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.