Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Daring Gifts

Alright, we are really getting down to it now. Maybe it’s time to get a little daring with your book gift. Here are some high-risk, high-reward book gifts.

Tudor Roses: A knitter who receives this book as a gift will have one of two reactions; “You have got to be kidding me!” (at which point make sure you have that receipt) or “Oh, it is ON NOW!” (at which point indulge in an internal self-high-five). Fashion, history, and beautifully complex and challenging patterns from one of the top names in the craft world. And yes, there is a pattern for a Mary Tudor sweater to hang on your wall in your living room as indisputable proof to all who may enter, that you totally rule.

Satantango & Seiobo There Below: To some readers, Laszlo Krasznahorkai is the most important novelist nobody is reading. The way he marries beautifully lyrical and complex ballet-like sentences with a crushingly bleak and profoundly cynical outlook on life resonates powerfully with some readers. Laszlo might very well be the greatest living writer in the world, but his work is difficult. Satantango is a rain-drenched novel of Hungarian peasant squalor spiced with whom may or may not be spies in service to a totalitarian government, whose two “protagonists” are a bombastic gadabout, who may or may not be in control of the whole situation, and a morbidly alcoholic and paranoid doctor who almost never leaves his estate. Oh, and one of the most brutal scenes (though with a fairly low level of actual violence) I’ve read. (And I’ve read Sade and Palahnuik.) Seiobo is a precise-to-the-point-of-obsession meditation on art and perfection. At times, the writing is as beautiful as anything you've read, but the conclusions Krasznahorkai leads you to aren’t the usual ones beautiful sentences lead you to. Odds are, whoever you give these books to has never read anything like them before (I hadn’t) and sometimes, that makes the perfect gift.

Tampa & The Virgins: It is always risky to give books that explore sex and sexuality as a gift, so already the level of daring is high for both of these books. Oh, and the narrator of Tampa is a pedophile. For pretty obvious reasons, Tampa was one of the most talked about books of the summer, but it was also critically acclaimed. As many readers finished the book with nothing but praise as readers who closed the book in disgust. The Virgins, though less of a trigger risk, focuses on the challenging, awkward, and often painful relationship between sex and adolescence. Even when sex doesn’t happen, it can still be a major, even deciding, force in our relationships. Erhens is able to capture all of that and more, while writing one of the most interesting narrative voices I’ve read this year. It is a beautifully written novel.

More Than This: This YA novel is about as emotionally intense as you can get, without being a Holocaust story, and still be appropriate for teens. (Though, now that I think about it, there’s a chance it is a Holocaust story.) More Than This starts with the suicide by drowning of the novel’s hero. What follows is a Matrix-like dystopian fiction that plays with the idea of storytelling, while touching on human trafficking, child abuse, and bullying. Smart, compelling, well-written, but intense and full of triggers. This is perfect for an intelligent, intense, brooding teenager, but at this level, it’s a risk.

An Afghanistan Picture Show & Book of Dolores: William Vollman is a daring dude. If he wants to know what riding the rails is like, he doesn’t do a few interviews, he rides the rails. If he wants to learn about poverty, he goes to places where poor people live. When he writes about prostitutes or smoking crack...well, you get the picture. An Afghanistan Picture Show is about the year he spent after college...trying to fight for Mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Book of Dolores is pictures of and writing about Vollmann’s female alter-ego. (Whom he created when working on a book about femininity, of course.)

The Columbian Mule & He Died with His Eyes Open: Who doesn’t love a couple of dark cynical mysteries where you don’t like any of the characters, the good guys (if there are any) don’t win, and ultimately life is nasty, brutish, and then over in a nasty, brutish, meaningless flash of insignificance? Well, a few people actually do, and if you know one, either one of these Send You to the Internet for a Cat Video mysteries will be a welcome relief from all the books where “justice prevails" that end up cluttering the night stand after every holiday.

Damned by Chuck Palahnuik: You know that line, the one you’re not supposed to cross? Chuck Palahnuik has made a career and built a rabid fan base, triple-jumping over that line. Damned and Doomed are the first two books in Palahnuik’s retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Instead of Dante being guided by Virgil in search of Beatrice, it is Madison, a teenager who suffered an embarrassing death. Now she must navigate the endless telemarketing center of Palahnuik’s Hell AND figure out how she got there in the first place and how she’s going to get out. For the right person, Palahnuik is the author for whom he or she has been unknowingly pining. For the wrong person...well, that’s what gift receipts are for. If they love Damned make sure to pick up the sequel, Doomed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Foodie Holiday Gift Guide 2013

Another holiday season approaches so it is time again to stare desperately at your list (physical or mental) of friends and loved ones to get gifts for. If anyone on that list is a foodie, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best books for foodies for 2013.

