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article imageThe Coolest Books of Fall 2006

By David Silverberg     Sep 26, 2006 in Lifestyle
Digital Journal -- Fall reminds some people of Halloween, turtlenecks and turkey. But for book nerds like me, it’s all about the new releases from non-fiction publishers big and small. To help you navigate the torrential downpour of exceptional books descending on bookshelves, here are four reviews of newcomers worth buying.
Take This Stuff and Hack It! by Dave Prochnow (McGraw-Hill)
Want to hack your Sony PSP into a Location-Free TV? Or build an RFID-controlled robot? Looking to recycle your old pager into a clock/calendar? The tech-frenzied mod hordes will fall in love with this new book about turning everyday electronics into wild funky inventions. Ideal for the handy types, this 477-page pseudo-manual features step-by-step guides on hacking all kind of gadgets, including fringe favourites like the Roomba vacuum and remote-control cars.
While the writing veers into blandness, the actual information is invaluable. It’s obvious author David Prochnow is passionate about his mod guide. As he notes, people should enjoy the “fun of recovering a dead or obsolete piece of techno-garbage and restoring a new and different function to it.” Too true, but don’t get carried away — you might start glancing at your working cellphone with a creative eye.
Micro Nations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations by Lonely Planet (Lonely Planet Publications)
In Vikesland, Prince Christopher I is working hard to establish a sustainable government, whose chief policy is to never tax its citizens. The area of royal ownership claims 650,000 square metres. Its population is currently 25 people.
Central Canada’s Vikesland is of the 53 mini-nations profiled in Lonely Planet’s slim guide to “creators of their own ethnic identity.” More than a travel book, Micro Nations prefers to glorify these self-governments rather than mock them, describing in detail everything from land mass to cultural pursuits to visitor info. Intriguing photos and fascinating sidebars complement the snappy text. Best of all, these self-proclaimed nations will be new to most readers, so the snobby know-it-all can’t say, “Pssht, the Principality of Freedonia was profiled in The New Yorker, whatever.”
One main question remains: Do any of these tiny countries matter to you? Sure, you might not visit the Kingdom of Elleore (on a Danish island) but the knowledge that such places exist is inspirational at the very least. Concerned citizens are building their own democracies, or offshoots thereof. It’s activism at its finest, and this breath-taking book deserves a thorough read.
The Complete Peanuts: 1961 to 1962 by Charles Schulz (Fantagraphics)
It’s been 45 years since Charles Schulz first published the classic comic strips found in this compendium. Some art has the staying power that won’t diminish anytime soon, and Schulz’s Peanuts strip still resonates from the beautifully designed package of the latest definite collection.
What’s most enjoyable about Peanuts is the curious wonder that infects every child in the strip. It’s also a world where kids are smart and adults are bland. Reliving the carefree routine of the Charlie Brown gang is like dancing down memory lane — nostalgia can be fun, but it can also be wistful.
Also worth noting about this 314-page collection is the stylish design quarterbacked by Seth, the renown graphic novelist. Both the cover and inside three pages carry that trademark Seth signature — moody, stark, gripping illustration. Here is a Peanuts fan whose dedication grazes the collection with the right blend of creativity and respect.
Bruce Springsteen on Tour: 1968 – 2005 by Dave Marsh (Bloomsbury)
If you’re merely a casual fan of Bruce Springsteen, and can whistle “Dancing in the Dark” but that’s it, take a pass on this thick compendium of everything Boss. But if you want to relive his 1988 Italian tour or find out why “The Promised Land” is among Springsteen’s “hoariest rock anthem,” you’ll gladly gobble up every gushing word penned by the rock star’s biographer, Dave Marsh.
And it works. Marsh offers insight into Springsteen’s creative juices, sparing no detail about his musical inspirations and the drive behind writing poignant lyrics. Even more illuminating is the tour coverage, which gives the reader an inside look into Springsteen’s between-song banter and political perspectives (when he’s feeling touchy). After awhile, the book feels like a collection of concert reviews written by The Boss’s closest fan.
Then again, Bloomsbury made a smart move by interspersing the laudatory text with action photos from Springsteen’s concerts. Some of them are grainy, but the best photos highlight the energy rocking the stage every time Springsteen stepped to the microphone. And for the dedicated fan, that’s what this book is all about.
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