When we got to rounding up our favorite books for our annual Gift Guide, we found that there were simply too many this time to throw in the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukah/Yule/Solstice/Nonspecific Winter Celebration/New Year/Chalica hopper along with the tech and toys.
It's almost as if 2016 made the traditional way of learning more about our world — and of sharing dreams of other worlds — somehow more enticing.
Here's 65 of the best, then, from fairy-tales to furious politics, from the comic to the catastrophic, all waiting for you to turn the page.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of ColorblindnessMichelle Alexander and Dr. Cornel West's book directly challenged the notion that Barack Obama's election win represented a new era of colorblindness. The authors theories were proven correct with Trump's racist and successful campaign.
With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.
What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been ThereWritten by Ariel Waldman, creator of Spacehack, and illustrated by Brian Standeford, "What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who'Ve Been There" is a fun collection of astronaut anecdotes about everything from sneezing and farting in zero gravity to weird frights and the necessity of Sriracha in space. A delightful gift for space geeks and science nerds of any age.
What an absolutely delightful read: the projects are nicely staged, moving from the very simple to the very ambitious, and always seasoned with clever suggestions for variations. Burton provides advice on setting up crafting parties with your friends, including suggested feminist holidays to celebrate (Joan of Arc's birthday; Ruth Bader Ginsburg's birthday; anniversary of Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech; Thargelia, Festival of the Goddess Artemis) all the way down to suggested playlists for the day.
Burton's provided us with a selection of the projects for your delectation: as you'll quickly see, these are the fun, potent defiant tonic that we all need in this season of fragile masculinity, rape culture, and Gamergating.
Down and Out in PurgatoryTim Powers has mastered mingling our present with elements of the fantastic, creating stories so immersive and believable I'm always disappointed when they end. Down and Out in Purgatory is a new, incredible example.Shasta DiMaio fell for the wrong guy, and it killed her. Her rejected lover Tom Holbrook still carries a torch, however. If Tom can't have Shasta he'll kill the man who took her heart, and her life, even if he's already dead. Powers has focused on ghosts, and had them as major characters in other works, but this novella gives us a glimpse into their world! His purgatory is a spinning, wild place where we learn a bit more about what death really means. While the characters are fun, the real joy of this was the mechanics, and lore Powers shares about the afterlife. If you loved his Fault Lines trilogy, you won't be disappointed.
Make: ElectronicsWhen Make: Electronics was published about five years ago, it was widely hailed as the greatest book about learning electronics ever written. With beautiful photos, easy-to-read schematics, clear, jargon-free text, and dozens and dozens of fun and educational projects, author/illustrator Charles Platt made a book that has ended up in every makerspace and library I've visited. A few weeks ago the Second Edition of Make: Electronics came out, and it's even better than the first edition. Charles rewrote the text, replaced the photos of breadboarded circuits with diagrams showing component placement, included new projects, added new photographs with a ruled background to indicate the scale of tools and components, and included a chapter on Arduino. This is the book to get if you want to learn electronics.
Stories of Your Life and OthersTed Chiang's writing is rare and precise, weaving threads of science fiction into something so haunting and humane I've woken up dreaming about it more than once. Here you can read most of his published work, including the novella that was recently filmed as Arrival and is currently in U.S. theaters. But my favorites are the Borgesian "Tower of Babel," about an engineer breaking through the vault of heaven, and "Division by Zero."
The Forager's Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild EdiblesIntended "as much for the cooking enthusiast as for the survivalist," Leda Meredith's book includes recipes that make weeds into gourmet meals.
Dandelion flowers become wine, Japanese knotweed becomes rhubarb-like compote and tangy sorbet, red clover blossoms give quick bread a delightfully spongy texture and hint of sweetness. 75 color photographs
England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground by David KeenanFinally reprinted, this classic and rare tome about the fascinating 1980s British occult/art scene surrounding seminal industrial bands Coil, Nurse With Wound, and Current 93 who looked backwards for inspiration from the likes of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, and Arthur Machen. Lovingly published by Strange Attractor Press, this new edition is illustrated with unseen photos and contains two fresh chapters pulling the fascinating thread of occultural transgression through to the present.
Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff"Radical ecology" has come to mean a kind of left-wing back-to-the-landism that throws off consumer culture and mass production for a pastoral low-tech lifestyle. But as the brilliant science journalist and Marxist Leigh Phillips writes in Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence Of Growth, Progress, Industry And Stuff, if the left has a future, it has to reclaim its Promethean commitment to elevating every human being to a condition of luxurious, material abundance and leisure through technological progress.
Phillips is a brilliant writer and an incisive scientific thinker with impeccable credentials in the science press. He's also an unapologetic Marxist. In this book — which is one of the most entertaining and furious reads about politics and climate you're likely to read — he rails against the "austerity ecology" movement that calls for more labor-intensive processes, an end to the drive to increase material production, and a "simpler" life that often contains demands for authoritarian, technocratic rule, massive depopulation, and a return to medieval drudgery.
It wasn't always thus. The left — especially Marxist left — has a long history of glorifying technological progress and proposing it as the solution to humanity's woes. Rather than blaming the machine for pollution, Marxists blame capitalism for being a system that demands that firms pollute to whatever extent they can, right up the point where the fines outweigh the savings.
The Interstellar Age: Inside the Forty-Year Voyager MissionIn 1977, NASA launched two twin spacecraft, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond into the mysteries of interstellar space. Mounted to each of these spacecraft is a stunning golden phonograph record containing sounds and images to introduce our civilization to any extraterrestrials who might encounter them. Get ready for Voyager's 40th anniversary next year with this marvelous, personal biography of the space probes and the brilliant people who made the mission happen. Author Jim Bell is a renowned planetary scientist at Arizona State University, Distinguished Visiting Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and president of the absolutely amazing Planetary Society, founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman to "empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration."
