Friday, November 27, 2009

The Heavenly Village

Author: Cynthia Rylant

First line: It is said that when people die, they travel to a place of Perfect Happiness, a place of Complete Ecstasy, a place called Heaven.

Why you should read this book: A strange little novel-in-short-stories, it describes the beautiful existence of angels-in-waiting in the Heavenly Village, a place halfway between heaven and earth where those not ready to move on can continue participating in human behavior. They may be waiting for those they left behind, atoning for mistakes of the past, or simply working to please their creator. Short, sweet, and non-denominationally Judeo-Christian, with uplifting bible quotes introducing each chapter.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You find nothing less inspirational than bible quotes.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train

Author: Kazu Kibuishi

First line: Old habits die hard, don’t they?

Why you should read this book: The artwork is lovely and expressive, a perfect blend of the gritty old West the a gleaming mechanized future, and the story perfectly encapsulates the spirit of both genres. Daisy Kutter, formerly the greatest train robber in the world, has retired from the life only to find herself sick with boredom as the proprietor of a dry goods shop, while her ex-partner, Tom, has found satisfaction as the sheriff. When she’s tempted to get back in the game for one last score, she and Tom get more in the giant-robot-and-flying-bullets department than they ever bargained for.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re still in deep mourning over the cancellation of Firefly.

The Friendship & The Gold Cadillac

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

First line: “Now don’t y’all go touchin’ nothin’,” Stacey warned as we stepped onto the porch of the Wallace store.

Why you should read this book: Two stories by an award-winning author depict a moment in American history when civil rights in the deep south existed only as a dream that could scarcely be expressed aloud. In “The Friendship,” Cassie and her brothers witness the hypocrisy of a white man who owes everything to the black man who saved his life but cannot express his gratitude for fear of the repercussions from his community. In “The Gold Cadillac,” two little girls delight when their father brings home a symbol of their prosperity, but only gradually understand why their mother objects to his pride.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You always do what you want, and damn the consequences.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Editors: Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

First line: it didn't matter which one of us had married a rival Dungeon Master (that would be Holly) or lived for six weeks in the line for Star Wars (that would be Cecil), the moment that we met one another, we knew instantly that we were of the same tribe.

Why you should read this book: This collection of modern short fiction focuses on the multifaceted and often overlooked world of the geek (that segment of social outcast deeply involved in the practice and trivia of particular areas, such as theater, comic books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, RPGs, speculative fiction, and music), edging into the territory of nerd (that segment of social outcast deeply involved in knowledge, education, and facts). From LARPing, Quizbowl, and character orientation to Internet relationships, astronomy, and sex, this book reveals the full range of loserdom to reveal that we are all geeks, and none of us are alone. A fun selection of fast reads, interspersed with page-long comics illustrating the finer points of geekspeak.

Why you shouldn't read this book: The painful wounds of public school are still too fresh, and you're furiously engaged in hiding your inner geek from the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw

Author: Jeff Kinney

First line: You know how you’re supposed to come up with a list of “resolutions” at the beginning of the year to try to make yourself a better person?

Why you should read this book: Making resolutions is pretty pointless when you’re the best person you know, constantly foiled by a dad who steals your sugary snacks and wants you to be an athlete, a mom who’s even more embarrassing and makes you do your own laundry, and two brothers who know just how to ruin your life. All Greg wants to do is play video games and get Holly Hills to notice him, but that’s not likely with a best friend who just doesn’t know how to act, and the threat of military school hanging over his head. Will he ever catch a break, or will an epidemic of dirty pants and underwear exposition ruin his life?

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You think people who send videos of their kids to reality TV shows should go to jail.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Author: Jeff Kinney

First line: First of all, let me get something straight: this is a JOURNAL, not a diary.

Why you should read this book: Greg Heffley has middle school all figured out: keep your head down when there are bullies around, don’t get caught in the middle of a group of girls no matter how hot they are, and don’t get stuck with the cheese touch. Greg knows he’s much cooler than his parents, his brothers, or his best friend, and now he just has to wait for the rest of the world to understand that, too. If it weren’t for all the moron kids, clueless relatives, mean teenagers, and unfair teachers, Greg would be a lot happier, but things aren't always fair in this popular novel-in-cartoons.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Honesty is your benchmark.


Author: Cynthia Kadohata

First line: My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira.

