Blogs

Here's Matthew, Branch Administrator at the Belmont Library. He's reading Charles Portis' The Dog of the South. He says that the blurb by Roy Blunt Jr. on the cover says it best: "Charles Portis could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he'd rather be funny."

So IAn Inhabitant of Carcosa by Ambrose Bierce haven’t been this knee-deep into a tv show since The Sopranos ended and believe me you don’t want to know the withdrawals I had from that  North Jersey family.  Only four episodes into HBO’s new crime series True Detective, and I have regained faith in episodic storytelling. Inspired, I had to post a tribute to one of my personal literary heroes, Ambrose Bierce, the "Devil's Lexicographer," following dialogue I heard from characters in True Detective.  Suspects in the juicy crime story, interrogated by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, reference his story “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” as well as The King in Yellow, a collection of stories by Robert W. Chambers. This is the perfect segue to highlight these pioneers of early American weird fiction.  

For those not familiar with Bierce’s life, he was a versatile man known for a sharp, sarcastic tongue and deadly with the inkwell. He fought for the Union in the Civil War, an experience that generated his Tales of Soldiers, eerie pieces that begin as war stories and end up nails of psychological terror. This all sounds quite gruesome, and much of it is, but another Bierce trademark, black humor, always finds its way into his work. He wrote with this sardonic style and in fine retrospection, it defined him.

During his time in San Francisco William Randolph Hearst gave him his own column, Prattle, which sustained his journalism career and earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.” He lived in London briefly with Twain and Bret Harte and his mysterious disappearance in Mexico while chasing Pancho Villa was a fitting ‘end’ to his Wild West, accomplished life.  However, it was his stories of horror and the supernatural, many written with different narrative devices unknown in literature at the time, that would establish a diverse legacy of an important American genre initiated by Poe, Hawthorne, Irving, and Charles Brockden Brown.  Yellow Sign, Yellow King, Carcosa, Bierce, Chambers, LovecraftGhosts, werewolves, Confederates, zombies, the unknown, or agoraphobia, Bierce wrote it all.  

“An Inhabitant of Carcosa” and other Bierce stories influenced Robert W. Chambers, a successful romance novelist whose stories in The King in Yellow  tell of a cosmic terror controlling our world through an infamous play that spells doom for anyone who reads it.  This in turn would eventually inspire H.P. Lovecraft, who called “The Yellow Sign” ‘altogether one of the greatest weird tales ever written,’ in his Cthulhu mythos and dreaded Necronomicon. Each generation inspired the next, but Chambers and especially Bierce were integral to the timeline of American horror fiction.  Their stories are still fresh and it’s comforting to see their presence in 2014, even on television. Buy the ticket, take the ride: early American weird fiction

 

Larry recently discovered Anna Kavan's Asylum Pieces and really enjoyed it. Ice was her final book. Published in 1967 it's described as "a surrealistic dream-novel set in an unrecognizable world padded by ice and snow, run by a secret government, invaded by aggressors, and threatened with nuclear destruction."

Larry is a Library Assistant at the Gresham Library.

Our guest blogger is Rod, who says this about himself: "Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by history and technology. Instead of reading juvenile literature, I read my father’s military history and aviation books. Somehow, those interests morphed into science fiction as a teen. I guess I liked the technology that didn’t exist yet . . . Today, I read a lot of history because I teach it part-time and not as much fiction as I would like."

I was a teenager in the 1980s and had a morbid fascination with nuclear war. Honestly, I was certain that my short life would end with a brief, brilliant flash followed by radioactive oblivion. That was my realistic understanding of what would likely happen, but I also enjoyed reading the many novels and watching the many films that came out during the Cold War depicting what life would be like in the aftermath of World War III. While many were flimsy background for some sort of monster tale, there were also those that made a serious effort to imagine what the world would look like if the Cold War turned hot. If you have similarly “fond” memories, maybe you’ll find something on this list worth checking out.

