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Chocolate bookjacketMy Mexican pride elevates each time I hear the word “chocolate”, knowing that the word comes from the Aztec “Xocoatl”. The great recognition of this peculiar Man holding cacao fruit -  National Antropology and History Museum of Mexicobean and is unprecendented; it is one of the most relevant contributions from the Mesoamerican civilizations to the world. The Olmecs, a social group established along the Gulf of Mexico, were the first to taste the flavors of this special fruit in the form of a drink where the cacao (cocoa) was ground, fermented and mixed with herbs. In those days cacao was used as currency in trading among Mayans, Aztecs and other social groups in Mexico and Central America.

The cacao was a symbol of great abundance and was used to pay taxes, to honor gods and goddesses in religous rituals, and as an offering during the funerals of the elite. The Xocoatl drink was reserved exclusively for privileged social groups and soldiers, who used it during times of war.

Columbus tasted the drink in 1502 on the island of Guanaja in Honduras, on one of his last voyages to the New World. He brought it back to the King and Queen of Spain, who didn’t see the value of the product. It wasn't until 1519 when Hernan Cortes “the conquistador” was invited to drink it by Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor and then revealed the culture of the cacao for the first time in the Old Continent.

After its introduction to Europe this great product inspired the imagination of artisans, and cooks all over the world who have transformed it into delightful treats.

When you eat a piece of chocolate don’t forget the history and culture behind that delicious taste.

 

November 11 is Veterans' Day. President Woodrow Wilson first declared the date Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of The First World War, occurring at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. 100 years this past July, WWI began. It lasted four awful years and changed how we think about war. Historians still debate the exact causes of the conflict but they agree that the level of carnage and horror was to that point, and maybe since, unmatched.

At the outset, the war was a patriotic rallying point on all sides, for all levels of society. Poets were not immune to the zeal of fighting for king and country, but they also reacted to the hideousness of trench and gas warfare. Here are two poems. The first was written by the English poet Rupert Brooke in 1914:

 

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

By the end of the war Brooke’s poem was criticized as an example of a mindless patriotism that contributed to the zeal for war.  In high contrast the following poem was written by another English poet, Wilfred Owen, in 1917:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin of the last line translates to “it is sweet and right to die for your country”.


In the United Kingdom November 11th is called Remembrance Day.  A hundred years on, the importance of remembering the horror of that violence is something no one should find controversial.
 

 

WPC 56BBC shows set in different eras can be so spot-on. They've produced some brilliant series that completely capture the milieu of a particular time period and do it whilst telling a really interesting story. I enjoy watching Downton Abbey for the beautiful frocks but the story of how the world of the upper class was changing after the turn of the century is the more important tale to observe. And yes, I love the fashions of the 40s and 50s so I’ll watch a lot of shows just for the look of those times, but give me a series that explores the changing roles of women and men, and I’ll binge-watch the entire thing in a couple of days.

WPC 56 is one of those shows. It’s set in the 1950s, in the West Midlands police force. Gina Dawson is the first female police officer to serve in her home town police station. At her first meeting with the chief inspector, he sternly says to her, “Never forget that your sole responsibility is to support the men so that they can get on with the job of real policing.” Unbelievable. But then again, so believable. In just a few episodes, we see how such tough issues as rape, mental illness, and race relations played out in a small town in 1950s England. Even though I wish I had a few of their party dresses, I’m glad I’m living in 2014. 

Here's a list of some of my other favorite British series that bring to life other times and places. 

 

Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.Thomas Lauderdale was raised on a plant nursery in rural Indiana. He moved to Portland in 1982 and founded the "little orchestra" Pink Martini in 1994. He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras and ensembles, including the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Active in Oregon politics since he was a student at U.S. Grant High School (where he was student body president), Thomas served under Portland Mayor Bud Clark and Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt. A connoisseur of Pacific Northwest literature, he has hosted readings by Tom Spanbauer and poets Michael and Matthew Dickman. He maintains an active interest in local history and politics. Here are some of his favorite reads:

Portland: A Historical Sketch and Guide by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan

There have been a lot of books written about Oregon and Portland, but I think the best book about Portland was written in 1976 by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan, who led the Oregon Historical Society and just died recently. This is a beautiful book. I think that every person who moves to Portland should read this book. This is the book to read. The book is entirely readable, it explains a lot about the mindset and what’s inside the head of the people who came to Portland.

The Story of Opal by Opal Whiteley

This is an incredible story of a woman who grew up in Cottage Grove, Oregon. She was clearly a genius and was very much involved in nature, and kind of had a crazy life. I think that there was renewed interest, because at the Multnomah County Library, an author by the name of Benjamin Hoff, who wrote The Tao of Pooh, found The Story of Opal on the shelves of the library and the whole thing was republished. It’s basically the diary of a very advanced girl – I guess she was seven when she wrote it. It was declared a hoax at a certain point in the 1920s. It became a bestseller and then was declared a hoax. But it’s just incredible. She’s the original flower child of Oregon. She had this whole imaginary world. And even if she was in her teens when she wrote it, it’s still remarkable. The whole thing is just amazing. She has this whole secret world of flowers and animals and creatures, and all in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 1920.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

She is such a fantastic writer, and I was her assistant for about a year when I was in high school. She had a column in the Willamette Week called “The Slice,” in which people would write questions and she would answer them.

The Portland Red Guide: Sites and Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk

I love this book! It has maps! It has pictures! It talks about how crazy and wonderful the history of Portland is. Whether it’s Emma Goldman, the pioneering feminist and anarchist, giving a lecture on lesbianism in 1915 at the Portland auditorium, two blocks away from my house, and getting arrested and hauled off to jail, to Woodie Guthrie living on SE 92nd in the summer of 1941 and writing all the songs for the Bonneville Power Administration, to the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. It also talks about writers like John Reed, the Oregonian journalist who is buried in Red Square.

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

I find myself underlining passages and coming back to them again and again. It just resonates. It’s so unbelievably honest and forthright.

Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be by Myrlie Evers-Williams

This is a great, great, great book…I heard her speak at the art museum for Dan Wieden’s organization Caldera and Dan Wieden revealed that she had studied to be a classical pianist with dreams to play at Carnegie Hall.  We got her to make her Carnegie Hall debut, and we filmed it!

A Shout in the Street: An Excursion into the Modern City by Peter Jukes

A Shout in the Street is kind of like those Nietzsche aphorisms. It’s a collection of quotations and moments – film stills, photographs, excerpts from essays – and it’s about four different cities. The cities are London, Paris, Leningrad, and New York City. And they’re so beautiful. Small little quotations about each of these cities at different times. (Note: this work is out of print, but is available through the library by interlibrary loan to Multnomah County residents.)

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.

photo credits: Autumn De Wilde and Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.

 

Sunsetchoice

noun \ˈchȯis\

the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities

the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision

a range of things that can be chosen

 

Choice. We cherish our freedom to make choices, and Oregonians facing end-of-life decisions for themselves or family members have an unprecedented range of options from which to choose. Sometimes the path forward is obvious, but many times it is not. Fortunately, none of us facing such decisions need feel alone. We have a wealth of information and resources available to help.

How do we even express our choices, though, if we haven’t yet talked with our friends and families? TEDMED speaker Michael Hebb notes that, “How we want to die represents the most important and costly conversation Americans aren’t having.” Hoping, he says, “to spark the gentlest revolution imaginable,” Hebb founded Let's have dinner and talk about death, a web-based initiative designed to give us the tools to have these difficult and potentially transformative conversations.

The National Institutes of Health offers an online “End of Life” module aimed at helping people understand the many practical and emotional aspects of preparing for death. The module provides visitors with information about the most common issues faced by the dying and their caregivers.

