I am endlessly fascinated in reading about America’s Civil War. So now that we come to the end of the four-year observance of its sesquicentennial, I feel inclined to say a few thoughts about it.
The observance began in April of 2011 which actually is beginning to feel like a long time ago to me. That has given me an appreciation for what it might have felt like to those who lived through it, although I suspect it must have seemed much longer to those folks who served and those who suffered the loss of loved ones.
During these four years there have been numerous special observances at battlefields and re-enactments across the nation. And this period of remembrance has also sparked a good deal of publishing about the war, its battles, and the personalities who shaped the conflict. Yet after 150 years, people are still asking themselves about the war’s causes and ultimately what the meaning of the war was for us as a nation.
April 9, 1865 is generally recognized as the date the war ended. This was the day that General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Federal forces under the command of Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia. Due in part to delays in communications and in part to southern determination, it took a while for all Confederate forces to surrender in places as far-removed as Florida, Texas and territories west of the Mississippi; and it wasn’t until November that the Confederate ship C.S.S. Shenandoah ended its around-the-world raids before surrendering in Liverpool, England.
For some great books on the Appomattox campaign, I'd suggest checking out Bruce Catton's class A Stillness at Appomattox or the more recent Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the end of the Civil War by Elizabeth R. Varon. For a shorter account of the campaign with lots of color illustrations and maps, take a look at Appomattox 1865: Lee's Last Campaign by Ron Field.
"Something just clicked."
by Sarah Binns
From her youth in Minnesota, Kathy Parkin distinctly remembers the stories that molded her as a lifelong reader: “My favorite childhood books were Beverly Cleary's. Even now I can see myself in the elementary school library, picking up her books. They sparked my love of reading.” Kathy couldn't know that several decades later she'd start post-retirement life in the same city that Oregon-born Cleary once called home: our beloved Portland.
In 2011, after 30 years as a lab technician in Minnesota, Kathy decided she wanted a change. That's when she saw an AARP magazine article describing Portland, Oregon, as a perfect place to retire. “Something just clicked,” she said, when she read about the city. “The very first thing I did when I moved here was get a library card—even before I got a driver's license!” In May 2012, Kathy began her Multnomah County Library volunteer work helping with weeding, traveling to different neighborhood libraries to ferret out damaged, dilapidated and outdated books. “I got around and saw more of Portland,” she explains. “And I love Portland.”
Kathy harnessed this love of Portland to write the short story “Summer of Love,” which is featured in the 2013 book Our Portland Story Volume 2, a compilation of stories about the city. Kathy has also explored calligraphy and collage and has worked in many other volunteer positions, with Store to Door, a grocery shopping service for seniors and people with disabilities, and Friendly House, where Kathy worked with older adults.
In addition to her love of Portland, Kathy is one of those MCL volunteers who has always loved libraries. Between working and raising a family she volunteered for libraries in her native Minnesota. “At one point I worked at one library system and volunteered at another. That's right,” she adds, “I worked in a library and they paid me!” Let the record show that Kathy has lived the dream of many an MCL volunteer, including this one. This doesn't mean she'll stop volunteering for MCL, though: “I'll keep on until I can't,” she says with a smile.
A Few Facts About Kathy
Currently reading: “I like chick lit and I just finished Walking Back to Happiness by Lucy Dillon.” Also reading The Way of the Woods, by Linda Underhill.
Most influential book: Jane Eyre. “I like books with strong female characters. I always come back to Jane Eyre.”
A book that made you laugh or cry: Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland made me both laugh and cry; a good book about how life is just that so often, sometimes a comedy and sometimes a tragedy.”
Favorite book from childhood: Beverly Cleary's books. “It's also nice to know she has an Oregon connection.” (Cleary's birthday is April 12th and is celebrated by publisher Harper Collins as Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) Day.)
E-reader or paper? Paper
Favorite place to read: "In my recliner."
Thanks for reading the MCL Volunteer Spotlight. Stay tuned for our next edition coming soon! See last month's Volunteer Spotlight.
Some years ago I read Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. I fell headlong into the story and quickly recommended the novel to my dad who shared it with a friend. The three of us have varied reading tastes, but share a love of fine historical fiction and each of us read the entire series (12 books!). I’ve been rereading it, and it's just as wonderful as I remembered. Why?
Let’s start with the fabulously good dialogue and concise description. Graham reveals character and relationships in deft strokes. Add a strong sense of place and accurate historical details which bring to life the social upheaval in Cornwall and England from 1783 - 1820's: the corn riots, smuggling, the vagaries of mining, the effects of industrialization and the Napoleonic wars.
In the first novel Ross Poldark returns home after fighting in the American colonies to a world where nobody is much interested in or affected by the war he fought in. He’s been gone so long that everyone close to him thinks he died. What does he find? His father dead and buried, the house he inherited in a squalid state. I’m not even going to tell you what his sweetheart has done!
In 1975 the BBC adapted some of the early Poldark novels into a tv series which was wildly popular. In June 2015 PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre will air a new BBC production starring Aidan Turner as Poldark. I plan to watch it with my dad, so we can compare the screen versions to the novels we love.
I’ve never written a novel or a short story (unless you count the required writing course I took about a million years ago as a freshman in college) but in some ways, I think that it might be harder to write a short story than a full-fledged book. A short story has to suck you in immediately, tell a full plot in a small number of pages, and shoot you out at the end with a quick climactic pay-off. A great short story will stay with you forever. Raymond Carver’s "A Small Good Thing" with a young boy’s unpicked up bakery cake has been part of my very soul since I first read it years ago.
The past few months, I’ve read several collections of really amazing short stories. When I did a search in our catalog, I found that there have been a ton of short story books published in the last couple of years; I checked a bunch out and found a bounty of vivid stories that I find myself still thinking about weeks after reading them. Kelly Link’s stories in Get in Trouble are a feast of surreal images that are also weirdly believable. Katherine Heiny writes about infidelity in her collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow, but she does it in a refreshingly nonjudgmental way. And then there are always my old favorites, Flannery O'Connor and Peter S. Beagle.
If you're in the mood for a short story or two or three, try one of these collections.
Waterfalls plunge through darkness, glowing white, blue, neon against the void. Mist rises from hidden pools, its tendrils reaching into nothingness. A wash of thundering infrasound, felt as much as heard, seems to be just at the edge of perception. You could get lost here, immersed deep within these cold curtains of light.
This is what it feels like when I look at the mysterious and atmospheric paintings of Hiroshi Senju, one of Japan’s foremost contemporary artists. Besides waterfalls, he’s painted glaciers, lava, rock faces, and forests, all possessed of the same quiet radiance. I love the powerful delicacy of his images, how they hover between abstract and figurative, traditional and contemporary.
While at a distance his paintings may appear to be works of modern abstraction, a closer examination reveals that they are also representations of the natural world, created with pigment and mulberry paper. As such, they are a continuation of the long lineage of nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting, though not without some new twists, including paint that fluoresces in UV light! It’s really worth a look, at both the book Hiroshi Senju, and at his website.
Milan : Skira ; New York : Distributed in North America by Rizzoli, 2009
Central Library: 759.952 B3473h 2009
“I know there'll come a day
When you'll say that you don’t know me
And I know there'll come a time
When there’s nothing anybody owes me anymore
Locked in the attic again
Out of the shallow and into the deep end
I've got a wound I know will never end
Locked in the attic again”
-Meat Puppets, “Lost”
Meat Puppets II is one of those rare records that defies rock's all too static vocabulary. The record emerged out of a particularly stagnant historical moment for independent music - 1984, though lauded as some kind of golden age for the underground (think R.E.M.), more realistically represented a kind of cultural paralysis and retrenchment. US indie rock was rediscovering the 60s, comfortably (and farcically) reiterating the corny gestures of "psychedelia" with none of the radical fury and desire to tear down the foundations. At first listen, one might be tempted to slot Meat Puppets II into this very paradigm. Pastoral/stoner free-association lyrics, noodly Grateful Dead-influenced guitars layered over a slightly accelerated cowpunk two-step - how obviously conservative can it get, right?
