He’s a Real Nowhere Man

Sometimes you find an absolute gem of a book in the least likely of places. For me, that unlikely place was in a grocery store.

When my mom was alive, I’d go grocery shopping with her. Unfailingly, I would find her in the book aisle after having looked for her for what seemed like an hour. She’d almost always get a paperback, one of those bodice rippers with a man in a kilt filling the cover. Mom liked her time traveling romance books. I got a lot of my love of reading from her.

So it isn’t too surprising that I ended up in the book aisle of Safeway recently. I started to peruse the shelves and discovered a book that looked like I’d want to devour it in a day. Hard to say whether Lisa Jewell’s I Found You found me or I found it.

Alice is a single mother raising three kids. Saying she has bad luck with men is an understatement. Recently, a man has washed up on the beach. Alice decides to go and see if the man needs help. He tells her he can’t remember his name or how he got there. Alice detects something in him, some tragedy and trauma, enough to hollow out his brain and leave him with giant gaps of time he can’t account for. She decides to take him in, get his clothing dry and make some phone calls.

Meanwhile, Lily is newly married and still head over heels in love with her husband who swept her away from her home country of Russia. But one day he doesn’t come home at all. Lily begins to panic because her husband is a routine fiend. She sets out in a foreign land to find her him.

The amnesiac Alice discovered on the beach spends the night in the backyard of a cottage owned by Alice’s mother-in-law. Alice introduces her three children to him. Alice’s youngest child decides to call him Frank. Bits and bobs of his memory are coming back. Alice and Frank set out to see if anything else can be found.

Lily is hitting brick walls when it comes to finding answers to her questions about her missing husband. The lives of Alice, Frank, and Lily are about to collide with horrifying results. This was one of those books where I continued to think about the characters after I finished the book and hope they were finding good days, if not awesome days.

But, I also talk to the toaster.

I need a life.

Send help.

Did You Know? (Hotcake Edition)

That the difference between pancakes, griddlecakes, johnnycakes and hotcakes depends mostly on if they are made with flour or corn meal?

In researching for this blog, every time I thought I had it figured out I’d find another recipe that contradicted it! Mostly from what I’ve seen, pancakes and johnnycakes (more about them below) are made with corn meal and griddlecakes and hotcakes are made from flour. That excludes buckwheat pancakes which are made with buckwheat, which is also known as Kasha.

Buckwheat, with its origins in China, was produced in Europe in the 1900s and was used in traditional crêpes (pancakes) and galettes (flat cakes) according to The Story of Food (page 239) from DK publishing.

In the UK, flapjacks are made out of sugar, butter, oats, and honey, but in the US, they are synonymous with hotcakes.

I think pretty much anywhere in the world you will find some version of hotcakes. Some are sweet and others are savory. Some are topped and others are filled. Here is a list of a few of the options:

Asian nonya spring roll pancakes

Brazil’s panqueca de carne moida are meat-filled crêpes.

Chinese bao bing (a thin pancake)

Dutch poffertjes (made with a yeast-raised recipe)

French crêpes (crêpes is French for pancake)

Korean hotteok sweet stuffed pancakes

Korean seafood pancakes are reminiscent of egg foo young.

German pfannkuchen (crêpe)

Hungarian palacsinta (crêpe)

Japanese okonomiyaki is the savory, saucy single pancake meal of your dreams.

Nigerian diet are gorgeous, spicy, chewy pancakes.

Spanish panqueques rely on fluffy whipped egg whites to make them incredibly light. (crepe)

Thai roti cooked with egg and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. Thai roti are folded over and over to get beautiful layers when you bite into it. It looks like baklava.

Vietnamese Bánh Khot are tiny, crispy, savory seafood pancakes that are perfect two-bite morsels.

The website What’s Cooking America has a great article all about johnnycakes. They are made with cornmeal and are the New England equivalent of tortillas. They are known under a variety of names: Johnnycakes, johnny cakes, jonnycake, ashcake, battercake, corn cake, cornpone, hoecake, hoe cake, journey cake, mush bread, pone, Shawnee cake, jonakin, and jonikin. They are all regional names for this cornmeal flatbread.

The origin of the name johnnycakes is something of a mystery and probably has nothing to do with the name John. They were also called journey cakes because they could be carried on long trips in saddlebags and baked along the way. Historians also think that “janiken,” a Native American word that means “corncake,” could possibly be the origin.

Waffles, Crêpes and Pancakes by Norma Miller has all kinds of recipes for the titled items. I can’t wait to try the Tiramisu Pancakes!

