Anxiety, Hell’s Angels and Haiku

It’s all there in Criminals: My Family’s Life on Both Sides of the Law by Robert Siegel.

What’s the key thing writers need the most? Raw material of course. Author Robert Anthony Siegel has a goldmine of raw material living in a New York City duplex with his parents, Stanley and Frances, and trying to make sense of his childhood.

Dad is a charismatic criminal defense attorney, bringing all kinds of questionable characters home. Young Robert accompanies his dad to Hell’s Angel’s clubhouse parties and dines with drug dealers and possible murderers.

Mom takes Robert to MoMA and the Whitney to show him paintings by Motherwell and Rothko, to counterbalance Dad’s lowbrow Brooklyn background and make sure there is art and culture in his life.

Complex doesn’t begin to describe Dad. The reason his clients love him is that he is an old-school lawyer, with a gift for story telling in front of the jury and throwing in Shakespeare quotes to boot. He rescues his clients time and time again. Dad’s depression is eased by lots of antidepressants, consuming huge quantities of food and spending money as fast as he gets it – even a duffel bag full of cash (a gift from a grateful client). His depression is especially intense after the DEA bring charges against him and he goes away to prison for a year.

Told in a personal essay style, this memoir is one you can’t put down. At first you feel like you’re careening around roads on the edge of a cliff, but the author’s skillful writing keeps you grounded, entertained and delighted right up to the book’s end. This is a reading experience like no other.

And where does the Haiku come in? Toward the end of the book Robert, who has spent years learning to speak Japanese and to learn about Japanese culture as a way of coping with his life, explains it best in the very touching chapter “Haiku For My Father.” As his father stumbles toward the end of his life, Siegel is reminded of the last haiku of Basho Matsuo, helping him make sense of not only his father’s life, but his own as well. Maybe it even explains the reader’s life also.

On the Road with David Sedaris

David Sedaris brings you into his life and adventures with his 9th and probably best book yet, Calypso.  The 21 stories and personal essays will amuse, shock and lead to an understanding of the family and brilliance of Sedaris.

He’ll take you to Tokyo where he and sister Amy buy absurd clothing (clown pants with suspenders, a trio of hats meant to be worn together) that ‘refuse to flatter.’

He’ll show you what he goes through in his attempt to make a wild fox his friend.

He’ll take you to the post-dinner dining room table of his youth where he and his 4 siblings would vie for their chance to either light their mom’s cigarette or tell her their daily story. Mom Sedaris would give helpful notes to each (“lose the part about the teacher….” or “cut to the chase here…”)

You’ll go with him on his Fitbit-induced walks from his countryside home in Sussex. By the time he works up to 60,000 steps a day, he’s sporting a grabber in one hand and a big garbage bag in the other. He imagines stories to go along with each piece of interesting garbage. Neighbors report to his long-suffering boyfriend, Hugh, such things as “We saw David in Arundel pick up a dead squirrel with his grabbers” or “We saw him outside Steyning rolling a tire down the side of the road.”

Hugh, seemingly in permanent eye-roll mode, has a lot to contend with when the rest of the Sedaris clan are around. And they’re around a lot after Sedaris buys a beach house off the coast of North Carolina. The vacation home, purposefully without any TV, gives Sedaris and his 90+ year old father Lou, brother (plus sister-in-law and niece) and four sisters a place to be together on holidays. The four sisters become three in the aftermath of the youngest one’s suicide. This fact is dealt with off and on throughout the book in the inimitable fashion of Sedaris.

Sedaris finds his always critical father has been replaced by a nicer more agreeable one. And while Sedaris admits it makes a better story to hang onto the cantankerous Dad he remembers from his youth, he still makes a good case for holding a grudge. David is the only one taken out of Dad’s will after a particularly spectacular argument.

Sedaris writes beautifully about the moment the two found common ground. “Just Listen,” his dad commands the 15 year-old, as he goes about playing John Coltrane’s ‘I wish I knew” and Betty Carter’s “Beware My Heart.”  I won’t spoil it for you by quoting the ending here. You’ll just have to read the book for yourself. And, when you get to page 141 and 142, you might want to que the music and JUST READ!

Morning Routines

I’m pretty much the last person to notice a trend and definitely the last one to hang on to a trend once it’s started. The last woman to wear those cat eye glasses of the 1950’s – that’d be me. The final one to be into the huge shoulder-padded clothing of the 80’s – me again. And, there’s no doubt that I’ll be the last one in leggings after they’ve fizzled out with the rest of the world.

But now I am really in on something from the beginning and it is quite simply this:  thinking about how we spend our first hours after waking up.

I know I’m not the only one thinking about this subject, because the Wall Street Journal just had a feature article on how people have carved out time for themselves just after they wake up. Further proving my point, Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander just came out with a book called My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.

Spall and Xander  have interviewed over 60 prominent people and asked them things like:

Do you use an alarm to wake up? Most don’t and many get up naturally or with a pets assisting at about 5:30 or 6.

What are your most important tasks? Many intentionally keep technology, specifically cell phones, at bay.

While coffee and meditation figures prominently, each person interviewed has carved their own unique way of keeping the world away until they’re ready. The interviews include people with young children, retired generals, tech start-up entrepreneurs, artists and writers. They share what happens to their routines when traveling, and how they feel when unable to follow their established routines.

There are even a few people from the Northwest in the book – novelist Ruth Ozeki, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Bob Moore from Bob’s Red Mill. I loved being privy to these individuals’ morning routines and I think you will too. The two authors summarize throughout the book, addressing the idea of flexibility in morning routines and the importance of changing what’s not working.

This book made me think about my morning routine and how I can change it when I’m no longer working. I may wake the cat up, instead of the other way around, just for starters. I think about people all over who are relishing those early morning hours, as I do. For me, this was just the right book at the right time.

Book Foisting

It’s not unusual for patrons to ask us for advice on what to read next here at the Everett Public Library. The advice we give is called, in library jargon, ‘readers advisory.’  Sometimes, our dear library patrons will turn the tables on us and give us some readers advisory of their own, however.

A while back, as I was working at the checkout counter, an effusive patron handed me her library card and a book. Her friend had highly recommended the title and had said she’d laugh her a** off.  “Oh, is that so,” I said in my best hair-in-a-bun-with-a-pencil-stuck-through-it voice. She was undaunted and said that there was another one on the shelf. With that, she dashed upstairs to the travel section.

Before I could protest, I was holding in my hand All Over the Place: Adventures in Travel, True Love and Petty Theft by Geraldine DeRuiter. I have to tell you, I never intended to read it. I was committed to a 600+ page tome that made my wrists hurt to hold at the time. But I started reading – just a little bit before it want back on the shelf – and I found I couldn’t stop. There is so much to love about this book. Deruiter’s easy-going style compliments the hilarious twists and turns of the plot to make it a goofy but heart wrenching page-turner.

The year is post 2008 and the company Deruiter works for in Seattle folds. She’s flailing about, at loose ends, staying in her pajamas all day and eating anything she can get her hands on before her husband makes a little suggestion that turns out to be big suggestion. Husband Rand travels all over the world to attend business conferences. In order to be together, he suggests she join him on his trips and begin a blog about it. It becomes a kind of anti-travel blog since she has no plans and no sense of direction and has to force herself out of the hotel wherever she lands.

This little blog turns into a big deal when Time Magazine names it one of the top 25 blogs of the year (2011 by this time). DeRuiter turns her family history inside out and amid all her misadventures, makes sense of her life. You can’t not love this story and all of her colorful relatives: all while getting glimpses of a Seattle that any native will appreciate.

This is the perfect book to read (or to give) this time of year when you may be spending time with your own relatives, some of which you may not understand very well. The chaos and anxiety, as well as  the love and resolution in this book may even help you embrace those relatives that you’d normally cross the street to avoid.

Every Day is Black Friday at the Library

Black Friday is every day in the lobby of the Main Library where we have a book sale where most items cost either 25 cents (hardback books) or 10 cents (magazines, paperbacks). But, wait, there’s more: We even have CDs for $1 and sometimes recorded books on CD for $2.00.

Items in the book sale are primarily from the library’s collection and were discarded for a variety of reasons, but many are donated and in pristine condition. Several patrons come in often to peruse what’s on the sale shelves because they know things are added daily. Boxes are available for those who get carried away because the prices are so cheap.

Here I do have to tell you that the library isn’t actually open on the traditional black Friday, November 23rd, as it’s a city holiday. But we’ll be open the next day.

Besides the bargain book sale, library card holders get the gift of over 60 free digital magazine subscriptions which can be accessed at any time. Technically the library is the subscriber, but  with your library card you can download the current issue (and back issues) of titles like Wired, Runner’s World, Vogue, Bicycling, Bon Appetit, Outside, The New Yorker, Sail, Fine Cooking, Fine Woodworking, Fine Homebuilding, Dwell, Brides, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, Digital Photo Pro, Backpacker, Saveur, Rolling Stone, PC World, People, and National Geographic.

And, there’s over 30 more magazine titles available. Scroll through the covers of all the current issues available for download through Flipster.  If you need some assistance with downloading magazines to your tablet, phone or other device, you can book a 30 or 60 minute appointment with a librarian. We’re always here to help!

More Adventure Awaits

I am sorry to say I haven’t read anything by Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS to scholars, Louis to his friends), but I’ve come close by reading Brian Doyle’s The Adventures of John Carson in Several Quarters of the World: a novel of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Doyle, an extreme fan, acknowledges in the preface that his book is a celebration of the man whose writing he admires above all other writers in the English language. Then, writing in Louis’ voice, Doyle goes about conjuring up the four months Louis spent in the winter of 1880 in San Francisco. It was a difficult time for Louis, having left behind a comfortable life of wealth and privilege in Scotland to make his way to California and the woman he intended to marry.

His health is bad and he has very little money. He waits out the impending divorce of Fanny Osborne, who is living across the bay in Oakland with her two children. He rides out the four months staying at a boarding house on the corner of Hyde and Bush streets. This part is all true. The rest is Doyle’s writing skill.

The story is primarily one wild tale after another as told by retired sea captain John Carson and recounted by Louis. Each day Louis, if he feels well enough to get out of bed, gets to know the city and returns to a roaring fire in the fireplace of his boarding house. Just as his host Mr. Carson is getting to the good part of each story, however, boarding house owner and cook Mary Carson calls everyone to dinner in no uncertain terms.

The other character in this tale is the city itself. You will feel the fog on your face and feel the muscles in your legs ache when climbing the stair-stepped slopes of San Fran along with Louis. You’ll feel Louis’s generosity of spirit and the love he was heading toward in marrying Fanny. And you will just feel beautiful writing enveloping you.

Then you’ll wonder more about the real life of Robert Louis Stevenson. And, let me tell you, there is plenty to find out. If you just want a quick but satisfying read with photos of Louis in the South Pacific, I recommend a tiny little booklet in the Northwest room called R.L. Stevenson Poet in Paradise by Maxine Mrantz. Then there is a more complete telling of Louis’ whole life in Claire Harman’s Myself and the Other Fellow: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson.

To cap it all off, take a quick trip down to the 10th street boat launch road in Everett and stand just a few feet away from what is left of the Equator, the boat that brought Louis to his final destiny, Samoa.

Treasure! Pirates! Danger! Giant Squid!

I would never in a million years do this: dive to the depths of the ocean in search of shipwrecks; then, once found, weave through the wreckage to find clues as to why it sunk. I’ve seen enough stuff on TV and in the movies to know it’s no picnic under the waves. And when things go wrong, they go horribly wrong. Plus, there are all those giant squid watching you with their bowling-ball sized eyes. I know this from Discovery Channel specials I should never have watched.

Luckily, someone else has done all the diving, researching and dodging giant squid for me while searching for a long-lost pirate ship, the Golden Fleece. And Robert Kurson has written all about it in Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship in which he chronicles the treasure hunt by diving superstars John Mattera and John Chatterton.

Mattera and Chatterton scuttle their plans for a major dive after they are contacted by a world-renown and very successful treasure hunter (we’ll call him Mr. Smarty-pants) who is obsessed with finding the lost ship of John Bannister, pirate extraordinaire. The divers will get a cut of what they find, but there is a short window of opportunity to find it. The Dominican Republic is on the verge of signing the UNESCO international treaty that would put a stop to private shipwreck hunting in their waters.

The Golden Fleece is the holy grail of pirate shipwrecks. It sunk in June of 1686 when Bannister and his crew fought a two-day battle with two British warships. England had been embarrassed many times by Bannister and they were determined to put an end to his pirate shenanigans. But Bannister wasn’t captured and the Royal Navy ships limped back to England, further adding to Bannister’s swashbuckling reputation.

The only thing is, the two divers agree to search only where Mr. Smarty-pants says the shipwreck of the Golden Fleece must be. So, with their state of the art equipment and two other experts on board, they comb the waters off the white sandy beaches of Cayo Levantado for months and months and months. They start running out of time and money and realize they’re never going to find the wreckage if they continue to do what Mr. Smarty-pants tells them to do. Mattera decides to strikes out on his own and uncovers clues that point in another direction. He finds these clues IN A LIBRARY(!!) and they are able to pinpoint where the wreckage lies.

This is a choppy but satisfying ride of a book. You don’t have to be a good swimmer to enjoy it and you may even find yourself holding your breath in a couple of places. And those giant squid? Turns out, they’re only in the really, really deep ocean. Can you blame me for reading between the bubbles?