From whence comes the phrase "chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs"? Why is Detroit in bankruptcy and NYC always bailed out by American taxpayers? In what way is American culture and fashion a re-play of Regency and Edwardian England?

Warmth of Other Suns book jacketDon't know? Ask Isabel Wilkerson and Jacques Barzun. Respectively, they are the authors of The Warmth of Other Suns and From Dawn to Decadence. This is history that Miz Hackett, your 8th grade teacher, never heard of. Wilkerson, a journalist, and Barzun, an eminent historian, have answered history's questions in a personal way. This is not memorize the dates boredom. No, these are the impolite questions you'd ask your neighbors if you only had the guts about what it's really like where they come from and what they think about it all .
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of our cities in the 20th century as told through the recollections of three individuals who lived "theFrom Dawn to Decadence book jacket great migration." They didn't know that they were part of some historical drama, so the stories are straight shooter talk of folk who weren't afraid to change their destiny in the face of tall odds. Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence is subtitled 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present. He does a remarkable job of connecting how we behave to where that behavior begins. I mean seriously, why is there money for opera and classical music but punk rockers have to work at Fred Meyer to support their art? See page 637 of Barzun for a hint.

I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner!  March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it  helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.

If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.

plane guy

What’s in your carry-on?

Some people fret about clothes, maps, or hotel reservations for an upcoming vacation.  Me?  I’m too busy worrying about what to read.  While ebooks can alleviate this dilemma, I’m still a physical book guy and limited luggage space makes for challenging decisions.

What makes a good book for a getaway?  Easy reading, light subject matter, and a touch of humor are a start.  There’s also a number of factors to consider such as: flight length, travelling companions, and tome portability. Taking these variables into account I’ve put together a short list of potential travel companions.  

What’s your next vacation read?


I recently received a letter from Portland Police requesting an update on my reported stolen car in August 2013. Has your vehicle been recovered? Please tick Y for yes and N for no and return. No, my vehicle has not been recovered, but thanks for asking. 

It’s a good reminder that it is that time of year again. The time of year when you step out of your door to find an empty street. Only it shouldn’t be an empty street—you parked your car there last night...didn’t you? That is the moment it hits you, first with the disbelief, and then with the sickening realization that your car is gone. Missing. Stolen.

Now what? Now you dial 911. Do not phone 911. They will tell you that this is not in fact an emergency. You may respond by saying “Yes, it absolutely is an emergency! My car has been stolen and I am now going to be late for my final presentation.” I would also recommend not saying that, but instead listening to the nice people at 911 and hanging up to dial the local non-emergency number. You will repeat your non-emergency and then you will wait patiently for an officer to arrive so that you can repeat (with grand gestures and possible re-enactment) everything you’ve already said in a slightly less panicky voice. And when asked if there is anything else you can tell the officer about your car and you whimper “only that I love it,” she will manage to crush your hope of ever having it returned when she states “that is unfortunate."

And while that might be true, I did learn many things, like how to file a police report and shop for a used car. Car crime is high here in Oregon, so I thought I would put together a little list to pass the time while you wait for the police to come and the insurance to come through. And if you have not been a victim of car crime, here is some information to help keep it that way.


The Bridge photoIn a landscape of endless grey and flowing clouds, a body is found on a bridge, “dead” center, if you’ll forgive the pun, inconveniently straddling two jurisdictions. Who will take the case, Portland or Vancouver… err wait, make that Denmark or Sweden, all that grey bridginess confused me!  And just to complicate things, what if the body turns out to actually be two bodies… the upper half of one and the lower half of another? Diabolical, I say.

What stands out about The Bridge, more than the color-drained Scandinavian setting and the tricky plot, is character. While at first the two detectives seem to be embodiments of a Danish/Swedish culture clash, they soon become fully realized entities all their own. Saga Norén is a leather pant clad, goatlike (I kid you not, her acting in this role is partly based on a small goat ) Swede with a sharply analytic mind and no social skills. In fact, many watchers believe she has Asperger’s syndrome, though that hasn’t been explicitly stated.  Martin Rohde is a fiery Dane, a devoted yet philandering family man, which leads to him being all kinds of tortured. He’s very perceptive of psychology and emotions, and Saga needs him to help her interpret the confusing world of interpersonal relationships. It’s the contrast between these two and their complex friendship that really makes the series. If you like Nordic noir, you must try this.  After binge viewing the entire first season in the space of two weeks, I found myself wandering the house, responding to questions with Ja, ja, and Nej, and brewing up a steaming hot batch of glögg, the better to view season two with. Trailer is here.

