Friday, April 29, 2011

China Triptych

I've traveled to China twice in the past several years and it's certainly influenced my reading. I recently immersed myself in the beautiful writing of Sam Meekings’ Under Fishbone Clouds. A multi-layered tale of a Chinese couple before, during and after the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the story is told by the Kitchen God, and is based on the lives of Meekings’ Chinese wife’s grandparents. I was totally absorbed by the tale of the couple and their families set against the background of the enormous political, social and economic upheavals that took place in China during the 20th century. Many beautiful images from the book have stayed with me.

I’ve also just finished a fascinating biography by Hilary Spurling called Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth. Pearl Buck (1892-1973) was a daughter of missionaries and spent most of the first half of her life – until 1936 – among the rural Chinese. Buck spoke the language fluently and learned details about the private lives of these Chinese which she later used in her novels. I was so inspired by Spurling’s book that I went back and re-read Buck's classic novel The Good Earth and enjoyed it again.

Xinran was a journalist in Beijing in the late 1980’s who was allowed to create a radio program that featured discussions by and about women. It was unprecedented in Communist China for women to have an opportunity to openly talk about their lives, their worries and their problems. Xinran’s book, The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices, is an illuminating collection of stories from Xinran’s radio program. It makes it clear that the lives of Chinese women haven’t changed that much from the days of The Good Earth. I look forward to reading Xinran’s latest book, Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


A few weeks ago, my husband and I adopted a dog from our local animal shelter. Lucy, a delightful yellow lab, is adjusting well to her new family. Still, I was thinking about ways to increase our bond with her and thought of dog training.

Dog training gives dogs confidence and cements a relationship between you and your dog. Training can also be a great deal of fun!

I found a great book in our library called 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance and her dog Chalcy. The tricks are graded from Easy to Expert and Sundance uses Chalcy and a few other canine friends to show how to teach your dog to do the tricks. Some of the tricks are as simple as teaching your dog to "Take a Bow.” Others require a series of commands to do expert tricks like "Jumping Rope.” The photo illustrations demonstrate how each trick is done and show positions and hand signals clearly.

Sundance's teaching advice is "Be patient, be consistent, and always end on a high note.” Basic obedience commands of Sit, Stay, Down and Come are necessary to build on to do many of the tricks. Fortunately, Sundance begins her book with the basics.

Finally, take the time to study the introduction as it's loaded with advice and pointers to success.

"Whether your dog is young or old, athletic or lazy, quick-witted or dumb as a rock,” writes Sundance, ” his success need only be measured in your eyes!"

I'm pretty sure our new dog Lucy is not as dumb as a rock, but I have to say that Sundance's dog Chalcy just might be a rocket scientist in a dog suit!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mystery lovers, there is still time to vote

The Edgar Award for Best Mystery of 2010 will be awarded on Thursday, April 28. The Agatha Award for Best Traditional Mystery of 2010 will be announced on Saturday, April 30.

Voting in the Newport Public Library Best Mystery of 2010 Contest will continue through Saturday afternoon, so there's still time to make your voice heard in this important matter.

Want to take part? Come on in to the Newport Library and find the ballot box in the mystery section. You can vote for one of the official nominees, or write in your pick for the best mystery of the year.

These are the nominees:

Caught by Harlan Coben
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Faithful Place by Tana French
The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
Drive Time by Hank Ryan
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Our winner will be announced on Monday, May 2.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Overdiagnosed by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch

The more deadly a disease, the more thoroughly we should screen for it, in order to nip it in the bud. It seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Dr. H. Gilbert Welch disagrees, and he has the studies and statistics to make you think twice. More importantly, he speaks fairly good layperson and includes lots of diagrams for the visual learner. He believes overdiagnosis is a serious problem that affects millions of people each year, and his argument is a strong one.

What is overdiagnosis? It’s the gap between all the people who benefit from the treatment of a condition and all those who don’t. It’s what happens when the medical community drops or raises the threshold that defines a condition—i.e., cholesterol level, blood sugar level, blood pressure--in such a way that millions of people become potential pharmaceutical customers overnight. It’s what happens when technology detects abnormalities that most likely will never cause a health problem, but doctors follow up “just in case.”

Welch looks at conditions ranging from diabetes to osteoporosis to multiple types of cancer, and uses numerical evidence to demonstrate that in many cases, increased diagnosis is not saving lives, and is always costing money and sometimes causing harm. He uses anecdotal evidence from his own medical practice and personal experience to humanize the numbers.

I tend to believe that saving one life—someone’s mother, someone’s husband, someone’s child-- is worth putting 100 or 200 people through a certain amount of discomfort and anxiety. Where would I draw the line? Would I medicate a thousand people unnecessarily, knowing they had to deal with daily side effects like nausea and irritability, if it meant saving one person? How about ten thousand? Would I put millions of women in their forties through the yearly anxiety of having a mammogram even though study after study has shown no reduced mortality as a result? (in this age group—fifties is a different story.)

These are tough issues that we’re entrusting our medical community with, and it’s a good idea to be an informed consumer. I suggest taking on Welch's Overdiagnosed if you’re up for it; it can be challenging to wrap your mind around some of the statistics if you’re not accustomed to comparing mortality rates, for example, but the information is important.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's not easy being...

green. I remember the very first Earth Day, April, 1970. To show my solidarity, I walked to school, picking up litter along the way, and wore a blue and green armband. Since then, awareness of environmental issues has grown to the point that “green” is not only a household word, but it has been co-opted by corporations to promote their products.

Today, on the 41st anniversary of Earth Day, we can do our part to reclaim the true meaning of green. The following web and print resources promote healthy and conscious living through eating locally grown food.

Lincoln County Foods Connection has links to local farms and farmers’ markets. Farm products include seafood, mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, eggs, poultry, and beef.

The Newport Farmers Market is open each Saturday morning from early May through late October on the grounds of the Newport City Hall. Their website lists participating farmers, artists, and food vendors.

Another Oregon-based resource is Oregon Tilth, which offers educational events and certifies organic growers and producers. One of their pages lists resources with useful information on organic farming and gardening.

If you are traveling, you can check Pick Your Own Food and Simple Steps to find farms and farmers markets anywhere in the United States. Also the Sustainable Table has a map for finding dairy products that are free of artificial bovine growth hormones.

Additionally, the Newport Library has books on the topic of eating local foods.  Click on the title to place a hold!

Food rules : an eater's manual by Michael Pollan

Animal, vegetable, miracle : a year of food life by Barbara Kingsolver

If you'd like a list of other books and DVDs on the topic of sustainable food, the Newport Library has a bibliography you can pick up called "We are what we eat."  

Monday, April 18, 2011

First annual Oregon Readers Choice Award winners

The inaugural ORCA winners were announced at the 2011 Oregon Library Association conference in early April.

The winners are:

Junior Division – The Stonekeeper (Amulet Book #1) by Kazu Kibuishi

Intermediate Division – Elephant Run by Roland Smith

Senior Division – Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Over 7,500 school aged Oregon readers voted for their favorite books.

The Oregon Reader’s Choice Award was founded in 2010. The award is intended to be a fun and exciting way for Oregon youth in grades 4-12 to become enthusiastic and discriminating readers. During the course of the school year, Oregon students choose their favorite book in a real-life democratic process.

Books must be nominated for inclusion on the ORCA ballot. In order to be considered, the book needs to have a copyright date of two years prior to when the ballots are announced. This delay ensures that the title will be readily available in paperback during the voting year. Oregon students, teachers, and librarians are all able to nominate books. The nominations are reviewed by a committee of librarians and educators. The committee creates the final ballots based upon a number of criteria, including literary quality, creativity, reading enjoyment, reading level, and regional interest.

For a list of the other 2011 nominees and the 2012 nominees, click here for the ORCA website.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Do you like mysteries? Are you opinionated?

Then come in to the Newport Library before the end of the month and VOTE for the best mystery of 2010!

The Edgar Award for best mystery novel and the Agatha Award for best traditional mystery novel will be announced at the end of April. We thought it would be fun to see if Newport Library patrons agree with the winners, so we've set up a ballot box in the Mystery section.

