One of the reasons I like that all the authors of The Pacific Northwest Reader are also either librarians or booksellers is that I believe the keepers of books have a unique perspective. One that is as rich and expansive as the stacks and stacks of books they lovingly curate, fondly promote and obsessively read.
However, I got a taste of another perspective when I spoke to Shirley Thomas, a cataloguer at the Chemeketa Community College Library in Salem, Oregon, and the writer of the book's two Oregon haikus. She just casually mentioned that she loves to distill language both in her poetry writing and her cataloguing work at the library--coding & concise description of books for online access.
I thought that was really neat - the idea of the connection between distilling language for her poetry and distilling language in her cataloguing work. I'm always thinking in terms of the expansive, but here's a woman whose work with books is all about refinement.
Here are Shirley's two precise and lovely haikus from The Pacific Northwest Reader.
SHORE ACRES STATE PARK
Gather and commune
Vast green edge of ocean roar
Touch in quiet space
CANNERY PIER, ASTORIA
Echo time gone by
Now bounty of connections
Proof our ship came in.
Because it is an homage to independent booksellers, The Pacific Northwest Reader is only available through independent booksellers. You won't find it on Amazon. But it can be ordered online through Powell's dot com. :)
Last night we went to see Mike's Incredible Indian Adventure at Portland Center Stage. I love a good one-man show. That built-in promise of the personal. Of course, one of the things that can happen with a one-man show is that the actor spends more time showing off his chops than presenting the story. Doing voices and accents and shoving his range in your face. Last one-man show I saw was like that. Entertaining, sure, but all I was seeing was the actor on the stage. Sort of the equivalent of seeing the writer on the page when you're reading a book.
Mike Schlitt delivered his show like a man telling a story. He has plenty of chops and did do some voices and accents, but it all felt like it was done in the context of the man telling his story. Really refreshing. And very entertaining.
Another thing that stuck in my mind about his delivery was that it was supremely American. Which was perfect for this story. Of course, he is American, so that wasn't a stretch or a stroke of brilliance, but there was something about the absolute, (excuse the phrase) in-your-face American-ness of it, which you then got to see back off in the moment of the turning, the moment of change, in the piece.
It's a piece about deep-down-America's inability to respectfully touch another culture. And it's a piece about the obsessive and hungry and totally self-involved soul of the artist. Which, as an artist, I can bear witness to.
That's, of course, Orson Welles over his shoulder. The slide show / film aspect of the show was great. Really well used. I loved when he flipped back and forth between images of Neil Simon and Gandhi in order to show how his younger self had justified traveling to India to put on the very cheesified and Spice Girled production of Simon's musical They're Playing Our Song. And the footage of the tour is hilarious and excruciating and delivered with great timing.
The stage set was really good. Felt very Nancy Keystone (the director) with its colossal stacks of video tapes (reminded me of her production of Apollo which was so amazing). I love stage sets. A very particular art. Creating a world for a story. The wonderful hindrances set designers encounter when trying to create these worlds and the creativity that comes from working around these hindrances. Really cool. The guy who designed this set created a space that seemed to convey the same neurotic hemming in that art and the wish for greatness builds up around Schlitt.
Fun evening, made even better by the big surprise of Christine, all beautiful in sari and bindi, and a single seat open right next to us, just waiting for her.
Today's Pacific Northwest Reader spotlight is in honor of April Nabholz who will be giving a reading this Sunday at Grass Roots Books and Music in Corvallis! 227 SW 2nd St, Corvallis, OR. Tel: 541-754-7668. If you're nearby, stop in at 7 PM and hear her read from her lovely essay about Oregon and a mule named Honeychild.
Here's a taste:
"When my mule and I are dropped off at the Enterprise Fairgrounds, square in the northeast corner of the state, I believe there must be some mistake. We aren’t in a temperate rainforest at all; we are in the middle of a desert. I pull myself to the top rail of a fence and stare westward forlornly.
"I had been led to believe the state was lush, hilly, and green, but what I see is a thirsty, scrubby expanse of barely anything. The ground is hard and dusty, and I see scarcely a tree. As a matter of survival, I swallow my disappointment and carry hay and water to my mule.
