Let’s Go to Antarctica

life on the iceOf the many surprises I discovered while chuckling my way through this year’s Everett Reads selection, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, the one that stood out the most was the fact that Antarctica is now considered a tourist destination. As Bee repeatedly points out to Bernadette, this isn’t travel to the frigid South Pole that we are talking about, but a visit to the Antarctic Archipelago that reaches out to the tip of South America. Still I’ve always thought of travel to Antarctica as being limited to brave, perhaps foolhardy, explorers, penguins and the occasional shape shifting creature from another planet. Clearly I needed to do a little library research.

ridingthehulahulaWhile there aren’t any Frommer‘s or Fodor’s guides to the frozen continent as of yet, which makes sense since hotels with any star rating are nonexistent, Antarctic cruises are mentioned in a number of travel guides. These tend to be the ones that extol the virtues of ‘extreme or adventure’ tourism.  A cruise to the Antarctic Archipelago merits an entry in the rather ominously titled Unforgettable Journeys to Take Before You Die as well as 1000 Places to See Before You Die. The less morbidly titled Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean: A Guide to Fifty Extraordinary Adventures for the Seasoned Traveler details a trip to Antarctica that would actually get you on the continent itself, after a very bumpy ride in a cargo plane. Whichever option you choose, be sure to bring a healthy bank account and lots of Dramamine.

slicing the silenceIf you have dreams of an extended stay, however, you are beyond the realm of tour guides. You might be able to get a hint or two, however, from some of the autobiographies of the modern-day scientists and adventurers who have managed to gain access. Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica details the author’s trip with the Australian Antarctic Division to deliver a new team of winterers to Casey station. The author of Life on the Ice: No One Goes to Antarctica Alone got a commission from National Geographic to visit many of the bases in Antarctica and report back. His account is an intriguing look at the living conditions and the motivations of people who are drawn to the white continent. For an account of pure adventure and survival in the harshest of conditions, definitely check out No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women and Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica which describes the journey of Ann Bancroft and Liv Arnesen as they became the first women to cross the continent on foot.

antarcticwildlifeIf like most of the world population you don’t have the money or connections to get to Antarctica, you can still view the landscape and wildlife vicariously. An excellent tool for doing this is Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitors Guide. Flip through the pages and imagine you are having trouble distinguishing the Leopard Seal from the Weddell Seal and the Gentoo Penguin from the Adelie Penguin. It certainly won’t be as cold a trip and icebergs should not be a problem. A final set of resources for armchair travel to Antarctica are the many webcams that have been set up at the various research bases that dot the continent. McMurdo Station, the South Pole Station and several from the Australian Antarctic Division are good ways to get your voyeuristic travel thrills. Just don’t expect to see much during the many months of darkness during the southern winter.

I Love Bernie (And So Will You)

This year I decided to give my reading life a little bit of direction and structure. Though I tend to prance through life with copious amounts of chaos, I decided that I could and would cram in some reading goals for 2014. Why not stretch my mind a little? Though I’ll still be reading fun, fluffy, and frivolous books (currently reading a YA spy thriller) I thought if I mapped out my year I could easily shift in some unexpected titles and see how well I do following directions, even if they are from myself. I detested assigned reading in school but I’m hoping that taking orders from myself will go over better.

Yeah, I’m a hot mess.

Let me recap for you what I’m calling my 2014 Reading Resolutions:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book (see below)
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

wheredyougobernadetteThis month I decided to tackle the Everett Reads! book. As Kate mentioned already, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is what we’re hoping all of Everett will try this month. On February 23rd at 7pm Maria will be at the Performing Arts Center downtown. We’re told she’s a very engaging and entertaining speaker, and those who wish to meet her/have a book signed afterwards will have that opportunity. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?!

We’ve been doing this “one book for the whole community to read” type of program for several years now. The first year we read The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I love mysteries, so that year I read the book, discussed it with colleagues, and went to the programs offered. In the intervening years I didn’t really get excited about any of the other titles. That’s not to say they were bad books. They just didn’t capture my interest.

