Blogs

cover image of the life changing magic of tidying up
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up...this was the first book I finished reading in 2015. I am a very organized and tidy person by nature and so am not the intended reader, but just the same, I love reading about organizing and simplifying. Also while browsing the pages I saw the words: storage experts are hoarders and I knew that Marie Kondo and I would be fast friends.
 
The presentation is nice, small little hardback edition, nice to hold, sparks joy. This is the main theme of the book—you should only keep those things in your life that spark joy when you touch them, look at them, use them, think of them.  Wouldn't that be lovely to only have the things in your life that spark joy? She believes you can.
As a reader of these sorts of texts, I didn't come away with any new information, but if you like a good prompting to tidy, this is the one. 
 

WOWVolunteer Maureen Flynn

by Donna Childs

Most people have heard of Meals on Wheels, for whom volunteers deliver food to people who are homebound, but few know that Multnomah County Library has a program called Words on Wheels, through which volunteers deliver books, food for the mind and soul. One of those volunteers is Maureen Flynn, who brings library materials to two women who can’t get to a library.

Her “fantastic” women live in the same assisted living facility, but have different needs and ways of choosing books. One of them talks with Maureen about the kinds of books she likes—and those she does not—but seldom requests specific titles. Knowing her tastes, Maureen reads reviews and scans library shelves for titles she might like. The other woman does her own research and often gives Maureen lists of specific books she wants to read.  In both cases, Maureen talks with the women about the books and about their own interests and histories, and picks up and returns books to the Hollywood library for them.

Maureen goes to the assisted living facility almost weekly to be sure each woman has a good supply of books. She enjoys getting to know these women and has learned a lot from them.  In return, she is able to enhance their library experience, to pass on what she has learned about using the library.  

In addition to Words on Wheels, Maureen also volunteers at the Hollywood Library. She began four years ago, as an expired holds clerk, pulling and processing books people had requested, but did not ever pick up. She found it a great way to learn about good books and laughed that her pants pockets were usually full of scraps of paper with book titles. Now, she pulls holds on Mondays before the library opens, finding books, CDs and DVDs that patrons have requested. That way, she can search shelves without intruding on other patrons’ browsing.

An inveterate helper, Maureen also volunteers at her church, preferring behind the scenes tasks, such as sacristy and altar guild work.  Her helping has paid off in other ways: a former volunteer job at Providence Medical Center led her to a position there until she retired and began volunteering with the library.


A Few Facts About Maureen

Home library: Hollywood

Currently reading: Maya Lin’s "Boundaries"

Most influential book: Lately, it is "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets.

A book that made you laugh or cry: All the PG Wodehouse books

Favorite reading guilty pleasure: Murder mysteries

E-reader or paper? Paper, because it is tactile - it’s a life-long preference.

Favorite place to read: In summer, outside and in winter, indoors by a window

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Zot book jacketI first discovered Scott McCloud via a friend's copy of his comic Zot!. McCloud is both writer and artist, and his style was simple yet full of detail. Zot! was a story of clashing alternate dimensions... the modern 80's of our world, and a sparkling, optimistic retro 'future' of 1965! Zot himself (Zachary Paleozogt) was a sixteen-year old hero (with rocket boots and ray gun) reminiscent of Flash Gordon. Enter Jenny Weaver, sensitive teen, and the reader's point of view character through the series. I loved the goofy stories that were unobtrusively filled with serious issues. The library has a Zot! collection available here.Understanding Comics book jacket

Some years later, I discovered that McCloud had been doing some deep thinking about what made comics work. What differentiates sequential art from a book, from a painting, from a movie? His thoughts appeared in Understanding Comics. As someone with a lifelong interest in comics, I avidly pored over this. Here we go backstage with a master who is able to explain... Why that angle? Why that viewpoint? Why this choice, not that?The Sculptor book jacket

I wondered idly what his work would be like after having written what amounted to (very cool) textbooks on the subject. Now I know. McCloud has just released The Sculptor. A young, struggling New York artist makes a deal with Death, offering up his life for 200 days of what amounts to an artistic 'superpower'. And then he falls in love. Now, with something to live for, he faces imminent mortality and the rollercoaster ride of new love. Combining tender and funny, fierce and serene, everyday with surreal, this is truly the work of a master of the graphic novel... and of storytelling.

Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland and Vancouver book jacketBridges are one of the bonuses of living in Portland. Did you know there are 22 bridges over the Columbia and Willamette rivers in the Portland and Vancouver area? I love all of the different styles and types of bridges we have. Getting out of my car and seeing them from the river bank or a boat on the river adds to my enjoyment of them. The more I learn about our bridges the more interesting they become. It is easy to learn more about our bridges with Sharon Wood Wortman's great new book, Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland & Vancouver.

What makes this book special is that it is written for kids. It has lots of art and graphics as well as facts, bridge poems and interviews with bridge designers and workers. It includes the new Tilikum Crossing and Selwood bridges. Adults needn’t worry about this being a kids' book, there is plenty of information about the bridges. You also will learn about bridge building and design. There are even plans to build model bridges out of popsicle sticks that you can load test.

Sharon Wood Wortman also wrote The Portland Bridge Book. The first and second editions are illustrated with neat line drawings and the third edition, which came out in 2006, has photographs of the bridges. These books are also worth looking at, but they’re not as much fun as Big & Awesome Bridges. You can find out more about Portland’s bridges online at  Big & Awesome Bridges of Portland and Vancouver and at PDX Bridge Festival.

I recently got a Fitbit, a wonderful little device that tracks how much you walk, and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with seeing how many steps I can walk every single day. I’m not quite as obsessed as David Sedaris is about walking (or maybe it’s because I don’t have nine hours every day to devote to walking the way Sedaris says he does). I know that I’m somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale but I really do try not to let my slight ocd tendencies affect those around me (though my husband, when he’s washing the dishes as I’m hovering about in the kitchen cleaning up after him, might disagree with that last statement).

The Man Who Couldn't Stop bookjacketDavid Adam does suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. For the past 20 years, he has had an irrational fear of contracting AIDS, and in an effort to understand this, he has written The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought. It’s my favorite kind of memoir - personal, poignant, heartbreaking stories of the author mixed with everything I’ve ever wanted to know about a bigger subject. This is an immensely down-to-earth, accessible book about a difficult subject. I came away with an understanding of the definition of OCD, the possible causes, the treatment of OCD and a huge amount of empathy for all those that lean towards obsessive- compulsive disorder.


 

RisePlanetofApesDVDImage
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes attempted (somewhat clunkily in retrospect) to speak to the politics of its time - particularly the ongoing civil rights struggles in the US.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes - not so much remake as re-imagined prequel - more cannily embodies and plays out a more viscerally destructive politics:  the refusal of cooperation - and even love - in a world structurally predicated on species difference and exploitation.  Ape leader Caesar's incremental "NOs" finalize in a rejection of the possibility of love between masters (humans) and captors (apes) but this series of refusals also begins to construct a revolutionary solidarity among the apes.  

Director Rupert Wyatt does a nice job of projecting the film's human personalities as monochromatic 'types' (including James Franco's protagonist - perhaps the most sympathetic of the humans, but also perhaps the most capable of betrayal), while drawing out layers of personality, depth and passion in the apes (who - apart from Caesar - hardly speak).  The film's final battle along the Golden Gate Bridge is cinematically stunning but also politically inspired as a representation of strategic resistance.  Rise's release coincided with the summer 2011 UK riots and Occupy's global eruption was just around the corner.  Rise is certainly special in that it reflected and challenged its historical moment - but it is Caesar's equation of "home" with permanent revolution that underscores the truly radical power of the film.





 
I am secure enough in my nerdiness to admit that I once owned a copy of that famous poster Fox Mulder had on the wall of his basement cubicle in the X-Files. The one with the spaceship and the words "I Want To Believe." (I also had Mulder and Scully action figures and a pet cockatiel who whistled the first measures of the show's theme song in an endless loop, but we don't need to go there.)
 
