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.

Glitched haptics. The klept. Homunculus parties. Disoriented yet? Like that feeling? If so, you should read The Peripheral, the new novel by William Gibson. Known in the past for cyberpunk, near-futurism, and epic,city-destroying battles with Neal Stephenson, here he tries his hand at that most tricky SF device: time travel. Or at least, something close to that.  Fear not - this is no stereotypical yarn: no one becomes his own grandpa, and no attempts to kill Hitler go horribly awry. And it’s even slyly humorous, if you pay attention (I loved the awkwardly romantic telepresence via Wheelie Boy… you’ll see).

The Peripheral book jacketFlynne Fisher lives in the near future, somewhere in the south in a house without running water. She makes a living playing video games for hire or doing shifts down at the 3D printing fab. Wilf Netherton is a publicist in London sometime after a mysterious event known as “The Jackpot” has occurred. In his time, genetic modification is rampant, nanobots scurry everywhere, and you can control live bodies with your mind. When Flynne covers a gaming shift for her brother (a former soldier suffering from the aformentioned glitched haptics) she sees something she shouldn’t have, something that will threaten her life and cause these two worlds to become forever entangled.

We’re talking neutron star density of the new here… It’s heady stuff, bewildering and alien at first, but that’s part of the pleasure. And yet, the more things change… well, you know what they say. Artspeak is just as cipherlike and nonsensical in the future as today, publicists are still hapless and gutless (sorry Wilf!), tattoos are still a thing, and unfortunately for most of us, the rich are still getting richer, a grim reality that even those in future can’t escape.

For more cyber thrillers and biotech chillers, try this list.


Cover of book Three weeks with Lady xThanks to Eloisa James and two professional readers for helping me complete a lot of household chores recently. I could have curled up in a chair with a book. Instead I did chores while they read to me. Rosalyn Landor read me the first book in James’s Desperate Duchesses series and Susan Duerden read me the rest. Then I listened to Eloisa James read me her memoir Paris in Love.

The Desperate Duchesses series is set in the late 1700’s and features characters whose lives are a bit naughtier than those in Regency romances.(Have you seen “Forbidden Fruit” the porcelain exhibit at Portland Art Museum? It’s that sort of naughtiness.)

James creates a world filled with romance, social intrigue, chess competitions and women looking for ways to make their own choices in a world that gives them few legal rights. Landor’s and Duerden’s reading styles made the characters’ witty repartee come alive for me. I enjoyed Duerden's interpretation of the Duke of Villiers with his exquisite fashion sense and disdain of most things romantic, and I laughed with delight at Landor’s voicing of the sentimental poet whose daughter wants to wed Villiers.

Book cover of Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James

I’ve been able to walk miles with my dogs and finish lots of mundane tasks while enjoying these delicious stories. You can join me in this lovely activity of having someone read to you. I use Overdrive on the MCL website to download audiobooks to my Android phone, but you can choose other options. Not sure how to get started? You can start here if you like to read instructions. If you need more help, you can take a free class or Book a LibrarianWe're happy to help. Just ask.


Come on, admit the title at least piqued your interest.

cover image of the dud avocadoElaine Dundy’s first novel was The Dud Avocado. It is very loosely, a memoir of her time in Paris as a young woman in the 1950s. Her follow up was The Old Man and Me, cover image of the old man and mewith a slightly older narrator, this time based in 1960s London. These have been quietly forgotten while other similar novels of the same period have gone on to fame—Breakfast at Tiffany’s anyone? They are witty and for their time, possibly a little shocking. A very young, very American woman alone in a foreign city, taking strange men indiscriminately to bed with her, drinking, get the picture.

Sally Jay and Betsy Lou are our two characters. The first suffers from vague nymphomania and costume dilemmas—Tyrolean peasant or dreaded librarian? And the second sets out to seduce and possibly kill for her rightful inheritance. Poor little rich girls. Thankfully New York Review Books has reprinted these two classics for another generation to discover.

Valentine’s Day: It’s a big day for some people, sometimes, but it can change for each of us through the years.

For a school kid delivering a carefully printed card to each classmate, it can be a sign of friendship.

It could mean special candy or passion and red roses and a romantic French restaurant...maybe a massage… maybe singing karaoke love songs to your sweetheart. 

Maybe it means feeling grumpy and alone and wanting to wallow in Anti-Valentine feelings after a bad break-up. Maybe seeing Fifty Shades of Grey

Or hoping that tonight you’ll dream of your lover because you cannot be together. Texting love notes so fast your fingers are a blur.

Will you hand make a valentine? Send an e-card? Drive miles to surprise someone? Meet the person you will decide to spend your life with after only three days or three weeks?

Whatever you end up doing this Valentine’s Day, you might find something that appeals to you on these lists. I asked other people I work with at the library for their personal favorites, so I could share this list of books or this one of movies and music with you. Most of the suggestions are romantic, but not all are happy. Would you share one of your favorites, too? Thanks! 

Her bookjacketThe 2015 books are starting to arrive and I zipped through my first psychological thriller of the new year. Harriet Lane’s Her sucked me right in with a deceptively ordinary story of two mothers (though if you prefer to read about parents who dote on their children, you'd best skip this book). What a fabulously entertaining, suspenseful, well-written book. The story centers on the build-up of revenge plotted by one of the characters towards the completely oblivious other.

Told in alternating chapters by the two main characters, the interplay of reality and perception is pretty chilling. It’s sort of The Bad Seed with middle aged women. Her is a story that builds from the misunderstandings and disappointments in our lives and the twist lies in the overlooking of those matters.

I’m ready to be pulled into more psychological suspense novels in the coming year; here are a few that I'm eagerly anticipating. I hope they turn out to be as unpredictable and surprising as Her.

"My sadness, my story, my wantoness, my skipping
My wish and my despair, my erasure, my plantation, my chocolate
My thoughtlessness, my gracelessness, my courage and my crying
My pockets, my homework
Like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number
Oh yeah."

"Oh how your flesh and blood became the word"

Cupid Psyche 85 album cover image

By 1985, Scritti Politti's Green Gartside had fully emerged from the peripheries of the UK's indie post-punk sleeper cells into quasi-global pop brilliance.  But appearances are often deceiving and although Cupid & Psyche '85 was a top 50 LP in the States, "Perfect Way" a number 11 US single, and Green a bonafide pop pin-up for 8 months or so, it's also well-known to many of Gartside's avid disciples that Cupid & Psyche '85 was meant to operate on multiple frequencies.

Cupid & Psyche '85 is celebrated as one of the UK's most successful manifestations of pop entryism and for a couple of months that year, it seemed as though Green's cherubic smirk was on the cover of every other teen/pop music magazine.  But long-time Scritti fans knew that Green's origins came out of the late 1970s UK student/squat scene - bravely committed to a radical and austere project of DIY collectives, demystification and music that rigorously confronted its own reasons for existing (see Scritti's Early collection).  Early song titles like "Hegemony," "Messthetics," and "Doubt Beat" presumably speak for themselves. After a (now mythic and perhaps exaggeratedly apocryphal) nervous breakdown, illness, and extended convalesence, Green turned his back on "the ghetto of the Independent scene" and focused his intelligence and acumen on doing music "properly" - which (hopefully) meant hits.  Cue "The 'Sweetest Girl'" - a mellifluous, almost vertiginous, incantation to the ghostly subject of millions of pop songs.  It was a major step forward and, while not the hit Green hoped for, it was a brilliant first shot into the pop citadel.

By 1983, Green/Scritti had signed with Virgin Records and relocated to NYC - where he began to construct the individual elements that would eventually constitute Cupid & Psyche '85.  First single "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" rolled out in February 1984 and "Absolute,""Hypnotize," and "The Word Girl" followed - each single a carefully crafted, expensive, subtle dislocation of the norm.  Green never fully abandoned his commitment to rupture, to tracking the voids that fuel everyday emotions, the endless loops of logic that underpin our notions of "how things are."  His project attempted to embed deconstructive petroleum jelly in the dark recesses of "hyper-saccharine sweetness" with a strange bounce to the ounce.  He worked with some of the best, biggest, and priciest hit-makers in the industry and it all finally paid off in late 1985 when "Perfect Way" (only a moderate hit in the UK) nearly broke the US Top 10.

Of course this begged a major question for anyone invested in Green's purported project - when does pop entryism become tautology?  When a song - no matter how potentially subversive - transcends its origins of production to become, first and foremost, a glittering object - is
there still a project beyond entry into a value-commodity stream?  Reading interviews with Green circa 1983-85, it's clear that, despite his intial sense of excited purpose, he regularly wrestled with this contradiction.  And one might even argue that it ultimately did him in (as a pop star, at least).  Cupid & Psyche '85  was followed in 1988 by Provision - a modest commercial success, but tracked by many as an enervated doppelganger of C&P  85  (though "Boom! There She Was" is a classic Scritti hypno-pop white star). 

Green eventually "retired" from the music business, only to return in 1999 with Anomie & Bonhomie, a strange though compelling fission of guitar pop, airtight gloss and hip-hop, and then again in 2006 with the understated but gorgeous White Bread, Black Beer.

