Books That Started as Blogs

If you’re like me, and I hope you are, you follow a blog or two just because it’s fun. Of course I read this very blog because my smart and hip co-workers contribute valuable stuff to it. Hey, you’re reading it right now! You must be just like me.

Did you know that there are a lot of great books which have been spawned from blogs? Let’s explore some recent titles which had their starts as blogs. I’ll start with the visual ones:

indexCake Wrecks: When Professional Cakes Go Hilariously Wrong by Jen Yates is so funny! Yates has been entertaining us with the worst cakes ever, including the ugly, silly, creepy, sad, and suggestive on her blog since 2008. It currently features photos of awful graduation cakes. Have your cake and laugh at it, too. With witty commentary and behind-the-scenes tidbits, Cake Wrecks will ensure that you never look at a cake the same way again.

index (1)There, I Fixed It! No, You Didn’t by Cheez Burger is part of the ubiquitous Cheezburger Network of blogs and is another hilarious visual feast full of epic fails which show human ingenuity at its worst. My favorite ‘chapter’ features quick fixes with duct tape.

index (14)How To Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You is based on the blog, The Oatmeal, a hugely popular website. It is a brilliant 136 page offering of cat comics, facts, and instructions to help you enjoy, love, and survive your cat. The book is a #1 NY Times best seller and sold over a half million copies in its first three months in print. Check it out from the library for free. Even I laughed, and I hate cats.

index (3)I do love dogs and fortunately for me there’s Dog Shaming by Pascale Lemire, based on the blog with the same name. This book features the most hilarious, shameful, and never-before-seen doggie misdeeds. It reminds me of the evening we were sitting around with friends having a nice conversation, when we discovered that our friend’s dog had chewed apart another friend’s shoe. We didn’t think to take a photo, but these folks have taken some pretty funny ones.

index (13)And what blog-book list would be complete without an awkward family photo selection? I’ll include Awkward Family Pet Photos which came from the Awkward Family Photos blog. These books are always so weird, yet funny. Just look at this fellow hugging his dog on the cover. The photos with monkeys, possums, and chickens are especially hilarious. And now on to the blog-books which have more text than photos.

index (4)Let’s Pretend This Never Happened:  (A Mostly True Memoir) is written by Jenny Lawson, the “Bloggess”. She’s ‘like Mother Theresa, only better.’ She writes this about her book: “You should probably go buy it right now, because it’s filled with awesomeness. And cocaine. But only if you hollow it out and fill it with your own cocaine. I’m not buying you cocaine. Because I love you.” I thought it was hilarious when I read it and you may also, since you’re just like me!

index (5)Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian by Scott Douglas who writes dispatches on McSweeney’s. Scott Douglas works for a smallish public library nestled cozily between Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. This is where most of his observations occur, although sometimes he goes to other libraries. This book is super funny because it could have taken place at our very own local library. Read it and see for yourself.

index (6)The Happiest Mom by Meagan Francis who writes the Happiest Home blog online. The author also writes for Parenting magazine and is the mother of five children, so she presumably knows her stuff and spells it out in ten simple rules that are delivered with humor. This book has gorgeous graphics and the main idea is that you can be a mom (or grandparent) and still be happy. As I’ve always said, if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

These blog-books are sure to make you happy.  Check them out at your local library!

Knitters Unite, Together they Stitch

knittedtree (3)They’re out there and they are coming to a location near you! Wielding and working their needles, knitting communities worldwide have been gathering annually on the second Saturday in June since 2005. The occasion has been dubbed World Wide Knit in Public Day. Unaware of this phenomena and taken quite by surprise,I shot the photo above while on a trip to Richmond VA.

spud and chloeThis happening event has sparked staff at the library: from the hands that brought you the knitted Royal Family, Everett Public Library knitters have been at it again.Their inspiration primarily comes from library books such as Spud and Chloe at the Farm and Knitted Nursery Rhymes. This  industrious group of knitters has been stitching away for months on break time and after work hours. Cute characters and creatures are shaping up to make their debut in June at both locations. In addition, to commemorate World Wide Knit in Public Day, the Evergreen Branch will host a gathering “Drop everything and knit”, at 6:00 pm on June 18th.

Not a knitter myself, I thought it might be interesting to learn a bit about the knitters behind the needles. I posed the question to a few staff knitters, “How long have you been knitting and what got you started?” I’ve enjoyed each response and thought you might as well.

