Reading Rainstorm

I'm a librarian, a Minnesotan, and connoisseur of fine teas.

Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Last Session.

The Hollow Land - Jane Gardam The Great Greene Heist - Varian Johnson Going Bovine - Libba Bray


Well, the other Wednesday were the last book clubs I was scheduled to lead for the Guys Read Summer Read program, and they were some interesting ones to end with. I have learned so much during this time, I now have a much better idea of what to do and what to avoid for next time. The main thing I would say would be to always choose books I have already read, just so that I would have an idea of what age level, really, they are appropriate for. I'm not just talking about swearing and "adult situations" in teen books, but just the writing style and context that might just mean less to younger readers, even if everything else is totally appropriate age wise.


As I scrambled to choose books, make sure that they were accessible from the library collections and there were enough to go around, I had to choose a few through only second hand recommendations. Of course, I also had the obsession to use the newest books I could, and ones that had not been chosen for other groups yet. This led to some mixed reactions on this last session, though, as can be seen, my choices worked quite well as a whole! 


To segue into my discussion of the Guys Jr. choice, one thing that I noticed throughout the sessions was the importance of the books cover to the kids' reactions of the books. I guess that is superficial, but it is definitely true, at least for the younger readers. For instance, the kids who got the more action-packed edition of The Screaming Staircase, featuring Lockwood and Lucy confronting the staircase with their rapiers enjoyed the book considerably more than those who read the edition that merely had a picture of a spooky locket and box. 



This, sadly, did not bode well for my last choice for the juniors, The Hollow Land, Jane Gardam's novel for children. The classic, simplistic graphic design of the cover, with its paper cutout pastels and faceless children did not spark the children's interest; in fact, it creeped 'em out, and they expected a spooky story rather than the gentle, pastoral reflection on growing up in the Cumbrian Fells of northern England. This seem to be the style chosen for Jane Gardam's recently republished novels, but for the readers, it was less than inspiring. 



The Hollow Land was by far the least well received book in any of the groups; none of the book club members enjoyed it, not even the sole child who managed to finish it. They all found it boring and, if I understood their complaints, rather unintelligible. I chose it due to coming highly recommend by various environmental blogs as a great book on nature for young readers, and I wanted to include a book that deals with themes of nature and science; it seems that Jane Gardam, while an extremely respected author in the UK, is not very well known in the states. 


I wonder if this book may have just been TOO English for our young American readers. While there was no "inappropriate" themes, and the reading level (aside from the many Britishisms) was easy, it was languidly paced, wistful, and obscure. I may use it for the teens in future clubs. As for me, I quite enjoyed it, though I do think it was quite an unusual novel. The Hollow Land is a loving ode to the power of place.


The setting of the county of Cumbria in the north of England is the real star, with its geography, climate, culture, and history coming through. Bell Teesdale, a local farmer's son, and his friend Harry, up from London on holiday, learn about folklore, explore mine pits (the reason for the area being called the "Hollow Land"), and enjoy other rural adventures. It may have been just a little too steeped in this distant world, with too little context, and much of this deep, nostalgic local color was lost on them. It was a little weird, for instance, to talk about the local farmers' prejudices against "Gyspies," the Irish, the Welsh, the Scottish, and those shifty Yorkshiremen; neither condoned or condemned, it's just how it is North. This could certainly spark a lot of discussion among older readers, but it was a little much for the kids. 



Varian Johnson's The Great Greene Heist, on the other hand, was a great success. The cover, here, again, was discussed in positive terms by the readers, who enjoyed trying to put a name to all of the characters depicted on the cover. All of the characters were well liked by them, too, and they also reported really identifying with them. A few of them mentioned that it was a bit cheesy, but they might have liked it because of this, and one reported staying up late to finish it! Personally, I liked this a bit more than Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library as the big success books of my clubs.


Johnson's book is a fun "crime" caper, along the lines of Ocean's 11, with smooth operator with a heart of gold Jackson Greene putting together a crack team of diverse 7th grade specialists, each with their own talents and personality, to help put a stop to a rigged election in their middle school and save the Tech Club. Greene's Code of Conduct was a great way for the readers to debate whether it is always best to only follow the rules, and whether there is a time to break them. There is plenty of humor, plans that go awry, wit under pressure, and success, just like any good heist picture. In addition to this, the Great Greene Heist subtly explores issues of diversity and privilege, which I think the guys in my group picked up on, and liked. As perhaps the most "realistic" book chosen for this group, I think they appreciated it as a break from stranger things, as well.



Now this, this book was weird. Probably the weirdest I’ve read so far this year, and I read The Orange Eats Creeps. "Going Bovine," kind of came out of nowhere for me, as it was the book voted on for the last session of the Teen Group, but then, only two of them showed up for the last one. The two members who were there said they enjoyed it, though they felt the ending was confusing and that it started slow, as well. This is an assessment that I don't disagree with, personally.


Unpopular slacker Cameron Smith’s life kinda sucks and then he gets Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (otherwise known as mad cow disease), a fatal and incurable condition that turns your brain to mush. However, a punk angel named Dulcie appears to him and he is given one last chance to save himself and save the world , a quest that throws him in with Paul “Gonzo” Gonzales, a nerdy hypochondriac little person and classmate who becomes the Panza to Cam's Quixote. Things become increasingly surreal, though shot through with that quintessential American cable news hyperrealism.

With the help of his manic angel dream girl, and a succession of magical minorities including an entire time-traveling Inuit indie rock band, he travels the highways and byways of the American south, from Texas to that hot spot of American weirdness, Florida, encountering one bizarre situation after the next. There is a definite magical realist, even urban fantasy, vibe to Going Bovine as takes on fire giants, taking yard gnomes, and his own mortality as he tries to find the one mad scientist who might cure him and shut the interdimensinal rift threatening reality.

There are a lot of interesting ideas banging around Going Bovine, a lot of themes and elements that intertwine throughout the narrative; Don Quixote, the “It’s a Small World After All” ride at Disney World, Norse mythology, snow globes, feathers, theoretical physics and quantum mechanics, the power of music, and those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Along with this, Bray’s heavy handed satirical depiction of our contemporary world of vapid consumerism, Going Bovine is awash in quirky scenes, not all of which go anywhere. Her parody is not exactly subtle either.

In fact, I’d say entire chapters could be dropped wholesale without effecting the book in the least, In the end, predictably, all of this may be nothing more than hallucinations in the deteriorating mind of Cam, which comes a bit uncomfortably close to the “it was all a dream” motif. Even with the rather hamfisted moralizing that life, and reality, is what you make it, so you should live every moment to the fullest, it feels like it all is, in end, of no consequence. Poor Cam.


To conclude, my Guys Read experience was awesome, I loved reading all of the books chosen for the groups, debating their merits with such smart and interested young people, preparing activities, and learning good tips that will help me in future clubs. The best experience is first hand, right, and I threw myself into this one. Looking forward to the next!

*Monthly theme music, "Adventure," Be Your Own Pet, 2006



I, along with I'm Reading Comeeks, also attended the Autoptic festival on Saturday, and I will be posting my own reaction here soon!

Autopic Comic Festival

I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You - Yumi Sakugawa SuperMutant Magic Academy - Jillian Tamaki
Reblogged from I'm Reading Comeeks:

I went to the Autoptic comic/zine/art festival Saturday before work.  I wish I could have stayed for the whole thing, but the brief time I was able to walk around was awesome.  I got to listen to a moderated conversation with Gabrielle Bell and Jillian Tamaki, but had to leave before I could talk with them or have my book signed, which was a bummer.


However, luckily my brother was also there, so he got my nice new copy of SuperMutant Magic Academy signed to me from Jillian Tamaki (Yay!) and had our portraits drawn by Gabrielle Bell (awesome!).  It was really great to hear them talk about comics, their lives and thoughts about the Indie comic scene.


Talking to another guy from Nobrow press led me to discover this radio show, InkStuds, featuring an interview with Jen Lee (Vacancy, Thunderpaw webcomic), which is really awesome.  It's a great interview: Inkstuds interview w/ Jen Lee


All the artists and writers at the show were super friendly and it was cool to be able to buy their books right there and of course, have them all draw little cartoons in the front and sign the books too!


I also bought a comic called, I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You, by Yumi Sakugawa, who was very nice and drew a really cute illustration in the front of the book for me.  It's a really adorable comic, with awesome words in between the beautiful illustrations.  It would be a great present for besties, or people with whom one is in friend-love.  I'll definitely look for more illustrations and comics by Sakugawa.


I also got a couple shorter comics, one called Ce/Ze by Suzette Smith.  It's about two school girls who believe themselves to be not quite of this world.  It reminded me a bit of kids I knew at school and the time at camp when a bunch of girls decided to play those creepy feather, rock whatever games, which they played for all of two minutes before our camp Councillor came back to the cabin and made everyone stop and pray for Jesus to come into our hearts, since apparently playing those games is like speaking to Satan himself or something.  Crazy Evangelical camp.


The other I bought was a very short, but extremely creepy comic called, "The Thing Outside" by Alex D. Araiza.  It was also very nostalgic for me.  I remember times when you'd fall asleep watching t.v. with your brother or something, then wake up alone.  That was the worst!  Then looking at the darkness outside the lit up house, I would imagine all sorts of things living out in that black void.  It also really reminded me of a story in one of the Stories to Tell in the Dark series where two girls go swimming and barely escape these evil drowning victims who want them to join them in the depths...the ending of that will stick with me forever and Araiza did a great job evoking the same feelings in this short comic.


Overall, if ever in Mpls in August - make sure to check out this great event! Autopic


There were other comics/zines that my brother bought that I'll talk about in another post.

Land of 10,000 Pages: Books and Bars Reads Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members

[Cross post with MSP Reading Time, the book segment of my local Twin Cities activities blog, MSP Adventure Time!]



I attended my second Books and Bars event held at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall last night, which was focused on one of my favorite books I read last year, Dear Committee Members. Written by Julie Schumacher, a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, I found the book to be a fast paced read, sharp, biting, and delightfully prickly. Making this Books and Bars even cooler than most, Julie Schumacher herself was present to discuss the book and her writing. This led to some fascinating discussions of the novel’s lead character, J.T. Fitger, the state of academia, the neglect of English departments, and writing seminars. Along with a few beers, it was definitely a good time.


An epistolary novel of academic and professional ennui, Dear Committee Members is a wry and bleakly comic account of one curmudgeonly chauvinistic creative writing professor’s rather unfortunate semester.  Told through a collection of sarcastic letters of recommendation, interdepartmental memos, and other correspondence penned by the bitter English Professor and would be great author, Jason Fitger, of the “second rate” private liberal arts college Payne University, we are treated to his passive aggressive barbs aimed at his students, his colleagues, and his former friends and lovers. Fitger rarely passes up an opportunity for editorializing, ranting, and self aggrandizement, particularly in letters to former flames and ex-wives, there is a pathos here that laments the current state of academia in addition to one man’s feeling of personal failure, as we are forced to watch him grapple helplessly with clunky online evaluations, callow undergrads, unsympathetic administrators, and the toxic dust being pumped into his department by the refurbishment of the economics department while his window still doesn't close; there is tragedy and comedy, as well as a depressing amount of familiarity.  Payne University, located somewhere in the Midwest, could definitely be a Minnesotan institution; in fact, I may have visited at some point!


Schumacher writes with a deft pen, granting the egotistic professor with a pathos that makes him feel sympathetic, and as she admitted, she sometimes identifies with him herself. I, too, could definitely relate to his environment, if not his sarcastic personality, and his wit and venom certainly led to some laugh out loud funny moments. In Fitger, Schumacher has created a great unreliable guide to the world of the English department. I just wonder how he’ll respond when he discovers RateMyProfessor!


I found Julie Schumacher’s insights into the publishing world and how even something as simple as a cover chosen for your book can dictate how you are going to write it. If you’re really sad you missed it, the last few Books and Bars discussions were recorded and will be broadcast on the Story North podcast by September. Speaking of September, the next book chosen for reading is Go Set a Watchman, that sequel that’s been in the news lately. So, better get your reserves set up fast! Currently sitting at 1722 at the Hennepin County Library, but only 25 in St. Paul! Personally, I'd say that Dear Committee Members is probably a lot more fun. I recommend it! 

Libraries at the End of the World: Books, Beer, and Banter

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel The Drowned Cities - Paolo Bacigalupi By Colson Whitehead:Zone One: A Novel [Hardcover] - Colson Whitehead The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of the Apocalypse - Joni Tevis


A cross-post with MSP Reading Time, the book segment of my local activities blog, Minneapolis-St. Paul Adventure time.


The other week, I attended Books and Bars, a Twin Cities book and social event that visits pubs and bars in Minneapolis and St. Paul, for the first time. The book on the docket for this session, held at Republic in Uptown, was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the most riveting and affecting novels I have read this year. First, I must say, Station Eleven is the most fascinating, thought-provoking and touching post-apocalyptic novels I have read yet. In both its depictions of the “world before” and the new world in the aftermath of the “Georgian Flu,” an incredibly virulent virus that came out of nowhere to kill off an estimated 99% of the Earth’s population, the novel shows the resilience and power of the human spirit.





Mandel’s writing is incandescent, painting a vivid, realistic world of the future and what it lacks; “No more Internet. No more social media, no more scrolling through litanies of dreams and nervous hopes and photographs of lunches, cries for help and expressions of contentment and relationship-status updates with heart icons whole or broken, plans to meet up later, pleas, complaints, desires, pictures of babies dressed as bears or peppers for Halloween. No more reading and commenting on the lives of others, and in so doing, feeling slightly less alone in the room. No more avatars.” As she expressed, she wanted to write a love letter to the modern world by taking it all away.


These stories are about human resilience, and what can be done to preserve the culture of the past. As I mentioned in the discussion, I've been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction lately (see my two prior BookLike entries), and it seems I'm not alone. In the last one, I discussed one of the overriding themes of the genre I had noticed; a preoccupation with the past, both the positive and the negative. This was reflected in Station Eleven as well, as the narrative spends nearly equal time in the world of today and twenty years in the future, when the survivors of the global epidemic begin to organize enough to try putting society back together, at least in a localized fashion.


Equally hopeful, brutal, and mundane, it follows a caravan of actors and musicians, the Traveling Symphony making their way along the banks of Lake Michigan, performing music and Shakespeare. The parallels between the plagues of Elizabethan England and that of the new world is an interesting thread, along with the question of what survives and what we lose, as before even the end a character muses “I've been thinking lately about immortality. What it means to be remembered, what I want to be remembered for, certain questions concerning memory and fame.” Arthur Leander, an actor who begins the novel by dying of a heart attack on stage on a snowy night in Toronto, coincidentally the night before the plague hits North America. Illustrating the lives of Leander and some of the people who knew and interacted with him creates a moving and effective bookend for the scenes of post-civilization. It shows what we had, good and bad, and what we lost, what we may or may not regain; and should we regain it all? A little piece of civilization, for instance, in the form of a small-press art comic book, had a wildly different effect on two survivors, which led to some of my favorite discussions in the book.


As expressed in one of the key quotes of the novel, the motto of the Traveling Symphony, “Survival is insufficient,” a maxim promoting the need for art and imagination in a world ravaged by pain and privation. A world not unlike our own, really. This quote, so integral to the life of people still trying to keep artistic and cultural expression alive in this world was itself a survivor from the old '90s TV-show, Star Trek: Voyager, a meaningful vestige of the previous world. Even an obscure, self-published graphic novel, the eponymous Station Eleven, survives the end of the world to have great, and completely different, impacts on the new world.  


At Books and Bars, there was a lot of great discussion regarding the book among the participants as we enjoyed the craft brews and cheese plates offered, we talked about why, and how, the post-apocalyptic and dystopian genre has become so popular of late. One of the first things brought up (by myself, incidentally) was the parallels between Station Eleven and the play Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric play, which performed at the renowned Guthrie Theater this spring. Both were concerned with what would survive cultural collapse and how society might rebuild itself while recalling what came before. The setup of Mr. Burns is weirdly similar to Station Eleven; a group of survivors of a global plague begin talking about their favorite Simpsons episodes after the power grid and government fails- in a few years, they start a traveling troupe to perform recalled episodes in front of other settlements. A few decades later, the plays have transformed into an epic recounting of the sins and triumphs of the electric age, recalled by people who cannot actually remember it. What, of our current world, our comfortable lives today, will survive the ravages of time? 




As I read this, and some of the other post-apocalyptic books I’ve recently, including the most recent entries, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned Cities and Colson Whitehead's Zone One, came to mind as well. Both of these works, too, are concerned with society picking up after disaster, and whether it is even possible, or desirable, that they do. Whether the brutal, war torn conditions of Washington, DC decades after global climate change and economic collapse, or the zombie plague, each are good pieces to compare and contrast with Station Eleven. 


It got me thinking about my role as a librarian, a custodian and dissemination of information and knowledge. If some horrible catastrophe causes society to collapse and break down in the near future, would it be my, and my colleagues, mission to safeguard and preserve knowledge in order to return order and advancement to society? Even a large public library, so much technological, medical, historical, and cultural knowledge is kept, that with the right books (not effected by lack of electricity!), so much could be saved and carried into the future. But, as seen in Drowned Cities and Zone One, it is so easy to lose out.




This is why I found  The World is on Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of the Apocalypse by Joni Tevis so fascinating as well, and a great companion piece to Station Eleven. Through a series of creative nonfiction essays, she explores various interesting topics through the lens of apocalypse and collapse, including popular culture and how your understanding of the past can transform your life in the future.  


The Books and Bars discussion of Station Eleven will be broadcast on the StoryNorth podcast, available here. Next week, at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul, where Julie Schumacher will be present to discuss her book, Dear Committee Members, which I talked about in my favorite books of 2014.


*Monthly theme music: "Here's Your Future," The Thermals, The Body The Blood The Machine, 2006



Guys Read, Summer 2015: Bonus Session!

