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Over the course of the last year, I served on a book award committee.  For the most part it was a great experience. Brand new, straight from the publisher books arrived at my house (some 1800 titles!) like clockwork. I was privy to writers and titles I never would have discovered on my own. It was interesting work, overwhelming at times but tremendously exciting to be riding the crest of the publishing wave. The downside of this experience was that my reading choices were not truly my own. Someone and something dictated the whole of my reading life. Sad as I am to see a lengthy and engrossing project end I am once again delighted to be reading whatever I please. But where to start? I decided to start by revisiting some old favorites, authors and works I have deeply enjoyed in the past and that seemed perfect for a revisit.  

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson.
Barbara Buncle is low on cash. Her unorthodox solution to the problem is to write a novel. Lacking in experience but chock full of determination and keen observational skills she writes Disturber of the Peace, a somewhat screwball comedy based on the quirky inhabitants of her own village. The novel is a smashing success and the cash starts to flow until her friends and neighbors begin to recognize themselves within the pages.  When her publisher begs for a sequel will Miss Buncle be able to deliver the goods while keeping her neighbors at bay?

Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes.  
Wealthy businessman Orson Foxworth hosts a dinner party to introduce his niece Ruth to the cream of New Orleans society. But hours later one of the guests is found dead with a pistol and a note by her side.  Keyes' most memorable and best-selling novel is set in the immediate aftermath of World War II. It is an engrossing who-done-it filled with period detail and beautifully mixing the history and customs of 1940’s Louisiana.  

The Valorous Years by A. J. Cronin.  
The Valorous Years book jacket

Trained as a physician, many of A.J. Cronin’s novels have a hard-working doctor at their heart.  The result was a forty-seven year career filled with engaging novels, masterful characters and stories with a deep moral code.  In The Valorous Years, Duncan Stirling is a young man whose arm is crippled by polio yet  is determined to become a doctor.  Without the support of his family, Duncan struggles to believe in himself and to reach is goals.  Best known for his 1937 book The Citadel, Cronin was a prolific writer and deeply engaging storyteller whose books have never gone out of style.

 

What Does February mean to you? I prefer my Valentine’s day with a mix of romance and candy. Visually I am fascinated with candy: All the colors, shapes, sizes and then the textures. February 14th  is a parade of colors and images for me.

As an adult I get my husband nice chocolates and make him a love note. He returns the favor.

I have never had a secret admirer or a sweetheart send me a Valentine. I wished for it as a teen. I longed for a sweetheart and a heart locket.

My Dad though has sent me a valentine every year since someone broke my heart back in the nineties. Do you have a broken heart? My Librarian Heather has the perfect list for this called Divorce Support Group Reads.  

Maybe though you are a teen. And like me you are wishing for a sweetheart. Here’s a list for you of romantic love stories called Teen Romance.

Kleeman book cover
"A woman’s body never really belongs to herself. As an infant, my body was my mother’s, a detachable extension of her own, a digestive passage clamped and unclamped from her body. My parents would watch over it, watch over what went into and out of it, and as I grew up I would be expected to carry on their watching by myself. Then there was sex, and a succession of years in which I trawled my body along behind me like a drift net, hoping that I wouldn’t catch anything in it by accident, like a baby or a disease. I had kept myself free of these things only through clumsy accident and luck. At rare and specific moments when my body was truly my own, I never knew what to do with it."

What is a body and what is it for?  Something to be improved?  Something to be managed?  Something to be disciplined?  Something to be saved?  Something to be remodeled?  Something to set free?  Something to be destroyed?  Alexandra Kleeman's debut novel You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine does a remarkable job of tracking one young (presumably white) woman's body's movement in and through late capitalism.  As much as A - the novel's narrator - tries to escape or resolve her body's contradictions, all she can eventually do is document the various ways her body is seen and reflected.  At every turn, up against every potential escape route - roommate B who spends the first half of the book attemping to become A, boyfriend C who watches porn while they have sex so he might layer "fantasy upon reality upon fantasy," the mirrors she regularly consults for changes in her facial structure, the cult she later joins that prescribes a steady diet of nothing but Kandy Kakes - the possibly edible treats made of nothing ever alive hence nothing actually dead, and finally as a prop in a competitive dating show where real-life lovers test their knowledge of one another or face imposed and permanent separation - A inevitably finds herself simultaneously inside and outside her body, blurred lines never coalescing except in moments of extreme duress.
 
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine is a surveillance report mapped and composed by the object of surveillance.  Utilizing anorexia as a kind of totalizing metaphor, the novel turns the commodification of bodies inside out but we end up precisely where we began.  Weird, paranoiac, and desperate, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine mines territories familiar to fans of DeLillo, Pynchon, and Philip K. Dick - an oddly recognizable and spooky map of our current historical moment  where bodies are necessarily quantifiable but ultimately weightless, until the threat of brutal hunger arrives with a sudden flash.

Guild Theater - Portland photo
When you’re driving through the country, do you wonder what’s inside that neglected barn leaning in the distance? When you see a derelict car do you slow down and try to figure out the year, make and model? When passing through the “bad part of town” do you long to go into a boarded up movie theater that still advertises “This year’s Best Picture winner, D ncing wi h Wo ves” on the marquee?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then urban exploration—the act of visiting abandoned man-made places to document the experience—might be something you’d enjoy. Even though they may be called “urban explorers,” as you can see from this example, many of the places they visit may not be in a city. Man-made structures and artifacts are everywhere and have been abandoned everywhere.
Ruined Buick photo


There are some theories out there about why people are drawn to abandoned places, but I don’t know if I’m self-aware enough to pick any one reason that explains my own fascination. In the United States, Detroit has become the poster child for urban decay, but it certainly isn’t alone. Urban explorers have an entire globe to discover and there is an active web presence for those who are interested. It isn’t for everyone, however. These are dangerous places, for many reasons.

Maybe running a gauntlet of armed guards or crawling through a dank ruined building full of bugs and asbestos isn’t appealing. Fortunately, there are those who are not only interested in that sort of adventure but also want to share, so you can vicariously enjoy man-made ruins by visiting the library and checking out one of the great books on this list.

The Hidden Lives of the Presidents

Theodore Roosevelt wasn't just a president, he was also an explorer. Read about his harrowing journey down a tributary of the Amazon in Candice Millard's The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey.

Edna talks The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Maile Meloy's The Apothecary combines the tension of cold war politics with science, and magic. It's a great read for teens and adults. What's not to love?

Hello. My name is Matt and I read mysteries.  

I never thought I’d be a mystery reader. It started off with the occasional Agatha Christie title to mix things up. A few years later,  I found myself reading a too cozy for comfort title involving a doughnut shop and recipes.  Things had gone too far. What kind of mystery reader was I? Was I one book away from entering the soft boiled world of J.B. Fletcher?

Luckily, the answer was right in front of me: gay detective novels.  In a literary world with limited LGBTQ characters, it’s exciting to find a likeable protagonist to identify with. Exploring the cast of gay detectives, I was surprised to find a collection of gentlemen larger than expected.

amuse bouche cover

Russell Quant is an everyman living in Saskatchewan. As a handsome rookie private detective in a small city, business can be slow. However, when it gets busy things quickly get out of hand.  His cases take him to exotic locales and always lead back to his Canadian home for a thrilling finale.  His love life is, uh, complicated and has it’s ups and downs.  A quirky cast of friends and family round out the series to keep things interesting.  Start with Amuse Bouche.

book cover rust on razor
What do Scott, a famous baseball pitcher and Tom, a dedicated school teacher have in common? For starters, a penchant for getting in over their heads when mystery comes a calling. The heart of these books is dark, gritty, and reflective of the era in which each of them is written. The series spans twenty years of great change within the LGBTQ community and doesn’t hold back.  Are there schmaltzty moments?  Sure, but reluctant detectives need love too.  Start with “A Simple Suburban Murder” via Interlibrary loan or “Rust on the Razor” available at Multnomah County Library.

These are my favorites of the bunch, but check any of them out.  Each of these mystery series have their own feel.  It’s what makes the genre so much fun to read.  Plus you never know if the perfect pie recipe is on the next page...

Nick Bruel is an author, illustrator and cartoonist, and is known for his series of children's books, Bad Kitty. In his spare time, he collects PEZ dispensers and hangs out with his wife and his cat, Esmerelda.

Nick Bruel photo
[Scene: In front of the mirror, above the sink of a bathroom somewhere in Briarcliff Manor, NY]

Nick: The time is 5:13 am.  I’m standing here inside the downstairs bathroom of Nick Bruel, the world renowned children’s book author and illustrator, parkour master, Amway representative, and long standing member of the Flat Earth Society.  Good morning, Nick. Thank you for joining me here today.

