Andrew Proctor, Literary ArtsAndrew Proctor is the Executive Director of Literary Arts, a nonprofit literary center that serves thousands of readers and writers each year. Ann Patchett says of the organization, "there are no readers more passionate than Portland’s, and no organization better at bringing readers and writers together than Literary Arts." 

Reading is essential to my well being.  It lifts me out of myself and gives me perspective. Aside from the facts that might appear in a book, it is the opportunity to be in someone else's narrative that ultimately teaches me who I am and how I can be a more empathetic and stronger person.  And a confession: I might be the world's worst speller.

Here are ten books that inspire me:

  1. Underworld by Don DeLillo

“Longing on a large scale, that’s what makes history.”  This might be my favorite book written in the 20th century.  I love DeLillo intense prose style and use of voice.  He is unafraid of big ideas, and capable of rendering them in beautiful prose.

  1. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

The first truly subversive book I ever read, given to me by a high school English teacher.

  1. Voss by Patrick White

A magisterial novel by the Australian Nobel Prize winner.  This novel is an unusual and exciting mix of Victorian prose and modernist sensibility.

  1. The World and Other Places: Stories, by Jeanette Winterson

I read “The Green Man” in Harpers when I was in college and was completely blown away by Winterson's use of language. These are some of my favorite short stories.

  1. Tremolo: Poems by Spencer Short

I keep this on my desk and dip into it all the time to shake myself out of my “thinking ruts.”  His associative powers are unlike any I have ever seen.

  1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Possibly the greatest modernist novel of all time because Woolf has all the force of intellect of Joyce but is a better storyteller.

  1. The Residue Years by Mitchell Jackson

This year’s Everybody Reads pick.  This really is a novel every Portlander needs to read.  It’s a modern day Grapes of Wrath in its unflinching look at society.  Jackson’s mix of street and literary language is electrifying. 

  1. Consider the Lobster: Essays by David Foster Wallace

Wallace is the only essayist that has made me cry, I was laughing so hard.  Why do such tragic lives often produce humor?  This question comes up again and again in these essays in moments from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  1. Herzog By Saul Bellow

      I just love his book for its voice and humor, and its painful honesty.  I so admire Bellow for his work.  He was constantly experimenting and taking risks.

  1. Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zoli

I read a fair number of business books. This often comes as a surprise given what I do. But running an independent nonprofit is the same as running another business, only with a social mission.  I loved this book and I think about its lessons a least once a week as we build Literay Arts into a world class literary center that is at the leading edge of innovation.  Zoli’s central premise: All resilient organisations have three defining characteristics: they are dense, diverse, and distributed.  I will leave you to read the book to learn what he means.

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.



what you say matters

    We are deep in social media, of course. 74% of adults who use the internet use social media sites! It’s what we do now: how we maintain friendships, meet people, have conversations, begin relationships, learn about news, undertake social change, and market our services and products. There’s a lot (A LOT) that can be said about this, from whether or not it’s good for us to what Big Data from social media tells us about ourselves.

    So we do social media, and it results in a whole lot of writing. Research from last decade indicates that people are writing more than ever before. If we’re going to do a ton of writing in social media, we should do it well!

    That could mean a few different things:

    Hungry for more books on how (or why) to do social media? There’s something out there for the beginner, for the optimist, for the contrarian, or the pragmatist.

    Book jacket: Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera2014 is almost over and I’m calling it.  My favorite book of the year was Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera. Shortly after I finished it, I sent a Facebook message to the author gushing that her book was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever read. I never do that. Here are 5 reasons why this one stands out to me among the other fantastic books I enjoyed this year:

    1.    It’s transportive: While the book’s characters are complex and still linger in my mind, Island of a Thousand Mirrors is the story of a country first and foremost. This book transported me completely to the island of Sri Lanka with a winter craving for coconut milk and curry that traces directly back to the author's delicious descriptions of food.

    2.    It’s short:  OK brief doesn't immediately translate to beauty. Munaweera however, does write in a beautifully minimal style, but still manages to tell a sweeping multi-generational story that's lush with detail and emotion without ever feeling rushed.  