This year everything changed. This year we picked a book that was funny.

I’m not great at summarizing stories without giving anything away. What you should know is that, although everyone told me this book is all about teenager Bee searching for her mother Bernadette who just disappeared, it’s so much more than that. I checked out the eBook edition and Bernadette didn’t disappear until about 2/3 of the way through the book. While many books heavy on exposition and background can be tedious and overbearing, it’s just not the case here. The writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious, the best lines coming straight from Bernadette herself:

Greetings from sunny Seattle, where women are “gals,” people are “folks,” a little bit is a “skosh,” if you’re tired you’re “logy,” if something is slightly off it’s “hinky,” you can’t sit Indian-style but you can sit “crisscross applesauce,” when the sun comes out it’s never called “sun” but always “sunshine,” boyfriends and girlfriends are “partners,” nobody swears but someone occasionally might “drop the f-bomb,” you’re allowed to cough but only into your elbow, and any request, reasonable or unreasonable, is met with “no worries.”

Have I mentioned how much I hate it here?

The whole story is told through varying forms of communication: school memos, emails, faxes, magazine articles, and even a captain’s report from a cruise ship. This structure really held my interest and also provided deep insight into each characters’ motivations, feelings, and personalities. That’s a really tricky thing to do well in a book but Maria Semple pulls it off.

Unfortunately this format can be tricky to follow when listening to the audiobook, as one of my colleagues discovered. So I would suggest if you’re getting lost or losing interest in the audio, grab a hard copy of the book and try that instead. Give Bernie a chance to win your heart like she did mine.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette (yes, it bothers me that the official title does not include a question mark) has something for everyone. Bernadette’s husband, Elgie, is an avid cyclist, so this will appeal to my friends who bike to work. Elgie also works at Microsoft, and the book goes into great detail about life on a business campus. I read these parts out loud to my software engineer husband. There’s a lot of coverage of the school Bee attends and the moms Bernadette refers to as “gnats” since they’re annoying but nothing you’d really exert effort over (hello, all my parental friends who have experience in the trenches). Ever been on a cruise? Deal with motion sickness? You’ll be nodding your head (nothing that would trigger that horrible nausea feeling, though). If nothing else, this book is a great fit for anyone who has had a complicated relationship with their parents (who doesn’t?) and, of course, any humor fans.

bernie

I want to hear from you. Are you joining your neighbors in reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I’d love to see you all pack the house at the Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 23rd. The program starts at 7pm but if you want the good seats you’ll want to get there a little early.

If Bee can search the ends of the earth for her mom, surely all of Everett can enjoy the same book.

Everett Reads Where’d You Go, Bernadette

everettreads

February is the Everett Public Library’s 4th annual, month-long Everett Reads! celebration. All of Everett is invited to read the same book. This year the selected title is Maria Semple’s bestseller, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?.

Semple comes from a Hollywood writing background, having been a writer for Mad About You, and a producer on Arrested Development. Her writing reflects the quirky humor of both shows. Bernadette is set in Seattle, where Semple currently resides.

wheredyougobernadetteBoing Boing’s founder and editor-in-chief Mark Frauenfelder describes the book as a “funny and dark novel about the disintegration of a Microsoft family”. It’s a book we think that you will enjoy talking about, and Semple is a humorous and engaging speaker who we think will capture your interest.

Maria Semple will be at the Everett Performing Arts Center in a free appearance and book signing at 7 p.m. on Sunday, February 23rd. There are two book discussion opportunities, 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12 and 11:45 a.m. on Monday, February 24 (both at the Main Library).

We hope to catch you reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette? in February!

A Catty Response to Everett Reads!

Here at the library we strive to have a balanced collection that expresses many different viewpoints. We have gotten a few complaints this year that our selection for Everett Reads!, The Art of Racing in the Rain, might be a tad pro dog. It is a charge that we take seriously.

