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The Other Serious

posted by: October 16, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Other Serious by Christy WampolePrinceton professor and essayist Christy Wampole weeps for the millennial generation. In her collection The Other Serious, she discusses America’s cultural reliance on irony to get through work and school days, muses on the rapid rise and fall of hipsterdom as a fashion trend and state of mind, laments the lack of conversation between young and old people in America and pities the overly serious states in which many people conduct their lives. Her essays are a beautifully written series of polite reality checks arranged to highlight how deeply American youth is entrenched in consumer culture.


In “The Great American Irony Binge,” Wampole diagnoses today’s espresso-sipping, Apple-worshipping, tight-jeaned and handlebar-mustached facetious youth with chronic boredom and hopelessness, positing that a lack of any clear life direction and the Sisyphean nature of the U.S. college experience has caused them to chisel broken facades and congregate to strengthen the radiance of their collective “It’s cool, man, everything’s cool” attitude. In “Toward a Sterile Future,” she wonders whether our perpetual quest to streamline every aspect of human life with consumer technology puts us at risk to become complacent. She imagines a future in which there is no such thing as an artisan and people are one more cloud-based service away from becoming the machines on which they rely for daily function. She segues this into an assertion that human interactions feel weird because people are usually enshrouded in the snuggie of online anonymity when conversing. Face-to-face interactions are becoming rarer and rarer, to the point where they are beginning to feel surreal. In “On Awkwardness,” Wampole suggests that simply embracing the weirdness and remembering that we are all individuals with different values and experiences could lead towards a new social enlightenment.


Wampole offers gentle criticism while never disparaging any group or individual, and does so with a style that embraces the beauty of simplicity. Splashes of effervescence and relevant cultural references make her essays incredibly engaging, and her arguments foster creative evaluation in the best way possible. Perhaps the best way to summarize The Other Serious is with this quote from the titular essay: "I want to understand what has forced half the population into an unbearably heavy seriousness and the other half into an unbearably light, confettilike eruption of irony."







The 2015 Fall Literary Awards Update

posted by: October 14, 2015 - 12:00pm



Cover of A Brief History of Seven Killings



Congratulations to Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize last night in London for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican author to win the prestigious award which promotes the finest in fiction and comes with a £50,000 prize. Spanning three decades, the novelist was inspired by the true story of the attempt on the life of reggae star Bob Marley to explore the unsettled world of Jamaican gangs and politics. The Guardian calls the winning novel “an epic, uncompromising novel not for the faint of heart. It brims with shocking gang violence, swearing, graphic sex, drug crime but also, said the judges, a lot of laughs.” 









The National Book Award finalists were announced today. The winners will be announced on November 18th. 



Cover of RefundCover of The Turner House Cover of Fates and Furies Cover of Fortune Smiles  Cover of A Little Life



Cover of Between the World and Me  Cover of Hold Still Cover of If the Oceans Were Ink Cover of Ordinary Light  Cover of The Soul of an Octopus



Cover of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude Cover of How to Be Drawn  Cover of Voyage of Sable Venus Cover of Bright Dead Things  Cover of Elegy for a Broken Machine


Young People's Literature 

Cover of The Thing About Jellyfish  Cover of Bone Gap Cover of Most Dangerous Cover of Challenger Deep Cover of Nimona







Judge This

posted by: October 8, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Judge ThisDo you often judge based on first impressions?


I do and so does Chip Kidd, the designer who has made many recognizable book covers. In his latest book, Judge This, Kidd validates our snap decision making. As with his earlier, all-ages introduction to graphic design, Go, which was previously reviewed, Kidd empowers those of us who aren’t in the industry to think critically about the way information is visually transmitted and received. He points out how necessary it is, in our modern age, to make the information we are constantly transmitting appealing and easy to understand. He presents a simple question for analyzing the success of virtually any design: Is it mysterious or clear? Kidd proves his point by illustrating examples of design from his daily life, critiquing everything from Diet Coke cans to pop-up ads. He also shows his own portfolio of work and explains the thought processes involved in their creation.


This book is one of a growing trend being published based on TED Talks and commencement speeches delivered by their authors. Constrained to an easily accessible, fun-sized format reminiscent of inspirational books like O’s Little Book of Happiness, and sourced from influential experts in their fields, they are philosophical texts for all of us with busy, complicated lives. NPR listeners will be familiar with many of the names coming from other publishers, including Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, Very Good Lives by J K Rowling and We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie.





Failing Bravely

posted by: October 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fail, Fail Again, Fail BetterCover art for Brave EnoughWhether you’re a recent graduate cautiously beginning your post-college existence or someone who has been fumbling through adulthood for years, you will find something to inspire you in these two new books about living a brave and compassionate life. 

