Saturday, January 19, 2019

Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness

Written by: Anastasia Higginbottom

First line: When grown-ups try to hide scary things from's usually because they're scared too.

Why you should read this book: This book, written specifically for white children, begins to unpack the casual assumptions that lead to white people dismissing systemic racism, embracing "color blindness" as an alternative to confronting racism, and looking away from things that make them uncomfortable as acceptable responses to a problem they don't believe belongs to them. Racism, the little girl in this book comes to understand, is very much a white person's problem, and that ignoring it makes one complicit in inequality and human suffering. Understanding racism may feel uncomfortable, but, it is only the first step: opposing racism requires a series of conscious decisions to look at things that you might not want to see, be honest about truths that might be unpleasant, and to take action in the name of justice whenever and wherever the situation arises.

Why you shouldn't read this book: If you think you definitely shouldn't read this book, you definitely should.


Written by: Octavia Butler

First line: Rayal had his lead wife, Jansee, with him on that last night.

Why you should read this book: I just realized that the final novel in this story arc was the first book that Butler wrote and published, that none of the other books in the series were written in the chronological order that they were presented, and that there's actually a fifth book that sort of goes with the others but is also wholly unrelated, which Butler never allowed to be reprinted because she wasn't proud of it, but from a creative writing perspective, this is the last story in the Patternist series, about a young man who doesn't think he has any desire for power, but is forced to gather it in retaliation against an older brother who will destroy him to keep the power for himself. Teray values his freedom above all else and has carefully arranged his life to ensure that he doesn't end up in the sort of mental bondage that is all-too-common among moderately strong psychics in his extremely hierarchical world. His jealous brother, Coransee, refuses to take Teray's word that his will not stand in Coransee's way, beginning a power struggle that forces the younger, less experienced man to grow up very quickly.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Some of the casual human bondage stuff is kind of disturbing; no one in this book has any rights.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

Written by: Edwidge Danticat and Alix Delinois

First line: When I was pulled from my house, eight days after the earthquake, my family was waiting.

Why you should read this book: Although it's the story of a boy buried in rubble for eight days after the great earthquake in Haiti, this is not a sad story, but rather a joyful tale that paints of a picture of the world that existed before the earthquake. A little boy, asked about his harrowing ordeal, explains how he used his beautiful memories of Haiti to keep his spirits up while he waited for rescue, focusing each day on a lovely image of place and community. In an afterword, Danticat explains how the country of Haiti has been irreparably changed by the earthquake, and the book is her effort to save a vision of a beautiful world that younger children might never know.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are deathly afraid of earthquakes or being buried alive.

Bera the One-Headed Troll

Written by: Eric Orchard

First line: Somewhere north and east there is a secret cove.

Why you should read this book: Bera is a simple one-headed troll, happily tending her crop of pumpkins for the royal family, until the day she spots some wicked mermaids playing roughly with a human baby mislaid by a renegade witch. Accompanied by her owl friend, Winslowe, Bera sets off on what she is sure will be a mini-quest to seek out a true hero worthy to save the baby, but none of the heroes in her neck of the woods are sufficiently heroic to do the job. Now she's far from home, navigating a world of goblins, rats, hedgehog wizards, wolves, flying eyeballs, and, of course, much larger trolls with many more heads than she has.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a very strict definition of "family" and it doesn't include trolls, owls, rats, or goblins.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Written by: Daniel Clowes

First line: So? What does it say?

Why you should read this book: Usually I'm not a huge fan of time travel narratives, which always seem to hit a point of ridiculous that makes suspension of disbelief impossible, but this story, about a man with nothing to lose seeking to alter the timeline to save his wife and unborn child, remains fairly straightforward and intelligible, never sacrificing story to science fiction conventions. Jack Barlow  had a terrible life before he met Patience, whose childhood was so much more terrifying than his that she won't even discuss it with him, and now that she's gone, Jack has nothing left to live for. His obsession leads him to seek out a time travel device he doesn't entirely understand, and embark on a journey that will explain everything and possibly lead to redemption, for Patience and the baby if not for Jack himself.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Sexual violence perpetrated by gross dudes.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it 'the Riddle House,' even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

Why you should read this book: Things are about to get real in the wizarding world: Harry Potter's scar hurts all the time, he's plagued by dreams about Voldemort planning and committing atrocities, and if that's not bad enough, someone has illegally placed Harry's name into the Goblet of Fire, obligating him to participate in the incredible dangerous Triwizard Tournament competition, a fun little sporting even that only results in people dying some of the time. Although the year starts off with a fun trip to see Ireland win the Quidditch cup, Harry's school year is rife with terror as he must face a variety of monsters while fighting with his best friend and suffering the ire of three-quarters of Hogwarts. But nothing is as it seems this year, and, despite all the people sticking their necks out to help him, Harry is in even more danger than ever.

Why you shouldn't read this book: This is where the series starts to get really traumatizing.

Clay's Ark

Written by: Octavia Butler

First line: The ship had been destroyed.

Why you should read this book: An astronaut, infected with an alien parasite that offers superhuman strength and abilities to those who survive the initial infection, returns to earth with full knowledge of his disease but unable to defy the biological imperative that the disease presents: to infect as many people as possible and to procreate often. Part of Eli knows that, for the sake of humanity, he should die, but somehow he ends up infecting an entire family and creating a new species of human being, with the intention of containing the outbreak to a limited and isolated population. But the disease demands more hosts, some of whom are determined to escape captivity and seek medical treatment, which, as Eli knows, will mean that humanity stands little chance against this invasion.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Although this novel present a key story arc in the Patternist series, it completely leaves Doro's experiment and the Patternists behind as it explores this other evolutionary path.

Hereville: How Mirka Caught a Fish

Written by: Barry Deutsch

First line: Hashem has blessed us so much.

Why you should read this book: Irrepressible young adolescent Mirka is ready for her next adventure, but her stepmother has already chosen for her: it will be an adventure in babysitting her younger stepsister, with whom Mirka is already annoyed after catching her burying photographs of Mirka's late mother in order to confuse the Angel of Death. Although they're not supposed to go into the woods, Mirka and Layele do exactly that, eventually encountering a magic wish-giving fish who plays by his own rules and holds a lot of anger over events that took place long before Mirka was born. To protect her stepsister and her stepmother, Mirka will have to be stronger, faster, and more clever than the magical beings that inhabit her world, and she'll have to do it all while observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a truly wicked stepmother.