If I say 'women in the wild west' what do you picture? For me it's an image of a beautiful young woman tied to the railway tracks as the train looms, a villainous mustachioed man lurking somewhere in the background. And that's too bad because there are plenty of Wild West stories with female characters who determine their own destiny.

True Grit was a great read long before John Wayne rode into the film version as Rooster Cogburn.  As a young teenager I reveled in the story of Mattie, a 14 year old girl who enlists the mean as dirt U.S. Marshal to help her find her father's killer and avenge his death. For girls growing up in the late 60's and 70's, female characters with gumption were few and far between, with the exception of Pippi Long stocking. It was a relief to see that there was room in the world for characters like Mattie Ross.

Another story of the vengeful female protagonist is the strangely compelling Caprice by George Bowering. A school marm turned vigilante sets out to avenge her brother’s death at the hands of two-bit criminals. Caprice is a stunning red head, over 6 feet tall, and a fine hand with a bull whip. She saddles up and chases the perpetrators across the west, circa 1890’s. The book is both a satire of the traditional western and a celebration of it, complete with no good varmints, honorable gentlemen and two Native American characters who observe the goings-on and provide philosophical commentary.

If there's any theme here, it's that women can be just as vengeful as their male counterparts. Jane Fonda starred in the incredibly campy Cat Ballou in 1965, an era in which women rarely played the lead role in a western. Cat hires a gunman to protect her father's ranch, and then later to avenge her father's death. When the hired man fails miserably at his job, Cat takes matters into her own hands. In between scenes, a comical pair summarize the plot in song.

If you're looking for a less satirical picture of women in the west, take a look at Molly Gloss's The Hearts of Horses. Set in 1917, when many of the men in Eastern Oregon have gone to war and ranch hands are in demand, Martha sets out to find work breaking horses. But her method is not to ‘break’ them so much as gentle them. Martha begins as an outsider, drifting in and out of the lives of people as she works with their animals. Eventually she becomes connected to the people and must let go of her comfortable perch as an observer from the saddle.

All of my siblings are attorneys which means that the conversation at family gatherings can be a bit contentious and peppered with legalese. This talk, coupled with the law classes I took as an undergraduate in political science, has at least given me a decent grounding in the American legal system. Most everything I know about the English judicial system, however, has come from mystery novels and television.  A patron recently introduced me to a great but, alas, short mystery series starring some young London legal eagles and an Oxford professor. I am sometimes baffled by all of the lawyerly terminology, but that hasn't prevented me from enjoying the banter that goes on amongst the five principal players including Cantrip who has an "inferior" education (Cambridge rather than Oxford) and Julia, who gets her knickers in a twist on a fairly regular basis. The Shortest Way to Hades finds them investigating the death of a young woman who has turned greedy and demanded 100,000 pounds in exchange for her signature on a document that will allow an heiress to avoid massive taxes on a multiple million pound inheritance. Was the girl pushed over the balcony or was it suicide?  As Hilary Tamar (the Oxford professor) points out, if it was murder, then the wrong girl died. For more judicial antics, try the Rumpole of the Bailey series by John Mortimer. While not the first in the series, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders provides the back-story on Horace Rumpole's early years. For a wonderful television show about an English law firm and some courtroom drama, watch Kavanagh Q.C. starring the fabulous John Thaw. Any other great stuff out there to amuse me while also increasing my knowledge of law in Great Britain?

I rarely watch movies or TV but I thoroughly enjoyed Either You're In or You're in the Way, a book about the making of the independent film, Touching Homeb (to be released March, 2010).

Twin brothers, Logan and Noah Miller, are determined to honor their father by making a movie about his battle with homelessness and alcohol. They have written the screenplay, but know nothing about acting or making movies so they go to the bookstore, "to make a battle plan, devise a strategy for the road ahead. We wanted books by people who had acturally made movies, not academic works on movie-making, but practical experience from frontline soldiers. We walked over to the entertainment section and plunged in."

The book is written in a unique voice - a combination of the two brothers thinking as one. I love their dogged determination, persistence and can-do attitude.  They need to film spring training in Tuscon this year, not next year: "We had to be an adaptive force. Flexiblilty and quick thinking would be essential: make immediate decisions and act upon them - and work with the consequences, painful though they may be."

