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.

Raising my son, Elan, has been a truly educational experience (also fun, scary, hard, or easy depending on what stage he and I happened to be in at the time). In some ways, he has qualities that remind me of myself and there are other parts that seem directly attributable to his dad. And then there are other things that are totally and uniquely his. One of those is his love of performing and specifically making hip hop music. I am simply in awe of Elan - he has been able to "work a crowd" since he was in middle school and his live performances have only become more and more inspiring over the years.

I’ve been asked to find books on hip-hop for numerous patrons so I decided to have a list of the best books on this subject ready for the next time I’m asked.  I thought Elan would be my best source for coming up with a definitive list from the MCL catalog and in the course of formulating his list, he also wrote a brief essay on how he developed his love for hip-hop music.

Guest blogger Elan: From casual listener to hip-hop addict

When I first began listening to hip-hop at around eight, my drive may have been to distance myself from my parents’ music: The Beatles, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc. My classmates were discovering that the radio contained a station that played exactly what they wanted - the mainstream rap of the late 90s. These were good days.

Blazing Arrow It cannot be understated how much of an effect our peers truly have during adolescence. Three of my friends were making the leap from listener to participant and between rapping, beat making, and DJing, they had half the elements of hip-hop covered by sixth grade. A pivotal album was heard that year, Blazing Arrow, by the duo Blackalicious. We were blown away by the originality, the musicality of Chief Excel's production, Gift of Gab's insane lyrical dexterity, and the cohesiveness of the album itself. After only a single listen, we knew that contributing to this art form would be a life-long love affair.

In high school, making music became our escape from the mundane curriculum we were subjected to. It became my only creative outlet as we began putting on local shows for Can't Stop Won't Stopour peers. Although I was actively seeking out new artists to enjoy and learn from, my hip-hop education came from Vursatyl and Rev. Shines of the Portland hip-hop trio, The Lifesavas. Vursatyl and Shines held an afterschool class at Jefferson High School called You Must Learn. That's when I began studying the rich history of this culture. Books like Jeff Chang’s, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, and the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, helped me realize how BIG this thing we call Hip-Hop truly is.

These days I’m still making music, still reading, still putting on local shows, and I’m harnessing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment through my work with the non-profit, The Morpheus Youth Project.

If you’d like to do your own exploration of hip-hop culture, check out some of these books.

Salt by Mark Kurlansky is about the history and uses of salt. Today salt is cheap and easy to buy, but it was not always so. The ancient Chinese developed salt production and financed much of their government through salt taxes. If you can control salt, you can control much more. The British had a firm grip on India's salt which is why Gandhi staged a salt march as a protest. If you like history and politics you will enjoy Salt.
 
Salt book jacketSalt can do much more than make food taste good, it also can preserve food. Before the 20th century and refrigeration, salt was widely used as a preservative.  The history of salted food was my favorite part of the book. Read Salt and you may find yourself making sauerkraut.
 
Salt production is fascinating. It was needed, rare and valuable. Its value led to many creative methods of production. Most of the methods involve evaporation. Some salt is mined. Many different ways have been used over time. The end result is many kinds of salt for different uses. There is more to salt than table or sea salt.
 
This is a fun and enjoyable book. It has remained popular for over 10 years. The reason I waited so long to read it was I never thought salt could be interesting.

Two of the books I’ve read this year involve travel by unusual vehicles.

In the thoughtful The Man with the Compound Eyes Atile'i lives on the imaginary and fastastical island of Wayo Wayo, where second sons are exiled into the sea, never to return, and probably to die. Atile'i washes up on a floating island of garbage — the non-imaginary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rendered fantastically stable enough to support a young man. He has no words for the things that carry him — he has never seen a plastic bag, or a plastic toy, or a plastic anything. The gyre carries him to Taiwan, to an eroding coast and a woman who cannot accept several of the cornerstones of her reality, including the fact that her house is falling into the sea.