Love That Dog - Sharon Creech Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (Mr. Lemoncello's Library #1) - Chris Grabenstein

On short notice, I was asked to fill in for the last session of Wayzata, another nearby HC system library branch’s Guys Reads this summer, and I jumped at the opportunity to see how another group of kids responds and reacts to the chosen material. So, here’s a few more entries to check out before my last Summer session on Wednesday! There were two groups this time, Guys Jr and Guys and the chosen books were Love that Dog and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.


Both of the groups in this class enjoyed the titles here, though one had probably the most positive reception I’ve seen yet for a book.




For the younger kids, we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech, what I found a rather heart-rending and beautiful celebration of poetry and of one child’s dog. I’ve always found the emotional range and power of poetry to be really interesting, though I must admit to having read sadly too little and have not had too much practice actually attempting to write it. Here, Creech’s simple poetry of a young boy coming to terms with the loss of his pet and his growing love of poetry, through the tutelage of a great teacher, really would be a great place to start. Before sharing it with the book club, I read it to my Mom and she was quickly weeping.


The kids in the group found it surprisingly emotional too, with one telling the group “I almost cried,” and another chiming in “I did cry.” There were a few complaints of “boring,” but even these appreciated a greater understanding of poetry, telling us that “poetry is really easy to write!” Maybe, maybe. I guess I should try it more! They also enjoyed the addition of some pieces of classic classroom poetry as well. All in all, I’d recommend this a great read for kids learning about poetry, and how poems can help in expressing feelings one has a hard time putting into words.




The older kids read, and greatly enjoyed, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. This was an action packed, silly exploration of what libraries are and how they can be fun! A pretty appropriate choice for the book club, of course. Personally, I found it a bit too silly, with a cast of stock characters teaming up to explore the clues in eccentric millionaire, Mr. Lemoncello, game maker extraordinaire high tech superlibrary to win fabulous prizes before the snotty, elitist bully Charles Chiltingon cheats his way to the top. It kind of presents the library as more of a fun house than a place of learning, and makes an interesting piece to read along with my last review, BiblioTech.


The kids, though, loved it and really couldn’t get enough of Mr. Lemoncello. Probably the thing that really grabbed them was the puzzles that the characters were solving, and which you can solve too! Word games, logic, and a knowledge of children’s book trivia and the Dewey Decimal System can get you far. Designed to introduce and entice children into using and understanding their library, what might have felt a little heavy handed to me, seemed to really engage the kids. While our system uses Library of Congress Classification, much of the generals of the classification system remain the same. The special, afterword puzzle at the end of the book took up a large part of the conversation. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library comes with a lot of resources for using the book in a library book club or classroom, as well. Definitely a good choice!


Later this week, I’ll be posting my fourth, and last, Guys Read Session for my Eden Prairie groups, and it looks like it will be some particularly interesting ones!  


*Music Theme for Entry: "The Library," Kimya Dawson, Thunder Things, 2011


Reading Online: Adrift on the Sea of Knowledge

BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google - John Palfrey

John Palfrey, former dean of the Harvard Law School Library and among the founders of the Digital Public Library of America, writes some very compelling and interesting material here about the continued importance and need for libraries in our fast-changing digital world. While not a trained librarian himself, Palfrey rights of the importance of continued cooperation and resource sharing between librarians and other professionals in the information, technology, and education worlds, among other topics. His writing is appropriately accessible and smooth, making BiblioTech a pretty fast read, even with a lot of rich discussion. While not a "rose-tinted" look at libraries, he does talk a lot about some of things we, as librarians and library workers, can do to strengthen this relevance in the digital world.

As a librarian myself with background in various disciplines of library science in both academic and public environments, in cataloging, archives, and reference, a lot of what Palfrey writes about here resonates with me. With the growing prominence of digital resources and the ease with which they can be accessed, people can be easily cut adrift in this sea of information. Libraries are in a perfect position to guide and facilitate people through this quickly changing ocean of knowledge, as the purpose of the library has always been to preserve and disseminate knowledge to its patrons, whether students or the public. Young people, in particular, living in the midst of this change can benefit from the structure and openness afforded by libraries. Currently, I've been training in the Minneapolis Central Library's Teen Tech Center, a dynamic emerging space for teens to experiment and learn with information technology for artistic purpose. The 3-D printers, musical instruments, cameras, simple programming like Scratch, and many other activities available for free use by community youth, this is a program that has begun to evolve what is possible in libraries serving their mission to citizens, making some very interesting parallels with Palfrey's arguments. This is also evident in this recent article by Sonali Kohli that just popped up on my social media feed as well. Interesting how social media connects us even in the library!

Of course, as Palfrey points out, funding remains a major concern and impediment for completely integrating new technology into libraries, and how, worryingly, the for-profit sector is doing a lot more in this regard currently. What if much of the public is "priced out" of developing technologies, not to mention these corporate projects lacking many of the missions of libraries, such as preserving information. In one of the most interesting chapters, Palfrey discusses the problems of digital preservation and how to keep the vast amount of knowledge in "born digital" documents accessible in the future. The only issue with BiblioTech may be that it may be, more or less, preaching to the choir of library workers and other information professionals, but, especially in the closing chapter, there is a lot of good food for thought on how to express to the integral role libraries play, and will continue to play, in the community and how we can make sailing this sea of changing knowledge easier.

Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Third Session

Fortunately, the Milk - Neil Gaiman, Skottie Young The Screaming Staircase - Jonathan Stroud Winger - Andrew  Smith


This last Guys Read sessions were quite interesting- the choices for this week were each controversial with the groups, drawing very different responses from the readers. Some loved them, others hated them but in most cases, they did finish reading them! That's always a good sign. 




For the juniors, the choice was Neil Gaiman's Fortunately, the Milk, another flight of awesome fancy from Gaiman. This was definitely a fun little book that really delves into Gaiman's favorite themes of the power of storytelling and imagination. After a Dad leaves his children one morning to buy some milk for their cereal from the corner store, he leaves for what seems like a long time to the kids. Upon his arrival, he excuses his tardiness on getting their breakfast by regaling them with a wild tale of aliens, pirates, dinosaur inventors, and time travel. Fortunately, he is able to preserve the milk throughout all his adventures, and it even proves to save the world. The charmingly quirky and zany illustrations that accompanied the stories also was a crowd favorite, with kids showing each other their favorites. 


This was the exception of the day; the kids were, in general, really engaged in the story and seemed quite excited with all of its silly, over the top elements, especially the milk. For some reason, they loved the milk- with elements to interest just about any kid. Also, the theme of storytelling and whether or not it matters if the Dad was really telling the truth or not, or if he was just good at telling stories gave the kids some discussion. Of course, they were a bit distracted with storytelling themselves that day, recalling their favorite parts of Inside Out to each other. The little indoor obstacle course I made, to be completed while holding a milk jug, did keep their attention, though.  




The middle school kids read The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, the first in the Lockwood and Company series, which was probably my favorite of the book I've read for the groups so far, proved a bit more divisive among the guys. This was a popular choice with Guys Read groups in the county, this is the second series by Stroud, after the Bartimeaus stories (which I also loved), and follow in the classic British young adult fantasy genre, with some of the kids comparing it to Harry Potter (an apt description, I feel). 


Lockwood and Company differs from Harry Potter, though, in pure spookiness. Though there were some scary moments in HP, this is a series about the Problem, the euphemism for the plague of ghosts currently bedeviling the UK. From merely frightening Type 1s to horrifying Type 2s, the only way to combat these spirits are Agents, generally prepubescent children who still have the psychic sensitivity to perceive what the ghosts need and how to put them down for good. There were some scenes that unnerved even me, so I can definitely see why some of the kids were a bit put off. 


A few said they definitely preferred Zombie Baseball Beatdown, that it was just more fun all around, but there were others who really enjoyed The Screaming Staircase. It was funny that those who did not like The Screaming Staircase started by beating around the bush, saying that it was too boring or cheesy, but soon admitted that it just plain scared them! One kid claimed it gave him nightmares, in particular the infamous Red Room. On the other hand, other guys rated it as their favorite so far, and appreciated the action-packed nature of the story. Personally, I really loved the spooky world Stroud creates, complete with a glossary of ghost knowledge and terms. I've read the next in the series and am waiting with bated breath for the upcoming finale. 




While both the previous choices were similar in being fantasies in the old English tradition, the teen's choice was an All-American YA. My sister, over at I'm Reading Comeeks, is a huge fan of the work of Andrew Smith and has read most of his stuff, but this was the first of his books I've had the pleasure of reading. I'll definitely go for more. Like The Screaming Staircase, though, this had a bit of a mixed reaction in the group.


