Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

Written by: Morgan Parker

First line: I am free with the following conditions.

Why you should read this book: This poetry is powerful and confrontational, forcing the reader to consider the world, and specifically race and sexuality, from multiple unrelenting points of view. Up-to-the-minute modern and uncompromisingly feminist, the book tightly corrals language into beautiful and acrobatic formations to demonstrate joy, pain, frustration, rage, hope, determination, and, over and over again, the place of Beyoncé in American culture. I don't read a lot of poetry and can't really critique it the way I can prose, but I can say that the way the words are strung together in this collection is intense and evocative, creating strong and meaningful images and allowing the reader a new window on the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not impressed with Beyoncé.

The Martian

Written by: Andy Weir

First line: I'm pretty much fucked.

Why you should read this book: The ultimate survival story combines a man-versus-nature trope with a hostile alien environment and just about as much science as a liberal arts major can handle as nerdy, foul-mouthed, resourceful Mark Watney survives 549 solitary sols (Martian days) on an unforgiving planet with nothing but a thumb drive of terrible sitcoms for company. Problem-solving at every turn, finding humor in the bleakest moments, nearly dying over and over, typically triumphing against the odds, and recording it all for posterity while the rest of humanity bites its nails and does what it can to help, Watney demonstrates that if anyone is going to get stranded on the red planet, it better be a botanist-engineer who's well-liked by his colleagues. As a bonus, the most ridiculous moment of the movie doesn't actually happen in this book, where it's no more than one of a thousand wisecracks Watney makes to combat the knowledge that almost everything he does could result in instantaneous death approximately one hundred and forty million miles from home.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't handle any science explanations whatsoever.

Maggie and the Pirates

Written by: Ezra Jack Keats

First line: Maggie and her parents lived in an old bus which they made into their home.

Why you should read this book: A sweet story, lushly illustrated, about a little girl whose beloved pet cricket is kidnapped by a new kid in town who doesn't know how to make friends. Maggie sets out to save her insect companion and his cool cage, but ends up saving something else. Provocative and unusual, a good story to start discussion with little ones.

Why you shouldn't read this book: More pet death.

Around the World in Eighty Days

Written by: Jules Verne

First line: Mr Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the in which Sheridan died in 1814.

Why you should read this book: There is a good-natured but pointed humor in this enduring classic tale of a stoic and unadventurous man who wagers pretty much everything he has that modern technology is sufficient to transport him and his faithful but occasionally feckless manservant around the world in a heretofore undreamed eighty days. Phileas Fogg and Passepartout employ steamers and railways, and sometimes elephants and sleds that sail on ice, in a breakneck journey, picking up along the way a beautiful Indian widow and a ruthless undercover police officer as they battle timetables, the weather, buffaloes, religion, general incompetence and willful intervention in their quest to demonstrate that a cool demeanor and almost limitless cash can solve any problem. Good fun, decent science and geography.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Brief instance of casual racism of the type not uncommon in nineteenth century British novels.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.

Why you should read this book: Voldemort is absolutely, positively, definitely back, his Death Eaters are wreaking havoc in the wizarding and muggle worlds, and Dumbledore's willing to give Harry just enough information to keep him on his toes without really understanding what's going on. Between extra-curricular activities with his favorite professor, learning to apparate, and having his best-ever year in potions (thanks to a usefully glossed second hand textbook and Snape having finally gotten his coveted Defense against the Dark Arts post), Harry's got to deal with his nagging certainty that Malfoy's a Death Eater and that people around him seem to be in slightly more than the usual amount of danger. Bad things are happening, and despite what everyone around him keeps saying, Harry's certain that it's up to him to make them stop.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Spoiler alert! Beloved pet murder.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Idiot

Written by: Elif Batuman

First line: I didn't know what email was until I got to college.

Why you should read this book: Selin, the eighteen-year-old Americanized daughter of Turkish immigrants, is academically prepared for the rigors of her first year at Harvard in 1995, but with little romantic experience, she lacks the tools to protect herself from inevitable heartache. Fascinated by an older Hungarian student named Ivan, Selim spends hours pouring her heart out over email, and poring over Ivan's responses, without fully understanding the depth of the water in which she is wading. Her trip to Hungary, ostensibly to be closer to this unattainable boy, helps her begin to understand who she is in relation to herself, others, and the world around her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in love with someone you only know on the internet and you're not interested in more experienced people's opinion on the actual viability of the relationship.

My Name Is Sangeol

Written by: Karen Lynn Williams, Khadia Mohammed, and Catherine Stuck

First line: "Don't worry, the Wise One said as Sangoel prepared to leave the refugee camp.

Why you should read this book: Sangoel, a Dinka refugee from Sudan, is immigrating to America his mother and sister. All he has in this world is his name, but nobody is this strange new country seems able to pronounce it correctly. Is Sangoel in danger of losing some part of his identity, or can he find a way to communicate to his peers how he wants to be addressed?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You gave up and let people call you by a three-letter, one-syllable Americanized nickname.

If the World Were a Village

Written by: David J Smith and Shelagh Armstrong

First line: Earth is a crowded place, and it is getting more crowded all the time.

Why you should read this book: This is an introduction to world-mindedness for children, which explains diversity and creates the narrative that we on planet Earth are all in this together, although we are not all the same. The theoretical world village thought experiment reduces the world's 7.2 billion citizens down to 100 people, each representing 72,000 individuals, and explains the breakdown of religions, ethnicity, food security, and other basic concepts based on this much smaller, more manageable number of humans. Interesting and eye-opening, even for adults, with eye-catching images that encourage interaction with the text, along with useful appendices at the end to help further interpret the data.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already working for the UN.

My Best Friend

Written by: Mary Ann Rodman & EB Lewis

First line: Today is Wednesday.

Why you should read this book: A little girl names Lily is terribly interested in a slightly older girl, Tamika, who she admired greatly and desires for best friend status. The problem is that Tamika already had a best friend, Shanice, and neither of them are interested in hanging around with younger kids. Meanwhile, an even younger girl named Keesha looks up to Lily and want would love to have her as a best friend, if she would just notice her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like anyone and you hate swimming.

Monday, March 11, 2019


Written by: RJ Palacio

First line: I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.

Why you should read this book: Auggie Pullman really hit the genetic lottery with an astonishing combination of chromosomal abnormalities that make his face anything but ordinary, which he knows, because of the way other kids run away screaming when they see him on the playground. All his life he's been sick and set apart from the world that most kids inhabit, but his mother wants him to start fifth grade with other kids his age, and Auggie lets himself be convinced that he could possibly do this one thing like a normal kid. Told in multiple points of view, including Auggie's, his sister's, his friends, and his sister's friends, this is the story of a prejudice and perseverance, torture and triumph, as Auggie navigates the real world, populated by real people, and works through his real problems.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know you'd feel better if you could just fix that little crooked part of your nose.