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I was born in 1954. 

Here is Elvis bookjacketa snapshot of that year:

Elvis Presley paid to have his first two songs recorded in Memphis.                                                                                                                                    

The average cost of gas was twenty two cents and Lassie and Rin Tin Tin were keeping us safe from the bad guys.                                                                              

There was a new trend called DIY that encouraged citizens to decorate their own homes and fix own their cars through magazines like Popular Mechanics and Better Homes and Gardens .

It was also an exceptional  publishing year with modern classics likeHorton Hears a Who by Dr.Seuss and Live and Let Die by ex-British Spy Ian Fleming.

When I read the list of books that were published the year I was born it was like seeing a snapshot of my own personal history. For example, my dad carried a copy of Ian Fleming's books in his black metal lunch box to read at work. Among the piles of book we brought home from the library every week there were always at least one or two by Dr. Seuss. The families we knew traded stories and ideas for fixing up their hoHorton bookjacketuses and gardens and cooking with new and interesting ingredients, among them Jello.

Wondering what books were published the year you were born and what they might tell about your personal history snapshot? I would love to make you a list.

cover image of year of pleasuresI just read Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg for the third time. What books do you re-read? Is it a yearly thing or on an as-needed basis?

I read Year of Pleasures when I am feeling sad. Betta Nolan, the main character, is a recent widow (which you find out in the first few pages). She and her husband had planned to move from Boston Massachusetts to the midwest. John, her husband, requests that she still move to the midwest after he passes. Betta doesn’t disappoint and moves to a small midwestern town.

Elizabeth Berg is a bestselling writer because she knows how to tell a story. She finds all the intimate places of a character's mind. She knows what makes them tick. And what makes them ticked off! Her characters start over or refurbish their lives. At the same time they notice the simple pleasures of life. She is one of my most favorite authors. I look forward to her books every year. While Year of Pleasures is sad, it honors and celebrates those beautiful parts of the parade of life. Check it out!

Portland author Nicole Mones’ novels are so interesting. You get well-developed characters, a bit of romance, and good writing, but you also get to share in her wealth of knowledge including, but not limited to, all things Chinese. Ms. Mones owned a textile business for many years that required her to spend a lot of time in China. Between that and the research she's done for her books, she is such an expert on China that she’s now a member of  the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Her novel, A Cup of Light is full of information about Chinese porcelain, and The Last Chinese Chef offers an introduction to the fascinating philosophy that guides Chinese cuisine.

Her new book, Night in Shanghai, introduced me to an astonishingly interesting and vivid city. Shanghai in the 1930s was an open port, with a thriving International District. It was full of money, jazz clubs, dangerous women and political intrigue. Communists jockeyed for position against Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist party, powerful crime gangs fought each other, and the Japanese army had long been an increasingly menacing presence in the city. Black American jazz musicians came in multitudes because in China, they could escape from the racism and segregation they left behind in the United States and could earn a fair living. Shanghai also came to be a haven for Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, mostly because of one man, Ho Feng-Shan, a Chinese diplomat in Vienna. Jews were desperate to flee Austria, but no one was issuing visas for Jews anymore, and they were not allowed to leave without a visa. Shanghai, as an open port, did not require visas, but in order to help thousands of Jews escape, Ho set his staff to creating fake ones, as fast as they could, in spite of the fact that his superiors were ordering him to stop. His heroic actions didn’t do much for his career, but he is still honored in Israel for them.

In this exciting city, a  romance blossoms between Thomas Greene, a classically trained pianist turned jazz musician, and Song, an indentured servant and secret communist.  It’s ever more obvious that World War II is coming, and as Japan allies with Germany against the United States, we wonder if Greene will get out in time, and will Song go with him, or if she’ll stay in China to fight with the communists. And what will happen to all those Jews who have found refuge in Shanghai now that Germany is demanding that the "Jewish Problem" is addressed there?

Mones writes beautifully in this book about music, how it feels to improvise, and how music can change the world. More Portlanders should know about this local author. Give her books a try!

Remember Mary Stewart?  She may be best known for her Merlin Trilogy, which I devoured in school.  Recently however, her other novels have been re-released as rediscovered classics. These rediscovered classics involve a female heroine, an exotic locale, a little bit of mystery, and a gentle romance. They are just the thing for reading whilst on holiday, commuting on mass transit, are something fun and light for those summer days, and cozy enough for a winter evening.  In short, they are just about perfect anytime, anywhere. cover image of Wildfire at Midnight

Several of these novels are now available with new cover designs, but my current favorite is Wildfire at Midnight. A young divorcée from London escapes to a remote hotel in Scotland for a much needed break and discovers that not only has there been a strange murder on the nearby mountain Blaven, but one of the hotel’s guests is none other than her estranged husband. Some holiday!

Samuel Delaney’s 1966 novel Babel-17 centers on a language where the meaning is so perfectly expressed in so few words that it accelerates thought. This perfection makes it possible to solve previously insurmountable problems in a nanosecond. It is not just a language — it is a weapon.

