Friday, December 28, 2012

How Music Works by David Byrne



How Music Works offers many answers to a question that I had never even asked. Now that I've read it I wonder, "How could I have gone so long without this information?" Musician and writer David Byrne crafts such an enticing collection of essays, dropping factoids and anecdotes along the way, that I was equally informed and entertained.

More of a blend of personal experience and hypothesis than a hard-line course in objective facts, Byrne tackles nearly every conceivable aspect of the art form: venues throughout history; the creative process; collaboration; recording; and business.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Wreckers by Iain Lawrence

The Wreckers by Iain Lawrence

I am not a fan of boats. Not big ones, not small ones. I'm not one to watch movies about boats. But I was in the mood for a good old-fashioned adventure story, and nothing but a novel of the high seas would suffice. I've been meaning to read this book ever since I started working at the library. The cover art reminds me of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Indeed, since the story is set in 1799, it could be a Stevenson novel. But it was the jacket copy that really sealed the deal.


There was once a village bred by evil. On the barren coast of Cornwall, England, lived a community who prayed for shipwrecks, a community who lured storm-tossed ships to crash upon the sharp rocks of their shore. They fed and clothed themselves with the loot salvaged from the wreckage; dead sailors' tools and trinkets became decorations for their homes. Most never questioned their murderous way of life.

Then, upon that pirates' shore crashed the ship The Isle of Skye. And the youngest of its crew members, 14-year-old John Spencer, survived the wreck. But would he escape the wreckers? This is his harrowing tale.
 
And what follows is indeed a harrowing tale, with all manner of buckles swashed.


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Might Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch

More than eight years before the Curiosity rover landed in Gale Crater, two rovers named Spirit and Opportunity landed on opposite sides of Mars. While previous NASA missions to Mars, such as the Viking landers, had carried scientific instruments, their capabilities were limited. To Steve Squyres, then a college student, it was obvious that the Viking landers were not the ideal way of studying the geology of Mars. True, valuable pictures and information had been collected, but so much more could be discovered—if only it could move around the planet and crush rocks or dig things up.

Perhaps it is therefore not surprising to learn that Squyres had arrived at college considering a major in geology. An astronomy course taught by a member of the Viking science team inspired Squyres to study planetary science instead, with the dream of exploring Mars. Sending an actual person to Mars seemed impossible, but what about a robot, "a rolling geologist, with the hammers and drills and tools of a human geologist"?

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron

The Spirit Thief by Rachel Aaron, started yet another series I must follow through to the end. It's that good.

Within, we're introduced to a different kind of fantasy setting. One where magic is really just the control of, or better yet just the cooperation of, spirits that inhabit everything - from doors, to grains of sand, fire, water, birds, air currents, etc. A good wizard convinces these spirits to work for him or her and in return the spirits get energy from the wizard's soul. A corrupt wizard enslaves spirits to do his bidding, usually resulting in the death of the spirit.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly

Written and drawn by Ronald Wimberly, Prince of Cats is a singular book. A graphic novel retelling of Romeo and Juliet, it focuses on Tybalt, Juliet's hot-headed cousin, who's often referred to as the "Prince of Cats." While Wimberly updates the setting to a slightly-skewed version of today's America--young men wander the streets with swords, looking for fights--he retains the poetic speech and even the iambic pentameter of the original play.

Wimberly's work is heavily influenced by hip-hop and graffiti artists. The juxtaposition between the character's stately speech and their modern surroundings is jarring at first, but he draws interesting parallels between the bombast of hip-hop culture and the swagger of Shakespeare's violent young nobles. Discussing his language choices in an interview with Comics Alliance, Wimberly said, "One of the things I like about Shakespeare's work is how there's a narrative in his application of language as well as in the story of the characters. I chose to mix it up because the mix is what a large part of the process was about. I wanted the language to reflect what I was doing. I wanted Shakespeare's original work to come in like a sample."

Prince of Cats is a unique spin on a 400-year-old classic. This is certainly one of the most intriguing, captivating books I read this year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart

Quick, as far as humans are concerned what's the world's most dangerous animal? Great white shark? Nope. Try the mosquito. The mosquito is incredibly good at spreading diseases (including, but hardly limited to, malaria) among bigger animals and can thus be held responsible for more deaths than any other.

If you pick up Amy Stewart's Wicked Bugs, you might expect to read a lot about the big nasty critters with pincers and stingers and venom. And she doesn't disappoint, describing such fearsome insects as the Asian giant hornet which has a potentially deadly sting that feels like a "hot nail" through your flesh. She covers some of the usual suspects, too, such as the trifecta of "killer" spiders (brown recluse, black widow, tarantula) none of which turn out to be all that scary. But Stewart also includes the far deadlier mosquito and any number of other disease-carrying creatures which wreak far greater havoc than even the fiercest creepy-crawly (which in my opinion is the giant centipede, a foot long and as much as an inch across).

Friday, December 14, 2012

Philip Larkin: So I look at others


Despite the considerable acclaim that attached to his work, English poet Philip Larkin remained always apart. Never the type of mythic figure in the public consciousness that Auden or Ginsburg became, throughout his career Larkin remained librarian at Hull University, eschewing trappings of fame. This feeling of distance and distrust is highlighted in his work, a sense of exclusion suggesting a slightly bafflement at the world. Though his work appeared primarily in the 1940s through the 70s, its concerns and voice remain vibrantly familiar and continue to have the spark of relevance.

In his poem “Money,” his poetic voice captures this outlook:

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Black Count, Bushman Lives, and A Wrinkle in Time

As it is the time of year people are thinking of gifts – and books make tremendous gifts – I've got a trio of titles that I've been suggesting lately that might just suit an otherwise tough-to-shop-for boy.

What if I were to suggest that the Alexandre Dumas classic The Count of Monte Cristo was partially based on a true story? Or if some of the swashbuckling in The Three Musketeers came from stories passed down father to son? And what if it turned out that much of the inspiration in Dumas' tales came from a mixed race general who fought alongside Napoleon but was despised because everyone assumed the striking black man charging ahead fearlessly on his horse he really was the one in charge?

