Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Banned Books

It's Banned Books Week, and my friend Jodi at the super Book Warehouse in the Columbia Gorge Outlets mall along I-84 in Troutdale, Oregon, told me this:

"It's weird, the books that people have banned. Charlotte's Web, can you believe it? That's where I learned big words, like FABULOUS, SPINNERETS, SALUTATIONS, FURTHERMORE, and PHENOMENON. All those multi-syllabic words!"



And Jodi gave me as many "Read a Banned Book" pins as I wanted, so I can give them to my friends.

Is it true that banning books marginalizes children? I think so. Read this article and see if you agree.

Here's a list of frequently banned and challenged books. Amazingly, books on this list include:

Animal Farm
The Sun Also Rises
Slaughterhouse-Five
The Awakening
Catch-22
Their Eyes Were Watching God
A Farewell to Arms
To Kill a Mockingbird


What's your favorite banned book?

And what banned book will you be reading this week, in honor of our American values, and our Constitution's expression of these values, of freedom of expression?


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Sunday Book Review: Bugged

The subtitle of this amusing book is "The Insects Who Rule the World and the People Obsessed with Them." And that's what it's about, disappointingly: the clever and nerdy entomologists that people like to make fun of because they're "different" from the rest of us.

There are a few facts about how bugs live and work, their contributions to the ecosystem, and so on, but I finally put the book in my "Return to Library" bag because I was sick of the cute little stories about the bugologists in their labs, the autopsy people in their mortuaries, the silk-worm people in their silk-worm places, and so on.

But if you have a lot of time on your hands, and you enjoy reading about interesting and unusual people, and you're not squeamish, you'll enjoy the book.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Sunday Book Review: Red Notice

Bill Browder has made it his mission to draw the world's attention to the abuses of power the Russian people suffer every day.

With his book, "Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man's Fight for Justice," he puts the world on notice: The Putin regime will ruthlessly go after anyone and everyone who dares to take issue with their policies or with their murderous defiance of all ethical and moral behavior.

I became interested in this story when I heard an interview with Bill Browder about the Magnitsky Act, which Browder had worked tirelessly to bring to Congress and get passed by Congress and finally signed by Pres. Obama in 2012.

This Act, named for Russian citizen Sergei Magnitsky, was written "to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and their use of its banking system," as Wikipedia puts it.

Wikipedia has to be careful with its wording, thus "Russian officials who were THOUGHT to be responsible for..."

We do not have to be this careful, as we can see, by reading the book: These officials were indeed, as shown in "Red Notice," responsible for Magnitsky's death, as they sentenced him wrongly to be imprisoned and made sure that he was transferred from one hell-hole to another, starved, tortured, and denied medical treatment.

The response of the Putin regime and the 22 oligarchs who have made millions and billions of dollars off of the misery of the Russian people over the past few years has been a massive, collective shrug of the shoulders. Ah, so what?

Except that they're mad, really mad, so mad that Putin made it impossible for American citizens to continue to go to Russia to adopt orphans, which they had been doing for years. Oh, and, then to blame the American government for the fact that Russian orphans are languishing in hellish conditions throughout their country. (Unfortunately for Putin et al., the Russian people are well aware of the plight of these children and the reasons for their plight, and have dared even to demonstrate in the streets, finally forcing the Russian government to build some more orphanages. Not enough, though.)

Dear Readers, I hope you will read this book. It's even better than the one I reviewed last Sunday. In fact, it's much, much better, because even though it deals with a sad and painful and tragic experience, it's about people, like Sergei Magnitsky and the author himself, and many others, who have bravely fought evil. (In contrast, "Devil's Bargain" is about two people, and many others, who come close to embodying evil.)

I want you to read this book because I don't have time to summarize its contents. If I did, I would, because Sergei Magnitsky and the other martyrs (yes, martyrs) who have been killed by Putin and his henchmen are so brave it makes your heart ache.

On the other hand, I can't summarize the writing style of Bill Browder, who makes every detail count, starting with his own life and the lives of his parents and grandparents. (His grandfather, Earl Browder, was head of the American Communist Party and ran for president representing that party in 1936 and again in 1940.) They were all remarkable people: intellectuals with courage and grit, hard working and determined to do what they believed to be right.

So there are two reasons to read the book: It's so full of the honest but painful truth about life in today's Russia, and it's so well written.

So, you don't care about life in today's Russia? But you should. Because this is impacting our life here in America right now. The Russian government is using the Magnitsky Act and its own response to that Act in order to persuade ignorant Americans (like Donald J. Trump and his entire family and retinue, apparently), AKA "useful idiots," to try to influence our past and future elections.