The nominees for the two awards are:

Caught by Harlan Coben
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Faithful Place by Tana French
The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny
The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
Drive Time by Hank Ryan
Truly, Madly by Heather Webber

Don't see your favorite mystery of 2010 on the list? You can also write in a title.

The winners will be announced in about two weeks. We'll announce our winner, too. If you want to take part, fill out a ballot in the Mystery section of the Newport Library, or send an email to me, and put "Mystery vote" in the subject line.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I hate to gush, but...

What a great book.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is about a high school freshman named Albert "Junior" Spirit, who lives on the Spokane Reservation. Junior is smart, talented, and ambitious. He gets mad when he discovers that his geometry textbook is the same one his mother used. Literally, the very same book, over twenty years old. Junior realizes that, if he wants to succeed, he has to get off the rez.

Junior's plan to go to an all-white high school, twenty miles away, meets with serious resistance. Lots of people think he's betraying his heritage. They call him an apple: red on the outside, white on the inside. Meanwhile, the students at the white high school greet him with racist jokes and bullying.

This is serious stuff, and it gets worse: poverty, alcoholism, crime, abuse. But here's the surprising thing: this book is funny. It's hilarious. Junior's comments on life are never dark. His cartoons, like the book itself, are lighthearted and snappy, even when, like this one, they address a serious topic: the humiliation of poverty.

Not a week after I finished The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I read that it was one of the ten most challenged books of 2010. That means that, in schools and libraries across the country, people have tried to keep other people from reading it.

The American Library Association's Readers' Bill of Rights says that everyone has a right not to read a book. Part-Time Indian contains some salty language and some violent situations, and if you don't want to read that, you have the right. But to argue that the book is inappropriate for a library or a school reading list just strikes me as deeply misguided. This is a terrific book, about a courageous kid who stands up for himself against adversity and discrimination.

This week is National Library Week. Why not celebrate by reading a challenged book? There's good stuff on that list.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You just can't trust some people.

An unreliable narrator is one who, for some reason, isn't telling the truth. Either he is deliberately misleading you, or his story is so colored by his own perceptions and opinions that his trustworthiness is compromised. Since the narrator is your only window onto the story, the possibility that he's not trustworthy adds an element of uncertainty and tension to the whole experience of reading a novel.

Apparently I like this feeling a lot. I was recently rereading my reviews on this blog, and I saw that many of the books I've reviewed have totally unreliable narrators.

I've recommended a book in which the narrator is highly imaginative and possibly crazy. A book in which the narrator is a judgmental prig. A book in which the narrator has been misled all her life. A book in which the narrator seems, at best, unrealistically optimistic. A book in which the narrator is an admitted and constant liar. A book in which there is a distinct possibility that the narrator is a psychopath. A book in which the narrator thinks he is possessed by a demon. And I don't think I can even explain what's going on with this guy.

I'm not sure why I enjoy the experience of being led astray by a narrator. Perhaps I like the puzzle aspect of books like this - it's rewarding to try to figure out what's really going on. Perhaps I find them more believable than totally reliable ones - after all, who can really tell the whole truth?

Other books with famously unreliable narrators:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Atonement by Ian McEwan
I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

There are lots more - can you suggest any? Put them in the comments!

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Beauty Killer Strikes Again

Night Season is the newest installment in Chelsea Cain’s series featuring Detective Archie Sheridan and serial killer Gretchen Lowell, and it’s reminding me of everything I loved about the previous books. Cain’s writing is tart and spicy, filled with irreverent observations and wry twists of dark humor. The Portland-based author brings a certain attitude about the foibles of Oregonians which those of us familiar with the breed may find especially funny.

Detective Sheridan’s a bit of a sad sack, to the point where he reminds me of Arkady Renko from Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderful Russian mysteries; both have a strong intelligence glimmering underneath all that existential despair. Sheridan’s melancholy is justified both by disposition and by trauma; he was seduced and tortured by "Beauty Killer" Gretchen Lowell for ten days before he was rescued and she was imprisoned, two years before the opening of the first book. Lowell is a serial killer with that special je ne sais quoi which keeps her lingering in Sheridan’s heart and mind; pheromones, perhaps, or perhaps it was the way she scarred him so that he can’t look in a mirror without thinking of her. In any case, there’s a mysterious and wonderfully dysfunctional relationship between the two reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling.

This is a great series for mystery and thriller lovers. Although any of the books could stand alone, you might as well start at the beginning and savor them all in order.

1 Heartsick
2 Sweetheart
3 Evil at Heart
4 Night Season

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Federal Tax Filing Deadline!!

Due to last minute changes in federal tax laws, the Internal Revenue Service has extended the filing deadline to Monday April 18, 2011. The deadline to file State of Oregon tax forms remains Friday April 15, 2011.

In what appears to be a move to encourage electronic filing, many online sites are offering free tax preparation (income and form restrictions may apply). The IRS offers a list of these free service providers on their website and you can access that list HERE.

Unlike previous years, the tax forms now available at Newport Library are limited to a few basic forms and instruction booklets. However, the library also has a binder of reproducible tax forms, as well as access to the IRS website from our public internet computers. The library charges 10 cents per page to print out these forms.

State of Oregon tax forms are no longer available at the library but they can be printed from the Oregon Department of Revenue website HERE. You can also call or visit the local branch of the Oregon Department of Revenue. Their offices are located at 119 NE 4th St. #4 in Newport. Telephone: 541-265-5139.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Welcome Grave by Michael Koryta

A Welcome Grave is the third Lincoln Perry novel by Michael Koryta, and it is excellent. Twists and turns, high stakes action, tough inscrutable men with strict codes of honor; what more could you ask from a PI thriller? Seriously, it was enjoyable, and even though throwing in a love-interest is kind of formulaic, the love-interest herself wasn’t stereotypical, and she didn’t wilt too much when she realized just what kind of world Perry was living in. And the friendship between Perry and his good buddy Joe is positively heart-warming, which helps balance out all the bad guys in Perry’s world.

Perry used to be a cop-- until he lost his head when his fiancĂ© dumped him for another, much richer man. When he walloped said rich man in the country club parking lot, he was ejected from the force. Three years down the road, he’s an older and wiser private investigator, who doesn’t think of his ex-fiance more than once a month. Then, her husband is tortured to death, and she asks Perry, of all people, to deliver the news to her estranged stepson.

What motivates Perry to agree? Let’s just say, he’s a complicated guy. Of course, the delivery of news does not go smoothly, and somehow escalates into a novel’s worth of detecting and avoiding violent death. The cops found it suspicious when Perry didn’t have a good alibi for the original murder; when he’s on the scene of another death, and his fingerprints turn up where they don’t belong, they begin to like him even more-- as a suspect. Perry and Joe have to avoid the bad guys, keep away from the cops, and solve the murders themselves. Magnificent!

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Library Plans Unveiled

A new library building is in the planning phase, and the City Council, Library Board, and Newport Library Director Ted Smith have agreed upon an ambitious design. "I think our patrons are going to be really excited when they see these plans," said Smith.

The new library's otherworldly design comes from the mind of award-winning architect Jan Kaplicky. The postmodern design was originally intended to be built in the city of Prague in the Czech Republic, where Kaplicky was born in 1937. After some controversy, the project was scrapped. Kaplicky died in 2009, and the blueprints for the postmodern building became available.

The new library is to have smooth anodized aluminum walls that sweep up in a fluid amoeba-like shape, studded with futuristic round windows to provide natural light to the interior of the building. When finished, the building will tower above its surroundings and will be quite visible from Highway 101.

There was some discussion on the Council about whether the new library's futuristic design would fit in with Newport's seaside charm and its art deco bridge. One dissenting vote came from Library Board member Curt Fewkes. "If that isn't the silliest-looking thing I've ever seen in my life," fumed Fewkes.

Smith acknowledges these concerns, but thinks that Newport residents will come to love the futuristic building as much as he does. "Look at it," he said. "It's so cool!"

A groudbreaking date has not been set, but Smith said that the building should be finished and ready for the public by April Fool's Day, 2015.