Seriously ill or frail Oregonians may opt to talk with their healthcare providers about Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment--commonly known as POLSTs. POLSTs help individuals exercise more control over the type of end-of-life care they receive; they are medical orders that emergency personnel will follow to ensure that the desired level of care is provided.

Hospice care is often chosen when curative treatment is no longer effective or no longer wanted, and when life expectancy is measured in months or weeks. Hospice is a philosophy of compassionate and comprehensive care for dying persons and their families that addresses the medical, psychosocial, spiritual and practical needs of the individual, and the related needs of the family and loved ones, throughout the periods of illness and bereavement. The Oregon Hospice Association provides information on resources for families and patients.

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Since then, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In How to Die in Oregon, available through Multnomah County Library in DVD or streaming video format, Filmmaker Peter Richardson enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether--and when--to end their lives by lethal overdose. The film examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. More information on the Death with Dignity Act is available from the Oregon Public Health Division and fromCompassion & Choices.

Finally, caregivers face special challenges as a loved one faces death. Support and resources are available through the Family Caregiver Alliance and this booklist

Contributed by Jenny W. 

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Since then, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In How to Die in Oregon, available through Multnomah County Library in DVD or streaming video format, Filmmaker Peter Richardson enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether--and when--to end their lives by lethal overdose. The film examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. More information on the Death with Dignity Act is available from the Oregon Public Health Division and fromCompassion & Choices.In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Since then, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In How to Die in Oregon, available through Multnomah County Library in DVD or streaming video format, Filmmaker Peter Richardson enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether--and when--to end their lives by lethal overdose. The film examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. More information on the Death with Dignity Act is available from the Oregon Public Health Division and fromCompassion & Choices.

So many disasters to choose from! Earthquakes! Ice storms! Ebola! Zombies!

I don't know about you, but I have a hard enough time preparing for the mundane events I know for certain will happen. Like school lunch. I know exactly when it happens and I know what I need for it, and yet somehow a kid gets sent to school with peanut butter and marmalade on a stale tortilla and a rapidly browning banana. If I can't even get it together for lunch, how do I begin to approach the subject of disaster preparedness?
 
Prepper's Pocket Guide book jacketOh, I think about it plenty. But I'm curiously inert when it comes to the actual "doing something about it" part. Many of the books I've seen threaten to turn me into a version of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream. I want to be reasonably prepared without being told I must build a bunker and buy a year's supply of freeze-dried food. The Prepper's Pocket Guide : 101 easy things you can do to ready your home for a disaster by Bernie Carr is an easy way to wade into a kiddie pool of preparedness waters without jumping off the high dive and into the deep end.
 
But what about that biggest disaster of all? The one we all think about even if we don't want to think about it? That inevitable thing that will happen to each of us no matter how much seismic retrofitting we do or how many flashlight batteries we hoard? The event that mostly no one wants to talk about in American society (with the exception of my children right before bedtime.) The Big D. 
 
Death is a difficult topic under the best of circumstances. Glimpsing Heaven: The stories and science of life after death by Judy Bachrach is one of the most Glimpsing Heaven book jacketinteresting and hopeful books I have read this year. As someone terrified of death, the author began her long journey to the book as a hospice volunteer in order to overcome her own paralyzing fear of death's unknowns. She discovered that, thanks to modern medicine, CPR and technology, more people than ever before are returning from up to an hour of clinical death to report on what lies beyond. 
 
Those reports are generally life-changing for the "death travelers", as she terms them, and completely fascinating for the rest of us. The experiences and scientific investigations detailed in the book are the tip of an enormous submerged iceberg. Published by National Geographic, these may be some of the most unique travel experiences in print. Death is an uncharted distant planet we have successfully landed on and awaits the courage and funding for more exploration. What we really want to know: Is death the end? 
 
After reading this book even the most skeptical person might answer: Probably not.

tiki popCome with me, if you will, to a tropical paradise. The darkness has returned to Portland, and with it, my desire to read about all things palm tree. Imagine my delight when I came across this new edition to the collection of Multnomah County Library. Published in connection with an exhibition at the prestigious Musee du quai Branly in Paris, Tiki Pop , by Sven Kirsten, is a massive coffee-table exploration of the Tiki phenomenon.  

