Books as Gifts for the Holidays
Belle Ruin. By Martha Grimes.
Most noted for her Richard Jury mystery series, Grimes has written a mystery with a 12-year-old detective with an overactive vocabulary. Emma Graham wants to solve the decades-old baby kidnapping at the Belle Rouen Hotel. More a novel of growing up than a full-fledged mystery, but written with honesty and humor.
The Chronicles of Narnia. By C.S. Lewis.
Four children, evacuated from London during World War II, are housed in a fusty, boring country home. That is, until Lucy discovers a wardrobe that leads to another world, Narnia - governed by a wise lion, Aslan, and tormented by the evil White Witch Jadis who keeps the land in perpetual winter. The movie's release rekindles interest in this classic saga of good-and-evil.
Holidays on Ice: Stories. By David Sedaris.
The other side of Christmas is sardonically defined in these six short stories, the most noted being "The Santaland Diaries," a diary of the temp job from hell as one of Santa's elves for a department store Santa. A perfect antidote for saccharine overdose.
The Lighthouse. By P.D. James.
Acclaimed novelist incurs the wrath of fellow residents on an island retreat for powerful movers and shakers off the coast of Cornwall, and it's a shock to no one when his body is found. Enter Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh. James is renowned for a taut plot with an underlayer of psychological drama, and is arguably the finest contempory writer of mystery fiction we have.
The March. By E. L. Doctorow.
A fictional chronicle of General William Tecumseh Sherman and his march through Georgia and the Carolinas. As he did in his famous Ragtime Doctorow interweaves historical fact and very real people with imaginery events and characters. One of the best of the year.
Not Me. By Michael Lavigne.
Michael Rosenheim, a divorced stand-up comic, is caring for his Alzheimer's-afflicted father when he uncovers his father's old journals, describing with great detail that he is not a concentration camp survivor, but a former Nazi accountant who has posed as a Jew since the end of WWII. What do you do, poses the author, when your entire life is based on a fiction?
Snobs. By Julian Fellows.
Fellows, who wrote the screenplay for the film Gosford Park, takes the nastier bits of Jane Austen and reshapes them into a confection of 1990's London. It's the story of marrying well but not wisely, pursuing the title and/or the fame without the feelings, all told by a narrator who can incorporate an eye-roll in a turn of phrase.
Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door. By Lynne Truss.
Truss's sometimes laugh-out-loud rant comes down to this: Modern communication is the root of rude behavior. Filled with great quotes, and not a few insights.
Winter's Tale: An Original Pop-up Journey. By Robert Sabuda.
An invitation into the winter wood, with white pop-up animals set against a dramatic backdrop incorporating bold colors and silver foil. Sabuda's mechanical books are so splendidly engineered that adults collect them.
Dan and Jim also talked about some classics. A few authors and representative titles:
Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma - all involve the convoluted world of interpersonal relationships, as seen through the eyes of one of the best social commentators the world has seen.
Edith Wharton. The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, The Mother's Recompense - all echo of a by-gone era of wealth and social standing in 19th century New York - a reminder that unlimited money has more built-in limits than one plans on.
Sinclair Lewis. Elmer Gantry, Main Street, Arrowsmith, Babbitt - Lewis had a distinct disdain for the people about which he wrote - his is a middle-class striving to be more, and losing self in the process.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night - Dan complained about the shallow characters, but that's the whole point - people in prominence often have not centers - Fitzgerald wrote about a whole generation lacking grounding.
Others books that Jim recommends for reading and giving:
Being Perfect. By Anna Quindlen.
Oh, to be perfect. Quindlen tries to talk the reader down from this lofty goal, emphasizing instead the need to find one's own true self -- and then be it. A great gift idea.
A Left-hand Turn Around the World: Chasing the Mystery and Meaning of All Things Southpaw. By David Wolman.
Handedness in nature is really pretty random - until you get to the humans. Why is the vast majority of people right-handed, and what does that mean to all of the lefties? Wolman melds some serious study with playing left-hander golf in Japan, and learning left-handed sword fighting in Scotland. Very much a "sinister" (Latin derivative of left) romp.
The Lost Painting. By Jonathan Harr.
The real-life story of a quest for a long-missing Caravaggio. With all the flair of a novelist, Harr takes the reader through the labyrinth of search and research, creating a great companion read for those who loved Dan Miller's The Da Vinci Code.
Shopgirl. By Steve Martin.
The basis of the Claire Danes - Steve Martin film, this slight but entertaining novella tells the tale of Mirabelle, who works selling gloves in Neiman's, "selling things that nobody buys anymore."
Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. By Doris Kearns Goodwin.
A series of fresh insights into Lincoln and his leadership style. He selected William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates as cabinet members, full knowing that they disdained his backwoods beginnings.
The Undomestic Goddess. By Sophie Kinsella.
London lawyer Samantha Sweeting makes a costly mistake on a project in a prestigious firm. In a fog she boards a train which drops her in the countryside, and while seeking directions she's mistaken by Trish Geiger as her newly contracted housekeeper. Too astonished to correct her, Samantha goes with the flow, despite having almost no domestic skills. Charming chick lit.
The Year of Magical Thinking. By Joan Didion.
Didion's husband and fellow writer died December 30, 2003, and shortly after her daughter Quintana died as well. For more than a year Didion was consumed by the events, in a state she calls "magical thinking" - a powerful consideration of grief and its consequences.