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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.

 

Tell it like it Tiz!This last Saturday I went to the Portland Zine Symposium at the Ambridge Event Center.  I get so excited attending this event every year. Going to the Zine Symposium has me thinking about zines again. This is where I wish I could read everything. Now that would be a superpower. Reading and absorbing what you are reading at the speed of light!


I digress. What is a zine you might ask? A zine is an independent publication or, as a 6th grader told me, it’s a “homemade magazine.” Want to read something different? Something perhaps cutting edge? Off the grid? Zine authors are the voices that typically aren’t heard in the mainstream press. We have a large collection of zines you can find at Holgate, Belmont, North Portland and Central Library. There are zines about food, religion, politics, health, pets, comics and really just about everything. I made a list of some basic zines for you. Check them out. And let me know if you find out a way to get that reading superpower, okay?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a classic of children’s literature, and as such, I feel a little guilty admitting I’ve never read it. It’s true. I felt even more so and a bit foolish when I finally got around to reading The Making of a Marchioness. It seems wrong to have ignored such a charming story for so long. It is a Cinderella story for grown ups. I can’t quite believe I’m championing Cinderella for adult women, but there you are. I think perhaps that particular fairy tale gets a bad wrap. I’m a feminist, I get it, but there are times in a grown woman’s life that call for just that (I know because I’m having one just now).

cover image of the making of a marchionessEmily Fox-Setton is a strong capable woman in her own right who has her default set to happy. She is a character you can admire and one for whom you wish all good things. It may not be politically correct, but it does have the power to make you forget you’ve been working as hard as a scullery maid yourself and only just making it. Yes, it is a love story and yes she essentially becomes a kept woman. Is it a practical or wise thing? No, possibly not. But it makes her exquisitely happy while it lasts, and let’s admit it...it is nice to have things taken care of once in a while. There is nothing wrong with a happy ending, and when you can’t quite pull one off in real life—try fiction, it’s easier.

Buffalo SoldiersToday I wanted to showcase the prolific versatility of the great storyteller, Joe R. Lansdale. Known primarily for his mystery and suspense novels including the Edgar Award-winning The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Edge of Dark Water, The Thicket, and his Hap and Leonard  series, the consistently entertaining East Texas author started out writing in every other genre, mainly horror, sci-fi, and Weird Westerns. I champion writers who continue to create the short story and Lansdale is a master of the form, using its limitations to sharpen his reliable trademarks of great dialogue, suspense, irony, violence, humor, and diverse, breathable characters.  His novella Bubba Ho-Tep  was adapted into a hilarious film starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis.  

 As of this post Multnomah County Library has over 130 materials featuring his words. They include seven graphic novels, twenty-one digital titles (two are e-book only), one young adult novel, and his stories are featured in no less than fifty-eight  anthologies, four as editor. It was difficult to choose which type of booklist I was going to compile for this post, as there are so many wells to siphon in his body of work. In my opinion, Lansdale perfected the Weird Western tale and I highlighted his offerings in an earlier blog post and booklist(s). His mystery-suspense canon would take up at least four to five lists so I decided to show MCL’s collection of his horror tales and comic scriptsContains "The Nightrunners"

No matter the setting, characters, plot, or pace, Lansdale writes with a blazing, maverick style and he will make sure you get your money’s worth. But his narratives aren’t cheap, lazy, or hacky, his characters you can relate to whether you love or hate them. He is a breed of storyteller that you want spinning yarns by the campfire on a spooky wilderness night or one that reminds you of a vibrant, jolly uncle who always has a tale at the ready. Buy the ticket and explore them all, his imagination has a selection for all readers.  

 
Dear Summer Vacation,

What is it about you that makes my children bound out of bed at 6:00 a.m., ready for action and aiming their destructive laser beams at any hilariously misguided idea I had for a few minutes of extra sleep? School Year never did that. 

All is entropy and my house looks like that not-so-mythical gyre of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean: Nerf darts, boomerangs, water balloons, molecule models, yo-yos, pieces of Risk and Stratego and little Monopoly houses and those dastardly Danish blocks I fully expect will one day require surgical extraction from one or both my feet. 
 
And the sopping wet piles of clothing and towels--what's up with that, Summer V.? My children don't even bother with swimsuits any more. Because they're not going swimming. At some point during the day, every day, they just go outside and turn the hoses on one another while fully clothed. Because they can. Because of you, Summer Vacation.
 
Of course you have your good points, S. V. You've got your trips away, and dinner on the grill almost every night (mostly, it must be said, because the cook can park her rear in a lawn chair outside with a book and ignore the screaming children in the house), and ice cream, and that holiday with its permissions to play with fire and blow things up. Hello, sticky s'mores and raspberries growing in the backyard and fuzzy bumblebees in the lavender.
 
If I had any skills in photography I would take pictures before you get away again, Summer Vacation. There are a million books I could read, but looking at pictures seems the right thing to do now, while the sun shines and gifts us all with extra daylight. Here are a few recommendations should you find yourself in an Adirondack chair under a leafy tree with a tall glass of iced tea (or, like me, caught between a grill of burning hot dogs and a leaking half-full kiddie pool soup of toys and grass and dead or dying insects while holding someone's drippy purple popsicle):
 
Summer Food book jacketSummer Food: New summer classics by Paul Lowe is that rare cookbook--photography gorgeous in its own right, with the added bonus of recipe after delicious-sounding recipe. The recipes are simple and straightforward without a bunch of strange "where the hell do I get that and what is it anyway" ingredients. I want to make almost everything in this book. But even if I never do, the pictures are enough. Just don't eat the book. I'll want to check it out again.
 
This Is the Day: The March on Washington is a striking photo-essay by Leonard Freed documenting the historic March for Jobs and This is the Day book jacketFreedom on August 28, 1963 which included the "I Have a Dream" speech Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave at the Lincoln Memorial that day. Freed's images seem illuminated from within by a moral beauty and the human dignity so central to the civil rights movement. This book is not about Dr. King or his speech or famous events but about the ocean of ordinary people who marched in peace for justice and ultimately carried the day and the movement.
 
Once Upon a Playground book jacketOnce Upon a Playground: A celebration of classic American playgrounds, 1920-1975 by Brenda Biondo is a time capsule. Careful: you may be transported to that park that you could walk to by yourself when you were nine, the one with the giant metal rocket you could climb. This book is a visual tribute to the iconic play structures rapidly vanishing from the collective cultural landscape. The book juxtaposes contemporary photos of structures along with vintage catalog advertisements, postcards and photographs of the same structures. The result is a ride on a haunted merry-go-round.
 
I can't decide whether I want you to spin faster or slow down, Summer Vacation. Just don't ever disappear.

Will Cuppy'Just when you're beginning to think pretty well of people, you run across somebody who puts sugar on sliced tomatoes.' Will Cuppy is a master of the written word. Now, maybe your family doesn't put sugar on their sliced tomatoes. But if they do, like mine, then you understand the genius of this quote. 

Never heard of Will Cuppy? Allow me to introduce you. An American humorist and journalist, Cuppy was best-known for his mock-scientific observations of nature. Born in 1884 in Indiana, Cuppy lived and wrote for many years in New York, before taking his own life in 1949. Writing funny but factual magazine articles was Cuppy's real talent. Many of Cuppy's articles for The New Yorker and other magazines were later collected as books, including How to Attract the Wombat, one of my personal favorites. I mean, who doesn't want to know how to swat a fly? This book will tell you just that, in an article in which Cuppy codifies the essentials of this simple activity in ten hilarious principles. These articles are not necessarily factual though they are equally not untrue. Cuppy writes short, darkly humorous articles, perfect for when one only has a few minutes to read, and needs a laugh. We also read them out loud in our house, and that is real hoot!