From what I've come to understand about Smith's work, he can be quite controversial, and this book may be among his "tamer" offerings. Following the precocious 14 year old horndog Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, as he plays rugby at a prestigious Pacific Northwest boarding school. Having been moved up two grades, he finds himself a junior two years younger than anyone else, and seriously crushing on his best friend, the smart and beautiful Annie Altman. It's all pretty lighthearted as Winger tries to improve his life, becomes friends with the charming, openly gay rugby player Joe, and gets up to some hilarious shenanigans. There are friendships found and broken, pranks pulled, balls kicked (in more ways than one); Winger's self-depreciating comics add even more humor to the story, and the ending comes out of nowhere with a sucker punch to the gut just when you least expect it.  


Winger definitely pats himself on the back for being such a good guy for accepting Joe's sexuality, even as he is a sexist himself. I think that Ryan Dean's self perception of himself and his sexist and homophobic actions, even as he loves his friends Joe and Annie offers a lot of opportunity for discussion, the tragic ending notwithstanding. A few of the kids really appreciated what they felt was the realism of the story, seeming to identify with Ryan Dean's struggles and feelings, with the word "amazing" being tossed around.


However, there were others who found the entire book inappropriate and did not enjoy it. In the end, the main debate focused around the strong language of the novel. You see, Smith does not pull his punches when it comes to the language of his characters, who talk, it's true, like many high school students, including profanity. This was a bit much for some of the guy's, who felt there was too much swearing for them. Other members argued this added to the realism of the story, so in the end it was agreed that that Winger's realism was what made it inappropriate for them.   


One more session to go!


*Musical theme for entry: "Dinosaur Stomp!," Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Uncrustable, 2010 


Weird Comic Haul

Dungeon Quest, Vol. 1 - Joe Daly Death-Day (Part One) - Samuel Hiti, Joseph Midthun Tiempos Finales: End Times - Samuel Hiti American Barbarian - Tom Scioli Dungeon: Monstres - Vol. 1: The Crying Giant - Joann Sfar, Lewis Trondheim, Mazan, Jean-Christophe Menu, Johann Sfar Incredible Change-Bots - Jeffrey Brown Wonton Soup Collection - James Stokoe Pistolwhip - Matt Kindt;Jason Hall



At a book sale last year, I stumbled upon a haul of recently withdrawn graphic novels, including some very strange ones. They seem to have a very distinct feeling of homage, of nostalgia, or of parody, looking back to the great geek fads of the ‘80s, fantasy/sci-fi cartoon shows, D&D, over the top fights, overwrought dialog, superheroes, etc. All those adventures you can experience vicariously on a day where nothing really interesting is happening in the real world. So come into these weird worlds of monsters, robots, space ninja, and convoluted plots!


With their idiosyncratic art styles, purposefully naive story and dialog, and weird characterizations, these comics can be difficult to review. They are, for instance, extremely masculine. I think you can count the number of female characters who appear in all of them put together on one hand. On the other hand, none take themselves too seriously and, as celebrations of childhood obsessions, revel in their own bizarreness and adherence to genre tropes. I could see any one of these being some great mind candy for a hot summer afternoon, just like summer vacation or Saturday morning cartoons.




From the South African artist Joe Daly, Dungeon Quest is probably the strangest, crudest comic in the lot. Reminding me of an gloriously crass  juvenile delinquent iteration of the classic SNES game Earthbound, Dungeon Quest meshes together classic TRPG style (random quests, bizarro monsters, stat blocks) with contemporary suburban malaise. Young chromed domed Millenium Boy dons his headband and underoos and sets out from his mom’s house looking for adventure, armed with his esoteric book “The Lands Beyond the Suburbs of Glendale.” Along the way, he joins up with some compadres, beats in the heads of monsters and muggers alike, gets magic items like the Brometic Pipe of Awareness and the Woolen Beanie of Insulation, and levels up. There is a strangely uncomfortable theme of homophobia with homoerotic overtones as characters seem oddly consumed with each other's penises and the sole female character, Nerd Girl, says nary a word. Guess that's par for the course for the adolescent gaming mindset, though!




Death-Day Volume One and Tiempos Finales are two comics by the enigmatic Twin Cities comic artist Samuel Hiti. Both have breathtaking and innovative art, full of intricate alien creatures and landscapes. Death-Day tells a story of military science fiction with a platoon of doomed space marines infiltrating dangerous alien territory against some unstoppable alien foe. Mixed in with the high tech combat is some philosophic discussion, but it is the art that really brings you into the story. The same is true of Tiempos Finales, my favorite of the comics I read; a strange, Southwestern infused occult thriller starring the demon hunter Mario Román, in mixed English and Spanish! The demons are horrible and baroque, the Western overtones suitably dynamic, and the desert and canyon landscapes lush. The only problem with these two books if that they are like lost chapters of longer works that don't seem to exist (at least, in this timeline)!




Beginning as a webcomic, American Barbarian is absurdly amusing Saturday Morning Cartoon '80s cartoon in print follows young red-white-and-blue haired Meric, the American Barbarian through his adventures in Post-Post Apocalyptic America, as he attempts to avenge himself on Two-Tank-Omen, a robot pharaoh with two tanks for feet who murdered his entire family and conquered his homeland. Yeah, I know, right? Things get even weirder from there, but Scioli's writing and art certainly don't take themselves seriously and things start to get seriously surreal; my favorite part is a distraught Meric carving the word R E V E N G E ! ! ! on his ten fingers to remind himself of his mission. It really does feel like some forgotten ‘80s TV-show with a line of weirdo toys that you can dig up on Youtube and say, “now I remember that, I thought I made it up!”





A spin-off of the Franco-Belgian Sword and Sorcery parody comic series, Dungeon: Monsters was also quite weird. A medieval fantasy world people by various animal people, mythical beasts, and plenty of magic, Dungeon  I have not read any of the other books in the series, but I have read comics by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim before and their typically Gallic humor is displayed here. Like Dungeon Quest, a lot of D&D references show up, though the jokes here are a bit drier and darker, though still a bit misogynistic.   To be honest, I was a little lost as the Monstres series deals with minor characters from the setting, and I haven't read any of the others- I'm sure a lot of the references and jokes went over me head here.




While I never was a fan of the Transformers growing up, Jeffrey Brown's affection and feel for the giant robot cars genre is infectious, and his kind of absurdist take on the daily lives, relationships, and emotions of such characters as Balls (a golf cart), Shootertron, Siren (a squad car), her lover Honkytonk, and Microwave (with his little buddies Soupy and Popper) is always a funny read, good for kids, adults, and adults who are kids. This send up of this seminal tv cartoon genre is nuanced and his art great for the action packed mix of epic gravitas and droll comedy; this mix showcases all of the weirdness and wit of the series.




Canadian James Stokoe had the most colorful, detailed, and vibrant art of any of the comics I read, with zany, expressive characters, organic looking technology, wild cityscapes and alien planets, and actually alien looking aliens ; there is a definite manga influence here, though Stokoe certainly has his own unique style; his comics are easily identifiable. There is a definite over the top pulpiness to Wonton Soup, which is complimented well by Stokoe’s dynamic, action-packed drawing style.


A pair of Space Truckers, the budding chef Jonny Boyo and his horndog buddy Deacon, travel the universe dodging space ninjas, encountering aliens friendly and grumpy, and sampling all manner of bizarre, space delicacies. There are cooking battles, high tech escapes, giant beasts, and absurdist, surreal humor. It it reminds me of some of the sci-fi anime series I used to watch on Cartoon Network, like Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, in particular, with a healthy dose of Iron Chef, of course.



Jason Hall and Matt Kindt’s homage to the crime noir genre and radio dramas is a  This highly stylized work follows a cast of typical noir characters, the hapless stooge, the private eye, the femme fatale, et. al.,  through a convoluted caper involving murder, money, and music- but is everything as it seems? The art here is the most abstract of the comics read for this, nearly impressonistic, the dialogue is clipped and no-nonsense, perfect for the hard boiled genre, and the character motivations full of shades of gray. The only issue may be a certain  confusion about the complicated, recursive plot which involves a certain questioning of reality itself.


*Musical theme for entry: "Ready to Roll," Flashlight Brown, My Degeneration, 2003


Maps and Stuff...

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America - Colin Woodard Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America - Dante Chinni, James Gimpel Ph.D. The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What It All Means about Who We Are - Michael J. Weiss The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart - Bill Bishop The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown - Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center


I love stuff like this, popping up in my social media feeds or googles; imagine a United States where all of the states are equal in population, thus making a congress more representative of the states and their populations. And those names are great, too. Just like some alt history novel!


In the past, I have like many kids who grew up reading derivative fantasy novels, been fascinated by maps. You knew an epic quest novel would not be complete without a map of the continent or world in the front pages, along with maybe a few inserts for cities or fortresses or whatever. Even a fictional place just feels more real if denoted in a concrete, static map- if it is mapped, it's like it exists.


However, I also enjoyed studying maps of that most detailed and deep world setting, Earth. I was, in fact, the only person in my 7th grade class to successfully pass the geography of Africa quiz (not that I’m bragging). All of those countries, mountain ranges, rivers, economic zones, what did they all mean? Why were they there? To this day, I love a good map. Of course, I have been particularly obsessed recently with how maps can help us understand the culture of a region, and how maps can change. As another campaign year begins to ramp up, more and more maps of the country show up on the social media feed, trying to examine how populations in one region of the country can affect the politics of the entire nation. Over the last few months, I've checked out some interesting books discussed maps and demographics; here are a few of them, along with links to my Goodeads reviews, where I write in more detail about them.


