Blogs

Michael White: Renaissance ManVolunteer Michael White

by Sarah Binns

When bibliophiles crave a story, a library visit often meets that need. What Gresham book-lovers may not know is that some of the best stories at their local library are not contained in a book, but in the experiences of the computer lab volunteer, Michael White.

Michael's path to library volunteering doesn't hew to traditional tales of late-night novel reading or a passion for the library. Raised in Oregon farm country, Michael showed an early gusto for learning. He demonstrated drawing talent before he could talk and was fascinated by computer programming in high school. However, he suspended his education to join the army at 18, followed by the Oregon National Guard. After 25 years away from the Portland area Michael returned but faced homelessness, an experience not uncommon for veterans. (According to the 2013 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, veterans comprise 11% of the Multnomah County homeless population.) “When I was homeless I used the Gresham Library wi-fi. One day I overheard that the computer lab wasn't available because there was no volunteer. My ears perked up and I said, ‘Well, I can be the volunteer in the computer lab.’” 

Michael initially signed up for weekly two-hour shifts teaching everything from basic computer skills to building resumes. Described by Gresham Library staff as a “computer genius,” Michael developed a following among patrons. “You could say I got a bunch of customers,” he laughs. A recent high point was discovering that a woman he’d helped in her job search for six months had found employment. 

Michael works two jobs while studying for a bachelor's degree in software development through University of Phoenix. He left his volunteer position in October after 210 hours of service. His next adventure leads him back to the library in a different capacity as he plans to read a “marathon” through each of the 120,000 books in the Gresham branch. Michael struck me as a renaissance man - in fact, he is also building his own video game, one he hopes will “bring soul back” to the experience. With his broad interests and skills he is sure to succeed.


A Few Facts About Michael

Home library: Gresham Library

Currently reading: An R.A. Salvatore series; also waiting on the next Game of Thrones installment

Most influential book: George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. "[Martin] doesn’t focus on how awesome his characters are, he concentrates on their weaknesses and humanity, which makes them more believable.”

Favorite book from childhood: The Horseclans series by Robert Adams 

Favorite section of the library: I’d head to the sci-fi or computer development section.

Favorite place to read: It depends upon what I'm reading. If I'm reading a novel for entertainment, I either lay on the couch or bed. If it's a software manual, I'm usually sitting at my desk with the book propped up…

Favorite video game: Baldur’s Gate or Ultima Online

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

It has been years since I last worked as a day worker. I was never a fan of day labor. I hated the idea, in part, because of the work itself. Day work was temporary, backbreaking, low-wage, and dead-end. But what I found most distasteful was the poor treatment I sometimes received.

Before the End, After the Beginning book jacketWeeks after I read Dagoberto Gilb’s short story, “Cheap,” I found myself reflecting about my time as a day worker in California and Texas. Unable to answer questions that kept bringing me back to the time when I labored at the lower end of the service sector job market, I decided that it was time to check out Before the End, After the Beginning again, and re-read “Cheap.” I asked myself, 'What is it that brought me back to Gilb’s fictional world of immigrant day workers?' as I prepared to re-visit the short story, and continued to ask myself that question over and over as a re-read “Cheap.”

In one word: consciousness.

Carlos and Uriel—father and son characters employed by Luke’s Construction, the company the narrator uses to paint inside the house—are aware of who they are as workers hired for the day. They know that they don’t have much say in the hours they toil and in the wages Luke pays them. They don’t even express disaffection when Luke denies them their entitled noontime lunch hour. Instead, Carlos and Uriel stay silent while he tells them what they need to do for the day. They remain quiet, because they know that it is hopeless to protest. But once Luke departs to check another worksite, they consciously take control of the workday to regain their dignity.

I wasn’t happy or sad after I finished re-reading “Cheap,” even though some of the passages reminded me of my time as a day worker. At the same time, I felt sympathy and respect for Carlos and Uriel because of their tenacity. While both characters understood the limitations of day labor, their drive to finish the job in spite of the way Luke treated them said more about them than the job itself.

The Oversight book jacketIn the traditional sort of fantasy novel, the reader is shown a world where magic and blades rule the day.  Science and technology are not a major part of the world.  But as in the fairy tales and mythology from which fantasy borrows with heavy hand, as technology is discovered, magic and magical creatures are usually driven to the verge. (Although according to the urban fantasy subgenre, by the time the modern day rolls around magic has adapted just fine!). I just finished The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher which is an excellent example of this type of fantasy with an early modern time setting.