In the interest of balance we have invited a guest blogger, Cora the Cat, to give us her views on our Everett Reads! selection and in particular the psychological state of the narrator Enzo. Be warned. Cora’s observations are intelligent, witty and a little scathing. But, really, what else would you expect from a feline?

smart_cat_by_bueyedgirl-d4cq7tf

Dear A Reading Life,

I submit that due to multiple unresolved traumas, the unfortunate canine in The Art of Racing in the Rain suffered increasingly profound mental illness, culminating in a psychotic rupture.

Yaaawwwwwrrr.

I understand there can be valid reasons for using a canine as literary narrator. Serious works by Cervantes, Gogol, Bulgakov and Kafka have used this literary device “to provide commentary on issues such as moral behavior, musical aesthetics, the writer’s art, the limits of science, and the approach of modernity” (1). In The Art of Racing in the Rain, however, using this canine for this purpose is rendered futile by the animal’s deteriorating mental state.

In addition to limited intelligence, canines have extremely weak ego structures, indeed functioning nearly as parasitic appendages of their human hosts. In this case Enzo, the canine subject, was also subject to a series of early ego-disrupting traumas.

Enzo’s youth was spent on a spacious farm, after which he was moved to a house, and finally to the confines of an urban apartment. This shrinkage of his physical space was paralleled by an expansion through his ego space of a delusion of reincarnation in the form of his human hosts.

This colonization of his weakened ego structure was abetted by his painfully arthritic hip, the loss of his principle female host, and his life tutelage via chronic television watching. Given academic studies about the social and psychological distortions wrought by television watching, it is no wonder Enzo attaches to reincarnation, probably derived from a program on the History Channel.

The episode involving the carnage of the stuffed zebra is classic projection, as the repressed rage engendered by his repeated traumas and distorted world view erupt into the physical environment. After this episode, all that remains of Enzo’s ego structure is a flexible membrane, filled with psychotic delusions.

I find it sad that readers are beguiled by this seemingly heartwarming story, which masks a pathetic case of ego dissolution and mental breakdown. Mmrrroowwwrr!

Purrrrrrr.

Cora the Cat

(1) Schneider, Ivan. “Narrative Complexity in the Talking-Dog Stories of Cervantes, Hoffmann, Gogol, Bulgakov, and Kafka.” Master’s Thesis, Harvard University, 2012.

Dogs Who Write

Pearl3

Here is a photo of my dog Pearl, reading the novel The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein which is this year’s pick for Everett Reads! The narrator of this book is a dog. There’s a long history of dogs as narrators of stories, starting with two by Jack London:

londonThe Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a dog stolen from his home and thrown into the brutal life of the Klondike to suffer hardship, bitter cold, and the mean lawlessness of men and dogs. White Fang concerns the adventures of an animal (part dog, part wolf) that was turned vicious by cruel abuse and is then transformed through the patience and affection of one man.

Jack London’s excellent ability as a storyteller and his deep understanding of nature and animals have made these among the world’s most favorite dog stories. They are both classic stories and well worth your reading time.

hankWe read the entire Hank the Cow Dog series out loud to our children. They are hilarious! Hank is the Head of Ranch Security, defending his Texan home along with his faithful deputy, Drover. In the first book of the series, The Original Adventures of Hank the Cow Dog, Hank turns from crime fighter to criminal after he is accused of murder, resigns his position, and joins a gang of outlaw coyotes.

We refer to this series often in our family. If someone doesn’t want to do a chore, we say, “Hank, my leg hurts! I can’t do it!” (That was always Drover’s excuse.) And often when the mailman comes, we break into this song: “Bark at the mailman! Give him your full load! He has no business walking down my road!” What a rich literary history our family shares because of Hank!

a dog'sPeter Mayle of A Year in Provence fame wrote a book narrated by his dog, Boy, –“a dog whose personality is made up of equal parts Boswell and Dr. Johnson, Mencken and A. A. Milne”. In A Dog’s Life, Boy is a master of eloquence and humor. If you need a bit of cheering up, this is the book to do it.

better marleyMarley and Me by John Grogan is the heartwarming story of a family in the making and the neurotic dog who taught them what really matters in life. As a dog owner, I’m left wondering if Marley just needed a good daily walk and some consistent training. If you liked the movie, you’ll like this book.

purposeThis next story is about a lovable dog’s search for his purpose over the course of several lives. More than just another charming dog story, A Dog’s Purpose touches on the universal quest for an answer to life’s most basic question: Why are we here?

