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Jeremy likes books about crime, history, oddballs, oddball history, longform journalism, comics, science fiction, maps, cooking and hot sauce. He'll read some bougie novels now and again too, just to keep his cred. His favorite setting is a seedy underbelly, and his favorite character is usually the deadbeat.
This one is for the diehard Rick & Morty friend in your life. Y’know, the one who will not stop constantly telling you that you need to watch the show and continues to reference specific episodes all the time, driving you insane. They keep telling you to get your #$*& together and watch Rick & Morty, to take all your @#$&, and put it in a backpack, so it’s together. And if you need to take it somewhere, take it somewhere y’know? Take it to the @#$% and sell it -- I don’t care, just get it together. Get your @#%$ together and buy this book for you or a friend and start watching the show asap, for real bro.
Perhaps a better subtitle for this book would be, “When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong.” Here is a story about a couple of Wu affiliates who wanted to make a unique statement on art and music at a time when free music had become ubiquitous. Their project was focused around the question of what if music was sold in the same manner as fine art? But if you’ve heard anything about the secret, single-copy Wu-Tang Clan album that Martin Shkreli bought a few years ago, then most likely the only part you heard that was the full truth is the bit about the infamous Pharma Bro. Muddled in the press before and after its purchase by the most hated man in America, most of the public chalked this up to the Clan being greedy but naturally the whole story is much more nuanced than that. It’s larger than life and a blast to read, and while we may never get to hear the full album for another 80 years or so, excerpts have leaked and are on Youtube, just hinting at what may be the best hip-hop album we’ll never hear.
Before reading this I would have thought humanizing a villainous foe such as Saddam Hussein couldn’t be done. It’s been over ten years since an Iraqi tribunal sentenced to death and executed him for crimes he and his regime committed against their own countrymen. What was supposed to be a watershed moment for the West’s relationship with the Middle East largely fizzled out as the region continued to suffer insurgent violence and the rise of the Islamic State. However, his death was absolutely significant for the American soldiers tasked with protecting him in his final days. The Saddam the “Super Twelve” met was a frail, old man who loved cigars and could even crack a good joke. These soldiers’ stories are incredible and do strangely achieve the impossible -- without condoning his actions, they put a human face on a person responsible for some of the most vile crimes in history.
Sometimes I’ll read a novel not written by Javier Marias and think, “ugh, what’s the point?” Nothing really compares to one of his stories, except perhaps, another Marias’ story. It's a bit like a game of chess -- the pieces are always the same but the combinations are endless, inventive and continuously entertaining. This new work has all the classic Marias' tropes: the long, musing sentences, the odd historical facts, a central character named Luisa or Beatriz, lots of intrigue, and always with the shadow of the Spanish Civil War in the background. Fans of Elena Ferrante and Roberto Bolano should love this latest masterpiece by one the world’s best living writers!
It’s only an imaginary line in the dirt, but it’s surprising how many Americans feel so disconnected from the drug war raging across and below our southern border. Even with the ruthless violence and true lawlessness that exists in parts of Central & South America, somehow it’s still remarkable to learn how a couple of American kids got mixed up in some of the spillover like in this story. After running guns, drugs and cars for the Zeta cartel in Mexico into the US, Gabriel Cardona--a kid from Laredo, Texas--eventually joined their mercenary squad of soldiers. He moved from smaller, trafficking crimes to targeting killings of Zeta enemies on both sides of the border, which eventually attracted the attention of one unyielding detective. This is very much a personal story of the investigator and accused, but Wolf Boys also offers a concise history of the DEA’s failed policies in its war on drugs--all in a sweeping narrative from the perspectives of an officer and soldier in the field, just trying to survive life on the border.
Whether you read this book or not, I implore you, ensure your next motel room is not outfitted with a secret observation deck like the one featured here! When a man named Gerald Foos purchased the Manor House Motel outside Denver in the late 1970s, he thought himself a pioneering sex researcher when he installed viewing screens in some of the rooms to spy on his guests. Foos went undetected for years before reaching out to journalist Gay Talese to share his story and excerpts from his voyeur’s journal. It’s very compelling stuff (although there is controversy whether it’s all true), but I must admit, this one left me with a strange feeling reading it at night alone. I couldn’t shake that feeling and stop staring into the air vents, thinking I could just barely see a face.
Has life thrown you an unseen curve? Have you considered giving up and becoming a goat? After reading this, I’m beginning to think it just might be the solution I need. Stuck at a crossroads in his human existence, Thomas thought it might be time to try escaping from the human experience altogether and become the animal his shaman thought he was most in tune with -- a goat. Thwaites explores all angles in his transformation to goathood -- hoping that through technology and design, he will be able to think, see, eat and run like a goat crossing the Swiss Alps. Some aspects of his goatbody and goatmind work better than others, but rest assured the entire journey is funny, informative, and strangely philosophical.
