Much of what we know about Greek and Roman Mythology are from epic tales like Homer's Odyssey or Ovid's Metamorphosis.  These are tales of great adventure which often have a hero as the center of the story. Have you noticed any similarities between these heroes of the past,  and favorite characters in today's books and movies?

The hero’s journey was a favorite focus of Joseph Campbell, and his breakdown of the hero’s journey allows for us to make connections between heroes of the past and present.

There were many heroes in the stories of Greek and Roman mythology. The Odyssey gave us Odysseus one of the most famous heroes of lore, which the Romans refer to as Ulysses. It can be argued that Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, story paralleled Cambell's hero's journey.

The Twelve Labors of Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) tells the adventures of the champion of the gods that used both strength and smarts to face his challenges.

Though they don’t get as many lines in the written histories and mythology women heroes are just as plentiful and go through similar journeys, just like Katniss Everdeen.  We can thank the tragedy playwright Euripides for writing several plays about Grecian female heroes such as Medea and Hecuba.

In September 199_, at the age of 14, I was driven into the city and deposited in the brick hallways of Catholic high school. It was in that cold, drafty, but nevertheless optimistic institution (in the English class of one Mr. Stiff) that I first encountered the writings of John Irving. The book was A Prayer for Owen Meany, which follows two boys as they grow up (one of the boys is unusually short, has a strange, nasal voice and believes that he is an instrument of God). I enjoyed this long, funny, sad book, enough so that I decided to try another book by Irving: The World According to Garp. This one was even more funny, and it had a lot more sex. It was also about an unusual boy and his progression through an unusual life, en route to becoming a perhaps slightly less unusual man. Did I mention that there was sex in it? Naturally, it became one of my favorite books during those high school years, and Irving remained a favorite author of mine during all of the challenging, arduous, character-forming years since.

More recently, I read his Until I Find You, about a young boy with a fantastic memory who, along with his tattooist mother, journeys around Europe in search of his wayward father, a church organist addicted to tattoos. The book goes on to follow this boy as he grows to manhood and comes to grips with his relationships to both of his parents. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think, "...again? Another boy with a screwed up life, growing up?" But still, I loved it and couldn’t put it down. And it got me thinking about why it was that I like Irving’s books so much, even though the stories and characters in them seem so similar. His writing and plotting are wonderful, but I think that maybe the appeal is also exactly that the stories are so classically structured and almost formulaic in the progression of the character from young age to adulthood. Almost all of his books are examples of the bildunsgroman genre, the coming-of-age story. And he’s not the only one writing in this mode: a My MCL search for the subject term “bildungsromans” produces, at the time of this writing, 2,082 results.

So why do I/we like this kind of book so much? I suppose that the one constant in life is that you grow older, and maybe it’s nice to think that we also mature along the way. Or maybe there’s just nothing funnier or sadder than growing up.

Chanur Saga bookjacketI grew up 60 miles from Roswell, New Mexico; so my love of SciFi is natural. CJ Cherryh writes a very entertaining SciFi series called The Chanur Saga about a galaxy far, far away that is full of Hani, Mehendo'sat and Kif with sundry other species, and not a human in sight. Family, Trade and inter-species Diplomacy are the bedrocks of society. Then the Outsider stows away aboard the Hani ship 'The Pride of Chanur' and all hell breaks loose.

You don't have to love SciFi to appreciate Cherryh's world building (spoiler alert -- methane breathers!); or the ironic way she depicts the Powers that try to rule over folk perceived as weak or inferior. She handles culture shock with humor and insight enough to make you wonder: suppose it was me who made First Contact. What view of human kind would I give?

The Chanur Saga is fantastic! George Lucas would want to film it if it ever came to his attention.

“You need a rest, and so do I," I'd say firmly, and then I'd close the door (also firmly) and brew myself a cup of tea. Then, with a sigh of happiness, I’d pull out a book or pop in a DVD and take at least an hour for myself. My kids both stopped napping at about three and a half, but I didn't stop being a quiet time-enforcer until both of them were in the care of Portland Public Schools five days a week. Days with young children can be very long, and I found that if we had this time to refuel, the rest of the afternoon and evening would be much more pleasant for everyone.

