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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Graphic Novel Version of the Odyssey!

     Hinds, Gareth (2010) The Odyssey  Somerville, MA: Candlewick

      A few years ago, Marvel comics came out with a graphic novel version of the Iliad.  Then there was the graphic novel 300 about the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae.  And I remember thinking when I first saw them how it made perfect sense for a comic version of these ancient Greek stories because they read like comic books anyway, with the gods and demigods as superheroes.  In each of those cases I found though, that it didn't quite work.  The Odyssey and the Iliad are not really comic book stories -- the fit isn't as perfect as I thought.
     Then along came George O'Connor.  His Olympians series showed that the stories of the Greek Gods could be done and done well.  (If you haven't read them yet, do so).
     I was so excited about O'Connor's work that I missed Gareth Hind's graphic novel version of the Odyssey that came out in 2010.  It is brilliant.  His artistic style is very different from O'Connor's stuff -- O'Connor is more confident and more vibrant -- Hinds seems muted and cautious by comparison -- but frankly, I don't care -- because Hinds nails The Odyssey perfectly.  I'll include some images below.  You can see what I mean.
     But here is why I am excited -- this is The Odyssey.  He captures it.  First of all, he tells the story in the right order.  His images help us picture the action, but for the first several pages, the text still carries the bulk of the meaning.  By the end of the first chapter or so, you will be hooked.  The blinding of the Cyclops, the sirens, the book of the dead, and best of all, Odysseus gets his revenge on those freeloading suitors.  This is the kind of a graphic novels that will pique studnets' interest in reading the original.
     I guess what I am trying to say is that I really liked it.  Get hold of it and read it. 






Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A List of 7 Graphic Novels Well Suited for Teaching Science

Science

Doxiadis, Apostolos; Papadimitriou, Christos H.; Papadatos, Alegos; DiDonna, Annie (2009)  Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth.  New York: Bloomsbury. 
     This is an excellent story about the life of Bertrand Russell and his attempt to discover truth through mathematics, philosophy and physics.  Good explanations of geometry, paradox, infinity, and the difference between computation and higher math – with a fair amount of secrecy, scandal, madness and mystery mixed in.  This is a real story that math and science are a part of -- not endless exposition disguised as a story.  This one would be good for high school, especially physics classes.






 
Hosler, J. (2000). Clan Apis. Columbus, OH, Active Synapse.
This is a story of the life cycle of two bees.  Perhaps that doesn't sound completely fascinating, but it is.  Jay Hostler knows the world of bees well, and tells it in a way that is fascinating.  Good stuff. Sixth grade and up could make sense of this. 






Hosler, J. (2003). The Sandwalk Adventures. Columbus, OH, Active Synapse.
Excellent discussion of evolutionary theory -- featuring two mites that live in a hair follicle of Darwin's beard.  It's only problem is at times it seems to be ridiculing subjective belief and non-scientific knowledge.  Probably high school would be best for this one.






 
Ottaviani, J., Z. Cannon, et al. (2004). Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and ThunderLlizards: A Tale of Edward Drinker Cope, Othneil Charles Marsh and the Gilded Age of Paleontology. Ann Arbor, G.T. Labs.
      It turns out that the first paleontologists led a pretty exciting life, involving stealing skeletons from each other, deliberately deceiving their rivals, and sometimes living a life that had more in common with Indiana Jones than a contemporary paleontologist.  Good for high school and smart middle school students.





 
Ottaviani, J., J. Johnson, et al. (2001). Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb. Ann Arbor, G.T. Labs (Publishing). 
      The story of how mathematicians and physicists got together and built the most powerful weapon ever known is endlessly fascinating.  This book looks at the life of Oppenheimer, who tried to direct and corral the scientists and military advisers and somehow managed to move the project forward in spite of personality conflicts and conflicting ideologies.  I already knew much of this story, but not the latter part of the book, which concerns Oppenheimer's trial under McCarthyism and his subsequent loss of a post with the Atomic Energy Commission because he had been part of a group with communist connections when he was a young student. A lot of good stuff in here about how scientists and the government interact.  Good for high school. 