Why you should read this book: Third-generation Japanese-American Katie Takeshima loves nothing so much as she loves her wonderful, talented, creative, inspirational big sister, Lynn. Even the discrimination they face in their new home in the deep south can’t put a dent in Katie’s joy in the most important part of life, playing with Lynn and their baby brother Sammy, while their parents work long hours in various chicken-processing plants, so they can afford their very own home. And once they get their wonderful house, Lynn’s hospital bills mount, because Katie’s amazing, glittering sister is very, very sick, and it’s hard to imagine how average, uninspired Katie can ever hold things together without her.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: It’s very, very sad.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Breaking Dawn

Author: Stephenie Meyer

First line: I'd had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn't something you ever really got used to.

Why you should read this book: If you've come this far in the Twilight series, you really don't have any other choice, do you? While the first quarter of the book basically comprises a lot of trite teenage wish-fulfillment, and the second quarter of the book is completely superfluous to the story and something of a literary offense, the second half of this book is easily the best part of the series. Bella comes into her own, substantially less annoying once her unending self-sacrifice has a focus and some muscle to back it up, characterization becomes integral to the plot, and even though you know a happy ending is in the cards, there's at least some suspense regarding who's going to die (not Bella).

Why you shouldn't read this book: You fear the unknown and believe it should be destroyed. Or you have anything better to do.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Food of the Gods: the Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge a Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution

Author: Terence McKenna

First line: A specter is haunting planetary culture--the specter of drugs.

Why you should read this book: Provocative, controversial, and iconoclast, this book makes a compelling argument, based on detailed historic, anthropological, and archeological evidence, that ritual, ecstatic, and communal use of psilocybin, or magic mushrooms, was the primary catalyst in the transformation of human beings from mere animals to creatures capable of higher thought and complex art, culture, language, religion, and civilization. This proto-civilization edenic past for which we still yearn, a matri-focused partnership society with a direct and respectful relationship to the vegetable world, was destroyed as alcohol and other intoxicants further removed and refined from the source enabled dominator societies to quash shamanic systems and place control of the world into the hands of a small, male ruling class. The progression of human society is presented as a progression of consciousness-altering substances, each one taking us further from paradise, and the book concludes with a plea to a return to ecstatic shamanic tradition, beginning with deregulation of all plant-based substances.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a stodgy old fundamentalist who fears that a global embrace of consciousness-expanding will wrench from you your death grip on the world's power and resources.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Author: Ingrid Law

First line: When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.

Why you should read this book: When you're a Beaumont, thirteen is a very special birthday, because that is the day when you first experience your savvy--a remarkable, unpredictable, and often violent power that may take years to control--so when Mibs' dad has a car wreck and ends up in a coma the day before she turns thirteen, she knows the trouble's only starting. Next thing she knows, the well-meaning but meddling preacher's wife determines that Mibs must have a big, public party, despite the family's tragedy, and Mibs decides it's time to stowaway on a bible-delivery bus and get to her father's side in the hospital. Accompanied by two of her brothers, and the preacher's two kids, she sets out on a magical ride through the midwest, destined to learn more about herself and the people around her than she ever wanted to know.

Why you shouldn't read this book: In your opinion, all tattoos are trashy, and writing on your skin is both wrong and dangerous.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Man's Search for Meaning

Author: Viktor E. Frankl

First line: This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.

Why you should read this book: In this classic, seminal, and controversial volume, the author relates his experience as a prisoner in various Nazi Concentration Camps during World War II, focusing on the psychology of the prisoner, the perspectives that allowed individuals to survive suffering and seeming hopelessness, and the basis for logotherapy, which he developed before the war and honed while interned. Modern editions include a chapter outlining the framework of logotherapy, which insists that humans must create their own meaning, whether they do so through action, experience, or dignity in the face of suffering, along with a final chapter which speaks to modern maladies resulting from the enforced ideal that one must "be happy." This book ought to be required reading for anyone over the age of fourteen, but especially for those who have ever suffered from depression or a sense of meaninglessness in life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You find nihilism warm, cozy, and comforting.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Author: Judy Blume

First line: My best friend, Tracy Wu, says I'm really tough on people.

Why you should read this book: Jill Brenner doesn't think there's anything wrong with teasing Linda Fischer, because Linda is a fat, smelly whale who probably doesn't have any feelings anyway, and besides, it was Wendy's idea, and you don't cross Wendy, ever. Jill thinks a lot of people probably deserve to be punished, like her annoying little brother, and the mean old man who doesn't give out Halloween candy, so why shouldn't she mete out justice? When the whole class calls Linda, "Blubber," it's true and funny, but what happens when an entire fifth grade class turns against a single individual?

Why you shouldn't read this book: This year, you're going to catch those meddling kids who dare to look at your property on October 31st.