Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Year in Review, 2019

Well, I fell just a bit short of the goal of reviewing 100 books this year. In fact, I did start some picture book reviews on paper and then lost the paper and forgot about the books, and I actually have 4 unread or partially read library books on my desk, but the end of December was particularly strange this year, and here we are: 95 is also a respectable number.

The middle grade/YA number includes all those terrible Warriors books I read to my stepdaughter. (they are objectively awful, unless you are interested in a poorly written but extremely predictable feral cat-based soap opera) as well as most of the delightful Worst Witch books. The graphic novel category includes several graphic nonfiction memoirs, and comprises graphic novels written for adult, teen, and child audiences.

Here come the numbers.

Dragon's Library Year in Review, 2019

Picture books: 13
Middle grade/YA: 25
Non-fiction: 2
Novels: 14
Graphic novels: 34
Short story collections: 2
Memoir/bio: 3
Poetry: 1
Art: 1

Total: 95 books reviewed.

Happy New Year! Keep reading voraciously and indiscriminately!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead

Written by: Bill Griffith

First line: Gather round, folks, gather round!!

Why you should read this book: Here is the never-before told life story of Schlitzie the Pinhead, a microcephalic individual who was sold to a sideshow manager as a child and spent nearly his entire life working as a circus freak. Schlitzie's immortality was cemented by his turn in the 1932 cult classic, Freaks, a film that decades later stirred the imagination of author Bill Griffith, inspiring his popular comic, Zippy the Pinhead (as well as the imagination of the author of this blog, some decades later). Schlitzie's story, reconstructed here through Griffith's research and in the words of those who knew him, is by turns inspiring, heartbreaking, hilarious, and provocative.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find the very idea of a freak show "loathsome, obscene, grotesque, and bizarre" and would prefer all human anomalies to be safely ensconced within the very high, very thick walls of an asylum.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Motherhood So White

Written by: Nefertiti Austin

First line: "Come on, August, grab your pullover."

Why you should read this book: When thirty-six-year-old romance author Nefertiti Austin starts noticing what she calls the "mommie-jones," her desire for children, coupled with her fears of failed relationships and her respect for the grandparents who raised her when her own parents could not rise to the task, lead her to pursue adoption. But she soon realizes that adopting a stranger's child is an uncommon notion in the Black community, and further, that there are no resources or representation for single Black adoptive mothers, and that many of the people in her social and family circles cannot understand this decision. Undaunted, she navigates the foster system, adopts a little boy (and eventually his younger sister), works through her emotions surrounding her family of origin, and decides to write this book to offer other Black women the narrative that was unavailable to her as she began her journey. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You can't understand why anyone would want to devote their lives to raising anybody's child, even their own.


Written by: Raina Telgemeier

First line: Mom?

Why you should read this book: After the unfortunate night during which her entire family suffers from a stomach bug, Raina gradually develops some strange, psychosomatic tummy troubles: not just stomach aches and nausea, but a deep-seated fear of vomiting and passing gas, inexplicably linked with and exacerbated by all her adolescent insecurity. When medical science can't find a reason for her distress, her mother forces her to see a therapist, but her internal fears deepen as her obsession with her stomach, and only eating foods that will move comfortably through her body, become almost all-encompassing, affecting her schoolwork and her relationships. Meanwhile, she has to deal with the girl who doesn't like her for some reason, public speaking in class, and the prospect of her best friend moving away; only when she learns that expressing her shame and fear is healthier than bottling her discomfort up inside of herself can Raina overcome this unusual chapter in her physical history.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're feeling a bit queasy.

Best Friends

Written by: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

First line: Do you want to be best friends?

Why you should read this book: Picking up soon after Real Friends leaves off, Best Friends finds Shannon, still insecure, but ready to conquer sixth grade. Jen, the most popular girl in school, is her best friend now, and Shannon mostly understands social rules and expectations, but still spends most of her life wondering if she's doing things right, or if everyone is about to turn on her because she doesn't know the right music, or the right shows, or the right dance moves. In addition, now that everyone's having puberty, there are more rules to understand about the boys who have suddenly been added to the mix, and the other girls don't seem interested in Shannon's creative life, and she still gets weird vibes from the frenemy she told off at the end of the previous book, and now her anxiety has manifest in somatic symptoms that make it even more difficult to fit in.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You've spent a lot of time trying to forget the trauma of the eighties.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Parable of the Sower

Written by: Octavia E. Butler

First line: All that you touch/You change.

Why you should read this book: Published in 1993 but set in 2024-27, this speculative fiction novel presents a chilling, but plausible, picture of a near future in which human life has lost much of its value, corporations hold most of the power, and only a dwindling few people are able to band together to protect their version of civilization in walled communities under constant siege by a brutal, impoverished outside world. Lauren Olamina is one of the fortunate ones, a teenager protected by the walls of her small neighborhood, whose father is still employed, and who lives in relative comfort, despite her nagging belief that things outside the walls are getting worse and worse, and that no matter how they defend their borders, they will not be able to hold out indefinitely. Lauren begins exploring her own perception of reality, discovering a new religion she calls Earthseed, which addresses the types of change she anticipates, and preparing for the inevitable collapse of civilization, which is scheduled to take place even sooner than than she anticipates.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You would totally take a drug that turned you into pyromaniac with no regard for human life, and/or you think debtor's prisons and indentured servitude are valid options for addressing poverty.