My Least Favorite Books of 2016

In advance of my annual “Year in Reading” summary, I thought I’d post a list of the books I read this year that I liked least. Or, more accurately—the books that disappointed me the most. Because reading isn’t just about what you like—it’s about what you don’t like, too.

Inclusion on this list doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad. There are titles here which are very good—they just weren’t my thing. Some titles make this list because I had hoped for more from them. Other titles are on this list because I genuinely believe they’re poor work.

This is not a definitive ranking. Titles are listed in alphabetical order by author.

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Book Review: Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know by J. A. Hitchcock

Cover of the book Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know by J. A. Hitchcock
Cyberbullying and the Wild, Wild Web: What Everyone Needs to Know
by J. A. Hitchcock
Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on December 15, 2016.

This book will be a useful resource for anyone who wants to know how to deal with cyberbullying. Chock-full of examples of what cyberbullying is—each chapter opens with the story of a victim—the narrative’s greatest value is the well-informed and practical advice it offers about how to handle cyberbullies and what parents can do if their child is the one doing the bullying. The author also provides insightful analysis of what makes cyberbullying different and why it can be more harmful than other forms of bullying. The work concludes with a comprehensive list of resources and support organizations available to those who need them. Parents will appreciate the guidance. Hitchcock founded one of the first organizations dedicated to combating online abuse and is a recognized expert in the field. She approaches the subject from the perspective of her own experiences, which testifies to her authority on the subject, but at times it comes across as a bit self-promotional. However, she also interviews several other cyberbullying experts and includes their insights, making this a well-rounded resource for parents and educators.

Book Review: Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World by Asi Burak and Laura Parker

Cover of the book Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World by Asi Burak and Laura Parker
Power Play: How Video Games Can Save the World
by Asi Burak and Laura Parker
St. Martin’s, 2017

This review was first published by Booklist on December 15, 2016.

This book is a survey of the movement to use video games as tools to educate and empower positive social change. Each chapter dives into a specific game or media company to present the history of this movement through real-world examples. Games can be forces for good—these games have been used to foster empathy and compassion, to illuminate mutual understanding, to promote involvement in civics and science, and even to help the sick deal with illness. Lead author Burak has been a pivotal figure in the Games for Change movement. Just about all of the games profiled in this book were projects that his organization, Games for Change, was involved with in some way. This makes him biased on the subject, certainly, but it also makes him better informed about the state of social-impact games than just about anyone else. This is an insider’s perspective, and the authors make a compelling argument. Games for Change might just change the world someday. It will be exciting to see what comes next.

Hate Speech in Libraries

There have been several reports over the last few weeks identifying a rise in incidents of hate speech, racist graffiti and slogans, and acts of violence toward members of various minority groups throughout the country. Several libraries have been targeted—books and buildings have been defaced with swastikas, racist, sexist, homo- and transphobic epithets, explicit threats of violence toward minority groups, etc.

Libraries are targets because we stand at the vanguard of promoting inclusion and diversity. We seek to empower the disempowered, to give voice and provide access to all individuals and groups within our community. We hold as a core value that no one be excluded from the tools and services we offer, that no one be silenced or impeded from equal participation in our community. Libraries function as a safe space for anyone who needs it.

Libraries pose a great threat to those who seek to exclude all those who are different from them.

Libraries hold a resolute belief in the freedom of speech and expression. This is fundamental to everything we do. How, then, are libraries supposed to handle incidents of hate speech?

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Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

The Passage by Justin Cronin
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Ballantine Books, 2010

On paper, there’s a lot I could criticize about The Passage by Justin Cronin.

The plot isn’t terribly original: a virus is unwittingly unleashed by the government which turns people into something very much like vampires. Mr. Cronin presents the standard well-intentioned scientist whose work is hijacked by the military (which, as expected, doesn’t go well). There’s a roster of bad guys, a cop with a conscience, and a Chosen One whose arrival can save mankind. There’s even an oracle of sorts.

It’s a man-made apocalypse story built on fairly generic story tropes. We witness the moment it all goes wrong and then spend the rest of the novel living in the post-apocalyptic world of the few survivors.

We’ve seen all this before. I Am Legend, zombie movies, The Walking Dead, et al. The ending offers a faint wisp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even the hive-mind wrinkle the author incorporates into his vampires is a familiar idea.

But none of that is a problem. None of it is a weakness. None of it feels derivative. This is one of the best renditions of all these ideas I’ve read.

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