You Should Read: BYT Book Picks For July 2013
BYT Staff | Jul 5, 2013 | 11:30AM |

Spend this Independence Day weekend reading. It’s what the Founding Fathers would do. We can’t prove that, but we do know it’s what John Waters is doing, and he’s cool with us.


Learn about the Battle of Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, examine the disrespected cultural impact of Insane Clown Posse and Phish, read about guys on ice while sitting by the pool, catch up with Erik Larson’s latest, find out why you shouldn’t marry a guy that beheads, try not to go mad, use only your eyes to learn about the Man of Steel, page through a book about boards and expose yourself to modern American and Japanese classics.

Recommendation By Erik Lofton

He also drew this because he’s talented.

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Paul Zerdin WINNER of Americas Got Talent Live at Arlington Drafthouse @ Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse
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“Technically immaculate, it’s what he does with his slick talent that really sets him apart. His relationship with the characters has all the dramatic tension of a real life double act” – The Guardian Paul Zerdin has helped make ventriloquism cool again. From the Royal Variety Performance to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to India’s comedy circuit, Montreal’s Just For Laughs and UK tours with his Sponge Fest show and forthcoming Puppet Master tour. Paul’s fresh twist on this traditional comedy art has impressed everyone from Her Majesty the Queen onwards. “It is Zerdin’s sharp script that is the heartbeat of the show” – The Times Crucially, Paul Zerdin appeals to both comedy club and mainstream audiences in equal measure. The UK’s number one ventriloquist’s career has included appearances on everything from the Royal Variety Performance, Paramount and Comedy Central’s, The World Stands Up to ITV Daybreak, BBC TV’s The One Show, Sky News and Jason Manford’s Comedy Rocks. **** "Pure audience gratifying magic” – Time Out With Paul’s winning combination of technical skill, hilarious ventriloquism, charm and impeccable comic timing, Paul Zerdin’s live shows see him bring to life several very different characters amongst whom are the cheeky pre-adolescent Sam, belligerent OAP Albert and precocious infant Baby and in 2012 on his Puppet Master live tour, Paul will be introducing a new character! “I see myself as a one man Muppet sitcom, reining the characters in” commented Zerdin. “The old man has a thing for the ladies and so does Sam who is about to become a teen and knows naughty words. Between the two of them they lead the baby astray and the baby, of course, wants to know everything. I think it is important to have characters that people can relate to rather than, say, talking sheep which are less believable”. Simply put, Zerdin is the man who can make ventriloquism look cool” – The Stage Zerdin, who got the ‘biggest laugh of the night’ at the Royal Variety Performance in 2009, according to audience members, also went on to get 5 star reviews at that year’s Edinburgh Festival. Paul returned to Edinburgh to sold-out houses in 2010 and made his debut at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival that year before embarking on a major UK tour with Sponge Fest in 2010/2011. That Paul Zerdin should make his career in show business is not entirely unexpected “my mother was a BBC Radio 2 presenter and my father worked for the BBC World Service, so my sister and I spent a lot of time in the studios”, he reveals. When Paul was 10, a family friend made him a puppet theatre which he used to put on shows. As he is the first to admit, his hobby quickly grew into an obsession. “The real turning point was when I was given a book on ventriloquism by the legendary Ray Alan. By the time I hit my teens I was spending half an hour a day in front of the mirror practising talking without moving my lips.” Having failed his GCSE’s in spectacular style, Zerdin got a job in a magic shop, developing his magic skills along the way. Simultaneously, he was also developing a sideline as a children’s entertainer. “Compared to my friends and their measly paper rounds, I was raking it in!” he laughs. Zerdin made his TV debut as a magician on the BBC’s Tricky Business and shortly afterwards, at the age of just 20, landed a two year contract presenting the Disney produced kids’ programme Rise and Shine for GMTV. In 1996, Paul was the first outright winner – by over 100,000 votes of LWT’s The Big Big Talent Show, hosted by Jonathan Ross. The experience not only raised his profile, but introduced him to Nigel Lythgoe, the man who would go on to create reality shows such as Popstars and American Idol. Lythgoe took the 22 year old Paul under his wing, paving the way for appearances on scores of shows, Tonight at the London Palladium, and Generation Game among them. It was Nigel who gave Paul his first brush with Royalty when he secured him a spot on the Prince’s Trust Gala Show in 1997. “That was a totally surreal experience”, he laughs. “I was sharing a dressing room with Julian Clary, Alan Davies and Frank Bruno with The Spice Girls next door”. By the late nineties it was obvious that traditional variety shows were losing their appeal and it was then that Zerdin decided to introduce stand-up into his routine, a decision that has paid off handsomely. From Ray Alan through to Keith Harris, ventriloquists have been a staple of UK entertainment for years, but it has taken Paul Zerdin to bring his mix of stand-up and ventriloquism to the forefront of contemporary entertainment to truly put ventriloquism on the comedy map.
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“Gettysburg: The Final Fury”
By Bruce Catton

If you’re looking for the perfect pool companion than look no further! “Gettysburg: The Final Fury” by Bruce Catton clocks in around 100 pages and can serve as the perfect guide for this weekends 150th Anniversary of America’s bloodiest battle. Enjoy reading about the devastation at Devil’s Den while sipping on your mojito. Adjust your tube top while learning the battle tactics of the newly appointed General Meade on his first test as the Union Commander. Or simply find solidarity with the Confederate soldiers who also ate nothing on their long march to a messy 4th of July weekend.

Recommendations By Brandon Wetherbee

“You Don’t Know Me but You Don’t Like Me: Phish, Insane Clown Posse, and My Misadventures with Two of Music’s Most Maligned Tribes”
By Nathan Rabin

Rabin has been chronicling both of these subcultures in the pages of The A.V. Club for the last few years. Devoted readers have grown more and more fascinated with the legions of face-painted children of all-ages screaming “Whoop! Whoop!” at the Gathering of the Juggalos and the kind of folks that would buy a homemade burrito in the Phish parking Lot.

Rabin writes about Phish and Insane Clown Posse with respect. This should be the norm, but it isn’t. Most of us classify these veteran acts without ever trying to understand what makes them an appealing lifestyle option for hundreds of thousands of people. Rabin is the first to examine why this is with the same open mind given to artists like Radiohead and Wilco.

I began this book with hopes that I could enjoy each chapter over the course of a week or two. This did not happen. I attacked it like Violent J attacks Faygo, with love and unquenchable thirst for more, more, more. I recommend you do the same.

“The Greatest Hockey Stories Ever Told: The Finest Writers on Ice”
By Bryant Urstadt (Editor)

I’m suffering from Chicago Blackhawks withdrawal and watching old games is weird, so I’m enjoying this compilation of hockey journalism. If you’re not interested in learning about the intricacies of guys playing on frozen ponds, at least consider reading The Paris Review editor George Plimpton’s excerpt about playing goalie for the Boston Bruins.

Recommendation by Stephanie Breijo

“In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin”
By Erik Larson

While I’m sure you’re all luxuriating in post-BBQ bliss (or you’re sunburnt to the point of never wanting to move again), sometimes it’s fun to dedicate time to this great nation of ours not with patriotic blowouts (USA! USA!) but by delving back into the annals of history, especially the rough ones. Particularly the rough ones. Interesting are the lessons shedding light on the stickiest, the messiest, the most god-awful actions of man throughout history and no one does this with the class or literary finesse of Erik Larson, whose latest places you smack dab in the center of Hitler’s Berlin.

Pulled only from historical documents, private letters and news accounts surrounding World War II, Larson pieces together the experience of the Dodds, America’s ambassador (and family) in Berlin just before the start of the war through 1937. Not only are you a fly on the wall for carefully worded conversations with Hitler–you see the quiet and terrifyingly hidden attacks on Jews mature into the full-blown assassination of Germany’s SA, the Third Reich’s climb to power and, eventually, the Holocaust. (Plus, as I just learned, it’s rumored for film adaptation starring Tom Hanks as Dodd, the unlikely professor-ambassador, and Natalie Portman, Dodd’s galavanting and flirtatious daughter. So, you know, that’s a thing.)

Recommendations by Jenn Tisdale

“Henry VIII: The King and His Court”
By Alison Weir

In the summer of 1994 I was 14 and penniless, which is pretty standard. I was fairly limited in my choices. Thankfully one place was hiring: The Maryland Renaissance Festival.  Of course they were, kids were working before they could walk in the 16th century and the RenFest was just trying to remain as historically accurate as possible. Thus began an ongoing love affair with Henry VIII and all the delightfully mad things he did during his reign.  Naturally much has been written about Mr. The VIII, and I’ve read it all. My most recent conquest was “Henry VIII: The King and His Court.” It’s hard to imagine one can make any new discoveries about good ol’ Hank but he was a multi-dimensional beheading machine with much ado about monarchy. This book, however, focuses on Henry the man and his day to day life in his court.  The picture of Henry we all know and love is of an obese man with a permanent scowl. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He was incredibly neat, bordering on OCD, and was considered one of the most attractive kings of his time. He was extremely intelligent and placed great emphasis on languages and the arts (paving the way for his daughter, Elizabeth I).  If you want to get a glimpse into the man behind the murder then this book is for you. And could it be a timely read, what with the 4th of July.  Henry VIII was the first monarch to obtain a divorce from his wife, and what’s more American than divorce?

henry viii

“The Madness of Mary Lincoln”
By Jason Emerson

Fun family fact about me: my mom’s last name is Deringer. If you’re not immediately familiar with that name allow me to enlighten you. On April 14, 1865 John Wilkes Booth snuck into The President’s Box of Ford’s Theatre and shot Abraham Lincoln in the back of his head using a Deringer Pistol.  My family invented the gun that was used to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Because of that bizarre tie to the death of this country’s most influential president I am forever linked to Abraham Lincoln and consequently the Lincoln family. This prompted me to begin obsessively reading books about Abraham Lincoln, The Civil War and most recently a book about his wife entitled “The Madness of Mary Lincoln.” In Mary’s defense she suffered much in life, including the death of 3 sons and of course her husband. She was already made of a somewhat weak constitution when she met Abraham Lincoln, this only added insult to injury. After Lincoln’s death she was committed to a psychiatric hospital by her son Robert where she penned several letters to her legal advisers. Turns out Mary was suffering from bipolar disorder, according to the diagnosis of several of today’s psychiatrists after viewing the letters. What tipped them off? Was it her suicide attempt or her plot to murder her own son? This book is fascinating and offers a glimpse into the mad world that was Mary Todd Lincoln.

Recommendations by Jeff Spross

“Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Superhero”
By Larry Tye

“Superman: The Unauthorized Biography”
By Glen Weldon

I’ve never been a huge Superman fan — Batman’s darkness and angst is more my speed — but the previews for “Man of Steel” got me sufficiently inspired that I decided to go out and educate myself about the character. “Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Superhero” by Larry Tye, and “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography” by Glen Weldon, both attempt the same thing: take the reader through the full sweep of the character’s pop culture history in a few hundred pages. Tye’s book succumbs to the “this happened, then this happened, then this happened” episodic plod that any such project is prey to. But Weldon’s historical tour manages to overcome that burden with a combination snappy pacing and intelligent — if sometimes too clever for its own good — writing.

If you want all the details, you could do both books, as each covers nuances and forgotten corners the other misses. But Weldon hits the big stuff: the character’s creation by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, a pair of awkward Jewish high school kids in 1930s Cleveland; their fateful sell-off of the intellectual rights to DC comics; the myriad forms and iterations Superman went through, for both good and ill, in response to various social forces; the byzantine storylines that emerged as American comics rose to be a full-blown cultural empire and fleshed out their ecology; and finally the TV shows and Superman’s torturous journey through cinema.

What I’d really like to see is a Superman book that’s willing to cover the history less thoroughly, and instead focus on fleshing out a fuller thesis on the character’s moral and artistic role in American culture. But Weldon gets in some hints of that bigger ambition, and keys in on what endears us to Superman: he is power uncorrupted. We wish to be him because his amazing capabilities stave off injury, fear and death. But we recoil from him because we know such powers turn human beings into monsters. But not Superman. By all rights he should be the ultimate bratty trust-fund kid. Yet he remains not just stubbornly square and heroic, but stubbornly decent. He can’t redeem creation, but he can save of us from a lot of its worst flaws. So the way Christian iconography has dogged the character from the beginning is understandable. Superman is essentially a mini-messiah. “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography” is a nice reminder of just how long he’s had our backs.


Recommendation by Brandon Weight

“Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow”
By Jamie Brisick

Remember bringing a stack of Transworld Skateboarding mags on each long road trip as a kid? For those who still dream of a pilgrimage to El Toro, “Have Board, Will Travel” clocks in with 208 coffee table book-sized pages about the beginnings of board sports. Starting with surfing in Hawaii in the late 1700’s, the book continues into skateboarding and snowboarding and the culture, art and music that came with it. Strung together like a series of anecdotes, it’s easy to jump from stories about the legendary Duke Kahanamoku to scans of VCJ’s famous Powell-Peralta board designs. Longboard for beach cruising not included, but highly recommended.

Recommendations by Mary Beth McAndrews

By Alan Moore
If you don’t particularly like graphic novels, let this be the only one you read. It’s not your average comic book. It has vigilantes, nuclear bombs, a squid monster, and a blue naked man. Anything you could ever want in a graphic novel, really. The story follows six aging ex-vigilantes who are struggling in an alternative 1980s universe where Nixon is still president and the US is on the verge of nuclear war. That doesn’t even skim the surface of the story, but I don’t want to give anything away. You probably know Zack Snyder’s 2009 adaptation, but trust me, you want to read the graphic novel (that’s what everyone says).

By Haruki Murakami
Cerebral Japanese fiction about dystopian society, how could you go wrong? Murakami is known for his bizarre fiction that bends reality and this giant novel is no exception. Think of it as a modern Japanese version of George Orwell’s “1984.” It starts out with the female protagonist realizing that something is not quite right in this reality while the male protagonist struggles with a strange ghost writing project. These two story lines seem unrelated but be patient with it; they eventually begin to intertwine and it’s fantastic.