Blogs

LolitaLolita. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

Do you know this book? It’s about middle-aged, European Humbert Humbert, who has had his eye on certain girls between the ages of nine and fourteen for his entire adult life. Through a mix of strategy and happenstance, Humbert gets 12-year-old Lolita completely in his power and makes her his concubine-- who also  poses as his daughter. And yes, it's as deeply disturbing as it sounds. The book was banned for years all over the world after its publication and still carries an air of scandal.

I’d been reading indiscriminately and in volume, heading every couple of weeks to a used bookstore that sold paperbacks and filling a grocery bag with books by Danielle Steele, V.C. Andrews, and Jacqueline Susann (who I still kind of love). Lolita, when I finally picked it up, grabbed me in a different way than those books. For one thing, I thought it was sexy. At 15, I wasn’t completely horrified at what I saw as Humbert’s seduction of a twelve-year-old. I knew I was sexual, and I wasn’t that much older than Lolita. At that age, I was interested in older men.  I was also seduced by the novel’s sinuous music and deep romanticism. There’s beautiful poetry in this book. “My only grudge against nature was that I could not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea-grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys.”

I read Lolita at least five or six more times in my teens and early twenties, but then I worked in bookstores and libraries for awhile. It seemed that books were flying at me all the time, so I didn’t do much rereading. Later, in the wildly hormonal years when I was having babies and dealing with being a mom to small children, I couldn’t imagine wanting to read a book about a sexual predator and didn’t even want to think about Lolita.

Recently I found out that Jeremy Irons was the voice actor for the audio book of Lolita, which the library has on CD and in downloadable audio, and I thought, “Sign me up!” Honestly? Sign me up to hear Jeremy Irons read a grocery list or the ingredients in a bottle of shampoo. After years and years, I “read” Lolita again.

At the age I am now, the book was so much more, in every way, than I remembered, both lovelier and more poignant, and more distressing. It’s genius, having Humbert narrate the book in the first person. You’re right there with him, appreciating Lolita’s beauty, remembering the shock of new love, and then he says something so devastatingly cruel and selfish, so perverted, that you’re shocked. You go in and out of sympathy like this again and again and again. He becomes a monster, then someone whose pain we understand perfectly, then a monster again. Walking home, with Jeremy Iron’s voice in my earbuds, I would sometimes have to stop and cry out, bury my head in my hands. "Hi, there, neighbors. It's not mental illness. It's literature."

Jeremy Irons reads the book with verve, showing us Humbert’s charm, his anger, his often very funny sense of humor. But at the end, as I listened on a grey, drizzly morning on my way to work, his voice grew more subdued as he tells of realizing what his love  has done to Lolita’s life. “We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.”

I showed up at the library in no kind of shape to help patrons, at least for a little while. But I’m glad I listened to this masterpiece again.

Eric works at Central Library and is reading The Female Man by Joanna Russ.  "It reminds me that Sci-Fi can actually warp minds and beg questions that will never be easily answered.  Who can resist a radical feminist take on gender destabilization, utopia and forms of resistance? The novel is somewhat demanding in its break with straightforward narration but commitment pays off.  It's also very funny."

 
Kate is reading Thomas Jefferson: Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. She finds that it is full of facts both small (the number of windows at Monticello) and large (the ownership of people).

Science can be fun, and one of the most practical ways to start having fun with science is by creating a science fair project. Ready to get started? These free resources will make your project easy.

First, here are a couple websites with information about science projects in general.

Basics of science projects:
Science Buddies has assembled science fair project ideas, answers, and tools.

How to do a science fair project:
This is an informative video series from NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory.

Jet Propulsion Lab logo.

 

 

You can get ideas for your science projects at these websites, which feature weather and climate change.

Climate change activities:
National Center for Atmospheric Research.
The focus here is mainly on atmospheric issues. The site includes a section on climate change, with projects and data about climate change.

Science Fair project research guide:
Internet Public Library project guide.
Contains step by step guide to getting started, choosing a topic, completing the project and displaying it. The section on choosing a topic has lots of great ideas to get you started.

 

Today's Science science project parg is illustrated here.

 

 

 

You can also consult a database like Today’s Science. You will need your library card number and PIN to log in from home. Clicl on the Resources drop down to find the Science Fair guide. This database, from Facts on File, is for high school and older students. It contains suggestions for developing a hypothesis, an experiment and repeatable outcomes for your science project.

 

Remember, if you need help, you can ask a librarian, either online, or at your neighborhood library.

 

When my husband and I are not dreaming about living off the land on some kind of homestead, we're dreaming about having our own restaurant. As I dawdle around my kitchen on a Saturday morning, I think, "If we had a restaurant that served brunch, people would get totally addicted to my savory cornmeal pancakes with chives and corn." My husband talks about offering his home-brewed sour cherry beer in our brew pub, and of course there would be homemade pretzels with homemade mustard. But it's all a pipe dream. Sometimes, just the work of getting dinner on the table for my husband and myself as well as a vegetarian teenager and a picky 10-year-old brings me to the brink of despair. And ask any friend I’ve ever invited to a dinner party: I am a slow cook who gets bogged down in details. Reading Molly Wizenberg's new book, Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage made me deeply grateful that we never even came close to opening our brunch destination or our brew pub.

You know Molly Wizenberg, right? From the Orangette food blog, the Spilled Milk podcast, and articles in magazines like Bon Appetit? She's that nice 30-something friend you hang out in the kitchen with while she tells you stories, and then she shares recipes, many of which celebrate vegetables, but then she's always getting you to make some version of banana bread, too. In her first book, A Homemade Life, she talked about growing up in the kitchen, the loss of her father, and how she found her food-enthusiast husband. In this one, she talks about how she and her husband opened and then operated Delancey, their artisanal pizza restaurant in Seattle. I liked it-- but then, I like her-- and she's a good storyteller. It was interesting to see what goes into a restaurant from someone who is inside that world. Keeping a restaurant running sounds even more high-pressure and difficult than I ever imagined. At one point, diners at Delancey ordered so many salads that Wizenberg started to sob, even while she continued to plate them.

One thing: the recipes do seem a little forced into this book. She admits that she wasn't cooking much during this time except when she was at the restaurant. And that's Orangette’s schtick, the stories with the recipes. But I'm quibbling here, and, really, I’m glad she included the recipes. The recipes are good. I definitely plan to make that slow-roasted pork and the chilled peaches in wine. And I'm approximately twice as glad as I was before I read it that my husband and I never opened the restaurant of our dreams.

Well, it has happened again - I have fallen in love with a fictional character who lives in a time and a place created out of real history.

Sister Pelagia bookjacketLet me explain.

Sister Pelagia is  the main character in a mystery series written by Boris Akunin.  She is an inquisitive, bespectacled, red-haired nun living in Imperial Russia, trying to observe her faith in peace and harmony with her fellow sisters and the students at the school for girls where she is a headmistress.  But her insatiable curiosity, her stubborn persistence and her penchant for seeing all the details make her a detective without equal. Somehow she always seems to find herself in the middle of a mysterious circumstance: the poisoning of a rare white bulldog, an inexplicable ghost haunting the Hermitage Abbey or a Christ-like prophet who appears to be able to come back from the dead.

Her adventures always begin in Russia but her sleuthing takes her all over the world, from the dark, thick forests of Siberia to the sun drenched land of the Middle East.

With the Sister Pelagia series you get the best of both worlds: the great philosophical questions that Russian authors have always debated: Love, Death, God, Good, Evil;  you also plunge into the depths of a world peopled with extraordinary characters, unorthodox situations and exotic places. Not the least of these is the mystery itself that is interwoven into the story as a living breathing creature.

Writing  in the style and with the plot complexity of Charles Dickens, Russian author Boris Akunin  deals unflinchingly with the attitudes of the time, especially the question of how we treat those who are different, whether by race or class or sexual preference. He doesn't try to softsoap the truth, but tempers it with humor and unusual historical details.

If you like mesmerizing mysteries set in a different time and place with a heroine who won’t give up until she finds the truth, you will love the Sister Pelegia series by Boris Akunin. Start with Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog.

 

Shandra from Central Library is reading Half-off Ragnarok and has this to say: "Half-off Ragnarok" is the latest by my favorite author Seanan McGuire, combining great characters, mythical creatures that aren't so mythical, lots of action, and excellent humor."

When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars, one report I heard described the landing using a ‘Mars Local’ time zone. 
 
Red Mars coverMan is not on Mars, but we’ve sent time in front of us.
 

The implications of people colonizing Mars were delved into wonderfully by Kim Stanley Robinson. In Red Mars, he told the story of one hundred people, most Russian or American (this was published 1993, the last gasp of that binary world), who travel to Mars. 

One has been there before but in all other ways they are The First. They are scientists, and to me the reader they feel like scientists — curious, exacting, fiercely intelligent.
 
These one hundred scientists disagree passionately about the purpose of going to Mars. Are they there to explore it as itself, without imposing their needs or even their humanity on it? To make Mars habitable? To seize the opportunity to live in an entirely new way? To exploit the mineral resources? 
 
These factions are deeply divided, and the philosophy behind each is persuasive. Do we have to change everything we touch? 
 
Do we stay Earthlings, no matter where we go? 

 


Ross, a librarian at Central Library, is reading Ship of Theseus. He is enjoying the way that it invites you to read
in a multi-directional way. 

 Buried in the Sky book coverA few months ago I thought Buried in the Sky  was an A+ read. This week it came back to hit me in the face after the avalanche on Everest that killed a dozen or more Sherpa guides. Please read this book.  You will not regret it. And if you are in the 99% of Portlanders who've read the John Krakauer book about a similar Everest tragedy, you might find yourself wondering which of the two books you like more.  It's that good. It's that important. 

 

 

 

Photo of tundraDid you know that tundra is one the coldest biomes of the world where very few plants and animals can survive? Tundra winters are cold with strong winds and summers are short with sun shining almost 24 hours a day. This biome does not sound very inviting, doesn't it?  But who lives in tundra? What grows in tundra? Let's do some research together:

In National Geographic Virtual Library you will find many photos and articles about tundra and tundra animals and plants. 

Let's not forget about World Book Encyclopedia with its excellent maps, illustrations and quality articles on tundra and many other topics.

Info Trac Junior Edition is another great resource to read articles on tundra and learn about other biomes of the world. 

Many books in the library are your loyal friends while doing research. International Wildlife Encyclopedia and Wildlife and Plants of the World are ones of  the many comprehensive encyclopedias you might use for your research on tundra plant and animal life. One can search these encyclopedias by an animal/plant common name or by its habitat.

You can also search the library's catalog by  the keyword "tundra". Type it in and you will see what we have available on this topic: print books, e-books and DVDs.  

If you need more help with your research, talk to us and we'll be happy to help! 

cover image of Rose

We Live in WaterI loved Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins, but I hesitated before checking out We Live in Water, his new collection of short stories. Short stories can seem like a trial--you have to go through that process of getting involved again and again--but I found that with these stories, I slipped in quickly and easily every time.

The characters  in We Live in Water are getting by in Portland or Seattle, or most often, in Walter’s hometown, Spokane, and none of them are doing very well. They’ve either fallen already or they’re headed for a fall. The title story was clearly by the same author as Ruins, with multiple narrators and a complicated structure, shifting back and forth between the '50s and the '90s. It told of a man who disappeared long ago and his grown son's efforts to find out what happened to him. It read like a film noir story, I thought, imagining Robert Mitchum as the lost father.

