Continuing the tradition of, er, ‘highly academic themes,’ we bring you this week’s selection of Titles That Made Me Laugh! (Vol. 1, because there are so many more that didn’t make this week’s list)
Tabatha and I are back in the grind of the semester (in Minnesota, in mid-winter), so we needed a good chuckle. Enjoy a quick read through; we hope you smile–after all, only fifteen more weeks until summer break. (But who, besides us and the rest of academe, is counting?)
First, is St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. A dazzling debut, the ten stories introduce a radiant new talent. In the collection’s title story, a pack of girls raised by wolves are painstakingly reeducated by nuns. In “Haunting Olivia,” two young boys make midnight trips to a boat graveyard in search of their dead sister, who set sail in the exoskeleton of a giant crab. In “Z.Z.’s Sleepaway Camp for Disordered Dreamers,” a boy whose dreams foretell implacable tragedies is sent to a summer camp for troubled sleepers (Cabin 1, Narcoleptics; Cabin 2, Sleep Apneics; Cabin 3, Somnambulists . . . ). And “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” introduces the remarkable Bigtree Wrestling Dynasty—Grandpa Sawtooth, Chief Bigtree, and twelve-year-old Ava—proprietors of Swamplandia!, the island’s #1 Gator Theme Park and Café. Ava is still mourning her mother when her father disappears, his final words to her the swamp maxim “Feed the gators, don’t talk to strangers.” Left to look after seventy incubating alligators and an older sister who may or may not be having sex with a succubus, Ava meets the Bird Man, and learns that when you’re a kid it’s often hard to tell the innocuous secrets from the ones that will kill you if you keep them.
Russell’s stories are beautifully written and exuberantly imagined, but it is the emotional precision behind their wondrous surfaces that makes them unforgettable. Magically, from the spiritual wilderness and ghostly swamps of the Florida Everglades, against a backdrop of ancient lizards and disconcertingly lush plant life—in an idiom that is as arrestingly lovely as it is surreal—Karen Russell shows us who we are and how we live.
Continuing the story of the young lady and her alligators, Russell also wrote the amusingly titled Swamplandia!
A blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.
The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.
Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
For a very different turn of genre, for those of us who want to pretend we could buy a luxury liner of our own, there is How to Avoid Huge Ships: Or I Never Met a Ship I Liked by John W. Trimmer. You are the owner-captain of a luxury fifty-foot trawler motoring across the bay with your family and a few friends one balmy summer evening. Off in the distance, beyond the bridge spanning the waterway, you can make out the lights and shape of a containership moving down the channel. Have you ever wondered what action you must take to keep clear of that fast-approaching ship? This book will tell you how to do so quickly.Conscientious skippers are wise to read this book and discover if a ship’s radar will pick up a small boat at night. It is fascinating to learn what is taking place on the bridge or down in the engine room of one of these leviathans as it heads your way. Can it be stopped before it hits you? Learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones by reading this book written for the private boat owner/captain.
(By the way, if you don’t have time to read this cover to cover, I’m told the answer is “turn”)
We couldn‘t get away without a little bawdy humor. Dr. Schillace is an eighteenth-century scholar after all, and there was plenty of it about. So: The Joy of Sects. Unfortunately misleading title for the spelling-challenged; very little titillation on offer, but plenty of information! Religion is one of the oldest human activities and even in the present day pervades almost every aspect of life, but with so many seemingly incomprehensible beliefs, laws, rituals, and terminologies, you can’t tell the players without a program. The Joy of Sects overcomes this confusion by presenting a rich trove of information in a concise, browsable format. It is a guidebook to the world’s religious traditions not only for the devout follower but also for the interested outsider who wonders about the difference between karma and dharma, yin and yang, Talmud and Torah, the astral plane and the akashic record, Pharisees and Sadducees, Sunnis and Shiites. Rather surprised there aren’t more puns, frankly.
For all those trekkies who just need to know what goes in those bubbling green drinks, and which kind of space-slug to put in an entree, Ethan Phillips and William J. Birnes bring us another practical addition to the list with The Star Trek Cookbook.
Is there one food that humans, Klingons, Bajorans, and Vulcans would like? If so, what would it taste like? How would you prepare it? Could you find all the ingredients locally?
This is the task that faces Neelix, chef for the U.S.S. Voyager™, every time he takes on the challenge of trying to feed its crew of 140 food critics. But over the course of their journey, Neelix’s learned a few tricks of the trade. He had to, just as a matter of self-preservation.
Ethan Phillips, in the persona of Neelix, and William J. Birnes, the New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Day After Roswell, throw wide the vaults of interstellar haute cuisine, revealing for the first time the secret preparation techniques behind all those exotic dishes and drinks. The favorite foods of characters from every Star Trek series and movie are here, all adapted for easy use in twentieth-century kitchens. The Star Trek Cookbook also features a complete guide for whipping up the all the drinks served at Quark’s.
Fun, and easy to use, the Star Trek Cookbook is your indispensable guide to the food of the stars!
And last but not least, How to Cook Husbands: A Creepy Story by Rebecca M. Senese (I’m glad they clear that up right in the title. I thought it was going to be a romance).
A silly printing error spells disaster for Marjorie’s cookbook until her sister Ellen hits upon an idea that creates a sales sensation. But the gimmick turns deadly when a woman takes the advice of the title.