Utopia by Thomas More
(Simon and Brown, 2011, 108 pages)
This is a bare-bones edition of Thomas More’s classic work of social criticism and political theory. Originally published in 1516, the book takes the form of a travel narrative. More recounts a fictional encounter with Raphael, a traveler who has been to the island of Utopia. On this island, there is no privately held property, all people are engaged in labor fitting their talents, and they enjoy plenty of leisure time to enjoy and educate themselves. More reflects on this ideal state where “all things are so well governed and with so few laws, where virtue hath its due reward, and yet there is such an equality that every man lives in plenty” (31).
Utopia deals with ideas about government and the nature of the common good, making it especially interesting to read in the midst of an election year. In the conclusion, Raphael condemns those governments who, in contrast to the Utopians, look after the interests of the rich while taking “no care of those of a meaner sort, such as ploughmen, colliers, and smiths, without whom it could not subsist” (104). He cynically concludes that “I can have no other notion of all the other governments that I see or know, than that they are a conspiracy of the rich, who, on pretence of managing the public, only pursue their private ends, and devise all the ways and arts they can find out” (105). In an election cycle where much of the rhetoric centers around the growing divide between rich and poor, raising the minimum wage, and the wealth of the 1%, Utopia sounds surprisingly contemporary.
Every Day by David Levithan
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012, 322 pages)
It seemed like it had been a while since I’d last read a YA book so Every Day rose to the top of my pile. The book has an interesting premise. Every morning A wakes up in a different body. A spends the day in that body, living that person’s life, then goes to bed and wakes up to do the same routine in someone else’s body. A has no control over the gender, sexual preference, or appearance of the body. This is the only life A has ever known and so the only set rule is that the bodies are A’s same age.
One day A wakes up in the body of a boy named Justin. And as Justin he meets Rhiannon and realizes that this is who he wants to spend every day with – A falls for her so quickly that A would do whatever it took to find a way to spend more time with her. There are any number of obstacles in A’s way, but when you find your person, you’ll do what you can to stay with them…
I’m glad I can finally check this off my TBR list! I know it sounds weird, and it is, but it’s worth your time. If you’re looking for a good YA book, this would be a worthy contender.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller; with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley
(DC Comics, 2013, 198 pages)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns had been on my radar fora while because I kept hearing about how great it was. Plus I’ve been meaning to expand my graphic novel repertoire to incorporate more of the classics. What motivated me to finally check this book out from an amazing Geek Week display we had here in the library was hearing one of our reference librarians (shout out to Kelly M!) give a talk about Batman and Superman.
While I’m familiar with the Batman backstory and I’ve seen most of the movies I was a little worried I wouldn’t get all the references within this book. Fortunately, it does work well as a stand-alone title, though there were still times when I felt like I might appreciate the story more if I knew a little more about some of the characters. Batman: The Dark Knight introduces the reader to a Batman who is ten years past his retirement but who still can’t shake his inner demons regarding the death of his parents.
Gotham is overrun with crime and Bruce Wayne finally makes the decision that he can’t fight himself anymore and reintroduces Batman to the world. With the return of Batman comes a new Robin in the form of a 13 year old girl named Carrie. As they work together to try and restore a sense of order to their city, Gothamites take sides on whether they approve of Batman’s return or think he does more harm than good.
I enjoyed this book because I appreciated the form and the story. I thought it was an interesting approach for Miller to really humanize Batman by having him deal with aging and how that impacts what he can do and how he perceives himself in the world. I also forced myself to slow down and appreciate the visual storytelling because it’s easy to just take the graphic element for granted instead of appreciating the time and thought that goes into depicting things in a specific way.
I’m glad I finally got around to reading this. And please feel free to check out Andrew’s review of this title.
Sense and Spirituality: The Arts and Spiritual Formation by James McCullough
(Cascade Books, 2015, 146 pages)
This book is an exploration of the way that the arts can play a part in spiritual formation. McCullough uses diverse examples of modern and contemporary art, including the poetry of T. S. Eliot, the paintings of Makoto Fujimura, and the compositions of James MacMillan. If you’re interested in theology and aesthetics, this is a great book to pick up.
Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field by Julie Thompson Klein
(University of Michigan Press, 2015, 218 pages)
Digital humanities is a field that has emerged as computing technology and digital culture have been brought to bear on various disciplines in the humanities. One of the features most frequently highlighted about the field is its interdisciplinary character. As Klein points out, this is “an inevitable assumption given the marriage of technology and humanities in the name” (5).
However, while digital humanities brings together scholars from different disciplines and skill sets to work on issues that transcend any one discipline, there has been a lack of theoretical reflection on how this dynamic shapes the field. Klein applies “lessons from the literature of interdisciplinarity” (6) in order to help clarify terminology and define the field. In part, she looks to other fields, like American studies and feminist studies, which have established practices, institutions, and professional standards in order to help point the way forward for digital humanities.