Babel 17

In Jo Walton’s tor.com blog post about Babel-17 she relates that the plot grew out of a linguistic theory that was in vogue at the time. Called the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it posited that language shapes perception so deeply that thinking in a different language gives you a different perception. This has apparently been disproven.

Disproven or not, I find this theory deeply intriguing. If you have lived in another language, you know that translating is, well, a little lie. When you live in a language you live in a culture, and quickly need to transition from converting words using an equation to understanding the words as they are.

So, how do the words we use shape what we are capable of imagining? How deeply are we divided by culture and language? And, if the only tool we have to communicate are words, can we ever understand someone from another planet?

I’ve made a booklist of novels where the plots are driven by some of these questions, or by wonderfully playful insights into words and the nature of narrative: The words are the plot

And, incidentally, Jo Walton's blog posts on classic science fiction and fantasy, like the one linked above, have been collected into a new book called What Makes This Book So Great. She is insightful, informative, and has a contagious love of the genres. If you are looking for fodder for your summer reading, look no further.

Later this week, the thoroughbred California Chrome will race in the Belmont Stakes, in the hopes of becoming just the 12th winner of the Triple Crown in the United States.  After three great horses won the prize in the 1970s (Secretariat [1973], Seattle Slew [1977], Affirmed [1978], 12 horses have come to Belmont with a chance; 11 failed. The 12th will run on June 7.

Why is this prize so hard to achieve? According to a 2012 article on the races from the Daily Racing Form, the Belmont is a drastically different horse race from its two predecessors – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It’s longer by a quarter mile (which doesn’t seem like a lot, but to a racing horse it is) than most races and so thoroughbreds aren’t bred or trained to run it. The racing style (a burst of speed from the final turn through to the finish) that will win the Derby or the Preakness can’t help a horse trying to maintain that speed for another quarter mile.

But sometimes a horse can surprise us. Will it be California Chrome, with his bad-luck four white socks (feet)? Or will we have to wait another year (or more) to watch a magnificent animal that makes us hold our breath for that mile-and-a-half (approximately 150 seconds) to victory?

Interested in learning more about thoroughbreds and the Triple Crown? Check out the books on this list.

Look into the futureI have friends who are political junkies who count the days between each Presidential election. That’s four years of waiting filled with competitive yet non-athletic bluster, bloated hypocrisy, and stagnant idealism, not including the Congressional races. But I do know how they feel, because the cruel disappointment and heartbreak forced onto me by twenty-one years of loyalty to Newcastle United FC, fractured Yugoslavian teams, and U.S.A. soccer is lifted every four years with the angelic arrival of the holiest of holies in all of sport: the World Cup. Somehow, before, during, and after this soccer celebration, politics, both governmental and athletic (FIFA is no secret to controversy) always seem to pervade the social and cultural unification of the games no matter the host country. In 2014, inside the fascinating world of Brazil, this impending party-crasher will be no different.

Government corruption, political demonstrations, martial law, election scandals, destructive floods, terrorist bombings, and kidnapping. These issues are everyday and commonplace around the globe. For twenty-five days this summer, however, these same problems currently presenting hardship in nations represented within the Cup will briefly stand aside to the enthusiasm, optimism, and allegiance of the Beautiful Game. Floods and landslides in the Balkans will further motivate Croatia and first-timers Bosnia-Herzegovina. The mass kidnapping and subsequent bombings in Nigeria should emphatically inspire the Super Eagles. Russia will undoubtedly be playing harder than ever in proud fashion to prove they can adequately host the next Cup. Yet it is Brazil and it’s society’s turbulent clashes over the expenditures of hosting both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics versus the lack of basic human social programs that face the toughest scrutiny. If ever the host country was to win it all at home, the Canarinho would be wise to do it this year. Teams representing countries in the news, especially negative news, tend to play harder with more passion and a greater sense of urgency. That’s when timeless moments occur and with one kick, an exhale or a blink, the entire conscience of an impoverished nation can be instantaneously and collectively transformed into pure hope and bliss. This is the power that gives names to snapshots such as “The Hand of God,” “Goal of the Century,” and the “Miracle of Bern.” Slayer of Lions

It seems that each day the news is consistently full of sorrow rather than smiles, but teams such as Nigeria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and flamboyant host Brazil will all be trying to erase the crushing adversity pervading their societies (as of this post) for at least a brief ninety minutes. And every team desires as many successive ninety minute chances as possible, for each match pulls them one step closer to lifting not only the World Cup trophy, but glory for their country and symbolic spiritual triumph over the perpetual numbness of suffering. So soak it in as much as possible I say, it goes by quickly. Samba till you just can’t stand up anymore.

 

Adventure Time, a cartoon series created by Pendleton Ward on Cartoon Network, could easily be a favorite for all members of your family. Your kids might like how creative and goofy it is and you might appreciate some of the positive messages and varied references. Watch Finn, a human boy, and his shape-shifting brother/dog, Jake, save or be saved by friends in the land of Oo and other dimensions.

