2014 is notable for at least two anniversaries: World War I began 100 years ago and the last of the Baby Boomers turn fifty. That means there are a whole lotta women going through the change right now. Sandra Tsing Loh and Annabelle Gurwitch both live in California, both are in the performing arts, both turned 50 about the same time, both went through menopause at the same time their children were going through puberty, and both have at least one aging parent who needs help. And now, both have written about the whole sad, sorry and sometimes unexpectedly humorous experience in books published in guess what year - 2014!
As a child, my favorite toy and tireless trivia companion was a robot named 2-XL. Ok, he was actually an 8-track player, shaped like a robot and designed by the Mego Toy Corporation to ask trivia and then offer up scripted retorts based upon my answer. We spent many rainy afternoons testing my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s batting average and who exactly is buried in Grant’s Tomb. You know, the kind of thing all third graders ought to know.
I still love trivia, but nowadays I discover it in reading, rather than memorizing 8-track recordings. There are some books brimming with so many fascinating facts, I have to put them down momentarily to share. In 2-XL's absence, my husband provides a patient ear but what these books really ought to have is their very own trivia night dedicated to them.
Does a ‘mouche’ worn on a man's left cheek in 1790s England reflect his political leanings as a Whig or a Tory?
When filming Sometimes a Great Notion on the Oregon Coast, which local beer did Paul Newman consider to be 'the closest substitute' for his beloved Coors?
Can you name the feather-friendly fashion designer who created the original costumes for the ongoing Las Vegas review 'Jubilee!'?
Already know the correct answers?
To quote my old pal 2-XL: "It is amazing that big brain of yours fits into the head of a child. Nice answer.”
Discover the answers to these trivia questions and more with books on this list.
After checking out more cookbooks than any one can realistically get through, I’ve acquired a fair number of repeatable recipes. I wanted to share these finds in the event that you too have gotten bored of your usual go-to’s. These cookbooks have more to offer than just one recipe, but here’s what lured me into the kitchen:
Korean-inspired Dumplings from L.A. Son by Roy Choi: Well-seasoned (garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot pepper powder), and meaty (tofu, beef, and pork), these pot stickers taste revelatory. Double the recipe and freeze some for later!
Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots and Fingerling Potatoes from 150 Things to Make With Roast Chicken, and 50 Ways to Roast It by Tony Rosenfeld: There are so few ingredients and so much flavor packed in this recipe. I love that you get a main entree and a side dish all in one.
Kidney Bean Masala from The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester: In this recipe, boring ole kidney beans get transformed into a delicious garlicky, gingery curry.
Chandra Malai Kofta from Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz: Crispy zucchini-chickpea patties are added to a creamy curry sauce. Even if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making kofta, make the sauce and add roasted cauliflower. Just do it.
Mushroom Lasagna from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: When I need a shake-up from macaroni and cheese, I have to make this white sauce lasagna. No boil lasagna noodles never got so fancy.
Stay tuned for my next installment toward the end of the year. I’ll lug more cookbooks home and try them out so you don’t have to!
This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center. I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!
I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?
What is it about you that makes my children bound out of bed at 6:00 a.m., ready for action and aiming their destructive laser beams at any hilariously misguided idea I had for a few minutes of extra sleep? School Year never did that.
'Just when you're beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.' Will Cuppy is a master of the written word. Now, maybe your family doesn't put sugar on their sliced tomatoes. But if they do, like mine, then you understand the genius of this quote.
Never heard of Will Cuppy? Allow me to introduce you. An American humorist and journalist, Cuppy was best-known for his mock-scientific observations of nature. Born in 1884 in Indiana, Cuppy lived and wrote for many years in New York, before taking his own life in 1949. Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books, including How to Attract the Wombat, one of my personal favorites. I mean, who doesn't want to know how to swat a fly? This book will tell you just that, in an article in which Cuppy codifies the essentials of this simple activity in ten hilarious principles. These articles are not necessarily factual though they are equally not untrue. Cuppy writes short, darkly humorous articles, perfect for when one only has a few minutes to read, and needs a laugh. We also read them out loud in our house, and that is real hoot!
Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, but he had many friends in New York's literary circles. If you are a fan of writings from the golden age of humor (late 1920's-early 1950's), writers such as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman, then I urge you to seek out Will Cuppy's works. Multnomah County Library owns several, and our friendly staff is always available to help you locate more Will Cuppy via Interlibrary Loan. Happy reading!
1. You can be as brave as the pioneers. Those hearty, independent people didn’t shy away from the sometimes elusive, convoluted language of the Bard. In fact they often packed it right next to that other elusive convoluted book, the Bible.
2. You can amaze your friends and confuse your enemies by the brilliance of your insults. Instead of shouting out F*** you when you are nearly sideswiped on your bike you can calmly cry out “Hast thou never an eye in thy head?” (Henry IV, pt.1 )
...Or maybe your roommate eats the last piece of your favorite pie- you shake your fist and bellow:
“Thou elvish mark’d, abortive rooting hog”(Richard III) and walk dismissively away.
3. You can gracefully free yourself of all that anger directed against the teachers who made you hate Shakespeare. Perhaps some teacher made them hate it too.
4. Shakespeare is packed with the excitement and adventure of human passion. His stories breathe with as much energy and meaning as when they were written 300 years ago. Sure, the language can be a challenge, but remember they ARE plays - meant to be seen and experienced. Try the many film representations - especially those by the BBC. Or for a more complete experience, watch a play performed live.
So go ahead. Read Shakespeare. You might just wonder why you waited so long.
Just as often as I judge a book by its cover, I judge it by its title. I love a title that hints at irony and leaves me thinking- "well that can't really be what the book is about." Sometimes my curiosity is rewarded with a really great story.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is one of the most delightful and original books I’ve read in recent memory. Cleverly presented as a self-help book, author Mohsin Hamid lays out each chapter as a step to becoming filthy rich in an unnamed Asian country. The second-person narrative immediately drawns you into the story, but when step three: Don’t Fall in Love, proves impossible to adhere to, you may find yourself asking, as Hamid does:
“Is getting filthy rich still your goal above all goals, your be-all and end-all, the mist-shrouded high-altitude spawning pond to your inner salmon?”
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is indeed a book about crazy rich Asians. Chinese American Rachel Chu, has no idea her low-key boyfriend of two years, Nick Young is one of Asia’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelors when she agrees to accompany him home to Singapore for the summer.
Once in Singapore, hilarious stories of excess, evil bridesmaids, scheming mothers, couture catfights and the most over-the-top wedding imaginable ensue. This book is crazy fun reading and delivers all the glamour of the Jackie Collin’s novels I devoured off my mom’s bookshelf as a teen. But it's not all superficial fluff inside this gold cover: Crazy Rich Asians is also a reflection on family, tradition, and the things in life worth fighting for. If that doesn't appeal to you, the mouth-watering descriptions of Singapore street food ought to. It's not always about the money.
June is weddings and honeymoons, summer camps and vacations; time to get ready for life in the future or step back from the life you are living.
Journeys are begun that can lead to escape from the mundane. Dorothy Gilman of Mrs. Pollifax fame offers three works that could be travelogues due to the exquisite descriptions of culture and country off the tourist path. Yet they are also explorations of the inner terrain, the place where we really are when we know who we are.
Incident at Badamya is set in war-torn Burma in the 1950’s. Europeans traveling the river Irrawaddy are kidnapped and held for ransom by freedom fighters/terrorists. Enter sixteen-year-old Gen Ferris. Born and reared in Burma, she is newly orphaned and on her way to an America which she knows only from movie magazines. Dangerously innocent, relentlessly honest she is a catalyst for change. Masks are ripped off, dark secrets come to light as the detainees plot and plan their escape. The reader learns anew that ‘to thine own self be true’ is the magic in the real world.
Uncertain Voyage and Caravan complete the trio. Find yourself in 1960’s Europe, newly divorced and diagnosed with mental disease. Or take a journey across the Sahara sands as a slave in the early days of WWI. Both are worthy companions for long, lazy days full of lemonade or margaritas, whichever is your preference.