Blogs: Books & literature

The Unforgiving Coast book jacketSummer is here and as usual we are inundated with reading lists of the best summer beach reads. They are everywhere. Locally, The Oregonian has a list of 19 Must Read Beach Books and the Portland Mercury tells you How to Pick the Perfect Summer Book.  Nationally, Good Housekeeping has their Best Summer Beach Reads, Entertainment Weekly recommends 10 Big Fat Beach Reads, the New York Times offers Cool Books for Hot Summer Days and the Huffington Post offers a list of “titles to get you started whether you are at the beach or just wish you were.”Jaws book jacket

Well, I for one feel it is time to revolt against the tyranny of summer beach reading. Maybe you don’t like the beach or don’t live near the ocean. What’s wrong with staying inside and enjoying the comfort of your own home? Also, lots of bad things can happen at the beach.  Bad things like tsunamis, sharks, venomous jellyfish, shipwrecks, pollution, and crowds to just name a few. So I say let’s celebrate staying away from the beach with our reading this summer!  Try something from this list of books and enjoy reading in the comfort of your own safe and cozy home.

Hold Still book jacketWhen Sally Mann’s new memoir opens, she is sitting in the attic sorting though boxes of photographs. Deciding what to keep and what to throw out is difficult. After a lifetime spent documenting the lives of her children, the landscapes surrounding her Virginia farm and her own and her husband’s aging bodies, Mann recognizes the challenge inherent in relying on photographs to keep and preserve the truth.  For Mann, photographs should never be mistaken for reality. It is this philosophy that infuses Hold Still, a way of thinking that allows readers to get to know her beyond the controversy that has followed her professional career.

It’s hard to think about Sally Mann and not think about that controversy.  In the mid 1980’s, Mann began photographing her children. In many of the photographs the children are nude or partially nude. In the early 1990’s, a show of Mann’s work at a New York gallery resulted in a scathing critique of her work and officially placed her in the category of the controversial.   

Hold Still proves that Mann is also a wonderful storyteller.  Her writing is exquisite – the perfect balance of forward motion prose and past reflection.  The book is also a satisfying visual journey.  Mann has included well-known photographs as well as letters, drawings and other memorabilia. Chapters denote the major relationships in her life. She tells the story of her own youth and early years and her marriage to Larry Mann which endures today despite her mother-in-law’s attempts to sabotage it.  She talks about the brutal murder of her in-laws, a Capote-like story if ever there was one. And she talks about her farm, which she credits with providing her a place from which her work and her life could thrive.  

Mann’s works today sell for thousands of dollars and her photographs are collected by major museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian. But the days of criticism have dogged her career and, if nothing else, this memoir makes a valiant attempt to set things right –to show Mann the person and the philosophy behind her work.  For Sally Mann, photographs do not preserve the past. Instead they “supplant and corrupt the past, all the while creating their own memories.” With honesty and a clear eye, Hold Still introduces readers to a Sally Mann who is more than the controversy.

Do you get lonely for friends? I do. Some of my closest friends live hundreds of miles away. Sometimes I start to need the balm of sharing and feeling safe. I like knowing they will laugh with me or have the tissues ready. And I do the same for them. When I start to long to hang out with some friends, that’s where books or movies come in. I have been reading novels with female friendships as the main topic for a while.

Get cozy and have the tissues ready, these ladies will be there for you.

I've always felt I belonged to another era. As a child I would stay up late Friday nights to watch old serials. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates became my heroes. This led to scouring the local library for similar books. I discovered the pulps, with their fantastic cover art and stories of danger and adventure. As a scrawny and awkward kid I was often bullied at school, and books were my refuge, a place to which I could retreat and explore different worlds and times. Books, history, art, and my ideation of tough guy heroes led me into the very real world of tattooing. I've been a tattooist for nearly 25 years, and I am an expert in both the artistry and history of my craft.

As the father of four homeschooled children, books still play an active role in my life. As a family, we have traveled to Reichenbach Falls to visit Sherlock Holmes' place of death, to King's Cross Station where Harry Potter boarded the train, and followed the pioneer trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder. My family continues to plan trips based on our favorite characters, historical or fictional. 