Tiki culture at its height was a manifestation of exotic visions of island culture inspired by the tales of American soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during World War II: trees loaded with exotic fruits, sleepy lagoons, white-sand beaches, and gorgeous people dancing in grass skirts. Americans made Tiki their own, often ignoring authenticity, and created a mid-century cultural movement that was then forgotten until the recent Tiki resurgence.  Tiki Pop explores the history of Tiki, from James Cook's first explorations of the Pacific Islands in the 18th century, all the way through Hollywood's embracing and manipulating of the Tiki culture through its jungle films. But the real highlights of Tiki Pop are the hundreds upon hundreds of glorious, colorful images. Kirsten has assembled what I think might be the penultimate photographic memory of a time in our culture that was unique in so many ways. What a pleasurable journey!

So, if the rainy skies are getting you down, mix yourself a zombie, a mai-tai, or a hurricane, settle in, and be transported to a different (and warmer) time and place. Cheers! cocktails

 

 

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about what I could make as holiday gifts. Do you make gifts? Host a cookie exchange?

I have been part of a craft group for more than a decade. We get together about once a month to eat, work on projects and discuss the world. They have inspired me over the years to make liqueurs, cookies, jewelry, cards and photo books. I've created a list of terrific books for any of these endeavors. Hope you like it and are inspired to create.

My reading lately has taken a nose-dive because I have found nothing that holds my attention quite like my new pup. That's right, I am proud new mama to Inspector Meriwether Lewis.

Much like having a baby, a new puppy brings lots of unsolicited advice. And because I want to do what works for Meri and me, I end up ignoring the bulk of it. I do find books to be quite useful though, and take great comfort in the many puppy manuals available. Ian Dunbar is one of those soothing voices that remind me "Oh yes, I can do this! Training should be easy and fun and even children can do it!" An oversimplification perhaps, but it buoys my self-confidence no end. And then when it all goes pear-shaped (which is British for horribly wrong) as it does, a solid and reassuring tome like Housetraining for Dummies renews my hope for living with rugs on the floor again someday. This is my personal list.

Meanwhile in San Francisco book jacketMy favorite city is San Francisco. When I was slogging through high school in the Midwest, I dreamed about moving out to California and going to college there. It took me a few years after high school, but eventually I made it out there and stayed for the next twelve years. Now I try to visit the Bay Area once in awhile. It’s changed a lot since I lived there but the main things that I loved about San Francisco are still there. Golden Gate Park, huge and green, with pockets of bison and windmills all leading to the cold, cold ocean. The neighborhoods, each with its own character and atmosphere. I was there just a few weeks ago and found a bevy of hippies still hanging out in the Haight.

My new favorite book about San Francisco is Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words. The author and illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, has captured the people and places of Meanwhile in San Francisco illustrationSF perfectly. She visited different neighborhoods and drew the people and the scenes. And she had lots of conversations at each location. MacNaughton then gathered the twenty to thirty stories she had heard and combined them into one story for each picture. It’s both deceptively simple and deeply profound. The section on the main branch of the SF Public Library is perfect; on one page she has a list of all of the people that entered the library between 12:45 and 12:50: number 9 of 59 is “old man bent over, beard nearly touching the ground.”

Meanwhile in San Francisco captures both the characters of the city and the city as a character. Sheer loveliness.

She has a really great website too. Check it out here.

 

 

Station 11 book jacketA lot of people will hear the word ‘post-apocalypse’ about Station Eleven and will decide then and there not to read it. That’s a shame because this isn’t your usual vision of the collapse of civilization - there are no zombies hunting prey, no organized savage games to survive. There is savagery for sure, but most of it takes place off screen and the characters mourn the ways in which violence has touched them - they retain their humanity.

