Friday, December 3, 2004
The Mosquito staff suggests books for holiday gift giving
I don't know if you are anything like me, but I stayed at home the day after Thanksgiving. With all the talk about shoppers heading to the mall, especially the early morning shoppers lining up to take advantage of post-Thanksgiving sales when the stores opened at 5 a.m., I just wanted to be at home savoring an early morning cup of coffee along with a leftover piece of pumpkin pie.
Now with the shopping frenzy back to the usual hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I'm ready to venture out to a favorite bookstore or two. I try to avoid the chain stores and focus on the independent stores in the area and some as far away as Cambridge. Of course, there is Amazon.com if browsing in bookstores is not something you enjoy.
As is our tradition here at the Mosquito, we have asked members of our staff to recommend books that they believe would be wonderful gifts for family members or friends during this month of celebrations — Hanukkah and Christmas.
Susan Mills, display ad department, recommends:
Kite Runner by Khaled Hossein is a debut novel which provides insight into the political turmoil in Afghanistan as well as an enjoyable story. The novel follows the life of Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman in Kabul, and his friend/servant Hassan. The young boys live in comfort in Afghanistan in the early 1970s but their idyllic lives are transformed by the Taliban rule. While not a memoir, the novel has the feel of one, with genuine characters and a story which is believable and heartwarming.
For those who enjoy non-fiction, The Frozen Water Trade by Gavin Weightman is a fascinating account of the beginnings of trade in ice. A Bostonian, Frederic Tudor, hatched a scheme in the early 19th century to farm ice from New England ponds and rivers, and deliver it to the Caribbean so the inhabitants of the warm climates could enjoy cold beverages and ice cream in the era before refrigeration. Tudor was ridiculed along the way but eventually made a fortune harvesting, shipping and selling ice from New England. The book is interesting in its examination of the advent of the new industry and the part played by people and familiar places in New England.
While I haven't read it myself, I recently gave my parents A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson to listen to on tape while they drove to the Midwest. They thoroughly enjoyed the book and encouraged me to recommend it! The author explains the book as "how we went from being nothing at all to there being something and then how a little of that something turned into us and also what happened in between and since." Bryson interviewed hundreds of scientists and made their research and discoveries comprehensible to the average reader in his usual witty and amusing way.
Betty McCullough, typesetter, recommends:
For anyone on your list who is thinking of going to China or is just interested in this dynamic country, I would recommend River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler. (winner of the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize). Hessler recounts his experiences as a Peace Corps teacher of English and American literature at the local college in Fuling on the Yangtze River as that city prepares for the consequences of the Three Gorges Dam project.
The Chinese by Jasper Becker (Beijing Bureau Chief for the south China Morning Post). For anyone interested in the Chinese economy, this is your book. Becker goes behind the facade of the current boom to examine the real situation of each stratum of society as it deals with institutionalized poverty and crime.
Williams-Sonoma Savoring China by Jacki Passmore. My daughter-in-law gave me this book thinking I should learn something about the food we would have on our trip to China. I have not made any of the dishes yet but the pictures of the countryside and of each recipe along with its associated story make a handsome travelogue.
Verna Gilbert, typesetter and Web team member, recommends:
The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst
This culinary reference contains about 6,000 entries on subjects related to food and drink, encompassing foods from around the world, cooking techniques, meat cuts, kitchen utensils, wine, and cocktail terms. There are 68 pages of appendices, covering everything from ingredient equivalents to consumer information contacts, additives, frying temperatures, and seasonings. This is a great book for both the novice and experienced cook.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
The rhythmic, gently lulling words and soothing pictures make this story of a little rabbit saying goodnight to all the familiar things in his moonlit room a great story to read to children ages one to five at bedtime.
The Wiggles: Top of the Tots DVD
The Wiggles sing 17 original songs in this DVD for preschoolers, ranging from silly to interactive to educational. In addition to the usual cast of dancers and costumed costars — including Henry the Octopus, Wags the Dog, and Dorothy the Dinosaur — the Wiggles hook up "via satellite" with a New York City fireman, a dentist, an airline pilot, and an Olympic gold medalist, who talk about their chosen professions and the tools of their trade.
