Hey, all years wind down, and 2016 has to end sometime. Whether it was a great year for you like it was for me (marriage, awesome new job, kids healthy and strong) or a sucky one (look no further than John Oliver’s 2016 FU), it’s one for the books.
And by “books” I mean thrillers, literary fiction, nonfiction, and other assorted frippery. Here at Books for Dudes, Incorporated, we curate the content and sift the titles, so you don’t have to. Need a recommendation? Look no further—LJ has your back. Sign up for one or many of the free e-newsletters, browse through the LJ Readers’ Advisory archive, and watch this space for the Books for Dudes best-of-2016 edition. Go crazy-nuts, dude. Oh, and, hey—happy holidays, and here’s to 2017.
Andrews, Guy. Greg LeMond: Yellow Jersey Racer. VeloPress. 2016. 304p. photos. ISBN 9781937715687. $45. SPORTS
Before Lance Armstrong, superdick, there was Greg LeMond, superdick. Both have coffee-table tomes devoted to them and their cycling achievements, though there are far too many more dedicated to Armstrong* than LeMond, so this is a nice correction. This book is a lavish, extravagant affair of gorgeous photos, factual passages, and contributions from greats of the sport such as Sean Kelly, Robert Millar, and Stephen Roche. LeMond was always a real outdoorsy dude. He especially loved fly-fishing in which, strangely, he holds some sort of world record. Originally interested in skiing, young LeMond was told by a coach that cycling was a good way to keep in shape in the off-season. The rest is history—the history of a mercurial, argumentative, outspoken, truculent dude. Never understated, LeMond is the classic egomaniacal hard-assed overachiever who piled many cycling successes atop one another and won by kicking tail and riding very smart. Andrews focuses on LeMond’s active career, 1977–94, with plenty of pics of that famous dimpled chin, old-school racing, and riders with no helmets. The tome paints LeMond as superhero, as the dude who had to take two years off after losing 65 percent of his blood in a 1987 hunting accident, then returning to boldly win the crap out of everything for a couple years. And, to be honest, it’s easy to lionize the dude. He’s scrappy. He has one kidney and partial use of one lung. After his competitive career, he became a successful businessman, spent a lot of time proclaiming himself the sole American Tour de France champion (who wouldn’t?) and two-time World Champion (coolest thing on wheels), a consistent critic of doping and the first notable person to out Armstrong. Plus, he was the face that brought the sport of cycling to America. This book also contains a foreword by LeMond. VERDICT A great, sexy testament to LeMond’s larger-than-life personality and stunning accomplishments.
Chaney, JoAnn. What You Don’t Know. Flatiron: Macmillan. Feb. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250075536. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250075543. F
To answer the titular question: a lot, mainly “how to smell nice.” So Denver might be the mile-high city, but it has a lot of bodies six feet under. It only takes about 25 pages for debut novelist Chaney to set the hook hard; this is a taut thriller that keeps readers a bit off center with shifts in time and narrator. “After seven years, nearly everyone had forgotten about Jacky Seever,” an imprisoned serial murderer who tortured his victims. But there’s a new guy who copies Seever down to every nasty detail (e.g., snipping off fingers). This story is primarily told through two richly drawn and vividly imagined characters. Sammie Peterson is a frustrated ex-reporter trying to get her name back onto the front page. She used to sleep with Seever when she worked in one of his restaurants and wonders why she’s still alive after he had so many opportunities to kill her. Det. Paul Hoskins is a closet knight-in-shining-armor who carries a torch for Sammie. Hoskins fears that his rare angry outbursts make him simpatico with Seever, that the murderer somehow pushed something “deep into his soul like a seed and left to germinate, to grow into something poisonous and deadly.” Among other narrators is Seever’s vapid wife, Gloria, who shows how simultaneously clueless and devoted one person can be. The story is told as if dealt from a deck that has been vigorously shuffled; each card an aspect of the story but not in a logical progression. Chaney harnesses the power of readers’ imagination by restraining explicit details. This lends to the mystery which she masterly constructs as a suspect-o-palooza/red-herring bonanza; indeed all the characters are possibly the copycat killer. VERDICT Tense, compelling greatness. Chaney is an author to watch.
Coover, Robert. Huck Out West. Norton. Jan. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780393608441. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393608458. F
Holy shit. If you’ve never heard of Coover (known for electronic literature), you’re not alone. But you’ve heard of Huck Finn and this—no kidding—is a sequel to Mark Twain’s iconic novel. To say this is an “audacious” endeavor is putting it mildly. And this is great stuff! Coover pops out the magic early and often with Huck beginning the tale describing his life since we last saw him lighting out for the Territories to avoid “sivilizing.” Now a man, Huck has had many jobs. Because “[r]iding, wrangling and shooting was what we done best,” he and Tom Sawyer worked guarding wagon trains, delivered mail with the Pony Express, and scouted (for both North and South) during the Civil War—though he eschewed mining “on account of it being such pesky hard work.” Though Tom became a lawyer, Huck stayed in the wilds and now owns a horse named Ne Tongo. The lingo is correct from page one, where Huck notes, “there ain’t much worse can happen to a body than getting rich. All gold is fool’s gold.” Coover has a good mimicry of Twain’s poetry down, too, describing hills “smothered over with wildflowers and big trees…full of flying and scurrying varmints, with lots of dark damp places that smelt full of secrets.” VERDICT Set aside your trepidation. Unless you’re a persnickety Twain scholar or get all “het up” about the sanctity of the canon, you’ll enjoy this. The hue and cry is moot, the boys have become men. The upshot is that Coover pulls it off and boy is it damned good to see Huck Finn again.
Goldman, Matt. Gone to Dust. Forge. Aug. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780765391285. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765391292. F
This is hard-boiled awesomeness from Goldman, a former stand-up comic and TV show writer (psst, the dude has an Emmy on his mantle). Nils Shapiro, of Jewish Swedish descent, is a private detective in wintertime Minneapolis, aka “hell.” He is working with the local cops to solve a wicked crime in which the killer killed the killee in her own home, then completely covered the interior of the house in the dust of hundreds of vacuum cleaner bags (ew). Why? To completely obscure any chance of using modern forensics. The case must be solved with old-fashioned shoe leather and guts—exactly what Nils owns. The lonely Nils is refreshingly authentic and funny, the kind of guy who says stuff to the chief like, “I don’t have a college degree but I’ve made up for it by studying a rare field called Useful Shit” and “Did you run a search on ‘vacuum-cleaner-bag-murder’?.” Indeed, Goldman’s light touch with Nils confers the just-right amount of chutzpah to his smartassedness. He carries wounds inflicted by a female of the species, his ex-wife, Micaela, who flares up “…like a chronic sinus infection” every so often, after which “the fever would knock me down for weeks.” Goldman also shows a keen eye for “Men, Lonely,” like when a pretty coworker smiles at him and he devotes the rest of his life to her or notes that male friendships can “lie dormant for years then pick up where they left off with neither feelings nor egos hurt.” Goldman knows the trick of not needing to describe every detail (for that see Paul Auster’s forthcoming 4 3 2 1, a sweeping, multigenerational 800-plus page doorstop) and thickens the plot at a good clip. Also, it’s an antidote of sorts to uninviting, dull protagonists such as Becky Masterman’s sparkless, trying-too-hard-to-be-tough Brigid Quinn from the forthcoming A Twist of the Knife. VERDICT Superb. Goldman gets this story moving and keeps it moving.
Lacey, Catherine. The Answers. Farrar. Jun. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780374100261. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714345. F
Intriguing and cerebral, this is a story about identity, who we are, and who we choose to be. It stars the young Mary Parsons (née Junia Stone) who leaves her mom-n-pop religious cult with the help of a guardian angel aunt. She ran from a father who planned to raise her “in a state of complete purity, to protect me from the terrible world, and my life would prove his point.” But you can’t make someone else’s life your little pet project, now can you Dr. Moreau? Or…can you? Junia changes to Mary, moves to New York City, gets a crap job, and starts getting all sorts of weird but very expensive health problems. She’s at the end of her rope when two things happen. One is a holistic therapy called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia—PAKing, for short. It’s an awesome-sounding blend of all those non-Western practices that make your dad yell, “Bullshit!” like Reiki, yoga, chiropractics, fumes, and assorted what nots. It’s described to Mary as “[a] whittling away of the energies that can’t exist harmoniously with your pneuma,” and it works. She also gets a supermysterious part-time job as an “experimental” Emotional Girlfriend to an incredibly famous actor/director—so famous that he needs to simulate a normal life by hiring different women to serve various needs (e.g., nagging, sex, anger, etc.). The money is great—pays for PAKing—but what of Mary’s fragile concept of “self”? Is it out of the frying pan of her biological family and into the fire of a contract family? VERDICT Like many a ballet dancer (and also my wife), this is powerful, lithe, graceful, and beautiful stuff.
Säfström, Maja. Animals of a Bygone Era: An Illustrated Compendium. Ten Speed. Apr. 2017. 112p. illus. ISBN 9780399578526. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780399578533. SCI
Dudes tend to not use the words whimsical and sumptuous. But those words come to mind with this book of black-and-white drawings of animals that once roamed the Earth. There’s not much rhyme or reason to the creatures; there are those from the recent past (the Moa, made extinct around 1445 CE), and ones that lived 23 million years ago (the big shark Megalodon). All are drawn with faces, expressions, and personalities that are captivating. Säfström hones in on the darned strangeness that Mother Nature got up to back in the day. Elephants with shovel noses (Platybelodon), sea worms with clawed feet and spiny backs (Hallucigenia), flying beasts with beaks longer than a person (Quetzalcoatlus). Presented with a note or two (e.g., “toes, not hooves!”) and sans any Greenpeace-ish commentary, this is appealing in a…whimsical, sumptuous way. VERDICT Interesting stuff. Good for gifts and paging through.