Meet Everett’s Boy in the Boat

If you’re like me, you accepted the challenge of reading this year’s Everett Reads! selection, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. If you’re like me, you became emotionally involved in the story that unfolded during a bleak time in our country’s history. And, if you’re like me, you were surprised to discover that learning about this sport was both exciting and refreshing.

Since we’re so alike, you will be thrilled to read about another boy in the boat. Clinton Seal, teacher at Olivia Park Elementary, heard we were going to ask the community to read a book about his favorite sport. Clinton generously contributed his own memorabilia to be displayed at the Evergreen Branch Library, where his friend Margaret works.

Clinton Seal display

Clinton was kind enough to let me ask him a boatload of questions about rowing and how reading The Boys in the Boat brought him back to the sport he loved after a short hiatus. Everett, meet Clinton Seal.

When did you start rowing?
I started rowing back in the spring of 2001 at Everett Community College. I did track and field at Cascade High School (I was a graduate of the class of 2000) and always thought rowing would be a great sport to try, but both sports overlapped so I never had the chance to row. At the time, there wasn’t a Track and Field team at EvCC, so I joined the crew team. After I graduated, I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s adult masters team and rowed with them for another 8 years before I took a break from rowing in 2011.

What got you into rowing in the first place?
I was walking around the campus at EvCC one spring day and saw a sign on one of the doors that said “We need you on EvCC Crew!” I really wanted to give it a try and had high school friends who rowed, so I thought I’d join the crew team. It was a very small team, and wasn’t even considered a sports team; we were a club. In fact, we didn’t have our own boats or our own boat house. All we had were our own set of 8 oars, which we bought through some fundraising and local car washes. EvCC rented boats from the local Everett Rowing Association located on the Snohomish River and Langus Riverfront Park.

I rowed with the college for two years. I was able to compete in local regattas at Seattle’s Green Lake and Tacoma’s American Lake, as well as Lake Stevens. We also traveled to Dexter Lake near Eugene, Oregon, and I was able to travel to the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in Sacramento, CA on Lake Natoma while I rowed at EvCC. We won a few races, but rowing with EvCC crew wasn’t about winning, it was more about the camaraderie and friendships made while belonging to the same team and working towards the same goals.

After I graduated from EvCC in the spring of 2002, I still wanted to row so I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s Master’s crew team. This adult team ranges in ages 21 and above. I rowed with ERA masters for another 8 years, rowing in local and regional regattas, traveling to Boston for the Head of the Charles Regatta, and the highlight of my time with ERA, winning 2 gold medals at the 2006 US Rowing Master’s National Championships at Seattle’s Green Lake. Our mens 8+ won both the Club 8+ and A 8+ races that year.

What seat did you have, and with whom did you row?
The EvCC team was a pretty small team. I think at the most we had about 10 rowers. We were lucky to get out in an 8+ on those foggy spring mornings. Mostly we were in 4+s.

When sweep rowing, I’m a starboard, so I usually rowed seat 7 if I was in an 8+ and seat 3 if I was in a 4+.  As I continued on with my rowing career with the ERA masters, most of the time I was in the bow. I’m a skinny guy and have decent technique, so my coaches put me in the bow (seat 1) of our mens 4+ and our mens 8+. You want a lighter rower to be in the bow so it can sit up and slice through the water.

Did it change over time, like it did for Joe Rantz?
I’ve seen a few changes in rowing over the years. The boats I rowed in at the college were nice, but heavy. As the years went by, Everett Rowing Association got some amazingly light and beautiful Pocock racing shells. With their carbon fiber winged riggers, they were modern and fast! As I continued in crew I also picked up sculling. I rowed sweep probably 4 years before I was introduced to sculling with 2 oars. It’s a completely different style and feeling, but I really do enjoy it..

