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Artvoice Weekly Edition » Issue v11n50 (12/13/2012) » Last Minute Gift Guide

Page Turners

10 books that make great gifts

These December holidays are a perfect excuse for browsing bookstores for gifts. During the past year, many books have crossed my desk, and listed below are the ones that made the cut. These are all nonfiction because giving novels is a bit dicey. Fiction tends be received with a sense of obligation that’s hard to overcome, and, unlike nonfiction, it can’t just be browsed. (Poetry now, that’s a different story. A book of poems suggests that you respect the reader.)

Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science

By Ian Sample

While this might seem overwhelming, it’s a terrific account of the search for that pesky Higgs boson. I’ve tried to read so called “easy-to-understand” books about physics and they may as well be written in Urdu. This is really a gripping story of how these physicists came up with their theories, how they collaborate—or don’t—and how human they all are. It’s a good tale.

The One And Only Shrek! Plus 5 Other Stories

By William Steig

Maybe it’s okay that most kids will be familiar with the movie version of this book, though reading the book first always seems like a good plan. That notwithstanding, Steig is easily in the top five of children’s authors and illustrators. He’s killingly witty—good for adults reading aloud—and so are his illustrations. This book includes The Amazing Bone, Brave Irene, Spinky Sulks, Doctor De Soto, and Caleb and Kate. Six first rate books in one, a winner for all.

The Mini Minimalist: Simple Recipes for Satisfying Meals

By Mark Bittman

This collection, by the New York Times food writer, is a small, boxed set of four books, one each for vegetables, pizza/pasta/grains, meat/fish/poultry, and small plates and soups. This would make a great gift for someone just starting out in the kitchen or someone whose schedule doesn’t allow for recipes involving 20 ingredients and taking hours of prep work. Each recipe comes with some helpful tips, wine and serving suggestions.

Have You Lived Here All Your Life?

By Rick Ohler

Born and raised in East Aurora, Ohler’s book is part Bill Bryson, part James Thurber. In this book he has compiled some 60 of his columns from what he calls “the world’s best local newspaper, the East Aurora Advertiser.” Ohler’s father taught English at Nichols School for years, so he comes by his craft honestly. You don’t have to be an EA resident to like his stories, you just have to like good writing.

Unlikely Friendships

By Jennifer S. Holland

Here’s a perfect book for animal lovers in your life—or anyone who needs a reason to smile. There are 47 remarkable stories here of interspecies relationships, each with a short text and photographs that will make the scroogiest curmudgeon get all warm and fuzzy. But it’s not schmaltzy. In fact, it makes you wonder: If that white rhino and the billy goat can get along, or the cockatoo and the cat, why can’t we? (Part of the PBS series Nature is a segment called “Odd Couples” with some of the same stories from the book.)

The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009

Books don’t get much more festive than this. Its cover—a picture of souvaroffs (butter cookies with jam) from 1984—is so pretty all you need to add is a bow. Inside, each cookie gets two pages, one for the recipe and one for just for a photo of the cookie. Give this to someone who loves to bake gifts and hope you’re on that list.

Summer Cooking

By Elizabeth David

David, the English version of Julia Child, is a cook the New Yorker describes as standing against “fuss, overdecoration, pretentiousness.” Take her recipe for oeufs en cocotte a la creme aux asperges: “Pour a little melted butter into each ramekin, put in a few cooked asparagus tips and break an egg into the centre. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of cream and cook 4 or 5 minutes in a moderate oven.” This is a small book with recipes from soup to nuts and, despite the title, good for all seasons.

Friends: True Stories of Extraordinary Animal Friendships

By Catherine Thimmish

This is the children’s version of Unlikely Friendships. The pictures are bigger and there are fewer stories, with nicely spare text and full-page pictures. There is a lot to talk about here, and kids would just love this.

Design Like You Give A Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises

Edited by Architecture for Humanity

Even if there’s no architect on your gift list, this is a good choice. It’s a handsome book with interesting and compelling photos on every page illustrating how we need to think about humanitarian and sustainable solutions to international housing crises. This would be a good and discussion-provoking choice for teachers, students, parents—anyone who is thoughtful and looking for ways to be involved in solutions.

Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat

By Susanna Reich, illustrations by Amy Bates

This would be a real gateway to getting kids to love cooking. Julia Child just loved cats and Minette shows up in her memoir, My Life in France. The story here is a good one and the illustrations are perfectly French. In the author’s note, we learn that none of the dialogue is invented, that it comes from Child’s letters. There is a glossary and pronunciation guide which would be fun if you’re reading this aloud to a young one. Bon appetit.

Books make great gifts, especially in their original form. You can do some good shopping for them at Buffalo’s independent book stores, including Talking Leaves (3158 Main Street and 951 Elmwood Avenue), Rust Belt Books (202 Elmwood Avenue), Westside Stories (205 Grant Street), and The Second Reader (1419 Hertel Avenue). Remember, though, that, libraries are also a perfect option for introducing books to children. Invite your son or daughter to the library and then go out for a cup of tea to talk about what you read.

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