The story slips back and forth from a past that is familiar to us all - cell phones, red-eye flights, suburban lives, and tabloids - to a fateful night when an actor performing in the role of King Lear collapses on stage, his death a harbinger of a devastating and virulent flu that will rewrite the story of human-kind. Then we jump to a future in which a small company of actors and musicians makes its way from one sparse outpost of humanity to another, because, after all, what else is there? Each member of ‘the symphony’ has scars; some cherish memories of life before, and to others this ragged and primitive world is all they have ever known. As the story unfolds, the past and present weave together.

Yes, it’s a book about apocalypse and devastation, but in a quieter vein. More accurately it's about loss and memory and how each little piece of the world we carry with us changes our story. And it's well worth reading.

 

darger bookUntil his death on April 13, 1973 not many folks knew Henry Darger. However, while cleaning his small, cluttered apartment, what Darger’s landlord’s found forever changed that. In the process of clearing out decades of presumed clutter, “30,000 manuscript pages, and over three hundred canvases depicting a rich, shocking fantasy world - many featuring hermaphroditic children being eviscerated, crucified, and strangled” were discovered.

Intrigued? I was. After attending an fascinating exhibit of Darger’s work at the American Folk Art Museum I was drawn into his outsider art and wanted to know more about the man behind the vast and bizarre body of work.  Unfortunately, aside from speculation based on the imagery there was little to know. Luckily Jim Elledge stepped in. After ten years of research, he produced “Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy” a scholarly, yet readable history of Henry Darger that not only illuminates the man, but also his societal backdrop to better understand him.

Check it out!  

Tennessee Couple Finds a Home at the Title Wave Volunteers Don & Lynn Lampard

by Donna Childs

Writing these profiles has introduced me to many interesting, accomplished, and downright nice people; Lynn and Don Lampard are no exception. A husband and wife team of Materials Processors at Title Wave Used Bookstore, Don and Lynn moved to Portland from Knoxville, Tennessee, and started volunteering soon after. They came here to be closer to two grown daughters, one of whom had volunteered at the Title Wave many years ago.  

Processing materials in the back room at the Title Wave, Lynn and Don get to see and sort through the thousands of books, CD’s, DVD’s, and audiobooks sent from the 19 Multnomah County libraries.  In order to resist the temptation to buy them all, Don makes lists of interesting books he comes across and then orders them from his neighborhood library. Although Lynn and Don do the same job, because they already spend most of their time together, they volunteer on different days so that they can meet more people and have diverse experiences to share.  

Don chose to volunteer at the Title Wave after retiring from a career as a computer analyst and programmer, and before that a professor of English. He thought it would be “a good way to do something constructive for the community.”  It is that, but now he enjoys it so much that he volunteers as much for himself as for the library.  After working for many years as an academic librarian in the Midwest (Indiana U, Purdue, U of Wisconsin), Lynn naturally gravitated to a volunteer job where she would be surrounded by books, and she still sees that as one of the best parts of a great job.  

In addition to their work at the Title Wave, the Lampards’ other favorite volunteer commitment is babysitting for their grandchildren, three and nine, every Wednesday and whenever else they are needed. They have created a fun, interesting, and useful life in their adopted city.

A Few Facts About Don and Lynn

Home library: Albina and Hollywood libraries

Currently reading: I just finished The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette and next up is Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin. (Don) Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Lynn)
 
Most influential book: Autobiography of Bertrand Russell (Don); Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (Lynn)

Favorite book from childhood: Probably the Hardy Boys series (Don); any science fiction (Lynn)

A book that made you laugh or cry: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole made us laugh (Don and Lynn); the last of the Wallander mysteries by Henning Mankell, in which the protagonist has terminal dementia made me cry. (Don)

Favorite section of the library: I can’t choose. (Don) new books (Lynn)
 
E-reader or paper book? paper (Don and Lynn)
 
Favorite guilty reading pleasure: I read quite a few mysteries, especially Poirot stories by Agatha Christie lately. (Don) Scandinavian mysteries (Lynn)
 
Favorite place to read: at home, in bed (Don and Lynn)

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Book jacket: Mannequin Girl by Ellen LitmanIf you’re a female who grew up in this country during the 1980s, odds are good that you lived in fear of scoliosis checks. The impact a back brace could have on a teenager’s social life was made very clear to me by Judy Blume in her book Deenie.  

