Stranger Than, er… , Non-fiction!

As I search for non-fiction books to read, I come across many titles that, while not of interest to me, are unusual, surprising or outlandish. Welcome to the world of: Stranger than, er…, non-fiction!

HairSome titles are certain to raise an eyebrow, pique the interest, even if the topic is not compelling enough to warrant reading the book. Such is the case for Plucked: A History of Hair Removal by Rebecca M. Herzig. Firstly, it never occurred to me that there is a history of hair removal! Reviews tell of clamshell razors (that would mean an actual clamshell, not something shaped like a clamshell) and lye depilatories, leaving me to speculate what other horrific devices and potions have been applied to bodies in pursuitity of less hirsuitity. Also examined are the changes in American culture, moving from the perception of hair removal as savagery, to the perception of female body hair as signs of political extremism, sexual deviance or even mental illness. Heck, I just might be interested enough to pluck this book off the shelf.

WhittlingThe Art of Whittling: Classic Woodworking Projects for Beginners and Hobbyists by Walter L. Faurot
One thing we simply don’t hear enough about these days is whittling. This book, originally published in 1930, contains projects (and here I might note that I never would have conceived that there are whittling projects) such as continuous wooden chains and ships inside bottles. Hey, there are also instructions for making working wooden scissors and entwined hearts! Beards are back, maybe whittling could become the next hipster hobby!

BeanieThe Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonette
I must confess, I never could understand the soaring values of Beanie Babies. The creator of these plush animals became a billionaire, not so much through anything he did as through the feeding frenzy of collectors who saw the toys as their ticket to Easy Street. Stories of people buying tens of thousands of Beanie Babies, and even killing for them, fill this tale of what’s been called the “strangest speculative mania of all time.”

VietNamEating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday
When I lived in Malaysia, hawker stalls (food carts sitting along the roadside) became my favorite places to eat. Most foreigners avoided such places, fearing disease or bad food, but I discovered a world of cheap tasty delicacies that define many of my Malaysian memories. In Eating Viet Nam I find a kindred spirit in Graham Holliday, a Brit who moved to Vietnam to teach English but ended up searching for the best street food. The writing is humorous, and I was sold by the line, “As the pig’s uterus landed on the blue plastic table in front of me, I knew I’d made a mistake.”

CowedCowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment by Dennis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes
This book takes the interesting concept of examining whether cows, which are an extremely important currency in the U.S., actually make sense economically. We get cow history, usage, treatment and sustainability. I was hoping for a discussion of methane, but apparently this will have to wait.

In retrospect, I might enjoy reading some or all of these books. I ran across them by perusing the on-order non-fiction titles on the library’s website, and I must say I was amazed at the variety of topics people find worthy of book status. If you’re not a non-fiction reader, challenge yourself to find one title that looks interesting. Oh, and read it. Perhaps you’ll soon find yourself whittling a tool for hair removal that will sell by the billions until you’re rich and can travel to Viet Nam. With your cow. Stranger things have happened.

Go the Distance with Audiobooks

Yes Please coverFor those of you who don’t keep up with obscure monthly observances, June happens to be National Audiobook Month. This, in my opinion, is excellent timing. What better month to celebrate a form of reading that allows us to enjoy the best of summer? We can safely read while we run, garden, hike, or embark on long road trips. It should come as no surprise that our library employees are avid consumers of the audiobook in its many forms. In order to help you choose your next ear-read (I’m making that a word), we’ve asked our staff to review some of their favorite audiobooks. Place your holds now!

Leslie

Harold Fry coverThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel  Joyce (CD and eAudio).  This novel is about a man who is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance. I enjoyed listening to it partly because of the narrator’s British accent but mostly because of the well written and compelling story.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is also by Rachel Joyce (CD) and it is the story told from the perspective of the woman who Harold Fry is walking to visit. It features another charming British accent and there’s a surprise at the end.

Short Nights coverShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan (CD and eAudio) is the story of photographer Edward S. Curtis and his passionate project of documenting the remaining Native American tribes in stunning photographs. An incredible adventure narrative and a penetrating biographical portrait, Egan’s book tells the remarkable untold story behind Curtis’s iconic photographs. You obviously don’t see the photos while listening to this book, but the images created by this author are still vivid in my memory. I associate it with painting our basement as that’s what I did while ‘reading’ this fabulous story. Now if I could just have a Curtis photograph for my basement walls…

These Few Precious Days by Christopher Andersen (CD) will amaze you with the whole story of Jack and Jackie’s final year together. This book is a glimpse into the twilight days of Camelot.


