Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'm Thankful I've Read

Today's Top Ten Tuesday theme is a Thanksgiving freebie, meaning something Thanksgiving-themed. So I chose books I'm thankful I've read. You may think that's a cop-out, but I'm not always thankful I've read a book. Sometimes they make me mad or sad in a bad way, not in a "hey, that book was so well-written it gave me all sorts of feels!" kind of way. So I put a lot of thought into this list; I hope you enjoy it.

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I know, I know. I've mentioned this book a few times already. (Like here. And here) The reason I'm putting this on my list is that it is the first book I remember loving. I was eleven, and this book just spoke to me. I've read it many many times since.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I read this as an adult, and I kind of regret that I didn't get to experience this amazing book as a teen. I loved this book (documented here) even though I found it incredibly sad. Something about Charlie just got to me though, and still does.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
It's only in the last few years that I've actually started to read graphic novels, courtesy of some great recommendations from my friends here at the library. When Nimona came out, I read it in about two hours and immediately sent my friend a message telling her to read it now. Nimona is such a remarkable character. She's not necessarily a good guy, but not really a bad guy either, and she is representative of many very human problems. The book is very relatable for a book about dragons, shape-shifting, and knights.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
I've also mentioned this book before (see here) because it also really hit me in the feelings place. I honestly had very little expectations going into this book, but it really hooked me early on. I've since reread it, and Harold still makes me happy, sad, and really want to give him a hug.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This was one of those books that I'd been told over and over again to read by trusted individuals. Sometimes it takes me a while to listen! When I finally did read this book, I seriously loved it. I'm not even a gamer, but I just loved the world-building and the fast-paced plot. It's a big book, but a winner.

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning
Sometimes I like to learn things. I grabbed this book on audio mostly because I just was in the mood for a nonfiction book. I've since become a bit of a pusher of this book, putting it into the hands of many patrons and friends. The book is about the impact of books during war. There was so much information in here that I had never heard before, and it was fascinating! Especially for a book-lover like myself.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Five Books Worth Reading: Inspired Retellings

Retelling a classic story is all the rage right now. You might have noticed this in movies, television, and books yourself. So here are my five books worth reading on the subject. (Fair warning: mostly fairy tales)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – The first book in a popular teen series retelling the story of Cinderella told from the point of view of the cyborg, Cinder.  In addition, this well written sci-fi series has evil witches, shapeshifters, spaceships, and awesome cover art. I highly recommend it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – A Beauty and the Beast retelling featuring clueless humans and mysterious elves. Sarah Mass is an excellent writer and I would recommend anything she writes (ahem… Throne of Glass… ahem).

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell – This is a spot-on Steampunk retelling of Cinderella.  My favorite thing about this book was that the quintessential teen angst/ love triangle doesn’t end up the way that the reader thinks it will…This ending is better.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge – A retelling of Beauty and the Beast where wishes will get you enslaved, the beast is a Demon Prince, and “Beauty” has been raised from birth to kill him. This story is geared for Adults, not teens or children.  The second book in this series, Crimson Bound, comingles the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl with No Hands and is even better than the first.

Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd – What happens to the daughter of Dr. Moreau after the island is abandoned/destroyed? This book, set in Victorian England and inspired by The Island of Dr. Moreau, tells us her fate. The “monsters” featured in the second and third books in this series pay homage to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein.  

So those are my five. What retellings have you enjoyed lately? 

~Mary P.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Top Ten Literary Halloween Costumes

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic

One would think that scouring the Internet for pictures of Halloween costumes inspired by literature would be a simple task.  Well, alright, that part was pretty easy.  Picking ten of them to highlight in a blog entry?  Not so much.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I began my “research” for this post. It became clear very early on that I would need to develop some kind of criteria to help me judge what costumes were and were not worthy of inclusion. In the end, I decided to make up categories and award the best homemade costume in each category with a spot on my Top Ten.

Best Costume Inspired by a Book Cover
Goodnight Moon

… like I even needed to say the title.  Show me one person who didn’t recognize this costume, and I will show you a liar.

I love the amount of detail in this costume.  I mean, just look at that mantle clock and the little socks hanging over the fire.

You know the best thing about it, though?  The best part is that the wearer had to get her arm involved to truly capture the essence of the book.  The costume wouldn’t work without the window.

It is “Goodnight Moon,” after all.  You gotta have the moon.

Best Costume Based on a Movie Based on a Book
Sauron from The Lord of the Rings

“One does not simply trick-or-treak down that block…” – Imaginary person from the next street over.

There is no shortage of LotR costumes out there.  Most people go for the hobbits, elves, or Istari (which is nerd for “wizard”). Not this guy. No, no, no. Why settle for those wimpy characters when you could be the Lord of the Rings himself?

And when it comes to dressing as someone so ubiquitous and powerful, you gotta do it right. Sure, you could probably figure out how to make a huge, fiery eye costume, but why do that when you can sport a set of armor and a gigantic mace? If I saw this guy on the sidewalk, I’d run screaming in the opposite direction.

Best Unintentionally Terrifying Children’s Costume
Sam I Am from Green Eggs and Ham

Not to get too sentimental here, but this costume reminds me of my childhood. Specifically, it reminds me of this one time I stared at the cover of The Cat in the Hat for so long that the Cat’s face began to creep me out. (It still does to this day, a little.)

A similar thing happens when I look at this picture.

Don’t get me wrong—I love this costume. It’s simple and colorful, and the use of props is inspired.

There is just something about it, though…

Best Pet Costume
The Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow

I usually have a question for people who dress their pets up for fun (Why?), but I’m going to look past that right now. It doesn’t make much sense to me, but it makes marginally more sense for Halloween. Right?

I was hesitant about including animal costumes on the list after viewing many, many pictures of them. Most I found to be mediocre and unimaginative. The Headless Dogman puts them all to shame.

If I had a dog, a desire to dress it up in human clothing, and the skills to MacGyver this costume together, I’d use it year round! Just replace that jack-o-lantern with an Easter Egg or a Christmas ornament, and you can add a hint of the macabre to any holiday!

Best Costume of a Pet
Fluffy, Hagrid’s three-headed dog from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Nothing is worse than running into someone else with the same costume on Halloween. Like LotR, there is an endless supply of Potter-inspired costumes out there. I would hazard a guess that, at one point or another, someone has dressed up as literally every character mentioned in all seven books. Go ahead and try to prove me wrong.

This kid saw all those costumes and said, “Mom, could you please cut the heads off of these two stuffed dogs? I have a plan.”

I bet the seven Hermiones that this kid passed while trick-or-treating are totally jealous. I am.

Best Use of Fabric from the Clearance Bin 
Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus

I think this space-themed fabric was made specifically with “The Friz” in mind. What else could you possibly use it for?

Everything about this costume is perfect. It’s not enough to just dress like a character on Halloween, you have to become the character. And this woman is Ms. Frizzle, no two ways about it.

It makes me want to jump on the first school bus I see and scream, “Come on, Bus!  Do your stuff!” at the top of my lungs. But then I’d probably be arrested.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

TTT: Things I wish a book genie would grant me

Better late than never, right? I, Cailey, forgot to post this lovely post yesterday, on Tuesday. So since it's back to the future day, let's all pretend it's Tuesday and enjoy!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme started on the Broke and the Bookish blog.
They set the topic, we make the lists. Visit their site to see more on this topic
10 Things I wish a book genie would grant me:

1. More Paul Cornell books: I would oh so very much love it if Paul Cornell could see his way clear publishing at least one more volume (and maybe several) in the London Falling/Severed Streets series. Cornell has a lot of irons in the fire and, as such, is probably kind of pressed for time. But I thought those books were first rate. Cornell established interesting characters and effectively combined police procedural and dark, urban whatever the Dresden Files are.

2. The power to quit: I’m just one of those neurotics who is obsessed with finishing books I start. As a consequence, I order up a lot of books (the people at SearchOhio must have a wanted poster with my name on it) but start very few because I know that once I’m in, I’m in. My colleagues are great at quitting things. Why can’t I?

3. A Children of Hurin movie: Okay this is a wish for a film about a book, but what can you do? Children of Hurin (as most of you don’t know) is a book about the history of men and elves that J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher put together from his father’s notes. It’s really great, but I doubt that any such thing could be brought into existence without causing a rip in space/time, since a) The Children of Hurin is pretty obscure, and b) Peter Jackson has pretty much exhausted any residual public interest in seeing Tolkien on film with his execrable Hobbit movies.

4. More hours in the day: Being a librarian is, in most respects, awesome. I get to work with some really smart individuals who make me laugh, and I spend the day helping people, which I enjoy. But one of the challenges is that I am constantly facing book overload. Due to professional necessity, I have extensive knowledge of what new stuff is coming out, and I have people with good taste constantly recommending things to me. My “to read” pile is on the verge of becoming some sort of decrepit book fort, and things are getting worse and not better.

5. An audience with Charles Stross: Preferably to be held in a London pub with a liberal bar tab policy. Anyone who has read my posts will know that I’ve pretty much loved (or at least liked) everything I’ve read by him. I mean, the guy wrote a book (Neptune’s Brood) the main character of which was a forensic accountant…and it was awesome. No, I’m not joking. Cory Doctorow described Stross as the nerdiest person he’d ever met, and I’d like to test that statement over a few scoops.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Artifact from Bad Times: The Survival of Primo Levi

Primo Levi, The Complete Works of Primo Levi, 3 vols. Ann Goldstein ed. (New York: Liverlight Publishing Corporation, 2015) 
 Call #: 853.9140
If you would draw a map of human suffering, if you created a geography of atrocity, [Auschwitz] would be the absolute center. --Robert-Jan Van Pelt

After sixteen years of preparation, the complete works of the Italian author and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi are finally being published. This is an event of major importance. It is unlikely to receive the sort of fanfare devoted to the publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Meaning no disrespect to Harper Lee, this is an injustice. To Kill a Mockingbird is certainly an excellent book. But Levi’s writings, and particularly his 1947 memoir Se questo e un uomo [If This is a Man(titled in English Survival in Auschwitz) are of higher quality, both in terms of literary content and of importance to civilization. Survival in Auschwitz is, as far as I am concerned, the most important book written in the 20th century and the one book that every person should read without exception.

There are many excellent books about the Holocaust, and among them many superb and moving survivor narratives, from Elie Wiesel’s Night, to Filip Müller’s Eyewitness Auschwitz, to Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for theGas, Ladies and Gentlemen, to Art Spiegelman’s Maus and at least a dozen others that one could name without even scratching the surface. Yet Levi’s writings stand above them all. Rather than solely bearing witness to horrific events (important as this is), Levi’s writings search for the human implications beneath the horror. For Levi, the experience of the Holocaust is used as means to study individuality and our capacity to communicate with each other, the fundamental elements of the human condition. These things have a significance that far outstrips their connections to Nazi genocide, even though it was the arguably the most important event of the 20th century.

Levi’s story, like that of all Auschwitz survivors, is marked by moments of luck, both good and ill, that powerfully shaped his life and his chances for survival. He was a young chemistry graduate student when the imposition of Nazi racial laws in Italy forced him to flee his native Turin for the relative safety of the mountains. He took up with an unfortunately incompetent band of partisans and was soon arrested. Fearing he would be executed if his admitted to be a partisan, he told his captors that he was a Jew. We can never know how things might have turned out otherwise, but in the wake of this admission he was shipped first to the transit camp at Fossoli and from there to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, about 40 miles west Krakow. “Among the forty-five people in my wagon,” Levi wrote, “only four saw their homes again; and it was by far the most fortunate wagon.”

Upon arrival, Levi was subjected to the rituals of induction to the camp which are now familiar to most people: the selection on the receiving platform (at which point nearly all the women and children were sent immediately to the gas chambers), loss of all possession, shaving of the head, delousing, and the interminable waiting under conditions in which one has utterly lost control of one’s fate. At one point, Levi tried to relieve his thirst by breaking off an icicle from the roof of the hut in which they are waiting. When a guard confiscated it, Levi asked why. The guard’s response was perfect and chilling statement of their condition: “Hier ist kein warum. [There’s no why here].”

Eventually, Levi and some others were sent to the Auschwitz III camp, called Buna, which provided slave labor to a gigantic synthetic rubber plant that the Nazis were attempting to build. His skills as a chemist allowed him to work indoors and in relative safety, while he managed to acquire extra food by cultivating a friendship with an Italian civilian laborer whom the Nazis had brought to the area. These are the elements of many of the stories of those who survived, a fact of which Levi takes note when discussing the so-called “low numbers” (those with numbers below 150,000 who had been in the camp the longest), “not one [of whom] was an ordinary [prisoner] vegetating in the ordinary Kommandos, and subsisting on the normal ration.” Achieving some special position did not guarantee survival. Failure to do so pretty much excluded it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Over-Analyzing a Children’s Picture Book

Most children’s books require suspension of disbelief. We know that Rainbow Fish can’t really talk, let alone hand out his shimmering scales to all of his friends. We know that the Velveteen Rabbit couldn’t have turned real and we know that the Berenstain Bears couldn’t possibly have that many identical outfits.

Reading picture books can get a little repetitive over time--always a happy ending and a lesson to be learned. But every once in awhile I like to sit down and think about the implications of a picture book universe. How do the characters interact with one another? And what does that tell us about the society in the story functions?

Which brings us to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney. Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are enjoying their time as leftovers in the fridge when they are informed that there is only one drop of maple syrup left. They take off, racing each other across what appears to be an incredibly spacious fridge for the syrup. They face all sorts of perils, like Chili Lagoon, Sauerkraut Peak and a bean avalanche. Finally, they reach the syrup, only to find that Barron Von Waffle has already beaten them to it. The royals admit defeat and decide to share some butter instead.

This book left me with more questions than answers. It seems as though all food is sentient in this story. Each food item has two little eyes and a tiny smile and can talk. So I was understandably concerned with Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast went off in search of the last drop of syrup to drink. Is the syrup not sentient? Are they not racing to see who can eat their food friend first? Do their royal titles grant them the power to consume whomever they please? And just who established what appears to be a breakfast food monarchy?

Turns out that the syrup bottle was alive, not the syrup itself; this was a relief. That being said, the pair of breakfast items then turn their attention to a smiling stick of butter. I am very worried for that butter and for the owner of the fridge; he seems to have way too many left-overs.

All joking aside, this is an adorable book. It’s an enjoyable read, even if the rhymes sometimes feel a little forced. It would make a great read before lunch or dinner. And who knows, maybe you and your kids could come up with some new royal titles for your food and overthrow this oppressive breakfast food monarchy.

If you looking for some other delicious reads try checking out If an Armadillo Went to a Restaurant by Ellen Fischer, Food Trucks! by Mark Todd, or Letter Lunch by Elisa Gutierrez.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Mindy Kaling's New Fabulous Read

By now, I'm sure all of you know that Mindy Kaling's new book Why Not Me? is out. It was an awesome read. Of course, I am a dedicated fan to Ms. Kaling, sticking with her show The Mindy Project from its beginnings on FOX to the recent shift to Hulu. I also loved her on The Office. So I am not impartial.

Mindy Kaling, if you are not familiar, is a writer/producer/actress, best known for her work on The Office and The Mindy Project. She won an Emmy for her work on The Office and works her butt off on everything she works on. I was really looking forward to this book because I enjoyed her last book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and I have been mildly obsessed with her show and her person. In fact, I somewhat stalked the hold shelf until I could get a copy (I was first in line, of course).

Why Not Me? is a collection of essays about Mindy's life (we're on a first-name basis now). She covers very important topics such as her writing, her style, her dreams, her fears, her dating life, and a short story about an alternate-universe Mindy that I would totally read as a full-fledged novel. In short, the book covers a lot of ground. It's at times serious, but mostly it is just entertaining and funny. She reveals a lot about her career and how she got there, without too much overlap to her previous book. I would say if you haven't read her first book that it would be beneficial to do so before reading this one, if only so you know more of her background. Whereas her first book was all about her rise to fame, including her childhood and young adulthood, this book pretty much picks up time-wise where the last left off. She discusses the development of The Mindy Project and the ups and downs with that, as well as some peeks into her life, like when she met the president and sort-of dated one of his inner circle.

What I loved about this book was the brevity of it. I don't mean to say that it's super short, but that the book read quite quickly for me. Her essays aren't too long and it was easy to read an essay in each sitting, coming back to it for another as soon as possible. I also like the fact that she is a very relatable person. (And yes, I realize that it's cliche to say that a famous person is "just like us!") There's a chapter where Mindy discusses her average day (with pictures!). It starts out with her not wanting to get out of bed, sitting in traffic, and working herself to the bone all day, not returning home until more than 12 hours later. I can totally relate to that. She makes being famous look harder than you'd think it would be.

Mindy has a great attitude about life and love, with only a few moments of "why me" spread throughout to make her look reasonably human. I'd say her ideal audience is me: young women in their 20s or 30s who are familiar with her work. However, I feel like there is something for everyone in this entertaining memoir-ish read.

Some similar reads:
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling, 2011
Bossypants by Tina Fey (why haven't you read this yet?)
Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres