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Inside the Outbreaks: The Elite Medical Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service by Mark Pendergrast The Epidemic Intelligence Service is a rarely-heard-of division of the Centers for Disease Control, and the medical equivalent of the CIA. How cool is that?! These folks, epidemiologists by trade, try to study and prevent virtually every threat to public health that's around--and they've been at it since 1951. They've dealt with smallpox and Ebola, found that people can get rabies from bats without being bitten, started the first surveillance system for birth defects and helped identify folic acid as a preventative for spina bifida. They've investigated mass hysteria in schools, sick-building syndrome, proved that aspirin can cause Reye's syndrome, that toxic shock syndrome was caused by super-absorbent tampons, and that Lyme disease came from ticks. They've investigated lead poisoning, multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis, parasites, pesticides, and cholera. But they also study things like cancer clusters, obesity, heat waves, binge drinking, violence and suicide.This book is graphic--not for the squeamish. But for those among us who love this kinda thing, it is just the ticket. Plus that cover illustration is the shiz.

Every so often over the course of my life, I've pondered my happiness. Sometimes (during most of graduate school), I was decidedly NOT happy. Other times (say, when I'm hanging out at my favorite place at the beach reading or crafting), I feel quite peachy. Gretchen Rubin asked herself whether she was happy and came up with something like "Yes, but I could be happier." That question (and answer) began a year long quest to create more happiness in her life. It's not the totally self-indulgent project that it initially seems to be; she realized that if she were happier, the people around her (like her husband and kids) would also be happier. She designed a project for each month of the year starting with decluttering her apartment in January. Other endeavors included eating less "fake food", writing a novel in one month, and tackling nagging tasks. To find out if she did, indeed, get happy, read The Happiness Project.

Unlike Gretchen, who made a conscious choice to be happier, Dominique Browning's shift toward happiness was forced upon her when House & Garden, the magazine for which she was the editor, folded. Fortunately she had resources, unlike so many Americans who have lost their jobs and are up Unemployment Creek without a paddle. Dominique basically slowed life down - sold her big house in New York and moved to a smaller one in Rhode Island where she lived in her pajamas, gardened, swam and, apparently, finally got over her decade-long, on-again, off-again relationship with a man whom she dubbed Stroller. She was going to call him Walker, "as that's what he did best: walked away", but apparently he objected. She relates her year in Slow Love.

Now don't you wish you had a whole year of freedom (with financial resources) to get all happy and content?

 

 

I'll start with this: I don't hate to cook. I just hate to cook for my current captive demographic, which includes a child who begs for sushi in his wretched school lunch every day and a child who maintains a firm company policy of automatically rejecting anything that is not a fruit. Which kids in America scorn spaghetti and

meatballs for dinner? Mine. Or homemade macaroni and cheese? Mine again. In all honesty, we would do best to just cut out the middleman and throw the children's portions of most any given meal directly into the garbage.
 
Verily I say unto thee, the joys of the kitchen are never-ending. When it falls outside of the Three Most Favored and Accepted Meals (as it is wont to do most every night given the laws of physics and statistics and the fact that I can only consume so much frozen Trader Joe's Orange Chicken), supper can degenerate into an elaborate theatrical production of gagging noises and dessert bribery or the very occasional pyrotechnic parental meltdown, quickly proceeding to premature bedtime for the juvenile offenders and a brat-banishment victory trip through the neighborhood Dairy Queen take-out window for celebratory Blizzards and onion rings by the most fed-up adult. For parents of picky eaters, maintaining maturity is a rough and rocky road. You are practically guaranteed to fall off a cliff or find yourself gnawing off a limb at some point.
 
