Lee at Central has this to say about Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. It opens up the mostly closed world of East European gypsies, or Roma, in the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Roma are a people it is still possible to actively (and violently) discriminate against and Fonseca attempts to tell us why.
Don't know much about geography ... (Thanks to the singer Sam Cooke for a line from his 1960 hit "Wonderful World.")
Let’s begin with a quiz (answers at the end … don’t peek!)
- Name the capital of the only country in the Middle East that borders the Caspian Sea.
- The fertile floodplain of the Chao Phraya River is the chief rice-growing region in what country?
- The Merrimack River, formed by the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers, empties into what major body of water?
- The Tarim Basin, which is one of the world’s largest lowland areas that does not drain into an ocean, is found in which country?
I found these questions at the “Take the Quiz” page of the National Geographic Bee website. The annual event, for students in grades 4 to 8, will be held in late May. The Quiz gives multiple choice options, but I figured that adults wouldn’t sweat on these questions.
Or would you? OK, so these are pretty hard, but we Americans are pretty sucky at geography. In a 2006 survey of the geographic literacy of 18- to 24-year-olds, over half of them couldn’t find New York State on a map and nearly two-thirds couldn’t find Iraq (where U.S. troops had been stationed for three years). More recently (and hilariously), the website Buzzfeed asked its readers to write in the names of the countries on a blank map of Europe). The results are pretty pathetic once participants get past England, France and Italy.
Can you find Ukraine on that map of Europe? What about Oso, Washington? What about what happened on that slope before it took out the town?
We can just check Google Maps, right? It doesn’t really matter that we don’t know our geography? Yes, actually it does. Because it’s not just about the maps anymore. Our world is deeply interconnected, nearly everything that we do has global implications. We cannot afford (economically, technologically, environmentally) to not know what is going on on the other side of the planet. We need context, and geography can provide it. How can our companies do business in Asia if they aren’t aware of its cultural differences (and similarities) or what’s going on ecologically or politically? How can immigrants from Asia become part of our community if we don’t know enough about their culture to connect with them?
You might think it’s not important to know that Thailand’s chief rice-growing region is the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River, but what if you need to know if the rice you eat was grown in pesticide-free waters? Or if a Chinese or Mexican restaurant’s supply of rice will remain consistent throughout next year? What if you needed this information in 2005, six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami? Would it have been important then to know where the Chao Phraya was?
Could you use a refresher on geography? Check out the books on this list.
Answers to the quiz:
- Tehran, Iran
- Atlantic Ocean
In the spring it's hard to resist the urge to turn the house upside down, plough up the garden and in general give everything a thorough cleaning. But what about those cobwebs in our brains? After spending many a dark and rainy day curled up with the likes of Cormac McCarthy and listening to The Smiths, spring just seems to require more redemptive reading. I like to call this epiphany fiction. These are the kind of books featuring protagonists undergoing life-changing events. With any luck maybe some of it rubs off on you, the reader.
One such is The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer. Henry, a 67 year-old retiree and widower is told that he has a terminal illness. Determined to make the most of his last days, he sells everything and moves to a Utopian town in Alabama. There he tends to his soul and is surprised at the number of lessons he has to learn. It's a gentle read that celebrates community and self-reflection.
Equally enjoyable and a bit more complex, Philosophy Made Simple by Robert Hellenga tells the story of Rudy, an avocado dealer in Chicago. He too is a widower who has lost his bearings after the death of his wife. He should be contemplating retirement, but instead, in a move that stuns his children, he sells everything and buys an avocado farm in Texas. His only road map for this new life is a book - Philosophy Made Simple. As he reads about the great thinkers of history he tries to find meaning in his new life, which now includes the care of a painting elephant named Norma Jean.
But my favorite epiphany fic choice of recent years is The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi Patel is a boy driven by curiosity. As a zoo-keeper's son, he's constantly studying animals. Unable to decide on one religion, he practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with equal fervor. When Pi is 16 his father decides that the family and the zoo will emigrate to Canada via cargo ship. The ship sinks and Pi is forced to share his lifeboat with the only other survivors, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. What's a boy to do but to get really serious about the big questions of life and philosophy?