One of my favorite episodes,“Box Prince,” is about how Finn and Jake project their views of an ordered society onto a group of cats that appear to be living in the Box Kingdom. Who is the true Box Prince? If you look closely you might catch references to My Neighbor Totoro and the internet cat celebrity Maru. That season hasn't been released yet on DVD, but seasons one, two, and three, are ready to go.

I love the range of immature (fart) jokes to adult-ish jokes (Jake calls sweat pants "'give up on life' pants.") I can appreciate that it's a kid’s show with strong female characters and endless amounts of cute and colorful animation. Watching an episode of Adventure Time can be some of the best 11 minutes of my life.

If you’re just starting the first season, why not also read the first volume of the comic at the same time? The comic is cleverly written by Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics, whose humor remains true to AT style.

The DVD Adventure Time: It Came from the Nightosphere is a must watch for people who want to hear some indie pop. Sure, Finn can auto-tune like the best of them, but don’t miss out on one of Marceline the Vampire Queen’s best hits, “The Fry Song.”

If you could use a shake up, check out the graphic novel, Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake, a comic based off the episode “Fionna & Cake.” In this alternate version, all the main characters change genders and the characters are so good you wish it was a regular thing.

Whether want to share something with your kid/teen or you want to nurture your inner child, Adventure Time is worth checking out.

Attention educators! Are you tired of using the same old books with your classes every year? Attend one of our summer educator workshops in August to learn about the latest and greatest materials to use in the classroom!

 

Gotta Read This: New Books to Connect with Your Curriculum

Come to this workshop to learn about new books you might integrate into your language arts, social studies, math, science and arts curriculum.

 

For K-5th grade educators:

  • Tuesday, August 5, 2014, 2-4:30 p.m. Central Library, 801 S.W. 10th Ave. in the U.S. Bank Room. Register by July 31..

 

For 6th-12th grade educators: Gotta Read This! online

  • Educators can selectively pick the subjects of greatest interest to them. We’ll notify you when online workshops are available. Register by July 31. 

 

Novel-Ties (for 4th -8th grade educators)

Discover hot, new fiction to use in book discussion groups and literature circles.

  • Thursday, August 7, 2014, 2-4:30 p.m. North Portland Library, 512 N. Killingsworth St. Register by July 31.

 

Hotwire Your Students’ Research Skills:

Connect your students with free online tutors, help them locate reliable, librarian-selected resources for their homework assignments, and find free short videos and infographics to teach information literacy skills.

  • Wednesday, August 6, 2014, 2-3:30 p.m., Central Library, 801 SW 10th Ave., in the U.S. Bank Room. Register by July 31.

 

Professional development certificates will be available for in-person and online workshops. Contact School Corps with any questions!

And Baby Makes More bookjacketSo after years of planning and dreaming, you finally have a child. Now what?! If you’re anything like me, the point of all that planning--the actual child-raising--at times can feel overwhelming. When my wife and I decided to get pregnant two years ago, I found I was so focused on the steps it took to make it happen, that once the little peanut arrived I felt at a loss over what to do next. I remember just staring at our daughter hours after she was born, thinking, I’m responsible for you! No one else is going to take care of you! Fast forward ten months and that yowling tiny newborn has turned into a sweet, curious kidlet before my eyes. I am sleeping more and--gasp!--actually have time to myself in the evenings. But even though our family has settled into a nice routine, I still feel like I am adjusting to what life with a child means for myself and for my marriage. Who am I now that I am someone’s mother? What does it mean to say goodbye to the autonomous self I used to be while becoming this new self, this mama-self?

Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight bookjacketFor queer families like mine, the post-baby adjustment can feel even more difficult due to the sometimes complicated situations that can arise from how our families are created. Right off the bat there are decisions to make. Known or anonymous sperm/egg donor? Open adoption or foster parent? And what about surrogacy? The list goes on and on. And with these decisions come even more questions. For example, if you use a known egg or sperm donor, will they be in the child’s life? What will they be called? In an open adoption, how much contact will you have with the birth mother? With her family? When using a surrogate, what happens if she disagrees with the medical care you want for your child in utero?

Luckily, there are many resources out there to help with these kinds of important questions, including parenting choices and support once the little bundle arrives. Some of my personal favorite titles are And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families and Does this Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad.  I’d also recommend taking a look at our magazines Gay Parent and Hip Mama, Ariel Gore’s long-standing zine. And for book reviews and articles, the database LGBT Life can’t be beat.

What Makes a Baby bookjacketThere are also some amazing books out there for kids. One of my absolute favorites is called What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. One of our friends gifted it to us before our daughter was born and I am completely in love with it. Realizing most kid’s books that explained where babies came from left many types of families out, Silverberg wrote a story that is completely all-inclusive, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability. Best of all, it has a section for parents to tell the child the specifics of their arrival into their family. I look forward to the day I read it to our daughter and all the learning and growing that comes with it in this messy adventure called parenthood. 

For more MCL queer parenting resources, you can always contact us! And be sure to check out the library’s booth at the Pride Festival, June 14 and 15 at Tom Mccall Waterfront Park!

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