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Picture this: Death, a pudgy, half-naked bumpkin sporting only a single buck tooth and a leather codpiece, comes rolling into the small town of Shuckton on his motorized bicycle and delivers a beat down against the mayor via television remote control before snorting up his soul through a dustbuster - and that’s just in the first ten minutes.

Death Comes to Town is eight half-hour episodes of the silliest comedy hi-jinx that The Kids in the Hall have ever produced. Conceived by Bruce McCulloch after the Kids re-united in 2008 for a comedy tour, Death’s murder mystery plot is little more than a thin excuse for the troupe to breathe life into new and irrepressible characters. There’s Marnie, the terminally forgetful pizza delivery lady who calls her condition “the fuzzies”; Dusty Diamond, the town coroner who harbors an unconventional love for the dead mayor; “Crim” the local career criminal; and RAMPOP, the mayor’s adopted “special” son who speaks only in chirps and whirrs and sees all adults as large animated butterflies. My personal favorite? Inept defense attorney Sam Murray and his decrepit, perpetually dying 32 year-old cat, Buttonhole. If you don’t laugh until you weep at the scenes where Sam takes Buttonhole to the vet, you may need to upgrade your humor software.

Filled with plenty of the satire, sight gags and salacious humor that the Kids are famous for, this four hour mini-series can be knocked out in one glorious sitting and is best enjoyed with some gravel and grubs or eggs straight from the body (why yes, there is even a Chicken Lady cameo). Don’t you want to spend some time with Death tonight?

If you're like me you're always meaning to read more poetry. And not just because of that vague, niggling sense that poetry is good for you, but because the experience of reading a poem is immersive. I find that reading and then re-reading a good poem puts me in a meditative state as I try, on my first read, to skate along the surface, and then on subsequent reads, to find a deeper meaning. I'm not that practiced at it, and I sometimes wish that I had knowledgeable friends with whom to discuss poetry, a poetry club, if you will.

With that idea in mind, we're launching a Facebook program this year. It's called 12 by 12 in 2012. Each month we'll post a poem online and Special Collections Librarian, Jim Carmin, will hang out with the poet and you, entertaining your questions and having a lively discussion. Our first event will take place on Monday, January 23rd from 2-3pm with Matthew Dickman. We wanted to give you a head start on Matthew's poem, and so we are posting it here. Enjoy, and please join us on Monday to chat with Matthew and Jim, if you have a chance. (Please note that you will have to 'like' Multnomah County Library's Facebook page to participate in the chat.)

BOUGAINVILLEA

I like the inner lives of the silverware; the fork,

the spoon, the knife. I appreciate

how they each have a different reference toward

god, how the fork is Muslim,

the spoon, like a stone, is Buddhist, how the knife

is Roman Catholic—

always worried, always having

a hard time forgiving people, the knife kneeling

down in Ireland and Africa. In San Francisco

my lamp has become a temple.

Every time I turn it on the light moves out across

the room like a meditation,

like a bell or a robe

the way it covers everything and doesn’t want to

kill. Light is the husband

and everything it touches is its bride, the floor,

the wall, my body,

the bronze installation in Hayes Valley

its bride. The lamp chants

and my clothes, my hat thrown in the corner of the room

chants back: nothing, nothing. In my next life

I’ll have no fingers, no toes. In my next life I’ll be

a bougainvillea. A Buddhist monk

will wake up early on Sunday morning and not be a fork

and not be a knife, he will look down at the girl

sleeping in his bed like a body of water,

he will think about how

he lifted her up like a spoon to his mouth all night, and walk

into the courtyard and pick up the shears

and cut a little part of me, and lie me down next to her mouth

which is breathing heavily and changing all the dark in the room to light.

When Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey came out I read the review and decided it wasn't really going to be to my tastes. Too violent, too scary, too gory... not my thing at all. Then I picked it up on a whim. I needed something new to read and was in the right mood to try something that might be pretty gross. Turns out I was wrong to reject it the first time. I loved it. Sure it's violent and it's gory, but it isn't actually scary. Instead the books are really pretty funny -- in a sick, twisted, puerile and violent way -- but they are surprisingly humorous.

Stark was a callow young magician who loved his girlfriend and had a few daddy issues. Then he got betrayed by his buddies and cast into Hell. Alive. There he spent eleven years getting tortured in unspeakable ways while killing monsters and demons in an arena to amuse other monsters and demons, all to survive a little longer. Now he's back on earth, has a few anger management issues, and wants revenge, in part for being betrayed and in part for his murdered love. While he's getting his revenge he earns a buck freelancing as a monster killer for an angel and as a bodyguard for Lucifer when he's on earth. The only side Stark is on is his own.

These are nice light books in their own blood-and-unspeakable-gunk-soaked way. The books are a very fast read. I also enjoyed book three, Aloha from Hell: A Sandman Slim Novel. I hope there's a fourth book in the works!

Is your iPod at capacity? Mine is. And when I download songs to my computer, I never do anything with them. Add to that a shed crammed with CDs I can’t bear to part with, and it’s too much music to handle.

Library CDs broke my cycle of pointless song-hoarding. The music they hold is ephemeral, passing through my life like fragrance. Newly liberated, I scaled way back on listening to my iPod. Overuse was making me numb to its charms. These days, I only listen to it while walking on lunch break. Reducing iPod visitation hours has made me fall in love with a few bands all over again.

Like The Misfits and the anthology Static Age. It’s a collection of songs they recorded during graveyard hours in New Jersey, but it plays like tinny transmissions from a cave in outer space. Cruddy recording never sounded so right, and neither did the words “Her omelette of disease awaits your noontime meal/ Her mouth of germicide seducing all your glands.”  It was 1978, and they were young enough to pull off lyrics like that with punky-sincere sneers. In my book, Static Age is all the Misfits you need.

I look like a mom and a library nerd lady who wears knitted ponchos, because I am. But on my walks I am listening to THE MISFITS, and therefore a bad-ass! And no one knows, unless I am pumping my fist and muttering some ridiculous mock-Satanic chant along with Glenn Danzig under my breath.

Today on my awesome bad-ass walk I saw a crusty old dude walking from the opposite direction. He had a puffy coat and a black eye and carried a little boom box like the one our youth librarian has in the meeting room. I paused my Misfits and heard Sam Cooke’s velvety voice blasting out of the boom box. I smiled at the puffy coat guy and he smiled back. And for a happy moment, our private music worlds intersected.

Do you have a case of the winter blahs? The sparkle of the holidays has passed, but the winter weather remains. Spring and summer seem a long way off, know what I mean? Well, never fear. Cue Fred Astaire! You can't go wrong with his singing and dancing charms. Check out the film A Damsel in Distress, based on the novel by P.G. Wodehouse and recently released on DVD. This lighthearted movie is heavy on talent, featuring the music of George & Ira Gershwin and co-starring George Burns and Gracie Allen. You won't find Ginger Rogers in this one, but the story involves the usual plot suspects (romantic complications, mistaken identities, etc). And the musical numbers are fantastic! An Oscar-winning fun house routine features Astaire, Burns, and Allen dancing on and around turntables, tunnels, slides, and distorting mirrors. A Gershwin gem, "Nice Work if You Can Get it", highlights Astaire's incredible rhythm and musicality, both as a dancer and as a drummer.

If you'd like to learn more about Fred Astaire, check out his engaging autobiography Steps in Time. In his conversational, easy-going style, Astaire relates the story of his life and work, at least up to 1959 when the book was first published. In a more recent publication, Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz, author Todd Decker describes Astaire's contributions to the art of jazz music and his collaborations with a variety of musicians, arrangers, and performers.

Sit back, relax, and let Fred Astaire tap your troubles away!

Whenever some pundit or book reviewer decries Young Adult or teen books as somehow not as good as books for adults, don't believe them. (This happens regularly, usually when they think they are talking about an exception to the rule.) I find there are many teen books that are complex, extremely well-written, and compelling, and many books aimed at adults that are simplistic and puerile. So if you're looking for a quick but satisfying read, check out that YA section.

I'm sure I'll write about many YA books for adults in the future, but today I will focus on a few historical fiction books.

The Pox Party (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol. 1) by M.T. Anderson. A boy raised as a science experiment is given a classical education and sheltered from his status as a slave in New England in the 1760s. Blinders are removed and a pox party changes things. This book is not for the casual reader...you do have to like that 18th century baroque style.

Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I'm sure you knew our fledgling nation's capitol was in Philadelphia in 1793. Did you also know a yellow fever epidemic claimed around a fifth of the residents? There would have been more if many hadn't fled the city, including George Washington. Protagonist Mattie Cook falls ill despite fleeing, but survives to return to the devastated city.

