Sunday, June 30, 2013

"The Caterpillar Hunter" comes to Literacy Park

This week's free Summer Reading event at Newport Public Library is an original play from the Traveling Lantern Theatre Company. All children and families are invited to attend the show at 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, July 3 in Literacy Park.

Based on the beloved character of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, the Caterpillar Hunter shrinks himself and sets off to explore the terrain, pursuing elusive bugs and strange herbage in the wild recesses of a common North American vegetable garden. Traveling Lantern has been educating and entertaining children nationwide for the past 25 years. Their mission is to bring great stories to children, to draw them into an active theater experience, to excite their minds and to tickle their imaginations. The company has been doing just that for the New York Public Library, Yosemite National Park, schools and libraries around the country.

The show is sponsored in part by Ready to Read grants from the Oregon State Library and the Lincoln County Library District along with generous support from Ross and Janis Neigebauer, Jeanette Hofer, and Umpqua Bank.  For more information about The Caterpillar Hunter or other summer reading presentations, please contact us at (541) 265-2153 or check out our website.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

James Thurber

I was introduced to James Thurber about seven years ago and have since made a point of reading him at least once a year. I am trying to go through his canon slowly, seeing as how he’s dead and all. Thurber is the humor writer to whom all others are compared, including David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Calvin Trillin. (Actually, all three authors have won the Thurber Prize for American Humor.) He was one the first employees at the New Yorker, starting in 1927 as an editor and later adding cartoons to his repertoire when his friend and coworker E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web, anyone?) found some of his wadded-up drawings in the wastebasket and had them published. He was a profound dog lover and often featured them in his work. (The “Thurber Dog” is a definite icon.)

Thurber stories are funny in a way that transcends to some extent the time period in which they were created, which is to say that his subjects are often universal: family members’ peccadillos, unruly children and pets, and marital discord. (I do tend lose him when he writes about his hired men and women; skip those stories or just take them for what they’re worth as remnants of a bygone era.) The Scary, Controlling Wife features in many of his pieces, and while I might be tempted to be a tad indignant about it (being a very understanding sort of wife myself), I find myself laughing instead.

Read Thurber for his appreciation of the absurd, for his evident love of language and wordplay, and for his unique way of seeing the world. For a good sampling, pick up The Thurber Carnival and be sure to read “The Night the Bed Fell” and “If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox”.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dig Into Reading! with storysinger Brad Clark

Newport Public Library's Dig Into Reading! summer reading program stars storysinger Brad Clark at 1:00 pm on Wednesday, June 26. All children and families are invited to attend one of these free programs. Weather permitting, the show will be held in Literacy Park.  If it's still raining at 12:30 p.m. we will move the show inside the library to the McEntee Room.


Clark says, “I discovered the world of performing stories and music for kids in 2008 when I was lucky enough to join the Children’s Room staff at the Wilsonville Public Library. I just couldn’t get enough of it! I love reading books, telling stories, singing songs and dancing with my own kids as well as any others I meet”.

This is the first time he has performed at Newport Public Library but he has a sterling reputation amongst Oregon librarians for being a gifted musician and storyteller. What people like most about him is how effortlessly he gets his audience involved in the show.

Clark’s show is funded by Ready to Read grants from the Oregon State Library and the Lincoln County Library District. His lodging is provided by Newport’s Sylvia Beach Hotel.
For more information about Brad Clark, check out his website at

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Hare With The Amber Eyes

In 2001, Edmund de Waal inherited a collection of 264 netsuke from his great-uncle Iggy.

A netsuke is a tiny, detailed Japanese carving, once used as a sort of button or toggle worn on a cord at the belt. They usually date from the 17th or 18th century. The collection de Waal inherited from Iggy was extraordinary, not only because the carvings were exquisite and valuable, but because they’d been in his family for generations, and were one of the few remnants of what was once an enormous art collection.

In The Hare With The Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, de Waal describes how his family bought the netsuke and what they did with them.

The author’s family were the Ephrussi, fabulously wealthy Jewish brokers and bankers who had moneymaking outposts in Odessa, Vienna, Paris, and Athens. Charles Ephrussi lived in Paris, and as the second son of his branch of the family he had no business responsibilities: he devoted his life to collecting, curating, and writing about art. He was a tastemaker and a major patron of the Impressionists. It was he who originally bought the netsuke in 1871, when Japanese art was all the rage.

Charles gave the netsuke to Victor Ephrussi, his favorite nephew, on his wedding day. Victor and his wife lived in a gigantic marble palace on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. Unlike Charles’s chic Paris apartment, filled with lovingly-selected artworks, this marble pile was crammed of generations of stuff. The netsuke ended up in Victor’s wife’s dressing-room, where the children were allowed, once in a while, to play with them.

The Ephrussi fell in the twentieth century as the forces of anti-Semitism rose. When the Nazis seized Austria, their assets (including their homes, books, art collections, and clothes) were taken. Many of them did not make it out of Europe to safety.