Next, the boys need an old car for the scene where they're on their way home from Tucson, canned from baseball. Their friend Shady comes to the rescue. Doesn't this description paint a vivid picture in your mind?

"We drove the Perfect Car around the block. It swayed and creaked. It had no license plates. (Shady had a great story for that one.) The upholstery looked like you kicked a lion in the balls and then threw him inside. The rear window was busted out, looked like you threw a horse inside after the lion. The backseat was portable, the radio had been ripped out, and there was a Cadillac hubcap in the trunk in case you felt like going to the club."
They decide that Academy Award nominee, Ed Harris should play the part of their father. They ambush him as he leaves a stage and, talking a mile a minute, win his trust and commitment. 

This is a funny and touching story about overcoming many obstacles and never giving up. I admire their determination to keep a promise to their father.  I can't wait to see the movie.

I've been a fan of Chuck Palahniuk since I first read Invisible Monsters years ago. His twisted sense of humor makes his stories such great reads. I've been lucky enough to see him speak a number of times.  He said that the process of turning Fight Club into a movie was so horrible that he now writes books with the intention of making them so twisted that no one would want to make them into a movie. I actually maintain the library's "If you like Chuck Palahniuk…" booklist so I'm always on the lookout for bizarre writing. I guess it was only a matter of time until I picked up a book from the iconoclastic and provocative Eraserhead Press. When I saw a copy of the mildly-titled Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk, I just had to check it out. Burk is a Portland author who tells a tale of a world where every character William Shatner has ever played comes to life, and seeks to destroy the actor. He's running for his life. They're running after him.


2009 was not a banner year for me, reading-wise. I didn't even average one book a week and I didn't really enjoy a majority of the forty-five that I did read. This year I've made the following reading resolutions:

1.  Read more.
2.  Read more of what I like.
3.  Read new (to me) authors and series.

To make sure I got in the spirit of things early (and to maybe actually keep my resolutions), I've started out with a bang. One of my favorite genres is British mystery, and I've read three in the past 15 days. I was looking forward to The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill not only because I liked the dark and brooding cover (yes, I DO judge a book in part by it's cover), but it is the first in what looked like a character-driven mystery series.  I was hoping that it might be a good read-alike for Elizabeth George fans. Oddly, DCI Simon Serrailler, the detective after which the series is named, isn't featured much in the first book; rather it's Freya Graffham, a detective in his department, who takes the lead in trying to solve a series of disappearances in the fictional English cathedral town of Lafferton. There are many, many characters to keep track of, and if I hadn't just gulped it down in a few days, I might have had some trouble keeping all the threads straight. On the whole, it was a satisfying mystery (although I'm a bit peeved at the author for one particular part which I'll not mention here to avoid spoiling the plot) and I plan to read the other three books in the series later this year.  

I generally like to read mystery series in order, but I made an exception for Dark Mirror, the latest Brock and Kolla police procedural by Barry Maitland, because it's about murder in the library - how very Clue™-ish!  A beautiful young woman who looks much like the Pre-Raphaelite women she is studying, is poisoned with arsenic and keels over in the London Library. Per usual, plenty of suspects appear, all with good reasons for wanting her dead. I really enjoyed this book with the exception of the way the librarians at various libraries in London seemed to hand over patrons' reading records willy-nilly! If you like to read mysteries in order, the first in this series is The Marx Sisters.  I plan to now go back to the beginning and read from there.

The third in my January mystery triumvirate is Fear of Drowning by Peter Turnbull, the first title in the Chief Inspector Hennessey series. Hennessey is with the North Yorkshire Police, and as I've been to Yorkseveral times, it was fun to recognize some of the places mentioned. The banter between Hennessey and his sergeant, Yellich, is witty, but other than that, I wasn't all that keen on this mystery. Maybe it was because all of the other characters in the book, including the victims, were not very likeable.  I think fans of British police procedurals will like it, but I'm not sure yet whether I'll go any further with the series.

So far, I am well on my way to achieving my reading goals for 2010, but if anyone has good suggestions for what I should read in this genre, please let me know!

My New Year's Resolution is to read more books that do not involve adorable insects driving pickle cars or underpants-clad superheroes telling poop jokes. For a good majority of the people reading this (I'd say 5 out of the 6 of you), I suspect that would hardly constitute a challenge. But trust me, it's a worthy goal within my personal sphere. My other goal is to get a handle on the food shopping and cooking in order to have more time for reading. So my work for the year is here, and has been here for quite some time, huddled in a neglected corner like a freezer-burned chicken. 

