Spot-Lit for January 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, emerging, and under-the-radar authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on a consensus of advance reviews and book world enthusiasm. Pride of place is given this month to Sunil Yapa’s debut novel, Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, about the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Just a reminder to check in monthly. Last year, we featured roughly half of the titles appearing in the top quintile of the Best Fiction of 2015 spreadsheet compiled by the good folks at Early Word from major media and book review sites. Happy reading in 2016!

Notable New Fiction 2015 | All On-Order Fiction

Resolutions, Library-Style

Resolutions at Your LibraryEveryone makes them, even if we don’t always admit to it. Resolutions are as ingrained in most people’s New Year’s activities as lasagna and movies at home champagne and midnight kisses. If you made some resolutions you’re not sure you can stick with, you should really take another look at your local library. Here’s a handy guide to some of the big ones:

I want to lose weight. Browsing the stacks in the 613.25 (diet), 613.7 (exercise), and 641.5635 (cooking for weight loss) areas will give you a plethora of support and ideas to help you shed the pounds. Unfortunately, just reading the books isn’t enough (wah wah). You actually have to follow through. Luckily we also have workout DVDs to keep you moving through our gloomy winter days. You can also learn about the obesity epidemic in Snohomish County at the Evergreen Branch Library on January 13th and at the downtown library on January 19th.

I want to read more/differently/with others. If you feel like you’re stuck in a reading rut, I think the best thing to do is to talk to other people about what they read, and joining a book club is a great way to branch out right away. You get to meet new people who also love books, and you get an added bonus of having a shared reading experience. Who could ask for more? Thankfully here at EPL more is what you’ll get. Our Main Library discussion group meets monthly. Their January pick, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, will be discussed January 25th. On the other end of town, the Southside Book Club meets every other month at the Evergreen Branch. Their next selection, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, will be discussed February 9th. And if you want to delve into Northwest history you should check out the NW Room’s quarterly book group. They’ll be meeting March 28th at the Main Library and discussing Skull Wars by David Hurst Thomas. Can’t make a book club commitment but still want to discover great books? If this blog isn’t enough for you, check out Novelist. You can easily slip down this rabbit hole of book recommendations, read-alikes, and more.

I want to start a new hobby. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to knit or crochet, my girl Linda has got you covered! She hosts regular meetings of the Crochet & Knit Club at the Evergreen Branch Library a couple of times a month. Beginners just need to bring a ball or skein of plain 3 or 4-ply yarn (not the fuzzy stuff) and a J or H crochet hook size 8, 9, or 10 knitting needles. I have no idea what any of that means, but Linda is a pro and has the patience of a saint. You’ll find in her a fabulous instructor as you learn your knits from your perls.

I want to learn to appreciate a wide range of cinema. You’re in luck, my friend! We screen two different films each month, one downtown and one in South Everett. The downtown library has a monthly screening and the focus is usually an indie or foreign film, usually ones I have never heard of but once I see the promotional materials I get really excited to see them. January 24th we’ll screen the 2013 Italian film Salvo. And our Evergreen Branch is still rolling strong with the Evergreen Cinema Society film series the last Wednesday of the month. Each year has a new theme, and there’s always a lively discussion. They’ve shown comedies, Hitchcock films, and more. This year it’s a lot of love for indie films, starting January 27th with The Squid and the Whale.

I want to learn a new language. What do ESL/ELL, Mandarin Chinese, and Pirate have in common? You can learn all of these languages and more than 60 others with Mango. Access is free, navigation is intuitive, and there’s even a mobile app to take your language learning with you on the go. So really what I’m saying is there’s no excuse to start learning, like, right now.

I want to research my roots. You’ve probably heard of Ancestry.com, but did you know that through the library you can access it for free? This always makes me giddy, telling people that this fascinating, yet typically pricey, resource is ours for the taking. When you’re logged in you have access to over 4,000 databases and 1.5 billion names. One caveat: you can only access Ancestry.com while inside the library. But once you’re here you’re going to want to find a cozy seat so you can get lost in the journey of building your family tree. Did you find some new fourth cousins? Then click over to ReferenceUSA and search out those addresses!

I want to start using this new e-reader/tablet. Through services like 3M Cloud Library and OverDrive you have access to literally thousands of eBooks and eAudiobooks, including some of the biggest bestsellers. If the queue for the print book is overly long, chances are the digital holds list is much shorter, and possibly nonexistent. You also have access to free digital magazines, too, through Flipster. Whether you’re stuck in a waiting room or taking a vacation, you can load up reading material 24/7 with just a few clicks.

I want to learn new tech skills. Microsoft Imagine (formerly Microsoft IT Academy) is where it’s at. Once you create an account you’ll have access to all kinds of classes and resources to improve your computing prowess. Courses cover all sorts of skills and levels of tech-savviness on the user’s part. You can learn the ins and outs of the Windows 10 operating system and Microsoft Office 2010, 2013, or 2016. Or for the more advanced, there are courses for learning HTML5 app development and SQL Server database fundamentals. So really what I’m saying is there’s something for everyone, and who knows? Maybe you’ll impress your boss, get a raise, and be a corporate star. It’s the New Year, baby, and when it comes to dreams the sky’s the limit!

EPL staff aren’t immune to change, either. We’ve come up with our own resolutions specifically related to the library. If you click a photo below you’ll be taken to their original resolution posts on Facebook. I’m the scared-looking one sitting next to a couple of giant stacks of books. That I own. And have never actually read…yet.

sarahs library resolutionlisas library resolutionleslies library resolutionmichelles library resolutioncarols library resolutioneileens library resolution

There’s no denying the appeal of a fresh start in the new year. No matter your resolutions, there’s help among the stacks and servers at your local library. As for me, holy cow. I have a lot of reading to do!

Listen up! January New Music

gun outfit cover

Happy New Year, followers! This one is going to be short but sweet since it’s made up of music that came in late in December, after my last post. Here are some albums that I particularly enjoyed:

Gun Outfit – Dream All Over (Paradise of Bachelors) – Down-tempo indie rock with heavy country, folk, and psych rock influences. You’re got sitars mixing with slide guitars, but somehow it works. The vibe and vocals sort of remind me of Stereolab with a twang.

yacht cover artYacht – I Thought the Future Would be Cooler (Downtown Records) – Upbeat, poppy, and a little edgy. Sci-fi parody songs take the listener through the future we were promised, and hints at the shortcomings of the present we inhabit.

Angie Stone cover artAngie Stone – Dream (Shanachie; Conjunction Entertainment; Top Notch Music) – Veteran RnB songstress Angie Stone is back with her seventh studio release. Listeners are treated to Stone’s well-honed vocal stylings, which are given plenty of room to breathe with minimal production. This is a wonderful album for a lazy Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and a leisurely breakfast.

Rival Consoles art

Image from Pitchfork.com

Rival Consoles – Howl (Erased Tapes Records) – A minimal, driving, constantly-evolving blend of techno and electro, yet somehow this album feels a bit like rock. Ryan Lee West doesn’t limit himself to the current computer arsenal of electronic music production, but plays freely with guitars, cellos, film projectors, and analog synths. The resulting sound is complex and intriguing.

Place your holds now!

What’s New Wave in the Library

I’m a categorizer. Okay, in reality I’m a lazy categorizer. I don’t really care about absolute rigid labels, but when organizing music on my computer (and oh yes I do realize how nerdy that sounds) I like to put bands into categories that make sense to me. When it comes to the term new wave, I tend to think of most any new music I was introduced to from 1979 to the early 80s.

Lately I’ve been trying to get more precise in my labelling, partly because if 1,000 bands all have the same label I can’t find any of them on the computer. So I’ve been moving a lot of bands from new wave into post-punk or punk. But it’s interesting to see that new wave has never been a clearly-defined genre. According to Wikipedia, “the 1985 discography Who’s New Wave in Music listed artists in over 130 separate categories.” One hundred and thirty! So all in all, new wave is a pretty meaningless term.

Yet we continue to use it. So today let us look at what’s new wave in the library.

NW1

One safe bet is Now That’s What I Call New Wave 80s, a compilation featuring bands such as B-52s, Adam Ant, The Go-Gos and many more. It has new wave in the title even! Some of the songs here are the best-known ones by the included bands, but others are not. Quite a mixed bag, which makes it more interesting in my book.

NW2

New York’s CBGB’s was a hotbed of exciting new music in the mid- and late 70s, regularly featuring bands such as Blondie, Ramones and Talking Heads. Many Blondie songs could easily be called pop or disco (although their early less well-known stuff is much more hard-edged), Ramones are often categorized as punk and Talking Heads are labelled post-punk, but when the three groups were starting out they were all called new wave.

NW3

What most people came to think of as new wave was music that I hated at the time, far too mainstream, poppy, and hairstyley. Now that I no longer need to prove how cool I am this music has grown on me. Bands falling under this heading include Tears for Fears, The Fixx and Cyndi Lauper.

NW4

Some new wave bands, such as The Cars, The Police and Duran Duran were quite popular, beloved by people from a cross-section of musical tastes.

NW5

One of the largest sub-genres of new wave is synth pop, music that relies heavily or entirely on synthesizers. Groups in this category include Human League, Yaz and Thomas Dolby.

NW6

Perhaps the ultimate new wave archetype is the literate, nerdy singer-songwriter type. This group includes Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. Their songs tend to be thought-provoking and lyrically complex with music ranging from driving pop-rock to ballads and everything in-between.

So there you have it. New wave, meaningless. Music that we call new wave, magnificent. Lots of good music at Everett Public Library. Blog post, finished.

We Never Asked for Wings

weneveraskedforwingsThe novel We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh gives a voice to the desperate and marginalized, depicting faulty characters some of whom are innocent victims of circumstance.

In the afterward, author Vanessa Diffenbaugh confides that this was a hard story to write following the success of her 1st novel The Language of Flowers. I found it a hard book to read. I began by listening to the audiobook version but switched over to the book near the last few chapters. The two main characters are flawed and at times the story simply didn’t seem plausible; I had to keep reminding myself what I knew of their situation to help make sense of their actions.

Diffenbaugh is a wife and mother of four and is also an advocate for foster children. She sits on the board of Youth Villages, a non-profit that seeks to improve outcomes for America’s most vulnerable children and families.

After reading this I realized I may have been too quick to judge. Diffenbaugh is not typing away in a cozy cabin, she is a busy mom involved in her community. My perception of her was altered to one of respect.

We Never Asked for Wings is a contemporary story set in the Bay area. Letty is a single mother of Hispanic descent born in the United States. She is co-dependent on her parents, illegals who have raised her two children while she works as a bartender to support the family. When Letty discovers a note from her mother stating she has left to join her husband who returned to his native Mexico 6 weeks earlier, Letty adds her name to the note, abandoning her 15-year-old son Alex and 6-year-old daughter Luna.

Catching up with her mother at a bus station, Letty lies to her mother about her children’s safety and the two continue across the border to her parent’s home. Eventually Letty’s mother discovers the truth and sends Letty back to San Francisco to take responsibility for her two children.

Alex is smart, responsible, and reliable, but he is still a kid. When he finds out his mother has left he is angry, but he does not neglect to care for his younger sister while his mother is gone. Yesenia is an illegal immigrant and a classmate of Alex. The two develop a friendship which leads to first love. When Alex moves to a better school in a better neighborhood, he is unable to protect Yesenia from school bullies. In an attempt to rescue her, Alex takes advantage of a good teacher’s trust by breaking into the school database and enrolling Yesenia into Mission Hills School. Alex not only compromises his education, but creates a much greater problem for Yesenia.

Letty works hard to become a parent to her two children, but at age 32 she manages to make some pretty stupid mistakes. She insists on keeping the identity of her son’s father from him, but Alex’s persistence and curiosity win out.

The story is set in a nearby marsh at the end of the San Francisco Airport runway where there are colonies of migrating birds. The setting is both beautiful and disturbing, juxtaposing the frailty of the birds against the jumbo jets. Both are free to take flight, unlike the human lives portrayed in Diffenbaugh’s story.

While this was not one of my most favorite reads of 2015, I’m glad I stuck with it because it has given me a measure of insight into the lives of people who have fled their own country in hopes of a better life, only to face more hardship. I realize each life is unique and that there are all sorts of variables, but in this particular story I found myself empathizing with Yesenia and her mother who had fled Mexico because of severe abuse and the need for medical help.

Sarah’s Latest by Lawson

furiouslyhappysarahFor your reading enjoyment, here are two reviews from Sarah. She has been reading books by Jenny Lawson lately. As always, check out our Facebook page for more reviews from Sarah and the latest happenings at Everett Public Library.

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (a mostly true memoir)
letspretendJenny Lawson’s known as the Bloggess. She has lots of online followers, and this first full-length book is a culmination of her material. I chuckled out loud in the beginning chapters, recalling harrowing, and emotional damaging events from her childhood. Her father was a taxidermist, so there were plenty of dead things around. Highlights include young Jenny standing inside of a dead animal, and drinking potentially poisonous well water (that was sanctioned safe by their mother). She has problems with socialization and depression, and she illustrates her issues with humor and self-depreciation. Lawson handles her adult reality with an awkward and uncomfortable grace that makes her honest and relatable.

Furiously Happy
furiouslyhappyLawson is back at it, curating her experience with anxiety and depression, and adding a touch of ecstatic happiness. In this collection of essays, Lawson tackles paranoid delusions, dialog with her psychologist, and of course, taxidermy. Lawson is brutally straightforward in detailing her personal struggle with mental illness, and she is encouraged by her fans who relate to her inner demons. She’s not looking for sympathy; she is determined to notate the absurdity of the human race, and finding humor in the dismal abyss. Favorite essay titles include: “Koalas are Full of Chlamydia” and “Things I May Have Accidentally Said During Uncomfortable Silences.”  Lawson has been compared to David Sedaris and Chelsea Handler, and she has definitely struck a chord with the dark humor crowd.

 

Heartwood 6:1 – With My Dog-Eyes by Hilda Hilst

With My Dog EyesThis impressive, very brief book – the story is only 59 pages long – crosses a lot of terrain and mixes in mathematics, poetry, existentialism and madness. It won’t be for everyone, but readers of Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Beckett, and Joyce should all find things here to like.

The story centers on Amós Kéres and his sudden mental deterioration. Kéres is a math professor who is married and has a son, but his work and family life are inexplicably becoming matters of indifference to him. Something happened to him one day when he climbed a small hill and had an experience he describes as “a clear-cut unhoped-for” and a vision of “incommensurable meaning.”

The book mostly delves into the thoughts of Kéres in an off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness fashion, but it also explores his interactions with a few other characters, concluding in a dark, enigmatic ending. The narrative voice twitches unexpectedly between first person and third person as Kéres expresses his thoughts and describes his actions – this creates an unsettling, out-of-body effect, as if Kéres is living his thoughts while also observing himself from across the room.

As with the swirling narrative, it’s a bit of a challenge to figure out exactly when the story is taking place: As a sequence of flashbacks in his classroom where he’s suddenly fallen silent and wears a thousand-yard stare? In the home of his mother where he’s written the line that appears on the first and last page of the book (“God? A surface of ice anchored to laughter”)? In a through-the-looking-glass nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions?

This is a strange and disquieting little book – I encourage adventurous readers to give it a try.

_______________

Hilda Hilst was an important 20th Century Brazilian writer whose work has only recently begun to be translated into English.

Heartwood | About Heartwood