Blogs: Books & literature

When I read Caitlin Moran's 2011 collection of laugh out loud-funny feminist essays, How to be a Woman, I found it  wildly inspiring and entertaining. If I was the Queen of the World, all women in their 20s would be required to read this book, which deals with subjects like the Brazilian wax, body image, abortion, porn and princesses with such wit and verve that I alternated between laughing hard and fist-pumping. I should warn you that she's a bit of an opinionated potty-mouth-- but I'm okay with that.

Her new book, How to Build a Girl, is clearly a pretty autobiographical novel about Joanna, a teenager growing up on a council estate (think "projects") in a small nowhere-town in England in the early 1990s. Her father is an unemployed alcoholic, her mother is clinically depressed, and Joanna spends a lot of time providing childcare for her younger siblings and worrying about money. Afraid her family will lose their government benefits, she decides to save the  family, get herself out of the trap her mother is stuck in, and invent herself anew-- by becoming a music journalist. She starts sending articles to music magazines, and then, miraculously, gets herself a job. And a lot of eyeliner. And a top hat. 

As the title suggests, this book is really about being young, deciding who you're going to be and making it happen. We all have to do it, but Joanna is brave and starts young, and she does it dramatically, making bigger mistakes. Towards the end, she is feeling her way towards considering her own needs and desires, as well as learning to be kind to other people. But in much of this book, she reminded me of one of the bad characters in a Jane Austen novel, if Jane Austen wrote graphic sex scenes and had an indie rock sensibility. If you like coming-of-age stories and books that make you laugh in an unseemly way when you read them in public, you should give How to Build a Girl a try.

 

Chocolate bookjacketMy Mexican pride elevates each time I hear the word “chocolate”, knowing that the word comes from the Aztec “Xocoatl”. The great recognition of this peculiar Man holding cacao fruit -  National Antropology and History Museum of Mexicobean and is unprecendented; it is one of the most relevant contributions from the Mesoamerican civilizations to the world. The Olmecs, a social group established along the Gulf of Mexico, were the first to taste the flavors of this special fruit in the form of a drink where the cacao (cocoa) was ground, fermented and mixed with herbs. In those days cacao was used as currency in trading among Mayans, Aztecs and other social groups in Mexico and Central America.

The cacao was a symbol of great abundance and was used to pay taxes, to honor gods and goddesses in religous rituals, and as an offering during the funerals of the elite. The Xocoatl drink was reserved exclusively for privileged social groups and soldiers, who used it during times of war.

Columbus tasted the drink in 1502 on the island of Guanaja in Honduras, on one of his last voyages to the New World. He brought it back to the King and Queen of Spain, who didn’t see the value of the product. It wasn't until 1519 when Hernan Cortes “the conquistador” was invited to drink it by Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor and then revealed the culture of the cacao for the first time in the Old Continent.

After its introduction to Europe this great product inspired the imagination of artisans, and cooks all over the world who have transformed it into delightful treats.

When you eat a piece of chocolate don’t forget the history and culture behind that delicious taste.

 

November 11 is Veterans' Day. President Woodrow Wilson first declared the date Armistice Day in commemoration of the end of The First World War, occurring at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918. 100 years this past July, WWI began. It lasted four awful years and changed how we think about war. Historians still debate the exact causes of the conflict but they agree that the level of carnage and horror was to that point, and maybe since, unmatched.

At the outset, the war was a patriotic rallying point on all sides, for all levels of society. Poets were not immune to the zeal of fighting for king and country, but they also reacted to the hideousness of trench and gas warfare. Here are two poems. The first was written by the English poet Rupert Brooke in 1914:

 

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

By the end of the war Brooke’s poem was criticized as an example of a mindless patriotism that contributed to the zeal for war.  In high contrast the following poem was written by another English poet, Wilfred Owen, in 1917:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

The Latin of the last line translates to “it is sweet and right to die for your country”.


In the United Kingdom November 11th is called Remembrance Day.  A hundred years on, the importance of remembering the horror of that violence is something no one should find controversial.
 

 

Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.Thomas Lauderdale was raised on a plant nursery in rural Indiana. He moved to Portland in 1982 and founded the "little orchestra" Pink Martini in 1994. He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras and ensembles, including the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and Oregon Ballet Theatre. Active in Oregon politics since he was a student at U.S. Grant High School (where he was student body president), Thomas served under Portland Mayor Bud Clark and Oregon governor Neil Goldschmidt. A connoisseur of Pacific Northwest literature, he has hosted readings by Tom Spanbauer and poets Michael and Matthew Dickman. He maintains an active interest in local history and politics. Here are some of his favorite reads:

Portland: A Historical Sketch and Guide by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan

There have been a lot of books written about Oregon and Portland, but I think the best book about Portland was written in 1976 by Terence O’Donnell and Thomas Vaughan, who led the Oregon Historical Society and just died recently. This is a beautiful book. I think that every person who moves to Portland should read this book. This is the book to read. The book is entirely readable, it explains a lot about the mindset and what’s inside the head of the people who came to Portland.

