Call it mini-reviews. Call it digital handselling. Call it whatever you want. Whatever it’s called, here’s my regular check-in with what I’ve been reading over the last couple weeks.
Good Eggs by Phoebe Potts
I LOVED this book. In Good Eggs, Phoebe Potts writes (and draws) candidly about her life – and specifically about her struggles to conceive and start a family with the husband Jeff. It’s now among my favorite graphic memoirs, right up there with the work of Jeffrey Brown and Alison Bechdel. Potts manages to be personal, honest and touching, yet possesses a great sense of humor that a lot of memoirs lack. Where other books are droll, Good Eggs is lively. A story about fertility and trying to conceive isn’t something I’d necessarily think of for a 25-year-old guy like me, but this one proved me wrong.
Black Hole Sun by David Macinnis Gill
“My old chief taught me three lessons: Never believe anything you hear and only half of what you see. Never go into debt because you will never get out. And never pat yourself on the back because karma will bite you in the ass. ‘Karma’, I think, ‘meet ass.'”
If there were ever a young adult book with teen boys squarely in it’s sights, Black Hole Sun is it. Take the space merc combat of Mass Effect, throw in a bit of Mad Max vehicular combat, add a dash of Red Faction Guerrilla and stir in some Iron Man tech, and you’ve baked a cake pretty close to Gill’s book. In a rare bit of teen dystopian fiction that’s true sci-fi, we follow Mars-based teen mercenary Durango and his crew of Regulators into the mines of the red planet, where they set up to protect the miners from a vicious and cannibalistic horde bent on their destruction. The characters are great – particularly Durango, who reads like a young Han Solo-meets-Mal Reynolds – and the dialogue is crackling and at times brilliant. Violent and imaginative, unique and well-paced, Black Hole Sun evokes the best of sci-fi movies, games and books.
Hella Nation by Evan Wright
“Larry Flynt used to defend Hustler by calling the nude photo layouts “art.” I would come to joke that the porn video is indigenous Southern California folk art. The cheesy aesthetic – shag-carpet backdrops, tanning-salon chic, bad music, worse hairdos – and the everyman approach to the exhibitionism are honest expressions of life in the land of mini-malls, vanity plates and instant stardom.”
Hella Nation is definitely worth reading, and a fascinating look at the fringes of American society. The porn business, soldiers in Afghanistan, UFC fighters and professional skateboarders are just a few of the folks that Wright profiles. If you’re a reader of Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair, you’re probably familiar with Wright and, actually, these pieces of reportage. Excepting an all-new introduction and a 2007 piece on Pat Dollard, many of the articles were first published ten or more years ago. The inclusion of these works makes the book seem strangely dated, especially for one published last year. If you’ve never read any of Wright’s work, bump this up at least a star. Wright is a smart, clever writer worth reading, and he can immerse himself in fringe culture as well as anyone since Hunter Thompson.
The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex by Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist
“Sex is the most powerful thing in the universe, and if you’re not instantly good at it, you probably never will be and everyone will laugh at you. This is something you should know before even attempting sex.”
If you’re a fan of books like America The Book and I Am America And So Can You, move this book to the top of your bedside stack. In the same way that those books astutely skewered history textbooks and political pundits, Daily Show writers Schaal and Blomquist parody the steamy sex guide. The authors promise that all the techniques in the book have been tested – every erogenous zone has been “erogenated” – and that after reading the book “you may easily spend the rest of your life orgasming your brains out.” Open to any page in the book and you’re almost guaranteed a laugh, as The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex is packed with infographics, illustrations, charts and graphs, along with the occasional short story of slash-fic-level ridiculousness. Hilarious and ridiculously filthy. Just, uh, don’t expect to pick up too much actual technique from it.
The Snow Tourist by Charlie English
“It was the intensity of skiing that got me hooked. Up there in the snow, all the troubles of the lowlands seemed irrelevant. Every autumn now my thoughts return to snow. Like my father, I am a snow person. The longing for landscape is something I have inherited. When I first arrived in London from what city people call the provinces, I fled back to the countryside at every opportunity.”
The Snow Tourist is a breath of fresh (and cold) air in the record-breaking heat we’re experiencing in the northeast. In the book, Charlie English (self-professed “winter person”) commits to finding the world’s “purest, deepest snow”, and more broadly to exploring winter and the people who love it. English builds igloos in Canada, skis at Chamonix, and interviews avalanche survivors. Expertly weaving his lifelong love of winter and his research travelogue into the story the science and history of snow, the author leaves us with an irresistible read. A paean to those of us who are skiers, snowboarders, and “winter people.”
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
“President Snow says he’s sending us a message? Well, I have one for him. You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that?” One of the cameras follows as I point to the planes burning on the roof of the warehouse across from us. The Capitol seal on a wing glows clearly through the flames. “Fire is catching!” I am shouting now, determined that he will not miss a word. “And if we burn, you burn with us!”
Of the stuff I’m reading, this is the biggie. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything, both to save my commentary for an upcoming podcast and save myself from the wrath of fans who haven’t read it yet. Basically speaking, the book brought the story of the Hunger Games trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. We see our hero Katniss Everdeen take her fight directly to the Capitol, we watch Collins tie up all the threads left dangling at the ends of the first two books, and we get a decisive answer to the “Gale or Peeta” question that people have been looking for since the first book. As with any book, Mockingjay isn’t without problems – and some people had far more than I did – and will only inspire more debates as we barrel towards the film versions of the books. The strongest praise I can give it is that, like the first two, I read it all in one long late-night rush.