Paul Bunyan Swings his Ax by Dell J. McCormic has a story about Paul Bunyan’s logging camp and the 10-acre griddle used to make hot griddlecakes so large that it took 5 men to eat one!

So the next time you are having a short stack, think about all the different things people call them, and the fact that around the world there are probably thousands of people eating a hotcake right now.

A Southern Goth-Ick

Kristen Arnett is one my favorite people to follow on Twitter. She’s a librarian and author whose sharp-witted posts are laced with a healthy dose of dark humor. Whether she is talking about interactions at her library, the writing process, love for her local 7-11 or even non-convenience-store-centered relationships, her posts leave me cackling (and squirming when they hit too close to home). So it was no surprise that I devoured her exquisite and unsettling debut novel, Mostly Dead Things

2d4c8fb365e1620f-ARNETTheadshotcolor2017Mostly Dead Things follows Jessa, a taxidermist in central Florida, whose life is teetering on the precipice. The main thread of the story finds Jessa struggling in the wake of her father’s suicide. Though her father was in many ways a negligent parent to Jessa, he was also a massive presence in her life. He taught her that taxidermy is more than a grisly chore, that there is art in taking dead animals and recreating moments that capture the full beauty of their lives. He also passed her the routine, expectations, and burdens that came to define her life. After finding his dead body and dealing with the mess he left behind, Jessa is eager to bury herself in her work, focusing on the dead things she can fix not the gaping wounds in her own psyche. She drinks too much, limits relationships to a steady stream of casual hook-ups and struggles in vain to claw free from the ghosts of her past.

Jessa finds no solace with her surviving family members. She has long had a complicated relationship with her brother, Milo. They share a deep almost unspeakable pain that traces back to the day that Milo’s wife, Brynn, abandoned him and their children. Before Brynn was Milo’s wife, she was Jessa’s best friend and secret lover. This dynamic did not change when Milo and Brynn wed. Jessa loved Brynn deeply and Brynn seemed to enjoy both siblings’ adoration and attention. Though Jessa helps take care of Milo’s two children, their own relations remain tenuous at best. 

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Jessa’s mother is a different issue altogether. Following her husband’s death, she has found solace in creating new displays out of his taxidermy projects. These works sexualize and contort the animals in strange and grotesque ways. For Jessa this upsetting and disrespectful treatment of her father’s work is incomprehensible and borders on blasphemy. And this is just where Jessa’s troubles begin. Her mother begins to work with a local gallery owner to display her art for a wider audience. Jessa is determined to stop this show, but is also slipping into a contentious romantic relationship with the gallery owner. Jessa continues to drink too much and struggles to keep her business afloat, while her niece and nephew embrace the family business with too much enthusiasm and too little concern for laws and ethics. With her mother’s gallery opening fast approaching and old wounds reopening in all of her relationships, Jessa must figure out how to regain some semblance of control and balance in her increasingly messy life.  

I’m a pretty squeamish guy and I will admit that this book includes descriptions of the taxidermy process that were outside my comfort zone. Yet even the goriest narratives felt natural and well-placed coming through Jessa’s voice. Arnett does not hold back. Her descriptions of love, sex, aging, and Jessa’s work are raw and often glamorless. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Jessa has endured years of emotional abuse at the hands of both her father and Brynn, and has suffered dearly as a result. With her wry voice and unique humor, it is impossible not to root for Jessa even at her lowest lows. And it is equally difficult to resist marveling at Arnett’s wrenching but sardonic meditations on love, loss, and abandonment and her ability to make both the saddest and the grossest of situations laugh-till-you-cry hilarious. Arnett recently tweeted a one-star review of her book that simply read “Dead Animals.” So I will end by saying five stars: dead animals.

To the Moon

As you have no doubt heard by now, July 20th is the 50th anniversary of human beings landing on the moon. One of the side benefits of all the hype is the fact that the library now has a slew of new books on this important technological achievement, the moon in general, and other quirky space exploration topics. There are so many new books, in fact, that it might just be hard to sift through them all. Never fear, your trusty librarian is here to guide you through all of the goodies.

So whether you want to revel in a technological marvel, examine the geopolitical forces that made the launch possible, examine firsthand astronaut’s experiences, find out about the moon itself or contemplate future explorations, we have a book to pique your interest. There is also a little something for the cynic (great, we have another pristine resource to exploit) or the grump (why isn’t there a freakin’ moon base after 50 years!) to enjoy as well.

