In the late fifties and early sixties, Birmingham, Alabama, was the most segregated city in the United States. A powerful personality, Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, emerged from the black community to rally activists and lead protests, marches, and boycotts in the face of increasing violence from the police and the KKK. A larger-than-life character also emerged from the pro-segregation side; Eugene "Bull" Connor, the supervisor of the city police and fire departments, waged a constant war against people he saw as agitators who were going to destroy the Southern way of life. Their clashes shaped Birmingham's Civil Rights movement.
Why I picked it up: I had heard of both Connor and Shuttlesworth, but not in any detail.
Why I finished it: Neither man was going to be deterred from his mission and both spoke their minds, bringing the emotions bubbling beneath the surface out into the open. When Connor announced he wanted to give Shuttlesworth a lie detector test in order to prove he hadn't bombed his own house to gain sympathy for Civil Rights, Shuttlesworth replied that he would, but only if Connor took a test to prove that he wasn't working with the KKK.
I'd give it to: Rose, who will like the sidebars on the less well-known people in the movement, like the women who applied to the whites-only library school at the University of Alabama but were rejected when officials saw the color of their skin.
In the near future an indestructible blue monument appears in Thailand, commemorating a military victory by someone named Kuin twenty years in the future.
One-by-one more of these pop up in increasingly populated areas, causing huge amounts of destruction.
Why I picked it up: As I prepared to board the flight back from PLA I realized I had snagged books for everyone in my family except me. So I opened up iBooks and found this highly recommended piece of sci-fi which I hoped my sleep-deprived brain could gobble down on the plane with little effort.
Why I finished it: Although they kill a lot of people on arrival, the chronoliths' real threat comes from humanity's response to a limited amount of foreknowledge. Some aspire to become Kuin, some prepare to fight him, and some are ready to surrender when he finally shows up. We become our own worst enemy, which felt very true. As civilization falls, a small group attempts to understand the science behind these time machines, knowing they may be the inventors of Kuin's power.
I'd give it to: Mark, with whom I've previously discussed how Wilson is good at coming up with the scientific MacGuffins that power many of his novels (in this one it's "tau turbulence"), while managing not to explain how they actually work.
Kote, an innkeeper in a small town, leads a quiet life and tries to fade into the background. He’s hiding. He was once known as Kvothe, and the legends about him and his deeds (good and bad) are many.
After a large, spider-like creature attacks some men, he’s the only one who can deal with the threat. He meets Chronicler, a historian who has tracked him down.
Kvothe agrees to tell his story over the course of three days, dispelling the misunderstandings and exaggerations. (Each day of his telling is one book in the series.)
Why I picked it up: Patrick Rothfuss gave me that look at Comic Con, so I picked up the first book in the series. I bought the second immediately after I finished the first.
Why I finished it: Kvothe’s childhood is ideal. His father is head of a troupe of traveling performers. In a city, Kvothe sees a University-trained archanist call the wind to help him. He begins training Kvothe in sympathy (magic) in the hope that Kvothe will study at the University one day. I’ve never read a book where magic was explained so thoroughly, so this was a real treat.
At the heart of magic and power are the true names of things, which can’t be taught (but only discovered) -- it recalls my favorite book, Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. When, years after the great tragedy of his life, Kvothe does study at the University, the Master Namer there, Elodin, has little in common with his stern counterpart in Earthsea. He’s more than a little mad, and I love the way he tries to teach his students by not teaching them.
I'd give it to: Flemtastic -- the man devours fantasy, but two 700+ page books may take him a week to get through. To get him interested, I’ll mention that Kvothe details the truth of how he killed a dragon when he was just a young man. (Flemtastic LOVES him some dragons.)
A collection of full-color fantasy comic strips filled with genre stereotypes, dick jokes, and a very abused apprentice.
NOTE: Almost all of the comics linked to here, and, frankly, most of the strips that make up Oglaf are very, very NOT SAFE FOR WORK (NSFW) and are inappropriate for children or teens. Or anyone with an aversion to silliness who is easily scandalized by full-frontal nudity, sex of any kind, or talking semen.
Why I picked it up: A friend recommended it to me because she knows I have a deep and abiding fondness for funny smut. Once I saw the first comic strip, which features the apprentice pleasuring himself, I was hooked because of Cooper’s brightly colored art. It has just the right blend of the fantastic and the naughty. Plus, the little asides at the top of each page cracked me up: “I think ‘erotica’ just means ‘porn that works for me.’” and “Show us your pink bits, not that I’m racist.”
Why I finished it: There are new strips every Sunday, but the archive can be a bit tricky to navigate. Now that I have the book it’s easier to enjoy a sexy fairy tale, a bit of silly mythology, and other comics that are just plain odd. I am a frequently struggling writer, so I particularly enjoy The Blank Page, but my husband still laughs at the (surprisingly safe for work) Fountain of Doubt.
