About Lisa

Lisa is a Northwest Historian at the Everett Public Library. To find out what she is reading, check out her GoodReads feed at http://www.goodreads.com/LisaLab

A Day in the Life: Local History Librarian

Last weekend the Northwest History Room celebrated its 37th anniversary. For those who are well acquainted with our local history department, this longevity comes as no surprise. The uninitiated, on the other hand, may be wondering what we’ve been doing with ourselves all this time. In order to giver you a clearer picture, I thought I’d take you through a day in my life as a local history librarian:

Picture of jar with image of the Everett courthouse on lid.Early in the day I received a call from a woman who had acquired a little porcelain jar. On the lid was a lovely painting of the 1897-8 Everett courthouse building, and on the bottom was an inscription related to ‘B. W. Fargo.’ My caller was interested to find out whatever she could about the building pictured, and if possible, her jar. I asked her if she could send me a photograph of the jar and told her I would see what I could find out.

Black and white photograph of courthouseMy first stop was to check our resource files. Our department keeps files of clippings and other documents in a row of file cabinets, but we also keep a large digital file of scanned documents and photos, as well as typed histories of people and places. These files serve as an excellent shortcut when we’re looking into notable people and places in the area, because a lot of the work has already been done in the past. Here I was able to find the exact dates of the courthouse, as well as some historic photographs to send the caller.

Photograph of the ruins of the courthouseThis particular courthouse was designed and built in 1897 by architect A. F. Heide at the corner of Wetmore and Pacific. It was operational until 1909, when it was ravaged by a fire. County operations moved into an adjacent annex while Heide oversaw restoration work. Little more than load-bearing walls were able to be salvaged, so a new Mission-style facade was constructed and opened in 1911.

Photograph of Polk City DirectoriesNext up was figuring out who or what ‘B. W. Fargo’ referred to. For this I turned to our collection of Polk City Directories. Polks, as we call them, are similar to today’s phone books, except they lacked phone numbers in the earlier years and generally gave more information out about the businesses and individuals listed. You can often use Polks to find out a person’s occupation, spouse’s name, address, and sometimes even annual salary. When looking up a business you can find out the address, owner, and type of business.

Scan of Polk directory pageBy looking in the Polks, I discovered that Bert W. Fargo and Elizabeth Goerig owned and operated a business at 1809 Hewitt Avenue (blocks from the courthouse) called Fargo B W & Co. This business was concerned with selling crockery, art goods, furniture, and other domestic products. According to our Polks, the company operated under that name from roughly 1901 to 1905.  While there are no records in our collection from this business, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that this company either produced or commissioned souvenir ceramics of the courthouse and possibly other Everett landmarks. From the dates in our Polks, we may be able to date the jar between 1901-1905.

I was able to find all of this information out using our resources in about two hours. We frequently do the same for visitors looking into the history of their families or buildings that they’re curious about. That’s just a small portion of the work that we do as local history specialists. If you’d like to learn more about our work, or if you have a local history question related to the Everett/Snohomish County area, please feel free to get in touch.

The Quest

With the holiday season already far in the rear-view mirror, and the joys of summer still months off, I’m deep into winter escapist reading. This season I seem to be drawn to books about people on quests. Whether it’s for healing or wild edibles, each writer I’ve engaged with has taken me along on a fascinating journey of discovery. Here are three titles that will set your mind wandering:

The Mushroom Hunters cover imageThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of Secrets, Eccentrics, and the American Dream  (Langdon Cook)This title is a great fit for foodies, hikers, lovers of the Pacific Northwest, and those who appreciate investigative journalism that takes you deep inside the story. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path, literally and sometimes legally, with Cook and his group of wild food foraging contacts. This is a good book to pick up if you’re the type of consumer who is interested in where your food comes from and why it costs what it does. I found it remarkable that items that you can find at any upscale market reach the selling table as a result of so many moving (and potentially unreliable) parts.