I suppose you can guess the final question: What if I were to tell you that this striking historical figure was, in fact, Alexandre Dumas’ father? Author Tom Reiss’ delivers all this and so much more in The Black Count: Glory, Revollution, Betrayl, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, the biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. From his birth and brief experience with slavery in Haiti, to his Paris education where he learned to sword fight with aristocracy, to his rise in the French Revolutionary army, The Black Count is a biography that reads like an adventure novel. I’ll be honest, i don’t generally like biographies, but I love sweeping adventure stories and this one, steeped in Reiss’s well-sleuthed family history, feels both familiar and new at the same time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller




For some sections of our country, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have existed mostly as background noise, turning to signal only when something goes horribly wrong or spectacularly right for American military personnel. But I have taught mostly Native American and Latino students in New Mexico, and then mostly small-town white students in Iowa, both populations heavily represented in our nation’s military. Among these communities the noise is louder, the thrum is constant, but it still rarely forms a signal. Another hometown hero, another flag at half-mast. Another son or daughter returned in pieces, literally and figuratively. Another soldier and another military family trying to return to something like normal. History may not repeat itself, but it echoes, and our most recent wars echo through the fractured minds of too many young men and women in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For all of these soldiers, and for all those who love them, for all of my former students who have been forever changed, positively and negatively, by their military experiences, I wish I could put a copy of Trish Doller’s Something Like Normal in your hands.

Friday, December 7, 2012

MATT ARCHER, MONSTER HUNTER, by Kendra C. Higley

This novel says "Dream Sequence" all over it. I loved the outright wish-fulfillment bits of this novel. I mean, this guy goes from being a nobody to being a hero -- from fairly weak to strong and studly. I can say that without giving away spoilers because the boy's just like it says on the package: a monster hunter.

This novel manages to be both bildungsroman and buddy tale. It has a strong male figure in the form of an uncle, it's got a bit of flag-waving, but in an acceptable way, and it's all about Mom's Apple Pie, Saving the World, and Taking Care of Business. And Monsters. A fast-paced, self-pubbed action novel with funny asides that the 12+ crowd will really enjoy - even those who might not really love reading.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Super Cool Graphic Novels

This year, I was lucky to be chosen as a first round graphic novel panelist for the 2012 Cybils Awards. This is cool for a lot of reasons, but the main reason I'm thrilled to take part in this is because I'm actually not super into graphic novels. I think like a lot of people unfamiliar with the medium, I assumed that graphic novels were for comic book geeks who were into super heroes. While there are certainly lots of those types of stories, what I've learned since I read my first graphic novel in 2009 (I read two that year) is that within the medium of the graphic novel you can find any type of story you want. This year I've read about sixty graphic novels (so far!) and I'd like to share some of the coolest.

I'm grouping these roughly by the age of kid I would recommend these books for, but of course, I trust you know your own patrons/students/children and can match books accordingly.

2nd-4th grades
The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan by Maxwell Eaton
Back in the day, I was a fan of two silly cartoon beavers named Norbert and Daggett, and Eaton's Beaver Brothers Ace and Bub remind me of them. I like the wonky humor and the puns. These books aren't terribly sophisticated but neither are they so mind-numbingly inane that a grown up helping a new reader won't go super crazy reading along. It doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but I find Ace and Bub and their friends rather charming.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy



It was probably inevitable that Colin Meloy would write a fantasy novel.

The frontman of The Decemberists actually had a bit of a pedigree coming in to the release of his first novel last year: in addition to the highly acclaimed fiction writer Maile Meloy for a big sister, he’s also got an undergraduate degree in creative writing and had contributed an entry to the 33⅓ series (on Let It Be by The Replacements).  Plus there were all the lengthy story songs he’d written for the band, like “The Crane Wife” (based on a Japanese folktale) and “The Island” (an eleven-minute encapsulation of The Tempest).  Oh, and that epic, album-length rock opera The Hazards of Love, which is screaming to be staged.  (And if Wikipedia is to believed, it has been, albeit in small production in Montreal.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This Sentence is Lying to You

Perhaps the nerdiest thing about me -- and it's a competitive field -- is that I love books about mathematics, especially stuff on number theory, infinity or the lives of famous mathematicians. On the other hand, missing from my list of nerd traits is a love of graphic novels. Not that I have anything against them, I just mostly haven't been able to get into them. In fact, I want to love graphic novels, so when I heard that there was a graphic novel about math, I thought "Here's my in."

The title of this post is one of my favorite paradoxes. If it's true then it has to be false, and if it's false than it has to be true. And it's not just a joke, but a serious conundrum that if taken too an extreme threatens to undermine the functions of language. Logicomix is a graphic novel that tells the story of a man who tried to deal with such paradoxes. Primarily a biography of Bertrand Russell, an English mathematician, logician and philosopher who tried to bring the rigor of mathematics to the arena of logic, Logicomix relates his quest to develop a universal and consistent language of logic. This quest would lead ultimately to the technologies of computing that have so radically changed our world over the last several decades. But it was hardly a straight-line path. In fact, many of the minds that contributed to the discussion were destroyed by it, driven to insanity (or perhaps driven to logic by insanity). Whether logic is intimately connected to madness is one of the central themes of the book.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Tunnels Series by Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams

One of my favorite books as a kid was the Great Illustrated Classics edition of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth; something about the thought that you could delve deep into the earth and discover trees and an ocean and giant dinosaurs (despite this being completely impossible) was fascinating. Even now, going to a cave system (and being a Kentuckian, there are a lot of them nearby) fills me with glee that I am beneath the surface of Earth. Clearly Roderick Gordon & Brian Williams' Tunnels series is tapping deep into this spelunking nerve, taking the "hollow Earth" concept and expanding it into a massive and complex alternate reality.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Teen Survey: Aidan

Meet Aidan, a teenager who frequently drops by the bookstore to discuss comics, movies, and random hypothetical situations with me. Aidan is a high school student who perhaps one day would like to make a living contributing to commercial projects so he "doesn't have to eat Ramen every day." His friend described his drawings as "realistically anime-ish."

Recently, while discussing the works of Mike Mignola and lamenting the fact that he couldn't attend an upcoming comic book convention, I asked if he wanted to take part in the GuysLitWire survey. "I love surveys!" he exclaimed, and so: 

Name: Aidan

Age: 16

Books recently read for fun: Scott Pilgrim graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Aidan and his girlfriend recently attended a convention dressed as Scott and Ramona.)

Books recently read for school: The Crucible by Arthur Miller; Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Books in your to-read pile: Too many to list!

