhile there are 6-foot tall praying mantis-like alien Unstoppable Soldiers (that Austin and Robby accidently let loose) poised to take over the world. 
 
Why read this: 6-foot tall praying mantis-like aliens. Need I say more?
 
Dorothy Must Die book coverDorothy Must Die is the first book in a  new series  by Danielle Paige (the second book The Wicked Will Rise came out earlier this year). This is a “what happens after” story and a twisted take on the Land of Oz. Amy Gumm is another girl from Kansas who gets swept away to Oz. But the land that she visits is not the same Technicolor fantasy from the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie. Oz is a gray, sad place ruled by a powerful and horrible tyrant, Dorothy. This series is an awesome spin on a classic tale. 
 
Why read this: You want to know what happens after the movie ends.
 
The Shadow Hero book coverMaybe a graphic novel is what you need. If so check out the Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. The Shadow Hero revives the 1940s comic book story of the Green Turtle, the  first Asian American superhero. 19-year old Hank Chu is the son of Chinese immigrants living in a fictional 1930s Chinatown. After his mother is rescued by a superhero, she decides that it is her son's destiny to become a superhero. This is a comical take on the traditional superhero origin story.
 
Why read this: You have (and maybe stiil do) fantasized about being a cape wearing superhero.
 
So my challenge to you, B. A. F. C. , is to read at least two of these books over the summer, then get back to me and let me know if you still think that books are for chumps.
 

The True Meaning of Smekday came out in 2007, so this spring's sequel, Smek for President, was an unexpected joy. I read both books with my 11-year-old son, who still lets me read out loud to him, although at this point, I'm afraid that every book is going to be the last. If you've already read the first book, then you'll want to read the second one, which is almost as good as the first. If you haven't yet read The True Meaning of Smekday, here are some reasons that you should give this kid's book with crossover appeal a try:

1) The main character is named "Gratuity"-- her mom liked the sound of it-- but is nicknamed "Tip". This kind of offbeat cleverness runs through both books.

2) Tip is a strong, smart, resourceful girl, AND a girl who just happens to be biracial, in a book that's not about race at all, really.

3) There's an alien from the planet Boov whose name on Earth is inexplicably J-Lo, even though he has nothing to do with Jennifer Lopez-- and he is extraordinarily funny. Seriously. Several times while reading these books, my son and I laughed until we couldn't breathe and our faces were wet with tears.

4) Wildly inventive comics are scattered throughout the book like little treats waiting to be discovered. 

5) J-Lo and Tip team up to save the world in an insanely goofy and original way.

6)This story has at its heart a deep and beautiful friendship. It doesn't matter that Tip is human and J-Lo is an alien. They're true to each other.

7) Both books are wonderful read-alouds for an adult and a child to experience together. Honestly, even if you read it to yourself, you're going to want to read parts of it aloud to anyone who happens to be in the room.

I suppose I should mention that there’s a movie based on the first book which was also released this spring. I’m afraid to see it because I can’t believe it’ll be as good as the book, but let me know if I’m wrong, okay? And in the meantime, here’s a list I made of absolutely wonderful read-alouds for a parent to read with children who are perfectly capable of reading to themselves-- but they’ll still allow you the pleasure of reading to them. 

Great stories so often remind us that success is boring. It is the wretched tale of miserable failure which captivates and holds our attention. Here is one story I recently found to be worthy of both watching and reading.
 
The Homesman book jacketThe Homesman by Glendon Swarthout is a spare and ruthless picture of sodbusting subsistance in the Nebraska Territory. The writing draws stark and vivid lines of life for five women on the frontier. After various brutalities drive four of the women into debilitating mental illnesses, Mary Bee Cuddy reluctantly volunteers to drive them back over the plains and across the Missouri River to a charitable churchwoman when none of the menfolk are up to the task. Knowing she will need help on the six-week journey, she rescues a claim jumper from hanging and presses him into service. George Briggs is a cipher and the trip is harrowing: they face hostile weather and deprivation and grueling monotony along with their own inner demons.
 
Mary Bee is an educated and relatively successful single teacher-turned-farmer who is increasingly desperate to marry. Her success is also her failure in that she proves to be stronger in body and spirit than most of the men who surround her. George Briggs, an army deserter, materializes as something of the equal that has thus far eluded her. 
 
