by Tony Millionaire
(Fantagraphics Books)

A TOAST! To Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby! To Captain Maak and his man-o'-war! To battle against Frenchified crocodiles on the briny blue sea! Sköal! To limb-lopping, head-chopping, and gunshot wounds to the dome! To brains--when not blown out--engaging in Chinese fire drills! To hearts spurned and trampled by love! L'chaim! To love, which is like a flower! To death, which is merely forgetting to be alive! To life, that feeling we try to stop by drinking! To drunkenness, which conceals an obsessive love of sobriety! Prost! To vomitous excess! To poetic reverie and Germanic exhortation! To that murderous philosophizer D'Arcangelo! Hey, peace is for peaceniks! Hey, don't just kill your enemies, INSULT them! Na zdorovya, to the horror of being alive! Oogy wawa, to bogusness! Salud and santè to Tony Millionaire! To pizza fuckers everywhere! Chin-chin, my friends, to Maakies! To Maakies! Bottoms up! Dook! Dook! Dook!--KASSTEN ALONSO

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
by George Saunders and Lane Smith

ACCLAIMED SHORT STORY writer-of-the-moment George Saunders has teamed up with genius kiddy-book illustrator Lane Smith to create an extraordinarily artful book that will be loved by smart kids and offbeat adults alike.

Smith, whose Stinky Cheese Man book came across like McSweeney's for kids, has designed a visual escapade while Saunders unravels another playfully surreal tale, except this time there's no swearing and it carries the attitude of a fable.

The hero, a reasonable girl named Capable, is constantly struggling against small burr-like creatures, known as gappers, that affix themselves on the nearest goat (hers) and then scream in unison. After her goats are sold, the gappers assault her neighbors' goats pitilessly, sending the village into a slapstick frenzy. Characters include Capable's father, who only eats white food, two shallow girls who stand completely still to impress boys, and one gapper, whose larger brain (making a bump atop his head) makes him the leader of the pack. Eventually, the villagers work together in the hopes of a functioning society.

Sure, Saunders' adult stories are wilder and funnier, but Smith's amazing work helps this moralistic tale float above and beyond most "kids' books." --KEVIN SAMPSELL

The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
(New American Library Classics)

LAST SUMMER I braved the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. What a mess! First of all, there are supposed to be three brothers, but only two show up. The middle brother, who is apparently slated to play the intellectual "rebel" role, never quite materializes. No sooner has the novel started than we begin to descend into multiple side stories; some of these go somewhere, some of them don't.

Children appear periodically, to satisfy the cuteness quotient. And they are cute. There's a love story begun in the early chapters--between a charming crippled girl and the saintly youngest brother. It never goes anywhere. There's a dog. There are a lot of peasants, whose misery is painstakingly described. There's a crazy woman who lives in the shed out back. There are drunks and pompous bureaucrats and monks and military people and sluts and gold-diggers and long suffering wives. The older brother gets in a poker game that goes on, I swear, for 100 pages.

Also, this book is from after Dostoyevsky underwent his religious conversion and so there are some sweeping, and I do mean sweeping (50 pages +), scenes of profound spirituality. Finally someone kills the brothers' evil father and the ample courtroom scenes fill out the last 100 pages quite nicely. The thing about this book though, is that all these stories are beautifully told, and just about every aspect of the human condition is represented. And of course Dostoyevsky's compassion and understanding of it all is what makes it a classic of world literature.--BLAKE NELSON

Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution
by Adrienne Rich
(W.W. Norton & Company)

DON'T BE SCARED OFF by descriptions of this book as a "feminist classic." It isn't full of stuff you already know and it isn't just for chicks. Of Woman Born (originally published in 1976) addresses perhaps the most elemental fact of human existence--reproduction--which has gone largely unexamined in any kind of critical way. Rich, a National Book Award-winning poet, is a damn good writer with a breadth of knowledge in history, literature, and philosophy.

For readers with some background in feminist theory, Rich's book is an antidote to the depressingly impossible position that women must either entirely disassociate themselves from biological motherhood as the only way to stop being "The Other," or participate in the near-hysterical (dare I use that word) embracing of all things nurturing in a scrambling attempt to define feminine as "good" and masculine as "evil." For the uninitiated, Rich includes a lot of information on how ancient ideas about where babies come from laid the groundwork for current systems designed to control the apparent magical powers of women.

Rich is a careful thinker. She successfully integrates observations from her own experience as a daughter and mother. Be prepared for a book that is going to make you think, and not always happily. It'd make a great gift for Mom or for any mammal who can read.--MICKEY LINDSAY

Endless Love
by Scott Spencer
(Ecco Press)

WHEN FRIENDS ASK ME to recommend a book I assume they're looking for light reading that's fun and out of the blue. My first choice has always been Valley of the Dolls, a camp masterpiece, followed closely by Confederacy of Dunces, the slacker bible, but most people have found these by now. However, by the time I get to number three, they are usually stopped: Endless Love.

Say what?

That's right. Why? Because it has the longest sex scene ever written.

Did you know there is a forty-five-page sex scene in Endless Love? That ends with both of them covered in blood?

"There was blood on our thighs, our arms and fingers. There was blood in our hair and in the corner of our lips. Our lips themselves were caked with it."

Hey! I saw the movie! Brooke Shields barely showed leg. Well, the movie also didn't tell you that the Butterfield family was tripping on LSD in the opening scene when David Axelrod decided to start a fire on the front porch so he could save the family and win back the love of young Jade.

The novel itself is about obsession. And what can be more alluring than a seventeen-year-old girl who likes sex. Lots of sex.

Young Jade knows her way around a mattress.

"I think that after all of that wet, wet fucking I was only three-quarters hard but the sight of her backside restored me to my unanimous erection and at once I began to move myself into her. But she stopped me and said something bewildering, like Put it in the other one . . . "

So when David's banished from the Butterfield family home you know only bad things can happen. And of course they do, and poor David ends up in a Chicago psycho ward pining away for Jade until finally he meets her in a hotel room in New York City and all those flames are lit again, and again, and again, and again. Five times by my count. Maybe I missed one or two.--MICHAEL HORNBURG

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