On my food-as-literature battlefront is the graphic series Oishinbo, a la carte by Tetsu Kariya. Journalist Yamaoka Shiro is entrusted with the task of designing the "Ultimate Menu" for the publishers of the Tozai News to commemorate the newspaper's 100th anniversary. The series builds on the expected cast of characters: handsome but unmotivated anti-hero, beautiful and loyal sidekick, clownish co-worker, forbidding nemesis who also happens to be the hero's father. Think Luke versus Darth Vader, if only the Rebel Alliance was battling the Empire for bragging rights to the finest sashimi in the star system and Obi-Wan Kenobi had lines like, "In the old days, shaving the katsuobushi was the children's job" and "I'd rather DIE than eat a farm-raised sweetfish that has no flavor or scent to it!!" Each installment of the series is specific to a particular food with chapters building to the inevitable "Ultimate" versus "Supreme" menu showdown reminiscent of my favorite Food Network program, Iron Chef. The best thing about Iron Chef was the frequently ridiculous dialog, and Oishinbo does not disappoint with its liberal dashes of awkward Japanese-to-English translation. (Where else will you read the smell of vinegar-soaked kelp described as "touching?")

In one scene, blond women (or the cloned ideal that substitutes for the stereotype of an attractive female lifeform in manga) dressed as cowboys offer sushi at a "California Rice Promotion," triggering a discussion of rice as import commodity versus rice as national identity. The series is rife with nationalistic and egocentric comments about the superiority of Japanese cuisine and details about the featured foods are painstakingly minute. If you like reading about the food and culture of Japan and don't mind doing it in an amusing comic book form, then Oishinbo is indeed "a fascinating, addictive journey." Crave rice balls, you will.

If Yoda was a Crockpot Master, he would be proud of his apprentice Stephanie O'Dea and her book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking. This appealing cookbook is filled withuncomplicated yet tasty-sounding recipes. As a bonus, the recipes are written using gluten-free ingredients with ordinary substitutions suggested and easily made. The book contains no pictures; this does not detract as it might for other sorts of cookery books, and actually makes the book even more appealing with clean lines and most recipes fitting into a single page. (And in the introduction, the author promises that readers can go to her website for pictures and descriptions if desired.) The book began as a personal blogging challenge to use a crockpot every day for a year, and the website contains the entire chronicle of successes and failures. She offers the honest reactions of her three- and six-year-old to the recipes in the book and her own ideas for things she might do differently the next time. She even includes some creative things to do with crockpots and kids that have nothing to do with dinner. Who knew you could make crayons and Shrinky Dinks in a slow cooker?  

This resourceful cookbook author is firmly behind the idea of experimentation and using what you have immediately available. I'm thrilled with a book containing recipes I might have ingredients for without requiring a special shopping trip. It is the difference between turning the house upside down with an exhaustive yet fruitless search for flashlight batteries and just using the light-saber Child the Elder left lying on the stairs. It works. And if it doesn't, call for pizza. The Force is with you.

*My sincere apologies to Jedi Master Yoda.

Dan is reading Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery, edited by Elizabeth George. He is particularly enjoying the story "Paddy O'Grady's Thigh", by Lisa Alber, a tale of graveyards and grave desecration.

Dan is a clerk at the Central library.

Movies based on real people or events have always interested me because they add another element to your viewing — the awareness that something like this actually happened. I'm often disappointed but there are some films that I really love and have watched many times. Here are just a few of them.

To Die For is loosely based on the Pamela Smart story. In 1990, Pamela Smart hired her teenage lover to kill her husband. This dramedy stars Nicole Kidman in one of her best performances. The cast also stars Matt Dillon and Joaquin Phoenix (who is fabulous in Walk the Line, another based-on-true-events film I highly recommend).

Although I laughed out loud in parts, you never forget the seriousness of the situation. The buildup to the murder is scintillating and suspenseful and will have you holding your breath. And the way the murder plot is discovered is equally riveting.

I first saw Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures. She plays Juliet Hulme, who along with Pauline Parker (played by Melanie Lynskey, the hilarious, crazy neighbor on Two and a Half Men — also recommended, but nowhere near true life), plot to kill Pauline’s mother. The film is fantastical and has some of most interesting cinematography I have ever seen. There is a sexual tension between the girls that drives their decision to kill.

The girls’ families are realistically portrayed. You can understand their concern that the relationship between their daughters is too intense. They just want them apart. The most interesting part of this story is that the real Juliet Hulme is a well-known author, who writes murder mysteries. Ever heard of Anne Perry? That’s her, and yes the library carries many of her books.

Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood is a classic, so it’s hard to live up to the hype when creating a film version. But the classic 1967 version is fantastic. Robert Blake plays Perry Smith, one of the killers (who could have foreseen how dead on that casting was?). If you’ve read the novel, you will see that Blake's portrayal is exactly as Capote described Smith.

Along with Richard Hickock, Smith killed all five members of the Clutter family. Watching Smith’s character unfold will keep you guessing — is he telling the truth? Did he kill everyone? Did he kill no one? Some of those questions are still unanswered to this day.

What’s Love Got to do With It? came out, and everyone knew Tina Turner’s secret: She had been a battered woman for years. Angela Bassett makes us feel every punch, every slap and every degrading word that Ike Turner (played by Laurence Fishburne) unleashes.

This film takes us through the journey of abuse; how it starts and why it continues. I will say that it’s hard to watch some of the scenes, but I came away from this film so proud of Tina Turner for finally standing up to Ike and leaving.

Jim is reading Philip Levine's collection, News of the World: Poems, the latest by this great and prolific American octogenarian poet who grew up in Detroit, lived in Fresno for years, and now loves living in Brooklyn.

Jim is the librarian who oversees the John Wilson Special Collections, where the library's rare books collection is housed.

Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension (DVD) NOVA/PBS Home Video; you can also watch the program online.

When flipping channels a few months ago I stopped at PBS which was airing a NOVA production right then. The first two words I heard from the tv were "fractal geometry" which gave me a slight wincing thing in my eye, like I'd gotten a squirt from a grapefruit. There was a brief flashback to Mr. Pawlak's geometry class, circa 1975.

Until now all I knew about fractals was two things: that screensaver from about 10 years ago that I could stare at endlessly and the Magic Eye books from the mid 90s (I couldn't see it then, can't see it now). But, my rule is, "If it's done by NOVA, I will watch it." It is, and I did. And it pretty much blew me away.

I was fascinated by the life of Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, and his pioneering work in mathematics--he was, of course, mocked and ridiculed by his peers of the day and now has won over 20 awards for his work. Born in Poland in 1924, Benoit and his family fled to France in 1936 to avoid Nazi persecution, and young Benoit spent much of his teens avoiding the Nazis in France.

The film itself is stunningly gorgeously wonderfully watchable, on par with Planet Earth but way shorter at just under an hour. The narrator's voice is reminiscent of fourth grade science film strips from the late 1960s, but not overly noticeable as such, and honestly, it adds a certain je ne sais quoi.

So now I know fractals are simply the irregular repeating shapes that are found all around us: cloud formations, broccoli, craggy mountain ranges, growth patterns of a rain forest, and even in our bodies--the branching of normal blood vessels follows a fractal pattern. One way scientists and physicians can determine a cancerous growth is the very abnormal (non fractal) distribution of blood vessels in the tumor.

So now I wonder if the waves of customers at our Hollywood checkout desk conform to Mandelbrot's equation. And what about traffic patterns? Maybe the way the needles will fall off my Christmas tree onto the carpet will make that cool graph shape. The occurrence of red tides on the Oregon Coast--what about that? Sea bird population growth and decrease? I know broccoli florets are a fractal pattern, but what about cauliflower? Fractals are everywhere.

To date I've watched the DVD three times and Benoit Mandelbrot is my new hero--move over Jacques Cousteau and share the throne. Benoit rocks.

Kay Redfield Jamison is a courageous woman and a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. She is also a manic depressive. One of her early books, An Unquiet Mind, reveals her madness, attempted suicide and mental illness.

Her latest book, Nothing Was the Same, is the story of losing her beloved husband, Richard, to cancer and her survival beyond his death. It is also much more. She teaches us about mental illness, depression, grief and loss, and points out the disturbing gap between what scientists and doctors know about mental illness and what most people believe.