A window demonstrating the fragility of their mission opens when a group of unknown and possibly hostile Indians appear on the horizon. They are a "ragtag bunch" possessed of coats and caps and rifles indicating they have, at some point, killed some U.S. Cavalry. There is a tense stand-off:
The Homesman dvd
     "They won't turn us loose," said Briggs. "I count four rifles. If they think we're worth it and come on down here, we're dead."
     Again the bugle blatted. Mary Bee got gooseflesh. Indians were what she had most feared.
     Briggs decided. "All right, I'll try to buy 'em off." He jumped down, fished inside his cowcoat, and handed her his heavy Colt's repeater. "If they come, don't fool with the rifle. Get inside the wagon as fast as you can and shoot the women. In the head. Then shoot yourself."
 
The feature film based on the novel stars Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank. Don't miss this movie. It is a reminder of the riches that lie buried, abandoned and forgotten, at the side of the road to success. 
 
The winners may ride into the sunset, but the losers hold the stories we remember.

There is so much good teen fiction that I have quite a time (and only moderate interest in) actually getting to the grown-up stuff. Here are two stories I recently discovered and enjoyed.

Seraphina book jacketSeraphina by Rachel Hartman
I discovered Dungeons and Dragons at age 17, and I remember getting pretty excited when my brother told me "There are FOUR kinds of dragons!"  I'd read The Hobbit, The Reluctant Dragon, and a few Norse myths by then, so I knew that all dragons were not the same, but there being actual kinds of dragons was very new to me. Dragon taxonomy, if you will. Years and lots of fantasy later, this book gave me a similar thrill.
 
Among many very cool things about this book (a wry and honest main character, strange dream beings starting to talk back, a sackbut), it has dragons that, by virtue of their ability to assume human shape, can communicate on a level with the humans. But although they look like regular people, Hartman does a great job with keeping them very different. Dragons have a hard time understanding human emotions, so it's a bit like interacting with aliens, or animals, or gods. This had a nice amount of intrigue, a very observant prince, questions of loyalty, medieval music, saints and sayings for all occasions, and a bit of a look at discrimination and hatred.  Good stuff, and the first e-book I read for fun (because it was available and the printed one wasn't). 
 
 An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
I haven't quite finished this yet, but I'm thinking that I have a great recommendation for people who enjoyed reading The Hunger Games. This has some of the sameAn Ember in the Ashes book jacket themes - power vs. powerlessness, fate vs. choice, battle against friends, star-crossed love triangle. It's set in an empire reminiscent of ancient Rome, but this is not historical fiction. The magic of the desert pervades this story... ghuls, jinn, efrit... and yet it is mostly the tale of one young man expected to become a great leader, and of a young woman with nothing but a rebel pedigree, posing as a slave and struggling to save the last relative she has. The perspective changes back and forth between them with each chapter, and the pacing is used well to build suspense. It's on hold so I'll have to turn it in soon, but I'll finish this one quickly.

 

Lately I've been gravitating towards books that give me respite from working full time and going to school part-time. These are the books I've been loving lately:
 
Bee and Puppycat book jacketBee and PuppyCat by Natasha Allegri: Bee is a twentysomething woman who works for a temp agency fighting monsters with Puppycat in SPACE. It's a pastel dream just as gorgeous as the original cartoon.

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa: Sakugawa takes you on a beautiful intergalactic journey where you deal with little and big things like petty annoyances, self-hatred, and anger. Surprisingly calming.The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl book jacket

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae: This is the funniest book I've read in a long time. I loved reading about her family, '90s culture, and the endless embarrassments. As a POC (person of color), this is the kind of voice I've been wishing wasn't so rare.
 
I hope you can find as much solace in these books as I do. What kinds of books help you keep cool when under stress?

                

https://multcolib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/2738523068_the_boy_in_the_black_suit#bib_info

   

  What does a plate of chocolate chip cookies have to do with a funeral home?                                         

Everything if you are Matt and you get a job in a funeral home because your mother is dead and being around people who understand grief is better than going to high school where even your best friend acts strange and uncomfortable with you.  Then you meet Lovey- who is there for the funeral of her grandma Gwendolyn Brown. Matt waits and waits for her to break down, for her voice to tremble, for tears to fall.  While he’s waiting he notices her eyes and her curly hair.  He also notices how confident she is, how calm. Intrigued he attends the reception after the funeral just so he can meet her.  Talking with  her is magical - he takes a chance and asks her on a date.  She asks if she can plan the date.  Yes!  He almost shouts it.  But the date is  different from any other type of date he’s been on and with her he feels different. So different that it makes him feel like baking his mom's special chocolate cookie recipe, breathing and laughing again. Loving again.

