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Greta's Picks


Greta is a floor manager at Powell's City of Books. She migrated to Portland from rural New Jersey in 1992. She has yet to buy an umbrella.


Books of Poetry That Help Me Love the Northwest Rain

Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons Love, Death and the Changing of the Seasons by Marilyn Hacker
When Marilyn Hacker's life opens, it doesn't just rain, it pours down on both the wretched and the joyful, and in a month that harbors the dread holiday of romance, I can't think of a more appropriate book. This collection of masterfully crafted sonnets chronicles the course of an electric and ultimately star-crossed love affair.

Even In Quiet Places by William Stafford
This book is actually a compilation of four earlier small-press volumes by this intimately expressive and thoughtful poet. The fourth in the series, "The Methow River Poems," was written for the U.S. Forest Service to be posted for the public at intervals along a wilderness road. My goal for the spring is to venture out into the Columbia River Gorge with a sack lunch and this book tucked snugly in my Gore-Tex jacket.

It Is Hard to Look at What We Came to Think We'd Come to SeeIt is Hard to Look at What We Came to Think We'd Come to See by Michele Glazer
I remember the day when this I stumbled upon this book and spent a lunch break much longer than I had planned and certainly not long enough to even begin sinking my teeth into this passionately insightful and startlingly precise collection of poems. Michele Glazer works at the Nature Conservancy's Oregon Field Office, and her poems deal with the often obscene and elusively beautiful workings of the natural world. However, she uses these unsettling biological truths to redraw the human experience in uncannily resonant configurations.

The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins
Well, we aren't really drowning out here, but it has been a while since my shoes were really dry, and one thing that this book really has going for it is a picture of what looks (to me) like a desert on the cover – just sucked me right in and I was glad of it. Billy Collins writes poems that are funny and smart and complicated. There aren't a lot of poetry books that I'd send to my dad, but I think this one might actually make the cut. Also check out his newest book – Picnic, Lighting – which gets two thumbs up from our stellar former poetry section head, Mary Jo.

Books That Keep Me Excited About Leaving the House

Sahara Unveiled Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert by William Langewiesche
This one really is about a desert; William Langewische's stunningly beautiful narrative of his journey through the Sahara is a natural antidote to these gray winter months. While I can fantasize about sunshine on the marketplaces of Algiers, revelations like the inclination of migratory birds to land beside Saharan travelers just for their company make me appreciate the damp and peopled landscape of our city (that's Portland, not just Powell's city of Books).

How I Came West and Why I Stayed by Alison Baker
This collection of short stories by Oregon writer Alison Baker was recommended to me and I have in turn recommended it to everyone that I know. Somehow these stories manage to be ridiculous, hysterical, and profound all at one time. I read them for the first when I was on the Costa del Sol in Spain and was visited unexpectedly by some pangs of homesickness. Really! I swear!

The Vulnerable Observer The Vulnerable Observer by Ruth Behar
Ruth Behar is an anthropologist who is also the child of immigrant parents. In this thought-provoking and beautifully written book, she addresses the complex emotional and psychological project of exploring culture both as a scientist and as an individual. Behar's fieldwork and extensive travels have helped her develop a wealth of personal and professional relationships. She draws on these to discuss the sensitive choreography of intercultural exchange and the negotiation of her own identity.

Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea by Eric Hansen
One of the best things about working in a bookstore is that your coworkers can always set you up with an excellent read. This book was recommended to me by former travel section head Sue H. and has just assumed the place of Primary Read by my bedside. So far I am finding it totally engrossing. Eric Hansen recounts his experiences on a small island in the Red Sea and later in Yemen. Hansen gets shipwrecked, gets saved, and then travels back to recover seven years worth of buried travel journals. I don't know what happens yet but I'm dying to find out!

Books about People I Would Pay Money to be Having Coffee With in February

The Very Rich Hours of Adrienne Monnier: An Intimate Portrait of the Literary and Artistic Life of Paris Between the Wars by Richard McDougall
This is as good a place as any to confess my elaborate fantasy about living on the Left Bank in the 20's and 30's. While this community of modernists turned out a lot of cultural heavyweights (Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce), the people that really fascinate me are the ones like Natalie Barney and Adrienne Monnier who were central to the artistic development of their friends but who haven't become household names. Adrienne Monnier owned and operated the Parisian bookstore La Maison des Amis des Livres. This is the illuminating story of how she and her partner Sylvia Beach (who owned Shakespeare & Co., the bookstore across the street from Monnier's) helped shape and support the literary life of an era.

Violet: The Life and Loves of Violet Gordon Wodehouse by Jessica Douglas-Home
Okay, so it's not set in Paris, but really, this book is fascinating. Violet Gordon-Wodehouse was a brilliant English harpsichordist who was renowned for, among other things, her flamboyant wardrobe, her passionate love of music, and her menagerie of lovers, both male and female. Radclyffe Hall dedicated a book of erotic poetry to her, and while Violet traveled throughout Europe performing, her husband kept house with four of her lovers in a farmhouse in Warwickshire. The book is written by her niece, who learned how to play the harpsichord and clavichord on Violet's instruments. Get a copy while it's still in stock!

Last Train to Memphis Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love by Peter Guralnick
Whether or not you identify yourself as an active fan of Elvis Presley, you have probably felt his impact on American popular culture. Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography is an extraordinarily thoughtful and well-documented exploration of the life of the King that the New York Times has called "a triumph of biographical art."

The Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius by Andrei Codrescu
NPR commentator and poet Andrei Codrescu has written numerous books on contemporary life in America, including the excellent Life on the Road and Hail Babylon. This book, which was written early in his career (my copy has a black and white photo of the author wearing big hair and a leather jacket with upturned collar), documents the early stages of his own life, specifically his childhood in Communist Romania and his move to the United States, ending with his migration to California in the 1960's. Well worth the read!


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