Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hansel and Diesel

Author: David Gordon

First line: At the edge of a huge junkyard lived brother and sister pickup trucks.

Why you should read this book: A deliciously ridiculous riff off Hansel and Gretel, this book recounts the adventures of two little trucks searching for fuel in the dark, foreboding junkyard that is their home. The child-abandonment element is discarded in this tale, but everything else, from the trail of bolts they leave to mark their way, to the wicked winch who lures them into her fabulous service station has its counterpart in the original. Very silly, very enjoyable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe in messing with the classics.


Author: Don Freeman

First line: Corduroy is a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store.

Why you should read this book: This is the enduring classic children's story of a bear in search of a home. When a little girl finally wants to adopt him, her mother points out that Corduroy is missing a button off his overalls, and the bear sets out through the mall in search of his missing property. In the end, he is well-dressed and well-loved, in a tale that has delighted young readers for forty years.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You could never love a teddy with a missing button.

The Grannyman

Author: Judith Byron Schachner

First line: Simon was a very old cat.

Why you should read this book: Simon, an ancient Siamese cat who is deaf, blind, arthritic, and has terrible breath, is still well-loved by his family, but he has led a long, full life and is ready to throw in the towel. Just as he lies down to die, the family presents him with a little Siamese kitten, and Simon's purpose in life is restored. A nice circle-of-life story celebrating the place of the elderly.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You just put your incontinent parents into a home.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Watchmen

Author: Alan Moore

First line: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach.

Why you should read this book: Quite possibly the finest and most influential graphic novel of all time, Alan Moore's masterpiece asks the questions, "What does it take to save humanity from itself, and who among us possesses the inhumanity to take action?" After its original publication, this book turned the industry upside-down with its tale of costumed superheroes and impending armageddon in world very much like our own. Spanning decades and generations, it is a story of love and determination, of men and women driven by compulsions larger than themselves, of fear and uncertainty, and of the self-determination required to believe the truth in a world shrouded in lies.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're reading Action Comics number one with a pair of tweezers and acid-free latex gloves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

American Gothic

Author: Robert Bloch

First line: The castle stood in shadows.

Why you should read this book: Based loosely on the true story of con man, corpse robber, and serial killer HH Holmes, who murdered dozens of people against the glorious backdrop of the 1893 Chicago World Fair, this book is a fluffy little piece of pulp fiction pitting a young female newspaper reporter with an insatiable thirst for the truth against a seemingly genteel businessman. When her insurance investigator fiance makes a big pay out to a wealthy doctor known as C. Gordon Gregg, Crystal is immediately suspicious of the circumstances, and battles widespread gender discrimination to uncover Gregg's nefarious plot. With hints of sexual danger and a pretty satisfyingly gruesome discovery preceding the story's happy ending, American Gothic is the literary equivalent of a bag of potato chips.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's not Psycho, it's not Grant Wood, and it's certainly not The Devil in the White City. It's a bag of pulp fiction potato chips. Consume at your own risk.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Plague of Frogs: The Horrifying True Story

Author: William Sounder

First line: Consider the frog.

Why you should read this book: In the summer of 1995, when a group of Minnesota schoolchildren found vast numbers of deformed frogs in a local pond, America found itself mired in a debate that soon comprised local, state, and federal bodies, in which amateurs and professionals in different fields argued over the causes of what became an epidemic of frogs with missing, extra, twisted, and unexplainable limbs. Pesticide runoff from common farming practices, increased ultraviolet exposure due to atmospheric degradation, and natural parasitic infection are all suggested causes hypothesized, argued over, and tested by myriad scientists intent on solving the immediate question of deformed frogs as well as the larger question of global amphibian decline and environmental change. The books is a scientific mystery, unearthing clues while it acknowledges the effects of bureaucratic intervention, scientific skepticism, and professional rivalries in what could be one of the most important environmental investigations of our time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's horrifying, but it's not horror. You'll have to go elsewhere for accounts of giant mutant anthropophagic frogs. As for this book, its only flaw is a lack of index.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Mammals

Editor: David Macdonald

First line: To say that The Encyclopedia of Mammals covers all known members of the class Mammalia is an accurate but arid summary of this book.

