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.

Brains from the Deep

Everyone seems to have a favorite nominee for ‘smartest animal.’ Many prefer the much-lauded chimpanzee or dolphin, but crows, elephants, parrots, pigs, dogs, cats, rats and many other species all have their supporters. Recently, there have been studies that champion a somewhat less relatable animal: the octopus. Unlike some of the other nominees, the octopus is truly an alien-looking creature that lives for only a few years. How then can it be intelligent? Luckily for those wanting to understand, a few great new books have come out that answer that question and raise even more interesting ones about the nature of intelligence, consciousness and the limits of human understanding.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

soulofoctopusSy Montgomery really loves octopuses. Specifically she develops an admiration and affection for Athena, Octavia, Kali and Karma, the four individual cephalopods she interacts with at the New England Aquarium. She also expands her quest beyond the aquarium and goes out into the wild to encounter more octopuses in their natural habitat. She becomes convinced of their intelligence: An intelligence that goes beyond the scientifically measurable, such as puzzle solving and the like, to also include feelings of playfulness, friendship, happiness and tenderness on their part. While Montgomery’s utter devotion can produce a risk of ascribing human traits to her subjects a little too easily, it is hard to deny that there seems to be some sort of consciousness in the octopus mind after reading this book.

Other Minds: the Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

othermindsWhile no less a devotee of the octopus, Godfrey-Smith takes the long view when examining the intelligence of this fascinating creature. As a philosopher of science, he is well placed to delve into the evolutionary history of cephalopods and the octopus in particular. While mammals and birds are closely related on the tree of life, the cephalopods deviated very early on in our evolutionary history, so much so that they are almost a separate evolutionary ‘experiment’ in intelligence. The author isn’t afraid to ask difficult questions: What kind of intelligence do octopuses possess? Is it alien from our own? Can we understand it? While doing this, Godfrey-Smith is no armchair philosopher, however. The book is also full of real world examples of his dives and encounters with these intelligent creatures that drive home his arguments.

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? By F.B.M. de Waal

smartenoughDe Waal’s goal, in this well written and engaging book, is nothing short of toppling humankind from its lofty, and self-appointed perch at the top of the intelligence and cognition scale. In fact, he argues we shouldn’t think of intelligence as a scale at all, but rather as a bush with cognition taking different forms in each branch, none necessarily higher than the other but always unique. It is an intriguing argument, which he backs up with many observations of the animal world that he has gleaned in his role as an animal behaviorist at Emory University. He is quick to point out the cases of wishful thinking and pure chance (Paul the octopus did not actually know anything about soccer despite his correct predictions during the 2010 World Cup alas) but he does provide convincing examples of animal intelligence using scientific and rational methods.

So is the mysterious and alien looking octopus conscious and intelligent? Based on these excellent books and in the words of the Magic 8-Ball: As I see it, yes.

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.

Heartwood 7:1 – Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard

greene-on-capriThis blog post is prompted by the news that Shirley Hazzard died this past December at age 85.

It’s kind of funny to me that I read this book without ever having read Graham Greene (though he’s long been on my radar, and I’m a fan of the film The Third Man). Funnier still since I’d also not read anything by Shirley Hazzard (her Transit of Venus won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980, and The Great Fire won the National Book Award in 2003). But a few years ago, one of my book-talking buddies handed me this book and said I should read it. I must say I was quite taken by the cover, and seeing the book’s slim length, I decided to give it a try.

In the opening scene, Hazzard has run into Greene at a café on Capri where he is dining at a separate table with friends and reciting part of a Browning poem to them. Before leaving, Hazzard supplies him with the line he’s struggling to recall. This literary showiness rankled me enough that I put the book aside. But some weeks later, I picked it up again and found myself very much enjoying Hazzard’s stately prose, the descriptions of Greene’s home and the island of Capri (accent on the a, she tells us), and the friendship that develops between Greene, Hazzard and her husband, Francis Steegmuller.

