How do you explain something? If you are telling someone how to do something and they don’t understand, what do you do? Do you repeat what you just said hoping that repetition will help? Or do you come up with a new way to explain it. If you find a new way to say it, you are a much better explainer.
One book that made me think about this is Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. He set up a challenge for himself to explain things like a Saturn V rocket and weather maps using the 1000 most common words in the English language. This is hard because you can’t use words like rocket, Saturn, weather or thousand. He had to find a new way to explain everything.
The Saturn V became the US Space Team’s Up Goer Five. Weather maps are Cloud Maps. Complicated things have to be described in very simple ways to get by using only the ten hundred most common words. Reading this book will bring clarity and new understanding to complicated things you may or may not have understood before. This is a fun and very cool book.
If you want a challenge, try to explain something such as your job or a hobby using Munroe’s XKCD Simple Writer which only allows you to use the 1000 most common words.
Eureka! I have found one!
Does anyone else get this feeling when they find an audiobook reader that they can love?
My new favorite is Lisette Lecat. She reads the Alexander McCall Smith series No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels.
After trying (and failing) to read the No. 1 Ladies in print, it was a joy to hear the rich, rolling tones of Lecat sing out all those names that had given me grief. In The Full Cupboard of Life, the women are grown-ups, dealing with adult issues such as overbearing rivals, taking care of other people's children, or finding the perfect mate.
And I thoroughly approve of 'the traditional Botswana shape'!
If you have a reader that you adore, I would welcome the suggestion. And next month we might be able to write a blog together!
Victoria Jamieson is the author and illustrator of books for children, including the Newbery Honor book Roller Girl. Along with writing and illustrating, she teaches children's book illustration at Pacific Northwest College of Art.
A good percentage of my childhood was spent at the library. When my brothers and I were young, my mom helped organize the summer reading program at our local library outside of Philadelphia. I created many a diorama based on books during those summers. A few years later, my mom started working there as a children’s librarian where, much to our chagrin, she seemed to learn all of the gossip in town (“So, I hear you’re dating so-and-so!”)
The most formative books for me as a kid were the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. I related to her so much -- she seemed like a real kid. I appreciated the fact that her family worried about money, and her dad worried about finding a job. It reassured me to no end to read about kids facing real-life situations. I can’t tell you how many times I read those books. They MAY have been a factor in my deciding to move to Portland.
Other childhood favorites included Anne of Green Gables and all of the Roald Dahl, but especially The BFG. That book inspired a lifetime of whizpopper jokes. I love re-reading childhood favorites. I teach a continuing education class in writing and illustrating children’s books at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and I always recommend re-reading old favorites. It’s fascinating to read them from an adult perspective, and if you want to write children’s books yourself, it’s a great way to remember what you loved about reading as a child.
Here’s a list of my recent favorites:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
This was the last book that made me cry — like, a deep, body-shaking sob. If you like a body-shaking sob as much as I do, this is the book for you.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
As soon as I read this book, I knew it would be a book I would read to my kids someday. It’s just a book you want to share. Now I just need to wait for my son to be old enough.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
You just have to read it. It’s an amazing book.
Ida B by Katherine Hannigan
This book is both laugh-out-loud funny and cry-out-loud touching. Be careful where you read this one; I was reading it on the subway in New York when I started ugly crying.
A few more:
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
El Deafo by Cece Bell
One Crazy Summer by Rita Willams-Garcia
Get even more reading recommendations hand-picked for you by My Librarian.
A picture is worth a thousand words, or so people say. If you’d like to learn about something but don’t necessarily want to read a big ol’ tome (or conversely, a short Wikipedia entry), there just might be an excellent graphic novel available that will tell you everything you want to know about a subject.
Interested in the history of film? Check out Filmish by Edward Ross. Not only did I learn about everything filmic, I also could congratulate myself on the huge number of movies I’ve watched over the years.
Do you spend your morning commute listening to podcasts? If you’re curious about the evolution of narrative radio stories (I’m talking to all you Serial fans out there), then check out Out on the Wire: Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Not only will you get the behind the scene action of podcasts, you might just be inspired to create your own radio program!
Ready to delve into other subjects through the world of comics? Take a look at this list of some very enlightening graphic novels.
Before I headed across the pond for the first time, my stepmother loaned me a slim volume entitled Coping with England. While I appreciated her thoughtfulness, I seriously doubted that I needed that book. I mean what’s to cope with? I knew enough to avoid the mushy peas and eel pies and I’d heard about the quirky plumbing, but I was pretty sure I could hail a cab or understand directions as long as the person giving them out wasn’t from Glasgow. Well let me tell you how wrong I was about my ability to cope; on my first few days in London, I was introduced to the twin domestic horrors of limescale and salad cream. I’m still scarred by that experience, and so I will just say this: Avoid them at all costs! If you are about to make your initial journey to Britain or just want to know more about the ways of that island nation and its people, take a look at the following offerings. You’ll be glad you did (or at least you’ll know when you’re being insulted).
Someone (Shaw? Wilde? Churchill?) once said that Britain and America are two nations divided by a common language. If Masterpiece Theater isn’t helping you as much as you’d like with your grasp on British English, get your paws on one of these titles. Knickers in a Twist is a hilarious look at British slang. Due to my long association with Brits and their police procedurals, I was fully aware of about three quarters of the words and phrases; however, I encountered some new-to-me lexical gems when I read this recently.
Ever wonder what Brits mean when they natter on about toffs, yobs, twitchers or white van men? You'll wonder no more after reading The Queen's English and How to Speak Brit. They offer fewer words and phrases than Knickers, but most entries are longer. And finally, both you and your British pals (who somehow think the words "sidewalk", "stove" and "garbage" are weird and/or hilarious) might find Divided by a Common Language helpful in understanding each other. You'll find several side-by-side comparison charts for British and American terminology, words and phrases you shouldn't use while in one country or the other, and a pronunciation guide. So I'll close by saying Have a nice day! and Cheers!
For a list of books on British English, click here.
Jazz vocalist Rebecca Kilgore has been described as one of the finest singers of the contemporary jazz scene. As a "song sleuth," she researches songs of the 20s, 30s and 40s, and reinterprets them for appreciative audiences. She has been a guest on shows such as Fresh Air with Terry Gross and Prairie Home Companion; she is a inductee in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
I fell in love with the majestic downtown public library building when I first visited Portland in 1979 from the east coast. It was among the reasons I moved here a year later! Since then my library card has been working overtime.
I am a full-time jazz vocalist and song researcher, so I’m always looking for information on the music, artists and composers from the era of the Great American Songbook and the jazz age. I take advantage of the library’s printed sheet music collection, streaming music and physical books.
Researching composer Billy Strayhorn’s life was essential for a concert of his music which I performed recently, so I checked out Lush Life, A Biography of Billy Strayhorn by David Hajdu and Something to Live for, The Music of Billy Strayhorn by Walter van de Leur.
For escape I love listening to fiction on downloadable audiobooks. I loved Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys, Abide With Me, and the new My Name Is Lucy Barton. I adored Room by Emma Donoghue, and an unusual book We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I could go on and on!
My neighborhood library is Hollywood which is perfectly friendly and convenient. I don’t often visit the Central Library, but I still get a happy feeling when I do.
Perhaps you’ve seen them in gift shops around town - those lavish reproductions of vintage natural history books and posters of Victorian era scientific illustration. Whether you are a science lover, an outdoorsy type, a designer looking to create the next Etsy hit, or have way too much in common with that scary orchid guy from Twin Peaks, why buy when you can check them out for free?
One of my favorite examples of natural history illustration is Art Forms in Nature by Ernst Haeckel. Fascinated by symmetry, Haeckel saw it everywhere, from the spiny stellate forms of radiolarians, to the undulating tendrils of jellyfish, even in the faces of bats. While his strong, elegant hand makes his images resemble the stylized motifs of an art nouveau designer, there was a scientific method to his almost rococo madness. His observations led him to the idea that any creature’s development goes through stages similar to the adult forms of its evolutionary ancestors - “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” (as my biologist father used to intone, rather than reading me nursery rhymes). While this is no longer a current idea, Haeckel’s correspondence with Darwin on the topic influenced the latter’s theory of evolution.
The field of astronomy has also produced many images that have endured beyond their original scientific purpose. During one of my recent expeditions into the vasty deep of the sub-basement (yes, two basements are needed to store all the books at Central), I stumbled upon a magnificent discovery: The Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings Manual. This is a folio of chromolithographs from 1882 by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a self-taught scientific illustrator who made extensive observations through the telescopes at Harvard University and the U.S. Naval Academy. He depicts the aurora, the zodiacal light, the twisting ropy whorls of sunspots, the milky cataract that is Mars. Despite his artistic talent, he is probably more well know for accidentally releasing the forest-ravaging Gypsy moth. While you can request to see the folio down at the Central library, if you’d rather not make the trek, the images can be viewed here. Many of them are also found in Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time by Michael Benson, which is full of all kinds of other great astronomical images as well.
For more scientific illustration, check out this list.