Blogs:

Ninety Percent of Everything book jacketWe’ve just finished a season filled with consumer spending. Did you know that 90% of everything you bought or were given was transported on a ship? I didn’t until I read Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George. It tells the story of how stuff gets from where it was found, grown or made to a store near you. It is a story about the ships and sailors of the merchant marine who not only make this possible, but are essentially invisible to us.  Rose George sails from Rotterdam through the Suez Canal to Singapore on a Maersk container ship. You’ll find out about this particular voyage as well as the modern merchant marine in general. She covers ship ownership and flags of convenience, pirates and the conditions that sailors have to deal with while on board a ship. This is a world where ownership of a vessel is masked through shell companies and sailors are at the mercy of the laws of the country where their ship is registered. This book will change how you see the products you use.

Other books about ships and sailors that you may also like are: 

The Voyage of the Rose City: An Adventure at Sea by John Moynihan. John, the son of Senator Patrick Moynihan, dropped out of school and got a job as an Ordinary Seaman on the supertanker Rose City. The story and illustrations are from his journal of the trip.

Looking For a Ship by  John McPhee follows a sailor through the process of finding a job on an American flagged ship and then it’s voyage to South America. You will find out about the challenges of getting work in the shrinking American merchant marine.

Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea by Richard Henry Dana. Written in the 1830’s, this classic book tells of Dana’s experience as a sailor on a sailing ship. He sailed from Massachusetts to California by way of Cape Horn and back. Much has changed since then, but the life of a sailor has always been a difficult one.

Book Jacket: The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan DaumWhen a loved one receives bad news at the doctor’s office, you should squeeze their hand and give them a steely glance that says, “I’m here with you.  We’ll beat this thing.”

Throughout this life, you’re supposed to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to achieve real growth and we all want to grow, right?

If you survive a life-threatening event, you’re expected to live each day thereafter with gratitude and heightened perspective.  

It’s these preassigned responses to human experiences that Meghan Daum challenges in her latest collection of personal essays, The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion.  

Covering topics that range from cream of mushroom soup casserole to waking up from a medically induced coma,  Daum’s writing is funny, but not frivolous. I loved her keen recognition of the absurd and her unapologetic honesty. As a fellow Gen Xer, I also relished her many 1970s-80s pop culture references. What I loved most about these essays however, is how moving they were. How they started off so specific and individual and ended with broader truths that left me considering the emotional expectations we have of ourselves.

It’s true that the topics covered in The Unspeakable, aren't the type of thing that people readily talk about.  But they are precisely the type of subjects that lead to the best conversations you have with your closest friend. The kind where you can confess to dreading what you're supposed to be looking forward to; Where you can laugh inappropriately and be completely yourself. Maybe not your most becoming self, but your most human self.

 

What's your favorite book? When you only get to pick one, which one do you say? I work among and with library people, and most of them look anguished when asked this question. "Unfair!" they cry. "There are so many good stories!"

Great Expectations book jacketWell, I agree with them, but I have had a favorite for many years now, and considering my love of science fiction, comics, teen dystopias and such, even I can't explain why it is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 
 
Have you read it? It's the story of Pip, orphaned at a young age and "raised by hand" thanks to his shrewish sister. One day, when he is in the cemetery sadly looking at his parents' graves, out of the fog comes an escaped convict who grabs him and demands that he bring him some 'wittles' to eat. Frightened, Pip honors this request, and this act of kindness (and fear) starts a plot that wanders up and down the social scale of early 1800s London and environs. 
 
Why do I love it so much? Perhaps the first-person perspective helps; my second favorite of his works is David Copperfield which is also told that way. It might be Dickens' wonderful language, always a thing I need to hear in my head... sometimes I read bits aloud, just for full enjoyment (not usually in public). But I think it is mostly about the characters - each has their own voice, so clearly distinguishable that I'm pretty sure I could tell you who is speaking just by hearing the quote. And I love Mr. Wemmick. He's a minor character, but watching him relax the further he gets from "the office", his whimsy and good cheer returning with proximity to home is delightful and reminds me of one of my pre-library jobs.  
 
There's so much more! A well-drawn picture of the era, commentary on pride and loneliness and love, incarceration and revenge, a look at the social scale and what it takes to climb it (or descend it)... I could go on for longer than I am allowed. Have a look, and then let us know.... what's your favorite book?
 

 

Do you make new year’s resolutions? Or do you eschew the practice?
I admit I can get carried away by dreams of a Shiny New All Improved Me, one that you’d be happy to hang out with. That optimistic me looks at books like Learn Something New Every Day and starts using words like “eschew.”
Optimistic Me looks at books that promise big changes over one year, books like One Year to An Organized Life With Baby. Tired Me thinks that I haven’t really been organized since I became a parent. Tired Me thinks a book like The Sh!t No One Tells You: A 52-week Guide to Surviving your Baby's First Year might have been more helpful.

So I have given up on big resolutions; instead I choose one word to guide me through the year. This year my word is gratitude and I plan to use seven books to help me.  And if I write just three thank you cards to my relatives and remember to be kind to myself when I can’t find the car keys again, I’m going to feel gratitude and maybe a little shiny new and all improved.
 

 

For me, January usually means new beginnings.  How about you?  Does the new year have significance?

I like to declutter the house. I like to decorate. What does that mean? For me it means hanging a few pictures.There’s no lack of framed pictures, but I get nervous about putting them up. So with the new year I like to urge myself to be brave and hang a few up. First I want to hang up my sister’s Neil Armstrong portrait this week and a few others.

