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.