Just the Facts, Ma’am

Warmth of Other Suns coverThe other day I was walking out with an armload of books on CD, and Richard our audio book selector got all excited because he thought I was getting non-fiction (something he’d like to see checked out more). Shamefacedly I had to admit that it was all fiction, and that I had been slacking a bit on listening to anything factual. His enthusiasm for promoting our non-fiction audio books inspired me to put some of my selections back and browse the other shelves.

I’ve always been a big non-fiction reader, but for some reason this passion hasn’t translated well to audio books. I have a long commute and like to pass the time listening to stories. I’ve found them to be easier to listen to in the little 35 minute drives I have to do throughout the week because I don’t have to pay too close attention to make sure I’m not missing any important points. It’s also easier to pick up where I left off if I haven’t listened in a while because we’ve been using the other car; often with non-fiction audio books I have to rewind a bit to refresh my memory. The only things that combat these issues for me when listening to non-fiction books is to find ones that are written in a very narrative style and have great readers.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of non-fiction audio books that I’ve listened to recently that have kept me enthralled from start to finish.

The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson (read by Robin Miles). I guess if you need a place to start, choosing a Pulitzer Prize winning book generally isn’t a bad idea. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration by tracing the paths of four African-Americans who migrated north and west to escape the Jim Crow world of the South. Because the author interviewed all four individuals, the book is rich with dialogue and personal stories. Miles does an excellent job of reading Wilkerson’s work, making each individual’s personality shine through, and adding appropriate emphasis and emotion to some of the more difficult passages.

Mushroom Hunters coverThe Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, by Langdon Cook (read by Kevin R. Free). Foodie, traveler, hiker, lover of the Pacific Northwest – no matter what you consider yourself to be, you’ll probably find something to enjoy about this title. Mushroom Hunters reads like investigative journalism mixed with Food Network programming (in the best way possible). Cook tells the story of his quest to learn about the secret not-always-legal world of commercial mushroom harvesting in the Pacific Northwest. I really enjoyed driving back and forth on Highway 2 as Free described the kinds of lush rainy mountains that surrounded me, and all the secret things that may be happening in them.

Detroit cover imageDetroit: an American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff (read by Eric Martin). This is a book that I would have loved even if Mickey Mouse was reading it, but Eric Martin’s narration took it from good to perfection for me.  Martin’s gravelly no-nonsense delivery perfectly matches the tone of LeDuff’s vignettes of the rough, hard-working, beautiful, disturbing, hopeful, and troubled City of Detroit. This book isn’t another work of ruin porn aimed at exploiting what befell Detroit after the decline of its industrial might. It’s the honest collected experiences of a journalist who has spent his entire career covering every side of a city that seems to be almost universally hated and feared by the rest of America. No predictions are made about the future. No excuses are made for the past. It’s just the facts as he saw them happen, and it’s dark, light, and magnificent.

Naked coverNaked, by David Sedaris (read by the author and his sister, comedian/actress Amy Sedaris). Ending on a lighter note, I just have to say I’m a sucker for David Sedaris in any format, but I think experiencing his writing performed by himself is always the best. Whether it be appearances on This American Life, or full-length readings of one of his many titles, you’d be hard-pressed to not be entertained. Well, at least you would be if you and I share a similar sense of humor. In Naked, Sedaris tells stories about his upbringing; considering that his family spawned two comedians, you know things had to be unorthodox.  Even though he may be describing something completely ridiculous, his sense of humor remains dry and ironic. This tone is amplified when you hear him perform his work. His readings are so well-timed and pitch perfect that it’s almost impossible to later read something of his without hearing his voice in your head.

I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to treat yourself to some of the many excellent non-fiction audio titles we have in our collections. I know I’ll continue exploring!

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

Top Ten Books That Have Stayed With Us

If you’re on Facebook and have friends who read, you may have come across the recent meme which asks you to list the top ten books that have influenced and stayed with you in some way. You’re not supposed to think hard about this or take too long to do it. Just list ten!

