Sunday, December 7, 2014

Give This Book: Holiday Ideas 2014, Part 1

It's about time for Gianna to begin thinking about what she wants to give me for Christmas. There's no reason you can't steal her ideas for your own gift giving needs. Also, remember to share your book giving ideas (or this blog) with the hashtag #GiveaBook. Penguin Random House is donating a children's book to Save the Children every time the hashtag is used on Twitter and Facebook (up to 25,000 books). Normally I avoid the children, but this is a cause even my Grinch-y heart can support.

Holiday Gift Ideas:


How to Be Both by Ali Smith.

Ali Smith is one of those writers that should be a mega-seller, a genius of the craft who never writes boring books. If you (or your special friend) likes Hilary Mantel, you'll like Smith. Like Mantel, she's a British writer who's been nominated for the Man Booker Prize multiple times, including for How to Be Both. Here's why this book is a great gift: 1. you don't have it yet. It just went on sale in the US, so you can be confident that it's something new. 2. It's the most inventive book of the year. This novel is actually two stories, one set in Renaissance Italy and one set in modern England. Some books are printed with the Italy story first, some with the contemporary story. It doesn't matter which way you read it, but how you read the one part influences your reading of the other. Allow me to quote Washington Post critic Ron Charles: "Playfully brilliant. . . . Fantastically complex and incredibly touching. . . . This gender-blending, genre-blurring story, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, bounces across centuries, tossing off profound reflections on art and grief, without getting tangled in its own postmodern wires. It’s the sort of death-defying storytelling acrobatics that don’t seem entirely possible. . . . [A] swirling, panoramic vision of two women’s lives, separated by more than 500 years, impossibly connected by their fascination with the mystery of existence." 3. While it's experimental fiction, it's also readable and funny and touching.

Pair this book with another book: Once you read one Ali Smith novel, there's the strong possibility that you'll want to read more. Check out Hotel World, a first rate ghost story about lost love. Another possibility is Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the benchmark for genre- and gender-bending fiction.

Pair this book with a treat: Stick with the half-and-half theme with some black-and-white cookies.

This book is perfect for: fans of literary fiction, the Man Booker Prize, and those who like to read books that aren't formulaic. Fans of art, as a Renaissance fresco is at the center of the novel.


All the Truth Is Out by Matt Bai.

Let's say that you have a politics junky on your list, but you don't really want to go there because nothing ruins Christmas dinner like your crotchety uncle expounding on Obama's administration. You can still make your politico pal happy. Just give him/her a book about a politician who's been out of the public eye for 25 years. Matt Bai's All the Truth Is Out is the Gary Hart politics book you never realized that you want to read. For those born after 1985 or so, Gary Hart was a front runner for the Democratic nomination in the 1988 election. During the campaign, though, it came out that he'd spent some quality sexy times with model Donna Rice (on a boat named "Monkey Business," no less). Hart's campaign was dead in a matter of weeks, Dukakis won the nomination, George H.W. Bush was elected President, and the nature of politics changed significantly. Obviously a ton of politicians had dabbled with the sexy ladies in the past. The difference with Gary Hart, though, was that with the advent of the 24 hour news channels, these stories moved from the grocery store checkout lane to network news. This book looks at that shift, telling the Gary Hart story like a thriller, with the reporters racing to pay phones every time Hart stepped outside, as well as the impact this shift has had on US politics since then. Can you say Lewinski? Think about it: can the country really get the leaders it needs to thrive if all politicians must live to standards that most people in positions of authority (and otherwise) don't maintain? The media freaks out over what the Obama girls are wearing for a photo op ceremony, and if this non-event is newsworthy, can you imagine how insane the Kennedy Presidency would have been in the age of nonstop media coverage? Or how about the Reagans and their fondness for consulting with psychics? This is juicy stuff, but with the benefit of some historical distance.

Pair this book with another book: Take a look at The American Vice Presidency by Jules Witcover. Is there a more entertaining political office that the Vice Presidency? From guys who were drunk at the inauguration to guys forced to resign to guys who shot other guys (sometimes accidentally), these guys are awesome.

Pair this book with a treat: If we're talking infidelities and politics, you need to stock up on the booze. Maybe you should sample some of the craft brews from Gary Hart's home state of Colorado. Here's a list to whet your whistle.

This book is perfect for: fans of The Daily Show, fans of Game Change, the people who don't complain about political rants on Facebook, the people who are endlessly fascinated by the circus of Fox News, etc.

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