Fairyland cover imageFairyland: A Memoir of My Father  (Alysia Abbott). In some cases, quests can be taken without traveling at all. In Fairyland, author Alysia Abbott journeys back into her unorthodox childhood using her father’s prodigious journal archive. Abbott’s path twists and turns through the complexities of being raised by an openly gay single father at a time when the nation was only first awakening to the gay rights movement. Along the way the author pulls no punches describing her father as loving though aloof and herself as too self-involved to be able to see that he needed her as much as she needed him. Despite these and other hurdles, this small family managed to create a home in improbable places. While readers are often left with a sense of regret for opportunities lost, the overall tone of the memoir is one of grace and acceptance.

Wild cover imageWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed). Part of my own personal quest this January is to finish this book; I’m currently in the middle of it. Like Alysia Abbott, Cheryl Strayed had an unusual upbringing. After her abusive father exited the picture, her mother barely scraped by raising her small family. When she eventually remarried, the family moved to the wilds of northern Minnesota where they built their own tar-paper cabin and lived off the land. Though this lifestyle may sound difficult, the family was happy. Strayed goes on to marry shortly after high school and seems to have things on track until her mother suddenly dies of lung cancer. Unable to cope with her loss, Strayed spirals out of control and moves out on her own. In order to regain focus after her divorce, she picks up a guide to the Pacific Crest Trail and decides to set off on her own. One part travelogue for the curious traveler, and one part memoir for those working through their own loss, this book has a lot to offer to the questing reader.

Family Albums

Image of blogger's mother, Judy, as a little girl in cowgirl attireJanuary 25th marks one year since we unexpectedly lost Mom to a heart attack. The news of her death brought on a series of trips back to Chicago to help my family go through her things and tie up loose ends. In the quiet hours of the night, generally my time because I’m a bit of an insomniac, I went through her CD collection. I added nearly everything to my iTunes because I’d never be able to lug it all back on the plane. Nevertheless, I’d decided I wanted to get to know a side of Mom I never really knew.

In our house, Mom’s music was always dominated by my music, my brother’s or Dad’s; he’d never been able to handle yodeling folk singers or wailing female vocalists, so she mostly listened to them in private. My brother and I, being teens, always hijacked the car radio, so that venue was out-of-bounds too. Needless to say, it was an eye-opener when I started ‘letting’ Mom control the radio when I became an adult, and got to know a bit more about what she liked. Here’s a selection of what I found in her collection – new-found loves from an old one.

Cover image for Joan Baez Bowery SongsJoan Baez
Enter Public Enemy Number One from my childhood. There were always Joan Baez jokes in the house, yet I never got to hear her and what the fuss was all about. Despite all that, she was one of Mom’s favorite singers. One of the best memories I have of the last couple years with Mom was taking her to a Joan Baez concert and seeing her sing along with every single song – a whole catalog I’d never heard before. It must be genetic, because now I love her too.

Buffy Sainte-Marie
Public Enemy Number Two. I’ve made up for lost time with Buffy. I’m completely drawn in by her raw emotion and powerful subject matter.

Cover image from Carole King TapestryCarole King
Bluesy, uplifting, and such an incredible voice. King is the kind of vocalist I’m a little surprised I didn’t come to all on my own.

Aaliyah
Mom discovered Aaliyah through her fervent love for Jackie Chan. After seeing the 2000 film Romeo Must Die, in which Chan co-starred with Aaliyah, Mom went out and bought all the Aaliyah she could find. Other than liking my Fugees and Lauryn Hill albums, this was about as far as Mom got into hip hop and RNB.

Cover image from The Wailers Burnin'Bob Marley
Aside from owning a copy of Legend, which seemed to be standard issue for college students, I never paid much attention to Bob Marley. Mom, on the other hand, loved him. It was a running joke that I had stolen one or more of Mom’s Marley albums because she’d always misplace them. My copies of Bjork, Beastie Boys, Beck, and Fugazi albums tended to mysteriously wind up in her CD booklets, but that’s neither here nor there. I still maintain my innocence in the matter of wandering Bob Marley, though I’ve been enjoying the albums I added to my iTunes.

Cover image from Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl BalladsWoody Guthrie
Twangy hobo ballads and stirring protest songs: they fit right into my new life out West. It’s nice to see how these songs follow the narrative of the region I chose to move to, and make me think of Mom’s past as a student activist.

