The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 29, 2010

Cari Boatright Rerat, Book Review: Snarky attitude makes history book interesting

By Cari Boatright Rerat
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History

By Adam Selzer (and the Smart Aleck Staff)

Teen Nonfiction

This book on American history is a hoot and a half. The history lessons begin with the discovery of the Americas and work their way through to the inauguration of President Obama.

As the title suggests, Selzer and his Smart Aleck Staff don’t take themselves too seriously, but it is obvious that they take history and its importance very seriously. The information they give is concise, interesting, and full of humor.

They even include “End of Chapter Questions,” but they are nothing like what you’ll find in a traditional text book. Also not found in traditional texts is the “Some of the stuff we missed” sections that acknowledge that they haven’t covered every historical happening in each chapter.

Selzer and his Smart Aleck Staff did a great job when putting this book together. I never knew history could be this much fun.

There was no better way for me to cure insomnia in high school and college than to read from my history books. The dry, boring writing made it hard to remember anything, let alone why it mattered.

The Smart Aleck’s guide had exactly the opposite effect on me. Several nights I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish reading chapters and laugh as the Smart Aleck Staff had fun with (and poked fun at) our history.

This is a great book for students who find history boring and for adults who want a brief, accessible refresher course.

Episodes: My Life as I See It

By Blaze Ginsberg

Teen Nonfiction

Have you ever felt like you missed an episode in someone’s life? They start talking about something as if you should know what’s going on, but you have no idea? Blaze Ginsberg’s memoir offers the solution to this feeling within his own life.

Blaze is a high functioning autistic teenager. In his memoir, he relates events in his life as if they were part of a TV series whose episodes are entered into a database similar to the online Internet Movie Database (

Each entry is complete with the cast of characters, guest stars, episode summaries, memorable quotes, trivia, goofs, and soundtrack listings. Blaze’s story takes us through a very relatable teenage life Ñ a new school, friends, family, crushes, video games, etc. Ñ with a unique perspective and an imaginative format.

While compelling in its own right, the format detracts from the book’s impact. The format significantly distances the reader from Blaze’s life. I never felt particularly invested in Blaze’s story, because the format doesn’t allow me to get to know him or the other people in his life very well.

On the other hand, the way Blaze’s story is told makes this book a fast and easy read that is, despite its distance, difficult to put down.

Reading it was a lot like surfing online for me. It’s just interesting enough and easy enough to consume that you somehow zone out and get through the whole thing without really noticing.

This one isn’t for readers looking for fast pace and action. For patient readers and readers interested in autism, it is worth checking out.

Side note: Blaze’s mother, Debra Ginsberg, wrote “Raising Blaze” about Blaze’s early life. That title can be found in the adult nonfiction area of the library.