by Ann M. Colford & r & Books make great gifts, especially in the depths of winter. On days like these, what's better than making a cocoon of fleece, pouring a hot cup of tea (or perhaps a stronger libation) and getting comfy with a pile of good books? Of course, it's hard to know someone else's taste in books, but within broad categories, here are a few recommendations from my own bookshelf. (For help with the children's books, I consulted the staff at Children's Corner Books and Toys.)
CHILDREN'S BOOKS & r & One of the most popular books this year is Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn Buehner, a follow-up to 2002's Snowmen at Night. Here, the people of snow venture out for their own celebration of everyone's favorite holiday. A staff favorite at Children's Corner is Mortimer's Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson. Mortimer the mouse is searching for a new house, and he finds a perfect little rustic place -- except there's already a family of statue people there. In Winter Lights: A Season of Poems and Quilts, illustrator Anna Grossnickle Hines celebrates all the winter holidays of lights with pieces of colorful quilts and snatches of poetry. In the back, she explains how the quilts were made.
One of my favorite books when I was a kid was Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. I loved the simple illustrations and the modest story of the little boy with the big imagination, big enough that he could create his own world. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the round-headed tyke -- man, that's hard to swallow -- but the story is still an antidote to a world full of gewgaws and techno-gizmos.
COMICS & r & The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
This one's received a lot of press, but why not? The precocious Calvin and his alter ego graced many an office cubicle during the 10-year run of Watterson's comic strip. Now - finally - every strip that Watterson produced is collected here in a vast and weighty (not to mention pricey) three-volume boxed set. In his Publishers Weekly review of the set, Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers) notes Watterson's ability to critique mass consumer culture while working within it. But don't worry about the analysis. The point here is to laugh. A lot.
LITERARY FICTION & r & The History of Love by Nicole Krauss & r & Leo Gursky is an old man living alone in New York; he taps on the radiator each day to assure his neighbor Bruno that he's still alive. As a young man in Poland, before the war, he wrote a book called The History of Love, about his beloved Alma. In the chaos of war, he fled Poland, as did Alma, but their lives took different courses. Along the way, he presumed the book - and any hope for love - was lost. And yet, in New York is a young girl, also named Alma. Her parents named her for the main character in her father's favorite novel, called The History of Love. Somehow Krauss weaves through twists and turns and near misses to the connection that brings these story threads together.
COFFEE TABLE BOOKS & r & Press Gallery: The Newspaper in Modern and Postmodern Art by Shaun O'L. Higgins and Colleen Striegel & r & The newspaper seems an odd choice as the subject of an art book -- except perhaps to a couple of long-time Inland Northwest newspaper professionals like Higgins and Striegel. After all, they've already created one volume on the topic: 1997's The Newspaper in Art. And yet this beautiful book, by focusing on the era of professional journalism from the early 20th century onward, illustrates the ubiquity of newspapers in our mass culture. Within these 140 works of art, newspapers become props, subjects or raw material, but most often they're presented as visual shorthand for knowledge.
If newspapers aren't your thing, then check out Woody Guthrie: A Life in Art by Steven Brower and Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter and director of the Woody Guthrie Archives. Though best known for his vast body of songs, Guthrie was an inveterate doodler who communicated as often in pictures as in words. Here, his drawings are collected for the first time, carefully culled from volumes of diaries and notebooks, and showing a side to the folk troubadour that has rarely been seen.
POETRY & r & Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon & r & Kenyon, the wife of poet and essayist Donald Hall, died 10 years ago of leukemia at the age of 47. To honor the anniversary of her death, this new volume collects all of her poems from her first book in 1978 to the poems of Otherwise, published posthumously, and includes her translations of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Kenyon's poems are distillations of lived experience, grounded in the local landscape around her New Hampshire home. She notices the daily minutiae of the natural world and selects small observations as the centerpiece of each poem. Sometimes these observations stand alone, but often they lead to a free association of memories triggered by a vision, a scent or a sound. She reads emotion into the landscape, and her emotional well-being is inextricably linked to the land.
SPORTS & r & Faithful: Two Diehard Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O'Nan and Stephen King & r & In February 2004, when novelist and lifelong Sox fan King and his buddy O'Nan decided to journal their way through the 2004 Red Sox season, they had no way of knowing what a historic season it would turn out to be. Through diaries and e-mails, the two fans cover the emotional spectrum from the great hopes of spring training to the foreboding of August, from the bitter ALCS Game Three defeat at the hands of the New York Yankees to the amazing comeback and ultimate triumph in the World Series. Filled with insider buzzwords and King's salty language, Faithful paints a picture of long-suffering yet loyal Red Sox fans better than any sportswriter could.
CULTURE AND HISTORY & r & In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honor & eacute; & r & This book came out last year, but true to its premise, I didn't hurry to read it. Actually, that was due more to distraction than any consistency of style, but it's well worth the time to savor slowly. A Canadian journalist based in London, Honor & eacute; challenges our clock-watching and efficiency-obsessed culture by addressing the joys of slowness in everything from driving to eating to love-making. He's no acetic, out to make us all feel bad -- he's as guilty as the rest of us, searching for the One-Minute Bedtime Story and earning a speeding ticket while researching the book.
If you can wait till after Christmas to buy your gift, then consider Collapse by Jared Diamond, an examination of what causes cultures to fail. One of the best books of this year, it'll be released in paperback on Dec. 27.
MEMOIR & r & Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone by John Daniel & r & In November 2000, as the nation waited through recounts and legal wrangling to learn who would be the next president, poet and essayist John Daniel drove up into the wilderness of Oregon's Rogue River Canyon to spend six months alone. With no media and no contact except a one-way weekly telephone message to assure his wife that he was still alive, he spent a winter in solitude. Daniel writes about the Northwest landscape with familiarity and affection here, but the real meat is the portrait he creates of his hard-drinking union-organizing father. With nothing but time on his hands, Daniel stares down his own past and comes to terms with not just his father but with himself.
PAPERBACK FAVORITES & r & The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong & r & While Christmas is a season of many spiritual gifts, it can also be a time of depression and emptiness. Armstrong, a writer known for her in-depth study of theology and religious affairs (A History of God, Holy War and others), turned to the personal in this memoir last year. Now in paperback, the book describes her journey from the convent to the secular world and her diagnosis of epilepsy after many years of doubting her sanity. Along the way, she loses the unquestioning certainty of her early beliefs yet gains a broader and more complex understanding of religion and spirituality. Similarly, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd is nearly a decade old now, but its story of Kidd's journey from conventional, traditional Christianity to a spirituality that embraces the Divine Feminine will challenge and inspire anyone embarking on a spiritual journey.