These are just a sample of the wealth of new music I inherited from Mom. It’s been reassuring to quickly feel a connection with the artists that Mom listened to in her free time. Even if these artists weren’t a presence in my childhood, there is something there that is deeper than familiarity – somehow these artists are family.

It’s the Most Grumbleful Time of the Year

Meditation for BeginnersFor the most part my transition into my thirties was pretty smooth; no real shocking changes other than people all of a sudden assuming I had an issue with my age. The only thing I’ve found a little bit surprising was the emergence of holiday and seasonal stress. Up until a couple of years ago, Thanksgiving through New Years Eve was my favorite time of year. I guess the difference is the addition of new stressors to the November/December milieu: 2,000+ miles to travel to see family, 1 hour less daylight than I was used to getting in the Chicago winter (man that makes a difference!), taking over for grandma and mom to become the holiday cook, going home to an aging parent, and so on. This year I’ve been exploring different ways to decompress and have found a few things that work for me.

Meditation
For years I’ve had friends and family tell me that they benefited greatly from meditation. I remained skeptical that this could work for me because I rarely seem to be able to carve time out for other healthy pursuits such as the gym, or sleep. Thankfully for people like me, there are books that break down meditation misconceptions to show us that it can be added to a hectic schedule, and practices can even be included in your day-to-day activities. If you’re looking for a good guide that isn’t tied to any one spiritual practice and doesn’t require much of a time commitment, I recommend Meditation for Beginners, by Jack Kornfield.

Relax your NeckStretching
It’s no secret that tension can be hard on the body. Whether you’re gritting your teeth through outlet mall traffic or trying in vain to ignore bad holiday muzak in the QFC, getting all uptight about it begins to take its toll. Taking some time to stretch out helps to improve your mood immensely. Relax your Neck, Liberate your Shoulders by Eric Franklin provides some really useful stretches, exercises, and tips for body/posture awareness that are targeted to alleviate the soreness caused by tension. This book is also great for folks working desk jobs that involve a lot of typing and phone usage.

Medicinal HerbsPamper Yourself
Ready or not, it’s December, so there’s no avoiding the holidays. You might as well treat yourself to the things that make you calm and happy. I like to go the warm tea, hot bath, good night’s sleep route. I found some really useful recipes for teas, soaks, and calming essential oils in Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: a Beginner’s Guide. My favorite recipe so far has been for the Calming Herbal Bath. Also of interest for this time of year are teas to help with cold, flu, and bronchial problems; if you check back with me in February I’m pretty sure I’ll be using those.

Aside from the recommended reading, I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from the odd sunny days we’ve been having. Making an effort to get outside for a lunch read has been worth it, even with the slightly chilly temperatures. Come grab a good book to escape with, and I’ll see you on the other side in 2014.

Crafty Double-take Titles

Cover image of I Felt AwesomeFuture me is an amazingly crafty and talented person. I owe this predicted success to the hours I’ve spent hoarding craft ideas on Pinterest. Unfortunately the current me is pathetically unskilled and can only dream of making the upcycled t-shirt tank tops, tiny felted owls, and clever Chicago map quilts my heart desires. Nevertheless, this momentary setback doesn’t stop me from trolling the craft section when I’m on my lunch break. During my most recent foray to the 746′s I found my attention grabbed again and again by book titles. More specifically, I kept doing double-takes at book titles written by authors who clearly shared my slightly off sense of humor. My conclusion? Crafters are a funny, sometimes naughty, group of people.

Here are my top ten favorite crafty book titles found at the EPL:

10. Wild with a Glue Gun by Kitty Harmon and Christine Stickler. My idea of getting wild with a glue gun involves frustration, cursing, burnt fingers, tears of rage, and a half-finished pompom snowman; thankfully the ladies who wrote this book are far more creative and coordinated than I am. Once I’ve acquired some welder’s gloves I’d love to try out their scallop shells party lights idea, or the tin art that’s featured.

Cover image of Men in Knits9. Men in Knits by Tara Jon Manning. If this was a tumblr, I’d subscribe to it. This title gives handy tips to more experienced knitters (or shoppers) about what kinds of patterns are most suitable to different male body types. Patterns featured in this book are best suited for experienced knitters, but the eye candy is nice for the rest of us.

