Behind the Mask: The Life of Queen Elizabeth I by Jane Resh Thomas

Yeah, you’ve seen her on the big screen, but the Oscar-nominated movie “Elizabeth” only told part of a much larger story (And Cate Blanchett was robbed, robbed I tell you!) For example, did you know that one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite past-times was watching bear-baiting? Or that it was considered the highest honor to meet with the Queen in her bathroom? You’ll learn all these weird little facts and more in this comprehensive, yet not overly long biography by Thomas. Elizabeth beat every odd by ruling during a time when men believed that women’s brains were small and feeble. Her wit, charm and shrewdness helped make England into a world power. And she did it totally alone because she could never trust anyone completely. She was surrounded on all sides by hypocritical couriers, foreign spies and warring religious factions that that would have had her off her throne in a minute if they had dared to challenge her. But they didn’t. Because she was one cool chick who never lost her head, either literally (like her mother Anne Boelyn) or figuratively. Read about Elizabeth and discover the real roots behind Girl Power.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

If you were assigned to read about Christopher Columbus, I would suggest this modern day adventuring Chris instead. Christopher McCandless was a twenty-something nature loving college graduate looking for adventure. Unfortunately, in this advanced technological age, there just wasn’t too much frontier left for him to explore. He hitched around out West for awhile with no car and very little money, just to see how far he could push himself. But he found that just moving around on the edge of civilization wasn’t extreme enough, so he decided to trek up to the last great American wilderness left–Alaska. Only a few months after he was last seen heading out into the Land of the Midnight Sun, his body was found in an abandoned school bus in the wilderness, where he had apparently starved to death. What made him do it? Was his crazy camping trip a suicide mission or just a good plan gone wrong? True adventure author Jon Krakauer has taken Chris’s life, death and thirst for the extreme and turned it into a first rate biography. You may not have the same fanatical wanderlust as Chris McCandless, (and I hope you don’t, you see what it got him)but nevertheless, this book speaks to the would-be rock-climbing, parachute-jumping runaway in all of us. And the movie, starring Emile Hirsch and directed by Sean Penn ain’t bad either.

The Air Down Here: Tales of a South Bronx Boyhood by Gil Alicea with Carmine DeSena

When Gil Alicea was 16 years old, he wrote 115 short essays about what it was like to be a Puerto Rican teen growing up in the South Bronx projects. Get Gil’s take on drugs, violence, school and gangs. See the stuff he sees everyday through the b&w photos he took of his neighborhood. Switch off the “Real World” for one night and instead take a trip to Gil’s side of the subway tracks. It may be more “reality” than you can handle.