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Book jacket: The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin GoOut of the blue Tristan, a young and aimless American, receives notice from a London solicitor's office that he could stand to inherit an unspeakably large fortune that has been left unclaimed for nearly eighty years. He has only to provide evidence that he is the great grandson of one Imogen Soames-Andersson; a name he's never heard before. Oh and Tristan has only two months before the trust expires and the fortune is turned over to charity.

So begins The Steady Running of the Hour, a debut novel by Justin Go that's part historical romance, part pulse-racing scavenger hunt. This is a book for fans of multi-layered historical fiction, whirlwind European travel, genealogy, and mysteries that reveal clues that only lead to more mysteries, until uncovering the story becomes the only thing that matters.

Just be warned that when you are forced to put Go's book down momentarily: to wash dishes, put on pants, or otherwise keep up appearances as a functioning member of society, you too may find yourself walking around in a daydreamy fog, contemplating clues written on brittle letters left behind in isolated Swedish barns.

Agatha Christie was queen of my reading list when I was in junior high school, and when I ran out of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot books, I started consuming other English mysteries of their ilk. It turns out that what I mostly liked was a sub-genre of mystery called "the cozy", and I read truly frightening numbers of them during the summers from the age of 12 until about 18.

Barry Trott notes in Read On…Crime Fiction that "In a cozy mystery, most of the deaths occur offstage, and even when death makes a visit, there is a distinct lack of violence. The same applies to sex…Although the action may be mellow, the characters and the humor in cozies keep the reader entertained and coming back for more." Favorite authors of mine included Dorothy Sayers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Catherine Aird, Elizabeth Daly, Margery Allingham and Robert Barnard. In later years, I discovered and enjoyed M.C. Beaton's Hamish MacBeth books and Rhys Bowen's Constable Evans series.

Mostly these days I prefer British police procedural series with complex characters and relationships that change and develop from book to book; however, the brooding inspectors and their personal problems have been a bit too heavy for me this year, so I was pleased to read a new book in the cozy arena titled Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet. It was perfect - it had all of the elements that I love in a good cozy: dysfunctional English families, lots of suspects, murders that were not too graphically described and, best of all, a country house setting!

When the eldest son and heir apparent to the Beauclerk-Fisk family fortune is bumped off in the wine cellar and it looks like the murder is an inside job, family secrets begin rising to the surface and nobody is exempt from suspicion. Will the rest of the family get out alive?

Check out the Cozy Mystery List for more ideas and info about this subgenre.  And here's a source for long lists of authors and cozies by theme, courtesy of cozymystery.com.

I am the product of a English teacher/homemaker mom and a history professor dad.  Dig deeper into the family dirt and you’ll find coal miners, farmers and engineers.  My paternal grandmother even served as a Chief Yeoman in World War I. I have relatives on both sides of the family who have done the genealogy, so I know my familial history back a number of generations.  My roots are in England, the Netherlands and the Midwest. It’s no wonder I’m an Anglophile and a Green Bay Packers fan!

The People in the Photo book jacketThe women in The People in the Photo and The Sea House are not so fortunate.  They can’t even get a grip on who their mothers were, let alone their grandmothers. In The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, Parisian archivist Helene Hivert doesn’t know much about her mother except that she died when she was four.  For years she didn’t even know how her mother died because nobody would talk about it, and her father would get very upset when Helene asked.  Years later as an adult, Helene finds a newspaper clipping with a photo of her mother and two men on a tennis court and decides to find out who those men were. What follows is a series of letters between Helene and Stephane, the son of one of those men.  Peeling the layers of family mysteries was fascinating and if I hadn’t had to go to work, I would have finished this novel in a day.The Sea House book jacket

In The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, Ruth similarly knows little about her mother.  Her mother also died when she was young, but not before she had told Ruth stories about her grandmother’s grandmother: She “was a seal woman.  She cast off her seal skin, fell in love with a fisherman, had his child and then she left them.  Sooner or later, seal people always go back to the sea.”  Well Ruth goes back, not to the sea, but to an island in the Outer Hebrides where her mother said she had grown up and buys a house, and soon she is deep in investigating secrets involving a dead child who just might have some Selkie (seal people) blood in her.  I loved the way the book shuttled back and forth between the 1860s occupant’s story and that of Ruth, the present day owner. I definitely want to get to the Hebrides one day, even though, as far as I know, I have no Selkies in my ancestral pool.

