Blogs: Books & literature

Do you love urban fantasy? I do. I love that the stories are set in the real world with an action paced plots and supernatural beings. I connect better with a story if it’s set in our modern world. And if there is humourous dialogue-you’ve got me. I become a devoted fan!

Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles series is at times so funny I can laugh for a full five minutes about a scene. The stories are pageturners with a mix of supernatural beings that are Nordic, Celtic, Native American, Roman or Greek gods. There are vampires, witches, and werewolves thrown in too.

The Iron Druid is Atticus Sullivan who lives in Tempe Arizona with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon when we first meet him in book one Hounded. The fact that the story is set in Tempe Arizona makes me giggle. Because then it is a nod to sunny noir.

The humor I love best in the series is in the discussions between Oberon and Atticus. There’s comic relief and diversion when Oberon and Atticus discuss snacks like sausage when they are worried about an upcoming battle. If you like your supernatural action story with a side of humor then you might love Iron Druid Chronicles series. I do.

cover image of alone in the kitchen with an eggplantFood is a lovely thing. Cooking and eating a meal can be one of the more pleasurable things in life, but if you're not sharing it with someone, it can feel like too much to bother. Though we are totally worth it, sometimes corners are cut and the end result can be a sad and pathetic excuse for a meal. Enter some hilarious accounts of What We Eat When We Eat Alone and other tomes like Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. These are full of often innovative recipes that occasionally work and frequently don't.

Did you know there are cookbooks just for one? My personal favorite is by Judith Jones. The Pleasures of Cooking for One will have you cover image of the pleasures of cooking for onerediscovering the joys of cooking, without the drudgery of having to consume what you just made for the whole of next week's lunches and dinners.  

book coverCookbooks are inspiring. At first...

They are tomorrow’s mouth watering meal, a party spread that blows your guests away, and the leftovers you can't wait to dive into. However, good intentions pave a nice road but don't often lead to dinner. Too often, grand culinary aspirations are set aside when the everyday interrupts best laid plans. Soon, tempting recipes morph into overdue fines and dinner is created from a sad game of refrigerator potpourri roullette. Sound familiar?

Enter Pati's Mexican Table.  With easy recipes, accessible ingredients, and lighter takes on classic dishes, Pati Jinich has written a Mexican cookbook for the aspiring Diana Kennedy in all of us (until we have the time to tackle the decades of her genius.) Repeatedly I’ve ventured back to Pati’s world for "chicken a la trash" (trust me, it’s a complete misnomer), black bean and plantain empanadas, simple salsas, and green rice. They’re quick, easy for a weeknight, and delicious.

 

The Slants is the world’s first and only all-Asian American dance rock band. Our signature “Chinatown Dance Rock” has been featured by NPR, Conan O'Brien, HBO, and Time Magazine. We've performed at anime/comic conventions and schools; we've even performed inside a Multnomah County Library.

The band doesn’t shy away from our bold portrayal of Asian culture nor our love for geek culture and the arts: the “Misery” music video features footage from the steampunk martial arts Tai Chi epic; “You Make Me Alive” offers an ode to cosplay culture; and “Adopted” was a collaboration with high-flying aerial arts group, AWOL Dance Collective.

In honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, here is a list of our band-approved Asian and Asian American works:

China Dolls by Lisa See

Set in the late 1930’s, China Dolls follows the lives of several Chinese American women who face the harsh reality of living as Asian American entertainers in a Chinatown. It’s stirring, exciting, and informative.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee

It's no secret that The Slants loves food, especially Asian food. Not only do we regularly publish food guides and have active Yelp accounts, but we also film our culinary adventures while on tour as well. Lee’s book is a perfect example of the band’s quest for the very best food around the world while combining humor, history, and personal stories.

Tai Chi Zero and its sequel, Tai Chi Hero (DVD)

For the last several years, The Slants have been collaborating with the Tai Chi martial arts trilogy by releasing several music videos alongside the films. The films feature a hilarious comic book feel while combining steampunk accessories, the Chen style of the martial art t'ai chi ch'uan, and an all-star cast including Tony Leung, Angelbaby, and Shu Qi.

No-No Boy by John Okada

Considered one of the most important Asian American novels, No-No Boy tells the story of a Japanese American in the Pacific Northwest after the internment camps. It’s the very first Japanese American novel ever written and gives a deep, inside look at the meaning of identity.

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

This is the memoir that provided the inspiration behind the well-loved television series. Packed with even more personal stories, the book is darker and dives more deeply into issues of assimilation, drugs, 90’s hip-hop culture, and food. Though Huang himself is often surrounded in controversy for his statements, there’s no doubt that his memoir provides a refreshing, important, and honest look at Asian American identity.

Other books that band members enjoy while on the road:

Ken Shima (lead vocals):

The Odyssey by Homer

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Tyler Chen (drums):

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman

The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Neil Strauss

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Music Business Hacks: The Daily Habits of the Self-Made Musician by Simon Tam

Simon “Young” Tam (bass):

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Hi-Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker by Eric Liu

American Born Chinese by Gene Leun Yang

Scott Pilgrim (Vol1-6) by Bryan Lee O’Malley

For more great recommendations, customized to your tastes, try My Librarian.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? bookjacketMy mom is getting up there in years and my siblings and I are learning first hand that there are lots of issues to deal with when you have an aging parent. As a welcome respite from all of the seriousness of trying to help my mom live out her years as best as possible, I’ve read Roz Chast’s wrenchingly honest and painfully funny graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant several times lately. But the book that is really helping me grapple with the issues of an aging parent is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.

