10 books you should read in November, including Steve Martin's Number One Is Walking and Bob Dylan's Philosoph – The A.V. Club

10 books you should read in November, including Steve Martin's Number One Is Walking and Bob Dylan's Philosoph – The A.V. Club

November brings a wave of new book titles arriving in just in time for the holiday shopping season. The A.V. Club has sorted through the best of these options to highlight 10 books we’re most excited about, including an illustrated memoir from comedy legend and Only Murders In The Building star Steve Martin, a photographic trip down memory lane with Weird Al Yankovic, and the illuminating thoughts of Bob Dylan as he analyzes over 60 songs from other artists such as Elvis Costello, Nina Simone, Cher, and Hank Williams.
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The hero of Percival Everett’s latest novel is Wala Kitu, a young professor with a deep expertise in nothing—the total absence of anything, not the concept of zero. With his one-legged bulldog as his best friend and dream guide, Kitu is recruited (that is to say, given a large grant) by billionaire budding Bond-villain wannabe John Milton Bradley Sill. Holding a grudge against America, Sill aims to weaponize “nothing” against it. As Kitu is a mathematician, a formula feels appropriate: madap globe-trotting adventure plus academic satire plus absurdist philosophical farce equals the excellent and unpredictable Dr. No. There’s a lot to love in this book about nothing.
3 / 12
Erika T. Wurth’s satisfying debut novel combines native lore with horror for a steady stream of spooky chills. A headstrong headbanger with a deep love for all things metal and Mustaine, urban Indian Kari James is coasting in her mid-30s in Denver, seemingly content to only dream about buying her favorite bar, the White Horse, and to bury her pain and anger over past losses. But when her cousin drops off a family heirloom—a hammered-copper bracelet covered in potent symbols—Kari’s reality suddenly shifts. Disturbing visions of her mother, who she thought abandoned her as a baby, and terrifying glimpses of a flesh-hungry monster drive Kari to search for the truth behind her mom’s disappearance, confronting her family’s past and her own future.
4 / 12
Bob Dylan devotees, delight: The borrowing bard of American music is back with a new book, this time turning the spotlight on other artists in The Philosophy Of Modern Song. Across 66 brief chapters, each dedicated to a different song, Dylan offers his thoughts on music and much more. Many chapters open with Dylan imagining the world of the song and its narrator before delving into the tune or artist at hand. Chosen songs range from well known (“Viva Las Vegas” and “War”) to relatively unknown (“Doesn’t Hurt Anymore,” a spoken word piece by John Trudell), but most were released in the ’50s and ’60s, giving the lie to the title’s “modern.” You won’t hit a song performed by a woman until chapter 47 (Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”), and forget about hip-hop or rap, but every chapter is a window into Dylan’s free-associating thought process, a kind of discursive puddle-jumping that can be illuminating.
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Tasmanian comic creator Simon Hanselmann is back with more Megg-nificent tales at the intersection of humanity and depravity in the softcover, hardcore Below Ambition. Saddle up for seven stories of Horse Mania, the trashcore performance-art-slash-anti-band band consisting of Megg, a horny green witch, and Werewolf Jones, a hard-partying humanoid werewolf, as they practice, tour, and harass others. (Superfans may recognize some of the content from a limited-run 2020 black-and-white zine of the same name.) Some may find Horse Mania’s drunken behavior and noxious lyrics offensive, but demolishing boundaries and norms in the name of art just might be the point. Included with the book is a flexidisc recording of a Horse Mania single. Hanselmann, who conquered Instagram with his Crisis Zone strip during the first year of the pandemic, recently brought Megg and crew to life via animation in “Devil’s Night,” a short segment featured on Hulu’s The Paloni Show Halloween Special.
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Let’s get the sour part of The Lemon out of the way: The opening death of John Doe—beloved bad boy and host of a food-and-travel show who dies abroad in a boutique hotel, having hanged himself with his belt—owes much to Anthony Bourdain. But the outrageous comedic tale that follows, as Doe’s best friend and agent race to shape and protect the narrative of his demise, produces enough laughs to erase any lingering bad taste. A satirizing send-up of crisis control, celebrity chefs, and reputation management, the novel is populated by characters hoping to profit off Doe’s brand, from the clickbait-crafting bottom-feeder for whom truth is no object to the deluded has-been chef tapping his Gen Z hookup for social media tips. Author S.E. Boyd is the pen name of a trio of editorial types (two journalists and an editor) who clearly know how the sausage is made in the world of culinary celebrity.
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This sly and sharp-edged collection by A.J. Bermudez doesn’t let you rest, insisting on your attention across 20 eclectic short stories. Anchoring the book is the exceptional “The Real India,” in which the assistant to a clueless wealthy artist must not only supply her boss with basic cultural guidance but also validate her iffy decision-making. Issues of class and status collide with questions of artistry and authenticity; “plastic outlives oak,” the assistant thinks, defeatedly. Motifs revolving around identity, privilege, and the power of words pop up in many of the stories. Bermudez deploys language with precision and panache (keep a dictionary handy) and is the kind of author whose work you want to devour. The collection won this year’s Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Anthony Marra declared it “absolutely brilliant”—high and well-earned praise.
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With Weird Al Yankovic’s ongoing tour and upcoming self-spoofing film, and now this follow-up to Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz’s 2020 Black & White & Weird All Over photobook, you have to wonder—have we hit peak Weird? One hopes not; the world wants the weird. Longtime drummer and band archivist Bermuda is back with a color counterpart to Black & White, having whittled down the thousands of 35mm images he took over 25 years to just the few hundred shared here. Chapters, organized chronologically by album and tour, open with short contextualizing intros peppered with behind-the-scenes memories (the one touring rule: “no number two” allowed on the bus!), followed by images of Al on tour, on set, on stage, backstage, and just generally hamming it up. The book, with a short foreword by Drew Carey and a micro-mini afterword by Weird Al himself, is forgivably light on captions and wonderfully heavy on outlandish short-sleeve fashion choices. As the pages turn, you see the band grow into a national sensation, the sets and costumes becoming more elaborate, the venues larger. Alas, the trip down memory lane ends in 2006, when Bermuda fully switched over to shooting digital. Perhaps that means a third volume, one of digital selections, is in fans’ future?
Another musician’s photo book well worth checking out this month: Patti Smith’s A Book of Days (November 15, Bloomsbury).
9 / 12
Steve Martin has written plenty—stand-up routines, screenplays, plays, novellas, essays, a novel, kids’ books, cartoons and even a memoir—but never a cartoon memoir, until now. The first 90 or so pages of Number One Is Walking covers the long arc of Martin’s film career, from his decision to transition out of stand-up and into movies to the point, more than 40 films later, when he decides to pull back and focus on other work. The short anecdotes and reminiscences, rendered beautifully in comics form by artist Harry Bliss (Martin’s cartoon-collection collaborator on 2020’s A Wealth of Pigeons), are warm, funny, and smart, heavy on celebrity encounters (Carl Reiner, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Paul McCartney, and Martin Short, to name a few) and brief vignettes about writing or being on set of movies like The Three Amigos, Roxanne, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The longer, latter portion of the book switches focus off Martin as a subject and consists of Bliss-Martin cartoons, mostly single-panel fare, Pigeon style, that would be right at home in the New Yorker (where Bliss regularly contributes cover art and cartoons).
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Have there ever been more upbeat accountants of awfulness than comedian Amber Ruffin and writer Lacey Lamar? In 2021 the sisters from Omaha, Nebraska, came out with You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism, detailing their ridiculous run-ins with racists. The World Record Book of Racist Stories widens the sources to also include the broader Ruffin family—mom, dad, brother and two other sisters—plus a state senator, friends, and even a few stories from white pals for wild contrast. Ruffin, accustomed to turning tough material into humorous packages in segments on her own show (“How Did We Get Here?”) and on Late Night With Seth Meyers (“Amber’s Minute of Fury,” “Jokes Seth Can’t Tell”), and Lamar, accustomed to existing while Black in Omaha, come to the project with skill sets that allow them to recount more than 200 pages of racist tales without ever sounding preachy or sanctimonious. In fact, they stay funny, dishing out awards like “Most Angry About My Hair” and “Most Frugal Racist” (actually a tie) and asking white readers to take the “Hands-Outta-Your-Hair-Oath,” a pledge to keep your dang hands to yourself no matter what. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hope that somehow there won’t be enough material for a third book.
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Filipino American journalist Maria Ressa, winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, wears a bulletproof vest to work. A former CNN correspondent and the cofounder of Filipino news site Rappler, she tells truth to power—a dangerous proposition when doing so endangers your life and livelihood—and sounds the alarm early about the threat of disinformation via social networks. Having angered President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration through her site’s reporting, Ressa became the target of government harassment and multiple legal battles; eventually her case was taken on by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney (who also penned the memoir’s intro). How To Stand Up To A Dictator covers Ressa’s fascinating life, from her early childhood in the Philippines to moving to the States and then back to the Philippines, where her devotion to the pursuit of good journalism (not “balanced” journalism, she says—a blind commitment to objectivity can be the “coward’s way out”) matured. The book’s narrative ends in late spring of this year, but Ressa’s story continues, as she stubbornly fights for democracy and a free press.
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