THE ELEVATOR IS FULL of clowns. Maybe you don't actually need to know that information to solve Christine McKinley's physics-based story problem... but does it pique your interest?

Physics for Rock Stars: Making the Laws of the Universe Work for You is one of those lighthearted nonfiction titles like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that explains practical processes in metaphorical and autobiographical terms. McKinley, a first-time author but longtime mechanical engineer, shares classroom stories and extra-credit epiphanies from her formative years in an attempt to info-tain readers about physics. Just to make sure you're listening, she throws in a lot of imaginative non sequiturs: Neils Bohr had full, pouty lips. The British are not huggers.

Sometimes-Portlander McKinley plays herself on reality show Brad Meltzer's Decoded, an apparent MythBusters copycat on H2, the second History Channel. Her writing, like her personal brand, definitely contains layers of cheese. But there's also a level of pure earnestness and excitement—and darn it, her explanations work pretty well.

McKinley approaches the scientific method by explaining how she evaluated the merits of coolness vs. intelligence back in high school. Then she demystifies the periodic table of elements by ascribing them dating-world personas, equating their need for electrons with their level of romantic desperation, and explaining how it figures into their formation of various pair bonds. Covalent bonds are cooperative, fair marriages; ionic bonds are volatile, codependent flings. She thinks of herself as a noble gas—the least needy type, thanks for asking.

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Waxing poetic about gravity's equal effect on all bodies, she suggests that readers use their various private despairs as a handy mnemonic to calculate falling speeds. (When literal or figurative gravity is applied, everybody hurts; everybody cries.) And, spoiler alert: The "rock star" pitch of the title is really just instructions for throwing and catching a cordless microphone while stage diving, not tips on how to actually rock. (McKinley herself plays bass in Portland trio Swan Sovereign, formerly Dirty Martini.)

McKinley closes each chapter with a set of story problems, crumbling any illusion of mere storytelling and snapping the author firmly into (albeit funny) professor mode. She also often introduces new variables here, sending nonscientists thumbing back through the prior chapter for further clues. But this is how we learn, so... send in the clowns.