If you love books about family secrets, you’ll enjoy these two titles.

I've read a lot of novels set in Europe during World War II. Hasn't every reader of historical fiction? It's the just war—the only war in recent memory where there was a clear line between the good and the bad guys, which makes it very useful for literature. But of course, it's not really that simple. Recently I read Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See, and it gave a thoughtful and moving look at what it would have been like to be on the wrong side of that war.

We meet Werner as a young orphan in a bleak mining town in Germany. Germany is already turning into a war machine, one fueled by the coal mines that Werner and all the boys in the orphanage are going to be sent down into when they get old enough. But Werner is a bit of a prodigy. He has the ability to fix radios everyone else has given up on, and when his talent catches the right person's attention, he's given a chance to escape from the mines. He takes this chance, getting a place at a national school that, with the use of shocking brutality, is molding the future leadership of the Third Reich. 

Marie-Laure is a blind girl living in Paris with her father. She's a great character, extraordinarily brave, and indeed, she needs to be brave as she flees Paris, loses her father, and gets involved with the French Resistance.

The narrative alternates between these two characters and they do not meet until very close to the end of both the war and the book. The writing is lovely, and the book is full of interesting and well-developed characters.

Sometimes I look around at the books in the library where I work and despair-- the whole world of literature is darkness, except for those books I've inhabited for a while and made my own, and there are so many I'll never get to. If you enjoy fiction set during World War II, this list contains other good books that you may not want to leave in the dark.

 

 

Margaret MeadI have vivid memories of rummaging about in my mom’s stockings drawer when I was a kid and finding two books - one was on boys' development (my brother was in his difficult puberty years) and the other was Margaret Mead’s, Coming of Age in Samoa. I didn’t quite understand why my mom had hidden this book away and it didn’t look enticing enough to read so I left it and spent a lot of time reading about how boys develop. I wish now I had read a bit of Coming of Age in Samoa to see just how ahead of its time it was.

Euphoria bookjacket

My memory of finding Margaret Mead’s groundbreaking book came back to me as I was reading Lily King’s latest book, Euphoria. Euphoria takes as its starting point an event in the life of Margaret Mead and spins off into a tale that takes you into the world of anthropologists exploring the world of New Guinea in the 1930's. It’s the story of three anthropologists: Nell Stone, modeled after Margaret Mead, her husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson, a troubled, suicidal man who is saved by his relationship with Nell and Fen. It’s a tale of passion, imagination, memory. It makes you think about how objective any of us can be when viewing the world. And you'll be blown away by the amazing writing: 

Do you have a favorite part of all this? she asked. . .

It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on this place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion--you’ve only been there eight weeks--and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at that moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.

Bloody hell. I laughed.

You don’t get that?

Christ, no. A good day for me is when no little boy steals my underwear, pokes it through with sticks, and brings it back stuffed with rats.

If you’re looking for a book filled with wonderful imagery, a fascinating story, an exotic setting, and interesting characters, then Euphoria’s a book for you.

