A Dude Says Goodbye | Books for Dudes

After nine years, this is it—the last BFD column. Last laughs are rarely all that funny, but let’s see what we can cook up.

This month, as usual, we have a grab bag of stuff that we think dudes will enjoy—some great, interesting nonfiction, a coupla thrillers, some short stories, some stuff for the athlete underneath that sheathing of blubber we so proudly carry around, a cookbook, and some laughs.

To the very end, Books for Dudes has focused on books for curious, fun, time-crunched people. The BFD manifesto states that books should be high quality, useful, beautiful. Even if the subject is not all that interesting on the surface (say, Robert Penn’s The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees), a good author can make it so. Find and read books that are a force for good, for learning, for meaning, and for firing the imagination. And, like Making Nice by Matt Sumell, for making us piss ourselves laughing.

I’ve made some wonderful friends writing this thing and my sincere hope is that I’ve introduced readers to some writers they might not have been exposed to before.

I appreciate you, readers. Thank you all, and thanks to Library Journal, for a wonderful ride. In the immortal words of Jeffrey Lebowski, “The dude abides.”

Bronson, Action with Rachel Wharton. F*ck, That’s Delicious: An Annotated Guide to Eating Well. Abrams. 2017. 224p ISBN 9781419726552. $27.50; ebk. ISBN 9781683351160. COOKING
Bronson seems to be a genuinely interesting person and the food he’s writing about seems pretty darned tasty. He’s a chef, a rapper, and also has a TV show (a true Renaissance Man, weird beard and all). The book’s contents are declared to be Bronson’s “list of one hundred amazing things—the moments that got to me, the meals I ate, the places, the people, the artifacts, and the accessories.” Liberally sprinkled among the 40-plus recipes are these exact things: stories about how he “discovered” the food at hand, the people he loves, and random cooking and eating experiences. Bronson’s focus on happiness (bordering on hedonism) keeps the tone chipper. One of the book’s selling points is, “you can make it at home.” I sure can’t, but then I can’t make 80-plus percent of the recipes in any cookbook (except A Man, A Can, A Plan). A regular dude could probably get it together enough to make Gogo’s Coffee Cake (my daughter, seeing the picture, is keenly interested in my completing this one), or the aptly named Grilled Flatbread with Spices on It. But we’d be pretty hard pressed to make anything with opihi, a mollusk thing from Hawaii that Bronson mentions. VERDICT A hipster/foodie antidote of sorts for the buttloads of terrible cookbooks out there (e.g., Culinary Bro-Down) and for implausible ones like Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits: How To Cook the Rest of the Animal.

Collins, Paul. Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder that Scandalized Harvard. Norton. Jul. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9780393245165. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393245158. CRIME
While the action doesn’t get underway quickly, this is skilled and insightful writing that is a pleasure to read, the type of history that dudes love because it comes alive in your hands. Harvard was a rough place to work in 1849; though faculty respectability was de rigueur, high wages were definitely not. The squalor of Boston, the general lack of cash, the shortage of bodies for the medical school, and the charnel house under the laboratory were a few of the elements that contributed to the conditions ripe for people to go, uh, missing on occasion. Collins is in no rush to get to the murder, and happily traipses along providing an intimate, sharp portrait of professorial life at Harvard. Eventually he relates the events of a November day in 1849 when the rich and prominent Dr. George Parkman (the titular victim) “…simply walked down the street and disappeared.” His body was eventually discovered, but the issue became the whodunit. Was it the professor who was tried and eventually executed for the crime, or was it maybe the guy who worked as a janitor for the college? Or maybe it was Parkman’s brother-in-law? You’ll have to read it to find out! VERDICT A few will drop out with the pace so slow (hint: screaming, “let’s go” at the cover doesn’t help), but for those who hang in there, the hook is set quickly and firmly. A thoroughly researched, richly woven, excellent work.

