A Novel Debut

Pity the poor debut novel. First it has to overcome the almost impossible odds of actually getting published. No mean feat with an unknown author. Then it has the daunting task of competing for a reader’s attention with books that are from established writers who have a dedicated fan base and a big publicity machine behind them. All these obstacles have a benefit for the reader though: debut novels are often unconventional. To grab a reading audience, an unknown author will often go out of their way to establish a unique style, theme or ambiance. Sometimes this flops, but other times it produces a unique and mesmerizing reading experience. I’ve never found a foolproof way of discerning the good from the bad, but recently I’ve come across two debut novels that are well worth your reading time.

Why Are You So Sad? by Jason Porter
whyareyousosadRaymond Champs, an illustrator of instructional manuals at a large furnishing company, is not a happy camper. He casts a jaundiced eye at the world around him and sees little to celebrate and much to criticize with biting humor.  Instead of seeing his resulting despair as a personal problem, however, he becomes convinced that his condition is universal. Everybody on the planet is suffering from clinical depression, they just don’t realize it. In order to prove his theory, and save his sanity, he decides to create a questionnaire to probe his coworkers supposed afflictions. To get them to actually fill the form out, he claims it is from Human Resources. Not a smart career move, but it gets the job done. His coworkers begin scratching their heads and trying to figure out how to answer questions such as:

If you were a day of the week, would you be a Monday or Wednesday?
Are you for the chemical elimination of all things painful?
Do you think we need more sports?

Porter’s novel is definitely a modern office satire and any fellow denizen of bureaucratic culture, be it corporate or governmental, will find themselves chuckling throughout the work. The author clearly also has an absurdist bent and likes to play with language, especially dialog, and plot. This turns what could have been a more conventional satirical novel into something more experimental. The ending especially, which is far from conclusive but ultimately satisfying, might be a hard sell for some. Still, if you are willing to leave a few conventions behind, and have no problem laughing out loud while reading, this novel is for you.

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
nightguestRuth Field lives in an idyllic Australian seaside home just steps from the beach. She is recently widowed, her husband having died suddenly from a heart attack, but is slowly getting used to living alone. She stays in contact with her two adult sons and also has memories of her early life growing up in Fiji to keep her company. There is one problem though; when she wakes in the evening, she hears what she thinks is a tiger prowling around her house, knocking over furniture and trying to get into her bedroom.  One day a woman named Frida, stating that she is a caregiver sent by the government, shows up and begins to help Ruth out in small ways for an hour or two a day. Ruth is taken aback at first, since she is not used to having a stranger in the house, but slowly comes to rely on Frida for most things. As the relationship develops, however, it soon becomes clear that Frida is not what she claims to be.

The plot of this novel may seem somewhat conventional, but the presentation is anything but. Most of the book is from Ruth’s perspective as she struggles to figure out what is real and whether Frida is a force for good or ill. Slowly her ideas of the past and the present begin to blend as she tries to make sense of events that could be either real or imagined. The author’s use of language is the key here, with it beautifully reflecting the strange state of consciousness that can come as the mind slowly slips away. The effect is quite haunting and produces a gothic ambiance that has no need for paranormal activity to produce a sense of dread and foreboding. What‘s in the mind is more than enough.

So why not try a debut novel or two? There’s nothing wrong with being unconventional from time to time.

Making Fantasy Football a Reality

I was a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan as a kid, and there are three big reasons why:

1. I lived in St. Louis between the time the Cardinals left for Arizona and when the Rams moved there in 1995. I had to look outside my city for some TDs.
2. Eventually, Joe Montana moved from the 49ers to the Chiefs. Swoon!
3. A boy I had a huge crush on wore a KC Chiefs jacket and so, really, I never stood a chance.

winning fantasy football stephen noverI’d watch games on the weekend on an old black-and-white television I was lucky enough to have in my room. I’d stay up late to watch the scores on TV whenever a game wasn’t televised. I’d try to talk to friends or family about the Chiefs but aside from my crush-worthy dreamboat, who I couldn’t approach due to my nerves and shyness, no one was interested. No one seemed to share my love of the game. I suspect this has less to do with my mediocre understanding of the NFL and more to do with the fact that in St. Louis, Cardinals baseball was, and still is, the majority of residents’ focus. They didn’t have time for football, and they didn’t have time for me.

