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Sometimes I get tired of the boys’ club that is our pop culture. I think “Give me some women’s voices.” You certainly won’t find women’s voices on Portland radio, so I have to start spinning my own musical choices. And find the books for women's voices. And I’ve been lucky lately.  

I found the Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. I was transported to 1970s London where punk rock was just taking hold and young Viv was just learning to hold a guitar, and her own on the stage. I was floored by the two prominent men in her life: her father and her husband, who sneered and put down her music career. Viv triumphs though! This is a memoir about creativity, aging and empowerment. I found her determination inspiring.

Then I heard that Kim Gordon had a memoir coming out. I got goosebumps. I was more of a pop music lover or local music lover most of my life. My favorite bands in the 80s and 90s were local bands but that’s another story. But I knew of Kim Gordon at that time. She was a beacon of hope for women in rock. Yes, there were others. But hearing that she sang about Karen Carpenter in the song “Tunic” sealed the deal for me. Reading her memoir really fleshes out the story how she began with visual arts and dance in California. Her musical career with Sonic Youth starts in New York City with her relationship with Thurston Moore. This is a wonderful memoir about reinventing oneself, and finding truth and creativity.  

Both women portray the healing power and strength of music and creativity.Their storytelling skills really drew me in as a reader. The musical settings and characters were very interesting for a music fan. Perhaps you will find their memoirs as inspiring as I did.

 

The last few weeks here in Portland have been heavenly! Nights so cold and clear that  the star-scattered sky seems close enough to touch.  Days washed with sunshine and the goodwill of people who can’t wait until summer. But I know this is an illusion.  Summer isn’t here yet and soon we  will be back to the rain and overcast skies that Oregonians know and love.

 So what will I do until then?  Maybe a book, movie or music will bring some of  that warmth and goodwill back to my soul. First on my list is a good mystery.  Nothing cheers me up like a puzzle well solved.  Or a detective who, despite personal problems, can’t stop until justice is done.  

Dr. Siuri is one such detective.  His story takes place in Laos during the time of the Vietnam War. Although 70 years old and hoping to retire into obscurity, Dr. Siri is appointed by the Laotian Government as their head (and only) forensic doctor.  In Coroners Lunch, the first book in the series by Colin Cotterill, Dr. Siri knows nothing about forensics, but luckily with his two talented and resourceful assistants, Mr. Geung, (a mentally challenged man the government wanted to fire for incompetency) and a young nurse Dtiu  ( who is considered too plain and overweight to nurse in the hospital), he is able to solve political crimes without causing an international disaster.  

Along with a good mystery and a steaming  cup of golden hot tea, I am sure to be listening to the Moody Blues - the mellow spirit of their music belies the introspective lyrics of songs that can  still make me ponder the meaning of  life. 

From Days of Future Past :"Cold-hearted orb, that rules the night, removes the colors from our sight, red is grey and yellow white, but WE decide which is right and which IS an illusion".

From A Question of Balance: "Why do we never get an answer, when we're knocking at the door with a thousand million questions about  hate and death and war?"     

If  black clouds and pouring rain put me in the  the mood for for a movie, I might pick the Secret Garden -I love  the version that features  Maggie Smith as the bitter Mrs. Medlock, Linda Ronstadt's airy song Winter Light  and a beautiful sleeping garden just waiting for the innocence and stubborness  of Mary, Dickon and Colin to wake it up. The beauty of the ending that shows them dancing on the sunlit meadow always restores my faith in life again.

It's almost enough to make me hope I will wake up tomorrow  to clouds and the sound of rain falling.

Well, almost.

Earthquakes are sudden and have lasting, devastating impact. The tragedy in Nepal resulting from an initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015 is ongoing and will be a main focal point in the news for many days and weeks to come. There are other resources besides the news to learn more about earthquakes and Nepal.

The United States Geological Survey is a reliable source for scientific information; its Earthquake Hazards Program monitors and reports earthquakes, assesses earthquake impacts and hazards, and researches the causes and effects of earthquakes.

 

Organizations such as the American Red Cross travel around the world to assist with food, water, shelter and health care needs of those affected.

Learn more about the history, people and customs of Nepal by using CultureGrams, a database Multnomah County Library subscribes to and you can use for free with your library card.

You may also hear more people talking about the potential for earthquakes in Oregon and the greater Pacific Northwest. The Department of Geology and Mineral Industries for the State of Oregon details local plans to address geologic hazards and has information on how you can prepare for potential emergencies at home.

