Summer reading 2013: pulp thrillers, Philly stories & Shakespeare's Star Wars

By Eugene Holley Jr.
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 4, 2013

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E.B. Hudspeth’s "The Resurrectionist" introduces us to a Philadelphia anatomist who believes in mermaids.

You’ve taken the air conditioner covers off, put those winter clothes away, washed the car, fired up the backyard grill—and made plans for major hang-out time at the Jersey Shore, both to chill and help rebuild. In other words: You’re engaging in the rites of Summer 2013. And whether you’re headed to the beach sooner or later, we all know that the season won’t be complete without a new pile of books to work your way through as you dig your toes into the sand.

First, let’s quickly take note of the pop-fiction whale that’s just come in with the Memorial Day tide: Everyone’s favorite deployer of exclamation points and coincidences, Dan Brown, has a new sequel out to Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. Robert Langdon, the dashing Harvard University symbologist who uncovered secrets about the bloodline of Christ and the design of Washington, D.C, is back once again in Inferno (Doubleday); our hero finds himself in Italy, where entire days of his life have been erased from his memory, and the key to getting his whole brain back lies in deciphering some arcane symbolism in Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century poem.

Alternately, for a more sophisticated mystery-thriller-series beach read, we’ve got a new installment in the exploits of Easy Rawlins, the dark-and-dashing L.A. detective created by Walter Mosley and made famous in the 1990 novel Devil in a Blue Dress. Mosley’s latest, Little Green: An Easy Rawlins Mystery (Doubleday), finds Rawlins and his thug-life sidekick, Mouse, looking into the disappearance of Evander “Little Green” Noon, who went missing during an acid trip in L.A.’s Sunset Strip in purple-hazed 1967. As in his previous 10 books, Mosley enlarges the crime noir genre with his trademarked living-for-the-city, black-on-black realism about race, law enforcement, class and conjure potions, stirring up one moving mystic brew of a page-turner.

While novelists like Brown and Mosley take us back in time to long-lost cityscapes. Lost Philadelphia (Pavilion) by Ed Mauger, founder of Philadelphia on Foot, and Bob Skiba, president of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides, does the same with a beautifully photographed book, chronicling a potpourri of legendary Philly buildings that, sadly, are no longer with us: the iconic Horn & Hardart automat, the stately Music Fund Hall and the Arch Street Theatre among them. The authors also detail the City of Brotherly Love’s elegant, Victorian-era homes that were literally too big to refurbish and the demise of the city’s impressive movie houses, made redundant by TV. Back in the day never looked so good.

Though some Philadelphia buildings may have gone, our sports memories linger on, and our 130 year-old, fightin’ Phils have given us plenty of great times. Sportswriter Bob Gordon’s Game of My Life: Philadelphia Phillies: Memorable Stories of Phillies Baseball (Sports Publishing) is chock-full of memorable Phillies moments supplied by many of the team’s most storied players, including Tug McGraw, Del Unser and John Vukovich. Even the Phillie Phanatics I and II get to chime in. From Pete Rose sliding head first into home base to Harry Kalas’ trademarked “That ball is outta here,” this book bleeds Phillies red.

Philly is a sports town, but it’s also a science town. And in 1959, scientific history was made when scientist David Hungerford was studying a human cell under the microscope and discovered that a strand of DNA was missing from it. His discovery of this mutant chromosome would set in motion decades of medical breakthroughs in the fight to cure leukemia. In The Philadelphia Chromosome: A Mutant Gene and the Quest to Cure Cancer at the Genetic Level (The Experiment), science journalist Jessica Wapner recounts over four decades of experiments, research and diagnoses, with interviews with 35 individuals who, in some way, extended and elaborated on Hungerford’s work. Splendidly written in the tradition of the legendary medical book, Microbe Hunters, this book proves that medical science is as cool as those forensic shows like CSI.

The great African-American polymath W.E.B. Du Bois was another scientist who left his mark on the city when he wrote The Philadelphia Negro in 1899, his pioneering sociological study of Philadelphia’s black Seventh Ward, where the promise and peril of hard-knock African-American ghetto life echoes through to our time. Buck: A Memoir (Spiegel & Grau), the harrowing and heroic story of Zimbabwe native M.K. Asante’s journey from his African homeland to North Philly, is a compelling update of Du Bois’ classic, and, with apologies to Claude Brown, could be subtitled Manchild from the Motherland. Written with poignant and at times pugnacious prose, Asante details how things fell apart for him as he tried to negotiate the ghetto, growing up fatherless with a mother in a mental institution. How he emerges intact and in control is well worth the read.

Local publisher Quirk Books, meanwhile, brings us the story of a fictional 19th-century Philadelphia scientist. In The Resurrectionist, a lushly illustrated new hardcover by E.B. Hudspeth that will appeal to fans of such art-books as David Macaulay’s Motel of the Mysteries, we meet Dr. Spencer Black, the son of a grave robber, who has a theory: Mermaids, minotaurs and other such mythological hybrids were not only real, they were humanity’s evolutionary forebears. The book blends Dr. Black’s anatomical illustrations of these fanciful beasts with an imaginary biography of his questionable life.

Also from Quirk comes what could be the summer’s most ridiculous work of fine literature: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher, which is exactly what it sounds like: The entire script of George Lucas’ 1977 classic rewritten as a five-act Shakespearean drama and given the subtitle Verily, A New Hope.

Meanwhile, Philly publisher Running Press showcases a favorite son of the city with the new paperback version of Jerry Blavat’s memoir You Only Rock Once: My Life in Music. The legendary deejay/television/radio emcee known as “The Geator with the Heater” ruled the airwaves for years as the mob-deep king of rock and soul, getting down with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Mafia don Angelo Bruno. As his story shows, this ageless rock and roller is still boppin’ to the beat and still reigns as the “boss with the hot sauce.”

Along with rock and R&B, Philly is a jazz town to the core, and saxophonist John Coltrane is its most swinging icon. His 1964 four-suite masterpiece LP, A Love Supreme, is arguably the most celebrated and iconic recording in the idiom. In Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane and the Legacy of an Album (Oxford University Press), British musicologist Tony Whyton dissects the recording’s musical construction, detailing its spiritual content and highlighting how it continues to influence musicians and listeners in—and beyond—jazz.

Though Coltrane is our city’s deepest musician, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has lately been among our most prolific; aside from co-founding The Roots and music-directing Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he’s worked endless sideman/producer gigs with Common, De Angelo, Erykah Badu, Christian McBride and Elvis Costello. In his new book, Mo’ Meta Blues: the World According to Questlove (Grand Central Publishing), co-written with Ben Greenman, Thompson drops syncopated science on a wide range of subjects—among them hip-hop, racism, art, Michael Jackson, jazz and pop—the same way he lays down the groove: with a verve and vigor that can make your head bob in any musical language. Give the drummer some! 

Storm’s Over

Between chapters, chill out at the shore’s newest beach bars.

Hurricane Sandy was really sobering, but hey, you know what’s stronger than the storm? Cocktails, baby!

That’s right, after more than seven months of rebuilding and rebranding, Atlantic City’s beach-bar scene is back in action. And just in time for summer, there are a bunch of hot spots you need to see—and be seen in.

The LandShark Bar & Grill at Resorts officially reopened Memorial Day weekend. Part of the $35 million Margaritaville complex, it encompasses about 8,000 square feet and is the only year-round, full-service bar and restaurant on the sand side of the boardwalk. Sand, surf, margaritas—it’s like being at a Jimmy Buffet concert every single day.

The long-awaited HQ Beach Club at Revel is finally opening on Friday, June 28, and is being billed as a 45,000-square-foot “adults-only playground.” HQ’s amenities include14 daybeds on a crafted sand beach (as opposed to just a plain old beach with regular sand on it), six luxury bungalows outfitted with private cube-shaped pools, two large bars and other VIP-type amenities. Like its indoor counterpart HQ Nighclub, Revel’s beach club has a high-tech sound system and top-tier DJ talent performing weekly from an elevated DJ booth and dance floor underneath a gigantic LED screen. 

“It’s a world-class VIP experience,” says Matthew Minichino, Revel’s director of venue operations. “It’s something that has the kind of luxury amenities you won’t find anywhere else on the East Coast, or anywhere else in the country outside of Las Vegas.”

Also returning this summer is the Beach Bar at Trump Plaza, which spans 21,500 square feet. It remains a Friday-through-Sunday operation until June 17, when it will be open every day (weather permitting) starting at 11:30 a.m. DJs and live bands will perform throughout the summer.

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