Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Flavor of the Week by Tucker Shaw

While scrolling through the archives of GuysLitWire, I realized I'd yet to post my review of Flavor of the Week here, so here we go!

If you're hungry for a good book, pick up Flavor of the Week by Tucker Shaw, a modern-day retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac in which the protagonist remotely woos his dream girl with pastries instead of poetry.

Cyril, a teenage boy with a flair for cooking, hopes to make it into a culinary academy after high school. He also wants to make it onto Rose's radar. Rose is quiet and cool, easy to talk to, but Cyril would rather freeze up than admit his feelings for her. When his friend Nick also falls for Rose, Cyril finds himself whipping up tasty treats for the girl and helping Nick pretend that HE made them instead.

The main characters are all offbeat high school students without being stereotypes. For example, instead of being the most popular girl in school or conforming to the norm, Rose is a Bohemian girl, with glasses and swirly skirts. With steady pacing, a sweet conclusion, and mouthwatering recipes - including kitchen-sink cookies and butter-and-sugar sandwiches - between chapters, readers will be drawn to the kitchen and to the characters. Hopefully, they'll check out the original Cyrano too -- after they've had dinner.

Hungry for more? Check out my Cooking Up a Storm booklist!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

“I think sometimes you think you’re the hero of the story, and sometimes you think you’re the victim…but you’re not either.”

Douglas Lee is rightfully confused in Adam Rex’s lastest novel Fat Vampire. He is the title character, doomed to remain a chubby fifteen-year-old for all time. He was trying to lose weight before he was attacked at his family’s cabin, but the curse of a vampire means that he will never change. Eternally hefty, eternally hungry for blood.

At first, he gets by biting cattle and stealing from a bloodmobile (aided by his partner in nerd-crime Jay). But an incident at the San Diego Zoo while trying to suck a panda has blown Doug’s cover, and the host of the basic cable show Vampire Hunters is now close behind and frantic for high ratings.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

In the interest of reviewing this book I will disclose the following: I do not watch TV news. I hate TV news. I think TV news undermines democracy and makes us dumb. I will, on rare occasion, watch the PBS Newshour, because that show usually does not do this. I do get news, however, from the New York Times (delivered daily), the Chicago Tribune (online), the Washington Post (online), by listening to National Public Radio (NPR), and reading websites (too many). I am a “news junkie,” as they say, but I see that as a good thing. I like to know what is going on. I feel it’s my responsibility to know what’s going on.

So does Brooke Gladstone, who hosts the popular NPR show “On the Media.” Her new graphic non-fiction book, The Influencing Machine, is outstanding. She wrote it and Josh Neufeld drew it (who also wrote and did the art for his terrific graphic non-fiction account of six survivors of Hurricane Katrina, A.D. New Orleans: After the Deluge). This book is about media and journalism: what it is, some history of it, its political controversies, and especially the complexity of it involving issues of truth, objectivity, manipulation, ethics, bias, and purpose. If you want to see your news more critically, gain some insight into the role news and journalism has played (and continues to play) in shaping political and social discourse, and grapple with some questions that do not have single or easy answers, read this book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Boy Detective Fails

When I was a little kid, there were books about boy geniuses with names like Encyclopedia Brown. Or the Hardy Boys. And maybe because I never stopped being a kid, I never wondered what happened if one of these child detectives grew up. Oh, but author Joe Meno did.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Journey into the Deep by Rebecca L. Johnson

Oceans cover about 70% of the earth's surface, yet only about 5% of the ocean has been seen by humans. In fact, we actually know less about the ocean than we do about some parts of our solar system.

In 2000, Census of Marine Life launched. Over the course of ten years, 2,700 scientists from around the world participated in 540 different expeditions that surveyed many different areas of the ocean. The goal of the Census was to “assess the diversity (how many different kinds), distribution (where they live), and abundance (how many) of marine life.” Although the exploration phase of the Census is complete, it will take many more years to sort through and study everything that was collected.

Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures by Rebecca L. Johnson introduces readers to the Census and some of the creatures the Census discovered. The book is divided into sections based on the area of the ocean being studied, beginning with shallowest regions surveyed to the deepest.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Warp Speed

I’ve decided that if given the chance, I wouldn’t want to meet most of my favourite authors. My reason? I’d be worried that the person behind a most-loved book would disappoint me. I’d rather imagine said god-like person as brilliant / funny / clever / extraordinary, keeping him or her in a state of perfection in my mind, even though I know that’s probably not real. How many authors of great books can be as cool as their books? Could J.K. Rowling be as awesome as her stories? Hard to imagine. (Okay. I’d probably meet J.K. if I had the chance. C’mon. Who wouldn’t?)

But Lisa Yee. I would meet Lisa Yee in a heartbeat, mostly because she seems HILARIOUS and a little crazy – good crazy. Also because I would like to meet Peepy and have my picture taken with Peepy. (This is Peepy). Lisa’s books are this fantastic combo of smart and true and funny. Heartwarming is a good word, but I mean that in the coolest possible way – think quirky and insightful indie flick, not Hallmark Movie of the Week weeper. Yee’s stories impress me because they manage to balance a light tone with thematic complexity. They’re really well constructed too. She’s a pro.

Warp Speed is the fourth title in a series featuring the same setting and characters, each time told from a different kid’s point of view. This time, it’s seventh grade and the main character is a character who appeared only briefly in one of the earlier books. Marley Sandelski is a nerd. He’d admit it. He is an outcast who loves Star Trek and hanging around with his equally geeky friends from AV club. In some ways, he’s okay with who he is, but like many kids his age he also longs to be accepted by the cool crowd. Marley faces horrible bullying for being different. The only good thing about this scenario is that he discovers his amazing talent for running. This ability turns out to play a key role in Marley finding his way from invisible to invincible.

Yee crafts a complex picture of what it means to be bullied day after day after day. She succeeds in convincing us just how isolating it is to feel victimized and unnoticed. It’s sad and true that Marley really does try to just get on with his life, to cope, to keep his head down, and to struggle through it. I liked that this story counters some of the typically held opinions about victims of bullying: they have no friends (Marley has friends); they have messed up family lives (Marley’s home life is fantastic). The resolution to the bullying felt a bit too good to be true for me, but it wasn’t impossible to believe. This book is made for reading groups. And all readers actually.

In case you’re not convinced yet, here is the author speaking Klingon:

Just say it. Now you want to meet her too.

Warp Speed is published by Arthur A. Levine Books.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spray by Harry Edge (by way of an Interview with bookseller Kimberly Jones)

Since last summer, I've cut back my hours at Little Shop of Stories, the children's bookstore here in Decatur, Georgia which got me involved in kidslit. One of the folks hired to replace me is Kimberly Jones, a super cool woman with a great sense of books for guys. She knows books for guys--in part because she's got a bunch of brothers, in part because she's got a young son, but also because, I think, at times she's like a 15 year old boy at heart.

One of her recent favorites to recommend to guys is the book Spray by Harry Edge. "It's like the coolest game of 'Assassination' ever, with lots of action and a great underdog character."

Read on for more about Spray and a brief interview with Kim

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson

Sometimes, my two dogs run off into the woods and stay gone for hours--coming back long after dark, muddy and exhausted. Other times, they race to the window and start barking for no clear reason, ears pricked, lips pulled back. I'll check, won't see anything, and tell them it's nothing.

But what if there is something out there? Something I can't see?

That's the premise behind Beasts of Burden a comic series by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson. A group of dogs--and one stray cat--must protect their town of Burden Hill (get it?) from dangers their human owners can't see, including ghosts, werewolves, and a coven of witches.

Empire State by Jason Shiga

What can I say? I first asked for a copy of this graphic novel by Shiga since it was set in Oakland, and I'm an old East Bay boy myself. I'm always keen to see how an area so deeply imprinted on a cellular level is represented in other art. Would he get it "right," as viewed through the prism of my own memories (and return trips?)

For starters, Shiga works in a cartoony style that normally isn't my favorite mode for self-reflective graphic memoirs about love gone, well, not awry -- just never getting out of the starting blocks. Subject aside, the style is less "graphic" and more Sunday Funny-ish.

But my objections were quickly assuaged, in no small part because Shiga gets his Oakland right: There's Casper's Hot Dogs! There's Children's Fairyland! There are a bunch of old Victorians which could be right off Telegraph Avenue near MacArthur! Et cetera. But having a definitive sense of place (and given the book's title, you won't be surprised to learn the action switches from the East Bay to New York, after a fateful bus trip) doesn't make the story riveting on its own (just, for some of us, familiar!)

It's Shiga's wry/gentle -- and ultimately kind -- way of writing about his overly-smart, twentysomethingy characters who can joke about Fermi estimations of vaginas and where the McSweeney's is placed on their bookshelves, but who have a hard time -- like the rest of us -- asking for what they really need. Or dream about.

Speaking of which, the real Oakland is on the verge of shuttering its real libraries -- where, in this book, the Shiga character works -- due to the usual apocalyptic transfers of wealth from the public sector to the ultra-rich. It might be interesting to see if Shiga follows up this work on the politics of the heart with his characters facing the politics of politics. I'd certainly trust his eye for observation.

A shorter version of this review appeared in Nexus Graphica

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mouse Guard series by David Petersen

This wonderful graphic novel series by David Petersen begins with Mouse Guard Volume 1: Fall 1152. In trade form, there are two volumes and then a collection of stories from a variety of authors featuring the protectors of the Mouse Territories.

At first glance The Mouse Guard books look like a graphic version of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series of novels. While there are similarities, this is a completely original story. In Fall 1152, mice live in tough and dangerous conditions and the book follows three warrior mice who try to protect the others from predators and other disasters.

The series opens with the Guardsmice searching for a missing merchant. As they stumble upon a plot to destroy the home of the guard, the mice must desperately fight and survive to defend their homeland.

While I would love even more depth to the story, the action and art are incredible. Petersen uses the mice to signify courage and fortitude in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien put his characters in nearly impossible situation after impossible situation.

In Volume 2: Winter 1152, Petersen continues to extend the expansive world of the Mouse Guard, as the brutal elements of winter take even more of a toll on on the mice. Then, late last year Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard was published. In Legends, several characters tell stories of their land and of the Mouse Guard. This is a great device to tell new stories in this series and allow several other graphic novelist to delve into Petersen’s creation. Like most collections, there are a couple of weak stories, but overall, this is also worthwhile.

So, there is your primer to the world of Mouse Guard. Fans of Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet or the graphic novel collection that he edits, Flight, will enjoy Mouse Guard.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Frankenstein, rise of the Gothic

I first read Frankenstein the Halloween I was fifteen. My interest piqued by the 1930s Universal films, and in no small part by Young Frankenstein as well, it seemed appropriately seasonal reading. The range of settings and the monster’s eloquent humanity were a surprising departure from the movies. No grunting Karloff or Peter Boyle wheezing his way through “Putting on the Ritz,” Mary Shelley’s monster was given a voice with which to deliver an impassioned statement of the pain he has caused and misery he feels.

Frankenstein was also my first encounter with the Gothic novel. A moody atmosphere, romance entwined with death, formed my conception of the genre. But I was provided another perspective by Philip Pynchon’s essay “Is it OK to be a Luddite?,” in which he identifies an additional element:
If there were such a genre as the Luddite novel, this one, warning of what can happen when technology, and those who practice it, get out of hand, would be the first and among the best…

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

36 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Cathy N. Davidson

I read it first 15 years ago. I was impressed with the insight Ms. Davidson shared from her times in Japan. Felt, after the recent earthquake (plus aftermath), it was time to share.

So I got to read it again! I've been looking forward to this for years! There are too many sections of it I want to quote.

1) The Festival of the Dead.
2) "Toshi, a direct descendant of a famous samurai clan, explained that a samurai's clothes did not even have pockets. No samurai would deign to carry money; that was women's work.

'This is why boys do so poorly in math,' Toshi noted. 'If there weren't lower math standards for boys than girls, our best national universities would be filled with women.'

Other Japanese friends confirmed this. Boys in Japan often have math anxiety. There are special juku courses to overcome this fear.

When a study done in America in 1980 'proved' that girls have lower math scores than boys due to lower testerone levels, I made Xerox copies of the Time magazine article and brought it into my Rhetoric course at Kansai Women's University. I asked them to read the article first, and then to write an in-class essay about it.

It's one of the few times when my students began to laugh spontaneously, without my making it clear that they were 'allowed' to do so.

'Gomen nasai!' one of my students said, working hard to control her mirth. 'We know this article isn't supposed to be funny but it is. We all help our brothers with arithmetic.'

3) Let me know if you'd like one more.

I was not able to find a copy at powells.com. I do apologize.

A Manual For Living, by some old Stoic Greek dude whose name is Epic

As a teen all I wanted, all many of us wanted, was a book that would just explain once and for all how the world worked and what we were supposed to do about it.  It's said there are answers everywhere, in religion, in nature, in ancient Eastern and Western philosophy, but that all seemed like a lot of work.  All that reading and interpreting. Even the "simple" texts like the Tao te Ching required a certain mental dexterity not unlike being forced to parse the meaning of an old poem. Why couldn't there be just a simple little book that explained it all?

Wait, there actually is a simple little book called A Manual for Living? By some old Greek dude whose name begins with the word Epic?  Sounds perfect.

In truth, there really is no one-size-fits-all book full of easy answers, no short-cut toward how to go about living in the world, but for a short introduction to Stoic philosophy and the teachings of Epictetus this book is the ticket.  Less than 90 pages and full of ethical approaches to life, A Manual for Living enlightens and provokes in simple and direct language.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lyrics by Sting

First, the technical stuff. This book is really well-made. The white hardcover is covered with a gold-hued replica of Sting's handwritten lyrics. On the front, "Message in a Bottle" and "King of Pain"; on the back, bits from "Roxanne", complete with doodles. And covering the hardcover is a tan vellum that allows those bits to peek through a bit. The book contains a foreword and the lyrics from the first Police album, Outlandos D'Amour through Sting's solo, Sacred Love. It has two indices - one by first line, one by song title; the song title stuff includes copyright info, which is cool, but should have added the album titles, I'm thinking. Also in the book? Photographs, as one might expect. And here and there, some clarification from Sting.

You can read the complete foreword over at the Barnes & Nbble site (and probably elsewhere as well). What Sting notes first is that separating lyrics from their music can be a dicey thing, as they are mutually dependent beings.

The two, lyrics and music, have always been mutually dependent, in much the same way as a mannequin and a set of clothes are dependent on each other; separate them, and what remains is a naked dummy and a pile of cloth. . . . I have set out my compositions in the sequence they were wrritten and provided a little background when I thought it might be illuminating. My wares have neither been sorted nor dressed in clothes that do not belong to them; indeed, they have been shorn of the very garments that gave them their shape in the first place. No doubt some of them will perish in the cold cruelty of this new environment, and yet others may prove more resilient and become perhaps more beautiful in their naked state.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A few of my favorite -- and yet to be purchased -- books on the Book Fair list.

In case you've somehow missed the news, Guys Lit Wire is running a Book Fair in support of the Ballou Senior High School library in Washington D.C. At of the time of the original post, Ballou had almost 1,200 books in the library -- not quite one for each student. We're working to change that, and would love some help from you.

If you aren't familiar with the project, please do click through to the link above and check the original post out. I'll wait.

Are we all on the same page now? Excellent.

Behind the cut, I've highlighted a few of my favorite titles on the list that are still waiting for some awesome person to ship them off to D.C. Even if you aren't able to donate at this time, you may get a few book recommendations out of it, right? (But we do hope you'll donate!)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Three Mind-altering Science Books

I didn't like science in high school . Chemistry was unbalanced equations and disappoint lab results; physics seemed like an unneeded headache; biology was smelly dissections and a lot of Latinate memorization. But away from the classroom, I can't get enough of science books written for lay audiences. Here are three recent books that messed with my brain in a good way.

The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

Brian Greene explores ideas, all based on established theories of physics, that there may, in fact, be more than one universe, or that our universe is part of a larger collection of universes called the "multiverse." If that weren't mind-blowing enough, Greene explores seven different varieties of multiverses, each depending on a different theory or set of starting conditions for the development of the multiverse. From the "patchwork" multiverse, in which a universe that's sufficiently large (infinite or nearly so) will eventually repeat itself or come close to repeating itself, creating exact duplicates of all of us, to the holographic multiverse, which uses theories relating to black holes to describe your reality as merely a holographic projection of another reality taking place at the edges of the universe. In between the patchwork multiverse and the holographic multiverse are several other possible multiverses born out of quantum theory, general relativity, and string theory.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Guys Lit Wire Book Fair for Ballou Senior High School

ANNOUNCEMENT: Due to problems with blogger last week we are extending the fair through Friday, May 20th!