How did you hear about The Boys in the Boat?
I’ve known about The Boys in the Boat for years. I’ve seen its cover on rowing websites, heard fellow rowers talking about it, and recently, my mom read the book last year for her book club. She shared with me a little bit about it and how she thought I would love it and how inspiring it was. To be honest, I don’t do very much reading at all. I’m so active and usually riding my bike in my spare time, that I can’t honestly remember, beside the Bible, what the last entire book I read was. Then, last year, a wonderful family friend, Margaret Remick, gave me a copy of the book and I knew that I needed to finally sit down and read it. The first day I opened the pages last July, I sat in my back yard reading for 7 hours straight! That’s a record for me…I’ve never been so passionate about reading a book as I was “The Boys in the Boat.”

When you read The Boys in the Boat what particularly inspired you to get back into rowing?
Being able to go on this trip with Joe and the rest of those Husky rowers and hear their stories helped me relive my own career as a rower. As they suffered through the pain, the weather, and the mental battle that you face in a rowing race, I instantly thought back to all of my rowing experiences over the last decade, and it reminded me how proud I was of those experiences and the people I shared them with. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in a racing shell. Some of my fondest memories of accomplishment were when I was up on a podium with my crew, accepting our medals.

I really appreciated Mr. Brown’s attention to the art and technique of rowing. It’s such a unique sport, incorporating, strength, skill and artistry; there’s nothing like gliding over water and feeling that connection with your oars and then the run of the boat beneath you. The Boys in the Boat reminded me how special rowing is. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when you and your crew row as one, if you’re describing it to someone who doesn’t row. For those of us who have, it’s a feeling that fills you with wonder and makes you want it even more.  Through Joe’s story and his crewmates’, I remembered what that feeling was like and it inspired me to want it again by returning to crew.

What was your favorite part of the book?
I loved the whole book, especially the history of the era and Seattle at the time, the information about each rower’s family, but I really enjoyed seeing how the Huskies were able to pull through to win the gold medal in Berlin.  A rowing race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. There’s so much that can happen from the time that you start, settle, and then begin your sprint to the finish.  Just because another crew is ahead of you doesn’t mean that they are going to win. Joe’s crew showed how through incredible determination, strength, and focus, sometimes even the improbable can be possible.

Who in the book did you best identify with?
I identified best with Joe. I didn’t have his upbringing, but I felt that I could relate to his spirit of hard work, dedication, and persistence. Whether it was high school track and field, rowing, or cyclocross, I never have felt that any of the sports or activities I’ve chosen to do ever came easily to me. I really could identify with Joe in that I’ve had to work hard to make my reality what I wanted it to be. There’s been periods in my athletic career where I wasn’t the fastest or strongest athlete or the one with the best technique, but after years of dedication and persistence I was able to make my way to the top.

Are you currently rowing?
Yes, I just started back rowing with the Everett Rowing Association this February.

What seat do you have, and with whom do you row?
Now that I’m back at crew with ERA, I row in all sorts of seats. We do a lot of sculling, so the seat numbers don’t relate to starboard or port sides because you have two oars. We’ve done a lot of sculling in a quad and I alternate being in the stern and in the bow.

While rowing with the Everett Community College, my coach was Holly Odell. When I joined the Everett Rowing Association, I was coached by Matt Lacey, Ben Tweedy, Corrie McGrath, Carol Stern, and now recently, Scott Holmgren.

My 2006 National’s Mens A 8+ and Club 8+ crew were (from stern to bow): Al Erickson, Colin McKenna, Adam Van Winkle, Ben Tweedy, Alex Mazick, Aaron, Haack, Dan Morken, myself, and coxswain Michael Welly.

What’s your favorite part about rowing?
I think the best part of rowing is that it is the ultimate team sport. When you are rowing with your pair partner or your whole crew, you have to do everything in unison; your technique needs to be in sync and you need to even think the same way. I really enjoy working together with other people to make a goal possible. While rowing with your crew, you can push yourself to achieve goals you might not be able to push yourself to achieve. Knowing someone is counting on you makes a big difference; you never want to let them down.

Have you ever rowed in the same areas as The Boys?
Yes, I’ve rowed many regattas on Lake Washington and Lake Union. I always feel a sense of pride rowing down on those waters. There’s so much history and prestige associated with that area. It’s special to row through the cut and know all of the crews who have rowed through there over the years.