If you've never seen the show, all you need to know is that Mulder believes in aliens and Scully is Catholic. I gravitate to characters grappling with religion in any form because the complexity of human belief brings out the most compelling stories. (And if those stories involve government conspiracies and alien-human hybrids, all the better.) 
 
Religion can show us the very best and worst in human nature. It's sort of like a church basement potluck--the good and the terrible gathered together on one table, saints and serial killers ready to mingle like so much green jello salad and funeral potatoes.
 
A Song for Issy Bradley book jacketA Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray is the story of what is lost and found in the wake of the unexpected death of a child. When Claire loses her youngest child to a sudden illness, faith is also lost. The Bradley family revolves around their Mormon church membership but Issy's death cancels gravity. The orderly planetary orbits of each family member spin out of control in their own unique ways. Religion acts as both anchor and buoy as the family struggles with Claire's behavior in the midst of their own turbulent journeys. Can they catch her before the tide of her bottomless ocean of grief washes her permanently to sea?
 
What if you lived in seventh century Britain, caught between two belief systems? The power of the old gods is on the wane as the title character in Nicola Griffith's Hild manages to make her way as the seer of her uncle, Edwin of Northumbria, in a politicallHomeland dvd covery fractious time; Christianity is rising and war between small kingdoms is always on the horizon. The brutal and fascinating Anglo-Saxon world comes to life in this illuminating and painstakingly researched novel about the woman who eventually becomes St. Hilda of Whitby.
 
If you've not yet watched the television series Homeland, I will warn you now that it is addictive. It is a political thriller but what I found most fascinating in the first three seasons of the show is how the fate of one character and those around him is so directly tied to his religion--a faith missed by government surveillance and undetected by family and friends. It is faith that both saves and condemns, and faith that raises more questions than it answers.
 
The truth is out there.

The letter D in ornamental scripto you like beautiful scenery? Beer? Constant, simmering warfare? Then you need to visit Anglo-Saxon England!Cover of Hild by Nicola Griffith

I fell in love with this setting after reading Nicola Griffith’s recent novel, Hild. It follows the coming-of-age of a young girl named Hild, the seer to Edwin Overking, an Anglisc lord in the early 7th century. She is continually called upon to predict the future of her kingdom, with the constant threat of death should she ever guess wrong.

Hild is a beautifully written book, with characters that take up residence in your mind, but it was the setting that really blew me away. Anglo-Saxon England is a combination of cultures: there are the ruling Anglo-Saxons who began migrating from Germany and Denmark in the 4th centuries, but there are also the Irish, the Welsh, the Picts, and the Christian missionaries. There are ruins of the Roman civilization that had only recently spread across the island. The people speak multiple languages, and they worship multiple gods.

Of course I can’t actually visit England circa 1,400 years ago (although someday I would like to visit the land that it has become!) but there are plenty of books to take me there. Here are some of the best reads that I could find for booking a longship voyage back through time to the England of the Anglisc.

With spring just around the corner, my mind just naturally turns to two things -- birds and music!

Picture of Exotic birdsComposers have long been inspired by nature and probably nothing has provided more inspiration than the music of bird calls and songs. There are countless instances of the sounds of birds being imitated in music -- The forest bird in Wagner's Siegfried, The cry of the falcon in Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, or the cuckoo in Beethoven's sixth symphony, to name just a few. But what I'm talking about here are pieces that are completely about birds.

Like the birds that inspire the music, the pieces come in all shapes and sizes. They can be small, like El colibri (The hummingbird) -- written for solo guitar by the Argentine composer Julio Sagreras -- which runs just over a minute. They can be large like French composer Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux -- a suite for piano which takes about 2 1/2 hours when played in its entirety. Or they can be moderate in size, like Italian composer Ottorino Respighi's The Birds (Gli uccelli) -- perhaps the most famous bird music of all time.

My personal favorite? It has to be Exotic Birds (Oiseaux exotiques) -- again by the bird-obsessed Olivier Messiaen. Written for chamber orchestra and running about 15 minutes in length, it's noisy, colorful, and chaotic -- pretty much what you might expect from a large gathering of winged creatures! You can get a good taste by watching the sampling in the video below.

And for recordings available from the library, check these out!

Call out to all you Conspiracy Theorists (yes, all y'all on the down low too). Here's a great follow-up to Santa Olivia by Jacquelyn Carey.

Imagine a world where a spell of forgetfulness sits like a fog over everything, rendering the past incomprehensible; where an ancient knight in rusted armour swears to defeat a dragon; where two people set out on a quest through a country divided by clan loyalties and war.

The surprise is that I am not talking about George R.R. Martin or Tolkien, but Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Ishiguro sets The Buried Giant in an age of decline. The idealistic reign of King Arthur is a distant memory and chivalry is, if not dead, then mostly gone. An elderly couple makes their way across a ravaged landscape on a quest to reclaim something important but long forgotten. Though Axl and Beatrice are old, they are naive, having subsisted in a hovel in the ground with their fellow villagers for as far back as they can remember, which is not very far. Their journey is one of children in a strange world, wide-eyed at the ways of outsiders. As they travel, bits and pieces of their past lives come back to them. These memories fortify them sometimes, and burden them at others.

Ishiguro has crafted an odd and beautiful combination of adventure and psychological drama. It's also a study of love, forgetfulness and forgiveness, companionship and death. It's Joseph Campbell's the hero's journey redone in a totally unexpected way. This book will very likely find its way to my top picks for 2015.

Do you stay up at night wondering how much longer the North Korean government can survive or how much their average citizen knows about the world beyond their borders? I do.

It’s not that it's unusual for my reading habits to snowball into mini research projects. The perfect puff pastry, Mormon fundamentalism, abstract expressionists- they’ve all occupied months of my life. But who would want to read deeply about a loathsome totalitarian state with an abhorrent human rights record and a comically absurd dynasty of dictators?  Well I would for one and certainly I'm not alone. Whether you're interested in global issues, survivor stories or political satire that crosses over into reality, when it comes to North Korea, there are countless avenues to explore.

If like me, you're curious to understand what life is like in one of the world's most closed off countries, start with Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.  Her book follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years, providing an extraordinarily comprehensive view of the country and a great meshing of politics and history with moving personal stories.  It also happens to come highly recommended by David Sedaris.

Looking for a little more insight into the Kim family regime? Check out A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress and A Young Dictator’s Rise to Power. It's a first book by film producer Paul Fischer and among the most suspenseful true life thrillers I’ve ever read.  Long as it is, the title only begins to suggest the unbelievable journey this surreal story takes you on. 

Curious to know more? Check out this list for more recommended books and documentaries to further your understanding of North Korea.

Dynamic Design Duo

#BlackWilliamsPDX

February 27, 2015

Culturally Creative lunch boxes and water bottles

Photo Credit: http://shop.soapboxtheory.com/

Source:  Kayin Talton and Cleo Davis

Kayin Talton and Cleo Davis are a husband and wife designing force. If you can think of it, they can create it! Recently named curators of the Williams Art Project, their talent and ingenuity will soon be displayed for all to see and enjoy.  When they aren’t creating for the Williams Art Project, you can find them at 3940-3944 N Williams Ave. for all of your designing needs. Or, you can find them online where they specialize in being “culturally creative.” In their own words, “As part of the Honoring the African American History of N Williams Art Project, we are combining stories, memories, and locations to create what is essentially a walk through mid-century life in Portland’s largest Black community. Follow us on twitter @blkwilliamspdx for updates on the project, and share your stories using #blackwilliamspdx.”  Be sure to join in!

When I think about Black History, I like to reflect on the contributions that black people have made to the world of music. Jazz, blues, folk, classical, soul, rhythm and blues, rock, and my personal favorite, hip hop.

