Patrick, Lakewood Library

Like a lot of people, my love affair with Ramen began when I started living in a dorm. Hot pots were the appliance of choice, the work horses of our shared kitchen and a guarantee of something salty and caloric within minutes. My gateway noodle was pretty standard: Maruchan ramen, chicken flavor. But soon I was running with some serious instant ramen connoisseurs. I eventually moved on to everything from kim chi ramen to miso ramen to the unknown pleasures of chili oil and freeze-dried beef packets. I consumed a lifetime's worth of sodium in four years, but I was in paradise. 

I became aware of ramen as a rich and complex culinary tradition much later in life, but after my first bowl of chashu ramen with hand-pulled noodles, I was hooked. I've become as obsessed with the methods as I am with the food, and I've been hitting the books trying to create the perfect bowl in my own kitchen. 

There is no shortage of ramen-related cookbooks out there. In the past year or two, the market seems to have become saturated. At one end of the spectrum is David Chang, whose Momofuku is probably in the vanguard of haute cuisine's take on Japanese street food. Chang is a fascinating personality, and a brilliant chef, but for a home cook, I found that a lot of his recipes bordered on absurdity. I felt like the poor woman in the movie Tampopo, getting things wrong over and over again with catastrophic results. I like Chang better in his role on Mind of a Chef. His digressions into different variations and techniques (an entire episode is devoted to the egg) are a source of endless inspiration.

One of Chang's guests on Mind of a Chef was Ivan Orkin, an American chef in Tokyo who uses an aromatic, high-protein flour blend for his noodles and a fatty, chicken-based broth for the soup. His new book Ivan Ramen is written in painstaking detail, but home cooks are very much the intended audience. 

So far, I've actually gotten some of the best results from Tadashi Ono's and Harris Salat's Japanese Soul Cooking. Their recipes are simple, but they are easy to play with once you've got the basics down and they yield big, intense flavors.    

And what about the noodles, the most important part for many Ramen fans? Orkin definitely wins points for providing a clear chemical explanation for his alkaline noodle dough. He came to his recipe empirically and walks through things so that you could probably repeat the recipe without the book the second or third time. Tadashi and Ono just recommend finding good fresh-frozen noodles to build around. My kitchen recently became gluten-free so I'm still trying to crack the code with some different flour blends. I've found some brown rice ramen noodles that make a good vehicle and in a pinch a great soup base can dress up a packet of instant noodles pretty nicely.

Joyce, Standley Lake Library

For years I have been trying to pawn off a favorite book on family, friends and unsuspecting library patrons. Some took the bait, but others looked at the title, raised an eyebrow and said, “Gosh.  I really have an awful lot on my plate right now.  Maybe next time.”

So, imagine my delight when I saw Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, mentioned in the acknowledgements at the back of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, The Signature of All Things.  I couldn’t believe that anyone other than Kimmerer’s publisher, friends, family and me knew about this book.  (Okay, I’m exaggerating just a little – Gathering Moss won the John Burroughs Medal for an outstanding book of natural history writing in 2005.) Still, it felt as if Gilbert and I were part of some secret society, a clandestine clique complete with knowing winks and special handshakes.
Kimmerer’s book is a collection of essays about, as the title suggests, moss.  I know – it sounds like a real snoozer.  But, well-written essay collections are one of my favorite things to read and well-written essay collections about natural history topics are this girl’s idea of heaven on earth.   (A disclosure -- I majored in Biology in college, with an emphasis in Botany and a special interest in the bryophytes – those nonvascular oddities of the plant world that include the liverworts, hornworts, and mosses.)

