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.

A Collection of Essays book jacketYou’ve probably noticed that much of what is said does not actually say anything. Yes there are words, but they are vague enough to mean anything or nothing. George Orwell also noticed and he wrote an essay in 1945 called "Politics and the English Language". The problem, he says, is lazy writing which often is just a bunch of worn out phrases strung together. Orwell says when our writing is sloppy it is easier for us to have foolish thoughts. It also makes it possible to dance around an issue without committing ourselves. He calls for writing that is clear and concise, where we are aware of the meaning.

Give Orwell’s essays a try. You will be treated to some fine writing and great arguments. I hope you will enjoy his essays as much as I have. They should help you develop the critical tools needed to evaluate if what you are hearing or reading makes sense or is nonsense.

All Art is Propaganda and A Collection of Essays contain "Politics and the English Language" and are available at Multnomah County Library.

Thrillers and series are not exactly my thing, but I was swayed by the common themes in The Expats and The Accident by Chris Pavone: who can you trust and what happens when secrets are revealed, as they always are…

cover image of the expats


Imagine yourself keeping secrets from your spouse. Now imagine that secret was in fact your day job. Makes things a bit more complicated right? Consider that while you have been lying to your husband about how you earn a living, perhaps he has been hiding some things from you as well? Now take the setting out of the USA and make it some rainy European city like Luxembourg or Paris. Still with me?

Once that mess has been settled, you make a brief appearance in another story (but only figure in it as a minor character). The main players in this one? An author, a publisher, and a who's hunting who scenario.

cover image of the accident

I was hooked on audio for both of these. Normally I drift peacefully off to sleep while listening, but I found myself still awake at the end of the disc and getting up to put in the next one. So much for my relaxing bedtime ritual. No need to read them in order, they stand alone.


"There are these things and they
are da kine to me. They are the tear.
The torn circle.
There are these things and they are
the circle malformed, pulled tight
in one place. These things are the
symbol of all not being right. They
are da kine for me.
Da kine for me is the moment when
things extend beyond you and me
and into the rest of the world. It is
the thing.
Like two who love each other
breaking eye contact and coming
out of that love and back into the conversation " (p. 8)
Cover of Spahr Aloha Book

"That Winter the Wolf Came" - Julianna Spahr's recently published collection of thoughtful and painful interrogations against capitalism - is unfortunately not currently available through Multnomah County Library.  We do however have a copy of "Fuck You, Aloha, I Love You," her mesmerizing
book of poems from 2001.
The poems in "Fuck You, Aloha, I Love You" generate a never-ending series of questions and tensions, pitting the cost and construction of selves (most assuredly not as specific indicators of psychological depth) within the coordinates of location/place.  But the selves in these poems are never transcendent, never reified - barring those collisions when the determinate conditions of history and capital freeze us in frightening, dead, and/or emptied moments.  

As the title suggests, most of these encounters and repetitions occur in Hawai'i, where Spahr was living and teaching at the time the book was being written.  Spahr's poems are tricky (but never clever-tricky) in the way they reveal aesthetic structures that are doubled in the
structures of Hawai'i as political geography.  Spahr elicits Hawai'i's ongoing history of  violent colonialism without reducing the conflicts and tensions to an outsider's appreciation of the "local" or within a liberal's plea for empathy for the other.

"We want this story, our personal
story, to tell this story:

It is late at night and we lean over
and kiss, our one head one way
and our other head another way,
and stick our tongues in our
mouths and it feels strange this
way, top of tongue on top of
tongue." (p.85)

I have finally found my answer to the question, “what author, from any time period, would you want to invite to a dinner party?” My answer is Shirley Jackson.Shirley Jackson, The Lottery bookjacket

I'll always remember the visceral feeling of reading Jackson's amazing short story, "The Lottery" (And if you haven't read that story yet, read it now. Or listen to Shirley Jackson read it to you.). Her memoirs, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, are totally entertaining. The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are wonderfully creepy. And now there's a lovely new collection of her writing, Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings.

Let Me Tell You bookjacketAnd boy do I want Shirley Jackson to tell me things. I would like her to regale me with her short stories. I wish she could talk to me about the craft of writing. If only she would join me at my dinner table and describe her daily, rather surreal, home life. Let Me Tell You is a collection of her short stories, domestic humor pieces, and essays - many of them never published. There are even some of Jackson's witty little line drawings.

Alas, since there shall be no dinner with Shirley (she died at the too-young age of 48) I will have to be satisfied with Let Me Tell You.

I am fast approaching the age where women are considered invisible. I have noticed in the last 10 years or so that I am invisible. It’s a relief because I received a lot of street harassment over the years. Question is have you ever wanted to be invisible?

What if you didn’t want to be invisible and you were? That’s what happens to Clover Hobart. One morning she wakes up and she is invisible. It doesn’t help that she is 55-plus woman and already invisible in society’s eyes. Even her family is oblivious to the fact that she is invisible. The only one who notices is her best friend, who tries to help Clover in her non-visible adventures.

Calling Invisible Women is a clever and hilarious book by Jeanne Ray. It’s a thought-provoking look at women of a certain age in our society. Sometimes it takes a touch of magic to open our eyes.

The weather is starting to cool down, kids are back in school, leaves are falling from the trees. It’s fall! My favorite season. Favorite not so much because of the gorgeous cool weather and the explosion of fall colors, but because fall equals my favorite holiday. Halloween! The costumes and parties, the Halloween decorations, the haunted houses, the corn mazes, the pumpkin patches. I love it all!
Trick 'r Treat DVD coverFor me, Halloween is a month long celebration that I like to kick off by watching one of my all time favorite horror flicks, Trick 'r Treat. This anthology of five Halloween themed horror stories opens with a suburban husband and wife getting ready for Halloween night. The husband loves the holiday while the wife detests it and can’t wait for the night to be over. She later pays for her wanton disregard for Halloween traditions in the most gruesome way. The tales that follow include the story of a murderous school principal, a terrible and terrifying high school prank, a college virgin who meets the man that she has been waiting for, and a cantankerous Halloween hating man who enjoys scaring away trick-or-treaters. This collection of horror stories at first seem fairly disconnected except for one common element, a creepy child-like character wearing grubby orange pajamas and a burlap sack over its head. So, horror fans and holiday ghouls, grab a friend, pop some popcorn (or bake a batch of pumpkin seeds) and cozy up for this delicious Halloween horror treat. 

We are such a serious people. Eavesdrop on one of today's conversations, and it goes something like this:

"I never listen to the news, it's always bad." 

"You are so right!"

"The middle class is disappearing, climate change is accelerating, and in-filling is destroying my neighborhood."

"The final blow for me personally? They went and cancelled Leverage!"

Whoo-sah! Can I have a time out?

Like Ron Weasley said, "Why is it always spiders? Why can't it ever be butterflies?"

Here are a few of my Calgon, take me away faves...

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling is set in an apocolytic Northwest centered on Portland, Corvallis and the foothills of the central Willamette Valley. Why pike around with worrying about the end of life as we know it? Stirling drops you headfirst into a tale of survival that will shiver your bones while delighting you with crafty Oregonians who have the last laugh on civilization. Spoiler note: the Lord of the Rings trilogy is featured.

Gideon the Cutpurse is all about imagination, loyalty and friendship. When did we as adults forget that funny and stupid are not synonymous? Might it not be fun to move out of your comfort zone, stretch your capabilities, and maybe discover a new you?

This list contains names that make me smile. Because when the good guys blow stuff up and win, the universe is in balance. To get in the mood, I just suspend the social training that says this world is a awful place and wait for the one-liner that says 'You're adorable!'

Awkward book jacketAh, back to school! The crisp fall days, football on Friday nights, challenging classes, and the absolute terror of starting at a new school! I switched from public to private school in 8th grade and, fortunately for me, the students were really friendly and welcoming.  I bonded with a couple of girls right away over soccer and disco, and even though our main teacher was a bit intimidating, I managed to get along with her despite being sent to the library for talking to a pal during a boring film.

Penelope (aka Peppi) has a pretty rough start when she begins classes at a new middle school.  On the first morning of the first day, she manages to trip in the hallway and scatter books and papers everywhere.  When Jaime, a kind, but nerdy boy, attempts to help her and the mean kids laugh at them, she screams at him to leave her alone.  She almost instantly regrets her action, but can't seem to find a way to apologize and avoids him like the proverbial plague.  Peppi finds friends among the Art Club and things are going pretty well, but then - horror of horrors - the science teacher assigns Jaime to be her tutor!  What's a girl to do?  Skip the sessions and flunk science or just face the music?  Maybe art can meet science and have something positive emerge.  You'll have to read Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova to find out.