Once upon a time, The Oversight numbered in the hundreds and guarded the world from magic - the sort of magic that leaves the survivors wailing bewildered over their dead. Now there are only five left to guard against the dark things better unseen.  A girl is brought to them by a disreputable sort who wants to sell her.  Prone to screaming fits, she is thought mad but she also might be the start of rebuilding the Oversight. Or perhaps not.  This is a very fast-paced tale and obviously the start of a trilogy at a minimum. The world shown is gritty and grim. You can all but smell the stink of the gutters in the city and see the wild spaces in the countryside shrink as they are fettered by iron rails and canals that also bind the fey things and drive them to madness.  I couldn't put this book down and set aside everything else I had started to finish it. I'm going to snatch up book two the moment it's available.

P.S.  Rachel really called it on Ancillary Justice being a wonderful novel in her earlier blog entry.  I liked book two even better!

Ursula K. Le Guin [photo by Eileen Gunn]Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin was honored yesterday with The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the National Book Award ceremony in New York.

Many of the news stories about Le Guin’s speech focus on her criticism of publishing companies’ increasing corporatism and the profit-driven model of the industry -- particularly Amazon and its conflict with the publisher Hachette earlier this year.  

 

Le Guin also called out a critical issue for public libraries. In her remarks, she highlighted the challenges libraries face in getting access to e-books, citing her own publisher’s practice of charging libraries six times the amount it charges individuals for many e-book titles.

Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke shares this concern and has been assertive about advocating for greater public access to e-books.  "The ecosystem of reading is changing before our eyes," she said today, in response to Le Guin’s speech.  "The sands are shifting rapidly beneath authors and artists, and not in their favor, as Ms. Le Guin so astutely noted. Public libraries are also challenged to serve patrons as they have come to expect under some of the current models imposed by publishers and content distributors. So long as pricing and access to e-books for public libraries remain unbalanced, readers everywhere are the ones who will suffer."

 

From my own viewpoint as a librarian, I’d say the most stirring aspect of Le Guin’s acceptance speech was the great faith she placed in writers as artists, as creative communicators with a unique ability to imagine solutions and make space for humanity:  

"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.   We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."


Would you like to see more?  Watch Ursula K. Le Guin’s entire acceptance speech, or, take a peek at this year’s National Book Award winners, below.

 

Azalea's family photoLast summer me and my sister visited the homeland and spent less than a week hanging out with our maternal grandparents. We had a steady routine: we'd wake up at 5 o'clock to roosters crowing, eat a healthy Ilocano breakfast, go outside and sit in the backyard, complain about the heat, eat and eat again, and fall asleep at 11 o'clock. There wasn't a lot to do in our grandpa'sbarangay, a kind of ancestral village in the middle of tobacco fields in northwestern Philippines.
 
One day we startAzalea's family photoed going through their dusty cabinets and we found things that no one in our family knew about. Azalea's family photoThere were all these pictures of my aunt's ex-boyfriends, my grandpa looking young and unforgivably handsome,  goofy American pictures of us from the '90s, and more. The best part were pictures of my lady relatives, posing and enjoying their clothes.  If you're a fan of vintage clothing you might enjoy some of these pictures from the ole family albums.
 
Check out this list for more vintage style inspiration!
 
 
 
 

 

Earlier this year a friend told me about comic book subscription boxes forever opening my mind up to a whole new way to add to my ever increasing list of things to read. What's a comic book subscription box, you ask? Most comic book stores offer a subscription service so that die hard fans can stay up to date on their favorite comics, and you get your own little cubby where your titles are kept until you come in to purchase them. I couldn't resist. I had to have my own comic book cubby! 
 
And I can't resist sharing the list of titles that are in my comic cubby with you.
 
Saga book coverScience fiction space opera meets fantasy meets cosmic interplanetary love story. Alana and Marko are two soldiers from opposite sides of the galaxy, fleeing from those who want them dead, and trying to find peace and a place to raise their daughter.
 
 
 
 
Chew book coverA bird flu pandemic has lead to a poultry prohibition and the FDA is now the most powerful law enforcement branch of the government. Tony Chu is a FDA agent. Tony Chu is also a cibopath, meaning he gets a psychic impression from anything he eats, including people. Being an FDA agent with cibopathic powers means Tony literally has to take a bite out of crime. 
 