"Moods are contagious; they spread from those afflicted to those who are not. It is rare for even an experienced clinician to remain unaffected by a manic or depressed patient. For those who do not have the protective cloak of professional training, or who are personally involved, it is next to impossible to maintain equanimity."

"Brevity [in manic/depressive episodes] in itself buys no protection. Graham Greene observed that a Mediterranean storm may be over in a few hours, but while it lasts, it is savage enough to drown a ship full of men."

Kay and Richard have a special and wonderful relationship.
"[He] was clinically and scientifically knowledgeable about manic depression, and was aware of its genetic basis; he was not inclined to attribute to character what he knew to be disease. He was curious by nature, in the habit of careful observation and he possessed a charitable slant on odd behavior. He was able to make me laugh in the midst of truly awful situations, and he loved me in a way I never questioned."

When Kay decided to reveal her manic depression in her book, An Unquiet Mind, she was wary of being labeled by her colleagues as a manic-depressive psychologist, rather than being seen as a  psychologist who happened to have manic-depressive illness.

Richard supports her all the way and in his own inimitable style arranges one of his treasure hunts in their hotel room in Rome. He fills the tub with rose petals and lilacs flowers, hiding among them a small pill bottle with a note inside: "check the bed".

"It was a hunt. Richard was in his element. After a prolonged search of our exceedingly large bed. I found a small red box. It was from a jeweler in Rome and inside, on silk, was an antique gold ring. Underneath one of the pillows was a note. "Thank you for the happiest year of my life," Richard had scratched in his dyslexic hand. "I know that talking and writing about your illness has been hard. I am very proud of you -- not only as your husband, but as your colleague."

In these pages is hope for the depressed and for their families.
"When I talk to students, so many of whom have tried to kill themselves,. I tell them that it is hard to get well and that it is hard to stay well, but that it can be done. I find myself using Richard's words: Take your medication. Learn about you illness. Question your doctor. Watch your sleep. Use common sense about recreational drugs and alcohol. Reach out to others…"

I dare you to read Nothing Was the Same without shedding a tear or falling in love with Richard, beloved husband of Kay.

Kay Redfield Jamison speaks in Portland on "The Mercurial Mind: Bipolar Disorder and Creativity" on February 22, 2010 as part of the OHSU Brain Institute lecture series.

By guest blogger Martha, the Reference Coordinator for the library

The summer after my freshman year of college I followed a cute boy west to Yellowstone National Park where we had jobs waiting tables. That summer I fell madly in love, not with the boy, but with the park. I was floored by the majesty of the wilderness. Watching Ken Burns' recent series The National Parks: America's Best Idea rekindled that passion and my desire to learn more about our National Parks.

As luck would have it Timothy Egan has a new book out called The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. It’s a beautifully written account of the formation of the national forest service, the American conservation movement, Roosevelt and Pinchot’s passion for the wilderness, and a heartbreaking account of the fire of 1910.

Growing up in the Midwest I didn't know very much about the fire of 1910 and was surprised to learn it was the largest wildfire in American history. Egan says that in less than two days, it torched more than three million acres, burned five towns to the ground, and killed nearly one hundred people. To give some perspective, he explains, it’s like having the entire state of Connecticut burn in one weekend.

Egan has a delightful writing style; it’s as if he’s flopped on your living room couch regaling you with a tale filled with passion, drama, and politics. As a presidential history fan I loved reading about Roosevelt’s relationship with Gifford Pinchot; it was something I hadn't read about in other Roosevelt biographies.

Mr. Egan was recently interviewed by NPR and I expect that explains the large hold list on this book. If you need a national park fix while waiting for The Big Burn you can try the book version of the series (The National Parks: An Illustrated History), Norman MacLean's Young Men & Fire or Gifford Pinchot’s autobiography Breaking New Ground.

Terrilyn is reading The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey, a novel about the life of the enigmatic artist Gustav Klimt.

Terrilyn works on public programming for the library.

No one writes like James Herriot...

…except, of course, James Herriot himself, who passed away in 1995. If you're looking for more good animal stories, there are some recent ones out there that you may enjoy reading.

Nick Trout’s Tell Me Where it Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in my Life as an Animal Surgeon will leave you alternately laughing and crying until you begin to wonder if you have lost your mind. (For more on this title see our previous review.)

In a similar vein, you may want to try All My Patients Have Tales: Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice, by Jeff Wells. Fresh out of veterinary school, Wells settled in South Dakota where he treated a variety of problems. Several animals were not as cautious as they should have been around porcupines. The quills became embedded in their flesh and were difficult for Wells to remove, causing a great deal of anxiety for both him and his patients. Then he had a male cat with the classic symptoms of pregnancy! If that didn’t make him question his career choice, the pet owners were always advising him on their animals' treatment. They always thought they knew better.

If you like cats, try Dewey: The Small-town Library Cat who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron. It was 1988 and the coldest night of the year in Spencer, Iowa. Dewey was dropped into the book drop of the Spencer Public Library by some unknown miscreant. Iowa has cruel winters and Dewey developed frostbite while trapped in the book drop. He was only four weeks old and his eyes hadn’t opened yet.

Luckily, the next morning he was found by the author who was also the director of the library. Dewey recovered from his ordeal and charmed the patrons and staff of Spencer Public Library. He seemed to sense when one of the patrons needed special attention and went directly to that person to offer comfort. Not surprisingly, Dewey soon became the official mascot of the library.

If you have a soft spot for animals rescued from rather sad conditions, you may want to read Chosen by a Horse: A Memoir, by Susan Richards. Richards went to adopt a horse rescued from an owner who took very poor care of him. When she opened the door of her horse trailer at the adoption center, she was quite surprised to see one of the horses stride into the trailer before she had even had time to blink. That horse was the one who went home with her. Their relationship flourished and became mutually beneficial and nurturing.

Whether you like owls or not, you may enjoy Stacey O’Brien’s Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl. O’Brien was a student researcher at Caltech when an injured baby owl was brought in. The owl could not be rehabilitated and sent back into the wild again so O’Brien decided to adopt him.

She provides insight into the human-animal bond and many interesting facts about owls. However, if you think the book sounds dry, you may be pleasantly surprised to find yourself wanting to laugh out loud. As Wesley reached sexual maturity he was like a young human teenager who did not know how to handle the changes in his body. Stacey became the object of his affection in a new and different way.

No one writes quite like James Herriot, but perhaps you'll find some good reading here.

The colorful cover catches your eye -- a group of smiling grandmothers in vivid costume from many countries of the world have joined hands. The sparkling gold stars and slimness of the book are attractive. The story is simple -- two grandmothers stand in the park all day long and soon have everyone in town talking. More grandmothers join. Why? Read this charming book by Sharon Mehdi to find out.

And the "story of the story" is equally enjoyable. The idea for The Great Silent Grandmother Gathering was born at a corner table in the café upstairs over Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, Oregon. "I remembered something a Native American elder said to me a very long time ago: Men have taken the world as far as they can. It's up to the women to lead us the rest of the way."

Originally intended as a birthday gift for a granddaughter, it was shared with a group of women in the café who then decided that they should have copies to take to a conference. The book grew into a booklet and was read in the Bloomsbury bookstore. Soon orders started coming in from all over the world. Now you can check out a copy here at the library.

Joseph Conrad's "whited sepulchre" in Heart of Darkness may have been Brussels, but mine is a refrigerator. Every time I open it, I journey into a composting culinary darkness that makes me shiver. What evil lurks deep in the dark of forgotten Tupperware? And why don't I throw out the jar of drained artichoke hearts that are about to celebrate their second Christmas? And why do I never remember that ignored produce inevitably turns into a puddle of black goo at the bottom of the crisper drawer?

Before I had children and refrigerators I analyzed Joseph Conrad line by line. Lately I'm just lucky to read more than one page of anything without keeling over in a sleep-deprived heap moistened by my own drool. 

It's the busy mom's dilemma at the end of the chore-filled day: read or sleep. Anything that is going to keep me awake has to be worth the sacrifice of sacred slumber.

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux has been on my "to read" list since the movie came out over twenty years ago and now it's keeping me up at night. I'm only halfway through, but this story of a crazed and driven father dragging his family into the wilds of Honduras to save them from the evils of modern America is a fascinating adventure dense with palpable detail.

While the father and the adolescent son Charlie take center stage, I find myself wondering more about Charlie's mother and the role she plays. If you liked The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (and I still think of those four girls traveling to the Congo with Betty Crocker cake mixes down their pants) then this is a book for you. 

Another fantastic trip into the heart of mothering darkness I've been enjoying is The Passion of the Hausfrau: Motherhood, illuminated by Nicole Chaison. This is laugh-out-loud funny for moms. You WILL get weird looks if you read this on public transportation (especially if you are drinking a beverage that you could possibly end up snorting out your nose.) I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to resist a hero's journey in the form of head lice, home renovation, tantrums, and cat diarrhea.

You will travel with the Hausfrau from "How it Came to Be that I Gave Birth in a Hospital Utility Closet" to "How it Came to Be that I Tried to Squeeze My Enormous Ass into Brazilian Surfing Shorts" to "How it Came to Be that I was Bitch-Slapped by the Parenting Gods in the Seasonal Aisle of CVS."

The book has illustrations on nearly every page, which helped to nurture my personal delusions that I am a fast and efficient reader. And it promises to be "the most fun you'll ever have with an illuminated manuscript." Who can resist?

And is it just me, or does anyone else find literary irony in spoiled sour cream?

I wasn't having a very good evening. I was tired from work, and dinner was mediocre. The entertainment I had lined up was an old black and white movie that I had checked out ages ago, but never managed to watch. Now it was on hold and I just HAD to watch it before it was overdue. I couldn't even remember why I had chosen it in the first place. I was actually kinda dreading the film.

My Man Godfrey starts out in Depression-era New York City with a group of upper crusters hectically racing around the city to track down items from a scavenger hunt. A pair of sisters, Cornelia and Irene, end up in the city dump. They whisk away a curious "tramp" to claim the top prize of the contest. Dressed in a tattered coat, Godfrey goes with the girls, but ends up schooling the top hat and tails crowd at their swanky hotel. A portly gentleman, Irene's father, likes what he hears and agrees to give Godfrey a job as the crazy family's butler. They could use a bit of common sense from a common man.

While the family constantly tries to wear him down, Godfrey takes no guff from anyone. Hilarious antics ensue. Will they just fire him and start over with someone new or will he become as zany as they are? You'll have to watch and see. By the end of the movie, my frown had turned upside down, and I knew I just had to find a butler of my very own.

If you remember my last post of movie recommendations, you know that I like flicks that are little off-center. Well, this list isn’t as eccentric, but they are definitely films that I really enjoy and highly recommend.

So I’ll start with Atonement. I tried to read the book and just couldn’t get into it, but the movie had me riveted. Aside from the thoroughly compelling story, it is an absolutely beautiful piece of cinematography. Add to that an A-list cast, and you have a memorable film with a twist at the end that will astound you. The story centers on forbidden love, a heinous crime and a lie that becomes so big, it swallows everyone in its wake. I absolutely loved this film.

I also enjoy a film that includes some great professional dancing. Since I don’t dance myself, I like to live vicariously through characters in movies. If you haven’t seen Billy Elliot, you are in for a treat. The story is so well-written, and the main character will make us all want to dance. Again, the cast is just amazing, and you get to see some really fantastic footwork. The main character, Billy, wants to be a ballet dancer. But his family isn’t having any of that. Boys don’t do ballet. But, boy, does Billy prove them wrong. Go, Billy!

Have you ever heard of a movie called The Edge? Well, neither had I until a few years ago. This movie stars Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. A friend of mine recommended it, and I finally watched it. Part thriller and part adventure, it puts a very interesting twist betrayal and friendship (with the help of a very relentless bear). This movie will keep your adrenalin pumping until the very end.

Dangerous Liaisons came out in 1988 and stars one of my favorite actresses, Glenn Close. Again, the cast really makes this film. The chemistry between Glenn Close and John Malkovich is palpable, and this film is so decadent and sumptuous, that I have watched it probably about 20 times over the years. It’s one of those movies that I see something new in each time I watch it. Another reason to watch — the cast also includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman and Keana Reeves.


Some Halloween thoughts for things that we lend
while waiting for all of those young costumed friends.

What's not to like in weird combinations
Of regency style and zombie nations?

While waiting for ghosties and ghoulies arrival
Peruse our advice about zombie survival

Or perhaps a movie one can easily pause
About barbarous creatures with blood on their claws

But just remember as you open the door
You can't rescind invites to guests you abhor.

Ding dong! You gonna get that?....