This might be the week where we say “did we mention” a few times. Well, a lot, actually. It’s “Books We Meant To Talk About Last Week But Didn’t At the Time And Now We Feel Bad” week. Gather round!
Oh, wait. Last week was “Y’all Are Taking Off For the Long Weekend And So Are We, And So We’ll Just Pretend We Sent Out The Newsletter” week. Either way, books!
First, let’s start with African Samurai by Thomas Lockley and Geoffrey Girard. Now, the sixteenth century was an interesting time (unlike today, which is terrible ‘ho-hum,’ of course), and in those days, many African youths were kidnapped or sold as slaves as their villages were overrun by local warlords, foreign raiders, and other unsavory lots. In the case of Yasuke (not his birth name, of course), he ended up in India where he was trained as a soldier, and where he caught the attention of Alessandro Valignano, a Jesuit who was heading east. Ultimately, these two ended up in Japan, where Yasuke’s black skin caused quite a stir. Eventually, Yasuke caught the attention of Oda Nobunaga, who was a fellow of some renown in Japan. Matters got violent; Oda Nobunaga faced a coup attempt, and committed seppuku; Yasuke fought along side Nobunaga’s heir for awhile; and then disappeared from the record.
Or not. Lockley and Girard have done their homework, and African Samurai undoubtedly reveals much more about Yasuke’s life and adventures than we previously knew.
[Oh, hey, before we rattle on about more books, did you see our new hours over there on the right hand column? That's right. We're doing evening hours on Thursday and Friday. Just a couple of hours, but more than enough time to get some careful and measured summertime shelf-stalking in. Plan according.]
Anyway, speaking of things previously seen and unseen, we’ve got the latest Harry Potter miscellanea. A wee mini book filled with delightful paintings of critters, both real and imaginary, The Art of Harry Potter: Mini Book of Creatures is the sort of book you can totally slip into your bag and pull out when you want to remind yourself that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.
And speaking of dreams made real, how about Maylis de Kerangal’s The Cook? A slim yet tasty volume, The Cook follows the career of Mauro, a self-taught chef, who starts out with cake baking at the age of ten, before wandering off into a broad culinary adventure that takes him all over the world. This is one of those books which does more with less, like a savory meal, and it’ll leave you feeling quite full without overwhelming you.
And speaking of feeling overwhelmed, Supernavigators: Exploring the Wonders of How Animals Find Their Way might make you feel less (or more) like the world is an enormous place, to which you have not been given a map. David Barrie, a member of the Royal Institute of Navigation, takes a broad tour through the animal kingdom, marveling at all the myriad of ways that bugs, birds, insects, cats, and other creatures manage to find their way from Point A to Point B without using a map. Or GPS. Or stopping for directions. That’s pretty marvelous. We get lost on the way home, even though it’s two lefts and a right, followed by a long stretch that goes over the creek.
[After which, there’s that dogleg that gets hard to see when the grass grows tall, and someone moved the shopping cart which we used to triangulate on the gap in the hedge that lets us skirt that old house where the writer lives, but MOSTLY, it’s two lefts, a right, and straight on through.]
And speaking of invented narratives, Guy Gabriel Kay is back with his version of the Italian Renaissance. A Brightness Long Ago takes place in an imagined Mediterranean, where Venice, Florence, and Constantinople have been tweaked a bit, but not so much that you can’t enjoy the good courtly intrigue, the stealthy assassins, and the clumsy tailor’s son who somehow gets wrapped up in all of this. Kay, who has visited this place before in Children of Earth and Sky is having a delightful time with skullduggery, intrigue, and flashy drama. Just the perfect sort of book to lead into summer.
And speaking of things that don’t quite exist and should, we also have William O’Connor’s Dracopedia Field Guide. O’Connor, as you may know, has been teaching folks how to draw dragons for some time, which is all fine and good if you’re an aspiring artist, but O’Connor has kept hinting that the best technique is drawing from real subjects.
“But dragons aren’t real,” we hear you say. Well, O’Connor would like to disagree with you. And his Field Guide will prove it. Not only is it filled with marvelous illustrations, but it also has very useful maps, scientific nomenclature, and biological information. Just like you’d expect from a high quality field guide. So who’s with us for some dragon-watching this weekend?
And speaking of awesome drawings, did you know that world of cross-section drawn-to-scale illustrators is terribly competitive. Sure, we have David Macaulay whose Why Things Work has been one of those classics that we all grew up with, but ah, let's not forget Stephen Biesty, whose Cross-Sections Castle revealed all those secret passages, hidden nooks, false panels, and murder dungeons that we all know exist behind those dull and drafty stone walls. It's celebrating a 25th anniversary this year, in case your copy has gotten terrible dog-eared.
And speaking of avoiding iron maidens and the rack, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark are here with Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: the Definitive How-to Guide. Kilgariff & Hardstark (who sound like PI duo on a show that runs late at night on—we were going to say “way down the dial,” but who even knows that reference anymore?) have a wildly successful podcast called My Favorite Murder, which is filled with that Venn Diagram overlap between true crime and self-help.
What? You totally know what we mean. And if you don’t, well, there’s a podcast that will help with that. And a book. We’re mostly here to talk about the book, which has important sections like “Georgia Gets Her Nipple Pierced For All the Right Reasons,” “Karen on How to Not Drink the Kool-Aid Even When You Are Spiritually Parched,” and “Georgia Demonstrates the Zen in the Art of Being a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
It’s nothing but “straight talk while sitting crooked,” as Karen says.
And since it is the end of the month, that means William W. Johnstone (still dead) has three new books on the shelf. We’re going to highlight Riding Shotgun, the first in the Red Ryan series. The marketing copy says that we are entering “Johnstone Country, where Death rides faster than the wind.” Where one lucky fellow by the name of Red Ryan must protect an army major’s beautiful but headstrong wife on a four-hundred mile stagecoach ride that encompasses unforgiven terrain, blood-drunk killers, and one scheming devil who is planning on painting the town of El Paso red. Starting with . . . wait for it . . . Red Ryan.
Live Free. Ride Hard.
We’re just quoting the book copy there. Though maybe we’ll get those words made up into a bling-bling necklace for Colby.