One Summer coverYes, Please! By Amy Poehler (CD) is simply hilarious and made even better by being read by the author herself. Listen to this one if you need a good laugh, and who doesn’t? (Lisa here – I have to second this choice – it’s fantastic!)


One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson (CD and Playaway) is about just that: America in the summer of 1927. This is a big story about the big personalities of the day: Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Charles Lindbergh, Al Jolson and more. Do yourself a favor and let someone else read it to you! It’s fascinating.

Alan

Grapes of Wrath coverThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (CD)
I had always meant to read this and once I had a long commute, I was able to find the time. The book about the plight of American farmers who were forced off their farms by drought and foreclosure during the 1930’s is everything you’d expect. But the narration adds so much to the story. When you finish the audiobook, cue up Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads, which the library also owns.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak (CD and eAudio)
Very funny, well worth hearing B. J. Novak, Jason Schwartzman, Mindy Kaling, and many, many others perform the occasionally brilliant, sometimes underdeveloped, always funny pieces on the audiobook version of this short story collection from a writer of the American version of “The Office.”

Fighting Chance coverA Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (CD and eAudio)
Elizabeth Warren’s story of her bumpy rise to fame and political power not only sets the stage for (likely) a higher office, but serves to inspire and make her as relatable as she appears in interviews and speeches. Read by the author/politician, Warren has a wonderfully rich voice, elevating the telling nicely.

Joyce

Born Standing Up coverBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, written and read by Steve Martin (CD). Listening to the long-time writer/producer/actor/musician/comic’s audiobook gave me a jolt of intimacy and pleasure that his book—no matter how well written—could not have delivered on. Born Standing Up had me marveling at not just the words, but his voice: the tone and timbre, and timing, and Martin’s is impeccable. Martin’s memoir about growing up in southern California, working and learning magic at Disneyland, playing banjo in coffeehouses, his unusual, breakthrough comedy routines and becoming hugely popular on Saturday Night Live was a funny, enthralling life story.

Eileen

I have become an audiobook fanatic since acquiring an MP3 player several years ago. I listen when I’m gardening, walking, cooking (sometimes this is not a good thing), ironing—in other words whenever I’m doing something that doesn’t take a lot of concentration.

I have several favorites. Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (CD and Playaway) is one I heard early in my career as a book listener, and it still comes back to haunt me. The reader’s voice was perfect for conveying Didion’s sense of loss and hopelessness as first her husband then her daughter die in the same year.

Bringing Up the Bodies coverI listened to both of Hilary Mantel’s books about the life of Thomas Cromwell and his association with Henry VIII.  Several people had told me that they found it difficult to track who was who when they attempted to read Wolf Hall (CD and eAudio), the first book in what is expected to be a trilogy. Listening to it there was no such difficulty. The right reader is critical to my enjoyment of an audiobook, and Simon Slater was the perfect choice for my ears. But then I also enjoyed hearing Simon Vance read Bring up the Bodies (CD and eAudio), Mantel’s sequel.

Dance with Dragons coverLastly I thoroughly enjoyed all of the George R. R. Martin series, Song of Ice and Fire (CD and eAudio).  I didn’t expect this to be true because I don’t normally read fantasy or science fiction, but I was hearing rave reviews from library patrons, and thought listening to the audio version would be easier than reading all 694 pages of A Game of Thrones. Many hours later—and I mean many hours since each of the books in the series so far run more than 30 hours—I came to the end of the fifth book,  A Dance with Dragons, and all I could think of was when would he finish writing the next book so I could find out what happened!

Julie

Misty imageMy all-time favorite audio book has to be Misty of Chincoteague read by Edward Hermann (Playaway). His voice is so great and friendly, making me feel like a grandpa is reading it. I also like that it is a playaway so I can walk around with it. My commute is only 1.5 miles, so a book on disc would take me ages!