cover image of rules of civilityIf you are enamoured at all with the Lost Generation era, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles may just be the next read that recreates that initial flutter. It's not technically Lost Generation, but the feel is much the same. ​The setting is the tail end of the roaring 30s in New York City. It is the leftover last hurrah of the long party, which was the 20s, with the Great Depression still lingering. It is a sophisticated novel, which captures the romance of the time while never letting the reader forget the gritty underbelly. Mr. Towles manages to write convincingly from a woman’s perspective and has created quite the character in Katey Kontent. Katey is a witty and independent young woman making her way in the world when she meets Tinker Grey, who may as well be Jay Gatsby himself with his rags to riches story and suave debonair manner. This novel has many elements to enjoy.  It has interesting, admirable, flawed, yet relatable characters, a plot that keeps you turning pages because of the subtle twists in the story, a setting in a major metropolis at a memorable time in history, and language that is simply exquisite with its rich and unique turns of phrases like “slurring is the cursive of speech." There is unrequited love, loss and gain of fortune, clever quips, and a cinematic atmosphere. So relax. Sit back with a drink and loll the passages over with your tongue. This is one unpredictable journey.  

Today I made a discovery. I still enjoy reading old fashioned stories about the Old West.

Some people call it pulp fiction, but for me it brings with it memories of spending hot summer afternoons lying on the old metal bunk in my grandfather’s office in Eastern Washington, reading Zane Grey’s Western magazine  and paperback westerns by Louis Lamour.  

Cover for The Tonto Woman by Elmore Leonard

Well I’m more sophisticated now. I read Swedish mysteries by Henning Mankell and Pulitzer Prize winners like The Goldfinch and Olive Kitterige.  But something inside me still loves those stories about strong silent cowboys and rugged, bold spirited  American Indians who feel much but say little; times when everything seemed black and white simple.  So when I saw The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard, my hand was already picking it up before I knew what I was doing. From the first story  "Trail of the Apache"  which takes place in Arizona in the 1880s, I was hooked again.  The tough realism of his later suspense and crime novels is there as well as a dispassionate awareness that makes the characters- native or white  stand out from their stereotypes.

If you are looking for a good read for a long afternoon, give it a try.

Ancillary Justice Book JacketIt’s been a great year for questing, battles with the stakes starting at the survival of humanity, and the wonders of imagined cultures and technologies.

Watching Guardians of the Galaxy was huge fun, and Ann Leckie’s debut Ancillary Justice fell into my hands shortly after it won the Hugo. And barely left my hands for a moment until it was done.

It’s wonderfully original and highly compelling. I generally read only the first book in a series (as my mission is to help you all find great reads, I choose reading widely over reading deeply) — however, I’m so attached to the main character that I will be dropping everything when Ancillary Sword is published next month.

Breq was once a spaceship, and a soldier, and a thousand other parts of a vast artificial intelligence that existed for hundreds of years. Now Breq is just one heartbroken cyborg, bent on vengeance against the ruler of the culture that created him. If you are familiar with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-inspired song "Marvin, I Love You" (You Tube), then you have an inkling of how I feel about Breq. 

Looking for more good space opera? Check out my list.

What is home? Where is it? Who gets to decide? Would I feel at home without the constant chatter, sticky surfaces and bruises from over-enthusiastic light saber battles? Would you feel at home without your bare feet harvesting stray Cheerios and tiny plastic jewels? Can home be home without your consent? Is home a place? A thing? A feeling? A person? A mysterious amalgamation of all these and more? Under what conditions does home become something other than home--a holy land or a prison cell? Two books I have read recently ask compelling questions about the places we call home.
 
Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant book jacketCan't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is Roz Chast's memoir of her end-of-life experiences with her elderly parents. Devastating, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny, she must navigate senility, hospitalizations, assisted living and all the responsibilities an only child of elderly parents must shoulder. What is it like to move parents from a home of 50+ years to a place you--and they--know they will never leave? What does a childhood home mean once you've left it behind? What does it mean when you return? And what happens when you must sort through that home, object by object? Is it possible to concentrate the idea of home into other containers when it finally ceases to exist? This is a must-read book for anyone facing parental transition and a graphic novel for those who do not feel at home with graphic novels--you know who you are. (Think of it as a book-length New Yorker cartoon, and you'll be okay.)
 
California by Edan Lepucki is an apocalyptic fantasy posing interesting questions of home within a mesmerizing dystopian setting. California book jacketCal and Frida have left the world they've known in a crumbling Los Angeles to make a new life together in the wilderness. They disrupt their tenuous homesteading to seek out a nearby community when Frida discovers she is pregnant. Their marriage is tested by what they find. Is trust directly proportional to home? Or is trust a constant in the equation? While I found myself desiring more complex characterization, the setting continues to haunt. 
 
Is home the beginning? Or the end?

Technically Street Literature began with classics like David Copperfield and Maggie: a Girl of the Streets and the genre continued through other canonical Maggie, a Girl of the Streets book jacketwriters like Jack London, Henry Miller, Ralph Ellison, and William Burroughs. However, the Renaissance of Street Literature is the most obscured part of its history.

During the Mid-20th century, the Pulp Fiction racks were a place to by-pass the censors and tell stories outside of regressive cultural mores.  Here, Street Literature thrived along with Queer fiction and other genres that were deemed obscene and low-brow.  Among the languishing writers of Pulp, was a man named Robert Beck; better known as Iceberg Slim.

Mama Black Widow book jacketIceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp recounts his life in detail (so I will not here). Instead, I want to highlight Slim’s most surprising and underrated work Mama Black Widow, which recounts a poor sharecropping family’s move to Chicago and descent into the madness of the streets.

Addiction, violence, prostitutes, pimps, pool hustlers, dope peddlers, crooked preachers and cops, numbers, extortion, and manipulation spin around the black widow.  Drag Queen Otis (aka Sally/Tilly) relays her story with vivid detail and haunting emotion as she tries to break free from her mama’s sinister web and survive the violence waiting beyond. Tragic, graphic, and years ahead of its time, Mama Black Widow is not for the faint of heart.

heinz fieldI bleed black and gold. If you don't know what I am talking about, then you are not from western Pennsylvania. We natives learn at an early age that fall Sundays are reserved for Steelers football, and not much else. I have lived in many other places, but nowhere else have I encountered the football fandom that exists in and around my hometown. Since moving to Portland, I have discovered other expats, and we pine for the hometown atmosphere on Sundays, sometimes at a local watering hole, sometimes at  home. Even though these days I sometimes catch myself rooting for Seattle (gasp!), the Steelers will always be my number one team.

The league has been having some serious troubles lately, and they need to be addressed. And I have found my enthusiasm waning. But this column is about my love of the game, the pure sport of football. Some of my favortie football-themed titles are on the booklist below. If football gets your black and gold (or navy and green) blood flowing, give some of them a try, and celebrate all things pigskin.  And if you aren't a fan of the best sport on earth, I encourage you to try one or two titles. You might just find yourself becoming a fan. Football's back!

Street photography according to Wikipedia is “photography that features the human condition within public places.” I realized I love street photography with the discovery of photographer Vivian Maier’s work. She took a lot of photos of children that were very tender. Maier also took many thought-provoking photos of the poor. She seemed to be looking to capture moments of comfort, like holding hands or cuddling together on the train.

There are a few websites devoted to this style of photography. There’s the Sunday Styles section column On The Street in the New York Times featuring Bill Cunningham's street photography. I’ve been a fan this column for years. There is also a series of videos derived from Bill’s photography. Sometimes the Willamette Week covers local fashion that intersects with street photography.

This type of photography is sprinkled throughout images of our popular culture. And of course our library has many books on the topic. A great photographer takes great photos. Great photos make me pause and wonder what happened before and what happened after that moment in time was captured on film. What about you? Do you wonder?

Leonid Pasternak, from WikipediaDo you need an MFA? You’re a writer. You write stories. You have a novel brewing. You’ve published some poems in small magazines. Or you’ve sold an essay. Maybe you’ve self-published a chapbook, zine, pamphlet, or little book. Or an e-book! Maybe you write and write, and would like to do these things.
 
