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Recommended Reads: A Guide to St. Louis, a Biography of Charles Dickens and a History of 100 Objects

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 Subterranean Books, University’s City’s only neighborhood bookstore.

Arguably
By Christopher Hitchens

The recently departed Hitchens never held back from controversy in speaking his mind. His pen was often times a glib instrument of anger, rage, irony and common sense. Yet as he observed the world around him, Hitchens never held back. He often was sensible and infuriating, intense but carefree. His range of topics covered history, popular culture, politics and the literary world. Whatever caught his fancy was subject to close scrutiny via essays and editorials. 

Arguably collects bunches of Hitchens' best essays on an array of topics, everything from Lebanon and Henry VII to Harry Potter, Karl Marx and Thomas Jefferson. This Hitchens compendium illustrates why his gonzo journalistic style and erudite prose made him a force to be reckoned with.

FINALLY! A Locally Produced Guidebook To St. Louis Produced by and for St. Louisans, Neighborhood By Neighborhood
By Amanda Doyle

For quite some time, St. Louis has needed a reliable guidebook that delved into the city history while offering an insightful guide to the various communities, bars, restaurants and attractions.

Amanda Doyle has moved beyond the tried and stale formula of the stay-over traveler writer to give us a prolific and evocative look at St. Louis. As a native she gives a loving account of the haunts and discoveries that her travels in the city have taken her. From Ferguson to Soulard to the corners of Edwardsville, readers are treated to an understanding of what it is that is so special about our city, historically, civically and culturally.

Of course, all the basics are here: the Arch, Forest Park, a restaurant and attractions guide. But what makes this book truly special is that Doyle has immersed herself in the locales she visits. Each neighborhood comes to life in vivid detail and entices the reader to visit through her rich narrative.

Each section of St Louis, from the Old North to the Metro East is treated as a discovery for the reader. There are maps and suggestions for places to visit and things to do that are far more useful and interesting then anything the Fodor’s can dish up. Doyle has done due diligence to make us proud of our city, no matter where we live, she also has taken great pains to make us understand the parts of the city we may not know or visit as well. This is a warm and loving companion to our city that makes those who are experiencing it for the first time, or those who have lived here for decades become passionate urban explorers.

Charles Dickens: A Life
By Claire Tomalin

We probably don’t realize it on the surface, but beneath the holiday wrapping paper and stacks of presents, Charles Dickens is in their somewhere. A Christmas Carol has become a holiday institution, and his other books have permeated our popular culture to such an extent that they have been remade, reshaped and retold over and over again.

Yet Dickens’ life has always been elusive and mostly forgotten. In this biography, Tomalin delves into the piles of mythology about one of the giants of the 19th century to give us a compelling narrative about this intriguing author.

It turns out that that hard knock life stuff wasn’t just made up. Dickens had to deal with being in a disgraced family after his father went to prison. As a young age he had to roll up his sleeves and work long hours toiling in a factory.

Where any man may have been beaten down in this situation, Dickens turned it inward and used it to build the framework for his novels that would change English literature.

From these experiences came Dickens' literary strong points, a sense of irony, an indelible wit, and a keen sense of observation about the overindulgences of the rich and the horrors of contemporary labor. Dickens, who was born in the middle class, wrote about the average person of his era in a way that connected him to his readers unlike any other writer of his time.

Tomalin also paints a dreary picture of Dickens not told before, a man with many aspects, some wondrous and some terrifying. Dickens was a sullen, obsessive and self-indulgent man who often betrayed friends, mocked others and nurtured petty grudges.

Sadly, Tomalin reveals Dickens as a contradiction of personalities. He was not a good father or family man. He had mistresses yet worked to get prostitutes off of the street. His daughter hated him while American audiences loved him when he toured the U.S.

A History of The World In 100 Objects
By Neil MacGregor

This book began as a joint venture between BBC’s Radio 4 and the British Museum to illustrate more than 2 million years of human history using digital media as a guide.

MacGregor’s succinct narrative about the significance of human ingenuity and invention is accompanied by over 150 photographs spanning our history.

This is not a massively altruistic text about human civilization. Instead, the book is broken down into short chapters about each object and why they are relevant. MacGregor provides keen insight into the origin and culture significance of the objects and uses them as a measuring stick for the advancement of civilization from the object mentioned before it. Thus, each object is a building block of sorts that completes a puzzle history of human civilization.

These objects used in the book are diverse and come from all across the world. However, they all share one thing in common, they come from the collection of the British Museum. Some come from ancient cultures, others are works stemming form the advancement of human technology and innovation. Some of the objects presented here are armaments, which serve as a testimony to predilection of humanity to rage war and conquer.

The Leopard
By Joe Nesbo

There must be something in the cold arctic air that makes Scandinavia such an incubator for contemporary mystery/thriller writers. Although Stieg Larsson may be the most popular name in the genre, Joe Nesbo may just be the grittiest of a group of contemporary writers who use the starkness, isolation and bitter cold of the region to their advantage to create a brand of brutal, harsh, dramatic suspense noir fiction that has resonated with readers across the globe.

The Leopard features murder, mischief and mayhem on the mean streets of Oslo as Nesbo’s main character, Detective Harry Hole returns to face his demons and solve another case.

Things begin violently in Oslo, where Detective Kaja Solness is working on the case of two murdered women discovered drowned in their own blood. There are few clues and lots of questions. Like any good mystery, there are baffling elements to be solved in the case. Here the women have puncture wounds inside their mouths that the Oslo police are at a loss to explain. But police have one decent specialist with experience in capturing and tracking serial killers, Harry Hole. The problem is that Hole is a mess. Still scarred from his last case, broken hearted and on the lamb from unsavory credit agents, he has taken refuge in Hong Kong. Despite his best efforts to vanish, Hole is found by Solness and recruited for the case. Once on board Hole finds danger around every corner as a series of clues unfolds building intense intrigue as the web of mystery unfolds.

The Leopard is a carefully paced, methodically planned and tightly woven work of crime fiction. Nesbo never plays his hand but reveals just enough to keep the pages turning. There is a stark coldness to his work and The Leopard sees this taken to a new extreme.

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

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