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Booklist: A Beachwood Gift Guide

A gift guide of (almost-all) 2006 releases as determined by the Beachwood Book Laboratory, in various categories to fit your needs.

Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Eight
Editor, Jon Weiner, Afterword by Tom Hayden, Ill. by Jules Feiffer
New Press

If you're not familiar with the Chicago Seven/Eight - one defendant, Black Panther Bobby Seale, had charges dropped when he was indicted on other charges, though not before the judge had him bound to his seat and gagged because he insisted on continuing to ask for his own lawyer or the right to represent himself - you should be. The United States of America put on trial a veritable Who's Who of Sixties activists, including those from the Yippie movement (Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin) and the politically radical group the MOBE (Dave Dellinger, Rennie Davis, and Tom Hayden), and two young Ph. D students (John Froines and Lee Weiner), on charges of planning and inciting to riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention. The defendants lampooned the judge, the judge made a mockery of the justice system, and the entire spectacle was like a circus sideshow. This book, which mainly contains highlights from the 20,000-page trial testimony, is at once sobering and absurd, and you can't help but compare the antics and action of the defendants to the tame activists of today, who have more than enough reason to be outraged.

Hip Novel
Wolf Boy
Evan Kuhlman
Shaye Arehart Books

Kuhlman's debut novel is beautifully transcendant. A comi-tragedy played out both within a family that's falling apart and a friendship that's cementing itself into a creative duo ready to take on everything from the emergence of adolescence to death itself, Kuhlman's novel includes perfectly scripted and cleanly drawn comics to help the story open its wings and fly. Points to Kuhlman for (a) setting it in Downstate Illinois with all the depressing expertise that entails and (b) setting it in 1993, and actually getting his pop culture right.

Nonfiction Hot Topic
Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness
Pete Earley
Putnam Adult

Veteran journalist Earley is thrown into the fray of one of America's hot-button topics when his own extremely delusional son, Mike, breaks into a house because he wants to take a bubble bath, thus damaging the premises and terrifying the owner. Treated as a criminal rather than the severe manic-depressive that he is, Mike gets no help from authorities - only probation. His father decides to delve deeper into the issue of America's mental health crisis, where those with mental health issues are far more likely to end up in prison than in treatment, and the result is a poignant mix of outrage for the broken system and love for his son.

Fiction, American Icon
The Road
Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is probably the greatest American novelist of our time, yet he's often overlooked by Gen X'ers who don't think they can find meaning in a Western, or in Appalachia. His unusual, staccato style of writing can, at first, be confusing, but soon becomes engrossing and, like last year's brilliant No Country for Old Men, The Road only shows the breadth of his talent. Set in post-apocalyptic America, where cannibals roam and darkness clings, a man and his son set out down a road to the sea, carrying blankets and a few supplies. The unnamed characters encounter other survivors, and the boy comes to realize that his father's assurances that he and the boy are "good guys" doesn't hold, for his father cares only for his son, and his son can only rely on his father.

Fiction, Best Sequel To A Book You Probably Haven't Read But Should
Bangkok Tattoo
John Burdett

Burdett's debut novel, Bangkok Eight, hurled you into the steamy underbelly of Bangkok, as the only non-corrupt cop in town, Sonchai Jittlecheep, pursued the murderer of both a U.S. Marine with bizarrely exotic tastes and of his own partner, Pichai, killed in the line of duty at the Marine's murder scene. Bangkok Tattoo takes you even deeper into a world you think you know something about but never will unless you are reborn Thai. From a shocker of a beginning (a call girl in his mother and police boss's bar comes in, admits to cutting off a customer's penis, then shoots up with morphine) to delicate negotiations with the Muslim factions in Southern Thailand to a devil of a bad guy who "collects" tattoos, this story draws you in and makes you aware that Thailand through Sonchai's eyes is Thailand worth looking at.

Young Adult
The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Knopf Books for Young Readers

Narrated by Death himself, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, who is sent to live with a foster family during the Second World War. Meminger captures Death's eye at the burial of her younger brother; the nine-year-old becomes a sort of muse to him. Liesel, whose father has been taken away for being a Communist and whose mother disappears soon after, steals her first book at her brother's funeral - The Grave Digger's Manual. She does not know how to read, but her foster father teaches her using this not entirely appropriate book. Stolen books and Death's dry sense of humor and way with words propel this book to the top of the list for the teenager on your list (particularly fantastic is the Jewish boxer who steals a copy of Mein Kampf, then whitewashes the pages to write a new book for Liesel.)

Nonfiction, Religion, or Lack Thereof
The GOD Delusion
Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin

Dawkins is a biologist at Oxford. An avowed atheist, he harshly criticizes religion for its intolerance - in about as intolerant manner as possible. But it is this that lends credibility to his arguments, for his intolerance is couched in reason and rationale and credible science (he takes Intelligent Design to task with Darwinism). Although he is best stomached in chapters when he is less vitriolic, his criticisms of Evangelical Christianity and Fundamentalist Islamic movements certainly have merit. Dawkins puts theology to the same tests that he would science . . . and science comes out on top every time.

Stocking Stuffer
Stuff On My Cat: The Book
Mario Garza
Chronicle Books

Really, you can't express it any better than the cover caption: "Stuff + Cat = Awesome." In this very stupid but ridiculously funny little book, Garza and other cat owners took pictures of their cats sporting everything from whipped cream with a cherry on top to elaborate scenes with action figures.

Sandman Volume I
Neil Gaiman, et. Al.

Anyone who grew up in the comics era that I did worshipped and adored the Sandman and Gaiman himself. Now, Vertigo has taken the first 20 issues, redone the coloring (approved by Gaiman but a bit questionable to a hardcore fan), added tons of "never-before-seen-material," included the complete original proposal, and bound it in gorgeous binding that has an equally gorgeous slipcover. Wait, I've got to clean the drool off the keyboard . . .


Also see ML Van Valkenburgh's Five Best Books Ever (For Now).


Posted on November 28, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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