Book Buzz: Happenstance

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Book Buzz: Happenstance

by Lucie Smoker

These are the books you pick up because something about the description caught your intellect. They aren’t your normal type of book. Nobody recommended them but you take a chance on an idea, an attitude … a something that draws you in. Such books can sometimes be all hype, but these will surprise, even open your eyes.

Literary Fiction? Just a Real Good Book

A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn

“I’m afraid of what’s outside the window, of the air that arrives in bursts, and the noise it brings with it. I am scared of mosquitos, the myriad of insects I don’t know how to name. I am foreign to everything like a bird that has fallen into the current of a river.”

This book is a burst of fresh air. Ludo, a quirky recluse, was brought to Angola by her sister and brother-in-law who now have disappeared. With only her albino German Shepherd, Phantom, for company, Ludo stays inside their apartment while the country outside falls apart, again and again, through revolution and chaos. She uses diamonds found under the bed to catch pigeons to eat and ponders the meaning of the world as seen from her window, overheard from the street.

Ludo speaks to that little voice in all of us who just wants to hide inside and let the world do its thing. Yes, she’s afraid, humanity did awful things to make her who she is today, but Ludo is also courageous, ingenious and tender. Like that wallflower whose name nobody remembers, she understands the nuances of everyone better than their best friends.

You’re probably going to hear about this book in superlatives. Agualusa is New York’s latest golden-boy of literary circles—and he deserves it. You’re going to be told it will teach you about Africa and such. But I found this book to possess a heart and an optimism that connect much more deeply than perfect prose and education. If you enjoy delightful, foreign films like Amelie, I think you’ll find this book wondrous. Highest recommendation.

Nonfiction: Handcraft and Life Wisdom
Nonfiction: Handcraft and Life Wisdom
from the Editors of Make Magazine

Whether you are a Maker or a wannabe, the ideas in this book will send you to the garage or workshop to hammer out a dream. Amidst our culture of prepackaged everything, Make Magazine created a real movement of young people, middle-aged, and elderly, tinkering with technology, creating ideas like Luminous Lowtops and Desktop Digital Geiger Counters. And while they tinker, they find solutions for all of us. As Make Projects Editor, Keith Hammond says:

“While we delight in chronicling the brilliant makers and powerful new tools that are driving the Maker Movement, to my mind it’s the DIY projects that remain at the heart of Make: magazine. We’ll always teach you to solder new circuits and MacGyver new gadgets from old it’s what we do.”

But Best of Make is inspiring even if you don’t know the difference between a socket and a Phillips head. What packs these pages is ingenuity peppered with a philosophy of getting off your duff and doing something with that idea that’s been rattling around the back of your head for a while. Highly Dangerous.

Young Adult Realism, Written in Verse
Traffick by Ellen Hopkins

Several years ago, I picked up a book called Crank, sat up all night unable to put it down, and then, after making an obligatory appearance at work, I read it again. That book written in verse took over my mind and heart like a locomotive.

Traffick feels different. Still in verse, it’s a little less riveting, a little more logical. Every once in a while it preaches its worthy cause. “Teen” sex trafficking is a huge black hole in the fiber of this country. The average child forced into the sex trade in this country is just twelve years old. They are in every state, hundreds of thousands of American kids, in addition to the kids brought in from overseas. To feed our hunger for young, pretty things.

If you want to learn about the hell that is the sex trade, this book will give you a taste—cut with hope. Of the kids in this story, Cody snapped my heartstrings. If you want to discover the words of Ellen Hopkins, that writer you heard about who tells magnificent stories in verse, start with Crank and work your way forward. Recommended but not her best.

Lucie Smoker is a freelance writer and Kindle bestselling mystery author. Discover her words at

Photo of Jose Eduardo Agualusa by Lara Longle

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