Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

Why you should read this book: After years of playing hide and seek, evil has shown its face as Voldemort and his Death Eaters take control of Hogwarts, the Ministry, and everything else England. While Muggles and Half-Bloods suffer in the streets, Harry, Ron, and Hermione hide in the forest, plotting their recovery of the horcruxes they must destroy before they can hope to defeat Voldemort. It's heavy work for isolated teenagers, but Harry is the Chosen One and nothing will stop him from fulfilling his destiny.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It's easily the slowest book in the series, and the most in need of a brutal editing job, but if you've come this far, you might as well trudge along with Harry and his friends to the admittedly thrilling conclusion.

Grumpy Monkey

Written by: Suzanne Lang and Max Lang

First line: One wonderful day Jim Panzee woke to discover that nothing was right.

Why you should read this book: Having awoken on the wrong side of the bed, as the saying goes (in fact, he lives in a tree), Jim Panzee feels like everything is unpleasant. His friends and neighbors note his mood, decide he's grumpy, and offer numerous helpful suggestions for looking and acting less grumpy, none of which change his overall outlook on the day. Finally, Jim finds a friend who can understand how he feels and help him realize that sometimes it's OK to just feel bad.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't understand why anyone would choose to feel bad when they could just be happy instead.

Willie's Not the Hugging Kind

Written by: Joyce Durham Barrett and Pat Cummings

First line: Willie wanted someone to hug.

Why you should read this book: Ever since his friend Jojo announces that it's silly for Willie to hug his father goodbye before school, Willie has been adamant that he doesn't want hugs. His family accepts that Willie is not the hugging type, but Willie's sense of unease over his announcement increases every time he sees other people hugging, and every time he tries to substitute something else for the affection he's rejected. In the end, of course, it turns out the Willie is not only the hugging type after all, but also the type to stand up to Jojo's disapproval.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You are so blinded by toxic masculinity that you allowed the patriarchy to steal the joy and power of physical contact from you.


Written by:Virginia Hamilton

First line: The was an awful racket and swoosh as the books John Perry carried slipped out of his arms and scattered over the floor.

Why you should read this book: Shipped off to spend the summer on Uncle Ross's farm, proper young Elizabeth decides to reinvent herself for a few months; she will now be Geeder who can probably charm horses with her voice, and her annoying little brother John will be more tolerable in the guise of Toeboy. Life on the farm is lovely, with delicious well water and the chance to sleep out under the stars, and also to admire the tall and lovely Miss Zeely, whose father rents Uncle Ross's field for his hogs, and whose regal bearing marks her so obviously as an African princess. Geeder spins a complex fantasy life for the woman she admires but doesn't know, but she'll have to learn the difference between imagination and reality, and how it affects the people around her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live entirely in a fantasy world.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé

Written by: Morgan Parker

First line: I am free with the following conditions.

Why you should read this book: This poetry is powerful and confrontational, forcing the reader to consider the world, and specifically race and sexuality, from multiple unrelenting points of view. Up-to-the-minute modern and uncompromisingly feminist, the book tightly corrals language into beautiful and acrobatic formations to demonstrate joy, pain, frustration, rage, hope, determination, and, over and over again, the place of Beyoncé in American culture. I don't read a lot of poetry and can't really critique it the way I can prose, but I can say that the way the words are strung together in this collection is intense and evocative, creating strong and meaningful images and allowing the reader a new window on the world.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're not impressed with Beyoncé.

The Martian

Written by: Andy Weir

First line: I'm pretty much fucked.

Why you should read this book: The ultimate survival story combines a man-versus-nature trope with a hostile alien environment and just about as much science as a liberal arts major can handle as nerdy, foul-mouthed, resourceful Mark Watney survives 549 solitary sols (Martian days) on an unforgiving planet with nothing but a thumb drive of terrible sitcoms for company. Problem-solving at every turn, finding humor in the bleakest moments, nearly dying over and over, typically triumphing against the odds, and recording it all for posterity while the rest of humanity bites its nails and does what it can to help, Watney demonstrates that if anyone is going to get stranded on the red planet, it better be a botanist-engineer who's well-liked by his colleagues. As a bonus, the most ridiculous moment of the movie doesn't actually happen in this book, where it's no more than one of a thousand wisecracks Watney makes to combat the knowledge that almost everything he does could result in instantaneous death approximately one hundred and forty million miles from home.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Can't handle any science explanations whatsoever.

Maggie and the Pirates

Written by: Ezra Jack Keats

First line: Maggie and her parents lived in an old bus which they made into their home.

Why you should read this book: A sweet story, lushly illustrated, about a little girl whose beloved pet cricket is kidnapped by a new kid in town who doesn't know how to make friends. Maggie sets out to save her insect companion and his cool cage, but ends up saving something else. Provocative and unusual, a good story to start discussion with little ones.

Why you shouldn't read this book: More pet death.

Around the World in Eighty Days

Written by: Jules Verne

First line: Mr Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the in which Sheridan died in 1814.

Why you should read this book: There is a good-natured but pointed humor in this enduring classic tale of a stoic and unadventurous man who wagers pretty much everything he has that modern technology is sufficient to transport him and his faithful but occasionally feckless manservant around the world in a heretofore undreamed eighty days. Phileas Fogg and Passepartout employ steamers and railways, and sometimes elephants and sleds that sail on ice, in a breakneck journey, picking up along the way a beautiful Indian widow and a ruthless undercover police officer as they battle timetables, the weather, buffaloes, religion, general incompetence and willful intervention in their quest to demonstrate that a cool demeanor and almost limitless cash can solve any problem. Good fun, decent science and geography.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Brief instance of casual racism of the type not uncommon in nineteenth century British novels.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Written by: JK Rowling

First line: It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.

Why you should read this book: Voldemort is absolutely, positively, definitely back, his Death Eaters are wreaking havoc in the wizarding and muggle worlds, and Dumbledore's willing to give Harry just enough information to keep him on his toes without really understanding what's going on. Between extra-curricular activities with his favorite professor, learning to apparate, and having his best-ever year in potions (thanks to a usefully glossed second hand textbook and Snape having finally gotten his coveted Defense against the Dark Arts post), Harry's got to deal with his nagging certainty that Malfoy's a Death Eater and that people around him seem to be in slightly more than the usual amount of danger. Bad things are happening, and despite what everyone around him keeps saying, Harry's certain that it's up to him to make them stop.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Spoiler alert! Beloved pet murder.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Idiot

Written by: Elif Batuman

First line: I didn't know what email was until I got to college.

Why you should read this book: Selin, the eighteen-year-old Americanized daughter of Turkish immigrants, is academically prepared for the rigors of her first year at Harvard in 1995, but with little romantic experience, she lacks the tools to protect herself from inevitable heartache. Fascinated by an older Hungarian student named Ivan, Selim spends hours pouring her heart out over email, and poring over Ivan's responses, without fully understanding the depth of the water in which she is wading. Her trip to Hungary, ostensibly to be closer to this unattainable boy, helps her begin to understand who she is in relation to herself, others, and the world around her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're in love with someone you only know on the internet and you're not interested in more experienced people's opinion on the actual viability of the relationship.

My Name Is Sangeol

Written by: Karen Lynn Williams, Khadia Mohammed, and Catherine Stuck

First line: "Don't worry, the Wise One said as Sangoel prepared to leave the refugee camp.

Why you should read this book: Sangoel, a Dinka refugee from Sudan, is immigrating to America his mother and sister. All he has in this world is his name, but nobody is this strange new country seems able to pronounce it correctly. Is Sangoel in danger of losing some part of his identity, or can he find a way to communicate to his peers how he wants to be addressed?

Why you shouldn't read this book: You gave up and let people call you by a three-letter, one-syllable Americanized nickname.

If the World Were a Village

Written by: David J Smith and Shelagh Armstrong

First line: Earth is a crowded place, and it is getting more crowded all the time.

Why you should read this book: This is an introduction to world-mindedness for children, which explains diversity and creates the narrative that we on planet Earth are all in this together, although we are not all the same. The theoretical world village thought experiment reduces the world's 7.2 billion citizens down to 100 people, each representing 72,000 individuals, and explains the breakdown of religions, ethnicity, food security, and other basic concepts based on this much smaller, more manageable number of humans. Interesting and eye-opening, even for adults, with eye-catching images that encourage interaction with the text, along with useful appendices at the end to help further interpret the data.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're already working for the UN.

My Best Friend

Written by: Mary Ann Rodman & EB Lewis

First line: Today is Wednesday.

Why you should read this book: A little girl names Lily is terribly interested in a slightly older girl, Tamika, who she admired greatly and desires for best friend status. The problem is that Tamika already had a best friend, Shanice, and neither of them are interested in hanging around with younger kids. Meanwhile, an even younger girl named Keesha looks up to Lily and want would love to have her as a best friend, if she would just notice her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't like anyone and you hate swimming.