Endpapers: Summer Reading 

What’s new? Supergods, a Swedish whodunit, and a shocking good time.


Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

By Grant Morrison

Spiegel & Grau, 464 pp., $28

Grant Morrison has credibility to spare as one of comic books' great writers (The Invisibles, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Batman: Arkham Asylum, All-Star Superman) — singular and original even within the heavily trod subgenre of superhero fiction.

Now, with his nonfiction, non-illustrated Supergods, Morrison provides an examination of the superhero phenomenon that is at once a well-researched history, an entertaining memoir, intriguing cosmological analysis, and a surprising personal revelation that will challenge readers to reevaluate everything they've thought about the writer and his work.

Supergods starts where superheroes did: Superman, 1938. Morrison scrutinizes him along with the other prototypes, including Batman, Captain Marvel, Captain America, and Wonder Woman. The writer chronicles their appearance and transformation over the next few decades in a scholarly fashion, until such time as Morrison himself was reading them as a boy. From then on, Morrison increasingly enters the narrative — naturally, since by the '80s he too was a superhero storyteller.

Morrison scores major philosophical points in his investigation of "continuity" — as he defines it, what comic book universes offer "in place of time." Continuity began as a way for comic companies, beginning with DC, to unify characters occupying similar universes formed by disparate publishing houses. By claiming that each universe was real but parallel to the others, alternate histories were formed and could be followed by readers. Morrison posits that DC editor Julius Schwartz, Stan Lee, and others hit upon a cosmological truth:

There is a multiverse that our reality is but one facet of; that comic book creators are unknowlingly mimicking it, à la "as above, so below"; and that our three-dimensional selves interact with the two-dimensional comic book plane in the same way that higher, fourth- or fifth-dimensional beings encounter us.

Trippy stuff, but it's got nothing on a later revelation that proves to be what the book is about all along:

Morrison, in effect, submits his own origin story as an incubational, real-world superhero, with implications that go to the roots of ecological, not to mention human, existence.

Whether you take Morrison's encounter with a higher realm at face value (cashing in some of that credibility he's built up over the decades), reject it as an account of one of many drug trips or the ravings of a madman, or dismiss it as infinite jest by a clever writer, it certainly makes Supergods all the more worth reading for comic book fans and the adventurous uninitiated alike. — Greg Akers

Clarence Darrow: American Iconoclast

By Andrew E. Kersten

Hill and Wang, 320 pp., $30

If the name Seward Darrow rings no bells, it's because the bearer of it, one Clarence Seward Darrow, an Ohio-born lad who wanted to go by Seward in honor of the source (19th-century abolitionist William Henry Seward), was brought up instead as just plain Clarence, a name that he hated.

It is, however, the name that America's most famous lawyer will forever be known by, and Darrow’s discomfiture regarding it is merely one of the original fun facts (and yes, that’s meant ironically) that his latest biographer has uncovered in what amounts to a work of revisionism but one that ultimately leaves the familiar image of Darrow intact.

The famous cases are all here, including the career-making early ones: the Haymarket Square bombing, in which the intercession of Darrow, now Illinois-based, won a pardon for some wrongly imprisoned anarchists; the Pullman Strike case, in which Darrow’s stout defense of the socialist lion Eugene V. Debs entrenched the youthful ex-corporate attorney as the labor movement’s first line of defense; and the McNamara brothers affair, in which Darrow bungled the case of two labor dynamiters and was later indicted himself on charges of attempted bribery of jurors, barely escaping with a hung jury (biographer Andrew Kersten opines that Darrow was “probably” guilty).

In the aftermath of the McNamara debacle, which soured him with the unions, Darrow switched tracks, focusing on criminal law at large and becoming a leading foe of the death penalty, defending youthful Chicago “thrill killers” Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold in 1924 and earning them life sentences rather than execution, and, in his last notable case, reducing a first-degree murder charge to one of manslaughter for an “honor killing” in Hawaii.

In between those milestones, in what was Darrow’s most famous case of all, he defended Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes in 1925, charged with violating the state’s law against teaching evolution. Technically, Darrow lost the case, in which former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan was a key witness for the other side, but Darrow’s arguments have carried the day in the eyes of history, and, in any case, it had been largely a show trial, resulting in Scopes being fined $100.

All in all, this was a distinguished corpus for someone who, as Kersten notes, had originally become a lawyer “as a way to become rich and famous, to make a mark, and to have some fun” but developed into an advocate determined “to fight for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed.”

It is a matter of indelible record that Darrow championed enough such causes in his lifetime to become the very symbol of American justice, depicted as such in countless texts and films, often in fictionalized forms. That he was also upon occasion a shameless libertine and unreliable husband, a cheat in private affairs,  and one capable of cutting legal corners to help his case -- all of which derelictions Kersten chronicles -- does not, in this book or elsewhere, lessen the man’s heroic stature. -- Jackson Baker

The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter

By Mark Seal

Viking, 323 pp., $26.95

Everybody wants to be somebody else sometimes. But Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter was somebody else all the time. Journalist Mark Seal's The Man in the Rockefeller Suit meticulously details how a German nobody masked himself as a member of one of America's wealthiest families.

Gerhartsreiter moved to the U.S. as an exchange student in 1978, but he quickly adopted new personas to weasel into high society. In California, he called himself Christopher Crowe, claiming to be a TV producer. And with barely any income, he managed to work his way into one of the Golden State's most prestigious communities.

Before his cover was blown, however, he jaunted cross-country to become Clark Rockefeller, a fictional distant descendant of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller.

Strangely enough, few people questioned his identity, not even his wife. When Gerhartsreiter mentioned the Rockefeller name, he got what he wanted — membership in exclusive clubs, fancy dinners, and even a Wall Street career. But the bottom fell out in 2008 when Gerhartsreiter was arrested for kidnapping his young daughter shortly after his abused wife escaped their torturous marriage.

Mark Seal's investigative work reads like a fictional thriller filled with deception, heartbreak, and even murder. But the tale of Gerhartsreiter is eerily true, and Seal managed to track down everyone who'd come into contact with the mysterious, compulsive liar.

Although much was made in the press of the arrest of Christian Gerhartsreiter, The Man in the Rockefeller Suit is so detailed it could pass for a biography of Clark Rockefeller ... if a man who doesn't exist can have a biography. — Bianca Phillips

Nobody's Perfect: two men, one call, and a game for baseball history

By Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce, with Daniel Paisner

Atlantic Monthly Press, 245 pp., $24

Armando Galarraga has never pitched in an All-Star Game or World Series. He'll never make the Hall of Fame. A year from now, he may not even be pitching in the big leagues. But on June 2, 2010, he was perfect. Facing the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park in Detroit, the 28-year-old Tiger hurler retired the first 26 batters he faced and then made a stellar play at first base to retire the final Indian batter, Jason Donald. But that's where Nobody's Perfect begins.

In the eyes of umpire Jim Joyce, Donald beat the ball to first base. The veteran ump called Donald safe, infuriating 17,738 fans in the stadium (and millions more watching on television). Minutes later (after the final out was recorded by Galarraga), Joyce learned what the rest of the world already knew: He had missed the call and cost a pitcher the most priceless achievement in the game: a perfect game.

Collaborating with writer Daniel Paisner, Galarraga and Joyce have teamed up to share their stories — and the one story they'll share for posterity. The book alternates chapters from Galarraga's and Joyce's perspectives, some reflections on their careers in baseball (before umpiring, Joyce was a college player ... a pitcher), others on details of the game where their fortunes collided. (Thought Joyce before the infamous play, "It's coming to you, Jimmy. It's coming to you.")

If, as Gandhi told us, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong, Nobody's Perfect delivers a message that will strengthen well beyond the confines of baseball history. If you've ever made a mistake you regret, give Galarraga and Joyce a chance to clear the air for you. It's healthy. — Frank Murtaugh

Lights Out in Wonderland

By DBC Pierre

W.W. Norton, 352 pp., $25.95

Following the success of Vernon God Little, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2003, DBC Pierre has created a decadent feast of anticapitalist ("my problem with smiles is that the markets seized them to use as fronts for buggery") and countercultural abandon in his latest novel, Lights Out in Wonderland. We begin as our protagonist, Gabriel Brockwell, is buoyed by the revelation that not only will he kill himself but the limbo between this decision and the act itself creates a void of imminent possibility. Suddenly, an odyssey unfolds, and what results is raucous, bawdy, over the top, and utterly captivating.

After escaping from rehab, Brockwell goes looking for his childhood friend, Smuts, the one simpatico soul who will understand his quest for bacchanal. When Brockwell finds him in Tokyo, Smuts is involved in the equivalent of an epicurean fight club, an underworld where poisonous fish is the bill of fare and the greater the risk, the greater the reward. So much the better for a man with nothing left to lose, "a wraith in waiting," as Brockwell calls himself. But what follows is a journey rife with pitfalls and missteps, grandiloquence deflated again and again.

Pierre writes with a trenchant wit and a keen diagnosis of the modern capitalist state. Throughout Brockwell's drug-addled journey, his elevated states (each a "nimbus" of detached apotheosis) render the story equal parts wisdom and folly.

Brockwell's personal language will be frustrating to some and brilliantly evocative to others. Even if you don't believe the message, he makes you see at least the possibility of its truth: "Decide to die, then live." — Hannah Sayle

The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American CultuRe

By David Mamet

Sentinel/Penguin, 241 pp., $27.95

During the election season of 2008, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet wrote a head-turning piece for The Village Voice. Mamet had titled it "Political Civility," but the Voice opted for a snazzier headline: "Why I am No Longer a Brain-Dead Liberal." The article wasn't a shrill screed like the revised title would suggest. Mamet simply laid out how his shift in political thinking occurred. Mamet's new book, The Secret Knowledge, serves as an elaboration on that piece.

The Secret Knowledge has received a lashing in the press. The Los Angeles Times dismissed it as "a children's crusade with no understanding of realpolitik." In the pages of The New York Times, Christopher Hitchens called it "an extraordinarily irritating book." But I'll quote Hitch's late pal, Kingsley Amis: "There's little point to writing if you can't annoy somebody." In that regard, Mamet's done a great job. Unlike the gallery of conservative pundits, Mamet's built-in audience isn't the concentrated choir of dittoheads, and they're going to become irritated with him quite quickly.

Likening the American left to Sisyphus, Mamet has put together a series of essays that push a variety of hot-button topics, including affirmative action, liberal arts education, diversity, corporate bailouts, President Obama, and the conflicts in the Middle East. His success in tackling said subjects varies — some are well thought out, others are mind-boggling in terms of the conclusions he comes to. For example, his criticism of the hyperspecific postgraduate programs that mold students into people having little to offer society is astute. When he then goes on to use that to pinpoint the cause of school shootings, it makes blaming Marilyn Manson and KMFDM perfectly reasonable by comparison.

Mamet's musings on the fallacies of Marxism, the partisan hypocrisy of feminism, and the poisonously politically correct atmosphere on college campuses are cathartic. Unfortunately, the problem with The Secret Knowledge stems from Mamet's vocation as a dramatist. The conflict between the left and the right is obviously appealing in this regard and makes for an entertaining read. But Mamet misses the nuance inherent in good drama: The only people he's not going to immediately put off are the ones who already concur.

I agree with many of the sentiments Mamet puts forward, but his presentation, while more reasonable when compared to the Ann Coulters of the world, is too broad to provide the proper food for thought for anyone who doesn't share his positions, which is a shame given the diverse audience his name attracts. — Hunter Duesing

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

By Erik Larson

Crown, 464 pp., $26

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed William E. Dodd, an unassuming, scholarly professor from Chicago, to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany. Dodd was a dry, frugal fellow, not the high-living, wealthy type who typically got the plum ambassadorial posts in those days. But he saw the assignment as an honor and accepted the post despite some misgivings.

A devoted family man, Dodd managed to convince his adult children to join him in the move to Berlin. In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson (author of the best-selling The Devil in the White City), is a novelistic telling of Hitler's rise to power as it was observed by Dodd and his daughter, Martha.

Martha, to put it mildly, was a free spirit. She had multiple affairs, including one with the married head of the German police and another with a Russian spy -- to name but two. Her escapades were a trial for her father and something of an embarrassment for the ambassadorial corps, but they give In the Garden of Beasts a compellingly human perspective on the Third Reich -- in the bed of beasts, as it were.

The Dodds entertained frequently. Nazi officials were often in the ambassador's residence, dining and drinking and socializing by night while steadily and methodically removing the rights of Germany's Jews by day. As Hitler began solidifying his power, excising his enemies one by one, Dodd filed reports to Roosevelt on the troubling developments in Germany. But little was done. The thinking was that Hitler would not succeed to power, that the Germans would not allow it. As history has shown, they were tragically wrong.