"To the north I can see snow-peaked mountains—the Eagle Caps, I am told—and I hear that nearby is a legendary gorge that runs deeper than the Grand Canyon itself. Hell’s Canyon, they call it, and it is wilder, rougher, crueler, and more beautiful, plunging more than a mile deep into the earth from Oregon’s eastern rim. I lie awake my first night in Oregon shivering in my sleeping bag under a starving moon and starry sky."
I love the surprise of opening up to an essay about Oregon and coming upon a story about a woman and her mule. And I love that the more I read these pieces about my state, the more I see how very different, yet how very linked, they are. I knew this would be true--it's the nature of the Reader series--but I'm struck by how much.
April Nabholz grew up in rural Pennsylvania, attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC, and worked as a dishwasher in Montpelier, VT. After traveling to Asia post-graduation, she vowed not to leave the country again until she had seen the western half of her own homeland. She traveled to Oregon in 2008 and settled in Corvallis, Oregon, where she plays daily at Grass Roots Books and Music.
Back to the Dangerous Writing basement after two weeks of the flu. Life complete again. Amazing pieces and discussions, not to mention two dirty Tallulah Bankhead jokes after someone likened my laryngitis whiskey voice to hers. My voice also got compared with Peppermint Patty's. Nora brought beer in two big jars like you'd use for iced tea or apple cider. Even though I didn't have any, I liked watching my fellow writers try to pour from those things and not spill on the sacred table. When it was my turn to read, I said, "This is the thing that comes after the thing that came six weeks ago," and everyone drank anyway. For an explanation of what the heck that means, go here. But only if you want to.
Just finished listening to the audiobook of In Cold Blood. Mixed feelings. Stephen has a problem with books and movies that follow so closely on the heels of real-life tragedy, and I can understand the sentiment. Seems more exploitative when the story hasn't had time to settle into history a bit. When the people shocked and hurt by what happened haven't had sufficient time to move forward. One of the interesting things I came across while doing a bit of googling after I finished the book was a critical quote (found in wikipedia) by writer Tom Wolfe:
"The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset ... Instead, the book's suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end."
The essay this comment comes from is called Pornoviolence. And that title makes the point as well as the comment does.
On the other hand, as I was reading [listening], I didn't really feel that my intrigue was being pulled toward the gory details at all. The book felt like a portrait of two very interesting people, and a portrait of an entire town. And, in a way, a portrait of small town farming America. Since my policy is to avoid learning anything at all about a book or movie before I partake, I didn't realize how much of the book is written in the voices of the town. Everyone in the story--the townsfolk, the murders, the victims--talk to you. It was an odd dichotomy, to me, because in some ways it had the feel of talking heads in a documentary, and in some ways it felt very personal, like those folks were just sitting across the table from you and telling their story.
I think it's a really interesting illustration of the differences between the third person omniscient and the first person points of view. There you are following that third person along, the language holding you at a certain distance--there's that flow of precise words clicking in your brain, you hear the construction laid down by the writer--and then blink, you're touched by the very personal voice of a human being. You're welcomed into a confidence. For me, the most affecting moments of the book were those moments shared with me by the voice of that town.
Since I'm still feeling all nostalgic for family following my night of home movies, I think my next Pacific Northwest Reader spotlight should be Judi Lohrey and her lovely musings about her grandfather. Here is an excerpt from her essay, "The Spirit of Idaho."
"Growing up in the same town with loving grandparents is a priceless experience that influenced the rest of my life. My dad's father was night watchman at the lumber mill 'above town.' He rode his horse to and from work. On Saturdays he stopped at our home and my brother and I rode on the back of his horse, Ole Darby, while grandpa walked alongside. We spent many Saturdays with Grandpa and Grandma Lohrey helping grind horseradish, clean cabbage for coleslaw, feed the chickens and gather eggs. We finished the day by watching Starlit Stairway, a talent program that originated in Spokane, Washington, and we walked home singing the sponsor's famous slogan, 'If you need coal or oil, call Boyle.' Grandpa died when I was 12 but I remember fondly that golden time of feeling so loved."