Imagine my delight to discover that another woman declared my same sentiments of the superior suckatronic suckitude of supper fifty years ago. Peg Bracken published The I Hate To Cook Book in 1960. While there are a few recipes I might actually try (Hellzapoppin Cheese Rice!) the brilliance is in the confessional sarcastic tone and the wary wearied optimism of it as a whole. It is book before cookbook and time travel to a place where there are no locavores or slow food movements. Tempeh arugula wraps have yet to be invented. If a can of Cream of Chicken got you out of the soul-deadening kitchen and back in front of the typewriter (or other preferable creative endeavor) faster, then all the glory and honor to advancing food science and pass the scotch and soda. And just to put some Fake Hollandaise on the Sole Survivor (or icing on the Hootenholler Whisky Cake) there are fantastic little Hilary Knight drawings to introduce each cleverly-named chapter. If I lived in 1960 I might be tempted to scoff copyright laws and embroider these on tea towels.  
 
I was even more delighted to discover that this is only the most famous of Bracken's many books. I am happy to have a whole treasure trove of material written by a woman who once lived here in Portland (and worked as an advertising copywriter along with Matt Groening's father, Homer.) If Erma Bombeck was a character in The Simpsons, she would sound like Peg Bracken--eternally lighting cigarettes while staring sullenly at the sink, waiting for some souped-up thing to simmer and declaring that dinner should never take longer to cook than it does to eat. 
 
Amen, Sister.

The Disappearing Spoon (and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

For those of us who struggled with high school chemistry at the hands of a sadistic middle aged teacher having an affair with the trigonometry instructor (and I know you’re out there) we can now make anotherattempt at understanding the periodic table, and thank God, I say. Kean’s writing makes the subject matter so wonderfully approachable--he welcomes you in, pours you a cold one, and just starts telling great stories about the elements.

There’s neon rain, gas warfare, ruthless scientists, passion, betrayal, adventure and obsession. What cool prank can you pull with gallium and a cup of tea? Why was cadmium the Godzilla killer? And did you hear about Marie Curie’s sullied reputation? There are some black and white illustrations and photos, and one of them is of an old ceramic urn-like device called a Revigator, a pottery crock lined with nuclear radium. Users, back in the day, filled it with water which turned radioactive overnight. The manual suggested drinking six or more refreshing glasses a day. Yum. Maybe there’s a chance for me to love chemistry after all. 

There are only four of authors I "follow", eagerly awaiting each new book. I even have alerts set up in the 'Books in Print' database available through the library – as soon as any of them have a new book announced, I get an email. They are: Kate Atkinson, Connie Willis, Laurie R. King, and Kage Baker

I remember my discovery of Baker very distinctly. I read the review of her first novel, In the Garden of Iden, in Library Journal in October 1997, which summarized the plot as follows: “The initial assignment for 18-year-old Mendoza, transformed into an immortal cyborg by the 24th-century Company, is to retrieve from Renaissance England an endangered plant that cures cancer. Posing as a Spanish lady accompanying her doctor father, she falls in love with the mortal Nicholas Harpole, secretary to the owner of Iden Hall and its exotic gardens. Amidst the raging Catholic/Protestant powerplays revolving around the English throne and the fervent religious bloodlust of common folk, Mendoza is torn between her task and her love.” Immortality, time travel, and the Reformation! I was highly intrigued. The next week I saw a copy on the new book shelf, and a love affair began. Oh, the highs and lows as I followed The Botanist Mendoza through centuries of pining over Nicholas (and his Company-fabricated reincarnations). Oh, the horrendous cover art. Before it was over, The Company series spanned nine novels, two short story collections, and four novellas. I loved Baker’s characters, and while I occasionally had serious problems with her plot choices, I was passionate about everything she wrote.

Her other series has no name, and is usually referred by the title of the first book, Anvil of the World. Each of these humorous, original fantasies stands up well on its own. My favorite is House of the Stag, which chronicles the life of the half-demon Gard from outcast among the extremely-peace-loving Yendri, to slave held by evil magicians, to his adulthood as Master of the Mountain – loving father, devoted husband, feared by the entire continent.

There will be no more 'alerts' for Kage Baker. This year we lost her.

The library’s stock of In the Garden of Iden had dwindled down to one copy, but it was recently reprinted and more are on the way. Don’t let the cover art scare you.

Brandon Sanderson is one of the strongest new voices in fantasy. He has written several novels set in his own worlds before starting his newest series, a ten volume epic fantasy. Tor books is gambling that it will be a hot seller for years to come. Sanderson is also currently finishing off Robert Jordon's Wheel of Time series. Honestly, I think Sanderson is the better author and suspect the last few books of the Wheel of Time may be the best because of him. His biggest strength is his careful and detailed world-building.  

Sanderson's newest book The Way of Kings is the first in a planned ten volume series and clocks in at a mere 1001 pages. The tome is illustrated: one of the characters is an artist so the pictures are "her" sketches of the world. This is a big help as the world is very different from ours and the pictures show some of the oddities. The world is subject to terrible scouring storms that blow everything down to the rock. Plants and animals burrow into the ground or have shells to protect them. A person trapped outside with no shelter is probably dead. The magic system is based on infused gemstones powered by these terrible storms. 

Long ago, to the point it has become mostly legend, there was an order of powerful Knights protecting the world from something (this is book 1 of 10 after all, we don't get to know much yet). All that remains of them are their suits of Shard plate and their Shard blades. Either of these will turn a regular man into a terrifying force on the battlefield. A man who owns both objects is nearly unstoppable and wars are fought over them. Don't let the length of the book scare you off. It flows well and moves quickly. One tenth of the way into the series and I'm really looking forward to the next book. I'm even happier that Sanderson writes quickly and gets his books out in a timely and regular manner. I will be surprised if book two isn't out a year from now.

Sanderson's other books include Elantris, where the gods have lost all their powers, the Mistborn trilogy where a thousand years ago the Evil Overlord won and Warbreaker, where each person has a "breath" of power and the more you collect the more powerful you are (and the poor souls that sell their breath out of desperation are doomed to a drab life, dulled by the lack). They're all good. He's also writing a children's series, Alcatraz, meant for about 9-12 years old.  I read the first book in the series and it was a fun little read even for an adult reader. 

 

Our guest blogger is Emily-Jane, a reference librarian at Central and Belmont libraries, and a regular contributor to Furthermore: Where the Headlines Take You, where you can read her latest raves about books and films that have something to do with current news stories.   

There's a real trend in public radio these days for shows that focus on storytelling. The long running story show This American Life has been joined by Snap JudgmentRe:SoundThe Moth Radio HourState of the Re:Union, and Radio Lab, all shows centered around personal narratives, anecdotes, and other tales. The focus on stories brings the human element to the forefront in these shows, and let me tell you, I am hooked. I haven't been so in love with the radio since I was a kid in the 1980s, in the midst of another fad in public broadcasting: radio theater.

Starting in the late 1970s, regular series like NPR Playhouse, Earplay, and National Radio Theater of Chicago presented drama miniseries every week.  Some were imported from abroad, and some were produced in the U.S. Many were dramatizations of popular novels or adaptations of films, and if my memory serves, an awfully high percentage were some kind of science fiction. I wasn't too picky – I memorized the radio schedule and listened faithfully to whatever story was on offer. And although I haven't found any regular radio dramas on the air in Portland nowadays, I can still get my radio play fix at the library!

The most famous public radio dramas of the 1970s and 80s, no doubt, were Star Wars and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I think my personal favorite was The Fourth Tower of Inverness. It's a mystery/science fiction tale about Jack Flanders, a likeable young man who travels to visit his aunt Lady Sarah Jowls at her mansion, Inverness.  The place is fully stocked with odd characters – the Madonna Vampira, Old Far-Seeing Art, a million-and-a-half year old Venusian named Little Frieda, Dr. Mizoola the alchemist, and several others. Lady Jowl's husband, Lord Jowls, is missing, having disappeared some years before into the mysterious fourth tower (most folks only see three towers on the mansion, but Jack sometimes catches a glimpse of that fourth one), and Jack sets out to find him.  With, of course, the help and hindrance of all the other strange folk who live at Inverness.