On the On the Beach bookjacketBeach by Neville Shute This is both a great novel and film. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. have destroyed each other in a nuclear holocaust. The Northern Hemisphere is a radioactive wasteland and the fallout is slowly moving south. Those living in Australia are faced with the certainty of death. This includes the crew of the USS Scorpion, an American submarine. As the Scorpion prepares to voyage north to investigate an unexpected radio signal, the men and women who have survived contemplate how to spend their final days.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Sleepy Fort Repose, Florida is untouched by the bombs but suffers nonetheless. Cut off from the rest of the U.S., the town falls back on the resources it can gather from the countryside and scrounge from the mechanized world they can no longer support. It is an ultimately hopeful take on the subject.

A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This one starts many years after a nuclear war brought an end to modern civilization. A group of Catholic monks in the American desert seek to preserve as much of the world’s knowledge as possible. The story follows the same monastic order over the centuries as a new technological civilization reemerges only to be faced, in the end, with the same threat of nuclear annihilation.

Dr. Blood bookjacketDr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along After the Bomb by Philip K. Dick
Most people blame Bruno Bluthgeld, a physicist, for destroying the world, so he goes into hiding and seeks psychiatric help for his overwhelming feelings of guilt. This is complicated, however, as he believes he has magical powers. He is just one of the many survivors who have, or may have, telekinetic abilities. It isn’t always clear what is real and what the characters imagine to be real. Regardless, it does not stop them from engaging in the same selfish behavior they practiced before the world exploded. Like so many Phillip K. Dick novels, this one has a strong surrealist slant with elements of the absurd.

Testament
This is a powerful, understated film about a family trying to cope with the aftermath of a nuclear war. Carol Wetherly lives in a typical suburban city. When the war occurs, her husband is away and she doesn’t know if he is alive or dead. She tries to keep her family together as her neighbors slowly succumb to radiation and despair. This is a grim movie that, similar to On the Beach, makes no effort to sugar coat the likely fate of those who did not perish directly in the war. Despite that, it is still very compelling.

The Wild Shore  by Kim Stanley Robinson
A small fishing village has grown up along the California coast in what was Orange County. The older residents remember the world before the war, but their stories are just that, stories,to the succeeding generations. The residents try to be self-sufficient but must scavenge from the ruins at times. While there are those who would like to recreate a technological society, powerful forces work to prevent a resurgent America.

Beyond Armageddon edited by Walter M. Miller, Jr. and Martin H. Greenberg
This is a collection of 21 short stories that imagine a variety of different post-nuclear war futures. There is a mix of well-known and obscure tales collected here. Perhaps best known is Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and His Dog" which was made into a movie starring a very young Don Johnson in 1975. Like most compilations, the quality isn’t uniform but I found all of them to be worth the time.

Postman bookjacketThe Postman by David Brin
This is a great novel and, well, judge the movie for yourself. Gordon Krantz is something of an idealist in a world ten years after a limited nuclear exchange. While making his way to the Pacific Northwest as a modern minstrel, he stumbles upon an abandoned postal vehicle with the unlucky postman inside. To stay warm he takes the deceased occupant’s jacket and, suddenly, those he meets see him as a symbol of hope, a fact he cultivates for his own benefit. This becomes problematic when he finds another group in Corvallis, Oregon with their own secrets. Ultimately, they must all work together to resist an invasion from the south led by a seemingly unstoppable army.

The Last Ship by William Brinkley
USS Nathan James, an American guided missile destroyer on patrol when World War III erupts, finds itself alone at sea after the spasm of nuclear annihilation has eliminated any safe port. After encountering a Soviet nuclear submarine, the two agree to cooperate in their efforts to survive. Maintaining morale and the chain of command become serious problems as the American crew seeks a refuge in the vast Pacific Ocean. Will they succeed? Will the crew destroy themselves? Will the Soviets prove to be reliable allies?

Ugh, Valentine's Day is the worst!

The only reason I look forward to this time of year is the flourishing of Valentine's chocolate and candy.  Because in Portlandia, eating seasonally applies to candy, too, right? Jelly beans and Peeps at Easter. Candy corn at Halloween. Best of all is the chalky goodness of Sweethearts, made by NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) since 1901. Maybe it's nostalgia for my New English youth.

