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Brad's Picks

Book Cover John Crawford
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq

Nonfiction
When John Crawford joined up with Florida National Guard for help with college tuition he never guessed he would actually be deployed to a combat zone - the deal is one weekend a month, two weekends a year, right? But when he is shipped out to Kuwait before the invasion of Iraq, he realizes just how mistaken he'd been. Told with a degree of bitterness, but also with humility, this book provides a glimpse into the experiences of a reluctant soldier who wanted "nothing to do with someone else's war."
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

 
Colby Buzzell
My War: Killing Time in Iraq

Nonfiction
In an age of rabid political partisanship it is refreshing to read an account of the Iraq War that is free of overt bias. Buzzell achieves this in a fluff-free memoir that recounts his year-long deployment with the US Army in Iraq. Stationed outside the northern city of Mosul, the author recounts the intense highs and dangerous lows he experiences while battling insurgents and adjusting to life in a war zone. To combat boredom, Buzzell begins chronicling these experiences on a blog that quickly becomes a barometer of truth for soldiers and military families, and a thorn-in-the-side of military brass. Though it is difficult to discern Buzzell's feelings about the justness of the war (he frequently provides support for it, but aligns himself with outspoken opponents), this tell-it-like-it-is account of military life is frank, funny, and irreverent.
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

 
Book Cover Truman Capote
In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

Nonfiction
Capote's "nonfiction novel" about a multiple homicide in a sleepy Kansas town has been hailed as a watermark of modern crime reportage. Written as a narrative, Capote slowly unfolds actual events that surrounded the brutal Midwestern slayings in acute detail, drawing from evidence, testimonies, and newspaper reports. Punctuating the keen storytelling is a detectable undercurrent of Americana, as well as up close and personal examinations of the crime's perpetrators.
Recommended by Brad, January 2006

 


Bar Mitzvah Disco: the Music May Have Stopped But The Party's Never Over
Nonfiction
The Jewish rite of passage into adulthood is chronicled in side-splitting detail in this collection of solicited photographs and testimonies of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs from the 1970's through the 1990's. Embarrassing hairstyles & fashion statements abound, as do hilarious self-deprecating stories by Sarah Silverman, Jonathan Safren Foer, and other Jewish personalities.
Recommended by Brad, December 2005

Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Matt Lake
Nonfiction
Drive across the old covered bridge, turn of your engine, honk the car horn three times, and that's when the ghost of the hanged man appears. Not buying it? Hey, you can try it yourself. Weird Pennsylvania is a compendium of all things weird, curious, unexplained, and bizarre in the Key Stone State, happily inviting readers to check out the mystifying locales it chronicles for themselves. This "travel guide" also works as an encyclopedia of local urban legends and superstitious that are at once unique and strangely universal. Read about the ape boy of the swamp, the phantom hitchhiker of the lake, and the armed albino gangs of the mountains! And you thought Pennsylvania was dull.
Recommended by Brad, October 2005

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Horror
A subtle, psychological horror, The Haunting of Hill House revolves around emotionally-troubled Eleanor Vance, who agrees to take part in an anthropologist's unusual study of "supernatural manifestations" at a haunted manor. Though not overtly scary, Jackson skillfully creates an unnerving atmosphere that slowly consumes both the book's protagonists and its readers.
Recommended by Brad, October 2005

The Clumsiest People in Europe, or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World by Todd Pruzan and Favell Lee Mortimer
Nonfiction
Despite never having stepped beyond the borders of England but twice in her life, Victorian children's author Favell Lee Mortimer (1802-1878) had a lot to say about the inhabitants of the rest of the world. No matter your ancestral roots, Mrs. Mortimer probably held some incredulous idea of their fundamental faults and detractions, and dutifully recorded it for the educational benefit of the children of England. In this delightfully disturbing collection of her writings, editor Todd Pruzan presents a look at the 19th century stereotyping run amok and gives us food for thought about how we characterize one another today.
Recommended by Brad, August 2005

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Fiction
From one of today's most warm and devilishly clever authors comes the story of a has-been musician, a desperate mother, a shamed celebrity, and a bratty young girl, who meet haphazardly at a notorious suicide spot on New Year's Eve. After revealing their intentions to end their lives, this rag-tag group of unlikely compatriots share stories of their circumstances and personal failures with humor and wry honesty.
Recommended by Brad, July 2005

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
NonFiction
Humorist Sarah Vowell chronicles her macabre pilgrimage to historical sites and exhibits that offer insight into the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Whimsically offbeat, readers will enjoy Ms. Vowell's self-deprecating sense of humor as much as the strange-but-true historical tidbits that pack her book's pages.
Recommended by Brad, June 2005

What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank
NonFiction
Anyone interested in examining the much-hyped Red State/Blue State divide in American politics will find Thomas Franks' What's The Matter With Kansas? a timely and engrossing read. Using Kansas as a microcosm of the larger United States, Franks asks why traditionally blue-collar communities are embracing conservative ideology with unprecedented fervor, when its economic policies arguably pose great risks to their livelihood. Some readers may reject Franks' more liberal-minded assertions, but will find his central arguments worthy of debate.
Recommended by Brad, May 2005