Surprised to find himself reborn as a puppy after a tragically short life as a stray mutt, Bailey’s search for meaning in his new life leads him into the loving arms of 8-year-old Ethan. During their countless adventures Bailey joyously discovers how to be a good dog. But this life as a beloved family pet is not the end of Bailey’s journey. Reborn as a puppy yet again, Bailey wonders—will he ever find his purpose?

roamIn the book Roam, Nelson is a bright-eyed, inquisitive half beagle, half poodle. He lives with Katey and Don, newlyweds whose marriage is straining under the pressures of domesticity. There are few things Nelson likes better than to follow a scent, and one day he follows his nose and gets lost . . . very lost. Though he searches frantically for Katey—and she for him—Nelson can’t seem to find his way home, and he soon realizes that if he’s ever to see his great love again, he must make his way on his own and try to survive in the wild.

Over the course of eight years, Roam follows Nelson as he crosses the country searching for his family. For a time he rides shotgun with a truck driver named Thatcher, then he lives in the woods with a pack of wolves. Nelson has many adventures and believes that one day he’ll make it home . . . and maybe, just maybe, he will. . . .

rintintinAnd for an absolutely awesome dog read which is not written from a dog’s point of view, you simply must read Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin; The Life and the Legend.

“He believed the dog was immortal.” So begins Susan Orlean’s sweeping and moving account of Rin Tin Tin’s journey from abandoned puppy to movie star and international icon. Covering almost one hundred years of history, from the dog’s improbable discovery on a World War I battlefield in 1918 to his tumultuous rise through Hollywood and beyond, Rin Tin Tin is a love story about the mutual devotion between one man and one dog. It is also an American story of reinvention and an exploration of our bond with animals.

I wonder what sort of book my dog Pearl would write if she were able to take pen to paper. It would definitely include squirrels, cats, other dogs, birds and a few good chase scenes!

Leslie

Back in Black

CorvusI think it is safe to say that every great story needs a great villain. If there isn’t someone in opposition, obstacles become way too easy for the protagonist to overcome and the story can get deadly dull. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, this year’s Big Read book, Enzo’s arch nemesis is clearly the common crow. As he states:

They sit in the trees and on the electric wires and on the roofs and they watch everything, the sinister little bastards. They cackle with a dark edge, like they’re mocking you, cawing constantly, they know where you are and when you’re in the house, they know where you are when you’re outside; they’re always waiting.

Now I’ve always had a certain sympathy for villains. In fact, I tend to make excuses for their somewhat questionable behavior: Grendel had issues with his mother; Macbeth was caught in an existential crisis; Darth Vader just wanted to rule the galaxy with his son. When it comes to crows, however, there are a gaggle of admirers who have a respect, bordering on admiration, for these often maligned creatures. Lest you think this is always motivated by some unrealistic new age feel-goodery, I present to you several excellent books that sing the praises of the crow based on the ice cold logic of science.

inthecompanyofcrowsWhen it comes to crow science, it won’t take you long to come across the name John M. Marzluff, who is on the faculty here at the University of Washington. He has teamed up with artist and writer Tony Angell to create two excellent books examining the complex lives of corvids and their often tempestuous interactions with humans. In the Company of Crows and Ravens is their first work together and Gifts of the Crow : How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans was just published last year.

giftsofthecrowMarzluff and Angell have spent years observing and studying crows and both books are chock full of impressive examples of the birds’ intelligence and cunning. One of my favorites includes the Carrion Crows in Sendai, Japan who purposefully place walnuts in the intersection while cars wait at a red light. Once the light turns green they get their nut cracked open without much effort. Interestingly enough, drivers began to purposefully aim for the walnuts in order to help the crows out in a case of cultural coevolution.

amurderofcrowsMarzluff has also conducted extensive studies demonstrating the way crows pass information, such as recognition of an individual, not only to each other but down through generations. This research, and much more, is detailed in the excellent DVD A Murder of Crows. If you can’t wait that long take a look at this snippet and watch which mask you wear the next time you are on the UW campus.

Fascination with crows is not limited to the intrepid duo from Washington, however. There are several other books in the library’s collection by dedicated naturalists that sing the praises of crows. Each is based on observations, studies and historical research and they are well worth reading:

Crow Planet : Essential Wisdom From the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Crows : Encounters With the Wise Guys of the Avian World by Candace Sherk Savage
Corvus : a Life With Birds by Esther Woolfson
Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays by Candace Savage

Now I’ll admit that crows have a few attributes that some might see as villainous:  they are black, travel in numbers, won’t pass up a meal of carrion, and can have a disturbing tendency to stare you down. Just remember that there are always extenuating circumstances

Long Live the Dog!

Don't, just don't...

Don’t, just don’t…

I’ve never seen nor read Old Yeller – I just know better. My mom preferred stapling the last couple pages of The Snowman together over having me be repeatedly disappointed that the boy’s wonderful new friend never got to stick around. Bambi didn’t get much airtime in our house, and All Dogs Go to Heaven still makes me feel betrayed (but seriously, shouldn’t the halos on the posters have tipped me off?). Alas, I was a sensitive child.

Taking all that into account, it should be no shock to my readers that I still try to avoid books and films where the non-human lead dies in the end. If you’re like me, just knowing that a book has a lovable (or not so lovable) dog in it tends to be a deterrent because you just know how that’s going to wind up. It doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be a heartwarming death or a senseless one, we instinctively know to steer clear.

Thankfully there are books out there that buck the trend. The best way that I have found to avoid having my emotions brutally toyed with is to get into a series in which the dog happens to be the main character. To help you all out, here are a few series that I would recommend for other softies like me who wouldn’t flinch if the human protagonist got eaten by a tiger, but would cry their eyes out if the author dared to have Rex die peacefully of old age surrounded by a litter of loving offspring.

For kids and young adults:

Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell. Originally introduced in 1963, Clifford has lived to an amazing 213 dog years and shows no sign of decline. The Clifford empire has expanded from simple, delightful softcover books for young readers, to a range of television programming, movies, video games, and toys.

Harry the Dirty DogHarry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. Harry was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I’m happy to report that, like Clifford, Harry continues to live a long and productive book, DVD, and merchandise life.

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman* by Brian Jacques. This title gets an asterisk because technically the dog is already dead; that’s how the series begins (no real spoilers there). I won’t get into the details, but Ben and his dog companion Ned travel throughout the ages, irrevocably tied to the fate of the famously cursed ship, The Flying Dutchman. As they wander through time the duo get into a series of adventures, befriend an interesting cast of characters, and fight evil when they encounter it. Though these books can be a little bittersweet at times, because Ben and Ned are always forced to move on from their newly established lives, you know that they will not be parted from each other.

For Adults:

The Mrs. Murphy Mystery series, by Rita Mae Brown. I know some dog-loving purists may take issue with the fact that this series was co-authored by Brown’s cat, Sneaky Pie, and features two cat detectives, but hear me out. I personally love Tee Tucker, the lively crime-stopping corgi that plays a big role in all of Brown’s mysteries. I think if you gave the series a chance you’d root for Tee too.

A Fistful of CollarsThe Chet and Bernie Mystery series, by Spencer Quinn. For those who can’t stomach the idea of their dog hero sharing the spotlight with a couple of cats, there are Chet and Bernie. Failed K-9 cop Chet, the narrator, works with his human companion Bernie as a private eye. These books are full of suspense, humor, and a little bit of canine mischief, that all adds up to very enjoyable reading.

All of the above series have multiple volumes, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your dog hero fix with minimal heartbreak. That should keep your eyes busy and your tails wagging!

Lisa