But what if, instead of growing up in New Jersey under the watchful eye of a controlling mother, Deenie had been born in Soviet Russia to inattentive bohemian parents?

What if Deenie’s spine curvature got her sent to a school-sanitorium where life’s disappointments brought out a bit of an impulsive mean streak?

That alternate universe Deenie might look something like Kat Knopman, the sympathetic but prickly protagonist of Mannequin Girl by Ellen Litman.

Part of what I love about reading 80s coming of age stories, is recognizing my own experience in the lives of characters in fiction.  The other part is reflecting on how much of these experiences of a common era are colored by things like geography, race, politics and maybe just simple circumstance.

Were you an 80s child, or just interested in coming of age stories set in not so far removed historical times? Check out my list for more tubular tales from different points of view.

"No one can escape justice!" When I tell people that I’ve been reading a lot of Judge Dredd comics, the first thing most of them say is, “Oh yeah, wasn’t there that movie with Stallone in it?” Well, yes, there was. I was at it on opening weekend, in fact. There was also a much better (and funnier and more violent) Dredd flick that came out in 2012.

Cover of The complete Carlos Ezquerra: Volume 2But I’m not here to talk about moving pictures: Judge Dredd is all about pictures and words on paper. The character of Judge Joseph Dredd first appeared in the British magazine 2000 AD in 1977, and his adventures have been running there ever since. I did not know about that magazine when I was growing up, but I did know about Dredd (and respected the badge) thanks to Anthrax’s “I am the Law” and the occasional special-issue appearances with Batman. Only recently have I gone back to the source and started reading some of the original British comics, and I am very glad that I did.

Set in a chaotic, post-apocalyptic 22nd century U.S. city, Mega City One, Dredd is one of the Judges, authorized to detain and deliver judgement on any law-breaker. The sentence is often death. This would be a grim premise, were it not for the fact that the comics are completely, gloriously over the top. People get infected by radiated mushrooms and start breaking out in spores. Robots have egos and sing songs about themselves. Weird skeletal psychopaths talk with hillbilly accents and make various diabolical poisons (or “pizens”). It’s fantastic! The satire is often thick. And episodes are incredibly short, only about 6 pages long: they were originally serialized in 2000 AD over many issues. Collections of these episodes are the perfect quick-bite reading, for when you don’t have much time or much of an attention span.

There have been some recent Dredd comics by American writers and artists, too: an ongoing series by Duane Swierczynski which kind of turns it into a sci-fi police procedural (albeit with plenty of cheeky humor and misplaced body parts), and a great miniseries called Mega City Two: City of Courts by Portlanders Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas. In Mega City Two, Dredd takes an assignment on the west coast, a place much brighter and glammy than MC1. Rest assured, he will still find a way to deliver justice, even if he is stuck with a gun that only shoots “friendly bullets.” Because, after all, he is the law.

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.

More 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. 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 My MCL search for the subject term “bildungsromans” produces, at the time of this writing, 2,082 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.

“You need a rest, and so do I," I'd say firmly, and then I'd close the door (also firmly) and brew myself a cup of tea. Then, with a sigh of happiness, I’d pull out a book or pop in a DVD and take at least an hour for myself. My kids both stopped napping at about three and a half, but I didn't stop being a quiet time-enforcer until both of them were in the care of Portland Public Schools five days a week. Days with young children can be very long, and I found that if we had this time to refuel, the rest of the afternoon and evening would be much more pleasant for everyone.

A library patron recently told me that she uses audiobooks to entertain her preschooler during quiet time and I think this is a brilliant idea. Let them be diverted for a while by Frances, a badger who likes to make up charming little songs, or let them spend some time enjoying the sweet friendship of Frog and Toad. I’ve made a couple of lists to give parents ideas for audiobooks that would be perfect. The first list contains audiobook CDs and the second contains downloadable audiobooksI offer them with the sincere hope that the stories you'll find on them will provide enough time for both parent and child to feel refreshed.

No visit to memory lane is complete without a few moments of fascination and horror.  Remember your 20’s?  I do -- my first apartment, helpful or harmful roommates, dating, and encounters with people that have since turned into lifelong relationships. I love that I had so much energy and anything felt possible. I still love many of the people I encountered then.

So, it’s not surprising that I love the HBO series Girls created by Lena Dunham, a sometimes comedic and horrific drama. This series is a very entertaining guest that I want to invite into my living room.  Dunham’s girls explore connections with lovers, jobs, friendships and all the possibilities of life while trying to maintain and develop their self esteem in wild New York City. It’s the exciting and uncomfortable 20’s unveiled in all it’s shabby glory, something to witness and marvel at while discussing the thought-provoking topics that each episode brings up. Oh and she just wrote a funny and moving collection of essays called Not that Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "learned".  I’ve learned that I love what Lena Dunham creates and hope she keeps making books, movies and television for a long long time.

 

cover image of mr. phillips

Mr. Phillips is a modern classic in my estimation. Faintly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this single day novel focuses on the life of a middle-class British male who has been summarily sacked from his job of accountant last Friday. Monday morning however, he dresses the part and leaves for the office just the same, Mrs. Phillips being none the wiser. The reader is privy to his thoughts (which are borderline sexually obsessive) as he spends the day wandering London, doing some very normal things like riding public transport and the not very mundane like witnessing a bank robbery. It is bawdy, but great. 

Having walked the streets of London myself on those quiet weekday afternoons (not because I had been made redundant, rather a work schedule thing); I have selected a musical pairing for this book. If there was ever an album to enjoy while exploring the city (employed or no) it would be Songs for Distingue Lovers by Billie Holiday.

 

 

Film adaptations of popular books are usually eagerly anticipated happenings. There is a curiosity inherent in waiting to see just how beloved characters and settings, so well established in the mind’s eye, present themselves on the big screen. It can be very satisfying to see a movie character who is the embodiment of the person you have been imagining all along. On the other hand it can be deeply frustrating to see a film character say or do something that your well-established fantasy character would just never say or do.

Orange is the New Black dvd coverThe bigger challenge in accommodating a film translation is accepting the subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the story line that Hollywood feels it needs to make the movie work. Take, for example, the Netflix adaptation of Orange is the New Black, an episodic rendering of Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir of her time in prison. Bored with her middle class life and fresh out of Smith College, Kerman took up with a group of artists-turned drug smugglers. In exchange for a world of first class travel and posh resorts, Kerman became a drug mule, delivering large cash payments to international drug bosses. Ten years after she quit the business, federal officers knocked on her apartment door and arrested her. She was sentenced to fifteen months in a minimum security women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

The show is highly entertaining, with familiar characters come to life and new and interesting ones added to the mix. The film versionOrange is the New Black book jacket highlights and deeply embellishes the drama, which was much more subtle in the book. The book highlights Kerman as an adept lexicographer of prison life as well as someone who took a painful experience and made something of it. But the amped- up drama of television keeps viewers hooked and waiting (as I am, I admit) for season three.

I’m grateful to have read the book. It is an engaging and informative read and since the publication of the book, Kerman has become an outspoken advocate of prison reform. Part of her success of Orange is the New Black comes from indirectly highlighting some of the failures of the U.S. Prison system. By creating an emotional connection to these injustices through the book and through a highly-watched television series, Kerman has been a powerful advocate for change.

Beyond the potential discrepancies between book and film, it’s just plain interesting to see a beloved story come to life before our very eyes. So watch the show or read the book? Why not do both!

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