Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book List 2012: Part 2

Since this edition of the book list contains a lot of children's books I figured I'd take a moment to explain why I still read books meant for little children.

The way I see it, a book is a book. An amazing children's book is no different than an amazing book for adults. And yet people often see kid's books as nothing more than basic, shallow, simple fare. They'll laugh if they see you reading a kids' book as if it's as ridiculous as you wearing a diaper or sitting in a high chair.

Why are you bothering with such things anyway? Wouldn't you prefer something of a higher caliber? Something that pushes the bounds of the medium? One with complex wordplay and clever metaphors and all that wonderful stuff?

But those kinds of questions come from a viewpoint that's looking at things completely wrong.

You can't hold up Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? to The Great Gatsby and expect them to be comparable. They have completely different goals. It'd be like deriding a Looney Toons cartoon for not having the stark realism of The Wire. Classics of literature use words to shape our imaginations and our understanding, but children's books are using words (and images) to show us why we want to understand those words at all. You can't expect a kid to enjoy swimming if they're afraid to even get in the pool, and all the wordplay of Shakespeare doesn't mean anything if you don't want to read it.

In cartooning, a cartoonist is effectively simplifying and reducing images to their essential elements. It can take something as visually complex as a human face and reduce it to a circle, a couple dots for eyes, and a curve for a mouth. By doing things like that it frees itself from the restrictions of the image; allowing it a greater range of emotion and movement. The image loses specificity and gains relatability.

And that's essentially what a great children's book does: it's just a literary classic that has been done in a style based simplified and highly accessible ideas. Long words and complicated ideas are great, but they require significant experience to fully comprehend. So if you can reduce the amount of experience needed to understand the piece then you can get great stories across to everyone. And by doing so you show can thus show them why stories are worth understanding. There's still wordplay and metaphors and drama and character development, they are just done is a completely different format. A format that appeals to children.

Kids might lack experience, but they aren't stupid. And neither are great kids' books.

There. My rant is over. Here are some books I read.

* = reread
[CB] = Children's Book
[GN] = Graphic Novel



by. Joe Hill

The story of man who was falsely accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. Despite having never been charged or tried for the crime, the entire town believes he's guilty. Then one day he wakes up to find he's grown horns and people start telling him all their deepest and darkest thoughts. But will this newfound power help him find the real killer or will learning the truth be too much?

The first Joe Hill book I read was called A Heart-Shaped Box. The fascinating thing about that book wasn't really the Horror (in and of itself), but how those themes of horror worked as a larger metaphor. This book does the same thing.

It could be read simply as a horror story about a man who grows a pair of horns that give him the power to tap into people's sins. The horror arising from the manipulation of sin and of the fear of what you might hear if you people told you what they really thought about you. However, the real thing that makes this book so great to me is that at its heart, it's the story of a man who's been vilified because of a horrific event and a story of how changes in the external perception of you can drastically change your inner perception.

While I would say it is still a horror story, I also think that term is a bit of a misnomer in this case. After all, a lot of the story takes place in the form of flashbacks and doesn't involve any fantastical or particularly horrific aspects at all. In fact, those parts are so well done that at times they are more interesting than the fantastical parts. You kind of start reading just because it sounds kind of interesting, but you end up staying because you end up caring about the characters and you want to know how the mystery will end.

A word of warning: since it is a horror story about the dark recesses of the mind, expect some foul language and unpleasant situations at times.

He couldn't stand that simpering smile. He couldn't stand that cross either, planted in the place where Merrin had bled to death from her smashed-in head. A cross with yellow roses. What a fucking thing. It was like an electric chair with floral-print cushions, a bad joke. It bothered him that someone wanted to bring Christ out here. Christ was a year too late to do any good. He hadn't been anywhere around when Merrin needed Him.

