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Book Jacket: The Unspeakable and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan DaumWhen a loved one receives bad news at the doctor’s office, you should squeeze their hand and give them a steely glance that says, “I’m here with you.  We’ll beat this thing.”

Throughout this life, you’re supposed to push yourself outside of your comfort zone to achieve real growth and we all want to grow, right?

If you survive a life-threatening event, you’re expected to live each day thereafter with gratitude and heightened perspective.  

It’s these preassigned responses to human experiences that Meghan Daum challenges in her latest collection of personal essays, The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion.  

Covering topics that range from cream of mushroom soup casserole to waking up from a medically induced coma,  Daum’s writing is funny, but not frivolous. I loved her keen recognition of the absurd and her unapologetic honesty. As a fellow Gen Xer, I also relished her many 1970s-80s pop culture references. What I loved most about these essays however, is how moving they were. How they started off so specific and individual and ended with broader truths that left me considering the emotional expectations we have of ourselves.

It’s true that the topics covered in The Unspeakable, aren't the type of thing that people readily talk about.  But they are precisely the type of subjects that lead to the best conversations you have with your closest friend. The kind where you can confess to dreading what you're supposed to be looking forward to; Where you can laugh inappropriately and be completely yourself. Maybe not your most becoming self, but your most human self.

 

What's your favorite book? When you only get to pick one, which one do you say? I work among and with library people, and most of them look anguished when asked this question. "Unfair!" they cry. "There are so many good stories!"

Great Expectations book jacketWell, I agree with them, but I have had a favorite for many years now, and considering my love of science fiction, comics, teen dystopias and such, even I can't explain why it is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. 
 
Have you read it? It's the story of Pip, orphaned at a young age and "raised by hand" thanks to his shrewish sister. One day, when he is in the cemetery sadly looking at his parents' graves, out of the fog comes an escaped convict who grabs him and demands that he bring him some 'wittles' to eat. Frightened, Pip honors this request, and this act of kindness (and fear) starts a plot that wanders up and down the social scale of early 1800s London and environs. 
 
Why do I love it so much? Perhaps the first-person perspective helps; my second favorite of his works is David Copperfield which is also told that way. It might be Dickens' wonderful language, always a thing I need to hear in my head... sometimes I read bits aloud, just for full enjoyment (not usually in public). But I think it is mostly about the characters - each has their own voice, so clearly distinguishable that I'm pretty sure I could tell you who is speaking just by hearing the quote. And I love Mr. Wemmick. He's a minor character, but watching him relax the further he gets from "the office", his whimsy and good cheer returning with proximity to home is delightful and reminds me of one of my pre-library jobs.  
 
There's so much more! A well-drawn picture of the era, commentary on pride and loneliness and love, incarceration and revenge, a look at the social scale and what it takes to climb it (or descend it)... I could go on for longer than I am allowed. Have a look, and then let us know.... what's your favorite book?
 

 

Do you make new year’s resolutions? Or do you eschew the practice?
I admit I can get carried away by dreams of a Shiny New All Improved Me, one that you’d be happy to hang out with. That optimistic me looks at books like Learn Something New Every Day and starts using words like “eschew.”
Optimistic Me looks at books that promise big changes over one year, books like One Year to An Organized Life With Baby. Tired Me thinks that I haven’t really been organized since I became a parent. Tired Me thinks a book like The Sh!t No One Tells You: A 52-week Guide to Surviving your Baby's First Year might have been more helpful.

So I have given up on big resolutions; instead I choose one word to guide me through the year. This year my word is gratitude and I plan to use seven books to help me.  And if I write just three thank you cards to my relatives and remember to be kind to myself when I can’t find the car keys again, I’m going to feel gratitude and maybe a little shiny new and all improved.
 

 

For me, January usually means new beginnings.  How about you?  Does the new year have significance?

I like to declutter the house. I like to decorate. What does that mean? For me it means hanging a few pictures.There’s no lack of framed pictures, but I get nervous about putting them up. So with the new year I like to urge myself to be brave and hang a few up. First I want to hang up my sister’s Neil Armstrong portrait this week and a few others.

I always like to try new recipes too. This year is no different. I tried the Homesick Texan’s carnitas recipe with great success this weekend. My family and friends loved how good the carnitas tasted! While dabbling with these activities books help me dream. Here is a list that might help you dream too.

The Life-changing magic of tidying up bookjacketI am susceptible to the idea of 'organize your home = organize your mind', so with all the buzz around The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I had to try it. Though the author, Marie Kondo, had me at "life-changing", the subtitle is equally intriguing: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I was thinking about the path to beauty through study and simplicity - bonsai, sushi, ikebana. Would there be an equally methodical approach to tidying?

The verdict? There are some eye-opening and sustainable tips here, including storing everything, including clothes, vertically (don't worry, she'll tell you how.) In light of our consumer culture and the rise of movements like Buy Nothing Day, the author's advice about keeping or buying 'only those things that spark joy' makes sense; um...well, except for underpants...and insurance...and, oh, never mind. 

But the bits about the crushed and defeated clothes on the bottom of the pile and the sadness and despair of socks that have been tied in knots? Well, sorry, I'm not buying the sentient clothing argument. But, if you're interested in a peaceful and organized home, this book is well worth a read. If you adopt Kondo's methods, you'll probably enjoy a more restful space - that is, if you can convince the rest of your family to play by the same rules!

I love a good romance and I recently discovered a fun romance series written for adult learners. It led me to explore the world of books for adults learning to read.

Are you looking for books for teens or adults who need simpler texts? If you search the catalog using the phrase “readers for new literates,you’ll get a long list of books at different reading levels.  If you’re looking for levels, choose a title. For instance, when I clicked on the title Water for Life, I looked for “Series that include this title” and then I could link to all the books in the Penguin active reading series or just the Penguin active reading level 2.

You can find  versions of English and American classics or modern fiction. You can find biographies, true crime, and a book written in both Somali and EnglishWe have horror stories as well as romance. 

Back to that romance series. All of the books in the series feature photographs which add a lot of meaning to the stories about long time love and new love. My personal favorite is The Big Goof:  Jan loves Bill. Will Bill love Jan? It makes me laugh every time I read it. Everyone I’ve shared it with has noticed different things in the photos which deepened the story. 

If you’d like a customized list of books, you can ask us at My LibrarianWe’re happy to help you find good reading. Here’s a list I made that features books and poetry for a romance fan. Let’s champion reading together! Thanks.


 


 

I solemnly swear on a stack of unopened self-help books I’ll do something reflective, meditate, or whatever such a thing suggests. In the meantime, they can keep my bookshelf looking thoughtful…

nerdist book coverHowever, when things got rough a while back, the right book appeared at the right time. Speaking to my inner skeptic, pop culture loving self, and former Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) player,  Chris Hardwick’s The Nerdist Way offered the advice I was looking for in my time of rediscovery. Unlike other books promising personal growth, the nerdist way takes a humorous look at discovering one’s strengths and weaknesses, improving on both through, well, nerdy excercises (literally and figuratively).

Whether it’s identifying who you are, improving your physical prowess, or finding the motivation to seeing  projects through, there’s something for everyone’s inner nerd. Me? I Made a character sheet ala D&D with Hardwick’s advice and found myself in a coffee shop filling in experience points of my goals with colored pencils.


Being nerdy never felt so good.

Congo Refugee Finds Refuge in North Portland Library

by Donna Childs

First, a bit of background, from Medical Teams International:Picture of Volunteer Elise Ekombele

Congo’s long-standing conflict has been called the world’s deadliest dispute since World War II. Aid organizations estimate that nearly 5.4 million people have died in this decade-long conflict, nearly half of them children. An additional one million people have been displaced by the ongoing violence in the Congo.

One of those displaced by these brutal wars is North Portland Library volunteer Elise Ekombele. Born and raised in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Elise was forced to flee from her home to a Senegalese refugee camp with her son. Through a US refugee resettlement program, they were sent far away to Portland, Oregon, speaking no English and knowing nothing about American culture. Despite the difficulty of learning another language and culture, Elise likes it here because it is so much safer and more peaceful.

As she has learned English, Elise has had several jobs in Portland. A French speaker (the official language of Congo), she first worked at the Portland French School. She has also held positions at various organizations that assist immigrants, such as IRCO and Catholic Charities, and is currently looking for work. Although Elise has made much progress learning English and adapting to her new life in America, she says it is her son who “has become a real American.” He graduated from the University of Montana where he was an accomplished athlete scouted by the NFL.

Elise has been volunteering at North Portland every Thursday for the past year. According to staff, she is very conscientious about her volunteer duties as a Branch Assistant. She also volunteers with her church, helping to distribute food boxes to those in need.

To improve her English, Elise participates weekly in two different language programs at North Portland. The Talk Time program provides an opportunity for non-native speakers from around the world to practice English in an informal, conversational environment. She also participates in l’Echange, a French-English language exchange program for native English speakers who want to practice French and native French speakers who want to practice English. Elise has found a perfect balance of helping the library and benefiting from library services and programs.


A Few Facts About Elise

Home library: North Portland Library

Most influential book: A biography of Angela Davis (title unknown)

Favorite book from childhood: A novel written by a French woman about Chinese women (title unknown)

Favorite section of the library: Biographies and self improvement books, new ideas! 

E-reader or paper? Paper

Favorite place to read: In a chair in the bedroom

See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.

The Art of Asking audio book coverWhen it comes to audiobooks, there are some publications in which the experience of the book is somewhat lost without the visual or tactile experience of a book. There are others that can equally be enjoyed by either the the listener or the reader. And then there are those rare audiobooks that are enriched by the listening experience. Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking, is one of those uniquely luscious listening experiences. Amanda delivers her words from her mouth to your ears. There is something in the authenticity of  listening to an individual tell their story in their own voice that makes the reader (or listener) a believer. The added bonus to The Art of Asking audiobook is the music peppered throughout.

I admit that I knew very little about Amanda Palmer before listening to her audiobook. A couple of years ago, she came to Portland for a small solo show at the Independent Publishing Resource Center (if you don’t know about IPRC, check them out). Some of my friends were so excited for the show, that for weeks beforehand it seemed like that was all they were talking about. I wasn't a fan of her music. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I hadn't really been exposed. After hearing her stories and her experiences as a musician and an artist, she has gained a lifelong fan in me.

The Art of Asking was birthed from Amanda’s popular TED Talk of the same name. The book’s title might lead you to think that this is a self-help book, but really it’s more of a memoir than a how-to. From her life as a living statue, as a punk cabaret musician and artist, a wife, a friend, a community leader and collaborator, and crowdfunding wizard;  Amanda’s magic is in her ability to be vulnerable and to graciously ask for, and receive help. Listening to her audiobook, I felt like she was not just sharing her story, but her secret recipe, her magic.

 

 

 

The Kept bookjacketDuring these cold days of winter, what could be better than finding a book that takes you on a journey through the bleak days of a winter of 1897? The Kept is the perfect book to hunker down with while the wind howls and the threat of snow is upon us.

This is the story of Elspeth Howell, beginning on the day she returns home from her midwifery duties to her isolated farmstead in upstate New York and finds her husband and 5 of her children murdered. Only her 12-year-old son, Caleb, has survived. The book traces their journey to find the men who committed that horrific deed. As the journey progresses, so also do we slowly learn much of what has brought them to this point in their lives.

Scott has written a beautiful, bleak, extraordinary story. It's the kind of book that made me want to rush through my workday, wake up early in the morning, and stay up late to read. On the next blustery day, pick up The Kept and take a journey through the snow to Watersbridge, New York with James Scott.

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