What do you do when you hear the voice of God and don’t believe? Lots of research and a good support group helps, and Anna has the best. She’s fled from her home in Alaska with her daughter to coastal Maine, trying to escape her increasingly sociopathic husband who’s just launched a campaign for political office. Hiding out in a cheap motel, she’s beginning to realize it wasn’t such happenstance that brought her there like she thought. Like the other guests, it seems as if she was drawn here by something. Was it that voice? And if it’s not God, then what is it? Not to be confused with a hokey spiritual romp, this thriller is haunted with a sense of the apocalyptic that will keep you flipping pages until it’s over.
Slogging through Stach’s three-volume biographical opus of Franza Kafka has been a rough endeavor at times. Reading just one of the finds in this collection however, ignites my desire to lock myself in the bedroom -- just like Kafka might, and read until sunrise. Stach’s “finds” are some of his favorite anecdotes and oddities discovered in the process of writing his 1,500-page biography of this ghostly literary figure. You’ll learn that Kafka distrusted doctors and the medical establishment, loved beer, admired slapstick comedy, and a lot more! These pieces chip away at the monolithic dark Kafka, revealing the real person he was -- albeit a little out of focus, just like his stories and aphorisms. This one is perfect to be read in small snippets or binged straight through to the end.
An arresting premise with suffocating prose, reading this book put me in a delirium I couldn’t shake for weeks. When a rotting corpse is found in the marshlands of coastal Spain, a region financially decimated after the recent recession and economic crisis, we’re introduced to an unemployed carpenter, Esteban. Who does he think is responsible for Spain’s ills? Everyone is to blame, from greedy developers to the poor prostitutes -- they all have blood on their hands. Chirbes' narrator relates this story of the crisis and his own in feverish, digressive sentences that can stretch on longer than a page at time, creating an intense and sometimes confusing sense of anxiety. Is this a genius novel Spain’s recession or a maniacal manifesto disguised as fiction? You’ll have to decide like I did.
This collection of essays is so good I’d like to throw it at customers as they walk through the door, but this will have to do. Written over the last decade and published in places like McSweeney's, The New Yorker, and GQ, More Curious is a moving and hilarious record of a weird side of the American psyche. No matter the subject, Wilsey is able to hone in on the small moments that define us. He spends time in a rural Texas artist colony, muses on the philosophy of skateboarding, profiles New York’s most successful restaurateur, and more. For fans of the essays of David Foster Wallace (the late author even makes a cameo in one story), this book is an illuminating chronicle of the new millennium.
I think Cesar Aira might be my favorite writer. He’s like Italo Calvino on Acid -- the way he uses scientific and philosophic language to lay out his bizarre ideas and stories. The only consistency in Aira is the inconsistency -- he’s a madman. I’ll reach for his books when I’m looking for a fresh spin on reality and want a head-trip, or when I’m looking for something non-traditional to cleanse the palate between big books. He is the author of more than 70 novels in Spanish, and New Directions publishes several of his titles every year in English but I still need more!
Most items in the bakery are not quite as versatile as the all-powerful cookie. Often viewed as a dish perfect for novice bakers, seasoned adepts will frequently overlook these desserts dismissing them as children’s snacks. Always enjoying the finer things in life, I never thought so and I’m glad Mindy Segal agrees with me. She won the James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef in 2012 and owns the famous Mindy’s HotChocolate dessert bar in Chicago. The cookies here have serious chops and can stand up to any eclair or macaron you can spit at them. Always a sucker for the classics, I really enjoy the extra vanilla and salt in the chocolate chip recipe.
Only in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the resulting War on Terror could a story this bizarre fall through the cracks of our public consciousness. Chucky Taylor’s ascension from a misfit youth in Orlando, to African warlord in Liberia, to exiled gangster rapper in Trinidad was only possible due to the influence of his powerful father, Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Born during his father’s stay in America as a student, knowledge of Chucky’s nationality remained elusive for much of his tenure as leader of his father’s security forces. Today Chucky stands as the only American convicted of torture in the wake of this nation’s debate over the subject. This book is a brilliant report of the rise and fall of both Chucky and his father’s regime.
In Detective John Skaggs, I have found the real-life Jimmy McNulty. McNulty was the head-strong and virtuous homicide detective in HBO’s The Wire who viewed the gang murders he was assigned to investigate as deserving as any other high-profile case--the victims were human beings, after all. When Skaggs was called to investigate the murder of a black detective’s son in South Central Los Angeles, what envelopes is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the perception of black-on-black violence in America. In gritty, noirish prose, Leovy lays flat the issues and offers a simple analysis: violence is endemic when police focus is on preventive tactics instead of convicting existing crime. For fans of The Wire, Blood Will Out, and the podcast Serial, pick this up if you want to learn what it is to be a real “po-lice” like John Skaggs, not just another cop.
The anxiety and paranoia present in Moya's work grants him many deserved comparisons to Franz Kafka. An El Salvadoran dissenter and eventual ex-patriot, Moya left the country from fear of his critics. They had painted him as unpatriotic for his writing and threatened his life. The character in this novel is much like the author, a journalist with a dream to return home, but perhaps the whole thing is a nightmare afterall. Since going under hypnosis, he's having a hard time trying to figure out things. Debaucherous and mind-bending, this novel is addictive and darkly funny.
In this dizzying and obsessive fiction, McCarthy’s narrator is an anthropologist left studying modern society in a world bereft of wild tribes to ingratiate oneself with. What follows is U.’s attempt at his employer’s Great Report, an all encompassing dossier that will sum up our modern era. Unsure of what shape this dossier will take, U. begins new files on just about anything in hopes one will lead him down the correct path. With the absurd spontaneity of such topics as skydiving death cults, Lévi-Strauss--the famous anthropologist, oil spills, and online video buffering, this book addresses how we experience our world and define what it means to be us in what we call modern times.
I loved Van den Berg's debut novel for many of the same reasons I have enjoyed her short stories. She writes about incomplete people searching for stability in their lives and often finding none. This story is ambiguous and haunting--a take on a science fiction trope with literary chops. For fans of The Road and Never Let Me Go--this is a great addition to the canon of literary dystopia.
In this charming and beautifully penciled comic, the perfect island-society of Here must face their fear of the unknown through the specter of one man and his large, luxurious beard which begins to grow. The citizens of Here fear what lurks beyond the sea that surrounds them, out There. Forcing the town to face their fears of individuality and existentialism, it's up to you ultimately whether the gigantic beard is truly evil. I found it--the beard--to be uplifting and hope you do too!
John Le Carre begot a son named Nick who also wanted to write books. He started off with The Gone Away World--featuring surrealism and mimes, and then on to Angelmaker--about clockwork and world destruction. Tigerman takes on the vigilante-superhero in a small secluded island scheduled for imminent doom. Why try and save a place where your only mission is to help transition towards its destruction? Because our faithful sergeant just happens to admire one of the locals like a son. Harkaway is the real deal and you should be reading his books!
I had reservations the final volume of Vandermeer's dazzling Southern Reach trilogy would not be able to live up to the hype established in the first two books, but this truly is an excellent conclusion. Everything about this series has been pitch-perfect--brilliant writing, excellent pacing, and all published in a beautiful package. Annihilation and Authority both included themes of their namesake in the story, and Acceptance is no different. The motivations of the characters and the origins of Area X become more clear but does that mean anything can be done about it? A genre defying and mind-bending trip, this is a series I will recommend for years to come.
Sticking with the video game references to real life, Brian Lee O'Malley's follow up to the Scott Pilgrim series uniquely muses on the extra life mushrooms found in the Super Mario Bros. universe. A struggling chef looking to open a new restaurant has many mistakes in her life she wishes she could correct. Who doesn't wish they could go back and fix their life with the gift of hindsight? When she finds magic mushrooms in her dresser and beneath the floorboards that have the ability to give her a second chance, Katie goes a bit overboard. The story is twisty but accessible and full of retcons inviting multiple re-reads to get the full scope. A great yarn, perfect for comics aficionados and those just stepping into the medium.
Farel Dalrymple has a propensity for the macabre and it's on full display in this latest offering from the creator of It Will All Hurt and Marvel's Omega the Unknown. Many of his illustrations resemble something close to the bizarre close-up stills featured in a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, just without the laughs. Dalrymple's creations can be downright weird in the best way. Inside here is an existential coming-of-age fantasy story--in a desolate future wasteland, a gang of teenagers stumble upon a comic that bears the same name as their crew, The Wrenchies. A mind-bending trip, you'll want to read this one again and again.
It speaks to the quality of storytelling and bizarre historical details that make Gottland so enjoyable while focusing on such a niche subject. Inside are some truly absurd and lyrical essays centered around Czechoslovakia, mostly starting during the Modern Age and through Communism. Szczygiel is a Polish journalist investigating such strange stories as a Czech shoe manufacturer who built the first company towns, and another about a Soviet statue of Stalin that is “disappeared,” along with all the artists who took part in its construction, but my favorite is the story about tracking down Franz Kafka’s living niece that’s truly Kafkaesque. This is a wonderful book and perfectly examples how history can be penned with an artist’s flair. For fans of Mark Kurlansky, strange history,Stephen Greenblatt and offbeat news.
After multiple readings I can’t stop thinking about Michael Deforge’s Ant Colony--It’s completely insane and one of the coolest comics I have ever seen. Unsurprisingly this is the story of a group of ants all existing in the same colony, and outside a few bureaucracies of the daily lives of ants, Deforge’s characters are essentially human--with all the foibles that come along. When a foreign tribe of ants--high on spiders’ milk--threatens the colony, the lives of everyone are affected in different and embarrassing ways. For fans of Brandon Graham, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns and fractal images.
Living up to its namesake, Annihilation, this novel is permeated by a sense of dread. An expedition of 4 scientists travel to Area X—long isolated from the rest of the continent after some type of environmental Event, or something peculiar, happened there. After every expedition before has ended in a shroud of mystery, from mass suicides to others returning vastly changed, this story follows the biologist of the 12th expedition. Shortly after crossing the border into Area X, her team finds a mysterious structure buried in the landscape that was not in any of their maps or other briefing materials. A mysterious and existential plot within, this novel contains great nods to the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and Stanley Kubrick along with the intense pacing of television dramas like LOST. Just enough is revealed about Area X in this first installment of the trilogy that I am very excited to learn more in forthcoming installments all to be released this year.