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Wit and compassion are two qualities that do not always go together, but they always seem to mingle nicely in the work of David Rakoff. It was bittersweet reading his last book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. I’d heard him so often on the radio, especially on This American Life, that I could hear Rakoff’s quiet, witty voice in my head as I read. Rakoff died of cancer at the age of 47 in 2012, and I miss him.

This novel in verse is short and sweet, sometimes dark, but leavened with rhymes that are so clever I’d sometimes have to stop and give a whoop of pleasure before returning to the story. At one point, a 1950s secretary named Helen, her affair with her unworthy boss having ended badly, is remembering the scene she made afterwards at a memorable office Christmas party.

...Where feeling misused, she had got pretty plastered,
And named his name, publicly, called him a bastard.
The details are fuzzy, though others have told her
She insulted this one, and cried on that shoulder,
Then lurched ‘round the ballroom, all pitching and weaving
And ended the night in the ladies lounge, heaving.


The story jumps through the whole 20th century through a number of loosely connected characters, and is more a series of character studies and vignettes than a novel. Terrible things happen to some of these characters, but what shines through more than anything else is Rakoff’s pleasure in life and his pleasure in observation.

Towards the end, a chapter about Clifford, a character who is dying of AIDS, ends with these lines:

He thought of those two things in life that don’t vary
(Well, thought only glancingly; more was too scary)
Inevitable, why even bother to test it,
He’d paid all his taxes, so that left… you guessed it.

Here you'll find a list of audio books by Rakoff and by other familiar voices from public radio. Please let me know if I forgot to include a good one.

Have you heard the news that Spain is expected to relax its citizenship requirements to make it easier for people who can prove they have Sephardic roots to attain Spanish citizenship?

A copy of the 1492 Alhambra Decree, which required Jews to convert to Christianity, or be expelled from Spain. [Wikimedia Commons]In 2012, Spain passed a law with special provisions for people of Sephardic heritage to become Spanish citizens.  Now the Spanish parliament is considering a new law that would allow people who can prove Sephardic heritage to become dual citizens of Spain, and speed up the process.  This relaxing of citizenship rules is intended as partial reparation for a “historic mistake” -- in 1492, Spanish Jews were given an awful choice by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand: convert to Christianity, or be forcibly expelled from the country within four months.

If you have Sephardic heritage, or think you might, this is a great time to begin to research your family history!  The Sephardic roots booklist below should help you get started -- and it includes several general books about Sephardic history as well.  The library also has lots of books about general Jewish genealogy research.

Perhaps you want more background about Spain’s 2012 citizenship law and the revisions currently being considered?  Here are some basics to get you started:

You may also want to mark your calendar for the upcoming exhibit at the Oregon Jewish Museum: Viva Sephardi: A Century of Sephardic Life in Portland.  The exhibit opens June 11th, 2014.


Do you have more questions about genealogy research?  Are you working on your own family history?  If you'd like specific advice or help with your research challenges, do please Ask the Librarian!


 

I have decided my poetry is so bad that I mustn’t write any more of it.”
- Cassandra from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

BeingStaying alive bookjacket a lapsed poet myself, I thought it important to take the time for a blog on poetry for National Poetry Month. Lapsed poet? Lapsed, meaning I studied it at university, have been published, won a competition, but have all but given it up. Sounds sorrowful, but truly it isn’t. More to the point, it is a changing of priorities. I only write when I feel like it. And often times, I feel like going for a walk instead, laying in the sun, reading, watching a film, trying a new recipe, or learning something new like the cello. You can see how poetry begins to take a backseat. 

What I do now to keep my fingers in the poetry pot, is to use the poetry post in front of my house to post poems out into the neighborhood on a regular basis. Sometimes I post my own and sometimes it is another’s work that moves me at that particular moment. This keeps me reading poetry, which often leads to feeling like writing it myself. And the cycle continues…last year I purchased three new volumes of poetry, so perhaps I am warming up again to the idea of being a poet. If you are new to poetry or coming back to it after a break, why not pick up Staying Alive by Bloodaxe Books? In this perfect anthology you will find both the old standard and contemporary poets, easily digestible and applicable sections, and approachable poems about everyday topics.