The Mission

There is no denying that the mission to the moon was an impressive technological achievement. But it certainly wasn’t easy. Or safe. Or guaranteed to succeed. Learn all the harrowing details in these tense and fascinating books documenting the mission and those who succeeded in pulling it off.

The Politics

While the astronauts operated in a vacuum, the Apollo missions definitely did not. Large amounts of political intrigue, historical factors, and taxpayer funding was required to get those rockets off the ground. Check out these books to get some historical perspective on the Apollo missions and gain some insight into the controversies surrounding the program to this day.

The People

What does it take to walk on the moon? What is it like to be blasted into space? What does it feel like to live out the rest of your life tethered to the earth and considered a hero? Find out with these books from the astronaut’s perspective.

For the Graphically Inclined

The moon landing provided some stunning visuals, so it is only appropriate to have this reflected in books celebrating the anniversary. Also included are two excellent graphic novels that depict the Apollo program and the historical landing.

A Different Take

While traditional historical narratives are great, I always appreciate a book that tries to take a different approach to a well-known topic. These two books examine the moon landing by focusing on a few, or one, key object and telling the story from there.

The Moon Itself

We often take our closest celestial neighbor for granted, but the moon is actually more important and interesting than you might imagine. These books examine the moon from a cultural and scientific perspective, revealing it to be much more than a simple lifeless chunk of rock.

What Next?

Sure landing on the moon 50 years ago was an impressive feat, but what happens now? Will we revisit the moon and expand outward into the solar system? Should we? Check out these books to speculate about the future of the moon, humanity, and space travel.

So come on into the library and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by checking out a book or two. The future is yours!

The Best Albums From The PNW 2019

It’s that time of year once again, time for the annual semi-half-year best albums of the Pacific Northwest take-a-looksee. 2019 has presented us with a surprising number of spectacular albums in our soggy corner of the U.S. and here are just a few you might want to check out for yourself.

TACOCATtacocat-thismessisaplace-cover-

Tacocat is one of the more nationally-recognized Seattle bands these days. Their sound is somewhere in the pop-punk/mainstream-pop quadrant of the genre spectrum. Rich harmonies, a touch of 60s girl pop and sugary gooey goodness all color their latest release, This Mess Is a Place. If you enjoyed their previous release, Lost Time, you’re sure to love this followup.

THE BLACK TONESblack tones

One of the most talked about bands in Seattle, The Black Tones, finally delivered their debut album, Cobain & Cornbread, in 2019. And it is fabulous. The music takes me right back to 1969, but not to my 6-year-old self, more of a me-as-an-adult kinda thing… Anyhow, ferocious use of wah wah, a palpable Hendrix guitar vibe and wide open song structures all hearken back to a day when a bunch of kids squatted in a muddy field in upstate New York. Perhaps most notable is that here we have a band that does not sound like other bands of today. Heavy, fuzzy, riff-driven, filled with lengthy instrumental interludes and then BAM! A traditional old-timey gospel tune. This album has not been released on CD yet, but look for it out in the digital world.

THE HEAD AND THE HEARThead_and_heart_mirage

The Head and the Heart is one of the more popular and active bands currently in Seattle. Classified as indie pop or indie folk, the group spits out catchy hooks that make you sing along on their latest release, Living Mirage. This album, as well as the group’s other recent albums, is heavily produced, resulting in a huge sound that markedly contrasts with the intimacy of their first album. You can hear a variety of their releases, both in CD format and streaming, from Everett Public Library. Just click on the band’s name at the beginning of this paragraph.

ANNIE FORD BANDannie ford

If it’s country you’re looking for, try out At Night by Seattle’s Annie Ford Band. A dash of blues, a smidgen of swing and a veritable dollop of honky tonk combine with an amazing voice (look out Eillen Jewel!) to make a most hearty country stew. Those listeners expecting to hear the contemporary country/pop that tops the charts these days might find themselves disappointed. Old-timey country is Annie Ford’s oeuvre, and you just might come to expect Patsy Cline herself to lasso you a cold tall one while you enjoy these tunes.

It may seem that four magnificent albums are all we’re allotted in a year, but we’ve only seen a scant sliver of 2019’s offerings. Stay tuned for info on more local albums and be sure to check out EPL’s Local Music section. As my grandparents always said, if you don’t keep up with the Joneses the Joneses will keep up with you. Of course, my grandparents never met anyone named Jones. And please do remember, you can pick your friend’s music… but something something something.

The Truth is Out There (But Probably Not in Textbooks)

Dedicated to all American history teachers
who teach against their textbooks
(and their ranks keep growing)

And so begins the updated edition of Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen. “Every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book,” said Howard Zinn. The San Francisco Chronicle called it, “an extremely convincing plea for truth in education.” My husband exasperatingly declared, “I can’t believe you still haven’t read this book, Carol!”

Since this month’s reading challenge is to read a book about American history, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz is about–and finally let my husband rest his weary voice.

First, let’s be clear: the author is not bashing teachers! He knows that teachers need to teach from the textbooks provided. And the books are only as good as their authors. Some authors are better than others, but overall the state of textbooks–American history textbooks specifically–need to be reformed. As the author points out in the introduction when discussing how most textbooks are 1,200 pages or more:

Indeed, state and local textbook committees should not select *any* 1,200 page hardcover book. As the introduction to the second edition points out, there is no pedagogical justification for such large tomes. Their only reason for being is economic. These textbooks now retail for more than $100 and cost more than $70 even when ordered in quantity by states and school districts. It’s easy to understand why publishers keep on making them. It’s harder to understand why school districts keep buying them.

Topics range from the Vietnam War, the truth about Columbus, and how we have a bad habit of creating heroes out of people who were, at best, regular folks and at worst, total monsters. The book focuses on educational texts, sure, but the point it’s really trying to get across is that we need to educate children and teens to think critically and apply skepticism, not cynicism, to everything they consume: books, internet sites, news reports, and social media posts. This starts in the classroom and it starts with teaching critical thinking skills.

Let me reassure you that there are photographs. Sure, they’re in black and white, but I’m always reassured that a history book won’t be too dry and boring if I can find illustrations, maps, photographs, or other visual helpers to keep my brain engaged if it wants to wander. Many of the images in this book come directly from the textbooks the author reviewed.

Sometimes the representative textbook photos are good, like showing two images representing early Native American societies, one showing an organized society and the other showing people on horseback seemingly wandering. The caption asks students to discern which happened before white settlers arrived and which was after. This builds critical thinking skills and encourages students to find information to support their conclusions. It also busts the lie we’ve been told about how indigenous communities were uncivilized people who welcomed white saviors.

Other times, the representative textbook photos are reeeeeally not good. For instance, a racist cartoon that is still printed in high school textbooks with either no context or a skewed viewpoint. Stating your opinion–especially when it’s racist and contrary to reality–as fact does not make it a fact. But this is what students are taught and tested on. When we teach our children racist views as a requirement of their education, is it any wonder our society has problems with systemic racism and the inability to tell fact from fake news?

This all means that often the illustrations included in textbooks do a great disservice to the students forced to use them in class. It’s just one layer upon many that make up the cracks in our educational foundation. A foundation that is in serious need of repair.

I just checked this book out today. I’ll be reading it this month to complete the reading challenge and I just know I will be completely insufferable as I plague friends and strangers alike with the misinformation, misrepresentations, censorship, and outright lies we’ve all been fed. But this is good, and it’s exactly what the author was going for. He wants people to think and learn and grow and challenge the way we’ve been taught American history. We must stand up for facts, and push back against the BS.

Have you read this classic? I’d love to hear the most shocking or surprising fact you learned from the book. From what I can tell so far skimming, there are an embarrassing amount to choose from.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The Chain by Adrian Mckinty is the kind of book I find very frightening. No zombies or vampires, but the kind of stuff that can REALLY happen!

With a regular chain letter, if you don’t pass it on either something “bad” will happen or you are promised great things if you do pass it on; but there is no real incentive to pass it on. In this story, the masterminds behind the chain letter make sure that something really bad happens and in order to make it better you must “pass it on.”

Imagine that you get a phone call saying your child has been kidnapped. In order to get your child back, you must pay a ransom and kidnap another child! Only after the parents of the child you kidnap pay the ransom and kidnap another child will you get your own child back. And that’s where it ends…..or does it?

After contacting past abductees families, Rachel realizes that her family will forever be part of the chain, unless she can find a way to keep herself and her family safe.

Read this exciting story of single parent Rachel and her daughter Kylie. Rachel’s brother-in-law helps her do the bad deeds she needs to do to get Kylie back, because, obviously, you cannot go to the police. As they end up getting deeper and deeper into the kidnapping they realize that even if they wanted to go to the police, they are now criminals. This tale becomes even more exciting as they try to not just break the chain, but take it apart link by link.

I must add that I was very disappointed that I took this to read on my three-week vacation…. as I couldn’t put it down and finished it in four days!