Underworld by Don DeLillo

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The 150-word Review: Civilizations are built upon their waste. They are not only judged by what they create: art, architecture, literature, technology, laws; but also by what they leave behind: waste, detritus, garbage, excrement, and trash. By studying their waste, layer by layer, we can understand societies. Don DeLillo focuses a meticulous archeologist’s eye on the American civilization and its waste in his magnum opus, “Underworld.”

DeLillo has the ability to distill the universal down to the personal and to project the idiosyncratic upon the grand. In “Underworld,” DeLillo begins with an single object from a historic event, the missing baseball from the “Shot Heard Around the World” in 1951, and places it in the hands of his central protagonist, Nick Shay, a waste management executive, in 1992. From there, DeLillo works backwards, through each stratum, uncovering the traces of Nick’s life, while also studying the shifts and erosions of the American century.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra, Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Baseball Memorabilia, Chess Prodigies, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, political and avant-garde art, and waste.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the reason they called it a “shot heard around the world” was due to the high number of U.S. servicemen who listened to the game on Armed Forces radio.

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The Innocent by Ian McEwan

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The 150-word Review: The Bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, is a tried and true literary genre. Huckleberry Finn. Siddhartha. Harry Potter! Classic bildungsroman heroes. The genre has also been overdone to the point of cliché, particularly the sexual coming-of-age story. Anyone seen “Risky Business?” Ian McEwan has the rare talent to take both extremes-the classic and the cliché-and eviscerate their tropes with stunning precision.

“The Innocent,” is a coming-of-age story wrapped up in an espionage novel. Leonard is a British post office technician, plucked from his small existence in Tottenham, in over his head in occupied Berlin. Recruited into an audacious clandestine operation, Leonard descends into the intricacies of surveillance and the frontline of the Cold War. When he meets Maria, an English-speaking Berliner of “Shakespearean beauty,” Leonard revels that his initiation into the world of men is complete, until a horrific incident reminds Leonard that his true coming-of-age has only begun.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: William Harvey, the German Enlightenment, ex-husbands, eavesdroppers, the Department of Homeland Security, and a Metzger.

This book will go great with: a jelly doughnut.

Set the mood with: Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the Berlin Tunnel, or Operation Gold, was a joint CIA-MI6 venture that operated for just under a year, until April 1956.