But it also provides an annual zeitgeist check. Timeless messages like  "SOUL MATE" or "QT PIE" mix with fads like "FAX ME" or "TWEET". (Heads up - if you find "FAX ME", there's a good chance that bag is well past optimum freshness.)
"143". What the heck does that mean?
Wait, what's this? "LET'S READ"! Awesome!
According to NECCO's website, "in 2014, the longtime favorite “Let’s Read” also reappeared in the mix."

Yeah, "Let's read"!

Let's read Walt Whitman's yawps and H.P. Lovecraft and Batman comics and Mary Oliver's poetry.
Let's read Rumi's chickpea, Chuang Tzu's fish, Icelandic sagas.
Garcia Marquez, Garcia Lorca, cat detectives, dog detectives.
Zombie novels, Amish romance, Zombie-Amish Westerns.
Let's read zines like Librarian Cathy's own Sugar Needle.
Eduardo Galeano, Paco Ignacio Taibo, Italo Calvino, just to say their names!
Let's read blogs! Let's read on phones and laptops. Paperbacks on the bus, or audiobooks in the car!
Let's read magazines and newspapers while they still exist.
Dr. Seuss at bedtime, or breakfast, or whenever, really.
Let's read with friends, with family, alone, or alone in a crowd.

Let's read Dar Williams' lyrics to "What do you love more than love."
(Pizza! No, wait - beer! No, wait - pizza AND beer!)

Or Dead Milkmen's love letter to "Punk rock girl."

Oh, man, Valentine's Day is the best!

Our guest blogger is Eric, who talks about himself in third person: "Eric has been enjoying libraries since the '60s, man. In his 4th decade at MCL, he drives the library's tiniest truck, which some people still call The Bookmobile, for Adult Outreach. His favorite movie, if it existed outside his mind, would be "Batman vs Godzilla", with Chow Yun-Fat as Batman and Nicolas Cage as Godzilla. Co-directed by John Woo and Guillermo del Toro. Scored by David Byrne and performed by The Ukrainians featuring Yo-Yo Ma. The graphic novelization is written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Mike Allred.

Danielle is excited to read Legends, Icons & Rebels, a children's nonfiction book about the legends of music who change how we hear and feel about the world. 27 mini-biographies, playlists, and accompanying CDs will introduce a new generation to the Greats of music.

Danielle is a Youth Librarian at the Hollywood Library.

Father of the Blues, An Autobiography, by W. C. Handy. Collier Books, Macmillan, c. 1941.

"In the meantime, I had occasion to recall my first experience with a talking machine. That had been back in Helena, Montana, in 1897. I had made a record with my minstrel band on an old cylinder machine, funny contraption, that old affair. To hear the recording you had to place two rubber tubes in your ears. Each record began with a spoken announcement much like the radio announcer's lines today. Before we played, the announcer spoke into a horn and said, "You will now hear Cotton Blossoms as played by Mahara's Minstrel Band on Edison records." After playing our number, each one of us was permitted to put the rubber tubes in his ears and thus listen to ourselves. Other music lovers who wished to hear the record had to pay five cents for the privilege." - from Father of the Blues, An Autobiography, by W. C. Handy. Collier Books, Macmillan, c. 1941. p. 179

William Christopher Handy was one of the earliest members of ASCAP, and self-published his compositions throughout his life, including a span of years up to 1921 in partnership with Harry Pace, a songwriter and music publisher. After he died in 1958, his family took over the Handy Bros. Music Company, maintained at present by his grandchildren: Handy Brothers Music Company. The version shown here of "The St. Louis Blues" was published in 1914, and sold at Meier and Frank in downtown Portland, that offered an entire department just of sheet music for local musicians.

Parlor Games book jacketWelcome to our new blogger Carol, who says this about herself: I read widely and profusely, propelled by a natural curiosity about everything under the sun and the belief that for me there is no better place to be than living inside a good book.  I have deep love for all things fiction and could not imagine my life without any of the works of Nevil Shute, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited or Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, just to name a few.