 
 
 
Rat Queens book coverRat Queens follows the exploits of a diverse group of rowdy and rambunctious mercenaries in the fantasy land of Palisades. There’s Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Smidgen Thief.
 
 
 
 
Revival book coverFor one day in Wausau, Wisconsin, the dead came back to life, but the newly returned dead are not your typical brain eating zombies. The dead that return, “revivers”, come back pretty much as their family and friends remembered them. The return of the dead has put this small rural town in the national spotlight. The CDC has put the town under quarantine and the living must learn to live with the dead.
 
 
 
Of course you can delve into these comics for free at the library. Check out the list below for these and other titles that I can't stop reading.
 

"FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD"
(New York Daily News Headline, 10.30.1975)
Love Goes To Buildings On Fire Cover
By 1973-74, the US was facing serious economic collapse following a property investment boom and crash - not entirely dissimilar or unrelated to the crash of 2008.  New York City, in particular, felt the strains of over-speculation and an inability to make good on massive infrastructural spending debts (for a clear-minded synopsis of this trajectory, check out David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism). In essence, the major banks of NYC refused further loans, pushing one of the largest cities in the world to the brink of near-total shutdown.  When the city turned to the executive office for federal assistance, then-President Ford refused to assist (though it turns out the Daily News headline quoted above is kind of apocryphal), essentially placing the city in a hostage situation with the increasingly powerful banks.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, Will Hermes' excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever explores the simultaneous explosion of musical cross-pollination, experimentation and invention that emerged from what many in the US were then calling "a cultural dead zone."  Hermes scope is impressively broad though he zeroes in on a handful of truly critical players and scenemakers including DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, disco pioneers David Mancuso and Nicky Siano, as well as punk provocateurs the New York Dolls and the Ramones.  Hermes's primary focus is on Manhattan but he also touches on the music coming out of the peripheral boroughs - like salsa, disco and rap/hip-hop.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

 

Check out the next edition of Lucky Day.

Fellow readers, it's that time. Time for me to sign off from the My Librarian team. It's been a wild ride!

I'm so proud to have been a member of the inaugural My Librarian group. When we started we were nervous, excited, and just a little bit terrified! This was something completely new, and we were doing it.

I have loved everything about the experience (well, except for maybe that photo shoot). The teamwork has been phenomenal, and I could not have asked for a better group of colleagues. But the best part, by far, has been the interaction with you, our living, breathing library visitors. Sharing the joy of books and reading with you has been a highlight of my library career. You all have taught me so much, and I hope in turn I have been able to expand your reading horizons.

So, please keep on keeping on with the My Librarians, thanks for the memories, and so long, farewell!

What is it that makes a rollicking good regency romance? I think it takes more than a crowded ballroom and characters who feel pressure to produce an heir or avoid being a spinsterit takes the tension between love and sexual attraction. It occurred to me recently that if you take the songs Some Enchanted Evening and Fever, you have the perfect formula for great regency romance. You get fated love ("you will see a stranger...your true love across a crowded room") and sexual fervor ("you give me fever when you kiss me"). 

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is on Kirkus Review’s list of best fiction of 2014 and features a feisty heroine matching wits with the duke who refuses to leave the castle she has inherited. No crowded ballrooms, but definitely some sexual fervor. 

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict bookjacketIn Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bed. Strangers in old-fashioned clothes enter. Who are these people? They all have body odor. 

Rude Awakenings bookjacket

In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict,  Jane Mansfield awakens in a room that has bars on the window. There is a strange man in the next room, and she has no chaperone. 

To quote Austen (Mansfield Park), I found these companion novels about women who have mysteriously swapped lives and bodies to be “nothing but pleasure from beginning to end.”  I appreciated the dialogue, chuckled over the situations, wondered if they’d find love, and found myself prompted by these books to contemplate women’s roles and opportunities in the 19th and 21st centuries.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

I'll never forget the first time I watched a horror movie. I was in fifth grade. A bunch of us neighborhood kids met up at a friend's house to watch the first Friday the 13th. One of the kids had snagged the video from their parents' VHS collection. I don't remember much of the movie because a boy that I had a long standing crush on was sitting with his friend on the other side of the living room. Much of my attention was focused on trying figure out how to sit next to him without seeming too obvious. But as the body count started to pile up on screen, my mood went from twitterpated to terrified. When (spoiler alert) Alice cut off Mrs. Voorhees head with a machete, I was done. I quickly excused myself, jumped on my bike and pedaled home as fast as I could, crying all the way.  I vowed to never watch another horror movie.