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, by Paul Malmont

This book is a veritable who’s who of pulp fiction, early science fiction and horror. It’s such fun while reading to see cameo appearances of other authors and artists: Walter Gibson, Heinlein, Lovecraft and more become characters in the story.  This book has it all — daring heroes, heroines, military intrigue, cliff hangers, and even a Chinese warlord anti-hero. This book takes me back to a time that never was. (Best read on the floor with a crème soda.)

Falcons of France by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

This book follows a young airman’s journey though the war, from learning to fly, to fighting, and becoming a prisoner of war, to shortly after the armistice. While the book is fictional, the events described are true and are derived from the author's experiences. Hall himself had a career that reads like a pulp novel come to life. He fought in the trenches for the British in the early days of WWI, before joining the Lafayette Escadrille, a squadron of Americans flying for France. The 2006 movie Flyboys was based on this squadron. After fighting under three different flags he began a writing career with Charles Nordhoff, another American who flew for France. Together they wrote The Lafayette Flying Corps, then went on to write The Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. This book gives us a snapshot into the time and experience of young fliers in WWI as only they could tell it.

The Electric Michelangelo, by Sarah HallSome of Mav's art

This story about an English tattooist working in Coney Island takes place during tattooing’s pre-golden age of the 20s and 30s. A good story with a great tattooing backdrop to give you a glimpse into its history as a sideshow attraction.

The Tattooed Lady: A history, by Amelia Klem Osterud

A lovely book, profusely illustrated and well researched. This book tells the stories of some of the lesser-known female tattooed attractions, as well as the bigger names and chronicles the changing times in which they worked. I love that most of these tattooed ladies, some tattooers themselves, were able to rise above discrimination and objectification to empower themselves on their own terms. These tough and independent ladies really blazed trails and paved the way for future generations.

For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.

The Sculptor bookjacketI just finished The Sculptor by Scott McCloud and I want to tell everyone I know (even complete strangers!) about it. I loved it as soon as I saw the cover - a stunning facade that incorporates the main character and the woman he loves as a sculpture. 

And then the story. It's that age-old tale of selling your soul for your art, but it's told in a brilliantly fresh way. Did I mention the drawings? This is a graphic novel and even if you've never been interested in reading one before, please take a chance on this one. This picture story tackles all of the important issues - destiny, art, love, one's legacy, loss, death. It's all here in the most beautiful wrapping imaginable and I want everyone to read it now.

The first page of The Hound of the Baskervilles, from The Strand MagazineMmm... cereal. For the longest time I dreamed of opening a food cart which would serve nothing but different variations on breakfast cereal - and this was before food carts were such a très-Portland thing. But wait a second! I’m getting off track. This blog post isn’t about cereals, it’s about another 19th century innovation: serialized novels, stories told in installments.

Serials are big right now. Television epics like Game of Thrones or Mad Men are all serialized stories, with each episode leaving you hungry for the next. There’s the true-crime podcast titled simply (and rather unimaginatively, in my opinion) Serial. And if you want to get creative, even something like professional sports could be considered a serial: you follow the story of the Portland Trailblazers through regularly occurring games, newspaper columns, and blog posts, as the story of the season unfolds in all its promise and anticlimactic tragedy.

Serials used to be a big deal in written fiction, too. The dead white guy that everyone always talks about is Charles Dickens, but there were lots of other novelists whose works appeared monthly in literary magazines of the day: Arthur Conan Doyle, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wilkie Collins, and even Oregon’s own Abigail Scott Duniway, to name but a few. More recently, writers like Michael Chabon and Laura Lippman have released serialized stories in the New York Times Magazine.

If you want to really experience it 19th-century style, take a look at the Victorian Reading Project from Stanford University: you can download PDF scans of story installments from Dickens and Doyle exactly as they appeared in the magazines of the time. Try reading one installment every week, and see if you can resist the temptation to binge-read the entire story.

I’ve made a reading list of novels, both old and new, which started life as installments. I invite you to sit down, pour yourself a big bowl of serial, and dig in. One chapter at a time.

