Monday, June 29, 2009

Guest Blogger Max Leone: Summer Reading Recommendations for Teens

Fourteen-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 lives in New Jersey.
My Summer Reading List
by Max Leone

The majority of school-assigned summer reading lists would violate the Geneva convention if they were used to obtain information from prisoners. Reading the books on them is akin to treading through a swamp made of expired pudding without using your legs, except less exciting.

Since I seem to be making a career out of ranting about things, usually the state of YA literature, I was asked to put together a list of books that teenagers should read during the summer. Most summer reading books contain many of my Cardinal Sins of Young Adult Books, such as outdated language and morals with all the subtlety of a flaming anvil made of snakes. My recommendations contain none of the things that make up the expired, congealed pudding of a typical summer reading book.

WARNING: Books may contain swearing, sex, independent thought, Norse deities, and other things that may thwart your attempts to keep your children safe from the outside world and/or Vikings.

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins: It will be a struggle to get through this paragraph without making dozens of bad jokes about reality TV, since this book centers around a lethal televised competition. This book is quite dark, a welcome change from the sentimentality of most YA books. It also avoids the expired pudding dilemma, by being interesting and featuring characters the reader will actually care about, as opposed to the boring, flat protagonists who lurk in reading lists.

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan: Because of my Publishers Weekly editorial last fall, I have become known in some circles as Mr. Scary Vampires, Hater of All Things Twilight and Emo. Therefore, I feel it was my duty to include this book on my list. The Strain features possibly the least romantic vampires ever. It is quite hard to imagine some teenage girl falling for a dirty, hideous, leechlike monster spawned from a Hot Zone-esque virus. Because of this, The Strain is one of the scariest and most entertaining books I have ever read.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: A unique, often bizarre urban fantasy about deities in the modern world, this book shows that urban fantasy can be done without ridiculous teenage angst. It features a large, interesting cast of characters, and an amazing attention to detail. American Gods fits in historical elements without becoming another archaic cliché-fest. It has true depth and insight, unlike the faux-philosophic ramblings that infest lesser books (*cough* TheEleganceoftheHedgehog *cough*).

More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman: This book, simply put, is pure genius. It is no doubt one of the funniest things ever created by human hands. This encyclopedia (containing complete world knowledge) is another book that manages to have amazing depth. Hodgman manages to craft a world through anecdotes and lists, built in such a way that you can never be sure what is fact, what is fiction, and what is a Battlestar Galactica reference. Plus, how else are you going to learn about the mole-men and their hideous steeds, now that they have been driven from the surface by Benjamin Franklin?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: American Gods showed that Gaiman could do amazing things with existing mythologies. Neverwhere is another teenage angst-less urban fantasy, this time set in an amazing world of Gaiman’s creation. Unlike the cheesy, generic results of most attempts to create an original world, Neverwhere does not end up as a contrived blob of gibberish words and generic characters. Speaking of characters, Gaiman deserves some sort of prize for Excellence in Literary Villainy, for the characters of Croup and Vandemar, two of the greatest villains of all time.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: This book combines many of the elements that made previous titles in this list great. It is hilarious, like More Information Than You Require, it has a creative fictional universe that is much better than most genre attempts, like Neverwhere and it has incredible depth and insight, like American Gods. A hundred elbow-patched, goateed professors working for a hundred years could not produce something this insightful. It’s observations on humans, particularly how they state the obvious, are amazingly true. If there were a cult based on this book, I would join.

World War Z by Max Brooks: There is something tragic about this book. It is a masterpiece of literature, but it may forever be denied it’s rightful glory because it features zombies. World War Z is one of the deepest looks at zombies (or at any supernatural creature) to date. The zombie apocalypse described is thought-out, detailed, and strangely realistic. The scariest element of the book comes from the superb writing, which makes a zombie attack seem like it could happen at any time. Maybe, if we support this book, we can form a shambling mob that will consume the brains of the literary establishment and give this book the glory it deserves.


Anonymous said...

I support this list.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic list. I, too, called The Strain "the anti-Twilight" in a bookstore newsletter.

Unknown said...

I heart The Strain. Scared the beJesus out of me, and I slept with the lights on for three nights. Truly terrifying.

Robert C Roman said...

Good list, stuff that's entertaining without being vapid, thought provoking without being dull.

Of course, there are two on there I've not read. Must get to the bookstore now.

Tere Kirkland said...

Loved The Hunger Games, and I've been curious about the del Toro.

Nice to see some "classics" on this list, Gaiman and Douglas certainly shaped my young brain.

I've also been curious about The Amazing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl since the sequel was announced.

Anonymous said...

Just say "no" to teen angst. As a former middle and high school teacher, I couldn't agree more.

AussieT said...

Try Dangerous Days by J. William Turner and published by Eloquent Books/AEG Publishing. It is fiction specifically written for teens and YA without obscene language.

suzie townsend said...

Fantastic list and even better commentary! I think you definitely have potential to go far in this career of ranting about things.

Mrs. Bailey said...

Thanks for sharing this great list. You know you've accomplished something when a librarian is adding to her personal reading list from your recommendations!

Nancy Coffelt said...

Best.List.In almost ever. Right on about World War Z. That book is genius. And American Gods? Fabulous!

And please know I'm fluttering my hands as I say that word, it's just that good.

J. R. Katz said...

I suppose I am lucky that I enjoyed the majority of the books I had to read for my four summers of high school reading. The only ones that didn't sell me were Dante's Inferno and To Kill a Mockingbird.
In direct contrast, most of the books on this list don't appeal to me, exceptions being the Hitchhiker's Guide and World War Z. Maybe I'm just a bit pretentious, though. Each to his own! I just prefer weightier literary stuff. Give me Nabokov and give me Camus, and I'll give you a happy person.
*Goes back to reading Century of Genocide like it's light.*

Rabid Fox said...

A very nice list. I wholeheartedly agree on Gaiman's "American Gods." Fantastic novel. I have a couple of those other novels on my wish list, and should be able to read them some time before the end of the year.

I had no idea Jonathan Hodgman wrote a book, though. I. Must. Read.