BFD at BEA | Books for Dudes

Last month was BookExpo America (BEA), where I had a great time. Crowds parted for me, though that may have something to do with my quarterly bathing schedule; actress/author Jessica Lange waved at me; Neil Gaiman was hanging on my every word; and I sneaked many fun-sized candy bars off the countertops of unwary publishers. I spent some time hanging out in LJ’s Librarians’ Lounge with friends, and there was face painting so I got some hearts and stars.

One of the cooler things I learned about was, which now sells print titles as well as ebooks. It’s like a big fat social network meeting a big fat bunch of book clubs. There’s browsing and recommendations and members can connect, find like minded readers, recommend books, join online book cubs, track favorite authors, and browse featured readers’ bookshelves. It’s pretty interesting. Anyone want to start a BFD book club, by the way? Let me know in the comments section.

Mostly, though, I found lots and lots of new titles. There are an awful lot of books out there, and if your “to-be-read” pile is as big as mine it’s going to need its own wing of the house soon. I found six of this month’s nine titles at BEA and highlighted at the 5th Annual Librarian Shout’n’Share alongside Angela Carstensen, Kaite Stover, Robin Nesbitt, and the inimitable Alene Moroni.

Here at Books for Dudes we curate content for you; winnowing down the myriad choices, separating the wheat from the chaff, and generally getting you ready to rumble come reading time. Enjoy!

Brady, Emily. Humboldt: Life on American’s Marijuana Frontier. Grand Central. Jun. 2013. 272p. 9781455506767. $27. SOC
Slow-paced, even lyrical, this book is a measured look at life in a community where the most important commodity is illegal. It’s difficult to comprehend how big the marijuana crop is to the 1,200 square mile Humboldt County until one reads that 15 to 30,000 workers make their living from the industry. It is “the backbone of the county’s economy”: grower “tithes” fund little leagues and volunteer ambulance services, for example. Through the stories of four “typical” residents, readers get a sense of the high-stakes personal profit and macroeconomics behind Northern California’s “redwood curtain.” One of the four profiled is Crockett, a lifelong grower whose seasonal crop may earn over $1 million (cash!) and who plans to “sit in his cabin and guard the crop with his life”; in contrast, Mare grows maybe a half-dozen plants a year. Some of Emma’s earliest memories are of falling asleep with her baby brother in her mom’s beat-up car while waiting for a buyer to show up. And Bob is a progressive deputy sheriff who says, “We just need to acknowledge that we lost the war on marijuana.” What all four agree on is that legalization would kill the market (it’s the scarcity and risk that makes it profitable). VERDICT An excellent book; even nonsmokers and those who feel the pot debate is an outlier among national issues will be won over by Brady’s brand of reportage and fine writing.

Corleone, Douglas. Good as Gone. Minotaur. Aug. 2013. 304p. 9781250017208. $24.99. F
Looking for a beach read? You could do much worse than Corleone’s workmanlike thriller. Readers will be a bit put off by hero Simon Fisk at first; is this former U.S. Marshal a good guy or a bad guy? As it turns out, he’s a little like Matt Damon crossed with Charles Bronson: he fights for the good guys, but he’s kind of a bad ass. Years ago, Simon’s daughter was abducted and never returned, his marriage disintegrated, leaving him a damaged—and quite lethal—fella. Conveniently, this gives him the just-right combination of skills and emotional makeup for his current work, which is to “retrieve children abducted by estranged parents who flee to countries that don’t recognize US custody decisions.” Immediately following a case in France, Simon is strong-armed by the police into helping a young couple whose six-year-old daughter was abducted. Reluctantly, he agrees, even though he knows it will put him through an emotional wringer. Tracking the kid down takes him all across the globe (there are, apparently, deep expense accounts for this type of work) in a race against time. It’s all very thrilling, has the highest of stakes, even if the ending is a little bit pat (e.g., who else could the villain possibly be?). VERDICT Just the ticket when one needs to kick back and enjoy while dozing off to the surf’s lulling melody. Don’t call it a “throwaway,” every book its reader.