Here's a challenge for you: go to your favorite library. Stand away from the traffic. Take a deep breath, now center yourself. Head for your favorite section, cruise the shelves and pick out a book that you are gonna love. No book lists, reviews or friend recommendations allowed, just your innate good taste and curiosity.

If you have been good, maybe the spirits of literature will reward you with a Captain Alatriste tale:

Behold, a roCaptain Alatriste book jacketllicking tale of heroes with swords, hi-jinks in high places and the demands of honour. Wrap it up in writing as literary as it gets, and Bob's your uncle.  Arturo Perez-Reverte's title character is a native of seventeenth century Spain, the Golden Age. Captain Alatriste is hired to waylay and kill two English heretics as they arrive in Madrid. A career soldier who has been impoverished by an inexplicable outbreak of peace, he agrees. In a dark alley, el capitaine is about to do the deed when his pesky sense of nobility intervenes. He lets them go, pisses off some very big hombres and winds up in the sights of a state that likes to burn non-conformists at the stake. This of course gets him involved with the artists of the day.   The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet book jacket

Lope de Vega. Pedro Calderon de la Barca. Names ring a bell? They would if we were not predisposed to associate literature primarily with Anglo-Saxon names. No matter, join Capitaine Alatriste as he leads us into a new world of art to appreciate and explore; even if it must be done at the point of a fast riposte or parry.

In addition to Captain Alatriste, also try The Cavalier in the Yellow  Doublet  and The Club Dumas, a Perez-Reverte novel that's not part of the series. Enjoy.


picture of the U.S. ConstitutionWhat Is It?

Most Americans know the Constitution is the foundation of American government and law. Many know that James Madison is often recognized as the “Father of the Constitution” and it was written near the end of the 18th century. When it comes to the details, however, Americans are often a bit fuzzy.  Polls consistently show that many—if not most—Americans do not have a firm grasp of the Constitution and the powers of government. For example, surveys from The Annenberg Public Policy Center and The Center for the Constitution both show most Americans lack a firm understanding of the Constitution. Curious about how much you really know? You can test your own Constitutional IQ at Constitution Facts.

Where do I Learn More?

In 2004, Congress set aside September 17th as national Constitution Day, a day in which we, as a nation, can celebrate and learn more about one of our founding documents. There are plenty of resources available to help explain the Constitution and how it shapes the American government, but the trick is finding one that does not have an agenda that may bias the interpretation. In today’s political arena, groups and individuals from across the political spectrum invoke the Constitution as the foundation for their particular point of view. In such a climate, it is important to find authoritative resources that can provide a balanced look at the document, the time and place from which it arose, and its role in government and law through the decades.  

So, where should you start? Of course, reading the Constitution itself is a logical starting point, but some context can be very helpful.  One good resource is the National Constitution Center, a museum chartered by Congress to provide nonpartisan education about the Constitution and the U.S. Congress itself also hosts an annotated version. The National Archives, which houses the original Constitution, has a useful online exhibit dedicated to the Charters of Freedom, which includes the Constitution. Outside of the federal government, Cornell University hosts the Legal Information Institute which provides an explanation for each section. Finally, try one—or more—of the books from the reading list below. After all of this, you will be well equipped to be a responsible citizen for, in the words of James Madison:

 A popular Government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.  –Letter to W. T. Barry (4 August 1822)

In Oregon and many other states, laws can be made directly by the popular vote of citizens. There are two kinds of ballot measures: referendums which are referred from the state legislature to the voters; and initiatives, which are put on the ballot as a result of signature petitions signed by registered voters. These websites can help you learn about the history and future of ballot measures and other methods of direct democracy.

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center

This organization advocates for ballot initiative reform from a progressive perspective, and provides information about ballot measure campaigns nationwide. Find information about current measures on the ballot across the nation, read overviews of election results, find out which states allow voter initiatives (PDF, 10KB), and learn about the rules for how to get an initiative on the ballot in each state.

