Crazy Fall Publishing: Cookbooks!

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I told my book club how excited I was for the new wave of cookbooks being published this fall and the general response was, “Cookbooks?  Who uses cookbooks anymore? Just google your ingredients and find a recipe online!”  Well, call me old-fashioned, but I still love great cookbooks. How else are you going to know what to search for online? And also, a great cookbook needs to be savored as a whole for maximum inspiration.

I’ll be honest here. A lot of the cookbooks that come out each year are at least some part garbage. They either have recipes you’d never want to cook or sloppy, untested recipes. Or both. Or they aren’t arranged nicely and by that I mean a beautiful photo on one side and a great recipe on the other.

But let’s ignore those bad ones for the now. Because the ones that are great? The cookbooks that change how you eat, how you celebrate, how you cook, how you live? The good ones? Those cookbooks come out in the fall!

In library world, that means stacks and stacks of cookbooks are rolling in. It’s a little overwhelming. Where do you start? Which books are worth your time? Here! Let me help you out. I’ve been hoarding a stack of beauties in my office while writing this blog post but now you can get yourself in line for these:

Home Cooking:

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Good news! Ruth Reichl has a new memoir chock full of recipes called My Kitchen Year: 136 recipes that Saved My Life. It chronicles her difficult time after Gourmet magazine folded and she found herself again through cooking.

Heart & Soul in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin is an intimate look at the celebrity chef and the food he cooks at home with family and friends — 200 recipes in all. Fantastique!

In Kitchen Gypsy: Recipes and Stories from a Lifelong Romance with Food,  Joanne Weir of television fame and who learned from Alice Waters offers the cherished dishes and lessons that have shaped her culinary journey.

Cookbooks from Restaurants:

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This is Camino by Russell Moore is a cookbook about the unique, fire-based cooking approach and ingredient-focused philosophy of Camino restaurant in Oakland, CA.

At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well is by Amy Chaplin who is the former executive chef of New York’s renowned vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen and it celebrates each season with recipes that show off local produce at its peak.

Nopi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi  is a cookbook from the best restaurant in London (Nopi) and features 120 new recipes. Smashing!

Breakfast: Recipes to Wake Up For by George Weld and Evan Hanczor of the Brooklyn Restaurant, Egg. This is a delicious ode to morning foods, featuring eggs, biscuits, meats, and pancakes you’ll want to start every day with.

International Cuisine:
Cookbooks3How to Eataly: A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Eating Italian Food is by Oscar Farinetti.  “The more you know, the more you will enjoy” is the philosophy behind this essential compendium of Italian cooking.

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov who is chef and co-owner of Philadelphia’s Zahav restaurant reinterprets the glorious cuisine of Israel for American home kitchens.

Near and Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travels is by Heidi Swanson who is known for combining natural foods recipes with evocative, artful photography. She circled the globe to create this mouthwatering assortment of 120 vegetarian dishes.

Honey & Co: The Cookbook by Sarit Packer brings the flavors of the Middle East to life in a wholly accessible way, certain to entice and satisfy in equal measure.

From the United States:

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A Real Southern Cook: In Her Savannah Kitchen is the first cookbook by Dora Charles who is the real deal. Here she divulges her locally famous Savannah recipes — many of them never written down before — and those of her family and friends.

In America: Farm to Table: Simple, Delicious Recipes Celebrating Local Farmers bestselling author and world-renown chef Mario Batali pays homage to the American farmer — from Maine to Los Angeles — in stories, photos, and recipes. Eat Fresh!

Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s Country Cat by Adam and Jackie Sappington offers soulful, heartland-inspired comfort food from Portland’s popular The Country Cat Restaurant. Put a bird on it!

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook: A Year of Cooking on Martha’s Vineyard by Chris Fischer whose cooking combines practical, rural ingenuity with skill acquired in the world’s leading kitchens. The result is singular and exciting.

Get Your Health On:

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Food 52: Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook by Kristen Miglore is an essential collection of more than 100 foolproof recipes from food luminaries such as Julia Child, Alice Waters, and David Chang — curated, introduced, and photographed by the team behind the leading foodwebsite Food52. These are inventive recipes that rethink cooking and are nothing short of genius.

Two Moms in the Raw: Simple, Clean, Irresistible Recipes for Your Family’s Health is by Shari Leidich, the founder of the national award-winning healthy-snack company Two Moms in the Raw and includes raw, cooked, and gluten-free meals. Healthy!

The Vibrant Table: Recipes from My Always Vegetarian, Mostly Vegan & Sometimes Raw Kitchen by Anya Kassoff is a feast for the senses. From small sides to savoury meals and sweet indulgences, each nourishing recipe tells a story of a balanced and well-fed lifestyle, centered around the family table. This is one beautiful book!

