“Hewitt and Wetmore 1916,” a Poem by Constance Schultz

Hewitt Avenue

In honor of the centennial of a dark chapter in local history that became known as the Everett Massacre, the Everett Public Library called on the community to create art. While most of the submissions that arrived were in visual art forms, some wonderful writing was also sent to us. In preparation for this weekend’s events, A Reading Life would like to share one of those pieces.

“Hewitt and Wetmore 1916,” by Constance Schultz

Beverly Park an area
for shame on
our town

The gauntlet and swirl of
injustice
the blood flowing

An attempt to silence
that which cannot stand calm
The past and future
Calista and Verona
The ships that carried
the backup for the Wobblies

Floated in Everett harbor
waiting to puncture the
pressure

Oh Everett
civil yet sweet
bursting with unions

of one type
or another
balancing power

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Libby

holdinguptheuniverseA few years ago I was having lunch with two co-workers. They each agreed that they would take one year off of their lives if they could be skinny. Not thin but skinny. There’s a great distinction if you listen closely. No lightweight myself, I said if I traded a year off my life for anything it would be to become a bestselling novelist. That was when I was in my twenties. Now at the end of my 30s I’d trade a year of my life just to be a happy human being. Or human. Ba-dum-hiss. I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.

Jennifer Niven’s book Holding Up the Universe is a novel that absolutely does not fit the YA cliché of “Our eyes met across a crowded room and I knew he saw me for who I really am.” That crap never happens in real life. I meet eyes with someone across a crowded room and my first thought is usually ‘What the !@ck are you looking at?’ Well, that’s my first thought, quickly followed by ‘I’d better get out of that guy’s line of sight so he can see the beautiful creature who must be standing right behind me.’

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby is a self-proclaimed fat girl but she is NOT who she used to be: “America’s Fattest Teen” the teen who was over 600 pounds and had to be cut out of her house. Being surrounded by firefighters who cut a wall in the side of her house to get her out was her wake up call. My wake up call came in the voice of the demon from The Exorcist: ‘You’re almost 40! What have you done with your life? Nothing!’ Oh to have a demon possess me. Hop on in pal. You’re going to find one unhappy person with obsessive thoughts that’ll keep you awake all night.

After her mother’s death, Libby and her father are on their own. He homeschools her and she tries to start a new life. And then she decides she wants to go to public high school. And she prays no one remembers her as “America’s Fattest Teen.” I tell you, I wish I had even a quarter of this girl’s self-esteem. My mom once told me that when I walk into a room and feel nervous as hell I needed to walk in like I owned the damn place. Libby walks into every room with over the top confidence, even when classmates make cow noises around her.

Enter Jack, a cocky high school jock with an afro full of charm. But he has a secret. He can’t recognize faces. He has a condition called prosopagnosia. He’s literally face blind. And he’s the only one who knows about it. He becomes adept at recognizing a physical marker about a person: the way they wear their hair or the way their voice sounds. His own two brothers could come up to him on the street and he wouldn’t know who they were.

Jack can only keep his secret safe for so long before people get suspicious. He meets Libby because one of his friends decides to pull a mega cruel joke called ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ You latch onto an overweight person and whoever stays on the longest wins. Wins at being the world’s biggest asshole. But it wasn’t Libby the boy latched onto but another heavyset girl. When Libby finds out about it she chases down the boy. Everyone is amazed at how fast she can run. She vaulted a fence to go after him. That’s my kind of girl! I once vaulted a baby gate to chase my brother. It didn’t end well.

Libby confronts the group of boys involved in the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ Not to be outdone by his douchey friends, Jack whispers to Libby “I’m sorry” before launching himself onto her. When Libby manages to pry him off she punches him in the mouth and down he goes. They both get detention and spend the next few weeks reluctantly getting to know each other. Jack starts to look forward to seeing Libby and this confuses him. He has a gorgeous girlfriend. At least he thinks he does. He doesn’t recognize her when she comes up to him.

