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.

Siqueiros Mural

I came back from my yearly trip to Mexico recently: it’s always refreshing to walk around the city of Cuernavaca where I’m from, visiting historical sites as I do year after year. This city is privileged to host the work of two great Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera painted the history of the city at El Palacio de Cortés or the Palace of Cortés and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural ”The March of Humanity” is found at La Tallera cultural center. If you want to know more about this kind art, follow me!

Muralism was practiced long ago when indigenous groups painted their ideas and important events in big displays on the sides of ceremonial and burial buildings. The splendid Maya murals of Bonampak are a simple example of this kind of art.

This artistic manifestation gained more importance in Mexico during the 20th century. The first murals were created in 1921 and the last were created in 1955, when murals lost the essence of an articulated artistic movement. There were several artists who brought a diversity of aesthetics and political influences; at times the artists' were severely criticized and censured, and even destroyed, as happened with one Diego Revera's murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

The movement is characterized by the artists' great need to express the social and political events of their times using huge platforms. In the murals, Mexicans have the opportunity to appreciate the content of their own reality and identity. The Mexican Revolution, political radicalism as an international proposal, agrarian reform, and oil expropriation inspired nationalistic artists who presented the reality of a Mexican society so devastated by these events. A group of muralist artists created the movement using the walls of important public buildings as canvases, to exalt the art and rescue indigenous and popular traditions. The three great figures of this artistic era were Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Would you like to learn more about this great art movement? Take a look at the video lecture on Maya murals below, or explore my list for further reading.

 

Rivera's mural

 

 

 

Photo: James RexroadIn all they do, the members of the heavy metal band Red Fang exhibit passion, musicality and a sense of humor to boot. Their music video for Wires has a sort of Myth Busters vibe to it, minus the hard science; and their performance on David Letterman in 2014 was electrifying, pardon the pun. When they aren't making glasses of PBR vibrate off a table, here's what they're reading.

John Sherman, drums:

Red Fang tours about 6 months out of the year, so there is a TON of time spent riding on planes, trains, and automobiles with not much to do other than read.  Even with smart phones and laptops, I’m happy to say we are a band that still enjoys the written word. We all have varying tastes, but I’ve really been getting into Sci-Fi and Fantasy books over the past few years. Here are two of my favorites from the last tour.

Robert A. Heinlein - Stranger in a Strange Land.  This book really blew me away.  It’s very different from the typical “Man from Mars” story.  Heinlein writes this Sci-Fi novel kind of like a hardboiled detective novel, reminding me of Raymond Chandler but funnier. Even though this book is about a man from Mars, it’s also about abuse of power, corrupt government, sexy ladies and pretty much everything else that’s awesome to read about. Super good, quick, fun, intelligent read. 

Ben Johnson – A Shadow Cast in Dust.  This one really grabbed me because it’s a fantasy in a modern day setting, and I can totally relate to the main character – a bartender in a band.  This dude is having a rough go of it and things quickly get worse.  And WEIRD!  All of the sudden he is thrust into a world he didn’t know existed, but was right in front of him – of ALL of us – the whole time.  The webs of the universe can be controlled, and not all who know how to control them are rad dudes, ya know?  This story has many characters and their stories all weave together and keep building and building – it’s pretty epic.  The action is intense, the plot gets thick as molasses, and the emotion is real.  And it’s only the first in a series!  I can’t wait for the second installment.  Get this book!

Bryan Giles, guitar and vocals:

One of my favorite books in recent memory was Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, a Swedish author.  I saw the original film adaptation many times and really enjoyed it so I thought I'd read the book.  The film is compelling, but the book is so much more so. Red Fang

The story focuses on Oskar, a 12 year old who is bullied mercilessly at school, and his new friend Eli that just moved in next door to him.  It is revealed that Eli is a vampire early on as the pedophile care giver goes on an evening excursion to collect human blood. 

Incredibly gruesome and violent, I found that the themes of alienation, anxiety, and isolation were what really kept me engaged.  I felt deeply connected with the characters and tied to their fates.  At one point later in the book I literally put it down and ran through my house screaming... So good!

