I read so many wonderful books in August, reviewed below are three of my favorites. I tried to choose a variety, so this month there’s a middle grade novel, a graphic novel, and a nonfiction how-to guide.
illus Jon Klassen
I love foxes, so it’s no surprise Pax found a special place in my heart. Pax is a domesticated fox raised by a young boy called Peter. When wartime reaches their home and Peter’s father goes into the army, he makes Peter abandon his childhood friend Pax in the wilderness before dropping him off to live with his grandfather. Peter immediately regrets the betrayal, thinking Pax will be unable to make it in the wild.
Told through inter-changing viewpoints, the reader follows Pax’s lessons in the wild and Peter’s struggle to find him in a war-torn countryside on his own.
Pax gets the chance to bond with other foxes, learn nature’s rhythms, and experiences humanity for the first time as other wildlife see it: a general threat rather than a specific love. Peter’s quest brings him to the front door of a one-legged woman who’s artistry, self-sufficiency, and loneliness teach him about the strength he’ll need to save his fox. Klassen’s illustrations are the reason I picked up the book, and they don’t disappoint. Beautiful and gritty, they strike the balance of civilization, wilderness, and the darkness that senseless violence and wartime cast over the divide of both.
This stunning graphic novel details the author’s experience after she became death due to a virus she had when she was four years old. The style and color of the illustrations will be friendly to younger readers, while the story is complex and challenging enough to be read and understood differently by all age groups.
I love that Bell depicts humans as rabbits, an animal with such large and noticeable ears. I had never read any personal accounts of a person’s experience with deafness, but Bell’s complaints about the over-exaggeration of speech and the fear of the feeling of being looked down-upon for being different really struck chords with me. Her discovery that one of the key visible things that made her different, the large hearing aid strapped to her chest, was actually like a super-power was both enjoyable and empowering. Sometimes, a thing we perceive as a great weakness, is indeed a great strength.
We’re all in our own bubbles most of the time, listening to our inner-dialogue and thinking about what we want others to understand about us. We’re so self-conscious of who we are, how we look, and how we’ll be perceived, that we bumble interactions with each other all the time, our experiences of the world so different, they seem irreconcilable. And yet, we can do better. We can understand. We thirst for other’s stories so we can get a small peek at what it’s like to be them. And hopefully next time, we can interact with each other more kindly and more intelligently. That’s the kind of hope a beautiful story like El Deafo inspires.
an illustrated master class on the art of organizing and tidying up
I read Kondo’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing with some bemusement. At the time, I was living in Japan and had inherited a large apartment with a decades worth of other assistant language teachers junk stowed away in the deep closets. It was the first time I’d ever lived on my own and I knew I had arrived with just two suitcases worth of belongings. And yet, there was a history before me. I noticed most of the houses and apartments I visited in Japan had the weight of history and memory, and I kind of enjoyed seeing that my friends and coworkers weren’t perfect minimalists.
The idea that Kondo’s book was a New York Times bestseller in America, and yet seemed so utterly specific to Japanese apartments (with deep closets, futons, entrance areas, and the like) was amusing. I know her techniques can be universally applied, but the way she talks about her clients specific situations, and her own personal history with tidying up seem so specific to the Japanese-nice of experience. I get how Kondo’s ideas are appealing. And I think there’s something to learn from every book, but my Japanese coworkers and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was exactly that made Marie Kondo such a sensation in America.
Now that I live in America again, I get the fascination with her techniques and writing more. I read this companion book and found it to be charming and informative. I liked reading her passages and imagining the spaces I saw in Japan. It’s like the different cultural viewpoint and experience is what makes her writings so unique, unconventional, and beautiful. And perhaps that lets you see your own space and lifestyle in just enough of a new light that it transforms you.
The illustrations in this book are also insanely cute.