Blogs

I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league.  The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.

Sources of the River book jacketI always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.

The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were A River Lost book jacketthe first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and  Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.

Voyage of a Summer Sun book jacketThe book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.

Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a  respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.

These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

A frequent question we receive via our “Ask the Librarian” service is “How do I return my OverDrive e-books early?” Here are some helpful tips!

 

If you read OverDrive e-books in your browser, here is how to return them early:

1.       Sign in to OverDrive.

2.       Tap on the Person icon to access your Bookshelf.

3.       Tap on Return Title.

 

See below for the instructions on to return Overdrive e-books from the most popular devices:

 

Android, Nook

Returning an EPUB E-book  or OverDrive MP3 Audiobook Early:

1.       Open the OverDrive App.

2.      From your in-app bookshelf, tap and hold a title to display the return options. (If you are using an older version of the app, tap the + next to a book, then tap Return/Delete to show return options.)

3.     You can Return a book to the library, which also deletes it from your device, or you can Delete a book from your device, but  you will still have it checked out to your library account.Tap on Return and then Delete

 

 

Iphone, Ipod Touch, Ipad

Returning an EPUB E-book  or OverDrive MP3 Audiobook Early:

1.      Open the OverDrive App.

2.      On  your bookshelf, tap and hold your finger down on the book cover until an option bar pops up.

3.      You can Return a book to the library, which also deletes it from your device, or you can Delete a book from your device, but  you will still have it checked out to your library account.

 

Kindle devices, Kindle app

1.      Visit Manage Your Kindle on your Amazon account page.

2.      Next to the book that you want to return, click Actions, and then select Return This Book.

 

If you read OverDrive e-books on your computer with Adobe Digital Editions, or use ADE to load them to your Kobo, Nook Simple Touch or Sony e-reader:

1.      On your computer, open Adobe Digital Editions (ADE).

2.      Click on the Library View icon to display your library.

3.      Under Bookshelves, choose the title you would like to return

4.      Click on the title icon, and an Item Options arrow will appear in the upper left-hand corner of the book.

5.      Click on the Item Options arrow and choose Return Borrowed Item.

6.      Click Return to verify that you want to return the e-book.

 Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons book coverAs a psychology major in the late 70's and early 80's it seemed that every textbook for every class included the story of Phineas Gage. He was the guy who had a tamping iron accidentally blasted through his cheek and out the top of his head while working on a railroad explosives crew in 1848. There were always illustrations, daguerreotypes, and a gruesome description of his injury.  (As I read the Wikipedia page about him right now, I get a little sparkly thing at the back of my eyeballs, and I'm not easily grossed out.)  As students, what always blew our disco-studded minds was that Gage lived.  Not only lived, but seemed mostly normal. However, as we all know, "normal" has a lot of gray matter near the edges. 

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons is Kean's newest book. His first one, The Disappearing Spoon was super good, and very easy to read even if one may have gotten a C in high school chemistry. This one promises to be just as good, thanks in part to Phineas Gage. And I like brains better than the periodic table anyway. 

 

Feel like moving some paint?  Want to splatter some alcohol inks?

One of my current obsessions is learning how to do mixed media visual art.  To get started I looked at books by Seth Apter. I took classes at the local mixed media center: Collage and with Serena Barton and Chris Cozen.  I also like to follow the blogs of Pam Garrison and Mary Anne Moss for learning mixed media tips and tricks.  

To continue learning I started a mixed media club with a couple of friends. We meet monthly. We share and try new products.  Basically, we cheer each other on!  I have found the best mixed media foundation recipe from the Jenny Doh’s magazine Somerset Studio. Don’t be fooled by the lack of a cover image in our catalog - this magazine is visually stunning. Most importantly I am having fun and I wanted to share some of these resources so you can have fun too!

Officially I live in a land called the United States of America.  But much of my time is spent in the somewhat gritty, dangerous land of the BBC mystery. It is a cold place and people speak in a number of interesting and different accents. Their words are the same as mine but they mean different things. They say things like ‘have any joy?’ and ‘are you takin’ the piss out of me?’