A library patron recently told me that she uses audiobooks to entertain her preschooler during quiet time and I think this is a brilliant idea. Let them be diverted for a while by Frances, a badger who likes to make up charming little songs, or let them spend some time enjoying the sweet friendship of Frog and Toad. I’ve made a couple of lists to give parents ideas for audiobooks that would be perfect. The first list contains audiobook CDs and the second contains downloadable audiobooksI offer them with the sincere hope that the stories you'll find on them will provide enough time for both parent and child to feel refreshed.

No visit to memory lane is complete without a few moments of fascination and horror.  Remember your 20’s?  I do -- my first apartment, helpful or harmful roommates, dating, and encounters with people that have since turned into lifelong relationships. I love that I had so much energy and anything felt possible. I still love many of the people I encountered then.

So, it’s not surprising that I love the HBO series Girls created by Lena Dunham, a sometimes comedic and horrific drama. This series is a very entertaining guest that I want to invite into my living room.  Dunham’s girls explore connections with lovers, jobs, friendships and all the possibilities of life while trying to maintain and develop their self esteem in wild New York City. It’s the exciting and uncomfortable 20’s unveiled in all it’s shabby glory, something to witness and marvel at while discussing the thought-provoking topics that each episode brings up. Oh and she just wrote a funny and moving collection of essays called Not that Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "learned".  I’ve learned that I love what Lena Dunham creates and hope she keeps making books, movies and television for a long long time.

I love the fall. The weather stops being ridiculously hot, the rain comes back, and the school year is still full of potential (granted, I like school better now that I’m not the one in class). There’s also the possibility of something new worth watching on TV and then of course all those fantastic campaign ads:

  Duck for President by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy LewinBad Kitty by Nick Bruel


Ok, even I don’t believe that last one. But hooray for democracy!

So where do you go when you want to know more about that candidate or that ballot measure? I suppose you could just trust the ads, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Instead, take a look at Ballotpedia and

Ballotpedia is one of those websites that you think you’ve found everything- and then you find more. Their goal is to provide “accurate and objective information about politics at the local, state, and federal level.”  They have information on everything from presidential elections to school board elections and from major national issues to a profile of Louisville City Councilor Madonna Flood.  

Red and blue U.S. Mail letter drop box.

If you need to know about the Federal government, Govtrack has it covered!  Want to meet the Congressman from Arkansas? They can do that. The site is excellent for seeing what elected officials have done in their time in office; i.e. what bills they voted for and which ones they wrote as well as who is on the Ethics Committee.

Both Govtrack and Ballotpedia are great at providing context. Say you want to know how well different senators work together- you can check their report cards. Or you can see what happens to a bill. I especially appreciate Ballotpedia for their detailed look at different ballot measures- I used it when I was trying to find out more about Oregon’s measure 92 and found more than I had even thought to wonder about.

Whether you are casting your vote, writing a school report or just curious (maybe all three!) I hope that these sites can help you see things in a new way. And of course, if you want to know more you can also ask a librarian!

*Bad Kitty is by Nick Bruel and Duck is by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin


cover image of mr. phillips

Mr. Phillips is a modern classic in my estimation. Faintly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this single day novel focuses on the life of a middle-class British male who has been summarily sacked from his job of accountant last Friday. Monday morning however, he dresses the part and leaves for the office just the same, Mrs. Phillips being none the wiser. The reader is privy to his thoughts (which are borderline sexually obsessive) as he spends the day wandering London, doing some very normal things like riding public transport and the not very mundane like witnessing a bank robbery. It is bawdy, but great. 

Having walked the streets of London myself on those quiet weekday afternoons (not because I had been made redundant, rather a work schedule thing); I have selected a musical pairing for this book. If there was ever an album to enjoy while exploring the city (employed or no) it would be Songs for Distingue Lovers by Billie Holiday.



