Blogs: Books & literature

Us bookjacketMarriage is a journey; the best of them take a committed couple up to beautiful views and delightful romps at the sea. But sometimes planes are delayed and the food sucks and one person just wants to go back home. David Nicholls in his new book, Us, takes the reader on quite a ride in this marriage travelogue. Douglas Petersen, his wife, Connie, and their 17-year-old son, Albie, are about to embark on a month-long tour of European capitals. What could possibly go wrong? Well there's this, Connie has just woken her husband up to tell him she thinks their marriage “has run its course” and is thinking about leaving but no, let’s still go on this long trip to Europe together.

Nicholls takes us into a marriage - the beginnings, the middle, the roller coaster ride of it all. He makes it way more funny than our own marriages are. And he shows us the truth and the heartbreak and the hope we must hold on to in our families. It's totally worth taking a trip to Europe with the Petersen family on the pages of Us.

I know, right? Around this time of year there's a regular deluge, a barrage, a spate, a torrent even, of lists of best books. Everyone from The New York Times to the neighborhood newsletter will give you their top reading picks. But hey, the more the merrier. And after all, a big part of our business is books. Through the bookdrop, on the shelves, on display, not to mention the tips we get from our colleagues and you, dear patrons: we're positively marinating in book culture. All this is to say - hey, take a look at these superlative lists of the best books of 2014, from people in the know: Multnomah County Library staff. We love readers!

Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.

It has been years since I last worked as a day worker. I was never a fan of day labor. I hated the idea, in part, because of the work itself. Day work was temporary, backbreaking, low-wage, and dead-end. But what I found most distasteful was the poor treatment I sometimes received.

Before the End, After the Beginning book jacketWeeks after I read Dagoberto Gilb’s short story, “Cheap,” I found myself reflecting about my time as a day worker in California and Texas. Unable to answer questions that kept bringing me back to the time when I labored at the lower end of the service sector job market, I decided that it was time to check out Before the End, After the Beginning again, and re-read “Cheap.” I asked myself, 'What is it that brought me back to Gilb’s fictional world of immigrant day workers?' as I prepared to re-visit the short story, and continued to ask myself that question over and over as a re-read “Cheap.”

In one word: consciousness.

Carlos and Uriel—father and son characters employed by Luke’s Construction, the company the narrator uses to paint inside the house—are aware of who they are as workers hired for the day. They know that they don’t have much say in the hours they toil and in the wages Luke pays them. They don’t even express disaffection when Luke denies them their entitled noontime lunch hour. Instead, Carlos and Uriel stay silent while he tells them what they need to do for the day. They remain quiet, because they know that it is hopeless to protest. But once Luke departs to check another worksite, they consciously take control of the workday to regain their dignity.

I wasn’t happy or sad after I finished re-reading “Cheap,” even though some of the passages reminded me of my time as a day worker. At the same time, I felt sympathy and respect for Carlos and Uriel because of their tenacity. While both characters understood the limitations of day labor, their drive to finish the job in spite of the way Luke treated them said more about them than the job itself.

A book is the perfect gift, but It can be hard to to figure out which one to buy for your 2-year-old nephew, the 16-year-old that mows your lawn, or your third grader's best friend. To make your lives a bit easier, we've created reading gift guides guaranteed to appeal to the readers (and non-readers) in your life. Below, you can download and print lists to take shopping for preschool ages, grade schoolers, tweens and teens.
 
Need gift ideas for adults? We've got those, too.
 

Preschool reader gift guide

Preschool - gift guide

Grade school reader gift guide

Teen reader gift guide

Teen reader gift guide
 
For more gift book suggestions, ask My Librarian or any staff member. Also, be sure to watch the library's social media channels for suggestions in December.

The Oversight book jacketIn the traditional sort of fantasy novel, the reader is shown a world where magic and blades rule the day.  Science and technology are not a major part of the world.  But as in the fairy tales and mythology from which fantasy borrows with heavy hand, as technology is discovered, magic and magical creatures are usually driven to the verge. (Although according to the urban fantasy subgenre, by the time the modern day rolls around magic has adapted just fine!). I just finished The Oversight by Charlie Fletcher which is an excellent example of this type of fantasy with an early modern time setting.

Once upon a time, The Oversight numbered in the hundreds and guarded the world from magic - the sort of magic that leaves the survivors wailing bewildered over their dead. Now there are only five left to guard against the dark things better unseen.  A girl is brought to them by a disreputable sort who wants to sell her.  Prone to screaming fits, she is thought mad but she also might be the start of rebuilding the Oversight. Or perhaps not.  This is a very fast-paced tale and obviously the start of a trilogy at a minimum. The world shown is gritty and grim. You can all but smell the stink of the gutters in the city and see the wild spaces in the countryside shrink as they are fettered by iron rails and canals that also bind the fey things and drive them to madness.  I couldn't put this book down and set aside everything else I had started to finish it. I'm going to snatch up book two the moment it's available.

P.S.  Rachel really called it on Ancillary Justice being a wonderful novel in her earlier blog entry.  I liked book two even better!

Ursula K. Le Guin [photo by Eileen Gunn]Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin was honored yesterday with The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the National Book Award ceremony in New York.

Many of the news stories about Le Guin’s speech focus on her criticism of publishing companies’ increasing corporatism and the profit-driven model of the industry -- particularly Amazon and its conflict with the publisher Hachette earlier this year.  

 

Le Guin also called out a critical issue for public libraries. In her remarks, she highlighted the challenges libraries face in getting access to e-books, citing her own publisher’s practice of charging libraries six times the amount it charges individuals for many e-book titles.

Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke shares this concern and has been assertive about advocating for greater public access to e-books.  "The ecosystem of reading is changing before our eyes," she said today, in response to Le Guin’s speech.  "The sands are shifting rapidly beneath authors and artists, and not in their favor, as Ms. Le Guin so astutely noted. Public libraries are also challenged to serve patrons as they have come to expect under some of the current models imposed by publishers and content distributors. So long as pricing and access to e-books for public libraries remain unbalanced, readers everywhere are the ones who will suffer."

 

From my own viewpoint as a librarian, I’d say the most stirring aspect of Le Guin’s acceptance speech was the great faith she placed in writers as artists, as creative communicators with a unique ability to imagine solutions and make space for humanity:  

"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.   We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."


Would you like to see more?  Watch Ursula K. Le Guin’s entire acceptance speech, or, take a peek at this year’s National Book Award winners, below.

 

What is it that makes a rollicking good regency romance? I think it takes more than a crowded ballroom and characters who feel pressure to produce an heir or avoid being a spinsterit takes the tension between love and sexual attraction. It occurred to me recently that if you take the songs Some Enchanted Evening and Fever, you have the perfect formula for great regency romance. You get fated love ("you will see a stranger...your true love across a crowded room") and sexual fervor ("you give me fever when you kiss me"). 

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare is on Kirkus Review’s list of best fiction of 2014 and features a feisty heroine matching wits with the duke who refuses to leave the castle she has inherited. No crowded ballrooms, but definitely some sexual fervor. 

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict bookjacketIn Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone wakes up one morning in an unfamiliar bed. Strangers in old-fashioned clothes enter. Who are these people? They all have body odor. 

Rude Awakenings bookjacket

In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict,  Jane Mansfield awakens in a room that has bars on the window. There is a strange man in the next room, and she has no chaperone. 

To quote Austen (Mansfield Park), I found these companion novels about women who have mysteriously swapped lives and bodies to be “nothing but pleasure from beginning to end.”  I appreciated the dialogue, chuckled over the situations, wondered if they’d find love, and found myself prompted by these books to contemplate women’s roles and opportunities in the 19th and 21st centuries.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

Should you give up? Here's some company:

Or should you keep going?

“But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

 -- by Kass

"But what¹s underneath it all? What is missing is a surgeon who has the courage to examine the tissue and declare: gentlemen, this is cancer, and it is not benign. What is cancer? It¹s something that changes all the cells, which causes them to grow in a haphazard manner, outside of any previous logic. Is a cancer patient who dreams the same healthy body that he had before nostalgic, even if before he was stupid and unlucky? Before the cancer, I mean. First of all, one would have to make quite an effort to re-establish the same image. I listen to all the politicians and their little formulas, and it drives me insane. They don¹t seem to know what country they are talking about; they are as distant as the Moon. And the same goes for the writers, sociologists and experts of all sorts."
-from Pasolini's final interview, conducted a few hours before he was murdered at the age of 53
Cover of In Danger - Pasolini

Italian poet, filmmaker, essayist, utopian, provocateur and queer libertine, Pier Paolo Pasolini lived relentlessly in his quest to envision and produce a world where art never confirms but always wrenches new ways of living and desiring.

Part of me feels that any attempt to do justice to Pasolini's work would simply and silently replicate the work itself.  Perhaps all we can do is situate the films, the poems, the essays, the life itself, in a specific historical conjuncture - 20th century Italy as it staggered from fascism to embattled republic including serious challenges from the PCI (Italian Communist Party) - and then allow them to do the talking.  Pasolini brought all of his trenchant intelligence, tenderness, hatred and sincerity to bear on everything and anything that smacked of middle-class quietism.  Born into a social milieu that primarily offered despair and isolation, Pasolini kicked against the pricks, staking ground to be abandoned as soon as comfort loomed.  In Danger: A Pasolini Anthology is a choice and tight collection - ostensibly zeroed in on Pasolini's political musings and provocations.  But to say that everything was political for Pasolini would be cliched and an understatement.  If you find In Danger bracing and inspirational, please do yourself a favor and try to check out everything Pasolini touched (there are a decent handful of texts and DVDs in the MCL collection for starters).

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