Are you heading back to class or just wanting to relive those days? If so, check out these graphic novels about the school experience...they've got to be more fun than a calculus textbook!

I Read Banned BooksYou’ve probably seen the bumper stickers, buttons and T-shirts and other paraphernalia. But why do books get banned? For a variety of reasons -- political views, offensive language, sexual content, or content that for various reasons is felt to be “inappropriate” for children, to name just a few.

But books are not the only things that get banned. Music has its own long history of being banned. For instance, the works of many composers were banned in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union during the reign of Joseph Stalin.

The banning continues in the Twenty-First Century. About a year ago, the New York Youth Symphony commissioned a new work by the talented young Estonian-born composer Jonas Tarm. The Photo of Jonas Tarmpiece, entitled Marsh u Nebuttya (March to Oblivion), which was to run about 9 minutes in length, included a couple of quotations from other musical works. The most controversial of these was a 45-second quote from the Horst Wessel Song (listener discretion advised) -- the unofficial anthem of the Nazi Party.

The work’s debut at Carnegie Hall was cancelled. The orchestra’s executive director said that the instrumental quotes from the Horst Wessel Song and the Ukrainian Soviet national anthem were offensive, even though the composer insisted that the piece was dedicated to “the victims who have suffered from cruelty and hatred of war, totalitarianism, polarizing nationalism -- in the past and today.”

It’s a classic case of judging a creation by its parts rather than its overall artistic merits. I look forward to the day when I can hear this piece and make my own decision.

Celebrate Banned Books Week later this month, September 27-October 3.

There are some images that stay in our minds forever and the picture of "the Afghan Girl" is one of them. Those sea-green eyes captivated the world when we saw her portrait for the first time on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985.
Steve McCurry, a National Geographic photographer, made famous the face of this girl when it appeared on the cover of the magazine, and later on the cover of his book, Portraits. The intention behind the picture was to document the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation. While walking through the camp, the photographer asked for the teacher's permission to take the photo. He never imagined those amazing eyes would become a global symbol of wartime. McCurry didn't ask her name; seventeen years later he decided to search for her as revealed in the documentary, Search for the Afghan Girl.
In 2002 he came back to Pakistan searching for the nameless girl. After many challenges and with the help of a team of experts including the FBI, he found her. Her name is Sharbat Gula and surprisingly her identity was revealed through her eyes, with the use of iris recognition technology. Her sea-green eyes matched the characteristics of that first and only picture. Learn more about McCurry's work by exploring this list.

Martha Stewart's Appetizers

by Martha Stewart

200 recipes for fuss-free party foods that are delicious and easy to make. Enjoy!

Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland's The Country Cat

by Adam Sappington

Comforting wholesome recipes from The Country Cat-- one of Portland's acclaimed restaurants.

My Kitchen Year:136 Recipes That Saved My Life

by Ruth Reichl

When Gourmet magazine suddenly folded, editor Ruth Reichl spent a year back in her kitchen rediscovering kitchen comforts.

Theo Chocolate: Recipes and Sweet Secrets from Seattle's Favorite Chocolate Maker

by Debra Music

Sweet and savory chocolate recipes from Seattle's Theo Chocolate along with their story of how their fair trade chocolate factory came to be.

The Art of Memoir

by Mary Karr

From the author of Liar's Club and Lit: A Memoir, Karr presents her perspective on how to write a memoir.

Deep South: Four Seasons on the Back Roads

by Paul Theroux

For fifty years Theroux has written about far-flung places but never America. Now he describes his wanderings through the south visiting the local sights in small towns.

St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate

by Karen Armstrong

(No picture available of the book)

One of the most popular writers on religion brings us a stirring account of the life of Paul, the apostle who brought Christianity to the Jews.

Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science

by Richard Dawkins

The award winning author of The God Delusion and The Selfish Gene now tells about his intellectual inquiries into the relationship between nature, culture and religion.


I’ve wanted to write a little something about Roald Dahl for a long time.  Yes, everyone knows him for his children’s books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, and Esio Trot seem to always have a permanent place on the bookshelves of many young readers.  Yet there is more to Dahl than his beloved children’s books.  His short stories for adults are among the best around. They are highly original, deeply engaging and filled with unusual characters who stand out from the ordinary but seem strangely familiar.  

Roald Dah's Collected Stories book jacketThe titles of Dahl’s stories suggest something of the intrigue to come.  Someone Like You and Lamb to the Slaughter, which can be found in his Collected Stories, suggest stories filled with unexpected twists and dark humor and they never fail to deliver both. In Lamb to the Slaughter’s title story, a disgruntled wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and then feeds the roasted meat to the investigating policeman. In The Landlady, an unsuspecting traveler falls prey to a landlady who prefers stuffed guests. Dahl’s dark and often macabre stories are beautifully written and always contain at least one moment of absolute surprise that pulls the rug out from under the reader’s feet.

Dahl has been around for the long time, rising to eminence long before J.K. Rowling and writing before the days when series fiction was needed to draw young readers in.  Roald Dahl appeals to children because he takes them seriously and endeavors to treat them well.  Dahl created worlds where magic lived just along the edges of ordinary life and where a shove in any direction would turn that life upside down.

Dahl’s personal life was filled with its own share of the unexpected. His autobiographical books including Boy and Going Solo detail his early school daysGoing Solo book jacket through his wartime service as a fighter pilot. After being shot down, Dahl eventually landed a post working in Washington D.C. at the British Embassy where he hobnobbed with Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn and played poker with Harry Truman. He also met C.S. Forester who encouraged him to write. Dahl started with short stories and magazine articles and eventually branched into his well-known children’s books and often overlooked adult works.  Roald Dahl’s stories are the kind that can be read over and over.  Lucky readers will discover new and exciting details with each reading.

I fell in love in Africa once. On horseback. Surrounded by giraffes and impala. My boyfriend and I were backpacking around southern Africa, and that’s when I knew my heart was his.

Reader, I married the guy. We moved to Portland and acquired jobs, a mortgage, and two kids. It’s great, really, but I miss traveling. I miss that sense of not knowing what the day before me will bring, and I dream about going back to Africa.

Paula McLain, whose Paris Wife was a big success in 2011, has just published Circling the Sun, a new novel about Beryl Markham, the pilot, horse trainer, and author of West with the Night. West with the Night is an awfully good memoir that I’ve owned forever and finally read after finishing McLain’s book. Hemingway said of it that "this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers ... it really is a bloody wonderful book." (The story goes that Hemingway wanted to sleep with Markham and she refused him!) 

It must be said that both books skirt the very real issue of how British colonists treated the natives-- but I still couldn’t help being beguiled by their descriptions of Kenya in the early 20th century.  I long to join all the expats on Karen Von Blixen's veranda to sip gin and tonics and watch the hills in the distance turn a darker and darker shade of purple as the sun goes down. I want to go riding along Lake Elementaita in the early morning, scattering  thousands of flamingos who take to the sky as we draw closer, and I want to go on safari again and see lions stalking a kudu in the long grass.

Paula McLain is so good at putting my fantasies on the page. Someday I'll get to travel the world some more, but until then, Circling the Sun offered a great escape, one I think you might enjoy. 

I have always been fascinated by the number of artists who are 'twice -gifted'.  For example: musicians who started out in art school- John Lennon, David Bowie,or Joni Mitchell.  Or Ethan HawkeStephen Fry, and Whoopi Goldberg are actors who are also authors.

Author, Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket) sings in  a band, so does  Stephen King and Amy Tan.

Guess what?  There  is  a whole group of 'twice-gifted' mystery writers-they  are musicians and songwriters too!

Books with musical CDs

The Merry Band of Murderers is a collection of mystery stories written and edited  by mystery authors who also have musical talent.  Some of the stories even have a musical theme. But listen to this! The included CD  features the authors singing and  performing original music related to her/his story.

As a bonus at the end of each story,  the author answers questions such as  ‘What 3 people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?’ or ‘Which would you rather do- read or listen to a favorite piece of music?’

My favorite story Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil  by Rupert Holmes, is about a man who puts his mammoth record collection on his iPod and finds that it begins to give him secret coded instructions using the shuffled titles of its songs. Sounds exactly like something that would happen to me!

To check out The Merry Band of Murderers and other books with CDs, see my list below.




The aliens slip into our universe through holes 1” by 2”.

Video game cartoon alienThe aliens have no legs.

The aliens have their mouths under their arms.

The aliens have half of their brains in their arms.

The aliens change colors at will.

The aliens can open locks without using tools..

Woman scuba diver and octopus

The aliens can tell what you’ve been eating, drinking, and what drugs you’ve been exposed to just by touch.

We call the aliens octopuses. They broke off from our evolutionary line back when we were barely protozoa. Yet they’ve developed an amazing brain and a complex body. And, according to author Sy Montgomery, they can connect with us in a deep way. Sy herself has spent many hours with an octopus holding her arms with its many suckers,  even ending up with an “octopus hickey.”

If this fascinates you, join Montgomery in her new book, The Soul of an Octopus, as she dives heart and soul into the world of octopuses. For some great photography, or to share with children, follow it up with her newer children’s book, The Octopus Scientists.

No alien lover or animal lover should miss these latest works by this prolific author. In fact, while you're waiting for the octopus books, try some more of Sy Montgomery's titles for both adults and chidren.

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes book jacketI had never read the literary works of Langston Hughes before coming across The Collected Works of Langston Hughes at the North Portland Library.  I knew of him as a great poet and poetry was not my favorite genre.  Nonetheless, I leafed through the seventeen volume set on the shelf and I immediately was hooked on the works of one of the literary lions of the Harlem Renaissance.

Not sure where to begin, I skimmed through the volumes on poetry.  I read quickly a few poems, tried to digest others, but it was his prose that truly beckoned me.  I paused skimming midway through his oeuvre and read the first two short tales in depth.  I knew then, as I do now, that I had found a literary gold mine because weeks later, I’m still digging through the Simple stories in volumes 7 and 8.

Originally published in the Chicago Defender from 1943 to 1965, the Simple stories read more like weekly columns on race relations in the U.S. The tales are narrated in a conversational form to engage readers on multiple levels.  On one level, the stories are comical and reader-friendly, designed to show the human soul of Jesse B. Semple, or Simple as he is known, and draw the reader in.  Readers get to see and feel Simple’s failures and successes as well as his frustrations and dreams.  On another level, the stories portray the complex world that evolved in the Jim Crow era in a non-antagonizing way.  Simple’s conversations with his bar buddy not only lured readers into the national dialogue over race, but they also engaged readers in a constructive conversation over racism—the ideological foundation that defined the racial boundaries of Simple’s life and, by extension, African Americans.

Though it has been sixty-five years since Langston Hughes published the first Simple stories in book form, the ideas in these tales still resonate.  Racial progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go.  Both fictional characters would probably nod their heads.  Yes, over a cold beer.  Still, such ideas, now more than ever, need to be part of a national discourse.


The Water Knife book jacketI’ve been thinking a lot about climate change lately. It isn’t surprising, I suppose. After all, it was a very dry winter and spring here followed by one of the hottest summers in Portland history. What sparked these thoughts, however, wasn’t the weather but a book, The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi. The novel is set in a near future Phoenix where prolonged drought has left the American Southwest a place where states compete for what little water remains and refugees from climate disasters in Texas eke out a bare existence. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book and I highly recommend it, but you need to start it knowing a few facts: the story is dark; and it’s brutally violent; and it’s all too plausible.

It isn’t like I’m a newcomer to apocalyptic stories. As one of my earlier reading lists will attest, I grew up in the 1980s convinced the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. I’ve reveled in apocalypses from a variety of causes, comet impacts, plagues, alien invasions, you name it, but this one has bothered me more than others. It isn’t even like this is the first Paolo Bacigalupi novel I read in which climate change is a major point. So why has this one stayed with me? I think I’ve figured it out, at least in part. First, not only did I grow up in Arizona and Texas but I still have friends and family in both places. Thus what Bacigalupi describes has a certain familiarity. Also, while it has been around for a long time, there have been an increasing number of books in this cli-fi (climate fiction) genre. Most disturbing, though, is the fact that the book seems more and more prescient. Many scientists are saying that the worst-case scenarios of climate change are not only increasingly likely but will occur much faster than expected. In other words, The Water Knife has shown me the future and it scares me.

