Friday, September 27, 2013

Banned Books Round Up

"There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches." — Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
We’re nearing the end of Banned Books Week, and what a week it’s been! Our events and displays have garnered attention and sparked quite a few conversations at the circulation desk, but there has also been a wider dialog happening in the media around the continuing attempts to censor literature for children and young adults (e.g., banning and unbanning Invisible Man, cancelling a young adult author’s speaking engagement, banning Dreaming in Cuban).

Many interesting pieces about banned and challenged books for youth have been making the rounds on the internet, so I’ve decided to put together a little collection of them for you mull over: 

 A Dirty Little Secret: Self-Censorship

A Plea for Book Censors to Stand Down 
Could Banning Books Actually Encourage More Readers?

Darkness too Visible 

True Love, Book Fights, And Why Ugly Stories Matter
If after looking through these links you feel like picking up a banned book, come swing by the librarywe have plenty!



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Gun, with occasional music by Jonathan Lethem

Conrad Metcalf is one of the few licensed private “inquisitors” left in a future where asking questions is considered rude. He’s a man with a personal code of honor, but only a crappy office and downtrodden wardrobe to show for it. Plus, his girlfriend ran off with his neuro-sexual system. (Don’t ask—the book will explain it far better than I can!) He’s also a drug addict, but then, so is everyone else. The government provides free drugs like Forgettol, Addictol, and Acceptol, to make life more palatable.

When Metcalf’s previous client, a well-heeled urologist who thought his wife was cheating on him, turns up murdered, Metcalf wonders if it had anything to do with his marital difficulties, and figures the Inquisitor’s Office will soon be knocking at his door. But someone else turns up before the cops: the prime suspect, a big dumb kid who calls Metcalf his only hope. Metcalf turns him away, not sure what to believe or maybe just lazy, but the more he learns about the case, the more he wonders if that was a mistake.

Despite himself, he follows a trail through evolved animals, baby-heads, slave-boxes, cryo-punishment, and a heavily armed (and legged) kangaroo, smack into the kind of opportunistic corruption that thrives in totalitarian climes. And, being the kind of guy he is, he won’t back down.

Gun, with Occasional Music is a thought-provoking, tongue-in-cheek dystopian detective story. For me, it brings Orwell’s 1984 to mind, with its damning portrait of an easily misled and subdued populace, as well as some of Jasper Fforde’s work, both his fairytale detective stories and his rainbow-based science-fiction dystopia (thanks to talking animals, noirish detectives, and worlds terribly askew from our own but still oddly familiar.) Jonathan Lethem's first novel is definitely recommended, and if you enjoy it, check out one of his more recent works: I liked Girl in Landscape as well as Motherless Brooklyn.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Books for your walks

I love taking long walks, and the Oregon Coast offers so many good places to do it - on beaches, over dunes, in parks, and along trails into the green forests.  Every season offers new things to see. And yet, it’s easy to stop paying attention as one walks, to get caught up in one's thoughts and forget to look at the beautiful and interesting sights on either side of the trail.

 That’s why I was intrigued by Alexandra Horowitz’s book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.  A New Yorker, Horowitz experienced the same problem that I sometimes have:  she found herself walking through the city without really seeing it.

 So she took eleven different experts with her on her walks: a geologist; an entomologist; a typeface expert; an artist; a blind woman; a sound engineer; and so on. Each companion noticed and described different things about the same city environment.  The point of this exercise was to open Horowitz’s eyes, to help her to observe familiar things in a new way. “I aimed to knock myself awake,” she writes in the introduction.

I found Horowitz’s book helpful in making me more mindful and observant as I walked. And while I can’t take an expert with me on each walk, I can do the next best thing:  I can bring a field guide.

The Newport Library offers a wide selection of field guides for Pacific Northwest birds, plants, fossils, seashore creatures, mushrooms, and more. Click here to see a partial list of what's available.

How about books about our bridges and lighthouses? Or books about local historyRocks and fossils?  If you take nighttime walks, would you like to check out some books on how to identify the constellations and planets

And if you’re looking for new places to walk, we have lots of books on walking trails, too.

In short, we have a lot of resources to help you learn more about the sights and sounds that you encounter on the Oregon Coast.  If, like me, you sometimes forget to observe the world around you, a book can help knock you awake.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Russian Reads!

I LOVE books set in Russia. I am not Russian, I have never been to Russia, and I cannot speak a word of Russian, but there is something about the culture and the richness of its history that attracts me. So here is a list (by no means exhaustive; I have much more reading to do!) of some great reads set in Mother Russia.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Soviet Union-inspired literary satire with a heaping ladle of magical realism poured on top! I won’t say more than that. This book can speak for itself: “Follow me, reader! Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar's vile tongue be cut out! Follow me, my reader, and me alone, and I will show you such a love!”

Erast Fandorin Mysteries by Boris Akunin
Historical mysteries set right before the Russian Revolution starring an unusually perceptive government employee! Boris Akunin is the real deal, people. As long as you can wrap your head around the seemingly endless number of patronymics (which to be honest is a shared trait among most novels set in Russia), these books will hold you captive. (Just don’t be too put off by the arm’s length the protagonist is held at—think of it as increasing the wow factor when he finally reveals the results of his astute deductions.)

Sister Pelagia Mysteries by Boris Akunin
More historical mysteries by Boris Akunin! But this time the books comprise a trilogy featuring a nun with a mysterious past and a whole lot of pluck. These have  more depth to them, or as Booklist puts it, the Erast Fandorin mysteries come off as "light, almost campy comedies compared to the Pelagia series." I wasn’t thrilled with the first one (dogs are poisoned—enough said), but the second is fantastic and the third is a remarkable achievement: intelligent, complex, and poignant.

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Young adult fantasy fiction about super-powered peasants in an alternate Tsarist Russian world! Leigh Bardugo has a killer imagination and wields it like a boss in this atmospheric and richly textured trilogy. I can’t wait for the final installment!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Censorship in Literature

Every year during Banned Books Week, libraries, publishers, and booksellers highlight the very real threat to our freedom to read. The Newport Public Library will recognize Banned Books Week this year with a program on censorship, a book club discussion and film screening of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a display featuring banned and challenged books.

Photo by Kim Nguyen
Dr. Pancho Savery begins the week with “To Cut or Not to Cut: Censorship in Literature” on Sunday, September 22, at 2:00 p.m. Recent efforts to remove the “N” word in literature—from the new edition of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn in which the word is changed to “slave” to the attempt to halt a high school production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone because of its "offensive" language—raise questions about censorship. Is censorship ever a good thing? Should accommodations be made considering the difference between a character’s and author’s point of view?

Savery is professor of English, humanities, and American studies at Reed College. He also teaches in Reed’s freshman humanities program on the Ancient Mediterranean World (focusing on Greece, Egypt, Persia, and Rome). For the last eleven years, he has worked with Oregon Humanities on the Humanity in Perspective program.

The library’s Reading Circle will meet on Tuesday, September 24 at noon to discuss Mark Twain’s controversial classic. That evening, at 6:30 p.m., the monthly Literary Flick will feature the 1939 version of the film, starring Mickey Rooney as Huck Finn.

Savery’s Conversation Project is sponsored by Oregon Humanities. Through the Conversation Project, Oregon Humanities offers free programs that engage community members in thoughtful, challenging conversations about ideas critical to our daily lives and our state's future.

The library will have buttons and bookmarks to give away during Banned Books Week, while supplies last.  Ask for your "I read banned books" button and wear it proudly!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Eighty classics: How many have you read?

A patron recently asked the Newport Public Library to make a bibliography of literary classics. So we looked at some resources and consulted our own tastes, and here’s the list we came up with (alphabetical by author).  Note that these are novels only:

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  3. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  4. Emma by Jane Austen
  5. Herzog by Saul Bellow
  6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  8. If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  9. The Plague by Albert Camus
  10. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  11. My Antonia by Willa Cather
  12. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
  13. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  14. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  15. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  16. The BFG by Roald Dahl
  17. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  18. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  19. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  20. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  21. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  22. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  23. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  24. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  25. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding
  26. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
  27. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  28. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  29. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  30. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  31. The Tin Drum by GΓΌnther Grass
  32. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  33. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  34. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  35. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  36. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  37. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  38. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  39. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  40. Ulysses by James Joyce
  41. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  42. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
  43. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
  44. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre
  45. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  46. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  47. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
  48. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  49. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  50. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  51. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  52. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
  53. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  54. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  55. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  56. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  57. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  58. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  59. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
  60. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald
  61. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  62. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  63. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  64. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  65. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  66. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  67. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  68. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  69. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  70. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  71. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  72. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
  73. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  74. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  75. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
  76. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  77. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  78. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  79. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  80. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolfe

Although this list is not exactly exhaustive, we think it’s a pretty good sampling of great books.

 I’ve read 35 of the 80.  How many have you read? Which ones? Which ones do you plan to read?  Let us know in the comments!

(And, since lists like this exist to be argued about, also tell us which books should be on the list that aren’t, and which are that we should have left off.)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

When truth is as exciting as fiction

I love a good narrative nonfiction book - the kind that tells a fascinating historical story, one with all sorts of implications for our lives now.

One such book is Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, by Steve Sheinkin. It tells the genuinely exciting story of the race to build atomic weapons during World War II.

While Robert Oppenheimer and his team were in Los Alamos developing uranium and plutonium bombs, daring commandos were intent on sabotaging the Nazi efforts to do the same. And Soviet spies were trying to steal the secrets from both. They would succeed, leading to the nuclear escalation of the Cold War.

What was Oppenheimer like?  Who were the saboteurs?  Who were the spies, and why did they do it?  This book delves into their lives, motivations, and the way they felt once the Bomb was a reality.

