Monday, September 25, 2017

It's Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends

Written by: Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley

First line: Look! A hippo family!

Why you should read this book: It a fairly extensive book about bodies, sexuality, growing up, and human interaction for very young readers: the cover says "4 and up" but it's written at a level most appropriate for reading out loud to those who can't read to themselves. Although the author does not touch on trans issues in the discussion of gender, the idea of gay parents is briefly normalized in the text, as is masturbation, and the overall subject matter covers the type of questions that little kids just starting to wonder about being human might ask. The illustrations are adorable, although I found the comic addition of a bird and a bee commenting on the text a little fluffy and distracting; overall, this is a pretty good introduction, best read a little at a time to kids who are just starting to make sense of the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: For some unknowable reason, you believe it's not healthy for children to understand anything about their bodies.

Green Pants

Written by: Kenneth Kraegel.

First line: Jameson only ever wore green pants.

Why you should read this book: Like many young children Jameson's peculiar insistence on a particular lifestyle choice—in this case, only wearing green pants—is amusing and tolerable to adults, until the day the world can no longer accommodate his eccentricity. When Jameson's cousin decides to marry the most beautiful girl Jameson can imagine, he's thrilled at her request to participate in the wedding, with on hitch: he'll have to wear a black tuxedo. After a crisis of monumental proportions, Jameson finds a way to stay true to himself while conforming to society's standards.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in the process of shaming a young child out of any personality quirks that might differentiate them from other humans.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Last Look

Written by: Charles Burns

First line: This is the only part I'll remember.

Why you should read this book: The X'ed Out trilogy is collected here in one volume, which is good news for readers, because I can't imagine how frustrating it must have been to read this story in pieces without its conclusion. It's the kind of book where you're trying to piece the story together right up until the last couple pages, when all the threads comes together, and then you have to start again at the beginning so you can read it and understand it at the same time. Our protagonist, Doug, seems trapped in his relationships in the real world even as he bounces over and over again back to a hallucinatory nightmare landscape that mirrors his deepest fears with cunning distortion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can pinpoint the exact moment in your life when everything went wrong and you can't stop reliving it. 

Kill My Mother

Written by: Jules Feiffer

First line: And now for your listening pleasure—Miss Ginger Rogers singe her new hit from her new musical, "The Gold Diggers!"

Why you should read this book: Cartooning legend Jules Feiffer showcases his slapdash drawing style and his in-depth knowledge of human nature in this hard-boiled graphic novel, a murder mystery that twists and turns and romps through history until it reaches its beautiful, satisfying, unexpected conclusion. The lives of five determined women intersect in surprising ways, driven by lies, secrets, betrayals, family, and love. A joyous, funny, deep, and intelligent drama that reminds the reader what human beings are really like, on the surface and behind their veils.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't stomach too much murder.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Westing Game: A Puzzle Mystery

Written by: Ellen Raskin

First line: The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east.

Why you should read this book: This is the kind of story that's best enjoyed if you don't really have any idea what's going on and only figure out the details as the characters reveal them: a murder mystery with more twists than a pretzel factory. A reportedly unpleasant industrialist, Sam Westing, dies under unusual circumstances, having previously gathered sixteen potential heirs of all ages and from all walks of life, who are then pitted against each other to find his killer and inherit his two hundred million dollar fortune. Nothing is as it seems, and, according to Westing's will, the information they don't have is more important than the information they do have.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're easily confused and don't enjoy it.

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Written by: Anne Frank

First line: On Friday, June 12th, I woke up at six o'clock and no wonder; it was my birthday.

Why you should read this book: The first time I read this book, I was much younger than Anne, probably about seven or eight, as Jewish parents begin their children's education about the Holocaust pretty young, and I was a voracious reader, and I have read it dozens of times over the years. This time, I shared it with my twelve-year-old stepdaughter, and got to see Anne's world fresh through another pair of eyes. This story of a thoughtful adolescent who died believing that people were basically good, despite all the terror and hardship she encountered during World War II, should be required reading for every young person, and quite a few adults.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a Nazi, in which case you should also get off my page and go think about what you've done and how your xenophobic, self-centered beliefs make the world a more terrible place, and then, when you get your head on straight enough to realize that fascism and white supremacy are objectively not OK, you should come back and read this book.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return

Written by: Zeina Abirached

First line: A song I used to love in 1969 asks what war is good for.

Why you should read this book: The war in Lebanon has shrunk little Zeina's childhood home in Beirut until the entire building decides that her apartment's foyer is the only safe place during the nightly bombardments. One night, her parent go out to visit her grandmother and, as the evening wears on, the parents do not return. Meanwhile, all her neighbors arrive to care for the children, socialize, and help create an atmosphere of safety in the face of fear.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't feel safe and you're leaving.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities

Written by: Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt

First line: Many people dream of living an open sexual life—of having all the sex and love and friendship they want.

Why you should read this book: While directed to those who are interested in the underlying philosophy and real life practice of polyamory, this book is an intelligent read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of human sexuality and human nature. Make no mistake: there are human beings right now who enjoy all the sex and love and friendship they want, without lying, cheating, or hurting others, meaning that, if this is what you want and you don't have it, the only thing holding you back is you, and The Ethical Slut could be the catalyst that helps you reach your happy destination. Admittedly, I read this book after many years of painfully figuring out all the details on my own, but it's a powerful resource no matter what stage of your sexual journey you've reached.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like sex, love, or friendship.

The End

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: If you have ever peeled an onion, then you know that the first thin, papery layer reveals another thin, papery layer, and layer reveals another, and another , and before you know it you have hundreds of layers all over the kitchen table and thousands of tears in your eyes, sorry that you ever started peeling in the first place and wishing that you had left the onion alone to wither away on the shelf of your pantry while you went on with your life, even if that meant never again enjoying the complicated and overwhelming taste of this strange and bitter vegetable.

Why you should read this book: At long last, the chronicles of the strangely parabolic lives of the Beaudelaires draws to a close, as their childhoods resolve into a strange and ambiguous quasi-adulthood and the drama of the real world creeps into the island where they'd hope to find shelter. Violet, Sunny, and Klaus find some answers, some secrets from the past, and some more questions, and begin to articulate their understanding of human nature (or at least Lemony Snicket's view of human nature) while once again working against the odds in life or death situations. Metaphors made concrete, secret libraries, genetically modified apples, and the work of Phillip Larkin appear woven throughout the narrative as this series comes to its inevitable, and perhaps less unfortunate than might be expected, end.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You really can't jump in en media res here. Read the first 12 books in order before you crack this one open.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Penultimate Peril

Written by: Lemony Snicket

First line: Certain people have said that the world is like a calm pond, and that anytime a person does even the smallest thing, it is as if a stone has dropped into the pond, spreading circles of ripples further and further out, until the entire world has been changed by one tiny action.

Why you should read this book: Having decided once and for all to take their destinies into their own hands and stop waiting and hoping for the adults around them to make the correct decisions, the Baudelaires are now free to misinterpret the data and make bad decisions on their on behalf, just like adults. At the heart of the VFD schism, holed up in the Hotel Denouement with dozens of volunteers and villains, the siblings struggle to discern friend from foe and serve a higher cause, with strikingly disappointing results. Old friends and enemies come together to prove that, even inside a library, nothing is knowable and even the very best of intentions can go awry.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You subscribe to the quaint notion that all villains should be easily recognized and without redeeming or attractive qualities, because the line between good and evil is vast and without confusion.