I hope I've given you a reasonable excuse to put down the mop and pick up a book. Happy spring and happy reading!
Sometimes it isn’t until regular life gets interrupted, that you realize you’ve been in a rut. The same goes for reading. That’s what happened to me when I came across Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan. I won’t lie, It was the title that attracted me. That and the anthropomorphic cover art (Yes, I’m an Etsy shopper). What I found inside, was a surprising and original story that kept me laughing and led me to stay up much too late, watching videos of McClanahan reading his free-form writing as rapid-fire, spoken word poetry with a distinctive regional twang.
Crapalachia is published by Two Dollar Radio; a family run, independent publisher specializing in subversive, original, and highly creative fiction. It would all be very Portland if they weren't located in Columbus, Ohio. Perhaps best yet, the vast majority of their books published are 200 pages or less. I have a tall stack of books competing for my limited reading time and while I do like subversive and experimental, I like it best kept short.
I’ve since enjoyed another Two Dollar Radio title, How To Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak. She takes the immigrant experience novel in an entirely unexpected direction with a second generation Polish American woman who longs to pass as Russian to gain entry into the mysterious Twin Palms nightclub.
Did you know that here in Oregon about 98% of employers are small business owners? And did you know that since the 1960s, the United States has honored these entrepreneurs and small business owners with an annual National Small Business Week? This year the library is partnering with the Small Business Administration's Portland District Office to celebrate!
Join us on Monday, May 19 from 1-2:30 PM at the Central Library for a workshop titled Library Card: Your ticket to free business resources. We will share the library's small business resources with attendees, including business directories, sample business plans, legal forms, magazine articles about local businesses, as well as books and ebooks on planning, marketing, financing and managing a business enterprise. Plus so much more!
For more information on how the library can help you with your small business, please see our Small Business page with links to events, booklists and access to many online small business resources. And as always, you can contact us anytime via email, chat, phone and in-person. Or Book a Librarian today for one-on-one help!
Breaking News: Portland small business owners Billy Taylor and Brook Harvey-Taylor were just named SBA National Small Business Persons of the Year!
I have a strong preference for character-driven fiction. If I can't bring myself to care about what happens to the characters or the characters fail to act in a fashion consistent with how they've been described, I tend to put the book down long before finishing it. The worst I've read recently was a well-reviewed urban fantasy where the main character, a nurse, expressed concern about bodily fluid borne disease transmission from her intravenous drug using brother. The very next thing the character did was to go unwind at a bar and pick up a random stranger for the night. The author lost me right then and there when the main character couldn't stay consistent in her actions and behaviors for even a single chapter... and I really wanted to like that book too after the good reviews.
One book I've read recently that did have great characters who were well-drawn and consistently portrayed and who really drew the reader into the life of the novel is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. In this world, the goblins are warlike but not the bestial hordes that they are usually portrayed as in fantasy. The elves have an early steampunk sort of technology including pneumatic tubes and airships. Maia has been raised far from the court in a lonely and, since his mother died, loveless exile. Maia is the half goblin, last and least-loved son of the elf emperor. When his father and all his half brothers die in a fiery crash, Maia is summoned back to the rigid and formal elven court as the sole surviving heir to the imperial throne with unknown assassins aiming for his imperial head.
In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, a grimmer novel than the fairly gentle Goblin Emperor, the emperor has scattered his three children across his land. The heir is learning humility (and something else) being raised by monks in rural isolation. The second son is learning to be a commando-like warrior and the daughter, unable to inherit, is made a minister by her father so her clever mind isn't wasted. The emperor is assassinated and his three scattered children have to survive the forces arrayed against them in this excellent series set up.
Lastly, if you would prefer a story about a killer of kings rather than the children of emperors, I'd like to recommend the Fallen Blade novels by Kelly McCullough. Beginning with Broken Blade, you learn the story of Aral Kingslayer, one of the last survivors of a religious order that existed to bring a very final sort of justice to those too powerful for the law to touch. Of course, said powerful and corrupt went to great lengths to bring down the holy avengers of the weak and wronged. The series opens with Aral living in despair, addicted to drugs and selling his services for his next fix. He hates himself and what he has become and still grieves for his dead comrades and goddess. The one thing keeping him going is his familiar, a shadow dragon named Triss, but then he's contacted for another job....
The Money Tip$ video series concludes with a brief discussion of credit. Your credit score can affect everything from insurance rates to employment opportunities, as well as the cost (and ability) to borrow money when needed. This episode presents the main elements of your credit score, helping identify ways to improve your credit situation to save money in the future. We hope you've found the Money Tip$ video series to be helpful in learning new ways to manage your money. Click the video below to view our fifth, and final, installment:
The Money Tip$ video series was produced by Multnomah County Library in collaboration with Innovative Changes, a Portland non-profit organization that exists to help low-income individuals and families manage short-term financial needs in order to achieve and maintain household stability. Made possible by The Library Foundation with a grant from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation through Smart Investing @ your library ®, a partnership with the American Library Association.
Let's face it - books you remember long after you've read them, the ones that make you turn your clock to the wall so you won't know that dawn is approaching and you've stayed up all night reading - those books are few and far between. That's why I am so excited to tell you about We the Animals by Justin Torres.
Having grown up with two brothers, I was sure the author was capturing the chaos, fearfulness and bravado of boyhood. And as a child surrounded by boys and living in a place where we had the autonomy to come up with haphazard schemes that often put us in real danger, I felt a real sense of returning to childhood, a world that many adults have forgotten or idealized into a safe, sweet and carefree world.
From the very beginning, Torres establishes the feral nature of childhood:
"WE WANTED MORE. We knocked the butt ends of our forks against the table, tapped our spoons aginast our empty bowls; we were hungry. We wanted more volume, more riots. We turned up the knob on the TV until our ears ached with the shouts of angry men. We we wanted beats; we wanted rock. We wanted muscles on our skinny arms. We had bird bones, hollow and light, and we wanted more density, more weight. We were six snatching hands, six stomping fee; we were brothers, boys, three little kings locked in a feud for more."
The language in We the Animals is perfect for reading aloud; and it's short - short enough that maybe you won't have to stay up all night reading, but instead will go to sleep and dream of that half-remembered world of childhood.
My absolute new favorite show is Broad City. Hilarious! Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer are hysterically funny. They started out as an online phenomenon and then Amy Poehler plucked them from the internet and splat, they're now on Comedy Central. Ilana and Abbi play 2 women in their 20's living in New York. Somehow the most innocent endeavors become hysterical and surreal when Ilana and Abbi are involved.
One episode had Abbi waiting on a package to be delivered to her cute neighbor. Unfortunately she misses the delivery so she heads out to the warehouse to pick it up for him (she really wants to hook up with her neighbor!). As we all know, UPS warehouses are always far, far away in super inconvenient areas and thus, on one leg of her journey, she has to travel in a rowboat filled with twins. It's totally weird and wholly funny.
One of the things I like about Abbi and Ilana is that they're truly relatable. How many of us still feel that we've never outgrown our awkward phase? Watching Abbi and Ilana makes me feel better about myself while I chortle loudly.
While I'm waiting for season 2 of Broad City to begin, I'll just have to while away my time with some of my other favorite comedians.
We're all book lovers here, right? I mean, why would you be here if you weren't? My theory is that we come in two basic types. Type one (not me) checks out a few books at a time, reads them all, or at least gives them all a try, before returning and checking out more. Type two (me), takes books home all the time, because you have to get 'em when you see 'em. I want to read them all, but there's no way that'll happen. The rule is that I do have to at least open them. There are stacks in most rooms of my tiny house, except the bathroom--never in the bathroom.
This is a pic of my most important stack, the stack of honor, the one by the bed. That way these books are always close at hand for those times when I need an Amazonian jungle tale, for example. Or something to coach me through a dishwasher repair.
If a few of my friends aren't too shy--(they're not)--I'll get them to take a picture of their stack by the bed and we'll have little stack peep show. Stay tuned.