I still am a bit obsessed with Colin Woodard's arguments in his book American Nations, even if it is not a perfect account. There is still much to think about in his historical background of the various cultural groups that make up the federations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and I have come to refer to them whenever I think about regional differences during my travels. Even while reading other books, I consider the origin of the author and what effect their origin may have on their work. As a Minnesotan, I can definitely recognize the influence of early "Yankee" elites here in the state, making for a strong, social justice style environment with strong labor laws, education, and quality of life, but also one in which conformity is rigid (see treatment of indigenous people)- I still feel much more at home visiting Canada than the times I've traveled south. See here for a quick rundown of Woodard's arguments.


An interesting companion piece to American Nations is The Big Sort, which is a more overtly political work, though by now a little dated. In this book, Bill Bishop argues that the political process has become deadlocked due to more and more people relocating to communities that share only their own values, thus never having to confront people who disagree and electing more extreme politicians who cannot compromise. 


Meanwhile, Our Patchwork Nation and the older The Clustered World, divide American communities into different groups based on marketing techniques, which, to me, makes them the least accurate and broadest of all. There are some interesting factoids presented in these books, but for the most part these seemed less insightful to me, more quickly dated, and in general, more anecdotal. By dividing populations solely by demographic information, these accounts lose a lot of context- why are "Campus and Careers" communities more common in the North? Why are Bohemian Mix found only in urban areas- what about college towns or rural environmental enclaves? Some of it feels too artificial to me. Also much of what can be found in these two books can be access onlilne, and in more updated versions, too, here and here.  


I was attracted by The Next America by the map on the cover, and wondered if the author would explore what makes certain regions more attractive to people in certain demographics, and while they do, to a point, this is another account of how changing demographics will transform American society in coming years. A lot of food for thought here, from topics like the idea of the "digital native," diversifying demographics, how American society is following the rest of the developed world to forgo organized religions, and delay marriage and children longer than previous generations.


A lot of it is very interesting, and there are plenty of amusing and edifying facts, like that a 20 year old today has a higher likelihood of having a living grandmother they would of having a living mother in 1900. Each of the chapters reminds me of one of those interesting articles you find online and get distracted reading through while you should be working on something else. However, the "looming generational showdown" as ominously included in the title (what they might call "click bait" online) turns out to be a rather minor part of the work as a while, which generally holds a strikingly optimistic view. On the other hand, little is discussed on how things might work out, good or bad.


Think I'll close out this entry with another little piece of theme music!

*Theme music for entry: "Upside down from Here," Atom and His Package, Redefining Music, 2001



For my Comics segment this week, I'm retweeting my sister blog "I'm Reading Comeeks" (sister in that it's the blog of my actual sister), after I acquired through interlibrary loan a whole pile of Adventure Time comics for us to read. As she notes, it is amazing how much talent they've attracted from throughout the comics world to participate. They all capture the feeling of the show quite well, while taking things in directions not possible on television, such as putting a little focus on interesting secondary characters, like Peppermint Butler or Lemongrab. So far, the quality has been quite even. Actually, I have a few more on the way, as well!

All Adventure All the Time!

Adventure Time Vol.4 Original Graphic Novel - Kate Leth, Zachary Sterling Adventure Time: Seeing Red - Kate Leth, Zack Sterling Adventure Time: Candy Capers #3 - Pendleton Ward, Ananth Panagariya, Yuko Ota, Evan Dahm, Ian McGinty, Maarta Laiho, Hannah Nance Partlow Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake - Natasha Allegri Adventure Time: The Flip Side #1 - Colleen Coover, Paul Tobin, Wook-Jin Clark Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens Mathematical Edition - Meredith Gran, Jen Wang
Reblogged from I'm Reading Comeeks:

So, I had a little binge.  


Well, I blame my brother really, who was the one who went on the binge.  He requested all these Adventure Time comics from the magic of Inter-library loan and then we read them together (well some of them anyway) like we used to consume Calvin and Hobbes.


I think I may have mentioned this before, but here it goes again.  One thing that is really awesome about Adventure Time is the artists and writers.  So many different and amazing artists and writers contribute to these comics, adding their ideas and styles to the pages and keeping the series fresh with new ideas.


I'm not sure how these artists/writers are chosen, but however it's done it's done well.  Ward's series keeps the same awesome dynamics, the same best friend tone overall, the same crazy hijinks and random hilarious twists and turns.


First I read Adventure Time Vol.4 Original Graphic Novel - Kate Leth,Zachary Sterling, Bitter Sweets, starring Princess Bubblegum and Peppermint Butler as they journey around to different kingdoms to re-charge the gems that keep Candy Kingdom all magical.  Each kingdom she visits surprises her.  First it's that the kingdoms, once rundown are suddenly much nicer and then the final kingdom which was the most powerful, is suddenly in ruins.


It was nice to have a comic focus just on PB, but unfortunately for her she was totally upstaged by the other PB, Peppermint Butler.  AT comics generally tread the line between lessons (you know, sharing, trusting, asking for help etc.) and being a little bit naughty.  This one was a little too much on the lessons side of that line for me.  Bubblegum lacked that certain disregard for Ooo life in the face of science in this one for me.


Next, an adventure with Marceline the Vampire Queen. Adventure Time: Seeing Red - Kate Leth,Zack Sterling.  These original graphic novels, like Bitter Sweets, explore characters beyond Finn and Jake, but it's nice to see them team up with others too.


Jake the Dog and Marceline team up in this adventure, when Marceline has to attend her family reunion, but someone has stolen her axe.  The two follow a trail that leads them all over the Nightosphere and other places looking for the thief.  Eventually they discover the truth and return to show Aberdeen exactly what they think of him.  Things are said and hugs are given all around.  


I liked this one a lot more than Bitter Sweets, it still had that sweet moment between Aberdeen and Marceline, but it had more balance to it.  Although Marceline was obviously the focus of this story, Jake also had his moments (that bellboy guy!).  


I returned to Peppermint Butler in Candy Capers Adventure Time: Candy Capers #3.  (I read the full volume version, not just #3).


Finn and Jake are missing!  And they've got PB's Hammer!  It's up to Peppermint Butler and Cinnamon Bun to crack the case.


As the new defender of the Candy Kingdom Peppermint Butler has to rescue Finn and Jake from whatever peril they face and keep the rest of Ooo from falling to pieces at the same time.  A series of back-up heros are called, but few work out quite to Pepp But's expectations.


I highly recommend this comic, we get to journey all over Ooo and witness some truly hilarious team-ups.  Imagine what would happen if Finn and Jake were replaced by LSP and Lemongrab?  Also, we get to know Cinnamon Bun a lot more.  Maybe too much.


Next, Warp to an Alternate Dimension!


Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake - Natasha Allegri 


Fionna and Cake must save the Flame Prince from the evil designs of Ice Queen, who is really just very troubled.  It was an interesting twist, revealing a bit about the author (Ice King).  The ending is just about the best part.  Ice King is pretty much my favorite.  Although I still don't see why Fionna has to wear a skirt.  I just don't like that, never will.


Trying not to make this too long...


Adventure Time: The Flip Side #1 - Colleen Coover,Paul Tobin,Wook-Jin Clark 


The Flip Side is an epic adventure returning to our two heroes Finn and Jake!  Yay!  In this adventure Finn is suffering from a terrible deficiency - lack of Quests!   The trio (Finn, Jake and BMO) end up at the Quest Board, but seeing a distinct lack of cool quests they check the reverse side and find one lonely quest - to save Puzzle Princess from the dastardly Monkey Wizard (who reminded me a ton of the mythical Monkey King from American Born Chinese - which is a great graphic novel if you haven't read it).  


Unfortunately taking quests from the reverse side of the board means that everything in the quest is reversed!  And that things will probably reverse until the quest is done.  Things descend quickly into chaos as Ooo's citizens find themselves facing reverses everywhere.


A classic AT comic.


Adventure Time: Marceline and the Scream Queens Mathematical Edition - Meredith Gran,Jen Wang   


Finally I read a comic focusing on the relationship between Marceline and Bubblegum.  PB is always a little jealous of Marceline's hipness and when she is forced to hold a concert for the Scream Queens, Marceline's band, at first she's not interested in the un-scientific rock music.


However, once she is part of the magic that is listening to live music, she decides to support Marceline's band by becoming their manager.  Life on the road gets a little weird though as Marceline struggles with her public image and PB flirts with the mysterious Guy.


Meanwhile, Jake the Dog has been made interim King of the Candy Kingdom.  Which I'm sure seemed like a good idea at the time.


All six of these graphic novels stand alone, you don't need any knowledge of Ooo or AT to enjoy the characters and stories (though I'd recommend at least a passing familiarity to fully enjoy them).  The art from the first to the last was spot on, fun and colorful.  The characters have very expressive faces as well, which I really enjoy.


So, that's my huge Adventure Time Update.  I guess you could call me a super fan now.

Check out some of these comics also by some of the contributing artists/writers:



Guys Read, Summer 2015: The Second Session

Eerie Elementary #2: The Locker Ate Lucy! (A Branches Book) - Jack Chabert, Sam Ricks Zombie Baseball Beatdown - Paolo Bacigalupi Godless - Pete Hautman



Last Wednesday was the second session for my three groups of boys at the Eden Prairie branch library and it was another fun one. I’ve begun to get a bit of a rhythm down, starting the kids out with an “icebreaker” to get them interacting and talking, before getting into the book discussion and ending with an activity or game thematic to the book (or not, sometimes the readers just want to play a board game!). I’ve found it is good to have a variety of questions on the standby to spur discussion, though I always make sure to let them take the conversation wherever they want to go with it. I hand out questions randomly to the younger kids to get them started, or just throw out a comments for the older ones to gauge where they want to go.  So far, it seems that the middle school age students have had the most interesting discussions, though they have all enjoyed the reading so far. Most even finished their books!


For the younger kids, we had a bit of a spooky theme going this month- for the teens, a “controversial” choice. In general, this weeks books were all well liked by the readers.




For Guys Read Jr, we had Eerie Elementary #2: The Locker Ate Lucy by Jack Chabert, the most recently published part of the series involving reluctant Hall Monitor Sam Grave’s continued fight against his living school, as he confronts its very bowels to save his friend Lucy and digs up the truth about Eerie Elementary's dark history. There are hair's breadth escapes from living cafeteria carts and lockers in the slimy basement of the school and Sam’s determination to help his friends, who all had their own moments to shine. To adult eyes, the story is a bit simplistic and nearly everything is resolved through deus ex machina, but it seemed like a good place to begin for a grade schooler’s first “pretty scary” book.


I was hesitant about choosing the second book in a series, but the readers, many of whom had read the first book already, seemed to think that it stood alone well. They were impressed at how “spooky” the book was, mentioning how the “everyday” setting of school made it even creepier. One remarked “it was pretty epic,” though another said it was “ridiculous, violent, and not very smart” (he liked it). This group really enjoyed making pizzas for the last book, but asking them to draw their own normal thing in a scary way with art supplies did not keep their attentions nearly as much.




The Guys Read choice was Zombie Baseball Beatdown by Paolo Bacigalupi, an action packed cautionary tale of agribusiness greed, corruption, and the zombie plague as a small group of baseball loving misfits, Rabi, Miguel, and Joe uncover the local meatpacker's evil secret experiments- once again, the discussion here became quite heated, though not for the reasons I’d expected. Like much of Bacigulpi’s writing, there is a distinct social message in this tale, one that is not always subtle. While he couches these heavy themes in a gross, action packed zombie apocalypse tale using all the tropes, (zombies who moan “brains!,” sinister authority figures, and zombie cows), zombies are just the filler- the real meat is a discussion of food safety, corporate "ethics," and immigration. In a group of kids whose backgrounds are quite similar to those in the book, the immigration and agricultural elements were not discussed, though- they stuck to how they liked the characters, the writing style, and how gross and creepy the zombies were. Does this mean the messages did not soak through? Or was it just natural ideas to them? 




The book I chose for the teens was Godless, by the Twin Cities author Pete Hautman, which I found to be quite a thought-provoking read, though the readers found it less so.

Hautman uses a group of compelling and funny teenagers to explore, with no right answers, disputes between faith and skepticism. When Jason Bock, a bored, creative agnostic teen is inspired to make up his own religion, focused on his small Minnesota town's water tower as a project to pass the time during the long summer and wrestle with his own conflicted relationship with his family's Catholic beliefs. He brings in some of his acquaintances, including his best friend, his crush, and a scary but cool local rebel and the group is soon fleshing out the belief structure of the new church of Chutengodianism. Quickly, though, the joke gets a bit more seriously as his friends begin using it as an excuse for exciting risk taking or even begin to believe in "the Ten-Legged One" for real. While the ending is a bit abrupt, leaving some questions unanswered, Hauptman leaves a lot of room for the reader to reflect on the same questions that Jason has, perhaps coming to different conclusions. Bock and his friends make some dumb decisions but Bock's questioning nature make it both a funny and philosophical teen novel.


I found it interesting that the most scientific character, Shin, becomes the most fanatical believer in the new church, while the fearsome bad boy Henry Stagg becomes a more level headed influence. Maybe it was just the the typical Minnesotan reticence to discuss religion or politics in public, but the group here had little to say about the controversial aspects of the novel. They found it quite funny, though. They mentioned that they felt that "really religious" people may not like it, but nothing in the book seemed to bother them, though they felt it ended too abruptly. Still, like in the case of Zombie Baseball Beatdown, could just exposing them to these ideas have sparked them to think? Perhaps, in peer groups, they prefer just to focus on the "fun" aspects of the books? In any case, the fun seemed to have satisfied them this time. 


*Theme music for entry: "Fashion Zombies!," The Aquabats!, Charge! 2005

Random Library Cookbooks

They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World - Nate Padavick The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods - Erin Gleeson The Vegan Stoner Cookbook: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes to Munch - Sara Conrique, Graham I. Haynes Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook - Thug Kitchen,  LLC Smitten with Squash - Amanda Paa

One of the nice things about living alone is that I can try out a lot of different things in the kitchen, and I have only my own tastes to worry about. I can make things as spicy as I want, try my hand at new ingredients and techniques before subjecting other people to them. Of course, I'm not really a chef, so I rely on cookbooks and the invaluable knowledge provided in them to get me through my cooking experiments. There are so many cookbooks available out there, though, it can be overwhelming. That's why I often avail myself of the wide variety of books available at the library. If the pages have food signs, that's a sign it's a good one, right? 


Some of the cookbooks available at Minneapolis Central Library.


Here are a few I've checked out.


They Draw and Cook: 107 Recipes Illustrated by Artists from Around the World - Nate Padavick  


Derived from a blog that "draws" artists from all over the world, They Draw and Cook is a colorful compendium of illustrated favorite recipes submitted to the website. Simple recipes for the most part, the kind of comfort food that is hearty and quick to make, it is great way to experience some of the diverse, everyday cuisine of the world. Including a mix of vegetarian, meat, and desserts, there should be something to suit any palate. I tried recipes from Spain, Russia, and the U.S. However, while the varied art styles used by each artist to illustrate the procedures and ingredients are fun, on occasion they can be a little difficult to follow. This is particularly hard in the case of different methods of measuring that may be hard to convert, on the cuff, to whatever standards you follow. Still, experimenting with recipes can be its own fun.



The Forest Feast: Simple Vegetarian Recipes from My Cabin in the Woods - Erin Gleeson  

The Forest Feast is definitely a beautiful book, with colorful, vivid photographs (as befits a professional photographer), with a lot of fun, simple vegetarian recipes that take advantage of the fresh produce of seasons. The recipes themselves are presented in a fun way, with photographs of the required ingredients spread out and ready to use. On the other hand, the recipes themselves are, for the most part, pretty simplistic and common sense- nothing you have not seen before in tons of other vegetarian cookbooks- on occasion, it’s just slapping together a couple of store bought items, like an ice cream float using beer (don’t forget to put nuts on top). Pretty nice ideas for a last minute dinner party and great for a library checkout just for the pretty pictures if nothing else.



The Vegan Stoner Cookbook: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes to Munch - Sara Conrique,Graham I. Haynes 


I’m not really a stoner, nor am I strictly a vegan. I more what it’s trendy to call a “flexitarian,” but much of what I cook is vegan, so I decided to check out this cute book with its simple recipes to see if there was anything work making in here. There are some interesting and innovative recipes here, generally dumbed down a bit to be useful to those who may be a little stoned while they’re jonesin’ for some grub but it actually uses a lot of packaged, premade food, generally of the sort you pick up at Trader Joes. Also, I felt that some of the recipes were a little vague in their ingredients list (being represented by pictures, for the most part). Still, it is a pretty adorable presentation and some of the recipes were good comfort food, such as the Peanut Stew and the Swedish Neatballs. 



Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook - Thug Kitchen, LLC  


This is a bit of a problematic one- I started out following the blog and being amused by it’s comical profanity, the incongruous nature of vegan cooking from "the streets," and the pretty tasty recipes (in particular, the roasted chickpea and broccoli burrito). , Perhaps it was easier to pretend that maybe it was created by a multicultural group of chefs, but after it was published it became known that it was the product of a couple of lily white yuppie types. Hmmm. "Digital Blackface" may be an accurate charge here.


I guess they needed a schtick to differentiate Thug Kitchen from all those other irreverent vegan cookbooks out there, and maybe up it’s “macho” quotient a bit to pull in some dietary fence sitters, but what may have been less of an issue for a blog is a little more difficult in a published book, I feel. While it may be a rather minor point for a tough talking cookbook to be accused of racism, it does seem a little hard to defend. I mean, you can argue that "thug" does not automatically mean "Black," but in an American context, what is the connotation? 