Hip hop has it’s roots in 1973, with DJ Kool Herc’s parties in his Bronx apartment building. The music and culture was born from the racial, economic, and social struggles of black communities living in the projects. Decades later hip-hop has grown and spread it’s branches around the world. I can’t possibly cover the richness of hip-hop history in one blog post. If you are interested in learning more about the history, culture, and the art of hip-hop, check out this booklist by fellow My Librarian, Karen E. But while I have the proverbial mic, I want to share a little bit of my experience with hip-hop and take you on a quick journey through my love for the music.

Run DMC Raising Hell album cover"It's Tricky"

As a kid, growing up in the 1980’s, my world revolved around school, friends, Atari, and music. My very first concert (at least the first one that my parents didn’t drag me to) was the Run DMC and Beastie Boys Together Forever tour. My little brother, my best friend, and I piled into the family station wagon, with my dad at the wheel, headed to Pine Knob ampitheater in Michigan. All three of us had been obsessively listening to Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill, but seeing these artists perform on stage was when I knew I was hooked for life.

"Bring the Noise"

I could see the light at the end of my high school experience. The possiblities ahead of me seemed endless, and terrifying. My thoughts were moving from focusing on the immediate issues of how much homework was due, to focusing on the world that I was entering as a young adult. And one day my brother comes home with Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back cassette. My mind was blown. Here was a soundtrack that was angry and loud, that spoke to my blossoming political and social frustrations.

3 Years, 3 Feet, and Reachin'

In my young adult years my mind focused on how I fit into the world. I found connection and comfort in the music of De La Soul, Arrested Development, and Digable Planets. These groups brought a new postivity-focused voice to hip-hop.

"History"

Fast forward to today. I've found an artist or album to fit my every mood. Mos Def when I want to relax and reflect. Missy Elliot when I feel like dancing. Danger Doom when I'm feeling down and need a laugh. A Tribe Called Quest when I'm feeling nostalgic. The Coup when I'm feeling funky.  My favorite hip-hop artists are poets, entertainers, musicians, revolutionaries, historians, and teachers. Hip-hop is a powerful form of music. Hip-hop is beats and rhymes, rhythms and bass. Hip-hop is a culture.




Often we need to contact government officials or agencies but knowing where to start can be daunting. Here is a quick list of useful contact numbers and websites to help you reach who you need in government:

Portland, Oregon City Hall with the Portland Building in the backgroundLocal Government

Mutnomah County is, of course, more than just Portland. The following cities in the county have websites and general information phone numbers where you can connect to agencies and officials specific to those communities:

The League of Woman Voters of Portland provides a handy Directory of Elected Officials of local, state, and federal elected officials for the entire Multnomah County including local school districts.

 

State Government

There is no general information line for the state of Oregon. You can visit each agency’s website for their individual contact information or you can look in the state agency directory.

Looking for more information about Oregon government?  Try the Oregon Blue Book.   

 

President Obama addressing a joint session of Congress, 2009Federal Government

USA.gov is the place to start online when looking for any information related to the federal government. Among other things, it includes links to find services, agencies and a telephone and email directory.

 In print you can take a look at the Federal staff directory for an extensive list of who’s who in the Federal government.

What about states other than Oregon? Caroll’s Publishing Company prints an excellent set of contact information guides for the Federal government as well as nationwide CountyMunicipal, and State governments. 

As always, Multnomah County Library staff is happy to help you find the information you’re looking for.  If you have any questions about this topic or anything else please let us know!

Podcasts and zines- I love them.  Have you tried them?

I love listening to podcasts while I’m crafting, cooking or cleaning. Podcasts are digital audio files that can be downloaded or streamed on your computer or device. If you like audiobooks you might like podcasts. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a podcast about it somewhere on the internet. Many interesting podcasts can be found on (National Public Radio website) NPR. And of course the Multnomah County Library has podcasts. If you need help finding podcasts ask us. We’d love to help!

