We receive so many books for review here at CultureMob that it’s impossible to cover them all. There simply aren’t that many hours in the day. Some books stand out from the unread pile, however – enough to make us take a second look. Off The Shelf offers short reviews and previews of the also-rans: the books that intrigued and interested us enough to warrant a mention, if not a full review.

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller
First line: “It is a cold and harrowing morning in the life of a man the day he wakes up, looks at himself in the mirror, and finally realizes that he is not, has never been, nor will ever be George Clooney.”
A poignant, funny satire by the author of Slab Rat and Funnymen, this promises to be as zeitgeisty as the spring’s books are likely to get. Frank Dixon, a struggling writer, suddenly finds his calling – and his fortune – in the form of online poker. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise when this ends up being more of a curse than a blessing, but Heller’s prose is razor sharp and his cultural reference points are spot on. In fact it’s all so believable that you have to wonder about Mr. Heller’s own online poker credentials. Watch out for him at the virtual tables…
Published by Algonquin Books on March 27th, 2012.

The Angry Buddhist by Seth Greenland
First line: “Everyone knows that when a certain kind of single American female on a Mexican holiday drinks too much tequila she will get a tattoo.”
If I tell you that Seth Greenland was writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated show Big Love, then you’ll have some idea of what to expect from The Angry Buddhist. There are the dysfunctional families, the lies, the cheating, the hidden secrets bubbling away beneath the surface. If that isn’t enough, there is also the political satire. And a sordid lesbian affair. There’s even a crime subplot that Elmore Leonard would be proud of. What’s more surprising is the quality of Greenland’s prose, with phrasing like “In the desert the sun is an anarchist” that is more than energetic enough to intrigue. I wouldn’t expect a happy ending, though.
Published by Europa Editions on April 26th, 2012.

The Undead by Dick Teresi
First line: “B Pod of the intensive care unit (ICU) at Baystate Medical Center is very bright: intense lights, everything painted in primary colors.”
Subtitled ‘Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers – How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death’, Teresi’s book isn’t quite as dry as you might imagine. As the co-founder of Omni magazine he knows his science, and his writing is certainly alive enough to keep our interest. The first full chapter asks the question “Are you dead or alive?”, and by the time you turn the last page you may not be as certain of the answer as you were. As gripping as a thriller, but as informative as an issue of New Scientist – and not a zombie in sight.

Published by Pantheon Books on March 13th, 2012.

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