Aaron Beam, bass and vocals:

Being on tour, you have a lot of down time, and lots of time to spend trapped in your own head. That is not necessarily the best place for me to be, so its important to have a good escape. My favorite books tend to be ones that are still about the subject of the mind or personal identity, but about someone else's.

Cormac McCarthy - The Road. This is the book that got me back into reading novels after a very long period of reading only nonfiction and short stories. This is one of the most terrifying books I have ever read. I actually jumped a couple times from surprise. To do that with the printed word is, um...beyond words. Apart from the horror story, this book is gorgeous in its simple yet deeply expressive, nearly poetic prose. I saw the book as a positive expression of the sacrifice all fathers make for their sons. And it led me to read Blood Meridian and All the Pretty Horses, which are both incredible, yet much denser novels.

David Foster Wallace - Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.  This is a collection of short stories by one of the most innovative yet accessible writers of our generation. "The Depressed Person" captures the nature of depression more directly and accurately than anything else I have read. There is another story whose name escapes me that is simply a roman numeral outline of a story, but by the time you have reached the end of the outline, you have been moved like you would be with a traditional narrative.

Lawrence Wright - Going Clear.  Alright, this one is a bit of a departure, but a great tour book. It's about the Church of Scientology's foundations and about its current status. But it is also about religion in general, and the parallels he draws to the early stages of most major religions is disturbing and eye-opening.

Motley Crue - The Dirt. This is possibly the best/worst book to read on tour ever. Sure, it has its moments of shock and crazy debauchery. But the worst part of this book is that it makes you realize that Motley Crue are four actual human beings who experience pain and heartbreak and medical issues.

For more reading recommendations customized for you, try the My Librarian service.  My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

I had this great plan to explore the cuisines of the world with you last summer. Yet, that fall I started school again and fast food and takeout dominated my meals. Here are dishes I made last semester before midterms and finals hit:

Pati's Mexican Table book jacketMexican green rice with beans from Pati’s Mexican Table by Pati Jinich: Rice is simmered in a delicious blend of garlic, onions, poblanos, and cilantro. The addition of a side of beans completes a meal, so simple but good you’ll feel self-congratulatory. Great as a bowl or in a burrito!

Pad kee mao from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu: Finally! This is the first Thai cookbook I’ve checked out with recipes that look both carefully edited and approachable. You can now enjoy the best drunken noodles at home. This also contains the author’s new-to-you childhood favorites and familiar dishes.

Curry rice from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko: I’ve been making this downhome, savory curry since college. This is the perfect dish to make when it’s cold outside and you feel extra lazy.

Kale and white beans in cilantro pesto from Aarti Paarti: An American Kitchen with an Indian Soul by Aarti Sequeira: You seem Aarti Paarti book jacketskeptical… Trust me though: this is a rich and garlicky meal you won’t regret. Extra points for being one of the prettiest cookbooks I’ve ever seen.

Crispy salmon cakes from Cook’s Illustrated: There are a lot of great recipes in here, but these salmon cakes were my stand-out for 2014. Crispy on the outside and bursting with flavors on the inside. Ingredients include scallions, shallots, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and spices.

Even if you get too busy to cook like me, try to carve out some time for yourself and make one of these recipes this year! You will feel accomplished and your tummy will thank you.

 

I’ve said this before, but for me, cooking in winter-- after the holidays and too many cookies-- is all about vivid flavors, about food that both tastes good and will make me and my family feel good when we eat it. So I was delighted when my hold on Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More came in.

The first Ottolenghi cookbook I read was Plenty, which came out a few years ago. My husband and I both like to cook, and we look at a lot of recipes, which can make us kind of blasé about a new cookbook, but Plenty was exciting. We filled it up with post-its and started cooking from it, and eventually we just bought the book. We’re omnivores, but Ottolenghi has such an original way of celebrating vegetables that it was a while before we even paid attention to the fact that the recipes in the book are meatless.

