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Stari most or The Old Bridge in Mostar, Herzegovina

I have been dreaming of the cobble-stoned streets of Mostar lately, the roads that lead to the Old Bridge arched above the icy blue waters of the Neretva.  I’ve been losing myself in the reminiscence of sleek winter coats warming young people crowding into hip sidewalk lounges and basement bars beneath neo-gothic facades in Sarajevo.  I miss Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I miss the friendly faces on survivors of terrors past and present; I miss the perseverance and the courage.  I miss my friends, young children during the war, that work long hours at NGOs to bring a fractured society back together amid 40% unemployment and politicians that often refuse to work together to provide even the most basic services.

Bosnia is a crossroads, a meeting place of Slavic people culturally influenced by both the Roman and Ottoman Empires, and so much more than a war following the disintegration of Yugoslavia.  Here are some great library materials to expand your knowledge of this beautiful country that rarely gets a fair shake.

Photo of John BrownJohn Brown serves on the Street Roots Board of Directors and has been a Street Roots vendor since 2011. You can find him selling newspapers most days at the Food Front Food Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale. He was named Vendor of the Year in 2015. A native of Michigan, John is a sports and theater fan. He shares five good books:
 
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar lee Masters
This collection of poems uses the voices of those buried in a rural graveyard to examine the interconnected lives of its citizens. The portraits of these mid-westerners are vivid and ironic, and Masters and his characters have influenced American literature from Sherwood Anderson to Thornton Wilder to Garrison Keillor.
 
The Quest for Karla was the original name of an ominbus collection of three novels, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpyThe Honorable SchoolboySmiley’s People, by John le Carré
Three Cold-War espionage novels tell the story of an unlikely hero. George Smiley, a bland, near-sighted cuckold engineers the defection of a Soviet spymaster. Le Carré writes dazzling prose and just perfect dialogue.
 
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
A storm, a shipwreck, a remote island, an overthrown kingdom, the setup and the setting for this late romance by Shakespeare bring together young lovers, old enemies, a sorcerer, a beast, a clown, a sprite, a saint, gods and goddesses. The action of this play covers amazing tricks and maybe the most satisfying ending in the complete canon of Shakespeare. No one drowns.
 
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
A low-stakes comedy whose characters transcend their faults to achieve heroic stature. Steinbeck’s descriptions of Monterey, California, in the years after World War I are captivating. Flora, fauna, weather, commerce, crime, Heaven  all come alive. This is a short, vibrant novel that reads great, even when revisiting.
 
The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
This is a huge novel about two families in coal country early in the 20th century. Murder, adultery, justice and escape are presented for our “indiscrete observation.” Wilder’s third person voice is wise, authoritative and generous.

Multnomah County Library loves zines!  And that's why we will be at the Portland Zine Symposium on Saturday (July, 9th).  Come see us at this annual extravaganza celebrating small presses, DIY culture and the wonderful zinsters of Portland and beyond!  Oh, and did we mention it's free?

Stop by to sign-up for a library card, check out a zine or snap a photo with our giant library card.  Can't make it?  You can check out some fabulous zines from the library anytime that we're open.  Take a look at some of the lists below to get started.

Louise Erdrich keeps getting better and better. Reading her new book, LaRose, I was awed by how the stories seem to bubble out of her in such interesting, complex profusion.

The main story is a tragic one, so tragic that it almost made me decide not to read this book. There are two families connected by blood and friendship, and both have sons who are five years old. One of the fathers is out hunting and accidentally shoots and kills his friends’ son. To atone, he decides to give his own son to the other family.

That’s where it starts, but there’s so much more. These families’ stories connect to the stories of other people in their community and to the stories of their Ojibwe ancestors. And all of these well-developed characters are voiced on the audiobook by Erdrich herself, who is perhaps the best audiobook narrator ever. Her quiet voice is just plain lovely to have in your earbuds, and she wholly captures the different characters’ voices, their humor and heart.

It’s a special experience, when writers read their own books for the audio version, and especially when they read them brilliantly. You’ll find more wonderful audiobooks read by their authors on this list. Please let me know if there are titles I’ve missed that should be on it.
 

Often as I am driving through the countryside passing small villages and towns I wonder, 'who lives here? What do they do for work? What do they do with their time?' You might think I sound like a city-snob, but I actually spent the first 20 years of my life in a place that didn't even merit the title of village, the sign at the edge reading "hamlet with a heart."

Many authors have made their dinner out of small, seemingly sleepy places where, under the surface, the inhabitants are living lives of turmoil, tragedy and passion. Alice Munro is a master of this genre. In Lives of Girls and Women she writes of people who seem to be living upright and staid lives, all the while hiding "deep caves paved over with kitchen linoleum." Other authors place their characters in barren and hard-scrabble places, an ideal stage for pathos and emotional intrigue. Kent Haruf's novels take place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado and focus on the emotional lives of people struggling to find meaning in their lives. Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout recounts the story of a woman living in small-town Maine through a series of short vignettes, each examining a period in her life. 