I'd give it to: Jeff, who seems to think I’m merely the sweet, nerdy librarian his friend married. Learning of my love for Oglaf’s off-color adult comics would disabuse him of that notion pretty quickly. Plus he longs for a woman of his own who will boss him around, so he’ll fall hard for the sultry but short-tempered Queen.
Eight-year-old Mandy doesn’t express her feelings. After her sister gives her a sketchbook, she draws monsters. The monsters escape into the real world where they make a mess of things. She has to show the monsters how they feel to make them jump back onto the pages of her book.
Why I picked it up: The cover promised a mix of highly polished comic art and creatures that look like they were colored by a kid with a crayon. (It delivered.)
Why I finished it: I used to try to get my daughter to show no emotions as a joke, to freak other people out. We called it her game face. This book was pure nostalgia for me.
I'd give it to: My daughter. We declared 2009 the International Year of the Sting -- she was stung by bees, yellowjackets (that were trapped in her hair), and finally a stingray while we were boogie boarding in California. She’d be hooked by the blank-faced way Mandy handles her encounter with bees at the beginning of the book.
The Stasi, the once feared East German police force, helped establish “the most perfected surveillance state of all time.” An estimated one of every sixty-three East Germans worked directly for or informed for the Stasi. When the Berlin Wall came down, many citizens went through the agency’s files to find out what had happened to dissenters, who had been watched, and to read their own files. This book includes what they found. Funder also spoke with former Stasi agents to help explain the origins of the surveillance system. (Some of them, when interviewed, were still proud of what they had accomplished in creating an atmosphere of fear among their countrymen.)
Why I picked it up: I went through East Germany on my way to West Berlin in 1987! I was living in Germany as an exchange student, and we went to West Berlin on a bus tour. At the border, where it intersected the wall, our tour bus was stopped and searched. Machine gun toting guards handling German shepherds went up and down the aisles until they were satisfied we were not a threat. We spent the day in West Berlin, then went back to Germany, but I have been fascinated with the Stasi and the Wall ever since.
Why I finished it: The Stasi maintained their power through secrecy. They also forced people to work for them by making them “deals.” One lady was offered the chance to go to West Germany to see her ill son. She had to lure a famous defector to a place where he could be snatched by Stasi agents who would return him to East Germany. She declined, as they would have then owned her soul.
I'd give it to: Stan, who would laugh at Funder’s description of the television show The Black Channel that remixed West German TV into ridiculous propaganda, yet was watched by most East Germans because there were few other options. Staci, who would love Frau Paul’s story. She was separated from her infant son in the confusion of the sudden erection of the Berlin Wall, but was reunited with him over thirty years later.
Cricket’s mom is getting married. She and her brother are going to be blended into a step-family. Cricket is worried because her mother jilted two previous fiancés as the big day approached. Cricket’s family and her soon-to-be stepdad’s family spend a week at a bed and breakfast to get to know each other. While constantly worrying her mother is preparing to flee, Cricket must deal with her new step-sisters, her ancient and chronically ill dog, and the aftermath of a breakup with her soulmate, Janssen, that was 100% her fault.
Why I picked it up: Deb Caletti’s kids attended my school years ago, so I feel a local connection to her work, plus I seem to always get advanced review copies (which I read with a fervid intensity). I count on her books for their complicated, real-life family relationships.
Why I finished it: I felt real tension about whether Cricket’s skittish mother was about to take off as the family dynamics increased everyone’s stress. Cricket’s grandma and grandpa (divorced, but both there to support their daughter) fight over his affair years earlier. And Cricket’s nerdy friends come up for the wedding with a new tent, X-box and generator to “rough it.”
I'd give it to: Julianna, who would love how Cricket narrates part of the book through unsent letters to the boyfriend she broke up with. Kathy, who has several pugs she dotes on that are named after pro golfers, because she would love Cricket’s relationship with her incontinent dog.
In Japanese occupied Saipan in 1944, fourteen-year-old Joseph and Kento are best friends. But Joseph is the son of a Chamorro Chief, and Kento’s father is Japanese. Because an American attack is imminent, it becomes impossible for the two friends to meet.
All the men are ordered to help the Japanese build an airfield. Before he leaves the village, Joseph’s father takes him on an early morning trek across the island and shows Joseph a cave where he must hide their family when the invasion comes.
Then the bombing begins.
Why I picked it up: It was recommended to me at a school district librarian meeting as a graphic, compassionate book on the horrors of war.
Why I finished it: The Chamorro culture and how it has survived multiple invasions (and wars) was fascinating (and new information for me). Joseph and Kento try to overcome the increasing chasm between their two cultures and families, but they choose different paths to try to survive. They reunite amid the searing, grisly reality of war and death.
I'd give it to: Brendan, who will understand the strategic importance of Saipan during World War II as well as the terror the natives experience as they try to survive the Japanese occupation and the American invasion.