Sunday, December 30, 2007

Paul Has a Summer Job

Author: Michel Rabagliati

First line: In the summer of '79 I was working as an apprentice in a downtown print shop.

Why you should read this book: It's a coming of age story about Paul, artistically talented but an academic failure, and his unexpected job at an overnight camp for disadvantaged children the summer after he drops out of school. From an unhappy, self-absorbed kid who can hardly take his campers' jibes about his bushy eyebrows let alone his teammate's criticism, he grows into a confident young man, experiencing all the requisite young-man-coming-of-age-at-summer-camp milestones. The art is slightly goofy, but the characters and the plot are deep, rich, and compelling.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You shudder to think about what teenagers do alone at a secluded lake with unlimited access to beer.

Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.

Author: Jeremy Leven

First line: What can I tell you?

Why you should read this book: When a slightly genius, periodically insane physicist ponders the problem of Einstein's unified theory, he accidentally builds a computer that allows Satan to manifest inside its metal hull, and Satan, finding himself on Earth, decides to avail himself of a little psychotherapy to resolve his issues of anger toward God. By turns blackly hysterical and blackly depressing, the story centers on Sy Kassler (just some poor schmuck, in Satan's estimation), who has lived his life full of optimism that he can somehow help people, and that his own problems with others could be solved just by caring. Sex, murder, betrayal, love, family, and hatred are all deconstructed in a comic-ridiculous and thesis-brilliant novel about the human condition.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take the concept of evil very seriously and you're damn sure you're not to blame for any of it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Girl Genius Book One: Agatha Heterodyne and the Beetleburg Clank

Authors: Phil and Kaja Foglio

First line: Transylvania Polygnostic University students who read sensationalistic novels when they should be studying or conducting important research will all be familiar with the exploits of the legendary Agatha Heterodyne.

Why you should read this book: In a somewhat messy and slightly magical steampunk universe, the clumsy Agatha Clay is a hapless lab assistant, unaware of her illustrious origins. On a day that just keeps getting better, she is robbed of an heirloom locket, her only link to her parents, after which she is late for work, where her kindly mentor is murdered during an inspection from the menacing Baron Wulfenbach. As Agatha's true powers begin to reveal themselves, the Baron kidnaps our unconscious heroine for what are surely nefarious purposes to be revealed in Book Two.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are looking for something more in line with Foglio's Xxxenophile series. This story contains nothing sexier than a couple of Transylvanian soldiers ogling the unconscious Agatha in a pair of reasonably modest pajamas.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Author: Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman

First line: The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning.

Why you should read this book: It was almost King's first published novel, and its intelligent examination of adolescent pressures and social relationships creates a dynamic picture of the motives for school shootings that predates Columbine by thirty years. Never mind Charlie Decker's classic Oedipal complex, the great fun here is in watching the hierarchy among his hostages unwind as they allow him to deconstruct their facades and confront their reality. A strange, dangerous, angry, sad, realistic book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've been taking your father's gun to school lately, just in case.

Apt Pupil

Author: Stephen King

First line: He looked like the total all-American kid as he pedaled his twenty-six-inch Schwinn with the apehanger handlebars up the residential suburban street, and that's just what he was: Todd Bowden, thirteen years old, five-feet-eight and a healthy one hundred and forty pounds, hair the color of ripe corn, blue eyes, white even teeth, lightly tanned skin marred by not even the first shadow of adolescent acne.

Why you should read this book: Three of the four novellas in Stephen's King's Different Seasons were made into movies; two of them were popular and successful films, and then there was Apt Pupil, frightening in a personal way that does not readily translate to the big screen. When a bright young boy with a penchant for World War II history discovers a Nazi war criminal living down the street, he blackmails the older man into recounting, in minute, nuanced detail, all the horrors of the Holocaust. There is no supernatural horror lurking here, just the unfathomable chasms of the human mind, and all the unspeakable poisons that can be buried there, or planted.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You tend to glorify serial killers.

Karate Girl

Author: Mary Leary

First line: My brother, Eli, can be a pain sometimes, but I am patient with him.

Why you should read this book: Frustrated with her inability to help her little brother handle a group of bullies, a young girl listens to her best friend and begins attending karate class. Along with meditation, katas, blocks, punches, and kicks, she also learns self-confidence, and the lesson that karate is not to be used to show off or pick fights, but rather as a last resort, when fighting is unavoidable. With her new skills, she uses nonviolent confrontation to handle the bullies, and explains, "when you bow to the universe, the universe bows back."

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think violence solves everything.

Before I Was Your Mother

Author: Kathryn Lansky

First line: You know, I wasn't always your mother.

Why you should read this book: A sensible-looking mother tells her active little girl about her own childhood, when she used to roller skate, dance on garbage can lids, and sleep in her fireman's boots, reminding the readers that all adults were once children, with children's interesting and proclivities. The lovely illustrations are enhanced by the artist's use of mixed media, using watercolor and ink for the bulk of the drawings, which are brought further to life with the addition of collage material: real denim for the mother's overalls, along with other fabrics and newspaper scraps for a wonderful three-dimensional effect. Although simple in scope, it is the sort of information that excites young ones who are just starting out in the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were born middle-aged and expect children to act like very short adults.


Author: Bob Hartman

First line: Once upon a time, in a Happy Hidey Hole, there lived the three sweetest rabbits on Misty Mountain Meadow--Cuddlemop, Sweetsnuffle, and Pretty--and their cousin Grumblebunny.

Why you should read this book: With tongue firmly in cheek, Grumblebunny recounts the adventures of three rabbits who are sweet and adorable to the point of idiocy, and their realistic, pessimistic cousin, who uses his terrible personality to save them, against their will, from being made into rabbit stew just when they were really enjoying their nice, hot, steamy bath. With over-the-top caricatures that exaggerate the internal qualities of the players and great read-aloud dialog, this is a picture book that defies the conventions of the genre and will entertain both curmudgeons and optimists. A real crowd-pleaser, and an antidote to saccharine children's literature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd just stay in bed and let your cousins be eaten.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dragon's Library

Today marks the the one-year anniversary of this blog, and, being human, I find it interesting to do a year-end review with tallies and trends.

167=total number of books reviewed

59 picture books
24 novels
23 nonfiction books
18 YA/children's lit
10 plays
9 memoirs
9 short story collections
7 reference books
4 collections of myths and legends
2 graphic novels
1 poetry collection
1 book I just can't classify

Granted, there are plenty of reference books that I consulted but did not blog, as well as some YA novels too shameful to admit reading and a handful of other books I did not write about for one reason or another, but this really is the reading year in review. Pleased with the outcome of this experiment in terms of what I learned from keeping a reading log, I feel the $6.74 in revenue generated by this site in 12 months is just icing on the cake.

Happy New Year! Thanks for reading.

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior

Author: Temple Grandin

First line: People who aren't autistic always ask me about the moment I realized I could understand the way animals think.

