20 local folks offer book suggestions for the holidays
There is nothing more flattering than the gift of a book. If nothing else, it says, “I know you can read.” But typically it says more than that: When the book is well matched to the recipient, it is evident that the gift-giver has been thoughtful and attentive to the recipient’s interests.
Books are also, of course, easy to wrap, and in a single trip to your local independent bookstore, you can run through your entire holiday shopping list. To help you navigate the shelves, we asked dozens of local lights to offer some suggestions. Some of these books are new off the presses, some of them are quite old. Some of them offer local subjects, most do not. Any of them would make a great gift. The following are some of the books chosen by 20 of our correspondents:
Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism by Kevin Phillips. “Best thing I’ve seen on the origins of the financial crisis. And it’s very readable.”
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. “Not a new book, but my favorite Buffalo tale.”
—Aaron Bartley, PUSH Buffalo
Knockdown Knits: 30 Projects From The Roller Derby Track by Joan of Dark of the Naptown Rollergirls (real name Toni Carr). “Knitting is very trendy nowadays. Roller derby is also very trendy. Almost every city in the nation has a women’s amateur flat-track roller derby league—including Buffalo, whose very own Queen City Roller Girls start up their third home season on January 6. And almost every city in the nation has a knitting club, or two, or several. This book is a perfect marriage of these two up-and-coming, ultra-awesome, grassroots trends.
And this is a gift that can give back. If you’ve ever wanted a knitted at-least-it’s-not-your-leg arm sling, or an ice pack cover, or crutch topper, or knee socks, or arm warmers, or an armband for your mp3 player that also displays your skater number—why, give your favorite knitter this book, and drop a hint or two. I will be doing this for Christmas, incidentally, and I hope by mid-season to have me a totally rad pair of leg warmers I can take off without taking off my skates. Don’t fail me, Mom!
—Bridget Kelly, a.k.a. B-17, #17 Nickel City Knockouts, Queen City Roller Girls
Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. Everybody has read Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. There is some uproariously funny writing in Innocents, and some genuinely insightful reporting, and a passage or two of very polished prose. Twain as a reporter was consistently insightful. Rough language on race and ethnicity might bother those who forget that he wrote the book 140 years ago.
—AV columnist and Buffalo State visiting professor Bruce Fisher
Blood Brothers by Richard Price. “It is tough, gritty and urban—and its characters stay with long after the story is over. Price has had three of his books turned into movies (Clockers, The Wanderers, and Freedomland) and also wrote for HBO’s The Wire.”
—Delaware District Councilmember Mike LoCurto
Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973-1990. Edited by Woody Vasulka and Peter Weibel. Art by James Blue, Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, Gerald O’Grady, Paul Sharits, Steina, Woody Vasulka, and Peter Weibel. “Twentieth-century art history is not just a history of individuals, but of collectives, groups. Universities and colleges have had much to do with this through their support of artistic communities and creative interactions. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Bauhaus was known for this. In the 1940s, Black Mountain College became a leader in community-based visual art practice and education. And in the 1970s and 1980s, the Department of Media Study at the State University of New York at Buffalo was the place to be. It was there, in 1973, well before any other university had a program explicitly devoted to media art, that Gerald O’Grady founded a media study program that is now legendary. Artists—including avant-garde filmmakers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, and Paul Sharits, documentary maker James Blue, video artists Woody Vasulka and Steina, and Viennese action artist Peter Weibel—investigated, taught, and made media art in all forms, and founded the first Digital Arts Laboratory. These Buffalo faculty members were not just practicing artists, but also theorists who wrote and spoke on issues raised by their work. They set the terms for the development of media art and paved the way for the triumph of video installation art in the 1990s.
The images and texts in Buffalo Heads bear witness to the groundbreaking events at the Buffalo Center for Media Study. The book presents not just a tribute to a famous media department finally receiving its due; it is a rich inventory of primary texts (many never before published), works that will improve our understanding of media, amplify our cultural memory, and offer a perspective on contemporary issues.
“Or, at a lower price point: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, in either the boxed set containing both volumes or the more recent two-volumes-in-one edition.”
—Hallwalls executive director Ed Cardoni
Garden Flowers and The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd. “The late Christopher Lloyd maintained a famous garden, Great Dixter, in Southeast Britain. Lloyd is opinionated, entertaining, and gives practical advice, though you should probably ignore a lot of it, as the guy’s a Brit, and their terroir is a whole different ball game.”
—Buffalo Spree editor and garden blogger Elizabeth Licata
Klimt by Alfred Weidinger. “I saw this book, newly-printed, displayed in the library, and it knocked my socks off. Note the size: 12 x 17 inches. Gilt spine and end papers, and the most gorgeous reproductions of Klimt’s work I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen them all…I did my MA thesis on his work). A pricey book, but well worth it.”
—AV contributor, Canisius College instructor, and Castellani Museum curator Eric Jackson-Forsberg
Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar, produced by Montreal’s Certain Days collective. “Political prisoner calendars that just plain kick ass…they are a totally educational politically to what is going on currently in America plus radical history of the past. They are also amazing artistically, most of work being done by prisoners. and the proceeds are donated to different kickass organizations. The Web site is www.certaindays.org, and they are for sale by me and Rust Belt Books (202 Allen Street) and Talking Leaves Books (951 Elmwood Avenue, 3158 Main Street).”
—Community activist Nate Buckley
What’s Not To Love, short stories by by Jonathan Ames. “A great easy read that’s entertaining.”
The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones. “Bound to have been recommended by a bunch of other people.”
Double Trouble: Black Mayors, Black Communities, and the Call for a Deep Democracy by J. Phillip Thompson III. “For the slightly academic, caught up in the frenzy of Obama, fetishist of people of color leadership in executive positions.”
Y: The Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Pia Guerra and José Marzá, Jr., cover by J.G. Jones.
—PUSH Buffalo’s Eric Walker
Watchmen, a classic graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. “I just reread it in August and it still is very impressive and hard to put down.”
—Emil Novak, proprietor of Queen City Comics
The Film Club by David Gilmour. A memoir…about how he let his son quit school if he would watch three films a week with him. The father-son story was moving and inspiring to me as a parent and Gilmour’s film commentary is very interesting.
Fuck you: Rock n’ Roll Portraits, by photographer Neil Zlozower. “Would make a quirky gift.”
—AV poetry editor Florine Melnyk
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein. “Surely among the most important books on economics published in the past decade. She exposes Milton Friedman’s Chicago School of Economics technique for plundering our society. Use the Iraq War to claim oil reserves, the “War on Terror” as justification for outsourcing to Halliburton and Blackwater, Hurricane Katrina to privatize the New Orleans schools, the Southeast Asia tsunami to buy up pristine beaches for tourist resorts. With the current economic meltdown being used in the same way, Klein’s insights are both frightening and prophetic.”
Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science by Robert L. Park. “An eminent physicist’s response not only to intelligent design, homeopathy, herbal remedies (protected from control by federal law), and acupuncture but also to a wide range of New Age nonsense including quantum-holography, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (pushed to millions by Oprah), and intercessory prayer. This cold shower of science is much needed when our new president must choose a science advisor—and hopefully follow his or her recommendations.”
Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power and Lies by Ginger Strand. “Inevitably an embarrassing review of the history of our prime tourist attraction. Despite the fact that no one comes out of this screed with clean hands—even Frederick Law Olmstead gets his due—this is a richly entertaining book, a story very well told.
“And one novel. David Wroblewski’s first book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is an unusual story of a young boy, born mute, whose life on a northern Wisconsin farm where his family raises and trains dogs is threatened by a charming but menacing uncle who insinuates his way into his family. I found overtones of both The Night of the Hunter and Cold Mountain in this book that should prove to be the most popular novel of the year.”
—Buffalo News (and occasional AV) columnist and retired UB mathematics professor Gerry Rising
Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents From the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners, edited by by Matt Meyer.
—Leslie James Pickering, author of Mad Bomber Melville and The earth Liberation Front: 1997-2002
The Almost Moon by Alice Siebold. “A woman kills her demented mother. During the aftermath, questions are raised about quality of life, honesty, and other ethical matters.”
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. “The story is set in Germany during World War II. A nine-year-old girl lives with foster parents. The father teaches her to read. The story deals with antisemitism.”
Finding George Orwell In Burma by Emma Larkin. “A British journalist visits Myanmar as a ‘tourist’ to see the places Orwell had lived. She explains how his experiences there caused him to write Burmese Days, Animal Farm, and 1984.”
The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. “This is a book of more short stories by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Namesake. She continues her exploration of immigrant life in the United States.”
The UnGarnished Truth by Ellie Mathews. “The author tells of entering and winning the Pillsbury Bake-Off.”
Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish. “This is a crisp cheerful account of the author’s childhood growing up on a farm in the 1930s. She recounts fun, farm chores and values in the depression era.”
—Attorney Ginger Schroder
Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant. “A volatile report on rednecks and blue collars in what used to be called ‘real America.’”
Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman. “Inside the nefarious nexus of real power in DC.”
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. “Candid meditations on the human race.”
“Two American mystery writers died this year; their books are worth reading: The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, his best. Tony Hillerman—any novel. Unlike Crumley, who is wildly uneven, Hillerman is consistent.
“Finally, since Oprah and the Coen brothers made Cormac McCarthy well-known in mainstream America, people should read his masterpiece, Blood Meridian, the Moby Dick of 20th-century America (even if it’s about the 19th century).”
——David Willbern, retired UB English professor
Beyond Buffalo: A Photographic Journey and Guide to the Secret Natural Wonders of our Region by David Lawrence Reade and Somewhere to go on a Sunday: A Guide to Natural Treasures in Western New York & Southern Ontario by Margaret Wooster. “Both good compendiums of some great natural and historic locales. The Beyond Buffalo book has some stupendous waterfalls in the area I had never even heard of. These helpful guides also have ‘insider’ tips and recommendations on when the the best time of the year to visit the sites.”
—AV contributor and Buffalo State instructor Gerald Mead
The Savage Detectives, by Roberto Bolano, or 2666, just released by the same author.
—Mike Kelleher, artisitic director for Just Buffalo Literary Society
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett. “A National Book Award Winner.”
The First Desire by Nancy Reisman. “Set in Buffalo between the Great Depression and World War II.”
Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. “Smart and funny.”
Saturday by Ian McEwan. “A powerful piece of post-9/11 fiction.”
—Margo Willbern, UB Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Degree Programs
Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy. “[A friend] gave me a book that I loved so much, I bought 12 more and give them out periodically. I plan to send it to my sisters for Christmas. It is a wonderful, wonderful book.”
—Jayne Rand, of M&T Bank
“Since I am feeling fairly contrary right now, I would say any of the Jack Taylor novels by Irish author Ken Bruen. Both beautifully written and incredibly dark, perhap some of the best works of contemporary crime fiction period.”
—Sean Donaher, of CEPA and Big Orbit galleries
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. “A clear and concise history of what we know about the universe so far and the quirky scientists who figured it out. You’ll be astounded by what we don’t know and by the lack of preparation for the meteor fixing to take us all out. Be careful, once you read the store copy, you’ll want to own the Special Illustrated Edition fetching over $200 online.”
—103.3 The Edge host Tom Ragan
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