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.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to see the great violinist Isaac Stern in recital at what was then called the Civic Auditorium -- now the Keller Auditorium. It was of course an evening of great music making, but I only remember one piece that was played. After the intermission, I returned to my seat as Mr. Stern and his accompanist launched in to Béla Bartók’s second sonata for violin and piano. I had never heard music like this before and was mesmerized -- I think my jaw may actually have dropped! This was the beginning of my love of Bartók and my introduction to the music of the twentieth century.

Bartók was born in 1881 in the village of Nagyszentmiklós in the Hungarian Empire -- today, the town is part of Romania. He spent time in his early career traveling the countryside recording folk tunes of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria -- music that would inspire much of his later work.

So what continues to fascinate me about this music after 40 years? Certainly its folk-inspired nature. But more than that, I think it’s simply the raw energy in pieces like his first two piano concertos, his fourth string quartet, and Contrasts -- a piece for violin, clarinet and piano, which was commissioned by Benny Goodman.

Bartók toured the United States in 1927-28 and as part of his west coast travels he made an appearance in Portland. Here is an image of the program from that evening. This image and other images of early concerts in Portland can be viewed in Multnomah County Library's The Gallery.

If you'd like to learn more about Bartok, join us at the Central Library on Saturday January 23 at 1:30 p.m., when Professor Peter Kupfer will present a lecture in conjuction with local performances of Bartok by the Jerusalem Quartet. 

Book Jacket: Tracks by Robyn DavidsonHave you ever ditched a book in favor of the film?  I was half way through Tracks by Robyn Davidson when I put it down to watch the film instead.

Make no mistake, the book is great: Witty writing, poetic descriptions of the Australian outback, and an inspiring personal journey to rival Wild.

But I just had to see the desert. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Robyn Davidson was a young twenty-something bohemian living in Sydney, who moved to a remote town in the Australian outback.  Her single goal was to acquire, train, and trek, with feral camels across the central Australian desert to the sea. 

Tracks is a visually stunning film that really lets you experience the beauty and solitude of the Australian desert and Mia Wasikowska portrays Davidson’s quiet determination flawlessly. So much so that it has inspired me to finish the book. Because now that I’ve seen the desert, I’m dying to know more of what was going through Davidson’s head as she approached the sea.  

Ready for more solo female travel in remote corners of the word? Check out To the Moon and Timbuktu by Nina Sovich. Or consider watching The Motorcycle Diaries for more gorgeous scenery (beyond Gael García Bernal) that is guaranteed to give you the travel bug.

When I heard that the BBC miniseries based on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was going to be available soon, I decided to reread the book before enjoying the treat of the miniseries.

The year Jonathan Strange came out, I bored all of my friends by going on about it. It’s just the kind of book I like, a big story with fantastically rich characters and plenty of wit that takes its time to unfold. It's written with assurance and with great plotting, a lot of little stories beautifully folded up in the big one. It offers the same kinds of pleasures offered by Dickens-- but without the occasional over-sentimentality or distressing racism. And there’s magic-- absolutely dazzling feats of magic. From the moment that Mr. Norrell brought all the statues in York Cathedral to life in order to win a bet, I was entranced.

When I reread it this year, I loved it all over again. When I finished, I watched the miniseries, and it was fine--some good performances and gorgeous sets-- but it turned out that rereading the book was the real treat.

If you need a little magic in your life, consider reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you need more options, this list might be just the thing. And if you need even more ideas about what to read, feel free to ask me.
 

George bookjacketMelissa hopes more than anything that she can play the part of the wise spider Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web in the school play. But for some reason she isn’t even allowed to try out, although she knows the part well and is a convincing actor.  Actually, not just for some reason, but because her given name is George and she was born into a boy’s body.  George knows she’s really a girl inside. She longs for the chance to at least play the part of a female. Getting there will require her to convince everyone around her that she really does feel like a girl named Melissa, and that it’s not the same as being gay.  You and your child will be convinced too, after finishing this simple but moving book.