I listened to The Fourth Tower of Inverness originally when I was about 12 years old, and always remembered it fondly – especially the introduction to each episode when the narrator announces in stentorian tones, "The FOURTH. . . TOWER . . . of INVERNESS."  My that gave me chills!  So, when I realized the library had it on CD I listened to it again.  Here's what my adult drama critic has to say: This is a weird, weird story with a major helping of spiritual and quasi-spiritual concepts: past life regression, Sufi mysticism, shamanistic communication.  The narrative is erratic and the sound effects are wild and vivid.  The characters are boldly drawn, but less cartoonish than you might imagine. The mystery is indeed mysterious, the setting is compelling, and the theme at the beginning of every episode gave me the same chills it did when I was a child!

If The Fourth Tower of Inverness suits you, there are a number of other radio tales about Jack Flanders.  If not, never fear – you can get a wide variety of other radio dramas, including This American Life, at the library. 

 

 

How do you know you are reading a really enjoyable novel? I judge a book by how much sleep deprivation  I'm willing to deal with in order to finish. I just finished a read about a dog that I couldn’t put down. The dog is the narrator. After he dies, he is reincarnated, several times, actually. He's highly motivated and is eager to please his human family members. He continues to improve through each of his reincarnations and has memory of each of his past lives. In each reincarnation he tries to find his true calling in life, thus the title, A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.
He starts out as a sort of junkyard dog, and has a rather short hardscrabble life. His situation gets better in his next life and in each subsequent life his soul evolves into the dog he has always wanted to become.

For a bit of humor, you might try Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter, by Lisa Patton. The dog in this story is not a main character, but she plays an important role in the book. Her name is Princess Grace Kelly and she just seems to have a knack for “misbehaving” at just the right moment. Anyway, as the story goes, Leelee Satterfield’s husband decides that the whole family, including Princess Grace, should leave Leelee’s beloved Memphis and move to Vermont to run a bed and breakfast inn. Although Leelee is not happy about the move, she goes along with her husband’s plan. Soon, the story moves into the “fish out of water” category for Leelee. Vermont life is hard for a Southern girl like Leelee to get used to, but she perseveres and begins to deal with the new “pond” she is thrown into. Her transformation into a savvy businesswoman along the way and her acquisition of a tougher exterior are rewarding. All along the way, Princess Grace keeps Leelee company and helps her cope.

For a more serious story, try Cold Train Coming, by Larry Barkdull. The novel takes place during World War Two in Montana. It's a coming of age story about thirteen-year-old Ben, who is in love with an “older woman”. At the same time the novel is a heartwarming story of a dog who is very loyal to his owner even though the owner has passed away. The dog doesn't understand that the owner is not coming back. You see, the man’s casket was put on one of the trains to be buried elsewhere. The dog knows that the man went away on the train and expects the man to come back to town so that they can resume life as usual. He goes to the train station every day for six years with hope in his heart. People try to befriend the dog, but the dog wants nothing to do with them. Ben comes closest to forming a bond with the dog.

Enjoy these three dog stories for upcoming "three dog nights" this winter.

From James, Shelley, and Jackson
Or seeking fresh and bloody thrills
From Harris, King, and Cronin
Come to MCL, where the shelves are rife
With haunted houses and demon strife!

 

 

 

Zoe is reading the laugh-out-loud funny 52 Loaves, about a man who sets out to bake the perfect loafof bread from scratch. This entails traveling around the world to see how bread is baked in other countries, planting the wheat, harvesting, winnowing and on....

Zoe is a delivery driver for the library system. 

 

 

Our guest blogger is Shandra, who works at the Holgate library. Shandra has been a voracious reader since childhood, with a penchant for giving up sleep in favor of finishing those last... few... chapters. She is a fan of mysteries, fantasy, sci-fi, graphic novels, comic books, manga, humor, vampire books even before they were cool, non-fiction that reads like fiction and anything interesting that crosses her path.

