Friday, December 31, 2010

An entire year?

Man, another year has gone by, which means it's time for another year in review at Dragon's Library!

Although I beat my count (barely) from last year, it still felt like a lot of stuff prevented me from reading all I wanted. There are *piles* of unread books on my desk, and I'm still plowing through Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule along with the massive Natural History of the Sonoran Desert and some other stuff as well. However, this was the year that I first sold a short story (available this January in Bards and Sages, which you can purchase at Barnes and Noble, I've been told. Also the year that my leveled reader, Rosalind Franklin's Beautiful Twist was made available from Reading A-Z. Also this year, I was invited to review books at Steve Barancik's Best Children's Books. And, of course, I continue to make bank as a freelance writer.

My categories here leave something to be desired, I guess. Should Confessions of an Economic Hit Man go under "memoir" or "non-fiction"? Where do I draw the line between adult novels and YA novels? Ah, it's all arbitrary. Books are books. Here's a rough accounting.

Picture books: 48
Adult novels: 7
Nonfiction: 12
YA/juvie fiction: 40
Memoir/biography: 4
Short story collections: 4
Reference: 1
Myth/fairy tale collection: 4
Graphic novel: 2
Poetry: 1

Total Books Reviewed: 123

Happy New Year

The Nature of Arizona

Edited by: James Kavanagh

First line: James C. Rettie wrote the following essay while working for the National Forest Service in 1948. In a flash of brilliance, he converted the statistics from an existing government pamphlet on soil erosion into an analogy for the ages.

Why you should read this book: A handy little overview, this guide begins with a great description of the history of life in earth, then discusses evolution in general before delving into the specifics of the region's land and climate. The bulk of the book is color coded and divided by groups: mammals; birds; reptiles and amphibians; fishes; invertebrates; trees, shrubs, and cacti; and wildflowers, with short descriptive blurbs and color drawings of each species. Multiple appendices list attractions by region of the state, popular hikes, desert survival information, and more, making it a useful reference for tourists or newcomers to the state.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The size and scope of this book means that there is no depth to any entry, and that many species are omitted entirely.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Foreskin's Lament

Written by: Shalom Auslander

First line: When I was a child, my parents and teachers told me about a man who was very strong.

Why you should read this book: Although he has left the values of his ultra-orthodox Jewish upbringing far behind him, the author still believes in god: to wit, he believes that god is a colossal asshole just lying in wait to screw with him, and the occasion of his wife's pregnancy leaves him vulnerable to a wide variety of painful retribution by this vindictive deity. Integrating the story of his childhood, trapped by the restraining rituals of his community, his father's violent anger, his mother's impossible expectations; and the increasing dilemma that he faces as he determines whether or not to circumcise his unborn son to appease a family from which he is largely estranged, this memoir covers all the personal and painful ground that draws him forward. Guilt over sins real and imagined, an obsession with sex, pornography, masturbation, drugs, non-kosher food, and pretty much everything forbidden to him in his childhood forges an angry and humorous retrospective of the author's journey toward fatherhood and professional success.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You always know the right brachot.

Ritual No. 3: For the Exorcism of Ghosts

Written by: Amanda Rachelle Warren

First line: My brother is a variegated trillium and I am dying of beauty.

Why you should read this book: Running through the poems in this chapbook is the knowledge of palpable loss: a much-loved body missing from the poet's life, its essence lingering, coloring tone and word choice. At times, the poet's longing focuses the language up to the sky; at times, it summons the Appalachian dialect of her youth. There is beauty in the tension between the author's desire to hold on to the memory of something beautiful and the need to progress beyond a finality that pursues her even as it ties her to her own history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've already successfully exorcised all your ghosts employing rituals no. 1 and 2.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women

Written by: Katrin Tchana

First line: Where do fairy tales come from?

Why you should read this book: Accompanied by detailed, moving illustrations from her award-winning mother's pen, the author retells eighteen fairy tales from all around the world featuring powerful, self-reliant girls and women. The stories are funny, scary, dramatic, and romantic, with protagonists of all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages, and there is love, betrayal, transformation, and action along with tricksters, cross-dressers, devils, and killers. Great for bedtime stories or your Women's Studies final, this is a superb addition to your home library.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still waiting for your prince to come.

Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood

Written by: Veronica Chambers

First line: Anyone who has witnessed double Dutch knows that to be a part of the double-Dutch game means that you belong to a special group.

Why you should read this book: Combining the author's own narrative recollections of her youth as a jump rope master, action photography of girls in the rope, traditional jumping rhymes, a history of the sport, an overview of modern double Dutch competitions, and quotes from lovers of double Dutch, this is the definitive reference for those who want to know more about the history and culture of this often-overlooked sport. There is much joy in the retelling, along with the idea that double Dutch is an activity that brings people (not just young black girls, but people of all ages, races, and genders) together and empowers them to work toward a common goal. A nice reference that covers oral, personal, and cultural history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The only thing this book doesn't explain is how you get into that eggbeater rope! If, like me, you've been whipped in the face every time you tried, don't expect any help here.

Greg Hildebrandt's Book of Three-Dimensional Dragons

Written by: Gail Peterson

First line: Deep in a dripping cavern or mountain crap the fiercest of creatures real of imagines may be waiting for you, a hideous, stinking mass of volcanic fury.

Why you should read this book: A delicate but fearsome pop-up book, this large-format book is the perfect showcase for Hildebrandt's five three-dimensional dragons: the wyvern, the amphiptere, the lindworm, the dragon of Saint George, and the Chinese dragon. Each large paper dragon pops out from the page in a surprising and appealing way, accompanied by text explaining the basics. Although irresistible to children, this book is probably too nice for really young people, whose desire to touch these realistic and animated pieces of paper will soon destroy the artistry of the work.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a small, grabby toddler with grubby hands.