Ballot Measures Database

Find information about statewide ballot measures from across the U.S., back to Oregon's first referendum authorizing the initiative process in 1902. This database, from the National Conference of State Legislatures, is part of a larger site rich with information about initiatives, referendums, and campaign finance, as well as other information about state elections in the U.S.

Direct Democracy: Initiatives and Referendums

Find answers to your questions about how ballot measures work, and their history in Oregon.

Initiative & Referendum Institute

Are you curious about ballot measures across the US? Find reports about ballot measure results and trends, quick facts about initiatives and referendums, and information about how ballot measures work in the different states.

Our guest reader is the irrepressible Dee Williams, a pioneer in the tiny house movement and author of The Big Tiny. Check out Dee's recommendations and if you'd like more good reading, try the My Librarian service and get a handcrafted list made just for you.

There are a dozen or so books that have taken up permanent residence in my little house… some are practical, reminding me how to frame up a wall or flash a window, while others simply remind me what it means to be human and alive, and dad-gum lucky to have this time on the planet.  Here are a few of my favorites:  

  1. My copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work is dog-eared and stuffed with sticky notes that seem to have multiplied over the years.  It’s got thousands of photos of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns.  This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd writes about.  Lloyd has also recently published Tiny Homes on the Move, and it is equally over-the-top awesome!

  1. Peter Menzel’s Material World (Sierra Club Books) has held me captivated for years.  It includes photos of families and all their worldly possessions sitting out in front of their house (if they have a house), so the reader gets this voyeuristic snap-shot of how a Mongolian family lives compared to that of a family in Guatemala, Serbia, the United States or dozens of other countries.  It’s a pretty humbling comparison to hold in your hands and heart.

  1. I’ve come close to peeing my pants, laughing, as I’ve read and then re-read Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here.  I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky-smallness.

  1. I received Tammy Strobels’ new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail a few months ago, and man-o-man it blew me away.  It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke.  Her iPhone photography project is absolutely inspiring, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.  

  1. Any thing by the poet Billy Collins, Diane Ackerman, or Mary Oliver.

  1. One of the first books I purchased when studying architecture and building was Francis D.K. Ching’s, Building Construction Illustrated. This book has it all, from an introduction to passive solar concepts to the basics of platform framing.  It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

  1. While I was building, Joseph Truini’s book, Building a Shed provided some alternative ways of framing out the overhangs and basic framing for my house.  This book also offers some good advice for preparing a site for building a “ground-bound” house.  All in all, it’s well worth the read!

Whether you get on the waiting list for these books at the library or purchase them, I think it’ll be well worth the investment.  And of course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed. Cheers!  And happy reading!

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.

Do you need information for the current or upcoming elections? Are you looking for your elected officials, campaign headquarters, or county elections divisions? Are you interested in historical information from past elections? The following resources help you find information at the state, city and county levels in Oregon.

League of Women Voters of Oregon

The Oregon chapter of the League of Women Voters publishes non-partisan voters' guides for each election. The League never takes stands on candidates or parties, but they do take stands on issues supported by member agreement and in-depth research. The League also reports on many electoral and political issues of interest to Oregonians.

Multnomah County Elections Division

Oregon Elections Division

Find voter resources and check to see if you're already registered to vote. Track the status of initiatives, find detailed information about candidates and committees, learn about the history of Oregon elections and locate county election offices around the state.

Oregon Follow the Money

Find out who gave money to various political candidates and ballot measure campaigns in Oregon, and see how much money each donor contributed.

Oregonian: Voter Guide

Are you wondering how the candidates in a city, county, or statewide race compare? OregonLive asked candidates from around the state to provide information about themselves and their positions on the issues, and you can compare their answers here.

Portland Elections Division

Find current and historical city election results back to 1905, a list of elected officials from 1913 to the present, and mayors from 1851 to the present. Find out how to become a city candidate, how to file an initiative or referendum petition, or test your knowledge of Portland elections on the trivia page!

Washington Elections Division

Find information about elections, voting, caucuses, candidates and political parties in the state of Washington.


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