thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.

Andy WarholWhen I first heard the title of the book Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder : Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities I was intrigued. I wish I could say it drew me in because I am a cultured art lover. But, no. It was more due to the fact that I have -on multiple occasions- looked around my house and asked, “Is this hoarding?”

It was the perfect book for me at the perfect time. Not only did each self-contained chapter work nicely with my catch-as-catch-can reading schedule, but it also  more than satisfactorily answered this question that had been nagging at me recently.

In this book, author Claudia Kalb examines some of the most interesting personalities throughout history with an angle toward how their unique foibles might be regarded today. For example, according to the prevailing cultural thought on mental and emotional development Albert Einstein would be what we call “on the autism spectrum.”

If the musical genius George Gershwin were growing up today, he likely would have been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin. I can’t help but ask: if that happened, would he still have written a composition as wonderful as Rhapsody in Blue?

Charles Darwin was so wracked with anxiety that I think if he could have known the impact his work would have on science and religion today, he might have reconsidered publishing it. Today’s 24 hour news pundits would have terrified him.

Not so Frank Lloyd Wright. The famous architect had such grand ideas about himself and his work that he was said to be out of touch with reality and often flouted laws of physics (a rather important thing for an architect to consider!) Kalb qualifies him as a candidate for Narcissistic Personality Disorder if there ever was one.

Abraham Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression. If he had access to the same kind of antidepressants that we have today, would he have taken them and if so, would he have been remembered as the same great president?

Marilyn Monroe. Princess Diana. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Christine Jorgensen. Howard Hughes. Betty Ford. All famous and influential in their own time, their own ways and probably lived with conditions defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Commonly referred to as the DSM, it is the go-to reference book used by mental health professionals in identifying and diagnosing mental disorders. First published in 1952, it did not even exist when many of these personalities arrived on the scene.

If you would like to read more about these fascinating people and their interesting ways, check out The book Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder : Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb.

Oh, and in case you are wondering: I decided that I am not a hoarder. I just happen to be in the season of life where I share a household with some enthusiastic young collectors of “treasures.” I suppose I will have to find another excuse if the house is still a disaster when the kids move out!

 

 

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Well folks, it is that time of year again when our favorite shows wrap up for the summer leaving us lost and alone until September. I’ve already started to think about what I’ll be watching while I wait for my besties to come back on. There is always the option to get caught up on the shows I have fallen behind on, or I could even start a new series. But what I really want is a sense of accomplishment this summer. So I am going to do something a little out of the ordinary and make it a Miniseries Summer.

The great thing about a miniseries is that it has an end and you know that going in to it. We all have those horrible memories of the show that was canceled too soon and left us devastated and confused. A miniseries guarantees a great story, thought out plot, and it won’t drag on for years and years or end too early. You also won’t have to hunt around the library catalog to find out where all the seasons are!

Here is my list of of new miniseries I want to watch this summer along with some of the library’s other new miniseries titles.

Science Fiction

Childhood’s EndAliens just don’t ever get old. Hollywood keeps on making stories about what it would be like if aliens landed on planet Earth, and we keep watching them. Childhood’s End  is the story of peaceful aliens that have come to Earth. Yep, you read that right. Usually it is death and destruction or abduction when aliens land, but these aliens are nice. Well…at least we think so. In fact these aliens are so great, they have taken over the planet and turned it into an Utopian society. Decades later the people of Earth start to wonder if everything really is as it seems.

Also available: Ascension; Heroes Reborn

Comedy

Spoils of Babylon: The title alone was enough for me to be interested, and then I saw Toby McGuire on the cover and was pretty much sold. But there is actually a little more to it. This miniseries is in comedy for a reason. It is a spoof on the traditional TV epic miniseries (think Thornbirds as it doesn’t get anymore epic than that). The story is of the Morehouse family who has made a fortune in the oil business. Rags to riches, forbidden love, battlefields, boarding houses, and power are just a few of things in store.

