Betty MacDonald and “The Egg” that hatched her career

eggandiEnjoy this post from Joan as she writes about all things Betty MacDonald:

When Pacific Northwest writer Betty MacDonald’s first book, The Egg and I, was published in 1945 it was not just a hit, it was a phenomenon selling over a million copies within the first year of publication. That book, a funny little memoir about early married life trying to make a living chicken ranching and having run-ins with Olympic Peninsula locals, went on to be translated into twenty languages, and spawned several movies: The Egg and I starring Fred MacMurry and Claudette Colbert , and later, The Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle.

lookingforbettyHow is it possible that such a book could take the book world by storm and land the author on the pages of Life magazine? And how could she still have a fan base so strong in Europe that there was a BBC radio documentary about her commemorating what would have been her 100th birthday in March of 2008 (she died at the age of 49 in 1958)? Seattle historian Paula Becker wondered about this as well, and tells us how she came to unravel Betty’s very complicated life in her book Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I.

Go ahead and add your name to the hold list for both Betty MacDonald’s memoirs and Paula Becker’s book about Betty. Then come to the Main Library to hear Paula talk about all things Betty MacDonald on Saturday, January 7 at 2PM.

Betty entertained her readers and gave them a good inside-out look at Seattle and the Pacific Northwest during the mid-part of the 20th century, political incorrectness and all. Much of how the rest of the country and the world imagined the Pacific Northwest was based at the time on Betty’s books. But Betty didn’t just entertain adult readers. While she was working on her three other memoirs, she also wrote the very popular Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series of books for children.

anybodyShe makes reference to drinking a lot of coffee, so maybe that explains where she got the energy to write so many books in such a short amount of time. While “Egg” was the blockbuster, her other memoirs are equally entertaining, whether about recovering from tuberculosis in a Seattle Sanatorium (The Plague and I), raising two teenage daughters on the edge of Vashon Island (Onions in the Stew), or how she and her family got through the depression (Anybody Can Do Anything), all written with her irreverence for life and her ability to poke fun at anything and everything.

Whether you’re looking for a good children’s book that has stood the test of time or a memoir where the northwest landscape figures as prominently as its colorful characters, Betty MacDonald’s books are still a good bet. Most of all, they’re just plain fun to read because she is first and foremost a really good writer. Read just one and you’ll see why Paula became a little obsessed with Betty’s story and why she needed to tell it.

Talking to Strangers (About Books) Part 1

I know I’ve said this before but here it is again: we are living in the golden age of reading. Never before (at least in my lifetime) has it been so cool to be caught reading. It’s not unheard of to encounter people walking around town sporting vintage Vonnegut T-shirts or Jane Austen cell phone cases. Literary tattoos are plastered all over social media; chances are you know someone with at least one. We have Kindles and tablets and ebooks and downloadable audiobooks and so many ways to read a book without having an actual book in hand. Instagram has a whole community dedicated to books and readers known as #bookstagram, celebrities like Emma Watson have their own Goodreads book clubs that gets thousands of people across the world reading the same book at the same time, a new app for readers called Litsy has recently gone viral, and it seems like anyone with something to say about books has a blog–us included!

So it’s no wonder that I have been spending a lot of time lately on bookish social media. I manage some of the library accounts but most of my time on these platforms is when I’m acting as a private citizen. Goodreads, Instagram, and Litsy are populated with passionate readers who love to talk about their favorite topic: books! Today I’ll be talking about some of the different types of conversations/experiences one can expect to have on bookish social media.