Kay Fairweather, Biodiversity Corner, recommends:
Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is a collection of stories describing "a world where order arises from the seeming coincidence of the smallest things."The subject matter is moss, and the treatment of the topic is colored by the author's Native American heritage and informed by her scholarship. The language is poetic and evocative. You can feel the warmth and the dampness and the footprints of chipmunks. She is able to transfer her own delight and wonder in her topic in a way thatengages you.I am reminded of Tom and Ray.There are a few technical bits, for the botanists, but they don't dominate.Consider this book as a gift for any nature lover, and for those who enjoy the woods but have yet to notice the small things.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
This novel has been on recent best-seller lists but some still may have missed it — perhaps for that reason. It is a funny, sad, bittersweet detective story narrated by an autistic teenage boy. It escapes sentimentality. Experts in autism say that the portrayal is authentic so the book also has an educational aspect. A gift for anyone who has missed it — even people who have little time for reading will thank you for acquainting them with this tale.
Essential Flavors by Leslie Brenner and Katharine Kinsolving
The subtitle The Simple Art of Cooking with Infused Oils, Flavored Vinegars, Essences, and Elixirs sums it up nicely. The book tells you how to make the infusions as well as giving recipes for their use. There are no photos but the text is well presented and the instructions are easy to follow. The intensity of the flavors comes through so strongly you can taste them from just reading the book. Good for dieters - you don't have to eat the food — you can just read about it. This is a gift that could bring out the inner cook in those who didn't know they had one and would also be appreciated by herb and veggie gardeners, and of course, cooks.
Marilyn Harte, feature editor, recommends:
Time and Tide, A Walk Though Nantucket by Frank Conroy
In May I received this book as a birthday gift from my son Will. Our family has been vacationing on Nantucket for 36 years, so of course I would be interested in the author's experiences on the island over the past 50 years.
Conroy came to Nantucket first as a college student in 1955 looking for a summer job. He describes later experiences playing jazz piano in the island's bars, raising a barn in the '60s with the help of hippie carpenters, watching tourism and the number of summer visitors take off, and the changing scene in Nantucket Town with its clash of cultures between the working class and the super rich. Throughout it all he revels in the island's history and landscape, its dunes and beaches, its moors and cranberry bogs.
Conroy is the longtime director of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop in Iowa City. He is the author of Stop-Time and Body and Soul, two of my favorite books. Time and Tide is a beautifully written book, one that is a joy to read, especially by those who have spent time or wish to spend time on Nantucket Island.
Susan Goodall, photographer, recommends:
For anyone just getting started in digital photography or wanting to improve his/her technique, I recommend 50 Fast Digital Camera Techniques by Gregory Georges, published by John Wiley and Sons. It is filled with tips on how to use the features of your digital camera to get high quality pictures with little or no editing. It has many examples and a CD with pictures that illustrate the techniques.
For the cooks, I recommend Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, published by John Wiley and Sons. It has great recipes as well as many insider tips to improve everything you cook.
For fiction lovers, I recommend London Bridges by John Patterson, published by Little Brown and Co. I have not read it yet but always like his books.
Cynthia Sorn, reporter
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech Teen/Young Adult 1994
Winner of the Newbery Medal
Sal, a Native American girl, thinks her grandparents are taking forever as they drive across America. Rush, rush, rush, she urges. She is on a quest and feels it may already be too late. To pass the time with Grams and Gramps she shares the story of her friend, Phoebe. What will Sal find at the end? Huzza, huzza! The book is at times funny, sad, outrageously nutty and amazing.
A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly Teen/Young Adult 2003
Winner of the Carnegie Medal, A Michael L. Printz Honor Book
The future for Mattie, an Adirondack farm girl living in 1906, was limited; marriage, babies, work, and death. She dreamed of going to college and becoming a writer, and struggled to find a way to realize her dream. Interwoven into her story is the story of Grace Brown, a young girl hopelessly in love with a popular young man, and her death. This story of intrigue and mystery is based on a true event.
Green Boy by Susan Cooper
Trey and Lou, brothers, live with their Grand and Grammie in the Bahamas. Their father is off somewhere and they know he is a bad man. Lou is different; he doesn't
talk, and has severe seizures. But he has a magical connection to nature. Trey and Lou are stunned when they learn their favorite island is slated for development. At random times they are pulled into an alternate universe, which is also facing pollution and loss of habitat. Can they help both universes? This is a fast-paced book for the middle school reader.
My Year of Meats by Ruth L. Ozeki
Jane, an American-Japanese woman, has the television producer job she has worked so hard for. But how does she deal with finding health risks hidden in the products sponsoring the television program she is producing? On the other side of the world Akiko, a Japanese housewife, struggles with the falsehoods in her life. Their lives eventually become intertwined as they struggle to unravel the dilemmas in their lives. This is an extremely funny and moving book for adults.
