Sarah’s Selections

sarahlanguageartsInterested in a great novel or inspiration for finally building your home away from home? If so, check out Sarah’s latest reading adventures. For more of Sarah’s reviews, and lots of other great stuff, head over to our Facebook page.

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos

Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody. They are in the process of converting an older home into a private group home for Cody and some of his fellow classmates. Charles devotes much of his spare time writing letters to his younger daughter, Emmy, who’s away at college, and reminiscing about his own childhood. In Charles’ youth, he befriended a boy, Dana McGucken, who’s mysterious behavior was unnamed at the time, but now would be recognized on the autistic spectrum. Charles remembers how unhappy his parents were in their marriage, and recounts his relationship with his 4th grade Language Arts teacher, a woman who emphasized the Palmer method of penmanship. Charles makes revelations between his relationship with Dana, and the strained relationship he now has with his son. Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together. Kallos doesn’t publish very often, but I’m always happy when she does. She’s a talented storyteller, and her conviction for her characters is strong.

cabinpornCabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere
by Zachery Klein

Cabin Porn began as an online collection of photos to inspire a group of friends embarking on homebuilding. Readers around the world submitted shots of various structures to get ideas and brainstorm. The snapshots are mainly of exteriors, and many are tucked away in nature’s nooks and crannies. Some of the more oddball structures include a renovated grain silo, and an underground bunker built into a hillside. Rustic charm is illustrated throughout, and if you’re looking for inspiration for solitude this is it. It’s time to start saving up the cabin fund.

rocktheshackRock the Shack: Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-outs: The Architecture of Cabins, Cocoons and Hide-Outs
by Sven Ehmann

Tired of city living? Are your neighbors driving you crazy? This collection of architectural gems will inspire you to get away from it all. Structures range from simple huts and teahouses to glamorous cabins with modern lines. Many of the submissions are from Europe and Japan, and the architectural designs will inspire you to downsize and escape. These quirky and unique dwellings showcase the human desire to create a sense of home.

Modern Cat Lady: 2015 Edition

Modern Cat Lady 2015

Adorable cat top by ModCloth.

Last year I wrote a little piece about the struggles of the modern cat lady, and how we should totally embrace the stereotype and wear our fur-dotted-clothes with pride. There was a much larger positive response than I’m used to here on A Reading Life, so I thought this year I would bring it back. A lot has happened in the world of cats and cat ladies, and I can’t wait to share with you all the new stuff you may have missed this year.

You Need More Sleep: Advice from Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
Okay, you’ve gotta love adorable photographs of cats or you wouldn’t be reading this right now. This humorous quick read is packed with cute feline faces and advice that will probably get you fired, dumped, or even arrested. My favorite nugget of wisdom has got to be from page 92. Just because others can’t see it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase it:

Love. Friendship. Success. Ghost mice. If you can picture it in your head then you should pursue it with all your might, sometimes at speeds achieving sonic booms. Sure, others may exclaim, “There’s nothing there!” or, “How many times can you run into a wall and still remember your name?” But no one ever achieved anything by waiting…unless it’s to stare up close at a blank wall. Because when that wall finally does do something, oh, man, it’s so gonna be worth those three days you sat still without blinking.

Cats Galore: a Compendium of Cultured Cats by Susan Herbert
Have you ever visited an art museum or gallery, stood still pondering the beauty before you, and wondered to yourself, ‘Yeah, but what would this look like if cats stood in for all the people?’ Well, wonder no more! The posthumous publication of this compilation of Susan Herbert’s artistic genius is not-to-be-missed by the modern cat lady. Whether it’s opera (Aida), film (Singin’ in the Rain), or art (Mona Lisa), nothing is safe from Herbert’s interpretations.

Shake Cats by Carli Davidson
Speaking of art, I’ve always thought of photography as one of the more difficult artistic mediums, mainly because there are so many varying factors that are outside the artist’s control. Lighting, weather, and most of all, the subject’s temperament can change drastically from one instant to the next. I think that’s why I love Shake Cats so much. Sure, the concept is simple: get some cats wet and photograph the resulting magic. But as any modern cat lady worth her catnip knows, cats generally hate water and will instantly let you know their displeasure. Davidson captures the magic in the split second before the claws come out, and thus the best coffee table book of them all was born.

