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.)

Math

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

Science
Physics in your Life
The Physics of History
Great Ideas of Classical Physics
Chaos
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
Chemistry
Earth's Changing Climate
The Nature of Earth: An Introduction to Geology
How the Earth Works
Meteorology
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

History

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.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Saving Money Just Got Yummier


I've read everything the library has on the topic of being frugal, and even though the tips have become a little repetitive, I always check out the new ones, just in case. I'm really glad I grabbed The Cheapskate Next Door, by Jeff Yeager. I credit this book with potentially saving me hundreds of dollars over the next few years, and I'm not even going to make you read the whole book to find out how (although if you like this tip, maybe you should pick up the book to find more!)

It’s all about one little URL: http://www.restaurant.com/

It’s so cool—really, unbelievably cool. Basically, you buy restaurant gift certificates for yourself or others, and you buy at a discount. A $25 gift certificate costs $10, a $50 gift certificate costs $20, a $100 gift certificate costs $40! My whole family can’t go out together for under $100 anymore, so cutting that down to $40 is really exciting.

There is a catch, sort of. Our local restaurants are apparently not participating. There’s one in Corvallis, one in Eugene, and 95 in Portland. The full list of participating restaurants for Oregon is here: http://tinyurl.com/27qm39s. If you have friends or relatives in other states, search for their city; you can buy a specific certificate for them, or give them a Restaurant.com certificate, which they can use to choose their own restaurant online. (If you buy them a $100 certificate for $40, they can then choose a certificate of the same face value, also worth $40.)

Some restaurants will not allow alcohol to be paid for by gift certificate, and many have a minimum purchase amount that might require you to buy two of the smaller denominations at once. And tip is not included—you are expected to pay an 18% tip for the full value of the meal. Really quite reasonable, considering.

I sort of feel like I’m advertising for these guys, but remember, I’m really advertising for Jeff Yeager’s book and for your library’s fine collection. Thar’s money-saving information in them thar shelves!