Unlike Plenty, which focuses on Mediterranean recipes, Ottolenghi’s new cookbook widens its scope to include a range of world cuisines. I had some friends over for dinner recently and made a cheesy, quiche-like cauliflower cake inspired by an English dish and a delicious Thai lentil soup that knocked our socks off with its combination of star anise, ginger, lime juice, coconut milk and Kaffir lime leaves, along with a pretty topping of finely sliced sugar snap peas. If you love your vegetables, you must take a look at this cookbook, which offers delights like an arugula salad with caramelized figs and feta, pea and mint croquettes, bell peppers stuffed with buttery rutabaga and goat cheese, and smoky polenta fries. Yum. The hold list is still kind of long, so you might want to check out this list of other excellent international cookbooks while you wait.

Among Thieves

by John Clarkson

An intense crime thriller set in Brooklyn with tough characters and a page turning plot.  For fans of Lawrence Block and Lee Child.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

by Emma Hooper

The story of eighty-three year old Etta who decides to walk across Canada to see the ocean. Along  the way she makes many friends who share their own life stories.  A poignant novel for literary fiction fans.

A Touch of Stardust

by Kate Alcott

A novel about the filming of Gone With the Wind and the budding love affair that happens between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. Sure to be a hit with romance readers and fans of vintage Hollywood.

Dorothy Parker Drank Here

by Ellen Meister

Meister's second novel about the acid-tongued Dorothy Parker and her encounters with a down and out writer who has given up on life. Parker's classic wit and wisdom is sprinkled throughout. Enjoy!

Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made

by Richard Rhodes

Rhodes, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, now presents the Spanish Civil War as a turning point for influencing military conflict in the 20th century. He discusses the new military weapons and strategies that emerged along with giving the perspectives of famous witnesses to the conflict such as Picasso and Hemingway.

Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story

by Michael Rosen

Rosen takes us though the history of the alphabet devoting a chapter to each one. He describes how we ended up with 26 in the first place, how we came to write them down, and what they really mean. Filled with interesting facts and told with humor, it is sure to appeal to language freaks.

Silence: the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise

by Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the most beloved zen masters shares his wisdom on how to find happiness and inner peace by guiding our minds to cultivate calm and learn the power of silence.

 

Ninety Percent of Everything book jacketWe’ve just finished a season filled with consumer spending. Did you know that 90% of everything you bought or were given was transported on a ship? I didn’t until I read Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George. It tells the story of how stuff gets from where it was found, grown or made to a store near you. It is a story about the ships and sailors of the merchant marine who not only make this possible, but are essentially invisible to us.  Rose George sails from Rotterdam through the Suez Canal to Singapore on a Maersk container ship. You’ll find out about this particular voyage as well as the modern merchant marine in general. She covers ship ownership and flags of convenience, pirates and the conditions that sailors have to deal with while on board a ship. This is a world where ownership of a vessel is masked through shell companies and sailors are at the mercy of the laws of the country where their ship is registered. This book will change how you see the products you use.

Other books about ships and sailors that you may also like are: 

The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea by John Moynihan. John, the son of Senator Patrick Moynihan, dropped out of school and got a job as an Ordinary Seaman on the supertanker Rose City. The story and illustrations are from his journal of the trip.

Looking For a Ship by  John McPhee follows a sailor through the process of finding a job on an American flagged ship and then it’s voyage to South America. You will find out about the challenges of getting work in the shrinking American merchant marine.

Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea by Richard Henry Dana. Written in the 1830’s, this classic book tells of Dana’s experience as a sailor on a sailing ship. He sailed from Massachusetts to California by way of Cape Horn and back. Much has changed since then, but the life of a sailor has always been a difficult one.

Book Jacket: The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan DaumWhen a loved one receives bad news at the doctor’s office, you should squeeze their hand and give them a steely glance that says, “I’m here with you.  We’ll beat this thing.”

Throughout this life, you’re supposed to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to achieve real growth and we all want to grow, right?

If you survive a life-threatening event, you’re expected to live each day thereafter with gratitude and heightened perspective.  

It’s these preassigned responses to human experiences that Meghan Daum challenges in her latest collection of personal essays, The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion.  

Covering topics that range from cream of mushroom soup casserole to waking up from a medically induced coma,  Daum’s writing is funny, but not frivolous. I loved her keen recognition of the absurd and her unapologetic honesty. As a fellow Gen Xer, I also relished her many 1970s-80s pop culture references. What I loved most about these essays however, is how moving they were. How they started off so specific and individual and ended with broader truths that left me considering the emotional expectations we have of ourselves.

It’s true that the topics covered in The Unspeakable, aren't the type of thing that people readily talk about.  But they are precisely the type of subjects that lead to the best conversations you have with your closest friend. The kind where you can confess to dreading what you're supposed to be looking forward to; Where you can laugh inappropriately and be completely yourself. Maybe not your most becoming self, but your most human self.

 

What's your favorite book? When you only get to pick one, which one do you say? I work among and with library people, and most of them look anguished when asked this question. "Unfair!" they cry. "There are so many good stories!"

Great Expectations book jacketWell, I agree with them, but I have had a favorite for many years now, and considering my love of science fiction, comics, teen dystopias and such, even I can't explain why it is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 
 
Have you read it? It's the story of Pip, orphaned at a young age and "raised by hand" thanks to his shrewish sister. One day, when he is in the cemetery sadly looking at his parents' graves, out of the fog comes an escaped convict who grabs him and demands that he bring him some 'wittles' to eat. Frightened, Pip honors this request, and this act of kindness (and fear) starts a plot that wanders up and down the social scale of early 1800s London and environs. 
 
Why do I love it so much? Perhaps the first-person perspective helps; my second favorite of his works is David Copperfield which is also told that way. It might be Dickens' wonderful language, always a thing I need to hear in my head... sometimes I read bits aloud, just for full enjoyment (not usually in public). But I think it is mostly about the characters - each has their own voice, so clearly distinguishable that I'm pretty sure I could tell you who is speaking just by hearing the quote. And I love Mr. Wemmick. He's a minor character, but watching him relax the further he gets from "the office", his whimsy and good cheer returning with proximity to home is delightful and reminds me of one of my pre-library jobs.  
 
There's so much more! A well-drawn picture of the era, commentary on pride and loneliness and love, incarceration and revenge, a look at the social scale and what it takes to climb it (or descend it)... I could go on for longer than I am allowed. Have a look, and then let us know.... what's your favorite book?
 

 

Do you make new year’s resolutions? Or do you eschew the practice?
I admit I can get carried away by dreams of a Shiny New All Improved Me, one that you’d be happy to hang out with. That optimistic me looks at books like Learn Something New Every Day and starts using words like “eschew.”
Optimistic Me looks at books that promise big changes over one year, books like One Year to An Organized Life With Baby. Tired Me thinks that I haven’t really been organized since I became a parent. Tired Me thinks a book like The Sh!t No One Tells You: A 52-week Guide to Surviving your Baby's First Year might have been more helpful.

So I have given up on big resolutions; instead I choose one word to guide me through the year. This year my word is gratitude and I plan to use seven books to help me.  And if I write just three thank you cards to my relatives and remember to be kind to myself when I can’t find the car keys again, I’m going to feel gratitude and maybe a little shiny new and all improved.
 

 

For me, January usually means new beginnings.  How about you?  Does the new year have significance?

I like to declutter the house. I like to decorate. What does that mean? For me it means hanging a few pictures.There’s no lack of framed pictures, but I get nervous about putting them up. So with the new year I like to urge myself to be brave and hang a few up. First I want to hang up my sister’s Neil Armstrong portrait this week and a few others.

I always like to try new recipes too. This year is no different. I tried the Homesick Texan’s carnitas recipe with great success this weekend. My family and friends loved how good the carnitas tasted! While dabbling with these activities books help me dream. Here is a list that might help you dream too.

The Life-changing magic of tidying up bookjacketI am susceptible to the idea of 'organize your home = organize your mind', so with all the buzz around The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I had to try it. Though the author, Marie Kondo, had me at "life-changing", the subtitle is equally intriguing: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I was thinking about the path to beauty through study and simplicity - bonsai, sushi, ikebana. Would there be an equally methodical approach to tidying?

The verdict? There are some eye-opening and sustainable tips here, including storing everything, including clothes, vertically (don't worry, she'll tell you how.) In light of our consumer culture and the rise of movements like Buy Nothing Day, the author's advice about keeping or buying 'only those things that spark joy' makes sense; um...well, except for underpants...and insurance...and, oh, never mind. 

But the bits about the crushed and defeated clothes on the bottom of the pile and the sadness and despair of socks that have been tied in knots? Well, sorry, I'm not buying the sentient clothing argument. But, if you're interested in a peaceful and organized home, this book is well worth a read. If you adopt Kondo's methods, you'll probably enjoy a more restful space - that is, if you can convince the rest of your family to play by the same rules!

​​persephone books ltd logoIt was not long after my discovery of Virago Press, that I stumbled upon another small independent British press for women—Persephone Books Ltd. Founded by Nicola Beauman in 1999, this press pleases its patrons with a thoughtful selection, not only the books themselves, but in the design. Each  has a dove-grey book jacket, its simple elegance inspired by the off-white vintage French paperbacks, and endpapers that are very often textile designs from the era the book was originally published. Also included is a bookmark matching the endpapers with a brief passage from the text. The kernel of the idea came from watching the classic film Brief Encounter and wondering at which books Laura, the heroine, would have checked out from the Boots library on her weekly visit. Nicola, in an interview with The Telegraph, said "I don't relish modern writers and felt there was a market for the books I love—domestically-focused and well-written, often by forgotten or unfashionable authors." If you are sometimes overwhelmed by the glut of printed material and long for something absorbing, try picking up a Persephone.

I solemnly swear on a stack of unopened self-help books I’ll do something reflective, meditate, or whatever such a thing suggests. In the meantime, they can keep my bookshelf looking thoughtful…

nerdist book coverHowever, when things got rough a while back, the right book appeared at the right time. Speaking to my inner skeptic, pop culture loving self, and former Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) player,  Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way offered the advice I was looking for in my time of rediscovery. Unlike other books promising personal growth, the nerdist way takes a humorous look at discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, improving on both through, well, nerdy excercises (literally and figuratively).

Whether it’s identifying who you are, improving your physical prowess, or finding the motivation to seeing  projects through, there’s something for everyone’s inner nerd. Me? I Made a character sheet ala D&D with Hardwick’s advice and found myself in a coffee shop filling in experience points of my goals with colored pencils.


Being nerdy never felt so good.

The Art of Asking audio book coverWhen it comes to audiobooks, there are some publications in which the experience of the book is somewhat lost without the visual or tactile experience of a book. There are others that can equally be enjoyed by either the the listener or the reader. And then there are those rare audiobooks that are enriched by the listening experience. Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking, is one of those uniquely luscious listening experiences. Amanda delivers her words from her mouth to your ears. There is something in the authenticity of  listening to an individual tell their story in their own voice that makes the reader (or listener) a believer. The added bonus to The Art of Asking audiobook is the music peppered throughout.

I admit that I knew very little about Amanda Palmer before listening to her audiobook. A couple of years ago, she came to Portland for a small solo show at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (if you don’t know about IPRC, check them out). Some of my friends were so excited for the show, that for weeks beforehand it seemed like that was all they were talking about. I wasn't a fan of her music. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I hadn't really been exposed. After hearing her stories and her experiences as a musician and an artist, she has gained a lifelong fan in me.

The Art of Asking was birthed from Amanda’s popular TED Talk of the same name. The book’s title might lead you to think that this is a self-help book, but really it’s more of a memoir than a how-to. From her life as a living statue, as a punk cabaret musician and artist, a wife, a friend, a community leader and collaborator, and crowdfunding wizard;  Amanda’s magic is in her ability to be vulnerable and to graciously ask for, and receive help. Listening to her audiobook, I felt like she was not just sharing her story, but her secret recipe, her magic.