Strange Fascination: The Definitive Story of David BowieBowie loved books more than he loved music, but he disliked biography and never produced an autobiography. In his wake, then, we're left with pictures and unauthorized, often tabloid-hinted exposes of a life largely kept private. The best of them is probably David Buckley's Strange Fascination, described as "the most complete account of Bowie's impact on pop culture." Buckley's enough of a fan to love the man and the work, but enough of a skeptic to make it count.
Martin Gardner's 'Science Magic,' fun tricks you can try at homeMartin Gardner's 'Science Magic: Tricks and Puzzles' teaches fun and easy experiments to demonstrate physics. I'm thrilled with the new tricks I'm learning! Gardner shares exciting, and generally simple, science experiments with engaging, sometimes astounding results. Play with the adhesion and cohesion of water, magnetism, volume and mass, friction, stiction, pressure, and tons of other fascinating scientific properties, to both learn and amaze. Some simple effects, like 'three jets' are pretty simple, where you drill holes in a milk carton at different levels to show changes in water pressure, however some are not for younger kids to try on their own. 'The electric pickle' is one that requires adult supervision. A glowing pickle is certainly cool, but spiking a cucumber, and plugging it into a wall socket via a cut extension cord, is something I'd prefer an adult be present for. My kid and I are having fun playing with 1-2 of these experiments each week. A few of the presentations may become magic tricks I use with friends.
Automate the boring stuff with PythonWhen I was a mechanical engineer in the late 1980s I used Microsoft QuickBASIC to write and create simple programs for work. I loved it. It was a compiled BASIC, too, so it was speedy. I used it to recreate a lot of the programs from Rudy Rucker's Chaos software from Autodesk. I got pretty good at writing programs in BASIC, just as I got pretty good at nodding my head when my smarter programmer friends would tell me that BASIC was not a real programming language.
I never learned any other languages, but recently I've started using Python and it is easy and fun. One thing I did with Python was write a nontransitive dice simulator to prove to myself that these confounding dice really worked as described. I just got my hands on a new book called Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners by Al Sweigart, and it looks like it is exactly what I need: a book for beginners and with lots of ideas for programs that are actually useful.
Examples:Search for text in a file or across multiple files Create, update, move, and rename files and folders Search the Web and download online content Update and format data in Excel spreadsheets of any size Split, merge, watermark, and encrypt PDFs Send reminder emails and text notifications Fill out online forms
The Underground RailroadColson Whitehead's National Book Award Winner and #1 New York Times bestseller is a "Magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South."
Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance Laura Poitras, whose 2014 Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour won the Academy Award for best doc, has a show on at NYC's Whitney Museum called "Astro Noise," which attempts to capture the sense of overwhelming surveillance she's lived under since the US government targeted her while she was shooting a documentary in Iraq.
Poitras is an accomplished person: winner of the Macarthur "genius" grant and the Pulitzer in addition to her Oscar. She returned from exile in Germany last year, and edited a book, Astro Noise: A Survival Guide for Living Under Total Surveillance, to accompany the show. The book includes contributions from the likes of Dave Eggers and Ai Wei Wei, as well as an original, unauthorized Sherlock Holmes story I wrote based on new Snowden docs.
The best book of physics brain teasersI bought Thinking Physics, by Lewis C. Epstein in 1984. It's one of my favorite books of brain teasers. They are designed to help you gain a qualitative, intuitive sense of physics. The author stresses that after you read each of the many charmingly illustrated problems in the book, you should put the book away and take your time running a simulation of the problem in your head. This is great advice. The book is broken up into sections: Mechanics (kinematics, Newton's Law of Motion, momentum and energy, rotation, gravity), Fluids, Heat, Vibration, Light, Electricity and Magnetism, Relativity, and Quanta. If you've never seen this book before, you're in for a treat.
I'm BoredIf the Zap Comix collective hung out in Gary Larson's basement rolling numbers on psychedelic record covers while giggling about those motivational calendars where you tear off one earnest aphorism each day, and the internal awkwardness that all of us experience, the comix that emerge would likely fit into I'm Bored, the surreal and wonderful new book by illustrator Jess Rotter with a foreword by Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte. You likely recognize Jess's art from her inspired illustrations for vinyl and apparel projects from Rodriguez, the Grateful Dead, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Best Coast, Light in the Attic Records, and her bimonthly "Songbird Stories" column for Lena Dunham's Lenny Letter. I'm Bored is Jess's first book and I'm already ready for the next trip.
The Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky is everything you could ask for in a debut novel — a fresh look at science fiction's most cherished memes, ruthlessly shredded and lovingly reassembled.
It's odd to call Charlie Jane Anders, editor of IO9 and celebrated short-story writer and editor a "debut novelist," but All the Birds in the Sky is her first science fiction novel for adults, and it embodies all that's best about debut novels — a lifetime's worth of creativity, frustrations and inspirations crammed into a single set of covers, bursting with wild promise.
Patricia is a witch. One day while hiding out in the woods from her dysfunctional family — psychotic sister, dead-eyed overachiever parents — she discovers that she can speak to animals, and finds herself in the presence of the Parliament of Birds, who ask her a riddle. She blacks out and awakens in her family house and facing punishment.
Laurence is a geek. He has successfully managed many of the serious challenges to attaining full geekdom — building his own GNU/Linux box and successfully decoding the notoriously cryptic instructions for building a two-second time-machine, you know, one of those watches that makes you jump two seconds into the future? He is the goat of his school and a perennial disappointment to his violently normal parents.
