Blogs: Books & literature

Don’t you love it when you find a new series to read? I found myself just reading Regency Romance and decided to branch out. I am now reading a romance series set in the broader Georgian era (1714-1830) called Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt. If you like historical fiction that comments on the social conditions of the times, that has a family of characters with secrets, mystery, great writing, and romance then I think you might love the Maiden Lane series.  

The setting is the worst neighborhood in London: St. Giles and the orphanage that Temperance Dews runs with her brother. Lord Caire needs a guide to help him solve a mystery in the neighborhood. Temperance needs money and a sponsor for the orphanage. A deal between the two is struck. Inquiring minds want to know can Lord Caire and Temperance forgo the attraction that is brewing? You’ll have to read it and find out!

I made a list called Good Reads in Historical romance with Wicked Intentions the first in the Maiden Lane series and historical romance titles that cover 1714-1901. Hope you find the list swoon worthy.

Sharon Harmon is the director of the Oregon Humane Society. An integral part of her work is to advance animal welfare through leadership, education, advocacy and project development. While not working or enjoying the company of her pets, she reads. Here are some of her favorites:

I work and play with equal passion and drive. I'm lucky to have a job that brings great satisfaction in that it is intellectually challenging and emotionally fulfilling. Change is not only constant, it is embraced. Days are fast-paced, start early and end late and I'm often wondering where the time went when my dogs Sunny and Mac nudge my elbow telling me it's time to go home. It hardly feels like a job most days. I work with an incredibly dedicated team and meet the most interesting people who also want to see a better world for companion animals. Did I mention I get to play with kittens?  

As the seasons change, so do the books that occupy a portion of my coffee table. Although most of its surface is covered by a large and eternally bored cat who delights in shoving things over the edge to get my attention, these volumes survive his commentary on my literary choices.

I was fascinated with Dan Pallotta's TEDtalk on the restraints put on nonprofits so I picked up his book Uncharitable. Nonprofits are often judged by the balance of expense spent on administration and fundraising whereas similar expenses in for-profit businesses are viewed as smart investments. Thought-provoking -- I momentarily envisioned changing my title to Chief Executive Overhead but decided to stay employed...

Adam Braun’s book, The Promise of a Pencil tells the tale of his entrepreneurial approach to founding an organization dedicated to building schools, and along the way, the human potential of communities in some of the most impoverished places in the world. He suggests eliminating the term 'nonprofit' and substituting 'for-purpose', because any charity worth supporting always has a purpose and can't bleed red ink endlessly to achieve it.   

Rounding out the business books is Steven M.R. Covey's The Speed of Trust. In these days of multipage contracts attached to almost every deal, this is a refreshing reminder that exhaustion at the end of a negotiation likely stems from starting from a position of distrust. I think if this book could required reading there would be a lot less need for legal counsel. Not that I have anything against attorneys; I would just rather spay a bunch of cats than pay for an 18 page contract review.

When not at my desk, you are likely to find me in my four season garden, watching birds, hiking, fishing and this time of year, mushroom hunting.

Looking for mushrooms is both meditative and an endurance exercise.  The steep, remote portions of the Cascades are full of edible funghi. That means that at the end of the day you have some outstanding ingredients for dinner and you've gotten a workout while focusing on a small plot of ground at your feet. Chances are you will see something new every time you go, perhaps a new flower or a millipede or a cast-off feather. David Aurora’s Mushrooms Demystified is a constant companion on these foraging forays into the wild lands. Better safe than waiting for a liver transplant.

While Tyler the cat rules the coffee table, my German Shepherds Sunny and Mac are my constant companions, whether attending endless meetings at work, running amok while mushroom hunting or guarding the house from unknown things that go bump, or not, in the night.  Did I fall in love with the breed watching Rin Tin Tin reruns on TV? Maybe it happened after reading local writer Susan Orlean's Rin Tin Tin: The life and the legend.  It's a great story about a great dog(s) and the bond between people and the canine heroes in our world.

This last book is one where I have the first copy I read but have given away many others. Cheryl Strayed's Wild: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail speaks to me on so many levels. She is one tough woman and I loved following her personal journey while visiting many of the places I've been or would like to visit. Oregonians writing about place while showing reverence for the wild lands will always have a place in my heart, and my coffee table, if the cat agrees.  

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

I’m a flighty and unfaithful reader. I can’t resist the call of a buzzy debut novel or the allure of reading a book set in a country I’m unfamiliar with.  This means that all too often, it takes me years to get around to reading award winning books that I know I’ll probably like. When it comes to reading,  I nearly always prefer to roll the dice than spend my time on a sure thing.  