Cooper, Ellison. Caged. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9781250173836. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250173850. THRILLER
A breakneck-paced thriller with beaucoup bang-bang-bang action and a strong female lead. Heroine Sayer Altair is a “…thirty-something brown-skinned” FBI Senior Special Agent in VA. She’s kind of a dude: tough, gritty, rides a motorcycle with a sidecar, hardworking, a loner, smart, and deeply caring (loves puppies, uses worry beads). Her research into the brains of serial killers is interrupted when suddenly, the hardest-working serial killer ever to set foot into fiction appears: scores of victims with loads of different modus operandi. Frankly, it sounds exhausting for the killer: so much to do, so many traps to set, just night and day work all the time. And it’s not like the killer can claim all the various explosives, computers, and chemical sprays they use as tax write-offs, you know? Fair warning: the violence is against women, it involves torture, and it’s pretty nasty. Young women are caged for months, slowly starved, drugged, and repeatedly driven to near-death. Though the red herrings become pretty obvious, the action is just fantastic enough to stay real. The monster uses runes, symbols, and mythology specific to that victim’s own heritage, and a neat subplot involving manufactured DNA seems accurate sans dumbing down (in relative terms). The above-average supporting cast features an unflappable partner, a jerk-assed senator, Sayer’s ass-kicking retired librarian grandmother, and a sassy “last-girl” survivor who helps take down the monster. VERDICT Compulsively readable and original.

Crosley, Sloane. Look Alive Out There: Essays. Farrar. May 2018. 256p. ISBN 9780374279844. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374711801. LIT
Anyone who was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor is a friend to dudes everywhere, because that guy was hilarious. Kind of like Shaquille O’Neal. Crosley proves as capable as ever at challenging readers to view humdrum situations (e.g., getting your NYC cab stolen) as significant, personal, and plain old  funny. Whether she’s discussing her ages-long struggle against obnoxiously noisy neighbors, ruminating on how people use their Enneagram personality numbers to antagonize each other, or gradually coming to understand that some new friends are swingers (“[w]e just do pairs,” they clarify), it’s a pleasure to read her writing. One fascinating piece is about interviewing her uncle, a retired real-life porn actor, who turns out to be a really nice guy who had crushes on many of his onscreen partners. Her musings are fascinating. Will using the same kind of pen that Toni Morrison uses make you write more like Toni Morrison? When working from home, your normal “off-peak” hours are simply “hours” to many senior citizens. And the piece where she recounts the completely sweet, almost loving, relationship she shared with a gentleman neighbor, an older hippie gardener, will became lodged in readers’ hearts. As with many smart, funny, bright, and observant people, Crosley spends zero time convincing readers that she is smart, funny, bright, and observant and instead simply addresses the topic at hand. VERDICT It all adds up to: splendid.

Loskutoff, Maxim. Come West and See: Stories. Norton. May 2018. 240p. ISBN 9780393635584. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393635591. F
“Wow” is one word that accurately sums up this wildly imaginative duodecet (that’s a group of 12, I just wanted to show off) of short stories by Nelson Algren Award winner Loskutoff who also happens to be one handsome bastard. “What’s the west?” seems to be ML’s mission to answer, and he writes about what is possible—even if it is impossible. Thus we have a story where a loner named Bill in 1893 Montana falls in love-lust with a bear (“I imagined running into her great hairy arms. Licking her throat. Inhaling her smell. Finding her tongue with mine, tasting apples”). Or a slice of life about a confused young redneck who believes he’s doing the right things in life and is on a skinny-dipping date with his girlfriend: “She was so much more naked out here than in our bedroom.” His ill-defined anger bristling at everything, anything; “I’d never fought two naked men in a hot pool before.” Or a different young man introducing himself to his best friend’s fiancée by explaining that the friend “…used to have a whole nose…[b]efore I shot half of it off.” The stories reflect a vivid reality and are anything but one-dimensional. VERDICT The best short stories drop you amid the story with no fanfare and no warm-up. The author reveals a novel’s worth of story in as few words as possible. Unusual and fresh-voiced, this collection is awesome.

McCauley, Stephen. My Ex-Life. Flatiron. May 2018. 336p. ISBN 9781250122438. $25.99; ebk. 9781250122421. F
Stevie Micks (Object of My Affection, etc.) does a reader good with this sweet-but-unsentimental paean to altruism and friendship that gets to the heart of people, be they nice or nasty. If most of the characters seem familiar, they are also refreshingly well written. David is a college planning consultant. He’s gay, lives in San Francisco, and needs to move house from his rental. His long-ago ex-wife Julie lives on the Atlantic shore, and he goes to visit and help out her daughter, the bored Mandy, with college applications. Julie is mid-divorce and renting out rooms on Airbnb in her wreck of a house. There’s a kooky, rich neighbor, a couple of high-strung shopkeepers, Julie’s unattainable crush, and so on, including the Professor and Mary Ann. The book is also filled with tiny truths, such as that nice feeling David gets when he is “…sleepy but certain he was in exactly the right place” or that people are “…vastly more tolerant of deformities in animals than in humans.” Things happen, stuff changes. A long-term tenant has a stroke, Mandy is lured into a frighteningly plausible “job,” David has a date. Hoping to spark new lives for each of them, David plans to assist Julie with the house, but this proves overly optimistic. “If we’re halfway decent people, we do the best we can with what we’ve got at the time” he concludes. VERDICT A tender, strikingly “true” story that is warm, clear, and nuanced.

Stage, Zoje. Baby Teeth. St. Martin’s. July 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781250170750. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250170774. THRILLER
Holy shit this is a creepfest fantasy novel as dark as flat root beer. Plus, it’s set in Oakland, a city modeled on Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell (wrath). Seven-year-old Hanna won’t speak. It’s not a medical condition; Hanna admits to readers that she keeps words, which she describes as dead bugs, inside. There’s a whole Electra thing going on; Hanna loves daddy but hates her mom, Suzette, with ferocity akin to that of a wolverine crossed with a mosquito. Suzette is damaged, a nervous wreck from the force of this kid. Forced into homeschooling after repeated malice at school, Suzette suffers through each day trying to cope and be normal. Even the smallest power struggle, like over a bag of chocolate-covered blueberries, leaves her seeing “…nothing but devilish pride in her daughter’s face.” Isolated and reeling, Suzette blames herself and is at the end of her rope. A new school gives Suzette a hopeful glimpse. Will it last? Consider, this kid is dangerous to the point of maybe being possessed; she truly enjoys testing Suzette and “…seeing Mommy…in her natural state of hating and giving up.” In one sense this is a long-form question that many people refuse to acknowledge: What if you don’t really love your kid? While some of the Hanna-narrated bits can take readers out of the story, this is a compelling read. VERDICT First novel for Stage, and it’s a zinger. Keep ’em coming!

Taylor, Erin. Work In: The Athlete’s Plan for Real Recovery and Winning Results. Velo. Jan. 2018. 208p. ISBN 9781937715779. pap. $21.95. SPORTS
“Working in,” the term that Taylor uses for recovery, is an essential part of working out. If you work out, get your grunt on, go home, then do the same thing tomorrow and the next day, you’re doing it wrong. You’re probably not pushing your body to improve in the maximum way. For every peak or plateau in performance comes a natural trough; that’s your body telling you it needs time to absorb the stress and strain of exertion, heal itself, and be ready to go harder next time. “Recovery” isn’t exactly revolutionary because the concept of it as part of the process of building performance has been around for many years. But the way in which Taylor incorporates it makes this book important. Not resting leads to injury (or overtraining, which sucks), and that’s what Taylor is promoting—making recovery and rest a part of each workout and each day in a multitude of ways. Using core concepts of mediation and yoga, Taylor leads athletes through visualizations, brain training, and routines. Tight? There are super-easy routines that you will actually do (e.g., modified forward fold). Tapering? There’s a visualization in here specifically for endurance athletes during this difficult prerace period. Stressed? Flow on, baby. VERDICT Recommended for all competitive athletes, anyone concerned with increasing or improving their fitness, and especially endurance athletes. If you’re looking for an edge, take time to focus your mind and body for much-needed relaxation and restorative activities.

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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.

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