Of course they become friends, and enemies. At their awful school, both are targeted for vicious bullying, and they try to have each other's backs, though they can't, exactly. Especially Laurence, who's a bit of a dick. It doesn't help that the school guidance counsellor is a psychotic assassin who's had a vision of Patricia and Laurence growing up to destroy the human race, and who is doing his best to kill them both, though the assassin's guild rules prohibit him personally slipping in the knife.
The Complete Elfquest Vol. 3Fresh out in November, this volume contains some of the most exquisite and touching episodes of Wendy and Richard Pini's Elfquest saga, a great alternative to genre fantasy and its grim 'n' gritty modern counterparts. One of America's best indie comics, it's illustrated by Wendy's wonderful artwork – even at its most lighthearted, unanswerable questions of identity, family and freedom lurk between the lines. (Newcomers should not feel they have to start at the beginning, but it sure helps.)
'Unhappenings' is a fantastic time travel novelEdward Aubry's Unhappenings is a smart and satisfying time travel novel. I love stories about paradox created by folks moving around in time, and this novel has it in spades. At age 14 Nigel Walden starts to experience the titular Unhappenings, mundane things in his life seem to random change. The color of his bicycle changes, and conversations he thought he had never occurred, but then his first girlfriend disappears as if she never existed. Every time Nigel gets close to someone, he seemingly causes a catastrophe that leaves the relationship never having happened. As he reaches college, Nigel realizes he must be involved in some sort of time travel. Things only get more complicated. Aubry's writing is clear, simple and telling. I felt Nigel's emotional traumas and the difficulty of growing up so different, the slower pace of this novel is well employed.
Jack Womack is an accomplished science fiction writer and part of the first wave of cyberpunks; he's also one of the world's foremost collectors of flying saucer ephemera: the zines, cheap paperbacks, and esoteric material associated with the saucer-craze, a virtually forgotten, decades-long global mania that features livestock mutilations, abductions, messages of intergalactic brotherhood, claims of both divine and satanic origins, and psychic phenomena.
Womack's collection has found a permanent home at Georgetown University's library, and Womack has lovingly curated a spectacular, 283-page anthology of the most fascinating material from the collection, accompanied by his notes and an introduction by William Gibson, whose own mother once saw a saucer.
Flying saucers are like hot sauce: whatever you love best, you might love it better with a few dashes of saucers. Womack's thematically organized collection traces how saucers worked their way into Christianity, Satanic panics, Red scares, belief in psi powers, military conspiracy theories, hollow Earth conspiracies, New Age reboots of Tibetan mysticism, conspiracies about Nazis (and Hitler), and, of course, radical, unhinged theories about Elvis Presley.
Womack presents his material with bone-dry wit — if you've ever heard him speak, I guarantee you'll be able to hear his urbane, deadpan delivery in every sentence. He's not exactly making fun of his subjects. Oh, OK, sometimes he is, but just the most naked of hucksters and scammers — but when it comes to the true believers, Womack has a mix of compassion and wonder at their ability to believe what they believe — and convince others of their beliefs.
The Official ScratchJr BookYou're probably familiar with Scratch, the introductory programming language that allows kids (and adults) to create interactive stories, games, and animations. Scratch doesn't require lines of code to write programs. Instead, you build programs by snapping together colored blocks. (My book, Maker Dad, has an introduction to Scratch that shows how to make retro-style video games).
Scratch is perfect for kids 8 and up. Recently, MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Lab announced the release of ScratchJr, an even simpler programming language for young children (ages 5-7) to create interactive stories and games. It's free and runs on iPads and Android tablets. Mitchel Resnick, who runs MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Lab, and Marina Umaschi Bers, a professor in the Computer Science Department at Tufts University, have a new book out called, The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code. The publisher sent me a copy, and it looks like a great way for parents to learn about ScratchJr so they can get their kids up to speed and let them go off on their own. With full color screenshots on every page, it provides a thorough overview of everything ScratchJr is capable of doing. More
Between the World and MeA master class on race from Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of America's most bold voices. Really all you need to know. Read it.
Signed Walkaway (pre-order)It took most of a week to sign all 2,800 "tip-in" sheets that are being bound into a special, limited-edition version of Walkaway, my first novel for adults since 2009, but it was worth it! You can pre-order one from the good fellows at Barnes and Noble.
Mary and Vincent Price's incredible recipe bookWandering through a used book store yesterday, I came across a book with an unremarkable title: A Treasury of Great Recipes. Normally this would not catch my attention, but the book's co-authors were Vincent and Mary Price. I had no idea that the horror film star and his wife were so amazing! In addition to both being world famous for their careers, thespian and costume designer respectively, they were also world travelers, collectors of art, and evidently lovers of fine food. Vincent and Mary are said to have begged, flattered and connived to acquire their favorite recipes from the the world's most famous restaurants. This book is as much an adventure as it is a collection of recipes. Vincent and Mary. Published in 1965, it contains personal stories from Vincent and Mary, and descriptions of the restaurants. It is also full of photographs of the couple and their friends enjoying the restaurants, reprints of the restaurant's menus, and a most importantly, a collection of recipes that Vincent and Mary used to recreate the dishes at home, for their guests. The written descriptions of each item show you just how awesome this couple was. Try this description of New England Clam Chowder, from Boston's famous Locke-Ober's: This is the true, the authentic clam chowder invented and relished by seagoing New Englanders, and a favorite there for generations. There is something called Manhattan Clam Chowder made with tomatoes and therefore a ruddy color, but your proper Bostonian will have nothing to do with that aberrant form. Locke-Ober's recipe is for the pale cream-colored soup to which you may add a dusting of paprika for color, no more. As far as flavor is concerned, it doesn't even need that. The voice throughout is direct, refined, and clearly reflects their passion for the subject at hand. This amazing collection is filled with gems: Breakfasts from the Super Chief, dinners from Rivoli in Mexico City, and fantastic German fare from Lüchow's in New York are but a few of the locations that grabbed my interest. I have big plans for this tome. I'm going to start having friends over for a series of Vincent and Mary Price meals. This Friday may include clam chowder. The cream-colored variety, of course. I found this book at my local used bookstore in wonderful shape for $35. Clearly the Amazon vendors want more. But it's worth acquiring, however you go about it, and whatever price you pay.
Discussions about big data's role in our society tends to focus on algorithms, but the algorithms for handling giant data sets are all well understood and work well. The real issue isn't algorithms, it's models. Models are what you get when you feed data to an algorithm and ask it to make predictions. As O'Neil puts it, "Models are opinions embedded in mathematics."
O'Neil calls these harmful models "Weapons of Math Destruction," and not all fault models qualify. For a model to be a WMD, it must be opaque to its subjects, harmful to their interests, and grow exponentially to run at huge scale.
These WMDs are now everywhere. The sleazy for-profit educational system has figured out how to use models to identify desperate people and sucker them into signing up for expensive, useless "educations" that are paid for with punitive student loans, backed by the federal government. That's how the University of Phoenix can be so profitable, even after spending upwards of $1B/year on marketing. They've built a WMD that brings students in at a steady clip despite the fact that they spend $2,225/student in marketing and only $892/student on instruction. Meanwhile, the high-efficacy, low-cost community colleges are all but invisible in the glare and roar of the University of Phoenix's marketing blitzkreig.
The Record Store of the MindJosh Rosenthal is the cratedigger and DIY musicologist behind such fantastic collections as the Grammy-nominated "He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes," "Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard : Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music : 1923-1936," and dozens of other fine releases on his own Tompkins Square Label. Rosenthal recently self-published a combination memoir and musical history, Record Store of the Mind, that tells his own personal story through the lens of the artists he loves and has championed, from 1950s country pioneer Charlie Louvin to Big Star's Alex Chilton to finger-picking folk guitar master John Fahey. It's a wonderful read and a great reminder that no music streaming service could ever replace the magical moment of visiting your local record store and flipping through the bins to uncover the music that moves you.
Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota)Ada Palmer's 25th century is in the midst of a long and carefully maintained peace, a peace that came only after the Church Wars, when religion nearly destroyed the world. Religions have been abolished, no grouping of more than three people may discuss religious subjects. The advent of ballistic, supersonic flying cars have eliminated space as a constraint on human grouping, all but abolishing nation-states in the process.
Humans belong to post-geographic affinity groups, some very large (Humanists, Utopians, Mitsubishi, Masons, and more), others much finer-grained: fans of a given sports-team, adherents to a philosophy, members of a trade guild or a hobbyist association. Every person is a minority of one, and majority has been abolished, taking with it the oppression of the many over the few. Even gender has ceased to be a meaningful category, though certain perverts insist on the use of gendered pronouns to describe themselves. Families are gone, replaced by group houses called bash'es, where child-rearing and other familial functions are shared by many adults and their children. Also all but gone is the penal system: instead of sending those who steal and murder to prison, they are turned into work-servants, "Servicers," whom any person may command, and who may only eat food given to them in return for their service.
Mycroft Canner, the book's protagonist and narrator, is one such criminal — in fact, as we learn, he is a contender for the most notorious criminal of his age, whose brilliance and savagery has made him the confidant of every leader of every strat, and a trusted helper for the most important bash', the elite family who manage the flying cars whose smooth running is critical to the literal survival of 25th century society.
Palmer writes science fiction like a historian, maneuvering vast historical forces deftly, plunging effortlessly into their minutae and detail, zooming out to dizzying heights to show how they all fit together. Her acknowledgements cite Alfred Bester as an influence, and that's no surprise — few writers can trump Bester for the sense of a world that contains within it all the other worlds of all its inhabitants. Palmer, though, may have exceeded the master.
The Totally Awesome 80s TV Trivia Book A great way to distract your family from talking about politics this holiday season!
Penny's story — a novella from the Tor.com imprint — is set in the last years of the 21st century, just as the very first ageless immortals are approaching their centenary. They are the beneficiaries of a drug that halts aging, a $100/day pill that you need to take every day — a pill that revolutionizes the relationship of wealthy elites to the world. Once it's clear that the rich can live forever, patent law is immediately amended to provide for eternal royalties to the pharma company behind the drug, and climate change is suddenly a deadly serious business, with no expense spared for remediation. Inheritance laws and the relationship of rich children to their parents become very different indeed, and then there's the rest of us.
What if you don't have $400K/year to spare on anti-aging meds? Well, you could apply for a grant. The smartest scientists, the most successful artists, the people who amuse and assist the hyper-wealthy are all eligible for permanent, endless, lifetime supplies of the drugs. If you don't fit the bill, well, it's a meritocracy, isn't it? Try and raise some kids who amuse and entertain the super-wealthy and maybe they'll bud off a new immortal line. Follow your dreams, kids!
Penny's protagonists are a ragtag group of protesters, anarcho-syndicalist crustypunks who steal anti-aging meds from the rich students and dons of Oxford University and hand them out for free in the slums where the caretakers and janitors and waiters and sex-workers live. Unbeknownst to these resistors, one of their number is actually a police undercover agent, a snitch who's much older than he seems — thanks to the anti-aging meds he receives as part of his compensation — and who is sexually involved with one of them, besotted with her, planning to take her with him into a life everafter just before the police sweep in an take the rest of them into custody.
Art of AtariThis glorious hardcover celebrates the wonderful illustrations of the iconic videogame company's packaging, catalogs, and other artwork that, according to the book's introduction written by Ernest "Ready Player One" Cline, was "specially commissioned to enhance the Atari experience to further entice children and adults to embrace the new era of electronic entertainment." Speaking from personal experience, it totally worked. By Tim Lapetino.
Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture In the late 1960s and 1970s, the mind-expanding modus operandi of the counterculture spread into the realm of science, and shit got wonderfully weird. Neurophysiologist John Lilly tried to talk with dolphins. Physicist Peter Phillips launched a parapsychology lab at Washington University. Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill became an evangelist for space colonies. Groovy Science: Knowledge, Innovation, and American Counterculture is a new book of essays about this heady time! The book was co-edited by MIT's David Kaiser, who wrote the fantastic 2011 book How the Hippies Saved Physics, and UC Santa Barbara historian W. Patrick McCray.
Hip Hop Family Tree Book 4Ed Piskor's comic history of Hip Hop debuted here at Boing Boing, but there's no substitute for print, especially given Fantagraphics' perfect execution of Ed's meticulous, retromaniacal layouts. The latest volume hits the mid-80s and success for Dr. Dre, Salt-N-Pepa and others; the mainstream media takes notice and starts getting thirsty. Ed's storytelling wizardry makes it impossible to stop.
Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity Steve Silberman's definitive book for better understanding autism, and the members of our human family who are different because of it.
NeuroTribes considers the idea that neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia, and ADHD are not errors of nature or products of the toxic modern world, but the result of natural variations in the human genome. This groundbreaking book will reshape our understanding of the history, meaning, function, and implications of neurodiversity in our world.
Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday LifeIn his introduction, Droit says the purpose of the experiments is to "provoke tiny moments of awareness," and to "shake a certainty we had taken for granted: our own identity, say, or the stability of the outside world, or even the meanings of words." Most of the experiments require about 20 minutes to complete, and often involve nothing more than merely thinking about something.
Some of the experiments you'll probably want to try when you are alone at home (like calling your name repeatedly for 20 minutes, or repeating some other word to drain it of its meaning), but others can be performed anywhere (like imagining that the world was "created from nothing, just an instant ago" and will vanish "like a light going out" in 20 minutes). Some of the experiments you can't really plan in advance; they'll happen by accident, like when you wake up without knowing where you are — a magical experience I love having, but Droit explains how to make the best use of this five-second-long "delicious lightness of a mystery without menace" the next time it happens: "What you do not know, for a tiny interval of time, is what the place is called, where it is, and you you are doing there.
But you're certain that you are somewhere, and will find out very soon… try not to lose hold of this rare moment of perfect suspension between doubt and confidence, certitude and ignorance, anxiety and satisfaction." One of the things I've learned from doing just a few of the exercises in this book is how hard it to stop being so busy and slow down enough to do the experiments. I don't want to stop sitting in front of my computer, playing games, reading a book, tending to chickens, tidying the house, or a million other things that tug at me, but a few minutes after getting started with one of Droit's exercises, I feel good about taking a break from those habitual behaviors. BUY
The Art of The Lord of the RingsThese are the drawings, maps, diagrams, and sketches that Tolkien drew to help him navigate Middle-earth, and the entire complex universe he created for his novels. Edited by Tolkien scholars Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, the hardcover book contains nearly 200 images, the majority of which have never been published before. According to the editors, the "Inscriptions in runes and Elvish script, and 'facsimile' leaves from the burned and blood-stained Book of Mazarbul, support Tolkien's pose as an 'editor' or 'translator' of ancient records." So, the map is the territory after all.
Tales from the LoopSimon Stålenhag's paintings are nostalgic yet unsettling, depicting futuristic technology looming over rural landscapes at some indistinct moment in the latter half of the twentieth century. Though superficially technical and straightforward, his style grows in atmosphere and depth the more you look at it; like a set of paded polaroids found in an old drawer, they expose a haunting sense of humanity and technological chaos. A follow-up, Tales from The Flood, just hit shelves.
The Complete EightballOf all the great comics from the late 1980s and early 1990s — Love and Rockets, Weirdo, Hate, Acme Novelty Library, Optic Nerve, The Rocketeer — my favorite is Daniel Clowes' Eightball. Each issue included one chapter of a serious graphic-novel-length story, and several pages of misanthropic, funny, bizarrely imaginative shorter comics. I loved both sections. One of long stories in Eightball ("Ghost World") and one of the shorter pieces ("Art School Confidential") were turned into movies, with Clowes writing the screenplays for both. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Eightball Fantagraphics released a slipcase 2-volume facsimile edition of Eightball that includes the first 18 issues of the comic book. It's stunningly gorgeous, and Fantagraphics went all out to create a package that will please people like me who read Eightball in its single issue format as well as people who are new to his early work.
The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African American Cookbooks"To discover the true role of black women in the creation of American, and especially southern, cuisine, Toni Tipton-Martin has spent years amassing one of the world's largest private collections of cookbooks published by African American authors, looking for evidence of their impact on American food, families, and communities and for ways we might use that knowledge to inspire community wellness of every kind."
A collection of James P. Blaylock's short storiesI love reading James Blaylock's novels. His take on humanity, and the super natural, always thrill me. This collection of short stories made my rainy weekend. This collection of 16 stories is wonderful. Blaylock often tells tales where hope is covered in a dark sheen of barely contained evil, hiding in everyday California. I'm addicted! Included in this, his only collection of shorts, is Blaylock's award winning 13 Phantasms, the story of a man who follows an ad back into the golden age of science fiction. Steampunk, classic sci-fi, and a few new Langdon St. Ives adventures (one of Blaylock's best known characters,) are gripping!
The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy TalesWritten by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth in the 19th century and edited by Erika Eichenseer in the 21st century, this body of fairy tales surfaced only recently and can be encounted free of the Hollywood trappings that have long veiled more familiar folk stories. Fascinating, florid and "grimmer than Grimm," this book is a thoroughly Germanic fantasy landscape and far more entertaining than you probably expect it to be.
