Blogs: Books & literature

cover of walking in rainI found a single remaining copy Of Walking in Rain by Matt Love on the shelf of a coffee shop in Manzanita. It was high summer, but I couldn’t resist its pull, the feel of the paper, the promise of reading it on a rainy day in autumn. There was no price tag and the cashier seemed baffled as to what to charge. I had a $20 bill in my pocket and offered that. A signed copy for $20? Done.

It sat on my bookshelf the rest of the summer. And it was an unusually hot, long, and dry summer too. By the time the rains came and leaves began to change colors and fall, it was November. At last. Historically I have been a sun worshipper, but have long had a love affair with rain. Especially stormy downpours. The sun brings out the super efficient doer in me, while the rain gives me a reason to take a breath, pause, reflect.

This is Matt Love’s contemplative musings on rain. Will it make you a lover of rain?

Notes to Mr. Love:

p.s. Counting Crows have some of the best rain songs around and none were mentioned.

(Raining in Baltimore and Amy Hit the Atmosphere)

p.p.s. Also, I carry an umbrella and refuse to feel guilty about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have lived in Portland for 56 years now, raising kids, writing books, and reading books. I never would have got through those 56 years without the Multnomah County Library.

“Favorites” -- A favorite book? Impossible! Seven favorite books? Impossible! I have too many favorite books. A lot of them are a lot of other people’s favorites too, so they don’t need to be mentioned. But I’ve just been rereading one that has pretty much slipped outof sight, and I want to remind people of it, because it’s a terrific novel: Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. It came out in 1964, won the Western Heritage Award, and got a nice movie based on it. But it’s way, way better than the movie. Little Big Man is a highly improbable story told so well that you believe it.

For one thing, you want to believe it. And also you can trust it, because the true parts of it are true. The history (and ethnology) is real. There’s no whitewashing the racism and greed that have always threatened the American dream of freedom. You get the story of what really happened at the battle of the Little Big Horn, not all that Custer hype. You get an entirely new view of Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and several other celebrities, too.

Like Mark Twain, Berger has a pitch-perfect ear for how Americans talk – and think. And like Mark Twain he can ruthlessly indict human stupidity and bigotry while never losing his temper, and being really, really funny. Old Lodge Skins is my hero. I love this book. I wish every high-school kid in America could read it. And then (like me) read it again twenty or forty or sixty years later...

As for nonfiction, I have to mention Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which brings together scientific and medical research (and hypocrisy), the biography of an almost invisibly elusive black woman, the exposure of an act of exploitation, racism and social injustice, and the writer’s own deeply respectful involvement with the people from whom she won this absorbing, troubling, wonderfully told story.

How about a favorite piece of music? Can I have two, please? OK! One is the short opera Galileo Galilei by Philip Glass, performed here in Portland two years ago (a recording of that performance is available now from Orange Mountain). The stage set was all magical circles and spirals and pendulums, lights moving through shadows, illuminating the story that spirals back in time from the dark end of Galileo’s life to a radiant, joyful beginning. Set, words, and music, it was and is completely beautiful.

And for a change of pace. . . how about Hoyt Axton singing “Five Hundred Miles.”  (Find it on the CD Greenback Dollar: Live at the Troubadour). There are several versions of it on YouTube. I like the one where the visual is just a b/w video of a train that comes and goes by and is gone.

For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.

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.

y no se lo tragó la tierra book jacketWhat makes a literary work an American classic? Clearly, there is no one answer to this question. It is a matter of opinion. It is no wonder book publishers have debated this issue in the past, and that they will continue to discuss it in the future. The question, also, hangs over my head every time I read Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra: Is this fictional tale of Mexican American migrant farm working families an American classic? After all, this novella is an iconic piece of literary art in Chicano/a literature, and is a must read in Chicano/a literature courses in U.S. colleges. It was also the first recipient of the Premio Quinto Sol award.

Is it an American classic? Yes! It is. In spite of being written in Spanish,* …y no se lo tragó la tierra is a story of perseverance in the American tradition of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Like their fictional counterparts in The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, the characters in …y no se lo tragó la tierra have dreams and grit. The Mexican American migrant families’ determination to make their dreams real no matter the odds given - it is the 1950s and people of color are segregated in the workplace and society—is what makes their tale of perseverance an American classic.

