Imagine a Blogger’s Holiday

books for bloggers‘Tis the season for giving, and as you may have seen here on A Reading Life, we love the idea of giving friends and family books, books, and more books for the holidays. Leslie wrote about book-gifting traditions in her family, and we bombarded you with our staff members’ favorite books, music, and movies of 2015.

I’m here today to offer a different perspective. I’d like you to close your eyes (well, after you read this part first!) and imagine a holiday made especially for bloggers, specifically those here on A Reading Life. Do you hear each blogger’s distinctive voice? The types of books or music they usually enjoy? Okay, somehow you need to know to open your eyes now, even if you’re not reading this because I told you to close your eyes and you’re obviously an excellent listener. Are you back? Great! I’ve been thinking a lot about my fellow bloggers and have decided to share with you and with them the books I would give them if I had a pile of cash at the ready. The good news is that all of these books are available at the library, and I happen to know they all frequent it.

Heartwood
Heartwood, you post about books that may have skipped our radar the first go-round and new translations of epic reads. You have a firm grasp of worldwide literary fiction, but I have something more localized in mind. I offer you Writing America: Literary Landmarks from Walden Pond to Wounded Knee by Shelley Fisher Fishkin. This book straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction–those good ole 800s. It takes the reader on a journey throughout the lower 48 and offers deep insight into the places that birthed America’s greatest words, from The Paul Laurence Dunbar House in Dayton, Ohio to Angel Island in San Francisco. There’s even a chapter featuring the 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library, where the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture resides. You will love this book about books featuring a library!

Jennifer
Girl, you read all the books I am too afraid to even pick up, let alone read! But I finally found something we can both agree on: Charles Bukowski on Cats edited by Abel Debritto. Sure, there’s a black cat on the cover, its back arched and ready to pounce. But what else could this book shelved in the poetry section have to offer? I’ll tell you: filthy, hilarious poems about cats and their undermining ways, and excerpts of prose that tell you just what is going on in those feline minds. At 3 am. In the alley below. Nonstop. There are also some very heavy words, but I know you’re good for it.

Leslie
If there’s one thing I learned early on in my career it’s this: never recommend a picture book to a children’s librarian. Either they’ve already read it and loved it, or they’ve already read it and hated it. This goes doubly true for you, the librarian who buys those picture books for the library! But I’m going out on a limb here to bring you How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel by Wendy Meddour and illustrated by Rebecca Ashdown. The message is solid: you don’t need a man to get things done for you. But it’s delivered in a way that is compelling for storytelling purposes. The text is conversational, and the illustrations are humorous and action-packed. If you can’t use it for preschool storytime, you could totally read it with your granddaughters at home!

Linda
You write these amazing Did You Know? posts for the blog, and I always learn something new! But you also run the successful and fun Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch, so this book speaks to those creative fiber urges I know you have. Knitless: 50 No-Knit, Stash-Busting Yarn Projects by Laura McFadden has a plethora of ideas for you to use up those remnants I know every crafty lady has. There’s a huge range of project difficulty, as well as different uses–wearables, home goods, gifts, and more. No matter what color or type of yarn you have leftover from a project, there’s something in here that will speak to you!

Lisa
Although you’ve been focused on blogging about music this year, I know you have an adventurous palate and love to cook. I confess I couldn’t pick just one book for you, so you are getting two! My Life on a Plate: Recipes from Around the World by Kelis marries a little bit of musical memoir with recipes and an obvious talent for cooking. I had no idea that Kelis became a chef via Le Cordon Bleu, but paging through this cookbook made it obvious that girl is talented no matter what she does. And if you want to get a little more focused in your culinary adventures, Fermented by Charlotte Pike is just what you need. It covers kimchi, yogurt, labneh, miso soup, and more. You can also learn to make drinks like mead, kombucha, and lassi, though I know you will still prefer Priscilla’s lassi the best!