One April I thought I would write a poem each day to celebrate National Poetry Month. It ended badly. How will you celebrate?

Witch of little Italy bookjacketI've been working as a librarian for eighteen years. I have been involved in projects over the years. I heard about the My Librarian project. I thought about applying. Then I read a novel I loved. I had to share! I wanted to spread the love. My Librarian is about spreading the love of reading. I especially love novels about witches - witches that succeed and dispel evil or dark forces - witches who, against all odds, disarm evil.

Ok, maybe you're wondering what the novel is that turned my head. The Witch of Little Italy by Palmieri made me excited again about this genre. The story is about Eleanor Amore who returns to her grandmother and aunt’s home in the Bronx. She is pregnant and needs the comfort of home with her estranged family. Oddly enough Eleanor doesn’t remember her life before that tenth summer that she spent with her family. She is hoping they have the keys to her memory loss. If you liked Witches of Eastwick and Practical Magic, try The Witch of Little Italy.  Also check out my list of Witchy novels.

book jacket

 Ever wonder why a cheeseburger in Ohio tastes the same in Utah?  Your cup of coffee has the same kick in St. Louis as it did in Santa Fe?  Look no further than Fred Harvey and the "Harvey girls".

Stephen Fried’s wonderful book, Appetite for America examines the westward expansion of the railroad through the life and legacy of Fred Harvey. Known to some as the “founding father of the nation's service industry”, Harvey saw railroads as more than transportation.  The growing needs of workers and tourists required a better quality of amenities.  Harvey was happy to accomodate.  From humble beginnings, he transformed the landscape of America’s eateries featuring clean restaurants, efficient service, and a cup of coffee that tasted the same no matter which depot you stopped at.

It is a fascinating tale of one man's desire to provide a civilized place to eat and how it became so much more.  All aboard!

Earlier this week I attended the reading of a will. Unfortunately, the reading wasn't received well, and it looks like we are headed to trial. Thankfully, I get to witness the debacle from the comfort of my easy chair.

I'd like to share what I am reading this week. The best seller lists call out to me, and this week I am enjoying Sycamore Row by John Grisham. Featuring several of the characters from A Time to Kill, Sycamore Row takes us back to Ford County, where we realize that racism is still alive and well in the late 1980's. Seth Hubbard, termminally ill with cancer, has ended his life, and left behind a handwirtten will leaving almost all of his 21 million dollar fortune to his black housekeeper, and that does not sit well with his family. This story reminds me that, although we as a society have made great strides with regards to racism, we still have a long way to go.

Grisham's writing evokes the south in glorious ways, from the drawl of its residents, to the wrap around porches on the most stately of the town's houses. We also get a taste of the wrong side of the tracks, the areas where the poor blacks live. Put it together and throw in the trial and you've got a simmering pot of racial tension disguised in the genteel conversation of the south. 

If you've been wondering what happened to young lawyer Jake Brigance, think about placing your hold for Sycamore Row.  Access the title here, and take your pick from the book, the audio CD, or the ebook!  And while you are waiting your turn in the holds queue, maybe revisit some older John Grisham titles, and rediscover one of the great storytellers of the day.

 

Holding HandsBecoming a caregiver is a life-changing event. Maybe it starts gradually, with a bit of household help now and again, or maybe it starts with the sudden shock of a phone call in the night. Whatever your situation, take heart in knowing that you are not alone. A wealth of resources is available to support you.

Multnomah County

When you don’t know where to turn first, the Multnomah County Aging & Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Helpline is a good place to start. Information and assistance is available to seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers 24 hours a day. Call 503-988-3646 Monday - Friday, 8am-5pm, to reach the most knowledgeable staff. Through this same number, you can contact the Family Caregiver Support Program, which offers services that can take some of the burden off unpaid caregivers.

Elders in Action is another great local resource. Through their Personal Advocate Services, trained volunteers help older adults and link individuals to community resources. They focus in the area of housing, healthcare, crime, and elder abuse. Personal Advocate volunteers assist older adults in Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties.

Oregon

The Aging and Disability Resource Connection is a resource directory for Oregon families, caregivers, and consumers seeking information about long-term support and services. Here you will find quick and easy access to information about resources in your community.

National

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) knows that caregiving can be overwhelming. Through their Caregiving Resource Center, you can connect with caregiving resources both local and far away. Topics covered include Planning & Resources, Benefits & Insurance, Legal & Money Matters, Care for Yourself, Providing Care, Senior Housing, End-of-Life Care, and Grief & Loss. Caregiving Tools include a Care Provider Locator, a Long-Term Care Calculator, and even a Caregiving Glossary.

Caregivers for persons with Alzheimer’s and dementia face special challenges. The Alzheimer’s Association Caregiver’s Center can help arm you with the information you need to handle those challenges, whether you’re facing them now or need to be preparing for the future. Also through the Caregiver’s Center, you can locate local support groups, which can become an indispensable source of information and emotional support.

The Family Caregiver Alliance provides information on all aspects of caregiving, from public policy and research to practical tips on caregiving. Fact sheets on multiple issues are available in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Caregiver’s Magazine is an online magazine for, about, and by caregivers. Here you will find first-hand stories of others’ caregiving journeys, as well as an online bookstore and tips on resources and strategies.

There are 65.7 million family caregivers in the US--29% of the adult population--and caregiving affects the whole family. The National Alliance for Caregiving is a non-profit coalition of over 50 national organizations focused on family caregiving. The organization identifies new trends and sheds light on the varying needs of caregivers nationwide.

Caregiving is challenging enough when Mom is next door. What if she’s in Chicago? Or Boston? Having an ally on the ground to help you assess the situation can be exactly the extra bit of assistance you need to make sure that all goes well. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can help you locate a professional Geriatric Care Manager, a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives.

If you’re a primary caregiver, or if you’re coordinating care at a distance, no doubt you know what it’s like to feel as if you don’t have enough hands, or enough hours in the day, to do everything that needs to be done. Lotsa Helping Hands harnesses the power of community and links it through an online service to provide help when it’s needed. You can create your own community and ask for help, without having to make a dozen phone calls or feel that you’re putting friends on the spot.


Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself! The stories of other caregivers and how they’ve handled their challenges may give you the ideas you need to take care of yourself.

Contributed by jennyw

You listen to Radiolab, right? I know bunches of you do. We all stood shoulder-to shoulder late last year waiting to get into their live gig at The Keller Auditorium. (I was the short brunette with a glass of wine.) Anyway, did you hear their recent replay of the show on rabies? It blew my diabolical-virus-loving mind. And made me think back to a book I read a couple years ago, Rabid, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy. If you loved that Radiolab show, read the book. It chronicles the Milwaukee protocol story, and tons of other cool stuff.   

Book cover, Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica MurphySo. Rabies. Turns out that it is one smart virus, like so many of the super deadly ones are, and we can learn loads of valuable info from its four thousand year history. It spreads easily from animal to human, and exhibits pretty normal symptoms at first... headache, fever, sore throat. Makes you think twice about that cold you're fighting now, doesn't it? 

Why this cure? An antidote to screen time, a break from the princesses and ninjas, finding time to share a passion with your children of all ages, even something to read for grownups that can be digested in small bites.

Where’s this cure? Right here in the greater Portland metro area, in our backyards and urban forests.

What’s this cure? Reading books that have inspired me to delight and revel in the natural world, followed by a visit to a nearby park to answer questions I didn’t know I had. What? I was trampling on efts? What are those again?

Here are some of my favorites: fiction that includes natural history and natural history that reads like a story. Find out why voles turn somersaults or learn to tell bird nests from squirrel dreys in books about your backyard or our urban forests.

Did you know that there are regular programs for preschoolers at many of our natural areas?  Or that you can see live owls and vultures at Audubon’s Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center? You might also try a guided family hike to explore painted turtles or working to evict invasive species. One great website that consolidates these opportunities is Exploring Portland's Natural Areas.

Maybe instead of a cure we should just call it fun.

louder than hell book coverOnce upon a time there was a commercial-free heavy metal station under the control of high school students.  Upon reaching that magical spot on the dial, “abandon all hope ye who enter” should have wafted via backmasked message about an inevitable descent into a magnificent and all too misunderstood musical realm.

My trek into the rabbit hole of metal began with the siren calls of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Pantera, and Slayer. Soon, I encountered King Diamond, Sepultura, Nail Bomb, and Dio, making some frightening new friends who forged a permanent place in my heart.  

Metal is not simply about black clothes, hellfire, and crunchy riffs at the speed of darkness. There’s a rich history of true musicianship, passion, and very interesting lives.  In the definitive history of Metal, “Louder than Hell” Wiederhorn uses over 250 interviews from the musicians who lived and died to tell the tale.  Skillful editing has created a pleasantly exhaustive account of the many genres and subgenres of metal including, thrash, speed, death, and yes, even nu...  

 If you've ever been curious about what lurks behind the black curtain and behind the wall of Marshall amps, this is your backstage pass. 

 

 

Before I go to sleep bookjacketBefore We Met and Before I Go To Sleep, You Should Have Known How to Be a Good Wife but there were These Things Hidden Under Your Skin and Rebecca, The Silent Wife was Watching You with Sharp Objects in the Apple Tree Yard under The Cover of Snow so even though you knew The Husband's Secret you would no longer have The Innocent Sleep you so desperately needed after reading so many psychological suspense novels!

Whew. I almost used all of the titles of my favorite thrillers in one sentence! Gone Girl was one of the first of this genre to get a lot of press and now there are more and more of these unpredictable books to keep you quickly turning those pages. 

I'm always trying to find books with the most surprising plot twists. These books go by different names: psychological dramas, suspense novels, chick noir, domesticYou Should Have Known bookjacket thrillers, twisted marriage novels, but they all have some common elements. The characters are ordinary (or sort of ordinary) people in extraordinary situations. The setting needs to be at home, not some international, espionage-y kind of place. The most common backdrop is a marriage - how well do you really know your spouse? Often there is a murder or a disappearance or a disappearance that turns into a murder. Amnesia is pretty common.

The best sinister psychological dramas are well-written with full character development and a twist that catches you by surprise; they’re the ones that keep you up reading way too late at night. Hope you find these as fascinating and wonderfully unpredictable as I found them to be. If you've read other suspense novels that should be on this list, please let me know!

 

 

Photo of Beverly Cleary from beverly cleary dot com

One of the most popular and honored authors of all time, Beverly Cleary has won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. Her books Ramona Quimby, Age 8 plus Ramona and Her Father have been named Newbery Honor Books.

Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon, and, until she was old enough to attend school, lived on a farm in Yamhill, a town so small it had no library. Her mother arranged with the State Library to have books sent to Yamhill and acted as librarian in a lodge room upstairs over a bank. There Mrs. Cleary learned to love books. When the family moved to Portland, where Mrs. Cleary attended grammar school and high school, she soon found herself in the low reading circle, an experience that has given her sympathy for the problems of struggling readers. (1)

Celebrate Oregon's beloved author and famous characters from her novels with the self-guided walking tour Walking With Ramona Map, published by The Library Foundation. The tour begins at the Hollywood Neighborhood Library, 4040 N.E. Tillamook Street, and continues through nearby neighborhoods, exploring the places where the events in her books "really happened." Visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, a special gift to the City of Portland from Friends of Henry & Ramona. Cast in bronze by Portland artist Lee Hunt, the life-sized bronze statues of Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Henry's dog Ribsy welcome young and old to Grant Park.

