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June 4, 2009 Edition

The Elfish Gene, by Mark Barrowcliffe


There’s a whole generation of (mostly) men out there who spent their formative years ignoring girls and sports in favor of elves, evil priests, and 20-sided dice. Barrowcliffe knows all about it: he’s a recovering D&D nerd who has become a stand-up comedian and writer – the perfect combination for revealing the intricacies of his fantasy world to the world. Introduced to role-playing games by schoolmates and suspecting, thanks to Ursula Le Guin, that he had latent wizard powers, Barrowcliffe moved through school in a daze, living for the all-night gaming sessions. With this memoir, he takes readers back to his years spent fighting dragons and bullies (sometimes even at the same time).

Cruise Confidential, by Brian David Bruns


This tell-all book reveals the behind-the-scenes activities of cruise crews sailing the seas. When Bruns applies for a job as a waiter on a cruise ship, he doesn’t realize that as one of the few Americans below-decks, he’ll be tested time and again by his co-workers, who believe Americans can’t handle the physicality of the job. He suffers trial-by-guest (the enormous in number and in girth Rondell family, nick-named the “Roundells”) and finds his own rewards (afternoons off spent on white-sand beaches surrounded by lovely women in string bikinis), but mostly, Bruns works hard. Funny and appalling at the same time, this gives an insider’s view of what it’s like to work on a ship.

Promised Land, by Jay Parini


Inspired by a lecture about books that changed the world, Parini challenged himself to find the books that shaped America. Here he’s winnowed it down to thirteen, but includes an appendix of an additional one hundred contenders to show how hard the task was. His choices range from classics like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which helped influence race relations, to “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,” which changed the way in which society approached parenthood and children. For each title, Parini gives synopses and contemporary critical reviews along with his own views supporting the importance of the book. Fascinating reading which will easily spur conversation and debate about what else might have been included and what might have been left out.

Food Security for the Faint of Heart, by Robin Wheeler


This fascinating book addresses how to keep yourself comfortable and fed during times of scarcity. Wheeler presents 10 reasons to be food secure, among them the rising cost of fossil fuels, earthquakes or other events that could leave grocery stores temporarily unstocked, and the sheer joy of being resilient. She stays non-alarmist even while discussing the freezer triage necessary during long-term power outages, and points out calmly that a well-stocked household is an asset to its community. Knowing first-hand that new gardeners are often overly ambitious, Wheeler presents strategies for getting started without getting overwhelmed. She encourages learning to identify wild edibles and give information on emergency medicines. This remarkably slim volume holds an enormous amount of information.

Rich Like Them, by Ryan D’Agostino


A man who invented a shrimp peeling machine. A woman who believes in “location, location, location.” Ordinary people who focused their attention on a goal and found ways to make their lives into what they really wanted and almost accidentally became rich. D’Agostino literally knocked on doors in 20 of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the United State, asking to talk with the homeowners about how they made their money… and a surprising number of them did. From staying humble to being obsessively in love with your work, he culled a number of ideas about money and how to get it from the stories he heard. Read this as an often amusing, always instructive series of vignettes about rich people and the mindset that got them where they are, but keep in mind that this is not a self-help money management book.

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