Wah wah.

Let’s skip forward. The Rams moved to St. Louis at the same time I was starting high school. I was still a ways away from the confident, boisterous person I am today but I was starting to come out of my shell and develop my own likes and dislikes based less on what cute boys wore on their backs and more on my own fast-changing opinions. At some point I had to make a choice: I could stay up late to watch the Chiefs or Conan O’Brien. There was no contest, and I remain Team Coco today. My love for the game faded and I’m sad to say that as an adult who dropped her cable TV subscription years ago, I barely have time for the Super Bowl.

To me, St. Louis never really came to embrace the NFL quite like Seattle does. Now that I live in Seahawks country I am exposed to the game by proxy as coworkers and neighbors share in the Hawks’ wins and losses. I still haven’t gotten back my intense love of the game, but I think that may change. I have discovered fantasy football.

Fantasy football combines the love of the game, obsession with statistics, and dreams of your own perfect team together into one solitary, wonderful hobby. Or lifestyle. Hey, I’m not judging. I seriously don’t know what to call it!

There are several free and easy ways to get started building your own team, one of which is directly on the NFL website. I’m working on putting my own dream team together for this season and trying to recruit like-minded friends to join forces to form our own league next season. In a league everyone drafts their team from one group of players, meaning one football player can only be on one fantasy team. Drafting can get dicey, so I’m preparing a list of tiebreakers and other hopefully fair ways to settle our inevitable disputes.

I’m glad I have a year to get my brain wrapped around fantasy football, because there is a lot to learn. The library has a fantastic resource you can check out called Winning Fantasy Football: How to Play and Win Your Fantasy Football League Every Year by Stephen Nover. This book is packed with everything I don’t know about the game, and weighs in at almost 300 pages. I’m also going to rely on The Everything Kids’ Football Book by Greg Jacobs. There’s a nice, tidy, 10 page chapter on fantasy football that does a really great job of explaining the basics. But I’m already familiar with many of the concepts because I am obsessed with a little TV show called The League

league season 1The League takes place in Chicago and centers around an eight man fantasy football league. Each season of the show covers a single football season and follows the completely juvenile antics of league players, their jobs, their families, and their lives in general. The League is a completely raunchy and immature show, which is why it has become one of my favorite shows of all-time. It’s semi-scripted, which means that the writers come up with the basic plot points and leave the actors, who are all amazing comics in their own right, to spitball and improvise the dialogue. Comedians Nick Kroll (Ruxin), Mark Duplass (Pete), Paul Scheer (Andre), Jon Lajoie (Taco), Stephen Rannazzisi (Kevin), Katie Aselton (Jenny), and Jason Mantzoukas (Rafi-my favorite!) bring their own individual voices and styles to the characters they portray–and I can’t get enough of it.

I spoke to the DVD selector here at the library, who told me the library will be acquiring this immensely funny and completely dysfunctional TV show for the collection later this year. While I don’t have a link to the catalog for you, I suggest you keep checking the waiver wire and you’ll be able to pick it up when it becomes a free agent. Or whatever we fantasy football players say.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go draft my team. I think I’ll follow the lead of Rafi from The League and try to pick up The Hulk via Bruce Banner. As Rafi once sagely stated, “Hey, it’s fantasy football. So the Hulk should be able to be on the team.”

Inside the Northwest History Room: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn 1914 title pageHere in the Northwest History Room of the Everett Public Library, we get frequent visitors looking into the history of buildings and land usage. One of the first resources we point people to is our collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. We have the set of 1914 maps, and a copy of the 1914 maps that was updated in 1955 to show the present state of the land. These dates come in handy for people who own older non-compliant structures because they can be grandfathered in if they predate 1955.