8. Socktopus by Alice Yu. Though I love the name, this is written for experienced knitters. There are loads of really elegant knit patterns, but Socktopus is short on pictures of how to do the actual stitches. Some day.

Cover image of Stitch and Bitch7. Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stoller. Aside from the catchy title (or perhaps because of it), this series is pretty popular with people looking to learn how to knit and crochet (I purchased their crocheting title, The Happy Hooker, when it was featured in BUST Magazine). Featured within these pages are trendy styles, easy to follow diagrams, and amusing banter.

6. Sensual Crochet by Amy Swenson. This may be more of an unintentionally-funny title than deliberate, because there’s not much that seems sensual about crocheting, or the contents of this book. What it does have to offer are sophisticated, current styles that crocheters can try out. These elaborate patterns are best suited for more experienced hookers.

5. I Felt Awesome: Tips & Tricks for 35+ Needle-Poked Projects by Moxie. This book is useful for beginners and more experienced crafters alike. Early sections explain the equipment needed, and provide loads of great close-up color photos to illustrate step-by-step directions. For the experienced felter, there are many fun, offbeat project ideas, such as scarves that look like racetracks (complete with felted cars) and martini olive necklaces.

Cover image for Joy of Sox4. Sweaters from Camp from Meg Swansen’s Knitting Campers. Aside from the hiking name, this book is more or less window shopping for me until I develop some skills. For advanced knitters, there are many detailed patterns to explore.

3. Too Hot to Handle? Potholders and How To Make Them by Doris L. Hoover. Enter the fast-paced world of potholders, mitts, and other skin-savers with this helpful how-to title. Readers will learn a bit about the history of potholders, as well as where the potholder industry is headed. Later sections of the book are dedicated to a variety of unique pattern ideas, as well as tips on how to upcycle old clothing to make new potholders.

2.The Joy of Sox by Kinda Kopp. This saucy number is ideal for inexperienced knitters who may be interested in adding some pep to their sox life. Early chapters are dedicated to explaining terminology, demonstrating techniques with clear drawings, and helping knitters navigate patterns.

Cover image for Still Stripping1. Still Stripping After 25 Years by Eleanor Burns. This title coaxed an embarrassingly loud snort-laugh from me in the stacks. From the homey cover shot of the author saucily tossing a fabric strip over her shoulder, to action shots of her working her sewing machine in the company of her labs – I feel like I want to get to know Ms. Burns. Thankfully I can in a way because she has a YouTube channel that hosts a large collection of her ‘how to’ videos.

I hope this list has given you the motivation to bust out the pinking shears or home-spun yarn, or at least given you a chuckle or two.

Seek the Unknown – Teen Writing Competition

Are they protecting the tree, or bracing themselves as something approaches from above?

Are they protecting the tree, or bracing themselves as something approaches from above?

Photographs.They exist in almost every household: hidden in attics, growing mildewy in basements, or tucked away on closet shelves. Sometimes they turn up at rummage sales or antique stores, completely divorced from anything that could possibly identify them. If we’re lucky, they wind up at the library with names, places, and dates marked clearly, but more often than not they arrive here orphaned and anonymous. It’s been said that every picture tells a story (thanks Rod Stewart), or that a picture is worth a thousand words; we’re hoping that’s the case, because we’d like our local teen authors and artists to tell stories with our amazing collection of archival photographs.

Kids at play, or kids escaping a pit of alligators? You decide.

Kids at play, or kids escaping a pit of alligators? You decide.

In honor of Teen Read Week, which runs from October 13-19, the Everett Public Library is hosting its second annual fall Teen Writing Competition for Everett students in grades 6-12. Last year’s competition brought in almost 50 entries and resulted in a read aloud night at the Bookend Coffee Co. where some of our winners read their work. Cider and a good time was had by all. You can check out videos of those stories on our YouTube channel (the volume is a bit low on the vids, so be sure to turn them up).