Harry Gold, soviet spy.
Bomb is marketed for children, and is written at the level an intelligent and well-read eleven-year-old can understand. It’s a great introductory read for adults who are interested in this period, too, and it comes with suggestions for further reading, if you’d like to go more in-depth. (It is also illustrated with excellent photographs of the people, places, and devices described in the book, which I loved. More books should have pictures!)

If it sounds like a great story to you, don’t let the fact that this is a kids’ book bother you. Put it on hold today!

Monday, September 9, 2013

The ABC of It: Why Picture Books Matter
I recently got back from a whirlwind New England/New York City trip! One of the highlights was going to visit the lions outside the New York Public Library in Manhattan and seeing the current NYPL exhibit, The ABC of It: Why Picture Books Matter.

The exhibit was incredible. To list just a few of my favorite things, there were two hand painted William Blake prints from Songs of Innocence, a little car that looks like it came straight out of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (I had to wait impatiently for a little girl to vacate the car so I could sit in it and make my friend take a picture), the bedroom from Goodnight Moon recreated so you  could walk right through it,  a fuzzy cutout of one of the monsters from Where The Wild Things Are, a constantly growing and diminishing Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and a telephone you can pick up to listen to E.B. White read from Charlotte’s Web.

If you’re not planning to head to NYC anytime soon, stop by our library’s children’s area to revisit  your favorite books from childhood, and maybe share them with a special little one in your life.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The second book in the Claire DeWitt series

When we last left Claire DeWitt, at the end of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, the private investigator had just solved a missing-persons case that turned out to be an ugly murder in post-Katrina New Orleans. The bitter ending to that mystery sets up an even darker and more painful case, as told in Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway.

Claire is back in San Francisco, where an ex-boyfriend, Paul Casablancas, has been murdered. Things didn’t work out between Clarie and Paul, and he ended up getting married to Claire’s friend Lydia. Now he’s dead, apparently the victim of a spooked burglar, and Claire is obsessed with finding the killer’s identity. Obsessed, because it’s the only way she knows to deny her powerful grief over Paul:

“The guitars. The lock. The keys. The gun. The musician in the drawing room with the gun. The duchess in the kitchen with the guitar. I let my mind fill with the case. It was only a case. Only another case.”
The Claire DeWitt mysteries are suspenseful, fast-paced, humorous but dark. Their heroine is an antihero at best, a seriously troubled woman whose ability to solve mysteries contrasts with her disastrous mess of a personal life.

They’re also genuinely weird riffs on the noir genre. In Claire’s world, detection is not a job but a painful, life-changing vocation, a vocation that finds people and demands a lifetime of service and sacrifice from them.

The first book was pretty good, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sold on Claire’s strange universe. The second is complete dynamite. Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway is simply a fantastic story with a great ending, covered with bloody handprints from Claire’s past and thick with shining clues to her future. I could not put it down, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Chronicles of Nick

Paranormal young adult tends to be heavy on female protagonists in the midst of an adolescent maelstrom of difficulties, complicated by magic, which will lead them to become strong, self-directed young women who’ve survived tough situations and learned how to make hard choices. It’s refreshing to throw a male main character into the mix once in a while-- although, because this is young adult fiction, the boy will of course be in the midst of an adolescent maelstrom of problems, complicated by magic, which will lead him to grow into a strong, self-directed young man, yadda yadda yadda.

I make fun, yes, but Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Chronicles of Nick series takes this formula and runs with it, fast. Fourteen year old Nick Gautier (go-SHAY) has a mom who’s a Bourbon Street stripper and a dad in prison for murder. Despite his academic scholarship to a prestigious school, Nick just can’t stop getting into trouble. Nick’s mom loves him to pieces, and he’s devoted to her, but that’s not enough to keep him on the straight and narrow. Getting into fight after fight at school, usually when someone disrespects her, has put him one step away from being kicked out of his only chance for a better future.

 Then everything changes. Nick makes one small choice that gets him shot and hospitalized: but which also wins him the patronage of a Darkhunter, a modern-day paladin devoted to fighting supernatural evils for the ancient goddess Artemis. The good news: Nick’s new friend is on the side of good and will do everything in his power to make sure Nick and his mom have the opportunity to change their lives. The bad news: Nick learns he has a destiny that’s thus far been hidden from him. He’s fated to grow up to be the Malachi, an evil figure that will bring the apocalypse down on humankind. New and strange powers start to manifest, zombies attack his school, he meets a very sweet demon, and the plot gallops ahead in unexpected but always entertaining directions.

 Sherrilyn Kenyon is the author of the Darkhunter series of popular and steamy paranormal romances, but although the Chronicles of Nick take place in the same fictional world and have overlapping characters, the “steamy romance” part is tamed down in this young adult subseries. Nick’s a fairly convincing teenage boy, possibly a tad more self-aware emotionally than most, but likeable in his struggles to resist the low expectations people have for him based on his parentage and his dire supernatural destiny. This isn’t literature: the prose is sometimes purple, and high-stakes emotional drama is on every other page. But if you enjoy Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse, or Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Nick Gautier too.

 1. Infinity 
 2. Invincible
 3. Infamous 
 4. Inferno