It’s 1917 and May Dugas is on trial for extortion. Did she take the money? Well, May Dugas has been taking money all her life! From her early years working in a Chicago bordello to her financially rewarding marriage to a Dutch baron, May has earned her living being the arm candy of some very rich men. May is the ultimate social climber, blackmailer and seductress, skills she developed and utilized in the name of supporting her family. But despite all her scheming, May doesn't plan on the dogged determination of Reed Doherty, a Pinkerton detective who has tracked her across the globe, from Chicago to San Francisco, to Tokyo and London and parts in-between and finally to a Wisconsin courtroom where May must finally answer for her supposed crimes.

Based on an extraordinary true story, Portland writer Maryka Biaggio’s Parlor Games is a non-stop global chase, a thrill ride whose last stop isn’t revealed until the very last second. Cold-hearted grifter or resourceful family provider. When the gavel comes down in that courtroom, will May Dugas finally meet her match?

Sooner or Later coverSomewhere in the past few years Portland morphed from a Tonya (Harding) into a Nancy (Kerrigan) kind of town - from a scrappy backwater to a burgeoning condopolis full of fancy ice cream shops, artisan beard oil, and chic boutiques peddling faux lumberjack outfits. I kid, I kid... but believe it or not, touring bands often used to skip Portland, due to it being a grey, unfashionable spot with small audiences. There wasn’t much for young people to do here, and not much employment either, so they had to form their own bands, and make their own fun.

Which brings us to Sooner or Later, the new double album that collects the recordings of the Neo Boys. One of Portland’s most notable punk bands, they often played with the Wipers, and opened for X, Nico, and Television, among others. Their sound is a very early form of punk, not frenetic or thrashy at all - in fact, it’s very catchy and melodic, with guitar parts that go beyond the usual couple of power chords. The tracks are in chronological order, so be sure to listen past the first few to get a feeling for them at their most skilled - try “Give Me the Message” if you want to get hooked fast. And, oh yeah… despite the name, they weren’t boys at all - over ten years before the whole Riot Grrrl movement, these four young women, some in their late teens, were shaking up local music. They’re worth a listen if you’re interested in early punk, the history of Portland music, or women who rock.

To learn more about the Neo Boys, the Wipers, Poison Idea, and other Portland punk and underground bands, try some of the items on this list.

Judy is reading Fresh Off the Boat, a memoir by Eddie Huang, the founder of the popular East Village food shop Baohaus.

Judy is a Library Assistant at the Hollywood Library.

Recently I was digging around for something to satisfy me in the same way that Connie Willis' Oxford Time Travel series does and I dragged up the Small Change Series by Jo Walton. I am deep into book two, and I love it.

Book One, Farthing, is a Christie/Sayers-style country house mystery, the stakes increased enormously by the fact that this 1949 England has made peace with Hitler and the murder in question may push the country decidedly into fascism. The book is deceptively modest -- "oh, I'm just a mystery with a funny bit of alternate history, don't mind me" it whispers -- but manages to pull off a riveting whodunit, a chilling 'it really could have happened', and a lovely portrait of how brave everyday people can be.

Book Two, Ha'Penny, replaces the 'whodunit' with an effort to assassinate Hitler. But this isn't just a fantasy of derring-do in the face of evil. People who dream of a free England ally with Stalinists in order to accomplish their ends, good people are killed by other good people in the effort to do What Must Be Done. In other words, Walton acknowledges that the world is complicated while keeping the pages flying by.

The third and final book is Half a Crown, & I almost can't bear how much I want everything to be OK by the end of this reality-that-wasn't.

Welcome to our new blogger Azalea, who says this about herself: I have been a Multnomah County Library fanatic since moving to Portland in 2006 from San Diego, California. I love cookbooks, the author Elena Ferrante, books with kitty pictures, and that moment when I pick up a brand new or overwhelmingly popular item from the holds shelf.
 
Adobo Road Cookbook bookjacket
Like lots of Asian-American kids growing up, sometimes I got tired of eating rice at home and loved novelties like hamburgers and pizza. It was only when I moved away for college that I found myself missing comfort foods like arroz caldo, pancit palabok, and chicken barbecue. I missed those garlicky, savory, sour, and sweet flavors that exist somewhere near, but are not quite Chinese or Thai food. 
 