Me

I blogged a little while back about some excellent non-fiction audiobooks that I really enjoyed; you can find that post here. More recent favorites include:

The Road coverThe Road by Cormac McCarthy (CD). Imagine the Walking Dead, sans walkers. The world as we know it has been obliterated by an unspecified disaster. Father and son find themselves on a furtive journey to the sea. What they hope to find there is unclear, but it has to be better than where they’ve come from. Doesn’t it? Haunting, anxiety-ridden, but strangely beautiful at times.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (CD). Young love is rough and often prone to failure. What happens if it never truly dies? Love in the Time of Cholera is a fairly humorous and slightly dark look at one man’s 1/2-a-century struggle to overcome his first heartbreak. It may leave you asking: does love ever truly die?

Selfish, Shallow and Short

Much like Carol, I’ve got a fondness for brevity when it comes to reading. I could blame this tendency on the evil information age shortening my attention span. Really though I’ve liked short reads long before the interweb came on the scene. I’m told that The Snowy Day and The Story of Ferdinand were two of my childhood favorites. Moby Dick they are not. When it comes to brief adult books, short stories are a perennial favorite but I’m also very fond of their non-fiction relative: the essay.

Essays are great for many reasons, but one of my favorites is the way an author can focus in on a specific topic and essentially riff on it. A good essay is often like a good stand-up comedy set, just not necessarily funny. The author can make you think about a familiar topic in a totally different way and challenge your assumptions. There is also the pleasure of cheering them on if you agree with their point of view. Best of all, there is no two drink minimum to start reading.

Here are three newish essay collections to wet your whistle.

Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum

selfishshallowWhile the confrontational, yet entertaining, title of this collection might make you think this book is simply a screed promoting the ‘child free by choice’ concept at all costs, the essays are actually quite thoughtful. To be sure there is plenty of material to offend, but unless you take the extreme position that every person must breed, you should find yourself chuckling, cheering, or shaking your head at many of the writers’ positions. All the big questions are addressed (What is natural? Is a child required for a fulfilling life? What is the point of it all?) with wit, style, and humor.

Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett

Iunrulyplacesn this collection, the author sets out to explore many of the odd, quirky and downright weird places that dot the globe. Each short essay examines places that are hard to define. There is the Principality of Sealand, an old World War II gun platform off the coast of England that has been declared a sovereign nation. And don’t forget Sandy Island which was placed on maps, even Google maps, for years despite never having existed. The author also explores odd communities, the RV Camp next to the runway at LAX, and strange unclaimed environments, the meridians between major highways, to get you thinking about what a place actually is.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

badfeministThe far ranging topics of these essays, from Sweet Valley High to Django, are served up by cultural critic and novelist Roxane Gay with humor and personal insight. She is a bona fide consumer of popular culture, who lists the Hunger Games and Scrabble as obsessions, but is not shy about pointing out the misogyny and racism that can be lurking in the many books, films, TV shows and albums that we choose to consume. Gay understands the oddly conflicted nature of enjoying and abhorring many aspects of popular culture simultaneously. It is this understanding that makes these essays humorous, confrontational and insightful but never boring.

Brief Reads

Brief ReadsSummer is almost here and soon people in Library Land will start buzzing about beach reads. I say forget the beach reads and pick up some brief reads! Nope, I’m not talking about underpants. I mean books that won’t take you very long to read. And if you’re like me and have been experiencing a series of disappointments, be it books that let you down or ones that were too terrible to finish (looking at you, Ron!), I suggest picking a couple of gems from my list and watch your “books read” page on GoodReads fill up faster than me on margarita night. Pro tip: margarita night can be any night when you’re mixing them at home.

oneI was an Awesomer Kid by Brad Getty
Step back in time and relive life through your eyes. Your childhood eyes, that is. Generously peppered with vintage childhood photographs, Getty brings forth universal truths from our totally awesome childhoods: we wore whatever we wanted, we didn’t hide our emotions, we got paid to do chores, and our prime mode of transportation were Big Wheels. Reading this book won’t take you very long, but be prepared for the inevitable detours that this jaunt down memory lane may cause.