This year we’re hoping that our authors and artists will be inspired by images from our collections to create ‘found photo’ stories. What that means is that characters, places, and events in your stories should be inspired by images found in our collections. In order to let imaginations run wild, we’ve pulled a selection of our photos from our archives, stripped all information from them, and arranged them in this Flickr collection*. Thousands more images can be found on our Digital Collections site; these can be used with or without the identifying information attached to them. From there, we’re looking for either a written story illustrated with as many of our photos as you want, altered in any way you want, or a graphic novel/comic created using them. Competition winners may be featured on the EPL’s site, blog, and at an event at the library in 2014.

Friends posing for a funny photo with props, or a remorseless group of train robbers, laughing about their latest haul?

Friends posing for a funny photo with props, or a remorseless group of train robbers, laughing about their latest haul?

For an excellent example of a found photo story, we highly recommend reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs (we recommend reading it even if you don’t intend to enter the competition – it rocks).

For more information about our competition, including all the guidelines, rules, entry form, and other official stuff, visit our Teen Read Week page. Entries must be received by October 31st at 5pm to be considered, and can be dropped off at either branch or emailed to llabovitch at everettwa.gov. Be sure to keep a copy of your story for your own enjoyment (preferably your original if you’re creating any artwork with it!). Happy storytelling – we’re excited to see what you come up with!

*At the end of the competition we’ll add any information we have about the Flickr photos to their descriptions so you can learn a bit more about them.

Caught in the Act: We Read Banned Books

Sex, drugs, and bathroom humor – all of these and more could land a book on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books. In honor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of our freedom to read whatever we see fit, we’ve asked A Reading Life regulars and guest posters to tell us about their favorite banned books.

The Face on the Milk Carton coverTheresa
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney
Janie Johnston’s life was boring, boring, boring until one day at lunch when she grabbed her friend’s milk carton. She was allergic to milk, but one little sip wouldn’t be a big deal, would it? On the milk carton was a picture of a little girl kidnapped from a shopping mall 12 years earlier. Suddenly, Janie remembered the dress, the way the starched collar itched, and the way her braids tickled her cheeks. “The girl on the back of the carton,” she whispered to her friends, “it’s me.” Janie cannot believe that her loving parents kidnapped her, but as she tries to piece together what happened, no other answer makes sense.

This story of Janie’s quest to find answers and to discover her true identity is a captivating read; a book that I have easily sold to teens looking for a good book. I was surprised to find it on a list of frequently challenged books. The most common reasons listed were: challenge to authority, sexual content, and inappropriate for age group. Yes, Janie skips school with her boyfriend Reeve to try to find some clues as to what is the truth of her parentage, (challenge to authority?). The complaint about sexual content really surprised me. I had to reread the book to figure out where that came from. Reeve asks Janie how they will explain skipping school, he says, “they’ll figure it’s sex we wanted….” (sexual content?). “Inappropriate for age group”, is the one complaint that may have some merit when it is coming from elementary school parents since the book deals with teenagers and high school issues. Grade school readers might not be familiar with high school life, and they might not be interested in dating and such, but the plot isn’t particularly what I would consider to be for mature audiences.

I will continue to recommend The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels. Janie’s dilemma, “What if I am not who I think I am?” is a theme that resonates with teens as they look for their place in the world, and the intrigue as she unravels the mystery of her origin make for a fast read.

The Stupids Step Out coverRon
The Stupids series, by Harry Allard
The Stupids are a wonderful non-conformist family whose adventures can be read about in The Stupids Step Out and The Stupids Have a Ball, among others. Along with their cat Xylophone and dog Kitty, Stanley Stupid, his wife and their two children Buster and Petunia look at life a little differently than most.

A typical day in the Stupid household might include breakfasting in the shower, mowing the rug, interpreting a power outage as death, and sleeping with their feet on their pillows. Illustrations are filled with weird touches such as strangely labeled pictures hanging on walls, people engaged in bizarre activities or wearing odd clothing, and pets who are more clever than their owners.

In other words, these are silly books. There is something for both kids and adults to enjoy and little chance that children will be permanently warped through reading about the Stupids. So be a rebel, read a banned book to your kid. Just make sure to wash their pillowcase after they use it for their stinky feet.

