Blogs:

Big Tiny bookjacketI am fascinated by people who go against societal convention to do something 'crazy' - swim across an ocean, bike across a country or live on food grown within 100 miles of their house. In The Big Tiny, Dee Williams tells the story of her decision to sell her house and pare down her possession to the bare minimum in order to move into a tiny house of her own making. The impetus was an alarming diagnosis for a relatively young woman - congestive heart failure.

Determined to make her precious time count she decides to do this bold thing and discovers that letting go of stuff is hard -- after all, the things we surround ourselves with define us somehow, don't they? I enjoyed Dee Williams voice, her humor, humility and her quirky way of looking at the world.  (As I read, I was picturing her as the comedian Tig Notaro, and as it turns out they kind of look alike, as evidenced in this Ted Talk!) I felt privileged to go on this journey with her. She seems like just the sort of person you'd want to have living in a tiny house in your back yard.

 

Just because a mystery is cozy doesn’t mean it isn’t spicy or hot.

BBC mystery series Rosemary and Thyme is a cozy village mystery series that is both spicy AND hot. It stars Felicity Kendal as Rosemary Boxer and Pam Ferris as LauraThyme: women who are too smart and too curious and too feisty to take what any man (or woman) tells them at face value. Rosemary is a college professor specializing in botany and landscaping who got  the boot in favor a male colleague. She describes herself as ‘more bookworm than earthworm’  As for Laura Thyme, her husband left her for a much younger, more shapely woman. “To hell with men” she tells Rosemary, then as an afterthought “although some are lovely…”

Rosemary’s free-lance landscaping jobs give her the opportunity to peer around bushes and trees to listen in on secret conversations. Laura Thyme balances her out with logic and straight forward practicality. Though they are shot at, lied to and run off the road they keep each other’s spirits up with laughter and of course solve the mystery in the end.

Rosemary and Thyme made me think about other crime solving women- on TV and in books too. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of choices there are. To take a look at what I found check out my list.

I learned five minutes ago that the ban on gay marriage was just struck down by a federal judge, which means that now same-sex marriage is legal in my beloved adopted state of Oregon. I can't wait to tell my kids that now, princesses can marry princesses here.

It was 2004, and I was walking hand in hand with my daughter. I must have made a hissing sound when I saw the sign in my neighborhood that said, “Measure 36. One man, one woman.” My four-year-old daughter, who I’ll call Thing One, definitely noticed my reaction, and she asked me why that sign always made me mad. It was a great opportunity to explain that I believed that people should be allowed to love who they wanted to love and make families with those people, too. I told her that I thought it was wrong for the government to tell two men or two women that they weren’t allowed to marry. In those good old days, Thing One tended to believe everything I said, but this time she looked up at me, a doubtful expression on her face, and said, “Princesses don’t marry princesses, Mommy. They’re supposed to marry princes.”

Having a kid in the 21st century sometimes requires doing research in the service of fighting prevailing preschooler opinions as presented by Disney.

It turns out that sometimes princes can marry princes. I found a picture book called King & King  by Linda de Haan. It begins when a grouchy queen tells her son that it’s time for him to marry. He confesses that he has never met a princess who struck his fancy (and a page boy who happens to be present gives a saucy wink!). Many princesses visit the palace, but the Prince doesn’t seem very interested in any of them. Finally one of the princesses brings her handsome brother along, and when the two princes’ eyes meet, a cloud of red hearts appear over their heads. A fabulous wedding soon follows, the queen retires, and the two princes become kings together.

People can choose to create families in Oregon now with the partners of their choice-- and I think some fabulous weddings may soon follow. Here you’ll find a great list of books for children that are a little more inclusive in their portrayal of couples and families.

Are you doing business in the Portland metro area?  Do you want to identify movers and shakers in our local business community?  For the past 30 years, the Portland Business Journal's Book of Lists has established itself as a key tool for doing business in the area.  This year's list is "by far the most comprehensive edition to date" according to their publisher, Craig Wessel.   A wide range of industry sectors are included to help you identify executives and companies who are major players in their field.  In addition to the Book of Lists, the Portland Business Journal also provides comprehensive coverage of business news and information for the Portland area.  Free remote access is available with a Multnomah County Library card and password.  Apply online if you don't already have a Multnomah County Library card, and open the door to this - and many other subscription-based resources at no charge. 