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön was originally a commencement address made at Naropa University to the graduating class of 2014 — which included Chödrön’s granddaughter — on the “fine art of failing.” Chödrön, an American-born Buddhist nun, has written extensively about the themes she touches on in her speech, and her message resonates at any stage of life: Prepare for the inevitability of failure, and welcome the unwelcome. This slim volume with its simple brushstroke illustrations also includes an interview with the author where she addresses a variety of real-life situations, including what to do when your failure is so great that it results in another person’s death. 

Memoirist and novelist Cheryl Strayed gives us Brave Enough, a compilation of quotes from her previous books, including Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and her “Dear Sugar” advice column. Rather than recounting anecdotes from 18th century Tibet, Strayed uses metaphors and imagery more grounded in the contemporary experience. “Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar,” she writes. “Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill”. Devoted readers will enjoy revisiting Strayed’s most memorable and favorite bits of advice, but new readers will also find sagacity in her straightforward yet gentle voice.   



Carnegie Medal Longlist Announced

posted by: September 30, 2015 - 11:00am

Carnegie MedalThe longlists for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were announced yesterday, and 20 outstanding titles have made each list. Congratulations to Baltimore’s own Anne Tyler, whose A Spool of Blue Thread made the fiction list, while another Baltimore native, Ta-Nehisi Coates, was selected for the nonfiction list with Between the World and Me. It’s been a very good year for Coates, who is also on the National Book Award longlist and was named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow on Monday.


The Carnegie committee is a joint project between RUSA, a division of the American Library Association, and Booklist. A shortlist will be announced on October 19, and the winners will be announced on January 10, 2016.


Out on the Wire

Fans and producers of graphic novels and comic art will converge in Bethesda this weekend, September 19 and 20, for Small Press Expo 2015. Many storytellers are slated to speak about their art, including three with recently released graphic novels. 


Jessica Abel takes on a challenging topic to visually present in Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. Abel leads readers on an in-depth behind-the-scenes tour of a number of popular National Public Radio shows and podcasts, from the first conception of an idea to the final edit and broadcast. The seeds for Out on the Wire were sown back in the late 1990s, when This American Life host Ira Glass came across Abel’s work and suggested she try drawing “radio comics.” That led to her spending a week with his show’s staff as they were putting together an episode. The result, a pamphlet called Radio: An Illustrated Guide, which is excerpted in the book. Readers will note how much technology has changed since 1999 and appreciate the degree to which Abel’s craft has expanded. Literal representations of radio personalities and their narration give way to more imaginative depictions of stories and ideas. Fans of NPR will pore over the pages of this fascinating, highly detailed graphic novel. It’s highly recommended to anyone interested in the art of producing radio and podcasts.  


Invisible Ink: My Mother's Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist

Bill Griffith, known for his absurdist syndicated comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, makes his first foray into graphic memoir with Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist. His story begins with a letter from his mother’s brother, Uncle Al, who has come into possession of a box of family photos and memorabilia. Soon he’s off to North Carolina to explore his history. Griffith’s childhood in 1950s and ’60s Levittown, New York, was not one to be remembered fondly — his military father and aspiring writer mother had a cold, distant marriage. His father remained a mystery to him, as did the reasons he was physically abusive to both Griffith and his sister. His mother never intervened. But she had her own escape, in the form of a secretarial job in New York City that turned into a 16-year love affair with her boss, Lariar, a prolific writer and cartoonist. Griffith maintains an exquisitely realistic style throughout the exploration of his family history, choosing to depict only himself in cartoony manner, with a long pointy nose and two prominent front teeth. How would his life had been different had he been mentored by Lariar? Did his father know what was going on? Readers will lose themselves in the detailed panels as Griffith shares his discoveries. Fans of David Small’s Stitches and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home will appreciate this emotionally honest and graphic look back at growing up surrounded by secrets in an emotionally distant family.



The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Before it was a critically acclaimed independent film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was a hybrid graphic memoir/novel by artist and writer Phoebe Gloeckner. First published in 2002, Diary has been reissued with new material to coincide with the opening of the movie. Gloeckner’s alter ego Minnie Goetz is a 15-year-old year old coming of age in 1970s San Francisco with a liberal librarian mother and a pesky younger sister. Gloeckner has been both praised and criticized for her raw, honest portrayal of female sexuality, particularly because Minnie’s ongoing partner and object of lust is her mother’s 35 year old boyfriend. As much a celebration as a cautionary tale, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is unlike anything you’ve read before. 


The Game Believes in You

posted by: September 10, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Game Believes in YouJournalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.


The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.


Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.


Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.





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