Blogs

Street photography according to Wikipedia is “photography that features the human condition within public places.” I realized I love street photography with the discovery of photographer Vivian Maier’s work. She took a lot of photos of children that were very tender. Maier also took many thought-provoking photos of the poor. She seemed to be looking to capture moments of comfort, like holding hands or cuddling together on the train.

There are a few websites devoted to this style of photography. There’s the Sunday Styles section column On The Street in the New York Times featuring Bill Cunningham's street photography. I’ve been a fan this column for years. There is also a series of videos derived from Bill’s photography. Sometimes the Willamette Week covers local fashion that intersects with street photography.

This type of photography is sprinkled throughout images of our popular culture. And of course our library has many books on the topic. A great photographer takes great photos. Great photos make me pause and wonder what happened before and what happened after that moment in time was captured on film. What about you? Do you wonder?

Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
 
Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
 
Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
 
Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
 
So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
 
Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
 
Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
 
You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on the Springboard course finder. If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
 
Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
 
Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
 
*Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

There’s nothing like a great music biography. Tales of sex, drugs, unimaginable circumstances, and music are a great combination. One of my favorite genres, I've read many of them, most recently Andy Taylor’s Wild Boy.  It's always a thrill to witness the rock star lives we were never meant to see, or at least remember if we were there. Here's a couple to start with:

hammer of the gods cover

 

Much has been written about Led Zeppelin. One of the juciest, Hammer of the Gods, is a great intro to the world of the rock biography. Private jets, groupies and thirty minute drum solos were only the beginning. Their unprecedented fame and unfathomable level of excessive indulgences remain jaw dropping.

 

 

I'm with the band cover

 

While Jimmy Page was soloing with his violin bow, Pamela Des Barres was wrangling backstage passes for herself and a few friends.  In her tell all biography, I’m With the Band, she shares her tales of an unbelievable life travelling amongst rock’s elite including : Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Chris Hillman, and Jim Morrison. It’s the kiss-and-tell story of one woman, rock and roll, and being an “Almost Famous” fly on the wall of some interesting hotel rooms.

 

This is only a start.  For more check out this list or ask me for recommendations!

You see them on the corners of trendy streets, or casting forlorn glances at the Paul Bunyan statue over in North Portland… bearded young men in checked wool shirts and heavy leather boots, doing their best to project a studied air of vintage outdoorsiness. But lay aside that retro axe you bought on Mississippi avenue, urban lumberjack - have I got the book for you! Axes aren’t very useful at soccer games anyway, despite what local ad agencies might like you to think.

Golden Spruce book jacketIn the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, there once stood an impossible tree, a genetic mutant that survived against the odds, a seven foot diameter spruce that glowed with golden needles and that was known to the Haida people as K’iid K’iyaas (Elder Spruce). But one wintry night, Grant Hadwin, a logger turned radical environmentalist swam naked across a frigid river, towing a chainsaw behind him, and singlehandedly cut down this freakish and beautiful tree. In The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant examines the life of this enigmatic man, who could wander into the wilderness with nothing but light clothing and an open-sighted rifle, and emerge days later with a mountain goat slung over his shoulders, whose early years as a logger coupled with emotional strain sparked a terrible awakening to the devastation his profession had wreaked on the land he loved. Intertwined with the story of Hadwin are chapters about Northwest forest ecology, as well as history of the Haida people and the logging industry. Check this out if you want to know more about the forests that surround us here in the northwest, or if you’re looking for well-written true stories of wilderness adventure and calamity.

More books about forests, including fact, fiction, and photography, can be found here.

Earlier this summer, people around the world marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, later called the First World War, and the anniversary has created a flurry of interest in the conflict and its impact on people across several continents.

The Great War was great in the sense that it was huge and record-breaking. The 30 or so participating nations sent about 65 million people into battle. It is hard to make an exact count of casualties and injuries that resulted, but it is generally accepted that about 21 million uniformed personnel went home wounded, and 8.6 million died. In addition, about 6.5 million civilians were killed in the fighting.* Obviously, this war had a dramatic effect on people across the globe, altering personal stories, disrupting family patterns, creating opportunities for some and closing doors for others.

