Blogs: Adults

“I know there'll come a day
When you'll say that you don’t know me
And I know there'll come a time
When there’s nothing anybody owes me anymore

Locked in the attic again
Out of the shallow and into the deep end
I've got a wound I know will never end
Locked in the attic again”
-Meat Puppets, “Lost”

Meat Puppets II Album Cover
Meat Puppets II is one of those rare records that defies rock's all too static vocabulary.  The record emerged out of a particularly stagnant historical moment for independent music - 1984, though lauded as some kind of  golden age for the underground (think R.E.M.), more realistically represented a kind of cultural paralysis and retrenchment.  US indie rock was rediscovering the 60s, comfortably (and farcically) reiterating the corny gestures of "psychedelia" with none of the radical fury and desire to tear down the foundations.  At first listen, one might be tempted to slot Meat Puppets II into this very paradigm.  Pastoral/stoner free-association lyrics, noodly Grateful Dead-influenced guitars layered over a slightly accelerated cowpunk two-step - how obviously conservative can it get, right?  

The record is genuinely gorgeous in the way it expresses a sublime - almost gentle - awe in the face of natural space (the band were based out of Tempe Arizona). But what lifts Meat Puppets II from the everyday morass is the awkward hesitancy with which primary songwriter Curt Kirkwood gropes for new structures, new neuronal paths and logistical tracks that want to rupture the received moves and pantomimes of rock and roll's handbook.

Not that the songs are mind-blowing or necessarily destructive - Meat Puppets II doesn't begin to really approach the detourns of a Captain Beefheart or early Pere Ubu.  The music is surprisingly fragile and while one can't really call them unconfident, the songs tend to move as though they're always already entering new territory - watchful; but joyous too. It's no wonder Kurt Cobain found the record inescapably addictive - the record tracks (and promises) perpetual escape.  

Of course the band tightened the reins and future records abandoned the inventive hesitancy for an almost muscular assurance (culminating in 1994's boogie-drenched Too High To Die).  But MP II could never really be recuperated or reproduced - it was always a way out with no desire to actually get anywhere.







Mr. Mac and Me book jacketWhen a long-awaited book finally arrives, it’s hard not to place high expectations on its performance. So when I finally had a copy of Esther Freud’s latest book Mr. Mac and Me in my hot little hands, dreams of a great story, pristine writing and new lands to explore were circling above my head. As a fan of Esther Freud (see Hideous Kinky and The Sea House among others) I was not disappointed on any front.  

Freud’s latest tells the story of thirteen-year-old Thomas Maggs, who lives in the Suffolk coastal town of Walberswick under the watchful eyes of an overprotective mother and an unpredictable father. Thomas’s father runs the local pub and helps himself freely to the goods. Times are not good. Business is far from booming and World War I looms ahead. When not in school, Thomas spends his time helping out at the pub, assisting the local rope maker ply his trade and exploring the countryside. He is also a talented artist who frequently sketches ships and dreams of escaping by sea. His life is changed when  Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret move to town. The renowned architect of the Glasgow School of Art is down on his luck and hoping some restorative time at the seaside will change his fortunes. A quiet, contemplative relationship develops between Mackintosh and Thomas, an association that will be deeply affected when the war finally comes to town.

Freud’s family has its own history of life in Walberswick. Her paternal grandfather Ernest, also an architect, spent years living in the village and transforming local cottages with his Bauhaus-style designs. Her father, the painter Lucien Freud, spent time there as a child.  And Esther Freud herself owns a home there, her second in fact. The first house she purchased in Walberswick was the former pub, known in this book as the Blue Anchor.  

Freud, the author of eight novels, is an extraordinary writer. She particularly excels is her descriptions of the physical world. The village and its surroundings act as characters equally as important as Mr. Mackintosh or young Thomas Maggs. As Thomas and Mr. Mac and the others who populate Walberswick move towards their prescribed destinies, readers have the pleasure of witnessing the development of a relationship both strikingly subtle and completely life changing. Mr. Mac and Me is not the perfect read but it does exactly what I want a book to do for me:  introduces me to new people and new places and provides me with much appreciated and invaluable food for thought.

Postscript:  Sadly, a fire at the Glasgow School of Art in May of 2014 destroyed a portion of the school’s west wing which housed the Mackintosh Library.  The library is expected to reopen by 2018.

Eilean Donan Castle, Lochalsh, Scotland. Photo by Dave Conner.I’ve been in Scotland twice, but the last time didn’t count as I was there for literally five minutes. Fortunately I’ll get to spend more time there this spring and I can’t wait.  Hiking! Pub crawling! Trading insults with my Scottish pal! It doesn’t get any better than that.  My departure date is still a wee while off, though, so I’ve had to settle for immersing myself in books, music and film to satisfy my impatient desire to be in Bonny Scotland.  If you, too, are longing for the land of whisky, thistles and tartan, try out some of the following:

Burns: Poems book jacketWhen I was in my teens and twenties, I used to fairly loathe poetry.  I either had no idea what it meant or thought it was mostly really soppy.  I guess I’ve mellowed some as I’ve aged because now I think that Robert Burns penned some really good verse.  There are many collections of his poems, but the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets edition claims to have the “most essential of the imHer Majesty, Mrs. Brown dvd covermortal poems and songs.” To hear some of his songs and poetry sung, check out There Was a Lad.  For a selection of bagpipe tunes (yes, there really is more than one piece that can be played on the bagpipes), check out Duncarron:  Scottish Pipes & Drums Untamed.

