Part of being a dude in the summer is mowing the lawn and then kicking back in a hammock with a beer and the latest biography of Don Knotts. Or maybe the new David Foster Wallace Reader, or any of the selections below.
We got a coupla thrillahs, some triathlon awesomeness, some comic bookage, a couple of dudely memoirs, and a coffee-table book (maybe iced coffee, it’s summer). Entertainment, learning, growing, relaxin’—it doesn’t get much better than that.
Gentlemen—Start Your Hammocks!!
Bouman, Tom. Dry Bones in the Valley. Norton. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393243024. $24.95. F
Dry Bones rests squarely on the shoulders of Henry Farrell, a young cop in superrural northeastern Pennsylvania who is investigating some complex local mayhem. It begins with a mutilated corpse found on the property of an old, hermitlike man, who in turn, is suspected of taking potshots at a local yokel who, in turn, is involved in all manner of weird nastiness which, in turn…see what I mean? It just keeps spiraling, and the quiet, cautious Farrell is smart enough to know that he needs to finesse things since he’s basically neighbors with everybody he needs to investigate. But despite its bucolic, cozy corner name, Wild Thyme Township is really not known for finesse. Folks here are as mean as snakes and never forget a grudge. Some hunt with flintlock rifles when they’re not too busy creating pint-sized meth labs or leasing land to hydrofrackers. For example, Farrell creeps up on a “person of interest” who retaliates by trying to murder him. After the cop stops the assault with his .22, the man feels around for the “…slug where it rested between bone and skin, and popped it out….” He then asks Farrell, “[y]ou going out for turkey this spring?” Days later, the concussed Farrell reflects, “My mind was like a handful of water.” There’s major dude appeal in the way Bouman describes the landscape filled as it is with tanker trucks “hirpling up and down…dirt roads” and land stripped with “…blue shale walls, two feet wide and three feet tall in most places, some a mile or more long, climbing ridges and descending into valleys, deep into the woods.” VERDICT With slow-paced, deliberate craft and evocative writing, this is 288 pages of excellence.
Dempsey, Luke. Club Soccer 101: The Essential Guide to the Stars, Stats, and Stories of the Greatest Teams in the World. Norton. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780393349306. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393349313. SPORTS
The most excellent soccer, claims Dempsey, is not played at the World Cup or during the Olympics but instead “…in vibrant, thrilling league” games in Europe and elsewhere. Indeed, Dempsey goes on to write that these tournaments are “more compelling than almost any World Cup match” of the last 30 years. Club Soccer is a guidebook that provides fast-and-furious profiles of the 101 “most storied” league clubs from around the globe. It goes beyond “the usual suspects,” such as Manchester United and A.C. Milan and covers some teams you might only have heard about but not watched, such as Everton, Dinamo Kiev, and Notts County. As one might imagine, there ain’t too many from the United States, though three (NY Red Bulls, LA Galaxy, and Seattle Sounders) make the cut. As “an attempt to provide a historical guide to the teams,” this succeeds wildly. Readers learn that Atlético Madrid is cursed with being “good, but not as good as Real Madrid” and that Fiorentina (Italy) sold its best player to its finals opponent during the series. Dempsey packs a surprising amount of history and information into the scant few pages allotted for each of the teams, a testament to his knowledge and tenacity as a pithy, readable writer. VERDICT This massive tome drops just in time to reap some of the interest generated by the World Cup, and readers even remotely interested in soccer will have a difficult time putting it down. As for others, let’s bear in mind that some of a man’s deepest allegiances and emotional connections are to his team. Dempsey calls these people “…hordes of completely committed and generally unhinged fans;” they will most probably buy this and eat it.
