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Recommended Reads: Steve Jobs' Biography, a Zombie Horror Novel and a Book on President Garfield

Rob Levy works at Subterranean Books in University City. Each month he recommends five books.

A survey of interesting titles, must-reads and best-sellers from , University’s City’s only neighborhood bookstore.

 

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonWalter Isaacson has penned award-winning biographies of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Steve Jobs founded Apple and changed how our culture interacts with society. Jobs asked Isaacson to write his biography. A reluctant Isaacson eventually came around and penned this provocative look at a contemporary pioneer who stands next to Thomas Edison and Henry Ford in creating revolutionary things for everyday people.

As Isaacson writes, we discover how interesting Jobs was as a person. At times controlling, domineering and mean, other times rebellious, innovative and resourceful, he was a man of many dynamics who built an empire using his own rules. Even after his death Isaacson believes Jobs remains relevant because he connected engineering with creativity across many diverse fields. He chronicles Jobs' ascent as head of Apple into a revolutionary and controversial businessman who shaped the new century and changed the technology of our modern world.

Jobs’ professional creative drive, from making computers to the iPad, is explored in a no-holds-barred manner. Isaacson’s unprecedented access to Jobs’ friends, rivals, ex-employees, family and friends reveals to readers that there is more to Jobs than they may expect. For example, readers discover that Jobs was a deeply emotional man who was concerned about his place in history. He also was someone who did not shy away from controversy.

Isaacson notes that Jobs repeatedly merged technology and art. He reinvented animation and helped create digital filmmaking. He also revolutionized how we as a culture listen to music and made computers portable. In doing this, Jobs kept a keen eye on design, style and aesthetics.

Other interesting facts about Jobs emerge as the book progresses. Isaacson explores Jobs' childhood and adolescence before moving onto his years in the American counterculture. He goes into detail about Jobs career at Atari and his spiritual journey to India before moving into the meaty stuff—his co-founding of Apple in a garage and developing it into a massive mega empire.

Like Jobs, this book is an epic adventure about a colossal figure. Isaacson began this book while Jobs was alive. It was published shortly after his death, becoming an instant bestseller.

 

1Q84 by Haruki MurakamiHaruki Murakami’s latest is a marathon, which comes as no surprise to his fans who know of his affinity for long-distance running. Murakami is one of contemporary fiction’s most interesting writers. His stories come out of left field with prose so beautiful you cannot help but be moved. His style flows like a feather in the air, which snugly fits around tales that at first seem so strange you would never expect them to be so stunning and profound.

IQ84 is set in 1984 and involves Aomame, a young woman who notices that the Tokyo around her is not what it appears to be. After carefully taking stock of the world around her, she determines that she is living in a parallel world that she names IQ84.

Elsewhere, an aspiring writer named Tengo becomes involved in a bizarre writing project that unhinges him and brings chaos to the world around him.

Eventually, these two characters become closer and closer, becoming intertwined in a series of events involving an odd assortment of characters that range from a teenage girl, a cult, a private detective and a television-fee tax collector.

Murakami crosses genres with great ease while again returning to his regular themes of what could have been, loss, melancholy, self-awareness, sadness and revelation. All of this is wrapped in a glossy coating of sugary Orwellian dystopia with dark mystery and high-tech science fiction.

 

The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey EugenidesFans have been waiting for a decade to read Jeffrey Eugenides' third novel. Now the wait is over. The Marriage Plot sees Eugenides continuing to live in the skin of the characters he’s created. This immersion makes for a well-structured story with a great plot and interesting characters.

The novel is set in the 1980s, a time when the nation is having a rough go economically and socially. The story follows three graduates from Brown University: Madeleine Hanna, her suitor Mitchell Grammaticus and Leonard Bankhead, another potential suitor for Madeleine.

Eugenides uses this love triangle to delve into the nature of relationships. Hanna becomes interested in Leonard, and they eventually move in together and marry. Meanwhile, Mitchell travels around the world and winds up working with the poor of Calcutta. Despite the distance, his mind is never far from Madeleine.

As time goes by, the tension increases, ending in an interesting but totally Eugenides fashion. This is a coming of age, anti-love story about the dynamics of relationships and the fragility of love.

This is more then a tale of angst, rejection, self-discovery and hope. It is also a novel about books and the necessity for literature. Hanna loves Victorian literature, so it is only natural that authors such as Jane Austen from this period serve as a resource for driving the plot. Eugenides also smears Salinger, Borges and Kafka into conversations, making for some wordy and quasi-pretentious dialogue between characters.

The Marriage Plot sees Eugenides reinventing himself as a writer. He’s created a layered, detailed novel ripe with tension and loaded with drama and suspense.

 

Zone One: A Novel by Colson WhiteheadWith zombies being all the rage right now, it’s hard to imagine a well-written novel involving the living dead in a post-apocalyptic world being written. Zone One could be ripped from the pages of AMC’s The Walking Dead, but it’s not. It’s more layered and filled with twists and turns. It also has more developed characters and a richer plot. The recent success of all things zombie is just one thing that Colson Whitehead has going for him. Zone One is a genre-bending book that defies easy categorization. It has the classic elements of a horror novel but with the rich prose and detail of a contemporary novel.

The book involves a pandemic that has engulfed the planet and divided human beings into two categories: the living dead who have been affected, and the living who are unaffected.

With the first wave of this planetwide catastrophe waning Americans are rebuilding their civilization. A temporary government has been set up in Buffalo, New York, with the objective of getting things up and running again. To do this, they need to reclaim New York City.

Part of the city (Zone One) has been reclaimed, but there is still resistance from the infected.

At the heart of the novel is Mark Spitz, a regular guy who works on one of the civilian teams reclaiming the island of Manhattan. He has lost everything recognizable in his life and is clinging to hope that things will get better amidst a collapsed civilization.

This is where Whitehead plays his trump card. Just when readers think they have it all sorted out, he throws a curve. Because when Spitz and the new government think things are heading in the right direction, things go terribly wrong.

Whitehead tells Spitz’ story through a series of episodic flashback narratives that bring the cataclysmic events of this plague front and center to the reader. Spitz also serves as both the window to the apocalypse and as a moral center for how to rebuild a society wrapped in anarchy.

Whitehead’s intense novel tears apart the traditional narrative style of zombie tales and puts it together with great relish into something more frightening and terrifying. 


Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice MillardFew Americans know of the political life of James Garfield. Garfield was a uniquely American figure who had the extraordinary skills to govern the land as president. In her book, Millard dusts off some interesting things about Garfield’s life and presidency. Before becoming our 20th President in 1881, Garfield served nine terms in the House of Representatives, where he was known as a leading figure for reform. He also was a decorated Civil War hero. Not to bad for a man who was born dirt poor.

Despite living in abject poverty, Garfield managed to become a well-read scholar and made himself into a man of his times who understood how to reunite a nation still recovering from Civil War and facing difficult challenges as it expanded westward.

Garfield reluctantly accepted his nomination for president and served for just 200 days before being assassinated by a deranged office seeker. The real tragedy is that the gunshot wound did not kill the president, his medical care did.

As Millard explains in vivid dramatic detail, the nation was shocked and jolted into mourning by his death. It also left an administration in tatters. Those in his cabinet vied for power. The worst result of this power grab was that Garfield’s medical care suffered. Everyone in his administration wanted a say in his care, which was detrimental to both his health and their collective ability to govern.

As he lay in bed fighting for his life, he was the victim of some shoddy medical care from a bickering team of physicians. The bullet had yet to be extracted from him and his medical team was racing to find it.

Garfield had a lot of people trying to save him, including Alexander Graham Bell, who was hard at work trying to invent a new medical device that could find and extract the bullet. However, the more his doctors poked and prodded inside of him, his condition worsened. He eventually died.

Millard also looks at what would have happened if Garfield had lived. President Garfield would have undoubtedly continued his record as a reformer. She notes that Garfield believed in granting African-Americans full rights to citizenship and also thought that that the government should support agricultural development and improve national education.

As Millard points out, the death of James Garfield is not only a tragedy, it is a metaphor for a tumultuous nation trying to regain its American identity. Her book examines this bygone era through Garfield, his assassin and his medical team. Her outstanding work of narrative history helps us understand an era obscured from our collective memory and a man who could have made things very different.

 

For more than 10 years, Subterranean Books has been an independently owned business located at 6275 Delmar Blvd. in the heart of The Loop.  314-862-6100. www.subbooks.com

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