Family historians should take note of how the war may have affected their recent ancestors. One way to do that is to get a little context for what the war was like for real people -- you might start with my colleague Rod’s great reading list of books that illuminate the experiences people had in the First World War, both on the battlefield and on the home front.

Of course, you family historians want to track down your own specific ancestors too. Lots of general genealogy books teach you how to find official sources like draft records, military service records, and records of veterans, but the library has a great local resource you may not know about!

article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, Oregon City Enterprise, Dec. 8, 1935, from [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians]If your ancestor served in World War I, survived, and later lived in Oregon, he may be included in the library’s collection of 1930s-era newspaper clippings, [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians].

On the right you can see an scan of one of the clippings in the collection -- it’s an article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, from the Oregon City Enterprise, published December 8, 1935.

This is one of thirteen articles and obituaries about Oregon WWI veterans, collected by the library in 1934 and 1935 and preserved together in a binder.  We’re not sure exactly why these articles were set aside and given special treatment; and we don’t know whether they were clipped by a librarian, a library volunteer, or a community member who later donated them to the library. But here they are, a lovely little slice of history just waiting for a genealogist digging into their family’s Oregon past!

I share this collection with you for two reasons:

The first reason is that maybe you are digging into an Oregon ancestor’s World War I military service and this is just the perfect resource for you! But there are only thirteen newspaper clippings in this collection, so it’s a little bit unlikely that many of you will find this the perfect source.

My second reason for sharing this collection is that I want you to remember that the library is rich in unusual, deep, and useful sources for your family history research.

Not least among these rich resources is our amazing complement of skilled librarians. Whenever you have an odd or challenging question that you can’t easily find the answer to; whenever you wonder if there might be a great resource that would illuminate the story of one of your ancestors’ past perfectly, ask us!

Librarians, I like to say, love questions. We are ready to help you find the right tools and resources for your genealogy research, and we’re happy to show you how to use those tools efficiently and effectively. So ask us the next time you’re at the library, or call or email us anytime.


* I got these numbers from Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1494-2007, by Micheal Clodfelter (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2008). The book has a huge amount of detail about the various casualty figures and other war-related data.


 

He might be controversial, but when it comes to me, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage is preaching to the choir. I’ve been enjoying his columns for close to twenty years, I’ve read several of his books, I loved him on This American Life, and I’m convinced that his entertaining, sex-positive podcast will improve all of your sex-lives if you’ll just start listening regularly. He’s funny, a highly engaging story-teller, and he calls the religious right on their nonsense in a way I find very refreshing.

I read most of his newest book, American Savage, on an airplane recently, and I pretty much lived through the whole gamut of human emotion during my eight-hour flight. I cheered as he talked about the the ridiculous inadequacy of abstinence-only sex education  in the United States. I laughed out loud while reading his stories about being a parent to his very conventionally straight son. I was pleased to find out about a website for teens I later told my daughter about-- it offers great information about the human body and sexuality.

I was moved as I read about the It Gets Better video project on YouTube he and his husband started to help LGBT teens who are being bullied. I was very moved by his story of the death of his mother, especially as I was on my way back to Portland after having spent time on the east coast caring for my mom, who was getting over a serious health issue.  At one point, when I was reading an especially naughty passage from the chapter on Dan’s marriage, which is “monogamish” rather than monogamous, I glanced over to see what the person in the next seat was reading. (I do this incessantly. I’m the person on the bus trying to crane my neck inconspicuously so I can see what you’re reading.) On the airplane, the person in the next seat was reading… a  magazine-sized church newsletter! I am absolutely not making this up. She was very nice, and possibly not incredibly nosy like me about other people’s reading material, so all was well. While an airplane might not be the best place to enjoy Dan Savage’s writing, I still think you should check him out. And definitely listen to the podcast!

Best 'free box' in Portland

In my SE neighborhood people care about the environment.  Most houses have a small vegetable garden, and the green and blue recycling bins are always lined up in front like small soldiers on recycling pick-up day. The sidewalks and streets bustle with people taking riding their bikes or walking to work.

