Category Archives: Books

Any Major Dude Will Tell You Not to Miss Barney Hoskyns’ anthology of all things Steely Dan

Hear that? Those are the notes that music journalist Barney Hoskyns is hitting in his unprecedented new anthology of all things Steely Dan:  Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion (The Overlook Press, $27.95).

Published within a year of founding member Walter Becker’s passing, this is a first of its kind book about Steely Dan—an anthology of the most essential critical dispatches about the band—rants and raves alike, alongside a selection of highly informative profiles and interviews from the ’70s through the ’00s.

In the vein of Hoskyns’s previous book JoniI: The AnthologyMajor Dudes serves simultaneously as an accessible critical introduction to the group, a treasure trove of little-known facts (did you know that a pre-fame Becker and Fagen once recorded a B-movie soundtrack, or ghostwrote for Barbra Streisand?), and an invaluable collection of primary source documents, many of which Hoskyns has rescued from the archives of now-defunct magazines and newspapers.

Any major dude will tell you not to miss it.

“The Con Artist ” proves (again) why Fred Van Lente is funny and scary

There’s no surprise why Fred Van Lente has been called “a popular culture maven”.  He’s the No. 1 New York Times best-selling writer of comics like The Amazing Spider-ManDeadpool vs. the Punisher and Archer & Armstrong. His work has been praised as “some of the funniest material you’ll read in any format” (The Hollywood Reporter) and his debut novel, Ten Dead Comedians (Quirk, 2017), was an Amazon Best of the Month in Mystery, Thriller and Suspense.

He’s now moved on. In The Con Artist (Quirk Books, $14.99), Lente, who has worked in the comic book industry for nearly 20 years, returns with his second novel, a murder mystery set at a comic convention. Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives in San Diego expecting just another comic con, but when his romantic rival turns up dead, Mike becomes the prime suspect.

The Con Artist: A Novel

To clear his name, Mike will have to navigate every corner of the con, from zombie obstacle courses and cosplay flash mobs to intrusive fans and obsessive collectors, in the process unraveling a dark secret behind one of the industry’s most legendary creators.

Featuring illustrations by comics veteran Tom Fowler, and recently described as a “a fun love letter to comic book fans”, The Con Artist perfectly captures the chaotic energy of comic cons and reveals that heroes and villains aren’t just reserved for the pages and panels of our favorite graphic novel.

Kari Byron on how ‘Mythbusters’ made her a better person, a better woman

Kari Byron takes the stereotypes and stigma around being a woman on television and in science and—quite literally—blows them up. She is proof that you don’t need to wear a lab coat—or, be a guy—to geek out on science. In turning her love of art, sculpture, and special effects into a career involving explosives and hard hats, she has catapulted herself into an unexpected role as the queen of scientific stunts.

On  MythBusters, Kari and her cohorts filmed over 7,200 hours, tested over 900 myths, set off 850 explosions and used 43,500 yards of duct tape. To examine each urban legend, they applied the scientific method: question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze, and ultimately, come to conclusions. Along the way, Kari discovered that this logical process is also the perfect tool for solving everyday problems, from unsatisfying relationships to depression and debt.  In Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life’s Toughest Questions (HarperOne, $25.99), Kari reveals to readers her scientific method for investigating, growing, and making discoveries that can lead to greater wisdom, happiness and success (while having a lot of fun in the process).

Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest QuestionsShe shares the insights and knowledge she’s gained, as well as:

  • How salary inequality at Mythbusters turned her into an advocate for equal pay
  • Why having no scientists on Mythbusters made the show better
  • How Mythbusters was a vehicle for critical thinking and how Kari uses the scientific method in her real life
  • How an inherently shy person forced herself to become a performer
  • Why to be successful, you don’t have to be right, but you do have to understand, with a scientist’s emotional detachment, why you were wrong
  • How Kari handled getting fired and what steps she took to get back on track

Crash Test Girl reminds us that science is for everyone, as long as you’re willing to strap in, put on your safety goggles, hit a few walls, and learn from the results. Using a combination of methodical experimentation and unconventional creativity, you’ll come to the most important conclusion of all: In life, sometimes you crash and burn, but you can always crash and learn.

