Frequently, when I choose my next book to read, I intentionally avoid anything polished, conspicuous or readily available in multiple copies. I prefer to find the quiet gems, small works written in earnest by relatively unknown authors. Usually, my efforts are rewarded by a rich and satisfying read, but this time, the return was even greater.
Black Moon, by Kenneth Calhoun, is a diamond in a sea of rhinestones. This smart novel follows a handful of characters as they navigate a world plagued by an epidemic of insomnia. They struggle with moral issues as they try to make decisions about their loved ones who are afflicted with the condition. They must also carefully monitor their own health and realistically assess their chances of survival. In the midst of the chaos, they cope with the normal problems that trouble friends, lovers, and companions.
Consider this passage, as one of the characters, Biggs, describes the frightening state of sleeplessness.
The sleepless, in their total exhaustion, quickly lost their ability to distinguish fact from fiction. The unguarded gate in their heads was now propped wide open to suggestion and persuasion. It was a great time for storytellers he thought, for magicians and, of course, advertisers- his abandoned trade. It was the ideal era for placebos: well-intended, white lies that produce truth in spite of themselves.
Carefully chosen, succinct language is the trademark of this excellent debut novel. Scientific and humanistic concerns are carefully balanced in a skillfully told tale that is poignant and perceptive. Please make sure to check out this superb debut novel.
John Wells is back in the 8th book in this series following the exploits of the deep cover C.I.A agent.
The Chief of Station in Istanbul is approached by an Iranian with intel on two upcoming attacks on Israeli embassies, when they come true, the Iranian hints at an attack on American soil.
The agency calls on John Wells to follow leads to see if the informant is genuine or a false flag trying to set up the Americans.
The leads take Wells on a twisting and dangerous mission from Panama City, Bangkok, Manila and to Istanbul.
This is a timely and well paced novel by a great spy writer Alex Berenson, a former N.Y. times foreign correspondent.
In honor of Father's Day this coming weekend, I thought I'd share a book that I listened to on a recent road trip.
Good Talk, Dad: The Birds and the Bees and Other Conversations We Forgot to Have is by author and CBS news correspondent, Bill Geist, and his son, Willie Geist, also an author and NBC news anchor. In it the duo discusses those "mandatory" father and son talks they never got around to having, as well as reminisce about Geist family history. The book is told in a back and forth style and is mostly comical in nature. From sports and holidays, summer camp, taste in music, and a favorite family car, Bill and Willie Geist are naturals at sharing memories of what seems to be a wonderful and sometimes weird family life. The pair provides plenty of laughs but get serious as well, especially as they discuss Bill's seldom mentioned time spent in Vietnam, as well as his struggle with Parkinson's Disease.
Good Talk, Dad was an enjoyable audio book and a funny and poignant look at this father-son relationship.
“The park slumbers through the long winter, weighed down by ice and snow, dreaming of spring…..as it drowses beneath its quilt of snow, it dreams of all the people who flocked to its midways: men, women and especially children, the joy the park brought them, the laughter that was like oxygen for the park, which breathed it in as it floated up from the Cyclone, the Funhouse, the Wild Mouse, the Carousel.”
Through a look at the amusement park, Palisades Park, over several decades, we learn about history, the park itself & a family that very well could have actually worked there. The story focuses on a family – The Stopkas – and through their eyes, we learn the history of the park. Eddie Stopka owns a French Fry stand at the park & marries Adele. Adele helps Eddie at the fry stand. They have two children, Antoinette & Jack. The story takes us through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Korean War, a divorce, segregation/integration, and much more. It has been said that Alan Brennert’s novel is more “nostalgia fiction” than historical fiction.
Because of the novels nostalgic style, you feel like there are certain topics in the book that you want to read more about. You want more meat to the stories within the story (but I don’t want to spoil these little stories & divulge anything further). It’s a pleasant read, if you don’t mind a little strong language. It really makes you think about what used to be controversial family-wise versus what we think of as controversial in today’s age. It’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look at an amusement park & makes me think of the good old days of Riverview Park & Kiddieland here in the Chicago area. It makes me want to read more about now-defunct amusement parks & their histories.
You may be familiar with the author’s previous novel “Moloka’I” which was a book club sensation.
Last year, Total Film ranked the 50 greatest movie dads. Instead of a tie this year, why don’t you check one of these out, grab some takeaway, and chill with your dad this Father's Day?
Know what’s awesome? True stories, and learning stuff!
Know what else is awesome? Comics and graphic novels!
Know what’s awesomerest? Putting those all together!
Here are ten of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels. (Well, more than ten, because I’m a cheater. A filthy stinkin’ cheater.):
10. How to Fake a Moon Landing by Darryl Cunningham
This comic talks about all sorts of science-denial movements, like that the moon landing was faked, or people who insist climate change is a myth. It presents the arguments behind them, and the arguments against them, in really easy-to-digest snippets.
9. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most infamous serial killers of the late 20th century, and Derf Backderf was the closest thing he had to a friend in high school. In this comic, he tells about Dahmer’s broken home life, drinking problem, and role as the weird dude at school. It gives a really unique insight into a warped and disturbed mind, but also performs the odd and difficult feat of actually making you feel some sympathy for a brutal serial killer.
8. The books of Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco writes the incredibly unique genre of comic journalism. He goes into war-torn regions like Palestine or Bosnia, and documents the difficult situations found there in graphic novel form. It makes the brutalities he encounters a bit easier to digest and understand, while you also realize that there are very real people behind these drawings.
7. Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente
One of the great things about non-fiction comics is their ability to make really complex and intricate things much easier to understand and digest, and nothing does that better than Action Philosophers. This comic series takes famous philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche to Spinoza to Freud, and treats them like comic superheroes. You get the basics of their life, how it shaped their philosophies, and how their ideas helped shape the world, all in a fun and funny package.
6. Economix by Michael Goodwin
Speaking of insanely confusing and complex, have you met the American economic system? Economix uses goofy cartoons, like an anthropomorphized factory to represent “big business” or a giant-headed version of Karl Marx, to boil down huge ideas into easily digestible chunks. What would otherwise be really dull and dry becomes both amusing and understandable.
5. Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen
As you can tell by some of the above entries, I’m kind of fascinated by serial killers. (Pretty sure I’m not alone in this.) This graphic novel was written by the son of Tom Jensen, the man who caught the Green River Killer, a murderer from Washington state. This book tells the story of when Jensen spent months interviewing Ridgway after he was caught using DNA evidence, trying to find some of his secrets.
4. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
I’ve learned more about how art works, and how the human brain interprets images, from this book than from entire art or psychology classes. This graphic novel shows you why artists make certain choices, and how the comics medium is both similar and different from other mediums like film. You’ll never read comics, or even look at a picture, the same way again.
3. The books of Larry Gonick
Larry Gonick writes comics about huge issues. He’s explored chemistry,statistics, and even world history, and he does it all with incredible research and a snappy sense of humor. He’s also incredibly influential in comics; the above-mentioned Economix even dedicates the book to him!
2. Graphic memoirs & biographies: Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Blankets by Craig Thompson, & tons more
Like I said above, there’s a lot of cheating here. These graphic memoirs & biographies show so many diverse lives, from a Holocaust survivor to a young girl growing up during the Iranian revolution to a story of first love in Wisconsin to countless others. Comics allow for such unique and idiosyncratic ways to both show a person’s history and their inner lives, it makes each individual memoir stand out in ways that simple written biographies often don’t.
1. The books of Rick Geary
As you may guess from some of the above entries, I am endlessly fascinated by true crime and by history. Rick Geary’s Treasury of Vicorian/XXth Century Murder series shows that those two great tastes taste great together, especially when served up on a beautiful plate of comics. (I feel like this metaphor may have gotten away from me…) Each comic is a beautiful piece of artwork, almost resembling classic woodcuts, and tells the story of one famous true crime from the late 1800s or early 20th century. Sometimes the crimes are totally famous (Assassination of Abraham Lincoln), sometimes I knew nothing about them (The Bloody Benders). Sometimes the killer is well-known (Assassination of President Garfield), and sometimes it’s still a mystery (Jack the Ripper, the Borden tragedy). Either way, Geary illustrates the people and events surrounding each murder so clearly and succinctly, that you can fully understand what happened, or at least play amateur detective to decide which of the likely (or unlikely!) suspects did the deed. Published at about the pace of once a year, it’s like comic book Christmas every time one comes out!
In 1993 writer/director Jane Campion won an Oscar for her screenplay The Piano. This film was not your typical Hollywood drama. It was a little off-center. Some thought it a little too quirky.
If you like quirky, you'll love this BBC 7-episode miniseries: Top of the Lake which was directed by Campion. It stars Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss as a damaged Australian homicide detective, who while visiting her cancer-ridden mother, is assigned to investigate the disappearence of a 13-yr old girl who has a deeply imbedded secret.
The performances are top-notch. . .especially those by Academy Award winner Holly Hunter and War Horse's Peter Mullan. The scenery is breathtaking and the humor is ebony. This program is the equivalent of a page-turner. Make certain that you have plenty of popcorn before putting it into the DVD player.
When asked to name historical figures who influenced America, everyone can name George Washington, Samuel L. Clemens, and Henry Ford. But what about Dorthea Dix, who exposed the harsh treatment of the mentaly ill in the 1800s, ᎾᏅᏰᎯ who with other members of the Cherokee tribal council fought for peaceful relations with European-Americans, or Grace Murray Hopper, whose work became the bassis of the computer language COBOL?
I genuenly enjoyed Charlotte Waisman's Her Story, which highlights the awesome, varied, and often unrecognized contributions of over 900 women throughout U.S. history, beginning in the 1500s and spanning all the way through 2011. For lovers of American history, feminists, or even the simply curious, Her Story is a fantastic book that I can't recommend enough!
"You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?"
A.J. Fikry is a cranky, opinionated bookstore owner who has had a recent string of bad luck. His wife has died in a tragic car accident, sales at his bookstore are down (possibly because he only sells what he likes), and his prized possession, a rare collection of poems by Edgar Allan Poe has been stolen. A.J. feels that his only solution is to further isolate himself from the residents of Alice Island and slowly drink himself into oblivion.
When a mysterious package is left at the bookstore, A.J. is given the rare opportunity to start over. He slowly begins to open up and allow himself relationships both with people who live on the island and even a few who don't.
A book about books, all types of love, and community.
A man's body is found beaten and bruised under an abandoned Yorkshire railway bridge. The first police on scene rule it a suicide, but are unsure when they find 5,000 pounds in the victims' pocket. DCI Alan Banks is called in and after further inspection the man is found to be a former professor who was fired due to a sketchy sex scandal.
Inspector Banks and detective Annie Cabot follow the leads which lead to Lady Chalmers, a former Marxist and now famous author and member of an aristocratic and politically connected family. Banks and Cabot find out that the victim and Lady Chalmers were once former students and activists together at University.