Never Ask a Librarian This Question

My favorite part about being a librarian is helping someone find that perfect book: Whether it’s a cookbook with recipes that are just right for their dietary needs, a massive biography that will help a student write a report, or just the lastest can’t-put-down novel.

As an avid (and rather voracious) reader, the last one is my particular favorite. I love when I help someone find a story in which they can get swept away and lost in an adventure.

It’s easier, of course, when a patron gives us some guidelines: “I like John Grisham. Who can you recommend that’s similar to him?” Or: “I’m really into time travel.”

Criteria like that is a big help. However, if you want to make it harder on us (read as: if you want to see your librarian short-circuit like a robot), then ask: “What is your favorite book?”

“What is your favorite book?”

Why not just ask us what breath of air was our favorite?

You have to understand. We’re surrounded by books, and if you’re already a bookworm, then that sort of temptation is dangerous. You start reading books you don’t normally read, taking recommendations from fellow librarians even though you already have a Leaning Tower of Literature at home. You are inundated by novels and biographies; by how-to’s and comics; by literary fiction and fluffy feel-good stories.

So when you ask a librarian what his or her favorite book is… we have to do a miniature March Madness-style bracket in our head, pitting favorite books from every genre against each other, hoping to come up with that one, singular, perfect book in a matter of seconds….

And then we usually just ask, “Well, what kind of book are you looking for?”

In short: It’s nearly impossible for us to pick one favorite book. And I know that makes it hard when you’re looking for one, single recommendation.

So today, I thought I’d share some of my favorites. These are all books that captured my imagination, and–if you’re looking for a good book–I hope they will do the same for you.

Favorite “The Book Was Better Than the Movie”

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Just the concept of this book sounds absurd. So why did I read it? Well… because the concept of the book sounds absurd! I actually listened to this story on audiobook (which I would highly recommend, as it has musical interludes that match the tone of the story and provide wonderful atmosphere). I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it: As outlandish as the actual plot may have been, it was clear that Seth Grahame-Smith did a ton of research, carefully crafting his paranormal tale around real history. In comparison, the movie felt like little more than your run-of-the-mill action flick.

Favorite “Unexpected” Read

The Boy Next Door by Meg Cabot

I don’t read romance. In fact, I’m a bit like a second-grade boy when it comes to “mush.” Give me spaceships and explosions and detectives and… well, anything else! But a fellow librarian who also doesn’t like romance recommended this book to me… and, okay, I’ll admit it: The story was really cute. A modern epistolary novel (it’s written in emails), the story is a pretty basic case of mistaken identity, but Meg Cabot utilizes the email format to give each character a unique and engaging voice. The end result is a quick, fun read.

Favorite Young Adult

Looking for Alaska by John Green

I don’t reread books. I’m very much a one-and-done kind of bookworm… unless that book is Harry Potter. (I can’t even count how many times I devoured those during my childhood.) The other exception: Looking for Alaska. A heart-wrenching, but also beautiful novel that is carefully crafted around two “famous last word” quotes. This book is one of those that felt nothing short of enlightening to teenage-me. All of that, and John Green even still manages to throw in some humor. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book (but make sure you have some tissues nearby).

Favorite Graphic Novel

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb

Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. As such, any good Batman story should first and foremost be a good mystery. Hush delivers just that and MORE. In addition to all the twists and turns, you also get: (1) Cameos from nearly every villain; (2) Catwoman and Bruce Wayne romance; (3) One of the best Batman v. Superman fights; (4) A returning character from Batman’s past (though I won’t say who because… spoilers!); and (5) A probing look into Bruce Wayne’s past and, ultimately, his psyche. Honestly, it seems impossible that so much could go on in one story arc without feeling cluttered, but somehow Jeph Loeb balances it all with finesse, giving the reader expert storytelling and character development alongside classic comic book action.

RUNNER-UP: Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid

Favorite Series

Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch

Like almost every kid who grew up in the ’90s, I adored Harry Potter. However, when making this list, The Boy Who Lived seemed like a bit of a cop-out. So while I would still easily call that my favorite series, I wanted to highlight another page-turner that I just read: The Wayward Pines trilogy. Action, suspense, and mystery all centered on just the right amount of sci-fi and set against a backdrop of perfectly understood human nature. This series has gone through several librarians, and from there, recommended to several patrons. It’s one of those stories you don’t want to say too much about–you just have to read it for yourself.

Favorite Nonfiction

It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History by Jennifer Wright

I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. It’s just so hard for me to pick up a “real” story when there are so many fictional worlds still unexplored. That said… with a title like It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Break-Ups in History… how could I not pick it up? This book is full of stories that range from hilarious to tragic, all while told in a very conversational style that is very accessible and entertaining. It’s a perfect book to learn some history while also not feeling like you’re learning history.