Cook It Raw: The annual Cook It Raw event is a fixture on foodie bucket lists. The best chefs from around the world get together and explore taste, technique, art and culture. It is unlike any other food experience you can have and, unfortunately, very few of us will ever have it. This book reveals for the very first time the ‘Raw’ collective’s philosophy and creative endeavors. With contributions from leading food writers and ‘Raw’ supporters such as Anthony Bourdain, Jeffrey Steingarten and Andrea Petrini; plus, over 400 behind-the-scenes images of the events and an inspiring collection of the chefs’ own ‘Raw’ recipes, notes and anecdotes. It brings us as close as possible to one of the world’s foodie heavens.

Complete Nose to Tail: I ate, one time, at Fergus Henderson’s restaurant, St. John’s Bread and Wine, and what proved to me that this master of offal was truly a great chef was…the salad dressing. In a restaurant famous for the nasty bits, the fact that they took the time to develop, make, and serve a fantastic salad dressing shows how committed they are to a complete meal. The Complete Nose to Tail collects Henderson's previous two books in a beautiful, hardcover, full-color edition. The recipes range from the basic (the delightful parsley salad) to the exotic but approachable (the half pig head recipe is really quite simple) to, of course, whole suckling pig. 

Kinfolk Table: How many magazines can you think of that are so good people are willing to fork over $18 an issue? Kinfolk is definitely a member of that small list. Now they’ve released their first book length collection featuring profiles of 45 tastemakers who are cooking and entertaining in a way that is beautiful, uncomplicated, and inexpensive. Each of these home cooks, artisans, bloggers, chefs, writers, bakers, and crafters has provided one to three of the recipes they most love to share. Simple breakfasts for two, one-pot dinners for six, a perfectly composed sandwich for a solo picnic. As slow food, eating local, and turning cell phones off for the evening grow in cultural stature, the dining, decorating, and entertaining of Kinfolk becomes more and more relevant. 

Grand Forks: Journalists are supposed to cover what happens, not what they wish to happen. Even food journalists are bound by this. So, if you’re a food writer who happens to cover a small suburban/rural town filled with simple mom and pop cafes and chain restaurants, you don’t pine for the glamorous food landscapes of some distant metropolis, you write honest, informative, useful reviews for the readers of your newspaper, and if you’re Marilyn Hagerty, you do it for twenty-five years and produce a body of work that tells the story of American cultural homogenization. Hagerty’s writing gets at something so fundamental it is published by the imprint run by the edgy, contrarian, and vastly influential food writer Anthony Bourdain. Read this before writing your next Yelp review.

Provence 1970: Here’s what Nathan has to say about Provence 1970. "Take Julia Child add Paul Child, M. F. K. Fisher, and Richard Olnay, mix in Simone Beck and James Beard and you have a recipe for a fascinating book on how these authors/cooks/chefs came together in Provence, 1970 and changed the American gastronomical world. A perfect gift for the Foodie in the family."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Marie's Holiday Picks in Fiction

OK, this is definitely my favorite part of book shopping- the novels. Novels can be tricky to pick out for someone else but a lot of times I think people over-think this particular segment of gift-buying. Most books are perfectly reasonable to read and most people don't get upset at the giver if the book doesn't work out- so don't worry so much, OK? Just pick something that looks like it makes sense even if it might not be the perfect fit. It'll be fine, honestly!

That said, here are my suggestions.

Joanna Trollope's updated Sense and Sensibility is an easy choice for the Jane Austen fan, the chicklit reader or the light-romance reader. And there's a lot of cross-over there!

The special boxed edition of Junot Diaz's How to Lose Her would be great for that hipster you bought that Nick Hornby book for.

Foodies and Francophiles will savor Jonathan Grimwood's solid and entertaining The Last Banquet.

For crime readers, I recommend Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption, a gritty London noir and first in a new series. It's also one of the best 2013 books I read hands-down.

