reading

The Book Monster #18

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I took my wife on a date to see the movie “Austenland” at the dollar theater at the Gateway Mall on Thursday (I wasn’t quite sure what to expect). The movie is about a Jane-Austen-obsessed woman (played by Keri Russell) attending a Jane-Austen-themed resort where women pay big money to experience what it’s like to be in a Jane-Austenish romance with gentlemanly actors (no touching!). I LOLed throughout the movie and I was pleasantly surprised by this chick-flick. Russell’s rendition of “Hot in Here,” by the rapper Nelly, was fantastic too. Jane Seymour, Bret McKenzie and Jennifer Coolidge also starred. I haven’t read any of Jane Austen’s work. Even after seeing this movie I can’t say I have any desire to read Jane Austen’s novels. There is no appeal. However, there is a chance I’ll try Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36nk3NEyCLU

A note: For the time being, The Book Monster is going bi-weekly!.

An observation: I have been drinking a ridiculous amount of tea lately. Yogi brand Echinacea Immune Support tea is delicious, it has a hint of mint among other natural flavors, and is perfect for sipping while reading on a dreary day during fall or winter.

Book news:

Infomercial pitchman Kevin Trudeau was found guilty of Criminal Contempt for making false claims about his book, “The Weightloss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About.” National Public Radio reported, “In a series of infomercials, Trudeau claimed the book revealed a “miracle substance” discovered in the 1950s and kept secret by food companies and the government that allows people to eat anything, not exercise and not gain weight.” According to NPR, Trudeau violated a 2004 court order that prohibited him from making false claims in his book.

The Los Angeles Times reported that in Lafourche Parish, La. voters decided to continue to fund the library over diverting funds to the jail. Parish Council Chair Lindel Toups said libraries have too much money than blasted libraries for the activities taking place inside such as, “teaching Mexicans to speak English.”

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Mark Twain didn’t want his autobiography published until 100 years after his death.

The second volume of Mark Twain’s Autobiography was released. Ben Tarnoff’s review in The New Yorker is fantastic: “When Mark Twain opened his mouth, strange things came tumbling out. Things like hoaxes, jokes, yarns, obscenities, and non sequiturs. He had a drawl—his “slow talk,” his mother called it—that made his sentences long and sinuous. One reporter described it as a “little buzz-saw slowly grinding inside a corpse.” Others thought that he sounded drunk.” 

DarkmansWhat I’ve been reading:

Nicola Barker’s “Darkmans” is a mixed bag. This borderline-experimental book was hilarious but I felt it was too long (838 pages). I was underwhelmed by the ending of the book too (I think I missed something and I may go back through and skim over certain key points in the book and then finish the last chapter). During my reading of this book I moved from New Mexico back to Oregon and I was sidetracked by travel, friends, family, and other books (this may have to do with the underwhelming ending too). Set in England, the book follows an eclectic cast of characters (Barker’s character development was fantastic) through a series of strange events, some more exciting than others, as history subtly lurks in the shadows and pushes some characters to madness.

I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Earlier this year I nabbed “Winnie the Pooh” from my parents house in Beaverton and this last week I started reading it. Author A.A. Milne wrote the Pooh books at the request of the adult non-fictionalized version of Christopher Robin, Milne’s son. The books are a result of Milne telling stories to his son.  After WinnieThePoohreading the first two chapters of the book I realized this book should have an alternate title: “Winnie the Pooh, or A.A. Milne is Clever.”  Clever indeed, and I chuckle just thinking about the antics of Pooh and friends. The simple nature of the characters results in a lot of well-intentioned bad ideas that are enacted by this cast of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animals. I wouldn’t recommend this book to everybody, but if you like to laugh and you don’t mind reading a book geared towards children, read it.

Other things I’ve been reading:

• Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book.”

• Selections from Mas Udi’s “The Meadows of Gold.”

• “Bears: A Brief History,” by Bernd Brunner.

• The May 2013 issue of Outside magazine.

• The Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft.

