Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Let your fingers do the walking...to the library!

When your parents were young, telephones were used to converse with another person. One could dial the library to ask whether a book was available, and the librarian would nimbly flip through a drawer of dog-eared catalog cards. Or one might inquire about magazine articles for a report, and the librarian would thumb through the subject index of a hardbound Readers' Guide.

The stolid card catalog and printed Readers' Guides are no more. Today's library is continuously morphing, and many services are available not just through computers, but also through phones in ways our parents could never have imagined!

Have a question? You can text a librarian, 24/7, through LNet, the statewide librarian network. Just send the word answers to 66746 and enter your question. A librarian will reply as soon as possible. More information is available at http://www.oregonlibraries.net/sms.

Library2Go is the service that offers free downloadable audiobooks, videos, and eBooks. Until recently, you had to download files to your computer, then transfer them to an external device. Now Library2Go has an app for downloading eBooks and audiobooks directly to the Android, Blackberry, iPhone, and Windows Mobile phones. Go to http://www.overdrive.com/software/omc/ to download the right program for your smart phone.

Our library subscribes to a suite of Gale databases, which include reference books, magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers. Gale now has "Access My Library" apps that let you search these databases directly from your phone! Need a story from Time Magazine, a biography of Marie Antoinette, or the latest articles on salmon fisheries? You don’t need to use your computer if you have a compatible device and the Gale app. http://www.gale.cengage.com/apps/aml/PublicPatron/.

I still have a plain old vanilla cell phone, which I only use when I travel. But it’s exciting to know that when I finally break down and get a smart phone, I’ll have some smart apps to use with it!

A man and his map

The man who created the modern science of geology was a blacksmith's son named William Smith. The fact of his parentage, which seems innocuous to us, was to have enormous consequences for his career. In The Map That Changed The World, Simon Winchester tells the story of Smith, of the extraordinary geological map of England that he created, and of the birth of a new science.

He also shows how culture has changed since the day that Smith was cheated of recognition for his accomplishments because of his ungentlemanly birth.

Smith was born in 1769, and as a boy he liked fossils. No one really knew what fossils were at that time; nor could they explain how they were distributed, or what they implied. But many fashionable people collected them and displayed them in beautiful cases.

William Smith was not a fashionable person: he was an engineer and a surveyor, and during his work - prospecting coal mines, developing drainage systems, and surveying canals - he collected fossils, observed underground rock formations, and came to understand fundamental truths about the layers of sedimentary rock that make up most of England. Winchester shows how extraordinary Smith's accomplishment was - the layers of rock he observed had been seen many, many times before, but Smith was the first to formulate a theory of exactly what they meant. He embarked upon a monumental project, published in 1815: a huge, hand-colored map that accurately showed the geological underpinnings of England.

Smith was unacceptable to the members of the fashionable Royal Geographical Society, founded in 1807. It wasn't merely that the Society didn't invite him to join. When they learned of the enormous, important map that he was making, Society members decided to make their own, official map, with the Royal Geographical Society's stamp of approval. They stole his data to do it.

The Map That Changed the World is full of fascinating facts, about fossils and stones, drainage, canals, coal mining, cartography and book publishing. It's also the story of a brilliant man and the monumental challenges he faced in getting recognition for his work, all because he was the son of a blacksmith.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas Wish

Jennifer reads A.A. Milne's poem, "King John's Christmas."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No matter what the future brings, as time goes by

In Connie Willis's universe, you can travel back in time, but you can't change history. History won't let you: if a time-traveler approaches a pivotal moment, one where his presence might alter the course of events, he is somehow diverted. He just can't get there.

Because of that, time travel has become the province of historians, who go back in time and blend with the "contemps" to observe events as they happened. Willis's book Blackout tells the story of three young Oxford students from 2060 who are embedded in England during World War II. Eileen poses as a servant in a country house to observe evacuated London children in 1939. Polly is a London shop girl during the Blitz in 1940. And Michael acts as a reporter, observing the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation from the Dover side of the channel. (Michael can't get to Dunkirk itself, of course; it's a historical pivot point, and no historian has ever been able to approach it.)

Willis obviously admires the courage of Londoners during the nightmare of the war, and Blackout does them homage by showing their stubborn resilience through the eyes of her time-travelers. As Polly sits in a bomb shelter with a group of Londoners, she thinks, "Not knowing. It was the one thing historians could never understand. They could observe the contemps, live with them, try to put themselves in their place, but they couldn't truly experience what they were experiencing. Because I know what's going to happen."

But soon Polly, who has naturally memorized the events of the Blitz so that she can avoid getting killed, notices that bombs seem to be falling when and where they oughtn't. How can that be? Did Polly somehow change history? Did Eileen, when she gave aspirin to a sick child? Or Michael, when he somehow found himself at Dunkirk after all? Maybe the students are mistaken, or the historical record wrong. Or maybe they're trapped in the past forever, doomed to witness a future that should never have happened.

I don't know, and I won't find out until I read the sequel, All Clear. Blackout ends with a killer cliffhanger, so be ready to reserve the second book as soon as you finish the first one!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pluggin' in to Grandmother's time

As the holidays move along, we make plans to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house. We will go by plane, train or automobile, but as suggested by the old song, very few will go by horse drawn sleigh. We will travel in comfort with the aid of our GPS systems and take along our technical devices; cell phones, digital cameras, E-readers and MP3 players.

It’s guaranteed that we will act surprised, once again, at the change of weather, be it sleet or snow, that causes any inconvenient delay in our well-laid plans. We may take pause and recognize that we are lucky to live in such times; with ample travel choices, reliable electricity, even running water and an abundance of technical devices to give as gifts and keep us entertained.

If you’re in the mood for a dose of spirited reality in the midst of the molten glitter of the holidays, may I suggest you plug these downloads to your tech players before you head for Grandma’s house. These stories are guaranteed to give you new appreciation for how much you really have.

