Duck Duck Book

16 – detective novels
04.6.2005, 12:05 am
Filed under: fiction, misc.

A general comment on detective novels:

The best and most captivating of fictional detectives types work like one imagines real detectives do — by some opaque and stultifying process, which may or may not be an actual strategy. Reading the story, it often seems like the detective is just doing whatever comes into her head, and it’s hard to see the method in the madness.

I have never understood what V.I. Warshawski or John Constantine or Kate Fansler or Arkady Renko or Philip Marlowe are thinking when they make a move — I’m always thinking things like, “No, no, are you crazy, don’t go to the small town police station and confront the local cops! They’ll beat you up!” And then I’m right and the detective gets the shit kicked out of her, but she shakes it off and the mystery is solved in the end anyway.

I understand that there are many kinds of work which are absolutely opaque to people who don’t know them from the inside. And I do not understand what detectives do. I know that a lot of what they do is boring research (which I do understand, believe me), but when it comes to the action, I’m completely in the dark. Any method, strategy, or professional practice that a detective might employ would naturally be completely foreign to me.

So I’ve been thinking, perhaps what makes these excellent but completely imaginary detectives seem so real is just this — they’re written so that their actions don’t seem logical. And the actions of real detectives, I bet they’d seem illogical to me too. No, I cannot think like Kate Fansler, or like Arkady Renko. Not at all. Which may be why I love them so much.

[I don’t mean to be a hopeless name-dropper. V.I. Warshawski is a Chicago private eye written by Sara Paretsky; John Constantine is an English trenchcoat-wearing magician featured in the comic book Hellblazer and in other comics by many different authors, but created originally by Alan Moore for the series Swamp Thing; Kate Fansler is professor of literature and amateur murder-solver living in New York City and written by Amanda Cross, nom de plume of the late and great Carolyn Heilbrun; Arkady Renko is a sometime Moscow police detective written by Martin Cruz Smith; and Philip Marlowe, who should be familiar to you all, is the archetypal hard-boiled detective written by Raymond Chandler, also late and also very great.]


16 – trees of greater portland
04.6.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: technology

Trees of greater Portland / Phyllis C. Reynolds and Elizabeth F. Dimon.
Portland, Or. : Timber Press, c1993.
[MCL call number: 635.977 R464t; 17 copies, one hold; one copy reference only at Central Library]

This is an extensive reference book to notable trees of our city. It is arranged like an encyclopedia, with entries arranged by scientific species name. Each entry includes a description of the natural history, culture, and qualities of the species, and one or more photographs of the tree as it is found in Portland. Notable individuals of each species are listed by address, together with the tree’s circumference and diameter. Historical notes about particular individuals are sometimes included as well.

The authors explain in their introduction that for a particular tree to be included, it must be healthy, beautiful, and relatively mature. Certainly there is a focus on particularly large examples of each species. Portland’s Heritage Trees are highlighted (though other venerable individuals are also included), and trees that live on private property are listed, but only those that are visible from the public street. The main text is followed by an appendix discussing the best times to observe Portland’s trees, one listing our largest trees, and a third providing a series of walking tours that provide an introduction to the special trees of nine different Portland neighborhoods. There is a glossary and an index.

I suppose that long-time readers of this booklist will naturally begin to understand some of what interests me intellectually and for entertainment. Trees of Greater Portland meets two of these interests: the first, in gardening, botany, and plants in general, is recent; the other is of longer standing. I have a kind of intense civico-pietistic compulsion, and am fascinated by books and other intellectual objects that provide information and observations about the history and the fabric of my home city. Perhaps my readers do not share this combination of passions; but for those who do, this is an essential book. For anyone else who would like to practice identifying tree species, or who wants to see what a truly mature Pacific Dogwood or London Plane Tree looks like, it will also be useful.

16 – simply armenian
04.6.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: technology

Simply Armenian : naturally healthy ethnic cooking made easy / Barbara Ghazarian.
Monterey, Calif. : Mayreni Pub., 2004.
[MCL call number: 641.59566 G411s 2004; six copies, no holds]

The Armenian Orthodox calendar contains nearly 200 feast days, which means that observant Armenian Christians must forgo meat for nearly half the year. Bulgur wheat, lentils, yogurt, nuts, olive oil, eggplant, and other delightful ingredients dominate in Ghazarian’s introduction to Armenian cuisine — though there are few meat dishes included for those of you who prefer that sort of thing. Ghazarian provides dozens of easy-to-prepare traditional recipes (and a few creations of her own) for appetizers, main dishes, desserts, beverages, and more. Undoubtedly there are other good Armenian cookbooks, but this is the one I saw first and I like it. Yum!

16 – japanese kite prints
04.6.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

Japanese kite prints : selections from the Skinner collection / John Stevenson.
Seattle : Drachen Foundation, c2004.
[MCL call number: 769.952 S847j 2004; two copies, no holds]

As far as I'm concerned, one of the greatest services that public libraries provide is that they buy beautifully illustrated coffee-table books on odd subjects. I am not willing to fill my small house with large, heavy books full of glossy pictures — but that doesn't mean I don't want to leaf through them lazily as if I had no useful occupation available to me! Japanese Kite Prints is one of these books — I am very glad to borrow so that I may revel in its lovely illustrations for a while, and then I and also very glad to return it to the library so I don't have to find space for it in my bookshelves.

The artworks in Japanese Kite Prints are collected together because they are all on the subject of kites. Because of this, many focus on people and their doings. The prints are only slightly reduced from their original size (a particularly lovely crowd scene in plate no. 75 is reduced from 37.5 x 25.1 cm to 26.5 x 18 cm), and many of the plates fold out to allow more space for the illustrations. Each plate is accompanied by a page of descriptive text, with notes about the scene being depicted, the artist, and the technique of the print.

The plates and text are followed by two indices, one detailing the anatomy of a woodblock print, and another discussing how to date Japanese prints. There is also a bibliography and a brief index.

16 – staff picks
04.6.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: literature, websites

Staff picks — best fiction reads of 2004.
Multnomah County Library, updated 1 April 2005.

Just like it sounds, recommended fiction from Multnomah County Library staff.  If you think we might know something you don’t from spending all day every day in a building full of books, examine this list carefully for the evidence.  You’ll notice that some recommendations are from me, and they’re excerpts from reviews sent out on this list.  This shows my natural laziness, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me. 

There’s a list of nonfiction books as well.