Monday, November 30, 2009

A Few Of Our Favorite Things -- a continuing series

My favorite holiday story is "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a fast-paced and delightful tale of a Christmas goose, a lost hat, and a priceless gem. This is the story in which Sherlock Holmes, examining a battered bowler, deduces,

"That the man was highly intellectual is of course obvious upon the face of it, and also that he was fairly well-to-do within the last three years, although he has now fallen upon evil days. He had foresight, but has less now than formerly, pointing to a moral regression, which, when taken with the decline of his fortunes, seems to indicate some evil influence, probably drink, at work upon him. This may account for the obvious fact that his wife has ceased to love him."
In other words, it is a perfect Holmes story, and has been a favorite in my family since I was a child. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" is to be found in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Whose wonderful life is it?

"Aww, Mom, not again!" my family wailed, whenever I announced it was time for our annual viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life." No one else appreciated the layers of meaning I found so intriguing in this popular Christmas film classic.

The movie, released in 1946, is based on Philip Van Doren Stern's short story "The Greatest Gift." Unable to get it published, he printed 200 copies to send out as Christmas cards in 1943. RKO Productions bought the rights for $10,000, and, in turn, sold them to Frank Capra's company, Liberty Films. It was Jimmy Stewart's first movie after he returned to civilian life after World War II, and at the time it was released, it received mixed reviews and was only moderately successful.

A New York Times review disparaged the sentimentality of the film: "Mr. Capra's nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile." James Agee, a writer for The Nation, admired its portrayal of two kinds of capitalists: "Capra's villainous capitalist—excellently played, in harsh black and white, by Lionel Barrymore—is a hundred per cent Charles Dickens. His New Capitalist—equally well played by Frank Albertson, in fashionable grays—makes his fortune, appropriately, in plastics, is a blithe, tough, harmless fellow." Interestingly, the FBI labeled the movie as "subversive," and charged that its use of a nasty, Scrooge-like businessman "was a common trick used by communists."

The film continues to inspire varying interpretations. Wendell Jamieson, in a 2008 New York Times article called it "a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams," while a recent screening at a Catholic university discussed "how Frank Capra’s tale of the creation and salvation of Bedford Falls echoes God's deliverance of the Hebrews to a promised land flowing with milk, honey and justice."

Which brings me back to why I love "It’s a Wonderful Life." Do you ever wonder, "What if I had not gone to that party and met so-and-so?" "What if I hadn’t stepped on the brakes in time?" "What if…?" I enjoy the alternative history, or science fiction aspect of the story. If George Bailey had not been born, what would life in Bedford Falls be like? The beginning of the movie, narrated by angels, introduces us to George, and shows us critical moments of his life where he made a significant difference. We later witness what would have happened if he had not been born.

I have many favorite scenes from the movie. I love the romantic dialogue when George promises to lasso the moon for Mary. I always laugh when he frantically searches for Mary in Pottersville, only to learn—gasp—she never married and became the town librarian! And I get goose-bumps every time George reaches into his coat pocket and finds Zuzu’s petals.

This year I won't inflict "It’s a Wonderful Life" on my family, but it will be the featured film for December's Literary Flick. Come watch it with me, and tell me what you think!

Jeff's Top Ten List Why Newport Library Is The Best:

Click on the links to find out more information on any of Newport Library's outstanding services.

10. Inter-Library Loan: We don't have what you want? The library can order books from around the country. To access our online ILL form, click HERE.

9. Adult Programs: Award-winning authors, journalists and scientists speak about their work, their causes, their discoveries. Check out the schedule HERE.

8. Outreach: Do you know someone who is homebound and unable to travel to the library? Contact our Outreach Coordinator, Lynn Dennis (265-2153), to arrange a volunteer to make regular deliveries of library materials.

7. Free Computer Classes: Every week, library staff teach classes on beginning internet use, popular software programs, useful databases and more. Check the current class offerings HERE.

6. Our Excellent Staff: 'nuff said.

5. Children's Story Time: Several weekly children’s programs are offered to introduce your kids to the magic of reading. For story time schedules, click HERE.

4. Monthly Movies Based On Books: with FREE popcorn! Check the schedule and show times HERE.

3. Free Wifi: Access the internet from you own laptop or mobile device from anywhere in the library.

2. The Best Independent And Foreign FIlm Collection On The Oregon Coast. To browse our humongous collection, click HERE.

1. Our Fireplace: What other library has THIS?

Newport Library is your community center for information, education and entertainment. To find out more, log on to our HOMEPAGE, your portal to all we have to offer.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A cookbook recommendation

Cookbook author Sheila Lukins died this year. I am a very basic cook, but whenever I want to make something a little fancier, I reach for a Lukins cookbook. She has never let me down. Her dishes are consistently delicious, yet her recipes are simple enough that they don't intimidate me (and she never asks me to buy any special equipment).

