Blogs: Guest picks

On January 22, 2018, Ursula K. Le Guin left us. To mitigate our sorrow, she left behind poetry, novels, essays and stories, as well as a legacy of speaking out about things that matter: books, reading, and of course, libraries. In this guest post from 2015, she rankled against choosing favorites, and then gave some thoughtful and surprising recommendations. She will be missed.

I have lived in Portland for 56 years now, raising kids, writing books, and reading books. I never would have got through those 56 years without the Multnomah County Library.

“Favorites” -- A favorite book? Impossible! Seven favorite books? Impossible! I have too many favorite books. A lot of them are a lot of other people’s favorites too, so they don’t need to be mentioned. But I’ve just been rereading one that has pretty much slipped outof sight, and I want to remind people of it, because it’s a terrific novel: Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. It came out in 1964, won the Western Heritage Award, and got a nice movie based on it. But it’s way, way better than the movie. Little Big Man is a highly improbable story told so well that you believe it.

For one thing, you want to believe it. And also you can trust it, because the true parts of it are true. The history (and ethnology) is real. There’s no whitewashing the racism and greed that have always threatened the American dream of freedom. You get the story of what really happened at the battle of the Little Big Horn, not all that Custer hype. You get an entirely new view of Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and several other celebrities, too.

Like Mark Twain, Berger has a pitch-perfect ear for how Americans talk – and think. And like Mark Twain he can ruthlessly indict human stupidity and bigotry while never losing his temper, and being really, really funny. Old Lodge Skins is my hero. I love this book. I wish every high-school kid in America could read it. And then (like me) read it again twenty or forty or sixty years later...

As for nonfiction, I have to mention Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which brings together scientific and medical research (and hypocrisy), the biography of an almost invisibly elusive black woman, the exposure of an act of exploitation, racism and social injustice, and the writer’s own deeply respectful involvement with the people from whom she won this absorbing, troubling, wonderfully told story.

How about a favorite piece of music? Can I have two, please? OK! One is the short opera Galileo Galilei by Philip Glass, performed here in Portland two years ago (a recording of that performance is available now from Orange Mountain). The stage set was all magical circles and spirals and pendulums, lights moving through shadows, illuminating the story that spirals back in time from the dark end of Galileo’s life to a radiant, joyful beginning. Set, words, and music, it was and is completely beautiful.

And for a change of pace. . . how about Hoyt Axton singing “Five Hundred Miles.”  (Find it on the CD Greenback Dollar: Live at the Troubadour). There are several versions of it on YouTube. I like the one where the visual is just a b/w video of a train that comes and goes by and is gone.

Five Hundred Miles ~ Hoyt Axton

For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.

If you've admired the satisfyingly compact and elegantly designed Field Notes, then you're an Aaron Draplin fan. The author, graphic designer and founder of the Draplin Design Co. has created
Aaron Draplin; photo: Michael Poehlman
 projects for the likes of Timberline Lodge, Woolrich, Patagonia, Nike, and Sasquatch Festival. You can see the range of his work in the eye-candy book, Draplin Design Co.: Pretty much everything.  He is passionate about design and has talked about it on Marc Maron's WTF Podcast. Here's what he has to say about his favorite music for summer:
 
I hide in the summers. I stay out of the sun and avoid the heat as much as I can. Oddly enough, my workload always swells. Each year I say I’m going to take a break in June and July here in Portland. That never happens. And this summer’s been nuts. Like it always is. Up early and down to the shop, watching the sun come up over Mt. Hood. Working late to beat the traffic back up Sandy Blvd to the house. My summer cycle. And there’s always a handful of records that rise to the top of what’s on rotation in the shop. A special category for me: My “Summer Records.” I can look back at each summer and remember the couple records that really got me. And in a lot of ways, helped me get through the warm months. 
 
In my list, I start with “morning records” and work towards "mid-day records” — as things pick up in the shop, the jams get more upbeat. As the day winds down, you get into the darker stuff. Those are the “late night records.”
 
August is still coming up, and I’ll be back home with Mom in Michigan. I’m always adding a couple records a week to my revolving list and am always excited to see what’s coming next to get into the mix. Maybe it’s a gnarly Bob Seger kick, being up in all that Michigan? We’d be down with that!
 
01. Jonathan Wilson, Gentle Spirit
When you look him up, everything talks about some “Laurel Canyon” resurgence. Los Angeles freaks me out, so I’m not tapping too much into any of that. This sounds like something I would’ve heard on the radio in 1979, sitting in the backseat with my little sister, on the way to the beach or something.
 
