Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners

Written by: Therese Oneill

First line: Thank you for coming.

Why you should read this book: Despite the title, only about thirty-five percent of this book discusses sex, marriage, and manners for (wealthy, white) Victorian ladies, with the other sixty-five percent of the text comprising the author's snarky remarks about the quotes, advice, morals, and customs of nineteenth century England. Most of the information here concerning hygiene, gender roles, food, and relationships is presented with various degrees of horror from a twenty-first century perspective. Period photos and illustrations with tongue-in-cheek captions complete this comic romp crashing through the putative romance of another time and place.

Why you should not read this book: Well, I wouldn't accept it as a primacy source in a composition class.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God, & Genius in the Music of Prince

Written by: Ben Greenman

First line: The phrase is stuck in my head.

Why you should read this book: Arranged by subject rather than chronologically, this book is part biography, part musicology, part history, part analysis, and mostly every thought the author ever had about his subject matter between discovering Prince in 1982 and turning the manuscript into his publisher in 2017. The chapters are short and sweet, peppered with anecdotes, quotes, descriptions of songs, philosophy, and personal reflection, written in an astonishing voice that tosses off stunning metaphors, name drops, and digs deep for comparisons to others artists, other art, and other types of thinking. The author doesn't pull his punches, never allowing his great admiration for Prince to overwhelm the reality of his research: that Prince was both a rock god and very human, capable of ascending to great heights while still remaining prey to the foibles of being a man.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never been inspired by Prince.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Stone Butch Blues

Written by: Leslie Feinberg

First line: Dear Theresa, I'm lying on my bed tonight missing you, my eyes all swollen, hot tears running down my face.

Why you should read this book: Jess Goldberg has always known herself to be different, assigned female at birth but never fulfilling the expectations the world around her held for girls. As a teenager, Jess discovers there are other people like her, and she begins frequenting gay bars and coming to understand her identity: she is a stone butch, a woman who loves women but doesn't present in a feminine way. In the years before the Stonewall Riot, and the decades before the AIDS crisis mobilized the community, Jess suffers every violation society has to offer women like her, but learns, through the pain, how to love others and, finally, how to love herself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Violence, rape, homophobia, transphobia. It's a brutal narrative.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The First Rule of Punk

Written by: Celia C. Pérez

First line: Dad says punk rock only comes in one volume: loud.

Why you should read this book: Malú's mother always wants her to take pride in her Mexican heritage and be lovely little senorita, but Malú's dad has taught her that punk rock is everything (she can barely imagine how they were ever married and she's certainly not surprised that they're divorced), so when she learns that she and her mother are moving to Chicago for two years and leaving her dad behind, she's devastated. She's not Mexican enough for the kids in her new school, or even for the principal, and just expressing her punk rock heritage is enough to get her in trouble. When she starts her own punk band, Malú finds her voice, inspires her friends, and creates a new path where there wasn't one before.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't get why anyone would color their hair and you think all popular music is noise.

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal

Written by: G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, and VC's Joe Caramagna

First line: I just want to smell it.

Why you should read this book: Kamala is a Muslim girl who writes Avengers fan fiction and likes to smell non-halal food even though she'd never taste it, until one fateful night when she's fed up with being good and sneaks out to go to a party, where she is inexplicably accosted by three Urdu-speaking beings who are dressed like her superhero idols but who are very clearly not Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Ironman. Inexplicably, she is granted shape-shifting powers and immediately starts kicking butt as a fairly powerful but completely inexperienced superhero, which naturally has the ripple effect of eroding her relationship with family and friends, and, of course, earning her a supervillain enemy. I don't read a lot of capes and tights, and I do read a lot of stories about people who aren't white or Christian, so this book was possibly not as must as a revelation to me as it was to its intended audience, but it's a nice, fast-paced piece with interesting characters and plenty of potential.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never cared what your parents thought.

Jean and Johnny

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "I have the funniest feeling," remarked Jean Jarrett, who was drying the supper dishes while her older sister Sue washed them.

Why you should read this book: Even though her big sister begs her not to chase boys, Jean doesn't think she's doing any pursuing. After all, Johnny is the one who asked her to dance even though she wasn't even dressed up, and they would have gone on that date if his parents let him, and they did go get Cokes that one time. Jean will have to learn the hard way how to figure out if a boy really likes you or if he just likes the attention you give him for being handsome and suave.

Why you shouldn't read this book: So dated: the dancing and the sewing and the rules of engagement between boys and girls.


Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her baby-sitting job.

Why you should read this book: When you're a fifteen year old girl who's ready for heteronormative love but can't seem to summon any amount of glamor in your life, nothing could feel more spectacular than meeting a new boy in town who figures out how to call you up and ask you out after a single, awkward encounter even though you never told him your name or phone number. But merely interesting a new boy is only the beginning: now Jane has to navigate the strange world of dating, finding confidence around sharper, more experienced girls, acting like a grownup when her mother makes her dress like a child, and confronting unfamiliar foods and experiences with grace. Does Stan really like her, and do they have a beautiful future together, or is Jane destined to remain an unloved little girl for all time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It was written in 1956, so a lot of the dating norms and teenage customs will probably seem alien to modern readers.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Ellen Tebbits

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ellen Tebbits was in a hurry.

Why you should read this book: It's a quiet and sort of old-fashioned story about a girl with a terribly old-fashioned secret: in the winter, Ellen's neat and tidy mother forces her to wear long, high-necked, woolen underwear. Ellen assumes she's the only girl in the world trying to do ballet with a union suit under her dance costumes, but, in trying to hide her own secret, she learns that the new girl, Austine, shares the same terrible problem! Austine's friendship changes Ellen's life, until a bad reaction to a misunderstanding drives a terrible wedge between the two girls, leaving Ellen lonelier than ever, until she can figure out a way to make it up to her former best friend.

Why you should read this book: I'm not sure any kids today would have any idea what Ellen is talking about when she describes her winter underwear.

Ramona's World

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: Ramona Quimby was nine years old.

Why you should read this book: Finally, Ramona has a new friend, a girl who's just moved to town and likes the same shows and games as she does. Other things are changing too: she's getting used to her new baby sister, and she's watching her big sister navigate middle school. She even knows just how to deal with fourth grade romance, such as it is, and one of these days she'll even figure out spelling in this fitting end to the beloved series.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want it to be over.

Ramona Forever

Written by: Beverly Cleary

First line: "Guess what?" Ramona Quimby asked one Friday evening when her Aunt Beatrice dropped by to show off her new ski clothes and to stay for supper.

Why you should read this book: This is the one in which Ramona is mature enough to recognize that Howie's grandmother is a terribly babysitter and a reasonably third grader should not have to spend five afternoons a week with a caretaker who seriously dislikes her. With Howie's rich uncle Hobart in town and her newfound independence blossoming into a different kind of responsibility, Ramona deepens her relationship with Beezus and finds that sometimes change is good. Even if her mother is pregnant again and her aunt is getting married and moving to Alaska, Ramona can learn to adapt.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Poor Howie has to wear short pants and knee socks to the wedding.