 
Ottaviani, J. and L. Purvis (2004). Suspended in language: Niels Bohr's life, discoveries, and the century he shaped. Ann Arbor, GT Labs.
     Holy cow!  This is the best science GN I have yet encountered.  Perfect for a high school physics class.  Explains scientific theories and how they came to be in the context of Bohr's life.  This GN totally rocks!



Ottoviani, J. (1998). Dignifying Science: Stories about Women Scientists. Ann Arbor, MI, G.T. Labs.
     Excellent -- biography and explanation of the significance of the contributions of women to science.  This book has a variety of artists and styles.  Women covered include Hedy Lamarr, Lise Mietner, Rosalind Franklin, Barbara McClintlock, Birute Galdikas, and others.

A Novel Without Much Hope. Sigh.

     Last year, during Spring Break, I was in the amazing Minnesota bookstore The Wild Rumpus (Minneapolis St. Paul area -- and well worth a visit) and one of the books I picked up was Mal Peet's novel Life, An Exploded Diagram.  I had read some pretty great recommendations of it, I liked the title, and the cover looked really cool (schematic drawings of missiles).  So I bought it and brought it home where it sat in my book pile for almost a year (more important stuff kept getting ahead of it.  Last week I finally read it. 
     It looked so promising.  The book weaves together the story of Frankie and Clem, two adolescents growing up in semi-rural England and the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis that is going on at the same time their romance is blooming.  Clem is working class, while Frankie is the daughter of the community's richest member.  The premise sounded really interesting to me. 
    But it is really the story of desperation.  I won't give away the whole plot, but will say that just wehn things are looking good for Frankie and Clem (and pretty desperate for the world based on the situation in Cuba), Frankie and Clem's world blows up in their faces and the Russians back down and the world is not destroyed.  And yet, strangely, the book leaves us with little hope for the future.  Frankie and Clem's lives move from desperate and passionate to disillusioned and pointless.  And though nuclear disaster is averted, there is no reason to suspect that it might not happen sometime in the future.
     And you might say in response that you think books should be about life.  They should accurately depict life on this planet -- and sometimes that life is neither pleasant nor hopeful.  I hear you, but I would also say that, at least in my experience, life is equal parts tragedy, brokenness, and sorrow on the one hand, and unlooked more moments of grace and absolutely unlooked for joy on the other.  If you take away either the brokenness of this world in all of its horrifying pain or the hope and grace that surprises us in the form of a blue sky spring day after months of gray, or a child's pure laughter some distance away just when you feel like crying, or a moment of anonymous kindness when you desperately need it -- well then was you have is not truth, but only a half of the real picture. 
     To be fair, the book is written well, and interesting, and kept me turning pages, but many books do that.  It had beautifully described moments too, and characters I cared about.  But it wasn't enough to overcome its own hopelessness.

 

     Finally, although I will stand up for excellent books when they are challenged or censored for elements that are necessary to grasp the brokenness and the beauty of this world, I also believe that some books aren't worth the battle.  This one seems to sprinkle in drug use, illicit sex, vulgarities, and gay characters not to say anything about any of these elements, but to gain the equivalent of an R rating -- and perhaps some kind of street cred from jaded teenagers.
      I wanted to like this book, but it has no reconciliation, little hope, and in the end can only promise that the randomness of life may treat you better than it did these characters.  . 
     

Friday, March 15, 2013

New Graphic Novel about Helen Keller

     Lambert, Joseph.  (2012) Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller.  White River Junction VT: The Center for Cartoon Studies. 



     Four reasons why you should pick up this graphic novel:

1.  It tells the whole story.  The classic movie, The Miracle Worker tells the story of the saintly patient Annie Sullivan and how she helped the spoiled and wild, deaf and blind Helen Keller to learn to communicate with and understand the world.  It doesn't however, tell the rest of the story -- about the neglect and poverty of Annie's early life, about the fame that followed Annie's work with Helen, about how that fame made life difficult for both of them and about the bizarre and unresolved accusations of plagiarism.  It is a fascinating story.



