Guest Post! — 7 Quick Books

Hey, I know the world ended on Tuesday and everything, but  they can have my seven quick takes

when they pry them from my cold, dead hands.  By which I mean we never really planned to put the computer in this area, so there is no heat in my workspace.  My hands hurt.  Stupid winter.  I blame Obama.  And Ron Paul, Mark Shea, Jane Fonda, Ashton Kutcher, Burt Bacharach and effing overrated Joan Miro.  I’m sorry, what is that?  Is that a chicken, some tinker toys, and a piece of macaroni?  Wow, that’s nice.  Here’s a million dollars.

Today’s post was written by my fourteen year old daughter, who is just as cranky as I am, but who hides it better.  Hoping to diversify my “50 books” list, I asked her what her favorite book was these days.  She said, “Just a minute!” and dashed upstairs.  A short while later, she came down and casually tossed onto my desk two pages of single-spaced book reviews of her seven favorite books.  This is what she said:

1.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

An excellent alternate history sci-fi novel.  It takes place in Europe during World War I, but a Europe that is divided into two opposing forces:  Clankers, who have steampunk machinery, and Darwinists, who have genetically engineered “beasties” for performing everyday tasks.  There’s also romance, action, snappy dialogue, lovable characters, and amazing ink drawing in every chapter that will keep you turning the pages around the clock.

2.  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Despite being dead for several decades, Tolkien is still the reigning king of fantasy.  If you haven’t read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings yet, then now is the time to start.

3.  Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Even more than his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Dirk Gently and its sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul showcase Adams’ ability to portray the insanity of normal people.  A lot of strange, screwed-up, and/or wicked funny things happen, and in the end it turns out that every one of them is connected.

4.  The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The plot is devilishly complex, and the main character is sympathetic and appealing from the very beginning of the novel.  There are two sequels which I have yet to read, but my cousin says they are actually better.  Inconceivable.

5.  A Dog’s Life:  The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M. Martin

Despite common misconception, Ann M. Martin of Babysitter’s Club infamy is not a bad writer.  When she’s not writing about whiny, babysitting obsessed teenagers, Martin is actually a wonderful writer.  A Dog’s Life is one of the most bittersweet and touching novels I’ve ever read.  Luckily, it has a happy ending.

6.  The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson

Realistic fiction about adolescents with troubled pasts is hardly my cup of tea, but Katherine Patterson is the only person who can make it readable.  Even wonderful.

7.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Kit is a girl from Barbados, and when she moves in with her Puritan relatives, she refuses to act like a decent Puritan girl and behaves as though she is still free as she was on her island home.  Not to sound sappy, but it’s really a timeless novel.

Okay, this is me, Simcha, again.  I have to say that I HAVE NOT READ ALL OF THESE BOOKS.  I know you’re supposed to be all up on what your kids are reading, but dude, I have nine kids.  That Leviathan one and The Thief make me a little  nervous (although not as nervous as I was when I thought she was telling me that she was reading Thomas Hobbes for pleasure.  I thought I had given birth to an alien). But I did realize that, even if my daughter is reading books she’s not supposed to be reading, she would be smart enough not to let me know that she’s reading books she shouldn’t be reading.  So I think this is a pretty safe list.

Happy Friday, and don’t forget to check out the other seven quick takes by people who probably had to actually do the writing themselves, ha-ha!

I was of two minds

Like a tree, in which there are three blackbirds, but one of them is actually just a regular blackbird.

On the one hand, yesterday’s election results want me to take everyone by the shoulders and remind them:  Hey, it’s okay!   We still belong to one family, the family of man.  Life goes on.  Obama is just a guy, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Donna Summer, it’s that there is no guy who can make life not worth living.

But seriously, here is a book which reminds you most gorgeously of the timelessness of human experience, which perdures with dignity no matter which clown is in the oval office:

The Family of Man by Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg

This is the book version of an exhibit which collected over 500 photos from 68 countries, interspersed with illuminating fragments of verse and prose.  I looked through this book maybe twelve thousand times when I was growing up, and I think I remember every single image in it.  I consider this book to be an absolutely essential part of a basic education.  There is no message; it simply shows you what life is like.  It’s completely accessible, not overly arty — but never descends into cliches.  Magnificent.

On the other hand, there is this (WARNING:  uses the f-word):

50 books, Day 2

For today’s book, I was torn between choosing something that would be appropriate for the election, and something that would take your mind off the election.  So I decided to go with both.

I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but seriously, you need to have this book in your house:

It Could Always Be Worse:  A Yiddish Folktale written and illustrated by Margo Zemach

This is the book that my five-year-old says is her favorite.  She reviews it this way:  “There’s feathers in the soup!  And he keeps on coming to the rabbi.  Sometimes he pulls his beard to think!  It was hilarious.”  That’s pretty much it.  A poor man lives in a one-room hut with his wife and six children.  They are so cramped and crowded and quarrelsome, he can’t stand it anymore, and runs to the rabbi for help.  And the rabbi gives him some very strange advice.

An amazingly compact little story, completely satisfying at the end.  It’s lots of fun to read (you know how some books just aren’t?  It’s like the authors have no ear; but Zemach definitely does) and the pictures are a scream.  The kids’ favorite part is when things get so bad that the moon comes in the window.  Warning:  There are some contextually relevant tushies involved.