For a decade or so, I kept that vow, convinced that watching horror movies would only lead to months of nightmares. My attitude towards the terror inducing genre was forever changed when I watched the film Shaun of the Dead and realized just how hilarious horror movies can be. The more over the top the better. Copious amounts of fake blood. Awesome! Unrealistic and insane death and dismemberment. Perfect. Bumbling zombies. Of course. Killer clowns. Yes please. My favorite film genre is without question horror-comedies. Check out the list below to see some of my favorites.

 

 

If I used one word to describe the comic book Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe it would be "bawdy."  I might also say that it is my favorite comic of the year. And if you are looking for read alikes for Saga then I suggest to you that Rat Queens might be it.

Rat Queens are a mercenary warrior gang in the fantastical town of Palisade. They are sent off on a troll killing mission and mayhem ensues. Their tale had me rolling with laughter and horror-struck by the gore in the fight scenes. These queens can curse, joke, fight, and party with the best of them. Glad I was invited to this party. And now you are invited too!

There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

Should you give up? Here's some company:

Or should you keep going?

“But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

 -- by Kass

"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Cover of In Danger - Pasolini

Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.

Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself.  Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking.  Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism.  Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed.  In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations.  But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement.  If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).

Image of rioter and fire

“If you’re not ready to go home,
  can I get a ‘Hell, no!’?

‘Cause we’re gonna go all night,
 ‘til we see the sunlight, alright…

 And we can’t stop.
 And we won’t stop.
 Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?”

-Miley Cyrus, "We Can’t Stop"

Of course one can argue that pop/rock music has always contained an inherent resistance to authority and constraints (think "Blackboard Jungle, " Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, Jim Morrison arrested for indecent exposure, outlaw country anti-heroes like Waylon Jennings, James Brown's various altercations with the law, etc.) and there's a rich genealogy of rock/pop/soul/hip-hop artists explicitly incorporating revolutionary critiques into their aesthetic (Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy, Jefferson Airplane, Last Poets). 

However, the last few years have seen a profusion of lyrics and postures that appear to echo and reflect this moment's widespread outrage, confusion and disillusionment with party politics. And while past instances of resistance tended to focus on the rebelling individual, post-2010 riot pop often speaks from the point of view of a tenuous "we."  In response to an ever-widening class divide and a seemingly endless economic recession, these songs seem to suggest "party=riot" (or vice versa!). This has led to some interesting thinking and conversations about the levels of co-optation (are these songs simply symptoms of culture industry opportunism?) and the ways in which many of these songs have served as soundtracks to riots and occupations in real-time.  Below is a list of some post-2010 tunes pushing for good bad times that won't ever stop:

1) Rihanna - We Found Love


2) Miley Cyrus - We Can't Stop

3) Ellie Goulding - Burn

4) Ke$ha - We R Who We R

5) Black Eyed Peas - Party All The Time

6) Britney Spears - Til The World Ends

7) Pitbull - Give Me Everything

8) Jay-Z & Kanye West - No Church in the Wild

9) will.i.am & Britney Spears - Scream and Shout

10) Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Can't Hold Us

 

 

Last summer 13 year old Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball has been clocked at 71 miles per hour, was the first Little Leaguer to get on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Have you seen her pitch? Amazing!

Did you know that just 42 years ago girls were not allowed to play Little League?

I learned this and more in the book Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX, the law that changed the future of girls in America. The book is well written and full of startling facts, great photos and cartoons. Did you know that U.S. Representative from Oregon Edith Green was the author of Title IX? I didn't. 

A few more facts to get you thinking about life for females in the U.S. before Title IX:

  • In the 1970's a school district spent $250,000 a year on boys' sports teams and only $970 on the one sport offered to girls.
  • In the 1970's University of Michigan spent $2.6 million on men's sports and $0 on women's sports.
  • Before Title IX, many law and medical schools limited the numbers of women they would admit.

Oh, the difference Title IX has made in the lives of women and girls in the U.S.