If you want to share more stories about kids who feel like outsiders , try some of the titles in the following list.

Every week, new books  are added to my ever growing "to be read" pile.  While it’s a pleasant hazard of the library profession, the looming tower of unread tomes has grown a bit too tall for comfort. However, after a recent search through the new titles joining the collection, I think there's some room left. Here are a few I'm excited about.

cook it in cast iron cover

 

 

America's Test Kitchen breaks down the cast iron pan in their signature style. They did the work, you reap the delicious meals!

 

 

 

7th man book cover

 

Urban Horror that'll keep you up at night long after you close the book.

 

 

 

 

 

curse of jacob tracy cover

 

St. Louis in 1880 is full of ghosts, and Jacob Tracy can see them all...

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the whole list here!

Sailing Alone Around the World book jacketThe end of the nineteenth century saw new kinds of travelers, traveling on their own and driven by a sense of adventure instead of as part of an expedition with an official purpose. One of these adventurers was Joshua Slocum. He was the first person to sail a small boat around the world and  he did it alone in a little over three years. This would be a remarkable feat today, but in 1895 without radio, GPS or an autopilot and with limited charts this was amazing.

Slocum wrote a book about his adventure Sailing Alone Around the World. It has remained in print and it continues to find new readers.  I have enjoyed reading about his trip and imagining myself sailing off on an adventure, especially going through Tierra del Fuego. What an incredible place to see from your boat!The Hard Way Around book jacket

I hope I have gotten you interested in Joshua Slocum. Here are some ways to learn more about him:

You can watch a 30 minute documentary DVD: The Extraordinary Life and Epic Journey of Joshua Slocum.

A good recent biography, The Hard Way Around, by Geoffrey Wolff will help you to understand his life and travels.

For kids and teAround the World book jacketens:

Born in the Breezes, the Seafaring Life of Joshua Slocum by Kathryn Lasky. Lasky, who has sailed across oceans herself, wrote this picture book of Slocum’s life.

Around the World, by Matt Phelan is a graphic novel about three circumnavigators. Joshua Slocum, Thomas Stevens who bicycled around the world, and Nellie Bly who traveled by ship, train and burro beating Jules Verne’s fictional Phileas Fogg by making it around the world in 72 and a half days.

Bryan Kidd became the Unipiper after combining two of his hobbies, unicycling and playing bagpipes. Now he has become a fixture in a city that embraces weird.

The Unipiper is a manifestation of my life's greatest passions, including music, popular culture, and a flair for the absurd. I consider myself very lucky to have found an audience that is genuinely excited to share these passiThe Unipiperons with me. Over the years as The Unipiper has become intertwined with the "Keep Portland Weird" movement, I have repeatedly found myself at the center of an idea that is far bigger than simply riding a unicycle while playing bagpipes. Suddenly I have become part of the unique cultural identity of the city in which I live. This has forced me to confront questions like, what drives me to be who I am, what is weird, and am I weird? It has been fun turning back to the source waters of my inspiration in search of answers. Here are my picks:

Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music

Haunting. Beautiful. Beyond classification. Music that is as foreign as it is familiar. The sounds on this collection are at once both revenants of a forgotten past and completely timeless. They come from a place famed rock critic Greil Marcus dubbed "the Old, Weird America," and they resonate deeply, as if awakening some shared history from a common cultural past life. Little is known about many of the artists appearing on the set, leaving our imaginations to fill in the blanks. Listening to this set for the first time after college was the kick in the pants that would send me on the road in search of the places where these sounds might still exist. Was it out there, on some back road or unmarked highway, just waiting to be discovered? This prospect intrigued me to the point where I left my home in Virginia and started driving. I don't know that I found that Old Weird America, but I did ultimately end up in Portland — which I suppose could be called the New Weird America. And I’ve been here ever since.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, directed by Jon Foy

On the surface, this documentary profiles one man’s search for those responsible for mysterious tiles cropping up across the US. The end result is so much more -- the richest of character studies, a genuinely compelling mystery/thriller that borders on the supernatural, and an examination of the nature of obsession that is guaranteed to stick with you long after the credits roll. Even though the movie leaves many questions unanswered, it all wraps up with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. This film will either ignite the spark of your passion project or have you hanging it up under lock and key. Watching it, I found renewed confidence in my performances and a wealth of inspiration for new material. Your mileage may vary.

