Blogs: Adults

Ah, the lost art of letter writing. I still find myself checking my mail hoping that there will actually be a personal letter mixed in with the credit card applications. But alas, I can’t recall the last time I received a real letter. When I want to immerse myself in the beauty of letter-writing, I shall open up Shaun Usher’s, Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of A Wider Audience

Letters of Note bookjacket

Shaun Usher loves letters (and lists too. His second book, Lists of Note includes such wonders as Michelangelo's illustrated shopping list and Marilyn Monroe’s New Year’s resolutions written when she was 29-years-old.).

But back to the pleasures of letters. Usher has collected 125 letters from far and wide and long ago to more recent times. Many of the letters are from well-known figures but some are from everyday folks. All of the letters have a short introduction to put them into historical context and a good share of them include a reproduction of the letter itself. The effort and creativity that went into these letters - a 13-year-old boy at a school for the blind wrote in Braille to President Eisenhower. The sadness - Virginia Woolf’s note to her husband before she committed suicide. Witty, funny, artistic ones. Beautiful, heartfelt, poignant letters. They’re all here.

If you’d like to peruse even more letters, take a look at Shaun Usher's website where he has posted a whopping 900 letters; they’re indexed in various ways so one could spend weeks reading all of them. Or take a look at some of these books that are chock full of letters. I, however, think I’ll go write a letter to a friend.

RoganGoshMcCarthyArtDark Horse Comics' The Best of Milligan & McCarthy is a gorgeous and (almost) exhaustive compendium, collecting the duo's legendary runs like "Paradax!," "Rogan Gosh," and the previously unavailable "Skin."  Both Milligan and McCarthy went on to forge distinctive careers, but the work collected in this collection is explosive, bewildering, and immediate - completely ignoring the careerist ambitions and institutional strictures both artists eventually had to confront and contend with . 

The comics are all over the place (sometimes head-wreckingly so) but they're always readily situated in the catastrophic top-spin of Thatcher-Reagan economic/social tachycardia.  McCarthy's artwork is typically hyper-active and color-saturated, pushing the physical boundaries of panel and page (the exception being the provisionally censored "Skin" - which is wrought in unique pastel colors by the always incredible Carol Swain). Milligan's writing winds a loose balance between non-linear and scabrous - taking very little seriously - but capable of surprising moments of tenderness and expansive vision.

Their work can definitely jolt - and possibly offend (especially "Skin" - which tells the sad angry, and brief tale of a thalidomide-deformed skinhead in the 1980s UK).  But it's heavily recommended for fans of politically-charged comics that explore the horizons and possibilities of graphic narrative and page art (see Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Sandman-era Neil Gaiman).

 

The characters of fantasy novels are so often great warriors or mighty magic users (aside from the hobbits of course!) .  Special people marked for greatness.  Somebody Important! What about the rest of us?  How about a book about a miller's daughter in a humble colony village?  Or a teenage prostitute? 
 
A Turn of Light book jacketA Turn of Light by Julie E Czerneda is about Jenn, a miller's daughter in an isolated frontier community.  Jenn dreams of a wider world that she can never see and as her birthday marking adulthood approaches she is in many ways still a child. Though nearly an adult and with her father suggesting marriage, Jenn is still running off to pick flowers in the meadow and dodging her chores.  Jenn has always had an invisible protector that only spoke to her.  A careless wish of hers one day turns him into a man.Karen Memory book jacket
 
In Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear,  Karen Memery ("like 'memory' only spelt with an e"), a teenage "seamstress" at Madame Damnable's Hôtel Mon Cherie in Rapid City (reminiscent of a gold rush era Seattle) is making the best of things...  Her world is full of steam powered marvels that can do wondrous things and steam powered terrors as well.  Karen is well treated where she is and knows most girls in her trade have it much, much worse.  Sensible sort that she is, she is putting every coin she can aside as a girl can't "sew" forever.  Once she had a mother and father and a good life helping them gentle horses.  Then death claimed them both too soon.  She had no higher hope than setting aside enough silver to buy a little bit of land and a couple of promising horses to train and sell, but she can't turn aside when a badly brutalized girl is found near the establishment she works at.
 
And now I'm going back to lords and heroes with the new book by Stina Leicht: Cold Iron. I always enjoy finding a new author to try.  Maybe
it'll be great!

