A Mixed Bag of Bookage | Books for Dudes

I hate being such an omnivorous reader because dammit almost everything I pick up tends to be interesting—even if I don’t review it. Case in point: I picked up Judith Flanders’s A Murder of Magpies specifically because I wanted to verify that I wouldn’t be interested in it but the damn thing was actually good. Well constructed, with an interesting narrator, it’s a murder mystery set in the publishing world. Same thing with Robyn Cadwallader’s The Anchoress, the story of Sarah, who chooses to be bricked into the side of a church in England in the year 1255 (much like I’ve chosen to be bricked into a little house in suburban Connecticut with my beautiful, wifely woman).

This is all to say that this month’s BFD is a mixed bag so jumbled that it’s more fun than a monkey stealing bananas and it’s all good stuff. Whether it’s an older read or a frontlist title, BFD HQ combs the bookish forest for only the best stuff. If you find it hard to choose—why bother? Read it all! Mysteries, cookbooks, histories, hell there’s even a brain surgery book in here—and more! Yes, read all of it! Go to your local library and check them ALL out and more! Get ARMLOADS of books, USE that interlibrary loan option, GO OVERDUE AND OWE THE TEN CENTS PER DAY! Yes, go ahead and live on the knife-blade edge of reading land!!

Immune SystemLarson, Nathan. The Immune System. Akashic. (Dewey Decimal). May 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781617753398. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617753619. F
Author Larson’s distinct, choppy style takes some getting used to, but it befits his spooky, semi-disturbed narrator, Dewey. With some sort of governmental implant in his neck, Dewey is all “[d]ark chocolate flesh pulled tight, shrouded in a trim suit, coat, and hat, Auschwitz skinny, surgical gloves, procedure mask, etc., anywhere from thirty-five to fifty….” Despite, or maybe due to, his former life as a black-ops type, Dewey is as “mortally wounded, defaced, irreparable” as the dystopic, near-future NYC where he lives. “Those with the means,” he notes, “be it private, state, or corporate backing, rebuild the environs according to their needs.” There don‘t seem to be many people left, and those who remain are, regrettably, as disposable as ever. Part soldier, part damaged goon, all obsessive-compulsive, Dewey is pretty much lost in the supermarket keeping sane only with his “system”; “By its rules I am guided and kept.” Commands include “[l]eft turns STRICTLY prior to eleven a.m.” and “[f]requent and vigorous cleansing with Purell™.” He loves the NYPL and when not working, is like some sort of demented Wall-E, busily setting straight the scattered collection. Dewey ‘makes things happen’ for dirty politician Clarence Howard, who assigns him to “encourage” some occupiers in Central Park to move on and to also guard two Saudi royals. These tasks dim his willingness to cooperate with The Machine and put his own well-being at risk. Readers also learn about the Valentine’s Day catastrophe that destroyed NYC in the first place. VERDICT This final installment of the “Dewey Decimal” trilogy (The Nervous System, etc.) capably stands alone as a quirky, sparkly read that will embiggen your cerebellum.

signalLee, Patrick. Signal: A Sam Dryden Novel. Minotaur. Jul. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781250030788. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250030771. F
Love a good thrillah? It’s hard to identify just what it is about this book that sucks one in so hard and so deep and so fast, though it’s the same thing that worked in 2014’s Runner and it’s as difficult to resist as Sofia Vergara in a plunging neckline. It’s not the hero: if he weren’t so damned likable, Sam Dryden would be one of those unrealistic, reluctant figments who “just wants to live a normal life” but (much like The Hulk) is called upon to Save the Day. James Bondesque, Sam is ex-Special Forces, too young, too robust, too insanely expert at arcane skills to be real. It’s not the plot’s plausibility either: A breadbox that predicts the future 10 hours and 24 minutes from now? Well, that’s a good one—and it sure as hell compels the Good Guys to go fix stuff and save the fragile victims in the nick of time—but no. The adversaries are power-hungry cutouts from Central Casting involved in (what else?) a secret government conspiracy. Rather, it’s the pace that Lee sets, the plot’s propulsion, its cinematic movement. It’s to the power of ten times better than “the usual” prosaic crap (yes, Mr. Cussler, I’m talking about you) and dammit it is SO. GOOD. Sam is recruited by an old buddy to stop the clock on soon-to-be foul deeds and stop the unseen forces from manipulating the future. VERDICT It’s like eating a candy bar. You want it, you want more, you’re sad when it’s over, you enjoyed it, when can you have another? Completely addicting and awesome.