A new history lesson to learn is found in ‘Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society’

Death threats. Kidnappings. Explosions. This was the MO of The Black Hand Society, a deadly Sicilian-American organized crime ring that stretched across America’s Rust Belt, predating Al Capone’s reign of terror by two decades.

And we though this was a tough time in history.

Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society:  America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice (Touchstone, ) is the captivating true story of Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield and his quest in 1908 to take on a sophisticated and deadly organized crime syndicate preying on immigrants in America’s Industrial Heartland, recounted by his great grandson, William Oldfield.
Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America's Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice

For the first 40 years of his life, the author was sworn to secrecy about his great grandfather’s affairs, fearing retaliation by the descendants of the criminals who remained prominent members of communities near the Oldfield family’s residence. Hidden away by the Oldfield family for one hundred years and covered-up by rival factions in the early 20th century post office department, this incredible true story out of America’s turn-of-the-century heartland will captivate all lovers of history and true crime.

With never-before-seen photos, newspaper articles, and letters from The Black Hand, he’s breaking the silence of his family’s most treasured, tightly-kept secret.

Great stuff and a great read!

Note to David Sedaris: We refuse to wait five more years. This country needs more laughs.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, David Sedaris brings us his  first book of stories in five years. How much loner could we wait?

Calypso (Little, Brown and Company, $28) proves, yet again, there is  no better storyteller. He has a knack for making us cringe, laugh-out-loud and cry, all in the span of a few lines. This particular collection seems to take an even deeper and darker, more introspective, turn, and surpasses his best writing yet.


With a keen eye toward the loss of his mother, and sister Tiffany, and as he and his father age and find new ways to communicate in an increasingly politicized climate, David delivers the very best of his talents here.

Note to DS: We refuse to wait until five years.

“The Ghost Script” is the culmination of Jules Feiffer’s ambitious graphic novel series

We have always thought he was a genius. And a funny man. Jules Feiffer’s The Ghost Script (Liveright Publishing, $26.95) is the culmination of an ambitious graphic novel series, and  it’s a graphic wonder at his most daring, imaginative best.

Despite the many honors Jules Feiffer has accumulated over his 89-year lifetime in the fields of comics, journalism, theater, and film, he has longed to hone his skills as a graphic novelist in the mold of his mentor and one-time boss, Will Eisner. With Kill My Mother in 2014 and Cousin Joseph in 2016, Feiffer showed just what could be done with the form, inspired as much by the noir films of his youth, as the social upheaval he witnessed in America in the ’40s and ’50s.

With The Ghost Script he completes the trilogy in triumphant fashion; moving from Bay City to the madcap world of Hollywood, circa 1953. It is a time of deep-seated paranoia, rampant bigotry, and vicious political division, as show business is mercilessly targeted by witch hunts and McCarthyist threats.

The Ghost Script: A Graphic NovelNo worry if this is the first in the trip you are reading: There are frequent flashbacks, but please do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Upon this scene stumbles Archie Goldman (previously a teenager in Cousin Joseph), a well-intentioned, if slightly slow, private eye who finds himself increasingly entangled by the tendrils of the Hollywood Blacklist. Plots, counterplots, and general thuggery follow Archie at every turn, and Feiffer casts his story with a wonderful assortment of characters who would not be out of place in a Chandler novel: Lola Burns (a starlet desperate to clear her name and make it in pictures); Lyman Murchison (philanthropist and Red-baiter implicated by a mysterious screenplay called “the Ghost Script”); O.Z. McCay and Faye Bloom (two blacklisted screenwriters seeking revenge); and Miss Know-It-All (a blind gossip columnist with a vicious streak).

Feiffer—who is himself a distant cousin of that ultimate baiter and conflicted soul, the dispicable Roy Cohn—revels in the extremes of the era, as well as the sanctimonious politicians, the two-timing producers, and the heroic actors, writers, and gumshoes swept up by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Together with Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, The Ghost Doctor confirms Feiffer as a master worthy of Eisner’s respect, and provides a graphic masterpiece for our times.

“The Faith of Dolly Parton” works nine to five. May we hear an amen?

As I reminded everyone, over and over and over, that Dolly Parton are I are bosom buddies. And she likes to say, “breast friends”.

So when I see yet another book about her, a book she has not authorized or sanctioned, I get a teeny bit concerned. More about her silicone? Her love for drag queens? More news about the horrendous amount of plastic surgery she continues to have?