Half broke horses by Jeannette Walls – This true life novel was spun by the author, whose Grandmother has an adventurous life growing up on a Texas Ranch. The audio version is read by Jeannette herself, and while listening, you can almost imagine that the wild indomitable spirit of Lily Casey Smith has been channeled through her. A special highlight of the book is her description of attending the film premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” one of her favorite books. She also describes fashioning a new dress for the event out of the red velvet curtains she had purchased a few years prior with S&H Green Stamps.

A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Originally published in 1943, Betty Smith wrote the American classic about a young girl named Francie Nolan and her coming of age in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1900’s. But upon close examination, Miss Smith plainly tore this tale from her own heart. This profoundly moving and tender story of a valiant and sensitive little girl growing up in a poverty stricken family has been called "a book of the century.” Whether you upload it to your E-reader device or listen to the audio version, this endearing tale makes observations of turn of the century, big city changes in the name of progress and is sure to remind us to be thankful for family and what we have.

All over but the shoutin' by Rick Braggs - This is the first book of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg's autobiographical trilogy (which includes Ava's Man and The Prince of Frogtown) about his family and growing up in the mill towns of northeast Alabama. Braggs writes that the most important lesson his mother taught him is that every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it. The road to learning the lesson is bumpy and painful, but the Appalachian backdrop the author paints makes it an enjoyable ride. The southern voice rings loud and clear in the audio version by award winning narrator, Frank Muller.

These are just a few of the library’s offerings of historical fiction and biographies that will take you back to a time when your grandparents had a much different view of the holidays - for some, it was merely a small break in the monotony of daily hard work. So, before heading out in the winter weather, charge up your gizmos and thank your lucky electronic stars that there are interesting stories to be shared. I wish you all safe travels!

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe

How does one write a unique murder mystery? Surely every possible modus operandi has been explored, surely every motive has been plumbed; surely, every possible neurosis has been assigned to every possible type of detective.

But, no. Somehow, there’s always more. And thankfully, it’s not always about inventing a deadlier, gorier, crazier serial killer. Sometimes, it’s about creating truly bizarre cases of psychotic revenge. In the case of Inger Ash Wolfe’s The Taken, a series of very peculiar clues is scattered in the vicinity of Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef of the Ontario Police. First, a body that isn’t a body; then, a series of black photographs dropped at the station, and a website that shows an empty room, the camera panning slowly back and forth. Micallef gradually comes to believe that these widely disparate pieces are connected and may lead to a killer.

Micallef is a 62 year old divorced cop with a bad back, a pill problem, and a reputation for being a maverick. She’s smart, successful, and popular with those beneath her. One of her grown daughters is a continuing worry to her, never having found her way in the world, and the uneasy mother-daughter relationship is an ongoing motif throughout the novel.

The trail of clues is rather preposterous, and I seriously doubt whether any real-life bad guys would be so peculiarly misguided as to try and lead the police by the nose in such an oblique fashion—but the characterization rings true and the writing is evocative and fresh. The Taken is the second Hazel Micallef mystery—you may want to check out the first book, The Calling, as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Put Down that Sudoku Puzzle - Pick Up an eBook!

Instead of playing Sudoku to ward off Alzheimers, how about reading Practical Math Success in 20 Minutes a Day, 1001 Vocabulary & Spelling Questions, or 501 Challenging Logic and Reasoning Problems? Do those sound intriguing? Would you like to know where can you find them? These are just a few of hundreds of eBooks available for free in Learning Express Library, one of the many databases available through the library!

A testing database, Learning Express Library is known for its practice tests for students, careers, naturalization, and basic job skills. In addition, it includes a library of career guides, study aides, and test-preparation books to help people pass licensing, certification, or competitive entry-level exams, or to advance in school or work.

You can download books for the GED, GRE, ASVAB and TOEFL exams. Other books help you prepare for tests to become a fire fighter, police officer, real estate agent, health care professional, electrician, air traffic controller, or teacher. Still others can help you hone your skills in math, writing, and public speaking.

All you need is a library card from any Coastal Resource Sharing Network (CRSN) library to create an account. Log in and find a link to all of the eBooks in the lower right corner of the page. You can also find eBooks paired with corresponding exams. It’s never too late to learn, and keep your brain exercised while you’re at it!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A little bit (two inches wide) of ivory

I love Jane Austen, and I rarely read Austen pastiches - you know, sequels to Austen's novels, or Austen's novels retold from different points of view. These are authors' hopeless love letters to Austen, and I sympathize. But without Austen's brilliance, such books are just a tiny bit boring.

(I know that's a controversial statement. The opinions here expressed do not represent the opinions of the Library or anyone else at all, possibly. But I stand by them.)

Austen's novels are about parties, and picnics, and gossip, and dresses, and who's going to marry whom. Middle-class Georgian English ladies were not supposed to be interested in politics, the stock market, the war, the latest news, or anything interesting. They were largely confined to what made them attractive to potential husbands: their looks, their clothes, their manners, their accomplishments. Attracting the right husband was the most important decision of their lives - until it came time to attract husbands for their daughters.

This is Austen's genius: she shows what a triumph it was for women in such narrow circumstances to grow up straight and true (like Lizzie Bennett) and not neurotic and vapid (like Lizzie Bennet's mother). Emma, Austen's best book, is about a strong and opinionated woman who makes a serious mess out of things, mostly due to sheer boredom.

All of this brings me to a new novel by Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey. The plot will look familiar to any Austen reader: two sisters, Jane and Melody. Neither will have a great dowry, but both would like to marry their gentlemanlike neighbor. Then a handsome sea captain comes to the village, as does a mysterious artist. Secrets are discovered; tears are shed. In the end, they find husbands.

The twist is that magic exists in this world. Glamour, it's called; you use it to spin illusions. Because glamour is tiring, it is mostly used for interior decorating and party tricks. It's one of the accomplishments that young ladies are expected to know. In fact, magic is fairly banal and inconsequential, like the other things that women are allowed to occupy themselves with.

