1000 Books to Read Before You Die by James Mustich

Book – As a compulsive maker of to-read lists (you too?), I’ve always been dubious about letting anybody else choose my books for me. Sure, I wanted guidance about great titles I might otherwise have missed, longing for both a roadmap to self-education and advice on what to read for entertainment, but many book lists seemed one-note. Usually such lists contained only dense adult fiction classics, often heavy and depressing, almost universally written by English-speaking Westerners, the vast majority of them men.  Most annoyingly, none of the compilers seemed to remember that reading ought to be fun.

If I doubted that anyone would ever write the to-read list I’d been waiting for, I was delighted to be proven wrong.1000 Books to Read Before You Die is, despite the title, gloriously unpretentious, utterly inclusive and instantly convinced me to trust the author’s taste. Sure, about a dozen Shakespeare plays abound, and includes Waiting for Godot and the Confessions of St. Augustine, but they jostle elbows with Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of her dysfunctional family, multiple picture books by Margaret Wise Brown, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, and even The Da Vinci Code. Mustich’s selections run the gamut from: fiction and nonfiction; children’s, YA and adult; ancient and brand-new; popular entertainment to serious philosophy and everything in-between. From a memoir of the moon landing to the greatest of all children’s novels,  to an anthropologist’s look at Australian Aboriginal culture, a prototypical hardboiled noir to a firsthand examination of race in present-day America--and that’s just among authors whose names start with C. Mustich offers a book for every taste, interest and mood.

My only complaint: it should really be titled:  one thousand and one books. 1000 Books to Read is surprisingly devourable. Mustich’s essays on his book selections are charming, thought-provoking and incisive–that you’ll want to read it cover to cover.

Favorite Children’s and Young Adult Books of 2019

Books – The weather outside is frightful, but reading a new book over winter break can be delightful!  Here are some of my favorite Children’s and Young Adult books published in 2019.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman (YA Fiction)

I don’t usually read much science fiction, but this space-based story caught my attention right away with its compelling characters and adventurous plotline.

Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord (Juvenile Fiction)

A shorter chapter book about the impacts of true friendship–even the friendship of a rabbit!

The Big Book of Monsters by Hal Johnson (Juvenile Non-Fiction)

For fans of the scariest of creatures.

Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir (YA Graphic Novel)

I am a huge fan of fractured fairy tales, so this book was right up my alley!  What happens when Alice, Dorothy and Wendy meet and their fantasy worlds collide?

Daniel’s Good Day by Micha Archer (Picture Book)

Daniel explores what makes a “good day” for the people around him.

Dear Justice League by Michael Northrup (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

Even superheroes are not perfect.

Sparkly New Friends by Heather Burnell (Beginning Reader)

A unicorn and a yeti become best friends who both love sparkly things.  What is not to love?

The Line Tender by Kate Allen (Juvenile Fiction)

This beautiful, unique story of grief and connection to nature’s mysteries had me sobbing.

Strange Birds by Celia C. Pérez (Juvenile Fiction)

Four unlikely friends team up to protest a revered feathered hat connected to town history.  A story of friendship, civic engagement, and bird facts!

Stargazing by Jen Wang (Juvenile Graphic Novel)

For fans of Raina Telgemeier’s books.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei (YA Non-Fiction Graphic Novel)

A powerful and important account of Japanese internment camps during World War 2.

 

 

 

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Jashua Davis

Book – Joshua Davis’ Spare Parts, expands on his 2005 WIRED article “La Vida Robot” to delve deeper into the lives of four undocumented immigrants whose ingenuity led them to a surprising victory at the prestigious MATE 2004 robotics competition. These four young bright students, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, and Luis Aranda found acceptance and encouragement from two dedicated teachers, Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi.

Davis does an excellent job describing how the boys assemble their underwater robot “Stinky” out of spare parts, junk, humble in all respects, in the middle of a desert and without access to a pool. He also describes the daily struggles in the lives of the teens, how they lived in constant fear of violence and deportation. The book’s bittersweet ending shows the reality of being a bright yet undocumented student. Despite these young men’s incredible potential, their future is stagnated in poverty as their undocumented status bars them from access to engineering programs, academic funding and military service. However you might feel about the current political discussion on immigration you can’t deny that these young men, and others like them, can teach us something worthwhile about resilience and the American dream.

