Under the Radar: Short Fiction 2017

Short fiction has been on my mind a lot this year, both reading it and writing it. Many years ago, my minor as an undergraduate at the University of Washington was creative writing. Over the years, the time I have dedicated to this art has dwindled. This year I decided to reconnect with writing and take a short fiction workshop at the Hugo House in Seattle. It was an inspiring class and I had the opportunity to complete writing exercises, readings and a new piece of short fiction. I was reminded of why I enjoy short stories so much: the accessibility; the compactness that often contains something so profound; and the ability to finish reading something from start to finish in one sitting.

2017 brought us many powerful collections of short fiction and some common themes. Many of these collections are by women; some collections are Gothic and macabre, teetering on horror; some are strictly realistic and one or two will make you smile, if not laugh. So in no particular order, I present you with some of the most excellent short fiction collections of 2017 along with some of my own ramblings.

her bodycompaintvenerationfunny

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s stories start off based in realities most women are familiar with: a marriage, a shopping mall, an inventory of what appears to be past relationships. Machado deftly twists these realities and suddenly you are in a world that you might only dream of and often these dreams turn into nightmares. The stories feature a variety of women: one with a permanent green ribbon tied around her neck and the husband who wants to untie it, women suffering from a disease in which they slowly fade away, and one woman who watches those around her die of a terrible plague.

Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

One of my all time favorite novels is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, so I was excited to learn of his most recent collection of short stories. The first story in his collection is called Complainers and spans the life of a friendship between two women, Della and Carol. The story is a commentary on the lives of Della and Carol and the emotional neglect that has been shown by their husbands and sons. Eugenides has an astute vision of the human psyche and human nature.

The Veneration of Monsters by Suzanne Burns

Suzanne Burns creates incredible atmosphere in her stories about our modern day lives, but they are not stark depictions of everyday reality. Instead, there is a lovelorn vampire, a man who is a mere figment of a woman’s imagination, and a woman who is so consumed with attracting a vicious predator that she becomes one.  The stories definitely have a Gothic edge to them, but there is humor too.

Funny Girl edited by Betsy Bird

If you need to laugh out loud, then pick up this book and read it or better yet, read it out loud to a kid. This is a children’s collection of hilarious stories written by various children’s authors including some of my favorites: Cece Bell, Raina Telgemeier, Rita Williams-Garcia and Shannon Hale. My eight year old daughter devoured it and she said I must write about the story Over and Out by Lisa Graff. The story is about a younger sister and an older sister, an older sister who has hit her teen years. The story involves walkie talkies, a pink bra (that belongs to the teenager) that falls in the toilet (while the younger sister is going to the bathroom) and the arduous task of cleaning a now soiled pink bra.

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Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is well known for her collection of essays, Bad Feminist and her memoir, Hunger. If you have enjoyed either of these books, then I highly recommend reading her short fiction as well. Each exquisite story in this collection features a diverse cross-section of strong women who have endured all that life has brought to them. Some have experienced unimaginable childhood trauma, others have lost children, and some are in terrible marriages while others are in loving relationships.

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy, edited by Ameriie

This Young Adult collection is comprised of 13 different fairy tales and myths, mostly told from the villains point of view. The stories are written by a talented cast of Young Adult authors that include Nicola Yoon, Marissa Meyer and Adam Silvera. The interesting part of this collection is that each story is paired with a booktuber’s (passionate readers who upload videos of themselves to Youtube discussing books) commentary.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is well known for her novels that include Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton. She writes masterfully about family dynamics and the constant struggle of finding out who we are. My favorite story in the collection is called Sister. It chronicles the return of the adult Lucy Barton (from My Name is Lucy Barton) to the home where she grew up. She has not seen her brother and sister for seventeen years and the pain that exists between them is palpable. As difficult as many of these stories are, there is warmth and some hope at the end of each one.

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

This collection of short stories is Mariana Enriquez’s English-language debut. Each story takes place in Argentina and is a commentary on both Argentina’s past and present. There is nothing light about the stories and sometimes the darkness verges on horror. The subjects range from three girlfriends who revel in self-destruction and another is about women who start setting themselves on fire in protest of the pervasive misogyny and abuse inflicted by men.