Lanterne RougeLeonard, Max. Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France. Pegasus. Jun. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781605987866. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605987873. SPORTS
The LR refers to the athlete occupying last place in the TdF bicycle race, sometimes given a paper red lantern resembling those found on train cabooses. As the race progresses the rider possessing the lanterne often changes, but usually by the end one man is left in the hopeless position of “dead fucking last.” Yet it’s a position beloved by aficionados and endurance athletes; Leonard (an Esquire contributor) observes that it is an award “[a]t once emblematic of failure and yet imbued with the most sought-after qualities,” a paradox “both celebrated as a symbol and yet, for the most part, forgotten as an individual.” But don’t pity them, for they are far from “weak.” Like any pro, LRs are massively strong and Leonard acclaims them for their “fitness levels and the lengths to which they push themselves” as “almost unimaginable” (indeed, this devoted blogger puts it better than anybody: “…you couldn’t hang on his wheel for thirty seconds”). And even last-place riders have jobs blocking rivals or giving his bike to the team champion if his breaks. Leonard plumbs the subject soundly, exploring the grit, determination, fire, fortitude, psychology, endurance (read: balls) of men who kept at it. One, Jacky Durand, “is the kind of guy old Frenchmen want to touch.” There’s the tale of Pierre Matignon, “who went into the Puy stage a hopeless lanterne rouge” but who broke away and beat legendary Eddy “The Cannibal” Merckx to win a marquee portion of the tour. Leonard even interviews modern-day, three-time LR extraordinaire Wim Vansevenant. VERDICT This immensely pleasurable homage delves into varied bits of history, sports psychology, and Tour lore. Enthusiasts will get eye cramp reading this carefully researched work of love and respect.

Do No HarmMarsh, Henry. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. May 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781250065810. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466872806. MED
There’s an old Far Side cartoon that shows a group of doctors obscuring a patient on an operating table. “Whoa!” says one. “That was a good one! Try it, Hobbs—just poke his brain right where my finger is.” Marsh (an actual brain surgeon for Britain’s National Health Service), aka Dr. Reality Check, here manfully acknowledges the unreal level of trust that patients put in their doctors and also recognizes medicine’s inherent fallacy: “[i]f the operation succeeds the surgeon is a hero, but if it fails he is a villain.” Anecdotes illustrate “attempts, and occasional failures, to find a balance between the necessary detachment and compassion that a surgical career requires, a balance between hope and realism.” It’s a fairly upsetting, sometimes brutal, book to read. For example, the brain “…has the consistency of jelly” and Marsh’s simultaneous “fear and excitement” when he lets his “instruments sink into the brain or spinal cord” is unnerving. He admits to speaking with “false optimism” to a man with a tumor in his pineal gland (that’s way deep inside the brain, Chumley) and laments the young woman who “…had had a tumour in her spinal cord, between the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae” who “awoke from the operation paralysed down the right side of her body. I had probably tried to take out too much of the tumour,” he admits. Another chapter is all about a lecture he gives, titled “All My Worst Mistakes,” that puts Michael Jordan’s failure speech to shame. VERDICT Imagine the unimaginable—Marsh reveals a real person behind the mystique, one who is trying as mightily as he can to heal but who is all too aware of his errors.

Interruption of the Cocktail Hour Moore, Arthur Cotton. Interruption of the Cocktail Hour: A Washington Yarn of Art, Murder, and the Attempted Assassination of the President. CreateSpace. 2014. 132p. ISBN 9781500776619. pap. $12. F
This is one of the most deliciously smarmy, mean-spirited, incisively malicious, and knowingly FUN books to flop into BFD’s mailbox in a long while. Writer Moore doesn’t play it safe; it’s more like he’s skating fast on the edges of lunacy. He’s as merciless as Kurt Vonnegut with some characters, as earthy as Christopher Moore with others. The first chapter begins with the dissolution of a painter’s soul (awww, that’s bad); it ends with a three-way (heyyyy, that’s good). Pete (properly named A. Pierpont Preston) is a canvas painter with zero sales and zero prospects. He blows an inheritance on a fixer-upper in rural Scapoosa County, MD, and moves there with his wife to try to do art outside the pressures of the DC beltway. Though smart, Pete seems centerless, susceptible to the universal forces of sex, power, and money. Most scary, he seems ready and dissolute enough for anything. Naturally, of course, he stumbles upon a killing machine. He begins innocently enough, out of simple frustration and de facto self-defense. Soon, though, he’s murdering art critics (actually, that’s probably saving lives) and dealing with the morality of acting on his impulses. By impersonating an architect (the author’s profession, btw), Pete gets close with the White House’s Chief of Staff and in short order he’s offered a fortune to (need you ask?) assassinate the president. VERDICT Ain’t life a kick in the head? An intelligent, crazy li’l book.