02. Mark Kozelek, Night Talks EP
As a long-time Red House Painters fan going back to 1993, I have a weird allegiance for Mark Kozelek. Although, he’s a trying artist to keep up with. I just don’t read articles about him, and stick to digging the records.
 
03. Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Way Out West
Just country enough to not make you squirm. Dreamy stuff.
 
04. John Moreland, Big Bad Luv
We love John Moreland. Our buddy. He’s come to the shop a for a couple visits and I’ve seen him play 5-6 times. Such a nice guy, with a big, big voice. I love his records so much. Thank you, John. 
 
More songs about drug deals gone bad, leaving cities and coming back to cities. And I love it. I’d like to meet this guy. 
 
06. Thundercat, Drunk
This stuff is weird! In the best ways. And funny. And really fun. Lots of little things to listen for. And laugh with. This is my favorite record cover of the year!
 
07. Son Volt, Notes of Blue
The first song on this one … that classic Son Volt. That one was enough for me. Over and over again. Rolling, warm and soothing.
 
08. Chavez, Cockfighters
Arithmetic! Math! Long division! Calculus! ‘90s math-y, rock-y heavy hitters, still hit as hard as they did in 1995. Turn it up!
 
09. The Afghan Whigs, In Spades
Dark, brooding, sinister and dark again. I used to associate them with Cincinnati. Now it’s New Orleans. I met the band a couple years back at Greg Dulli’s bar in the French Quarter. This record fits the mystery of that place perfectly, in a new way.
 
10. Mount Eerie, A Crow Looked at Me
Tread lightly here. This is a challenging record to listen to. As beautiful as it is, it’s like going to a funeral. Brave, dark, sad … oddly uplifting stuff.

 

Omar El Akkad is an award-winning journalist who has reported on stories as varied as the NATO-led war in Egypt and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. His debut novel, American War, has been described by book reviewer Michiko Kakutani as "an unlikely mash-up of unsparing war reporting and plot elements familiar to readers of the recent young-adult dystopian series The Hunger Games and Divergent.”
 
My taste in art leans heavily in the direction of misery. I’m a sucker for bleak books, dispiriting movies and, above all else, sad songs. In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite downbeat albums. Some of these records cater in loneliness, others 
in self-loathing, others in general existential gloom. But all are fairly likely to ruin your day.
 
Suede – Dog Man Star
Certain albums should never find their way into the hands of a lovesick teenage boy, and this hour-long piece of gothic outsider Britpop is one of them. A meandering mass of dirges and not-quite- ballads that’s unlike anything this band, or any other, has ever done. I discovered this album at the age of 13 and I’m not sure I listened to anything else for the next year.
 
Jeff Buckley – Grace
The entirety of Buckley’s only studio album – he died far too young, drowned while swimming in an offshoot of the Mississippi river – is excellent. But the absolute high point comes about two-thirds of the way through, when the listener reaches Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s "Hallelujah," followed by "Lover, You Should Come Over" – a combined 13 minutes of utter perfection.
 
Perfume Genius – Put Your Back N2 It
Almost every song on this album sounds like a funereal hymn in which the subject of the funeral has been allowed to posthumously participate. Mike Hadreas sings in an amalgam of sighs and whispers, at once immediate and very far away. The whole album is sad and beautiful but it’s the second track, "Normal Song," that gets me every time.
 
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
There’s a song on this album called Jim Wise. It’s about a man who killed his terminally ill wife and then tried to kill himself, but the gun jammed on the second shot. Jim Wise isn’t even the most depressing song on this record. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
 
The Be Good Tanyas – Chinatown
Whether you like sad songs or not, Chinatown is a terrific record, one of the best pieces of folk Americana of the last 15 years (ironically, the work of a Canadian trio). But if you do like sad songs, there are a couple of world-class numbers here – "The Junkie Song" and the ethereal rendition of "I Wish My Baby Was Born" are both gorgeous.
 
The Antlers – Hospice
Even if the thought of a concept album about a terminally ill cancer patient and her hospice worker strikes you as a terrible idea, you should give the Antlers’ best album a listen. It’s a truly great record, anchored by the standout track, "Kettering." Will the lyrics make you miserable? Of course they will.
 
Holly Williams – The Highway
Like a lot of my favorite country albums, this one is populated with all manner of mean drunks, dying towns and folks so down on their luck they couldn’t possibly get any downer. But The Highway’s crown jewel is its closing track, "Waiting on June." It tells the story of Williams’ grandparents, who were together for 56 years and died shortly before this album came out. It’s a life story told in a single song, and a hell of a song at that.
 
The opening lyrics of the opening song on this album go like this: “When they found your body / Giant Xs on your eyes.” What follows is an hour of sad, melodic music that, given the depths of misery the band plummets to on songs such as "Embrace," is still incredibly controlled, incredibly… pretty. This is road trip music, assuming you’re driving exclusively at night through the backroads of North Dakota in the dead of winter.
 
Ruby Amanfu – Standing Still
Ruby Amanfu’s stripped-down version of Cathedrals, originally recorded by the band Jump Little Children, is one of the most stunning covers I’ve heard in years. It anchors an album full of reimagined takes on other artists’ songs, from Bob Dylan to Kanye West. The only constant is Amanfu’s perfect, crystalline voice. This isn’t a particularly sad or depressing album, just perfectly, wonderfully bittersweet.
 
London Grammar – If You Wait
There are only two reasons this album is on the list. 1) I love Hannah Reid’s voice; 2) when I was writing the final scenes of American War, the song that never left my head was from this album, a track called Interlude. I think of my protagonist’s final moments and this song begins to play, every single time.

David Naimon is a writer and host of the radio broadcast and podcast, Between the Covers, honored by The Guardian as one of the best book podcasts today. He has interviewed such authors as Anthony Doerr, Colson

 Whitehead, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Saunders, Claudia Rankine, and Maggie Nelson. His own writing can be found in AGNI, Tin House and Boulevard among others and has been cited in The Best American Essays, The Best American Travel Writing, The Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

There’s a lot of talk these days about building walls, but little discussion about one already built, a long-standing high-security literary wall. As the host of a book podcast, I’m often thinking about how to curate a roster of writers who reflect the multiplicity that is the literary world, guests writing from a wide array of backgrounds as well as writers writing in different or harder to classify literary forms. As a nation that historically has regarded itself as a welcoming place to immigrants, we love narratives — from Saul Bellow to Viet Thanh Nguyen, from Maxine Hong Kingston to Junot Diaz — written by or about immigrants becoming American. But, oddly, at the same time, we seem incurious when it comes to literature not originally written in English.

There is an oft-cited statistic that translated works make up a paltry 3-5 percent of the books published in the U.S. in any given year. But Eliot Weinberger, translator of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and Bei Dao among others, says this statistic is entirely false. Only 300 to 400 literary translations are published each year — an incredible .3 to .5 percent of the annual books published, Weinberger argues. Fortunately, one of the unexpected silver linings of the collapse of the big six publishing houses is not only the rise of small presses, presses that take more risks (and which have been coming away with some of the biggest literary awards as a result), but also the rise of small presses devoted to translation. We seem to be in the beginnings of a translation renaissance. The origin of the phrase “to translate” comes from the Latin translatus, which means “to carry across.” My list of recommended titles is written in the spirit of this new interest in carrying works of literature across the literary wall, this new desire to be inspired and renewed by the writing of other cultures. And if you find yourself taken by one or more of these books, you can follow up your reading of it with a listen to my conversation with the author.
 
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
 
Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli has an unusual relationship with her translator. Before Christina McSweeney translates one of Luiselli’s books, McSweeney asks to know the songs Luiselli was listening to, the images she was looking at, and how the room looked where she wrote the book. Luiselli herself explicitly plays with the role of translation in her work and with the role of the translator in a book’s creation, even going so far as to include a chapter in one of her novels written by her translator. It is hard to pick which of Valeria Luiselli’s three utterly enchanting books to recommend here but the one closest to my heart is Faces in the Crowd. It follows a a Mexican translator in New York charged with finding “the next Bolaño.” She discovers the work of an obscure poet, falls in love with it, finds herself possibly haunted by his ghost, their identities becoming more and more porous as the novel (and her translation of him) progresses.
 
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
 
Ways to Disappear is the first novel by poet and translator Idra Novey. Perhaps best known for her translation of Clarice Lispector’s classic The Passion According to G.H., Novey plays with the ways translators really aren’t “best known” for anything, the ways in which they are delegated to the shadows and their work never considered a truly creative act in its own right. Novey flips the narrative in this novel, making the translator, Emma, super visible as the hero-protagonist at the center of an international thriller/mystery. When Emma’s author, Beatriz Yagoda, the one she has been translating for years, goes missing, Emma abandons her boyfriend and her life in Pittsburgh to go to Brazil to find her. ‘Who could know an author better, her mind and intentions more thoroughly, than the author’s own translator?’ Emma thinks. But Beatriz’s Brazilian family, the ones that see her daily unwritten moments, beg to differ. Ways to Disappear is a page-turning philosophical book, one that functions both as a witty suspense novel and a meditation on the mysteries of language.
 
