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Tama describes the story of a woman who wants to reconcile with her dad, a mountain man who's not that interested in maintaining a relationship. Sound compelling? Find Gone Feral: Tracking my dad through the wild and the author's first book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer at a library near you.

 

 

2014 is notable for at least two anniversaries:  World War I began 100 years ago and the last of the Baby Boomers turn fifty.  That means there are a whole lotta women going through the change right now.  Sandra Tsing Loh and Annabelle Gurwitch both live in California, both are in the performing arts, both turned 50 about the same time, both went through menopause at the same time their children were going through puberty, and both have at least one aging parent who needs help.  And now, both have written about the whole sad, sorry and sometimes unexpectedly humorous experience in books published in guess what year - 2014!

The Madwoman in the Volvo book jacketThe Madwoman in the Volvo: My year of raging hormones starts with Loh's ill-advised extra-marital affair at 46 that left her living in a dumpy apartment without either her husband or her lover.  Things can only look up, right?  Whoa nelly!  Watch out for year 49!  Failed happiness projects, attempted weight loss, dealing with dad and his decades younger, but more decrepit wife, are just some of the joys Loh experiences in the lead up to 50.  And yet (spoiler alert!), she survives and lives to tell the tale in a very funny fashion.
 
I See You Made an Effort: Compliments, indignities, and survival stories from the edge of fifty is a series of personal essays on Gurwitch'sI See You Made an Effort book jacket mid-life experience.  While she doesn't have an affair, she does dream about men who are decades younger than she is.  Gurwitch also talks about the reality of being fifty in show business (yes, I can play a medieval crone), the challenges of being the menopausal mother of an adolescent son, and the fun of lying awake at 4:00 a.m. with no hope of sleep.
 
So for all you Boomers born in 1964:  Fifty - bring it on!  And good luck.

Raising my son, Elan, has been a truly educational experience (also fun, scary, hard, or easy depending on what stage he and I happened to be in at the time). In some ways, he has qualities that remind me of myself and there are other parts that seem directly attributable to his dad. And then there are other things that are totally and uniquely his. One of those is his love of performing and specifically making hip hop music. I am simply in awe of Elan - he has been able to "work a crowd" since he was in middle school and his live performances have only become more and more inspiring over the years.

I’ve been asked to find books on hip-hop for numerous patrons so I decided to have a list of the best books on this subject ready for the next time I’m asked.  I thought Elan would be my best source for coming up with a definitive list from the MCL catalog and in the course of formulating his list, he also wrote a brief essay on how he developed his love for hip-hop music.

Guest blogger Elan: From casual listener to hip-hop addict

When I first began listening to hip-hop at around eight, my drive may have been to distance myself from my parents’ music: The Beatles, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, etc. My classmates were discovering that the radio contained a station that played exactly what they wanted - the mainstream rap of the late 90s. These were good days.

Blazing Arrow It cannot be understated how much of an effect our peers truly have during adolescence. Three of my friends were making the leap from listener to participant and between rapping, beat making, and DJing, they had half the elements of hip-hop covered by sixth grade. A pivotal album was heard that year, Blazing Arrow, by the duo Blackalicious. We were blown away by the originality, the musicality of Chief Excel's production, Gift of Gab's insane lyrical dexterity, and the cohesiveness of the album itself. After only a single listen, we knew that contributing to this art form would be a life-long love affair.

In high school, making music became our escape from the mundane curriculum we were subjected to. It became my only creative outlet as we began putting on local shows for Can't Stop Won't Stopour peers. Although I was actively seeking out new artists to enjoy and learn from, my hip-hop education came from Vursatyl and Rev. Shines of the Portland hip-hop trio, The Lifesavas. Vursatyl and Shines held an afterschool class at Jefferson High School called You Must Learn. That's when I began studying the rich history of this culture. Books like Jeff Chang’s, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, and the writings of Michael Eric Dyson and Tricia Rose, helped me realize how BIG this thing we call Hip-Hop truly is.

These days I’m still making music, still reading, still putting on local shows, and I’m harnessing hip-hop as a tool for education and empowerment through my work with the non-profit, The Morpheus Youth Project.

If you’d like to do your own exploration of hip-hop culture, check out some of these books.

Salt by Mark Kurlansky is about the history and uses of salt. Today salt is cheap and easy to buy, but it was not always so. The ancient Chinese developed salt production and financed much of their government through salt taxes. If you can control salt, you can control much more. The British had a firm grip on India's salt which is why Gandhi staged a salt march as a protest. If you like history and politics you will enjoy Salt.
 
Salt book jacketSalt can do much more than make food taste good, it also can preserve food. Before the 20th century and refrigeration, salt was widely used as a preservative.  The history of salted food was my favorite part of the book. Read Salt and you may find yourself making sauerkraut.
 