• A couple poems from the Winter 2013 issue of “The Gettysburg Review.

Don’t forget to share this column with your friends who love to read. Also, I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, requests, rants, praises, or two-sentence book reviews or anything else that has to do with books and literature. Hell, if you send me an e-mail you could end up in the column: [email protected]

 

The Book Monster Vol. 16

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SONY DSCOn my way to Fred Meyer to buy some eggs I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Reading is Sexy,” and I couldn’t agree more; people who read are beautiful.

Glad to see the Mayans weren’t right, and the world didn’t end on the 21st of December. I was a little worried until I read this NASA-created webpage answering some questions about the supposed end of the world, but seriously, I laughed while reading this page.

Adventures in the Rocky MountainsOregon Quarterly, the University of Oregon’s official magazine, published an article titled “Doomsday or Deliverance”. It was written by my Magazine Writing instructor at the U of O, Alice Tallmadge (she interviews another professor of mine, Dan Wojcik {folklore department}, about the apocalypse). This is by far the best writing about the 2012-end-of-the-world hype we’ve been hearing about for the last couple years.

Gift Guide Part 2: Christmas can be stressful because the economy is in the dumps and if you’re like me there are some people in your life you’re really want to buy gifts for. Don’t fret, Dover Thrift Editions can save Christmas. DTE’s are cheap paperback books priced as low as $1.25. To gift your friends and family without breaking your budget or using a credit card, give your co-workers, friends, and family a DTE. You can’t find any contemporary books in DTE format, but old books are easy to find.

colby_buzzellWhether or not you agree with the politics of The Iraq War, it would behoove you to read Colby Buzzell’s “My War: Killing Time in Iraq”. The book is a result of an infantryman’s journals and blog that he kept while he was in Iraq (the blog eventually drew fire from the head honchos in Iraq, and after that Buzzell had to clear his writing with his Platoon Leaders before posting on his blog). What makes this book so great is Buzzell’s candid writing, which is blended with humor, and the cold-steel reality of being in a combat; nothing is sugar coated. In fact the author writes about how when he was in Iraq he got numerous email’s complaining about the offensive language on his blog. To them, all he had to offer was more explicit language. The Iraq War was one of the ongoing events that defined the last decade. If you want to understand it you need to read this book.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading older memoirs so much is that it gives the reader a view of how things once were through the lens of a living person (they were living when they wrote it anyway). Adventures in the Rocky Mountains is a collection of Isabella Bird’s correspondence during her travels through the mountainous-western states in the 1870’s. Bird’s writing is descriptive, concise, and telling. If you’re wondering how an adventurous women of the 19th-century fairs when a bear scares the daylights out of her horse, read it.

Look for the exciting conclusion of The Book Monster’s Holiday Gift Guide next week, and don’t forget to share The Book Monster with your friends and anybody else who loves reading.

The Book Monster Vol. 15

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Christmas is upon us! So The Book Monster is beginning it’s holiday gift guide with stocking stuffers. Stocking stuffers need to be compact, thoughtful, and inexpensive. “The History of Farting” by Benjamin Bart is perfect for everyone’s stocking. I also recommend pistachios be put in your loved one’s stockings because they’re fun to eat while you read.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters on Thursday at midnight. I’m not a huge fan of books being turned into movies because 19 out of 20 times the movie is terrible, but Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy was exceptional. So yes, I plan on attending the midnight showing. I have a feeling I will be binging on J.R.R. Tolkien books for the next month afterwards.

I would also like to remind my readers not to sit in the same spot on the couch too long, too often. I did a lot more reading this past week than normal, and I noticed my couch cushion was flat. It’s important to rotate your seating while reading.

Bruce Holland Rogers sells a subscription of 36 pieces of short-short stories, which are received via email, for $10 a year. Not only is this guy an innovator in the publishing industry, but he lives in Eugene.  Next week EDN’s Ryan Beltram will be interviewing Rogers, so keep an eye out for the story next week. Bruce Holland Rogers story Dinosaur can be read online, and it’s awesome.

