Lightning round with Led Zeppelin, ancient mysteries and sex on the brain


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In terms of technique and theme, American Rust is indeed a big book. But Meyer also knows storytelling and this saga of Midwestern life in this new Great Depression resonates with book lovers. It’s a Cinemascope book with Big Themes, but we’re entranced with the lead character, Isaac, a young man wounded by his mother’s suicide, itching to set off on an epic journey.


Most of us are pretty ignorant of the history of our neighbors. Not sure there’s a lot to say about Canada. (“It was cold … then it was colder … then it remained cold.”), but for many Americans “Mexican history” begins and ends with the Alamo. Auburn professor Timothy Henderson’s The Mexican Wars for Independence (Hill and Wang, $27.50) follows that pre-Alamo period of the early 19th Century when Miguel Hidalgo launched the move for independence. I’ve always dug Hidalgo, because Mexican Independence Day – Hidalgo Day – is my birthday. Read this crisply written book. It’ll give you something intelligent to say over your margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.


Last week in this space I lamented the thinning ranks of short stories in our lives and magazines.


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Caitlin Macy’s Spoiled (Random House, $24) collects the work of a young writer whose work appears in John Cheever’s old venue, the New Yorker. While I’ve been mourning the loss of stories from Cheever and Flannery O’Connor, Macy has been carried on this rich American tradition of the short story. It’s easy to be self-indulgent and blathering in the space of a novel. But to create a whole world within the relatively tight word count of a short story – now that, my friend, is artistry.


The old Sigmund Freud question (What do they want, O Lord, what do they want?) might draw male readers to The Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg (Penguin, $25.95), but they will soon discover there is no definitive answer. Goldberg’s reader-friendly style (she’s a skilled journalist) keeps this examination of women’s rights from being a dry anthropological study and instead making it a valuable part of our discourse. A couple decades back Deborah Tannen brought down the barriers between men and women by helping them understand each other’s communication styles. Goldberg’s book is another book with great insight to share.


 


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Just out in paperback this week, Mary Roach’s Bonk (W.W. Norton, $14.95) is the third in her series of monosyllabic books. Stiff was about cadavers and Spook was about the afterlife. Bonk, as the title implies, is about sex. I wish we could all have jobs like Mary Roach. But then, few have her imagination or talent. Bonk is a book about the serious art of sex research, but it’s a book that doesn’t take itself so seriously that the author can’t have fun. In the line of duty, she and her husband have sex under strict scientific supervision. It’s funny, but it’s also a learning experience. Roach continues to be one of the best science writers of our time and this book is fascinating and funny.


 


There’s no doubt that The DaVinci Code awakened the amateur archealogist-sleuth in millions of readers. Will Adams, author of The Alexander Cipher (Grand Central, $24.99) might cringe at the comparison, but there’s no doubt that this new “ancient” thriller taps into some of those some obsessions and conspiracies. Centuries after the near-god Alexander’s death, the discovery of his tomb sets off a chain of events to make readers in compulsive page-turners. This is Adams’ first book and it’s an exciting start of a career.


The rule of writing is to seek experience and write about what you know. Antonio Lobo Antunes[image-4] took that advice to heart. He didn’t pursue his writing career until he’d worked for years as a psychologist and physician. The Fat Man and Infinity (W.W. Norton, $26.95) collects sketches, stories and vignettes in a hypnotic examination of the secret life of this Portugese writer. It’s prose with the passion of poetry boy Jorge Luis Borges. It is a thoroughly beautiful book.


Imagine all of the lines used in the art of seduction. Now, imagine this one:  “The world is being destroyed by climate change, but you can save millions of lives by fucking me.” OK, that does Lowboy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25) injustice, because John Wray has written a deeply serious novel. But it might draw you into the mind of Wray’s main character, a teen-age paranoid schizophrenic. Like American Rust, Lowboy is a “serious book” that is accessible to readers who simply love strong, passionate storytelling.


 


FURTHER TRAVELS WITH KLINKENBERG: Nature boy Jeff Klinkenberg has several dates planned to talk about his book, Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators(University Press of Florida, $24.95) and his many adventures in the Sunshine State. Klinkenberg is the St. Petersburg Times’ man on wheels and his book is full of wonderful stories.


Here’s his schedule: April 16 (Thursday), 1:30 p.m., Sun City Audubon, 1902 Clubhouse Drive, Sun City Center, (813) 633-3061 /// April 25 (Saturday), 2 p.m., Land O’Lakes Library, 2818 Collier Parkway, Land O’ Lakes (813) 929-1214 /// May 6 (Wednesday), 7 p.m. Citrus County Audubon-Native Plant Society, Beverly Hills Lions Club, 72 Civic Circle   Beverly Hills 34465 /// May 17 (Sunday), 2 p.m., Tampa Bay History Center, 225 S Franklin St, Tampa (813) 228-0097.


TONIGHT AT INKWOOD: At 7 p.m., former St Petersburg Times reporter John Jeter will read from his first novel, The Plunder Room (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95)  at Inkwood Books, 216 S. Armenia Ave.


SOMETHING IN SARASOTA: Marcus and Sheila Gillette, authors of The Soul Truth (Tarcher/Penguin),  will host an event in Sarasota on Saturday April 11, from 2–6 p.m. It’s at Affairs of the Art, 5900 S. Tamiami Trail, Shoppe J in Sarasota. For more information call 941-925-0474. There is a $50 pre-registration charge and the admission i $65 on the day of the event. For more information or to register online, visit www.asktheo.com


William McKeen is chairman of the University of Florida’s Department of Journalism and author of several books, including the Hunter S. Thompson biography Outlaw Journalist.


Here’s the book-review equivalent of the lightning round. Short takes on a lot of great new books.

Any Led Zeppelin fan who’s ever seen The Song Remains the Same remembers the story of the band’s $203,000 stash cash from their hotel. In Black Dogs (Three Rivers Press, $13.95), author Jason Buhrmester imagines what might have happened. In this case, he sees the main culprit as a semi-deranged Black Sabbath fan working as a backstage caterer at Madison Square.  Lots of great, sharp dialogue – kind of like an updated His Girl Friday script – and insider rock geek stuff make this book indispensible.

Philipp Meyer’s American Rust (Speigel & Grau, $24.95) has been getting a lot of buzz and justifiably so. Much of the buzz comes in the form of this-is-a-serious-LITERARY novel, but don’t let that scare you off.

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