There are two exceptions to this pattern and their names are Gail Tsukiyama and J. Maarten Troost. Two very different writers, but I never hesitate to read anything by either one.  

 

Book jacket: The Samurai's Garden by Gail TsukiyamaTsukiyama’s writes quiet books set in turbulent times in Japanese and Chinese history. Her stories are reflective and leisurely unravel the struggles of people living in bleak times of war and oppression. Her books could easily be real downers. Instead they’re absolutely beautiful. Tsukiyama is who I turn to for absorbing historical fiction with characters I gradually grow to really care about.

 

Book jacket: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

In contrast, J. Maarten Troost writes books that are anything but quiet. He’s fiercely smart and just as fiercely funny. In describing his adventures overseas, Troost offers a perfect balance of earnest curiosity, historical context, and sardonic wit.  Whether living as a slacker on an atoll in the South Pacific or traipsing through China, I’ll follow him anywhere. I’ll even tag along through his new found sobriety because, while I did have my doubts, it turns out he’s still funny off the kava

 

If you’re looking for quiet reflection and history, try Gail Tsukiyama. Start with The Samurai’s Garden, or jump in anywhere. Feeling more boisterous? Check out The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. Or maybe you feel like rolling the dice on something unknown?  In that case, just ask me.

 

Read All the Books imageI love lists! My favorite part of the end of the year is to peruse the tons of lists that everyone and their uncle puts out. I want to know the best and the worst movies of the year, or at least what the critics are saying. I might not be up on all of the latest music but I’ll still glance through the best albums of the year lists. And of course, the best books of the year. There are a million of them and I want to see ‘em all.

If you want to find all of the great online book lists in one place, check out Largehearted Boy. It’s a music blog and so much more. Every year, this blogger posts absolutely all of the online best of book lists on it. You could spend the entire year going through all of the lists that are posted there. But then it wouldn’t leave you any time to read ALL the books.

If you need a break from looking at the best of lists of 2014, take a gander at some of my favorite list-type books.

virago publishers

 

 

No, this isn’t about the tiny house movement, though that is also an interest of mine. Small houses refers to small publishing houses. Sure, you think about the types of books you read, and possibly even the bookstore you prefer to shop in, but how often does the publishing house come to mind? I know that I didn’t think of it until a friend began giving me the same sorts of books as birthday presents every year. These books had something in common—they were all published by Virago. Virago is a British press, founded in 1973, and publishes books by women writers, both new titles and neglected classics. The press celebrates women writers and aims to bring awareness to the existence of a female tradition in literature. It now exists as an imprint of Little Brown, but is still releasing titles (over 500). Growing up with the typical male dominant canon, I never realized that a press could exist which focused solely on the female experience. 

Virago offers myriad choices when it comes to reading. Classics, memoirs, feminist, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and quaint domestic novels about  life and relationships are all one under the Virago banner. The iconic paperback editions of the press have green covers with the image of an apple with a bite taken on the spine, an homage to Eve. In 2008, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Virago Modern Classic launching, eight hardback editions with covers designed by leading female textile designers were issued. The cover art and green spine might lure you in, but the wealth of women’s literature available will keep you coming back.

Annihilation book jacketA ghastly moaning echoes over the swamps. Night herons shriek and caw in the dwindling light, and owls stare from the pines with knowing eyes. A tunnel - or is it a tower? - descends into the earth, and strange words are written in a filigree of tiny fungi upon its wall. This is the world of Annihilation, the recent book by Jeff VanderMeer that is so odd, and so compelling, that I’m scouring the internet for interviews with the author. (Click at your own risk... you too could end up with a strange craving for Finnish insectoid epistolary fiction. And perhaps spoilers as well.)

So, about 30 years ago, part of the southern coast disappeared behind a barrier of unknown origin. A series of expeditions has been mounted to try to understand Area X, as it’s called, but they’ve been less than successful - one ended in mass killing, while the members of another returned as blank shells of their former selves who soon died of cancer. The area seems to be purifying itself of any human influence - all chemical and environmental pollution is gone and the natural world has begun to flourish, along with some unusual new, um…  additions.

