If you feel left out at family reunions when unfamiliar kin start chatting about the weather, MELVIN has just the book for you. The Tri-State Tornado by Peter Felknor documents the most deadly twister in history by offering startling interviews with survivors and graphic pictures of Hollywood-level destruction and mayhem. The account is of a tornado that reached 70 mph ground speeds (most tornadoes average a speed of half that) and a mile-wide funnel cloud of churning, spiraling hell. This bastard of nature started in Missouri and didn't stop until well into Indiana, tearing a swath of carnage through southern Illinois.
Throughout the book, Felknor shuns sensationalism by keeping a cool and collected narrative tone, and lets the survivors (mostly elderly folks who were children at the time) tell the story in their own words. The Tri-State Tornado is a sharp blend of meteorological facts and personal recollections that will keep you flipping through it. Best of all, it's short.
East, West combines mythology, Shakespeare, and history into nine insightful yarns guaranteed to raise the eyebrows of cappicino gossipers at any java joint. Appropriating three stories from the East, three from the West, and three loose blends of the two, the book explores the differences between Indo-Pakistani and European cultures by sculpting the myths of one world on the cultural potter's wheel of the other. "Yorick" an alternative telling of the story of Amlethus (a.k.a. Hamlet) will tickle your Shakespearean side, while"Chekov and Zulu" proves that Rushdie hasn't lost the biting satire that got the little bugger in so much trouble in the first place. Although Rushdie doesn't spend too much time lingering on any specific topic, the perspectives offered on both cultures in East, West make it an enlightening read, and one sure to piss off any Islamic fundamentalist goaded by the fact that, even in hiding, Rushdie continues to get published--and they don't.
If you've ever had a friend over and stayed up talking past 4 a.m., you've got a pretty good idea of what reading Sophie's World is like. Although the book is technically a novel, Sophie's World covers the history of philosophy from the Pre-Socratics to Jean-Paul Sartre, presented in a way that won't even make a nihilist gag. Unlike the philosophical teaching techniques most readers are familiar with, the book has the characters' situations provide the examples. It also distorts the characters' reality along the way so as to drive the point home to the reader. The main character, Sophie, asks enough questions to annoy at times. But Socrates did the same thing in Athens all those years ago and, the book emphasizes, asking questions is what philosophy is all about.
Late night reading at its finest, Sophie's World takes the crucial questions philosophers have asked throughout the centuries and presents them in a way much more easily digestible than Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It may take a couple of times to grasp the full argument of the philosophers presented, but nobody ever said philosophy was easy. Neither is staying up past 4 a.m. for most people.
Some people live to piss off others. John Ralston Saul, in his book The Doubter's Companion, ambitiously looks to piss off all of civilization by wielding his acrid tongue and absurd wit against the immutable forces of world stupidity.
Think of The Doubter's Companion as a common sense reference guide to homegrown bureaucracy, deconstructionist ideologues, and Calvin Klein underwear ads. Set up like a dictionary, the book cracks wise about everything from bankers ("Pillars of society who are going to hell if there is a God and He has been accurately quoted...") to manners ("People are always splendid when they're dead") with fleet-footed dexterity. Like most seasoned hecklers, Saul's commentaries are brash, well-timed, and often pee-your-pants hysterical. And instead of posing on one side of right or wrong, he merely recommends doubt as the best attitude to adopt in facing a muddled and disturbed world. Ultimately, Saul feels that there are only a few real answers to a colossal number of questions, and in doing so, strays far away from the pretensions that often make books of this genre decay into sassy political diatribes.