The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 12, 2008


The Mosquito recommends books for holiday giving

This year’s seasonal suggestions include a huge variety of books – biography, travel, adventure, fiction, recipes – and more, all recommended by our well-read Mosquito staffers. And you might even give yourself one of these books for the holidays. After all, you deserve it. Happy shopping, happy holidays!

Betty McCullough, typesetter, recommends:
Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
by Sharon Waxman

This is a wonderfully gossipy book tracing the looting of major archaeological pieces by the great powers of Europe and the United States, the continued devious methods used by major museums to acquire more good stuff, and the new forceful methods of the host countries to have their most precious pieces returned. Theft, skullduggery, Swiss holding areas and billionaire collectors all add to the colorful story behind today’s headlines.

Marilyn Harte, assistant editor, recommends:
The Post-American World
by Fareed Zakaria

This book has been chosen for the Cover to Cover Carlisle Community Read 2009 sponsored by the Gleason Public Library that will take place in January. Book discussion groups and cultural events will be held throughout the month in town (see page 20). Zakaria, a journalist who writes a foreign affairs column for Newsweek and often appears on television news shows, has written a book not about the fall of America, but the rise of other countries such as China, Brazil, Russia and many others. The author describes a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy and looks ahead to how this country can understand and thrive under the changing international climate. Whether or not his predictions will survive the current worldwide economic recession remains to be seen. Copies are available at the Gleason Library.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

The Frank in this book is architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a historical novel based upon the love affair between Wright and Mamah Cheney, the wife of one of Wright’s clients in Oak Park, Illinois, in the early 1900s.

In the ’30s and ’40s, as I was growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I remember shopping downtown on the Square with my father at Manchester’s Department Store. Sometimes my dad would lean over and whisper, “See that man over there in the white suit and cape? That’s the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.” We knew all about him and his reputation for leaky houses and bills unpaid back then, when he had his studio and home at Taliesin, a short distance north of Madison. Often, on my way to school, I would pass by one of the Prairie Houses that he had designed.

I have read many books about Wright. This was an especially interesting one, with the focus on a strong woman who gave up much in her life in order to pursue a relationship with the greatest American architect of the 20th century. This book, written in 2007, is now out in paperback.

Susan Emmons, managing editor, recommends:
Alphabet Juice,
by Roy Blount, Jr.

I just received this book as a gift and can (therefore) recommend it as a gift. It is a rambling discussion of words – their origins and uses put together with Blount humor and wit and erudition. Give it to word-loving friends, who will enjoy a book that is not a typical word book.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book recently given to me by a friend rapidly became one of my favorites. It is the story of a young writer looking for a topic. She discovers stories, adventures and warm friendships when she begins a correspondence with a wonderful group of World War II survivors on the island of Guernsey, who formed a literary society to hide their meetings from the occupation troops. It is story of strength, bravery and love, told through letters.



Nancy West, columnist, recommends:
Mr. Emerson’s Wife
by Amy Belden Brown

This is a fictionalized retelling of the life of Lidian Emerson, second wife to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although Transcendentalist scholars and historians might quibble with the accuracy of the details, I loved this book simply for its depiction of what life was like for a Concord homemaker in the mid-19th century: the housekeeping, the child-tending, the fear of illness, the compassion of friends, the hard work of making a marriage endure.

Lady of the Snakes
by Rachel Pastan

Give this novel to the graduate student or young professor on your list. This is the inside story of what it’s like for a 20-something scholar of Russian literature to achieve work-life balance – which in Jane’s case means balancing her all-consuming fascination with the wife of a prominent fictional 19th-century Russian novelist with her obligations to her own household, including her husband and baby. I always like novels that tell you what it’s like to be part of a certain segment of society, in this case the society of grad students and professors in the humanities. Work-life balance is, of course, something that almost all of us can relate to, regardless of our career paths.

Olive Kittredge
by Elizabeth Strout

Readers who enjoy collections of interconnected short stories will appreciate this complex, multi-character depiction of life in a somewhat rundown seaside town in the mid-coast Maine region. What connects the stories, along with the fact that each story either includes the difficult but ineffably sympathetic title character or someone who knows her, is that each story has as its theme the difficult work of sustaining long-term relationships with those we once decided we loved.

Kay Fairweather, Biodiversity Corner editor, recommends:
The Pig Did It 
by Joseph Caldwell

This is the story of a New Yorker who goes to stay with his aunt in a remote part of Ireland to wallow in misery caused by a failed love affair. A pig turns up and gets in the way of his mission of gloom. The writing is vivid and funny and is best suited for the person who enjoys farce. It is not for someone hoping for a traditional who-done-it mystery.

Last Places 
by Lawrence Millman

If you are finding your house a little chilly because you’ve set the thermostat to 60, this book will make you feel cosseted and cozy. It is an account of the author’s journey and adventures in countries from Norway to Newfoundland along the sea routes the Vikings took. He is an excellent storyteller and he takes you to places most of us will never visit and introduces you to the characters he encountered. This is not a travel guide; there is nothing about where to stay or how to find a good restaurant. Better to pack a tent and learn to like whale blubber or fulmar – an “extraordinarily oily bird which tastes like an old tire doused with kerosene.” The book would be a good gift for the vicarious traveler, the hardy and adventurous, those with a fascination for life in the northern latitudes, and anyone who is wondering how low they can set the thermostat.

Reading Lyrics
by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball

Have you ever sat around after dinner with friends and someone starts to sing “Old Devil Moon” and can remember only a couple of lines and no one can help them? If you know someone who would relate to a situation like this, then this would make a great gift. It has the full lyrics of a thousand songs written between 1900 and 1975. When you look up “Old Devil Moon,” you discover it was written by E. Y. Harburg, who also wrote “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.” All the great oldies are there, from writers like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer and dozens of others.

Verna Gilbert, typesetter, recommends:
by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann

Pinkalicious loves the color pink. Tempted by fluffy pink cupcakes, she eats so many that one morning she wakes up and has turned pink! The color won’t come off and the doctor tells her she has to eat green to get better. She still can’t control herself, and eventually turns red. This wonderfully illustrated book teaches the lesson of doing things in moderation. Little girls 3 to 7 years old who love pink will enjoy this book. A follow-up book, Purplicious, is also a winner for this age group.

World Without End by Ken Follett

When I took this 1,000-page book out of the library, I wondered if I could get through it in three weeks. No problem, as it is a page turner taking place mainly in England in the late Middle Ages. This novel has many memorable characters, from politicians to clerics to knights and peasants. This well-researched sequel to The Pillars of the Earth (also good) describes many events of the era, such as the Black Death and the wars with France, and has a very compelling plot.

Penny Zezima, production manager, recommends:
When Wanderers Cease to Roam by Vivian Swift

What happens when a traveling woman puts her suitcases in storage and settles down in a small town on Long Island Sound? You get a journal that is a feast for the mind, illustrated with charming watercolors and minute observations of the world around her, as she learns the art of making a home. This book is a timely reminder of how to make each day a celebration.


The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

This book makes the ideal present for anyone who loves to eat, think and listen to National Public Radio. As the cover states, the book is filled with “recipes, stories and opinions from Public Radio’s award-winning food show.” I love this book not just for the scrumptious recipes, but also for the poems, quotations and fascinating extraneous information sprinkled throughout. I learn with every recipe - so very NPR!

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard

This is my treat to myself this Christmas season. Part thriller, part literary history, it continues the story of Tim Cratchit who, many years later, still inhabits a very Dickensian world of intricate characters surviving in numbing poverty. Beautifully written, this Christmas tale is as satisfying as its predecessor.

Cecile Sandwen, reporter, recommends:
I will be asking for Amitav Ghosh’s new book Sea of Poppies for Christmas. I have read two novels by this author and can highly recommend his work. The two novels The Hungry Tide and The Glass Palace are in paperback and would make excellent gifts for anyone interested in the history and people of India and Myanmar.

The Hungry Tide is set in the Sundarbans of Bengali, India and Bangladesh. The purported protagonist is Piya, an American environmental researcher of Indian heritage, but the real subject is the Sundarbans itself, an area of islands surrounded by unpredictable danger in the form of typhoons and tigers (and since the book was written, tsunamis). The lives of the local villagers are revealed through the fisherman Fokir and the legend of Bon Bibi.

Ghosh enjoys raising moral quandaries: is saving the Bengal Tiger worth the loss of human life to tiger attacks and the displacement of villagers from protected land? An article early this year in the New Yorker on the Sundarbans was an excellent follow-up and confirmed Ghosh’s concerns.

I also read Ghosh’s The Glass Palace, which is a revealing introduction to the history of Burma/Myanmar through the experiences of two people caught in the disintegration of the Burmese monarchy and the turmoil of the last days of British rule (or as Ghosh shows, mis-rule). Again the author raises moral questions, including what is the right action for an Indian soldier in the British army as local independence movements take hold? Ghosh’s strength is developing interesting characters against a backdrop of dramatic history enhanced by descriptive writing. I look forward to reading more.

Susan Mills, advertising manager, recommends:
Unaccustomed Earth
by Jhumpa Lahiri

This a collection of eight short stories. In keeping with her usual theme the stories all involve Bengalis and their struggles to mesh the cultures of India and America. Unlike the earlier Interpreter of Maladies, many of these stories focus on the second generation rather than the immigrants themselves.

The tales are beautifully written, depicting the struggles of individuals trying to find their place among the customs and traditions of their Indian heritage and the freedoms and opportunities of their lives in America. If you enjoyed either of Jhumpa Lahiri’s earlier books, you will not be disappointed; if you have never read any of her stories you are in for a real treat.

In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan

After finishing The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, it is unclear exactly what a person is to eat. The author answers the question in his latest book with some very clear advice-eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Anyone who enjoyed Pollan’s earlier books will undoubtedly find this latest to be interesting, informative and direct in its recommendations for a healthy diet.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling

Finally, something for all of us who miss the imagination and fun of the Harry Potter series, a new collection of five fairy tales! The book is a collection of stories that can be read on their own, without having read the Harry Potter series. Yet, the stories tie in closely with many elements from the series so those of us who loved Harry Potter can once again experience the magic. As an added incentive to purchasing this book, all net proceeds will be donated to the Children’s High Level group, a charity organization dedicated to children, founded in 2005 by J.K.Rowling.

Ellen Miller, feature editor, recommends:
City of Thieves by David Benioff

The setting of this adventure story is the Siege of Leningrad in 1941, and from the opening chapter, it takes off on a breathless, improbable, desperate, often humorous, often nightmarish journey. Our hero, 17-year-old Lev, hooks up with Kolya, a Russian deserter, in prison. A Russian colonel sends them on a nearly impossible mission to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake; if they succeed, they will avoid execution. In their dangerous and circuitous quest for the eggs, the two young men meet a variety of unsavory characters and situations. This book offers a blend of history, adventure, and budding friendship.

The Beginning of Spring
by Penelope Fitzgerald

Continuing the Russian theme, this book takes place in 1913 Moscow, when “change is in the air” (just like now). English publisher Frank Reid’s wife has left him abruptly with three young children to care for. A young Russian woman comes to help out, and the plot takes off from there. The descriptions of the city, the political turmoil and lives in flux are beautifully rendered. Fitzgerald’s quiet, elegant prose coupled with a compelling story makes this an exceptional read.

The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

The title refers to the nine Supreme Court justices. Toobin, a writer on legal affairs for The New Yorker and a senior legal analyst for CNN, has written a compelling book based on interviews with the justices. Among other legal milestones, Toobin analyzes the behind-the-scenes story of Bush v. Gore, which all of us lived through and never understood. This book is for every thoughtful person on your list, and in paperback, it will make a nice stocking stuffer ∆.

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito