Category Archives: Suggested Reading

Not quite age appropriate…

I just read two GREAT BOOKS that aren’t quite right for their “target” audience. Don’t worry, nothing scandalous, but just a bit off the mark.

The first is called I Want My Hat Back by John Klassen. It’s a hilarious picture book about a bear who has lost his hat. There is a subtlety to it that may be lost on little ones. Also, at the very end, some particularly sensitive children might get sad, if they even pick up on what happens at all. That being said, I was laughing so hard at the end! If you appreciate a good picture book, see if your local library has it. There are other great reviews on the web, like this one from Wired‘s Geek Dad, or this one from the Calling Caldecott blog. Great story, but might not be right for the tiniest children.

The next is a young adult book called The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler. The premise is this: It’s 1996, and the Internet is not in widespread use yet. Josh goes next door to his best friend Emma’s house with an America Online CD-ROM that came in the mail. Emma loads it onto her new desktop computer, and when she logs in, she finds herself and Josh on Facebook fifteen years in the future. I thought it was a clever concept, but no teen actually remembers getting those AOL CD-ROMs, or even what a CD-ROM is. I’m 28, and so I was 13 in 1996. I clearly remember using a dial-up modem, not being able to use the phone while online, not having a cell phone, and all those details that are essential to this book. They are pointed out clearly in the text, but I think it will go over the heads of most teens. Give this book to someone my age or a bit older and the connection to both the old and new technology is there. That being said, the story of being able to see into one’s future was cool, especially when Emma and Josh make slight changes to their current lives that make big waves down the line. Try this review from the LA Times for more.



It’s spooky time…

It’as getting quite autumn-y here in the Northeast. I stomped in a pile of crispy leaves the other day, there are pumpkins on the porch, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween. I was never a horror fan, although I can deal with small doses of Stephen King thanks to Amanda. I just read two odd-and-good-but-not-scary YA books: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Peculiar Children centers around a guy named Jacob who grew up with bizarre tales and photographs from his grandfather. Once Jacob sees something unnatural and terrifying attack his grandfather in the woods, he knows he must go to Wales to find the orphanage where his grandfather grew up– Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The book is peppered with photographs of the peculiar children, borrowed from vintage photograph collectors to illustrate the story. I got the chills in several places and was afraid to turn the page lest I see something scary. There is a SMASH-BANG twist near the end, and the book ends with no finality, which I liked. Ransom Riggs, please do not write a sequel– let that uncertainty lie!

The Name of the Star is the latest from Maureen Johnson. The main character, Rory, is from Louisiana but is spending a year in London at boarding school. Unfortunately, she arrives just as a serial killer starts killing women in much the same way as Jack the Ripper did in the 1800s. One night, Rory sees a man that no one else can see, and suddenly, her life and view of the world change drastically. This book has a great climax and will be part of a series. I am so looking forward to find out what happens next. The library-centered comic Unshelved reviewed The Name of the Star recently, won’t you take a look?

Finally, since it’s almost Halloween, it’s also almost time for All Hallows’ Read, brainchild of the awesome Neil Gaiman. Why give candy when you can give books?










Celebrate the Freedom to Read!

This week, September 24-October 1, is Banned Books Week—an annual celebration of intellectual freedom. It also serves to educate about the dangers of censorship. The American Library Association, and librarians in general, are pretty vehement about the freedom to read, asserting that it is up to the patron (or, in the case of young kids, the parent) to determine what they want to read. Librarians—superheroes of the First Amendment!


Here are some great, often challenged books that I personally recommend:

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

ttyl by Lauren Myracle

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson


More info about Banned Books Week:

Question: What do you think about book censorship?

“Room” by Emma Donoghue: perspective is everything

My friend Marissa sent me an autographed copy (!!) of Room, by Emma Donoghue, for my birthday last month. I was really excited about this novel because as a teenager, I was mildly obsessed with one of Donoghue’s collections, Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins. I was not disappointed at all.

Room is about a mother and son who live in a terrible place: an 11′ by 11′ room with no way out. Jack is five, and his entire existence has been spent in this tiny space; yet, he doesn’t think it’s strange, because his mother has told him that this is the world. I can’t tell you anything else, because that would ruin things for you, but I wanted to bring up the most interesting part of this novel for me: the narrator’s perspective.

I love unreliable, weird narrators, and this counts, I think. Jack, the five-year-old boy, narrates Room, and his perspective is unique. His mother obviously knows about the world outside, but to Jack, this room is his universe. Imagine that. Imagine being five and never having gone to a park or to a friend’s house. Or not knowing what the sun is. That’s the set-up of the novel, but mostly what the reader gains from Jack’s narration is the deep sense of love between him and his mother.

If you are looking for an intense, emotional novel to offset all that beach reading, I highly recommend Room. (And thanks again, Marissa!)

My favorite book of DNBRD

I managed to read three of my four picks on Do Nothing But Read Day this past Sunday. I didn’t get to Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child, but it’s still on my list. However, I wanted to share my favorite book of the day with you, because I think it has wide appeal.

My favorite book that I read on Sunday, and maybe the best book I’ve read in a while, was In the Path of Falling Objects, by Andrew Smith. It’s a fascinating novel that looks unflinchingly at what the Vietnam War did to both soldiers in combat and their families at home; combine that storyline with a psychopath who picks up two hitchhiking boys, and you’ve got a powerful, surprisingly poignant, novel.

I was amazed at how Smith managed to intertwine these plots together, and still convey the gravity of war and mental illness. At first glance, this book seems extremely odd. Two teenage brothers, Jonah and Simon, are leaving home because their electricity has been off for days and they don’t know where their mother is. Their horse dies, and they are stuck walking across the New Mexican desert. All the while, Jonah is thinking about their other brother, Matthew, who is in Vietnam. Jonah has all of Matthew’s letters with him, and these letters appear in nearly every chapter. The boys get picked up by Mitch and Lilly; she is nice, he is insane. At times this book felt like a really well-made horror movie, directed by Rob Zombie, and in other places, it felt like a documentary about combat fatigue. I know that that is an odd way to describe it, but I honestly cannot think of another way.

I am of the opinion that there are not nearly enough young adult books that a) take place in the Vietnam era and b) include characters affected by the Vietnam war. The same could be said about Cambodia. Recently this has started to change. I think forty-five years is enough time in which to heal some of those wounds, and writers are starting to use the late 1960s and early 1970s as a backdrop more and more. I would really like to see this continue and grow; as a child of a Vietnam veteran, I’m both curious about and frightened of that time and place.

The other books I read on Do Nothing But Read Day were great as well, but In the Path of Falling Objects was the clear winner. I highly recommend it.

What was your favorite read of Do Nothing But Read Day?

What I’m reading on DNBRD

This Sunday, I’m going to attempt to tackle four young adult novels. There is no way that I’m actually going to finish them all, but I like to be prepared. (I was a Girl Scout, after all.)

The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

I think I’m looking forward to this one the most, because it involves pirates and treasure. Emer was a pirate in the late seventeenth-century, but she was slain just before she was to run away with her lover and live happily ever after. A curse is put on her, and she must live the lives of 100 dogs before she can become a human again. When she finally gets through all 100 lives, she’s an American high school student… one who needs to get down to Jamaica to claim her treasure. I think the premise is really cool, so we’ll see if the book delivers. All of the books I’m reading on Sunday, incidentally, are from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) list of Best Books for Young Adults from 2010 and 2009.

The other three books I chose for Sunday are all realistic novels; I don’t normally choose realistic novels for myself, but sometimes reading outside my comfort zone can be enlightening. (Especially since my comfort zone involves zombies, freak shows, and serial killers.)

King of the Screwups by K.L Going

Liam is popular, athletic, stylish… but it’s not enough for his father, who thinks he can’t do anything right. Liam gets kicked out of his house and goes to live with his gay, glam-rocker, disc jockey uncle in a trailer in upstate New York. In this new place, he can become whoever he wants to be. So who will he choose to be? K.L. Going is also the author of Fat Kid Rules the World, which was a Printz Award Honor book.

Continue reading

What I’m reading on DNBRD

The Summer 2010 edition of Do Nothing But Read Day is swiftly approaching, and I’ve been making a stack of books to read on the 27th.  Here’s a peak at what I’ll be reading this time around. I’m not sure that I’ll read all of these books, and I certainly won’t read all of all of these books — but this is my starting point.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño.  This book was a Christmas gift from my brother-in-law, and I’m embarrassed to say that I’m still trying to finish it. I don’t seem to be able to read too much of it at once, and now I’m completely stalled at the beginning of Part 4: The Part About the Crimes. DNBRD is a good time to break the impasse.

The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder. This is the history of the measuring of a portion of a meridian so that distance could be used to establish the meter. That all sounds pretty dry, except when you consider that all of this was going on during the French Revolution (and that astronomy and geometry are fascinating), when it was rather difficult to be running around France triangulating.  I’m part of the way through this book already, and will read a couple of chapters on DNBRD.

Thucydides: The Reinvention of History by Donald Kagan. The greatest historian of ancient Greece writing about the historical writing of the greatest of the ancient Greek historians. What could be better? I bought this book several months ago, and have been holding it in reserve, knowing that it will be excellent.  After all, everything that Kagan writes is (not to mention his lectures on the subject at Yale, which you can also listen to online or as podcasts).

A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch. I know only three things about this book: 1) the author is Polish; 2) it’s a comic novel set in the latter days of the Polish post-Stalinist thaw; and 3) it’s the latest installment of my subscription from Open Letter, one of the leading lights in translated European literature in the US. And for those reasons, I’m looking forward to it exceedingly. I’ll read this one on DNBRD for sure (unless I give in and read it before then).

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I picked up this book at a great bookstore/cafe/bar (where I found some really fine martinis as well) in Washington, DC when I was there for the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in January. It’s been buried under a stack of other new acquisitions since then, but it’s time to dip into it for some of Bachelard’s fascinating tour of home and what it means. I’ve read this several times before (but it seems my other copy went missing), so I’ll just dip in and read a chapter or two, as it suits me.

Selected Writings by John Ruskin. I’ve been oddly fascinated with Ruskin of late. This volume of selections from the Oxford World’s Classics series has just what I need: a smattering of pieces from various works. I’ll merely dip into this one as well, and read one or two of the pieces as a prelude to a full reading of The Stones of Venice later in the year.

The Possessed by Elif Batuman. A memoir about Russian literature, studying Russian literature, and the people who do strange things like study Russian literature. I’ve read only the introduction so far, but I can already tell that Batuman is funny, that her prose is lucid and lively, and that her path into studying literature more than a little resembles my own graduate school oddities. This will provide amusing interludes to some of the heavier material.

Poetry Magazine. I’ve had a subscription to Poetry off and on for more than 15 years now. As usual, I’m well behind on the issues. I seem to let four or five of them stack up, at which point I read them all at once, in order of publication. When I do this, it’s like entering another world, one in which everyone cares enormously about poetry. I’m a fast reader of poetry, so the five back issues will only take me an hour or so to read. I’ll blow through them quickly and mark the ones that I like for later rereading.

The Paris Review. Another periodical that I do not seem to read until there’s a small stack, which is even sillier than it sounds, since it’s only published quarterly. Besides interviews with John McPhee, Ray Bradbury, R. Crumb, and David Mitchell, there’s the usual mix of short stories, poetry, photography, and visual arts. All good stuff, but given the height of my stack of books for DNBRD, I’ll probably read only the interviews; I always read them first.

What are you reading on DNBRD? Sign up and let us know — you could also, as Amanda says, win stuff.