Favorite authors and illustrators: Alan Moore. I like Watchmen. All of his stuff is good. V for Vendetta is good, and so is League of Extraordinary Gentleman. I like his original graphic novels better than the movie versions. The Killing Joke is good, and it's got Batman in it!

Favorite superhero: Batman. Batman. Obviously Batman.

Favorite genres: Everything! I like sci-fi. I like fantasy. I like historical fiction. I like all of them. I like good things. I like all the things.

Why do you like comic books? Because they are fun. [I like] great illustrations and great stories.

Favorite movies: The Godfather; This is Spinal Tap

Do you listen to music (or TV) while you read? No. It's distracting.

Do you finish every book you start? No.

In conclusion: Aidan is a fan of boiled eggs and warm socks. Not together.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rebel Fire by Andrew Lane

Rebel Fire by Andrew Lane (Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins #2)

I am not a purist in my love for Sherlock Holmes. I adore the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss BBC reboot of the series. I only don't like that it takes forever for a new season to come to the US (Moffat! Gatiss! *shakes fists*) I love the Guy Ritchie movies. I love the 1980s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett in the title role, even though the episodes can be a little cheesy. I'd probably like Elementary, except I don't get the channel in my basement apartment. But I also have a strange love for books that tell about the childhoods of established characters.* Rebel Fire is, as you can see, the second book in the Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins series (also called Young Sherlock Holmes series). In this book, Sherlock, his tutor Amyus Crowe and Virginia Crowe, Amyus's daughter, catch up with John Wilkes Booth. Everyone thought Booth to be dead after he assassinated Lincoln, but he survived (although his mind did not) and is being used as a pawn in a plot by Confederate sympathizers to invade Canada. Like the first book in the series, Death Cloud, the plot twists are rather silly. Yes, the plot twists in Doyle's stories are also improbable, but these books really push my ability to suspend disbelief. I also fought a bit against the characterization as it feels like Sherlock is headed towards a Robert Downey Junior adulthood while Mycroft is headed towards a Mark Gatiss with a big side of mushy brotherly love that struck me as totally out of character even though I did get a case of the feels when I read those scenes. Still, the book was not short on adventure, show-offy Bond villain speeches or improbably action sequences and I enjoyed reading it, even if I couldn't quite fight the urge to roll my eyes at some of the choices Lane made. My snobby literary critic side warred with the side of me that also enjoyed Librarian: Quest for the Spear, and the cheesy action story side won the day as far as Lane's books are concerned.**

If you like this series, there are at least 5 novels and a novella, according to Goodreads. Book two was originally called Red Leech when it was released in the UK, a nod to a weird, silly and kinda gross plot twist in this book. It seems like only books 1 and 2 have been published in the US but you can get books 3-5 from different sellers on Amazon if you're interested.





*Although apparently I hated this back in 2011, when I reviewed  Death Cloud. Go figure.
** Lane has also written a Torchwood book! Set, as far as I can tell, sometime between series one and series two of the show! Which means Iantoooooooo! Squeeeeee!
cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Let's Holiday Shop for Ballou High School Library!

In the midst of your holiday shopping madness, just in case you have a few dollars to spare, we here at Guys Lit Wire wanted to let you know that the students of Ballou High School in Washington DC would be delighted to receive a gift or two at their library. Their wish list at Powells Books has been updated with a ton of sale books (A TON!!!) and between those titles and so many great condition used options there are a crazy amount of titles under $10. We'd really appreciate it if you think of Ballou this holiday season and shop at Powells (the nation's largest independent bookstore and a mainstay of the Portland downtown scene). Be sure to provide the mailing address below if you haven't shopped the wish list before, check out our earlier book fair info here and for a post full of Ballou Library pictures, take a peek here. You can also follow Ballou on twitter or like them on facebook. Happy holiday shopping, y'all and thanks in advance for buying books for this great school library!

Mailing Address:
Melissa Jackson, LIBRARIAN
Ballou Senior High School
3401 Fourth Street SE
Washington DC 20032
(202) 645-3400  

[Post pic of students "Rappin' and Poetry for Teen Read Week", last month.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Freshwater Mermaid by Gregory Maguire / One Teen Story

The future of fiction in the digital age may be the short story – and it's close cousin the serial novel – but one of the bright spots in this future has its roots in a print format more akin to the DIY zine scene. On its tenth anniversary, the singularly-focused One Story has given birth to One Teen Story. The concept is simple: a publication dedicated to showcasing a single story that can be digested in one sitting with no further distractions. In addition to a print format, digital editions are also available, with deals for classroom sets available to teachers.

I've loved and subscribed to One Story for years and One Teen Story seemed such an obvious extension that I wondered why no one else had come up wit the idea before. There's been a slight bit of confusion surrounding my subscription and I have only received the second issue, but I feel confident that this sample is enough to gauge the quality of those to come.

"The Freshwater Mermaid" by Gregory Maguire is a meditation on the loss of innocence and the loss of parents. Carter-Ann has the absolute horror of witnessing a terrorist bombing that kills both of her parents just before starting her senior year. What follows is the survivor's grief and guilt seems to have hollowed Carter-Ann into a shell of her former self. Word, music, nature, all of it has lost its voice, its beauty, its reason as she goes through the motions like a shell-shocked observer of life. And when her boarding school roommate leaves her in charge of her tropical fish, naturally one of them dies almost instantly, forcing Carter-Ann to awkwardly process the situation in the cold, matter-of-fact world that has become her daily existence. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Boy21 by Matthew Quick




“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.” Author Matthew Quick uses these particular words from poet Seamus Heaney as a section break late in Boy21, and how fitting they are for Finley and Russell, the two main characters of this outstanding young adult novel. And how fitting for all of us, this message of finding our way through language. Isn’t this what novels are meant to do? Even sports novels?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh

Martin McDonagh's play The Pillowman opens with the interrogation of a writer who does not yet know why he has been dragged before the authorities of this totalitarian state. His confusion is an appropriately disorienting introduction to the play's blackly comic tone, the same attempt to find footing that one experiences between the predominant menace and the breathing spaces of bleak humor.

As the questioning progresses, Katurian, the writer, learns to his horror that several recent murders follow the manner of deaths that have occurred in his stories. What emerges is a look at the ironic implications of stories having a life on their own.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Odes to Opposites, by Pablo Neruda

...Go ahead, get going,
give your heart a rest.
Go ahead and sing your song.

