Arts & Entertainment

Summer reading: Quirky and unusual

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Agonizing Love

The Golden Era of Romance Comics

Michael Barson

Harper Design: $29.99

Forget Spider-Man or the X-Men. Instead, with "Agonizing Love," dip into the adventures of a young lady confronted with the horrible creature known as "Mother's Boy"! Or listen to the inner probings of an anguished woman, at her husband's hospital bedside, asking the burning question, "Was I a wicked wife?" Michael Barson has selected excerpts from the love comics genre that thrived from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. It was a wildly successful genre, although, as Barson points out, it declined after "publishers sowed the seeds of their own undoing, glutting the market to the point where even the assembled legions of female comic-book readers couldn't keep all of these love publications afloat." Barson's book offers a rich, overlooked angle on the comics industry. Here you'll find stories that usually (but not always) reach for that best of all romantic endings: "No words were necessary in that wonderful, breathless moment …our kiss said more than a thousand words!"

The Art of Roughhousing

Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It

Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen

Quirk Books: $14.95

50 Dangerous Things

(You Should Let Your Children Do)

Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler

New American Library: $18

The idea behind these two books — that a good childhood involves some healthy, sometimes reckless play — isn't what's quirky: The diagrams are! Want to know the proper position for launching your son like a human cannonball? This falls under the "hard" category in the levels of difficulty and requires a crucial item, as illustrated by a diagram: a mattress. The last thing you want is for your 6-year-old to do a face-plant on the family room floor. These two books are fun, worthy successors to the bestsellers "The Dangerous Book for Boys" and "The Daring Book for Girls."

The Good Book

A Humanist Bible

A.C. Grayling

Walker & Co.: $35

If you're seeking reading of the more meditative sort, British philosopher A.C. Grayling has drawn on a variety of world traditions to create the prose of "The Good Book." The book is formatted to resemble the traditional categories in the Bible — sections are titled, for instance, "Genesis," "Parables," "Songs," "Epistles." The similarity, however, ends there. In a section titled "Histories," "offered to preserve remembrance of what mankind has experienced," Grayling draws mostly on ancient Greek and Roman chroniclers; the section "Songs" (passages are drawn from Chinese and Persian poetry) celebrates divinity as we find it in each other: "Do I love you for the fine soft waves of hair/That fall about your neck when you undress?"

Go the F… to Sleep

Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

Akashic Books: $14.95

No matter how many lullabies you sing to them, no matter how much warm milk you pour down their throats, toddlers don't always drift off to sleep like you want. Adam Mansbach's funny, profane sendup to all those cutesy bedtime books that make it all look so easy is perfect for any frustrated parents who have had that 10- or 15-minute bedtime routine go horribly wrong and turn into an insomniac marathon. Inspired by his own experiences with his daughter, Mansbach writes nursery rhyme-style lyrics—with illustrations by Ricardo Cortes—that start out about snoring bear cubs, eagles and lions and suddenly collapse into the sarcastic, overheated plea of the title. It's definitely not a book to read to your kids. Read it with your spouse instead and share a few laughs, but don't laugh too loud—you know, you might accidentally wake up your little one.

The Hunting of the Snark

An Agony in Eight Fits

Lewis Carroll

British Library/University of Chicago Press: $19.95

Lewis Carroll's epic nonsense poem was first published in 1876. With the release of this gorgeous facsimile edition, readers today can experience the poem just as Victorian readers did. This story of a chaotic quest is a delight in any format, but here, bound in a vivid red-and-gold cover, the poem isn't the only work of art, the book is too.

The Meowmorphosis

A Novel

Franz Kafka and Coleridge Cook

Quirk Books: $12.95

"One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that he had been changed into an adorable kitten." The publisher continues its crusade, which started with "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," to digest classic novels and then regurgitate them with unexpected, often bizarre perspectives. What if the poor character at the center of Kafka's tale had found that he was a feline, not a cockroach? You'll have to decide for yourself if the execution of this conceit, in which Kafka's plot is helped by Coleridge Cook (we're told this is the pseudonym of a fantasy writer), is purrrfect.

There, I Fixed It

No, You Didn't

Cheezburger Network

Andrews McMeel: $14.99

Of Course You're Still Cool, Honey

Dan Consiglio

FW Media: $12.95

A Cookbook for a Knucklehead

Bachelor, New Graduate, Beginner, and Other Spoiled Brats

Harold W. Pearman

Outskirts Press: $29.95

Some of the quirkiest books this summer are built around a very simple theme: Guys are idiots. Food, fashion, fixing things … you name it, we can't handle any of it. "There, I Fixed It" presents some of the goofiest solutions to basic problems. You're out of candles for that birthday cake? Just use the matches instead! Hey, don't throw away that empty plastic soda bottle: Poke holes in it, stick it on the end of the hose and, voilà! a lawn sprinkler! Dan Consiglio's "Of Course You're Still Cool, Honey" is a funny look at guys' silly fashion sense, especially when they try rocking styles that went out years ago (get rid of the T-shirt and slip-on shoes á la "Miami Vice," OK?). "A Cookbook for a Knucklehead" not only gives careful step-by-step instructions, it also includes photos of the meals at different stages of completion so you know what to expect! These are ideal gifts to gently jab that particular male in your life who already has one crucial skill: He knows how to laugh at himself.

Man Up!

367 Classic Skills for the Modern Guy

Paul O'Donnell

Artisan: $14.95

The Gentleman's Bedside Companion

A Compendium of Manly Information for the Last Fifteen Minutes of the Day

Tom Cutler

Perigee: $15.95

The Modern Gentleman

A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice

Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro

Ten Speed Press: $15.99

Thankfully, there's another slate of books to help out the poor, clueless male species to answer timeless questions, such as, what is the proper way to hold an infant? ("Man Up!" says to use the crook of the elbow to support the baby's head.) What is the worst time to flirt with someone? ("One does not turn on the charm at a funeral," advise the authors of "The Modern Gentleman.") Much of the content in these books seems directed at funny, perennial topics like the best pickup lines and how to find the North Star (which suggests that males divide their time between chasing females and spending time in the woods). There are sections, however, in "The Gentleman's Bedside Companion" and "The Modern Gentleman" devoted to history, literature and the finer points of conversation. These are fun, interesting books that provide an old-fashioned alternative to the Internet.

The 3D Art Book

Tristan Eaton, with a foreword by Carlo McCormick

Prestel: $35

Movies aren't the only things going in the 3-D direction. Classic works of contemporary art come to life with a little help from an accompanying pair of cheap glasses with red and blue lenses. As founder and creative director of Thunderdog Studios, Eaton gathers a variety of works, including graffiti pieces by Dr. Revolt, Claw Money and others as well as pieces by Todd Schorr and Shepard Fairey that, with this three-dimensional treatment, lift off the page, feeling unexpectedly concrete, almost tangible. (Also new this season is a series of books from Taschen on adult topics that takes a very three-dimensional approach to the human body.)

The Sky Over the Louvre

A Graphic Novel

Bernard Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carriere

NBM Publishing: $19.99

Everything, including history, has been touched by the comics/graphic novel world, and that includes one of the most visited places in the world, the Louvre Museum in Paris. This second of two graphic novels about the museum focuses on the tumultuous years of the French Revolution and a painting of the Supreme Being, ordered by Robespierre from the famous painter David.

Wicked Bugs

The Louse that Conquered Napoleon's Army & Other Diabolical Insects

Amy Stewart

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill: $18.95

What would summer be without bugs? If the gnats and mosquitoes are hassling your summer barbecue, just be grateful that you're not dealing with the Arizona Bark Scorpion, which, as Amy Stewart writes, "is the scorpion most feared by Arizonans.… The sting is considered to be the most painful of any scorpion in the United States, lasting for up to seventy-two hours." Although her book looks at some fearful creatures, like the scorpion, or those spiders belonging to the Latrodectus genus that everybody knows as the black widow spider, Stewart also ably guides us through what we might find in our gardens or caught in the porch screen on a late afternoon. "To insects and their squirming, wriggling, and crawling compatriots, I offer my wary respect," she says. "I still can't bring myself to squash a bug. But I watch them now with more amazement — and alarm — than ever."

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