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.

"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Cover of In Danger - Pasolini

Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.

Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself.  Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking.  Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism.  Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed.  In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations.  But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement.  If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).

Image of rioter and fire

“If you’re not ready to go home,
  can I get a ‘Hell, no!’?

‘Cause we’re gonna go all night,
 ‘til we see the sunlight, alright…

 And we can’t stop.
 And we won’t stop.
 Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?”

-Miley Cyrus, "We Can’t Stop"

Of course one can argue that pop/rock music has always contained an inherent resistance to authority and constraints (think "Blackboard Jungle, " Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, Jim Morrison arrested for indecent exposure, outlaw country anti-heroes like Waylon Jennings, James Brown's various altercations with the law, etc.) and there's a rich genealogy of rock/pop/soul/hip-hop artists explicitly incorporating revolutionary critiques into their aesthetic (Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Jefferson Airplane, Last Poets). 

However, the last few years have seen a profusion of lyrics and postures that appear to echo and reflect this moment's widespread outrage, confusion and disillusionment with party politics. And while past instances of resistance tended to focus on the rebelling individual, post-2010 riot pop often speaks from the point of view of a tenuous "we."  In response to an ever-widening class divide and a seemingly endless economic recession, these songs seem to suggest "party=riot" (or vice versa!). This has led to some interesting thinking and conversations about the levels of co-optation (are these songs simply symptoms of culture industry opportunism?) and the ways in which many of these songs have served as soundtracks to riots and occupations in real-time.  Below is a list of some post-2010 tunes pushing for good bad times that won't ever stop:

1) Rihanna - We Found Love


2) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

3) Ellie Goulding - Burn

4) Ke$ha - We R Who We R

5) Black Eyed Peas - Party All The Time

6) Britney Spears - Til The World Ends

7) Pitbull - Give Me Everything

8) Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church in the Wild

9) will.i.am & Britney Spears - Scream and Shout

10) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us

 

 

Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!

Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?

I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't. 

A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:

  • In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
  • In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
  • Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.

Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.

 

From Freely Espousing
by James Schuyler

"a commingling sky

                      a semi-tropic night
                      that cast the blackest shadow
                      of the easily torn, untrembling banana leaf

or Quebec! what a horrible city
so Steubenville is better?
                          the sinking sensation
when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”
the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans
the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.
No, it is absolutely forbidden
for words to echo the act described; or try to. Except very directly
as in
bong. And tickle. Oh it is inescapable kiss."

Schuyler Selected Poems Cover

I first encountered - and eventually fell in love with - James Schuyler's poetry in a college bookstore in the late 1980s.  Periodically browsing the oh-so tiny "Poetry" section for incoming delights, I found Schuyler's Selected Poems but was initially repelled by the goopy watercolor painting that spanned the entire front cover (the packaging too seemingly reminiscent of some kind of sentimental/inspirational poems collection).  I eventually returned to read the author bio and immediately purchased the book as soon as I realized Schuyler was a member of the so-called New York School of Poets (Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery are perhaps the biggest stars of this loose historical/geographical conjuncture). Like O'Hara (a sometime roommate), Schuyler's poetry often comes off as conversational, improvisatory, delicate.  And like O'Hara and Ashbery, Schuyler was as influenced by the contemporaneous art world (he was a curator at MOMA for a brief period in the late 1950s and an art critic during much of the first half of his adult life). 

What impressed - and continues to impress - me so about Schuyler's poetry is the way straightforward evocations of the quotidian explode and reframe experience, but never fully leave the specific material moment.  His work is never simply celebratory or feel-good.  A brief encounter with Schuyler's poetry might too easily suggest trivial evocations of simple moments. The attentive reader though is faced with a tendency for things and language to fall apart.  I believe that it's always important to historically situate a writer's work and we can see the same kinds of destabilization in Schuyler's poems that are omnipresent in TV's Madmen and the world of white-collar professionals in the late 1950s/early 1960s - the as yet unrealized economic and social rot at the heart of urban white middle-class existence.

alebrijesNot long ago I went through my collection of family photos and found a very special one of my mother. It was taken during a visit to Mexico.  I can see her and my cousin in a small stand of colorful “alebrijes” in the small town of Tepoztlan Morelos. Let me tell you more about the craft of alebrijes.