The Glass Castle coverMarge
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
“Don’t I always take care of you,” asks Jeannette Walls’s father, in her memoir, The Glass Castle. In reality he almost never did. Raised by both a father and a mother who seemed genuinely oblivious to the needs of their children, Walls recalls frequent moves, poverty, hunger and neglect. Remarkably, she describes her turbulent family life in a matter-of-fact tone without bitterness or self pity and with flashes of humor and a sense of the ridiculous.

A popular book on the New York Times bestseller list for many weeks, The Glass Castle was also among the top 10 most challenged books in 2012 for offensive language and sexually explicit content according to the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom. Indeed, there is some foul language and one particularly distasteful scene but the language and content simply seem appropriate to the story the author is telling.

Those unlucky enough to be deprived of the opportunity to read this book would miss the story of a woman of great resilience and forbearance who not only survives but prevails. Refusing to let her past define her, Walls moves to New York City at seventeen, finds work, graduates from Barnard College and begins a career as a journalist. As the book ends, she is hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at her home for her mother and siblings seemingly at peace with the past.

Blankets cover imageAlan
Blankets by Craig Thompson
This terrific coming-of-age graphic novel was pretty famously challenged for its depiction of a nude teen. How bad is it? Out of 592 pages, we’ve got 1 or 2 pages that are risqué (and beautiful, brutal, and true). Pick up this phonebook-sized volume and your reward is the real deal, a literary depiction of what it is to: come of age with a brother, fall in love, lose your faith, and be a human being. The art is incredibly evocative. Innocence is wide-eyed, with thin lines and graceful flow. Anger is expressionistic, jagged, thick, and black, black, black. Highest possible recommendation.

What did Thompson do next? The gorgeous, even more care wrought Habibi.

We hope this short list has tempted you to take a walk on the wild side and read some banned book with us. For more information about Banned Books Week, and why books are challenged or banned, check out ALA’s excellent collection of resources on the topic.

A Northwest Look at Decibel Festival

THEESatisfaction awE naturalE coverIt’s hard for me to think of many positive things to say about summer coming to a close. Our daylight hours are shrinking, and soon temperatures will be dropping alongside them. I might completely write September off as the unwelcome and unloved messenger of Fall if its reputation wasn’t saved for me by Decibel Festival. For the uninitiated, Decibel is a 5-day (9/25-29) international multimedia event in Seattle that attracts some of the top names in electronic music. While there are film, art, and educational events during the festival, my focus is generally on the music. During the course of the festival, 130+ artists will flock to Seattle from 20 different countries to play a full roster of shows. I’m happy to say that the EPL has a good selection of albums produced by the artists who will be participating: from those who have traveled thousands of miles, to those who call the Pacific Northwest home.

Shabazz Palaces album coverBecause much of the hype tends to surround the out-of-town artists, I’d like to highlight some of the local talent that is being showcased at this month’s event. To make life easier, the library created a SoundCloud account that follows local bands, producers and DJs that may not have CD releases available to be added into our collections. You can check out what’s new on our stream here. The most recent posts in our stream are local Decibel artists. (Plug: if you’re a local band or producer who would like to be followed by us, let us know in the comments section or add us on SoundCloud).

Back to the matter at hand! My Northwest quick picks for the Decibel are all over the place stylistically:

Hailing from Seattle, THEESatisfaction defies any single genre classification. In their own words, this duo creates “funk-psychedelic feminista sci-fi epics with the warmth and depth of Black Jazz and Sunday morning soul, frosted with icy raps that evoke equal parts Elaine Brown, Ursula Rucker and Q-Tip.” This description basically nails it; once you hear their tracks you’ll understand. You can listen to some of their refreshingly-creative jams on their 2012 release awE naturalE. To get a feel for what you might hear at their Decibel showcase, you can check out this short Badu-inspired set on SoundCloud:

Ghost Feet, an “electro-acoustic” duo from Olympia, has been producing catchy, dancy atmospheric tracks (yes, that’s possible) since 2010. For those who shy away from electronic music because they feel it lacks ‘real’ instruments, this may be a good act to catch. Audiences at Ghost Feet shows quickly become immersed in the creative process of the duo, as ethereal guitar melodies are done live on stage and drum patterns evolve. Each track takes the audience along for a ride as different elements come together to create something new to keep bodies moving.

