I don’t know about you but I love music! I didn’t want to start with the often repeated phrase “music is a universal language” but inevitably I have to. We have such a diversity of genres, styles, authors, singers and countries offering us so many listening options. The more we’re exposed to other musical tastes and preferences the more our taste is refined over the time -- as with tasting food for the very first time -- you have to try it again and get familiar with the variety of flavors.
We all connect directly with the language of music, even if it is in a language different than our own - we all connect directly with the language of music. I want to invite you to explore more pop music in Spanish with my list, but before I send you there, you can take the time to watch these videos. Enjoy!
When reading The Man Who Could Fly and other stories by Rudolfo Anaya, a famous Chicano writer, I came across the name B. Traven. He was a German/American writer who inspired one of Anaya's stories entitled “B. Traven is Alive and Well in Cuernavaca.” I couldn’t wait to know more about this intriguing character.
B. Traven (1890-1969) is considered one of the most international literary mysteries of the twentieth century, because he refused personal data to publishers. Author of 12 fiction novels and several short stories, most of his books were originally written in German and were first published in Germany. His real name, date place of birth and nationality are still begin questioned, which makes me think that he might be hiding his identity on purpose to gain more public attention or as a kind of strategic marketing maybe?
I became a bit obsessed with trying to know more about Traven. My quest began with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre a book that was adapted to a film of the same name. The film won an Academy Award in 1948; another of his remarkable works is The Death Ship”: The story of an American Sailor written in German and then translated into 12 languages including English. Both books led to him to international popularity.
It’s estimated that he used at least twenty seven aliases and many researchers are convinced that he is more than one person.
It’s amazing how books connect us with other important events and characters. I started by reading a Chicano writer and followed my curiousity to learn about B. Traven. Something else I found out going through this journey is that Macario, one of my favorite movies ever, was adapted from a short story by B. Traven -- or whoever the real person was.
I found a single remaining copy Of Walking in Rain by Matt Love on the shelf of a coffee shop in Manzanita. It was high summer, but I couldn’t resist its pull, the feel of the paper, the promise of reading it on a rainy day in autumn. There was no price tag and the cashier seemed baffled as to what to charge. I had a $20 bill in my pocket and offered that. A signed copy for $20? Done.
It sat on my bookshelf the rest of the summer. And it was an unusually hot, long, and dry summer too. By the time the rains came and leaves began to change colors and fall, it was November. At last. Historically I have been a sun worshipper, but have long had a love affair with rain. Especially stormy downpours. The sun brings out the super efficient doer in me, while the rain gives me a reason to take a breath, pause, reflect.
This is Matt Love’s contemplative musings on rain. Will it make you a lover of rain?
Notes to Mr. Love:
p.s. Counting Crows have some of the best rain songs around and none were mentioned.
p.p.s. Also, I carry an umbrella and refuse to feel guilty about it.
It captured my imagination when a colleague told me that Roy Blount Jr. said of Charles Portis that he “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.” I listened to the audiobook of True Grit soon thereafter, and I agree. He’s my favorite kind of funny, too. The humor all emerges out of-- and illuminates-- beautifully realized characters. In this, I’d compare him to Jane Austen as much as anyone else-- Jane Austen without the courtships but with more shooting and swearing, and with a very different set of social expectations. The conversations around the campfire are priceless. And in True Grit, as in Austen's novels, the most important thing is to be a fair and strong person, even in trying circumstances.
You might already know the story of True Grit. A 14-year-old girl is determined to avenge her father’s death, so she hires a crusty U.S. Marshall to find the murderer and make sure he is punished. Much against his will, she rides into Indian Territory with him to see the job done. The Coen brothers flick absolutely did this story justice, but I'm glad I turned to the book (actually, the audiobook) to enjoy the elegant writing. I vow that there will be a lot more Charles Portis in my life in the future.
Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch and The Secret History, was the voice actor for True Grit, and she was perfect. If you’re interested in experiencing more classic works read by their ideal voice actor, take a look at this list, and please let me know if you think of any more audiobooks that need to be added to it.