Unwanted items are left out on the parking strip with a sign that says "FREE."  Anything can be there - a box of books, clothes, wine glasses, stuffed animals, you name it.  I can never walk by one of these free boxes without stopping to look.  Especially if there are books or magazines.  Who knows what treasures could be hidden there? I recently found Norwegian mystery author, Karin Fossum’s book The Indian Bride in a free box.

Today as  I was walking home clutching my latest find, it occurred to me that the Multnomah County Library is the best ‘free box’ of all.  Who knows what treasures you may find when you walk through the library’s door? Maybe a popular new thriller or a thick old classic. Maybe a study guide that will help you pass your SATs or fix your car.  Maybe your favorite childhood book that you want to read to your own kids.

The possibilities are endless.   

Plus when you are use library materials you are recycling too!

So don’t be shy: find you next great read at the best free box in town - the Multnomah County Library!

 

 

 

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me bookjacketMemory is a squishy thing. It enables us to do the things we do. It's who we are. Memory is pretty much interchangeable with our identity. So what happens when we lose our memory?

David Stuart MacLean has written an amazing book, The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, about exactly that. In 2002, he was a graduate student in writing, living in India. One day, he found himself on a train platform with no idea who he was. He ended up in a mental hospital with horrible hallucinations. Eventually the symptoms of amnesia, psychosis, and depression he experienced were found to be the result of the malarial medication, Lariam, which was prescribed for malaria at the time. And those side effects continued to plague MacLean for a very long time. He had to reconstruct himself.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me is a brilliantly written memoir and more. MacLean has done a lot of research on malaria and Lariam and it's fascinating. Who knew that one out of fourteen human beings have genetic mutations that can be linked to malaria? Or that high doses of Lariam have been given to prisoners at Guantanamo prison, not because they had malaria, but for "pharmaceutical waterboarding." 

David Stuart MacLean's memoir is a beautiful, disturbing, enlightening gem of a book. And if you'd like to read more books about memory, try these.

I've heard the critics who say adults should read adult books. Like Madeline, I say, "pooh-pooh".  If you don't have a child in your life, you're missing out. Picture books have the ability to charm and surprise, not to mention the fact that they come with art, really glorious art, in a dizzying array of styles. That's why I want to suggest you find a kid to share my new favorite with, Hermelin the Detective Mouse.

All kinds of things are going on with the residents of Offley Street, but luckily, none of them are escaping the sharp eye of Heremelin, a mouse with a Sherlockian bent. When Hermelin comes -- anonymousely -- to the rescue, the grateful residents wonder, 'who is this mysterious detective?'

It's a fun romp, and both adults and kids will enjoy examining the detailed pictures to try to solve the mystery themselves. So go ahead, read a picture book. You can always say you're getting it for a young friend.

"I've been studying Brando's scene in The Gnuppet Movie [...] We're players in a Gnuppet realm, reading from the same script. We're All Gnuppets. Brando was saying: abolish this boundary, tear down the wall or the curtain, and look at the Gnuppeteers." — Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City
 
The Intuitionist book jacket
“What does the perfect elevator look like, the one that will deliver us from the cities we suffer now, these stunted shacks? We don't know because we can't see inside it, it's something we cannot imagine, like the shape of angels' teeth. It's a black box.” — Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist
 
“He walked with equipoise, possibly in either city. Schrödinger’s pedestrian.”  — China Miéville, The City & the City
 
Call them alternate history, slipstream fiction, or elastic fiction, these novels and others like them take the world that we live in and shake up its parts, magnifying some, shrinking others, changing shapes and colors. They do not fit comfortably into the genres of science fiction or fantasy, but lift the blocks of the concrete world like Styrofoam, commenting on the real by lacing it with veins of the marvelous.
 
Ready to stretch? Try the books on the list Thoughtful alternates, slips and streams.

Driftwood fortAs a teenager growing up in Newport, Oregon, I couldn’t wait to hightail it out of town, but in more recent years, my nostalgia for the coast and all its beautiful quirks has led me back to books that feel like home.

