Category Archives: Non-Fiction Books

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Unberbelly by Anthony Bourdain

Chef Anthony Bourdain was largely unknown before this book was published in 2000. This, his first memoir, became a surprise bestseller, and set its author on a course for stardom. It chronicles his professional and personal life, and describes the high-end kitchens where he cut his teeth as a world populated by “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths.”

From the official description: From Bourdain’s first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain’s tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable. Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You’ll beg the chef for more, please.

Kitchen Confidential is temporarily priced at $2.99 for Kindle. Not sure how long that’s going to be the case, so I’d recommend not waiting until tomorrow.

Dreamland: The True Tale Of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

The author of this book was the guest on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s podcast, and I thought it was an odd choice. I still do, in fact. Maron generally interviews comedians, actors, and musicians. When he does have an author on as a guest, it’s usually a novelist. However, it turned out to be one of the best recent episodes of the show.

Sam Quinones is an investigative reporter, and Dreamland is the book he wrote about heroin, and how its use is now epidemic in America. He blames the pharmaceutical industry for aggressively peddling pain pills, the medical industry for choosing to treat symptoms instead of underlying problems (to save money, of course), and a group of people from a specific village in Mexico for marketing heroin in small cities “like pizza.”

It’s that last part that I found the most fascinating. Quinones claims that nearly everyone who lives in that Mexican village is involved, “including the mothers and daughters.” They move into a small U.S. city — like Huntington, WV, which is not far from where I grew up — and set up shop like Domino’s. They have a phone number you can call, and drivers who will deliver the drug straight to your door. It’s wild, and terrifying.

While I was listening to the interview, I went over to Amazon and added the book to my Wishlist. And today it’s $2.99. If you find the subject interesting, I don’t think you can go wrong with this one.

Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul

I’m super-excited about this one. It’s a serious biography of the great comedian, critically acclaimed, which has been on my Amazon Wishlist since before it was even published. Today it’s $1.99 for Kindle. Patience pays dividends once again!

Richard Pryor released an autobiography in 1995, and it’s undoubtedly entertaining. But… there’s some question about the truthfulness of it. Pryor told many contradictory stories about his early days, and who knows which versions he included in the book?

A biography like this one excites me more. Here’s part of a review of the book: “Pryor has had the good fortune to fall into the hands of a writer with the smarts to understand both his greatness and his madness. Becoming Richard Pryor is a first-rate biography.”

I have no idea how long the book is going to remain at the reduced price, so I recommend buying it today, before midnight, Amazon Western Time. I did. And now it’s going straight to the front of the reading queue.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson has a website that’s not unlike my own West Virginia Surf Report. She writes about her life in a humorous way, and has a biting sense of humor that I appreciate. The big difference between her site and mine? Hers is about a million times more popular.

But that’s OK. She works harder, is probably funnier, and managed to strike a nerve with people. I applaud her achievements. I don’t really get jealous of other folks’ success, I just beat myself up for not getting there too. I repeat certain phrases like “You’re a walking, talking piece of shit. Why don’t you just throw yourself into a fucking canyon, loser?” Life-affirming mantras like that.

In any case, this is Jenny’s second book. Both are memoirs, and both are huge bestsellers. To be honest, I had a little trouble with the first one. I started to read it, and stopped. But I think the brain chemicals were just mixing in some unfortunate way that day; sometimes the chemicals are not my friend. People I know and admire assure me the book is both hilarious and great. It remains on my Revisit Soon list.

And the second book is temporarily $3.99 for Kindle. I’m not sure if it’s a one-day thing, or what. But I’ve never seen the price this low, so snag it if you’re so inclined. I was all over it like a cheetah on a birdwatcher.

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron

MaronI discovered Marc Maron about five years ago, when I was trolling for new podcasts to add  to my “work iPod.” Back then I listened for about 10 hours per day, five days per week, and was ripping through an enormous amount of material.

One of the first Maron podcasts I heard was his infamous encounter with Gallagher, which was episode 145. As I type this, he’s up to 673 episodes, and I’ve listened to them all. Except for one, which I turned off in disgust: his interview with the pretentious-cock lead singer of Radiohead. Oh my god!

In any case, I’ve become a Maron fan. He’s a longtime stand-up comic, and interviews “creatives” (comics, actors, writers, musicians) on his bi-weekly podcast. He also has a very funny situation comedy on IFC, that’s successfully worked its way into my bloodstream. I was just watching it last night, laughing my ass off.

And this morning I noticed his memoir is temporarily reduced to $1.99 for Kindle. I own it, of course, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. I do not hesitate, however, recommending it. Snag the thing, before the price goes back to twelve bucks, or whatever. The man has had his share of adventures.

Monty Python Speaks: The Complete Oral History of Monty Python by David Morgan

PythonI’m not a huge fan of “oral histories.” I’ve certainly read some good ones, like the MTV book, but I generally prefer a more traditional approach.

However… this is about Monty Python, and the surviving members cooperate. So, it earned a place on my Amazon Wishlist. It feels like I know a lot about this stuff, and yet there’s much, much more I don’t know. Ya know?

A cousin introduced me to Monty Python, way back in 7th grade. It was impossibly silly and absurd, and sometimes there was nudity! I became fully-invested, as did many other people I knew. We’d never seen anything like it. At the time, comedy on American TV meant Alice or Maude. Monty Python felt like it was being beamed in from a distant, far-cooler planet.

This morning, while scrolling through the ol’ Wishlist, I noticed that Monty Python Speaks! is temporarily 99 cents for Kindle. Oh, hell yes. My cursor was a blur to the Buy Now button. And my massive reading backlog continues to grow. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident by Donnie Eichar

Dead MountainIn February of 1959, in the old Soviet Union, nine college students departed for a challenging hiking excursion and never returned. What rescue workers found has been the subject of more than 50 years of speculation and debate. It’s one of Russia’s greatest unsolved mysteries.

The hikers’ bodies were located in random spots away from their camp, as if they’d scattered in a panic. Some were not wearing shoes, there were various causes of death, and one was missing a tongue. Also, there was evidence that their tent had been slashed with blades from the inside-out.

What circumstances could lead to such a scene? All nine students were elite hikers, with years of experience. Of course, there have been no shortage of theories. The most interesting involve a secret military exercise gone awry, and/or visitors from outer space.

There are several books about this incident, but Dead Mountain appears to be one of the few serious ones. The author traveled to Russia several times, where he examined original documents from the investigation, interviewed relatives of the deceased, and even spoke with a hiker who started out with the group but had to turn back because of illness. He also ventured into the mountains and visited the spot where the hikers set up camp.

I read this book a few months ago, and loved it. You get to know the students and their personalities. You travel with them by train at the beginning of their doomed excursion. Then you take part in the rescue mission. It’s the kind of thing that’ll stick with you. I recommend it highly, at any price. But today it’s $1.99 for Kindle. You simply can’t go wrong.

Please note: At the end of the book the author presents his own theory of what happened. I don’t know if I buy it, but it’s interesting. It also doesn’t detract from the overall story. This is a good one, my friends.

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

shit-my-dad-says_coverBack when I was writing my “shitty jobs” memoir, chasing a mainstream publishing contract and making myself even crazier than usual, my agent suggested I read a few similar books to see how others have approached the process. Loving the idea of taking a break from the endless rewrite chore, I took her up on it.

However, one of her suggestions was Shit My Dad Says. Seriously? I had an attitude about that book, and the author in general. I had to begrudgingly admit he was a funny writer, but his whole shtick bugged me. Ya know? He became world famous after opening a Twitter account and posting the supposed random “shit” his dad said around the house.

I believed it was all fake. I mean, it was pretty interesting how his dad apparently walked around mumbling his hilarity in less-than-140 character bursts. How convenient. A lot of it was funny, sure. But, it felt like a gimmick to me. The fact that I was struggling, and this dude was flying high had nothing to do with my attitude. I’m certain of it. Nothing at all.

But, I read the book, and loved it. It’s genuinely funny, and warm. There’s a lot of heart in this thing, and plenty of laughs. It’s the story of Halpern moving back in with his aging father, after years of being on his own. It’s really good, and his dad seems like a wonderful man. I was wrong, OK? Sheesh. I’m only flesh and blood here… Today the book is priced at $1.99 for Kindle, as is its follow-up, I Suck At Girls. Both are recommended.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

dead wake coverI’ve read several of Larson’s books, and enjoyed them all. In fact, The Devil in the White City is one of my all-time favorites. Holy crap, that book’s great!

Larson writes non-fiction historical books almost in the style of novels. Meaning, they’re fun to read and will transport you to another place and time. They’re often as suspenseful and engrossing as any thriller.

Dead Wake is his latest, and is about the sinking of the Lusitania — a British passenger ship — by those delightful Germans. Almost 1200 innocent people died, and the incident led to the United States getting involved in World War I.

Today the book is priced at $3.99 in the Kindle Store. I haven’t gotten to this title yet, but have no doubt it’s a great read. I recommend it without hesitation.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max

Beer In Hell coverBack during simpler times, before Tucker Max went from small-time blogger to millionaire media king and I remained a small-time blogger, the two of us had a significant crossover readership.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell is Max’s first book: a collection of stories originally published at his blog. Which means they’re probably about getting drunk and hooking up with women. I haven’t read it, but it was a massive best seller and changed the author’s life forever.

I don’t know. It’s supposedly funny, and might very well be something I’d enjoy. But the whole hooking up with women and bragging about it part makes me a little hesitant. The Kindle version is temporarily reduced to $3.99 though, so I thought I’d mention it here. If you’ve been meaning to read this one, now’s the time. Let me know your thoughts!