The Story of Opal by Opal Whiteley

This is an incredible story of a woman who grew up in Cottage Grove, Oregon. She was clearly a genius and was very much involved in nature, and kind of had a crazy life. I think that there was renewed interest, because at the Multnomah County Library, an author by the name of Benjamin Hoff, who wrote The Tao of Pooh, found The Story of Opal on the shelves of the library and the whole thing was republished. It’s basically the diary of a very advanced girl – I guess she was seven when she wrote it. It was declared a hoax at a certain point in the 1920s. It became a bestseller and then was declared a hoax. But it’s just incredible. She’s the original flower child of Oregon. She had this whole imaginary world. And even if she was in her teens when she wrote it, it’s still remarkable. The whole thing is just amazing. She has this whole secret world of flowers and animals and creatures, and all in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 1920.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

She is such a fantastic writer, and I was her assistant for about a year when I was in high school. She had a column in the Willamette Week called “The Slice,” in which people would write questions and she would answer them.

The Portland Red Guide: Sites and Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk

I love this book! It has maps! It has pictures! It talks about how crazy and wonderful the history of Portland is. Whether it’s Emma Goldman, the pioneering feminist and anarchist, giving a lecture on lesbianism in 1915 at the Portland auditorium, two blocks away from my house, and getting arrested and hauled off to jail, to Woodie Guthrie living on SE 92nd in the summer of 1941 and writing all the songs for the Bonneville Power Administration, to the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war. It also talks about writers like John Reed, the Oregonian journalist who is buried in Red Square.

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

I find myself underlining passages and coming back to them again and again. It just resonates. It’s so unbelievably honest and forthright.

Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be by Myrlie Evers-Williams

This is a great, great, great book…I heard her speak at the art museum for Dan Wieden’s organization Caldera and Dan Wieden revealed that she had studied to be a classical pianist with dreams to play at Carnegie Hall.  We got her to make her Carnegie Hall debut, and we filmed it!

A Shout in the Street: An Excursion into the Modern City by Peter Jukes

A Shout in the Street is kind of like those Nietzsche aphorisms. It’s a collection of quotations and moments – film stills, photographs, excerpts from essays – and it’s about four different cities. The cities are London, Paris, Leningrad, and New York City. And they’re so beautiful. Small little quotations about each of these cities at different times. (Note: this work is out of print, but is available through the library by interlibrary loan to Multnomah County residents.)

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

photo credits: Autumn De Wilde and Susan Seubert Photography, Inc.

 

I’ve played the game “Would you rather?” a few times before where you have to choose which of two things you would rather do/be/have etc.  Some decisions were hard because both choices are equally yucky:  “Would you rather eat a worm or a spider?”  I’d rather eat neither.  Some decisions were hard because both choices seemed to have potential:  “Would you rather be a troll or a Viking for Halloween?”  One choice that frequently comes up in this game is “Would you rather be deaf or blind?”  That one was easy for me.  I need my eyes to do most of the things I enjoy:  reading, crafting, watching TV, observing flora and fauna as I hike, etc.  If I were deaf, although I would have to live without music, I also wouldn’t have to hear the garbage men at 6:00 a.m. or my upstairs neighbors walking around (fortunately, the current ones are really considerate!).  To me, it seems all around easier to be deaf than blind.

El Deafo book jacketBeing deaf is no piece of cake, though, as Cece Bell shows us in El Deafo, her memoir in graphic form. When she was four years old, she contracted meningitis and was left with a severe hearing impairment.  She was able to hear with the help of several devices, but her deafness still set her apart and, at times, left her feeling lonely and isolated.  In addition to dealing with the usual childhood concerns like making friends and keeping up in school, Cece had to cope with people who couldn’t understand her condition.  Although she really, really wanted to help them figure it out, it was hard to communicate what she needed.  El Deafo was her superhero alter ego who could stand up for herself and right the wrongs inflicted on her by mostly well-meaning, but frankly clueless kids and adults.  Her superpower was the ability to hear people – like teachers - from very far away (with the help of her Phonic Ear device). The illustrations, in which people are portrayed as rabbits, are colorful, charming and full of expression. We experience Cece’s big anxieties, but also her joys like her first crush and the fun of discovering a new best friend.  By the time you read the last panel, you’ll want to be pals with Cece!