Years of making disappointing or unremarkable Filipino food ended the day I picked up The Adobo Road Cookbook by Marvin Gapultos. I found recipes that looked like they were just for me: Filipino spaghetti, homemade longanisa (breakfast sausage), a cocktail with calamansi juice, and more. So far, I'm most proud of becoming an expert at making some amazing lumpiang shanghai, which are egg rolls.
 
Browsing the new cookbooks page and discovering Adobo Road brought me closer to my culture and improved my culinary abilities. If you enjoy the complex flavors in Thai cuisine, want to explore a new food, or earn some bragging rights through cooking, check out Adobo Road.

 

Billy Wilder, director of such diverse and wonderful films that to begin to list them is to agonize over your exclusions, had a sign in his office that said “What would Lubitsch do?”

Ernst Lubistch made movies that sparkled, with wit and sophistication that has not been matched since. Trouble in Paradise

Lubitsch’s 1932 film Trouble in Paradise was released before the Production Code acquired the power to prevent ‘immoral’ movies from being shown. Crime pays. People who are not married have a great deal of fun together. The screening of such delights was considered dangerous. Trouble in Paradise was unavailable for years, and never released on VHS.

Sometimes it seems to me that the Production Code changed our view of the past, that this board of censors determined not only the morality of what was on American screens, but also the way that we would see their times. The past becomes a foreign country where good was good, bad was bad, and human beings were somehow not so human.

I’ve made a list of Effervescent Pre-Code Movies in our catalog. For me these movies break down the barrier between us and the past, showing that our great-grandparents had desires and foibles that were just like our own. And that they were very funny and had great gams.

I want a book that will suck me in, make my brain spin, and not let me go until the very last page. Thank goodness there's been a surplus of books lately where the authors have written books that do exactly that.

book jacket of We Are All Completely beside OurselvesOne book is Karen Fowler’s We Are All Completely beside Ourselves. I’m rather mad that many reviews (and even Multnomah County Library’s catalog) describes with too much detail what this book is about. The best thing to do is just check it out and dive right in. It’s beautifully written, haunting, heartbreaking. At its core, this is the story of a family and the loss they experience. And after you read it, please don’t reveal the secret at its center so other readers can feel the surprise!

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver is another twisty book that I couldn’t put down. Lionel Shriver has written quite a few novels that take on big issues. In her latest book, book jacket of Big Brothershe takes on obesity. As an American woman, I’ve struggled with body image and weight issues since I was a young adult so I found this book really interesting. The main characters are a sister and her obese brother. She decides to devote a year of her life to help slim him down. And boy does he. Or does he? Shriver’s book is a commentary on the epidemic of obesity and the ties of family. How can we help our family and at what cost? After I read the last section of this book, I had to meditate a while on everything that I had read in the previous parts. It made my head hurt just a little. But in a good way.

book jacket of The Shining GirlsAnd speaking of heads hurting, a must read for anyone who wants a twisty, turvy book who isn’t put off by quite a bit of gruesomeness, The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is your book. Harper Curtis is a serial killer, a repulsive, horrible, yucky killer. He’s exactly what murderers should be like. He’s not the gentlemanly, charming, oh-so-relate-able serial killer that has become the norm in pop culture today. He finds a key to a house that allows him to travel back and forth across time to find his victims and then escape into another time. And then one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and begins to hunt him back with the help of ex-homicide reporter, Dan Velasquez. This story will make a fantastic tv series (Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company have bought the television rights). And after you read it, please let me know what you think happens at the end. It made my brain spin.

 

Welcome to our new blogger, Patrick, who says this about himself: "I work at the Holgate Library where I answer questions all day. When I'm not doing that (and if you don't believe me, check with my coworkers who have given up hope of engaging me in lunchroom conversations) I'm probably reading or playing games. I read lots of comics and graphic novels, but also enjoy dystopian fiction, rousing adventure tales, classic sci-fi and fantasy, Dickens, good writing about science, and the occasional bit of warm and fuzzy pop philosophy."