Frankie, Christopher. Nailed! The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra. Running. 2013. 286p. 9780762447992. $25. BIOG
If you’re ugly, crass, love chaw, and are passably good at baseball, you might be Lenny Dykstra, a player so tough he was nicknamed “Nails.” On a scale of one (scrappy) to ten (never-say-die), Nails went to 11, starting by going from no. 315 in the 13th round of the draft to three-time All-Star center fielder. A human spark plug, Nails brought the sensibilities of a hockey player (and a bag of steroids[1]) to MLB, running headlong into concrete structures to make plays. Working for the Mets and Phillies, Dykstra earned respectable stats and a World Series ring but also played hard off the field, racking up DUIs, gambling troubles, and drug problems. After baseball, Dykstra brought audacious competitiveness to the business world, where author Frankie worked for him[2] and here chronicles his colossal meltdown in much detail and interviews with close associates. Starting with running executive car washes, Dykstra grew his trade account into many millions and, improbably, wrote a well-respected financial advice column[3]. Despite his hard-driving work ethic, buying things like Wayne Gretzky’s mansion and a Gulfstream unraveled his finances in 2006. After foreclosure and a failed attempt to start a magazine, Dykstra began a spree of illegal business practices like credit fraud. By 2009 he had declared bankruptcy and faced charges on embezzlement, bankruptcy fraud, drug possession, and embarrassing allegations concerning his peccadilloes like soliciting women on Cragslist for sex. VERDICT A sad but oddly compelling portrait of a fallen sports icon.

Nussbaum, Susan. Good Kings Bad Kings. Algonquin. 2013. 304p. 9781616202637. $23.95. F
In this powerful debut—winner of the 2012 Barbara Kingsolver’s PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction—Nussbaum presents life inside the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center (ILLC), a detention facility for juveniles with disabilities. Nussbaum skillfully weaves together a solid story from the threaded narratives of seven different people who live and work at the ILLC. Ricky is a big, gentle Puerto Rican maintenance guy who struggles daily with helping residents feel dignified in terribly undignified situations. “I wish he had somebody to be his parent and really take care of him,” he thinks about one kid. “But that’s not the reality.” Joanne is a quadriplegic and data entry clerk at the facility, who is deeply compassionate and thoughtful of the residents. The efforts of these two “good kings” are countered by the actions and ignorance of “bad kings” in a care system (really a business) that’s seemingly designed for neglect—and profit. Ricky’s slow consideration of others is diametrically opposite to tough little resident Yessenía, whose aggression is easily mistaken for moxie. Joanne’s self-advocacy is countered by timid, wary Mia, who is painfully shy. Since Nussbaum writes much of the story through the characters’ internal dialog, their honesty can be difficult, even eviscerating, to read. To Nussbaum’s tremendous credit, frightening emotions are dealt with honestly and positively; the uplifting effect appealingly shows people growing. VERDICT This potent book puts living with a disability front and center, but not for the sake of pity or degradation. Nussbaum manages to sensitize readers with gentle massiveness that isn’t violent, but rather powerfully real.

Paterniti, Michael. The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese. Dial. Jul. 2013. 368p. 9780385337007. $27. BIOG
Best-selling author of Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain, journalist Paterniti takes his subjects personally and readers of his journeys will be glad they did. Choosing his words with obvious, joyful abandon (the first page alone features “dusky,” “stumpage,” and “magma”), Paterniti crafts a first-person story with liberal sprinklings of fascinating history. The nuanced, measured writing reads like a novel to create a compelling, fanciful, self-aware, and dramatic tale. The “telling room” is a chamber carved into a cave in the side of a mountain in a tiny village way the hell up and gone in the Spanish highlands—Zamora province in Castile and León. There, a dude named Ambrosio made some mighty awesome cheese from the milk of Churra ewes, an ancient Iberian breed of sheep[2] known for eating chamomile and sage only. After Ambrosio soaked the cheese in olive oil for a year, the result was so tasty that it inspired everything the book’s title promises—including murder. Paterniti got the whole riveting scoop over the course of eight hours spent in the telling room. Far from a highfalutin’ Spanish scholar/Cheesologist (he writes, “the sum total of my Spanish education came from old sitcom episodes of ‘Chico and the Man’ ”), Paterniti is a genuine and absorbing, everyman writer. VERDICT If you ever wanted to read an adventurous quest to find the perfect piece of cheese, look no further. This is also a fact-filled and personally engaging story about a regular guy who, with wit and determination, presents a damned remarkable narrative. Fantastic.