This book could have exactly the same plot and ending if there were no magic, which is really a problem for a fantasy novel. Also, the whole premise also seems really doubtful to me: if magic were real, would this setting even exist? If magic were real, is making the parlor look like a forest glade the best use for it you can think of? Even if it's only good for illusions, would not inventors, statesmen, and entrepreneurs of all kinds have poured time, money, and effort into developing applications for it? Would anyone have the resources left to invent the chronometer or steam engines? Would Jane Austen's world have come to pass?

To sum up: I found Shades of Milk and Honey unconvincing and unsatisfying. But if, unlike me, you enjoy Jane Austen pastiches, you might try it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Most Useful Book in the Library

There are great books, moving books, exquisite books, life-changing books—and they each have their place. However, today I would like to recognize the “MOST USEFUL BOOK IN THE LIBRARY!” Obviously, this is a matter of opinion, and probably depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. My nomination, for repeated consistent overall handiness is —drumroll, please-- The Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual.

In the past ten years, my washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove have all broken down at one time or another, or, in the case of the washer and dryer, repeatedly. The New Fix-It-Yourself Manual helped diagnose and, when possible, repair each one. (The refrigerator, sadly, was a lost cause.) For the first couple of breakdowns, we checked out a dizzying array of repair books, but the Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual outshone them all.

Finally, this last time, we decided to buy the dang thing. We’re not ones to buy an unproven reference book lightly in my family—only the very best time-tested texts for us! So, thank you, Reader’s Digest, for diagnostic trouble-shooting trees, cogent instructions, and clear diagrams. And thank you, Library, for being the place where I can test out the utility of books before buying them willy-nilly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

On Southern Food

I made three different pies for Thanksgiving this year. All were edible, but one was outstanding: the sweet potato buttermilk pie from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. This pie was lighter and fluffier than the traditional pumpkin custard. It had a creamy texture, a bright tangerine color, and a sprightly, refreshing flavor: perfect after a big meal.

I went to college in a southern city, where I experienced, for the first time, the glories of southern cuisine: sweet tea, sausage gumbo, country ham, and biscuits. Oh, the biscuits.

And the desserts. Truly, the homemade peach ice cream I had on a humid summer day twenty years ago may still be the most delicious thing I've ever eaten.

This book, from South Carolina-raised Matt and Ted Lee, is a joy for anyone who loves southern food. Recipes for cheese grits, Brunswick stew, barbecued pork shoulder and boiled peanut sorghum ice cream made my mouth water (though I haven't actually cooked any of them yet: hey, I've been busy).

Admittedly, some of the ingredients might be a challenge to find (sorghum is not stocked at my supermarket). But look at this introduction to a recipe for oyster shooters:

"At our house, the first thing we serve to guests is a drink, and the second, just moments after the drink, is an oyster shooter, a hot/sour/salty/sweet cocktail in a shot glass, composed around a raw oyster ... They're terrific icebreakers: they bring everyone in a room together for a collective flavor adventure."

Now there's a Southern tradition tailor-made for an Oregon party.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Building a house?


Here are links to some of the titles:

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander
Black and Decker Guide to Plumbing
Framing floors, walls and ceilings, by Taunton Press
Drywall: Hanging and Taping, A Fine Homebuilding DVD

Music in the Wind

I remember finding a dime on the sidewalk, walking to the corner market, and buying candy. A nickel would buy a chocolate bar, a pack of gum, or a box of candy—I especially liked Bit-O Honey, Milk Duds, and Hershey bars. Anticipating what to pick was almost as much fun as eating it!

A similar thrill of anticipation surges through me when I log in to Freegal, the music database offered by the library. I can download three free songs a week, and oh, it can be so fun deciding which ones to select! To get to Freegal, go to our library’s homepage, and click on the icon for Freegal.

As a person who likes things neat and logical, I have to admit, Freegal could use a few good librarians to bring order to their site. I like to search by genre, but if you click on the link to “See All” genres, the chaotic organization of the site becomes evident. There are headings for Alternative, Alternative Rock, Alternative/Indie, and Alternative/Punk. There is a heading for Comedy and one for Comedy/Humor. I tend to browse mostly in Folk, Rock, and Classical.

The other day I made a list of songs I would like to download, and realized most of them were wistful tunes from my teen years. “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, and “Darling Be Home Soon” by The Lovin’ Spoonful. I would probably never buy the CDs these songs are on, but I’m so thrilled to be able to add them to my music collection (for free!) and enjoy the occasional flashback to a simpler time of life.

Just so you don’t think the site is only for Baby Boomers, I saw many of the band names my daughter grew up with, such as Pearl Jam, NOFX, and Crash Test Dummies. Freegal also has Broadway tunes for aficionados of musicals, though I found if you want the songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, don’t expect to find them under Andrew Lloyd Webber. That’s another cataloging problem I wish I could fix! For those songs, you have to search by the name of the album or the individual songs.

When I was growing up, people tsk-tsked over the names of bands: Led Zepplin, Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company; I even remember a radio host making fun of the Beatles coming to town, implying that they were insects. It just goes to show you can’t judge a band by its name. Some of the band names I found on Freegle seem even more bizarre to me: Ominous Seapods, Salt the Wound, and Made Out of Babies. Maybe I’ll like some of their music, or maybe not. But it will be fun exploring, and while I’m at it, I think I’ll go get a Tootsie Roll pop.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Class Action

In the mid-1970s, the mines of the Iron Range in northern Minnesota were compelled by the federal government to start employing women. Lois Jenson was one of the first four women to be hired by Eveleth Taconite Company in 1975. Her very first day, hostile glares and unfriendly comments from her male co-workers made sure she knew she was not welcome.

Class Action: the Story of Lois Jenson and the Landmark Case That Changed Sexual Harassment Law describes the years of systematic, endless sexual harassment endured by the women of Eveleth Mines. There was no recourse for the women from either the company's management or from their union.

Interestingly, as the years went by and women workers became common at Eveleth, the harassment did not die down; rather, it escalated. Crude comments, humiliating pranks, and obscene graffiti became stalking, housebreaking, groping, violent assault, demands for sex, rape threats, and death threats. A few of the events are far too disgusting to be described here.

I also think it's interesting that the women of the mine did not band together, share their experiences, and gather strength from each other. They endured stoically and in silence, rarely confiding in one another; and when one of them finally demanded justice, many of the others turned against her.

Lois Jenson put up with this treatment for nearly ten years, until a manager with a sexual obsession with her (expressed in dozens of long, creepy letters) had her transferred to his department: he became her direct supervisor. She balked, showing the letters to the union and to the mine's management. They did not help her. Finally, she called a lawyer - but Jenson's ordeal was just beginning. The case that became Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. dragged on for years.

Class Action doesn't just tell the tale of Jenson and the other women at Eveleth; it also examines the cultural influences that went into the situation, from the isolated and harsh environment of northern Minnesota; to the intense union pride felt by most of the miners, including the women; to the Anita Hill hearings, which took place during the case.

I haven't seen the movie North Country, which is based on the case; but I recommend the book. It's a fascinating story.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Ever felt skeptical about common parenting wisdom? Ever wonder if the underlying beliefs that guide your parenting decisions may someday seem as outdated as "spare the rod, spoil the child" or "children are to be seen and not heard"? Nurture Shock reviews the current literature of child development and summarizes what we really know versus what we think we know about a variety of issues. “Rather than new truths arriving on the wings of a single experiment, they have come at a crawl, over a decade, from various studies replicating and refining prior ones,” the authors point out in the preface.

The book is divided into chapters on a variety of topics. “The Inverse Power of Praise” talks about the overuse of praise. Children sincerely praised for hard work will continue to work hard; children constantly told they are smart may start avoiding challenges because they are so afraid of making mistakes and seeming ‘stupid.’ “The Lost Hour” discusses continued findings about the long-term importance of plentiful sleep for children and teens. Chronic under-sleeping can lead to poor brain development. “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” discusses how strange racial misconceptions form in the minds of kids when they’re very young, when many parents think it’s too early to talk about race. “Why Kids Lie” discusses experiments that show kids generally lie to make their parents happy, and parents’ efforts to prevent lying often backfire.

Nurture Shock covers ten topics in all, each one fascinating. The authors have previously written well-received articles for New York Magazine and Time. Their writing is pleasantly leavened with humor and a few personal anecdotes, no longer the dry, jargon-filled research from whence their information came.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How are books like potato chips?

If the books are the eight titles in Armistead Maupin's picaresque Tales of The City series, it's because they're downright addictive. No way can you stop at just one. Especially since the author has just published the last (?) in the series, Mary Ann in Autumn.

Tales of the City was first serialized in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle in 1978. It follows the adventures, amorous and otherwise, of the residents of a boarding house at 28 Barbary Lane in the City by the Bay. The characters are a patch-work crazy quilt and the series a fitting paean to the exuberance and diversity of the city in its “flower power” heyday. Naive Midwesterner Mary Ann, the sentimental Michael, aka “Mouse,” the blunt and caustic Mona, and the bewitching crone and landlady leader of the troop, Anna Madrigal, come together and become family over the eight titles and 30 years of births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and sexual realignment surgeries.

Tales of the City is a great read for those long, dark winter nights to come. The wind may be howling, the lights flickering, and the rain falling horizontally in sheets, but isn’t it nice to know you can curl up with a good book, or eight, tear into them and not gain any weight?

And you can reserve the first in the series, Tales of the City, here.

The U.K.'s Channel 4 and Showtime also produced a television mini-series, with the incomparable Olympia Dukakis as Anna Madrigal. And you can reserve the first installment here.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Voyage of the oh, I don't think so

I am not a curmudgeon. I've loved movies based on beloved books. I've even found movies that improved upon their base material (good riddance, Tom Bombadil).

But when it comes to the latest Chronicles of Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? No, no, a thousand times no.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis is not an action-packed adventure. It's full of incident, but it is a quiet book, a shining string of thoughtful wonders and Christian symbolism (quite mysterious to secular-humanist young me). It's a book that you cannot make work on film without making either a very thoughtful quiet movie, or distorting its very essence.

Take this passage, which I have abridged for length:

The first thing she noticed was a little black object, about the size of a shoe, travelling along at the same speed as the ship. Then the black thing suddenly got very much bigger and flicked back to normal size a moment later. "It's our shadow!-the shadow of the Dawn Treader," said Lucy. "Our shadow running along on the bottom of the sea. That time when it got bigger it went over a hill. But in that case, the water must be clearer than I thought! Good gracious, I must be seeing the bottom of the sea, fathoms and fathoms down."

As soon as she had said this she realised that the great silvery expanse which she had been seeing (without noticing) was really the sand on the sea-bed and that all sorts of darker or brighter patches were not lights and shadows on the surface but real things on the bottom. At present, for instance, they were passing over a mass of soft purply green with a broad, winding strip of pale grey in the middle of it. But now that she knew it was on the bottom she saw it much better. She could see that bits of the dark stuff were much higher than other bits and were waving gently. "Just like trees in a wind," said Lucy. "And I do believe that's what they are. If I were down there, that streak would be just like a road through that wood."

It goes on like this, with Lucy realizing that the sea-bed is another world, where dwell hunters and herders and great lords and ladies, and if you want to know more, you'd better get the book, because I suspect that this beautiful image of surface and depth is not going to make it into the movie.

This is the great problem with all the Narnia films. C.S. Lewis wrote simply but clearly, evoking things that come to life in the mind's eye, but that must inevitably lose all their power when deployed upon the screen. In my imagination, I can conjure a majestic Lion, the highest of all High Kings, both terrifying and compassionate. But show me a CGI lion, whose lips move and Liam Neeson's voice comes out? No.