Listening to David Sedaris read his own work, either on audio book or the radio, is definitely entertaining! But if you like to read aloud, as I do, and you have a willing audience, which I also do, reading them out loud to someone else is a fun way to pass some time. You just have to keep a tissue handy if, like me, you’re prone to laughing until you cry…

Me Talk Pretty One Day is my favorite David Sedaris book, a collection of essays about himself and his family. He has a unique way of looking at things, and even when the subject is painful, it’s still wickedly funny. Another fun and soon to be timely collection is his Holidays on Ice, featuring four short stories and two essays, including the hilarious "SantaLand Diaries", Sedaris's chronicle of his time working as an elf at Macy's.

We’re Just Like You, Only Prettier: Confessions of a Tarnished Southern Belle’ by Celia Rivenbark is another fun read-aloud, and also a bit of an education if you happen to be a Northerner like me. You’ll soon be able to add all sorts of "Southern-isms" to your vocabulary! Says author Haven Kimmel, "I laughed so hard reading this book, I began snorting in an unbecoming fashion. I loved it nonetheless. I'll be sending copies to everyone, especially my baby's daddy."

Speaking of Haven Kimmel, next on my list of books to read aloud is A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Moreland, Indiana’. Somewhat sweeter than the twoabove, Kimmel’s memoir is insightful and humorous, full of vignettes from her childhood. She does a great job of telling her story from a kid’s perspective, without sounding childish. I enjoyed reading it for our Pageturners group, even though I’m not usually a memoir fan, and I’m looking forward to sharing it aloud very soon!

 

 

As a high school sophomore I once earned major nerd street cred by getting my coach to excuse me from junior varsity tennis practice so I could go home and watch Jane Eyre on PBS. This earned me snorting laughter from my teammates and a used copy of the book later presented at the tennis awards dinner. (That battered paperback was--and remains--the only "award" for sports participation I have ever received. It was the "most creative excuse for skipping practice" award.) In any normal universe I would have been embarrassed. But on my own nerdy planet, I was proud. I may have been assigned to play bottom-of-the-roster doubles with a partner who hated my weak backhand in particular and my bookish guts in general, but in my mind I had struck a blow: a mighty blow for all the girls picked last.
 
I was not embarrassed then and I am not embarrassed now to admit that Jane is my homegirl. I have been finding Jane's tale compelling since I was twelve and bored and desperately scouring the house for something I had not yet read. My exasperated mother shoved a volume from a set of books we kept on our coffee table as décor into my hands and ordered me to read it. I was doubly astonished: at how riveting the story was, but also that it had been living there under my nose for my entire life as an ignored piece of red leatherette furniture.

The 2007 Masterpiece Theatre production of Jane Eyre is my favorite screen version to date. The casting is near-perfect and even minor characters (notably Adèle and Mrs. Fairfax) have warmth and depth they are not usually allowed. The chemistry between Jane and Mr. Rochester is undeniable and plays out against a visually lush landscape in an astonishingly sensual manner. (Fluttering red scarves in windows! Flocks of birds exploding from trees! Jane and Edward getting horizontal--in a completely clothed and Victorian way, of course!) The ending is satisfyingly triumphant in all its "Reader, I married him" glory. If you gravitate to underdog stories and have a need to spend 240 minutes with your television and a pan of brownies, this is for you.

One of my favorite authors is Oregon author Brent Weeks. A few years ago he released his first series, The Night Angel trilogy - The Way of ShadowsShadow's Edge and Beyond the Shadows. This first trilogy was released over a three month period to build readership, a trick sometimes used with debut science fiction and fantasy authors with promise. If you enjoy morally gray fantasy where the heroes aren't clear, a fast paced plot and interesting characters you should 'read local' and try Brent Weeks.

His first series, The Night Angel trilogy tells the story of a little boy, Azoth, begging for bread and coppers in the slums of a grim medieval-esque fantasy city. He's not a bad little boy - he shares what little he has to eat with a younger girl made mute by some unknown trauma. He's loyal to his little friend and protects her as best he can.  But the only way he sees out of his dead-end life and probable early death is to apprentice to a master assassin. When he's told that the admission test to be an assassin's apprentice is to kill the much bigger and stronger adolescent boy tormenting him, Azoth comes up with a plan. He turns his back on his old life and takes a new identity and name, Kylar Stern. The story of Kylar's life--or at least the 10 or 15 years this trilogy covers--is an emotional roller-coaster of a read.  Weeks's world building is solid, the characters well written, and the plot made the month between the release of each book seem way too long.

