Book Talks

"Reading at the intersection of interest, information and good writing."

Edith Fuller, retired Portland Public School librarian, presents a book talk for members of PAT-Retired at our December meeting each year. During the year, she pays close attention to books she reads--published during the current and just past year--and makes notes. Just prior to the meeting, she looks through her pile of notes, and chooses the more interesting, compelling, or important ones to present. Following Edith’s presentation, each person at the meeting shares with the group the author and title of a book they're currently reading. Edith's presentation and members' suggestions gives us all ideas of books to read for ourselves or as gift ideas for friends and relatives.

Following are Edith's books and notes on the books.

2017
December 14

FICTION
At the Waterline:  Stories from the Columbia River
Brian K. Friesen
--The local setting is a ramshackle marina north of Portland, peopled by a widely varied community of houseboat dwellers and live-aboards.  The setting is also the river itself and the seasons and the natural world
--Inspired by the author’s own experiences living on a sailboat along the Columbia River

Charcoal Joe:  An Easy Rawlins Mystery.
Walter Moseley
--Los Angeles in the late 60s; 14th in the series
--Easy Rawlins’ life is in transition. He’s ready to propose to his girlfriend; he’s started a new detective agency, but things don’t work out as expected.  A case gets in the way.....
--Good traditional detective fiction along with descriptions of racial inequities and social injustice in Los Angeles in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

 A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
--Set in Moscow at the beginning of the Russian Revolution
--Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest, rather than execution, in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt
--History with a light touch, with colorful and well-developed characters

 The Golden Son:  A Novel
Shilipi Somaya Gowda
--Set in Texas and rural India
--The twined stories of Anil and Leena
--Anil is the golden son, attempting to adjust to a medical residency in Dallas, Texas, and also to family expectations of his role in India
--Lena is his childhood friend, living in traditional rural India
--Set in two complicated cultures, full of romantic intrigues, family vendettas, unexpected tragedies and criminal secrets

News of the World:  A Novel  
Paulette Jiles
--Set in post-Civil War Texas
--Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a 70-year-old veteran of 2 wars and an itinerant professional reader (he makes his living giving public readings from eastern newspapers in small towns) is offered the job of returning a young orphan, and Kiowa captive, to her family  
--The story tells of their travels from northern Texas south 400 miles towards San Antonio
--An unusual look at an interesting time, and landscape

Norse Mythology
Neil Gaiman
--A lively retelling of the Norse myths drawn from the prose Eddas, sagas in verse and other sources, by the author of "Coraline," "American Gods," and other titles, often science fiction and fantasy writing for both young readers and adults
--From the beginning of the world are the stories of Odin and Thor and Balder....and finally Ragnarok  
--Good reading, and good writing, even if your family heritage isn’t Scandinavian!
    NOTE for RAGNAROK:  Ragnarok (Old Norse Ragnarök, “The Doom of the Gods”) is the name the pre-Christian Norse gave to the end of their mythical cycle, during which the cosmos is destroyed and is subsequently re-created.

Piano Tide: A Novel
Kathleen Dean Moore
--Set in the fictional town of Good River Harbor in remote Alaska; author is nature writer, philosophy professor at OSU and her first fiction novel
--A vivid story about the threats to endangered species and destruction of the environment, and also an engaging tale featuring vividly drawn characters who grab our interest from the very first pages
--One of my favorites of her non-fiction books is "Riverwalking" in which she writes of love, loss, aging, motherhood, happiness, the art of poking around and other important matters while meandering along rivers and streams of the American West 

Skeleton God:  An Inspector Shan Tao Yun Mystery
Eliot Pattison
--Set in a remote Tibetan town in modern times
--An assault on a hermit nun is followed by the discovery of two corpses in an ancient tomb, one a Chinese soldier dead for decades, the other a Western man dead for just a few hours. Inspector Shan must deal with rampant corruption and a hidden history
--A suspenseful mystery set against the backdrop of an ancient culture being slowly dismantled, a portrait of modern Tibet

NONFICTION--SELF HELF
The Book of Joy:  Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a conversation, facilitated by Douglas Abrams
--The record of a five-day conversation between the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop on the occasion of Tutu’s visit to Dharamsala in 2015 to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday
--The question that frames the text:  How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?
--Conversations explore the nature of true joy, the obstacles to joy, and the eight pillars of joy--and the many obstacles thereto 
--Focus is on areas of common ground accessible to readers of any faith or none