Italophiles have lots to choose from among 2013 releases. Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty recounts the Borgias with a racy and enthralling story of politics and love. Goliarda Sapienza's The Art of Joy is a historical-fiction feast from the 20th century, following the adventures of one woman through the century.  And Elena Ferrante's The Story of a New Name brings up to speed on the lives of two Neapolitan women at the beginning of the century and should be given and read with its prequel, My Brilliant Friend.

Some recent heavy-hitter releases perfect for the literary reader include Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, Philipp Meyer's essential classic The Son (a western but so much more), and Eleanor Catton's Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries.

Other books I like for the literary reader that might not be on the bestseller table are:

A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura, an updated version of Wuthering Heights which reviews tell me is much more than a mere retelling.

 James Purdy's The Complete Short Stories, and

Thomas Keneally's excellent The Daughters of Mars, about two sisters who become nurses during World War 1 (give it alongside Joe Sacco's The Great War) are going to be great choices for the literary reader. I
particularly enjoyed Keneally's book.

There's so much more! We have Staff Picks shelves loaded with recommendations and if you run out, just ask one of us for help!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

More Holiday Picks from Marie

Here are some more picks from the nonfiction aisles. There is just so much to choose from!

For foodie lit, there are two I think are great. Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, by Luke Barr does what it says on the label, talk about some of the pre-eminent cooks and food writers of their day and their collision in 1970s France.

Also a big hit at the bookstore this year is Michael Pollan's latest, Cooked.

You might know Pollan from The Omnivore's Dilemma and other milestones of modern food thinking.

As far as cookbooks, the holiday season always brings out the heavyweights- Alice Waters has a new one, along with pretty much every celebrity chef. Yottam Ottolenghi's books have been selling like hotcakes too. But the only one I want is one that came out early this year, Beatrice Peltre's La Tartine Gourmande. This book is delectable to look at and to cook from. Her lime spaghetti is a staple on my table and lots of these will become favorites of yours or your favorite cook's too.

Over in the essay section, get Ten Years in the Tub, Nick Hornby's collection of his Stuff I've Been Reading column, for the hipster in your life. I promise an appreciative smirk in return.

The music fan's cup runneth over this holiday season. Morrissey's hotly anticipated Autobiography hit the shelves this week, joining a biography of Johnny Cash, and letters from John Lennon and Leonard Bernstein. Tony Fletcher's A Light That Never Goes Out would be a great companion to Morrissey's book!

Bio fans will also enjoy books from Edna O'Brien and Anjelica Huston and books about J.D. Salinger, Jim Henson and Ian Fleming.

In the history section, I love the looks of The Smithsonian's History of America in 100 Objects- a great gift for your inlaws maybe?- and The Discovery of Middle Earth by Graham Robb, about the achievements of the Celts. I think either would make great gifts for that "I didn't know that" reader who likes to discover new things and ideas.

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit is required reading for current-events buffs and folks interested in the Middle East. This selection is not a sop to Hanukkah- I think readers of any background should read this essential book about Israel and its relationship to itself.

Finally I hope every one of you runs out for Joe Sacco's incredible and moving The Great War, a single huge, continuous illustration of Europe on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. This book works for graphica fans, history buffs, your dad, and everyone in between. Seriously, this will blow your mind.

I'll have some fiction picks soon!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Gifts for Writers

Have a writer or two on your gift list this year? (If you live near us, you probably do.) Sick of buying them fancy notebooks and pens? Do they already own (or don’t want) every book on writing all the way to William Zinsser? Here are some book ideas NOT in our writing section that would make great gifts for writers. (And also, not anthologies of their preferred genre or Writer’s Markets.)

Home Ground: They don’t have to be a nature writer to love this unique book of words from the American landscape. Not only is it a useful reference guide, the quotations and definitions put the words in a literary and historic context, giving them even more depth. One possible unique use for this book; place names in fictional universes. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a story set in Despoblado or Tseghiizi?

The Works: Anatomy of a City: Nothing helps a writer in any project quite like a robust reference section within arms reach. Ascher’s book on the logistics of New York City is a must have in any robust reference section. Sewage. Electricity. Mail. All the little details that give stories, novels, and essays a depth of facts.

The Where, The Why, and the How: Whether you have a specific question or are looking for general inspiration this illustrated collection of information is a wonderful book and the perfect cure for both a basic question and the relentless blinking of the cursor on the blank page. Questions like “Why Do We Blush?” and “Do Immortal Creatures Exist?” can be writing prompts as well as reference material.

