Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Essays

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec

The premise is exactly as it sounds: Georges Perec, on a bench in a Parisian square, methodically recording everything he sees, attempting to capture “that which happens when nothing is happening.” On paper, it appears so simple. In practice, absolutely impossible. Which is precisely the point. A desperate and hilarious meditation on the unstoppability of time. An elegant reflection of the everyday and all its complexity. -Matthew

 

A Seventh Man by John Berger and Jean Mohr

First published in 1975, this book at first glance appears to be a study of male migrant workers in Europe, illustrated by photographs.  It is much, much more. As in all of the collaborations between Berger and Mohr, the photos and the text carry equal weight. These glimpses into the struggles and predicaments of the immigrant worker illuminate the complex and often brutal relationship between market forces and personal survival, and also, as Berger says in the new introduction, has now become a kind of “family album,” which has taken on new meanings over time. An arresting and elegant work of art. -Casey O.

 

The Etiquette of Freedom: Gary Snyder, Jim Harrison, and “The Practice of the Wild” by Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison

Whether considered a book accompanying a film or a film shadowing a book, this is a deeply companionable project featuring esteemed poets, each a veritable living treasure, walking, talking, breaking bread. The greater focus, in talk and images, is on Gary Snyder’s life and work. Now eighty, the child of a farm in Seattle’s Lake City, he has helped articulate an ethos of place, purpose, and poetry that is deeply ingrained in Seattle and the Pacific Coast. Jim Harrison, a marvel in himself, is a splendid, often jocular partner, parrying poems and fragments with Snyder, exploring the roots and shoots of work, philosophy, the particulars of plants, animals, paying attention. This “etiquette” is life being lived so fully, so far. -Rick

 

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin

This book begs all of its readers to devote time throughout the day to the full and deeply pleasurable act of reading. Remember the authors you’ve cherished throughout your life? The characters you’ve admired, emulated, or even loathed? Reconnect with them. Books serve as markers of certain periods of our lives. When revisiting an old favorite, not only will it be a different experience than that of the first reading, but memories from one’s own past will bubble up and mingle with the text. The Lost Art of Reading is a short and gentle reminder to avoid being overwhelmed and distracted by all the information that is at our fingertips. So sit down, breathe deeply, and enjoy this delightful book. -Jillian

Holiday Recommendation from Our Staff

Otherworldly Fiction

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia (All Ages)

Camille Rose Garcia’s contemporary illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy tale make a perfect gift for old & new fans of Alice. Garcia’s dark vision is a perfect companion to Carroll’s twisted and complex imaginings. As Garcia puts it: “[Alice] falls down the hole…every character she encounters, they’re not really on her side.” This coming of age isolation is something Garcia captures masterfully, and her new vision of Alice is incredible. -Candra

 

Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Teen)

Cameron Smith is a chronic underachiever. He lives in a sleepy Texas town, eking out an even sleepier existence. But after Cam learns of his inexplicable contraction of Mad Cow Disease and subsequent visit by what could be his guardian angel, Cam’s life takes a much more exciting path: embarking on a a divinely inspired road trip to save, not only himself, but the world. Along the way Cam meets a colorful cast of characters (including an animate garden gnome), runs afoul of a cult, and jams with a jazz legend. Part fantasy, part teen angst tale, Going Bovine is a hilarious journey into the mind of a teenage boy. -Casey S.

 

How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Science Fiction)

This is that most rare and beautiful monster…a book that will appeal to both sci-fi fans and regular earthlings. Charles Yu has built an astonishing literary vehicle…the book as time machine. The story follows burnt out time machine repairman Charles Yu as he scours a busted up minor universe for his disappeared father, with only a book called How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe (incidentally written by his future self) to guide him. A one of a kind, fantastic read. -Casey O.

 

 

Besides Lake Wobegon

There is some allure, an inexplicable romance, a downright bewitchment surrounding the Midwest and my tastes as a reader, but you won’t find much Garrison Keillor in my library. A single family vacation to South Dakota is my only foray through the Great Plains, the Badlands, America’s heartland. While other booksellers might be able to tell more and speak to their own lives in those great states, me, I have nothing of which to latch my enchantments but some photos of Mount Rushmore, and a few tomes of fantastic prose.

The affair began for me with Leif Enger’s work. Sturdy, warm characters drive his novel Peace Like a River through a bleak winter in an airstream trailer along the trail of Davy Land, a fugitive and killer. It is Davy’s family—janitor father, eyewitness brother, and epic poet sister—that are on his heels as he tries to outrun the law after fatally shooting his girlfriend’s attackers. As the Lands push west from Minnesota, the setting develops into a character all its own. Harsh snows and bitter cold foil the pursuit and counterpoint the warmth generated by a family determined to stand united.

And it is family that provides the tension in Vestments, the debut novel by John Reimringer. A priest on hiatus tells the story of his raucous Irish-Catholic family and rough-around-the-edges faith, regaling a rich drama of love and devotion: bawdy, loud, and drunk. The novel is cut from strong, authentic Midwestern fabric you can curl up with in these cold nights. Even its cover depicts a frigid morning in a quiet, sleepy neighborhood.

The Plains, however, aren’t complete without Kathleen Norris. Her memoir Dakota turns geography into spirituality and back again, relating the hardworking and determined Plainsfolk to the meditative and hospitable Benedictine ascetics she has come to know during periodic residencies at monasteries. Norris is deft in the sort of alchemy that illustrates the dangerous beauty of the heartland while discovering gifts from an unforgiving region.

The Midwest may wear itself quaint and humble as an episode of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion; but, it also has edge. More than just hotdish and bluegrass, the region for which I so often find myself tail over tea kettle wears a stunning collection of durable prose to protect against the harshness of its elements. The snow and rain we’ve had these past days bids me crawl under a blanket, next to a fire, and while away the winter with books like these. -Dave

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Cooking & Food

This Twain-Food mash up is the perfect path backwards into some amazing American food lore. A medley of nostalgia, gratitude and history, Beahrs uses Twain’s culinary laments and loves as a prism to analyze the American table’s past, present and future. Funny, smart, caustic in a way only Twain could be and, ultimately, a hopeful call to the reclamation and preservation of both American landscapes and food-ways. -Shannon

 

The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand, Jacob Kenedy

I love this book for so many reasons! Visually, the contrast of black-and-white with the variety of shapes scattered over the page is so appealing. Learning the etymology of the pasta is fascinating (maccherone probably stems from the makaria or “food of the blessed”), but at its heart this is a great cookbook. Browsing the pages is inspiring—matching the sumptuous pasta with an equally delectable sauce is sublime, delicious fun! -Holly

 

Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher

Fisher, always delightful and amusing, takes us from her childhood in California circa 1912 to France then Switzerland and finally to Mexico, recounting her awakening to food and drink. Her culinary experiences are emotional ones: she savors the people, places and milieus as much as what is on the plate. She tells of her first Oyster (a blue tip), her encounters with French cuisine and local wines in Dijon, the tribulations of sea travel, and even the horrors of airplane food on a trip in the early days of commercial air travel. Any one who has not read her yet has a treat in store. -Pamela

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

Like The Principles of Uncertainty, Maira’s new marvel is a collection of illustrated blog posts from The New York Times. And like her previous book, And the Pursuit of Happiness is full of joy, warmth, delight, wonder, gratitude and hope.

Each chapter, beginning with the January inauguration of Barack Obama, represents a month of Maira’s year-long quest to visit America’s historical landmarks. And the Pursuit of Happiness is a remarkable tribute to our nation, and an inspiration to be thankful, proud, and hopeful about our future. -Leah

 

Listen to This by Alex Ross (2010 Holiday Gazette)

New Yorker columnist Alex Ross collects nineteen of his best essays on music and sets them to shuffle, creating a chapter playlist that doesn’t reject genre so much as tune it out completely. Featured artists include Mahler and Pere Ubu, Schubert and Bob Dylan. Moments of Beethoven’s Eroica are compared to punk rock, and a sixteenth-century Spanish bass line becomes the common denominator between Bach and Led Zeppelin. Throughout, it is Mr. Ross’s eloquent prose and spirited musical curiosity that strings these disparate notes into a unified whole, making Listen to This a polyphonic treat for readers and listeners alike. -Matthew

 

This Is NPR: The First Forty Years by NPR, Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg

Nothing short of a who’s-who and what’s-what of National Public Radio, This Is NPR acts as a candid history, yearbook, scrapbook, memoir, timeline, and detailed analysis of your favorite radio phenomenon’s first forty years. This book includes fascinating stories about NPR’s inception in 1971 and its introduction of programs like All Things Considered and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me alongside captivating photo spreads and reports of internationally groundbreaking events up through the close of 2009. With contributions from Cokie Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Noah Adams, Renée Montagne, Ira Flatow, and David Sedaris, just to name a few, This Is NPR is a treasure trove I wouldn’t dream of going without. -Dave

 

Ann Beattie: The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie(2010 Holiday Gazette)

Do you keep stacks of old unread or half-read magazines under your coffee table, or desk, or bed like I do? Or maybe in a nice wire or wicker rack in your bathroom? Do you growl when someone suggests that maybe the recycling bin could use some new reading material? If so, this book is for you, and for any fan of The New Yorker‘s excellent fiction.

Now, you can safely dump those old magazines without batting an eye because here, in chronological order, is every Ann Beattie story The New Yorker has ever published. I only wish they’d titled this wonderful collection Beattiesque. -Candra

Winter Recommendations – The Classics

With winter here you now have far more time to cozy up indoors with a good book. I have three recommendations of classics that I’d like to make…

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is set in early nineteenth century Russia. It spans fifteen plus years and has just over five hundred characters, most of whom have difficult to pronounce Russian names. My copy of the novel is 1,361 pages long. Now, I realize that, at first glance, these facts can be absurdly intimidating. Yet, my experience reading this novel was one of astonishment. Tolstoy has a way of rendering his characters into heartfelt individuals who deeply express every emotion. Often, they’re so vivid it’s as if they’re spitting water right in my face. Due to the novel’s time span, we get to see some young members of the Rostov family grow into adults (e.g. Natasha & Nicholas). No novel that I’ve read has done this as realistically as War and Peace; some change so much that, by book’s end, they become entirely different people.

Since the novel was originally written in Russian, I’d like to note who I believe to be its superior translators: Louise and Aylmer Maude. Both were close friends of Tolstoy’s and lived near him while in Russia. What their translation has to offer is a smooth, natural flow that does not compromise in its directness. Tolstoy himself said of their work, “Better translators could not be invented.”

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Herman Melville once commented that the day he first set foot on a whaling vessel was the day his life began. Moby Dick is a testament to his lively obsession with his new career. I found a cheap little paperback version of the novel that’s a score. Not only does it have Ahab’s mad whaling hunt for the vicious white whale, but it also has lots of fascinating historical anecdotes and criticisms. There are a number of letters Melville wrote around the publication of Moby Dick, a handful of which are addressed to Nathaniel Hawthorne. What I found most interesting—second to the novel itself—were the reviews written during Melville’s revival in 1921. Even the cover photo is discussed. It’s an engraving by Ambroise Louis Garneray—a whaling man himself!

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Joad family have one tough road ahead of them; they’re forced to leave everything behind in Oklahoma after drought and economic hardship set in. They sell off their farm, buy a beater car, pack up and head out west to California where there is talk of work. The difficulties they endure are severe. What struck me while reading this novel were the ways in which different members of the Joad family responded to their plight. Some cave in and ditch the family, while others stick it out even as conditions get worse. It is here that the men are separated from the boys. -Jake

Holiday Recommendations from Our Staff

*KAPOW* BAM! *ZAP!* Thrill your child with this colorful, eye-popping book that contains an electrifying superhero scene on every page. Who wouldn’t want that?!? *KABOOM!* -Hilary

 

 

Look Now: The World in Facts, Stats, and Graphics by DK Publishing

Do you want to learn about the physical aspects of the planet, about water, mountains, or climate change? Or are you more interested in the people of the planet and what their life expectancy is, or how much food they waste? Perhaps you want more information on how they govern or work. Whatever it is you want to know about our world, it is covered in this engaging and unusual reference book. A wonderful hybrid of encyclopedia and almanac, this visually appealing book will rope in young readers with its graphic style and then capture them with its fascinating presentation of facts. -Holly

 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick has taken his talent for drawing and his passion for story and created a breath-taking novel written for children. The story of an orphan who secretly tends to the clocks in a busy Parisian train station is a wonderful read-a-loud for little kids and big kids alike. Just take a peek at this lovely tome, and you, too, might just fall in love with Hugo Cabret. -Leighanne