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Your Dream Job: Use Dating Secrets to Get Hired and Build a Career You Love

Dom Bokich. Bocksberg, $16.99 trade paper (218p) ISBN 978-0-9887000-2-4

Bokich might initially hook readers with the tantalizing proposal that, by buying his book, “you can become better at interviewing” (from the job candidate side, not the hiring side), but quite a few are going to drop out before the end, either because they don’t need its advice or because they’re put off by its “dating secrets” framework. This is definitely a book for an under-30 audience, the first clue being pop-culture references that include Anchorman 2 (“one of the funniest comedy sequels of all time”) and How I Met Your Mother. Readers who push on will be rewarded by some useful suggestions, especially the “40 questions” that will help even the most uninspired writer create a strong résumé. Unfortunately, even the best material is likely be skipped over when the dating metaphor is carried to creepy extremes (“Seducing Your Date,” “Getting Intimate”) or when examples begin with headlines like “Lauren the Hot Marketing Intern.” Bokich shares a number of good responses to likely interview questions that bear studying, but some of the supposedly real-life examples he offers come across as very unlikely. The “Questions You Should Ask” section—although helpful—is also very basic, underscoring the impression that this is a book for inexperienced job-hunters with a high tolerance for inappropriate sexual innuendo. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Kid Me Not: An Anthology by Child-Free Women of the ’60s, Now in Their 60s

Edited by Aralyn Hughes. Violet Crown, $12 trade paper (126p) ISBN 978-1-938749-10-0

Fifteen women in their 60s share personal reminiscences of their youth, praising birth control, abortion access, and the support of activists who told them that they had more options than babymaking and secretarial work, and showing how life without children—either by choice or circumstance—worked out perfectly fine for them. Alternating with joyful photo collages and cute lists of events, TV shows, movies, and music from individual years in the ’60s, these narratives of sex, love, career, family, and relationships together give a warm impression of women whose paradigms were changing, whether they fought for it and or just found themselves at the forefront of new opportunities. Lovely pictures of the writers as young women and in the present accompany each vignette and serve as a delightful testament to aging gracefully. Younger feminists might find that compassion for the struggles of their second-wave foremothers is evoked by the words of well-spoken, everyday women who look like their own mothers and grandmothers. Their stories are a reminder that our choices now do carry us into the rest of our lives. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan

Justine Gubar. Rowman & Littlefield, $35 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4422-2892-4

ESPN investigative reporter and producer Gubar delivers a well-researched and shocking look at “extreme fanaticism” throughout sports history, exploring what leads “seemingly unremarkable people to abandon societal norms and act out in unimaginable ways.” Gubar believes that “it’s impossible to know if fan violence is getting better or worse;” and argues that the “current model for celebratory riots, during which Americans riot when their team wins,” is far more dominant than the older international model where soccer fans rioted after their teams lost. She lists several examples of such celebratory mayhem, such as the brutal beating of a San Francisco Giants fan by Los Angeles Dodgers fans in 2011. She looks at the influence of easily available alcohol at sporting events, the increase of negativity displayed through social media, and even the role that fantasy leagues bring in adding “a dangerous narcissistic tendency” to fan identification and behavior. But while Gubar ventures some potential solutions, the strength of the book lies in her refusal to sugarcoat her somewhat depressing conclusion that “bad behavior is part of human nature” and that we will just have to live with “the enduring nature of violent fans.” (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Kris Kristofferson: Country Highwayman