Heavey, Bill. It’s Only Slow Food Until You Try to Eat It. Atlantic Monthly. 2013. 256p. 9780802119551. $25. COOKING
Heavey (editor-at-large, Field and Stream) tells a tale in which a totally normal dude gets a wild hair up his ass about growing, hunting, and foraging for his own food. The trouble—and the delight—is where he lives; not Idaho or someplace rural, but rather inside Washington D.C.’s Beltway. The result is a hilarious and super instructive book. Heavey learns a lot about how difficult “slow food” is as a lifestyle and why the word edible should not be confused with the term tasty. He plants a garden, fighting savage squirrels who raid it, and forages in vacant lots with his girlfriend. He also has some enviable field trips; frog gigging in Louisiana and smelt netting in San Francisco where he also volunteered at a ForageSF’s “Wild Kitchen” event featuring gourmet-prepared foraged foods. There he was handed “…a tray of astonishingly stinky yellow-orange ginkgo fruits. (Imagine a malevolent cheese made from fermented diapers and you’re in the olfactory ballpark.) It didn’t make my eyes water but was a powerful appetite suppressant.” VERDICT Heavey’s experience writing for magazines obviously taught him how to master the skill of keeping the reader’s attention. His dry hilarity on everything from rototilling to the rarely-seen but abundant monkeyface eel marks, makes this book something special.

Van Kirk, John. Song for Chance. Aug. 2013. Red Hen. 296p. 9781597092678. $16.95. F
Rock music is as important to many dudes as food or air. In 1697, William Congreve wrote, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” most definitely referring to the future band AC/DC. Rock inspires allegiance among men for the same reasons that beer and The Home Team do: it’s generally a man’s first (and sometimes, sadly, only) deep emotional connection. Unlike the Red Sox and booze, however, rock and roll won’t choke during the pennant race nor fill you with empty calories. Rock and roll saves lives, (just ask Lou Reed) is steady, dependable, and ubiquitous. Writing from within this “rock is lifeblood” model, debut novelist Van Kirk delivers the highly authentic story of melancholy, aging keyboardist Jake Voss. Once a huge star, Voss retreated from fame to deepen his musicality; with withdrawal from the stage came many years of selfish, essentially hedonistic behavior. When his semi-estranged daughter, the titular Chance, comes to a seemingly senseless end, the shocked Voss traces her last days to find that her story, replete with a lethal love triangle, is eerily similar to his own. In doing so, Voss ponders himself, flipping the narrative back and forth in time to examine past and present issues: personal, relationship, the music business, and substance. He connects with old friends only to find them stagnant, takes gigs slumming in small clubs where he antagonizes audiences, and eventually finds a modicum of peace. The accuracy of music industry detail lends an unusual amount of legitimacy to the narrative, and though the story has sleazy/lurid bits, the overall affect isn’t cheap, instead coming off as thoughtful. VERDICT Reminiscent of Robert Stone’s works (e.g. Outerbridge Reach etc), Van Kirk’s is a reflective story of how manly “maturity” happens.

Yoon, Paul. Snow Hunters. Aug. 2013. S.& S. 208p. 9781476714813. $22. F
Yoon’s excellent first novel finds the author featuring carefully chosen, precise language, befitting for a writer known for his short form (e.g., “Once the Shore”). What is surprising is the genesis of this poetical precision: the text presents only factual statements. “The rain had stopped,” Yoon writes, or “Then he dropped the bucket of water he had been carrying and pressed his hands against his face and his shoulders shook.” Individually these can appear like sentences out of an ESL primer. Taken together, this exact kind of writing creates something quite magical: excellent literary fiction with a dreamlike quality. The story chronicles the life of a North Korean P.O.W. named Yohan who, after the Korean war, emigrates to Brazil to work in a tailor’s shop. In order to make connection to a real life in the present day—to engage with the world and people in it—Yohan observes and sorts through the precious few events his past and present life offer. A quiet, internal book, with a quality that imbues the simplest actions with profundity: a husband lifting up his wife, Yohan making a friend, or thinking about his first woman. VERDICT While not entirely singular, (perhaps comparable to Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities), there are precious few books like this one. Yoking a sense of expansiveness to craftsman like economy of language, Yoon manages to ignite the reader’s imagination.

Dudes, There’s an Undiscovered Country Out There…
From time to time I “discover” a new author (it’s quite a feeling, let me tell you). Fortunately, my rapturous joy is always tempered by learning that the author in question has already been discovered by many hundreds of thousands of readers before me—O.K., long before me, so long, as it turns out, that this author, this once somebody, has been all but forgotten by present day readers. One such writer is Ogden Nash.

