Thursday, December 10, 2009

A gift guide to worthy (but possibly overlooked) books

So the New York Times has released its list of Notable Books of 2009. The Millions is slowly unveiling its annual Year in Reading results. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have posted their "best of" shopping lists. Everywhere I see recommendations, and everywhere I see the same books over and over again. Some -- perhaps many -- of these books are noteworthy and worth reading, but it's tiresome looking at the same things again and again. Where are the recommendations for the small, the offbeat, the forgotten?

I have decided to fill the void with a few interesting titles that probably won't get much advertising space online or in glossy holiday catalogs. Check 'em out: you just might find something for that hard-to-shop-for person on your list.

"Fearless heroes... seductive dames... horrific villains... and thrilling drama! The artwork that appeared on the covers of pulp fiction magazines from the 1910s through the early 1950s was as sensationalistic, lurid -- and utterly delicious -- as the tales inside. Now, 30 of those stylized covers appear in this graphic gallery for you to color in any way you please."

"Life's little pitfalls can be a real drag: being dumped, fired, or left at the altar; spending Christmas, Valentine's Day, and your birthday all alone; slogging off to a 9 a.m. meeting with a hangover the size of Wisconsin; grappling with a never-ending visit from your crazy mother-in-law, children who won't stop screaming, or, worse, adult children who refuse to move out; reminding yourself to take deep, soothing breaths when you learn that your loaded geriatric husband who simply refuses to kick the bucket has managed to avert death's icy grasp yet again -- seriously, who hasn't been there? Where Emily Post might tell you to grin and bear it, Heather Whaley -- far more wisely -- encourages you to revel in the misery that is your life. Close the shutters, fire up the cooktop, and turn to the simplest of life's comforts: food. In this hilarious, tongue-in-cheek collection of real recipes, you'll be reminded that unlike fair-weather friends and a steady job, food will always be there for you. Filled with tasty recipes that you can make in the comfort of your own (darkened) kitchen, Eat Your Feelings will get you through any emotional roller-coaster: "It's Time to Settle Spaghetti Carbonara for Women in Their 'Thirties'," "Cinnamon-Spiced Apple Fritter for When Your Husband Ran Off with the Babysitter," "He Only Married You for his Green Card Chicken Salad," and "Twenty-nine and Still Can't Pay Your Rent Veggie Sandwich," to name a few. Illustrated with apt photos that add the perfect punch, you'll never think of your family favorites the same way again."

"Are you pressed for time or prone to procrastination? Do you hate to shop? Or maybe you simply dislike shopping for other people? Luckily, you've got your hands on the Swiss Army knife of presents-in-a-pinch. The Emergency Gift Book contains everything you need to acknowledge a special occasion whenever one comes out of freaking nowhere. Show how much you care with any of these fabulous offerings. FOR YOUR CRIBMATES: Grant your roommate a "naked day" with an enchanting stay-the-hell-out door sign. FOR A FRIEND WITH ISSUES: Dr. Papier, the world's leading finger-puppet psychologist, is literally "on hand" to listen any time of day. FOR THE GOOD CORPORATE CITIZEN: Award your fellow coworkers with merit badges for spreading good gossip and showing that jammed copier who's boss. FOR EVERYONE ELSE: IOU coupons to guarantee your services for house-sitting, plant-sitting, babysitting, sitting by a sick bed, and dozens of other priceless favors. Promise now and pay out later!"

"The term witch-hunt is used today to describe everything from political scandals to school board shakeups, but its origins are far from casual. Long before Arthur Miller likened McCarthyism to the Salem witch trials, and long before those trials themselves, women and men were targeted by suspicious neighbors, accused of committing horrific crimes by supernatural means, scrutinized by magistrates, ministers, and jurymen, and summarily executed. The Enemy Within chronicles the most prominent witch-hunts of the Western world and shows how for two millenia the fear of witchcraft has fueled recurrent cycles of accusation, persecution, and purging. With the vision of a historian and the voice of a novelist, prize-winning author John Demos explores the far-reaching social, cultural, and psychological roots of the scourge that is witch-hunting, and reveals the dark side of communities driven to rid themselves of perceived evil, no matter what the human cost."