Mary G. Hurd. Rowman & Littlefield, $45 (144p) ISBN 978-0-8108-8820-3

Singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson first became known in 1970, when he was awarded the Country Music Award for his song “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” as sung by Johnny Cash. Hurd provides the first detailed look at the “arc of Kristofferson’s creative output”, starting with his first LP in 1970, which featured his classic “Me and Bobby McGee”; through his best songs combining country and folk-rock in the 1970s, such as “Loving Her Was Easier” and “Why Me”; to his work with Cash and Willie Nelson in the country supergroup the Highwaymen; and finally to his critically acclaimed 2006 album “This Old Road,” recorded at the age of 70. Hurd is excellent at showing how all of Kristofferson’s work and life—including refusing to follow his family’s long tradition of serving in the military, and his stint in England as a Rhodes Scholar—are connected by one theme: “His mandate to live an artist’s life as he thought it should be lived hinged on the concept of personal freedom.” This solid overview makes it clear just how important Kristofferson’s work has been to the history of country and rock music. (June)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells

Helen Scales. Bloomsbury/Sigma, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4729-1136-0

Scales (Poseidon’s Steed), a freelance researcher and science reporter, brings a marine biologist’s eye and aficionado’s heart to these musings on seashells, the diversity of mollusks that inhabit them, and the human fascination with them, dancing across a variety of fields of study in her zeal. Scales addresses the mathematics of chambered shell construction, which is theoretically controllable with a small number of rules, and explores sociology through the history of shells as pure ornamentation, markers of social class, and fodder for museums and collectors. She also highlights the social complexities within shellfish-collecting communities such as Gambia’s Try Oyster Women’s Association. Scales covers biology from several angles, investigating the poorly understood history of mollusk evolution as well as oddities such as the strange Pinna nobilis, which produces sea silk; the recent rediscovery of argonauts, the only shell-dwelling cephalopods; and the deadly venom produced by cone snails. Even materials science gets its due as Scales shares research on the composition of mussel glue and the surprising strength of nacre. Conservationism is not a major theme, but she does raise concerns about marine pollution and the impact of pH shifts on mollusk populations. Scales’s eclectic approach to this ancient bridge between the human and natural worlds conveys her curiosity and appreciation, which readers will share. Color insert. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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On Writing

Charles Bukowski, edited by Abel Debritto. Ecco, $25.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-239600-6

Almost 50 years’ worth of the letters of poet, novelist, and screenwriter Bukowski (1920–1994) capture much about him: his compulsive writing, brilliant phrase-making, unapologetic drinking, and problematic relationships with women. The letters, written between 1945 and 1993 to correspondents including friends, editors, critics, and academics, are routinely obscenity-laden, often funny, always opinionated, and very occasionally tender. Just as Bukowski could be offensive when alive, many will find his letters equally offensive (as when he reacts unapologetically to feminist critics). Nonetheless, it is hard not to respect his unflagging devotion to his art and unflinching application of his hypercritical mind to whoever fell under his gaze. Many of the letters are occasions for passionate, searing opinions on subjects that include young writers, critics, and famous authors. Hemingway, Bukowski opines, “makes you feel cheated,” while Henry Miller is difficult to read when he gets “into his Star-Trek babbling.” And Bukowski’s opinions about writers are not confined to their literary merits: “I rather guess [D.H.] Lawrence was a breast-man rather than a leg-man.” The letters are a wild ride informed in equal parts by ego, alcoholism, misanthropy, erudition, and the genius, as Bukowski puts it, of one “touched by the grace of the word.” (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Let’s Be Less Stupid: An Attempt to Maintain My Mental Faculties

Patricia Marx. Hachette/Twelve, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4555-5495-9

New Yorker staff writer Marx (Starting from Happy) chronicles her four-month-long quest to improve her memory and re-up her IQ to where it was in the glory days of her 20s. Employing candor and wit, she tackles the science and sociology of the brain fitness rage and delivers suggestions and solutions for stemming widespread neurological downslide. Marx test-drives brain exercises, electric zapping, and learning a new language (Cherokee in her case), and throws in some blueberries and fish oil pills for good measure. She also debunks faulty findings. For example, alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells, she writes. In fact, according to a study from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, 29% of people who never drank suffered mental impairment, while only 19% of the imbibers did. She blames the information age for overstuffing people’s brains with information. Marx includes quizzes, tests, and teasers to improve readers’ memories, aiming them at her fellow baby boomers who fear dementia more than death. She also provides lists of things to forget, including inconsequential presidents, wars, and Shakespeare plays. Reflecting on her overall experience, she writes, “I spent so much trying to improve my brain that I had no time to use it,” but her work belies that statement. Marx has written a hilarious and comforting book on maintaining mental acumen at any age. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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How Memory Works— and How to Make It Work for You

Robert Madigan. Guilford, $14.95 (262p) ISBN 978-1-4625-2037-4

University of Alaska psychology professor emeritus Madigan provides skills and techniques for improving memory function, using information gleaned from contemporary research as well as from ancient practices in oral tradition. Madigan introduces four distinct systems of memory (episodic, semantic, skills and habits, and Pavlovian associations), and three modes of attention (default, bottom up, top down), all of which may aid or inhibit memory retention. Then he outlines specific mnemonic devices like visualizations, acronyms, acrostics, and rhymes. He supplies tips for remembering names and recalling lost or repressed memories, and looks at research related to enhancing memory through computer training tools, meditation, and even physical exercise. Madigan also explains what ordinary people can learn from individuals such as actress Marilu Henner who possess “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory,” and from former presidential chief of staff Andrew Card Jr.’s “Memory Palace,” a mnemonic method passed down from ancient Greek poet Simonides and employed by 16th-century Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci. Each chapter concludes with a “Memory Lab” section in which Madigan suggests exercises to improve the outlined skills, usually with a visual component to aid comprehension. Madgian values the “memory arts” as an “antidote” to electronic devices that “foster alarming levels of dependency,” an idea that may not sit well with technology-oriented readers, but he presents a compelling case for the utility of memory techniques in keeping the mind sharp. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A History of Heists: Bank Robbery in America

Jerry Clark and Ed Palattella. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (256p) ISBN 978-1-442235-45-8

Retired FBI agent Clark and veteran journalist Palattella opt for breadth rather than depth in this solid survey of bank robberies in the United States, beginning in 1798 with the first one on record and spanning to the present. Their work suffers a bit from hyperbole; in their introduction, the coauthors assert that bank robbery “is a crime that, perhaps more than any other, has helped influence and define the nation.” Victims of gun violence at the hand of mass murderers probably won’t agree that “no single crime is more synonymous with crime in the United States than bank robbery.” Despite this, the book serves as a useful introduction to the topic, particularly in the sections that cover the 18th and 19th centuries. Other works, such as Bryan Burrough’s Public Enemies (2004), have gone deeper into the era of Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, and the shift to online theft and the reduced use of cash make this more of academic rather than practical interest. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The House Tells the Story: Homes of the American Presidents

Adam Van Doren. Godine, $40 (196p) ISBN 978-1-56792-542-5

Gorgeous paintings and lucid historical commentary converge brilliantly in this collection of illustrated letters from watercolorist Van Doren (An Artist in Venice) to his collaborator, historian and Pulitzer-winning author David McCullough. Van Doren visited 15 presidential homes over three years, painting the residences and gaining insight into the former presidents’ private lives through their personal effects. His handwritten, anecdotal narrative wraps around colorful watercolor sketches on stationery. A trained architect, Van Doren speaks knowingly of scale, harmony, and proportion. Franklin Roosevelt’s Hyde Park home is the first entry, and Van Doren emphasizes its accommodations for F.D.R.’s wheelchair, iconic convertible, and beloved dog, Fala. The much-visited Mount Vernon and Monticello are also included, with Van Doren noting his admiration for Thomas Jefferson as “a sort of American Leonardo da Vinci.” He notes that Bess and Harry Truman’s white gingerbread Victorian still has wallpaper stains from the president using the wall to lift himself up from his chair; their favorite books are also on display. Warm, accessible, and harmonious, this book marries history with art for a uniquely American vision. Illus. (July)

Reviewed on 05/22/2015 | Details & Permalink

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