I don’t know if would have been better to have called it the “tough guy” kitchen, but the racial appropriation angle is unavoidable here, no matter how good the food. On that front, I do like the recipes. 



Smitten with Squash - Amanda Paa  

One from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Northern Plate series, I really enjoyed this cookbook and will definitely be picking it up. I have always enjoyed squash, and Amanda Paa pulls together a lot of great vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes for this great, oft ignored piece of produce. This is a great companion for the Twin Cities' many awesome farmers markets, for any time of year, summer squash and autumnal butternuts alike, so that you can always have a use for whatever's available. Now, I'll need to check out Northern Plate's rhubarb title! 

How To Find New Booklikes Blogs To Follow - Think Tank

This ongoing discussion once again surfaced at BookStooge's blog post, and awhile back was discussed at Carpe Librum's blog and I decided to write a post about it.



It has been very clear for a long time how hard it is to find new people to follow as the Explore page is seriously outdated and because Booklikes platform is not very well designed for an easy interaction when comes to this issue and problem.


It does take a shit tons of time to track and spy like a goddamn-mother-fucker to find interactive/active bloggers, and many have no time for that. Luckily, as I have no life, I have had the time.



The problem is that we get new members all the time, they are active but end up having no followers or interactions whatsoever, which obviously is very discouraging and often leads to them abandoning the site. It is reasonable. 


Because they do not find us, and we don't find them. Simple.



What I would like to do, is a huge list that contains every active, interactive blogger. I can manage this as I do have quite much free time in my hand, but I would appreciate the help from EVERYONE and ANYONE that feels this is a subject close to their heart.


And ideas, suggestions, everything is now welcomed as this is just a thought to help this community to get bigger, us to find new friends and the ones who already are active, to fucking stay.


If you are a blogger with little to no interaction here, please leave a comment so we can come and stalk you back.


Guys Read, Summer 2015: The First Session

The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza - James Kochalka Meanwhile - Jason Shiga The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey



I experienced something completely new in my history of working in libraries last Wednesday, leading three book groups for grade school boys as part of the Guys Read Program at the Eden Prairie Library. After I started my work in the Hennepin County System, I volunteered to mentor these three groups through what may be their first non-school, shared reading experiences. Geared for promoting literacy among grade school boys, Guys Read is among the many book clubs offered by library branches, for people of all ages. I’m leading three groups, one of kids going into first and second grade, one for third through sixth graders, and one for teens. For each group, I’ve chosen four books that I hope would challenge and entertain the young patrons throughout the biweekly meetings in June and July.


This is definitely like nothing I’ve done in the past and, really, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A real challenge to my public service, reader's advisory, and library instruction skills, I selected titles from as diverse and topic a background as possible, and made sure enough library copies to go around. In addition to the themes presented by the chosen books, I came up with fun activities for the groups as well, or at least, activities that I hoped would be fun. It did not take long for each of them to fill up and last week was the first time I met them all.


The group meetings went well, and I was impressed at the diversity and interest shown by each group of kids. I attempted to allow them to dictate the direction of the conversations over last weeks books, I’m definitely learning a lot and, after my first three groups, I’m looking forward to see how they enjoy the next selections. All three groups enjoyed the titles, for the most part, and the books selected sparked, in some cases, heated and energetic debate.


The three books I chose for the first meetings were comics, for the “Junior” and “Guys” groups, and a popular teen novel for the teen group.



The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza - James Kochalka 


This was, as expected from the inimitable James Kochalka, a silly, super colorful, playful romp across another planet with a cast of goofy but endearing characters; the aforementioned Glorkian Warrior, easily distracted, his SuperBackpack, the voice of reason, and the childlike Gonk. Tasked with the important quest of delivering a pizza, the three eyed pizza loving Glorkian encounters obstacles but through perseverance and occasionally zapping things, is able to finally enjoy a pizza of his own. The kids, in general, enjoyed the tale and its characters, though a few seemed to think it a little too silly. Some of the kids loved the antics of the Glorkian Warrior and Gonk, and lauded the logic and wisdom of SuperBackpack. The cute baby alien was also a favorite (looks a bit like a green Space Invader mixed with a cat). There is some fantasy violence in this story, with plenty of lasers, flying kicks (a Kochalka favorite) and punching oneself in the face and the kids definitely enjoyed this aspect.




Meanwhile - Jason Shiga 


Meanwhile, Jason Shiga’s intricate, choose your own path graphic novel that explores mathematical concepts, proved the most interesting and controversial book for any of the groups. Beginning with a choice, what flavor to choose at an ice cream shop, leads the reader to a mad scientists lab and his three world changing inventions, and lets you choose where to go from there. There are puzzles here, deep puzzles, puzzles that I myself could not always solve.  The middle schoolers were intrigued by this concept, though a few missed the introduction and felt that it was too complex- even these readers were quickly drawn in by the in depth debates and discussion sparked by the philosophical concepts behind the story. What could you use a time machine for? Is choosing the vanilla the only good option, simply because it avoids all of the complications of the rest of the comic? It was not long before they were citing pages in the book to each other, comparing notes about where their choices diverged, debating what you could actually do with time travel.





The 5th Wave - Rick Yancey 


This one was, I admit, a bit hard going for me, personally. Through the eyes of Cassie, Richard Yancey depicts a harsh and unforgiving world and a chillingly efficient alien invasion. No alien walkers or battleships here; the invaders seem to go about their extermination of the human species without putting themselves at risk, as would befit a space faring civilization with the will to conquer. After all, when humans want to combat an infestation, they don’t hunt each cockroach down personally, right? Comparison of humanity to cockroaches and other insects were a running theme throughout the novel.


The first section of the novel, as Cassie narrates her experience of the end of the world, the death of her parents, loss of her younger brother, and her survival, she describes the cold efficiency of the visitors, as they take out human technology, population centers, and will to resist through a series of staggered “waves;” a global EMP attack, artificial triggering of massive earthquakes and tsunamis, a virulent plague spread by birds, and turncoat humans to sow distrust among any survivors. She questions her place surviving when so many others have died, thinking of herself as a mere roach to be stomped or poisoned at any time. However, the humanity as insect analogy breaks down as the novel progresses, as it seems that humans are far more important to the visitors than Cassie believed.  


The teens did seem to enjoy the battle scenes and desperate nature of the world presented, and seemed to have no problem with the female lead (though they did question her wisdom in not straight out murdering a certain character at her first chance) and they also felt the “5th wave” to be illogical when compared to the aliens earlier descriptions. I geared the discussion to why this novel, “soon to be a major motion picture,” was chosen to become a movie? How would they change it to make it more cinematic? What would they leave out? What would they add? In the end, they all said they would definitely see it.  


So, all in all, a good start. Looking forward to see the responses to next weeks choices!


*Theme music for entry: "Pizza Rocket," James Kochalka Superstar, Monkey vs. Robot, 1997


Anxiety of the Future Redux

The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future - Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle Adventure Time Vol. 2 Mathematical Ed. - Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, Braden Lamb The Wrenchies - Farel Dalrymple MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood California - Edan Lepucki Star's Reach: A Novel Of The Deindustrial Future - John Michael Greer Bar None - Tim Lebbon


Last January, I kicked off my BookLikes blog with a theme of post-apocalyptic novels, and I decided to return to this theme this year. The last few months has been a time of great and sudden change for me, good change, but still, it can be strange to look back to a completely different world a month before. It's striking how quickly everything can shift, though in general changes happen slowly and often we hardly notice when we have passed the point of no return.     




For instance, in Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, the authors write a fictional historical reflection of the “Penumbral Age,” when industrial civilization began to fray and collapse due to self-inflicted climate change. Writing from the perspective of scholars from the Second People’s Republic of China, circa 2393, it reads like something that could be assigned to first year students in a low level history course. An amusing glossary of archaic terms like “environment,” “capitalism,” “communism,” and “internal combustion," the academic accounts of the extinction of Australia’s human population, and the resettlement of the people once known as the Dutch in the Nordo-Scandinavian Union make it a harrowing and thought-provoking read. Using fiction to predict the tragic results of current trends is one of the major sparks behind post-apocalyptic literature, and here is both a disturbingly realistic and hopeful look at what we will face in coming decades. Also, Oreskes’ and Conway’s experiment with fiction sets up one of the main themes I noticed this year, as well as providing the background for many of the future worlds laid out in the other works I read.


It is true that human life can only truly exist in the present, yet we tend to spend a lot of it concerned with both the future, and the past.  Fears and hope for what lies ahead commingle with memories of triumphs and tragedies from the past, whether looking forward with worry for a time in which we have no control or looking back with nostalgia to a time we understood. Much of apocalyptic literature, for me, seems to spring from the intersection of this juxtaposition. The apocalypse, and thoughts about the coming future in general, often feel to be the result of our looking back at the past and trying to use it to make sense of the future, but of course, they all stem from our present concerns. The books I read for this theme exemplify these issues.



