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Jalen can never decide what to read, so he just reads everything. Although he studied music in college, he has a special interest in science, math, and philosophy, and doesn't see those fields as strictly independent from art. He also enjoys critical literature on gender, sexuality, and love, topics that confuse and fascinate him. When he's not reading, he's hunting for portals to parallel universes where dogs can talk, chocolate is a food group, and everyone uses their turn signal.
Here at Alternating Extremities Tree Graveyard, we take pride in ancient symbols that are imprinted on--you guessed it! Dried mashed tree corpses. As far as tree corpses go, Strange Planet is one that is highly likely to evoke vocalized diaphragm spasms. Ordinary life is full of exciting adventures and rare experiences, but it’s easy to lose sight of our world’s uniqueness. Sometimes, a change in vocabulary is all it takes to see our planet for the strange place it is.
At this moment, Ahmet Altan sits in his prison cell . It’s not clear why he’s there--one judge condemned him for distributing "subliminal messages" through a TV show; another, for participating at a newspaper with vague links to putschists. The Turkish supreme court deemed the evidence against him poor grounds for imprisonment, yet there he sits, condemned for life, no parole. Are you angry yet? Though Altan is living a Kafka story, he manages to find beauty and wonder in his confines. Lucky for us, prisons are too weak to hold stories.
A good book takes me back to the moment of childish surprise and wonder when I discovered that the Earth is not flat. David Quammen's description of the history of biology does just that. Along the way, Quammen gives Carl Woese his rightful place among biology's most important innovators alongside Darwin, Lamarck, and Crick. Woese's discovery of Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT) paved the way for CRISPR technology and blurred the taxonomic boundaries between life forms--that is, he "tangled" the tree of life. We don't know the full implications of HGT, but it's fun to contemplate them. Under what conditions do microbes copy genes from their hosts, or insert their own genes? If species are constantly exchanging genes, then how much of our bodies is borrowed? What have tiny lives borrowed from humans?
“We are going to have bad experiences! Would you like to come?” Cog is a machine programmed for “cognitive development”--he loves to learn, even though he sometimes makes mistakes. When Cog realizes that he learns best by making mistakes, he sets out to have as many bad experiences as possible. Cog’s adventure showed me that bad experiences are good learning opportunities. This book is a good learning opportunity that also happens to be a good experience.
In this heart-pounding fantasy, we follow Tracker, aka Red Wolf, a two-gender outsider who rejects his father’s name after he learns that his mother is also his sister. Today, we are blessed with a diverse abundance of queer stories, but there remains a hole in fantasy for rugged, anything-it-takes queers that James is happy to fill. There will be no self-scrutiny over identity here. The Leopard and the Wolf have greater dangers to face.
Nico Walker writes us from prison to deliver a fictionalized account of his life. He served in Iraq after the death of Bin Laden, and as a “cherry” he witnessed firsthand the disorder, confusion, and egotism of war. His frank commentary reads like a turn-of-the-millennium punk Vonnegut: obedient to duty, yet compassionate towards victims of violence and injustice. After his tour, he nursed his trauma with narcotics and ended up robbing banks to pay for his addiction. If you hate this protagonist, read Dopesick by Beth Macy.
This book hit the bullseye of my "Books I Needed in High School" dartboard. Jordan and Max don't know it at first, but they each have exactly what the other needs. Jordan feels powerless to fix his problems, so he follows his feelings and writes poetry. Max won't get in touch with his emotions, so he works out and plays video games with his bros. When Max spends a Mesa summer helping Jordan run his family food truck, they open up the world to each other. Hold on--a food truck? In Mesa, Arizona? In the SUMMER? Yep. It's that hot.