If you like a book that will help you see life and -death- in a whole different way, Read The Boy in the Black Suit by Joan Reynolds

Book jacket: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlinWhen I was approaching 30, I left a job in Seattle and moved to Portland to become a woodworker.  I spent the last of my cashed out 401k on a table saw, hung my hand tools neatly on pegboard and slowly and with great discipline became a master carpenter.  Not true.  I spent about a month dressed in overalls, creating little more than sawdust before stopping to admire my tools with a self-congratulatory glass(es) of wine. And then I panicked and signed on with a temp agency to do mind-numbing office work.

Nina MacLaughlin carried out what I only fantasized about.  After spending much of her 20s working as a journalist in Boston she realized that somewhere along the line, the work that had once inspired her, had grown oppressive.  Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter is her memoir of what happened when she quit her desk job and traded in her cubicle and computer for a hammer, a tile saw and a 50lb bag of grout.

Picking up Hammer Head, I felt an immediate kinship and let’s face it- envy for MacLaughlin.  We share an enormous satisfaction in mastering a new tool and an appreciation for the unique history and warmth that radiates off of a freshly-sanded plank of wood. But by the end, it was her boss Mary that I fell in love with. It was Mary’s Craigslist ad: Carpenter’s Assistant: Women strongly encouraged to apply, that started MacLaughlin’s journey.  Not much of a talker, Mary offered only the simplest instruction and encouragement (“Be smarter than the tools”), but abundant patience and quiet humor. McLaughlin's inspiring memoir is as much about her own leap of faith towards meaningful work, as it is a love letter to her straight shooting and unflappable mentor.

Oh why weren’t you in Portland in 2001, Mary?

 

Check out this list for more memoirs that will inspire you to follow your bliss.

Do you love urban fantasy? I do. I love that the stories are set in the real world with an action paced plots and supernatural beings. I connect better with a story if it’s set in our modern world. And if there is humourous dialogue-you’ve got me. I become a devoted fan!

Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series is at times so funny I can laugh for a full five minutes about a scene. The stories are pageturners with a mix of supernatural beings that are Nordic, Celtic, Native American, Roman or Greek gods. There are vampires, witches, and werewolves thrown in too.

The Iron Druid is Atticus Sullivan who lives in Tempe Arizona with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon when we first meet him in book one Hounded. The fact that the story is set in Tempe Arizona makes me giggle. Because then it is a nod to sunny noir.

The humor I love best in the series is in the discussions between Oberon and Atticus. There’s comic relief and diversion when Oberon and Atticus discuss snacks like sausage when they are worried about an upcoming battle. If you like your supernatural action story with a side of humor then you might love Iron Druid Chronicles series. I do.

cover image of alone in the kitchen with an eggplantFood is a lovely thing. Cooking and eating a meal can be one of the more pleasurable things in life, but if you're not sharing it with someone, it can feel like too much to bother. Though we are totally worth it, sometimes corners are cut and the end result can be a sad and pathetic excuse for a meal. Enter some hilarious accounts of What We Eat When We Eat Alone and other tomes like Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. These are full of often innovative recipes that occasionally work and frequently don't.

Did you know there are cookbooks just for one? My personal favorite is by Judith Jones. The Pleasures of Cooking for One will have you cover image of the pleasures of cooking for onerediscovering the joys of cooking, without the drudgery of having to consume what you just made for the whole of next week's lunches and dinners.  

book coverCookbooks are inspiring. At first...

They are tomorrow’s mouth watering meal, a party spread that blows your guests away, and the leftovers you can't wait to dive into. However, good intentions pave a nice road but don't often lead to dinner. Too often, grand culinary aspirations are set aside when the everyday interrupts best laid plans. Soon, tempting recipes morph into overdue fines and dinner is created from a sad game of refrigerator potpourri roullette. Sound familiar?

Enter Pati's Mexican Table.  With easy recipes, accessible ingredients, and lighter takes on classic dishes, Pati Jinich has written a Mexican cookbook for the aspiring Diana Kennedy in all of us (until we have the time to tackle the decades of her genius.) Repeatedly I’ve ventured back to Pati’s world for "chicken a la trash" (trust me, it’s a complete misnomer), black bean and plantain empanadas, simple salsas, and green rice. They’re quick, easy for a weeknight, and delicious.

 

The Slants is the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band. Our signature “Chinatown Dance Rock” has been featured by NPR, Conan O'Brien, HBO, and Time Magazine. We've performed at anime/comic conventions and schools; we've even performed inside a Multnomah County Library.