Cuppy was reclusive and cultivated the image of a curmudgeon, but he had many friends in New York's literary circles. If you are a fan of writings from the golden age of humor (late 1920's-early 1950's), writers such as Robert Benchley, James Thurber, and S.J. Perelman, then I urge you to seek out Will Cuppy's works. Multnomah County Library owns several, and our friendly staff is always available to help you locate more Will Cuppy via Interlibrary Loan. Happy reading!

 

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Book cover: The Disappearing Spoon

A while back I told all ya’ll about The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane. Loved it. It inspired me to order up a poster of the periodic table and stick it on my living room wall, thinking that if it was in front of my eyeballs, there may be some passive absorption. It kinda worked--I learned the noble gases, but really it was just the pressure of a pub trivia team that inspired that. Still I want to understand this stuff at a level higher than my C in high school chemistry.

In an effort to up my game I watched Hunting the Elements by PBS/NOVA. I’ll be honest, based on the boring cover, my hopes were not terribly high. It was ~amazing~. One dude actually made a wooden periodic table, the size of a real dining room table, and gave each element its own little compartment.  If I had that in my house I could pick up and hold a sample of molybdenum. Super cool and very practical. There are enough violent explosions and deadly gases throughout to keep things lively, plus who wouldn’t love to see how gold bricks are made?

Book cover, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements

The book, The Periodic Table: A Visual Guide to the Elements,  is essentially a field guide, just two pages per element--one a color picture of the element and the other its most interesting info. Platinum, for example, is a precious metal used all the time in jewelry, as we know, but it’s also essential in your car’s catalytic converter.

So, in my expert opinion as an armchair science girl, I think anyone with an interest would love the dvd. Have a kid who loves kitchen-science experiments? Watch it with them. But also, anyone who may struggle with a chemistry class in the near future might like both in combination. Perhaps even as a preemptive strike at understanding before the struggle begins. Seeing and hearing info in a different way can make a huge, helpful difference . It certainly did for me.

 

        1. You can be as brave as the pioneers. Those hearty, independent people didn’t shy away from the sometimes elusive, convoluted language of the Bard. In fact they often packed it right next to that other elusive convoluted book, the Bible.

       2. You can amaze your friends and confuse your enemies by the brilliance of your insults. Instead of shouting out F*** you when you are nearly sideswiped on your bike you can calmly cry out “Hast thou never an eye in thy head?” (Henry IV, pt.1 )  

...Or maybe your roommate eats the last piece of your favorite pie- you shake your fist and bellow:                                        

“Thou elvish mark’d, abortive rooting hog”(Richard III) and walk dismissively away.

 3. You can gracefully free yourself of all that anger directed against the teachers who made you hate Shakespeare. Perhaps some teacher made them hate it too.

 4. Shakespeare is packed with the excitement and adventure of human passion. His stories breathe with as much energy and meaning as when they were written 300 years ago. Sure, the language can be a challenge, but remember they ARE plays - meant to be seen and experienced. Try the many film representations - especially those by the BBC. Or for a more complete experience, watch a play performed live.

 So go ahead.  Read Shakespeare. You might just wonder why you waited so long.

 

           

                                                  

 

A Room of One's Own by Virginia WoolfWhat do writers need? Virginia Woolf famously said that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (in the essay A Room of One’s Own), but of course that’s not all, and not for everyone (men, poets, playwrights…). Writers need time, and space to pursue their craft. Writers need support, which can take the form of opportunities to read aloud, or to hear other writers talking about writing, or a community of supportive critical readers.

There are lots of organizations in the Portland area that offer resources for writers! Some are free, others are cheap (though not all). They involve various commitments of time. Here are some local organizations, roughly grouped  - but you’ll see that they are hard to categorize… 

Writing groups, workshops, and classes

The Attic Institute presents workshops, classes, and individual consultation about writing projects.

Lewis and Clark Northwest Writing Institute offers classes for community members.

