Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Your 2015 Christmas Book Shopping List

Hey, all! I'm sorry I totally forgot to post about Literary Night this year, which was all about the American West and super fun, but at least I made the connection that Black Friday and Small Business Saturday are coming up shortly, once we've emerged from our yearly food coma.

Therefore I present my annual list of recommendations, and I do hope you'll purchase at least one of them at a local bookstore. My favorite University Book Store Bellevue offers free gift wrapping, so I always make a visit, and on Small Business Saturday, the books are 20% off!

For the history buff...


Never heard of photographer Edward Curtis? I hadn't either. But we have him to thank for capturing in their traditional dress what remained of the many tribes who used to populate America. Because Curtis lived in Seattle when he wasn't running all over the country, there's plenty of fascinating local lore, à la The Boys in the Boat. Because of this book I now know who Asahel Curtis was, he of the I-90 exit! Because of this book, I now want to tour the Rainier Club and Tulalip Casino! Teddy Roosevelt makes more than a cameo appearance, as do famous Native Americans. I found this an unputdownable five-star read. But then, I'm a definite history buff. This book is worth getting on paper so you can get a look at the photographs--the Kindle version I read didn't do them justice.


For the history of science buff...
Loved this one, too. It starts with Lord Byron and his gifted daughter and follows the history of computing to the present. Having grown up in Silicon Valley to parents in the computer industry, I have fond memories of the places and companies covered in the book, but there was so much more to the story! We live in exciting times, thanks to all those innovators across history.


For the fuzzy "people person"...
And then there are those who bemoan our enslavement to electronics and social media. Make those folks super happy with this book that tells them how much "healthier, happier and smarter" they are because they make the time for face-to-face contact! Lots of fascinating looks at different cultures and studies. This book will make you want to call up dear friends and maybe have a few great-aunts and -uncles move in with you.


For the person who does NOT want great-aunts and -uncles moving in...
This was a flat-out wonderful, humane book that I wish every person on the planet could read and then talk about in a global book club. Gawande, the surgeon-author of Complications, talks about the end of life and everything connected with it: quality of life, nursing homes, what makes life meaningful. If it sounds depressing, it's not. I've taken to asking hospice nurses I run across in daily life what their favorite local homes are and why.


For the foodie...
Now, if you ever venture over to my UrbanFarmJunkie blog that I do for the Bellevue Farmers Market, you know I love to buy, prepare, eat, and read up on Real Food. After all the Michael Pollan books and is-fat-good-or-bad books and carbs-are-the-Antichrist diets, The Dorito Effect achieves the near-miracle of (1) having something new to add; and, (2) saying it very well. Schatzker traces the effects of our predilection for flavor on our diet. It turns out we'll do just about anything for it, whether or not the flavor is real and whether or not the masked food is any good for us, as will all the animals in our food chain. Absolutely fascinating.


For the literary type...
For a fellow as written about as Shakespeare, it's hard to come up with new angles and new things to say, but Shapiro does it in this book. I learned much and came away with a zeal to see some plays again. I love how he doesn't just read the plays as an academic, but also from a practical perspective. For example, academics love to think whether one actor doubled as Cordelia and the Fool in King Lear, but Shapiro points out which actor Shakespeare was writing the Fool part for and which teenage boys would've been available to play women's parts. So, if there was any doubling, it didn't happen in Shakespeare's time! Another interesting bit is about the religious aspects of the play, which my hub wrote his dissertation on twenty years ago (making many of the same points). Nice to know I married a visionary man who was decades ahead of his time, thought-wise.


Speaking of religion...
If you've got a Bible buff on the buy-for list, this was an enthralling read. Kushner was raised Orthodox Jew, growing up arguing Bible readings around the supper table, and she didn't encounter the Bible in English until grad school. Imagine the shock to her system when she heard how some long-familiar passages were translated! Actually, I didn't find any deal-breakers in her discoveries, but her discussions of particular passages inspired new thought paths. I even bought two translations she cites that I particularly liked. Can't wait to read those versions when I come 'round to Genesis again!


Oldy-but-Goody YA...
So the last Hunger Games movie opened to deflated box office numbers, and people speculated that we might be getting sick of dystopian YA. Ya think?

Here's my review from Goodreads of Up a Road Slowly:
Awww...so glad a Goodreads friend reminded me of this beloved girlhood book. Old-fashioned coming-of-age story. The protagonist doesn't save the (dystopian) world or kick anyone's a** or even have cancer--she just grows up and learns compassion and wisdom and love. Her spinster aunt even offers the politically-incorrect advice that a woman isn't "complete" until she loves a man, which I would only amend to "until she loves someone" because Aunt Cordelia's completeness came a lot from investing in and loving Julie.


For the sports buff...

If you loved The Boys in the Boat or Rome 1960 or The Perfect Mile, you'll enjoy this oldy-but-goody sports book, written about some folks trying to make the Olympics in the pre-Phelps era. My son (who swims) has read it twice, and we even engaged in swim tourism, going to visit the Santa Clara Swim Center where most of the book takes place. This book should not be moldering in forgotten-ness. It's gripping, with all the thrill-of-victory/agony-of-defeat twists and turns we love in our sports books.


And finally, good old fiction...
The best fiction sucks you into another world, this one being the island of St. Thomas in the 1800s, where we follow the life of painter Camille Pissaro's mother. The writing is lovely, the characters absorbing, the setting vivid, and the plot points somewhat history-based. A great escape.

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