Charles Wilkins was a teen heading off to college in the late 60’s when he landed a job at the local cemetery. The employees outdid each other to dodge work, and his boss, Scotty (1/2 Cutty Sark, 1/2 Scottish brogue), laid into his employees for their laziness. Luccio, a book-quoting Italian waiting for a position as an economics professor job, was the worst -- he only worked when tending his marijuana patch in the back forty. Cremated remains were thrown into graves randomly. Dogs dug up bones on the grounds. Homeless men used the lush grass up by the Garden of the Apostles of the Living Christ for a toilet.
Why I picked it up: heard an interview with Charles Wilkins on the radio, wrote down the title and had the book read a few days later.
Why I finished it: Lively, entertaining writing (the dead are referred to as “dirt-nappers”), an exhumation that involved masks and vomiting, a corpse whose body cavity was stuffed with cocaine, the summer of love in the cemetery, and the Teamsters’ strike that turned the onsite chapel into a charnel house.
I'd give it to: Paranoid individuals like Dee, who assume fast-food employees spit in her food, and will find her worries about eternal rest validated. Jim would appreciate the irreverent tone of the teenage narrator, who wrote the notes for this book waaaay back in the late 60‘s, though this is its first time in print.
Renee Michele is a self-described ugly, middle-aged widow, the concierge in a luxury apartment building. Pigeonholed by social expectations regarding her class and position, Renee works hard to hide the fact that she’s fiercely intelligent.
Paloma Josse, a bright twelve-year-old girl who lives in the building, is stifled and disgusted by the adults around her. Rather than wait for life’s inevitable disappointments, she decides to commit suicide.
Then another tenant dies. The deceased is succeeded by a Japanese gentleman, Monsieur Ozu, who quickly sees past society’s assumptions about age and class. For the first time, Renee and Paloma have a companion that values them as equals.
Why I picked it up: My mother gave me the book and told me that it took her awhile to get into it, but that she ended up loving it. About sixty pages in, I stopped reading. But few weeks later, looking for something to read, I remembered what my mother said. I picked this book up again and I couldn’t put it down.
Why I finished it: The arrival of Monsieur Ozu tilted Renee’s world on its axis. It was fascinating to watch her discomfort at being discovered. Her self-consciousness regarding her station battled with her desire to learn and share. The methodical way in which Monsieur Ozu brings her out of her shell was heart-breaking and heart-warming.
The story is told from both Renee’s and Paloma’s perspectives. Monologues, full of philosophical and cultural critiques, move the plot forward. I loved learning about the characters through the subjects that fascinated them.
I'd give it to: I would give this book to Jana as a reminder that no matter how isolated one might feel there is nothing more powerful or healing than the discovery and companionship of kindred spirits.
Talia has been dead for five years. She’s locked out of heaven until she puts the Penny Murderer behind bars. To do that, she needs the help of a ghostseer, and she finally found one. Brody is scuzzier than she prefers and in desperate need of a haircut. He’s not excited about helping, but luckily Brody needs the $500,000 reward for catching the murderer. Now, all Talia has to do is get Brody to unlock his psychic powers so they can get started.
Why I finished it: The fight scene, Brody vs. a pipe-wielding twelve-year-old gang member. Crilley’s art always adds to the innocent and entertaining tone of his books, and he manages to do the same thing in the first all-out fight scene I remember him drawing, which reminded me of battles in Teen Titans Go.
I'd give it to: My niece Vanessa. I wouldn’t buy her a Twilight book on our recent trip to Third Place Books because 1) she’s eight and 2) her mother already has them all. But this is a supernatural romance I could put into her hands without feeling sick to my stomach later.
Neither wheat mold hallucinations nor Puritanical severity were responsible for the nineteen “witches” hung in Salem. The fear and distrust that gripped the community were the result young girls’ relationships and cliques. This novel, told in blank verse, shows them making up accusations to become popular, empowered, and to be noticed by adults.