My relationship with the works of Lewis is uneasy. Sometime in my teens I became aware that the books I had adored contained hitherto-undetected religious content. I had always understood the moral implications of the books; but the idea that Lewis had been preaching to me felt like a betrayal. When I returned to the books as an adult, I was struck by still more problems. The books are laden with unpalatable assumptions about class and race; and let us avert our eyes from the fate of poor Susan. Yet I was again seduced by Lewis' invention, his luminous prose, his power as a storyteller.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite of the Narnia books. If it's been a long time since you read it (or if, unthinkably, you never have) I urge you to pick it up. In spite of everything, it still shines; it really does.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Teenage Werewolf

Lauren Kessler, best known locally for being the author of last year's Newport Reads (and Oregon Reads) book, Stubborn Twig, has a new book out titled My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, a Daughter, a Journey Through the Thicket of Adolescence. It chronicles Kessler’s study of and relationship with her daughter during a year and a half of middle school in Eugene, Oregon.

My first reaction-- OMG, this lady’s teenage daughter literally allowed herself to be followed around school, and EVERYWHERE! to be, like analyzed and stuff. Who would DO that?!!

So, apparently, I haven’t matured much since middle school. But to me, that’s still the most amazing part of the book. (Perhaps I would have felt differently as a teenager if my mother were an award-winning author of creative nonfiction.) In any case, Kessler’s daughter Lizzie did participate in her mother’s effort to find out what the life of a middle school girl is really like, and according to Kessler, it was a positive experience. Lizzie appreciated being the center of attention, and Kessler was able to use that as a bridge to greater understanding.

Kessler supplemented this field research with as much information as she could absorb about teen brain development, social development, and psychology, via reading and speaking with experts. The book does not have a bibliography, but some specific resources are mentioned throughout.

Parents of teen-, tween-, and pre-tween- girls may find this book informative and comforting, as Kessler weathers the ups and downs of middle school with her daughter, including mood swings, unstable friends, internet obsession, exposure to drugs, and almost daily mother-daughter fights. Parents of boys may not find it very pertinent; the book focuses heavily on specifically female issues like the multigenerational mother/daughter experience and media influence on female body image. Kessler says her two boys made it through the brain development, hormonal fluctuations, and physical and social stresses of adolescence with much less melodrama than her daughter, and leaves it at that.

The concept of going back and experiencing the day-to-day environment of school as an adult in order to better understand our kids is a worthwhile one to think about. Our own recollections, whether nostalgic or nightmarish, are colored by whatever developmental stages and childhood events were going on in our lives at the time. What our kids experience may be very different, and may explain some of their behaviors and attitudes outside of school. Read My Teenage Werewolf, and think about it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shameful confession of a library professional

Recently Linda Holmes, a cultural blogger for NPR, admitted that she'd never realized that Flash Gordon and The Flash were two completely different superheroes. She was embarrassed. But you know, those are (admittedly venerable and well-known) comic book characters. Holmes isn't a comic book reader, so it's not really a big deal.

On the other hand, I am a book person. I organize, handle, think and talk and write about books all day long for a living. So I was horrified to discover I didn't know something that I thought I knew.

I didn't know that Raymond Carver and Raymond Chandler were two different people until quite recently.


Here are brief summaries of the two well-known, critically-acclaimed authors I thought were the same person:

Raymond Carver: poet, essayist, and short-story writer; one of the Pacific Northwest's most revered men of letters. He was born in Clatskanie, Oregon in 1938 and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. The son of blue-collar workers, his stories, collected in such volumes as What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Where I'm Calling From, are filled with empathy for hard-working people and their experience of isolation and loss. Carver died of cancer at age 50.

Sample: He told them what it was like to be childless all these years. To repeat the days with the ovens endlessly full and endlessly empty. The party food, the celebrations he'd worked over. Icing knuckle-deep. The tiny wedding couples stuck into cakes. Hundreds of them, no, thousands by now. Birthdays. Just imagine all those candles burning. He had a necessary trade. He was a baker. He was glad he wasn't a florist. It was better to be feeding people.
From "A Small Good Thing" by Raymond Carver, 1983.

Raymond Chandler: one of the seminal influences on American crime fiction. Born 1888 in Chicago, he didn't begin writing full-time until age 45, when he began publishing stories in such pulp magazines as Black Mask and Dime Detective. Novels like The Big Sleep and The High Window depict corruption and murder in machine-gun prose; they also established him a great portrayer of the city of Los Angeles. He died in 1959 in La Jolla, California.

Sample: "I didn’t ask to see you. You sent for me. I don’t mind your ritzing me or drinking your lunch out of a Scotch bottle. I don’t mind your showing me your legs. They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me."
From The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, 1939.

After my horrified realization that I had conflated these two authors, I spent an agonizing period of time combing my memory for occasions when I might have mixed them up on the job. Did I ever give a Carver book to a Chandler reader? Or had a patron ever asked me where the Carver books were, and I breezily directed him to the mystery section where the Chandler books are?

I don't think so. But if I did, I'm sorry.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Writing Away . . .

My reading has slowed down a lot this month, as I continue hacking away at the keyboard for Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. (I passed the 10,000 word mark last night, but please don’t ask me if all those words actually make any sense!) However, in the spirit of the month, I thought I’d do a quick blog about one of my favorite how-to-write books.

Creative writing is a tricky subject to teach. You can discuss the mechanics of writing all day, but for every rule there’s a writer who ignored it and created something new and wonderful. Great writers develop their own unique voice, drawing on their imagination, experience, and personal quirks to generate meaning and content beyond mere words. In short, writing is not a “by the book” endeavor.

With that said—here’s a book on writing that I have found useful. Elizabeth George is the author of the wildly popular and award-winning Inspector Lynley series, now available as a BBC TV show (which the library also circulates). She’s an American who convincingly writes richly-plotted character-driven British mysteries. George doesn’t worry about the metaphysical stuff—she seems to have a “count your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” philosophy of writing.

Write Away: One Writer’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life elucidates George’s writing process, explaining not only the how but also the why of things. She’s a mapper and a planner, and goes into detail about how she lays things out ahead of time. The book has been helpful to me largely because I tend to get hung up on the mystique of writing, and George showed me that a successful, accomplished writer isn’t necessarily working magic on her keyboard. If she is, it’s the kind of magic that comes after long applications of deep thought and elbow grease. So, all you Nanowrimo-er's and other aspiring writers looking for some solid ideas on expanding your project, George's book may be worth a look.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When your best friend is a different species

In her book For the Love of A Dog, Patricia McConnell describes the reaction of her farm dog, Tulip, to the death of a sheep:

"She lay down beside the body. She placed her big, white muzzle on her paws, sighed once - a long, slow exhalation ... and then refused to move. I don't remember how long Tulip lay beside Harriet, but she wouldn't leave her voluntarily. Finally, as darkness softened the sky, I took her by the collar and walked her back to the house."

Most dog owners, seeing this reaction, would believe that their dog was experiencing grief. McConnell, who has a Ph.D. in biology and is a certified animal behaviorist, admits that she has observed Tulip display exactly the same behavior, the same soulful expression, while lying next to a chew toy.

The subtitle of her book is Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. In it, McConnell discusses the changes in brain chemistry that accompany emotional reactions in both humans and dogs. She describes the visual cues that dogs give to communicate their emotions: the flick of a tongue that indicates nervousness; the round-eyed, sideways glance that shows true fear and might precede a flashing bite. She talks about the way observant dog-owners can learn to better understand their dogs.

However, as the anecdote about Tulip shows, sometimes it is simply not possible understand what our dogs are feeling. My own dog recently gave me a reason to remember that lesson.

This is Lalo. I took this picture a few summers ago, holding a tennis ball above my head to capture his eager expression. Nowadays when I hold a ball, Lalo looks just the same; it's hardly noticeable that he's not focusing on the ball. Lalo is almost totally blind.

I realized he was blind when, on a walk, he lost me. I was standing in daylight on an open expanse of lawn, and Lalo could not find me until I made a noise. The vet confirmed that very little light was getting through Lalo's cloudy eyes - and probably hadn't for at least a year. How had I been unaware of this for so long? I walk him and play with him every day, and I had never noticed.

Undoubtedly Lalo compensates for the loss of his eyesight extremely well. Is it actually unimportant to him? Or does his blindness make him feel anxious or vulnerable? Is he aware of what he has lost? If I think so, am I anthropomorphizing him?

The truth is, I'll never know.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black

Christine Falls is just another dead body, until Quirke’s brother-in-law Malachy is discovered tampering with her file. As the medical examiner, Quirke takes some offense, and sets about rather drunkenly poking his lugubrious nose into Malachy’s affairs. As it happens, it’s much more complicated than the kind of ‘affair’ he suspects. Quirke follows the trail from Dublin to Boston, where he learns things about his family and his own past that he’s not sure he can face. This 1950’s mystery is notable for its dry wit and dark tone, although Quirke’s family relationships and love triangles are twisty enough to confuse the issues, and Quirke’s clinical depression can be wearying.

Benjamin Black is a pseudonym for John Banville, who is better known as an award-winning literary author of such novels as The Sea and Doctor Copernicus. As Black, he’s slumming it a little in the field of crime noir; apparently he writes thousands of words per day when working on his crime novels and only about a hundred per day on his literary gems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Banville.) Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book enough to check out the sequel, The Silver Swan, and if you like crime noir or Irish mysteries, you may as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Karbon Karma

In 2015, Great Britain issues each citizen a "Carbon Card" to limit energy use. Laura Brown begins her diary on January 1 to document life in light of the new restrictions.  She is a normal teen; she hates her sister, Kim, is embarrassed by her parents, has a crush on the cute boy next door, and plays guitar for an eco-punk band called "The Dirty Angels."  As the reality of rationing starts to affect her daily routine, she vents in her diary. Showers are down to 5 minutes a day, computer use is restricted, and driving is no longer an option. Laura's father loses his job as a Travel and Tourism instructor and sinks into alcoholic despair, her mother leaves to work in a women's collective, and Kim is sent to Carbon Offenders Boot Camp.

Conditions spiral downward as weather patterns change because of global warming, and England experiences a drought, then a catastrophic flooding and cholera. Laura's diary entries gradually shift from complaining about her parents and teachers, to becoming involved in the fight for survival. The Carbon Diaries 2015, by
Saci Lloyd, is often laugh-out-loud funny, in spite of the hardships, and never predictable. I look forward to reading the sequel, The Carbon Diaries 2017!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bleak Twist

Miss Temple is an upper-class and rather spoilt young lady, who is outraged when her fiance jilts her. Wanting only to know if he is involved with another woman, Miss Temple follows him to a huge country house. There she discovers a bizarre masquerade ball, where the other guests laughingly refer to her costume as "Suburban Rustick," and she is compelled to change into something much racier.

You may think you know where this is going, but no: Miss Temple has stumbled upon something much more dangerous than a mere sex-party.

At the same ball, equally uninvited, is an assassin, known as Cardinal Chang, whose intended target is bafflingly murdered by someone else. And then there's Abelard Svenson, an acrophobic physician whose job is to babysit a debauched and alcoholic young German prince. Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang, and Dr. Svenson, separately, witness things that they are not meant to see. Their enemies assume that they are agents of a powerful counter-conspiracy, and set about quashing them.

That's just the beginning of The Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, a teeming neo-Victorian adventure novel with plenty of gothic atmosphere. Fog, trains, creepy servants, blackmail, drugs, weird pseudo-religious rites, sinister courtesans, infernally glowing machines: they're all here, in gloriously Victorian abundance. The familiar elements could seem tired, but they're harnessed in the service of a very original and action-packed book that kept me reading and guessing long after I should have been asleep.

At 760 pages, The Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters is not a small book, and it tends to sag under its own weight occasionally. But if you're in the mood for something outrageous, violent, strange, and fun, you should give it a try.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting out of your rut

People who love books often face the nagging question of what to read next. Especially difficult are those times when you're tired of all your old favorites, and really want to try something new and fresh and good. I've discovered a resource that can help.

Lit Lists is a website that compiles lists of books from all over the Internet. Want to know novelist M.C. Beaton's five favorite cozy mysteries? How about literary critic Gail Caldwell's five favorite memoirs? I was immediately intrigued by journalist Randy Dotinga's list of the five best historical true-crime books of the last ten years, and my curiosity was piqued by the Guardian's list of the best umbrellas in literature. Lit Lists finds such quirky gems in blogs and interviews all over cyberspace and links to them. I've found great ideas for things to read - lots of them I hadn't heard of before.

Also, you may not know about the Newport Library's Staff Recommendations page. This page lists books and movies that we here at the library have enjoyed and want people to know about. If you have your library card handy, you can request an item right there. It's updated at the beginning of each month.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

In Haunt Me Still, Kate Stanley is a Shakespearean scholar who left academia for the livelier career of directing theater; who knew it would be so dangerous? Her sponsor, a collector of MacBeth artifacts, proposes staging the Scottish play in memory of her recently deceased husband. Despite her reservations, Kate finds herself in the midst of superstition, intrigue, and blood; is the play cursed, or is it the players? Kate must race across the globe tracking a fabled early manuscript of MacBeth in order to save her own life and the life of a kidnapped fifteen-year-old girl.

This modern day Scottish mystery is laced with interesting bits about William Shakespeare and the writing of MacBeth, as well as Wicca and paganism. This is the second book in the series, which began with Interred with their Bones, but you don’t need to read the first to enjoy the second. It reads like a gothic novel, with supernatural and romantic fancy interspersed with moments of great danger. The body count is rather high for such a fluffy piece, and Kate Stanley doesn’t make a very believable academic, but it’s all in good fun. If you like Elizabeth Peters, especially her Vicki Bliss books, you may find this right up your alley.

Monday, October 18, 2010

You gotta have friendship and courage and whatever!

That's a line from Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, the first in a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Scott is a slacker Canadian guy. He's bassist in a band called Sex Bob-Omb, and he plays a lot of computer games. We know that Scott plays computer games, because the plot of this novel makes NO SENSE unless you yourself have a solid grounding in old-school computer game logic. (What happens to the corpses of your slain enemies? They turn into coins. Of course.)

One way to read Scott Pilgrim is this: his life is a video game, and the rules of video games apply. For instance, he's just met this amazing woman named Ramona Flowers; but if he wants to date her, he must battle her Seven Evil Exes.

Maybe there's a second way to read Scott Pilgrim. Maybe the novel presents the intersection between reality and Scott's overactive imagination. In his ongoing fantasy, his life is a video game. In reality, he has to adjust to the fact that Ramona has a past. Ramona has not been a princess in a tower, waiting to be rescued; she has experience, and she has baggage. How will Scott deal with all those exes? His own insecurity? Will he rethink his expectations of women? Will he examine the way that he's treated girls in the past? Will it help to engage in a fantasy that turns these real-life issues into a video game quest?

Or maybe I'm subjecting a fun graphic novel to a little too much examination. However you look at them, these books are exciting and weird and laugh-out-loud funny, and if I were you I'd read them all. Titles in the series are:

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness
Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe
Scott Pilgrim in his Finest Hour

P.S. I liked the movie, too.

Friday, October 15, 2010

He trucked all over this land. Or did he?

When I was a kid, my parents had an album by C.W. McCall. He was a deep-voiced 70s country artist whose songs consist of rapidly-paced, very funny stories, pattered out in a broad country drawl. You may remember his trucker-themed songs, like "Convoy" and the epic "Wolf Creek Pass."

My favorite was "Classified," in which McCall spins a hilarious tale out of the mundane act of buying a used pickup truck. You can listen to it here (ignore the visuals):

When I was about twelve I memorized "Classified" and could recite the whole thing, in what I imagined was an appropriate accent. I still have it cold.

Many years later, I discovered that C.W. McCall was actually a fictitious character, the creation of an advertising executive named William Fries, Jr. The singing trucker was the mascot of Old Home Bread, part of an ad campaign for the Metz Baking Company. Here's one of the commercials:

This ad translated straight to another favorite of mine, "The Old Home Filler-Up and Keep On A-Truckin' Cafe," surely one of the most wonderful song titles ever.

In the ads McCall was played by an actor, but Fries did the voice work, which he then parlayed into a successful career as a recording artist, maintaining the fictional trucker persona. He had several charting albums, and his biggest hit, "Convoy," was somehow made into a 1978 movie directed by Sam Peckinpah.

Whatever you think of his music, Fries was obviously a marketing genius; and I genuinely admire his joyous gift for American vernacular. If you wish to visit this strange 1970s pop culture phenomenon, the Newport Library has just acquired C.W. McCall's Greatest Hits.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Love to learn?

The Great Courses is a series of DVDs and audiobooks produced by The Teaching Company on a variety of subjects. These are not documentary films: they are college-level lectures by eminent professors, recorded for your enrichment.

This is a guide to our current holdings of Great Courses on DVD. All of these courses can be reserved and checked out. (Look for a later blogpost on Great Courses audiobooks.)