Kimmerer’s book combines not only fascinating explanations of the ecology and lifecycles of various moss species, but weaves in her take on motherhood, the environment and Native American traditions (Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation), as well.  She expertly takes what, on the surface seems minute and mundane, and infuses it with universal meaning.
By the way, Gilbert’s book is a winner, too. It’s her first novel in 13 years and from the first page, I was hooked. It’s the story of Alma Whittaker, a fictional 19th century botanist and explorer who becomes an expert in moss taxonomy and biology.  (Another disclosure – while I’m not a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert’s earlier work of nonfiction, The Last American Man about Eustace Conway, a self-proclaimed survival expert, is a personal favorite.  The book was a National Book Award finalist in 2002.)
While we’re on the subject of women in science, I must share a recent online discovery. Emily Graslie is the Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago and as such, hosts an absolutely delightful digital blog called The Brain Scoop. She was recently featured on NPR responding to the sexist comments she’s been receiving on her blog -- more specifically the comments posted by viewers who, shall we say, pay more attention to the messenger than the message.  (Honestly though, Emily is smart, perky and cute as a bug, and if I were a guy, I’d want to date her, too!)   For a good introduction to Emily and The Brain Scoop check out the video about her favorite science books.
And if you just can’t get enough science news and views, check out the Real Clear Science website and their list of the Top Ten Science Bloggers.  You’ll find more time-sucking blogs and websites than mosses have spores. 

Chris, Standley Lake Library

Some things you want to like more than you do--like the novels of Tolstoy or the administrations of Democratic presidents--but in the end they conspire to disappoint you.  Dissatisfaction of this sort is not unlike the sensation of having a phantom limb: you imagine something that reality can’t support and then wonder how you ever imagined it in the first place.
I had a similar experience as I made my way through the acclaimed graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color. I should start by admitting that I’m an infrequent reader (or is it viewer?) of comics. In my limited experience, the most interesting comic book artists are the ones who collaborate with writers. But even as I write this, I realize there are countless exceptions: Robert Crumb, Ivan Brunetti and Alison Bechdel are three that come immediately to mind. But most often, the writing of the best comics cannot compete with the best prose fiction, and if it’s narrative I crave, I’ll sacrifice nifty graphics for a better storyline every time.
A few months back, the film adaptation of Blue is the Warmest Color took top honors at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the coveted Palme d’Or Prize. While I haven’t seen the film version, I did lay my hands on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh.  It tells the story of two young women, Clementine and Emma, who become lovers. Having been raised in a judgmental environment that eschews homosexuality, Clementine questions her orientation and slowly learns to accept her sexual identity, a process mirrored in the experiences of countless young people the world over.

When Clementine meets the cooler, ineffably hip Emma, it’s classic love-at-first-sight: can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t live without you. The comic also depicts the many instances of homophobia that those coming out must endure: many of Clementine’s classmates, as well as her indignant father, treat her with contempt, and this causes her no small amount of anguish.

What so disappoints me about Blue is the fact that, minus the story of Clementine’s coming out, it is little more than an angsty teenage love story. From the viewpoint of an adult reader, it lacks the ability to surprise. Young woman has questions about her sexuality, check; young woman meets another young woman and falls in love, check; the two young lovers quarrel, check. And so on and so forth.
Maybe the failure of Blue is a failure of marketing: if directed toward a teen audience, it might have greater impact, particularly to those undergoing struggles similar to Clementine’s. Adolescents are forever grappling with questions of identity: sexual identity, cultural or ethnic identity, gender identity. The list goes on and on. Part of transitioning to adulthood is accepting one's identity, and being equally accepting of the identities of others.

As it stands, there is little in Blue that I could rightly call revelatory. It’s two kids in love, trying to make their way in the world. As one who barely survived the graphic novel of his own adolescence, I wish Clementine and Emma all the happiness in the world and send them on their imaginary way. With any luck, Blue will enjoy modest success, but not so much that it demands a sequel.

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh.  Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp, 2013.

Chris, Standley Lake Library

There’s no denying that time is an odd thing.   I’ve had time on my mind this week, and the increment I’ve been thinking about is twelve years.   Twelve years, even for the elderly among us, is no short stretch: it’s three presidential administrations, almost an entire K-12 education.  Twelve years is the difference between adolescence and adulthood, or between middle-age and dotage.  It’s the better part of a generation.

