Robert and Alexander (Xan) are brothers. Things have always been easier for Robert, while Xan struggled through school and into college. Robert considers it his duty to lovingly yank his brother’s chain at every opportunity. When Xan faces difficulties, like being kicked off a soccer team due to anger issues and seeing his mother pursued by sleazy loan sharks, he finds solace in a group of radical students at the community college. Robert is increasingly concerned, but cannot pry Xan out of the group as its protests get bigger and more dangerous.
Why I picked it up: Nominated for BFYA, the American Library Association committee that I serve on.
Why I finished it: Xan’s transformation from an awkward, sensitive soul who hides behind aviator’s glasses to an aggressive activist.
I'd give it to: Joey and Jack, two brothers who remind me of Robert and Xan because they fight vehemently, but they also have an abiding love for each other.
Daikichi, a thirty-year-old bachelor, returns home for his grandfather’s funeral to find his family trying to deal with a scandal. His grandfather had a love child, a six-year-old girl named Rin. No one knows where her mother is. The family wants to keep her secret. None of them wants to raise her. Daikichi steps up and takes her home to live with him.
Why I picked it up: Rin (on the cover) looks just like my friend’s daughter, Sophie.
Why I finished it: Daikichi is completely unprepared for what he signed up for. He’s got no food in the house and finds that he suddenly needs to arrange for daycare. It reminded me of the first days after we brought my daughter home from the hospital -- we thought we were ready, but we didn’t have a clue.
I'd give it to: Brian, my daughter’s Judo teacher, who enjoyed Yotsuba&! and has a new baby at home.
This is the story of the Great Books movement, a tale full of both idealism and shameless hucksterism. The idea was that a group of people could sit down and read a classic of Western literature, say Aristotle, or Tolstoy, and through nothing more than a discussion of the text itself come to a clear understanding of the world. In the 1920s, the movement led to such discussions in not only universities, but also union halls, churches, and prisons where “middlebrow” Americans read and talked about classics in their spare time. It also led to debates against elective curricula and progressive education.
The University of Chicago, a working class university that sought to compete with Ivy League schools, decided to publish the definitive canon and spent eight years producing The Great Books of the Western World. Debuting in the early 1950’s, it was sold door-to-door by smarmy salesmen who promised success and fulfillment to anyone who bought the five-foot shelf of books filled with dense, nearly unreadable small print.
Despite the commercialism and subsequent challenges to the canon of dead, white males, the Great Books Foundation is still around today, and Great Books discussion groups still meet on a regular basis.
Why I picked it up: I was browsing the “take a book, leave a book” shelf at my local coffee shop and found three completely unrelated books between the covers of one cheaply bound paperback. It was published by The Great Books Foundation in 1966 and had the stated mission of providing “self-education through the reading and discussion of Great Books.” There was an introduction with rules for reading and discussing books. Who were these people? If only there was a book telling me about it. I googled it and strangely enough, there was.
Why I finished it: The book is full of great characters, chief among them the dynamic duo of Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. Hutchins, the young revolutionary President of the University of Chicago, railed against facts and “data collectors” in favor of thought and wisdom. Adler, his “Hobbit-like sidekick”, managed to irritate just about everyone he ever met with his curious blend of self-promotion and intellectual evangelism.
I'd give it to: My ninth grade English teacher, who once dressed me down for writing a book report on The Outsiders, which I had read for the sixth time. She said I should set my sights on higher level books, that I should not be afraid of the unfamiliar. (It was a good book, but she was right.)
Many people debate if the Endangered Species Act has done any good, or if it is just sentimentally tripping up human progress while idolizing unimportant animals. National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore passionately believes in it. He traveled around the country to photograph many of the creatures whose existence may depend on it.
Why I picked it up: I was looking for good books to booktalk and spotted this on YALSA's 2011 Quick Picks list. The cowering Red Wolf on the cover looks completely wild yet totally at our mercy.
Why I finished it: It’s easy for me to get worked up about big creatures in danger (thinking about drowning polar bears can bring me to tears), but this book made me care about things like the Higgins Eye (a freshwater mussel that spreads by embedding its young in fishes' gills) and the Salt Creek Tiger Beetle (only 194 left!). It is one thing to hear about vanishing habitats, but to look these creatures in the eye (or next best thing) and realize we have greedily destroyed their world for parking lots and strip malls is sobering.
I'd give it to: My Aunt Mimi, an organic farmer who is all about saving frogs, but doesn't realize her state is close to losing the Texas Blind Salamander.
The book opens with “One Dark and Stormy Night,” a short Usagi ghost story that sets the tone for the book.
Next comes “The Darkness and the Soul,” the story of Priest Jizonobu, a former samurai trying to atone for his past. To save Lord Goyo’s daughter and his temple, he turns to the dark gods for help, unleashing one of Usagi’s most evil foes, the immortal demon Jei.
In the third story, “Sparrows,” Gen and Stray Dog are bounty hunters on the trail of the swordswoman Inazuma. As they close in on their prey, they meet up with with Usagi and Priest Sanshobo, a famed exorcist.
Contains comics from Usagi Yojimbo #103-109 and from Dark Horse’s Free Comic Book Day 2009 comic.
Why I picked it up: I love this series.
Why I finished it: This book really rewards long-time readers like me. Usagi has fought (and killed) Jei several times, beginning back in Circles (Usagi Book 6), if not earlier.
This book isn't filled with character development like others, but it shows Jei’s backstory and uses it as a springboard for a great samurai adventure.
I'd give it to: Bill, another longtime fan, particularly for the nighttime sword fight that starts on page 106. I’ve been trying to get Bill to draw an Unshelved Book Club strip for Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension for six months now. The sticking point seems to be the fight scene I want him to draw. I hope this will provide the inspiration he needs.
Chris and Winston (Win) decide to go on a bike trip from West Virginia to the West Coast after graduation. They have different reasons for wanting to get away. Chris wants the adventure and is encouraged to go by his father, and Win wants to be away from his controlling father. As they pile up the miles, camping in a tent and eating with families they meet, they learn more about themselves and their tight, but unusual friendship. Then Win ditches Chris just before their goal. Chris is angered, but finishes the trip and heads for college. He thinks nothing of it until an FBI agent appears in his college dorm room.
Why I picked it up: It’s a road trip book without the car.
Why I finished it: I liked the structure -- it’s told as straightforward story interspersed with transcripts of FBI interviews of Chris. It’s unclear if Win is dead or hiding, but Win’s father pulls out all the stops and threatens Chris and Chris’s father’s job to find Win.
I'd give it to: Shona, who had a difficult time finding herself and building confidence, like Win (but not as dramatically). Bryan, who liked the movie Memento, because this book makes the reader piece together a mystery, too.
World War I inspired legislation in the U.S. that severely restricted the ability of people to write, speak, or protest against the war. Infractions were punished by long prison sentences. Bausum digs deep into historic documents to show how these laws were something that many legislators wanted even before there was a war, and how little they really did to protect the U.S.
Why I picked it up: I am fascinated by the reasons that are given for restricting freedom, even if all parties agree that freedom is a good thing.
Why I finished it: I had heard about the jailing of protestors, but I had no idea that so much of what I think of as unchanging civil rights were only put into words after the appeals of these cases, often long after the war was over. And while these ideas about Americans’ rights are newer than I thought, Bausum showed me how these nearly 100-year-old laws are similar to recent legislation.
I'd give it to: Gene, because the layout, color, and use of graphics are clear, functional, and utterly gorgeous, and he'll love the introductory comic by political cartoonist Ted Rall.