In the much poppier Shovel Ready our hero Spademan is a hitman. Generally his hits are simple, because in his world most of the people spend their lives in wired sarcophagi, their consciousness moving through a sophisticated virtual reality (the ‘limnosphere’) while their bodies lie fallow. Spademan eschews this escape, living in the concrete world made miserable by a series of dirty bombs. However, before the book is over he has to travel into the limnosphere himself — and finds it has miseries of its own.  

Check out some other books with unique modes of travel in the list My other car is a….

(Image from Le Voyage de M. Dumollet by Albert Robida.)
 

Photo of figures reading trivia questions from booksAs a child, my favorite toy and tireless trivia companion was a robot named 2-XL.  Ok, he was actually an 8-track player, shaped like a robot and designed by the Mego Toy Corporation to ask trivia and then offer up scripted retorts based upon my answer.  We spent many rainy afternoons testing my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s batting average and who exactly is buried in Grant’s Tomb. You know, the kind of thing all third graders ought to know.

I still love trivia, but nowadays I discover it in reading, rather than memorizing 8-track recordings.  There are some books brimming with so many fascinating facts, I have to put them down momentarily to share. In 2-XL's absence, my husband provides a patient ear but what these books really ought to have is their very own trivia night dedicated to them.  

Does a ‘mouche’ worn on a man's left cheek in 1790s England reflect his political leanings as a Whig or a Tory?

When filming Sometimes a Great Notion on the Oregon Coast, which local beer did Paul Newman consider to be 'the closest substitute' for his beloved Coors?

Can you name the feather-friendly fashion designer who created the original costumes for the ongoing Las Vegas review 'Jubilee!'?

Already know the correct answers?  

To quote my old pal 2-XL: "It is amazing that big brain of yours fits into the head of a child. Nice answer.”

Discover the answers to these trivia questions and more with books on this list.

After checking out more cookbooks than any one can realistically get through, I’ve acquired a fair number of repeatable recipes. I wanted to share these finds in the event that you too have gotten bored of your usual go-to’s. These cookbooks have more to offer than just one recipe, but here’s what lured me into the kitchen:

L.A. Son book jacketKorean-inspired Dumplings from L.A. Son by Roy Choi: Well-seasoned (garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot pepper powder), and meaty (tofu, beef, and pork), these pot stickers taste revelatory. Double the recipe and freeze some for later!

Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots and Fingerling Potatoes from 150 Things to Make With Roast Chicken, and 50 Ways to Roast It by Tony Rosenfeld: There are so few ingredients and so much flavor packed in this recipe. I love that you get a main entree and a side dish all in one.

Kidney Bean Masala from The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester: In this recipe, boring ole kidney beans get transformed intoGreat Vegan Bean Book book jacket a delicious garlicky, gingery curry.

Chandra Malai Kofta from Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz: Crispy zucchini-chickpea patties are added to a creamy curry sauce. Even if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making kofta, make the sauce and add roasted cauliflower. Just do it.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book jacketMushroom Lasagna from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: When I need a shake-up from macaroni and cheese, I have to make this white sauce lasagna. No boil lasagna noodles never got so fancy.

Stay tuned for my next installment toward the end of the year. I’ll lug more cookbooks home and try them out so you don’t have to!

 

I'm a library geek, so of course I was disappointed when  someone in the press asked Michelle Obama if she and Barack still read to Sasha and Malia at bedtime, and she replied, “No-- the girls are old enough to read their own books themselves now."  The Obama girls were about 8 and 11 at the time.  I know that the President and his wife are very busy, and they seem to be pretty wonderful parents, but I was still a little sad.

