Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Black Count, Bushman Lives, and A Wrinkle in Time

As it is the time of year people are thinking of gifts – and books make tremendous gifts – I've got a trio of titles that I've been suggesting lately that might just suit an otherwise tough-to-shop-for boy.

What if I were to suggest that the Alexandre Dumas classic The Count of Monte Cristo was partially based on a true story? Or if some of the swashbuckling in The Three Musketeers came from stories passed down father to son? And what if it turned out that much of the inspiration in Dumas' tales came from a mixed race general who fought alongside Napoleon but was despised because everyone assumed the striking black man charging ahead fearlessly on his horse he really was the one in charge?

I suppose you can guess the final question: What if I were to tell you that this striking historical figure was, in fact, Alexandre Dumas’ father? Author Tom Reiss’ delivers all this and so much more in The Black Count: Glory, Revollution, Betrayl, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, the biography of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. From his birth and brief experience with slavery in Haiti, to his Paris education where he learned to sword fight with aristocracy, to his rise in the French Revolutionary army, The Black Count is a biography that reads like an adventure novel. I’ll be honest, i don’t generally like biographies, but I love sweeping adventure stories and this one, steeped in Reiss’s well-sleuthed family history, feels both familiar and new at the same time.

For an historical fiction of an entirely different sort -- and by different I mean 50s Beatnik, Chicago-style -- you might know someone who’ll want to check out Daniel Pinkwater’s latest, Bushman Lives!

Harold Knishke is looking for a purpose in life and for one summer he encounters any number of free-spirited locals willing to give the possibly talented kid some direction. A dead gorilla, an invisible island, spoonbenders, buildings that threaten to vanish, mumbling folks singers, whipsmart beatnik girls with attitude – what the hell does it all add up to? Pinkwater may be as close as he’ll ever get to reaching his Dadaist-Zen nirvana here with a tale that truly has no plot or formal ending to speak of. What starts as a seemingly plausible connection between typical (i.e. wacko) Pinkwater characters quickly becomes a tour of downtown Chicago with stops along the way for hot dogs and the occasional visit from aliens (suspiciously similar in description to Fat Men From Space, or maybe just Allen Sherman). Pinkwater’s art isn’t in creating a Magical Realism as it is in building a world of Realist Absurdism. Definitely for older readers with an open mind and a well-developed sense of the absurd.

And remember, Bushman Lives! (You'll need to read it to understand. Maybe).

Finally, I wanted to include a graphic novel to the list, and I almost went with Sailor Twian but I decided to that isn't anywhere near as "gifty" as Hope Larson's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.

 When I initially reviewed this back in October one of the things I noted was that this adaptation made me aware of how bland current middle grade fiction has become. To quote myself... talking time travel as if it were as easy as breathing, quoting classic scholars and thinkers, lumping artists and religious icons together as visionaries who have tried to explain the unexplainable... not only did L'Engle make it work 50 years ago, but Larson makes it accessible in a graphic novel format. The necessity of images make the book physically larger than its prose counterpart but they are inviting images which make the book seem less daunting to otherwise reluctant readers.


Poetry. By cats.

You aren't going to find a better combination of snark and whimsy in a tiny little package than in I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats by Francesco Marciuliano.Yes, it's a bit of a gag gift, a stocking stuffer, some fluff to pass the time, but then again, what's wrong with that every once in a while? Plus, what's to stop some enterprising and inspired teen boy to venture forth with his own collection of poems from the point of view of his favorite animal, vegetable, or mineral of choice?

Not to take away from the three books mentioned here – or any of the hundreds of others reviewed this past year at Guys Lit Wire – but this book is the kind of thing you could hear some announcer saying (in a rich barritone voice): If you only read one book this holiday season, it will probably be this one. 

Here's a fine sample:

Think about it this way, if you got this for a guy (a) it could be the one book he reads during school break from cover to cover, (b) he'll actually be reading for fun and, (c) you'll have the satisfaction in being able to say "Remember that book of poetry you read..."

How often can you say that?

The Black Count: Glory, Revollution, Betrayl, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
By Tom Reiss
Crown 2012

Bushman Lives!
By Daniel Pinkwater
Houghton Mifflin 2012

A Wrinkle In Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
Adapted by Hope Larson
FSG 2012

I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats
by Francesco Marciuliano
Chronicle 2012

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