Novelty: A History of the New: Writers are concerned about originality, freshness, newness, that which hasn't been done. But “novelty” is just an unusual idea. Maybe it’s a good one, maybe it’s a bad one, and maybe it’s a vastly more complicated idea than we assume. For those struggling to write a “new” book, it might be useful to wrap their heads around what we actually say when we characterize something as “new.”

Far from the Tree: How the heck do people work? Seriously. In a way, all writers struggle with this question and all books offer up their own answers. Solomon’s massive, thoroughly researched, award-winning book explores the relationship between family and identity. Whether the writer in question is working on a hyper-realist family drama or not, Far from the Tree will provide useful information and perspective on the human animal we are all writing about.

The Use and Abuse of Literature: Majorie Garber has read at the store a couple of times and is one of those people who exudes brilliance even when she’s just standing there. With this book, she asks some of the most difficult and important questions about literature. What do we mean when we say “literature?” Why have people been predicting the death of literature since Plato? Is reading literature “good” for us? Whether or not your writer thinks of what they write as “literature” Garber’s insights will be enlightening to all who work with language.

The Novel: An Alternative History: According to critic Steven Moore's exhaustive study, the course of our most popular form of written expression has been a lot wilder than usually reported. Moore writes from the perspective that novelists have been experimenting with the novel long before the 20th century. One way to break out of a writing rut, no matter what you're trying to write, is to read something different and this two volume work (Volume 2 here) is filled with reading suggestions.

Any Big Old Baby Name Book: Character names are hard.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday Picks From Marie- Fun Books

Looking over the offerings at the bookstore this season, I was simply overwhelmed with the choices, so I have to break my gift guide up into several parts. Today I'll cover nonfiction "fun" books- art, style, pets and more.

Last year we had the Big New Yorker Book of Dogs; this year they're giving cat lovers their due with essays, stories, comics and more about the best pets in the world. The Big New Yorker Book of Cats will be great for the cat lover in your life.

Josh blogged about Shake yesterday but it bears repeating. Adorable!

For the geek in your life, the "it" gift book of the
year has to be Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities. This is a stunning volume including lots and lots of the artist and director's art, sketches, behind-the-scenes stories and more. Seriously-it's amazing.

Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half collection is shooting fish in a barrel, but
if it's not on your radar it should be. Her blog is terrific and this collection highlights some of the best from her slice-of-life illustrated stories, including some not shown on her website. It's not as adult-oriented as the also-great Oatmeal collections but I would recommend it for teens and up.

Your favorite word-nerds will love Wordbirds, Liesl Schillinger's beautifully illustrated lexicon of modern neologisms. She includes things like Faceboast for bragging on social media, and Factose Intolerant, the practice of shunning foods of which you believe you're intolerant. Ha ha. I think Wordbirds would make a great gift for lots of people.

 For the fashionista in your life, Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic, by Isabelle Thomas, is a fun collection of photos and light text on dressing and clothes that you can actually put to use with items already in your closet or easy-to-find staples. Oh, I can wear that with that? Yup!

One of the most beautiful literary gift books I've come across is Conference of the Birds as illustrated by Peter Sis. Sis is known for writing and illustrating childrens' books; Conference of the Birds is a classic 12th-century Persian poem about a time when all the world's birds gathered to choose a king. In paperback and at a very approachable $18, it would make a very nice present.

On the other side of the spectrum in price and presentation is the absolutely stunning The Vatican: All the Paintings: The Complete Collection of Old Masters, Plus More than 300 Sculptures, Maps, Tapestries, and other Artifacts. I can't think of a more impressive gift for that special art lover or Italophile in your life. It's a big heavy hardcover and clocks in around $75.00 but for the right person, it's worth it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Holiday Gifts Books

Is there anything more fun than giving someone a book you know they want, but for some reason, can’t bring themselves to buy? Whatever the reason, financial, space concerns, or momentary laziness, they don't do it. Here are some fantastic books (and one non-book) that are exactly the kind people want, but never buy for themselves.

The Gorgeous Nothings: Who hasn’t scribbled a note on the nearest scrap of paper? A phone number, an errand, or a phrase or idea that just popped into your head. Emily Dickinson was also a note scribbler. The Gorgeous Nothings collects and presents facsimiles of her notes on envelopes as well as translations of her handwriting. The notes provide a surprisingly intimate look into one of the important literary minds in American history. The photos of the notes themselves are so vivid you feel like you could pick them up. An amazing gift for poets, Dickinson lovers, and anyone constantly scribbling their lives onto little scraps of paper.

The Great War: Joe Sacco illustrates one day, July 1, 1916, in WWI with one picture; a massive 19 foot incredibly detailed, breathtaking, picture. Pages can be turned like a regular book or the entire piece can be unfurled. Grim, sometimes gruesome, Sacco is able to create a powerful sense of atmosphere and emotion, managing to give personalities to the thousands of soldiers involved in the battle of the Somme. Less something to just look at, The Great War is an image to get lost in. Sacco unifies art and history into a powerful experience. The book also includes an essay by historian Adam Hochschild. 

Unfathomable City: The author of the fantastic Infinite City, now turns her unique technique of history of place on New Orleans. Maps and essays go beyond the basic historic events to paint a portrait of the character or even the soul of the city, exploring jazz, trees, family, Mardis Gras, and crime, as well as two of the biggest disasters in recent memory; Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. The beautiful full color maps draw you in, so what starts out as a casual flip-through on a cold winter Saturday, becomes a several hour exploration of what it means to be a city.

This Is Mars: One of the most thrilling moments of my life was staying up till the wee hours of the morning to watch Curiosity land on Mars. Since then I’ve been following Curiosity’s tweets and pictures as we begin to build a truly detailed understanding of the red planet. Xavier Barral has collected the panoramic pictures sent back from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Somewhere between a visual atlas and a sumptuous artistic coffee table book, the detail in the pictures is breathtaking. This is Mars also includes an introduction by research scientist Alfred S. McEwen, principal investigator on the HiRISE telescope; an essay by astrophysicist Francis Rocard, who explains the story of Mars' origins and its evolution; and a timeline by geophysicist Nicolas Mangold, who unveils the geological secrets of this fascinating planet. For the science lover, the photography lover, or anyone interested in what NASA has been up to the last five years. 

Art as Therapy: Can looking at art be good for you? Even therapeutic? What actually happens when you look, really look at a piece of art? De Botton, who has become a major philosopher on navigating daily life, argues that certain great works offer clues on managing the tensions and confusions of everyday life. The reproductions are vivid enough that you could just flip through this as you would any other art book, or you could delve into the ideas and ask the profound and challenging questions de Botton and co-author and art historian John Armstrong ask. A great gift for art lovers, therapists of any kind, and fans of de Botton’s take on existence. 

Star Wars Frames: I don’t usually cut and paste descriptions of books, but, I can’t really sum up what makes this book elicit mournful sighs of deep longing better than, “Star Wars: Frames brings together Lucas's personal shot-by-shot selections into a lavishly designed two-volume hardcover set--one volume for the Original Trilogy and one volume for the Prequel Trilogy.”

Shake: Look at their faces! And their fur! And their ears lookattheirearsgo! Photographer Carli Davidson gets dogs wet and then photographs them shaking off. It might be the silliest idea I’ve yet blogged, but the results are absolutely beguiling. (Though is it that much different than Phillipe Halsman making celebrities jump?) A wonderful gift for any dog lover or photographer and I guarantee it will be the most looked at gift at any party it attends.

Kobo Aura HD :And, finally, for someone looking for something from the wonderful world of electronics. Of all the ereader devices I’ve seen, this is only one that seems truly committed to creating a powerful and convenient reading experience. It has the highest e-ink resolution of any device on the market and the fastest processor. The faster processor is nice for speedy page turns, but it really makes annotating and highlighting smoother than any other device. It is the closest I’ve seen to scribbling notes in the margin and highlighting favorite lines in a print book. It has over 20 font choices including one designed to be easy for people with dyslexia to read. It also comes with a built in ambient light for night reading, that doesn’t point back up into your eyes. It is a little heavier and a little larger than devices tend to be, but it ‘s designed to feel like holding a paperback with the cover folded over. Wifi, a browser if you need it, a built in Kobo store, enough memory for thousands of books, and a battery life that can be stretched to almost a month, this is truly a reader’s ereader.

And while you're holiday shopping, don't forget our Shop Local Holiday Shipping Program for all online orders over $25 going to Cambridge or Somerville.

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