Friday, December 5, 2003
The Mosquito staff suggests books for holiday gift giving
I have just checked my calendar and, yes, there are only 20 days left until Christmas. If it's Hanukkah you and your family will be celebrating, then it is only two weeks until sundown on December 19 when that special eight-day celebration begins. Of course, what I am really thinking about is how much time I have left to find the right book to give to each member of my family.
No, I don't enjoy shopping at the mall, but lead me to a neighborhood bookstore and the holiday shopping scene is no longer a chore. So far, I have found two books for my husband whose titles I wish not to divulge here in the Mosquito for fear he might read about them. However, I have three other books that I'd like to recommend during this holiday season. I will include them along with those that have been suggested by other members of the Mosquito staff.
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
Last spring when I was looking for a book to recommend to my book club, a friend suggested we read a white African girl's account of her childhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Zambia, and Malawi in the 1970s and '80s. It is the story of the Fuller family who come to Rhodesia in 1972 shortly before the violent end to colonialism which gave way to the country of Zimbabwe under the leadership of Robert Mugabe. It is a beautifully written memoir that tells the story of a complicated family's efforts to adjust to the wild and violent life of farming in a segregated society with tribal lands and divisive racial issues.
It is especially interesting, as well as sad, to read this book at a time when we see the country of Zimbabwe, still being run by Mugabe, in a state of collapse. This book was published in 2001 and is now out in paperback.
A Child's Calendar Poems by John Updike, Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman
This is a collection of 12 poems describing the activities in a child's life during the 12 months of a year. Each poem is accompanied by a wonderful illustration of what one might expect to be going on in the life of a family over the course of a year. There are children cutting out valentines on a cold winter day in February; a family enjoying a picnic out in the back yard on the Fourth of July; small witches, goblins and hags out and about on an October Halloween, just to mention a favorite few.
This is a great way to introduce a child to Updike, one of America's finest writers and the author of short stories, poems, and novels. I plan to give this book to my seven-year-old grandson, Neil, when he comes at Christmas time.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I first read a portion of this book in a slightly different form in The New Yorker. Lahiri is the author of Interpreter of Maladies, a book of short stories that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. In 1989, shortly after my son Will graduated from college, he worked for a time with Lahiri at the Wordsworth Bookstore in Harvard Square.
In this, her first novel, Lahiri writes about a family from India that comes to live in America in the late '60s. Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli take an apartment in Central Square, Cambridge, while Ashoke works towards a doctoral degree in engineering at MIT. When their son is born a year or so later, they wait for a name for their son to come in a letter from the maternal grandmother back in India. When the name never comes, the son is named after the famous Russian writer Gogol in memory of a near-fatal experience concerning his father.
This is the story of Gogol, a first generation Indian born in America, a young man with a strange name who experiences culture clash, the conflicts of assimilation, tensions between the generations and a search to find a true identity. Much of this story takes place in a Boston suburb where the Ganguli family settles, making it especially interesting to readers who live here.
Penny Zezima, production manager, recommends:
Schott's Original Miscellany by Ben Schott
I have bought a copy of this book for almost everyone on my Christmas list, because it's a gift that fits almost every taste. A small book of arcane knowledge and trivia, this delightful book is the type that you open, meaning only to spend a moment browsing, and lift your head an hour later, wishing for more time. Need to know a schematic of Dante's Inferno? Comes in handy when reading The Dante Club. How about chat room acronyms? Shakespearean insults? I could go on and on.
For the young at heart, Robert Sabuda has created a magical series of pop-up books, the latest entry being Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, named one of the ten best illustrated books for 2003 by the New York Times. I am not usually a fan of pop-up books, but this one beguiled me with its fabulously intricate scenes. One of my favorites depicts an expanded Alice bursting out of a building. If you find this book fun, check out his earlier work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and watch the twister spin on the first page.
A young friend of mine is a budding actress, in love with words. So she'll be getting the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of the books from the series Poetry for Young People. Each book is beautifully illustrated, and offers an appealing way to introduce middle-readers to the works of Stevenson, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Lear and Whitman.
One last gem for young adults who enjoyed the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass, etc.) is Lyra's Oxford, a small companion book by Pullman that includes maps, clues and a new story featuring Lyra, the heroine of the series.
Marjorie Johnson, assistant editor, recommends:
Harvard Schmarvard Getting Beyond the Ivy League to the College That Is Best for You by Jay Mathews
Now that my son is a junior in high school we have started looking at the college guides. I was attracted to Harvard Schmarvard by the title, but the content is quite useful and helps to take some of the stress out of the college search. Filled with information about how the admissions process really works and how to find a college that suits the needs of the student, this book focuses on what is really important for a good college experience. A must-read for anyone trying to decide where to apply, and for frazzled parents.
Other college guides we have found useful for getting a feel for what a particular college might be like are:
The Unofficial Biased Guide to the 328 Most Interesting Colleges, 2004 edition by Trent Anderson and Seppy Basili, published by Kaplan, the test prep company.
The Insiders Guide to the Colleges, compiled and edited by the staff of the Yale Daily News.
