While biological research is continually making new discoveries into how much we know about animals, there is one aspect in which scientists scrupulously avoid speculation: animals’ minds. In Being a Beast, Charles Foster attempts to rectify this disparity by immersing himself in the “neuro-alchemy” of wild creatures. Not only does he study the latest veterinary neurological research, he tries to live like them too. In a tradition of ersatz, immersive experimentation also seen in the works of Bill Bryson and A.J. Jacobs, he models his behavior to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, a red deer and a swift.
Foster’s experiences are variously uncomfortable, degrading, bizarre and sublime. While his scientific method would not hold up under much scrutiny, the objective of his writing is more ontological. Foster attempts to position himself counterpoint to humanity’s historical position as a “conqueror” of nature. He uses nature to escape — sloughing off modernity in an attempt to define and describe wildness and autonomy. His research is doomed to failure, and he begins the book by acknowledging that the challenges he sets for himself are impossible, but there is insight to be found in his quixotic experiment. Foster’s doctorate in medical law and ethics, plus his qualifications as a veterinarian, help to back his credibility even when his experiences and arguments verge on the esoteric.
Whether you’ve just been down the ocean or you’re anticipating your next trip, here are three seaside bedtime stories to share with your kids — especially if they’re fans of Ponyo.
The protagonist of The Storm can’t wait to go to the beach tomorrow with his parents! But one of Japan’s infamous monsoons threatens to douse their plans. Can his family weather the storm through the night or will their plans be rained out? Akiko Miyakoshi’s masterful charcoal illustrations depict this story of anticipation and overcoming fear with the same finesse as fellow illustrators Chris Van Allsburg and Daniel Miyares.
Maya by Mahak Jain is having trouble sleeping as well. Troubled by the dark when the power goes out, her mother comforts her with the story of the first banyan tree. Through this story and her dreamy imaginings, Maya learns how to transform her fears and overcome the sadness plaguing her from a recent loss. Elly MacKay’s ethereal cut-paper diorama illustrations, reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed, set the perfect tone in their depiction of Maya’s dream world.
Finally, be lulled to sleep by Anne Hunter’s onomatopoetic depiction of animals’ lullabies in Cricket Song. As the sun sets across the ocean, two worlds comingle as the diurnal creatures settle into their beds and nocturnal creatures start to wake. This understated story captures a sense of the earth’s orbit, starting in a forest in the Pacific Northwest and ending on an island in the South Seas. The interchange of the animals across the world makes for a tranquil procession as the two children in the book (and your own) drift off into slumberland.
Aaron O'Faolain has a lot of problems right now. He just got expelled and his parents are divorced and inattentive, which is how he managed to scam them all by dropping out of his new school and going to live on the streets of San Francisco. Only that didn't work as well as he was expecting. This is The End of FUN by Sean McGinty.
To make some quick cash, Aaron signs up to test out the latest product from FUN®! — Tickle, Tickle, Boom!, an anticipated virtual reality platform that integrates social media, gaming and online marketing. After spending a month doing nothing but playing, he owes $10,000 and a virus in the software is giving him tiny seizures. To get out of his contract he has to pay back the money he owes and collect enough YAY!s to meet his user agreement. Luckily for him, his grandfather just died and left him as the sole beneficiary — if he can solve the treasure hunt his grandfather stipulated in his will. Debut author McGinty breathes new life into the cyperpunk genre with this sardonic spin on Young Adult archetypes, setting his narrative in the midst of multiple concurrent global catastrophes, rather than in a post-apocalyptic world. Aaron begrudgingly (and sometimes unwittingly) embarks on a multi-tiered quest that has him searching for material wealth, spiritual fulfillment and rectified relationships, although not actually saving the world. Fans of Holes, Ready Player One and The Westing Game will appreciate this nuanced and realistic story that is completely fun.
Penny has the worst luck. She lost her job and her apartment on the same day and now her best friend Helen is moving to Long Island. But she'll be okay! She is resourceful and obtusely optimistic. Plus, Helen got her a job interview at her family's laundromat, which is where Penny bides her time, fighting off the neighborhood delinquents and trying to figure out how to move forward under the watchful glower of her new petty dictator of a boss. To stay clean, she scams showers from the cute nerd working at the gym next door. Despite the fact that their dates are disastrous and their interests are wildly divergent, Penny develops a real infatuation for Walter. But can their relationship survive Penny's contretemps? What about the villains waiting in the shadows, plotting Penny's downfall?
Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota is a book that revels in the absurdity of everyday life and in absurdly dramatic climaxes. Fans of Scott Pilgrim and 500 Days of Summer will find this a romantic-comedy of errors that is sweet without being saccharine, funny without being trivial. Originally serialized as a webcomic, you can find Easter eggs detailing the hilarious romance novels adorning Penny's shelves, Penny's bad advice blog, as well as more comics by Ota and Hirsh (a couple in real life) at their website Johnny Wander.
Speculating about the possibilities and ethics of new technologies has long been the domain of science fiction. As we stand on the cusp of virtual realities and cloud computing, two new books revisit these contemplations with fresh voices and compelling tales.
Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal is Katya Gould’s vernacular recounting of a mysterious abduction that left her cut off from other people and, more direly, from Internet access for one week. An antiques dealer with a recently acquired typewriter, she was on her way to a client meeting when a chance encounter in a forest disrupts her plans, and the plans of her mysterious abductor. Through Katya’s recounting, Kowal contemplates the pros and cons that come with our gradual externalization of memory through technology. Her future society envisions a culture that values wabi-sabi (a Japanese aesthetic that values the imperfections that come with objects being handmade and well-used) above all else and prizes the authenticity of experiences when its members are unwilling (or unable) to seek them out for themselves. With the thrilling elements of Gillian Flynn and an engaging tone reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, this novella doesn’t lack in substance despite being a mere 85 pages long.
Sometime in the early 21st century, “the Cloud” burst and everyone’s online secrets rained down upon them, ruining relationships and destroying lives. So the Internet was abolished. The police force merged with the press corps, new inventions like dreamcoats and flatex were created so that anyone can look like anything (for the right price) and people’s identities are carefully guarded secrets. It is in this version of the year 2075 that Brian K. Vaughan (of Saga fame) and Marcos Martin stage The Private Eye, a classic noir mystery told first as a webcomic and now in print. A vigilante PI begins a double-blind background check when his client is killed and he is framed as the prime suspect. To prove his innocence, he begins to dig deeper with the assistance of his sassy sidekicks and uncovers a megalomaniac’s sinister plans. Reminiscent of Blade Runner, this graphic novel doesn’t just pose the obvious questions about identity but also critiques how much the Internet has actually helped the modern age.