Being Mortal bookjacketGawande, a surgeon, writer and public health researcher, explores how we make choices as we come near the end of our lives. He looks at the history, how our culture transitioned from caring for aged family members at home to putting them into nursing homes and assisted senior housing (and who knew that the first independent senior community was in Portland?). Gawande questions how modern medicine, which has been so successful in prolonging life, can also cause more suffering at the end of one's life. Wouldn’t it be better to help the elderly live out their lives in as comfortable and positive way as possible?

Or as Roz Chast says, "I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly "done," there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you became addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. Extreme palliative care, for when you've had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food, and the pills that don't do anything at all. Would that be so bad?"

That’s the end of life I want for my mom and everyone else when they get old and reading Being Mortal is helping me figure out how to help my mom get exactly that as she lives out her life.

When my sons were in grade school I used to buy special birthday cake candles, the  kind that immediately re-light after they’ve been blown out. I got a bigger kick out of them than the kids!  I still love the uncertainty of  these candles. Will they relight or won’t they?  I love the surprise, the appearance of somehow defying the laws of nature.

I look for that kind of surprise in books too, those rare books that surprise me with their unpredictability, their innovative writing style or ideas.  I love a book that leaves me breathless. On the outside I get up, go to work, cook dinner, make conversation -  but on the inside, the ideas of that book have lit up my mind and just when I think I have let go of one idea, whoosh - another pops up burning brighter than the first.

Depths by Henning Mankell  was one such book.  I loved his Wallander mystery series, but when I saw Depths I was reluctant to pick it up.               

The book jacket, two shades of gloomy gray, and the blurb on the inside cover about a Swedish military officer who is hired  to sound out the depths of the ocean bottom around the Swedish archipelagos, was dreary and uninteresting.  But one day  I was so starved for something different to read, I opened to the first page.

Whoosh... it opens with a woman escaping from an insane asylum on a dark rain-swept night, remembering as if in a dream that once she had a husband: Swedish Naval officer Lars Tobiasson-Svartmann, a man whose compartmentalized emotions threaten to drown him…Whoosh - he sleeps with his sounding equipment like a security blanket to calm his anxieties...Whoosh…physically, he sounds the depths of the ocean but emotionally he is sounding himself...Whoosh...he finds a solitary woman living on one of the archipelagos and Whoosh...400 pages later I come to the surface, like a fish, gasping for air.

 If you live for unexpected, the amazement of realizing that you are about to be lit up with unforeseen wonder, read Depths by Henning Makell.  Whoosh…                                         

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 

 

Space Tourism ArtworkFor many of us, the most imposing barrier to joining the growing ranks of space tourists has been cost. When Dennis Tito made his eight-day flight back in 2001, you could get in on a ride for around $20 million. That was the going rate for about the first six years before the price inevitably began to skyrocket to its current rate of roughly $40 million. But you know what’s been holding me back? The lack of coffee. Well, not just any coffee -- I’m talking espresso. How do you get a truly great cup of espresso while you’re circling the globe in a weightlessness condition?Espresso in space photo

Well, after reading Wednesday’s New York Times, I learned that that great hurdle has now been cleared. Samantha Cristoforetti, who also happens to be the first Italian woman to travel in space, just became the first person to successfully brew and enjoy an authentic Italian-style espresso in space.

Two developments made this feat possible: The 44-pound ISSpresso machine and the microgravity coffee cup. The fact that the machine weighs 44 pounds really isn’t a problem in space and the cup allows astronauts and space tourists to enjoy their drink pretty much as they would back on Earth.

So what’s holding me back now? Well … I’m still saving for that ticket and hoping that increased ridership will bring down the cost!

arctic tern

I always thought that bird watching would be boring until I actually did it!  I can't recall exactly how many birds I saw on my first official try, but I do remember being impressed by the beauty and variety of shorebirds on view in winter down around Tillamook Bay.  I was so completely charmed by the sweet little buffleheads as they bobbed around that I almost forgot the freezing temperatures!  Then there was the visit in and around the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in spring where I was blown away by the beautiful American White Pelicans and got a close-up look at a rough-legged hawk making a meal of a duck.  On another visit to the same area, I got a rare and long look at some juvenile golden eagles as they were snacking on something. 

My latest avian adventure happened last spring in Britain when I went to the Farne Islands and was dive-bombed by an Arctic tern!  Fortunately, I had a hat on and had been warned that this might happen. I wish I had started my bird-watching ventures when I was a lot younger. if I actually kept a life list, it certainly would have been more complete had I started observing birds when I was five.  Fortunately for today's youth, there are lots of fun, fact-filled books to help get them excited about birds.  Check out this list for some ideas!

H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald

Winnie book jacketI attribute the beginnings of my Anglophilia to two bears:  Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington.  When I was a child, I loved Milne's stories and poems about Pooh and his Hundred Acre Wood friends, my mother's nickname for me was Roo, and we called snacks "smackerels". I knew that Winnie was based on a teddy bear owned by A.A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin, but until recently, I didn’t know that the stuffed bear got his name from a real live one!  The “real” bear, Winnie (short for Winnipeg), was purchased at a Canadian train station by a veterinary surgeon serving in WWI.  The seller had shot the cub’s mother (not realizing she had a baby) and now didn’t know what to do with the young bear.  Fortunately, Harry Colebourn came to the cub’s rescue and thus began Winnie’s adventure.  You can read all about Winnie in a lovely new children’s book entitled Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh.  The watercolor illustrations are charming and evoke the era, and the endpapers have photos of Winnie, Harry, Milne and Christopher Robin (with his teddy bear). 

For other true stories about children’s literature, check out this list.

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