If you could give a piece of advice to anyone curious about taking up rowing, what would it be?
My advice would be to keep at it even if it’s physically and mentally challenging. There are so many aspects of rowing that even after years in the sport, there’s always more you can learn, more endurance you can gain, and better strokes you can take. It took me years of rowing until I finally got together with a crew of 8 guys to win a National Championship. Not everyone will go to Nationals, but whatever goal you have, whatever race you want to compete in, keep your eye on that goal. It may take a while to achieve, but rowing is a sport that takes total commitment.

What keeps you motivated when you are working so hard out on the water?
If I’m rowing in a single shell, I only have myself to think about: my own technique and my own power application. It will be my fault if I don’t do what I’m capable of and my own celebration if I achieve my goal with a win. But when you row in any other boat, you have your pair partner or your crew to think about. Knowing that other people are counting on me to help the boat go fast is what motivates me to work hard. I never want to let my crew down.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for your interest. I’m just so honored to have this opportunity to share some of my experience about rowing with the community. I never rowed for the UW, Cornell, Harvard, or any prestigious college back east. I’m just a local guy who happened to find a crew club at Everett Community College which led to me joining ERA, learning more about this amazing sport, and taking it to the National level.

Nationals2006

Thanks, Clinton, for taking the time to answer my multitude of questions, and for letting me feature you on the blog! As for me, I’m still an armchair rower (that’s like an armchair traveler, right?) but I do enjoy taking the kayak out occasionally. What kind of commitment can I make? How about saying I’ll see you all on Silver Lake, though don’t be upset if it’s just me waving at you from Emory’s.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show Books

content_15_nwfgs_windermereIf you’re like me, you didn’t make it down to last week’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and even if you did, it’s unlikely that you had time to attend all of the author seminars. Never fear because your local public library has your back. I was pleased to see that the library has almost all of the gardening books that authors were selling at the garden show. Why not just borrow them from the library? It’ll be like you attended the lecture and you can decide whether or not you’d like to purchase your own copy. Here’s a run-down of the hottest new gardening books.

index (5)index (6)Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives and Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb are both by Evelyn Hadden. These books are your ticket to a wild and crazy front yard. Let’s shake it up, Everett!

index (7)Coffee for Roses is by Cynthia Fornari, a writer, professional speaker, radio host, and self-described “out-of-control plant person.” She looks at 71 common garden practices and uncovers the truth behind the lore. With humor and affection, she goes back in time to sort out the good, the bad and the just plain silly…and tells us why. This book combines gardening history and expert advice into one useful, time and money-saving package. Get those grounds from Starbucks and feed your roses.

index (8)Container Gardening for all Seasons by Barbara Wise provides a shopping list of materials and a helpful planting diagram for each of the more than 100 container options. Designed like a recipe book, the book offers even the most novice gardeners a no-fail, easy-to-follow instruction format for each container. This book includes all you need to know to plan, plant, grow and maintain a container garden.

index (10)Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer shows ways to create outdoor areas that are charming, comfortable, appealing, and reflect individuality. It features twenty-three unique garden styles accompanied by advice on how to recreate the look. Simple step-by-step projects, like how to make a macramé plant hanger, help the reader personalize the space. And helpful tips and tricks, including how to pick the right tree and pick the right combination of plants and containers, offer essential lessons in gardening and design.

index (11)Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier offers everything a tomato enthusiast needs to know about growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes — from sowing seeds and planting to cultivating and collecting seeds at the end of the season. He also offers a comprehensive guide to the various pests and diseases of tomatoes and explains how best to avoid them. No other book offers such a detailed look at the specifics of growing tomatoes. Savor your best tomatoes ever!

indexEveryday Roses: How to Grow Knock-Out and Other Easy Care Roses by Paul Zimmerman is a complete primer on how to purchase, plant, care for and maintain easy care modern roses. Aimed at gardeners who want the beauty of roses without the fuss, this book offers an approach that is more accessible and environmentally friendly than competing volumes–and no other book in the current market focuses exclusively on modern roses and getting the most out of them.

index (10)Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World by Janit Calvo is very, very fun! It’s full of great information for the complete novice in miniature gardening. Calvo gives detailed information on materials and plants and she also gives detailed information for both outdoor and indoor creations. I’m all inspired to see if I can create some of these projects in my own home and garden.