The film Spare Parts, is based on award winning Carl Hayden robotics team, stars George Lopez and Jaime Lee Curtis. The film isn’t bad, it’s great in fact. My only issues are the predictable, feel-good happy ending, that George Lopez’s character is an amalgamation of Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi and that the more poignant events following the boys’ success at the robotics competition covered in Davis’ book, is ignored.

Spare Parts is available on OverDrive for digital download on Kindle and other electronic devices.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Book – There are two kinds of language: the formal, official language of grammar guides and English classes, and the way people actually write and talk and communicate. And what better way to see that than on the Internet, where billions of people write everything from formal blog posts to casual tweets to friends on a daily basis? Of course, writing isn’t speaking, which is why Internet users have developed things like the ~sarcastic tilde~ emphasis or the convention that typing in ALL CAPS is the equivalent of SHOUTING (I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to put more than a couple of words together in all caps; it feels so rude).

Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist who studies these things, everything from the differences in Twitter styles between different demographics to the grammatical structure of memes (it’s more rigid than you might think). I first heard of her when she was the Resident Linguist of the now-defunct website The Toast, but her work circulates in Internet circles on a regular basis. Her book is just as funny, insightful, and fascinating as her blog posts and podcast episodes. Anyone who’s interested in language and the way people adapt it to their needs will find Because Internet fascinating; anyone who’s ever sneered at chatspeak or Internet slang may find themselves a little more sympathetic after reading this book.

Propagation Station: Books to Help You Grow More Plants

Books– Houseplants are addictive and with such a variety of different species, colors and looks, it’s hard to pick just one.  To help manage my plant addiction, I’ve started to experiment with propagating my current houseplants.  This way, I still get more plants, but my wallet is a bit happier.  I’ve taken stem and leaf clippings from a healthy “mother” plant and use various methods to help them grow roots and turn into new plants.  The following books provide great introductions to the joys and challenges of plant propagation.  Welcome to the Propagation Station!

Root, Nurture, Grow : The Essential Guide to Propagating and Sharing Houseplants by Caro Langton

The photographs in Root, Nurture, Grow are beautiful and definitely Instagram-worthy.  I appreciated the very informative “Indoor Plant Propagation Table” which showcases the most common types of plants and instructs on the best propagation method to use for each one. This book also discusses grafting, a process I find quite intimidating.  This is commonly seen on cacti that possess brightly colored tops on a green base–two different plants cut and  grafted together that create a whole new work of art.

Plant Parenting : Easy Ways to Make More Houseplants, Vegetables, and Flowers by Leslie F. Halleck

I love the term “plant parent.”  I like this book because it covers so many varieties of plants, including vegetables and flowers.  I was in awe of the plethora of different methods that can be used to propagate plants and grow your garden, from planting seeds to water rotting, to stem and leaf cuttings.  Each method included detailed instructions with plenty of photos.  This is the perfect read for anyone starting out with plant propagation.

 

Shout and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book – Author Laurie Halse Anderson first gained notoriety in 1999 for her novel Speak, which won numerous awards and honors and is rightfully considered a modern classic in Young Adult literature. In Speak high school freshman Melinda deals with great personal trauma all the while being ostracized by her peers. I highly recommend reading the original novel, if you haven’t already.

In 2018, the Graphic Novel Speak illustrated by Emily Carroll received strong reviews owing to its meaningful remake for established fans and introducing new readers to the story.

20 years after the publication of Speak, Anderson releases Shout – a powerful memoir in free verse. Here, she shares deeply of her complicated relationship with her parents, personal experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the reactions shared by readers over the years. Shout comes on the heels of last year’s #metoo and #timesup movements promoting awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. Anderson is not a new voice in this conversation. Since the publication of Speak, she has advocated for open conversations about sexual assault.

Shout is a quick and powerful read and will interest fans who want to see how Anderson’s experiences found their ways into her books and learn more about her life as an author. Those interested in delving into the issues of sexual assault and harassment, will find jumping off points for thoughts and discussions.

We carry a variety of Anderson’s other books in our physical and digital collections, in addition to the DVD Speak starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight films).

Crazy Plant Lady by Isabel Serna

Book – I’m so glad we added the adorable, simple, feel-good book for plant addicts, Crazy Plant Lady by Isabel Serna to our library collection. As a Crazy Cactus Lady, I 100% relate to, and appreciate, the comics and characterization of the obsessive gardener.

Serna defines “Crazy Plant Lady” as:

  1. A woman who has an insane, almost addictive love for plants.
  2. A woman who has 10 or more plants and gives them names, talks to them,  and thinks of them as her children.
  3. A woman who finds pure happiness in her plants.

To which I would respond:

  1. Yes, I have been called a crazy plant lady (which is really more of a compliment).
  2. Currently, I have more than 25 succulents and cacti. My big ole’ spiky Golden Barrel Cactus is named Chunk. I’ve read that plants respond well to positivity and encouragement (I think Ikea experimented being kind vs. mean to plants).  They are my little fuzzy, spiky, leafy family.
  3. There’s nothing like watching your plants grow, propagate their leaves and watch their babies start anew. I love to spread the joy and often coerce my family to come and see the newest little fuzzball propagate on my “Bunny Ear” Cactus.

The illustrations in this book are so bright and colorful, each page detailing new insight into the life and habits of a crazy plant lady, a page-turner for every plant lover.

 

Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life by Marianne Power

Book – I love self-help books and so does Marianne Power, author of Help Me!: One Woman’s Quest to Find Out If Self-Help Really Can Change Your Life. There’s something to say about finding a self-help book that truly speaks to you. Even if the book doesn’t necessarily “help” you achieve the goal you’re hoping for, it is nevertheless cathartic reading.

I can especially relate to the following:

So why did I read self-help if it didn’t, well help?  Like eating chocolate cake or watching old episodes of Friends, I read self-help for comfort.  These books acknowledge the insecurities and anxieties I felt but was always too ashamed to talk about. They made my personal angst seem like a normal part of being human. Reading them made me feel less alone. 

After the “worst hangover ever,” and realizing she is desperately unhappy, Marianne embarks on the ultimate journey of self-discovery: she will read one self-help book per month for an entire year and each month follow the author’s advice to a “T”.  From facing her fears (skydiving and posing nude for an art class) to using Rejection Therapy to face her social anxieties, she hopes to find happiness and fulfillment. Unprepared for the stress and depression that accompany her journey, she is determined to see the project through. With humor and honesty, Marianne shares a deeply intimate and emotional examination of her life, which is therapeutic and relatable.

Marianne read a variety of self-help books along with other resources, including The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth: And Other Curiosities from the History of Medicine by Thomas Morris

Book – You can absolutely judge a book by its cover, because I knew as soon as I saw this one that it was going to 1) be incredibly grotesque, 2) talk about one of my favorite historical topics (strange things people used to believe about the human body), and 3) contain exploding teeth. I’m horrified by the very thought, I had to read it.

This is a delightful collection of grotesque and horrifying stories about the strange things people used to believe about the human body, including, yes, exploding teeth. (Maybe. The author suggests some possible alternative explanations.) It covers everything from heroic and unlikely surgeries (saving lives by pinching blood vessels closed with bare hands!) to unlikely and undoubtedly worthless inventions (the tapeworm trap, which you were supposed to bait with cheese, swallow, and then pull out of your throat using the included string). This book is not for the weak of stomach, but if you’ve ever wanted to be enjoyably grossed out by medical history for a while, it’s a fun option. If you’d prefer to be grossed out by medical history in audio form, try the podcast Sawbones, which covers many of the same topics, hosted by a husband-and-wife comedian-and-doctor team.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

BooksThe 57 Bus is a “ripped from the headlines,” true story of one teenager lighting another’s clothes on fire on a public bus in Oakland. Author and journalist Dashka Slater goes beyond the headlines to present the story and characters in great detail and nuance.

Sasha is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and does not identify as male or female, instead using the pronoun “they.” Sasha has supportive parents and goes to a school where they have many friends, but on the public bus ride across Oakland from school back home Sasha’s skirt is lit on fire by Richard. How will this affect Sasha, their family, friends, and community?

Richard’s actions were unquestionably intentional. Sasha spent weeks in the hospital having painful surgeries in an to attempt to repair the burns. Should sixteen-year-old Richard be charged with a hate crime in addition to the obvious charges he faces? Should he be tried as an adult or a juvenile? What are the potential ramifications of these decisions?

I am not good at remembering the specifics of books and movies, nor do I remember the lyrics to many songs. (You really don’t want me on your trivia team.) I like most of the books I read, but ask me to recall the plot and characters a few months later, and we’ll be lucky if I can extract much information.

It’s too early to tell since I only recently read The 57 Bus, but I think my recall of it will be different. The characters and plot are memorable. The journalistic treatment of the story—seeing the perspectives of friends and family of both teens, in addition to getting a glimpse into the workings of the juvenile justice system, made this book a well-rounded and thought-provoking read.