Ig had ripped the decorative cross down and stamped it into the dirt. He'd had to take a leak, and he did it on the Virgin, drunkenly urinating on his own feet in the process. Perhaps that was blasphemy enough to bring on this transformation. But no—he sensed that there had been more. What else, he couldn't recall. He'd had a lot to drink.

He turned his head this way and that, studying himself in the mirror, lifting his fingers to touch the horns, once and again. How deep did the bone go? Did the horns have roots, pushing back into his brain? At this thought the bathroom darkened, as if the lightbulb overhead had briefly gone dim. The welling darkness, though, was behind his eyes, in his head, not in the light fixtures. He held the sink and waited for the feeling of weakness to pass.

He saw it then. He was going to die. Of course he was going to die. Something was pushing into his brain, all right: a tumor. The horns weren't really there. They were metaphorical, imaginary. He had a tumor eating his brain, and it was causing him to see things. And if he was to the point of seeing things, then it was probably too late to save him.

-pg 5


Free Range Chickens

by. Simon Rich

The second collection of Simon Rich's wonderful jokes.

I don't know what I can say about this one that I didn't already say about Simon Rich's 1st book Ant Farm: and other desperate situations. It is hilarious. Perhaps not quite as good as the first one, but it still had me laughing out loud...a lot.


—Hey, look, the truck's stopping.
—Did they take us to the park this time?
—No...it's a fire. Another horrible fire.
—What the hell is wrong with these people?


13. [GN]

American Vampire vol.1

created by. Scott Snyder
written by. Scott Snyder & Stephen King
art by. Rafael Albuquerque

Skinner Sweet was an infamous outlaw of the Wild West, until the day he became a legend: the first American vampire. A brand new breed of bad that's only out for himself and doesn't mind if he gets a tan along the way.

A guy at my local comic book shop recommended this one to me and I absolutely love it. This isn't really relevant to the content of the book, but I figure I'd mention it to remind everyone that comic book shops have things to offer that the internet just can't. I mean, by going to the physical store I was able to tell someone what kind of stuff I liked, get recommendations, and be able to flip through the products to see if they suited my fancy. The flipping through part is especially helpful in a visual medium like comics. What I'm getting at that if you're in the mood for a comic, try visiting a comic book shop.

Anyways, this book is amazing. I love it. It's not only a great take on the vampire legends, but a really interesting story in general. The idea that each story deals with a different decade of American history is a truly fascinating story device. I mean, interesting takes on monsters are always up my alley, but the historical angle is the part that really caught my attention.

But was it just another story trying to cash in on that Twilight-based vampire market? Well, that was quickly answered by the fact that Stephen King helped write Skinner Sweet's origin story. Suffice it to say the man has some opinions on Twilight.

Here's what vampires shouldn't be: pallid detectives who drink Bloody Marys and only work at night, lovelorn southern gentleman, anorexic teenage girls, boy-toys with big dewy eyes.

What should they be?

Killers, honey. Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A. Bad boys and girls. Hunters. In other words, Midnight America. Red, white and blue, accent on the red. Those vamps got hijacked by a lot of soft-focus romance. That's why I was so excited when Scott Snyder...mentioned that he was in talks with the folks at Vertigo about doing a vampire comic series. His take was unique, his enthusiasm infectious.

His ambition for the continuing story of Skinner Sweet (and his victims) was awesome: nothing more or less than to trace the emergence of America through the immortal eyes of a new kind of vampire, one that can walk in the sun. I saw the potential for some terrific stories, and I also liked the resonance of the thing. There's a subtext here that whispers powerful messages about boundless American energy and that energy's darker side: a grasping, stop-at-nothing hunger for money and power.

from the forward "Suck on This", by Stephen King, pg. v


High Five

by. Janet Evanovich

As a favor to her family, Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, has taken up an investigation to try and find her cheapskate uncle Fred after he goes missing. However, she's beginning to think there might be more to this case than meets the eye after finding photos of garbage bags full of body parts are found in uncle Fred's desk.

Yep, still making my way through the series. And yep, I'm still enjoying it. It's like a TV show you really like. You just gotta tune in because you want to see what happens to all your favorite characters. The mystery in this one isn't all that intriguing, but everything else is pretty great. Stephanie Plum beating the crap out of a little person in a fit of rage. Stephanie Plum taking odd jobs help Ranger with some mostly-legal activities. All sorts of good stuff.

When I was a little girl I used to dress Barbie up without underpants. On the outside, she'd look like the perfect lady. Tasteful plastic heels, tailored suit. But underneath, she was naked. I'm a bail enforcement agent now—also known as a bounty hunter. I bring 'em back dead or alive. At least I try. And being a bail enforcement agent is sort of like being a bare-bottom Barbie. It's about having a secret. And it's about wearing a lot of bravado on the outside when you're really operating without underpants. Okay, maybe it's not like that for all enforcement agents, but I frequently feel like my privates are alfresco. Figuratively speaking, of course.

pg. 1

15. [CB]

It's a Book

by. Lane Smith

A literature loving monkey has to deal with a gadget loving donkey who just doesn't quite understand what a book is.

This book sounded great in principle: a depiction of what books can offer you that technology just can't. Awesome.

However, in practice it turns out to be rather pretentious. The character of the donkey seems to be an avid tech user, but he seems genuinely curious about the book his monkey friend is reading. But instead of encouraging his friend and engaging with him about it, the monkey just acts like a dismissive hipster snob.

It's a book...you probably haven't heard about it.

A mouse? Pssh...my mouse is a rodent.

Those aren't actual quotes, but they might of well have been. Here I'm going to ruin the ending with the actual last sentence of the book,

It's a book, Jackass!

Hahaha, do you get it? It's because he's a donkey! Hahaha, that donkey doesn't know any better and his friend is being a total dick about it! Good times.

16. [CB]

Owl at Home

by. Arnold Lobel

The various misadventures in the life of Owl.

I can't really explain why I enjoy this book so much. I also can't explain why I find the stories so amusing. But I just did and I just do.

The book is aimed at kids who are starting to read on their own and can handle full sentences (whatever age that is). Because of this the pages are much more text dominated than your really little kids' book. And while the illustrations aren't as plentiful as they are in books for younger kids, they are timed and placed just right. Not to mention that they are all fantastic. They fit the text perfectly while adding so much humor to the stories.

Have you ever read the Frog and Toad books? Well, this is quite similar to those. Probably due to the fact that they are done by the same person. Speaking of which, I love the Frog and Toad books as well.

The stories are short, sweet, and silly little tales about an Owl. For instance one is about how moon keeps following him around. While another is about how he invites the winter wind inside because it was knocking on his door.

I liked it so much I plan to end up with a copy on my bookshelf one day.

Owl sat near the fire again.

There was another loud noise

at the door.

“Who can it be,” said Owl,

“knocking and thumping

at my door on a night like this?”

Owl opened the door.

No one was there.

Only the snow and the cold.

“The poor old winter is knocking at my door,”

said Owl.

“Perhaps it wants to sit
by the fire.

Well, I will be kind
and let the winter come in.”

Owl opened his door very wide.

“Come in, Winter,” said Owl.

“Come in and warm yourself
for a while.”

pg. 7-9

20. [CB]


A Book of Sleep

by. Il Sung Na

A book about sleep and all the different ways animals go about it.

This book is for very young children. There is very little text. But the illustrations? Oh, dear lord, the illustrations are amazing. They are vibrant and colorful and oh-so-lush. All with a color scheme that strikes me as perfectly suited for a book to read to a child as they're going to bed.

Another kid's book that I'd like to own. If you ever need a book to get for a young child I could not recommend this one more highly. Here's a link to his website where you can see some of the pages from it. Just go to Book Illustration section. It'll be the first one that comes up. Although I warn you that the small digital images don't do the pictures justice. They look a million times better huge and right in front of you.

