Even bookworms hibernate

SN&R’s resident wordsmith settles in with a guide to winter reading

SN&R Words editor Kel Munger, whose about to go under … well, not underground, but beneath a pile of books for a winter-reading hibernation.

SN&R Words editor Kel Munger, whose about to go under … well, not underground, but beneath a pile of books for a winter-reading hibernation.

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Read Kel Munger’s book blog at www.newsreview.com/bibliolatry, where she proves that she does, in fact, read a book a day.

I read a book a day. At least.

Of course, my “book a day” total includes poetry and graphic novels, which many people think don’t “count” as books, because they tend to be slender. I’m a firm believer of the tenet that the best thing to come from the New Critics was close reading, though, so, let me assure you, I read carefully, whether the book is “thin” or “thick.”

Of course, there are some people who suggest that science fiction, my favorite bookish brain candy, is not as “hard” to read as, say, literary fiction. OK, so Kim Stanley Robinson is no Leo Tolstoy or David Foster Wallace. Still, you read The Years of Rice and Salt and tell me it’s “easy.” That’s a whole passel of alternate history, which makes no sense unless you look up the real thing.

So it’s not that my expertise is based on taste, but rather on my breadth of experience (well, that and a couple of English degrees, which have to be good for something). Nonetheless, it’s a pleasure to list here the books I’m moving to the top o’ the winter-reading stack.

Winter sports? Bah! It’s time for endurance reading.

Here, in no particular order (except that local authors and books of local interest come first), are the 10 books that will top my hibernation stash. Oh, there will be more books in the stack—there always are—but these are the ones I’m waiting for most impatiently.

Holiday mooning

Kim Stanley Robinson, who lives in Davis, is (excuse the fan-girl fawning) soo smart. His new novel, Galileo’s Dream (Spectra) is set in a distant future among Jupiter’s moons and involves time travel and ethical decisions. The story: Ganymede, who lives on one of the moons, suspects it would be a good idea to travel back in time and bring Galileo for a visit. He hopes to alter history so that science will be assured pride of place over religion. Given Robinson’s descriptions of an iced-over and flooded planet in his trilogy of novels about global climate change, I’m excited to see what he’ll do when describing the ice-world of the Jupiter’s moon, Europa. And that’s not to mention that time travel is, uh, really, really cool. This book hits the shelves at the end of December, a tad too late for my Christmas list, but just in time to spend gift certificates on.

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Palling the president

Sacramento resident, UC Davis professor and SN&R contributor Sasha Abramsky takes a look at the people who shaped the thinking of the president in his newest book, Inside Obama’s Brain (Portfolio). While Abramsky didn’t get an interview with the man himself, he did interview almost a hundred of his friends, classmates, teachers, book editors and others who have known him well since his youth. Inside Obama’s Brain goes on sale December 10.

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Green reading

The late Peter Camejo was at the forefront of many progressive causes, not just in California, but also nationally, including as a vice-presidential candidate in Ralph Nader’s 2004 independent run for president. North Star: A Memoir will be published by Haymarket Books in February, and will be a must-read for those of us who followed his career, as well as anyone interested in the history of the Green Party.

True journalism

Another posthumous collection will have particular resonance locally. The work of the late Gary Webb, who worked here at SN&R at the time of his death, has been selected and edited by his son, Eric Webb, who is also a journalist. The Killing Game: The Writings of an Intrepid Investigative Reporter will be published by Seven Stories Press on December 1. Anyone who read his work—from the Pulitzer Prize-winning team coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake to his groundbreaking work on the CIA drug-running scandal—was left breathless by his talent. This book will, I hope, provide a sourcebook for aspiring young journalists, and I expect it will soon become required reading for SN&R interns.

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Post-Obama utopia

Sarah Schulman is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated American novelists alive today. I can’t help but think that she’d be more famous if only people could get their hands on her books; she’s had difficulty finding publishers for novels like The Child, due to the edgy (to say the least) content. But Arsenal Pulp Press, a small press in British Columbia, just published her most recent novel, The Mere Future, and it tops my holiday wish list. It’s described as the first “post-Obama” novel, set in a supposedly utopian New York City. But utopias are in the eye of the beholder, and a dystopia lurks beneath the surface. Schulman’s fearless and literate style can be counted on to make this the sort of novel that is reread many times.

Reconstruction of the Fables

I’ve raved often enough that Fables is the best comic-book series ever, and I really mean it. Author Bill Willingham takes the familiar fairy tales and fables, be they Aesop, Grimm or Andersen, and makes them new again with all sorts of contemporary twists. Now he’s written an illustrated novel, also published by Vertigo, called Peter & Max: A Fables Novel. Like the comic-book series, Willingham keeps all the dark flourishes that are present in the original tales. Hey, those stories? They were never really for kids.

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Universal lunch line

If you’re at all concerned about the state of food in our country—you know, important issues like health and sustainability—then the latest book in the University of California Press’ California Studies in Food and Culture will grab your interest. Free for All: Fixing School Food in America by Janet Poppendieck offers an intriguing solution for the current state of affairs: universal school meals. After all, why should poor children be the only ones stuffed full of salt, sugar and fat? In actuality, though, her theory is that, if every school in America serves lunch to all its students, the pressure to provide healthy food will be overwhelming, so much so that systemic change will be inevitable, and to the good of all.

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Women in science

Technically, it’s still a winter book—it’s due to be published March 1 by the Feminist Press at CUNY—so also making the list is The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by Julie Des Jardins. Why are there still relatively few women scientists? Early reviewers have praised Des Jardins for going beyond the easy answers (lack of opportunities and access, deliberate exclusion) to look at the history of women scientists. Apparently, she argues that women bring to science a new way of approaching methodologies. I’m anxious to read it for myself.

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Tale of a whale

And finally, I’m looking forward to The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare (Ecco, due the first week of February, just in time for my birthday—hint, hint). Early reviewers, including Mark Kurlansky, author of the marvelous Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, have praised it for both a comprehensive approach to whales and some seriously good writing. Besides, whales are very, very cool.