Nash, Ogden. You Can’t Get There from Here. Little, Brown. 1984. 190p. 9780316598545. POETRY
For remarkable, brilliant poetry about “real life” (e.g., fatherhood, getting along with the wife, growing older), try this collection of Nash’s light verse, whose poems of wit and intelligence should stand as a shining light for dudes everywhere. In 1950s America, when the book was first published, the country must have been a vastly different place than it is today, and I can’t imagine a 2013 analog to Nash—though I beg to be educated, so feel free to post your comments—with a brilliant degree of cleverness, Nash whipped up snappy, insightful, freakishly funny and off-kilter rhymes. Perhaps America has stopped producing such writers? In longer poems he stretches conceits and ideas elastically; in shorter ones there is usually at least one laugh, as when he describes ink-shooting squid;

“Skin divers boldly swim through sepia,/ But I can think of nothing creepier.”

Whether he’s waxing on baseball in “Mel Allen Lend Me Your Cliché” or aging in “Preface to the Past,” these poems because there’s so much goodness and humor in them. Profound, maybe not. But funny? With titles like, “There’ll Always Be a War Between the Sexes”; or A Woman Can be Sometimes Pleased but Never Satisfied”…Aw yeah. VERDICT Poetry doesn’t have to be snobbish (T.S. Eliot), nor gee-that’s-nice-but-awfully-dated (Wordsworth). Nash’s poetry, though it reflects an older time, still speaks loudly. Even though this title is out of print, you can get it for a penny on Amazon!

O’Neal, Gary. American Warrior. Thomas Dunne. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250004321. $26.99. AUTOBIOG

Although at times it reads more like a combat novel, O’Neal’s autobiography recalls his life as the titular ‘American warrior.’ Muscular, brutish prose lends the tone of a tight-lipped ass kicker opening up over a couple of beers about what he’s done and, especially, what he’s learned. After a toughening, itinerant early life, O’Neal lied about his age and enlisted in the infantry. He fought in Vietnam, but after his fraud was discovered he was honorably discharged. He then reenlisted and worked his way into the Airborne Rangers where his day job became “…track ‘em, find ‘em, and kill ‘em.” Battle recollections comprise most of the book, and though many are 40 plus years old they pack a vivid punch and are not for the squeamish. Atypical is O’Neal’s bipolar reflections on living as a fighting man; a berserker on the one and (e.g., “I was unleashed. It was controlled lunacy”), on the other he sounds jarringly bucolic; “Combat is very spiritual. Taking a person’s life is very spiritual.” Occasional purple prose (e.g., “‘Too often the forecast was hot with a chance of bullets”) is countered by stoic passages like, “You can’t unsee what you’ve seen, and wherever you go after that you carry it with you.” The story goes on to relate O’Neal’s stints in the Golden Knights parachute team and after decades of holding his psyche together with band-aids and stitches, struggles with PTSD, nightmares, and prescription drugs. O’Neal later found strength and peace in the traditions of his heritage, Oglala Sioux, and currently teaches combat martial arts in Raeford, NC. VERDICT Among the countless soldier autobiographies, O’Neal’s is marked by his elite level of service and unflinching accounts of combat. “I have served my country,” he unapologetically writes, “and I killed the enemies of my country.”

[1] Wikipedia: Radomski claimed he sold Deca-Durabolin, Dianabol, and testosterone to Dykstra after the 1993 season. After 2000, Dykstra reportedly discussed his past steroid use with the Commissioner’s Office. Dykstra declined interview.

[2] Frankie will most probably get his ass pummeled when Nails gets out of prison sometime in 2015; on March 5, 2012, Dykstra was sentenced to three years in prison following a no contest plea to charges of grand theft auto and filing a false financial statement. According to court records and press reports, Dykstra and confederates obtained automobiles from various car dealerships using falsified bank statements and stolen identities; allegations show that he sold more than $400,000 worth of property without informing a court-appointed trustee after he filed for bankruptcy.

[3] for none other than Jim Cramer, Douchebag

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Douglas Lord About Douglas Lord

Douglas Lord has been reviewing books and audio for Library Journal since the earth was a molten mass. He is an Ironman athlete blessed with a family that sometimes finds him funny and puts up with him constantly reading aloud from advanced review copies. Books for Dudes focuses on books for curious, fun, time-crunched men.