Duck Duck Book

22 – addendum to number 11
07.21.2005, 12:05 am
Filed under: art & entertainment

I have a pleasant announcement. Strange Sites : Uncommon Homes & Gardens of the Pacific Northwest, by Jim Christy (reviewed in booklist number 11) is now part of the Multnomah County Library's collection. Its call number is 712.09795 C556s 1996, there are two copies, and it is entirely free of holds so go to town!


22 – dead air
07.21.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: fiction

Dead air / Ed Goldberg.
New York : Berkley Prime Crime, 1998.
[Multnomah County Library does not have this book.]

When New York City private detective Lenny Schneider comes to Portland on a job, he finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery that centers around local independent community-supported radio station, KOOK F.M. (sound familiar?). Portlanders among you, see if you can track which characters are modeled after real people!

22 – bromeliad
07.21.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: fiction

The Bromeliad trilogy / by Terry Pratchett.
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
[MCL call number: j PRATCHETT; 20 copies, no holds]

The Bromeliad Trilogy is a collection of three novels about a people called “nomes,” a major social crisis, and the methods they use to solve their difficulties.

Nomes are tiny people — not to say that they’re just little humans, because they’re definitely more than that — who live in the midst of us. The nome society we meet in the first book (Truckers) live in a department store, and believe that the margins of the universe are the walls of the store. These nomes have a complicated, hierarchical society based on the circumstances in the store — a powerful religious order inhabits the stationary department, for example. The store nomes are in trouble — Masklin, a nome visitor from Outside, has arrived and freaked everyone out (he’s from outside the bounds of the universe, after all) and he has a very important black box with him that is reporting that the world is pretty much going to end really soon. Clearly this is a crisis — socially, religiously, and perhaps mortally.

The genius of these books is not merely the concept, the story, or the characters — the genius is that Pratchett has created a world that is similar to the one we know, but this world is shown from a completely alien perspective. The world of the book has deatils very different from our world which Pratchett logically explores and eloquently explains. For example, Nomes are very small, only a few inches tall. Like other small mammals, they have very tiny hearts that beat very quickly. Their voices are much higher than ours, and although during the story the nomes come across lots of humans, and they try to listen to us talk, they cannot understand us very well at all because our voices are so impossibly low, our speech so slow and groaning and rumbly.

But still, the story is fascinating and the characters compelling. The books are charming entertainment, and yet they give us a great deal of real substance to contemplate. No doubt The Bromeliad Trilogy would be wonderful to read out loud, so as to maximize the potential for having a good discussion later.

The three books in the trilogy were originally published separately, and are available from various publishers and in various editions. They are: Truckers (originally printed in 1989), Diggers (1990), and Wings (1990).

22 – short history of portland
07.21.2005, 12:02 am
Filed under: history & geography

A short history of Portland / Gordon DeMarco.
San Francisco, Calif. : Lexikos, c1990.
[MCL call number: 979.549 D372s; seven copies, no holds; two copies reference only at Central Library]

DeMarco’s history begins with a brief discussion of the communities and culture of the American Indians who lived in the communities that pre-date our city, then moves on to explore the influence of white people here before the Portland was established, the founding of the city, the character of immigration from other parts of the U.S. and from abroad, the politically and socially turbulent years of the early twentieth century and through the 1970s, and finally the state Portland found itself in during the 1980s, when the book was written.

A Short History of Portland is indeed short.  It is written in an accessible, friendly style, has plenty of illustrations, and takes something of a progressive view of our city’s past.  Certainly it is one of the few books of local civic history to consider the history of indigenous people worth more than a tangential mention.  The book has an unsatisfying index, but a useful bibliography.

DeMarco deserves to be more well-known than he is, at least because he had some interesting ideas.  One of his major writing projects was the production of a series of radical left mystery novels featuring tough guy and thoroughly red private dick Riley Kovachs.  The three novels, October Heat (San Francisco : Germinal Press, 1979), The Canvas Prison (San Francisco, Calif. : Germinal Press, 1982), and Frisco Blues (London : Pluto, 1985), are full of run-ins with lefty celebs (Charlie Chaplain, Frances Farmer), film noir dialogue, rooting for the underdog, and a fair amount of senseless violence.  They are not brilliant fiction, but definitely they’re worth reading if you’re yearning to meet a hard-boiled detective who was on the ground during the San Francisco general strike. 

DeMarco also wrote A Short History of Los Angeles (San Francisco, Calif. : Lexikos, c1988), which I haven’t read but I’m sure is useful and not boring.

22 – sold in oregon
07.21.2005, 12:01 am
Filed under: websites

Sold in Oregon : historical Oregon trademarks.
Oregon State Archives, updated 14 July 2003.

This rich digital exhibit collects images of Oregon trademarks collected by the Secretary of State’s office between 1864 and 1965.  Flour, produce, salmon, dairy products, packaged foods, medicine, clothing, lumber, automotive products, music, liquor, and cigars are all highlighted. 

There are some truly curious items among the 174 included in the exhibit.  Some oddities I enjoyed are: Breakfast Dwarfies; a “web foot” illustration (it’s dated 1905 — perhaps this is something to do with the Lewis & Clark Exposition in the same year?); Sacajawea, an Oregon Perfume; and the delicious-looking Ice Cream Highball.

21 – murder in the marais
07.7.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: fiction

Murder in the Marais / Cara Black.
New York, N.Y. : Soho Press, 1999.
[MCL call number: MYSTERY BLACK; six copies, no holds]

Murder in the Marais is the first in a series of novels. In this debut we meet Aimée Leduc and her partner, René Friant, private detectives who specialize in computer forensics and security. Despite this more or less unglamorous specialty, Aimée’s tendency to run into mysteries bigger and more dangerous than “how can we keep this data safe?” provides the storyline for this and later Leduc mysteries.

In the first pages of Murder in the Marais, Aimée is asked to break the code on a computer file, and deliver the results to an associate. Her prospective client, Soli Hecht, is old and weathered, and as it turns out he is a fighter from way back, having been a major player in the resistance to the Nazi occupation during the war, and a hunter of Nazi war criminals ever since. Aimée takes the job, and is drawn into a mystery of larger proportions than she anticipated, involving international trade agreements, old Nazis, life in Paris during the occupation, the ultimate fate of collaborators, and modern-day racist activism.

This is a complex story ranging through fifty years, with attention to the relationships within and between many different families and communities, and exposition of a broad slice of French and European political life. The mystery is set against the backdrop of Aimée’s life — her struggle with the death of her detective father in a bombing, her mixed feelings about her American mother (who walked away from the family when Aimée was a child), the anxiety with which she and René run their almost-financially-successful business, and other details bring richness to the novel.

Aimée Leduc solves more mysteries, gets in more fights, and has more adventures in four later novels: Murder in Belleville (New York : Soho Press, 2000), Murder in the Sentier (New York : Soho Press, c2002), Murder in the Bastille (New York : Soho Press, [2003]), and Murder in Clichy (New York : Soho Press, 2005). I was well-satisfied with the first books in this series, as mysteries and also as novels, but Murder in Clichy isn’t as good as the others. It comes too close to the hackneyed, formulaic dullness that the mystery genre has been so often faulted for. It’s still a decent book, but not a really great one.

So, my advice is, if Aimée’s story sounds interesting to you, read Murder in the Marais. If you’re really fascinated with her, continue on to the others in the series. If not, then I guess you can make your own decisions about how many of the series to read.

21 – white like me
07.7.2005, 12:03 am
Filed under: social sciences

White like me / Tim Wise.
Brooklyn, NY : [Berkeley, Calif.] : Soft Skull Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2005.
[MCL call number: 305.8 W813w 2005, two copies, seven holds]

Wise examines his whole life (all 36 years) through the lens of race and with an eye on the problems of white skin privilege. This is not a book of history, it is the story of one man’s experience and what he has chosen to do with it. Wise will not tell you where racism and white privilege come from, exactly, but he will tell you where he has found them, his observations about what they give and take away from white people’s lives, and what a compassionate white person ought to do about it all. He does this, I think, with an honest and a serious attempt at understanding his life context and how race has impacted it with compassion and intelligent, rational analysis.

Wise makes his points with stories. If you have seen him speak (which he does regularly, all over the country), his method and tone will be familiar to you. He talks about his youth and his travels, tells his family’s legends, and tells his own versions of their stories. All of this is done to show how whiteness and racism have affected Wise’s own life, and his particular family. What have they gained, what have they lost, how did they get to where they are, and what does it mean? This matters to Wise’s readers not because they are so infatuated with him or his family, but because the story he is telling is not an enigmatic story, it is just a regular story of an average white person in a normal white family in the United States. Even though White Like Me is not about you and your family, if you are white, it will be familiar.

For me, listening to Wise speak and reading the book produced much the same feeling — he impressed me as a very regular person with a very exceptional ability to see clearly through a set of subjects that our society works hard to obscure. He is plain-speaking, calm, and consistent. Your mother, your boss, your next-door neighbor, and the person in line in front of you in the grocery store would probably like him, and so would you. What Wise has to say is very hard for most white people to hear, but we need to hear it, and he is the right person to get his say said and listened to.