Thursday, December 11, 2008

Guest blogger Max Leone: Seven holiday book recommendations for the teenage boy in your life.

(I'm posting the following for Max)

The holiday shopping season has started again, and if you are the parent or relative of a teenager, you are most likely desperately wishing you knew what to get them, desperately wishing they wanted something different than what they asked for, or you lost your home and live in a cardboard box in a back alley. If it’s one of the first two, you most likely wish that you could interest your son in anything composed mainly of ink and paper, in the belief that it will magically expand his mind and lead him to fame, power, and harems of supermodels.

In response, I have composed a list of seven books that would make great gifts for the teenager in your life. Since getting a teenager to read anything you recommend is similar in difficulty to melting a glacier with a hair dryer, I have not only explained why each book would make a good gift, I also note how unlikely the book is to be used in an English class, on a scale of one to five elbow patches, with one being “would use it if desperate” and five being “has burned it and written impassioned essays on how it is corrupting our youth”.

Books are listed from awesome to life-changing in order.

Disclaimer: These books may contain swearing, violence, sexual situations, political commentary, jabs at religion, humor, content, dancing, card games, bright colors, etc.
Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide To Hoaxes And Other B.S. by Alex Boese: This book is one of those things that is exactly what it says on the cover, but that short subtitle doesn’t do it justice. It has a vast amount of information on subjects as diverse as Bonsai Kittens, Emperor Norton, and Ghosts in Jars. Will be re-read many times, likely because some of the information is so weird, it may take multiple tries to get your subconscious to believe it.
  • Rating -- 4 Elbow Patches: It’s non-fiction, which disqualifies it from English class, but this rating applies to other classes as well. After all, examinations of human strangeness are nowhere near as important as things like calculus and Mesopotamian history, which will undoubtedly come in handy hundreds of times throughout life.
SMARTBOMB: The QUEST for ART, ENTERTAINMENT, and BIG BUCKS in the VIDEOGAME REVOLUTION by HEATHER CHAPLIN and AARON RUBY (Copied more or less word-for-word from the book cover. It looked much less ridiculous there): Though the title alone makes it illegal to bring this book onto an airplane nowadays, it is another book that will be re-read countless times, as proved by my copy looking like a walrus sat on it. For several hours. Anyway, it features great information on the history of videogames. Recommended for gamers and non-gamers alike.
  • Rating- 2 Elbow Patches: Videogames are a major new entertainment medium, and this book is one of the most informative works written on them. Sounds perfect for a class, right? Unfortunately, there are still many teachers who are unaware that this industry has expanded beyond Pong. Any mention of them at a faculty meeting is guaranteed to garner at least one “harrumph”.
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks: If your teenager chooses to read this book, then this blog post may be the last they read, on account of their move to a cave in the Himalayas to avoid the security cameras that follow you everywhere. A great, thrilling novel, but as I mentioned, the story about ancient conspiracies and surveillance techniques will make you very paranoid. Another non-airplane read, due to the scanners that monitor your carry-on bags for subversive material (which I really hope I made up).
  • Rating- 1 Elbow Patch: Only the fact that it was published in the last decade keeps it off reading lists, but still great. Will likely degrade to a zero rating, assuming the vast government conspiracy does not take over first.
Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: Let’s get this out of the way. Death Note is a twelve volume manga series. With that said, I believe that it deserves a spot on this list. An engrossing story about a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. Great characters and plot, and so suspenseful, after the first volume your son/daughter probably need medication while waiting for the next bookstore visit.
  • Rating- 6 Elbow Patches: There comes a time in every man’s life when he must break the scale he has made. And for me, that time is now. Death Note is a graphic novel series. The average professor would likely handle it with tongs and a face mask.
THE AREAS OF MY EXPERTISE by JOHN HODGMAN (another case of Smartbomb syndrome. Also, the subtitle would likely take up most of this page, so I have opted to omit it): This immensely bizarre book is a definite masterpiece that can be enjoyed be almost anyone. It is a collection of fake trivia and history (including 800 hobo names), delivered in such perfect literary deadpan you often wonder if the author actually believes it. Recommended as a gift for everyone, except possibly gerbils.
  • Rating- 5 Elbow Patches: I could go on about how even I can’t think of any possible reason to use this book in a classroom besides as a doorstop, but there is one major reason why it would never make it. It contains not only HUMOR, but humor that is ACTUALLY FUNNY. In fifty years it will get over this roadblock as humor grows and mutates, and then some lucky teacher will have a great doorstop.
GOOD OMENS (sadly, Microsoft Word cannot produce the many pointed tails and halos that adorn the cover) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: This novel is the main cause of my “jabs at religion” disclaimer. In fact, it’s a full-on satire of religion, the apocalypse, and other things humans have invented to keep themselves from laughing. The like the book above, generally great for anyone.
  • Rating- 2-5 Elbow Patches, depending on individual teacher’s religiousness: Suffers the curse of humor, but may win the hearts of some teachers with its overall awesomeness. In the case of the very religious, let me just say that some of my descriptions of these ratings are exaggerations. The part about book burning is probably not.
Guards! Guards! By Terry Pratchett: In this list, I limited myself to one book per series. Had I not, the whole thing would be filled completely with Discworld books and would likely be significantly longer. This is the best Discworld novel I’ve read so far, as well as one of the best books I have ever read, and possibly ever will read. The average teenager has probably read dozens of stories about dragons now, but that will only make this book even better. It is ridiculously funny, deep, and is a great introduction to the series. Whatever other books on this list you buy, make sure to buy this one.
  • Rating- 1 Elbow Patch: It may be funny, but it’s also quite profound and demonstrates what literature is capable of as a medium. I could honestly see an English teacher using this book. And he will have one of the world’s luckiest classes.


Tarot By Arwen said...

Thanks for this! I live with a fellow who loves YA that is geared towards the male (Artemis Fowl etc). I will show him this list!

He's 39 btw.

Anthony Pacheco said...

Max, you are dipped in Awesomesauce! I love your writing.

BTW, I plugged your letter in a couple of blog posts here.

Rock on, Max. Someday there actually may be more books for you to read.

courtney summers said...

JOHN HODGMAN! Max, you've rocked PW and now you're rockin' the guestblog thing. This is a post of many ~*sparkles*~ and much pwning. Right on. Thanks for sharing your recs. I can already think of several people who are going to get this list emailed to them. :)

Katey said...

I second the awesomesauce declaration. You've saved my holidays, Max. Thank you kindly!

Heidi the Hick said...

Your timing is perfect, man. Can't wait to get to the bookstore!

Bobbie said...

Thanks, Max. My son who is almost 12 has outgrown the middle-grade selection, and we've both been looking for more good books for him. We have Good Omens but not the others. Can't wait to get started on these.

Amie Stuart said...

Max you RAWK!!!! I'm totally taking this list shopping with me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list of books. Great suggestions!

Anna Claire said...

I love this! Bring Max back ANYTIME. He's a crazy good writer.

DeadlyAccurate said...

Good Omens is a great book.

And because I'm on a kick to recommend this book everywhere, try Ghosts/Aliens by Trey Hamburger (probably found in the Humor section of your bookstore).

ssas said...

You have a bright future ahead of you, kid.

Kate said...


I didn't want to get my own 3 boys gift cards and this list saves me. I know they're going to love the other titles you mention because they already worship Pratchett Gaiman and Hodgman.

The nearly best part is I get to read the books they'll leave lying around.

ssas said...

FEED would also be an excellent recommendation for a solid reader over 13.

Jinxie G said...

Ah yes, FEED is a good one.

This is a great list, Max! Loved your bio!

Anonymous said...

AHA! This proves what I always suspected to be true: that I have the same taste as a 13 year-old boy.

Guards! Guards! is one of the greatest books ever.