Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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Cover Story

Fall books guide


When is the last time you saw someone plopped under a tree like the girl in this photo, reading a book like the one she is holding — you know, with paper pages bound to a spine, sandwiched between a front and back cover? Old-school book readers still browse the long aisles at book stores and libraries, running reverent fingertips through the stacks of what are becoming the dinosaurs of literature. Even the new Des Moines Public Library is equipped with a “digital media center,” as its administrators attempt to stay ahead of the curve.                

While traditional book-lovers say they like the physical act of turning the page, they like the symbol of progress a book mark provides at stopping points and they even “like the smell of an old book,” many avid readers prefer digital because of the portability, convenience and immediate access to a new book they provide.                

Whatever your preference, authors continue to pen new and interesting books every year. Here are a few we read this year.


‘The Rebound’
By Emilia Mancini
Liquid Silver Books, 69 pp., $2.99 (digital)

Ever heard the expression: “The best way to get over somebody is to get under somebody?” As lascivious as that may seem, there is some truth to it — at least there is for Casi Hanson and Conner Bennett who engage in a fanatical sex affair that serves as the remedy they both need to rebound from their respective failed marriages, as they lick each other’s wounds nightly. The story is not what you’d expect from your typical romance novel.               

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While I’m compelled to warn the morally-bound Puritans out there that book is not for you, it’s impossible to know the sexy, perverse and even disgusting inner-workings of any person’s fantasies — even a respected local celebrity news anchor like Casi, as Connor helps her discover her hibernating carnal desires. It’s a great read in private or with a companion, guaranteed to yield spectacular physical consequences for the audience. It’s certainly understandable why the Iowa author chose to write this, her first book, under the veil of a penname, though it’s one she should tout proudly, as shamelessly as the characters she created. – Amber Williams


‘The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story Of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret’
By Kent Hartman
Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pp., $15.46

The heart-stopping drumbeat that opens “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes; the unmistakable guitar intro to The Monkees’ “Last Train To Clarksville”; the hymn-like piano intro of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — all instantly recognizable, and all played by musicians few have heard of. As members of The Wrecking Crew, a loose collection of session musicians in the Los Angeles studio scene of the ’60s and ’70s — people like Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Billy Strange — were brought in to sweeten or outright record songs for some of the biggest names of the day, largely in anonymity. Kent Hartman’s book tells the story of the Crew and L.A.’s rock scene of the era through the songs they helped bring to life. A breezy, engaging read, “The Wrecking Crew” will have you running to Spotify to hear those familiar classics with fresh ears. – Gregory Goode


‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Paleo’
By Neely Quinn and Jason Glaspey
Alpha, 318 pp., $18.95 paper                

Nutritionist Quinn and fitness-dietician Glaspers believe that diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other modern ailments can be contained by eating in the manner of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. High glycemic and processed foods are particularly eschewed. Special attention is paid to diets that compliment the regimens of different types of endurance athletes. For instance, proteins and fats are recommended as pre-game meal replacements for pasta and other carbs.                

“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods” does for fermented foods what “Joy of Cooking” did for mainstream cooking. It simplifies difficult concepts. From prehistoric breads, wines and cheeses to exotics like tsukemono, natto, injera, mugi miso, klabber and fermented fish and even basics like corned beef, sour dough and biscuits, this is an indispensable book for anyone who wants to eat better and waste less food. Step by step instructions offer ways of turning fresh foods into pickles, krauts, salsas, relishes, cultured mayonnaises, mustards and chutneys. — Jim Duncan


‘100,000 Midnights’
By Aaron Smith
Musa Publishing, 364 KB, $4.99 digital

Eric has always been a social outcast, claiming he feels more like a senior citizen on the inside than his 22 years. He can’t seem to find his place in the world. Then he meets 300-year-old vampire, Siobhan, who needs him to protect her through her “elderling,” a process which is basically vampire puberty that leaves the creature vulnerable to attack.                

After a night of fighting off the “mechanical angel” sent to kill her, Eric feels bonded to Siobhan and convinces her to let him hang around. Together they get into a series of sticky situations including stealing blood from sleeping citizens (Siobhan refuses to kill), saving a town stuck in time (Sci-Fi’s take on “Pleasantville”), being kidnapped by a DNA-meshing mad scientist (“The Island of Dr. Moreau” meets suburbia) and a battle with even more mechanical angels.                

“100,000 Midnights” is not my typical read, so I was surprised by how easy it was to get through this book. Smith has a casual way about his writing that makes you feel like you are sitting in a coffee shop listening to him tell the tale. The vampire aspect is always there, but it is not an overpowering theme. The story lies in the adventures on which the two characters embark. There is also a hint of romance.                

The chapters end in such a way as to wrap up the current adventure and lead you into the next, feeling like several short stories wrapped into one novel. This was so well achieved that when the last chapter ended, I was anticipating the next, only to find I’d finished the story.                

This book is funny, interesting and, though many of the adventures seemed to be spin-offs of movies, it is a page-turner that I didn’t want to end. – Marci Clark


‘When the Sun Comes Up in the West: A Missionary’s New Song of Justice and Peace’
By Rev. Robert C. Cook
WestBow Press, 194 pp., $17.95

In America we think poverty is not having cable TV, buying Ramen noodles in bulk and leaning on the crutches of social welfare programs. In America, we don’t know true poverty. The people in war-torn El Salvador are among the third-world survivors who do, suffering through violence, starvation and disease. Rev. Robert Cook knows. He traded in his comparably cushy life in Des Moines for a spot under a shade tree in Canton El Tablon, El Salvador, in order to gain a better understanding of “third-world poverty.” His curiosity became his passion, and his passion became a mission.                

Told in brilliant and intelligent descriptions and verified by authentic, black-and-white photographs to illustrate the veracity of his story, Cook offers one example of the harsh realities that exist among the human race around the globe — things not even the most avid religious missionary might be exposed to during a mission trip. The things he witnessed during his time in El Salvador, during an ongoing civil war, are unimaginable to the average U.S. citizen. Despite the feelings of despair and anger it evokes, this book leaves you with a feeling of hope and a desire to help. – Amber Williams


‘The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception’
By Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr.
Touchstone, 291 pp., $26

I first ran across this book in early September. After reading the description linking the story to 9-11, I thought reading it seemed like a perfect way to commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although the story takes place on that infamous day and the years that followed, it is anything but a commemoration. “The Woman Who Wasn’t There” is a nauseating account of Tania Head, a woman who falsely claimed that she not only was caught in the burning buildings but also lost her husband in the horrific attacks. Through her founding and involvement in the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, she was able to conquer her constant flashbacks and trauma (which were actually caused by a car crash in Spain, not by experiencing 9-11).               

The book leads the reader on a journey through Tania’s almost perfectly-spun story about her account of that day and 10 years after, but as readers unravel the tall tale, they eventually will become suspicious. When we figure out who Tania really is, the depth of deception by the “face of the survivors’ network,” is not only incredibly dark but tells a tale almost as haunting as the attacks themselves. — Rebecca Bowen


‘If Night Is Falling’
By John Taylor
Bitter Oleander, 94 pp., $16 paper

This European man of letters writes poignant, short memorials about growing up in Beaverdale during the 1960s and ’70s. This is a kinder, gentler, more thoughtful look at the trappings of Bill Bryson’s “The Thunderbolt Kid.” Prose that could pass for poetry recalls a youth with an actuarial father and a mother who scrubbed floors while singing to Dvorak. As the title suggests, Taylor’s musings often focus on recollections of anxiety. In retrospect, the writer feels that those were the times he was “truly in love with a time and a place, the living creatures and human beings dwelling in it, even if simultaneously afraid of loneliness and certain looming enigmas.” – Jim Duncan



‘By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir’
By Joe Blair
Scribner, 277 pp., $24

Like many in Iowa in 2008, Joe Blair was “By the Iowa Sea” after seemingly-endless rainstorms swamped the lives and properties in much of the state (including Coralville, where Blair lived with his wife and children). Other storms troubled the Blairs, though: a marriage threatened by fatigue and temptation; dreams altered by financial obligations and a family member’s chronic health problems. But we all have our own problems, right? So, why should Iowans read this book about hardships and heartaches when they’ve lived through the “storm of the century” three times in the past 20 years? Because this memoir is both tough and hopeful and told in a style that keeps the pages turning. And because it was written with an openness that is — much like life — at times harsh, embarrassing (some details revealed are so personal it’s as if Blair thought his book would never have a reader), heartening and perhaps healing (hopefully, that is). Don’t miss this highly-recommended read. – Kathy Ericson


‘Perverse Moments: An Adult Coloring/Activity Book’
By Mia Farrell
Self-published, 42 pp., $15 (available by request: miafarrell@yahoo.com, facebook.com/perversemoments.com and also at the Gas Lamp)

Mia Farrell was taking a bath in her Des Moines home one night when she was struck with a perfectly perverted epiphany: an adult coloring book that celebrates all things paraphelic. What is paraphelia? Basically, it is an uncommon or abnormal sexual arousal toward specific objects, practices and people — things everyone else might consider perverted, freakish fetishes. Some more well-known examples include exhibitionism, sadomasochism and necrophilia. Sound disgusting? It is.                

Spoofing the beloved Precious Moments, the illustrations of the “Perverse Moments” characters doing un-Godly things to each other (or to animals and objects) is what Farrell considers a beautiful combination of two of her favorite things: “huggably wholesome cuteness and blatant uncensored hardcore, vomit-inducing gross-outness,” inspired by the Garbage Pail Kids of the 1980s. You can color the pictures, learn about new sexual moves and even have fun with activity pages, such as “connect the dots to find out who has been being baaaaaaad with Billy Jo on the farm.”               

So while it’s a funny and uncomfortable celebration of human sexuality, it’s also educational. The question is, did we really want to know this? But as Farrell puts it: “If something makes us too uncomfortable to even find humor in it, then we are choosing to remain too afraid to ever really understand it.” Just don’t keep it lying around where the kids can find it. – Amber Williams


‘My Heart is an Idiot’
By Davy Rothbart
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 304 pp., $25

Would you travel halfway across the country to spend a week with someone you had never met but only talked with on the telephone for six months? Would you save your urine in empty beer bottles and send them to a scam artist in a misguided effort to stop him? And if that didn’t work, would you fly to a different city in hopes of confronting the scam artist in person? Would you travel often to help a stranger in prison?               

If your answers are “yes,” then this book is probably unnecessary and/or your name is Davy Rothbart.                

If your answers are “no,” you will likely enjoy reading about someone who not only would do all those things, but did… and then some. In “My Heart is an Idiot,” Rothbart recounts many of his life’s adventures. More often than not, it is Rothbart’s titular “Heart” that sends him on his way, for he is often following love or feeling passionately about an issue.                

This book is a great read, and Rothbart has a way with words and with living life.              

Most likely you keep your urine to yourself and dispose of it where it belongs, but read this book, and you may start your own urine-filled bottle collection… just in case. – Karen Ericson


‘Eating Planet 2012’
By Edizionni Ambiente
Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition, 312 pp., $4 and up

Essays by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, Italian Prime Minister (and economist) Mario Monti, philosopher Vandana Shiva and Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini highlight this marvelous guide to sustainability within the world’s food and agriculture systems. Emphasis is placed on fair food prices, transparent free trade and healthier lifestyles. One ironic section discusses what went wrong with the Mediterranean diet and how to make it heart-healthy again. This book is scholarly and statistically powered — more of a college text book than a cooking shelf staple. – Jim Duncan


‘Walking the Amazon’
By Ed Stafford
Plume, First American Printing, 310 pp., $16

An Englishman went for a walk in Peru. That’s not the start of a joke, but the beginning of a difficult, dangerous (and, some might say, daft) journey that Ed Stafford began in 2008. His trip didn’t end for two years and nearly a million steps across three countries, making Stafford the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. Dealing with the jungle and its inhabitants as well as narcos, nativos, laws and logistics, Stafford bravely kept walking while journaling about his adventures.               

This book didn’t answer all my questions, like what did he do with the trash he generated, and how could he sleep even one night — let alone hundreds — in a jungle full of jaguars and bugs? But it did tell how and why Stafford met his mighty goal. This book is recommended, especially for adrenaline junkies, armchair- and real-world travelers and anyone who’s ever chased a dream. – Kathy Ericson


‘Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’
By the Merriam brothers
Merriam-Webster, $16.76

As a journalist in a busy world of deadlines and demands, it’s difficult to carve out a little time for pleasure reading, especially since my work involves so much of it that’s not necessarily for pleasure. So my most-read book is by far the “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” and I’m old school — I actually pick up the book and turn pages to the word I’m curious about. To me, it’s got more finality and resolve in its definitions than online look-a-likes. In my world of words, I am always intrigued by new ones to add to my vocabulary. I get excited about them, and I don’t care how nerdy that makes me.                

The 2012 edition of “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” comes with a list of more than a dozen new terms for me to get all tingly about. The addition of words like “sexting” and “f-bomb” exemplify the creativity of English speakers and writers as well as the changing world in which we live. Others on the list, such as “systematic risk” and “underwater” (as in, relating to mortgage loans), show the stresses of these financial times, as well. Whether you search through the pages or browse them online, the new words in the latest edition of “Merriam-Webster’s” are appropriate, interesting and necessary. – Amber Williams CV

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