Thursday, September 26, 2013

The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution

Written by: Pagan Kennedy

First line: Michael Dillon, a bearded medical student, fiddled with his pipe and then lit it nervously.

Why you should read this book: Over a decade before Christine Jorgenson came out as the first person to use surgery and hormones to change her expressed gender, Michael Dillon succeeded in becoming the man he’d always wanted to be using testosterone and an unusual surgical technique pioneered to help soldiers injured in World War I. Although Dillon was more or less able to completely pass as a man for most of his adult life, and even helped a male-to-female friend obtain surgery that was, at the time, illegal, his brother, an English baron, suppressed the story long after his death. Here is the history of a man determined to refine himself into a person of superlative body and spirit, and the difficulties encountered in a life lived according to his own principles, regardless of what others believed.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’ve ever told a family member not to show their face around the old homestead ever again.

Dance Hall of the Dead

Written by: Tony Hillerman

First line: Shulawitsi, the Little Fire God, member of the Council of the Gods and Deputy to the Sun, had taped his track shoes to his feet.

Why you should read this book: When a Zuni boy dies and a Navajo boy disappears, Lt. Joe Leaphorn is sent to the reservation to look for the missing youth, who is definitely a person of interest in a seemingly motiveless murder. Leaphorn is a true and dedicated detective, willing to do the plodding work it takes to unravel this case: stake out a hippie commune from a cold and snowy cliff, examine all his knowledge of comparative mythology to understand the characters involved, get shot with an animal tranquilizer dart and spend the night hallucinating in a crack in a rock beside a beautiful high school dropout. It becomes increasingly clear to Leaphorn that no one cares about the death of one Indian boy and the disappearance of another, except as they pertain to a big narcotics bust, which makes him all the more determined to discover the truth, even if there will be no one left to share it with at the end of the book.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You’re really, really wrapped in your Ph.D. dissertation.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Written by: Mary Roach

First line: In 1968, on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, six young men undertook an irregular and unprecedented act.

Why you should read this book: With her usual dose of offbeat humor and increasingly shameless puns, the author approaches the topic of human feeding and digestion in a most unorthodox fashion, beginning in the nose (smell being a major component of taste) and moving all the way down. In her travels, she encounters professional pet food tasters, flatulence researchers, competitive eaters, and all manner of historical oddities, hoaxes, and medical mayhem. Roach is unafraid to tackle such dangerous topics as Elvis’s megacolon and chronic constipation, whether or not one animal can eat its way out of another animal’s stomach, and why Americans are reluctant to consume organ meat, creating a fearless book about topics that are, frankly, slightly difficult to stomach.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: Well, you certainly shouldn’t read it while you’re eating.


Written by: Zane Grey

First line: As his goaded horse plunged into the road, Nevada looked back over his shoulder.

Why you should read this book: An outlaw with a heart of gold and a spine of steel, vicious gunslinger Nevada has been tamed by the kindly love of wild horse hunter Ben Ide, and his incomparable sister, Hettie. When Nevada draws his gun and kills again to save Ben’s life and livelihood, his shame at the Ides learning his true identity is so great that he rides off into the wilderness, leaving his friends heartbroken and determined to reunite with him at any cost. In the superlatively dangerous (and beautiful) canyons of Arizona, the characters play a deadly game with the most conniving rustlers ever seen in the wild west.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: The end is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

The Waltz King

Written by: Kurt Pahlen (Translated by: Theodore McClintock

First line: At last!

Why you should read this book: Johann Strauss is the wildly popular musician and orchestra leader at the heart of the Viennese fascination with dance music, and his son, Johann the Younger, is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. He composes his first waltz in early childhood and is desperate to learn the violin and become a true musician, but his father has an artistic temperament that is by turns violent and morbid, and decrees that no child of his shall ever enter such an awful profession. Still, the younger boy adores music and will suffer no other fate than to bring the Viennese people to their feet with his original compositions, and history shows us how he surpassed even his father’s achievements, not only gaining fame and fortune, but also finding the love, peace, and balance in life that his father never knew.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: No child of yours would ever dare dream of going into such a disreputable profession as the arts.

Adopted Jane

Written by: Helen Fern Daringer

First line: Matron Jones pushed open the door of the nursery where Miss Fink was getting the babies ready for bed.

Why you should read this book: Poor Jane Douglas has led an unfortunate life: orphaned as an infant, frequently sick during her baby years when she would have been most adoptable, and now overlooked due to her unfortunately straight hair and unlovely face, she has never, as the other children do, been sent on a summer visit, until now. As the last big kid left in the orphanage over the summer, Jane is the recipient of two invitations, one to visit an old lady who, the matron hopes, will donate enough money to build an infirmary for the sick babies; and another to be a girl’s companion on a farm. Jane is determined to make a good showing of herself, to be helpful and well-behaved, and if she can, be seen as such a delightful visitor that she might be asked back again next year.

Why you shouldn’t read this book: You will never, ever guess how Adopted Jane, the story of an orphan girl, ends.