I like 'thoughtful'. Thoughtful and reflective and true, all things that bring about a calm philosophical life. (I'm also a fan of whimsical, dystopian and heroic but those will be other entries.)

It turns out that I have been finding many of those thoughtful moments via MCL's zine collection, particularly the works of John Porcellino. I discovered them randomly in the form of an issue of King-Cat Comics & Stories that passed in front of my face, and there was something about the simplicity of the line art that made me want to open it. What I found was a little handmade collection of comics and... well, 'essays' sounds boring, but 'stories' doesn't sound true enough. 'Reflections' seems to fit. John talks about his beloved cat Maisie, his sweetie Misun, sunrises, moving, music, and all sorts of things that occur to him. He's someone who struggles to find meaning in life, and he frequently questions things he has previously held true. What I like best are the little vignettes like 'Football Weather' from King-Cat #66 where all the neighborhood kids decide to help him with his lawn and then a football game ensues. It's not about leaves or football, though... it's about things like community, and appreciating life, and What Is Important to You.

If you enjoy King-Cat, there are hardbound collections, or you might also like his other work, including  the short and sweet Three Poems about Fog, or a hardcover graphic novel called Thoreau at Walden. As is usual for me, a thing aimed at younger readers can actually be pretty universal.

And if you want another good autobiographical zine with less philosophy but equal self-discovery and more sass in it, try Jesse Reklaw's Ten Thousand Things to Do. where he describes his lifestyle of "inking, drinking, and anxious thinking".

Is there anything as sweet as discovering a new author?

I found one this month, Maureen McHugh, and I have Jo Walton to thank for it.
 
In her blog post revisiting the 1993 Hugo Awards she mentioned one of the nominees, China Mountain Zhang, with an adamant "It's wonderful" that intrigued me.
 
I grabbed it. I loved it.
 
The time is the near future -- after a Second Great Depression, China dominates the world. The US has gone through it's own Cultural Revolution -- a 'Cleansing Wind' -- and has settled down into Socialism. But economics and ideology are not the focus, they are only the background of the characters' lives.
 
The main character is Zhang Zhong Shan. He pretends to be things that he is not: 100% Chinese (he is half Hispanic), straight (he is gay). At the beginning he is not honest with himself, he does not know what he wants, and he is hard to like. But with the finest shown-not-told writing, McHugh brings him from being to a boy to being a mensch. I grew to love him, to be excited for him as he learned new things and began to be capable of making the world better. And as I learned to love him I gained understanding of why he had been the person he was: ashamed, torn, young.

In short, "It's wonderful."

I'll admit I do not have the world's classiest taste in movies.  I adore the summer blockbuster season (even if I frugally wait for the really really bad ones to hit DVD and wait for my hold to come in).  If like me you think winter means slow talky movies with a depressing minimum of explosions, I have a couple of books to suggest that you might like.

Steelheart coverSteelheart by Brandon Sanderson is set in a world where people suddenly turned up with superhero like powers.  Only nobody who has developed the powers is heroic; instead everyone who developed the powers seize what power and slaves that they can without regard for the lives of others.  Most have given up hope and have submitted to the rule of their new masters.  David was a child of six in Chicago when the Epics came to be.  At eight, he watched his father murdered by Steelheart whom everyone thinks is invulnerable to any physical harm. At eighteen, David wants revenge and he has spent the last decade gathering every scrap of information that he can find on the Epics and any weakness they might have. David saw Steelheart bleed once when his father died and he'll see Steelheart bleed again if it's the last thing he does.  