The band doesn’t shy away from our bold portrayal of Asian culture nor our love for geek culture and the arts: the “Misery” music video features footage from the steampunk martial arts Tai Chi epic; “You Make Me Alive” offers an ode to cosplay culture; and “Adopted” was a collaboration with high-flying aerial arts group, AWOL Dance Collective.

In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, here is a list of our band-approved Asian and Asian American works:

China Dolls by Lisa See

Set in the late 1930’s, China Dolls follows the lives of several Chinese American women who face the harsh reality of living as Asian American entertainers in a Chinatown. It’s stirring, exciting, and informative.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee

It's no secret that The Slants loves food, especially Asian food. Not only do we regularly publish food guides and have active Yelp accounts, but we also film our culinary adventures while on tour as well. Lee’s book is a perfect example of the band’s quest for the very best food around the world while combining humor, history, and personal stories.

Tai Chi Zero and its sequel, Tai Chi Hero (DVD)

For the last several years, The Slants have been collaborating with the Tai Chi martial arts trilogy by releasing several music videos alongside the films. The films feature a hilarious comic book feel while combining steampunk accessories, the Chen style of the martial art t'ai chi ch'uan, and an all-star cast including Tony Leung, Angelbaby, and Shu Qi.

No-No Boy by John Okada

Considered one of the most important Asian American novels, No-No Boy tells the story of a Japanese American in the Pacific Northwest after the internment camps. It’s the very first Japanese American novel ever written and gives a deep, inside look at the meaning of identity.

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

This is the memoir that provided the inspiration behind the well-loved television series. Packed with even more personal stories, the book is darker and dives more deeply into issues of assimilation, drugs, 90’s hip-hop culture, and food. Though Huang himself is often surrounded in controversy for his statements, there’s no doubt that his memoir provides a refreshing, important, and honest look at Asian American identity.

Other books that band members enjoy while on the road:

Ken Shima (lead vocals):

The Odyssey by Homer

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Tyler Chen (drums):

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman

The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Neil Strauss

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Music Business Hacks: The Daily Habits of the Self-Made Musician by Simon Tam

Simon “Young” Tam (bass):

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Hi-Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker by Eric Liu

American Born Chinese by Gene Leun Yang

Scott Pilgrim (Vol1-6) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

For more great recommendations, customized to your tastes, try My Librarian.

I first met my husband, Neil, when we were both working about a hundred hours a week in a fish cannery in southeastern Alaska. When the salmon slowed down and we had some free time, we loved to explore the island’s beautiful scenery. I was always desperate for sun, but he liked to linger in the dark, damp parts of the forest-- looking for mushrooms. I thought this was completely weird at the time, but I’ve since been converted and we’ve found lots of mushrooms together. I love to eat them, but I also love how I experience nature more deeply, and perhaps in the way that human beings are meant to experience nature, when I'm intent on finding something out in the wild. The forest floor leaps into detail you don’t ordinarily see unless you’re looking for just the kind of moss and pine needles that chanterelles seem to prefer.

We harvested these on private property that belonged to a friend, so we were allowed to get this many.Morel season is happening on Mount Hood right now, people! Please be safe-- some mushrooms are deadly. It’s best to start with an experienced mushroom-hunter. But if you’re ready to do some research of your own, check out this list of books recommended by my husband. Neil has thoroughly investigated the library’s collection, so I thought I’d share the fruits of his research with you.

 

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? bookjacketMy mom is getting up there in years and my siblings and I are learning first hand that there are lots of issues to deal with when you have an aging parent. As a welcome respite from all of the seriousness of trying to help my mom live out her years as best as possible, I’ve read Roz Chast’s wrenchingly honest and painfully funny graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant several times lately. But the book that is really helping me grapple with the issues of an aging parent is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.

Being Mortal bookjacketGawande, a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, explores how we make choices as we come near the end of our lives. He looks at the history, how our culture transitioned from caring for aged family members at home to putting them into nursing homes and assisted senior housing (and who knew that the first independent senior community was in Portland?). Gawande questions how modern medicine, which has been so successful in prolonging life, can also cause more suffering at the end of one's life. Wouldn’t it be better to help the elderly live out their lives in as comfortable and positive way as possible?

Or as Roz Chast says, "I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly "done," there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you became addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you've had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food, and the pills that don't do anything at all. Would that be so bad?"

That’s the end of life I want for my mom and everyone else when they get old and reading Being Mortal is helping me figure out how to help my mom get exactly that as she lives out her life.