Hazzard devotes much of the book to Greene, mostly during their shared time there in the 1960s and ’70s, but she also includes some interesting details about the history of the island. Her account of Tiberio, the island-top ruins, features some fine descriptive language, and we learn that a number of Russian writers visited the island in their day, such as Gorky, Turgenev, and Ivan Bunin.

For the most part, Hazzard writes admiringly of Greene, but not without particular criticisms, such as in the passage here:

Repeatedly singled out as a writer of his “era,” Graham, even so, long eluded literary chronology. His best work, with its disarming blend of wit, event, and lone fatality, has not staled; and he himself, always ready, with eager skepticism, for life’s next episode, did not seem to “date.”  However, in one respect – his attitudes to women – he remained rooted, as man and writer, in his early decades.

From the 1920s into the 1940s, Greene and several of his talented male contemporaries were working, in English fiction, related veins of anxiety and intelligence, anger and danger, sex and sensibility, and contrasting an ironic private humanity with the petty vanities and great harm of established power.  Their narrative frequently centered on the difficulty of being a moody, clever, thin-skinned – and occasionally alcoholic – literate man who commands the devotion of a comely, plucky, self-denying younger woman.

The book doesn’t have chapters as such, but in one section, on the importance of reading to Greene, she tells how Greene insisted his biographer, Norman Sherry, travel to every place Greene had been, as background to writing his biography. Remarkably, Sherry did this – but Hazzard notes:

Had Graham enjoined his biographer to read, rather, the countless thousands of books, celebrated or obscure, that fuelled his life, thought, and work, consoled and informed his passions, and caused him, as he said, “to want to write,” that request would have been absurd, unfeasible, and entirely apposite.

Literature was the longest and most consistent pleasure of Graham’s life. It was the element in which he best existed, providing him with the equilibrium of affinity and a lifeline to the rational as well as the fantastic. The tormented love affairs of adult years – and, supremely, the long passion for Lady Walston – brought him to the verge of insanity and suicide. It was in reading and writing that he enjoyed, from early childhood, a beneficent excitement and ground for development of his imagination and his gift… Our own best times with Graham usually arose from spontaneous shared pleasures of works and words – those of poets and novelists above all – that were central to his being and ours.

In its closing pages, Hazzard returns to the literary exchange that opens the book: in 1992 she received a letter from Michael Richey, one of those present when Hazzard supplied Greene with the words of the Browning poem at the restaurant all those decades before, and this letter, coming the year after Greene’s death, is what triggered her decision to write this book.

After finishing Greene on Capri, I looked for Capri on a map and discovered it is off the west coast of Italy, near the mainland city of Sorrento. And it strikes me that this would be the perfect book to take along to a “silent reading night” at the Sorrento Hotel in Seattle. Or maybe one of Greene’s novels.

All I Wanted for Christmas was Time to Read!

Time, that precious and fleeting commodity. Like sand through the hourglass indeed, time just seems to slip right through my fingers. As soon as I get some it’s already gone. Etc. Etc. I know you know what I mean! As you read this I’m enjoying a break from the library, spending time with family and reading next to a crackling fire while snow blankets the flat-yet-somehow-rolling hills of Southern Illinois. I decided to treat myself this year and set aside time to read. Here are some of the books I’ve taken 2,200 miles away with me.

relishRelish by Lucy Knisley
Did you read Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt? I’m hoping this will be similar, a graphic memoir about food and the people who love it. In Lucy Knisley’s case she takes actual episodes from her life and frames them by what she was eating at the time. There are recipes in every chapter and I’m hoping to find one I can make with family on my trip. Even if I strike out I’m sure I’ll love reading about all the food. ALL THE FOOD! *grabby hands*

 

 

9781925321548Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
Um, so reading Girl Waits With Gun set me down a winding, happy road of reading books solely based on someone else’s recommendation. In the case of GWWG it was intrepid librarian and awesome colleague Joyce Hansen who was discussing it as part of the library’s monthly book discussion group. Lady Cop Makes Trouble is the sequel to GWWG and I can’t wait to jump back in time nearly 100 years to the world of Constance Kopp and her determined sisters.