Libby is beginning to have feelings for Jack. You want to know what absofreakinloutely rocks about Libby? Her first thought isn’t ‘He wouldn’t be caught dead dating a fat girl.’ She’s more upset about how she feels about Jack. And Jack is worried that she might not like him. It looks like Jack and Libby will become a couple but is she confident enough?

One secret she doesn’t tell anyone is that she can dance. I mean dance. Not the white girl shuffle I do when I’m ‘dancing.’ It’s full on the stars and the galaxies are aligned and dance she must. It’s Jennifer Beals dancing in Flashdance (yes, I know Jennifer Beals didn’t do her own dancing in Flashdance but that was the first movie that came to mind and I’ll probably think of a better one at 2 in the morning.) Better than Lady Gaga in 13 inch stilettos.

Libby has made her choice. Instead of trying to become invisible and stay beneath the radar, she flaunts her confidence, even after nasty notes are shoved into her locker. She refuses to back down and run away with her tail between her legs.

Fat, skinny, short, tall, weird, boring, Trump supporters-everyone should read this book and learn how it’s done when you’re the girl who had to get cut out of her own house.

Crazy Fall Publishing: Picture Book Edition

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I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve read about five hundred books this year! You may ask, “How is that possible?” Well, I purchase the picture books for the Everett Public Library and I read each and every one that comes into the library. Some I read quickly at my desk, but I check out about half of them and take them home to try on my two little guinea pigs, er, I mean, granddaughters. Quite a few have become instant favorites and are now part of our family life. Let me share the sweetest ones with you here.

The book pictured above is a real beauty complete with rhyming words, lovely art work, and awesome pull out pages called gate folds which actually frighten this librarian because they are fragile and will probably rip easily. “Leaves on trees are green and bright. Abracadabra! What a sight!” This is a celebration of the fall season similar to the very successful Abracadabra! It’s Spring! which was published, you guessed it, last spring.

There are a few new Halloween books which merit a reading. The Rules of the House isn’t really a Halloween book, but it sure is on the scary side as far as picture books go. It has already become part of our shared literary experience at home as we remind ourselves of the ‘rules of the house’: no pinching, no fibbing, and always rescue your sister. Birdie’s Happiest Halloween has a good ‘can’t decide my costume’ story and a great ending. Grimelda the Messy Witch is funny and leads to a good discussion about cleaning up your messes. A Teeny Tiny Halloween is just a fun read about a tiny woman who tries to get help when leaves bury her house.

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We love Mo Willems and were sad when the very last Elephant and Piggy book, The Thank You Book, was published this year. I read it to all of the schools I visited to talk up our Summer Reading Program. Everyone loved it! But, have no fear, now Willems is working on a new series called Elephant and Piggy Love Reading. We Are Growing and The Cookie Fiasco are hilarious! Just perfect for children learning to read. Nanette’s Baguette is a rhyming masterpiece: “It’s Nanette’s first trip to get the baguette! Is she set? You bet!”

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I refer to Please Say Please every single day when my little granddaughters want anything: “Please say please!” It is a very useful book. The Magic Word by Barnett is a hilarious take on what a magic word really is. Are Pirates Polite? by Demas shows that even pirates can say please and thank you. Read this if you want to stress good behavior and still have fun.

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Being polite is important, but it’s really important to Be Who You Are!  Author Todd Parr encourages kids to embrace themselves because they are special. Ada Twist, Scientist  is constantly wondering about and questioning the world around her. Who? What? Why? Where? When? Her sense of wonder is infectious. Thunder Boy, Jr. is by Sherman Alexie and is about a boy who wants a name of his own. The beautiful illustrations by Yuyi Morales celebrate this father-son relationship.

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Everyday Birds introduces kids to 20 types of North American birds through a gentle rhyme. At the back of the book there is information on each bird, should the reader be curious to learn more. Bright, bold, and colorful illustrations will draw a child’s eye. Hungry Bird is just as delightful and hilarious as the first two books in Tankard’s BIRD series. The animal characters experience negative emotions and they work through those feelings with care, heart and laughs. Hooray for Today is great for learning about nocturnal animals or for a bedtime story. Owl has a wagon filled with books, music, party things, and wants someone to play. Everyone he tries to wake up is too sleepy, until night is over and they are ready to get up, but now HE is the sleepy one.