If you're anything like me, you just looked at the calendar and realized Halloween is less than two weeks away. Eek! What is my kiddo going to be for Halloween?! If you have older kids, perhaps they already have strong opinions of their own, which may be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the idea! But for those of us with toddlers, the task of coming up with a cute costume on the cheap can feel a bit daunting, especially if you want to make it yourself. Or maybe you don't have kids but need to come up with a cool costume for the Halloween party you just got invited to. Never fear, the library is here to help! 

Film adaptations of popular books are usually eagerly anticipated happenings. There is a curiosity inherent in waiting to see just how beloved characters and settings, so well established in the mind’s eye, present themselves on the big screen. It can be very satisfying to see a movie character who is the embodiment of the person you have been imagining all along. On the other hand it can be deeply frustrating to see a film character say or do something that your well-established fantasy character would just never say or do.

Orange is the New Black dvd coverThe bigger challenge in accommodating a film translation is accepting the subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the story line that Hollywood feels it needs to make the movie work. Take, for example, the Netflix adaptation of Orange is the New Black, an episodic rendering of Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir of her time in prison. Bored with her middle class life and fresh out of Smith College, Kerman took up with a group of artists-turned drug smugglers. In exchange for a world of first class travel and posh resorts, Kerman became a drug mule, delivering large cash payments to international drug bosses. Ten years after she quit the business, federal officers knocked on her apartment door and arrested her. She was sentenced to fifteen months in a minimum security women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

The show is highly entertaining, with familiar characters come to life and new and interesting ones added to the mix. The film versionOrange is the New Black book jacket highlights and deeply embellishes the drama, which was much more subtle in the book. The book highlights Kerman as an adept lexicographer of prison life as well as someone who took a painful experience and made something of it. But the amped- up drama of television keeps viewers hooked and waiting (as I am, I admit) for season three.

I’m grateful to have read the book. It is an engaging and informative read and since the publication of the book, Kerman has become an outspoken advocate of prison reform. Part of her success of Orange is the New Black comes from indirectly highlighting some of the failures of the U.S. Prison system. By creating an emotional connection to these injustices through the book and through a highly-watched television series, Kerman has been a powerful advocate for change.

Beyond the potential discrepancies between book and film, it’s just plain interesting to see a beloved story come to life before our very eyes. So watch the show or read the book? Why not do both!

One of the things I like about science fiction is that it can encompass almost any other genre, but to be done well, the author really needs to be aware of the elements that define both science fiction and the genre from which they are borrowing. One particular melding that I’ve been enjoying is that between science fiction and the murder mystery—especially when it involves the intersection of our inherent human nature—jealousy, greed, envy, etc.—and the unintended consequences of technology.

Caves of Steel book jacketThese stories have a long history. For me, Isaac Asimov set the template in the 1950s with his first two Robot novels, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. What gives the stories their power as science fiction are the ways in which Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics shape Nimbus book jacketthe murder investigation at the center of each tale and the society at large. Another of my favorites is Nimbus by Alexander Jablokov which opens with someone murdering members of a group who had been secretly modified as children years before. What those modifications were and who is responsible are closely linked—and that’s all I’m going to say about it. More recently, Ken MacLeod wrote The Night Sessions where artificial intelligences play a central role following the bombing of a church and murder of a bishop. MacLeod writes very sophisticated novels that often focus on artificial intelligence and this is no exception. And finally, just published in 2014 is Jon Scalzi’s Lock In which opens with a murder in a world where a large number of people are fully conscious but trapped within catatonic bodies. Some can escape by either projecting their consciousness into machines or into the minds of “Integrators”-- individuals who can share their physical bodies with others. One of the big questions here is how do you know who is responsible when consciousness can be swapped?

Whether you like science fiction or mysteries, there is much to explore within this sub-genre. Using a science fiction setting allows for all kinds of new and interesting questions—the nature of reality, what is consciousness, the ethics (if any) of non-human intelligence—these are just a few that you won’t find in, say, an Agatha Christie story. So, if I’ve piqued your interest, go ahead and dive into this subset of science fiction and let me know what you think in the comments below.  Also check out this list for more great science fiction mysteries.


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