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Lisa's Picks

Grossman, Anna Jane
Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By

DDT. Hotel keys. Rolodexes. Traveler’s Checks. Asbestos. Percolators. What do they have in common? They’ve drifted into extinction, supplanted by better, faster and stronger successors. Revisit answering the telephone with a sincere “hello?” (note the question mark because you have no idea who is calling), getting lost, and privacy, experiences made obsolete with caller ID, GPS, and status updates. It’s difficult to determine if Obsolete is nostalgic or depressing. Either way, Grossman’s earnestly funny essays, blurbs and interviews will take you back to a time when things, ideas and attitudes were replaced at a much slower rate.
Recommended March 2010

Book Cover for Livability: stories Raymond, Jon
Livability: stories

Short Stories
Gaining wider recognition after two of the nine stories were adapted into films (Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy), Jon Raymond paints a literary landscape of the Pacific Northwest as lushly green, isolating and yet peacefully captivating. Although markedly different, each set of characters share the same unsettled ending. Nothing of magnitude happens but a similar sense of uncertainly pervades. A young man seeks the whereabouts of his former friend at the request of his dying father. Two teenagers are trapped in a mall while they sort out truth and adolescent misbehavior. The conflicting distinction of language versus object ends a relationship between an artist and an art critic. Some characters are economically prosperous (“The Suckling Pig”) and others hopelessly desperate (“Train Choir”), yet each story features restless personalities eager to test the boundaries of social and personal accountability, with an ambivalence that comes across as uniquely American.
Recommended October 2009

Book Cover for Tammy Pierce is Unlovable Watson, Esther Pearl
Tammy Pierce is Unlovable

Graphic Novel nonfiction
Originally published in Bust magazine, Esther Pearl Watson’s serialized comic is loosely based on the late 1980s diary of a teenage girl found in the women’s restroom of a Vegas gas station. Tammy Pierce is a Texan high school sophomore who is completely boy crazy, exchanges cheese fries for friends, and attracts every opportunity for humiliation. She's a totally lovable character who can’t help being unintentionally funny. Inside the blue glitter cover, Watson fills the pages with both awkward and tender moments that are poignantly clever.
Recommended May 2009

Book Cover for Demons in the Spring Meno, Joe
Demons in the Spring

Short Stories
Twenty short stories, all set in the most ordinary places entwined with modern catastrophe and magic realist moments. Illustrated by artists from the fine art, graphic, and comic book realms, with recognizable names such as Charles Burns, Paul Hornschemeier, Anders Nilson, and Archer Prewitt. "An Apple Could Make You Laugh" tells of two office coworkers who are tortured by their unsuccessful flirting. “Stockholm 1973” reveals the strange nature of the human condition when an ex-con holds up a bank and gets his best friend involved in his crime. In “The Unabomber and My Brother,” parallels are drawn between the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and the narrator’s mentally ill brother, exposing the demise of a onetime happy family. Accessible yet unusually wonderful, Meno creates a touching and almost cinematic work of fiction.
Recommended April 2009

Book Cover for Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit and Devotion edited by Jones, Daniel
Modern Love: 50 True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit and Devotion

The more things change the more they stay the same – a phrase that couldn’t be more perfect when considering the intricacies and challenges of modern love. The language of love got a lot more difficult when text messaging and the internet were added to the mix of an already mystifying and complicated subject. Taken straight from the New York Times weekly “Modern Love” column, 50 intrepid authors bare their souls in illuminating essays about love in the twenty-first century. A voyeuristic approach to love and a superb collection for anyone who has loved, lost, or googled her date’s name.
Recommended January 2009

Book Cover for Things I’ve Learned From  Women Who’ve Dumped Me edited by Karlin, Ben
Things I’ve Learned From Women Who’ve Dumped Me

Co-author and co-editor of America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy in Action contains a collection of essays by recognizable names such as Dan Savage, Stephen Colbert and Nick Hornby, as well as some new authors to add to your repertoire. The advice offered is 10% practical and 90% hilarious, and 31 contributors wear their fervent hearts on their sleeves for the reader's amusement. Lessons in this anthology span from “Women Are Never Too Young to Mess with Your Head,” and “A Grudge Can Be Art,” to “Nine Years is the Exact Right Amount of Time to Be in a Bad Relationship.” It’s unlikely you’ll actually gain any practical or sensible advice about love from these personal essays, but they might improve your sense of humor about break-ups, past, present, or future.
Recommended October 2008

Book Cover for Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper Cody, Diablo
Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper

Screenwriter and blogger Diablo Cody, known for her Academy Award-winning script Juno, delivers an intelligently sharp memoir of her experience as an “unlikely” Minnesotan stripper. Bored with the monotony and dullness of cubical dwelling, on a whim Cody decides to dabble in stripping at an amateur night in Minneapolis. Embedded with snarky pop culture references, Diablo Cody’s healthy cynicism and feisty attitude is the core appeal of her candid memoir. Candy Girl is strides away from simply depicting a superficial glance into the world of stripping. Clever and hilarious, Cody gives us an insightful behind-the-scenes look at the industry.
Recommended by Lisa, August 2008

Book Cover for Lenny Bruce is Dead: A Novel Goldstein, Jonathan
Lenny Bruce is Dead: A Novel

Public Radio International’s This American Life contributing editor Jonathan Goldstein writes a fractured novel capturing snapshots of a young man mourning the death of his mother and a succession of failing relationships. Mostly written in the style of stream of consciousness, Goldstein injects occasional incisive moments of literary wisdom. Josh, the novel’s protagonist, is solitary and undoubtedly romantically awkward as the plot fluctuates between Josh struggling with his newly widowed father and impending disaster with every girl he falls in love with. Lusty, poetic and nuanced, Goldstein brilliantly forces us to grip each paragraph at a time.
Recommended by Lisa, April 2008

Book Cover for Hiding Out Messinger, Jonathan
Hiding Out

Short Stories
Jonathan Messinger, book review editor for Time Out Chicago and co-publisher of Featherproof Books, debuts a surprising collection of short stories ranging from the side-splittingly funny to the achingly despairing. A father is haunted by a thieving angel, leaving his house stripped of all personal belongings. An unathletic and hungover protagonist gets kicked in the naked eye by a soccer ball, only to find out in a CAT scan that he's inflicted with a far worse diagnosis. A man-eating wolf escapes its zoo habitat and menaces a small town in a dismally funny fairy tale. Hiding Out observes innately awkward, lonely, repressed personalities with deadpan delivery and clever sarcasm. Just as the cover photograph evokes, Messinger's characters may be broken-down but surely not lacking resilience.
Recommended by Lisa, December 2007

Book Cover for  Perishable: A Memoir Jamison, Dirk
Perishable: A Memoir

Think your family is dysfunctional? Dirk Jamison, child of a dumpster diving father and a self-absorbed Mormon mother (described by Jamison as more stupid than crazy) composes a gripping and candid memoir of his extremely unconventional 1970s childhood. Raised in an unstable environment and battling routine physical assault from a violent sister, Jamison manages to convey his experience in a very lucid and natural style, void of psychological interpretation. Throughout the memoir, the author provides us with the often hilarious details of concealing scavenged food in foil from his mother, building housing multiple times with his father, surviving adolescence in a Mormon community and a tumultuous relationship between his parents. Although Jamison’s family insanity is more extreme than average, the universality in family dynamics are undeniably evident.
Recommended by Lisa, October 2007

Book Cover for Little Children Perrotta, Tom
Little Children

Absorbing and unsettling, yet filled with laugh-out-loud moments, Little Children conceives a sardonic landscape of suburbia where nothing outside of the mundane ever seems to happen. Suspense soon shakes the plot as a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood and an unlikely affair between two young parents captures an intense romance. While Sarah and Todd desperately embrace an oasis from feeling trapped, alone, and deflated by the drudgery of their lives, their children nap from a typical day at the town pool. From the neighborhood housewives to the local pedophile to the children of the restless adulterous parents, Perrotta remarkably manages to design every character as interesting and oddly engaging.
Recommended by Lisa, September 2007

Book Cover for The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas Rothbart, Davy
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas: Stories

Short Stories
Humorous with just a tinge of desperation and dejection, Rothbart delivers a collection of short stories featuring a cast of everyday small-town characters in all too surreal situations. The opening story, "Lie Big," reads as a convincing memory recalled from a page of a friend's diary where the reader discovers the heartbreaking and hilarious intricacies of a complex friendship. Another notable story, "Maggie Fever," unravels the mundane yet tragic story of a fourteen year old boy left to his own devices but manages to allow his curiosity to lead him to anonymous adoration of a stranger. Oscillating from the ordinary, the intimate, the beautiful and the unfortunate, stories in The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas will leave you hanging on and in search for more.
Recommended by Lisa, June 2007

Book Cover for Generation X Coupland, Douglas
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture

Credited with terming low-paying/low-status/unsatisfying/dead-end employment as a "McJob" and introducing/popularizing the phrase "Generation X" to the American lexicon, Coupland conveys the lives of three friends as they attempt to escape their collective quarter-life crisis. Using a raw ironic tone that is anything less than subtle, Generation X entwines the exhausted lives of twentysomethings with relevant pop culture references. Choice moments in the novel include Coupland's incorporation of cartoons, slogans and Couplandisms, all of which are specific to the sentiments portrayed by both the characters and the author himself. "Tele-parabolizing" is a personal favorite of Coupland's invented terms which is defined as describing everyday morals by using widely known plots found on television (think, "that's just like the episode where Jan lost her glasses!"). Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture may not cure your frustration with our culture's habit of excessive consumption and extreme commercialism, but it will at least provide you with the solace of knowing you're not alone.
Recommended by Lisa, May 2007

Book Cover for Confessions of an Heiress Hilton, Paris and Merle Ginsberg
Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-chic Peek Behind the Pose

Indulgent, overstated and unabashedly self promotional, Hilton provides explicit guidelines on becoming an heiress while including hundreds of glossy photographs which could only be appreciated by the most insincere fanatic. While breezing through the shiny images and bullet pointed text, it's difficult to interpret a tone of irony or an honest voice that is mistakenly heard as sardonic. The majority of Hilton's autobiography is packed with lengthy lists of favorite vacation destinations, gems of little known Paris trivia and guilty pleasures. Regardless, the much talked about heiress surely satisfies our fierce if not slightly perverse craving of embarrassing pictures and humiliatingly obtuse intelligence. If all else fails, take Hilton's surefire advice, "…always act like you're wearing an invisible crown. I do. And it's always worked for me."
Recommended by Lisa, April 2007

Book Cover for The Revolution Will Be Accessorized
The Revolution Will Be Accessorized: BlackBook Presents Dispatches from the New Counterculture

A decade in the making, BlackBook magazine gives us a collection of essays from some of the most recognized names in contemporary writing, including Douglas Coupland, Naomi Klein, Augusten Burroughs, Chuck Palahniuk and Sam Lipsyte among others. Despite the magazine's reputation as a glossy New York fashion and social arsenal, The Revolution Will Be Accessorized contributes a perverse and provocative criticism of the "trendy" existence these writers (and perhaps even its readers alike) inhabit. From memoirs to critical essays on L.A.'s bourgeoisie, selections in this anthology will leave you questioning efforts of cultural dissent. Yet, Glen O'Brien states it best, "If it makes you think, is it fashion?"
Recommended by Lisa, March 2007

Book Cover for Post Secret PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives
Compiled by Frank Warren

Initiated as a temporary experimental community art project where anonymous secrets from across the United States are written on post cards and sent to artist Frank Warren, PostSecret has afforded itself to be a liberating experience to its audience. Voyeuristic, compelling, tragic, yet endearing, Warren composes confessions that are certain to divulge powerful insights to any who seek universality in humanity. If PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives leaves you wanting more, look for Frank Warren's succeeding compilation of confessions in My Secret: A PostSecret Book.
Recommended by Lisa, February 2007

Book Cover for Happy Kitty Bunny Pony Charles S. Anderson Design Co. and Michael J. Nelson
Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute

It just has a ton of super cute images, all dating from the Depression era to the 60's and everything in between. Also includes some sassy and oh so witty commentary from a bunch of advertising types. It is quite savvy. The first time I looked at this, I was seriously on the floor laughing my guts out!
Recommended by Lisa, January 2007