Aside from being able to check if your porch or outbuilding might be able to be grandfathered in, a lot can be gleaned from comparing the 1914 and 1955 maps. For example, in these two photos, you can see how the old Everett Flour Mill was gradually replaced by the sprawling Scott Paper Co. Mill (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Over time, this expansion meant altering the natural landscape by filling in some of the tidelands and building over them on piers. Roads and rails were altered to make way.

These two photos show the expansion of residential buildings that happened at 26th and Rainier. One can see how some buildings changed use, for example going from being a dwelling (‘D’) to being a shed, or gained or lost outbuildings. Some houses, surprisingly, remained mostly the same over the course of those 41 intervening years (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Lastly we have the key that helps us interpret all the colors and symbols used in the maps. This provides us with a wealth of information about the construction of the buildings, from the materials used on the exterior walls, to the types of windows and skylights present, to the appearance of the chimneys. This is really useful for people who are looking to restore their homes to an earlier appearance, or for people who are trying to discover what a demolished building looked like when no pictures exist (click image to enlarge).

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps key

 

I invite you to come down to the Northwest History Room at Everett Public Library’s Main Library to see what you can find out about your home, or any other Everett property you might be curious about – either David or I would be happy to show you how to use our map collection.

Invasion of the Killer B-movie Robot Monster from Mars

It CameB-movies meet P.G. Wodehouse in the 2014 graphic novel It Came!, ‘directed’ by Dan Boultwood. Boultwood previously illustrated a series of graphic novels about The Baker Street Irregulars which were written by Tony Lee, who has also written for IDW’s Doctor Who Comics.

Before the main ‘feature’ there are a number of 1950’s style advertisements. For example, the top of one page sports an illustration of an attractive, stylish woman declaring, “I like my men like I like my bacon: Smokey.” At the bottom of the page: “Smoke & Choke’um Cigarettes: For that discerning odour.”

Just before the ‘feature attraction’ begins there is a ‘trailer’ for another ‘feature’ (and possible future comic, according to interviews with the author): The Lost Valley of the LostLost Valley features the two stars of It Came!, Dick Claymore and Fanny Flaunders, as well as Cecil Herringbone and Sir Rutherford P. Basingstoke as Caveman. The trailer features views of canyons with our heroine, played by the lovely Fanny Flaunders, in perilous situations: being attacked by a snake, a plant and a spanner. The trailer’s climax sees the heroes being confronted by a rather cuddly dinosaur.

On to our ‘feature’, It Came!, presented in Eyeball-O-Rama-Vision! A colorful poster-style page depicting a giant robot clutching a beautiful woman proclaims, “Something is coming round for afternoon tea…and it isn’t the vicar!” Then our story begins. In 1950’s England an old farmer drives his tractor under the stars. Suddenly, a robot monster attacks!

Two days pass and Dr. Boy Brett, dashing pipe-smoking British scientist, and his lovely assistant Doris Night are motoring down a country road in what appears to be a Morris Minor. Brett is very English, with rather Wodehousian speech patterns. For example, complimenting Doris, Brett says, “You know, Doris? For a girl, you’re a good egg!”

Doris and Dr. Brett stop at a pub in a quaint country village. The village is deserted. Our heroes are chased by an alien robot. They escape to the next quaint village, which is inhabited by people who appear to be living in the 1940’s. Dr. Brett makes a very British phone call to Colonel Willie Warwick Wilberton of the British army, who sends out some troops in exchange for two pints and a pork pie.

And that’s just the first quarter of the book!

Earth vs Flying Boultwood is inspired by American B-movies of the 1950’s, the type one might see on Mystery Science Theater 3000, such as Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers and Attack of the Crab Monsters. However, It Came! is more of an homage than a send-up. Boultwood has lots of fun with the genre (for example, when the flying saucer is revealed there is a string attached!), but the fun is never cruel.

It Came! has everything: beautiful women, flying saucers, soldiers, politicians with really big pipes, explosions, tea and crumpets, and, of course, science! It’s enjoyable, funny reading and I highly recommend it.

