Blogs: Adults

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:

Book jacket: We Need New Names by NoViolet BulawayoWe 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?

Book jacket: Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

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.

Book jacket: Aya by Marguerite AbouetMarguerite 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.

Charming book jacketI 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.
The Shambling Guide to New York City book jacket
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.

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!

The Madwoman in the Volvo book jacketThe Madwoman in the Volvo: My year of raging hormones starts with Loh's ill-advised extra-marital affair at 46 that left her living in a dumpy apartment without either her husband or her lover.  Things can only look up, right?  Whoa nelly!  Watch out for year 49!  Failed happiness projects, attempted weight loss, dealing with dad and his decades younger, but more decrepit wife, are just some of the joys Loh experiences in the lead up to 50.  And yet (spoiler alert!), she survives and lives to tell the tale in a very funny fashion.
 
I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, indignities, and survival stories from the edge of fifty is a series of personal essays on Gurwitch'sI See You Made an Effort book jacket mid-life experience.  While she doesn't have an affair, she does dream about men who are decades younger than she is.  Gurwitch also talks about the reality of being fifty in show business (yes, I can play a medieval crone), the challenges of being the menopausal mother of an adolescent son, and the fun of lying awake at 4:00 a.m. with no hope of sleep.
 
So for all you Boomers born in 1964:  Fifty - bring it on!  And good luck.
Salt by Mark Kurlansky is about the history and uses of salt. Today salt is cheap and easy to buy, but it was not always so. The ancient Chinese developed salt production and financed much of their government through salt taxes. If you can control salt, you can control much more. The British had a firm grip on India's salt which is why Gandhi staged a salt march as a protest. If you like history and politics you will enjoy Salt.
 
Salt book jacketSalt can do much more than make food taste good, it also can preserve food. Before the 20th century and refrigeration, salt was widely used as a preservative.  The history of salted food was my favorite part of the book. Read Salt and you may find yourself making sauerkraut.
 
Salt production is fascinating. It was needed, rare and valuable. Its value led to many creative methods of production. Most of the methods involve evaporation. Some salt is mined. Many different ways have been used over time. The end result is many kinds of salt for different uses. There is more to salt than table or sea salt.
 
This is a fun and enjoyable book. It has remained popular for over 10 years. The reason I waited so long to read it was I never thought salt could be interesting.

Photo of figures reading trivia questions from booksAs 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:

L.A. Son book jacketKorean-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 intoGreat Vegan Bean Book book jacket 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.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book jacketMushroom 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!

 

Tell it like it Tiz!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?

Dear Summer Vacation,

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. 

All is entropy and my house looks like that not-so-mythical gyre of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean: Nerf darts, boomerangs, water balloons, molecule models, yo-yos, pieces of Risk and Stratego and little Monopoly houses and those dastardly Danish blocks I fully expect will one day require surgical extraction from one or both my feet. 
 
And the sopping wet piles of clothing and towels--what's up with that, Summer V.? My children don't even bother with swimsuits any more. Because they're not going swimming. At some point during the day, every day, they just go outside and turn the hoses on one another while fully clothed. Because they can. Because of you, Summer Vacation.
 
Of course you have your good points, S. V. You've got your trips away, and dinner on the grill almost every night (mostly, it must be said, because the cook can park her rear in a lawn chair outside with a book and ignore the screaming children in the house), and ice cream, and that holiday with its permissions to play with fire and blow things up. Hello, sticky s'mores and raspberries growing in the backyard and fuzzy bumblebees in the lavender.
 
If I had any skills in photography I would take pictures before you get away again, Summer Vacation. There are a million books I could read, but looking at pictures seems the right thing to do now, while the sun shines and gifts us all with extra daylight. Here are a few recommendations should you find yourself in an Adirondack chair under a leafy tree with a tall glass of iced tea (or, like me, caught between a grill of burning hot dogs and a leaking half-full kiddie pool soup of toys and grass and dead or dying insects while holding someone's drippy purple popsicle):
 
Summer Food book jacketSummer Food: New summer classics by Paul Lowe is that rare cookbook--photography gorgeous in its own right, with the added bonus of recipe after delicious-sounding recipe. The recipes are simple and straightforward without a bunch of strange "where the hell do I get that and what is it anyway" ingredients. I want to make almost everything in this book. But even if I never do, the pictures are enough. Just don't eat the book. I'll want to check it out again.
 
This Is the Day: The March on Washington is a striking photo-essay by Leonard Freed documenting the historic March for Jobs and This is the Day book jacketFreedom on August 28, 1963 which included the "I Have a Dream" speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial that day. Freed's images seem illuminated from within by a moral beauty and the human dignity so central to the civil rights movement. This book is not about Dr. King or his speech or famous events but about the ocean of ordinary people who marched in peace for justice and ultimately carried the day and the movement.
 
Once Upon a Playground book jacketOnce Upon a Playground: A celebration of classic American playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo is a time capsule. Careful: you may be transported to that park that you could walk to by yourself when you were nine, the one with the giant metal rocket you could climb. This book is a visual tribute to the iconic play structures rapidly vanishing from the collective cultural landscape. The book juxtaposes contemporary photos of structures along with vintage catalog advertisements, postcards and photographs of the same structures. The result is a ride on a haunted merry-go-round.
 
I can't decide whether I want you to spin faster or slow down, Summer Vacation. Just don't ever disappear.

Will Cuppy'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!

 

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        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.

 

           

                                                  

 

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