The Answer to the Riddle Is Me bookjacketMemory is a squishy thing. It enables us to do the things we do. It's who we are. Memory is pretty much interchangeable with our identity. So what happens when we lose our memory?

David Stuart MacLean has written an amazing book, The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, about exactly that. In 2002, he was a graduate student in writing, living in India. One day, he found himself on a train platform with no idea who he was. He ended up in a mental hospital with horrible hallucinations. Eventually the symptoms of amnesia, psychosis, and depression he experienced were found to be the result of the malarial medication, Lariam, which was prescribed for malaria at the time. And those side effects continued to plague MacLean for a very long time. He had to reconstruct himself.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me is a brilliantly written memoir and more. MacLean has done a lot of research on malaria and Lariam and it's fascinating. Who knew that one out of fourteen human beings have genetic mutations that can be linked to malaria? Or that high doses of Lariam have been given to prisoners at Guantanamo prison, not because they had malaria, but for "pharmaceutical waterboarding." 

David Stuart MacLean's memoir is a beautiful, disturbing, enlightening gem of a book. And if you'd like to read more books about memory, try these.

Grand Central Baking BookOne of my favorite things to do is bake. The only kind of cooking I really like doing needs to involve some sort of baking (savory tarts, potpies, even meat loaf qualifies). I also enjoy dining at many of Portland's fantastic restaurants. One of the best ways to combine these 2 loves of mine is to find cookbooks that have been written by the fine chefs of those establishments. I give 4-star reviews to those cookbooks that actually have recipes that come out as delicious as when the restaurants whip them up.

One of my absolute favorite baking books is The Grand Central Baking Book. First of all, Grand Central Bakery is one of the best cafes around; their cinnamon rolls, jammers, and all of their breads are amazing. The recipes in this cookbook are easy to follow with lots of tips on how to create the delicious treats exactly as they are served in their cafes. Two floury thumbs up for the oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I made!yummy cookies

Mother's Best bookjacketAnother wonderful restaurant/cookbook combo I recommend is Mother's Bistro & Bar/Mother's Best: Comfort Food That Takes You Home Again by Lisa Schroeder. I've enjoyed everything I've made or eaten from Mother's. Again, she gives you little tidbits of information so that your recipes will be even better. Try the chicken and dumplings or the meatloaf. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Try a local restaurant then recreate those recipes at home!

The Book Thief jacketThere’s a theory I subscribe to that no matter what our chronological age might be, we all feel a different age inside. As in, our bodies grow, we mature in different ways, but mentally, we all feel stuck at some earlier age. For instance, I am mentally a 17-year-old girl who doesn't quite fit in anywhere yet.

I was thinking about this recently after reading an article in Slate Magazine entitled, Against YA by Ruth Graham. The gist of her essay is that teen fiction is written for teens and adults “should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.”

There are several things I’d like to say to Ms. Graham. Here goes. . .

First of all, it’s sometimes a marketing/publishing decision as to what gets published as a young adult book. Take The Book Thief. Please, please take it. It's a brilliant bookFangirl bookjacket that should be read by everyone! In Australia where Markus Zusak hales from, you’ll find it in the adult section. But here in the U.S., it sits in the young adult section because his previous book was put out as teen fiction in the U.S. Arbitrary? Indeed.

And then I think back to my growing-up years. Once I reached a certain age, definitely when I was still in middle school and high school, I started reading “adult” books. These were books with younger protagonists that certainly were appealing to teens but they also were well-written novels that adults enjoy. Books like My Name is Asher Lev and To Kill a Mockingbird. The chances are that if these books were published today, they would be cataloged as “young adult” fiction and think how many adults would miss out on them?!

That brings me to today and my reading tastes. Sometimes I read young adult books and I enjoy them because I can totally remember what it was like to be that teen (Fangirl, I’m talking to you). I relate to the characters because I’m still a 17-year-old misfit inside. Other times, I enjoy a teen book because it tells a really good story (A Brief History of Montmaray fits the bill).

I hereby proclaim, I am not embarrassed to read young adult literature and you shouldn't be either! Here are a few more titles that you too can be proud to read.

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.

Everything I Never Told You bookjacketI needed a book to take on a trip to my hometown of Bowling Green, Ohio. I was heading out to help my mom pack up and move to a new apartment. I was also hoping to get together with friends I hadn't seen for decades. I rifled through my bookshelf looking for a paperback book that would be entertaining and picked out Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. It begins, "Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet." Totally grabbed me.

Sometimes you find the perfect book at the exact moment you need to read it. And for me, Everything I Never Told You was that book. It's set in a small college town in northwestern Ohio in 1977. Bowling Green, where I grew up, is a small college town in northwestern Ohio and I graduated from high school in 1977. Celeste Ng captures that era perfectly - here is a town where everybody is pretty much the same and they all live their lives just trying to fit in. Reading this book took me back to my childhood - it made me appreciate some parts of growing up in a little college town but also reinforced the decision I made, oh so many years ago, to escape the homogeniety of small town life.

Everything I Never Told You is a completely engrossing, well-written, literary mystery. But it's more than that; it touches on themes such as the immigrant experience in the U.S., discrimination, the early days of women's equality. The main characters are a multi-racial Chinese American family. Each member of the family struggles with whether they want to fit in with societal norms or embrace their individuality. And it all happens within the messiness of family relationships and amidst everyone's flawed perceptions. Everything I Never Told You captures life. I’m glad I found this book.

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