I just read a fun library book about a family that sailed from Kodiak Alaska to Australia with their ten month old son. The book came from the Fairbanks Alaska public library, but I picked it up at the Capitol Hill Branch of the Multnomah County Library. Interlibrary Loan made this possible.

Several times a year I want to read a book that Multnomah County Library, (MCL), doesn’t own so I put a request in for an Interlibrary loan, (ILL). It is an easy way to expand my reading horizons.

To get started you need to set up an ILL account. Just type ILL in the orange search box on the MCL web site. Then click on Service - Interlibrary Loan to get to the ILL information page. You will want to read the what we borrow and how to use Interlibrary loan pages. There is also a Create an interlibrary loan account link.

The process is more involved than placing a hold so feel free to ask your local librarian for help. You also need to be patient since a four to five week wait is fast for an ILL. Next time MCL doesn't have the book you want give ILL a try.

Oh, the book I read was South From Alaska, by Mike Litzow. He also has a blog,, they are now sailing in Patagonia.

Years ago I had the opportunity to work as an English teacher in a Montessori school. It was then when I had my first experience working with bilingual books. Listen to the Desert by the Mexican American writer Pat Mora kept my attention because of its simplicity and content. Inspired by the book, I developed a project with the 1st grade children studying the desert. The project ended with a class open to the children’s parents -- it was a total success. You can have experiences like this at home, too! Libraries are a fantastic resource for parents who want to explore a variety of topics and reading levels with bilingual books.


Who could imagine that years later Pat Mora would visit our libraries during the Children’s Day, Book Day celebration, where she autographed her book Yum! MmMm! Qué Rico! I even got a chance to share with her my experience of using Listen to the desert as part of my teaching project.


Here's a list of my favorite bilingual books. Enjoy!


Años atrás tuve la oportunidad de trabajar como maestra de inglés en una escuela Montessori y fue entonces cuando tuve mi primera experiencia trabajando con libros bilingües. 

Oye el desierto de la escritora México americana Pat Mora llamó mi atención por su simplicidad y contenido e inspirada por tal contexto desarrollé un proyecto con los niños de 1er grado sobre el  desierto como tema principal. El proyecto finalizó con una clase abierta a los padres de familia la cual fue un éxito total. Experiencias como esta pueden ser repetidas en casa y las bibliotecas son un recurso fantástico para aquellos padres de familia que quieran explorar diversos contenidos y niveles de lectura con sus hijos interactuando con libros bilingües.


Años después Pat Mora visitaría varias de nuestras bibliotecas durante la celebración del Día de los niños, El día de los libros y al autografiarme su libro Yum! MmMm! Qué Rico! pude compartir mi experiencia con aquel proyecto cuando siendo maestra.


Te invito a que utilices nuestros recursos y espero que disfrutes esta colección de mis libros favoritos.




His readers know suspense writer Andrew J. Rush as a successful mild-mannered author of high profile suspense mysteries and thrillers. His publisher is happy because Andrew’s books sell thousands of copies and he is in high demand as a speaker in bookstores across the U.S.  He has a beautiful house, a lovely submissive wife and is able to send his children to the best and most exclusive schools.  Enthusiastic reviewers hint that he may be compared to Stephen King, although Andrew himself can’t see it.  

But Andrew holds his cards close to his chest because on the side where it is dark and unkempt and cold, is the Jack of Spades.  The  books written by the Jack of Spades are cruel and twisted and violent.  They are so secret that even Andrew’s publisher doesn’t know his real name; he has a locked room in the basement where he writes his Jack of Spades books.

The manuscripts are unsigned and all the profits  go to a private bank account.  His family live in complete ignorance of these secrets.

Then two things happen:

First a woman accuses him of breaking into her house and stealing her ‘words’- ideas, sentences and whole paragraphs that appear in his published titles.

Second- his daughter accidently picks up and reads one of the books written by the Jack of Spades.  She is disgusted and horrified to find some events described there are taken from her own family.

As Andrew desperately tries to hang on to his ‘normal’ life he begins to hear a black, ugly voice buzzing in the back of his mind. ‘Do it, Do it Do it’.                                                                          Wondering who ends up holding all the aces? Read Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates




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