Nick: You’re welcome.  I think.  Why am I here?

Nick: I’ve been tasked today to interview you to find out some of your favorite things…

Nick: Like what?  Ice cream?

Nick: Well, no, not precisely …

Nick: I like rum raisin. Haagen Dazs Rum Raisin ice cream. That’s my favorite.  Done?

Nick: No, not done. I was thinking more along the lines of … wait. You like rum raisin?  No one likes rum raisin.

Nick: I like rum raisin.

Nick: Since when?

Nick: Since always. It’s delicious, and I don’t have to defend myself. Are we done?

Nick: No! We’ve been tasked by the Multnomah County Library system in Portland to find out how you operate, to learn more about you by learning your favorite media.

Nick: Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon?

Nick: Oregon.

Nick: Which is the one with all the street poetry, kombucha bars, and man buns?

Nick: Oregon.

[What follows is a long, uncomfortable silence.]

Nick: Sigh. Fine.

Nick: So, let’s start with your favorite movie.

Nick: My favorite movie of all time is a little known short film from Estonia called Man With A Broken Rainbow Of Love by the great director … excuse me … auteur Miloslav Krizkovenszvynzvz.  It tells the story of a poor but rich-in-spirit doorknob salesman who’s raising a family of marmosets in his garage while quietly succumbing to the ravages of an earlobe fungus over the course of 3 hours.  It’s an allegory of Stalinist Russia.

Nick: 3 hours?! I thought you said it was a short film?

Nick: The director’s cut takes 4 days to watch.

Nick: Well, actually, the library wants material that can be found in their collection.

Nick: Why?

Nick: Because this way people who read this can get to know you better while also promoting the library’s collection.

Nick: I see. So when people check out the same things I like from the library, they can feel like they’re ME?

Nick: Sort of.

Nick: They can pretend like they’re ME? The people of Oregon can go to the library and pretend to be Nick Bruel! That is beautiful. Just beautiful. Sniff.

Nick: Are … are you crying?

Nick: No. Shut up. I’m not crying. You’re crying!

[Audible scratching at the door]

Esmerelda: Meow?!  Meow?!

Nick: GO AWAY, ESME! I’m conducting an important interview! 

Esmerelda: Meow?!

Nick: No, you can’t use your litterbox now! I told you that I’m conducting an important interview! Go poop in the recycling or something!

Esmerelda: Hiss!

Nick: I HEARD THAT!  Where were we? Oh, right. Uh … so can you name a more conventional movie that you like?

Nick: Does the library have the films of Buster Keaton?

Nick: I’ll check. [Looks intensely at toothpaste tube] Yes!

Nick: Without a doubt, Buster Keaton was the first true master of comedy. I love Chaplin, but Buster Keaton’s work best exemplified how comedy and timing work hand in hand. He might be best known for his stunts, but Keaton’s true genius was in how he set up his jokes visually. To this day, there are film directors who borrow from Keaton and his visual style.

The General is considered his greatest film, but for anyone who needs an introduction to the great man, I would suggest starting with either College or Steamboat Bill, Jr. You can’t go wrong.

Nick: Okay! Great! Let’s move on to favorite music.

Nick: I like anything with cannons in it.

Nick: Cannons?

Nick: Sure. Cannons.

Nick: What music has cannons in it?

Nick: What music … are you kidding me?!  Haven’t you ever heard the 1812 Overture by Peter Tchaikavsky, you peasant?!

Nick: Oh, well, sure …

Nick: I’ll have you know that before degrading myself to this whole children’s book thing I do now, I had a promising career in place as a classical cannon player. I even studied at The Sarasota Online Cannon Conservatory And Clown College, which everyone knows has the most rigorous cannon certification process in the entire country! Even better than Yale’s!

Nick: Well, of course. Everyone knows that …

Nick: And I’d be playing the cannons to this day if not for that terrible day 12 years ago when I burnt my hand lighting the wick during rehearsals. Sniff. Sniff. My doctor says … sob … I’ll never be able to light another cannon wick again.

[Audible scratching at the door.]

Esmerelda: Meow?!

Nick: NOT NOW, ESME! I’M BUSY! JUST CROSS YOUR LEGS AND THINK OF THE DESERT!

Where were we?

Nick: Ummm … favorite book?

Nick: Well, I’m quite fond of the work of a blind, Inuit hermaphrodite named J.D. Salinger who …

Nick: Hang on!  J.D. Salinger was not a blind, Inuit hermaphrodite!

Nick: He wasn’t?

Nick: No. I understand that his eyesight was quite good.

Nick: My bad. Well, in any case, I’ve always liked how Salinger focuses on character development above all else.  I don’t think anyone can turn words on paper into the life story of a friend you grew up with like Salinger, and nothing exemplifies this better than 9 Stories, a collection of short stories he published in The New Yorker. A standout in this collection is “The Laughing Man” which tells the tale of a youth sports club bus driver from the point of view of one of his riders. It’s an amazing, multi-layered tale of friendship, young love, adventure, and the power of a creative spirit.  I read this book about once every 3-4 years to remind myself of what good writing looks like.

Nick: Never heard of it.

Nick: Well you should read it.

Nick: Maybe I will.  What about picture books?  Got a favorite picture book?

Nick: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  To me, it’s one of those rare books that transcends its purpose as a book.  It’s message of unconditional generosity is so important that I’ve held a theory … a belief, really … for a while now that if every single person on the planet Earth read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, then there would be no war. It’s a theory that can never be prove, much less tested, but I stick to it anyway.

Nick: A lot of people don’t like this book. They think the tree is acting too much like a martyr and that the boy does nothing more than take advantage of him.

Nick: Yeah, well some people can go suck eggs. If you step back for a moment and just contemplate that this is a story about what it means to be a parent to a child who you love unconditionally, then the message becomes more clear. I can back this up, because I knew Shel Silverstein and once had a conversation with him on this very topic. He told me that of course this book was about parenting and that he loved watching people practically lose their minds over this book of his.

Nick: Did Shel Silverstein think people should go suck eggs over it?

Nick: No. But he was thinking it.

Nick: Well, Nick, I think that about wraps things up. I’d like to thank you for joining me here today.

Nick: It was my pleasure.

Nick: No, no! The pleasure was all mine!

Nick: Oh, well if you insist!

Nick: Ha, ha!

Nick: Ha, ha, ha!

[Audible scratching at door.]

Esmerelda:  MEOW!!  MEOW!!

Nick: OKAY! OKAY!  I’m opening the door! Jeez! Just light a match or something when you’re done this time. Sometimes I think you’re made out of eggs.

My Librarian Darcee wearing her Esme tunic
If you’re a grown woman who craves a frock with a peacock on the shoulder and a gazelle peeking around the side waist, you’re probably just going to have to go ahead and sew it yourself.

Thanks to a new book by my favorite Swedish print designer, this is totally accomplishable in a single afternoon.  Lotta Jansdotter's Everyday Style, presents crazy simple patterns for functional clothing and accessories to carry you through the seasons. While the designs are drawn from her own personal style, Jansdotter encourages women to adapt these classic pieces to suit who they are. Straight away I loved the Esme tunic that can be shortened to a modish top or lengthened to a free-spirited kaftan. I’ve been collecting (hoarding) fabric with unusual prints for years and can’t wait to transform my stash into things I can actually wear and use.

If you love textiles, modern design and fuss-free sewing, check out Lotta Jansdotter and be inspired to make your own unique something.

 

The Spitting Image book cover
What images come to mind when you think about the Vietnam War?  Napalm explosions? Monks setting themselves on fire?  Jungle camouflage and booby traps?  Vietnam Vets waving protest signs and shouting?

Wait, what?  Soldiers protesting  the war? That can’t be right, it was the radical college students and long haired hippies that protested the war, right? Not according to  Jerry Lenkcke in his thought-provoking book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam.  

While doing research about the way society viewed the returning Vietnam vets, Lenkcke kept coming across the mention of soldiers getting off the plane on American soil and being spit on by anti-war, anti-draft protesters. Intrigued, he decided to find the source for this image - was it symbolic or did it really happen?  Could he find an example of it?

What he discovered kept me enthralled. I don’t think I will ever look at a picture of a soldier the same way again.                            

The book is well-researched, documented and supplemented by a complete filmography. If you are interested in how the media changes the way that we see the world, read The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam by Jerry Lenkcke.                                                                               

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