Book jacket: Mannequin Girl by Ellen LitmanIf you’re a female who grew up in this country during the 1980s, odds are good that you lived in fear of scoliosis checks. The impact a back brace could have on a teenager’s social life was made very clear to me by Judy Blume in her book Deenie.  

But what if, instead of growing up in New Jersey under the watchful eye of a controlling mother, Deenie had been born in Soviet Russia to inattentive bohemian parents?

What if Deenie’s spine curvature got her sent to a school-sanitorium where life’s disappointments brought out a bit of an impulsive mean streak?

That alternate universe Deenie might look something like Kat Knopman, the sympathetic but prickly protagonist of Mannequin Girl by Ellen Litman.

Part of what I love about reading 80s coming of age stories, is recognizing my own experience in the lives of characters in fiction.  The other part is reflecting on how much of these experiences of a common era are colored by things like geography, race, politics and maybe just simple circumstance.

Were you an 80s child, or just interested in coming of age stories set in not so far removed historical times? Check out my list for more tubular tales from different points of view.

"No one can escape justice!" When I tell people that I’ve been reading a lot of Judge Dredd comics, the first thing most of them say is, “Oh yeah, wasn’t there that movie with Stallone in it?” Well, yes, there was. I was at it on opening weekend, in fact. There was also a much better (and funnier and more violent) Dredd flick that came out in 2012.

Cover of The complete Carlos Ezquerra: Volume 2But I’m not here to talk about moving pictures: Judge Dredd is all about pictures and words on paper. The character of Judge Joseph Dredd first appeared in the British magazine 2000 AD in 1977, and his adventures have been running there ever since. I did not know about that magazine when I was growing up, but I did know about Dredd (and respected the badge) thanks to Anthrax’s “I am the Law” and the occasional special-issue appearances with Batman. Only recently have I gone back to the source and started reading some of the original British comics, and I am very glad that I did.

Set in a chaotic, post-apocalyptic 22nd century U.S. city, Mega City One, Dredd is one of the Judges, authorized to detain and deliver judgement on any law-breaker. The sentence is often death. This would be a grim premise, were it not for the fact that the comics are completely, gloriously over the top. People get infected by radiated mushrooms and start breaking out in spores. Robots have egos and sing songs about themselves. Weird skeletal psychopaths talk with hillbilly accents and make various diabolical poisons (or “pizens”). It’s fantastic! The satire is often thick. And episodes are incredibly short, only about 6 pages long: they were originally serialized in 2000 AD over many issues. Collections of these episodes are the perfect quick-bite reading, for when you don’t have much time or much of an attention span.

There have been some recent Dredd comics by American writers and artists, too: an ongoing series by Duane Swierczynski which kind of turns it into a sci-fi police procedural (albeit with plenty of cheeky humor and misplaced body parts), and a great miniseries called Mega City Two: City of Courts by Portlanders Douglas Wolk and Ulises Farinas. In Mega City Two, Dredd takes an assignment on the west coast, a place much brighter and glammy than MC1. Rest assured, he will still find a way to deliver justice, even if he is stuck with a gun that only shoots “friendly bullets.” Because, after all, he is the law.

Much of what we know about Greek and Roman Mythology are from epic tales like Homer's Odyssey or Ovid's Metamorphosis.  These are tales of great adventure which often have a hero as the center of the story. Have you noticed any similarities between these heroes of the past,  and favorite characters in today's books and movies?

The hero’s journey was a favorite focus of Joseph Campbell, and his breakdown of the hero’s journey allows for us to make connections between heroes of the past and present.

There were many heroes in the stories of Greek and Roman mythology. The Odyssey gave us Odysseus one of the most famous heroes of lore, which the Romans refer to as Ulysses. It can be argued that Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, story paralleled Cambell's hero's journey.

The Twelve Labors of Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) tells the adventures of the champion of the gods that used both strength and smarts to face his challenges.

Though they don’t get as many lines in the written histories and mythology women heroes are just as plentiful and go through similar journeys, just like Katniss Everdeen.  We can thank the tragedy playwright Euripides for writing several plays about Grecian female heroes such as Medea and Hecuba.

In September 199_, at the age of 14, I was driven into the city and deposited in the brick hallways of Catholic high school. It was in that cold, drafty, but nevertheless optimistic institution (in the English class of one Mr. Stiff) that I first encountered the writings of John Irving. The book was A Prayer for Owen Meany, which follows two boys as they grow up (one of the boys is unusually short, has a strange, nasal voice and believes that he is an instrument of God). I enjoyed this long, funny, sad book, enough so that I decided to try another book by Irving: The World According to Garp. This one was even more funny, and it had a lot more sex. It was also about an unusual boy and his progression through an unusual life, en route to becoming a perhaps slightly less unusual man. Did I mention that there was sex in it? Naturally, it became one of my favorite books during those high school years, and Irving remained a favorite author of mine during all of the challenging, arduous, character-forming years since.

More recently, I read his Until I Find You, about a young boy with a fantastic memory who, along with his tattooist mother, journeys around Europe in search of his wayward father, a church organist addicted to tattoos. The book goes on to follow this boy as he grows to manhood and comes to grips with his relationships to both of his parents. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think, "...again? Another boy with a screwed up life, growing up?" But still, I loved it and couldn’t put it down. And it got me thinking about why it was that I like Irving’s books so much, even though the stories and characters in them seem so similar. His writing and plotting are wonderful, but I think that maybe the appeal is also exactly that the stories are so classically structured and almost formulaic in the progression of the character from young age to adulthood. Almost all of his books are examples of the bildunsgroman genre, the coming-of-age story. And he’s not the only one writing in this mode: a My MCL search for the subject term “bildungsromans” produces, at the time of this writing, 2,082 results.

