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.
Baby, it’s hot outside. So what are you going to do? I’m going to cool down. And that means ice cream. Something cold and delicious no? What’s your favorite? Are you a foodie? I usually go for the nutty classics like pistachio or butter pecan. Jamoca almond fudge anyone? But now after ice cream endeavors of the foodie kind I am quite taken with my husband's chipotle chocolate. And lately I have liked putting buttermilk lemon ice cream on chocolate cookies.
Next up I want to build an ice cream cake. Are you with me?
I judged a book by its cover.
The cover is fantastic—I mean look at it.
It was screaming for me to pick it up and then, well that’s a coincidence, the author’s name is Ned Beauman. Could it be? Why yes. This is the son of Nicola Beauman, founder of Persephone Books Ltd.—and we all know how I feel about Persephone Books.
Ned, I congratulate you on the stunning representation of L.A.
"The whole city felt like an apartment for sale, which the estate agent had sprayed with perfume just prior to a viewing."
and the many other, equally unique sentences that I wanted to copy down and pin to my wall. However, I could have done without reading the whole of the book.
Can someone please just put together a book of collected witticisms by Ned Beauman and call it good?
Thanks to a colleague's enthusiastic recommendation of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, my summer reading is all set.
However, all good things must come to an end(or at least until a new book in the series comes out…) and the hunt for the ever elusive "next book" begins.
If you are looking for your next book, check out a few of the many ways you can discover them through Multnomah County Library
- Peruse the bestsellers
- Browse new and "on order" titles
- Find acclaimed award winners
- Check out our Embarassment of Riches blog
Don't forget that you can always ask any of us on the My Librarian team for a personalized recommendation!
Take a look around! While you do that, I'll be hunkered down with Stella and Chicago's best wizard for hire...
Ah, the lost art of letter writing. I still find myself checking my mail hoping that there will actually be a personal letter mixed in with the credit card applications. But alas, I can’t recall the last time I received a real letter. When I want to immerse myself in the beauty of letter-writing, I shall open up Shaun Usher’s, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of A Wider Audience.
Shaun Usher loves letters (and lists too. His second book, Lists of Note includes such wonders as Michelangelo's illustrated shopping list and Marilyn Monroe’s New Year’s resolutions written when she was 29-years-old.).
But back to the pleasures of letters. Usher has collected 125 letters from far and wide and long ago to more recent times. Many of the letters are from well-known figures but some are from everyday folks. All of the letters have a short introduction to put them into historical context and a good share of them include a reproduction of the letter itself. The effort and creativity that went into these letters - a 13-year-old boy at a school for the blind wrote in Braille to President Eisenhower. The sadness - Virginia Woolf’s note to her husband before she committed suicide. Witty, funny, artistic ones. Beautiful, heartfelt, poignant letters. They’re all here.
If you’d like to peruse even more letters, take a look at Shaun Usher's website where he has posted a whopping 900 letters; they’re indexed in various ways so one could spend weeks reading all of them. Or take a look at some of these books that are chock full of letters. I, however, think I’ll go write a letter to a friend.
Dark Horse Comics' The Best of Milligan & McCarthy is a gorgeous and (almost) exhaustive compendium, collecting the duo's legendary runs like "Paradax!," "Rogan Gosh," and the previously unavailable "Skin." Both Milligan and McCarthy went on to forge distinctive careers, but the work collected in this collection is explosive, bewildering, and immediate - completely ignoring the careerist ambitions and institutional strictures both artists eventually had to confront and contend with .
The comics are all over the place (sometimes head-wreckingly so) but they're always readily situated in the catastrophic top-spin of Thatcher-Reagan economic/social tachycardia. McCarthy's artwork is typically hyper-active and color-saturated, pushing the physical boundaries of panel and page (the exception being the provisionally censored "Skin" - which is wrought in unique pastel colors by the always incredible Carol Swain). Milligan's writing winds a loose balance between non-linear and scabrous - taking very little seriously - but capable of surprising moments of tenderness and expansive vision.
Their work can definitely jolt - and possibly offend (especially "Skin" - which tells the sad angry, and brief tale of a thalidomide-deformed skinhead in the 1980s UK). But it's heavily recommended for fans of politically-charged comics that explore the horizons and possibilities of graphic narrative and page art (see Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Sandman-era Neil Gaiman).
In November of 1943, my Dad joined the US Navy at the age of 18. After basic training in San Diego and electrician training at Kansas University in Lawrence, he was assigned to service aboard an attack transport ship. He has often made light of this assignment, likening the captain and crew to that of the 1960s comedy McHale’s Navy. Sure, there were ships that experienced combat more directly. But just being in the South Pacific during those years left one under continuous threat of enemy attack. For instance, his ship once had to take evasive action to avoid hitting a mine; they fought off a kamikaze attack; and on April 1, 1945, his ship was one of the first ships in to debark troops for the final major battle of the war -- Okinawa. I’ve always been very proud of my Dad and his service to our country.
So August marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Although it was thought that the war would only end with an all-out invasion of Japan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa ended up being the final fights with men against men; this was, of course, because of the atomic bombs being dropped on the cities of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9.
Interested in reading about the closing days of the war? Here is a list of books on the two final battles and the catastrophic events that brought the war to a sudden end.
Anyone who is a fan of Star Trek will be familiar with the phrase “Resistance is futile.” It’s the Borg’s mantra that basically means you just need to give up and become assimilated. Don’t even think about fighting against the mighty collective as it’s no use. You’ll surrender in the end, become a cyborg and be worse off for the struggle. I probably would have caved, but Knud Pedersen wouldn’t have given up without a fight. When the Danish king and government decided to give in quietly to the Nazis rather than have their country become war-torn, Knud and some fellow Danish youth decided they needed to take some action. They took their inspiration from the Norwegians who were fighting back and the British RAF pilots and formed a resistance club. They stole weapons, sabotaged vehicles and did damage to Nazi-occupied buildings. Most of them were just teenagers, but they showed an immense amount of courage in standing up to the Germans who were occupying their country during WWII. Phillip Hoose tells their compelling true story in The boys who challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.
For more true stories of resistance, check out this list.
it'll be great!
I like finding a book that is both engaging and makes me think. Spare Parts is one of those books. It is the story of four teens in a poor Phoenix high school who join the robotics club. Their teacher decides to challenge them to design an underwater robot for a NASA sponsored robotics competition. They overcome all sort of design challenges to end up winning.That would be a good story in itself; now throw in the fact that all four boys are undocumented. They are from Mexico and they live under constant threat of being deported. If they had been citizens, winning a major robotics competition would have led to scholarships and opportunities. For Oscar, Cristian, Luis and Lorenzo it led to struggling to get into college, deportation and dead end jobs.
Spare Parts; Four undocumented teenagers, one ugly robot and the battle for the American dream, by Joshua Davis will change the way you view the debate on immigration and show how people's lives can be negatively affected by government policies.
Were you popular? I don’t think I was popular. Actually I don’t know if I was mean or nice. I thought I was a social outcast until I saw the 30 Rock episode about Liz Lemon’s class reunion. Liz Lemon thinks she was a lonely nerd but she was a tyrant! Oh she had a way with words that tormented her classmates. I felt haunted after seeing that episode. I know I said zingers like Liz Lemon, but I don’t know if anyone heard them. The last time I read one of my middle school or high school journals I tore it up and burned it. I felt pretty tortured by classmates and my mother. I definitely expressed that on the journal page.
When you read Maya Van Wagenen’s memoir you won’t be tempted to tear it up. No. Popular a Memoir : vintage wisdom for a modern geek is filled with good tips for teens who are working on popularity. And her writing isn’t full of angst -- it’s inspired! When Maya’s family was decluttering their house she discovered her father’s garage sale find: Betty Cornell’s Teen-age Popularity Guide . Betty has lots of tips on how to become popular. Maya was intrigued. And her mother, a documentarian, encouraged Maya to secretly take on the experiment of using Betty’s 60 plus year old tips on how to become popular. Could you wear pearls? Maya takes on wearing pearls, makeup, and sitting where no unpopular teen has sat before: the popular kid’s lunch table. Is it the experiment? Or the journey that enlightens Maya? You’ll have to read her most excellent memoir and find out.
I hadn’t heard a thing about The Nakeds by Lisa Glatt when I saw it in the new fiction section of my library. The title made me smile and the collaged cover art drew me in closer. Then a quick skim of the book jacket picked up the words: 1970s… Southern California… painfully honest...nudist camp, and I was sold.
But while 1970s California nudist camp was enough to pique my interest, this book is so much more. When the story opens, 6-year-old Hannah Teller’s parents are busy with the argument that will culminate in the end of their marriage. Hannah steps out of her home, determined to walk to school on her own and is struck by a hopelessly drunk teenage driver named Martin Kettle. Sounds like a real downer right?
Bear with me. Yes, The Nakeds is a story of a broken girl, a broken marriage and a broken young addict but it’s funny- not quirky funny but unflinchingly honest and brave funny. Plus it’s a story filled with so much human beauty and compassion that you want to hang around: Even as Hannah gets fitted for yet another cast by another doctor who probably can’t fix her. Even as Hannah’s dad goes ahead and becomes a Jew for Jesus, marrying the blonde Christian surfer girl he started an affair with back when Hannah’s mom was pregnant. Even as (especially as) Hannah’s mom and her new stepdad expand their nudist camp weekends to include naked Fridays at home. And perhaps most difficult, as Martin Kettle stops and starts his life, paralyzed by denial and self loathing for what he did and failed to own up to.
So beat the crowds and spend a regret-free weekend with The Nakeds this summer. When you’re finished, check out this list for more intriguing new titles you may have missed.
Here, a graphic novel by Richard McGuire, is like no other I've encountered. From the book jacket: "Here is the story of a corner of a room and of the events that have occurred in that space over the course of hundreds of thousands of years." Each page is the same view of the same space, but the various tales that occurred there are woven in and out of each other via colorful windows. Several points in time may be shown on the same page, deftly comparing and contrasting each to each. (The little panels are dated with their year, thank goodness.) Touching, real, sad, joyous, mundane and fantastic are here combined as well as I've ever seen. (This would make an interesting flip-book! Time travel, bound.)
Reading this inspired me to share another favorite genre-buster from a few years ago, Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland. So what is it? 'An entertainment.' It is a history, a biography, a speculative reconstruction, a philosophical musing about a place and its people (including Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell). We enter Sunderland's Empire Theatre to be a part of the audience on a tour through time. Talbot's creation contains photographs, computer renderings, 'found' images and certainly lots of line art. This was my favorite book/graphic novel of the year when I discovered it, and it occurs to me that it is time to have a look again. Gotta go... it's reading time.
Have you ever wondered if the dead can talk to the living? Is there is a spirit world that we can communicate with, but can’t see?
Portland author, Cat Winters wonders about it too. She is fascinated by the idea that the dead can come to the living to comfort or warn them. Both of her books take place at the turn-of-the-century and reflect the emotion of people reeling from the senseless slaughter and indiscriminate death caused by World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. They were desperate for a word or a sign from dead or missing sons, husbands, fathers.
In The Shadow of Blackbirds, Mary Shelley Black is visited by a mysterious blackbird. What does he want? Has her sweetheart been killed in the trenches? Set against the backdrop of seance and spirit photography, and illustrated with archival photographs of World War I, this gripping story takes you into the dark and dangerous world of spirit communication.
Cat Winter’s second book, The Cure for Dreaming, tackles a different type of spirit -- the spirit of independent thinking. This type of spirit is alive in the main character, Olivia Mead. It is the year 1900 in Portland, Oregon. When Olivia’s father realizes that she is growing into a strong-minded young woman in favor of women’s suffrage, he decides to take extreme measures. He hires visiting hypnotist Henri Reverie to make her think and act like a docile, obedient daughter. But Henri whispers a hidden command in her ear: ‘You will see people as they really are’. Now, what began as a known story veers off into the unknown. This book is filled with authentic local details and presents a fascinating look at the unquenchable spirit needed for to fight for change.
If you like historical mystery with a flash of courage to face the unknown, check out The Shadow of Blackbirds or The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters. Need some music to accompany your reading? The author has created playlists for her books on Spotify and Pinterest.
Machu Picchu is what dreams are made of, at least one of mine anyway. Long had I wanted to visit this magical place, immerse myself in the colorful textiles and culture. I went expecting much, and I returned not disappointed. The food, people, landscape, Incan ruins—all of it was incredible.
Things I knew how to say in Spanish before I left: Hello my name is Heather. Where are the toilets? Thank you.
Things I learned in Spanish while there: Una mas pisco sour por favor.
Things I thought I knew but actually didn't: Paddington Bear is not an English Bear. He is from deepest darkest Peru.
I can't explain this long held fascination I have with Peru anymore than I can my proclivity for Hercule Poirot, or travelling with a stuffed panda. I just do.
If you are curious about Peru or Machu Picchu specifically, I've put together a little reading list that should transport you, without actually having to wait around in an airport for fourteen hours only to have your flight canceled and then be air sick. Ah, the joys of travel.
*By the way, that mountain in the background, that's Huayna Picchu. And that is me climbing it!*
**Also the sneakers in photo of the weaver belong to mi hermano y hermana.**
Last month I had the occasion to experience two extraordinary firsts: My first visit to San Francisco and my very first American Library Association conference. I could write a whole long-winded blog post about the explosion of amazingness that was San Francisco (I got to witness the first 3 hours of the SF Gay Pride Parade two days after the Supreme Court rule to legalize same-sex marriage) and another about everything that I experienced at the conference, but instead I will try to focus on what I love the most...books.
Let me back up and briefly explain my journey as a reader. At some point in high school I stopped reading. I lost interest in reading for pleasure and I found little joy in the books that most school districts insisted students should read, preferring instead to just read the CliffsNotes so that I knew enough to pass whatever test would be given. It wasn't until my 20s that I realized that the books that I had been reading, the stories that I had been told were important and worthy of reading were not books that involved anyone like me. There were no people of color and very few strong central female characters. With that in mind, it is understandable that I had lost interest in reading.
Back to June 2015, and here I was at the ALA conference attending workshops and author panels that were focused on discussing the very thing that had kept me from reading for so many years: the need for diverse representations in books. The first panel that I attended was hosted by representatives from the We Need Diverse Books campaign and focused on the need for diversity in graphic novels. This panel involved writers like Noelle Stevenson (Lumberjanes and Nimona), Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer), Jeremy Whitley (Princeless) and one of my favorite graphic novel creators, Gene Luen Yang (Boxers, Shadow Hero, American Born Chinese). I was in fan girl heaven!
Another amazing panel that I attended was moderated by Marie Lu (author of the Legend series) and involved a group of authors including Renee Ahdieh (Wrath of Dawn), I.W. Gregorio (None of the Above), Dhonielle Clayton (Tiny Pretty Things), Stacey Lee (Under a Painted Sky), and Sabaa Tahir (Ember in the Ashes). This panel highlighted debut authors who not only represent diversity, but who are also invested in creating stories that represent a broad array of experiences.
So what did I learn from sitting in on these panels? Human beings need to experience stories that are representative of their own story. That's pretty obvious. But we also learn and grow from stories that are outside of our experience. What to read more? Check out the We Need Diverse Books Tumblr page and the lists of books below.
I've been a beneficiary of the great library we have here in Portland, Oregon, since 1987, when I first moved to town. Since then, Multnomah County Library has inspired and educated me in all the directions my curiosity has chosen to take — from the American Civil War to jazz history to fly fishing to the 17th-century tulip craze in the Netherlands. It's always my first stop when something about life and/or the world we live in triggers the questions that only books can answer.
If I were stranded on a desert island, here are the books I'd want with me:
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was also one of my favorite books as a kid. Annotated, arcane lore from Victorian England mixed with the most compelling of characters.
Hard Hitting Songs For Hard Hit People by Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger. Songs from the Great Depression sung with courage, resilience and humor.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Again, one of my favorite books as a kid. The story and the characters populated my mind while I was growing up in a small town in California. I was, and still am, firmly convinced that orcs exist.
Swing To Bop by Ira Gitler. Great oral history of the seismic shift that occurred in jazz in the mid-1940s.
Mindfulness In Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana. Hard to choose my favorite book on spirituality, but this is such an easy, compassionate reminder of the larger picture.
My favorite book as a kid was Go Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman. I loved the giant dog party on top of the tree at the end of the book!
My favorite thing about the library: It is the door to the true richness of life.
A few years ago I made a new friend named Melanie at work. I had no idea that we would connect on topics as varied as intersectional feminism and kitties. This past month, I talked to Melanie Fey and her best friend since middle school, Amber McCrary, about their Indigenous feminist zine. Together (and 1200 miles apart), they produced Empower Yoself Before You Wreck Yoself, which I interviewed them about.
MELANIE: Thanks for asking to interview us, Azalea! One day Amber texted me and said let’s make a zine. I said “Okay!” but on a deep-seated level, I think creating a zine like this was a long time in the making. We’ve always idolized anti-status quo female musicians such as Brody Dalle, Kathleen Hanna and Wendy O. Williams. But there’s an obvious lack of diversity in the counterculture scenes these women were affiliated with. So as Native women, we wanted to create a space for ourselves in these environments and continue on the legacy of disrupting the status quo on everything from music, politics, patriarchy, etc. Making these zines was really rather inevitable.
AMBER: First of all, thank for you the kind words. As for how we created our first zine, I forgot that I randomly texted Melanie a couple of years ago and said we should make a zine. But yes, I think I said something like "Hey! Let's make a zine about Native girls telling their stories." And she said "Okay" or probably "Yes!"
AZALEA: Amber, I really liked your pieces, “Urban Indian Guilt” and “Indigenous Girl in a not so Indigenous World. Pt. 1,” which talk about the dual identity of being both “assimilated” and from the “rez.” For me, it seemed like you were touching on one kind of modern Native American experience. What does it mean to be (or what should people know about being) a contemporary Native American woman? (This is a broad question, apologies!)
AMBER: Thank you! It feels so long ago that I wrote and created those pieces. I can’t necessarily speak on behalf of all modern Native American women as we all have had different journeys. But speaking from my journey/experiences, I have learned what it means to be a modern contemporary Native American women from the Native women in my life: my mother, grandmother (Grandma Cowboy) and mentors from various jobs. They all contain a quality that Navajos call "hózhó", which means living in a way that focuses on creating and maintaining balance, harmony, beauty and order. As for my mother and grandmother, I am thankful they have been part of every awkward phase of my life and never judged me (especially as a Native Girl growing up in a subculture world) which taught me a lot about self-expression and not to be scared of sharing how I really feel about something.
For me, being a modern contemporary Native American woman is similar to being the Native elder women I look up to, which is finding that balance, which seems universal despite the era. I try to find a balance between living in two worlds (Native and Non-Native, Navajo and mainstream America, past and present). Although I do enjoy things that modern women/people enjoy: I like dresses, French food, traveling, reading weird comic books by Daniel Clowes, laughing at Will Ferrell movies, watching boring artsy movies, learning about different cultures and listening to music from different countries. However, at the end of the day I always remember who I am, where I come from, the struggles my ancestors went through for me to be here and how I as a Native women fit into this world.
AZALEA: Melanie, once, when I talked to you in passing you said you tried to write about difficult concepts such as decolonization in an accessible way. Why is it important to write in easy to understand language?
MELANIE: This is a good question because it’s something I really struggle with every time I’m attempting to write a new piece! I believe it’s really important that our zines to be accessible to everyone from all educational levels and cultural backgrounds. We’re trying to open up discourse between Native women and the general population about serious issues in the Native community such as colonialism, boarding school trauma, substance abuse issues, Native American mascot issues, two-spirit gender identity, etc. Not everyone is going to want to read about this stuff if it sounds like it’s coming out of a college course textbook or if they have to look up every other word in the dictionary. In my opinion, that’s not entirely conducive to creating community. Decolonization (the undoing of colonialism) is already a mouth-full of a word, and I want it to sound more like I’m having an honest conversation than spewing off elitist jargon.
If you would like to meet Melanie and Amber, they'll be tabling at the Portland Zine Symposium on Saturday, July 18th, and Sunday, July 19th. You can also check out Melanie’s work in Native American Writings.
Multnomah County Library offers a wide array of music via streaming services and old-fashioned CDs that can be checked out. MCL's My Librarians focus a lot of our energy and effort creating reading lists and recommending titles and read-alikes - but since I often write posts on popular music genres and artists, I thought I'd toss out a solicitation to those of you potentially interested in a customized music playlist. Below you'll find a playlist I created for myself with a loose summer heat feel to it (even if the content of some of the songs has nothing to do with summer, they sound like summer).
I'm attaching the songs as stand-alone videos but you can also check out the playlist as a continuous loop here or, if you're a Spotify user - here. And if you feel like rolling the dice and requesting a customized playlist, get in touch with me and let me know what kind of music/artists turn you on.
Summer 2015: Temperature's Rising
1) Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Jim On The Move:
2) Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Beyond Belief:
3) The Grateful Dead - Franklin's Tower:
4) Lee "Scratch" Perry - City Too Hot:
5) The Style Council - Long Hot Summer:
6) Gregory Isaacs - My Number One:
7) OutKast - Hey Ya!:
8) Pere Ubu - Heaven:
9) Tinashe - 2 On (ft. Schoolboy Q):
10) Fleetwood Mac - Over and Over:
11) Marianne Faithfull - Broken English:
12) Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Endicott:
13) Azealia Banks - 212 (ft. Lazy Jay):
14) War - Me And Baby Brother:
15) Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket:
16) Warren Zevon - Desperados Under The Eaves (Early):
17) Scritti Politti - The Boom Boom Bap:
18) XTC - Summer's Cauldron/Grass:
19) John Cale - You Know More Than I Know:
This summer, I got to see the birthplace of Harry Potter! I’d been in Edinburgh before but had managed to miss the café in which J.K. Rowling first began writing about Harry, Ron and Hermione. I also had a pint in Inspector Rebus’s pub, The Oxford Bar, and revisited the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Visiting literary sites and libraries is something I try to do on every trip, and I had a bookish bonanza this year in Scotland. In past years, I’ve wandered the Portobello Road antiques market in London where Paddington Bear’s friend, Mr. Gruber, has his shop, have made a pilgrimage to James Herriot’s veterinary clinic in Thirsk, England, and ridden the rails in Yorkshire close to Thomas the Tank Engine’s home.
When I was a child, we did a lot of traveling around the Pacific Northwest as well as Pennsylvania and Kentucky where my family’s relatives lived. All of those trips were fun, but I can only imagine how excited I would have been had I gotten to commune with Peter Rabbit in England’s Lake District or been lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes place. If you or your children have a hankering to visit places you’ve come to love in favorite books, there are several guides to help you get there.
Storybook Travels covers thirty literary landmarks around the world. The guide gives you information about the books covered, suggested itineraries, and addresses, phone numbers and websites of the places to visit. Portland gets a mention for Beverly Cleary's books!
I don’t know where I’ll travel next, but I’m sure it will include places important in my reading life.