Salt production is fascinating. It was needed, rare and valuable. Its value led to many creative methods of production. Most of the methods involve evaporation. Some salt is mined. Many different ways have been used over time. The end result is many kinds of salt for different uses. There is more to salt than table or sea salt.
 
This is a fun and enjoyable book. It has remained popular for over 10 years. The reason I waited so long to read it was I never thought salt could be interesting.

On July 19, 1984, about 65 years after women were granted the right to vote, Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be nominated by a major party to run for Vice President of the United States.  It was just my second opportunity to vote for president, and what I remember most about her speech was the faces of the women listening to her. This was historic, we (women) had arrived and we were not looking back! She lost, of course, in a landslide. It took another 24 years for it to happen again: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin ran for Vice President, and – while she garnered over 20-million more votes than Ferraro – she lost too.  In 2008, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton won more presidential primaries than any woman before her, but ended up on the losing side as well. Many political observers and pundits believe she will run for president again in 2016. Or maybe there’s someone else. Fourth time’s the charm?

Ferraro, Palin and Clinton are not the only women who have sought the office of president or vice president. Oregon’s own suffragist, Abigail Scott Duniway, was nominated by the Equal Rights Party in 1884, but she declined to run. In an earlier version of the Equal Rights Party, suffragist, journalist, and “free love” advocate Victoria Woodhull was the first woman ever to run for president in 1872. There was also the 1940 candidacy of the comedienne Gracie Allen, who ran for the Surprise Party. She earned about 42,000 votes; of the 32 women who ran for the office in the next 72 years, her vote total comes in sixth.

Let’s remember a few other women, whose candidacies we can take a little more seriously. There’s Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, who ran in 1972; Margaret Chase Smith, the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate, who ran in 1964; Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist, who was Ralph Nader’s Green Party running mate in 1996 and 2000 (in the latter election, she earned nearly 3,000,000 votes); and Cindy Sheehan, who protested the Iraq War following the death of her son, and ran as Roseanne Barr’s vice president for the Peace and Freedom Party in 2012. Then there’s the most recent woman to seek the nomination from a major party, Representative Michele Bachmann, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2012.

Dig deep into the lives of women who have sought the presidency in these books.

Two of the books I’ve read this year involve travel by unusual vehicles.

In the thoughtful The Man with the Compound Eyes Atile'i lives on the imaginary and fastastical island of Wayo Wayo, where second sons are exiled into the sea, never to return, and probably to die. Atile'i washes up on a floating island of garbage — the non-imaginary Great Pacific Garbage Patch, rendered fantastically stable enough to support a young man. He has no words for the things that carry him — he has never seen a plastic bag, or a plastic toy, or a plastic anything. The gyre carries him to Taiwan, to an eroding coast and a woman who cannot accept several of the cornerstones of her reality, including the fact that her house is falling into the sea.

In the much poppier Shovel Ready our hero Spademan is a hitman. Generally his hits are simple, because in his world most of the people spend their lives in wired sarcophagi, their consciousness moving through a sophisticated virtual reality (the ‘limnosphere’) while their bodies lie fallow. Spademan eschews this escape, living in the concrete world made miserable by a series of dirty bombs. However, before the book is over he has to travel into the limnosphere himself — and finds it has miseries of its own.  

Check out some other books with unique modes of travel in the list My other car is a….

(Image from Le Voyage de M. Dumollet by Albert Robida.)
 

Photo of figures reading trivia questions from booksAs a child, my favorite toy and tireless trivia companion was a robot named 2-XL.  Ok, he was actually an 8-track player, shaped like a robot and designed by the Mego Toy Corporation to ask trivia and then offer up scripted retorts based upon my answer.  We spent many rainy afternoons testing my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s batting average and who exactly is buried in Grant’s Tomb. You know, the kind of thing all third graders ought to know.

I still love trivia, but nowadays I discover it in reading, rather than memorizing 8-track recordings.  There are some books brimming with so many fascinating facts, I have to put them down momentarily to share. In 2-XL's absence, my husband provides a patient ear but what these books really ought to have is their very own trivia night dedicated to them.  

Does a ‘mouche’ worn on a man's left cheek in 1790s England reflect his political leanings as a Whig or a Tory?

When filming Sometimes a Great Notion on the Oregon Coast, which local beer did Paul Newman consider to be 'the closest substitute' for his beloved Coors?

Can you name the feather-friendly fashion designer who created the original costumes for the ongoing Las Vegas review 'Jubilee!'?

Already know the correct answers?  

To quote my old pal 2-XL: "It is amazing that big brain of yours fits into the head of a child. Nice answer.”