Dixon, Matt. The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential into Performance. Velo Pr. 2014. 356p. ISBN 9781937715113. $24.95. SPORTS
Founder of the purplepatch fitness fitness and coaching company Dixon has the experience (former professional triathlete) and the credentials (master’s in clinical and exercise physiology) needed to write a pretty damned definitive “textbook” for the sport. This book gets right down to it fast, focusing on four critical foundational elements: strength and endurance training, nutrition, functional strength, and recovery. Once an athlete puts these four together, the sky’s the limit. Discrete and not overlong sections cover techniques in swimming, cycling, and running and also methods of training. For example, “Improved Cycling” covers simple stuff such as braking and cornering but also makes thought-provoking points—a shorter crank length can actually be better, for example. Nutrition and hydration strategies cover race day and everyday, and the uniformly excellent section on functional strength reinforces how this will “improve your performance and help you avoid injuries.” Periodic rest and recovery is often “the first casualty” for triathletes, a breed that Dixon knows are often overly focused on performance to their own detriment. He even profiles “typical” triathletes, such as “Overstressed Busy Professional” and “Ironman-Fatigued Athlete.” A final section puts it all together big-picture style to instill long-term excellence. Triathletes tend to be high achievers, impatient and adventurous; this title seeks to quell those tendencies by encouraging enduring superbness. Novices might wonder what this is all about, but for midcareer to experienced age groupers who are sick of year after year of the same results, this could be a shot in the ass. VERDICT For experienced triathletes looking to take things to the next level, this is gold.
Franq, Philippe, and Jean Van Hamme. The Three Eyes of the Guardians of the Tao. Cinebook. 2013. 48p. ISBN 9781849181471. pap. $19.95. F
This comic is representative of the “Largo Winch” series, which features a dashingly handsome, wealthy, kind, smart man in his late 20s, who’s skilled at everything from eluding bad guys in fast cars to knife throwing and from brokering massive business deals to attracting sexy women. Largo leads the family business, Group W, by default after the sudden death of his father. The plots of all the series books follow a, let’s say, reliable formula: some business/terrorist type group (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which) is trying to take over Group W and its assets for its own nefarious purposes and it falls to Largo to stop it. His personal retinue, including his pilot, Silky, and confidant Simon, form his de facto army. But mostly he survives on wits and instinct. And because he loves exotic locales, trouble always seems to find him in places like the St. Tropez coast or Hong Kong. It’s easy to see how the dozen or so adventures in the series have been made into an animated series, a movie, and a video game. It’s also easy to tell when a publisher is simply going through the motions for the sake of commerce, and that definitely isn’t the case here. Clearly the artist (Philippe Francq) and scriptwriter (Jean Van Hamme of Thorgal fame) enjoy drawing Largo into and out of his assorted scrapes and close shaves, and there is enough sexiness, action, and intrigue to keep readers going and to see what adventures Largo gets into next. VERDICT These selections are an amusing pastiche/send-up of James Bondesque spy adventures, skillfully drawn, dense to read, and genuinely fun.
Meredith, Andrew. The Removers. Scribner. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781476761213. $24. MEMOIR
A memoir by a dude whose work is to remove the bodies of people who die at home might sound bleak, and at times this is darkly psychological. Alternately, it’s also funny and jaw-gapingly absurd. What’s not to like? After teenage Meredith’s parents’ marriage breaks up, the couple remains together in a loveless, dormant household; the paternal affect on Meredith is tremendous. “I would have followed him anywhere,” he writes. “He was my hero and the man who had killed my mother emotionally. He was the screen onto which all of my love and dread were projected.” After dropping out of the same college where his dad taught, Meredith takes the remover job—alongside his dad. Sometimes because of the job, sometimes in spite of it, he grows and learns acceptance. “The remover affects a normal life,” he writes, “then he goes and puts on his black suit and in a half an hour he’s pulling your dead ass out of bed with his knees, not his back.” Years, and some hair-raising episodes (e.g., “Carl’s stink screams an urgent and violent disharmony”) pass. Progress comes through working with families, where Meredith finds his “salvation” by “helping them through a few of the worst days of their lives.” He blossoms into a kind of “concierge of grief”; this, and his father’s remarriage, help him cross a divide. VERDICT While fearless at giving readers their fair share of “[t]he rank smells of shit and purged bile and rotting flesh that came with this job…,” Meredith manages to convey the importance and universality of his maturation. Ultimately, the unstintingly honest examination of life—and death—is redemptive and uplifting.
Milburne, Melanie. The Chatsfield Playboy’s Lesson. Harlequin Presents. 2014. 186p. ISBN 9780373132478. pap. $4.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460333105. F
I started reading this as a goof and within three pages realized that my stalker had finally written my unauthorized biography. “You’re afraid,” says Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of the Mediterranean island nation of Preitalle. To whom does Charlotte, known as Lottie, utter this precious line? To Lucca Chatsfield, playboy heir to his family’s massive luxury hotel chain. Handsome and rakish, Lucca’s motto is ‘No rings, no strings.’ Or perhaps it’s a credo. When he hears this “[t]he hardness moved up to his eyes like a screen of opaque glass. ‘What would I be afraid of?’ ‘Intimacy,’ ” she replies. Ooooooooohhh! Despite her bravado, Lottie wants Lucca the way Brazil fans wanted a World Cup win—fervently. And perhaps with feathers and face painting. “His touch was like fire against her skin, his gaze like a searing laser. Her body was a pathetic traitor. It trembled and ached. It pulsed and throbbed. It wanted.”
The Times of the Sixties: The Culture, Politics and Personalities that Shaped the Decade. ed. by John Rockwell. Black Dog & Leventhal. 2014. 324p. ISBN 9781579129644. $29.95. HIST
Coffee-Table Book Alert! And really, other than the 1670s, with ocean pirates in Rhinegrave breeches quoting Spinoza, is there a better decade to ponder than the 1960s? Like its companion volumes covering the Eighties, Seventies, etc, this divides the decade, almanac-style, into six primary themes. “National” (e.g., Freedom Riders or any time any of the Kennedys lifted a finger); “International” (Khruschchev falls, Golda Meir elected—not in the same country); “Business,” such as when credit cards were invented or the Dow Jones crossed the mythical 1,000-mark. “Science,Technology & Health” features things like the first photos of Mars, and “Life & Style” reports both that diet colas are invented, and, to the delight of men everywhere, the female nipple was endorsed as a high fashion accessory (bravo!). “Sports” notes events such as the Boston Celtics winning their 11th NBA title in 13 years and there is a huge “Arts & Entertainment” section with such entries as reviews of the musical Hair and pictures of Merv Griffin when he was sooooo young. New York has its own fat section with the newsiest bits from a newsmaking land, such as that in 1960 two airliners collided over the harbor, killing 127. To a large degree, the book is a testament to the excellent journalism and photographers who staffed the Times. The photography is remarkable, and, like the other books in the series, it is compulsively readable. Even readers uninterested in, say, the space race or beauty pageants, will be pulled in by the story of Saundra Williams, the first Miss Black America; or the photo of John Glenn in the Silver Suit. Or perhaps the story of a “New toothbrush works by battery”—for only $19.95 (more than $150 in 2014 money). VERDICT This should come with a warning label: “Only touch if you have an hour or two to read.”
Tribuzzo, Fred. American Sky: Good Landings and Other Flying Adventures. Koehlerbooks. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781938467912. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781940192413. MEMOIR
American Sky is life as seen through the lens of a regular guy who loves to fly; it’s his passion. If a rocker, say Pete Townsend, or a politician such as Hillary Rodham Clinton writes about life, one expects there to be a lot of information about that person’s rocking or politicking. It’s too bad Elon Musk doesn’t have one yet or we might have a book about pure awesome. Tribuzzo’s title is all about flying small aircraft and loving it. Short chapters explore different episodes of Mr. T’s life in a straightforward, conversational style. Naturally, it is chock-full of anecdotes about cockpits, flaps down, lipstick-and-oranges sunsets, throttles, and switches. It’s also full of observations of people from grumpy cab drivers to his many, many friends and family. So when Uncle Gus, who was himself a flyer, dies, Tribuzzo’s tendency is to consider the legacy that’s obviously there. The stories about his wife are wrapped inside the stories of where they flew. In all the author proves himself a patient, likable student of life. “Early on,” he writes, “I learned that a teacher could often be a place, a stranger, a storm, the sky itself.” It’s pretty matter-of-fact in tone, but that’s probably more a function of him being of the “pilot” breed. VERDICT While nonflyers will find this a bit hit-or-miss, fellow flyers will pore over this and pick up on Tribuzzo’s ability to convey mucho information about trips and life lessons.