I have lived in Portland for 56 years now, raising kids, writing books, and reading books. I never would have got through those 56 years without the Multnomah County Library.
“Favorites” -- A favorite book? Impossible! Seven favorite books? Impossible! I have too many favorite books. A lot of them are a lot of other people’s favorites too, so they don’t need to be mentioned. But I’ve just been rereading one that has pretty much slipped outof sight, and I want to remind people of it, because it’s a terrific novel: Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. It came out in 1964, won the Western Heritage Award, and got a nice movie based on it. But it’s way, way better than the movie. Little Big Man is a highly improbable story told so well that you believe it.
For one thing, you want to believe it. And also you can trust it, because the true parts of it are true. The history (and ethnology) is real. There’s no whitewashing the racism and greed that have always threatened the American dream of freedom. You get the story of what really happened at the battle of the Little Big Horn, not all that Custer hype. You get an entirely new view of Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, and several other celebrities, too.
Like Mark Twain, Berger has a pitch-perfect ear for how Americans talk – and think. And like Mark Twain he can ruthlessly indict human stupidity and bigotry while never losing his temper, and being really, really funny. Old Lodge Skins is my hero. I love this book. I wish every high-school kid in America could read it. And then (like me) read it again twenty or forty or sixty years later...
As for nonfiction, I have to mention Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which brings together scientific and medical research (and hypocrisy), the biography of an almost invisibly elusive black woman, the exposure of an act of exploitation, racism and social injustice, and the writer’s own deeply respectful involvement with the people from whom she won this absorbing, troubling, wonderfully told story.
How about a favorite piece of music? Can I have two, please? OK! One is the short opera Galileo Galilei by Philip Glass, performed here in Portland two years ago (a recording of that performance is available now from Orange Mountain). The stage set was all magical circles and spirals and pendulums, lights moving through shadows, illuminating the story that spirals back in time from the dark end of Galileo’s life to a radiant, joyful beginning. Set, words, and music, it was and is completely beautiful.
And for a change of pace. . . how about Hoyt Axton singing “Five Hundred Miles.” (Find it on the CD Greenback Dollar: Live at the Troubadour). There are several versions of it on YouTube. I like the one where the visual is just a b/w video of a train that comes and goes by and is gone.
For more great recommendations, customized just for you, try My Librarian.
Our guest blogger is Memo. Memo works at the Central Library. Besides reading history and literature about Latinos, workers, and immigrants, he enjoys re-reading the great literary works of nineteenth and twentieth-century realist writers.
What makes a literary work an American classic? Clearly, there is no one answer to this question. It is a matter of opinion. It is no wonder book publishers have debated this issue in the past, and that they will continue to discuss it in the future. The question, also, hangs over my head every time I read Tomás Rivera’s …y no se lo tragó la tierra: Is this fictional tale of Mexican American migrant farm working families an American classic? After all, this novella is an iconic piece of literary art in Chicano/a literature, and is a must read in Chicano/a literature courses in U.S. colleges. It was also the first recipient of the Premio Quinto Sol award.
Is it an American classic? Yes! It is. In spite of being written in Spanish,* …y no se lo tragó la tierra is a story of perseverance in the American tradition of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. Like their fictional counterparts in The Jungle and The Grapes of Wrath, the characters in …y no se lo tragó la tierra have dreams and grit. The Mexican American migrant families’ determination to make their dreams real no matter the odds given - it is the 1950s and people of color are segregated in the workplace and society—is what makes their tale of perseverance an American classic.
The story takes place in two locations: a small town in rural South Texas, where the migrant families live on a permanent basis and the Midwest, where they toil in the fields of commercial growers. The hardships they confront in their annual migrations to Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other Midwestern states in search of seasonal farm labor say more about their determination to better their lives than about the work itself. That is not to say that the seasonal farm work they do doesn’t influence their willingness to live their American dreams. On the contrary, the very work itself, with its low wages, no rights, no dignity, and no hope, drive migrant families to continue struggling for a better life.