The detectives keep their emotions to themselves, have horrible homelives or none at all. They drink too much and throw things around when they get frustrated. They repeatedly flaunt the rules, their supervisor and common sense. But they find evil wherever it is hiding and root it out. The bad guy may seem to gain speed, and bodies may turn up in unexpected places, but in the end Vera Stanope, Jane Tennison, Inspectors Morse and Lewis, Cordelia Gray and Jackson Brodie will win

They will win with grace and style, and just when I think I will go crazy if I don’t see another episode of Vera, or Prime Suspect, Inspector Morse, Cordelia Gray or Case Histories, I come back to myself here in the United States where I rush to the library website to check out books featuring these and other favorite detectives.  Maybe it will hold me over untill the next season comes out.

Check out my complete list of gritty and dangerous BBC mysteries.

Self portrait paintingBefore I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.Book Jacket: One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan

Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art.  I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach.  My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.

Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In theBook Jacket: How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.

I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!

Flowers are very important to me. I put up a couple vases at a time in our house. One has to be on the dining room table and another on the fireplace mantle. And if I am really flower rich, I will put a couple vases in the bathroom or bedroom. I am usually flower rich when flowers are blooming in our garden. In the dead of winter I splurge for flowers on payday.
 
I mark certain times of years by which flowers are in bloom. February is all about hellebore and daphne. Because it can be dark and gloomy in Portland in the winter, seeing these plants in bloom means the sun is coming with spring on its heels.
 
So when I found the book The Flower Shop by Sally Page I was thrilled! The Flower Shop is one year in the life of a flower shop in a village in England. Each chapter is about a month of the year. Every month is marked with holidays that are celebrated with flowers. Birthdays, parties and weddings are celebrated throughout the book. Pictures and tips for flower care weave their way through the pages. If you are looking for something touching and colorful, this is the book for you. 

Pride Northwest LogoThe Pride Festival & Parade this year has extra reason to be proud, what with Judge McShane’s ruling on Monday, May 19, declaring Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

And Multnomah County Library is also extra proud, because we will be at the Pride Festival this year on Saturday, June 14 and Sunday, June 15, down at the Tom Mccall Waterfront Park from noon to 6:00 PM. Stop by and see us!

Leading up to the event we will be sharing a variety of blog posts and reading lists showcasing the resources the library offers Multnomah County’s LGBTQ community, as well as their family and friends. Books on LGBTQ history (see below), queer films, books & zines you can check out, resources for gay parents, great LGBTQ teen novels, and more.

We would love to hear your recommendations and requests for ways we can serve the LGBTQ community here in Multnomah County. Everything from a particular title we should own, to programs and workshops we should offer, to other events we should attend. Feel free to comment below.

And once again, stop by and visit the Multnomah County Library table at the Pride Festival. We’ll see you there!

What dishes could you expect at a dinner with Queen Elizabeth? What did the Emperor Nero eat after fiddle practice? What did Lewis and Clark roast over their fire? Today there are many fad diets, like the hugely popular Paleo Diet, that claim healthier eating by replicating the diets of our ancestors. Here at the library we have gathered several ways for you to explore the history of food and maybe find a “new” favorite old recipe.


www.foodtimeline.org is an exhaustive list of authoratitive information about food from early human history to modern times. This site was created and maintained by librarian Lynne Olver and includes a detailed bibliography, links to recipes throughout history, and informational biographies on our favorite foods.


http://blog.americanhistory.si.edu/osaycanyousee/food-history/ This blog from the National Museum of American History includes highlights from their collection of food throughout American History.


The Oxford Handbook of Food History edited by Jeffrey M Pilcher provides twenty seven essays that explore the history through the lens of food. These scholarly essays explore the historiography of this research and point towards avenues of continued scholarship.