Modern Cat Lady 2015 part 2

97 Ways to Make a Cat Like You by Carol Kaufmann
Modern cat ladies like yourself may not be inclined to look twice at this book on the shelf, but I’m here to sell it to you in a different light. You have at least one friend, significant other, or child in your life who could totally use this book. Packed with actual proven behavior-based tips, someone in your life will thank you for this book. You’ll make your ‘fraidy-cat pal comfortable and happy in your home and subsequently send good vibes to your kitties. What could be better than that sort of harmony?

Catster Magazine
Formerly Cat Fancy, Catster puts a modern cat lady spin on a classic periodical. I will confess I was never much for Cat Fancy, mostly because the title totally turned me off. Now that it has been re-dubbed something modern and catchy, I’m more likely to be seen out and about with it (see photo above for proof of my approval).

The Maine Coon’s Haiku: and Other Poems for Cat Lovers by Michael J. Rosen
Set the youth in your life on the right path to modern cat ladyhood and give them this book of haikus appropriate for kids and the young-at-heart. Whether it’s singing the praises of the Manx or extolling the virtues of the American Shorthair, there’s plenty of poetry to make your heart fuzzy. Young readers and those still considered novice cat ladies will appreciate the glossary of cat breeds tucked into the back of the book.

Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home by Jackson Galaxy
And finally I want to tell you about this forthcoming book from my new best friend, Jackson Galaxy. Last year I said I had no idea who he was, and it was true. But after reading his book Catification, I realized this was a modern cat fella after my own heart. I haven’t had a chance to see this one yet, as it doesn’t come out until Tuesday, but getting to hear about a book before it’s even delivered to the cataloging department is a rare thing to share with someone. And you modern cat ladies are definitely worthy of this hot tip.

So that wraps up this year’s modern cat lady highlights. As for me, I still have three adorably insane cats at home and I’ve started getting interested in wearing cat-themed fashions, like the top in the photo above. I’m here to tell you that declaring yourself as a modern cat lady and wearing that badge with pride is a freeing and fulfilling thing. It also has a side effect of outing other cat ladies who aren’t yet ready to step into the tantalizing beam of sunshine where our cats like to nap.

Meow, what were your favorites of 2015?

Heartwood Favorites – 14 from ’14

Below you’ll find the list of books published this year that I most enjoyed.

Heartwood readers know that my main reading interest is older international literary fiction, but I also read new releases, as well as some non-fiction and poetry. Additionally, the old and the new come together when foreign books that were published years ago finally get their first (or a new) English translation.

What I most admire about the books below is what makes them so difficult to write about – their dexterous and creative way with words; their narrative idiosyncrasies, interiority, and perspicacity; the frequent interweaving of other cultural material (especially literature and art); a sense of place uniquely realized and expressed. These books offer fascinating, richly satisfying pleasures to the reader, but consternation to the list-maker who wishes to convey the essence of these reading experiences.

So rather than write my own capsule summaries, I’m simply listing the titles. But you can read summaries or brief reviews in the library catalog by clicking on the titles. For most of the books I’ve also linked to longer reviews from a variety of sources, and for two of them I’ve linked to reviews I did manage to write earlier this year.

I liked most everything I read that was published this year – a rare and happy situation –but these were the cream of the crop. If you like good writing I think you’ll find something here to enjoy.


by Robert Thomas
BOA Editions   156 pgs.
read more: Bookslut, Kirkus, author website


Hotel AndromedaHotel Andromeda
by Gabriel Josipovici
Carcanet   139 pgs.
Heartwood review



HarlequinsHarlequin’s Millions   (orig. pub. 1981)
by Bohumil Hrabal
trans. Stacey Knecht
Archipelago Books   312 pgs.
read more: Tweed’s, WaPo, Words without Borders
see also: Heartwood on Hrabal’s I Served the King of England

Pushkin HillsPushkin Hills   (orig. pub. 1983)
by Sergei Dovlatov
trans. Katherine Dovlatov
Counterpoint Press   161 pgs.
Heartwood review


ProfessorThe Professor and the Siren   (orig. pub. 1986)
by Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
trans. Stephen Twilley
New York Review Books   69 pgs.
read more: Complete ReviewParis Review
see also: Heartwood review of Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard

ConversationsConversations   (orig. pub. 2007)
by César Aira
trans. Katherine Silver
New Directions   88 pgs.
read more: Three Percent, Entropy, Public Books


Unnecessary WomanAn Unnecessary Woman
by Rabih Alameddine
Grove Press   291 pgs.
read more: LA TimesBoston Globe, WaPo, SFGate 



Unclassifiable Comic Book / Fiction / Non-Fiction Hybrid

FantomasFantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires   (orig. pub. 1975)
by Julio Cortázar
trans. David Kurnick
Semiotext(e)   87 pgs.
read more: Complete Review, MIT Press, Three Percent
see also: Heartwood review of Cortázar’s Hopscotch



Place in the CountryA Place in the Country: On Gottfried Keller, Johann Peter Hebel, Robert Walser, and Others   (orig. pub. 1998)
by W.G. Sebald
trans. Jo Catling
Random House   208 pgs.
read more: NY Times, The Spectator, LA Review of Books, Slate             

Collection of SandCollection of Sand   (orig. pub. 1984)
by Italo Calvino
trans. Martin McLaughlin
Mariner Books   209 pgs.
read more: The Guardian, The Independent, Bookanista 


by Valeria Luiselli
trans. Christina MacSweeney
Coffee House Press   110 pgs.
read more: Asymptote, LA Review of Books, Music & Literature


Geek SublimeGeek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
by Vikram Chandra
Graywolf Press   236 pgs.
read more: NY Times, New Republic, Complete Review




by Charles Wright
Farrar, Strauss, Giroux   82 pgs.
read more: World Literature Today, NPR, TweetSpeak



Moon Before MorningThe Moon Before Morning
by W.S. Merwin
Copper Canyon Press   121 pgs.
read more: The Rumpus, Poets@Work, The Wichita Eagle



Heartwood | About Heartwood

Mr. Peabody’s Corner of Research and Revelation: Art

In An Object of Beauty, author Steve Martin introduces readers to the rarified world of art dealers and art collectors. As a person who is more likely to collect fez-wearing chimps than fine art, I am not overly conversant with art galleries, auction houses or the quirks of rich collectors. Here we find Lacey, a young woman who will use any means to get what she wants, working in the lower echelons at Sotheby’s. As she rises through the ranks we learn about a variety of artists and styles as well as the behind-the-scenes operations of art auctions. Lacey is not a likeable character, but her careless attitude towards others is more self-centered than malicious. Eventually opening her own gallery, Lacey begins to focus on living artists, and thus Martin introduces the many unusual faces of contemporary art.

The story is narrated by an acquaintance of Lacey’s and he presents her adventures as a cautionary tale. We learn that morally questionable business practices can stall a career (when the perp is caught), that the art world is at the mercy of international economics, and that major events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks impact business and economics.

Martin’s writing style is delicate and genteel and the narrator creates just the right degree of tension to make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next.

As a result of my narrow focus on fez/chimp related art, many questions arose as I read Martin’s novel. Here are a few of those questions along with some Everett Public Library holdings that might offer answers.

 1)      What goes on in the lives of art dealers?

2)      Martin paints art collectors as a rather idiosyncratic bunch. How much truth is there in this portrayal?

3)      Collectors might see something in a piece of art that I cannot see. How do I learn to better appreciate art?

4)      After primarily selling works of dead European artists, Lacey becomes interested in living American artists. What are some of the trends and techniques in American art and who are the artists who have been successful?

5)      “What is art?” is an all-encompassing philosophical quandary. A simpler version of this question is, “Why is modern art considered to be art?” Paint splatters, found objects and installations where the viewer is part of the artwork have become commonplace means of expression. How can one appreciate such unconventional works?

Gotta go, so much more to learn!


Other People’s Homes

What do you think of when the word “home” is mentioned? There are those who still live in their childhood homes filled with memories; there are those who wander this earth looking for a place to set down roots; and there are those who  only want to sell a house after remodeling and redecorating.

Then, there are a handful of individuals who become caretakers of grand, historical homes only for as long as they live; for after they die their oldest male heir will likely inherit their estate. In Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, the Countess of Carnarvon tells the story of Highclere Castle and its surrounds.

People have been living at Highclere for thousands of years as demonstrated by the Iron Age hill fort on the property. The land was owned by the bishops of Winchester for hundreds of years before being awarded, in the late seventeenth century, to the Herbert family, Earls of Pembroke and ancestors of the Earls of Carnarvon. Because of the expense of maintaining palatial properties such as Highclere, male heirs were often encouraged to marry into money so that these properties could be preserved and their splendor sustained. This fascinating book covers the estate and its inhabitants from the late Victorian era to the mid 1920’s.

Sometimes, no matter how much you love your home and what it represents, it cannot be saved. In The House I Loved, Rose Bazelet is determined to stay in the only home she’s really known, a home she has lived in her entire married life. It is the 1860’s and Emperor Napoleon III has given orders to modernize Paris by widening the city’s streets, obliterating entire neighborhoods, included Rose’s. One by one her neighbors move out but Rose is determined to stay. She passes her days and nights writing letters to her dead husband and recalling their past together. Her two closest friends try to encourage her to relocate but she resists them, for how can she leave the place where all her memories reside.

Sometimes there are homes that seem to be charmed. In The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, Heidi, although mourning her husband’s untimely death, travels, along with her young son and sixteen year old niece, to a small village in the south of France. There has been a fire in the ancestral family home and Heidi’s mother has asked Heidi to determine the extent of the damage and stay while repairs are finished. While there, Heidi is drawn into the secrets and magic that pervade this home and, in time, will bring joy and hope back into her life.

There are also homes that seen to beckon us through generations and from distant lands. Going home to Lebanon, Anthony Shadid is determined to rebuild his great-grandfather’s home in House of Stone. His family had fled war-torn Lebanon to build a new life in Oklahoma City where he was raised. The call of family history was too strong, however, and so he returned to his ancestral home determined to bring it back to life again. This wonderful account of restoring a home is interspersed with memorable characters, myths, family histories and traditions, and explanations of the rich culture that exists in his chosen homeland. This superb book is made more poignant by the fact that Anthony Shadid passed away earlier this year.

Finally, if you’re interested in how homes have evolved over the years you should read If Walls Could Talk. This fascinating history covers everything we take for granted in our modern homes: from bedrooms, where sleeping in a private bed is a somewhat recent event, through the even more recent custom of bathrooms, and the modernization of the kitchens of today. This interesting and informative volume is filled with trivia of the everyday running of the home, past and present.

So, pull out a chair (keeping in mind that in a medieval house only the lord or owner was allowed to sit down), relax and be thankful that we live in the here and now and can take the time to enjoy reading about other people’s homes.


Up From the Depths

Photo: Merrill Gosho, NOAA

Spring is slowly, very slowly this year it seems, lurching into view. It is time again to tend to the garden, clean out the house and, for some, wear a pair of shorts and a tee shirt way too soon. If you cast your eye out to Puget Sound, however, you might just be witness to another rite of spring: the return of the leviathans.

The leviathans in question happen to be gray whales. They are now making their way into Puget Sound during their northerly migration back to their arctic feeding grounds. While sightings are somewhat rare, they have been known to come in close to shore while feeding. Sometimes a little too close…

Now there are many, many books on whales at the library. Let me point out a few recent titles that are intriguing, unconventional and products of authors who are obsessed, perhaps at times a little unhealthily, with their subject.

The Whale: In Search of Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare is a good place to start. The author, who usually writes biographies, has been fascinated by whales since childhood. This book is an entertaining journey that blends whale science, the history of whaling, literature and the author’s own experiences to try to find out why humans have been fascinated by whales for centuries.

D. Graham Burnett’s The Sounding of the Whale is another product of obsession but this time with an academic bent. Based on nearly a decade of research, this work chronicles the complicated and often disturbing relationship between humans and whales in the 20th century. While well documented, this is no dry read, and the author’s entertaining and lively prose comes across on every page.

One just needs to read the title of Richard Ellis’ latest book, The Great Sperm Whale: A Natural History of the Ocean’s Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creature, to know that the author is devoted to his subject. And what a subject it is. Ellis lovingly describes the sperm whale in all its scientific, cultural, literary and historical glory and includes many fascinating illustrations.

Lurking at the back of all three of these books is an appropriately obsessional interest in that most famous of fictitious white whales: Moby-Dick. All three authors list Herman Melville’s tale as the inspiration for their fascination with the world of whales.

Due to its length and exhaustive nautical references, Moby-Dick is sometimes considered a hard sell. If you are among the doubters, you might want to check out the appropriately titled Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. This thin volume is an entertaining plea for the books continued relevance by an unabashed fan. He is also a bestselling author who knows a thing or two about good books.

But I think the prize for greatest whale-related obsession has to go to Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish. The Ohio artist created an image a day for 18 months to coincide with the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Moby-Dick. Each image is accompanied by a quote from the page and the artwork is quirkily low tech with old book pages and other miscellanea being incorporated. Ahab would approve of this artist’s obsessive fascination.

So no matter what your level of commitment, consider checking out a whale-related book in honor of the return of the gray whales to Puget Sound.