Marc Aronson and I have been talking about Boys Books a lot, and about how boys can be confounded by adult definitions of what constitutes worthwhile reading: usually it means a book, often it means fiction, and when it does include nonfiction, it had better look a lot like a novel.
But I am loving this:
Transit Maps of the World: The World's First Collection of Every Urban Train Map on Earth, by Mark Ovenden (Penguin). Unless you are a boy, you might not think that a collection of subway maps would make for such compulsive reading. It's a kind of reading that often gets dismissed as "browsing," because you don't start at the beginning and work your way patiently through, and because most of the text works as caption, not exposition: "Barcelona's current Metro map (4) is a successful hybrid. While it shows some topographic detail, it manages to retain all the attributes of a schematic." Yeah, baby, talk dirty! But what you're mostly interested in reading is the maps themselves. There are four of the Barcelona system, ranging from 1966 to the present, showing not only the growth of the system but the refinements in graphic design, creating and reflecting changes in how we look at abstract information. The current map is an organized glory of lines and colors and informative dots. Berlin gets fifteen maps, from 1910 to the present, including spooky ones from the 1960s that show the "ghost" stations of East Berlin that the West Berlin trains would shoot right by.
If I were a boy today, I don't know if a collection of subway maps would do it for me, but I bet that I would appreciate the way this book celebrates Facts, especially facts united by a theme but untied to any story save the one they allow me to tell myself.