The story takes place in two locations: a small town in rural South Texas, where the migrant families live on a permanent basis and the Midwest, where they toil in the fields of commercial growers. The hardships they confront in their annual migrations to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states in search of seasonal farm labor say more about their determination to better their lives than about the work itself. That is not to say that the seasonal farm work they do doesn’t influence their willingness to live their American dreams. On the contrary, the very work itself, with its low wages, no rights, no dignity, and no hope, drive migrant families to continue struggling for a better life.

Like two other American classics of the twentieth century, Native Son and Invisible Man, …y no se lo tragó la tierra illuminates an experience once ignored by mainstream Americans. It sheds light on a harsh reality that can no longer be overlooked.

*The library's copy is bilingual.

I don't often read young adult novels; too many of the teen characters leave me feeling like I wasn't like them even when I was fifteen, and I just can't identify.  I do have two series to recommend that work well even for a more jaded adult reader of science fiction and fantasy such as myself.

Cinder book jacketFirst is Cinder by Melissa Meyer.  This Cinderella retelling is set in a far distant, post-World War IV world, and our heroine is a clever young mechanic who has a cyborg arm and foot. This marks her as semi-human and of the very lowest social standing.  Her doting adoptive father is gone, leaving her owned by her sadistically cruel stepmother.  One of her step sisters is somewhat kind to her, but is little more than a child herself and can't help her.  There's a handsome prince, a dreadful, contagious and incurable disease sweeping the earth and an ~evil~ queen from Luna. While some elements of the story will seem old hat to the more cynical, I thought it had enough charm and verve to carry off a story we've all heard before and make it fresh again.  I like the series so well I've already got a hold on Winter (book #5 in the Lunar Chronicles) even though I'll be using up one of my holds for nine months just to read Thief's Covenant book jacketit as soon as I can.

Ari Marmell has written several adult fantasy novels, none of them particularly well known or best sellers.  I did like Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Conqueror's Shadow. He also just published the final novel in a young adult series that begins with Thief's Covenant about a girl named Widdershins.  In this world, gods have powers based on the number of worshippers they have. Olgun's congregation is slaughtered except for one young girl hidden in the shadows. She flees to the streets and takes the name Widdershins.  Olgun can't perform miracles for his last worshipper, but he can push the edges a bit.  He can make a flintlock misfire.  He can make her run faster, jump higher, and walk quieter than an ordinary human and with his help, Widdershins survives as a thief. While Olgun's help make her mildly superpowered, she still feels real and, like any teen, she has moments of foolishness and moments of maturity.  If you like fantasy and wouldn't mind a younger protagonist, this series has been a very enjoyable light read. I'm sorry to be done with it and I'll give the next book by this author a chance because of it.

 

When I was a little girl, Christmas was my favorite time of the year. I never really believed in Santa Claus, but I did believe in his magic. Who knew what wonderful treasure might appear under the Christmas Tree inside a sparkling wrapped parcel of paper? I mean, I knew what I put on my wish list, but how could I ever imagine that my uncles would get me all top ten 45rmp records from the Billboard List?

Then there was my Dad- his joy was to disguise our presents with funny shaped boxes or beans to make them rattle- hoping that my brotherand sisters and I would never guess what it was.  Even getting a pair of socks or underwear was exciting!

I feel that same eager expectation every time I walk in the library door.

 I know what books I are on my reading list and what music I like, but how could I imagine the dark-haired handsome man on a collection of CDs would turn out to be India’s King of Bollywood-Shah Rukh Khan?  

 Or that a shabby little grey paperback called Cover Her Face by P.D. James was disguised as the start  of my fascination with British mysteries?

Or that there was a graphic novel version of Crime and Punishment that was as stark, horrifying and redemptive as Dostoevsky?

I am a grown woman now but I still love Christmas and I still love that feeling of expectation when I walk through the library.  Who knows what hidden treasure is waiting there to be unwrapped and enjoyed?

 

 

The book Women in Clothes compiles 639 surveys of women. It’s a lofty goal that is wonderfully executed. 639 women weigh in on such topics as style or taste; when they feel most attractive, money, mothers, and many more topics. Interspersed are photos of collections of clothing, blotters, rings, socks, shoes, gum packages and 6 women wearing each other’s outfits-but wait there’s more!

I felt enlightened by the essay about when to wear a veil in Egypt. I felt bothered by how much one woman spent on clothes one month: 1858.07 dollars. Mostly, I was impressed by this interesting and wonderful book that has many details, opinions, and insight.  If you would like to get to know women or you are aching to hear more women’s voices: this is the book for you.

cover image of the life changing magic of tidying up
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up...this was the first book I finished reading in 2015. I am a very organized and tidy person by nature and so am not the intended reader, but just the same, I love reading about organizing and simplifying. Also while browsing the pages I saw the words: storage experts are hoarders and I knew that Marie Kondo and I would be fast friends.
 