Pieces of Portland: An Inside Look at America's Weirdest City  by Marie Deatherage

Old Weird America is still alive, right here in Portland, and this book has the proof. Did you ever want to learn more about the city but didn’t know where to start? This book is your answer. Part travel guide, part history lesson, part love letter, part critical examination, not only does Pieces of Portland do an amazing job telling the stories — it holds your hand as you come to understand Portland. Everything that is most interesting about Portland is represented, from mysterious backyard caves and a fascination with toy ponies to nonprofit breweries and tiny houses. The story of Portland is far from over and ever since reading this I have been on a quest to connect with others that share my vision for a weirder tomorrow. The story told in Pieces of Portland has given me with a sense of pride and wonder for the city like I have never before known. It fills me with a sense of urgency to get out and become a larger part of that story. The praises of Portland are worth singing and this book helped me find my voice.

Have you ever stayed awake late because you went to a show that was so inspiring you couldn’t sleep? I have. I love that feeling that something just hit the mark whether it’s a movie, concert, performance art or a reading. It feels like a feast of art. It’s the stuff of life. It’s our reason for being: sharing art.

I lie awake thinking about all the wonderful things I’ve heard or seen. Recently, I stayed awake because I was reading a fantastic graphic novel. I was so excited to read something smart, funny, innovative, and visually beautiful. I lay there thinking Jillian Tamaki is brilliant! I can’t wait to tell everyone that SuperMutant Magic Academy is my favorite graphic novel of the year. I love the magic academy setting with witches as teachers, uniforms and spell casting classes. I love that the art sometimes reminds me of Craig Thompson or Charles Schulz but is unique all on its own. I am in awe by the humor because it's so smart and laugh out loud funny. I can’t get enough of the characters Marsha, Frances, Everlasting Boy, and the new kid. I didn’t want to return it so I’ll have to buy my own.

You can find SuperMutant Magic Academy on my new staff favorites list.

The Outsiders book coverDo you have an all time favorite book? That one book that you come back to and read over and over again? That one book that you might be a little bit obsessed with? For my daughter that book is S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. She loves this book! So much so that when she first read it in the 5th grade she put the worn coverless copy her dad handed down to her it in my hands and insisted that I read it too. When she was in middle school we painted the outside of her locker gold and wrote the words from Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” in black Sharpie. And earlier this year when we brought home our first canine friend, she named him Soda Pop. It's probably better if she tells you about her love for The Outsiders in her own words.
 
Guest teen blogger Téa on her love for the Outsiders:
 
I think I must've been about 10 when I first read The Outsiders. Keyword, first. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said I have probably read that book about twenty times. I can still remember tearing through the entire book in a day, falling in love with the characters and subsequently getting my heart broken. A lot of books have affected me, but none quite like that. It was odd. I almost felt like instead of reading the book, I was part of the book. And that wasn't too far off base. As a child I never really fit in no matter how hard I tried, and a book about people who were treated differently was more relatable than I could've imagined.
 
There's a stigma around people who read YA books as adults — or even as teenagers — and it needs to stop. A lot of YA books, from The Outsiders to Perks of Being a Wallflower, deal with themes such as not fitting in, trauma and feeling hopeless, which are all topics that people, regardless of age, can relate to. I can proudly say that my favorite book is the same as it was when I was 10, and there's nothing wrong with that. As I have gotten older I have found new messages and things in The Outsiders that I identify with, while a lot of the old messages hold strong.

 

Tiny Beautiful Things bookjacketI’m sort of in love with Cheryl Strayed. I’ve read and listened to her books. I watched the movie based on her book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and now I listen to the Dear Sugar podcast she does with Steve Almond every single week.I think that the best way to experience Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar is on audiobook, read by Strayed herself. This book is a compilation of letters and and her answers when she was the advice columnist at The Rumpus. The advice to her letter-writers and the personal stories she shares are simply beautiful when you can hear them in her voice.

I like her so much because she truly knows how to get to the heart of an issue but she does it with so much compassion and with the understanding that humans have oh so many foibles. We’re just not perfect creatures that make the best decisions sometimes. We don’t always have the perspective to look at our issues. Cheryl has made her share of mistakes (see Wild) but she also knows how to help us figure out better ways of being in the world.

Brave Enough bookjacketHer latest book, Brave Enough, is a collection of her wise words. It’s inspiring. Cheryl has gathered up some of her most thoughtful and insightful words and packaged them all up in a lovely volume. I think it will make a splendid gift book both for yourself and for your loved ones - though when I give it to my friends and family, I’ll pair it with Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild.

I now have something more Cheryl Strayed-like to look forward to - Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern are collaborating on an HBO-sponsored project to produce a series based on Tiny Beautiful Things. Cheryl Strayed’s husband, Brian Lindstrom (a hugely talented filmmaker-if you haven’t seen his documentary, Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, please watch it soon.) will be doing the TV adaptation. The series will “explore love, loss, lust and life through the eyes of a Portland family who live by the mantra that the truth will never kill you.” I can’t wait!

My love of football began early in high school when my then favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were rivals of the Dallas Cowboys who were my friend, Cheri’s, main football squeeze.  I won’t date myself by mentioning who the quarterbacks were, but they both were really good!  I also enjoyed going to high school football games.  Although I attended an all-girls school, our brother school had a team, and my friends and I knew some of the players and cheerleaders.  Don’t ask me if they were any good – it was mostly a social event where the action was as much in the stands as on the field! 

Not only do I like watching football, but my enjoyment of the sport extends to books as well. There are plenty of them out there that feature teens, and here are a couple I’ve read in the past month.

I love a goMuckers book jacketod underdog story, and the Muckers in Sandra Neil Wallace’s novel sure fit that description. It’s 1950 and the mines in Hatley, Arizona are running out of ore.  Layoffs are happening right and left and, as a result, the high school is closing down. This is the Hatley Muckers’ final opportunity to win the Northern title, go to the state championship and bring football glory back to the town.  Quarterback Red O’Sullivan and wingback Cruz Villaneuva are going to work their guts out to make it happen.Dairy Queen book jacket

Because I’m a female who likes football, I was really pleased when Dairy Queen came out a number of years ago.  I’ve been meaning to read it forever and finally got around to it in October.  D.J. is a girl in a family of boys – a family that loves, loves, loves football and has produced some darn good players.  Things are in a bit of an upheaval though, and D.J. is left to manage the family’s dairy farm one summer when her father is injured.  When Brian, the quarterback from the rival high school shows up to help out, D.J. is  miffed. Brian seems lazy and cocky and much more trouble than he’s worth. It turns out that Brian needs her help as much as she needs his though – help in the form of training for the next football season.  And exactly how is THAT going to work?

For more stories of teens on the gridiron, check out this list.

Mt Hood Winding home on the north bound #12, just at sunset, the bus is topping the viaduct before the 4900 block stop, when it happens... the Willamette Valley opens up all the way to the Cascades foothills, the river throws back glints of gold, and like a blueberry on top, majestic Mt. Hood, blue and white in the receding light, dominates the scene. I hope I never fail to stop and look at this sight. It hits me then, this is home. I am a Portlandian.

I may not be one of your exalted (and rarely seen) ones: born, bred, never left, and never will. I am but one of thousands who through curiosity, family ties or sheer dumb luck ended up on the western edge of U.S. civilization. So it is time to bid a fond farewell to the southwest of desert dirt and endless sky which nurtured me. Time to embrace gray days, craft beer, thrifting and the new holy trinity: coffee shop next to sushi bar next to Thai restaurant as my new reality. Goodbye dust, oh no wait, dusty furniture is as much a fixture of NW life as it is in New Mexico. Go figure with all this rain.

Here, however is a list with no mystery. All but the first three are Southwest Books of the year award winners. The books run the whole gamut of what makes New Mexico a fascinating place to be and to be from. Native American art, the spirit life of the land, the kooks who find shelter in this forbidding and fascinating landscape will absorb you, astound you, but never bore you.

Adios! The Land of Enchantment. 

 

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett takes only a couple of hours to read, but what a pleasure! The premise is that the Queen, in wrangling her incorrigible corgis, discovers that the local library’s book mobile makes a regular stop by the kitchens at Windsor Palace. Stepping in to apologize for the ruckus, she thinks it only polite to borrow a book.

“She had still not solved her problem, knowing that if she left without a book it would seem to Mr Hutchings that the library was somehow lacking. Then on a shelf of rather worn-looking volumes she saw a name she remembered. ‘Ivy Compton-Burnett! I can read that.’ She took the book out and gave it to Mr. Hutchings to stamp.

‘What a treat!’ she hugged it unconvincingly before opening it. ‘Oh. The last time it was taken out was in 1989.’

‘She’s not a popular author, ma’am.’

‘Why, I wonder? I made her a dame.’

Mr Hutchings refrained from saying that this wasn’t necessarily the road to the public’s heart."

And so begins a love affair with books that will change forever her sense of duty and her relations with the politicians, servants and celebrities that people her life.

Bennett is a charming writer and there were many laugh out loud moments. And through it all he confirms what all librarians know: if only people would read, they would be better, smarter, more sensitive and wiser, though not necessarily more content. The Queen begins by turning her focus inward, but more and more finds her perception of things is sharpened by her reading. This leads to a stunning denouement, about which I will say no more.

Bennett is also the author of The Clothes they Stood Up In and of the screenplay The History Boys, a movie I can heartily recommend. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

The Bridge Over the River Kwai book jacketI often hear people say, “Oh, you should read the book. It’s so much better than the movie.” Is that always true? Filmmakers often Bridge on the River Kwai dvd coveradapt novels, but what they do with them, well; let’s just say the results can be mixed. It’s understandable. A novel is usually a singular effort that essentially has unlimited space and time whereas a movie is a collaboration with many limitations such as budget and run-time. Compromises are often the result and, if you love a book, the film may seem hollow.  I found myself pondering this question recently and thought I would revisit some of my favorite war movies based on novels. I experienced a revelation about the difference between text and film—namely that there is no definitive answer. I chose war movies because they are often broad is scope, very dramatic, but also lend themselves well to the visual medium of film. So, here’s some of what I discovered in my little personal exploration:

The Bridge Over the River Kwai: This is the perfect example of the movie far exceeding the book. The novel by Pierre Boulle is significantly different from the film. Honestly, the book feels dated in its Eurocentrism and writing style whereas the movie possesses superb performances by the leads, especially Alec Guinness who won an Oscar. You can safely skip this book and just enjoy the movie.


The Bridges at Toko-Ri: James Michener writes about an American pilot during the Korean War who weighs his sense of duty against his devotion to his family during a war largely unknown at home. The film follows the novel very closely so the difference comes down to taste. The book is exciting and well-written, whereas the movie, made with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy, possesses some thrilling flying scenes and solid performances. Both are worth your time.


Catch-22: Joseph Heller’s classic novel is a complex, scathing satire of war. The movie tries to capture that anti-war sentiment. I love this book, so maybe it colors my perception, but I found the film unsatisfying. There are many funny moments, strong performances and seeing all those airplanes satisfies my personal aviation obsession, but in their effort to capture as much of the book as possible, the filmmakers give us a hodgepodge of scenes and characters that are not fully developed. Unless you’ve read the book, a lot of the movie may not make much sense. In this case, at least read the book first. You don’t need to see the movie. 


There are plenty of war films based on novels out there. Here is a modest list you can explore and answer the question for yourself, “Is the book really better than the movie?”

We could sit and analyze it for a long time -- we could get really microscopic about it--but let's just admit that little, teeny tiny things are infinitely engrossing, and often adorable. Teeny-tiny dogs...so cute! Teeny-tiny kittens...awww! Minature houses, miniature cupcakes...perfection! Eensy weensy characters having adventures? Bring it on!

For whatever reason, stories about microscopic worlds have always been appealing to kids. Maybe you were a fan of The Littles back in the day. Or maybe you go back, back to the days of The Borrowers. Would kids today love those stories? Yes, I think they would. If you have a beginning reader you'd like to introduce to the world of all things small, you might start with James to the Rescue, by Elise Broach, the story of a beetle family living in a house.

What does a beetle family like best of all? Going collecting! But collecting is dangerous work in a world that is so much bigger than you. When Uncle Albert gets hurt on a hunting expedition, it's up to Marvin, boy beetle, to enlist his human friend James to come to the rescue. Kids who are just getting started with longer chapter books will enjoy this story of suspense, resourcefulness and friendship.

If your young reader enjoys James to the Rescue, here's a very small door (in the form of a list ) into the world of all things small.

Forget raindrops and whiskers,  holing up with a good read has always been of my favorite things.

As a quiet and curious, kid, reading was my escape. These days I crack a book for a "few chapters" and find myself reluctantly setting it aside after realizing that it's one AM. The brief moment of contentment between the book hitting the nightstand and turning off the light reminds me why I read.

westinggame cover

 

It also makes me think of the books that kept me awake when I was younger, as well as a some recent reads that my ten year old self would have devoured until bedtime. These stories about adventure, unlikely companions, and some wackiness are great for reading together or curling up alone in a favorite spot.

My all time favorite? The Westing Game . For more, check out this list or ask me for a recommendation!

 

The Elephant's Journey bookjacketElephants...who doesn't love these magnificent intelligent animals? They have been roaming the planet forever and have often been the center of our attention, for good or for bad.

You can see these peculiar protagonist of the animal kingdom in Africa, Asia, and in national parks,  not to mention in circuses, zoos, palaces, and out working the fields. But to see them from a different viewpoint, here are some books that honor the elephant.

The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago presents the enchanting narration of Solomon, an Asian elephant, his keeper, and a cortege of people who in 1551 traveled from Lisbon to Vienna when the King of Portugal gave him as a wedding present to the Archduke Maximilian.

Still Life With Elephants by Judy Reene Singer tells us the hilarious story of a horse trainer who goes to Zimbabwe to rescue injured elephants right after she finds out that her husband's lover is pregnant. This revealing trip to Africa makes her confront a series of life challenges, including having to train an elephant and solving her relationship issues.

Michael Morpugo's children's book An Elephant in the Garden portrays Marlene, an elephant who is saved by her zoo keeper at the end of the Nazi regime 1945, when the Russian army invades Dresden and people have fled the city.

I'm sure these noble and wise animals will continue to inspire us even in times when their existance is so adversly affected.

Check out the list below for some related reading suggestions. 

 

I’m not going to read Go Set a Watchman. I love To Kill a Mockingbird too much to risk it, and I tend to always believe Fresh Air book reviewer Maureen Corrigan, who says Watchman is a mess. But luckily, all of the recent talk about Harper Lee reminded me that To Kill a Mockingbird would be a good book to share with my son. My son is eleven, and he still likes me to read out loud to him, although I have the bittersweet feeling it could end at any moment.  Mockingbird wound up being a rich, intense experience for my family because we had it with us when we went camping at Lake Olallie in the Cascades. There was enough sun for us to get out for a long hike on Saturday, but it rained a lot. Happily, we’d reserved a cozy little yurt, complete with a propane heater. Rain sounds lovely pattering on the roof of a yurt.

And fortunately for us, there was no Internet service there. What we had instead was Monopoly, Yahtzee, Backgammon and To Kill a Mockingbird. My teenage daughter and my husband wound up listening to the book too. And it was great. I’m assuming you know the story, if not from the book, then from the excellent 1962 Gregory Peck movie, right? But maybe you’ve forgotten what a vivid character Scout is and how funny the dialogue is?

This was an unbeatable family read that opened up ways to talk to my kids about racism, right and wrong and how people behave in groups. If you haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird since high school, think about reading it again, and I'd urge those of you who are parents to look for opportunities to read it with your kids, even if it takes an off-the-grid excursion into the mountains to make it happen. 

LEGOland FloridaLEGOs. You probably played with them when you were little, and maybe, like me, you still have a stash of LEGOs that you pull out when the mood strikes. Or maybe you're a parent who is intimately familiar with the excruciating pain of stepping barefoot on a LEGO, cursing the day that you ever let those tiny instruments of torture into your home. No matter what your opinion is of this classic toy, you have probably clicked a few of those bricks together at some point in your life.
 
Last November I was lucky enough to visit LEGOland in Tampa, Florida. I was completely in awe of the creativity and skill that went into building everything out of LEGOs. Buildings, bridges and boats, animals, Star Wars scenes and full sized characters, a full sized car, all built with LEGOs. What can be build with those bricks is only limited by your imagination (and access to vast supply of LEGOs). 
 

A couple of months ago I wrote about how I had just started reading and appreciating manga. Well, my first touch of manga fever has become an acute case of manga-itis that has taken over my reading life. Biweekly trips to the Kinokuniya Bookstore in Beaverton have served only to further my new obsession. Pursuing their manga shelves provides regular inspiration for my “must read” list. Given my love for horror films and graphic novels it should come as no surprise that the manga that I have been most drawn to falls within the horror and supernatural genre. 

Seraph of the End book jacketSeraph of the End is set in a world that is ruled by vampires. After a mysterious virus kills all humans over the age of 13, vampires come out from the shadows to take over. Intent on avenging the deaths of his friends and family, a young, angry and impulsive Yuichiro joins the Japanese Imperial Army. Yuichiro is anxious to earn his demon weapon and start battling vampires, but first he has to take on a most difficult task, make friends with his fellow vampire slayers.

Tokyo Ghoul book jacketToyko Ghoul is a series that was first released in the U.S. this year. I was first drawn in by how beautifully illustrated this manga is but the story has made me want more.The plot centers around Ken Kaneki a shy, book loving college student who enjoys hanging out with his best friend Hide. After a violent encounter, Ken finds himself in the hospital with a new kidney, a kidney that once belonged to a ghoul. Now half-human and half-ghoul, Ken must learn how to straddle the thin line between the human world and the vicious underground world of the ghouls. 

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service book jacketAdapted and published in English by local darlings Dark Horse Comics, The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is a horror manga that I am in love with but that I recommend with a bit of caution. Some of the stories are quite gruesome. This series follows the adventures of five recent graduates from a Buddhist college who find that their special skills do not translate to employment. So what are a hacker, a dowser, an embalming specialist, a medium and a psychic to do? Carry out the wishes of the dead, of course. 

Kitaro book jacketThe last title that has sparked my manga loving heart is KitaroThe series was first published in the 1960s, but an English translation collection of the Kitaro episodes was published in 2013. The main character, Kitaro, appears to be at first glance a normal young boy, but he is really a 350-year-old yokai (supernatural monster). His hair serves as an antenna directing him towards paranormal activity, he has one eye and his yokai father lives in his other eye socket, he has jet powered sandals and he can seamlessly blend into his surroundings. In each episode Kitaro and his father cleverly battle criminals and malevolent yokai with the purpose of keeping humans safe. Kitaro is a wonderful melding of horror and whimsy where the good guy always wins.

 

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