1. The Evil B.B. Chow by Steve Almond-Almond's a personal favorite. Last year, I recommended Candyfreak, his account of his tours through some of America's lesser-known confection factories. B.B. Chow is his second collection of short stories, the title taken from the lead story about a magazine editor's strange fling with pediatric surgeon-in-training, Brock Blaine Chow. For those who like their literature served up with a healthy dose of irony, this is the book for you.
2. Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh-OK, I haven't actually read this book yet, but Haigh's first book, Mrs. Kimble, was so remarkable that even if her sophomore effort is half as good, it'll still be excellent. (Plus, a fiction connoisseur I know has read Baker Towers already and gives it the thumbs up.) The book follows the lives of the five Novak kids, post World War II up through the 1960s. Like Mrs. Kimble, each character gets their own chapter, in which they learn (or not) from their mistakes and tell their story as they see it.
3. How We Are Hungry by Dave Eggers-For anyone who couldn't make it through Eggers' first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (likely many of you, since the book's 496 pages), this, his third book, comprises several short stories, some not even a page long. The book looks like one of those journals you might buy at Borders-it's black leather with an elastic band to hold it closed. At times it also reads like someone's journal-incomplete, a little disjointed. To all the English lit majors out there, Eggers' reasoning for making his book so is obvious-it's not a book intended for passive readers. In other words, the one-page story about the dude who has to build three walls of a house before his wife gets home-you're supposed to spend a little time thinking about why that is. Or the mother who wants to whack her son with a golf club-figure it out for yourself. It'll provide hours of cerebral aerobics whilst you work on your tan.
4. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl-Insert: "Don't judge a book by its cover" cliche. Indeed, this book's cover is deceptive. It shows a woman in red against a bright blue background being served a plate of pasta. The white-jacketed server holds the pasta just in front of her face, blocking it from view. It's corny enough that I almost tossed the promo copy. Reichl, the former food editor for The New York Times, writes about her first few years on the job and how she was forced to disguise herself lest an eatery's staff fall over themselves in an attempt to win favor. (Supposedly, chefs around town had posted her picture in their kitchens.) In disguise, she's treated rudely at some of New York's best restaurants. And for that, she calls them out. The book gets a little too into the dressing-up thing, but for foodies, the fact that she intertwines her favorite recipes throughout the book makes up for that.
5. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim-This isn't a new book but the film version of the book, which has already garnered tons of praise in the indie-movie set, will screen at the Ken Cinema June 24 through 30. It's not rated, for obvious reasons. Heim writes about the taboo topic of pedophilia and underage prostitution in a way that's never exploitative or upsetting-rather, it's just there, a fact of these characters' lives. And you like the characters-really like them. Rarely do fictional characters so endear themselves to a reader.
6. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc-Another book that's been out for a couple of years. LeBlanc started off as a shy 25-year-old covering the trial of drug dealer "Boy" George for The Village Voice. George's girlfriend, Jessica, took a liking to LeBlanc, and the young reporter realized the lives of Jessica and her family was the real story. What LeBlanc came away with, after 10 years of following the family, is a disturbing look at life in some of the worst corners of the Bronx. You don't know whether to feel sorry for her subjects or smack them because they can't get their lives together. She accompanies them to welfare appointments, spends time in project housing, visits them in prison and follows them to run-down houses in upstate New York where they're willing to live just to escape the city. At times you forget it's non-fiction. You'll have a hard time putting it down.
7. Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation by Jeff Chang-Because CityBeat's partially a music rag, here's a requisite music book-but one that comes highly recommended by music folk. One critic went so far to call it "the best" book written on the topic.
Music journalist Chang takes a socio-economic look at the history of hip-hop, putting the genre's birth in a larger context, exploring hip-hop as a cultural and, at times, political movement. Introduction by DJ Kool Herc.
8. The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea-For fans of magic realism, Urrea's tale is about 16-year-old Teresita (actually the author's great-aunt Teresa), who dies and comes back to life at her wake, claiming, simply, that death ain't her thing. She soon finds she has the power to heal people. She becomes a cult figure, elevated to sainthood while still alive. Urrea blends the religious mysticism that infused 19th-century life in Mexico with that country's frontier-life lawlessness. The book is part fairy tale, part history, part folk legend. It's not a light read-more for those who appreciate literature as art.
9. Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager by Buzz Bissinger-For the guys, the requisite summer sports book. This one, though, looks deep into the strategy of the game sparing us from the ego-stroking and canned interviews that comprises some sports writing. Bissinger was given full access to Cardinals' manager Tony LaRussa during a three-game series against the Cubs. Who knew that pitchers are forced, pre-game, to watch hours of footage of the hitters they'll be up against? The book also taps into some of the things that are increasingly making a manager's job less about the game and more about babysitting-pushy agents, greedy players, steroids, bad attitudes.
10. Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse by Steve Bogira-Bogira, a reporter for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, was given unfettered access to a Chicago courtroom-judge's chambers, attorneys, police reports, the works. Some of what he witnessed is heavy stuff; the more mundane cases reveal the daily ins and outs of the legal system but sometimes catches him off-guard. One defendant, for example, pleads not guilty in court but later opens up to Bogira and admits his guilt. Drug cases take up the majority of the court's time, giving this book plenty of room to explore one of the legal system's biggest quandries. To drive it home, Bogira follows a defendant, watching as the guy is shuffled through the system with little attention given to his rehabilitation.
FROM THE MIND OF MAYNARD
CityBeat art director shares his non-fiction faves
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth by Paul Hoffman-For the more cerebral readers, the story of one guy's obsession with numbers. For mathletes and obsessive-compulsives alike.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester-Yeah, so did you know a crazy murderer coined some of the words in the OED?
Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany: June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945 by Stephen E. Ambrose-For war-strategy buffs. We'll overlook the fact the Ambrose has a bit of a problem with that bad habit known as plagiarism.
Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies by Russ Kick (editor)-A post-modern, counter-culture, what-the-fuck book for anarchists and conspiracy theorists alike.
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell-The squeaky-voiced commentator for This American Life writes about her cross-country trip to visit the sites of presidential assassinations, attempted assassinations and where the assassins plotted the action.
WHERE TO BUY
Cozy, hip joint in the heart of Hillcrest.
3817 Fifth Ave. 619-296-1424.
One of San Diego's oldest; all used. Give an old book a new home.
726 Broadway, Downtown, 619-232-0132.
Great spot to see touring authors.
7461 Girard Ave., La Jolla. 858-456-1800.
Best prices for "gently used" books online.
First Cut Books
An online indie bookstore, complete with a list of "staff picks." www.firstcutbooks.com.