Not here. In The Faith of Dolly Parton (Zondervan , $22.99), Dudley Delffs spotlights 10 lessons he has drawn from Dolly’s life, music and attitude. His reflections are personal, practical and profound as Dolly’s example reminds us all to trust God during hard times, stay grounded during good times, and always keep our sense of humor.

But what drives Dolly to be so giving and loving towards others? Delffs examines the depth of Dolly’s faith and how it influences her life. Readers will identify with him as he recalls a simpler place and time when his own life-long love of Dolly began. In a way, Delffs and Parton have walked a faith journey together.

Delffs starts the book simply with “I love Dolly.” He continues, “Like the University of Tennessee, the Smoky Mountains, biscuits and gravy, the works of Flannery O’Connor, and the lonesome sound of the night train echoing from beyond the pasture on the farm where I grew up, Dolly Parton is woven into the fabric of my life.”

Readers can take away their own life lessons through each chapter’s Divine Doses of Dolly, where they can apply faith lessons from Dolly’s life to their own particular situations via questions and exercises, a relevant theme song from Dolly’s discography, and a short prayer they can use in their own time of “talkin’ with God.”  The Faith of Dolly Parton is the perfect gift for anyone who loves Dolly and her music, those looking for inspiration, and music fans in general.

“In The Name of the Father” is an unflinching portrait of a football dynasty that transcends the sport

We should stop worrying about who refuses to stand, who knees, at the beginning of each game. They have rights, pesonal beliefs.
And we have the right and belief to recommend In The Name of the Father: Family, Football, and the Manning Dynasty (Liveright Publishing , $29.95), an unflinching portrait of a football dynasty that transcends the sport itself, sheds new light on a family everybody knows but few truly understand. Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning’s storied careers would be remarkable as singular accomplishments, but taken together they know no parallel in the history of American sport.

Mark Ribowsky explores the father-son/brother-brother bond (and often rivalry) that drove the Mannings to success and reshaped college and professional football over the last 50 years.

Archie Manning was born in tiny Drew, Mississippi in 1949, and was profoundly shaped by his father’s suicide. A star at Ole Miss, Archie would win the SEC Player of the Year award in 1969 and become a kind of regional folk hero and legend before he had even turned 21. Yet no amount of fan worship and God-given talent could salvage his pro tenure with the New Orleans Saints in the ’70s, which went on to an abysmal record in the league.

Determined to be a presence in his sons’ lives as well as a financial bulwark, Archie turned his attention to his three boys: Cooper, Peyton and Eli. Cooper may have been the most talented of the three: A wise-cracking wide receiver whose entire football life came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis and was never allowed to play a down again. This shook the family to the core and provided extra motivation for Peyton. He bucked Archie’s legacy, rejecting Ole Miss in favor of rival Tennessee, where—like his father two decades prior—he became a campus god and a national sensation.

The unlikeliest success story though would be little brother Eli, who did follow in his father’s footsteps by going to Ole Miss but suffered in the shadow of Archie’s collegiate achievements and Peyton’s more recent fame. Never quite as good as Peyton, and always considerably more awkward, his NFL career would take off after signing with the Giants, an association that has had arguably more dramatic highs than Peyton’s ever did, but also much lower lows.

Ribowsky colorfully recounts these moments of triumph and loss, but also the savvy marketing of the Manning brand that father and sons has so skillfully capitalized on for years; the trilogy has become as immediately recognizable as some of our most memorable political dynasties, and perhaps no less influential. In Ribowsky’s telling, the Mannings have always been bigger than football. They’re as American as capitalism itself.  In the Name of the Father is a quintessentially American saga of a lineage that forever changed the game.

The life of apostle Paul is told in N.T. Wright’s definitive “Paul: A Biography”

For heaven’s sake, this is a great new book!

In the definitive Paul: A Biography (HarperOne, $29.99)renowned Bible scholar, Anglican bishop and bestselling author N. T. Wright offers a radical look at the apostle Paul, one of the most important figures in Christianity. The book illuminates the humanity and remarkable achievements of this outstanding intellectual who largely invented Christian theology—transforming a faith and changing the world.

