How Cycling Can Save the World

You may think Peter Walker, author of How Cycling Can Save the World, is engaging in hyperbole with the title of his book. But he actually makes a case for cycling curing everything that ails us and the world (and perhaps even washing the dishes when it’s done). Does this seem too much like ‘As Seen on TV?’ Wait, there’s more!

Think roads are too crowded and traffic is too heavy? Imagine if more of us were cycling how much volume in steel would be removed from the roads.

Worried about the environment? Fewer car trips equal less consumption of fossil fuel and improvement in air quality because of the reduction in emissions. Fewer cars need fewer asphalt parking spots leaving more green spaces.

Have you put on a few pounds and need some exercise but don’t feel you have the time? Cycling can use time you spend driving somewhere already, so you arrive at your destination and you’ve had a workout. No worries about going to the gym!

Feel unsafe on a bicycle? More bicycles on the road bring more awareness of cyclists, making the roads safer. Pedestrians become safer too. Walker compares death and accident statistics in countries including the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark. As you can guess, ours are not good. And I hate to tell you, but eating junk food and sitting in front of the tv (and, of course, zombies) are more likely to kill you than a bicycle accident.

Want to get to know your neighbors or build a sense of community? Cycling allows you to see and engage with your surroundings in a more intimate way than glimpsing them out your window as you speed by. You can make more friends, too.

Interested in cycling but maybe a little nervous or hesitant? There’s a group ride this weekend: Tour de EFD. You might enjoy it so much, you’ll be selling your car on Craigslist next weekend.

Love Rock Revolution

Love Rock

Generally I assert that all change is bad. However, change within art forms is an exception to this iron-clad rule. The most fascinating moments in the music world happen when techniques change, when new ideas are introduced. In popular music one of those moments occurred in the late 70s when mainstream rock/pop became so bloated and corporate-driven that the unwashed masses started a grassroots movement that became known as punk.

The heart of the punk rock movement was not found in a particular sound or lyric but in an idea: Anyone can make music! Thus, the do-it-yourself revolution came about. Punk bands exploded in the UK, to a lesser extent in the US, and other DIY subgenres such as no wave also reared up their ugly heads. Love Rock Revolution: K Records and the Rise of Independent Music by Mark Baumgarten is a charming book that looks at one branch of the anyones who made and continue to make music in the spirit of the punk revolution.

Led by leather-jacketed anarchists, teens ignited London in a burst of figurative flames. Meanwhile, in a small fishing village on the coast of Washington state… Well, actually in the capital city of Olympia, a different kind of musical revolution began, one that many of us are not so familiar with. ‘Round about 1982 Calvin Johnson began releasing cassettes on his label, K Records, out of Olympia. As a teenager, Calvin was transformed by punk rock, but as a music maker his tastes went in a slightly different direction.

When Johnson put together his band Beat Happening in 1982, none of the members were experienced musicians. This typifies the punk/DIY mindset. But the music that they created, while simple and non-technical, had little in common with punk sonically. Lo-fi recording techniques, the band’s lack of instrumental skills, Johnson’s deep voice – all these factors contributed to a new sound which has been called lo-fi, twee pop and indie pop. Often described as childlike or sweet, Beat Happening’s music is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it kind of a deal.

As time passed, Johnson recorded other bands, began selling vinyl, distributed for yet other bands, and slowly increased the traffic of K Records. Meanwhile, through national and international connections, he also significantly contributed to the development of independent music, an influence that continues to be strong 35 years later.

To name but a few of the accomplishments that came out of K Records:

  • The inclusion of women in rock music: The riot grrrl movement, which later became associated with the Kill Rock Stars label, originated at K Records. Concerts put on by the label were inclusive of female performers.
  • All-age performances all of the time: Johnson would not perform in venues unless they were open to all ages, and he continued this philosophy when booking concert events for K bands.
  • Artists receive 50% of profits made from record sales: This was an unheard of split when the label started, but Johnson considered it imperative. Also, business is done on a handshake rather than with a written contract.