The Mountain Writers Series presents monthly readings and writing workshops. The links section of their webpage connects to a huge number of other local organizations!

The Multnomah Arts Center offers some wonderful literary arts classes.

PDX Writers facilitates workshops and retreats.

Portland State University has a few different academic programs in creative writing.

VoiceCatcher is a nonprofit connecting and empowering women writers in Portland.

Write Around Portland offers free creative writing workshops in social service settings, and creates publication and reading opportunities for workshop participants.

Membership organizations

The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) offers resources and workshops related to printing and book-making. They also have certificate programs in creative nonfiction/fiction, poetry, and comics/graphic novels.

Oregon Poetry Association, Oregon’s oldest and largest literary organization, offers community, contests, and conferences.

Oregon Writers Colony offers community, conferences and workshops, and the use of a beach house writing retreat!

Rose City Romance Writers, the Portland, Oregon chapter of Romance Writers of America, educates, supports, and mentors published and unpublished romance writers.

Willamette Writers hosts regular meetings for the exchange of ideas related to writing and craft.

Reading series

Literary Arts’ programs include Portland Arts and Lectures, Writers in the Schools, the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships, and Delve Readers Seminars.

There are many different reading series in Portland! You could head out to hear writers read their work at the Free Range Poetry series at the Northwest Library,  Mountain Writers series, the Spare Room series, the Loggernaut reading series, the submission reading series, Burnt Tongue, Unchaste Readers, or The Switch... you could catch a reading when the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (FWWA) Pacific Northwest Reading Series has a Portland event...  or you could see one of the many readings at Powell's Books! The Notable Portland column on The Rumpus lists select awesome events, mostly literary oriented.

Conferences/Festivals/Big events

Ooligan Press’s Write to Publish Conference aims to demystify the publishing industry for emerging writers.

At the Portland Zine Symposium, zine and minicomic creators sell and trade their self-published creations.

Wordstock is Portland’s biggest annual literary festival, featuring author readings, writing contests, workshops, exhibits and a book fair.

Other stuff

Oregon Authors is a great general resource for information about authors in Oregon! The site is a collaboration between Oregon Library Association and Oregon Center for the Book. It includes a great list of readers and writers groups in Oregon.

Last but certainly not least, Multnomah County’s Central Library offers the Sterling Room for Writers, where writers can find a quiet work space in close proximity to all the resources the library has to offer. Interested writers must submit an application and be approved to gain access to the room.

Portland Zine Symposium 2014Ahh, summertime in Portland. Sunshine and strawberries and going to the river. Cookouts and bike rides and reading in the hammock. Summertime in Portland also means that it’s time for the Portland Zine Symposium! If you’ve never been, the Portland Zine Symposium is an annual zine fair and tabling extravaganza that brings folks in from all over the world. This conference highlights do it yourself culture, small presses, and self-published comics and publications of all kinds, with ongoing workshops and events over the course of two days.  It’s been happening every summer since 2001. And did I mention that it’s all free?!

Here’s where the library comes in. Not only will we have a table at the Zine Symposium, but did you know the library also has over 1,000 circulating zines in our collection, many of them from local authors and artists? And that we have tons of great resources to assist in whatever phase of the creative process you may be in, whether you are a veteran, do-it-with-your-eyes-closed zinester or you have never made a zine in your life (but have always wanted to)? One of my favorite books on all things zine-making is Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine? I personally loved it so much, I had it checked out for almost a year--the beauty of renewing!

If this sounds like it’s right up your alley, be sure to check out our table the weekend of July 12th and 13th. We’ll be there making library cards and highlighting self-publishing resources from our collection, as well as zines that you can check out. Don’t have a card? No problem! We can make you one of those too. We’ll also be roaming around and scoping out other tables, looking for zines to purchase to add to our ever-growing zine collection. This is the most exciting part! So if you find yourself at the Zine Symposium, don’t be shy--be sure to come by and say hello!

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