RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Books

Vacationland

Those who are familiar with writer/comedian/actor John Hodgman's previous books of fake facts may be surprised by Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches. (Those who are not familiar with his books may recognize him as the PC from the Apple television commercials or from his appearances on The Daily Show.) Rather than tongue-in cheek, Vacationland is an honest, humble, and heartfelt--yet still very funny--memoir of loosely connected essays, which do concern various vacation escapades but also wander into many other topics. In addition to recounting the mishaps of home-ownership, country life, and being a weird dad, Hodgman offers his personal insights on adolescence, only children, bullying, becoming an adult (or not), grief, and his own race and class privilege. 

I listened to the Vacationland audiobook (available on Overdrive) which is read by Hodgman himself. I usually prefer audiobooks narrated by the author, particularly ones by humorists (another good one is Jessi Klein's You'll Grow Out of It), and as I hoped, Hodgman's dry and self-deprecating humor really shines through in his reading.


God got arrested?

While putting books away in the children’s section, the title God got a dog caught my eye. It’s a short book of 16 poems written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Marla Frazee, both of whom are big names in children’s literature. 

Flipping through and first reading “God took a bath,” I got a sense this book wasn’t just for children. In fact, it would probably be more appreciated by adults. In poems with titles like “God found God,” “God went to the doctor,” and “God got cable,” Rylant plays with our beliefs about God in an irreverent, but not blasphemous way.

Make a trip to the children’s section to see if you can find God   got a dog.


Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover

Did you know that NASA ran a competition for members of the public to pick a name for Curiosity? The winning name for the nine-foot self-propelled rolling laboratory was submitted by Clara Ma, a sixth grader from Kansas. I like how the book about Curiosity begins: "Wherever you are in the world right now, I'm a very long way away." This new large-format non-fiction book is narrated by Curiosity in the first person and tells the story of the rover's mission, design and development, launch and landing, and continuing exploration of the red planet. With excellent illustrations that tell the story along with an anthropomorphized rover that doesn't talk down to readers, this is a great choice for the science and technology minded. If you are curious about the technology that humans are developing and using to explore other worlds, I think you will really enjoy this one. 


Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me

My favorite graphic novels tell true stories. I especially like reading graphic memoirs and learning about other people’s lives.

In Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos and Me: a graphic memoir, Lorina Mapa combines the personal and political, weaving together past and present: her father's death, her teen years and her family's experience with the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines. Music had a big influence on teenaged Mapa. She obsessed about many bands and songs, one day playing Duran Duran’s “Tiger Tiger” 27 times in a row, till her brother threatened to throw the tape deck out the window! On a more serious note, most of her family engaged in the campaign to successfully elect Corazon Aquino and remove dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power. The death of her father several years later brought all the memories back; her graphic novel brings them to life for her readers.

Bonus: the last pages include a discography of Mapa’s 1980's music favorites as a teen!


Let’s Talk About Death

In the US, death is hidden from the public eye. When people are sick or aged, they go to a hospital or nursing home. When people die, their bodies are taken discretely to the morgue, and then to a funeral home. The average American will only see a dead person in the context of a funeral, or if they are witness to some tragedy.

In “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” Caitlin Doughty pulls back the sheet (pun intended) on the death industry, specifically about her first job at a crematorium, and attending mortuary school. Through her experiences she contemplates how our separation from death has given us knew fears and anxieties, as well as given funeral homes control over our death traditions. She ends stating her intention to changing the funeral industry to allow us to be more directly involved with caring for our dead.

In her follow-up book “From here to eternity: traveling the world to find the good death” Caitlin travels to the world to observe the different rituals around death. She emphasizes that what is considered proper and respectful to the dead in one culture might be off-putting and disturbing to another. For instance, we shy away from open funeral pyres and natural burial, while many cultures would consider the embalming process of the US horrifying. What she believes is important is to be present and involved in the death process, as it is important to our grieving process and to honor the dead.

Learn more about Caitlin Doughty at Ask a Mortician and Order of the Good Death.


Bone

Jeff Smith's classic fantasy comic Bone first came out in 1995. As I was only a toddler at the time (sorry if I just made anyone feel old), I am reading the entire complete series now for the first time. It's an obvious choice for comic lovers of all ages; hopefully this post will allow more new readers to discover it. Bone is about three...well...bones who are on the run from their angry fellow villagers of Boneville. Their names are Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. Lost in the desert, they find a map that leads them into a seemingly idyllic valley. The book leads them on various adventures from there.