I thought that it would be interesting to conduct a (very unscientific) poll of the library staff to see which books have stayed with us as a whole. The results included a lot of children’s books and that might be because we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from these years are more likely to lodge themselves deeply into our memories. It’s probable that the book that made you love reading was a children’s book because that’s when you first had an all-night, under-the-covers, flashlight-lit reading binge.

So what did I do with my responses? I tallied them up, of course, and rated them by their popularity. That, unfortunately, left many favorites by the wayside. I have included a quote from each book that got at least two votes. Here they are in all of their glory:

index (1)The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was the clear winner with a total of four votes. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  I read the whole series over and over again and it was pure pleasure to read about a young girl who was happy to have an orange at Christmas.

index (3)Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montegomery was a close second with three votes. Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This series would make an excellent family read-aloud. Anne: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

index (4)The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien was right up there with Anne and that’s no surprise. This book is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

index (5)Rounding out the three vote category is (gasp!) an adult book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is a humorous memoir of a Scottish vet who roamed the remote Yorkshire Dales treating every patient that came his way, from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen eye. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” This is superb comfort reading.

There were many, many books with one vote, but these are the ones which got two votes (in alphabetical order):

index (6)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy isn’t one that I read as a child, but it was one I read in college and the one that taught me to love great literary works. It has been described as the best novel ever written and is considered flawless by many. Anna Karenina tells the story of the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

index (7)Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little, is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect.  “Some Pig. Humble. Radiant.” These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

index (8)The Harry Potter series was THE most popular on Facebook, but just one of our books with two votes. We must be older. This is the book that ushered in an entire generation of readers, my children included. You know the plot: Harry is an orphan who lives a rather dismal life until he gets a message from an owl which summons him to a life of magic and quidditch at Hogwart’s School. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.”

index (10)The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was perhaps the first Sci-Fi book you read. Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs, travel to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space. You either love this or put it down like a hot potato. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

index (11)I read all of the Nancy Drew Series the summer before fourth grade and oh, how I loved Nancy and Ned! This series had an enormous impact on the popular imagination because it features a female main character who is smart and brave and rescues her boyfriend instead of the other way around. These books were so much better than the Hardy boys. “Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”

indexPaddle-To-The-Sea  is a 1942 Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. At Lake Nipigon Canada, a native boy carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. The story follows the progress of the little wooden Indian on its journey through all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, finally arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. “Put me back into the water for I am Paddle-to-the Sea.” 

So, there you have it. Perhaps you can get some of these books into the hands of an impressionable reader, or would even like to re-read them yourself. I can’t leave you without giving you my own personal list. I love each and every one of these!

411ymYChGyL._SL500_BO1,204,203,200_index (12)index (13)index (16)index (15)index (14)index (17)index (18)index (6)index (1)

In Memoriam: David White

We here at A Reading Life have lost one of our own. Our friend and colleague David White passed away unexpectedly September 20th. I’m having a difficult time coping with the fact that he is really, truly gone. In trying to process my grief I’m going back through and reading all his blog posts and picturing his voice reading the words.

In Memoriam - David White

Our memorial to David outside the Main Library Circulation Office, where he worked, along with some of his favorite books and music.

As you may have been able to tell from David’s posts here, he really loved the cult classics. He was big into what I call cheesy B movies, but also just into films in general. Over the years he picked up a lot of information and trivia about these and other topics, and was always ready, willing, and able to share them with the likeminded people he met.

I met David 10 years ago when I moved to Washington State from Illinois. Not surprisingly, one of the first things I did was get a library card. Guess who issued my library card? David. David was also the person who updated my account when I got married and changed my last name. His eyes would light up when I’d check out the few MST3K or Red Dwarf DVDs the library had back then. He recognized a fellow fan in me. In later years David came to understand how scatterbrained I can be. He started going out of his way to remind me when a new MST3K boxed set was going to be released so I would be sure not to miss it. David was one of the few library employees I interacted with until I started working here.