The presentation is nice, small little hardback edition, nice to hold, sparks joy. This is the main theme of the book—you should only keep those things in your life that spark joy when you touch them, look at them, use them, think of them.  Wouldn't that be lovely to only have the things in your life that spark joy? She believes you can.
As a reader of these sorts of texts, I didn't come away with any new information, but if you like a good prompting to tidy, this is the one. 
 

Logo for the Intellectual Freedom Issues in Oregon database

Curious about censorship or banned books in Oregon?  Need to know what's been published in the local news?  The Intellectual Freedom Issues in Oregon: A News Database, may have what you need.  The database is the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse's news clipping files, and is updated twice a year. The database includes news articles and editorials about intellectual freedom issues printed in Oregon newspapers over the past 65 years. The database can be searched by article title, newspaper name, date, city/location, name of challenged book or material, and organizations or individuals involved. After you have found what you want to read, contact the coordinator of the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse, Katie Anderson, 503-378-2528 to request a complete text of the articles or editorials.  And if you have any trouble, don't forget to Ask a Librarian!

I recently got a Fitbit, a wonderful little device that tracks how much you walk, and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with seeing how many steps I can walk every single day. I’m not quite as obsessed as David Sedaris is about walking (or maybe it’s because I don’t have nine hours every day to devote to walking the way Sedaris says he does). I know that I’m somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale but I really do try not to let my slight ocd tendencies affect those around me (though my husband, when he’s washing the dishes as I’m hovering about in the kitchen cleaning up after him, might disagree with that last statement).

The Man Who Couldn't Stop bookjacketDavid Adam does suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. For the past 20 years, he has had an irrational fear of contracting AIDS, and in an effort to understand this, he has written The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought. It’s my favorite kind of memoir - personal, poignant, heartbreaking stories of the author mixed with everything I’ve ever wanted to know about a bigger subject. This is an immensely down-to-earth, accessible book about a difficult subject. I came away with an understanding of the definition of OCD, the possible causes, the treatment of OCD and a huge amount of empathy for all those that lean towards obsessive- compulsive disorder.


 

I am secure enough in my nerdiness to admit that I once owned a copy of that famous poster Fox Mulder had on the wall of his basement cubicle in the X-Files. The one with the spaceship and the words "I Want To Believe." (I also had Mulder and Scully action figures and a pet cockatiel who whistled the first measures of the show's theme song in an endless loop, but we don't need to go there.)
 
If you've never seen the show, all you need to know is that Mulder believes in aliens and Scully is Catholic. I gravitate to characters grappling with religion in any form because the complexity of human belief brings out the most compelling stories. (And if those stories involve government conspiracies and alien-human hybrids, all the better.) 
 
Religion can show us the very best and worst in human nature. It's sort of like a church basement potluck--the good and the terrible gathered together on one table, saints and serial killers ready to mingle like so much green jello salad and funeral potatoes.
 
A Song for Issy Bradley book jacketA Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray is the story of what is lost and found in the wake of the unexpected death of a child. When Claire loses her youngest child to a sudden illness, faith is also lost. The Bradley family revolves around their Mormon church membership but Issy's death cancels gravity. The orderly planetary orbits of each family member spin out of control in their own unique ways. Religion acts as both anchor and buoy as the family struggles with Claire's behavior in the midst of their own turbulent journeys. Can they catch her before the tide of her bottomless ocean of grief washes her permanently to sea?
 
What if you lived in seventh century Britain, caught between two belief systems? The power of the old gods is on the wane as the title character in Nicola Griffith's Hild manages to make her way as the seer of her uncle, Edwin of Northumbria, in a politicallHomeland dvd covery fractious time; Christianity is rising and war between small kingdoms is always on the horizon. The brutal and fascinating Anglo-Saxon world comes to life in this illuminating and painstakingly researched novel about the woman who eventually becomes St. Hilda of Whitby.
 
If you've not yet watched the television series Homeland, I will warn you now that it is addictive. It is a political thriller but what I found most fascinating in the first three seasons of the show is how the fate of one character and those around him is so directly tied to his religion--a faith missed by government surveillance and undetected by family and friends. It is faith that both saves and condemns, and faith that raises more questions than it answers.
 
The truth is out there.

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