I love zines too. Zines are independent publications or homemade magazines a sixth grader told me when I asked him “what are zines?” Zines cover many subjects, subjects that mainstream press may not cover. Of course the Multnomah County Library has zines. So when podcasts and zines meet up it’s a marriage made in heaven. Or just a really great podcast all about how zines can sometimes find their way to publishers. Take a listen to From Zines to Publishing podcast when some local creators and publishers get together and discuss the publishing landscape for zines. We also have a zines to books list and this is part 2.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star book jacketIn my search for something to read last weekend, nothing seemed quite right.  Then I happened upon my small collection of Paul Theroux books and I knew he was (no pun intended) just the ticket.  I’m a big fan of Mr. Theroux and have been saving Ghost Train to the Eastern Star for the right moment.  Ghost Train traces one of his earlier journeys documented originally in The Great Railway Bazaar.  That trip, which took place in 1973, chronicled Theroux’s mostly train journey from London across Europe and Asia, visiting India and Japan and returning west via the Trans-Siberian Railway.  Writers often travel in the footsteps of others but Theroux follows his own path, visiting old and new countries in order to see what has changed and what has remained the same.  Along the way he applies those same standards to himself.  

In Ghost Train, readers learn early on that Theroux’s previous trip took place under trying circumstances on the home front.  As the father of two young children he embarked on a long and seemingly pointless journey against his wife’s wishes.  While the trip brought him a measure of fortune and fame, his marriage never recovered.  In Ghost Train we find an older, more settled Theroux.  Without the family troubles to plague him, he traveled a second time with a more solid sense of home.  Theroux follows his earlier trip as closely as possible.  Politics prevented him from visiting countries like Iran and Afghanistan but this time he traveled through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and visits Cambodia for the first time.  

Travel writing as a tale of adventure changed with the advent of air travel.  Travelers began to focus on the destination instead of the journey.  Theroux’s travel writing excels because it brings travel writing back to those earlier times.  For Theroux, the arrival, the departure and all that happens between the two are fodder for explanation.  He incorporates history without distracting from the narrative.  He frequently meets with local writers, in this case Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak in Istanbul, Arthur C. Clarke in Sri Lanka and Haruki Murakami in Japan.  He observes the conflicting economies in India, finding sadness at the overwhelming poverty while every rickshaw driver he sees is using a cell phone.  

Ultimately Theroux is a keen observer with a novelist’s heart.  Ghost Train is classic Theroux, peopled with interesting characters that bring shape and form to each trip.  Like his other works, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star allows the reader to sit alongside Mr. Theroux, watch over his shoulder and share the journey.  As with his other travels, the journey is well worth it.

The Golden Cage follows the journey of three Guatemalan teenagers as they attempt to illegally cross the dangerous Mexico-US border in pursuit of the American dream. This movie has a variety of elements that make it stand out. The film addresses a social reality with a vigorous narrative and a cinematographic freshness.

Crossing the Mexican border to the USA is a controversial topic and there have been books, documentaries and other art that portrays the narrative of this crude reality. The Golden Cage is different in that it presents documentary elements and uses real-life participants; at times you can feel a special connection and compassion for the protagonists. The director Diego Quemada-Diez, who also wrote the screenplay, never imagined that this production would earn him and his cast one of the most recognized awards in the world at the Cannes Film Festival in the category  of “Un Certain Regard”. Quemada-Diez spent 10 years compiling testimonials and creating the content of the story. He found three talented non-professional actors after casting around 3,000 people.  A girl disguising herself as a boy opens up the story, and short dialogues emerge in a neutral tone at times without expressions. The dialogues all have something in common -- “dreams of gold”.  Find more stories of border crossings and uncertain futures here.
 

