Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shirley Jackson's The Lottery: The Authorized Graphic Adaptation

Written by: Miles Hyman

First line: Evenin' Joe.

Why you should read this book: If you thought Shirley Jackson's short story about the banality of evil was brutal in text form, just wait until you see it in full color illustration, lovingly transformed into a visual work by the author's grandson. In a small, simple town, people gather for a ritual, one so old that they have more or less lost sight of why they even perform it, although most of the old timers are certain that not repeating the horrific actions in just the way their ancestors performed them will lead to certain ruin. This graphic adaptation drives home the author's ideas about community, individualism, and the tyranny of the group.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always go with the flow.


Flocks

Written by: L. Nichols

First line: Here is the church and here is the steeple.

Why you should read this book: Although the narrator regularly prays to be "normal" and doubles down on every church-approved activity available including volunteering, Bible study, and choir, even as a little girl she knows that she is different from other people. The interior disconnect is represented here by depicting the main character as a soft, floppy rag doll with visible seams while all the other characters are drawn as more or less realistic humans. Academically talented but feeling at one with the universe only when alone in nature, she works hard for success in school and finally heads off to college, where she can openly explore the questions of gender and sexuality that have followed her since page one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never been disappointed when you looked in the mirror.


Friday, January 17, 2020

Sunny Rolls the Dice

Written by: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

First line: Are you a groovy teen?

Why you should read this book: It's the 1970s and young adolescent Sunny is constantly preoccupied with the question of how groovy she, her clothes, her hair, and her life choices might be. While she wants to look good and have the right clothes, she finds that what she's enjoying most are the weekly sessions of this weird new game called Dungeons and Dragons, where she can pretend to be a powerful fighter. But when she realizes that playing RPGs with boys isn't considered as groovy as expensive designer jeans, she has to decide what her own priorities are, and whether it's OK for her to make choices that don't align with her friends'.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think D&D is a directly transit to hell, or that girls and boys shouldn't be allowed to play together, or that your value as a friend and a human is somehow connected to how much your pants cost.


Anne of Green Gables

Written by: LM Montgomery

First line: Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard to decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

Why you should read this book: More than a hundred years after its original publication, this classic work about a precocious, imaginative, spirited orphan girl who comes to live on a farm where she is not originally wanted continues to hold great meaning for readers of all ages (a 3-season re-imagining of this novel can be viewed on Netflix under the title Anne with an E, and it surely does provide an excellent scaffolding for more modern ideas about childhood despite remaining set in the very early 1900s). Anne Shirley, an unwanted red haired child, whose head is full of books and poetry and romance, seems an unlikely addition to the Cuthbert family, which has, for decades, consisted only of laconic, tongue-tied farmer Matthew and his sharp, cold housekeeping sister, Marilla, but as it turns out, Anne's mischief is exactly what these siblings need in their old age. Whether she's unintentionally getting her best friend drunk, accidentally substituting liniment for vanilla in a cake for the minister's wife, or deliberately appearing in church wearing a heathenish quantity of wildflowers on her hat, Anne's antics continue to delight and draw in her new family and her many generations of dedicated readers. 

Why you should not read this book: You don't believe in the magic of childhood.


Parable of the Talents

Written by: Octavia E. Butler

First line: Here we are—/Energy,/Mass,/Life,/Shaping life,/Mind,/Shaping Mind,/God,/Shaping God.

Why you should read this book: Powerful, brutal, and more terrifyingly true to life than any near-future science fiction novel has any right to be, this sequel to the Parable of the Sower includes more excerpts from Olamina's Earthseed: The Books of the Living, recollections from Olamina's daughter, the writings of Olamina's husband, Bankole, and brother, Marcus, along with vast chunks from Olamina's own diaries. While prepared, always, for change, Olamina's Earthseed community cannot stand the rising tide of religious fascism sweeping the country under the rule of a radical conservative president who (frighteningly, presciently) gets elected with the campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again." Unsurprisingly, for Olamina and most of her loved ones America becomes much, much worse, but with Earthseed as a blueprint for the survival and evolution of the human race, she is able to survive the horror of "Christian America" and help humanity fulfill what she believes to be its true Destiny.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You seriously believe our actual president is actually making America "great again," but if you believe that you probably don't read much of note anyway, at least not provocative, award winning speculative fiction by African-American women.


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Year in Review, 2019

Well, I fell just a bit short of the goal of reviewing 100 books this year. In fact, I did start some picture book reviews on paper and then lost the paper and forgot about the books, and I actually have 4 unread or partially read library books on my desk, but the end of December was particularly strange this year, and here we are: 95 is also a respectable number.

The middle grade/YA number includes all those terrible Warriors books I read to my stepdaughter. (they are objectively awful, unless you are interested in a poorly written but extremely predictable feral cat-based soap opera) as well as most of the delightful Worst Witch books. The graphic novel category includes several graphic nonfiction memoirs, and comprises graphic novels written for adult, teen, and child audiences.

Here come the numbers.

Dragon's Library Year in Review, 2019

Picture books: 13
Middle grade/YA: 25
Non-fiction: 2
Novels: 14
Graphic novels: 34
Short story collections: 2
Memoir/bio: 3
Poetry: 1
Art: 1

Total: 95 books reviewed.

Happy New Year! Keep reading voraciously and indiscriminately!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Gather round, folks, gather round!!

Why you should read this book: Here is the never-before told life story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, a microcephalic individual who was sold to a sideshow manager as a child and spent nearly his entire life working as a circus freak. Schlitzie's immortality was cemented by his turn in the 1932 cult classic, Freaks, a film that decades later stirred the imagination of author Bill Griffith, inspiring his popular comic, Zippy the Pinhead (as well as the imagination of the author of this blog, some decades later). Schlitzie's story, reconstructed here through Griffith's research and in the words of those who knew him, is by turns inspiring, heartbreaking, hilarious, and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find the very idea of a freak show "loathsome, obscene, grotesque, and bizarre" and would prefer all human anomalies to be safely ensconced within the very high, very thick walls of an asylum.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Motherhood So White

Written by: Nefertiti Austin

First line: "Come on, August, grab your pullover."

Why you should read this book: When thirty-six-year-old romance author Nefertiti Austin starts noticing what she calls the "mommie-jones," her desire for children, coupled with her fears of failed relationships and her respect for the grandparents who raised her when her own parents could not rise to the task, lead her to pursue adoption. But she soon realizes that adopting a stranger's child is an uncommon notion in the Black community, and further, that there are no resources or representation for single Black adoptive mothers, and that many of the people in her social and family circles cannot understand this decision. Undaunted, she navigates the foster system, adopts a little boy (and eventually his younger sister), works through her emotions surrounding her family of origin, and decides to write this book to offer other Black women the narrative that was unavailable to her as she began her journey. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't understand why anyone would want to devote their lives to raising anybody's child, even their own.


Guts

Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Mom?

Why you should read this book: After the unfortunate night during which her entire family suffers from a stomach bug, Raina gradually develops some strange, psychosomatic tummy troubles: not just stomach aches and nausea, but a deep-seated fear of vomiting and passing gas, inexplicably linked with and exacerbated by all her adolescent insecurity. When medical science can't find a reason for her distress, her mother forces her to see a therapist, but her internal fears deepen as her obsession with her stomach, and only eating foods that will move comfortably through her body, become almost all-encompassing, affecting her schoolwork and her relationships. Meanwhile, she has to deal with the girl who doesn't like her for some reason, public speaking in class, and the prospect of her best friend moving away; only when she learns that expressing her shame and fear is healthier than bottling her discomfort up inside of herself can Raina overcome this unusual chapter in her physical history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're feeling a bit queasy.


Best Friends

Written by: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

First line: Do you want to be best friends?

Why you should read this book: Picking up soon after Real Friends leaves off, Best Friends finds Shannon, still insecure, but ready to conquer sixth grade. Jen, the most popular girl in school, is her best friend now, and Shannon mostly understands social rules and expectations, but still spends most of her life wondering if she's doing things right, or if everyone is about to turn on her because she doesn't know the right music, or the right shows, or the right dance moves. In addition, now that everyone's having puberty, there are more rules to understand about the boys who have suddenly been added to the mix, and the other girls don't seem interested in Shannon's creative life, and she still gets weird vibes from the frenemy she told off at the end of the previous book, and now her anxiety has manifest in somatic symptoms that make it even more difficult to fit in.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've spent a lot of time trying to forget the trauma of the eighties.