It is a question you hear all the time...if you were stranded on a desert island, what book or books would you choose to bring? And while the question rattles off the tongue easily enough, it is not such a simple answer. I'm always torn between being practical or romantic. If I were to be practical (which I'll have you know I quite often am), I would grab something like my Auntie Carol's 1950s Girl Scout Guide, or some other survival manual of sorts. At any rate, it would end up being a very different list indeed. I'm going to throw practical aside for just a moment and imagine myself stranded on a desert island with the basic necessities sorted. All I have is time, no worries, and a few favorite reads....
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.
Emily-Jane at Central is reading Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and has this to say about it:
The teenaged Patrick Leigh Fermor walks across Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria in the early 1930s, on his way from Holland to Istanbul. I'm loving the awkward contrast between the international collegiality of the upper class on the one hand, and Fermor's vivid and moving descriptions of everyday Central European landscapes and life on the other.
Since the book doesn't have any maps and takes place before the Second World War, a lot of the borders and place names are unfamiliar to me—so I've also been reading Paul R. Magocsi's Historical Atlas of East Central Europe, which is helpful for armchair orienteering and historical context.
The other volumes in Fermor's walking memoir series are: #1: A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople : From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube and #3 (just published in 2014!): The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.
I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league. The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.
I always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.
The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were the first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.
The book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.
Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.
These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
As a psychology major in the late 70's and early 80's it seemed that every textbook for every class included the story of Phineas Gage. He was the guy who had a tamping iron accidentally blasted through his cheek and out the top of his head while working on a railroad explosives crew in 1848. There were always illustrations, daguerreotypes, and a gruesome description of his injury. (As I read the Wikipedia page about him right now, I get a little sparkly thing at the back of my eyeballs, and I'm not easily grossed out.) As students, what always blew our disco-studded minds was that Gage lived. Not only lived, but seemed mostly normal. However, as we all know, "normal" has a lot of gray matter near the edges.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is Kean's newest book. His first one, The Disappearing Spoon was super good, and very easy to read even if one may have gotten a C in high school chemistry. This one promises to be just as good, thanks in part to Phineas Gage. And I like brains better than the periodic table anyway.
Feel like moving some paint? Want to splatter some alcohol inks?
One of my current obsessions is learning how to do mixed media visual art. To get started I looked at books by Seth Apter. I took classes at the local mixed media center: Collage and with Serena Barton and Chris Cozen. I also like to follow the blogs of Pam Garrison and Mary Anne Moss for learning mixed media tips and tricks.
To continue learning I started a mixed media club with a couple of friends. We meet monthly. We share and try new products. Basically, we cheer each other on! I have found the best mixed media foundation recipe from the Jenny Doh’s magazine Somerset Studio. Don’t be fooled by the lack of a cover image in our catalog - this magazine is visually stunning. Most importantly I am having fun and I wanted to share some of these resources so you can have fun too!
Officially I live in a land called the United States of America. But much of my time is spent in the somewhat gritty, dangerous land of the BBC mystery. It is a cold place and people speak in a number of interesting and different accents. Their words are the same as mine but they mean different things. They say things like ‘have any joy?’ and ‘are you takin’ the piss out of me?’
The detectives keep their emotions to themselves, have horrible homelives or none at all. They drink too much and throw things around when they get frustrated. They repeatedly flaunt the rules, their supervisor and common sense. But they find evil wherever it is hiding and root it out. The bad guy may seem to gain speed, and bodies may turn up in unexpected places, but in the end Vera Stanope, Jane Tennison, Inspectors Morse and Lewis, Cordelia Gray and Jackson Brodie will win
They will win with grace and style, and just when I think I will go crazy if I don’t see another episode of Vera, or Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Cordelia Gray or Case Histories, I come back to myself here in the United States where I rush to the library website to check out books featuring these and other favorite detectives. Maybe it will hold me over untill the next season comes out.
Check out my complete list of gritty and dangerous BBC mysteries.
Before I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.
Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art. I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach. My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.
Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith. I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In the end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.
I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!
Flowers are very important to me. I put up a couple vases at a time in our house. One has to be on the dining room table and another on the fireplace mantle. And if I am really flower rich, I will put a couple vases in the bathroom or bedroom. I am usually flower rich when flowers are blooming in our garden. In the dead of winter I splurge for flowers on payday.
I mark certain times of years by which flowers are in bloom. February is all about hellebore and daphne. Because it can be dark and gloomy in Portland in the winter, seeing these plants in bloom means the sun is coming with spring on its heels.
So when I found the book The Flower Shop by Sally Page I was thrilled! The Flower Shop is one year in the life of a flower shop in a village in England. Each chapter is about a month of the year. Every month is marked with holidays that are celebrated with flowers. Birthdays, parties and weddings are celebrated throughout the book. Pictures and tips for flower care weave their way through the pages. If you are looking for something touching and colorful, this is the book for you.
I am fascinated by people who go against societal convention to do something 'crazy' - swim across an ocean, bike across a country or live on food grown within 100 miles of their house. In The Big Tiny, Dee Williams tells the story of her decision to sell her house and pare down her possession to the bare minimum in order to move into a tiny house of her own making. The impetus was an alarming diagnosis for a relatively young woman - congestive heart failure.
Determined to make her precious time count she decides to do this bold thing and discovers that letting go of stuff is hard -- after all, the things we surround ourselves with define us somehow, don't they? I enjoyed Dee Williams voice, her humor, humility and her quirky way of looking at the world. (As I read, I was picturing her as the comedian Tig Notaro, and as it turns out they kind of look alike, as evidenced in this Ted Talk!) I felt privileged to go on this journey with her. She seems like just the sort of person you'd want to have living in a tiny house in your back yard.
Just because a mystery is cozy doesn’t mean it isn’t spicy or hot.
BBC mystery series Rosemary and Thyme is a cozy village mystery series that is both spicy AND hot. It stars Felicity Kendal as Rosemary Boxer and Pam Ferris as LauraThyme: women who are too smart and too curious and too feisty to take what any man (or woman) tells them at face value. Rosemary is a college professor specializing in botany and landscaping who got the boot in favor a male colleague. She describes herself as ‘more bookworm than earthworm’ As for Laura Thyme, her husband left her for a much younger, more shapely woman. “To hell with men” she tells Rosemary, then as an afterthought “although some are lovely…”
Rosemary’s free-lance landscaping jobs give her the opportunity to peer around bushes and trees to listen in on secret conversations. Laura Thyme balances her out with logic and straight forward practicality. Though they are shot at, lied to and run off the road they keep each other’s spirits up with laughter and of course solve the mystery in the end.
Rosemary and Thyme made me think about other crime solving women- on TV and in books too. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of choices there are. To take a look at what I found check out my list.
I learned five minutes ago that the ban on gay marriage was just struck down by a federal judge, which means that now same-sex marriage is legal in my beloved adopted state of Oregon. I can't wait to tell my kids that now, princesses can marry princesses here.
It was 2004, and I was walking hand in hand with my daughter. I must have made a hissing sound when I saw the sign in my neighborhood that said, “Measure 36. One man, one woman.” My four-year-old daughter, who I’ll call Thing One, definitely noticed my reaction, and she asked me why that sign always made me mad. It was a great opportunity to explain that I believed that people should be allowed to love who they wanted to love and make families with those people, too. I told her that I thought it was wrong for the government to tell two men or two women that they weren’t allowed to marry. In those good old days, Thing One tended to believe everything I said, but this time she looked up at me, a doubtful expression on her face, and said, “Princesses don’t marry princesses, Mommy. They’re supposed to marry princes.”
Having a kid in the 21st century sometimes requires doing research in the service of fighting prevailing preschooler opinions as presented by Disney.
It turns out that sometimes princes can marry princes. I found a picture book called King & King by Linda de Haan. It begins when a grouchy queen tells her son that it’s time for him to marry. He confesses that he has never met a princess who struck his fancy (and a page boy who happens to be present gives a saucy wink!). Many princesses visit the palace, but the Prince doesn’t seem very interested in any of them. Finally one of the princesses brings her handsome brother along, and when the two princes’ eyes meet, a cloud of red hearts appear over their heads. A fabulous wedding soon follows, the queen retires, and the two princes become kings together.
People can choose to create families in Oregon now with the partners of their choice-- and I think some fabulous weddings may soon follow. Here you’ll find a great list of books for children that are a little more inclusive in their portrayal of couples and families.
If you are familiar with 101 Dalmatians, then you have at the very least, crossed paths with Dodie Smith for she is the author of that much-loved children’s story. And in the not too distant past, she had a revival of sorts with I Capture the Castle being re-released and made into a film. It is an utterly sweet and charming tale of a young woman who navigates the tricky waters of love and ends up all the more independent and witty. Smith wrote a handful of plays and other novels, each one is a gem in its own right. Long out of print, some of these titles were re-released in 2012 by Corsair Publishers and Multnomah County Library has recently purchased them. They are: The Town in Bloom, The New Moon with the Old, and It Ends with Revelations.
Of these, I have read The Town in Bloom and can highly recommend it. It is a coming of age story set in 1920s London among the fast-moving theatre crowd. Though the heroine Mouse is in her late teens when the story begins, you also hear from her older self recalling the past with a bit of perspective. And like I Capture the Castle, it is a love story, but with a more adult twist. Nothing explicit mind you, but the themes of affairs (extramarital or otherwise), marriage, divorce, and a woman making it on her own, are topics that are only increase in appreciation if you’ve got a few years under your belt yourself. Young adult readers may well enjoy it, but it deserves a re-read later on in life. If you like historical fiction set in the jazz age, London, the life of a struggling actor, or a good love story where the heroine comes out loving herself most of all, give it a go.
Lee at Central has this to say about Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. It opens up the mostly closed world of East European gypsies, or Roma, in the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Roma are a people it is still possible to actively (and violently) discriminate against and Fonseca attempts to tell us why.
Sometimes it isn’t until regular life gets interrupted, that you realize you’ve been in a rut. The same goes for reading. That’s what happened to me when I came across Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan. I won’t lie, It was the title that attracted me. That and the anthropomorphic cover art (Yes, I’m an Etsy shopper). What I found inside, was a surprising and original story that kept me laughing and led me to stay up much too late, watching videos of McClanahan reading his free-form writing as rapid-fire, spoken word poetry with a distinctive regional twang.
Crapalachia is published by Two Dollar Radio; a family run, independent publisher specializing in subversive, original, and highly creative fiction. It would all be very Portland if they weren't located in Columbus, Ohio. Perhaps best yet, the vast majority of their books published are 200 pages or less. I have a tall stack of books competing for my limited reading time and while I do like subversive and experimental, I like it best kept short.
I’ve since enjoyed another Two Dollar Radio title, How To Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak. She takes the immigrant experience novel in an entirely unexpected direction with a second generation Polish American woman who longs to pass as Russian to gain entry into the mysterious Twin Palms nightclub.
In the spring it's hard to resist the urge to turn the house upside down, plough up the garden and in general give everything a thorough cleaning. But what about those cobwebs in our brains? After spending many a dark and rainy day curled up with the likes of Cormac McCarthy and listening to The Smiths, spring just seems to require more redemptive reading. I like to call this epiphany fiction. These are the kind of books featuring protagonists undergoing life-changing events. With any luck maybe some of it rubs off on you, the reader.
One such is The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Henry, a 67 year-old retiree and widower is told that he has a terminal illness. Determined to make the most of his last days, he sells everything and moves to a Utopian town in Alabama. There he tends to his soul and is surprised at the number of lessons he has to learn. It's a gentle read that celebrates community and self-reflection.
Equally enjoyable and a bit more complex, Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga tells the story of Rudy, an avocado dealer in Chicago. He too is a widower who has lost his bearings after the death of his wife. He should be contemplating retirement, but instead, in a move that stuns his children, he sells everything and buys an avocado farm in Texas. His only road map for this new life is a book - Philosophy Made Simple. As he reads about the great thinkers of history he tries to find meaning in his new life, which now includes the care of a painting elephant named Norma Jean.
But my favorite epiphany fic choice of recent years is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi Patel is a boy driven by curiosity. As a zoo-keeper's son, he's constantly studying animals. Unable to decide on one religion, he practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with equal fervor. When Pi is 16 his father decides that the family and the zoo will emigrate to Canada via cargo ship. The ship sinks and Pi is forced to share his lifeboat with the only other survivors, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What's a boy to do but to get really serious about the big questions of life and philosophy?
I hope I've given you a reasonable excuse to put down the mop and pick up a book. Happy spring and happy reading!
I have a strong preference for character-driven fiction. If I can't bring myself to care about what happens to the characters or the characters fail to act in a fashion consistent with how they've been described, I tend to put the book down long before finishing it. The worst I've read recently was a well-reviewed urban fantasy where the main character, a nurse, expressed concern about bodily fluid borne disease transmission from her intravenous drug using brother. The very next thing the character did was to go unwind at a bar and pick up a random stranger for the night. The author lost me right then and there when the main character couldn't stay consistent in her actions and behaviors for even a single chapter... and I really wanted to like that book too after the good reviews.
