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A GOOD READ: From gods and monsters to beer in non-fiction books

If I could lead a cheer as a book-lover, it would be for non-fiction titles that you can prop open, more at less at random, and either find something that makes you laugh hysterically or say to yourself, "Holy crap! Really?" In that vein, please cons

If I could lead a cheer as a book-lover, it would be for non-fiction titles that you can prop open, more at less at random, and either find something that makes you laugh hysterically or say to yourself, "Holy crap! Really?"

In that vein, please consider the following books, which deal with deadly imaginary beings whose exploits - when written about by the right author - are actually quite funny; wily people whose identity-related deceptions sound imaginary but are true; and the wonderful world of beer.

In Badass: The Birth of a Legend, author Ben Thompson produces a who's who list of characters and critters you're mostly glad don't exist because if they did, they might forcibly increase your orifice-count. Pulling from sources as diverse as Viking sagas and Saturday morning cartoons, Thompson profiles the toughest, most merciless gods, heroes, villains and creatures ever imagined.

In what other book could you find brief "biographies" of Zeus, the Archangel Michael, Beowulf, Lord Rama, B.A. Baracus, Professor Moriarty, Darth Vader, Dirty Harry, Skeletor and the Daleks from Dr. Who? In all, you will find 40 multi-page features about face-wrecking figures from mythology, literature, pop culture and fairy tales, plus a multitude of shorter bullets about nasties - like Banshees and Ifrit - that Thompson figures deserve our attention, if not a full entry.

With regards to writing style, Thompson is the literary equivalent of a shotgun, peppering the page with strange but evocative terminology. Amazingly, once you're into the flow, you may not bat an eye at phrases such as the one referring to the African goddess Oya as a "death-slinging cyclone of suckbag-annihilation."

Subtle it isn't. Fun it is, especially for high schoolers - or immature adults like me.

If you like this, pair it with Thompson's other Badass book, which contains true stories about the most fearsome pirates, gunfighters, Vikings, samurai and military commanders in history. It is written in a similarly goofy style.

In Can I See Your ID?: True Stories of False Identities, author Chris Barton examines the lives of 10 people who literally reinvented themselves, either in the interests of self-preservation or so they could try things that they would otherwise be denied. Some of the stories are well-known, some less so.

In the early 1990s, teenager Keron Thomas, who always wanted to operate trains, finally got his chance when he posed as a subway driver in Manhattan. Untrained medically, Fernando Waldo Demara Jr. called himself Dr. Joseph Cyr so that he could work as a surgeon on board a Canadian warship. To avoid execution, Solomon Perel claimed "racially pure" German heritage in the Second World War, eventually joining the Hitler Youth - despite being Jewish. Barton rounds out the volume with several other tales, including the experiences of Black Like Me writer John Howard Griffin and con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., who inspired the Hollywood movie Catch Me if you Can.

In Can I See Your ID?, Barton cleverly places readers in the centre of the action by addressing them with the word "you," as if they are the impostors. Whether writing about a slave posing as a slave owner to escape the Deep South or a penniless woman finding food and lodging by pretending to be an exotic foreigner, Barton captivates, in part because the stories allow him to explore the fascinating psychology of deceit. Each story ends with a sidebar explaining the fate of the impersonator or con artist. At about 120 pages, Can I See Your ID? is a slim but entertaining volume appropriate for middle schoolers and up.

Slim is not a word I would use to describe The Oxford Companion to Beer. Thicker than the head on a newly poured Guinness, the 900-page tome, edited by Garrett Oliver, is an alphabetized guide to the world of stouts, porters, pale ales and lagers. You'll learn what different beers are, how they're made, what they're made with, who first created them, how people in different countries drink them and more.

If you love impressing friends with obscure knowledge, flip through this book before inviting your friends over to watch a hockey or football game. Who knew, for example, that the yard-long glasses currently associated with frat initiations were once made so that coach drivers could be handed them from drive-through windows at inns without leaving their seats? Or that the Egyptians, to ensure the dead were well-provided for in the afterlife - at least with regards to malted beverages - used to stock mummies' tombs with long-lasting brew that they referred to as "beer of eternity"?

My only complaint is that the book could use more illustrations. Still, beer-lovers will be delighted to flip through the thousand-plus entries while sitting at home sipping a pint.

Find these books and more at your local library.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Chris Miller is a librarian at Coquitlam Public Library.