In this gift guide "In-Home Entertainment" entry, I'm covering books, from my favorite adult reads to cookbooks and kids' books, plus some extra "gifts for readers" at the end. I've been an active participant in the (now-defunct) Silicon Valley Moms Blog book club, many members from which are, like me, now participating in the From Left to Write book club and, through that, have been fortunate to be exposed to some fantastic reads that we might not otherwise choose. I'm also a member of an offline book club, where discussing books among friends in real life never gets old. (Yes, I'm a bookaholic!) This list below includes some books from and some beyond the purview of my blogging "work." It's all noted with disclaimers where appropriate. I've also added a parenthetical note with suggested gift ideas to pair with the book. Enjoy!
- Girl in Translation by Jeanne Kwok (reviewed for Silicon Valley Moms Group book club): One of the best fiction books I've ever read, this book is practically the author's memoir, even though she bills it as fiction -- a coming-of-age immigrant tale exposing the lives of sweatshop workers and, in the case of this book, their first-generation American children. (Gift idea: Support the end of sweatshops in America by purchasing some items from American Apparel: gloves, scarves, hats, etc.)
- Following Polly by Karen Bergreen (reviewed for From Left to Write book club): This is a debut mystery novel by a former lawyer and stand-up comic, and, as such, it's refreshingly funny and quite different from my usual mystery reads; I look forward to Bergreen's next work! (Gift idea: a whoopie cushion?! I'm only half-kidding ... this is a tough one to pair, so how about reading snacks, a book light, tea, vodka?)
- The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard: My (offline) book group chose this book to read this month, and I whipped through it in two days because it was that gripping. A story of two girls born on the same day in the same New Hampshire hospital, the intertwining of the two families' lives and the way those lives are chronicled over a large expanse of time makes you feel like you're part of their lives by the end of the magnificent tale. I'm planning to read some of Maynard's other works soon. (Gift idea: This one has a lot to do with farming, especially goat cheese and strawberries ... add some crackers and some apple cider for a fantastic seasonal treat!)
- A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore: My dad, a retired college English professor, suggested that I read this book, and I'm quite glad that he did. It's the story of a midwestern college student who works as a nanny for a toddler, and the twists that this book takes are mind-boggling. What will keep me reading Moore's stories is her unbelievable writing style: witty, wry, and descriptive in both light and dark ways. Like "The Good Daughters," above, you'll think about this book months after you've read it. (Gift idea: soup and crackers... it's a book that calls for comfort food!)
- The Price of Privilege by Madeline Levine PhD: The subtitle of this book is "How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids" -- and I feel that's almost all that needs to be said about the book. Every single parent I know, especially here in Silicon Valley, needs to read this book. Every. Single. One. (Gift idea: Pair this with something to encourage a family to spend time together: something like an Apples-to-Apples game, or an American Girl family quiz book.)
- the possibility of everything by Hope Edelman (reviewed for the Silicon Valley Moms Blog book club) - This book is just plain lovely; it's a lovely travelogue of Belize, and it's a lovely tale of natural medicine and parental love. It's very unlike anything I've read to date. (Gift idea: a trip to Belize?! I wish! Tropical fruit, perhaps...)
- The Earthbound Cook by Myra Goodman (reviewed for the From Left to Write book club): By the co-founder of Earthbound Farm, this cookbook raises your environmental consciousness with its focus on sustainable agriculture -- and marries those concerns with fantastic recipes that are good for you. The granola clusters are addictive! (Gift idea: bake granola clusters and gift them with the book.)
- The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam: I purchased this cookbook because I'm wheat-allergic and am always searching for good baking alternatives. I've found the answer in almond flour. While I have some other alternative cookbooks, like babycakes by Erin McKenna, the recipes involving alternate flours are often high-maintenance and involve a precarious balance of chemistry. Not so with almond flour! In fact, I find it easier to work with than wheat -- and its health benefits far exceed any other flour. Gluten-free or not, this is a can't-miss cookbook. (Gift idea: almond flour, to get the baker started.)
- Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters: Oh, how I love this kids' cookbook! Written from the perspective of Alice Waters' daughter Fanny at age 7, it's divided in a most peculiar way (you'll see when you pick it up!), and the tales interwoven with the recipes are as delicious as the suggested menus. I love the Moosewood cookbooks for children, but, as far as the interweaving of recipes with stories, this one really takes the cake. It's great for kids from about ages 8-13, especially girls who'll identify with Fanny.
