Friday, July 30, 2010

This Week in Books

I've decided to turn the New Books posts into one weekly post and give you the cum de la cum of the bunch along with their synopses.


Montese Crandall is a downtrodden writer whose rare collection of baseball cards won't sustain him, financially or emotionally, through the grave illness of his wife. Luckily, he swindles himself a job churning out a novelization of the 2025 remake of a 1963 horror classic, "The Crawling Hand." Crandall tells therein of the United States, in a bid to regain global eminence, launching at last its doomed manned mission to the desolation of Mars. Three space pods with nine Americans on board travel three months, expecting to spend three years as the planet's first colonists. When a secret mission to retrieve a flesh-eating bacterium for use in bio-warfare is uncovered, mayhem ensues.

Only a lonely human arm (missing its middle finger) returns to earth, crash-landing in the vast Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The arm may hold the secret to reanimation or it may simply be an infectious killing machine. In the ensuing days, it crawls through the heartbroken wasteland of a civilization at its breaking point, economically and culturally--a dystopia of lowlife, emigration from America, and laughable lifestyle alternatives.

The Four Fingers of Death is a stunningly inventive, sometimes hilarious, monumental novel. It will delight admirers of comic masterpieces like Slaughterhouse-Five, The Crying of Lot 49, and Catch-22.


Kevin Roose wasn't used to rules like these. As a sophomore at Brown University, he spent his days drinking fair-trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and fitting right in with Brown's free-spirited, ultra-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional.

Liberty is the late Reverend Jerry Falwell's "Bible Boot Camp" for young evangelicals, his training ground for the next generation of America's Religious Right. Liberty's ten thousand undergraduates take courses like Evangelism 101, hear from guest speakers like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and follow a forty-six-page code of conduct that regulates every aspect of their social lives. Hoping to connect with his evangelical peers, Roose decides to enroll at Liberty as a new transfer student, leaping across the God Divide and chronicling his adventures in this daring report from the front lines of America's culture war.

His journey takes him from an evangelical hip-hop concert to choir practice at Falwell's legendary Thomas Road Baptist Church. He experiments with prayer, participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach (where he learns to preach the gospel to partying coeds), and pays a visit to Every Man's Battle, an on-campus support group for chronic masturbators. He meets pastors' kids, closet doubters, Christian rebels, and conducts what would be the last print interview of Rev. Falwell's life.

Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, The Unlikely Disciple will inspire and entertain believers and nonbelievers alike.


The future of our food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the first to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison. But in the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in an effort to outline the ancient centers of agricultural diversity and guard against widespread hunger. Now, another remarkable scientist—and vivid storyteller—has retraced his footsteps.

In Where Our Food Comes From, Gary Paul Nabhan weaves together Vavilov’s extraordinary story with his own expeditions to Earth’s richest agricultural landscapes and the cultures that tend them. Retracing Vavilov’s path from Mexico and the Colombian Amazon to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan, he draws a vibrant portrait of changes that have occurred since Vavilov’s time and why they matter.


61-year-old Feliks is a naturalized Frenchman, a displaced Pole and former Communist-and a curmudgeon-who has made his living writing a yearly travel guide to the countries behind the Iron Curtain. In 1991, with the Curtain now fallen, Feliks finds his beliefs beginning to crumble around him. When a rapacious American publisher offers to buy out his life's work, Feliks must travel to the country he has long despised, and so begins the wry and moving tale of a man who awakens from self-imposed isolation into a changed world he must get to know all over again. So unfolds a story of family, war, politics, a second chance at love, and one man's quest for himself.


With a language disappearing every two weeks and neologisms springing up almost daily, an understanding of the origins and currency of language has never seemed more relevant. In this charming volume, a narrative history written explicitly for a young audience, expert linguist David Crystal proves why the story of language deserves retelling.

From the first words of an infant to the peculiar modern dialect of text messaging, A Little Book of Language ranges widely, revealing language’s myriad intricacies and quirks. In animated fashion, Crystal sheds light on the development of unique linguistic styles, the origins of obscure accents, and the search for the first written word. He discusses the plight of endangered languages, as well as successful cases of linguistic revitalization. Much more than a history, Crystal’s work looks forward to the future of language, exploring the effect of technology on our day-to-day reading, writing, and speech. Through enlightening tables, diagrams, and quizzes, as well as Crystal’s avuncular and entertaining style, A Little Book of Language will reveal the story of language to be a captivating tale for all ages.

2 comments:

Sean said...

I was hoping the Four Fingers of Death was about something else. ;)

Writer said...

Whatever could you mean, Sean!?! ;)