This is the story of the twelfth expedition, composed of four women known only by their functions:  the psychologist, the anthropologist, the surveyor and the biologist (a steely introvert who’s our main character). This perplexing and beautiful novel takes a science fiction premise, a dose of spy fiction, a bit of creepy horror, and infuses it all with a naturalist’s sensibility. It’s SF glimpsed through the field glasses of Muir or Darwin, full of evocative descriptions of birds and trees, water and wind - far removed from the cold vacuum of space opera or the brutalist cityscapes beloved of the cyberpunks and dystopians. If you like genre-bending, unusual fiction that’s very well-written, give this a try. And for more so-called “New Weird” authors and influences, try this list.

Trail photoThe last time I went backpacking, in Southwest Washington’s Indian Heaven, my family and I spent a terrifying night hunkered down in our tent during a midnight-till-dawn thunderstorm. Then in the morning, we made a forced march of about five miles back to our car through a steady drizzle, thankful to be heading back to civilization.

Needless to say, this experience did not turn me into much of a hiker or backpacker!

That being said, I love the idea of long-distance walking and I enjoy reading about other people’s adventures! Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s wildly successful account of her 1,100-mile trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, is coming to the big screen this week. If either the book or the film inspire you to take off on an adventure of your own, we can help you plan and enjoy your armchair backpacking and your actual backpacking.
 

Curtain bookjacketLike some parents, authors sometimes feel as if they have bitten off more than they can chew. Their creations take on a life of their own, becoming wildly popular among their readers who argue enthusiastically about their pros and cons. Unlike parents however, authors can killAngelica's Smile bookjacket off their creations with snickering glee and the only consequence is the wrath of their readers.

*Spoiler Alert*

Take Sherlock Holmes, for instance. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle felt the detective kept him from doing better things. 'What better things can there be?' his readers cried.  

Henning Mankell gave his long suffering  detective Kurt Wallander a fairy tale ending, with a dog, a house by the beach and his grandson to play with.  And then --  Alzheimers.  Nice... However, pressure from his readers prompted him to write An Event in Autumn which takes us into new territory. It is based on Mankell's short story, Händelse om hösten.  It contains a very sad sentence:  ‘There are no more stories about Kurt Wallander’

Agatha Christie finished her detective Her Poirot by having him kill a physcho killer, then himself. No resurrection there. Poirot passes away from complications of a heart condition at the end of Curtain: Poirot's Last Case.                                                                                                                                                   

As for Andrea Camilleri, creator of the popular Italian detective Montalbano a series of 17 books, several collections of short stories and a multi -episode TV series, he  says this about his brawny, intuitive hero, "I finished him off five years ago. That's to say, the final novel in the series of Montalbano is already written and deposited at the publishing house...in that last book he’s really finished.”

As an enthusiastic reader of all these detectives, I hate to think that they are really 'finished'. Maybe they are just hiding on a shelf somewhere waiting to be ressurected in a new writer's imagination.

 

 

The Shadow Hero book jacketThanks to the award-winning Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese), we now have a look at the first Asian-American superhero. Yang's graphic novel The Shadow Hero starts with the spirits of China itself - Dragon, Tortoise, Phoenix and Tiger - lamenting what is happening to their people with the fall of the Ch'ing Dynasty and Imperial rule. How this gets to a mother in San Francisco's Chinatown dragging her dutiful son through 'superhero training' is all part of the fun. Yang's work always shines a light on racism but never preaches; now he and artist Sonny Liew rescue from obscurity a superheroic character by a Chinese-American artist of the 1940s. Don't miss the epilogue for fascinating background info!
 
If you are in the mood for more Golden-Age superheroics that you will never see in a big-budget movie, have a look at Green Lama. A hero of 1940's pulps and comics, he was a practicing Buddhist who gained his powers through his knowledge of 'radioactive salts'. He gained his martial expertise and mystical training in Asia, back when this was the only way to explain martial skills (other than boxing) to an American audience. Enjoy!

Book Jacket: Family Life by Akhil SharmaI had just checked out Family Life by Akhil Sharma and thought I’d read a few pages over coffee before moving on to baking my pumpkin pie. A few pages in, I knew I had to see it through to the end.

Family Life is the story of the Mishras, who arrive from Delhi to settle in Queens in pursuit of a better life for their sons Ajay and Birju. Birju has just been accepted into the prestigious Bronx High School of Science when tragedy strikes, leaving Birju brain damaged. The focus of Family Life quickly shifts from achieving success in a foreign culture, to simply caring for Birju.  Sharma’s novel is a story of being an outsider, but it’s also an extraordinarily perceptive story of being a family.    

Family life is an excruciatingly honest book.  It’s insightful, funny and messy.  It’s tragic and hard to pull away from. It’s a lot like family.

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