Bone is great because it incorporates the hallmarks of fantasy (dragons, royalty, monsters) with interesting characters, a clever sense of humor, and a satisfying pace. You can read the entire thing as one big volume (1,332 pages) or check out the smaller in-color volumes. They read as chapters that can be savored in one sitting, or a few days for younger readers. The first part of the story is called Bone: Out of Boneville. This is an excellent book to add to your fundamental comics education, especially if you seek non-superhero material. Enjoy!


The Heart is a Shifting Sea

Elizabeth Flock knows that the wedding day isn't the final destination in a love story, it's where the journey actually beginsThe Heart is a Shifting Sea follows the true love stories of three different couples in modern India who agreed to let Flock peer into their lives. There's Veer and Maya, the modern, professional couple whose union is being tested by Maya's drive for independence, Shahzad and Sabeena, a Muslim couple trying for a child amid religious attacks against their community and social unrest, and Ashok and Parvati, a couple matched for an arranged marriage. Will their marriage of convenience grow into true love?  


It's fascinating to watch these couples grow;  each day learning more about each other and what it takes to keep their marriage together in a rapidly changing country. It's non-fiction, but it reads like a romance novel, and honestly, what more could you ask of a book?  


Jubari Jumps

This picture book is such a delight, and it brings back so many memories of my youth.  Young Jabari is finished with his swimming lessons and is excited about becoming a "great jumper".  But as his turn to jump from the high diving board gets closer and closer, he begins to feel more and more...hesitant.  I love how Jabari's dad reassures him and helps him face his fear. SPLASH!  If only I had a book like this to read before I took my first jump from a high diving board.  Gaia Cornwall has done a nice job with this story and the illustrations.  Young swimmers will enjoy it.


A VERY BIG FRIENDLY UMBRELLA

Amy June Bates makes her debut as both co-author and illustrator of the brand new JE book titled The Big Umbrella. Amy's co-author is her seventh-grade daughter Juniper, who came up with the idea for this story while sharing an umbrella with others in a rainstorm.

The tale starts at the front door of a house where there stands an umbrella with a smiley face, eyes, and a nose. This very friendly looking umbrella is picked up by a young girl who uses it to shelter herself from a heavy rain. Various other people who all happen to be different from each other, ( some tall, some hairy, others big or slender etc.) also embrace the cover that the big red umbrella provides. Each one is welcome because there is always room for everyone who seeks refuge from the pouring rain.

A wonderful , gentle story with appealing illustrations and a great message of acceptance and giving! I highly recommend it.


Bitch Planet

Bitch Planet is an ongoing comic series published by Image Comics (Walking Dead, Saga). Currently, there are 2 volumes out. Volume 1, which I'm going to talk about today, is called Extraordinary Machine and contains issues #1-4. Volume 2 is called President Bitch, and contains issues #6-10. 

The first thing I want to say about this book, is that I read it in one sitting and loved it. It takes place in a dystopian future where patriarchy and government are one and the same (reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale). Non-compliant women are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, a prison on another planet commonly referred to as Bitch Planet. What kinds of crimes earn a sentence on Bitch Planet? Seduction, emotional manipulation, disrespect, and being a "bad mother" go hand in hand with murder and assault. Former athlete Kamau Kogo also finds herself there. She accepts an offer from management to form a duemila, or megaton, team. The fictional sport combines football, boxing, wrestling, and favoritism from the judges. Her team of inmates will play against the guards; those on Earth will see it broadcast over The Feed. 

Meanwhile, readers observe the sexist and racist nightmare that is Earth, and the scheming of those in power to keep society that way. The two stories weave together to form something utterly sinister. As a bonus, at the end of each issue, you'll find a page of fictional advertisements-make sure to read them!

This fantastic book showcases a diverse array of women, who vary in skin color, body type, and sexuality, a welcome quality in any book. It also features plenty of nudity, language, and violence, so it's rated M for Mature. 

Find both volumes of Bitch Planet digitally on Hoopla. If you prefer print, request from MelCat or check in with your local comic book store if you would like to own it.