The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 6, 2002


The Mosquito staff suggests books for holiday gift giving

This is the time of year when the Mosquito staff has an opportunity to share their ideas for books that would make good Christmas gifts, or ones that could be given this year on the last two days of Hanukah (December 6 and 7). Not all of our writers responded to a request for book suggestions, many saying they had had no time to read this past year. Certainly that is believable considering the time people spend attending their children's activities, sending and receiving e-mail, hunting down information on the Internet, answering telemarketing phone calls and watching videos.

Yes, I'm old enough to remember what it was like when there was no TV, no computers, no unwanted telephone calls in the home. Those were the days when after dinner, once you washed the dishes and put the children to bed, you could curl up in bed with a good book and read until ten or eleven. Those were the days when you couldn't bring your work home with you because there was no computer at home. And those were the days when a nine-to-five job was the norm.

Now with so many people, both men and women, working outside the home, the time to sit down with a good book is limited. That means it's more important than ever to find the right book, one well-suited to the person receiving the book, and one that will induce him/her to turn off the TV, computer and telephone and just read.

Ellen Miller, proofreader, Forum staff writer and Carlisle Oral History Project coordinator,


Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie.

This little gem of a novel takes place during China's Cultural Revolution. Two boys, sons of doctors, are exiled to a tiny mountain village to be re-educated. They find a hidden suitcase filled with forbidden Western classics translated into Chinese, and their nights are spent telling and retelling the stories. The boys read Balzac to the daughter of the village tailor, the little seamstress, and change her life and theirs forever. This first novel is universally appealing, and is small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking!

Passing On by Penelope Lively.

This is one of the very best contemporary English novels I've readit is superbly written with a surprising plot and sympathetic characters. Two middle-aged sisters and their brother struggle to make sense of their lives after the death of their "mommy dearest" mother. Even the secondary characters are extremely well drawn by this consummate author. Passing On is highly recommended for both male and female readers. One reading isn't sufficient to appreciate Lively's richness, so I'm on my second go-around.

Carlisle: Its History and Heritage by Ruth Chamberlin Wilkins.

Every Carlisle home should have a copy of this revised edition of the 1976 book. It also makes a great gift for a newcomer to town, a child away at college or a friend who has moved away. Reprinted in July 2002 by the Carlisle Historical Society, it is the only authoritative history of the town from 1754 to 1975. Enhanced archival photographs help tell the town's story and keep alive its unique past. To order a book ($35, $30 for members of the Historical Society), call Charlie Forsberg at 1-978-369-2577.

Susan Mills, display ad department,


Artemis Fowl and Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, by Eoin Colfer.

Calling all fans of fantasy. These two books are thoroughly enjoyable for ages 11 plus or read-alouds for the slightly younger set. Artemis Fowl is a boy-genius, last in line of a legendary crime family teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. With the help of his bodyguard, he masterminds a plan to regain the family glory. His exploits involve the capturing of a fairy, numerous high-tech gadgets and plenty of action.

Penny Zezima, production manager, recommends:

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

I can't recall what first drew me to this wonderful book last summer. It could have been the charming jacket, or a note on the store's bookshelf, but I took it on vacation and came back with a book to treasure. So far, everyone to whom I have leant it has returned it enraptured. Most of them have then gone out and purchased a copy for themselves. What better recommendation can there be?

This gentle story follows young Lily Owens on a journey to discover her long-dead mother's past, a journey that takes her to a family of beekeeping sisters in Tiburon, South Carolina. Among these unusual women, Lily learns lessons in tolerance and the many sides of love, especially the love between mothers and daughters. This is a book that I'll open again and again, and copies are going out to four women in my family this Christmas.

The Charles Addams Mother Goose by Charles Addams.

My brothers and I grew up loving Charles Addams' creepy cartoons in The New Yorker, so it makes sense that they will be getting this collection, reprinted after 35 years. Addams takes on such classics as Humpty Dumpty and Miss Muffet, all with his distinctively macabre wit. Although I might have second thoughts about giving this to a child, adults who are young-at-heart will appreciate these drawings. An added bonus for Addams fans is the scrapbook in the back that includes previously-unpublished photos and cartoons.

Maya Liteplo, news editor, recommends:

At Christmas I like to give books that my family and friends are likely to pick up many times. Often these are cookbooks.

Revolutionary Recipes: Concord à-la-Carte by the Emerson Hospital Auxiliary.

When I look through cookbooks I frequently put "stickies' on recipes that use fresh, healthy ingredients, are easy to prepare, and make me hungry. Looking though Revolutionary Recipes, I ran out of stickies in the first chapter. I know that the 13-member cookbook committee, home cooks with an interest in food, like me, tested every recipe in a borrowed commercial kitchen in Acton over four years. So the recipes should work for me. The pages are attractively laid out, with large print, on good paper, and in a ring binder so the book lies flat. It's available in local bookstores and some markets, like Idylwilde. And the profits are going to a good cause.

What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke.

Have you ever wondered what "caramelize" means? Why does lasagna dissolve foil? Does espresso contain more caffeine than American coffee? These are a few of the many questions about food and cooking that chemistry professor Robert Wolke explains in plain English. The book grew out of a weekly column, "Food 101," syndicated by the Washington Post, which explains why each topic is short and stands alone. The book is fun to peruse and then leave on the cookbook shelf as a resource.

Mark Green, Forum staff member, recommends:

The Count and the Confession by John Taylor.

This book was a bit of a busman's holiday for me, but it is compelling and entertaining nonetheless. Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the story centers on a "society murder" of a wealthy eccentric in a Southern city (this time Richmond, VA). The accused is his longtime girlfriend. The murder mystery itself is engaging and well told. But the book also gives an insightful treatment of the limits on how the question of guilt or innocence, once determined at trial, may be reconsidered in succeeding appeals.

Escape from Lucania by David Roberts.

In 1937, Bradford Washburn and a college classmate Bob Bates set out to climb the highest unclimbed peak in North America. They got off to a bad start when slushy landing conditions left them stranded without half their climbing team and only part of their supplies — and no return flight.

The book tells the story of how they executed the only survival plan they could imagine under the circumstances — climbing over Lucania, down the east side, then traversing more than 100 miles of largely unknown Yukon wilderness. All before polar fleece and Gore-tex.

Anne Marie Brako, reporter, recommends:

Sketchbooking, subtitled "How to Create a Delightful Journal of Your Travels at Home or Abroad," by Barbara M. Stecher.

If you have a friend who's taking a trip this spring, consider Sketchbooking as a gift. If you're not sure the person can draw, don't let that stop you. Even the most rudimentary picture captured on the scene and accompanied by a few handwritten notes are a fantastic way to relive a trip after returning home! Chapter two describes all the supplies they will need, and if you are feeling generous, you can purchase these as well. They include a blank book, a pen, a pencil, an eraser and a little paint box. These can all be conveniently put in a handsome burlap bag from your favorite museum or bookshop.

Cecile Sandwen, Mosquito reporter, recommends:

Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy by Jane Leavy

My oldest friendship dates from elementary school. Marg and I shared a love of baseball, and particularly of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax, a lefty, as was Marg. In our town in upstate New York, Yankee fans abounded in the Craig Elementary School, buoyed by an obnoxious confidence that their team could not be beaten (Red Sox fans will know what I'm talking about). It was an exciting fall watching the Dodgers sweep the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Recently I heard author Jane Leavy interviewed on radio and it brought me back to that time. Although Marg and I don't usually exchange gifts, I had to run out and order this book for her this Christmas, with the hope she'll lend it to me when she's done.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

My husband asked for this book after hearing the author speak at a conference. According to him, it explains many puzzling phenomena by exploring how seemingly small influences at critical points can have large consequences. The author uses examples from sociology, marketing, politics, and history to show that outcomes are not pre-ordained or predictable. As a parent, it's scary to think there's no predicting outcomes — on the other hand, there's something about this theory that seems to fit the world as we live in it. An interesting input as we prepare for the new year.

Marilyn Harte, feature editor,


Atonement by Ian McEwan.

The setting is the Tallis summer house in England, 1935. Briony Tallis, a precocious 13-year-old, observes the beginning of romance between her older sister Cecilia, a recent Cambridge graduate, and Robbie, a childhood friend and the son of one of the workers on the estate. Robbie is also a Cambridge graduate, thanks to financial help from Briony's father. Because of the jealousy Briony feels towards her sister and the young man, she tells a lie about a felony committed on the estate, a lie that affects the lives of Briony, Cecilia and Robbie.

Briony's guilt and the story of their three lives lived through the years of the Second World War up to the reunion of the Tallis family in 1999, is a compelling one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading during a quiet fall vacation. Each character is fully realized and the feeling of suspense never lets up. I gave this book to my husband for his birthday in June.

Priscilla Stevens, reporter and proofreader, recommends:

E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, by David Bodanis.

Speaking as a thoroughly right-brained person, I was leery of this book at first, but completely hooked about three pages in. Here is the history of the people who came before Einstein and whose discoveries, arguments, and theories, scientific and artistic, informed his thinking as he pondered the idea that would change forever the way we look at the universe. The stories stretch as far back as Galileo and as far forward as the Nazis' foiled attempt to build the atomic bomb in World War II. Somehow, amongst all this rich historical context, Einstein's theory of relativity is explained, accurately, clearly and captivatingly, even to the most right-brained math and science phobics (like me).