 

 

 

The Kept bookjacketDuring these cold days of winter, what could be better than finding a book that takes you on a journey through the bleak days of a winter of 1897? The Kept is the perfect book to hunker down with while the wind howls and the threat of snow is upon us.

This is the story of Elspeth Howell, beginning on the day she returns home from her midwifery duties to her isolated farmstead in upstate New York and finds her husband and 5 of her children murdered. Only her 12-year-old son, Caleb, has survived. The book traces their journey to find the men who committed that horrific deed. As the journey progresses, so also do we slowly learn much of what has brought them to this point in their lives.

Scott has written a beautiful, bleak, extraordinary story. It's the kind of book that made me want to rush through my workday, wake up early in the morning, and stay up late to read. On the next blustery day, pick up The Kept and take a journey through the snow to Watersbridge, New York with James Scott.

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, and death penalty investigator. Of her latest novel, Geek Love author Katherine Dunn says, "The Enchanted is unlike anything I’ve ever read...it’s a jubilant celebration that explores human darkness with a profound lyrical tenderness…" Check out Rene's selected favorites. For more reading recommendations with your tastes in mind, try the My Librarian service. 

Local libraries were my sanctuaries growing up, and in each one I left a child version of myself, roaming the aisles, pulling out titles or checking out the books where librarians had left little tags that said read this. The best ones were those little-known gems, the books that may not have hit the bestseller list but still ended up lodged in my heart.

When I was a young child, the North Portland library was my refuge. I will forever associate that beautifully carved wooden ceiling with my favorite books of childhood: Trask by Don Berry, which I must have read a hundred times, or Crazy Weather by Charles McNichols. It was from the wide selection of African-American folktales I discovered my own joy of fable in books like The Cow-Tail Switch by Harold Courlander, with its jubilant stories and unforgettable phrasing: “A man is not truly dead until he is forgotten.”

When I was in middle school my family moved to Sellwood, then a blue-collar neighborhood where fishermen still hung the catch outside the local tavern. I spent endless drowsy afternoons in the local library, and remember the books that tore the sides of the paper grocery bags I carried home: from the astonishing Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter to the gentle yet wise memoir, West With The Night by Beryl Markham.

By fifteen, I was on my own, and like a lot of hardscrabble kids, the downtown library was my safe place. I celebrated my birthday on the second floor of that library while rain howled outside. Just the sight of that brick and stone façade brings back memories of all the books I discovered there, including Yellowfish by John Keeble and The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet—I’m the one who dog-eared all those pages—and who could forget the warmly humorous science fiction by our late and lamented local author Robert Sheckley?

Libraries saved my life. They gave me comfort, solace, and a vision of life as limitless as the shelves. They made me the writer I am today. So when I recommend my secret treasures, what I am really recommending is my own memories, and want to caution: the best way to find your own is to wander the stacks. Feel your hand on the books—reach for them the way we reach for each other, with longing and an open heart. Then you will never be dissatisfied.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

Cover image of Love Saves The Day   
     "If there's a cure for this
       I don't want it
       Don't want it
       If there's a remedy
       I'll run from it
       From it"

If you ask many people what the term "disco" conjures, you'll likely hear about drugs, excess, sex, celebrity and exclusive parties/clubs - not to mention the questionable fashions, the quintessential hairstyles and the inevitable accusations of artificiality and inauthenticity  (anyone remember "Disco Sucks"?).

But disco was a complex musical and cultural set of coordinates that originally emerged from the economic, sexual and racial peripheries of early 1970s New York City.  Tim Lawrence's Love Saves The Day - a definitive and exhaustive intervention in cultural history - uncovers these radical roots in eye-opening detail.  Lawrence draws upon a ton of archival material and interviews with many of the (surviving) primary players to construct a wonderful narrative that should appeal to anyone fascinated by the intersections of the social, economic and cultural in the 1970s. Lawrence documents the founding of David Mancuso's legendary Loft and tracks the myriad divergent strands forward that ultimately lead to the dead end of Studio 54 and the mass burning of disco LPs in Chicago's Comiskey Park.

Especially of interest for pop music aficionados (disco touched just about every pop musical genre that followed), sound junkies and anyone curious about the complex intersections between sexuality, technology, music and politics. 

And for your dancing pleasure, here's a playlist featuring some of the best music of the period:
 











A magic trick can leave some people slack-jawed with amazement. I can take or leave the sleight of hand; for me, an artist performs the most awe-inspiring of trick of all by conjuring something out of nothing. Watching an artist create gives me the same pleasant and engrossing buzz that many magic fans enjoy.

Maybe I caught this bug as a kid watching a show called The Book Bird. In it, a mustachioed man named John Robbins combined two of my great loves into performance art - he drew a scene from a book as he described the story. I would then rush to my public library to find out how the book ended. Public television has always been a good place for art junkies. Long before the idea of personal affirmation became popular, Bob Ross assured us that we could paint and encouraged us all to embrace "happy little trees".

According to Clarke's third law, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Watching an artist create something out of nothing feels like magic to me. Whether you're looking for inspiration for your own work, or you just like to watch, take a look at this list of artists in motion. And here's some affirmation from Mr. Ross himself.

On the Run bookjacketLouisiana has Mardi Gras and Lent. The other 49 states have New Year's Eve and the hangover.

Similarities are: feasts & drinking; dancing & drinking; and OMG  please somebody invite me to the party! & drinking. We go to church, get ashed, and promise to give up a pleasure. Y'all make a resolution and promise to be good. Same difference.

The point we try to make is: that a change will improve our life. The collection offered here is about folk who try to improve their life while being The Other in society. All opened my eyes to the lives being lived around me of which I am wholly unaware. How fortunate I am to have my work at the library, my family and my community, all of whom are welcoming and supportive.

Not so for some less fortunate, as I was reminded by a patron request. She enjoys good writing about realistic situations. Alice Goffman's On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City immediately came to mind. Ms. Goffman is a middle-class white woman who lived in a hyper-policed black Philadelphia neighborhood to complete her doctoral thesis. Her account is lucid and alarming. If you are doing the library's Everybody Reads book, The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson, you would benefit by reading On the Run.

Check out this eye-opening list done by my colleague Memo. Contemporary Chicano-Latino Literature: Short Stories and Flash Fiction includes The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans mentioned below. As a New Mexican, the title grabbed me immediately, but it was Ms. Tafolla's exquisite writing that hooked me. Writing well about difficult subjects is hard enough, but to add humor? I kiss my fingers to her skill.

Rounding out this list of skillful writers is the under-appreciated Tim Gautreaux. Dr. G is a critical success of the highest grade, yet somehow remains unknown to the general reading public. For a laugh-out-loud yet insightfully accurate picture of my Louisiana roots here is 'Welding with Children'. Need I say more?

Resolutions, changes and promises, hum-m? Is there room here for a bigger picture? Anyone?

 

 

I read a lot of great books last year, so I had a hard time choosing, but (fanfare, please!) the best book I read in 2014 was Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. It came out in 2010, but I didn't read it for years because the title misled me into thinking it was a different kind of book altogether. The goon in the title is time, and the main theme of this book is how time changes us, turns us into someone we wouldn't have recognized when we were young. This could be a real bummer of a theme, too, but the book is so smart and engaging that the theme just kind of washed over me because I was completely involved with its characters and delighted by its fine writing.

Goon Squad seems like more of a collection of short stories than a novel, at first, but the characters are connected to each other, sometimes very loosely. The narrative bounces around in time from about the 1970s into the 2020s and is mostly about people involved with the music and entertainment industry. There's a very moving PowerPoint presentation, a punk rock show at a club in LA in 1979, a celebrity journalist who tries to rape the starlet subject of his interview, a lion attack in Africa,  and an erotic kiss delivered to the unwilling lips of a Mother Superior. Which is to say that this book is wildly entertaining on top of being incredibly, dazzlingly good.

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