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Each year the Oregon Intellectual Freedom Clearinghouse (OIFC) at the Oregon State Library (OSL) collects data on challenges to Oregon library materials.  In 2013-2014,

“a total of 11 challenges to library material was received from seven public libraries and two school libraries. Of the 11 challenges, 7 of the items were books, 3 were videos, and 1 was a magazine.  Eight of the challenges were initiated by public library patrons and three by parents.  Ten of the challenged items were retained in the collection, one of the nine retained items was relocated to different area in the library, and one item was removed from the collection.”

To read the current and past reports, and see the list of challenged items, go to: 2014 Annual Report.  And if this isn't enough, remember to Contact a Librarian for more assistance!

Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
 
Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
 
Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
 
Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
 
So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
 
Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
 
Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
 
You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on SlideRule.com. If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
 
Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
 
Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
 
*Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

There’s nothing like a great music biography. Tales of sex, drugs, unimaginable circumstances, and music are a great combination. One of my favorite genres, I've read many of them, most recently Andy Taylor’s Wild Boy.  It's always a thrill to witness the rock star lives we were never meant to see, or at least remember if we were there. Here's a couple to start with:

hammer of the gods cover

 

Much has been written about Led Zeppelin. One of the juciest, Hammer of the Gods, is a great intro to the world of the rock biography. Private jets, groupies and thirty minute drum solos were only the beginning. Their unprecedented fame and unfathomable level of excessive indulgences remain jaw dropping.

 

 

I'm with the band cover

 

While Jimmy Page was soloing with his violin bow, Pamela Des Barres was wrangling backstage passes for herself and a few friends.  In her tell all biography, I’m With the Band, she shares her tales of an unbelievable life travelling amongst rock’s elite including : Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Chris Hillman, and Jim Morrison. It’s the kiss-and-tell story of one woman, rock and roll, and being an “Almost Famous” fly on the wall of some interesting hotel rooms.

 

This is only a start.  For more check out this list or ask me for recommendations!

You see them on the corners of trendy streets, or casting forlorn glances at the Paul Bunyan statue over in North Portland… bearded young men in checked wool shirts and heavy leather boots, doing their best to project a studied air of vintage outdoorsiness. But lay aside that retro axe you bought on Mississippi avenue, urban lumberjack - have I got the book for you! Axes aren’t very useful at soccer games anyway, despite what local ad agencies might like you to think.

Golden Spruce book jacketIn the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, there once stood an impossible tree, a genetic mutant that survived against the odds, a seven foot diameter spruce that glowed with golden needles and that was known to the Haida people as K’iid K’iyaas (Elder Spruce). But one wintry night, Grant Hadwin, a logger turned radical environmentalist swam naked across a frigid river, towing a chainsaw behind him, and singlehandedly cut down this freakish and beautiful tree. In The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant examines the life of this enigmatic man, who could wander into the wilderness with nothing but light clothing and an open-sighted rifle, and emerge days later with a mountain goat slung over his shoulders, whose early years as a logger coupled with emotional strain sparked a terrible awakening to the devastation his profession had wreaked on the land he loved. Intertwined with the story of Hadwin are chapters about Northwest forest ecology, as well as history of the Haida people and the logging industry. Check this out if you want to know more about the forests that surround us here in the northwest, or if you’re looking for well-written true stories of wilderness adventure and calamity.

More books about forests, including fact, fiction, and photography, can be found here.

Out of sight bookjacketParaphrasing the FantasticFiction website: "lovers of mayhem, suspense, and just plain wonderful writing" ...should hustle over to the Elmore Leonard shelf, grab anything and enjoy your waning vacation time. 

It's like that feeling you have when you're hungry but don't know what you want (it's always chicken). You want a good book but don't have a clue? Get Elmore. Check out his page on the FantasticFiction website for his oeuvre. The films adapted from his books indicate the range of his audience: Mr. Majestyk (with Charles Bronson); Out of Sight (George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez); and Killshot (Diane Lane,Mickey Rourke). From old guys to new girls, take your pick.
Be Cool book jacket
 
Leonard is the dean of dialogue, terse and tasty. So sit yourself down, put your feet up and immerse yourself in another world. Return to that place when time and forever were the same word. Try to remember when multitasking wasn't in the language. Then, Be Cool.

 

Earlier this summer, people around the world marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, later called the First World War, and the anniversary has created a flurry of interest in the conflict and its impact on people across several continents.

The Great War was great in the sense that it was huge and record-breaking. The 30 or so participating nations sent about 65 million people into battle. It is hard to make an exact count of casualties and injuries that resulted, but it is generally accepted that about 21 million uniformed personnel went home wounded, and 8.6 million died. In addition, about 6.5 million civilians were killed in the fighting.* Obviously, this war had a dramatic effect on people across the globe, altering personal stories, disrupting family patterns, creating opportunities for some and closing doors for others.

Family historians should take note of how the war may have affected their recent ancestors. One way to do that is to get a little context for what the war was like for real people -- you might start with my colleague Rod’s great reading list of books that illuminate the experiences people had in the First World War, both on the battlefield and on the home front.

Of course, you family historians want to track down your own specific ancestors too. Lots of general genealogy books teach you how to find official sources like draft records, military service records, and records of veterans, but the library has a great local resource you may not know about!

article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, Oregon City Enterprise, Dec. 8, 1935, from [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians]If your ancestor served in World War I, survived, and later lived in Oregon, he may be included in the library’s collection of 1930s-era newspaper clippings, [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians].

On the right you can see an scan of one of the clippings in the collection -- it’s an article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, from the Oregon City Enterprise, published December 8, 1935.

This is one of thirteen articles and obituaries about Oregon WWI veterans, collected by the library in 1934 and 1935 and preserved together in a binder.  We’re not sure exactly why these articles were set aside and given special treatment; and we don’t know whether they were clipped by a librarian, a library volunteer, or a community member who later donated them to the library. But here they are, a lovely little slice of history just waiting for a genealogist digging into their family’s Oregon past!

I share this collection with you for two reasons:

The first reason is that maybe you are digging into an Oregon ancestor’s World War I military service and this is just the perfect resource for you! But there are only thirteen newspaper clippings in this collection, so it’s a little bit unlikely that many of you will find this the perfect source.

My second reason for sharing this collection is that I want you to remember that the library is rich in unusual, deep, and useful sources for your family history research.

Not least among these rich resources is our amazing complement of skilled librarians. Whenever you have an odd or challenging question that you can’t easily find the answer to; whenever you wonder if there might be a great resource that would illuminate the story of one of your ancestors’ past perfectly, ask us!

Librarians, I like to say, love questions. We are ready to help you find the right tools and resources for your genealogy research, and we’re happy to show you how to use those tools efficiently and effectively. So ask us the next time you’re at the library, or call or email us anytime.


* I got these numbers from Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1494-2007, by Micheal Clodfelter (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2008). The book has a huge amount of detail about the various casualty figures and other war-related data.


 

He might be controversial, but when it comes to me, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage is preaching to the choir. I’ve been enjoying his columns for close to twenty years, I’ve read several of his books, I loved him on This American Life, and I’m convinced that his entertaining, sex-positive podcast will improve all of your sex-lives if you’ll just start listening regularly. He’s funny, a highly engaging story-teller, and he calls the religious right on their nonsense in a way I find very refreshing.

I read most of his newest book, American Savage, on an airplane recently, and I pretty much lived through the whole gamut of human emotion during my eight-hour flight. I cheered as he talked about the the ridiculous inadequacy of abstinence-only sex education  in the United States. I laughed out loud while reading his stories about being a parent to his very conventionally straight son. I was pleased to find out about a website for teens I later told my daughter about-- it offers great information about the human body and sexuality.

I was moved as I read about the It Gets Better video project on YouTube he and his husband started to help LGBT teens who are being bullied. I was very moved by his story of the death of his mother, especially as I was on my way back to Portland after having spent time on the east coast caring for my mom, who was getting over a serious health issue.  At one point, when I was reading an especially naughty passage from the chapter on Dan’s marriage, which is “monogamish” rather than monogamous, I glanced over to see what the person in the next seat was reading. (I do this incessantly. I’m the person on the bus trying to crane my neck inconspicuously so I can see what you’re reading.) On the airplane, the person in the next seat was reading… a  magazine-sized church newsletter! I am absolutely not making this up. She was very nice, and possibly not incredibly nosy like me about other people’s reading material, so all was well. While an airplane might not be the best place to enjoy Dan Savage’s writing, I still think you should check him out. And definitely listen to the podcast!

Best 'free box' in Portland

In my SE neighborhood people care about the environment.  Most houses have a small vegetable garden, and the green and blue recycling bins are always lined up in front like small soldiers on recycling pick-up day. The sidewalks and streets bustle with people taking riding their bikes or walking to work.

Unwanted items are left out on the parking strip with a sign that says "FREE."  Anything can be there - a box of books, clothes, wine glasses, stuffed animals, you name it.  I can never walk by one of these free boxes without stopping to look.  Especially if there are books or magazines.  Who knows what treasures could be hidden there? I recently found Norwegian mystery author, Karin Fossum’s book The Indian Bride in a free box.

Today as  I was walking home clutching my latest find, it occurred to me that the Multnomah County Library is the best ‘free box’ of all.  Who knows what treasures you may find when you walk through the library’s door? Maybe a popular new thriller or a thick old classic. Maybe a study guide that will help you pass your SATs or fix your car.  Maybe your favorite childhood book that you want to read to your own kids.

The possibilities are endless.   

Plus when you are use library materials you are recycling too!

So don’t be shy: find you next great read at the best free box in town - the Multnomah County Library!

 

 

 

The Answer to the Riddle Is Me bookjacketMemory is a squishy thing. It enables us to do the things we do. It's who we are. Memory is pretty much interchangeable with our identity. So what happens when we lose our memory?

David Stuart MacLean has written an amazing book, The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, about exactly that. In 2002, he was a graduate student in writing, living in India. One day, he found himself on a train platform with no idea who he was. He ended up in a mental hospital with horrible hallucinations. Eventually the symptoms of amnesia, psychosis, and depression he experienced were found to be the result of the malarial medication, Lariam, which was prescribed for malaria at the time. And those side effects continued to plague MacLean for a very long time. He had to reconstruct himself.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me is a brilliantly written memoir and more. MacLean has done a lot of research on malaria and Lariam and it's fascinating. Who knew that one out of fourteen human beings have genetic mutations that can be linked to malaria? Or that high doses of Lariam have been given to prisoners at Guantanamo prison, not because they had malaria, but for "pharmaceutical waterboarding." 

David Stuart MacLean's memoir is a beautiful, disturbing, enlightening gem of a book. And if you'd like to read more books about memory, try these.

I've heard the critics who say adults should read adult books. Like Madeline, I say, "pooh-pooh".  If you don't have a child in your life, you're missing out. Picture books have the ability to charm and surprise, not to mention the fact that they come with art, really glorious art, in a dizzying array of styles. That's why I want to suggest you find a kid to share my new favorite with, Hermelin the Detective Mouse.

All kinds of things are going on with the residents of Offley Street, but luckily, none of them are escaping the sharp eye of Heremelin, a mouse with a Sherlockian bent. When Hermelin comes -- anonymousely -- to the rescue, the grateful residents wonder, 'who is this mysterious detective?'

It's a fun romp, and both adults and kids will enjoy examining the detailed pictures to try to solve the mystery themselves. So go ahead, read a picture book. You can always say you're getting it for a young friend.

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