I always like to try new recipes too. This year is no different. I tried the Homesick Texan’s carnitas recipe with great success this weekend. My family and friends loved how good the carnitas tasted! While dabbling with these activities books help me dream. Here is a list that might help you dream too.

Multnomah County Library's Lucky Day service includes books for kids, teens and adults.  Lucky Day copies are available for spontaneous use and are not subject to hold queues.  Nobody can place holds on these items; it's first come, first served.  That means you might not have to wait at all for the most popular new titles!  You never know what you might find at your neighborhood library - it just might be your Lucky Day!

 

The Life-changing magic of tidying up bookjacketI am susceptible to the idea of 'organize your home = organize your mind', so with all the buzz around The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I had to try it. Though the author, Marie Kondo, had me at "life-changing", the subtitle is equally intriguing: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I was thinking about the path to beauty through study and simplicity - bonsai, sushi, ikebana. Would there be an equally methodical approach to tidying?

The verdict? There are some eye-opening and sustainable tips here, including storing everything, including clothes, vertically (don't worry, she'll tell you how.) In light of our consumer culture and the rise of movements like Buy Nothing Day, the author's advice about keeping or buying 'only those things that spark joy' makes sense; um...well, except for underpants...and insurance...and, oh, never mind. 

But the bits about the crushed and defeated clothes on the bottom of the pile and the sadness and despair of socks that have been tied in knots? Well, sorry, I'm not buying the sentient clothing argument. But, if you're interested in a peaceful and organized home, this book is well worth a read. If you adopt Kondo's methods, you'll probably enjoy a more restful space - that is, if you can convince the rest of your family to play by the same rules!

​​persephone books ltd logoIt was not long after my discovery of Virago Press, that I stumbled upon another small independent British press for women—Persephone Books Ltd. Founded by Nicola Beauman in 1999, this press pleases its patrons with a thoughtful selection, not only the books themselves, but in the design. Each  has a dove-grey book jacket, its simple elegance inspired by the off-white vintage French paperbacks, and endpapers that are very often textile designs from the era the book was originally published. Also included is a bookmark matching the endpapers with a brief passage from the text. The kernel of the idea came from watching the classic film Brief Encounter and wondering at which books Laura, the heroine, would have checked out from the Boots library on her weekly visit. Nicola, in an interview with The Telegraph, said "I don't relish modern writers and felt there was a market for the books I love—domestically-focused and well-written, often by forgotten or unfashionable authors." If you are sometimes overwhelmed by the glut of printed material and long for something absorbing, try picking up a Persephone.

I solemnly swear on a stack of unopened self-help books I’ll do something reflective, meditate, or whatever such a thing suggests. In the meantime, they can keep my bookshelf looking thoughtful…

nerdist book coverHowever, when things got rough a while back, the right book appeared at the right time. Speaking to my inner skeptic, pop culture loving self, and former Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) player,  Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way offered the advice I was looking for in my time of rediscovery. Unlike other books promising personal growth, the nerdist way takes a humorous look at discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, improving on both through, well, nerdy excercises (literally and figuratively).

Whether it’s identifying who you are, improving your physical prowess, or finding the motivation to seeing  projects through, there’s something for everyone’s inner nerd. Me? I Made a character sheet ala D&D with Hardwick’s advice and found myself in a coffee shop filling in experience points of my goals with colored pencils.


Being nerdy never felt so good.

Congo Refugee Finds Refuge in North Portland Library

by Donna Childs

First, a bit of background, from Medical Teams International:Picture of Volunteer Elise Ekombele

Congo’s long-standing conflict has been called the world’s deadliest dispute since World War II. Aid organizations estimate that nearly 5.4 million people have died in this decade-long conflict, nearly half of them children. An additional one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violence in the Congo.

One of those displaced by these brutal wars is North Portland Library volunteer Elise Ekombele. Born and raised in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elise was forced to flee from her home to a Senegalese refugee camp with her son. Through a US refugee resettlement program, they were sent far away to Portland, Oregon, speaking no English and knowing nothing about American culture. Despite the difficulty of learning another language and culture, Elise likes it here because it is so much safer and more peaceful.

As she has learned English, Elise has had several jobs in Portland. A French speaker (the official language of Congo), she first worked at the Portland French School. She has also held positions at various organizations that assist immigrants, such as IRCO and Catholic Charities, and is currently looking for work. Although Elise has made much progress learning English and adapting to her new life in America, she says it is her son who “has become a real American.” He graduated from the University of Montana where he was an accomplished athlete scouted by the NFL.

Elise has been volunteering at North Portland every Thursday for the past year. According to staff, she is very conscientious about her volunteer duties as a Branch Assistant. She also volunteers with her church, helping to distribute food boxes to those in need.

To improve her English, Elise participates weekly in two different language programs at North Portland. The Talk Time program provides an opportunity for non-native speakers from around the world to practice English in an informal, conversational environment. She also participates in l’Echange, a French-English language exchange program for native English speakers who want to practice French and native French speakers who want to practice English. Elise has found a perfect balance of helping the library and benefiting from library services and programs.


A Few Facts About Elise

Home library: North Portland Library

Most influential book: A biography of Angela Davis (title unknown)

Favorite book from childhood: A novel written by a French woman about Chinese women (title unknown)

Favorite section of the library: Biographies and self improvement books, new ideas! 

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: In a chair in the bedroom

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

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