The latest by Weeks is The Black Prism. In this world, magic is color-based and each color is linked to an emotion. The more colors you have the more powerful you are and the faster you burn out. Once you've used the magic too long you go quite mad - and an insane wizard is a bad thing to have around. Gavin Guile is the Prism, having obtained all the colors. Prisms only last 7, 14 or 21 years and Gavin has made 16. At the start of each of his seven possible remaining years of life he sets himself seven impossible goals. Now he has five left.

After two months of reading exclusively teen books for a training I was presenting, I finally took a well-deserved rest and fired up the dvd player. The only DVD I had at home was The Girl in the Café starring Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald, and I was reminded again of what a fab actor Bill is. There's just something about him that appeals. Maybe it's his slightly disheveled look, his subtle wit, or the way he quirks his head every so often, but all of it is fantastically engaging. In Girl, he plays an overworked civil servant working on papers for an upcoming G8 summit in Iceland. On a short, but well-deserved tea break, he sits down across from a young woman and starts a halting conversation. They end up going to Reykjavik together and interesting things happen. State of Play is a gripping mini-series in which Nighy plays an important role. Politics and murder intersect, and Nighy's character is a newspaper editor overseeing several journalists who are covering the story. I wanted to watch episode after episode, but sleep necessitated a multiple-day viewing. I haven't seen everything Nighy's been in, but I've enjoyed everything I've seen.

In September 199_, at the age of 14, I was driven into the city and deposited in the brick hallways of Catholic high school. It was in that cold, drafty, but nevertheless optimistic institution (in the English class of one Mr. Stiff) that I first encountered the writings of John Irving. The book was A Prayer for Owen Meany, which follows two boys as they grow up (one of the boys is unusually short, has a strange, nasal voice and believes that he is an instrument of God). I enjoyed this long, funny, sad book, enough so that I decided to try another book by Irving: The World According to Garp. This one was even more funny, and it had a lot more sex. It was also about an unusual boy and his progression through an unusual life, en route to becoming a perhaps slightly less unusual man. Did I mention that there was sex in it? Naturally, it became one of my favorite books during those high school years, and Irving remained a favorite author of mine during all of the challenging, arduous, character-forming years since.

Most recently, I read his Until I Find You, about a young boy with a fantastic memory who, along with his tattooist mother, journeys around Europe in search of his wayward father, a church organist addicted to tattoos. The book goes on to follow this boy as he grows to manhood and comes to grips with his relationships to both of his parents. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think, "...again? Another boy with a screwed up life, growing up?" But still, I loved it and couldn’t put it down. And it got me thinking about why it was that I like Irving’s books so much, even though the stories and characters in them seem so similar. (Wikipedia has a great, somewhat disturbing chart of recurring themes in his novels.  His writing and plotting are wonderful, but I think that maybe the appeal is also exactly that the stories are so classically structured and almost formulaic in the progression of the character from young age to adulthood. Almost all of his books are examples of the bildunsgroman genre, the coming-of-age story. And he’s not the only one writing in this mode: a Multnomah County Library catalog search for the subject term “bildungsromans” produces, at the time of this writing, 1,720 results.

So why do I/we like this kind of book so much? I suppose that the one constant in life is that you grow older, and maybe it’s nice to think that we also mature along the way. Or maybe there’s just nothing funnier or sadder than growing up.

Chris is reading 

Islamic Patterns by Keith Crichtlow, a study of geometric pattern in Islamic art and tile work. Chris is a page at the Central library.

