Blogs: Read, listen, watch

Knickers in a Twist book jacket
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

Divided by a Common Language book jacket
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?

Art Forms in Nature book jacket
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.
Cosmigraphics book jacket

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.

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...

Pages

Subscribe to