 
Paris Review editor Lorin Stein calls Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei “the best primer on translation I’ve ever read, also the funniest and most impatient,” and that is the marvel of this little book. If you are already interested in poetry and come to this book with a curiosity about the mysteries of translation, you will surely love Weinberger’s classic. But if you are intimidated by poetry and don’t think you have any particular interest in translation, this book may yet provide an unexpected entryway into both. The project is deceptively simple, with Weinberger examining 19 different translations of a classic four-line poem by the eighth-century poet Wang Wei, but the result is a newfound wonder about language and cross-cultural communication. You will finish this book marveling at the creative feat of any act of translation, running to your favorite dog-eared copy of Anna Karenina or Remembrances of Things Past to see which translator gifted you access to these works written now once again in your own tongue.
 
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane
 
It’s rare that a writer tours for their book in its translated form, and even rarer that such a writer comes through Portland. So I felt fortunate to get the chance to interview Chilean writer Lina Meruane, an author already well-known in the Spanish-speaking world. She has just now had one of her books translated into English for the first time, thanks to Deep Vellum, one of the newer presses dedicated solely to works in translation. Deep Vellum joins the likes of publishers old and new (for example, And Other Stories, Coffeehouse Press, New Directions, Tilted Axis, Wakefield Press) that are making this a particularly exciting time for American readers (and book podcast hosts). Seeing Red opens with the narrator losing her vision and somehow creates a text that is more visual, not less, as a result. Intertwining fiction and autobiography, the novel explores and interrogates the tropes of illness narratives in relation to gender and gender stereotypes. As a result, Seeing Red defies your expectations at every turn.
 
Part of the reason it felt like literary luminaries W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño exploded on the American literary scene in one big boom is because it took us so long to take notice and begin translating their work. Once one book caught on, the rest came in one big rush. Hopefully, with this renewed interest in translation, we won’t have to wait quite as long for an onrush of translation of Lina Meruane’s work. I’ll be first in line to read the next one.
 
Listen to audio of my conversations with Luiselli, Novey, Weinberger and Meruane.

Wendy Red Star uses a variety of media to create her art, which draws from her tribal background (Crow) to explore the intersections of Native culture and colonialist structures. Her work has been shown at the Portland Art Museum, and as far afield as

Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria.

Greetings, from Wendy Red Star and Beatrice Red Star Fletcher (my nine-year old daughter). Together we make up a mother/daughter artist collaborative duo. You can see some of our artwork at the Seattle Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum this month through December. Beatrice is an avid reader with a book in her hand at all times including at art functions, birthday parties, and the dinner table. I also love reading but my focus is on specialty books including, Native crafts, sewing, historical photography books on Native Americans, individual artist monographs, and anthropological books on the Crow Nation. I use these books for inspiration, knowledge, and references for art projects.

Here are my picks:

Pattern Magic by Tomoko Nakamichi

This book gives me endless inspiration about the possibilities of pattern making. Whenever I need a break from conventional patterns I take a look at this book. In the past I have tried to make a few of the patterns out of paper. This book is challenging and engaging and a fun way to spend the afternoon.

The Art Of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff

A seamstress's dream book! With over 350 diagrams and beautifully illustrated images demonstrating techniques to resurface, reshape, restructure and reconstruct using a simple square of fabric, thread and needle. This book truly brings out my inner nerd. I love spending hours analyzing each technique and dreaming up new ideas.

The Stars We Know: Crow Indian Astronomy and Lifeways by Timothy P. McCleary

My copy of this book is marked with underscores and notes in the margins. I have reread this book countless times and still find myself learning new information with each read. I am friends with the author, who I have worked with on projects including my solo exhibition Medicine Crow & the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation at the Portland Art Museum’s Apex Gallery in 2014. The observations of Crow star knowledge are fascinating. The old Crow stories are entertaining and eerily gruesome.

Crow Indian Beadwork (A Descriptive and Historical Study) by William Wildschut and John C. Ewers

This book is a great guide and resource to the art of Crow Indian beadwork from 1805 to contemporary times. The book includes several illustrations and photographic images of classic Crow designs. I use this book as a reference and a guide for my own beadwork.

Identity By Design: Tradition, Change, and Celebration in Native women’s dresses edited by Emil Her Many Horses

This is a gorgeous book filled with rich photographs of some of the best dresses and accessories of traditional Native women’s clothing. This book includes examples of historic clothing and contemporary trends across Native America. Filled with interesting essays and information that make it a valuable read.

Beatrice's picks:

When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad

It has lots of adventures and lots of mischief, like falling asleep in a crate between a goat and a bunch of geese and getting half your hair chewed off.  It is full of marvelous literature!

Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Nikki, the main character, has lots of awkward situations in her school life. Nikki has a lot of personality, and all of the Dork Diaries books have interesting plots filled with tons of funny moments. Also amazing illustrations.