One book I've read recently that did have great characters who were well-drawn and consistently portrayed and who really drew the reader into the life of the novel is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. In this world, the goblins are warlike but not the bestial hordes that they are usually portrayed as in fantasy. The elves have an early steampunk sort of technology including pneumatic tubes and airships. Maia has been raised far from the court in a lonely and, since his mother died, loveless exile. Maia is the half goblin, last and least-loved son of the elf emperor. When his father and all his half brothers die in a fiery crash, Maia is summoned back to the rigid and formal elven court as the sole surviving heir to the imperial throne with unknown assassins aiming for his imperial head.
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, a grimmer novel than the fairly gentle Goblin Emperor, the emperor has scattered his three children across his land. The heir is learning humility (and something else) being raised by monks in rural isolation. The second son is learning to be a commando-like warrior and the daughter, unable to inherit, is made a minister by her father so her clever mind isn't wasted. The emperor is assassinated and his three scattered children have to survive the forces arrayed against them in this excellent series set up.
Lastly, if you would prefer a story about a killer of kings rather than the children of emperors, I'd like to recommend the Fallen Blade novels by Kelly McCullough. Beginning with Broken Blade, you learn the story of Aral Kingslayer, one of the last survivors of a religious order that existed to bring a very final sort of justice to those too powerful for the law to touch. Of course, said powerful and corrupt went to great lengths to bring down the holy avengers of the weak and wronged. The series opens with Aral living in despair, addicted to drugs and selling his services for his next fix. He hates himself and what he has become and still grieves for his dead comrades and goddess. The one thing keeping him going is his familiar, a shadow dragon named Triss, but then he's contacted for another job....
Let's face it - books you remember long after you've read them, the ones that make you turn your clock to the wall so you won't know that dawn is approaching and you've stayed up all night reading - those books are few and far between. That's why I am so excited to tell you about We the Animals by Justin Torres.
Having grown up with two brothers, I was sure the author was capturing the chaos, fearfulness and bravado of boyhood. And as a child surrounded by boys and living in a place where we had the autonomy to come up with haphazard schemes that often put us in real danger, I felt a real sense of returning to childhood, a world that many adults have forgotten or idealized into a safe, sweet and carefree world.
From the very beginning, Torres establishes the feral nature of childhood:
"WE WANTED MORE. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons aginast our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping fee; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more."
The language in We the Animals is perfect for reading aloud; and it's short - short enough that maybe you won't have to stay up all night reading, but instead will go to sleep and dream of that half-remembered world of childhood.
We're all book lovers here, right? I mean, why would you be here if you weren't? My theory is that we come in two basic types. Type one (not me) checks out a few books at a time, reads them all, or at least gives them all a try, before returning and checking out more. Type two (me), takes books home all the time, because you have to get 'em when you see 'em. I want to read them all, but there's no way that'll happen. The rule is that I do have to at least open them. There are stacks in most rooms of my tiny house, except the bathroom--never in the bathroom.
This is a pic of my most important stack, the stack of honor, the one by the bed. That way these books are always close at hand for those times when I need an Amazonian jungle tale, for example. Or something to coach me through a dishwasher repair.
If a few of my friends aren't too shy--(they're not)--I'll get them to take a picture of their stack by the bed and we'll have little stack peep show. Stay tuned.
I know, I’ve been there. At times basic tasks like getting dressed and eating can seem overwhelming, and reading can fall away completely. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t break up with books altogether! If your concentration balks at fiction, try non-fiction, poetry, or even a different format like audiobooks.
My own personal experience was that fiction could not hold my attention, so absorbed was I in my own story, but non-fiction was able to break through and perform a particular brand of magic. Self-help titles helped me! I clung to How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo like it was a life raft (it was) and I was going over some very turbulent water. As I progressed, so did my appreciation for what came out of others’ break ups. Sharon Olds took fifteen years to publish her most recent collection of poetry Stag’s Leap after her divorce, while Josh Ritter knocked his divorce album Beast in the Tracks out in just a year. Both are poignant, intimate glances at the demise of a relationship and prove that good things can come of these trying times.
And for those David Richo fans out there, his new title How to Be an Adult in Love came out in paperback this year and I received my pre-ordered copy. I squealed when I saw it in hardback at the library, but then quickly realized I would be underlining the entirety of the book and I just prefer a paperback for self-help. It can be folded over onto itself and thrown around as needed...sort of like the state one comes to a self-help book in...
Breaking up is hard to do for the broken and the breaker. Find a getting through it guide, break up memoir, or break up art to help you here.
I think it's time to start an I Heart David Richo club. Anyone with me?