The Whole 30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa Hartwig and Dallas Hartwig is the step-by-step, recipe-by-recipe guidebook that will allow millions of people to experience the transformation of their entire life in just one month.

Single Subject:

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My Pantry by Alice Waters is an accessible collection of essays and recipes which introduces the author’s philosophies about making one’s own provisions using seasonal, organic and healthy artisanal foods.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations is by Alex Stupak. Through recipes, essays, and sumptuous photographs, the 3-Michelin-star veteran makes the case that Mexican food should be as esteemed as the highest French cooking.

Theo Chocolate: Recipes and Sweet Secrets from Seattle’s Favorite Chocolate Makers is by Debra Music & Joe Whinney. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Here are delicious sweet and savory chocolate recipes, along with the fascinating story of how North America’s first organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory came to be. In Seattle!

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine by Madeline Puckett has lots of information in an easy-to-read format. Some of it is basic — like choosing glasses and how to serve — and most is really good information — like the entire ‘Styles of Wine’ section.

So, there you have it: Something for everyone. Come on down to the library to check out one of these cookbooks that will change how you eat, how you celebrate, how you cook, how you live. See you there!

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

Oregon Trail

Please don’t laugh at me, but The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck is currently my favorite book. It’s hard to explain, but let me try. The book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history. There are scenes that are so hair-raising that I had to keep checking to make sure the author really made it to Oregon.

This work is a deeply moving and beautifully written memoir that tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. While making his journey, Buck relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules, the pitfalls of wagon purchasing from the Amish, the kindness of strangers in the American West, and why so many children are being raised by their grandparents in Nebraska. More than this, it is Rinker Buck’s description of his complicated and unresolved relationship with his driven father that serves as the emotional trail-heart of this book. I loved every page. This book is a great way to “see America slowly.”

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I recently drove the Oregon Trail (quickly!) while travelling from Washington State to Idaho and back. I snapped this photo of what you typically see while driving the old Oregon Trail these days: two straight lanes of highway dotted with semi trucks and passenger cars. It’s a relatively easy drive these days, unless you encounter foul weather over the Blue Mountains. I especially love driving in Idaho where the posted speed is 80 miles per hour. While in Idaho, we were lucky enough to watch the largest non-motorized parade in the west. There were young girls riding bare back and without bridles, and countless old wagons and buggies pulled by mules, horses, and ponies. I’ll include my video of the twenty mule team pulling no less than five wagons here:

Here are some other interesting materials on the Oregon Trail that can be found at the library. They will surely round out your knowledge of that complex and colossal migration.

indexThe Oregon Trail: An American Saga by David Day is the definitive one-volume and complete history of the Oregon Trail from its earliest beginnings to the present. It’s chock full of maps, photographs, diary excerpts and illustrations that give a very detailed picture of this American saga. As the book blurb says: “Above all, The Oregon Trail offers a panoramic look at the romance, colorful stories, hardships, and joys of the pioneers who made up this tremendous and historic migration.”

For an original recording made in Portland, Oregon in May of 1941 by Woody Guthrie, be sure to check out the Columbia River Collection. Guthrie was hired by the Bonneville Power administration to write music for a film about power and the Columbia River. Songs include: The Oregon Trail, Roll on Columbia, and Hard Travelin’. We unfortunately don’t have a photo of this CD in our library catalog, but the music is fantastic.

index (3)If you want to eat like the early pioneers, Wagon Wheel Kitchens: Food on the Oregon Trail by Jacqueline Williams is the book for you! This book puts you squarely on the Oregon Trail: baking bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire, searing buffalo meat, and trading for fresh vegetables and fish. Through emigrant diaries and recipes of the day, the author reconstructs meals that fed the emigrants as they crossed the Plains. To understand the contribution of trail women to the migration, simply try one of Williams’s ‘pinch and a handful’ recipes – and do it over an open fire in a rainstorm.

index (1)The Oregon Trail: A Photographic Journey is by Bill & Jan Moeller. The authors meticulously traced and captured on film the remnants of the Oregon Trail-surprisingly intact in many places.The resulting full-color photographs, accompanied by selected entries from emigrant diaries, evoke for the modern reader the frontier: strange, harsh, and beautiful-as the emigrants saw it.

index (2)Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark came highly recommended by a friend when he learned that I loved Buck’s Oregon Trail book. This story is simply a good adventure! It features a ship journey with threat of hostile boarding, wicked storms and the political ambition of Jefferson combined with the global trade scheme of Astor. It also features an overland journey with mountain passes, raging rivers, threat of native attack, and near starvation. In the end, the colony did change the trajectory of settlement on the west coast. It paved the way for the Oregon Trail, coming as it did just a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

To travel the Oregon Trail from the comfort of your own home, come on down to the library and check out these wonderful materials! See you there.

