Category Archives: Books

Hedgehogging our bets on book club

A European hedgehog, which is bigger than an African hedgehog./Wikimedia Commons

By Laura Grimes

Book Club is coming. Book Club is coming.

And it’s coming to my house.

I never thought I was a Book Club person. I love the idea of a gathering of people for the primary reason of discussing a book, but I chafe at the thought of being told what to read, spending hours on a book that I didn’t pick, and facing a deadline to finish reading something when I prefer to just enjoy it as a leisurely hobby. And then there’s the looming threat to be disciplined about finishing a book. The dreaded D word.

But a funny thing … I developed a liking for these people. I thought I would have Book Club Commitment Issues (like George Clooney), but I’ve grown so … so … attached.

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In his old age: Deemer at 3:17 a.m.

By Bob Hicks

So this is the way it gets.

Lying in bed awake

at 3:17 a.m.

my wife’s heavy breathing

the weight of the dog on my leg

I am visited by the ghosts

of past mistakes

and dance to a symphony

of regrets

I wouldn’t change a thing

This is who I am

counting my blessings

in the dark morning

320That’s Portland writer Charles Deemer’s poem The Bottom Line, from his new collection In My Old Age, just out from Round Bend Press. Those of you who follow Deemer’s bracing, political, personal, sometimes crotchety blog The Writing Life II will remember a while back when poems started poking out, almost on their own, as if demanding voice among the general background noise of sports rants and teaching woes and struggling with scripts and ramming one’s head against the broad national venality and extolling the virtues of a simple cup of coffee and a good plate of scrapple in the morning. Old men, Deemer has discovered to his delight, get to say and do pretty much what they like, or at least what they’re still capable of saying and doing. This book is the result of that irascible fit of creativity, and I, for one, am happy for it.

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Neon Panic: Crime of the symphony

By Martha Ullman West

I have had an addiction to detective stories (and coffee, I confess) since I was fourteen years old, when I read Agatha Christie late into the night, using a flashlight, in my dormitory room at the Quaker boarding school I loved.

booktransWe sometimes had interesting vespers speakers on Sunday evenings, and in my junior year Rex Stout, whose daughter was a year ahead of me, was invited to come and talk about world federalism. The author of the immensely popular Nero Wolfe series of mysteries took one look at the drowsy teenagers draped over their desks in the big study hall and decided to wake us up by telling us how to write a mystery story. There were diagrams, there were rules, there were myriad complexities to the craft.

I thought of that while I was reading Neon Panic: A Novel of Suspense (400 pages, $14,95, Vantage Point Books), by Charles Philipp Martin, a Seattle writer who lived for many years in Hong Kong, the setting for his first novel. It’s a good, well-paced, carefully plotted read, with interesting if somewhat one-dimensional characters and a fascinating mise en scene he knows well, and he’s to be commended for it.

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PDX weekend: embarrassment of riches

  • 25 candles for First Thursday
  • BodyVox leans horizontally
  • William Hurt and Harold Pinter duke it out
  • Wordstock throws a bookapalooza
  • Oregon Arts Watch puts on a show (times three)
  • A double feature at Oregon Ballet Theatre
  • Portland Open Studios’ peek behind the scenes

By Bob Hicks

Good lord, what a weekend. Used to be, a person who really tried could actually keep up with significant cultural happenings in Puddletown. Kiss those days goodbye. Portland’s grown up (in a lot of ways, anyway) and we’ve entered pick-and-choose time. You’ll never catch everything worth catching, so pick what looks most intriguing to you and resign yourself to missing out on some good stuff. Even Don Juan can’t sample all the pleasures in the pantry.

A few ideas:

Tom Prochaska, "So Much To Do," oil on canvas, 66" x 88", 2011. Courtesy Froelick Gallery.Tom Prochaska, So Much To Do, Froelick Gallery

Tonight is First Thursday, the mainline Portland galleries’ monthly art hop, and it happens to be the 25th anniversary of the first art walk, in October 1986. Kelly House has this story in this morning’s Oregonian about how First Thursday and the Pearl District grew together, and I have this rundown (partial, as always), also in The Oregonian, of highlights of the October visual art scene. Personal tip: If you have business in Salem, or a free day for a short trip, the double-header of Italian Renaissance drawings from the Maggiori Collection and 22 prints from Georges Rouault’s Miserere et Guerre series at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art is well worth the visit.


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The new arrival lands on the doorstep

By Bob Hicks

Cover image, "Beth Van Hoesen: Catalogue Raisonne of Limited-Edition Prints, Books and Portfolios," Hudson Hills PressThe new baby arrived the other day, and it’s a whopper: 12.2 inches long, 10.3 inches across, almost 2 inches thick and 8.5 pounds. It came after a labor so long you don’t want to contemplate it, but when it finally arrived it came out handsome and beautifully illustrated.

Coffee tables across America have been put on alert: Brace yourselves. The new kid’s big.

Beth Van Hoesen: Catalogue Raisonné of Limited-Edition Prints, Books, and Portfolios has just been published by Hudson Hills Press, in association with the Oakland Museum of California, Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin, and the University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames.

Van Hoesen, who died late last year at age 84, was a longtime San Francisco artist who specialized in printmaking, taking as her subject the small things of life: animals, insects, flowers, babies, fruits and vegetables, dolls, portraits. She also drew and made prints of a lot of nudes — a portfolio of her male nudes was one of the first projects published by the Bay Area’s fabled Crown Press — and completed a little-known but highly intriguing series of portraits of people from the punk scene in San Francisco’s Castro District, near the old firehouse where Van Hoesen and her husband, the tapestry designer and watercolorist Mark Adams, lived and worked for close to 50 years. Physical veracity was extremely important to her, and in the best of her work that attention to truthfulness was much more than skin-deep.

I wrote what became the catalogue’s lead essay, Becoming Perfect, which is primarily about Van Hoesen’s drawings, both finished pieces and preparatory drawings for her hundreds of prints. In the end, her work is really about the magic of the line, and getting it right.

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Le Carré for kids: Parry at the Berlin Wall

By Bob Hicks

“Tuesday, May 22, 1990,” Rosanne Parry heads the first chapter of her newest novel. “West Berlin.”

Rosanne Parry's newest. Cover illustration Blake Morrow; jacket design Heather Palisi.Like a lot of writers, Parry just picks her scene and throws you right into the middle of it. Ah. Berlin. Nineteen-Ninety. Scant months after the jubilant tearing-down of the Wall.

Feels like yesterday — except that for the vast majority of Parry’s readers it wasn’t yesterday, it was before they were born, and so it might as well be a tale of the Peloponnesian War: it’s all ancient, and it’s all brand new.

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Bronc bustin’ the Code of the West

Buffalo Bill circus poster, ca. 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C./Wikimedia Commons

By Bob Hicks

So it’s happened. Oregon’s House of Representatives has officially endorsed the Code of the West, a business opportunity ridin’ hard out of the hills of Texas into the hearts of legislators from Cheyenne to Salem. A trademarked moral compass, as it were, ready-made for tryin’ times. Keep ‘er simple. Keep ‘er pure. And please buy the book.

Before the Code becomes part of Oregon law, the state Senate must also consider the bill. Bet on its passing. In tough times, this is quick and easy symbolism, roughly on the order of naming an official state lizard or proclaiming State Barleycorn Growers Appreciation Day. And basically as harmless, although the Code has whomped up a bit of consternation among people who point out that the settler ethic didn’t work out so well for, say, the native Americans who were here before the place was called the West. Or the Chinese and Japanese settlers who made the mistake of thinking they were free to carve out lives of their own on the frontier. Or the black families legislated brusquely elsewhere by Oregon’s strict exclusion laws.

Still. That was then and this is now. The cowboy code, if historically imperfect and a tad romanticized (and isn’t all history imperfect and much of it romanticized?) is not a perversely unreasonable document. It appeals to the virtues of good old-fashioned common sense. It’s also considerably shorter, easier to understand, and vastly more entertaining than the Oregon State Building Code. By comparison, the Code of the West is downright literature.

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Tonight: first time for a First Time

By Bob Hicks

It’s astounding to remember, but there was a time not too many years ago when seeing almost any sort of theater in Portland was a west-side-only affair.

Sandy Plaza, home of Triangle Productions' new Sanctuary theater space.Mr. Scatter recalls an east side cabaret space on Northeast Broadway between 14th and 15th, on the block where Peet’s Coffee is, and another cabaret on lower Hawthorne, around 20th, where people like Bonnie Raitt and the Flying Karamazov Brothers used to perform before they got famous. The old Sylvia’s Italian Restaurant on Northeast Sandy had a popular dinner theater operation for a while, and of course the legendary Storefront Theatre got its start in a little hole in the wall on North Russell. Maybe we’re missing something, but not much.

With the likes of Profile, Milagro, Portland Playhouse, Defunkt, Portland Story Theatre and a lot of others setting up on the east side, that’s deep history now. As big slices of the restaurant scene and even the gallery scene have crossed the bridges to the east in the past few years, so has a significant chunk of the city’s performance scene, and for some of the same reasons: cheaper overhead and proximity to audiences. Turns out, quite a few west siders don’t mind venturing across the river, and lots of east siders like not having to go downtown to see a show.

Now Triangle Productions, which has performed all over town since it began in 1989 and was an original partner in the Theater! Theatre! complex on Southeast Belmont, has a new home on East Burnside Street. Called the Sanctuary, it’s in an old commercial building called Sandy Plaza at 1785 N.E. Sandy Boulevard. We haven’t been inside the building, but Triangle producer Don Horn calls it a padded pew-style theater with seating for 100 to 200, a good capacity for intimate theater.

And tonight the Sanctuary gets an audience for the first time. Appropriately, the show is the Northwest premiere of Ken Davenport‘s small Off-Broadway show My First Time, about lots of people’s memories of their introduction to what used to be called carnal knowledge. Davenport also was producer of the hit comedy Altar Boyz.

Showtimes are 7:30 Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 27. However it turns out, Portland’s east side has a new theater space. And sometimes the first time’s the charm.

OBOB: It’s all about the stories

Oregon Battle of the BooksBy Laura Grimes

Oregon Battle of the Books didn’t disappoint. It was nerve-wracking. And it wasn’t just me.

After the Ninja Unicorns’ sudden-death face-off among three teams for the eighth and final position to move on to the elimination rounds in the regional competition, I poked a dad who graduated from the Naval Academy.

“Tell me that didn’t get to you.”

“Are you kidding? Of course it did.” He slouched all his muscles as if to show the staggering weight. “I’ve been trying to be restrained. I’ve been calling my wife constantly to give her updates.”

I overheard one adult say to another, “I had no idea this could be so intense.”

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Books and the greater share of honour*

Go Ninja Unicorns! Kick book! (Image courtesy of the Small Large Smelly Boy, 2011, color marker)By Laura Grimes

Today is the big regional competition for Oregon Battle of the Books. As we say in the Scatter household: Go Ninja Unicorns! Kick book!

The Small Large Smelly Boy has been reading and studying for months. Really, the plotting for this competition started a year ago when the team lost a late-round nail-biting battle at regionals by, well, a hangnail. It was a heart-breaking defeat, made more so because they had given the right answer. But they had to prove it. In an official challenge, after two minutes, they were off by two pages. The other team got to advance to the next round. That’s just the way it goes, though it turned my head about how a quiet, erudite book competition could be incredibly thrilling.

A year ago, we had to drive to (hell and gone) Estacada (motto: “We’re in the boondocks … just keep driving”). I was simply the schlepper. Water, lunch, reading material — I was good to go all day. I was happy to support my kid and all his hard work, but I didn’t take it too seriously.

Then the competitions started.

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