Lovecraft Country: A NovelHP Lovecraft, father of the Cthulhu mythos, was, even by the disgusting standard of his day, a scumbag racist pig. Seriously. Even Robert Howard couldn't let Lovecraft's vicious invective pass without comment. David Nickle's novel Eutopia pulled down Lovecraft's pants and showed us all his shame.
Lovecraft Country doesn't stop at the clothing.
The novel involves a large, extended, accomplished African-American family living in Jim Crow Chicago. These characters — a young soldier, a radical printer, a grifter's daughter turned landlady, a travel agent, a budding comics creator, and many others — don't need Elder Gods to experience horror. They live it in their daily lives, through harassment, violence, expropriation, and the legacy of slavery that is anything but ancient history for them.
Each character gets their own novella, a series of linked tales that both illustrates, at a visceral level, the terrors of the black American experience, and the family's relationship to another family, former enslavers who are Lovecraftian sorcerers, obsessed with the taming of ancient mysteries and sacrifices to unknowable Elder Gods from beyond our universe.
Z Burbia, a novel by Jake BibleThe first novel in Jake Bible's series Z Burbia hooked me. What appeared to be a jokey take on zombie fiction quickly develops some great characters and story. Jason "Long Pork" Stanford and his family live in a small community outside Asheville, NC. They've used the local geography and their HOA to secure the housing complex and have spent several years keeping things together. Their insular policies and strict adherence to the CC&Rs of Whispering Pines, their home, have kept them alive in the face of bandits, cannibals and of course hordes of zombies. Sadly, things are about to fall apart. I've enjoyed the characters, Bible has an ability to write little about folks, while not having them be cartoons. The plot, once you get past the condo association stuff, is rather standard Zombie fare, but I'm very much looking forward to the rest of his series. I got the first and second books via Kindle Unlimited.
A Book of Surrealist GamesHilarious and silly, A Book of Surrealist Games is a fantastic introduction to the surrealist mind-set. In addition to just being fun to peruse, this collection of written, visual and verbal games is great for exercising your mind, and staying creative. In addition to the games, this oddly organized book is packed with poems, illustrations and stories. While a bit dated, it is a wonderfully nostalgic tour of the spirit of surrealism. Some of the game directions are vague, and the images may not be the best, but I've had a lot of fun with this book over the years. Exquisite Corpse is one I'd expect to see our Boing Boing forums make good use of.
Livia LoneFormer CIA agent Barry Eisler's latest sexy cyber thriller follows Seattle PD sex-crimes detective Livia Lone, who knows the monsters she hunts. The heroine is Thai, and the story is riveting.
The WakePaul Kingsnorth's 2014 story of an 11th-century English rebel, opposing Norman occupiers, sounds like it could be a swashbuckling adventure. But The Wake's unhero is a smalltime insurgent, as romantic as an oxcart, becoming ever more enraged and fanatical as his world dies–a death not entirely the fault of French-speaking invaders. Written in an argot based on early English, it's alien yet close to home, a brew of English resentment, futility and self-destruction that tells us history is often prophecy. What better year to enjoy it again than 2016.
We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam WarPenned by veteran Doug Bradley and Craig Werner, professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, We Gotta Get Out of This place reveals soldiers' musical memories and the impact of James Brown, Eric Burdon, Country Joe McDonald, and other popular artists on the Vietnam experience and our understanding of it. The top three songs mentioned by the hundreds of soldiers they interviewed for the book are: "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals, "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" by Country Joe & The Fish, and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by Peter, Paul and Mary.
John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China, Volume 1If you are anything like me, at all, you frequently wonder what happened next to Jack Burton and the rest of the Big Trouble in Little China gang? John Carpenter, Eric Powell, and Brian Churilla's Big Trouble in Little China graphic novels tell the tale! I've just started reading these BTiLC graphic novels, they pick up right where the movie left off. I could not be happier! The humor, the characters and the artwork are exactly what I'd have hoped for, if I had any idea these books were being published!
DisplacementI'm pretty bad at keeping up with new cartoonists. I'm stuck in the world of artists who emerged in the 80s and 90s: Daniel Clowes, Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet, Carol Tyler, Lynda Barry, Los Bros Hernandez, Jim Woodring, Roberta Gregory, Peter Bagge, Chris Ware, Dori Seda. Lucy Knisley is one of the rare younger cartoonists that I've gotten hooked on. (I interviewed Lucy on my podcast Gweek in 2013.)
I'm a fan of the "ligne claire" drawing style, which Lucy exemplifies, and her sense of page composition is clean but with the perfect whimsical touch. She also colors her drawings with watercolors, not Photoshop, so they have a nice texture. Her work is mostly autobiographical. Her 2008 book, French Milk, is an illustrated journal about living (and eating) in Paris with her mother. Her next book, Relish, is about growing up in the food industry. In 2015 she wrote Displacement, a comic book travelogue about taking her frail grandparents on an ocean cruise. Lucy does not have children, and was not familiar with taking care of dependent people, so she was stunned by how exhausting the "vacation" was. Her 91-year-old grandmother had dementia and didn't really know who Lucy was, and her 93-year-old grandfather had an incontinence problem that he didn't care about.
Lucy ended up having to wash his trousers every evening when she was able to convince him to take them off. In between the diary entries about things like waiting in line for 3 hours to board the ship, calling her father asking for help (he wasn't helpful), and putting up with the bossy ship's crew, Lucy included excerpts from her grandfather's WWII journal, which shows him to be an excellent, observant writer, much like Lucy herself. I felt sorry for Lucy because the trip was stressful and exhausting. She had to deal with vomit, soiled clothing, and lost grandparents on a daily basis. But she had a great sense of humor about her ordeal and her patient and sympathetic care for her grandparents was touching. Lucy entered a new level of adulthood on this trip, and her story of how is happened is fascinating.