I first recognized home in literature with my all time favorite novel Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, but I owe much of my renewed appreciation for my Oregon Coast upbringing to local author Matt Love.

I’m a big fan of Love’s unfiltered writing style and his keen observations on Oregon Coast life.  I appreciate the way he celebrates rain, astutely describes people as OTA (Oregon Tavern Age, meaning anywhere from forty to seventy years old), and that he’s not afraid to quote both Rod Stewart and Walt Whitman in a single paragraph.

Super Sundays in Newport, Love's collection of essays about his first year teaching English at Newport High School and his exploration of the local taverns, perfectly captures my home town with its mix of natural beauty, offbeat charm, uneven characters and plentiful watering holes.

Matt Love is a vocal champion of public beaches as a great birthright of Oregonians, so it comes as no surprise that he writes the introduction to Driftwood Forts of the Oregon Coast by James Herman. Part guidebook to an age-old Oregon beach tradition, part exuberant call to participate in the gratifying work of driftwood fort building, Herman’s book is a rare gem that you ought to check out before your next trip to the beach. Whether you end up building a classic a-frame, a rotunda or repurpose an existing structure, how you use your fort is up to you. As the book points out “One man’s tuna sandwich-eatin’ shack is another’s love shack.”

You can find more Oregon Coast related reads on my list here.

One hundred years ago, on August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany – the culmination of six weeks of European sabre-rattling that followed the assassination of an Austrian Archduke and his wife by a Bosnian revolutionary. Did I know this in January 1976 when the fourth season of Upstairs, Downstairs began running on Masterpiece Theatre? Likely not, but I was gripped from the outset with this beloved series’ depiction of the Great War and its Lord Peter Wimsey dvd coverimpact on the residents of 165 Eaton Place. I became hooked on World War I. A few years earlier, I’d watched Lord Peter Wimsey suffer from an episode of shellshock, but I didn’t really know what that meant until Eaton Place footman Edward Barnes returned from France and collapsed from the strain.

Right after Upstairs, Downstairs piqued my interest, The Duchess of Duke Street explored the War and a few years after that, To Serve Them All My Days told the story of a young shellshocked Welshman attempting to come to grips with his war service. Around this time, I also watched another British television series – still on PBS, but not on Masterpiece Theatre – Flambards, which obliquely touched on the War. At this point, I felt I knew enough about England’s and the English people’s sufferings to fill in the blanks.

My Boy Jack dvd coverAfter this, Masterpiece Theatre took a long break from the War to End All Wars, showing a bunch of equally interesting programs about World War II. (Since this year also brings a “significant” anniversary of this war – Britain declared war on Germany 75 years ago on September 3, 1939 – I could go on in this post, but instead, I added some suggestions to this list of DVDs.) Returning to World War I, Masterpiece Theatre presented three more programs in this century: My Boy Jack, Rudyard Kipling’s poignant memoir of the loss of his son (played by Daniel Radcliffe), and Birdsong, based on the novel by Sebastian Faulks. And don’t forget Season 2 of Parade's End dvd coverMasterpiece’s current uber- popular drama, Downton Abbey, where Matthew survives, Daisy marries a dying man, and Thomas Barrow takes the coward’s way out! Most recently, the BBC (via HBO) presented an adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s World War I doorstopper, Parade’s End (starring Benedict Cumberbatch). If you enjoy history and costume drama, all of these are worth watching.

All Quiet on the Western Front dvd coverQuite obviously missing here is the German side of the Great War, which has not been depicted via Masterpiece, but you can still watch and be moved by the 1930 film made from Erich Maria Remarque’s masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front.

Finally, many of Masterpiece Theatre’s programs are based on books, on “masterpieces” of literature, so if watching isn’t for you, MCL owns all of the source works mentioned here (with the exception of the venerable Upstairs, Downstairs and its close cousin, Downton Abbey, which were never books).