Favorite Bestseller

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I have no idea how long this book has been on the bestseller list, but it’s got to be close to two years now. It’s also a book that is nearly impossible to get your hands on at the library–the hold list continues to be staggering. With those kinds of stats, this must be one amazing book, right? The answer: Yes. From the characters to the atmosphere of the swamp setting to the questions it asks (and leaves the reader asking), this is a book that reminds us what books should be. You finish the story and immediately want to talk about it with someone else. The good news: LOTS of people have read it (and are still reading it) so it won’t be difficult to find a book-buddy to discuss Delia Owen’s tale of the Swamp Girl.

RUNNER-UP: A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

My Top 10 Favorite Superhero Sidekicks

My first foray into the sensational stories of superheroes came in the 5th grade. TV Land had just begun playing the 1960s Batman series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward. My dad had called my brother (only about 5 at the time) into the room, thinking that his son would naturally fall in love with the cheesy action.

But it wasn’t his son who got hooked. It was his daughter.

I regaled my father with questions: Why does Batman fight crime? Who are his villains? And, of course: Can we watch it again tomorrow, “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel?”

But my favorite part of the show was always Robin. (I am not ashamed to say that Burt Ward was my first childhood crush. Take that, Backstreet Boys!)

For years, I didn’t realize that superheroes had their own genre. I thought that Batman was just Batman. A little later, I discovered the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies and fell in love with everyone’s favorite wall-crawler.

I graduated from ’60s Batman to the ’90s’ Spider-Man: The Animated Series, which aired every Saturday morning on ABC Family (which is now called Freeform, so yes, I know, I have dated myself).

Even then, I didn’t know that Spider-Man was part of a much larger superhero universe. Whenever some other crimefighter–Iron Man, Punisher, Daredevil–would guest star, I thought they were simply new characters designed for the cartoon. I didn’t know they had their own stories!

Then came college and my then-boyfriend who introduced me to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From there came all of the other ’90s cartoons I’d never watched: Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Teen Titans, etc.

And then the dizzying world of comics. Of trying to read graphic novels in just the right order to fully appreciate the massive, titles-spanning story being told. Of trying to catch-up with an industry that has been around for 80+ years. Of seeing how these timeless characters have changed with the coming decades and learning to appreciate those changes as pieces of history. (Even the ones that didn’t work out–seriously, who thought giving Superman a mullet was a good idea?)

But my favorite parts, still to this day, are the sidekicks. The mentees looking to the established heroes for guidance. The next generation.

And it’s probably all thanks to Burt Ward.

So… holy nostalgia, Batman!

It makes sense, then, for my very first comic-related blog to be a list of my top ten favorite sidekicks. And, for the nerds out there, yes, I’m going to be very specific (e.g. I won’t just say “Robin,” I’ll clarify which Robin). And to those less nerdy out there… yes, there are multiple Robins.

Buckle up. It’s time to head to Nerdville.

(10) Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)

I wondered whether or not to even include her on the list, considering that Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) has become a hero in her own right, protecting Burnside. Plus, she always kind of started out on her own. She decided to become a hero and then Batman recruited her, rather than the other way around. However, she did also help expand the Bat Family, turning the dynamic duo into a terrific trio. In that way, it only seemed right to include her. Batgirl has overcome every challenge that stands in her way–from fighting crime to overcoming trauma at the hands of the Joker–and she is equal parts brain and brawn. If you’re a villain, you don’t want to be punched by Batgirl, but you REALLY don’t want her hacking into your computer.

(9) Kid Flash (Wally West II)

For years, I was more of a Marvel fan until I came across the animated show Young Justice. From there, I started reading DC comics, and found that I was a bit more of a Bat than I was an Avenger. It’s little wonder then that a lot of my favorites come back to Young Justice. That said, I was a little uncertain when I saw they were rebooting the Kid Flash character–making him a completely different person. But I have to say… it really works. Wally West II comes with unique challenges, and now that Wally West I is back in the universe (for you non-nerds… it’s a long story), things are even better. I love watching the two Wallys interact with each other, often in a very brotherly way.

(8) Ms. Martian

Remember what I said about Young Justice? I fell in love with Ms. Martian: Her enthusiasm and energy, and then later her command and control. I loved watching her grow more and more comfortable with herself, going beyond “Hello, Megan!” to a true, Justice League-caliber hero.

(7) Robin (Tim Drake)

Tim Drake–the true detective of the Robins. The one who, in many ways, actually takes after Bruce Wayne the most. I’ve not read as much with him as I have others, but every time I do, I enjoy seeing his very analytical mind attack each situation. He’s a force to be reckoned with mentally. And while his more controlling nature gets on my nerves from time to time, he still has that “light” to Batman’s “dark” that makes him an interesting and engaging character.