We've been linking to Asha Dornfest's amazing Parent Hacks blog for more than a decade, and we loved her 2013 Minmalist Parenting. Dornfest's strength is her ability to choose "hacks" that are simultaneously useful and simple, a welcome contrast from the Martha Stewart-ish norm, which amounts to, "Given an entire free afternoon, here's something you can do to impress your friends (maybe)."
As you'll see from the samples below, Dornfest's picked out the best of these from her deep drawersful of great ideas, thematically grouping them for parenting's greatest daily challenges: pregnancy, sleeping, eating, bath time, travel, etc. At least one of them comes from me: using panty-liners (which airplanes and trains have spares of in the bathroom) to extend the life of a diaper (which you can't replenish in-flight!) when you're caught short.
With friendly, subject-sorted tips that can be used for easy reference, this is the perfect kind of parenting book: one you don't need to read from cover-to-cover while you're juggling your kid(s), but which you can turn to whenever you're in need.
The Longest Day of the FutureOn this Earth-like planet, only two corporations exist. One is represented by a pig mascot, the other by a rabbit. Each cult-like corporation produces everything a person could need or want – food, entertainment, housing, vehicles, employment, etc. One day, an alien spaceship crash lands on the planet, disrupting the barely-functioning balance between the rival corporate tribes. This Brazil-like story is told in the form of a wordless graphic novel by Argentine cartoonist and graphic designer Lucas Varela. The art is superb, bringing to mind Chris Ware. I read this twice, savoring every beautiful panel, filled with insanely weird and wonderful robots, buildings, vehicles, and creatures. I can't wait to see what Varela does next.
Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird StoriesBefore and after Lovecraft there will always be Blackwood, more sinister and skilful by far. Though written a century ago, the prose is often fast and well-crafted, even as it slowly builds in dread and force. The dangers here are not cosmic or hysterical, but elemental and insidious; it often feels like once could be accomodated by it rather than obliterated, if only an unspeakable choice were made. The Willows and The Wendigo are perhaps the best of the bunch, but this set's got plenty of great picks.
One Breath, a tragic tale of free divingFree diving holds a special terror for me. I've lost two friends to abalone diving, here in Northern California, and while strenuous and dangerous, it doesn't hold a candle to competitive free diving. Adam Skolnick's One Breath tells the tale of Nick Mevoli, a superstar whose death put the sport on trial. Mevoli in 2013 was a rising star in the world of competitive free diving. His entrance in Vertical Blue, free divings version of Mavericks, was highly anticipated. Mevoli was expected to shatter records, instead he died. Skolnick does an amazing job of showing you the forces, internally and externally, that drove Mevoli to his tragic end.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in AmericaNancy Isenberg's groundbreaking and bestselling history of the class system in America, with particular focus on the so-called "white trash," who Trump successfully targeted in his presidential campaign.
World-famous artist and middle-school art teacher Christopher Locke has published a new drawing tutorial book, packed with lessons from his own classroom. Whether you're a 10-year-old aspiring artist, or an octogenarian with an art degree, you'll find exercises and activities that will help you build your skill and refine the way you see the world.
This isn't one of those old dried-up 'how to draw fifty battleships' books. It's a set of activities that progressively guide the reader from 'I can't draw' to 'handmade art for sale!' Along the way, each lesson is written out by a man who spends his days keeping tweens awake and smiling.
Maker DadI wrote this technology and craft project to have fun with my daughters. The book's twenty-four unique projects include:
• Drawbot, a lively contraption that draws abstract patterns all by itself
• Ice Cream Sandwich Necklace
• Friendstrument, an electronic musical instrument girls can play with friends
• Antigravity Jar
• Silkscreened T-Shirt
• Retro Arcade Video Game
• Host a Podcast
• Lunchbox Guitar
• Kite Video Camera I think any child/adult combo will enjoy making the projects in Maker Dad.
Every Heart a DoorwayEleanor West's Home for Wayward Children is a boarding school for children — almost all girls — who've gone through a mysterious doorway and found themselves in some fantasy world: wicked worlds, playful worlds, nonsense worlds, brilliant worlds. These adventures these children lived in their worlds changed them forever, as years passed in the other realms and they grew to be people they'd never imagined being before they passed through the door.
And then, for reasons most of them will never understand, they were sent back to the world they'd come from. Our world. For their parents, they'd been gone for months, or maybe a few years in some extreme cases, and all those parents assume that their children were kidnapped, or ran away, or faced some terrible privation, and that's the reason they're full of obviously impossible tales of these other worlds. That's the reason they're so inconsolably, cripplingly sad to have been exiled from the realm of magic.
Eleanor West tells the parents that this is a rare but not unheard-of mental illness among girls on the verge of womanhood, and offers to treat their children at her rural boarding school, a Hogwarts for faerie's refugees. But Eleanor West is herself one of those girls who went to faerie, a High Nonsense realm whose door is open to her now, though she herself is too infected by our world's logic to survive there any longer. She operates the school as a kindness and a mission, to comfort her fellow refugees and offer them coping skills and the pooled knowledge of all those who've walked to other worlds (including those rare, lucky few who've been able to go back to their adopted homes after their exile in our reality).
Nancy has newly come to the school, from a "High Logic" world, an underworld kingdom where she served the lord of death, first as a statue who held so still that she could live on a few sips of pomegranate juice, then as an important courtier. Her lord has sent her back to reality so she can assure herself that she would freely choose the world of the dead forever, but now that she's here, she can't find the way back.
The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery, by Rebecca Katz I used this during cancer treatment and recommend it to anyone who's going through it, or caring for someone else who is. This is not a BS "how to prevent cancer with food" book. This is a bible on how to help cancer patients have the best possible odds at the best possible nutrition to help them survive and recover.
Arcology: The City in the Image of ManSoleri taught architecture at ASU, but his real classroom was Arcosanti: "an experimental town and molten bronze bell casting community" a few hours from Phoenix, which was supposed to have 5,000 residents by now, demonstrating "lean" city living in high-density complexes that combined super-efficient usage of space with stylized, naturalistic exteriors that made each building part of the landscape.
Soleri was a crank, a visionary, a mystic and a doomsayer. His arcologies — "architecture" plus "ecology" — were meant to head off the coming population bomb, which, combined with urban sprawl, would destroy the planet. Soleri conceived of a city as dense as Tokyo or New York, but with a pastoral sensibility that kept each of his titanic towers in synch with nature.
If this sounds familiar, it's because Soleri's ideas were far more successful with futurists than they were with the actual future. Arcologies appeared as staples of science fiction cover-art, and their descendants can be contemporary sf, including the great, interplanetary hollow asteroid craft plying the spacelanes in Kim Stanley Robinson's brilliant 2312. I think there was an arcology in ever single issue of OMNI. Judge Dredd's Mega City One was dense with towering arcologies. The victory condition in Sim City 2000? Your highrises turn into arcologies.
Soleri's arcologies are all in cutaway form, like a full-page Fantastic Four clubhouse diagram by Jack Kirby, ferociously detailed and aching with unfulfilled desire. Soleri wants these things to exist, and he uses his pen to show us how fucking cool it would be to live in the cities of his mind. Every one of these diagrams should be a poster.
Subscription to Teen VogueThe youth-oriented fashion magazine became the surprise hero of America's twisted election season, an unexpected island of conscience and spine amid rivers of journalistic drivel. And, unlike the New York Times, it's actually fun to read. A subscription is $5 a YEAR. No excuses!
My Life as a White Trash ZombieIn My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland, Angel Crawford wakes up in the hospital with no memory of what happened the night before. The nurse tells her that she'd been found passed out and naked on the side of the road.
Angel is not surprised. She's a beer-drinking, pill-popping, teenage delinquent with a rap sheet and a reputation for causing trouble. Passing out from booze and drugs isn't anything new. She is surprised, however, by a package that's been left for her in the hospital by a mysterious stranger. It includes a note telling her that she has a job waiting for her at the county morgue, and a few glass beverage bottles of odd-looking liquid. The note instructs her to drink a bottle every other day and report to work the next day, with a warning that if she doesn't, the consequences will be dire.
She has no idea who gave her the note and bottles, but she reluctantly heeds the stranger's instructions. Her new job entails driving bodies to the morgue and helping the coroner open up the bodies to determine the cause of death. It's around this time that Angel discovers, much to her self-disgust, that she is tremendously hungry for the cadavers' brains. In the days that follow, she learns that she is a zombie. Eventually, she meets up with other zombies, both good and bad, and tries to learn how she became a zombie, tries to keep herself well-fed with brains without actually killing anyone, tries to avoid getting beat-up by her alcoholic father, tries to rid herself of her heartless boyfriend, and tries to avoid getting decapitated by an unknown zombie hunter who has been picking off the town's ghouls, one-by-one.
Zombies operate differently in Rowland's universe. If they have eaten enough brains, they are indistinguishable from ordinary people. But when they go too long without feeding, they start to smell like rotting flesh, their appendages fall off, and they lose higher order brain functions. They become George Romero style zombies. Eating brains will return their personalities and regenerate their missing fingers and toes. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is lighter fare than most zombie books and movies I've consumed, but I thoroughly enjoyed following Angel around as she learned to handle old and new challenges. It was published in 2001, and since then, Rowland has written three other White Trash Zombies books, all highly-rated on Amazon.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersBased on the essential travel site that treats the world as a wunderkammer, the Atlas Obscura book features more than 700 highly unusual places on this planet that you can visit. Even if you never leave your sofa, how can you not be intrigued by descriptions of Turkmenistan's Gates of Hell, the glow worm caves of New Zealand, and a 19th-century machine that uses leeches to forecast the weather, still on view at, er, Barometer World in Merton, England. By Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Mortin.
MisreadingsThe great italian novelist, critic and semiotician died this year, leaving an intimidating body of work. He's famous for elaborate historical novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but the best entry point is Misreadings, a collection of short stories and funnies. Here is part of his summary of the Bible, presented as an internal memo at a publishing house written by an editor rejecting the manuscript:
I must say that the first few hundred pages of this manuscript really hooked me. Action-packed, they have everything today's reader wants in a good story. Sex (lots of it, including adultery, sodomy, incest), also murder, war, massacres, and so on… But as I kept on reading, I realized that this is actually an anthology, involving several writers, with many–too many–stretches of poetry, and passages that are downright mawkish and boring, and jeremiads that make no sense. The end result is a monster omnibus. It seems to have something for everybody, but ends up appealing to nobody.
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local TerroirForaging master Pascal Baudar takes us on an exploration of local terroir and wildcrafted flavors, combining the research and knowledge of plants and landscape that chefs often lack with the fascinating and innovative techniques of a master food preserver and self-described "culinary alchemist."
The Neverending StoryTAGS: stories, neverending, the, limahl.gif, religion, giorgio moroder, reading list, you may be tested on your knowledge, survival guides, howto, nothing, scratch right here.
When Bastian happens upon an old book called The Neverending Story, he's swept into the magical world of Fantastica, with an awesome luckdragon in it—so much that he finds he has actually become a character in the story, like the luckdragon. And when he realizes that this mysteriously enchanted world is in great danger, he also discovers that he is the one chosen to help the luckdragon save it. Can Bastian overcome the barrier between reality and his imagination in order to help the luckdragon save Fantastica?
MORE: 2016 Gadgets Guide.