The Land by Mildred D Taylor. The son of a white landowner and a former slave, Paul Logan is openly acknowledged by his father in post Civil War Georgia. Paul works hard to acquire land of his own. Needless to say, he faces many obstacles. The author draws upon true family stories for her well-crafted books on the Logan family.

A few summers ago, I went to visit some cousins who live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which is essentially THE place to be if you're Amish. I tried not to stare, but ultimately failed because everything about the Amish was so different from my experience and totally fascinating. We went to a horse auction run by the Amish, parked the minivan next to a horse-drawn wagon, passed horse and buggies and a sort of bicycle/scooter mashup that was one young man's mode of transportation, and shopped at Good's which is kind of like an Amish Wal-Mart. I finally got the inside scoop about these people when I recently read Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler.

Ira now lives in Lancaster Co, PA, but was born into a large family in an Old Order Amish community in Aylmer, Ontario (who knew there were Amish in Canada? Obviously not me.). Wagler talks about the customs, rules and differences among Amish communities (they can be pretty wide) and what it was like for him growing up in several of them. We're let in on life at an Amish school, we go to an Amish wedding and church services, we see communities work well, and sometimes not so well, and we experience the pain and struggles of Amish youth who don't fit the mold. Wagler was one of those youth. He first left when he was a teenager, and then came back and left several more times before finally leaving for good. The writing is sometimes a bit overwrought, but the feeling of being let in on a secret was certainly worth it.

One City prospers
One City falters and fades
Chosen perceptions

The City and the City by China Miéville

I just finished Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. He self-published his series as e-books and they did well enough that Orbit books picked it up to reprint in three omnibus volumes. This just doesn't happen very often so I was intrigued. Generally speaking I will turn my little nose up at anything self published. There's a lot of junk out there and some of the stuff I've read in the past... What has been seen cannot be unseen and I've become jaded enough to insist that an editor has been between me and that slush pile of badly written horrors. Sullivan is one of those occasional exceptions to the rule. 

This isn't high brow literary fantasy by any stretch of the imagination. The two main characters are introduced with a scene that's truly hilarious if you read lots of epic fantasy. Let's not talk about how late I stayed up finishing the book one night that I was home alone and didn't have that external voice of reason telling me it was past time to turn off the light and go to sleep. (Just 100 odd pages left... OK, closer to 200. Won't take me more that an hour... or two....) The author takes all the grand old tropes and cliches and goes to town with them. The heroes are scoundrels with hearts of gold. The villains all but twirl their mustaches and laugh manically. If there had been a chandelier in this book I'm certain somebody would have swung from it. So yes, the book was flawed. I've certainly read better books and I can see why editors passed it by initially. But it's just so darn much *fun* that I found myself forgiving every flaw.

It reminded me of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. You know it's not going to be 'good' but when Captain Jack Sparrow first staggers onto the screen you can't quite help but smile.

You know how sometimes a book crosses your path and you know absolutely nothing about it, but the cover just makes you want to pick it up? This is exactly what happened to me with The Family Fang. I was instantly intrigued by the edgy cover design, which reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events meets The Royal Tenenbaums meets Bored to Death. A quick scan of the back cover noted a lovely blurb from Anne Patchett. A poll of my literary go-to-friends elicited the appropriate amount of cooing. “Oooh, The Family Fang. Supposed to be good. Haven’t read it yet. On my list.”

I excitedly checked it out with only a small rock in my gut, because I have to say, sometimes these key ingredients -- beautiful jacket cover plus glowing review by a fave author plus friend praise -- don’t always add up to be a win win in the incredible book department. Like any recipe you try for the first time, something can go horribly wrong, which, as a self-described heartless reader I usually know by page 15. So imagine my delight when I opened The Family Fang and was immediately hooked.

What a beautifully written, intriguing first novel from Alex Award winner Kevin Wilson. Here the author has taken the idea of performance art and turned it on its head by asking what happens when two self-obsessed artists have children. Why, they turn their children into an art project of course! Annie and Buster Fang (known only as Child A and Child B) spend their entire childhood this way. Fast forward 15 years. The Fang parents have suddenly disappeared. As their grown (and now estranged) children try to figure out what happened, all the while they ask themselves if this is just another one of their parents’ elaborate artistic events, or are the Fangs really dead? As a reader you will find yourself pleasantly on the edge of your seat until the last bizarre and wonderful moments unfold.

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