I knew who Charlie Chan was years before I ever saw a film of his, so I was fascinated a couple of years back to learn he was based on a real person, Honolulu cop Chang Apana. CHARLIE CHAN: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang (jacket design Chin-Yee Lai, all rights to design and images remain with current holder) is a history of Opana, a larger than life legend in his own right; Earl Biggers and his creation of Charlie Chan (who started out as a minor character in the book House Without a Key); and Chan’s status as pop-culture figure, Chinese celebrity (when the Charlie Chan films were new, China celebrated them for showing a Chinese character as hero) and later symbol of yellow-face acting (the only Chinese to play the role was Keye Luke providing the voice to the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan cartoon), racist stereotyping and Americanized Chinese immigrants. While Huang is certainly sympathetic to the criticisms, he also argues the character is hardly the submissive Uncle Tom he’s often seen as, and argues he’s more eccentric detective than racial stereotype (comparing him to Poirot, another detective who mangles English and tosses off aphorisms). Wanders quite a bit, though unlike many books the byways (Hawaiian history, anti-Chinese immigration sentiments) are interesting too.
WHAT IF? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe was one of my Christmas books from TYG, in the time-honored genre of answering strange questions such as whether you could use machine-gun recoil to power a jetpack, what would happen if you collected all the periodic table in one place (nothing good), and how long it will take before dead people on Facebook outnumber the living. Informative fluff.
SAVE THE CAT GOES TO THE MOVIES: The Screenwriter’s Guide to Every Story Ever Told by Blake Snyder is in the time-honored How-To mold of showing how every single story can be broken down to fit a given template. In this case, Snyder shows how the story outline from his original Save the Cat book applies to such formats as Quest Stories, Buddy Comedies, Protagonist Challenges the System and Superhero stories; I’m not sure this is really anything I can use and it’s definitely not Every Possible Story (unless you really, really stretch), but I’ll look it over again.
THE COLLECTED SHORT FICTION OF C.J. CHERRYH is a 1990s omnibus that includes her first collection, Visible Light, the later themed collection Sunfall (adventures in Earth cities as the planet slowly dies) and various uncollected tales. Unsurprisingly a mixed, though mostly satisfying bag of tales, the weakest part being the introductions to the stories in Visible Light (Cherryh tries way too hard to be clever, and fails).
ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS by Shigeru Mizuki is the fictionalized version of the author’s WW II experiences. Mizuki’s account of bullying sergeants, put-upon privates and inflexible upper leadership shows that the experiences of war from the grunts’ perspective is pretty much universal. For the same reason it didn’t work for me, as it seemed like every WW II movie I’ve ever watched. Very much a YMMV reaction, though.
GLACIAL PERIOD by Nicolas de Crécy has a future archeological expedition (including a talking dog) unearth the Louvre and try to make sense of its imagery — do the nudes mean these people were sensual hedonists? Or were they tightly repressed and this was their sexual outlet? Quirky, and probably a YMMV too, but in the other direction — I enjoyed this one.