Friday, December 2, 2005
The Mosquito staff suggests books for holiday gift-giving
Is there a better gift than a book? I may be prejudiced (full disclosure requires me to admit that I work in an independent book store), but can anything equal a book for its diversity, ease and appeal to the senses? Stroll through any book store, real or online, and you will find something to please everyone on your shopping list There's nothing easier to wrap than a book, and mailing is a snap. The Post Office even has a special, low book rate. But most of all, I love the feel of a hardcover in my hands, the smell of the pages, and I have been known to purchase a book simply on the merit of a beautiful book jacket.
So if you're inclined to present a book as a gift, here are some great suggestions from erudite readers and inveterate book-givers.
Kay Fairweather, Biodiverstiy Corner author, recommends:
These Are My Rivers (new and selected poems 1955 — 1993), by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
This collection of poems by the beat poet Ferlinghetti makes a great gift for the poetry lovers on your list. People who enjoyed him in the '50s and '60s will get to see the pertinence of his earlier work in light of today's society and also be able to read some more recent poems. Those who are too young or who missed him for other reasons will get a wonderful mix of lyricism, anger so eloquent it avoids being strident, cynicism tempered with humor, and a glorious absence of political correctness. He has noted "the close identification of the United States and the Promised Land, where every coin is marked In God We Trust, but the dollar bills do not have it, being gods unto themselves," and maybe because of that or for many other reasons he is "awaiting perpetually and forever a renaissance of wonder."
For Love of Insects, by Thomas Eisner
This book could not be more aptly named. Thomas Eisner is not perpetually awaiting a rebirth of wonder; he is actively pursuing his insatiable sense of wonder and his abiding love of insects. He is a professor of chemical ecology at Cornell University who describes himself as "primarily a field biologist." He designs ingenious experiments to discover the workings of the insect world, and he is a talented storyteller. His writing is accessible, engaging, and yet scholarly. The book is illustrated with amazing photographs on almost every page. Each chapter stands alone and tells its own story. It would make a good gift for anyone with even a budding fondness for insects, and also anyone with curiosity about the hows and whys of nature.
Susan Goodall, photographer, recommends:
Don't Stop the Carnival, by Herman Wouk
Anyone who has ever built a house, remodeled or just thought about it will find this old book very funny. Read it before Jimmy Buffet turns it into a musical.
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, by Edward R. Tufte
These two books will interest anyone who has ever tried to display complex information or ideas visually. Both of them are chock full of interesting examples such as Charles Joseph Minard's classic graph showing the terrible fate of Napoleon's army in Russia.
The Bread Bible, by Beth Hensperger
Cooks of all levels will enjoy this wonderful bread book. It has over 300
recipes for baking all types of bread covering everything from daily loaves to exotic holiday breads. There are even recipes for the bread machine.
Ginny Lamere, reporter, recommends:
The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman
What happens when a widowed 60-year old woman decides to become a spy for the CIA? Hold on to your hat! Through a series of mishaps and crossed communications, both comical and believable, Mrs. Pollifax takes us from New Jersey to Mexico to Albania. What was supposed to be an easy job gets bungled; Mrs. Pollifax gets kidnapped and makes a daring escape. This is the first in a series of Mrs. Pollifax adventures. My whole family enjoys these tales of intrigue and excitement, and we often listen to them as books-on-tape for long car rides. Good for young teens through adults.
The Proving Ground: The Inside Story of the 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart Race, by G. Bruce Knecht
This is a gripping account of a 630-mile boat race from Sydney to Hobart that goes terribly awry when a cyclone hits. One hundred fifteen boats started the race in December 1998; some were the most sophisticated racing yachts in the world. Only 43 made it to the finish line. A storm warning was issued one hour after the start of the race. The story centers around the tremendous storm that hit the fleet and the extraordinary efforts to rescue the crews who were caught in it. The cyclone created waves 80 feet high. Boats were destroyed and men were lost at sea. The book focuses on three main contenders for the prize, names you may recognize, like Larry Ellison and Lachlan Murdoch. It is a good story of competition, daring and foolhardiness. It is also a character study of those that are driven to extremes by their competitive nature. I'd recommend this book for those who have a love of the sea and boats and a taste for adventure.
The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story, by Gavin Weightman
In 1806, a brig left Boston Harbor bound for a Caribbean island with quite an unusual cargo: large chunks of ice packed in hay cut from a frozen Massachusetts lake. It would take Frederic Tudor years of hardship and perseverance to realize his dream of making a fortune selling ice. His new enterprise would create an industry that would employ thousands of men and use as many horses harvesting millions of tons of ice. Tudor understood how valuable our New England ice could be to the world. People from the Carolinas to Calcutta would benefit from his creative venture and crave his product. Even ice from Walden Pond was cut and sold. This story is a little-known page from our local history. It's a good story of how hard it is and how long it takes to reach our goals.
Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer
Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. The powerful British army and navy had defeated the patriots in New York and the army occupied three colonies. George Washington lost 90% of his army and had retreated across the Delaware. The author recounts history, with excerpts from documents and diaries from all sides of this conflict. Fischer describes in detail the pivotal events around the crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night and how the patriots defeated the British and German forces. He also delves into the evolution of an American army that is less rigid and hierarchical than its European counterparts, why this was beneficial, how an American ethic of warfare was formed and how moral victories could have powerful material effects. I was struck by how close the Americans came to losing the war against the British. I also enjoyed getting a sense of how the English and Germans viewed the conflict. There are similarities between the American Revolution and the present war in Iraq, although, we are more like the British of 1776 in that conflict. This book is a good read if you like history, want a well-rounded view of what was happening in December, 1776, and want to relearn why it is difficult to control or defeat those fighting for the ground they live on.
Priscilla Stevens, assistant editor, recommends:
The Island at the Center of the World, by Russell Shorto
For history buffs, this is an account of the Dutch settlement of Manhattan in the early part of the 17th century. Shorto makes the story dramatic and interesting by including, in the style of David McCullough, short biographical sketches of both the important and the less important people who played a part in establishing not the city on the hill that boston was, but a bustling business center and melting pot at the edge of the wilderness. He shows convincingly that in the time that the Dutch occupied what is now New York, New jersey, and upper Delaware, they laid the foundations for thye commercial center of the world thatis the New York of today.
American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kaufman
Again for those who like history and biography, this is a fascinating look at the Lincoln assassination from the point of view of the man who planned and executed it. Kaufman debunks many of the common myths about the Lincoln assassination (Booth did not, for example, break his leg when he jumped to the stage of Ford's Theatre) and gives probably the most complete picture yet of the actor who thought he was acting as a patriot and the murder he committed. A great read.
Lesley Castle by Jane Austen, foreword by Zoe Heller
This small book is a collection of Austen juvenilia, including Lesley Castle, The History of England, and Catharine, or the Bower, all written by a teenaged Jane Austen to be read by her sister Cassandra and other members of her family. For Austen fans, it will be delightful, as it is easy to see the roots from which the later masterpieces grew. For those who have not yet encountered Austen on the page, the stories will be surprisingly fresh and quite humbling, in that they are already sophisticated and literary. This is a lovely read with a cup of something warm on a winter's afternoon.
Betty McCullough, typesetter, recommends:
Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity and the Exploration of the Red Planet by Steve Squyres
This is really my husband's recommendation but I am going to give it a try. Steve Squyres is the scientific principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. He gives a very good review of the day-by-day activities required to run a scientific space hardware program with all its highs and lows. Anyone who has had experience with space hardware or government contracting should be interested in this fascinating book.
Ellen Miller, reporter and proofreade,r recommends:
The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam
I'm giving three men on my holiday gift list this book. David Halberstam is an outstanding writer who has turned his journalistic talents to our own enigmatic, brilliant, low-key and awesome Patriots coach, Bill Belichick. Although I haven't yet read the book, I expect that Halberstam explores Belichick's considerable leadership abilities and traces his background to determine how they developed. In Halberstam's hands, this is far more than just a celebrity book.
The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate by Marjorie Williams
The title is from a poem by Randall Jarrell and the book is a compilation of columns and essays by Washington Post and Vanity Fair writer, Marjorie Williams. A consummate writer, Williams wrote about the legendary figures in Washington, D.C. in the past 20 years. More recently, she wrote about her battle with the cancer that claimed her, at 47, earlier this year. These heartbreaking parts of the book are reminiscent of another great writer, Joan Didion, whose memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, concerns the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the ultimately fatal illness of their daughter. Williams and Didion share with the reader their intimate knowledge of life's most difficult challenges. This, in itself, is a gift.
Verna Gilbert, typesetter and web team member, recommends:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Christopher Boone is 15 and is autistic. He knows a great deal about math and little about human beings. When he finds his neighbors's dog murdered, he sets out on journey which turns his world upside down. By making Christopher his narrator, Haddon has created a story defined and limited by his hero's logical, literal-minded point of view. This minimalistic narrative results in a powerful and moving story.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Eddie, a wounded war veteran, has lived an uninspired life; his job, fixing rides at a seaside amusement park. On his 83rd birthday, he is killed as he tries to save a little girl from a falling cart. He awakes in the afterlife, where he learns that heaven is not a destination, but a place where your life is explained to you by five people, some of whom you knew, others who may have been strangers. One by one, from childhood to soldier to old age, Eddie's five people revisit their connections to him on earth, drawing light of his "meaningless" life and making the reader think about what life is all about.
Nancy Shohet West, feature writer, recommends:
Monkey Dancing by Daniel Glick
Reeling from two personal tragedies — the death of his beloved older brother and the departure of his wife — Daniel Glick decided in 2001 to take his two children, ages 9 and 12, on a five-month tour of Southeast Asia and Australia. His account of the journey describes in captivating detail all three strands of the journey he undertook. It is simultaneously a record of his attempt to forge a stronger relationship with his children, a meditation on grieving as he tries to come to terms with two devastating losses and a travelogue of the adventures experienced throughout a range of unusual destinations. This would make a particularly appropriate gift for fathers, as the challenges and joys of parenting that Glick faces during his journey are just the same as those any other parent faces on a daily basis, but magnified exponentially by the unusual circumstances.
I Remember Running: The Year I Got Everything I Ever Wanted - and ALS by Darcy Wakefield
The title says it all. This short book is a collection of concise, tightly crafted little essays by Darcy Wakefield on the almost unimaginable twelve-month span during which she was diagnosed with ALS, met her husband, got married, watched her health and mobility deteriorate, and had a child. As sad as Wakefield's fate is, her insights into her situation are fascinating as she struggles with everything, from finding a new house that can accommodate her disability to defending her belief in God, to confronting her fears about pregnancy.
Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
NPR listeners know Maureen Corrigan as the book reviewer for Fresh Air. She is also a college professor and a Washington Post columnist. This book details her and defends some of her favorite standbys, from Jane Eyre to The Maltese Falcon, and draws constant parallels between reading and living as she explains her interest in "extreme female adventure stories," detective novels and tales of Catholic martyrs.
Susan Mills, display ad department, recommends:
The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
For an enjoyable, quick read, The Rule of Four is just the right book. Set largely on the campus of Princeton University, the story is a coming of age novel built around the mystery of the Hypernotamacha Poliphili, a Renaissance book with a puzzle that has frustrated scholars for ages. A fun mix of history, art history and code breaking, interspersed with tales of modern campus life combine to create an unusual and entertaining story.
1776 by David McCullough.
1776 is a must read for anyone interested in US History and living in this area. The book draws from considerable historical material to present a very human picture of the events of a pivotal year. Written in an engaging and captivating way, the narrative brings the people and events of the revolution to life and enables an understanding of that period in our history.
Cecile Sandwen, reporter, recommends:
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
If you like your history heavy on politics and relationships, I would definitely recommend this book. Kearns presents Lincoln as the master politician in the best sense of the word — thoroughly in touch with the people, an enemy to no one, and capable of marshalling wildly disagreeing parties toward a goal — including the disparate personalities he chose to man his cabinet. The relationships among Lincoln, Seward, Chase, Bates, and Stanton become the backdrops for understanding Lincoln's personality, influences, and the times in which he lived. Goodwin's writing is clear and lively, and she covers her subjects thoroughly without bogging down in trivia. This is definitely one of the best biographies I've read.
Penny Zezima, production manager,
Sky Burial, by Xinran
A true story of a Chinese woman who joins the army in search of her MIA husband, missing in the conflict with Nepal. A tiny gem, this book explores unbreakable bonds of loyalty, true sacrifice and the manner in which we overcome our prejudices, all set in beautiful, windswept Nepal.
The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly
For those who savor a well-written legal mystery that is a cut above John Grisham, this is the book to read and give. This book had me from the first page, primarily due to the sublime writing talents of Michael Connelly, whose series of mysteries featuring Harry Bosch are a treat.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
This book was a bestseller this summer, but I think it makes a better dead-of-winter book, dealing with the arcane lore of vampires in the manner of Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code. What begins with a tantalizing letter found in an old library, whose salutation begins "My dear and unfortunate successor," becomes a breathless adventure through various antiquated cities
Marilyn Harte, feature editor, recommends:
Praying for Gil Hodges, by Thomas Oliphant
This book, written by the Boston Globe columnist Thomas Oliphant, is a must for the baseball fan in your family. It is the story of the nine-year-old Oliphant and his struggling family living in a middle-class neighborhood of Brooklyn at the time of the 1955 World Series. The Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team was a source of joy for the entire family. In Praying for Gil Hodges, Oliphant recreates the seventh game of the '55 World Series, "pitch by pitch, inning by inning." This is a wonderful book about a famous baseball team and about a family that loved and rooted for them.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito