Love a good quick nonfiction graphic novel read: Andy Warner's Brief Histories of Everyday Objects.

Every now and then I like to read a good graphic novel (fiction or non, I'm open on graphic novels, for the most part) and Andy Warner's stupendously entertaining Brief Histories of Everyday Objects did not disappoint.

Brief historiesI found this title on some booklist of nonfiction graphic novels that I linked to in a weekly Citizen Reading post a few weeks or months back, leading me to once again say, YAY book lists. You gotta love a good book list, particularly one that is outside your normal reading interests or comfort zone.

In this lighthearted history Warner examines (very briefly, in just a few cartoon panels per story) the histories of some objects that we basically could no longer imagine living without: toothbrushes, kitty litter, silk, tupperware, traffic lights, beer cans, kites, and coffee beans (among many others). The drawings are clean and easy to follow (sometimes I'm too lazy to follow graphic novel layouts when they're too dense or complicated; I remain a word girl, not a picture girl, at heart) and the facts are fun, interesting, and very succinctly written. Also, at the end of each short history, Warner throws in a few panels of "Briefer Histories," with all the tidbits of research he couldn't really fit in anywhere else, like "Ingredients in ancient toothpaste included ox hooves, eggshells, oyster shells, and charcoal. Minty fresh!" (p. 5.)

I also really enjoyed running gags throughout the stories, such as when multiple visionaries/inventors failed to cash in on their inventions. In the first such instance, a briefer history discusses how "Walter Hunt's grave in Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery sits in the shadow of the monument of Elias Howe, who got rich manufacturing Hunt's unpatented sewing machine." (With a picture of Hunt saying, "Rub it in, why don't you?") (p. 47.) And by the end of the book Walter Hunt and a bunch of other poor visionaries are grouped together, saying "We've decided to move in together to save on rent." (p. 177.) I'm describing it badly, but it's funny stuff.

In other news, this book has a wonderful bibliography, including many popular micro-histories, and Mr. CR gave it the highest praise he can give a nonfiction book: "Hey, that book you've got in the bathroom right now is pretty good."

Good when you've only got a moment.

I very much enjoyed David McCandless's illustrated book The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World's Most Consequential Trivia. This surprised me a bit, as I am almost completely an UN-visual person. Looking at credit card reading machines, I can almost never figure out the correct way to run my card just be looking at the little icon. I never know what most graphic signs mean, and I'm completely stymied by pictures-only, no-text instruction sheets.

But this book is fun. It's a book of a variety of charts, pictures, and graphic illustrations of all sorts of trivia: Colors and Culture; Who Actually Runs the World; a Rock Genre-ology; Rising Sea Levels; Hangover Cures from Around the World; and so on. Perhaps my favorite chart was a list of the wives of dictators, listing their occupations, years of marriage, children, political power rating, obsessions, rumors, and reasons for death.

A little memoir with a bit of heart.

I have no idea why I requested Mark Millhone's memoir The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances; all I know is one day it was there, at the library, waiting for me, so of course I had to bring it home. (Books to me are like puppies or kittens. I want to adopt them ALL.) Once I got it home, I read the dust jacket to see what it was about: a man buys a used BMW online and, after picking it up, roadtrips it back to his home with his father in tow. The twist? The year the author is coming off of has not been a good one: one son spent weeks in intensive care after developing pneumonia at birth; his mother died; his other son was horribly bitten across the nose by the family dog; and his father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Add a marriage situation that's teetering on the edge, and I think it's fair to say Millhone was under a bit of stress.

Usedcars Enter the car: he thought, if his family could just start over with a new car, new roadtrips, new memories, etc., they'd be able to get on with their lives after their annus horribilis and find more strength in one another.

I won't reveal if the car worked; the memoir's only 192 pages long so if you're interested in finding that out it won't take you long to do so. The memoir's not perfect; after a while, the author's reliance on the details of his horrible year starts to sound a little overdone (hey, it was a really bad year. I get it. But other people have bad years too, and a lot of people across the world have really bad luck all their lives), and there's a couple of incidences in his treatment of the family dogs that made me a bit uncomfortable,* but there were also parts of this memoir that charmed me. For example, when his son sees the jagged line of stitches across his nose for the first time:

"'Why'd this have to happen?! Why?!' he cried, burying his face in my shoulder...

'You're the bravest boy,' I repeated, not knowing what else to say.

'I don't wanna be brave!' he cried.

Me neither, kid. Me neither." (p. 151.)

That's kind of honest, and I couldn't help but be touched by it just a bit. In the end, though...I think I mainly appreciated that it was short. That's a terrible reason to like a book, really, but I can't help it. I appreciate authors who recognize I've got lots of other things to read and who keep their books, accordingly, under 200 pages.

*I won't say too much, but I'll say this: dogs bite, and it's horrible when it happens, and I wouldn't want to think about what I would do to a dog that bit my child, but...kicking a dog in anger just doesn't seem like it's going to help any situation. Animal lovers, consider yourself warned.

Books about Books Week: Beowulf on the Beach

When I worked in a used bookstore we had a tiny little bookshelf by the front door that held dictionaries, some reference books, and a shelf that was labeled "Books on Books." That was one of my favorite shelves in the whole store. When the store closed (the owners moved; my lack of sales skills didn't do them in, although sales have never been my strong suit) the owners were going to get rid of that little bookcase, but I asked if I could take it. It's still in my house, still bearing its shelf label "Books on Books," and that shelf actually holds some books on books.

Beowulf No point to that anecdote really, except that, like a lot of readers, I am drawn to books that are written about books. A case in point is Jack Murngihan's Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits. I've been reading a few chapters here and there and really enjoying this one. For one thing, if you haven't read a lot of "literature's greatest hits"--and I'm guilty of that, as I've never been able to handle the idea of actually reading Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Henry James, James Joyce, and a ton of others--it gives you a great idea of what these authors' classics are all about. I also like this guy because he pulls no punches. Take his advice about Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita:

"Lolita, Nabokov's ultrascandalous tale of a twelve-yearold nymphet and her degenerate adult admirer, needs next to no introduction. It's rightfully famous and beloved and has one of the greatest first thirds of any novel in any language, so the fact that the second two-thirds are repetitive and lackluster shouldn't bother us all that much, right? Though I fear the gods of literature might be training lightning bolts on my mortal skull as I type this, I can't not say it: I think Nabokov is overrated, and I think people forget how much Lolita falls off after the breathtaking beginning." (p. 327.)

Now that's a literature review! In addition to his brief summaries of the works, Murnaghan includes information about a book's "buzz," what readers don't know about the books in question, the best line, what's sexy about the book (his previous work of nonfiction, after all, was called The Naughty Bits), quirky facts, and what to skip. It's an informative little title,* and about a million times more fun than Pierre Bayard's "buzz" book from a few years back, How To Talk about Books You Haven't Read.

*And funny; I laughed out loud when I read this in the Jane Austen chapter: "If you are a woman, you're probably only reading this chapter to find out how it is that I like Jane Austen...," which is exactly what I was doing.

Now THAT'S a love letter.

For the most part, I was pretty completely bored by Other People's Love Letters: 150 Letters You Were Never Meant to See, edited by Bill Shapiro. It's not that I think gathering together other people's love letters, emails, and cards is a bad idea, it's just hard to really enjoy them out of context. (I have this problem often with the PostSecret books, where people share their secret thoughts, hopes, confessions, etc.; I much prefer the Found books, which are also random, but I prefer the "found" nature of the contributions rather than the "shared" type.)

Loveletters So I just flipped through this one and was ready to take it back to the library when I read this card:

(Below the greeting card picture of a cartoon man and woman in a tub with the sentiment "Happy Mother's Day, Honey.") "To my incredibly sexy wife,

You don't actually have to share the bath, as the picture shows, but since I know you're in desperate need of some relaxation (and getting into the bath isn't your idea of the most hygienic way to do it), this card comes complete with a promise from me to clean both our bathrooms thoroughly--including scrubbing the tubs. Love, Charles."

Boys, take note. THAT is how you write a love letter.*

*I also enjoyed this succinct but heartfelt email: "I don't know what got me higher last night all the herb we smoked or our kiss. We're gonna have to try both again so I can be sure. ;)"

What a (delightfully) weird little book.

Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers and Other Useless or Gross Information About Your Body: Information About Your BodyA reader pretty much knows what they're in for when they check out a book titled Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless or Gross Information about Your Body: a quick read and some disgusting fun facts that one's husband will be mortified about when you break them out at work parties.

I was expecting something along the lines of Why Do Men Have Nipples?, and other medical trivia books.  Human anatomy questions are indeed answered here:

"Do bugs live in eyelashes? Most people don't like the idea that bugs can live on their skin and hair. However, the truth is that many bugs do, and they live with us in harmony, most of the time. By the time we reach late adulthood, most of us have wiggly, microscopic, wormlike mites called demodex mites living in the roots of our eyelashes." (p. 31.)

But what I didn't expect was the fun historical and cultural information:

"What is the difference between Brazilian and Hollywood bikini waxing? [The Brazilian] waxing treatment traditionally leaves a small rectangle of hair, or 'landing strip,' on the mons pubis, the area found just above the genitals. The Brazilian wax usually includes the waxing of the labia as well as between the buttocks (ouch!), which is why it can be more painful than a traditional bikini wax. However, those Hollywood gals had to take it one step further, and created the Hollywood bikini wax. This involves whisking the whole lot off, leaving it totally bare down there. Some women have claimed that a Hollywood is even more painful than giving birth, so it may be best to have a few stiff drinks before attempting this one." (p. 39.)

"What was unusual about King Charles VIII of France's toes? Toward the end of the fifteenth century, King Charles VIII of France is said to have made it fashionable for men to wear shoes with square toes. He himself had six toes on both feet, and for this reason he decreed that very wide shoes were something to be admired." (p. 70.)

All in all?  Fun stuff.  Now I just need to find a party to attend before I forget which organ can grow back if it is cut in half, and why poo is brown.