 

 

before-i-fallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I have a fantastic hair stylist. Not only does she give me amazing hair, she also loves to swap book recommendations with me. The last time I was in she was raving about the book she had just finished and thought I would love it, too. I confess for a minute I thought she was recommending Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which was a breakout hit of the summer but definitely a very different book than this! Before I Fall (what, do you find this confusing or something?!) is about a teen reliving the last day of her life over and over again after she dies. I am a sucker for the “I woke up dead, now what?” type of books so of course this sounds right up my alley. Before the Fall, bee-tee-dubs, is about a regional plane crash, the two survivors, and the backstories of those who perished. I’ll probably read that one at some point, but definitely not while traveling on a plane myself!

relentlessRelentless by Cherry Adair
Oh, Cherry! I had read a few of her books years ago but here’s what’s getting me back into her work: Cherry herself. I was lucky to have been on the planning committee for a library conference back in October and she was one of our keynote speakers (we also had authors Lauren Dane and Susan Mallery, and the Romantic Times Librarian of the Year Robin Bradford of Timberland Regional Library, who are all incredibly awesome human beings and I really hope to hang with them all again). Cherry was a hoot, always cracking me up and getting me involved in what was going on inside her head. Impossibly tall and drop-dead gorgeous shoes lined up in her custom closet? Check. What sorts of shenanigans go on at the Romantic Times convention? Check. Then she got up in front of 120+ amazing professionals and proceeded to act out a raunchy scene from a book that inspired one of her own. Oh my word, that woman is amazing and I want to get back into her books like, now!

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The chilly, nasty winter weather just makes me want to curl up and get lost in a good book and there’s never been a better time than right now. And maybe later. And definitely on the plane ride home. Oh! And on the commute there’s that audiobook I’d like to try…

Best of 2016 Redux

It’ll probably come as no surprise to you that those of us who work in libraries tend to be voracious readers. We consume information, words, articles, books, and series as fast as we can manage. Part of it is a personal interest and part of it is professional: we can do a better job recommending things to you if we’ve read a variety of things ourselves. That’s a very long-winded way of saying we had more recommendations for 2016 than we could fit in our previous posts. So without further ado I present to you everything else we loved to bits this year.

Adult Fiction
adult-fiction

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Summary: Milo Andret, a strange but uniquely talented loner who develops into a brilliant mathematician, is plagued by alternating feelings of grandiosity and utter failure. Milo’s son Hans, similarly brilliant and troubled, tells the second half of Milo’s story.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This book opened my eyes to the intensely grueling, emotionally devastating world of academic competition. Milo’s self-destructive tendencies are painful indeed, but what lingers is amazement at the transformative power of family.

The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
Summary: After a life threatening brain infection robbed Elihu Hoopes of his short term memory he endures decades of testing at the hands of neuroscientists. Margot Sharpe develops her whole career from these studies but also develops feelings for her subject.
Why Elizabeth liked it: If you like psychology, brain science, bizarre human relationships, and hints of a dark and mysterious past, you will eat this up! Oates exposes the ruthless nature of scientific study in this suspenseful and disturbing tale.

The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney
Summary: The Plumb siblings have always expected a large inheritance as soon as the youngest, Melody, turned 40. That day is nearing when Beatrice, Jack and Melody are devastated to discover that Leo’s wild ways have resulted in a loss of most of the Nest.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Dysfunctional family drama galore! The siblings are flawed, funny, and (mostly) financially doomed. I found myself thinking why is this so entertaining? Because the writing, the family, the setting (NYC) all add up to a really engrossing page turner.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Summary: Two middle school friends learn of their special powers.  Laurence is able to tweak the time continuum, and Patricia has the ability to talk to animals.  Earth is doomed, and their relationship may restore humanity, or their opposing views may collide.
Why Sarah liked it: This is a quirky fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian romance, with superb technological innovations, and lots of spunk.

Georgia by Dawn Tripp
Summary: Georgia O’Keeffe‘s artistic focus and determination was helped and sometimes hurt by her decades-long relationship with photographer Alfred Stieglitz. While this is fiction, Tripp’s research and skill at imagining Georgia’s thoughts give it the ring of truth.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have really enjoyed the handful of historical fiction books about artists that I have read, and this one may be the best yet. At the end I was newly, and greatly, impressed with O’Keeffe and had to seek out books about her art.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Summary: Imagine you accidentally shot your best friend’s son, and the custom forced you to give your own child to the bereaved family? LaRose, one of many with that name in his family of healers, is the child who is given away.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The incredibly richly imagined cast of characters makes for a very engrossing read. Since this is the 15th of Erdrich’s North Dakota Cycle I am looking forward to reading a lot more about this community.

Young Adult Fiction
ya fiction

I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan
Summary: Sixteen-year-old Sarah wakes up dead at the Mall of America only to find she was murdered, and she must work with a group of dead teenagers to finish up the unresolved business of their former lives while preventing her murderer from killing again.
Why Carol liked it: Despite the serious subject matter of, ya know, waking up dead and knowing someone killed you, this book was quirky good fun! I really wanted a sequel, but I think this book will stand alone.

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Summary: In 1882 England when her sister Rose vanishes, Evelyn, bored with society and its expectations, embarks on a search for Rose, encountering the reclusive Sebastian Braddock, who is also looking for Rose and claiming that both sisters have healing powers.
Why Carol liked it: I read this in April and my memory is struggling with specifics here in December. So here’s my Goodreads review from April: Witty as hell and so fast-paced my neck almost snapped. Can’t wait for book 2!

Adult Nonfiction
adult-nonfiction

French Country Cooking: Meals and Moments from a Village in the Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson
Summary: A captivating journey to off-the-beaten-path French wine country with 100 simple yet exquisite recipes, 150 sumptuous photographs, and stories inspired by life in a small village.
Why Leslie liked it: This beautiful cookbook has approachable recipes, especially the “staff meals.” I love the vichyssoise! So simple and good.

The Aleppo Cookbook: Celebrating the Legendary Cuisine of Syria by Marlene Matar
Summary: Wonderful full-color photographs of the food, people, and markets of Aleppo make this a stunning cookbook and fitting tribute to a beautiful city and the suffering its people continue to endure.
Why Pat liked it: Tempting recipes, culturally informative text, great illustrations, and a message of hope of rebuilding this ancient city yet one more time– everything you can want in a cookbook and more–a beautiful, meaningful book.

Superbetter by Jane McGonigal
Summary: Self-help with a twist! McGonigal studies game theory so this method of getting better from illness, depression or other situations is full of quests, power ups, superhero identities, etc. By making your life “gameful” you can battle your “bad guys” and win.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I am not much of a self-help reader but the methods in this book feel like they would actually work while being fun rather than tedious. It could make a real difference in helping people develop resilience, and improve mental health and happiness.

Graphic Novels for Kids
graphic-novels-for-kids

Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Summary: George and Harold, protagonists from the Captain Underpants series, create a new comic called Dog Man. It’s just as silly and irreverent as you would expect Dav Pilkey to be.
Why Emily liked it: For fans of Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, Bad Kitty, and other humorous, illustrated fiction.

Poptropica 1: Mystery of the Map by Jack Chabert
Summary: Oliver, Mya, and Jorge take a ride in a hot-air balloon, only to crash-land on an unknown island filled with extinct animals and a horde of angry Vikings.
Why Andrea liked it: This graphic novel is a great introduction to the worlds of Poptropica (a gaming website for children 6 to 10 years old). It is filled with exciting chase scenes, hilarious dodo birds, and a daring prison break.