Bookshelf by Alex Johnson (Thames and Hudson)
As the printed word slowly but surely cedes ground to the digital word, one advantage that printed books will always maintain is their actual physical existence. Some overly-practical readers undoubtedly count this as a disadvantage, but I think they are in the minority. You'll rarely read a thesis on the "end of print" without at least a nod to the look and feel of an artfully-made tome. Bookshelf by Alex Johnson celebrates the need to put our books on display. It is a handy little pictorial homage to 305 different (some very different) bookcases, from practical to avant-garde. This book will itself look very nice on one of those very shelves.
North Korea seems to be much on people's minds these days. From Adam Johnson's fictionalized treatment in The Orphan Master's Son, to Barbara Demick's National Book-Award finalist Nothing to Envy, readers are curious about life in the isolated country. Escape from Camp 14 is a rare example of a first-person account from someone who lived through the worst that brutal regime can offer and escaped to tell about it. Demick herself endorses the book, saying "a story unlike any other...More so than any other book on North Korea, including my own, (it) exposes the cruelty that is the underpinning of Kim Jong Il's regime." [eBook $12.99]
The early history of baseball is filled with rogues and ne'er do wells. It was not generally considered an honorable way to make a living, which made it perfect for Irish immigrants and their offspring. With characters like Tony "the Count" Mullane, Mike "King" Kelly, James "Pud" Galvin, Hugh "One-Arm" Daily, Frank "Silk" O'Loughlin, and "Iron Man" Joe McGinnity, early Irish players and managers helped shape the game of baseball in every way. From the first curveball to the first players' unions, Irishmen took America's national pastime and made it their own. [eBook $12.99]
Eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson, the man who taught us all we ever needed to know about ants, brings his erudition to a larger stage with The Social Conquest of Earth. Oliver Sacks says it is "a huge, deep, thrilling work, presenting a radically new but cautiously hopeful view of human evolution, human nature, and human society. No one but E. O. Wilson could bring together such a brilliant synthesis of biology and the humanities, to shed light on the origins of language, religion, art, and all of human culture." [eBook $27.95]
Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights by Marina Warner(Belknap)
Marina Warner, one of our great chroniclers of myths ancient and modern, turns her critical gaze to the enchantment of the Arabian Nights in her latest study. Focusing on the stories' ability to charm and inspire, Warner traces and develops the idea of the what she calls a necessity for "magical thinking" in our secular, scientific culture. A profusely illustrated and comprehensive work, full of a magic of its own.
The Cyclist Conspiracy by Svetislav Basara (Open Letter)
It's been almost fifteen years since a Serbian friend enthusiastically told me about a wacky, untranslated novel written by one of her countrymen about a secret cult of bicyclists intent on altering the course of world history. From the way she described it--sort of a cross between Flann O'Brien and Jorge Luis Borges, with bicycles!--I knew I'd love it. And, after years of waiting, and waiting... and waiting, it's finally here. And everything it's billed to be.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (Grove)
Jeanette Winterson, a novelist known for her dark, subversive, occasionally humorous stories of human relationships, proves in her memoir that truth is not only stranger than fiction but can also be even more heartbreaking, profound, and redemptive. The memoir chronicles Winterson's life, from her childhood in a north England industrial town to the day she moved out of her house at age sixteen to be in a relationship with a woman (prompting her mother to pose the question that is the book's title), eventually arriving at a sense of peace and purpose through literature. A powerful story of self-acceptance from one of our most cherished and influential contemporary authors.
Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time edited by Carl H. Klaus and Ned Stuckey-French (University of Iowa)
Bearing in mind that the word essay takes its name from the French verb to try, this collection of essays about essays is about as thorough an attempt at defining such a slippery term as a reader could hope for. A remarkably expansive anthology for its 200 pages, the collection covers centuries of writing on the form by some of its champions such as Montaigne, Virginia Woolf, E.B White, Susan Sontag, John D'Agata and just about everyone who came in between. A wonderful homage to a form that is both everywhere and impossible to pin down.
Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good by Barb Stuckey (Free Press)
You've probably read a book on tasting wine, but not on tasting food
. Correct that with Taste What You're Missing by Barb Stuckey. It's fascinating.
The subtitle sums up the book well enough: it's the science of taste, more or less, and Stuckey delivers the goods in an easy-to-read style with anecdotes, DIY experiments, recipes, and experience gleaned from her years as a professional food developer.
Fun stuff herein includes activities like:
- Dying your tongue blue to count taste buds;
- A sensory evaluation of chocolate bars;
- An experiment on how color can change taste; and
- 15 ways to get more from every bite.
Don't trust me? How about David Chang of Momofuku and Lucky Peach fame? "Barb Stuckey's book makes the complicated science of food and taste accessible to anyone. It is as enjoyable to read as it is a thorough summary of why 'good' tastes 'good.'" [eBook $12.99]