My favorite story in the collection was “Virgo,” narrated by the now unemployed features editor of a small local newspaper. When he and his girlfriend are together, their morning ritual involves going right to her favorite page in the newspaper, the page where you find the horoscopes and the crosswords. He notices that on the days when her horoscopes are good, she has a better day, and is more generous with her, ahem, amorous attentions. After they break up and she has a new boyfriend, he begins changing the horoscopes, giving her endless one-star days and entries like “one star: hope your new boyfriend doesn’t mind your bad breath”. He changes the crossword clue that reads, "Jamaican spice"--answer: “jerk”--to her new boyfriend’s name. I thought this was hilarious, and a great idea for a story.

If you're in the mood for a good short story, consider investigating some of the books in this list.

 

Hey you! Yes you, with the curious look in your in your eyes...

circus barker

Beyond these canvas walls lies an irresistible display of mystery and intrigue. Unbelievable sights, sounds, and emotional awakening await your already tingling senses.  It’s not for the faint or frail among us.  Oh no...  Only the strong of heart and soul will survive the spectacular journey that awaits you inside.  What do you say?  Dare you enter?

Man has always dreamed of flight . . . okay, maybe that’s a cliché, but perhaps it’s because flying is now cramped coach seating, $3 bottled water, and endless TSA lines. It’s easy to forget the romance that was once associated with travel by air. Airplanes were symbols of modernity and often a source of wonder and deep emotional connections. While there are plenty of memoirs by pilots about the adventure of flying, there are also those that go beyond the technology and excitement and speak of flying as an emotional, transcendent experience. Perhaps best known for this kind of writing is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, but I want to highlight some other equally enticing choices.

The Spirit of St. Louis book jacketCharles Lindberg’s The Spirit of St. Louis and his wife’s North to the Orient both describe flights of exploration. The first is about Charles’ solo flight from New York to Paris and allows the reader to experience the solitude of flying across the Atlantic. He reflects on life and the nature of flight. He writes, “There are periods when it seems I’m flying through all space, through all eternity” as he battles sleep, space, and time. His wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wrote her own account of flying with Charles in North to the Orient. She provides her own personal insight into the wonder of flying, but because she isn’t the pilot, she solely focused on the sensation of flying rather than the practice of piloting. The feeling of altitude, rushing wind, and speed is strikingly real.


A Bell P-39 Airacobra Whereas the Lindberghs captured the awe of flight, Edwards Park speaks of the relationship between man and machine in Nanette. Parks was a WWII fighter pilot and Nanette was his first fighter, a P-39 Airacobra. He writes, “the Airacobra was lazy and slovenly and given to vicious fits of temper. It was a sexy machine, and rotten. Nanette was like that, and I was a little queer for her.” Much more profane than the other books here (Park was a fighter pilot after all), he nevertheless makes very clear the personal connection one could have with an airplane. To him, Nanette had a soul, a personality, and an agenda that did not always match his own, and for that he loved her.North to the Orient book jacket

Anne Morrow Lindberg captured something of what draws me to these books in North to the Orient. “It is not in the flying alone, nor in the places alone, nor alone in time; but in a peculiar blending of all three, which resulted in a quality of magic—a quality that belongs to fairy tales.” Flying akin to magic, hmmm. . . I would have liked to experience that.

There are lots of good reasons to listen to audiobooks: They can get us through tasks that don’t require much brain power (exercise or folding laundry), they can allow us to read when our hands and eyes are busy (commuting), or they can provide new literary options for those whose comprehension might be beyond their reading skills (second language learners or younger readers).

Dreamers of the Day CD coverThese are all very well and good, but they really don’t have much to do with a story itself. One of the things I enjoy most about audiobooks is the opportunity to get inside someone else’s head. You could argue that this is the role of literature to begin with (unless you only like reading about people exactly like you!), but audiobooks offer a unique perspective: When I listen to a narrator read the story of a person who’s not like me, their authentic voice cuts through the white baby-boomer female that colors everything I read and allows me to really get that person. It could be an African American Iraq War vet trying to makThe Last Werewolf CD covere it as a P.I, a 14-year boy with impulse issues, an Ohio spinster on the fringes of post-World War I Middle East history, a werewolf with a serious case of ennui, or two people stuck in a very bad marriage.

For a good listen that might step beyond your experiences, try The Cut by George Pelecanos, narrated by Dion Graham; Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, narrated by Nick Podehl; Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell, narrated by Ann Marie Lee; The Last Werewolf by Ian Duncan, narrated by Robin Sachs, or Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, narrated by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne.

What worlds unlike yours have you explored with the aid of a fine narrator?

Imagine being granted the right to vote for the very first time, only to be turned away at the polls because you had no money to pay to vote! Until 1964 this was a common occurrence in many states. 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the ratification of the 24th amendment. This amendment to the United States Constitution banned the use of "poll taxes" in federal elections, finally  clearing the way for broader voter participation.  These Virginia Union University students protest the poll tax back in 1950 in Richmond, VA.

Virginia Union University students protest the poll tax, Richmond, VA. Date: ca. 1950 Collection: L. Douglas Wilder Library, Virginia Union University.Back in 1917, the state of Louisiana charged a $1 poll tax  – that’s an equivalent of $20.09 by 2014 standards.

In addition to poll taxes, some states required literacy tests before voters were allowed to cast their votes. Such tests were often confusing and had nothing to do with the issues or candidates on the ballot. Here is a sample literacy test...

 

2014 also marks the 90th anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act granting Native Americans all rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections.

To learn more about the Voting Rights Act, and the history of voting rights in the United States, take a look at this timeline created by the ACLU documenting major voting rights milestones from 1867 to the present.

And, for some basics about voting and elections, try this pbs kids site and make your own future voter card!

Portland’s newest bridge was officially named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People today by TriMet, and I thought you might be interested in a little background on the familiar word "tilikum,”* and Chinuk Wawa, the language of which it is part.

definition of "tilixam" from the book Chinuk Wawa [click for a larger version]First, tilikum!

Here's a definition of the word from Chinuk Wawa: kakwa nsayka ulman-tilixam laska munk-kemteks nsakya - As our elders teach us to speak it, a Chinuk Wawa dictionary, grammar, and text for learners produced by the Chinuk Wawa Dictionary Project of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon.  This definition is supported by an etymological note, which gives the historical roots of the word.

Chinuk Wawa

Chinuk Wawa is a trade language, used historically by people from many different language traditions.  In the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries, it was the lingua franca of Native people and foreigners all around the lower Columbia river area.  But although this language is no longer heard throughout our region as a part of the sound of everyday business, it is by no means lost. 

In addition to spearheading the Chinuk Wawa dictionary project, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde hosts a regular series of Chinuk Wawa language classes, which are free to all -- though my sense is that it is expected that learners will become teachers also, nurturing the language and sharing their experiences with it.  Classes take place in Portland as well as at Grand Ronde and in Eugene.  The teacher for the Portland classes, Eric Michael Bernando, also teaches a Chinuk Wawa class at Portland Community College.

definition of "tilacum," from The Chinook Book [click for a larger version]Older definitions of tilikum. . .

As I said, the library has many English / Chinuk Wawa dictionaries and glossaries.  Most are quite old, and these older dictionaries are all (so far as I can tell) written by non-Native scholars who learned the language as adults.  Therefore, their definitions may have the benefit of research done among fluent speakers from 100 years ago or more, but they don't have the authority of modern scholarship rooted in Native communities.  However, I do want to share one of these definitions with you, from The Chinook Book, by El Comancho (W.S. Phillips), published waaay back in 1913.  It's a fairly rich definition, with lots of examples of idiomatic usage.

 


* I've used the spelling "tilikum" throughout this post, because it's the spelling TriMet chose for the name of the new bridge.  As you can see, many different transliterations and spellings of this, and other Chinuk Wawa words have been used over time -- tilacum, tillikum, tilixam, and no doubt many others. 


 

cover image of sandra cisneros books

 
Jennifer, a page at Central Library, is reading The End of White World Supremacy: Four Speeches by Malcolm X. "Malcolm X was an interesting and brave person whose message is still relevant."
 

Pages