Sunday, December 20, 2009

Guest Blogger Max Leone: Winter Reading Recommendations for Teens

Fifteen-year-old Max Leone is a frequent guest-blogger here at The Swivet. He also has a lot of opinions about books. Some of those opinions have appeared on this blog and some of them have appeared at Publishers Weekly. He is currently assistant stage manager of his high school's production of Tommy and also writes for the school newspaper. He lives in New Jersey. Max sent me a list of some suggestions for last-minute stocking stuffers for teens. Enjoy!
Winter Reading Recommendations for Teens
by Max Leone

Ah, winter. The season in which bells ring, snow falls, children’s faces light up with joy, and the consumer world is plunged into a deep, dark pit of delirium by the insatiable maw of Christmas.

If you wish to spend the next few weeks in a labyrinth of malls, catalogues, and parking lots, do not read this article. This article is for those who would rather get their shopping done quickly and easily by following a list of my book recommendations. (Well, shopping for a teenager. I regret to inform you that I cannot help in choosing gifts for significant others, adult siblings, mistresses, pets, and/or clones. Unless they are teenage clones. Note that if they are teenage assassin clones, they will most likely prefer laser weaponry to books.)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The sequel to the fantastic book The Hunger Games, Catching Fire proves not only that Suzanne Collins can defy the clichés and conventions of YA literature, she can also do something few in any art form can: make a sequel even better that its predecessor. With a more complex plot, a larger, more fleshed-out cast, and more mature themes, Catching Fire is one of the few YA books that move beyond “Hey, teenage girls have a lot of money these days, and I need a new hot tub full of mermaids. Let’s slap together some book about high school or vampires so I can bathe surrounded by fish-people”.

Twentieth Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa
This sadly under-appreciated manga series is still one of my favorites, mainly because the story balances dozens of subplots and hundreds of characters, and the author still manages to make it work. Every element, no matter how minor, is eventually revisited and explained, the mysteries are cleared up (though it does get incredibly complicated), and every character’s individual story is resolved. TCB’s premise, that an adult loser finds out that a sinister cult is using the symbol and rituals he and his friends came up with as kids, is brilliant. Since manga series rarely get the recognition they deserve, and this series is neglected even for a manga series, its like Romeo and Juliet were on the Titanic when the Hindenburg crashed into it and killed Bambi’s mother (i.e. a tragedy.). So yeah, buy it.

Sandman by Neil Gaiman and various artists
This (now-complete) graphic novel series is: amazing, pure genius, inventive, well-written, astounding, wonderful, fantastic, _________, and ________. In case you are wondering, those spaces are for you to put any other adjectives you can think of. Sandman defies adjectives. This tale of the anthropomorphic personification of dreams is beyond the ability of mere adjectives to describe. Since the world already has more than enough rants about how graphic novels aren’t recognized as art, I will not add another. Sandman is one of Neil Gaiman’s best works. Actually, ignore that. Sandman is one of humanity’s best works.

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
I had always thought of this book as another under-appreciated classic, but then my numerous sources and in-depth academic research (ok, I Googled the author a few times) have revealed that it seems to be getting more recognition. A. Lee Martinez is a hilarious, inventive author, and The Automatic Detective is reminiscent of Discworld, except set in a retro-futuristic Fifties pulp aesthetic metropolis (Please note that I have no idea what retro-futuristic Fifties pulp influenced art actually is. I just heard the phrase and felt like it applied. I do know what a metropolis is, though). My ignorance of Fifties pulp aesthetically influenced retro-futurism (I must consciously will myself to stop using that phrase) aside, this book - written in the first person - does have an interesting interpretation of how a robot would actually think about things. Oh, and fight scenes. And retro futurism. And a Fifties pulp influence.

The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu
Now, just as there are different breeds of cats, there are many types of geek. To assume that all geeks are intimately familiar with comic books is a fallacy, as proven by my continued existence (for the record, I dabble in different types of geekery, but I like to think of myself as a bootleg Engrish translation geek). This book was immensely interesting to me, but I think it would be fascinating even to someone who knows enough about comics to describe someone who knows a lot about comics. Anyway, The Ten-Cent Plague is an amazing record of the history of comics, and the insane censorship they endured.

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Watchmen is considered by many to be the best comic of all time. Now, it has gotten plenty of rave reviews over the years, so I feel no need to praise it here. So while I could be using the space to talk about its wonderful characters, beautiful art, and how it uses its setting (an alternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s) to deconstruct the superhero genre, as well as the memorable scenes and plot twists, and of course the profound impact it had on comics, but I will not. No, I will not do the things I just did. Instead, I will continue with the list.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams is another author who passes the “sequel test” described above. TRATEOTU (best book title acronym ever) is the hilarious sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and like that book, it features incredibly inventive humor mixed with even more insightful observations about the world. The highlight, of course, is the scene at the titular restaurant.

7 comments:

Cassandra said...

Nice post, Max. I loved Catching Fire, and I'm definitely going to check out The Ten-Cent Plague since you recommended it so highly - it sounds fantastic. Keep on guest-posting!

jmartinlibrarian said...

I'm thrilled you plugged THE AUTOMATIC DETECTIVE! It's my fave of Martinez's offerings. Mack Megaton is a bot with heart and guts. Don't be fooled by the wit and humor in this book; it's chock full of existential heft, too. Good stuff.

Did I mention the author plays is a fierce board game opponent? Watch your back, that's all I'm sayin'.

Sheila said...

Max, you are hilarious. I am definitely going to check out those books I haven't already read.

Thanks!

DeadlyAccurate said...

Did I mention the author plays is a fierce board game opponent? Watch your back, that's all I'm sayin'.

I also blame him for my big box o' Heroscape stuff. No really; it was his recommendation that convinced me to buy it. It's a fantastic game.

I think The Automatic Detective is my second favorite of his books, though it's close to In The Company of Ogres. I'm going to check out The Ten-Cent Plague thanks to this recommendation.

kanishk said...

Did I mention the author plays is a fierce board game opponent? Watch your back, that's all I'm sayin'.

kobe beef

Icy @ Individual Chic said...

The Watchmen is great but The Sandman is AWESOME and it's not fair that there won't be any more.

Jennifer said...

This is a bit old, so I'm not certain if you'll read it, but I had a recommendation for you. :) I was a big fan of 20th Century Boys myself (which is more popular in Japan due to a recent movie series), but there is another series by the same author that's even better called Monster. I'd definitely recommend it. It's amazing all the way through and has one of the best endings I've ever read. :)