Monday, December 24, 2012

Day 24: A Look at Saudi Arabia

It's finally here: the last day in our 24 Days of Books. Day 24. Christmas Eve. We've talked about a lot of books this month -- a little bit of everything. I'm guessing you deduced that the blog posts were written by more than one person: Sally McPherson (the every-day blogger), Roberta Dyer, Kate Bennison, and Joanna Rose. (Either you figured it out or you thought they were being written by one twisted, multi-personality bookseller.)  I resolve to write more book posts in 2013 on a regular basis, rather than saving the bulk of them up for the time of year when we're all likely to be the busiest. But, what the heck; it adds a little extra juice to the month.

I had a hard time thinking about which book to tell you about today. I considered I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, but those are selling like hotcakes without a mention here (the perfect stocking stuffer). I thought about writing about Lidia Yuknavitch's new novel Dora: A Headcase, but everyone seems to know about that already as well. (By the way, let me just say that I think a wrapped set of Dora with Lidia's award-winning memoir The Chronology of Water would make a incredibly thoughtful gift.)

I considered Standing at the Water's Edge: Bob Straub's Battle for the Soul of Oregon, a new biography that I will be taking on vacation with me next month on the personal recommendation of one of my biggest idols: former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts.

But instead I decided to go with another paired set of reading: two perspectives on Saudia Arabia and it's people, one nonfiction and one fiction.

On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - And Future, is written by Karen Ellott House, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has been visiting the kingdom for more than 30 years. Saudia Arabia is a country of great importance to the world, but one that most people know little about, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world. Or, as The New York Times described it in its review of House's book: "It’s not Mars, exactly, but for most Americans Saudi Arabia is probably more like another world than any other inhabited part of this one. It is about as distinct from the freewheeling United States as a country can be."

In her book, House examines Saudi Arabia not only through her interviews with most of the key members of the royal family, but, more importantly, through the lives of countless individuals -- men and women, in villages and in cities, conservative Muslims and modern reformers, young and old. This book is an authoritative, illuminating, riveting inside look at a country that could well be on the brink, and what that portends for Saudi Arabia's future -- and for our own. Here are some comments from reviews of House's book:

Zbigniew Brzezinski: "It exposes incisively and dispassionately the social contradictions and the potential political vulnerabilities of contemporary Saudi Arabia. A timely and truly important book."

Henry Kissinger: "An engaging and lucid exploration of Saudi politics and culture . . . recommended reading for all those seeking a new perspective on one of the world's most consequential societies."

Tina Brown: "One of the most revealing and impressively reported books I read this year. Karen Elliot House’s 30-plus years’ experience in one of the least accessible countries makes us see, hear, and experience Saudi Arabia like a local."

For a fictional perspective on this country, I offer up the newest from Dave Eggers: A Hologram for the King,  a finalist for this year's National Book Award for fiction and recently named one of the top five fiction titles of the year by The New York Times. His novel centers on 54-year-old Alan Clay, a struggling American business and a bit of a sadsack in a rising Saudi Arabian city, pursuing a last-ditch attempt to stave off foreclosure, pay his daughter's college tuition, and finally do something great.

The book has been called a "heartbreaking character study" and a "deft and darkly comic novel," a sort of "moral vision quest." Pico Iyer in a review in The New York Times called A Hologram for the King a "supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad ... With ferocious energy and versatility, [Eggers] has been studying how the world is remaking America ... Eggers has developed an exceptional gift for opening up the lives of others so as to offer the story of globalism as it develops and, simultaneously, to unfold a much more archetypal tale of struggle and loneliness and drift."

I did not expect to like this book, although I'm not exactly sure why, but it became one of my favorite novels of the year.

So, that's the end of our 24 Days of Books. All of us at Broadway Books are full of immense gratitude for all of the kindness you've shown us in 2012. Best wishes for happy and safe holidays, wherever you spend them, and for good tidings in 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Day 23: Help Thanks Wow. Really. We Mean It

Welcome to Day 23 in our 24 Days of Books. We're down to the second to last day! Although I do not consider myself a spiritual person and gave up the church of my parents forty years ago, there is a small handful of “religious” writers that I consistently read. At the top of this list is Anne Lamott. She is a Christian writer whose thousands of avid fans include many readers who are not.

Because she is such a good writer, I suspect I would read Ms. Lamott’s books were she to write about ice fishing or Tuvan throat singing or the import/export business in Chad. I would read her sports columns if she wrote them. I would read her first drafts, which she says are horrible. I would not dare to read her diary, but I most certainly would read her grocery list. Her writing has helped me through early parenthood and tough times. She has helped me with my own writing. She has made me snort-laugh out loud more than most humorists who are trying way harder than she is to elicit laughter. And whether I am reading her fiction or her essays, I always feel that I am in good hands.

Ms. Lamott’s new book is a slim but timely volume titled Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers ($17.95, Riverhead Books). Her thesis is that all “prayer” – and she defines this term very, very loosely – boils down to one of the three simple words in the title.

The definition of prayer that Ms. Lamott uses transcends religious differences or ideology. Prayer is “certainly not what TV Christians mean. It’s not for display purposes….Prayer is private, even when we pray with others. It is communication from the heart to that which surpasses understanding.”  And, she adds, “Let’s not get bogged down on whom or what we pray to….to the animating energy we are sometimes bold enough to believe in; to something unimaginably big, and not us.” Although I might personally quibble with the “not us” part of her definition, I might just change it slightly for myself to say “not me."

So, the three prayers are rather self-explanatory, I think. Help me. Thank you. Wow, that is awesome.

These three thoughts (call them prayers if you want) will carry us a long way.  It’s the season for all of them.  Help is something we all need when we are struggling alone or together with doubt, hardship, loneliness, suffering, or tragedy – and there is too much of that going around lately. Thanks is especially felt at this time of year but applies to every single day of our lives that we have food and shelter. And Wow:  I am reminded of Steve Jobs’ last words: Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.

It’s telling that we have a little trouble figuring out where to shelve this book in the store. It doesn’t fit neatly into Christianity or Judaism or Eastern Religions, which are the three distinct sections for religion that a small store such as ours has. Neither does it strictly adhere to the Psychology shelf, or Essays, or Personal Memoir. Right now we are solving the problem by stacking it up on the front table, where we put our favorite new nonfiction. And as fast as we stack it, we sell it. Shall we hold one for you?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Day 22: Superb Stories from Women

Welcome to Day 22 in our 24 Days of Books. While there are lots of great new books out from well-respected male novelists this year (Tom Wolfe, Ian McEwan, Michael Connelly, Junot Diaz, Martin Amis, John Banville, to name just a few), it's a rocking fall for great novels from female writers. Here are a few that particularly stood out to us:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (Little Brown,  $25.99) Maria Semple. This is our new go-to book for anyone who needs to get out of the doldrums, who needs a good belly laugh. A funny funny new novel by the author of This One is Mine, this rockin' story takes on the PC world of Seattle  (Microsoft, rampant blackberry vines,  over-polite drivers, coffee shops on every corner) and ends up in Antarctica, while exploring the lighter side of family dysfunction along the way. Roberta likes to say that this book does for Seattle what "Portlandia" has done for Portland. Jonathan Franzen says, “Hilarious … I tore through this book with heedless pleasure.” Or this, one of my favorite reviews: "If you read only one book this summer about an agoraphobic mother and her broken promise to take her daughter Bee on a trip to Antarctica, make it this one.... " Semple is a former writer for Arrested Development, Ellen, and Mad About You; her ability to write snappy, witty dialogue is apparent in this book. And did we mention funny? Did we specifically mention laugh-out-loud, wet-your-pants funny? 'Cause it is. 
The Round House  (Harper,  27.99), by Louise Erdrich, recently won the National Book Award for Fiction. The novel is a compelling, comic, and tragic tale of injustice,  a coming-of-age story with a lonely thirteen-year-old Ojibwe boy at its heart. Set in the late '80s,  told in her typically poetic voice, and reaching out wide in all directions -- including the spirit world -- this is pure Erdrich story-telling;  heartbreaking and  multi-layered. The National Book Award judges called it "the story of a family and community nearly undone by violence.... an intricately layered novel that not only untangles our nation’s history of moral and judicial failure, but also offers a portrait of a community sustained by its traditions, values, faith, and stories.

Zadie Smith's latest novel, NW, has been named one of the top five novels of 2012 by The New York Times. Four Londoners - Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan - try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Reviewers have called it "remarkable," "absolutely brilliant," "endlessly fascinating," "innovative and moving," and "radical and passionate and real."

In her new novel, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver calls on both her Appalachian roots and her studies in biology to explore the scientific, financial, and psychological intricacies of climate change. While her passion for the issues at stake ring through, Kingsolver is a storyteller first. In Flight Behavior she tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. As we heard on NPR, Kingsolver is "as sensitive to human interactions and family dynamics as she is to ecological ones."
Oprah revived her book club so she could share with the world her love of the memoir Wild, by Portland's own Cheryl Strayed, and so she could have people she could discuss the book with. For her second book for the new club she has chosen The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Knopf,  $24.95), by Ayana Mathis. Hattie Shepherd  flees Georgia at age 15 to create a new life in Philadelphia. Spanning the decades from 1923 to 1980,  Mathis weaves together the individual stories of Hattie's children. In some ways, I think of this book as the fictional off-shoot of the wonderful narrative nonfiction book from last year, The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the Great Migration of blacks from the south to the north and west. Kirkus Review has compared Mathis to Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson, calling the novel vibrant, compassionate, and elegant. This is a stunning new voice of African-American historical fiction.

I'll conclude this discussion with novels from three local authors: two debut novelists and a welcome return.

Set in the lawless frontier town of Century, Oregon, Anna Keesey's debut novel Little Century tells the story of eighteen-year-old Esther Chambers who, when orphaned after the death of her mother, heads west in search of her only living relative. Paula McLain, author of the The Paris Wife, called the book an incredible debut -- "I found myself dog-earing nearly every page." Keesey's novel, says author Joshua Ferris, "reminds us that character matters, and that justice is pursuant to conscience," describing the novel as "a frontier saga, a love story, and an epic of many small pleasures."

Another debut novel receiving high praise is The Orchardist, by Amanda Coplin, a story set in the untamed American West about a makeshift family whose dramatic lives are shaped by violence, love, and an indelible connection to the land. Reclusive orchardist William Talmadge tends to his apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he's found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. His calm life is forever altered by the arrival of two feral, scared, and very pregnant teenage girls. Kirkus Reviews describes that book as "Beautifully written, so alive to the magnificence of the land and the intricate mysteries of human nature, that it inspires awe rather than depression."
 And, best of all, a new novel from a favorite Portland author: Eight Girls Taking Pictures (Scribner,  $25), by Whitney Otto. The New York Times describes Otto’s beautiful new work of fiction as “…a narrative collage.” In the book, eight women  photographers through the years -- starting in 1917 and moving forward to the twentieth century -- struggle with the realities of being women and artists, in individual narratives that connect and  inform each other. This delicious, smart  novel is set in Europe,  New York,  California, and Mexico, as well as in the psychological landscapes that make up the lives of women in the balancing of art and life. As she did in her bestselling novel How to Make an American Quilt, Whitney Otto offers a finely woven, textured inquiry into the intersecting lives of women, giving us thoughtful, nuanced depictions of the complexity of women's lives.
As always you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. We love more than anything helping you to find just the right gifts for the people on your list -- especially the hard-to-shop-for ones. We'll be open til 9 pm tonight, from 10am to 7 pm on Sunday, and from 10 am to 5pm on Christmas Eve for your convenience. Publishers are already starting to run out of some of the most popular books, so don't wait much longer. If the book you come in for is no longer available by Christmas, fear not! We're happy to help you find just the right substitute. Hope to see you soon!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day 21: The End of Your Life Book Club

Wow. It's Friday, which means Christmas is only a few days away, and means it's Day 21 in our 24 Days of Books. One of my favorite books of the season -- and one of the most touching and inspirational (which sounds way smarmier than the book is)  --  is the true story of a son and his mother who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. The End of Your Life Book Club ($25; Knopf), by Will Schwalbe, tells the story of the time he spent with his mother at the end of her life -- his mother’s last days through the prism of the things they read together

Mary Anne Schwalbe had been a passionate, active woman; she maintained her passions to the end. She had a successful career in education, eventually becoming the director of admissions at Radcliffe and then Harvard. In her 50s, she discovered the cause of refugees, and she devoted the rest of her life to that cause, traveling all over the world -- Bosnia, Liberia, Monrovia, Laos, etc. She was the founding director of what is now known as The Women's Refugee Commission.

As an ardent believer in education and in reading, one of her final goals was to help raise money for a national library and cultural center at Kabul University, as well as for traveling libraries to reach remote villages throughout Afghanistan. (Today, the main library building is almost finished, and there are nearly 200 libraries across all 34 provinces.)

When Mary Anne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her husband and children were actively involved in her treatment. Will started accompanying his mother to her chemo treatments. Because they were both ardent readers, Will usually started their conversations with a natural question: "What are you reading?" Mary Anne underwent treatment for almost two years, so what evolved was a sort of mother-son book club.