Discover the answers to these trivia questions and more with books on this list.

After checking out more cookbooks than any one can realistically get through, I’ve acquired a fair number of repeatable recipes. I wanted to share these finds in the event that you too have gotten bored of your usual go-to’s. These cookbooks have more to offer than just one recipe, but here’s what lured me into the kitchen:

L.A. Son book jacketKorean-inspired Dumplings from L.A. Son by Roy Choi: Well-seasoned (garlic, ginger, scallions, and hot pepper powder), and meaty (tofu, beef, and pork), these pot stickers taste revelatory. Double the recipe and freeze some for later!

Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots and Fingerling Potatoes from 150 Things to Make With Roast Chicken, and 50 Ways to Roast It by Tony Rosenfeld: There are so few ingredients and so much flavor packed in this recipe. I love that you get a main entree and a side dish all in one.

Kidney Bean Masala from The Great Vegan Bean Book by Kathy Hester: In this recipe, boring ole kidney beans get transformed intoGreat Vegan Bean Book book jacket a delicious garlicky, gingery curry.

Chandra Malai Kofta from Isa Does It by Isa Moskowitz: Crispy zucchini-chickpea patties are added to a creamy curry sauce. Even if you didn’t want to go through the trouble of making kofta, make the sauce and add roasted cauliflower. Just do it.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone book jacketMushroom Lasagna from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: When I need a shake-up from macaroni and cheese, I have to make this white sauce lasagna. No boil lasagna noodles never got so fancy.

Stay tuned for my next installment toward the end of the year. I’ll lug more cookbooks home and try them out so you don’t have to!

 

I'm a library geek, so of course I was disappointed when  someone in the press asked Michelle Obama if she and Barack still read to Sasha and Malia at bedtime, and she replied, “No-- the girls are old enough to read their own books themselves now."  The Obama girls were about 8 and 11 at the time.  I know that the President and his wife are very busy, and they seem to be pretty wonderful parents, but I was still a little sad.

Working in the library, I am often asked to help parents find books to start with when their children are ready to begin listening to chapter books. And don't get me wrong, I'm very enthusiastic about Charlotte's Web and The Boxcar Children. But I'm always especially excited to get a question about read-alouds for older children, kids who are at least 8 or 9 years old. Reading to older kids is a great way to keep your bond with them strong, and it's so much fun! They get the jokes. They're more able to feel compassion for the characters, to follow an intricate plot, to feel surprised by what happens, more likely to be moved and delighted by a story in the same exact way that you are, which is such a pleasure. 

I basically decided to have children so that I could read to them, and reading books together has been a deep and sustained joy, just as good as I imagined it would be. My younger child, who is 10, still lets me read to him if I find something that grabs him right from the start. I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk to him just last night. This rollicking little book features the following: a brilliant, time-traveling scientist who is also a stegosaurus; pirates, vampires, a volcano, snotlike green aliens with a penchant for redecorating new planets, and two innocent children who are in desperate need of something to pour over their cereal at breakfast. At one point, we were laughing so hard that if we’d been drinking milk, it would have squirted out our nostrils. We laughed so hard that we cried.  I couldn’t read the next line until we settled down after a full five minutes of helpless laughter-- at which point, we started all over again. When I thought of it this morning, I started laughing out loud in the shower.

It won't last forever, but reading books at bedtime has been a wonderful thing to share with my kids. Here’s a list of great read-alouds for you to enjoy with the not-so-little children in your life.

 

ThrillersA dark and stormy night. A toppled lamp with an outstretched hand lying on the floor by its base. A knock on the door when you are least expecting it. All of these elements can add to a great thriller. I have been reading thrillers for more years than I care to count. I devour them. I do branch out and read other types of books, but I am always drawn back to the thriller. As it says in my My Librarian profile, I like it when bad things happen, but I prefer them to stay on the page. Sometimes I wonder, why is that?

Perhaps spending my childhood reading through every Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and Trixie Belden mystery sparked my interest. Aside from a brief foray into science fiction and vampire lit (a requirement for every teen, I've come to believe), I stuck with suspense. As I got older, the books only got darker, more intriguing, and, yes, sometimes a bit violent. I'm a pretty perky person by nature, and sometimes folks are surprised to hear that I most enjoy reading about terrible things happening to people. I just figure that I get to relieve all of my dark tendencies on the pages of my books, and that leaves room in my heart and my head to enjoy the life that surrounds me!

If you've never given thrillers a chance, might I be tempted to persuade you? If you like to become attached to a character, you are not alone. Series thrillers are abundant, and allow you, dear reader, to become involved with the often colorful cast of characters. Seeing as it is summertime, why not start a new series, preferably read by flashlight in your backyard tent late at night.

 

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