Farewell to the Bookmobile

 

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Everett has had a long history of taking the library out into the community. Bookmobile service began in May 1924 when the prohibitive expense of operating branch outlets in the community caused the library to invest in a Ford Model T truck modified to serve as a “book wagon”, a traveling mini-library. Named Pegasus after the flying horse of mythology, it was the first bookmobile in Washington State.

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By the time this photo was taken in 1945, Pegasus was showing her age. After many years of service Pegasus was retired in 1950.

kidsbookmobileThe current bookmobile was purchased in 2004 and has served Everett preschools ever since. I have been the bookmobile librarian for the last two school years and would see about 700 children each month at area ECEAPS, Headstarts, daycares and private preschools. The typical visit would include a full storytime followed by a visit to the bookmobile where each child had the library experience of selecting and checking out a book which they would read and care for that month. These were children who often did not have the opportunity to visit the library on their own because of busy work and family schedules. These current photos were taken at a children’s concert at Silver Lake last summer.

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Sadly, this long history of Bookmobile Service in Everett is coming to an end this month. Due to the City reducing the library’s budget by $200,000, the Library Board had to make the very difficult decision of cutting Outreach Services.

-af770c83da9e5b82I am inspired by this librarian who was an Outreach Librarian in New York City. When her job was cut because of the budget, she moved to New Orleans and started up a bicycle mobile service to the children of the Lower 9th Ward.  She received the first ever Lemony Snicket Award for her service and she gets some good exercise also.

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We do have some bookmobile themed books in the library which may be of interest to you. The children’s book Wild About Books by Judy Sierra is a fun read about librarian Molly McGrew who drives the bookmobile to the zoo where the enthusiastic animals literally and figuratively devour the books. This is a great rhyming story which is perfect for reading aloud over and over again.

index (1)The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton is a novel about Brooklyn librarian Fiona Sweeney who wants to do something that matters, and she chooses to make her mark in the arid bush of northeastern Kenya. By helping to start a traveling library she hopes to bring literature to far-flung tiny communities where people live daily with drought, hunger and disease. Her intentions are honorable, and her rules are firm: Due to the limited number of donated books, if any one of them is not returned the bookmobile will not return. But, encumbered by her Western values, Fi does not understand the people she seeks to help. And in the impoverished small community of Mididima, she finds herself caught in the middle of a volatile local struggle when the bookmobile’s presence sparks a dangerous feud between the proponents of modernization and those who fear the loss of traditional ways.

I will now be working full-time inside the library at both the Evergreen Branch Library and the Main Library. Come see me in the library!

Spot-Lit for September 2014

Spot-Lit

Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

Fiction

The Bone Clocks  by David Mitchell
Paying Guests  by Sarah Waters
The Betrayers  by David Bezmozgis
Florence Gordon  by Brian Morton
The Dog  by Joseph O’Neill

First Novels / Fiction

Debut

How to Build a Girl  by Caitlin Moran
Fives and Twenty-Fives  by Michael Pitre
Gutenberg’s Apprentice  by Alix Christie
Rooms  by Lauren Oliver
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing  by Eimear McBride

Many more promising debuts are coming out this month – take a look.

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Crime

The Secret Place  by Tana French
Last of the Independents  by Sam Wiebe
Perfidia  by James Ellroy
The Monogram Murders  by Sophie Hannah
Gangsterland  by Tod Goldberg

SF / Fantasy

SF

The Hawley Book of the Dead  by Chrysler Szarlan
The Mirror Empire  by Kameron Hurley
The Broken Eye  by Brent Weeks
The Falcon Throne  by Karen Miller
Maplecroft  by Cheri Priest

Romance / Erotica

Romance

Stay with Me  by J. Lynn
Claudine  by Barbara Palmer
Screwdrivered  by Alice Clayton
Linger  by Lauren Jameson
Virtue Falls  by Christina Dodd

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Once in a while (or more often than I care to admit) I’ll zone out and start thinking about stuff that does me no good. Here is an example from when I was staring into space for five minutes in the produce section at Safeway:

They’re going to peel open my skull, take a peek around and be devastated by what they find. Or don’t find. I don’t know if they can tell this from an autopsy, but the way I live doesn’t adhere to anyone’s expectations or standards. In fact, I’ve been a disappointment to a lot of people. When I die, it will be unremarkable but not in a sad way because hey, I’ll be dead. Anyway, the only information they’ll get out of my autopsy will be that I ate 3 pints of Ben and Jerry’s Toffee Coffee Crunch, was still using Clearasil at the age of 80 and I may or may not have 76 cats back in the apartment I died in.

It’s the weird stuff you get obsessed about while picking out carrots or trying to figure out the difference between red cabbage and plain lettuce.

closeyoureyesIn Chris Bohjalian’s Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands Emily Shepard is a teenager who loves the poetry of Emily Dickinson and seems like your run of the mill 17-year-old. There’s mention of mental illness and wildness but I could never tell if that was just Emily being a teenager or if she was in need of hefty medications and therapy three times a week. She’s a door-slamming and yelling teenager, hates her drunk parents most of the time and likes to go out and party. Both of her parents work at a nuclear plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. They have loud drunken fights and quiet hung over mornings.

One morning with every boring thing in its proper place, Emily goes to school, her parents go to work, and things go to hell. At Emily’s school there’s an announcement. All of the students are filed onto buses they’ve never seen. As the buses leave the town and the army comes in, rumors and pieces of the story start to come together. One of the reactors had a meltdown, Chernobyl style. There’s whispering that Emily’s father was working while loaded and caused the tragedy.

Emily tries to think back to the morning before leaving for school. Did her dad seem drunk or hung over? Was it his fault? Everybody thinks so. Since he’s dead they all look to her. She’s his daughter. It’s her fault. Her hometown becomes a ghost town with the national guard surrounding it. The area won’t be inhabitable for hundreds of years. Emily realizes both her parents are dead from the nuclear meltdown and she’s on a bus to God knows where. She decides to slip away.

It is the beginning of her new life.

She becomes a homeless teen with a made up name. She falls in with a bunch of other kids who crash at a filthy crack house. She services truckers for money and drugs. She tries not to think of her parents or the town she grew up in. As strange as it sounds, she worries most about her dog Maggie who may have been locked in the house during the meltdown. She obsesses on this. She decides that while yes, her life sucks big time, she’s still alive. It’s the dead of a New England winter and at least she gets a warm place to stay.

But this isn’t what she wants. She disappears and builds an igloo out of frozen leaves and garbage bags. She meets Cameron, an eight year old boy with a black eye. He’d been through a series of foster homes and was used as a punching bag. She feels a terrifying and unexpected tenderness for the kid and takes care of him; making sure she gets healthy food for him to eat and getting him to read the books she steals. But one day Cameron gets a cold he doesn’t seem to get over. It’s a bitter winter and they’ve been sharing a cold back and forth but this is something different. Cameron’s fever won’t leave and he can’t breathe. Emily takes him to the ER and then splits because she feels guilty that she didn’t take him in sooner and that she didn’t take good enough care of him.

She decides there’s only one place to go: back to the uninhabited town she left almost a year ago. She has no doubts that the radioactivity will eventually kill her. She just wants to go home. Sleep in her own bed, look at her journals and books. She wants to find the body of her dog Maggie and give her a proper burial.

A friend of mine recommended this book as we were driving around town and listing the past couple of books we had just read. I stored it away in my brain because I’ve read some of Chris Bohjalian’s other work and really liked them. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a book to read when you’re in a particular mood where all you can think about is where you’ll end up in life. A mood where all the people you interact with become satellites orbiting your world. It’s a good book to read when you believe you’re the most selfish person in the world and you have no redeeming qualities..

In the end, you can go home. You might die from cancer or radiation sickness. You might have to eat refried beans from cans two years out of date. You might not even realize you’re lonely because you’re sleeping in your own bed.

But you will still be you and you will still find your way home.