I'm still the same, aren't I? The one
who knows the river
by the way its water flows?

All I know is this: in that very place
my heart has been knocking
at a single
door,
knocking since yesterday, from afar,
since long ago,
since my birth --

that place where the dark echo
of the singing
sea
answers, and I sing,
an echo
I only
know
by its blind hissing,
by lightning
striking the waves,
by waves' thick froth in the night.

And so, time,
you've sized me up in vain.
In vain have you hurried
to stay a step ahead
of this wanderer...

[From Ode to future time (Oda al tiempo venidero)]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What one Good Turn Deserves

Ghost stories are meant to be retold. It's a kind of ritual, adapting what scares us to fit our immediate social, technological and political environment.

Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw in 1898. In it, a wealthy man hires a governess to look after his orphaned niece and nephew. The children live in a remote country house with a handful of servants. The man asks that he never be bothered regarding the children, no matter what happens to them. The governess finds the children rather strange (though their isolation could account for this) but then she also starts seeing the ghosts of a former governess and a former servant killed under mysterious circumstances. She begins to suspect that the ghosts are haunting the children and threatening them to keep the haunting secret.

In The Turning, Francine Prose rewrites James' story in a contemporary setting. The governess is replaced with a "babysitter" -- and a male one at that -- hired just for the summer. The remote country home is made even more remote by placing it on an island, disconnected from phone, Internet and television and radio broadcasts. The babysitter, Jack, relates the haunting to his girlfriend in a series of increasingly paranoid letters.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I Vote Event

WhyIVote2012-2.jpg We are all over the web with this event - a roundup post at Chasing Ray will be updated with quotes as the posts go live and I'll keep adding to it as more folks join in. Go see what folks (in as nonpartisan a way as we can manage :) have to say on the subject of voting and the issues that matter to them. And more importantly, GO VOTE!!!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sleepy Hollow High by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore



The Headless Horseman has returned to Sleepy Hollow just in time for Halloween.  When Aimee and Shane Lancaster discover the stuff of legends has come back to threaten their sleepy little town, there will be no rest for the siblings or their friends until they have stopped the onslaught - and they might not all live to tell the tale.

The Sleepy Hollow High series by Christopher Golden and Ford Lytle Gilmore offers twists, turns, and things that go bump in the night. Small town, new folks, old grudges, family ties, legendary hauntings, running through the woods - check, check, and check! All four Sleepy Hollow High books - Horseman, Drowned, Mischief, and Enemies - are quick reads, perfect for reluctant readers who are looking for something spooky to read. As someone who enjoys the original story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and who loves Christopher Golden's writing, I raced through these books.

I also look forward to seeing what Fringe creators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci do with Washington Irving; they too are working on a new adaptation of the story of Sleepy Hollow for a television pilot now. If that pilot airs and goes to series, you bet I'll tune in...but I'll be wishing that Aimee and Shane Lancaster were part of the show, too!

Also out just in time for Halloween: Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism, an illustrated novella by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden. Stock up on their previous collaborations, the gothic Baltimore (vampire-meets-Hans-Christian-Andersen-retelling) and the steampunk-tinged Joe Golem and the Drowning City. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, October 26, 2012

I Slept With Joey Ramone by Mickey Leigh and Legs McNeil

How’s that for a title that gets your attention? No, this isn’t one of those glamorous, tell-all, rock star groupie memoirs. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the members of the punk rock pioneers, the Ramones, even using the word “glamorous” in a sentence…except perhaps to describe a pizza.

I Slept with Joey Ramone is the affectionate account of lead singer Joey Ramone’s complicated relationship with his kid brother Mickey, who also wrote and played music, but lived in Joey’s shadow.

The sections relating the brothers’ childhood in Queens were especially informative, and had the same sense of deep camaraderie that I loved in Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes, with just a couple of brothers looking out for each other in the big bad city. You learn about their fascination and burgeoning love of rock music, thanks to the Beatles and Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Election! A Kid's Guide to Picking the President by Dan Gutman

Election: A Kid's Guide to Picking the President by Dan Gutman (2012)*

Dan Gutman has written approximately one million books, and this is the first I've ever read. Election is a nice, basic guide to the election process. It's set up to be a series of questions and answers. The answers are nice and straightforward, making the process at least understandable, even if the candidates and their rhetoric aren't particularly easy to understand.

While the writing was easy to follow and the questions were logically answered I did have a little problem with the tone. I know this book is geared towards upper elementary and middle school students, the tone was occasionally condescending, and even kids pick up on that. Take this, for example, from the introduction.
Every four years, the grown-ups of America go a little crazy. You see grown men and women wearing funny hats and T-shirts, waving flags, putting goofy bumper stickers on their cars, buttons on their shirts, and signs on their front lawns. There are silly songs, slogans, ads and balloons. It's like one big yearlong party. 
The language is problematic, very much like a "grown-up" making jokes and winking at a child. Ho ho, Child, I am making jokes and amusing! I am talking to you on your level! Ho ho!

Still, if you're looking for a quick way to help a kid learn about the basic process of electing a president, this is a pretty good book to use.  It is refreshingly non-partisan in tone, and by this point in election season, I'll take a little goofy condescension over mud slinging any day.

This is cross posted at my blog  (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading. Check out the other awesome reviews over there. There are a lot of graphic novel reviews going up for Cybils season.
*copy courtesy of NetGalley

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Ballou Book Fair ends on a high note! THANK YOU!!!!

We end the second book fair for Ballou High School in 2012 with deep thanks to everyone who shopped the Powells wish list, spread the word, and supported our efforts to build this most worthy of school libraries. Over 175 books were bought off the wish list and many others were sent direct by authors (thank you!). You've already seen how the students were there to unpack the boxes, and reading the Ballou Library tweets will show you just how excited librarian Melissa Jackson is to see those new titles arrive to fill her shelves. This has been great and it has had a real and significant impact on the lives of many book loving teens. We did a good thing here and on behalf of everyone at Guys Lit Wire, I thank you for taking part. See you in the spring when we return to Ballou again!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happy students at Ballou High School going through new books

We are winding down the book fair for Ballou SR High School - please shop the list now and help us get as many books as possible to this most deserving high school library in our nation's capitol. And thank you to all who contributed thus far!
I know people wonder if their donations matter; if what they do is appreciated by others. I wanted to be sure you all saw this picture of students going through the newly arrived books from Powells so we could put that fear to rest. The books that are sent to Ballou as part of the Guys Lit Wire book fair are a big moment in their day this week. Along with librarian Melissa Jackson, the kids are tracking the wish list to see what is purchased and eagerly awaiting the boxes. More than a few books are being checked out before they even hit the shelves.