Terrible Estate Agent Photos by Andy Donaldson
Based on the popular Tumblr of the same name, this book is meant to be shared. Bring a loved one in on the reading and spend time laughing together at the absurdity of just how unprepared some homes are to have their photo taken when they’re being put on the market. Trends include toilets in the kitchen (not to be confused with toilet kitchens, ala The League), the Garden Chair of Solitude (that lone patio chair inexplicably left alone in the corner of a backyard photograph), and mysterious and disgusting stains and smears left on walls and floors. I remember when we sold my childhood home. I was 9 and I had to shove all my kid crap under my bed before the real estate agents arrived to show the house. The people who own the properties in this book? Please. They don’t see the need to stage an attractive shot of their home! People will want to buy it based on its location alone. Right? Right?

fourRad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz
If there’s one thing I wish I could buckle down and read more often, it’s biographies and memoirs. There’s nothing quite like delving into a historical figure’s life and learning all sorts of new tidbits about them, and possibly seeing them in a new light. For some reason, though, I’m never quite in the mood to read a 500 page biography, no matter how fascinating I may find the subject. Thankfully there’s a brief read to satisfy this need of mine. This book gives you exactly one page of information for each of the 26 women featured. Reading these brief bios (how meta: brief in a brief read!) may whet your appetite for more, but if not you can at least say you now have heard of these awesome ladies. Plus, your new-found knowledge may aid you at a future trivia night.

That Should Be a Word by Lizzie Skurnick
Build your vocabulary and knock out yet another book by picking up this one. Amaze your friends and be on the cutting edge of a language revolution with such words as dramaneering (maintaining control by seeming to be in crisis), stardy (setting off late), sharanoia (fear of what people are thinking of your posts), and oughty (guilty but lazy anyhow). These words frequently describe my behavior in procrastinating writing for this blog, so I found the book extremely helpful.

fiveCoffee Gives Me Superpowers by Ryoko Iwata
I honestly don’t think you need me to talk this book up to you. Either you thrive on coffee like yours truly, or you never touch that dark, bitter liquid. The latter may skip this one, but if drinking your morning cuppa sprouts a metaphorical cape onto your back, you’re going to want to carve out the 30 minutes required for this book. Filled with facts and infographics, there is humor peppered throughout and those who read this book shall find a bonus comic in the back illustrated by Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal called If Coffee Were My Boyfriend.

No need to thank me, kids. I know we’re all rushed. Just be sure to credit me back when you publicly eschew beach reads for brief reads. And if you can confuse someone regarding the meaning of briefs (“Not underpants, silly!”) all the better.

My Journey Into Yoga

Enjoy a post today from Gloria:

I began my journey into yoga a few years ago. I was overweight and due to past injuries (broken leg, repeated ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and osteoarthritis) I wanted to get some exercise that wouldn’t pound on my joints. I wasn’t sure of the commitment I wanted to give this new fitness, so I took a class with my local school district to see if it would be a success or failure. I discovered that yoga isn’t about success, failure or competition, it is all about the journey.

Listed below are some yoga resources that you might find helpful if you head down the same path as me.

The City of Everett Parks department offers many local yoga classes. The upcoming summer classes are listed in the Everett Parks & Recreation Summer Guide on page 16.

The library has a lot of great books and DVDs for the entire family that cover many subjects relating to yoga.

yoga1

Healing Yoga: Proven Postures to Treat Twenty Common Ailments – From Backache to Bone Loss, Shoulder Pain to Bunions and More by Loren Fishman came up in my search as one of Everett Public Libraries most popular yoga books.

Everett has a naval base here in the city, and I thought the book Yoga for Warriors, Basic Training in Strength, Resilience and Peace of Mind: a System for Veterans and Military Service Men and Women by Beryl Bender Birch would be a book our local warriors might want to check out.

Blending Yoga and fiction is a fun and lighthearted way to integrate the practice with a fun story. EPL has the Downward Dog Mystery Series by Tracy Weber.

Here are two Yoga memoirs complete with descriptions from the catalog to give you an idea of what they are about:

Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen
yogagirlPart self-help and part memoir, Yoga Girl is an inspirational, full-color look at the adventure that took writer and yoga teacher Rachel Brathen from her hometown in Sweden to the jungles of Costa Rica and finally to a paradise island in the Caribbean that she now calls home. In Yoga Girl, she gives readers an in-depth look at her journey from her self-destructive teenage years to the bohemian life she’s built through yoga and meditation in Aruba today. Featuring photos of Brathen practicing yoga in tropical locales, along with step-by-step yoga sequences and simple recipes.

yogaandbodyimageYoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body by Melanie Klein & Anna Guest-Jelley
In this remarkable, first-of-its-kind book twenty-five contributors–including musician Alanis Morissette, celebrity yoga instructor Seane Corn, and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Sara Gottfried–discuss how yoga and body image intersect. Through inspiring personal stories you’ll discover how yoga not only affects your physical health, but also how you feel about your body.