 

Our guest reader is Steve Sheinkin, an award-winning nonfiction author and this year's speaker at our Teen Author Lecture.

I started out writing screenplays and comics, and then, because I wasn’t actually making any money, I got a job writing history textbooks. Now I’m trying to make amends for that particular crime by writing nonfiction books for teens that are actually fun to read. When I visit schools and describe my job, there’s usually one kid who raises his hand and says something like, “Oh, so you do homework for a living?” It’s not true, though I guess I do spend a lot of days just sitting at my desk, reading and taking notes. I happen to love it. I think of the research process as a sort of nerdy detective work.

In my free time, or while traveling, I love to read crime and detective novels. Everything from the original stuff, like James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and the short stories of Dashiell Hammett, to Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley books and Richard Stark’s Parker novels. Right now my absolute favorite is the incredible Martin Beck mystery series, a set of Swedish police procedurals written by a wife-and-husband team in the late 1960s and early 70s. I’m also tearing through Shigeru Mizuki’s History of Japan, a series of four 500-plus page graphic novels (last volume due in July) combining the artist’s own lifestory with that of the last 80 years of Japanese history. Not too ambitious, in other words.

In terms of movies, these days I mostly go with my kids, 8 and 5. When I get a chance to watch a movie that doesn’t have Spongebob (don’t get me wrong, he’s cool) I go for 1940s noirs, like Out of the Past.

Though I like comedies too, and actually just the other night my wife and I decided to show our kids one of my all-time favorites, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. My five year old declared the opening scene “boring,” and marched off to bed. Then he came back ten minutes later, just to see how things were going, and he watched Harpo rolling up his pant legs and jumping into the obnoxious vender’s vat of lemonade, and he laughed so hard he literally fell off the couch. So I consider that a success.

I won’t try to list styles or music or bands, it’s too hard, but I’ll tell you a story about one of my favorites, Elliott Smith. I know he had Portland connections, but he also used to live in Brooklyn, where I was born, and lived for years as an adult. Once, after a move to a new place, I started getting mail addressed to Elliott Smith. Couldn’t be that Elliott Smith, I figured; this was the late 1990s, so he was fairly well known. But it turned out it was him. He’d just moved out, the women on the top floor told me, and the crazy landlady downstairs, this fake-orange-haired troll who’d come out of her room to shout “You’re nothing but a couple of waiters!” to the aspiring filmmakers on the second floor, used to berate Elliott too, and eventually drove him out of the building. I’ve always wondered if she shows up in any of his songs. Wish I’d gotten the chance to ask.

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

Popular book jacketThis summer I was over at my mom's going through some things from my youth and found several diaries from middle and high school.  I glanced through the entries that mostly consisted of "Went to the football game", "Hung out at the mall", "Stalked the cute guy who works at the bowling alley".  Given my lack of meaningful (or even remotely interesting) teen years writing content, I am always somewhat suspicious when I see teen memoirs. What could they possibly have to write about in their short lives? Well plenty it turns out!  In her brand, spankin’ new book, Popular a memoir: Vintage wisdom for a modern geek, Maya van Wagenen tells us about the school year she spent figuring out the meaning of popularity and trying to achieve it.  At first, this sounds like what many middle and high school students attempt, but here’s the twist:  she used a book written for teens in 1951 for her popularity experiment! 

When Maya’s family was clearing out the house one month, she came upon a book her dad had bought at a garage sale, Betty Cornell’s Teenage Popularity Guide, and thus was born an exciting but scary idea.  Each month of her 8th grade year she would read a chapter and then put into practice Cornell’s advice.  Hilarity ensues as she buys and wears a girdle, tries out a bunch of different hairstyles including a Princess Leia-esque do (“Love your buns, Maya!”), and infiltrates different cliques at their lunch tables.  Does Maya go from being an introverted sort-of-slob to a neat-as-a-pin, pearl-wearing popularity princess?  Can advice from the 1950s still be relevant to today’s teens?  Read Popular and find out!

Take a look at this list for some memorable teen memoirs.

The winners of the Oregon Book Awards were recently announced! From a number of excellent finalists, Portland’s own Emily Kendal Frey was awarded the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. I’ve been reading the award winning book, Sorrow Arrow, and it’s a real treat - a wild emotional ride between poignant sadness and some rather hilarious moments, and memorable lines such as “You sit in your body, quietly making blood.” The book transpires in brief lyric lines, sometimes disjunctive and sometimes tenacious, in a series of untitled poems that build upon one another in a wonderful wall of feeling.

Are you interested in reading books by Emily Kendal Frey and other Oregon poets? Here’s a booklist for you.

National Poetry Month is not yet over! April 30th is Poem in Your Pocket Day, when you are encouraged to carry a poem around. In your pocket. At Central Library we will have a selection of poems for you to choose from, including some new work by local poets! Look for our display in the 1st floor lobby. 

 

It was my second term in Conceptual Physics when I learned that I was not cut out for the career in science I had dreamed about while watching Star Wars over and over again. Subsequently, supportive friends and teachers taught me this “it’s not the end of the world” mantra: “D is for diploma.”

Things turned out fine. I remained a decent student and survived my remaining science courses. I focused on other subjects that I still excelled in and ended up with a great job that I love after plenty of other failures and just enough success; however, there are still times I dream of discovering the secrets of black holes or the ocean floor.

The Panda's Thumb book jacketArcheological digs and guest spots on NOVA sometimes enter my rich imagination and, just as I used to live out my fantasies of rock superstardom through air guitar in middle school, I find an outlet for scientific delusions of grandeur on the library shelves with those amazing scientists that can speak my language and hold my hand through the equations and lab lingo. One of the best-selling and most entertaining science writers was the late Stephen Jay Gould, and his award-winning series of essays entitled The Panda’s Thumb taught me everything I actually understand about the theory of evolution (well not everything, as you’ll see below). Gould’s short entries make it easier for us in the scientific laity to fight the urge to nap in the middle of a chapter.

For those of you with a longer attention span who are interested in evolution, I recommend David Quammen’s beautiful verbosity. His writings on The Black Hole War book jacketDarwin and Wallace more or less equal the remainder of my evolutionary knowledge. Even though it was physics that destroyed my chances of being an award-winning scientist, it is still one of my favorite subjects. The Black Hole War (eBook ) by Leonard Susskind is my favorite narrative on the subject. It combines great diagrams for all the mathy (all right, this isn’t a real word) points, fun anecdotes about some of the world’s foremost scientists, and a long arduous battle between Susskind (with a couple colleagues) and Stephen Hawking and the entire scientific world concerning what happens when information passes through the horizon of a black hole. Spoiler Alert: Susskind won and opened new avenues for String Theory, Holograms, and oh so many fun physics wormholes.

Cataclysms on the Columbia book jacketCataclysms on the Columbia brings us back home to the ancient history of Cascadia, as well as to the recent past. Bretz, an intrepid geologist, also fought with the scientific community over his discovery. He realized that it must have taken one or many (upwards of 90) cataclysmic floods to form the geological markers from Western Montana through Eastern Washington, down through the Columbia River Gorge, all the way into the Willamette Valley. Of course, everyone at the time accused him of Catastrophism, which was viewed by many as a religious perspective, not legitimate science. Bretz’s strength of character and the vivid descriptions of what the floods must have been like are respectively inspirational and terrifying.

This is only a small sample of the highly readable Science-Fact available at MCL. So if you too are a member of the numerically-challenged laity, please respond below with your favorite science book and I will add it to the Page-turning Science reading list being created as we speak!

Sistine Chapel ceilingAfter the dreadful Dark Ages and the morbid Middle Ages where death and ignorance reigned, something had to give.  All work and warfare made Giovanni a dull boy, and people were tired of being stuck at home on a flat world. A movement began in Italy to enhance people’s quality of life and up the cultural IQ in Europe. Art, literature and education flourished.  To find out more about this heady period in European history, read on!

For an overview of the Renaissance, check out this website.  You’ll learn about printing and thinking during the era; architecture, painting and music; exploration and trade plus movement out of the Middle Ages.

Here you’ll find articles from the Open University’s Renaissance Secrets team on topics such as fashion in Renaissance Venice, medical knowledge and beliefs in Renaissance Italy, and the printing revolution.

Florence was the most important city of the Renaissance.  Get up close and personal with Michelangelo’s David when you take the virtual tour of that city.  Here you can watch videos and read about all of the places important in Renaissance Florence.statue of Leonardo Da Vinci

In Italy during this time, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Medici family. This website, produced by PBS, is all about the specific contributions and historical legacy of the Medici dynasty during the extraordinary Renaissance period.  There is also general information about the Renaissance and links to books and websites about that era.

Check out the Boston’s Museum of Science’s Exploring Leonardo site for information on the amazing artist, scientist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci.  There’s an interactive map of Italy where you can find out where Leonardo did what, along with lots of other activities that will help you understand Leonardo and his world.

No Renaissance page would be complete without a tribute to one of the world’s greatest artists, Michelangelo.  For biographical information and photos of his work, see this site. Take a look at Artcyclopedia’s High Renaissance page for information about and links to collections of works by other artists of that period. 

Now go forth now and get some culture!

I’ve played the game “Would you rather?” a few times before where you have to choose which of two things you would rather do/be/have etc.  Some decisions were hard because both choices are equally yucky:  “Would you rather eat a worm or a spider?”  I’d rather eat neither.  Some decisions were hard because both choices seemed to have potential:  “Would you rather be a troll or a Viking for Halloween?”  One choice that frequently comes up in this game is “Would you rather be deaf or blind?”  That one was easy for me.  I need my eyes to do most of the things I enjoy:  reading, crafting, watching TV, observing flora and fauna as I hike, etc.  If I were deaf, although I would have to live without music, I also wouldn’t have to hear the garbage men at 6:00 a.m. or my upstairs neighbors walking around (fortunately, the current ones are really considerate!).  To me, it seems all around easier to be deaf than blind.

El Deafo book jacketBeing deaf is no piece of cake, though, as Cece Bell shows us in El Deafo, her memoir in graphic form. When she was four years old, she contracted meningitis and was left with a severe hearing impairment.  She was able to hear with the help of several devices, but her deafness still set her apart and, at times, left her feeling lonely and isolated.  In addition to dealing with the usual childhood concerns like making friends and keeping up in school, Cece had to cope with people who couldn’t understand her condition.  Although she really, really wanted to help them figure it out, it was hard to communicate what she needed.  El Deafo was her superhero alter ego who could stand up for herself and right the wrongs inflicted on her by mostly well-meaning, but frankly clueless kids and adults.  Her superpower was the ability to hear people – like teachers - from very far away (with the help of her Phonic Ear device). The illustrations, in which people are portrayed as rabbits, are colorful, charming and full of expression. We experience Cece’s big anxieties, but also her joys like her first crush and the fun of discovering a new best friend.  By the time you read the last panel, you’ll want to be pals with Cece!

For other memoirs for kids that are illustrated or in a graphic format, check out this list.

If my husband were to send me flowers at work (please don’t), I’d likely hide them away in a closet.  Not one for overt romantic gestures, it’s unlikely that I’d ever pick up a romance book for the romance.  Yet occasionally I do find myself enjoying a love story, especially if it has an international setting and an unusual narrative.  Here are three surprising, globe-trotting love stories that I’ve enjoyed recently.  But should you read them?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Book jacket: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno GarciaSignal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Three misfit teens in Mexico City explore the magical power of music and unintentionally alter the course of their lives.

Should you read it?

Absolutely: Your own life carries a mixtape soundtrack. You enjoy stories where reality is suspended only momentarily to make room for a bit of magic. You love YA books, remember being a surly misfit teenager yourself or maybe still are a surly misfit teenager.

Maybe not: You have little patience for adolescent struggles and need your fiction believable. What you’re really looking for is a book that evokes a sense of place.

 

Book jacket: A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor

A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor: An ill-suited lover opens up the world and enlivens the city of Delhi for a restless young woman none too keen on having an arranged marriage.

Should you read it?

Absolutely: You like your characters a little dark, reckless and unpredictable.  You take delight in beautiful writing and vivid descriptions of foreign cities. You enjoy psychological stories and pondering women’s roles around the world. You just want to hold this gorgeous, compact and gold-flecked book in your hands.

Maybe not: Unhealthy relationships that play with power balance leave you cold. You need a more cohesive plot and less psychological (and ahem sexual) exploring.

 

Book jacket: I Am China by Xiaolu GuoI Am China by Xiaolu Guo: A London translator takes an unusual assignment translating the journal and letters of a punk rock musician and soon finds herself immersed in the story of two Chinese lovers.

Should you read it?

Absolutely: Chinese punk rockers alone is intrigue enough. You love a slow-to-unravel mystery and a novel in letters. Language and the complexities of translation intrigue you. You like a little revolution with your romance.

Maybe not:  You can’t forgive an underdeveloped character and need a faster pace to keep you interested.

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