- Redwoods by Jason Chin: This book is appropriate for the elementary school-aged set and is primarily a primer on redwoods, experienced through a young boy's eyes after his discovery of a book on these magnificent trees. A lot of people will be receiving this one from me as a baby gift! (Gift idea: a donation to plant a tree through the Save the Redwoods League.)
- The Visual Dictionary of Star Wars by David Reynolds: When Petunia was 5, she went through a Star Wars phase, dressing as Princess Leia for Halloween; now that Dash is five, he dresseed as a Clone Wars ARF trooper for Halloween, and we're back on Tattoine/Endor/the Death Star. Dash is getting this book for Christmas because it's everything about everything in movies 4-6, the most young-kid friendly of the six movies. (Gift idea: a Jedi robe)
- the Magic Tree House series of books by Mary Pope Osborne: I read these with Petunia, and now Dash and I are reading them together -- and the tales never get old! The brother and sister pair, Jack and Annie, go on fantastic adventures with books via a magic tree house, and, though fiction, the tales expose the characters and the "real" children reading them to some fantastic historically-based tales. My kids have learned about Egypt, tornadoes, dinosaurs, and a whole host of other things from these books -- and any fiction that piques their curiosity to to further exploring of subject matter is a big WIN to this mom!
- The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: This book, appropriate for kids about 9-13 or so, is one of the best I've ever read, and Petunia agrees. It's a tale of mystery and adventure that rivals Harry Potter, sans the dementors and spells. There are two (maybe more by now) subsequent books in this burgeoning series, all as fantastic as the first, per Petunia, who says it's perfect for both boys and girls.
Gifts for Readers:
- A Kindle or any kind of e-reader: Whether a Kindle, a Nook, an iPad, or whatever, these devices are an answer to an avid reader's prayer. My parents bought me a Kindle a couple of years ago, and I'm not sure how I'd live without it now. I love that I can download just one issue of a New Yorker at a discounted price (usually when my dad calls me and suggests an issue I'd like), as I can't keep up with a whole subscription; and I also love that I no longer need or want to leaf through People magazines at the doctor's office because I have something better that I want to read in my purse at all times. You rarely see me without my Kindle being within arm's reach. Living in Silicon Valley, I'm hoping that this is the year in which my library figures out a way to let me e-check out books on it ... probably not yet, but hey: the classic book downloads are mostly free while I'm waiting!
- A subscription to a writer's magazine: I don't know many avid readers who haven't thought of penning their own tome. Why not get their creative juices flowing with a subscription to something like Writer's Digest?
- A book rest: Different from a lap desk, this pyramid book rest is a perfect gift for someone who enjoys reading in bed, whether on a Kindle or from a "real" book. I don't read in bed when the Guv's around, but, when he's travelling for work, I retire when the kids do to cuddle up with my book -- my treat to myself after a long day of single-parenting! Now if only this pillow had a holder for my wine glass...
- Flowering tea: I know few bookaholics who don't enjoy a good cup of tea with their tomes, and this flowering tea gift set from Numi is a very special cuppa indeed ... with its glass teapot and spectacular display as it brews, it's one of those things that you'd probably never buy for yourself but greatly enjoy as a special treat. I gave this set to one of my BFFs this year for her birthday.
P.S. Here are the books I'm asking Santa for this year:
- Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: I read and enjoyed his book The Corrections, so I'm looking forward to another of Franzen's dysfunctional family tales.
- Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin: I learned of this novel during a holiday book swap (which included sampling three varieties of soup -- a great idea for a party!), and it's supposed to be very funny -- a thin novel built around the quest to secure an urban parking space. I love me some good New York comedy!
- Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo: Yeah, so I like novels ... anyway, in the same book swap, I learned of this book, a "spiritual road-trip" (as well as a real one) in which the protagonist's New Age sister introduces him to her guru. It seems like it might be a Kerouac knock-off, but it had me at "Buddha" in the title ... so I'll check it out.
Next up: Holiday Gift Guide, Part Two: Gifts of In-Home Entertainment, Part B: Movies -- with a giveaway, times three!
Cross-posted on Good Stuff Rox