Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories

Written by: Etgar Keret

First line: This is the story about a bus driver who would never open the door of the bus for people who were late.

Why you should read this book: Minor miracles, unremarkable afterlives, heroes who are less than heroic, and imperfect relationships fill the pages of this short story collection, creating a world like a disconcerting dream that never quite reaches the level of nightmare but leaves you scratching your head in the morning, wondering where the heck you've been. There are dashed hopes, strange confrontations between Jews and Arabs, and a fascination with death and near-death experiences: sometimes the world seems utterly bleak and hopeless, and other times, a thin ray of hope penetrates the dark shroud of characters' disappointments. These stories are short, fast reads, two of which were made into feature-length films, all of which force the reader to examine their own notions of morality and self-determination.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You just can't imagine what would drive another human being to take their own life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits

Written by: Wray Herbert

First line: On February 12, 1995, a party of three seasoned backcountry skiers set out for a day on the pristine slopes of Utah’s Wasatch Mountain Range.

Why you should read this book: Brimming over with current research to demonstrate the complexities of the human mind, this book is an introduction to heuristics, the mental shortcuts that allow us to make fast decisions about our world and how we respond to it. Demonstrating both ways in which heuristic decisions effectively help us navigate a sea of snap decisions as well as how these hardwired prejudices can lead us astray when we really ought to know better, it’s a dazzling series of fast essays designed to force the reader to confront their own psychological response. Whether you feel as if your life is one deep rut, you want to analyze your own poor choices, or you just need to understand other people’s poor decisions, this eye-opening book provides proof of how many of our conscious decisions are shaped by unconscious forces.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Skeptical of change. Content not to know.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories

Written by: Isaac Bashevis Singer

First line: Children are as puzzled by passing time as grownups.

Why you should read this book: Seven delightful tales of shtetl life, clever fools, vindictive devils, and brave children comprise this collection from an award-winning writer whose work transports the reader to another time, and a world long-gone. Three of the stories tell about the wondrous village of Chelm, where everyone is an utter fool, given to hysterical, grandiose misconceptions and deeply flawed reasoning. The title story is a lovely tale of the love a small boy can hold for a small animal, demonstrating how miracles may appear in real life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already surrounded by hysterical idiots and you've just slaughtered a goat or otherwise killed an animal beloved to your children.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bootsie Barker Bites

Written by: Barbara Bottner

First line: My mother and Bootsie Barker's mother are best friends.

Why you should read this book: The child narrator is repeatedly terrorized by pint-size bully, Bootsie Barker, whose violent aggression destroys her favorite possessions and leaves her in constant fear for her physical safety. Her mother urges her to "get along" and at night she dreams of various scenarios in which Bootsie Barker might be permanently removed from her life, until the day her mother announces the wonderful surprise: that Bootsie will be sleeping over. With zero support from the adults in preserving her health, the narrator invents a new game, one that will turn the tables on Bootsie, teach her the meaning of fear, and cause her to refuse to spend another minute in the house.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are a carnivorous dinosaur.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Holiday Tales of Sholom Aleichem: Stories of Chanuka, Passover, & Other Jewish Holidays

Translated by: Aliza Shevrin

First line: There are people who have never learned anything but who can do everything, who have never been anywhere but who know everything, who have never given a thought to anything yet understand everything.

Why you should read this book: Although best known for his character Tevye the Milkman, popularized in Fiddle on the Roof, Sholom Aleichem's genius brings to life a wide range of characters, rich and poor, scholarly and uneducated, pious and mischievous. In this collection of seven short stories, a variety of young boys describe the atmosphere surrounding their families' celebration of different Jewish holidays with nostalgia, whimsy, and ironic regard. Painting his pictures of the long-gone shtetl world, the author demonstrates a pure grasp of storytelling that shines through even in translation.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take religion very seriously.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Rough-Face Girl

Written by: Rafe Martin

First line: Once, long ago, there was a village by the shores of Lake Ontario

Why you should read this book: Part of a longer story cycle, this tale, billed as an Algonquin Cinderella, tells of three sisters who wish to marry the Invisible Being, but must first pass the Being's sister's test: Only the one who can see him can marry him. Mistreated by her older sisters, the Rough-Face Girl has had her hair and complexion ruined by years of hard work, but her isolation gives her space to contemplate the world and know the true face of the Invisible Being, providing an edge over her well-dressed, smooth-skinned sisters. Rich, textured, detailed illustrations by David Shannon bring this story to life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're teaching your children to point at ugly people and call out their shortcomings.

Lord of Misrule

Written by: Jaimy Gordon

First line: Inside the back gate of Indian Mound Downs, a hot-walking machine creaked round and round.

Why you should read this book: The winner of the 2010 National Book Award reveals the seedy world of broken-down horse racing at a track where the horses, the trainers, the owners, and the gamblers are all on their last legs. Enter young fool, Tommy Hansel, and his slightly less foolish girlfriend, Maggie Koderer, with four horses and plan to make a fast buck and a fast getaway. Trouble is, everyone, from the old groom, Medicine Ed, to the old mobster Two-Tie can see they're up to something, and at Indian Mound Downs, everyone's looking for an angle, a score, or a way out.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Like all of Gordon's work, there is a huge burden on the reader to figure out what's going on. Shifting points of view, lack of quotation marks, dialog and exposition written in dialect and jargon (which shifts with the point of view) are only some of the literary devices that make this book somewhat difficult to follow.