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Archive for the 'What We’re Reading' Category

What We Are Reading

As the summer days start to fade I begin to read nonfiction again. In the heat of August (and, yes, this was a mild August in Portland) I want good, fast fiction. I don't want a novel of ideas; I want to be entertained. Now, as the nights get cooler, I crave books that enlighten.

It seems I'm not alone. I recently checked in with my coworkers here in the contact center and it's about even between those reading Genre and those reading nonfiction. It's really a match up between the Gold Room and the Red Room.

A couple of people are reading Graham Joyce. His is a particularly literary style of horror that goes very well in the fall, if you can wait that long. The Tooth Fairy and The Limits of Enchantment are both great.

Skulduggery Pleasant was a delightful weekend read. Light and fun, you could pick it up as a sort of anti-Harry Potter with shades of Dorothy Sayers. Someone else just picked up The Invention of Hugo Cabret which looks really cool. If vampires are your bag, how about Continue »


Books For the Kitchen

I come from a family that loves — nay, obsesses about — food. Witness my grandmother, Betty: at 80 years old she will spend the better part of an hour-long phone call from her home in Soldotna, Alaska, describing the food she ate over the last week and whether it was any good (don't get her started on who brought what to bridge night). My dad, Baker (yes, that's his real name) will drive down to Portland from Seattle simply to visit the Saturday farmer's market in the South Park Blocks for mushrooms and the Pearl Bakery's rosemary pecan rolls. And my sister, Acacia, found a way to make food her job: she's a dietician and master gardener who teaches city kids about nutrition through a community pea patch (and spends her spare time preparing elaborate meals for friends and hosting a wine club). And then there's me. I'm more home cooking than haute cuisine, but I'm fussy in my own way: I like to eat seasonally and locally — and no meat. Luckily, I live in the Northwest, which is one of the ...


In Praise of Series

I picked up a used copy of the new Janet Evanovich, Lean Mean Thirteen. One of my coworkers said, "Didn't you read number twelve? Why would you need to read another one?" I assured her that new and different things would happen to Stephanie's car and to her love life. And I wasn't disappointed. I always tell people, there is a reason Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author — she's a great writer!

Stephanie Plum, the heroine of the series, has bad luck with cars and perhaps too much good luck with men. And every book is different. Evanovich does a wonderful job of concocting new mysteries for her readers. Her Trenton, New Jersey, world has enough good guys, bad guys, losers, and family members to fill a dozen more novels. If you have stayed away from Evanovich because you thought she was just churning out the same book over and over, give her a chance. You will be surprised.

Another series I love is Bruce Alexander's John Fielding mysteries. The first one is called Blind Justice. Set in the 18th century, the series is rich and steeped ...


Cool Reads

I dread this time of year. We're facing two months of relentless sunshine. Like many Portlanders, I don't have air conditioning. To cool my brain I'm reading a couple of snow-packed books. The first one is the latest horror story from Dan Simmons — it's called The Terror. He's an amazing writer. His horror is among the best; his speculative fiction is award-winning. He even writes hard-boiled crime novels.

The Terror is about an 1840s arctic expedition to find a sea passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in the polar seas north of Canada. It's based on historical fact — Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition is the raw material for the novel. The bare facts are that every time Franklin had to make a decision, he made the wrong one. The two ships (and 134 crewmembers) were stuck in the ice for three years. The historical record says the entire crew died from starvation, scurvy, and exposure. Dan Simmons offers us a much, much scarier scenario.

The novel made me want to reread one of my favorite history books, The Arctic Grail, which recounts ...


Peter Force: Patriot and Collector

I can't get my nose out of this book: American Archives, Fourth Series, Volume 3. Published under authority of Congress in 1840, American Archives is a repository of primary Revolutionary War reference material. Letters, committee reports, petitions, speeches, and statements. Sounds boring, doesn't it?

History is not boring.

Ethan Allen to General Montgomery, September 20, 1775:

You may rely on my utmost attention to this object, as well as raising auxiliaries. I know the ground is swampy, and bad for raising batteries, but pray let no object of obstruction be insurmountable. The glory of a victory which will be attended with such important consequences, will crown all our fatigues, risks, and labours; to fail of victory will be an eternal disgrace, but to obtain it will elevate us on the wings of fame.

"Elevate us on the wings of fame"! Such eloquence, and in a postscript, too.

Nothing was going to stop these men from achieving independence from Britain. Boggy ground wasn't going to prevent Ethan Allen from raising his batteries. The lack of butter and cheese (there is a committee statement issued from Providence, RI, about the smuggling of ...


Vacation Reading

It's the time of year when all my friends who don't read ask me for book recommendations. It is always a challenge for me because I want them to read good books. So many "beach books" are a waste of time — thin plots, sketchy characterization, gratuitous sex... it's like reading a soap opera.

Luckily I have hit upon two (I'll need more than two before the summer ends, but this is a start) really good "beach books." If you are looking for good writing, engaging and funny characters, and romance, look no further than How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls by Zoey Dean and How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life by Mameve Medwed.

How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls is the story of Megan, a recent Ivy-League grad with a mountain of debt. She's trying to make it as a magazine writer in New York when she gets the offer of a lifetime: her debt will be paid off if she can tutor two filthy rich girls for the summer — think Paris Hilton, only twins. The plot moves along at a nice clip; the book is never dull!

Continue »


Hail Mary, the Lord Is with You

In the past few years, some of the more curious and adventurous souls in evangelical circles have been increasingly turning their attention to non-traditional means of deepening one's spiritual path. These means include such paths as sacred reading (Lectio Divina), praying the Psalter, and using the Jesus Prayer (the prayer made famous by the Eastern Orthodox classic, The Way of a Pilgrim). There are numerous other examples, ranging from contemplative prayer to spiritual direction, and they all merit at least a look.

Two recent books explore some of those paths in some detail, and they, too, merit at least a look. They are Marcia Ford's Traditions of the Ancients: Vintage Faith Practices for the 21st Century and Tony Jones's The Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life, and they're both wonderful books.

Ford's book briefly examines 28 ways to deepen your connection to the Divine. Each short chapter in her book touches on one of the traditions in a personal, reflective manner. Then there's a boxed section that explores that tradition and its practice in more depth. Each chapter is additionally peppered with boxed scripture and other quotations illustrating the ...


Superheroes and Supergadgets

I feel like I should be wearing a cape as I write this. I am now enamored of all things Superhero. And it is Austin Grossman's fault. I loved, loved, LOVED, his book Soon I Will Be Invincible. I'll have a chance to tell him in person, since he'll be at our Hawthorne store for a reading on June 21.

The book opens with Doctor Impossible (with a name like that do I have to tell you that he's a bad guy?) in jail for the twelfth time. He's philosophical about getting caught again. Super evil geniuses take that sort of setback in stride. We soon meet a superhero — the book swings between good and evil (sort of like Brockman) — Fatale is a decommissioned super-soldier who wants to join a Superteam.

Grossman's writing is smart and funny. The characters feel real. We get a look behind the scenes — superhero B.O.? Who knew? But, yes, indeed, the Superteam headquarters gets a bit ripe when the whole team is assembled. Even if you never read comic books as a kid, even if you only saw the first Batman ...


Dereliction of Duty

As I'm writing this, April, National Poetry Month, is drawing to a close, and I'm feeling grievously aware of my dereliction of duty in bringing hot new titles to the attention of our readers. Suffice it to say that there have been plenty of really good poetry books this year, and I shall now attempt, in the limited space allotted me, to raise the profile of a few.

First off, as any reader of this blog knows, I'm a hands-down fan of anthologies. One gets more pleasure for the money spent on this literary form than in anything I know, even a triple scoop of Ben & Jerry's Double Fudge Chunk ice cream on a hot summer day. And, on top of the pleasure of reading great poems, many for the first time, you also have the not inestimable gift of discovering new writers whose work you want to explore more deeply. This is certainly the case with Liz Nakazawa's Deer Drink the Moon: Poems of Oregon. The Pacific Northwest in general, and Oregon in particular, is blessed with a bevy of talented poets, and this book, beautifully and lovingly designed, is a ringing affirmation ...


Big Books of Science

I've been accused of reading books based on their heft. According to the theory, the bigger the book, the happier I am. This is true, for some books. I'd be in heaven if the next George R. R. Martin was a thousand pages long. I feel the same way about good science writing. One of my favorite science writers, Natalie Angier, has a new book out: The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. It's only 320 pages, but that makes it easier to carry around.

The first reading I ever went to at Powell's was Natalie Angier. She was touring for her book Woman: An Intimate Geography. It is still one of the best readings I've been to. She's a great speaker. This was the bad old days when we had readings in the Purple Room. She was back at Powell's recently with The Canon. I hope she loved the new reading space.

The Canon promises to be in the same vein as two of my recent favorites, Ideas: A History of Thought and ...


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