Lately I'm very much intrigued by the people of Words, Wisconsin, as described by David Rhodes in his novel Driftless. Olivia adheres to the principles of her church and knows the bible backwards and forwards as a result of being wheel-chair bound. She tyrannizes her sister Violet who spends her days in good works and in taking care of her sister. Their pastor, Winnifred, has spent her life trying to overcome the loss of her mother by looking for grace within the church. Graham and Cora Shotwell are in the fight of their lives with a corrupt dairy co-op. And July Montgomery is the glue that holds the community together, though one would never think it from his taciturn and understated manner.

For me, the joy of reading fiction is to indulge my curiosity, or some might say, nosiness. These stories of intersecting lives give us the pleasure of snooping into people's affairs without offending anyone. And the next time I drive through a small town, I'll be looking with fresh eyes.

Cover image of Love Saves The Day   
     "If there's a cure for this
       I don't want it
       Don't want it
       If there's a remedy
       I'll run from it
       From it"

If you ask many people what the term "disco" conjures, you'll likely hear about drugs, excess, sex, celebrity and exclusive parties/clubs - not to mention the questionable fashions, the quintessential hairstyles and the inevitable accusations of artificiality and inauthenticity  (anyone remember "Disco Sucks"?).

But disco was a complex musical and cultural set of coordinates that originally emerged from the economic, sexual and racial peripheries of early 1970s New York City.  Tim Lawrence's Love Saves The Day - a definitive and exhaustive intervention in cultural history - uncovers these radical roots in eye-opening detail.  Lawrence draws upon a ton of archival material and interviews with many of the (surviving) primary players to construct a wonderful narrative that should appeal to anyone fascinated by the intersections of the social, economic and cultural in the 1970s. Lawrence documents the founding of David Mancuso's legendary Loft and tracks the myriad divergent strands forward that ultimately lead to the dead end of Studio 54 and the mass burning of disco LPs in Chicago's Comiskey Park.

Especially of interest for pop music aficionados (disco touched just about every pop musical genre that followed), sound junkies, and anyone curious about the complex intersections between sexuality, technology, music and politics. 

And for your dancing pleasure, here's a playlist featuring some of the best music of the period:
 











I’m not fond of heights, but I’m always happy to be on a ladder harvesting fruit with the Portland Fruit Tree Project.  My experience volunteering with this group inspired me to make a list called “In the Orchard.” You’ll find romances, memoirs, and other books featuring orchards and fruit trees. 

One of my favorites is the memoir The Orchard by Adele Crockett Robertson. I so enjoyed getting to know this determined woman. She quit a job during the Depression and lived alone with her Great Dane for almost two years  while trying to save the family farm and orchards. She worked hard with a single minded devotion to care for apple and peach trees, treating her few workers fairly, and trying to make enough money to pay the mortgage. A great read!

Amazons book jacketA figure emerges from the dusky grasslands of the steppe. She rides an antlered beast, perhaps an elk or deer. A bow and quiver is slung across her back, and an axe hangs at her side. She is clothed in a long tunic with ornate belt, a leopard skin, and wildly patterned  trousers. A peaked felt cap covers her head. As the rider moves closer her mount’s antlers glint red and gold, and you can see that they are part of an elaborate mask, and that the elk is a tawny mare, one of those with the thick scruffy coats suited to cold climates. A hunting dog bounds through the grass at her side, and a trained eagle flies above.

While this may sound like something out of a fantasy novel, it’s a scene that could have happened 2,500 years ago in the steppes of ancient Scythia. In The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World,  Adrienne Mayor compares the myths to the archaeological evidence, and reveals a horse-centric, egalitarian culture in which women riders with bows fought and hunted, both at the sides of men, and on their own. These independent women were perplexing and even scary to the Greeks, who were both repelled and aroused by the idea of women fighters… and their pants! The world's oldest trousers were invented by the nomads of the steppes and look like something you might see today on Hawthorne street, but the Greeks considered them women's wear and thus, well, TERRIFYING! There are many more fascinating tidbits like this in Mayor's book and the books on this list.

Rereading is a great pleasure for me. There's way too much new stuff for me to keep on top of it all, and sometimes you just want something you know. (Dunno how many times I've gone through the Harry Potter books.) What I'm mainly curious about are: what do YOU reread? What books bring you back every once in a while? Some people have a thing they read annually. Do you? Please comment with your favorites!

Lord of the Rings book jacketRight now I'm rereading The Lord of the Rings, and I realize that I hadn't read this since the Peter Jackson movies came out, or since I began spending a fair piece of my free time playing Lord of the Rings Online. For whatever reason, this time I'm devouring Professor Tolkien's work like a modern page-turner. Maybe it has something to do with visual cues from the movies, or the fact that I've visited Rivendell, Hobbiton and Helm's Deep in-game? In any case I am enjoying a very welcome return to a beloved place. Nothing beats it for deep sense of place.
 
Every year I read a Dickens book, and some years it's my favorite (Great Expectations). Why return to the adventures of Mr. Pip and Mr. Pocket, Estella, Miss Havisham & co.? I love the characters, the setting, the contrasts between the classes, and of course the language. 
 
My tastes run to fantasy, sci-fi, military historical fiction & classics, so I also like to revisit things that are some of each. A Princess of Mars was a recent re-read. Edgar Rice Burroughs Civil War soldier John Carter ascends to Mars and finds it inhabited by big green people, medium-sized red ones, ten-legged lizard-dogs called calots and a huge variety of other fauna. Typical, wonderful early sci-fi (but little for the title character to do other than be rescued, sadly). 
 
And of course, there is a ton of good kid-to-teen fiction out there that has stood the test of time more or less well. Regardless of the old science involved (seeThe Book of Three book jacket previous paragraph), I still love Rusty's Space Ship  by Oregon writer Evelyn Sibley Lampman. I stared at the drawings of all the creatures blowing around on Venus for what seemed like hours, and plotted out how and where to build my own spacecraft. And don't forget the wonderful Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander starting with The Book of Three where Taran, orphan and Assistant Pig-Keeper, wants to be a warrior. Based on the legends of Wales, this one has magic, swords, some chaste romance, and a giant cat!
 
But back to you: what do YOU read over and over? Let us know!

 

It is the 41st millenium. For more than a hundred centuries the Emperor has sat immobile on the Golden Throne of Earth. He is the master of mankind by the will of the gods, and master of a million worlds by the might of his inexhaustible armies ... Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the dark, grim future there is only war.

Ross and RodThus begins every Warhammer 40,000 novel. In an infinitely vast universe in which anything imaginable--as well as anything not imaginable--exists, the deathless emperor of humanity watches over his domain. There are over 350 books set in the Warhammer 40K universe so it only seems appropriate that it be included in that most remarkable of all books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not wanting to actually endure the violence inherent in the Warhammer universe, intrepid Hitchhiker’s Guide contributor Ford Prefect has come to Multnomah County Library to find out what it’s all about and why you need plenty of dark towels when you visit. He interviewed Rod and Ross, reference staff at Multnomah County Library who have been exploring the Warhammer 40K universe--through books, of course. There are a couple reasons why they chose books: 1) neither has access to a starship and 2) both are quiet, gentle souls who would last approximately 8.6 seconds in your typical Warhammer 40K setting before suffering some grisly end.

Ford: What is Warhammer 40,0000?
Rod: Well, it’s a universe 40,000 (40K) years in the future where humanity has spread throughout the galaxy. The peak of human technological developmentNightbringer book jacket occurred centuries before, so most aspects of life are treated like a religion because there is no longer any real understanding of how things work.
Ross: This futuristic version of our universe was first depicted in a tabletop wargame created by the British company Games Workshop, but novels and short stories by various authors have been steadily produced over the last 30 years, such that there is now an enormous body of literature all taking place in this same grim, dark future.

Ford: How did you discover this future reality?
Ross: I first discovered Warhammer 40K as a kid through the board game Space Hulk. The game was okay, but mostly I was just fascinated by the enormous scale and dystopia of the setting and the cool looking Space Marines in their power armor. When I got older and discovered all the books set in this world, I was a little intimidated and unsure where to start reading.
Rod: Yes, “intimidated” would describe my own thoughts when faced with the overwhelming number of Warhammer 40K books. After talking with Ross and doing a little research, he and I decided to dive in and create our own list of places to start reading in Warhammer 40K.

Ford: As any traveller of the galaxy knows, a towel is the one necessity that cannot be done without. Its uses are mind-boggling in variety. As you can see, I have this lovely towel from Marks & Spencer, but you two seem to have A LOT of towels in dark, rather drab colors. Why?
Ross: Like the intro to each Warhammer book says, “there is only war” in the year 40,000. If there’s one thing that Warhammer 40K books have in common, it’s carnage. Lots of battles, lots of cool weapons (power armor! chainswords! storm bolters!), and lots of blood. Hence, dark towels.
Rod: When starting your journey into the Warhammer 40K universe, you really need to know what you are getting into. Be prepared for gaping combat wounds, ritual sacrifices, demonic transformations--all manner of violence. Not only will you need a towel for your own injuries, but chances are you’ll be staunching wounds for everyone around you, too,

Ford: Personally, I’d much rather visit Ursa Minor Beta (you remember the ad campaign, “when you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta, you are tired of life”). This Warhammer universe sounds utterly dreadful. What could you possibly find appealing about such a dark, violent place?
Ross: Hmm... there’s something cathartic and freeing about visiting a world (through books, that is) which is so bleak and brutal. And there’s more to these novels than just unceasing violence: I get a strong sense of absurd, very black humor when I read them. They are violent, funny, and so completely over-the-top that you never know what will happen next. 
Rod: I didn’t sense much humor in the books I read, but you definitely can’t take them too seriously. These are novels built around action. While individual books don’t always bother much with such niceties as plot and character, the overall universe is remarkably deep. One of the nice things about such a large catalog of books is that there are many different series within the larger universe and many different authors, so if you aren’t a big fan of one, then another might be just the thing for you.

Ford: Well, thank you gentlemen for your insights into the Warhammer 40K universe. I think I already have my entry written. What do you think of “Mostly harmful”?

 

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