Drama 

The Lizzie Borden ChroniclesIn 1892 a Sunday school teacher was accused of killing her father and stepmother and later acquitted. The made for TV movie Lizzie Borden Took an Axe tells a fictionalized story of the murder and trial. The network decided to keep going with the story and created a miniseries that cover the events that happened after the trial. Sounds interesting, plus the cover is an image of Christina Ricci holding a bloody ax. I know Christina can definitely do creepy, so I can’t wait to check it out.

Mercy Street: American history will get me every time. In this dramatization we are taken to Alexandria, VA in 1862 where the war is just a blink away. Union soldiers have taken over the town and converted a luxury hotel into an army hospital. Nurses from opposing sides are forced to work together in what has become a melting pot for the Civil War.

Also available: Bible Stories: In the Beginning; The Book of Negroes; The Casual Vacancy; Dancing on the Edge; The Great Fire; Texas Rising

 

TheWickedAndDivine_vol1-1Every ninety years, the gods return, merging into chosen young humans. They are loved and they are hated. In two years, they will be dead. What happens in between can inspire the entire world to greatness, or destroy it completely.

The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act* opens in the last moment of the 1923 Recurrence. Only four gods remain and at the count of four, they are gone. Left behind is an old, nearly ancient woman. “Once again, we return” she says, weeping.

The next act opens ninety years later, January 2014 in Britain. Laura, a fan of the Pantheon, as the 12 gods are called, is attending a performance by Amaterasu. After passing out in ecstasy (a normal side effect of attending any of the gods’ performances) she is invited to a private audience by another of the Pantheon, Lucifer (although you can all her Luci). But the audience ends abruptly – sniper fire from a neighboring building smashes the windows, and Luci the obviously target. She survives, but the snipers do not, and Luci is arrested for the murder of the two men.

Laura becomes one of Luci’s most ardent supporters, and, in a world where the gods of the Pantheon are treated as pop stars, she also gains the ultimate position within the fandom, although she learns it is not as glamorous or as safe as she once thought. She loves and envies the gods, but pities their short lives. As her life becomes more and more enveloped within the Pantheon, she meets and forms friendships with the others gods, learns of their personal struggles, politics, philosophy and who they were before they discovered they were reincarnated gods. In the following two volumes, Fandemonium and Commercial Suicide , the tension within the Pantheon and without grows, more gods are discovered and some die. One year into the Recurrence, and all is not well with the Pantheon. It nearly seems that there is a demon among them (though not the obvious one), and we may all be headed to apocalypse.

The Wicked + The Divine is as much a commentary on modern celebrities and fandoms as it is on youthful feelings of immortality and power. The mythology in the series is thick and intriguing**, and the art simple yet striking, all posing the question, what would you trade to be loved by all?


* As in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

** I highly recommending consulting the fan-made wiki The Wiki + The Divine after reading the series. But not before – too many spoilers!

 

PaperGirls_Vol01-1In the early hours of the day after Halloween, four teenage girls set out on their paper routes. “Hell Day,” they call it, as erstwhile teenage trick-or-treaters (emphasis on “trick”) still roam the streets and most do not welcome girl paper carriers, especially the very first paper girls. But what they encounter that morning is something much worse, much more deadly, than teenage bullies.

Set in 1988, Paper Girls follows Erin as she is saved from bullies by the very first “paper girl” Mac – a tough-talking cigarette-smoking 12 year old – and her paper carrying friends KJ and Tiffany.  They pair off for safety, but soon Tiffany and KJ are confronted by three boys in strange costumes who steal Tiffany’s walkie-talkie. The four resolve to find the boys responsible, ultimately following them to the basement of an unoccupied house. But instead of Tiff’s walkie-talkie, they find an incredibly strange, almost alien, capsule. It suddenly activates, the girls run outside, and see the three men who robbed Tiff. Confronting them, the girls discover that they are not in fact teenage boys, at least not as 1988 America would call them.

As the girls try to make sense of what has happened, the find that they world has abruptly and radically changed. The sky is pink, lightning flashes and what appear to be pterodactyls fly across the sky. Most people have disappeared, and communication technology no long works. Confronted by the radically unknown, the girls do what they do best – stick together, protect each other and never, ever back down.

Brian K. Vaughn (Saga, Y: The Last Man) creates yet another fantastic mystery in Paper Girls, capturing the defiance, fearlessness and loyal friendships of young teens as they face what may very be the end of the world.

letter 44 vol3Series books of any kind are one of my favorite things to read. I get hooked into the characters’ lives and find myself wondering just what is going to happen to them in the next volume. This is what was happening to me as I sat waiting for Letter 44, Volume 3: Dark Matter to be released for me to read. (I have previously read and reviewed the first two volumes, so check out the reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2!)

Letter 44, Volume 3: Dark Matter continues investigating into the lives of the astronauts on the Clarke and the people on Earth. At the end of the previous volume, President Blades released the knowledge of the presence of alien life in space to the people of Earth despite being warned of the disastrous consequences this could have for everyone involved. After the release of this information, world war broke out. Countries are battling for control of the planet, most notably a coalition of nations led by the United States and a secret second group that is being controlled by former President Francis Carroll and the barrage of secret weapons he had developed during his term as President.

While this battle for control of the Earth rages on, the crew of the Clarke has been captured and is being held somewhat captive by the aliens that they discovered in space. The only way for them to try to escape is to cooperate fully with their captors, much to the chagrin of some crew members. Left with a ship that has been partially destroyed and having no way to communicate with people back on Earth, they are left to rely on the small tidbits of information they can gather from the aliens. Gaining access to information through somewhat back channels and limited access to the aliens’ own communication devices, the crew learns that a massive threat is heading straight towards Earth, a danger that no one on earth knows about. Communications become a dire need and the crew of the Clarke is forced to use any means necessary to find ways to contact Earth. Massive world war, corrupt politicians, alien life, asteroids heading toward Earth, assassination attempts, and crazy high-tech weaponry make this an incredibly fast-paced read, action-packed, compelling, and gripping. I could not put this book down and am immensely looking forward to the next volume!

midas flesh The Midas Flesh: Volume One is an entertaining journey into the future, where a space crew finds themselves within the orbit of a gold gilded Earth. Flashback to how this whole shindig got started. Do you know the story of King Midas? The Midas Touch? That’s basically the gist of this book with some high-tech space flight and dinosaurs in space suits involved.

In The Midas Flesh: Volume One, one night King Midas got drunk and decided that if he had only one wish, it would be to have everything that he touched turn to gold. Low and behold a thunderbolt slashes out of the heavens and his wish is granted. Flash forward quite a bit and the entire planet Midas was inhabiting has turned to gold, BUT the kicker is that it does not show up on ANY of the space maps nor is it in any of the galaxy records. The Federation has covered up the entire existence of this planet and to prevent others from stealing anything from said planet, they have effectively covered its entire close orbit with satellites, ships, weaponry, etc. to alert them if someone stumbles and finds this place.

Somehow  Joey and her space crew, Fatima and Cooper, have managed to find this planet and are desperately trying to figure out why everything on it is made of gold. They are struggling to do so before the Federation realzies they have found the planet and before a bounty can be placed on their heads for being able to take something off the surface of the planet. Joey’s ultimate goal is to be able to harvest the weapon on this gold planet and somehow reconfigure it to be used against the evil Federation, the group who is tracking them down and the same group who was taking over planets and destroying whole civilizations. This first volume gives readers a good introduction into the Midas legend and also to the forces the crewmembers find themselves up against. If you’re not a fan of graphic novels, and even if you are, I recommend this book as there are few flash backs, the artwork is not overwhelming, and the overall story reads like a linear piece of fiction, but the graphic novel as a whole is still widely appealing. Check it out.

online colorWelcome to the May edition of our Online Reading Challenge! This month we’re going to explore Graphic Novels!

Now, I have to admit. I hate Graphic Novels. There, I said it. I just don’t “get” them. I find the illustrations annoying – in my experience, they get in the way of the story and are often unattractive, chaotic and full of unnecessary clutter. I have also found many of the stories to be uninteresting to me – juvenile and cartoonish and deliberately offensive, plus the predominance of superheroes has not been a draw for me. Obviously, this month is really going to push me out of my comfort zone!

[Note: Is this a generational issue? I’m willing to admit that I’m no spring chicken and I didn’t grow up reading graphic novels. Do other middle aged adults feel the same way? Or is it just me?! What do you think?]

Obviously, I’m not the right person to recommend Graphic Novel titles. Fortunately, we have Graphic Novel experts (and fans) on staff. First up is Allison, who has some great advice getting started as well as a list of titles to try.

My advice for people just starting is to start with a character they like. So, if they’ve liked the Avengers movies, start with that (where to start is another answer). You don’t have to start at the start – comic books are infamous for reboots, ret-cons and general timeline goofiness. And it’s a very novel time for superhero shows with “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Agents of SHIELD,” etc.

And It’s not just about following the character, it’s also about following a particular author/artist. I personally follow Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Saga) Matt Fraction (“Hawkeye” Marvel Now!) G. Willow Wilson (“Ms. Marvel” Marvel Now!)

The same goes for non-superhero comics. Like “The Walking Dead?” It’s a comic! “Doctor Who”? Heck yes! It’s not always *the* best, but it can be a start. One caveat is that if you like the show “Lucifer”, the comic book it very lightly based on is waaaaayyyyy different. It’s also good, just waaaayyy different.

Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of my recommendations. The juvenile & YA titles can be enjoyed by all ages. Some of the adult titles are TV-MA. I’ll note them in the lists. I would recommend all of those that I listed.

Juvenile/YA

  • Drama” & “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier. Growing up is hard to do.
  • Nimona” & “Lumberjanes” by Noelle Stevenson (seriously, you should try “Nimona,” it’s the BEST) . “Lumberjanes” is ongoing. “Nimona” is a fantasy-esque story, and “Lumberjanes” begins as a best friends at camp story.
  •  “Amulet” by Kazu Kibuishi. Action adventure, finding-your-destiny story. Beautifully drawn. Ongoing
  •  “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” by Ryan North (also an author to follow). Ongoing Marvel characters, lighthearted.

 Adult

  • Ms. Marvel” by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Marvel Now!. A great title for teens, diverse cast, coming of age, etc. Series has ended
  • Strong Female Protagonist” by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag. What happens when the masks come off? 
  • Rat Queens” by Kurtis Wiebe. Untraditional Dungeons and Dragons adventuring & sisterhood. Violence, sex, nudity. Series is on-going. I wrote a review of it: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/rat-queens-vols-1-2/
  • Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples. This comic had been widely acclaimed – a young family from opposing sides of an intergalactic war try to find safety and raise their daughter. There is violence, sex and nudity. Excellent title for adults. Series ongoing.
  • Sandman” by Neil Gaiman & Craig P. Russell. A member of the “comics cannon”. Excellent fantasy series.
  • Y: The Last Man” by Brian K. Vaughan & Pia Guerra. Another cannon comic, excellent end of the world story. Violence, sex and nudity.
  • Unwritten” by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. Really excellent story. Very literary / Harry Potter-esque. 
  • The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen & Jaime McKelvie. “Every ninety years, twelve gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead. It’s happening now. It’s happening again.” Really great concept, steeped in mythology. Also violent with sex & nudity.
  • Letter 44” by Charles Soule. Obama vs. aliens, basically. Very cool first-contact story, and political satire that can be a little too spot-on. Three volumes so far.
  • The Fuse” by Antony Johnston & Justin Greenwood. Scandinavian noir mysteries, in space! Two volumes so far.

Biographical/Literary

  • Here” by Richard McGuire. Very cool concept, was written up in the NYT Book Review. My review here: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/here-by-richard-mcguire/
  • Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi. Autobiography of a girl growing up in and out of Iran. Farmer’s Market, definitely.
  • Fun Home” & “Are You My Mother?” by Alison Bechdel. Coming of age as a gay woman, plus family dysfuction. “Fun Home” was made into a musical and won several Tonys. Sex & nudity.
  • Boxers & Saints” by Gene Luen Yang. A two-book series, one following a rural Chinese boy in the midst of the Boxer rebellion and the other following an unwanted daughter who finds acceptance with Christian missionaries as the rebellion unfolds.