when harry met carol on litsy
Conversation #1: OMGZ THIS BOOK IS AH-MAY-ZING!
These are straight-up unadulterated fangirl or fanboy posts. Often initiated because of the acquisition of a long-awaited book, or one currently hot and trending. Sometimes it’s even more special, a rare first edition of a classic work of literature. People posting these photos have so much enthusiasm for what they’re talking about that their excitement practically makes the screen vibrate. Often it doesn’t take long for someone to reach out to the poster and let them know how they also have that book, or how they also want to read it so badly they just can’t hardly wait any longer. The bonds made over these posts can result in actual friendships.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram and Litsy

mindy kaling pin on instagram by bildungsromans
Conversation #2: Look at this incredible cute/useful/rare bookish accessory I acquired!
Most often populating your feed during book/library/comic conventions, these posts can spark instant jealousy–but in a good way. With the rare exception, the bookish communities lurking on these social networks tend to be a welcoming bunch with nary a troll among them. So when I say jealousy, I mean in the kind of supportive way you’d expect from the nicest person you know. And often the person replying just wants to know where he/she can acquire similar because they love it so much. Much like a bargain hunter, bookish people love to show off their newest prizes and are happy to share the shop/convention where they got such a rad thing.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

harry potter morsmordre bookflip by bildungsromans on instagram
Conversation #3: Photo challenges.
If you use photo-centric apps you are probably familiar with photo block. It’s like writer’s block but for ideas on what to photograph. When you feel like there’s nothing new going on in your reading life to post about, you can always jump in with one of the many photo challenges floating around. Usually run by book bloggers, these challenges are meant to give inspiration and also to bring people together. Each day there is a different photo prompt, sometimes based around a central theme for the month, like Harry Potter. By following the hashtag associated with the photo challenge, you can see what everyone else is doing. I have connected with some majorly creative people through photo challenges, though I do find that if I take a month to do a photo challenge I will skip the next month. I can only take so much structure. I blame my Bohemian ancestry!
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Instagram and Litsy

a review by carol of headstrong on litsy
Conversation #4: Sharing actual quotes and illustrations from the book as I’m reading it.
What’s better than happening upon a truly insightful, inspiring, hilarious, or thought-provoking quote while reading? Sharing it instantly with strangers! You might be amazed at how many strangers you’ll connect with by sharing these quotes. I have witnessed spontaneous book clubs sprout up, and reading buddies unify. A reading buddy is someone who reads the same book as someone else at roughly the same time, like a two-person book club. Usually these are planned, but there’s something truly beautiful when you see two people connect halfway through reading the same book and then finish it out together. It can also be very satisfying to get validation from other people when you get to a particularly frustrating or profound part of a story. Even better when you have a differing opinion and opposing voices discuss it. Remember how I said nary a troll lives in the bookish part of social media? I meant it, and here’s where the proof lies.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

giant days post on litsy by carol
Conversation #5: If you like that book, you will love these other 10.
How many of you have ever gotten a book recommendation from a librarian? A friend? A dentist? I have received great suggestions from all three, but it seems especially magical when this recommendation comes from someone I’ve never met and probably never will meet. In conversation #4 I talked about connecting over a book that someone is currently reading and continuously posting about as he/she goes along. Conversation #5 is often the result. You just discovered this way cool read? Here are a bunch of others by the same author/in the same genre/in the same weird literary niche. Not only will this help you travel down the particular reading rabbit hole you’d stumbled across, it will often get you to read outside your comfort zone or discover authors you’d never have found if you had been left to your own devices.
Best platform(s) for this type of conversation:
Goodreads, Instagram, Litsy

And that brings us to book discoveries as a result of bookish social media. Unfortunately I’ve run out of space, so this will continue with Part 2. Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!

What to Read for a Readathon

24 in 48 readathon

This is exactly as heavy as it looks! TBR stands for To Be Read and mine is varied and mostly fun fluff. The dots on my sweater and all the writing was done in the Litsy app, which is like Instagram and GoodReads had an adorable baby that’s impossible to put down.

Even if you’ve never heard the term before in your entire life, you can probably infer what a readathon actually is. It’s a glorious time where you pledge to read for a certain amount of time on a particular day or days. Participants are encouraged to take to their social media streams to share what they’re reading, favorite quotes, beverages they’re consuming to help get them through any reading slumps, etc. I’ll be participating in the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend, which just means that in the 48 hours of Saturday & Sunday I will read for 24 of them. I can break it up however I like, and break it up I shall.

While it’s true I’ve never participated in a readathon before, I have researched enough to (hopefully) know what I’m doing. The key to everything, I’m told, is to have a variety of reading material at hand so if I start to get burnt out on one format I can switch it up and give myself a second wind. With that in mind, I present to you some stellar examples of each preferred readathon format.

Graphic Novels
You already know about my love of comics and graphic novels. As I reported last month I had a giant stack of single issue comic books at home that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’m happy to say I have plowed through most of them, but some of the larger story arcs and single release graphic novels remain. Nimona is on the very top of the list, partially due to Alan’s recommendation last year and also since it was a National Book Award finalist. It’s by Noelle Stevenson, one of the creators of Lumberjanes (I love Lumberjanes!). Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt gets into foodie culture with witty observations and hilarious illustrations. I’ll probably use the graphic novels as a segue from one book to another, though due to having a pretty hefty backlog of some Marvel comics I might read a whole series run in one go. We shall see!

Poetry
I recently learned that poetry doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, I know I sound like a 12 year old but thanks to an education that forced me to find obscure (and often manufactured) meaning in poems I pretty much have avoided them as an adult. All of that changed when I read Milk and Honey which is written and illustrated by Rupi Kaur. This extremely personal collection of autobiographical poems takes you deep into Rupi’s soul as she rips her heart out and lays it bare for all to read. There’s love, loss, family, heartache, sex, and what it means to be a woman. If you’re looking for something lighter, try Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke, and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. While these poems also seem to burst forth from the poet’s life, there’s a decidedly different tone. Colorfully illustrated, these funny and irreverent poems will resonate with adults young & not-so-young.

Essays
I recently discovered the book that changed my reading life. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by local author Lindy West turned my world upside down. You see, much like poetry, I had the gigantic misconception that feminist works had to be dry, dull, or just not written well. Shrill changed it all for me and led me down the road to Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I had mistakenly assumed that Bad Feminist would be a book entirely about feminism. It’s more like a look at life — feminism included — through someone else’s eyes. I just checked out The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. It promises to combine the two biggest parts of me — nerd and feminist — and I can’t hardly wait to dive in. Plus, there’s a dinosaur on the cover. I can’t pass up a good dino! I’ve also got all of Mary Roach’s back catalog that I purchased when she was in town in April. She autographed them all, and I felt guilty telling her I’d never read her books. However, I did immediately follow that up with how excited I was to read them and now is the perfect opportunity.

mary roach and the ellisons

My husband and I got to chat with bestselling author Mary Roach when she visited Everett in April as part of EPL’s Ways to Read. Did you get to meet her, too? Our library is the best!

Short Stories
A few months back I had the (surprise) pleasure of reading and falling in love with Warlock Holmes by G.S. Denning. While I knew it was going to be a crazy retelling of Sherlock Holmes with magic and beasts, I didn’t realize (although I should) that it would be more of a collection of short stories, just like the original Sherlock Holmes books were. You can read a story, move to another book, and come back to Warlock Holmes and read the next story. You can pretty much read them in any order you want after the first story that sets up the world. I have also checked out Chainmail Bikini: the Anthology of Women Gamers. It’s in graphic novel format but it’s truly short, autobiographical stories of girl geeks I can’t wait to read.

Novellas
I confess I had forgotten that I owned Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It came in one of those literary subscription boxes and I didn’t know what I had. Someone just told me it’s about a bookmobile, which, hello wheelhouse! I usually don’t go for novellas because I tend to want more when I’m finished: more characterization, more plot, more everything. However, I’ve been told this one is perfect the way it is and so I will go into it with that in mind.

Bookshots
If you’ve been following us on social media and/or been to a grocery store in the last few months you’ve heard about and/or seen Bookshots. Bookshots are the newest James Patterson creations that are taking the reading world by storm. Bookshots’ aim is to change people’s minds and habits by convincing them that their excuse, “I’m too busy to read an entire book!” isn’t true at all. These books are short and I would consider them novellas. Multiple Bookshots titles are published each month so there’s always a variety to choose from. Be sure to check out the Quick Picks collections when you’re at the library as most of the Bookshots titles are going into that wonderful grab-and-go, no-holds-allowed collection.

You’ll notice most of the books I’m writing about aren’t featured in my readathon TBR photo above. That’s because I’ve already read them and wrote this just for you, to encourage you to sign up and join the reading fun. A few people have told me that they really want to participate but are pretty sure there’s no way they can fit 24 solid hours of reading into their weekend. That’s totally okay! The whole point is to schedule some reading time into an otherwise hectic life and maybe connect with some other readers along the way. You can follow along with me if you like. I’m on Twitter & Instagram as bildungsromans and on Litsy as Carol. Ready? Set? Readathon!

The Curious Mind of Mary Roach

eveningwith

Thank goodness for the curious mind of Mary Roach. Without it we would never have found out the hilarious peculiarities of applying the scientific method. I know the terms ‘hilarious’ and ‘scientific method’ are rarely used in the same sentence, but read one of Roach’s wonderful books and you will understand that in her world they actually fit quite well together. Also things can get a bit, well, gross and embarrassing. Throwing caution to the wind, she isn’t afraid to find out exactly what happens when you blend science and odd topics such as death, the afterlife, sex, space exploration and the digestive tract.

In preparation for her visit to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday April 9th, which is part of the library’s 2016 Ways to Read series of programs, here is a brief rundown of her major works to date. For your convenience, I’ve listed them in the highly subjective order of least embarrassing/disturbing to most.
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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Many leave the idea of the possibility of life after death to religion, philosophy or psychics. Our author doggedly, and sincerely, interviews those who look for a measurable way of answering this age-old question. As you might guess, the results are a bit odd but never boring. Attempts to weigh the soul, analyze ectoplasm and record the sounds of ghosts are but a few of the activities examined. A particular favorite is the ‘Asking Questions Study’ at the University of Arizona where mediums were told to ask practical questions of the departed such as “How is the Weather?” and “Do you engage in sexual behavior?”

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Ah space. To boldly go where no one has gone before. But when nature calls, where, and more importantly how, do you actually ‘go’ in zero gravity? Forgoing the grand mission statements of NASA, Roach explores the very real problems of isolation and confinement for long periods of time, space hygiene, the perils of space sickness and how not to throw up in your helmet, and, of course, the difficulties of sex in zero gravity. The final frontier has never seemed less heroic, or more hilarious.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Once you realize the alimentary canal is just a fancy way of saying digestive tract, it might dawn on you that this book could get a tad gross. And while it does require a strong stomach (har, har) this work is well worth any unpleasantness that might arise. From the mouth to the, ahem, other end, our intrepid author doesn’t flinch from exploring the humor and surreal nature of scientific endeavors to find out just what happens when you eat a sandwich. Favorite chapter title: I’m all stopped up: Elvis Presley’s megacolon, and other ruminations on death by constipation.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Brace yourself for penis cameras, coital imaging, prescription strength vibrators, mental orgasms, impotent pandas and orgasmic pigs when you crack the covers of this great book. You actually start to feel sorry for the scientists who study in the field, since the work they do is important but hard not to giggle at. Roach, and especially her husband, are really troopers in this one: volunteering to perform their conjugal duties at the Diagnostic Testing Unit of London’s Heart Hospital in the name of science. Talk about grace under pressure.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
The gruesome, but impossible to look away from, topic for this book is what happens to our bodies after death. Surprisingly a lot it turns out. If you are just trying to dispose of a body, you will learn about a number of ways to do so with sky burial being a personal favorite. This book also introduces you to many of the ‘jobs’ cadavers have: subjects for instructional surgery, realistic crash test dummies, ballistic trauma recipients, and simply rotting in a field to measure states of decay for forensic scientists. The classic macabre Roach humor is on display here, making this one of her most hilarious and memorable works.

Hint Fiction Standouts

hint-fiction-contestThe results are in! What results you ask? Why, the results from our Hint Fiction Contest. It wasn’t easy, but we have selected 20 of the most intriguing entries and are publishing them here on A Reading Life. If you aren’t familiar with Hint Fiction, it is basically a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex tale. So without further ado, here are the 20 entries selected by Everett Public Library staff from our contest. Enjoy!

Last Tasks by Steve

Saundra stroked the rosewood box.

“Take it.”

Mitchell slid the box from her.

“Are you sure?”

A flickering smile.

“Let the dead bury the dead.”

The Other Way Down  by Sean

The reflection wasn’t his. Perhaps the mirror lying. Or had he changed into something unrecognizable? He looked at his ragged hands. ‘What have I done?’

Woman in Orange by Theresa

“Susan hated orange; she wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”  Hysterical giggles shook me as I realized that is exactly what had just happened.

Sailing to the Unknown by Espen

It laid there in the gathering light, beckoning me to push it to the water, to sail it into the brightening dawn—into the unknown.

Slough by Kyle

A Matryoska, once twisted and pulled apart, will reveal its secret, that within it resides something  different- more fragile, perhaps, that perpetuates its storyline.

Dé·mo·dé by Steve

An old man and dog, palsied, stagger into the shop.

“Company quit making replacement parts,” said the technician.

The dog can’t lick its chrome crotch.

We Began Again by Celeste

Ma turned the radio up and adjusted the rearview mirror, catching sight of the smoldering house again.
“He can’t stop us now.”
She headed west…

Just Listen to My Voice by Celeste

Ten, nine, eight… inhale deeply.
Seven, six, five… exhale slowly.
Four, three, two…

“Don’t panic, don’t panic!”

One… you are calm.

“There’s too much blood!”

The Art People by Joann

There were 35 survivors of the bus crash, we called them the Art People.  Today there are only 3. The others disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Seduced by Steve

“He stole my heart.”

“How romantic!”

“No.” Taking her friend’s hand, she placed it on her chest. Their eyes met. “I want it back.”

Louise and the Errand by Bryn

After Louise finished her oboe lesson, she strolled delightfully next door to look at the faded historical romance novels at Dunlynn’s used bookstore. Pure bliss!

Zack of All Trades by Ben

The thing who was once the man Zack sniffed the grave. Once repulsive he robbed graves now without remorse. This was the cost of survival.

The Mystical Guardian by Alex

Before disappearing, my dad gave me a weird bowling ball and said,
“If you keep it safe, it’ll keep YOU safe.”
So far, it has.

Fahrenheit 1.5 by Carolyn Agee

Fingers flushed, cold, and numb, she kicked snow onto the road, wondering where he could be as sirens wailed in the distance.

Extinction by Charles

They caught one – a three-year-old female. She cried and banged the bars before tiring and crawling into the desperate solitude of captivity.

NEIGHBORS by Susan

They look different.
I know but you should be nice, anyway.
Why?
Because you look different to them.
I’m nice.  Maybe they are, too?
Yes!

The Day After by David

Dragging out the pool cover he stopped. Too late now. Just drain the damned thing.

Will Power by David

Why did he always fall for guys named Will? And this one turned out to be a Bible thumper.

The Prospect in Peach by Bryn

It was not sales, but seduction. Clarence would ingratiate himself with a 1950’s housewife.  He listened to Mildred coo as she stroked the Buick’s upholstery.

The Same by Roger

As George Simmons awoke one morning from a deep slumber he still found himself to be a gigantic cat. Life is good, he thought. Servants?

Richard Russo in Everett

Exciting news for literature lovers and those who appreciate a good story:

Official%20Russo%20Image%20-¬%20Elena%20SeibertRichard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, will be making an appearance for a free lecture and book signing this Friday, February 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Everett Performing Arts Center. A book signing follows the main event and copies of Empire Falls will be available for purchase.

Russo is a Pulitzer Prize-winner for Empire Falls and author of Elsewhere, Nobody’s Fool, Straight Man and more. He is a master of rich characters and pitch-perfect descriptions of small-town America. His humorous lectures cover his approach to shaping narratives and how “home” has defined his work.

But wait, there is more. You have a chance to buy a ticket to an exclusive reception with the author at 6 p.m. on Friday before the free lecture. In addition to a close audience with Russo, the reception will also feature heavy appetizers and a no-host bar. Tickets for the author reception are available through Brown Paper Tickets ($10 for Friends of the Library and $25 for non-members).

So what are you waiting for? See you on Friday!

Children’s fiction author puts down roots in Everett

Enjoy a post written by Emily Dagg, EPL’s head of Youth Services, about this weekend’s Ways to Read author event on Saturday February 6th where Carole Etsby Dagg will be talking about her latest book: Sweet Home Alaska.

Cowgirl CaroleLocal author Carole Estby Dagg is inspired to write about pioneers on the move. Perhaps it’s because she moved a lot as a child. Her father was a civil engineer, so her family moved wherever the next bridge or tunnel building project took them. In 12 years, Carole attended 11 different public schools.

Every time they moved, she and her two younger sisters were only allowed to bring two boxes of toys each. Luckily, there was no limit on the number of books. Carole’s most loyal friends followed her everywhere, including Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. And the first thing her family did after each move was to register for a library card.

A voracious reader and learner, she raced ahead in school, finishing high school at age 16. She then attended the University of Washington where she changed her major multiple times before deciding to study law. She was admitted to Law School at the age of 19; however, a summer job with the Seattle Public Library changed her plans. It only took her one year to complete the two-year library degree program at the University of British Columbia.

Instead of becoming a lawyer she married a lawyer and started a family in Seattle where she worked as a children’s librarian. In the recession of the early 1970’s, Carole’s young family was caught up in the wave of young professionals leaving Seattle in droves. She, her husband, and two young children moved several times: to Anacortes, then Anchorage, then Seattle again, then Edmonds, before settling down in Everett in 1977.

Carole - leaning smile-124Everett had almost everything on their wish list: good career prospects, big old houses, lovely views, great schools, beautiful parks, family-friendly neighborhoods, and a wonderful public library. Both children were tired of moving at that point and wanted Everett to become their official childhood home. They got their wish, and remained in the same house until college.

Meanwhile, public libraries were engaged in layoffs. So, Carole went back to college to become a Certified Public Accountant. Why? Because in the help wanted ads there were more listings for accountants that anything else. In the accounting field she continued blazing trails. After a few years of experience, she became the Snohomish County head of Financial Analysis and Reporting.

Always on a quest for knowledge, Carole continued taking college courses on diverse subjects. In 1979, Carole enrolled in a computer programming class with the goal of streamlining payroll for the County. At the kitchen table on evenings and weekends, she wrote code and successfully created a simple COBOL program. Her children were curious, so she explained the patterns of zeros and ones, and demonstrated how punch cards worked. An early adopter of telecommuting, she connected to work using a rotary-dial phone and a modem with a handset cradle.

When a children’s librarian position opened up at the Everett Public Library, she gladly traded in her punch cards for puppets and returned to her favorite career. However, she only lasted a few months in that position before she was promoted to be the library’s new assistant director. After she retired from librarianship, Carole began pursuing her third career: children’s author.

SweetHome_FINALHer first book, The Year We Were Famous (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) is an award-winning historical fiction novel based on Carole’s own pioneer ancestors. That book took 15 years to become published; the second book was “only” a five-year process. Sweet Home Alaska (Penguin Group USA, Feb. 2, 2016) is also inspired by a real-life event; her son’s move to Palmer, Alaska.

That’s all I’m going to disclose about my mother’s new book. I’ll let her tell the rest of the story this Saturday February 6th at 2pm in the Main Library Auditorium. She plans to talk more in-depth about her inspiration and describe how she researches specific time periods. Her talks include many visuals and photographs, gathered during the research phase.

There will also be cake and sparkling cider, plus Sweet Home Alaska souvenirs, to celebrate this very sweet book launch.