Artists, including writers, might choose to pursue an Master of Fine Arts (MFA!) degree in order to become a professional in their field. It usually takes two or three years, and in many cases involves a substantial amount of money, which often means major student loans. An MFA in creative writing usually centers around a writer’s workshop, where students receive feedback on their work, and provide feedback on the work of their colleagues, under the guidance of a professor who is a published author. MFA students have mentorship, community, an ear to the publishing world, and perhaps most importantly, dedicated time and space to write. Funding and an opportunity to gain teaching experience by working as a teaching assistant are also sometimes part of the deal, but not always. 
 
Do you need an MFA to be a writer? Well, you already are one, right? Debate rages on (well, perhaps rages isn’t the most accurate term - simmers? drags?) about whether it’s worthwhile for aspiring writers to pursue an MFA. Plenty of writers don’t bother.  
 
Novelist Chad Harbach wrote an essay examining the social and literary consequences of a writing world (fiction, in particular), in which writers inhabit one of two systems: the world of MFA programs or the world of NYC publishing. This is published along with essays by contributors examining features of life from both sides in MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction.
 
So, is an MFA right for you? If you think so, some guides to programs might be useful: the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) guide to programs, or the MFA Programs Database from Poets & Writers Magazine. In book form, there's also The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students.
 
Perhaps an MFA program isn’t in the cards for you. Perhaps you might be be a better writer going under your own steam. Can’t you have mentorship, community and connections without the hefty price tag? Can’t you create your own reading lists and writing assignments, your own deadlines? Meet writer friends and share ideas and constructive criticism on your work? I’ll bet you can do these things. After all, you have the whole library at your fingertips!*
 
Here’s a booklist for you: DIY Creative Writing MFA
 
You might try working through an online Creative Writing course: there are quite a few free online courses offered by MIT OpenCourseWare! These cover different topics and genres, with courses about reading and writing poetry, reading and writing stories, writing the personal essay, genre writing, writing about race and border crossings… You can find these and other free (and for-fee) online courses on the Springboard course finder. If you'd like some help finding a syllabus or other course materials that are a good fit for you and the work you'd like to do, please feel free to get in touch with us
 
Especially if you want to do it yourself, local resources for writers are essential - they include classes, events, and writing groups. Here’s our post about some of them in the Portland area.  Also see our booklist of creative writing prompts and guides for ideas for creating your own assignments!
 
Let's not forget that the whole point of an MFA program in Creative Writing is to do a huge amount of work in a focused, directed sort of way. MFA students read like crazy, from the masters to the innovators. They write like crazy, all the time, head down and pen moving (or, you know, keyboard clicking). They read one anothers' work and think intensely about how and why a great piece of writing works. They dig deep into the mysteries and ambiguities and theories of language and literature. Get to work! 
 
*Sorry, shameless plug for library services. But seriously: everything you need to read is here, and plenty of resources for guidance about craft. We can help you borrow obscure poetry books via Interlibrary Loan, if necessary. We can connect you with suggestions for your reading list. We can even provide space for writing. If only we could help with the problem of time for writing.

There’s nothing like a great music biography. Tales of sex, drugs, unimaginable circumstances, and music are a great combination. One of my favorite genres, I've read many of them, most recently Andy Taylor’s Wild Boy.  It's always a thrill to witness the rock star lives we were never meant to see, or at least remember if we were there. Here's a couple to start with:

hammer of the gods cover

 

Much has been written about Led Zeppelin. One of the juciest, Hammer of the Gods, is a great intro to the world of the rock biography. Private jets, groupies and thirty minute drum solos were only the beginning. Their unprecedented fame and unfathomable level of excessive indulgences remain jaw dropping.

 

 

I'm with the band cover

 

While Jimmy Page was soloing with his violin bow, Pamela Des Barres was wrangling backstage passes for herself and a few friends.  In her tell all biography, I’m With the Band, she shares her tales of an unbelievable life travelling amongst rock’s elite including : Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, Chris Hillman, and Jim Morrison. It’s the kiss-and-tell story of one woman, rock and roll, and being an “Almost Famous” fly on the wall of some interesting hotel rooms.