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Fiction
Oskar Schell is a 9-year old boy on a mission: to discover what a key left behind by his father, a victim of the September 11th terrorist attacks, might unlock. With few leads, eccentric Oskar, (a self-described inventor, jewelry designer, jewelry fabricator, amateur entomologist, Francophile, vegan, origamist, pacifist, percussionist, amateur astronomer, computer consultant, amateur archeologist, and collector), begins wandering the boroughs of New York City to ask the help of strangers who share a common link. Employing whimsical fantasy, heartbreaking realism, and a scattering of quirky literary devices (photographs, numeric codes, playful typography, etc.) Foer has created an emotional narrative that is touching and inspiring.
Recommended by Brad, April 2005

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty
Fiction
"Discovered" by Stephen King after years of rejection from big name publishers, author Ron McLarty delivers a unique, inspiring, and at times, macabre debut novel with The Memory of Running. Unlikely protagonist Smithson Ide, a drunk, overweight, and apathetic loner, finds himself at an awkward crossroads in his life when soon after his parents meet a tragic end, he learns that his long-missing sister has been found dead. Starting off on a cross-county journey by bike, leaving his home in Rhode Island to claim his sister's body in Los Angeles, Smithy confronts past demons and undergoes profound changes as he meets a bevy of strange and inspiring characters along the way.
Recommended by Brad, February 2005

Selling Women Short by Liza Featherstone
NonFiction
In this hard-hitting look at one of the world's largest and most profitable companies, Featherstone explores allegations made by defendants in the class-action lawsuit Dukes vs. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. that suggest discrimination against female employees is inherent in Wal-Mart's company culture. Through extensive interviews of former (and some current) disgruntled employees, and the use of testimony provided by lawyers and witnesses on both sides of the case, Featherstone delivers a stunning expose of Wal-Mart's questionable labor practices and company policies. Featherstone makes no attempt at impartiality however, leaving her open to charges of bias. Read for yourself and decide.
Recommended by Brad, February 2005

Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items From Around the World edited by Davy Rothbart
NonFiction
Have you ever picked up a discarded note lying on the sidewalk or gone out of your way to rescue a tattered photograph blowing across a parking lot? Have any of these little discoveries ever struck you as particularly heart wrenching, humorous, sad, or just plain baffling? This enchanting collection of lost diary entries, break-up notes, e-mails, artwork, and spastic streams of consciousness were found by observant people just like you, and sent on for inclusion in the pages of Found magazine. This fine publication, devoted to showcasing these random and anonymous fragments of our collective consciousness, presents this amazing new anthology of its most interesting and baffling submissions.
Recommended by Brad, January 2005

Faithful: Two Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King
NonFiction
In this highly amusing testament to the spirit of baseball, celebrated novelists O'Nan and King dispatch with trademark tales of marauding aliens, undead pets, and uncontainable epidemics, and tackle something even more surreal: a championship season enjoyed by the famously cursed Boston Red Sox. The two die-hard fans began documenting the historic season from its earliest days, and later conspired to collaborate on a book that would chronicle the devotion of the Red Sox Faithful despite the team's notorious history. As it happened, the pair would experience not only the greatest comeback in baseball history, but also Boston's first World Series win in eighty-six years. Witty, emotional, and obsessive, this is a great read for any devoted baseball fan.
Recommended by Brad, December 2004

The World's Most Dangerous Places by Robert Young Pelton
NonFiction
Advertised as an "underground classic among the CIA, mujahadeen, special forces, NGO's, and savvy adventurers", The World's Most Dangerous Places is a sensationalist armchair travel guide to areas of the world most infamously blighted by war, corruption, kidnapping, disease, starvation, and social unrest. Though often less than cheerful, Mr. Pelton's irreverently detailed accounts of the players, politics, and pandemonium specific to each country make DP a fascinating insight into the globe's more notorious hotspots. Idle readers and adventure seekers alike will appreciate this edgy alternative to traditionally lighthearted travel writing fare.
Recommended by Brad, December 2004

Persepolis: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi
Graphic Novel
The part-two continuation of 2003's Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, this highly anticipated graphic novel/memoir focuses on the author's life as a young adult, her attempts to adjust to a new life in the West, and her eventual return home to a tumultuous, post-revolutionary Iran. As childhood imagination gives way to teenage rebellion and depression, readers experience less of the simple charm that characterized the first installment of Persepolis, but the author does not fail to generate the same heartfelt empathy for her struggles with self-identity. Also ever present are Satrapi's smart critiques of political indoctrination and the sordid realities of life under a militant, fundamentalist regime. In the end, Persepolis lives up to its esteemed praise, as well as its numerous critical comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus.
Recommended by Brad, October 2004

The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan
NonFiction
This critical examination of multi-national corporations and the profound influence they have come to wield over our social and political institutions is enlightening and provocative. More than just a scathing denouncement of corporate culture, Bakan's book (which recently inspired an equally engaging documentary film) offers reasoned insight into the rise of these mammoth institutions and the legal loopholes that make their "pathological pursuit of profit" a danger to the well being of the world.
Recommended by Brad, August 2004

I'll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews by Kenneth Goldsmith
NonFiction
Warhol found art in what was predictable and repetitive: the canned commonalities of everyday existence. And like soup cans, postage stamps, and Coca-Cola bottles, the interview to him was regarded just as such -- more a scripted song-and-dance conducted by the interviewer than an explorative analysis of the interviewee. In this selected anthology, Goldsmith successfully illustrates the subversive, absurd, and ingenious ways that Warhol exploited the interview format as an extension of his artwork and public image.
Recommended by Brad, August 2004