Like any librarian worth his salt (salt isn’t worth much, mind), I like to read whilst sipping tea in a rocking chair with a large dog keeping my feet warm. Unfortunately, I never get to do this because I lack a rocker, the dog is small, and I have no time. I usually fit my reading in during the halftimes of soccer games (daughter) or seventh-inning stretches (son), or whenever I’m taking a break from triathlon training. And at red lights.
Also problematic are the many, many awesome new titles pouring in from around the globe and elsewhere. I just didn’t have time for the second volume of Francisco Facchinei’s compelling Finite-Dimensional Variational Inequalities and Complementarity Problems or David A. Carter’s bold The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites. Both are coming in July‚ watch this space!
But because I care about you, the reader, in this column I pack double the usual dose of excellence you have come to expect from BFD. This month me and The Team kick out all the jams to help you, highly intelligent consumer of book literature, cut to the chase. That’s right! Maximize your returns with this column‚ at no cost to you! Yes, free to you, with this special, perpetual offer (you just have to read to the bottom) is a full supply of witty, pithy reviews of books from the ’80s, ’90s, and today! No money down! No obligation! No baloney! That’s our pledge at BFD, your best readers’ advisory choice. It’s your only man-centric, one-stop-shop column-within-a-larger-content-rich-resource, which itself is the offspring of the most important serial publication in the free world that focuses on books and other stuff!
What’s that you say? That I’m crazy to just give it away? Well, yes, I am, but if you act now, you’ll also receive my newest product, The Last Word: The BFD Seal of Approval, absolutely free. To recap: that’s eight artisanal reviews and The Last Word, zero baloney, eight gigabytes of tactical readers’ advisory and an ab-ripping workout routine for the low, low price of nothing!
Clegg, Brian. How To Build a Time Machine: The Real Science of Time Travel. St. Martin’s. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780312656881. $25.99. SCI
Time travel? That would free up my schedule for reading and give me the opportunity to get a better mortgage rate and fix that pesky arrest record. Though not a how-to, this absorbing title enjoyably discusses scientific topics ranging from the zeroth law of thermodynamics to the evolution of the calendar‚ all in relation to the concept of time. Clegg points out that memory is a one-way time machine‚ though I was hoping for a phone-booth-esque machine with buttons and levers. Reading his summary of Einstein’s theory of special relativity had me thinking, hey, maybe there’s something to this‚ and I’m the guy who doesn’t know how to work his GPS. Clegg’s ponderings on movement and dimensions‚ akin to Isaac Asimov’s riffing in Of Time, Space, and Other Things (1965)‚ even allowed me to forget temporarily the reality of needing to regrout the bathroom tile; in my world, that’s a time machine. Good book, but for an actual machine you need to go buy yourself a refrigerator. After the install, pop a coldun and look around. Whattya got? The box the fridge came in. That’s your time machine, bro. Get out some of your special colored pens‚ go with the glitter ink‚ color the apparatus, and bang-o, there you go: time machine-o-la.
Cooper, Mike. Clawback. Viking. 2012. c.390p. ISBN 9780670023295. $26.95. F
When you need the problem solved fast and permanent, you call me. Me is special forces veteran Silas Cade, whose muscle, know-how, and knack for numbers ensure him business in the rarified circles of thems with money problems the rest of us only dream about‚ the one-percenters. Cade is hired to find out who is behind the assassinations of the worst-rated Wall Street money managers. One theory is that the Beardstown Lady types can’t take any more losses and are going vigilante. The more likely scenario is that someone is making money‚ lots of it‚ off the positions (stuff like zinc futures) left by the dead brokers. Cade will appeal to ManReaders because he is a fairly normal, sociopathic, quick-witted CPA-ish nerd with plenty of alpha-dog macho for whoopin’ asses. He’s also charmingly obsessive about remaining off the grid/untraceable. Even though there are two $10 words (demimonde and Breguet) in the first few pages and a weird story arc in which Cade learns of an older brother he never knew about, this novel by Cooper‚ a pseudonym for author Michael Wiecek (Exit Strategy)‚ is breezy and smooth. There’s even an intrepid, sexy reporter chick who makes Silas think more about the curve of neck into shoulder than the problems at hand. Heartily recommended.