Spare Parts book jacketI like finding a book that is both engaging and makes me think. Spare Parts is one of those books. It is the story of four teens in a poor Phoenix high school who join the robotics club. Their teacher decides to challenge them to design an underwater robot for a NASA sponsored robotics competition. They overcome all sort of design challenges to end up winning.That would be a good story in itself; now throw in the fact that all four boys are undocumented. They are from Mexico and they live under constant threat of being deported. If they had been citizens, winning a major robotics competition would have led to scholarships and opportunities. For Oscar, Cristian, Luis and Lorenzo it led to struggling to get into college, deportation and dead end jobs.

Spare Parts; Four undocumented teenagers, one ugly robot and the battle for the American dream, by Joshua Davis will change the way you view the debate on immigration and show how people's lives can be negatively affected by government policies.

Photo of The Nakeds by Lisa Glatt resting on a lawn chair with a summer cocktail

I hadn’t heard a thing about The Nakeds by Lisa Glatt when I saw it in the new fiction section of my library. The title made me smile and the collaged cover art drew me in closer.  Then a quick skim of the book jacket picked up the words: 1970s… Southern California… painfully honest...nudist camp, and I was sold.

But while 1970s California nudist camp was enough to pique my interest, this book is so much more. When the story opens, 6-year-old Hannah Teller’s parents are busy with the argument that will culminate in the end of their marriage. Hannah steps out of her home, determined to walk to school on her own and is struck by a hopelessly drunk teenage driver named Martin Kettle.  Sounds like a real downer right?

Bear with me. Yes, The Nakeds is a story of a broken girl, a broken marriage and a broken young addict but it’s funny- not quirky funny but unflinchingly honest and brave funny.  Plus it’s a story filled with so much human beauty and compassion that you want to hang around: Even as Hannah gets fitted for yet another cast by another doctor who probably can’t fix her. Even as Hannah’s dad goes ahead and becomes a Jew for Jesus, marrying the blonde Christian surfer girl he started an affair with back when Hannah’s mom was pregnant.  Even as (especially as) Hannah’s mom and her new stepdad expand their nudist camp weekends to include naked Fridays at home. And perhaps most difficult, as Martin Kettle stops and starts his life, paralyzed by denial and self loathing for what he did and failed to own up to.

So beat the crowds and spend a regret-free weekend with The Nakeds this summer. When you’re finished, check out this list for more intriguing new titles you may have missed.

I like things that defy pigeonholing. Sure, sometimes knowing what you're going to get is exactly what you need, but when you feel adventurous, have a look at these. 

Here book jacketHere, a graphic novel by Richard McGuire, is like no other I've encountered. From the book jacket: "Here is the story of a corner of a room and of the events that have occurred in that space over the course of hundreds of thousands of years." Each page is the same view of the same space, but the various tales that occurred there are woven in and out of each other via colorful windows. Several points in time may be shown on the same page, deftly comparing and contrasting each to each. (The little panels are dated with their year, thank goodness.) Touching, real, sad, joyous, mundane and fantastic are here combined as well as I've ever seen. (This would make an interesting flip-book! Time travel, bound.)

Reading this inspired me to share another favorite genre-buster from a few years ago, Bryan Talbot's Alice in Sunderland. So what is it? 'An Alice in Sunderland book jacketentertainment.' It is a history, a biography, a speculative reconstruction, a philosophical musing about a place and its people (including Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell). We enter Sunderland's Empire Theatre to be a part of the audience on a tour through time. Talbot's creation contains photographs, computer renderings, 'found' images and certainly lots of line art. This was my favorite book/graphic novel of the year when I discovered it, and it occurs to me that it is time to have a look again. Gotta go... it's reading time.

Summer Exploding Sun Image

Multnomah County Library offers a wide array of music via streaming services and old-fashioned CDs that can be checked out.  MCL's My Librarians focus a lot of our energy and effort creating reading lists and recommending titles and read-alikes - but since I often write posts on popular music genres and artists, I thought I'd toss out a solicitation to those of you potentially interested in a customized music playlist.  Below you'll find a playlist I created for myself with a loose summer heat feel to it (even if the content of some of the songs has nothing to do with summer, they sound like summer).

I'm attaching the songs as stand-alone videos but you can also check out the playlist as a continuous loop here or, if you're a Spotify user - here.  And if you feel like rolling the dice and requesting a customized playlist, get in touch with me and let me know what kind of music/artists turn you on.

 

Summer 2015: Temperature's Rising

1) Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Jim On The Move:



2) Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Beyond Belief:


3) The Grateful Dead - Franklin's Tower:


4) Lee "Scratch" Perry - City Too Hot:


5) The Style Council - Long Hot Summer:


6) Gregory Isaacs - My Number One:


7) OutKast - Hey Ya!:


8) Pere Ubu - Heaven:


9) Tinashe - 2 On (ft. Schoolboy Q):


10) Fleetwood Mac - Over and Over:


11) Marianne Faithfull - Broken English:


12) Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Endicott:


13) Azealia Banks - 212 (ft. Lazy Jay):


14) War - Me And Baby Brother:


15) Dennis Brown - Money In My Pocket:


16) Warren Zevon - Desperados Under The Eaves (Early):


17) Scritti Politti - The Boom Boom Bap:


18) XTC - Summer's Cauldron/Grass:
 

19) John Cale - You Know More Than I Know:

 

The Elephant House, EdinburghThis summer, I got to see the birthplace of Harry Potter!  I’d been in Edinburgh before but had managed to miss the café in which J.K. Rowling first began writing about Harry, Ron and Hermione.  I also had a pint in Inspector Rebus’s pub, The Oxford Bar, and revisited the statue of Greyfriars Bobby.  Visiting literary sites and libraries is something I try to do on every trip, and I had a bookish bonanza this year in Scotland.  In past years, I’ve wandered the Portobello Road antiques market in London where Paddington Bear’s friend, Mr. Gruber, has his shop, have made a pilgrimage to James Herriot’s veterinary clinic in Thirsk, England, and ridden the rails in Yorkshire close to Thomas the Tank Engine’s home.

When I was a child, we did a lot of traveling around the Pacific Northwest as well as Pennsylvania and KentuckyThe Oxford Bar, Edinburgh where my family’s relatives lived.  All of those trips were fun, but I can only imagine how excited I would have been had I gotten to commune with Peter Rabbit in England’s Lake District or been lost in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler takes place.  If you or your children have a hankering to visit places you’ve come to love in favorite books, there are several guides to help you get there.

Storybook TStorybook Travels book jacketravels covers thirty literary landmarks around the world.  The guide gives you information about the books covered, suggested itineraries, and addresses, phone numbers  and websites of the places to visit.  Portland gets a mention for Beverly Cleary's books!

Once Upon a Time in Great Britain covers literary sites in England, Scotland and Wales and also notes sites where you can see original artwork and manuscripts.

I don’t know where I’ll travel next, but I’m sure it will include places important in my reading life.

I'm a sucker for stories that feature librarians. When I was a little kid, I turned my bookshelves into a library and made my sister and my stuffed animals check out books.The Book of Speculation bookjacket

Right now, I'm in the middle of Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation. The narrator, Simon Watson, is a librarian living alone in his deteriorating family house on a cliff on the Long Island Sound. One day, a mysterious book is delivered to his doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller. The ancient tome is a log written by the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700’s. Oddly enough, Simon’s grandmother’s name is written in it but more disturbingly, Simon learns that the women in his family tend to drown young on the same date in July. As he has a younger sister who might be in danger of succumbing to the same drowning fate, Simon needs to use his librarianly research skills to figure out what the story is before that July date rolls around again.

The narrative switches between the present and the past. In the present, Simon deals with the messiness and drama of his life and works towards solving the mysteries of his family's past. In the past, the mysterious book reveals its secrets.

Oh, and there are circus mermaids too.

Book Jacket: The City of Palaces by Michael NavaA handsome doctor, tortured by his dark past, returns home from exile in Europe to perform house calls for bored, rich housewives.

Robbed of her beauty by smallpox, a spinster countess in a crumbling palace, swallows her own pain by devoting her life to God and caring for the downtrodden in the city’s worst neighborhoods.

An upper class gentleman, shunned from the city as a “sodomite” returns as an openly gay revolutionary who refuses to apologize for his politics nor for whom he loves.

It’s the end of the 19th century and the setting is Mexico City under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. The Eurocentric old guard are losing their hold on the city, but who or what will replace it remains uncertain.

The book is The City of Palaces by Michael Nava; A finalist for this year’s Lambda Literary Awards. As a devout chilangophile, I’ll read anything set in Mexico City, but this particular book took my breath away. The surprising cast of characters sucked me in right from the start and Nava's talent for storytelling carried me straight to the heart of a country on the brink of revolution.

If you need a page-turner to read this Summer with amazing characters that breathe life into history, check out The City of Palaces

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