In her honor, here is Sheila Lukins' Dreamy Garden-Fresh Spaghettini, a bright-tasting and sprightly dish with caramelized tomatoes and lemon that is quite unlike your usual pasta with red sauce.

Serves 8

16 ripe plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon sugar
Freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 3 to 4 lemons)
1 1/2 pounds spaghettini
8 ounces snow peas

1. Preheat oven to 250. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

2. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the sugar and pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are roasted-looking and less watery, 1 1/2 hours. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the tomatoes and their juices in a large bowl.

3. Add the parsley, capers, lemon zest and lemon juice, and toss gently.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat and add the spaghettini. Cook until just tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and add to the tomato mixture. Toss well.

5. Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a bowl over high heat. Add the snow peas and cook until crisp-tender, 1 minute. Drain and add to the pasta and tomatoes, toss well, and serve immediately.

That comes from Celebrate!, a cookbook that the library system does not own (and I'm not donating mine - I can't get through the holidays without it). But if you want to sample other recipes from this creative chef, try Lukins' USA Cookbook or her All Around the World Cookbook.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Few of Our Favorite Things – first in a continuing series

From now until the end of December, we'll be posting small reviews of the Newport Library staff's favorite holiday books, movies, and music.

First is Auggie Wren's Christmas Story by Paul Auster. Invited to write a Christmas piece by the New York Times, respected author Auster was stumped. Then his friend Auggie Wren told him a tale of a lost wallet. The result is this unsentimental and surprising little book.

Auggie Wren's Christmas Story is recommended by Martha, Newport Library's interlibrary loan clerk. If you like it, Martha recommends that you also check out the DVD Smoke, which Auster co-wrote, and which contains a film version of this same story. "It really is one of Harvey Keitel's better turns," says Martha, "and even William Hurt comes off pretty well." (Martha does not mince words.)

We hope you'll check back to hear what other members of the library staff like to read, watch, and listen to during the holiday season. And if you have a favorite, please put it in the comments!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

generosity: an enhancement by Richard Powers

A writer/editor gets a part time job teaching creative writing at an art college, and meets a young woman who radiates such joy-- all the time-- that he begins to wonder if she's mentally ill. A scientist whose thirst for knowledge has led him to many ground-breaking discoveries, as well as fame and fortune, seeks the genomic key to mood and attitude. A journalist, whose television career deeply disappoints her highly intellectual parents, amazes the American public with a hip layperson's guide to science in TV form. And a counselor who loves helping people above all else falls in love.

I won't tell you how these threads fit together-- I will tell you it's not in the usual way. There is some metafiction involved (not necessarily a good thing, in my opinion.) According to the Free Online Dictionary (, metafiction is "fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions." In generosity: an enhancement, it's a tool that awakens you to the idea that the book is a philosophical or moral challenge, a thought experiment rather than 'just a story'.

This book is outside of my usual genres: I guess I'd call it contemporary literature, if I had to put it in a box. It's a peculiar book, but it kept me interested all the way through, with some perplexity and plenty of amusement. I'm still thinking about what it would mean to live in a world where it would be possible to predetermine the happiness of your children--if you had enough money. Would it then seem irresponsible to have children if you couldn't afford to change their chromosomes? Would it cheapen the highs if the lows never got very low? Would people seem callous, always happy no matter what the circumstances? Lots of food for thought-- check it out. Click the image above to go to generosity in our catalog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Edge Of Existence

As a kid, I used to love those Saturday morning adventure specials on TV. The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, The American Sportsman, Wild Kingdom, PBS specials like those on the Yanomamo of Brazil or the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Coupled with the then still exotic articles found in National Geographic, they introduced me to the great big world out there beyond the somewhat narrow confines of suburban Bethesda, Maryland where I grew up. I believed that the world still contained plenty of adventures just waiting for me to graduate from the 7th grade.

Lest you think that we’ve now become entirely tamed by cell phones, GPS and the internet, a new documentary series, the Edge Of Existence, proves that there are still a few places in the world where traditional cultures eke out a living from a dangerous land, or in one case, the sea.

Our intrepid host, Donal MacIntyre, is an Irish investigative journalist who spends time with some of the world’s last remaining traditional societies. Whether it’s hunting salt-water crocodiles in Borneo, cutting salt blocks from the Bolivian altiplano, or bouncing uncomfortably along with a camel trek across the Arabian desert to trade dates, MacIntyre joins in the work with plucky good-natured curiosity and a real respect for how hard people struggle just to put food on the table.

Some cultures, like the Omani Bedouin, take what they want from us, cell phones and Toyota pick-ups, and leave the rest, while others are forced to adapt with no power to choose. Out-of-work headhunters in Borneo are now reduced to distilling moonshine they call Steam, with a technology brought home by a returning college student. The Bajau Laut, Sea Gypsies of the East Indies, are citizens of no country who spend their entire lives at sea on the run from hostile mainland police.

The Edge of Existence is an entertaining excursion into the exotic: a reminder of how far we’ve come from a subsistence lifestyle. But it also reminds us that our comfortably modern lives aren’t the only ones that matter.

Click HERE to reserve Edge of Existence.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pants on fire

The interesting thing about Micah is that she's a liar. She lies to everyone, including the reader.

Liar by Justine Larbalestier opens the day Micah finds out that Zach is dead. Micah went running with Zach most evenings after school, and a lot of people, including Zach's official girlfriend, Sarah, think that they were more than friends. Micah tells them that they were just running partners, but she tells us that she and Zach were secretly a couple. She tells us that they had sex. She tells us that they didn't have sex. She tells us that she was in love with Zach, but that he didn't love her. Which version should we believe?

Micah also tells us that she didn't murder Zach. The story she tells us about the last night of Zach's life is so incredible, it couldn't possibly be true. Or maybe it has to be true, because no one would tell a lie that blatant. Or maybe it's the complicated delusion of someone who lies so much she doesn't know the truth anymore, herself.

Does Micah ever give the real story? Check out Liar and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Oregon Author

I recently discovered that Patricia A. McKillip, one of my all-time favorite authors, was born in Salem and lives not too far from here, on the Oregon coast. (She seems to be quite private and has very little Internet presence, so I won't out her by telling you exactly where.)

I've been reading McKillip's novels since I was a teenager. She writes myth-soaked Tolkienesque fantasy, often featuring ancient mages, dangerously beautiful faerie-folk, and bewildered protagonists struggling against dark magic. Her publisher gives her books pretty, flowery covers, that might make you think they're all girlish unicorns and rainbows. But McKillip is an excellent writer with an original, elegant prose style, and her novels have great power. She's won a basketful of awards, including -- twice -- the prestigious World Fantasy Award.

My favorites are The Book of Atrix Wolfe; Alphabet of Thorn; and the Riddle-Master trilogy, with which I fell passionately in love when I was fourteen. All are highly recommended. (She has written a few contemporary novels as well, but I don't like these as much: the characters still talk like legendary kings and maidens, which makes it hard to picture them driving cars or vacuuming.)

Since learning that McKillip lives on the coast, I've started re-reading her books, trying to find Oregon there. She lived in New York's Catskill Mountains for a long time, and the truth is that most of the landscapes in her books resemble the ancient mountains and deep deciduous forests of the Northeast. However, her most recent book, The Bell at Sealey Head, is set on a wild and rocky coast.

...the cliff behind the inn, where the waves were breaking so hard they sent spume high in the air that turned again and fell as a gentle rain onto the rocks. Gulls hung in the wind, white as froth, so neatly balanced they were motionless in all that roil before they dropped a wing, caught a current, and cried out as they flew over the sea. Another bell was sounding: the channel marker tumbling about in the tide, jangling to guide one last fishing boat toward the harbor on the north side of the headland.

Yes, that sounds familiar. (And doesn't Sealey Head sound like the name of an Oregon town?)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Conversation Project: A New Chautauqua

A few months ago we applied for two Conversation Projects through Oregon Humanities, formerly known as the Oregon Council for the Humanities. We were awarded both, and on November 5 at 7:00 p.m., we will host the first of 31 statewide Conversation Projects.

"Life in a Mega City: Images of Urban Bangladesh" features photojournalist Geoffrey Hiller, who spent a year in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hiller went there on a Fulbright Fellowship to teach Interactive Media. He spent part of each day photographing people—in the streets, in markets and shops, on construction sites, in schools and madrasas—capturing the ever-changing urban landscape of this mega city.

He will address several topics of conversation: Are there connections between our consumer choices and a global work force? What are the reasons for and challenges associated with the growth of mega cities such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, which is home to 15 million inhabitants?

The second Conversation Project, "Night of a Thousand Stars: A Portrait of Life in Iraq" will take place December 5.

While in Iraq in early 2003, photojournalist Joel Preston Smith visited Iraqis in their homes and workplaces. He went to concerts with them, and ate meals with them, taking photographs along the way. After the war started, he photographed them in the hospital and grieving the loss of loved ones. He also spent time with American troops on patrol.

While at times it seems we live in isolation on the Oregon Coast, programs like these bring the greater world to us, and remind us of our shared humanity with other cultures. We hope you’ll join the conversations!