5 Books To Read Now

 In Culture, Feature

Hot middle-America summers provide the perfect excuse to lie in the shade and read a book. Thankfully, summer shelves are bearing fruits of tempting page-turners, both fiction and nonfiction. Here are a few of our favorites.

1/ Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002”
By David Sedaris, Little Brown

One of America’s greatest writers, humorists and social commentators, David Sedaris has always had a knack for capturing the very essence of what makes people tick. His books, while hilarious, are also spot on in capturing the prevailing spirit of the times in which they were written.

Sedaris is a writer who also benefits from having a unique relationship with his readers, who totally ‘get’ what he is doing. His latest book, a smorgasbord of diary entries, lifts the veil on his private life, allowing readers to experience his life as an ordinary person who just happens to be a best-selling author.

Somehow Sedaris’ personal adventures, even the dullest, make for terrific reading—full of observations about his family, being on the road and working on his stories. Filled with a mix of humor and realism, “Theft by Finding” is also an open book to understanding how this prolific author has developed over the years.

2/ “The Dinner Party: Stories”
By Joshua Ferris, Little Brown

Short-story collections are terrific reads for the hustle and bustle of the summer, because they can be stopped and started with great ease. However, this is not the case with Joshua Ferris’ new collection of adventures, “The Dinner Party,” an anthology of tales that are pretty hard to put down.

Firmly embedded in the exploration of alienation, frustration, self-destruction and anxiety, Ferris repeatedly chronicles the exploits of folks, whom (on the surface) are not the loveliest people in the world, and places them in situations where their faults glaringly radiate irony and absurdity, especially as we discover here, at parties. Nonetheless, Ferris’ readers are undeterred as they are gradually drawn into each character’s lives, ones that are often loaded with drawbacks and issues.

It’s pretty clear that after penning three novels Ferris knows what he’s doing, however seeing him use eleven short stories as a template provides a fascinating glimpse at just how good he really is. Although some of these tales come off as fragments of larger portraits rather than whole narratives, they remain impossible to set aside.

Overall Ferris’ pitch-perfect sense for recognizing that inappropriate and uncomfortable situations are ripe subjects for stories that celebrate detachment and off-kilter comedy makes for an enthralling collection.

3/ “A Portrait of Bowie”
By Brian Hiatt, Cassell Illustrated

Make no mistake about it: there are a lot of books out about David Bowie. What sets “A Portrait of Bowie” apart from the others is that it combines essays from his celebrity friends and admirers (Debbie Harry, Cyndi Lauper, Chris Stein, Nile Rodgers, Toni, Basil and Robyn Hitchcock, to name a few) with photographs and artwork from acclaimed artist Chuck Connelly, music photographer Kevin Cummins, and artist/filmmaker Anton Corbijn, amongst others.

From Carlos Alomar recounting that he didn’t know whom Bowie was when they first met, to Zachary Alford’s recounting of working with Bowie on his later albums, to Stephen Finer’s recollections of painting him, each essay fits together to from a richly embroidered portrait of Bowie’s personal relationships and energetic output.

The book also takes great care to present Bowie as an artist whose influence spans five decades, affecting every nook and cranny of modern society and popular culture. Hiatt’s collected reminisces remind all of us Bowie’s fingerprints are literally everywhere.

4/ “Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam”
By Mark Bowden, Atlantic Monthly Press

For over 50 years, the Vietnam War has afflicted a profound pain on the heart and soul of America. In addition to needlessly costing the lives of a generation of its youth, the war has also left deep scars on the USA’s foreign policy and cultural psyche.

While many know that the Tet offensive was an unmitigated disaster, they may not know that 1968’s Battle of Hue marked the definitive moment when the war became unwinnable, thus dooming the American political and military establishment at home, where their campaigns on the ugly battlefields of the anti-war movement was also failing abysmally.

Filled with government falsehoods, military miscalculations and almost a full month of gruesome fighting, Hue has come to represent everything that went wrong in Vietnam. Well-researched and balanced in presenting the perspectives of combatants, political leaders, journalists and activists, Mark Bowden (who also wrote the excellent “Black Hawk Down”) carefully unravels the unraveling of America’s most tragic contemporary war to deliver a definitive history of Hue and how its aftermath continues to divide and imperil the United States. The result is an exasperating but informative read on a dark chapter of our history.

5/ Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema Of  The 1970s”
By Charles Taylor, Bloomsbury

Film buffs and critics love to debate a multitude of aspects about movies. Fortunately, Charles Taylor is around to further fan the flames with his new book that argues that the 1970s were the last great decade in American cinema.

Focusing on B movies rather than the decade’s heavy hitters, he turns to films like “Foxy Brown,” “The Eyes Of Laura Mars” and “Vanishing Point” to make his points on the importance of this period in cinema. Inside “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You, he argues that the decade saw films expose the seedier aspect of the American underbelly—drugs, murder and prostitution for instance— with a stark realism missing in the glossy, digitized films of today.

Cinematically screaming at naysayers to “get his off his damn lawn,” Taylor is clearly obsessed with emphasizing the vitality of these movies, most of which depict an American Dream in regression, decaying and devoid of social values, and morality in a nation where antiheroes and goons were embraced by moviegoers looking for an escape from the decade’s seemingly endless tumult.

Loaded with his astute opinions, the book is a compelling exposé on how the indie films of the era are undervalued as works of art. It also is a great read about how films form relationships with their viewers over time, resulting in spirited evaluation of these under-appreciated films and their reverberation to the flicks being made today.

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