Samuel Delaney’s 1966 novel Babel-17 centers on a language where the meaning is so perfectly expressed in so few words that it accelerates thought. This perfection makes it possible to solve previously insurmountable problems in a nanosecond. It is not just a language — it is a weapon.

Babel 17

In Jo Walton’s blog post about Babel-17 she relates that the plot grew out of a linguistic theory that was in vogue at the time. Called the strong Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it posited that language shapes perception so deeply that thinking in a different language gives you a different perception. This has apparently been disproven.

Disproven or not, I find this theory deeply intriguing. If you have lived in another language, you know that translating is, well, a little lie. When you live in a language you live in a culture, and quickly need to transition from converting words using an equation to understanding the words as they are.

So, how do the words we use shape what we are capable of imagining? How deeply are we divided by culture and language? And, if the only tool we have to communicate are words, can we ever understand someone from another planet?

I’ve made a booklist of novels where the plots are driven by some of these questions, or by wonderfully playful insights into words and the nature of narrative: The words are the plot

And, incidentally, Jo Walton's blog posts on classic science fiction and fantasy, like the one linked above, have been collected into a new book called What Makes This Book So Great. She is insightful, informative, and has a contagious love of the genres. If you are looking for fodder for your summer reading, look no further.

Later this week, the thoroughbred California Chrome will race in the Belmont Stakes, in the hopes of becoming just the 12th winner of the Triple Crown in the United States.  After three great horses won the prize in the 1970s (Secretariat [1973], Seattle Slew [1977], Affirmed [1978], 12 horses have come to Belmont with a chance; 11 failed. The 12th will run on June 7.

Why is this prize so hard to achieve? According to a 2012 article on the races from the Daily Racing Form, the Belmont is a drastically different horse race from its two predecessors – the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. It’s longer by a quarter mile (which doesn’t seem like a lot, but to a racing horse it is) than most races and so thoroughbreds aren’t bred or trained to run it. The racing style (a burst of speed from the final turn through to the finish) that will win the Derby or the Preakness can’t help a horse trying to maintain that speed for another quarter mile.

But sometimes a horse can surprise us. Will it be California Chrome, with his bad-luck four white socks (feet)? Or will we have to wait another year (or more) to watch a magnificent animal that makes us hold our breath for that mile-and-a-half (approximately 150 seconds) to victory?

Interested in learning more about thoroughbreds and the Triple Crown? Check out the books on this list.

Look into the futureI have friends who are political junkies who count the days between each Presidential election. That’s four years of waiting filled with competitive yet non-athletic bluster, bloated hypocrisy, and stagnant idealism, not including the Congressional races. But I do know how they feel, because the cruel disappointment and heartbreak forced onto me by twenty-one years of loyalty to Newcastle United FC, fractured Yugoslavian teams, and U.S.A. soccer is lifted every four years with the angelic arrival of the holiest of holies in all of sport: the World Cup. Somehow, before, during, and after this soccer celebration, politics, both governmental and athletic (FIFA is no secret to controversy) always seem to pervade the social and cultural unification of the games no matter the host country. In 2014, inside the fascinating world of Brazil, this impending party-crasher will be no different.

Government corruption, political demonstrations, martial law, election scandals, destructive floods, terrorist bombings, and kidnapping. These issues are everyday and commonplace around the globe. For twenty-five days this summer, however, these same problems currently presenting hardship in nations represented within the Cup will briefly stand aside to the enthusiasm, optimism, and allegiance of the Beautiful Game. Floods and landslides in the Balkans will further motivate Croatia and first-timers Bosnia-Herzegovina. The mass kidnapping and subsequent bombings in Nigeria should emphatically inspire the Super Eagles. Russia will undoubtedly be playing harder than ever in proud fashion to prove they can adequately host the next Cup. Yet it is Brazil and it’s society’s turbulent clashes over the expenditures of hosting both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics versus the lack of basic human social programs that face the toughest scrutiny. If ever the host country was to win it all at home, the Canarinho would be wise to do it this year. Teams representing countries in the news, especially negative news, tend to play harder with more passion and a greater sense of urgency. That’s when timeless moments occur and with one kick, an exhale or a blink, the entire conscience of an impoverished nation can be instantaneously and collectively transformed into pure hope and bliss. This is the power that gives names to snapshots such as “The Hand of God,” “Goal of the Century,” and the “Miracle of Bern.” Slayer of Lions

It seems that each day the news is consistently full of sorrow rather than smiles, but teams such as Nigeria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and flamboyant host Brazil will all be trying to erase the crushing adversity pervading their societies (as of this post) for at least a brief ninety minutes. And every team desires as many successive ninety minute chances as possible, for each match pulls them one step closer to lifting not only the World Cup trophy, but glory for their country and symbolic spiritual triumph over the perpetual numbness of suffering. So soak it in as much as possible I say, it goes by quickly. Samba till you just can’t stand up anymore.


Adventure Time, a cartoon series created by Pendleton Ward on Cartoon Network, could easily be a favorite for all members of your family. Your kids might like how creative and goofy it is and you might appreciate some of the positive messages and varied references. Watch Finn, a human boy, and his shape-shifting brother/dog, Jake, save or be saved by friends in the land of Oo and other dimensions.