Why you should read this book: Grandin reframes our understanding of animal intelligence by translating the hyperspecific nature of autistic perception to a theory of animal understanding, which she has successfully put to work over several decades in the meat-packing industry. Her explanations of behavior and intelligence, both animal and human, are backed up with lots of scientific research as well as first and second hand anecdotes. Her primary focus being to help animals lead better lives, she summarizes her work at the end with behavior and training troubleshooting guide to help human understand why animals will exhibit negative behavior and how to make environmental changes that will teach positive responses.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not good at thinking, and it makes you jealous to hear that animals are.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story

Author: Eve Bunting

First line: It was nice in our village. Till the night in October when the soldiers came.

Why you should read this book: Serious, heart-rending, and a little bit scary, this children's book explains the hardships of refugees from a Caribbean island seeking asylum in America, from the viewpoint of a small child forced to leave his home and possessions in the dead of night. Along with his family and neighbors, he boards a small, crowded fishing boat and spends many harrowing, hungry, thirsty days at sea before finding welcome through the dry feet policy. For readers of all ages, a story to remind us of the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're an anti-immigration jerk who prefers to pretend that your ancestors didn't immigrate to an occupied land in search of a better life.

Who Wants a Dragon?

Author: James Mayhew

Quote: "A dragon is much more fun than a cat."

Why you should read this book: It creeps up just to the edge of almost-too-cute and then stops right there. In rhyming couplets, the author details the plight of a lonely, lumpy red dragon and all the reasons various people refuse to take it in, despite the natural superiority of dragons to any other sort of pet. The conclusion is a natural solution, reminding us all who really loves us best.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid your cat will get jealous.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Can't Sit Still

Author: Karen E. Lotz

First line: autumn in the city

Why you should read this book: In dynamic, poetic verse, a dynamic little girl whizzes her way through four seasons in a city where cats and rooftops and front stoops serve as a backdrop for an active and curious child's imagination. The narrator plays in the snow and the fire hydrant (depending on the season) with a delight equal to that which she approaches her chores. Bright mixed-media illustrations convey a sense of cheerful movement matching the writing's tone.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're enraged by children who can't stay in their seats.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sonoran Desert Wildflowers

Author: Richard Spellenberg

First line: This guide is designed for the identification of wildflowers and shrubs and trees with showy flowers from the Sonoran Desert north of Mexico, an area covering much of southeastern California and southern Arizona.

Why you should read this book: The introduction puts it pretty succinctly, and you certainly could use it as a guide to identify Sonoran wildflowers; that was my intended purpose, anyway, but once I got it home, I became much more interested in reading it to see common names like "yellow-throat monkeyflower," "hoary tansy-aster," and "rosy desert-beard tongue," along with scientific descriptions like "densely glandular-hairy." Overall, it's a neat little book with full-color photographs for every species, detailed physical descriptions, and lots of interesting extra information, sometimes lyrical and lovely. Organized by color, the guide is easy to use, fun to read, and includes a glossary, an index, and an additional reading list.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You neither want to identify wildflowers of the Sonoran Desert nor amuse yourself by reading bizarre plant names.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Free to Be You and Me

Conceived by: Marlo Thomas

First line: There's a land that I see where the children are free and I say it ain't far to this land from where we are.

Why you should read this book: In the 33 years since the publication of this groundbreaking children's anthology, the world has begun creeping toward equality, but negative gender stereotypes still abound, and more than ever, young people need reliable sources of information to combat the inaccurate depictions of male and female roles with which they are bombarded every day. Full of songs, poems, pictures, and stories, Free to Be You and Me creates a safe world in which children are allowed, expected, and encouraged to be children, as they are, rather than conform to a particular and arbitrary cultural ideal. Big names like Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, and Judith Viorst contributed to this remarkable and enduring book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You and your children have moved past the basic issues in this book and spend your free time campaigning for the rights of transgendered folks.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Annotated Alice

Author: Lewis Carroll, with notes by Martin Gardner

First line: Let it be said at once that there is something preposterous about an annotated Alice.

Why you should read this book: Lewis Carroll, an Oxford don with a predilection for mathematical riddles and a happy talent for poetic parody, wrote layers of meaning into the Alice books. At the same time, readers have imposed their own reality on the stories, and this book helps demystify the secrets the author may or may not have meant to impart as he wove sense into nonsense and vice versa. Explained here are the literary predecessors of multiple references, the bases of jokes about historical and cultural memes of the time, and even the workings of the real life chess game that takes place in the second book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You revel in nonsense.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Herb Book

Author: John Lust

First line: A summer's day in the rolling foothills of New Jersey's Ramapo Mountains...lacy mist shimmers above a lake of polished silver...dew listens with new light on thick meadow grass, plants, and bushes.

Why you should read this book: You'll never need another book about herbal remedies if you've got a copy of this comprehensive reference. More than five hundred herbs are described in detail, along with lists of medical properties, recipes for herbal cures, and line illustrations for every species. Easy to navigate, with multiple indices, and plenty of great information about identification, harvesting, and other uses for and trivia about herbs, this is an incredibly useful book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are partial to invasive medicine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity

Author: Eugene Linden

First line: As I sit here, poised to write an amusing story about ape intelligence, a squirrel peers down at me from a branch in the oak tree growing in my backyard outside my office window.

Why you should read this book: In his second book about animal intelligence, journalist Eugene Linden brings together a thought-provoking collection of anecdotes contributed by zookeepers, researchers, and animal lovers, coupled with hard scientific fact, to create a picture of how and why smart animals think. From octopuses communicating their disdain for spoiled shrimp to orangutans with a happy talent for escape artistry, the creatures in this book all appear to use reason and emotion, to communicate with humans, their own species, and other species they come across, and to satisfy their own needs via their own brains. Despite the caution that none of this evidence can satisfy the stringent requirements of modern scientists, this book makes a stunning argument for the belief that humans are not alone in the ability to think, lie, use language and tools, or empathize with the less fortunate.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe you have a divine right of dominion over creatures, which are put on earth to feed, serve, or amuse you.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Author: Carson McCullers

First line: In this town there were two mutes, and they were always together

Why you should read this book: In a small town in the deep south, sometime before America’s entry in World War II, John Singer, a deaf-mute, is separated from his best friend and finds himself the object of love and curiosity from town that imbues his confused silence with pithy understanding and imparts to him the secrets of its heart. The characters who attach themselves to him, financially impoverished but spiritually brimming over with dreams and passion, are all outcasts in their own way, and yet set firmly in their own roles within the community. This intense novel weaves a tapestry of fine threads, pulled taut, to create a complete, complex picture of men and women moving through an exterior world they cannot control while carrying almost unbearably heavy inner worlds along with them.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You expect everyone to live happily ever after.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots?

Author: Carmela LaVigra Coyle

First line: Mommy, do princesses wear hiking boots?

