Books I don’t review

Obviously, I limit what I review there are, after all, so many books everywhere, and so many come to my attention from so many different directions: emails, advertisements, my friend’s sister’s daughter, my friend’s sister’s daughter’s friends. The list of books to be read just never ends. Neither does the list of books to review. Sometimes, if I’m overwhelmed and just can’t decide which book to read and review next, I’ll take a peak at my site stats and look to see what my readers have searched for.  I think you’d be surprised by what I find.  I know I am.  In that vein, then, I’m writing this post.

I guess I should start with the fact that I believe you can – at least to some extent – judge a book by its cover.  I would argue that the book cover is an advertisement of sort, inviting you in.  If there is, say, a picture of a young person with blood streaming down her face and the title has the word “vampire” in it you won’t, in all likelihood, find a review for it on this site.

Also, if the book is about a well known Catholic saint and its description includes references – even in fiction – to the fact that said female saint was actually a “Priestess”, I won’t review it. I can tell you from its description on the back cover that its heretical.  Even back in the good ole’ days there weren’t female priests. Such books only serve to blur lines and call into question our faith. Even when the cover is beautiful.

Related to the above. I won’t review books where it turns out: the Catholic church has sanctioned secret societies obfuscating the truth, there is “shocking” new evidence that the catechism is wrong, or that the Bible was written by aliens.  The last part was tongue in cheek, but I’m sure you get my point.

I don’t review “religious” self help books in which we need to “open” ourselves up to the truth. Usually, with very little effort, I have found such books to be written by New Age experts. With just a little bit more effort – generally by taking the time to read the sample available on Amazon – I found that the author throws all religion (Buddhism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Confucianism, Islam, etc.) into the same bowl as if they all contain the same amount of truth. Uh…they don’t.  And anyway, this site is more concerned with reviewing books aimed at the under 18 crowd. I don’t think they are wanting to read these types of books?

Finally, I won’t be reviewing that certain strain of “fairy tale” books that have become popular in the last 10 or 15 years in which the villains of all the old familiar tales turn out to be woefully misunderstood good guys whose good intentions went awry. It’s all bunk and in the end merely serves to confuse real life moral issues.  That is: dragons can’t be tamed only killed, witches are evil, Beauty is eternal. More posts on this in the future, I’m sure.

I don’t think I’m saying anything new here.  This has all been said by much smarter people than I in much more eloquent terms.  But searches on these types of books turn up with such regularity that I find myself needing to explain my decisions. In any case, I’d like to encourage everyone to read the back cover. And then judge it.

Top 10 (or 20) Challenged Books in 2011

A few weeks ago the American Library Association published their list of the top 10 banned books in 2011. Looking at the list, we’ll have to try hard not to remember that people who are good with books aren’t necessarily good with numbers as the list has a lot more than 10 books on it.

But I digress. Here’s the list.

  • ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle (offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group)
  • The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa (nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group)
  • The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins (anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence)
  • My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler (nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group)
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group)
  • Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint)
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit)
  • What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones ( nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit)
  • Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar (drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (offensive language; racism)

To clarify, even though the list is named “Top 10 Banned Books,” the books haven’t, necessarily, been banned. They’ve been challenged. As in, “Hey this book has some pretty mature content to third graders – even if we are in public schools.  I’m wondering if we can move this book to a more mature section of the library?” There were 326 reported challenges last year.

As an aside, do you know how many books have been – officially banned – last year? Better yet, do you know the last time a book was banned in the United States? I’ll give you a hint – its not quite the epidemic you might be expecting.

Ten Free Books for Those Christmas E-Readers, Young Boy Edition

Okay. So we covered the girls. But what about those boys and their e-readers? My suggestions might surprise you!

1) The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I know, this was number one on the list for girls, and I hope you don’t think I’m cheating here when I tell you this is the story of a young miner, Curdie, as he rescues Princess Irene from the evil goblins that live below. If you still aren’t convinced, consider that other literary greats (C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkein, E. Nesbit, and G.K. Chesterton) were inspired by George MacDonald.  And then, there’s always the sequel.

2) The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack by Thornton W. Burgess. There is general familiarity with Burgess’ Bird Book for Children, and his Animal Book for Children. But did you know there is an entire library of short stories concerning the various animals of North America? My son loves these.

3) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Pirates. ‘Nuff said. Except maybe, the reading level is a little advanced. Also, if your child is sensitive to the kind of violence that usually follows a pirate around, then consider yourself warned.

4) The Nonsense Book by Edward Lear. If silliness for silliness sake isn’t for you, then skip this suggestion. Our family is a little less refined than the most, and my own son can be heard – guttural giggles echoing through our small home – and seen with this book in hand. Gutenberg offers the download both with and without pictures. For boys? If space isn’t an issue, then go for the pictures.

5) Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. Yes, its good for boys too. So are Lang’s other compilations:  Red, Orange, Brown, Violet, Yellow, Pink, and more . For the more sensitive readers, you may want to pre-read these stories. They are full of what fairy tales are full of: good and evil in all their beautiful and grotesque forms.

6) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. A good ghost story to really round out the holiday.

7) Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. If your son has ever wondered how the Camel Got His Hump, or How the Rhinocerous Got His Skin, then this book is definitely for you him.

8) Uncle Wiggily’s Adventures by Howard Roger Garis. A peculiarly dressed rabbit gentleman finds inventive and effective means to help children rid themselves of their faults. There are more in the series.

9) A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A young Williams College student, Eustace Bright, retells a handful of Greek Myths to his younger cousins and their friends. The language is advanced, but the retelling are well worth the struggle. At the very least, as a read aloud.  When you are ready, there is a sequel: Tanglewood Tales.

10) Boy Scouts Handbook by Boy Scouts of America. Maybe not quite as durable as its physical counterpart, but still handy to have in its electronic form.

As with the girls, this list is only a start. When you are ready for more, I’d suggest using Gutenberg’s “Related Books” function and continue the search. There is an abundance of really good literature out there to be enjoyed. So much, in fact, that it’s really not worth the time to read the bad stuff. I’ll be back next week with a list for the “teens” on your list.

Ten Free Books for Those Christmas E-Readers, Young Girl Edition

I have it on good authority there will be more than a few Christmas trees this year with e-readers underneath them.  But before you wrap that package in glossy paper and sneak proof it in tape, consider loading a few of your child’s favorite books before Christmas morning. This way they’ll be absorbed on the couch e- reader in hand and not absorbed in the computer glossy eyed at dinner. No worries, this isn’t going to cost you another $100, these book suggestions are free downloads from Gutenberg (of course, you may always donate to their website).

We’ll focus on the girls today. Younger than teen but older than seven or eight. Sound good? Then read on…

1) The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. A wonderful fairy tale about young Princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. Together, the two must defeat the goblins that live below before its too late. Can they do it?  While you’re at it, you can download the sequel, The Princess and Curdie. Not as good, but still worth your your child’s time (you have read these, haven’t you?).

2) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.  This is the first of the series in which young “Anne-with-an-e” first voyages to Prince Edward Island and works her way, not only into the hearts of the Cuthberts, but into ours as well.  Most of the series is in the public domain and available at Gutenberg.  As Anne matures, though, so does the writing and some of the later books in the series may not be quite as interesting to this younger crowd.

3) The Gift of the Magi by O’ Henry. It is Christmas, after all.

4) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Forget what the movies showed you. This is a good little book about an orphan girl, her sullen cousin, their Yorkshire friend and, of course, a secret garden where hope grows.

5) Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. I’m half-way through the list, here, and I could just finish up with Andrew Lang:  Red, Orange, Brown, Violet, Yellow, Pink, and more . I won’t do that, though. For the more sensitive readers, you may want to pre-read these stories. They are full of what fairy tales are full of: good and evil in all their beautiful and grotesque forms.

6) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It’s still Christmas.

7) The French Twins by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Perkins has a an entire series of these “Twins” books. In each of the books a boy and girl twin star in a particular point and culture in history.

8 ) The Railway Children by E. Nesbit. Three children and their mother must move to a house by the rail line and “play at being poor” as their father has been inexplicably removed from their posh London home. While the mother writes stories to support the family, the children find their way into and out of many happy adventures.

9) Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. A young girl is forced to move from her coddled city life with her wealthy aunts to a life in the country with other relatives. A charming story on the value of a person in the life of a child.

10) Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. When an old rag doll is re-introduced into the nursery, she and her new friends manage to find all sorts of adventures.

This is only a start, of course. And if you haven’t read the above titles, I’d suggest you go ahead and give them a try. My “younger than teen” suggestion only applies to,well, teens. The more mature of us will find most of the stories just as endearing – and often just as compelling – as the younger readers do.