Kate Ascher’s previous books, The Works and The Heights, were transfixing. But The Way to Go transcends the usual matrices for measuring “how things work” books. Ascher combines scrupulous research, detailed schematics, clear descriptions, and illuminating diagrams to build a text that is as accessible to kids as it is engaging to adults. The book’s subject matter ranges from ship hull designs to baggage handling procedures at airports, but every page explores an oft-overlooked aspect of contemporary transportation. The Way to Go is sure to be a classic in its genre; it has the scope equivalent to that of Of Human Bondage, the complexity of The Waste Land (but with clarifying drawings), and, like Moby Dick, it contains a lot of information about boats.
You shouldn’t read this book just because it is masterfully written, expertly researched, and thoughtfully structured. You should read this book because it articulates a period of recent American history that is often trivialized, or even cast as absurd, from a post-9/11 perspective. You should read this book because it explores both the bases for our zeitgeist’s conception of airplane hijackings and the reasons for the very hands-on security checks administered by the TSA. You should read this book because it explores a collision of the human stories, the cultural movements, and the technological advances that dictate how we think about air travel.
There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that Ten Years in the Tub (McSweeney’s, $26), a comprehensive collection of Nick Hornby’s columns from The Believer magazine, is as smart as a tome of literary criticism, as personal as memoir, as readable as a novel, and as funny as a book of kitten photos. In each column Hornby chronicles the books he’s purchased, the books he read, the books he didn’t read, and the reasons for his choices. This archive of the screenwriter/lyricist/best-selling novelist’s reading life avoids self-important posturing in favor of examining the decision-making process and book-buried nightstand that every reader faces. The bad news is that Ten Years in the Tub is an enabler to book lovers, guaranteed to add dozens of new titles to its consumer’s “to read” list.