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Thursday, July 31, 2008

What I'm Reading: July 2008

This month I am going to share a nonfiction, graphic novel, fantasy, and a Newbery award winner.

One of the read alike articles I am working on for NoveList is for the very popular graphic memoirist Marjane Satrapi. In preparation, I was looking for possible readalike titles and the late Miriam Engelberg's Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person caught my eye. Here Engelberg uses simple black and white pen drawings to describe her personal experience with breast cancer. Like Satrapi, Engelberg takes an extremely serious subject and injects humor into it. I especially liked her honesty about how she reacted to her diagnosis. She gives a voice to all of the cancer patients who do not handle it in a "made for TV movie" way. The book does end with a recurrence of her cancer at a Stage IV level. After the publication of this graphic novel, Engelberg passed away.

Readers who liked Satrapi's Persepolis; specifically how Satrapi deals with very serious issues, yet interjects humor and self deprecation, would enjoy Engelberg's book. Another graphic novel option would be Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto. This is another non-traditional cancer patient memoir told in graphic novel form, but here, the author survives her ordeal. If you want to read another graphic novel memoir about illness, you could also try Epileptic by David B. where the author recounts his childhood with a sick brother.

Fantasy author, Terry Pratchett has been working on his Discworld series for over 25 years. The world he has created is too complex for me to reiterate, but click here for a great overview and background.

What I love about these books as a librarian is that they do not have to be read in order, and most certainly, there is no need to read every book to enjoy a few in the series. What I love about these books as a reader is the humor and satire. This month I read The Truth. This installment of the series is both a dig at the changing Millennium (it came out in 2000) and a satire on the role of the press. A rag-tag group of humans and dwarfs start printing The Ankh-Morpork Times. Their pursuit of the truth, ends up uncovering a political conspiracy and puts them all in mortal danger. Along the way we meet a zombie lawyer, werewolf police, a vampire photographer, talking dogs, and a fine art loving hitman. just to name a few of the outrageous characters. In true British humor style, the satire is thick and the jokes are dry, but you will be cheering for the newspaper, its publishers, and the truth for all 350+ pages.

There are many authors who have the same sense of humor, use of satire, and other-world settings as Pratchett. The most popular are Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, Eric Flint, and Tom Holt. Pratchett has also written a book with Neil Gaiman.

On a completely different note, I also read American Creation: Triumphs, Tragedies, at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph Ellis. Here, Revolutionary Era historian Ellis focuses on six situations during the crucial years of the Revolutionary Era and looks at them in isolation from start to finish. What I most enjoyed here was that each situation got a full treatment. For example, the discussion about how Washington and Company dealt with the Native American question had its own chance to be told without forcing it to fit into the larger narrative of the times. This history book reads more like a book of essays or even short stories. Ellis introduces each piece and lets the reader know who the main players will be. I also enjoyed how Ellis is not afraid to point out where these Revolutionary heroes failed.

Overall I enjoyed the book; it also helped that I read it over the Fourth of July holiday. However, I was getting a bit bored of it by the end. Those who are interested in the Revolutionary Era could try other books by Ellis, but I would also suggest David McCullough's John Adams or 1776 as must reads. There is also Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton or Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts . For a fiction option, Howard Fast's April Morning is worth a look.

Finally, I went to see Wall-E with my family recently and there was a preview for The Tale of Despereaux which is based on the Newbery Award winning novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. I decided to read the novel with my daughter this month so that she could go see the movie in the fall and be able to compare and contrast the way the story unfolds on the page vs. the screen. This is a wonderful novel about a mouse, a rat, a young outcast girl, and a Princess named Pea. It is a fairy tale, but be warned it is on the darker side, with child abuse, treachery and murderous rats throughout. We had a great time reading it, especially because the narrator addresses the reader, telling us to ponder certain things, reminding us of key elements from 50 pages back, or telling us to look up words like "perfidy."

This is a children's book with enough depth for an adult to enjoy. Adult novels that capture the themes and mood of The Tale of Despereaux would be The Princess Bride by William Goldman The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.


Anonymous said...


I hope you don’t mind me posting this request directly to your blog, but I am very interested in what you are achieving in your work as a public librarian. My name is Sarah Hammond and I am conducting some research in fulfilment of my MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield. I am interested in how public libraries and librarians feel about the use of so-called social networking websites and software as a tool for the library and its various

I am interested in obtaining the views of as many public librarians who can
spare a few moments to complete this survey but if you do not wish to but think
one of your colleagues might, then please forward it on to them.

Could I ask you to please spare a few minutes to whizz through my survey that can be found here?:

Click Here to take survey

You didn't say if you enjoyed Wall-E or not? I am hoping to see it this weekend, would you recommend it?

Kind regards

Sarah Hammond

Student on the MA in Librarianship programme
Department of Information Studies
University of Sheffield

Becky said...

Sarah, I will do your survey and post my comments to you on your blog, but it may take a few days. Thanks for your interest. And yes, Wall-E was excellent. I see a lot of movies and it was among the best I have seen.