The origins of these peculiar creations began in 1936 with an artisan, Pedro Linares, who worked at “La Merced” market in Mexico City creating these fantastic characters. Pedro was a “cartonero” (cardboarding maker) who worked mainly with paper mache making piñatas and other pieces. The alebrijes were attributed to a time when he was very sick. During the fever hallucinations he found himself in a forest full of rare creatures that shouted loudly “alebrijes”, “alebrijes!” When he got better he dedicated the rest of his life to recreating those images with cardboard using the papel mache technique. His talent was recognized first by the owner of a gallery and then by the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others. His alebrije technique was passed to new generations of artisans, mainly in Oaxaca. In Oaxaca, Pedro's technique has become popular with wood carvers.

The dream of such a singular person has transcended time and now these magical characters are enjoyed by people around the world. If you have the opportunity to visit an art craft market in Mexico, don’t forget to ask where to find the alebrijes. I’ll always remember how Pedro Linares dignified Mexican creativity with his work when I look at the photo of my mother admiring the magical pieces one rainy fall afternoon.

Allan Karlsson is a self-taught explosives expert and a charming resident of a Swedish nursing home.  He has no use for politics nor religion, but will readily accept any reasonable invitation to a fine meal, provided there’s no dull chatter of communism or any other ism.   So how did he come to find himself suspected of murder and on the lam with a pair of known criminals, a hot dog vendor, and a runaway elephant? 

It’s simple really.  He climbed out of his window in pursuit of a good vodka.  It’s his 100th birthday after all and after decades spent blowing up bridges and haphazardly falling in and out of favor with world leaders such as Truman, Franco, Mao, and Stalin, doesn’t he deserve as much?

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is the perfect faux snow day book. Cuddle up with a quilt, a hot vodka toddy, and share some laughs with this wonderfully irreverent centenarian.

For other amusing titles to keep you entertained when the possibility of wintry weather interrupts your plans, check out this list.

Death of Klinghoffer CDThe Metropolitan Opera has just wrapped up its new production of The Death of Klinghoffer. Although controversial since its premiere in 1991, the opera has previously been performed with little incident and is considered by many to be one of composer John Adams' finest works. But this year, the production has been met with protests outside the opera house and even a few boos from within. So what's the big deal and why now?

The opera is based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish passenger on board the ship. But this year, Klinghoffer’s daughtersJohn Adams photo have made a very public objection to it, claiming it is anti-Semitic and glorifies the terrorists who perpetrated the crime. This objection, combined with recent anti-Semitic events in Europe, fighting in Gaza, and the growing threat posed by the Islamic State have combined to whip up a great deal of emotion around the staging of this work.

Still, most of those protesting the performance have probably never seen or heard the work. Check it out and decide for yourself -- is it anti-Semitic or is it a great piece of art that has been unfairly labeled?

Miles from Nowhere bookjacketI love to travel and when I do I like to feel fairly confident that I will return in one piece. So when I want to do some seriously adventurous travel, I naturally turn to books. Longest walk bookjacketHere are a couple of my favorites:

In the spring of 1978, Barbara Savage and her husband hopped on their bikes, leaving their comfortable home in Santa Barbara, California on the first leg of their journey around the world. Along the way, they encountered maniac drivers in south Florida; experienced the extreme poverty, squalor and disease of rural Egypt; and learned that in India what appears to be a toilet could actually be shower. Miles from Nowhere is a really engaging account and one of the few books I have read for a second time.

The Longest Walk Along with his Japanese girlfriend, Englishman George Meegan began walking north from Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. This was in 1977. By the time he had taken his final step in September of 1983, he had covered over 19,000 miles, married his girlfriend Yoshiko, become a father twice, met an American president, and traveled to the shores of the Beaufort Sea at the northernmost tip of Alaska. Definitely not something I would try to emulate -- but what a story!

I think it was in the late 1980s when I became a Remedios Varo admirer. It might be that her close relationship with Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington made me aware of her contextual Celestial Pablum by Remedios Varoexistence. Born in Spain in 1908, this surrealist artist was strongly influenced by her father, a hydraulic engineer, her second husband Benjamin Beret a French dadaist, and her friend André Breton.

When living in Paris she was forced into exile during WWII and settled down in Mexico City. She found refuge in Mexico until she died in 1963. Graduated from the prestigious San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, she created around 150 art pieces, 110 of them created in Mexico using oils on masonite panels she prepared herself. Her art is full of ambiguous characters; the elements of her painting are mostly biographical, and her art is allegorical, humorous, fantastic, and oriented to science, the spiritual and the psychological.  

From the very beginning I was fascinated and intrigued with her peculiar style and wanted to know who she was. Back in the days before the internet, information was very limited so I couldn't pursue my research; but I held in my mind some images of her artwork that I saw in books and postcards. Then one day, I was reading the newspaper and discovered that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City would be hosting one of her exhibitions -- what an opportunity! I went and spent and entire afternoon contemplating her creations and trying to digest every single image. Among my favorite paintings were "Celestial Pablum," "Creation of the Birds," and "The Cats Paradise." Her potential and her creative mind were not recognized as she deserved; you probably won't find much information about her. For me, the afternoon I spent in the company of this forgotten surreal artist will always remain in my mind. Learn more about her work in The Magic of Remedios Varo.

When I read Caitlin Moran's 2011 collection of laugh out loud-funny feminist essays, How to be a Woman, I found it  wildly inspiring and entertaining. If I was the Queen of the World, all women in their 20s would be required to read this book, which deals with subjects like the Brazilian wax, body image, abortion, porn and princesses with such wit and verve that I alternated between laughing hard and fist-pumping. I should warn you that she's a bit of an opinionated potty-mouth-- but I'm okay with that.

Her new book, How to Build a Girl, is clearly a pretty autobiographical novel about Joanna, a teenager growing up on a council estate (think "projects") in a small nowhere-town in England in the early 1990s. Her father is an unemployed alcoholic, her mother is clinically depressed, and Joanna spends a lot of time providing childcare for her younger siblings and worrying about money. Afraid her family will lose their government benefits, she decides to save the  family, get herself out of the trap her mother is stuck in, and invent herself anew-- by becoming a music journalist. She starts sending articles to music magazines, and then, miraculously, gets herself a job. And a lot of eyeliner. And a top hat. 

As the title suggests, this book is really about being young, deciding who you're going to be and making it happen. We all have to do it, but Joanna is brave and starts young, and she does it dramatically, making bigger mistakes. Towards the end, she is feeling her way towards considering her own needs and desires, as well as learning to be kind to other people. But in much of this book, she reminded me of one of the bad characters in a Jane Austen novel, if Jane Austen wrote graphic sex scenes and had an indie rock sensibility. If you like coming-of-age stories and books that make you laugh in an unseemly way when you read them in public, you should give How to Build a Girl a try.

 

Chocolate bookjacketMy Mexican pride elevates each time I hear the word “chocolate”, knowing that the word comes from the Aztec “Xocoatl”. The great recognition of this peculiar Man holding cacao fruit -  National Antropology and History Museum of Mexicobean and is unprecendented; it is one of the most relevant contributions from the Mesoamerican civilizations to the world. The Olmecs, a social group established along the Gulf of Mexico, were the first to taste the flavors of this special fruit in the form of a drink where the cacao (cocoa) was ground, fermented and mixed with herbs. In those days cacao was used as currency in trading among Mayans, Aztecs and other social groups in Mexico and Central America.

The cacao was a symbol of great abundance and was used to pay taxes, to honor gods and goddesses in religous rituals, and as an offering during the funerals of the elite. The Xocoatl drink was reserved exclusively for privileged social groups and soldiers, who used it during times of war.

Columbus tasted the drink in 1502 on the island of Guanaja in Honduras, on one of his last voyages to the New World. He brought it back to the King and Queen of Spain, who didn’t see the value of the product. It wasn't until 1519 when Hernan Cortes “the conquistador” was invited to drink it by Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor and then revealed the culture of the cacao for the first time in the Old Continent.

After its introduction to Europe this great product inspired the imagination of artisans, and cooks all over the world who have transformed it into delightful treats.

When you eat a piece of chocolate don’t forget the history and culture behind that delicious taste.

 

November 11 is Veterans' Day. President Woodrow Wilson first declared the date Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of The First World War, occurring at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. 100 years this past July, WWI began. It lasted four awful years and changed how we think about war. Historians still debate the exact causes of the conflict but they agree that the level of carnage and horror was to that point, and maybe since, unmatched.

At the outset, the war was a patriotic rallying point on all sides, for all levels of society. Poets were not immune to the zeal of fighting for king and country, but they also reacted to the hideousness of trench and gas warfare. Here are two poems. The first was written by the English poet Rupert Brooke in 1914:

 

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

By the end of the war Brooke’s poem was criticized as an example of a mindless patriotism that contributed to the zeal for war.  In high contrast the following poem was written by another English poet, Wilfred Owen, in 1917:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin of the last line translates to “it is sweet and right to die for your country”.


In the United Kingdom November 11th is called Remembrance Day.  A hundred years on, the importance of remembering the horror of that violence is something no one should find controversial.
 

 

WPC 56BBC shows set in different eras can be so spot-on. They've produced some brilliant series that completely capture the milieu of a particular time period and do it whilst telling a really interesting story. I enjoy watching Downton Abbey for the beautiful frocks but the story of how the world of the upper class was changing after the turn of the century is the more important tale to observe. And yes, I love the fashions of the 40s and 50s so I’ll watch a lot of shows just for the look of those times, but give me a series that explores the changing roles of women and men, and I’ll binge-watch the entire thing in a couple of days.

WPC 56 is one of those shows. It’s set in the 1950s, in the West Midlands police force. Gina Dawson is the first female police officer to serve in her home town police station. At her first meeting with the chief inspector, he sternly says to her, “Never forget that your sole responsibility is to support the men so that they can get on with the job of real policing.” Unbelievable. But then again, so believable. In just a few episodes, we see how such tough issues as rape, mental illness, and race relations played out in a small town in 1950s England. Even though I wish I had a few of their party dresses, I’m glad I’m living in 2014. 

Here's a list of some of my other favorite British series that bring to life other times and places. 

 

Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.Thomas Lauderdale was raised on a plant nursery in rural Indiana. He moved to Portland in 1982 and founded the "little orchestra" Pink Martini in 1994. He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras and ensembles, including the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Active in Oregon politics since he was a student at U.S. Grant High School (where he was student body president), Thomas served under Portland Mayor Bud Clark and Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt. A connoisseur of Pacific Northwest literature, he has hosted readings by Tom Spanbauer and poets Michael and Matthew Dickman. He maintains an active interest in local history and politics. Here are some of his favorite reads:

Portland: A Historical Sketch and Guide by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan

There have been a lot of books written about Oregon and Portland, but I think the best book about Portland was written in 1976 by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan, who led the Oregon Historical Society and just died recently. This is a beautiful book. I think that every person who moves to Portland should read this book. This is the book to read. The book is entirely readable, it explains a lot about the mindset and what’s inside the head of the people who came to Portland.

The Story of Opal by Opal Whiteley

This is an incredible story of a woman who grew up in Cottage Grove, Oregon. She was clearly a genius and was very much involved in nature, and kind of had a crazy life. I think that there was renewed interest, because at the Multnomah County Library, an author by the name of Benjamin Hoff, who wrote The Tao of Pooh, found The Story of Opal on the shelves of the library and the whole thing was republished. It’s basically the diary of a very advanced girl – I guess she was seven when she wrote it. It was declared a hoax at a certain point in the 1920s. It became a bestseller and then was declared a hoax. But it’s just incredible. She’s the original flower child of Oregon. She had this whole imaginary world. And even if she was in her teens when she wrote it, it’s still remarkable. The whole thing is just amazing. She has this whole secret world of flowers and animals and creatures, and all in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 1920.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

She is such a fantastic writer, and I was her assistant for about a year when I was in high school. She had a column in the Willamette Week called “The Slice,” in which people would write questions and she would answer them.

The Portland Red Guide: Sites and Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk

I love this book! It has maps! It has pictures! It talks about how crazy and wonderful the history of Portland is. Whether it’s Emma Goldman, the pioneering feminist and anarchist, giving a lecture on lesbianism in 1915 at the Portland auditorium, two blocks away from my house, and getting arrested and hauled off to jail, to Woodie Guthrie living on SE 92nd in the summer of 1941 and writing all the songs for the Bonneville Power Administration, to the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. It also talks about writers like John Reed, the Oregonian journalist who is buried in Red Square.

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

I find myself underlining passages and coming back to them again and again. It just resonates. It’s so unbelievably honest and forthright.

Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be by Myrlie Evers-Williams

This is a great, great, great book…I heard her speak at the art museum for Dan Wieden’s organization Caldera and Dan Wieden revealed that she had studied to be a classical pianist with dreams to play at Carnegie Hall.  We got her to make her Carnegie Hall debut, and we filmed it!

A Shout in the Street: An Excursion into the Modern City by Peter Jukes

A Shout in the Street is kind of like those Nietzsche aphorisms. It’s a collection of quotations and moments – film stills, photographs, excerpts from essays – and it’s about four different cities. The cities are London, Paris, Leningrad, and New York City. And they’re so beautiful. Small little quotations about each of these cities at different times. (Note: this work is out of print, but is available through the library by interlibrary loan to Multnomah County residents.)

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.

photo credits: Autumn De Wilde and Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.

 

Although I hope never to experience war first-hand, I find exploring the topic through books and other media endlessly fascinating. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. Since there are many fine resources that explore the conflict on a large scale, I thought I would feature a couple of recent releases that provide more intimate looks at this world-changing event.

The burning of the world BookBéla Zombory-Moldován was a young Hungarian artist when the war broke out in 1914. The Burning of the World, recently published for the first time, recounts his experiences as a soldier on the eastern front and his observation of the drastic changes the war brought upon the world. A short read, this reminiscence is a Behind the lines jacketfirst-hand account of a little-known front in the conflict and brings to life the horrors of war on a very personal level.

In Behind the Lines, soprano Anna Prohaska and pianist Eric Schneider explore the repertoire of the soldiers’ song. Although the focus is on the First World War, the songs range in time from the Renaissance to the 20th century, sung in English, German, French and Russian. Included is a German folk song; lyrical songs by Beethoven and Schubert; the four songs by Hanns Eisler offer some challenging listening; and Charles Ives’ setting of "In Flanders Fields." A carefully conceived and thought-provoking collection.

So many disasters to choose from! Earthquakes! Ice storms! Ebola! Zombies!

I don't know about you, but I have a hard enough time preparing for the mundane events I know for certain will happen. Like school lunch. I know exactly when it happens and I know what I need for it, and yet somehow a kid gets sent to school with peanut butter and marmalade on a stale tortilla and a rapidly browning banana. If I can't even get it together for lunch, how do I begin to approach the subject of disaster preparedness?
 
Prepper's Pocket Guide book jacketOh, I think about it plenty. But I'm curiously inert when it comes to the actual "doing something about it" part. Many of the books I've seen threaten to turn me into a version of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. I want to be reasonably prepared without being told I must build a bunker and buy a year's supply of freeze-dried food. The Prepper's Pocket Guide : 101 easy things you can do to ready your home for a disaster by Bernie Carr is an easy way to wade into a kiddie pool of preparedness waters without jumping off the high dive and into the deep end.
 
But what about that biggest disaster of all? The one we all think about even if we don't want to think about it? That inevitable thing that will happen to each of us no matter how much seismic retrofitting we do or how many flashlight batteries we hoard? The event that mostly no one wants to talk about in American society (with the exception of my children right before bedtime.) The Big D. 
 
Death is a difficult topic under the best of circumstances. Glimpsing Heaven: The stories and science of life after death by Judy Bachrach is one of the most Glimpsing Heaven book jacketinteresting and hopeful books I have read this year. As someone terrified of death, the author began her long journey to the book as a hospice volunteer in order to overcome her own paralyzing fear of death's unknowns. She discovered that, thanks to modern medicine, CPR and technology, more people than ever before are returning from up to an hour of clinical death to report on what lies beyond. 
 
Those reports are generally life-changing for the "death travelers", as she terms them, and completely fascinating for the rest of us. The experiences and scientific investigations detailed in the book are the tip of an enormous submerged iceberg. Published by National Geographic, these may be some of the most unique travel experiences in print. Death is an uncharted distant planet we have successfully landed on and awaits the courage and funding for more exploration. What we really want to know: Is death the end? 
 
After reading this book even the most skeptical person might answer: Probably not.

I’ve played the game “Would you rather?” a few times before where you have to choose which of two things you would rather do/be/have etc.  Some decisions were hard because both choices are equally yucky:  “Would you rather eat a worm or a spider?”  I’d rather eat neither.  Some decisions were hard because both choices seemed to have potential:  “Would you rather be a troll or a Viking for Halloween?”  One choice that frequently comes up in this game is “Would you rather be deaf or blind?”  That one was easy for me.  I need my eyes to do most of the things I enjoy:  reading, crafting, watching TV, observing flora and fauna as I hike, etc.  If I were deaf, although I would have to live without music, I also wouldn’t have to hear the garbage men at 6:00 a.m. or my upstairs neighbors walking around (fortunately, the current ones are really considerate!).  To me, it seems all around easier to be deaf than blind.

El Deafo book jacketBeing deaf is no piece of cake, though, as Cece Bell shows us in El Deafo, her memoir in graphic form. When she was four years old, she contracted meningitis and was left with a severe hearing impairment.  She was able to hear with the help of several devices, but her deafness still set her apart and, at times, left her feeling lonely and isolated.  In addition to dealing with the usual childhood concerns like making friends and keeping up in school, Cece had to cope with people who couldn’t understand her condition.  Although she really, really wanted to help them figure it out, it was hard to communicate what she needed.  El Deafo was her superhero alter ego who could stand up for herself and right the wrongs inflicted on her by mostly well-meaning, but frankly clueless kids and adults.  Her superpower was the ability to hear people – like teachers - from very far away (with the help of her Phonic Ear device). The illustrations, in which people are portrayed as rabbits, are colorful, charming and full of expression. We experience Cece’s big anxieties, but also her joys like her first crush and the fun of discovering a new best friend.  By the time you read the last panel, you’ll want to be pals with Cece!

For other memoirs for kids that are illustrated or in a graphic format, check out this list.

tiki popCome with me, if you will, to a tropical paradise. The darkness has returned to Portland, and with it, my desire to read about all things palm tree. Imagine my delight when I came across this new edition to the collection of Multnomah County Library. Published in connection with an exhibition at the prestigious Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Tiki Pop , by Sven Kirsten, is a massive coffee-table exploration of the Tiki phenomenon.  

Tiki culture at its height was a manifestation of exotic visions of island culture inspired by the tales of American soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during World War II: trees loaded with exotic fruits, sleepy lagoons, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous people dancing in grass skirts. Americans made Tiki their own, often ignoring authenticity, and created a mid-century cultural movement that was then forgotten until the recent Tiki resurgence.  Tiki Pop explores the history of Tiki, from James Cook's first explorations of the Pacific Islands in the 18th century, all the way through Hollywood's embracing and manipulating of the Tiki culture through its jungle films. But the real highlights of Tiki Pop are the hundreds upon hundreds of glorious, colorful images. Kirsten has assembled what I think might be the penultimate photographic memory of a time in our culture that was unique in so many ways. What a pleasurable journey!

So, if the rainy skies are getting you down, mix yourself a zombie, a mai-tai, or a hurricane, settle in, and be transported to a different (and warmer) time and place. Cheers! cocktails

 

 

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about what I could make as holiday gifts. Do you make gifts? Host a cookie exchange?

I have been part of a craft group for more than a decade. We get together about once a month to eat, work on projects and discuss the world. They have inspired me over the years to make liqueurs, cookies, jewelry, cards and photo books. I've created a list of terrific books for any of these endeavors. Hope you like it and are inspired to create.

My reading lately has taken a nose-dive because I have found nothing that holds my attention quite like my new pup. That's right, I am proud new mama to Inspector Meriwether Lewis.

Much like having a baby, a new puppy brings lots of unsolicited advice. And because I want to do what works for Meri and me, I end up ignoring the bulk of it. I do find books to be quite useful though, and take great comfort in the many puppy manuals available. Ian Dunbar is one of those soothing voices that remind me "Oh yes, I can do this! Training should be easy and fun and even children can do it!" An oversimplification perhaps, but it buoys my self-confidence no end. And then when it all goes pear-shaped (which is British for horribly wrong) as it does, a solid and reassuring tome like Housetraining for Dummies renews my hope for living with rugs on the floor again someday. This is my personal list.

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