Friday, November 19, 2010

Graphic Friday: Natsume's Book of Friends

Author:  Yuki Midorikawa

The Dish:  Natsume is not like other boys.  All of his life he's been able to see spirits and demons...and they're usually chasing him.  But this isn't his fault since the demons believe he is his grandmother, Reiko, from whom he inherited his spiritual gifts.  When she was alive, Reiko had taken the names of many different demons after spiritual battles, thus forming her "Book of Friends".  After releasing a demon he calls "Nyanko-sensei", due to the demon being trapped in the form of a lucky cat, Natsume finds the "Book of Friends" and vows to return the names to their proper owners.  Nyanko-sensei has promised to assist Natsume in this task on the condition that should the boy die while on his quest, the demon shall receive the "Book of Friends".

I was introduced to this series by a friend of mine, though it was the anime, not the manga.  Oddly enough I didn't watch an entire episode despite my curiosity.  Then, when I saw the manga available here, I just had to really see what the story was about.  The overall story of Natsume's Book of Friends is that Natsume is basically wanting to undo what his grandmother did years ago in taking the names from the demons listed in the book.  What I really love is the episodic stories involving Natsume with the various demons he encounters such as when he first meets Nyanko-sensei, or Madara as he is called by other demons.  The most endearing story to me involves the "Dew God", a spirit that was treated as a god many decades prior.  However, with only one believer remaining and growing older, his stature had been reduced to a tiny spirit easily held in one's hand. 

The banter between Natsume and Nyanko-sensei/Madara is quite humorous, especially with Nyanko-sensei always taking into account that he could always just eat Natsume to gain the Book of Friends.  In fact, it was Nyanko-sensei/Madara that made me very interested in this series simply because his true demon form has the appearance like that of a wolf.  It is rare to see wolves along the side of the protagonist in manga.  In the Dew God's story, there was a prediction made that involved Nyanko-sensei/Madara that makes me very curious to read more volumes.  Overall, I can't wait to continue collecting more volumes and I'd like to revisit the anime when it comes to America. 

When reading a graphic novel series, do you prefer more episodic stories or the overarching storyline and why do you prefer that type of story?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Random Thoughts: Do you work here?

Title:  "Do you work here?"
Author:  DJL

The Dish:  How many times have you heard that question before in your workplace?  I can understand it if your workplace doesn't have a standard uniform or if you're out in the store with your back to a customer.  However, when you're sitting behind the Information Desk with your name tag in plain have to ask yourself, "Really?  You're asking if I work here?"

What makes hearing this question from patrons so hilarious are the inner comments and comebacks that employees come up with.  I've composed a list of my Top Five Favorite "Work here?" Comebacks:

1. No, I just needed a place to sit and this was the only free chair.
2. Actually, I'm a professional seat-warmer.  Here's my card.
3. I wanted to ask you the same question since I need to find this title.
4. Oh, did I forget my name tag again?
5. If you hum a few bars, I might get the tune.

In all honesty, I think it's because customers are so focused on their task at hand, they don't think to look at the name tag.  All they see is a body behind a desk of authority, and they want to ascertain that body is someone who can help them.  And truth be told, I haven't been asked that question in a long while before tonight, so I think we're doing good for the most part.

What witty comebacks would you say if someone asked "Do you work here?"

Saturday, November 13, 2010

DJL Dishes Dessert!

Title:  Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
The Dish:  Fall is one of my favorite times of year, mostly because of 2 things: the change in the weather from hot to cool and the appearance of pumpkin products on the shelves.  I'm a big fan of pumpkin dishes, mostly in the way of desserts, but I wouldn't mind trying something savory with pumpkin sometime.  For now, though I'll stick with the sweet side of pumpkin.

Speaking of which, there is nothing quite as sweet or decadent as cheesecake, and when you combine that with the awesome flavor of autumn that is pumpkin, people get one amazing tour for the senses.  There is just something about using pumpkin in something as rich and sumptuous as cheesecake that just makes my mouth water.  I found this recipe on Kraft Foods and decided to make it for a special occasion at work, so here's hoping that everyone will enjoy it!

-25 NABISCO Ginger Snaps, finely crushed (about 1-1/2 cups)
-1/2 cup  finely chopped PLANTERS Pecans
-1/4 cup butter, melted
-4 pkg.  (8 oz. each) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
-1 cup sugar, divided
-1 tsp.  vanilla
-4 eggs
-1 cup  canned pumpkin
-1 tsp. ground cinnamon
-1/4 tsp.  ground nutmeg
-Dash ground cloves

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix crumbs, melted butter, and pecans, pressing the mixture into the bottom of the pan.  Use   
either a 13x9 inch rectangle pan or a 9-inch spring-form pan.
3. Beat cream cheese, 3/4 cup of sugar, and vanilla using a mixer until just blended.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each egg until just blended.  Remove 1 1/2 cups of batter and set aside.  Stir in remaining sugar, pumpkin, and spices into remaining batter. 
4. Spoon half of the pumpkin batter onto crust, topping with spoonfuls of the plain batter.  Repeat layers, and then swirl with a knife. 
5. Bake for 45 minutes (with 13x9 inch pan) or 55 minutes to 1 hour and 5 minutes (with spring-form pan) until center is almost set.  Cool completely.  Refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

(Belated) Graphic Friday: Yakitate!! Japan

Author:  Hashiguchi, Takashi

The Dish:  Battling...brawling...baking?  At the tender age of 6, Azuma Kazuma was introduced to the art of bread-making by a local baker with a dream to create a signature bread associated with Japan.  The French have a bread, the Germans have a bread, many countries have a bread associated in their country of origin.  And thus, Azuma's dream of creating such a bread for Japan, or Ja-Pan, was born.  

Why should people read this manga series?  Because it's a manga about a bread competition.  How many shonen series can boast this type of competition?  In most action manga, the competition is a battle royale in the sparring ring between two (or more) brutal warriors, as with Dragonball Z, YuYu Hakusho, and so forth.  With Yakitate!! Japan, it's still a battle...the ring just happens to be in the kitchen using an oven.  

This is one crazy manga starting off with Azuma competing for a position at Pantasia, the most prestigious of breadmaking brands in Japan.  While in the competition, Azuma meets formidable opponants in Ken Suwabara, a breadmaker with the heart of a samurai, and Kyousuke Kawachi, a young breadmaker with a secret past.  But Azuma has one advantage on his side in this bread competition...his "hands-of-the-sun", or palms that are warmer than normal temperature.  Azuma fairs well in the competition, but due to some scheming in part of some of the competition, he does not win the position at Pantasia's main branch.  Instead, he and Kawachi have both caught the eyes of Tsukino Azusagawa, owner of the the smaller south Pantasia branch.  How will Azuma fair working in a bakery that is in competition not only with other local bakeries but also with Pantasia's major rival, St. Pierre?  

Overall, I have enjoyed this manga simply because of the unique theme even if it does revolve around a competition.  It has the heart of the hero's journey as Azuma strives to achieve the perfect Ja-pan, or Japanese bread.  The side characters involved in the manga are what really make the story great, although I believe we dwell too much on Kawachi's "hair issues" later in the series.  Although I haven't been able to finish the manga yet, I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome of the final bread competition. 

What competition-based manga series capture your attention?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Forced into more.

Title:  Speak
Author:  Laurie Halse Anderson

The Dish:  Outcast.  Loser.  Freak.  These are terms that are always familiar with the ostracized teens in high school, those that everyone else seems to shun entirely for some reason.  Melinda Sordino is one such teen at her high school, cast out of the crowd because of calling the police at a party over the summer.  Those who were her friends have dropped her entirely while everyone else whispers about her, thinking she's a loser in breaking up the party.  But there was a reason Melinda called the police...a reason that she just cannot admit to, not even herself and thus locks her voice away. 

Everyone has seen something similar to this situation.  Someone is treated poorly for a shallow reason whether that person doesn't wear the "right" clothes or doesn't look the "right" way or doesn't behave in the "right" manner.  The person's peers either look upon them with scorn or don't even bother looking at them, let alone notice them.  That is Melinda's life in high school, and Anderson captures that high school mentality so very well in Speak.  Melinda has to go through all of the scorn and the lack of sympathy from her peers and even her former best friend.  And the teachers are really just a presence of authority as they don't take notice of how Melinda is treated, though there is that one teacher, Mr. Freeman, that seems to get it.  

What I found intriguing in the overall story was the journal style in which Anderson writes through Melinda.  There are no set chapters, instead it is written in pieces throughout the different high school terms starting with the fall term.  This makes Melinda and those she writes about in her day-to-day life all the more realistic and much more empathizing.  It feels somewhat like a tragic triumph when she finally confronts those who have shunned her and when she is able to tell her story to the one who seems to understand her.  Sadly, the realism that Anderson has written into this story is all too real, and though that makes the story even more powerful, it is also a sign of how important such a text like Speak is to both teens and adults.  As one of the most challenged books of its time due to controversial subject matter involving adolescent issues, I feel that as a librarian and a reader it is a book that needs to be read now more than ever.  

What banned/challenged books speak to you and why do you think they are challenged?
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