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Local authors inspire turning off TV, enjoying Portland's bridges

Two new books are night-and-day different except for one thing - they were written by authors who, if you live in Hillsdale, may reside just down the street or around the corner.

They share one other thing: They are absolute delights.

There the similarities end. The topics are as different as Portland's bridges are from television addiction, which happen to be what these books are about.

The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying

to Raise a TV-Free Kid

In a quirky, funny, beguiling account, Ellen Currey-Wilson has chronicled her struggle to break her pathological TV addiction to protect her son from the same video plague. As someone immersed in the ever-growing media literacy movement, I've read just about every book on the perils of screen addiction. Alas, they have all been humorless, though interesting, tomes - until Ellen's brand-new novelistic, biographical romp about escaping TV's 'vast wasteland.'

Set in Hillsdale, the book serves up characters that are us, sort of. Ellen has some fine print boiler plate right above the ISBN number that cautions: 'To protect the privacy of people mentioned in this book, characters have been combined and situations disguised, and certain names, places and other identifying characteristics have been changed.'

So you aren't supposed to be able to identify the characters you meet by name, but they sure do seem familiar. A couple years ago I got Ellen involved in forming a group of moms who were (and still are) trying to get a handle on the myriad screens in their kids' lives. And sure enough, some facsimile of me, or at least my invitation to Ellen, is on the closing pages.

Ellen's morphing of people and events gives her generous license to reveal the mad and maddening dynamics of trying to raise children in a media-saturated world.

If I had to guess, women, particularly young moms, are going to devour this book. I'm drawn into it for two reasons. First, 'The Big Turnoff' is a hilarious, wry take on a deadly serious problem. Second, as a dad who, to this day, regrets not getting a handle on screen time with my now-adult child, I admire Ellen's courage in fighting off Game Boys and Xboxes.

In April, Ellen will talk about her book at two local public events. She'll be at Rieke Elementary School at 9:15 a.m. (yes, that's 'a.m.'), Tuesday, April 10 and her talk will be, 'Kids and the Media: Alternatives to the electronic baby sitter.' She will also present at Annie Bloom's Books Tuesday, April 24, at 7 p.m. The latter talk will mark TV Turnoff Week, April 23-29. Put Ellen's talk and the entire week on your calendar!

The Portland Bridge Book, 3rd Edition

Sharon Wood Wortman's stunning, large-format book is a graceful, loving homage to and celebration of old civic friends who assist us daily with little or no appreciation. Sharon's book entices us to stop and consider 15 fascinating Portland area bridges, each with its own character and strengths, whether mechanical, historical or aesthetic.

The photos and design of the 9 1/2 inch-by-12 inch book are appropriately worthy of the subject. Once you explore these pages, you will forever see our bridges as the sculpture and achievements they are. The old photos, particularly those showing the bridges under construction, underscore the monumental and vital changes the bridges have brought about. The new architectural drawings in this edition are a feast of meticulous detail.

Sharon's insights also enrich our perceptions of the spans. I particularly appreciated her comment about the much derided 'erector set' I-5 Marquam Bridge. 'Motorists who thought the new bridge wasn't much to look at discovered that it was impressive to look from….' How often we slow, at our peril, in the towering sweep of this monstrosity - the most used bridge in the state - to take in the view.

Sharon's knowledge (She's come to be known as 'Portland's Bridge Lady') carries the Marquam story a step farther. The ugliness of the bridge's design so riled the Portland Art Commission that it insisted on having the final say about the next bridge built. And that is how the Fremont Bridge became the graceful beauty it is. But as Sharon points out, 'aesthetics are not cheap: The Fremont Bridge and its approaches cost about six times as much as Marquam's main span.'

A final note: Sharon met her husband, Ed Wortman, through her love of Portland's bridges. Ed, you see, is a bridge engineer, and in this edition, in addition to lending technical advice, he has written a chapter addressing, in layman's terms, two topics we all would do well to consider: How and why bridges are built.

Rick Seifert is the founding editor of The Connection and has recently started The Red Electric Web site (theredelectric.blogspot.com). He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-245-7821.