Books for Living
Will Schwalbe
--Not his ‘favorite books’, but a book of essays about those books that helped him when he had a need 
--Organized by need:  slowing down, searching, trusting, etc.
--This book sent me to my own bookshelves to reacquaint myself with several titles, notably Lin Yutang’s "The Importance of Living" (I found I have 2 copies!) and Melville’s Bartleby "The Scrivener"

The Misfit’s Manifesto
Lidia Yuknavitch
--Based on her 2016 TED talk, “The Beauty of Being a Misfit”
--A bold and clear statement about an individual’s right to non-conformity, to color and to live outside the lines
--NOT an advice manual for those of us who mess up from time to time, OR, grandly, but a lesson in forgiving one’s self and moving on

NONFICTION--PSYCHOLOGY, TECHNOLOGY
Solitude : in pursuit of a singular life in a crowded world
Michael Harris
--About discovering the stillness and solitude that is necessary for a rich interior life, for reflection, creativity, good relationships with ourselves and others
--Weaves together true stories with reports from brain researchers, psychologists and tech entrepreneurs

Thank You for Being Late:  An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration
Thomas L. Friedman
--An attempt to explain how technology, globalization of markets, and the dual impact of climate change and biodiversity of loss and transforming 5 key areas: the workplace, politics, geopolitics, ethics, and community
--An argument for pausing to reflect on what’s happening to us in these 5 areas
--And a call to reimagine work, politics and community

NONFICTION--BIOGRAPHY
Churchill & Orwell:  The Fight for Freedom
Thomas E. Ricks
--An unlikely pairing, two separate biographies in one book, of two notable men who never met--one a politician, the other a journalist and author
--Their individual responses to the twin threats of fascism and communism in the mid-20th century helped to steer the western world towards freedom and away from totalitarianism

You Must Change:  The story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin
Rachel Corbett
--set in early 20th century Paris
--Rilke, at the time, a struggling young German poet in his 20s, comes to Paris to write a short book about the sculptor Rodin, then in his 60s
--Tells of their extraordinary friendship, how Rilke and Rodin affected each other’s works
--I’d have read it anyways, but my connection with the book is two-fold:  the American composer Morten Lauridsen set to music five of Rilke’s French poems, "Les Roses"--and I’ve sung them twice, under two different conductors. And, I fell in love with Rodin’s sculptures when I first saw them in Paris and then later at Maryhill Museum--and I am wanting to head down to San Francisco and Stanford to see the Rodin bronzes that I first saw in my childhood

NONFICTION--SCIENCE
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

Dan Egan
--The Great Lakes used to be isolated from the Atlantic by Niagara Falls and from the Mississippi by a sub-continental divide.  The St Lawrence Seaway and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal changed all that
--The story of an ecological catastrophe that is happening now via introduced organisms, toxic algae caused by run-off from farm fertilizer, fluctuating water levels, etc., not to speak of threats to siphon off Great Lakes water for use in drier regions of the US, or even sold abroad
--Not light, but important reading, even for those of us half a continent away

Eruption:  The Untold Story of Mt. Saint Helens
Steve Olson
--A look at how social and environmental history and Weyerhauser and the timber industry, in general, combined to shape the region
--Interweaves personal stories with the history, science and economic forces
--And, I’m sure those of us who were living in Portland at the time can remember seeing the ash plumes to the north in mid-May close to 40 years ago now

2016 
February 2017, as December meeting canceled due to snow

FICTION--POLITICAL SATIRE
Boomsday:  A Novel 
Christopher Buckley
-I was listening to this book during early November and finished listening to it on election night, the 8th. Only too pertinent to this year’s presidential election.
-A modest proposal by a 29-year-old Cassandra Devine for Baby Boomers to ‘transition’, i.e., kill themselves, by age 75.
-coupled with a DC  spin doctor and an ambitious senator and presidential aspirant.