There are many great Yoga DVDs available from the library. Here are three standouts:

yoga2

Yoga Journal. Your Daily Yoga 

Family Yoga

Yoga Journal. Living Yoga

My journey into yoga continues. I joined a gym and take regular Vinyasa (flow and breath) yoga. I even ventured into a Hot/ Bikram Yoga class where the first, very structured class was like being tortured in a sweaty sauna, and yes I went back for more. I continue to be interested in different classes and broadening my yogic horizons in mind, body and spirit.

Gloria

Where Were You? The Eruption of Mount St. Helens

It may be surprising to note that we’ve reached the 35th anniversary of the disastrous eruption of Mount St. Helens. On May 18, 1980, a beautiful Sunday morning was shattered by a 5.1 earthquake near Spirit Lake, starting a chain reaction that resulted in the explosion of the active volcano we have come to fear and respect. As stated on the USDA’s Mount St. Helens website:

The eruption lasted 9 hours, but Mount St. Helens and the surrounding landscape were dramatically changed within moments.

Everything I just told you is fact. And while I’d love to share some facts from my life surrounding this epic event, I was not yet born. Therefore I have pestered my colleagues into sharing their personal stories and memories of this momentous day.

rememberingmountsthelens

Mount St. Helens had been active for quite a while when I made a trip past it on the way to visit a friend in Washougal, WA. Near Longview, I dropped off a hitchhiker who said he intended to sneak into the red zone set up around the mountain. Two days later, back home in Bellingham on Sunday morning, a noise loud enough to cause waves in my water bed woke me up. My home was near enough to a railroad switching yard that I assumed it was connecting train cars that had jarred me out of sleep. Because I didn’t have a television, and didn’t listen to the radio that morning, it wasn’t until afternoon that I discovered that the noise that shook me out of bed was Mount St. Helens blowing up! I often wondered if that hitchhiker managed to sneak into the red zone and if so, did he make it out alive? After a hike in the North Cascades later in the year was cut short by ash fall, my hiking buddy gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t come to Washington, Washington will come to you. Mount St. Helens.” I had it on my car for years until someone pointed out that the lettering had faded so that all that remained was “Don’t come to Washington.”
Theresa

When Mount St. Helens erupted, I was in Victoria, B.C. with my high school marching band, getting ready to perform in the Victoria Days parade. I think we didn’t find out about the event until returning home, which was in Des Moines (WA, not IA). There wasn’t much evidence of the explosion in my neighborhood, but the following September I headed to Walla Walla for my first year of college, and ash was still quite prevalent in that area. And to bring things full circle, we put together a very small marching band for our soccer homecoming game, and the other trumpet player (to be silly) wore a surgical mask (which were recommended after the blow up) while marching.
Ron

It was a beautiful sunny spring day. My mother and I were in church at Saint Mary Magdalene’s. Because it was such a warm lovely day, the church doors were propped open. Suddenly there was a loud Ka-Boom! We thought it was probably a sonic boom.  When we returned home we discovered that Mount St. Helens had exploded. I don’t know why we didn’t think it was the volcano right away when we heard the explosion. The bulge in the mountain was on the news every night, as well as the many interviews with Harry Truman at Spirit Lake Lodge.
Fran

st.helensYou might think the explosion of a volcano would leave a large impression on a young man, but sadly the eruption of Mount St. Helens was just a news headline for me in 1980 as I prepared to enter junior high school in the wilds of Wisconsin. Bouncing around in my self-absorbed pre-adolescent mind were songs like “Cars” by Gary Numen or “Refugee” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with little room left for significant geological and national news events. Oddly though, I do remember a rather dreadful direct-to-cable movie that came out a year or two after the event titled, St. Helens. It was your classic, and cheesy, disaster movie starring Art Carney as Harry Randall Truman, the lodge owner who refused to leave despite ample warning that the mountain was going to blow.
Richard

I remember that it was a Sunday and my fiancée (now husband of almost 25 years) and I were headed into an opera at the Seattle Center. It was Wagner, I believe. We saw an ash plume when we emerged. What’s that? It took a while to find out since in those days we didn’t have a mobile phone, of course. We had to go home and wait for the 5 o’clock news to find out that a volcano had erupted.
Leslie