For some Highland eye candy (not to mention a yummy accent), there’s nothing better than Billy Connolly in Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown.  I was envious of Judy Dench for years after I saw that movie.  If you’re more interested in the beauty of Scotland found in nature, clap your peepers on Visions of Scotland.

For two lovely books of travel, read H.V. Morton’s classic In Search of Scotland and Scotland: The Place of Visions by Jan Morris. Morton is one of my favorite travel writers – his humor and storytelling prowess make reading about his adventures in his native Britain and elsewhere a true pleasure.  If you just want to look at gorgeous photos of Scotland, check out Morris’s book, but really, read the text as well!  Morris is a keen observer and a wonderful writer.

So get out your kilt, pour a wee dram and settle in with a book, cd or dvd.  You’ll be away to Scotland in no time at all! 

The Last Bookaneer

by Matthew Pearl

An historical thriller about literary pirates who would steal manuscripts and publish them without the authors' consent. By the author of The Dante Club.

Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance

by Christopher McDougall

The author of Born to Run tells about the ancient and modern techniques for endurance and natural movement that allowed Greek soldiers to run for hours.

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History

by Cynthia Barnett

A science writer tells the history of the most crucial element on earth describing the downpours that filled the oceans billions of years ago to the megastorms of today.

The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop

by Steve Osborne

The author, a familiar storyteller on NPR's The Moth, now presents his touching and humorous tales from 20 years as a lieutenant in the Big Apple.

Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor

by James M. Scott

A re-telling of the daring attack on Tokyo in the dark days after Pearl Harbor. Includes records and photographs never before published.

The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives

by Stephen Buchmann

The author describes the role flowers play in the production of our food, spices, medicines, and perfumes while bringing us joy and happiness.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris

New Yorker's editor of grammar and usage relates her experiences with famous authors while humorously advising on the tools of her trade.

Capital Dames: The Civil War and Women of Washington, 1848-1868

by Cokie Roberts

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Washington was turned into a massive Union army camp. Roberts tells the stories of the  of women who joined in the cause working as nurses, sanitation workers, supply organizers and more.

 

 

Photograph of a young boy arranging fabric in preparation to sew.I love making anything with my hands. So when my six-year-old son asks, “Can we make me an Ant-Man costume?”, my answer is always going to be an enthusiastic, “Yeah we can!”

There was a time when I would take control of these projects.  I’d Google images of Ant-Man, obsess about the right fabric and approach, until I found myself sitting at the sewing machine alone, while my son had long since moved on to his Legos.

Now I understand that my job is to dump a bag of fabric out on the table and as my son says, “Just stop freaking out so much about it.”  Sure, I help with the sewing machine.  He drives the pedal and I keep my fingers out of the way and try not to sweat the fact that the bobbin tension is completely out of whack.  

Our new laissez-faire family craft time doesn’t mean I’ve stopped seeking out fresh ideas and inspiration for projects.  Martha Stewart’s Favorite Crafts for Kids offers a bonanza of ideas for kids and parents.  I just make sure to check my inner Martha when it’s time to get gluing.

Side by Side by Tsia Carson is a great resource for matching projects that parents and kids can do separately but together.  One particularly endearing kid-project involves embroidering a leaf.  This is a woman who knows about managing expectations!

And when I just want to be inspired, blogger and illustrator Merrilee Liddiard’s Playful is so Anthropologie-beautiful I could weep.  But then I’ll get over it, enjoy watching my son dart about in what only started out as an Ant-Man costume, and “just stop freaking out so much about it.”

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

y no se lo tragó la tierra book jacketWhat makes a literary work an American classic? Clearly, there is no one answer to this question. It is a matter of opinion. It is no wonder book publishers have debated this issue in the past, and that they will continue to discuss it in the future. The question, also, hangs over my head every time I read Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra: Is this fictional tale of Mexican American migrant farm working families an American classic? After all, this novella is an iconic piece of literary art in Chicano/a literature, and is a must read in Chicano/a literature courses in U.S. colleges. It was also the first recipient of the Premio Quinto Sol award.

Is it an American classic? Yes! It is. In spite of being written in Spanish,* …y no se lo tragó la tierra is a story of perseverance in the American tradition of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Like their fictional counterparts in The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, the characters in …y no se lo tragó la tierra have dreams and grit. The Mexican American migrant families’ determination to make their dreams real no matter the odds given - it is the 1950s and people of color are segregated in the workplace and society—is what makes their tale of perseverance an American classic.

The story takes place in two locations: a small town in rural South Texas, where the migrant families live on a permanent basis and the Midwest, where they toil in the fields of commercial growers. The hardships they confront in their annual migrations to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states in search of seasonal farm labor say more about their determination to better their lives than about the work itself. That is not to say that the seasonal farm work they do doesn’t influence their willingness to live their American dreams. On the contrary, the very work itself, with its low wages, no rights, no dignity, and no hope, drive migrant families to continue struggling for a better life.

Like two other American classics of the twentieth century, Native Son and Invisible Man, …y no se lo tragó la tierra illuminates an experience once ignored by mainstream Americans. It sheds light on a harsh reality that can no longer be overlooked.

*The library's copy is bilingual.

Azalea with Biba book

Before Topshop and Alexa Chung, there was Biba, an affordable women’s clothing brand that transformed girls into Hollywood starlets. The Biba Years by Barbara Hulanicki covers the career of British visionary, Barabara Hulanicki, and the rise and fall of an iconic brand.

Reading parts of The Biba Years is like hearing your much older friend recount the party of a lifetime. There are so many great details: the anachronistic design influences, celebrity gossip (the terrible thing she says about Audrey Hepburn!), and examples of Hulanicki’s unstoppable creativity. My favorite parts involved reading about the shops and how visits could best be described as revelatory or a “non-stop Fellini film.”

Want to pine after Twiggy-approved clothes? Waiting for the final season of Mad Men? Wish you could hang out with Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and their ladies? Get your paws on this book!

I don't often read young adult novels; too many of the teen characters leave me feeling like I wasn't like them even when I was fifteen, and I just can't identify.  I do have two series to recommend that work well even for a more jaded adult reader of science fiction and fantasy such as myself.

Cinder book jacketFirst is Cinder by Melissa Meyer.  This Cinderella retelling is set in a far distant, post-World War IV world, and our heroine is a clever young mechanic who has a cyborg arm and foot. This marks her as semi-human and of the very lowest social standing.  Her doting adoptive father is gone, leaving her owned by her sadistically cruel stepmother.  One of her step sisters is somewhat kind to her, but is little more than a child herself and can't help her.  There's a handsome prince, a dreadful, contagious and incurable disease sweeping the earth and an ~evil~ queen from Luna. While some elements of the story will seem old hat to the more cynical, I thought it had enough charm and verve to carry off a story we've all heard before and make it fresh again.  I like the series so well I've already got a hold on Winter (book #5 in the Lunar Chronicles) even though I'll be using up one of my holds for nine months just to read Thief's Covenant book jacketit as soon as I can.

Ari Marmell has written several adult fantasy novels, none of them particularly well known or best sellers.  I did like Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Conqueror's Shadow. He also just published the final novel in a young adult series that begins with Thief's Covenant about a girl named Widdershins.  In this world, gods have powers based on the number of worshippers they have. Olgun's congregation is slaughtered except for one young girl hidden in the shadows. She flees to the streets and takes the name Widdershins.  Olgun can't perform miracles for his last worshipper, but he can push the edges a bit.  He can make a flintlock misfire.  He can make her run faster, jump higher, and walk quieter than an ordinary human and with his help, Widdershins survives as a thief. While Olgun's help make her mildly superpowered, she still feels real and, like any teen, she has moments of foolishness and moments of maturity.  If you like fantasy and wouldn't mind a younger protagonist, this series has been a very enjoyable light read. I'm sorry to be done with it and I'll give the next book by this author a chance because of it.

I love a good romance and I recently discovered a fun romance series written for adult learners. It led me to explore the world of books for adults learning to read.

Are you looking for books for teens or adults who need simpler texts? If you search the catalog using the phrase “readers for new literates,you’ll get a long list of books at different reading levels.  If you’re looking for levels, choose a title. For instance, when I clicked on the title Water for Life, I looked for “Series that include this title” and then I could link to all the books in the Penguin active reading series or just the Penguin active reading level 2.

You can find  versions of English and American classics or modern fiction. You can find biographies, true crime, and a book written in both Somali and EnglishWe have horror stories as well as romance. 

Back to that romance series. All of the books in the series feature photographs which add a lot of meaning to the stories about long time love and new love. My personal favorite is The Big Goof:  Jan loves Bill. Will Bill love Jan? It makes me laugh every time I read it. Everyone I’ve shared it with has noticed different things in the photos which deepened the story. 

If you’d like a customized list of books, you can ask us at My LibrarianWe’re happy to help you find good reading. Here’s a list I made that features books and poetry for a romance fan. Let’s champion reading together! Thanks.


 


 

The book Women in Clothes compiles 639 surveys of women. It’s a lofty goal that is wonderfully executed. 639 women weigh in on such topics as style or taste; when they feel most attractive, money, mothers, and many more topics. Interspersed are photos of collections of clothing, blotters, rings, socks, shoes, gum packages and 6 women wearing each other’s outfits-but wait there’s more!

I felt enlightened by the essay about when to wear a veil in Egypt. I felt bothered by how much one woman spent on clothes one month: 1858.07 dollars. Mostly, I was impressed by this interesting and wonderful book that has many details, opinions, and insight.  If you would like to get to know women or you are aching to hear more women’s voices: this is the book for you.

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