The one type of action movie I have no real interest in is a zombie movie, although Warm Bodies was cute.  I have no interest in seeing World War Z even on DVD.Darwin Elevator cover With that dislike in mind when I read the summary for The Darwin Elevator by Jason M Hough, I was almost ready to ignore this debut novel.  "The world has succumbed to an alien plague, with most of the population transformed into mindless, savage creatures"...  Okay.  I'm not the target audience for this title.  But the Library Journal review compared it to Joss Whedon's Firefly... Hmm, perhaps I'm being overhasty I thought!  So, with cheery disregard for my husband's free time I hand him this novel and tell him that this book should be his next choice! (The poor trusting soul...)  In short order he had it finished and comes back to me saying "This was fun!  You'll love it!  When can I have book two?" So I read it and found it everything I love about a good action movie.  The plot runs along so quickly you'll have finished before you know it. Fortunately books two and three are already out and waiting for you because the publisher realized it had a hit on its hands and put this debut trilogy out in a three month window to build the author's readership.  Every time a publisher has done this I've loved the series, so I should have realized that this series would be worth reading too!

P.S. I do occasionally watch classy movies! I especially enjoy historical movies and movies based on classics of literature, and I've got The Great Gatsby and Lincoln checked out as I write this. 

How much did I know about James Garfield before reading Candice Millard's most recent book, Destiny of the Republic ? Almost nothing. He was just a trivia answer to me, one of our four assassinated presidents. But here's the thing: Garfield didn't die from the assassin's bullet. He died from massive infection eighty days after the shooting, almost certainly caused by hisBook cover, Destiny of the Republic doctors.

Luckily for Garfield, the wound caused by his shooter was not mortal, though that would have been merciful. Unfortunately, the U.S. medical profession, for the most part, did not believe that there were such things as microorganisms. In 1881 doctors in America believed in the "old stink" of surgery, and were proud of it.

The infection that raged through Garfield's body was introduced within moments of the shooting by the unwashed hands and instruments of the doctors who battled to attend to him, determined that they would be the one to find the bullet. Their poking and prodding would continue daily, and it makes for cringe-worthy reading. Garfield lingered for months, getting weaker, always in excruciating pain, suffering in the heat of a humid D.C. summer, in a White House in disrepair where rats were a constant problem.  When he finally succumbed and the autopsy was done, the doctors knew immediately what the cause of death was. The bullet was not where they had insisted it had to be, but on the other side of the body, "safely encysted." However, infection was everywhere. The doctor's words were "Gentlemen...we made a mistake." Profound septic poisoning was the cause of death.

The story of Garfield's life and death by Candice Millard is a stunning read, and gets an "un-put-downable" rating from me. Two remarkable ironies: had Garfield been an average Joe in America in 1881, he would've likely survived the shooting without a doctor's care, and simply walked around with a bullet in his body, like tens of thousands of his fellow Civil War veterans. Second, had the shooting happened just a few years later, it would have been easily survivable, even with a doctor's care.

[Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime, and was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 2011]

I have been waiting a decade to find many comics about contemporary women. Comics have changed - they just aren't about muscle bound men and scantily clad muscle bound women. Now there are cBook Jacket of Calling Dr. Lauraomics about science, memoirs, history, and health. There's a little bit for everyone.  Recently, we were asked for comics about contemporary women.  With that in mind I have developed a reading list.  I wanted to find women's voices in our comics culture.  Finally and Ahhhhhh!

 

 

 

 

Greek and Roman history are subjects that continue to captivate our interests. A large part of this has to do with how much they influence our daily lives in literature, architecture, recreation, government, philosophy, and much, much more.

Even though there are remnants in today’s life, in comparison, life is very different than it used to be. Hour-long baths, arranged marriages, and having your father manage all your business until you are 25-years-old, are just some of the things that were customary then.  Would you be ready for public speaking or to lead an army when you turn 17 like this young adult living in Rome in 73 A.D.?

Life was exciting living in the Roman Empire with gladiators, chariot races, and exotic bath houses. It was a time that gave us great leaders such as Augustus, Nero, Julius Caesar, and Claudius. If you were a Roman leader, who would you most resemble?

There are some similarities to what life was like in Greece and Rome, but still, things were varied. Life could be very different even in places as close as Athens and Sparta. Depending on where you were born, and whether you were a boy or a girl, you could have a very different experience from those youth close by. Play this game from The British Museum that allows you compare the lives of both men and women from these two Greek cities, and learn more about daily life in ancient Greece. Be sure to take the Greek “house challenge” to see where you would find men and women hanging out, and doing what, under the same roof.

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