For other memoirs for kids that are illustrated or in a graphic format, check out this list.

The Rose City Rollers league is made up of over 400 smart, tough, accomplished women who skate fast, hit hard, and defy stereotypes about female athletes ...And they read. Check out a list of favorites from Axles of Annihilation, one of the Rose City Rollers’ two All-Stars teams. Want more reading recommendations? Try My Librarian and get a personalized list made just for you.

Avalanche #K2 started playing roller derby in 2010 as a way to make friends here in Portland. When she’s not skating she runs an art gallery and retail store called Land on Mississippi Avenue. She and her 9 year old son love to read!

The Mental Athlete by Kay Porter

Roller derby takes a lot of mental and physical strength. This book has given me a lot of great tips on how to deal with the tough situations. It’s a great guide not just for sports but also for life. We all have different challenges to face and it’s nice to have different ways to combat them head on.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, followed by Inkspell and Inkdeath

A wonderful series of books about books! It’s about a father/book binder named Mortimer. When he reads books aloud, the characters come out of the book and into the real world, but with each character that emerges a new one must return to the book. One night when his daughter Maggie was very young, he accidentally reads his wife into a book called Inkheart. The trilogy follows him and his daughter as they go on a series of adventures trying to find Maggie's mother. One of my favorite parts about this series is that each chapter starts with a quote from a different book, so once I finished the series I had an incredible new list of books to read.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne is a smart, adventurous, young, orphaned redhead. As a young freckle faced redhead growing up in the country, I always felt that Anne and I were meant to be bosom buddies.


Yoga Nabi Sari #808 is a real life Librarian!  She started roller derby around the same time she started graduate school, and grad school was easier.  Nabi graduated with a Masters in Library Science from Emporia State University in August 2012.  During her two years in grad school she worked at the OHSU West Campus Science and Engineering Library and did volunteer work and research for Multnomah County Library.  Nabi currently works as a librarian for a local commercial real estate company.

When Nabi is not skating she enjoys…oh never mind, right now she is skating all the time. When the season is done she will hopefully read more books, see live theater, and do more hot yoga.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson rolling out in March, 2015.

Victoria Jamieson aka Winnie the Pow is a fellow skater with Rose City Rollers.  I am lucky enough to be her derby wife and she gave me an advanced copy of her graphic novel.  This beautifully illustrated book captures the heart of this sport.  You don’t have to be involved in roller derby to fall in love with this story!

The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey

Mind Gym: An Athletes Guide to Inner Excellence by Gary Mack

I went on a sports psychology kick this season and read both of these multiple times, and they really helped with my mental game.

Ripley #426 spends her days in two extreme realms, playing roller derby with the Rose City Rollers, and in stark contrast, working professionally as a Child and Family Therapist at a non-profit. Ripley moved from Colorado two years ago to work in the mental health field in Portland and skate with one of the most competitive leagues in the world. She has little time for other activities, although she does enjoy reading, cooking, and international travel, when she can squeeze it in.

The Pearl that Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

A novel of two Afghanistan women in the same family but generations apart, who share similar hardship and struggles in a culture where females have little freedom.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

The true story of a World War Two pilot who survives a crash at sea, only to face continued abuse as a prisoner of war.  

The Chosen by Chaim Potok. 

A book about two Jewish boys who grow up in completely different households. The father of each boy recognizes what his son will need to succeed in life, but it comes at cost to the father-son relationship.

Shaolin Spocker #1701 works as a graphic and web designer, professional photographer, and Benevolent Overlord of her own branding design studio, Upswept Creative. When Spocker started roller derby, she still had a day job, and spent a lot of time playing with swords - she practiced the martial art of Wushu for 7 years before her growing fascination with derby took over.

When Spocker isn't skating, you'll often find her indulging in sci-fi, fantasy, and gaming, geeking out about lighting design, baking some serious-business desserts, obsessing over font libraries and color theory, or maybe even singing karaoke.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I first read this in middle school, and it's always been an important book for me: as a half-Chinese girl growing up in the United States, a lot of the experiences in the book felt familiar, and helped me understand more about the Chinese side of my background.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The entire 5-book “trilogy” was a lot of fun, but the first book always stands out in my mind. It’s an entertaining and funny flip on the science fiction genre, and a must-read for any sci-fi geek.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A lot of people know about the HBO show, but the books came first, and they’re worth the read. It’s not a series for the faint of heart, and you should be careful what characters you get attached to - no one is safe! :-) - but it’s a complex and riveting story that’s really grand in scope.