Thea Stilton and the Cherry Blossom Adventure by A Geronimo Stilton

The Thea sisters travel to different places and learn about other cultures. The books are filled with interesting mysteries that the Thea sisters have to solve. There are amazing illustrations and amazing graphs.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle uses magic to engage young children to behave. The books are filled with interesting things like her house being upside down. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is an interesting character because she owns a well-mannered pig and she loves kids.

Baby Mouse Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm

Great book for young girls because it is about a girl mouse. Baby Mouse is very sassy, loves cupcakes, and has a wild imagination and a homework-eating locker. It’s awesome because every page is pink.

 

Hey, everyone, I'm David F. Walker. I write graphic novels (or if you prefer, comic books — it's all the same to me). I grew up reading comics (mostly Marvel), and to this day, I still love the medium. At any given time, I have stacks of comics and graphic novels all over my home, waiting to be read and reread. I'm a sucker for a good Young Adult novel, as I also dabble in YA. I love history, so I often spend what little free time I have watching documentaries. When I am not reading or writing comic books, I'm a filmmaker, journalist, and educator. My work includes Power Man and Iron Fist, Nighthawk (Marvel), Shaft: A Complicated Man, Shaft’s Revenge (Dynamite), Cyborg (DC), Number 13 (Dark Horse Comics), and the YA novel, Super Justice Force: The Adventures of Darius Logan, Book One.

Here are my picks:

The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Perhaps the greatest book I have ever read. There isn’t much more than that to say. It makes me laugh out loud. It makes me cry. It makes me want to be a better writer.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Two incredible examples of the storytelling possibilities found in the graphic novel medium, which serve as companion pieces to a larger story. I recommend reading Boxers first, but that’s not as important as reading both.

Eyes on the Prize – DVD

Produced back in the 1980s, this multi-part PBS documentary is the greatest jumping-off point for learning about the Civil Rights in America. In a perfect world, families of all stripes would sit and watch this together.

Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness

I love a good YA book (perhaps because I suffer from a case of arrested development). Whatever the case. The Chaos Walking series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men) is probably my favorite YA series. Ness is an incredible writer, and this series is riveting.

Will Eisner’s New York – Life in the Big City by Will Eisner

My absolute favorite comic book creator of all time, Eisner is best known for creating The Spirit, and some historians credit him with creating what we now know as the graphic novel. This collection of stories is the Eisner I love the most – a brilliant example of how image and text can become literature.

Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick

One of my favorite comic series currently being produced, it is a hard-hitting, hilarious, radical bit of speculative fiction that finds non-complying women sentenced to a prison on another planet. DeConnick and her creative team are dangerous in the best way possible.

The Central Park Five – DVD

Living in New York City in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it is difficult to describe the climate of what it was like to be young and black in a city that feared you. The infamous Central Park Park Rape case explains it with unflinching humanity, examining the gross miscarriage of justice that occurred when five black teenagers were sent to prison for a heinous crime none of them committed.

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor

Combining two forms of expression that I absolutely love – comic books and hip hop, Piskor’s exhaustive historical narrative is a revelation. Four volumes in, this is the graphic novel done brilliantly.

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

I saw an ad for this YA book in, of all places, a comic book. Having read Higson’s Young Bond series, I decided to give this a shot. I can only describe this as The Walking Dead meets The Lord of the Flies – and there are five more books in the series.

Concrete Park by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander

One of the most over-looked graphic novels of the last several years, both volumes of Concrete Park are works on incredible art. Set on a planet billions of miles from Earth, where people of color and other minorities have been exiled, the series is as brutal as it is beautiful.

The Legend of the Mantamaji by Eric Dean Seaton

Eric Dean Seaton’s three-volume graphic novel series delivers to the superhero the diversity that is sadly lacking from so many other comics. The struggle to find true diversity in works of pop culture continues to be an uphill battle, but this series is a refreshing example of how to do it properly.

Slavery By Another Name – DVD

This PBS documentary is equally engrossing and heartbreaking, as it traces how slavery never really ended in the Untied States, it just became something else. This is one of those “missing” pieces of history that helps to explain the horrific inequities we see in this country, based on race and class.

A Band Called Death – DVD

On the surface, this a documentary about a forgotten proto-punk band being rediscovered after years of languishing only in the fading memories of a few people. But it is so much more. It is about family, and love, and commitment to your art, and how the key to immortality is art.

Moshow the Cat Rapper is passionate about many things: cats, cat ladies, music and creativity. He dropped by the library to share some of his favorite songs with us.

4 favorite songs from Moshow the Cat Rapper

  1. "Handy Man" on JT by James Taylor. 
  2. "By Your Side" on Lovers Rock by Sade.
  3. "Blue Light" on Silent Alarm and streaming by Bloc Party.
  4. Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
 
Oh, and Sushi's favorite book? The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.

 

Amanda Morgan is an architect who'd love to design a library someday, and Karen Munro is a librarian who'd love to live in a house made of books. Together, they host Silent Reading Party, a monthly gathering of Portlander

s who like to read together in companionable quiet, with a cocktail. Silent Reading Parties are two hours long, so here is Amanda and Karen's list of books you can read in two hours. (Pick one up just in time for their ticketed edition SRP on the deck of the Society Hotel on August 14th.)

1. I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane
The Neversink series from independent publishers Melville House has brought new life to scores of wonderful books.  MacLane’s amazingly-titled feminist memoir was written in 1902 when she was just a teenager living in Butte, Montana.  The book was a huge bestseller in its time and has been described as riveting, shocking, sensational and deeply heartfelt.  If MacLane’s not your cup of tea, check out the full Neversink Library for tons of other great two-hour reads.

2.  Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Rankine’s book — part personal essay, part poetry, part catalog of visual art — took the literary world by storm when it was published last year.  In the context of police violence toward black Americans and growing tension around race relations, Rankine writes about her own experiences as a black woman and the ways in which blackness and black people are represented in the media.  A short book to dwell on for a long time.

3.  Commencement and other speeches:

Fantastic Mistakes: The Make Good Art Speech by Neil Gaiman

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling

Because commencement speeches must command departing grads’ waning attention spans, they’re usually brief, provocative, and inspirational. Fortunately for us, the best of these speeches  by some of our finest literary lights  have been published in slim volumes that can be easily read in a single sitting; yet they invite multiple readings with their insights on compassion, success, identity and creativity.

4.  The 33 ⅓ Series from 333Sound/Bloomsbury
Music nerds love this gorgeously packaged, wonderfully idiosyncratic series of slim but passionate paeans to a far-reaching range of essential albums. Each volume explores, in-depth, a single album, weaving broad cultural contexts with the authors’ personal milieus and obsessions. Some writers you’ll recognize, like Jonathan Lethem, who penned the excellent tribute to Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. Others, like Kembrew McLeod, who brings an academic rigor to his appreciation of Blondie’s Parallel Lines, may be new to general readers, though well-established in the world of cultural criticism. There are currently 115 titles in the series, meaning if you find yourself hooked and decide to read one each month, you’ll be bringing them with you to Silent Reading Parties well into 2018.

5.  Glaciers by Alexis Smith
We couldn’t pass up the chance to recommend Portland author Smith’s lyrical novella about a day in the life of a Multnomah County librarian. This lean volume gently seduces the reader into a dreamy reverie about love, loss and longing. The Portland of Glaciers, published in 2012, may well be receding into memory along with the ice formations of the title, so it’s especially poignant to have it preserved in such a lovely work.

6.  Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
If you’re looking for something light and comic, try this epistolary novel about a professor of the humanities struggling against what he sees as the encroaching forces of corporatization and commercialization in his university.  For such a short book, it’s surprisingly moving — and also so funny that it won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2015.


7.  The Face series by Ruth Ozeki, Tash Aw and Chris Abani (Not owned by MCL)
Another great venture from a small independent press — Restless Books recently launched an innovative series of short books titled The Face. Each book is one extended essay by an author considering his or her own face, and then following that topic wherever it leads.  Tash Aw, Ruth Ozeki and Chris Abani each offer thought-provoking titles that touch on globalization, identity, assimilation, and more.

8.  March by John Lewis


This three-book graphic memoir tells the story of the American civil rights movement through the eyes of veteran activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.  Beginning with lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides and culminating in the 1963 “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, March combines art and words to bring history to life.  Stack all three volumes on your lap and settle in for an amazing ride.   

9.  Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers by Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts

Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement (not in MCL catalog)

Undesigning the Bath (not in MCL catalog)

Leonard Koren is an artist, architect and writer. His books are short, playful, sensual meditations on aesthetics, and his quiet insights are often broadly applicable to other creative pursuits  and even to the pursuit of simply living a beautiful life. If you’ve ever appreciated a perfectly arranged bouquet of wildflowers, or a thoughtfully curated group of objects on a table, or if you’ve had an “earthy, sensual, and paganly reverential” bathing experience, you’d likely find a kindred spirit in Koren.


10.  Rabbit by Victoria Dickenson, Bee by Claire Preston, Leech by Robert G.W. Kirk, Elephant by Dan Wylie, etc.
 If you like to slip out of the human world in your reading hours, consider this elegant series from small publishing house Reaktion Books.  Each title is by a different author and profiles a different animal — wolf, octopus, spider, shark — in a single engaging essay.  Pick your favorite beast and spend a couple of hours learning more about its habits and its world.

Victoria Jamieson; photo: Herminio Jacome
Victoria Jamieson is the author and illustrator of  books for children, including the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. Along with writing and illustrating, she teaches children's book illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art.

A good percentage of my childhood was spent at the library. When my brothers and I were young, my mom helped organize the summer reading program at our local library outside of Philadelphia. I created many a diorama based on books during those summers. A few years later, my mom started working there as a children’s librarian where, much to our chagrin, she seemed to learn all of the gossip in town (“So, I hear you’re dating so-and-so!”)

The most formative books for me as a kid were the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I related to her so much -- she seemed like a real kid. I appreciated the fact that her family worried about money, and her dad worried about finding a job. It reassured me to no end to read about kids facing real-life situations. I can’t tell you how many times I read those books. They MAY have been a factor in my deciding to move to Portland.

Other childhood favorites included Anne of Green Gables and all of the Roald Dahl, but especially The BFG.  That book inspired a lifetime of whizpopper jokes. I love re-reading childhood favorites. I teach a continuing education class in writing and illustrating children’s books at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and I always recommend re-reading old favorites. It’s fascinating to read them from an adult perspective, and if you want to write children’s books yourself, it’s a great way to remember what you loved about reading as a child.

Here’s a list of my recent favorites:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This was the last book that made me cry — like, a deep, body-shaking sob. If you like a body-shaking sob as much as I do, this is the book for you.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
As soon as I read this book, I knew it would be a book I would read to my kids someday. It’s just a book you want to share. Now I just need to wait for my son to be old enough.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
You just have to read it. It’s an amazing book.

Ida B by Katherine Hannigan
This book is both laugh-out-loud funny and cry-out-loud touching. Be careful where you read this one; I was reading it on the subway in New York when I started ugly crying.

A few more:

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

El Deafo by Cece Bell

One Crazy Summer by Rita Willams-Garcia

Get even more reading recommendations hand-picked for you by My Librarian.

Nick Bruel is an author, illustrator and cartoonist, and is known for his series of children's books, Bad Kitty. In his spare time, he collects PEZ dispensers and hangs out with his wife and his cat, Esmerelda.

Nick Bruel photo
[Scene: In front of the mirror, above the sink of a bathroom somewhere in Briarcliff Manor, NY]

Nick: The time is 5:13 am.  I’m standing here inside the downstairs bathroom of Nick Bruel, the world renowned children’s book author and illustrator, parkour master, Amway representative, and long standing member of the Flat Earth Society.  Good morning, Nick. Thank you for joining me here today.

Nick: You’re welcome.  I think.  Why am I here?

Nick: I’ve been tasked today to interview you to find out some of your favorite things…

Nick: Like what?  Ice cream?

Nick: Well, no, not precisely …

Nick: I like rum raisin. Haagen Dazs Rum Raisin ice cream. That’s my favorite.  Done?

Nick: No, not done. I was thinking more along the lines of … wait. You like rum raisin?  No one likes rum raisin.

Nick: I like rum raisin.

Nick: Since when?

Nick: Since always. It’s delicious, and I don’t have to defend myself. Are we done?

Nick: No! We’ve been tasked by the Multnomah County Library system in Portland to find out how you operate, to learn more about you by learning your favorite media.

Nick: Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon?

Nick: Oregon.

Nick: Which is the one with all the street poetry, kombucha bars, and man buns?

Nick: Oregon.

[What follows is a long, uncomfortable silence.]

Nick: Sigh. Fine.

Nick: So, let’s start with your favorite movie.

Nick: My favorite movie of all time is a little known short film from Estonia called Man With A Broken Rainbow Of Love by the great director … excuse me … auteur Miloslav Krizkovenszvynzvz.  It tells the story of a poor but rich-in-spirit doorknob salesman who’s raising a family of marmosets in his garage while quietly succumbing to the ravages of an earlobe fungus over the course of 3 hours.  It’s an allegory of Stalinist Russia.

Nick: 3 hours?! I thought you said it was a short film?

Nick: The director’s cut takes 4 days to watch.

Nick: Well, actually, the library wants material that can be found in their collection.

Nick: Why?

Nick: Because this way people who read this can get to know you better while also promoting the library’s collection.

Nick: I see. So when people check out the same things I like from the library, they can feel like they’re ME?

Nick: Sort of.

Nick: They can pretend like they’re ME? The people of Oregon can go to the library and pretend to be Nick Bruel! That is beautiful. Just beautiful. Sniff.

Nick: Are … are you crying?

Nick: No. Shut up. I’m not crying. You’re crying!

[Audible scratching at the door]

Esmerelda: Meow?!  Meow?!

Nick: GO AWAY, ESME! I’m conducting an important interview! 

Esmerelda: Meow?!

Nick: No, you can’t use your litterbox now! I told you that I’m conducting an important interview! Go poop in the recycling or something!

Esmerelda: Hiss!

Nick: I HEARD THAT!  Where were we? Oh, right. Uh … so can you name a more conventional movie that you like?

Nick: Does the library have the films of Buster Keaton?

Nick: I’ll check. [Looks intensely at toothpaste tube] Yes!

Nick: Without a doubt, Buster Keaton was the first true master of comedy. I love Chaplin, but Buster Keaton’s work best exemplified how comedy and timing work hand in hand. He might be best known for his stunts, but Keaton’s true genius was in how he set up his jokes visually. To this day, there are film directors who borrow from Keaton and his visual style.

The General is considered his greatest film, but for anyone who needs an introduction to the great man, I would suggest starting with either College or Steamboat Bill, Jr. You can’t go wrong.

Nick: Okay! Great! Let’s move on to favorite music.

Nick: I like anything with cannons in it.

Nick: Cannons?

Nick: Sure. Cannons.

Nick: What music has cannons in it?

Nick: What music … are you kidding me?!  Haven’t you ever heard the 1812 Overture by Peter Tchaikavsky, you peasant?!

Nick: Oh, well, sure …

Nick: I’ll have you know that before degrading myself to this whole children’s book thing I do now, I had a promising career in place as a classical cannon player. I even studied at The Sarasota Online Cannon Conservatory And Clown College, which everyone knows has the most rigorous cannon certification process in the entire country! Even better than Yale’s!

Nick: Well, of course. Everyone knows that …

Nick: And I’d be playing the cannons to this day if not for that terrible day 12 years ago when I burnt my hand lighting the wick during rehearsals. Sniff. Sniff. My doctor says … sob … I’ll never be able to light another cannon wick again.

[Audible scratching at the door.]

Esmerelda: Meow?!

Nick: NOT NOW, ESME! I’M BUSY! JUST CROSS YOUR LEGS AND THINK OF THE DESERT!

Where were we?

Nick: Ummm … favorite book?

Nick: Well, I’m quite fond of the work of a blind, Inuit hermaphrodite named J.D. Salinger who …

Nick: Hang on!  J.D. Salinger was not a blind, Inuit hermaphrodite!

Nick: He wasn’t?

Nick: No. I understand that his eyesight was quite good.

Nick: My bad. Well, in any case, I’ve always liked how Salinger focuses on character development above all else.  I don’t think anyone can turn words on paper into the life story of a friend you grew up with like Salinger, and nothing exemplifies this better than 9 Stories, a collection of short stories he published in The New Yorker. A standout in this collection is “The Laughing Man” which tells the tale of a youth sports club bus driver from the point of view of one of his riders. It’s an amazing, multi-layered tale of friendship, young love, adventure, and the power of a creative spirit.  I read this book about once every 3-4 years to remind myself of what good writing looks like.

Nick: Never heard of it.

Nick: Well you should read it.

Nick: Maybe I will.  What about picture books?  Got a favorite picture book?

Nick: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  To me, it’s one of those rare books that transcends its purpose as a book.  It’s message of unconditional generosity is so important that I’ve held a theory … a belief, really … for a while now that if every single person on the planet Earth read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, then there would be no war. It’s a theory that can never be prove, much less tested, but I stick to it anyway.

Nick: A lot of people don’t like this book. They think the tree is acting too much like a martyr and that the boy does nothing more than take advantage of him.

Nick: Yeah, well some people can go suck eggs. If you step back for a moment and just contemplate that this is a story about what it means to be a parent to a child who you love unconditionally, then the message becomes more clear. I can back this up, because I knew Shel Silverstein and once had a conversation with him on this very topic. He told me that of course this book was about parenting and that he loved watching people practically lose their minds over this book of his.

Nick: Did Shel Silverstein think people should go suck eggs over it?

Nick: No. But he was thinking it.

Nick: Well, Nick, I think that about wraps things up. I’d like to thank you for joining me here today.

Nick: It was my pleasure.

Nick: No, no! The pleasure was all mine!

Nick: Oh, well if you insist!

Nick: Ha, ha!

Nick: Ha, ha, ha!

[Audible scratching at door.]

Esmerelda:  MEOW!!  MEOW!!

Nick: OKAY! OKAY!  I’m opening the door! Jeez! Just light a match or something when you’re done this time. Sometimes I think you’re made out of eggs.

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