Friedman, Daniel. Don’t Ever Get Old. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780312606930. $24.99. F
Ex-police detective Buck Schatz, the protagonist in Friedman’s debut, is eighty-seven years old and still buying Lucky Strikes by the carton. He’s the most winsome octogenarian monster ever; soon after we meet him, he literally condemns a man to hell. Buck is irascible, crotchety, old school, and Just Plain Old, and though he is at peace with his age, he is not a peaceful man. Like Abe Lieberman in Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Lieberman’s Day, in his integrity and sensitivity to his own mortality, Buck transcends masculinity in favor of manliness. Wind and rain can erode even granite if they have enough years to do it, he notes. No matter how tough you think you are, if you live long enough, eventually you get all squishy. In a very personal reversal of fortune for Buck, about $3 million in Nazi gold‚ owned by the same SS officer who tortured and humiliated him during WWII‚ stumbles upon him. With his grandson-cum-sidekick, Buck dodges cops, other treasure seekers, and a bowel-eviscerating killer trying to get them gold bars from St. Louis to Memphis. With all the finesse of a garbage truck at a flower party, Buck is pure pleasure to watch. If you don’t like this book, there’s something wrong with you.
Lansdale, Joe R. Edge of Dark Water. Mulholland: Little, Brown. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780316188432. $25.99. F
Lansdale (whose heap’em writings include novella Bubba Hotep) kick-starts this lyrically whangin’ novel with a champion line: That summer, Daddy went from telephoning and dynamiting fish to poisoning them with green walnuts. The speaker is teenage Sue Ellen, who has a whole lot of nothing in her future, living in east Texas in the 1930s in a hovel near the Sabine River with a daddy who beats her alcoholic momma. When Sue Ellen’s pal May Lynn is hauled dead out of the Sabine with weighted ankles, Sue Ellen realizes, I wanted out of what I was in, and I wanted something else other than what I had. Stay with me: Sue Ellen figures that the natural move forward is to take stolen bank money and spend it on a trip to Hollywood with a dead girl burnt up in a jar, and that’s exactly what she and her two best friends do with a stash of loot and a cremated May Lynn. And this ain’t no Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants; assorted family members, authorities, and an all-too-real boogeyman are in no-kidding-gonna-kill-you hot pursuit as the friends raft down the Sabine. Sue Ellen’s lively expressions (night had dropped down on us like a croaker sack) keep things upbeat, even though this is a South steeped in a misery about as far away from soccer moms and swivel chairs as you can get. An unstoppable read, this should come with the warning Do Not Start @Bedtime.
Leonard, Elmore. Swag. HarperCollins. 2009. 259p. ISBN 9780061741364. pap. $14.99. F
Leonard is the man, isn’t he? You’ll get more prolific authors (Ed McBain), or those with a higher quality-to-output ratio (Dashiell Hammett), but for all-around punch, Leonard is tops. This one is set in Detroit, 1976, where Ernest Stickley is caught stealing a car from salesman Frank Ryan’s lot. Instead of testifying against Stick, Ryan comes to him with a proposition. The two form an alliance and begin a career of armed robbery, which, as Ryan proves to Stick using statistics, is the most profitable racket. Targeting small-time operations like supermarkets, bars, gas stations, and liquor stores, the two are soon earning three to five grand a week (good money even these days). They attribute their success to being selective and to following Frank’s ten simple rules, which include Never say more than necessary and Never associate with people known to be in crime. Unfortunately, all good things must end. When the two join in a scheme for a massive score things fall apart, and it’s every man for himself. As in Get Shorty and Tishomingo Blues, Leonard offers a perfect, dense little symphony of characters, plot, and high stakes. And to think you can find such greatness for $0.75 on half.com.
Runcie, James. Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. May 2012. c.448p. ISBN 9781608198566. pap. $16. F
Reminiscent of old Nero Wolfe or Agatha Christie morsels, Runcie’s (Colour of Heaven) satisfying short story whodunits are set in a British village in the early 1950s and star the titular Chambers, a WWII vet and local canon (like a vicar, only more ass-kicking). Chambers, like me, is a tall, dark, handsome bike rider. We’re both keen observers, good listeners. Our housekeepers leave eerily similar notes (More Vim please. And Harpic. Fish tomorrow. Not Friday). We enjoy similar snacks‚ Sid his consoling Chelsea bun from Fitzbillies and me my big honkin’ apple fritters from the day-old bakery. We’re both a lot like Chuck Norris*, only where me and Chuck kick down doors and export pain, Sid’s scruples compel him to quietly right injustices using his intellect and occasional help from his pal the local backgammon-playing police inspector. Sid is likable, but he won’t be confused with any street lit protagonist‚ and that’s the appeal. Those seeking mild, tame mystery puzzles will enjoy this‚ and the many instances of Chambers’s naiveté, as when he ponders, in the first mystery, It was his first case of adultery, never mind murder.
*But that’s where the similarities end, sister, cause I’m a hard-charging, gun-for-hire cataloger with a heart of lead and a gaze that can stop an errant 810 series added entry dead in its subfield 6 linkage track.
Spoiler Alert: Spring Is Coming!
Truly warm weather is returning to the northern hemisphere in a matter of weeks, bringing with it the option to take the exercise out of doors without bundling up as if for an Antarctic expedition. And that brings concerns about our most precious equipment: bikes and bodies, in that order. We age-grouper triathletes swim, bike, and run with all our might, but if we don’t fuel properly, there’s a good chance we won’t finish longer races as our bodies run out of energy, leading to the dreaded bonk. Believe me, it’s disorienting, disquieting, discouraging, and disillusioning. And really, racing all the time, everywhere? It gets old, chums.
Petersen, Grant. Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your Bike. Workman. May 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780761155584. pap. $13.95. SPORTS
This piece of awesomeness should become a populist manifesto for bicyclists everywhere. In it, Petersen (founder, Rivendell Bicycle Works, Walnut Creek, CA) makes a pungent (yes, pungent) case for enjoying bicycling, for returning it to its recreational and utile state. Though the book is masked as a list of 89 basic ideas (e.g., use your kickstand, get your quick release right, etc.), it’s really a clarion call for riders to unrace aka jettison the influences of racing that make your bike riding worse than fantastic. Spend some time on a bike and you’ll see the dudes I see: blowing by‚ and scaring‚ little kids, pushing themselves to injury, dropping thousands of ka-ching, and scoffing at those not crushing two hard-core century rides every weekend. Petersen gives us permission to enjoy bike riding again, to ride your bike to pick up the groceries, to fart around. I have four bikes (yes, that’s three too many), and I enjoy the hell out of them. But the one bike I really crave isn’t the fully pimped $15,000 Pinarello Dogma 2; it’s the black fat-tire, three-speed with metal fenders, a basket on the front, and a rack on the back. I sit upright on it, not hunched over in aero position. I pedal it to get to work, to the store, to the beach; it replaces my car, and it is extremely awesome. Smell what Petersen is cooking*.
*Except for this funny idea he has that the poncho is the ultimate cycling garment.
Ryan, Monique. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. 3d ed. VeloPress. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9781934030820. pap. $21.95. SPORTS
Other than hella training and a willingness to get up at 4 AM and go without primetime TV, what does an endurance athlete need to compete? Fuel. That’s the singular focus in sports nutritionist Ryan’s educative, readable guide that teaches long-distance swimmers, bikers, runners, and triathletes about the nutritional building blocks and daily intake needed to optimize health and performance. Though your mileage will vary, this is designed to help competitors of all sizes‚ the 35-year-old, 125-pound wife as well her foot-taller, 20-years-older, 60-pound-heavier husband. The guide covers daily diet and nutritional needs during training and provides scalable benchmarks for different sports. There’s info about race day, and appendixes list the glycemic index of different foods (hint: avoid potatoes), compare sports nutrition products (e.g., Hammer vs. PowerBar gels), and include sample menus that go beyond the usual fish-yams-veggies. As they did with Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight: How To Get Lean for Peak Performance, endurance athletes will absolutely demolish this.
The Last Word: The BFD Seal of Approval
Michael Connelly=solid bet, especially any story of his featuring detective Harry Bosch. Bosch is a monomaniac, barely sleeping or eating when the chase is on. The Closers (2005), in which Mr. B. rejoins the LAPD in the Open/Unsolved Unit after a three-year retirement, is a great example. He is immediately tasked with working a 17-year-old case (better late than never) involving the murder of a mixed-race teenage girl. Dat boy don’t stop! Also, if you like repetitive, simplistic stories, Clive Cussler‚ style, try the Lincoln Lawyer series starring Mickey Haller (e.g., The Fifth Witness, etc.). You can easily pick up where you left off last night, last week, or last month.