When the sky grows dark and the moon grows bright, everyone goes to sleep...

...apart from the starring owl.

-pg. 1


Elliot Allagash

by. Simon Rich

A boy is in for than he bargained for when he befriends the richest boy in the world.

This is Simon Rich's first novel. Since I enjoyed his joke books so much I figured I'd give it a try. I guess I would describe it as "Pretty Good". Certainly nothing amazing, but it has its charms. The depictions of Elliot Allagash's over-the-top wealth are pretty hilarious, and his portrayal of the motivations of a kid who just wants to be accepted are also very well done.

My only real problem is that it didn't have room for the story to go. It had an interesting set-up, it had great characters, but it didn't give itself room to try anything very new with it. Guess what? Spoiler Warning: Money won't buy you happiness.

He pushed me down the stairs, I said for what seemed like the hundredth time of the night. He pushed me, on purpose, in front of a lot of people. It was really crazy.

Eventually, my parents returned to the table. I noticed that my father was holding a beer. I had only ever seen him drink at weddings and funerals and I was mildly shocked. They both hesitated for a moment, hoping the other one would do the talking.

The thing about Elliot, my mother said finally, is that he's different from most boys.

I felt a sudden stab of guilt.

Oh geez," I said. Is he retarded?

No, my father said. Not exactly.

What is it then? I asked. What's different about him?

My mother cleared her throat.

He's rich, she said.

My father nodded.

He's very rich.



Science Ink:

Tattoos of the Science Obsessed

by. Carl Zimmer

A collection of science based tattoos and a look at the science they represent.

I think the appeal of this book is obvious without me saying anything about it. If it sounds like something you'd be interested in, well then, you'll probably like it. If it doesn't sound like your kind of thing, then there you go.

Anyways, I think the Forward to the book (written by Mary Roach) goes a long way into describing what the book is like.

Until I sat down with this book, my favorite tattoo belonged to a type designer named Jim Parkinson. Born to Letter, it says, above a menacing black skull smoking a joint. I liked the surprise of it, the sly humor. You don't expect large, showy tattoos on lettering professionals. And you don't expect them on scientists. Or I didn't. But this is silly. Of course scientists have tattoos. Scientists, as much as bikers or gang members, have the requisite motivator for a trip to the tattoo parlor: a passion that defines them. If you like the Mets, you buy a baseball cap. If you love the Mets—or chloroplasts or Billy Bob Thornton—you get a tattoo. The word love appears many times in this book, applied variously to pure mathematics, experimental physics, and marine fossils. That tattoo artists today receive more requests for DNA helices than they do for Mom (and I am guessing here) can only be good.


I have never seen Carl Zimmer without his clothes, but I am told he has no tattoos. As a science writer, he belongs to no tribe. He is the interloper, the interpreter, a dozen United Nations headsets going at once. To writ this book, Zimmer had to learn all the languages, decode all the symbols. This is no coffee-table tattoo book—to absorb it is to acquire instant science literacy. Zimmer explains the tattoos in brief, clear, eloquent essays. You try doing this with the Fourier Transform, the Dirac Equation, and the Lazarus Taxon. (Does everything in science have to sound like a Robert Ludlum novel?)

from the Forward by Mary Roach, pg. vii

25. [CB]

I Want My Hat Back

by. Jon Klassen

A bear asks around to try and find his hat.

You could probably read this book is under a minute, it's short and simple, but it is just amazing. I was laughing out loud. It manages to be hilarious while saying so little. It just has that perfect combination of art and text.

Because the pictures are so crucial I can't really get into all the things it does that I loved so much, but just take my word for it and next time you're in a book store or library see if they have a copy and take a minute or two out of your day to give it a try. You'll see what I mean. In the meantime you can take a look at his art on his website where you can find some examples of his work and even some pictures from this book.

Have you seen my hat?

I haven't seen anything all day. I have been trying to climb this rock.

Would you like me to lift you on top of it?

Yes, please.

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