Midge Eliassen, photographer, recommends:
The Summer Guest, by Justin Cronin
I received this book as a birthday present from my sister-in-law, the rare pleasure of a book I knew nothing about that I really enjoyed. The novel spans three generations involved with a Maine fishing camp, and from World War II to the mid 1990s. Both WWII and the Viet Nam war are background factors, as are the Maine wilderness and even Florida luxury boating. It starts and ends on a single day, with much flashback, narrated by the different central characters, in between. It is really about sense of place and love — both within family and between individuals, some of whom are of very different economic and experiential backgrounds.
This is a great gift for someone who just loves a well-written good read with believable characters — one that will also make you reflect.
The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, edited by Robert Mankoff
A huge volume (no bed reading of this one) that contains every cartoon published in The New Yorker magazine from its founding in 1925 into 2004. Most of the over 68,000 cartoons are not in the book, but on two CDs which come with it. The CDs can be searched by artist, keyword or caption. (The cartoons, in Adobe format, are encrypted so you can see but not print them.)
The book itself has 2004 cartoons in 650 oversized pages. It is organized by decade (on the "fives" because of the magazine's founding date) with a short essay on each decade's cartoons and how they reflect the concerns of the era, written by one of The New Yorker's renowned writers. Each decade section also contains a biographical sketch and a portfolio of the work of one of the best known cartoonists of the era (e.g. Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, Roz Chast).
This is not a book to read through at once! And it is pricey ($60). But it would be a terrific gift for a family, especially where someone (like me) grew up reading The New Yorker (cartoons and ads way before the meaty text). Picking the book up for a moment and skipping around, or reading a page or two, brings many memories and chuckles. And I haven't even tried yet to look up, say, cartoons with "snow" as the keyword. Fun ahead!
Ellen Miller, Forum writer/proofreader, recommends:
Runaway by Alice Munro.
Canadian author Alice Munro is a consummate writer of fiction. Her short stories often appear in The New Yorker and are literary perfection. This new short-story collection examines women, their marriages, their children, and their parents and Munro's signature empathy and insight enable the reader to recognize her own life. Any discerning reader will appreciate Munro's collection, and if there's someone on your list who hasn't been introduced to her, they'll thank you forever.
Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater
I heard Slater interviewed on NPR and was immediately captivated when he read from his memoir. It's the rather painful story of a boy growing up in Britain in the 1960s and the role that food played at home. His mother, a non-cook, died young and his father remarried the family's cleaning woman. At that point, a culinary battle for the father's affections ensued between the boy and his stepmother. As soon as the program ended, I ordered the book. Foodies and readers who love memoirs will enjoy this book.
Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
This book intrigues me and I hope it will engage a few people on my holiday list. It is not the definitive biography of Shakespeare, but the author does bring to life the color and bawdiness of Elizabethan England and the creative forces that produced the world's greatest playwright. Christopher Marlowe, his rival, and Ben Johnson are as vividly portrayed as our hero.
Priscilla Stevens, reporter, proofreader, recommends:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
This is a novel written from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old autistic boy. That alone is a tall order for a novelist and Haddon does take some necessary liberties. However, he manages to create a good plot and beautifully drawn characters, and lets us believe we have a window into the mind of his young protagonist.
Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, by Lorna Landvik
This is a great gift for a vacation or to save for a summer read. Loosely structured around a book group called "Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons," it traces the stories of its four major characters, who are members of the group. There are some fine descriptive passages, showing a deft touch, and the characters are appealing and well-drawn. There are a number of "book group" books around now; this may be the latest permutation of the "group" novel and is perhaps becoming a genre of its own. This book is one of the most enjoyable of the type.
Breaking the Limit, by Karen Larsen
I reviewed this book in the August 13 issue of the Mosquito. It is written by a young woman who grew up in Carlisle.
Maya Liteplo, news editor, recommends:
Water Is Rising in the Classroom. True Terror Dreams of Teachers collected by Elliott Lilien, Illustrated by Laraine Armenti
This little 89-page paperback will make a good gift for recent high-school graduates from the surrounding towns. Retired CCHS social studies teacher Elliott Lilien has collected night terrors from his colleagues. With chapter titles like "Overwhelmed," "Keeping Up," "Harrassed," and "Chaos," it will be fun for former students to see whether they succeeded in terrorizing their own teachers.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito