It’s Random Book Day!

We just made this day up.

Silk – Alessandro Baricco

Chris – Our random books odyssey begins in Italy, with Alessandro Baricco’s Silk (translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman).  A short book, it tells the story of a Frenchman who deals in silkworms.  After a crop of worms are blighted by disease, he hazards a journey as a smuggler to Japan to seek out new ones.  Of course he finds more than he bargained for.  Silk is both whimsical (in the writing style) and deeply profound (in the ending), and is one of my all time favorites.

Italian cover.  Silk is seta in the Italian.  Use this knowledge to impress your friends.
Italian cover. Silk is seta in the Italian. Use this knowledge to impress your friends.

Once, Now, Then series – Morris Gleitzman

Christina – For all those that hate to get invested in a series because you don’t have the time, this is one for you. The books are short, about 200 pages each or less, and the story is so captivating that you’ll find it hard to put them down. Since the subject matter is the holocaust, they’re not for the faint of heart, but they’re beautifully written and well worth the heartache. I pretty much never cry over a book, but all three of these made me tear up.

Go – Chip Kidd

Christina – Graphic design is all around us, and renowned book cover artist Chip Kidd shows us the history of design and why it’s so important. He ends his fun lesson with ten projects encouraging the reader to bring out his/her inner artist (design your own logo, redesign something popular or famous, etc.). Even for those who don’t know much about art or advertising, it’s an eye-opening read, and the graphics are so cool that you’ll be wanting to show them to everyone around you.

Mad skillz on display.
Mad skillz on display.

The Paladin – C. J. Cherryh

Chris – Often fantasy novels are labeled as being either High Fantasy or Low Fantasy.  High Fantasy generally books or series that are epic in scope or are suffused with a lot of fantastical elements, while Low Fantasy ones tend to be more “realistic” and light on the magic.  The Paladin, by C. J. Cherryh, is about as Low Fantasy as you can get.  The setting is similar to a feudal China or Japan.  There is no magic to be seen.  There are no dragons or other mythical beasts to battle.  In fact, there is nothing really at all to make this book a “fantasy” novel.  Nothing that is except for the feel of it.

Lord Saukendar is an aging swordmaster exiled from the capital after a coup.  He has been living for years on a mountain with just his horse for company.  One day a peasant teen comes to his mountain demanding his help.  Saukendar is quite shocked to find that this teen who wants to learn the art of the sword so badly is actually a girl, and more shocked as the girl relentlessly brings him back to life and to the world he left, leading ultimately to a quest to right all the wrongs done to him, and to the people he once served.

Spanish edition cover.  See the dragon on it?  There are no dragons in this book.
Spanish edition cover. See the dragon on it? There are no dragons in this book.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses – Ron Koertge

Christina – People have been messing around with fairy tales since they’ve existed. Numerous adaptations, inspirations, etc. So why read these poems offering a different look at well known fairy tales and fables?

Well, for one thing, the illustrations are subdued and intense, and the poems offer another glimpse at the well-known characters and stories, adding sympathy to established villains and questionable motives to so-called heroes and heroines.

If you’re still unsure if you should read this, take a look at the last poem, in which The Wolf finally is able to speak his mind:


Let’s get a few things straight. Only a few of us like to

dress up like grandma and trick little girls. Those who

do belong to what we call the Scarlet Underground.

It’s not their fault, so they’re tolerated if not embraced.

The rest of us are wolves through and through. We enjoy

the chase, the kill, a nap in the sun on a full stomach.

Our enemy is man with his arrogance and greed.

The woodsman in particular. Destroyer of trees.

Clearer of land. Owner of fire.

While he drops and burns and builds, we terrorize his

wife, surrounding her as she goes for water. We howl

outside his windows half of the night, and if that doesn’t

drive him away we take him out, leaving just a few

bones so the message is clear: 

This is our forest. Perfect before you came.

Perfect again when all your kind is dead.

Not sure which is more awesomer - the cover or the title.
Not sure which is more awesomer – the cover or the title.