For centuries, Paul, the apostle who “saw the light on the Road to Damascus” and was transformed from zealous Pharisee persecutor to devoted follower of Christ, has been one of the church’s most widely cited teachers, Paul is responsible for the earliest writings from within the Christian movement.  While his influence on Christianity has been profound, Wright argues that Bible scholars and pastors have focused so much attention on Paul’s letters and theology that they have too often overlooked the essence of the man’s life and the extreme unlikelihood of what he achieved.

To Wright, “The problem is that Paul is central to any understanding of earliest Christianity, yet Paul was a Jew; for many generations Christians of all kinds have struggled to put this together.” Wright contends that our knowledge of Paul and appreciation for his legacy cannot be complete without an understanding of his Jewish heritage. Giving us a thoughtful, in-depth exploration of the human and intellectual drama that shaped Paul, Wright provides greater clarity on the apostle’s writings, thoughts, and ideas and helps us see them in a fresh, innovative way.

In Paul, Wright reveals:

  • Why we think of Paul as a “religious” figure, but this is a modern mistake. Of course, worship, prayer, and spirituality were central to his life, but he was a public intellectual with an agenda to transform the world and a philosophy to back it up. 
  • Paul was thus a figure much more like Rousseau, or Marx, or Vaclav Havel, than Billy Graham. He had glimpsed in Jesus a new way of being human together, and he worked tirelessly to make it happen.
  •  How for Paul there was no such thing as “Christianity” in the sense of a “religion” different from “Judaism.” What mattered was that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead had shown him to be Israel’s Messiah and the world’s Lord: a Jewish message for the wider world. 
  • How Paul stood at the confluence of three great cultures: the Jewish world with its passionate monotheism; the Greek world with its subtle philosophy; the Roman world with its all-powerful empire. Paul believed that Jesus, not Caesar, was “Lord”; he saw that in Jesus there was a new way to think; he believed that, in Jesus, the One God of Israel had done what he’d promised, rescuing his people and the world. He held these together in a powerful, radical new combination. 
  • Some of Paul’s philosophical contemporaries believed that the point was “to go to heaven when you die.” That was never Paul’s position. He believed in new creation, a new world of space, time, and matter formed by God’s spirit rescuing and transforming the present world. 
  • Paul’s message to individuals was that they could become part of this new world here and now – if they gave up worshipping the non-gods of the pagan world and behaving accordingly (“sin”). As Messiah, Jesus had died on behalf of Israel and the world, and whatever “past” anyone had could be forgiven. 
  • Paul founded communities of forgiven sinners whose only membership badge was “faith”: faith in “the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This meant, shockingly, that people of all sorts and backgrounds were on exactly equal terms, supporting one another in living the new-human way. 
  • What drove Paul above all was the sense that in Jesus the One Creator God had revealed his utter, radical, unbreakable love. For Paul, this meant a debt of love which only love could repay, love for God and practical, resourceful love for people. 

Paulis a compelling modern biography that reveals the apostle’s greater role in Christian history—as an inventor of new paradigms for how we understand Jesus and what he accomplished—and celebrates his stature as one of the most effective and influential intellectuals in human history.

“Pink Floyd: Album By Album” will rock and roll fans

Pink Floyd fans will fly to the dark side of the moon with Pink Floyd: Album By Album (Voyageur Press, $30),  a stunning and unique look back at their discography. Author Martin Popoff’s work features in-depth, frank and entertaining conversations about all the band’s studio albums, including their soundtrack efforts and the instrumental/ambient The Endless River. He moderates discussions on each album with rock journalists and musicians, including legendary Genesis and solo guitarist Steve Hackett, original Alice Cooper bassist Dennis Dunaway, and Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery, all offering insights, opinions, and anecdotes about every release.

Together, the conversations comprise a unique historical overview of the band, covering everything from early albums with the iconic Syd Barrett to the songwriting tandem of Roger Waters and David Gilmour; the impeccable talents of drummer Nick Mason and multi-instrumentalist Richard Wright; those mega tours undertaken in support of the albums; the monster success of breakthrough LP Dark Side of the Moon; interpersonal conflict; the band following Waters’ 1985 departure; and much more.

Popoff also includes sidebars that provide complete track listings, album personnel, and studios and dates. Every page is illustrated with thoughtfully curated performance and offstage photography, as well as rare memorabilia.  Pink Floyd fans will discover so much about the legendary band it’s likely they won’t look at–or listen to–Pink Floyd the same way after reading this book.