While some people think the new cli-fi could be beneficial and lead to positive change, I’m going to have to take a break from this sub-genre and other dystopias for a while. It has been like a cloud hanging over me for weeks now and I’m in need of some sunshine. Maybe you can suggest a book that will brighten my day? I could really use something with a hopeful ending.

For more cli-fi, check out this list.

Seveneves book jacketWhen they announce they end of the world, they’ll do it at Crater Lake. Or at least that’s how Seattle author Neal Stephenson envisions it in his hefty new hard SF tome, Seveneves.  So how is the world ending this time? When the Moon explodes due to some unknown force, it’s shocking at first, but quickly becomes an astronomical edutainment show. The pieces are even given cutesy names such as Potatohead and Mr. Spinny. But then two fragments collide and become three, and three become four. Astronomers start running simulations and discover that life on earth is going to come to an end in about two years’ time. The continued fragmentation will create a massive debris cloud called the White Sky and a catastrophic meteor storm dubbed the Hard Rain (perhaps after this appropriately dire and prophetic Bob Dylan song?).  After this, Earth will be a flaming ember for at least 5,000 years. S’mores, anyone?

Our heroes are the astronauts of the International Space Station, who must transform it into a self-sustaining habitat capable of supporting as many people as can be launched off the ground during the two years before the Hard Rain. These launches are hasty and kludgey… (although I kind of enjoyed it when a Walla Walla vineyard got taken out by an errant rocket). Yes, there’s a lot of engineering and orbital mechanics involved, but this is a tense, sad, and harrowing read, and I couldn’t put it down. Later some humor surfaces, and the story is not without a glint of far-future hope, but the beginning is just wrenching. If you like (or at least don’t mind) your nail-biting human drama salted with delta vees, mass ratios, and Tsiolkovskii equations, this is the book for you.

John Gorham is the culinary genius behind restaurants Toro Bravo and Tasty n Sons, among others. He believes that a chef’s cuisine and style is influenced by travel, work and place, as well as the food he grew up with. His advice about cooking: Fall in love with food, go traveling and taste everything. His reading interests reflect this philosophy. Here are some of his favorite books:

A Year In Provence.  This book just makes you want to throw caution to the wind, and go travel and dine. A must-read for any chef or person in love with food and travel.

The Alchemist. Another book of adventure, but also of self-reflection.

Another Roadside Attraction. I read my first Tom Robbins book when I was about 21. I hadn't really fallen in love with reading until I found his books. I read the rest of his books in the next couple of months. But of all of his books, Another Roadside Attraction was always my favorite.

Tender At The Bone. This is the story of Ruth Reichl. This book came at a time in my life when I really looking inward to what kind of chef I was becoming. It inspired me to take some risks — I moved to Berkeley a few months after I read this book — and really focus on the food.  

Danzigers Travels : Beyond The Forbidden Frontiers.  An old friend of mine gave me this book in the mid 90s. It's a true story of a man that walks the Marco Polo trade route in the 80s. It was the first time I ever really got a feeling of what the Middle East must be like. It inspired my cooking as well as my view of the world. This is a hard book to find, but worth the search. (Note: This book is available through interlibrary loan.)

Are you moving out to a house in the country anytime soon? No? Me neither. And yet there's always that little 'what if' in the back of my mind. Find a nicely formed plot of land with swoops, curves, nooks and crannies, and build a small, self-sufficient house nestled into the hillside. Solar power, check. Gravity-fed water suppy, check. Composting toilet, uh, ...

Luckily those of us who make our living in the city can experience country-living vicariously through others. We can mentally inhabit the space that Dee Williams created in The Big Tiny (though even our ghosts might take up too much space in her tiny house); and now we can also enjoy the view from Evelyn Searle Hess's handbuilt house in the Coast Range in Building a Better Nest. Though the title might lead you to believe that you've picked up a how-to manual for building a sustainable house, the book is really a rumination on the meaning of home, how much is enough and the significance of community as we grow older. 

Hess and her husband aren't neophytes; they lived in a tent on their land for many years while dreaming of the home they'd build. Then, finally, when they were both in their 70s, they began. Yes! That's just one of the remarkable elements of this story, that reads more like an adventure than an instruction manual. And throughout there's Hess's calm and wondering voice thinking aloud about living more mindfully among the myriad creatures whose home she has invaded. I have a feeling she'll put out the welcome mat should you chose to inhabit her space for a while.


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