Town in Bloom bookjacketIf you are familiar with 101 Dalmatians, then you have at the very least, crossed paths with Dodie Smith for she is the author of that much-loved children’s story. And in the not too distant past, she had a revival of sorts with I Capture the Castle being re-released and made into a film. It is an utterly sweet and charming tale of a young woman who navigates the tricky waters of love and ends up all the more independent and witty. Smith wrote a handful of plays and other novels, each one is a gem in its own right. Long out of print, some of these titles were re-released in 2012 by Corsair Publishers and Multnomah County Library has recently purchased them. They are: The Town in Bloom, The New Moon with the Old, and It Ends with Revelations.  

Of these, I have read The Town in Bloom and can highly recommend it. It is a coming of age story set in 1920s London among the fast-moving theatre crowd. Though the heroine Mouse is in her late teens when the story begins, you also hear from her older self recalling the past with a bit of perspective. And like I Capture the Castle, it is a love story, but with a more adult twist.  Nothing explicit mind you, but the themes of affairs (extramarital or otherwise), marriage, divorce, and a woman making it on her own, are topics that are only increase in appreciation if you’ve got a few years under your belt yourself. Young adult readers may well enjoy it, but it deserves a re-read later on in life. If you like historical fiction set in the jazz age, London, the life of a struggling actor, or a good love story where the heroine comes out loving herself most of all, give it a go.

 

picture of lee and bury me standing Lee at Central has this to say about Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. It opens up the mostly closed world of East European gypsies, or Roma, in the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Roma are a people it is still possible to actively (and violently) discriminate against and Fonseca attempts to tell us why.

Don't know much about geography ... (Thanks to the singer Sam Cooke for a line from his 1960 hit  "Wonderful World.")

Let’s begin with a quiz (answers at the end … don’t peek!)

  1. Name the capital of the only country in the Middle East that borders the Caspian Sea.
  2. The fertile floodplain of the Chao Phraya River is the chief rice-growing region in what country?
  3.  The Merrimack River, formed by the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers, empties into what major body of water?
  4. The Tarim Basin, which is one of the world’s largest lowland areas that does not drain into an ocean, is found in which country?

One of the answers to the Buzzfeed 2013 geography quiz

I found these questions at the “Take the Quiz” page of the National Geographic Bee website. The annual event, for students in grades 4 to 8, will be held in late May. The Quiz gives multiple choice options, but I figured that adults wouldn’t sweat on these questions.

Or would you? OK, so these are pretty hard, but we Americans are pretty sucky at geography. In a 2006 survey of the geographic literacy of 18- to 24-year-olds, over half of them couldn’t find New York State on a map and nearly two-thirds couldn’t find Iraq (where U.S. troops had been stationed for three years).  More recently (and hilariously), the website Buzzfeed asked its readers to write in the names of the countries on a blank map of Europe). The results are pretty pathetic once participants get past England, France and Italy.

Can you find Ukraine on that map of Europe? What about Oso, Washington? What about what happened on that slope before it took out the town?

We can just check Google Maps, right?  It doesn’t really matter that we don’t know our geography?  Yes, actually it does. Because it’s not just about the maps anymore. Our world is deeply interconnected, nearly everything that we do has global implications. We cannot afford (economically, technologically, environmentally) to not know what is going on on the other side of the planet. We need context, and geography can provide it. How can our companies do business in Asia if they aren’t aware of its cultural differences (and similarities) or what’s going on ecologically or politically? How can immigrants from Asia become part of our community if we don’t know enough about their culture to connect with them?

Rice paddy in ThailandYou might think it’s not important to know that Thailand’s chief rice-growing region is the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River, but what if you need to know if the rice you eat was grown in pesticide-free waters? Or if a Chinese or Mexican restaurant’s supply of rice will remain consistent throughout next year? What if you needed this information in 2005, six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami?  Would it have been important then to know where the Chao Phraya was?

Could you use a refresher on geography? Check out the books on this list.