Why you should read this book: In rhyming couples, a girl asks her mother about princesses and receives positive, affirming answers with no gender expectations. An excellent book for a generation of girls caught between the conflicting messages of girl power and princess culture, the story demonstrates that a girl's inherent feminity is in no way compromised by being active, helpful, and human. The final page's mirrored surface confirms that princess is a place within us all.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a member of the British Royal family and you're sick and tired of having your personal life scrutizined by tabloids.

I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem

Author: Jamie Lee Curtis & Laura Cornell

First line: I'm gonna like me when I jump out of bed, from my giant big toe to the braids on my head.

Why you should read this book: One of the few celebrity-authors who actually writes book that would be published were she not a movie star, Curtis has penned another fabulous picture book that speaks to kids in a respectful and intelligent way, but remains playful and silly as it instructs. The book advocates maintaining positive feelings whether or not a kid has succeeded, and paints pictures of experiences that kids can understand and relate to. The message is strong and accessible, the pictures cute and whimsical.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your precious little snowflakes already have so much self-esteem that they dictate the dinner menu, dominate the television remote, choose your family vacation destinations, and throw public temper tantrums when they are denied anything.

Strega Nona

Author: Tomie DePaola

First line: In a town in Calabria, a long time ago, there lived an old lady everyone called Strega Nona, which meant "Grandma Witch."

Why you should read this book: The 1975 Caldecott winner, this enticing tale is a riff off the Sorcerer's Apprentic theme, in which the kind Strega Nona, who uses her magic to cure warts and find husbands, hires a new assistant: Big Anthony, who doesn't listen. When Big Anthony discovers the secret of Strega Nona's magic pasta pot, he can't wait to use it to elevate his own status, but his plan backfires, covering the village in an edible avalanche. As always, DePaola's illustrations are sensational, with lovely details like tiled roofs, authentic costumes, and expressive faces, and the story is an enduring one.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You see the scaly hand of Satan in the first line.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Princess of Mars

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

First line: I am a very old man; how old I do not know.

Why you should read this book: Almost a hundred years ago, Burroughs, best known as the author of the Tarzan books, penned the story of John Carter, a gentleman of Virginia, transported by unknown means to the red planet, where men are men, women are women, and ferocious, green, fifteen-foot tall, six-limbed alien monsters are ferocious, green, fifteen-foot tall, six-limbed alien monsters. Making use of his natural martial skill and buoyed by the lesser Martian gravity as well as his pure devotion to the incomparable Dejah Thoris, princess of Mars, Carter fights his way across the dying, arid planet, uniting warring tribes, flouting convention, and generally pouring the foundation for the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the twentieth century. Although Burroughs's inherent racism and bellicose predilections are evident in the construction of his world, this is a joyous story of love and honor, hung with the trappings of ancient artifacts from our own world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Knowing Mars to be a lifeless planet, you refuse to suspend disbelief long enough to immerse yourself in the book's rich landscape.

Friday, November 9, 2007

She's Always Liked the Girls Best: Lesbian plays

Author: Claudia Allen

Quote: God forbid something should happen in your life. Trust me, kiddo, you can "what if" yourself into a pretty boring life.

Why you should read this book: Collected here are four different plays tied together by the theme of women loving women in a world that insists their natural feelings must be hidden away. Around the country, but mostly in small Michigan towns, characters struggle with the issues of their own identities in the face of disapproval from their friends, families, and neighbors. In Allen's world, love always wins out in the end, and every obstacle can be overcome by tough chicks who refuse to give up on their hearts' desire and their right to happiness.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still wondering what lesbians find to do together in bed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Curious George

Author: H. A. Rey

First line: This is George.

Why you should read this book: Over sixty-five years ago, Margaret and H. A. Rey escaped Nazi Germany carrying the manuscript for their enduring children's classic about George, who was a good little monkey, but always very curious. In his literary debut, George tries to fly, is arrested for making a spurious call to the fire department, and conducts a first-hand study of the properties of helium. Kids never get tired of his antics, and this story is as fresh as it was six decades ago, with the possible exception of the image of George smoking a pipe before bed.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're vehemently opposed to the idea of taking wild animals from their natural environment and imprisoning them in zoos.

The Little Stone Lion

Author: Kim Xiong

First line: I am the guardian spirit of the village.

Why you should read this book: A short, lyrical, comforting first-person story written from the point of view of a small stone lion attached to a post in a Chinese village. Time moves on, but the lion remains the same, keeping its memories of all the people who have ever lived there, as it provides comfort for the children still growing up. Lovely illustrations and a hopeful tone.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Animism upsets you.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Anatomy of Hatha Yoga: A Manual for Students, Teacher, and Practitioners

Author: H. David Coulter

First line: A comprehensive statement on the anatomy and physiology of hatha yoga ought to have been written a long time ago.

Why you should read this book: It really is comprehensive, and you actually don't have to read it at all; just looking at the illustrations should give you a strong understanding of how human anatomy works and how to channel this knowledge into healthy movement. In fact, the text tends to be dense and complicated, but at the same time, its level of detail answers all sorts of questions that a standard anatomy book does not, particularly for those whose knowledge of physiology informs their exercise practice. Just a great, detailed, interesting reference book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider getting up to look for the remote too much aerobic exercise.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Author: Judith Viorst

First line: I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there's gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Why you should read this book: After getting up on the wrong side of the bed, the young protagonist proceeds to have the most miserable day of his short life. Some of the troubles are of his own making, others small slights blown out of proportion, with a few insults that are simply not his fault, but every unhappy incident only compounds the boy's temper. There is no resolution to this story, merely the insinuation that "some days are like that," with the accompanying hope that other days aren't, making it a realistic portrayal of a child's internal world from an author who understands how kids think.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never had a bad day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I love My Hair

Author: Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

First line: Every night before I go to bed, Mama combs my hair.

Why you should read this book: Tender-headed Keyana sometimes cries when her mother combs her hair at night, but her mother reminds her about all the beautiful ways she can wear her hair until she feels proud of who she is. Beautiful, imaginative paintings illustrate the girl's hair being spun like wool, growing in rows like corn, and surrounding her head like the Earth. A lovely book, entertaining and warm even as it teaches tolerance and acceptance.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're bald.

The Hating Book

Author: Charlotte Zolotow

First line: I hate hate hated my friend.

Why you should read this book: In enticing rhythmic prose, a little girl expresses her feelings for a friend who snubs her. The small hurts pile up, until the protagonist confronts her friend and they both learn the best way to solve problems is to discuss them. An enduring classic, and eye-opening for a generation of kids who've learned that hate is a naughty word, but not how to express their anger in healthy and constructive ways.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer to hold a grudge

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Enduring Navaho

Author: Laura Gilpin

First line: To understand the Navaho People, even in small measure, it is essential to know at least some part of their symbolic ritual.

Why you should read this book: When a friend invited photographer Laura Gilpin on her rounds as a public nurse in Navajo Country in the early 1930s, she began a lifelong relationship with the indigenous people of the American southwest, documenting their lives on film for sixty years. Although her perspective remains that of an outsider and her cultural bias is evident, she connects with strangers through her photographs, which are intimate, honest, and appealing. The text weaves an overview of Gilpin's experiences with descriptions and explanations of Navajo beliefs, crafts, traditions, ceremonies, and government.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather learn what a Navajo person has to teach you about the Navajo way of life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Deep

Author: Claire Nouvian

First line: In 2001, after watching a stunningly beautiful film at the Monteray bay Aquarium in California, I took my first dive into the deep.

Why you should read this book: In the deep ocean, the sunless zone beginning two hundred meters from the surface and stretching down as far as eleven thousand meters, explorers have discovered an uncounted wealth of biodiversity in myriad astounding forms seemingly ripped from the pages of science fiction. This book, with huge, glossy, full-color illustrations on almost every page, brings to light a massive, yet still partial catalog of surprising benthic and pelagic organisms in all their alien splendor, accompanied by short (under fifteen hundred word) essays by scientists covering a broad overview of deep sea life. Giant squids, bioluminescent jellies, fanged anglerfish, and creatures that beggar description and have yet to be named or classified: every page of this book is like a mind-blowing birthday present from your favorite eccentric uncle.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear sea monsters.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Candy Shop

Author: Jan Wahl

First line: I'm a cowboy, riding my horse through our backyard, chasing buffalo.

Why you should read this book: In a suprisingly resonant story, a little cowboy out shopping with his aunt witnesses an act of racism. Although he is too young to understand what exactly has upset the owner of his favorite candy shop, his instinct is to run to her aid like a cowboy should, and with his aunt's help, he saves the day; of course, candy shop owners give the best rewards to their heroes. A great book for teaching empathy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've got to read this book. It's too good to joke about.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Clive Barker's Books of Blood: Volumes I, II, & III

Author: Clive Barker

First line: The dead have highways.

Why you should read this book: In the early 80s, Barker reimagined the horror genre in this visceral and relentless trilogy of short stories featuring demons, hellspawn, monsters, murder, sex, revenge, and the occasional run of back luck and bad timing. Running the gamut from darkly funny to starkly disturbing, this is fiction dredged up from the cauldron of deep-seated human fear. Barker's characters are human, whether or not they're actually human, infused with pure and strong emotions in the face of the most terrible things a man can imagine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Um...the blood? Not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen

Author: Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, Edgar Allen Poe, MJ Closser, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Quote: "You will think me cruel, but love is selfish and will have its sacrifices."

Why you should read this book: This is one of the illustrated volumes meant to engage adolescent readers in classic literature by presenting it in the format of the comic book: it appeals to today's goth kids by returning to the very origins of their subculture, of which many goths are probably largely unaware. Collected here are one poem, two short stories, and three novels, all originally published in the 1800s, but still interesting to modern readers with a predilection for terror. By and large, the drawings are excellent, executed in different styles by several artists, and the stories are delicious enough to inspire readers to tackle the text versions of these works.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The compression of the novels leaves much to be desired; the stories feel hurried and the characters hard to distinguish. However, as an introduction, it provides a tempting flavor and a possible impetus to seek out a larger helping, which is the intention of this series.

Little Vampire Goes to School

Author: Joann Sfar

Quote: "I was kinda hoping you'd make me swear on a skull or something."

Why you should read this book: I've never read a children's book like this, and neither have you. Translated from the French, it's an intelligent Tin-tin-style comic following the adventures of a little vampire who wants to play with kids "his own age" and eventually makes friends with a human boy, threatening the security of the entire undead community. There's gross-out humor, both scatological as well as morbid, but there's a great deal of clever dialog, irony, surprise, and heartfelt sentiment.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's clearly labeled, "Ages 10 and up." It's a children's book, but it's not for very small children. And it's not for adults who can't tolerate morbid or scatological humor.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Day No Pigs Would Die

Author: Robert Newton Peck

First line: I should of been in school that April Day.

Why you should read this book: An act of altruism perpetrated on an angry cow turns into delight, tragedy, and enlightenment for the twelve-year-old Shaker boy, Robert Peck, as he learns what it means to be a man. Rewarded for his efforts with a perfect pink piglet, young Rob delights in the simple joys of his Vermont farm and his loving family, shared with his best friend, who, he knows, will one day grow into a prize breeding sow. In his own way, Rob begins to learn that life is never simple or neat, that just because a thing's accepted doesn't make it right, and that his own father, good and honest, but poor, illiterate, and tied to the land, is the one man in the world he wants to emulate.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You got a D in English and mean to improve your grammar.

The Rules

Author: Marty Kelley

Quote: Don't stick peanuts up your nose.

Why you should this book: In lively and amusing rhymes, the author lays out the "do"s and "don't"s (mostly "don't"s) of being a kid, from hygiene and common sense, to the pure parentisms that we never remember until it's too late and cautions against really silly actions that seem like a good idea at the time. Kids will enjoy watching the antics--every admonition is accompanied by an illustration of child performing the very act against which he or she is being warned--as well as the book's rhythm. A good introduction to polite and acceptable behavior from a source that understands how difficult this is for children.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You prefer dirty, crusty, deliberately offensive kids.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Author: Crockett Johnson

First line: One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.

Why you should read this book: For more than fifty years, children have been delighted by Harold's adventures in a world that begins as a blank sheet of paper, but is soon filled with the purple images of his imagination. In his first adventure, Harold and his trusty wax writing implement take a voyage under the cresent moon, encountering danger, excitement, and nine kinds of pie. A terrific lesson in self-determination and the power of the child's mind.

Why you shouldn't read this book: When you make a mistake, you crumple your paper and throw it in the trash.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Author: Kurt Vonnegut

First line: All this happened, more or less.

Why you should read this book: Vonnegut's most popular novel is about the horrors of war, but it's also about time travel and alien abduction. Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, bounces back and forth through the fourth dimension of his life, suffering through World War II and the Dresden firebombing, floating through a mundane existence as an optometrist who married for money, and tolerating his stint as an exhibit at an alien zoo, where he is imprisoned with a porn star who bears his child. The novel's unifying thread tells us, "Life is full of ugliness; best to focus on the good parts.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think war is just spiffy, that revenge is mandatory, and the key to life is to hold fast to your pain.

Yummers! Starring Emily and Eugene

Author: James Marshall

First line: Emily Pig was upset.

Why you should read this book: Distressed over her weight, Emily Pig is persuaded to take up walking as a healthy and interesting form of exercise. Walking is so stimulating that Emily Pig's appetite is balloons, and she devours every tidbit in sight, retires with an upset stomach, and determines that exercise is detrimental to her health, still confused as to why she can't lose weight. You probably know someone like this.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your diet is not going well.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Secret Life of Amanda K. Woods

Author: Ann Cameron

First line: One Summer day Amanda Woods traded her right hand for Lyle Leveridge's.

Why you should read this book: Her mother and her older sister are driven perfectionists, her father is loving but uncommunicative, and her only friend is moving to Montana, leaving Amanda to withdraw into herself, but Lyle's parting gift gives her the strength to remake her life. Observing those around her, Amanda chooses a new identity and begins to participate in her own life, constantly surprised to learn that others are not as she first perceives them. This is a journey from childhood to the beginning of growing up, and Amanda K. Woods must find her own path.

Why you should not read this book: Martha Stewart is your co-pilot.

You're Different and That's Super

Author: Carson Kressley

First line: The spring that Trumpet was born, there were so many new foals in the pasture that almost no one nticed there was one sassy little colt who didn't belong to any of the mares.

Why you should read this book: With a kind of reverse Glass Menagerie mentality, we have the story of little horse who's popular and well-loved until he starts to grow a horn from his forehead. Finding himself ostracized, he retreats into self-loathing, until the day his horn proves useful and his true identity as a unicorn is revealed. Quirky fun for quirky kids who might not understand how their individuality today will help them weather the transition into adulthood.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've always dressed your children in identical outfits and you don't want them to get the idea that they are unique.

Something Might Happen

Author: Helen Lester

First line: Twitchly Fidget trembled all over

Why you should read this book: A paranoid lemur lives his life in fear of shampoo, marshmallow, breakfast cereal, and the possibility that something--anything--could go wrong in ways that would not occur to the well-adjusted primate. Twitchly misses out on all the good things in life until his aunt shows up and forces him to confront the world. Strangely, terrible things do not happen.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have an irrational fear of gym shoes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Author: Hermann Hesse

Quote: "Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom."

Why you should read this book: Siddhartha, son of a Brahmin, has every advantage in life, and yet he leaves his father's house to follow the path of the ascetic and learn of the Self. Soon, the young man begins to question the wisdom of following leaders, and continues the journey of his own existence, seeking his own knowledge and experience rather than passively believing what others tell him about the world. Throughout his life, he understands that he must follow his own path and that peace and acceptance are attained, not through mindless ritual or material gain, but through embrace of simplicity, through the ability to listen to the universe, to understand its circular nature, and to sense the individual's connection to the divine.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're the kind of person who pickets the Dalai Lama with signs explaining why Buddhists go to hell.

The Art Lesson

Author: Tomie dePaola

First line: Tommy knew he wanted to be an artist when he grew up.

Why you should read this book: Perennial children's favorite dePaola revisits familiar territory--his own childhood--in this story of artistic integrity versus stubborn establishment. From an early age, little Tommy demonstrates strong artistic talent and style, but, like most young children, his sense of justice is outraged by seemingly arbitrary rules, in this case those imposed upon him by his elementary school's limited art program. Tommy refuses to compromise himself, but must learn to compromise with authority in his pursuit of a true art education.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think eight colors and one sheet of paper are more than adequate for any child's self-expression.

Diary of a Wombat

Author: Jackie French

Quote: Evening: Have decided that humans are easily trained and make good pets.

Why you should read this book: Wombats are Australian creatures that resemble small bears and love sleeping, digging holes, and eating grass. When a family of humans invade the wombat's territory, she comes to love them for their bottomless stashes of delicious carrots, but humans and wombat must learn to coexist and love one another despite their disparate views on land use. Amusing illustrations help illuminate the wombat's unique point of view.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never, ever fed a wild animal.

No More Kissing!

Author: Emma Chichester Clark

Quote: I wish no one had invented kissing.

Why you should read this book: Momo the anthropomorphic monkey wants to know why there has to be so much kissing all the time. Like many independent little boys, he finds the practice disgusting and pointless, and when his brother comes along, the new baby seems to disdain bussing so much that altruistic Momo insists on putting a stop to it. However, familial love wins out, and Momo's instinct for kindness leads him to behave in ways he could never predict.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those parents who believe children should be made to kiss on command.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Twelfth Night, or, What You Will

Author: William Shakespeare

First line: If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Why you should read this book: A tidy bit of Shakespearean tomfoolery with a cold undertone of cruelty: Viola and Sebastian are fraternal (yet identical) twins, separated in a shipwreck, and Viola disguises herself as a boy to find employment with the Duke Orsino, with whom she falls in love. Orsino is in love himself with the disdainful Olivia, and he sends Viola to woo her; a second plot involves Olivia's drunken uncle taking revenge on her pompous steward. When Viola's lost brother rejoins the dance, misunderstandings abound, but all's well in the end, and love flourishes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like cross-dressing. Or cross-garters.

The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq

Author: Rory Stewart

First line: In April 2002, after twenty months traveling in Asia, I returned from Afghanistan to my home in the Highlands of Scotland, a mile from the nearest town on the edge of a wood.

Why you should read this book: Picking up where his last narrative left off, the inimitable Stewart begins his new incarnation as Seyyed Rory, the Coalition-appointed deputy governor to two provinces in the marsh regions of southern Iraq, facing off against various political, religious, and feudal-tribal factions as he struggles to create democracy and oversee services in the cradle of civilization. After decades of police rule, most Iraqis reject the Coalition's notions of democracy and insist that security is the most important issue, while Stewart butts heads with both Iraqi and Coalition forces in his efforts to keep the water running, the electricity flowing, and the schools open, all in the face of constant insurgencies and allegiance shifts, and racing against the clock to complete projects before the scheduled handover. In a civilization where revenge and blood feuds pile up one atop the other, in some cases stretching back over 1300 years, Stewart's level head and diplomatic impulses smooth over escalating events and provide an air of good humor in a book that may illuminate for Westerners the true situation in Iraq and the deep clash of cultures inherent in the American invasion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one hundred percent sure that, if you die killing Christians, you'll go directly to heaven.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Dark Knight Returns

Author: Frank Miller

First line: I've got the home stretch all to myself when the readings stop making sense.

Why you should read this book: Frank Miller reimagines the Dark Knight as a middle-aged man, forced into retirement in his prime, who has spent the last ten years watching Gothan City degenerate into lawlessness and corruption, until the so-called rehabilitation of his old enemies stirs him to don the mask once again. More controversial than ever, Batman must battle the new police commisioner, along with the Mutant Gang, Two Face, and the Joker, but this Batman is tired of the mayhem, and when he decides to put an end to it once and for all, his private fight becomes a federal issue. With nuclear armageddon looming, Batman (and Robin, the girl wonder) must stand off against their own government and the very people who should be their allies.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know that Superman would kick Batman's ass any day of the week.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

SCUM Manifesto

Author: Valerie Solanas

First line: Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.

Why you should read this book: One part brilliant, two parts insane, equally funny and sad, this document lays out the blueprint for an anarchist gynocentric revolution, using fractured biology and psychology to explain why males are inherently inferior to females and ultimately detrimental to the wellbeing of humanity. There is a great deal here by which to be offended, along with too many interesting ideas for the book to ever go away, making this a classic work of alternative literature. No matter how you feel about gender, there are concepts here that, forty years after the original publication, continue to inform culture, no matter how outrageous they are.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think society's great just as it is now, but would be even better if you could go back in time sixty years.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

American Wholefoods Cuisine

Author: Nikki & David Goldbeck.

First line: Although New Year's Day, 1970, looked and felt like many others before, it was to be the most significant in our lives.

Why you should read this book: If you have ever thought embracing a healthier diet would benefit you and your family, this book, bursting with recipes, menus, nutritional information, and food preparation guidelines, is the perfect all-purpose resource. Wholefoods cuisine comprises a vegetarian perspective and cuts out unhealthy, high glycemic-index ingredients such as white flour and white sugar, but even junk-food loving carnivores will find plenty of toothsome treats in the 500+ pages (over 1300 recipes), along with appendicized instructions for those who don't know all that much about cooking in general. Recipes from around the world will show you how to substitute high-protein alternatives for meat, cook healthy desserts, and create positive impact through small changes in the way you think about food.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider participation in the obesity epidemic purely patriotic.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Places in Between

Author: Rory Stewart

First line: On my last morning in Herat, I was reluctant to get out of bed.

Why you should read this book: It has been said of Rory Stewart that, while his proposals are often outrageous, he always follows through; therefore, after being thwarted by the Taliban in his first attempt to walk across Afghanistan, he sees the American invasion as an invitation to make good on his own promise to traverse the entire distance from Turkey to Bangladesh on foot. His knowledge of Islamic customs and Persian dialects eases a journey made harrowing by snow, dysentery, prejudice, and decades of war, and his determination and friendliness cantilever what seems an otherwise impossible sojourn. Rich in detailed observation, human interest, and astonishing realizations, this remarkable book shares a realistic view of ancient and modern Afghanistan, opening windows on a universe rarely glimpsed by outsiders and a character that quietly demonstrates the highest potential of humanity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're Taliban and you're still pissed off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Brave New World

Author: Aldous Huxley

Quote: "And that," put in the Director sententiously, "that is the secret of happiness and virtue--liking what you've got to do."

Why you should read this book: The architects of the new reality have created a brightly-colored, pleasant-smelling playground in which nobody is ever unhappy, alone, or sexually unsatisfied, and all they had to sacrifice were art, religion, science, love, family, emotion, and meaning. When Bernard Marx, alienated by virtue of his physical anomaly, and the object of his affection, the perfectly pneumatic and wholesome Lenina Crowne, stumble upon a man whose savage upbringing astounds even as his parentage can be exploited, they bring him back to civilization, initiating an intense dialog on the meaning of freedom and responsibility. Huxley's world, where sex and drugs are not merely encouraged, but actually mandatory, remains a reminder to modern readers of the luxury of pain, discontent, and loneliness in a novel that embraces the mind with candy-coated dystopia.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe people ought to be made to conform.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Magic Circle

Author: Donna Jo Napoli

First line: Summer comes over the hill like a hairy blanket.

Why you should read this book: This is the first in what became Napoli's long list of novelized fairy tales, written primarily from the point of view of the stereotypical villian, inbuing all characters, but particularly the historical antogonist, with reason and meaning. Here we have the back story of Hansel and Gretel, following the path of an unattractive hunchback woman from a foreign land whose descent into demonic association is fueled primarily by her love for her beautiful daughter, Asa, and her religious piety. Denounced as a witch, she removes herself to the Black Forest, builds the candy house as a tribute to her lost child, and eventually finds salvation through her love for Gretel.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe children can comprehend descriptions of violence, discrimination, or fantasy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tales of the Norse Gods and Heroes

Author: Edward Thomas

First line: Long ago, in Iceland, there was a king named Gangler who was famous for wisdom and for magic, and there were few things which he could not understand.

Why you should read this book: Betrayal! Murder! Betrayal! Treasure! Betrayal! Love! Betrayal! Magic! Betrayal! Inlaws! Betrayal! And more Betrayal! This fine Dover reprint comprises, primarily, modernized excerpts from the Prose Edda and the Volsungs, two ancient manuscripts recording even more ancient traditions. The world of the Norse was violent, their lives short and uncertain, yet in their mythology, they reconcile the brutish nature of existence with the obviously magical elements of the universe, creating a cosmogony that still resonates with modern readers and evokes the best and worst of mankind's nature.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're suspicious of your in-laws.

The First Thing My Mama Told Me

Author: Susan Marie Swanson

First line: When I was born, the first thing my mama told me was my name.

Why you should read this book: Most children's understanding of identity begins with their own name, and Lucy's story centers around representations of her name throughout her short life: piped in icing on chocolate cupcakes, cooked on the griddle in pancake batter, written on the tag of her lost and found sweater. As the girl grows older, she learns to leave her mark by writing her own name instead of depending on adults to do it for her. A sweet story about family and growing.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You changed your name the moment you turned eighteen.

Belles on Their Toes

Authors: Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

First line: Mother was going to Europe and leave up by ourselves.

Why you should read this book: Before it was a slapstick comedy, Cheaper by the Dozen was an intelligent children's book about the real-life efficiency expert, Frank Gilbreth, and how he raised his brood of twelve children according to the laws of motion study; this book is the sequel to the first, picking up several days after the clan's patriarch dies of a heart attack. Lillian Gilbreth, a single mother with eleven mouths to feed, determines to continue her husband's business so as to keep her family together, and must struggle in a world where women are not accepted as competent engineers. Meanwhile, her children practice their own version of efficiency, determined to help their mother, honor their father's memory, and enjoy their lives to the fullest, all on a shoestring budget and with no privacy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't think women should work outside the home, you believe children should be seen and not heard, and you insist that bare ankles and wrists on a girl are immodest.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Good Night, Gorilla

Author: Peggy Rathman

First line: Good night, gorilla.

Why you should read this book: Short on dialogue but long on whimsy, this perfect bedtime story allows children to narrate events as the naughty gorilla shadows an oblivious zookeeper at closing time. The pictures are expressive and the animal antics adorable. A very engaging, popular, and cozy picture book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You know all too well the pain of a crowded bed.

A Big Fat Enormous Lie

Author: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

First line: I told a lie.

Why you should read this book: A little fib seems like a convenient way out of his accidental consumption of an entire jar of cookies, but the protagonist of this story finds his lie personified as an ugly green monster that grows and grows as he grapples with the consequences of his actions. Published almost thirty years ago, this tidy morality tale still imparts the value of a clean conscious without preaching or talking down to kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're so good at lying you can do it to yourself.

Two Bad Ants

Author: Christ Van Allsburg

First line: The news traveled swiftly through the tunnels of the ant world.

Why you should read this book: When the ant world and the human world collide, the result is a bug's-eye view of reality, executed in crisp, Escheresque ink drawings with an eye to detail that only the award-winning Van Allsburg could pull off. Grains of sugar are priceless crystals to the ants, who seek to please their queen by carrying this wonderful discovery back to the anthill, but the two bad ants get greedy and decide that life in a sugar bowl is sweeter than the drudgery of their world. Multiple encounters with their new and dangerous environment soon convince the creatures that there's no place like home.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've spent the past week laying down poison and storing your sugar in the freezer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Max's Chocolate Chicken

Author: Rosemary Wells

First line: One morning somebody put a chocolate chicken in the birdbath.

Why you should read this book: Perenially immature bunny Max does not grasp the concept of the Easter egg hunt, and even when it is explained to him, his short attention span keeps him from being successful at it. Max's strength lies in thinking outside the box, and not even know-it-all big sisters can keep him from the object of his desires.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a stickler for rules.


Author: Graeme Base

First line: An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding An Angry Alligator

Why you should read this book: Base's alliterations are clever and well-thought-out, while his illustrations are luscious, intense, and intricate. Children will enjoy learning initial consonant fluency as they search the detailed pictures for familiar words; adults can't help but play along, since the pictures are complicated enough to confound the most extensive vocabularies. Quite possibly the best alphabet book ever published.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You give up easily.

Journey to an 800 Number

Author: E. L. Konigsburg

First line: When my mother married Mr. F. Hugo Malatesta the First, she sent me to stay with my father while she went on a honeymoon.

Why you should read this book: R. Maximilian Stubbs is ready to get used to all the good things in life, and now that his mother is marrying the wealthy old man she's always dreamed of, he's going to get the chance, but first, he has to wait out their honeymoon with his own father, a man whose life and livelihood is tied to a camel and a trailer. Max travels through the American west as his father sells camel rides for $1.50 and gradually finds that he must confront his own identity issues, from acknowledging the history of his real first name to understanding the meaning of the blue private school blazer he feels compelled to wear despite the astounding heat. A brilliant cast of characters illuminates Max's journey from elitism to open-mindedness in another spectacular story from Newbury-winner Konigsburg.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're trying to encourage your child's snobbery.

Mea Culpa

A brief apology to the eight people who follow this blog; I have been traveling since the beginning of the month. Sometimes life gets in the way of reading. Since schools out here start in mid-August, there is a vast backlog of children's books to be reviewed. I will be working through them this week, and hopefully get caught up and ready to write about big people books next week.



Sunday, August 26, 2007

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

Author: Frederick Douglass

First line: I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland.

Why you should read this book: In his own words, the self-educated Douglass describes the brutal horrors of American slavery, along with his own burgeoning understanding of freedom and equality as he grows from a young boy in bondage to a young man who has taken possession of his own life. His prose is clear and deep as he relates the blunt injustice of forced servitude: inhumane treatment, stubborn hypocrisy, cruel indifference, and deliberate brutality. An important record of the past written with precision and pathos by a talented and determined man.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't stomach detailed descriptions of violence against men, women, and children.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Monkey Wrench Gang

Author: Edward Abbey

First line: When a new bridge between two sovereign states of the United States has been completed, it is time for speech.

Why you should read this book: Joyfully provocative, controversial, and contradictory, this dynamic novel begat the Earth First! movement and remains the bible for eco-warriors more than thirty years after its original publication. United by a love of the land and disgust with the havoc wreaked by industry on the pristine desert, the four members of the Monkey Wrench Gang unite to make war against the machines that systematically destroy the environment in the name of progress. Rich in details, both of the landscape as well as the methods used to take down construction equipment, billboards, and bridges, this story is a fast-paced tour with an irreverent guide intent on preserving paradise at almost any cost.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think the desert is a lot of wasted space and you don't see why it shouldn't be strip mined, clear cut, and paved over.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Very Small

Author: Joyce Dunbar

First line: One day, when Giant Baby Bear was playing in the woods, he found a very small...something!

Why you should read this book: The unlikely friendship between Giant Baby Bear and the Very Small (it's sort of a cross between Tom Thumb and a hobbit-footed puppy wearing a cheetah suit with antennae) helps children feel safe and protected even when they perceive themselves as helpless. Despite the Very Small's anxiety, Giant Baby Bear remains unfailingly kind and makes a good effort to understand and assuage his friend's fears. A great book for bedtime or for kids about to embark on an adventure into the unknown (like the first day of school).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were hoping for something a bit more gruesome (see below)


Author: William Steig

First line: His mother was ugly and his father was ugly, but Shrek was uglier than the two of them put together.

Why you should read this book: Yes, this is the inspiration for the Dreamworks movies, and it features an ogre, a donkey, and a princess, but the similarities end there. Forget ugly-adorable or ugliness hiding a kind personality: Steig's Shrek is gruesome and deplorable and mean and rude and he never demonstrates any positive quality (except, perhaps, determination), while the princess starts out hideous and stays that way. Shrek bests a witch, a dragon, thunder and lightning, a knight in shining armor, and his own vile reflection in pursuit of his happy ending in a crowd-pleasing tale that raises awful to an art form and doesn't sugar-coat anything.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were hoping for something a little cuter (see above). In addition, if you're going to be uncomfortable explaining the appropriateness of the term "jackass" to your little ones, you're going to want to skip this. If that's the case, you're not hip enough for this book anyway.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Borreguita and the Coyote

Author: Verna Aardema

Quote: "Your mouth is so big, you could swallow a cougar. Open it wide, and I will run and dive right in."

Why you should read this book: A pleasant turn on some old trickster stories, in which Borreguita, the ewe lamb, pulls the wool over the hungry Coyote over and over again. The themes are timeless, but character expressions in the cunning illustrations give the story a modern sensibility, as does the small, female protagonist. A few words of Spanish and the prominence of rock cliffs whose color changes with the sun produce a warm, Southwestern flair.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You want to see Coyote eat the lamb.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Eyes of the Dragon

Author: Stephen King

First line: Once, in a kingdom called Delain, there was a King with two sons.

Why you should read this book: Unlike the majority of King's oeuvre, this book is almost devoid of gore, monsters, and details that keep the squeamish up at night; rather, it is a vast and sweeping fairy tale, laying out a battle between good and evil complete with magic, castles, and romance. Flagg, who appears in many other King stories, is here revealed as an agent of chaos and destruction, masquerading as advisor to the old king. Good Prince Peter will surely oppose his dastardly plans for the kingdom, and must be put out of the way at any cost, but Flagg underestimates the power of courage and love.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're rooting for the bad guy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Lost Lady

Author: Willa Cather

First line: Thirty or forty years ago, in one of those grey towns along the Burlington railroad, which are so much greyer today than they were then, there was a house well known from Omaha to Denver for its hospitality and for a certain charm of atmosphere.

Why you should read this book: As a boy, Niel Herbert knows of no lady more beautiful, gracious, or admirable than Mrs. Forrester, the young wife of the august Captain Forrester; as Niel grows to manhood, he takes it upon himself to protect the vulnerable woman, whose older husband's health has begun to fail. Cather shows us a world of fading glory, of the transitory gilt-edge of the old west, of a woman shaped by her environment, both enriched and victimized by the changing tides of history. This is a deep and complex portrait of a complicated woman, true to life and full of raw understanding.

Why you shoudn't read this book: You don't believe in formality or nostalgia.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Portnoy's Complaint

Author: Philip Roth

First line: She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.

Why you should read this book: Roth didn't invent the stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mama and her guilt-ridden son, but he did, with the timing of a borsht-belt comedian and the insight of a Dr. Freud, breathe life into the character whose upbringing defines him as an individual while simultaneously crippling him as a man. In public, a precocious golden boy devoted to social justice and equality, Portnoy is a private slave to his unstaunchable libido, obsessed with the goyim, and well aware that he will never satisfy his mother's expectations. An American classic, Portnoy's Complaint speaks to all of us who grew up straddling the increasingly vast chasm between an idiosyncratic home life and the equally bizarre, yet somehow more enticing, conventions of the rest of society.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a Yiddische mama who could never believe your darling offspring capable of harboring perverse or perverted desires.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Desert Solitaire

Author: Edward Abbey

First line: This is the most beautiful place on earth.

Why you should read this book: Abbey's experimental sojourn in to the desert involved masquerading as a park ranger while injecting himself into the enviroment, injecting the environment into himself, and gulping up the landscape like a drowning man gasping for air. Describing the stark beauty of a single tree, a brutal stretch of sun-baked rock, or the tourists whose automobile culture encroach on the pristine splendor of his world, Abbey's book is vivid, angry, awe-inspired, and real. He warns his reader not to go looking for his eden, that technology has improved the wilderness right out of existence, and we have only the vibrant colors of his linguistic snapshots to haunt our future, reminding us how progress can take us further from perfection.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe everything worth seeing can be seen from the driver's seat of your SUV.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Women and Other Animals

Author: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: Though Big Joanie senses something is wrong, she does not turn to look at the tiger.

Why you should read this book: Provocative and poetic, this collection won the AWP intro award for its eclectic mix of middle-American eccentrics and their individual journeys through a world by turns unthinkably bizarre and unquestionably mundane. In "Eating Aunt Victoria," two siblings joke between themselves as paramedics haul their dead mother's obese lover from the wreck of their front porch, in "Gorilla Girl," a wild creature trapped in a suburban girl's body seeks an outlet to express her true animal nature, and a teenager's nascent breasts take on divine significance in "The Sudden Physical Development of Debra Dupuise." Old houses, new trucks, fallow farms, and bizarre family traditions run through this excellent collection of tender and outrageous short stories.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think women should be seen and not heard.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J. K. Rowling

First line: The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

Why you should read this book: Rowling finishes up her bestselling series with slow-paced aplomb, overt spectacle, and a moderate yet restrained body count, tying up every loose end with enough intimate details to satisfy the most diehard fans. Every character makes a true showing according to his or her inner nature, legends abound, and the battle between good and evil is settled once and for all. Much darker and more bellicose than the rest of the series, but not beyond reason for the intelligent and well-adjusted child.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take umbrage at authors becoming so successful that no editor would dare to suggest that their novel would be even more perfect without a hundred fifty superfluous pages of beloved characters standing around, scratching their rears, wondering what's going on (or you take the deaths of fictional characters extremely personally).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Prague Winter

Author: Richard Katrovas

Quote: ...and suddenly I thought that here at last I'd done it, I'd finally pissed off someone with a weapon and the will to use it, after years of mouthing off in biker bars and leaning on my horn in New Orleans--where once good men got lynched for less--after a youth of not caring whom I angered and well into middle life unscarred, unbowed, in Prague, in summer, I would die of road rage...

Why you should read this book: Richard Katrovas is equally unafraid of picking fights with strangers, friends, colleagues, lovers, and himself and he writes fearless poems with brute honesty, mocking his own temper and taking refuge in moments of tenderness. Read together, these poems tell the story of a decade, give or take, in which the poet follows his heart to a country he knows nothing about, trading his childless marriage for a new family conceived on the night of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution. Along the way, he eulogizes fallen friends, ridicules his passion, dabbles in history, and describes his experience in a nation brand new, and unknowably ancient.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no sympathy for adulterers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Book of Werewolves

Author: Sabine Baring-Gould

First line: I shall never forget the walk I took one night in Vienne, after having accomplished the examination of an unknown Druidical relic, the Pierre labie, at La Rondelle, near Champigni.

Why you should read this book: Reprinted from an 1865 edition, this volume provides an unusual background on conceptions of lycanthropy, focusing on theriomorphic transformation in legend, various accounts of blood lust and berserker rage, and concluding with a number of somewhat sensationalistic reports of idiosyncratic cannibalism. Dated, both in assumptions about the human condition as well as assumptions that the reader is naturally conversant in Greek, Latin, and French, the book still lays out an enticing overview of cryptozoological beliefs of a hundred and fifty years ago. An excellent selection for students of mythogy, the macabre, and historical crime, and alienism.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid to be led into temptation by the devil.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Simple Path

Author: Mother Teresa

First line: We all must take the time to be silent and to contemplate, especially those who live in big cities like London and New York, where everything moves so fast.

Why you should read this book: In her own words, and in the words of the sisters, brothers, priests, and volunteers who work with her, Mother Teresa explains how she and those of her order are able to accomplish such tremendous success in their ministrations to the poorest of the poor. Following her six-point path of silence, prayer, faith, love, service, and peace, she explains that love is the universal constant, and all things are possible in a life lived with love. Although the account is heavy on prayer and Catholic thoughts, it is written in such as way as to be useful to people of any--or no--religion in the quest to live a life of service and devotion, and demonstrates that the smallest act, offered in the spirit of love, has positive consequence.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You reject the doctrine of love, or you can't overcome your anti-Catholic bias.

The Wild Boy

Author: Mordicai Gerstein

First line: Once there was a boy who lived in the mountain forests of southern France.

Why you should read this book: The real Victor was found in 1800, living naked and alone in the forest, and became something of a media sensation before the real Dr. Itard stepped in with the idea of educating him to take his place in society. This book recounts their story, recreating the emotions and sensations experienced by the wild child and the doctor in their quest for understanding. A lovely book that demonstrates compassion and empathy, showing that, while we may not understand the experiences or perceptions of others, we can still feel their joy and sorrow, and help them to thrive.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Gerstein also wrote a full-length novel, Victor, which gives a much more complete account of the same subject, and anyone interested in the wild boy's life or Dr. Itard's methods will do well to turn to the expanded version, rather than the children's book.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Single Shard

Author: Linda Sue Park

First line: "Eh, Tree-ear! Have you hungered well today?"

Why you should read this book: A beautiful, Newbery-winning story of a determined orphan who will do anything to learn the potter's trade. Raised under a bridge by a kindly old man with a twisted leg, Tree-ear is upright and honorable, and when he gets the opportunity to work for the greatest potter in the village, he takes the work seriously. Sent on a long journey to bring his master's finest work to the King, Tree-ear faces the challenge of a lifetime and shows the world that he is worthy to become an artist.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't see the point in laboring over fine art.