You did this. You made this happen. You put books into the hands of grateful readers who would not have them otherwise. This matters - alot - and you all should know that.

The book fair for Ballou High School in Washington DC continues. The wishlist at Powells Books is still open. There are more books to buy and more moments like this one to savor. Thanks everybody, and keep spreading the word!

If you have any questions, or have never participated in the book fair for Ballou, please follow the first link. For a list of books we'd really like to see purchased, please see this recent post.

All Hallow's Read, a new tradition

Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series and the Newbery-winning Graveyard Book wants to start a new tradition this year, All Hallow's Read.

As Neil himself explains in this charming video, All Hallow's Read is a simple idea. This Halloween, give somebody a scary book. It can be a new book or a used book, it can be a picture book or a novel, just give somebody a scary book.



Anyone who's familiar with the sway Neil Gaiman holds over the internets won't be surprised that his All Hallow's Read idea is already taking off. There are already book recommendations, printable mini-books to give away, posters, and a bunch of other stuff.

This is a simple, brilliant idea that deserves to be a permanent tradition. Let's do our part to make sure it sticks around!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Series of Series Continues

You have to wonder if it's even possible today to write a YA novel, just one book that tells one story from beginning to end without prequels, sequels, a seven part series or an eight part movie franchise. For Rick Riordan, it doesn't seem so. Out recently is his novel The Mark of Athena, the third installment in the Heroes of Olympus series, which itself is a sequel series to his seven part series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. You following?

A quick recap of all the Greek demi-god action so far. In the original series, Percy Jackson is an ADHD kid with minor behavior problems who discovers he's the son of Poseidon when his mother is kidnapped by a minotaur. Percy is sent off to Camp Half-Blood, a secret camp where demi-gods secretly train for various quests that secretly affect the outcome of world events. He hooks up with a girl named Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, and manages to save his mom from Hades. Later he and his demi-god (and satyr) friends save the whole world from the resurgent Titans, the evil parents of the Greek gods.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Some shopping ideas for the Book Fair for Ballou Library

The Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School has been great - about 150 books bought off the Powells Books wish list all of which will be much appreciated by Melissa Jackson and the many students who use the library everyday. There are still plenty of books left to be purchased and in case you are still thinking to buy, we wanted to provide you with a list of titles that would be especially useful this semester. Ms. Jackson is working on an International Day for the school in December and so these books would work really well for that theme:

What the World Eats ($22.99 in HC)BOUGHT!  
Lonely Planet Badlads: A Tourist in the Axis of Evil ($14.99 PB) BOUGHT!
 Kids of Kabul by Deborah Ellis ($15.95 HC)
Eating Mudcrabs in Kandahar ($29.95 HC)
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain (SALE - $7.98 in PB) BOUGHT!
The Bizarre Truth: Culinary Adventures Around the Globe ($14.99 PB)

Also these novels:
The Queen of Water by Laura Resau ($16.99 HC)BOUGHT!
The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle ($16.25 HC)
Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace ($17.95 HC)
The Good Braider by Terry Farish ($16.99 HC) BOUGHT!

And we have a situation where the later titles in a series were purchased, but not the first book - which makes the reading kind of tough! So please consider this title:

Kekkaishi #1 ($9.99 PB) BOUGHT!

There are also some great sale titles still on the list as well as several fairly inexpensive paperbacks. We're keeping it open a couple of more days in hopes that some of these international titles in particular are scooped up. THANK YOU SO MUCH for your support thus far!!! For all the information on the book fair (as well as some great pictures of the library and students) - see our initial post.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pastoralia, by George Saunders

For information on the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, please see our post from last week. Over 150 books have been bought from the Powells wish list thus far! -CM From Dickensian orphans to Tom Joad, literature has found rich territory in the lives of characters struggling to get by. While they may not be imprisoned in the Marshalsea, the characters who populate George Saunders’s short story collection Pastoralia share the burden of being trapped in lives they know to be far from ideal.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ballou Library tweets the arrival of the first book fair books

In case you were wondering how the books are received at Ballou:



For more, check out Ballou Library on twitter and don't forget the book fair continues; we have hundreds of books still to purchase from the Powells wish list. For all the information see our main post from last week. THANK YOU!!!!

Lawn Boy and Lawn Boy Returns

I would've posted this earlier, but I had to finish Lawn Boy Returns first. Sequels are not usually as good as the original, but Lawn Boy Returns is an exception to the rule. It is at least as good (and funny) as Lawn Boy, and possibly better. It completes the story, I guess you'd say.


One day I was 12 years old and broke. Then Grandma gave me Grandpa's old riding lawnmower. I set out to mow some lawns. More people wanted me to mow their lawns. And more and more. . . . One client was Arnold the stockbroker, who offered to teach me about "the beauty of capitalism. Supply and Demand. Diversify labor. Distribute the wealth." "Wealth?" I said. "It's groovy, man," said Arnold.

If I'd known what was coming, I might have climbed on my mower and putted all the way home to hide in my room. But the lawn business grew and grew. So did my profits, which Arnold invested in many things. And one of them was Joey Pow the prizefighter. That's when my 12th summer got really interesting.


By the end of Lawn Boy, he has close to four hundred and eighty thousand dollars.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

In a Glass Grimmly

For information on the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, please see our post from last week. Over 100 books have been bought from the Powells wish list thus far! -CM
Lately I've been wondering if we do more harm than good by making childhood too safe. I'm not thinking about car seats or non-toxic flame-retardant materials, but a sort of intellectual safety that prevents curiosity and the development of common sense more than it protects. We would prefer to believe it is more important to teach children to fear strangers than to develop an internal sense of knowing when and whom to fear.

The problem (for those who find it a problem) is that without a hard and fast set of rules we have the dual issue of teaching the difficult (intuition) coupled with an unacknowledged root source (adult responsibility, or lack thereof). The sad thing is that there is a solution, its been with us for hundreds of years, and we take it for granted: storytelling. There's a lot that can be learned in a story, and they don't have to be overly moralistic or didactic, and they can occasionally be quite fun. Horrifying, gory, disagreeable and yet unexplainable good fun.

And the best part is that kids really like it.

For those who haven't gleaned it from the title, In A Glass Grimmly, Adam Gidwitz's "companion" to A Tale Dark and Grimm, takes as its source the folk and fairy tales once told to children back when people lived closer to a world full of inexplicable horror. Lacking medicine, much less the concept of hygiene, there were invisible things far scarier than the shadows that dwell in the nearby woods, ah, but what wonderful stories could be constructed from those shadows. As a result, though these tales were as full of the sort of caution we might dole out to our own kids these days it was done with a great deal of adventure, magic, and humorous absurdity as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

For information on the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, please see our post from last week. Over 100 books have been bought from the Powells wish list thus far! -CM It being October, it means that Halloween is right around the corner. Although Halloween has become associated with scary stories, it is more rightly associated (historically) with the telling of stories. Period. And what better stories than those found in The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe?

Poe, after all, invented detective fiction in the English-speaking world with his creation of C. Auguste Dupin, the detective in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". (Dupin appeared in additional stories, "The Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt" and "The Purloined Letter". "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" feature a grisly double murder, made all the more baffling by occurring inside an inaccessible fourth-floor room that is locked from the inside. Ear-witnesses agree that they heard the attack, but cannot place the language used by the attacker. Dupin and his friend (the unnamed narrator) sort out what actually happened. Dupin, it should be noted, is not actually a detective, any more than Sherlock Holmes is - he is just a guy with an interest in learning the truth of the matter, who has the time and ability to track things down. Dupin is, in fact, a prototype for both Holmes and for Agatha Christie's detective, Hercule Poirot.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

For information on the Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Sr High School in Washington DC, please see our post from last week. Over 100 books have been bought from the Powells wish list thus far! -CM



Yes, Skippy does indeed die. On the fifth page. At which point the book jumps back in time and then moves forward to show us how/why Skippy died. The book (particularly the rollicking first half) is, as the kids used to say, B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Multiple characters (Skippy, his fellow Irish Catholic prep school boarders, their teachers, girls from the adjacent Catholic girls school and the two young thugs/entrepreneurs who are selling them diet pills) whose lives join somewhere in the Skippy universe. And what a universe it turns out to be in Paul Murray’s sprawling (661 pages!) coming of age novel. Or, more accurately, failure to come of age novel. Indeed, if justice exists in the literary world (hint: it doesn’t), Skippy Dies will eventually be the locus classicus of the twenty-first century failure to come of age genre.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Budget Cuts in DC Schools Mean We Step Up to Help Ballou SR High

Updated 10/7: Thanks for buying over 100 books already! Please continue to help us sell as many of our list of 450 books as possible - spread the word and let fellow booklovers know about Ballou!

Students in the library with books bought this spring by Guys Lit Wire readers

We here at Guys Lit Wire keep our fingers pretty close to the pulse of the DC school system as the Ballou Sr High School library is near and dear to our hearts. After three previous online book fairs to help stock the shelves, we were already planning to return to Ballou but the news that libraries in particular were facing major cost cutting measures in the city has just strengthened our commitment. When we began with Ballou in 2011 there were just over 1,500 books in the library, or 1.25 for each of the nearly 1,200 students. Now, they have 5,484 which means we are about a third of the way to our goal of meeting the ALA standard of eleven books for each student. The three book fairs for Ballou to date have resulted in over 1,000 books bought from Powells Books and many others donated directly to the school through the publicity we have helped generate. Now, we are back to Ballou for another round of gift giving from a list of 450+ great new books that has us all really excited.

This Fall Book Fair for Ballou has been EXTENDED through Wednesday, October 17th!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin


Usually, when the villain tells the hero to prepare to die, they mean right now.  But it’s points to Reaver that he has the idea to ask for a reprieve.  Well, not a reprieve so much as enough time to actually prepare.  And so the supervillainous Octagon grants him two weeks.  Two weeks in which Reaver has a lot of work to do.

Wait, back up.  Who are these comic book characters and why haven’t you heard of them?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yes, They Made That Into a Movie Too

New movie tie-in editions of Yann Martel's Life of Pi are appearing on bookshelves, ahead of the release of the film based on the book later in November.

In the introduction to the book, author Yann Martel talks of its genesis, how after a failed novel, he was searching for a new subject. "I have a story that will make you believe in God," a man tells him. Martel promises to listen as long as the story isn't simply about Jesus or Mohammed. Instead, it's the narrative that evolves into the novel Life of Pi. The book recounts the story of a boy who survives the shipwreck of a ship carrying zoo animals as cargo. The boy ends up stranded on a lifeboat with 450 pound Bengal tiger.

There are books that make great movies. Despite the conventional wisdom that the book is always better, there are even stories that are improved when they are turned into movies (in college I always thought Dickens novels were better on film, though that stance has not stood the test of time).

Monday, October 1, 2012

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald

As of late, it seems as though there's been an awful lot of established adult science fiction / fantasy authors publishing books specifically for YA audiences. Some have been very successful (Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker won the 2011 Printz award), some have been of outstanding quality (China Mieville latest Railsea along with Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making), and a few have been, well, insultingly patronizing (David Weber's A Beautiful Friendship, whose problems require far more than parentheses). So when I saw that Ian McDonald (River of Gods, Brasyl, The Dervish House) was publishing Planesrunner as YA, I knew I had to figure out just where it fell in this spectrum.

Friday, September 28, 2012

33 1/3 series

I am an addict...and my addiction is popular music. I adore it. Who doesn't? We all have our favorite songs, artists, genres. The right track at the right moment can hit us emotionally or physically, make us weep or dance. What I like almost as much as music are all of the details and stories that lead up to the making of some of my most cherished albums. That's where the 33 1/3 series comes in.

Started in 2003 by editor David Barker, 33 1/3 is a collection where each volume examines the allure of a particular album as well as the artist who recorded it. Named after the number of revolutions per minute on an LP record, the series spans rock, hip-hop, folk, metal, pop, country, dance, punk, electronica, and world. There is something here for everyone.