Susan Mills, display ad department, recommends:
Kitchen of Light by Andreas Viestad
This cookbook is the companion to a PBS series New Scandinavian Cooking with Andreas Viestad. While I have never watched the TV program, I love the book not only for its recipes but also itsbeautiful photography of the Norwegian landscape. The recipes are not too complex and offer interestingways to enjoy, among other things,fish, fresh berries and vegetables. Our family favorites include yellow and red cod with pomegranate-mango salad; pan-fried potatoes with pancetta, bay leaves and mushrooms; roast beef with garlic and ginger; and wild blueberry parfaits.
Off the Shelf, Cooking from the Pantry by Donna Hay
Australia's best-selling food writer inspires many a meal with unique combinations of ingredients readily found at home.The recipes are short and simple, but always taste great! The book's photography makes everything look so goodit haspromptedus to try many new dishes. Theindividual chapters in the book Pasta, Rice, Noodles, Mediterranean, Asian, Pastes . . . include basic information as well as tricks and tips for the category and a page of short-order or really fast recipes.
On High: The Adventures of Legendary Mountaineer, Photo-grapher, and Scientist Brad Washburn by Brad Washburn with Donald Smith
Brad Washburn is a famous mountaineer, mapmaker and photographer. Hegrew up in the Boston area,exploredvast portions of the wilder parts of the worldand returned.He alsofounded the Boston Museum of Science,which he calls his most significant achievement. This book chronicles his life with wonderful stories of his adventures as well as magnificent photographs (many taken by Washburn). A wonderful story of a local hero.
Cecile Sandwen, reporter, recommends:
Under the Blood Red Sun by Graham Salisbury
I am giving this book to my nephew, age twelve. My son had taken it out of the library and I picked it up one day and couldn't put it down. It's a great buddy book that has it all adventure, history, and baseball. Tomi is a second- generation Japanese kid living in Hawaii. In the fall of 1941 his greatest concerns are his baseball team and his embarrassing grandfather who insists on flying a Japanese flag. But after Pearl Harbor his father, grandfather, and even the family's pet pigeons become targets of homeland security gone amok. As his family members are branded potential traitors, Tomi struggles with what it means to be an American. Though WWII may seem like ancient history to kids today, the issues this book raises are as pertinent as ever.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
This book is for anyone who likes good stories and is interested in the everyday lives of African people. It seems that most of what we read about Africa focuses on politics and white oppression, but this book provides a different point-of-view, using the investigations of black detective Precious Ramotswe of Botswana to tell stories of regular African lives. Those lives include friendships, jealousies, misbehaving children, unscrupulous relatives, but these Africans' troubles are their own, not the results of white victimization. Precious herself embodies the proud African who enjoys reading foreign magazines but has no desire to live anywhere but Africa. The narrative is simple and straightforward and the plots move quickly, almost like a children's book. A breath of fresh air.
Ellen Miller, proofreader, Forum staff writer and Carlisle Oral History Project coordinator, recommends:
Unless by Carol Shields
I'd read and enjoyed all of Carol Shields' previous books, and savoured Unless with special anticipation and sadness since it is her last. In this quiet novel, the secure world surrounding Reta, a wife, mother, and writer, is shattered when her oldest daughter Norah mysteriously drops out of college to panhandle on a Toronto street. She sits mutely, with a sign around her neck that reads "Goodness." In Reta's efforts to reach her lost daughter and learn the roots of Norah's despair, Shields reveals quiet truths about the fragility of life.
Samuel Pepys : The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin
This is a gift book from me to me, but there are two other history buffs I know who will probably find this under their tree. Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist of the 17th century, is much loved for the minute details of his public and private life in Restoration London. Tomalin provides valuable historical context for the diaries and has written a complete biography of Pepys. Since his diaries cover only nine years of his life (1660 - 1669), and he lived until 1703, this book gives us a full portrait of this charming and exuberant man.
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
There's a new movie based on this book, which will provide character and plot and place, but Roth's prose is extraordinary I'm recommending this book to anyone who's serious about literature. I finished the book and immediately began it again to relish the writing and relive the story. The protagonist, Coleman Silk, teaches at a small college in the Berkshires and has lived his entire, turbulent life with an enormous lie. Roth explores the consequences of such a life and such a lie. The book is set in 1998, at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.
Maya Liteplo, news editor, recommends:
Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter C. Willett
A decade ago the USDA told us that all fats are bad, all complex carbohydrates are good, and eggs are taboo. So we loaded up on white bread and pasta and the U.S. population went from fat to obese. Professor Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard, has re-designed the food pyramid, emphasizing whole grain foods, plant oils, fish, poultry and, yes, eggs. And moderate alcohol consumption is a good thing. (Little victories.) Willett's recommendations are based on solid research, so hopefully they will not go out of date before Christmas.
I plan to give this popular, readable book to my adult children. I don't think they will read it but, as a mother, I feel obligated to do it.
Kay Fairweather, Biodiversity Corner, recommends:
Lost in the Arctic by Lawrence Millman
This collection of 29 stories takes you places you will probably not visit, except vicariously. Many of the stories are from his own travels and the common thread is explained by the understated subtitle, Explorations on the Edge. If you know someone who enjoys far-out places and far-out people, give them this opportunity to go there with Larry. Or if there is someone whose spirit of adventure you would like to nudge, okay, jolt, this is the book to do it. The writing is spare and vivid; it's serious and funny at the same time; it's both gentle and harsh; it's easy reading and yet you will need to pull out the dictionary once in a while; hardly travel stories, more like a trip.
Priscilla Stevens, feature writer and proofreader, recommends:
Waging Modern War by General Wesley Clark
General Wesley Clark's Waging Modern War, believe it or not, is a page-turner! Whether or not one agrees with his point of view, it is articulate, authoritative, and pretty impressive writing. A must-read for those who want to be fully informed about this presidential candidate, and perhaps it would be a good habit to read the books of all candidates to get an insight into the people themselves.
Verna Gilbert, typesetter and Web team member, recommends:
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
This collection of nine short stories addresses the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation and the ties between generations. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. A blackout forces a young Indian-American couple to make confessions that unravel their tattered domestic peace. An Indian-American girl recognizes her cultural identity during a Halloween celebration while the Pakistani civil war rages on television in the background. A latchkey kid with a single working mother finds affinity with a woman from Calcutta who, among other things, is struggling to learn to drive.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri's first novel enriches the main themes of assimilation and generational differences found in Interpreter of Maladies. It covers thirty years of the Ganguli family, taking them from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their transformation into Americans. Right after their arranged marriage, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle in Cambridge where he goes to graduate school, after which he becomes a professor in the Boston area. They adopt American ways, yet all of their friends are Bengalis. For young Gogol, (who finds his strange name a constant irritant) and his sister, Boston is home, and trips to Calcutta to visit relatives are voyages to a foreign land.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
This historical novel presents a sweeping portrait of an unconventional woman carving her own destiny in an era defined by violence, passion, and adventure. An orphan raised in Valparaiso, Chile, by a Victorian spinster and her rigid brother, young and vivacious Eliza Sommers follows her lover to California during the Gold Rush of 1849, a danger-filled quest that becomes a momentous journey of transformation. In this world of panhandlers and prostitutes, immigrants and aristocrats, Eliza discovers a new life of freedom, independence, and love.
Midge Eliassen, photographer, recommends:
The Big House by George Howe Colt
A well-written memoir of a century-old summer home, now on the market, and the family for whom it was the central place for several generations. The house is on Wing's Neck on Cape Cod, the family are Boston Brahmins, but the book is wonderfully evocative for anyone who has had a beloved multi-generational summer place. Both my family members, who have shared a similar place and experiences, and friends who have wondered about what it's like, have loved this book. It is a portrait of a time and lifestyle which are disappearing, but which shaped many of us.
Three Junes by Julia Glass
I loved this novel it spans about ten years in the lives of members of a family, taking place in Greece, Scotland, and New York, in three different years (the Junes are months, not people). I stumbled over it in an airport before it got the National Book Award, so had the treat of an unexpected treasure which I really savored. It is well written, wise and warm, with relationships and plot that led me to reflect on elements of family relationships, communication, loneliness, and love family love, love in marriage, homosexual love, love of friends.
Another book I have selected for a gift, but have not read:
Water Music, by Marjorie Ryerson
A "coffee table" book with wonderful photographs of water, accompanied by writings (stories, memoirs, poetry) by 66 musicians about the meaning of water in their lives. A really beautiful book. Benefits a United Nations fund to protect and restore clean water.
Parkman Howe, Forum writer, recommends:
Willow Temple: New and Selected Stories by Donald Hall
Poet and essayist and New Hampshire resident Donald Hall has a new collection of stories. One sentence and he has us: "We lived on a farm outside Abigail, Michigan, when I was a girl in the 1930s;" or "In 1937, Depression times, my mother left my father and me." Good reading for a winter's hearth.
American Sea Writing edited by Peter Neill
From William Strachey on "A True Reportory of the Wrack and Redemption of Sir Thomas Gates, Knight," to John McPhee on the dangers of contemporary ships, this anthology culls marvelous moments that show the sea in multitudinous moods.
Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? by William Dever Eerdmans
Books with question marks in the title usually take us on guided tours. Here, we go from the Creation to the Exodus, from the Conquest to the Exile. Along the way we visit the current, bitter debates in archaeology, as well as the Middle East troubles. And the answers? Canaanites, from Palestine, with a few Egyptian slaves thrown in.
Last of the Amazons by Stephen Pressfield
This book was actually published in 2002, but it's a rattling good yarn about Theseus, Hippolyta, and Antiope, in the vein of Pressfield's previous Gates of Fire, about the battle of Thermopylae. This is the dark side of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The battle scenes and the discussions of cultures and their conflicts grip the heart and the mind.
Gettysburg by Stephen W. Sears
At 514 pages of prose, this is a detailed account of the most important battle on American soil. But Sears had me reading his footnotes. If you liked The Killer Angels, this historical account provides the facts behind Michael Shaara's fiction. The portraits of Little Round Top on Day Two and Pickett's Charge on Day Three approach Aristotle's definition of tragedy: pity and fear.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito