Monday, December 13, 2010

did you wanna buy a book for someone for Christmas?

As we all know, yer Drunken Housewife reads far, far too much. I've always got a book on the hop. The children have inherited this tendency, and the Sober Husband always needs to have a book going as well. Between us all, we've got a lot of perspectives covered. And so, herewith some recommendations for your help if you were looking to buy a book for someone and had no idea what the hell to get:

For the youngest readers:

the Skippy Jon Jones picture book series by Judy Schachner. A kitten is obsessed by the thought that he is in reality a chihuahua. Iris and Lola sing and act out parts of the first "Skippy Jon Jones" book; it's just that entertaining.

Older children (say, grades 4-8):

"The School of Fear" by GItty Daneshwari. An extremely eccentric former beauty queen runs an odd school for children with extreme phobias. Lola loved this book so much that she became very upset towards the end as she didn't want to finish it. We spend a lot of time talking about this book and its sequel, "School of Fear: School Is Not Dismissed." There's a lot to love here: Lola says that this is her favorite book because it's the only book where she couldn't tell what would happen next. Highly recommended for children who, like Lola, have phobias.

Child of any age or indeed a grownup (particularly one who works in any field requiring client approval for work):

"The Tiny Art Director" by Bill Zeman. Zeman, an extremely talented artist, is often commanded by his little daughter to "make me a picture of a dinosaur" or "paint a poop airplane." He goes off and creates an amazing work of art, suitable for the cover of the New Yorker, and then gets his work ripped up one side and down the other by the Tiny Art Director, who usually says something like, "Are you always stupid, Daddy? More blood! I want more blood!" Absolutely hilarious, and the art is amazing.

FIction lovers: I read a lot of novels this year, and these three were hands down the best. I loved them dearly.

"The House of Tomorrow" by Peter Bognanni. A teenaged boy is kept isolated in "the House of Tomorrow" by his homeschooling grandmother whose life mission is to keep Buckminster Fuller's ideas alive. Awkward, lonely, overeducated but extremely sheltered, the protagonist is naive and hungry for life experience. I loved this book so very, very much: all of the characters are very human and very real with their own perspectives. The redemptive powers of punk rock were never so clear and harshly beautiful. My only complaint was that the ending seemed a bit too tidy, following all the all-too-real messiness of the character's situations, but it's a brilliant book.

"Broken Teaglass" by Emily Arsenault. A young man takes a job at a famous dictionary publisher. It is a strange and silent place, where the word-lovers toil in quiet monotony interrupted at times by calls from cranks and bored prisoners arguing about definitions. Then he begins to discover some very strange things in some of the definitions. I cannot recommend this highly enough for the intelligent, word-loving reader.

"The Full Catastrophe" by David Carkeet: an overeducated linguist finds himself at loose ends after his research lab looses funding. He takes a job at an innovative marriage counseling service, which sends qualified linguists to live with and observe troubled married couples on the theory that their communication must be causing their woes. An unbelievably smart and witty book, with a highly likable, fish-out-of-water academic stranded in a middle class family in the Midwest pretending that he's going to be able to help his squabbling hosts.

People who are insane about reading:

"Running the Books" by Avi Steinberg. Steinberg is a Harvard graduate who is floundering and careerless, a disappointment to his Jewish family who expected greatness from him. For lack of anything better to do, he takes a job as a librarian in a prison. This memoir is spellbinding. Steinberg portrays vividly the power dynamics and struggles in prison. For example, a prisoner correcting the way another holds a pen caused Steinberg to tense up, as any touch between inmates normally would lead to violence. Steinberg himself is in an awkward position, not part of the guards and not part of the inmates, and at risk from both. Ironically the guards make more trouble for him than the inmates. He bonds, too closely at times, with violent criminals and has troubles that follow that. But beyond being about Steinberg's experiences, this is a memoir about books. What do prisoners read? What is a book, really? To the guards, a book is something that should not be in a prison. To an inmate, a book could be mindless entertainment or it could be a source of redemption, or it could just be something to steal to make rolling papers from the pages. For anyone who really loves books, this is a thought-provoking read about the power of books and their very nature. For anyone with a sociological bent who has not personally been to prison, it's a great vicarious experience of a book. Should I ever need to go to prison, I feel better prepared now.

For the NPR listener:

"Travels in Siberia" by Ian Frazier. I gave this to the Sober Husband for our anniversary, and he's enrapt. Ian Frazier pokes around in Siberia with a dry wit; the Sober Husband is often heard laughing out loud of an evening as he works through this massive tome. Perfect for the person who wants educational value from their leisure reading but who also enjoys a laugh. Not for those intimidated by a long book; this thing is the size of my head.

For the serious cook: [hint hint to the reader that these are what I want for Christmas, I hope someone out there may pay attention):

"In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite" by Melissa Clark. I've been a fan of Melissa Clark for nearly ten years now since finding her recipes in "Food & Wine", and now the whole world is a fan as well since she got a column in the New York Times. I've been making a cocktail called the Melissa Clark for nearly a decade, and many of my signature dishes are from her recipes. She has a new cookbook out, and you can't miss with it. Woman's a genius.

"India: The Cookbook" by Pushpesh Pant. A huge volume of Indian recipes. It looks pretty damn near encyclopedic in its scope. I want it.

Happy shopping, everyone!

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