So how did the 264 netsuke remain in Ephrussi hands, to be passed down from Great Uncle Iggy to de Waal?

The Hare with the Amber Eyes is a really fascinating story, a chronicle of one family’s passage through turbulent times.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mistress of the Art of What Now?

If you’re a fan of historical mysteries (particularly Ellis Peters’ well-known and beloved Cadfael series), you absolutely must try Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death, the first in her Adelia Aguilar series. So likely is the comparison between Ellis Peters and Ariana Franklin that Franklin actually won the Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2007.

Set during the reign of King Henry II in 1171 (just a few decades after Cadfael’s time), Adelia Aguilar, a young (female!) doctor trained in determining the manner of death (a mistress of the art of death, if you will) is sent many miles over land and sea to King Henry so she can exercise her unusual skills to find a brutal serial murderer of children in Cambridge. [Fair warning of the book’s disturbing violence from your friendly local librarian.] Adelia is joined in her effort to catch the sicko by her two unusual sidekicks: Mansur, a Muslim eunuch, and Simon of Naples, a Jewish detective of sorts.

Franklin’s writing lacks the literary quality that characterized much of Peters’ work, but it offers a gripping and sometimes (okay, maybe more than just sometimes) grisly window into 12th century England, not to mention some seriously old school CSI-style forensic investigation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

I was tricked into reading a fantasy book. Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay, sports one of Newport Library’s distinctive purple dragon genre labels on the spine. Yet the blurb inside the jacket cover reads more like historical fiction. I’m not into dragons, but I was curious.

In an alternate Tang Dynasty China, Shen Tai honors his dead father, a famous general, by burying the scattered bones of slaughtered soldiers who fought at a remote mountain battlefield. In gratitude for this two-year long selfless act, the enemy Taguran kingdom gives him a gift of incalculable value: 250 Sardian horses.

Wending his way back to the capital Xinan, Shen Tai must navigate the slippery slope of a court political scene more treacherous than any high mountain trail. Why has Spring Rain, a courtesan and old friend, sent out a Kanlin warrior women to protect him? And how has Shen’s older brother suddenly become an advisor to the new chief minister Wen Zhou, who has taken Spring Rain as his concubine? What will Shen Tai do with the horses, and to what lengths will others go to take them away from him?

These political and moral questions are embroidered within a classical Chinese aesthetic. Aside from a little ghostly magic that saves Shen’s life early on, Under Heaven reads more like an elegantly staged political thriller than a woo-woo fantasy novel. And not a wizard, witch or warlock in sight. And best of all: no dragons! I’m liking it.

You can reserve Under Heaven here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The maid and the mathematician

Yoko Ogawa is the author of more than 20 novels in Japan. In The Housekeeper and the Professor she tells the story of an unlikely family.

The narrator of this novel is a fatherless young woman, the single mother of a ten-year-old boy. Her early pregnancy forced her to leave school, and now she works for a housekeeping agency. She knows she is lucky to have a steady job, and is happy to be assigned to cook and clean for an elderly former professor of mathematics.

Due to injuries suffered in a car accident in 1975, the professor’s short-term memory is damaged - he can only remember 80 minutes at a time. His suit is covered with little reminder notes, attached to him with binder clips. The housekeeper must introduce herself to him every day. It seems that the only constant in the professor’s life is mathematics - the beauty and elegance of numbers, and the complex relationships between them.

Even without the short-term memory issue, there are plenty of barriers that would prevent these three people - the housekeeper, her son (nicknamed Root), and the mathematician - from forming any sort of relationship. There is a deep divide between their social classes and educational levels.

But using the language of mathematics, they succeed in bridging these problems and, against all odds, they become a family. Though I’m far from a student of mathematics, I found the conversations in which the professor explains number theory to the housekeeper and her son to be comprehensible and surprisingly poetic.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a story of kindness, generosity, and the love of knowledge. By the standards of a blockbuster thriller, The Housekeeper and the Professor is an uneventful book, but Ogawa manages to find drama in scenes of the professor’s ironing a tablecloth, or of housekeeper’s quest to find him a gift. It is an elegant and tender read.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

This Is Getting Old by Susan Moon

I have a confession to make. I am getting old(er). And I haven’t been taking it well. I’m usually not much of a self-help book reader but when Susan Moon’s, This Is Getting Old came across the circulation desk, it was the subtitle that spoke to me: Zen thoughts on aging with humor and dignity. I thought to myself, “yeah, that’s how I want to do it, with humor and dignity.” I checked out the book and took it home.

The author divides her two dozen essays into three sections. The first, “Cracks In The Mind And Body”, gently introduced me to all the physical frailties I have to look forward to. One of the more hopeful is a reflection on forgetfulness entitled “Senior Moment, Wonderful Moment,” a wry play on words taken from a poem by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

The second section explores changing relationships among friends, family and the realization that, as an older adult, the author’s previous intimate relationship may well have been her last. The final section deals with matters of the spirit and coming to terms with death.

Moon’s essays are wise and funny and often irreverant, something you’d expect from an ex-hippie Buddhist from Berkeley. Although I haven’t quite come to terms with the gray hairs, creaking joints and near-constant desire for a nap after lunch, reading Susan Moon’s This Is Getting Old has given me the useful perspective of that cool grandmother I never had.

Never mind that she’s not much older than I am.

You can reserve This Is Getting Old here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

We are all completely beside ourselves . . .

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be part of a family? And what happens when we experiment with the lines we draw between human and not human, family and property?

In We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Fowler explores the effect of these questions on Rosemary Cooke, whose life is sharply delineated between an idyllic early childhood and the aftermath of the loss of her siblings, both of whom, we are told, are still alive. The tension in the story arises from wanting to find out how things could go so wrong as to leave Rosemary and her parents pretending that two family members never existed.

Strange factors have influenced the trajectory of the family’s lives and the development of their personalities, which are fascinating from a psychological and a personal perspective. Because Rosemary’s father is a psychologist, and because of the circumstance under which she grew up, there’s room in the book for conversations about the definition of sentience, the Theory of Mind, and the ethics of scientific experimentation, which are integral to the plot and quite fascinating.

 Karen Joy Fowler is best known as the author of the bestselling novel The Jane Austen Book Club, which was made into a movie of the same name. Because I’m not fond of books about Jane Austen or book clubs, I know her best from her short story collection Artificial Things, published in 1986, which is still on my shortlist of personal favorites because of the combination of lyrical writing, feminist science fiction, and stark and haunting settings in many of the stories. Although We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is not science fiction, it feels as though Fowler has discovered a way to explore many of the same themes in literary fiction as she did in the stories I love.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Looking For Your Next Book?

Why not try one of these online tools?

NovelistPlus: Using your library barcode, login to the link above the central picture on the library's homepage. Use it for reading lists, professional reviews, and information about your favorite fiction genre.

Goodreads: While you can make an account and start keeping track of what you have read or want to read (and see what your friends are reading), you don't have to login to use the site. Check out the "Readers Also Enjoyed" list for similar reads for each book you look at.

Whichbook: This is a really fun site that focuses on lesser-known authors and books. Try finding a book by switching around the level on "happy/sad" or "safe/disturbing," etc. or do a character/plot/setting search. This one is definitely worth a look!

And as always, we at the Newport Public Library are happy to give you real-life, in-person book recommendations!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem by Neal Stephenson is surely one of the most difficult novels to describe. When it was first published in 2008, Newport Library originally shelved it in the fiction section with the author’s other works. Later we moved it to Science Fiction: it’s just that hard to categorize.

On the planet Arbre, a cloistered community of philosophers and academics have been granted a ten-day holiday to mingle with the outside world. As much as Erasmas would like to venture beyond the walls and visit with old friends and family, trying to gain access to secret experiments conducted by his mentor Orolo is taking up much of his time. What exactly is Orolo working on and why are the secular powers outside so eager to learn about it? And could it have anything to do with who or what is hovering in the sky above their planet?

What follows is an almost 1000 page adventure that challenges the intellect and dazzles the imagination. If Thomas Mann wrote science fiction, he might have written Anathem. Based on a dizzying variety of theories about mathematics, space travel and cosmology, Anathem constructs a world so engrossing you’ll want to jump right in and explore it yourself. Think of it as a computer game for the mind.

If you’ve ever fantasized about life within a community of intellectually like-minded individuals, like I have, Anathem might just be the next best thing to being there. It was awarded the Locus Prize for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2009. And you can reserve it here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Legacy in Wax

Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran is a fictionalized account of the life of Marie Grozholtz Tussaud. Marie learned the art of wax modeling from her uncle, Philippe Curtius, who learned to create body parts in wax when he was a physician. Their Salon de Cire was filled with life-sized figures of popular people, dressed in authentic clothing and arranged in realistic settings.

At the height of its popularity, lines formed early in the morning in front of the salon and continued into the night until the exhibits closed. At first people flocked in to see Marie Antoinette’s latest fashions and marvel over the heroes of the American Revolution. Over time, they came for the latest news and to see tableaus featuring the leaders du jour: Maximilian Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat, and the Duc d’Orl√©ans.

Marie straddled two diverging worlds as long as she could. She sculpted the royal family numerous times, tutored the king’s sister, Princesse √Člisabeth, and was a guest at the Court of Versailles. At the same time, the Salon de Cire became a gathering place for those who talked of revolution, and Marie could not avoid being drawn into the spiraling horror they set in motion. To save her family and herself she agreed to make death masks of guillotine victims, who were sometimes people she had known and loved.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
(Photo courtesy of Iman1138)

Madame Tussaud is a gripping account of a tumultuous time in history through one person’s eyes. As grim as much of it was, I enjoyed looking up images of the characters – the painting “Death of Marat” is overly romanticized – and words I was not familiar with (the popular headgear of the revolution was a red Phrygian cap, and true patriots wore a tricolored cockade). I also gained an appreciation for Marie, the woman who endured so much grief yet went on to create a museum that still exists, almost three hundred years later.