The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury

Chris – Luke nicely memorialized the great Ray Bradbury before in this blog.  My first introduction to Bradbury was The Martian Chronicles, quite a few moons ago.  A collection of stories dealing with the colonization of Mars by humanity, it explores and touches on many themes, such as racism, dystopia, nostalgia, nuclear war, exploration, obsession, censorship, and more.  As a boy having a Captain Wilder in some of the stories was thrilling.  As an adult being able to understand the nuances is satisfying.  A special treat awaits fans of Poe in the story “Usher II”.  The Martian Chronicles is a true classic by any standard.

Cover of the record on which Mr. Spock reads some of The Martian Chronicles.  Random enough for you?
Cover of the record on which Mr. Spock reads some of The Martian Chronicles. Random enough for you?

Evil Eye – Joyce Carol Oates

Christina – Keeping on with the creepy vibe, we have one of the masters of the unsettling story, Joyce Carol Oates. In Evil Eye, Oates offers up four novellas of “love gone wrong”, but it’s not all romantic love. There’s revenge, murder, obsession, and insanity, all done to perfection, and enough to leave you feeling like someone just walked over your grave.

All the World’s a Grave – John Reed and William Shakespeare

Christina – Speaking of graves (sorry), sometimes writers get creative with public domain works. In John Reed’s case, he created an entirely new Shakespearean play by mixing up characters and dialogue. He sums it up better than I ever could:

Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, the daughter of King Lear. Having captured his bride – by unnecessary bloodshed – Prince Hamlet returns home to find that his mother has murdered his father and married Macbeth. Hamlet, wounded and reeling, is sought out by the ghost of his murdered father, and commanded to seek revenge. Iago, opportunistic, further inflames the enraged prince, persuading him that Juliet is having an affair with Romeo; the prince goes mad with jealousy.

Need I say more? All I can add is that I highly recommend this to any fan of Shakespeare.

A Bridge Too Far – Cornelius Ryan

Chris – A Bridge Too Far is one of the most aptly named books you will find.  It is the true account of Operation Market Garden: the Allies plan to seize a series of bridges in Holland in World War II in an attempt to bring a quick end to the war.  The title kind of acts as a spoiler for the ending.  More Allied soldiers were killed in action during Market Garden then fell on D-Day.  Ryan’s meticulously researched book is gripping and readable.  If only all nonfiction books were written as well as this…

The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1977, directed by Richard Attenborough, and is regarded as one of the more historically accurate war movies out there.  The bad news is that it is very long, just about three hours.  The good news is the mind boggling cast, including: James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and more.  On a side note, it was adapted for the screen by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, which faithful readers of this blog will know is a favorite of ours.

The actual bridge too far in Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge in honor of the British commander at the battle.
The actual bridge too far in Arnhem is now named the John Frost Bridge in honor of the British commander at the battle.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – Ian Doescher

Christina – Rounding up my list is another take on Shakespeare, sort of. It’s Star Wars written as if it were a Shakespearean play.

No review can give justice to this brilliant book. Do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. In the meantime, tide yourself over with these awesome quotes:

C-3PO: A droid hath sadness, and hopes, and fears,

And each of these emotions I have felt

Since Master Luke appear’d and made me his.

(After Han shoots Greedo)

Han: [To inkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.

[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!

No words for this.
No words for this.
And fewer words for this one.
And fewer words for this one.

The Passion – Jeanette Winterson

Chris – Jeanette Winterson began writing sermons at the age of six.  As she grew older she moved away from evangelism (far away, but that is a different story) and matured into an award winning author.  One of those awards was for The Passion, a wonderful and mysterious book that is hard to define.  The basic story follows a soldier in Napoleon’s army who becomes enraptured with a mystifying and enigmatic Venetian woman who is looking for her heart.  Literally.  A mix of history, magical realism, and modernism makes this a unique and captivating read.

"I'm telling you stories.  Trust me."
“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.”

And if none of these random titles works for you, consider trying the blindfold method. Or ask your friendly neighborhood library staff for more suggestions.

All of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found in our catlaogue here:;page=0;locg=155;depth=0

(Edited 11/20/14 to fix/replace broken links and to correct typos.)

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