Margo
Not only have you founded and successfully run the overwhelmingly awesome Southside Book Club, but you also have a love of food and cooking. Therefore I give to you the gift of Simply Scratch: 120 Wholesome Homemade Recipes Made Easy by Laurie McNamara. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Laurie’s blog, but the Simply Scratch book follows in the footsteps of the Simply Scratch blog. Laurie doesn’t take premade shortcuts, preferring instead whole food options I know you’ll appreciate. I think you’ll find a lot to love about Simply Scratch, and maybe even find a recipe to bring to the next Southside Book Club meeting in February.

Richard
Science is your thing, and it’s definitely an area where you know more than I do! However, I know you really liked 2014’s What If?, so I now give to you Randall Munroe’s newest tome of amazingness, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Munroe is a genius, this we know. He proves it yet again with this book, where he uses only the “ten hundred most common words” to explain very complicated processes. Everything from toilets to car engines, microwaves to space exploration. Of course Mr. xkcd illustrates throughout, so we get simple words and basic pictures to help us along. This book is also ginormously tall, so it can be used for other things besides reading: flattening posters, shooing the dog off the couch, or knocking something off a tall shelf.

Ron
Like Lisa, this year you dedicated a lot of blogging to music. I’m really happy you both do this, as I am no good at explaining what music sounds like and why it would appeal to anyone other than me! You’re also into some out-there fiction, a lot of it touching on Science Fiction. Therefore you get Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Down below I’m going to post a quote from the dust jacket and you’re going to see why I might think this would appeal to the guy who can dig into Science Fiction and loves seeing an absurd plot travel along at light speed.

From the disturbed imagination of New York Times bestselling author David Wong, and all-new darkly hilarious adventure. Nightmarish villains with superhuman enhancements. An all-seeing social network that tracks your every move. Mysterious, smooth-talking power players who lurk behind the scenes. A young woman from the trailer park. And her very smelly cat. Together, they will decide the future of mankind.

In case that doesn’t hook you, on the back cover there’s also a life-size photograph of a cyborg hand (I assume–it has metal joints sticking through the skin) flipping you the bird. And did I mention the sidekick slash familiar c-a-t? You need this book in your life!

Just in case Santa is reading this, here are some books I wouldn’t mind finding under the tree:

carol wants

Nerdy Nummies: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino
I am a nerd! I am a geek! And I love to make and eat sugary treats! Rosanna is behind the incredibly popular web series Nerdy Nummies and all of her talents translate perfectly into this book. The book starts off with teaching you the basic building blocks for the recipes that follow. And OMG, the things I could make with this book! D20 cookies! Motherboard cake! Mana and health potions! Can we just call this the gift that keeps on giving? Because it totally will be.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I am awed and inspired by this woman, and this book goes deep into her life while still being entertaining. The Tumblr of the same name is simply incredible, but if I had this book on my shelf I could get my RBG fix even when the power is out and I’m forced to read by candlelight.

Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy by Vesa Lehtimäki
I love LEGOs. I love Star Wars. And I love a great mash-up! Vesa originally created this book as a birthday gift to his son. Using the snowy scenes inspired both by his native Finland and the planet Hoth, Vesa composed photographs that became a sort of retelling of the space saga I love. Not only are the photos incredibly detailed and fun to look at, but I could get some serious macro photography inspiration, too.

So there you have it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bucket of money to buy you bloggers these incredible books, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Happy holidays!

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.

Fiction

BridgeBridge
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

 

Non-Fiction

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 

 

SidewalksSidewalks
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

 

 

Poetry

CaribouCaribou
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

Is Poetry Literature?

Is poetry literature? Should one consider written verse, poems or prose, to be classified as literature? For someone not really big into labels, I am going to give the tie to the runner in this case so that I can cross off yet another of my self-imposed reading resolutions:

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

So, why poetry? Poems are, in a word, transcendent. Badly written verse can make even the most pleasant person go a little mad. But well-written poems can take the reader on a journey into a corner of their soul they haven’t yet seen before.

Pretty crazy, right? Well, not really. Take my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. What makes her my favorite is partly due to the fact that my mom gave me a book of Dickinson verse when I was a teenager. Once I actually started reading Dickinson, however, I did feel a bit transformed. As Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said,

In many cases these verses will seem to the reader like poetry torn up by the roots…flashes of wholly original and profound insight into nature and life.

Who doesn’t crave a little insight? That’s the thing about Dickinson: it’s like she knew me, what was going on inside of me, things I didn’t even know how to express myself. As a teenager, this was my favorite poem:

My friend must be a bird,
Because it flies!
Mortal my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a bee.
Ah, curious friend,
Thou puzzlest me!

What teenager has a favorite poem? Apparently, this girl! My love for poetry waned over the years, but I always come back to Dickinson. In January the library acquired The Gorgeous Nothings. The book contains actual scans of Dickinson’s handwriting on the backs of envelopes. This is truly an exciting look at this poet’s process:

Envelope

AnotherEnvelope

These scans really don’t do the book justice. Check it out and behold the genius that was Emily Dickinson’s reclusive scribblings. Hold in your hand a tome of untold wonders. Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Carol

Heartwood 3:3 – Apophenia in Blue

speedboat  Bluets  Game of Boxes

apophenia the perception of connections, patterns or meaningfulness in unrelated things.

As regular readers of Heartwood know (that’s right, all five of you), I am frequently stunned that whatever I happen to be reading seems to connect in surprising ways with other things I’ve read or recently lived through. I find this one of reading’s greatest pleasures.

A couple of years ago I was reading a book that briefly discussed Renata Adler’s Speedboat in glowing terms, especially appreciative of: its collage structure; its quick changes in subject; the aphorisms and miniature stories; the interweaving of ideas, emotions and experiences; and its thematic recurrences or reiterations. This made me think of another book I’d recently read and loved called Bluets, by Maggie Nelson – though clearly nothing in the above description would make one think that Speedboat would have anything to say about the color blue.

Anyway, when my interlibrary loan request for Speedboat came in (it’s recently been reprinted and is now in the EPL collection), I was pleased to find it did indeed share something of the structure and qualities I’d seen in Nelson’s book. Nevertheless, I was completely unprepared for this passage late in Speedboat, which looks like it could be an emblematic entry from Bluets:

We spoke of the quality of the blue in the stained-glass windows of Chartres, which modern science had not been able to reproduce, as though the medieval craftsman who had produced it were a colleague. He had, we knew, billed his diocese for the purchase of sapphires ground up to create that color. Modern science had, at least, established that sapphires played no part in its composition at all. It was our first, most scholarly appreciation of the padded expense account.

Adler’s Speedboat crosses continents in passages that relate the life and observations of a woman who works as a reporter. Nelson’s Bluets takes an obsessive interest in the color blue, which she pursues through philosophy, art, personal experience, and other channels of research. Nelson breaks up these passages with others in which the narrator grieves a broken relationship and assists a friend who has become quadriplegic. Here’s a sample entry from Bluets that also touches on stained glass:

For Plato, color was as dangerous a narcotic as poetry. He wanted both out of the republic. He called painters “mixers and grinders of multi-colored drugs,” and color itself a form of pharmakon. The religious zealots of the Reformation felt similarly: they smashed the stained-glass windows of churches, thinking them idolatrous, degenerate. For distinct reasons, which had to do with the fight to keep the cheap, slave-labor crop of indigo out of a Western market long dominated by woad, the blue-dye-producing plant native to Europe, indigo blue was called “the devil’s dye.” And before blue became a “holy” color – which had to do with the advent of ultramarine in the twelfth century, and its subsequent use in stained glass and religious paintings – it often symbolized the Antichrist.

OK, now for round three. Last week I was reading Catherine Barnett’s smart and sensual collection of poems, The Game of Boxes, and came upon “Which System Is Most Miraculous?” It opens with the poet discussing the subject of the poem’s title, presumably with her partner who has since left her. Some of the miraculous systems they identify are language, vision, conception, and birth. Among the things she doesn’t name, but suggests, are time, love, and – if I can read into it a bit – the significations we attach to important life events, such as in the giving of wedding gifts. But as our lives progress and/or change direction, these systems can also change, break down, become ambivalent, deteriorate – which leads her to question whether she should outgrow her attachments. When faced with it, however, it’s not so easy. She informs us that “A blue glass broke but I can’t throw it away. / There’s room for it on the shelf. / Or there’s no room.” Even though the glass has been destroyed, she notes the absurdity of feeling unable to part with it.

The poem ends in lines that are as awestruck by this particular blue as Maggie Nelson is by the various blues throughout Bluets. Where the interpersonal bond has proven fragile, and where even the power of language has its limits, the immediacy and intangibility of this blue stays vibrant, persists, almost succeeds in holding together what’s been broken:

Words still fortify me but the blue is better,
brighter, almost as bright as when it was first
removed from its tissue and passed
from hand to hand.

*          *          *

I love that Barnett’s poem and the passage in Adler cited above happen to unite with Nelson’s Bluets in these unique, though somehow stylistically similar and excellent books. Yet, astonished and pleased as I am by this, another of Adler’s observations causes me, at least momentarily, to check my enthusiasm:

when invention failed them, they used the fail-safe method for undergraduate work at any solid institution: take two utterly unrelated things or matters and show that they are, if not in fact identical, actually related in the most profound and subtle sense.

Our Poetry Month Competition winner is…

Read it and EatSue Tracy! Congratulations to Sue for her winning limerick:

This is an old book I adore,
A jolly good read to the core,
I laugh and I cry,
I gasp and I sigh,
But my book club thinks it’s a bore!

We’ve all felt your pain on this one! Of course the Everett Public Library can help you avoid the gentle snoring of your book club with some suggestions and ready-made book group sets that can be borrowed.

The Kids' Book Club BookKeep your eyes peeled for Sue’s poem on our Facebook page, as well as our electronic reader board outside the Main Library. Thank you for all your wonderful entries; it was a lot of fun getting to read them. Hopefully you enjoyed our Poetry Month celebration and discovered some new favorites through our weekly staff picks, Facebook posts about poetry resources, and more. We look forward to celebrating Poetry Month with you again in 2014 with new features and competitions.

Poetry Friday – Atmospherics

NPM_LOGOWelcome to our fourth and final Poetry Friday. Every Friday of this month, in honor of National Poetry Month, a staff member has chosen a poem that is a particular favorite. This week we present selections from Lisa.

Atmospherics

There is a thin line between the poetry I am drawn to, and the prose that I love to read. More than a clever rhyming scheme, I appreciate pieces that can draw a vivid picture in my mind. In honor of Spring, I decided to select a couple pieces that invoke the strange and beautiful weather that we are often treated to at this time of year.

My first selection comes from Carl Sandburg, a poet who is more commonly associated with Chicago than the Pacific Northwest. Though most likely written about a different harbor on a different coast, I think that Fog could just as easily have been written about a foggy morning in Everett.

Carl Sandburg

Fog – Carl Sandburg

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

 

 

Another constant companion during Spring in the Northwest is rain. April Rain Song, by Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, fits the mood of the month well.

Langston Hughes

April Rain Song – Langston Hughes

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby
The rain makes still pools on the sidewalk
The rain makes running pools in the gutter
The rain plays a little sleep song on our roof at night
And I love the rain.

Both poets evoke a romantic and whimsical vibe that makes me think of green, damp, waiting Spring – preparing to bust out into Summer, as soon as the fog and rain passes.