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.

Please welcome our newest blogger, Sara B.! She has this to say about herself: I’m a former arts and entertainment reporter who loves to root out common threads running through the books and media I happily stumble across daily. At the library, I feel like a kid in a candy store where everything is free.  

Hippies, punks, jocks, rednecks, preps, heschers -- everyone loves Creedence Clearwater Revival, and even those who don’t can’t be bothered to hate them. CCR songs are such a part of our collective pop culture that their hooks have become part of our bodily being, inhaled through accumulated listenings on classic rock radio, worn-out copies of Chronicle, and blaring stereos at beery gatherings.

Like the blue jeans and flannel shirts favored by John Fogerty, Creedence’s catalog is so comfortable it’s easy to take for granted. Stumbling on a copy of the 2001 box set simply titled Creedence Clearwater Revival reminded me not only why Creedence matters, but how visceral their music is. It also reconnected me with a period in the mid-1990s when, young and rootless and unhappy, I was a Creedence maniac. The working-class aesthetic of songs like “Willie and the Poor Boys” and “Don’t Look Now” helped me feel grounded, and the mythical rural South they painted was a soulful place to escape to.   

Then I moved to California, and I just didn’t seem to need CCR as much. Ironically, I was living just miles from El Cerrito, the band’s quiet and unremarkable hometown. Like many, I’d always assumed CCR sprouted from some Louisiana swamp, and discovering their actual suburban roots perplexed me.

Creedence started out as a run-of-the-mill teenage garage band, playing rock’n’roll and devouring R&B songs. The story of how they morphed into America’s least assuming blockbuster rock group is lovingly outlined by critics including Ed Ward and Robert Christgau in the fat and juicy liner notes accompanying the Creedence box set. Lacking earthiness in sleepy El Cerrito, Fogerty and his bandmates simply manufactured it, most audibly in Fogerty’s meaty drawl.

My husband noticed the sudden abundance of CCR in our lives and quoted from The Big Lebowski, in which the band’s music is a leitmotif for The Dude’s ideal headspace (note how, once The Dude’s Creedence tapes disappear, the movie’s plot really careens into un-Dudeliness).

When was the last time you actually listened to a Creedence song? Do so and The Dude’s headspace can be yours, my friend. Times for us are tough; many people are suffering and unhappy. That our divided society can find unity in CCR’s music is not only a pleasure, but a solace. They give us the strength to keep on chooglin’.

I do so love a good debut or two. Farlander by Col Buchanan, the first in a new series, introduces a steampunk world with basic pistols, dirigibles and acid rain pollution along with the standard fantasy trappings. There's a corrupt and evil empire and an order of assassin monks, the Roshun, who will sell the wealthy and paranoid an amulet. If the person wearing and bonded to the amulet dies by anything other than natural causes the monks will provide blood vengeance. The murderer will die and no other person will need to start a blood feud. Given how often everyone seems to expect the services of the Roshun to be needed, those that purchase an amulet aren't really being all that paranoid. Farlander isn't absolute perfection - there's a little new novel roughness. For example, there's never any doubt that the evil empire is Evil... and enjoying it. But it is interesting, fast-paced and fun. Find out what happens next in the recently released book two: Stands a Shadow.

I recently read J.M. McDermott's second novel Never Knew Another. There are children of demons whose blood and sweat corrupts the very ground. Touching one will sicken and eventually kill any human.  The demon-sired children are being hunted down by a priestly order of skin-walkers, wolfish even in human skin. It is death to aid a demon and death to be a demon - even if all you want to do is hide and not hurt anybody. The wolf priests find it necessary to burn down contaminated buildings or even entire sections of town to purify the corruption. They count the resulting human pain and loss as no more than a minor pity. The humans still have their lives after all. The church will see they don't starve or freeze to death, so even if someone loses everything, they are at least alive, and not spreading the demon sickness. 

It's a little different for the genre. The writing style is meant to convey the not-quite-human perspective of the wolf priestess. The author seems to be aiming for literary fantasy. It's very fast paced: I was 100 pages into it the first time I sat down with it. It's the first in a series and I'm really looking forward to book two. The author's first book, Last Dragon, came out in 2008 and I'm putting a hold on that first unrelated stand-alone title just on the strength of writing in this book.

Welcome to our new blogger Katie, who has lived in Portland most of her life and never thought her high school library job would evolve into a lifelong (hopefully!) career. She worked as a news writer and reporter in a previous life and especially appreciates efficient, powerful writing. She also loves music, documentaries, quirky characters, stories of triumph over adversity, dogs, and tap dancing.

Produce clear, concise copy - that was my task as a college intern in a radio news department. I spent several hours a day rewriting news wire content. Like many aspiring journalists, I dreamed of writing feature stories – genuine human interest pieces that allowed the freedom to tell a story or make a point in more than one to two paragraphs. These are the kinds of stories you will find in The Fiddler in the Subway by Gene Weingarten.

Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer and humor columnist for The Washington Post. The Fiddler in the Subway collects some of his best work into one not-to-be-missed volume. The book’s title comes from one of the pieces for which Weingarten won a Pulitzer. The idea behind the story was to conduct an experiment. Place a world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, in a busy Washington, D.C. subway station, with some loose change in his nearby violin case. How would passersby react? Would they recognize this top-notch musician in his jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap? More importantly, would they know and appreciate the quality and beauty of the music? The story reveals much about the power of context and the way in which people move through their busy lives, often oblivious to what is happening around them. Joshua Bell, who plays a Stradivarius violin worth more than three million dollars and fills concert halls the world over, made about $32 dollars that day. Of the 1,097 people who passed by Bell that January morning, seven of them stopped to listen for at least a minute.

Now, I suppose you could draw some doom-and-gloom conclusions about the state of humanity from this story. But Weingarten doesn’t do that at all. He doesn’t do that in any of his pieces. He simply observes the human condition in a variety of settings and circumstances, and writes about it, completely engaging and entertaining the reader along the way. Weingarten is a humor writer after all, and the way he describes many of his subjects will have you laughing out loud.  Take “The Great Zucchini,” the story of a much sought-after children’s entertainer who commands $300 per birthday party and does things like pour water on his head and eat toilet paper. What is it about this college dropout with no fancy costumes or props that has him booked solid months in advance? Weingarten is determined to find out, and he does, revealing a somewhat complicated but entirely human character who relates to children on their own level.

The Fiddler in the Subway offers many other gems, including the story of the ghost writer of the Hardy Boys novels, a profile of the intensely private cartoonist Garry Trudeau, and the search for the city most deserving of the official “Armpit of America” title. Weingarten’s diverse collection of well-written stories proves that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, and just as entertaining.

Welcome to Joanna, a new blogger for EOR. She has this to say about herself: After a tropical childhood, I stumbled upon Portland and decided to sit for a spell; nearly twenty years later, it appears that I'm here to stay. I am an enthusiastically geeky Library Assistant, which means that I sometimes approach strangers in coffee shops to gush about library databases. When it comes to my media intake, I am omnivorous: I will read or watch anything if the characters grab me and don't let go. I don't leave the house without a book. I still think A Bargain for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban is one of the smartest books ever written.

When I can't sleep at night, I am sometimes haunted by cringe-worthy embarrassments I suffered in high school. Maybe I'm just a little too in touch with my inner 14-year-old, but I love books that capture teen angst and the way our adolescent mortification reverberates into adulthood. I couldn't help but fall in love with Celia West, the 20-something protagonist of After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn.

