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Lit Smorgasbord

Bombay, buzzwords and spelling bees among recommended books

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Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta (Vintage Departures paperback). Mehta's Pulitzer-nominated tour de force of journalism is a kaleidoscopic view of the world's third-most populous city (18 million). It could be described as fantastical if it wasn't all true. Views of the megalopolis' varied subcultures -- Bollywood, Hindu nationalists, the crime underworld, sex industry, and much more -- are examined with clear, unblinking eyes, a sophisticated style, and at times, a great sense of humor. Mehta, a former Bombay resident who returned after a two-decade absence, is both outraged and enchanted by the changes in the city he grew up in, and offers a heady look at its strange, cacophonous appeal. As he says, "Bombay is the future of urban civilization on the planet. God help us." -- Dana Renaldi

Early Leaving by Judy Goldman (Harper Perennial paperback). Charlotte author Goldman explores how people deal with loss and change in the tragic story of a couple whose teenage son murders someone. A highly polished novel that is both sad and uplifting, remarkably introspective, personal yet universal. A riveting read. Gleaning insights from family calamity is a common theme in every two-hanky book on the market, but Goldman's depth of characterization and poetic style raises this novel far above the middling crowd. -- Mary Kratt

Bee Season by Myra Goldberg (Anchor paperback). Nine-year-old Eliza Naumann discovers she's a spelling wiz and wins a number of competitions, but at the cost of disrupting the dynamics of her hyper-literate, high-strung family. Goldberg's story touches on everything from Jewish mysticism and compulsive behavior to love and guilt and cults. The author's style is witty, empathetic and fresh -- it's easy to see why this debut novel was chosen as a film project. -- John Grooms

Slam Dunks and No-Brainers by Leslie Savan (Knopf hardback). Savan, former Pulitzer nominee for her Village Voice column on advertising, focuses her scathing, comical vision on the buzzwords and catchphrases of pop language (like "slam dunk" and "no-brainer," as well as "whatever," "hel-lo?" or "duh") that have multiplied in recent years. Savan says buzzwords make users feel part of a "hip" verbal elite, but at the price of being sucked into a media/marketing sinkhole of consumerism. Worse yet, the use of buzzwords 24/7 (oops, there's one) is gradually replacing thought with quickie, verbal responses; in other words, making us stupid. When you remember Dubya telling al-Qaeda to "bring it on," you get the point. -- John Grooms

Chronicles: Volume One by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster paperback). Following no particular chronological order, Dylan provides detailed reflections on his musical and intellectual development in Minnesota and New York, artistic crises associated with two albums, and verbal sketches of people who have mattered to him. His prose has news-hound punch, tossed off in a clipped, conversational style. While most celebrity autobiographies are self-serving and/or sensationalistic, Dylan took the high road. -- Bruce G. Nims

Heist! The $17 Million Loomis Fargo Theft by Jeff Diamant (John F. Blair paperback). This is the whole sordid tale of the 1997 robbery that had the region in stitches for months, pulled by one of the most clueless groups of thieves ever. Observer reporter Diamant does an excellent reporting job, from recounting the theft itself to detailing the subsequent investigation and relating the sometimes hilariously unbelievable behavior of those involved. Greedy imbeciles on parade. -- Ann Wicker

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones (Basic paperback). An expansive and compelling look at the birth of comic books, Men of Tomorrow tells a classic American tale of exuberant, talented kids who met "the right people" at the right time and launched what, at the time, was considered a sordid business. Beginning as novelty items, comics grew in popularity until, in their heyday, they sold at a rate of nearly 15 million copies a month in the US alone. -- Michael Kobre

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