Next up is Stephanie who not only willingly reads Graphic Novels, she also orders them for the library. Here’s her list.

Here’s a list of non-superhero graphic novels. Think of it as a list of graphic novels for people who think they won’t like graphic novels or for those who think all graphic novels are superheroes and spandex.

 Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley (anything by Lucy Knisley is fantastic)

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker

March: Book One by John Lewis

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (this one is wordless and the art is amazing!)

Laika by Nick Abadzis

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki (this one is young adult, but it’s still good)

Blankets by Craig Thompson (this one gets a lot of love by reviewers, but it’s almost 600 pages long)

Habibi by Craig Thompson

The Sculptor by Scorr McCloud

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (young adult)

Boxers & Saints by Gene Yuen Lang (also young adult)

Whew! Lots to choose from! And there’s lots more to come – in a couple weeks I’ll list more of the titles that Allison and Stephanie gave me. In the meantime I’m going to read Nimona by Noelle Stevenson and Relish by Lucy Knisley, both of which have been enthusiastically recommended to me. Wish me luck!

What about you – what will you be reading this month?

adulthood is a mythSarah Anderson has long been one of my favorite webcomic artists to follow, so when I found out she was putting out a graphic novel called Adulthood is a Myth: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection, I knew this would be something I needed to read. You may not be 100% familiar with Sarah’s Scribbles, but I bet you have probably been shown some of her comics online, whether it be through Facebook, Twitter, a Buzzfeed post, or even on the news. Her black-and-white sketches have become a sort of rallying cry for young adults, as Andersen is able to take everyday situations that can conjure up anxiety, awkwardness, and dread in current adult life and add a completely honest, yet funny, take on them.

Sarah’s Scribbles covers everything from body hair, talking to guys, being a giant introvert, how your body looks, relationships, being self-conscious, and SO MUCH MORE. I constantly found comics that I related to all throughout this book and also on her website where she posts current comics every few days. She has this way of drawing and communicating her comics that immediately make them incredibly relatable, endearing, and immensely hilarious all at the same time. Andersen covers current topics in her comics, while also being sure to cover scenes of everyday life that we all know too well: the frustration of the wifi going down even when it’s a perfectly nice day out and we could go outside or even read a book TO the sheer bliss of being able to tell your past self that things will get better TO the immense stress we all sometimes feel and yet keep covered from everyone in our lives. This graphic novel is relatable for people of all ages and I encourage you to read it for yourself.

all-new captain americaCaptain America is a widely loved and widely known superhero, one who fights for good against evil while decked out in red, white, and blue. The origin story of Captain America is fairly well-known following Steve Rogers’ journey to ultimate patriotic superhero. Movies both starring Cap as the major protagonist and also as a supporting character backing up the Avengers helped bring up his popularity.

What happens when Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, becomes too old to fight? All-New Captain America, Volume 1: Hydra Ascendant follows the story of Sam Wilson, formerly known as Falcon, as he assumes his new role as Captain America. Sam is selected for this role after the original Captain America Steve Rogers is robbed of his strength and vitality, leaving Steve to pick from a pool of viable candidates to find the next Captain America. Sam is chosen. He must learn to hone the skills that he developed as Falcon in order to become the best Captain America he can be, one that has the power to stand up and fight without being weighed down by emotions, revenge, or vendettas.

Cap finds a sidekick in his friend, Nomad. They work together to combat Hydra, only to discover that Hydra has infiltrated every aspect of society around the world. Nomad and Cap must rush to figure out Hydra’s ultimate plan, battle the Sect of the Unknown, and try to combat old villains as Steve Rogers’ band of villainous enemies start coming out of the woodwork to take down the new Cap and join Hydra. Sam and Nomad battle against the new generation members of Hydra, working out their battle techniques and trying to figure out what massive world-dominating plot this far-reaching network of super villains has in store. Once they figure it out, will they be able to stop or will this new band of fighting heroes be relegated to the sidelines as the public clamors for its original superheroes to come back and save the day? This new graphic novel definitely caught my interest and has me wanting to learn more about this new Captain America and his comrades.