 

This is only a start.  For more check out this list or ask me for recommendations!

You see them on the corners of trendy streets, or casting forlorn glances at the Paul Bunyan statue over in North Portland… bearded young men in checked wool shirts and heavy leather boots, doing their best to project a studied air of vintage outdoorsiness. But lay aside that retro axe you bought on Mississippi avenue, urban lumberjack - have I got the book for you! Axes aren’t very useful at soccer games anyway, despite what local ad agencies might like you to think.

Golden Spruce book jacketIn the Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia, there once stood an impossible tree, a genetic mutant that survived against the odds, a seven foot diameter spruce that glowed with golden needles and that was known to the Haida people as K’iid K’iyaas (Elder Spruce). But one wintry night, Grant Hadwin, a logger turned radical environmentalist swam naked across a frigid river, towing a chainsaw behind him, and singlehandedly cut down this freakish and beautiful tree. In The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant examines the life of this enigmatic man, who could wander into the wilderness with nothing but light clothing and an open-sighted rifle, and emerge days later with a mountain goat slung over his shoulders, whose early years as a logger coupled with emotional strain sparked a terrible awakening to the devastation his profession had wreaked on the land he loved. Intertwined with the story of Hadwin are chapters about Northwest forest ecology, as well as history of the Haida people and the logging industry. Check this out if you want to know more about the forests that surround us here in the northwest, or if you’re looking for well-written true stories of wilderness adventure and calamity.

More books about forests, including fact, fiction, and photography, can be found here.

Earlier this summer, people around the world marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, later called the First World War, and the anniversary has created a flurry of interest in the conflict and its impact on people across several continents.

The Great War was great in the sense that it was huge and record-breaking. The 30 or so participating nations sent about 65 million people into battle. It is hard to make an exact count of casualties and injuries that resulted, but it is generally accepted that about 21 million uniformed personnel went home wounded, and 8.6 million died. In addition, about 6.5 million civilians were killed in the fighting.* Obviously, this war had a dramatic effect on people across the globe, altering personal stories, disrupting family patterns, creating opportunities for some and closing doors for others.

Family historians should take note of how the war may have affected their recent ancestors. One way to do that is to get a little context for what the war was like for real people -- you might start with my colleague Rod’s great reading list of books that illuminate the experiences people had in the First World War, both on the battlefield and on the home front.

Of course, you family historians want to track down your own specific ancestors too. Lots of general genealogy books teach you how to find official sources like draft records, military service records, and records of veterans, but the library has a great local resource you may not know about!

article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, Oregon City Enterprise, Dec. 8, 1935, from [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians]If your ancestor served in World War I, survived, and later lived in Oregon, he may be included in the library’s collection of 1930s-era newspaper clippings, [European War, 1914-1918 Participating Oregonians].

On the right you can see an scan of one of the clippings in the collection -- it’s an article about Dr. A. H. Huyke, from the Oregon City Enterprise, published December 8, 1935.

This is one of thirteen articles and obituaries about Oregon WWI veterans, collected by the library in 1934 and 1935 and preserved together in a binder.  We’re not sure exactly why these articles were set aside and given special treatment; and we don’t know whether they were clipped by a librarian, a library volunteer, or a community member who later donated them to the library. But here they are, a lovely little slice of history just waiting for a genealogist digging into their family’s Oregon past!

I share this collection with you for two reasons:

The first reason is that maybe you are digging into an Oregon ancestor’s World War I military service and this is just the perfect resource for you! But there are only thirteen newspaper clippings in this collection, so it’s a little bit unlikely that many of you will find this the perfect source.

My second reason for sharing this collection is that I want you to remember that the library is rich in unusual, deep, and useful sources for your family history research.

Not least among these rich resources is our amazing complement of skilled librarians. Whenever you have an odd or challenging question that you can’t easily find the answer to; whenever you wonder if there might be a great resource that would illuminate the story of one of your ancestors’ past perfectly, ask us!

Librarians, I like to say, love questions. We are ready to help you find the right tools and resources for your genealogy research, and we’re happy to show you how to use those tools efficiently and effectively. So ask us the next time you’re at the library, or call or email us anytime.


* I got these numbers from Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1494-2007, by Micheal Clodfelter (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c2008). The book has a huge amount of detail about the various casualty figures and other war-related data.


 

He might be controversial, but when it comes to me, sex-advice columnist Dan Savage is preaching to the choir. I’ve been enjoying his columns for close to twenty years, I’ve read several of his books, I loved him on This American Life, and I’m convinced that his entertaining, sex-positive podcast will improve all of your sex-lives if you’ll just start listening regularly. He’s funny, a highly engaging story-teller, and he calls the religious right on their nonsense in a way I find very refreshing.

I read most of his newest book, American Savage, on an airplane recently, and I pretty much lived through the whole gamut of human emotion during my eight-hour flight. I cheered as he talked about the the ridiculous inadequacy of abstinence-only sex education  in the United States. I laughed out loud while reading his stories about being a parent to his very conventionally straight son. I was pleased to find out about a website for teens I later told my daughter about-- it offers great information about the human body and sexuality.

I was moved as I read about the It Gets Better video project on YouTube he and his husband started to help LGBT teens who are being bullied. I was very moved by his story of the death of his mother, especially as I was on my way back to Portland after having spent time on the east coast caring for my mom, who was getting over a serious health issue.  At one point, when I was reading an especially naughty passage from the chapter on Dan’s marriage, which is “monogamish” rather than monogamous, I glanced over to see what the person in the next seat was reading. (I do this incessantly. I’m the person on the bus trying to crane my neck inconspicuously so I can see what you’re reading.) On the airplane, the person in the next seat was reading… a  magazine-sized church newsletter! I am absolutely not making this up. She was very nice, and possibly not incredibly nosy like me about other people’s reading material, so all was well. While an airplane might not be the best place to enjoy Dan Savage’s writing, I still think you should check him out. And definitely listen to the podcast!

Best 'free box' in Portland

In my SE neighborhood people care about the environment.  Most houses have a small vegetable garden, and the green and blue recycling bins are always lined up in front like small soldiers on recycling pick-up day. The sidewalks and streets bustle with people taking riding their bikes or walking to work.

Unwanted items are left out on the parking strip with a sign that says "FREE."  Anything can be there - a box of books, clothes, wine glasses, stuffed animals, you name it.  I can never walk by one of these free boxes without stopping to look.  Especially if there are books or magazines.  Who knows what treasures could be hidden there? I recently found Norwegian mystery author, Karin Fossum’s book The Indian Bride in a free box.

Today as  I was walking home clutching my latest find, it occurred to me that the Multnomah County Library is the best ‘free box’ of all.  Who knows what treasures you may find when you walk through the library’s door? Maybe a popular new thriller or a thick old classic. Maybe a study guide that will help you pass your SATs or fix your car.  Maybe your favorite childhood book that you want to read to your own kids.

The possibilities are endless.   

Plus when you are use library materials you are recycling too!

So don’t be shy: find you next great read at the best free box in town - the Multnomah County Library!

 

 

 

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.

I've heard the critics who say adults should read adult books. Like Madeline, I say, "pooh-pooh".  If you don't have a child in your life, you're missing out. Picture books have the ability to charm and surprise, not to mention the fact that they come with art, really glorious art, in a dizzying array of styles. That's why I want to suggest you find a kid to share my new favorite with, Hermelin the Detective Mouse.

All kinds of things are going on with the residents of Offley Street, but luckily, none of them are escaping the sharp eye of Heremelin, a mouse with a Sherlockian bent. When Hermelin comes -- anonymousely -- to the rescue, the grateful residents wonder, 'who is this mysterious detective?'

It's a fun romp, and both adults and kids will enjoy examining the detailed pictures to try to solve the mystery themselves. So go ahead, read a picture book. You can always say you're getting it for a young friend.

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