So why do I/we like this kind of book so much? I suppose that the one constant in life is that you grow older, and maybe it’s nice to think that we also mature along the way. Or maybe there’s just nothing funnier or sadder than growing up.

Chanur Saga bookjacketI grew up 60 miles from Roswell, New Mexico; so my love of SciFi is natural. CJ Cherryh writes a very entertaining SciFi series called The Chanur Saga about a galaxy far, far away that is full of Hani, Mehendo'sat and Kif with sundry other species, and not a human in sight. Family, Trade and inter-species Diplomacy are the bedrocks of society. Then the Outsider stows away aboard the Hani ship 'The Pride of Chanur' and all hell breaks loose.

You don't have to love SciFi to appreciate Cherryh's world building (spoiler alert -- methane breathers!); or the ironic way she depicts the Powers that try to rule over folk perceived as weak or inferior. She handles culture shock with humor and insight enough to make you wonder: suppose it was me who made First Contact. What view of human kind would I give?

The Chanur Saga is fantastic! George Lucas would want to film it if it ever came to his attention.

“You need a rest, and so do I," I'd say firmly, and then I'd close the door (also firmly) and brew myself a cup of tea. Then, with a sigh of happiness, I’d pull out a book or pop in a DVD and take at least an hour for myself. My kids both stopped napping at about three and a half, but I didn't stop being a quiet time-enforcer until both of them were in the care of Portland Public Schools five days a week. Days with young children can be very long, and I found that if we had this time to refuel, the rest of the afternoon and evening would be much more pleasant for everyone.

A library patron recently told me that she uses audiobooks to entertain her preschooler during quiet time and I think this is a brilliant idea. Let them be diverted for a while by Frances, a badger who likes to make up charming little songs, or let them spend some time enjoying the sweet friendship of Frog and Toad. I’ve made a couple of lists to give parents ideas for audiobooks that would be perfect. The first list contains audiobook CDs and the second contains downloadable audiobooksI offer them with the sincere hope that the stories you'll find on them will provide enough time for both parent and child to feel refreshed.

No visit to memory lane is complete without a few moments of fascination and horror.  Remember your 20’s?  I do -- my first apartment, helpful or harmful roommates, dating, and encounters with people that have since turned into lifelong relationships. I love that I had so much energy and anything felt possible. I still love many of the people I encountered then.

So, it’s not surprising that I love the HBO series Girls created by Lena Dunham, a sometimes comedic and horrific drama. This series is a very entertaining guest that I want to invite into my living room.  Dunham’s girls explore connections with lovers, jobs, friendships and all the possibilities of life while trying to maintain and develop their self esteem in wild New York City. It’s the exciting and uncomfortable 20’s unveiled in all it’s shabby glory, something to witness and marvel at while discussing the thought-provoking topics that each episode brings up. Oh and she just wrote a funny and moving collection of essays called Not that Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "learned".  I’ve learned that I love what Lena Dunham creates and hope she keeps making books, movies and television for a long long time.

I love the fall. The weather stops being ridiculously hot, the rain comes back, and the school year is still full of potential (granted, I like school better now that I’m not the one in class). There’s also the possibility of something new worth watching on TV and then of course all those fantastic campaign ads:

  Duck for President by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy LewinBad Kitty by Nick Bruel


Ok, even I don’t believe that last one. But hooray for democracy!

So where do you go when you want to know more about that candidate or that ballot measure? I suppose you could just trust the ads, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Instead, take a look at Ballotpedia and

Ballotpedia is one of those websites that you think you’ve found everything- and then you find more. Their goal is to provide “accurate and objective information about politics at the local, state, and federal level.”  They have information on everything from presidential elections to school board elections and from major national issues to a profile of Louisville City Councilor Madonna Flood.  

Red and blue U.S. Mail letter drop box.

If you need to know about the Federal government, Govtrack has it covered!  Want to meet the Congressman from Arkansas? They can do that. The site is excellent for seeing what elected officials have done in their time in office; i.e. what bills they voted for and which ones they wrote as well as who is on the Ethics Committee.

Both Govtrack and Ballotpedia are great at providing context. Say you want to know how well different senators work together- you can check their report cards. Or you can see what happens to a bill. I especially appreciate Ballotpedia for their detailed look at different ballot measures- I used it when I was trying to find out more about Oregon’s measure 92 and found more than I had even thought to wonder about.

Whether you are casting your vote, writing a school report or just curious (maybe all three!) I hope that these sites can help you see things in a new way. And of course, if you want to know more you can also ask a librarian!

*Bad Kitty is by Nick Bruel and Duck is by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin


cover image of mr. phillips

Mr. Phillips is a modern classic in my estimation. Faintly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this single day novel focuses on the life of a middle-class British male who has been summarily sacked from his job of accountant last Friday. Monday morning however, he dresses the part and leaves for the office just the same, Mrs. Phillips being none the wiser. The reader is privy to his thoughts (which are borderline sexually obsessive) as he spends the day wandering London, doing some very normal things like riding public transport and the not very mundane like witnessing a bank robbery. It is bawdy, but great. 

Having walked the streets of London myself on those quiet weekday afternoons (not because I had been made redundant, rather a work schedule thing); I have selected a musical pairing for this book. If there was ever an album to enjoy while exploring the city (employed or no) it would be Songs for Distingue Lovers by Billie Holiday.



If you're anything like me, you just looked at the calendar and realized Halloween is less than two weeks away. Eek! What is my kiddo going to be for Halloween?! If you have older kids, perhaps they already have strong opinions of their own, which may be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the idea! But for those of us with toddlers, the task of coming up with a cute costume on the cheap can feel a bit daunting, especially if you want to make it yourself. Or maybe you don't have kids but need to come up with a cool costume for the Halloween party you just got invited to. Never fear, the library is here to help! 


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