Cop Town cover"The good-ol-boy system was great so long as you were one of the boys." Karin Slaughter's Cop Town, my latest read, not only held my attention with its action-packed suspense, but also made me think about what it means to be a woman in today's society. 

If you've been following me since the inception of the My Librarian program, then you know that I love to read thrillers, mysteries, and police procedurals, the darker the better. Karin Slaughter has always been one of my go-to authors. Her Will Trent series is one of my favorites, and Beyond​ Reach, from her Grant County series, featuring doctor Sara Linton, contains one of the best, didn't-see-it-coming twists of an ending that I have ever read. Slaughter's latest has all of the elements of her previous books, a killer, a setting in deep south Georgia, quite a bit of violence (not for the faint of heart!), but it also speaks to the strides that women have made in the last 40 years in America.

Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy are police officers in the almost all white, male-dominated Atlanta police force of 1974. They encounter resistance at every turn, from lewd remarks, to groping, to physical beatings in Maggie's case, all from their male colleagues (who are often drinking on the job). What makes their struggle even more poignant for me are their journeys outside of work, most notably Maggie's. She struggles to break free from her cop-infested, somewhat abusive family, but, as a woman in the south in 1974, she is unable to open a bank account, secure a car loan, or rent an apartment without her 'nearest living male's information'. When that nearest living male is her reviled uncle, and fellow officer, Maggie is seemingly out of luck.

In Cop Town, the struggle for women's rights is just as strong of a plot point as the search for the killer. Yes, this is a work of fiction, so some of the details may be exaggerated, but I can easily believe that life was like this for women in the south in 1974. Make no mistake - many of the characters in this book are appalling in their prejudice, even the females. But I highly recommend this book to you. It will not only take you on a suspenseful ride, but may just leave you appreciating what you have.

 

Listening to the radio, we hear music that is new, along with favorites, that may also be new from interpretations or performances that we haven't heard before. Though a common complaint of many is that email is too much, if you like to find out about music and musicians that might be new to you, Alexander Street Press has a signup for free music downloads every two weeks that arrive in your inbox. A short text about the composer and piece of music comes with the recording,

Alexander Street Press offers downloads from two collections that do not require logging in with your library card from Multnomah County Library : Classical Music Library and Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries.

Sampler: Here is a Classical Music selection from past weeks of music: 
Link to these two collections for the current week's downloads. Classical Music Library and Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries.

Erik SatieSampler: Erik Satie's Trois Sarabandes

Eccentric. Iconoclastic. Hostile. Incompetent. Enigmatic. Pioneer.

French composer Erik Satie (1866–1925) has been called many things, but his musical legacy establishes best that he was, in essence, a visionary. Satie composed in a musical environment dominated by the heavily orchestrated, longwinded Germanic tradition—home to Wagner, Brahms, and Bruckner. In stark contrast, Satie’s music is clean, simple, and brief. Unlike the thematic transformations found in Wagner’s operas, Satie does not develop his motives, choosing rather to juxtapose shorter repeating phrases. 

The sarabande originated as a movement in the Baroque dance suite. Centuries later, Satie’sThree Sarabandes for piano still bear a resemblance to the original sarabande. All three movements are in triple meter (though Satie’s irregular phrasing often obscures this), conform to an AABB form, and strive to emphasize the second beat of the measure, sometimes referred to as a “sarabande rhythm." Otherwise, these three short pieces are distinctly Satie.

The late 19th century was the beginning of a harmonic revolution and Satie surely enlisted. While Satie’s music was regarded as radical among more conservative musicians, he was really forecasting the new movements in 20th century music—minimalism, total chromaticism, and serialism, to name a few. While his teachers and peers strove to force him into following the rules and conventions of “proper” composition, Satie remained true to himself and ushered in the new wave of music. This recording is performed by France Clidat.

Sampler: Pakistan: The Music of the Qawal

The Sabri Brothers - Nât Sharîf. Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in the northern regions of present-day Pakistan and India. Although it is thought to have originated in Persia, present-day Iran, and Afghanistan, the form of qawwali performed in this 1977 recording probably dates from the Mughal Empire (approximately 1526–1857) in the Indian subcontinent. Qawwali music became popular in the 20th century through the recordings of Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Other 20th-century performers include Aziz Mian and the Sabri Brothers.