I checked the book out of my wonderful local library, The Camas Public Library, after putting a hold on it weeks ago,  but I'm going to buy it from Amazon as soon as I can, and will thereafter press it on my unwitting but willing friends to read.

(I see it's available on Amazon for just under $13.00.  Also at Walmart for $3.99---really? I'm going to check that out!)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fiction Friday: The Rosie Effect



Product DetailsFirst, there was The Rosie Project.

Now, there's The Rosie Effect. It's almost funnier than the original project. Funny, with a tinge of sad and edge of hysteria.

Don Tillman, having won the affection of Rosie, now has to figure out how to stay married and to deal with the birth of a child.

Mr. Tillman is not at all average, and he himself doubts that he will make it as a father. Poor Rosie does, too, as do all the people who know him. But (spoiler alert) he eventually proves that he's fit for the job.

Product Details

First, though, he has to figure out just what Rosie needs of him as the father of their child. It's not to take over her dietary needs and exercise schedule. It's not to design a sound-proof crib and accident-proof baby stroller. It's not to learn how to deliver a baby.

No spoiler alert here. You, Dear Reader, will have to figure out for yourself what Don Tillman figures out about being a father.

And you really, really, REALLY should read both of these books. First, The Rosie Project, and then The Rosie Effect. No kidding. You'll love them both. I promise.  Both are available from Amazon and every other bookseller on the planet. If you can't find them, let me know, and I'll loan you my copy.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Sunday Book Review: Devil's Bargain

Joshua Green has put together the complete, and completely unnerving, story of Donald J. Trump's association with Steve Bannon and how Bannon and his minions got Trump elected.

The subtitle of "Devil's Bargain" is "Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency." One of the first and last and most important and repeated elements of this "storming" of the presidency is Bannon's hatred of Hillary Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton, by the way, was right about the "vast right-wing conspiracy," which Bannon had a huge hand in starting and continuing. The rest of the book is about Bannon's life and political and social views, which are abhorrent; and how Trump connected with him.

This is another book I'm glad I didn't pay money for. It's a good book, but it's about a painful subject and its two main characters are deplorables.

I placed a hold on it at my local library as soon as I heard about it, so it took me about four weeks to get it, because so many other people had placed holds on it. Obviously I'm not the only person in the Fort Vancouver Regional Library's area who is fascinated by the dirty laundry of the Trump campaign and the unscrupulous, lying, foul-mouthed trolls who struck more than one bargain with the devil to get Trump elected.

There, I've summed up the book for you so you won't have to even go to the library to read it. It's not worth your time and gas money to drive there, and certainly not worth your time to do more than skim through it, now that you know the gist of it.

But if you're fascinated by the history of this disastrous election, go ahead and read through it as carefully as I did. It's really well written, factually correct, and journalistically sound, i.e., unbiased.

It even has chapter notes and an index so if, for instance, you've forgotten by the end what's so significant about Benedictine College Prep, you can look it up and find the reference at the beginning.

But, really, don't bother.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

And now for something beautiful

Please enjoy this song and video: "My Kindness Shall Not Depart from Thee," from the movie "Ephraim's Rescue."



(And then, if you haven't already watched the movie, you can buy it from Deseret Book, Amazon, or Walmart. Yes, Walmart!)



Friday, September 8, 2017

Fiction Friday: Mythic Imagination

"Mythic Imagination" is a collection of short stories written by Joseph Campbell. Only one of them was ever published while he still lived. This book of "Collected Short Fiction" was put together --- collected -- and copyrighted by the Joseph Campbell Foundation.

According to the book's jacket, the seven short stories are "extraordinary." But I'll tell you what: Even the one that was published in Campbell's lifetime is not extraordinary in any way. "Strictly Platonic" has a lame attempt at some kind of O.Henry twist at the end, and, because I know no one who reads this will ever read "Strictly Platonic," I'll tell you what the twist is:

The strictly ethical professor who has decided to flunk the star of the football team, rendering him unable to play in the most important game of his college career, which the dean is sure will mean no more funding for the college.

The professor is in love with the dean's daughter (of course). And the dean won't let him marry the daughter unless he gives the football player a passing grade. So when the football player and his classmates challenge the professor to explain the meaning of "strictly platonic," he ends up in a fist- fight with the football player. The big twist: the nerdy professor wins the fight, which brings millions of dollars into the school's funds, and the professor and the dean's daughter get married and, as the story ends, are planning how to spend their millions of dollars.

See what I mean?

So, I got this book from the library b/c I'm fascinated with Joseph Campbell's writings on mythology. And the Joseph Campbell Foundation claims that the seven stories they've collected are full of deep mythological meaning. Which may be true. I don't know. I don't care. I didn't read any of the other stories after I read this one. If Dr. Campbell couldn't publish his adolescent-male-fantasy drivel while he was alive, when people cared about stupid stories like this, why would anyone read it now?