 

 

Award-winning actress Kristen Chenoweth definitely deserves more recognition. She has a way of captivating an audience, and it's hard to imagine anyone else playing in the roles she's conquered over the years. As the lovelorn Olive Snook in the series Pushing Daisies, Kristen's performance earned her an Emmy! She hilariously and quite desperately tries to gain the affection of her boss at a pie shop. In addition to her acting career, Kristen is also a talented singer. Probably most well known the role of Glinda from the Wicked musical, she actually won a Tony award in 1999 for her stage performance in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Her musical theater chops were also showcased in Leonard Bernstein's farcical take on the Voltaire classic, Candide. Of course, Ms. Chenoweth's talents aren't all comedic in nature. Her stint as a fast-talking White House deputy press secretary in the sixth and seventh seasons of The West Wing was a thing of beauty. Keep up the fine work, Madam, and I'll keep watching.

When you're a kid you can entertain the thought of running away when the going gets rough - "and then they'll be sorry!" But what outlet do adults have?
Luckily for those of us past twenty a good TV series can still fill the need for escapism, without interfering with work the next day. All the better if the characters have little regard for the law and social convention.

Enter The Sons of Anarchy. Beneath the pleasant exterior of the fictional Charming, California lies a society tainted by corruption, murder and mayhem. The Sons of Anarchy or SAMCRO is a motorcycle gang with a stranglehold over the town. They have a thriving trade in gun-running and the protection racket. The police chief is in cahoots with the club, partly because of the threat of a nastier gang taking control of the town and also because the hush money is good. The morally reprehensible characters are compelling, and the series includes enough allusions to Hamlet to make you think that your liberal arts degree was really worth it.

For charming con-artists who clean up nicely, try The Riches. Wayne and Dahlia Malloy and their three children are part of a clan of Travelers. They make their living by moving from town to town pulling small-time cons. The story begins when a feud between the Malloys and another family in the clan results in the deaths of two innocent bystanders, Mr. and Mrs. Rich. Wayne Malloy, the charismatic father (deftly played by the comic Eddie Izzard hatches a plan to impersonate the Riches by moving into their brand new house in an affluent, gated community in Baton Rouge. Wayne is quickly seduced by life as a 'buffer' or non-Traveler and thrives on the adrenaline of passing as a high-powered lawyer. Dahlia (played by Minnie Driver is conflicted, believing that they will soon be caught in the lie. Watching the Malloys negotiate this alien world allows the viewer the vicarious experience of being both an insider and an outsider at the same time. A word of warning though - the series was canceled before it came to a satisfying conclusion. Still it's fun to watch the Malloy family as they struggle to reconcile their new-found wealth with loyalty to their roots. 

My brother has a copy of the Rembrandt painting of The Return of the Prodigal Son outside his office. During a conversation about the painting, he mentioned that one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen, had written a book about that very painting.

Henri himself had been drawn to a copy of the painting. The original painting was acquired by Catherine the Great in 1766 and installed in The Hermitage, a museum that she founded in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through the courtesy of some friends, Henri was privileged to be allowed to spend many hours contemplating the painting. He relates how he studied the "light-enveloped embrace of the father, the son kneeling before him and the ... mysterious bystanders." He tells how he just looked and watched the interplay of light from the Hermitage window. "I was held spellbound by this gracious dance of nature and art."

Inspired by the painting and having faced a crisis in his own life's journey, Henri turned this experience into a wonderful book, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  
Henri observes how Rembrandt painted the two hands of blessing: one is a mother's tender loving hand, the other is a father's strong, firm hand of welcome and support. From his observations and examination of  his own life, Henri draws lessons for all of us. 

In looking at the painting, then into our own hearts, we see that we are sometimes like the prodigal son - we've run away, too. We are sometimes racked by resentment like the elder brother. And sometimes, with grace, we become the welcoming, forgiving, eager father. I've read the book twice and have only begun to scratch the surface of meaning.

And now, I've discovered Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Edited by Sue Moesteller after Henri Nouwen's death, this book is based on his teaching and writing and every bit as inspiring. 

Shane is reading Star Wars. Republic Command, Order 66, by Karen Traviss, about an average day in the life of a clone trooper.

Shane is a page at the Hollywood Library. 

 

 

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