Recipes tell stories. They tell stories of family gatherings, beloved traditions and good meals shared with friends. When we share a recipe with another, we aren’t just passing along our impeccable taste, we are giving another person a little taste of who we are, like our love of thyme or our obsession with the perfectly grilled steak. We hope that you will join us at the library as we support this sharing with our new recipe exchange program.

Our initial meeting will be focusing on the most versatile of foods, cookies. Sweet or savory, chewy or crisp, cookies come in all flavors and sizes. Bring your favorite cookie recipe to share, whether it be your grandmother’s fail-proof chocolate chip or a new exotic favorite. We will be featuring your recipes on this blog as well as compiling a list of recipes to share with others at the Central Library.

If you need inspiration please see the book list below. We have carefully sifted through our huge collection of cookbooks to bring you the best cookie books that Multnomah County Library has to offer.

 Why do I recommend Astro City to people who don't read superhero comics? Two reasons.  Reason 1: It isn't a superhero comic. It's a comic about a city (that happens to have superheroes in it).  Reason 2: I have to tell you a story.
 
There were these two guys who loved superhero comics. But they didn't like what they saw them turning into... dark, ironic, gritty and grim slashfests loaded with gun-toting anti-hero vigilantes. So they decided to do something about it. They designed their own worlds, complete with histories and futures. They created adventures featuring fallible, interesting human beings, some of whom happened to have impossible abilities. They examined big questions such as 'what does it mean to be human?' and 'what does it mean to be a hero?'. One of those guys (me) played to an audience of five, doing this all via a superhero role-playing game called Champions.  The other, Harvey and Eisner Award-winner Kurt Busiek, was kind enough to share his far more engaging world with us all. Thank goodness!
 
Astro City book jacketAstro City is the series and the setting. There is no one star, no central person or group we follow, but if you consider the city to be the main character, then what we have is a collection of vignettes that illustrate its 'life'. It changes, it grows, it has good features and shady ones, and joy is in the discovery. One of my favorite bits is a story about a family moving to the city and their eventful trip with a cheerful cabbie who wouldn't live anywhere else. Superheroic battles rage in the background, but the real story happens in the cab. Will they be scared away by the cosmic forces battling in the skies? 
 
Another tale features a city teen sent to stay with her country cousins, rolling her eyes at the small-town hero helping the locals. She sees REAL heroes back home, OMG! But is there more to the story? Why does this 'Roustabout' seem so interested in her family? 
 
There are certainly stories that focus on the heroes, but even those are far more than biff-pow action spectaculars. One shows a day in the life of Samaritan, whose free time consists of stolen moments between emergencies. What he dreams of is flying free, just for the joy of it.
 
The graphic novel collection Life in the Big City is a great place to start, although most collections are self-contained story arcs. For those who love this as much as I do, there are lots more, and Kurt is now releasing new Astro City stories again. (Yess!)
 
If you'd like to see this 'human's eye view' applied to superheroes you may already know, check out Busiek's Marvels: Eye of the Camera, where he follows Eye of the Camera book jacketthe history of the Marvel Universe through the eye of news photographer Phil Sheldon, who saw it all from Day One. Or have a look at his take on the first superhero (DC's 'Superman') as he confronts the effects on humanity of his Always Having Been There to Save the Day.
 
Kurt unfailingly finds the human element in superhuman worlds. Astro City would make a great setting for a Champions campaign... (grin)....

"Reading is a gift for life."

Volunteer Pam Jacobs

by Mindy Moreland

For Pam Jacobs, seeing a young child’s face light up at the prospect of a new story is a delight that never fades. Books, kids, and fostering literacy were the guiding passions of Pam’s career as preschool and Head Start teacher, and these same passions continue to inspire her as a volunteer. Today she donates her time and energies to several literacy organizations, including SMART (Start Making A Reader Today) and a read-aloud program at an assisted living facility, as well as two library programs.