One of my favorite episodes,“Box Prince,” is about how Finn and Jake project their views of an ordered society onto a group of cats that appear to be living in the Box Kingdom. Who is the true Box Prince? If you look closely you might catch references to My Neighbor Totoro and the internet cat celebrity Maru. That season hasn't been released yet on DVD, but seasons one, two, and three, are ready to go.

I love the range of immature (fart) jokes to adult-ish jokes (Jake calls sweat pants "'give up on life' pants.") I can appreciate that it's a kid’s show with strong female characters and endless amounts of cute and colorful animation. Watching an episode of Adventure Time can be some of the best 11 minutes of my life.

If you’re just starting the first season, why not also read the first volume of the comic at the same time? The comic is cleverly written by Ryan North, author of Dinosaur Comics, whose humor remains true to AT style.

The DVD Adventure Time: It Came from the Nightosphere is a must watch for people who want to hear some indie pop. Sure, Finn can auto-tune like the best of them, but don’t miss out on one of Marceline the Vampire Queen’s best hits, “The Fry Song.”

If you could use a shake up, check out the graphic novel, Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake, a comic based off the episode “Fionna & Cake.” In this alternate version, all the main characters change genders and the characters are so good you wish it was a regular thing.

Whether want to share something with your kid/teen or you want to nurture your inner child, Adventure Time is worth checking out.

And Baby Makes More bookjacketSo after years of planning and dreaming, you finally have a child. Now what?! If you’re anything like me, the point of all that planning--the actual child-raising--at times can feel overwhelming. When my wife and I decided to get pregnant two years ago, I found I was so focused on the steps it took to make it happen, that once the little peanut arrived I felt at a loss over what to do next. I remember just staring at our daughter hours after she was born, thinking, I’m responsible for you! No one else is going to take care of you! Fast forward ten months and that yowling tiny newborn has turned into a sweet, curious kidlet before my eyes. I am sleeping more and--gasp!--actually have time to myself in the evenings. But even though our family has settled into a nice routine, I still feel like I am adjusting to what life with a child means for myself and for my marriage. Who am I now that I am someone’s mother? What does it mean to say goodbye to the autonomous self I used to be while becoming this new self, this mama-self?

Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight bookjacketFor queer families like mine, the post-baby adjustment can feel even more difficult due to the sometimes complicated situations that can arise from how our families are created. Right off the bat there are decisions to make. Known or anonymous sperm/egg donor? Open adoption or foster parent? And what about surrogacy? The list goes on and on. And with these decisions come even more questions. For example, if you use a known egg or sperm donor, will they be in the child’s life? What will they be called? In an open adoption, how much contact will you have with the birth mother? With her family? When using a surrogate, what happens if she disagrees with the medical care you want for your child in utero?

Luckily, there are many resources out there to help with these kinds of important questions, including parenting choices and support once the little bundle arrives. Some of my personal favorite titles are And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families and Does this Baby Make Me Look Straight? Confessions of a Gay Dad.  I’d also recommend taking a look at our magazines Gay Parent and Hip Mama, Ariel Gore’s long-standing zine. And for book reviews and articles, the database LGBT Life can’t be beat.

What Makes a Baby bookjacketThere are also some amazing books out there for kids. One of my absolute favorites is called What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. One of our friends gifted it to us before our daughter was born and I am completely in love with it. Realizing most kid’s books that explained where babies came from left many types of families out, Silverberg wrote a story that is completely all-inclusive, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability. Best of all, it has a section for parents to tell the child the specifics of their arrival into their family. I look forward to the day I read it to our daughter and all the learning and growing that comes with it in this messy adventure called parenthood. 

For more MCL queer parenting resources, you can always contact us! And be sure to check out the library’s booth at the Pride Festival, June 14 and 15 at Tom Mccall Waterfront Park!

Portland hill walksWe all sometimes feel like we can't escape the office, but we library folks are unique, I think, in that we get a real kick out of seeing someone enjoying a library resource when we are out and about. A few weeks ago I was walking some stairs in my neighborhood (the never ending quest for fitness continues), and I spotted a young man walking in front of me. He was wearing a backpack, walking slowly, and seemed to be studying everything around him as he walked. As I got closer, I could see that he had a book in his hands. Excited now, I said to my fitness partner, 'He's got a book! I'll bet it's a Laura Foster book!'. Laura writes very interesting books about the neighborhoods of Portland and how to explore them on foot. As we got closer, I saw that the young man was reading Portland Hill Walksand, better yet, his book had a Multnomah County Library stamp on the top! 

We chatted a bit about the book, the neighborhood, but especially the library. Having just moved to Portland, this young man was very excited to make use of our wonderful library system. And I was very excited to chat it up. In my work at the library, I don't get a chance to interact with the public as much as I used to, so I relish these chances to spread the good word about us when outside a library building. I have spotted Multnomah County library books on planes, trains, and automobiles, and they are always a catalyst to a wonderful conversation. Maybe I'll meet you out and about, and we'll talk about the library book you are carrying.