Like two other American classics of the twentieth century, Native Son and Invisible Man, …y no se lo tragó la tierra illuminates an experience once ignored by mainstream Americans. It sheds light on a harsh reality that can no longer be overlooked.
*The library's copy is bilingual.
Before Topshop and Alexa Chung, there was Biba, an affordable women’s clothing brand that transformed girls into Hollywood starlets. The Biba Years by Barbara Hulanicki covers the career of British visionary, Barabara Hulanicki, and the rise and fall of an iconic brand.
Reading parts of The Biba Years is like hearing your much older friend recount the party of a lifetime. There are so many great details: the anachronistic design influences, celebrity gossip (the terrible thing she says about Audrey Hepburn!), and examples of Hulanicki’s unstoppable creativity. My favorite parts involved reading about the shops and how visits could best be described as revelatory or a “non-stop Fellini film.”
Want to pine after Twiggy-approved clothes? Waiting for the final season of Mad Men? Wish you could hang out with Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and their ladies? Get your paws on this book!
I don't often read young adult novels; too many of the teen characters leave me feeling like I wasn't like them even when I was fifteen, and I just can't identify. I do have two series to recommend that work well even for a more jaded adult reader of science fiction and fantasy such as myself.
First is Cinder by Melissa Meyer. This Cinderella retelling is set in a far distant, post-World War IV world, and our heroine is a clever young mechanic who has a cyborg arm and foot. This marks her as semi-human and of the very lowest social standing. Her doting adoptive father is gone, leaving her owned by her sadistically cruel stepmother. One of her step sisters is somewhat kind to her, but is little more than a child herself and can't help her. There's a handsome prince, a dreadful, contagious and incurable disease sweeping the earth and an ~evil~ queen from Luna. While some elements of the story will seem old hat to the more cynical, I thought it had enough charm and verve to carry off a story we've all heard before and make it fresh again. I like the series so well I've already got a hold on Winter (book #5 in the Lunar Chronicles) even though I'll be using up one of my holds for nine months just to read it as soon as I can.
Ari Marmell has written several adult fantasy novels, none of them particularly well known or best sellers. I did like Hot Lead, Cold Iron and The Conqueror's Shadow. He also just published the final novel in a young adult series that begins with Thief's Covenant about a girl named Widdershins. In this world, gods have powers based on the number of worshippers they have. Olgun's congregation is slaughtered except for one young girl hidden in the shadows. She flees to the streets and takes the name Widdershins. Olgun can't perform miracles for his last worshipper, but he can push the edges a bit. He can make a flintlock misfire. He can make her run faster, jump higher, and walk quieter than an ordinary human and with his help, Widdershins survives as a thief. While Olgun's help make her mildly superpowered, she still feels real and, like any teen, she has moments of foolishness and moments of maturity. If you like fantasy and wouldn't mind a younger protagonist, this series has been a very enjoyable light read. I'm sorry to be done with it and I'll give the next book by this author a chance because of it.
When I was a little girl, Christmas was my favorite time of the year. I never really believed in Santa Claus, but I did believe in his magic. Who knew what wonderful treasure might appear under the Christmas Tree inside a sparkling wrapped parcel of paper? I mean, I knew what I put on my wish list, but how could I ever imagine that my uncles would get me all top ten 45rmp records from the Billboard List?
Then there was my Dad- his joy was to disguise our presents with funny shaped boxes or beans to make them rattle- hoping that my brotherand sisters and I would never guess what it was. Even getting a pair of socks or underwear was exciting!
I feel that same eager expectation every time I walk in the library door.
I know what books I are on my reading list and what music I like, but how could I imagine the dark-haired handsome man on a collection of CDs would turn out to be India’s King of Bollywood-Shah Rukh Khan?
Or that there was a graphic novel version of Crime and Punishment that was as stark, horrifying and redemptive as Dostoevsky?
I am a grown woman now but I still love Christmas and I still love that feeling of expectation when I walk through the library. Who knows what hidden treasure is waiting there to be unwrapped and enjoyed?