It's been said that evil arises when good men do nothing. Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of In the Garden of Beasts is Larson's depiction of the resigned reaction of the German citizenry to the gradual dehumanization of the Jews -- each new abuse seen as "temporary" or something to be tolerated until a change occured in the country's political structure. The "banality of evil" has seldom been more effectively chronicled. -- Bruce VanWyngarden

The Soldier's Wife

By Margaret Leroy

Voice/Hyperion, 416 pp., $14.99 (paper)

Vivienne de la Mare lives on the Channel Island of Guernsey with her mother-in-law and two daughters. It's early in the Second World War, and Vivienne's faithless husband has left to serve in the British army.

For a time, the women carry on as usual. But the day comes when Vivienne must choose to evacuate the island or risk falling under Nazi occupation. After much thought and an aborted attempt to board a ship for England, Vivienne decides to remain. The Germans bomb Guernsey's harbor a short time later. Food shortages and curfews follow close behind.

To Vivienne's dismay, a group of Nazi officers requisitions the vacant house next door. But one evening, she lets down her guard to share a cigarette with one of the men: Capt. Gunther Lehmann from Berlin. Vivienne tries to resist Gunther's many kindnesses, but she comes to realize that underneath the German uniform is a gentle soul who longs for peace.

For the next three years, Vivienne and Gunther, also married, conduct a secret love affair while Vivienne is drawn deeper into efforts to help a half-starved fugitive of the nearby work camps. By this point, Vivienne has perfected the art of secrecy, but a squadron of Nazis almost discovers the refugee in her attic. The man is eventually killed in her backyard, and despite her love for Gunther, Vivienne suspects he is responsible for reporting her to the Gestapo. What happens next is the stuff of tragedy — and enduring love.

A book about the indignities of war, Margaret Leroy's The Soldier's Wife also is a beautifully rendered historical romance exploring moral ambiguity, personal sacrifice, and the things that matter most in life. It's difficult to put down. — Lindsay Jones

The Hypnotist

By Lars Kepler; translated by Ann Long

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 503 pp., $27

Lars Kepler is the pen name of a couple who live in Sweden. The Hypnotist was published there in 2009 and was distributed throughout Europe to great acclaim. The English translation is now available in America, and it is being compared to the work of Stieg Larsson.

When The Hypnotist opens, a young girl and her parents have been murdered and dismembered, and a teenage son is hospitalized with multiple stab wounds. Inspector Joona Linna insists that Dr. Erik Maria Berk can help save the fourth family member, a college student living outside the home, by plumbing the comatose boy's consciousness through hypnosis for information about the attack.

The drug-ridden doctor reluctantly breaks his 10-year moratorium on hypnosis, and the killer is identified. Then the doctor's wife is attacked, and his son disappears. Joona Linna feels obligated to find the medically challenged boy even though he does not know how, or if, the two crimes are related.

With one major exception, The Hypnotist is divided into short chapters designated by day, date, and approximate time, resulting in a cross-hatch effect that mimics the relationships among characters, actions, and motives. As in traditional noir, broad landscapes are sacrificed in favor of attention to detail. Thus, American readers will note that in Scandinavia one is divested of shoes immediately upon entering a room, without being made especially aware of the décor or the surrounding neighborhood.

In terms of human nature, though, it is altogether clear that cultural differences do not apply. Everywhere, it seems, familial ties can be equally binding and liberating.

Linda Baker

Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror

By Jason Zinoman

Penguin Press, 274 pp., $25.95

Billy Graham reportedly claimed that a demon dwelt within the celluloid frames of The Exorcist, which served as both a warning to his congregation about the evils of horror movies and a ringing endorsement of the controversial film. In his new book Shock Value, a fascinating history of the New Horror movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, New York Times theater critic Jason Zinoman explores just how William Friedkin and other directors revolutionized the horror genre by grounding scares in real-life settings and entertaining-enough narrative ambiguity to make their movies more potent than the castle-bound scares of previous decades.

The era is often celebrated for such filmmakers as Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese, so Zinoman's well-researched and soberly argued book offers a nice corrective, suggesting that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Alien had as profound an effect on audiences as Jaws and Taxi Driver (both of which are grounded in horror).