One of the major themes of the book is the need for collaboration and openness amongst scholars working in this new-ish interdisciplinary field. Toward this end, Klein’s book is available in its entirety online, complete with annotating and commenting tools meant to “enrich the reading and learning experience of others and to facilitate community peer review” (xiii). Making the book available in this way reinforces the message of collaboration and promotes the open culture that is necessary to the establishment of digital humanities as a defined field of study.
Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert by John Drury
(University of Chicago Press, 2013, 416 pages)
I’ve already reviewed this book once, but it was well worth a second read. I’ve loved George Herbert’s poetry since I first read it in high school. Drury’s book offers close readings of the poems and situates them within the historical context of 17th century England. Combining biography and literary criticism, it works as an introduction for those unfamiliar with Herbert or as a way to gaining a deeper appreciation for his poetry.
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein
(Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016, 288 pages)
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein is the sequel to the award-winning young adult novel, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. In this novel, Mr. Lemoncello has received millions of requests to hold another contest in his Lemoncello Library in Ohio. He decides to make a nationwide search to find 7 teams of 4 middle schoolers each from different regions of the country. These teams will compete in the 12-game library Olympics along with last year’s winning hometown team featuring Kyle Keeley. The pressure is on for Kyle and his team to repeat their success of the previous year. The games generate a lot of fun, excitement, and publicity, but soon bad things start happening. Books go missing and protests are held. Kyle and the others must get to the bottom of this problem.
Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics is just as much fun as Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. There are puzzles and riddles and lessons about banned books. The book encourages the reader to use his/her imagination and to play along with the Olympic contestants. It was not necessary to read the first book to enjoy the second one, but you’ll end up wanting to read both.
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar and Dave Johnson
(DC Comics, 2014, 168 pages)
I was prompted to read this one after hearing it mentioned in a great Geek Week lecture by one of our librarians. There’s a cool motion comic that goes along with it [here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tG0UUdGI01o].
This comic imagines a world where Superman grew up in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. We all know that Superman has a bit of a messiah complex, and in this alternate universe, that impulse turns him into a full-fledged totalitarian dictator. As his control tightens, he is challenged by Batman, who fights the expansion of the state’s power under Superman. Under Superman’s control, the Soviet Union brings order to the world, with the exception of America and its president, Lex Luthor.
The idea behind this comic is really clever. On a visual level, seeing Superman’s red “S” transformed into a hammer and sickle is striking, and it really embodies the tension of placing this all-American hero in a communist state. The artwork and the story are both excellent, and this collection of three comics stands on its own as a story. I enjoyed it as much or more than any superhero comic I’ve read.
Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith
(Mysterious Press, 2013, 256 pages)
Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith has a dramatic beginning. Leo Maxwell and his superstar criminal defense lawyer brother, Teddy, are having lunch in a restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant is crowded, but a lone gunman manages to walk in, shoot Teddy in the head, and leave without being caught. Teddy is in a coma with a small chance for survival. Teddy is not well-liked by the police dept. Leo who is a newly minted lawyer decides that he needs to search for the person who shot his brother. Leo’s suspect list includes Teddy’s ex-wife, Teddy’s secretary, Teddy’s investigator, Teddy and Leo’s father who is in prison for murdering their mother, an ex-girlfriend or two, and some criminal types.
Bear is Broken is the first novel by Lachlan Smith. Smith describes himself as “a lawyer who writes novels.” There are currently 4 novels in the Leo Maxwell Mystery series.
A few reviews mention a comparison between John Grisham and Lachlan Smith. There is some courtroom drama in Bear is Broken, but I consider this book more of a “whodunit”. The plot in this novel does get resolved, but questions linger as to what will happen to certain characters. If you read this book, be prepared to want to read the next one, too.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
(Riverhead Books, 2015, 290 pages)
In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed Jon Ronson investigates people who have been subjected to public shamings and how this affects them and reflects on our society. A lot of shaming today takes place online and it has added a completely different dynamic to things. Ronson highlights a few different high profile cases of public shaming and interviews those who were shamed.
In the midst of things we, as a society, don’t really think about the people who are on the receiving end of public shamings. People like Justine Sacco and Lindsey Stone were subjected to so much hate and ridicule that they effectively shut down and tried as hard as possible to go off the grid. It’s incredibly easy to judge people from afar – we don’t think about how our snappy tweets and Facebook posts actually impact the lives of real people. Ronson calls this out and talks about the logic behind this group mentality that takes over when a shaming is in progress.
Ronson’s approach to this topic is interesting – it’s something I had never really taken the time to think about. This was an entertaining book that reads fairly quickly. If you’re looking for accessible non-fiction with a little humor this would be up your alley.