Any book by Joanna Trollope.

For delightful characters, interesting plots, and elegant, poignant, masterly writing, no one beats Joanna Trollope: I call her my "palate cleanser," and I read her whenever I've just finished some big effort-ridden tome. My most recent Trollope read is Next of Kin, which traces the influence of a recently deceased character on the lives of those who loved her, knew her, and even feared her. Any Trollope will do, however: The Rector's Wife, The Choir — she just sparkles on the page.

Falling Angels, by Tracy Chevalier.

Tracy Chevalier's newest book, Falling Angels, is great fun as well. It traces the friendship between two girls in rival families over a period of about seven years, until they begin to wear their hair up and their bodies corseted. The local cemetery and its young apprentice gravedigger are important characters, and even the women's suffrage movement plays a large part. The humor is dark and the mood is Victorian. Chevalier is, without a doubt, a legatee of dear Mr. Dickens.

Verna Gilbert, typesetter and web team member,


The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle.

This is a wonderful story for preschoolers about a grouchy ladybug looking for a fight and challenging everyone she meets regardless of their size or strength. She is an unpleasant personality who won't share, is belligerent, and doesn't know how to say please or thank you. The story begins very early in the morning with two ladybugs arriving to feast on a bunch of aphids covering a leaf. The grouchy ladybug won't share and she heads off to pick on someone bigger to fight. She travels for twenty-four hours and ends up right back where she started and somewhat more contrite in the process. In this amusing story, there are lessons about the passage of time, relative sizes, and the importance of manners and good humor. Clocks appear in the upper corners showing the passage of time and the board book pages increase in size as do the creatures the ladybug challenges. The illustrations, as in all of Carle's books, are beautiful.

Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth.

In Ten Little Ladybugs, one by one, ten tactile bugs disappear. Toddlers will enjoy finding out where the ladybugs go, touching the bugs and looking at the colorful artwork. This book provides a hands-on learning experience and the rhyming text reinforces counting concepts.

Betsy Fell, assistant editor, recommends:

The Hungry Ocean, by Linda Greenlaw.

This is a must-read for anyone interested in the sea. Greenlaw writes about her experience in the 1990s as the captain of the Hanna Boden, a commercial swordfishing boat operating out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. She and her half-dozen crewmen would spend a month at a time on each trip. It was interesting to learn something of the psychological dynamics between captain and crew, and between the captain and the boat owner. Greenlaw was praised as a great captain by Sebastian Junger, in his book A Perfect Storm.

Corduroy and Company: a Don Freeman Treasury.

This is a great gift book for young children. Freeman's vibrant illustrations and warm, amusing stories have been enjoyed by children for several decades. This collection of eleven stories includes Tilly Witch, Pet of the Met, Mop Top, and his most famous story, Corduroy, about a department store bear who finally finds a home. There is also a short biography of Freeman (1908 - 1978), and a previously unpublished story, Gayelord.

Beatrice Shneider, proofreader,


The Kidnappping of Edgardo Montara by David I. Kertzer.

To make a long story short (and this may be enjoyable only to dedicated history buffs), I'll only quote the subtitle:

"The extraordinary story of how the Vatican's imprisonment of a six-year-old Jewish boy in 1858 helped bring about the collapse of the Popes' worldly power in Italy."

We asked our family of avid readers (see photo on page 12 for their suggestions.)

The Baumgartners are a family of avid readers. Peter Baumgartner and his daughter Laura are shown in the family library. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
Peter Baumgartner recommends:

On the Water — Discovering America in a Rowboat by Nathaniel Stone.

Inspired by the 19th century story of Howard Blackburn, Stone rows from New York City, up the Hudson, through Erie Canal and past Buffalo to Barcelona, New York. Here he discovers a plaque along Route 394 which declares that the "Old Portage Road built in 1749 by Celeron when he explored and claimed this region for France" ran nearby and will take him across to Chautauqua Lake and to the Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi rivers. After a break in New Orleans, he rows into the Gulf, around the tip of Florida and up the east coast and back to New York City. He then continues up the east coast around the outside of Cape Cod to Eastport, Maine.

This book is well-written and filled with the people and lore from his travels. Recommended for anyone with an interest in boating or Americana.

Laura Baumgartner, CCHS senior, recommends:

Schopenauer's Porcupines by Deborah Anna Luepnitz, Ph.D.

This book presents five case studies of intimacy. Each of the five couples in the story is striving to be close to one another. The story tells of their problems in achieving this goal. The book could be classified as more accessible psychology. It is similar to some of Oliver Sacks' books.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito