Blogs: Books & literature

For those of us who love classic literature, Multnomah County Library is a great resource. There are Classics Pageturners book discussion groups at Hillsdale Library and Hollywood Library.  Copies of the books will be available two months in advance of the discussions.  Please call the branch to confirm.  Following that are a series of lists of Western and non-Western literature from every era.

Here are the Classics Pageturners schedules:

Hillsdale Library Classics Pageturners,

second Saturdays, 3-5 pm

 

September 9, 2017, Sonnets by William Shakespeare. (This is a different edition than the group will read)

 

October 14, 2017, The Nice and the Good, by Iris Murdoch

 

November 11, 2017, It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis

 

December 9, 2017, Billy Budd and Other Stories, by Herman Melville

 

January 13, 2018, Canterbury Tales, by GeoffreyChaucer

 

February 10, 2017, Cousin Bette, by Honore de Balzac

 

March 10, 2018, The Persians, by Aeschylus

 

April 14, 2018, The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

 

May 12, 2018, The Early History of Rome, books I-V, by Livy

 

June 9, 2018, The Trial, by Franz Kafka

Hollywood Library Classics Pageturners,

third Sundays, 2-4 pm

 

September 17, 2017,  Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges

 

October 15, 2017, Iphigenia in Aulis and The Trojan Women, by Euripides. (These are different editions than the group will read)

 

November 19, 2017, The Vicar of Wakefield, by Oliver Goldsmith

 

December 17, 2017, The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories, by Alexander Pushkin

 

January 21, 2018, The Heart of the Matter, by Graham Greene

 

February 18, 2018, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Matsuo Basho

 

March 18, 2018, The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

April 15, 2018, The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius

 

May 20, 2018, The Analects, by Confucius. (This is a different edition and translation than the group will read)

 

June 17, 2018, The Mill on the Floss, by George Eliot. (This is a different edition than the group will read)

 

photo of Hill Top FarmThis spring I checked off one of my bucket list travel destinations:  Hill Top, Beatrix Potter's farm in the English Lake District.  Before I left, I reread many of Potter's tales and was (pleasantly) surprised by their edginess!  They weren't all sweetness and light and the stories were full of drama.  Of course I had remembered that Peter Rabbit's father had ended up in a pie, but along with parental death, there is also kidnapping, or rather, bunnynapping (Mr. Tod & The Flopsy Bunnies), sassing (Squirrel Nutkin), punishment (Tom Kitten), thievery (Benjamin Bunny), wanton destruction (Two Bad Mice) and general youthful mayhem (take your pick). What's a kid not to like?

I also wanted tbook jacket for Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of A Borrowed Guinea Pig o better understand Potter's life and artistry before I visited the Beatrix Potter Gallery, and so I checked out several biographies including Over the Hills and Far Away and Beatrix Potter:  Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman. I also came across The Art of Beatrix Potter which contains many full color and sometimes full-page plates of her gorgeous paintings.

Because 2016 was the 150th anniversary of her birth, a number of books about her were published that year including Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, a fun and mostly true story for children of an incident in Potter's life. If you haven't checked out Beatrix Potter since your youth, consider revisiting her in some of these books for youth and adults.

 

The My Librarian team loves to spend time searching for the perfect book for you, dear readers; but when summer comes, we like to indulge ourselves with books that hit our sweet spot. Here are the titles we're excited about.

Alicia

I can't wait to sip some iced coffee, dig my feet in warm sand and dig into the new romantic-comedy, When Dimple Met Rishi. Dimple and Rishi are two gifted teens who meet at a Stanford summer program. Before the two teens met, their parents had arranged for them to be husband and wife. Rishi knows this, but Dimple does not.
 
If you're like me and are a huge fan of the 80s classic The Breakfast Club, you will also be ready to devour One of Us is Lying. Five high school students walk into detention on a Monday, but only four walk out alive. 

Alison

I love a good 'long walk' book, so when Cheryl Strayed recommended Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London, I immediately put it on my 'to be read' list.