D’wayne Edwards

 

Pensole Founder D'wayne Edwards Photo: bmeccommunity

When he's 17, he crushes the competition in a Reebok design competition. While attending college, he secures a job with L.A. Gear, an old-school footwear company. Every day he submits shoe drawings and a suggestion to hire him as a shoe designer. After submitting a total of 180 sketches, he’s offered a job as the youngest footwear designer in the industry at that time. Eventually, his hard work and determination land him a job at Nike as design director for brand Jordan. His designs sell more than $1 billion, he owns over 30 patents and designs shoes for some of the world’s top athletes, woosh! He decides to leave Nike and use his own money to start Pensole, a shoe design academy. And he’s right here in Portland!

Further Exploration: http://www.pensole.com/dwayne-edwards/

Available at Multnomah County Library: Footwear Design by Choklat, Aki

I am a philosophy professor and chair of the Philosophy Program at Southern Oregon University. Having been trained in both Indian and Western philosophy, my reading covers a wide spectrum. For the last several years I have become interested in issues in political philosophy, the role of scientific literacy in modern democracy, and issues at the interface between science and religion. I see reading as a walk I am taking with a friend while exploring a subject. Depending on the topic, the conversation can be calm or passionate. Either way, the dialogue almost always enriches my life. This has required me to buy a few more bookshelves.

Here are some reflections on a variety of books I have been reading. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen

While there are thousands of volumes written about the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from as many perspectives as one can imagine, the pages of Princeton philosopher Danielle Allen’s reading of the Declaration are filled with rigor and passion. Allen walks us through the document, helping us understand and appreciate the significance of various ideas and making a case the true freedom is not possible without equality. Each chapter is nicely organized in manageable lengths for easy reading.

I highly recommend reading the book, especially today as we are working through several social and political challenges.

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel

In this book, Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, author of the New York Times bestseller Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, takes up some of the moral dilemmas we are encountering more and more in our society -- fighting wars, selling admission to colleges, drug testing -- and subjects them to moral scrutiny. Sandel argues that in the end, to separate markets and economics from morality “is not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.”

The book is an excellent resource to get us thinking about the issues we face today. It also illustrates how philosophers go about doing philosophy.

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel

Is everything, including mind/consciousness, ultimately reducible to material/physical substance and process alone? Or is there something more to it? Philosophers and theologians have been debating this question for centuries, if not longer. Ever since the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), the debate gained new life, especially with those who pushed to explain mental phenomena in terms of material processes.

In Mind and Cosmos, renowned philosopher Thomas Nagel, makes a provocative proposal that arguments to reduce mind/consciousness to a physical foundation is, as he puts it in the title, “…almost certainly false.” The book has given rise to some interesting and, in some circles, even acrimonious exchanges. In reviewing the book, the Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker wrote that Nagel’s thesis is the “…shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker.”

Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene

Human beings may be unique in facing moral dilemmas. While historically there have been answers galore as to how one ought to behave, modern cognitive science and neuroscience are challenging and offering new insights into what constitutes morality and where we get it. In fascinating book, Harvard social scientist Joshua Greene explores how the human brain processes morality, shaped by evolution and cultural forces. In this very accessible book, he offers a moral framework, to help us examine and inform our moral quandaries.

The book will be of interest to all those who are interested learning about how new sciences can and are shaping our sense of morality.

Exploring Happiness: From Aristotle to Brain Science by Sissela Bok

The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok

The last few decades have seen increased interest, attention, and research focused on happiness, a fundamental human emotion. While philosophers have discussed the concept for centuries, new research is shedding fresh light on how happiness can enhance and shape our wellbeing in society. In Exploring Happiness, philosopher Sissela Bok offers a philosophical overview of happiness from Aristotle to what neuroscience is telling about this subject. In The Politics of Happiness, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, offers a broad survey of how new research on happiness can help us address some of our vexing social and economic problems. He touches on such challenges as income inequality, marriage and families, and quality of political leadership.

The Boks articulate a complex subject clearly and I recommend the books to anyone interested in understanding the present human condition, and perhaps why we need to rethink our approach to solving some of our personal, social, and political challenges.

Here are some other books on my bookshelf (outside of my professional reading):

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O Wilson

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris

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.

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