Deadly Titles

Reader’s advisory questions, basically finding a book for a person to read that matches their interests, can be one of the more difficult questions we try to answer here at the library. Everyone has different tastes so matching a person to a specific book can definitely be tricky, especially when you don’t know them well. One of the go-to methods I’ve found that gets results is asking a person what they have enjoyed reading recently. This came to mind as I looked back at the last three books I have read and realized they all had a variant of death or dying in the title. Yes gentle reader, I would make for one morbid Reader’s Advisory patron. But the thing is, all three books are excellent and well worth your attention despite the deadly titles. Read on to decide for yourself.

To Die in Spring: A Novel by Ralf Rothmann

Admittedly the set up for this book does not sound cheery: A son’s creative retelling of his father’s experiences after being drafted by the German army as a teenager in the final months of World War II. While the circumstances are indeed bleak, the author takes great pains to emphasize both the humanity of many of the people his father encounters and the cycles of the natural world that are all-around despite the devastation. The end result is a feeling of the primacy of nature and its ability to endure over horrific ideologies and the desire for extinction. The author’s sparse but incredibly moving prose conveys this feeling throughout without a word wasted. This is an excellent and strangely hopeful novel.

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

The title of this book should clue you in to the author’s attitude when it comes to discussing the dreaded topic of death: straight and to the point. This slim volume records Taylor’s thoughts and feelings in the last months of her life before dying of brain cancer in 2016. She remains clear eyed throughout whether discussing how to face the inevitability of death, pain and the possibility of suicide, or her understandable feelings of grief and anger. The last two thirds of the book are meditations on her childhood, family, career, and the odd role that chance plays in how you develop, make choices and ultimately expire. This work is a refreshingly straightforward and honest approach to an often avoided topic.

Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy

If you aren’t familiar with this classic, well classic to those who have spent some time in the Dairy State, it is high time to take a look. The concept for this work of local history seems innocent enough: A combination of historical photographs and newspaper articles depicting rural Wisconsin, Black River Falls for the most part, from the 1880s to the 1910s. But, oh my, the results are eerie, disturbing, and impossible to look away from. Strange tales of madness, murder and supernatural sightings are told in brief, matter of fact newspaper articles. When combined with the large detailed photographs of individuals and landscapes, the effect is both mesmerizing and very unsettling. Think of it as Twin Peaks without the huge trees.

So if you can overcome your fear of death, well in a book title at least, and choose one of these titles you will be pleasantly surprised. Don’t fear the reaper, man.

A Look at Everett’s Mayors

Last week, Cassie Franklin became the 37th mayor of Everett in its 125 year history. To commemorate this change in leadership, the Northwest Room staff has been looking back at the history of mayors in our city. Did you know that we’ve had three Canadians, two Danish, and one Dutch mayor? It wasn’t until 1977 that Everett had a mayor who was born and raised in Washington!

You can check out our Everett mayors webpage and videos on Mayor Dwyer, Mayor Hartley, Mayor Ebert, and Mayor Stephanson.

Thomas Dwyer was elected on April 27, 1893, as Everett’s first mayor. He won with a mere three vote lead. (And you thought the 2017 election—with a 196 vote difference—was a close race!) In that same election, voters in Everett also chose to incorporate their 5,000-person community as an official municipality. That decision wasn’t as tough—voters chose to incorporate, with a vote of 670 to 99.

For one year prior to incorporation, Everett was led by a group called “The Committee of Twenty-One.” This popularly elected body acted as an interim authority to address issues of public concern such as crime, sanitation, and health. Only one of these 21 early Everett leaders went on to serve as mayor, James H. Mitchell (1906-1907). Although an early Everett mayor, Mitchell was better known in the community for his role as assistant postmaster. His wife, Becca, was Everett’s first postmaster.

The first official City Charter was adopted in 1893. It employed a mayor and council format and annual mayoral elections. Everett was led by 11 mayors under this Charter during its first 14 years. One mayor, Jacob Hunsaker, served two non-consecutive terms. His daughter, Hallie Hunsaker, recalled in a 1976 oral history interview with the Everett Public Library that he was a hands-on leader. He went out with a hammer and nails to personally fix a wooden plank so nobody would get hurt during a parade!

In 1907, when Everett’s population surpassed 10,000, the city passed a First-Class Charter. The new charter preserved the mayor and council format and extended the mayor’s term to two years. By this time, Everett had completely recovered from a devastating economic depression to become a thriving industrial city. Notably, Roland Hill Hartley launched his political career as mayor during this era. His tenure was marked by significant controversy and conflict, particularly around issues of labor relations and local prohibition. Hartley went on to serve in the Washington State Legislature and two terms as Governor of Washington. Over 100 years later, Hartley is still a contentious figure in local and state political history.

The political structure of the City changed again in 1912, with the adoption of a commission charter. The mayor was chosen from a small group of city commissioners and the role was largely honorary. The City functioned under this form of government for 56 years with 15 mayors. Mayors from 1912 to 1968 wielded far less authority than those governing before and after them. Lacking significant executive power, the role of mayor was largely symbolic during this era. One notable mayor of this era was John Henry Smith, a public works commissioner, who was considered a founding father of Anchorage, Alaska.

The passage of a new charter in 1968 marked the beginning of our current political era. The charter eliminated the commissioner form of government and implemented a strong mayor and council form. You can listen to Mayor George Gebert—a shoe salesman turned politician— reflect on the commissioner and mayor-council forms of government in an Everett Public Library oral history interview.

Mayor Robert C. Anderson was the first mayor to serve under the new city charter and he held the position for nine years. Anderson resigned in October 1977 for a banking job. City Council President Joyce Ebert served out the remaining two months of his term. Ebert became Everett’s first female mayor, and she was the first mayor born in Washington. Mayor Ebert had to personally sign each city employee’s paychecks during her term. Given the short term and short notice, there was no official signature plate available for her to automate the tedious process.

Five more men served as mayor after Ebert: Bill Moore, Pete Kinch, Edward Hansen, Frank Anderson, and Ray Stephanson. Ray Stephanson holds the distinction of being Everett’s longest-serving mayor, with service from 2003 to 2017. In January 2018, Cassie Franklin became Everett’s first elected female mayor.

Join us next Tuesday, January 16, at 7 p.m. at the Valley View Neighborhood Association meeting to learn more about the history of Everett Mayors! The program is free and open to the public, and it will be held at the South Everett Police Precinct. Full program details are available on our calendar.

Spot-Lit for January 2018

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

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.

All On-Order Fiction.

Books to Love and Share

Even though we live nearly three thousand miles apart, I’m very close with my nieces and nephew. In my mind I’m the cool uncle who takes them on fun trips and gets them the most exciting presents. Of course when your uncle is a librarian the fun trips usually involve libraries or bookstores and those exciting presents are, well, books. Luckily for me, these kids are born readers so even if I’m not the cool uncle I am the uncle who gets asked for book recommendations and invited to class visits. I’ll take it.

Here are a few of the books that I’ve loved and shared with my young readers this past year.

methodetimesprodwebbin2146bf82-bd60-11e6-a53a-ca2ad7b229f9My youngest niece is almost two. She loves to laugh and is great at identifying animals, as long as it’s a dog or a bear, so I knew she would love Horrible Bear! by Ame Dyckman. Horrible Bear! follows a no-nonsense young girl who crashes her kite into a bear’s den. The sleeping bear rolls over, crushing the kite. The girl storms off furious at the bear, while the bear is filled with righteous indignation for being blamed. Behold, bitter enemies! Ultimately, the bear and the girl come to understand each other and this silly story delivers a meaningful yet subtle message about accidents and forgiveness. This is a great read-aloud with the girl and bear stomping around shouting HORRIBLE BEAR and HORRIBLE GIRL. It also features Dyckman’s signature humor and lively illustrations by Zachariah OHora.

A1CIvMxnmGL (1)I also read with my 3-year-old niece but of course a 3-year-old is sophisticated and requires more complex and devious narratives. This is why I recently sent her The Wolf, the Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett. When a mouse is swallowed by a wolf, it seems like the end of the world – literally. But the mouse gets new perspective when it meets a duck who has made quite a lovely home in the wolf’s stomach. Their new haven is threatened when a hunter pursues the wolf and the mouse and duck must find a way to save their home. I love the sharp turn this story takes after its grim beginning and the way expectations are constantly subverted. This book also has the benefit of Jon Klassen’s illustrations, who could even make the phone book a twisted delight.

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Vera Brosgol’s Leave Me Alone! introduces a granny who feels straight out of a nursery rhyme. Living in a cramped house with her large family, she sets out to find a peaceful place to knit. She travels far and wide through harsh environments filled with terrible beasts, and even goes to space! This is another story that starts out with a slightly sardonic tone before settling into a heartwarming conclusion. Brosgol’s illustrations are pitch perfect, creating a story that feels like a loving and quirky tribute to Strega Nona.

9780545700580_mresRecently one of my cousins had her first child who is nicknamed Froggy. I’m using this as an excuse to give them Rain! By Linda Ashman. Rain! follows the parallel stories of an older man who is irritated to have to deal with wet weather and a young boy in a frog hat who is delighted to explore the rainy world. This is a sweet story with a wonderfully goofy conclusion. Rain! has the added bonus of featuring the brilliant illustrations of Christian Robinson. Robinson’s work has been on my radar for some time, but it was not until I saw him speak last year at a conference that I took the time to explore his work in-depth. He is a stunning artist who has quickly become a personal favorite.

9780545403306_mresFor the older readers in my life (ages 7 and 9) I like to introduce series that they can fall in love with. The challenge, of course, is getting these books in their hands before they hear about them from friends. This year these series included Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski and The Ranger’s Apprentice by John A. Flanagan. The Whatever After series follows a young sister and brother, Abby and Jonah, who are swept away into the lands of various fairy tales such as Cinderella and the Frog Prince. This might be a delightful adventure for the young siblings if they didn’t accidentally intervene in these classic stories and jeopardize their traditional plots. Abby and Jonah must frantically save the day, delivering the fairy tale endings we all know so well. Some middle grade series do not hold up for adult readers. These do. Abby’s narration is laced with gentle sarcasm and the two siblings repeatedly delight by finding new and ridiculous ways to disrupt these established stories. Book one in this series is Fairest of All.

The_Ruins_of_Gorlan_(Au)The Ranger’s Apprentice is a slightly older series perfect for lovers of world building or medieval fantasy. These books follow a young man named Will who becomes (wait for it) a ranger’s apprentice helping to protect a kingdom from a multitude of dastardly threats both internal and external. I was nervous to suggest these books to my nephew as I had not actually read them myself, but my nephew has fallen deep into their world. I asked him to tell me what he likes about the series and he explained that he is enjoying the way that the story is told from different perspectives, not just one narrator. He’s also relishing all of the action and appreciates the details that go into the development of different characters. Book one in this series is The Ruins of Gorlan.

Did You Know? (Tomato Edition)

That canning tomatoes can cause Clostridium botulinum?

I found this information on pages 13 & 18 in the book Preserving Italy by Domenica Marchetti. This book shows how to safely preserve most Italian foods. While I’ve always thought of tomatoes as being highly acidic, in fact they aren’t and can be very dangerous if acid (lemon juice or citric acid) aren’t added to kill the botulinum in the canning process. The Idiots Guide to Canning and Preserving by Trish Sebben-Krupka and America’s Test Kitchen Foolproof Preserving both have step by step instructions with photos that make canning easy.

What do you need to do before you can can a tomato? You have to grow them! Richard Bird wrote How to Grow Tomatoes with directions on starting them, preparing the soil, and tips for keeping them frost free or growing them in a green house. We actually have many gardening books that will help you grow your own vegetable garden.

Big brother Charlie helps his little sister Lola eat veggies she couldn’t ever imagine eating in I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. Reading this book, you will discover that tomatoes are actually “moonsquirters!”

I love eating fried green tomatoes, and I loved the book Fried Green Tomatoes and the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg. This is a very empowering book and shows the kind of gumption it takes to pick yourself up and keep going.

Lastly, have you ever seen a singing tomato? Veggie Tales DVDs have Bob the Tomato and his friends going on adventures and singing. One episode featuring Bob is Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry’s Big River Rescue. Fun for the whole family!

2017 Rock(ed) and Pop(ped)

I know what you want to know.

You want to know my favorite albums of 2017, what had me jitterbugging across the speakeasy floor. You want to know what made my toes tap, my elbows chortle, my left eyelid lambada.

You want to know what’s hip, hipster.

Well hip hip hooray, here’s what you want and ye shall want no more.

Under the broad umbrella of rock music we find a variety of fine albums coming out of 2017. The genres stretch from riot grrrl to classic rock to power pop, psychedelic and garage. But what they all have in common is, wait for it, I like them!

Group1

No Plan by David Bowie
Recorded at the same time as Blackstar, the songs found on this posthumous EP were written for Bowie’s Broadway musical Lazarus. The music is slow, intense and exceedingly lovely.

Live in Paris by Sleater-Kinney
The title explains this album fairly thoroughly. Sleater-Kinney, hailing from the great Pacific Northwest, is one of my favorite groups. This live show captures the intensity of the band exquisitely.

Near to the Wild Heart of Life by Japandroids
Straight from the wilds of Vancouver, BC, Japandroids deliver a unique blend of rock and punk with New Romantic vastness. Prepare to enjoy some anthemic goodness.

Group2

LA Divine by Cold War Kids
A bit more mainstream and ordinary than their earlier albums, LA Divine still manages to showcase high-quality songs with a soupçon of Arcade Fire in the mix.

Give More Love by Ringo Starr
Who’da thunk that Ringo would be the one still making high-quality albums some 50 years later? The first song is an explosion of energy that sets the tone for this classic rock album.

Fierce Mercy by Colin Hay
“You may know me as the lead singer for Men at Work,” is something that Colin Hay might tell you. Well-done pop/rock. An enjoyable spin.

Group3

Ty Segall by Ty Segall
Mr. Segall puts out some amazing psychedelic garage rock. He’s one of those artists you don’t hear that much about, but then you listen to his music and are blown away. Check this one out.

Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn Hitchcock
This twenty-first studio album from Mr. Hitchcock could have come straight out of hippie-laden California ca. 1968. Great stuff.

We’re All Right! by Cheap Trick
Churning out most excellent hard-edged power pop for 40 years, Cheap Trick scores another hit with their latest album. File this one under electroshock therapy.

The year’s best pop music stretches from dream pop to synthpop to chamber pop and beyond.

Group4
Hug of Thunder by Broken Social Scene
Unconventional group made up of 6-18 musicians with music reflecting the unique stylings of each member. Some dance rhythms, energetic music but laid back performances, huge yet quiet.

Pleasure by Feist
Delicate, sparse, including lots of little quirks that make the music quite interesting. A curious mix of pop and post-punk.

Okovi by Zola Jesus
Music pulled straight from a soundtrack, huge in scope, dreamy with a hint of goth. Strange and worth seeking out.

Group5
Dreamcar by Dreamcar
Songs that brings back those lazy, hazy days of new wave. Dreamcar has put out an entertaining album by channeling the Thompson Twins and Duran Duran and adding their own creative twists.

Crack-up by Fleet Foxes
Seattle’s own presents a unique blend of folksy post-rock. A change of direction, or perhaps a continued growth in the same direction, takes Fleet Foxes to new and intriguing places.

No Shape by Perfume Genius
Another denizen of the Northwest, Perfume Genius brings a level of, well, genius to his songwriting. Highly emotional, huge in sonic scope, filled with abundant variety. Music does not get much better than this.