Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lost and Found: Lessons from Life

The Newport Public Library will host a reading by Dr. John Baker from his latest book, Lost and Found: Lessons from Life, on Saturday, February 4, at 2:00 p.m.  Lost and Found is a collection of short vignettes highlighting everyday and profound situations in Baker’s life. Sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, the stories bear witness to the author’s search for meaning in the challenges of life.

Baker, a graduate from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, has taught in high school and college. His other publications include Camp Adair: The Story of a World War II Cantonment; Today, Oregon's Largest Ghost Town, and three works of poetry: Reflections From a Coastal Town, Pacific Shift: and Other Poems, and Popcorn Palace and Other Poems.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Newport Reads One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!

Every year, the Newport Library Foundation selects one book and invites the entire community to read and discuss it. This year, the Newport Reads! book is Ken Kesey's 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Why did the Foundation pick such an old book? One, it is an Oregon classic, written by a storied Oregon author, that addresses such Oregon issues as the seizure of Native American lands. Two, although many people have seen the 1975 film based on the book, fewer have actually read the novel – and it’s worth reading.

And three, the book's theme of individual expression versus control is as relevant today as it was in the '60s - if not more so. At what point does the enforcement of peace become oppression? What sort of invisible mechanisms do institutions use to enforce conformity, and what is the price to liberty? These are burning questions of this century.

Not that the book isn't problematic. I think the choice of a character like Randall McMurphy to represent the virtues of liberty and free will is certainly interesting, given that I'm sure I would intensely dislike him if I ever met him. And how about the way women are depicted by Kesey?

You can come to the events planned by the Newport Library Foundation as part of the Newport Reads! festival. There will be a fun kickoff event on February 28 at 6 p.m. here at the library, with personal reminiscences of Kesey, refreshments, and even a game.

Then on April 10 at 6:30 p.m., the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest will be screened at the Performing Arts Center. Take notes, because on April 12 at 6:30, playwright and screenwriter Cynthia Whitcomb will discuss the process of turning a novel into a movie. Since Kesey was not exactly pleased with this particular transformation (he loathed it so much he sued the filmmakers), Whitcomb's insights into the ways the movie differs from the book should be fascinating.

We hope you will join us in reading this great Oregon novel and participating in our planned events. Let’s talk about One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A true, terrible story

In 1821, off the west coast of Chile, a ship's lookout spotted a drifting whaleboat, rigged with mast and sail - obviously the relic of a shipwreck. The boat was full of human bones, along with two living men, emaciated, incapable of speech, and apparently mad. To their horror, rescuers saw the men greedily clutch at the remains of their mates - the food that had sustained them upon their voyage.

The whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket in 1819 and came to grief about as far from land as it is possible to be, in the middle of the Pacific. The ship was destroyed by a large and apparently vengeful sperm whale. Of the twenty men who escaped the wreck of the Essex, only eight survived, scattered across the Pacific - three in one boat, two in another, and three on a deserted island. The survivors suffered extremes of hunger, thirst, exposure, and loneliness; some of them resorted to cannibalism to survive.

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick uses this true incident to tell the fascinating story of Nantucket whaling - how the ships plied their trade, seeking sperm whales thousands of miles from home, killing and butchering them at sea. To a modern reader, the details of 19th century whaling are appalling. Just as bad is the arrogant, destructive behavior of the whale crews when they reach such (to us) precious natural wonders as the Galapagos Islands.

But these particular whalers certainly paid for it. Philbrick describes the inconceivable ordeal the men endured after the destruction of their ship. It is not a story of adventure and heroism, like (for instance) Shackleton's voyage in the Endurance. The consequences of the mistakes, ignorance, and weakness of the officers of the Essex are all too plain. Philbrick examines these, and shines light on some of the troubling aspects of the story.

For instance, is it significant that the first four men to be devoured by their crewmates were all African Americans? Why were the three men stranded on the deserted island African Americans? (Were they wiser than their fellows?) The answers are not straightforward; the decisions facing these men were surely among the most agonizing imaginable.

The tale of the Essex was renowned throughout the world and inspired the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. In the Heart of the Sea is not a happy tale; but it's a well-paced, intense, and satisfying one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The lady goes full tilt

I first read Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle when I was a teenager. (Yes, I’m a Boomer – the book was published in 1965!) It made a huge impression on me. Imagine, I thought, a woman biking from Ireland to India by herself! Looking back on my decades of traveling alone, I remain thankful for Murphy’s inspiration.

Murphy’s early life in Ireland was extraordinary in many ways. Her mother was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis from Murphy’s early childhood on. Formal schooling for Murphy ceased when she was 14 years old because war shortages in Ireland in the 1940’s had affected the availability of servants. There was no one else available as a caregiver, so Murphy was given the job. Caring for an invalid mother took up most of Murphy’s first 30 years.

In spite of this, Murphy was able to have some interesting local adventures. She got her first bicycle when she was ten, and began taking longer and longer trips by herself around County Waterford, always dreaming that one day she would ride her bike to India. With the exception of a few short trips on the Continent, Murphy had to wait until after her mother’s death in 1962 to fulfill her dream.

With an amazingly small amount of baggage (a full list is provided in the back of Full Tilt) Murphy set off during the worst winter Europe had experienced in decades. But every day was an adventure, and five and a half months later she reached India.

What I love about Murphy’s writing is her humor and her acceptance of cultural differences. She ate the food that was offered and was thankful for the generosity people showed her. She didn’t obsess about not being able to speak the local languages – she just got very good at pantomime.

Murphy has written many travel books, and at 81 years old is still going strong. Recently, Newport Library acquired Murphy’s autobiography Wheels Within Wheels: The Making of a Traveler. I read it, loved it and was even inspired to reread Full Tilt. I highly recommend both of these excellent books.

--Posted by Kay

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Two Charlies

Why is Charlie such a popular name for tough, smart, female characters? I blame it on those Charlie perfume ads--the first perfume ads to feature a woman wearing pants, according to Wikipedia. In any case, this week I read Zoe Sharp’s new Charlie Fox story, and Val McDermid’s Charlie Flint, and couldn’t decide which one I liked better.

The Fifth Victim by Zoe Sharp

When a spate of kidnappings has wealthy Long Island parents worried, bodyguard Charlie Fox accepts a job protecting Dina, the sweet but slightly spoiled teenage daughter of a divorced Countess. Charlie’s significant other, Sean, is in a coma after being shot in the head on their previous assignment together. Using the job to distract herself from the constant cascade of grief and fear, Charlie immerses herself in Dina’s world, meeting and observing the circle of bored and wealthy teens. When one of Dina’s peers is killed in the course of a kidnapping, Charlie realizes something about the crime doesn’t add up, and implicates someone no one suspected.

The Fifth Victim is the ninth book in Sharp’s Charlie Fox series, but can definitely stand alone. Sharp’s writing is crisp and fast-paced, her characters deftly drawn. This is a mystery/thriller with high stakes, red herrings, and graphic action sequences.

Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid

Charlie Flint is a forensic psychologist who’s under investigation for her role in freeing a sexual predator who went on to murder four women. Despite the fact that he was innocent of the crime he was originally accused of, and despite the fact that the authorities ignored Charlie’s strong recommendation that he be placed in a mental hospital, the deaths haunt her—she’s looking for redemption. When one of her old professors from Oxford asks her to investigate someone who may be a serial killer, it’s just the opportunity Charlie needs. Spending time away from home with Lisa, the compelling woman who’s not her partner of seven years, is just a guilty bonus.

But how likely is it that Jay Stewart, prominent lesbian millionaire and misery memoir author, is actually a murderer? Jay’s life has been dogged by tragedy, marked with deaths and disappearances, but she’s never been seriously implicated. And yet . . . she’s benefited in every case. The preponderance of coincidence is too much. Charlie knows in her gut there’s something there: finding the proof is the dangerous part.

Trick of the Dark is a British mystery, but it’s also an exploration of the complexity of relationships in romance, in friendship, and in family. McDermid is the award-winning author of the well-known Tony Hill series of mysteries which have been made into the TV series Wire in the Blood. Trick of the Dark is a stand-alone novel.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lost and Found: Lessons from Life

The Newport Public Library will host a reading by Dr. John Baker from his latest book, Lost and Found: Lessons from Life, on Saturday, February 4, at 2:00 p.m.
Lost and Found is a collection of short vignettes highlighting everyday and profound situations in Baker’s life. Sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, the stories bear witness to the author’s search for meaning in the challenges of life.

Baker, a graduate from the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, has taught in high school and college. His other publications include Camp Adair: The Story of a World War II Cantonment; Today, Oregon's Largest Ghost Town, and three works of poetry: Reflections From a Coastal Town, Pacific Shift: and Other Poems, Popcorn Palace and Other Poems.

For more information about this program, call the Newport Library at 541.265.2153 or check its website, www.newportlibrary.org


Friday, January 13, 2012

Discovering a classic

The great thing about a book club is that it leads you to books you might not otherwise read. I was pleased to learn that Silas Marner by George Eliot was the February book for the Newport Library's Reading Circle: it's a classic that until now I've somehow missed.

Interestingly, when I mentioned to my parents that I was reading the 1861 classic, they both seemed dismayed. "Why?" asked my dad.

This surprised me. My parents are well-read people; and Silas Marner is a good book. It turns out that both my mother and father were forced to read it in high school. I can see that it wouldn't be what I would choose to read at 16.

At the beginning of the novel, Silas Marner is an unhappy man. He has no family or friends, and has lost his faith in God. Intensely alone, he spends all his time working and counting his earnings - gold sovereigns, which he can never spend, for they are his only companions.

Marner is rescued from this unnatural and lonely state by two events. One, a scoundrel steals his precious money. And two, a tiny orphaned child wanders into his home. These events combine to bring about a complete reformation of Marner's miserable life, and the details of how that happens are a pleasure to read.
Silas Marner is a classic that a lot of people have never read - or, like my parents, read and disliked as teens. It's a short, rich novel, worth another look.

If you'd like to join the Reading Circle's discussion of Silas Marner, please feel free to come to our meeting. It's at noon on the second Tuesday of every month; the next is February 14. For a schedule of upcoming Reading Circle picks, click here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Post-apocalypse Oregon

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling is a really enjoyable Oregon-based post-apocalyptic read. It focuses on the luck, skills, and strategies of the survivors and the early shoots of a new civilization struggling forth from the ashes of the old. Does it require suspension of disbelief? Heck, yeah. Unless there are a lot more people around than I thought with archery and fencing skills, not to mention blacksmithing, engineering, homesteading, and fort-building.

But Stirling’s world, like the best science fiction, is a thought experiment. Given that gunpowder and electricity have been strong influences on the development of modern society, what happens if, in a flash, they suddenly cease to work?

Everyone in an airplane or in a submarine, dies. Many people in vehicles die. Anyone who’s injured and unable to get medical attention, dies. And as time moves forward, anyone who doesn’t maintain access to food and the ability to defend themselves, dies. Most of the benefits of modern day affluence disappear, and the only real wealth is food and safety. In a matter of months, with no trucks, no trains, no harvesters,—starvation. Disease. Horrors perpetrated by the desperate and the evil, unchecked by law or society.

Into this situation, Stirling drops two regular folks who just happen to have skills and beliefs that will serve them well in the new world, and we follow them through The Change, the moment when a blinding flash of life destroys the old world. Juniper is a musician and a single mother, playing a gig in Corvallis, Oregon, accompanied by her deaf fourteen-year-old daughter. Mike Havel is an ex-Marine bush pilot, flying a wealthy family across the mountains, able to crash land in deep forest several days hike from the closest ranger station. Juniper practices Wicca, and has a small farm in the Willamette Valley where all of her surviving coven members and friends gather together under her leadership. Havel and the family he’s with form the core of a traveling militia, trying to work their way across Oregon to the family’s ranch.

The adventure is a blast—lots of action combined with thought-provoking situations. Modern culture is relatively cushy for the majority, rife with complex social and professional challenges but not normally life-threatening. But snatch away the infrastructure of society and in a moment, you’re no longer worried about good daycare and who wins the election. All that falls away in the struggle to provide food, shelter, and safety for yourself and your loved ones. Everything above the most basic need becomes a luxury, and only the strongest, most necessary beliefs survive. You can certainly criticize this book for some of the crazy coincidences (oh, look, that guy we just rescued is an expert horse trainer! and this one knows how to manage food stores and meals for fifty people!) and for the author’s littering of the landscape with Wiccans and Society for Creative Anachronism members, but in my opinion, it works, it’s fun, and it makes you wonder—isn’t it time you started taking fencing lessons?

Dies the Fire is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Protector’s War and A Meeting at Corvallis. All three are also available on audio through Library2Go.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Read me

I barely made it to work today. I wanted to stay home and read Reamde by Neal Stephenson instead.

Stephenson writes big fat books: usually visionary science fiction, but there have been forays into historical fiction, too. His novels are always funny and always bursting with ideas about economics, history, game theory, and engineering. They sometimes sprawl a little, or veer off on strange tangents that, while amusing in themselves, don't take the book where it needs to go. (For instance, Cryptonomicon has a diversion on the proper technique for eating Captain Crunch which, while hilarious, doesn't necessarily serve the plot.)

Reamde, though, is tight. It is Stephenson's version of a high-tech spy thriller, and it is indeed thrilling.

Reamde centers around a popular online multiplayer computer game called T'Rain. The important thing to know about this game is that you, the player, can use real money to buy the money and equipment you need in the game; and game money can in turn be converted back into real money.

(This is clearly inspired by the forbidden economy that has grown up around the game World of Warcraft; the difference is that in T'Rain it's encouraged and highly profitable to the game makers.)

Because of this function, T'Rain becomes a center for money-laundering and cyber-crimes. That’s what the makers of a computer virus called Reamde have in mind. If Reamde infects your computer, all your files will be encrypted. Want the key to unencrypt the files on your computer? Pay a ransom by having your character in T'Rain take gold pieces to a certain location in the game world, where another character will pick them up and convert them back into real-world money. It’s essentially anonymous.

Reamde goes global. It wreaks havoc both in the game world and, when some very bad guys get infected, in the real world too. The bad guys seek to find and punish the people responsible for Reamde. Innocent bystanders get caught up in the bad guys' plans. Things go awry for everyone.

Reamde is not one of those thrillers in which someone's brilliant strategy comes off perfectly. In Reamde, most people don't have brilliant strategies; they just act, and their actions have unintended consequences. Strategies collide unexpectedly with other people's strategies, creating violent cascades of unintended consequences that splash all over the world. Russian mafia, Chinese hackers, American gun nuts, global jihadists, spies from various countries - all get dragged in to the mess caused by Reamde.

The action never stops for a moment of this 1000-page novel. If you like smart, funny books, Stephenson is always a good bet. If you like smart, funny, impossible-to-put-down thrillers, place a hold on Reamde now.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A child’s disappearance leads her father to plumb mysteries that were better left alone in this atmospheric horror story by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist.

During a family trip to an historic lighthouse off the coast of Sweden, six-year-old Maja vanishes. Two years later, her broken father Anders returns to the island where she disappeared, to drink himself to death and/or lay her ghost to rest. This is the island where he spent summers with his fisherman father growing up, the island where his grandparents live—but now everything is unfamiliar. He's haunted wherever he goes by the feeling of being watched, and his daughter’s things, abandoned after her disappearance, seem to be forming into messages for him when he’s not looking.

His grandfather Simon was once a well-known magician. For fifty years he’s lived on the island, but he’s still an outsider to those whose ancestors settled there long ago. Nevertheless, Simon has a deep and secret tie to the island—an unpleasant magic that is more than mere illusion, and that may be the key to what happened to Maja, and many others.

From the ancient past, from the grandparents' past, from Anders’ childhood and adolescence, pieces of the dark mystery are revealed, each one ratcheting up the feeling of tense unease. Can Anders and Simon comprehend what’s going on in time to recover Maja? And more importantly, should they?

Harbor is sprinkled with pop culture references from the 1980’s, when Anders was a teen, and flavored with a foreign feel that’s more substantial than the slight awkwardness of translation. Ajvide Lindqvist has more authorly presence than is customary in American horror, giving the book a literary gloss.

Land and sea. We may think of them as opposites; as complements. But there is a difference in how we think of them: the sea, and the land. If we are walking around in a forest, a meadow or a town, we see our surroundings as being made up of individual elements. There are this many different kinds of trees in varying sizes, those buildings, those streets. […] But the sea. the sea is something completely different. The sea is one . . .

Ajvide Lindqvist is also the creator of Let the Right One In, a very chilling Swedish horror movie, blogged by Jennifer K. in February of 2010.