"In this delightfully witty, provocative book, literature professor and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard argues that not having read a book need not be an impediment to having an interesting conversation about it. (In fact, sometimes reading the book is the worst thing you could do.) Using examples from such writers as Graham Greene, Oscar Wilde, Montaigne, and Umberto Eco, he describes the varieties of "non-reading" -- from books that you've never heard of to books that you've read and forgotten -- and offers advice on how to turn a sticky social situation into an occasion for creative brilliance."

"Disaster can strike at any time. Be one of the prepared few by following Kathy Harrison's practical plan for emergency self-sufficiancy. Learn how to evaluate, organize, and rotate your food supply; pack an evacuation kit; protect important documants from fire; develop a communications system; make nutritious soup with canned and dried pantry items; and entertain the kids for several television-free days. Everything you need to know to survive when public services fail is covered in this essential guide to family preparedness."

"There are three reasons why most people, although they have tried, won't keep a diary: 1) Not every day is very eventful. 2) It actually takes a lot of discipline to write. 3) In retrospect, many find what they have written embarrassing. Keel's Simple Diary offers structure for those who don't have time to wonder, making it easy to record life's moments. It gives the pleasure of a quick response and the sense that no matter what's wrong, more is right."

"Duncan and Lily, young and adrift in a prickly marriage and lackluster careers, flee Manhattan for the peaceful allure of a recently inherited crumbling Victorian home. But the two are left with little time to ponder the "he said, she said" failings of a relationship: On an upstate road miles shy of their house, a wild boar leaps to his death in front of their Saab -- an accident whose consequences will haunt them throughout the summer. Lily and Duncan arrive in the eccentric town of Osterhagen to discover the boar had a name: The Sovereign of the Deep Wood. That it was the town mascot. And, as the hapless urbanites are coerced into the vortex of tea socials, cannon fire, and communal history, they realize that the residents of the bizarre hamlet intend to seek justice for their fallen hero."

"Isabel Samaras -- a celebrated artist of today's Pop Surrealist scene -- has distinguished herself by applying maticulous technique and a sense of history to wry observations of contemporary pop culture. Best known for her riffs on the old masters, Samaras folds in familiar icons from classic TV shows, comic books, and movies to create imagery that is very much of the now. Any archetype, from the Bride of Frankenstein to Little Red Riding Hood, Gilligan to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, can find true love (or at least a sexy entanglement) in a Samaras painting, never failing to shock and delight with their portrayals of human folly and animal passion."

"My name is Ree. Some folks know me as the Pioneer Woman. The Pioneer Woman Cooks is a homespun collection of photography, rural stories, and scrumptious recipes that have defined my experience in the country. I share many of the delicious cowboy-tested recipes I've learned to make during my years as an accidental ranch wife -- including Rib-eye Steak with Whiskey Cream Sauce, Lasagna, Fried Chicken, Patsy's Blackberry Cobbler, and Cinnamon Rolls -- not to mention several "cowgirl-friendly" dishes, such as Sherried Tomato Soup, Olive Cheese Bread, and Creme Brulee. I show my recipes in full-color, step-by-step detail, so it's as easy as pie to follow along."

"Write about your daydreams and nightmares in this bewitching journal featuring quotes and excerpts from the master of mystery and macabre, Edgar Allan Poe."

"This delightful collection of vintage-inspired patterns comes from Reprodepot -- the celebrated online fabric store. For this edition, Reprodepot founder Djerba Goldfinger has hand-selected her favorite homey designs. You'll find 225 patterns (75 designs in three different color combinations) ready to print out and craft up. Preview them in this book, and then reproduce your favorites over and over again using the enclosed disk and your own computer. Step-by-step directions for ten fabulous paper craft projects are included: an invitation, party decorations, fetching gift tags, and more. Charming? Yes. Handy? And how!"

"From the authors of the popular independent cookbook, Cooking with All Things Trader Joe's. This new collection of recipes includes favorites from their original book, favorites from their popular blog, and new recipes being unveiled for the first time. All in a handy, portable size -- perfect for taking to the store or planning meals on the go."


The Invisible Mo said...

Nice list of books. I will check some of these out.

Linda said...

An awesome list. If anyone ever requires you to write a description of yourself and your interests, I think you could direct them to read this.

Holiday best to you and Sean.