 

From Freely Espousing
by James Schuyler

"a commingling sky

                      a semi-tropic night
                      that cast the blackest shadow
                      of the easily torn, untrembling banana leaf

or Quebec! what a horrible city
so Steubenville is better?
                          the sinking sensation
when someone drowns thinking, “This can’t be happening to me!”
the profit of excavating the battlefield where Hannibal whomped the Romans
the sinuous beauty of words like allergy
the tonic resonance of
pill when used as in
“she is a pill”
on the other hand I am not going to espouse any short stories in which lawn mowers clack.
No, it is absolutely forbidden
for words to echo the act described; or try to. Except very directly
as in
bong. And tickle. Oh it is inescapable kiss."

Schuyler Selected Poems Cover

I first encountered - and eventually fell in love with - James Schuyler's poetry in a college bookstore in the late 1980s.  Periodically browsing the oh-so tiny "Poetry" section for incoming delights, I found Schuyler's Selected Poems but was initially repelled by the goopy watercolor painting that spanned the entire front cover (the packaging too seemingly reminiscent of some kind of sentimental/inspirational poems collection).  I eventually returned to read the author bio and immediately purchased the book as soon as I realized Schuyler was a member of the so-called New York School of Poets (Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery are perhaps the biggest stars of this loose historical/geographical conjuncture). Like O'Hara (a sometime roommate), Schuyler's poetry often comes off as conversational, improvisatory, delicate.  And like O'Hara and Ashbery, Schuyler was as influenced by the contemporaneous art world (he was a curator at MOMA for a brief period in the late 1950s and an art critic during much of the first half of his adult life). 

What impressed - and continues to impress - me so about Schuyler's poetry is the way straightforward evocations of the quotidian explode and reframe experience, but never fully leave the specific material moment.  His work is never simply celebratory or feel-good.  A brief encounter with Schuyler's poetry might too easily suggest trivial evocations of simple moments. The attentive reader though is faced with a tendency for things and language to fall apart.  I believe that it's always important to historically situate a writer's work and we can see the same kinds of destabilization in Schuyler's poems that are omnipresent in TV's Madmen and the world of white-collar professionals in the late 1950s/early 1960s - the as yet unrealized economic and social rot at the heart of urban white middle-class existence.

alebrijesNot long ago I went through my collection of family photos and found a very special one of my mother. It was taken during a visit to Mexico.  I can see her and my cousin in a small stand of colorful “alebrijes” in the small town of Tepoztlan Morelos. Let me tell you more about the craft of alebrijes.

The origins of these peculiar creations began in 1936 with an artisan, Pedro Linares, who worked at “La Merced” market in Mexico City creating these fantastic characters. Pedro was a “cartonero” (cardboarding maker) who worked mainly with paper mache making piñatas and other pieces. The alebrijes were attributed to a time when he was very sick. During the fever hallucinations he found himself in a forest full of rare creatures that shouted loudly “alebrijes”, “alebrijes!” When he got better he dedicated the rest of his life to recreating those images with cardboard using the papel mache technique. His talent was recognized first by the owner of a gallery and then by the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others. His alebrije technique was passed to new generations of artisans, mainly in Oaxaca. In Oaxaca, Pedro's technique has become popular with wood carvers.

The dream of such a singular person has transcended time and now these magical characters are enjoyed by people around the world. If you have the opportunity to visit an art craft market in Mexico, don’t forget to ask where to find the alebrijes. I’ll always remember how Pedro Linares dignified Mexican creativity with his work when I look at the photo of my mother admiring the magical pieces one rainy fall afternoon.

Allan Karlsson is a self-taught explosives expert and a charming resident of a Swedish nursing home.  He has no use for politics nor religion, but will readily accept any reasonable invitation to a fine meal, provided there’s no dull chatter of communism or any other ism.   So how did he come to find himself suspected of murder and on the lam with a pair of known criminals, a hot dog vendor, and a runaway elephant? 

It’s simple really.  He climbed out of his window in pursuit of a good vodka.  It’s his 100th birthday after all and after decades spent blowing up bridges and haphazardly falling in and out of favor with world leaders such as Truman, Franco, Mao, and Stalin, doesn’t he deserve as much?

The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is the perfect faux snow day book. Cuddle up with a quilt, a hot vodka toddy, and share some laughs with this wonderfully irreverent centenarian.

For other amusing titles to keep you entertained when the possibility of wintry weather interrupts your plans, check out this list.

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