It is with an enormous amount of excitement that I can announce this year’s Guys Lit Wire Book Fair! We will be working with Powells Books again, this time to send books to the east coast to Ballou Senior High School in Washington D.C. Ballou is very special to me as school librarian Melissa Jackson made such an eloquent case for her students’ need for more books. Her video, which shows so many empty shelves, really gave me reason to pause. There are probably more books in my house then Ballou has in this video and that is wrong in so many ways that I don’t even know where to begin.

At the time the video was made early this year there were just over 1,150 books on the shelves at Ballou; there are over 1,200 students in the school. So there was barely one book for each student (the ALA standard is 11:1). The WaPo ran an article about Ballou in January and I have seen a few follow-ups here and there (National Geographic sent over a bunch of books) but what struck me in all the efforts to help is what always hits me - people send books they have (publishers do the same) which is lovely, but not necessarily the books that the school needs or, most importantly of all, the students want. That’s where we come in and why we keep doing this, and loving it, every single year.

Melissa and I have exchanged many emails and spoken on the phone and the message is clear - they need many different types of books, many specific titles and many different versions of any given story. For example, HAMLET, a high school staple, is on the wish list, but you will find it in its original form, in the “No Fear Shakespeare” edition which includes a modern translation and in manga form for reluctant readers. Both versions of OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA are here as well as FAST FOOD NATION and THE WEATHERMAKERS. Very nearly every book in the Scientists in the Field series is listed as well as SAT study guides. Ballou has students who read on a fifth grade level and those who are in college prep courses. The range is wide, the interests varied and the need is tremendous. They want street lit and manga as well as nonfiction on nutrition, geography, history and more. They want a ton of poetry and drama with very specific authors in mind. They want graphic novels. They want Arthur C. Clark, Douglas Adams and Ray Bradbury. They want Neil Gaiman, Sherman Alexie, Nikki Grimes and John Green; vampires and romance and humor. Hundreds of books to fill empty shelves; they want hundreds and hundreds of books.

We’re going to make that happen.

For those of you who have been with us before, the drill has been streamlined a bit (thanks to Greg Pincus!) Here is the direct link to the wish list at Powells. (And if you want to share it: http://bit.ly/GLWBookFair)

The Ballou Sr High School list will open with 900 books to choose from. You can view them by title or author (don’t be afraid if it looks like a series book is missing - sometimes they have co-authors listed by the publisher - this happens with Neil Gaiman a lot - but I promise they are all there or will show up as the series is purchased). We have a mix of paper and hardcover for a reason - obviously hardcovers will last the longest in a library but we wanted to be sure that folks with any size budget can contribute. There are books ranging in price from $2.98 to $60 - and many many titles with excellent sale prices. Many of the paperbacks will be used in classrooms or could even end up as awards for worthy students. Regardless, all will be read, all will be appreciated and all will be valued and we really can’t ask for more than that.

It is perfectly fine to purchase used copies of a book (more bang for your buck) but please check and make sure the book is in “standard” used condition and not “student owned” (you will have to click on the title and leave the wish list to check this). The “student owned” copies are very cheap for a reason - they are written in and thus not a good choice for this effort.

Once you have made your selections head to “checkout” and you will be prompted to inform Powells if the books were indeed bought from the wishlist. This lets the store know to mark them as “purchased” on the list. After that you need to provide your credit card info and also fill in the shipping address. Here is where the books are going to:

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

It’s very important that you get Melissa’s name and title in there - she is not the only Jackson (or Melissa) at the school and we want to make sure the books get to the library.

After all that you buy the books and you’re done! Please head back over here when you get a chance though and leave a comment letting us know who you are, where you’re from and what you bought. Starting tomorrow I will have a continuously updated post listing everyone’s purchases so we can see the books flying their way to our nation’s capitol. I’ll be in constant touch with Melissa too so I can let you all know how things go on her end. The book fair will run until Friday, May 20th and we'll keep you updated on things even after it shuts down. (Hopefully as a sellout.)

As always, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all your dollars spent on books and your time spent blogging, tweeting and emailing about the book fair. This is a labor of love for all of us - it’s a way to give back to the world some of what books and libraries have given to each of us. This is how we make our mark, one kid at a time, one book at a time, one tiny miracle when it all comes together.

You guys are awesome; now please help us show Ballou Senior High just how powerful the written word can be.