Shock Value focuses on the major films and the men behind them, including Rosemary's Baby and Halloween, yet the most fascinating chapters are on lesser-known artists and movies. The strained relationship between John Carpenter and screenwriter Dan O'Bannon could be a poignant memoir by itself, and Zinoman lobbies persuasively for Peter Bogdanovich's Targets as a lost classic of the genre.

The book traces a number of motivating ideas as they were debated onscreen and off: the blurring of fantasy and reality, the horror of killers with no motivation, even the moral implications of watching someone die on film. Zinoman's purpose is to complicate our understanding of these films, and he handily punctures received wisdom and easy interpretations, especially regarding Brian De Palma's relationship to Hitchcock. Shock Value presents these gory, scary movies not as easily digested genre flicks but as complex works of art that continue to disturb us so many years and knockoffs later. — Stephen Deusner

Ladies and Gentlemen

By Adam Ross

Knopf, 241 pp., $25.95

Last year, Adam Ross, who once wrote for the Nashville Scene on that city's major oddballs, made his literary debut with an attention-grabbing novel called Mr. Peanut. In that story, a husband named Pepin fantasizes about his wife's death, then becomes the prime suspect in his wife's death after she swallows a killer mouthful of peanuts. ("Killer" because she's very allergic to them.) The book also starred Dr. Sam Sheppard, the Ohio osteopath convicted then exonerated of his wife's murder in the 1950s, and a midget named Mobius, who may or may not have been hired by Pepin to do his wife in. The novel had a big number of narrative tricks up its sleeve, but the subject was serious: marriage — aka mission, from the looks of it, impossible.

Ross now has a book of short stories — seven in all — called Ladies and Gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen?

In the opening story, "Futures," a 43-year-old named David Applelow gets royally shafted when the truth about a job he's interviewing for comes to (less than believable) light. More believably: The worthless 19-year-old that Applelow befriends proves to be not exactly worthless. He's worth every penny of the money he steals from Applelow's scant savings. Elsewhere:

In "The Suicide Room," a stoned college boy slips on a gargoyle and falls to his nine-story death outside his dorm building (when the story's narrator could have easily prevented it). In "The Rest of It," an English professor — who's dreamed of shooting his ex-wife and her new husband — must come to a decision: report or do not report to the police his knowledge of the whereabouts of an ex-con who shot his wife. And in "In the Basement," a married couple have to admit it: They're in better shape than their friends Nicholas (eight years a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy) and Maria (an overworked doctor and pregnant); they're in much better shape than Lisa, who was reportedly brilliant in college, but she's a neurotic mess by the time she marries an Israeli investment banker; and they're positively shipshape compared to the poor German shepherd Lisa keeps locked in a cage in the dimly lit basement of her lovely San Francisco home. Why the cage? Because the dog is, in Lisa's words, out of control.

Way out of control: a drug-addled jerk named Kevin in "When in Rome," who has his own brother mugged and bloodied on a New York street. Why? So Kevin can have a witness to the theft, by the mugger, of the money Kevin has just skimmed from the restaurant where he works — money that the head manager of that restaurant routinely skims. But tonight it's all Kevin's and his on-and-off-again girlfriend's — with a share going to the mugger, who's also a busboy at the restaurant. Capiche?

Less out of control: a 13-year-old's infatuation with the snotty, beautiful older sister of a friend in the kindest story in this bunch of stories, "Middleman" (except that that girl turns out to be an ingrate), and, in a story titled "Ladies and Gentlemen," an unhappily married woman who does indeed stop to think before engaging in an extramarital affair. Will she or won't she? She doesn't know. I don't know. Two-hundred-plus pages spent with the characters in Ladies and Gentlemen, and I was ready to bail. But not before agreeing that, yes, this author does indeed have an excellent eye and ear for the unladylike and ungentlemanly and a good handle on the ways some of us (a lot of us?) live now. — Leonard Gill

Adam Ross will be in Memphis to read from and sign Ladies and Gentlemen at the Booksellers at Laurelwood on Monday, July 11th, at 6 p.m.

Johnny Cash's American Recordings

By Tony Tost

Continuum, 224 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Johnny Cash was the man in black for better and for worse. The image he cultivated, intentionally or not, took on a life of its own, enhancing the myth while trivializing Cash's actual achievements.

In poet Tony Tost's close reading of Cash's 1994 comeback album, American Recordings, written for the increasingly spotty 33 1/3 series from Continuum publishing, Tost has dressed the mean-eyed cat from Arkansas in an unfamiliar color, wrapping him in prose so purple that Cash could be mistaken for a pimp.

Tost's primary assumption -- that myth-busting is a big ol' bore -- is as demonstrably false as his second assumption -- that Cash (man or the myth) requires poetic affirmation. What results is a rambling narrative built on scholarship that wouldn't fill a shot glass. In the absence of any real criticism, useful history, and new information or insight, all that's left is spooge-coated Cash porn. And like its naughty counterpart, the images provided are predictable and faintly ridiculous.

Tost's meditation on "Delia's Gone," a song fed by sweat, piss, jizz, and blood -- and where Death steps in to take on the role of Ovid -- is as overlong as it is over the top. Cash's wonderfully grotesque take on a classic murder ballad torn from the headlines is placed in a false context and treated as something deeply and uniquely American. It's as if the Louvin Brothers' equally brutal "Knoxville Girl" hadn't been passed from songster to songster since 1684, when it was first reported that Francis Cooper, a miller by trade, butchered Anne Nichols in England because she was pregnant with his child. Tost makes himself look big by slamming a feminist's complaint that "Delia's Gone" is part of a damnable lineage of woman-hating songs that allow listeners to participate in a ritual misogyny without being held accountable for it. In Tost's opinion, the song transcends the literal and channels forces grander than the possession of any earthly self.

And all this time I thought murder songs -- like scary movies -- were about speeding up the process of sexual consent by creating an atmosphere of fear and urgency. Who knew?

Tost doesn't think literal details are very interesting or relevant, and he says as much before introducing Memphis as a place that stands for a sound -- not only the echoing sounds of Elvis Presley's rockabilly yelp meeting Scotty Moore's electric strut and Bill Black's slapping bass, or Jerry Lee Lewis' pumping piano and cruel magnificence, or Al Green's Holy Ghost-chasing falsetto, or B.B. King's greasy digits wrenching notes of blue and wonder from his Lucille, or the famous boom-chicka-boom of Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two but what all these sounds, in unison, offer: the potential for lonesome weirdos to step out of the shadows and into a kind of redemption.

We might label that sound as being, in miniature, the American Dream itself, Tost writes. Or just a decent way to kill some time. And so it goes for 200 or so pages. -- Chris Davis

1, 2, 3 Sew

By Ellen Luckett Baker

Chronicle Books, 168 pp., $24.95

An outgrowth of Ellen Baker's blog at thelongthread.com, 1, 2, 3 Sew is a manual for beginning to intermediate sewers. Thirty-three projects, divided into groups of three, are presented so that new skills are reused and incorporated into increasingly complex items. For example, from hot pads one progresses to coasters and placemats. Personal items, such as organizers and handbags, as well as infants' and children's clothes and playthings, are included.

The book is printed on wire-bound card stock to withstand the repeated thumbing it will no doubt receive. Each step is meticulously illustrated by the author, and finished products are tantalizingly photographed by Laura Malek. The index, glossary, run-through of basic embroidery stitches, and project patterns make the book especially useful.

1, 2, 3 Sew could be called a triple threat. It would make a colorful addition to one's personal library or a gift to a fellow crafter. Better yet, drag out those fabrics that called to you from the remnant table and start fashioning homemade surprises for everyone on your gift list. — Linda Baker (full disclosure: Ellen Baker is married to Justin, son of the Flyer's political editor, Jackson Baker)

Take It Slow

Gardening in the Mid-South without Felder Rushing seems not only impossible but boring. As quirky as he is experienced, Rushing is a much-loved columnist and lecturer who believes gardening is about bliss and whimsy. His new book combines both under the title Slow Gardening: A No-Stress Philosophy for All Senses and Seasons (Chelsea Green Publishing). Taking a cue from the slow-food movement, Rushing encourages gardeners to ease up on themselves and the environment. In other words, slow gardening is good for you and the planet. This philosophy percolates through Slow Gardening like an easy spring rain. In six chapters on such topics as psychology, landscaping, plants, and practices, Rushing offers advice, photos, and a sustainable spin on America's favorite hobby, which might make you head for the hammock instead of the hoe. — Pamela Denney

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