2:  The story of a deaf and blind girl is remarkably well suited to the graphic novel format.  Lambert uses drawings to allow the reader to imagine the world from Helen's perspective.  The love of her mother appears as disembodied arms in a field of blackness.  When Helen begins to learn sign language, more and more of the picture starts to fill in with words standing for objects.  It is remarkable.

 

3.  The story is told in such a way that it provokes powerful emotions.  We feel Annie's frustration, but also her achievements, and we can understand  more fully why Helen is such a brat.  The text and images not only bring us inside the characters' heads through the different point of views conveyed through the text, but the images allows us to get inside the characters' hearts at times too.



Although this book does not have quite the same emotional climax of the movie (the water pumping scene), we feel the joy of discovering language even more powerfully here, over several panels and pages.

Check it out.  It is a good book.




Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hey look! A huge list of history-related graphic novels!

Last night I had the privilege of speaking to a group of Masters students at North Eastern Illinois University.  They gave me the idea that I ought to post some of my annotated graphic novel lists here.  The list that follows is all graphic novels that could be helpful in teaching history.  They are in alphabetical order by author.  There may be a few typos.   My deepest apologies. 


Amir; Khalil (2011) Zahra’s Paradise.  New York:  First Second.  Excellent piece about repression and execution of political dissidents in Iran.  It is a surprisingly moving piece (especially the pages of names in the back).  Unfortunately, there is some nudity and extreme violence which means that any attempt to use this piece in class will result in challenges.  Great book all the same.

Ho Che Anderson (1993) King  1 and 2, Fantagraphics.  Anderson presents a balanced biography of King.  Art is black and white.  Emphasizes King's womanizing, though.
Baker, Kyle (2008)  Nat Turner  New York: Harry N.Abrams.  Sequential panels of narrative, but images and text are separate.  Adds emotional depth to the pretty flat text of Turner’s confession. It makes Turner's period prose accessible.   

Bellstorf, Arne (2012) Baby’s in Black:  Astrid Kirschherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles.  New York:  First Second.
Early days of the Beatles.  Concerns the romance between bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and photographer Astrid Kirchherr. 

Brown, C. (1999). Louis Riel:  A Comic Strip Biography. Montreal, Drawn and Quarterly.
Excellent biography of Louis Reil -- a 19th century Metis leader who fought with his people against the Canadian government's attempt to take their land.  He may have been insane.

Buhle, Paul; Pekar, H.; Piskor, Ed.  (2009) The Beats: A Graphic History.  London:  Souvenir Press.  Nice set of parallel biographies.  Some language, drug, and situational issues described.

Colbert, C.C.; Tanitoc (2010) Booth.  New York:  First Second. 
Interesting biography of John Wilkes Booth.  Some very brief nudity.  Some adult situations alluded to.  I think it could work for high school, though.  

Crowley, Michael; Goldman, Dan.  (2009)  08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.  Excellent diary of the 08 campaign – narrators are two reporters who are following the candidates.


Delisle, G. (2003). PyongYang: A Journey in North Korea. Montreal, Drawn and Quarterly.
A good introduction to daily life in North Korea.  Not very sympathetic to Kim Il Jung's government.
           
DeLisle, G. (2008). Burma Chronicles. Montreal, Drawn and Quarterly.
Excellent story of the ex pat life in Burma.  Guy's wife works for Doctors Without Borders.  Story is somewhat episodic without a clear thematic throughline -- but still fun.

El Rassi, Toufic (2007) Arab in America  San Francisco; Last Gasp
Not really history exactly, but it is a first person response to 9-11 from an Arab-American and it shows what he went through.  Art is pretty amateur. 

Fein, E. and K. Hartman (2009). Mystery at Manzanar" A WWII Internment Camp Story. Mankato, Stone Arch.  Good stuff -- leveled, though.  Also clearly fictionalized.  Maybe 4th or 5th grade.

Guibert, E. (2008). Alan's War:  The memories of G.I. Alan Cope. New York, First Second.
Primary source:  Excellent historical novel tracking one man's life as a US Soldier fighting in Europe during World War Two.  He ends up moving to Europe.  Themes:  The transient nature of friendships forged during wartime.

Hee, Han Yong (2006)  Chinggis Khaan:  Birth of the hero  Ulaanbaatar: Interpress.  Excellent illustrated biography of Ghengis Khan.  Text is wooden and oddly translated.  Not much room for sourcing.

Hennessey, Jonathan; McConnell, Aaron (2008) The United States Constitution:  A Graphic Adaptation
At some point, Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, creators of The United States Constitution:  A Graphic Adaptation (2008) must have realized that what they were attempting was, at best, insane.  The text alternates between the text of the Constitution, the words of the founding fathers taken from other sources, a contemporary voice explaining what the different articles mean, and dialogue between people affected by the constitution in today's world.  The artwork combines historical scenes with symbolic representations (the three branches of government -- executive, legislative, and judicial, are represented by giants in suits with their respective buildings -- white house, capital dome, and supreme court building -- as heads. The states are represented by their state birds, with the bald eagle representing the interests of the  federal government.) 
      
Heuvel, Eric (2007)  A Family Secret.  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 
Fictionalized story of the resistance in Holland during WWII.  Kinda didactic. 

 

Heuvel, Eric; vanderRol, Ruud; Schippers, Lies (2007)  The Search.  New York:  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Fictionalized story of the resistance in Holland during WWII.  Kinda didactic. 

Hoppey, T. and R. Espinoza (2009). Jungle Scout:  A Vietnam War Story. Mankato, MN, Stone Arch.
Not a bad story – but the controlled vocabulary is sometimes noticeable and the glossary is flawed.

Hunt, Gerry (2009) Blood Upon the Rose: Easter 1916.  Dublin: The O’Brien Press 
Excellent, though it presupposes a familiarity with the events depicted.

Jablonski, Carla; Puvis, Leland. (2010)  Resistance: Book 1.  New York: First Second.  Excellent fictional account of a French boy and his sister who get drawn into working for the resistance against the Nazis.  My only complaint is the the story really doesn’t reach much of a resolution – more of a pause and a set up for the next book.  Well worth reading.

Jacobson, S. and E. Colon (2006). The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. New York, Hill and Wang.

Jacobson, S. and E Colon (2008)  After 9/11: America’s War on Terror.  New York: Hill and Wang.  Not nearly as good as the 9/11 report.  This one consists of disconnected panels summarizing news stories.  Mostly talking heads with a bizarre variety of styles from realistic to caricature. 

Johnson, Matt; Pleece, Warren  (2008)  Incognegro, New York: DC
Fictional story of a black reporter who can pass for white and uses this to pose as a KKK guy and attends lynchings to cover them – gets names and stuff.  He has decided to retire, too many close calls, then he finds out that his brother has been arrested in the South.  He goes down there to try to solve the crime.

 

Kendall, David (2007) The Mammoth Book of Best War Comics.  New York:  Carroll and Graf
This anthology covers rah rah war comics from WWII, protest commix from the Viet Nam era, and a manga style Japanese response to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Kubert, J. (1996). Fax from Sarajevo. Milwaukie, OR, Dark Horse.
Touching story about Ervin's efforts to get his family out of Sarajevo.  Kubert wrote, illustrated, and lettered.

Laird, R. and E. Bey (1997). Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans. New York, Norton.
Excellent -- good historical research well presented.  Fantastic for High School

Landowne, Youme; Horton, Anthony.  (2008?) Pitch Black.  New York?: Cinco Puntos Press.  Interesting exploration of the life of the homeless above and below ground in New York City.  Good for high school sociology maybe?

Long, Mark; Demonakos, Jim; Powell, Nate.  (2012) The Silence of our Friends: The Civil rights struggle was never black and white.  New York:  First Second.      Excellent story about the civil rights struggle in Texas as seen through the eyes of the son of a white reporter.  Vulgar language may be problematic for use in classroom.  High school kids would enjoy reading it though. 

Lutes, J. and N. Bertozzi (2007). Houdini: The Handcuff King. New York, Hyperion.
Excellent -- it is a single day of Houdini's life, but manages to get across as much as a biography.  Very well done.


Miller, Frank; Varley, Lynn (1998) 300 Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse.  Gory depiction of the Spartan’s stand at Themopolae.  Captures the Spartan war ethic effectively.  Accurate illustrations.

Ottaviani, J., J. Johnson, et al. (2001). Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb. Ann Arbor, G.T. Labs (Publishing)  Excellent story of Oppenheimer's role in inventing and building the atomic bomb, and how he was attacked later in is career under suspicion of being a communist.
           
Pekar, H. and D. Collier (2005). Unsung Hero: The Story of Robert McNeill. Milwaukie OR, Dark Horse.
First person account of an African-American soldier in Viet Nam -- good for history class.  Language is not really that bad.

Rall, T. (2002). To Afganistan and Back. New York, Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing Inc.  Kind of a graphic novel travelogue and history lesson.  Might bet a little dull for high school students. 

Sacco, J. (2009)  Footnotes in Gaza New York: Henry Holt.  This is an excellent bit of reporting about the current situation in Palestine and about a bloody incident that occurred in 1956.  The language is pretty rough at times, but the piece does a nice job of giving the reader  a variety of different accounts so that the reader can corroborate the story himself or herself.
           
Sacco, J. (2001). Palestine. Seattle, Fantagraphics.
Some violence, some adult situations – excellent look at the region – many primary accounts.



Sacco, J. (2002). Safe Area Gorazde. Seattle, WA, Fantagraphics.
Some violence, some adult situations – excellent look at the Bosnian War – many primary accounts.

Sacco, J. (2005) War’s End: Profiles from Bosnia 1995-96  Montreal:  Drawn and Quarterly.  Two shorter profiles.  Profanity, violence. 

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York, Pantheon.  Addresses some of the history of Iran (though this is not its primary focus)

Sim, Dave. (1986).  High Society  Windsor, Ontario: Aardvark-Vanaheim.  Cerebus the Aardvark gets elected prime minister of a country that is fiercely dedicated to its bureaucracy and machinations.  He tries to be a good prime minister, but is hamstrung by graft and corruption.  An interesting (if slanted) work for a political science or civics class.

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus I. New York, Pantheon.  'Nuff said.

Spiegelman, A. (1986). Maus II, a Survivor's Tale. New York, Pantheon.  'Nuff said.

Sturm, J. and R. Tommaso (2007). Stachel Paige:  Striking Out Jim Crow. New York, Hyperion.
Excellent!  Good for fourth grade on up.  This is a real story, sensitively uses the N word once -- great themes. 


Taylor, Sarah Stewart; Towle, Ben (2010) Amelia Earhart:  This Broad ocean.  New York:  Hyperion.  Sort of a fiction piece about a girl reporter who lives on an island in Newfoundland which is the starting point for Earhart’s attempt to fly across the Atlantic.  A lot of biographical data here, and extensive end-notes for at least some sourcing.

vandenBogaert, H. M. and G. O'Connor (2006). Journey into Mohawk Country. New York, First Second.
GN of primary source historical document.  Brief very partial nudity.  Should be fine for high school    

Zinn, H., M. Konopacki, et al. (2008). A People's History of American Empire. New York, Henry Holt.  Alternate history of the United States that focuses on the ways the US has oppressed other peoples during the process of imperialism.  Argues against war.
           
Zinsmeister, Karl; Jurgens, Dan  (2005) Combat Zone;  True Tales of GIs in Iraq.  New York: Marvel   One sided tales – very aggressively pro-military and pro-war.

Monday, March 11, 2013

And now...the graphic novel that can improve your career!



