Burning books

Summertime is the right time to sit outside and read some fun and funky books

Brew up some ice tea, and find a good spot to sling the hammock. Here’s a batch of new books well worth whiling away a summer afternoon with. A ragtag group of women recruit their own Magnificent Seven; a literary iconoclast is commemorated and celebrated; butterfly hunters lie, cheat and steal; and Mr. Darcy slays some zombies. It’s the RN&R’s 2009 summer reading guide!

Into the Beautiful North

Luis Alberto Urrea

Little, Brown and Company, 2009

For several years, the men of the small town Tres Camarones have been disappearing. Siphoned like a rare resource from the town where they were most needed, the men flowed out of their homeland and into the United States where, they resolved, higher wages would help them support their families in Mexico.

Nayeli is among the women left behind. She is young, beautiful, and—with a little help from her friends—determined to rescue her quaint hamlet from corrupt Mexican cops and narco thugs who would take advantage of the town’s women.

Inspired by a movie-house viewing of The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli, Yolo (member of the Notorious Girlfriends), Tacho (proudly gay proprietor of The Fallen Hand Bar) and Vampi (self-proclaimed Mexican goth) resolve to venture into the United States to bring back their own seven rare men to protect Tres Camarones from its would-be invaders.

Strangers in their own country during the trek, Nayeli and her posse attempt to cross the border with little more than strong will and reluctant dependence on dubious strangers.

Luis Urrea, a gifted writer and passionate lover of landscapes, creates a trip we could all be on, if we were naive, brave and warriors beneath our clothes. A coolly romantic tale of four close-knit pilgrims who leave their tiny town in Southern Mexico for the infamous frontera, Into the Beautiful North juggles fear of the world’s extremities with fresh hope.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Quirk Books, 2009

It’s cannibalism, but with manners. A preference for dining on brains, after all, presents no reason to forgo proper place settings. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith, a television writer based out of Los Angeles, shares an uncomfortable byline with Jane Austen on this intentionally ridiculous project, which introduces a classic story to its pop culture nemesis.

This tale of love and brain-thirst was first wrought by Jane Austen herself but has been augmented by the snarky stylings of a man who also penned a handbook on how to be a superb Spider-Man and a guide to surviving the death traps of horror films. This book is not only funny in the “ha, ha” sense. It consistently smells a little off. Funny, that. Still, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies simultaneously appeals to the high and low sensibilities and wrangles many stifled laughs over lunch—if you are the sort who can stomach reading it over lunch.

Numerous zombie errors are made public, and something of which prudence forbids disclosure always lurks behind … and braaaiiins!

Sonora Review 55/56: Double Issue

Great writing talents of the West Coast ply their wares convincingly in this double issue of the Sonora Review. This volume of the literary journal is so thick, it sticks to the roof of your mouth and even borders on self-congratulation. The only saving grace against heavy conceit is that this issue deserves the pat on the back.

With re-readable fiction by David Lombardino and Katherine Chariott, and swells of odes and poems by the likes of Tim Peterson and Laynie Browne, this is a summer read well worth the small fee to help finance this small press.

Additionally, a 100-page tribute to brilliant novelist, essayist, MacArthur fellow, and former Sonora Review editor David Foster Wallace is contained. Wallace committed suicide last year, and is celebrated in this issue by the inclusion of a previously unpublished work. Even the harshest critics of Wallace can, and should, embrace him like an end-of-life religion—mostly because they were all, most likely, embarrassing themselves with jealousy. Enjoy Wallace’s “Solomon Silverfish.”

The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists

Peter Laufer

The Lyons Press, 2009

Entomological romance and sinister Lepidoptera converge in Peter Laufer’s The Dangerous World of Butterflies. Every year, hoards of Monarchs flap through streams of Western spring air as tourists, poachers and villagers strain neck muscles while pushing their faces into winged migratory clouds.

There is money—and intrigue—in collecting butterflies. There’s also real progress for environmental conservatism. Laufer’s journalistic voice is a sieve, distilling worldwide travels into heady accounts of butterfly enthusiasts who steal, lie and reforest to both capture and liberate these beloved insects.

The Dangerous World of Butterflies introduces lay readers to the underground world of meticulous collectors. These are people who covet—sometimes for greed, but also for sincere love of the Delphic, winged creatures that carry our spring.

Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future

Charles Bowden

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009

Charles Bowden rises while the sky is still dark. Although there is no wind yet to finger the chimes, invisible currents of transferred heat have been flowing strong all through the night. In a few hours, the sky will burn again. Feral cats will flee to the shade beneath cars and tongue the spigots of rare leaking hoses. But not yet. Before the city erupts, Bowden stands outside drinking in the dark air refusing to order his thoughts. There is a moment, even in this desert, when he experiences perfect thermal equilibrium.

That would be one way to describe a morning during which Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing was conceived, but not a convincing one. If Charles Bowden has confirmed any one thing to his readers during decades of writing life, it is that he is a firm disbeliever in noiseless calm.

“I have been walking out the door on peace and quiet most of my life. I keep thinking that I will get older and calm will descend. A white picket fence surrounding a perfect cottage will appear. I will pull over, park, walk into the yard, open the door, enter, and feel the balm. I feel calmer living with a rattlesnake underfoot. No one warned me this might happen.”

In this final volume in the trilogy that began with Blood Orchid and Blues for Cannibals, Bowden treats border violence, environmental degradation, and the West Coast water crisis like languages to which he was born fluent.