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They All Saw a Cat is a good one. In simple, rhythmic prose and stylized pictures, a cat walks through the world, and all the other creatures see the cat differently. It illustrates perspective for children.  I Hear a Pickle: (and Smell, See, Touch and Taste It Too!) is Caldecott Honor winner Rachel Isadora’s introduction to the five senses and is perfect for the youngest children, who will recognize themselves in charming vignettes that portray a wide range of activities. Before Morning is simply beautiful and definitely a Caldecott contender. Take time to ‘read’ the illustrations as they add so much to the overall story. A little girl wishes for a snow day – – a day slow and unhurried enough to spend at home together.

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I would like to encourage you to take these picture books home from the library and spend an unhurried day with your favorite child. Who knows? You may end up reading more books than me!

Heartwood 6:6 – Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

carmillaI don’t normally read to scare myself, boost my heart rate, or get a jolt of adrenaline, but this time of year I often find myself looking for something a little spooky, dark, or supernatural. This year, the 140-year-old novella Carmilla, one of the earliest vampire tales (predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula), delivered just the dose of gothic elegance I was after.

When a carriage crashes on the road near their Styrian castle, Laura, a young woman, and her father offer their assistance and find themselves taking temporary custody of the weakened Carmilla, a woman in appearance about Laura’s age, as her mother has urgent business she must attend to farther down the road. Laura is thrilled to have found a female companion, and they form a remarkably quick and somewhat seductive intimacy. But early intimations that all is not quite right with the languid guest, who only emerges from her room late in the afternoon, grow more serious when Laura too begins to experience a similar loss in vigor and vitality.

The story moves along quite quickly and is told in an appealingly antiquated style with calm deliberateness and economy (though it does include a bit of unneeded repetition while also leaving a number of things unexplained). What I liked best about the book was Carmilla’s mysterious way of talking about being together forever with Laura, the significance of dreams, and the dreamlike ways in which the vampire would strike. Additionally, avid readers will be happy to see that book learning plays a large role in eventually putting the vampire (and story) to rest.

The Perils of Reading

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Reading a good book can be fabulous and depressing all at once. Page turners, stories that can’t be put down, books that demand to be picked up again, all can leave a reader wanting more. Perhaps it’s a sad commentary on my psyche that I grow so attached to the characters in a book, but on the other hand gifted authors paint such vivid, realistic pictures that their characters practically jump off the page.

Enter gifted author Connie Willis. Classified as a sci-fi writer, Willis writes books that are really historical fiction with a bit of sci-fi thrown in. Her Oxford Time Travel series uses, wait for it, time travel to get characters to a particular point in history, and then the stories become almost entirely historical fiction. And what stories they are! Doomsday Book finds a time traveler trapped in a village during a bubonic plague outbreak. Here Willis creates a world where you-the-reader actually feel that you’ve experienced the insane hardships of the black death.

As amazing as this book is, today I want to discuss Blackout and All Clear, two books which really are just one book split into two. In this adventure, time travelers (called historians) from 2060 go to various points in WWII England to observe and study. Initially, the story jumps around quite a bit between 2060 Oxford and each of the traveler’s adventures. As stories begin to intertwine, three historians who are on separate assignments in 1940 gradually discover that they cannot return to 2060. They start looking for each other (not an easy task in the middle of a world war), each of them incorrectly assuming that the others still have access to the future. Thus the story ends up focusing on Polly, Eileen and Mike in London from mid-1940 to mid-1941.

As much as one can know facts about WWII, there’s no way to know what it was like living through it without having done so. And although Willis’s books are fiction, they thoroughly immerse the reader in the mindset of Londoners during the war. Terror and uncertainty caused by the blitz, loss of loved ones at any given moment, annihilation of homes, daily bombings, destruction of roads and railways and on and on.

But perhaps more than the negative impacts of war, we are shown the resilience of the British. Throughout eight solid months of bombing, people continued going to jobs, shopping, celebrating Christmas and living life day to day. I can’t even begin to imagine the numbing difficulty of living through such an event. And yet live they did.

There is also a sci-fi component to the stories with each of the main characters worried that they might change history (seriously, no one considered this in the 40 years that time travel had been happening?), that they could even cause Hitler’s Germany to win the war. In fact, they are obsessed with this issue. After the time travel process stops working, the three fear that their actions have somehow caused its failure. And to top that off, Polly had earlier in her life gone back to May 1941, so she must return to 2060 before then or the laws of physics and time travel will eradicate her. So we have a thriller that exists on several different levels simultaneously.

When I finished All Clear (some thousand pages later), I felt an emptiness because the end of the book was the end of my relationship with the book’s characters, people who took me through life-changing adventures. In a small way, it paralleled the end of the war when people who had grown so close returned to their normal lives without their wartime families. Happy that the war was over, sad that the experiences which forged strong bonds had ended.

Bittersweet.

Fabulous, depressing, wondrous and fleeting. This is the literary world. So read a good book, make new fictional friends and mourn their departures as the book concludes.

And then, repeat.

Labor and Lumber

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To help commemorate the centennial of the Everett Massacre, we’ve pulled together this list of historical fiction titles. Only Sawdust Empire, by J.D. Howard, deals directly with the bloody events on Everett’s waterfront 100 years ago, but all of these books look at the timber industry and laborers from the 1890s to the present day (with many of them emphasizing the labor struggles of the 1930s).

Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, about an Oregon logging family that continues to work through a bitter strike, is the best-known of these Northwest labor novels. But it’s good to see the recent reprinting of Robert Cantwell’s long out-of-print, Aberdeen-set novel, The Land of Plenty (originally published in 1935). For a mid-century style and take see Roderick Haig-Brown’s 1942 book, Timber, with its detailed accounts of logging work, and his 1949 title On the Highest Hill. Cormac McCarthy fans ought to appreciate Brian Hart’s gritty 2014 novel, Bully of Order about the extremely rough and lawless world of a Northwest coast logging town in the 1890s.

If you like a bit of mystery with your historical fiction, take a look at the award-winning Timber Beasts or Black Drop by S.L. Stoner, or The Big Both Ways by John Straley.

Click here to see a list of all of these titles in the library catalog and to place holds. Or click on a book jacket below to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

For additional fiction focusing on the laboring life, take a look at the titles in this list.

Did You Know (Speeding Edition)

That the first person arrested for speeding in the United States was driving 12 miles an hour in 1899?

weirdbuttrueI found this information on page 115 in the book Weird but True! Stupid Criminals by National Geographic Kids. This book has more than 150 silly stories about criminals, and will have you laughing out loud!

Fifty Cars that Changed the World shows a 1908 Model T, just a little newer than the first car to get a ticket…. But chances are someone DID get a ticket in one of them. Fifty Cars tells the history of some of these vintage vehicles and how they changed the auto industry all over the world.

barnfindroadtripBarn Find Road Trip by Tom Cotter is “3 guys, 14 days and 1,000 lost collector cars discovered.” If you enjoy tinkering and restoring cars, you will love seeing the treasures they found. Some of them are even for sale if you need a project. If nothing else, you may get inspired to start peeking in some of the old barns around here.

It is ok to speed, sometimes! Like …. On a race track! On the Speedway by Jake Maddox is a children’s book with four short stories about teenage boys at the speedway. Anyone who dreams of being behind the scenes at the races will enjoy these stories.

racingdriverThere are many different kinds of auto racing: NASCAR, sports racers, Indy cars, Formula 1 cars, Stock cars and more. Racing Driver by Giles Chapman is ideal for a future race car driver. It shows “how to drive Race Cars step by step.”

So, basically, those NASCAR guys were criminals in their own right…. Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay and Big Bill France by Daniel S. Pierce shows how the colorful characters that were rrealnascaracers-by-day and bootleggers-by-night created the NASCAR that people love today.

But, the need for speed has always been with us. I’m sure that cavemen were racing each other to that hill over there, just because there was a hill over there. But we have all kinds of books on horse racing, motocross, hydroplane racing, bike racing and even the Iditarod. So… race right into the library and get one of these exciting books!