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Recent good reads

Hardbacks
Transmission by Hari Kunzru (Dutton). The award-winning author of The Impressionist changes course in this lively, funny take on facets of modern life. Here's the story of Arjun Mehta, an Indian computer programmer who moves to the US with big-money dreams and finds himself threatened with downsizing, along with many other Silicon Valley cohorts. To impress his boss and keep his job, he launches a new computer virus, hoping to become a hero for finding a way to "cure" it. It backfires dreadfully, affecting characters around the world. Kunzru serves up big portions of hilarious, well-crafted and surprising social satire on our networked, consumerist world.

-- Dana Renaldi

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (Little, Brown). The ever-popular Sedaris has made a nice career out of just being himself. In his latest collection, he's still offering stories about his family, the rigors of living in a foreign country, while not forgetting to just make stuff up along the way. Sedaris now knows his own "character" -- gay, nicotine-addicted, neurotic and slightly obsessive-compulsive -- is well-developed enough to begin probing, Simpsons-like, into the lives of his supporting cast. The bulk of the stories center around family members, but as always he doesn't shy away from skewering himself.

-- Timothy C. Davis

Paperbacks
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (Anchor Books). Frey caused a sensation with this memoir of recovery from epic-level substance abuse. The book opens with the 23-year-old Frey being put on a parents-bound plane "covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood." Oh, and he's wanted in three states, he's broke and he doesn't even have an ID. And his face is beaten up. And he's missing four front teeth. Alternately gruesome, exuberant, grim and hilarious, the book is saved from being another "my pitiful story" memoir by Frey's imaginative, sparse and poetic prose style that involves the reader in his angry, questioning thought processes. Reading A Million Little Pieces can be rough sailing, but it's rewarding and definitely, um, sobering.

-- John Grooms

I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies) by Laurie Notaro (Villard). Do you have a friend who's loud, loyal, opinionated and funny? Throw in talented writer and you've got Laurie Notaro. Her previous collections, including The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club, also mined her personal life to create humorous personal essays. From riffs on losing more friends to babies than to booze; keeping a wardrobe of "fat clothes" handy; to defining Lifetime as the "Wounded Women's Channel," Notaro treats the reader to astute assessments of life as a 30-something in America.

-- Ann Wicker

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon). Satrapi produced one of last year's most striking surprises with her comics format memoir of growing up in Tehran as part of an intellectual, politically liberal family during the days of the Shah, his overthrow, the stifling repression of life under the ayatollahs, and the eight-year war against Iraq. Persepolis moves quickly, carried by Satrapi's simple, dynamic style. By focusing on how the historical events played out on a personal level, she's able to convey a wide range of emotions, including the stunned fury and sadness that gradually overtake most of the secular Iranians depicted. Harrowing, funny and ultimately inspiring, the book makes it clear that there's no real difference between a political system run by religious fundamentalists and any other modern totalitarian state.

-- John Grooms

Samaritan by Richard Price (Vintage). This isn't Price's best (that would be Clockers or the early The Wanderers), but this novel about successful TV writer Ray Mitchell and his return to his hometown is filled with enough rich, gorgeous prose and the author's patented portraits of gritty New Jersey cityscapes to make it worthwhile. Mitchell is wounded in an attack and refuses to tell the investigating police who did it; the mystery builds around connections from his past life in the city.

-- Dana Renaldi

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  • On Saturday, Oct. 21, hundreds gathered at Camp North End on Statesville Avenue for Charlotte's first black alternative music festival. We captured some of the bands in action on stage, but mostly we surveyed the grounds as fans, families, vendors and more lounged around the sprawling, colorful Camp North End site. It was a great day of music, food, fun, and sweet, autumn sunshine. (Photos by Mark Kemp)
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