Monday, February 26, 2007

Freaks, Geeks, and Cook Kids: American teenagers, schools, and the culture of consumption

Author: Murray Milner, Jr.

First line: A great deal has been written about American teenagers.

Why you should read this book: Why do American teenagers, as a group, engage in so many behaviors that disturb adults? Milner argues that adolescent's lack of control over their own lives, combined with the very little bit of status available to them as a group, shapes high school society and adolescent behavior, and that reflects and contributes to the capitalist agenda. His research involved hundreds of reporters and observers providing field research over a space of years and covers the whole spectrum of the high school experience.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You haven't yet overcome the painful memories of your own puberty.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

History of the Irish in America

Author: Ann Kathleen Bradley

First line: When Columbus reached the New World in 1492, one of his crewmen was William Eris, or Ayers, a native of Galway in Ireland.

Why you should read this book: The Irish are absolutely everywhere in America. This is a fairly concise history with lots of great photographs and details.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You'd rather learn about the Irish in America by having a drink with one of the many Irish-Americans you undoubtedly already know.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

New Cat

Author: Yangsook Choi

First line: New Cat lived in a tofu factory in the Bronx in New York City.

Why you should read this book: A sweet little yarn about an office cat whose fulfilling life of sitting on papers, swishing her tail over computer monitors, and catching the odd rodent is almost cut short one night by a really naughty mouse and some badly damaged wiring.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't believe cats belong indoors, period, or you are distressed by the unfair villification of mice.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays

Editor: A. C. Cawley

Quote: Everyman: O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind! In thy power it lieth me to save; Yet of my good will I give thee, if thou will be kind: Yeah, a thousand pounds shalt thou have, And defer this matter till another day.
Death: Everyman, it may not be, by no way.

Why you should read this book: It's chiefly relevant to those interested in the history of English theater, or Christian thought, or medieval culture, and yet there's a lot to appreciate in these lay versions of religious stories, written by local poets and performed in the street by common laborers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Calling a character "Everyman" is a little too blunt for your tastes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Passage to India

Author: E.M. Forster

First line: Except for the Marabar Caves--and they are twenty miles off--the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.

Why you should read this book: In a story rich with details of the physical and social landscape of India under British rule, Forster crafts a close-up portrait of the racism and prejudice that accompany the colonialist mindset. When newcomers Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested arrive on the subcontinent, their sense of adventure and belief in Christian love prevents them from assimilating the ideal that Indians and Englishwomen may not associate as intimates, and they embark on an excursion that will stoke the embers of discontent among all the people of Chandrapore. A vivid novel that opens a window onto a fractured world foreign to most readers.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You continue to mourn the day the sun set on the British Empire.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Q Road

Author: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: At the eastern edge of Kalamazoo County, Autumn woolly bear caterpillars hump across Queer Road to get to the fields and windbreaks of George Harland's rich river valley land.

Why you should read this book: In her first novel, Bonnie Jo Campbell paints the world of rural Kalamazoo Country in lush brushstrokes, with a history and cast of characters as fertile as the soil. George Harland's 880 acres and his great-great-grandfather's barn, the oldest in the township, provide the backdrop for a day that will delineate the past and define the future for a cast of incredible characters.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have a "Pave the Earth" bumper sticker on your car and you think it's funny.

Click here to read my complete review at In the Weird

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stories for Children

Author: Isaac Bashevis Singer

First line: It was known that the village of Chelm was ruled by the head of the community and the elders, all fools.

Why you should read this book: A broad collection of intelligent stories for curious children. Singer includes a mix of realistic recreations of the extinct world of the shtetl and the modern world of the city, along with fantastic tales of imps and demons, and silly stories of fools and tricksters. Simple pleasures that still possess to the power to delight and amaze a half century after their original publication.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want your children to know about other cultures.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Diet for a Dead Planet: How the Food Industry Is Kiling Us

Author: Christopher D. Cook

First line: You are in the supermarket, exhausted after another long day at the office (or perhaps the factory).

Why you should read this book: Every element of the food industry in America is regulated, not by what is healthy, sustainable, or even beneficial for farmers, but by giant business conglomerates possessing complete control over the government agencies meant to regulate them. Monoculture, pesticide use, corporate control, exploitation of migrant laborers, tainted food, dependence on processed food, unfair subsidy distribution, and two hundred fifty years of surplus are killing Americans. As succinct as it can possibly be, given the density of the material, this book lays out the hidden facts of the food industry and the capitalistic forces that threaten to destroy our prosperity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You live hundreds of miles from the nearest commercial farm or ranch, off the grid, organically producing all your own food according to the principles of sustainable agriculture, bartering with your neighbors for anything you can't raise yourself.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Author: Mark Twain

First line: You don't know about me, without you read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter.

Why you should read this book: Huck Finn never gets old, but the older you get, the more you can appreciate his multi-layered story and the author's capacity for jabbing a jocular elbow in the gut of America's hypocrisy. Huck's voice is innocent, honest, and wondrous to behold.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Your head explodes when you read the "n" word in historical context.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Geek Love

Author: Katherine Dunn

First line: "When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.

Why you should read this book: It's the story of a family of circus freaks, and it's my favorite novel of all time.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think you're normal.

Read my full-length review at In the Weird!

Saturday, February 3, 2007


Author: Jeff Noon

First line: A young boy puts a feather into his mouth...

Why you should read this book: It's a hard, sad, angry head trip of a novel in which strange technological advances and a new class of virtual reality drugs have created a nightmarish future England. Scribble is determined to rescue his beloved sister, Desdemona, from the dream world of the vurt, and he embarks on a quest full of drugs, sex, and violence to reach her.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't want to do any work to figure out what the heck the writer's talking about. Incest, bestiality, and xenophilia figure prominently into the story, so it's not for everyone.

Jews without Money

Author: Mike Gold

First line: I can never forget the East Side street where I lived as a boy.

Why you should read this book: Published during the depression, this book fictionalizes the author's childhood growing up in the Jewish ghetto of New Yorks Lower East Side. Thieves and gangsters abound, and his diminutive Yiddish mother is a tireless Marxist hero battling a world where uninhibited capitalism crushes those who do not hold its reins.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still afraid of Communism.

Friday, February 2, 2007

What We Talk about When We Talk about Love

Author: Raymond Carver

First line: In the kitchen he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.

Why you should read this book: From one of America's foremost storytellers, a collection of short tales about strong emotions, relationships gone wrong, and the booze that feeds the fire of old passions.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a romantic looking for a happily-ever-after ending.