Unnatural Creatures selected by Neil Gaiman

A black spot appears on your tablecloth. When you look again, it’s gone. Now it’s on your wall. You blink. It’s on your ceiling. With each new appearance, it grows. It swells. It becomes a large, hideous, dark presence in your home. And then you learn – it’s hungry.

“Unnatural Creatures” is a collection of stories selected by Neil Gaiman. I picked it up while I was visiting Portland, Ore., to see a friend. Elbowing my way through the crowds at Powell’s Books to find a new read, I stumbled upon it in the staff-recommended section.

Since I was only allowing myself to buy one book (such willpower) I decided anything selected by Gaiman was worth checking out.

These fantasy stories feature dark and mystical creatures ranging from hungry black spots to professor werewolves.

In “Ozioma the Wicked” a young girl is an outcast when her town learns that she can speak to snakes. Then one day, something lowers itself down from the sky and threatens everything they hold dear. Only Ozioma can help them.

“Moveable Beast” is an adventure in which a Beast collector arrives at the Bastardville Dreamy Creamy, an ice cream store in a town that prides itself on being miserable. He comes to collect their beast, but little does he know what that beast truly is.

Larry Niven’s “The Flight of The Horse” is about a man who travels back in time to find curiosities for the modern royal family. He goes on a quest further back in history than ever before to find a horse but finds something quite startling instead.

In one of my favorite pieces of the collection, a young girl named Matilda gets off the omnibus one day at an unexpected destination. In this village, the princesses’ pet cockatoucan transforms aspects of the village with its magic laughter.

The king becomes a butcher; the prime minister becomes a child. It makes Sundays come together and Thursdays get lost. It changes time, people and places to make their village a topsy-turvy mess.

Though Matilda normally wouldn’t be able to tackle such a complicated problem, the cockatoucan accidently makes her clever. And she concocts a plan to set the village to rights.

Each piece in “Unnatural Creatures” is different and delightful. Whether the authors are writing about griffins or bicycles, the characters are unique, and the stories are imaginative.

Gaiman has assembled a charming collection of whimsical romps – whether they are dark, sweet or deadly – that any reader will enjoy.

Hyperbole and a Half; dinosaurs, cake and rainbows

“Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh is like reading about the inside of your head – all the dinosaurs, cake, rainbows and overly emotional thoughts churning around into a colorful mess that constitute your life completely unfiltered.

We try really hard to keep all those dinosaurs and rainbows under control, but in this book, they roam free. I admit, maybe this isn’t everyone’s head (if you’re scowling at me right now, I mean you), but I loved it because it is a little bit like being inside mine.

It started the day I read the dinosaur costume entry, Menace, on Brosh’s blog. It was like making a new friend. I have worn a dinosaur costume, and I, too, have felt incredibly powerful waving my claws in the air, having a tail and roaring.

The best part is people not looking at you like “why is that human roaring?” because you’re a dinosaur now – you can roar to your heart’s content. So yeah, I was hooked.

Brosh’s blog is truly great. Each entry contains humorous stories and drawings to illustrate the ridiculousness that is daily life with blatant honesty. Her book “Hyperbole and a Half” is an extension of this.

In “Hyperbole and a Half,” we experience Brosh’s battles with depression, her childhood memories, her struggles to be a better person and even a little delicious cake stealing. Her writing is brutal, comical and wholly sincere.

There are many, many reasons to read this book, but here are just a few. You should read it if:

You love dogs.

You love cake.

You love books.

You like to laugh.

You are human.

The thing is, I think a lot of us can relate to Brosh’s book. It’ll make you chuckle, sure, but it’ll also make you think.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression or felt overwhelmed by the total lack of control in your daily life, or if you’ve ever needed someone just to understand how amazingly frustrating it can be just to be a person existing in this world, you’ll relate. And I think we’ve all been there.

Brosh reminds us that we’re all human, and that, yes, life is hard. It’s hard and ridiculous and exquisite. We should be grateful just to be experiencing it every day, but most of the time, we aren’t.

We’re mostly caught up being infuriatingly human, and if we’re going to do that anyway, then we might as well laugh a little bit at ourselves, too.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” reminds us to take it one day at a time

He has to wake a woman up, comfortably curled under her blanket, who is surprisingly indignant that he disturbs her nap. Normally, it would be considered rude to wake up someone in the midst of a pleasant snooze, but the woman is resting between the library’s stacks, and he is a librarian trying to work.

On any given day, he has to remind someone to watch their children who are destroying books with their mighty little fingers. Or during storytime, he ends up tracking down an owner who lets their dog run amuck as it bounds with unrestrained joy through the library.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” by Josh Hanagarne begins with amusing anecdotes about working in the Salt Lake City library. After engaging us with his sense of humor, unfailing kindness and passion for books, we learn a little more about his life.

Being a librarian is not all there is to Josh Hanagarne. He grew up as part of a close-knit family in the Mormon faith. He also grew up with Tourette’s.

In an effort to not make a problem out of something Hanagarne feels he can deal with, his parents don’t address the tics from his Tourette’s until he requests they go to a doctor. He begins a lifetime of fighting, questioning and adjusting.

Hanagarne tries many methods to deal with the tics. He tries ignoring them, he tries praying, and one day, his dad introduces him to weight lifting. The weight lifting seems to help for a while, but new tics appear, and he has to constantly search for fresh answers.

Though this is his most constant struggle, his memoir not only addresses Tourette’s but his evolution of belief in his faith, his journey to having a family of his own and his love of books and all the possibilities they provide.

The story is a bit random in a wonderfully human way. Hanagarne doesn’t define himself by any one aspect of his life. He is a librarian, a weight lifter, a father, a Mormon, a son and a skeptic. As he meets and faces each new challenge, he tries to answer many of the universal questions we all ask ourselves every day.

He questions whether there is a God, whether he is strong enough to face the trials in his life and why certain events happen to those who don’t deserve it. Like most of us, he struggles to understand the ‘whys’ of his life when it begins to feel overwhelming.

“The World’s Strongest Librarian” is a sweet, funny and moving memoir. Reading Hanagarne is like sitting down with a friend for a long conversation that leaves one feeling lighter and more hopeful.

Afterward, we feel like maybe anything is possible, if we just take it one day at a time.