Back to the library with this one, and a sigh of relief that I didn't pay any actual money for it. There's probably some deep mythological meaning in that. Because, as Angela pointed out the other day, "Everything is about money, isn't it!" But, again, I don't know, and I don't care.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sunday Book Review: Another Memoir ("Gringa")




Melissa Hart's "Gringa: A Contradictory Girlhood" is one of those books that makes you want to cry, and laugh, and think.

Melissa Hart has changed her name, legally, so I have no idea what her original birth certificate says her name is---and as I read about her early life, I can see why she felt it was a good idea to change it.

Also, she told a workshop at the Willamette Writers conference earlier this month this: "You should check with the people you write about in a memoir, to see if they are okay with what you have written about them. And you probably need to change the names of some of the people."

Also, she said, "You have to be willing to never see some people again. Never go to a family reunion, never be invited to a quinceanera, or a Christmas party, or anything else." In fact, she said she hadn't spoken to her father in more than 25 years, and she told us why. (I'm not going to tell that here, and she doesn't tell it in this book.)

And you can see why: This book is painfully honest, but so appealing in its honesty, and so funny at the same time, I could barely put it down. And I wanted to read more.

I bought a copy at the conference but didn't have a chance to ask Ms. Hart to autograph it for me. I couldn't get close to her, as she was being mobbed by people with questions to ask and personal stories to tell and advice to get.

That's the kind of person she is, the quality of teacher she is, and the optimistic message she gave at the conference. (Here's the conference info about her.)
Melissa Hart
Here's where you can buy "Gringa" from Amazon. Or, if you ask me, I'll give you my copy, not b/c it's not worth keeping, but b/c I want everyone who's interested to be able to read it.

And I'm going to order her other memoir, "Wild Within: How Rescuing Owls Inspired a Family," from Amazon, and when I finish reading it, I'll write about it here, and pass it on, too.



Friday, August 11, 2017

Fiction Friday: The School Ship Tobermory Books



Product Details   Product DetailsThe only reason I know about these books is that I saw the first one, "School Ship Tobermory," on sale*** at the great Camas Public Library. I read it, rather, skimmed through it, in a very short time. I don't know who it's meant for.

Ah, here, from the Amazon blurb: It's the "first volume in a  middle-grade adventure-mystery series perfect for boys and girls!" Note the exclamation point!

I don't get that whole system of grading for children's books, but I guess it could be read and enjoyed by a middle-schooler. I'm sending my copy to a grandson, and I'll let you know if he likes it. I doubt that he'll even pick it up, though, since the cover makes it look like it's for little kids, and the illustrations are disappointing at best.

Still, I don't want to criticize Alexander McCall Smith, whose writing I usually enjoy, and I see the reviews at Amazon are mostly very favorable. So maybe I'm just unaware of the reading habits of middle-graders, whoever those may be. Maybe all these kinds of books make me grumpy. Could be.

Still, when I saw that the second in the series, "The Sands of Shark Island," was available to check out at the great Camas Public Library, I placed a hold on it and read through it---skimmed, more like---in about 30 minutes. Same thing. Ho-hum, predictable, stock and standard "adventure story" for kids who (I think) are accustomed to more flash and bang.

Tell you what: Since I'm certainly not the one to make a judgment on how these books will go over with their intended audience, I'm going to see what some of my "middle-grade" friends think of these books, and I'll let you know.

For sale online at Amazon: Good Ship Tobermory,  starting at less than $7.00, and

The Sands of Shark Island, just under $10.00, new, for less, used.

***The great Camas Public Library has two or three book sales every year, and I try to be one of the first ones there. So someone else had read this book and didn't want to keep it. That's a review in itself, isn't it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another Silly Diet: Sweet Potatoes


       Image result for sweet potato recipesI almost feel like I should go back to the 3rd person for this review, silly as I feel for even checking this book out of the library: The Sweet Potato Diet, by Michael Morelli. At least I got it from the library instead of spending my hard-earned cash for it.




Why silly? Obviously: sweet potatoes may be super good for you, abundant in a veritable alphabet of vitamins (yep, A, B, C, and E).* But a diet composed of sweet potatoes? They're also high in carbs and low in protein. So I was skeptical, but willing to glance through the book.

And I found some interesting bits of information and some great recipes. But I still wouldn't recommend that anyone buy the book. You can find the same, or very similar, recipes online and in your Betty Crocker cookbook or any of the wonderful cookbooks your family and friends gave you as wedding gifts.

But what I really don't like about this book, beyond the silliness of the title, is the idea that anyone would think there is anything new about this diet book. It has the same format as every other fad diet: A lot of personal stories from the author and anecdotes about other people who followed this diet and lost 12 pounds in 2 weeks or whatever; followed by the fact that the author didn't really lose weight but did lose fat and did gain muscle; some nutrition info, a bunch of recipes with very nice photos to accompany them, and then, of course: the exercise plan.

The exercise plan? I'll bet you're asking. At least that's what I asked. Guess what: The exercises are just like the rest of the book: same old, same old. We all know all these exercises. We've all heard all this advice before. Why would we buy a book with this same old information? Why indeed!

And in the middle there's that whole part where you have to balance your carb days with your protein days or whatever. (I emphasize, again, that I did not read this carefully, and my excuse is that I couldn't stand to spend any more time on it than I already did, and then did in order to write this review.) Did I already say this?---Same old, same old.

In other words, what you really need to do, if you want to lose weight and be healthy, is learn how to eat right; balance your food intake to include sources high in vitamins, energy, and protein; and exercise in a reasonable way and amount.

So, go ahead and buy some sweet potatoes and try some new recipes with them, maybe even the sweet-potato-and-kale salad (excuse my barfing sounds), but you don't need this book for any of it.

(25 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes)

(50 + Savory Sweet Potato Recipes to Eat This Fall)

(30 + Easy Sweet Potato Recipes)

(And so on. You get the idea.)

*"Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene). They are also a very good source of vitamin C, manganese, copper, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. Additionally, they are a good source of potassium, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and phosphorus." (From the World's Healthiest Foods website:---which includes this very helpful graphic illustration of the vitamins in sweet potatoes:) (Sorry for the text---follow the link to the original to see what the nutrients are!)


Sweet Potato, baked
1.00 cup
(200.00 grams)
Calories: 180
GI: medium

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin A214%

 vitamin C52%

 manganese50%

 copper36%



 biotin29%

 potassium27%

 fiber26%




Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sunday Book Review: Two (I Mean Three) Memoirs


Product DetailsI've just finished reading "Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)" by Jenny Lawson, and if you want to laugh your head off, read it. (new, under $9 from Amazon).



The only time I remember laughing harder was when I read the second volume of her memoirs, "Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things" (new, under $11 at Amazon.

Product Details

Why did I read the second volume first? Because I found it on sale in an airport bookstore, so I read it, embarrassing myself as I chortled and chuckled and howled with laughter on my ride home. So then I looked for the first one. It isn't as funny, but you still might want to read it first. Nah, forget the first one, just go ahead and read "Furiously Happy." Really.

Product Details
Meanwhile, I've been reading Gloria Steinem's "My Life on the Road," which hasn't left me in stitches with laughter, but has been considerably more edifying and enlightening (new, just under $11 at Amazon). And it also isn't full of the f-bomb and other vulgarities which, although sometimes hilarious, did detract from my enjoyment of the two Lawson books.

But I do recommend all three.






Friday, January 20, 2017

Fiction Friday: Stranger Than Fiction




Yep, I give in: I have nothing stranger to write about today than the fact that our country has just inaugurated a new president, a joke, a clown, a laughingstock who has made our whole country into an international laughingstock.

But there's this: Best Protest Signs from DJT Inauguration

I tried to post a couple of the photos here, but can't make it work. So do follow the link to see them.

It's a good reminder that we're not alone.

And is anyone else as sick as I am of photos of that usurper's face? I would like to see, from now on, only photos of the back of his head, his whole body, as he is leaving.

Again, I tried to post a photo showing what I mean, but I wasn't able to. But you can check out this Vanity Fair article about the history of his hair.

And this article about how his hair got this way: "A hairdresser explains why Donald Trump's hair looks like that."

One more try with the photo of the back of his head (from Slate): 

Image result for trump back of head

Know Where You Stand

Check out this great article, the best summary and explanation I've seen of how our country got to this deplorable place, where we are today, with the inauguration of a man who is unworthy in every way to hold the office of president.

The author goes all the way back to the Republicans' so-called Southern strategy, which spoke to the racism of white folks and was a response to the social unrest of the 1960's, which was itself a cry for justice for all people of the U.S. and defined the core values of the Democratic Party.

And then he gets to the present day, the situation we're in because those same Republicans who have supported racism and elitism and wealthy people for-almost-ever, have broken all the rules of a civil government in order to elect a lying, misogynistic, clown.

And this section, showing exactly where we stand now that this creature is in office:



Transition to the Presidency
So, yeah, I'm marching. And calling my senators and representatives. And more. And will keep doing it. Now is not the time to stop paying attention. Sure, I didn't watch any of the inauguration stuff today, and won't. But I'm paying attention. And I hope all of you are, too.

(Thanks to Neva for sending me this link!)