index (11)Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning techniques for Small Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I. Cannot. Wait. To grow a little fruit tree. This book makes fruit tree growing sound like a piece of cake. It has simple, precise directions that teach you exactly what and when to cut so that your tree doesn’t overtake you. I like Ralph’s idea that fruit trees are similar to pets – they must be trained if you want them to behave.

indexThe Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik.  This book explains how knowing (get it?) your plants is the key to a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. This is your ticket to a gorgeous perennial garden packed with color, texture, and multi-season interest. Your yard will look like it was designed by a professional and maintained by a crew if you read this book.

index (1)The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp. The author explains the design technique of layering: inter-planting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins in spring and ends at the onset of winter. As practical as it is inspiring, this book will provide you with expert information gleaned from decades of hard work and close observation and will show you how to achieve a four-season garden.

index (2)Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The Sixty Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia  by Donald Olson is a guide to take you to the best public gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Use this guide and its enticing photographs and easy to use format to discover  little-known gems or classic gardens. Everett’s own Evergreen Arboretum and gardens is one of the featured gardens.

index (6)Small Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots by Andrea Bellamy tells you how to grow your own incredible edibles. This book covers everything you need to know to get growing, from choosing and planting containers, to designing show-stopping edible container displays. It also covers small-space techniques such as succession sowing, vertical gardening, and season extension. This summer you’ll be harvesting a bounty of edibles.

index (4)Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Lorene Forkner is a growing guide that truly understands the unique eccentricities of the Northwest growing calendar covering Oregon, Washington, southeastern Alaska, and British Columbia. The month-by-month format makes it perfect for beginners and accessible to everyone – you can start gardening the month you pick it up. Here’s my own advice: plant your peas on President’s Day. Soak them first!

index (7)The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature by Tammi Hartung offers insights into different wildlife issues that commonly arise in the garden, and effective but peaceful ways to address those problems for gardeners wishing to co-exist with wildlife rather than “ban” wildlife. Discover which plants, tools, and remedies can be used to discourage or re-direct critters, repel or distract wildlife, and ways to totally prevent access, without causing harm, to wildlife as a last resort when all else fails.

This is just a smattering of all of the fabulous gardening books available at the library where we bring the Northwest Flower and Garden show to you!

Morbid Curiosity

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.  ~ Death (A Play) by Woody Allen

Most of us are fans of denial when it comes to thinking about shuffling off the mortal coil. The idea of dying is at best depressing and at worst terrifying so not thinking about it seems like the healthy thing to do. And yet, if you’re a mass of contradictions like me, you can’t help being morbidly curious about the people whose professions have them dealing with death all the time. Happily, well maybe not happily, there is a small subgenre of memoirs that are from coroners, undertakers, doctors and others that deal with ‘death issues’ on a daily basis. Here are three recent ones that I found particularly illuminating. Do be forewarned though, they contain realistic descriptions of procedures and situations that are not for the faint of heart.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
workingstiffThis is the tale of Melinek’s rookie year as a New York City medical examiner. From suicides, accidents, murders and the much more common ‘natural causes’, the author lays out the particulars of how the bodies she performs autopsies on reveal the manner of death. Despite the gory details, this is not just a cold and calculating CSI type memoir though. She gives everyone involved, both the living and the dead, humane and complex portraits. As she describes her duties you really get a sense of what it must be like to work in a profession where you are confronted with mortality on a daily basis. Layered throughout the book is the classic attitude of realism, gallows humor and humanity that is required to survive in ‘the city’ and that comes in particularly handy in the medical examiner’s office.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
smokegetsinyoureyesWritten by a practicing mortician and host of a popular web series titled Ask a Mortician, this book is an entertaining memoir but also a serious and thought-provoking examination of how society tries to deal with death and the dead. The author recounts, in admittedly gruesome but humorous detail, her introduction to the ‘death industry’ working at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland. As she encounters the methods and tools of the trade (cremation, embalming and the horrifying trocar to name a few) she uses the opportunity to examine the history and social context for each practice. Many interesting conclusions are reached, but a central one is the great lengths we go to as a society to separate ourselves, both physically and emotionally, from the dead and the damage this separation causes.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
beingmortalWhile this book is far less gruesome than the previous two, I found the ideas it presents the most disturbing. Gawande is a practicing surgeon but this is not a memoir about his profession. Instead it is an examination of the disconnect between the medical profession’s view of death as a failure and the inevitable fact that we all die. He cuts through professional jargon such as ‘end of life care’ and ‘assisted living’ by interviewing and telling the stories of those facing the indignities of aging and death and modern medicine’s response to the process. These stories include his father’s decline and they are touching, instructive, and difficult to deal with all at the same time. By confronting the experience head on, however, Gawande gains important insight into how the medical community, and all of us, can actually serve the needs of those facing their final chapter.

Well, after reading these books I guess there is no denying the fact that I’m going to die someday. Wait, I refuse to accept that. I’m sure we will all be fine.

Spies Like Them

It’s a new year, time for a clean start and all of that. 2014 was my year of the hard-boiled detective. And so I wonder what 2015 will bring.

One book I’m currently reading is The Saint and The Fiction Makers by Leslie Charteris. The Saint is a spy, sort of in the mold of James Bond, excepting that he predates Bond by some decades, which would actually make Bond a spy in the mold of The Saint. At any rate, Charteris introduced Simon Templar, also known as The Saint, in 1928 and thereafter wrote a series of books featuring his indestructible hero. In the 1960s a TV show based on the character (starring a soon-to-be-Bond Roger Moore) ran, and a variety of authors novelized some of the teleplays. Altogether there are nearly 100 books featuring this dynamic savior of the free world.

The Saint and The Fiction Makers is difficult to describe without giving a bit of the surprise away. It begins as a typical spy story: Super-villain attempting to kill Heroic Spy with ingenious killing devices, Spy narrowly escaping attempt after attempt, Scantily-Clad-Woman adding sex appeal. As events continue to unfold we discover that Simon Templar is actually watching this spy movie, seated next to the actress who was somewhat clothed in the movie. Thus begins a post-modern romp through the spy genre.

Further into the story, a crazy man takes on the persona of the movie’s super-villain and re-creates his hideout and gadgetry in exquisite detail. Then, thinking that Templar is the author who created this fictional genius, he kidnaps The Saint and his “assistant”, the woman who is the real author. What a convoluted and fantastical plot!

While EPL does not (yet) boast any of The Saint catalogue, we do provide ample opportunities to enter the undercover secret world of spies.

39 StepsThe 39 Steps by John Buchan
This book is an early spy story, written in 1915 and centered on The Great War. An “ordinary” person is caught up in an effort to thwart a plot against the British war machine. Alfred Hitchcock made a classic movie based on this book in 1935.

 

North by NorthwestNorth by Northwest
Speaking of Hitchcock and unwitting heroes, in North by Northwest, one of my favorite movies, Cary Grant becomes a pawn of uncaring government spies who sacrifice him in order to bring their plans to fruition. Oh, and there’s a beautiful woman and people climbing Mt. Rushmore’s presidential faces, as well as human crop dusting, so all bases are covered.

Secret AdversawryThe Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
Tommy and Tuppence, two of Christie’s lesser known heroes, first see the light of day in The Secret Adversary (written in 1922), where the pair accidentally become entangled with post-WWI spies who are still looking to rearrange the European balance of power. In their second book, Partners in Crime, our heroes have married and now run a detective agency. So they see both sides of the coin, spy and detective.

George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade
One topic that has intrigued me since hearing about it in a documentary is the spy ring that George Washington put together during the Revolutionary War. Now I gotta say, when we learned history in high school they left out the good parts like this tidbit. I would’ve been all over a spy ring! These spies were very important to the war effort, and this book is firmly planted on my to-read shelf.

Harriet the SpyHarriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Finally, so as not to leave out the kids, we have Harriet. She is perhaps a different kind of spy, not in the overthrowing nations mold, but rather in spying on her friends and writing down what she observes. Here’s a lesson kids, which is a good one in this day and age of computers, cell phones and abacuses: Don’t write down stuff you don’t want other people to see. Harriet’s notebook falls into the wrong hands and her friends read what she has written about them. It’s then up to Harriet to repair the damage and rebuild her friendships.

