Saturday, January 27, 2007

Name Me Nobody

Author: Lois-Ann Yamanaka

First line: I have a feeling that my obsession with names started with my mother, Roxanne Kaya.

Why you should read this book: A powerhouse of a novel. Emi-lou and Yvonne have been best friends since infancy, but the summer before their freshman year, the girls begin to drift apart as they stockpile painful secrets. Full of honest revelation and relationships, along with lots of Hawaiian dialect.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think teenagers should be kept in dark rooms until they finish puberty and should under no circumstances receive information about the real world or anything that deviates from a mainstream conservative view of normality.

A Good Night for Freedom

Author: Barbara Olenyik Morrow

Quote: "I don't like slavery. But there's a law against helpin' runaways. A judge could fine me $500. Or we could find our barn in flames."

Why you should read this book: When Hallie discovers her Quaker neighbors (real life abolitionists Levi and Catherine Coffin) helping runaway slaves, she needs to understand their decisions and make her own.

Why you should't read this book: You believe so strongly in adherence to the law you don't care how unfair or unconstitutional it is.

Max's Dragon Shirt

Author: Rosemary Wells

First line: Max loved his old blue pants more than anything. "Those pants are disgusting, Max," said Max's sister Ruby.

Why you should read this book: Max and his incredibly bossy sister Ruby go shopping for new pants, but Ruby proves easily distracted while Max's single-minded pursuit of the elusive dragon shirt pays off.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The thought of a world populated entirely by fuzzy bunnies disturbs you.

The Lost Thing

Author: Shaun Tan

First line: So you want to hear a story?

Why you should read this book: An extremely surreal picture book with extremely surreal pictures. When the narrator finds a lost thing (it resembles a red teakettle, if a teakettle were twenty feet high, with spikes, wings, tentacles, and doors) at the beach, he becomes obsessed with figuring out where such an object belongs. Thoughtful commentary on how easy it is not to notice things we don't want to see.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're only into reality.

Tabitha the Fabulous Flying Feline

Author: Carol Ann Timel

First Line: Tabitha was a city cat.

Why you should read this book: In 1994, the real-life Tabitha escaped her cat-carrier in the cargo bay of a 747 and spent 13 days hiding within the aircraft's body before the real-life Carol Ann was able (with media pressure) to persuade the airline to ground the plane, turn off the engine, and let her call her wayward kitty. This book is a faithful reconstruction of the adventures of woman and cat.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never loved an animal so much that you were willing to make yourself look ridiculous for the creature's sake.

Cinnamon, Mint, & Mothballs: A Visit to Grandmother's House

Author: Ruth Tiller

First line: Last fall, just as leaves traded green for gold, we went to Grandmother's house.

Why you should read this book: Accompanied by bold cut-paper illustrations resembling stained-glass, this book uses a poetic voice to describe a young girl's perception of a day and night at her grandmother's cozy farmhouse. A perfect bedtime book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are trying to stay awake.


Author: Philip Waechter

First line: Me. I like myself.

Why you should read this book: A tight and tidy collection of self-affirmations for very small people, expressed by a large, comically-illustrated brown bear.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to like yourself.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Piratica: Being a Daring Tale of a Singular Girl's Adventure upon the High Seas

Author: Tanith Lee

First line: One day when she was sixteen, Art remembered her mother.

Why you should read this book: After a nasty fall down the stairs at the Angels Academy for Young Maidens, Miss Artemesia Fitz-Willoughby Weatherhouse recovers repressed memories of her mother, Piratica, and escapes through the chimney to seek her fortune as Art Blastside, pistol proof Pirate Queen.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you don't like piracy or the theater, you're not going to find much here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

A Man without a Country

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

First line: As a kid I was the youngest member of my family, and the youngest child in any family is always a jokemaker, because a joke is the only way he can enter into an adult conversation.

Why you should read this book: In his own inimitable, bitingly cynical way, Vonnegut philosophizes on the state of the planet and his own alienation from a place to which he is inextricably connected. There is humor in the book, but it is not a comedy, and the author reminds us repeatedly that the naivete of his youth is gone and his prognosis for the human race is utterly pessimistic. At the same time, he illustrates what it means to be human with examples of the best (and worst) ideas humanity has to offer and the simple, basic information that anyone can utilize to make the world a better place. Short and deep and honest.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've never cared for Vonnegut, but you think George W. Bush is a hell of a guy. As with all of Vonnegut's work, this book should also be avoided if you're feeling despondent and suicidal.

The True Story of Stellina

Author: Matteo Pericoli

Quote: And then, another day, Stellina learned how to fly, all by herself, and Holly was so excited, because Holly, my wife, doesn't know how to fly. She knows how to dance, but not how to fly.

Why you should read this book: The author's wife really found a baby bird at the corner of 46th and Third in Manhattan, took it home, and cared for it for the next eight years. The drawing are warm, the prose poetic, and the story sweet and engaging.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think wild animals ought to stay in the wild, even if that means a gutter in Manhattan.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time

Author: Madeleine L'Engle

First line: It was a dark and stormy night.

Why you should read it: L'Engle won the Newberry Medal for this dark and imaginative journey through time and space. Awkward teen Meg Murray and her remarkable baby brother, Charles Wallace find themselves dragged across the universe with some unexpected companions on a quest to rescue their missing father, a scientist whose experiment has gone horribly awry.

Why you shouldn't read it: You lack the slightest ember of imagination or curiosity.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In

Author: Paisley Rekdal

First line: Age sixteen, my mother loads up red tubs of noodles, teacups chipped and white-gray as teeth, rice clumps that glue themselves to the plastic tub sides or dissolve and turn papery in the weak tea sloshing around the bottom.

Why you should read this book: The only child of a Chinese-American mother and a Norweigian-American father, the poet Paisley Rekdal spends her youth trying to come to terms with the meaning of self, culture, and otherness as a biracial person. In towns across America, Japan, Korea, China, and the Phillipines, she struggles to find her place against the backdrop of racial stereotypes and social conventions, forging, finally, a new understanding of herself, not as half-white and half-Chinese, but as a whole person, comprised of equal parts family, culture, and individuality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are so very colorblind that you cannot accept that any person's experience is influenced by ethnicity.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Slugs in Love

Author: Susan Pearson

First line: Marylou loved everything about Herbie--how his slime trail glistened in the dark, how he could stretch himself thin to squeeze inside the cellar window, how he always found the juiciest tomato.

Why you should read this book: Marylou uses the power of slime to write love letters to Herbie in the context of their environment. Herbie is intrigued, but he doesn't know how to differentiate Marylou from all the other slugs. The course of true love never did run smooth.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find the premise nauseating.

Monday, January 8, 2007

A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness

Author: V. S. Ramachandran

First line: The history of mankind in the last three hundred years has been punctuated by major upheavals in human thought that we call scientific revolutions--upheavals that have profoundly affected the way in which we view ourselves and our place in the cosmos.

Why you should read it: Examining neurological phenomena such as phantom limb syndrome and synesthesia, the author probes the complexities of the human brain and offers explanations for such diverse questions as "Does free will exist?" and "What is art?" It's a tidy little volume, only 112 pages of actual text accompanied by 70+ pages of supplemental material. Written for a lay audience, the book often starts with surprisingly simple descriptions before spiralling into detailed maps of the brain and human consciousness. The author carefully delineates between what is known about the brain and what is suspected, and he outlines many experiments that have been performed, along with his hypotheses about many more that could be performed.

Why you shouldn't read it: You cannot accept theoretical speculation and require documented evidence before you give an idea credence.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Once and Future King

Author: T. H. White

First line: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology.

Why you should read it: This is the definitive modern treatment of the King Arthur Legend, replete with magic, war, adultery, incest, and betrayal. The first chapter inspired Disney's The Sword in the Stone, but the novel's true statement takes the form of White's discussion of justice. Although there is a great deal of humor in the retelling, the subject is serious and relevant, with deep introspection into the ideas of mercy and forgiveness as well as tragedy and predestination. A challenging novel full of archaic vocabulary words, colorful exposition, and timeless questions.

Why you shouldn't read it: You think Mallory's Arthur is the only Arthur. You prefer blow-by-blow recounts of every battle ever fought to accesibility, plot, and character development.

Guji Guji

Author: Chi-Yuan Chen

Quote: "Look at that ridiculous crocodile. He's walking like a duck."

Why you should read it: This is the best children's book you've never heard of. When a crocodile's egg ends up in a duck's nest, the result is a strong, positive, and commendable message about the true meaning of family. Guji Guji's crocodile DNA runs secondary to his duck family values, and his family's love for him is returned when he has the opportunity to protect them. Kids love this book in ways that cannot be explained.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You insist on realistically portrayed animal relationships in your children's literature. You despise the villification of a crocodile's natural predatory behavior.

Monday, January 1, 2007

I'd Rather Have an Iguana

Author: Heidi Stetson Mario

First line: My mom and dad got a new baby.

Why you should read it: The little girl protagonist's life changes when her parents bring home a new brother, but with time, she learns to accept him. An amusing take on an old story.

Why you shouldn't read it: You hate babies, cuteness, and reconciliation. You'd rather have an iguana.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

First line: On a morning in mid-April, 1687, the brigantine Dolphin left the open sea, sailed briskly across the Sound to the wide mouth of the Connecticut River and into Saybrook Harbor.

Why you should read it: This Newberry Medal book tells the story of Katherine Tyler, who must leave her beautiful home in the Barbados and begin a new life among the Puritans in America. Raised by her wealthy grandfather, Kit's politics and religion clash with those in her new home, while her ability to read and swim earn her the suspicion of the community. A classic story of an outsider standing up for herself and her beliefs.

Why you shouldn't read it: You're that sort of humorless literalist who believes unquestioningly that people who think and act differently than you are in league with the devil, and that god wants you to hunt them down and kill them.