If you’re looking for more winter reading check out Bill Watterson’s “Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Snow Goons.” In this book of comic strips Calvin and Hobbes fight against evil snowmen when their Winter Wonderland turns on them. Of all the Calvin and Hobbes books out there I think this one showcases Bill Watterson’s creative genius as an artist better than any of the others. The Snow Goons artwork is slightly morbid, it’s humorous, and it’s beautiful in it’s own way too.

A few years ago while working at a shoe store in the Valley River Center I was talking about books with a co-worker. He told me “The Stand” was the best of any Stephen King book he had read, which were many. So this fall I took the plunge and read “The Stand,” and I loved it. Because it has 1141 pages it took me a while to get through it. The book is about the apocalyptic events that follow a devastating super-flu, and the ordinary people who band together to fight the evil powers that arise from the ashes of civilization. I wouldn’t say it’s my personal favorite of Stephen King’s works, but it was still a great book worth reading. There is even a beautifully written Christmas scene in the book that I was not expecting to come across. It should be noted that there are two versions of this book. It was first published in 1978, and in 1990 it was re-released in it’s complete and uncut format, which is the version I read. There was also a TV movie made by ABC that was horrible (no I didn’t watch it, but I’ve heard nothing good about it).

The Book Monster Vol. 14

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To Build A Fire…

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and that means I’ve been reading a lot on Airplanes. I came prepared for all my flights with books and magazines, but I still found time to read the ridiculous and amusing Skymall catalog and after browsing through it a few times I have set my heart on these book ends.

While I was in Minnesota I dropped by Half Price Books, which is a bookstore chain that prices  new books well below half price, and yes, I bought a few books. The Book Monster recommends if you’re ever traveling to a city with a Half Price Books you make a visit and expand your library. Even if you don’t buy any books their Rare Books and Collectibles section would be worth your time.

Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games, is publishing a children’s book, and it will hit bookshelves next September. The book will be about a girl whose father has been deployed to the Vietnam War. I’m interested to see how this book will be received by the kids whose parents have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan.

To prepare our Boy Scout troop for a snow campout on Mt. Hood my scoutmaster, and father, read  To Build a Fire by Jack London to us scouts. This well written survival story about winter travel in Alaska has a special place in my imagination, and I always think about it when I go on my winter adventures in the Cascades. A few years ago I bought London’s “To Build a Fire and Other Stories” and the gritty stories explore man’s instinct to survive at all costs. Many of the stories take place in Alaska but others take place in the Pacific islands, California. Another favorite story in this book titled The Strength of the Strong is about an ancient civilization’s conflicts with other tribes. Re-reading the title-story of this book has a become a winter tradition of mine. 

What if you could taste people’s emotions in the food they cooked? In Aimee Bender’s novel “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” an adolescent girl’s life is turned upside down when her mother’s unhappiness begins to ruin every meal. This book is a smooth read with excellent writing. It explores human relationships and the way we deal with problems. Even though a lot of the food in this book is tied up with sadness and other emotions, I got hungry whenever I read the book.

 

“Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris is not filled with cheese like a lot of other books about Christmas. The book begins with SantaLand Diaries, which chronicles the author’s experience as an elf at Macy’s in New York City. The book continues with absurdly-humorous holiday stories that may resemble the holidays more closely than a Richard Paul Evans book. The book is short, but sweet as a Christmas cookie. Snuggle-up next your Christmas tree, read this book, and you’ll be ready for the holidays.

Don’t forget to share The Book Monster with your friends on Facebook.

The Book Monster Vol. 13

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These days you can find and purchase almost anything because of the internet. But alas, I cannot seem to find the book “101 Shaggy Dog Jokes” anywhere. I checked this book out a number of times from my elementary school library, and I loved it. I even memorized a few of the jokes.

Q: “What is the first thing a shaggy dog does when it jumps in the swimming pool?”
A: “It gets wet.”
And
Q: “How do you make a shaggy dog float?”
A: “Two scoops of ice cream, root beer, and a shaggy dog.”

