• July 6, 2012

Hankering for the blues? Longing to learn a tad more about murder how-to? Wanting to spend some more time with those "engines of change," the American automobile and what those engines tell us about ourselves and our history? Then today's snapshot is for you. Enjoy.

Today, a carnival of great reads, a grab bag of fun. Hankering for the blues? Spend some time with Buddy Guy, who will tell you how “playing the blues done made me a happy man.” If murder and mayhem tickle your fancy, have your “morbidly curious questions expertly answered” by Dr. Lyle, consultant to “House,” “CSI” and “Law & Order.” Or if you share the American love for the automobile, long for a unique view of modern American history or have a gear-head in your life, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars is the dream book for you.

When I Left Home: My Story
Buddy Guy with David Ritz
DaCapo Press
288 pp.

Pull up a barstool and let me tell you how singing and playing the blues done made me a happy man. That’s the warm invitation offered by Buddy Guy in When I Left Home: My Story. The book begins and ends with Guy sitting quietly and contentedly at the back of Legends, his upscale club in Chicago, while others make music on his stage. The pages between are filled with wonderful tales — convincingly written in the conversational style you might expect from an old blues man (he’s 75) who refers to other musicians as “cats.” Guy, mentored by Muddy Waters and a performing partner with Junior Wells, has many admirers in the rock ‘n roll world. He hints that his shows accompanied by just a drummer and bass player influenced a young Eric Clapton to adopt that “power trio” configuration for Cream. He claims to have turned down a contract offered by the Beatles because he wanted them to buy him a house and they said they would give him one to live in but keep the deed. He says he smoked pot with Jerry Garcia but found it didn’t do anything for him. Throughout the book, Guy’s confident yet self-effacing manner and his appreciation of other people inside and outside the music world is a winning combination. It’s a pleasure to sit on the barstool and spend a few hours listening to a man who ends his autobiography with this uplifting message: “Even when the blues is sad, it turns your sadness to joy. And ain’t that a beautiful thing?”
~Randy Cepuch

More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered
By D. P. Lyle, M.D.
Medallion Press
432 pp.

There are all kinds of reference works, from the atlas to the dictionary, from manuals of mysticism to catalogs of clouds. But how about forensics?  Enter D. P. Lyle’s More Forensics and Fiction: Crime Writers’ Morbidly Curious Questions Expertly Answered. You see, it’s the happy lot of mystery writers to ponder unusual deaths of their characters, but these writers need to make sure what they imagine is, in fact, medically possible. For instance, could you kill a character by having her eat a piece of fruit that had been injected with snake venom? What kind of injuries might your hero sustain if he’s struck by a car? And does the DNA of a transplanted organ take on the DNA of its new environment? Dr. Lyle appears to have the answers. He’s not only consulted on shows like “House,” “Law & Order” and “CSI,” he’s also a mystery writer himself (well, you probably guessed that part, right?) It’s fun to read questions from well-known writers. These questions are, more often than not, both surprising in their originality and appalling in their deviousness. Dr Lyle’s answers are entertaining and wise. Though he may have intended this book as a reference work, it’s an entertaining read. Plus summer is coming. It’s going to get hot outside. Tempers will flare. One never knows when some subtle form of murder might come in handy. For fictional characters, naturally.
~Thomas Kaufman

Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars
by Paul Ingrassia
Simon and Schuster
345 pp.

For me, it was my father’s highly tuned and daringly piloted first generation Mazda RX-7. For my high-school friend and Dad-boasting-rival Bob, his Old Man’s first-edition Corvette ZR1. Bob and I told stories for hours of our adventures riding shotgun with our Dads; the one-upmanship was endless. Alas, the two storied cars never did meet in mortal combat, to our enduring regret. So it goes. For those with a childhood steeped in gas, rubber and metal (and dad’s many speeding tickets), love affairs are born with engine and wheel. Whether car crazy from birth or not, we Americans weave our cars, trucks and cycles into the fabric of our personal histories. Author Paul Ingrassia deftly presents this very story, from the humble yet mighty Ford Model T (whose affordability and myriad incarnations and configurations would get the entire country motoring almost overnight) to the golden age of Cadillac’s tail fins and chrome (reflecting the optimism of post-war America). He also relates the improbable tale of a car that would become a symbol of the precocious underdog that could: the VW Beetle. His story continues through today’s latest in pivotal vehicles, the Toyota Prius, whose full importance to history is still taking shape. But Ingrassia is telling not just the stories of the vehicles, but that of the U.S.A. as its people adopted and were changed by the cars they loved so much. Engines of Change explores 20th-century American history from a unique and worthwhile perspective, and will be a satisfying read for the gear-head in your life.
~Steve Cominski

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