Timmy FailurePastis, Stephan (text & illus.). Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Candlewick. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780763660505. $14.99; pap. ISBN 9780763669270. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780763663582. F
This is the funniest book with a fun-loving manchild at its core that I’ve read since Matt Sumell’s Making Nice. Pastis’s eponymous hero is, like his intended audience, somewhere between the ages of eight and 12. An amateur detective along the lines of Nate the Great, Timmy is more mature and so unintentionally funny that it’s just silly. Myopically devoted to his career, Timmy is all about business cards, elaborate plans to expand the business, and taking calls on the Timmyline. He has a possibly imaginary pet polar bear and business partner named Total (for whom the company, Total Failure, is named) and schedules teleconferences with his mother. He hates school and his teacher, Old Man Crocus, who is “187 years old. He smells. And he is bent over like he’s got a sack of potatoes hanging from his forehead.” Timmy calmly states things like, “Lunch recess is the only opportunity I have to do global strategy planning for the agency.” But Timmy’s vision and balls of steel come at a price: He’s a bit of a jerk to his classmates and his sole friend and hates a rival detective with passion. The absence of character depth, of background, of motivations are charming. Childhood lacks these, situations simply “are.” And Pastis puts Timmy in situations that, while not uncommon, are also not editorialized. Like that his single-parent mom, dating a frowny-looking guy who bowls, is hurting financially. One of Timmy’s goals is to bring in stabilizing revenue for his mom—and put his rival out of business. Trouble is, he sucks at detective work. It’s all rendered in wonderful, guileless deadpan in Pastis’s charming line drawings. VERDICT Timmy is so silly, irrepressible, nutty, and cute that he will make your ovaries hurt. Read it with your kids, especially if they are eight–12 year-olds.

hungryQuinn, Lucinda Scala. Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys; Recipes, Strategies & Survival Techniques. Artisan. 2009. 267p. ISBN 9781579653569. $27.95; pap. ISBN 9781579655129. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781579655280. COOKING
This really seems to be a cook book—something that dudes who cook will actually pick up and want to read. Quinn is an Italian mom who knows the emotional connection between food and men (her husband and three boys)—that it’s one step from breastfeeding in terms of comfort, succor, love. The bond is as strong as blood, as Red Sox Nation, as the good kind of family. And show me the man who doesn’t love being cooked for and I’ll show you the president of the local chapter of Psychopaths for a Stronger America. The recipes are great, but really you’ll just want to go over to her house to eat. From steak pizzaiola to chicken and dumplings to cream cheese pastry to German apple cake, there is simple and complicated, fussy and peasant/plebian, tasty and…tastier. Her kids are lucky, maybe even blessed. If you grew up like I did—thinking Spaghetti-O sandwiches were boss—this will be a revelation. At heart this is a book about being a caring maternal/paternal type who really enjoys all of the rewards that come from putting good food into the people they love. The people on the other end of these recipes get nourished. VERDICT This is more a book about nurturing than about cooking. It shows that it’s good for your soul to nurture others, and Quinn is a woman who is filled with love. Or with great chicken parm, there really isn’t any difference. Try it. Change your life. Or hell, cook for your local Hungry Dude and change his life.

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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.

Comments

  1. Faun says:

    I truly dislike this column – it’s sexist, for one. For the other, it seems to imply that men are only interested in reviews that take a jocular, Deadspin-like tone. Just ugh on everything associated with this “dudes” concept.

    • Douglas Lord says:

      Hi Faun,
      Thanks for your vote. Luckily, you needn’t be a fan as LJ has a wealth of review material for every reader. If you had read my column in the past, you probably observed that I often write that ‘dude’ is a state of mind and not a condition of gender. The column focuses on books for curious, fun, time-crunched men, but oftentimes ‘men’ simply stands in for ‘human.’ As for being sexist, I disagree vehemently. I have definitively proven time and again that I most certainly am not. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.
      Thanks again for contributing.
      Doug

  2. Angela Melamud says:

    Hi Doug,
    Love your column! I have a book that I think you’d really be into, but I can’t for the life of me find your email address anywhere. Can you please share it? Or email me from it? (angela@inkshares.com)
    Keep up the awesome work!
    My best,
    Angela