- "Handy Man" on JT by James Taylor.
- "By Your Side" on Lovers Rock by Sade.
- "Blue Light" on Silent Alarm and streaming by Bloc Party.
- Tha Carter III by Lil Wayne
Amanda Morgan is an architect who'd love to design a library someday, and Karen Munro is a librarian who'd love to live in a house made of books. Together, they host Silent Reading Party, a monthly gathering of Portlanders who like to read together in companionable quiet, with a cocktail. Silent Reading Parties are two hours long, so here is Amanda and Karen's list of books you can read in two hours. (Pick one up just in time for their ticketed edition SRP on the deck of the Society Hotel on August 14th.)
1. I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane
The Neversink series from independent publishers Melville House has brought new life to scores of wonderful books. MacLane’s amazingly-titled feminist memoir was written in 1902 when she was just a teenager living in Butte, Montana. The book was a huge bestseller in its time and has been described as riveting, shocking, sensational and deeply heartfelt. If MacLane’s not your cup of tea, check out the full Neversink Library for tons of other great two-hour reads.
2. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Rankine’s book — part personal essay, part poetry, part catalog of visual art — took the literary world by storm when it was published last year. In the context of police violence toward black Americans and growing tension around race relations, Rankine writes about her own experiences as a black woman and the ways in which blackness and black people are represented in the media. A short book to dwell on for a long time.
3. Commencement and other speeches:
Fantastic Mistakes: The Make Good Art Speech by Neil Gaiman
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders
Because commencement speeches must command departing grads’ waning attention spans, they’re usually brief, provocative, and inspirational. Fortunately for us, the best of these speeches — by some of our finest literary lights — have been published in slim volumes that can be easily read in a single sitting; yet they invite multiple readings with their insights on compassion, success, identity and creativity.
4. The 33 ⅓ Series from 333Sound/Bloomsbury
Music nerds love this gorgeously packaged, wonderfully idiosyncratic series of slim but passionate paeans to a far-reaching range of essential albums. Each volume explores, in-depth, a single album, weaving broad cultural contexts with the authors’ personal milieus and obsessions. Some writers you’ll recognize, like Jonathan Lethem, who penned the excellent tribute to Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. Others, like Kembrew McLeod, who brings an academic rigor to his appreciation of Blondie’s Parallel Lines, may be new to general readers, though well-established in the world of cultural criticism. There are currently 115 titles in the series, meaning if you find yourself hooked and decide to read one each month, you’ll be bringing them with you to Silent Reading Parties well into 2018.
5. Glaciers by Alexis Smith
We couldn’t pass up the chance to recommend Portland author Smith’s lyrical novella about a day in the life of a Multnomah County librarian. This lean volume gently seduces the reader into a dreamy reverie about love, loss and longing. The Portland of Glaciers, published in 2012, may well be receding into memory along with the ice formations of the title, so it’s especially poignant to have it preserved in such a lovely work.
6. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
If you’re looking for something light and comic, try this epistolary novel about a professor of the humanities struggling against what he sees as the encroaching forces of corporatization and commercialization in his university. For such a short book, it’s surprisingly moving — and also so funny that it won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2015.
7. The Face series by Ruth Ozeki, Tash Aw and Chris Abani (Not owned by MCL)
Another great venture from a small independent press — Restless Books recently launched an innovative series of short books titled The Face. Each book is one extended essay by an author considering his or her own face, and then following that topic wherever it leads. Tash Aw, Ruth Ozeki and Chris Abani each offer thought-provoking titles that touch on globalization, identity, assimilation, and more.
8. March by John Lewis
This three-book graphic memoir tells the story of the American civil rights movement through the eyes of veteran activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. Beginning with lunch counter sit-ins and Freedom Rides and culminating in the 1963 “Bloody Sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery, March combines art and words to bring history to life. Stack all three volumes on your lap and settle in for an amazing ride.
9. Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers by Leonard Koren
Arranging Things: A Rhetoric of Object Placement (not in MCL catalog)
Undesigning the Bath (not in MCL catalog)
Leonard Koren is an artist, architect and writer. His books are short, playful, sensual meditations on aesthetics, and his quiet insights are often broadly applicable to other creative pursuits — and even to the pursuit of simply living a beautiful life. If you’ve ever appreciated a perfectly arranged bouquet of wildflowers, or a thoughtfully curated group of objects on a table, or if you’ve had an “earthy, sensual, and paganly reverential” bathing experience, you’d likely find a kindred spirit in Koren.
10. Rabbit by Victoria Dickenson, Bee by Claire Preston, Leech by Robert G.W. Kirk, Elephant by Dan Wylie, etc.
If you like to slip out of the human world in your reading hours, consider this elegant series from small publishing house Reaktion Books. Each title is by a different author and profiles a different animal — wolf, octopus, spider, shark — in a single engaging essay. Pick your favorite beast and spend a couple of hours learning more about its habits and its world.
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.
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.
"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
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!
A 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.