Don't let the theme fool you. These three books are anything but failures. They are, in fact, full of sharply rendered and utterly original characters who fail spectacularly in their attempts to do right (or what they think is right). They are men on a mission, variously heroic, harebrained, heartfelt, even cruel, but their good intentions are undeniable, if not always admirable.
Two mysterious men pull up to the courthouse and head to the public records office. They're strangers, and they ask a lot of strange questions like, "I'd like to look at Mayor John Doe's property deeds." Or, "I want to see Congressman Smith's voting records."
The vast majority of the 175 indigenous languages still spoken in the United States are on the verge of extinction.
Linguist Elizabeth Little spent two years driving all over the country looking for the few remaining pockets where those languages are still spoken — from the scores of Native American tongues, to the Creole of Louisiana. The resulting book is Trip of the Tongue: Cross-Country Travels in Search of America's Lost Languages.
There's a Mystery Machine sitting outside Andrew Borakove's nondescript warehouse on a quiet street in Lincoln, Neb.
"I can never be depressed driving around town, because there's always some 4-year-old waving to me manically," Borakove says.
The mystery about the Scooby Doo replica van starts to fade, however, once you notice the bumper stickers on the back. Black background, white font, like a "Got Milk?" ad: "Happiness Is a Warm Gong." "Gongs, Not Bongs." "My Child Is an Honor Gong Player."