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Staff Picks: Books

Does the Critic Matter?

What is “criticism”, who are “critics” and what sort of social role should they play in determining taste and value judgments are just a couple of the questions that New York Times journalist A.O. Scott attempts to explore in his charming, new book Better Living Through Criticism: how to think about art, pleasure, beauty and truth. Scott’s interest in the topic is certainly personal given his livelihood is based upon the notion that open societies benefit from a profession that functions to analyze, probe, and lay bare deeper truths about our various forms of expression, communication and creativity. Scott's tone is warm and self-reflexive. He understands and in some cases, sympathizes with the anti-intellectual strain of discourse that mocks his profession as elitist or unnecessary nor does he shy away from discussing criticism's inherent flaws and blind spots but he also makes a strong case for its noble role as an exercise in thinking about important matters connected to a democratic and increasingly culturally, complex society.


Under the Big Black Sun

In 1981, my family flew to Hermosa Beach, California to visit my Aunt Sally and enjoy the California sun. I was a 13 year old Middle School student, had never been outside of the Midwest, and my idea of California was all about Hollywood movies and a 1950’s idea of beach/surfing culture. Walking around the sleepy beach town that first day opened my eyes to the dark menace that was the early 80’s punk rock scene in and around LA, including sleepy Hermosa Beach. That brief glimpse, and the cassettes that I purchased during that trip, changed the trajectory of the remainder of my youth and ultimately influenced my view of the world. Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk provides the real story behind what I glimpsed when I was 13. Told through chapter-length tales from some of the scenesters that survived that dangerous and nihilistic time, Under the Big Black Sun is a vibrant front-row seat into a legendary scene the likes of which we aren’t likely to see again.


ANIMAL MOVEMENT AND PLAY

Julie Paschkis, the author/illustrator of “Flutter & Hum: Animal Poems”, is a painter who has won awards for her artwork accompanying other picture books. Here, her illustrations depict folk art patterns that are both colorful and vivid; the perfect complement to the simple yet reflective poems. The poems appear in English on one page, and in Spanish on the opposite page. Despite her considerable abilities in constructing beautiful verse, she states that she is not a poet per se, nor a native Spanish speaker for that matter.Nonetheless, this slim volume depicts wonderfully all sorts of animals in motion- fluttering, slithering,leaping,stretching and the like.

A beautifully illustrated poetry book that is both fun and playful. Be prepared for young readers wanting to reread this many times over!


somethingtofoodabout

Somethingtofoodabout is a testament to what you can do when you reach the upper echelons of pop cultural cool. By all accounts, Questlove (drummer, producer, musical director, NYT bestselling author and culinary bon vivant) has reached the highest heights of hipness and now is basically tenured in the university of cool and can seemingly do whatever he pleases. Thankfully, Questlove’s celebrity was earned the old-fashioned way, through hard work and talent, as opposed to the "Kardashian" way, and he continuously makes interesting creative choices, including this new book. Instead of creating a celebrity cookbook or turning himself into yet another made-for-tv food impresario, Questlove gives us a book about the creative aspect of high-level cooking, filled with interesting photographs and rich conversations with chefs at the white-hot center of the food world. The book is artistic, unexpected, and casually but totally unapologetically cool. Check it out.

 


Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride

 Summer is the perfect time for light reading, so I have another graphic novel to tell you all about! Lucy Knisley, an artist with a knack for turning her personal experiences into entertaining graphic memoirs, is back with Something New! Literally—that’s the name of the book

 

Knisley has written about the important role of food in her life, and some of her exciting travel adventures, but this time she’s covering her experiences grappling with the beautiful and incredibly stressful task of getting married. This lovely memoir includes many fun components, such as, a section on to buy, or DIY, how she and her husband met, and wedding traditions from around the world. I’d recommend this to book to anyone, whether they’re married, engaged, or single, because honestly, it’s just fun going on this wedding journey with Lucy Knisley.

Looking for more books by Lucy Knisley? Be sure to check out some of her other titles here. 


Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed A Neighborhood

Mira loves to "doodle, draw, color, and paint" so her room is filled with vibrant pictures that she created herself.  Her neighborhood, on the other hand, is dull and gray.  Until the day a muralist moved in.  Together the two of them set off to paint the town.

Based on a true story, this picture book is about the East Village neighborhood in San Diego.  It tells the story of a community that Rafael and Candace Lopez brings together and the creation of the Urban Art Trail.  Lopez (who is also the illustrator of the book) along with community leaders, teachers, artists, and residents worked together to turn their neighborhood into a walkable piece of art.  This picture book is an inspiring story with wonderful illustrations that young children will love.


Lane Smith’s “There Is a Tribe of Kids”

Lane Smith’s picture book titled: There Is a Tribe of Kids is both curious and educational, plus, it’s a reference book. Patrons have traditionally asked librarians questions such as: what do you call a group of this or that, whether it be animals (animal aggregations), or some other group. Familiar animal aggregations are: a school of fish, a flock of geese, pack of dogs, you get the idea. In Smith’s book, a lone child takes us on a journey from animal group to animal group and eventually to a group of children. Lane Smith’s illustrations are truly amazing and full of antics and delightful detail. Lane Smith has written and illustrated many children’s books, and Lane received a Caldecott Honor Award for Grandpa Green. He was named an Eric Carle Artist for “lifelong innovation in the field of children’s picture books” in 2012!

 


These Girls Pack a Punch!

 Do you need more dinosaurs, time travelers, and girl power in your life? If so, I have two fantastic graphic novels for you.  First up, is Paper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn, the writer named by Wired Magazine as " the greatest comic book visionary of the last five years." This suspenseful mystery starts with a slow burn as four paper delivery girls head out to cover their route the morning after Halloween in 1988.  After the girls accidentally set off a strange machine, the story kicks off at break-neck speed, and soon the girls are facing off against dinosaurs, laser-blasting knights, and sub-human creatures that might just be from the future. It’s intense, fast-paced, wicked fun, and the series is only just beginning. 

 

Also, make sure to check out the Lumberjanes series by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes follows five “hardcore lady types” spending the summer at a crazy camp surrounded by bizarre supernatural mysteries. The girls fight werewolves, solve riddles, and avoid the ever-watchful eye of their group counselor in this manic, off-beat, fantastic read. This series has been out for a while, but you can catch up on Hoopla digital.

Both of these series are a great mash-up of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and mystery with fabulous artwork. So what are you waiting for? 


Puppets from some of everything!

 To say that Ashley Bryan has been around for many years is an understatement. After all, he is only 92. His work has been recognized by many and he has been the recipient of many awards. The book Ashley Bryan’spuppets: making something from everything is not only full of amazing, clever and unique puppets but also full of great and thoughtful prose.        

Ashley Bryan grew up in NYC during the depression. He and his sister started salvaging for things they could reuse at a young age. He made his first puppet at age eleven. His puppets are made from tangled fishing nets, weathered bones, sea glass, and driftwood….whatever else he can find. He sees possibilities in all things. His characters and poems include Anansi: the trickster and storyteller, Kwesi: conquering strength (who looks like an elephant) and Animata: good character (made of shells and an upside down champagne glass as a crown).

Jojo: his storyteller says:

               In every finger of my glove I tap tall tales of peace and love

               The fingers of my well-gloved hands store stories told in foreign lands. 

I wish I could share every amazing and unique picture. But that would get me into trouble so I will suggest that you read this or one of his other fantastic books and you’ll see what I mean.


Not All Comic Book Characters Wear Capes

Graphic novels have a reputation for being all about superheroes and explosions, but they can be a really great format to tell more nuanced stories as well. I’d like to shine a spotlight on two evocative, character-focused, slice-of-life stories that really shine in a graphic novel format.

The first is a manga called Solanin by Inio Asano. The story follows Meiko, a recent college grad, and her friends a group of 20-somethings living in the background of a Japanese city. Over the course of the summer they grapple with all of the challenges of new adulthood: starting careers, finding their purpose in life, and how to break it to their parents that they’ve moved in with their boyfriend. Though the characters are Japanese, the themes are universal. Solanin is a novel with fantastic art work, and a story that will stay with me for a long time.

The second graphic novel is called Token by Alisa Kwitney, with illustrations by Joelle Jones. Token is a story about fifteen year old Shira Spektor, living in Miami, Florida in 1987. She lives with her father in an apartment building on South Beach, and spends most of her time with her best friend, a spunky 80-year-old woman who shoots straight from the hip. When her father starts dating his secretary, and the girls at school turn decidedly nasty, Shira turns to shoplifting. Just when she feels that there’s no one she can talk to, she meets a tall handsome stranger. She is falling in love for the first time just as everything else in her life seems to be falling apart. Token is fun, flirty, and timeless.

Both books have a lazy summer vibe perfect for the upcoming warmer months.