The record is genuinely gorgeous in the way it expresses a sublime - almost gentle - awe in the face of natural space (the band were based out of Tempe Arizona). But what lifts Meat Puppets II from the everyday morass is the awkward hesitancy with which primary songwriter Curt Kirkwood gropes for new structures, new neuronal paths and logistical tracks that want to rupture the received moves and pantomimes of rock and roll's handbook.
Not that the songs are mind-blowing or necessarily destructive - Meat Puppets II doesn't begin to really approach the detourns of a Captain Beefheart or early Pere Ubu. The music is surprisingly fragile and while one can't really call them unconfident, the songs tend to move as though they're always already entering new territory - watchful; but joyous too. It's no wonder Kurt Cobain found the record inescapably addictive - the record tracks (and promises) perpetual escape.
Of course the band tightened the reins and future records abandoned the inventive hesitancy for an almost muscular assurance (culminating in 1994's boogie-drenched Too High To Die). But MP II could never really be recuperated or reproduced - it was always a way out with no desire to actually get anywhere.
When a long-awaited book finally arrives, it’s hard not to place high expectations on its performance. So when I finally had a copy of Esther Freud’s latest book Mr. Mac and Me in my hot little hands, dreams of a great story, pristine writing and new lands to explore were circling above my head. As a fan of Esther Freud (see Hideous Kinky and The Sea House among others) I was not disappointed on any front.
Freud’s latest tells the story of thirteen-year-old Thomas Maggs, who lives in the Suffolk coastal town of Walberswick under the watchful eyes of an overprotective mother and an unpredictable father. Thomas’s father runs the local pub and helps himself freely to the goods. Times are not good. Business is far from booming and World War I looms ahead. When not in school, Thomas spends his time helping out at the pub, assisting the local rope maker ply his trade and exploring the countryside. He is also a talented artist who frequently sketches ships and dreams of escaping by sea. His life is changed when Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret move to town. The renowned architect of the Glasgow School of Art is down on his luck and hoping some restorative time at the seaside will change his fortunes. A quiet, contemplative relationship develops between Mackintosh and Thomas, an association that will be deeply affected when the war finally comes to town.
Freud’s family has its own history of life in Walberswick. Her paternal grandfather Ernest, also an architect, spent years living in the village and transforming local cottages with his Bauhaus-style designs. Her father, the painter Lucien Freud, spent time there as a child. And Esther Freud herself owns a home there, her second in fact. The first house she purchased in Walberswick was the former pub, known in this book as the Blue Anchor.
Freud, the author of eight novels, is an extraordinary writer. She particularly excels is her descriptions of the physical world. The village and its surroundings act as characters equally as important as Mr. Mackintosh or young Thomas Maggs. As Thomas and Mr. Mac and the others who populate Walberswick move towards their prescribed destinies, readers have the pleasure of witnessing the development of a relationship both strikingly subtle and completely life changing. Mr. Mac and Me is not the perfect read but it does exactly what I want a book to do for me: introduces me to new people and new places and provides me with much appreciated and invaluable food for thought.
Postscript: Sadly, a fire at the Glasgow School of Art in May of 2014 destroyed a portion of the school’s west wing which housed the Mackintosh Library. The library is expected to reopen by 2018.
It's about the Americas.
Because it is as homegrown as corn on the cob, baseball & plantains. Because we have an art that is original and unmistakeable.
Because it makes me feel good.
Now I am going to talk about music I know and grew up with. Not to diss anybody's else's version, just to acknowledge the love of my people who intended the music to sustain me and give me joy.
Start with: Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Aretha Franklin
This is where the music began. Future information on how it grew and where it is forthcoming.