My memory of that day is similar to thousands of others…I was working in the backyard in my north Everett home, and my 5-month-old baby was napping in the house. Suddenly I heard what I thought was the loudest sonic boom I’d ever heard! (I just knew that’s what it was because I’d grown up in Eastern Washington, where we heard these things all the time.) It rattled the windows and really shook me up. I thought those military planes weren’t supposed to fly that low! Boy, was I stunned over the next few days; every time we turned on the TV we saw more our state being choked with ash – ash that eventually made its way around the world. It was so sad, mostly for cities to the northeast of the mountain, and for mountain resident Harry Truman, who’d been interviewed repeatedly since the mountain started rumbling, and who refused to leave his home.
Chris

It was a Sunday, middle of the afternoon and my mother was driving us kids back home to Colfax from Spokane. The sky got really dark, like it was going to storm…and boy did it rain down this silvery white ash like snow. Our car, a little Corvair, choked on all the ash in the air filter and broke down. Luckily, the high school principal was just a few cars back and gave us a ride back to town in his big Suburban. When we got home, we had students from WSU camped out in our living room because they couldn’t get back to school. We ended up with over a foot of ash…we cleared it off the roof and sidewalks with snow shovels. I was in eighth grade at the time and the spring quarter ended then, on that day…Yippee, early summer vacation! The town where I grew up was in the Palouse, famous for our wheat fields and other agricultural products. Everyone was worried what the ash would do to the crops; in the end, it didn’t hurt them, and may have even fertilized them some. I remember we all had to wear these ash masks when we went outside. At first they were afraid that the fallout might hurt us (possible radiation or contamination), but when it didn’t, they let us kids play in the muck just like we played in snow. It was scary at the time but fascinating to watch on television.
Gloria

The weekend Mount St. Helens erupted my best friend had come up from Longview to visit me in Seattle. She got a phone call from her parents telling her the mountain had erupted and she should come right home before the road was cut off.  All predictions were expecting the I-5 Bridge to go once the massive flow of debris on the Toutle River met the Cowlitz River.  I was immediately frightened for my Grandma; she lived in Kelso just five blocks from the Cowlitz River and her neighborhood was right at river level.  The quick action of evacuation efforts got them out of potential harm’s way.  I had a number of other friends and relatives in that area, and in the path of the heaviest ash fallout; thankfully the only harm suffered was to their vehicles. I had been on an outing to Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake just a few years before. I had a vivid memory of what it looked like before the eruption, making it even more amazing to compare to the devastating images I was seeing on TV.
Anita

We were planning to go on a hike to the ice caves. It was before I was married to my now-husband Rob. We also were planning to go with two friends of ours. Rob called and asked if I had heard that Mount St. Helens had blown up (I didn’t have a TV, but it was on the radio). It didn’t seem real at the time. I know that sounds clichéd but at the time it seemed like the news media was exaggerating everything. That couldn’t be really happening, could it? So we decided that it wasn’t a good idea to go hiking that day, but we still went outside anyway—3 of us ended up over at my apartment. They weren’t saying right away that people should stay inside. Later that evening, it seemed, they were warning people to avoid going out in the ash. Anyway, we still went outside to investigate. You could see it in the sky that afternoon and for days afterward you had to go around wiping ash off of every surface. You could see it everywhere.
Kathy

Almost every summer, my father taught a summer session at UW on volcanoes and we traveled up from Colorado. Part of our summer trip up here was a stay near Mount St. Helens at Spirit Lake. It was a favorite childhood place of mine, and we continued to travel there as a family throughout my college years. I had been following the Mount St. Helens rumblings on TV. We were living in Panama and I was following this on CNN because of my childhood memories of going there. I was fascinated, glued to CNN and very upset whenever the armed forces TV service would cut away to something else. When I found out it blew up I learned it had forever changed Spirit Lake. My mother had said it was the most beautiful, perfect volcano in the world. It was all very, very sad.
Pat B.

I was a young wife and new mother living in the town of Carnation. I had just given birth to our eldest child Carla, born April 20th 1980. The thought that the world was coming to an end crossed my mind fueled by an excess of postpartum hormones. I don’t even think we had TV at the time nor did I need one to see the monumental plume. I was able to step out into our yard and see the ash dust. I would later be given a small vile of the dust that I held onto for years. We hope to visit Mount St. Helens this summer and see how life has returned in the aftermath.
Margo

I was only 3 at the time, but my mom said she went outside. We didn’t get a whole ton of ash on the ground at first, but she said it was really dark out. She said it seemed like the beginning of a snowfall, and that it was so freaky to see the sky that way. It was in the middle of a nice day and then the sky just got dark so very suddenly. She was always on the move so she didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. So it came as a shock to see it happening in the middle of her day. She wasn’t scared, but was confused and wanted to see what was going on.
Jennifer H.

I honestly don’t remember the Mount St. Helens eruption. I just remember that massive tire fire that started a few years later. I went to North Middle and we couldn’t go to school after the tire fire since the ventilation system at the school sucked in all the fumes.
Kevin

Game Over, Man

I’ve always been a bit of a history geek. Well, okay, pretty much a full-blown history geek. My second major in college was history, not because I planned it that way, but because almost all the elective courses I took for fun were in the History department. Come my senior year, I found that all those credits actually added up to a second degree. Lest you think I was a practical youth, my ‘major’ major netted me an equally bankable English degree. Hey, at least it wasn’t in philosophy or basket weaving…

While I will give almost any history book a try, one of my favorite types features the ‘they’re all doomed’ scenario. These are the stories of expeditions, explorers, military campaigners, or just ordinary citizens who come face to face with imminent destruction. The historical reason for their demise varies, but there are often few, or no, survivors. While gruesome, this sense of doom adds a layer of mystery to the historical tale. The fewer witnesses, the harder it is to piece together just what happened and historians are forced to speculate. Listed below are a few historical events worth revisiting to find historians’ new takes on ill-fated individuals.

Trouble on the Bay of Naples

frompompeiiMy interest in the fate of the ancient city of Pompeii was recently reignited (ha-ha!) by an exhibit at the Pacific Science Center titled Pompeii: The Exhibition. What actually destroyed Pompeii is hardly a mystery; the smoldering nearby Mt. Vesuvius and lots and lots of ash provide the obvious answer. What is intriguing is trying to piece together how the people of Pompeii lived and died by sifting through the ample evidence. There are many great books that try to do just that and the library has a great collection of them. Recently, though, I came across a title that has jumped to the top of my ‘must read’ list: From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town.  This book is a history of the archeological site after its discovery and the way it has influenced visitors for centuries. A varied number of interesting people were influenced by the site including Mozart, Dickens, Twain, Renoir, Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan, Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman.

A Bad, or Good Depending on Your Perspective, Day at the Little Bighorn

laststandAs with Pompeii, the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry by a combined force of the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho nations in June of 1876 has a long paper trail with many books written about the event.  What exactly happened to Custer and the troops he personally lead on that day (other than the obvious: they died) is a source of endless speculation. Having been influenced early on by Evan Connell’s book Son of the Morning Star and the film Little Big Man I must admit that I have a rather dim view of Custer, but that doesn’t stop my curiosity for trying to find out the particulars of his fate. While not the newest, the last book I read on the topic was The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn by Nathaniel Philbrick. The work does cover the final battle in gripping detail, but it is far from a simple military history. Instead, Philbrick, fleshes out the characters and careers of all the participants. This gives the events much more significance and breathes new life into a tale that has been told many times.

The Frozen North (or South)

inthekingdomoficeWhile being a fan of all doomed exploratory expeditions (yeah I’m weird) I’ve always been particularly fond of attempts made in frozen conditions. In addition to the bleak landscape and the incredible endurance of the explorers to admire, there is an absurdity to these expeditions that I find irresistible. Risking your life to find an arbitrary concept like a pole or the Northwest Passage is pretty amazing/borderline insane when you think about it. Whether you go north or south there are plenty of books about these ice encrusted missions here at the library. A recent standout for me was In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S. Jeannette by Hampton Sides. This book is the story of an 1879 expedition to reach the North Pole led by U.S. naval officer George DeLong. Based on a faulty assumption, the odd notion that there was an open ocean surrounding the North Pole, the expedition quickly got locked into the pack ice. As you can imagine, things didn’t go well from there. The author creates a gripping narrative full of struggle and sacrifice with a predictably dire outcome for many of the participants.

So, if there is a little history geek in you as well, check out a few of these historical stories of the doomed. Now all I need to make my life complete is a film version of The Last Stand staring Bill Paxton.