Love Rock Revolution is highly entertaining and informative, an enjoyable read on one aspect of the PNW music scene. If you’re looking for other related materials, try The Punk Singer, a documentary about Kathleen Hanna and the riot grrrl movement, or The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. And be sure to check out our selection of Local CDs. Enjoy!

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Video Games, Seriously

Don’t tell anyone, but I’m pushing 50 and I play video games. There I said it. For those in a younger age cohort there is no shame in admitting and even championing the fact that they play.  But for those of us who remember playing Galaga at the arcade when it first came out, there tends to be a strange self-imposed stigma of seeing video games as childish or a waste of time. Also, back in the day it was definitely NOT an activity you mentioned if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If you suffer from this ancient malady as well, you will be happy to learn that nowadays there are plenty of people who take video games seriously and even write about them. Here at the library we have a great collection of books that examine the history, meaning and impact of video games on society and the people who play them. Here are a few to get you started.

Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade by Carly Kocurek

Part history and part cultural critique, Coin-Operated Americans is the story of the rise and fall of the video game arcade phenomenon in the late 1970s and early 80s. The author is particularly interested in how the early arcades and games came to be seen as the almost exclusive domain of young men despite ample evidence that girls and women participated as well. She leaves no cultural stone unturned, examining the games and films of the era that came to shape people’s perceptions of video games and those who played them. She makes a particularly convincing argument that these attitudes persist today not only in the realm of gaming but also in the larger digital culture created by the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter by Tom Bissell

This work is no paean to video games as the ‘next great thing’ that will usher in a shining future with benefits for all. Instead the author, an admitted video game addict, boldly tries to apply critical tools often reserved for traditional art forms (plot, characterization, dialog, meaning) to video games. The results tend to raise more questions than they answer, but they are stronger for it. While video games are visual, they aren’t passive like watching a film, with the player’s participation altering the outcome. While many video games rely on plot, characterization and dialogue, it is undeniably a fact that some games lack almost all three and are still very popular and fun to play. Despite there being no easy answers, Bissell isn’t afraid to wade into the fray and look at video games with a critical eye. After reading this book, you might as well.

Death by Video Game: Danger, Pleasure, and Obsession on the Virtual Frontline by Simon Parkin

As you can probably guess from the title, Parkin isn’t afraid to deal with the obsessive, and sometimes lethal, fascination people can have with video games. Starting with an investigation into how an individual literally played an online video game for so long that he died, the author then begins to ask questions that examine the impact games have on individuals and society as a whole: What is it about video games that can produce such obsessive fascination? Are virtual worlds more appealing than the real? If so, what does that say about the way ‘real life’ is structured? While examining these issues, the author intersperses his personal experiences with interviews with game designers who are trying to push the medium into new areas. The result is a work that is much more than a simple pro or con argument about video games and it is all the better for it.

Gamelife: A Memoir by Michael Clune

This affecting and intimate memoir chronicles the impact of video games on the author’s childhood and early young adulthood. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a specific game Clune was obsessed with from the second grade to the eighth and how it affected his emotional development. Clune’s formative years were in the 70’s and 80’s so the games described are definitely old school and mostly text based. This work could have easily been swamped by nostalgia and become an overly technical explanation of the games he played. Instead it is a genuine examination of how the game experience helped the author navigate the treacherous waters of gym class hazing, cafeteria politics and all the other ‘joys’ of early adolescence. By focusing on his emotions and experiences, Clune gives his memoir a much broader appeal and relevance. No knowledge of how a Commodore 64 worked is necessary to enjoy this book.

If you want to continue to explore the topic, definitely check out the many other titles we have about video games and their impact. It is far from game over.

Spring Cleaning Reading List

Confession time: I am the absolute worst at keeping everything clean and neat. Some people are extremely organized, and I’ve never been able to understand how they got that way. Other people turn to cleaning and organizing precisely when they feel stressed, as it gives them a measure of control over their environment and gives them something else to focus on for a while. Then there are people like me whose homes and work spaces always seem to be in chaos, as other priorities always seem to trump cleaning and organizing. Whether you’re extreme like me or fall somewhere else on the neatness Bell curve, here are some books that will help us out.

First, let’s talk about clutter. There’s no point in cleaning if there’s stuff to be put away, purged, or repaired, right? This logic is usually what keeps me from progressing with any home organizing or cleaning project. Fortunately The Home Decluttering Diet: Organize Your Way to a Clean and Lean Home by Jennifer Lifford exists. A rare combination of visual appeal and useful information, this book takes you through each room of your house and helps you make those tough decisions about what to keep and what to send away. Within each room, Lifford breaks the work down into smaller projects that are easier to chip away at so that procrastinators like me can’t use the “I don’t have time to do the whole room tonight” line. Every. Single. Night.

If this book doesn’t appeal, try the more direct Unf*ck your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess by Rachel Hoffman. While the title is eye-catching, the blurbs on the back by personal heroes Kelly Sue DeConnick and Cory Doctorow are what sold me. It’s based on a 20/10 system where you clean for 20 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. While this might sound completely obvious to the Martha Stewarts of the world, I need this actually written down so that I can give myself some breathing room when it comes to tackling what is already going to be an unpleasant or at least not fun project. If you’re a professional procrastinator or are really good about ignoring random junk piling up in your entryway, this book might be for you (and it’s definitely for me.)

However, if you think reading a how-to manual on decluttering is too remedial or an insult to your intelligence (seriously, there is no judgement here!) you may find inspiration from someone else’s journey to live a clutter-free life. Year of No Clutter by Eve O. Schaub shows the psychological side of clutter and hoarding. While she spends a year tackling her “Hell Room” where stuff has just piled up in overwhelming chaos, she also explores hoarding in general through some of the recognizable media out there: the TV show Hoarders and the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. As Schaub conquers her psychological clutter, you may find yourself inspired to roll up your sleeves and tackle your own “Hell Room.”

Now let’s talk about cleaning. I think you can learn a lot about them just from their titles: The Cleaning Ninja: How to Clean Your Home in 8 Minutes Flat and Other Clever Housekeeping Techniques by Courtenay Hartford and Clean My Space: the Secret to Cleaning Better, Faster–and Loving Your Home Every Day by Melissa Maker. Both books break down cleaning challenges into smaller tasks, explaining the more difficult ones in detail while also not talking down to you. There are tips for the best kinds of cleaning equipment to own (I bet my cats would love a feather duster!) and professional advice for every level of cleaner (let’s call it slacker–like me– to pro).

Finally, I turn my gaze to organization. After all, it’s the last hurdle after conquering clutter and busting those dust bunnies. And I’ve found the perfect-for-me book: Organized Enough: the Anti-Perfectionist’s Guide to Getting–and Staying–Organized by Amanda Sullivan. There’s some overlap here with decluttering, but the sections on which types of paperwork to keep and for how long really shine. The book is divided into two sections. The first part helps you learn to think differently about your stuff and your habitat. The second part cultivates specific skills that will aid you in staying organized for good. That’s great news for people like me who want to put in the work once and just be done with it.

If you don’t want to spend tons of precious time dealing with the stress and emotional work of decluttering, cleaning, and organization, join me in my spring cleaning quest that all starts with the right book.

Great Danes

If you haven’t noticed lately, Denmark has been taking the publishing industry by storm:  Specifically, the Danes ability to create a ‘quality of coziness’, hygge in Danish, is being lauded and held up as the path to an ideal and happy life. There are several new titles on the topic including How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World and The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident Capable Kids to name but a few. So are the Danes, and their Nordic cousins, the happiest people on earth? For the pro argument, definitely take a look at the titles mentioned above. There are other works by and about the Danes that suggest a more nuanced view however. Here are a few I’ve read and watched that might be of interest.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth

Michael Booth has lived and worked in Denmark for many years, even marrying and starting a family there, but he can’t quite let go of his very British wit and outlook. This gives him a unique perspective as he examines the culture of not only Denmark but also the other Nordic countries he travels to including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. He finds much to admire (a strong sense of community and egalitarianism) but also sees some contradictions (a distrust of exceptionalism and pressure to fit in). None of his musings are mean-spirited, he clearly loves his adopted culture, but he does enjoying taking a few hilarious jibes at their foibles (Swedes seem incapable of addressing each other, let alone forming a proper queue). This work is a great place to start if you want to examine the Nordic cultures with a more critical eye.

Karate Chop & So Much for that Winter by Dorthe Nors

Nors is an outstanding Danish writer who specializes in brief tales that seem to hover on the surface of things but ultimately expose a deeper and often darker meaning underneath. She likes to experiment with form as well, with her subject often being contemporary culture and an individual’s place in it. Karate Chop is a collection of brief short stories, many just a page or two in length, that exposes the weirdness lurking underneath the seemingly mundane actions of everyday life. Each word is selected with care and to a devastating and darkly humorous effect. So Much for that Winter is more playful and experimental. It consists of two novellas, one told in a series of lists and the other in a series of headlines, which charts the inner lives of two very 21st century women grappling with all that life sends their way.

Unit One & Borgen

Watching popular television shows are another great way to try to understand the Danes. The police procedural series Unit One is a good example. A bit like the Law and Order franchise, Unit One follows the members of an elite mobile task force that travels to different locations in Denmark to help the local police solve crimes. While definitely fiction, it is an interesting way to compare and contrast different cultural attitudes towards crime and punishment. It is also fun to watch Mads Mikkelsen, of Hannibal fame, in a very early and very different role. Borgen is another series that is helpful for trying to understand the Danes, this time in the political arena. Borgen is the fictional story of Birgitte Nyborg, the first female prime minister of Denmark, who has to learn the art of wielding power in a way that will benefit the greater good while, hopefully, doing the least harm. This series is also concerned with the press and how the news gets reported and spun to suit various interests. Even if you aren’t a big fan of political drama, there are plenty of personal and family machinations to keep you hooked.

So are the Danes the happiest people on earth? As with all interesting questions the answer is a bit complicated. Best to come to your own conclusion after checking out all of the great material here at the library.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Enjoy this last review from intrepid librarian Sarah as she heads off into a bright future:

Evicted : Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

evictedHarvard professor Matthew Desmond spent years in Milwaukee following tenants trying to find affordable housing. He also tracked landlords dealing with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, and eventually end up evicted. This is a very timely piece, as housing prices are skyrocketing in most major cities, and people are struggling to find safe havens for their families. Desmond painstakingly looked at data in the housing market, eviction and court records to piece together a picture of a reality that has not been well researched.

There are lots of reports on low-income housing’s effectiveness and availability. What has been left behind are the people who are trying to make it in the regular rental market, as it can take years to get placed into low-income housing. The tenants’ life stories and fixed incomes can contribute to their ability (or inability) to pay rent each month. Desmond tries to humanize both the tenant experience, as well as the landlord business model, and the epic magnitude of our nation’s housing crisis. He argues that housing is a basic human right, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

His citations and research are a bit daunting, but his work is very readable and disseminated in simple terms. I appreciated his closing arguments, which provided ample plausible solutions. I was fascinated to find out our government spends more on tax breaks for home owners (i.e. mortgage interest deductions), than breaks for people trying to find a roof to live under. Being homeless can set off a wave of unfortunate circumstances. By supplying safe shelter to our citizens, we can begin the process of helping people chart their own success.

Reading for Self-Care

I’m having a difficult time right now coping with some new realities in my life. Work is high-pressure this time of year because there is a ginormous wave of new books coming through the door every day (thanks, new book budget!). My personal life is crazy as I work on a new creative endeavor that is pushing the bounds of my sanity. I mean, how much energy do I really have after dealing with those tidal waves of books all day? Politically I am ready for action and contemplating how things may change over the next couple of years.

All this adds up to some serious stress levels and a general feeling of helplessness. What can I do to alleviate the stress and maybe turn some of this negative energy into action? As with most crises in my life, I turn to books. Here’s a list of books I’m utilizing as a form of self-care in this uncertain time.

reading-for-self-care

The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger by Ian Robertson
More than anything right now I really want to find a way to take negative pressures, like stress, and turn it around with a positive result. The Stress Test looks like it can do just that. Backed by over forty years of research, cognitive neuroscientist and clinical psychologist Robertson is going to teach me how to change my reaction to pressure, getting a better response that will help my overall health and well-being. I’d honestly hate to lose all stress in my life, because challenges keep me on my toes and, I think, make me a better person. Thankfully it looks like The Stress Test is a scientific approach that walks the line between too much and too little stress, which is just what I need right now.

100 Things You Can Do to Stay Fit and Healthy by Scott Douglas
It might go without saying that all this stress is adding up in a negative way. I can feel the impact it’s having on my health. That’s why I’m so looking forward to this short book. Early reviews say there are some common sense things we’ve all heard before–but I think that’s just what I need right now. Show me simple changes I can make to improve my day-to-day well-being and I’ll be set to tackle the bigger issues I care about.

The Trump Survival Guide by Gene Stone
I usually avoid talking politics on the internet because, let’s face it, as a group we humans can be overly nasty to each other online and I’m not looking for a fight. However, I don’t mind telling you how I’ve felt overwhelmed with uncertainty with the new administration and each Cabinet member’s stances on the issues that are vital to my well-being. Gene Stone’s book breaks down each issue, giving historical background, how President Obama strengthened or otherwise created change, and what President Trump is likely to do based on his history with each issue. Don’t get too bogged down in those sections, however; the best is at the end of each chapter, where Stone lists several things I can do to take action now to support each issue or cause, to strengthen it, and to give voice to the marginalized. Getting involved in national organizations, donating time to local causes, and even donating money can all help.

The Dictionary
Based on the first White House press conference, I’m certain to start keeping a dictionary by my side. I still use physical dictionaries and other reference books, as I find it easier to flip back and forth to relevant sections (especially important when trying to find the right word to embody your thoughts). But now more than ever I want to be able to define words that seem to not mean what press releases and politicians are telling me they mean. Whether or not you’re inclined to keep a giant book of words nearby, I highly recommend following Merriam-Webster on Twitter. They post a word of the day with a brief definition and often tie in these educational tweets to what’s happening in the news.

Simply Brilliant: Powerful Techniques to Unlock Your Creativity and Spark New Ideas by Bernhard Schroeder
Now more than ever I want to be creative, both in my solutions to life’s everyday problems as well as in my spare time creating something wonderful. Simply Brilliant promises to not just provide ways for me to harness my creativity, but also to explain why creativity even matters in the first place. When the going gets tough often the first thing to be eliminated is the creative, awesome thing that gives me joy. I am determined not to let this happen and I’m hoping this book will give me not just creative tactics, but the motivation to keep reminding myself, “This matters.”

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer by Helene Segura
Based on the demands for my time and energies I’m definitely going to need this book to keep everything juggled and balanced–or at least as well as I can. While there are many books published each year about how you too can achieve that work-life balance, the title of this one instantly drew me in. I definitely want to kill inefficiencies! And while it may just be a book marketing tactic, I am willing to believe it. If I want to get everything done, especially going home to a massive creative project at the end of a long day at work, I’m going to need an action plan and practical ways to battle inefficiency so I can slam through necessary evils like housework and still have time to focus on my creative pursuits.

What books would you add to the list? Reading for self-care is the best decision I’ve made so far this year and hope you’ll join me in tackling our negative emotions and turning them into positive impacts.