Continue on through the park, scene of endless adventures: "He passed the playground where he heard the children's shouts and the clank and clang of the rings and swings. Henry didn't stop. He had work to do. He went to the edge of the park where there were no lights and turned on his flashlight. Sure enough, there in the grass under a bush was a night crawler. Henry nabbed it and put it into his jar."

Sculpture of Henry;  photo by Beverly Stafford, Multnomah County LibraryRamona sculpture - photo by Beverly Stafford Multnomah County LibraryRidby the dog sculpture - photo by Beverly Stafford, Multnomah County Library

We hope you enjoy this walking tour. Please be mindful of current residents as you pass by the homes where Beverly Cleary once lived.

Beverly Cleary now resides in California but her influence is always local for us.


Print: Walking With RamonaMap    Copies available at the Central and Hollywood libraries

Sources:

  1. D.E.A.R. : Drop Everything and Read
  2. City of Portland: Grant Park Sculpture Garden. Dedicated on October 13, 1995.
  3. The publication Walking With Ramona was made possible by gifts to The Library Foundation.

 

Advertisement for Rummer Homes, Sunday Oregonian, 4/21/1963.When I saw that last Thursday’s episode of Think Out Loud featured a story Rummer homes -- distinctive mid-century modern houses built by local builder Robert Rummer in the 1960s -- I thought it was the perfect moment to highlight some resources for learning about modern residential classics like the Rummer homes.

So far as I’ve been able to discover, there aren’t any books devoted to Robert Rummer’s houses (maybe you should write one!).  But fans of Rummers have a virtual gathering place, the Rummer Network, home to all sorts of great stuff, including contemporary and historical photos of Rummer houses and some helpful links to information about Eichler houses (Eichlers are California ranch houses developed by Joseph Eichler -- they were the inspiration for Rummer houses).  And, there is an informative article about Rummer houses at the California-based Eichler Network website: “Meet Builder Robert Rummer,” by Joe Bartholow.

Modern Historic Resources of East Portland Of course, Robert Rummer wasn’t the only local builder who spent the post-war years specializing in a new, fresh approach to house design -- cleanly-designed, open architecture was popular everywhere.  To get a sense for the trends in modern house styles in mid-Multnomah County, take a look at the Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s survey, Modern Historic Resources of East Portland (pdf, written for the City of Portland by Historic Preservation Northwest, Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, April 2011).  It focuses on buildings on the east side of 82nd Ave., where many 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s-era subdivisions are located.

Mid Century Home Style is another great source -- especially for mid-century house researchers seeking out primary documentation.  Among other things, the site collects house plan books which were originally published 1937-1963.  These plan books show illustrations of house facades, floor plans, and occasional interior or garden views.  Most are much less avant-garde than Rummer or Eichler houses: primarily these are plain ranch houses, designed for middle America; but nonetheless, many have quite a lot of space-age flair. 

And of course, the library has a lot of great books about the history of modern domestic architecture.  The list below should get you started!


Do you want to learn more about the history of your Portland-area modern house? The library's House history page has lots more resources to help you with your search -- but for specific advice or help with your research challenges, do please Ask the Librarian!


 

I don't actively look for vampire books. Or zombie books. (The only undead I like are skeletons.) That said, some horrific stories are so darned good that I have to like them despite my prejudice. The novella     I Am Legend and the book World War Z were of that calibre. Old-fashioned horror like Frankenstein is just plain fascinating. And so is Rick Yancey's tetralogy that begins with The Monstrumologist.
 
The Monstrumologist book jacketThe story begins with old folios and copious notes written by someone who appears to have lived an unusually long life. They chronicle Will Henry's days as an apprentice to a 'monstrumologist', a professional scientist who pursues and studies monsters. His new master, Pellinore Warthrop, is arrogant and mercurial, brilliant and generally uninterested in humanity. He's larger than life, yet he soon comes to find his young ward 'indispensable'.
 
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed. But he is dead now and has been for nearly ninety years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets. The one who saved me . . . and the one who cursed me. 
 
Orphaned Will Henry (never just 'Will') is taken in by this unlikely mentor and soon finds himself tested, body, mind and soul. How much horror can he endure and still remain himself? And can he avoid the fate of his father, Warthrop's assistant before him, who met... an untimely demise?
 
The writing feels like classic horror; the reader wanders street, crypt and drawing room in a Lovecraftian New England and then much further afield in the later books.  It's absolutely accessible to teens (my 16-year old loves them), but I recommend this most often for people who like Dracula rather than Twilight
 
The books are The Monstrumologist, The Curse of the Wendigo, The Isle of Blood and The Final Descent. Now that the last one is out, get them all. This Dark Endeavor book jacketFreeze your holds until they're all ready. Set aside a weekend, pull the shades, and read by candlelight for maximum shivers. And then thank me or shake your fist and vow vengeance.
 
For other deliciously eerie fun (that involves beginning a career dabbling with dark forces) I also recommend Kenneth Oppel's series-in-progress featuring the apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Start with This Dark Endeavour.

Terry Baxter, Archivist, Multnomah County Archives (photo by Giles Clement)Our guest blogger is Terry. Terry has worked as an archivist for 28 years, the last 15 with the Multnomah County Archives, and currently serves on the Society of American Archivists Council. He is also a proud card-carrying library user who empties the system of poetry and cookbooks on a regular basis.

Multnomah County is going to be 160 years old this year.  While no one is old enough (as far as we know, anyway) to remember those sixteen decades of history, there is a place where those stories are kept. The Multnomah County Archives, in the shadow of Mt. Hood and nestled between a gravel pit and a landfill, has been collecting, preserving, and providing access to the archives of Multnomah County government for 12 years.

Archives are the official records, usually unique and created to document actions and not as a purposeful historical narrative, of an organization preserved indefinitely because of their long-term research value.   In the case of the County Archives, this means records of the activities of Multnomah County’s government agencies. “How boring is THAT?” I can hear you saying right now.  

Map of the Multnomah County Poor Farm, 1938Well, maybe you’d like to see and read about the origins of McMenamins Edgefield as the County Poor Farm. Or watch a film of the 1948 flood that destroyed the second largest city in Oregon, Vanport.  Or see the plans for a professional baseball and football stadium in Delta Park. These and thousands of other records, documenting all aspects of the county and its interactions with its residents from 1854 on, are preserved by archivists for anyone to view and use. Archives have all sorts of tales to tell us about our individual and common pasts, about each other, and about ourselves.

1948 flood that destroyed Vanport, OregonArchivists love to connect people with these stories. Stereotypical views depict archivists as introverted Jocasta Nu’s, hiding in basements, hoarding piles of dusty files. If this was ever accurate, it certainly isn’t now (except the basement part!). Archivists are deeply concerned about context and connection. They locate and describe records and how they relate to the organizations that created them and then work to make those records as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. An archivist’s happiest moment comes when a person’s face lights up after finding something deeply meaningful in the archives.

Proposed stadium in Delta Park in the early 1960sArchivists are also collaborators who know they usually don’t have all the information in their archives that a person needs. There are a number of archives in Multnomah County (and across the rest of the world).  Many residents of Multnomah County are familiar with downtown Portland’s “History Row. ” Located within a short walk of each other on the south park blocks are the Oregon Historical Society, the Portland State University Archives, the Portland Archives and Records Center, and “Portland’s Crown Jewel” – Central Library and its wondrous John Wilson Special Collections.

So come visit, meet an archivist, and let the stories you find connect you to the voices, past and present, of others who have inhabited our county.

Contact:

Terry Baxter, archivist
Multnomah County Archives
1620 SE 190th Avenue
Portland, OR 97233
503.988.3741

Located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in present-day Iraq, the cultures of ancient Mesopotamia made remarkable achievements in writing, art, and agriculture. Image of ziggurat

This National Geographic video provides a short introduction. For older students, here’s a John Green Crash Course video with more details. You may also like this interactive map, which shows how Mesopotamian culture developed.

The University of Chicago has an amazing collection of artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia, and at their website, you can examine them in depth, learn about what daily life was like, listen to interviews with archaeologists, or even go on a virtual archaeological dig.

At the British Museum’s Mesopotamia site, you can find maps and information about the writing, mythology, buildings, and astronomers from various Mesopotamian cultures.

Ancient Mesopotamia covers geography, religion, economics, and the government of Mesopotamian cultures.

Several different empires existed in region of Mesopotamia, including the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The Sumerians were known for inventing cuneiform writing. You can see what your monogram would look like in this writing system. They also wrote the first superhero story, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and played board games. One Babylonian ruler is famous for creating Hammurabi’s Code, a collection of laws. Ziggurats, large step pyramids like the one shown in the photo, were built by the Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians.

If you didn’t find the information that you need, please contact a librarian for more assistance.

Triple Package book jacketSome of the publicity I’d read about The Triple Package by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld made me wonder if it would be like The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which aimed to prove that there is a racial difference in intelligence. The Triple Package is not a book about racial differences, but about cultural similarities. The Triple Package is a narrative about ethnic and religious minorities in America meant to explain what three factors make them successful. The traits are: a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control (or self-discipline). These are characteristics that any individual can possess and aren’t exclusive to any race, ethnicity, or culture.

As a reader, I felt drawn to the stories shared about the immigrant experience and the complicated relationships immigrant parents have with their children. I thought some of the anecdotes felt true to my experience and I could imagine seeing myself and people I knew in these stories. I could also think of other figures and books I admire and imagine how their stories could fit within this schema. Before they were cited, Jhumpa Lahiri's work and Sonia Sotomayor, both popped into my head as “Triple Package” examples.

Although I found issues with The Triple Package, I found it to be a quick and straightforward read. The Triple Package addresses an incredibly controversial subject and raised many questions for me. I recommend this book for anyone who loves reading statistics and scientific studies. I especially recommend this book for those who are interested in pondering the meaning of the American Dream and America’s comeback in a recovering economy.

‘Tis a good thing that I canceled my Spring Break trip to Crimea because, whether hosting the Olympics amid conflict over human rights, racing to police Pussy Riot's random protests, or facing the tense scrutiny in the fight for Crimean annexation, Russia hasn't been this magnified since Reagan and Gorbachev sat through numerous photo-ops pretending to like each other. With all the negativity surrounding this great kingdom as of late, I was reminded of my first memorable images and introduction to Russian culture...skewed as it may have been. 

For someone whose formative years were sculpted in the late '70's through the 1980's, the image of Russia, other than my grandmother reading me sinister Baba Yaga tales, was discovered mainly through the synaptic helmet that was the burgeoning American media scene.  Initially, it was James Bond films, Robin Williams's discovery of true freedom in Moscow on the Hudson, or Yakov Smirnoff's anti-Cold War comic "therapy."  

Suddenly, the image became more ominous, a threat to the milk and honey U.S. zeitgeist. It was always "Us vs. Them," through the simplest, primordial lens of good vs. evil and everything was securely color-related. Anything referenced to Soviet life or Cold War politics was unscrupulously "red," moreso than any of the malingering effects of the McCarthy "Red Menace" years, and it seeped into American culture via John LeCarre and Tom Clancy books or the Hollywood films Red Dawn, Red Heat, and WarGames. You had  to choose or risk becoming ostracized: Yanks or Commies. Wolverines vs. Russkies. MI6 vs. KGB. Rocky vs. Drago.  

Once in high school, it was my trusty English teacher who introduced me to the more respectable literary and cinematic windows of Mother Russia. Not only did I devour classic films and books such as Ivan the Terrible  or every single frame available on Rasputin, but I learned that Russia had so much more to offer than Dr. Zhivago, Turgenev, and Tolstoy. Sure, I read the assigned Crime and Punishment  and Fathers and Sons, and I connected with Dostoyevsky while my classmates groaned, yet through college I learned that not all Russian literature was depression, oppression, and long brutal winters. There, slumbering comedic enlightenment came in the guise of The Master and Margarita, Gogol, and Viktor Pelevin with characters, stories, and political musings that I never knew existed outside of the omniscient, censoring hand of the Iron Editors (I assume in red  pen, naturally).  

The Russian legacy continues to innovate and astound into the 21st century as well, with genre fiction such as Sergei Lukyanenko's pseudo-Angelic Watch  series or stories from the hilarious pen of ex-pat Gary Shteyngart. Whatever your personal desires in Russian literature or culture, they can all be accommodated down at your local library should you seek more than blizzards, "If I Were A Rich Man," or the former governor of California's Oscar-snubbed role as a KGB agent. For in this expansive landscape of history and determination, Behemoth is not just a subversive, vodka-swilling black feline but a rich, thunderous bibliography of a resilient nation. Pazhalsta!

Photo of Asmat people in dug out canoesIt turns out that headhunting isn’t such a simple barbaric act as one would think.  It’s strategic, spiritual and essential to maintain the equilibrium of the universe. At least it was for the Asmat of New Guinea when they encountered Michael Rockefeller swimming towards shore on the morning of November 20, 1961.

Michael Rockefeller was living his dream, collecting primitive art for his father’s new museum, when his makeshift catamaran capsized and he vanished off the coast of New Guinea. After a search-and-rescue effort came up empty handed, it was determined that Michael Rockefeller drowned before reaching shore that fateful day.

Savage Harvest: A Tale Of Cannibals, Colonialism, And Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest For Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman presents a very different story. Balanced and exhaustively researched, Hoffman pieces together a picture of a divided island with a tense colonial history, a fierce cannibalistic warrior society stripped powerless by outsiders, and a privileged young man, unaccustomed to confronting barriers, and so passionate in his pursuit of art, that he cannot recognize the real danger he is in.Photo of book jacket: Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

While perhaps not for the faint of heart, I found Savage Harvest to be a fascinating, one of a kind read for armchair anthropologists such as myself. It’s also the ultimate real-life whodunit for mystery fans. Books like this perfectly exemplify why I love reading non-fiction; stories like this simply can not be made up! 

If after finishing Savage Harvest, you find you can't easily let go of this story, check out items on this list to explore different aspects of the Rockefeller disappearance.

Ah the stories of King Arthur and his knights, the cute thatched cottages, the banquets, the country life, and the bustle of growing cities!  What’s not to like about the Middle Ages and Medieval period in history?  Well, the smell for one.  And let’s not forget the plague. Get all the dirt on what life was really like in Europe during this time.

picture of knightsStart at the Annenberg Learner Middle Ages site for loads of info on everyday life in medieval times including the feudal system, religion, clothes, the arts and more.  This includes movies and other cool interactive stuff.  After you click on the link, scroll to the right to get the content!

 Click on the different people in the street in the Camelot International Village to learn more about their craft or trade and how they lived in the Middle Ages. Find out about entertainers, peasants, traders, thieves, knights, church and religion, women, and lords of the manor.

For a funny and informative video series about the Middle Ages, watch Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives.  Each 30 minute episode examines a different type of person important during the time period like kings, knights, monks and damsels.picture of a king's seal

For a video and interactive introduction to medieval life, watch Everyday Life in the Middle Ages and see if you could survive way back in the day!

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is super boring to look at, but amazing in its amount of primary source material (letters, legal texts, religious documents etc.).  It’s a comprehensive collection of online texts from the entire medieval era, organized by topic and chronologically.

Now that you’ve learned a lot about the Middle Ages, test your knowledge here.

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