Check out this haiku-limerick mash-up from our friend Eric!
Check out this haiku-limerick mash-up from our friend Eric!
As a librarian I’m often asked for the name of my favorite author. Although at its heart this is not an easy question, time and time again I keep coming back to Nevil Shute. Discussions of Mr. Shute generally revolve around his 1957 novel On the Beach, which leads the way in Armageddon literature. In a nutshell the novel tells the story of the end of the world. As a radioactive cloud moves from the northern to the southern hemisphere all life is slowly extinguished. The citizens of Australia are the last to go and Shute’s novel slowly reveals the story of the end of their lives. It is gripping tale, not just because of the subject matter but because of the way Shute tells it; calmly and gently, as if this imagined yet horrific moment in history was an everyday occurrence.
Born in 1899, Shute started his working life as an aeronautical engineer before chucking it all to write full time. Although he never thought of himself as an author, he became a skilled storyteller. Many of his novels involve long, arduous journeys, both physical and spiritual. Flashbacks, and back story add shape and depth to the characters and their worlds. Shute’s other novels are equally as satisfying. Many are a reflection of his background, with aviation taking center stage. All of his novels benefit from his innate ability to harvest story ideas from the world around him.
Reading a Nevil Shute novel is the ultimate escape – to be taken somewhere so unexpected and to such depths that the stories become a part of the reader’s memory: lived, experienced and treasured. For anyone looking for just such a read, try any of these novels by Nevil Shute:
I recently finished a three-month temporary assignment as a delivery driver here at the library. I have to say, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would when first asked. Upon reflection, however, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’ve always liked to drive; I’ve had a fascination with cars since I was a little kid; and I find the history of the automobile, both from a social and technological perspective, of great interest. Okay, I don’t know how much any of that has to do with driving a box truck full of books around Multnomah County but, hey, it’s an excuse to introduce some of my favorite books about driving.
Most directly related to my experience is Trucking Country, an academic study of the commercial trucking industry in the U.S. and the rise of free-market capitalism in the 20th century. I thought it was fascinating but recognize it may not be for everyone. Much more accessible is The Big Roads. This is a popular history of the interstate highway system. The author, Earl Swift, focuses on the personalities involved in designing and administering what has been one the largest public works projects in the world. Its success can be measured in how ordinary it all seems today, yet 100 years ago nothing like it existed. I-84 certainly made commuting out to East County easy for me!
What is it about abandoned cars that is so fascinating? Here’s an early 1950s Dodge truck in southern Utah I photographed during a 2013 road trip. The 1949 Buick in the background can also be seen in the book Roadside Relics. Naturally, I have to include the travelogue, particularly its most American of subsets, the long-distance road trip. There is a whole romance to the open road in American culture. For example, consider how often in movies and especially car commercials the automobile is depicted as a source of freedom and adventure. This sense of romance has been captured in some truly beautiful books such as William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, and perhaps best known of all, Jack Kerouac’s semi-autobiographical On the Road. One of my favorites, however, is Driving to Detroit by Lesley Hazelton. Hazelton is a journalist best known for her reporting from the Middle East and her books on Islam, but often overlooked is her love of the car. Born in Britain but a naturalized American citizen, this six-month road trip from Seattle to Detroit and back is many things: her love letter to the automobile; an effort to understand the American affection for the highway; and an admission that cars can horribly damage the environment. Yes, it’s a mixed message, but she pulls it off so well. Her meandering drive brings her in contact with a host of colorful characters that truly reflect the many facets of the automobile in American culture.
If you’re interested in the car, or car culture, try one of the books above or something similar. If you have a favorite book to share, leave me a comment below.
My first encounter with Elaine May was a stumbled-upon PBS special about her years performing comedy with Mike Nichols. Surprising, smart, subversive stuff (some skits available on YouTube). It gave me a hankering to seek out her work as a director.
I admire minimalists. I really do. I totally get the peace of mind that comes with clean surfaces and simple outlines. I love natural linen, wood and neutral shades with bare hints of color. It’s just that I can’t maintain it for long.
I gravitate towards clashing patchwork patterns and ric rac. I see an amateur oil painting being discarded, and I have to rescue it. At the beach, I fill my pockets with interesting bits of wood and rock and when my father passed away, I claimed his collection of antlers to remember him by.
Rather than see all of this stuff as clutter, I’ve been finding inspiration in my collections. A messy stack of books becomes an art installation when towered high on a vintage toddler chair. Tiny plastic goats balanced on the ledges of picture frames, add whimsy to a room, and in my opinion, antlers look good stacked or hung just about anywhere.
Maybe you’re a collector of objects yourself. Maybe like me, you’ve been trying to suppress your love of found, thrifted and handmade objects for the sake of living simply. Maybe you don’t have to. Check out my list for books that will inspire you to clear out your attic and display the things that bring you joy. After all, it’s not clutter if it’s curated.
“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” We’ve all seen and heard that ad on TV. But if you decide to get a medical alert device, or are helping an older friend or relative get one, you might be ready to scream “Help! I need a device but can’t decide which one to get!”
Here’s some tips to make things easier. First, make a list of features you want the medical alert to have. The Federal Trade Commission has some good advice about things to consider. An article called “Personal Emergency Response Systems” from CRS – Adult Health Advisor (June 2012) also gives a checklist of possible concerns [ Note: to read the article, you may have to enter your library card number and PIN]. This blog post from Huffington Post, Post 50 examines three major designs and providers of each kind.
It’s hard to find unbiased reviews. For example, AARP offers a discount to members, available through ADT Companion Service, but this comparison by a competitor, Life Station, makes some arguments against it.
Luckily, in 2014 Consumer Reports Magazine published some unbiased information in their articles "Should You Buy a Medical Alert System?" and "How to Pick a Medical Alert System." [ Note: to read these articles, you may have to enter your library card number and PIN].
Also, Lawserver Online RatingLab’s comparison of medical alerts provides product reviews, advice about comparing them and a ratings chart. You can also go to the Better Business Bureau and do a search for “medical alarms” limited to your zip code, to find how they’ve rated local services.
If you are trying to help an older person who lives out of state, you might also want to find out what is available to them locally. You can use this eldercare locator to find agencies where they live, that can help you.
Be wary of phone salespeople, and online ads; there are lots of scams out there. The resources we’ve listed should help you find a reliable device that will work for you. Need more help? Contact a librarian and we'll be glad to help.
There’s a theory I subscribe to that no matter what our chronological age might be, we all feel a different age inside. As in, our bodies grow, we mature in different ways, but mentally, we all feel stuck at some earlier age. For instance, I am mentally a 17-year-old girl who doesn't quite fit in anywhere yet.
I was thinking about this recently after reading an article in Slate Magazine entitled, Against YA by Ruth Graham. The gist of her essay is that teen fiction is written for teens and adults “should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”
There are several things I’d like to say to Ms. Graham. Here goes. . .
First of all, it’s sometimes a marketing/publishing decision as to what gets published as a young adult book. Take The Book Thief. Please, please take it. It's a brilliant book that should be read by everyone! In Australia where Markus Zusak hales from, you’ll find it in the adult section. But here in the U.S., it sits in the young adult section because his previous book was put out as teen fiction in the U.S. Arbitrary? Indeed.
And then I think back to my growing-up years. Once I reached a certain age, definitely when I was still in middle school and high school, I started reading “adult” books. These were books with younger protagonists that certainly were appealing to teens but they also were well-written novels that adults enjoy. Books like My Name is Asher Lev and To Kill a Mockingbird. The chances are that if these books were published today, they would be cataloged as “young adult” fiction and think how many adults would miss out on them?!
That brings me to today and my reading tastes. Sometimes I read young adult books and I enjoy them because I can totally remember what it was like to be that teen (Fangirl, I’m talking to you). I relate to the characters because I’m still a 17-year-old misfit inside. Other times, I enjoy a teen book because it tells a really good story (A Brief History of Montmaray fits the bill).
I hereby proclaim, I am not embarrassed to read young adult literature and you shouldn't be either! Here are a few more titles that you too can be proud to read.
Even though I haven’t left the Pacific Northwest recently, I’ve spent a good deal of the past few months with my head in Africa.
I’ve always been interested in life in other countries and the immigrant experience, but like most Americans, my knowledge of African countries is narrow at best. However, since reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I've gotten hooked on African writers. Here are a few of my recent favorites:
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo is one of those books that crosses over into poetry. I relished every word in this joyous and harsh story of a girl named Darling who grows up playing games like 'hunting Bin Laden' with her friends in Zimbabwe until moving with her aunt to ‘Destroyedmichygan' (Detroit Michigan). This is a truly modern immigrant story and the sharp contrast between Darling's African childhood and her teenage years in Michigan is startling. Then there are the character names...Bastard, Godknows, Mother of Bones, and who could forget the Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro?
Set in 1950's Sudan, Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela will break your heart, heal it, and then break it again. But it's the good kind of heartbreak, offset by great beauty. Nur, the son and heir of a prominent family suffers a tragic and debilitating accident. With their future uncertain, the family is caught between the traditional values of Nur's Sudanese mother and the modern leanings of his father's young Egyptian second wife, mirroring the social changes in Sudan itself.
Marguerite Abouet's Aya is the first in a graphic novel series that takes you to Abidjan, the capital city of the Ivory Coast, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl, Aya. Set in the prosperous 1970s, the level-headed Aya and her boy crazed friends do what teenagers everywhere do; sneak out to discos and argue with their parents. This is a fantastically fun series that both teenagers and adults will relate to, while also relishing the differences of another culture. Turn to the back pages for bonus extras such as the peanut sauce recipe made famous by Aya's mom and instructions on how to 'roll your tassaba' like Aya's friend Bintou.
You can join my African reading adventure with other titles on this list. Got some favorite titles of your own? I'd love to hear about them. I've got many more countries yet to visit and Nigeria can be so hard to leave.
It's summer and time for a little light reading! (At least that's what I told myself when I read the 21st Stephanie Plum book. Upon hearing me snicker repeatedly while reading, my husband said "You're reading that series with the ditsy bounty hunter and the dueling romances again aren't you?" "Yes! Yes I am!") There's also a bit of fluffy fun to be found in urban fantasy (although with fewer dueling romances), so here are a couple of light suggestions from new series in that subgenre.
I was considering the second book in a sort of OK series and in the back of the book was a sample chapter for Charming by Elliott James. "Chapter One" it read "A Blonde and a Vampire Walk into a Bar...". I was sold right there. John Charming is part of a long family line under a geas to keep the Pax Arcana. Any supernatural being that breaks the peace and risks exposure is slaughtered without mercy. John isn't fully human: at the end of her pregnancy his mother was bitten by a werewolf so he was never completely trusted and, in the end, he had to flee. I knew it probably wasn't going to be the classiest book ever (and it wasn't) but that the author knew his audience and had a sense of humor (occasionally pretty juvenile). I've got book two, Daring, on hold as I write this.
Mur Lafferty has two books out in a series about an out of work travel editor who finds a new position writing travel guides for the supernatural community. In The Shambling Guide to New York City, Zoe Norris has moved to New York City after things fell apart in her former home. She finds work with Underground Publishing as the only human employee and in the process of telling the story, the reader sees excerpts of her guidebook for the supernatural. Book two takes the reader on the Ghost Train to New Orleans where Zoe learns more about her newly supernatural world.