Calm and friendly, David wasn’t the type to throw on a fake smile and greet you in such a way that might make you uncomfortable. He always asked, “How can I help you?” like he really meant it. And he did. David would listen with a sympathetic ear if you had a tale of misfortune to relate. It didn’t matter if you were a library patron he’d just met or someone he’d worked with for 25 years. David had empathy in spades.

He was also so damn funny! David had a wicked sense of humor, and just hearing the distant sound of his laughter somewhere in the massive downtown library always put a smile on my face and made me know it was going to be a good day. In recent years we bonded over our shared love of RiffTrax, and would often bump into each other at the movie theater when there was a rare theatrical screening. We would recount our favorite scenes or lines and share a hearty laugh. There’s a show coming up next month and I will feel lost there without him.

The sadness is heavy like a rock inside of all of us, knowing we won’t see David again. There are few people in this world I have met who were truly kind souls and never rose to anger. David was one of those rare few who made each person he met just a little bit better than they were before.

David’s family has been amazing during this tragic time. They have kept both the library and library patrons informed of arrangements and have read every single story about David that has been posted to our Facebook page. We invite all of Everett and beyond to join us at a memorial for David:

Saturday, September 27
2:30-5pm
Main Library Auditorium
2702 Hoyt Ave.
Everett, WA 98201

Bring your stories to share with us and David’s family, and also bring cookies. David really loved a good cookie, and his family would like to pay tribute to that by having cookies at his memorial. Gifts may be made to the library in memory of David, per family request.

David

David loved Doctor Who, and had a variety of Doctor Who T-shirts he wore to work. Fans would strike up conversations with him about the show upon meeting him.

I’m still struggling through writing this, so I’ll leave you with some heartfelt words from our mutual friend and colleague Kathy:

David and I were members of the same secret handshake society: The Whovians. That’s the cult of Doctor Who, for those of you who don’t belong. We initially recognized one another by our T-shirts, which are indecipherable to outsiders and yet don’t stand out in the general population. We had different favorite actors and episodes, but it’s a friendly cult so it was all cool.

David, I’ll miss you trying to convince me “your” Doctor was better than mine.

Don’t blink.

Inside the Northwest History Room: Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Sanborn 1914 title pageHere in the Northwest History Room of the Everett Public Library, we get frequent visitors looking into the history of buildings and land usage. One of the first resources we point people to is our collection of Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. We have the set of 1914 maps, and a copy of the 1914 maps that was updated in 1955 to show the present state of the land. These dates come in handy for people who own older non-compliant structures because they can be grandfathered in if they predate 1955.

Aside from being able to check if your porch or outbuilding might be able to be grandfathered in, a lot can be gleaned from comparing the 1914 and 1955 maps. For example, in these two photos, you can see how the old Everett Flour Mill was gradually replaced by the sprawling Scott Paper Co. Mill (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Over time, this expansion meant altering the natural landscape by filling in some of the tidelands and building over them on piers. Roads and rails were altered to make way.

These two photos show the expansion of residential buildings that happened at 26th and Rainier. One can see how some buildings changed use, for example going from being a dwelling (‘D’) to being a shed, or gained or lost outbuildings. Some houses, surprisingly, remained mostly the same over the course of those 41 intervening years (click images to enlarge).

1914 view1955 view

Lastly we have the key that helps us interpret all the colors and symbols used in the maps. This provides us with a wealth of information about the construction of the buildings, from the materials used on the exterior walls, to the types of windows and skylights present, to the appearance of the chimneys. This is really useful for people who are looking to restore their homes to an earlier appearance, or for people who are trying to discover what a demolished building looked like when no pictures exist (click image to enlarge).

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps key

 

I invite you to come down to the Northwest History Room at Everett Public Library’s Main Library to see what you can find out about your home, or any other Everett property you might be curious about – either David or I would be happy to show you how to use our map collection.