Why I picked it up: Hemphill’s last book won a Printz honor. Plus I taught about Salem back when I was an English teacher.
Why I finished it: The girls’ growing incredulity at the carnage they caused, and their decision to continue what they’ve started, reminded me of Macbeth. When the enormity of murdering his king and all the bloodshed that followed (and is still to come) hits Macbeth, he can’t do anything except move forward. “I am in blood stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er. “(Macbeth, Act III, scene iv).
I'd give it to: Julie, who liked Heathers and Mean Girls but hated The Crucible when she was forced to read it at school, because it brings some of the familiarity of the two movies to the subject of Arthur Miller’s play.
Keith Hayward has a special relationship with his Uncle Till. They appear to discuss wholesome topics like baseball, but in fact Till is helping Keith set up "a special place" to practice a hobby they share. It's not a very nice hobby. It involves hurting people. As Keith matures, Till helps him up the ante, culminating in a very special Christmas present.
Why I picked it up: I remembered enjoyed Straub's The Talisman, which he co-wrote with Stephen King, and realized I had never read anything else of his. This is a nice short volume, so it looked approachable.
Why I finished it: Yeesh, I almost didn't - this is nasty, dark stuff. But it is short, so I saw it through to the unpleasant end.
I'd give it to: Talia, who likes her books cruel and bloody.
Chi was walking with his family and he stopped to look at something. When he looked around he couldn't see his family. He asks a dog and a frog if they know where his mom is and a car almost hits him. It’s scary! He falls on the ground and says he's hungry. Then a little boy comes up and falls over. They look at each other. The boy's tells him to get up. The boy tells his mom about the cat. Then Chi wakes up in a fluffy box in the boy's house.
Why I picked it up: Because I have it in Japanese and I can't really understand it.
Why I finished it: Chi thinks his litter box is a playpen and a nap place.
I'd give it to: Ewan and Toby because they would laugh because when the little boy says “chi” he means “pee.”
A writer drifts through his life, observing women, thinking about life, and turning his observations and experiences into award-winning plays and screenplays. Basing work on his life has left him estranged from his family. He wastes time looking at free Internet pornography. In general, the playwright feels he’s more charming than he actually is, and he rarely enters into relationships with the women he meets. As he ages, he reflects on what his work has cost him personally.
Why I picked it up: I’m working my way though Eddie Campbell’s gigantic autobiographical omnibus, Alec: The Years Have Pants. It’s wonderful, but it’s going to take me years to read. This looked beautiful and short.
Why I finished it: This is the most successful graphic novel without word balloons that I’ve ever read. It works because it allowed me me to experience the world through the playwright’s eyes, and therefore get to know him. As he fantasized about women he met and his focus jumped from the present to recalling past moments (often sexual), I had the sense that his entire career may have been a figment of his imagination. I wanted to get to know him better, and figure out if he was deluded or not.
I'd give it to: Richard, who worries continuously about his health. He’d like that the playwright is relieved when he hears a friend has developed prostate cancer, because he figures that means he’s less likely to get it.
The true story of a guy who didn't want to be a regular working stiff, so he started an empire of rubber chickens, punching nuns, fez-wearing monkeys, and librarian action figures. The book contains photos of his most famous products and some of the duds, too.
Why I picked it up: My mom first took me to the Archie McPhee store twenty-five years ago. I still shop there now.
Why I finished it: I really enjoyed reading about how the store went from buying oddball surplus items to making their own strange products. Best of all were the products labeled "BUSTED" that got the company in trouble with the law, including some surplus dummy torpedoes (perfect to hang over your fireplace!) that the Department of Defense told them to get back from their customers immediately, since the guidance systems were still technically top secret. I didn't know they went to such risks to make the world a more interesting place!
I'd give it to: Steve, who uses their Albino Bowler action figure when geocaching, and once left a rubber monkey on my desk. Comparative religion classes so they can discuss why it's so unusual for a company to have products making fun of major religious figures.