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

I like a lot of Murakami’s work, and this was the first book of his that I found. It’s a story that’s split between two worlds--with odd-numbered chapters about one, and even-numbered chapters about the other! One world that feels a bit cyberpunk-y, and the other more mysterious and otherworldly.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

This book creates an interesting world, where Thai culture and society is at the center, natural food is scarce, and calories are more valuable and coveted than anything else. The story follows multiple characters’ perspectives, and it was fun to watch the story emerge from their individual threads.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

photo credits: Mercy Shammah - Your Sunday Best Photography www.yoursundaybestphotography.com

Meanwhile in San Francisco book jacketMy favorite city is San Francisco. When I was slogging through high school in the Midwest, I dreamed about moving out to California and going to college there. It took me a few years after high school, but eventually I made it out there and stayed for the next twelve years. Now I try to visit the Bay Area once in awhile. It’s changed a lot since I lived there but the main things that I loved about San Francisco are still there. Golden Gate Park, huge and green, with pockets of bison and windmills all leading to the cold, cold ocean. The neighborhoods, each with its own character and atmosphere. I was there just a few weeks ago and found a bevy of hippies still hanging out in the Haight.

My new favorite book about San Francisco is Meanwhile in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words. The author and illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, has captured the people and places of Meanwhile in San Francisco illustrationSF perfectly. She visited different neighborhoods and drew the people and the scenes. And she had lots of conversations at each location. MacNaughton then gathered the twenty to thirty stories she had heard and combined them into one story for each picture. It’s both deceptively simple and deeply profound. The section on the main branch of the SF Public Library is perfect; on one page she has a list of all of the people that entered the library between 12:45 and 12:50: number 9 of 59 is “old man bent over, beard nearly touching the ground.”

Meanwhile in San Francisco captures both the characters of the city and the city as a character. Sheer loveliness.

She has a really great website too. Check it out here.

 

 

Station 11 book jacketA lot of people will hear the word ‘post-apocalypse’ about Station Eleven and will decide then and there not to read it. That’s a shame because this isn’t your usual vision of the collapse of civilization - there are no zombies hunting prey, no organized savage games to survive. There is savagery for sure, but most of it takes place off screen and the characters mourn the ways in which violence has touched them - they retain their humanity.

The story slips back and forth from a past that is familiar to us all - cell phones, red-eye flights, suburban lives, and tabloids - to a fateful night when an actor performing in the role of King Lear collapses on stage, his death a harbinger of a devastating and virulent flu that will rewrite the story of human-kind. Then we jump to a future in which a small company of actors and musicians makes its way from one sparse outpost of humanity to another, because, after all, what else is there? Each member of ‘the symphony’ has scars; some cherish memories of life before, and to others this ragged and primitive world is all they have ever known. As the story unfolds, the past and present weave together.

Yes, it’s a book about apocalypse and devastation, but in a quieter vein. More accurately it's about loss and memory and how each little piece of the world we carry with us changes our story. And it's well worth reading.

 

darger bookUntil his death on April 13, 1973 not many folks knew Henry Darger. However, while cleaning his small, cluttered apartment, what Darger’s landlord’s found forever changed that. In the process of clearing out decades of presumed clutter, “30,000 manuscript pages, and over three hundred canvases depicting a rich, shocking fantasy world - many featuring hermaphroditic children being eviscerated, crucified, and strangled” were discovered.

Intrigued? I was. After attending an fascinating exhibit of Darger’s work at the American Folk Art Museum I was drawn into his outsider art and wanted to know more about the man behind the vast and bizarre body of work.  Unfortunately, aside from speculation based on the imagery there was little to know. Luckily Jim Elledge stepped in. After ten years of research, he produced “Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy” a scholarly, yet readable history of Henry Darger that not only illuminates the man, but also his societal backdrop to better understand him.

Check it out!  

Perpetual calendar NaNoWriMo is a funny abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, when deadline-driven novelists find community in trying to bust out a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. The online nonprofit site NaNoWriMo.org coordinates this effort and serves as a kind of social network for writers. In 2013, there were 1574 participating novelists in Portland!

Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What are you doing to prepare? You might take a look at our list of resources containing creative writing prompts, if you’d like a little help getting the creativity bubbling or would like to read some advice about the craft of fiction.

Do any of these NaNoWriMo novels ever get published? Well, yes! Many are self-published (you can do this!), and quite a few are published by publishers large and small. Some NaNoWriMo novels meet with quite a bit of success, such as Erin Morgenstern’s The Night CircusStephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, and Anna Gruen’s Water for Elephants!

 

Pages

Subscribe to