Monday, July 28, 2008

Doorways in the Sand

Author: Roger Zelazny

First line: Lying, left hand for a pillow, on the shingled slant of the roof, there in the shade of the gable, staring at the cloud-curdles in the afternoon's blue pool, I seemed to see, between blinks, above the campus and myself, an instant piece of sky-writing.

Why you should read this book: In this classically perfect work of speculative fiction, professional dilettante Fred Cassidy finds his idyllic life as perpetual undergrad by day, acrophiliac by night, disrupted by someone else's quest for an ancient alien artifact. Set upon by thugs, rescued by inscrutable extra-terrestrials disguised as marsupials, assaulted by a well-meaning telepathic tree, reversed by alien technology, shot repeatedly, and just generally dragged around the globe in pursuit of a mysterious crystal whose disappearance could threaten the future of mankind, Fred is a reluctant hero on a journey into the bizarre. Just a wonderful piece of science fiction with spaceships, guns, technology, and elements of mystery, drama, comedy, espionage, and action-adventure.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're stuck in Amber.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body

Author: Courtney E. Martin

First line: Eating disorders affect more than 7 million American girls and women, and up to 70 million people worldwide.

Why you should read this book: Examining the intersection between third-wave feminism and ideals of beauty in popular culture, Martin produces a chatty, personable account of how the beauty myth continues to affect American women of all ages, races, and socio-economic background. The narrative is not primarily about eating disorders, but rather the influences that lead otherwise strong and healthy girls and women to adopt unhealthy patterns of self-talk and behavior in response to unmet needs and unrealistic expectations of achievement. From family messages, sexual awakenings, and popular music to pornography, Title IX athletics, and the college experience, this book confronts the false messages of modern life and suggests new ways of looking at the self.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're pretty satisfied with your looks, and so are all the women you know.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pippi Longstocking

Author: Astrid Lindgren

First line: On the outskirts of a tiny little town was a neglected garden.

Why you should read this book: For over sixty years, children have delighted in the antics of the independent redhead who wears mismatched stockings, throws policemen off her porch before lifting her horse onto it, and keeps a monkey for a companion. Whether grown-ups are failing to throw her out of school, the circus, or an elegant coffee party, the boundless optimism of a little girl raised by pirates at sea offers the perfect antidote to the rigid world of rules and inhibition. This link goes to a newly translated edition that feature delightful new illustrations that toy with language just as Pippi does and bring an updated look to a classic text.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You consider instructional manuals, moral tales, and the occasional bible story acceptable forms of children's literature

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Clan Apis

Author: Jay Hosler

First line: Once upon a long, long time ago, there was a whole lot of nothing.

Why you should read this book: With buoyant, modern humor, the author puts a anthropomorphic face on the life of the honeybee while using his scientific knowledge to illustrate all facets of the creature's life cycle and behaviors. Nyuki is a bit of a smartass worker bee, thoughtful and sensitive, who eventually grows up, like all her sisters, to be a great boon to the community. The story's ending demonstrates the interconnectedness of all things and asks us to reexamine what it means to contribute to our own society.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're too busy researching Colony Collapse Disorder or battling with bee mite infestations in your own hives.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America

Author: Jeff Wiltse

First line: In 1898 Boston's mayor Josiah Quincy send Daniel Kearns, secretary of the city's bath commission, to study Philadelphia's bathing pools.

Why you should read this book: The history of municipal swimming pools in America is the history of struggling intersections in race, class, and gender relations. Beginning with bath houses, segregated by gender but mixed by race, installed for the purpose cleansing the working class, moving through an era in which American women expressed greater social freedom through the shrinking of the bathing suit, and exploding in the 60s, as swimming pools become another battleground in the war between racial hostility and the drive toward equality, the narrative unfolds with a kind of clarity available only to historians in hindsight. While the author has a tendency to repeat himself, in general the narrative moves at a good pace, with plenty of statistics, quotes, and historical documentation to demonstrate the function played by swimming pools at different points in the last 120 years and their importance to our American ideals of prosperity, integration, leisure, cleanliness, and social space.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Hydrophobia.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

Authors: James Sturm and Rich Tommaso

First line: Ain't easy leavin' your wife and child, but you can't be a ballplayer unless you willin' to travel.

Why you should read this book: Told from the point of view of a black athlete who once faced off against the great Satchel Paige and came out on top, if only for a moment, this graphic novel offers slices from a time before Jackie Robinson, when Paige, who was widely considered the greatest pitcher of his day, was not allowed to try out for the major leagues due to racial discrimination. The story gives a good picture of life in the Negro League, prejudice and racially-motivated violence in the South in the era of Jim Crow, and the sense of humor necessary to survive and thrive in the midst of all these factors. The story also offers a wonderful sense of narrative redemption as the narrator, whose head-to-head with Paige left him unable to play ball, jumps fourteen years into the future to the day when he and his young son witness Paige's humiliation of the most hostile white men in their town.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're all for civil rights; you just can't stomach play-by-play descriptions of sporting events.


Author: Joe Kubert

First line: I am going to die here.

Why you should read this book: A graphic novel comprised of brutal descriptions and stripped-down but powerful illustrations, this is a faithful but fictional documentation of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, nominated for several prestigious awards. Yossel is an alternate-reality version of the author, whose real-life family escaped Europe prior to the war, but Yossel's family stayed in Poland, and it is only his exceptional ability to draw figures in the American comic book style that sustains the boy through the horror of his experience. Compelled to illustrate the world as it is revealed to him even as he escapes into fantasies of dinosaurs, Vikings, and superheros, Yossel testifies to the inhumanity of Nazi brutality and the courage of the rebels in a book that does not end happily, but does end truthfully, as a testament to the human spirit.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't stomach any graphic terror right now.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Praying at the Sweetwater Motel

Author: April Young Fritz

First line: Hello, God, it's me, Sarah Jane Otis.

Why you should read this book: When she helps her mother and little sister escape from her abusive, alcoholic father, Sarah Jane doesn't bank on ending up in the run-down Sweetwater Motel in Dublin, Ohio, the last place in the world her father will ever look for them. Now they're broke and alone and Sarah Jane has to start school, make friends, and hide her situation from the wealthy kids around her while coping with the grief of losing her father, her grandmother, her home, her best friend, and also her grandmother's horse. An uplifting story about the power to write your own narrative and make your own mistakes, knowing that there are always loving adults ready to catch you when you stumble.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You believe a marriage is an iron-clad contract between men and god and therefore shouldn't be broken for any reason.

It's a Bird

Author: Steven T. Seagle

First line: It didn't look like the rest of the letters on the report.

Why you should read this book: If it's a superhero comic, it transcends the boundaries of the medium in the same way that Superman transcends the limitations of mere mortals. Steve is a comic book writer who's been offered the sweetest cherry in the industry-- the chance to write the man of steel--but the dark secrets in his family's closet sour him on fantasy and inspire only the most cynical and bleak reimaginings of the hero from Krypton. With growing anger toward his editor, his girlfriend, his family, and the legions of men, young and old, who still cling to the idealized perfection of the four-color Superman of their dreams, Steve deconstructs the myth of Kal-el and finallly confronts the lies of his family's past.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You figure criticizing Superman is just plain unamerican.

Leap Years

Author: Ian Bennett

First line: Hi. I'm Jake.

Why you should read this book: Freshman year, Jake's life is so pathetic that even the bullies don't notice him, but that all changes when a six-foot tall frog named Wilbur enters into his life and persuades him to shake things up. Under the tutelage of his imaginary friend, Jake begins to break out of his self-imposed boredom, playing pranks at school, going out with girls, becoming a basketball star, and, eventually, senior class president. For all its fantasy, it's a fairly realistic portrait of how to be a happy teenager.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think high school is meant to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Books of Magic

Author: Neil Gaiman

First line: "I don't want anything to do with it."

Why you should read this book: Young Timothy Hunter is on the cusp of the most important decision of his life, whether or not to study ars magica and become the greatest magician of his generation. With pretty much every mystical character in the DC Universe popping up to offer help or menace, Tim journeys through worlds to learn the costs and benefits of the practice. Kind of a dense work for a graphic novel, packed with equal parts information and action.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've got the complete run of Promethea lined up on your bed table.