(6) Speedy (Roy Harper)

I have a soft spot for those “lost” characters. And Roy Harper, who was the vessel DC used to address the drug epidemic in the landmark issue “Snowbirds Don’t Fly” (1971), is a prime example of one. Since that issue, he’s had to deal with addiction, alcoholism, and just about every obstacle writers could throw his way. Hot-headed and stubborn, he keeps pushing ahead even after he trades his sidekick days as Speedy for his adult persona Arsenal. With trucker hat and tattoos, he embodies all that is “bad boy” while still also being a hero. Whether he’s a Titan or an Outlaw, he always seems to have to prove himself–sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always relatable in his desire to rise above his own demons.

(5) Robin (Jason Todd)

Remember what I said about those “lost” characters? Well, you don’t get more lost than Jason Todd: the Robin that fans hated. First DC retconned him, giving him a new backstory and personality (which was much better than Dick Grayson, Pt. 2–but with red hair!). The new, edgier, and angrier Robin still didn’t get much love, however, so when DC came up with the idea to have fans vote for an issue’s ending by calling one of two numbers, they decided to use Jason. At the end of a dramatic issue where Jason was beaten within an inch of his life by the Joker, an explosion destroys the building he’s in right before Batman is able to get there to save him. Fans were given the option: Call number A for Robin to live, call number B for him to die. And with that… Jason Todd became the first Robin to die. (He would not be the last.) Years later, we get a resurrected Jason Todd who is angry at Batman–not for failing to save him, but for allowing the Joker to live. Jason argues that Batman’s “no killing” philosophy doesn’t amount to much if evil men either continuously escape or circumvent the law. He claims that any lives the Joker destroys also leaves blood on Batman’s hands. From there, Jason goes from antagonist to antihero, eventually finding peace with Batman over their differing viewpoints. It’s a strange (and often strained) relationship, but it’s also one of the most interesting in the Bat Family. If you want to see a roller coaster of character evolution, then Jason Todd stories are definitely some you’ll want to check out.

(4) Robin (Damian Wayne)

Like “lost” characters, I also have a soft spot for those who are always having to strive to be better people. And Damian Wayne is a prime example. Raised by the League of Assassins until he was 10, his moral compass is more than a little bent. Once he began living with Batman (his biological father), Damian learned to value life, but… he’s still being raised by Batman. Not exactly a normal childhood. While his entitled and aggressive nature can be annoying at times, I still love watching him grow and change as he learns how to be a son, brother, and friend. (Also, he’s basically Batman-in-miniature and watching him team-up with Superman-in-miniature is equal parts amusing and adorable.) Cue transition to #3!

(3) Superboy (Jon Kent)

Superman-in-miniature. He teams up with Batman-in-miniature. And he’s beyond adorable. I’m a huge fan of familial themes, and you don’t get stronger ones than with the Kents. I love watching their family confront each challenge that comes their way, watching Jon grow, and also seeing his interactions with other heroes. (He’s Superman’s kid after all; that’s kind of a big deal.)

(2) Kid Flash (Wally West)

Wally West is always going to be my favorite Flash. I fell in love with the character in Young Justice, and since then, I have devoured everything I can read with him. He’s funny and charming, but also deals with a lot of doubt. After all, he had pretty big shoes to fill after Barry Allen was killed in Crisis on Infinite Earths. I love his “bro” friendships with Dick Grayson and Roy Harper, and I even enjoy his romances. In my mind, there is only one other character who is more quintessentially “sidekick” than Wally… and he’s coming up next.

(1) Robin (Dick Grayson)

Of course my number one is Dick Grayson, the very first sidekick. As the first Robin, he set the standard for the superhero mentor/mentee relationship: (1) Be a complement to the hero he fights alongside (in his case, the “light” to Batman’s darkness); (2) “Graduate” to become a hero in his own right, separate from his mentor (specifically, Dick became Nightwing). Nearly every character on this list follows that (or a very similar) pattern, but Dick Grayson was the one who started it all. Not only does his character come with a ton of history, but his role as an optimist and “big brother” in the Bat Family just makes him even more likable, clinching his spot at number one.

And that’s it: My Top 10 Favorite Superhero Sidekicks. Obviously, a pretty DC (and Bat)-heavy list. I did look up Marvel sidekicks in case there were any that I was forgetting, but sadly those I found (Bucky, War Machine, Falcon, etc.) just didn’t make my Top 10 list. I’d also argue that DC approaches “sidekicks” in a fundamentally different way than Marvel, lending itself to a more traditional definition of the word (where the characters are more like apprentices.)

I would however love to hear other thoughts. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a fun comic book conversation!