But for Solomon Northup, twelve years is the length of time he spent in captivity, playing the role of another person, afraid of being discovered for who he was.  Born free in New York state, Northup was drugged and kidnapped by two men who lured him to Washington, DC under the pretense of offering him a job.  He awoke in chains, on a steamship headed south, eventually winding up in Louisiana, where he was sold into slavery.  When asked by another man if he could read and write, Northup was strongly advised to keep his literacy and status as a freeman to himself, lest he wind up dead.  The key to survival, he was told, was to say and do as little as possible.

The year was 1841, exactly twenty years before the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War. This fateful period serves as the setting for Steve McQueen’s most recent film, 12 Years A Slave.  Based on an autobiography of the same name, the film tells the true story of a man sold into slavery and later freed, but only after suffering a dozen years of unspeakable brutality.

For that interminable period, Solomon Northup was not only a slave, but a first-rate actor, posing as uneducated and docile even as he tried to fashion paper and pen so that he could get word to his unsuspecting family in New York.  He took the name Platt, given him by his plantation owner, and created a backstory for the man he now was.  He lived as Platt for twelve years, rarely breaking character.  As the years passed, his role was one in which acting became life itself.  But even as he acted, Northup never abandoned hope for a return to his previous life.

It’s said that a human being will do almost anything to survive, and during those twelve years, we see Northup endure and inflict inhumane treatment.  He is beaten when he doesn’t pick his quota of cotton, but is also made to wield the whip against fellow slaves at the insistence of his capricious master, played with gleeful abandon by Michael Fassbender, whose character divests himself of all humanity right before our eyes, using scientific racism, property rights, and a wilful misreading of Scripture as rationales for his sadism and cruelty.

There are a host of strong supporting performances, mostly by solid character actors like Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson and Paul Dano.  Brad Pitt makes a brief appearance as Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter come to live in the South.  Pitt, as a native Missourian, should be able to manage a more convincing drawl than he gives us as Bass, but I guess you can’t have everything.

I’ll leave out any spoilers except the big one suggested by the movie’s title.  But ultimately, 12 Years A Slave is more than a fine piece of cinema: it’s a civics lesson that makes us claim a part of our collective history that most would sooner forget.  Just as slavery did not end with the Civil War, neither did racism end with the Civil Rights movement or the subsequent election of a black president.  The 12-year role played by Samuel Northup is emblematic of roles played each day by oppressed peoples the world over.  But perhaps most importantly, McQueen and his cast do not permit a happy ending to whitewash the fact that the way of life we enjoy today was built on just such “peculiar institutions.”

(MOVIE) 12 Years A Slave.  Directed by Steve McQueen, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, et al.  Rated R.

(BOOK) 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup, general editor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  New York: Penguin, 2013 (reprint of 1853 edition).

Chris, Standley Lake

If you’ll indulge me—and let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you’re already indulging me—I’d like to start with an imaginative exercise. This shouldn’t scare you, because you read books, and what is reading if not an imaginative exercise? The act of reading releases a book’s creative energy, like reciting an incantation or spell whose power lies dormant until its words are spoken aloud. Reading allows us to become the co-authors of a book, because everything the story contains is imagined differently by each reader. So in this sense, the little exercise we’re about to undertake is not so different than reading a book.

Imagine a city as a book that is read differently by each of its ten million inhabitants. Now imagine a particular street in that city as a character in the book, and suppose that this street, as much as any other, represents the joys, perils and problems of the city at large.  

OK, got it? Well, so has John Lanchester, whose newest book, Capital, advances the same premise: the city is London, and the street is Pepys Road. It’s a typical London street, whose houses (like many in London) were built in the aftermath of the Second World War, when much of the city’s housing stock had been reduced to rubble by German bombs. In response, the postwar government set about building thousands of new homes, most of them in the neo-Victorian style that typifies much London architecture today.  

