Sunday, November 28, 2010

2010 Holiday Gift Guide!

There is something about giving a book as a gift - the intention that went behind it as the selection was carefully tailored to please the recipient, the heft of a new book in one's hands, the pleasure of discovering a new author or topic of interest. Thus, I present to you the 2010 Holiday Gift Guide:

For the escapist:  The beloved Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl has recently released Book Lust to Go, with books recommended for "travelers, vagabonds, and dreamers."  This would be a great reference guide for any book lover, with both fiction and non-fiction categories.  The Atlas of Remote Islands, by Judith Schalansky, is a beautiful book I stumbled upon recently.  Featuring fifty islands, you learn a bit about the history of each island, just enough to awaken the romantic in each of us.  Rebecca Solnit's colorful Infinite City is a must for any lover of maps, urban history, or San Francisco.  It strikes me as the perfect coffee table book that you would want to flip through again and again.  It features all different kinds of maps of San Francisco with different themes, and tells you the history about the city's many neighborhoods.  

For the chef:  What better wintertime activity is there than eating a hot loaf of bread that you've made with your own bare hands?  I present to you two bread making books - one old, one new.  I recently had a friend visit and, a San Francisco local said to her, "have you been to Tartine at 5 o'clock yet?"  The reason, of course, is that this is the hour that Tartine's breads are ready.  I remember a cold night in San Francisco in which I had Tartine bread in a paper bag, clutched to my chest, and it kept me warm all the way home.

Tartine Bread, written by Chad Robertson (co-owner of the famous Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine), is a book featuring many different types of bread for both the home chef and the professional bread-maker. An old-school option is A World of Breads, by Dolores Casella.  I've had both the corn bread and the country wheat bread and they are not only impossible to screw up, but also very delicious.  No need for a bread-making machine any more - this is the real deal!

For the budding Buddhist:  Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist nun and teacher.  The Pocket Pema Chodron features short passages from her best-selling titles, and is designed for when you need that bit of extra inspiration or inner quietness to get you through the day.  Taking the Leap explores the patterns that we find ourselves in, and provides tools for breaking them.  While some of Chodron's books go heavily into explanations of Buddhist concepts and practices, these two are easily accessible to those with no knowledge of Buddhism.  These are not to be labeled as "self-help."  Rather, these are wise writings from one of the foremost Buddhist thinkers today, helping us navigate through our fears, challenges, and destructive patterns.

For the magazine reader:  The Sun, published in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, features essays, short stories, photography, interviews, poetry, and my favorite section, one in which readers write in each month about a different topic.  The Sun is also independent and free of ads.  What I like most about this magazine is that the stories are raw, intimate, and powerful.  

Orion explores the intersection of nature, culture and place,  It is published in Great Barrington, MA, and is also free of ads.  Orion has an impressive list of advisors, including Wendell Berry, Jane Goodall, Van Jones, Winona LaDuke, Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempett Williams.  It is a beautiful magazine, in both its design and its contents.  Orion was the winner of the 2010 Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence.  

I recently visited my local magazine store and asked for some suggestions.  In this way, I learned of Cultural Survival Quarterly (CSQ), published in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a satellite office in Guatemala.  CSQ was founded in 1972 and covers indigenous rights issues. All of the writers are indigenous or work closely with indigenous groups.  CSQ features essays, interviews, and photographs.  


For the classicist:  I've recently taken to reading more classics, and what a treasure they are.  While friends or family may have read these titles long ago, they may enjoy having a fresh copy or getting a chance to finally re-read one of their favorite books of yesteryear.  For classics, consider consulting the Modern Library website for their list of the "100 Best Novels" (which is not to say that I agree with this list, but it is a good starting point), or visit the NYRB Classics website, to see a list of classics that may be more obscure but nonetheless important and good reads.  Some author ideas - McCullers, Capote, Yates, Baldwin, London, and Maugham.


For the anthology enthusiast:  The Poets Laureate Anthology, the first anthology every published that features all forty-three American poet laureates, would be a great gift for anyone who loves poetry or has been curious to read poetry but doesn't know where to start.  Featuring a sampling of our great poets, this book pays homage to some of the finest poets not only in the U.S., but in the world.  New Stories from the South (2010) features stories from some of the best Southern writers today - Ron Rash, Rick Bass, Tim Gautreaux, and Dorothy Allison, to name a few.  There is something wonderful about Southern writing, going back to such classic Southern writers as Faulkner, O'Connor, Capote, and McCullers.  This anthology follows in that tradition, and allows the reader to be exposed to writers both prominent and lesser known.

For the crafter:  I'm not a crafter, but I think Amy Sedaris is one of the funniest people around.  Her ideas are off-the-wall, and with her new book Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, she combines frugality, kitsch, and DIY home projects bound to keep you entertained for hours on end.  

For those seeking rays of light in dark times:  Tracy Kidder is one of my absolute favorite authors of non-fiction.  I particularly enjoyed Hometown (about an eccentric array of people living in Northampton) and Mountains Beyond Mountains (about Paul Farmer's work in health care around the world), and his newest book, which is entitled Strength in What Remains.  This book tells the true story of Deo, who fled Burundi in 1994 due to genocide in his country and landed in New York City with $200 in his pocket and no contacts.  From sleeping on park benches to becoming a student at both Columbia University and then medical school at Dartmouth, this is a story of triumph against the odds, the kindness of strangers, and one young man's humility and persistence.  A deeply inspiring and moving book.  I haven't yet read Edwidge Danticat's Create Dangerously, but it has been getting rave reviews.  Danticat, a Haitian American known for her evocative novels (and one of this year's New Yorker's "20 under 40"), has written a non-fiction work about Haiti.  For a review by Julia Alvarez on NPR's website, please visit:

Happy reading, and happy holidays!


  1. This is wonderful! I am an old co-worker of Susannah's from the Y, and I have recently been feeling like I have no idea what to read and am out of the literary loop...and then poof! She posts your blog! Sweet!!

  2. Most of my friends and family are book lovers..... and i think i can check off almost all my gifts with this list! Thank you!!

  3. Excellent! I especially love the magazine suggestions! Thank you, and happy holidays!