Same, Same, but Different

same-same-but-different--1I traveled to Thailand a few years back to visit my daughter who was taking a “Gap year” between high school and college. We met in Chiang Mai and did some touristy things like taking a cooking class and shopping for souvenirs. Lots of folks try to make their living by selling these souvenirs and a common call out is “Same same, but different!”  It’s a phrase used a lot in Thailand, and it can mean just about anything but originally meant “I have the same wares, but they’re better!”

You can use this phrase for so many things, but I like it in the context of books. Are you waiting in a long queue for the latest best seller? Well, your library has similar books which may keep you happy while you wait for the latest hot title.

Librarians are specially trained to help you with this very problem. It’s called ‘Reader’s Advisory’ in the trade and I’ll let you in on a few of our trade secrets. You’re probably familiar with Goodreads which is a social media reading site that can give you lists and lists of books on any subject imaginable. I like to use our library catalog which gives awesome suggestions for ‘similar titles’. There’s also a link to the database Novelist on our catalog. Your librarian can help you use these tools or simply do it for you.

Here are some ‘same, same, but different’ books for the currently most popular titles at Everett Public Library.

index (1)Are you longing to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr? Why not try The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah? This new novel is also set in Nazi occupied World War Two France and includes a love story. Two sisters are forced to test the strength of their courage and their love for each other as they each face the coming war in very different ways. Quiet Vianne has a husband who is fighting on the front lines and is terrified for their young daughter, yet she still manages to make her mark in her small town by standing up for what’s right in her own way. Headstrong Isabelle joins the resistance and fights the Nazis in each and every way she can. index (1)Neither of them will be the same by the time the war has ended. This was my first Kristin Hannah novel but it most definitely will not be my last. I was instantly drawn to the gorgeous cover and the intriguing summary on the dust jacket and decided to take a chance. I am very glad I did. Never have I read a book that told a story of occupied France in quite this way and from women’s perspectives too!

Nature of the BeastI just placed a hold for The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny and I’m 25th in line! It must be good, but while I wait for it, I think that I’ll read the new Flavia de Luce mystery, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. The Armand Gamache and Flavia De Luce mysteries are intelligent, character centered, cozies set in small towns. Although the time periods differ, the conversational tone and feel are similar. This Flavia de Luce mystery is even set in Toronto. They also share casts of eccentric secondary characters as well as unique investigators. Falva de Luce has been sent off to boarding school in Toronto; the same index (3)school her mother had attended. On her first night there, down from the chimney in her room a charred and mummified body drops. It has clearly been there for some time and the head is separated from the body. Flavia is determined to find out the victim’s identity and who killed her, but must also find out why girls are disappearing from the school without a trace.

index (1)I’m listening to Circling the Sun by Paula McLain and it is fabulous! It is the backstory of Beryl Markham, the first woman to make a transatlantic crossing from east to west solo. She was raised by her father in Africa and became that continent’s first woman horse trainer. There’s quite a line to get this beautiful novel, so place your hold and then check out Markham’s own book, West With the Night. When Hemingway read Markham’s book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: “She has written so well, and marvelously index (2)well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. It is really a bloody wonderful book.” First published in 1942, it’s just as remarkable today. Look for the illustrated edition. It’s loaded with wonderful photos of the author during her days in Africa. What more could you ask for than beautiful writing and a compelling story about the daring exploits of a spunky lady? Both of these books are well worth your time!

index (1)Now here’s a no-brainer: If you’re waiting in line for the wonderful new novel Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, read (or re-read) To Kill a Mockingbird in the meantime. In fact, it makes sense to (re)read Mockingbird first as Watchman is set twenty years after the trial of Tom Robinson. The basic plot of this new sequel/prequel/first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird is that our beloved narrator, Scout (now Jean Louise), is now in her twenties and returns from New York to visit her father, Atticus, in Maycomb. However, Atticus has changed in these years and now hold views and opinions that greatly upset index (4)Jean Louise. Reading the first page of this novel you are immediately dropped into the familiar prose and voice of Lee’s masterwork. Maycomb is alive again in your hands. The novel simmers along at a steady pace as Jean Louise reminisces about her childhood in the town and about her life now. Then about half-way through the plot turns as we discover what Atticus has been up to. Unless you have been living under a rock, then you already know what I’m talking about but if you don’t know then I’ll tell you: He’s a big ole racist.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea: your librarian can help you find the perfect book, or even movie, to fill your needs while you’re waiting for that hot popular title. Come on in to the library to get your ‘same, same, but different’ book!

Memoirs, Old and New

My father loved to tell a good story and what made a story good for him was if it was about someone’s life: where it started, what happened, how the person reacted and how it all ended. It was so interesting to hear these stories as a child around the dinner table, but what is equally fascinating is to read someone else’s story of their life in their own words- in their memoir.

indexMany people interchangeably use the terms ‘autobiography’ and ‘memoir,’ but they’re different.  An autobiography is factual and is typically written by famous people. The thing that sets a top memoir apart from other literary works such as biographies or autobiographies is that it includes the personal experiences and first-hand accounts of the author. It feels more personal and can be written by anyone. For example, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl only discusses key experiences she lived through during the Holocaust, and the effects it had on her as a child.

Some of my favorite books have been memoirs. To me they seem to be divided into two categories: the really funny and the sad, but meaningful. Let’s look at both groups and also some of the latest memoirs published just this year.

index (8)A very gritty but ultimately uplifting memoir written by Liz Murray is Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homelessness to Harvard. This is the story of a young girl born to loving but addicted parents who finds herself homeless in New York City. She somehow manages to complete high school even though she must ride the subway at night for a safe, dry place to sleep–thus the title: ‘breaking night’.

index (9)I loved Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood  by Alexandra Fuller. She was just three when her parents moved from England to what was then Rhodesia. They bought a farm and fought to eke out a living in an environment hostile in more ways than one.
Her prose is simple and compelling, addressing with equal clarity the richness of growing up in Africa and the instability brought on by having hard-drinking, openly racist parents who were fighting on the losing side of Zimbabwe’s war of independence. She gives us a unique view into a moment in history, made accessible and almost normal-seeming from the perspective of a child.

index (12)The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is a beautiful book. Letter by letter, the Editor-in-Chief of French Elle, dictated his life story with winks despite being totally incapacitated by ‘locked in syndrome’ following a stroke. The diving bell and the butterfly are powerful metaphors that bespeak the triumph of the human will over physical disability of the highest order.

index (13)The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a widely read story that illustrates the resilience of children. In the beginning I truly loved the way her parents looked at life, and how the family dynamics were endearing even if life was tough. Later on, when both the father’s alcoholism and mother’s obvious mental illness progressed, things went from bad to intolerable. The sheer tenacity of the kids is amazing. It’s hard to understand the hardships others may have endured, yet reading about it puts you into their shoes. This is an incredible read and I loved it.

index (14)Now for the Funny! I loved The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson because it is, after all, Bryson! He is hilarious! He tells of his childhood growing up in the middle of the American century (1951) in the middle of the United States (Des Moines, Iowa) in the middle of the largest generation in American history (the baby boomers). As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold and here he strikes it rich with this memoir.

index (15)Have you read A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel? I read it years ago and still smile when I see the cover. I love the narrator’s clear-eyed child’s view of the people around her, and the fact that her memoir tells the story of a different world than most of us know: the mostly idyllic small town of many years ago. Serious issues are hinted at, not avoided, but neither are they dwelled upon. I loved the characterization of Zippy’s family, particularly her father, and also that of her friends, since friends are such a huge part of the universe to a kid in grade school. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and sweet, just like Zippy herself.

index (16)I recently listened to Amy Poehler read her funny memoir called Yes, Please! and that’s the way to ‘read’ this one if you ask me. She is just so funny and hearing it in her voice makes it all the more delightful. If you’re feeling blue and need a lift, or want some good life advice delivered with humor, this’ll do it. This is one of the best comedian-bios I’ve read/listened to yet. Yes, please!

index (1)Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is by Viv Albertine who was in the British punk rock band The Slits. Not only is this a great reflection on an influential moment in time, but there are so many great bits about being a woman, artistic inspiration, and how to keep your identity intact while having a family. My heart was kind of breaking for girls in the first part – the expectations heaped upon them, and the boxes they are expected to stay in. It was a real delight to see her break out of that and bust some stereotypes. When she comes to the realization that she doesn’t need a man to believe in her but rather can inspire herself, it is just a real delight. Read it.

index (19)A fellow librarian recommended Bettyville by George Hodgman who writes about taking care of his 90-year-old mother, Betty, in his hometown of Paris, MO. Hodgman grew up in middle America during a time when the word gay was never spoken aloud. The message he received from everyone but his parents was that he was wrong. His parents avoided the subject altogether. As an adult, he escaped to New York City where he began his career as an editor. But now, years after his father has passed, his mother needs 24/7 care. This book would foster a good discussion in a book club and will be of interest to even those without aging parents.

index (20)Leaving Before the Rains Come is the new one by Alexandra Fuller and has already been highly acclaimed. She writes of her marriage and divorce from Charlie, an American rafting guide. Filled with wise gems like: “The problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without any idea how to live,” and “There are no bad words, only bad ways to use good words,” this memoir was powerfully written and inspiring. Alexandra Fuller, both as a woman and as a writer, is a force to be reckoned with.

For these and other great stories to tell around your dinner table, come visit the Everett Public Library!

Best of 2014: Nonfiction

We continue our daily posts from our staff picked Best of 2014 list with all things factual. Read on for great nonfiction books ranging in topic from Wall Street shenanigans, Hollywood scandals, cookbooks, humor and much more.

NF1

A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction | Joel Greenberg
The story of the passenger pigeon; how flocks of billions of birds were shot, clubbed, burned, crushed, flailed, speared, drowned, and blown up; a species’ extinction by wanton human butchery.

I’d read stories about the passenger pigeon’s fate, but couldn’t believe what I was reading. This author’s careful documentation allows no evasion of the book’s central thesis. -Cameron

Capital in the Twenty-First Century | Thomas Piketty
Economist Piketty relates in great detail why funneling money to the already rich leads to the past devouring the future.

It is a tour de force of scholarship, spanning the globe and spanning centuries. -Cameron

Flash Boys | Michael Lewis
Relates how certain Wall Street traders laid their own high speed communications line from Chicago to New York to purchase stock before anyone else. They beat the buyer to the punch and sell at a profit.

Pulls back the curtain on a whole array of tawdry Wall Street scams. The kicker is that there is no law to stop them. -Cameron

Food : a Love Story | Jim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan gives his listeners what they really crave, his thoughts on all things culinary(ish).

Gaffigan is one of the funniest, smartest, and cleanest comics working today. Here he adds plenty of new material to what fans will already expect. Try the audiobook, narrated by Gaffigan himself. -Alan

NF2

Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets and Recipes from our Kitchen | Nathan, Zoe
Recipes for delectable baked goods, both sweet and savory, abound. Illustrated with mouth-watering photos.

I love sampling cookbooks from the library before deciding whether to purchase for my personal collection. -Eileen

Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970s | Tom Doyle
Based on exclusive first-hand interviews, a chronicle of Paul McCartney’s struggles in the first decade after the Beatles’ breakup discusses his reclusive life, substance abuses, arrests, and efforts to launch his band Wings.

Love it or hate it, Paul was prolific in the 70’s and I happen to love his output from the period (especially Ram and Red Rose Speedway). This details everything, including depression, granting him depth the music doesn’t necessarily indicate. -Alan

One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band | Alan Paul
Told through the voices of band members, roadies, family, and friends, it is the story of an iconic–and tragic–rock band of the sixties, the Allman Brothers Band.

Really puts the Allmans in context, a fusion band with influences from blues, rock, jazz, country, and even classical. -Cameron

The Portlandia Cookbook: Cook Like a Local | Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, with Jonathan Krisel
This cookbook features the best recipes from the stimulating food mecca that is Portland.

Portlandia. Need I go on? Okay, fine. This book combines two of my favorites: cooking and the TV show Portlandia. The recipes are real, but humor runs amok in the sidebars and chapter breaks. I’m asking Santa for this one. -Carol

NF3

QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground | Scott Stratten
Using real-life examples from human resources, marketing, branding, networking, public relations, and customer service, this book offers tips and guidance on how to prevent in-person and online/social media slip-ups.

I’m part of a team of library staffers who run the library’s social media platforms. I am always on the lookout for ways I can improve the work I am doing, since it relfects on the library. Also, there’s a kitten on the cover! -Carol

Retro baby : Cut Back on all the Gear and Boost Your Baby’s Development with More than 100 Time-Tested Activities | Anne Zachry
New isn’t always better when it comes to the health and well-being of babies. Retro Baby is full of tips for inexpensive toys and simple activities to enhance your baby’s development without investing in all manner of high-tech baby gear.

Published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is full of the newest research findings about child development along with practical ways to help your baby thrive. This is a great gift for anyone with a new baby. -Theresa

Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema | Anne Helen Petersen
A collection of shocking clashes and controversies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, featuring notorious personalities including Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, and more.

This is a smart treatment backed up by solid research that debunks rather than celebrates scandal. -Alan

NF4

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory | Caitlin Doughty
Young aspiring crematory operator Caitlin Doughty takes readers behind the scene of America’s death industry. Not for the faint of heart due to some graphic descriptions, this book provides a very thought-provoking look at what happens to us after we die.

This was a very honest and surprisingly humorous discussion of a topic most of us would like to ignore. Doughty provides some fascinating information about death rituals around the world, as well as a history of how we’ve responded to death in the US. -Lisa

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions | Randall Munroe
The creator of the popular webcomic xkcd receives a lot of odd queries from his fans. This book answers these (sometimes literally) burning questions such as: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?

The author’s dry wit and impressive scientific knowledge make this book not only hilarious but also amazingly informative. Impossible to put down once started. -Richard

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

The Best Laid Plans

As you may recall, gentle reader, in June I devised a list of interesting non-fiction titles to guide my summer reading.  Well the good news is that I have been reading non-fiction. The bad news is that none of the titles I’ve chosen so far have been selected from that list. I had hoped to whittle away at my reading list, but sadly I’ve just added to it. Still, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have than a long list of interesting books to read.  Speaking of the grand scheme of things, the titles I have been reading this summer have had a philosophical bent for some reason. Perhaps sunshine makes a person question their place in the universe. Or it could be sunstroke. In any case, here are few more titles you might want to consider for your summer non-fiction reading.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero by James Romm
dyingeverydayWhile this work is definitely chock full of intriguing Roman Imperial history, the book’s central aim is trying to answer a seemingly intractable question: Just what kind of person was Seneca? On the one hand, thanks to many of his surviving philosophical works, we know that he was a dyed in the wool Stoic preaching the rigorous virtues of poverty, morality and the equality of all before fate. On the other we have his career as a shrewd politician and tutor to the young Emperor Nero; Seneca amassed a huge amount of wealth while delicately maneuvering through the deadly and incredibly amoral minefield of the imperial court. The author is a master at examining a tenant of stoicism that Seneca espoused and then contrasting it with the rather seedy political world he found himself in. Romm makes a convincing argument concerning Seneca’s moral character, but ultimately leaves it up to the reader to decide.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
theswerveThis one is a librarian’s, or book lover’s, dream. In the winter of 1417 the Italian humanist and former Papal secretary Poggio Braccilini was searching for forgotten manuscripts, a popular pastime in that era, in the monasteries of Southern Germany.  What he discovered was a fragile copy of an ancient poem titled On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). This text, written by Lucretius and promoting the ideas of the philosopher Epicurus, was praised for the beauty of its language, but the ideas it conveyed were definitely not kosher for the time. A few examples: early atomic theory (discovered centuries before the scientific method was invented), the idea of an indifferent universe, and, worst of all, the concept that seeking pleasure was actually a good thing. Greenblatt’s book is not only an examination of the history of these ideas and their influence on our culture, but also the fascinating story of Poggio Braccilini and his time.

The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman
accidentaluniverseAll the essays in this short work are concerned with the impact of recent scientific discoveries on our view of the universe and our place in it. The author is both a theoretical physicist and a novelist which I found to be a great help when it came to his descriptions of some of the more complicated scientific concepts such as dark matter and the multiverse which he deftly puts in layman’s terms.  The essays are not simply explanations of scientific concepts. Instead, Lightman tries to integrate the scientific ideas with concepts from history, literature, and his own personal experiences.  This creates a balanced approach that is greatly appreciated when it comes to hot button topics like the often uneasy relationship between belief and the scientific method. This book is not a series of rants from a particular perspective, but rather a balanced and humane attempt to genuinely explore the ideas scientific discoveries are bringing to the fore.

A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning by Robert Zaretsky
alifeworthlivingWhile you may associate Albert Camus with past memories of disgruntled youths wearing all black and mumbling the first line from The Stranger (Mother died today. Or was it yesterday; I can’t be sure.) this blend of biography and criticism would argue that there is much more to the man and his ideas for living.  Zaretsky structures the biographical details around a series of concepts that Camus grappled with and that make up the chapter headings: Absurdity, Silence, Measure, Fidelity, Revolt.  What emerges is a set of ideas for understanding the world that are constantly open to exploration and interpretation, far from the static label (existentialism) often ascribed to them. While struggle is definitely a component, Camus finds that there is actually cause for hope and, gasp, happiness in this life:

It was the middle of winter, I finally realized that, within me, summer was inextinguishable.

So, a few suggestions for a little light non-fiction reading this summer. Perhaps I need to get out of the sun.

A Blogger’s Life for Me

I’ve made it to the middle! We’re halfway through the year and I’m also halfway through my reading resolutions. Let’s review what I’ve gotten myself into:

  1. Read something a library patron recommends
  2. Read this year’s Everett Reads! book 
  3. Read something difficult, either due to subject matter or writing style
  4. Read an award-winning book
  5. Read something that is super-popular
  6. Read a book that was the basis for a TV series or movie
  7. Read a classic work of literature
  8. Read an annotated classic work of literature
  9. Read something that will help me plan for the future (see below)
  10. Read something that will help me reconcile the past
  11. Read a graphic novel 
  12. Read an entire series that is new to me

The future: a scary, unknown, slightly intimidating place where I will definitely have more wrinkles but I will hopefully have more time to focus on hobbies. I enjoy writing for this blog, and I love that you take time out of your busy schedule to read it. We have some very talented writers on staff here, and we’re all lucky that blogging is just another part of that mysterious “other duties as assigned” line in our job descriptions. We try to make posts fresh and relevant to your interests with the goal of promoting the library through its programs, services, and materials.

That’s all a nice way of saying I like writing here, but I’d love to do more and on my own terms. I’ve been toying with the idea of starting my own blog, and maybe start laying the groundwork for either a steady hobby or, if all goes brilliantly, a second career.

BlogIncBlog Inc.: Blogging for Passion, Profit, and to Create Community by Joy Cho is the book that lit my creative fire. Joy, who has been a professional blogger since 2005, is a trusted voice in the blogosphere. Her book condenses down her best tips and tricks for developing your own writing voice and taking it online. I found guidelines for setting up both a content strategy and a marketing plan, both main ingredients in a successful blogger’s toolkit. Mixed in with these nuggets of wisdom are interviews with other professional bloggers. I find it fascinating how some people got their “big break” and what other things these bloggers do when they’re not online. Some run small businesses; others are full-time parents. But everyone shares a passion for blogging, one that I would love to channel into my very own blog.

But I didn’t stop there. I checked out a ton of books on blogging from the library, and found an excellent balance between how to plan good content and a ton of technical help (think layout and coding cool features). Books like ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett, Building a WordPress Blog People Want to Read by Scott McNulty, and Blogging for Bliss: Crafting Your Own Online Journal by Tara Frey build on the foundation Blog Inc. gave me. For those who don’t like to start any new venture without a Dummies reference, check out Blogging All-In-One for Dummies. I found information on everything from planning content, selecting a host, and using social media to share my posts.

After digesting all this information, including how to make money from blogging (can we say dream job?), I looked into other ways I could monetize my life. Everyone else is selling out, so why shouldn’t I? That’s where How to Make Your Cat an Internet Celebrity by Patricia Carlin comes into play. I figure with three cats, all of whom are completely insane, there’s got to be an entertainment gold mine in there somewhere. This book is obviously a parody of, well, I guess the entire Internet. But I won’t let that slow me down. There are tons of sure-fire ways to turn your feline friend into the next Grumpy Cat. If nothing else I could always fall back on these ideas if my blog gets a little low on fresh content.

Gypsy

TonksTheDude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on my recent reading and pinning activities, I’m on the verge of taking the blogging plunge. Maybe if I get started now and get a dedicated following, get myself used to a structure and schedule, and figure out how to maybe get paid for my hard work, I’ll have in place a second career. But I’m not totally delusional: I’m still buying lottery tickets.

Tackling Mixology

Summer is fast approaching, and the social calendar is already filling up. One of the things my husband and I enjoy most is hosting groups of friends at our place for dinners and parties. When we host get-togethers, I always gravitate towards the kitchen, while Dan plays mixologist. There’s something about mixing cocktails that has always spooked me by seeming a bit too precise. In order to get over this fear, I decided to hunt down some accessible books on how to make the perfect drink for the perfect party. Here’s my short list:

Cover image of DIY CocktailsDIY Cocktails: a Simple Guide to Creating your Own Signature Drink by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren. This is one recipe book where it’s in your best interest to start at the beginning and read on through. I tend to pick up cookbooks and dive right into the middle, skipping all the intro materials, but the beginning of this book is extremely helpful in explaining the nature of cocktail recipes, the tools and measurements used, and how you can improvise. From there, the authors provide you with recipes for many classic and obscure drinks, as well as creative ways to personalize them to make them your own. This appeals to me because I tend to ‘riff’ on the dishes I like according to what I happen to have in the kitchen at the time; this book allows you to do the same with your liquor cabinet.

Cover image for The Punch BowlThe Punch Bowl: 75 Recipes Spanning Four Centuries of Wanton Revelry by Dan Searing. I was first attracted to this title because punch seems to work well when entertaining large groups of people. Upon closer inspection, I found that this book was actually 2 parts alcohol, 1 part history: a perfect ratio for a historian hostess. Early sections of this book are devoted to the history of punch, how old recipes are modernized, and information about antique punch-serving equipment. Liberally sprinkled through the book are lovely photos of punch bowls, service sets, goblets, and well-garnished drinks. The recipes themselves are a mix of very accessible drinks with common ingredients and impossible beverages with ingredient lists that seem unlikely to be filled unless you live in a major city or have a lot of time on your hands. I guess that’s understandable when you take into account the fact that the author includes beverages that were en vogue hundreds of years ago. Thankfully the former outweighs the latter and makes this book a worthwhile read.

Cover image for Cocktails for a CrowdCocktails for a Crowd by Kara Newman. This is essentially the light version of The Punch Bowl. Most of the cocktails listed in this book are designed to be served in pitchers or bowls to make life easier for hosts. Absent are the random obscure ingredients, unless they are simple items that you could make at home to enhance your recipe. In the front part of the book there is ample information about preparing garnishes, as well as infused bitters and syrups. This seems like an excellent pick for beginner mixologists who aren’t in the mood for a history lesson.

Cover image for Beer CocktailsBeer Cocktails by Howard and Ashley Stelzer. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the world of beer cocktails, this a game-changer for casual get-togethers. The recipes in this book are a far cry from the beermosas and makeshift micheladas my friends and I would whip together using car camping ingredients on groggy Sunday mornings. Beer Cocktails is helpfully arranged by style of beer, so that you can start your experimenting with beers that already appeal to you.

Happy mixing – enjoy responsibly!

The Facts of Summer

Just in case you haven’t noticed, the summer reading season is upon us. In addition to great programs at EPL encouraging people to read this summer, there are many summer reading lists from which to choose. Any list, however, has to grapple with an interesting conundrum: what exactly is a summer read? Some recommend escapist ‘light’ fiction while others promote the most popular titles that they claim everyone will be reading. While the idea that the season should dictate the type of book you read does seem a bit dubious, I have found that I tend to reach for non-fiction titles when the sun comes out.  Maybe it is just the extra hours of daylight that encourages me to delve into these often longer titles. In any case, here are two excellent non-fiction titles I’ve just read and a list of interesting ones that are on my ‘to read’ list.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
sixthextinctionThe core topic of this book, the scientific evidence that the rise of the human species has coincided with a huge loss of flora and fauna on par with other mass extinctions, is admittedly a bit disturbing. The amazing thing is that Kolbert presents the topic in a fascinating and, dare I say, entertaining way. She goes out into the field with biologists, geologists and other scientists to examine the demise of present and past species and the resulting evolutionary fallout. Each chapter is a separate story complete with an intriguing cast of characters, both animal and human, adding another piece to the puzzle. This is scientific writing at its best. It also helps to give our rather ego-centric species a rare gift: perspective.

Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
fivedaysatmemorialThis is the harrowing tale of life and death at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. As the floodwaters continued to rise, the doctors, nurses and medical staff had to make desperate decisions concerning which of their patients would be evacuated and the even more troubling quandary of what to do with those left behind. Fink uses all her journalistic talents to present the events of those five days after the hurricane as well as the extensive legal battles and moral judgments that came afterwards. The central question of whether there is a separate standard of right and wrong during ‘extreme emergencies’ is wisely left for the reader to decide.

Next is a sampling from my long list of non-fiction titles that I have been meaning to read. While I can’t vouch for them yet, they seem intriguing and just might be worth your summer reading time as well.

carsickdevilscormorantanswertothriddlecubed

Carsick by John Waters
The concept alone, the infamous director hitchhiking across America and recording his encounters, is impossible to resist. The audiobook, which the author will narrate, should be a standout.

The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History by Richard King
I’ve always thought of cormorants as simply cool birds. Apparently there is a long history of mistrust and demonization when it comes to human/cormorant relations. Time to find out more.

The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David MacLean
A memoir of amnesia, induced by malaria medications no less, and the author’s attempt to rediscover not only his memories, but who he is. Sounds like a mind bender, but in a good way.

Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval
Most of us spend a large amount of time in ‘designed workspaces’. How did that happen? Hopefully this book will have a few answers.

danceofthereptileslostartoffindingourwayhistoryofbourbonyesitshotinhere

Dance of the Reptiles by Carl Hiaasen
A new selection of the author’s articles from the Miami Herald. While Hiaasen’s fiction can sometimes be hit or miss, his exposés concerning the beauty and corruption of Florida have always been entertaining.

Lost Art of Finding Our Way by John Huth
A curious look at the ways we found our bearings before the recent advent of MapQuest and Google Earth. Maybe this will finally decide the dreaded car argument of whether to consult the smart phone or the map.

Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge
A colorful history of bourbon sounds like just the ticket for warm summer nights. As a plus maybe I’ll finally be able to identify all those bottles they are pouring from in Justified.

Yes It’s Hot in Here by A.J. Mass
A cultural history of the team mascot by a former ‘Mr. Met’ that is just too weird a topic to pass up. It has got to be a surreal experience being inside the suit.

Clearly, you have many choices for summer non-fiction titles. So many in fact, that you just might want to extend your ‘summer reading’ well into fall and winter.

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