Linda told me it was the Vietnam War that got her started. She explained that during the war her mother had generously opened up their home, inviting her friend and family to stay with them while her husband served overseas — in effect their household size doubled. Linda in turn sought out tranquility and became friends with an elderly neighbor who welcomed her company and taught Linda how to both knit and crochet. This lifetime skill has led to placing her work and winning awards at the Evergreen State Fair For the past 7 years Linda has volunteered several evenings a month at the Evergreen Branch where she leads a Crochet and Knit group.  ‘Spud and Chloe at the farm’, currently on display at the Evergreen Branch, gives tribute to her talent and most recent work.

Kim shares that around the time she finished college and started her first “real” job at the Everett Public Library 25 years ago, she began to knit. Considering knitting to be a fun hobby, but with no experience, Kim began taking classes at Great Yarns just north of 41st on Rucker Avenue. The instructor was pleased with Kim’s lack of knowledge and told Kim “You won’t have to unlearn anything.” I found it interesting to learn that Kim uses the Continental style of knitting which means in knitting language she is a picker not a thrower. In this method one holds the yarn in the left hand compared to the majority who hold the yarn in their rightSince her early years at the library, Kim has always managed to connect with other knitters and is the person behind the collaborative display that will be in the children’s display case at the Main Library.

veryhungrycaterpillarNalmes grandmother’s enthusiasm for knitting, not shared by her own mother, got passed down to her. Influenced by her grandmother she learned basic technique; terminology would come later since she was just 9 years old. After a decade or so Nalmes picked knitting back up last year inspired by the many knitting books here at the library. Today she is self-taught. Between how-to-books and YouTube videos she feels confident and believes she can pretty much do anything she puts her knit and crochet needles to. Recently she made a Seahawk scarf as a birthday gift and a newborn sleeper designed to look like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. You can see her contribution to the knit display at the Evergreen Branch Library.

knittingstitchesJulie wanted to try something no one else in her family had mastered, so at the resourceful age of 12 she visited her local library and borrowed a children’s picture book on knitting. Through trial and error, mostly error, Julie taught herself. The most challenging project Julie has taken up was the knitting of a fisherman sweater.The process took a months time and involved managing multiple needles, converting a pattern to do ‘in the round’ and an additional four months to knit. If you are up for the challenge Knitting Stitches Visual Encyclopedia is good  resource. Subsequently, Julie has successfully taught her mom to knit dishcloths and has helped out many others along the way. She confides the process of knitting is more rewarding than the final product. Currently she has been working on features that will be on display at the Evergreen Branch library as well as dishcloths as a wedding gift for her cousin’s wedding.

Chris says she has been knitting for as long as she remembers, at least 45 years. It was so long ago she cannot recall the learning of it but remembers a mustard-colored yarn, strange as that sounds. She credits her mom who taught Chris at 8 years old how to sew along with her two sisters. Consequently, her mom had to create a schedule so the girls wouldn’t fight over who got to use the sewing machine while making back-to-school clothes. You can see her contribution to the Knitted Nursery on display at the Main Library.

Leslie admits she hasn’t had much time to knit lately. She was about eight when her god mother bought her some blue plastic needles and some furry black and white yarn. She made a scarf and has been knitting ever since. She typically knits more in the winter months than the summer. Leslie is currently working on Christmas stockings for her granddaughters.

toystoknitEven though I don’t know one needle from another or the difference between crochet and knitting, I must say that the books on this subject seem endless. I browsed over a few that looked inviting. Learn to Knit Love to Knit is by Anna Wilkinson who is a leading designer among a new wave of young knitters. She offers basic illustrations and instructions for the beginner. The book then dedicates the last half to serious skilled knitters with beautiful designs. If you would like to try something along the lines of what library knitters are creating, you might find some ideas in Toys to Knit, by Tracy Chapman or Amigurume: Make Cute Crochet People, by Allison Hoffman.

These are just a small sampling of the many books available on crochet and knitting at the Everett Public Library. Who knows, I may start stitching myself one of these days. 

The Facts of Summer

Just in case you haven’t noticed, the summer reading season is upon us. In addition to great programs at EPL encouraging people to read this summer, there are many summer reading lists from which to choose. Any list, however, has to grapple with an interesting conundrum: what exactly is a summer read? Some recommend escapist ‘light’ fiction while others promote the most popular titles that they claim everyone will be reading. While the idea that the season should dictate the type of book you read does seem a bit dubious, I have found that I tend to reach for non-fiction titles when the sun comes out.  Maybe it is just the extra hours of daylight that encourages me to delve into these often longer titles. In any case, here are two excellent non-fiction titles I’ve just read and a list of interesting ones that are on my ‘to read’ list.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
sixthextinctionThe core topic of this book, the scientific evidence that the rise of the human species has coincided with a huge loss of flora and fauna on par with other mass extinctions, is admittedly a bit disturbing. The amazing thing is that Kolbert presents the topic in a fascinating and, dare I say, entertaining way. She goes out into the field with biologists, geologists and other scientists to examine the demise of present and past species and the resulting evolutionary fallout. Each chapter is a separate story complete with an intriguing cast of characters, both animal and human, adding another piece to the puzzle. This is scientific writing at its best. It also helps to give our rather ego-centric species a rare gift: perspective.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
fivedaysatmemorialThis is the harrowing tale of life and death at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the floodwaters continued to rise, the doctors, nurses and medical staff had to make desperate decisions concerning which of their patients would be evacuated and the even more troubling quandary of what to do with those left behind. Fink uses all her journalistic talents to present the events of those five days after the hurricane as well as the extensive legal battles and moral judgments that came afterwards. The central question of whether there is a separate standard of right and wrong during ‘extreme emergencies’ is wisely left for the reader to decide.

Next is a sampling from my long list of non-fiction titles that I have been meaning to read. While I can’t vouch for them yet, they seem intriguing and just might be worth your summer reading time as well.

carsickdevilscormorantanswertothriddlecubed

Carsick by John Waters
The concept alone, the infamous director hitchhiking across America and recording his encounters, is impossible to resist. The audiobook, which the author will narrate, should be a standout.

The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History by Richard King
I’ve always thought of cormorants as simply cool birds. Apparently there is a long history of mistrust and demonization when it comes to human/cormorant relations. Time to find out more.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David MacLean
A memoir of amnesia, induced by malaria medications no less, and the author’s attempt to rediscover not only his memories, but who he is. Sounds like a mind bender, but in a good way.

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval
Most of us spend a large amount of time in ‘designed workspaces’. How did that happen? Hopefully this book will have a few answers.

danceofthereptileslostartoffindingourwayhistoryofbourbonyesitshotinhere

Dance of the Reptiles by Carl Hiaasen
A new selection of the author’s articles from the Miami Herald. While Hiaasen’s fiction can sometimes be hit or miss, his exposés concerning the beauty and corruption of Florida have always been entertaining.

Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Huth
A curious look at the ways we found our bearings before the recent advent of MapQuest and Google Earth. Maybe this will finally decide the dreaded car argument of whether to consult the smart phone or the map.

Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge
A colorful history of bourbon sounds like just the ticket for warm summer nights. As a plus maybe I’ll finally be able to identify all those bottles they are pouring from in Justified.

Yes It’s Hot in Here by A.J. Mass
A cultural history of the team mascot by a former ‘Mr. Met’ that is just too weird a topic to pass up. It has got to be a surreal experience being inside the suit.

Clearly, you have many choices for summer non-fiction titles. So many in fact, that you just might want to extend your ‘summer reading’ well into fall and winter.

Nilbog is Goblin Spelled Backwards!

Some movies are so bad that they‘re good.

Troll_2_posterOne such movie is Troll 2. The movie’s original title was Goblins, but the studio thought it could cash in on the success of the movie Troll, despite the fact there are no trolls in the movie. Troll 2 has absolutely nothing to do with Troll.

In this 1989 movie, the Waits family swaps homes with another family for the summer, moving from the big city to the small farming town of Nilbog. The citizens of Nilbog, vegetarian Goblins disguised as humans, feed the people food tainted with a green potion that changes them into plants, plants which the Goblins then eat.

The movie was directed by Italian director Claudio Fragasso (under the pseudonym Drake Floyd) and written by Fragasso and his wife Rosella Drudi.  Drudi was inspired to write the movie because of her frustration with a number of friends who had recently converted to vegetarianism. It was filmed in Utah with a cast of unknown actors and an Italian film crew, most of whom didn’t speak English. At the time, neither Fragasso nor Drudi spoke fluent English and as a result the script was difficult for the cast to understand in certain places.  However, the director insisted that the cast follow the script verbatim rather than correct grammar and syntax. This led to some very awkward dialogue.

Troll 2 by-passed theatrical release and was quietly released to home video in 1989.

On Christmas Day 1989, Michael Stephenson, the child star of Troll 2, unwrapped a present: a VHS copy of the movie. He hadn’t yet seen the completed version. Stephenson played Joshua Waits, the hero of the movie. The young, aspiring actor popped the video into the family VCR and watched dreams of stardom fade away.

Troll 2 does not grace the shelves of the Everett Public Library.

Best Worst MovieMore than 20 years have passed since the release of Troll 2 and it has developed a sizeable cult following. Fans hold viewing parties and dress up like characters from the movie. Art House theaters screen the movie and invite cast members to discuss the movie and sign autographs.

The documentary film Best Worst Movie is available at Everett Public Library. The film is directed by Michael Stephenson and explores the making of Troll 2 and its cult following.

This documentary, produced over a four year period, follows Utah dentist George Hardy who played the part of Michael Waits, father of Joshua, as he travels to various Troll 2 events and autograph shows. Hardy showed up at the Troll 2 casting call for fun, hoping to be cast as a non-speaking extra. He ended up with one of the largest speaking parts in the movie.

In one memorable segment, Stephenson and Hardy visit the home of actress Margo Prey who played Diana Waits, wife of Michael and mother of Joshua. In Prey’s living room, the trio reenacts a scene from Troll 2 which took place in the family station wagon, while Prey’s elderly mother looks on bemusedly in the background. Prey is interviewed in the documentary, and, with complete seriousness, puts Troll 2 in the same class as Casablanca. She also appears to have become a bit of a recluse, refusing to  leave her home when Stephenson and Hardy invited her to accompany them to the ‘Nilbog Invasion – A Troll 2 celebration’ in Utah.

Another cast member, Don Packard, who played a rather creepy store owner in the town, spoke during the panel discussion at ‘Nilbog Invasion’. He recalled being cast one weekend and filmed during the next while on day-passes from a nearby mental hospital.   He’d also smoked an enormous amount of marijuana prior to filming and didn’t really know what was going on around him. So, according to Packard, the store owner’s disturbing, creepy behavior was not acting.

Director Claudio Fragasso also appeared at the event, having been tracked down in Italy by Stephenson. During the panel discussion, members of the cast recalled that the script to Troll 2 was incomplete when filming began, and that script pages were handed out as scenes were being shot. Fragasso declared that the actors were lying and referred to them as ‘dogs’.

Despite the fact the cast and crew of Troll 2 made one of the worst movies ever, most of them seem to look back at it with fondness.

Best Worst Movie is very enjoyable viewing on its own and as a companion piece to Troll 2.

David

NOS4A2

silverlakeWhen I was a little girl my family would spend nearly every day at Silver Lake. To a 7-year-old this place was paradise. It had sand, a lifeguard in a tower who always seemed as still as a statue, a park to play in when you got sick of swimming, and some days there was a cart that sold snow-cones and hot dogs.

My mom usually took us on weekends but she was a single woman raising 3 kids on her own. Sometimes we had a baby sitter. And one day that baby sitter decided we were going to swim on the other side of the lake because he wanted to smoke a substance that is now legal in the state of Washington but 25 years ago wasn’t. To be honest, this part of the lake SUCKED. Long grass and weeds choked the water line. We had to leave our shoes on because of all the sharp rocks and broken glass in the water.

To this day I suspect there was some kind of water monster hiding in the darkest depths waiting to pull me under. I had just seen the movie Piranha. I’m pretty sure those little cannibals were down there. I’d get waist deep and stare at the crowds on the other side: people lying back on their towels, snoozing in the sun, kids enjoying the sand squishing between their toes. They didn’t have to worry about tetanus shots. The Other Side, as I called it, was not magical and wondrous. It was a dark place where even the sun couldn’t cut through the tops of the trees.

nos4a2In Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, young Vic McQueen is able to travel to other places on her bike. When she gets on her Raleigh Tuff Burner and starts peddling a bridge opens up, the Shorter Way Bridge, one that others can’t see. Throughout her childhood and into her teens she peddles across the bridge and visits people. One of them is a tiny wisp of a woman named Maggie who is a librarian in Here, Ohio. Her talent is like Vic’s but she reads scrabble letters to tell the future. She sees a dark future for Vic, a dangerous and dark future.

Enter Charles Talent Max who has been stealing children for years. He takes them to a place called Christmasland where…well, it’s Christmas all the time. It would be my personal hell to live there, especially since they now start playing Christmas music in stores mid-August. Manx is like a vampire, sucking the life out of children by promising them Christmas fun 24/7.

One day after a nasty fight with her mother, 17-year-old Vic hops on her bike and finds the Shorter Way Bridge (or it finds her). She peddles and peddles until she comes to a house with a kick ass 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. I had to google an image of the car. It is indeed kick ass. I think I would get into a car like this driven by a stranger without even being promised any candy or kittens who smell like sleepy mornings and day dreams.

Vic sees a child in the back seat and knows the kid is in danger. Once Vic gets closer to the car she sees that the child’s face is warping and displaying row upon row of sharp teeth. She runs into the house where Manx’s assistant, a sad rhyming idiot, tries to gas her into submission. Vic fights him off and somehow burns the house down. A big dude on a motorcycle is passing by the house when she runs screaming out into the street. He stops, she hops on and we meet Lou who instantly falls in love with Vic (because really, you kind of have to fall in love with someone who is running towards you with a backdrop of a burning house). She escapes but Manx is still out there.

Fast-forward 15 years. Vic has been in and out of rehab, is covered in tattoos and doesn’t get to see the child she and Lou had years ago. She gets sober and wants to start her life right. She wants her son Wayne to spend the summer with her. She’s nervous as hell because she doesn’t really know him and he’s scared because he doesn’t know her. They’re slowly getting to know one another when BAM! There’s Charles Manx in his Wraith taking off with Wayne. Vic’s job is to hunt Manx down and end him.

I read my first Joe Hill novel a few years ago. I looked him up because his writing was so familiar that I felt something tugging at me. Let’s call it the “I know you, don’t I?” tug. Turns out Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. No wonder the writing seemed familiar. But Joe Hill’s writing stands on its own. His characters are people I think about during the day. You know you’ve made an impact on someone when they sit at their desk and think “I wonder what Vic’s doing right now?”

Devour this novel. Eat it up until there isn’t anything left. Root for the wayward mother doing any and everything to save her child.

I have to go. The Wraith has pulled up in front of my house and it looks like it needs a driver.

Spot-Lit for June 2014

Spot-Lit

These June novels are getting a lot of praise in advance reviews. Click the titles below and then the Full Display button to read summaries or reviews or to place titles on hold.

General Fiction / Literary Fiction  

summer house    Arsonist    Vacationers    Bellweather Rhapsody    Hundred-Year House

Summer House with Swimming Pool  by Herman Koch
The Arsonist  by Sue Miller
The Vacationers  by Emma Straub
Bellweather Rhapsody  by Kate Racculia
The Hundred-Year House  by Rebecca Makkai

First Novels

Antiquarian    Everything    Quick    Fourth of July    People in the Photo

The Antiquarian  by Gustavo Faveron Patriau
Everything I Never Told You  by Celeste Ng
The Quick  by Lauren Owen
Fourth of July Creek  by Smith Henderson
The People in the Photo  by Helene Gestern

Crime Fiction /Suspense

Good Suicides    Better World    Coldsleep Lullaby    Silkworm    Truth About

The Good Suicides  by Antonio Hill
A Better World  by Marcus Sakey
Coldsleep Lullaby  by Andrew Brown
The Silkworm  by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair  by Joel Dicker

SF & Fantasy

Memory of Water    Hard to Be a God    Koko    Madonna    Cibola Burn

Memory of Water  by Emmi Itäranta
Hard to Be a God  by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Koko Takes a Holiday  by Kieran Shea
The Madonna and the Starship  by James Morrow
Cibola Burn  by James S.A. Corey

To see all on-order fiction, click here.

For other notable new fiction lists, try the Indie Next List and Library Reads

I Challenge You to a Read-Off!

Logo

Summer reading: it’s not just for the kids! Yes, these days your library makes it easy for the whole family to have fun reading all summer long. While we have a great Summer Reading Program (SRP) planned for children and teens, you may be surprised to learn that adults can participate as well. I promise that getting started is quick and painless:

Step 1: Sign up for the reading challenge online starting June 1st.
Step 2: Track your reading progress.
Step 3: Pick up a prize after the 1st, 3rd, and 5th books have been read and logged.

When you complete the final challenge you’ll be entered to win the grand prize, a Kindle Paperwhite! And don’t forget: your library card unlocks thousands of free Kindle downloadable books. All the details can be found on our website. Thanks to the Friends of the Library, who generously donated this year’s prizes.

So what else can you do? If you’d like to try your hand at blogging, write a book review and you may see it published right here on A Reading Life! Maybe my editor will give me the summer off if enough of you write some stellar book reviews. If you’ve seen my list of reading resolutions you can understand how I’d like to spend my summer: getting through some of my tougher reading selections.

If you’re more of a hands-on person, you’ll be interested to learn that we’ll also have some fantastic events that tie in with our theme of Literary Elements. The one I’m most looking forward to is learning home brewing from Don Roberts. Yes, the owner of Everett’s Homebrew Heaven will be at the Main Library June 17th at 7pm, ready and willing to teach us how to create our own craft brews at home. Finally, I can join the ranks of my idol Wil Wheaton–at least in terms of home brewing.

literary not literal twins

Staff have gotten on board as well, a few of us going so far as to purchase Literary Elements T-shirts to promote this awesome reading opportunity. Be sure to stop by and tell us how it’s going. After all, I’ve challenged you, a worthy opponent to a read-off. You’ll definitely want to brag.