Will it be a year of spies? I hate to speculate, but I think I can safely say they will at the very least turn up in my reading every now and again. Perhaps one is sitting next to me at this very moment, looking through the eyeholes cut in that newspaper, poisonous lipstick, bedazzling pouty lips, a sultry dress encasing curves in just the right places … Yes, a year of spies.

Did You Know? (Pasta Edition)

That the difference between noodles and macaroni is eggs?

pastatheitalianwayNoodles are made with egg solids and a finely ground semolina flour called durum. Macaroni is made from only normal semolina and water. This information is from the entry on ‘Pasta’ in the 2015 World Book Encyclopedia.

Macaroni is just one type of pasta. There are hundreds of different shapes for pasta and thousands of names for those shapes. Each region of Italy has its own name for certain types of pasta. Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant has a nice section on pasta types and directions for making them as well as the best recipes for the types of dough you will need.

silverspoonAccording to The Silver Spoon for Children: Favorite Italian Recipes by Amanda Grant there are two main types of pasta: fresh and dried. Fresh is made with flour/egg and dried is flour/water. This book has wonderful recipes and easy directions for the future chef in your house. I think kids will really enjoy making the dishes in this book.

Pasta Modern by Francine Segan has some wonderful recipes for some nontraditional pasta uses. Examples include making mock pasta “pretzel” sticks or little pasta bird nests. They seem like fairly easy recipes that you can make with either your own homemade pasta, or start with store-bought.

meltWe cannot talk about pasta without mentioning macaroni and cheese! Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord has dozens of recipes for this comfort food and variations of it you probably would never have dreamed of!

Besides being a delicious food, macaroni was historically used as a definition for a young British man who had travelled abroad in the18th century and exaggeratedly imitated continental fashions. Everyone called them dandy’s. This leads us to Yankee Doodle sticking a feather in his hat and calling himself “macaroni”.

crankeedoodleWe have several books with the poem “Yankee Doodle”. The original poem was written in the mid 1750’s and can be found in the book American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries but the version we have all heard and know so well is actually a parody. Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger is a very fun story version of the poem that parents will probably enjoy more than the kids!

macandcheeseLastly, Mac and Cheese are two characters in a series of kid’s books written by Sarah Weeks. Mac is fun and lovable while Cheese is grumpy. These are perfect beginner reader books.

Mexico: The Cookbook

Mexico the cookbookEvery once in a while a book comes along that you just fall in love with. Right now I have stars in my eyes, and they only shine for Mexico: The Cookbook by chef Margarita Carrillo Arronte. Here is a book that speaks to almost all of my interests. At the very base level, it’s a beautiful volume. The hot pink dust jacket is decorated in traditional Mexican papel picado style, with intricate cutouts of sugar skulls and cross-stitch-like patterns. The covers of the book are a vibrant, glossy, neon orange – peeking through the cut-away artwork. The book has heft; a silky blue ribbon book mark drapes from the middle of 700+ pages of good quality paper stock.

All book nerd rhapsodizing aside about the loveliness of this bible of Mexican cuisine, the contents inside are equally delightful. Arronte, a well-respected advocate of traditional Mexican cooking, has compiled a cookbook that is a delightful blend of ethnography, culinary history, recipes, photography, and dictionary. The first section of the book is devoted to talking about traditional ingredients found in Mexican cooking, their significance, and the different regional variations. From there the book is broken down into sections dealing with different kinds of dishes: street food, salads and snacks, eggs (yes, there does need to be a whole section on eggs), soups, seafood, meat, vegetables, sauces, baked goods, drinks and desserts, and recipes from guest chefs.