Working in the library, I am often asked to help parents find books to start with when their children are ready to begin listening to chapter books. And don't get me wrong, I'm very enthusiastic about Charlotte's Web and The Boxcar Children. But I'm always especially excited to get a question about read-alouds for older children, kids who are at least 8 or 9 years old. Reading to older kids is a great way to keep your bond with them strong, and it's so much fun! They get the jokes. They're more able to feel compassion for the characters, to follow an intricate plot, to feel surprised by what happens, more likely to be moved and delighted by a story in the same exact way that you are, which is such a pleasure. 

I basically decided to have children so that I could read to them, and reading books together has been a deep and sustained joy, just as good as I imagined it would be. My younger child, who is 10, still lets me read to him if I find something that grabs him right from the start. I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to him just last night. This rollicking little book features the following: a brilliant, time-traveling scientist who is also a stegosaurus; pirates, vampires, a volcano, snotlike green aliens with a penchant for redecorating new planets, and two innocent children who are in desperate need of something to pour over their cereal at breakfast. At one point, we were laughing so hard that if we’d been drinking milk, it would have squirted out our nostrils. We laughed so hard that we cried.  I couldn’t read the next line until we settled down after a full five minutes of helpless laughter-- at which point, we started all over again. When I thought of it this morning, I started laughing out loud in the shower.

It won't last forever, but reading books at bedtime has been a wonderful thing to share with my kids. Here’s a list of great read-alouds for you to enjoy with the not-so-little children in your life.

 

ThrillersA dark and stormy night. A toppled lamp with an outstretched hand lying on the floor by its base. A knock on the door when you are least expecting it. All of these elements can add to a great thriller. I have been reading thrillers for more years than I care to count. I devour them. I do branch out and read other types of books, but I am always drawn back to the thriller. As it says in my My Librarian profile, I like it when bad things happen, but I prefer them to stay on the page. Sometimes I wonder, why is that?

Perhaps spending my childhood reading through every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden mystery sparked my interest. Aside from a brief foray into science fiction and vampire lit (a requirement for every teen, I've come to believe), I stuck with suspense. As I got older, the books only got darker, more intriguing, and, yes, sometimes a bit violent. I'm a pretty perky person by nature, and sometimes folks are surprised to hear that I most enjoy reading about terrible things happening to people. I just figure that I get to relieve all of my dark tendencies on the pages of my books, and that leaves room in my heart and my head to enjoy the life that surrounds me!

If you've never given thrillers a chance, might I be tempted to persuade you? If you like to become attached to a character, you are not alone. Series thrillers are abundant, and allow you, dear reader, to become involved with the often colorful cast of characters. Seeing as it is summertime, why not start a new series, preferably read by flashlight in your backyard tent late at night.

 

Tell it like it Tiz!This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center.  I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!


I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic of children’s literature, and as such, I feel a little guilty admitting I’ve never read it. It’s true. I felt even more so and a bit foolish when I finally got around to reading The Making of a Marchioness. It seems wrong to have ignored such a charming story for so long. It is a Cinderella story for grown ups. I can’t quite believe I’m championing Cinderella for adult women, but there you are. I think perhaps that particular fairy tale gets a bad wrap. I’m a feminist, I get it, but there are times in a grown woman’s life that call for just that (I know because I’m having one just now).

cover image of the making of a marchionessEmily Fox-Setton is a strong capable woman in her own right who has her default set to happy. She is a character you can admire and one for whom you wish all good things. It may not be politically correct, but it does have the power to make you forget you’ve been working as hard as a scullery maid yourself and only just making it. Yes, it is a love story and yes she essentially becomes a kept woman. Is it a practical or wise thing? No, possibly not. But it makes her exquisitely happy while it lasts, and let’s admit it...it is nice to have things taken care of once in a while. There is nothing wrong with a happy ending, and when you can’t quite pull one off in real life—try fiction, it’s easier.

Buffalo SoldiersToday I wanted to showcase the prolific versatility of the great storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. Known primarily for his mystery and suspense novels including the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and his Hap and Leonard  series, the consistently entertaining East Texas author started out writing in every other genre, mainly horror, sci-fi, and Weird Westerns. I champion writers who continue to create the short story and Lansdale is a master of the form, using its limitations to sharpen his reliable trademarks of great dialogue, suspense, irony, violence, humor, and diverse, breathable characters.  His novella Bubba Ho-Tep  was adapted into a hilarious film starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis.  

 As of this post Multnomah County Library has over 130 materials featuring his words. They include seven graphic novels, twenty-one digital titles (two are e-book only), one young adult novel, and his stories are featured in no less than fifty-eight  anthologies, four as editor. It was difficult to choose which type of booklist I was going to compile for this post, as there are so many wells to siphon in his body of work. In my opinion, Lansdale perfected the Weird Western tale and I highlighted his offerings in an earlier blog post and booklist(s). His mystery-suspense canon would take up at least four to five lists so I decided to show MCL’s collection of his horror tales and comic scriptsContains "The Nightrunners"

No matter the setting, characters, plot, or pace, Lansdale writes with a blazing, maverick style and he will make sure you get your money’s worth. But his narratives aren’t cheap, lazy, or hacky, his characters you can relate to whether you love or hate them. He is a breed of storyteller that you want spinning yarns by the campfire on a spooky wilderness night or one that reminds you of a vibrant, jolly uncle who always has a tale at the ready. Buy the ticket and explore them all, his imagination has a selection for all readers.  

 

 

rook book cover

 

Ever wake up and feel... different?

Myfanwy (pronounced like "Tiffany" with an "M") Thomas knows the feeling.  Waking in the rain with black eyes and bruises, she has no memory. Is this the plot of the best Lifetime movie you've never seen starring former Saved by the Bell starlet, Lark Voorhies?  Sadly, no. However, thanks to a recommendation via twitter during a reading rut it’s the main character in Daniel O'Malley's The Rook , one of the most fun and engaging books I’ve read in the past six months.

 

Armed with an envelope of instructions, Myfanwy learns three things about her former self:

1. Someone is trying to kill her.   

2. Things are not always what they seem

3. She works for a secret organization dealing with the supernatural

Part thriller, mystery, and Ghostbusters, The Rook is an addictive adventure.  The more Myfawny delves into her former self, the more complicated life becomes as she exposes corruption and herself to the person who’d love to see her dead. Myfany's fate is in her hands.  If she wants to live, she better make some quick decisions .

Dear Summer Vacation,

What is it about you that makes my children bound out of bed at 6:00 a.m., ready for action and aiming their destructive laser beams at any hilariously misguided idea I had for a few minutes of extra sleep? School Year never did that. 

All is entropy and my house looks like that not-so-mythical gyre of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean: Nerf darts, boomerangs, water balloons, molecule models, yo-yos, pieces of Risk and Stratego and little Monopoly houses and those dastardly Danish blocks I fully expect will one day require surgical extraction from one or both my feet. 
 
And the sopping wet piles of clothing and towels--what's up with that, Summer V.? My children don't even bother with swimsuits any more. Because they're not going swimming. At some point during the day, every day, they just go outside and turn the hoses on one another while fully clothed. Because they can. Because of you, Summer Vacation.
 
Of course you have your good points, S. V. You've got your trips away, and dinner on the grill almost every night (mostly, it must be said, because the cook can park her rear in a lawn chair outside with a book and ignore the screaming children in the house), and ice cream, and that holiday with its permissions to play with fire and blow things up. Hello, sticky s'mores and raspberries growing in the backyard and fuzzy bumblebees in the lavender.
 
If I had any skills in photography I would take pictures before you get away again, Summer Vacation. There are a million books I could read, but looking at pictures seems the right thing to do now, while the sun shines and gifts us all with extra daylight. Here are a few recommendations should you find yourself in an Adirondack chair under a leafy tree with a tall glass of iced tea (or, like me, caught between a grill of burning hot dogs and a leaking half-full kiddie pool soup of toys and grass and dead or dying insects while holding someone's drippy purple popsicle):
 
Summer Food book jacketSummer Food: New summer classics by Paul Lowe is that rare cookbook--photography gorgeous in its own right, with the added bonus of recipe after delicious-sounding recipe. The recipes are simple and straightforward without a bunch of strange "where the hell do I get that and what is it anyway" ingredients. I want to make almost everything in this book. But even if I never do, the pictures are enough. Just don't eat the book. I'll want to check it out again.
 
This Is the Day: The March on Washington is a striking photo-essay by Leonard Freed documenting the historic March for Jobs and This is the Day book jacketFreedom on August 28, 1963 which included the "I Have a Dream" speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial that day. Freed's images seem illuminated from within by a moral beauty and the human dignity so central to the civil rights movement. This book is not about Dr. King or his speech or famous events but about the ocean of ordinary people who marched in peace for justice and ultimately carried the day and the movement.
 
Once Upon a Playground book jacketOnce Upon a Playground: A celebration of classic American playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo is a time capsule. Careful: you may be transported to that park that you could walk to by yourself when you were nine, the one with the giant metal rocket you could climb. This book is a visual tribute to the iconic play structures rapidly vanishing from the collective cultural landscape. The book juxtaposes contemporary photos of structures along with vintage catalog advertisements, postcards and photographs of the same structures. The result is a ride on a haunted merry-go-round.
 
I can't decide whether I want you to spin faster or slow down, Summer Vacation. Just don't ever disappear.

Will Cuppy'Just when you're beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.' Will Cuppy is a master of the written word. Now, maybe your family doesn't put sugar on their sliced tomatoes. But if they do, like mine, then you understand the genius of this quote. 

Never heard of Will Cuppy? Allow me to introduce you. An American humorist and journalist, Cuppy was best-known for his mock-scientific observations of nature. Born in 1884 in Indiana, Cuppy lived and wrote for many years in New York, before taking his own life in 1949. Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books, including How to Attract the Wombat, one of my personal favorites. I mean, who doesn't want to know how to swat a fly? This book will tell you just that, in an article in which Cuppy codifies the essentials of this simple activity in ten hilarious principles. These articles are not necessarily factual though they are equally not untrue. Cuppy writes short, darkly humorous articles, perfect for when one only has a few minutes to read, and needs a laugh. We also read them out loud in our house, and that is real hoot!

Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, but he had many friends in New York's literary circles. If you are a fan of writings from the golden age of humor (late 1920's-early 1950's), writers such as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman, then I urge you to seek out Will Cuppy's works. Multnomah County Library owns several, and our friendly staff is always available to help you locate more Will Cuppy via Interlibrary Loan. Happy reading!

 

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Book cover: The Disappearing Spoon

A while back I told all ya’ll about The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane. Loved it. It inspired me to order up a poster of the periodic table and stick it on my living room wall, thinking that if it was in front of my eyeballs, there may be some passive absorption. It kinda worked--I learned the noble gases, but really it was just the pressure of a pub trivia team that inspired that. Still I want to understand this stuff at a level higher than my C in high school chemistry.

In an effort to up my game I watched Hunting the Elements by PBS/NOVA. I’ll be honest, based on the boring cover, my hopes were not terribly high. It was ~amazing~. One dude actually made a wooden periodic table, the size of a real dining room table, and gave each element its own little compartment.  If I had that in my house I could pick up and hold a sample of molybdenum. Super cool and very practical. There are enough violent explosions and deadly gases throughout to keep things lively, plus who wouldn’t love to see how gold bricks are made?

Book cover, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements

The book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements,  is essentially a field guide, just two pages per element--one a color picture of the element and the other its most interesting info. Platinum, for example, is a precious metal used all the time in jewelry, as we know, but it’s also essential in your car’s catalytic converter.

So, in my expert opinion as an armchair science girl, I think anyone with an interest would love the dvd. Have a kid who loves kitchen-science experiments? Watch it with them. But also, anyone who may struggle with a chemistry class in the near future might like both in combination. Perhaps even as a preemptive strike at understanding before the struggle begins. Seeing and hearing info in a different way can make a huge, helpful difference . It certainly did for me.

 

        1. You can be as brave as the pioneers. Those hearty, independent people didn’t shy away from the sometimes elusive, convoluted language of the Bard. In fact they often packed it right next to that other elusive convoluted book, the Bible.

       2. You can amaze your friends and confuse your enemies by the brilliance of your insults. Instead of shouting out F*** you when you are nearly sideswiped on your bike you can calmly cry out “Hast thou never an eye in thy head?” (Henry IV, pt.1 )  

...Or maybe your roommate eats the last piece of your favorite pie- you shake your fist and bellow:                                        

“Thou elvish mark’d, abortive rooting hog”(Richard III) and walk dismissively away.

 3. You can gracefully free yourself of all that anger directed against the teachers who made you hate Shakespeare. Perhaps some teacher made them hate it too.

 4. Shakespeare is packed with the excitement and adventure of human passion. His stories breathe with as much energy and meaning as when they were written 300 years ago. Sure, the language can be a challenge, but remember they ARE plays - meant to be seen and experienced. Try the many film representations - especially those by the BBC. Or for a more complete experience, watch a play performed live.

 So go ahead.  Read Shakespeare. You might just wonder why you waited so long.

 

           

                                                  

 

Sometimes children do horrible things. Sometimes children are horrible things. Well, in fiction, at any rate.

In Mike Carey’s new book, The Girl with All the Gifts, the titular girl is one of those horrible ones. But she doesn’t know it, at least not at the beginning of the novel.

Melanie spends most of her life alone in a cell. Every weekday morning she is bound by soldiers that handle her with prods and cuffs, then take her to a schoolroom full of similarly restrained children. There Melanie, with her voracious and brilliant mind, learns a great deal about the world that used to be. Her favorite lessons are from her beloved teacher Miss Justineau, who teaches her about the Greek myths.

Slowly Melanie learns that her life is the way it is for a good reason. At first she cannot believe she is so dangerous, but she bravely, impressively, does accept it. In fact, she practically embraces it, using her power to protect the one person she loves.

Carey has created an ultra-compelling story of a lovable fiend. For other stories with really, really bad children check out the list My beloved monster.

Book Jacket: How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia by Mohsin HamidJust as often as I judge a book by its cover, I judge it by its title.  I love a title that hints at irony and leaves me thinking- "well that can't really be what the book is about."  Sometimes my curiosity is rewarded with a really great story.

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is one of the most delightful and original books I’ve read in recent memory. Cleverly presented as a self-help book, author Mohsin Hamid lays out each chapter as a step to becoming filthy rich in an unnamed Asian country. The second-person narrative immediately drawns you into the story, but when step three: Don’t Fall in Love, proves impossible to adhere to, you may find yourself asking, as Hamid does:

“Is getting filthy rich still your goal above all goals, your be-all and end-all, the mist-shrouded high-altitude spawning pond to your inner salmon?”

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is indeed a book about crazy rich Asians. Chinese American Rachel Chu, has no idea her low-key boyfriend of two years, Nick Young is one of Book Jacket: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin KwanAsia’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelors when she agrees to accompany him home to Singapore for the summer.

Once in Singapore, hilarious stories of excess, evil bridesmaids, scheming mothers, couture catfights and the most over-the-top wedding imaginable ensue. This book is crazy fun reading and delivers all the glamour of the Jackie Collin’s novels I devoured off my mom’s bookshelf as a teen.  But it's not all superficial fluff inside this gold cover: Crazy Rich Asians is also a reflection on family, tradition, and the things in life worth fighting for. If that doesn't appeal to you, the mouth-watering descriptions of Singapore street food ought to.  It's not always about the money.