Yes, these jokes are ridiculous, but it is a children’s book (I still think they’re funny). Not being able to find this book makes me feel like it died; and books shouldn’t ever die. This digital age we live in has brought us unlimited access to books in both digital and hardcopy; however, It seems like “101 Shaggy Dog Jokes” slipped through the cracks.

I recently finished Richard Dawkins’ book “The Greatest Show on Earth”, which is about evolution. Dawkins is a world renowned evolutionary biologist who writes informally about the science and brilliance of evolution. There were 2-parts in the book that I found rather dense, but the rest was a breeze to read and understand. My favorite part of the book was learning about all the strange but true happenings in the natural world and the evolutionary explanations behind them. Dawkins writes about some very strange flora and fauna, and the addition of full color photos with in-depth captions is very helpful in visualizing what he is writing about. If you want to understand evolution, this book is a must read.

Looking for literature with a cowboy twang? If you are, look no further than the High Desert Journal, which is based out of Bend, Oregon. This local publication includes poetry, non-fiction, art, and fiction about the American west. I discovered this gem at Barnes & Noble, and read through it while scarfing some pumpkin cheesecake at the cafe. Highlights in the current issue include a short non-fiction piece titled Occupy Fossil by Jack E. Lorts (fossil has less than 500 people), a report on the national cowboy poetry gathering, and the art-conscious spacious formatting. You can pick the High Desert Journal up at Barnes & Noble or you can subscribe for $15.00 at their website.

As October comes to an end, don’t let it end without reading any Edgar Allen Poe, the original master of suspense and terror. Wait until it’s late and everyone in the house has gone to bed, sit in a cozy chair next to the lamp, read The Raven or The Fall of The House of Usher or whatever your favorite Poe writings are, and let your imagination run loose in the silence of your own home.

Do you have a question for The Book Monster? Or do you have something you want to say about books? Email me at [email protected] And be sure to share The Book Monster with your friends on Facebook.

The Book Monster Vol. 10

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This Sunday, September 30th, marks the beginning of Banned   Books Week, so head to the library or the bookstore and pick up a banned book. According to the American Library Association the most challenged books from the last decade (2000-2009) is the “Harry Potter” series. I was pleased to see that Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories” series came in at number 7 on the same list, and it topped the charts from the 1990’s. I can remember the “Scary Stories” series being very popular in elementary school, and if you were able to check out one of these books on library day at Cooper Mountain Elementary you were lucky; they were in high demand.

It’s been a little over 5 years since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book 7) hit the stores. And on Thursday (Sept. 27) J.K. Rowling released her first non-Harry Potter book, “The Casual Vacancy.” Apparently there is no magic in the book.

Magazine article of the week: “Hostess is bankrupt…again.” Sure this came out in the August issue of Fortune magazine, but the article, which is a kind of dense, outlines how this bankruptcy could spell the end of Hostess snacks foods. Can you imagine a world without the Ding Dong? The Twinkie? Ho Ho’s? These creme filled treats are the kind of things you either love or hate; you get nostalgic or get disgusted.

A few months ago my good friend Nate Gartrell (he used to write for EDN before he moved to the Bay Area) gave me a copy of a book that he contributed research to. It’s called, “Killing the Messenger” by Thomas Peele. The first thing I did when I got home was flip to the acknowledgements at the end of the book and looked for his name and found this, “Nate Gartrell, who had been my student when I taught in the journalism department at San Francisco State University, proved himself to be an able researcher, especially about the Zebra murders, and I am grateful for his constant work on this project.” Kudos Nate!

“Killing the Messenger” is electrifying to say the least. This book is about the notorious Bey family’s reign of crime, murder, and cult fanaticism in Oakland for over 40 years. It details the murder of journalist Chauncey Bailey, who was killed for the story he was writing about the Bey family. And it explores the origins of the Bey family’s twisted brand of religion. The book hits on themes of racism, free speech, and religion, while delivering a riveting storyline. I was impressed with how well this book was researched (don’t accuse me of nepotism, this was in fact a well researched book). Thomas Peele also has a gift for bringing a story to life with his writing. This book is a must read for anyone who loves and appreciates the first amendment. This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of them.

This summer I picked up a copy of “The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011”, and it has been a joy to read. The book is filled with all sorts of oddities including: 1) Best American Adjectives, Nouns, and Verbs Used in Reporting on the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010, 2) Best American Commune Names, 3) Best American Mark Twain Quotes (taken from his autobiography), and many more random sections. The book is also filled with lots of magazine articles and fiction, and a few comics.

 

 

 

The Book Monster Vol. 6

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My wife recently bought me a pedicure so that my feet wouldn’t be so gnarly. I’m glad she did because my feet look and feel a lot nicer now. Anyways, when I arrived at the spa they sat me down in a massage chair, which was equipped with a foot-soaking basin, and I tried relaxing as I waited for them to begin. But after a minute of relaxing I wished I had something to read because I often find that reading is the only way I can relax. A book or a magazine would have sufficed, but I had none. It was at least 20-minutes before they began to work on my feet and that entire time I just wanted to read. As I sat in the spa waiting for a pedicure I decided that from now on if I go anywhere and if there is any chance that I will have to wait for someone or something, I will have a book handy, and I will be reading.

Book Reviews:

Crazy for the Storm, by Norman Ollestad: We are almost halfway through summer, and there are plenty of adventures to be had still. And this is the book that will get you stoked for them.  In 1979, 11-year old Norman Ollestad was flying to  a ski competition when the small plane that he was on crashed into Ontario Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of California. In this book Ollestad recounts his survival story while simultaneously telling the story about his relationship with his father (who died in the plane crash), his love for surfing, and his life after the plane crash. This book is filled with raw emotion that blends an amazing survival story with the complexities of teenage life. The book has a photo insert that brings the people of this story to life too.

Red, by Terry Tempest Williams: TTW lives in the red-rock desert of southern Utah. This book is filled with prose, poetry, and politics in a tribute to the wilderness she lives in. Although there are strong environmental currents in this book is still worth reading for everyone who loves the outdoors regardless of their political ideologies. One of my favorite chapters of the book retells the story of her move from Salt Lake City to the desert so that she could live a less materialistic life. Another one of my favorite chapters in the book talks about the desert tortoise of southern Utah, the politics surrounding this tortoise, and how these reptiles affected her family.

Schott’s Sporting Gaming & Idling Miscellany, by Ben Schott:  Here are a few things I learned from this book: the original rules of basketball, Mark Twain hated exercising, the history of marathons, where the name Pac-man comes from, and what tattoos David Beckham has. Schott has put together an impressive book of stats, quotes, literary excerpts, maps, rules, history, etc. This book is great for carrying around because of its compact size; the short entries make for quick reading on the fly too. If you love sports you’ll love this book.

The Book Monster Vol. 4

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Summer finally decided to arrive and that means summer reading is here too. To me summer reading involves lemonade, pizza, a lawn chair, and a good book. Sometimes it involves a popsicle, a lawn chair, and a good book. I’m sure you get the picture. Whatever summer reading is to you I hope you’ve begun. If you’re not sure what to read this summer I’ve got a few suggestions below. I’ll keep the suggestions coming all summer long. So grab a book, grab a cold drink, and start reading.

“Shiloh,” by Shelby Foote: You may have seen the charming Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, on Ken Burns’ PBS documentary about the Civil War. But, before he was a historian he was a novelist. This historically accurate novel, “Shiloh”, chronicles the experience of a handful of  soldiers from the Union and Confederacy during the battle of Shiloh as they deal with boredom, fear, the absence of family, famous generals, and a plethora of battlefield horrors.  Although the main characters in the book are fictional, the author has included historically correct characterizations of men like Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Nathan Bedford Forest. In the author’s note he wrote, “Historical characters in this book speak the words they spoke and do the things they did at Shiloh.” I found this note of interest the book paints a great portrait of the Unions two greatest generals, Grant and Sherman. This book is historical fiction at its best.

“Creative Cursing,” Sarah Royal & Jillian Panarese: Do you feel like your foul language has gone stale? Having troubles coming up with new things to say under your breath when your boss’ back is turned toward you? This book is the answer. My wife gave this book to me for Christmas and it has not only helped us generate a more refined cursing vocabulary it has also provided us with lots of laughs and good times. The book is, “A mix ‘n’ Match Profanity Generator.” That means you can view two sets of pages at the same time. On the left side are  nouns, and on the the right side there are verbs. From there you can mix the pages and come up with words like “scum dangler” (this is probably one of the only curses from the book I could get away with on this column).

“What the Dog Saw,” By Malcom Gladwell: Have you ever wondered why condiments like mustard and barbeque sauce come in many different flavors, but ketchup only one? Or how to make your dog behave? Or if birth control pills can prevent cancer? Malcom Gladwell Answers these questions and more in this book. Gladwell is a grade-A journalist who knows how to find answers, even when the question is strange. Often using science as a medium to discover the truth, Gladwell’s discoveries will entertain the curious mind. If you like science, random facts, and you believe that there is no such thing as a stupid question, pick this book up and read it.

The Book Monster Vol. 2

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Ray Bradbury Passed Away June 5th, 2012 at the age of 91.

Welcome back to the second installment of The Book Monster. As you may have heard Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest science-fiction writers of all-time, passed away on June 5th, 2012. He wrote some classic books, like “The Martian Chronicles” (my favorite), “Dandelion Wine”, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

He has also championed free speech throughout his career; his greatest example of this being “Fahrenheit 451”. Bradbury’s essay, “Coda”, which can be found in the back of certain copies of “Fahrenheit 451”, is a scathing criticism of censorship and I highly recommend reading it.

With Bradbury’s passing I wanted to recommend a particular short-story that resonates deeply with me as an Oregonian. It’s called “The Long Rain”, and you can find it in Bradbury’s book, “The Illustrated Man”. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will say that the story is about a group of astronauts who land on a very-rainy planet, Venus. It’s almost like Bradbury wrote this story for the people of the Pacific Northwest.

R.I.P Ray Bradbury, and thank you for everything. 

Book Reviews:

“Churches in Early Medieval Ireland”, By Tomás Ó Carragáin: Let me start off by saying this isn’t a religious book. This is a book about architecture. I checked this book out from the University of Oregon’s summit library (they borrowed it from Reed College) to do a a project for school. As an amatuer medievalist I was drooling at the thought of looking through this book, and it did not disappoint me. This book has great pictures of ancient churches, but what makes this book is the text. O’ Carra’ga’in’s book is well researched and well written. He brings understanding to this architecture. Some of the highlights of this book include: a chapter on drystone churches (no mortar) which date back to the sixth century, a chapter on double vaults, which are an architectural oddity, and plenty of information and pictures of the round towers of Ireland. The book is expensive so it may be best to use the library or buy it used.

“The October Country”, by Ray Bradbury: This book may be one of Bradbury’s lesser known works but it’s still a great read. It’s a collection of short stories that deal with darker-seedier themes than Bradbury’s other work. It could also be considered borderline horror writing. My favorite story in this book is called “Skeleton”. It’s about about a man who is deathly afraid of his own skeleton. There is also a great story about a man who stumbles upon the job of being responsible of bringing death to people by the stroke of his scythe. If you’re looking for a dark book to read, or maybe you want have a little scare in your reading this summer you should pick this book up. What better way to pay homage to one of the masters of literature?

“Dads Are the Original Hipsters”, by Brad Getty: I stumbled upon this book at the Duckstore last week, and I couldn’t stop chuckling out loud as flipped through the pages. This book is filled with pictures that attribute hipster style and culture to none other than dads. This book is a must have for the coffee table. Or if you’re a hipster this book maybe an essential guide to studying your roots. Unfortunately I didn’t have the money to buy it and put it on my coffee table (it’s not expensive). Maybe in the future.