Utopias Book Cover"Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things that enslave us."
- Guy Debord, from "Theses on Cultural Revolution"

Art has always served a precarious role when it comes to a radical and transformative politics.  Too often, even the most apparently revolutionary art ends up recuperated as market or museum-piece.  MIT Press' elegant 2009 collection Utopias assembles an historically broad (though almost exclusively western) swath of manifestoes, interventions and proscriptions toward utopian and revolutionary transformation.  Editor Richard Noble's introduction situates the power of these texts in their lurch toward a revolutionary horizon (that which is yet to come).  And while the collection is certainly an excellent introduction to many essential and revelatory broadsides and critiques, Noble can't help but find himself stuck in this ultimately unsatisfactory impasse, resulting in toothless assertions like "[the] utopian impulse is implicit in all art-making, at least in so far as one thinks that art addresses itself to the basic project of making the world better."

Nonetheless, the book itself is a formidable archive (ahem) of revolutionary texts (with the occasional negative dystopic warning - like snippets of Orwell's 1984).  Kicking off with an excerpt from Thomas More's Utopia and closing with a 2008 interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Adam Phillips, Utopias provides all kinds of known and unknown pleasures.  However, the collection - like Noble's introduction - reproduces the same cul-de-sac the bulk of the excerpts rail against.  At the end of the day, Utopias is another attractive museum catalog, producing weak whispers and disavowed reminders of something far more scandalous, unattractive and untameable.

As supplement and tonic, I'll close with a sentence from an excellent piece on Occupy and art from 2012, co-written by Jaleh Mansoor, Daniel Marcus and Daniel Spaulding:

"Art’s usefulness in these times is a matter less of its prefiguring a coming order, or even negating the present one, than of its openness to the materiality of our social existence and the means of providing for it."

Of course, much of how and when this works is up to us.
 

When my sons were in grade school I used to buy special birthday cake candles, the  kind that immediately re-light after they’ve been blown out. I got a bigger kick out of them than the kids!  I still love the uncertainty of  these candles. Will they relight or won’t they?  I love the surprise, the appearance of somehow defying the laws of nature.

I look for that kind of surprise in books too, those rare books that surprise me with their unpredictability, their innovative writing style or ideas.  I love a book that leaves me breathless. On the outside I get up, go to work, cook dinner, make conversation -  but on the inside, the ideas of that book have lit up my mind and just when I think I have let go of one idea, whoosh - another pops up burning brighter than the first.

Depths by Henning Mankell  was one such book.  I loved his Wallander mystery series, but when I saw Depths I was reluctant to pick it up.               

The book jacket, two shades of gloomy gray, and the blurb on the inside cover about a Swedish military officer who is hired  to sound out the depths of the ocean bottom around the Swedish archipelagos, was dreary and uninteresting.  But one day  I was so starved for something different to read, I opened to the first page.

Whoosh... it opens with a woman escaping from an insane asylum on a dark rain-swept night, remembering as if in a dream that once she had a husband: Swedish Naval officer Lars Tobiasson-Svartmann, a man whose compartmentalized emotions threaten to drown him…Whoosh - he sleeps with his sounding equipment like a security blanket to calm his anxieties...Whoosh…physically, he sounds the depths of the ocean but emotionally he is sounding himself...Whoosh...he finds a solitary woman living on one of the archipelagos and Whoosh...400 pages later I come to the surface, like a fish, gasping for air.

 If you live for unexpected, the amazement of realizing that you are about to be lit up with unforeseen wonder, read Depths by Henning Makell.  Whoosh…                                         

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 

 

Space Tourism ArtworkFor many of us, the most imposing barrier to joining the growing ranks of space tourists has been cost. When Dennis Tito made his eight-day flight back in 2001, you could get in on a ride for around $20 million. That was the going rate for about the first six years before the price inevitably began to skyrocket to its current rate of roughly $40 million. But you know what’s been holding me back? The lack of coffee. Well, not just any coffee -- I’m talking espresso. How do you get a truly great cup of espresso while you’re circling the globe in a weightlessness condition?Espresso in space photo

Well, after reading Wednesday’s New York Times, I learned that that great hurdle has now been cleared. Samantha Cristoforetti, who also happens to be the first Italian woman to travel in space, just became the first person to successfully brew and enjoy an authentic Italian-style espresso in space.

Two developments made this feat possible: The 44-pound ISSpresso machine and the microgravity coffee cup. The fact that the machine weighs 44 pounds really isn’t a problem in space and the cup allows astronauts and space tourists to enjoy their drink pretty much as they would back on Earth.

So what’s holding me back now? Well … I’m still saving for that ticket and hoping that increased ridership will bring down the cost!

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