5 Recommended Reads For May

By Rob Levy
In Culture

The spring brings with it a deluge of amazing books that span genres and bring an array of compelling reads to bookshelves everywhere. It’s been a strong few months for literature and as we approach summer, there appears to be no letting up.

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Photo courtesy of Unsplash

1/ “Immortal Moments In Cardinals History”
Robert Tiemann with an introduction by Ron Jacober, Reedy Press

It’s nice to know that at a time when the Cardinals onfield play has been lackluster to say the least, Redbird fans can find solace off the field by reliving some of the franchise’s greatest moments.

Tiemann, an expert on the early history of baseball, joins Jacober, a venerated writer and sportscaster who has covered the Cards for more than four decades, to craft a dense coffee table book that gives fans an expansive history of the team.

The duo covers a lot of ground in bringing the team’s most memorable moments to life. Some, like Lou Brock’s 300th hit, Mark Whitten’s two grand slams in one inning or Mark McGwire’s epic home run chase of 1998 are well-documented, while others like Bob Forsch’s two no-hitters and Bob Gibson’s 17 strikeouts in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series are welcome reminisces.

Like David Freese in the 2011 World Series, Tiemann goes deep bat at just the right time. Digging deep into the archives, he brings it old school with fascinating stories about several overlooked Redbird greats including the ‘Wild Horse of the Osage,’ Pepper Martin, who tore it up in the 1931 fall classic; Jess Haines who threw the team’s first no-hitter in 1924 and reserve catcher Glenn Brummer’s dramatic steal of home in 1982.

Moments like these are brought to life with archival photographs, newsclippings and accounts from those who were there, thus creating a richly illustrated tapestry of the Cardinals’ past that appeals to both casual and hardcore fans of El Birdos.

2/ “Eligible”
Curtis Sittenfield, Random House

By all accounts “Eligible” is poised to be one of the summer’s hottest reads. If Curtis Sittenfield’s story seems familiar, that’s because it is; she offers a modern redux of “Pride and Prejudice” set in her native Cincinnati.

In “Eligible,” the four Bennet sisters shed their proper English surroundings for a more stylish, Americanized interpretation, filled with working out, finding inner peace, paying bills and making ends meet. When their father becomes ill, they return home to a home that is literally and figuratively in chaos.

This is where Sittenfield works her magic. Although we know the outcome, she picks up the tempo and creates a fascinating tale of love, status and family that amplifies Austen’s original work.

Two of the sisters, Liz and Jane, fall for two rather stylish, well-to-do lads named Bingley and, you guessed it, Mr. Darcy. With these two, Sittenfield dials down the brooding Brit intellectualism in favor of a more preppy, wise-cracking duo. In doing this, Sittenfield makes her own statement on the shallowness and reality show attributes of modern courtship.

“Eligible” is another installment in The Austen Project, whereby her six major works, “Sense & Sensibility,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Emma,” “Persuasion” and “Mansfield Park,” are retold in a modern format by contemporary authors.

3/ “The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone”
Olivia Laird, Pleador

“The Lonely City” is an elegant mix of memoir and biography that captures the nature of introspection amongst the teeming throngs of civilization. Readers join Laird as she searches to define the meaning of being lonely and why we need to be connected to others.

Ironically, her adventure is set in New York City, where as a woman in her 30s, she finds herself alone and empty in a bustling city of hipsters, artists, Wall Street wannabes and ordinary people from all walks of life looking to make ends meet.

Looking to pinpoint the source of her desolation, she turns to art as a means to explore the flavors, sounds, neighborhood and sights of the city as she seeks for an answer as to how anyone could possibly feel alone in one of the largest epicenters of human activity. For her, art is both an absent friend and freeing force that stimulates curiosity and imagination.

“The Lonely City” also considers the dynamics between technology and loneliness. As new tech becomes available, she suggests that its role often changes between a jailor and liberator.

As she weaves between the subways and spaces of Manhattan her narrative unfolds, leaving readers with reflections that are heartfelt, funny, tragic, powerful and poignant.  Although her quest to unearth a definable meaning for being alive is, at times, as futile as finding the Fountain of Youth, her need for revitalization and attachment serves as a catalyst for a profound study of human interaction.

4/ “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture”
Glen Weldon, Simon and Schuster

Every night when millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne suits up to rid Gotham’s streets of crime, the last thing on his mind is his status as an icon for geek culture in the contemporary world.

However for more than seven decades, the Caped Crusader has been a fixture in American popular culture that has shaped how we view our collective selves, our individual status and our fascination with the unsavory.

Pop culturist Weldon examines his various incarnations, from a noirish detective to hokey Technicolor ‘60s cult phenomenon. Batman has always been there. However, as his character gave way to a grittier interpretation in the 1980s and a tortured vigilante in the last few decades, he has come to reflect the attitudes of his times.

Besides serving as a detailed cultural history, the book also points out how much of a serious nerd he really is. Yes you heard me—Batman is a nerd. Possessing no special abilities other than his own intelligence and vast fortune, Batman has done pretty well by nerd standards; he has a man cave, drives a tricked-out car, has a super computer and out MacGyver’s everyone in coming up with really cool gizmos to help him fight crime.

As the author astutely notes, throughout the years every version of Batman has embraced the finer points of being an anti-hero. Emerging from decades of darkness, Batman’s somewhat indifferent tone toward beating the hell out of bad guys has changed with the times, based more often on violent retribution than by a single-minded belief in justice and compassion.

Another core theme of the book is that despite all of the change and public perception, the one constant found in every version of Batman is his unwavering adherence to a personal code that serves as a framework for how he interacts with the rest of the world. Succinctly, he sometimes (like many nerds) doesn’t play well with others.

Whether you are a fan of the film, the comics or both, “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture” is a fascinating character study of an intriguing figure that continues to serves as an emblematic caricature of the dark side of the American Dream.

5/ “A Man Lies Dreaming”
Lavie Tidhar, Melville House

It’s 1939 and London is engulfed in fascism. This is the setting for a juicy noir thriller that mixes the best in pulp with alternative history and sprinkled with science fiction.

Released in the United Kingdom in 2014, Lavie Tidhar’s award-winning heavy hitter imagines a world where Nazi Germany never happened. Instead all the horrors of the era have manifested themselves in Jolly Old England where Oswald Moseley, the leader of British Union of Fascists, is ascending to power.

It is against this backdrop where readers meet Wolf, a down on his luck detective who just so happens to bear striking similarities to another famous fascist. A German expat with less than solid morals, Wolf, agrees to help a Jewish woman track down her missing sister while simultaneously fending off a serial killer tormenting the foggy streets of London,

Bitter, bigoted and generally unpleasant, Wolf is an untidy choice for the ‘hero’ of the piece. Or so it seems …

Things shift around as the trajectory of the narrative in this gray work of revised history abandons the traditional skin of noir and tossing readers adrift amidst the terror of the Holocaust, thus hurtling the story into disturbing new frontiers.

“A Man Lies Dreaming” features Tidhar using fiction and fantasy as a reminder of the brutality of Nazi Germany and the perils facing modern societies. His unorthodox methodologies are controversial and effective.  He unabashedly holds nothing back in crafting his  novel, delivering a passionate and textured resonance to the frightening world he envisions.

Like any true artist he skillfully uses his engrossing literature to mirror current times,which is even more grotesque given the tenor of America’s current politics.

His latest, “A Man Lies Dreaming” is a daring work, briskly paced and impossible to set down.

Rob Levy is a freelance writer who works at a local library. Each month he recommends five books for ALIVE Magazine readers.

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