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.

It’s Elemental

Does the world seem a tad chaotic lately? Whether it is the world of politics, social interaction or even the horrors of the recent snopocalypse, things definitely seem to be in a state of flux. But there is an order out there if you look for it. What if I told you that you could take all of the elements that make up you, the world and all of the universe and chart it all neatly and precisely on a table? Yes I’m talking about that grand creation: The Periodic Table.

2019 is a great year to rediscover the wonders of the periodic table. You see, this very year is The International Year of the Periodical Table as declared by none other than the United Nations. It is in honor of the 150th anniversary of the table’s surprisingly contentious creation. So why not light a candle against the chaos of our times and celebrate some order this year. As always, the Everett Public Library has your back with some excellent books to help you learn about the Periodic Table. Read on to learn more.

A great place to start when it comes to learning about the periodic table are the excellent works of Theodore Gray. Throw away your preconceptions about scientific information being boring and stuffy and revel in the gorgeous design, clarity of presentation, and downright intriguing facts presented in his books. Begin with The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe which includes a beautiful photo of each element, key facts and features, and the signature wit that Gray is known for.  Move on to Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything to learn how the elements combine to form compounds that clean, corrode and explode, complete with gorgeous pictures of course.  And complete your journey with Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe to see how the molecules react with each other to form the chemical basis of our very existence, all beautifully illustrated as you would expect.

Now that you have gotten an excellent introduction to the periodic table from Mr. Gray, it is time to delve into the shocking, at times seedy, and always fascinating history of the elements themselves. Learn how the Lewis and Clark expedition’s use of mercury laxatives allowed historians to discover their route across the west by mapping mercury tinged latrines in Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table. Cringe at the fashion for radium chocolate, beer and contraceptives after Marie and Pierre Curie’s discovery of that element in Hugh Aldersey-Williams’ Periodic Tales: the Curious Lives of the Elements. And finally, be horrified by the slaughter and cruelty that occurs during the Spanish Conquistador’s relentless pursuit of gold and silver in John Browne’s Seven Elements that Have Changed the World.

So revel in a little stability and learn more about the periodic table during its 150th anniversary year, even if you only consult it periodically (insert groan here).

The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson

Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother 40 whacks, when she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41.

THAT was the extent of my knowledge of this case prior to reading the excellent book The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson. Part trial transcript, and part documentary, this is a fascinating book!

The only part of the song that is true, is that the (step) mother was killed first.

The crime occurred in August of 1892. Within hours of the crime being committed,  there were dozens of people tromping through the crime scene. Forensics were obviously not what they are today! Because of this lack of reliable physical evidence, testimonies were often contradictory and most of the evidence was circumstantial.

Lizzie was considered the only one that could have done it, but the maid was in the house as well at the time. The murders were a little over an hour apart, and the force of the blows required would have caused a lot of blood spatter, but no-one saw any blood on Lizzie’s dress…… but, coincidentally, Lizzie burned a blue dress similar to the one she supposedly wore a couple of days after the murders. Three axes were found, but none were ever proven to be the murder weapon.

The book takes you through the trial day by day, and made me feel as though I was in the courtroom. It was the first trial that became a media circus, with reporters from around the country attending.

At the end of the trial, Lizzie was found not guilty but each of us is allowed draw our own conclusions. I myself believe she did it, but there wasn’t any proof beyond a reasonable doubt. At the end of the book, the reader is asked to “submit your verdict and join the conversation.” I hope you enjoy the drama as much as I did!

Snowpocalypse Reading List

Snowpocalypse. Oh thank goodness, the first two weeks of February are finally behind us. Yes, it actually happened. No, I didn’t enjoy it.* I mean, who would enjoy record-breaking snowfall in an area of the country not used to having snow accumulation at all, let alone several snowfalls piling up over such a short time?

*This is a lie. I completely enjoyed it to the very depths of my Midwestern soul! I didn’t enjoy having to call off work for the first two days since I couldn’t get out of my driveway, however. I mean, what self-respecting snow driver from Southern Illinois would I be if my pride didn’t hurt quite a bit admitting defeat like that?

The silver lining was the unexpected reading time that suddenly stretched out before me. Even though I had a ton of novels I picked up from a recent library conference, my mind was drawn to a few nonfiction books I had checked out from the library. These books became my Snowpocalypse reading list.

Hummingbirds: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species
When I woke up that first Monday morning to see the snow, I started freaking out about the Anna’s hummingbirds who hang out in my yard. Thank goodness I had spring on my mind the previous week and had checked out this comprehensive book about hummingbirds. What began as a curiosity to discover whether I could attract multiple species to my yard became a quest to keep my Anna’s alive. Page 335 declares this species status to be of least concern, but I knew locally our birds were in trouble. I practically memorized the section on feeding and trooped out back to wipe the snow off the one hanging feeder, also throwing seed down on clear patches for the seed-loving birds. Then I set to work making fresh nectar, filling two feeders, and rotating them out every few hours so the nectar wouldn’t freeze. One of my regular hummers buzzed me the first few times I did this, either out of appreciation or anger I couldn’t tell. But I did feel a little like Snow White the way the birds kept popping up in my yard so I choose to believe it was total appreciation.

Instant Pot Fast & Easy written by Urvashi Pitre with photographs by Ghazalle Badiozamani
There’s nothing quite like cold, dreary days to make me want something hot and filling to eat. Don’t worry–I’m not a French toaster. That’s something we Midwesterners call folks who stock up on milk, eggs, and bread anytime a snowflake appears in the forecast. But I did find myself with extra time and an extra empty belly from all the work I was doing in the yard for the birds. Enter food blogger and cookbook author Urvashi Pitre, whose blending of different cuisines was just what I needed. My favorite recipe I made was the deceptively simply titled Garlic Chicken. The mustard-based marinade and extra garlic in this recipe made my mouth water and my house smell amazing. This book is perfect for those times you can’t decide what type of food you’re craving. There is such a variety of recipes I’m sure you can find something for everyone.

No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien & Mollie West Duffy
Me: Why do you want this job?
Interviewee: I love reading and I would love to read all day like you do.
…crickets…
This was an actual conversation I had with someone I was interviewing for a job working the checkout desk at a small but very busy library. The myth of the aloof reader perpetuates library work, but the reality is that all day every day we library workers are moving from one task to the next, mostly interacting directly with real people. Customers, coworkers, and bosses alike–no one truly works alone. Good communication skills are the best tools to have in your tool belt, both at work and in your personal life. But the one thing most books about communication skip over are the emotions that each of us is walking around with all the time and how those can vary widely from person to person, hour to hour. That’s why when books like No Hard Feelings hit my radar I drop everything to read it cover-to-cover. With accessible language and helpful–and often humorous–illustrations, the authors break down the best ways to deal with both your emotions and those that surround you. Spoiler: you can’t make emotions go away or pretend they don’t exist, so don’t try. I was able to immediately try out some of the techniques at home, when the cabin fever hit my husband and me and our emotions were getting real. See? It’s not just another business book. The information can be applied to your whole life.

I was lucky to have entered the Snowpocalypse with a full slate of reading material whose information could immediately be used in activities to help keep animals alive and keep boredom at bay. Here are some of the ways I used what I learned. And while I can still hear the stacks of unread novels crying out to me, I know I did the right thing in reading nonfiction while trapped inside my house.

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!

Did You Know? (Wright Brother’s Edition)

A Boeing 747 wingspan is longer than the first flight by the Wright Brothers?

On December 17, 1903, the Wright Brother’s first flight was 120 feet and lasted 12 seconds. Their next flight later that afternoon was 825 ft. Who Were the Wright Brothers by James Buckley Jr. tells about the brothers growing up, and their journey to become airborne.

Super Structures of the World: Boeing 747 by the Gale Group gives us all the statistics about 747s. The wingspan is 211 feet. When full of fuel the wingspan extends to 213 feet and the plane can weigh up to 875,000 pounds. Their other book Super Structures of the World: The World’s Largest Buildings shows us the inside of the Everett Washington Boeing plant where the 747s and other planes are built. You could fit all of Disneyland (and have 14 acres left over!) or 75 football fields in this massive building!

David McCullough wrote The Wright Brothers. It includes excerpts from their personal diaries and tells us how instrumental their sister Katharine was in helping them. In 1878, their father, Bishop Milton Wright brought home a toy from France invented by Alphonse Pénaud for the boys that was little more than 2 propellers on a stick with a rubber band. They called it the bat and it forever changed history; inspiring the boys to dream of flight.

In 1889 Orville opened a printing shop, and when it closed they opened a bicycle shop in 1893. Within a few years, they had moved to a larger location and put in a machine shop and started making their own bicycles. They then moved on to gliders while still running the bicycle store with their sister Katharine and working on their plans for a plane.

In 1969 US Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to land on the moon in the Apollo 11. To honor the pioneers of flight, they carried small pieces of the Wright brothers’ airplanes with them in the space capsule. The Wright Flyer, the original plane the Wright brothers flew is on display in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. As well as hundreds of the Apollo 11 artifacts.

Anyway, this should give you something to think about the next time you fly! It all started with rubber bands and propellers!

Everett Reads Sy Montgomery

Are you ready to take a walk on the wild side at the library? I’m super-excited to share that we’re bringing acclaimed naturalist and author Sy Montgomery to town in February. Yes, really! I am totally chair-dancing while I type this. Sy will be our featured speaker for Everett Reads!, the library’s annual community reading program. This year the program is dedicated to an exploration of all things animal and I am so here for it.

Sy Montgomery has been chased by a silverback gorilla, embraced by a Giant Pacific Octopus, and undressed by an orangutan. Can you even? Learn about Montgomery’s amazing animal adventures and explore the connection between humans and animals throughout the month of February.

Sy Montgomery will offer two free events for the public. The first event, on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., will take place at the Everett Performing Arts Center at 2710 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Books will be for sale and available for signing following the lecture during a free reception hosted by the Friends of Everett Public Library.

Side note. Our Friends are really rad and deserve their own shout-out. They make a lot of magic happen for us all year round but they really shine whenever Everett Reads! rolls around. Thanks, Friends, for all you do! If you want to get involved with the Friends of the Library you can find more information here.

Okay, back to our programming lineup. Children and their families are invited to a special presentation with Sy on Sunday, Feb. 10, at 11 a.m. at the Cope-Gillette Theater at 2730 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. Children’s books will be available for sale and signing following the talk.

But wait, there’s more! In addition to these programs on February 9 & 10, we will be presenting a range of animal-themed programs all month. On the library’s website you can check out the entire programming lineup–which includes book discussions, an art class for adults, and kids’ programs that’ll feature over 2,000 insect specimens. There’s really something here for everyone.

And speaking of something for everyone, we’ve stocked up on books by Sy Montgomery so you can take your pick–or read them all! Sy’s books are a great way to explore the connections between humans and animals and how we can live together better. Click a book cover to read more on each title and place a hold.

    

  

So what are you waiting for? Grab a book or five and make plans to share your reading adventure with friends and neighbors at some of February’s Everett Reads! events. And don’t forget to make plans to meet Sy in person. I’ll see you there!