The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 10, 2010


Book suggestions for the holidays from the Mosquito staff

Editor’s note: Members of the Mosquito staff were asked “what books would you recommend giving and which would you like to find under the tree?”

from Kay Fairweather:

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland. This is a book of poems for the person who likes humor and social commentary and doesn’t need poetry to rhyme. The title could be translated to “Regular People in Modern America” – this is what the poems are about. They are short and funny and have a point to make or to jab you with. Also, if there is someone you want to nudge into poetry reading, this could be the book to do it.

Tracks and Signs of Insects and Other Invertebrates by Charley Eisman and Noah Charney. If you know someone who is curious about the odd little things they find in the garden or anywhere in nature, this could be the perfect book. It is the first reference guide devoted to decoding invertebrate signs. It has color photographs on every page and covers things like eggs and egg sacs, little shelters made from various materials, marks left by feeding, cocoons, webs, as well as the more typical tracking signs like droppings and footprints. The guide is interesting reading even without a puzzling specimen in hand. It tunes up awareness of what can be seen. It doesn’t mean your recipient should stop saving things on their windowsill to see what they hatch into; it just means they’ll be more prepared for the outcome.

from Marilyn Harte:

Travels In Siberia by Ian Frazier. This is a gift for my son Tim, a Russian professor, who was invited in 2009 to visit a Russian family living on Lake Baikal, in Siberia near the Mongolian border. Portions of this book, in a different form, appeared in The New Yorker at about that time and were read with great enthusiasm by Tim as he prepared for his visit. Now he will be able to move on in Frazier’s book as the author travels across post-Soviet Russia, learning about famous exiles, Siberian gulags, traveling with Russian friends and meeting the people of that vast country.

The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers.We have been reading a lot in recent years about the country of Zimbabwe and its president Robert Mugabe. The author of this book, Douglas Rogers, grew up in Zimbabwe, the son of white farmers, owners of a popular “backpacker” resort in the eastern mountains of that country. Now a journalist and travel writer living in Brooklyn, Rogers returns to his country of birth to support his parents in their alternatingly sad and hilarious fight to protect their home and resort from Mugabe’s corrupt and violent program to reclaim white-owned land. This was a book I gave to my husband for his birthday, but one that would make a great gift for the holiday season.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. This is a good gift for any Carlisle resident since it is the book chosen for Carlisle’s 2011 Community Read in January. Eggers, a journalist, tells the story of a Syrian family living in New Orleans, caught up in the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina. There will be all sorts of Zeitoun-related activities open to the public throughout the month of January – book discussion groups, a panel discussion, films and a New Orleans style dinner, with music by a New Orleans style Jazz Band.

from Verna Gilbert:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. This book is a classic bedtime story for young children. It depicts a very comfortable room with a bunny saying good night to everything around him. The words and illustrations are lulling, making it a perfect way to end the day. Over Thanksgiving week, I read it more times than I can count to my almost 2- and 3 1/2-year-old grandchildren.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I love the imagination and illustrations in this book (geared to 3- to 5-year-olds) about Max, a little boy sent to bed without supper, who then imagines sailing away to the land of Wild Things, where he is made king. The art work is superb and although it might be frightening to some, the language is captivating.

For the 6- to 8-year-old, the book Riddle Me This, a Barefoot Book by Hugh Lupton, has all kinds of mind-bending riddles and stories from all over the world. Folk tales and puzzles increase the pleasure a child can derive from this book – it even has answers in the back!

from Susan Mills:

Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century by Carl Schoonover. A brand new history of scientists’ exploration of the brain with fantastic images, drawings and early sketches. Each chapter is on a different technique used to study the brain, introduced by a leading scientist in the field. The book is authored by a Columbia Neuroscience graduate student and was featured in the New York Times on Tuesday, 11/30/10. I intend to give the book as a gift to my son, who plans to become a Neuroscience graduate student.

My in-laws are Norman Rockwell fans. There is a new book with a somewhat different twist that I will give to them this Christmas. It is an examination of the photographs that Norman Rockwell used to create his paintings. The book is Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick.

New from Bill Bryson and so an easy gift for several fans on my list is At Home: A Short History of Private Life. The book’s format is along the lines of his earlier A Short History on Nearly Everything. Bryson details the history of household items with his usual wit as he walks through his current home, a former Church of England rectory built in the 19th Century.

from Anne Marie Brako:

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill.For those interested in history and how women leaders have influenced it, this book offers an insightful look at the ramifications that one marriage had on a nation and the world. Queen Victoria demonstrated that a woman really can have it all: power, influence and love (although having servants definitely is a plus). A fascinating observation includes how hemophilia, as passed down Victoria’s hereditary line, led to and accelerated the decline of the Russian monarchy.

Wine Lover’s Devotional: 365 Days of Knowledge, Advice, and Lore for the Ardent Aficionado by Jonathan Alsop. I’m recommending this book to all my wine-loving friends and my Barnard book group (as full disclosure, I’ll add this book was written by a former colleague/client/friend). The fascinating prose takes the stuffiness of wine-tastings through the artful combination of Alsop’s excellent research, witty observations and helpful tips. There are also some great recipes, and yes, I’ve subsequently stained a few pages while cooking with my own new favorite dinner companion, Pinot Noir, the lighter red.

from Penny Zezima:

Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter, by Antonia Fraser. Fraser is known for her well researched and very readable biographies, but this memoir is a new direction for her, as she chronicles her love affair and marriage to playwright Harold Pinter. Using her diaries, she warmly recounts a pairing that began in a tabloid frenzy and settled into refined family life, filled with famous and thought-provoking friends.

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, by Simon Winchester. The title says it all. This is a fascinating “biography” of the Atlantic Ocean that I am giving to all my brothers. I loved Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, where he mixed scholarly study with murder most foul. This new work promises to be just as engrossing.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles Shields. Harper Lee, though best know for her classic novel of the South, has led an intriguing life, which Shields presents in such an appealing way that you feel you are sitting across from him at the dinner table. Lee’s childhood mirrors many scenes in To Kill a Mockingbird, but her adult life is equally enthralling, including her friendship with Truman Capote and her involvement in the researching of In Cold Blood. This is a tantalizing look at an elusive woman.

from Susan Emmons

I have two novels to suggest. The first, A Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass, has a particular appeal because it takes place in a small Massachusetts town outside of Boston, a town which in many ways could be Carlisle, Concord or Lexington. The story includes a pre-school moving into the widower’s barn and the ensuing tale of love and friendships and the discovery of new family interactions.

Jan Karon, who wrote the popular Mitford (North Carolina) series, continues her Father Tim series with a very different kind of story which revolves around Tim’s long-awaited trip to Ireland. In the Company of Others takes place in a small village in Ireland and has a mixture of local and historical stories, in which the charisma and kindness of Father Tim continues to charm the reader.

from Ann Quenin:

In my letter to Santa, I asked for 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, by Gary Trudeau. I was fresh out of college when I first made Mike Doonesbury’s acquaintance. Since then Trudeau has let his characters age, has introduced a whole new generation of characters, and has wittily, poignantly and caustically commented on most of the major events of his life and times. Trudeau himself has said about 40: “I didn’t want to annotate the book – comedy explained is not comedy experienced – but I left in just enough references to anchor the characters in time and place. The final result is more novelistic than reportorial. The book is not another greatest-hits collection, nor does it provide a checklist of the major events of the last 40 years. It’s more like a real-time diary of what it felt like to live through them.” I can’t wait.

Revere them or abhor them, the Kennedys have a permanent place in the American psyche. True Compass, by Ted Kennedy, is a well-written, reflective look at his life, his family, its place in history, and at politics as it once was and currently is practiced. Senator Kennedy is at his most lyrical when he talks about the sea, and about how much it has comforted him over his lifetime. He is not so good at acknowledging his family’s shortcomings. (In this book they don’t have any). Nonetheless, he tells his story in an engaging manner, with no hint of self-pity, although he certainly has earned the right. If, like me, you are old enough to remember the assassinations of his brothers, and his own entrance into public service, this book will appeal to you, although it will interest all who want to know what one Kennedy thinks about how the country got where it is today. ∆.

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