Why you should read this book: As a general, all-purpose reference work on mammals, this book is tops, beginning with its historical discussion of mammalian evolution and continuing through its 800+ pages of stunning photographs (over a thousand) and detailed essays written by experts in the field. From aadvarks to zebras (and a little bit beyond), with close-ups and diagrams, this book is the perfect starting place for anyone looking for an overview of the class or trying to find specific details about certain species. An enduring work.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Given the book's scope, it is not possible for any animal to be covered in great depth; anyone over the age of twelve looking to write a report or gain a detailed knowledge about a particular animal will need to head for the stacks to find more specific information.

Koko-love: Conversations with a Signing Gorilla

Author: Francine Patterson

First line: If you have ever chatted on-line with a gorilla, you must have been talking to Koko!

Why you should read this book: A first glimpse into the lives of Koko, the signing gorilla, and the other gorillas and humans who share her world. With lots of charming photographs, this book introduces young readers to the circumstances of Koko's life, including her introduction to ASL, her love of kittens, her friendship with Mr. Rogers, and her relationship with the handsome gorilla she met through video dating. A glossary of signs at the end of the book is a nice addition to a picture book that seeks, above all, to share the idea that animals can think and feel.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid the general knowledge that animals can think and feel will devalue your investments in African deforestation and civil war.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

Author: E. L. Konigsberg

First line: I first met Jennifer on my way to school.

Why you should read this book: An unorthodox friendship between two outsider girls leads to revelations and growth for the narrator. Little Elizabeth wants to believe in Jennifer's world, where witches can brew flying ointment and use their powers to humiliate stuck-up kids. Clever as all Konigsberg's novels are, it's a small, smart story about the power of the child's mind and the ability to construct reality.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You really are a witch and you aren't planning on sharing your flying ointment with anyone.

No Dinner: The story of the Old Woman and the Pumpkin

Author: Jessica Souhami

First line: There was once an old woman who lived at the edge of a big forest with her little dog.

Why you should read this book: Combining a few fairy tale conventions, an old woman and her granddaughter, who live inconveniently separated by a forest full of man-eating animals, outwit the creatures of the forest. This is a wonderful read aloud story, with repetition and multiple voices, as well as a satisfying conclusion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've been conned by little old ladies before.

The Day the Babies Crawled Away

Author: Peggy Rathmann

First line: Remember the day the babies crawled away?

Why you should read this book: In rollicking rhyme, the narrator recounts how a bunch of intrepid babies crawl away from what appears to be a Fourth of July pie-eating contest and have an adventure in the forest while an older child uses all his resources to save them from certain doom. The illustrations are striking, with majestic sunset skies serving as a backdrop for a black silhouette foreground where the action occurs. Adorable, funny, beautiful, and sweet, a lovely bedtime book.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You work for DCFS.

Nobody's Mother Is in Second Grade

Author: Robin Pulver

First line: "Did you go to second grade when you were my age?" Cassandra asked her mother one night at dinner.

Why you should read this book: Cassandra's mother waxes nostalgic about second grade and determines to attend her daughter's school, but, since nobody's mother is in second grade, she chooses to visit disguised as a large houseplant. Soon enough, Cassandra's classmates determine that there is something peculiar about that plant, but not so ridiculous as somebody's mother being in second grade. Intelligent and silly, a great book for perceptive kids.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe that fun interferes with the learning process.

Too Many Tamales

Author: Gary Soto

First line: Snow drifted through the streets and now that it was dusk, Christmas trees glittered in the windows.

Why you should read this book: Although she knows better, Maria can't help trying on her mother's beautiful diamond ring as they make tamales for the family Christmas feast. When she loses track of the ring, she can only assume it's hiding inside one of two dozen tamales, and immediately enlists her cousins' help in recovering the lost property. A happy, if slightly bloated ending brings the entire family together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a member of the International Federation of Competitive Eating and you consider two dozen tamales chump change.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tom Strong Collected Edition Book 1

Author: Alan Moore

Quote: I should tell you that although I've never much liked hitting women, I do quite enjoy punching fascists.

Why you should read this book: Sending his character from the dawn of time in one direction to decades hence in the other, but mostly covering the whole of the twentieth century and paying homage to the history of the comic book with every device, Alan Moore presents us with his vision of the perfect man: Tom Strong, Science Hero. With more gear than Batman and a healthier outlook on life, Tom Strong is the kind of guy who takes a break from fighting criminals to go home and marry his childhood sweetheart, from whom he never strays; in fact, she and their daughter, along with a steampunk robot and a surgically enhanced gorilla all use technology and intelligence to battle the Science Villains who constantly threaten Millennium City, where airplanes are outdated and everyone travels by cable car, personal blimp, or jet pack. It's a very intelligent and deft bit of silliness from a guy who probably understands the graphic medium better than anyone else.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were a member of the Comics Code Authority in 1954.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Six Characters in Search of an Author

Author: Luigi Pirandello

Quote: The drama is in us, and we are the drama.

Why you should read this book: An earnest exercise in meta-theater, this play follows the drama of six characters, whose personalities and crises are well-drawn, but whose author has declined to write their story, possibly due to its scandalous and depressing nature. After bursting in on the rehearsal of a theater company, they demand that their pain and suffering be played on the stage, but cannot swallow the translation of their personal reality through the conventions of the theater. The interplay between characters and actors works to illustrate the futility of expressing truth on stage while demonstrating the author's frustration in attempting to transcend the limits of his medium.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Did you ever wish you could go back in time and somehow prevent Roland Barthes's conception? Have you never been able to grasp the significance of the play-within-a-play in Hamlet? Even once, have you contemplated homicide after watching a David Lynch film? If you answer yes to any of these questions, this might not be the play for you.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living

Author: Anna Redsand

First line: The icy wind whistled at the prisoner's backs, pushing through the threadbare rags their captors called clothing.

Why you should read this book: Viktor Frankl led a remarkable life, but more importantly, he contributed to the sum of human knowledge a remarkable theory: logotherapy, which teaches that human beings must create their own meaning in life. Although he lost his wife and parents in the Holocaust and was himself a survivor of Auschwitz, Frankl taught that a positive attitude is the salvation of mankind, saved countless people from taking their own lives in desperation and pain, and brought meaning to the human condition. Anna Redsand's brilliant biography is written with the young reader in mind, but nevertheless covers, with sensitivity and depth, the often tragic conditions that forged Viktor Frankl, the first therapist to suggest focusing on the positive in treating mental conditions.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Since this is a young adult biography, older readers may find more of interest in Frankl's own Man's Search for Meaning or one of the many other books written by or about the subject.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

Author: Maurice Sendak

First line: The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him, "WILD THING!" and Max said, "I'll EAT YOU UP!" so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

Why you should read this book: One of the all-time great picture books, Where the Wild Things Are describes the strange nighttime voyage of a little boy with high self-esteem and a lot of aggressive energy. His sojourn to a monstrous society where he can express his atavistic alpha side is balanced by his ability to return, when he's lonely, to his own safe bedroom, where someone loves him best of all. Sendak's warm, fuzzy, menacing monsters have become cultural icons, and the rhythmic poetry of the story paints a timeless picture of the world of imagination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You were raised by wolves and you never want to go back to the wild.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Jerusalem Windows

Authors: Marc Chagall and Jean Leymarie

First line: Great works of art defy limitations of time and place, but sometimes strange combinations are required to produce such art.

Why you should read this book: Chagall's twelve stained glass windows, commissioned in 1959 for the shul of Jerusalem's Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, represent a groundbreaking fusion of ancient and modern. Working with biblical themes and twentieth-century techniques, he created twelve dazzling windows, one to commemorate each tribe of Israel. This book reproduces each gorgeous panel, as well as all of Chagall's preliminary work, bringing together five drafts for every finished window, so readers can follow the development of the artist's idea from conception to completion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're color-blind.