Answers to the quiz:

  1. Tehran, Iran
  2. Thailand
  3. Atlantic Ocean
  4. China

In the spring it's hard to resist the urge to turn the house upside down, plough up the garden and in general give everything a thorough cleaning. But what about those cobwebs in our brains? After spending many a dark and rainy day curled up with the likes of Cormac McCarthy  and listening to The Smiths, spring just seems to require more redemptive reading. I like to call this epiphany fiction. These are the kind of books featuring protagonists undergoing life-changing events. With any luck maybe some of it rubs off on you, the reader.

One such is The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Henry, a 67 year-old retiree and widower is told that he has a terminal illness. Determined to make the most of his last days, he sells everything and moves to a Utopian town in Alabama. There he tends to his soul and is surprised at the number of lessons he has to learn. It's a gentle read that celebrates community and self-reflection.

Equally enjoyable and a bit more complex, Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga tells the story of Rudy, an avocado dealer in Chicago. He too is a widower who has lost his bearings after the death of his wife. He should be contemplating retirement, but instead, in a move that stuns his children, he sells everything and buys an avocado farm in Texas. His only road map for this new life is a book - Philosophy Made Simple. As he reads about the great thinkers of history he tries to find meaning in his new life, which now includes the care of a painting elephant named Norma Jean.

But my favorite epiphany fic choice of recent years is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi Patel is a boy driven by curiosity. As a zoo-keeper's son, he's constantly studying animals. Unable to decide on one religion, he practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with equal fervor. When Pi is 16 his father decides that the family and the zoo will emigrate to Canada via cargo ship. The ship sinks and Pi is forced to share his lifeboat with the only other survivors, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What's a boy to do but to get really serious about the big questions of life and philosophy?

I hope I've given you a reasonable excuse to put down the mop and pick up a book. Happy spring and happy reading!

Book Jacket: Crapalachia by Scott McClanahanSometimes it isn’t until regular life gets interrupted, that you realize you’ve been in a rut. The same goes for reading. That’s what happened to me when I came across Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan. I won’t lie, It was the title that attracted me. That and the anthropomorphic cover art (Yes, I’m an Etsy shopper). What I found inside, was a surprising and original story that kept me laughing and led me to stay up much too late, watching videos of McClanahan reading his free-form writing as rapid-fire, spoken word poetry with a distinctive regional twang.

Crapalachia is published by Two Dollar Radio; a family run, independent publisher specializing in subversive, original, and highly creative fiction.  It would all be very Portland if they weren't located in Columbus, Ohio.  Perhaps best yet, the vast majority of their books published are 200 pages or less.  I have a tall stack of books competing for my limited reading time and while I do like subversive and experimental, I like it best kept short.  Book Jacket: How to Get into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak

I’ve since enjoyed another Two Dollar Radio title, How To Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak.  She takes the immigrant experience novel in an entirely unexpected direction with a second generation Polish American woman who longs to pass as Russian to gain entry into the mysterious Twin Palms nightclub. 

Up next for me is A Questionable Shape, a zombie novel by Bennett Sims. Not just yet though. I’m saving it for when I need another quick jolt to interrupt my reading rut.

 
Find Two Dollar Radio books in our library catalog.

National Small Business Week FlierDid you know that here in Oregon about 98% of employers are small business owners? And did you know that since the 1960s, the United States has honored these entrepreneurs and small business owners with an annual National Small Business Week? This year the library is partnering with the Small Business Administration's Portland District Office to celebrate!

Join us on Monday, May 19 from 1-2:30 PM at the Central Library for a workshop titled Library Card: Your ticket to free business resources. We will share the library's small business resources with attendees, including business directories, sample business plans, legal forms, magazine articles about local businesses, as well as books and ebooks on planning, marketing, financing and managing a business enterprise. Plus so much more!

For more information on how the library can help you with your small business, please see our Small Business page with links to events, booklists and access to many online small business resources. And as always, you can contact us anytime via email, chat, phone and in-person. Or Book a Librarian today for one-on-one help!

Breaking News: Portland small business owners Billy Taylor and Brook Harvey-Taylor were just named SBA National Small Business Persons of the Year!

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