Whether envisioning a world as the logical result of climate change and economic decline of our current times, or one stricken by an invasion of demons from another dimension, I noticed an interesting current of childhood nostalgia, fantasy, and imagination running through many of these accounts of the end of the world. Games, storytelling, and other themes associated with childhood exemplify the preoccupation with nostalgia mixed with a fear of things not getting better as we get older. In my favorite book from last year, Wolf in White Van, for instance, Sean, the narrator’s, main escape from the horrible, disfiguring accident that put his own life on hold is his creation of the Trace Italian, a table top play by mail game of choice and consequences in a post-apocalyptic future America. Why did Sean choose this imagery and what significance did it have to his own life, changed so drastically and irrevocably? As seen in the course of the novel, these fantasy games had real consequence on the "real" world, too. I thought it was fitting to chose this entry's theme music from among the apocalyptic songs of the Mountain Goats. 




Ryan North’s Adventure Time comics, illustrated in pitch perfect imitation of the show by Shelli Paroline, and so good at a capturing the feel of Pendleton Ward’s seminal cartoon series, also shows a broken, post-nuclear war world as imbued with a childlike magic, wonder, and nostalgia. As the for the everyday adventures of youth under the broken down remnants of contemporary society. Ward has said in interviews his favorite emotion is “feeling simultaneously happy and sad,” a sentiment that fits well with this contradictory look at the future. The second volume, in fact, deals with a post-apocalyptic take on the setting itself, which makes for an interesting recursive take on the characters and themes of the show.  




Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies, another graphic novel, also deal with these same themes, depicting both a post-apocalyptic world inhabited only by children after beings of supernatural evil decimated the world, as well as the “real world” of the present; which is real, and which is imaginary? Dalrymple’s art work here is breathtaking, the amazing and detailed watercolors bring the diverse characters to life and highlight the stark beauty and horror of the dead world of the future. While following the heroes quest motif of the Wrenchies and their quest to put an end to this evil, at great cost to themselves, the story structure is loose and much of the dialog deeply philosophical, making it a bit inaccessible at times.  




MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood’s conclusion to her dark, cutting, and farcical sci-fi trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake, MaddAddam  also deals with the primacy of stories and storytelling, and its relation to the truth, the past, and the future. As an allegory for the current horrors of corporate capitalism it can come across as a little heavy handed, but as the human survivors attempt to come to terms with their horrible pasts and look forward to a new future with the “noble savage” Crackers, who may be primed to repeat humanity’s mistakes or create a more harmonious and beautiful world, and the stories and "myths" related to them by Tobey and her successors may be the key to how they turn out. While my least favorite entry in the trilogy, and it seems like the most old fashioned take on the apocalypse I read this time, there was still a lot to think about.




California, by Edan Lepucki, was perhaps the bleakest and most realistic novel I read. California best captures, I feel, the zeitgeist of today as it’s young, urban protagonists, husband and wife Cal and Frida use their DIY throwback skills (baking, gardening) to scrape out a subsistence in the wilderness after they abandoned their home in the collapsing city of Los Angeles. The cause of the collapse is left vague, but climate change, economic failures, and war all have a hand in it, and they can still remember their childhoods, when hot showers and the internet were still things.  Frida treasures a few “artifacts,” pieces of her former life she keeps hidden (most prominently, a fancy turkey baster) and spends much time going over the events of her childhood, while Cal hopes to start completely anew in this new world. Thoughts of the past and future intermingled among both characters, especially as Frida finds out about her pregnancy and another relic from her past both threaten or promise to save them. How will our relationships survive and evolve in the end of society?




Star’s Reach, by Archdruid and peak oil blogger John Michael Greer, is in interesting account of an America few hundred years in the future, after society has regressed to a far more sustainable level after the environmental degradation of the 20th and 21st centuries. “Meriga,” a loose nationstate ruled by a hereditary female "Presden" has become a neo-feudal culture not unlike most of human cultures throughout history. It is interesting how this fairly “hard” science fiction world follows a quite nostalgic “fantasy” quest style, with the main character becoming a member of the “ruinman” guild to explore the dungeon-like remnants of contemporary society for rare materials and other treasures. I found the setting particularly interesting, with it’s matriarchal nature revering religion and preserved remnants of modern culture, trying to identify the location through the garbled names of the market towns and fortresses, like Sisnaddi (Cincinnati) and Nasul (Nashville). It is interesting how it too follows the theme of how history takes form, how the past is remembered and how we try to present ourselves, though l it is a bit didactic in it’s goals and occasionally comes off as a bit preachy. Still, quite a unique story.




Finally, Bar None by is another world stricken by a supernatural curse, which seems to have killed off most of the population with a terrible plague and transformed some people into strange creatures, though it begins with a small band of survivors hiding out in a Welsh manor, enjoying a rather cozy life before deciding to head out into the world. The past remains a major concern for all of the characters, no less the narrator, who recalls his wife and life before the end, and the delicious beers he enjoyed with her. Each chapter is named after one English brew or another (Old Empire, Summer Lightning, Cornish Rebellion- sounds delicious!), adding to the nostalgic ambiance, and as the narration went on and strange things begin to increase, the devotion to beer remains a solid anchor.

Perhaps I’ll enjoy a beer to think back on the last year, and where am I now, and reflect on where I may be in another year! This time, the mood music piece is "Slow West Vultures," from the Mountain Goat's Album the World About to Come, which seems quite apropos here. 


*Theme music for blog: "Slow West Vultures," The Mountain Goats, We Shall All Be Healed, 2004

Seeking Sequences: The Tick Omnibus collection

The Tick Omnibus Vol. 1: Sunday Through Wednesday - Ben Edlund The Tick Omnibus Vol. 2: Thursday Ad Infinitum - Ben Edlund The Tick: OMNIBUS (The Tick: OMNIBUS, Volume 3) - Ben Edlund, Ben Edlund The Tick Omnibus Vol. 4: The Tick's Giant Circus of the Mighty - Ben Edlund The Tick Omnibus 5 - Ben Edlund

I have a confession to make; I still don’t really like superheroes. Growing up, in spite of being a great fan of Calvin and Hobbes, the Far Side, Raymond Briggs, various comic adaptations of literature, and other comic works, I always felt that there was something ridiculous about the caped crusaders. Because of this, I tended, rather snobbishly, to stay away from the genre on principle, and to be honest have not entirely been able shed this feeling. For a long time, I did not even consider myself a comics fan, in spite of my aforementioned loves. Perhaps, under the influence of Bill Watterson, whose views are expressed here, I never game them a chance, despite how many friends loved the X-men cartoons. I still find myself unable to take the genre seriously, whether they’re playing it straight (as in much of the DC/Marvel universes), or attempting to subvert it along the lines of the Watchmen, and I often find myself losing interest before the end of the origin story.


On the other hand, I have often found parodies of the concepts to be quite engaging, from the movie Mystery Men to Dr. Horrible and Freakazoid, and Ben Edlund’s series, the Tick was one of my favorites. I enjoyed the absurdist, mundane life take in both the cartoon and live action form, and after flipping through a friends original Tick comics back in highschool, I recently picked them up at a book sale to read for the first time in their entirety.


The original tales of the Tick, his tussles with sanity, gravity, humorless superhumans, road trips, and even the occasional supervillain like Chairface Chippendale hold up pretty well, though- he had a bit more of a cartoonish unpredictable menace to him, not unlike classic “Loony Toons.” The Tick of the comic is a bit grittier, a bit more morally grey than the big blue boyscout of the television shows; he is interested mainly in the accoutrement of superheroes; the drama, the gadgets, the penchant to dole out righteous violence with, rather than any betterment of humanity (but then, isn’t that really what it’s all about anyway?). Many of the scenes hear appeared in the cartoon show later, though it is also interesting what was left out, particularly the Tick’s origins in a mental ward, though his mysterious backstory is never expanded upon.


The first volume follows the Tick’s escape from a mental ward, his start as a superhero in the City, his battle against the million zillion ninja, and his meeting of his sidekick/conscious, the moth-suited accountant Arthur. The second expands the Tick’s roster of villains with Chairface Chippendale, and the third follows the Tick’s and Arthur’s trip to New York, where they meet Barry, the “other” Tick. The fourth is merely a roster of all the characters, major and minor, while the fifth includes the Tick’s cameo comics with another of Edlund’s characters who also appeared in the first volume, Paul the Samurai. These held less appeal to me, if only because I had no nostalgic connection to the character.

It was interesting how sharp the Tick’s criticism of the superhero comics of the ‘80s and ‘90s were, now that I know a little bit more about them. From the bizarre nature of the heroes and villains alike, to the deadpan nature of the humor, the deconstruction of the genre is great comedy. As a kid, there was no way I would know who Electra, or even Daredevil, were, let alone the rise of the gritty antiheroes, yet the humor of these takedowns still came through for me; the Tick mocks both the over the top exuberance of early superheroes and the dour “seriousness” of the “Dark Age.” Personally, I’d take Tick’s goodnatured lampooning of the ridiculous nature of superheroes in the “real world” over the overwrought grimness of, say, Rorschach, anyday.