When she first contacted the library in 2009 to inquire about becoming a volunteer, Pam recalls, her branch needed help with the Summer Reading program. She happily signed on, using her love of children’s literature and her early childhood education background to connect with parents and children eager to choose prizes and advance on their game boards. She’s delighted by their excitement and eager to encourage a love of reading, Pam says. She has helped with Summer Reading every year since, amassing a stack of Summer Reading t-shirts in the process. She enjoys the chance to get to know the library staff as well as the community she serves. “Volunteering is great,” she says.

Pam also volunteers year-round with Every Child, the early childhood outreach program, helping to sort, sticker, and prepare library materials for distribution. She works on projects such as assembling the library gift bags sent home with each new baby born in a local hospital.These contain a board book and information on storytimes and early learning programs. She’s proud to be able to help Every Child, developing young learners who will soon be excitedly completing their own Summer Reading game boards. “We want to keep them on that path,” Pam says. “Reading is a gift for a lifetime.”

 

A Few Facts About Pam

Home library: Hollywood Library

Currently reading: The Bartender's Tale, by Ivan Doig. Doig's style captures me. He is a real old-fashioned story teller.

Most influential book: The Good Earth. This book began an ongoing interest in the works of Pearl S. Buck and a fascination in other cultures. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. A college instructor made Faulkner's work come alive. Other authors that have touched my life in later years are Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, and Alice Hoffman.

Favorite book from childhood: The series about the Bobbsey twins (Laura Lee Hope) and later, Little Women (Louisa May Alcott).

A book that made you laugh or cry: Kent Haruf's books make me do both. So do the books of Anne Lamott.

Favorite section of the library: Definitely, the children's section!

E-reader or paper book? I prefer the feel of a paper book.

Favorite guilty reading pleasure: Mysteries of all kinds.

Favorite place to read: In my bed, at a coffee shop, and most of all...at the beach!

 

Big Tiny bookjacketI am fascinated by people who go against societal convention to do something 'crazy' - swim across an ocean, bike across a country or live on food grown within 100 miles of their house. In The Big Tiny, Dee Williams tells the story of her decision to sell her house and pare down her possession to the bare minimum in order to move into a tiny house of her own making. The impetus was an alarming diagnosis for a relatively young woman - congestive heart failure.

Determined to make her precious time count she decides to do this bold thing and discovers that letting go of stuff is hard -- after all, the things we surround ourselves with define us somehow, don't they? I enjoyed Dee Williams voice, her humor, humility and her quirky way of looking at the world.  (As I read, I was picturing her as the comedian Tig Notaro, and as it turns out they kind of look alike, as evidenced in this Ted Talk!) I felt privileged to go on this journey with her. She seems like just the sort of person you'd want to have living in a tiny house in your back yard.

 

Just because a mystery is cozy doesn’t mean it isn’t spicy or hot.

BBC mystery series Rosemary and Thyme is a cozy village mystery series that is both spicy AND hot. It stars Felicity Kendal as Rosemary Boxer and Pam Ferris as LauraThyme: women who are too smart and too curious and too feisty to take what any man (or woman) tells them at face value. Rosemary is a college professor specializing in botany and landscaping who got  the boot in favor a male colleague. She describes herself as ‘more bookworm than earthworm’  As for Laura Thyme, her husband left her for a much younger, more shapely woman. “To hell with men” she tells Rosemary, then as an afterthought “although some are lovely…”

Rosemary’s free-lance landscaping jobs give her the opportunity to peer around bushes and trees to listen in on secret conversations. Laura Thyme balances her out with logic and straight forward practicality. Though they are shot at, lied to and run off the road they keep each other’s spirits up with laughter and of course solve the mystery in the end.

Rosemary and Thyme made me think about other crime solving women- on TV and in books too. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of choices there are. To take a look at what I found check out my list.

I learned five minutes ago that the ban on gay marriage was just struck down by a federal judge, which means that now same-sex marriage is legal in my beloved adopted state of Oregon. I can't wait to tell my kids that now, princesses can marry princesses here.

It was 2004, and I was walking hand in hand with my daughter. I must have made a hissing sound when I saw the sign in my neighborhood that said, “Measure 36. One man, one woman.” My four-year-old daughter, who I’ll call Thing One, definitely noticed my reaction, and she asked me why that sign always made me mad. It was a great opportunity to explain that I believed that people should be allowed to love who they wanted to love and make families with those people, too. I told her that I thought it was wrong for the government to tell two men or two women that they weren’t allowed to marry. In those good old days, Thing One tended to believe everything I said, but this time she looked up at me, a doubtful expression on her face, and said, “Princesses don’t marry princesses, Mommy. They’re supposed to marry princes.”

Having a kid in the 21st century sometimes requires doing research in the service of fighting prevailing preschooler opinions as presented by Disney.

It turns out that sometimes princes can marry princes. I found a picture book called King & King  by Linda de Haan. It begins when a grouchy queen tells her son that it’s time for him to marry. He confesses that he has never met a princess who struck his fancy (and a page boy who happens to be present gives a saucy wink!). Many princesses visit the palace, but the Prince doesn’t seem very interested in any of them. Finally one of the princesses brings her handsome brother along, and when the two princes’ eyes meet, a cloud of red hearts appear over their heads. A fabulous wedding soon follows, the queen retires, and the two princes become kings together.

People can choose to create families in Oregon now with the partners of their choice-- and I think some fabulous weddings may soon follow. Here you’ll find a great list of books for children that are a little more inclusive in their portrayal of couples and families.

Are you doing business in the Portland metro area?  Do you want to identify movers and shakers in our local business community?  For the past 30 years, the Portland Business Journal's Book of Lists has established itself as a key tool for doing business in the area.  This year's list is "by far the most comprehensive edition to date" according to their publisher, Craig Wessel.   A wide range of industry sectors are included to help you identify executives and companies who are major players in their field.  In addition to the Book of Lists, the Portland Business Journal also provides comprehensive coverage of business news and information for the Portland area.  Free remote access is available with a Multnomah County Library card and password.  Apply online if you don't already have a Multnomah County Library card, and open the door to this - and many other subscription-based resources at no charge. 

Town in Bloom bookjacketIf you are familiar with 101 Dalmatians, then you have at the very least, crossed paths with Dodie Smith for she is the author of that much-loved children’s story. And in the not too distant past, she had a revival of sorts with I Capture the Castle being re-released and made into a film. It is an utterly sweet and charming tale of a young woman who navigates the tricky waters of love and ends up all the more independent and witty. Smith wrote a handful of plays and other novels, each one is a gem in its own right. Long out of print, some of these titles were re-released in 2012 by Corsair Publishers and Multnomah County Library has recently purchased them. They are: The Town in Bloom, The New Moon with the Old, and It Ends with Revelations.  

Of these, I have read The Town in Bloom and can highly recommend it. It is a coming of age story set in 1920s London among the fast-moving theatre crowd. Though the heroine Mouse is in her late teens when the story begins, you also hear from her older self recalling the past with a bit of perspective. And like I Capture the Castle, it is a love story, but with a more adult twist.  Nothing explicit mind you, but the themes of affairs (extramarital or otherwise), marriage, divorce, and a woman making it on her own, are topics that are only increase in appreciation if you’ve got a few years under your belt yourself. Young adult readers may well enjoy it, but it deserves a re-read later on in life. If you like historical fiction set in the jazz age, London, the life of a struggling actor, or a good love story where the heroine comes out loving herself most of all, give it a go.

 

picture of lee and bury me standing Lee at Central has this to say about Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. It opens up the mostly closed world of East European gypsies, or Roma, in the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Roma are a people it is still possible to actively (and violently) discriminate against and Fonseca attempts to tell us why.

Don't know much about geography ... (Thanks to the singer Sam Cooke for a line from his 1960 hit  "Wonderful World.")

Let’s begin with a quiz (answers at the end … don’t peek!)

  1. Name the capital of the only country in the Middle East that borders the Caspian Sea.
  2. The fertile floodplain of the Chao Phraya River is the chief rice-growing region in what country?
  3.  The Merrimack River, formed by the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers, empties into what major body of water?
  4. The Tarim Basin, which is one of the world’s largest lowland areas that does not drain into an ocean, is found in which country?

One of the answers to the Buzzfeed 2013 geography quiz

I found these questions at the “Take the Quiz” page of the National Geographic Bee website. The annual event, for students in grades 4 to 8, will be held in late May. The Quiz gives multiple choice options, but I figured that adults wouldn’t sweat on these questions.

Or would you? OK, so these are pretty hard, but we Americans are pretty sucky at geography. In a 2006 survey of the geographic literacy of 18- to 24-year-olds, over half of them couldn’t find New York State on a map and nearly two-thirds couldn’t find Iraq (where U.S. troops had been stationed for three years).  More recently (and hilariously), the website Buzzfeed asked its readers to write in the names of the countries on a blank map of Europe). The results are pretty pathetic once participants get past England, France and Italy.

Can you find Ukraine on that map of Europe? What about Oso, Washington? What about what happened on that slope before it took out the town?

We can just check Google Maps, right?  It doesn’t really matter that we don’t know our geography?  Yes, actually it does. Because it’s not just about the maps anymore. Our world is deeply interconnected, nearly everything that we do has global implications. We cannot afford (economically, technologically, environmentally) to not know what is going on on the other side of the planet. We need context, and geography can provide it. How can our companies do business in Asia if they aren’t aware of its cultural differences (and similarities) or what’s going on ecologically or politically? How can immigrants from Asia become part of our community if we don’t know enough about their culture to connect with them?

Rice paddy in ThailandYou might think it’s not important to know that Thailand’s chief rice-growing region is the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River, but what if you need to know if the rice you eat was grown in pesticide-free waters? Or if a Chinese or Mexican restaurant’s supply of rice will remain consistent throughout next year? What if you needed this information in 2005, six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami?  Would it have been important then to know where the Chao Phraya was?

Could you use a refresher on geography? Check out the books on this list.

Answers to the quiz:

  1. Tehran, Iran
  2. Thailand
  3. Atlantic Ocean
  4. China

In the spring it's hard to resist the urge to turn the house upside down, plough up the garden and in general give everything a thorough cleaning. But what about those cobwebs in our brains? After spending many a dark and rainy day curled up with the likes of Cormac McCarthy  and listening to The Smiths, spring just seems to require more redemptive reading. I like to call this epiphany fiction. These are the kind of books featuring protagonists undergoing life-changing events. With any luck maybe some of it rubs off on you, the reader.

One such is The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Henry, a 67 year-old retiree and widower is told that he has a terminal illness. Determined to make the most of his last days, he sells everything and moves to a Utopian town in Alabama. There he tends to his soul and is surprised at the number of lessons he has to learn. It's a gentle read that celebrates community and self-reflection.

Equally enjoyable and a bit more complex, Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga tells the story of Rudy, an avocado dealer in Chicago. He too is a widower who has lost his bearings after the death of his wife. He should be contemplating retirement, but instead, in a move that stuns his children, he sells everything and buys an avocado farm in Texas. His only road map for this new life is a book - Philosophy Made Simple. As he reads about the great thinkers of history he tries to find meaning in his new life, which now includes the care of a painting elephant named Norma Jean.

But my favorite epiphany fic choice of recent years is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi Patel is a boy driven by curiosity. As a zoo-keeper's son, he's constantly studying animals. Unable to decide on one religion, he practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with equal fervor. When Pi is 16 his father decides that the family and the zoo will emigrate to Canada via cargo ship. The ship sinks and Pi is forced to share his lifeboat with the only other survivors, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What's a boy to do but to get really serious about the big questions of life and philosophy?

I hope I've given you a reasonable excuse to put down the mop and pick up a book. Happy spring and happy reading!

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