Each recipe is listed first by its Spanish name, and then an English translation. Before getting into the process of cooking the dish, cooks are provided with the region that the dish is from, the ingredients list, the prep time, the cooking time, and how many servings the recipe prepares (all that’s lacking is a calorie estimate, but nobody is perfect). Sprinkled in among the many pages of recipes are a collection of gorgeous full color photos of selected dishes; there are also some wonderful shots of street scenes, ingredients, and people throughout the book. The instructional writing is very easy to follow. Aside from the challenge of sourcing some of the more obscure ingredients listed for some of the dishes, this book doesn’t require the user to be a very adventurous cook. That being said, this cook book probably isn’t a good fit for someone looking for quick meal ideas – many traditional Mexican recipes involve a lot of simmering, marinading, and letting flavors develop.

Mexico: The Cookbook concludes with a couple sections that will be dear to the hearts of librarians, foodies, and seekers of knowledge out there. There is a bibliography that allows the reader to dig deeper into the sources that the author used to craft her volume. There is a fantastic glossary to help cooks learn more about ingredients that are unfamiliar to them. Finally, there is a large index to help you find yummy goodness more easily.

Needless to say it was hard for me to part with this book once I got my hands on it, but I had to set it free with the arrival of the assertive FIRST NOTICE email from the library. It may be that I’ll have to source my own copy to join my little niche of church-published Polish recipe books my grandma passed along to me. It seems like an appropriate mixing of traditions.

Best Blue Books

03ca60a16618b63e79a17c0fd3b2bd25Occasionally a library patron will be searching for a book and can only remember that it has a certain colored cover. It’s usually hard to find books just by color, but here’s a group of blue books that you’ll surely want to find. They obviously all have blue covers, but they are also about some sort of human frailty. I’ve read almost all of them in the last month. Mostly, they’re all excellent!

index (1)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the one that everyone is talking about and you’ll need to cue up for this New York Times best seller. It is a brilliantly beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied St. Malo, France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. That sounds like it’s been written before, doesn’t it? Yet, this book was amazing because of wonderfully complex characters, brilliant writing, a fast-paced tempo, a romantic setting and an interesting plot. I highly recommend it!

indexMoonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic by Nora Gallagher was recommended by a co-worker (Thanks, Julie!). It is a poignant memoir about a woman who is healthy and happy and competent but who all of a sudden has vision problems which lead to a spiral into a new life she calls “Oz”: a life full of doctors, medical appointments, and feelings of powerlessness. She also gains a deeper understanding of human frailty and questions her religion and her God. I enjoyed this introspective book about facing disease.

index (2)The Story of Land and Sea is by Katy Simpson Smith who in elegant, lyrical prose, confronts the stark cruelty and hypocrisy of Revolutionary-era slavery, as well as the pain and grief suffered by the powerless and powerful alike. At first, this slim historical novel seems to be this simple story of a Revolutionary-era family, a former sailor whose wife died in childbirth and who is now taking his young daughter to sea in hopes of curing her yellow fever. The story quickly opens up, however, jumping back in time to his wife Helen’s youth on her father’s plantation. There we meet Moll, a slave given to Helen when both were children, and see how uneasily their relationship, a disturbing blend of friendship and mistress-servant obligation, unfolds as they grow up.

index (3)Still Alice by Lisa Genova was also recommended by Julie (I make a habit of asking folks if they’ve read anything good lately). This novel reads like a memoir because Genova has used her own background in Neuroscience at Harvard to create a realistic portrait of 50 year-old Alice Howland who is also a professor of Linguistics at Harvard. When Alice begins to forget things -even words- she must face the horrific possibility that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This book is far from depressing as it clearly explains the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama. It is a very readable primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s.

The Light Between Oceans index (4)by M. L. Stedman is the perennial New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine). After four years in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island. His young wife, Isabel, who has suffered two miscarriages and a still-birth, finds a boat washed ashore with a dead man and a live baby. Tom wants to report it straightaway, but Isabel convinces him that Lucy is a ‘gift from God.’ They return to the mainland when Lucy is two and learn that their decision has greatly impacted others. To quote Julie: “Oh my goodness! That was a great book!”

indexindexIf you’ll humor me, I’ll add two more blue books to this list even though I haven’t read them yet: The Vacationers by Emma Straub and Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam. They’re on my to-be-read pile, they look like great novels and, hey, they’re blue! If you need help finding any of these blue books, just ask your friendly librarians (or Julie) at the Everett Public Library!