    3.    It has both a map and a family tree: These are seemingly small details, but ones which I love. It’s hard to keep track of geography and relationships in any family saga and more so when the names are unfamiliar. Wait, where is Jaffna located again? Who was Yasodhara’s grandfather? A quick flip to the front pages and you’re back on track.

    4.    It taught me something new: We don’t hear much about Sri Lanka in our news and I certainly knew very little about the country when I picked up this book. Munaweera’s novel really brings to life the complexities of the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war with an intricate story that follows two girls caught on either side of the conflict.

    5.    It strikes that perfect balance between devastating heartbreak and beauty:  I was often caught startled by Munaweera’s forthright descriptions of the horrors that accompany war, but was left equally stunned by the beauty of her writing.  In fact, I can't seem to resist a story that breaks my heart and then shows me great beauty. If this formula appeals to you too, here's a list for you!

    I’m living more of a Little House on the (Urban) Prairie life these days, but when I was a kid, I didn’t want prairies, chores, or family togetherness. I was looking for the entrance into a magical world, like the Pevensie kids found to get into Narnia, or perhaps a cyclone to take me into Oz.

    Quentin, the main character of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, was, like me, obsessed with finding his way into magical worlds-- but unlike me, he manages to do it. After that, the books are chock-full of unpredictable pleasures. Quentin flies to Antarctica as a goose, makes deals with a dragon, takes a voyage in a magical boat to the end of the world, and lives through what I believe is the best post-breakup smackdown in literary history. Finally, In The Magician’s Land, the third and last book of the series, which came out this year, he stops being kind of a jerk and turns into a man.

    Excuse me for a moment while I push past the coats into this big old wardrobe. Feel free to check out my list of genre-bending fantasy novels while I’m gone. 

    When it seems like the rain is never going to stop, don’t despair! Whether your tastes run more towards Portland puppets or Troutdale trains, Multnomah County has no shortage of fascinating and quirky museums that won’t cost you anything. (Check the links for updated hours and contact information.)

    Whimsy. Revisit the toys of your (or your grandparents') childhood at Kidd's Toy Museum. And if your pipsqueaks are pleading to ponder a plethora of puppets, perhaps Ping Pong's Pint Size Puppet Museum is your pleasure.

    Safety. Witness the evolution of fire fighting at The Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum. You also might find the Portland Police Museum rather arresting.

    History. We love that the Gresham Historical Society museum is housed in an original Carnegie library! Not to be outdone, the Troutdale Historical Society has three museums: The Barn Exhibit Hall, The Harlow House, and The Rail Depot. And don’t forget, the expansive and amazing Oregon Historical Society is free to all Multnomah County residents; just be sure to bring a proof of residency that includes photo identification.

    Miscellany. Check up on medical history with the fascinating exhibits in the Main Library of Oregon Health & Science University or the Dr. Ernest E. Starr Memorial Museum of Dental Anomalies in the OHSU School of Dentistry. If you're interested in "the art and industry of the cast letterform," then the Museum of Metal Typography is definitely your type. Then float on over to the Lincoln Street Kayak and Canoe Museum to learn more about indigenous small watercraft and suck up some cleaning history at the Vacuum Museum at Stark's Vacuums.

    Free Museum Day Portland and Portland on the Cheap both have information about when paid admission museums might cut you a break. And for more on free and not-free-but-still-great museums definitely check out the Hidden Portland website, which was an invaluable resource for this blog post!

    P.S. More in the mood for an art gallery ? Check out Rainy Days, Part 1: Free Art.

    When it seems like the rain is never (ever) going to stop, don’t despair! Multnomah County has a lot of hidden art to see that will get you out of the house and won’t cost you anything.

    The area’s colleges and universities are a treasure trove of free art galleries! Here are links to some all over town:

    Government buildings are a great place to see rotating exhibits, usually by local artists. Experience interactive and experimental media installations in the Portland Building Installation Space; visit the art gallery in the Gresham City Council Chamber Foyer; and check out the current exhibition at Central Library’s Collins Gallery.

    The Regional Arts & Culture Council has a searchable database of public art around the county. (Tip: Click on Advanced Options to search by Collection and Discipline.)

    View work by local photographers at Blue Sky Gallery, originally founded as the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts.

    Learn more about contemporary art in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Resource Room. It is both an archive and library, housing over 3,500 artist publications, magazines, and audio and video recordings, as well as a video archive of performances and lectures presented by PICA over the span of the organization's history.

    But wait, there's more! Check out Rainy Days, Part 2: Free Museums!

    I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like bookjacketI like my music to tell a story and that's exactly what Todd Snider’s songs do. His memoirish book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales is full of stories. I can listen to Todd's (he's such a down-to-earth kind of guy that I feel he'd want me to call him by his first name) music all day. And then his live shows are great not only because he plays his fabulous songs but also because he has hilarious stories to tell. In his book, he sets down some of those entertaining stories plus a whole bunch more. It's great to hear the (mostly true) stories behind his songs and how he ended up in the singer/songwriting world. You get to hear about some of the inner workings of the music business and the inner life of a fallible, creative guy.

    “I thought about what I wanted, knowing that I’d probably fail to get it. And I decided that I wanted most to fail at being a singer in a band .  .  . That’s what I wanted to fail at in this life. And, oh brother, have I. Over and over again. Spectacularly.”

    As a bonus, Todd's a local boy; he grew up in Beaverton and he has several songs that feature Portland prominently. He's got a great voice, and I'm not just talking about how he sings; you get a real sense of who he is as a person in his songs and his stories. Now instead of having to wait for his next show, I can read a chapter of this book, pop in one of his cds, and pretend I'm sitting in a club right next to the stage while Todd Snider performs.

    Golden Son: Book II of the Red Rising Trilogy

    by Pierce Brown

    Book 2 of the sci-fi sensation Red Rising that takes place on Mars. Fast-paced, gripping and well written. For fans of Hunger Games, Enders Game and Game of Thrones. A film is coming out. Place your hold now.

    War of the Wives

    by Tamar Cohen

    Two wives married to the same man--and they just found  out he's dead. With dark humor and wit, it is a story of betrayal and love.

    Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

    byEric Foner

    Foner, a Civil War specialist, relates the dramatic story of fugitive slaves and the abolitionists who helped them to freedom in spite of the law.

    Whipping Boy: the Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully

    by Allen Kurzweil

    The author takes the reader around the world in his search for his childhood tormentor. The trail he follows reads like a John Le Carre novel as he discovers his bully is involved in federal crimes  with unbelievable real-life characters that supports the saying that "truth is stranger than fiction". A memoir of obsession, recovery and courage.


    cover image of The Other TypistI was forever waiting for this one, first on the hold list and then once I found a copy of my own, I still waited to read it. Why? I suppose I have read so many duds of late, I was loathe to even pick it up. Here we go again, I thought, another flapper fiasco. It’s going to be trite, it’s going to be a slog. But I started reading it and tra la! It sparkled!

    We have Rose, our unreliable narrator—and who doesn’t love an unreliable narrator—and Odalie. Both are typists for the New York Police Department in the 1920s and both are keeping secrets. Surely one of these fine ladies must be genuine...

    dead pic veneta live cover

    I never planned to Like the Grateful Dead. 

    Shaped by easy punchlines, alarmist tales of parking lot antics via local news outlets and teenage stubbornness,  I used to think of the Dead and their followers as a sea of tie dyed drifters. However, both times and I have changed.

    Luckily, no miracles are required to get your Dead fix at Multnomah County Library. A library card is the only ticket required. Hoopla, available with a Library card has 120+ streaming Dead albums including numerous live shows. Looking for the complete studio recordings? The extensive collections The Golden Road and Beyond Description have you covered in two box sets. Additional live sets and exhaustive books are also available. Check them out here.

    If that’s not enough, the Grateful Dead Archive at The University of Santa Cruz has what you need.  This growing archive is “a socially constructed collection comprised of over 45,000 digitized items drawn from the UCSC Library’s extensive Grateful Dead Archive (GDA) and from digital content submitted by the community and global network of Grateful Dead fans”.  

     Is there tie dye tinged light at the end of this tunnel?  Perhaps, but I’ll pass for now...


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