The area of Pepys Road was traditionally working class, but as the city expanded, the middle class, in search of affordable housing, arrived and poshed up the place a bit. They eventually paved the way for the appearance of the well-heeled, who completed the process that most of us call gentrification. If you’ve ever lived in a city yourself, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  

But the idyllic calm of Pepys Road is disturbed when its residents begin receiving a series of strange postcards in their letterboxes. In fact, each postcard is not a postcard at all, but a photograph of the person’s front door. On the reverse is written the following message: we want what you have. The residents eventually complain to police and an investigation is opened, but there are no leads, little evidence, no apparent motive, and beyond the vaguely menacing tone of the postcards themselves, no real commission of a crime.

Set against the background of this persistent tension is the fact that it’s the summer of 2008, and the house of cards that is the derivatives market is beginning to tremble. The very wealth that turned Pepys Road from a working class East End neighborhood to an unaffordable playground of the rich is evaporating with astonishing speed. In this way, Capital is a bit like Anton Chekhov’s famous play The Cherry Orchard, in which an over-leveraged patrician family carries on as if nothing is different, taking afternoon tea and engaging in inconsequential small talk, even as their beloved estate is foreclosed upon by its creditors.

But as a book, two things make Capital more than a simple tale of upper-class hubris. First, there are no main characters: Capital is populated by a fantastic ensemble cast, with no character more central than any other. And in a rare display of literary virtuosity, Lanchester assembles an array of fascinating characters, with no obvious weak links. Each character’s story, if expanded, could serve as the basis of its own novel.

For me, the most interesting aspect of Capital is how Lanchester writes those characters who are not residents of Pepys Road--those who come to service the needs of the rich. There is the Polish builder who renovates the houses of Pepys Road, hoping to save enough to fund the retirement of his elderly father in Warsaw; the Hungarian nanny who relieves her employers of the burden of raising their own children; the Zimbabwean asylum-seeker who finds illegal work as a meter maid, doing the ironic job of ticketing luxury cars whose sticker prices are greater than ten years of her wages. The fact that much of the servicing of the rich falls to recent immigrants and refugees, many from countries that were formerly part of the British Empire, allows the reader to realize that colonialism is not dead – it’s simply assumed a different form. And you can see this not just in the London of John Lanchester’s novel, but in the London that, at this very moment, lies just on the other side of the Atlantic.

Capital by John Lanchester.  New York: W.W. Norton, 2012.


Emily, Columbine Library

I still remember reading The Thirteenth Tale when it debuted in 2006.  Diane Setterfield’s atmospheric, gothic tale was a page turner, perfect for chilly weather reading, preferably in a cozy spot with something warm to sip on.   I’ve been periodically checking the author’s name on Amazon and in the library’s catalog ever since, hoping to find that she had published another book.  All those years of keeping her name filed in the back of my brain have paid off with the discovery that Diane Setterfield’s second novel, Bellman and Black, is finally out.  This new book promises another ghostly tale as we head into the dark and cold months of the year.

Here are other gothic tales that will keep you satisfied until you have a Diane Setterfield novel in your hands.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton begins with Edie’s quest to solve the long buried secrets surrounding her mother’s time spent at Milderhurst Castle during the Blitz.  What she finds are the Blythe sisters, the last in the family line living at the estate in Kent, whose numerous tragedies and long dead romances are tangled up with her own mother’s story.

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff tells a modern, gothic story with plenty of family secrets and delicious scandal.   Prepare to be entertained and intrigued when you sit down with this one.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is an atmospheric, suspenseful, and dark tale with memorable characters set on an eery Cornish estate overlooking the sea.  Get lost in the world of Manderley with the new Mrs. de Winter as she deals with the haunted memory of her predecessor, Rebecca.

Sean, Standley Lake Library

I despise puns, which will surprise people since I make so many of them. I chalk up my penchant to self-loathing.

Yet there’s something I hate even more than myself, and that’s a novel with a food pun in its title. These show up on the library shelves more and more. Cozy mystery authors are especially guilty. It’s like they’re all auditioning to be the guy who names those special Ben and Jerry flavors.

All the same, I understand the reasoning. Puns are catchy and the sleuths in these books are often cooks, food consultants, or caterers. Many writers even include recipes, letting readers cook whatever delights the characters make in the story. The novels are fun, well-written, and—the proof is in the pudding—very popular.

Still, it’s getting to be a bit much. Feast your eyes on the following examples:

The Butter Did It
Second Thyme Around
Murder Takes the Cake
One Foot in the Gravy
Gruel and Unusual Punishment
The Wurst is Yet to Come
Glazed Murder
The Long Quiche Goodbye
Never Say Pie
Rest in Pizza
A Good Day to Pie
Fatally Frosted
State of the Onion

And the list goes on for another 4,000 books.

One of my personal favorites is The Crepes of Wrath—which reminds me that The Grapes of Wrath works pretty well on its own. That visionary John Steinbeck saw the future of fiction titles and got in on the action early.

Perhaps if the trend continues, publishers will spice up the classics by updating their stale titles to give them that garden-fresh feel. I know I’d read Samuel Taylor Coleslaw’s “Rime of the Ancient Marinara.” And F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tenderloin is the Night just screams bestseller.

Imagine the lines on Broadway to see Eugene O’Neill’s The Icecream Man Cometh! Could bookstores keep William Faulker’s As I Lay Frying in stock? Hemingway’s The Sundae Also Rises would fly off the shelf. While we’re talking desserts, we should note the only foils found in Alexandre Dumas’ new and improved Three Musketeers will be candy bar wrappers.

Well, now I’ve done it: I’ve started punning and I can’t stop. We have a veritable cornycopia on our hands. I really hate myself right now, probably as much as you do, and we better switch topics if we’re going to stay friends.

Say, did you know the Standley Lake library has circulated like five million items this year? I think that’s a correct statistic. Then again, I might be fudging the numbers.

Sean, Standley Lake Library

Like most people, I loved being read to as a child. What are bedtime stories except the audiobook experience with the people we most love and trust acting as the narrator? At some point, we all seem hardwired to enjoy oral narratives. Maybe it harkens back to mankind’s early communes around a fire with some spellbinding bard.

But somewhere along the way I simply lost the ability to enjoy listening to stories, leaving me a bit envious of people who can absorb audiobooks while they’re driving—or exercising, for that matter. Thanks to digital downloading and Playaways, enjoying audiobooks at the gym is easier than ever. It was pretty hard to pump iron while trying to keep that Sony CD player from skipping, after all.

What’s interesting to me in light of recent technology and publishing developments is the opportunity for almost anyone to lend their voice to a story. For example, Youtube, better known for hosting millions of videos, is also a popular audiobook venue. Some of the titles are uploads from professional recordings such as Recorded Books; but others are just recordings of a person or group of people reading a book they like. These books may or may not be in the public domain—when it comes to Youtube, copyright laws get abused like a red-headed stepchild.

With even amateur recordings getting thousands of Youtube hits, it seems like there’s potential money to be made here if you can read well out loud. Audiobook narration used to be the exclusive domain of people with professional broadcast experience and equipment. But just as has helped spear-head a rise in self-publishing, their digital format allows those authors to contract for audiobook services. Companies like ACX connect freelance narrators with writers looking to have their books recorded. While some of the most popular audiobook narrators have been Hollywood voice actors, an increasing number of them are average Joes.

If you’re of a more charitable bent, you can also volunteer your vocal talents as an audiobook narrator. Librivox is always looking for volunteers to read public domain books. Closer to home, you might volunteer your talents with the Colorado Talking Book Library (CTBL), a state-funded resource that provides audiobooks on special equipment for the blind. CTBL often needs people to volunteer their time reading in a professional studio. It’s a win-win situation, as you get experience in the art of narrating audiobooks while helping needy members of the community.

So if you want to be an audiobook narrator, give it a shot and put yourself out there. Who knows, you just might be the voice that gets me listening to stories again.

Chris, Standley Lake

Love, ugh.  If there’s a more overused theme in fiction than love, then I haven’t discovered it.  Most novels focus on new love, that all-consuming stage at the beginning of a relationship when colors seem brighter, food more flavorful and the world full of boundless possibility.  The main characters get together, lose each other, find each other, and then decamp to live in an idyllic state called happily-ever-after, which is always located just beyond the book’s final page.
Hanif Kureishi writes about love, too, only his novels pick up where others leave off.  He waits until after the fireworks are over, and writes about what comes next.  His work grapples with the real stuff of commitment: compromise, tolerance, effort, and dissatisfaction—all qualities of a real-world relationship, but nothing that you’ll ever hear mentioned in ads for Valentine’s Day.