Judi Lohrey is the owner of ...and BOOKS, too!, 1037 21st Street, Lewiston, Idaho. In her spare time she loves to read mysteries, novels and local history books and volunteer for several organizations in the Lewis-Clark Valley. Judi grew up in Clearwater, Idaho, and has lived her life in Central Idaho and Southeast Washington. She had a 27-year career as a staff member at Washington State University. Following her retirement she was a volunteer in Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston, Washington...that is until her favorite book store was about to close for lack of a buyer. Now, she is semi-retired and enjoying life as a bookstore owner. She and her husband, Gary, live in Clarkston, Washington. They have a son, Bill, who lives in Spokane, Washington, and a son, Tim, who lives near Bend, Oregon.
Reading Judi's bio, I was excited to learn about how she jumped in to save the life of an independent bookstore. A noble act, a labor of love. Here's to Judi for taking up the gauntlet, and to the owners of independent bookstores all over. Huzzah!
...here's Judi at the helm of her bookstore, ...and BOOKS, too! I love how the title has all sorts of punctuation in it...
Last night's little celebration in honor of The Pacific Northwest Reader...
Delice de Bourgogne, aged Gouda, Comte, French fries, wakame salad (just a couple bites and save for tonight since by then we were sated* on cheese) (and Stephen, fish to go with the chips), Bette Davis, Joseph Cotten, Veuve Clicquot.
The film was Beyond the Forest, Bette Davis at her most evil, or one of her most evil. Of course, you want a character to be multidimensional and real, and pure evil can get pretty tiresome, but once we got to the point in the performance where desperate got mixed into the evil, I was cool with it. Desperate, now that's an emotion I can get behind. Brings pleasure to my Tennessee Williams soul. Yes, this film is over the top, but it's the kind of over the top that morphs into camp, so it works for me.
Since the DVD had no special features, we started the evening with some home movies (thanks, Kat!). Late sixties print clothes, old cars, hair and more hair. My mom stunning and looking about twelve, Dad looking so much like Frank it's amazing even though I know to expect it. Kathy pregnant with Heather, then Heather tiny, shriveled baby, then Kathy pregnant with Heather, then Heather older and looking like equal parts Kallan and Coligny, then Kathy pregnant with Heather.
Old movies of Christmas trees--those big bulbs, that's enough to put that old Christmas feeling into you. Coco in some odd white shirt with French cuffs and a red tie like a Kentucky colonel. Kind of. Can anyone tell me about that shirt and tie? And Noni seemed to be in a Bavarian costume. Noni always so amazingly chic. I think we catch a glimpse of her preparing to sing as Coco sits at the piano.
Nana and Pappoo, Mammaw and Pappaw, Gina, Lanaux, Fred (Freddy, with the big, black glasses), Kerry, Michael and his hair, glimpses, glimpses of everyone. A surprise moment of Aunt Helen, that particular beauty of old as the hills. Me at twoish, with blanket, piled into a backpack on Dad's back. So lucky that we all get to be that. That completely different being, that child. There are so many reasons to hope you get to live a long time, and one is that you have the chance to be all the kinds of people there are. The baby, the child, the adolescent, the early adult, the older adult, the old adult. I would love the chance to experience being an ancient old lady.
*Coco: "I've had a sufficiency; any more would be a superfluity."
I guess I can no longer call these countdowns since the book has come in. I think I'll call them spotlights. Complete with an updated graphic since I'm a bit obsessed with playing with graphics.