The titles are relatively short--often less than 200 pages, and every title is penned by a different writer. This does lead to a vast range in quality and approach for each book. Some read like meticulous postgraduate theses while others spout a haphazard spray of unconditional love. But I'm not here to recommend you those titles. This review is to suggest a few in the series that you might want to start with. These books will be broken up by the author's approach to his subject so as to offer some context.

Historical/Analytic: 

Nirvana's In Utero by Gillian G. Gaar:
In 1991, Kurt Cobain had a number one record. That was a problem for him. Nirvana was not meant to make slick polished albums to be consumed by the masses, so Cobain tried to make the dirtiest, punkiest sounding album that he could. Calling in Steve Albini, a producer known for his intentionally anti-pop sound, the trio attempted to show the world that they had more than just rock radio chops, without imploding in the process. Gaar uses tons of quotes from Cobain and manages to show how hands-on he was, from the album cover to the video for Heart-Shaped Box. This is as breezy as the album is heavy. If you end up enjoying this book, you may want to check out Chuck Klosterman's Eating the Dinosaur, where the culture critic somehow manages to point out the similarities between Cobain and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Punk Ethic by Timothy Decker



Timothy Decker's illustrated novel The Punk Ethic explores the power of music in the lives of seemingly disaffected youth. Guitar-playing protagonist Martin is struggling to find a reason to succeed in a world that appears all too happy to let him disappear. Financially, life is a constant struggle in his single-parent household, and his friends are a collection of likable if somewhat annoying idiots who have no clue what their futures will hold. He is in love with an impossible Dreamgirl (shades of Some Kind of Wonderful) and, inspired by a class assignment, has a wild desire to change the world, but little ability to do so. What he needs is a plan, a plan so big that it will make his life the sort of wild and dramatic life he has been afraid to imagine. In one month it all comes together, in the sort of ridiculous fashion one would expect for teenagers, but the story remains hopeful and stays true to its cool music roots at the same time. There is nothing saccharine or sparkly about The Punk Ethic (perish the thought) and the text is in fact peppered with the sort of wry observations that any high schooler would appreciate: "If the federal government really wants to change public schools and ensure that no kid gets left behind, they should close the cafeteria and call it a threat to public health." Or consider this look at the opposite sex:

"Goth girls live in a dream world, all operatic nonsense and crappy literary allusions... It's complete bullshit. That's why they go to college, wash off the makeup, and become GOP lobbyists. At least punk girls are honest."

Decker takes Martin along on a journey that sees him realizing the punk ethic of "do what you can with what you have," and tosses in more than a few significant moments about book learning versus the real world (both of which are to be valued) and why high school matters (for many reasons other than what you think). The illustrations and surprisingly intense ending all lift The Punk Ethic to a level of appreciation that makes it a memorable read. Don't let this quiet beauty pass you by; Decker has a story to tell worth reading and Martin, quietly depicted in so many black and white drawings, is a character to hold dear.

Cross posted from my August Bookslut YA column

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel

Sailor Twain: Or, The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel (October 2012)*

You know what we need more books of? American fairy tales. I didn't even know we needed more until I read Sailor Twain, but we totally need more. Sailor Twain is the story of a young steam boat captain who, one dark night on the Hudson River, rescues an injured mermaid. He thinks he's just doing a good deed, but like all fairy tales, hero gets much more than he bargains for.

There is much to love about this book. The artwork, rendered in charcoals rather than clean ink, adds to the hazy fantasy. Is Captain Twain crazy, is he imagining things, or has he really met a mermaid? What happened to missing owner of the riverboat, a Frenchman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances? I hesitate to get more into the plot because much of the pleasure in reading this book is from watching the mystery of the mermaid unfold. But I loved that this fairy tale isn't some rehashing of Andersen or Grimm (this mermaid is closer to the Sirens of The Odyssey than to Ariel and her ilk) bu an original tale in the way that Neil Gaiman's American Gods speculates what happens when Old gods, spirits and creatures move to the New World.

Don't be fooled by the brief review. This is a great book for older teens and young adults, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

This review is cross posted at (Library Lass) Adventures in Reading. Check out my other reviews in all their rambly glory.

*Copy courtesy of NetGalley

Monday, September 24, 2012

Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson

Here are the numbers:
  • 2,208 people were on board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage
  • of these, 891 were crew members and 1,317 were passengers
  • yet she carried just 20 lifeboats that could have held a total of 1,178 people
  • she sank, after hitting an iceberg, on April 15, 1912
  • only 712 people survived
But numbers can only tell us so much. They don't convey the excitement surrounding the largest and most luxurious ocean liner ever built at the time, the confusion and fear on board when disaster struck, the bravery of many crew members and passengers, or the heartbreak of realizing a loved one did not survive.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Storm Approaching by Brian Libby


No elves, no magic rings and no vampires, but there is an unusual little fox. So promises the back cover of Storm Approaching, by Brian Libby. The blurb goes on to say "Do you thirst for tales of invincible heroes, malevolent Dark Lords, mighty wizards, ferocious (or benevolent) dragons, and prophecies that must come true? Sorry." 

That hits the spot when you're burned out on high fantasy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

After School Special, by Dave Kiersh + author Interview!

The first time I read a Dave Kiersh comic, I was blown away like I'd never been by any comic I'd ever read before. Not because of the art, which is great, but because it perfectly matched, in some way I couldn't understand, the feeling and mood of my teenage years. Over the years, I've read many of his minicomics and short pieces since then, some collaborations with other cartoonists, but most of them done on his own. The titles alone I think indicates what I'm talking about: "Teenage Neverland" and "Last Cry for Help" being the most obvious. 

After School Special is Dave Kiersh's first full-length graphic novel, and it delves deep into the territory Kiersh has mapped out in all his stories before: adolescents trying their damnedest to make sense of the world around them. The book's main characters are a boy, Jed, who's just transferred to a new school for his senior year, and the girl, Lisa, whose reputation has left her isolated and bitter. Their meeting kicks off the book, and through each other they find a tether holding them back from whatever bleak trajectory they fear when they see all the people around them.
The back cover to
After School Special 


 The book takes its title from the television movies from thirty some odd years ago with the same categorical name, often based on the YA literature of the time. Those books were very different from what the genre has become these days, instead they were rigorously grounded in realism with an uneasy rejection of resolution. Kiersh 
does an amazing job recreating that feeling in all his comics, and it is powerfully evoked here. 