 

 

Darcee

My eight-year-old and I are having a blast with Andy Griffiths's outrageously silly series starting with The 13-story Treehouse. It's inspired us to build our own treehouse this summer. We plan to skip the shark tank, but are still hatching plans to simulate Andy and Terry's ice-cream serving robot- Edward Scooperhands

 

 

Diana

If you love Jane Austen, are intrigued by the idea of time travel, and find yourself looking for something on the lighter side, let yourself get swept away to Regency England by Kathleen A. Flynn's The Jane Austen Project. Be warned, dear reader: it's a very difficult book to set down.

 

Eric

As someone who is deeply interested in Communism, and a massive fan of China Miéville's fiction, I'm stoked to read October: The Story of the Russian Revolution, his take on the early months of the Russian Revolution.

 

 

Heather

I was taken by this unusual debut by Paula Cocozza, How to be Human. Set during the summertime in London, this is a whole new look at obsessive love.

 

 

 

Karen

Summer is the perfect time to be entertained by David Sedaris. I can't wait to read his innermost thoughts in Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)

 

 

 

I am loving The Witches of New York1880's New York is only one of the intriguing characters in this novel due out in July about three young witches running at tea shop called "Tea and Sympathy." Sinister and whimsical at the same time, this book will take you away.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Somewhere in a park this summer, you'll find me(ow) reading Mustache Shenanigans by Jay Chandrasekhar. He's part of Broken Lizard, the group that created one of my favorite films, Super Troopers. It's a behind the scenes look into his life and comedy that'll be pair well with sun and a patch of grass. 
 
 
 
 
Summer is the perfect time to create stuff and Whoosh! is the perfect book to inspire kids who have lots of time on their hands!  I love this fun and whimsically illustrated book about Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker, because it shows how he used everyday objects to come up with some pretty neat creations.
 
 
 
 
 

In Martha's Vineyard, Island of Dreams, Susan Branch uses her uniquely decorated diaries to illustrate one year spent in a one-room cabin on Martha's Vineyard. A perfect book to read during the long warm days of summer- especially if you need some inspiration.

Also, I just listened to The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell  The park was perfectly safe, better than a back yard, right? But when thirteen year old Grace turns up missing, it looks like a repeat of a similar crime ten years earlier. Tense and stagnant, the action of this title takes place during the hot summer. The narrator, Colleen Prendergrast uses an accent that makes me think I am in the middle of a British TV series.

cover image of joy harjo books

David Naimon is a writer and host of the radio broadcast and podcast, Between the Covers, honored by The Guardian as one of the best book podcasts today. He has interviewed such authors as Anthony Doerr, Colson Whitehead, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Saunders, Claudia Rankine, and Maggie Nelson. His own writing can be found in AGNI, Tin House and Boulevard among others and has been cited in The Best American Essays, The Best American Travel Writing, The Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize anthology.

There’s a lot of talk these days about building walls, but little discussion about one already built, a long-standing high-security literary wall. As the host of a book podcast, I’m often thinking about how to curate a roster of writers who reflect the multiplicity that is the literary world, guests writing from a wide array of backgrounds as well as writers writing in different or harder to classify literary forms. As a nation that historically has regarded itself as a welcoming place to immigrants, we love narratives — from Saul Bellow to Viet Thanh Nguyen, from Maxine Hong Kingston to Junot Diaz — written by or about immigrants becoming American. But, oddly, at the same time, we seem incurious when it comes to literature not originally written in English.

There is an oft-cited statistic that translated works make up a paltry 3-5 percent of the books published in the U.S. in any given year. But Eliot Weinberger, translator of Octavio Paz, Jorge Luis Borges and Bei Dao among others, says this statistic is entirely false. Only 300 to 400 literary translations are published each year — an incredible .3 to .5 percent of the annual books published, Weinberger argues. Fortunately, one of the unexpected silver linings of the collapse of the big six publishing houses is not only the rise of small presses, presses that take more risks (and which have been coming away with some of the biggest literary awards as a result), but also the rise of small presses devoted to translation. We seem to be in the beginnings of a translation renaissance. The origin of the phrase “to translate” comes from the Latin translatus, which means “to carry across.” My list of recommended titles is written in the spirit of this new interest in carrying works of literature across the literary wall, this new desire to be inspired and renewed by the writing of other cultures. And if you find yourself taken by one or more of these books, you can follow up your reading of it with a listen to my conversation with the author.
 
Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli
 
Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli has an unusual relationship with her translator. Before Christina McSweeney translates one of Luiselli’s books, McSweeney asks to know the songs Luiselli was listening to, the images she was looking at, and how the room looked where she wrote the book. Luiselli herself explicitly plays with the role of translation in her work and with the role of the translator in a book’s creation, even going so far as to include a chapter in one of her novels written by her translator. It is hard to pick which of Valeria Luiselli’s three utterly enchanting books to recommend here but the one closest to my heart is Faces in the Crowd. It follows a a Mexican translator in New York charged with finding “the next Bolaño.” She discovers the work of an obscure poet, falls in love with it, finds herself possibly haunted by his ghost, their identities becoming more and more porous as the novel (and her translation of him) progresses.
 
Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey
 
Ways to Disappear is the first novel by poet and translator Idra Novey. Perhaps best known for her translation of Clarice Lispector’s classic The Passion According to G.H., Novey plays with the ways translators really aren’t “best known” for anything, the ways in which they are delegated to the shadows and their work never considered a truly creative act in its own right. Novey flips the narrative in this novel, making the translator, Emma, super visible as the hero-protagonist at the center of an international thriller/mystery. When Emma’s author, Beatriz Yagoda, the one she has been translating for years, goes missing, Emma abandons her boyfriend and her life in Pittsburgh to go to Brazil to find her. ‘Who could know an author better, her mind and intentions more thoroughly, than the author’s own translator?’ Emma thinks. But Beatriz’s Brazilian family, the ones that see her daily unwritten moments, beg to differ. Ways to Disappear is a page-turning philosophical book, one that functions both as a witty suspense novel and a meditation on the mysteries of language.
 
 
Paris Review editor Lorin Stein calls Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei “the best primer on translation I’ve ever read, also the funniest and most impatient,” and that is the marvel of this little book. If you are already interested in poetry and come to this book with a curiosity about the mysteries of translation, you will surely love Weinberger’s classic. But if you are intimidated by poetry and don’t think you have any particular interest in translation, this book may yet provide an unexpected entryway into both. The project is deceptively simple, with Weinberger examining 19 different translations of a classic four-line poem by the eighth-century poet Wang Wei, but the result is a newfound wonder about language and cross-cultural communication. You will finish this book marveling at the creative feat of any act of translation, running to your favorite dog-eared copy of Anna Karenina or Remembrances of Things Past to see which translator gifted you access to these works written now once again in your own tongue.
 
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane
 
It’s rare that a writer tours for their book in its translated form, and even rarer that such a writer comes through Portland. So I felt fortunate to get the chance to interview Chilean writer Lina Meruane, an author already well-known in the Spanish-speaking world. She has just now had one of her books translated into English for the first time, thanks to Deep Vellum, one of the newer presses dedicated solely to works in translation. Deep Vellum joins the likes of publishers old and new (for example, And Other Stories, Coffeehouse Press, New Directions, Tilted Axis, Wakefield Press) that are making this a particularly exciting time for American readers (and book podcast hosts). Seeing Red opens with the narrator losing her vision and somehow creates a text that is more visual, not less, as a result. Intertwining fiction and autobiography, the novel explores and interrogates the tropes of illness narratives in relation to gender and gender stereotypes. As a result, Seeing Red defies your expectations at every turn.
 
Part of the reason it felt like literary luminaries W.G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño exploded on the American literary scene in one big boom is because it took us so long to take notice and begin translating their work. Once one book caught on, the rest came in one big rush. Hopefully, with this renewed interest in translation, we won’t have to wait quite as long for an onrush of translation of Lina Meruane’s work. I’ll be first in line to read the next one.
 
Listen to audio of my conversations with Luiselli, Novey, Weinberger and Meruane.

It's said that history is written by the winners but many stories go untold, especially when they concern women. For instance, have you ever heard of Nellie Bly?

I had a vague notion about her buried somewhere in my brain - 'a reporter, wasn't she?' - but I knew nothing more. As it turns out, she entered journalism at a time when the only role for female reporters was to contribute to the society pages. In a bold move to show her editor that women could do hard-hitting journalism, she volunteered to go undercover, and committed herself to the notorious women's asylum on Blackwell's Island. Bly reported that if one wasn't insane when committed, one would most certainly lose one's sanity in the horrendous conditions on the island. Her work resulted in improvements to the facility and better care for inmates.

A good reporter can never rest on her laurels though, and so in 1889, Bly set out to race around the world in 80 days or fewer to see if the journey that Jules Verne imagined in Around the World in 80 Days could be accomplished. What she didn't realize was that a rival paper decided to make it a race by sending the young Elizabeth Bisland around the world in the opposite direction.

You can follow this riveting story by reading Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-making Race around the World, by Matthew Goodman, which describes a great chase by ship and train across many countries. The excitement of the race is nicely balanced by the historical detail, and satisfies the curiosity while reading like a novel. You can also join fans of Nellie at an upcoming event that will give you an inside perspective on this remarkable woman.

For more inside stories about surprising women in history take a look at the accompanying reading list.

Eleanor & Park are a couple of misfits that meet on the school bus.  One is trying to fly under the radar, the other, with flaming red hair, Eleanor & Parkcan't be missed.  The only thing they have in common is that neither of them fit in at school.  Gradually, because one is too nice and the other too pushy, they develop a friendship that may, or may not, last.  Sounds pretty innocent, huh?  Not to some parents in Yamhill-Carlton School District.  They convinced the school board to ban the book from an eigth grade reading list without following procedures.  With enough community outcry, the school board reinstated the book while the review procedures are followed.  Read all about it in the article " Oregon School Board Reconsiders Hasty Ban of Eleanor & Park" posted on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) website.

Recently I had a heavenly vacation most of which I spent on the couch drinking tea and reading British police procedurals.  I'd been in a mystery rut; I had stalled in some of my favorite series and felt the need for something fresh, so I brought home a stack of newish books and cracked their spines.  Here are a few of the mysteries I read, all of which were written in the past few years and are either stand-alones or series starters.  If you need some fresh blood in your (reading) life of crime, check these out!

She's Leaving Home book jacket1968 London. It might be swinging for some, but for one teenager, it's deadly. DS Breen has just left another policeman alone in a dangerous situation and isn't very popular at the moment.  When a teenage girl is found lying naked and dead close to Abbey Road, Breen and his female (and newly minted) detective constable are on the case.  Can Breen redeem himself?  Can DC Tozer make a go of it in CID, a department completely dominated by men?  I loved experiencing the officers' struggles as they dealt with the challenges of the late 1960s in She's Leaving Home by William Shaw.

Moving into the 21st century, policing (and finding a guy to date) is still not necessarily easy for a woman.  DS Bradshaw is on the cusp of forty and is not particularly satisfied with her circumstances. She gets a chance to take her mind off her crappy life when a young woman goes missing from her home leaving a trail of blood.  It's up to Bradshaw and a team of detectives from Cambridgeshire to figure out what happened in Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.Coffin Road book jacket

In Coffin Road, a man washes up on an island in the Outer Hebrides with no idea who he is. It's possible he may have killed a man, and he and the police separately try to figure out the mystery of his identity.  This is as much a thiller as a police procedural - we see the mystery mostly from the point of view of the unidentified man.  The setting was fantastic and I got to learn about a real life mystery that took place on the Flannan Islands.

For more British police procedurals written in the 21st century, take a look at this list.

Hasn’t 2016 been a doozy of a year? A friend of mine told me he wants to get some lighter fluid to incinerate his calendar. I told him I thought I might need explosives for mine.

Lately I have been trying put in some effort every day to make the world a little better. I go to demonstrations, give donations to worthy causes, subscribe to two good newspapers, and email my representatives in state and federal government. But once bedtime comes along, I need to leave this world behind and get lost in a novel. It's not a time for books that are esoteric, demanding, or very dark. My ideal escape read sucks me right into the story and gets me involved with its characters. If I especially like some of those characters, all the better.

The Bookshop on the Corner fit the bill perfectly. It tells the story of a laid-off librarian who buys a van, turns it into a portable bookshop, and moves to Scotland. The author's vision of Scotland is charming and cozy, full of perfect nooks for reading, gorgeous landscapes, cheap and lovely flats, handsome Scottish lads, exceptionally delicious toast, and, of course, many opportunities for reader's advisory. I loved it and have spent the last month forcing it on my librarian pals, who also love it.

In case you need some escape reads, too, I made you this list. And if you know of any excellent books that will whisk me away and guarantee me a good night’s sleep, please let me know. I think I’ll be needing these for a while to come.
 

I was feeling like hell had just frozen over. Eagles-Album Art

Greg Frye rescued me.  (See his story here and check out his list. If you are going through a personal climate change crisis, it may help. It won't hurt.

Here's what Greg has to say:

I am a former teacher, a long-time volunteer at Multnomah County Library, and recent Master of Library and Information Science graduate from the University of Washington. Part of what I enjoyed about that education was thinking about how the library profession can become more inclusive – whether we’re talking about who is in the profession, who is served by libraries, or who and what is represented in library collections. In keeping with those discussions, I have recently read authors from around the world, several of whom have challenged my perspectives, understandings, and world views. Here are a few of my favorites so far.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This is a well-crafted interweaving of two realities – one of the 1984 as many in Japan might have lived it, and a concurrent but alternate one only some people experience. Who lives in which reality? Is it possible to move from one to the other and back? Murakami presents a story that is part social commentary, part surrealism, and part thriller. A wonderful experience! (If you’d like to get a feel for his style, but don’t have time to commit to a multi-hundred page read, try Murakami’s The Strange Library – a short tale of a surreal library experience.)

Headhunters, by Jo Nesbo. Written by one of Norway’s most well-known authors, this is the fast-paced story about a professional whose work as a corporate headhunter cannot sustain both his extravagant life-style and the fledgling art gallery his wife opened. In order to bring in enough money, he has turned to art theft and forgery. Nesbo tells a wonderful tale that has twists right up to the end.

Maps by Nuruddin Farah. This novel follows Askar, a Somali boy orphaned at the moment of his birth, who was taken in and raised by an Ethiopian woman named Misra. They live in a Somali village, where Misra is an outcast because of her heritage; she is later accused of betraying the village to her native country during the war between Ethiopia and Somalia. The story reveals Askar’s struggles during the turbulent war years to find his way and his identity, while determining where his loyalty lies. Told with elegant prose, strong characters, and vivid descriptions of life in these two Africans nations, this is a beautifully written book.

Life & Death Are Wearing Me Down by Mo Yan. A humorous yet sometimes agonizing tale of several generations of family as they live through China’s Cultural Revolution. Yan’s use of the cosmic cycle of reincarnation allows one of the story’s protagonists to see how his world changes, how his family and region evolve, and ultimately to come to terms with the misfortune he experiences early in the book. An excellent novel, but be prepared to chart relationships if you really want to follow all the detail Yan offers.

And finally, two from much closer to home to help shift perspectives.

Genocide of the Mind edited by MariJo Moore. This series of essays by modern Native American authors offers great insight into the experiences of Native Americans today. It presents historical as well as current and future-looking works. What does it mean to live as the “vanquished” indigenous peoples of a country like the US or Canada? This book offers some great perspectives.

The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It by Kate Harding. A no-holds-barred, sometimes sassy, sometimes incredibly sarcastic, always pointed look at rape culture – what it is, how it influences people of all ages and genders, implications it has for equality (or lack thereof), and what might be changing to help us get past it. Well researched and written, a good read for anyone wanting their eyes opened and their perspectives challenged.

 

 

Pages

Subscribe to