And I'm definitely not going to be letting them fall off now that the book has come out. I've got lots more writers waiting in the wings. Including library director Colin Rea. Here's an excerpt from his essay in the just-sprung Pacific Northwest Reader:
"In 1971, then Governor Tom McCall famously told Terry Drinkwater on CBS News 'Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven's sake, don't come here to live.' Conventional wisdom says Oregonians fancy themselves as New Englanders do. They take pride in the roots that they put down and slap 'Oregon Native' bumper stickers on their Subaru's and Hybrid Hondas (yes, the greening of America has pushed aside the Volkswagen in favor of trendy Japanese bubble cars. Never mind that the new diesel VWs get better mileage...). And yet, seemingly everyone in the state moved here from somewhere else, especially from the somewhere else known as the upper Midwest. Badgers, Gophers, Buckeyes, Wolverines; all are well represented in the Willamette (rhymes with dammit!) valley and beyond. Travel south and you'll meet Californians who cashed out 3 bedroom houses in order to buy
bigger homes for half the price near our beloved Shakespeare festival. Up north, Portland attracts the young hipsters from colleges across the country who know that Seattle went limp when Cobain blew the lid off the grunge movement."
[Being a former Californian Oregonian who got here by way of that somewhere else known as the upper Midwest, I'd say Colin knows what he's talking about...]
Colin Rea is the Director of the Fern Ridge Library District in Veneta, Oregon. A former bookseller and PNBA Board member, he may be the only Oregonian to dislike the Grateful Dead. His favorite foods are
scotch and sandwiches.
Back to work after a week of calling in sick or going in for just a couple hours, I tromp down to the Gold Room by the incoming bay to grab my carts of books for the morning shelving session, and blink [sexy i dream of jeanie magic head bop] there it is. The Pacific Northwest Reader all stacked up pretty on my cart. And on the other side of the cart is a stack of Portland Noirs for the bestseller display. What a nice day. I told Stephen we'd have to celebrate with champagne cocktails infused with Nyquil.
She's the star of a lovely essay in the forthcoming Pacific Northwest Reader, and when you read the essay, you're going to fall in love with her.
And with the Alaska that you get to see as you walk along with Dinah and writer Annie Tupek.
Here's a taste:
"In this, the unfolding of winter, my thoughts return to the warm months, the endless summer days when the entire world is green and vibrant with life. When squirrels flick their tails and frolic through the trees, butterflies paint the air with their multitude of colors, and mosquitoes buzz and sting. I do not miss the mosquitoes.
"This winter landscape, though snow-capped, is not dead. The life is hidden, resting, waiting for the midnight sun to return. Shrews tunnel under the snow; birds fluff up their feathers for warmth and stay close to their nests. There are probably a few moose in the area snacking on whatever succulents they can find, and a myriad of other creatures smart enough to stay out of the way of a human and her dog."
[I love the idea of life hiding and resting under that forever of snow. Beautiful.]
Annie Tupek was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She now resides in Fairbanks, Alaska with her husband and their adopted English Mastiff. Her short work has appeared in The First Line magazine (Spring, 2007), and the forthcoming horror anthology Courting Morpheus (Belfire Press, Spring 2010). As a buyer and office assistant at Gulliver’s Books, America’s northernmost independent bookstore, her reading addiction is well sated, though she often despairs that there are too many books and not enough time for reading.
The very excellent Reading Local: Portland is reposting my little spotlights on The Pacific Northwest Reader. I feel quite honored. Take a look at the blog--it's bulging with info on local bookstores, book events, profiles of Portland writers, info on their publications, snippets of lovely Portland writing--whatever you need to know about Portland's book scene. Huzzah!
Home sick, again, and I jump quick online as I drink my soup and my orange juice, to find an e-mail from my beloved at work.
The heading: Bisous
[French for kisses]
The text: "For whenever you get them, sweetie. Rest and feel better, my little Camille."
[she dies, you know...]
My response: "Camille?! So I'm going to die, now? Well, thanks a lot! xxx"
And his response to mine:
"No, no, you're merely waxing thesbiasticaly. You are magnificent in your illness - pictorially and vocally - and spectacularly embody the ecstatic heights attained by the greatest Marguerites and Violettas of history: La Divine Sarah; the Divine Garbo; Callas, "la Divina". What are they compared to you, my love? Dust. No more than that. And dust that is only illuminated by the grace of your benevolent star-light. Ahhh....
Thus I salute you!" Oh dear god, people. This is my husband. Could a woman want more?
Writing my essay about Oregon for The Pacific Northwest Reader, I felt I got to know my home more intimately--or perhaps got to recognize just how intimately I knew this place. Now along comes Karen Munro's essay for the same state, for the same book, and I see an Oregon I knew but never knew. One place is a million places seen through a million sets of eyes. And how amazing--and heartbreaking--to get to see Oregon through Karen's unique eyes and heart.
For the heartbreaking, you'll have to read the whole essay.
For a taste, here is a paragraph from "Land of Oz":
"For people like me, Oregon, like Oz, seems like a place to wander for a while. A fascinating, frustrating place, a place that offers fields of poppies and cities made of emerald, but nowhere to put down roots. Elton John had it right: you can follow the yellow-brick road in search of a heart, a head, or whatever it is you're looking for—but sooner or later, you're going to have to click your heels together and come back to the real world. You're going to have to make your peace with imperfection, and decide whether you can live with things as they are."
Karen Munro is the Head of the University of Oregon Portland Library & Learning Commons in Portland, OR. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and has published stories in Grain, Glimmer Train, and elsewhere.
Don't suppose it would make as pretty a picture as the avocados and vegemite (and wouldn't be quite as delicious) but a second care package came in the mail, this one from Dad, and it's just as good. My taxes, done by a generous accountant Dad who I happen to know hates doing taxes. So, let me say it again. Have I said lately how great this man is? Have I said it often enough?
Monday night, I read at a place called The Maiden with members of The Portland Fiction Project. Really fun evening. I was their guest reader and got to hear some really great pieces. Musical guests were a lovely cello and guitar duo, and the cellist played a little cello intro for every reader. How cool is that?
The event started a bit late because The Maiden kind of forgot we were going to be there. So we had to wait for the couple who were sitting at the table in the corner to leave so that management of the restaurant could then unbolt the top of the table and remove the whole works to open up the reading space. Waiting meant I got to meet a few of the Portland Fiction Project. And order french fries. The very pretty gal at our table looked across at the couple sitting where we were supposed to read and said, "Looks like they're newly in love. This could be a while."
Soon, though, they were gone and there was a guy lying on his back on the floor taking the table apart. Microphone and cello set up. Great last minute coordination by our emcee for the evening, Jacob Aiello. The whole plate-clinking, laughing, talking restaurant went quiet for the readers. The theme of the evening was youth. "Hell Is For Children," they were calling it, which I didn't find out until I got there is the name of a Pat Benatar song.
I read pretty well under the circumstances. The circumstances being my brain. No, I'm kidding about the brain [and about there being any circumstances. i just thought it would be fun to say that. and it was]. I think everyone read really well with only the little expected flub-ups here and there--but I do have to say that my favorite part was when the line in my piece that read, "The closets were full of jeans and button-down shirts." turned into, "The closets were full of beans."
The readers were: Jeremy Benjamin Nicole Krueger me Matt Corum Jacob Aiello
Some really great writing about fathers and sons, mothers and elephants, and eating your own hair. And disembodied ears. Because the theme was youth, of course. Check out their writing on their website [I linked above] but be prepared to fall into a really cool hole, because they give you a new piece of flash fiction practically every day.
And the musical guest was Sweeter Than Later. They played a mean set of jazzy stuff in the middle of the readings, and I liked how they grinned at each other after every piece.
The event was sponsored by SOSSA, Speaking Out on Sibling Sexual Abuse.
I've been having lots of fun putting together my aliens display to celebrate the book First Contact, along with some other satirical alien favorites. Sometimes I worry that all I do in here [this blog] is show off my work, but I can't help it. I like my job.
So, here are a few graphics I made up for the display, which has an Area-51 approach, exposing the secret evidence of the existence of space aliens, which can be found at Powell's City of Books.
First, a document proving the book First Contact proves that we've had first contact...
And photographic evidence of these aliens... I had to include part of a letter to the editor written by Mr. Billy Pilgrim, the lovely protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five. The intro I made up, but the rest of the first page of this letter is taken directly from the book. Perhaps Kurt Vonnegut would disagree with me [and he'd know] but I kind of think if Billy made a typo, he might go ahead and mail the letter [after all, everything that is done is already done and can't be changed] but he'd be polite about it.