In his biography at the end of the book, Kiersh writes, "Like Jed, I was a kid with angst who always believed believed I had something unique to say. Searching, wandering, and heartbreak followed." After School Special is filled with the ache and beauty of that same searching and heartbreak.

After I read the book, I had an opportunity to chat over email with Dave, and he answered our 5 question interview, along with some comics-specific questions:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mole-men and Other Stuff that Doesn't Exist

The paperback and "audioback" editions of John Hodgman's new book,That is All, comes out on October 2. This is the third and final volume in his Box Set of Complete World Knowledge trilogy. I'm not reviewing that book because I didn't get a review copy because apparently I'm not cool enough. But in anticipation of that momentous book release, I wanted to review the previous two Complete World Knowledge books.

I did not, however, have time to read them. I've been pursuing a new career as a sword swallower and have had a heavy practice schedule. So instead I just read the second book, More Information than You Require.

Friday, September 14, 2012

And Then There Were None

A tightly constructed mystery is a pleasure. For all the imagination that builds sprawling, globe-trotting adventures, creating the same excitement with a small cast in a single location is a particular show of skill. Agatha Christie was a master of this technique and proved it at her best in And Then There Were None.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History




OK, I figure this one is a natural for Guyslitwire. Author Florence Williams is very entertaining. She writes, in Breasts, ... some anthropologists have called breasts a "signal." Breasts, they say, must be telling us something about how fit and mature and healthy and maternal their owner is. Why else have them?

I was hoping the answers might lie with the creative experiments of Alan and Barnaby Dixson, a father-son team of institutionally supported breast watchers. Both based in Wellington, New Zealand, together they've published papers on male preferences for size, shape, and areola color and on female physique and sexual attractiveness in places such as Samoa, Papua New Guineau, Cameroon, and China...

I first met Barnaby on a blustery fall day in Wellington... he was very earnest. He walked around with a distracted air and wrinkled brow, and often misplaced things, such as parking receipts. It's not easy being a sex-signaling expert. "Sometimes people think I'm using the government's money to look at breasts. They misunderstand what we do," said Barnaby, who's tall and gangly and speaks with a crisp British accent.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Every Day by David Levithan



“I’m just not myself today.” Who among us has not uttered this phrase? As a high school teacher, I have often wondered who inhabited the body of my students on certain days. “This cannot be Rachel,” I would think. Or “Tom doesn’t act like this.” Identity often fluctuates (shout out to Heraclitus…something about a river) during adolescence, as teens try on various personas, searching for a true(r) identity. David Levithan’s new novel, Every Day, turns this notion of a fluctuating identity into a fantastical reality.

“A” has, for every day of his/her life (A has no gender, which is part of what makes the book interesting, but also what makes pronoun choices in a review a hassle), woken up in the body of someone else. Every day, from A’s earliest memory, morning has brought a different human body to contain A’s consciousness. The process is not completely random—the body has always been roughly the same age as A (would consciousness age without a body?), and the body is always in roughly the same geographic area as the previous body. So A might be a boy, a girl, gay, straight, unsure, a transsexual, a drug addict, a model, morbidly obese, suicidal, a jock, a nerd, any of the labels we use to define someone’s identity. But only for that day.

 “You see how cherries taste different to different people. Blue looks different. You see all the strange rituals boys have to show affection without admitting it…You learn how much a day is truly worth, because they’re all so different” (107).

Now sixteen, A has established his/her own version of primum non nocere—first, do no harm. Able to access some of the host’s memories, A tries to live the day without doing anything the host will have to deal with the next day that cannot be covered by “I just wasn’t myself yesterday.” (A’s vessels report only hazy memories of the day A was in control.) Homework is often a breeze; athletics and relationships—not so much. Thus A settles for days that are simple and withdrawn. Simple, that is, until A is in the body of Justin, the sullen boyfriend of the sadly beautiful Rhiannon. A falls for Rhiannon. Falls hard. Falls harder than ever before. Falls hard enough to want to see Rhiannon again, to tell her the truth about the wonderful day at the beach Justin/A and Rhiannon spent together, regardless of the vessel A inhabits the next day. Or the day after that. Cue complications, including being pursued by former vessel Nathan, who has been convinced by the shady Reverend Poole that A is the devil.

Every Day is far more than another clever conceit by Levithan (The Lover’s Dictionary, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). Yes, you can read it as a moving teenage love story, albeit a love story where one teen exists in a different physical body every day. But Levithan’s novel is much more than that. It raises thoughtful questions about identity, gender, and sexuality. How much of our identity is tied to our gender? To our physical body? Should sexuality be reduced to a hetero/homosexual dichotomy? When we fall in love, what is it about the other we are falling in love with? 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Since You Left Me by Allen Zadoff


If God were here, there would be no need for religion.  We wouldn’t have to remember him for honor him.  We’d come out of our houses in the morning, and God would be sitting on a cloud with a lightning bolt in one hand and a Starbucks in the other.
You’d say, “Good morning, God. How did I do yesterday?”
If you were good, you’d get the Starbucks. If you were bad—

Sanskrit Aaron Zuckerman.

Some name, eh?  Particularly for the least Jewish kid at Brentwood Jewish Academy (even below the school’s one-student diversity initiative, Tyler, who’s only Jewish on his mother’s side).  Named after “a dead, goyish language” by his new-ager yoga-teacher mother (his younger sister was named Sweet Caroline by their father—at least Neil Diamond is Jewish!), Sanskrit sits at the bottom of his school’s pecking order, dreaming of graduation and The Initials.  The former is his ticket away from his feuding, divorced parents; the latter is Judi Jacobs, the girl of his dreams, whom he went out with for one ill-fated week in second grade, when they were still at public school.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Expiring Bookstore

Not far from my house, though not ideally close either, is a bookstore tucked into a neighborhood rich with galleries, antique shops and old-school, diner-style cafes. Open the doors and you're greeted with that rich, somewhat musty smell of used books. Besides the tall walls lined with books and the rolling ladders for reaching the uppermost stacks, it looks like a living room that hasn't been updated since the '40s. There are a number of large lazy cats draped over coffee tables and end tables. You wander about, intrigued by quirky titles everywhere you look, and every time you think you've exhausted the place you find another room, another nook, another stack of un-shelved books with just the thing you didn't know you were looking for. It's the perfect place to get lost. Or found. Or something.