Hello. My name is Matt and I read mysteries.  

I never thought I’d be a mystery reader. It started off with the occasional Agatha Christie title to mix things up. A few years later,  I found myself reading a too cozy for comfort title involving a doughnut shop and recipes.  Things had gone too far. What kind of mystery reader was I? Was I one book away from entering the soft boiled world of J.B. Fletcher?

Luckily, the answer was right in front of me: gay detective novels.  In a literary world with limited LGBTQ characters, it’s exciting to find a likeable protagonist to identify with. Exploring the cast of gay detectives, I was surprised to find a collection of gentlemen larger than expected.

amuse bouche cover

Russell Quant is an everyman living in Saskatchewan. As a handsome rookie private detective in a small city, business can be slow. However, when it gets busy things quickly get out of hand.  His cases take him to exotic locales and always lead back to his Canadian home for a thrilling finale.  His love life is, uh, complicated and has it’s ups and downs.  A quirky cast of friends and family round out the series to keep things interesting.  Start with Amuse Bouche.

book cover rust on razorWhat do Scott, a famous baseball pitcher and Tom, a dedicated school teacher have in common? For starters, a penchant for getting in over their heads when mystery comes a calling. The heart of these books is dark, gritty, and reflective of the era in which each of them is written. The series spans twenty years of great change within the LGBTQ community and doesn’t hold back.  Are there schmaltzty moments?  Sure, but reluctant detectives need love too.  Start with “A Simple Suburban Murder” via Interlibrary loan or “Rust on the Razor” available at Multnomah County Library.

These are my favorites of the bunch, but check any of them out.  Each of these mystery series have their own feel.  It’s what makes the genre so much fun to read.  Plus you never know if the perfect pie recipe is on the next page...

It is a question you hear all the time...if you were stranded on a desert island, what book or books would you choose to bring?  And while the question rattles off the tongue easily enough, it is not such a simple answer.  I'm always torn between being practical or romantic. If I were to be practical (which I'll have you know I quite often am), I would grab something like my Auntie Carol's 1950s Girl Scout Guide, or some other survival manual of sorts.  At any rate, it would end up being a very different list indeed.  I'm going to throw practical aside for just a moment and imagine myself stranded on a desert island with the basic necessities sorted.  All I have is time, no worries, and a few favorite reads....

emily-jane on stairs with books

Emily-Jane at Central is reading Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor, and has this to say about it:

The teenaged Patrick Leigh Fermor walks across Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria in the early 1930s, on his way from Holland to Istanbul. I'm loving the awkward contrast between the international collegiality of the upper class on the one hand, and Fermor's vivid and moving descriptions of everyday Central European landscapes and life on the other.

Since the book doesn't have any maps and takes place before the Second World War, a lot of the borders and place names are unfamiliar to me—so I've also been reading Paul R. Magocsi's Historical Atlas of East Central Europe, which is helpful for armchair orienteering and historical context.

The other volumes in Fermor's walking memoir series are: #1: A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople : From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube and #3 (just published in 2014!): The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.

I love the Columbia River. I spend much of my free time on or near it and enjoy its beauty and grandeur. When I travel, I am reminded that most other rivers are not in its league.  The Columbia River defines this region. Without the Columbia River, Portland would not be an important port. There would be no Columbia Gorge and also no Bonneville Power Administration. These four books help to capture what the Columbia River was and now is.

Sources of the River book jacketI always like to start with history. Sources of the RIver: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America by Jack Nisbet tells the story of David Thompson. He explored western North America from 1784 to 1812 and was the first person to chart the entire route of the Columbia River. Two hundred years ago he was one of a handful of white Europeans and Americans to explore the area which was home to many Native American tribes. He was looking for better fur trading routes and ended up helping to expand trade and settlement in the Northwest.

The Columbia River was a wild and free flowing river until the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1930s. They were A River Lost book jacketthe first of fourteen dams that changed the river into the relatively tame river it is today. A River Lost: The Life and  Death of the Columbia by Blaine Harden looks at the modern river. He tries to explain what has happened to the river and how it is perceived by those who live near it and depend on it for their livelihoods.

Voyage of a Summer Sun book jacketThe book that opened my eyes to how dams change a river is Robin Cody’s Voyage of a Summer Sun: Canoeing the Columbia River. It is a journal of his trip down the entire river, from the headwaters to the ocean by canoe. His voyage is down a modern managed river whose ecology has been greatly damaged. It is a river that David Thompson would hardly recognise.

Wanting to end on a happier note, my last book is by Sam McKinney, an Oregon native and a  respected maritime historian. He has written several books about the Columbia River. Reach of Tide, Ring of History: A Columbia River Voyage is about his journey up the lower Columbia River from the mouth to Portland. He tells about the towns and places along the way and the people who lived and worked on the river. Most of the towns have faded into obscurity, but the lower Columbia being is still free flowing and is most like the river it used to be.

These books will give you much to ponder while you hike, sightsee and go boating on the Columbia River this summer. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.


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