Friday, December 7, 2007
Mosquito staff suggests books for gift-giving
If you are a book lover, there is nothing more thrilling than holding a brightly wrapped gift book in your hands. You know by its feel that it couldn't be a tie or a fruit basket or a scarf, and the act of unwrapping it to see just what you've been given is part of the fun. And there it is — that book you've been meaning to buy and didn't! You admire the cover, turn it over, flip some pages, and you can't wait to start reading.
To quote Shakespeare, those giving books for the holidays are twice blessed: "it blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
Mosquito staffers, all of whom are bookish and love to give books as gifts, share some of their special choices for the season. The variety is enormous — biographies, historical fiction and non-fiction, novels and kids' books — and whales and elephants make an appearance, too.
Nancy Pierce, proofreader, recommends:
The Undressed Art: Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart. More or less outside of modern and postmodern changes in the zeitgeist of major institutions in the art world, large groups of ordinary adults, most of whom don't think of themselves as "artists," have become absorbed in the nearly outmoded practice of drawing the human figure on paper. Steinhart explores the sources and effects of this fascination, chronicling what captivates, drives and rewards everyone involved (instructors, students, and models) in the process. A great gift for anyone who likes, or aspires, to draw.
Rik Pierce, Mosquito photographer, recommends:
Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. Earlier this summer I read (well, no... I listened to the audio book) Einstein. This is quite a long and therefore possibly daunting project, you might think. I found it fascinating all the way through. It is a biography mainly, but it does deal some with Einstein's famous theories. But mainly it's a story about a fascinating individual, much of which is told through letters to and from him.
If you are interested in superstrings, time-space continuum and why there can be no such thing as simultaneity, I might recommend The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene. But don't go to the library right now. I still have the book out, and I'm not a quarter of the way through.
Ginny Lamere, reporter, recommends:
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson. In the fall of 1991, 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey, two scuba divers found a WWII German U-boat. All official documents stated there could be no U-boat at that location. This is a gripping account of how two divers spent six years unraveling and finally solving the mystery. This non-fiction story is suspenseful and a nail-biter at times. Good for teens through adults.
Skating on the Edge: A Memoir and Journey through a Metamorphosis of the CIA by Carlos D. Luria. This is a non-fiction account of the early years at the CIA, an insight into its errors and exploits. It's an engaging story of a German immigrant who worked for the CIA to recruit spies. James Bond will no longer seem like a farce after this short, intriguing read. It also explains why intelligence gathering is so important and how the U.S. has failed to do it over the decades. Good for adults, not for the faint of heart.
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer. Kinzer tracks U.S. foreign policy for more than 100 years, explaining how American politicians, spies, military commanders and businessmen used the U.S. government to depose foreign regimes in Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Honduras, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Iraq and others. You will see how we have wreaked havoc, leaving countries to flounder in despair, poverty and chaos. Iraq is not the first time. It won't make you proud to be an American, but it will give you reasons why people across the globe hate us. It's an intense read, good for high school students and adults.
Cecile Sandwen, reporter, recommends:
The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman. The settlement of the Great Plains is the topic of this novel which views the history of the Senger family through stories told to young Asa by his mysterious Aunt Hazel. Hazel has come to Asa's Minnesota farm after spending years in a mental institution. Her stories about her German family's coming to settle in the area in the mid-1800s are of endurance supported by a mythic belief system carried from the old country. With no other nearby white neighbors, the family's survival depends on the help of the local Dakota natives.
When the Sioux Wars erupt, Hazel is captured by the same Dakota who were her childhood friends, including one with whom she is in love. In a story with echoes in our own times, Maltman explores the painful landscape in which friends and neighbors are now called enemies.
Bridge of Sighs by Robert Russo. I grew up in upstate New York and took the first opportunity to leave, so I am fascinated by Richard Russo's depictions of people in New York's dying mill towns who choose to stay. In Nobody's Fool, Mohawk, and now Bridge of Sighs, Russo illustrates how the bonds of family, community, and history tie a person to a place, providing an attachment that the lure of opportunity elsewhere can't break. In Bridge of Sighs, Lucy (a mashup of his true name, Lou C.) Lynch has grown up in Thomaston, New York, and looks back on his high school friendship with the now-famous artist Robert Noonan. Noonan moved to Venice after high school and has not returned. Both Lucy and Robert were in love with Sarah, and she made a fateful choice to marry Lucy. The class distinctions that inform small town life, the difficulties of family relationships, and the cost of breaking ties are all themes explored in this novel.
Susan Emmons, general manager, recommends:
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, illustrated by Giselle Potter. This is a special book for families who love words and is recommended for kids ages four to eight. In this story the young boy Selig voraciously collects words that intrigue and fascinate him and eventually finds that he can sprinkle these words to his friend the poet and others.
Susan Mills, advertising manager, recommends:
Intuition by Allegra Goodman. The book is a wonderful novel that examines the inner workings of a prestigious cancer research laboratory. It explores the relationships among a group of scientists in their quest to uncover the next big breakthrough in the fight against cancer. The central plot — fraud in the laboratory — is examined from the perspective of each of the characters in the lab: the directors, the scientists, the post-docs, the lab technicians and all their families. The result is a compelling story that sympathetically exposes the ambitions of those involved and the pressures they must endure. It creates a human side to the world of scientific research and would be a wonderful gift for any adult interested in a behind-the-scenes look.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. For those interested in history, and who like to read non-fiction, I highly recommend Collapse. The book, a sequel to Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, examines several ancient as well as modern collapses in terms of environmental, societal and geographic changes. Diamond then exhorts us to learn from the past and in a very compelling way relates the phenomenon of the ancient societies to threats we are experiencing around the world today.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. This book is one that I have not read but really hope to receive as a Christmas gift! Those who have read it rave about how it connects us with the food we eat, helps us understand our obsession with food and provides some insight into the food industry. For all of us who love to eat and cook, this book would seem to be the perfect gift!
Priscilla Stevens, assistant editor, recommends:
Wickett's Remedy, by Myla Goldberg. This is a historical novel about the years preceding America's involvement with World War I and of the influenza epidemic of the war years. The main character, Lydia Wickett, grows up in South Boston and her adventures take her from there to the Back Bay and Gallup's Island. The research into the period is solid, and the description is great. Not "heavy" reading, but very absorbing.
Shakespeare, by Peter Ackroyd. This is a "big" biography of Shakespeare that picks up all the detail not included in Will in the World. It covers the time in which Shakespeare lived, economically, socially and politically, and explores all the documented information we have about him and the people in his life. It also presents the best picture I've had so far of the conventions of Elizabethan theater. By the author's own admission, Shakespeare himself remains a somewhat elusive personality, but this is the most comprehensive and fascinating portrait we have yet of the man and his work.
Leviathan, by Eric Jay Dolin. For history buffs, this is the story of the American whaling industry from the 1600s to the 20th century. It's an interesting perspective from which to view other events in American history, too, like the Revolution and the Civil War. The first two-thirds of the book are about the origins and rise of the industry here, and provide graphic descriptions of life on a whaling ship, financing the expeditions, and the vicissitudes of the industry during wartime. American whale oil once lit London's dark, foggy streets, and American-owned companies once supplied the U.S. and Europe with almost all the other products from whales.
The last third of the book is about the decline of American whaling, introducing modern technology from the viewpoint of an industry that was quickly becoming obsolete. This is a great read, and it will inspire you to go on a whale watch to glimpse these magnificent animals, now protected, that were nearly obliterated from the planet.
Verna Gilbert, typesetter and web team member, recommends:
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. This novel offers a glimpse of circus life during the Depression as remembered by Jacob Jankowski, now in his 90s. The book addresses the issues of aging, diversity, love and relationships via the trio of Jacob, an untrainable elephant and an equestrian star.
The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh. This adventure and romance novel is set in the islands in the Bay of Bengal, where isolated inhabitants live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. Enter a young American woman who comes to study river dolphins and a local fisherman who becomes her translator and assistant and you have an enthralling story.
Magic Time by Doug Marlette. Moving between New York City and the New South of the early 1990s, with flashbacks to
Mississippi's cataclysmic Freedom Summer of 1964, this book is a powerful love story, a courtroom drama and a complex portrait of the civil rights revolution.
Darlene D'Amour, reporter, recommends:
Boy, by Roald Dahl. Like many parents, I sometimes read books brought home for school projects. Boy is the children's book author's autobiography of his childhood at English boarding schools. He tells of cruel headmasters and their caning punishment to deter pranks, of missing home, of escapades funny and grotesque. Reaching back to the child he was, he remembers how vulnerable a child is to adults, bringing to life both the pain and the hijinks of his boyhood. For children from about fourth grade and up to adult.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, by Ruth Reichl. Our family listened to the CD version of this book in the car during several road trips. Reichl, the Gourmet magazine editor, writes of her life when she was the New York Times' restaurant critic. She often disguised herself with wigs and costumes to dine at some of New York's finest restaurants without being recognized. Between Reichl's great storytelling and the way the actress who reads the CD version channels characters with different voices, this is an urbane, entertaining tale of the pursuit of fine food.
Betsy Fell, news editor, offers her daughter Katy's recommendations on children's books for ages 10 to 14
Moon Window by Jane Louise Curry. This book is about a girl who comes to her great-aunt's ancient house and discovers a mystery involving a window that transports you through time.
Sandry's Book by Tamora Pierce is the first in a series called The Winding Circle. It's about four young mages — Briar, Daja, Tris and Sandry. They meet and are taken to Winding Circle Temple to live where they learn the real extent of their power.
Penny Zezima, production manager, recommends:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This book tells an intriguing tale that will appeal to the bibliophile in your life, as well as the reader who devours the writings of Austen and the Bronte sisters. Bookish Margaret Lea is summoned to the country home of Vida Winter, a mysterious writer who insists on unfolding her life in stories. Perfect for reading while curled up in front of the fire.
The Window Shop by Ellen Miller, Ilse Heyman and Dorothy Dahl. I have many relatives who went to school in the Cambridge area, and I have given each of them this book, much to their delight. The story of The Window Shop, which operated in Cambridge from 1939 to 1972, is the story of Americans reaching out and helping refugees and in the process creating a landmark that is still recalled fondly today.
Pssst! by Adam Rex. Rex, who wrote the hilarious Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, has craftedanother funny picture book that centers around a little girl who visits the zoo and ends up running errands for the animal inhabitants. Sharp eyes will find the story being told even on the end papers, and every page provides a giggle or two, leading up to a very satisfying ending.
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin. This is a memoir written by a journalist living in New York who grew up in Zimbabwe. He is summoned home by his mother, following his father's heart attack. What Godwin finds at home besides an ailing father is an ailing African homeland under the corrupt rule of President Robert Mugabe. Godwin's father recovers, and on Godwin's visits to Zimbabwe over the next few years, he learns about a family tragedy, while watching the collapse of the country of his youth, which was once one of the better-run countries on the continent.
My husband and I visited a well-run Zimbabwe in 1989 and have been shocked and saddened to read newspaper reports and powerfully written books such as this, telling what has been happening to the people there over the past decade or two.
Marilyn Harte, assistant editor, recommends:
Nureyev by Julie Kavanagh. Having recently watched a PBS special on the early life of the Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, up until his defection to the West in 1961, I was eager to learn more about Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century. Shortly after viewing the TV program, I came across a lengthy review in the New Yorker of Kavanagh's 2007 book, Nureyev, all 782 pages, including a wonderful collection of photogaphs. I have bought the book and am delighted to be reading it with the the intention of giving one to my daughter-in-law Lyudmila, who grew up in Russia and studied ballet in her youth.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito