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I recently got a Fitbit, a wonderful little device that tracks how much you walk, and I’ve become a little bit obsessed with seeing how many steps I can walk every single day. I’m not quite as obsessed as David Sedaris is about walking (or maybe it’s because I don’t have nine hours every day to devote to walking the way Sedaris says he does). I know that I’m somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive scale but I really do try not to let my slight ocd tendencies affect those around me (though my husband, when he’s washing the dishes as I’m hovering about in the kitchen cleaning up after him, might disagree with that last statement).

The Man Who Couldn't Stop bookjacketDavid Adam does suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. For the past 20 years, he has had an irrational fear of contracting AIDS, and in an effort to understand this, he has written The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought. It’s my favorite kind of memoir - personal, poignant, heartbreaking stories of the author mixed with everything I’ve ever wanted to know about a bigger subject. This is an immensely down-to-earth, accessible book about a difficult subject. I came away with an understanding of the definition of OCD, the possible causes, the treatment of OCD and a huge amount of empathy for all those that lean towards obsessive- compulsive disorder.


 

RisePlanetofApesDVDImage
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes attempted (somewhat clunkily in retrospect) to speak to the politics of its time - particularly the ongoing civil rights struggles in the US.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes - not so much remake as re-imagined prequel - more cannily embodies and plays out a more viscerally destructive politics:  the refusal of cooperation - and even love - in a world structurally predicated on species difference and exploitation.  Ape leader Caesar's incremental "NOs" finalize in a rejection of the possibility of love between masters (humans) and captors (apes) but this series of refusals also begins to construct a revolutionary solidarity among the apes.  

Director Rupert Wyatt does a nice job of projecting the film's human personalities as monochromatic 'types' (including James Franco's protagonist - perhaps the most sympathetic of the humans, but also perhaps the most capable of betrayal), while drawing out layers of personality, depth and passion in the apes (who - apart from Caesar - hardly speak).  The film's final battle along the Golden Gate Bridge is cinematically stunning but also politically inspired as a representation of strategic resistance.  Rise's release coincided with the summer 2011 UK riots and Occupy's global eruption was just around the corner.  Rise is certainly special in that it reflected and challenged its historical moment - but it is Caesar's equation of "home" with permanent revolution that underscores the truly radical power of the film.





 
I am secure enough in my nerdiness to admit that I once owned a copy of that famous poster Fox Mulder had on the wall of his basement cubicle in the X-Files. The one with the spaceship and the words "I Want To Believe." (I also had Mulder and Scully action figures and a pet cockatiel who whistled the first measures of the show's theme song in an endless loop, but we don't need to go there.)
 
If you've never seen the show, all you need to know is that Mulder believes in aliens and Scully is Catholic. I gravitate to characters grappling with religion in any form because the complexity of human belief brings out the most compelling stories. (And if those stories involve government conspiracies and alien-human hybrids, all the better.) 
 
Religion can show us the very best and worst in human nature. It's sort of like a church basement potluck--the good and the terrible gathered together on one table, saints and serial killers ready to mingle like so much green jello salad and funeral potatoes.
 
A Song for Issy Bradley book jacketA Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray is the story of what is lost and found in the wake of the unexpected death of a child. When Claire loses her youngest child to a sudden illness, faith is also lost. The Bradley family revolves around their Mormon church membership but Issy's death cancels gravity. The orderly planetary orbits of each family member spin out of control in their own unique ways. Religion acts as both anchor and buoy as the family struggles with Claire's behavior in the midst of their own turbulent journeys. Can they catch her before the tide of her bottomless ocean of grief washes her permanently to sea?
 
What if you lived in seventh century Britain, caught between two belief systems? The power of the old gods is on the wane as the title character in Nicola Griffith's Hild manages to make her way as the seer of her uncle, Edwin of Northumbria, in a politicallHomeland dvd covery fractious time; Christianity is rising and war between small kingdoms is always on the horizon. The brutal and fascinating Anglo-Saxon world comes to life in this illuminating and painstakingly researched novel about the woman who eventually becomes St. Hilda of Whitby.
 
If you've not yet watched the television series Homeland, I will warn you now that it is addictive. It is a political thriller but what I found most fascinating in the first three seasons of the show is how the fate of one character and those around him is so directly tied to his religion--a faith missed by government surveillance and undetected by family and friends. It is faith that both saves and condemns, and faith that raises more questions than it answers.
 
The truth is out there.

The letter D in ornamental scripto you like beautiful scenery? Beer? Constant, simmering warfare? Then you need to visit Anglo-Saxon England!Cover of Hild by Nicola Griffith

I fell in love with this setting after reading Nicola Griffith’s recent novel, Hild. It follows the coming-of-age of a young girl named Hild, the seer to Edwin Overking, an Anglisc lord in the early 7th century. She is continually called upon to predict the future of her kingdom, with the constant threat of death should she ever guess wrong.

Hild is a beautifully written book, with characters that take up residence in your mind, but it was the setting that really blew me away. Anglo-Saxon England is a combination of cultures: there are the ruling Anglo-Saxons who began migrating from Germany and Denmark in the 4th centuries, but there are also the Irish, the Welsh, the Picts, and the Christian missionaries. There are ruins of the Roman civilization that had only recently spread across the island. The people speak multiple languages, and they worship multiple gods.

Of course I can’t actually visit England circa 1,400 years ago (although someday I would like to visit the land that it has become!) but there are plenty of books to take me there. Here are some of the best reads that I could find for booking a longship voyage back through time to the England of the Anglisc.

With spring just around the corner, my mind just naturally turns to two things -- birds and music!

Picture of Exotic birdsComposers have long been inspired by nature and probably nothing has provided more inspiration than the music of bird calls and songs. There are countless instances of the sounds of birds being imitated in music -- The forest bird in Wagner's Siegfried, The cry of the falcon in Richard Strauss' Die Frau ohne Schatten, or the cuckoo in Beethoven's sixth symphony, to name just a few. But what I'm talking about here are pieces that are completely about birds.

Like the birds that inspire the music, the pieces come in all shapes and sizes. They can be small, like El colibri (The hummingbird) -- written for solo guitar by the Argentine composer Julio Sagreras -- which runs just over a minute. They can be large like French composer Olivier Messiaen's Catalogue d'oiseaux -- a suite for piano which takes about 2 1/2 hours when played in its entirety. Or they can be moderate in size, like Italian composer Ottorino Respighi's The Birds (Gli uccelli) -- perhaps the most famous bird music of all time.

My personal favorite? It has to be Exotic Birds (Oiseaux exotiques) -- again by the bird-obsessed Olivier Messiaen. Written for chamber orchestra and running about 15 minutes in length, it's noisy, colorful, and chaotic -- pretty much what you might expect from a large gathering of winged creatures! You can get a good taste by watching the sampling in the video below.

And for recordings available from the library, check these out!

Call out to all you Conspiracy Theorists (yes, all y'all on the down low too). Here's a great follow-up to Santa Olivia by Jacquelyn Carey.

Imagine a world where a spell of forgetfulness sits like a fog over everything, rendering the past incomprehensible; where an ancient knight in rusted armour swears to defeat a dragon; where two people set out on a quest through a country divided by clan loyalties and war.

The surprise is that I am not talking about George R.R. Martin or Tolkien, but Kazuo Ishiguro, the author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

Ishiguro sets The Buried Giant in an age of decline. The idealistic reign of King Arthur is a distant memory and chivalry is, if not dead, then mostly gone. An elderly couple makes their way across a ravaged landscape on a quest to reclaim something important but long forgotten. Though Axl and Beatrice are old, they are naive, having subsisted in a hovel in the ground with their fellow villagers for as far back as they can remember, which is not very far. Their journey is one of children in a strange world, wide-eyed at the ways of outsiders. As they travel, bits and pieces of their past lives come back to them. These memories fortify them sometimes, and burden them at others.

Ishiguro has crafted an odd and beautiful combination of adventure and psychological drama. It's also a study of love, forgetfulness and forgiveness, companionship and death. It's Joseph Campbell's the hero's journey redone in a totally unexpected way. This book will very likely find its way to my top picks for 2015.

Aasha Benton

Painting by Aasha Benton

Aasha's story goes a bit like this. She graduates from college in 2012 and moves back to her hometown right here in Portland, Oregon. She discovers a love for art. So, she begins to paint. Taking inspiration from various periods in Black history and soul music, she creates incredible, yet simple, works. Her paintings are fun, colorful, serious and obtainable. Best of all? You can check them out here!

Further Exploration: http://artbyaasha.tumblr.com/

Available at Multnomah County Library: http://multcolib.bibliocommons.com/item/show/1299586068

 

 

Do you stay up at night wondering how much longer the North Korean government can survive or how much their average citizen knows about the world beyond their borders? I do.

It’s not that it's unusual for my reading habits to snowball into mini research projects. The perfect puff pastry, Mormon fundamentalism, abstract expressionists- they’ve all occupied months of my life. But who would want to read deeply about a loathsome totalitarian state with an abhorrent human rights record and a comically absurd dynasty of dictators?  Well I would for one and certainly I'm not alone. Whether you're interested in global issues, survivor stories or political satire that crosses over into reality, when it comes to North Korea, there are countless avenues to explore.

If like me, you're curious to understand what life is like in one of the world's most closed off countries, start with Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.  Her book follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years, providing an extraordinarily comprehensive view of the country and a great meshing of politics and history with moving personal stories.  It also happens to come highly recommended by David Sedaris.

Looking for a little more insight into the Kim family regime? Check out A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress and A Young Dictator’s Rise to Power. It's a first book by film producer Paul Fischer and among the most suspenseful true life thrillers I’ve ever read.  Long as it is, the title only begins to suggest the unbelievable journey this surreal story takes you on. 

Curious to know more? Check out this list for more recommended books and documentaries to further your understanding of North Korea.

 

Culturally Creative lunch boxes and water bottles

Photo Credit: http://shop.soapboxtheory.com/

Source:  Kayin Talton and Cleo Davis

Kayin Talton and Cleo Davis are a husband and wife designing force. If you can think of it, they can create it! Recently named curators of the Williams Art Project, their talent and ingenuity will soon be displayed for all to see and enjoy.  When they aren’t creating for the Williams Art Project, you can find them at 3940-3944 N Williams Ave. for all of your designing needs. Or, you can find them online where they specialize in being “culturally creative.” In their own words, “As part of the Honoring the African American History of N Williams Art Project, we are combining stories, memories, and locations to create what is essentially a walk through mid-century life in Portland’s largest Black community. Follow us on twitter @blkwilliamspdx for updates on the project, and share your stories using #blackwilliamspdx.”  Be sure to join in!

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