Talking about books allowed them to talk about tough issues that they might not have otherwise been able to talk about. It wasn't about setting a reading agenda -- reading all the classics, for instance, or books on a certain subject -- but just reading books they wanted to read, for whatever reason, and talking about them. "Just because a book is selling zillions of copies and is enormously popular, that doesn’t mean there aren’t extraordinary things to be learned and gained from it. That education and inspiration can come from all different kinds of messengers....I really wanted to show how my mother and I talked about books, which is we’d talk about what was interesting to us in a book. It doesn’t have to be the best thing you ever read or the worst thing you ever read. It can just be interesting."
Schwalbe was in publishing for 21 years. During that time he saw a lot of great memoirs about people who had difficult times with their mothers. For him, however, this memoir is a celebration of his mother.

At Hyperion, Schwalbe signed a book, The Last Lecture, written by a college professor who was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to leave something behind so his young children would have a way of knowing him. Schwalbe thought about sharing the manuscript with his mother, but he worried that perhaps the subject might be too close to her situation. So he just left the manuscript in her room and figured she would read it if she wanted to. She devoured it.

Another book they read together was The Etiquette of Illness, by Susan Halpern, through which he learned not to ask "How are you feeling?" but rather "Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?" He learned that when you are spending time with someone who is ill or dying, it's not about what you say; it's about what you ask -- ask, and then truly listen -- and to check in more regularly, rather than waiting until something bad happens.

Along the way, Schwalbe began writing a blog to keep friends updated on his mother's condition. But it also gave his mom a "mini platform" to get out what she wanted to say. "Don't forget to talk about healthcare reform," for instance. As her son says, there were things she wanted to say in her life, but she didn't care that she said them; she just wanted them heard.

Education and books were very important to her. But she wasn't a writer. A few months before she died he told her that he wanted to write a book about their time together and their reading lists. Her first response was "There’s got to be something else that’s more interesting to write about.” But she began to cotton to the idea: "She loved the idea that the causes and books she was passionate about would get out in the world."

Although Shwalbe and his mom never actually had "The Big Talk" about death and cancer, through their "book club" they had lots of little talks, around books, that actually added up to The Big Talk. In other words, they had The Big Talk; it just lasted two years. The books they talked about allowed her to choose how personal or abstract she wanted the conversation to be.

By the time Mary Anne Schwalbe died, at age 75 -- about two years into the "book club" -- she and her son had read dozens of books of all different kinds: classic novels and modern ones, mysteries, biographies, poetry,  short-story collections, self-help and spiritual books, histories. She had one particular idiosyncrasy as a reader: she always read the ending of a book first. At the back of the book an appendix lists all of the authors, books, plays, poems, and stories discussed or mentioned in Schwalbe's memoir.

One of the lessons Mary Anne left her son was this: "It’s not enough to be moved by a book — you have to do something...books are calls to action. Sometimes they’re calls to action to do something very specific in the world....But sometimes they’re calls to action to see things differently, to treat people differently, to change the way that you move in the world."

Schwalbe titled his book not to remind himself that his mom was dying, "but so I would remember that we all are — that you never know what book or conversation will be your last." 

While the book is very clearly a tribute to and celebration of his mother, Schwalbe had a second goal in mind as well: "What I really wanted to do was share with people the role that books played in our lives, and the way to do that was to tell our story. I think many people who don’t read think that reading is a kind of escape—that it’s the opposite of doing something. You even hear people say things like, 'Why don’t you put down that book and do something?' But reading is doing something, and it’s one of the most important things in the world. I wanted to show how books can teach, entertain, help you talk about difficult things, change the way you see the world around you, show you what you need to do in the world, comfort and inspire. And I wanted to show how books could bring people closer to each other, at a very difficult time—even two people who were already very close."

Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing (most recently as senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books); in digital media (as the founder and CEO of, a recipe website); and as a journalist (writing for various publications, including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post). He is the author with David Shipley of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.

As always you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. We love more than anything helping you to find just the right gifts for the people on your list -- especially the hard-to-shop-for ones. Hope to see you soon! We'll be open til 9pm every day until Christmas, except for Sunday (7pm) and Christmas Eve (5pm), for your convenience. Publishers are already starting to run out of some of the hot titles of the year, so don't wait too long.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Day 20: Succeed in the Kitchen with Science

Welcome to Day 20 in our 24 Days of Books. Tick tock tick tock.... In a year when so many good cookbooks have been published, one merits our special attention due to its popularity with cooks across the country. I'm talking about Cook's Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking: Master 50 Simple Concepts to Enjoy a Lifetime of Success in the Kitchen ($40, America's Test Kitchen).

Cook's Illustrated is one of our favorite magazines, and also one of our bestselling periodicals. It is renowned for its near-obsessive devotion to finding the very best way to cook a particular dish. Focusing on American home cooking and aimed at the home cook who wants to be the best possible cook she/he can be day after day after day, the magazine staff tests hundreds of recipes weekly, to discover which techniques work well and which don't.

Besides recipes, the indefatigable chefs at Cook's Illustrated test and rate cookware, kitchen gadgets, and pantry staples. And they aren't afraid to say what they think.

It's known as "the food geek's bible" for good reason. Cooking is an art, yes, but so much of what happens in the kitchen is science, and this magazine has been exploring the relationship between cooking and science for twenty years. As they say, good science makes good food. And good food doesn't have to be a mystery.

This new book boils down tens of thousands of tests into fifty simple concepts that are guaranteed to make you a better cook, whether you are a novice in the kitchen or an old hand.

Christopher Kimball, the bow-tied founder and publisher of Cook's Illustrated (which incidentally does not accept advertising to avoid any conflict of interest) is the relentless (in a good way) captain of this ship, and his personality and attention to detail steer the ship with a firm hand.

Including 400 recipes that are "engineered to perfection," the nearly 500-page volume is organized around the fifty concepts. Each concept is explained in a section called "How the Science Works," and then the Test Kitchen experiments are described. Following that, the recipes!

So, here are a few of the principles:

  • Gentle Heat Prevents Overcooking
  • Fat Makes Eggs Tender
  • All Potatoes Are Not Created Equal
  • Vodka Makes Pie Dough Easy
  • Two Leaveners Are Often Better Than One
Besides the principles and recipes, this book also contains essays on the sciences of measuring, time and temperature, heat and cold, tools and ingredients, and much, much more.

This is the perfect book for just about any cook on your list. As always you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. We love more than anything helping you to find just the right gifts for the people on your list -- especially the hard-to-shop-for ones. Hope to see you soon! We'll be open til 9pm every day until Christmas, except for Sunday (7pm) and Christmas Eve (5pm), for your convenience. Publishers are already starting to run out of some of the hot titles of the year, so don't wait too long.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day 19: We Be Dancing Fools

It's Day 19 in our 24 Days of Books, and we feel like dancing all around the store. Wouldn't it be cool if you were just walking down NE Broadway and out of nowhere someone began dancing, I mean really dancing, when you least expected it? Wouldn't that make you smile? You probably wouldn't be able to help yourself. Even if you'd been feeling a little dour or grumpy (not that that ever happens to me), you wouldn't be able to hold back a happy turn-up of the lips, or perhaps even a guffaw.

So imagine a whole book of such things. That's what photographer Jordan Matter started by asking a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company to dance for him in a place where dance is unexpected. So, dressed in a commuter's suit and tie, the dancer flew across a Times Square subway platform. And in that image Matter found what he'd been searching for: a way to express the feeling of being fully alive in the moment, unselfconscious, present.

Organized around themes of work, play, love, exploration, dreaming, and more, the book Dancers Among Us celebrates life in a way that's fresh, surprising, pure, and joyful. There's no photoshopping here, no trampolines, no gimmicks, no tricks. Just a photographer, his vision, and the serendipity of what happens when the shutter clicks. The book presents one thrilling photograph after another of dancers leaping, spinning, lifting, kicking, but in the midst of daily life: on the beach, at a construction site, in a library, a restaurant, a park. With each image, the reader feels more optimistic, elated even, eager to see the next bit of magic. One reviewer wrote: "I wonder, if we could see into people's souls, would we see them dancing just like this?" 

Jordan Matters's grandparents were a photographer and a painter, his parents a filmmaker and a model. He began his career as a baseball player, but after seeing a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit he started taking pictures as a hobby. His hobby turned into a passion, and soon into a career as a portrait photographer. His Dancers Among Us project continues on his website. Here's a taste of what the book has to offer:


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Day 18: We're Caught in a Spiral...

Today is Day 18 in our 24 Days of Books, and we're feeling a little playful. While we usually speak only of books (the series is, after all, called the 24 Days of Books), today we're going to tell you about something that's a book and an activity, all wrapped up in one package: The Klutz Spiral Draw.

When I was a kid, I used to love to play with my Spirograph, happily making designs for hours. Did you do that too? The geometric drawing toy was first developed by British engineer Denys Fisher. It has been a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc., since that company bought the Denys Fisher company.

Now Klutz has developed a new spin on this classic drawing activity: Spiral Draw. With this kit, you can create one zillion designs. Really. I counted them. The package includes a 48-page book of instructions, inspiration, and wide open space for your own spiral expression; 4 see-through drawing wheels with more than 65 shapes; a spiral draw frame; and one six-color pen (yellow, pink, violet, blue, green, and black, for those of you dying to know).

The Spiral Draw box says it's for ages 8 and up, but I bet they're are plenty of kids older than 8 (my age, for instance, which is plenty older than 8) who would get a big kick out of this box o' fun. And you know how you find yourself at the last minute having to bring a present to a kid's holiday or birthday party? Keep a few of these in the closet for just those occasions. Or need a white elephant gift? (I bet this is the one that people will keep trading to get!) And it's under $20, so it should easily fall under your spending limit.

Klutz was incorporated in 1977 in Palo Alto, California, by three friends from Stanford University: an English major, a business major, and a psychology major. They began by selling sidewalk juggling lessons along with a trio of no-bounce bean bags. "We think people learn best through their hands, nose, feet, mouth and ears. Then their eyes. So we design multi-sensory books," says John Cassidy, the English major. The company's credo is "create wonderful things, be good, have fun." Sounds good to me. Klutz was acquired in 2002 by Scholastic Inc., the largest children's book publisher and distributor in the world.

As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. Hope to see you soon!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Day 17: Dancing with Calvin and Hobbes

Welcome to Day 17 of our 24 Days of Books. "Calvin and Hobbes" is unquestionably one of the most popular comic strips of all time -- and definitely one of my favorites. The imaginative world of a boy and his real-only-to-him tiger was first syndicated in 1985 and appeared in more than 2400 newspapers. Bill Watterson, the man behind the strip, retired on January 1, 1996, leaving many ardent followers (including me!) bereft. The entire body of "Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons is now available in four full-color paperback volumes in a sturdy slipcase: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes -- and it's only $100!!

Combining the richly conceived characters and efficient drawing of "Peanuts" with the visual virtuosity and linguistic playfulness of "Pogo" and "Krazy Kat," Watterson applied his intelligence and supple cartoon skills to come up with a creation beloved by millions who still mourn its passing.

As you probably already know, the strip featured a precocious and adventurous six-year-old boy, Calvin, and his sardonic stuffed tiger, Hobbes. Hobbes' dual nature is a defining motif for the strip: to Calvin, Hobbes is a live anthropomorphic tiger, while all the other characters in the cartoon strip see him as an inanimate stuffed toy. But did you know that the pair are named after John Calvin, 16th-century French Reformation theologian, and Thomas Hobbes, a 17th-century English political philosopher? Come to think of it, you probably did.

Bill Watterson was designing grocery ads, a job he detested, when he began devoting his spare time to cartooning, his true love. When asked how autobiographical the series was, he said, "I'd say the fictional and nonfictional aspects were pretty densely interwoven. While Calvin definitely reflects certain aspects of my personality, I never had imaginary animal friends, I generally stayed out of trouble, I did fairly well in school, etc., so the strip is not literally autobiographical. Often I used the strip to talk about things that interested me as an adult, and of course, a lot of Calvin's adventures were drawn simply because I thought the idea was funny. In any given strip, the amount of invention varied. Keep in mind that comic strips are typically written in a certain amount of panic, and I made it all up as I went along. I just wrote what I thought about."

Available for the first time in a paperback boxed set,  this is a treasure sure to create jubilation in all Calvin and Hobbes fans. And really, who isn't?

As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. Hope to see you soon!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Day 16: The Gift of Poetry

Welcome to Day 16 in our 24 Days of Books. What a wonderful gift a book of poetry makes; don't you agree? It seems there are always so many good collections from which to choose -- and we are especially blessed with so many lovely poets right in our own backyard. It's so hard to pick from the many wonderful collections at our fingertips, but here's just a few that come to mind.

One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver, so I'm thrilled that she has a new collection out in time for the holidays. And this isn't the first time I've mentioned in this blog the effect a beautiful cover has on me: a good cover doesn't always make for a good book, of course, but it draws the eye -- and how wonderful to display on your shelf!

In her newest book, A Thousand Mornings, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet once again opens our eyes to the beauty of nature, exploring the mysteries of our daily experience and the transformative power of attention. Whether studying the leaves of a tree or mourning her adored dog, Percy, she is ever patient in her observations and open to the teachings contained in the smallest of moments.

In an interview on NPR, Oliver said that her work has become more spiritual over the years, growing from her love of the poets who came before her and the natural world — but that she feels a great sorrow over humanity's lack of care for that world. "One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear," Oliver adds. "It mustn't be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now... sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn't necessary shouldn't be in a poem."

Another wonderful author -- one who fortunately for us lives right here in Portland -- with a new collection of poetry is Ursula K. Le Guin.  Though internationally known and honored for her imaginative fiction, Le Guin started out as a poet, and since 1959 has never ceased to publish poems. Finding My Elegy spans fifty years of work and includes some of the best of her earlier verse along with a rich series of new poems that she has been writing for the last four years.

The seventy selected and seventy-seven new poems consider war and creativity, motherhood, and the natural world -- from the titles of many you can see the influence of place on these poems, such as "At Cannon Beach," "Up the Columbia River," and Mornings in Joseph, Oregon."

And not to sound like a one-trick pony, but what a breathtaking cover. I should add that Ms. Le Guin also has a two-volume collection of short stories just out: The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Land.

This is what The Guardian has to say about her short stories: "A century from now people will still be reading the fantasy stories of Ursula K Le Guin with joy and wonder. Five centuries from now they might ask if their author ever really existed, or if Le Guin was an identity made from the work of many writers rolled into one. A millennium on and her stories will be so familiar, like myths and fairytales today, that only dedicated scholars will ask who wrote them. Such is the fate of the truly great writers, whose stories far outlive their names." 

One of my favorite authors to hear read in person -- whether he's reading poetry, prose, or, I imagine, the telephone book -- is John Daniel, with his sonorous voice and big heart. [I am a HUGE fan of what he laughingly calls his "momoir' and his "popoir": Looking After: A Son's Memoir and Rogue River Journal: A Winter Alone.] His newest book is a collection of poetry: Of Earth

His first new collection in eighteen years, Of Earth contains roughly half the poems from each of his two previous collections, Common Ground and All Things Touched by Wind, and a generous selection of newer work. Old or recent, most of these seventy poems were inspired by the landscapes where Daniel has lived or spent lengths of time over the last forty years. 

“I am a spiritual and scientific generalist,” Daniel writes, “intolerant only of fundamentalism in either realm. These poems are products of a kind of nearsighted groping toward forms of truth that can be realized, if at all, only in the process of seeking them. One name for this seeking is imagination, which is not a way of making things unreal but of trying to understand their reality by calling it forth in language. My intent is that each poem should embody its portion of truth in ways accessible to the general reader."

From another "locally owned" but nationally praised poet comes Mayakovsky's Revolver, by Matthew Dickman. At the center of Dickman's new collection is the suicide of his older brother, as the author explores how to persevere in the wake of grief. A book of hauntingly dark enlightenment, these poems take place in quiet moments, the shadows of memories.

Two recently published collections from two highly respected poets we lost in the past few years would make wonderful gifts. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton: 1965-2010 and Adrienne Rich: Later Poems Selected and New: 1971-2012.
 Clifton's landmark volume contains all of her published work and 55 previously unpublished poems, with a foreword by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison. Clifton died on February 13, 2010, at the age of 73.

In addition to her personal selections from twelve volumes of published work, Later Poems Selected and New contains ten powerful new poems, previously uncollected. We lost Ms. Rich in March 2012.

As always, you will find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. See you soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Day 15: Let's Rock And Roll!

Those of you who follow our 24-day Adventish countdown of books may have noticed that “a book a day” often means “a group of books a day” in our lexicon. We can’t help it: 24 days just isn’t enough time to tell you about our favorites if we can only do one a day. So we're going to push the envelope today, Day 15 in our 24 Days of Books, and tell you about an extraordinary number of new memoirs and biographies this year from musical folks.

Did you make it to the recent  Springsteen concert? Who doesn’t love The Boss? Peter Ames Carlin’s book, Bruce, is the first biography of Bruce Springsteen in twenty-five years to have been written with the cooperation of the man himself. Allowed unprecedented access to the artist as well as his family and band members, Carlin’s assessment of this musical giant shows the human as well as the heroic sides to a very complicated, often controlling, and always passionate figure. Mr. Carlin, formerly a television and music critic for The Oregonian, lives in Portland and we have signed copies on our shelves now (signed by Mr. Carlin, not by Bruce).

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young chronicles his career from his early days with Buffalo Springfield through his solo career and collaborations with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Crazy Horse, and dozens of other notable musicians and groups. He has seen it all, and here he tells it all. Acclaimed for both his musical talent and his artistic integrity,  he has had at least one major hit in every decade since the sixties and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Known almost as well for his political and philanthropic involvements as his music, he was a cofounder of Farm Aid and an annual fundraising concert for The Bridge School, which assists children with physical and communication impairments.

Mick Jagger is the story of the most notorious and enigmatic rocker of them all, written by a seasoned biographer of such animals. Philip Norman, who previously wrote bios of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Buddy Holly and John Lennon, works his magic here to peel back the layers we all know are there (narcissist, drug and alcohol abuser, archseducer of women) and exposes some suprisingly human qualities and vulnerabilities. We recently learned that the average age of the Rolling Stones is higher than the average age of Supreme Court jurists. Mick is 70. Has he mellowed? Read it and see. If you're really into the Stones, you might also be interested in The Rolling Stones 50The only official book celebrating the band's 50th anniversary, this is a coffee table book with more than 1000 illustrations and photographs, as well as Stones memorabilia.

Two years ago, I attended a Portland concert by Leonard Cohen that was part of what we all assumed was his farewell tour. And this year, he was back again, falling to his knees and skipping around the stage as if he were in his twenties! At age 78, this mellow, sage Zen master of song is still taking us along on his oh-so-cool ride, cocked fedora atop his head and mellow voice deepened with age, cigarettes, and experience. Sylvie Simmons recounts his remarkable life and legacy in I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. From Montreal to the Chelsea Hotel to the monastery to the concert stage, this book tells the definitive account of an extraordinary life.

And as long as we're on the topic of Leonard Cohen, you should check out The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah," by Alan Light. The book offers a fascinating account of the making, remaking, and unlikely popularizing of one of the most played and recorded rock songs in history: Leonard Cohen's beautiful and heartrending song, "Hallelujah."

Who I Am is Pete Townshend’s autobiography. One of the most literary and literate musicians of his time, Mr. Townshend and his band The Who have been called The Voice of a Generation. He thought he would write his story when he was 21, but found himself much too busy. Finally, at age 67, he got it all down on paper. Did you know that he loved The Everly Brothers but thought Elvis was a “drawling dope”? That he is banned for life from Holiday Inns? That he nearly died several times (alcohol, cocaine, and following Keith Moon off a hotel balcony into a pool)? That his favorite job was working as an editor in a respected literary publishing house?  It’s all here, along with every smashed guitar and trashed hotel room.

The John Lennon Letters is a handsome volume that is a perfect gift for fans of the great songwriter/musician/singer/performer/legend. This collection of nearly 300 letters and postcards is edited and annotated by Hunter Davies, whose authorized biography of The Beatles was published to great acclaim. Including hundreds of photos of the actual letters and doodles and drawings, the book also prints the texts along with informative commentary by the editor that puts each piece of correspondence in context and reveals the intimate life of an extremely private man.

The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs is by Michael Feinstein, a performer who has been called the “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook”. Known primarily for his interpretations of songs by such iconic writers as Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and especially George and Ira Gershwin, the author worked for Ira for 6 years in his twenties. As caretaker of the Gershwin’s legacy, he offers this reminiscence, including unforgettable stories and memorabilia he’s collected through the years. Each of the 12 chapters highlights a classic Gershwin song, telling what the music meant to them and how it came into being. HUGE BONUS: the book includes a CD that includes Feinstein’s original recordings of all 12 songs (can’t list them all here, my faves are I Got Rhythm, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over Me).

Lest you think that only men can be rockers, let us dissuade you from that thought by telling you about a couple of recent memoirs from rocking ladies who just happen to live in our own fair city. Coal to Diamonds, a memoir by Beth Ditto (co-written with Michelle Tea), tells the coming-of-age story of the lead singer for the group Gossip. Mary Beth Ditto was born and raised in Judsonia, Arkansas, a place where indoor plumbing was a luxury, squirrel was a meal, and sex ed was taught during senior year in high school -- long after many girls had gotten pregnant and dropped out. Ditto was a fat, pro-choice, sexually confused choir nerd with a great voice, an eighties perm, and a Kool Aid dye job -- in other words, she didn't blend in. She gave up trying to remake her singing voice into the ethereal wisp she thought it should be and intsead embraced its full, soulful potential. Gossip gave her that chance, and the raw power of her voice won her and Gossip the positive attention they deserve.

And no discussion of musical memoirs would be complete without talking about Crazy Enough, by Storm Large. Although the book came out last year, the paperback version has just recently been released. Storm -- and yes, Storm Large is her real name -- spent most of her childhood visiting her mother in mental institutions and psych wards. It was a hard way to grow up, especially when the doctor told her that her mother's illness was hereditary, but Storm's strength, charisma, and raw musical talent gave her the will to overcome the challenges. As one review says, "We're in complete awe of the blunt, surprisingly memoir...told in honest, poignant prose... [Large shows] all of us how to let go—not without fear and doubt, but with it."  We are also -- and especially -- in awe of her amazing voice.

As always you'll find lots more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. See you soon!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Day 14: Let's Get Cooking!

On the fourth day of our 24 Days of Books, we told you about some wonderful new cookbooks -- all by area authors! Today, the 14th day, we're going to tell you about a few more, including one by another local author (how blessed are we with local cookbook authors???) who was inadvertently left out last time.

Roots, rhizomes, tubers, corms.  Lotus root, salsify, malanga, crosne.  Diane Morgan is a Portland writer who truly belonged in our local writers cookbook blog.  (What a major oversight on our part!!)  The introduction alone is a celebration of the world of gnarly underground food.  There are 225 recipes arranged by root, with beautiful colored photographs that will change your mind forever about what grows down there under the dirt. Lotus root is a delicate, flower-shaped root that nestles among snow-peas in a stir-fry.  Crosne is a member of the mint family that can go into curried fritters or get pickled to dress up a martini. There is history, lore, and storage tips, as well as availability. (How else would you find a good source of galangal?)
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf, $35), by Deb Perelman.
Simple recipes in a book full of advice from the creator of the award-winning SmittenKitchen blog, this is a collection of chat and ideas on how to be at home in your kitchen.  Starting with peach and sour cream pancakes and including a recipe for broccoli slaw as well as the author’s favorite summer cocktail, this book has everything for the rookie cook as well as the  gourmand:  tips about how many good knives you really need (one),  what kind of salt the word “salt” means,  whether you need one of those cool, long-handled wooden spoons (you don’t), and  how to lose your fear of pizza.
Jerusalem: A Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, $35), by Yotam Ottolenghi  & Sami Tamimi
 This lavishly illustrated book celebrates the tradition of Middle – Eastern hospitality that goes back centuries:  food as shared humanity.  There are classics, in reverently traditional form, as well as dishes wherein the authors have allowed themselves a little “poetic license."  Roasted sweet potatoes with fresh figs,  swiss chard fritters, and chicken cooked with clementines and arak,  or with sweet spiced freekeh.   Yeasted cakes, kibbeh, ghraybeh,  mutabbaq.  The recipes are a walk through the cultures of Israel,  Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. This is an important book about not only food and food traditions, but also about  the historic diversity that is Jerusalem.

Not just a cookbook,  this is a party book!  Food Network star Ina Garten  arranges recipes (with 150 color photographs) by meal:  cocktails (Sidecars with dried cherries!), starters (Crab streudel! Carmelized bacon!), and onward to lamb dishes,  barbecue, pasta, and  seafood  for lunch and dinner, with side trips into vegetables and desserts. She also includes ten foolproof tips for cooking, twelve foolproof tips for tables settings, and a whole section on foolproof menus, planning and shopping -- all in Garten's friendly and reassuring chatty style.

Bouchon Bakery (Artisan, $50), by Thomas Keller.
This magnificent book is about French baking as an act of creation.  Three world-class chefs come together to offer their answers to what they define as the eternal question:  What is your favorite recipe?  Each recipe tells not only how to make one of their amazing pastries or cookies or breads,  but also why it is included,  its history with the author,  its contribution to the skill of the reader:  the slightly stiffer pate a choux dough for ├ęclairs,  the  secret to the creamy center of a peppermint patty, and why you will want a pastry bag with a Wilton 789 tip for your Dutch Crunch Semi-baguettes.  This fabulous book is a commitment to the good life.

Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America (Norton, $45), by Maricel E Presilla
A compendium of not only what foods are involved in Latin American cuisine,  but why, tracing techniques and ingredients from pre-Columbian times. Long before we  get to any of the 500 recipes in this huge book (900 pages!) we are taken into the Latin American kitchen and shown the tools, crafts,  and  the basic flavorings, with everything from How to Crack Open a Coconut to Peppers:  A Short Glossary.  There is also an undoubtedly helpful section on superstitions and lore.  (Pour the lime juice into the dulce con leche in the shape of a cross, and cold water scares the food, although scared yucca softens faster.)   This encyclopedia covers an entire geographic range,  from Mexico to Brazil to Venezuela,  El Salvador and  the Ecuadorian Andes,  and includes how to roast a pig in your back yard. 

As always, you can find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. See you soon!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Day 13: And a Wookie to You Too!

Welcome to Day 13 in our 24 Days of Books. It's a gorgeous, sunny day in Portland today, which causes us to look to the sky, which leads us, naturally, to think of all things Star Wars. Surely you have a Star Wars fan in your circle of friends and family. Check out all of the cool Star Wars books we have in the store:

Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle. This gorgeous $50 hardcover book is the definitive history of all-things Star Wars, a coffee-table book celebrating four amazing decades of the Star Wars experience. This is truly the book for the Star Wars fans of all ages.

Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide: Updated and Expanded, by Ryder Windham (Dorling Kindersley; $24.99). This oversized hardcover book reveals the story of the amazing Star Wars saga in full detail, covering not just the movies but also the ever-expanding range of books, novels, comics, and media. Packed full of interesting facts about the world of Star Wars merchandise and fandom, astonishing pieces of art, and full-color photographs, this compendium is the key to knowing everything there is to know about the iconic brand that is Star Wars.

Matthew Reinhart is one of the Kings of Pop-Up (capitalizing just felt right), and he shows off all of his skills in this new book: Star Wars: A Galactic Pop-Up Adventure, published by Orchard Books ($36.99). In this explosive, interactive, pop-off-the-page book about the Star Wars franchise, Reinhart has created a new 3-D experience packed with great features such as pop-ups, working light sabers, pull tabs, and other interactive features. The book explores the characters, stories, vehicles, droids, and more -- a stunning book that will impress all fans and provide a whole new perspective to the universe.
Star Wars Origami: 36 Amazing Paper-Folding Projects from a Galaxy Far, Far Away..., by Chris Alexander (Workman Publishing; $16.95). This is probably my favorite of the bunch: a book that combines the Star Wars universe with a hands-on activity book -- what could be cooler than that? A front section introduces origami definitions and basic folds. Bound in the back is the book's unique folding paper, two sheets for each figure, enabling users to create ships, droids, weapons, and many many Star Wars characters, such as Boba Fett, Princess Leia, Yoda, and R2-D2. The creations range in difficulty from easy to tricky, and will provide hours of entertainment for the Star Wars followers in your universe.
Everything old is new again, right? LEGO seems to be all the rage right now -- again. And the Star Wars franchise has hopped on that wagon too. We've got both the LEGO Star Wars Character Encyclopedia ($18.99) and LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary ($21.99), both from Dorling Kindersley.

Not everything is made of LEGO. We have the Star Wars Character Encyclopedia also from Dorling Kindersley ($16.99). This book is the definitive illustrated guide to Luke Skywalker, Jabba the Hut, and many more favorite characters from the Star Wars galaxy, with stat boxes, expert text, incredible movie stills, and more than 200 profiles. This is book is a must have for Star Wars fans.
For the younger Star Wars fans in your world, we have Star Wars 1, 2, 3, a boardbook that uses Star Wars' most popular heroes, villains, vehicles, droids, and aliens to teach fundamental counting skills; and Star Wars: Phonics Boxed Set, which includes ten books and two workbooks that use full-color images of Star Wars characters to teach reading -- particularly good for reluctant readers. 
As always, you'll find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store, and we're always happy to help you find just the right gift. See you soon!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day 12: Pedal Power!

It's Day 12 (12-12-12!!) in our 24 Days of Books, and today we're going to hop in the saddle! We Portlanders love our bikes. Both local and national publishers have figured this out, so now we have a selection of recent biking-related books that will appeal to the bikers on your shopping list.

OregonCycling Sojourner: A Guide to the Best Multi-Day Tours in Oregon (Into Action Publications, $17.95) by Ellee Thalheimer, is a guide for adventurous souls who long to hit the Oregon road with their bikes for extended periods of time. This guide features 8 multi-day bike tours in every part of the state, including complete camping and lodging info, 12 breweries, 3 scenic bikeways, and 14 mountain passes. All levels of cycle touring are included, and tours for every season are recommended, as well as tours for every budget. “Cycling Sojourner is like bike touring with a witty fellow bike nerd who is full of enough lively anecdotes to keep you entertained but enough information to keep you from getting lost” – Russ Roca and Laura Crawford

BikingPortland: 55 Rides from the Willamette Valley to Vancouver (The Mountaineers Books, $18.95) is by Owen Wozniak, who has lived and cycled in Portland for ten years. As a project manager at the Trust for Public Land, he works to protect natural places for people to enjoy. This is his third guidebook. The 55 rides outlined in the guide range from the city’s urban core east to the base of Mount Hood, west to the Tualatin Valley and Coast Range foothills, down the Willamette Valley and north across the Columbia River. The rides vary in length from 3 to 56 miles, and in difficulty from easy through moderate to challenging. Each ride is clearly mapped out and described with elevation profiles, mileage logs, public transportation access,

Also published by Into Action Publications, and perhaps our secret favorite book on this list, is Hop in the Saddle ($9.95), a cleverly named guidebook to Portland’s craft beer scene, by bike. This book is also by Elle Thalheimer, with the help of Lucy Burningham and Laura Cary. This little red beauty covers 20 breweries, 8 bottleshops, and 31 bars and restaurants. Each of these beer spots is a local treasure such as Amnesia Brewing, Hair of the Dog, Grain and Gristle, etc. NOT included are the national chain locations, common in every city. There are 5 Portland Beer Routes (and 5 Bike Nerd Extended Routes) to get you to your destinations, with plenty of things to see along the way. Beervana indeed.

Where to Bike Portland (BA Press, $27.95) is by Anne Lee, the Deputy Director of Portland’s Community Cycling Center. This spiral-bound guide outlines 72 great rides, including 26 rides for kids. Illustrated with hundreds of full-color photos and detailed maps, it’s a handsome and useful book whose rides include many in the inner city, but stretch as far afield as Vernonia, Clark County, Wilsonville, and Troutdale. 

75Classic Rides Oregon: The Best Road Biking Routes (The Mountaineers Books, $24.95) by Jim Moore includes routes all over the state varying in length from 3 to 359 miles, including 4 multiday tours and variations for longer or shorter rides, or connections to other routes. Expert advice on preparation, safety on the road, and riding techniques are accompanied by a handy at-a-glance chart to help you select your ideal ride, and downloadable turn-by-turn cue sheets. There are 6 rides on the coast, 13 in the Portland metro area, 11 in the Willamette Valley, 8 in southern Oregon, 11 in the Mount Hood/Columbia Gorge area, 7 in the Cascades, 4 in central Oregon, 11 in eastern Oregon, plus the 4 multiday trips.

Although it’s not a local guidebook, we include Fifty Places to Bike BeforeYou Die (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95) by Chris Santella for two reasons: Chris lives in Portland (in our neighborhood, actually), and it’s a biker’s dream book. Within these pages you will find essays by fifty biking experts, who share the world’s greatest biking destinations. Each essay is accompanied by a beautiful photograph of such exotic locales as Western Tasmania, Costa Rica, Botswana, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, and many more. OK, OK, there are three Oregon destinations: Crater Lake, Chief Joseph Country, and Greater Portland. But this is really an armchair traveler book for bikers who love to imagine biking around the world.

Enjoy your bike and stay safe! Don't forget -- we have many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available in our store. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Day 11: It's All in the Past

Welcome to Day 11 in our 24 Days of Books. I love reading books on historical subjects. Do you? Here's just a sampling of what's on the top of our history list these days.

For me it's always a happy celebration when we get a new book by Timothy Egan, one of my all-time-favorite narrative nonfiction writers -- and judging by the awards he's received (including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award) I'm not alone in that assessment.

Hot off the press is Egan's new book about Edward Curtis, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($28). Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He was thirty-two years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent's original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.

He spent the next three decades traveling from the Havasupai at the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the Acoma on a high mesa in New Mexico to the Salish in the rugged Northwest rain forest, documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty tribes. It took tremendous perseverance -- ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him into their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly: from detached observer to outraged advocate. Eventually Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film.

Reviewers have called the book "a darned good yarn," "a rollicking page turner," "a story for the ages" -- at its essence a book about the extreme personal cost of outsized ambition. An interesting subject in the hands of one of our most talented narrative nonfiction storytellers; what more could you want?

Ross King is known for his deep scholarly research presented in a narrative that appeals to both academics and general readers, primarily tackling topics in the worlds of art and architecture. Some of his previous books include Brunelleschi's Dome, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, and The Judgment of ParisNow he brings us a fascinating look at an artist's life in Leonardo and the Last Supper (Walker and Company; $28).

Leonardo da Vinci was at his lowest point, both professionally and personally, in 1495 when he began work on The Last Supper, the masterpiece that would forever define him. King paints a complex portrait of the artist, and explores dozens of stories that are embedded in the painting, bringing to life a fascinating period in European history and presenting a portrait of one of the world's greatest geniuses through the lens of his most famous work. As one reviewer says, "the book is meticulously researched, gracefully written and fascinating to read.”

Moving back to this side of the pond,  we have the new book by Kevin Phillips, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution. In this new book, the iconoclastic historian and bestselling author attempts to puncture the myth that 1776 was the watershed year of the American Revolution, arguing that the great events and confrontations of 1775 are instead the true beginning of the revolution. Along the way, Phillips explores the ethnic, religious, demographic, political, and economic roots of the revolution. (Penguin Viking; $26)

Another nuanced study of a complex period is 38 Nooses: Lincoln, Little Crow, and the Beginning of the Frontier's End, by Scott W. Berg (Pantheon; $27.95). While Union and Confederate armies clashed at Bull Run and Antietam, another epochal but largely forgotten war was being waged along the Minnesota frontier, as the Dakotas clashed with settlers and federal troops, culminating in the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors—the largest government-sanctioned execution in American history.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo (Crown; $27) tells the little-known story of General Alex Dumas, the man his son (the novelist Alexandre Dumas) used as inspiration to create some of the best loved heroes of literature. This is Tom Reiss's first book since The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, a highly lauded book that is part history, part cultural biography, and part literary mystery, as it traces the life of Lev Nussimbaum, a Jew who transformed himself into a Muslim prince and became a bestselling author in Nazi Germany. 

Finally, I must give one more shout out to one of my favorite books of narrative nonfiction of the past few years, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, a fascinating story beautifully told. [Wilkerson will speak in Portland on April 16, 2013, as part of the Mark O. Hatfield Distinguished Historians Forum. Also on tap for this year's series are Michael Duffy (The Presidents Club), Erik Larson (In the Garden of Beasts and The Devil in the White City), and David Eisenhower (Eisenhower: At War)]. 

As always, you'll find many more gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. See you soon! 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Day 10: What to Get the Kids??

It's Day 10 in our 24 Days of Books, and today we're talking about books for younger readers, around 8 to 12 (although these are just rough guides, because every kid is different AND lots of older readers -- me, for instance -- like to read good middle grade books). So take the age range with a grain of salt.

The first "book" I want to tell you about is a book plus a whole lot more: Recycled Robots: 10 Robot Projects, by Robert Malone and published by Workman Publishing ($24.95) -- an irresistible book and kit that shows how to make ten different moving robots out of the most ordinary things from around the house such as an empty salt container, a drinking straw, a candy tin, a cereal box, cardboard tubes, old dolls or action figures, and assorted Lego or Tinker Toy parts.

The kit includes a full book of instructions, along with a battery-powered motor, two windup walkers, some googly eyes (it just wouldn't be complete without googly eyes), and much more. What kid won't love being the inventor, designer, and engineer of his or her own amazing, moving robots??

Another perennial bestseller along similar lines is Papertoy Monsters: 50 Cool Papertoys You Can Make Yourself, also published by Workman ($16.95). The book offers 50 fiendishly original die-cut designs that are ready to pop out, fold, and glue -- and each character comes with its own backstory.

No discussion of books for middle readers would be complete without a mention of the Wildwood Chronicles series by local writer and singer Colin Meloy and his wife and illustrator Carson Ellis. Book Two in the bestselling adventure series set in the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland (hmmm...could it be Forest Park???), Under Wildwood, has just been published in hardcover ($17.99) and Book One, Wildwood ($8.99), is now out in paperback.

One of the most popular writers for the younger crowd is Rick Riordan, a former middle school teacher with two sons who writes wonderful books that are based on Greek mythology (the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, followed by the Heroes of Olympus series) and Roman mythology (the Kane Chronicles series). Riordan is also the mastermind behind the 39 Clues series. I've been hard-pressed to find a kid who doesn't like his books.

One of my favorite new middle reader series is the Books of Beginning trilogy, by John Stephens. The first book, The Emerald Atlas, has recently been published in paperback ($7.99), and the second book, The Fire Chronicle, recently came out in hardcover ($17.99). “Irreverent humor and swashbuckling adventure collide in a fetching fantasy," says one reviewer of this tale of three siblings: Kate, Michael, and Emma. While the New York Times called it "A new Narnia for the tween set," perfect for fans of the His Dark Materials series. The author was a writer for The Gilmore Girls, a TV series known for its witty, snappy dialogue, which definitely comes out in this series.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and its sequel The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, written by Catherynne Valente and illustrated by Juan Ana, tells the story of twelve-year-old September, who lives an ordinary life in Omaha until her help is needed in Fairyland. Described as offering the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, with "a glorious balancing act between modernism and the Victorian Fairy Tale, done with heart and wisdom." The author creates "a world as bizarre and enchanting as any Wonderland or Oz and a heroine as curious, resourceful and brave as any Alice or Dorothy." Heck, I would buy the books for the titles alone!

If you have a middle grader in your life who hasn't yet read The Phantom Tollbooth, then straightaway that's the book I'd recommend.

Lemony Snicket, the mystery man behind The Series of Unfortunate Events, is back with a new book: Who Could That Be at This Hour?. The book is full of Snicket's characteristic wordplay and droll wit, with gothic wackiness and literary allusions a-plenty.

I would also give a shout out to The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen, the first book in a new trilogy.

And yes there is a new Wimpy Kid book for the holidays, The Third Wheel: Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 7. I don't think there's much more I can say about that.

As always, you can find many more great gift ideas in our Holiday Books guide, available at our store. Of course we're happy to help you find just the right book for the younger reader on your shopping list. See you soon!