June is weddings and honeymoons, summer camps and vacations; time to get ready for life in the future or step back from the life you are living.

Journeys are begun that can lead to escape from the mundane. Dorothy Gilman of Mrs. Pollifax fame offers three works that could be travelogues due to the exquisite descriptions of culture and country off the tourist path. Yet they are also explorations of the inner terrain, the place where we really are when we know who we are.

Incident at Badamya book jacketIncident at Badamya is set in war-torn Burma in the 1950’s. Europeans traveling the river Irrawaddy are kidnapped and held for ransom by freedom fighters/terrorists. Enter sixteen-year-old Gen Ferris. Born and reared in Burma, she is newly orphaned and on her way to an America which she knows only from movie magazines. Dangerously innocent, relentlessly honest she is a catalyst for change. Masks are ripped off, dark secrets come to light as the detainees plot and plan their escape. The reader learns anew that ‘to thine own self be true’ is the magic in the real world.

Uncertain Voyage and Caravan complete the trio. Find yourself in 1960’s Europe, newly divorced and diagnosed with mental disease. Or take a journey across the Sahara sands as a slave in the early days of WWI. Both are worthy companions for long, lazy days full of lemonade or margaritas, whichever is your preference.

I just started reading romance novels a few years ago.  I wanted to be able to help readers find romance titles more easily.  Now when I want to find an escape through reading I find myself looking for a good regency romance with witty dialogue.  Or I am looking for a contemporary romance with a strong female character.  I find though that supernatural romances can be a big escape from real life. That's when I look for a romance with vampires, immortal highlanders or witches.  This list has romances for everyone that can be steamy or mild. Hopefully you find something here that will make pull your heart strings!

I was practically sobbing last summer as I scrubbed away eleven years worth of smudges and fingerprints on the walls of a hallway leading down to my basement. Not because I don’t especially enjoy housework, or because it's hard getting a house ready to sell when you've lived in it for a long time with a rather slovenly family, or because the prospect of finding a new house to buy was stressful, although all those things are true. My face was wet with tears because a character I’d come to love in my audio book had met a terribly sad end. When my husband, who was doing some other chore, passed by on his way to the basement and gave me a quizzical look, I flopped back my hair to show him my headphones, and he nodded. 

I'm too busy-- just like everyone else in the 21st Century, right?--but I have to have books in my life, not only because they matter to me, but because staying on top of what’s happening in the world of books is part of my job. Audio books have been my secret weapon. I can read on the way to Trader Joe's, while I make fish tacos for dinner, while I get the exercise that is so important to my mood, while I clean up the clutter in my house. 

I resisted audio books for awhile. The experience is, admittedly, different from reading a “real” book. And I tend to try to save things that are deeper or more complex for reading on an actual printed page. But some books are actually better in audio. I always feel a little sad for people who are checking out David Sedaris' printed books at the library, because I love them so much in Sedaris’s very unique voice. And listening to Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman is an absolutely lovely experience. Her current English accent is very pleasant to listen to, but sometimes in the course of the story, she uses the accent she had in her working class, Northern English childhood, which is hilarious. Libba Bray’s The Diviners is set in 1920s New York City, and the voice actor does an astonishing job with a wide variety of characters. There's a showgirl who sounds a lot like Mae West, and the main character sounds a little like Gracie Allen. The reader's narration brings an already wonderful book to life and makes it even better. And did you know that there’s an audio book of Graham Greene’s romantic, moody novel, The End of the Affair that is read by Colin Firth? Come on. Colin Firth speaking right into your ears. This could make even cleaning out the cat box a transcendent experience. If you enjoy audio books and want ideas for a new one to listen to, take a look at some lists I made. There's one for young adult fiction, one for adult fiction, and one list of great audio books that are read by the author. And please-- let me know if there are more good books in our collection that you think are better in the audio version.

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