Summer Reading, Having a Blast!

Book and StonesI’ve signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Program at the Everett Public Library and I’m super happy about my reading stack this summer. I’ve only read three so far, but I’m excited to get some time to read and also to share the whole pile with you. Here goes!

indexIf you’re pining for the old days when you could ride your pony to the candy store, I recommend Elizabeth Lett’s book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation. This book tells the dramatic odyssey of a horse called Snowman, saved from the slaughterhouse by a young Dutch farmer named Harry. Harry and Snowman went on to become America’s show-jumping champions, winning first prize in Madison Square Garden. Set in the mid-to late-1950s, this book also includes a fair amount of history of the horse. I dare you not to cry when Snowy dies.

indexUnder the Wide and Starry Sky is the fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Fanny. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. This novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction: believable characters, atmospheric setting, and it leaves you wanting to know even more about the people, places, and events. Besides, the boat that they adventured in is right here on the waterfront in Everett.

index (3)Shadows in the Vineyard: the True Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine is by Maximillien Potter. On the surface, it is a true story of an extortion plot against the world’s greatest vineyard, a tiny patch of land in Burgundy, France which grows the universally acclaimed best wine in the world. But it’s also the story of the family that grows the wine: the generations that have owned and run the vineyard, treating the vines like their own children, back to when they bought it after the French Revolution. Cheers!

index (1)A Hero of France: A Novel by Alan Furst is set in Paris,1941. Mathieu leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in occupied France to make their way to Spain and then return to England. It’s dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust. He also needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

index (2)Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong is about nothing and everything. If you are a Seinfeld fan this is a MUST READ! It goes in depth on the genesis of Seinfeld from its main characters, the writers and the real-life situations that inspired most of the insane plot lines. It follows the show from it’s inception to finale, including the “reunion” on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the effect that Seinfeld has on pop culture even to this day.

index (3)I am listening to Here’s To Us by Elin Hildebrand and it looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Deacon Thorpe was a famous bad boy chef. When he dies at his Nantucket house, his agent calls his three ex-wives together to the house to say goodbye. The story is told by several characters and switches from the present to the past. Secrets are revealed and at the end the family learns to forgive. This is a quick read with some interesting characters.

index (5)I’m also listening to The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns because we recently drove down to Rainier. Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, to the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres. There’s a lot of history and adventure here to be enjoyed. Going to Glacier? Grab these CD’s for the car ride.

index (6)Everyone Brave is Forgiven is by Chris Cleave, the best-selling author of Little Bee.  The plot centers on three Londoners (Mary, Thomas and Alistair) and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. The story is loosely based on love letters between the author’s grandparents. The beauty of this book is not so much the plot, but how the story is told with beautiful prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It would make a good book club book.

index (4)And lastly, a co-worker suggested Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart the gal who wrote The Drunken Botanist. It is a novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs. Apparently it’s “really good”, so good, in fact, that there will be a sequel titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one, but will have to wait. Without a gun.

Well, gotta go. I hear a hammock calling my name. What’s on your reading list this summer? Come on down to the library and check out these and other great summer reads. See you there!

If You Want Your Children to be Intelligent

4e2f002ab3c2184c626737239cf21249Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. The creative imagination is the essential element of a true scientist, and fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.”  He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. If you want to give your children a world in which they will read, imagine, and understand, try some of these, my favorite fairy tales. I try to include one in each of my storytimes.

index (1)I love the wording of Paul Galdone’s translations and you’ll find four tales in The Nursery Classics. Paul Galdone created hundreds of books in his lifetime and many of his picture books quickly became accepted as the definitive version of traditional stories. Collected here are four of his most popular picture books: The Three Pigs, The Three Bears, The Little Red Hen, and Cat Goes Fiddle-i-fee.

index (2)Galdone also illustrated The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Three clever billy goats outwit a big ugly troll that lives under the bridge they must cross on their way up the mountain to a grassy meadow. The troll meets his match and you’ll have everyone at your house trip tramping all about and reenacting this classic tale. It’s a favorite at our house and in storytime.

 

index (3)Try Chicken Little by Rebecca and Ed Emberley and you’ll not regret it!  “Chicken Little was not the brightest chicken in the coop. He was very excitable and prone to foolishness. One day he was doing nothing, his usual pastime, when an acorn fell from the sky and hit him on the head. Bonk! EEP!” Chicken Little runs in a panic to his friends Henny Penny, Lucky Ducky, and Loosey Goosey, to tell them the sky is falling. Panic and adventure ensues.

indexAbiyoyo by Pete Seeger is a children’s classic which is now in a book and CD edition. This African folktale  has it all: a monster, a hero, and music. “Abiyoyo” is an ancient lullaby of the Xhosa people of South Africa. Listen to Pete tell (and sing) this story, then read it yourself, and then let your child tell the story to you. That way, you tell the story you want to tell and make it your own. The result is a whole mess of fun!

index (1)Here’s a contemporary folktale from a marvelous writer: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Just what is the gruffalo? “He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.” But do all those things make him the scariest creature in the deep dark wood? One brave little mouse with a big imagination doesn’t think so! You’ll cheer for this clever little mouse as he fends off all of the animals who want to eat him. I read this one during my ‘I’m Not Scared!’ storytime.

index (2)I must include the books of local (Kirkland, Washington) librarian/storyteller Margaret Read MacDonald. She retells folktales from all over the world. The Boy From the Dragon Palace is a Japanese fable about a poor flower seller who gets a gift. Read this to children to reinforce the idea that it’s always good to say thank you.

index (3)I love reading Conejito, MacDonald’s folktale from Panama. Conjejito runs into a few obstacles when he goes to visit his Tia Monica on the high mountain. They all say “Oh Conejito! I think I have found my lunch!” but he and his Auntie outfox them all. You’ll be humming: I have a sweet old Auntie, my Tia Moncia. And when she goes out dancing, they all say ‘Ooo la la!’

indexMabela the Clever is MacDonald’s retelling of an African story that will entertain you and your child. Mabela may be the smallest mouse in the village, but that doesn’t matter because her father has taught her to be clever. When the cat comes to invite everyone to join the secret cat society, the mice line up with Mabela in the lead. In the end, she leads them all to safety.

index (1)And, finally, please check out The Squeaky Door as retold by MacDonald. Grandma tucks little boy in tight. She turns out the light. And he’s not scared. No, not him! But when Grandma shuts the door, SQUUEEEEAK! Who helps little boy? This story is based on a Puerto Rican folk song ‘La Cama’ and is pure joy!

Check out these and many other fantastic folktales from your library so you and your children will be intelligent — just like Einstein.  Also, look for the folktale edition of Everett Public Library’s Book Bites which is broadcast on television between shows, on Everett TV Channel 21.  It It is also on the City of Everett You Tube Channel.

Best of 2015 Redux Pt. 1: Fiction and Nonfiction for Adults

Fiction

Did you get a chance to read our 2015 staff favorites? Turns out there’s more! All this week we’re bringing you the books and music we loved–but had to be cut due to space limitations. To save us time linking (and save you time endlessly clicking) we’ve compiled all of these gems into one giant list for you to pick through. Today we’ll start with fiction and nonfiction for grownups like you & (sometimes) me.

FICTION!

Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem
Summary: Major literary fiction figure (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude) Jonathan Lethem returns with a collection of 9 short stories.
Why Alan liked it: Ranging from almost unreadably quirky to painfully awkward and bizarre, Lethem writes with precision and insight about each of these microcosms. Like Raymond Carver, Lethem has an eye for tragedy and an ear to the human in a dehumanizing world.

Green Hell by Ken Bruen
Summary: Another dark novel following Irish anti-hero Jack Taylor. In this one, he befriends a Rhodes scholar who changes his thesis from Beckett to Taylor and begins to help him try and take down a criminal passing as a respected professor.
Why Alan liked it: The dark side of human nature is there; I like to experience it vicariously through art. The winner of many awards, Bruen’s writing is sharp, funny, insightful, and the book is ironic to the tone and subject matter, a heck of a lot of fun to read.

Boo by Neil Smith
Summary: Thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple, aka “Boo” due to his pasty white complexion and fragile health, dies in front of his school locker under mysterious circumstances, goes to heaven, investigates his own death, and learns the meaning of forgiveness.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Neil Smith’s Heaven is not at all the typical vision of pearly gates and puffy clouds! The residents of “Town” are all 13 and from the U.S., there’s a group called Gommers (Getting Over Murder), and the supplies are second hand. Very original and funny!

The Marauders by Tom Cooper
Summary: In alternating chapters we follow the eventually colliding stories of shrimpers dealing with oil spill tainted waters, an obsessive treasure hunter, community service workers gone awry, and violent brothers growing marijuana in the Louisiana bayou.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved this book despite the lack of female protagonists. Funny, sad, suspenseful, and masterful, I really did not want it to end. Each flawed character was an original and had me alternating between cheering them on and wishing for their demise!

Aquarium by David Vann
Summary: Caitlyn visits the Seattle Aquarium every day after school while her mother works long hours. There she meets a friendly older man who seems unusually interested in her life and thoughts. His attention propels Caitlyn’s life into an unexpected direction.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The dreamy, magical aquarium life, protected yet trapped, provide a striking contrast to the sequence of events that unfold and threaten to unravel lives completely. Seattle in the drear of winter adds to the claustrophobic tension.

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Summary: In 1989 a 15 year old girl named Lindy is raped at dusk in a quiet Baton Rouge neighborhood. There are several suspects, including our teen narrator, who idolizes Lindy to the point of obsession. Years pass and the crime remains unsolved.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This is an engrossing and thoughtful book that examines what it means to be young, inexperienced, and in love (or in lust). We are reminded that the mistakes we make while trying to figure out who we are can have lasting consequences.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
Summary: William Avery, a young soldier in the East India Company, is stagnating and in debt when he accepts an assignment to accompany knowledgeable but rebellious Jem Blake in a search to find missing and much maligned author Xavier Mountstuart.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Full of excitement, vivid scenery, lots of fighting, and suspense, this is not my usual fare but I sure enjoyed it. Tigers, thugs, sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and deep dark jungle set the scene. It’s a downright swashbuckling adventure!

Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Summary: This collection of short stories all have an element of fantasy, yet are told in such an ordinary way, that the fantastical comes as a total surprise until you get in sync with Link’s wild imagination. Each story is read masterfully by a different actor.
Why Elizabeth liked it: These wonderfully quirky stories have a lasting quality and real depth. My favorite, Secret Identity, is about a teen girl who sneaks off to a NYC hotel to meet her 32-year-old online boyfriend amidst a superhero convention.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Summary: A companion piece (as Atkinson states in the afterword) to Life After Life (2013), A God in Ruins follows Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story through his various roles as RAF pilot, father, and spouse, and travels through his young adulthood to old age.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I listened to the audiobook and thought Alex Jennings, with his lovely accent, did excellent job capturing Teddy and setting the mood. At 16 hours, this is a lot of listening, but like Life After Life I never tired of Atkinson’s superb storytelling.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Summary: Residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey are devastated by a plane crash right in the town, which kills several residents. Little do they know, it is only the beginning. Fifteen year old Miri and her extended family and friends struggle to regain their lives.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Real people, a variety of problems, family love and warmth, tragedy, and a rather unusual series of events made for a really engaging book. The short sections told in alternating voices make this a quick read which you won’t want to end.

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Summary: Bride, whose very dark skin made her mother unable to truly love her, reinvents herself into a striking beauty with a prestigious career. Things start to go wrong for her when a woman she helped convict is released from prison.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The story is intense, original, and engrossing but even if it weren’t, Toni Morrison’s wondrous voice could carry it along. No one could have read it better. Without being overly dramatic she can express such feeling, depth, and truth.

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Summary: Half-sisters Taisy and Willow have had no contact due to a long ago falling out between the first and second families. When their father becomes ill, they finally meet. Neither understands the other’s past or current struggles.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved listening to this book. Two readers do an excellent job portraying the two sisters in alternating chapters. I especially enjoyed Taisy’s voice. Funny, heartfelt, and very entertaining, it made me want to read more by the author.

The Tuner House by Angela Flournoy
Summary: The Turner family lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit long enough for 13 children plus multiple grandchildren to grow up. Now the sad old empty house is worth much less than is owed, and the adult children must decide what to do with it.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Through the varied experienced of the Turner children, I learned about devastated Detroit, gambling addiction, and even southern ”haints”, but what stayed with me was the story of a family pulling together despite decades of hardship.

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Summary: Todd is autistic and now in his 50s. At the Payton Living Center where he’s been living for the past 40 years, he’s a respected citizen and comfortable, but when a sinister new aide starts working at Payton, painful memories start to invade Todd’s life.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have read several books about autism but never fiction told from the viewpoint of an autistic person. Gottlieb really seems to grasp the complexities of being autistic, and Todd is completely believable. Simply written but hard to put down!

Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
Summary: Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody.
Why Sarah liked it: Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together.

NONFICTION!

Simple Sabotage: a Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors that Undermine Your Workplace by Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene
Summary: Inspired by the Simple Sabotage Field Manual released by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944 to train European resistors, this is the essential handbook to help stamp out unintentional sabotage in any working group.
Why Carol liked it: Don’t let the quirk fool you; there are some serious communication tips in here to help you work better. I’m already applying what I’ve learned!

The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang (writers and cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Summary: The Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempts its most ill-conceived, get-rich-quick scheme yet: publishing a self-help book to hilarious, sometimes dangerous, and often revolting, results.
Why Carol liked it: Ever since I stumbled upon this raunchy and hilarious TV show I have been obsessed with The Gang. There’s a good variety of formats (open letters, a therapy session, guidebook, etc.) to keep you interested–in case the raunch wasn’t enough on its own!

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
Summary: A firsthand account of the lives of captive killer whales by one of SeaWorld’s most experienced orca trainers.
Why Leslie liked it: This is an interesting memoir about a controversial subject.

Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Summary: This book presents a chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania and discusses the factors that led to the tragedy.
Why Leslie liked it: Larson is one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive.

The Oregon Trail: a New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Summary: Buck 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. He relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules. Fascinating!
Why Leslie liked it: This is currently my favorite book! This book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history.
Editor’s note: Leslie wrote a full blog post about this earlier in the year. Check it out!

My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
Summary: Good News! Ruth Reichl has a new memoir chock full of recipes. It chronicles her difficult time after Gourmet magazine folded and she found herself again through cooking.
Why Leslie liked it: This is a beautiful cookbook with ideas to change the way you cook and celebrate.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Summary: Krakauer examined years of mishandling of rape cases at the University of Montana. The university is home to a beloved football team, and when some of its players were accused of rape, the community was split.
Why Sarah liked it: Krakauer does an excellent job looking at the root causes of what went wrong, and sheds light on the victim’s predictaments, as their cases are dismissed.

Stay tuned for more all week long!

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:

Cookbooks1

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!

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