Sunday, December 02, 2007

Give it to me once and give it to me twice



You gots to give books for the holidays this year. Has yez not heard? Nobody reads nowadays, and that makes us stupiderer.

Here are some ideas of books that people would like to get. (Not me, I only want DVD's.) (but I work at a library, I'm not really in that much danger of getting stupiderer) (can't get much dumber than keeping a job that pays like this when you have student loans like I do.)

Anyway. I don't tend to give fiction - most people read fiction once and then donate it or pass it along. I give non-fiction and children's books, and sometimes short story or essay collections. And remember - books are easy to wrap!

Want to be a hero? Buy some kid either the Marvel Encyclopedia or the DC Encyclopedia or both. Although your otaku brother-in-law will screech over all the outdated information (the books are produced by DK, notorious for inaccuracy) and hairsplit about whether Ms. Marvel should be identified as Warbird or not, he'll love the books even more for giving him a chance to show off his erudition. These books are the comic book equivalent of a steak stuffed with smoked oysters and wrapped in bacon. With port-wine butter sauce.

Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni. Local fussbudget makes good, and reminds us that the finger is not an acceptable substitute for verbal criticism. But... but... I love the finger!

That giant NASA picture book, errr... America in Space: NASA’s First Fifty Years. Abrams, 2007. For your husband, dad or geeky sister who hopes that "there's intelligent life in space, 'cause there's bugger-all down here on earth," and who consequently sends you links like this one.

That less-giant but still hefty National Geo photo book. Will bring a tear to the eye.

America From the Air. Wired magazine picked this one and so do I. It comes with a CD-ROM so you can take it with you on the flight and match up the pictures you see out the window with the pictures in the book. Whee!

George Saunders's new essay collection - fuh-nee!

Ira Glass's new story collection - e'erbody love Ira!

There is a small but risible subgenre of cookbooks that could be called "Get Her on Her Back With Your Mad Hollandaise." I believe myself to own one of the earliest examples of this type of book - Esquire's Handbook for Hosts, copyright 1949 and recently republished, presumably for its kitsch value: in addition to recipes for Peanut Butter Soup (involves celery) and Tongue Tidbits (don't ask), there are comments like, "Women don't seem to understand fish - and, we suppose, vice versa." If you can get your hands on that book, it's pretty excellent, but an updated version is also available: Tucker Shaw's Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens, which is all about "what to cook when your game doesn't work" and "what to serve for breakfast when someone (or more than one someones) is waiting for you in bed". I mean, well, yeah - yuck... but the book is funny and has cool photos and translates mise en place to 'get your shit together before you start'.

Emily Flake's cutie li'l book. Reviewed earlier. For the smoker in your life.

Last year's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris is more than worth a second glance. Last year you might have picked it up and thought, "Nah, I'm just desperate - it's a novelty book, nobody will look at it more than once." But this year we know that we wish we'd bought it last year. So get it, already - buy it for your best girlfriend, or possibly your mom.

Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes
by Diana Friedman. While we're talking shallow, this book is kind of mesmerizingly so. Did you really need the Cosby's living room parsed? What was the decision behind that flowered couch on "Married... With Children"? And... was there a little bathroom adjacent to Mike's study in the Brady Bunch house? If there was, I'll bet it had this wallpaper.

Bibliodyssey. Beautiful images out of rare books.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Volume II. Just what it says. There's someone in your life for this book, whether you know it or not.

Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations by Vincent Virga and the Library of Congress. Little, Brown, 2007 ($60). Mankind's need to abstract and make comprehensible the physical world around them is documented thoroughly in this fascinating book. Every type of map technique and purpose seems to be represented, and explained clearly. For your valued friend who can use the word "orthography" in a sentence. My only quibble is that the printing is not quite high-resolution enough, but since these maps are from the collection of The Library of Congress, they should all be available online in the MrSid format, which allows very close zooming. But their search engine is down, so I can't check. Grr.

I used to have a photo of a fossil ichthyosaur skeleton, an elasmosaur or a thalassomedon, I can't remember. This photo was taken a LONG time ago, with the skeleton hanging against a backdrop of black velvet. The negative is an 11" x 17" piece of glass. Fine grain? Oh, man. You could dive into a print of that photo and hit bottom in the late Cretaceous. The skeleton glows. The new book Evolution, text by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, photographs by Patrick Gries, gives us hundreds of full and partial skeletons at just that quality. Luxurious and stunning, with brief explanatory essays. It's on my coffee table right now.

Howtoons. Lazily, I am going to quote the book description: "Part comic strip and part science experiment, Howtoons shows children how to find imaginative new uses for common household items like soda bottles, duct tape, mop buckets, and more–to teach kids the "Tools of Mass Construction"!" For your creative child who also loves Bob McLeod's Superhero ABC.

Shipwreck Detective, by Richard Platt. Full of doodads, bells, whistles, maps, photos, and other worth-obsessing-over impedimenta, bound with an elastic strap so none of it falls out. Fascinating to children and adults.

Ages 2-6: 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental. Reviewed earlier. Or any of the books in my best picture books of 2007 so far or best picture books for hipsters posts.

Ages 4-7: The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. Reviewed earlier.

Ages 8-13: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Reviewed earlier.

Ages 14-17 (girl flavored): Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. All 5 Weetzie Bat books collected between two covers. Pop Rocks for the brain and heart.

The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls - sure-fire best-sellers this holiday season - are notably absent from my list. They're kind of fun to flip through, and I could see some kid opening them up on a rainy day... if the cable were out... and the Wii was broken... and there was nothing in the fridge... and you were bored of poking things in the cat... but really they just seem to be pitched at those hand-wringing parents who don't feel like childhood today is "natural" enough, that kids get outside enough, who worry that the capoeira classes and Latin study group are somehow making their children odd and precious.

And you know what? Those parents may have something there, but buying a book that teaches their kids how to be kids... yeah, also not the answer.

Happy buying season! We're off to the Merry Mart at the Creative Alliance.