Blogs: Adults

Beeny and Penny in Lights Out book jacketWhen I was young and a new reader, I liked books that have now become classics in the beginning reader genre.  Books like Put Me in the Zoo, Are You My Mother?, and Robert the Rose Horse.  I read these over and over and probably have a tattered copy or two tucked away in a box somewhere.  These books are still great (and are still being published), but there are some newer titles and series that are equally as wonderful.  Here are a few of my current favorites.

While I didn’t like comics as a kid, as an adult, I’ve become a convert to graphic novels.  The Toon Books are perfect for new readers who love the comic book format.  Benny and Penny, a brother and sister mouse duo, are some of my favorite Toon characters.  Check out their nighttime adventure in Benny and Penny in Lights Out!.

For the more fact-minded child (or one who simply likes great photos of animals), National Geographic has published a series of readers.Safari book jacket  Who wouldn’t be enticed by the lion cub on the cover of Safari or fascinated by the ugly fish on Weird Sea Creatures?

Ruby Lu Brave and True book jacketFor the more advanced beginning reader, I love the Ruby Lu chapter books by Lenore Look.  Ruby Lu is an irrepressible “almost-8-year-old” who has lots of fun with her friends and Chinese-American family.  There are three so far in the series. Start with Ruby Lu, Brave and True.

Check out our brand new booklists for children at the various stages in their early reading lives. You may find some new favorites!

Welcome to Reading:  Starting out
Welcome to Reading:  Building skills
Welcome to Reading:  Reading more
Welcome to Reading:  On my own

Are the dark days of winter getting to you? The cold and the rain and the wind bringing you down? Need something to cheer you right up? How about a book or two?

Maira Kalman is a unique, eccentric, whimsical illustrator and writer of both kids' and kid-like adult books. Her illustrations even make William Strunk’s The Elements of Style a fascinating read. Beloved Dog bookjacketHer books are filled with illustrations of the things that she likes, and her likes range far and wide and slightly off-kilter. Kalman’s latest book, Beloved Dog, is dedicated to dogs. I hadn’t noticed that pictures of dogs appear quite often in her works and this book is a lovely ode to dogs. Maira Kalman’s books will cheer you right up.

It Ended Badly bookjacketFor me, a real mood lifter is to compare myself to others who have suffered more than me (Jeez, that sounds terrible. Really, I’m not that awful a person.). We’ve all had to deal with relationship breakdowns. If you’d like to read about some of the absolute worst, peruse Jennifer Wright’s It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History. It’s a fun, entertaining, and quite educational romp through some spectacular breakups. In the course of these breakups, people are stabbed. Prison sentences are served. Icky hair clumps are sent through the mail. It should put all of your own breakups in perspective.

Need some more cheering up? Try one of the books on my list here.

The Northern Lights book jacketNorthern winters are harsh things, especially when you live in a cabin deep in the woods. When nature calls, you may find yourself sprinting through the snow in the middle of the night, flashlight in hand, dodging moose with giant glowing eyes, just to get to the outhouse. You might have to be pulled on a dogsled attached to a snow machine to get to your baby-sitting job. Your family dog might get eaten by a wolf. You might have to hike ten miles to school in a blizzard, uphill both ways… err wait, that last one isn’t true! But I did experience the rest. Despite all these inconveniences, the north does have its pleasures, and the beauty of the night sky is one of them, especially the chance to see that most elusive atmospheric phenomenon, the northern lights. The ghostly colors that flicker and flare, the cold rays that splinter the darkness into sheets, curtains, coronas… well, it truly is awe-inspiring.

But how do these displays actually work? What forces are behind them? This was what one brilliant scientist in turn-of the-century photo of Kristian BirkelandNorway wondered. Kristian Birkeland was both driven and talented, and his quest to understand the workings of the aurora led him to Norwegian mountaintops and on expeditions to Russia’s far north. He didn’t limit himself to the arctic and also spent time in Africa researching the then-mysterious zodiacal light.  In addition, he was an inventor, and attempted to market creations as diverse as hearing aids, electromagnetic cannons, and methods of producing fertilizer in order to fund the research he truly loved. Even more amazing is the fact he accomplished all this before age 50. Find out more about Kristian Birkeland and the aurora in The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago. This is a great read for those who are interested in the lives of scientists, the history of science, and arctic adventure. And if you want more, look here.

This past year I've become a downloadable audiobook super fan. I still love to read, but I also love to do and audiobooks free up your hands to do so much. For instance:

Knitting: The voice of the grumpy Swede in A Man Called Ove, with his laugh-out-loud rants against "whipper-snappers doing monkey business" proved the perfect companion as I worked (and then re-worked) a poncho called Ella from this book of Danish knits. 

Commuting: O.K. more of a "have to do" than a "love to do" but Hector Tobar's Deep Dark Down: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in A Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free , kept me anxiously looking forward to my work commute for weeks. And so what if I arrived at work a little weepy as the men were finally freed from the mine. I'm a sensitive person.

The only drawback to my audio habit thus far, is that I've developed a bit of a Veruca Salt syndrome. When I want an audiobook I want it now. I want it right now! Which is why I love Hoopla. With no waiting, I check out my book, download it and quickly get back to the business of doing.
Need a great listen while you get stuff done this holiday season? Or maybe you just want to relax your eyes and shelter your ears from that annoying battery-operating talking toy the grandparents bought for your kid?
Tune in to something off this list of 10 great audiobooks that you could be enjoying right now.

I love Christmas, but most of the things I love about it probably originated in the celebration of the solstice. Sure, I appreciate super-religious and very old carols (“Fall on your knees! O  hear the angel voices!”), but for me, really, it’s mostly about having a real tree in my living room that’s all covered in lights and sparkly things, and the fact that the world will begin, finally, slowly, to get lighter and lighter.

So I’m not a believer, but it was still an interesting time of year to listen to Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary, which focuses intensely on the story of one woman who just happens to be the mother of Jesus Christ. This short novel is narrated by Meryl Streep, who is a magnificent reader, and the experience of listening to it was vivid and intimate. This Mary is a person who has lived through real anguish and is unwilling to put up with any nonsense. The novel is set several years after the crucifixion, and she is being cared for, or perhaps held by, some of the disciples, men who are hard at work making Jesus into a myth. She has no patience for them. For their part, they want her to cooperate or else to just shut up. The human aspects of the story, which are everything to Mary, don't interest them at all.

I listened to this because I was charmed by the author's By the Book column in the New York Times. Tóibín's a voracious reader, and I liked the warmth, humor, and wide embrace of life that came through as he spoke about books he’s loved.

Here’s a list of audiobooks that, like this one, are read by extraordinary readers. I wish you all a season of glorious reading while these long winter nights and rainy days continue, and let me know if I can help with some suggestions.

I love magazines! Do you love them? What kind? I used to love interior decoration magazines. I especially loved Better Homes and Gardens with their before and after pictures of redone homes. They were relaxing to me: clean, quiet, and beautiful homes. The pictures looked so inviting. They made me want to climb right into each photo to take a nap or entertain.

Now I love arts and crafts magazines. I especially like craft magazines with featured artists giving tutorials with step by step photos. I find the tutorials so inspiring as an amateur artist.

One thing I don’t like about magazines is the cost. Magazine lovers, we are in luck. Multnomah County Library just got a new electronic product called Zinio. Zinio lets us check out magazines digitally for free with our library card. We have unlimited access to view them on our computers or mobile devices. We can keep them as long as we like: there are no due dates. I love Zinio!

    "In the metropolis we will feed the most cynical whoring.  We will
destroy all logical revolt.
     On to the languid, scented lands!  In the service of the most
monstrous industrial or military exploitations.
      Farewell here, anywhere.  Conscripts of good intention, we will have
savage philosophy; knowing nothing of science, depraved in our
pleasures, to hell with the world around us ... This is the real
advance!  Forward ... March!"

Older Rimbaud as imperialistArthur Rimbaud is (too) often invoked as the poet of adolescence par excellence - an avatar of self-obsessed perpetual rebellion. Kristin Ross' thoroughly excellent The Emergence Of Social Space  invokes a very different Rimbaud.  Ross has no interest in the Rimbaud linked with Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, Dylan, and Richard Hell.  She instead historically situates Rimbaud's work in the context of the 1871 Paris Commune (he was a participant, partisan, and documenter) and re-reads his oeuvre - including his less recognized youthful work as much as his later "master works" - as an adjacent mode of resistance.  Especially as a means of materializing wildly new relationships and world-building much as the people of Paris began to invent new forms of living in the early months of 1871, before the Versailles government brutally put an end to the Commune, slaughtering 20,000 communards.

MCL has a handful of collections of Rimbaud's poetry, including  Rimbaud - Complete Works, Selected Letters : A Bilingual Edition and The Poems.  

Reading Rimbaud in the light of Ross' intervention, new connections are forged (a brilliant linking of Rimbaud's disgust with bourgeois compulsions to work and Paul Lafargue's overlooked The Right To Be Lazy).  Ross reads Rimbaud as a poet finally withdrawing from poetry.  Because so much poetry is a means of embodying and confirming that there are no alternatives (to labor, capitalism, imperialism, etc.), Rimbaud can only ever be the poet of immature insubordination for those who want poetry to stay exactly as and where it is.  Instead Ross reads Rimbaud as a force that hides, insults, reflects, flares, and eventually disappears.  

"Then, delivered from my straining boatmen,
From the trivial racket of trivial crews and from
The freights of Flemish grain and English cotton.
I made my own course down the passive rivers."
-from "The Drunken Boat"


Three wrapped gifts

At a loss for some good books to give to your 2-year-old niece, the 9-year-old who walks your dog, or the 16-year-old who keeps showing up at your dinner table? Multnomah County Library to the rescue!  To make your lives a bit easier, here are some excellent gift suggestions from 2015.  

We've put together lists for preschool ages, grade schoolers, and tweens and teens. They're also great for adults who appreciate a good book no matter the age range. Filled with titles guaranteed to appeal to the readers (and non-readers) in your life, these full-color lists are also printable for your shopping convenience. Want more? Don't miss our Best Books of 2015 list.

And be sure to check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more fantastic book fun all year round!


If you are a high school senior who is college bound, January is the month to begin applying for federal financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the path to financial aid, Pell Grants, scholarships, and federal and state student loans, and many colleges require it for merit-based scholarships.

We carry FAFSA paper forms at our library locations, in English and Spanish, and our staff can help you find the online forms. If you don't have access to a computer, you can use the public library computers to work on the online form. And if it takes more than one session to complete, you can save your information at the bottom of any page of the application.

College filing cabinet 1900

Get help

If you want help filling out the FAFSA, be sure to look at the free government website Federal Student Aid from the Department of Education. It has videos, fact sheets, loan information and web tools to address every question you might have.

You can get free hands-on help for filling out the FAFSA by attending a College Goal Oregon event.

Don't assume you won't qualify for any type of aid. The Department of Education webpage shows that most people are eligible. You can go to their website to estimate your eligibility for federal student aid

Get organized

According to the College Board, a not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success, you'll need, at minimum, these two items to get started:

  • Your Social Security Number
  • Your most recent federal income tax returns, W-2s, and other records of money earned.

You'll also need to create an FSA ID and password. This identifies you for your student aid account. You provide your email address and password, and parents can create their own account using a different email address and password. Learn how to create an FSA ID.

Apply early

January 1 is the first day you can file, and you should plan to file as close to this date as you can. You want to be among the first to be considered. Some grants, like the Oregon Opportunity Grants, are awarded only until funds are depleted. 

Local deadlines may be much earlier than federal deadlines, for example, in some states, the application deadline is March 1. You can check the state deadline for Oregon on the Department of Education's webpage. 

A Manual for Cleaning Women book jacketSometimes discovering a new author is the best part of discovering a new read.  Such is the case with Lucia Berlin, whose collection A Manual For Cleaning Women has recently been published.  I had never heard of Lucia Berlin before reading this collection and it seems until now she was one of those unknown writers who produced a startling collection of work during a short, often tumultuous life but never received the recognition she deserved.  Berlin was born in 1936 in Juneau, Alaska.  As the child of a mining engineer, she spent much of her early life in mining camps there as well as in Idaho, Montana, Arizona and Chile.   She moved around a lot as an adult as well living in New Mexico, New York City, Los Angeles and Colorado.   Berlin was married three times and had four sons, whom she mostly raised alone while working a variety of jobs including cleaning lady, E.R. nurse and switchboard operator.

Berlin lived a varied and colorful life which provided inspiration for her stories.   They are stories of everyday life, about work and family and love and the absence of all those things.  Berlin’s writing style is direct, clean and non-judgmental.  Her stories are often conversational in tone and reading her work feels like having a chat with a good friend, one who understands us and knows and values our interests.  Lucia Berlin started publishing late in life and was never a bestselling author.  This has kept her under the radar for far too long, but the publication of A Manual For Cleaning Women has finally brought her the attention she deserves and will introduce her to a legion of readers who will appreciate and savor her work.


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