There's No Such Thing As a Dragon

Written by: Jack Kent

First line: Billy Bixby was rather surprised when he woke up one morning and found a dragon in his room.

Why you should read this book: Despite the presence of a very real dragon in the house, Billy's mother insists that there's no such thing as a dragon, and every times she makes this assertion, the dragon gets a little bit bigger. Even when the dragon is so large that it's wearing Billy's house like the shell on a snail, his mother continues to deny the existence of dragons. It's up to Billy to comment on the elephant (dragon) in the room and restore reason and sanity to their prosaic suburban lives.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're really good at ignoring things that clash with your worldview.

Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like

Written by: Jay Williams

First line: The city of Wu was perched on a hill between two mountains.

Why you should read this book: In a delightful modern classic, gorgeously illustrated by the ever-wonderful Mercer Mayer, a poor orphan named Han gets caught up in the middle of a local crisis when the Mongolian hordes sweep down on his tiny village and the Mandarin and his councilors all pray to the Great Cloud Dragon to save them. The short, fat, bald old man who appears does not match anyone's idea of what a dragon looks like, and despite his caution that, if you want a dragon to help you, you must give him something to eat, something to drink, and speak to him politely, the Mandarin tells him to get lost. However, Han is too polite to treat anyone rudely, and the short, fat, bald old man saves the city for his sake, revealing, once and for all, what a dragon actually looks like.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no time to talk politely.

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Popular Party Girl

Written by: Rachel Renee Russell

First line: I can't believe this is happening to me!

Why you should read this book: MacKenzie Hollister continues her campaign to make Nikki's life as miserable as possible by not inviting her to her birthday party, and then inviting her and humiliating her, and then quitting as chairperson of the Halloween dance and telling everyone that it's Nikki's fault. But Nikki is ready to rise to the challenge, especially after Brandon asks her out; in fact, she's so enthusiastic about her plans for Halloween that she accidentally schedules herself for three different activities, involving three different costumes, at the same time. Tonight, though, Nikki is going to come out on top, and nothing MacKenzie does can possibly ruin this night!

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're having a secret conference in the janitor's closet.

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life

Written by: Rachel Renee Russell

First line: Sometimes I wonder if my mom is BRAIN DEAD.

Why you should read this book: Fourteen-year-old Nikki J Maxwell has a lot to contend with: a little sister who lives in mortal fear of the tooth fairy, a mom who refuses to buy her a cell phone, a dad who drives around in his exterminator van with a giant bug on the roof, an appalling lack of friends at her new school, and a vindictive locker neighbor who happens to be one of the CCPs (cute, cool & popular girls) and knows how to make a dork's life miserable. With a scholarship to a private school (courtesy of her dad's exterminating business), a few friends she made in the library, and a really remarkable talent for art, Nikki works to make her mark at Westchester Country Day, get the best of the glamorous, cruel, wealthy MacKenzie Hollister, and get her secret crush Brandon just to notice her. Although this book really seems to be piggybacking on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid aesthetic, Nikki is a great deal more likable than Greg Heffley, and has a lot more to recommend her to young readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are too busy dying of embarrassment.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Finkler Question

Written by: Howard Jacobson

First line: He should have seen it coming.

Why you should read this book: Julian Treslove has always been equally fascinated and frustrated by his rival, Sam Finkler, and attributes all his companion's strengths, quirks, and foibles to the other boy's Jewish ancestry, although Finkler is still very different from the other Jew in Treslove's life, their old teacher, Libor. Following an incident in which Treslove is mugged by a woman who may or may not have been committing a hate crime, Treslove decides that he himself is a Jew, and falls in love with Libor's niece, while his old school chum, Finkler, becomes a virulent anti-Zionist and trumpets his shame to the world. This award-winning novel examines antisemitism in all its facets, along with the human flaws of its characters, their dreams and confusion, loyalties and betrayals, hopes and fears.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're angry about your circumcision.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Of Thee I Sing

Written by: Barack Obama

First line: Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?

Why you should read this book: Our literary president does it again, writing another eminently readable book, this one for young children, honoring his daughters, a baker's dozen of American heroes, and all the children in this country, from coast to coast, "of all races, religions, and beliefs." Each of the thirteen inspirational heroes depicted in these pages embodies a positive quality we should all aspire to possess: the bravery of Jackie Robinson, the strength of Helen Keller, the kindness of Jane Addams, the tenacity of Martin Luther King, Jr. Includes a brief biological sketch of each of the heroes, along with wonderful illustrations showing Sasha and Malia, joined by multicultural cast of children that grows on every page, admiring the intelligent, uplifting, and clever portraits of the heroes.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It made me cry a little.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Renegade History of the United States

Written by: Thaddeus Russell

First line: This is a new story.

Why you should read this book: This hugely controversial book reframes American history as the losing battle of the Puritan, socially conservative ruling class, epitomized by the work ethic and abnegation of men like John Adams, against the true authors of our beloved American freedoms: alcoholics, prostitutes, mobsters, gamblers, sexual deviants, people conforming to racist stereotypes, and those engaged in the production of music, movies, and comic books that failed to conform to a relentless Christian perspective. Dancing with abandon, mixing with other races, conspicuous material consumption, and other hallmarks of modern American freedom are examined with surprising candor from a historical perspective, as the author documents conservative resistance to equality, diversity, and open-mindedness. Although he selects his evidence carefully, in service of his thesis, the overall effect of the work is eye-opening, allowing the reader to appreciate the historical perspective and how little the doctrine of conformity, self-denial, and ceaseless work that supposedly defined the American citizen truly reflects the culture of our American character and opportunity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't consider "pursuit of happiness" a legitimate freedom.