Scritti Politti - "Doubt Beat" (1979)


Scritti Politti - "The 'Sweetest Girl'" (1981)


Scritti Politti - "Lions After Slumber" (1982)


Scritti Politti - "Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)" (1984)


Scritti Politti - "Perfect Way" (1985)

Scritti Politti - "Boom! There She Was" (1988)

Scritti Politti - "Umm" (1999)

Scritti Politti - "Boom Boom Bap" (2006)


I know it’s February 2015 already, but I have one last “best of” list to share.  These titles might not have made the more famous year-end lists, but they are some of my favorite books published in 2014 from across the pond.

Elizabeth is Missing book jacketElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey was billed as a psychological suspense novel, but it definitely wasn’t an edge of the seat thriller. It was an interesting exploration of aging and how disconcerting and frightening memory loss can be.  I was completely engrossed in Maud’s story and felt like I had a better sense of what the elderly go through when their minds begin to fail them.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about Jonathan Coe??? Apparently, he’s been writing novels for years, but it wasn’t until recently that I read Expo 58 book jacketone.  Expo 58 is a funny, yet serious book about a minor civil servant’s experience overseeing Britain’s pub, The Britannia, at the 1958 World’s Fair in Belgium.  Brussels is full of beautiful Expo hostesses, visiting dignitaries and Russians who may or may not be who they say they are.  Thomas Foley has no idea what he’s getting himself into when he leaves his wife and baby behind in England for six months in Belgium.

And speaking of Belgians, there’s a new Poirot! Agatha Christie died years ago and her detective supposedly had his last case in Curtain, but suddenly Hercule Poirot is back to solve another mystery in The Monogram Murders.  Sophie Hannah has done a bang-up job recreating one of the world’s most famous literary detectives.  And the plot is pretty good too.

These are just three of my favorite British books of 2014.  See my list for six more.

Abominable Snowman Movie AdYetis sounded so much scarier when I was a kid. There was only one yeti, The Abominable Snowman, (the terror of the Himalayas!) His malicious smile was complemented by nails long enough to pierce a person’s heart.  These days, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and yetis are still popular, but they’ve been rehabilitated. Two recent books for children show the loveable side of yetis. In fact, I found I found them to be yeti-sized funny!Yeti Files cover

Kevin Sherry’s The Yeti Files overflows with illustrations of yeti Blizz Richard’s home in the big trees, complete with an “epic tire swing,”a “zippy zip line,” and a “highly polished fireman’s pole.” Blizz is a happy-go-lucky guy, except for his need to keep hidden. And keeping hidden when you’re that big is hard work! Especially when your cousins are careless...and your friend, Bigfoot, is missing. The Yeti files is a great choice for kids who are moving up from easy readers into chapter books.The Abominables cover

Eva Ibbotson’s yetis in The Abominables are also happy-go-lucky creatures. A little girl named Agatha gets lost in the Himalyas and discovers a small group of yetis living peacefully together. They shelter and feed her and adopt her as one of their own. In turn she teaches them all she knows about civilization and lives with them into her old age. But when the yetis’ lives are threatened, Agatha comes up with a plan to ship them to England. This dangerous plan that involves keeping yetis quiet, calm and hidden in a refrigerator truck and soon becomes a series of near misses and misunderstandings.

For more laugh-out loud funny reads for kids reading chapters, try the attached lists.

Chester A. Arthur photoYou remember Chester A. Arthur, right? Twenty-first president of the United States. Served from 1881 until 1885 following the assassination of James Garfield. Not really? Don’t feel too bad -- you’re in good company.

Several years ago, I set out to memorize all 43 (now 44) presidents in order, along with the years they served. I thought it would be an interesting brain exercise and a great alternative to counting sheep when I couldn’t sleep. However, I soon found that if I neglected reviewing the list from time-to-time, I would forget some of the lesser known figures like Arthur, Taft and Pierce.

Now, this phenomenon of forgetting the presidents has actually been documented in two studies on cultural memory published in the journal Science and reported in the New York Times! The long and short of the studies is that most people can identify five or six recent presidents; the founding father presidents like Washington, Adams and Jefferson; and a small number who were at the helm during huge events in our nation’s history such as Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.Image of Presidential Seal

Maybe committing the list to memory isn’t important to you, but maybe you are interested in learning more about some of our chief executives through time. Here here are some great resources


Siqueiros Mural

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

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

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

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

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


Rivera's mural




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

John Sherman, drums:

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

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

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

Bryan Giles, guitar and vocals:

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

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

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

Aaron Beam, bass and vocals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Among Thieves

by John Clarkson

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

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

by Emma Hooper

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

A Touch of Stardust

by Kate Alcott

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

Dorothy Parker Drank Here

by Ellen Meister

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

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

by Richard Rhodes

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

Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story

by Michael Rosen

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

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

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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