Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Three Names of Me

Written by: Mary Cummings

First line: Ada Lorane Bennett. That is my name.

Why you should read this book: A little girl born in China and adopted by American parents pieces together her own personal history through the story of her names: the one her birth mother whispered to her, which she can never remember; the one given to her by the nurses in the orphanage where she was abandoned, and the English name she was given at her adoption. She examines the parts of her that are Chinese (her looks, her love of a red silk outfit, the few Chinese words she knows) and those that are American (her family, her love of hot dogs), and concludes that she is a person who is loved. The book concludes with a small scrapbook and a note from the character encouraging readers to create their own personal scrapbooks and, if they are American children of Chinese origin, to learn more about their homeland.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe kids should be told they are adopted.

The Hero Beowulf

Written by: Eric A. Kimmel

First line: Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, had been a hero since childhood.

Why you should read this book: The beginning of the ancient epic is retold as a tense and edgy story for children who enjoy battles, monsters, and death. The story begins with Beowulf's heroic childhood killing trolls and sea serpents before shifting to King Hrothgar's trouble in the mead hall. Although this version ends with Grendel's death and the subsequent celebratory feast, it is otherwise fairly faithful to the original text.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have taught your seven-year-old to read old English.

Klara's New World

Written by: Jeanette Winter

First line: Our little plot of land was poor and full of stones.

Why you should read this book: This detailed and evocative book provides a realistic picture of a Swedish family's journey from hardship in their homeland to a new life in America. Klara's family is coming closer and closer to starving when a letter from her father's friend convinces them to leave everything behind and start again. Detailing their preparations, goodbyes, the ocean voyage to America, the land voyage to Minnesota, and the ways they create their new home, this realistic tale is an eye-opening, child's-eye view into 1860s immigration.

Why you shouldn't read this book: One dead baby.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics

Written by: Gary Zukav

First line: When I tell my friends that I study physics, they move their heads from side to side, they shake their hands at the wrist, and they whistle, "Whew! That's difficult."

Why you should read this book: After attending an afternoon conference on the subject, the author set out to create a book that would explain, to the lay reader, all the intricacies of quantum physics, using accessible language, without any mathematics at all. The resulting classic work of non-fiction covers the evolution of human knowledge concerning the nature of the universe, combining scientific theories with the eastern philosophy that quantum physics more and more resembles as the nature of our perceived physical reality is revealed to be nothing more than probabilities, not at all what it appears on the surface. Space and time, matter and energy, it seems, are all one single, interconnected thing and, on a subatomic level at least, the possibilities are mind-boggling and perhaps unknowable.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's still kind of difficult.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Written by: Simon Winchester

First line: In Victorian London, even in a place as louche and notoriously crime-ridden as Lambeth Marsh, the sound of gunshots was a rare event.

Why you should read this book: A fascinating historical volume, it recounts the tale of three protagonists, two human and one comprising ideas made manifest. The Oxford English Dictionary is the most ambitious and complete catalog of the English language, which took the better part of a century to compose; its chief editor, Professor James Murray, was a determined autodidact with a single-minded devotion to the task, while one of its chief contributors, Dr. William Chester Minor, was a paranoid schizophrenic murderer who completed his work, and indeed lived more than half his life, confined to an asylum for the criminally insane. The story of these three lives (for indeed, the book has a life of its own and is very much a character in the story) unfolds with wonderful pacing, humor, sympathy, and intelligence.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a very small vocabulary, and you'd like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Liespotting: Proven Techniques to Detect Deception

Written by: Pamela Meyer

First line: I didn't set out to become a liespotter.

Why you should read this book: Following years of research, Meyer collected enough data on lying and human perception to develop a system that can improve anyone's ability to spot a lie by twenty-five to fifty percent; her work shows how detailed analysis of facial expressions, body language, and, most importantly, speech patterns, can help the average person determine whether he or she is being lied to. While primarily geared towards people in business and detecting whether partners, employees, customera, or other businesspeople are being truthful, this system, laid out with charts and images, can help anyone undercover the reportedly hundreds of lies we are each told every day. The book helpfully explains how to lead a discussion when searching for the truth, how to lie-proof your company, and the best ways to surround yourself with truthful people, and includes important information is summarized in the appendix.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a sociopath trying to figure out how to get through an interrogation.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Giver

Written by: Lois Lowry

First line: It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.

Why you should read this book: Above all, sameness is prized in Jonas’s community, where everyone is content and cared for, and everyone conforms to the rules, unless they want to be “Released” and go live “Elsewhere.” When he turns twelve, the age at which all children have their future careers revealed to them by the Elders, Jonas is selected to become the Receiver of Memories, to learn and hold all the history—good and bad—that the community has chosen to forget in order to create their perfect society. What Jonah learns from the old Receiver, now the Giver, shreds his faith in his world and causes him to question everything and everyone he has ever known.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You never question authority.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato

Written by: Lauren Child First line: I have this little sister, Lola. Why you should read this book: Lola does not eat carrots, peas, potatoes, or fish sticks, along with a long list of arbitrary foods that offend her delicate sensibilities. This makes it difficult for her big brother, Charlie, to feed her dinner, until he renames the despised foods and provides them with fabulous back-stories, which turn carrots, peas, potatoes, and fish into tempting treats. Once she realizes how delicious a varied diet is, Lola decides that she can transcend the limitation of her own restrictions by reimagining the names and origins of other formerly untouchable foodstuffs. Why you shouldn’t read this book: You don’t eat green things either, and you don’t think it’s ever OK to lie to children, whether or not it's in their best interest, whether or not they're in on the joke.