FICTION--HISTORICAL
Barkskins:  A Novel
Annie Proulx
-The book starts with this sentence: “In twilight they passed bloody Tadoussac, Kébec and Trois-Rivières...”  A friend brought the title to my book group, and when she read out the first sentence, I was hooked even before I had my hands on it, because our son and family now live in Trois Rivières. And, I gave them a copy when we visited in August.
-The ‘barkskins’ are indentured woodcutters. In this book, in the late 17th century, they are two penniless Frenchmen, who are working off their indentures in New France.  
-The author uses two large themes--the violence people do to the land and the violence that the land itself can exact--to tell the stories of their descendants over 300 years in the US, Canada and elsewhere. 
-A story of continued seizing of presumed infinite resources, leaving modern-day characters with possible ecological disaster.

SHORT STORY COLLECTION
City of Weird: 30 Otherworldly Portland Tales
Edited by Gigi Little.  
-Disclaimer:  I often get advance copies from the publisher, Forest Avenue Press.
-A delightfully quirky collection of short stories celebrating Portland’s weirdness.
-Themes range through folklore, science fiction, eco-feminism, zombies with career troubles, game show hosts and more.

MEMOIR
The Cowshed:  Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
Ji Xianlin
-Originally published in 1998 in Chinese; English translation in 2016
-The author’s account of his experiences in the Cultural Revolution--a central event in China’s history which is largely ignored today.
-His account of imprisonment in 1968 on the campus of Peking University and subsequent disillusionment with the cult of Mao.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl:  A Memoir
Carrie Brownstein
-Local (Northwest), feminist punk-indie rock guitarist for Sleater-Kinney and more recently of Portlandia fame.
-How she moves from a turbulent family life (anorexic mother, closeted gay father) to a gawky teenage rock fan, and, eventually, an artist in her own right. Her story is inevitable also the story of her own band, Sleater-Kinney. 

Temperance Creek:  A Memoir
Pamela Royes  
-Modern frontier adventure story.
-University of Oregon student meets returning Vietnam vet in the late 60s.
-She joins him on a trek into Hells Canyon and the Snake River, which turns into four years working together as itinerant sheepherders and horse wranglers.   
-A memoir about love, courage, and transformation.
-According to the book jacket, “She and her husband live in Joseph and raise cattle and hay.  They have two children and three grandchildren."

SCIENCE FICTION--ZOMBIES, CONSPIRACY THRILLER
Feedback:  A Newsflesh Novel
Mira Grant
-Post-apocalyptic zombie thriller.
-It’s 2040 and presidential election shenanigans and paranoias make the recent Clinton/Trump electioneering seem tame.

SCIENCE FICTION--DYSTOPIC
Gold Fame Citrus
Claire Vaye Watkins  
-A love story set in a devastatingly, well-imagined near future of a Southern California transfigured by drought and largely unpopulated.

NONFICTION--CLIMATE CHANGE
Great Tide Rising:  Toward Clarity and Oral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change
Kathleen Dean Moore
-Moore is both Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University and an award-winning nature writer (other books include:  "Pine Island Paradox," "Holdfast" and "Riverwalking")
-Her premise is that we have a moral urgency of climate action, that it is unethical to permit the pillaging of the Earth’s resources, and why we should take action to end further environmental degradations.
-The book is in four well-reasoned sections: It’s wrong to wreck the world; A call to care; A call to witness; and A call to act.

NONFICTION--TECHNOLOGY
The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data
Michael P. Lynch  
-His premise is, even as we know more in these days of instant access to the world’s information through various digital devices, we understand less.
-Other concerns:  privacy (viz. social media), use of ‘big data’ (all that personal information about us as individuals), lack of skepticism about validity or even truthfulness of sources.
-He advocates being more informed through evaluating authority and using multiple sources.

NONFICTION--BIOGRAPHY
Hero of the Empire:  The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill 
Candice Millard
-A very young Churchill as a journalist during the Boer War.
-Supremely convinced of his destiny to lead, undaunted by setbacks, and entirely confident of success, even when captured and imprisoned by the Boers.

NONFICTION--SOCIOLOGY
The New “N” Word:  The White Middle Class
Jim Hill  
-Former Oregon State Treasurer (1993-2001)
-Examines the exploitation of and discrimination against middle class America and the roots of income inequality and compares the treatment to that which was previously reserved for African Americans
-Lays out a path toward middle class empowerment

AMERICAN HISTORY
The Oregon Trail:  A New American Journey
Rinker Buck  
-I took this book with me when we drove east this past summer, so I was reading crossways to Buck’s account of his journey westwards.
-The author and his brother travel along the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.
-Full of details about their journey, and stories about the pioneers’ travels and interesting oddities, like the assembly line manufacture of the wagons which were then floated down the Mississippi River to St. Louis for final assembly.

The Other Slavery:  The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America
Andrés Reséndez  
-Busts the myth that it was smallpox and other diseases introduced by Spanish soldiers and colonists that killed off indigenous peoples of the Americas.
-Instead, they died from slavery (debt peonage and work in the Mexican silver mines), overwork (compulsory labor drafts), and famine.
-Covers 15th century Caribbean to 19th century California.

Portlandness:  A Cultural Atlas
David Banis and Hunter Shobe
-Portland’s popular culture through infographic maps
-Looks at social relations, food and drink, popular culture, history, etc. throughout the greater Portland area

HISTORY
The Upstairs Wife:  An Intimate History of Pakistan
Rafia Zakaria 
-Set in Pakistan in late 1980s at a time when the military dictators began an Islamization campaign to legitimize their rule.
-Focuses on the story of her aunt Amina who was forced to accept her husband’s marriage to a second wife and set against the background of Islamist misogynist oppression.

AGING
This Chair Rocks:  A Manifesto Against Ageism
Ashton Applewhite
-Featured speaker at this year’s Aging Well Conference, sponsored by Multnomah County’s Aging, Disability, and Veteran Service Division and the Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County initiatives.
-Looks at the roots of ageism in history and today
-The author mixes her personal experiences and opinions about growing old with an exploration of society’s attitudes about age, debunking myths, and exposing ageism.


2015

LOCAL PORTLAND AUTHOR

The Brightwood Stillness: A Novel

Mark Pomeroy 

-Set in a high school in Portland.

-One teacher, a Vietnamese refugee, is accused by two students of sexual misconduct.

-The other teacher is assaulted by a former student in the school parking, which pushes him into a long-postponed quest to find out about his uncle, a drifter and Vietnam vet

-Themes are friendship, challenges of cross-cultural communication, and the lingering effects of the war in Vietnam. 


NONFICTION--GRAPHIC 'NOVEL', AGING PARENTS
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant
Roz Chast
-Chast moves her aging parents out of Brooklyn. And the result is this account of their final years : care homes, hospitals, funeral parlors. Hysterically and dreadfully funny, poignant, ghoulish, all at the same time

-In what might be a growing market for how-to books on taking of one’s elderly parents, I also recommend:
Medicine and What Matters in the EndAtul Gawande Mortal 
The Gift of Caring: Saving Our Parents From the Perils of Modern Healthcare, Marcy Cottrell Houle and Elizabeth Eckstrom 
Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, Katy Butler. 

SCIENCE FICTIONS--SHORT STORIES

Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction
Ben Bova and Eric Choi, eds. 
-Hard science fiction, i.e., in each story some element of science or technology that is so central to the plot that there would be no story if that element were to be removed 

-Stories chosen for plot, character, science, originality and believability in equal measure


NONFICTION--HISTORY, CHINA
H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald 
-History of turbulent US-China relations from the mid-19th century to World War II and Mao Tse-tung’s ascent 
-Starts in the 1850s with New Englander traders who made their fortunes (but didn’t talk about the 'how' when they were at home) in the China opium trade (including the Delano family, FDR’s grandfather); continues with American missionaries who felt they did well if they got 5 converts in 5 years; adds the Soong sisters, educated well in the US (and thus well connected to the east coast elite families) and with their marriages (eldest to H H Kung--richest man in China and finance minister of China; middle to Sun Yat-sen; and the youngest to Chiang Kai-shek); and a pro-China bias pushed in the US by missionary kid Pearl Buck and Henry Luce (of Time Magazine)
-Ranging in time and space from ancient China to the further reaches of the Solar System 

The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia
James Bradley
-Topics include space exploration, biotech, climate change, alternate history, and the future of baseball

NONFICTION--MEMOIR, NATURE
Landfall:  A Novel 
Ellen Urbani
-There’s two stories: Macdonald, an experienced falconer, coping with her father’s death by deciding to train a goshawk, and a parallel story where she compares her falconry experiences to T.H. White’s struggle to train his goshawk

FICTION--LOCAL AUTHOR
– disclaimer, I get advance copies from the publisher
The Orenda
Joseph Boyden
-Set in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina and in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
-The story of two single mothers, their two teenage daughters, Rose and Rosebud, one black, one white, living worlds apart, but sharing a birth year, a name and a pair of sneakers
-The story takes one through the winds of the hurricane, subsequent flooding, conditions of the Superdome

FICTION--HISTORICAL, 17TH CENTURY, WILDERNESS OF UPPER CANADA, ONTARIO FIRST CONTACT STORY

Hiebert, Helen.  Playing With Pop-ups: The Art of Dimensional Moving Paper Designs

-Bird, a great Huron warrior and elder, takes as prisoners a charismatic Jesuit missionary (a ‘black crow’) in search of converts and Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl, who is seen by Bird as a replacement for his two daughters who were murdered by the Iroquois.

-A story of shifting relationships and friendships, of collisions between different social, political and spiritual worlds.

NONFICTION--PAPER CRAFTS

Barnett, Cynthia.  Rain : A Natural and Cultural History

-If you tried and enjoyed Robert Sabuda’s paper project last June when I taught a few paper structures or you’ve enjoyed the Valentines that Janet and I have brought here in previous Februaries, you’ll enjoy this book

-Good basic instructions for 15 pop-up projects to learn how to cut, fold and pop paper

-Picture gallery of pop-ups by major pop-up artists, including some of my favorites, i.e., Carol Barton, Marion Bataille, Paul Johnson (the Literacy Through Book Arts guy)


NONFICTION--ENVIRONMENT, WEATHER, CLIMATE CHANGE

Lambert, Craig.  Shadow Work : The Unpaid, Unseen Jobs That Fill Your Day

-Blends personal narrative with scientific and cultural explanations

-It’s both science and the human story of our attempts to control rain, of civilizations and how rain has affected culture and survival, arts and literature...and even of drought and climate change


NONFICTION--THE WORLD TODAY

Kolbert, Elizabeth.  The Sixth Extinction : An Unnatural History

-A wake-up book

-About all the unpaid tasks we do on behalf of businesses and organizations: pumping gas (NOT in Oregon); scanning and bagging our own groceries; acting as our own postal clerks, booking airplane travel. AND answering work emails in the dead of the night

-About the invasion into and loss of personal time and the shifting of costs off corporations onto purchaser/user


Hedges, Chris.  Wages of Rebellion : The Moral Imperative of Revolt

-Her premise: we’re in the midst of a modern, man-made, sixth mass extinction

-The author chronicles previous mass extinction events, and compares them to the accelerated, widespread extinctions during our present time. She also describes specific species extinguished by humans, as well as the ecologies surrounding prehistoric and near-present extinction events 

-Pulitzer Prize winner for General Non-Fiction in 2015


NONFICTION--SOCIAL ASPECTS OF REVOLUTION

Kim, Suki.  Without You There is No Us : My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite : A Memoir

-The title is from a song extolling the Great General Comrade Kim Jong Il

-2011, teaching English to 270 19-year old sons of North Korea’s elite at the brand-new Pyong Yang University of Science and Technology. 

-A chilling and rare glimpse into the unknown world of North Korea-Concerned about the effects of climate change and the precarious effect of global speculation (as one example, Pfizer moving to Ireland) and the decimation of the U. S. manufacturing base and dismantling of labor unions and opposition parties

-Explores the social and psychological factors causing revolution, rebellion, and resistance

-Points out signs of coming crises and the emerging seeds of rebellion


BIOGRAPHY

McCullough, David.  The Wright Brothers

-Disclaimer – my husband and I stopped at, enjoyed wandering through the Wright Brothers Museum in Dayton and bought the book during our drive east in 2013

-A dramatic story that we all know, but there’s more to the story than the flights at Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

-The story starts in their bicycle workshop in Dayton, Ohio, moves to Kill Devil Hills, continues at Huffman Prairie a few miles outside Dayton, heads overseas to France and Germany, detours to Fort Meyer on the Potomac River, etc.

-An interesting look into the technology and society of the time


PAT-R Members Made These Book Recommendations

Bradley, James.  The Imperial Cruise:  A Secret History of Empire and War.

Doerr, Anthony.  All the Light We Cannot See.
Mones, Nicole.  Night in Shanghai.
Shapiro, B. A.  The Art Forger:  A Novel.
Dean, John W.  Conservatives Without Conscience.
Manjoo, Farhad.  True Enough:  Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.
Carson, Rachel.  Silent Spring.
Hannah, Kristin.  The Nightingale.
Sheehy, Gail.  Daring:  My Passages: A Memoir. 
Sutcliffe, Phil.  Queen, Revised and Updated:  The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock.
Baca, Jimmy Santiago.  A Place to Stand.
Tartt, Donna.  The Goldfinch:  A Novel.
Unger, Harlow Giles.  Lafayette.
Hawkins, Paula.  The Girl on the Train.
Rankine, Claudia.  Citizen:  An American Lyric.
Holt, Tom.  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Sausages.


2014

Adult Fiction
Haruf, Kent.  Benediction: a Novel.  Knopf, 2013.
Novel, in the Plainsong series, set in the small (fictional) town of Holt, Colorado.
-A man is dying from cancer; the young girl who moved in with her grandmother next door deals with the memories of her own mother’s death; a newly arrived preacher tries to mend relations with his wife and son while overwhelming his congregation with his sermons.
-It’s the dailyness of life in a small town where nothing much happens, bu
t it’s written about exquisitely.

Berne, Dan.  The Gods of Second Chances.  Forest Avenue Press, 2014.

-Novel. Local Author. Publisher, Forest Avenue Press, is a friend of mine.

-Vivid setting in Alaska and fishing industry.

-Widower raising his granddaughter in difficult situations, with the family dynamics made even more complex when his estranged daughter returns, swearing she’s clean and sober, from prison.


Penny, Louise.  The Long Way Home.  Minotaur Books, 2014.

Novel, Mystery, Quebec. #10 in the series.

-Inspector Gamache, of the Montreal Police, has retired with his wife to the little town of Three Pines. A plea from one of his neighbors sends him with a former colleague and others to locate her artist husband who has failed to come home from a one year sabbatical from their marriage.

-Their search ends up near the mouth of the St Lawrence...in an area that I’m longing to visit! (Les Eboulements, Crater of Charlevoix).

-Also recommended is her The Beautiful Mystery.

Biography

Lively, Penelope.  Dancing Fish and Ammonites:  a Memoir.  Viking, 2013.

-Traces the author’s life from early childhood in Cairo to boarding school in England to the sweeping social changes in 20th century Britain.

-Writes insightfully about aging and what life looks like from where she stands (age 80 at the publication of the book).


Goodman, Matthew.  Eighty Days : Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-making Race Around the World.  Ballantine, 2013.

-Both talented writers in the hyper-competitive, male dominated world of big-city journalism.

-Nelly Bly - scrappy, hard driving ambitious reporter from Pennsylvania coal country.

-Elizabeth Bisland - from an aristocratic southern family, often referred to as the most beautiful woman in metropolitan journalism.

-History with the heart of an adventure novel – and a look into a time of unprecedented technological advances (steamship, railroad, and telegraph) in the Victorian Age.


Chang, Jung.  Empress Dowager Cixi : the Concubine Who Launched Modern China.  Knopf, 2013.

-On her husband’s death, Cixi staged a palace coup against the regents appointed to guide her 5-year-old son and became the real ruler of China.

-She is largely responsible for bringing China from a medieval empire into the modern world: with industries, electricity, railways, an up-to-date army and navy, banning foot binding, etc. etc.

-A panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman:  as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman.


Sakamoto, Mark.  Forgiveness : a Gift From My Grandparent.  Harper Collins Canada, 2014.

-Tells the story of two Canadians, the author’s maternal grandfather, from Iles de la Madeleine off the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec, eastern Canada, and a POW in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, and his paternal grandmother, a Japanese-Canadian, whose family was displaced from Vancouver to work on farms in Alberta.

-story on the part of both to survive, and to overcome anger, hurt, and prejudice.


Montgomery, Ben.  Grandma Gatewood’s Walk : the Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail.  Chicago Review Press, 2014.

-67-year old grandmother, Appalachian Trail in September 1955 before it was well maintained and well marked, first woman to walk the entire Appalachian Trail alone.

-It's also a book about the emotional and physical journey that was her disastrously abusive married life and the solace she found in nature as an independent old lady.


Mills, Marja.  The Mockingbird Next Door : Life with Harper Lee.  Penguin Press, 2014.

-The author moved next door to the Lee sisters in 2004, with their blessing.

-The story of Mills’ friendship with the Lee sisters.

-Reflects on the sisters upbringing, their corner of the deep small town south, how To Kill a Mockingbird affected their lives, and why Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.

(Monroeville, Alabama, population ca, 6,500).


Darling, Lynn.  Out of the Woods : a Memoir of Way Finding. Harper Collins, 2014.

-Widowed early, daughter off to college, the author moves to a ramshackle house in the middle of the Vermont wood.

-Both a compass and a manifesto for navigating the often-treacherous switchbacks of the second half of life, especially in terms of aging and self-acceptance.

Nonfiction

Lewis, Michael.  Flash Boys : a Wall Street Revolt.  Norton, 2014.

-About the technical world of money and finance on Wall Street, the process of High Frequency Trading, automated buy and sell transactions and black pools.

-Awfully esoteric sounding, but a fascinating & well written look into a world where the individual seller seems to loose on every trade and only large banks and high-speed traders are winners.

-New York Times on May 22, 2014 called it “the most urgent non-fiction horror story of the year”.


Kasson, John F.  The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression : Shirley Temple and 1930's America.  Norton, 2014.

-A history of America during the Great Depression through Shirley Temple.

-Movies, child actors and stage parents, the culture of celebrity, the roles of blacks in 1930s movies, and the role of children as consumers.

-Fascinating. It’s the time when my mom, born in 1908, was in her 20s, single, and working as a secretary in the Legislature in Olympia. Her coming of age years, so to speak.


Kiernan, Denise.  The Girls of Atomic City : the Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II. Touchstone, 2013.

-A personal look at Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1942, one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities.

-Farley’s story – War Manpower Administration in NC, recruiting workers for mica mines, workers were being siphoned off to Oak Ridge.

-The young women recruited from small towns across the south had no idea that they were working on enriching uranium.


Patchett, Ann.  This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.  Harper, 2013.

Essays, Collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.”

-Patchett made a living by writing articles for various magazines while she practiced the less-lucrative craft of writing novels.

-Something for everyone.

-Topics range from divorce, marriage, her dog, her grandmother, a Catholic education, opera, being a writer, censorship, solitude, bookstores, floods, Christmas, the Los Angeles Police Department, and driving a Winnebago around the American West.


Butcher, Tim.  Trigger : Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War.  Grove Press, 2014.

-There’s 3 stories here.

-The story of Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, starting WWI.

-The story of the author re-creating Princip’s journey through Bosnia to Belgrade and Sarajevo.

-And the author’s own experiences as a war reporter in the Balkans in the1990s.


2013

Children’s Picture Poetry

Everyone Out Here Knows: A Big Foot Tale. Words by William Stafford. ACS Services, 2014.

-One of the 6 selections for Oregon Reads 2014, celebrating the centennial of William Stafford, Oregon’s most celebrated poet.

-The poem itself was first published in William Stafford’s Starting with Little Things: a Guide to Writing Poetry in the Classroom.

-Lush, vibrant art illustrates poem with local flora and fauna


Adult Fiction

Kingdom of Strangers: A Novel. Zoë Ferraris. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown, 2012.

-Mystery:  A secret grave in the desert, the mutilated bodies of 19 women, serial killer.

-Through these dreadful events, Ferraris tells us the story of women’s lives in Saudi Arabia, one of the most closed cultures in the world.


Chain of Evidence: A Burren Mystery. Cora Harrison. Severn House, 2012.

-Mystery, set in 16th century Ireland (early in the reign of Henry VIII), 9th in the series.

-Mara is a Brehon judge, married to a king, and running a law school.

-The descriptions of the country are lovely; the information on Irish laws (a system which emphasizes restitution and rehabilitation) and culture fascinating; and the mysteries need to be solved.


The Bartender’s Tale. Ivan Doig. Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2012.

-It’s the summer of 1960 in rural Montana.

-There’s a bright red Cadillac, owned by Proxy Shannon who arrives from Reno with her adult daughter Francine; an oral researcher from the Library of Congress; and Rusty, the narrator, with questions about who his mother was.

-An enchanting read. Even though I rarely like coming-of-age stories.


A Simplified Map of the Real World: The Renata Stories. Stevan Allred. Forest Avenue Press, 2013.

-Linked short stories set locally (Estacada), local author, local publisher.

-Covering 30 years time in the imaginary town of Renata & telling us about the lives of families, farmers, loggers, former classmates, etc., airing old intimacies, divorce and death, etc.


Bad Faith. Robert K. Tanenbaum. Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 2012.

-Mystery/ legal thriller, 24th in the Butch Karp/Marlene Ciampi series.

-What it’s got: a legal battle between religious freedom and medical ethics, a sleaze bag con man from Memphis, the continuing story of the Karp/Ciampi family, with everything coming to a head with a struggle between good and evil at the annual Hallowe’en parade.

Biography

Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937 – 1948. Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward. Harper Perennial, 2012.

-Madeleine Albright’s experiences, and those of her family, in Czechoslovakia, London, & Yugoslavia before, during, and after World War II.

-The book nicely starts off with a pre-history of what happened before the 1930s.

-We all know parts of the story – and she tells her part well.


We Heard the Heavens Then: A Memoir of Iran. Aria Menu-Sepehr. Free Press, 2012.

-Biography; author now lives in Oregon.

-Son of an Iranian air force general in a family that balanced traditional ways and Western ideas.

-About 10 at the beginning of the Iranian Revolution and the return of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

-A story of family & politics, of a boy growing up in a dramatically changing world.


Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor. Hali Felt. Holt, 2012.

-Biography of Marie Tharp, pioneering geologist and gifted draftsperson.

-In 1948 got a job at Columbia Univ’s new geophysical lab, interpreting soundings measuring the ocean’s depths brought back from the ocean-going expeditions of her male colleagues.

-created the first comprehensive map of the ocean floor, showing a world of mountains, volcanoes, etc., where most had assumed a vast world of nothingness, and laid the groundwork for the then-controversial theory of continental drift.

-used her scientific knowledge, eye for detail, and artistic skill.

Nonfiction

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Susan Cain. Crown Publishers, 2012; Broadway Paperbacks, 2013.

-Introverts: we’re the quiet ones, the 1/3 who listen rather than speak, can’t stand cocktail parties, like to work on our own, etc., etc.

-Introverts who are successful in current business and work cultures, how they use and complement strengths of introversion and extroversion in the context of their particular disciplines.


Lies: The Truth about the Self-Deception that Limits Your Life. Bridget Harwell and Elizabeth Scott. Universe, 2013.

-Self-help of the gentlest sort.

-More than forty short essays based on the authors’ interactions with clients.

-Some resonated, some didn’t, all were interesting.


The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Daniel James Brown. Viking, 2013.

-Riveting tale about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times – 9 working class boys – sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers – who mastered collegiate rowing at the University of Washington, beat the East Coast’s elite teams, and won the gold medal for rowing at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

-You know how the story’s going to end, and it doesn’t matter – it’s the story and all its details pulling you through that make for an interesting read.


Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey. Simon Armitage. Liveright, 2012, 2013.

-Armitage walked the Pennine Way in summer 2010, as a modern troubadour, without a penny in his pocket, giving poetry readings in local halls, churches, etc.

-A story of a remote and overlooked part of Britain, with wild landscapes and generous locals.

-Nature writing at its best with people at its heart. The work of a poet.


Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth. Craig Childs. Pantheon Books, 2012.

-2013 Orion Book Award Winner: “annually to a book that addresses the human relationship with the natural world in a fresh, thought provoking, and engaging manner.”

-Explores climate change and catastrophe in general and the human effect on the planet in the larger context

-Tells of travels to some of the harshest and most far-flung corners of the planet: the dry deserts of Chile, the genetic wasteland of Iowa, the drowned land bridge of the Bering sea, river running in NE Tibet, etc.

-Combines adventure, science, descriptions of the natural world, and thoughtful story telling


The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness. Giles Slade. Prometheus Books, 2012.

-An analysis of the pitfalls of modernity, specifically, the effects of using technology to replace face-to-face interactions.

-A historical perspective of the larger shifts : changes in how we listen to music, how we approach strangers. and how we think of ourselves.


The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. Tracie McMillan. Scribner, 2012.

-As Barbara Ehrenreich did in Nickel and Dimed investigating poverty-level jobs, Tracie McMillan went undercover to investigate our food system, working along side America’s working poor, living and eating off her wages.

-I swore while reading the book I’d never eat at Applebee’s again!