Celia has just been kidnapped. Again. It’s the worst thing about being the child of the world’s greatest superheroes; well, that and knowing that you will never, ever, live up to your parents’ expectations. The crushing sense that she was a disappointment led Celia to a teenage rebellion that was a shocking betrayal to her parents; she joined up with their archival, ubervillain Destructor. Seven years later and she’s still dealing with the repercussions; meanwhile, she's trying to use her skills as an accountant to solve Commerce City’s latest crime wave. Also, she might be falling in love with the mayor’s son. And she’s broke. Oh, and she’s trying to avoid being kidnapped. Again.

After the Golden Age is a snappy mystery about family, identity, forgiveness, and what it means to be a hero. Now if I could just stop thinking about that time in the cafeteria...

Welcome to Dana, a new blogger for EOR, who has this to say about himself: I've worked for Multnomah County Library for fourteen years.  I play C-melody sax and plan to blog some about our great sheet music collection. I also worked in record stores here and in the Twin Cities and wrote about music semi-professionally in a former life.

At most branches they only come out once a year, and fly off the shelves once they're on display. Given the constraints of a (largely) set repertoire and seasonal appropriateness, how many Christmas CDs does one need for a truly Happy Holidaze? Yet, IMHO, great Artists have no problem putting their personal stamp on shopworn seasonal fare. And there's still plenty of time to place holds and get things right on time without having to revert to the Orthodox/Julian calendar. So here are a few suggestions to help you explore some of the many approaches to music making found in our libraries under the call number CD Xmas.

Phil Spector's Christmas Album, a/k/a A Christmas Gift to You (1963). Yes, I know he's nuts and in prison and deservedly so. Nonetheless, this is arguably the greatest rock 'n roll Xmas album ever, indisputably the most imitated. It was pulled from its scheduled release (in 'the States', not the UK) because of president Kennedy's assassination, which no doubt blunted its initial impact (by the next year, everything had changed in popular music). The infamous Wall of Sound is applied to standard seasonal fare and one original, "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", which got Darlene Love in the Hall of Fame and on Letterman every year forever. Crystals, Ronnettes, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, not to mention the Wrecking Crew and various hangers-on, were roped into playing sleigh-bells so they could have enough on the track without having to overdub.

Brothers of the Baladi, A Time of Peace (1999). At first blush it may strike your ears as strange to hear these oh so familiar tunes done up in Middle Eastern instrumentation.  But last time I checked, that's where that Little Town of Bethlehem was. You know, where all this Christmas stuff started.  And after you get used to it, it just sounds good.

John Fahey, The New Possibility (1968). The late steel string guitar guru had any number of holiday platters on offer, but he got it (most strikingly) right with this, the first one. definitely a different perspective -- stark, austere, bracing as a blast of cold air, traditional carols are here made new again by taking them back to what was presumably their original sense of wonder and awe.

Boston Camerata, Medieval Christmas (1975). When you get good and tired of the usual mall muzak, set the Wayback Machine for your favorite century/era/epoch and there you go. Everything olde is new again. If this is nostalgia for you, someone needs to call the Guinness Book.

Welcome to Enji, a new blogger for EOR. She says this about her reading interests: I tend to gravitate toward fantasy, scifi, and young adult books for my light reading, any genre for those books that call for a discussion, and kids and young adult books for listening.  My TV viewing runs along the same lines, almost anything BBC, and I have a strange pacifist's fascination for the cop shows.

The thing I have come to love about being part of a book group is that it forces me to read books I wouldn't ordinarily choose.

Some of these very books, the ones I wouldn't have picked up myself, are the very ones that become my favorites of that year.  I doubt I would have noticed The Echo Maker if it hadn't been on my book group's reading list.  Sure, it explores the nature of the self, and I love that stuff, but it's set in Nebraska (nothing against Nebraska), and I wasn't too sure it sounded like a story that could be pulled off.  What I discovered is a richly layered book, full of metaphor and the meaning of life.  It contains so much more than the story of a man with the rare brain disorder called Capgras Syndrome.

Some people are helped, and some are hindered, by the knowledge that a book was chosen to be an Oprah Book Club selection.  I tend to stay away from those, so I avoided Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True. But I was blown away by this story of twins, one schizophrenic, one not, who have never known who their father was. The story of their grandfather within the story speaks to theirs, and there's a surprise twist at the end about their family history.

I had my doubts about Ahab's Wife, or, The Star-Gazer. I figured it takes a bit of hubris to write a book from the flip side of the truly great Moby Dick. It turns out, perhaps thanks to Moby Dick, I have a soft spot for sea-going novels.  While Ahab's wife Una spent a greater amount of time next to the sea and on the sea before she ever met Ahab, her sea adventures do not disappoint...and this author dares to go further than Melville with her shipwrecked sailors.  I absolutely loved Una's narration of her childhood spent on a lighthouse island.  If this book has any flaw, it's that it goes too far with something I call the Forrest Gump effect.  Una crossed paths with a few too many literary figures, and trends of the times, for my tastes...but even that did not affect my love for the book.

Read all the books in No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and looking for another good read?
Check out A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson.

Mr. Malik has been secretly in love with Rose Mbikwa who has been leading the Tuesday bird walks. Now he faces competition from an old rival of his schooldays. The two decide to make a deal. The one to identify the most species of birds in a week's time will have the privilege of asking Rose Mbikwa to the Asadi Club's annual ball in Nairobi, Kenya.

This is a charmer of a book with an old-fashioned feel.

There's nothing more enjoyable then tucking in to a lovely gothic suspense story on a crisp fall day. Neil Gaiman, author of a long list of beloved books, including Anansi Boys, Coraline and Sandman, agrees. Recently, he suggested a new Hallowe'en tradition - rather than candy, give a scary read this year. The treat this season is that several authors have released creepy books that you'll be hard pressed to put down when the trick-or-treaters ring your bell.

Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman is a fine choice for those who like a good old-fashioned scare, along the lines of Peter Straub. Frank Nichols returns from World War I, somewhat the worse for wear, bearing both physical and psychological scars. But things look brighter when he falls hopelessly in love with Eudora, a beautiful and intelligent woman who is equally infatuated with Frank. Together they pack up and move to a small town in Georgia. Frank's recently deceased aunt has left her house to Frank, with the express wish that he sell it. But Frank is anxious to start on his book, a history of the life of his powerful and eccentric great grandfather, a local plantation owner reviled for his cruelty to his slaves. Frank and Dora are welcomed by the villagers, but become uneasy when they hear stories about a mysterious group of people living across the river. The advice to the couple? "Don't go there". You can guess whether Frank heeds it or not.

Charles Frazier's Nightwoods combines gothic elements and a growing sense of menace. The story is set in a small town populated by eccentric and sometimes disturbed characters. Luce is the daughter of a hard-hearted mother and a drug addicted father who is also the town's lawman. After she is raped, Luce gives up on socializing with the town's sorry mix of misfits and on humanity in general. She sets up a hermitage across the lake in an abandoned lodge. She is enjoying her own company just fine until a social worker from the state shows up with two feral children, her niece and nephew. Their mother has been murdered by their sociopathic father, Bud. Luce doesn't love the children, who seem damaged beyond repair, but she knows she has an obligation to her sister. She tries to create a sanctuary for the kids. Unfortunately, their father is not done with them, and the situation intensifies when Luce realizes that Bud has tracked the children to the lodge.

A few others: Colson Whitehead's Zone One, an exploration of existential crisis brought on by zombies, and the graphic novel version of the hit series, The Walking Dead. What's your favorite read for a Hallowe'een night? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

I love an action show; give me explosions and I'm a happy camper. So when someone recommended Chuck to me, I was willing to give this action/comedy/science fiction show a try.

Chuck, the title character, is introduced as an underachieving slacker with some personal issues that he's not working out, thanks in part to his sister's well-meaning enabling. Chuck's old college roommate arranges to have a "sufficiently advanced technology" computer downloaded into Chuck's head. Chuck's brain is loaded with all the intelligence that the National Intelligence Agencies have, and their physical database is blown up.

If Chuck sees or hears something that's in the database, he has a flash of intelligence on the topic. Suddenly Chuck's an 'asset', with 'handlers' -- and the too-tall bumbling nerd (with all the athletic skills you'd expect in a computer repairman who spends his free time playing video games) is stuck in a string of spying expeditions, scared out of his wits.

Then Season Two rolled around...and I really fell for the show. Chuck grows as a person, his sister and friend change, his handlers become three dimensional. Plus, Chuck is a decent human being who really wants to do the right thing and cares about his family and friends. The writers made me care, and I want this character to get a happy ending!

Lastly, I'll deny being a sucker for a romance with my final breath, but there may be a pretty decent love story somewhere in there. I might possibly want her to have a happy ending, too.

Recently I've been on a bit of a way back kick for my movie tastes. No, not WAY way back. But back far enough to see how films from the 80s have held up over time. I grabbed a copy of the original Tron and plunked down to watch it last week. By today's standards, the graphics and computer animation seems clunky. It was 1982 after all! But what's interesting is that it actually holds up over time. And while it didn't gross much at the box office (the arcade game actually made more money than the film), it quickly became a cult favorite.

Two of the film's biggest fans have a bit of a cult following of their own, the duo known as Daft Punk. I've written of my love for them before, but what's great is that they came up with the musical score to Tron's sequel, Tron: Legacy. Sure, the sequel has better graphics, but the score is a glimpse into the true capabilities of Daft Punk. Working with an 85-piece orchestra, they were able to give the sequel the appropriate futuristic electronic funk for which they are so well known.

An animated series called Tron: Uprising is scheduled to premiere in 2012. Let's hope it will stand the test of time as well as Tron, the first.

You know it’s only a matter of time - already your computer corrects you when you make a typo or reminds you to take your vitamins. Pretty soon they’ll be sentient, and when they wise up and start taking a look at the mess mankind has made of the planet they might come up with a highly organized plan to fix it - a plan includes getting rid of the species that mucked everything up in the first place. That’s the premise behind Daniel H.Wilson’s Robopocalypse.

In a not so future world, just about every manufactured thing includes a computer chip. Your car has a computer, your vacuum cleaner has a computer, the building you live in has a computer that regulates the light and the heat. Companion robots help with all aspects of your life. It's a wonderful world until a master computer surpasses its maker and becomes sentient. It determines that mankind is a species that has become an infestation. Linking itself to all the computers in the world, large and small, it begins to direct a plan of human annihilation. Suddenly crossing the street or walking through an automatic door becomes a life and death matter.Wilson's familiarity with robots comes from his work as a robotics engineer. The book is slated to be made into a film in 2013, with Stephen Spielberg directing.

Wilson's work is thrilling stuff, comfortably on the side of fiction. A more optimistic view of the rise of our robot overlords is found in the nonfiction work The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil. His view is that soon (yes, soon) the ever-doubling power of computer chips will lead to computers solving problems that are beyond humanity's grasp. And humanity will cross into a new reality.

So is it the fight of our lives, or nanobot-enabled immortality? Either way, I'm not ready.

Flann O'Brien, né Brian O'Nolan, aka Myles na gCopaleen was born 100 years ago today.

I've been an O'Flanngelist since I was a teen. His novels are exuberant, wildly intelligent, and like nothing else.

NPR called his The Third Policeman "The funniest, and scariest, book ever written." Narrated by an amoral would-be academic, it features fake footnotes, policemen who greet every inquiry with "Is it about a bicycle?", Our hero, such as he is, has lost his gold watch, much to the disbelief of the policeman who cannot imagine why anyone would steal anything other than a bicycle. "Never in my puff did I hear of any man stealing anything but a bicycle when he was in his sane senses. [...] If we ever find the watch I have a feeling there will be a bell and pump on it."

It may be too late to get to Dublin in time for the Centenary Conference, but surely you can secure some sort of transportation -- a bicycle, perhaps -- and become acquainted with Flann.

Ages ago, H. Beam Piper wrote a series of books that began with Little Fuzzy. They're showing their years: you know it's an old book when the hero is seen smoking. As a kid, I loved reading these ancient and battered paperbacks from my local library. As an adult I hunted down the omnibus for my own collection and still love them. The first book in the series is actually out of copyright so you can download and read it for free from the public domain books via Library2Go.  Under the weathered quaintness of them is just this spark - you forgive the out-dated tech. What comes through is the bright hope and the good side of human nature. Sometimes it's just nice to relax with a book where it's clear who the good guys are. They are, forgive me, I can't resist... warm and fuzzy novels.

Apparently I'm not the only closet fan of this series. John Scalzi wrote Fuzzy Nation for himself as a "reboot" of the original. It wasn't until he finished that he got permission to publish it from the Piper estate. He wrote that if he hadn't gotten the go-ahead, he would have just kept the book he wrote for his own pleasure. So, in a way, this book is fanfic... but by a top-notch writer.  In the last five years Scalzi has collected a generous handful of Hugo award nominations and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Scalzi is best know for a string of military science fiction novels that are anything but warm and fuzzy, so I was curious to see what he would do. Fuzzy Nation won me over to the point that I finished it in one sitting.

The plot-line is similar to Piper's original. Humans have moved out into the stars. While we've meet a few less technologically advanced intelligent species we're almost alone. Jack Holloway is a prospector on a planet with no native intelligent life living in the wilderness (which has lots of huge toothy carnivorous threats) when a tiny, cute, furry biped turns up in his cabin. The tiny, physically helpless and non-threatening critter is too clever to be just a dumb animal. Jack has to figure out if it's a sapient being but still an animal or if it's actually a person. Human laws in this universe say that if there's no intelligent life we can take what we like from a planet. If there is intelligent life then the planet belongs to the native intelligence and we can't interfere. Here's where the two books diverge. Piper's tells an adventure story centered on exploring this world. Scalzi presents a courtroom drama with a take on what we, both as a species and as individuals, would do if we found cute, helpless, and intelligent life sitting on a nice rich new world.

Those of us who listen to audio books know that the reader is at least as important as the story. After a few unpleasant voices the great ones become precious, their names as treasured as those of favorite authors.

My three favorite audio book readers are, in order of discovery, Davina Porter, Patrick Tull, and Simon Prebble.

Davina Porter made Tess of the d’Ubervilles a riveting soap opera, the action of which I would breathlessly summarize for my husband every day. And her Scottish accent was the perfect match for the Sunday Philosophy Club series.

I had made two attempts at reading (with my eyes) Patrick O'Brian’s Master and Commander before trying Patrick Tull’s rendition -- Tull’s voice was what I needed in order to understand and love the characters and their friendship, and he made the lists of ship minutiae in the Aubrey/Maturian series into something lovely and lilting.

And my latest discovery, Prebble, has the wonderful trait of embodying various characters without seeming ‘thespian-y’. My favorite of his so far is Don't Point that Thing at Me, which the library owns as an MP3. He so perfectly transmitted the author's humor that he had me chortling goofily as I rode the bus. Talk to me, Mr. Prebble.

The Night Circus arrives without warning. What was an empty field by day becomes transformed by night. A city of tents appears as if by magic, drawing people through the dusk to the soft-twinkling lights and the smell of warm caramel in the air. When the guests arrive, they hardly know where to go first. One tent contains a frozen world of ice and snow all in shades of white and silver, making the visitor feel as though he has been transported into his own personal snow globe. In another a mysterious woman reads the future in her cards. In another, guests climb to the top of the tent by way of  a maze of soft clouds and, reaching the top, gently float back down to the ground.

Le Cirque des Reves showcases the purely fantastical next to the usual entertainments one might expect - the contortionists, the jugglers and of course, the magicians. What the guests don't realize is that the night circus exists only incidentally as a place to while away an evening: the circus is really a giant game-board. At its center are two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are destined to compete in a battle to out-magic one another, a battle that will lead to the death of one.

Though Erin Morgenstern's book is already in high demand, it is well worth the wait. The Night Circus is a delectable treat of a novel, a fantastical, almost architectural dessert that is almost too beautiful to eat, but you won't be able to resist.

Ever since our stay at the Slocum house in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, I've been curious about the life and voyages of Joshua Slocum. I feel lucky that I chanced upon The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum by Geoffrey Wolff.

It is a wonderful tale of adventure, luck, skill and derring-do. I appreciate the way that Mr. Wolff incorporates history, literary allusions and his own personality into the story. Sometimes an author's intrusion into a story is distracting, but I found the story enhanced by Mr. Wolff's comments and footnotes.

This is one of those books that give you a real sense of the time and place -- sailing for profit is giving way to shipping by steamship. The old ways are again being replaced by the new.

The Brooklyn Bridge has just been completed and Slocum's son remembers the workmen dabbing the topmost masthead of his father's ship the Northern Light by a playful bridge workman. I love that Mr. Wolff stops the story of Slocum to give us a very brief look at the Brooklyn Bridge complete with an excerpt from Hart Crane's poem "To the Brooklyn Bridge".  

A few pages later, Slocum is sailing the Northern Light between Java and Sumatra while Krakatoa is in full eruption. The sea is boiling and "fretting about the ever-changing depth, Slocum ordered the lead line cast, and it came up from the bottom with its tallowed tip melted." Details like this add so much to the reader's enjoyment.

Slocum endures many trials and much controversy, both on land and on the sea -- from mutiny to squalls and battles over payment to some people's disbelief in his solo voyage.  

Much is made of Slocum's love of reading, his shipboard library and his writing skills. Enough examples are given that I now must turn to Slocum's own words in Sailing Alone Around the World.

I'm probably coming late to the party, but are any of you as madly in love with Mythbusters as I am? My 7-year-old and I have been watching them all summer long. I'd tried to get him interested a while back and it didn't take, but I got him with the episode titled Helium Football--what kid wouldn't be overjoyed to hear the helium voice for the first time? He was hooked.

But, I love them too, for loads of reasons: Because I'm a science-y sort, because the people on the show are so smart and cute, because they show a logical progression in their proof process, because they shop at places like that cool aircraft surplus warehouse where they got the vacuum toilet, because they have that giant, highly organized shop full of industrial shelving with boxes and bins of tools and hardware and toys and stuff, and because they have those awesome panel trucks that just say M-5 on the side. Very undercover.

My favorite episodes: Tesla's Earthquake Machine, Mentos/Diet Coke, Hindenburg Disaster, and Killer Whirlpool, all from collection 2.

My son's favorite episodes: Helium Football, Crimes and Mythdemeanors, Killer Whirlpool, and the two different Ninja shows.

There are a few episodes that involve alcohol consumption which may not be appropriate for children, depending on your kiddos age, but are hilarious for adults.

If you love the Mythbusters too, won't you send in a 'Suggestion for Purchase' for the seasons that we do not own yet at MCL? We currently have 1-5, and have ordered 6 and 7, but really we should have them all. C'mon. You know you want them, too.

I love English villages, or, at least, the idea of them: the thatched cottages, the gardens with their exotic-sounding veggies like courgette (zucchini) and Swedes (rutabaga), the endless cream teas, the common area called the green, and the often odd local vicar. Because I've never been to a single English village in all of my trips to Britain (I thought that Thirsk - the home of James Herriot's vet surgery - was, but it's actually considered a market town), most of what I believe about them comes from British television or books.  It could be that what I "know" about villages is not absolutely true, but it's been fun watching how they're portrayed.

My absolute favorite village television show is The Vicar of Dibley, starring the awesome Dawn French. Geraldine Granger, the cute, chubby new girl in town is also the village's first female vicar and at least one of the church council members is NOT pleased.  The cast is made up of some wonderfully eccentric characters including Owen, the randy farmer, Alice, the not-so-bright love interest of the not-so-bright son of the wealthiest man in town and Frank Pickle, the gay secretary who is overly meticulous in his minute-taking endeavors. Much of each episode consists of a council meeting in which serious matters are being considered in often hilarious discussions, although several of the episodes were so moving that I cried. The characters could easily be turned into caricatures, but they all have deeply human cores that are revealed throughout the course of the series and that make them all seem quite possible.

Two other series I've been watching recently are also set in villages or small towns. If you like cozy murder mysteries, try Midsomer Murders. This series has been going on so long that I'm surprised there is anyone left alive in the fictional Midsomer County! Clatterford is more of a town than a village, but you still get the village feel as this show revolves around the small group of people who make up the Clatterford Women's Guild.

The next time I go to England, I must visit a village and find out if everything I've seen on television is real!

I'd been waiting for years to read The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. The first book, The Name of the Wind, came out in 2007. I finally get my copy. I take it home where my husband says "Great!  I've been waiting and waiting to read that!", and swipes it.  ~whimper~  At last, now that he's finally done with it, I've been able to read the book.

Rothfuss isn't a perfect writer and there are flaws in this book and the first, but the pages just flow by like water - all 993 of them. It seems like he just loves words and language. He never misses a chance to describe and expound. The protagonist of the books, Kvothe, is in many ways a trope character for fantasy. He's a hyper-competent red-head, almost a Mary-Sue, who seems to become good at almost anything he tries in no time at all. There's a funny section where he fails to become great at something-only just managing good enough... I won't spoil it further. He's also a teenage boy with all the emotional wisdom and people skills one might expect from a teenager with no adult guidance. The adult Kvothe may or may not be a reliable narrator. He's been a performer since childhood after all, and could be forgiven for putting himself in the best light.

Kvothe has to take a leave of absence from The University after a prolonged conflict with a high noble's son leaves him in a financial and social bind (see the bit above about the lack of wisdom...). He travels to a nearby country and takes service under a wealthy lord, leading to a string of (mis)adventures. Meanwhile the adult Kvothe, who is narrating the story, appears to be waiting to die.

I really really hope it's not another four years until book three of this series comes out. I'd be pleased to be wrong. And for this next series I want to read, I'll be hiding A Dance with Dragons from my husband until I get to read it, even if he did finish the first four books with greater dedication than I showed...

A couple of weeks ago we held a contest. The challenge was to write a haiku review of a book or film. Our winner was Michelle Overby, who got the most votes with this little tribute to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw:

Just then I felt a
presence in the room that had
not been there before.





We were impressed. In fact, there were so many fine entries, we thought we'd share a few more.

Spine not even cracked
Bossypants back at Belmont
Forgive me, Tina

- Lucy Chisler on BossyPants




Ishmael and Queequeg
Went whaling on The Pequod
Not knowing Ahab
- Jeff Palmer on Moby Dick





Southern injustice /
Black man and a chifarobe /
Kids and Boo prevail.

- Lisa Shaw on To Kill a Mockingbird




Four men, sworn scholars
fore-swear their books in favor
of four femmes fatales.

- Kate Karman on Love's Labours Lost by Shakespeare
Victories hard won
So much struggle, sacrifice
They are my heroes

- Latina Anderson on A People's History of the United States 




That movie about
the Disney ride: Too much length
and not enough Depp

- Greg Weber on any Pirates of the Caribbean movies
Guy named Sam-I-am
Does not like green eggs and ham
Until he tries them

- Juliet Morefield on Green Eggs and Ham



and finally...

Flip flip flip
pages turn effortlessly
in long summer days
- Jed Mitchell

Hope the rest of your summer days are spent in languorously turning pages.


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