     I am always on the lookout for graphic novels that are helpful for high school teachers.  I never figured I would find one that could be used to teach business courses.  Turns out I am wrong about that.
     The Adventures of Johnny Bunko:  The Last Career Guide you will Ever Need by Daniel H. Pink (2008,  New York:  Penguin) is a wonderfully quirky graphic novel which is as much about figuring out what you really want to do with your life and how to enjoy your job as it is about selling yourself and learning to work well with others. Better still, it actually is built around a relatively interesting storyline.
     The main character, Johnny Bunko works for the Bogg's Corporation.  His job is uninteresting, yet stressful and he finds it utterly unfulfilling.  Working late one night, he gets take-out from a sushi shop and ends up with a bunch of magical chopsticks.  Each time he snaps two of them apart, a beautiful, brash, and somewhat bossy faerie appears and gives him career advice.  Johnny is a bit slow on the uptake, but once he begins listening to her, things start going better.
     The art is done in a mildly manga style with black and white drawings.  It works for the story (though I confess to preferring art with more backgrounds). 
     Really, though, the best part of the book is that, unlike a lot of business self-help books, it seems more focused on Johnny finding a job that allows him to be creative, useful, and part of a team, than about him advancing up the corporate ladder or necessarily making more money.  
     This book should be required reading for high school business classes, a required reference for high school guidance offices, and it would also be a nice addition to English classes that are looking for a way to connect with students who want practical reading.

 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Some Excellent Picture Books You Have Never Heard Of (Unless you are even more amazing than I think you are)

I tried to get caught up on my picture book reading recently.  Here are a couple of the books that stood out.





Stead, Philip C.; Stead, Erin E. (2010)  A Sick Day for Amos McGee, New York: Neal Porter Books
     Amos McGee is an old man who wakes up every morning, gets dressed, and spends the day visiting the animals in the Zoo.  He has footraces with the tortoise (he lets the tortoise win), blows the rhino's nose, reads books to the owl, and so on.  One day Amos is sick and must stay in bed, so all the animals of the zoo come to him.



     The drawings are the most amazing combination of caricature (Amos looks like a skinny Norman Rockwell milkman) and realism (the elephant, even when sitting up and playing cards, looks very realistic.)  The book is sort of about being needed and how members of a community support each other.  It is also silly.  I like a good silly book now and then.








Ringgold, Faith (1991) Tar Beach, New York: Crown Publishers.
     Cassie loves it when her family goes up on the roof of their apartment building on really hot summer nights.  It is cooler up on their "tar beach" and it is chance for Cassie to lie on a quilted blanket, stare up at the stars, and imagine flying through the city and making her family's dreams come true.



     The story  is good, but the pictures are amazing.  Look at the one just above this paragraph.  It shows the grittiness of the buildings, the luminous beauty of the bridge, and the easy miracle of Cassie flying through the cool night air.  Most of the pages have quilted borders and  images that portray strength and confidence with simple lines and muted colors that somehow help carry the feeling of hope that is so much a part of the story.  There is a lot for kids to look at and get lot in.







     Crew, Gary; Tan, Shaun (2004)  Memorial,  Simply Read Books.
      Four generations of family members share the connections they have to a memorial statue and a tree planted on the same day which has grown to be phenomenally huge.  The city council says the tree is too large.  It obscures traffic lights and is pushing the statue over, so it must come down.  So which is the better memorial here?  The story combines the recollections of Great-Grandpa, Old Pa, Dad, and the son.

  
     Frankly, though, it is Shaun Tan's illustrations that make this an amazing book.  He seems to be following his own script, showing aspects of the tree and the people narrating that are not necessarily in the text, but enhance the text.  This gives the adult reader many opportunities to ask children what the image has to do with the story, and why they think the artist included it.  There is a clear connection in each case, but it requires a bit of thought.  This is an excellent book.







Greenfield, Eloise; Gilchrist, Jan Spivey  (1988) Nathaniel Talking, New York:  Black Butterfly. 
     This book is a series of rap poems composed by Nathaniel, a good-hearted kid.  Although the style of rap that the poems is composed in has come and gone (this book was written the year I graduated from college), and although there isn't much of a through-narrative, Nathaniel is a thoroughly sympathetic character -- and Gilcrest's images carry a remarkable amount of depth in them.   A nice combination of real world struggles and the comfort that family and home brings.  This one is well worth checking out (along with anything else by Greenfield and Gilchrist). 







Monday, March 4, 2013

Thursday Next rocks! (But can high school kids understand this series?)

      A ton of people I deeply respect have been recommending the Thursday Next series to me and I finally got around to reading one.  I accidentally ordered the second one in the series, Lost in a Good Book (Forde, Jasper, 2003, Viking)and I am sure that it would have better for me to have started with the first one, The Eyre Affair.  But I don't care, the book I read was absolutely wonderful.
     The problem, of course, is how to describe it.  Thursday Next is a detective who works for a branch of the British police/secret service, in a division called SpecOps (short for Special Operations.)  In the earlier book, she apparently went through a portal, created by an uncle of hers, and was able to enter the book Jane Eyre and fix the ending.  As Lost in a Good Book opens, Thursday is living happily with her husband and trying to avoid having to be on talk shows.  When her husband is erased from the timestream by persons or corporate entities unknown, she is drawn into an intrigue that involves botht he division of the law enforcement community that deals with time travel and also a separate inter-dimensional police force that makes sure no one monkeys about with the plotlines of favorite novels.  It is a time-travel mystery involving a lost play of Shakespeare's, the threat of death by coincidence, and evil corporation that could turn all life in the world to sugary syrup, and the need to free the genetically-enslaved neanderthals.
     I know.  It sounds ridiculous.  In fact, though, the author, Jasper Forde has created a world that is wonderfully ridiculous and somehow utterly believable.  I loved the small details -- like the genetically re engineered woolly mammoths that migrate from one end of England to the other each spring, or Thursdays pet Dodo bird.  I loved the horrible puns involved in the names of the minor characters -- two detectives named Konnon and Phodder die in a suspicious linoleum accident and are replaced by two other characters named Chalk and Cheese, who in turn get replaced by Lamme and Slorter.  I also loved the utterly gripping plot.  It became remarkably important to me that Thursday get her husband back.  I would make comparisons to Hitchhiker's Guide but this is a very different kind of book.   



      Okay, look, let me just describe one scene to you.  At one point in the book, Thursday must appear before a court in the bookworld.  She is unsure what her crime is and she has only been able to communicate with her lawyer through footnotes.  She seems a bit apprehensive until her lawyer tells her that the judge she will be brought before is the judge from Kafa's The Trial.  There is some confusion at first because when Thursday appears at her appointed time, the Judge tells her she is an hour and five minutes late.  Because Thursday has read Kafka, she does not disagree but apologizes.  The prosecution proceeds with the case until the judge interrupts and asks if Thursday has ever been a house painter.   She confesses that she has been a house painter.  This results in a string of non-sequiturs, all turning increasingly in Thursday's favor until, toward the end of the scene,  At that point, the prosecutor, Hopkins, has ended up in contempt of court.  Then there is this:
          "But this is preposterous!" shouted Hopkins as he was carried away. 
           "No, replied the Magistrate, "This is Kafka."
     So if you have read Kafka, you probably found that funny.  If you didn't -- well, this is the one problem with this wonderful book.  To fully appreciate it, you really need to have read a lot of books.  A partial list of the books alluded to in Lost in a Good Book includes:  The Once and Future king, Ivanhoe, Paradise Lost, Pamela, Pilgrim's Progress, Sense and Sensibility, The Little Prince, The Merchant of Venice, The Faerie Queen, The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Henry V, Alice in Wonderland, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Moby Dick, The Odyssey, Sherlock Holmes, and so on.  All of the allusions are very clever, but this book might not work so well for even a very enthusiastic high school reader because it is unlikely they would have read quite that widely.  On the other hand, maybe they could enjoy the story and the references they do catch -- knowing that when they reread it in a few years, they will get even more out of it.
     As for me, I thought it was great.