To explore more of Music Online Alexander Street Press, login from home to the Multnomah County Library website with your MCL library card. 

Check out this haiku-limerick mash-up from our friend Eric!

Beautiful Darkness book jacket

Beautiful Darkness

Now homeless and up to no good,
can the Wee Folk survive in the wood?
It's all rather ghastly.
You'll read it quite fastly. 
And they feast on such terrible food! 
 
In drawings, the Wee Folk are gorgeous, 
their schemes as deadly as Borgias', 
There are creepies and cuties, 
and eye-gouging beauties! 
Fair warning: Beware of torches! 
 
The woods in Autumn - 
sprites sport as their home decays, 
all fun 'til eyes poked.

 

Do you like stories where families go away for the summer? Author Elin Hilderbrand takes her characters to Nantucket for the summer. OH to have a long vacation every summer! Where weeks bleed into months. Sometimes boredom sets in. Sometimes the need for fun causes tension. All of these elements are evident in this great new graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. Two families go to Awago Beach every summer. Rose and Windy have been friends who play together all summer while at their families’ vacation homes. Tensions rise a little bit because of the slight age differences of the girls in this coming-of-age tale. But like the waves on the shore they rise and fall.

Rose’s Mother has come to heal, the girls to grow and the Awago residents to cause sensation. If you like stories about friendship and families and beautiful brushwork illustrations like Craig Thompson’s, then you might like This One Summer. It might be your beach read. It might be your long exhale for vacation. Let the Tamiki creators sweep you away.

cover image of a moveable feast

Okay, not really.  Though I can't blame you for thinking that Hemingway is my favorite author. I admit, it's easy to get the wrong impression. After all, once the facts are considered, I am a little muddled myself about the truth of that statement.

  • A Moveable Feast is my favorite book.
  • 1920s literary Paris is my favorite era (in which he figures heavily).
  • I've read nearly his entire canon—of my own free will and not as assigned reading.
  • I consume voracious amounts of titles about him and his life.
  • I have visited his homes around the world.

But personally, I find the man a little irritating. I think his characters are flat (especially the women) and there is a too heavy dose of machismo to, well, to everything. And yet—I am fascinated by the man and his life. It was an extraordinary one by all accounts. So what if this lifestyle was funded in part by the inheritances of his wives? They let him after all, and it allowed him to write. And kill lots of animals. Beautiful great wild animals...but I digress. 
He must have been an absolute charmer and from time to time, I find myself falling for him. Or at least the idea of himself he was trying to create. I applaude his simple style both in language and drinks, his adventurous spirit, and his ability to call a kudu a kudu.

 

On the Beach book jacketAs a librarian I’m often asked for the name of my favorite author. Although at its heart this is not an easy question, time and time again I keep coming back to Nevil Shute. Discussions of Mr. Shute generally revolve around his 1957 novel On the Beach, which leads the way in Armageddon literature. In a nutshell the novel tells the story of the end of the world. As a radioactive cloud moves from the northern to the southern hemisphere all life is slowly extinguished. The citizens of Australia are the last to go and Shute’s novel slowly reveals the story of the end of their lives. It is gripping tale, not just because of the subject matter but because of the way Shute tells it; calmly and gently, as if this imagined yet horrific moment in history was an everyday occurrence.  

Born in 1899, Shute started his working life as an aeronautical engineer before chucking it all to write full time. Although he never thought of himself as an author, he became a skilled storyteller. Many of his novels involve long, arduous journeys, both physical and spiritual. Flashbacks, and back story add shape and depth to the characters and their worlds. Shute’s other novels are equally as satisfying. Many are a reflection of his background, with aviation taking center stage. All of his novels benefit from his innate ability to harvest story ideas from the world around him. 

Reading a Nevil Shute novel is the ultimate escape – to be taken somewhere so unexpected and to such depths that the stories become a part of the reader’s memory:  lived, experienced and treasured. For anyone looking for just such a read, try any of these novels by Nevil Shute:

A Town Like Alice
The Breaking Wave (also known as Requiem for a Wren)
Pied Piper
Trustee from the Toolroom
Round the Bend
 

I recently finished a three-month temporary assignment as a delivery driver here at the library. I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would when first asked. Upon reflection, however, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’ve always liked to drive; I’ve had a fascination with cars since I was a little kid; and I find the history of the automobile, both from a social and technological perspective, of great interest. Okay, I don’t know how much any of that has to do with driving a box truck full of books around Multnomah County but, hey, it’s an excuse to introduce some of my favorite books about driving.

Trucking Country book jacketMost directly related to my experience is Trucking Country, an academic study of the commercial trucking industry in the U.S. and the rise of free-market capitalism in the 20th century. I thought it was fascinating but recognize it may not be for everyone. Much more accessible is The Big Roads. This is a popular history of the interstate highway system. The author, Earl Swift, focuses on the personalities involved in designing and administering what has been one the largest public works projects in the world. Its success can be measured in how ordinary it all seems today, yet 100 years ago nothing like it existed. I-84 certainly made commuting out to East County easy for me!

What is it about abandoned cars that is so fascinating? Here’s an early 1950s Dodge truck in southern Utah I photographed during a photo of an abandoned truck2013 road trip. The 1949 Buick in the background can also be seen in the book Roadside  Relics. Naturally, I have to include the travelogue, particularly its most American of subsets, the long-distance road trip. There is a whole romance to the open road in American culture. For example, consider how often in movies and especially car commercials the automobile is depicted as a source of freedom and adventure. This sense of romance has been captured in some truly beautiful books such as William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and perhaps best known of all, Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical On the Road. One of my favorites, however, is Driving to Detroit byDriving to Detroit book jacket Lesley Hazelton. Hazelton is a journalist best known for her reporting from the Middle East and her books on Islam, but often overlooked is her love of the car. Born in Britain but a naturalized American citizen, this six-month road trip from Seattle to Detroit and back is many things: her love letter to the automobile; an effort to understand the American affection for the highway; and an admission that cars can horribly damage the environment. Yes, it’s a mixed message, but she pulls it off so well. Her meandering drive brings her in contact with a host of colorful characters that truly reflect the many facets of the automobile in American culture.

If you’re interested in the car, or car culture, try one of the books above or something similar. If you have a favorite book to share, leave me a comment below.

Grace Lin and giant cupcakeDid you love reading and sharing Anne of Green Gables? Author Grace Lin grew up in New York reading this childhood classic, but wishing there were stories like that with a girl that looked like her in them. She explains it best herself in this interview in Publisher’s Weekly. 

The children in Grace’s books may have Asian faces, but are anything but stereotypical. These characters are recognizable first for their typical childhood struggles and joys and second as living among different layers of Chinese and American culture.  To add to this, she illustrates her books in a bright, folk-art inspired style.

Lin’s book, When the Mountain Meets the Moon, won the Newbery Award in 2010. It was written for the 4-8th grades, but adults will also love this story and it will delight children ages 6-8 as a read aloud. The story is set in old China, with Chinese folktales and a bit of magic deftly woven into the narrative. You can hear Grace read from it on her website.

Grace Lin has also written excellent picture books, easy readers, and realistic fiction. Parents of 4-8 year olds might buy some fortune cookies and enjoy Fortune Cookie Fortunes. Or, after reading Lissy’s Friends, parents of school-age children could discuss how it feels to be left out of a group.

With your beginning reader, you can laugh with Ling and Ting, two twins that look the same, but act differently. (These were inspired by another of Lin’s childhood favorites, the classic triplet series, Flicka, Ricka and Dicka.)

2nd to 4th grade children will relate to Pacy in The Year of the Dog, a young girl who is worried that she has no special talents and can’t imagine what career she’ll have when she grows up. Adults will appreciate the warm family scenes and the interwoven Taiwanese-American culture.

Grace Lin, a new classic author.

Pages