Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test is the newest book by Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare At Goats (which was made into a hilarious movie with George Clooney) and Them: Adventures with Extremists.

Ronson’s foray into the world of psychopathology is much more fun than the topic would suggest. Ronson has what he calls a “nebbishy” outlook on life. (“Weak-willed or timid” from the Yiddish nebekh, according to the Free Online Dictionary.) His self-deprecating narrative style brings out the absurd in –- well, everything. And it turns out psychopaths are actually very funny. At least, you know, on paper.

Ronson’s curiosity is initially piqued by a mysterious book called Being or Nothingness, an anonymous tome interspersed with blank pages which was delivered to a number of researchers in different fields. Ronson's attempt to track down the author somehow opens an investigative path leading to Scientologists, Broadmoor high-security psychiatric hospital, a Haitian killer, and David Shayler, a former British Security Service officer who at one time claimed to be the Messiah. Along the way, Ronson attends a training course on how to recognize psychopaths, which causes him to start spotting psychopathic tendencies behind every bush.

Ronson looks at how the psychopath test is being applied in practice, how we label people, how we define mental health. More broadly, he touches on the explosion of mental illness diagnoses and how that grew out of one man’s desire to provide an alternative to psychoanalysis. There are fascinating threads that don’t have time to be fully developed in the book, like is there really a provable relationship between psychopathology and becoming a CEO or a politician? and where is the line between recognizing and addressing serious mental health issues and overdiagnosing and overmedicating people?

Really fascinating stuff, and Ronson leads us through it with accessibility and humor. I’m putting this guy’s other work on hold.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Science fiction award winners - get them here!

The Hugo Award is arguably the most prestigious accolade in the science fiction world. Winners of this coveted prize were announced by the Science Fiction Writers of America this weekend.

To the surprise of few, Connie Willis's masterful two-volume novel, Blackout /All Clear, won for best science fiction novel. It is the tale of a group of Oxford history students from the future, who are sent back in time to study England in World War II. They gradually become horrifyingly convinced that their presence has changed history, altering the course of the war. and preventing them from going home. Willis is a great favorite of mine. I wrote about Blackout here, and I also recommend her earlier, even more amazing work, The Doomsday Book.

Several other novels were also nominated, so if you like science fiction, you should check them out. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold is a highly-enjoyable space-opera, the latest in her long-running Miles Vorkosigan series. If you haven't been introduced to these rip-roaring pleasure reads yet, I recommend that you start with The Warrior's Apprentice. I find them irresistible.

I haven't yet read the other three nominees, but they certainly look interesting. The Dervish House by Ian McDonald tells of the consequences of a terrorist bomb strike in a rich and strange near-future Istanbul. Feed by Mira Grant is a postapocalyptic zombiefest in which bloggers wield surprising political power. And The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin is fantasy on an epic scale, in which the vicious power struggles of an enormous empire play out in a world where gods are real.

The Best Novella Hugo went to The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, about a zookeeper who is hired as a trainer for digients, artificial-intelligence creatures that are neither children nor pets.

The Newport Library congratulates all the winners and nominees. If you like science fiction, check them out - or come in and talk to us about our favorites. Quite a few staff at the Newport Library are science fiction fans; we'd be happy to share our favorites.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Living in A Rain Shadow

When so much television seems to be screaming at the audience these days, either in violence or just plain volume, I’d like to recommend Rain Shadow, an Australian mini-series that first aired in 2007. More of a whisper than a shout, Rain Shadow has an understated beauty and power that is often missing from that vast wasteland of TV.

Jill Blake is a young veterinarian fresh out of college who comes to practice in Paringa, a drought-plagued farming community near Adelaide. Her boss, Doctor Kate McDonald, played by Rachel Ward, angrily blocks Jill’s well-intentioned inquiries when she starts to uncover a secret that threatens to destroy the livelihood of every rancher in the area.

The scenery is dry and spare and the acting equally so. Rain Shadow is about people scratching a living out of a land that takes an awful lot but does not give back much in return. And yet these people love that land and try to hold out as best they can despite the enormous odds against them. It’s about people coming to learn more about themselves, and how doing what’s right is not often as easy as we may think.

Inexplicably, Rain Shadow only aired for one season, but I think you’ll enjoy all six episodes we have in the library. You can reserve it here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Magical realism on the Oregon coast

Neawanaka is a little town on the Oregon coast. The logging industry has pretty much died, the shingle factory is going out of business, and not many people fish commercially anymore. But in spite of its hardships, the town at the mouth of the Mink River is a magical place, where crows speak poetry, black bears rescue children, and people while away their hours telling stories, rather than watching television or playing computer games.

Brian Doyle's novel Mink River is a weird and charming novel that tells the tale of Neawananka. Skipping from character to character, it explores the town's geography and its wildlife, its myths and tales, its dark woods and flashing streams.
The book doesn't have a driving plot: it's a portrait of one summer in the life of the town, and the stories that people tell there. Two Public Works employees interpret their mandate very broadly, meddling in people’s lives. A boy whizzes everywhere at full speed on his bicycle, until an accident brings him to a stop. Two teenagers love each other, and have decisions to make. A sculptor suffers from depression. A cop listens to Puccini. A man beats his son.

Doyle's prose and punctuation are idiosyncratic. He plays with words, as when he ascribes to two boys in a high school classroom "general recklessness and boneheadery and lazitude and punishness and detentionery." This will either annoy or please you. Those aren't real words -- but we recognize those boys, right?

I enjoyed the rhythm of Doyle's storytelling, even when it devolves into long lists of sensations, like this amazing description of the local repair shop:

"Think of all the rich dark male smells you have ever liked, the smells that remind you of your dad ... Paint in cans that have been imperfectly sealed so a touch of the smell leaks out, and flat whippy paint-stirring sticks half-coated in dried paint atop the cans ... And the smells of sawn cedar and maple and fir boards. Ashes. Varnish. Plywood. Cigars. Somewhere on a shelf a redolent piece of redwood. Sweat. Boots. Oil. A hint of gasoline as if it had been spilled quite a long time ago and cleaned up meticulously but the room remembers when it happened. Rubber. Sawdust. The handled smell of tools. Liniment. Coffee. The brown smell of boxes and cardboard. Beer. The vacation-cabin smell of pine. Oiled saws. Old newspapers. Woodsmoke. The burnt-wire smell of old radio and television tubes. Turpentine. The grandmotherly smell of old upholstery rising warmly from the sagging couch in the corner. Apples. Wet clothes. Bread. Crow."

Full disclosure: I know someone who thinks Mink River is inaccurate and pretentiously-written. What can I say? I disagree. I think that Mink River is enchanting - not a swift page-turner, but a meandering read filled with delightful images. If you're intrigued, read Mink River and decide for yourself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The White Devil by Justin Evans

AND thou art dead, as young and fair
As aught of mortal birth;
And form so soft, and charms so rare,
Too soon return'd to Earth!
~by: George Gordon (Lord) Byron (1788-1824)

To continue with my creepy ghost-story theme, (see Don’t Breathe a Word and The Raising), I read a gothic thriller, The White Devil, by Justin Evans.

Andrew is a seventeen year old American who’s seemingly worn out his father’s patience. After a brief but disastrous flirtation with heroin, he’s been placed in a school of last resort, a British boarding school where his father’s money outweighs Andrew’s poor record. Within a day of arrival, Andrew witnesses what seems to be a murder, when a gaunt wild figure with bulging eyes strangles a fellow student in the historic graveyard. The problem: the figure completely and utterly disappears, and autopsy finds the student has died of a pulmonary sarcoidosis, a rare lung disease, not strangulation.

Andrew’s visions of this pale-haired figure don’t stop; dreams and peripheral sightings haunt him until he wonders if he’s going insane. Despite that, he’s drawn into the life of the school. The headmaster’s daughter, Persephone, who is the one and only female student, takes a liking to him based on his striking resemblance to Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. She arranges for him to be cast in a play about Lord Byron’s early years which has been commissioned by the school because Byron was an actual student there, 200 years before.

Soon, Andrew realizes his strange visions tie into Lord Byron’s history-- and so does the deadly outbreak of tuberculosis in the school. When Persephone contracts the disease, Andrew must solve a 200 year old murder and put a ghost to rest.

The White Devil is a stay-up-too-late kind of book, suspenseful and creepy. The setting is perfectly gothic and evocative, and the plot is enriched with some (rather embroidered) history of Lord Byron. I didn’t realize until after I read it, but the school in the novel, The Harrow School, is real, and Lord Byron did in fact attend it from 1801-1805.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mehndi for Teens

Thursday, August 4 was the Newport Library's Teen Henna Night, hosted by special guest Lyn Getner, a henna body art specialist.

Early in the evening Lyn gave us a bit of background about the history and significance of henna. Did you know that use of henna dates back 9,000 years? Eastern Indians traditionally only use henna for ceremonial purposes, such as wedding ceremonies.

After that, each teen received a “cone” of henna, which Lyn had prepared ahead of time. Each cone is filled with 1-2 ounces of henna paste. Then, armed and dangerous, and mostly self-directed, we launched into our artistry.

30 teens took part, including a few out-of-town visitors. By the end of the night we were hands, arms, ankles, shoulders, feet and leg deep in henna designs. Perhaps you’ve seen some of us around town sporting our new body décor.

What’s next?

August 19th will be the final drawing and announcement of Grand Prize winners for the Teen Summer Reading Contest.

A new Teen Advisory Board will be forming to help direct and design upcoming programs for 2011-2012. If you’re interested in serving on the Teen Advisory Board, give Linda a call at 541-265-5465. You could have a voice in the decision-making process. (And we usually have food!)


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Every creeping thing that creepeth

The plight of spotted owls has resurfaced in the news recently in the same breath with barred owls. Barred owls, which can live in more diverse habitats than their spotted cousins, are thriving and crowding spotted owls out of what remains of old growth forests. In an attempt to keep spotted owls from becoming extinct, the U.S. Forest service is proposing killing thousands of barred owls.

T.C. Boyle’s latest novel, When the Killing’s Done, presents a similar dilemma set in the Channel Islands, located off shore of Santa Barbara, California. The islands are a unique habitat, supporting over 2,000 plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else. Introduced species, namely rats and feral pigs, have been fruitful and multiplied, at the expense of native plants, bald eagles, sea otters, sea birds, and island foxes.

The story is told from the point of view of several people, all with ties to the Channel Islands. Alma Takesue is a calm, cool National Park Service biologist who is leading the efforts to save the islands’ endangered species. As she presents a lecture at the Natural History Museum about the need to eliminate the rat population on Anacapa Island, she is interrupted by Dave LaJoy, a dreadlocked, wealthy, animal rights activist with a hair-trigger temper. Throughout the book, LaJoy tries to undermine the Park Service’s plans, with increasingly reckless tactics. He forms a group called For the Protection of Animals (FPA), which pickets and chants relentlessly outside Takesue’s office. When a raccoon family digs holes in his newly laid lawn, LaJoy captures them and decides to rehome them humanely: on Santa Clara Island. Their survival on the island, where feral pigs are being hunted and slaughtered, is one of the ironies of the story.

Takesue shows a calm demeanor in public, but the continuous protesting wears on her nerves, and causes her to have doubts.  She didn't join the Park Service to kill animals, but how else will she save the murrelets and island foxes?

Boyle does not take sides on the issues, but gives us plenty to consider. To what degree should we interfere with nature to bring an ecosystem to balance? How do we decide which animals are acceptable in an ecosystem and which aren’t? And to what extremes will people go to support or subvert a mission? When the Killing’s Done tells one such story. The final chapter of the spotted owls’ fate remains to be written.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Welcome back to Bordertown

I remember how refreshing and different Bordertown was, when I was a teenager.

Back then - this was in the early 1980s - I read a lot of fantasy novels. They tended to be deeply influenced by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Stephen R. Donaldson, Patricia McKillip, Terry Brooks, Katherine Kurtz - they all depicted magical worlds modeled on medieval Europe. There were kings and queens, knights and ladies, not to mention wizards and elves, going on quests and facing down magical threats in imaginary landscapes. I read them all.

The first Bordertown anthology, Borderland, was edited by Terri Windling and came out in 1986, and how unusual it was. Here was fantasy that took place in a modern city, amid the highways and bars and bands and apartment buildings and factories. Urban fantasy isn't that unusual now, but at the time it was strange and delightful.

Bordertown is a city in the NeverNever, the fey area where the World meets the Elven Realm, where neither magic nor human technology seem to work properly. To this city come the riffraff of both worlds - runaways, rejects, halflings, and seekers of all kinds. They figure out who they are, build new communities in exile, and try to steer clear of the gangs and addicts.

There were several Bordertown anthologies, featuring stories by well-known fantasy authors of the day. The format of the books is just as interesting as the setting - lots of authors wrote their own stories, sharing the setting. The books are mostly out of print now, and very hard to find (though the Tillamook County Library has this one).

After a long hiatus, a new Bordertown anthology has come out. Welcome to Bordertown features stories by some of my favorite authors from the old anthologies - Ellen Kushner, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, and Charles de Lint. It's also picked up stories by some other authors who, like me, enjoyed the series back in the day - Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow, Holly Black, and Catherynne Valente.

My favorite story is "Incunabulum" by the always-excellent Emma Bull, in which an elf in a bloodstained shirt finds himself in Bordertown, furious, frightened, and unable to remember his name or how he came to be there. His attempt to steal a clean shirt starts him on the road to self-discovery.

If you're an old fan of Bordertown - or if you've never heard of it, but are intrigued by the idea - check out Welcome to Bordertown. It's lots of fun.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Still Time for T-shirts

Newport Library's summer reading shows in Literacy Park are over for another year, but young readers still have time to finish their reading goals and collect a yellow "One World, Many Stories" t-shirt.

If you have young readers at your house who're working on their reading goals, please remind them that they have until August 31st to finish and collect their reward.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Amusant à la bibliothèque

Although only fourteen teens signed up ahead of time for the Newport Library Teen Summer Reading Club's French Culture Night on Thursday, July 26, more kept walking through the door. The final count was 25 teens. Three of those were French students, here in Oregon for a 3 week homestay with local families through the American Discovery Program based in Eugene.

We started with a challenge. Using only craft sticks, skewers, pipe cleaners, toothpicks and hot glue, the kids were challenged to create a scale model of the Eiffel Tower. The teams broke up into four groups and got started. One team essentially used the entire night to design and produce their version of the famed tower. Each final product was completely different from the next.

We also had our own mini Tour de France. Teams of kids rode preschool-sized trikes across a maze-like path in our parking lot created by some of the attendees. “Do we have to pedal?” asked one teen. When I said “no,” I expected her to simply keep her feet on the ground and propel herself along. Wrong. She lifted the tricycle and started running down the path. Of course this was met with laughter and applause.

Next, the French Waiter Relay. Teens were challenged to don an apron, pick up a tray, and cross the room without losing any of the very lightweight Styrofoam and paper items on the tray. Basic, yes. Silly, yes. Fun? I sure thought so.

And so it went. Teens made new friends and visited with old ones, snacked, rubbed elbows with French contemporaries, and had a good time.

I hope to see you at our Teen Henna Night this Thursday, August 4th from 7 - 9pm. Remember to sign up at the circulation desk beforehand.

Newport Library Youth Services Assistant

Monday, August 1, 2011

Puppet Show in Literacy Park This Wednesday

Magic, music, dancing, laughter and stories have filled Literacy Park this summer. This week is the last show for our "One World, Many Stories" summer reading program and we're going to finish with puppets, just like we have for the past four years. Jason Ropp and his cast of characters from Dragon Theater Puppets will bring their show to Newport, Wednesday at 1:00.

This year’s show, "Rapunzel Redeems Rumpelstiltskin," is Dragon Theater Puppets original production written specifically for the library theme of “One World, Many Stories.”

Wednesday, August 3, Dragon Puppet Theater will be at Waldport Public Library (10 a.m.), Newport Public Library (1 p.m.), and Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City (6:30 p.m.). On Thursday, August 4, they will be at Toledo Public Library (11 a.m.) and Siletz Public Library (1 p.m.).

The puppet shows are funded by Ready to Read grants from the Oregon State Library as well as support from Ross and Janis Neigebauer and Jeanette Hofer. Lodging is provided by La Quinta Inn and Suites of Newport and D’Sands Motel in Lincoln City.

Children attending the puppet show are urged to wear their yellow summer reading shirts for a photo session. I'll certainly be wearing mine!