Intimacy, one of Kureishi’s early works, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of book, gone almost as soon as it begins. Weighing in at just over 100 pages, it tells of a middle-aged man’s evening at home with his wife and two young sons.  Everything proceeds normally, domestic rituals are dutifully followed, and from appearances, there would seem to be nothing to distinguish this evening from any other. But this night is different, because in the morning, when the sun is just warming the earth, this man will rise from bed, take his suitcase and leave his family forever.

Intimacy is written as an internal monologue that the man is having with himself as he lives his last day at home.  Although his plan is premeditated, his personal history intrudes, and through a series of flashbacks, the reader is given access to many past scenes from the man’s life.  We also watch how he struggles to maintain his resolve, as he struggles with his doubts and very nearly decides to scrap the whole plan.

Kureishi’s main character offers us no catharsis, no epiphanies: everything he is (and everything he’ll become) depends upon a single choice that he will make in the morning.  Nothing happens in Intimacy, but something will happen.  And the weight of that anticipation, that all-important manner in which Kureishi holds that crucial moment suspended, make Intimacy a short but important read.

Sean, Standley Lake Library

Tomorrow’s the big day! On Friday, September 20th, from 6 – 8:30 p.m. you can meet some of most engaging authors Colorado has to offer by going to the Arvada libray's Books and Bites program. Some of these writers are pretty well known already; others are gems waiting to be discovered. Many are award winners and finalists, including the four authors we’d like to introduce in our very last spotlight.

In 2013, several Colorado authors were finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards, the nation’s top prize for gay, lesbian, and transsexual literature. Two of those authors, Sean Eads and Matt Kailey, were discussed in previous spotlights. Now let’s take a closer look at the remaining Lambda finalists you can meet at Books and Bites.

Dan Stone’s first novel, The Rest of Our Lives, is a lighthearted and contemporary gay romantic fantasy featuring two male witches whose passion reincarnates century after century.  Can this enchanting pair finally succeed after so many lifetimes? Dan is also the author of a poetry collection, Tricky Serum: An Elixir of Poems, and the short fiction collection, Coming To: A Collection of Erotic and Other Epiphanies. In addition to being an author and poet, he is a photographer and college instructor and he can be reached via his website

The cartoons of Dylan Edwards (the artist occasionally known as NDR) have been published in a variety of venues, both in print and online, including his book Transposes and the Fantagraphics anthology No Straight Lines. You may remember him from such comics as his ongoing series Politically InQueerect, and his sports-themed cartoon The Outfield (published on from 2002-2009). Dylan Edwards' Transposes separates gender from sexuality and illustrates six fascinating true stories of transgender men who also happen to be queer. The result is laugh-out-loud funny, heartbreaking, challenging, inventive, informative, and invites the reader to explore what truly makes a man a man.

Jerry L. Wheeler is the editor of the Lambda Literary Award finalist Tented: Gay Erotic Tales from Under the Big Top, as well as the author of Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits, a collection of gay erotica, non-erotica, and essays, and also a Lambda finalist. He has edited three volumes of erotica for Bold Strokes Books, co-founded (with fellow author William Holden) Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews,and has completed a novel for Lethe Press called The Dead Book. Please feel free to contact him at Out in Print or his website

Kieran York’s lesbian romance novel Appointment with a Smile is a gentle delight. Romance tends to focus on characters in the prime of their life. But does romance end after middle-age? You might think so if you based your assumptions on publishing trends. Kieran’s introspective romance is a moving tribute to the power of love, the choices we make in our lives, and the possibility of starting over again. You can visit with Kieran on her website.

If you're ready to meet all of these great authors, come down to the Arvada library this Friday. See you at 6:30!



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