The Joy of Mathematics
The Joy of Thinking: The Beauty and Power of Classical Mathematical Ideas

The Queen of the Sciences: the History of Mathematics
Zero to Infinity: A History of Numbers
Algebra I

Physics in your Life
The Physics of History
Great Ideas of Classical Physics
Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy
My Favorite Universe
Dark Matter, Dark Energy: The Dark Side of the Universe
Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality
Earth's Changing Climate
The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology
How the Earth Works
The Human Body: How We Fail, and How We Heal
Nutrition Made Clear

Logic and Psychology

The Art of Critical Decision Making
Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning


Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations

The African Experience: From "Lucy" to Mandela
From Yao to Mao: 5000 Years of Chinese History
The Foundations of Western Civilization
A History of Freedom

Ancient Greek Civilization
The Story of Human Language
The History of the English Language
The Vikings
The High Middle Ages
London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the World
The Italian Renaissance
Machiavelli in Context
A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev
The Long 19th Century: European History from 1789 to 1917

Art and Literature

A History of European Art
Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance
Museum Masterpieces: the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Masterworks of American Art
From Monet to Van Gogh: a History of Impressionism
Books That Have Made History
Shakespeare, the Word and the Action
Classics of American Literature
20th Century American Fiction
Understanding the Fundamentals of Music
How to Listen To and Understand Great Music

Religion and Philosophy

Exploring the Roots of Religion
The Old Testament
The New Testament
Between Cross and Crescent: Jewish Civilization from Mohammed to Spinoza

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Tudors: Up Close And Personal

Who would have thought that the illegitimate branch of a Welsh minor noble family would one day rule one of the greatest European Renaissance kingdoms and begin the most infamous, if short-lived, English royal houses?
G.J. Meyer has written the eminently readable The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty. Once you get past all the preliminary family tree confusions (way too many Henrys, Edwards, and Richards), lovers of English history will get up close and personal with the praeternaturally lucky Henry VII, his megalomaniac son Henry VIII, and all the rest of the larger-than-life Tudor clan.
The author fills in the historical sections with alternating “Background” chapters on such topics as everyday life in Tudor England, the role of the Pope in the divorce of Henry VIII, and the Spanish connection to just how and why the Tudors were able to wrest the English throne away from the eternally feuding Yorks and Lancasters. Although the background chapters do break up the narrative flow of the story, the cultural, political and socio-economic color they provide more than make up for it.
If, like me, you are a lover of history, you, too, will love G.J. Meyer’s, The Tudors. And you should read it, as soon as you can wrest it away from my greedy little history loving hands. I think reading all that Tudor history is beginning to affect me.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What the heck is a NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo-- what kind of nonsense word is that? It stands for “National Novel Writing Month”, and this year, I’m giving it a try. What does it mean? It means that for 30 delirious days, I will join people all over the country, nay, the world, in a frenzy of prose generation until finally I stop and call the turgid mass of wordiness a novel. (After a short breather, maybe I’ll see if there’s anything in there worth editing.)

“The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly,” the website says. The theory is that all of us who intend to SOMEDAY write a novel, SOMEDAY when perhaps we’re not quite so busy, SOMEDAY when we miraculously get better at waking up at five in the morning to get a few pages in before work or kids or school . . . all of us just need a big kick in the pants. We need to stop making excuses, start plying ourselves with coffee and peer pressure, and start writing. We need to turn off that overly critical internal editor that makes every sentence a painstaking effort, and let the words flow out unchecked. Fifty THOUSAND of them.

That’s not really so bad. It’s only 1667 words per day. It’s the approximate length of a 175 page book. And, in theory anyway, indulging in this peculiar process en masse makes it easier. There are online forums where you can vent to fellow writers, ask research questions, and even get feedback on your plot ideas. Even better, you can meet up with local participants! Our local “Municipal Liaison” for the Lincoln County area is Nikki Atkins. She has a drop-in Q&A session planned for October 30th at Green Gables Coffeehouse in Newport, between 1 and 4pm. In addition, she'll be setting up at least 2 write-ins each week, so folks have the option to meet, drink coffee, and write, through the long crazy month of November. Nikki has successfully completed 6 Nano’s, and says “As long as you can learn to gag the inner editor, the words flow pretty fast. And stuff comes out much better than you'd expect with no editor looking over your mental shoulder.”

One last interesting --and inspirational-- Nanowrimo note: Sara Gruen’s award-winning Like Water for Elephants, which spent 12 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, started out as a Nanowrimo! For a list of more published Nanowrimos, go to http://www.nanowrimo.org/publishedwrimos. But don't feel intimidated-- most people go in just to get the words flowing, and silliness abounds.

If you have any questions about Nanowrimo, check out the website at www.nanowrimo.org, or contact Nikki at MLbrightshadowsky@gmail.com or by phone @ 541-351-8765. If you’re at all tempted, join up-- and get ready to write like crazy!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Planning and banning in the U.S.A.

In 1935, Oregon became the first state to regulate the safety of condoms. Soon other states passed similar laws, and by 1937 the FDA set up federal inspections of prophylactics. Before that, as the CEO of the company that makes Trojans explained, defective condoms were simply marketed under other brand names. "If there is a flagrant hole or a flagrant defect," he admitted, "naturally they are sold too."

I learned that from a fascinating book called Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America by Andrea Tone. The book begins in 1873, when passage of the Comstock Act outlawed a variety of "obscenities," which included vulgar books and pictures, and also contraceptives. The author shows that this and other laws interrupted a voracious American demand for birth control products.

Since for many decades contraceptives were illegal, a thriving black market supplied consumers with remedies that were unregulated, inconsistent, and by our standards highly sketchy. The number one contraceptive of the 1930s and 40s gave, at best, only the illusion of control. At worst, it delivered painful and dangerous chemical burns. And female readers of this book are likely to reflexively clutch their abdomens when they see the photograph of 19th-century IUDs.

Not surprisingly, laws and customs dealing with contraception are very revealing when it comes to attitudes towards sex and gender throughout history. Contraception also opens a window on opinions towards apparently-unrelated matters, like race and class. For instance, companies did not market diaphragms in places like Harlem, on the theory that the method was too complicated for African-Americans to learn.

Though all readers may not share the author's socially progressive outlook, Tone's analysis of these demanded but morally-debated products throughout America's history is interesting, important, and quite timely. Whether you're interested in today's politics of personhood, or just enjoy social history, Devices and Desires by Andrea Tone is a great read.