Shabazz Palaces are a Seattle-based hip-hop collective on Sub-Pop. Layered over beats that range from gritty, to smooth, to melodic, to glitchy (and sometimes all the above at the same time), Shabazz Palaces’ lyrics and hooks are engaging and entertaining.Their most recent release, Black Up, did well both locally and nationally, taking the top slot on the Seattle Time’s Local Top 10 of 2011. These tracks are a good fusion for hip-hop fans who are interested in getting into EDM, or EDM fans who want to dip a toe into hip-hop. Genre-blending is a beautiful thing.

My last PNW pick is The Helio Sequence, a band hailing from Portland. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about their music; their bright, bold sound reminds me at times of Air or Stereolab. Aside from their original material, their remix work for Shabazz Palaces is well worth a listen (contains adult language). This is another great pick for anyone looking to check out Decibel who might not be up for seeing a DJ set or Live PA. I hope I have the chance to check out their showcase, because I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Boat PartyAs for my own plans for Decibel, we’ll be hitting the RA (Resident Advisor) and High & Tight boat parties for starters. Hopefully we have the same fair weather, smooth sailing, and endless beats that we had last year. After that? It’s anyone’s guess. I hope you all take the time to explore Decibel for yourselves, either in person, or through our CD and SoundCloud selections.

Stargazer

Origins CoverSomewhere along the line I forgot about outer space. Like many kids who grew up in an urban area, experiencing the beauty of the night’s sky meant driving into the city, passing under an oddly-orange firmament where ‘stars’ usually turned out to be planes, to go to the planetarium. There, among the laser effects and synth-heavy space funk, I became enthralled with the idea of traveling to distant planets (our visits probably also laid the groundwork for my high school rave years). Being raised watching Doctor Who sealed the deal. This lasted until I was about 10, when I realized that my fear of heights, going fast, and flying would pretty much ruin any aspirations I had of reaching for the stars. Once the dream became impossible, it seemed acceptable to forget I ever had it.

Thankfully for the rest of the world space exploration carried on, and amazing things were accomplished. We have robots sending us beautiful images (and data) from Mars, while private corporations are currently discussing sending people (and reality shows) to that same red planet. We have interstellar probes, launched before I was even born, that are about to pass out of the solar system.  At this moment, astronauts from three different countries are living and working in the massive International Space Station that is hurtling around the planet miles above our heads.

Moon CoverWhen you take the time to remember outer space, you realize how far we’ve come in understanding it, and how far we’re about to go in continuing that research. There are scores of great books written about space and space exploration, so I felt it would be appropriate to make a reading list for anyone who wanted to be an armchair astronaut with me.

One of the best parts about being in the Pacific Northwest is that you’re never too far from wilderness, and the amazing star-gazing it affords you.The Monthly Sky Guide by Ian Ridpath and Wil Tirion is an easy to use, very portable book that you can take along on camping trips to help you learn about all the beautiful activity going on above you.

As mentioned in a couple of our Facebook posts, Neil deGrasse Tyson is someone you should know if you don’t already. Tyson is as influential and likable a celebrity for astrophysics as Bill Nye is for science education, or Michael Pollan is for botany. For two very enjoyable and accessible reads about the history of the universe, and where mankind’s place is in it, I’d recommend Origins and Space Chronicles.

Pale Blue Dot coverTo look into the past, present, and future of humans in space, Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan is a classic. This book is full of beautiful illustrations and thought-provoking chapters that read like sci-fi.

If you’re like me, and you want a little bit of anthropology mixed in with your space (I know, weird), look no further than Moon: a Brief History by Bernard Brunner. This book takes a look at the mythology and symbolism that has developed around the Moon, and combines it with what we know scientifically about our closest neighbor in space.

Pluto CoverFinally, for mourning fans of debased Pluto, there’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown. Written by the astronomer who made the discovery that inadvertently dethroned Pluto as a planet, this book gives the reader a humorous and enlightening explanation of one of the stranger recent events in astronomy.

I hope this list has inspired you, as Jack Horkheimer always urged me as a kid, to “keep looking up!”

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa