BY SEAN CLARK
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers.]
Craving Earth, by Sera L. Young. Reviewed by Adam Kirsch (Barnes and Noble Review).
File this one under pretty weird. Here’s a nonfiction book that explores people who eat dirt. Despite being fairly taboo and almost certainly not-very nutritious, it’s apparently a common practice in parts of the world. Young, a doctor, takes a look at the stigmas surrounding dirt eating, or pica as it’s called, and why people do it. It’s a short and interesting review.
Fire Season, by Phillip Connors. Reviewed by Donovan Hohn (New York Times).
Connors took a sabbatical to go and watch for forest fires from a tower in New Mexico. It sounds like a mostly serene vacation. But, short of an epic blaze, not much in terms of meat for a book. As Hohn describes it, Connors is a good writer. That’s a good thing, because otherwise a book about sitting and watching the forest from a tower would get boring quickly. I like that the review mentions the historical precedent of nature writing, because it’s not really a genre most people are too familiar with (with the exception of Walden and maybe Rachel Carson).
The Last Greatest Magician in the World, by Jim Steinmeyer. Reviewed by Dale Bailey (Los Angeles Times).
The subtitle of this book (Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards) implies Thurston–whose biography this is–was an”American Wizard” who did battle with Houdini. Obviously they didn’t go at it like Harry Potter and Voldemort, but the real version sounds pretty cool nonetheless. Writes Bailey:
Thurston’s life is fascinating. Steinmeyer details his Horatio Alger-like ascent from youthful pickpocket and con artist to the best-known magician of his era. It’s a journey Thurston often takes in tandem with one of his three brothers, Harry, a Chicago con artist who runs risqué “hootchie-cootchie” shows and becomes Thurston’s sometime financier.
Seems like Thurston had an impression and innovative career, but lost out in the battle to become legendary. As Bailey described it, this book is not without its faults, but it seems like a really cool biography, especially for anyone who thinks magic tricks (sorry, GOB, illusions) are cool. I’ve actually been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, somewhat uncharacteristically. If I keep it up, this book will probably be my pick of this week’s three.
Bonus Book Trailer: (cue sappy music) Why must book trailers exist? Why are they usually just bad PowerPoint jobs full of platitudinous questions? Why are they almost all hawking Christian romances? Is there hope? (slight crescendo) Stop Making Book Trailers: Nobody Cares, by Sean Clark. 2011, Chamberfour Press.